dimanche 30 mars 2008

Oven Roasted Asparagus

Spring is here and it is time for spring vegetables. Things like asparagus, radishes, green onions, tiny purple artichokes should be showing up in the markets. We can buy these vegetables year round but this is when they are at their best. The asparagus is pencil thin and crisp, artichokes are tiny purple buds with little or no choke, green onions are slender stalks with long thin bulbs.
When I moved to Paris, I heard of the French spring tradition of sliced radish and butter sandwiches. Since radishes are available year round now, I don’t know if this spring rite still elicits such excitement. I haven’t had radishes in a sandwich but they make a lovely addition to salads.
The pencil thin green asparagus so common in Canada is rare in France where the preference seems to be for the fat green and white varieties of which I am not so fond.
Italy is probably THE place to be in spring. Italians have the most amazing selection of spring vegetables that are of the ‘here this week, gone the next’ variety.
Thin green onions also seem to be missing in this part of Europe. Usually, we get thicker green stalks and large round white bulbs. The thin ones are often available in Asian grocery stores (at somewhat elevated prices). But yesterday, I spotted some true slender spring onions in the local grocery store.
I like to keep it simple for these vegetables. For asparagus, to retain all the flavour and goodness, grill or oven roast then sprinkle with lemon juice and slivers of Parmesan cheese. Artichokes should be steamed and served with lemon and butter dipping sauce or grilled then drizzled with a good quality extra virgin olive oil.

Oven Roasted Asparagus
Makes 4-6 servings

1 kg (2 lb) asparagus
15 mL (Tbsp) olive oil
2.5 mL (½ tsp) freshly ground black pepper
1 mL (¼ tsp) salt
60 g (2 oz) Asiago or Parmesan cheese, shaved

Hold asparagus by stem end and bend stalk to snap off woody end. In oven proof baking pan, gently toss asparagus with olive oil, pepper and salt; spread out evenly. Bake for 15 minutes in a 200°C (400°F) oven.
Meanwhile, using a vegetable peeler, cheese planer or knife, cut cheese into thin slices. Arrange over asparagus; bake for 2-5 min. longer or until the asparagus is tender-crisp and cheese is melted.

dimanche 23 mars 2008

Roast Leg of Lamb with Fresh Herbs

Happy Easter / Happy Spring Equinox!!!!

It is time to celebrate the arrival of spring – day is longer than night, plants are coming back to life and we are returning to a world of colour after a long and dreary winter. This year the spring equinox fell on March 20th. We don’t make a big deal of the equinox but it is quite a spectacular sight to see at the astronomical temples of the ancient Mayan ruins if pictures and videos are anything to go by. Visit the tachomas website to see an impressive artistic enactment of the one at Dzibichaltun, Mexico. Maybe one day I will make the pilgrimage myself to see the equinox in person.

One phenomenon of an equinox is a temporary disruption of communications satellites which occurs when the sun is directly behind the satellite relative to the Earth for a short period each day close to the date of the equinox. Could it just be mere coincidence that my GPS was unstable on Thursday and Friday?? It recorded my location correctly on the map but the directions of how to get to my destination were completely scrambled.

Not only is it the spring equinox but it is also Easter. It is a time for bells and bunnies to deliver chocolate eggs to children. How this fits into the remembrance of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ is a bit of a mystery. Even the date changes from year to year relative to the equinox since the church calculates Easter Sunday as the first Sunday after the full moon on or after the March equinox (using the fixed date of March 21st for the equinox as opposed to the actual date when it occurs). All a bit Pagan but it seems like a fabulous idea to celebrate the end of winter and the return to the life giving sunshine and warmth of spring with a feast.

Easter dinner is traditionally either roast lamb or baked ham. Try spicing up the side dishes by serving mango salsa or cranberry jalapeno chutney. For vegetables, I suggest horseradish mustard new potatoes and asparagus.

Roast Leg of Lamb with Herbs
Serves 4-6

1.5 kg (3 lbs) leg of lamb
60 mL (4 Tbsp) olive oil
4 cloves garlic, cut in quarters
2 sprigs fresh sage
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
185 mL (6 oz) dry white wine

Trim excess fat from lamb. Rub with olive oil. Make small slits all around the meat using a sharp knife; insert herbs and garlic into slits. Place any remaining herbs and garlic over the lamb; let rest in a cool place for 2 hours before cooking.

Preheat oven to 190°C (375°F).

Place the lamb in a roasting pan. Pour over 30 mL (2 Tbsp) of olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 35 minutes, basting occasionally. Pour wine over the lamb. Roast for a further 15 minutes, or until meat is cooked to desired doneness.

Remove lamb to a heated serving platter. Remove any surface fat from the pan. Strain pan juices into a gravy boat. Slice the meat and serve with the sauce.

dimanche 16 mars 2008

Agua de Tamarindo

Posada Tamarindo in Mérida, México was named for the very large tamarind tree growing in the garden. This mature tree is lush, green and full of tamarind pods just waiting to be put to a culinary use.

