Cookin' with Katz!®
By CJ Katz: (306) 761-2032
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On the Menu this Month
The Chef's Table
I recently read an article on Alfred Portale, Executive Chef at New York's Gotham Bar and Grill that confirmed that what I've been doing for years is actually in vogue. Never a fan of dressing up vegetables with rich sauces (to me it robs them of their delicate taste) I've always preferred to present a dinner plate with vegetables naked or just barely dressed. To me, this does more to show off an elegant meal than one laid out with everything dressed up and flavours competing with each other. Try this version simply prepared, then drizzled with hazelnut oil and sprinkled with toasted nuts.
1 pound asparagus
2 tbsp hazelnut oil
1/2 cup hazelnuts
pinch sea salt
On a cookie sheet, toast hazelnuts in 350oF oven until fragrant, about 5-7 minutes. Transfer nuts to tea towel, wrap and rub vigorously to remove husks. Discard husks. Return any nuts that don't rub clean to oven for a few more minutes and repeat procedure. Coarsely chop and set aside.
Wash and trim asparagus. Cook until tender crisp using your preferred cooking method - grill, broil, steam or boil. Drizzle with hazelnut oil and gently toss to coat. Sprinkle with sea salt. Arrange spears on individual serving plates and sprinkle with toasted nuts.
Fun Facts and Tips: The Most Anticipated Arrival of Spring
No it's not a baby, but sometimes you'd think someone was in labour the way people sit in wait for their first feed of this prized vegetable! Although we now have the luxury of this delicacy year-round, nothing can compare to the sweet fresh taste of locally grown asparagus. When I was young, we were even lucky enough to have it growing along the roadside near our house.
When purchasing asparagus, choose stalks that are firm and not showing any signs of drying out. Make sure that the tips are tightly closed and not wet or slimmy - a sign that they are old.
The bottom last inch or so of each stalk is quite tough and not pleasant for consumption. To trim, hold the length of the stalk in one hand and snap off the base with the other. The spear will naturally break at the point where the tough area ends.
Asparagus is very versatile. It's great steamed, boiled, grilled or broiled and delicious in stir-frys. White asparagus is simply green asparagus grown completely without sunlight. It's considered a delicacy in Europe.
Stewed Rhubarb with Orange Yogurt Cream
Rhubarb and asparagus are the truly great indicators of spring. Here's an old-fashioned favorite brought into the 21st century with a decadent Orange Yogurt Cream. The flavours contrast beautifully. An Elegant dessert!
6 cups fresh rhubarb, leaves removed and trimmed.
juice of 4 oranges
½ cup sugar
Trim rhubarb of leaves. Wash and chop into ½" chunks. In a heavy bottom pot, combine rhubarb, orange juice and sugar; cook gently, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes or until thickened. Mixture should not be watery. Remove from heat and cool completely.
Orange Yogurt Cream
juice of two oranges
zest of one orange, removed with a rasp
½ cup 35% cream, cold
1/4 cup cold thick plain yogurt*
1 tbsp icing sugar, if desired
Squeeze juice from oranges and transfer juice and pulp to small pot. Add zest. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and reduce until you have 1/3 cup of thickened juice. Remove from heat. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, using the back of a spoon to remove all liquid from the pulp. You should have 4 tbsp of orange juice. Cool completely.
In small bowl with high sides, whip cream until medium peaks form. Add cooled strained orange juice and icing sugar (if using); whip until stiff peaks form. Add yogurt and beat until mixture holds its shape when mounded on a spoon.
To Serve: Spoon stewed rhubarb into individual serving glasses or bowls. Top with orange yogurt cream and serve.
* If your brand of yogurt is not thick enough, drain it for several hours through a sieve lined with several layers of moistened cheesecloth.
Fun Facts and Tips: Undercover Spy
Did you know that you've had an imposter in your kitchen all these years and didn't know it? Yes, every spring you pick rhubarb and unknowingly dress it up as a pie, muffin or cake! It's actually a vegetable that looks like celery with a bad sunburn! It's also one of those vegetables that looks innocent but actually packs enough power to kill you. The leaves of this ancient vegetable are highly toxic due to oxalic acid. One year, we unknowingly killed an entire litter of piglets by feeding them rhubarb leaves. We thought we were being kind. But by morning those poor little things were all D-E-A-D.
