Saturday, 25 August 2012

Rainbow Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho

SmartCooks here.

As I suspected, I don't have much time anymore to try some interesting recipes and/or do a blog.  Travelling back and forth to Charlottetown is definitely getting in the way, not to mention the learning curve associated with a new job.  

Facebook has become my choice for 'quick hits.'  I'm having fun with it ... it's a good stress relief and makes me feel like I have a life outside of work.  Chi balance.

The summer (and heat!) marches on. My favourite produce of the year -- Tomatoes! -- has appeared at the Farmer's Market. I love all heirloom tomatoes (like the brandywine red pictured above in the photo from a brochure on a Farmer's Market) but I also search out small heirloom tomatoes.  I like the names -- lemon boys, black prince, Mr. Stripey, and zebra, among others.  The taste alone, or in salads, or mixed with corn, cilantro, basil ... all divine.  I am always so sad when the season ends. 

And then there's gazpacho.  The only time of the year when I make and savour it. This particular recipe is done with a mix of colours and sizes.  It takes a bit of work to press the tomatoes but is worth it rather than using conventional tomato juice which contains salt (and I hate the taste of the sodium-reduced stuff). This recipe is clean and fresh tasting with very few calories.  Great for lunches as it is best served cold.  


1 3/4 pounds heirloom tomatoes, mix of colours, halved
1 cup chopped seeded peeled cucumber
1 cup chopped yellow and red bell pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped onion or green scallions
1/2 cup orange juice
3 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 medium jalapeño chili with seeds, chopped (about 1 T)
1 bunch of fresh cilantro (recipe below) 
8 oz grapeseed or sunflower oil (recipe below) 
1 avocado, peeled, pitted and chopped.


Squeeze tomatoes to get juices and seeds into a strainer set over bowl. Press on seeds to extract all juice. 

Chop tomatoes. Set aside 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes, 1/4 cup cucumber, and 1/4 cup bell peppers for garnish.

Combine remaining tomatoes, cucumber, and bell peppers in processor. Add tomato juices, onion/scallions, orange juice, oil, vinegar, garlic, and jalapeño; process until smooth.  

Season with salt and pepper. Transfer soup to bowl; add reserved vegetables. Cover and chill overnight.

When serving, drizzle with 1tsp cilantro oil (recipe below) and sprinkle with avocado pieces.

Cilantro Oil Recipe 

1 bunch fresh cilantro 
8 oz grapeseed or sunflower oil 

Put fresh cilantro and grapeseed/sunflower oil 
into a food processor and process until smooth.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Carp Garlic Festival.  On a Saturday in mid-August, the Farmer's Market hosted the 13th Annual Garlic Festival.  It's the second year I've attended and like last year, I found it educational, entertaining and a good-eatin' time.   

Upon arriving, I first did a circuit of all 20 plus garlic booths, featuring more garlic than you can imagine in any one place.  I took in the aroma of fresh garlic bulbs, marvelled at the intricate garlic braids (ouch the price!), watched braiding demos, and garlic cooking contests and sampled a wide variety of garlic-inspired condiments.  

Circuit done, I honed in on buying one of each type of garlic, and remembered to bring paper bags and a marker so I could label them properly.  Like who knew? there was such a variety of garlic to be used for cooking, or roasting, or eating raw.  

So why do I like garlic?  My taste for it has grown in the past decade as has my taste for stronger flavours and Chinese, Japanese and Asian-inspired cooking.  It has a bunch of reputed health benefits such as helping to reduce blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure.  Well, I'm all for that.... It also supposed to keep insects (like aphids) and fungal diseases at bay in gardens.  

Garlic also stores well.  If kept in a dry, not sunny, not too hot spot, it can last for months.  Last year's batch lasted well into February.  It flavoured all of last year's August pesto batches.  

