Tastefull Blog: Blackberry Coffee Cake

blackberryCoffeeCakeBy Marika Varro, The Convenient Chef

Nothing says “summer!” in Powell River like freshly picked, sweet and succulent blackberries!

We have an abundance of these delicious berries and each year we look forward to celebrating the season with the Blackberry Festival street party on Marine Avenue, where one can find blackberries incorporated into many different and delicious savoury or sweet dishes as well as cocktails.

We have three varieties of blackberries in British Columbia: Himalayan, Trailing and Highbush.

They grow on thorny bushes called brambles, and are technically not just one fruit. Each blackberry has many drupelets that are arranged in a circular fashion, similar to a grape bunch. Blackberries belong to the same family as dewberries and raspberries.

They are high in vitamins C,A, E, K and B, minerals like copper, manganese, magnesium, potassium, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, riboflavin, niacin and folic acid.

Their dark colour is a sign of their high antioxidants which protect against aging, inflammation, cancer and other neurological diseases.

Blackberries have a sweet, tart flavour that is very satisfying. They can be enjoyed by themselves (only 62 calories per cup), they can be added to salads or smoothies, or they can be a topping for yogurt. Use them in desserts and savoury sauces. Make them into jellies, jams and wine.

Blackberries will keep for several months in the freezer; just rinse and drain them off and store them in a Ziploc bag.

The plant is extensively used by First Nations people. Young, edible shoots are harvested in the spring, peeled and used in salads.

The root-bark and the leaves are astringent, useful for treating diarrhoea, and for soothing sore throats, mouth ulcers and gum inflammations. Traditionally, using the blackberry fruit and root bark in honey, medicinal cough syrup was made.

We must share these delicious berries with our local bears. Black bears gain weight most rapidly in July and August, and blackberries are their main diet in coastal BC. They can consume 30,000 berries a day. They pick them with their sensitive lips and swallow them whole. The berries enter a two-part stomach, which grinds the pulp off the seed. The seeds pass through unbroken and are thus able to germinate. This is how they spread the seeds throughout their territory, making sure of future supply. After the berries run out and before the salmon spawning, there is little else for them to eat before they enter their dens in October so we see many black bears in our gardens in August and at the beginning of September.

What do you get when you eat blackberries? Bluetooth!


BLACKBERRY COFFEE CAKE RECIPE

Ingredients

  • 1 kg  blackberries
  • 4 Tbsp icing sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
    • Gently toss to coat berries with sugar/cinnamon mixture
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1.5 tsp baking soda
  • ¾ cup soft butter
  • 1 ½ cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 ½ cup sour cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 small lemon rind & juice

For topping

  • 3 Tbsp coarse sugar (I use sugar in the raw)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Steps

  • Sift together flour, baking powder & soda, set aside
  • In a separate bowl, cream butter and sugar
  • Add eggs one at the time and beat well
  • Add sour cream, vanilla, lemon rind & juice and beat well
  • Mix in flour mixture. If using blueberries you can mix them in, but other berries would bleed too much
  • Pour half into a prepared pan (large rectangular) & top it with half the berry mixture
  • Spread evenly; it’s ok if it gets mixed up
  • Pour second half of dough and top with berries
  • Spread berries evenly, slightly pressing into dough
  • Sprinkle with coarse sugar and cinnamon mix
  • Bake 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until done. Do the toothpick test and check the bottom if using a glass dish. Cool on wire rack and serve at room temperature, but cold is pretty good as well.

 

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Tastefull Blog: Zucchini

By Marika Varro, The Convenient Chef

A couple of summers ago, my friend Bea Kent handed me a few zucchinis, saying, “If you have to buy zucchini during the summer in Powell River, then you don’t have enough friends.”

For the beginner gardener, zucchini is one of the easiest vegetables to cultivate; success is guaranteed.  Zucchini can produce so much it can be overwhelming. One good way to control overabundance is to harvest the flowers as well.

Zucchini, a summer squash, is low in calories and a good source of potassium and vitamin A, among other nutrients.

