Hot tips on Chilean Grapes

Grapes are grown throughout the world but at this time of year, the muscat (or you might see it also as the muscat beauty, pink muscats or similar) is a must try. It’s a sophisticated taste – think of floral tones. It ranges from a green – pink to an almost amber shade. As any good old grape farmer will tell you, the amber brings on the flavour.  They are easy to spot – they aren’t red, green or black/purple. Retailers are trying all kinds of different ways to encourage quick and safe pick up of fruits and veggies. Kin’s Market recently introduced the Grab and Go Farm Boxes. The Chilean Muscat grape was in there!

My boyfriend tried them recently and you could tell by his lit-up expression that he would be devouring them ASAP.  Muscats (in April/early May) were still available at Kin’s but I’ve also spotted them at Real Canadian Superstore, City Market and No Frills.

Chilean Muscats are a unique variety that was bred to be eaten out of hand. The grape might be a rosy pink with a green background to golden amber yellow. It is a short season basically from March to May. The taste is delicate, slightly musky, highly aromatic, almost floral. It has a high sugar level from 20 to 24 versus 16 to 20 for most grapes. Muscats are best consumed fresh.

Some quick ideas: Add grapes to a grazing board, make someone smile at breakfast – two eyes with a quick smile. Enjoy fresh, or freeze and use as ice-cubes. Try them roasted! Roasting grapes are fun and are amazing. I did a recent dish that asked for raisins and so I decided to include both – I will be doing that again!

If you love to bake I suggest you head over to discover an amazing Grape-Ricotta-Crostata. She used Chilean Red grapes. http://westrosa.com/grape-ricotta-crostata/

There is also a very pretty cheesecake recipe and a smoothie recipe that VanFoodies did using the muscat grapes. Check it out here: https://vanfoodies.com/2020/04/30/muscat-grapes-from-chile/

If you want to try something a bit more funky – what about jello shots? Check out Maggi Mei. https://youtu.be/Zu4yMQQkXX0

Vegetarian Pasta dish with Lemon, Cashew, Grape, Raisin and Greens. The basic gist: Cook your pasta of choice al dente. Drizzle some olive oil into a cast iron frying pan and add 2 medium red onions that have been peeled and thinly sliced. As the onions start to caramelize, toss in a small handful of cashews, add raisins and sliced grapes. Inhale the aroma. Roll your two lemons and grate the zest off . Then squeeze the juices into that pan. Add in a couple of tablespoons of butter. Another handful of grapes. Turn off the heat. In a large warmed glass salad bowl, toss in your greens (spinach, baby kale, arugula), put the hot pasta on top (this will wilt the greens), then pour that raisin-nut-butter mixture on top. Gently stir. Add the grated lemons and a few more grapes – VOILA!

I renamed my version Lemon, Cashew, Grape, Raisin and Greens. Pinenuts are so expensive right now so I used cashews. I had arugula so that replaced the spinach. I soaked the raisins and then I used the grapes in two ways: I added them in earlier with the onions as they caramelized. And then I tossed in a handful of grapes at the very end. Peter Gordon, author and chef of a book called “A World in my Kitchen” has a totally delicious recipe called: Lemon, Pinenut, Raisin and Spinach Pasta. I adapted his recipe. Okay, okay so I totally messed with it – his original recipe is soooooo good but I am thrilled with my adaptation. Check his site out at: http://www.peter-gordon.com/

Shopping for Grapes

Shopping for grapes can be an art form in its own way. BC, Ontario and Quebec grapes will be ready for harvesting in Sept/Oct. So right now you want to explore countries like Chile.

Chile’s counter-seasonal harvest means that we can get imported fresh fresh grapes in late winter/spring. My geography of South America is a bit shaky, but I do know that Chile is where the seasons are opposite to that of North America.

When you buy grapes do you look for a specific variety, where it was plucked from, a favorite colour? Or because it is a habit to always buy the same grape. Perhaps you always buy seedless. Or it is based on size. I’ve discovered buying grapes is a bit like buying an apple – there are so many varieties to discover!

Not only do you have to deal with multiple seasons but do you want a super large Globe grape or an ultra small Champagne bundle? I’ve always loved Green seedless grapes. The tartness gives me bliss.

