Right now, my garden really isn’t a garden. It’s just earth, quietly sleeping in the February cold. There are still clues as to what it was, and my imaginings are already suggesting what it soon might be.
Last season’s tattered tomato plants are scattered about—and there are even a few sodden-frozen tomatoes that never became even more jars of chutney as fall closed over. Along a bit, half a dozen bright orange peppers are hanging in. Christmas lights that never went out.
More? There’s a gun-metal-grey Hubbard squash that ultimately collapsed—never making it like its brothers and sisters, to the Christmas or other tables. And the last of the parsnips, beets and carrots are still in the ground. One by one I will draw them to oomph the dark days’ warming soups and stews. Ditto the garlic. But encrusted in shards of icy soil, the garlic already hints of spring, with adventuresome, bright-green shoots. And beneath protective compost, the rhubarb stirs, bravely pushing pink toward the thin light of winter.
At this time of year, as I impatiently poke around in the cold at the fallow beds, and visualize the crops of spring and summer, I can hear the Mamas and the Papas, trapped on North America’s cold east coast, longing for, and dreamin’ of the warmth of California. All the leaves are brown, they sang, and the sky is grey; I’ve been for a walk, on a winter’s day. I’d be safe and warm, If I was in L.A.
Despite varying degrees of cold across this land, February really is the month for dreaming, when we gardeners thumb through fat catalogues, homing in on what we hope will be perfect seeds. Old favourites, and others new, that will burst open to become this year’s perfect garden. Seeds that will magically segue into summer’s fabulous fresh-picked food, a technicolor taste palate for our summertime kitchen adventures.
Some of Canada’s citizenry take off about now, for sunshine at the end of a plane ride south, or wherever. Lucky them. The rest of us pick through imported produce as the ‘locally grown’ signs are replaced by enticing words for cleverly-marketed stuff from south of the border, from the summer of the other hemisphere.
But enough of winter. Cuddle up for a moment longer, as we wait for a summer that will come soon enough. Think salads a’plenty, the steak-searing splendour of your barbecue, picnics in the park, lunch on your terrasse. Or in a shady garden that has come alive once more to bless you with sweet-smelling flowers.
And even better, fabulous food.
sweet and sour onion salad
Lots of taste in this recipe. Primarily from Provence, but there are influences from other corners of the Mediterranean. Sorry, but I’ve never found an easy way to peel baby onions, but the battle is worth it.
450 g baby onions, peeled
1/4 cup wine vinegar
3 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp icing sugar
3 tbsp tomato purée
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs parsley
1/2 cup raisins
Salt and ground black pepper
Place all of the ingredients in a smallish pan with 1 1/4 cups water. Bring to a boil and simmer gently, uncovered for 45 minutes, or until the onions are tender and most of the liquid has evaporated.
Remove the bay leaf and parsley, check the seasoning and transfer to a serving dish.
Serve at room temperature.
The clever part is that raw seafood is cooked by the lime juice! Star says that while this recipe calls for scallops, you may substitute many types of seafood, like halibut, red snapper, flounder, or swordfish.
1 pound bay scallops
8 limes, juiced
2 tomatoes, diced
5 green onions, minced
2 stalks celery, sliced
1/2 green bell pepper, minced
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/8 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Rinse scallops. Place in a medium bowl and pour lime juice over them until completely immersed. Chill all day or overnight until scallops are opaque — you cannot see through them.
Empty half of the lime juice from the bowl. Add tomatoes, green onions, celery, green bell pepper, parsley, black pepper, olive oil, and cilantro to the scallop mixture. Stir gently. Serve in fancy glasses, with a slice of lime hanging over the rim.
tomato basil sauce
When I first added this recipe to my collection, I said that it’s tremendous with something like a baked half spaghetti squash. Or with steamed zucchini. Or just about any vegetable. (Truth is that I had tons of basil in the garden, and wanted to make good use of it.)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, chopped
4 medium tomatoes, peeled
Dash of cayenne
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup basil, finely chopped
1 tbsp butter
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
Heat the olive oil and butter, add the garlic, the tomatoes, chopped into small pieces, the cayenne, the basil.
Turn down heat and simmer until tomatoes are cooked through. Add the cream and the cheese. The sauce should be smooth.
Freshly-ground pepper and maybe a touch of dry mustard may be added for additional taste.
hot artichoke dip
Rich and delish, this is a great way to begin a summer meal.
