Thursday, July 15, 2010

If you're going to San Francisco...

pologies for the delay in posting! We were in San Francisco for a week, and didn't have much of a change to squeeze a blog post in between visiting friends and exploring the city.

What of the 100 mile challenge, you ask? WELL. One aspect of the rule-book for the Challenge is that when you travel, you either take food from your local area with you, OR... you try to ensure that the food you're eating at your destination is as local as possible. Since we were in California, we had some of the freshest ingredients possible at our disposal, and we had the chance to enjoy some great food that we'd been missing terribly here in Toronto.

I had noticed how much my palate had changed in terms of being able to appreciate the nuances of flavour in the foods we cooked without them being slathered in spices, but to suddenly have exposure to items I'd normally taken for granted was mind boggling. I'd always loved avocados, but eating them again in SF was like an entirely new experience: there are intricate textures and flavours present in those gorgeous green fruits, and I had never taken the time to just sit down and appreciate every layer of them before.

LEMONS! I normally have half a dozen of them at the house at any given time, but after not having had them for a month, it was something truly special to have it freshly squeezed into a glass of water, or over an organic salad. I'd been using lemon balm or sorrel on occasion to get that lemony-sort-of-taste in food, but really? It just wasn't the same.

I loved so many things about San Francisco, but one of the aspects I appreciated the most was the abundance of fresh produce and really, really good vegetarian food.
We ate breakfast one day at a little Vegan restaurant called "Herbivore" on Valencia avenue:

I'd recommend this place to ANYONE who'll be visiting the Bay area, regardless of if you're a veggie-vore or not. The food was exquisite, the energy of the place was vibrant and welcoming, and the servers were sweet and friendly. Seriously, one of my favourite places I visited while we were there.

We were a bit spoiled in being able to diverge a little from local Canadian fare for a week, but we've returned just as eager and dedicated to this 100 Mile sojourn as before. Today I picked up some incredible blueberries, honey, tomatoes and potatoes from the Mel Lastman Square farmer's market, and will be heading back to the St. Lawrence Market this weekend for some additional ingredients.

Note: I'm afraid that I will personally have to make some amendments/allowances for my own part of the 100 mile journey: I've developed a wheat sensitivity, and since I can only eat so much barley, I'm re-introducing rice and quinoa into my meal planning. No, they're not local grains, but if allowances have to be made for health reasons, they are going to be organic and free-trade. Nathaniel will still be adhering to more stringent locavore guidelines, so the foreign 'contraband' will be limited to meals I make to take to work with me, etc.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Perfect perogies.

E must be insane.

Currently, it is 32 degrees Celsius in Toronto (42 with the humidex), and the city has issued an “extreme heat alert"
, warning folks to be careful not to overheat. Most people would react to such news by living on cheese sandwiches and cold fruit for a few days... but no. What did my dear Sir and I do this weekend? We made perogies. Nathaniel had never made them by hand before, and we were looking for something both interesting and scrumptious to prepare, so we braved the sweltering misery and put a couple of batches together!

Being part Ukrainian, I grew up making these little bundles of happiness: Every year around the holidays, my mother would prepare enough dough and various fillings to sink a galleon, and we'd spend several weeks stuffing and folding perogies to give to our relatives as gifts. We'd create every type im
aginable, from the traditional potato and cheese or sauerkraut to wild mushroom with buckwheat, or sweet fillings like blueberry or cherry.
N and I happened upon a vendor at the St. Lawrence Market who sells red fife wheat flour and handmade pasta, so we picked up some flour from him and meandered around to see what sort of ingredients inspired us for filling stuffs. After discovering a charming seller of mushrooms in one far-off corner of the market, I bought a hearty bag full of button mushrooms as well as a handful of morels (!), and decided to add some leeks and potatoes into the mix.

