30 December 2014

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Sangria is one of the most delicious drinks of the holiday season.  Use white wine for a crisp, new-years-y feel.  

White wine sangria makes a great signature drink for your holiday cocktail party: fresh, crisp, boozy, and you can make the mix the day ahead.  Added bonus: fights scurvy...

Make-Ahead White Sangria Mix for your Holiday Party

Take advantage of the peak of citrus season and use fresh-
squeezed ingredients.

Get the mix ready the day before or the morning of your party.  

1 meyer lemon, sliced
1 lime, sliced
2 clementines, sliced
4 oz brandy
juice of 1-1/2 meyer lemons, 1 lime, 3 clementines

Put the sliced fruit in a pint-sized mason jar.  Add the brandy then top with the citrus juices.  This should almost exactly fill the jar.  Make up one jar of mix for each bottle of wine you anticipate turning into sangria.

Take a moment to marvel at how beautiful those jars of citrus fruit look, then put them in the fridge until you are ready to use.  (If it's a cold enough winter, you might be able to store them in your shed or a closed in porch... if you aren't sure, don't take the chance.)
Each pint-sized mason jar of citrus-brandy mix will do one 750 mL bottle of wine.  Use the jar to measure your sparkling lemonade, mix it all together and illico presto, you have sangria.

White Wine Sangria Instructions

Make sangria in a pitcher or punch bowl (depending on the size of your party and your aesthetic sensibility) with ice.  Since it's all pre-measured, you can start with as much as you want and easily top it up as needed. For each jar of sangria mix add:

1 bottle of crisp and bright white wine (like sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio)
2 cups* of decent sparkling lemonade**

*don't bother with a measuring cup, just fill your empty mix jar to the neck
**this saves you from having to make a syrup and figure out the right ratio of syrup to soda water, and still lets you avoid the HFCS pitfall of most soda pop 

...give it a stir and you're on! 

[Hi, Mom!  You can skip this paragraph, I won't be offended...]  A million years ago when we were undergrads living in a student apartment with a then-new-friend who is a now-old-friend, we had the occasional sangria party: everyone brought a bottle of cheap red wine and piece of fruit.  A big bucket was filled with the various wines of suspect origin, some cheap brandy or maybe whisky (or whatever was handy) was tipped in, grapefruit-ish Wink soda to dilute and sweeten, and masses of uncoordinated fruit were chopped and tossed in for good measure.  When the sangria ran out and the fruit mostly consumed, anyone left standing was likely to go out for breakfast.  This bucket-of-sangria fun, I must point out, was started by previous tenants of that apartment long before we moved in... a tradition that was inherited with the apartment.  A tradition that should undoubtedly stay with the apartment, because anyone over the age of 25 is probably not immortal enough for the consequences of such an event.

If I recall correctly, sangria parties were generally spring events, something to help shake off the long cold winter.  So for the longest time, I thought of sangria as a spring or summer drink.  Bubbles, fruit, ice... what's not summery about that? 

But, lo and behold, I was wrong.  

A few years ago, I was talking warm weather drinks with a Portuguese-immigrant friend who found it amusing that I associated sangria with summer because, so far as she is concerned, sangria is for Christmas.  What an epiphany!  Even without thinking too hard about it, I am happy to defer to the Portuguese on this.  

But think about it anyway: of course sangria is a Christmas drink.  Citrus is available year-round, but December is when it’s at its peak season.  It’s the time of year we buy crate after crate of clementines and the end of the season for boxes of mandarins wrapped in thick purple paper.  Meyer lemons and early blood oranges appear on the shelves, limes become so inexpensive you can buy them in dozens without having a panic attack at the till, and heavy boxes of grapefruit pre-ordered as fundraisers for school bands finally materialize.  It’s the most wonderful time of the year indeed.

So make sangria during the holiday season.  (In a pitcher or punch bowl.  No buckets.***)

***Unless, of course, you are a student... 

And a happy new year!

The advantage of fresh but pre-measured sangria mix could become abundantly clear as
the evening progresses... 

17 December 2014

Moose, Pho Shizzle.

One of this year's best discoveries was that pho can be made at home. Now there is no going back. No phoking way.