This post was sponsored by the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association so I have some great additional info to share with you. Chile is the second longest country in the world, stretching for over 4,300km (about 2,600 miles). The long sequential harvesting period begins in the north from November and continues southward until April means that we see grapes from Chile from late November and into May. The peak period is from January to May.

While known for such popular grape varieties as Red Globe, Crimson and Thompson Seedless, Chile has been introducing numerous new varieties, including:

  • Sweet Celebration; Midnight Beauty; Timco; Scarlota Seedless
  • Magenta; Sweet Jubilee; Timpson; Allison and Chilean Muscats.

How to pick the best bunch:

  • When choosing grape bunches, select ones that are firm, plump, and firmly attached to the stems.
  • Look for consistent colour. Their stems should be green and flexible. If they are going a bit brown, that just means they been off their parent plant longer.
  • Play with colour: Grapes come in many colours and shades with the most common being red, green or black. You will also find them in shades of purple, pink and yellow-amber.
  • Do you see a powdery-white coating on the grapes? Don’t worry. Bloom is a naturally occurring substance that protects grapes from moisture loss and decay. It is safe to eat.
  • Size: As a general rule, one pound of grapes is roughly 2.5 cups. 30 grapes would be around a cup (which is approx. 100 calories). Grapes can range in size from a quarter inch to about 2 inches!
  • “Seedless” table grapes actually have soft seeds but they are hard to see as they don’t have the hard coat of a normal seed.
  • Avoid sticky, mouldy, or shriveled grapes and dry and brittle stems. They are best for the compost.

Insider Tips

  • You can bake with fresh or frozen grapes!
  • Keep a batch rinsed and ready to eat, in a bowl, on your counter or in your fridge. That way you always have a snack handy.
  • Bought too many grapes?  Freeze them! Wash and dry small clusters of grapes, then place in the container of your choice and store in the freezer.
  • You can either eat them as crunchy, sweet, frozen treats, or use them as ice cubes!

So you bought them, now what?

  1. Refrigerate grapes in their original package.
  2. Wait to wash your grapes until you eat them.
  3. How to wash your fresh fruit: Whether you are shopping in the supermarket for produce, having it delivered or picking it up, the rules for cleaning your produce haven’t changed. Just wash it like you always would under cool running water.
  4. When storing, be gentle, they like space and need air, so don’t crowd them.
  5. Grapes can keep for several weeks. Keep them refrigerated for maximum life

What’s the good nutrition stuff?

Grapes are loaded with antioxidants like flavonoids and resveratrol. Known to neutralize free radicals, these polyphenols help repair and protect the health and function of our cells.

  • Like all fruit, grapes are free of cholesterol, fat, sodium and gluten (okay almost all fruit except the avocado as it does have fat)
  • Grapes have a low glycemic index if you need that info!
  • A cup of grapes has about 100 calories, making them a high-volume, nutrient-dense snack. But whoever eats just a cup. I just grab a bunch and chow down.
  • They are a good source of vitamin K, vitamin C and many of the B vitamins.
  • Grapes are 82% water – what a great way to stay hydrated!
  • Grapes play a role in: cancer prevention (resveratrol, an antioxidant, helps DNA repair free radical damage); heart health (think phytochemicals); digestive health (soothing); kidney health (grapes are a natural diuretic helping eliminate toxic waste more efficiently); allergy relief (high in anti-inflammatories to help relieve allergic response); bone health (grapes help to improve bone calcium retention)

Information Links:

fruitsfromchile.com

If you are a Facebook Fan check out their pages – they always are running contests: https://www.facebook.com/FruitsfromChileCanada/

If you prefer to capture your info on Pinterest, twitter or Instagram – just search for FruitsFromChile.  #FruitsFromChile  #FruitfromChileCanada

Closing thought: Have you ever wondered why grapes are seedless but you can go to the health food store and buy grape seed extract?

Checking out the Kin’s Grab and Go Farm box.

New Orleans French Coffee Truck

I’m in a city that I don’t know. New Orleans to be percise. I spied the dark yellow French Truck Cafe which came up on google maps. Every small biz owner must be appreciative of how the Internet has driven money to their location simply by showing up as a small icon on a non descriptive map. Otherwise I might have been forced to talk to the hotel staff to ask where I could find a decent cup of coffee.

