Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Delicious Roasted Yam and Ricotta Tart

Fall is by far my favorite season.  It is that time of year when the rain feels like a welcome relief to the beating sun of summer, the salmon start spawning in the river at the end of our street and the yellow leaves of the big leaf maple trees look like little lanterns against the grey sky.  We light the fire, pull out the blankets and make pots of tea.  It is also the time of year for cozy, warming food.

If there is one thing I have learned as a home cook, it is to buy what is in season and to buy it locally, as best you can.  This may sound like Eco-snobbery, but it is no such thing, it is practical.  My dad grew up in Hungary in the 1930's and 40's.  He had wonderful stories to tell about the seasons and how each one brought with it a special treat that they waited for all year long.  Summertime was the time for watermelons, juicy and ripe, perfect on hot days.  Fall was harvest time with grapes, fresh bacon and mushrooms.  He could never understand why we would buy strawberries in January or watermelon in March.  It didn't make sense to him because when he was young having out of season fruits and vegetables was unheard of.  They ate what was grown locally, not shipped from far away lands. 

Buying in season means that we get our food when it is fresh and at its peak. That is why those strawberries taste so good in June and why the yams in this tart taste so good now in October. Buying in season often means that we can also buy locally which in turn reduces the distance that your food has to travel to get to your plate.  It also supports your local economy and the farmers in your area that are growing the food that you depend on to eat. It is a win-win situation for everyone.

Now that autumn has arrived, this roasted yam tart is perfect for a cold, rainy night.  I have a love affair with tarts for many reasons.  One, they always look impressive thanks to the pan doing all the work for you with its fluted edges (I like having beautiful food to look at).  Two, they are not difficult to make but taste delicious.  And three, the possibilities of what you can put in them is endless.  I discovered this tart from the  Hollyhock Garden to Table cookbook  and it is delicious.  I have used a different crust recipe than suggested because I have another one that I prefer.

This tart is great with a salad for supper, take it to a potluck or have it for brunch.  The kids loved it and it is an easy way to get both protein and vegetables into one dish.  While I won't lie and say that this takes only minutes to make, the extra effort is well worth it.

Roasted Yam, Onion and Ricotta Tart
Adapted from Hollyhock Garden to Table by Moreka Jolar, Heidi Scheifley and the HollyHock Cooks

For the Pastry
Adapted from French Food at Home by Laura Calder
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter
About 4 tablespoons of ice cold water

Filling
4 cups onion, sliced into thin half-moons
2 Tbsp Olive oil
2 cups yams (or sweet potatoes if you prefer to call them that), cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 cup milk or cream
3 eggs
1/4 cup chopped mixed chives and parsley
1 Tbsp fresh minced thyme
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 cup ricotta

Preheat the oven to 450℉. Measure the flour into a bowl and add the salt.  Cube the butter and toss it in the flour.  With your fingers crumble the butter into the flour until you get a crumbly texture.  Now add the water, one tablespoon at a time until you get a nice dough that is neither sticky nor dry, it should just come together.  Gather it into a ball and put it onto a floured surface.  Gently roll it out until you get it big enough to fit into your tart pan.  Press it into the pan making sure to cover all surfaces.  Bake in the oven for 10 min until the crust is starting to turn golden.  Many people suggest that you blind bake your crust.  To do this, you would either use pie weights or cover the pastry with parchment and then fill the pan with uncooked beans.  This will ensure that your pastry won't puff up and lose it's shape.  I find that you can get away without blind baking this crust but if you are enthusiastic, then please do.  Remove from the oven and let cool. 

Turn the oven down to 350℉. Toss the yams with 1 Tbsp olive oil and bake on a baking sheet in the hot oven until they are fork tender.  Remove from oven.  In a large skillet, saute the onions in the remaining olive oil until they are tender and caramelized.  The trick is not to cook them too high, you don't want to scorch them.

In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, milk or cream (which ever you choose), fresh herbs, salt and pepper.  Place the cooked onions and yams evenly into the tart shell and then add small scoops of the ricotta over top of the vegetables.  Next pour over the lovely egg and cream mixture, making sure that all the corners are filled.

Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes or until the tart has set (no longer jiggles when you tap it).  Remove from the oven and let it sit for 5-10 minutes.  To remove from the tart pan, you can either set the bottom on a jar (the bottom will balance on the jar while you remove the outer ring) or you can just put your hand underneath.  This last technique requires a bit of acrobatics as you will have to hold onto the tart and slip the ring off your arm.  You might want some assistance.  Your family will think you are amazing, because well, you are. 


Monday, 2 June 2014

Lemony Lentil Soup

Now that spring is here and summer is peeking around the corner, I find that I am craving lighter, vegetable rich foods.  Don't get me wrong, I still love a comforting bowl of pasta or a good Shepard's Pie once in a while.  But with all the beautiful vegetables finally waking up in the gardens and farmer's markets, I love seeing the colors of spring reflected in my supper.  Rich yellows, deep greens and the taste of earthy and satisfying lentils. The first time I had this soup, a mentor of mine, who also happened to be the mother of the Hollyhock chef who wrote the book, made it for me on a cloudy west coast afternoon.  I loved the combinations of the earthy lentils with the bright lemon and the satisfying greens.

This soup is super easy to make, delicious and kid approved.  It calls for a vegetable stock and I find that is this preferable to chicken.  If you have the time to make your own, I have also included the recipe below.  The thing I love about vegetable stock is how quick it is to make and that it will taste a thousand times better than the stuff in the store. 


 Lemony Lentil Soup
Adapted from Hollyhock Cooks by Linda Solomon and Moreka Jolar

3 Tbsp Olive oil
2 cups onion, diced
2 Tbsp garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups (about 4) carrots, diced
1 cup potato, diced
2 bay leaves, fresh or dried
1 cup red lentils
1 cup celery, diced
6 cups vegetable stock
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2 Tbs fresh dill, chopped
two good handfuls of chopped kale
salt and pepper to taste

 In a large soup pot with the olive oil, saute the onion, garlic, carrots, potatoes and bay leaves until onion is translucent and potato softens.

Rinse the lentils and add to the pot with the celery and the stock to cover.  Cook until lentils have softened, about 15-20 minutes.  Add the lemon juice, dill, salt and pepper. Stir in the kale and serve!  This is a wonderful meal with a good salad and crusty bread.

Easy Vegetable Stock

2 carrots, chopped
2 onions, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, whole
10 pepper corns
2-3 springs thyme
5  parsley stalks
2 bay leaves


Put all the ingredients into a large stock pot and cover with water.  Bring to a boil and then turn down and simmer for 1 hour.  Strain and put into containers for later use.  Easy!

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Homemade Ice Cream Sandwiches

Life is a funny thing.  Just when you think you think things can't get any harder, they sometimes do.  Last summer my husband lost his job and had to reinvent himself in short order.  As we were dealing with that my dad went on his annual fishing trip with his best friend.  Just after they cast off, the boat tipped and they fell in the cold water.  My dad had a sudden heart attack and died.  He was 84 years old, living on his own, doing all the things he loved, there was no sign or warning that he was going to go anytime soon.  The beautiful thing in his death is that he was doing what he loved to do, right to the very last second.  While that doesn't make me miss him any less, is it inspiring.  Wouldn't we all love to depart from this physical world like that?  Needless to say, keeping my blog going has been low on the priority list as I sift though this foreign land of grief.  It has been so touching though how many of you have asked if I am going to keep this food loving blog going.  I love hearing your stories about how you try the recipes and love them. So now that summer is here, or just about, it seems like it is time to start returning to the things I love, including writing.  My dad's passing over reminds me that we need to savor every moment of every day.  Cliche I know, but it is true.  The beauty and essence of life is made up of small, wonderful, magical moments.  Seeing the thousand shades of green in the spring leaves, the sun sparkling on the river, the sound of a child laughing until their stomach hurts, these are the things that make life so precious and worth celebrating.  I am learning to start looking up from all the troubles and really allow these beautiful moments to absorb into my being.  Food is a part of that beauty and ice cream sandwiches are no exception.

When I was a kid, this was my go-to treat.  I used to walk to the corner store with my friends, change jingling in my pocket to get one of these beauties.  We would sit on the curb eating them in the hot sun, licking the melting ice cream as it dripped down our arms.  That was summer.  Then I discovered how to make my own and I never looked back.  These take a small amount of effort, but it is worth it, believe me.  I recommend that you let them sit out for a minute after you pull them out of the freezer so that everything gets a bit soft.  They are best eaten outside with a good friend, on a back step, savoring every beautiful moment. 