It took me awhile to figure out the differences in garlic.  Some quick facts I've found thanks to Railway Creek Farms in Madoc, Ontario, and their site that publishes a complete guide to organic garlic, like... 
* Garlic originated in central Asia, where they have cold winters and damp springs. 
* There are 600 varieties in the world (unsure how many types are grown in Canada). 
* The garlic species is divided into "hardnecks" and "softnecks".  Hardnecks are favoured by northern growers while softnecks are better for warmer climates. 
* Garlic 'scapes' are the plant at the top of the garlic.  In recent years, growers are harvesting these separately from the garlic.  Their mild taste makes them perfectly suited for stir frys and salads.
* Elephant garlic is very popular but is actually most closely related to the leek family.  

Hardneck Garlic:

* Got its name from the stiff stalks or neck of the plants.  It tends to have fewer cloves, with cloves circled around a central stalk.  

* Hardneck garlic has 3 distinct varieties:  Rocamboles (thinner skins, peels easily), Purple striped (distinctive stripes; can be mild to pungent tasting) and Porcelain (plump bulb and a few fat cloves with a thick outer skin).  

Softneck Garlic:

* Stores and travels better than hardneck garlic. 

* Two types are Artichoke (most commonly grown commercial garlic because it stores well) and Silverskin (silvery, white skins with many small cloves, stronger flavour).  (I didn't  find any silverskin.)

Here's a rundown of my new inventory of garlic.  I bought a range of garlic (1-2 each) from the varieties offered at the Garlic Festival.  

Rocamboles Variety 
Spanish Roja

Spanish Roja:  Hot, with a distinct strong flavour and a lingering sweetness.  Can be eaten raw, has a pleasant bite and is easy to peel.  An award-winner.  

Hungarian:  Very hot with a lingering strong flavour.  Very good for cooking.

Killarney:  Its origin is unknown but it is thought to have come from either Spanish Roja or German Red garlic.  It is medium sizes, with a strong flavour, hot and spicy.  It can have up to 8 or 9 easy-to-peel cloves.  

Russian Red 
Russian Red:  Strong garlic flavour and a warm, sweet aftertaste.  Well known in Ontario and also in BC, where it was introduced by Doukhobor immigrants from Russia in the early 1990s.  It is considered by many as the best tasting of all garlics, with a thin skin and usually 7-9 cloves per bulb.  Garlicky when eaten raw, usually used in cooking as it holds it flavour.  

Italian:  Garlicky with a lingering aftertaste.  Works well rubbed on toasted bread and garlic butters.  Cooks suggest it be added at the end of cooking to preserve the flavour.

Korean:  Mild garlic flavour when cooked and with a nice large size.  

Railway Creek Garlic:  A mild garlic with a sweet aftertaste.  Good on salads and light cooking.  Guides suggests it be added at the end of the cooking time to retains its crunch and rawness.  


Yugoslavian:  Very distinctive, with copper veined and purple blotched bulbs.  It has a strong garlic aroma, initially hot and spicy but not overwhelming and then mellowing to a warm pleasant, sweet aftertaste.  Averages 9 to 14 cloves per bulb.  

Purple Stripe Variety
Persian Star

Czechoslovakian:  Rated the 'hottest' garlic at the Carp Garlic Festival a few years ago, this garlic has a bold, garlic flavour.

Persian Star:  This garlic is an endangered heritage garlic, and hard to find.  It has a mild, spicy zing.  

Porcelain Strain Variety

Mennonite: Strong, robust flavour that lasts for months, with large bulbs. Great for roasting but can also be eaten raw. It is becoming very popular among garlic growers and consumers.

German: Very similar to Mennonite.

Siberian:  Medium to strong flavour, 7-9 cloves per bulb.

Music Garlic

Armenian:   A large-cloved garlic that averages 4 cloves per bulb.

Music:  This hardy, large garlic is very popular at the Farmers' Markets around the Ottawa Region.  It is easy to grow, likes cold weather, stores for 3-6 months, is large and easy to peel.  Its flavour is mild to medium hot, with high levels of allicin, which researchers say is a powerful antioxidant.

Rosewood:  Not a large garlic but with a strong flavour.  It originated in Russia, produces large bulbs with 4-7 cloves per bulb.

