nettle

 

In true-to-me fashion, I’m whipping up this post a mere 4 hours before the deadline for a fun recipe contest happening here in Halifax! It’s called FARM : MARKET : TABLE and is simple. Ingredients must come from my home away from home, the Halifax Seaport Farmer’s Market.

I spend every Saturday at the Seaport Market for my biz, Made with Local. There, I sling super-delicious and healthy granola bars that are made with loads of Maritime produced ingredients. I LOVE spending each weekend surrounded by my market pals and fantastic customers, but  the winter there feels loooong, and as much as I love root veggies, seeing greens trickle on to farm stand displays in the Spring is beyond exciting!

Many of Spring’s first greens are celebrated, common salad stuff such as spinach and mesclun mixes, asparagus, and our region’s seasonal veggie superstar, the fiddlehead. But stinging nettle is not something I’ve ever really paid attention to before. I purchased a nice big bag of it from TapRoot Farms via Noggins Farm stand at the Seaport and my wheels started to turn. Spring soup. Vibrantly green. A light lunch that’s perfect for cleaning out the system after a weekend of indulgences. And healthy? Nettle’s been used for centuries to remedy inflammation, allergies, arthritis, it’s a diuretic, and is great for your GI system. I hate the word, but dare I say, superfood?

I meandered over to RiverView Herbs’ table, and picked up a celery-like herb, lovage. It’s pungent and lovely and also something that’s not usually found in my cupboard. I’m breaking out of my winter sweet potato/turnip funk in grand fashion here, folks! The other veggies in this soup are common soup culprits though, some white potatoes, an onion, and a leek, all gathered from Noggin’s Farm. I picked up a tub of my favourite locally-made yogurt from FoxHill and headed ‘er for home!

Here are the fruits of my labours – a soup that tastes as green as it looks, in the best possible way! Keep your eye out for these lovely, off-beat greens and let your mind wander. Get creative. With ingredients this fresh, let their flavours shine through and keep it simple!

Stinging Nettle & Lovage Soup

Serves 4-6

1 tbsp butter

1 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, chopped (Noggins)

1 leek, white and light green parts, rinsed and sliced (Noggins)

2 cloves garlic, chopped (Noggins)

3 medium potatoes, chopped (Noggins)

200 g stinging nettle, tops only (TapRoot via Noggins)

1 handful of lovage leaves and stems, chopped (RiverView Herbs)

5 cups vegetable broth

2 tbsp lemon juice

Salt, pepper to taste (I added about 1 tbsp salt and 1 tsp pepper)

1 cup plain yogurt, for garnish (Foxhill Cheese)

 

In a large pot, heat oil and butter and add chopped onion and leek. Sautee until softened, then add garlic and chopped potatoes and heat them through for  a couple of minutes. Add in nettle and lovage to pot, stirring and incorporating it until it begins to wilt. Once it reduces down a bit, add the stock and bring to a low boil. Cover and let it go until potatoes are cooked through, about 20 minutes.

Remove from heat and let it cool down a bit. With an immersion blender, food processor, or regular ol’ blender, puree the heck outta that soup. You want to make it as homogeneous as you can. Once it’s all smooth and lovely, taste test, and add more salt/pepper/lemon juice if needed. This soup’s flavour is delicate, but should be well balanced.

Serve with a dollop of plain yogurt or a drizzle of cream. The colours and flavour are so fantastic and unique; welcome, Spring, and all the freshness you bring!

 

 

 

bagels

Slowly I’m tackling baking projects that I once passed off as ‘too _______’ to do myself – whether that was too complicated, time consuming, fussy, whatever. It’s easy to assume that just because you don’t often (or ever) make a certain something it’s because you can’t! Bagels were one of those things for me. Surely everyone buys them because they’re complex or finicky little critters…alas, this is totally not the case.

My guy eats a boatload of bagels. I buy them at the grocery store or market without batting an eyelash, until I stumbled upon a food blog post claiming that bagels ain’t no big thang to do. I was intrigued, actually took a moment to read the friggin recipe, and immediately felt kind of dumb.

WHY HAVE I BEEN BUYING BAGELS?

They are drop-dead simple. They take a little while to rise (only twice) but other than that, the bang you get for your effort buck on these is humongous.  It was damn near impossible not to gobble them all up straight out of the oven. We put a pretty good dent in the batch of 8 within an hour of them being done, and gave  a few away with a few cheers from receiving friends.