Homemade Ice Cream Sandwiches
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen Classic Ice Cream Sandwiches

First, the Cookies

2 2/3 cups of all-purpose flour
2/3 cup plus 1/4 cup Dutch-process unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 cups unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 tsp sea salt
2 large egg yolks
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 350℉ and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.  Sift the flour and cocoa together in a small bowl and set aside.  Do not skip this step otherwise you will have lumps of cocoa in your dough.

In the bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the yolks one at a time along with the vanilla and mix until combined.  Scrape the sides down if necessary and beat again.  Add the flour mixture in thirds until everything is combined into a lovely chocolatey dough.

Transfer your cookie dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into two pieces.  If the dough is too soft to handle, wrap it in cling film and put it in the fridge for a few minutes to harden up.  Roll each batch into a rectangle.  This is when you pull out your cookie cutter of choice.  I used a biscuit cutter and the bottom of my cheese grater.  The cheese grater will give you the traditional rectangle shape and the biscuit cutter shape is what you see in the picture.  Cut out as may equal pieces as you can get.  Keep re-rolling and cutting until you have used up all of your dough. Now transfer to your cookie sheet with about an inch between them. With the end of a chop stick you can put little holes in your cookies to make them look just like store-bought.  Bake one sheet at a time for 16-18 minutes or until they are firm when touched in the center. Let cool on the sheet for 5 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Now the good stuff...Ice Cream!

To make this step as simple as possible, I bought a box of ice cream.  You know, the kind that comes in a rectangle cardboard box that you can just open up on all sides? I used vanilla, but you could use any flavor you want.  I think chocolate chip mint would be yummy too.  Get out your cookie cutter that you used for the cookies.  Cut one slice of ice cream at a time and then with your cookie cutter, cut out your ice cream and place on the first cookie, it will match perfectly.  Then add the second cookie on top and Viola! You have an ice cream sandwich.  Continue doing this until all of your cookies are used up.  Wrap them in cling film or parchment and store them in the freezer.  I do highly recommend that you eat one right away though : )

Note: The cookie in this recipe is a bit crunchy, unlike the corner store variety that sticks to the roof of your mouth.  But I have to say that it is a wonderful combination with the ice cream.  My kids actually like them better.


 

Monday, 30 September 2013

Chicken Pot Pie, Only Better

We have had a lot going on over here for the past couple of months and unfortunately this blog of mine has suffered for it.  But I'm back now and I thought that since autumn is officially upon us, it was time for some cozy meals.

When I had my first child, one of my go to meals was chicken pot pie.  I never made it myself, I would go down to the very expensive natural food store and buy one to take home and heat up.  It was a perfect combination of new mother exhaustion and not feeling confident enough to make it myself.  That all changed a couple of years ago when I had the revelation that you didn't need to make a full pastry to make a good pot pie.  I also realized that this classic dish was a perfect way to use up left over chicken.  Now I have  few versions of this meal that I make, but this latest one with biscuits on top has to be my favorite.  It may look like a lot of work, but it really isn't and once you sit down to a steaming bowl of it on a cold autumn day you will realize that it was worth the effort and then some.  This is also a perfect meal if you are watching your pennies.  It falls into my "something out of nothing" repertoire, hopefully it will become part of yours too.

Roasted Chicken and Vegetable Cobbler
Adapted from Back in the Day Bakery by Cheryl and Griffin Day

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup finely diced yellow onion
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
5 cups chicken broth
3 peeled carrots cut into 1 inch cubes
3 celery ribs chopped into 1 inch pieces
1 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
5 cups leftover chicken or you can get one of the roasted ones from the grocery store
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup frozen corn
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp fresh sage
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Boarding House Biscuits
Adapted from Back to the Table by Art Smith

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter cut into 1/2 inch cubes
3/4 cup buttermilk as needed

Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.  Using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut the butter into the mixture until you get a pea meal consistency.  Stir in enough buttermilk to make a soft and sticky dough.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and roll it out until the dough is about about 1/2 inch thick.  Be careful not to overwork the dough.  Using a biscuit cutter, cut out the rounds and put to the side until you are ready to place on top of the pie insides (uncooked).


For the Pie Insides

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 450℉.

