Monday, 3 October 2011

A 'Harvest Festival' thankyou dinner and yoga

I don't have a lot of success with growing things on my tiny balcony, it being quite shaded, but I do have enough to consider the plants' welfare while I'm away. Tomatoes, chillies and herbs seem to thrive out there and after tending something from seed, the last thing you want is to watch it suffer through neglect. Cue the friends who watered the tiny garden every day and kept the plants healthy and productive while I was away. A thank you was in order with the original idea being to make a dinner including produce from my own balcony which the friends had helped to keep alive. I have chilies, herbs and Swiss chard all waiting to be harvested. This developed into an idea to create a menu based on the 100 mile diet principle, formulated right here in Vancouver. Find more info here. But, this was so difficult I abandoned the idea and just tried to make a semi healthy dinner instead, full of late Summer / early Autumn foods and colours. (Imagine having to harvest your own salt because the shop bought version is sourced too far away. l do live next to a beach though.....)

Some of these recipes are repeated and I actually used my own blog to produce them again, (an extremely nice feeling of achievement). The idea was to create a dinner closely related to the harvest festival concept: local and seasonal. For this we started with butternut squash and bell pepper soup, all the vegetables bought from a local farm shop. I added a little local apple juice also and a dash of dry vermouth to brighten the flavours and liven up the sweetness. Butternut squash must be one of the most beloved of all squash and pumpkin, the flesh being so sweet and earthy. It makes an excellent creamy soup but is also good as a vegetable in it's own right, roasted and tossed with some butter to sit alongside a piece of chicken, for example or even in a curry or stew. 

A note about some of the photographs in this post. I thought I'd share a valuable photography lesson I learnt with you. Some of the photographs have a grainy effect. This is due to the shutter speed being very high as I was taking photos of the couscous moving rapidly. I forgot to switch it back down for the later shots of dinner and consequently, not enough light was getting into the lens and the shots look grainy. I quite like it as it can give the impression of a 'painted' effect, but most foodies probably wouldn't agree. Always check your shutter speed is correct for the light conditions etc.

Recipe : Butternut squash and bell pepper soup with toasted almonds
1 butternut squash, cut into quarters, seeds removed
2 yellow bell peppers, seeded and cut into quarters
1 yellow or orange chili pepper, seeded and cut into pieces
1 tbsp oil
3 tsp butter
salt and pepper
1/4 cup dry vermouth, white wine or chicken stock
2 tbsp apple juice
1.5 cups of water
1 tbsp fresh sage, finely chopped
1/2 tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped
1/4 cup cream

Pre heat the oven to 400oF and lay the squash, bell pepper and chili pepper on a baking sheet. Drizzle with the oil and season with the salt and pepper, stirring well to coat the vegetables. Dot the butter over the top of the vegetables. Roast for about 45 - 50 minutes until the squash is soft.

Transfer everything to a casserole dish or pan and use a little water to de glaze the roasting dish, scraping and stirring all the bits from the bottom. Add to the pan with all other ingredients, except the cream and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer over low - medium heat for about 40 minutes.

Remove from the heat and let cool for a while before blending the soup in a processor or blender until really smooth. Return to the pan, reheat gently, add the cream and stir well. Serve while steaming hot with a few toasted almonds sprinkled over the top.

The following potatoes came from Bon Appetit magazine. I found them interesting due to their cute shape and also for the fact that as many as 24 bay leaves are used to impart that floral flavour that only bay leaves have. (Try tucking some bay leaves under the skin of a chicken breast before roasting and you will notice a distinct flavour that is quite strong but not overpowering).

Recipe : Domino potatoes
(Taken from Bon Appetit magazine - October 2011 - Recipe scaled down to feed 4)
4 medium potatoes, peeled
2 tbsp butter, melted
12 bay leaves
1 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 400oF.
Cut all ends off the potatoes until you have a rectangle shape. Slice each potato thinly until you have many slices of the same shape. Lay the stacks into a buttered baking dish (using half the butter, melted) and fan out like a pack of cards to give you a domino effect. Tuck the bay leaves between the potatoes at regular intervals and brush everything with the remaining melted butter. Sprinkle with salt and bake for about 40 minutes, turning the tray half way through. Check the potatoes are cooked and remove. You can serve at room temperature or rewarm just before serving. 

The main course was a hybrid of locavore sensibilities and exotic ingredients. A Sardinian couscous was used along with a myriad of colourful, fresh vegetables bought at the farmers' market that morning. The couscous has a large grain and a toasted, rough texture. The vegetables were a combination of sweet, earthy beets, slightly bitter roasted radishes and zucchini and peppers, among others. Dressed simply with a vinegar, salt and pepper dressing, it tasted like Summer reborn and was beautiful, a rainbow.

Recipe : Sardinian couscous and roasted vegetable salad
1 large beet, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2 red onion, peeled and cut into chunks
5 pink radishes, cut into halves
2 bell peppers, seeded and cut into quarters
1 yellow zucchini, cut into chunks
1 green chili pepper, seeded and halved
2 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half
1 tbsp oil
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp butter
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 handful of mixed leaves
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp fresh mint and basil, finely chopped
1 cup cooked couscous, (any type is fine)

Preheat the oven to 400oF. Lay the first 7 ingredients onto a baking dish, drizzle with the oil, sprinkle over the salt and roast for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and add the butter, dotted over the top. Return to the oven and continue to cook for another 10 minutes or so until all the vegetables are soft. Remove and allow to cool.

Cook the couscous according to the instructions, (usually boil briefly until soft or al dente - I would usually boil in chicken stock, but one guest is vegetarian, so I used water). Drain well, mix in about 1 tbsp of butter and allow to cool.

When the roasted vegetables and couscous are cool, mix them together in a large bowl, stirring well but gently to avoid breaking up the veg.

Add the tomatoes, leaves, wine vinegar, salt and herbs and toss together well. Let this salad stand at room temperature rather than refrigerating to keep the flavours bright and strong.

Although my friend is a vegetarian, she does eat fish and particularly likes salmon, a good thing while living in BC. The recipe for this dish uses Chinese inspired flavours to add a spicy, umami soy kick to the fish, which works well to counterbalance the oiliness. I added some Korean sesame and chili gochujang paste also, partly because I'm addicted to it now and partly because it adds a depth of sweetness and heat. 

Recipe : Chinese Barbecued Salmon
2 tbsp peanut oil
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp Balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp chopped onions
3/4 tsp brown sugar
1/2 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp Gochujang paste (optional)
1/8 tsp salt
Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl and pour over 2 pieces of salmon. Cover, refrigerate and marinade for 4 - 6 hours.
When ready to cook, remove from the marinade, scrape off excess (don't throw it away, you need it for the sauce), and grill on a barbecue or under a grill (broiler) for about 10 minutes until cooked well and the skin crispy.

We had a sauce made from the reserved marinade, reheated and reduced with 1/2 cup water and a mayonnaise spiked with the juice of one lemon, some lemon pepper seasoning and a few saffron strands.

To finish, I made another plum cake, although this time I added some nectarine too. This cake almost produced a mini catastrophe with burnt cake dripping onto the oven floor which resulted in an apartment full of smoke and a hasty self oven clean for 4 hours. This meant the cake couldn't be cooked again for at least 8 hours which resulted in my staying up until 2am on Saturday morning to ensure it was cooked. It was worth it though. 

Oh and the yoga?, my first ever session, written by my afore mentioned friend and designed to reduce stress. Today I am aching in places I didn't think I'd actually moved at all. 

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