1 40-oz can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 cup mayonnaise (1/3 mayo, 1/3 no fat sour cream, 1/3 skim milk yogurt)
1/4-1/2 tsp salt
1/2 clove garlic, crushed
Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon
Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix all ingredients. Heat in oven for 10 minutes or until hot. Serve with an assortment of crackers or a fresh baguette, thinly sliced.
vegetable and coconut milk soup
This delicious soup can be made several hours ahead. Keep it covered in the refrigerator. Recipe unsuitable to freeze.
1 tbsp oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 small fresh red chillies, chopped
1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
1 1/4 cups water or chicken stock
150 g can coconut milk
1 cup milk
2 tsp shrimp sauce
2 tsp light soya sauce
1 tsp lemon pepper
230 g can water chestnuts, drained and sliced
Bunch bok choy, finely chopped
425 g can straw mushrooms (or substitute fresh)
1 small red pepper, finely chopped
Heat oil in large saucepan, add onion, chillies and ginger, cook over medium heat for about 2 minutes (or microwave on high for about three minutes) or until onion is soft. Add remaining ingredients, bring to boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.
sweet lime chicken
I don’t think there’s a recipe in the world with the word lime in the title that doesn’t make you at least look at it. Lime is one of the cleverest little numbers in the whole flavor family, and as versatile as any in the colourful group of citrons. Lime just drips summer, with visions of tall gins and tonics, Caribbean coastlines, the Florida Keys and their classic lime pie, of chicken marinades of lime juice, boisterous barbecues, and the ultimate squeeze for a seafood feast! Actually the only reason lime ended up in the recipe is that I had a half-lime left and like all lonely items, it motivated a meal of baked chicken, juicy and full of sweet-tastin’ flavor. Serve it with rice, a green and a red vegetable.
2 chicken breasts
l/2 cup dry white wine
l tbsp brown sugar
l tbsp orange juice
l tbsp pineapple juice
l tsp fresh basil, chopped
l fresh lime
Slices of pineapple
Preheat your oven to 350.
Coat the bottom of a shallow baking dish with butter. Skin the breasts and place smooth-side up in the dish. Pour on the wine, the juices, then top the chicken with basil, brown sugar and a liberal sprinkling of fresh-ground pepper. Place slices of pineapple on top of the chicken, then squeeze on all the lime juice you can from the freshly-halved lime. During cooking, leave the halves on the chicken to add more flavor.
Bake for two hours, covered loosely with a square of foil. Remove foil, then bake for an additional 20 or so minutes until golden brown. If you wish, you may add more pineapple juice to the gravy, then thicken it a bit more with a teaspoon or so of corn starch mixed with cold water.
Add a parsley and crabapple garnish.
I picked up this recipe at a cooking school in Vancouver one evening, when it was presented by Caren McSherry, a very clever cook.
900 g chicken pieces, skin removed
Flour, for dredging
Olive oil, for frying
1 large onion, finely diced
8 whole garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 cup morels (soaked in water)
1/2 cup cepes and boletus mix, soaked in 2 cups of white wine)
2 tbsp undiluted chicken bouillon cube
1 bay leaf
1 cup button mushrooms, sliced
1 cup heavy cream
1 bunch parsley, finely chopped, for garnish
Wash and dry the chicken. Heat just enough oil to cover the bottom of a pan, then soften the onion in the oil. Remove and set aside.
Add more oil to the pan for frying. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour and brown evenly in the pan, adding more oil as needed. Remove the cepes and boletus from the white wine and set mushrooms aside.
When the pieces are brown, transfer to a roasting pan (with a lid). Deglaze the pan with the white wine in which the cepes have been are soaking. Add the onion, garlic, all the mushrooms and chicken bouillon to the pan. Let simmer a few minutes, then pour sauce over the chicken pieces.
Put the lid on the roasting pan and bake at 350°F for one and a half hours. Transfer the chicken pieces to a serving dish, cover and keep warm. Meanwhile, remove the mushrooms from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Remove the roasted garlic cloves and purée. Bring the juices remaining in the plan to a boil, then add cream and the pureed garlic. Adjust the seasonings, then return the mushrooms to the pan and pour the cream sauce over the chicken. Sprinkle with parsley before serving.
crispy duck salad
Super Vancouver chef and friend David Hawksworth offered this full-of-flavour recipe. It’s loaded with the kind of creativity that has made ‘Hawksworth’, opened by David in downtown Vancouver in 2011, a many-times award-winning restaurant. (And if you take an international Business Class flight with Air Canada, you will be served one of David’s signature dishes.)
