The air is still nippy but the sun is shining; icebergs and tree trunks whiz by, the swollen river noisily confirming that this crazy winter is finally over; the sap is running and spring/summer is around the corner, weehoo.
A quick peekaboo to the spring edibles ahead.. In case you want to jump foreward and skip my rehashing the winter..
The winter wasn't all bad in retrospect; here are a few highlights (besides my glorious time snowshoeing in the woods which might be less of interest) winter snapshots
- ·I discovered dehydrated onions - delicious as a snack (and healthy!) - straight up naturally salty and sweet with kick, very addictive.. Also nifty jarred for convenient home cooking (to flavour a soup or sauce, say..). All you need is a basic dehydrator (as in Country Harvest from Cdn tire) and a bag of spanish(type) onions to be won over.
- We cooked up our lama and loved it. Very much like young pastured beef/grainfed veal. Wish someone else would raise some.
- We ate a lot of oysters (and hence a lot of Rockefeller mix too). We like our oysters raw, but it was cold so we did half half. I was reminded of what a versatile recipe this is, adding mushrooms and other vegetables, using it not just for oysters but on pizza and in casseroles. A template for inspiration to riff on with the seasons, I will keep it in mind long after oyster season is done.. See below.
- I made a whack of soup, true to my monicker. Maybe it was the bone-chilling weather that made my soup a hot commodity. Our soups, prepared dishes and frozen sous-vide vegetables & mushrooms sold better this winter at the market too – you can see that a certain clientele is eager to shop local in winter. Customers also seem to like the ‘ready to eat/just reheat’ aspect as much as the ‘local & wild even in winter’ thing. And they are surprised to see the quality unaffected by our putting up process. Especially with the fiddleheads, some said they would buy them like this even in season to avoid having to precook them themselves!
- Whole braised rabbit - I rediscovered rabbit (since last year). But this time, I have a new local producer and thanks to my sister Maggie whom I watched cook it whole with success, I was inspired to ditch my former cheffy treatment of deboning, stuffing the saddles for sous-vide/roast and braising/confiting the legs separately, adopting her braise whole approach. A sear on all sides for browning, then deglaze, add mirepoix etc. and bake slow for hours. Much simpler, and better since those tough flank bits just dissolve. You pull it all off the bone and mix in with the super tasty sauce, and it will please even the pickiest eater (just tell them it's chicken if you have to, although I hate that - because anyone should just be pleased to eat better quality meat).
- Favourite tisane/medicinal plants: Burdock and Nettle (any time tonic), Green oat (by day) and Lemon Verbena or Labrador tea (by night). I got into Sapin Baumier for a spell, not for its purifier/tonic/disinfectant/pulmonary attributes but mostly because it was wintery and delicous. But then I suspected I might be reacting to it, so I gave it a pause..
- Humble pie lesson wrt medicinal plants& natural remedies – I learnt that it is prudent to not be overzealous and fearless about dosage and random combinations. However studied, and only using myself as a guinea pig, the resulting cocktail can end up with consequences more severe than any experimentation in the kitchen.. Mental note: I have twenty years full time experience in the kitchen and only a couple part time with medicinal plants and essential oils. However, I have mastered several ointments and remedies, tried and true with my face & body cream, cold medicine, mouthwash, toothpaste, soap, house cleaner and a line of perfumes. Fun stuff.
- Best restaurant meal: At Le Serpent in Old Montreal, definitely.
- Best reading (magazine): The Intelligent Plant by Michael Pollen in the New Yorker (see my B&B Feb)
- Best book purchases: Une histoire du Québec, racontée par Jacques Lacoursières; Power Plants, by Frankie Flowers and Bryce Wylde (also best author names!)
- Biggest waste of time: Following the provincial election campaign in March
Now even this winter lover is officially ready to move on.
Although we do quite well in winter between our preserves and Daignault's fabulous hot-house greens being diehard daily veghead-salad eaters, there is nothing like the crispy crunch and aroma of fresh wild greens and vegetables. So yes, we are eager for the growing season. A good three weeks later than in previous years, it would be good to get the business rolling again.. With the river so high, we will have to fix our poor bridge which took a beating this spring, in order to get to many of our goodies. François has his boot suit out but the river needs to subside still.
Here's looking ahead to May when our race with nature will start in earnest: The first greens to show up are usually day lily sprouts in our yard and trout lily in the woods. Then the nettle and ramps; also spring beauty and ulvulaire, then dandelion, linden and violet, all for the makings of a great zesty salad.. The kind of food our body craves at this time of year. Hopefully, it will go down something like this: http://soupnancy.squarespace.com/blog-journalessays/2011/5/5/spring-has-finally-sprung.html
Soon enough, of course, the fiddleheads will follow - our star of spring!