To make the pie insides, melt 4 Tbsp of the butter in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic and saute until tender.  Add the carrots, celery, salt, pepper and broth.  Partially cover the pot, reduce to a simmer, stirring often.

Stir in the cream, raise the heat to medium and cook, covered until the veg is tender. 

While that is cooking, mix your remaining butter with the flour to create a paste.  Once the veg is tender, add the flour and butter mixture to the pot, slowly whisking it in.  This is going to make the pie insides super creamy and thick.  Next add the herbs and cayenne and then the corn and peas to heat through. Transfer to a baking dish and top with the biscuits that have been brushed with buttermilk.  If you forget this step as I did, don't fret, they will still be yummy.  Bake for 15 minutes until the biscuits are golden and the filling is bubbling.  Let this sit for 5 minutes at least before you ladle it out into your waiting bowls.  I love fall.


Monday, 12 August 2013

Blackberry Tart

I used to love making pies.  When I was 16, I decided that I would learn how to make a good crust and from that point on for many years, apple pie with the flakiest crust was my thing.  Then Christmas 1999 came along, mixed with a few family politics and a great deal of stress, I lost it.  I made three crusts and none of them turned out, then I burnt my arm taking the pie out of the oven and that was it.  I never made pie again.  Which was tragic because honestly, I love pie.

Then I came across this recipe for a tart.  As terrified I was of pastry, I couldn't stay away any longer. The time had come to reclaim my love of pie, well, in this case, tart.  What I LOVE about this recipie is you don't need to have everything ice cold, you don't even need to roll out the dough.  You just mix it together in a bowl and tumble it into the tart pan and press it into place.  The tart shell does all the work to make it look like you have been slaving for hours.

So when my husband asked for a fresh fruit tart for his birthday, I knew this would be it.  Blackberries are in season right now and free.  All you need to do is go and find yourself a dripping bush and fill your bowl.  This tart is light, creamy with a lovely crisp crust which is lovely against the creamy filling.  You need not be a french pastry chef to make this, but you sure will look like one.  If only I had known about this method sooner, there would have been no need for such a long pie drought.  Yes, I know this isn't exactly the same, but once you get your confidence with one thing, you build it up for others, that is the beauty of cooking.

For the crust:
adapted from French Taste by Laura Calder

1/2 cup softened butter
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour

Heat oven to 400℉ Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl with a wooden spoon until light and creamy.  Stir in the vanilla.  Mix in the flour to make a dough.  Tumble into an 8 inch tart pan and press into place.  Line with parchment paper and fill with dried beans up to the top.  Bake for 15 minutes.  This is called blind baking and helps the crust not to puff up.  Take out of the oven, remove the paper and beans and put the tart shell back in the oven at 325℉ for 20 minutes.  Remove and let cool completely.


Vanilla Cream
adapted from French Taste by Laura Calder

1 cup milk
1/2 vanilla bean cut lengthwise
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp flour
1/4 cup heavy cream, whipped

Put the milk in a saucepan with the split and scraped vanilla bean and heat just before it comes to a simmer.  Turn off the heat, remove and cover for 10 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until light and creamy.  Once the milk is ready, gradually whisk it into the egg mixture.

Pour this back into the sauce pan, add the flour.  While you are bringing this to the boil, keep stirring so that it doesn't scald.  If that does happen, don't panic!  You are going to thin this with whipped cream later anyways.  Once this is nice and thick, remove from heat and let cool completely.  Once it is cooled, add 1/4 cup whipped cream and fold in. This will make a lovely, light and fluffy cream that you could eat with a spoon. 

To assemble:

Remove tart shell from the pan and place on a cake plate or other serving dish.  Pour in the vanilla cream.  Lovingly add your blackberries starting from the outer edge and winding into the center.  You can either serve this straightaway or put it in the fridge to chill.  While not as conventional as a cake, this really is wonderful for a birthday. 

 



Friday, 5 July 2013

Love Your Farmer : Teafarm

What is about to become one of the loveliest teas I have ever had.
Tea has been a part of my life since I was a child.  My father used to drink Twinings Earl Grey with a little sugar and a slice of lemon.  Sometimes he would make me a cup also with milk and sugar, I loved it.  When I became a mother, tea took on a whole new meaning.  The jolt of landing on the self-sacrificing path of motherhood started to take its toll on me early on in my journey.  So I began a daily practice of drinking tea.  I call it a practice because I didn't simply sit in the car waiting for a cup of tea to reach me through a drive-thru window.  I carved out a piece of time, every day around 3 pm to sit down at my kitchen table with a lovely cup of good tea, a small sweet and a little something to read.  It hasn’t always been easy to make this happen for myself, I do have two children after all.  However, a practice is just that, something you do everyday to improve your life, if even just a little.  This time of tea for me has become a solace, a time to slow down and a small daily gift to myself.