The trick when it comes to perogies is a light, elastic dough that isn't go
ing to sit in your stomach like a rock when you eat it. Most people just use a mixture of flour and water, but there's a far more awesome dough to be used than that! This recipe was taken from a cookbook entitled Traditional Ukrainian Cookery, published in 1980. Page 205 has the recipe “Rich Dough for Varenyky (Pyrohy)", which is what I am transcribing below:
1/2 cup cold mashed potatoes
2 tablespoons shortening (or butter. I use butter.)
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 3/4 cups flour

1 tsp cream of tartar (optional)
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup flour

Mix the first 3 ingredients thoroughly. Add the water and beat wel
l. Sift 1 3/4 cups of flour with the cream of tartar and salt, and stir into the first mixture - this will form a very soft dough. Add 1/5 cup of flour in 2tbsp portions until the dough no longer sticks to the hand. The dough should be very soft. If some of the flour is left over, use it for flouring the board. Knead lightly, cover, and let stand for 10 minutes. Roll quite thin, cut into the desired shape, and form varenyky using any favourite filling.

I have no idea what the exact proportions were for the filling I made, so I'm just going to give a rough estimate: I julienned the whites of 2 leeks very, very finely, and sauteed them in butter with a chopped yellow onion and 2 large cloves of garlic, minced. When everything had gone soft and translucent, I tossed in the finely chopped mushrooms, stirred them around, added minced celery and flat-leaf parsley, deglazed with a generous swig of dry Riesling wine, and left it to simmer for about 10 min, stirring occasionally. While that bubbled away happily, I boiled a few russet potatoes until they were cooked through, then peeled and mashed them. The mushroom-leek mixture was added to the potato mash, and everything was mixed together thoroughly and seasoned with salt.*

It would be far too difficult to try to explain the perogy-stuffing technique properly on here, so what I would suggest is that you go on youtube and look for a video on how to stuff them properly: being able to watch someone do so is far more informati
ve than trying to infer decent technique via text.

One thing I have to admit is that the red fife flour we used yielded a very different kind of perogy from what I have grown up with. I'm used to a very soft, silken dough made from all-purpose flour, and we ended up with something very hearty and grainy, with a nut-like flavour. They were still lovely, but I found them a bit more “mealy" than I generally prefer.

Once the perogies were well stuffed and set aside, we had to cook them! To do so, you bring a large pot of water to a roiling boil, and gently drop them in one by one, stirring with a wooden spoon to keep them from sticking together. NOTE: only use the
HANDLE of the spoon to stir with, else you risk smashing into the rather delicate dumplings and splitting them open. After boiling for a couple of minutes, they will rise to the surface, thus indicating mostly-done-ness. Let them bob around for a few minutes more, and then remove them with a slotted spoon. At this point, you can either serve them as is, with melted butter, sour cream, or plain yoghurt, or you can give them a quick fry in oil or butter to crisp them up. We chose the latter, just toasting them lightly to brown their outsides a little.

We plated our little creations alongside an incredible salad Nathaniel made with arugula, mixed sprouts, halved yellow cherries, soft goat cheese, and organic local peanuts, dressed with a wine-cider vinaigrette and garlic croutons.

If you're going to attempt to make perogies, I'd highly recommend taking advantage of the plentiful fruit of the season and fill them with something like mascarpone and blueberries, or a strawberry-peach mixture. We also took full advantage of “summer's bounty" as it were, and went on a bit of a foraging spree: there are several mulberry bushes around the neighbourhood, so as we were on our way home, we gathered several of them for dessert.

For every one we gathered, I think we ate two or three straight from the tree, but we did manage to take a couple of good handfuls back with us. *grin*

The wine pairing for the evening was a Peller Estate Riesling.

*Between the pleadings of several of our friends with concern to our health and our own rampant dehydration, we have re-introduced small amounts of salt into our cooking.
With the few ingredients that may fall outside our 100 miles, we are adhering to the tenets adopted by most others who are following the 100 mile challenge: “If it's not local, it's organic. If it's not organic, then it's fair trade".