The name zucchini is used in Italy, Australia, Canada and the United States, while the name “courgette” is commonly used in France, the Netherlands, Ireland and the United Kingdom. Eaten before mature, they are called baby squash.

The smaller the zucchini the better, for a delicate flavour that requires quick cooking with butter or olive oil and fresh herbs.

The vegetable can be used in many ways: raw, steamed, boiled, grilled, stuffed, baked, barbecued, fried – even cut with a spiralizer to make zucchini noodles for a low-carb alternative. Zucchini can also be baked into bread similar to banana bread or incorporated into a cake mix. Its flowers can be eaten stuffed, deep fried in tempura batter.

Zucchini is used in many countries. In Bulgaria it is fried and served with a dip. In Egypt it is cooked with tomato sauce, garlic and onions. In France it is a key ingredient in ratatouille, a vegetable stew; in Greece, zucchini is usually fried, stewed or stuffed with minced meat, rice, and herbs. In Italy  it is fried, baked, boiled, or deep fried, while in Mexico, the flower is cooked in soups or used as a filling for quesadillas. A popular dish in Turkey is zucchini pancakes made from shredded zucchini, flour, and eggs, lightly fried in olive oil and eaten with yogurt. Flowers are also used in a cold dish, where they are stuffed with a rice mixture containing various spices and nuts.

If your garden is producing more zucchini than you know what to do with, consider eating a few of the zucchini blooms. The bright yellow flowers taste similar to the zucchini and are perfectly safe to eat. Choose blossoms that are just barely fully opened and harvest them in the morning.

What kind of socks do you need to plant zucchini?
Garden hose!

beerzuccfried2

Cheese Stuffed Fried Zucchini Flowers

Cheese Stuffed Zucchini Flowers

Ingredients

  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 12                    zucchini flowers with stems, rinsed
  • 12 cubed         feta, size to fit inside flower (you can use other cheese)
  • 1 cup               seasoned flour
  • 2                      eggs, beaten with salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup               Panko breadcrumbs

 

Steps

  • Pour 3 inches of oil in a heavy pot, heat to 375F
  • Stuff a flower with a cheese
  • Coat with seasoned flour
  • Dip into egg
  • Coat with Panko
  • Fry flowers in hot oil until crisp and golden, about 2 minutes. Don’t overcrowd.
  • Drain on paper towel.

Enjoy!

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

chocolate-zucchini-cake1

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

 

Ingredients

  • ½ cup            soft butter
  • 1 cup               sugar
  • ½ cup            vegetable oil
  • 2                      eggs
  • ½ cup            buttermilk (or mix ½ c milk with 1 tbs lemon juice)
  • 1 tsp                vanilla
  • 21/2 cups      flour
  • 4 tbsp             cocoa powder (Dutch preferably)
  • 1 tsp                baking powder
  • 1 tsp                baking soda
  • 1 tsp                salt
  • 1 tsp                cinnamon
  • ½ tsp             ground cloves
  • 2 cups            grated zucchini, drained
  • 1 cup               chocolate chips

Steps

  • Cream together butter, sugar, oil, eggs, buttermilk and vanilla.
  • Sift and mix dry ingredients, flour, cocoa, baking powder & soda, salt, cinnamon and cloves.
  • Stir dry ingredients into creamy mixture.
  • Fold in zucchini and chocolate chips.
  • Pour into greased bunt or chiffon pan, or two small loaf pans.
  • Bake at 350F for 45-60 minutes, till tester comes out clean.
  • Dust with icing sugar or top with chocolate glaze.

Chocolate glaze

(Makes about 1 1/4 cup)

Ingredients

  • 7 oz                 semisweet chocolate
  • 1 tbsp              butter, unsalted
  • ¾ cup             sugar
  • 1/3 cup           strong coffee

Steps

  • Melt in double boiler over hot, not boiling water chocolate and butter.
  • Cook sugar and coffee to thread stage (230F).
  • Pour syrup in slowly, stirring constantly until mixture coats back of the spoon.
  • Pour the glaze over the cake.

