Pick your own Squash in the Pumpkin Patch

This past weekend in Canada was Thanksgiving. Many families and friends gather around a wonderful meal, celebrating the bounty of the summer. In my family we throw in hard labor work: we close the cottage down for the winter. Thankfully we still find time to play.

The fall colors were at their peak and the scenery was absolutely breathtaking. On top of great food, the menu also included a gorgeous hike and a visit to a squash farm. Nothing says autumn like a stroll through the pumpkin patch at La Courgerie! No recipes today, just lots of great fall photos and a little squash crash course.

La Courgerie

Tasty reading ahead, KEEP GOING… →

Exotic Dragon Fruit Flan

Funny how a recipe can travel around the world and take different shapes, take the crême caramel for example. Of European origin, crême caramel was found in most European restaurant’s menus during the 20th century. Sometimes a crême caramel is called a flan.

But the word flan comes actually from an Old German word “flado” meaning cake and around most of the world a flan refers to a tart with a crust and a egg custard filling…except in Latin countries and North America. Sometimes a flan is called a crême caramel. Confused? Wait I am not done yet!

Now let’s look at the Pitaya, also called Dragon Fruit. I had always assumed it was an Asian fruit. After all when it arrived in the markets I frequented it was always in Asian markets or in the pile of Asian fruits at the super market and the name Dragon Fruit kind of screams Asia. Well it turns out the Pitaya is actually native to Mexico and the South and Central Americas. It was only later that they started cultivating Pitayas in Asia which is were it was re-baptized Dragon Fruit.

When I was contacted by the wonderful people at Pitaya Plus for a review I was a little confused as to the big focus on Nicaragua and not Asia. Now I now why! The fruit is in fact native to them. This company offers a unique selection of products made from the Pitaya, or as they would say the Superfruit. The company offers juices, smoothies and dried Pitaya. I think these fruit ‘chips’ are really cool and I love the crispness to it. It is leathery like any dried fruit but there is a distinctive crackle when you take a bite. The juice is not a sweet one but it is refreshing as it is also mixed with coconut water and a touch of lemon. One bottle contains 16% of your daily dietary fiber recommendation!

When the dragon fruit made its first appearance in my local markets it was a ridiculous 8.99$ per fruit so I did not go exploring. I think my first taste was of a catered platter at a function I attended. I never bothered to look into this fruit, just admired the exotic look from afar. Now the store sells them for 2.99$ a fruit. And that is a good thing as it turns out Pitayas are very good for you.

Pitayas from Central America are characterized by a red flesh (unlike the white fleshed Asian Pitayas) and are just brimming with nutrients. Each fruit is packed with natural fiber, protein, vitamin C, antioxidants and Omega-3s. Pitaya has also been known to lower and stabilize blood glucose levels for people who suffer from Type-2 diabetes, while also decreasing levels of bad cholesterol. And now for some odd facts: did you know Pitayas are one of only a few fruits that grow from a cactus, and are the only fruits in the world pollinated by bats?

As of today Pitaya Plus offers the only certified organic pitaya on the planet! Pitaya Plus is also a great story of a social mission, social responsibility and empowerment. The company supports the community by hiring and working one on one with local farmers and single mothers which are all hired above minimum wage. The plant factory is solar powered, a renewable energy. The company is clear in specifying they are not a charity, they just want create something long lasting with benefits for everyone involved. Brava!

Dried Pitaya ‘chip’

I really wracked my brain when trying to come up with a recipe to test out the juice. I spent a lot of time surfing the net for inspiration. That is when I fell on flans. A Dragon Fruit Flan would definitely be out of the ordinary yet I saw it as a perfect marriage of a Latin fruit and a Latin dessert.

 

Ξ Dragon Fruit Flan Ξ

Ingredients

1/2 cup water
3/4 cup  sugar
4 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/3 cup Pitaya Plus Super Juice
1/2 cup  milk

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Put water and sugar in a pan over medium heat and bring to a gentle boil. Leave it on the flame until the mixture turns into a nice dark caramel color. Do not stir the pan while boiling. Immediately pour into ramekins.
  3. While the caramel is cooking, whisk eggs and sugar together, than add the juice and milk and mix thoroughly. Pour into ramekins over the caramel.
  4. Place ramekins in a large baking dish and fill with hot water 3/4 of the way up the edge of the ramequins . Bake for 45 minutes in the water bath until the flan is set and a knife comes out clean. Allow it to cool in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
  5. Prior to flipping ramekin, run a knife along the sides of  flan to loosen it. Hold your deep plate tight to the ramekins and  flip.

Note the recipe make either 4 small ramekins or you can make one flan with a souffle dish, about 8 in across, like it did. In that case cooking time will be around 65-75 min approximately.