And no, you don't need to be afraid of fiddleheads - so nutritious and versatile. Just eat fresh, wash and cook in lots of boiling water before seasoning or adding to any dish. For quality sourcing, we will have two stalls at Jean Talon market this year for the season! Here is an easy recipe:
Fiddleheads with garlic, cider vinegar and tamari: Wash and blanch for 5min in lots of boiling water, refresh and drain. Sauté with garlic, olive oil and a touch of butter, add a filet of tamari and cider vinegar, s&p. Serve as an accompaniement or to top a composed salad. Add to an omelette, pasta dish, or chop up and make my Rockefeller mix.
If you want more on fiddleheads: http://soupnancy.squarespace.com/blog-journalessays/2012/5/14/fiddleheads-for-once-and-for-all.html
Or if you’re wondering why I am not going on about ramps:
Been there done that too often in the past. Yes, yummy but not the end of the world. Not to mention that we have the government agency on our ass every spring in case we might have a whiff of a ramp on a menu despite our sustainable source and knowledge, while urban chefs have ramps all over the place without either. In New York and Ontario, you still see uprooted ramps at public markets! Meanwhile, they are illegal in Quebec for that reason, because they were overharvested, a few idiots wrecking it for everybody. Although not exploited for our business, we will certainly harvest a few bulbs from the abundance on our property for home cooking, but mostly we are happy with the leaves.. We take advantage at the end of the cycle to garnish salads and just about any dish, making pesto for the winter..
Nancy’s Mushroom Rockefeller mix
This is a classic prep for me, kind of a like Rockefeller mix for oysters but with mushrooms. In May, I will swap the mushrooms for fiddleheads and in July with sea spinach. In winter, we eat a lot of oysters so I always have a batch on hand. I also use it to top crostini or pizza, to stuff crepes or as a layer in a gratin or lasagne.. Simply add more eggs and a touch of milk and it’s a frittata or omelette. Add more liquid and macaroni, top with cheese and its mac’n cheese or the binder for a gratin. It's really a template for inspiration, a starting point.
With fiddlheads, blanch and chop, proceed to step 2.
1c or 12p
200g fresh mushrooms (of choice: eg. chanterelles, oyster, matsutake, lobster, button..), chopped
100g sea spinach, blanched and chopped (or spinach)
2 strips par cooked bacon, minced (optional)
2 tablespoons (30 mL) olive oil
2 shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
pinch chilli, pinch thyme
1 tablespoon (15 mL) unsalted butter
4 tablespoons (60 mL) white wine
1/2c (125ml) whipping cream (35 per cent) for cooking
100g (1/2c) grated cheese (Menestrel or other mild aged cow’s milk cheese like even cheddar)
1 large egg (or two)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Drops soy sauce and worchestershire, tabasco
Juice of ½ lemon or drops cider vinegar
2 tablespoons (30 mL) finely chopped herbs (chives, parsley, dill or basil)
Baguette, thinly sliced and toasted
Or 2 dz oysters
1. Wipe mushrooms clean. If mushrooms look dirty, immerse them briefly in a large container of cold water. The dirt will sink to the bottom of the container. Then scoop them out of the water in a sieve or colander, transfer to a towel and spread out to dry or pat dry before cooking.
In a wide, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, heat oil until hot. Add mushrooms and sauté until they start to colour. If they are wet or release juices, keep the heat at medium-high, otherwise lower heat to medium, stirring often.
2. Add shallot and butter and continue cooking a couple of minutes until the mushrooms are uniformly coloured and cooked through, about five minutes. Add garlic for a minute.
3. Add wine and boil gently, uncovered until it has almost evaporated. Add cream and stir frequently until sauce thickens. Turn off heat. Add sea spinach, bacon and cheese. Add egg while stirring. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice/cider vinegar, a touch of soy and worchestershire, Tabasco..
4. Spread mushroom mix on baguette slices, dry or toasted bread and broil for 3-5 minutes until golden. Garnish with fresh tomato in season.
Or stuff oysters and broil for 5min.
NB. This mixture can also be used to stuff vegetables (say button mushrooms or zucchini rounds). Add a bit of stock and/or more cream and it can be the base for a potato/vegetable gratin or mac&cheese; in which case, top with more grated cheese. For a frittata, simply add more eggs and bake in a buttered dish for 20+min at 350F.