Artichoke Variety 

Red Inchelium 
Inchelium Red:  One of the few softnecks I found.  It is among the first to harvest, has 8 to 20 gloves per bulb, and is very tasty and easy for cooking.

Red Toch
Red Toch:  This garlic originated in the Republic of Georgia in the former USSR, is a bit on the mild side and with very little heat.  Bulbs tend to be large and easy to peel.  

Polish White
Polish White:  An artichoke variety that can get quite large.  Flavour is medium hot, very rich, considered almost 'buttery'.  It keeps very well and is good for cooking stews and soups. 

Friday, 3 August 2012

New Home Sweet Home Away from Home

August 2012

Wild times R me.  New job, travel, multiple  videoconference meetings, getting lost, condo hunting, did I mention getting lost and found, learning curves... that's me.  Back in Ottawa for the long weekend to catch my breath and reflect on life in Charlottetown.  

Charlottetown is lovely right now... it's enjoying a long stretch of non-stop perfect weather, cooler than Ottawa!, hours of glorious sunshine, sea breezes, and red beaches (viewed only from a plane window as I haven't had time to explore yet).  I'm sure it's not quite so lovely in January but neither is Ottawa.  One day at a time.... 

The Daniel J. MacDonald Building (at right) is where I'm spending many hours these days getting briefed up. The building is named after a WWII veteran and former Trudeau government Minister of Veteran's Affairs.  My office is on ground level (on the right in the photo just behind the Canadian flag pole) with spectacular views of the landscaping around the building.  It's an older style office but bright, big and with a large boardroom table where I can spread my stuff and try to remember the names of folks I'm meeting.  

I'm coping with the flying back and forth between Charlottetown and Ottawa.  I will NEVER like flying.  I tackle it as something to get behind me.  The minute the plane goes up, even before the seatbelt sign *dings*, I distract myself with earphones and my music on my ipad or ipod and engross myself in briefing notes.  A glass of water helps and the hour and a half flight just zips by, no drugs but, confession, they're not far away.  The small bottle of mini-dose tranqs nestled deep in my purse provides mental comfort just in case... an anxiety attack is just sooo embarrassing.
On a positive note, I have found the sea.  This was not hard given that Charlottetown is situated on an island.  The boardwalk is stunning, great for walking/ jogging or whatever.  I looked at a brand-new condo on the boardwalk by the wharf but decided I couldn't be seduced by the summertime shimmer of perfectly blue water in July.  Gazing out every day at cold white snow, no trees, frozen ocean in January... hmm.  Maybe not.  

So, instead, I concentrated my search on the street around the office.  I totally lucked into an area called Brighton Park, about an 8-minute walk from the office (in summer anyway by cutting across two parks and walking down a lovely shaded street).  The house is incredible -- worth $2-$3 M around here I'm sure. There are 3 condos and I'm renting the one upstairs with a majestic upstairs porch that sweeps around the side of the house.  
The picture (left) shows the front of the house and the downstairs porch.  The building is designated as an historic building, and overlooks the Lieutenant's Governor's estate and with a view down to the waterfront. 

The picture (right) shows the kitchen of my upstairs unit. It's actually floors two and three, with two bedrooms and two bathrooms, and completely renovated, refurbished and furnished in exquisite detail.  I plan to ship half my spices (some of you will laugh) and a few other treasures I can't live without and then settle in to try the fall harvest of local food.  

I've also found the Farmer's Market ... hmm Saturdays and Wednesdays a.m.  Can I possibly 'book' a meeting (shhh) for an hour Wednesday mornings and scurry off to do some market shopping?  Time will tell.  

I've struck out so far on gyms -- the downtown few are small, basement-y, smelly affairs that don't do it for me.  Pilates and yoga seem big.  I'm back to swimming at the Hotel next to my office building. Absolutely no one there except me and my Speedo underwater iPod.  Technology R Me.  

Next on the hit list .... explore the beaches before the summer is over.  Red beaches.  imagine.  Biking or Walking tours anyone? Join me anytime!