Tomorrow I’m going to experiment with fresh herbs in this recipe, it’s mega versatile and can be just about anything you want it to be!

bagel3

Everything Bagels

adapted from King Arthur Flour

Dough
1 tablespoon instant yeast
4 cups Unbleached Bread Flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 1/2 cups water, lukewarm

Glaze and Everything Bagel Topping
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
2 teaspoons black sesame seeds
2 teaspoons poppy seeds
1 tablespoon dried onions
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 egg white

Water Bath
2 quarts water
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Combine all of the dough ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment OR mix dry ingredients in a large bowl, make a well, and add wet ingredients. Set on medium-low speed for about 10 minutes OR mix (with a spoon/hands) your little heart out! The dough will be quite stiff. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, and set it aside to rise til it’s puffed up, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Mix together all of the everything bagel topping ingredients, except for the egg white and set aside.

When your dough has risen, transfer it to a lightly floured work surface, and divide it into eight blobs, roll each into a nice little ball. Cover them with plastic wrap, and let rest for another 30 minutes.

While the dough balls are resting, prepare the water bath by heating the water, sugar to a very gentle boil in a large, wide-diameter pan. I used my dutch oven and it worked great! Preheat your oven to 425°F.

When the dough balls are finished rising, poke a hole through the center of each, then twirl the dough on your finger to stretch the hole till it’s about 2 inches in diameter (the entire bagel will be about 4 inches across). Beware of flying dough balls at this point! It’s easy to launch one across the kitchen during this step if you’re not careful! Place each bagel on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, and repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.

bagels 2

Transfer the bagels, four at a time if possible, into the simmering water bath. Increase the heat under the pan to bring the water back up to a gently simmering boil. Cook the bagels for 2 minutes, flip them over, and cook 1 minute more. Using a skimmer or strainer, remove the bagels from the water and place them back on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining bagels.

Just before baking, with the glaze made of 1 egg white beaten till frothy with 1 tablespoon of water; glaze each bagel, and sprinkle heavily with everything bagel topping. This is the step where you can really customize the flavour, or just keep ‘em plain if that’s your thing.

Bake the bagels for 20 minutes or so, or until they’re golden brown to your liking. Remove the bagels from the oven, and cool completely on a wire rack, if you can!

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Maple Nut Squares

maple nut 2

Hot damn I love me some Nova Scotia maple syrup. I’ll admit, it wasn’t until I was in my 20s that it made its way into my fridge; we were an Aunt Jemima family back in the day. I had no idea what I was missing out on! Now, maple syrup is a staple sweetener in my house, not just for our weekend pancake feasts, but drizzled over morning oatmeal, even stirred into coffee or tea for a sweet-tooth-quashing evening treat.

My friend’s family started a maple tapping operation not quite 10 years ago, in the beautiful Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia. Hutchinson Acres farm grew gradually, from just a small parcel of land, to now over 25,000 taps over 1,500 acres of land. So awesome! They are super nice people with a product that I am just a massive fan of.

I had a jug of their Hutchinson Acres amber maple syrup that I was just begging to incorporate into a dinner party dessert this past Saturday. I went on the hunt for a recipe that didn’t require a trip to the grocery store. Ha! Only the best, for my guests, right? Um, yes. That is right! Because this amazingly simple, yet decadent treat was a complete home-run.

maple nut 3

Real life quote: “Quite possibly the best dessert I’ve ever had.” – Andrew Russell, 2013.

We had 9 people sitting around the dinner table last night, every one of them was left scraping the plate, ooh-ing and ahhh-ing. It made up for the brutally overcooked roast beef I did. There won’t be blog post on that one, folks!

Do feel free to switch the nuts up, and top with a generous dollop of unsweetened or lightly sweetened fresh whipped cream. It’ll counterbalance the sweetness of the square and really balance it out. Plus it looks a little fancier!

Having this perfectly sweet ending to dinner made me look really forward to next weekend, when a bunch of friends and I are heading to the second-last installment of the Feisty Chef Acadian Maple Brunches in Tantallon, NS. It’s a full-blown maple bonanza with baked beans, pancakes, scrambled egg and meats. All you can eat too. Check it out, here!