TasteFull Blog: Padgett’s Lovely Eggs

eghgsBY MARIKA VARRO

It’s hard not to notice the “eggs for sale” sign when driving southbound
on Padgett Road. One Tree Farm, owned by Matt and Wilma Duggan, offers not just eggs,but chickens, blueberries and other produce as well.
“Eggs are laid by female chickens (hens). They are omnivores,which means they eat both meat and plants. They enjoy eating insects, larvae, worms
and different types of vegetation, which might explain the unique combination of nutrients found in eggs,” explains Matt.

But not all eggs are created equal. Stand in front of the egg cooler in your supermarket and you will find an array of labels whose terms are legal but can be misleading.

Cage-free, free-range, free-roaming, omega 3-enriched, vegetarian (that totally puzzles me) and organic. What does it all mean? It’s hard to figure out the standards as to how often or for how long the hens
actually spend outside.

Your best bet is to buy locally from farmers who let their chickens run free all day, so they can eat bugs, worms and grass, and the food given to them is organic (not containing GMO crops, animal byproducts
or antibiotics). Local eggs can vary from $5 to $8 per dozen.
Eggs aren’t just delicious and versatile; they are extremely nutritious and contain only 70 calories per large egg. They contain all nine essential amino acids which are considered the “building blocks of the body” as well as 14 key nutrients like vitamins A, all the B vitamins, D, E, K, selenium, iron, magnesium and more.

Eggs provide energy, they build and repair body tissue and cells, they create strong hair and fingernails, build and maintain muscles, help fight infections, keep body fluids in balance and believe it or not they
help protect against heart disease.

The variety of eggs enjoyed among the world’s cultures includes duck, goose, quail, turkey, ostrich, and of course chicken eggs.
Eggs have been regarded as a symbol of rebirth, renewal, beginnings and fertility. Eggs were once forbidden during Lent so Catholics had to wait till until Easter to eat them, which is one reason why eggs became associated with Easter. Painting eggshells has been a popular custom in
many ancient civilizations, including Chinese, Greek, Egyptian and Persian.

Do you know the definition of relay?
What chickens do when the farmer takes their eggs away.

Devilled Eggs Recipe

Ingredients
– 6 large hard-boiled eggs
– salt and black pepper to taste
– 2 tablespoons real mayonnaise
– 2 tablespoons soft butter
– 1 teaspoon prepared dijon mustard
– 2 tablespoons finely minced capers
– 1 tablespoon finely minced chives
– Pinch nutmeg
– Pinch cayenne pepper
– Paprika

Steps
– Peel shells off cooled hard-boiled eggs; slice into halves lengthwise.
– Remove yolks from whites and place in a small round bowl.
– Mash yolks with a fork into fine pieces.
– Add mayonnaise, butter, mustard, capers, chives, nutmeg, cayenne and salt and black pepper to taste.
– Stir mixture until creamy.
– Spoon mixture into a piping bag or into a zip-lock sandwich bag; seal bag and snip off one corner of the bag.
– Squeeze mixture out of corner of bag into egg white halves.
– Sprinkle tops of filled devilled eggs with paprika.
– Chill in refrigerator 1 to 2 hours or until cold before serving.


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The Convenient Chef is located at 5830 Ash Avenue; tel: 604-483-9944

Let The Convenient Chef make it easy! Weekly features new soups and menu changes coming soon.

  • Gluten-free and vegetarian choices available.
  • Made to order, flash-frozen quality meals perfect for: seniors, busy professionals and families, injured, singles, date night at home, extended care, boaters and cabin goers.
  • Free Delivery on orders of $40 or more within city limits.
  • Weekly and monthly meal programs available.
  • Call Marika for a one-on-one consultation 604-483-9944

Catering: from small meetings to 500 or more.