We took a break from making sugary Christmas treats to make some nourishing moose pho.

Moose Pho

This is a two day recipe.  Make the broth on day one and the next day eat your soup.  The anticipation from the fragrant pho mist swirling through your house will just make it taste better.

Pho is the perfect solution for using that moose your neighbour gave you but you aren't quite sure what cut it is. 

Day 1: Broth

2-1/2 lbs moose (this is a great use for that little red chicken moose, those unrecognizable cuts evidently quite popular with Newfoundland butchers)

Due to a strange dearth of star anise and whole cloves in
Newfoundland, we had to beg a mainlander to send the spices. 
1 onion (cut in half, still in skin)
a piece of ginger root, about 4 inches long (or more, or less to taste)

7 green cardamon pods
3 whole star anise
1 tsp whole coriander
1 cinnamon stick
6 cloves

1 tsp  sugar
2 tbsp fish sauce 

Put your moose in a pan and cover with cold water.  Bring to boil.  Then strain the moose and give it a good wash under the tap. (I know it seems weird, but it helps give you a clean broth). Put your nice clean moose into a CLEAN POT and cover with 4 quarts of water.

Char 'em good!
Char your ginger and onion.  Get our your cast iron pan and heat it up dry. When it's hot put the two halves of the onion and the ginger in the pan and start charring.  You want them to be blackened, but you don't want to set them on fire.  Be vigilant.  Turn occasionally.  It took me about 12 minutes to get a good char.

Put your onion, skin and all, in the pot with the moose.

Peel your charred ginger.  Use a spoon to to scrape off as much as skin as possible, then smash it with a heavy object. Jamie Oliver uses his fist for this kind of business, but I am incapable of doing this, so I use the bottom of pan. Bung your ginger in the pot.

In your dry cast iron pan, lightly toast your cardamon, star anise, coriander seed, cinnamon stick and cloves until just fragrant.  Add to pot.

Add you sugar and fish sauce.  Don't forget the fish sauce.  It makes the whole thing sing.  Bring to a boil, then turn down to simmer for about 4-1/2 hours or until reduced by half.  

Stick in fridge to cool overnight.  

Day 2:  Putting it all together

cold pot of broth with moose from day 1

rice vermicelli noodles

fish sauce
bunch of spring onion
hot peppers

Get your cold moose and broth out of the fridge.  Strain the moose broth into a clean bowl or saucepan.  DO NOT DISCARD the liquid this time!
Pick through the moose reserving the good stuff in separate container.  Get rid on any fat, bones, gristle and all the spices, the ginger and the onion.  You will end up with a beautiful broth in one container and the best meaty bits shredded in another. 

Measuring about a ladle and a half per person, heat your broth back up in a heavy saucepan.

Finely slice your spring onion and hot pepper.  Put these along with cilantro and some lime quarters on a plate to serve with your pho.  This way everyone can choose how much limey, oniony, hot peppery they want.

Prepare your noodles according to package instructions which will probably involve a quick boil and/or soak in boiling water followed by a cold water rinse.  Do not skip the cold water rinse unless you like mushy noodles (you don't, believe me). 

To serve: Put your cooked noodles and some shredded moose in the bottom of a bowl.  Ladle the hot broth over the noodles and moose, and serve with the fresh toppings.  Let everyone add toppings, extra fish sauce and sriracha to taste.

Remaining moose and broth can be stored (separately!) in the refrigerator if you will be eating more soon, or can be frozen for a quick meal another day.

According to caribougrrl, moose pho makes an excellent breakfast the next day.  

I know it may surprise you to learn that Harbour Grace is not on the cutting edge of contemporary food culture?!   Despite this, and thanks to the food-e-net, caribou and I are exposed to new wonderful dishes and delights everyday.  Having a blog has pushed us to try new and tastier things and has made our lives infinitely more delicious.  

You have to drive to St. John's or Corner Brook to get good pho, you can't just say to yourself, hey, let's get pho from that cute little Vietnamese place down the road in the middle of nowhere.  But we read about it.  We saw the pictures. We drooled.  We got frustrated by the complete absence of key spices in the local shops.  We sweet-talked a friend into mailing us star anise and whole cloves from the mainland.  