Now, on to the recipe! Do your best to find locally-sourced maple to make this an extra special treat that will become a favourite in your dessert repertoire.Ingredients:

Maple Nut Squares

From Food.com

Serves 9

Crust
1 cup flour
1/2 cup butter (melted)
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed firmly
Topping
1 cup pure maple syrup
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 dash salt
3/4 cup chopped nuts, like walnuts or pecans
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons flour

Directions

Heat oven to 350°F degrees. Stir together 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup melted butter, and 1/4 cup brown sugar until mixed well. Press into 8-inch square baking pan and compact onto the bottom with fingers.

Bake for 5 minutes, then remove and set aside.

Turn oven up to 400°F degrees.

Combine maple syrup and 2/3 cup brown sugar in saucepan, bring to a boil, then simmer for 5 minutes.

Cool to lukewarm and stir in butter until melted. Stir in eggs. Stir in pecans, vanilla, and flour until mixed well.

Pour mixture over partially baked crust.

Bake at 400°F for 5 minutes, then reduce heat to 350°F and continue baking another 20 minutes until the top bubbles.

Let cool, set in fridge if necessary to firm up.

Serve with a big ol’ dollop of whipped cream!

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Zuppa di Pesce

zuppa di pesce

Being an East-Coast girl, I never have any shortage of beautiful, fresh fish available at the market near my house. Being able to talk to the fisherman who pulled my to-be-supper from the sea is only one of the many awesome things about calling the Maritimes home.

But you know where else is awesome?

ITALY!

And I’m going there in just 7 weeks. It’ll be my second time there and I’m just beyond stoked. Hitting the road with my man for a romantic vacay, which will revolve around absolutely sickening quantities of gelato and cheese and sightseeing and wine and gelato. Mark my words…some day I may be at the helm of a gelato empire…or simply the 1# supporting customer of someone’s else’s. I have a deep admiration for the stuff and pledged to eat it every single day last time I visited Italy. And just in case there was any doubt in your mind…I did accomplish that feat. Some days I doubled up. NBD.

In anticipation for my Italian romp, I have been hitting the burpees and laying off the butter. 2012 has been a bonkers year for me, and yep, I’m a little rounder than I’d like to be. So the gym’s back on my daily agenda and the corkscrew has been shelved for a few weeks. It feels good to be working on a squeaky clean diet again and getting creative in the kitchen!

I had a couple of buds over for supper the other night and really wanted to make something special and interesting, yet light. Often when I’m at an Italian restaurant I’ll order the seafood soup as a starter or a light main, and it’s never steered me wrong. Firm chunks of white fish, shellfish, and veggies in a herbed broth; perfect for dunking a crusty wedge of buttered baguette. Top with a some torn basil leaves and little shredded parmesan cheese and you’ll wish that your soup bowl went on for days.

Zuppa di Pesce

Serves 4 (very generous portions)

 

Generous glug of olive oil

1 onion, small chop

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

2 slices bacon, diced

28 oz can diced tomatoes

2/3 cup dry white wine

1 cup clam juice (found usually in the ethnic food aisle at the grocery store)

1 cup water/veg broth

4 basil leaves, torn

1 cup cannellini beans (canned or rehydrated)

2 cups swiss chard, chopped

3 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped

1 lb freshest white fish, like haddock, halibut, cod, monkfish

1 lb cooked, peeled & tailed shrimp

Salt & Pepper to taste

……..

Sautee chopped onions and garlic in large, heavy bottomed pot (I used my Creuset dutch oven) in olive oil on low-med heat until onions are softened. Be careful not to burn the garlic.

Add the bacon and cook, stirring frequently, for another few minutes.

Add tomatoes, wine, clam juice, stock/water and basil, and 1 tbsp parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add beans and swiss chard. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. At this point you can analyze the thickness and adjust it to your liking. Adding broth to thin it out or simmering a little longer to cook off some of the liquid. Soup’s the best for being oh-so-easy to get along with.

Add the fish and cook for 5 minutes, or until it’s opaque. Add the shrimp and heat through gently for 3 minutes.

Just before serving, adjust the seasoning again to your liking. It will vary for everyone depending on what combination of wine/juice/water/broth you’ve used.

Ladle into warmed bowls and garnish with remaining chopped parsley and serve immediately. Best accompanied by a big loaf of crusty Italian bread!