Tastefull Blog: Savour Spring Salmonberries

By Marika Varro

Salmonberry, a member of the rose family and a close relative of raspberries, is native to the West Coast of North America. Rich in vitamins C and K as well as manganese, the reddish-orange berries can be eaten raw or made into jams, jellies or wine and are often frozen for later use. They are highly perishable and have a very short shelf life. The young shoots can be eaten raw or cooked like asparagus and the leaves can be used as tea.
Salmonberry (not a true berry) was an important food source for the Tla’amin people. Its name is believed to have derived from the fact that Native Americans ate this fruit with salmon and salmon roe.
“Salmonberry has a long history in my nation’s diet,” says Erik Blaney, a member of the Tla’amin Nation.“The people gathered the ripe berries, made them into cakes and dried them for later use with salmon. The salmon was smoked and dried, placed in woven bas- kets of cedar bark and stored underground in a food cache. To eat, the salmonberry cake was re-hydrated with herring oil or bear fat, the salmon was heated in a pit lined with skunk-cabbage leaves and the salmon was then dipped into the re-hydrated salmonberry. In the spring, the young shoots were eaten, and still are. As a treat, children dip the fresh shoots into sugar and it is called pa’aje (pa adga). The new shoots taste like asparagus or fiddleheads.”
The fruits, leaves and flowers provide food for many animals like bears and hummingbirds.

Not just a food, Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) has many medicinal uses, too. Its leaves can be used as a poultice for dressing burns while its bark can make a poultice to ease toothaches and cure open wounds. Its roots can be mashed and boiled to treat stomach problems and ease labour pains.

 

Salmonberry Crumble
Serve with ice-cream or whipping cream.

  • 4 cups fresh salmonberries (they are seedy, which will add a crunchytexture to this dessert)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • Mix above ingredients and pour into a prepared 9×9 baking pan.
  • Topping
  • ½ cup butter
  • ½ cup oatmeal
  • ½ cup flour
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ cup nuts (almonds, pecans or walnuts)

Place in food processor and pulse until crumbly. Sprinkle over berry mixture and bake in pre-heated 350F oven for 45 minutes, until the top is golden.

Tastefull Blog: Asparagus “Tips”

convenientchef_asparagus

By Marika Varro, The Convenient Chef

If someone were to ask you what spring means to you, you might say, “the first sight of hummingbirds” or, “seeing certain flowers like daffodils”, or maybe “the sound of tree frogs.”

Well, spring to me is when asparagus shows up in my supermarket, usually locally grown and well-priced. This nutrient dense-food has the taste of“spring” to me.

Debbie Shapter and Richard Gilbert, owners of the Blacktail Farm on Texada Island, are looking forward to this year’s asparagus crop which they planted four years ago. The plants thrive on their chickens’  naturalfertilizer.

“The asparagus is a member of the lily family. The spears grow from a crown that is planted about a foot deep in soft, sandy, soils. The spears are not harvested for three years to allow the crown to develop a  strong root system,” says Debbie.

Temperature determines the time between harvests. Earlier in the season, pickings may be every four or five days whereas as the weather gets warmer, asparagus may have to be picked every 24 hours. The season can last up to eight weeks and a properly cared for planting will produce for about 15 years.

In Europe white asparagus is more common than the green asparagus we find in Canada but is occasionally available in our supermarkets. It is white because it has been deprived of the sun that would turn it green. That lack of sunshine has a definite effect on taste: white asparagus has a sweet, nutty flavour and a less “grassy” taste.

To prepare this springtime treat, trim the ends, by snapping the butts at their natural breaking points and wash in warm water. Stand asparagus upright in about an inch of water in a glass placed into your fridge. Fresh asparagus keeps for two or three days.

It’s one of the most nutritionally balanced vegetables there are: high in folic acid and a good source of potassium, vitamins A, B6, C, fiber and thiamin. It has no fat, no cholesterol, is low in sodium and tastes great!

