Friday, January 16, 2009

The Takeover tomatillo

It's been COLD.  For someone who has spent the past 5 Christmas seasons in warmer climes, this -10C business (nevermind -20C!) is for the birds. At least they can fly south.

Speaking of the south, we're certainly in the spirit.  My lovely Mexican neighbour has been home visiting family for the past month and has brought me back some special tequila.  That means it's time to get out the space heater and warm up the lounge to abnormal levels. We'll make a few Mexican favourites and for the perfect condiment, I've got just the thing in the cellar.

Roasted tomatillo salsa.

A few years ago, I planted some tomatillo seeds.  That year, I had tomatillos here and there throughout the garden (courtesy of some 'helpful' squirrels methinks).. and this year past, there were tomatillos for the world!  The takeover tomatillo, given the right conditions, will do just that- take over the garden much to my suocero's distain.  He apreciates my efforts in the garden, but, according to his way of thinking, if it doesn't turn red there must be something wrong with it.

Nothing wrong with this salsa courtesy of Rick Bayless.

Slathered on chicken tucked into warm corn tortillas and amazing with pork and bean stuffed panuchos.. it's savoury, tangy and can be made from mild to wild depending on preference.  Not wanting to undermine the zesty contribution it adds to these dishes, I don't go too crazy and only add the required fresh serranos for flavourful heat.  It's a spectacular fresh salsa but with a few alterations, can be canned as well.

It has turned into our Saturday family barbeque favourite.  So if you are enjoying a Southern hemisphere summer, fire up the barbecue, make a pitcherful of margaritas and give it a go!  But if you, like us, find yourself in the chilly North this January, simply up the heat a bit with a small chile and add it to fried eggs in tortilla or go all out with a full Mexican menu.  It's restorative stuff.


Sunday, January 04, 2009

La Befana

It's been a busy holiday here at la tavola. The culinary good times, visiting family and midnight mass have kept us awake around the clock but, here it is the 5th of January and it isn't over yet.

La Befana visits tonight.


La Befana (I'll leave a few links here), like Santa, comes through the chimney and leaves good children pressies, typically in the form of sweets, under the bed. Unlike Santa, however, she is not a jolly old soul dressed in red. She's an old lady, usually portrayed with a long crooked nose, one tooth, dressed in tattered clothes, covered in soot and flying around on a broomstick.

No, we haven't had too much liquid cheer nor have we confused Christmas with Halloween, it's the celebration of the Epiphany and this witch-like character is part of the fun.

Also part of the celebration of the Epiphany is the making of the crown shaped panettone. I'm not sure how this got an invite to the party but it's a tradition that is a tasty one too. And since it's one of the few times a year that cake for breakfast is not only acceptable, it's expected, I'm in.

Many cultures make symbollic sweet treats for this time of year. Our immediate community is wonderfully multicultural and there are delicious olliebollen, Kolach, and various poppyseed delights that grace our door courtesy of our Dutch, Ukrainian and Polish neighbours.

As good as it is with a decent lathering of butter, it's also good torn up and immersed in a sweet caffé with milk.

What you do with yours is up to you.

Crown Bread - recipe here.


Friday, January 02, 2009

Best for 2009

Not your typical New Years Eve.. we hadn't really planned anything but we were prepared. After a couple of friends dropped in (while we were shucking a box of PEI oysters) we enjoyed a pitcher of that distinctly Canadian concoction: Caesars.

Caesars are Clammato juice based (just like it sounds, a mixture of tomato and clam juices, only it tastes better), used to top up a healthy shot of (unflavoured) vodka over ice, seasoned to taste with worchestershire and tobasco sauces in a celery salt rimmed and celery stick adorned glass. It's a uniquely tangy, savoury and slightly spicy mixture in a world of predominately sweetish cocktails and an unlikely, albeit unappetising to some, taste combo to which I'll admit to having developed a slight addiction.

Variations of the Caesar, mainly in the form of garnishes, abound across the Great White North and, regardless of what you fancy (a spritz of lemon/lime or a teaspoon of horseradish!) added to yours, it's rumoured to be the best hangover prevention/cure this side of the border. Still, if the stats are correct, a nation of 30 or so million people are drinking 250 million Caesars a year, I'd dare say that they might have the cure confused with the cause.

The Caesar was a natural lead in to the oysters that we were preparing. Now while I generally think that Wild Malpeque and Raspberry Point oysters might be better off with bubbly, I paired them with Dog Point Sauvinon blanc and Marston's Oyster Stout. A perfect example of how delectable food matches can be made from both grain and grape.

The Dog Point is not your typical NZ Sauvignon blanc (cat's pee and green grass), rather it's remarkably citrusy (mostly lime) with a slight passionfruit edge, a richness conveyed through palate weight coupled with tropical fruit that I find quite enjoyable with the Malpeques. A bit more brine in the Raspberry Point oysters prompted me to the beer fridge and Marston's for that hit of hops to counter the added umami factor.

Nonetheless, Sauvignon happily reminds me of many a Southern hemisphere New Years Eve, the sub zero temperatures of the Canadian winter make for perfect stout weather.

With appetites waking up thanks to the oysters' brininess, the zip of the Sauvvy and dry finishing stout, I got to work preparing the chicken in Yucatecan spices. I'd marinated chicken breasts with an unmistakebly Mexican mixture of vinegar, herbs, spices and roasted garlic that were now ready for the grill. With the chicken, tortillas and condiments set out, we helped ourselves buffet-style and washed the soft, spicy tortillas down with a variety of different beers.

Between visits and phone calls, we rang Italy earlier in the afternoon to wish family Happy New Year, then close friends in Mexico and finally on to New Zealand who'd already had 18 hours of 2009, we are reminded of the people that touch our lives and that distance is nothing when those people are in your heart.

And to you, dear reader, wherever you may be, I hope your 2009 is filled with many a joyous occasion and lots of love.

Buon Anno!