A longstanding part of my practice of tea has come from Teafarm, a local farm here in the Cowichan Valley producing and creating their original blends of amazing black, green, white and herbal teas from all over the world, including from their own farm.  As part of my Love Your Farmer series, I wanted to explore what Victor Vesely and Margit Nellemann have created and where the tea that I love so much comes from.

A couple of weeks ago, I was privileged to spend a sunny afternoon with Victor (Margit was very busy getting ready for the week) in their tea house.  He gifted me with a Moroccan tea service that to me, epitomized The Way of Tea.  It is a slow process of bringing the water to just the right temperature, then cleansing the gunpowder green tea in the pot with the first pour of the water.  It is then swirled about in the pot and poured out into the "truth" cup.  This is one of three beautiful glass tea cups that shows the recipient that the tea has been cleansed and is ready to be prepared.  Next in goes gorgeous fresh organic mint, hot water and sugar. Once it has steeped, it is poured out into a glass and then back into the pot again to fully oxygenate the tea.  This beautiful process feels like such a gift.  Victor shared with me that he believes that "tea is love" and I fully agree.

Victor preparing my Moroccan tea service.
What followed for the next two hours was a conversation as rich as the tea itself.  One of things I love so much about tea is that it can be such a wonderful way to foster connections with others. When someone makes you a pot of tea, it is not only an expression of love; it is a reason to slow down.  You cannot rush a cup of tea, it needs to steep, be poured and prepared and sipped slowly.  In the time it takes to let this moment unfold, so often does good conversation.  Have you ever noticed just how powerful tea can be?  It can calm a broken heart, be an olive branch between two people, act as an extension of love and care, cool a hot temper and invigorate the soul for the hours ahead. When my father who is now 84 years old would come down with any sort of illness, he would, and still does, make himself his Earl Grey tea with lemon, it is his longstanding cure-all.  He nearly believes it is magical, and perhaps it is.

Gorgeous Calendula that is added to the Mysteaque tea.
Victor and Margit have created a beautiful space on their property devoted to their love of tea.  Along with organic lavender, calendula, mint and other herbs and flowers that are growing abundantly, they have a small parcel devoted to tea plants.  Tea typically grows in tropical and sub-tropical areas of the world.  Having tea plants growing here in the Cowichan Valley is a fascinating experiment and could potentially change how we experience local tea.  These little tea plants have survived three winters so far, which is nothing short of a small miracle.  While they won't be ready for harvest for a few more years I think it is remarkable that Victor and Margit are growing them.  We all know what tea looks like out of a tin or a tea bag, but it is fascinating to see the actual plant growing, to be able to see where our tea really comes from.  Did you know that all types of tea, such as white, green, and black tea, come from the same plant species (Camellia sinensis)?  It is the oxidizing process, sometimes accomplished by pan frying, that brings out the various shades and flavours of tea. Similar to growing grapes for wine production, the flavour and unique characteristics of the plant are shaped by the variations in soil type, humidity, and even altitude in which it is grown.

Beautiful little tea plants growing on a terraced garden


The tea house
In addition to the growing space, Teafarm includes a beautiful tea house.  This lovely little spot houses over 80 different varieties of tea along with Margit's beautiful pottery.  Here you can purchase your tea to enjoy at home or stay for a tea service with a sweet pairing, which I highly recommend (temptation caused a return visit last weekend with my daughter).  Margit shared with me how tea and ceramics have always gone hand in hand and because of this, having a pottery studio connected with the tea made perfect sense.  It is interesting how here in North America we have no problem drinking our tea out of paper or even worse Styrofoam cups but to me, that goes against everything that tea represents.  Drinking your tea slowly out of a ceramic or glass cup requires that we slow down.  The love that comes through the tea that was made for you is held by the love of the artist that went into making your cup.  Paper doesn't do that for you, nor will your tea taste the same.