Cream of Asparagus Soup

4-6 servings

  • 3 lbs asparagus spears
  • 3 cups chicken stock or water
  • 2 large leeks, cleaned and chopped (white and light green part) )
  • 2 cups hot milk
  • 2 tsp dill
  • 1 medium onion finally chopped
  • ½ tsp tarragon
  • 2 tbsp butter Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed

– Wash and trim asparagus. Cut off the tips and set aside. Coarsely slice

remaining stalk.

– Melt butter in a medium size skillet. Add leeks, onion, potatoes and

asparagus stalk. Sauté for about 15-20 minutes over medium heat, stirring

frequently.

– Add stock or water, stir and heat to boil, and then turn down to simmer.

Cook until potatoes are soft.

– Puree the soup with the milk and season with the herbs and salt and

pepper.

–  Blanch and chill asparagus tips (see above) cut into small pieces and add to

soup just before serving as a garnish.

Tastefull Blog: Oysters, Luscious and Local

By Marika Varro, The Convenient Chef

Okeover Organic Oysters has been owned and operated for the last 15 years by Andre Comeau and Chris Roberts. Committed to sustainable farming, their mission is to farm shellfish without harming the environment. They produce oysters of every size as well as “hand-dug” Manila clams. The tray-grown oysters are shipped to Vancouver and from there they are distributed locally and around the world. Oysters are not only delicious, they are also one of the most nutritionally balanced of foods, high in zinc, iron, calcium, selenium vitamin A and B12. As a bonus, they are also low in calories.

We are lucky to live in Powell River where we can just head down to the beach and pick our own, with a licence of course. Fresh oysters can be stored in your refrigerator, covered with a wet towel, for up to 10 days. Do not keep them in sea water or in a closed container. Shuck as close as possible to when you plan to eat them.

Shucking takes practice. You need a sharp knife, a small towel and a dish in which to catch the oyster’s juice, the “liquor” that keeps it alive ooystersnce it’s out of water. It is precious and tastes amazing.

For the best taste, eat oysters raw: squeeze a little lemon juice on the meat (or freshly grated horseradish or your favourite hot sauce for a bit more kick), knock it back, and chew ever so slightly to unlock the flavours. Oysters are also delicious when breaded and pan fried, poached, baked or barbecued. Toppings like cream cheese, bacon or Parmesan cheese also go well with oysters.

Drink what you like with oysters – Champagne, a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, a buttery Chardonnay or your favourite Townsite brew. Even water can create the perfect marriage. It is possible for oysters to produce pearls when foreign material becomes trapped inside their shells; however they should not be confused with actual pearl oysters, which are from a different family of bivalves.

Naturally occurring bacterium called Vibrio parahaemolyticus can be found in coastal waters during increased water temperatures. Illnesses can be avoided by cooking the oysters a minimum of six minutes to a temperature of 140F. Do not consume oysters or other shellfish during “red tide” (harmful algal blooms) not even cooking will eliminate toxins.

So, are oysters really aphrodisiacs? Research shows that raw oysters are rich in rare amino acids that trigger increased level of sex hormones. Try some yourself to find the answer!
Oysters Rockefeller
(Chris & Andre’s favourite)

4 tbsp. Butter
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1/3 cup Breadcrumbs, Panko
2 Shallots, minced
2 cups Fresh spinach, chopped
¼ cup Pernod
To taste Salt & pepper
Little Hot sauce (Tabasco)
2 tbsp. Olive oil
¼ cup Grated Parmesan
1 tbsp. Parsley, chopped
2 dozen Oysters, on the half shell
Rock salt
Lemon wedges for garnish

1. Sauté garlic in butter for 2 minutes
2. Mix half of the garlic butter with breadcrumbs in a bowl
3. Add to remaining garlic butter in the skillet shallots and spinach, cook for
3 minutes
4. Add Pernod, salt & pepper, hot sauce; allow the mixture to cook down
5. Add to garlic butter-breadcrumb mixture olive oil, Parmesan & parsley, season with salt & pepper
6. Spoon a heaping teaspoon of spinach mixture on each oyster followed by a spoonful of breadcrumb
mixture
7. Sprinkle a baking pan generously with rock salt and arrange oyster on the salt to steady them
Bake in pre-heated 450F oven 10-15 minutes until 8. golden
9. Serve with lemon wedges and more hot sauce on the side

Tastefull Blog: Little Shrimp, Jumbo Taste

shrimp_convenientChef

As published in the Jan 2016 issue of Powell River Living Magazine.