The barista behind me is chatting about the floral notes in the coffee – mine is an Ethiopian coffee served as a Pour Over for $3.25. I could have had a Grand Cru Pour over for $4.25. I suspect that the Grand Cru refers to a harder to find coffee that is produced either in smaller lots, has more complexity in flavour or perhaps is just more expensive to obtain. There are nuances in coffees.

Sitting on a metal deep blue backless stool I listen to the music and chatter behind me. The staff are warm and welcoming to the regulars and polite, and perhaps tolerant of the one timers. I mean I most likely won’t be back for many years so I’m simply a semi – moment in time for this spot.

Out back I can see the sacks of coffee beans, the roasting equipment, a door opening out to more space. My coffee is excellent – I’m not a coffee connoisseur as I just like a smooth flavourful intense coffee with no bitter overtones. As my cousin, who owns Heart Roasters, in Portland would say you need to drink your coffee black – at least initially to taste to aroma components. Then, and only then,  go ahead and add what you want. In my case it is always a touch of milk (no cream) and no sugar.

Beside me, on the other of the entrance door, there is a young Japanese couple enjoying a New Orleans iced coffee and an shakerato, a chilled espresso shot.  I’m taking they are tourists as I can overhear no English. And they are taking a lot of photos. Mind you we all take a lot of photos now. Not sure if we look at them.

Other couple in their late 50s, a New Orleans tourist map flapping in their hands come in and order a couple of bevies to go.  A middle aged father and his young teenage son. The flow is steady. A woman in her early 20s finishes her drink and then grabs her Uber lift to her next destination.

French Truck sits on the corner of Erato and Magazine. I wonder if I can walk alone Magazine Street to get downtown. I’ve been walking along St. Charles street where I cross under the highway. On either side there are humans camped out in their homeless homes. One dude has a cot, another has an arm missing right at the shoulder. He sits there with no shirt on lost in his own thoughts. Perhaps creating stories in his mind of those who cross his path or perhaps wondering if this was the path he had chosen.  Back to the cafe, across the way is a grey roughly hewed building with semi rusty sheet metal walls (tinned roofing?) and simply the words “Barrel Proof” stencilled on the wall. Perhaps it is a night spot of some sorts.

If you raise your eyes to the sky a large rusty dual billboard  dominates the skyline. At least, do I sound like I am complaining,  it isn’t one of those annoying clacking billboards that continuously does a three sided dance. Clack, clack, clack. Over and over again.  Noise pollution. Give me a one dimensional rusty billboard any time.

Outside crazy fat clouds have rolled in and out, my borrowed Quisby Hotel umbrella has already turned inside out as the gusts of winds did its best to wrap this umbrella around my head and the rain has been a bit of a pitter patter. Best if I return to the hotel and grab my lightweight semi rain jacket and hat before I commit to the day.

I still haven’t decided what my next moment will be. There is always a next moment.

French truck coffee  2017-10-22

Try breakfast on a bed of greens

April 21, 2018

Lately I have been experimenting with cutting bread and dairy out of my diet.  Well that is not entirely true.  What I mean to say is that my girlfriend has decided to exile bread and dairy from her diet. Sooo…OK I can live with black coffee for a while I guess in support of her dietary exclusivity.  But poached eggs on toast has been a staple in our relationship since day one.  My egg poaching prowess was, I would like to think, the key that changed my status from ‘visitor’ to ‘partner’ in our household.  No small feat.  I can sense a few of you nodding in agreement.

The challenge of course is what does one put the poached eggs on?  There has to be something.  Perfectly cooked eggs sliding around on a plate is almost revolting.  There are too many nasty analogies to describe this option so I’ll pass.  The most obvious choice was some sort of greens.  I tried putting them on a bed of steamed spinach but they just slid off to the side and there is no mechanism to tidy up the yoke.  I found un-cooked spinach a much better option.