Margit's lovely pottery, these are wonderful to drink tea
from.
As my conversation with Victor continued on, I asked him "What brought you to tea?"  His response was "coffee is a way of doing, tea is a way of being." In a world that is ever pushing us to improve productivity, to move faster and more often, bringing so many to a state of constant stress, the idea of being part of something that encourages you to just be, is a haven in a sometimes crazy world. Tea connects us to nature though the elements that bring it to your cup and so to honour that, it should be the best quality you can afford.  Teafarm prides itself on selling organic, fairly traded teas of the highest quality that are not only beautiful to drink, they are also affordable.  They use only whole leaf teas, not the sweeping or fannings found in most inexpensive teas and there are no synthetic essences or flavourings.  What you are drinking is pure and whole.  As for my favourite tea, Earl Grey, they use only true oil of bergamot and you can absolutely taste it.
Margit's sculptures, beautiful lanterns.
Inside the tea house. I love the light in here.


My tea and sweet pairing. Iced Mysteaque with an Earl Grey Chocolate cake.  Tea can be
wonderful to cook with. 


Margit in her garden.


While you may think purchasing an artisan tea is going to cost a fortune, it actually doesn't.  At Teafarm you can purchase teas in tins, 250 gram bags as well as 500 gram bags (the more you buy, the more you save).  If you return your tin, you receive a 10% discount and if you venture to the Community Farm Store, you can also buy it in bulk.  My tea math may not be exact, but I worked out an 80 gram tin of Teafarm tea to be about 34 cents a cup. Considering that when I go to a cafĂ© to order a latte that costs me over $5.00, a tin of Teafarm Earl Grey is an amazing deal for an afternoon practice of quiet. Read here to find where you can purchase your tea.


Victor outside the tea house.  I love his passion for tea!
Tea need not belong only to expensive tea services at fancy hotels.  Tea belongs to all of us, the young and the old, the rich and the poor.  It crosses cultural boundaries and brings us all closer together when we share a pot.  If you haven't tried Teafarm tea, I highly encourage you experience it. It's a gift of time that we all deserve.  Thank you Victor and Margit for sharing the Way of Teafarm with me, it was such a wonderful experience.








Earl Grey Tea Cake
Adapted from the Wilton Yellow Cake Recipe


3 cups sifted cake flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
2/3 cups butter
2 eggs
3 1/2 teaspoons Teafarm Earl Grey loose leaf tea
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups whole milk

Pour milk into small sauce pan and warm with loose tea.  Before it begins to boil, take it off the heat and let steep for 3-5 minutes.  Strain the tea leaves out with a sieve and keep the milk in a glass or a jar for later.

Preheat your oven to 350℉.  

Grease two round 9 inch cake pans and line with parchment. 

Sift flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment or in a mixing bowl with beaters, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs and vanilla and beat for 1 minute.  

Next add the flour and milk mixture, alternating into thirds.  Once everything is in, beat for one minute longer.  

Pour into cake pans and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Let cool completely on wire racks.

Earl Grey Tea Frosting

1 1/3 cups unsalted butter-room temperature
3 1/2-4/12 cups icing sugar-sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-2 Tbsp milk
1- 1/2 tsp ground whole leaf Teafarm Earl Grey tea

Cream butter in a large bowl, with a wooden spoon works best for me.  Slowly add icing sugar, continually stirring to combine.  Add ground tea, vanilla and continue to beat.  Add milk as needed to thin the icing.  

This will make enough to ice a two layer cake.  Decorate with flowers and enjoy with a friend. 


Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Love Your Farmer : Alderlea Farm

Katy and John
People often ask what food means to me, in other words, why am I so passionate about it?  My answer is always connection. When we cook and eat together, it is an opportunity to slow down, create something good, with love, and share the experience together along with honest conversation or blissful peace.  This experience can come from a long Sunday Lunch or even just a sandwich on the back porch.  The food itself need not be elaborate or stressful, it just needs to be made with care, love and awareness.  When this happens, we connect to our food, ourselves and to each other.

Lower field that is growing all manner of good vegetables.
John and Katy Ehrlich of Alderlea Farm are in their 10th year of growing beautiful, organic, biodynamic food here in the Cowichan Valley.  Last week I had the privilege of sitting at Katy's counter while she made the daily bread to talk to her all about what they do at their farm.  We are in our second year as shareholders in their CSA program and I love what they have created together.  Not only do they grow amazing fruits and vegetables, they also run a cafe three days a week, where they cook up good, homemade food sourced from their farm.  I think that the combination of the farm and cafe is one of the things that make Alderlea so unique.