1⁄2 Pekin Duck, or you can purchase already cooked BBQ Pekin duck at most Asian supermarkets
1 tbsp five-spice powder
2 star anise
1/2 orange, sliced
3-inch knob of ginger, peeled and sliced
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
Salt, to taste
400 ml canola oil, for frying
1 tsp black sesame seeds
Soy and ginger vinaigrette
75ml grapeseed oil
50 ml sesame oil
25 ml soy sauce
1 tbsp, ginger, peeled and finely grated with a microplane
1 lime, juice
200 ml ketchup
25 ml honey
25 ml soy sauce
10 ml sesame oil
1/2 orange, juice
1 tsp black sesame seeds
180 g watercress, washed and spun
1 carrot, peeled and cut into a fine julienne or ribbons using a spiralizer
Half of a daikon, 4-5 cm in diameter, peeled and cut into a fine julienne or ribbons using a spiralizer
1 medium purple beetroot, peeled and cut into a fine julienne or ribbons using a spiralizer
18 g crispy onions
1 tsp black sesame seeds
Handful pomegranate seeds
Preheat the oven at 325°. Season the duck with the five spice and salt. Place the garlic, anise, ginger and oranges slices in a roasting pan. Place the duck on top.
Roast for 45 minutes, until the skin in golden brown and crispy. While the duck is roasting, prepare the vinaigrette and duck dressing by whisking together the ingredients for each recipe in a separate bowl.
Remove duck from the oven and rest on a wire rack until it is cool enough to handle. Carve the duck and cut the breast meat into 1/4 cm thick slices. Pull the leg meat into bite size pieces. Set aside for frying.
Add the canola oil to a large pot and heat the oil to 350°F. Do not fill the pot more than half full. Fry the sliced duck until crispy, approximately 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Toss in the duck dressing.
Mix the watercress, carrots, beets and daikon with some of the soy and ginger vinaigrette. Divide the salad between the serving plates or arrange on a serving platter. Place the crispy fried duck on top and garnish with black sesame seeds and crispy onions.
oyster and chorizo stew with smoked tomatoes
I love ‘em raw, right from the shell, but there are other uses for this versatile gift from the sea. Serves four as a hearty lunch.
500 ml oysters, drained
Flour, for dredging the oysters and thickening the stew
Vegetable oil, for frying
Salt and ground black pepper
1 link dry-cured spicy chorizo sausage, diced
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, diced
Half a leek, diced
Half a sweet red pepper, diced
1/4 cup sweet corn, roasted
3 Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded and lightly smoked (optional)
1 pinch flour
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp fennel seed, crushed
1 cup fish stock
Fresh chopped parsley and garlic toast, for garnishing
Season the oysters with salt and black pepper. Lightly dredge them in flour and pan-fry in vegetable oil until they are lightly golden brown.
Remove the oysters from the pan and let them drain well. Halve them and set aside.
To make the stew, sauté the diced chorizo in olive oil until slightly browned. Remove from the pan, reserving as much of the drippings as possible.
Add the onion and garlic, and sweat them until transparent. Add the carrot, leek, sweet pepper, corn, and tomatoes, and continue sautéing.
When the vegetables are a little soft, sprinkle enough flour overtop only to coat the vegetables. Stir in the tomato paste and fennel seed. Remove the pan from the heat and add the fish stock to achieve a soup-like consistency.
Let the stew simmer for 20 minutes more, or until the vegetables are tender. When the stew is ready, add the oysters, simmer for another couple of minutes.
Correct the seasoning, adding a little cayenne if more spiciness is desired. Add some chopped parsley and serve in soup bowls garnished with garlic toast.
rhubarb roly poly
Makes 12 servings
This recipe was salvaged from a flour company’s recipe book that was published in the 1950’s. Rhubarb has lots of Vitamin C, which is supposed to fend off colds. It’s always nice to know you’re doing something like that as you eat—especially when it tastes nothing at all like medicine. Simply delicious.
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
Combine water and sugar in a 9 x 13′ baking p[an and place over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and set aside.
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
4 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup shortening
1 cup milk
Combine flour, baking powder and salt in bowl. Cut in shortening with pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add milk and stir with a fork until all ingredients are moistened. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and knead gently about 20 times.
2 cups rhubarb, cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 cup fresh strawberries, sliced
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp butter or margarine
Preheat over to 450°F.
Roll dough out to a 10 x 12″ rectangle. Spread rhubarb and strawberries evenly over dough. Sprinkle with mixture of sugar and cinnamon. Dot with butter.
Roll up like a jelly roll, starting with long edge. Press edges to seal. Cut into 12 slices. Place cut side down in the pan containing the syrup mixture. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.
Serve warm with cream.