I always had a fear and a need to make a flan. As silly as it sounds single portion crême caramels turn me off but a cake sized Latin flan I adore. In a way by making this recipe I was facing my flan fears because it is very delicate in texture. And my flip was not exactly perfect as some sides broke off a little. The taste however was out of this world. My caramel was intense and a little overpowering but when I took a bite of the flan without the caramel I enjoyed a very light taste with a very subtle hint of Pitaya. It was a nice change from the usual cake or pie.

Thai Garlic Scape Soup and Garlic Scape Pesto

I am away for a little bit to frolic in the country…..enjoy this scheduled post and I look forward to posting upon my return.

Recently I was invited over for dinner at a friend’s place. She had gone to a farmer’s market that day and her purchased treasures brought on a discovery for me: garlic scapes. I had never come across (consciously at least) this green stalk before. On my next farmer’s market trip I found some and had to bring a small bunch of garlic scapes home. But what to do with them. Two recipes really caught my eye: a soup and a pesto. I had enough for both so you get both.

Garlic scapes are the immature flower stalks of the hardneck garlic bulb variety. So you they are tender and edible and have a delicate hint of garlic flavor. They are usually harvested and found in markets during the month of June and July.

Ξ Thai Peachy Garlic Scape Soup Ξ

1 tablespoon of oil
1 dozen garlic scapes, green shoots chopped
2 cups of chicken or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1/2 coconut milk
1 peach, chopped
1/2 inch grated ginger
1/2 to 1 teaspoon chili sauce
1 tablespoon lemongrass
a pinch of sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon of lemon juice

Directions:

  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, then add the scapes and saute for 2 minutes.
  2. Add the broth and all the ingredients except lemon juice.
  3. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered,  for about 20 minutes.
  4. Remove from the heat and then puree using a hand blender.
  5.  Add the lemon juice, adjust salt and pepper to taste. Makes 2 servings.

What can I say about the soup, the taste is truly unique and so flavorful. Obviously the soup itself is not Thai but the seasoning is: coconut milk, chili, lemongrass, ginger and the fish sauce. I was inspired to add a piece to bring an underground sweetness to the soup and it was perfect. Imagine all those flavors with a light garlic taste. Wonderful and extremely exotic.

Ξ Garlic Scape Pesto Ξ
1 cup garlic scapes, chopped
1/3 cup walnuts
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup Extra virgin olive oil
Salt, pepper to taste
Directions:

Place garlic scapes, walnuts, and Parmesan in a food processor. While the processor is running drizzle the oil in slowly. Season and store in the fridge or freeze into cubes.

Shopping Spree at Rube’s Rice

If you ever go to Toronto the main Farmer’s Market in the city is held Thu, Fri and Sat at the St Lawrence Market. Plan to give yourself a lot of time to explore the market if you are a foodie, it is huge. I first visited this market about 7 years ago and I fell in love with one particular shop specialized in rice.

correction: South Market open Tue to Sat (food shops) and the Farmer’s Market is on Sat only

© City of Toronto

Lost on an island stand in the middle of a corridor of the basement floor is Rube’s Rice. Rube is the owner and one of the first tenants of the present day market. He specializes in rice, beans, lentils, couscous and anything dried. I was so amazed back then by the exotic selection of rice I bought about 5 different kinds. I always dreamed of coming back one day to this shop.

Alas it took 7 years until I made it back. Not because I has not returned to Toronto since then, I have many times, but because we always ran out of time on the agenda. A couple of weeks back I was again in the Ontario capital city visiting a dear friend. We finally made it back to the market and to Rube’s Rice shop….10 minutes before the closing of the market! It was a mad dash. Kind of funny when you think about it: I am not a huge fan of rice…not the plain white kind.

Well I may have been short on exploration time but I did not waste a minute in grabbing another selection of rices to take home. Next trip -which may very well be in a month or two – I demanded that a real trip to the market with plenty of leisurely time be on top of the outings list. But in the mean time I will share with you my rice finds!

Wehani rice

2 parts water for 1 part rice, bring to a boil and simmer 45 min

Wehani is an aromatic red whole-grain rice from northern California. It was developed from basmati rice seeds from India. Its grains are reddish-brown in color and slightly resemble wild rice. When cooked, the rice produces an aroma similar to that of hot buttered peanuts, and is slightly chewy.

Jade Rice

1 1/2 parts water for 1 part rice, bring to a boil and simmer 20 min

Now this one I was already familiar with and just adore this unique rice. Bamboo rice is short grain white rice infused with pure fresh bamboo juice. When cooked, it is pale green and tends to be quite moist and viscous, causing the grains to stick together. This rice is high in vitamin B, and gives it a flavor and aroma much like that of a green tea.