Then I tried kale.  Sure it was a bit of work prepping it-kitchen scissors work best to get the nice green bits away from the ribs. Put the bite-sized chunks in a bowl and massage some olive oil and Italian spices into them.  Dump them in a medium hot large skillet until crispy and nutty and presto-the perfect mattress for those lonely eggs.  I usually cook a mushroom and onion side with sliced avocado and tomatoes to give it some colour.  I could get used to this…and I seem to be getting into my jeans much easier these days…

Chiles en nogada in Paco & Azucena’s cooking classes

We were wandering the streets, picking up fruits and vegetables, buying homemade ice cream, and soaking up the hot sunny rays of the late afternoon sun. A gentleman, walking with a cane, came up to us with a scrap of paper and proceeded to tell us about the cooking classes that he and his wife hosts every Friday at a local hotel in in San Patricio-Melaque, Mexico.

San Patricio Melaque Mexico Nov 2017-342

I am a sucker for cooking classes and was keen to learn a Mexican dish or two. The cost was right, the class was a few days off, and I thought I would take the chance. I procrastinated for several days and finally, Friday morning (my bad) I send a quick email off asking if I could join the 1 o’clock class. There was still room! I was welcomed to attend and I was told not to be late (how did he know?) It was the first class of the season and on the menu was a very special dish, Chiles en nogada.  The classes are running from November until April 2018. To book a class just email pacobarriente@hotmail.com or find him on Facebook or maybe he’ll approach you on the street.

Friday morning began like most other mornings in November on the Costalegre as I enjoyed the surf. A comfortable 26 degrees at sunrise but hot, humid and sticky by 10:00 a.m.  I strolled past small shops, smiling children and heat drugged dogs on the short walk to a hotel on the opposite side of town. I entered the Hacienda de Melaque Hotel and was warmly greeted, in excellent English, by a young lady at the front desk who escorted me through the palm trees and gardens, past the pool to the outdoor class. Tables and chairs had been set up under the palapa, an open-sided dwelling with a thatched roof made of dried palm leaves, which are very common in this area.

Norma Azuicena Hernandez Guerrero, wow, that is a mouth full, was busy doing final touches while her husband Paco greeted arriving students. He would handle the questions and any translations that Azu might need.

The poblano peppers, a mild large green chili pepper, originating in the state of Puebla, Mexico were already sweating in a bag waiting to be scraped and peeled; a range of ingredients from onions to apricots to nuts were chopped and ready to get used. Prior to class starting Paco advised us that he would be emailing everyone the recipe after the class. He was true to his words as I had my handouts within 24 hours. Chiles en nogada, the original dish, is very complicated but Azu did a terrific job adapting the recipe so that it could easily be made in any kitchen.

The cooking class was part demonstration and part hands. Azu and Paco gave the history of the dish and talked about the key ingredients.

Chiles en nogada, is a classic dish with the tri colours representing the Mexican flag – green, white and red. The dish originated Puebla which has a rich history in food, dress and culture. Chiles en nogada was created by the nuns to honour a visit from General Augustin de Iturbide. Rumour has it that the nuns used up to 52 different ingredients in the original dish. Iturbide not only inspired this dish but he is credited with naming Mexico, creating the first flag and decisively gaining independence for Mexico on September 27, 1821. . The horrific part: He was executed by a firing squad on July 19, 1824 at the age of 40 leaving behind his family. Iturbide is acknowledged in the national anthem and his remains are in the Mexico City Cathedral. What a legacy!

The flag colours are represented by the peppers, the walnut crème sauce, and pomegranate arils. On a side note-pomegranates were introduced to Mexico by the Spanish Padres.  It was cultivated in regions with arid climates in the old country and adapted beautifully in Mexico. September, October and November are normally when this dish is readily available.

We were all given a chance to scrape away the skins of the peppers, slice them open, add in the filling and then seal with toothpicks.

Azu made the batter – a light, airy meringue- got the flour ready for dredging, heated the oil and then carefully pan-fried the peppers. What I love about this dish is that you can do a lot of prep beforehand AND you can serve it at room temperature.

The whitish nut sauce was prepared using a stick of cinnamon, pecans, a thick sour cream, goat cheese, some sugar, and was quickly blended up.

Now one fluffy oil-roasted pepper was placed on a plate. Drizzling a thick sauce over the whole pepper and then garnishing with parsley and pomegranate arils were the final touches. My first bite was a surprise – the light crust was airy and not greasy or oily. The filling was a sweet-savoury delight. It wasn’t nearly as fattening as I thought it would be! It was enjoyed by all in the class and the majority of the students signed up for the next session.