What is the difference between a shrimp and a prawn?

The answer depends on where you live. On the West Coast, large shrimp are mostly known as prawns, and the name shrimp is usually reserved for the small cooked and peeled variety.

The exception for that is the sidestripe shrimp, which can also be found fresh here in Powell River.

On the East Coast, shrimp is the common name for all types and sizes. The British call all shrimp-like creatures prawns. The name persists in most British

Commonwealth nations, including India and South Africa.

Shrimp/prawns are crustaceans. They have ten legs like crabs and lobsters, and a shell covering the head and body. Shrimp/prawns live in a variety of habitats ranging from coral reefs to sandy bottoms, but the species that are consumed as food usually live on muddy bottoms and feed on detritus, small plants and animals.

Fresh shrimp

Here in Powell River we are lucky to be able to harvest or purchase fresh prawns and sidestripe shrimp. Shrimp are among the most widely available and most widely used seafood, but most seafood suppliers do not bother with fresh shrimp due to their higher cost and perishability. So take a moment to appreciate the bounty of the Salish Sea, if you’re getting truly fresh shrimp.

Whole raw shrimp/prawns should be stored on ice; their heads tend to blacken after about 48 hours.  Head-off fresh raw shrimp/prawns have a shelf life of about 5-7 days on ice as do truly fresh-cooked shrimp.

Thawing frozen shrimp

Shrimp are best thawed overnight in the  refrigerator. Place the frozen shrimp in a colander set inside a large bowl. The shrimp should not sit in their own juices as they thaw.

There is a quick method if you are in a hurry. Place the shrimp in a colander and run water over the frozen shrimp. Avoid letting thawed shrimp sit in water for a long time; they may become waterlogged.

Cooking and preparing shrimp

The most common error in preparing shrimp is to over cook them. Shrimp should be boiled in well salted water. Small to medium shrimp should be boiled 3 to 5 minutes and large 6 to 8 minutes.

Shrimp can also be broiled, baked, stir-fried,  sautéed, deep-fried or barbecued but; whatever the cooking method is avoid overcooking!

RECIPE

Spicy Thai Prawn Stir-fry

(Serves 6)

  • 3 red chilies (cut into thin strips)
  • 3 cloves garlic (cut into thin strips)
  • ½ -inch piece peeled fresh ginger (cut into thin strips)
  • 2 tbsp peanut oil
  • 6 green onions (green part only, chopped diagonally in ¼-inch pieces)
  • 1-1½ lbs prawns (shelled, leaving tails intact)
  • 2 cups bean sprouts
  • 1 cup snow peas
  • 2 cups broccoli florets cut into small pieces
  • ½ green pepper, sliced
  • ½ red pepper, sliced
  • 1 large carrot, thinly sliced
  • 12 mushrooms (cut into 4)
  • 8-12 cherry tomatoes
  • 1 small zucchini, sliced
  • green onions (white part, cut into 1-inch pieces)
  • (Vegetables can be added or substituted to personal preference.)
  • 2 tbsp Thai fish sauce or soy sauce
  • 1½ tbsp white vinegar
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar

Heat oil in wok, stir-fry chilies & ginger for 2 minutes, add garlic & green onions, fry together until lightly brown & crisp. Remove from wok, drain and set aside.

Re-heat oil in wok, add prawns & stir-fry for 2 minutes.

Remove from wok & set aside.

Re-heat oil, add vegetables, stir-fry until vegetables are just tender.

Add combined sauce, and prawns, stir fry until prawns are cooked. (Don’t over cook prawns)

Sprinkle with the crisp chili, garlic, ginger & green onion mixture.

Serve with Jasmine rice or chilled on a bed of greens.

Garnish with cilantro.