Katy and John have a vision to grow the best possible vegetables using organic and biodynamic principals, seeing the farm as a living entity.  Everything that grows on their farm is connected with one another.  The hay they grow feeds the animals they raise which produces the manure they need to provide healthy soil for the fruits and vegetables they grow. There is a tangible cycle of life happening on their land along with a distinctive sense of peace.  This is a very special place where time seems to slow down and the love and passion that goes into all that Katy and John do is palpable.  They have dreams that goes beyond producing food: creating a legacy, inspiring children to see farming as a viable career and connecting people to the land, the food and to each other.

The daily bread
As I sat in the cafe and talked with Katy, I had a clear understanding of what she brings to her work: love. One of my most favourite movies of all time is Fried Green Tomatoes.  I love the story of these two best friends that open the Whistle Stop Cafe in depression-era Alabama.  The cafe was more than a place to get a good meal, it was a place to belong.  People came into that cafe everyday to eat, share and connect with each other. It was the heart of that little town and when I go to the cafe at Alderlea it feels much like I imagined that little Alabama cafe to feel.  This is a place where people come to pick up their vegetables while children are encouraged to explore the farm and play. It is also a place where you are likely to run into someone you know, Katy joked that it should be called the "Serendipity Cafe"  Katy and John have created a community gathering place and greet everyone as though they are family.  The food that comes out of the kitchen is home-cooked love, like your mother or grandmother might have made.  There is a sense of belonging here, as though you are a part of something much greater than a bowl of soup.  You are a part of a desire to create a community based on healthy food, healthy land and healthy people.

Best rhubarb crisp ever. 
As a home cook, Alderlea is a haven for me.  It is a place for me to go once a week, pick up my vegetables, see the fields where they came from, talk to the people who grew my food and pause for a bowl of soup or a good salad.  My children are learning where their food comes from, who is responsible for growing it and how it came to their plate.  This is an invaluable life lesson for them and they love it too!  There is a lot of talk about supporting the local economy, food security and eating locally.  As a CSA member, you are supporting all of these things and eating healthier for it. Alderlea offers three options for their members, depending on their needs.  There is an individual ($350.00), small family ($450.00) and large family share ($550.00) for 24 weeks of delicious, organically grown food.  We are a family of 4 and have a small family share which works out to $18.75 a week.  If you are interested in becoming a shareholder, you can learn more about it here.


Katy's famous pumpkin pie
The cafe is a beautiful space to eat, inside and out

Home cooking is all about connecting with the people that we feed on a daily basis.  For some it might be a large family and for others it might just be a solo supper.  Whatever the case, having a relationship to the people who grow your food not only makes you feel good about what you eat but it also gives us a greater appreciation for the value of our food as nourishment for the body and the soul.  If you haven't been up to Alderlea before, I highly recommend it.  You don't need to be a shareholder to eat at the cafe and it is a great way to experience true farm-to-table eating.  If you have children, bring them.  We need to educate our children not just on how to prepare a meal, but also how to eat. Learning to appreciate food and the process of turning it into a meal is one of the greatest gifts we can give to our children and to our families.

Beautiful potatoes


I love how vibrant this field is.
Delicious salad mix waiting to make it to my kitchen

Everything is brought home on an honour system based on the share that you hold.   


Simple Vinaigrette

Many people think that making a good salad dressing is complicated so they spend loads of money on store bought dressings.  Those dressings are never great and the ingredients are less than inspiring.  This one is so simple and yet so, so good. It is a wonderful accompaniment to fresh greens from the farm.

3 parts good Extra Virgin Olive oil (this is the time to use the good fruity one)

1 part vinegar (balsamic, lemon juice, red or white wine)

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Assemble all ingredients in a jar and shake.  I know this seems stupidly simple but you wouldn't believe the amount of people who ask me what kind of dressing is on my salads. This is it.  If you want to make it a bit more fancy, add some Dijon mustard or fresh herbs such as dill or tarragon.  Even a sprinkling of Herbes de Provence are lovely.  I guarantee this will taste better than anything you buy out of a bottle.