San Patricio Melaque Mexico Nov 2017-377

Now that I’m back in Canada,  I’ve had a bit of time to dig into the history of the dish, and have discovered deep historic roots steeped in a very important period of Mexico’s development.  Be prepared to spend the time if you decide to follow some of the links below as you will be opening many doors into Mexican culture. For more photos visit this link.

It was my first time in San Patricio-Melaque, a very laid-back beach town. I love that they only took Mexican pesos (No US or Canadian dollars accepted) and that credit cards were not usually accepted. A very stress-free holiday where my main concern was not getting too much sun, wondering what was I going to eat and drink! Lots of Mexican families came down on the weekends. I loved watching the families of all ages, shapes and sizes. Plenty of body surfing. And the most amazing sunsets and sunrises.

For a piece on how pomegranates ended up in Mexico in the 17th century check out this piece by Karen Hursh Graber, Senior Food Editor for Mexconnect.

For another recipe check out this informative blog by Leslie Tellez  and her most current site at http://www.lesleytellez.com/writing/  Oh too fun, I just read that she’s also a member of the IACP. I’ve been a member on and off since the mid 90s.

If you happen to be in San Patricio-Melaque, Mexico please email pacobarriente@hotmail.com or check him out on Facebook – he’s very quick to respond. Plus he also offers up Spanish classes if you want to improve your language skills.

 

 

Typical Breakfast at my Auntie’s

So often breakfast includes a collection of cold cuts (including cow's tongue and reindeer), perhaps a soft boiled egg, plenty of cheese and bread, a bit of tomato and of course, coffee. The cheese is almost always sliced and there is this bread cheese that is pan fried but can be consumed warm or cool. It reminds me a bit of flat curds. When heated it becomes quite stretchy. And the bread isn't your typical load of white bread. It has much more character.

 

Foodie: Food is Fuel

Every day I consume food. And yet how much do I think about it? I am conscious that it is feeding the millions of cells that I have in my bode. And I know it is my fuel. It has an impact on me both inside and outside. And yet I don’t always pay attention. Perhaps by attempting to write about it, I’ll understand my relationship with food better.

GROCERY STORE VISIT: I had a great conversation with Shannon at the RCSS in the NW of Calgary. She is studying communications, 2nd year, at the University of Calgary. She approached me after watching me chat about apples to another young woman. The first shopper has selected several apples off the end cap after holding each one, twirling it and dropping it into her plastic bag. Then she proceeded to take them out and replace them with Red Delicious.

I just couldn’t take it. I had to ask. And I tried to do it gently and with curious its but anytime you ask why, you are sure to raise eyebrows. And so I asked her.

“Do you mind if I ask you a question? Why did you switch out to Red Delicious?”

“I guess I just saw them there and I really like Red Delicious and so I thought I would do that.”

“And did you consider that they are, like, 8 months old?”

I could see her thinking about it and then dismissing it. She laughed in a questioning way and then I moved on on let her finish her purchase of 8 month old apples. And it was shortly after that, that Shannon, came up to me and asked if I was also wondering why there weren’t any BC apples available to purchase.

Shanon had a friendly warm face with flawless skin and long blonde hair, very fresh looking (yes I am envious of skin as I don’t think I appreciated what I had when I was her age), living on a student budget, yet her cart had a lot of produce in in. And that is when I discovered that her parents were apple growers in Oyama, BC. At least I think she said Oyama – I need to look that up.

Our conversation as all over the map – organics, GMOs, apple growers, peppers, Safeway versus RCSS, parents, farming, corporations versus small time farmers, distance food travels – the list was long. But I loved being engaged with someone who seemed to care and was willing to learn and explore. I wonder if her parents are still growing apples – this was in 2016 and here we are in 2020.

Foodie moments (things that struck me today):

  1. Tequila as a fat burner (if only that worked)
  2. Eating unwashed fruit build immunity (there is some truth there that goes more to eating dirt; if freshly picked – enjoy; otherwise do rinse or soak for a few moments in water)
  3. There are incredible twenty year olds who care about their produce (helps that they grew up in a farming environment).
  4. People will buy 8 month apples over fresh harvest (I wonder if they eat expired items from their fridge)

Four years ago: I’m at Moxie’s in Calgary – it is attached to the Sandman where I am staying for two nights. They were nice enough to upgrade me to a suite. That is always nice. I’m thrilled I didn’t get the upgrade with the staircase after my accident last year. But I digress. My other food choice, within the hotel, was Denny’s. I’m not a fan of Moxie’s but this one seems to have better food, nicer staff and enough value items to make it worth considering. And I really don’t want to venture out at 10 PM – I want to be close to my hotel. As for Denny’s? I can only imagine that the eggs they are serving aren’t going to meet my standards. I don’t mean how they are cooked. I mean how they were raised.