Tamarind pods ripen in late spring to early summer. As the pods mature they become more bulbous and the skin becomes brittle and easy to break. The interior of the pod is a brown or reddish-brown pulp surrounded by a few fibrous strands and encasing several shiny hard brown seeds that seem like pebbles. The pods can be left on the tree for 6 months after maturity resulting in a lower moisture content of the pulp. The high acid and sugar content of tamarind gives it a refreshing sweet sour taste. Tamarind is rich in vitamin B and high in calcium. Unbroken tamarind pods will keep indefinitely as they require maceration to release their juice

Tamarind is used as a spice in Asian and Latin American cuisine. It makes wonderful sauces for fish, shrimp, meat, pork, poultry and eggplant. Tamarind is a key flavour ingredient in Worcestershire, HP and Pickapeppa sauces. Tamarind is sold in the forms of pods, paste, commercially prepared sauces and candy. In Mexico, it is also made into Agua de Tamarindo, the most popular flavour of the aguas frescas. It is a very refreshing drink on a hot day.

Tamarind is becoming easier to find with the rise in popularity of Asian cooking. I found the pods at the Auchan store in Luxembourg. If your local grocery store doesn't carry tamarind pods or paste, try an Asian market.

Feliz cumpleaños Tacho – this recipe is for you.

Agua De Tamarindo

Makes about 2 L (8 cups)

125 g (4 oz) fresh tamarind pods*
1.5 L (6 cups) water
60 mL (1/2 cup) sugar, or to taste
500 mL (2 cups) ice

Twist the ends off tamarind pods and pull to remove fibres, discard the peel. Bring 1 L (4 cups) of water to a boil in a large saucepan; add tamarind pulp and sugar. Simmer for 5 minutes, remove from heat; let steep at least 2 hours at room temperature (or covered and chilled overnight).

Pour tamarind mixture through a fine sieve into a glass pitcher. Press the pulp through the sieve discarding the seeds and remaining fibre. Stir in 500 mL (2 cups) water and ice. Chill and stir before serving.

* 80 mL (1/3 cup) tamarind pulp can be used in place of the fresh pods

Spaghettini with Garlic and Olive Oil

Pasta makes such a quick and easy meal for those days when we don’t have time to cook. It is so versatile with all the different shapes and sauces to choose from. Lots of whole wheat pastas are now available that make it even healthier for us. You probably already have the basic ingredients in your cupboard today and all you’ll need to add is a little fresh parsley (or basil) to make this simple and tasty pasta dish.

Spaghettini with Garlic and Olive Oil
Serves 4

400 g (14 oz) spaghettini
90 mL (6 Tbsp) extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2.5 mL (1/2 tsp) chile pepper flakes (optional)
60 mL (4 Tbsp) fresh parsley, chopped
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Cook spaghettini in a large pot of rapidly boiling water until just barely al dente.
Meanwhile, gently sauté garlic with chile pepper flakes until fragrant in a large skillet. Take care not to let the garlic brown or it will taste bitter. Stir in parsley and cook gently until spaghetti is ready.
Drain the pasta and add to the sauce; cook together for 2-3 minutes, stirring well to coat the spaghettini. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately in a warmed serving bowl.
Sprinkle with Parmesan.

dimanche 2 mars 2008


As I sit on the Germany/Luxembourg border on a wet and windy weekend, my mind wanders to the sunshine and bright colours of the Yucatan, México and my wonderful recent adventures there.

My friends introduced me to the lovely Virginia Herrera who runs the Eladio’s restaurante & bar empire in Mérida. Eladio’s are family restaurants with lively music that serve botanas (appetizers or tapas) with your order of cold beer or soft drinks. Virginia informed me that they serve about 80 different types of botanas (including many Yucatecan specialties and about 20 vegetarian dishes). Botanas include guacamole, salsas and other dips, ceviche, quesadillas, taco variations, enchiladas, chiles Rellenos, tamales, flautas, empanadas, vegetables, cheeses, and many more small plates of tasty food tidbits. Unlike the Spanish tapas concept, at Eladio’s you pay for the drinks consumed and the botanas are provided on the house.

Yucatecan cuisine is a rich blend of Mayan, Spanish, French and Caribbean techniques and ingredients. I am only beginning to get to know this cuisine but thanks to the “Cocina Yucateca” cookbook that I received from Virginia as a birthday present, I will be able to learn more and be able to cook some local specialties when I return to the Yucatan.

A very simple snack or botana is guacamole and tortilla chips. Don't buy the commercial varieties of Guacamole which must be full of chemicals or things other than avocado to produce the vibrant green colour. Guacamole is simple to make and good for you.

Guacamole Auténtico

Serves 6

2 ripe avocados, peeled, pit removed
1 ripe, small Roma tomato, seeded, finely diced
30 mL (2 Tbsp) onion, minced
1/2 small jalapeño chile, seeded, minced (vary amount depending on heat of chile and to taste)
30 mL (2 Tbsp) chopped cilantro leaves
30 mL (2 Tbsp) freshly squeezed lime juice
Hot pepper sauce and sea salt, to taste

Cut avocado into large chunks; mash in a large bowl with a fork (mash with mortar and pestle or blend in a food processor) retaining some of the chunky texture. Add remaining ingredients and blend. Taste and adjust seasoning with pepper sauce and salt if desired.