When picking rhubarb pull up the stalk directly at the base, don't cut it off. Make sure that the stems are bright red and not too thick and the leaves are unblemished. Store them in the refrigerator, leaves attached until ready to use. Then remove the leaves. Rhubarb can be kept, tightly sealed, for about 3 days. It is not necessary to peel rhubarb before cooking. Rhubarb can also be frozen for use in the cold winter months. Cut into bite size pieces and lay on a cookie sheet. Freeze, then transfer to a zip-lock bag.
If you're looking to reduce the amount of sugar to sweeten rhubarb, choose the thinnest, brightest red stalks as these are often the least tart.
Suffering from "Middle Child Syndrome"
I've come to the conclusion, after living here since last fall that Saskatchewan suffers from a classic case of "middle child syndrome". It seems to stem across all facets of this province. I am frequently asked, "WHY did you move HERE?" As if this is the most boring, uninteresting place in Canada to live. Yet under this "we're nothing special" attitude, locals are very proud of where they live. Most wouldn't leave the province and I know some who've turned down lucrative jobs to remain here. The quality of life is excellent, kids for the most part are very safe, and Saskatchewan gets the most sunshine of any province all year long. But, being smack dab in the middle of Canada means that while the country may revolve around this province - we never turn our clocks ahead or back - we seem to get forgotten.
This inferiority complex continues to invade so many areas of business. Local chefs, restaurant owners, wine societies and wine reps, for example, are chronically frustrated at how difficult it is to get the word out about the vibrant food culture here in Saskatchewan. Even local media figure there's nothing here worth noting about food and wine.
Which led to the birth of Prairie Food Bytes, Saskatchewan's only electronic food and wine news source. This weekly publication, available only via e-mail, reports on Prairie food culture. Readers can read about products indigenous to the area such as bison and saskatoon berries, discover what new chefs are doing and their influence on local food culture, and find out about the first-ever sommelier program coming to Saskatchewan this fall. It also frequently includes tasting notes on new food and wine products and events.
Here are some headlines of recent issues:
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The Wine Cellar
CJ and Michael's Wine Pick: A Great Canadian Chard According to a recent wine column by Rod Phillips, wine columnist for the Ottawa Citizen, there are some wine lovers who won't go near a bottle of Canadian wine. We have a couple of friends who think just like that. Our friend Xav, swears that B.C. wine is the worst - boy does he have another thing coming! Another friend, Erina who a real wine lover, also dislikes Canadian wine, so we always get a charge when we serve it and she says, "Hey, this is great. What is it?"
We've been on the lookout for a decent chardonnay lately. Personally, we don't really want to pay more than $12 to $14 for a bottle of wine, unless of course, it's a special occasion. But finding one (we're talking Saskatchewan prices - Ontarians, figure our estimate to be about $2 less), has proven to be really difficult. Some are overly oaked but our biggest complaint is that the finish is really bitter - to us a demonstration of poor quality, mass produced wine.
Finally, we've found one that is within our set price range and really proves to be great value for the money. Cave Springs in the Ontario Niagara region produces one of our favorite wines, Riesling Reserve - a very dry and wonderful wine. This chardonnay is one of their's - a pretty wine that is very nicely made. Well balanced with a buttery finish but no excessive oak. Personally, we think this is a keeper. It was steel fermented with 20% aged in French and American oak. It has lovely aromas of tart green apple, honey dew, and mild mineral notes. The finish is crisp and buttery with good acidity. Hey... and for once Saskatchewan's price is less than Ontario's!
Cave Spring 2000 Chardonnay
$11.96 (Sask); $12.95 (Ont.)
CJ Katz is a freelance food writer and cooking instructor from Ottawa who now resides in Regina, Saskatchewan. She writes feature food articles for the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix. As well, CJ teaches food and wine tasting sessions for the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority, instructs hands-on cooking classes in her kitchen, and makes celebrity chef appearances for various charitable organizations. She published two Internet food and wine newsletters, Cookin' with Katz, which is currently read by subscribers in six countries on three continents, and Prairie Food Bytes, a weekly report on what's happening in food and wine in Saskatchewan.
Unless otherwise stated,
all recipes have been created by CJ Katz.
Photos by CJ Katz