Madagascar rice

1 3/4 parts water for 1 part rice, bring to a boil and simmer 20 min

The Madagascar Pink Rice, a unique Malagasy rice variety grown from a single seed, has an elusively aromatic taste of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, and is also nutritionally dense.

Volcanic rice

1 3/4 parts water for 1 part rice, bring to a boil and simmer 30 min

Volcano Rice is a mineral and an antioxidant packed blend of traditional aromatic West Java rices grown on volcanic soils rich in magnesium, manganese and zinc. It is grown by family farmers in the Tasikmalaya region of Indonesia.

Israeli Couscous

1 1/4 parts water for 1 part rice, bring to a boil and simmer 9 min

Not a rice but it seems like this couscous is everywhere all of a sudden, especially in the foodie blogosphere. Ptitim is an Israeli toasted pasta shaped like rice or little balls. Outside of Israel it is known as Israeli couscous or Jerusalem couscous. Ptitim were invented during the rationing period in Israel, from 1949 to 1959, when rice was scarce.

So much lobster let us do Broth

Don’t forget you have till February 19th 2010, 7 PM EST to enter to enter the What is your Color TEArapy Mood Contest I am hosting.

Last Saturday we saw the price of lobster was more then decent so a lobster dinner was called for…no questions asked. We were 3 and we got 6 lobsters for $50. Score! It was boiled perfectly. Score! It was absolutely yummy and delicious. Score! We had a huge pile of lobster carcasses and it was about to go in the garbage. NO! STOP!

Are you kidding me you are throwing a goldmine down the garbage. Make some lobster broth instead. Oh you will covet the golden brothy nectar after I promise. Use it after for making Lobster Bisque, Fish stews or Linguine with Shrimp in Creamy Lobster Broth. Here is how to make a broth without running to the super market:

Improved Easy Lobster Broth

6 lobster shells, just the shell clean out the body innards
1/3 cup olive oil
3 medium onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
8 sprigs of parsley
3 cups white wine
5 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste

If you happen to have some around, we did not, throw in some carrots, celery, leeks and/or fennel.

Throw everything in a pot. Add enough water to just cover the shells. Bring to a boil and then simmer 90 min. Strain and discard solids. Readjust salt and pepper if necessary. That is it. If you have more or less shells just divide or multiply accordingly.

Cool it down, split it into portions and you can even freeze it. With 6 lobsters we ended up with 7 liters of broth. Yeah freezing and gifts!

Update: I am adding Stef comment to the blog. He already told me he wanted perhaps to add some text when we cooked at his place…I forgot to ask him but he just left a long comment so adding it. How awesome to be dating someone who is as nerdy food obsessed as I am! Take it away Stef….

Lobsta!

Too add to Evelyne’s broth blog, I will need to go back in time. Actually, about 1h30 before she had the idea of using the carcasses for broth.
The cooking of the lobsters…
Simply put:
– Boil water with sea salt. Cover.
– Add the live lobsters in the pot (For fun, you may want to traumatise your kids here…Just kidding!). Cover
– Once the water starts to boil and the steam is coming out of the pot, remove the cover and time for 10 minutes for 1 lbs lobster. Add 1 minute per additional ¼ lbs of lobster (1 ¼ = 11 minutes, 1 ½ lbs = 12 minutes etc…)

What I like about adding sea salt is that I don’t need to use garlic butter because the salt enhances the natural taste of the lobster. Served with a nice Rosé wine (Sowhilo – Reif Estate). Yummy!

Get cracking!!!

Oh no, that’s for eggs. My bad!

-Stef-

Banana Flower Salad

Update: Thank you Joumana! She sent me a picture she took from a banana tree in flower in Tyre, Lebanon to show you I speak the truth lol. Look at that stunning deep blue purple!

Here is one of those great ‘what the heck is it’ finds I recently made while in Chinatown in Toronto. I am such a sucker for the unknown in my plate! A giant purple pod like item caught my attention on our way to the cash register. Sold in twos the sign said these pods were  Banana Flowers. In the cart they went and back to Montreal they traveled.

Unfortunately with the traveling the veggie blackened but I swear it was purple before. After a bit of research I found out Banana Flowers, the flower of the banana tree, are close to artichokes in taste (very subtle) and in preparation and are a common item in Asian cuisine. And yes the lemon bath is essential as it will turn black from oxidization, although it remains still tasty and edible (which was my case). In between each ‘leaf’ of the flower there is a series of pods all lined up in a row. I was taken by surprise and screamed when I removed the first leaf and the pods jumped all over the place.

They are usually served as a salad and I found a great recipe for Vietnamese version. But before I tell you about the recipe let me explain how to prepare the flower. As I said before imagine an artichoke but there is no fuzzy middle. Just pluck and discard the first 2-3 layers as they are older and tougher. Cut the first few inches off the tapered end and discard, as well as bit of the bottom part. What you are left with is all edible. Prepare as desired.