At Moxie’s, the food truck movement was featured on their late night menu – so I ordered a couple of chicken tacos ($4.00 each) and they came up quickly – lots of crunchy cabbages and lettuces with some decent tasting chicken in a soft shell taco, along with foil wrap and a recyclable tray and a plastic squeeze bottle of hot sauce (hot sauce just makes everything damn better). Not truck food really unless they happened to have their own truck out there. But it paints an image in my mind. The dish was pretty healthy as long as you aren’t a vegan.

There was a Kale Quinoa salad that sounded decent but then my memory flashed back to the Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge in Vancouver were I was earlier in the day. A kale three bean salad – one of their standards (and after a while when you’ve stopped in four or five different lounges, you get visual fatigue) – so I just couldn’t stomach more kale.

The dude down the bar from me (can I call some 50 year old guy a dude) is eating his fuel – deep fried calamari and chicken wings. He’s got the broiler to prove it. Oh, bad me, I am judging. After all I’m sipping a glass of NZ Kim Crawford that is just on the edge of being mineral rich but just. And given that it is 1/2 price Wednesday and I’m here for two nights, the best value was ordering the bottle. So who am I to judge. But judge I will. Oh dear now he’s got his main??? Those were his appetizers. No wonder he has the broiler.

My waitress described the Kim Crawford as the bomb. She did add that a lot of people do order the Okanagan wines. 11 TV screens. Ugh. I really do dislike all the screens that are just so common in restaurants now – distracting, a waste of energy and right now five of those screens are the same What is the purpose? I do know that my waitress is so busy cleaning and had not noticed that my glass is empty. So I guess I will fill my second glass on my own (or perhaps she is a smart waitress and is not trying to encourage me to drink more)

My waitress also tells me that she just came back from Mexico and that she used to drink tequila and water and she believed that was it was a fat burner. Right now she prefers beer and rum – white rum and sometimes red wine. OMG I can remember serving in the Durham Arms in Oshawa, Ontario and I knew so little about wines. Ideally the staff here is better trained and it is a different world now. Mexico was the waitress’ first trip outside of Canada. Los Cabos. It’s a start.

APPLE SELLER: Today I had a kiwi with me whose been working in the fresh industry for a decade. 25 times around the world. Loves Vancouver. I learned about SmartFresh (not crazy about it), sunburn on apples, puncture wounds and recent damage.

Food is our fuel.

 

 

Tackling Food Prep

I'm sitting on my folding ladder and wondering where to start when I remember that I pulled out the ladder to grab my penguin 1960s ice bucket. I need to empty my measly existing ice-cubes into that bucket, refill the cube trays and get them into the deep freeze if I want any cubes for tomorrow night. I know, I know, I can simply go out and pick up a bag of ice but right now that smacks of effort. And really it should just take 10 minutes max. Timer on! Okay that took 12 minutes and now I'm out of filtered water.

Next tasks: washing and rinsing the bounty, peel potatoes to get ready for boil, put milk into stainless steel pot and bring to an almost boil, and get the next list of times started. Timer is on for 30 minutes. Let's see what I can get done. And remember to turn on the dishwasher before 9:30 PM.

First off, grabbed an apron, NYC NYC one, pulled out the vases for the herbs,scrubbed down the stainless steel sink (oh how I would love to have two sinks) and refreshed by beer.

Timer just went off and I am satisfied with my washing – all the herbs rinsed, cabbages cut in half and rinsed, green onions, celery, zuks, potatoes, English and Persian cukes, eggplants, grass, peppers, mangos, citrus, Royal gala apples, anise, small and medium tomato are all dripping now. 2% milk is at 181 degrees F so I just turned it off (to allow it to cool to 110 degrees). Oh but the sour grapes are in the fridge. Those will have to wait.