Banana Flower Salad

Ingredients:
1 banana flower
2 teaspoons of sugar
1 teaspoons of salt
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon of chopped garlic
1 teaspoon of chopped chili
1/3 cup of fresh basil
1/3 cup of crushed peanuts
Lettuce

Cut the banana flower into bit size strands with a knife. Place in a mixing bowl and add the salt, sugar, oil and lemon juice. Next add the garlic, chili, basil and peanuts and continue mixing. Place some lettuce in a bowl and top with the banana flower mixture in the middle.

I served it as an accompaniment with a South African dish called Bobotie. I have to say off the bat I was not finding this experience very mouth watering. I felt more like I was a scientists dealing with a prehistoric plant. But in the end it was really good and I hope to find some in Montreal soon.

Exotic Fruits: the Mangosteen

Now you all know how I love ADORE trying unknown foods. My favorite activity in Chinatown is to scout out a food I am unfamiliar with – sometimes I don’t even have the name since the tag was in Mandarin or something – and take it home, research it and eat devour it.

It really started this summer after reading a book called The Fruit Hunters by Adam Leith Gollner. Just so happens he is a Montrealer. Driest read ever but I learned so much about exotic fruits, most I will never see or taste. But I was determined to hunt out a few in my local ethnic grocery stores.

One of the first finds, mentioned many times in the book, I came across was the mangosteen. I even have a picture of the first bunch I saw in Toronto’s Chinatown. I was completely mesmerized by these stunning purple orbs. What could they taste like? Needless to say I bought a few.

The mangosteen grows on small evergreen trees in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and southern India. The inedible  rind of the fruit is deep reddish purple when ripe. The fruit is about the size of a tangerine and the edible part has segments just like any citrus fruit. The flesh is white. It is really hard to describe the taste as nothing else really compares, but the best I can say is the taste is sweet and tangy, citrusy with notes of caramel and butter, also peach like. Confused but curious yet lol?

Well it is one of the most refined fruits I have ever tasted and I was happy to learn I was far from being the first person to be so enamored with the mangosteen fruit. There is a legend about Queen Victoria offering a reward of 100 pounds sterling to anyone who could deliver to her the fresh fruit. This legend has earned the Mangosteen the nickname “Queen of Fruit”. If you want to taste it your best bet is to go to your nearest Chinatown when the fruit is in season because you will not find it in your local grocery store. If it is not in season Asian grocery stores usually sell canned or frozen mangosteens.

Now the fruit has also been used for centuries as a medicinal tool. Humans have claimed the fruit can cure or aid everything from dysentery, eczema, diarrhea, cystitis, gonorrhea and urinary disorders. In our modern age inventors and investors have taken the mangosteen to the science lab. It turns out the fruit, mostly the rind,  is full of antioxidants and over 40 xanthones which are under study for potential disease amelioration effects. Honestly at this point nothing has been proven and the potential health benefits of fruit are now at the center of a debate. Only 6 xanthones have been studied yet and no actual clinical trials have been done yet. This potential ‘ cure-all rejuvenation’ fruit remains speculative.

But if it tastes good and it may keep you healthy why not have some! Most mangosteen juice products contain whole fruit purée, including some healthful extracts from the inedible rind. One such company is XanGo and the people at Xango were kind enough to send me a bottle of Mangosteen juice for me to try out.

I believe they are the first to bring mangosteen juice to an international level. I just love the elegant bottle and the gorgeous burgundy color. The taste of the juice is not comparable to the fruit I have to say because of the tartness of the rind…but that is where the health benefits are. It is still a lovely juice to enjoy for sure.

Now this is not the kind of juice you want to guzzle back from a large glass. I was actually a little surprised when I saw the daily recommended dose of 2 to 6 tablespoons per day! Almost sounds like medicine. Now I understand why they say a bottle can be good for over a week per person.

Now you won’t find this juice in a store either, it is sold through private distributors, mostly online. And it has the price of medicine too. A bottle averages around $37 (or around $120 for a 4-pack). I was sent some recipes for XanGo juice that included Xango Turkey Meatballs, Xango Cream Cheese and Berry Pie and a Xango Tropical Salsa. But I decided to hoard my bottle for the daily usage and see if I feel any healthier in a week or so. I did try the juice out on a bit of homemade fig ice cream and the tartness was a perfect contrast to the sweet iced treat.

Obviously it is not a product, at least for now, that can suit every budget but in time and with popularity the price may go down and it will become more accessible. If you can afford it then why not try it once and see what you think.

I have my daily shot in hand and I send a toast to your health!