Then we made pho.  Lots of pho of all sorts. There is no going back now. No phoking way.

Fefe Noir had to dig through the snow to rescue the last of the cilantro.  Well, she would have had to dig through the snow if it hadn't melted...

UPDATE RE: SPICES: We have it on twitter authority that star anise can be found, at least sometimes, in St. John's at the Magic Wok Chinese Grocery on Duckworth St. and the Blackmarsh Rd. Dominion.  I'm pretty sure I scoured the Dominion stores, but maybe my timing was wrong.  Whole cloves should be able to be found everywhere, but over the last few months we had no luck at all... perhaps with the stores stocking holiday foodstuffs, it's a good time to keep a look out.

5 December 2014

It's Been Nuts Around Here

A busy summer of outdoor projects, a busy fall of hurrying to complete outdoor projects, the death of a laptop... but the snow has returned and so have we.  Just in time for edible gifting season!

Simple ingredients + simple recipe = biggest hit at your office holiday potluck.

Spicy Praline Pecans

(this is a super easy recipe, which is good because after you accidentally eat the entire first batch you can quickly make them again for gifting)

3 to 5 c. pecan halves*
1 egg white, beaten until slightly frothy
1/2 c. dark brown sugar, lightly packed
Go on, mix it with your hands. No more dirty dishes than necessary.
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp smoked paprika

*the larger the pecan, the lower the surface-area-to-volume ratio, so the larger the pecans, the more volume you can coat... use your judgement or if I've confused you, start with 3 cups and if you have too much coating add more**

**if you add more, you will want a second egg white so you can coat the nuts in egg before tossing with the sugar mixture

Pre-heat oven to 325F.  Line one large or two medium baking trays with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, toss the pecans with the beaten egg white until all nuts are well coated.

Mix remaining ingredients thoroughly in a small mixing bowl.  Pour over the pecans and mix until evenly coated.  Don't be afraid to use your hands for the mixing.

Spread the pecan mixture over the baking tray(s) and bake for 25 minutes, stirring to turn them after 15 minutes.

Slide the parchment and nuts onto a cooling rack. Let cool well before you snag one to taste it, otherwise you will burn your mouth.  Let cool completely before storage. 

Store in a cool dry place, in an airtight container.

The finished praline pecans are sweet, spicy, crunchy and totally moreish.


A note about the nuts:  Yes, 1 whole teaspoon of ground cayenne is a lot of cayenne.  If you lick your fingers after mixing the nuts and coating, it will taste very hot.  (I know, I know, raw egg panic and all that.  Don't lick your fingers if it bothers you.)  Some of the heat gets lost in the baking, which is why you need so much cayenne... the whole point is for there to be some heat behind the sweetness.  Trust me.  If you are making these for gifting***, wrap them up as soon as they are completely cool because you will otherwise find that it is impossible to stop eating them.  If you're feeling full of holiday bonhomie, try your hand at sugarplums and eggnog fudge for a fantastic gift trio.

***Make them for gifting for sure; these will make you very popular.  I'm torn about what to advise you now though because people will ask for the recipe.  My instinct is to say don't give it to them and protect your gift-giving-god status... on the other hand I really really would prefer you sent them to the blog...

Man, have we missed blogging.  But the Fence Project (phase I) is complete, the Window Restoration Project (phase I) is one storm frame installation away from being done, and the dead laptop has been replaced. Our white board has a list a mile long of good foods to document.  We've got a big long delicious winter ahead...

10 August 2014


We're at the tail end of the summer food fishery.  Put away your pans and deep fryers and let the last of your fresh cod cook itself in the refrigerator.

In this ceviche, the cod and scallop are cooked by the acid in the liquid.  That means you don't have to heat up your kitchen; a bonus during the dog days of summer.

Cod & Scallop Ceviche

1/2 lb fresh or thawed cod, chopped coarsely
1/2 lb fresh or thawed scallops, chopped coarsely*
3-5 cloves garlic, smashed and coarsely chopped
2-5 (or more) hot red peppers, cut in half lengthwise
1-1/2 c. chopped fresh cilantro
1 tsp coarse sea salt
4 limes, juiced
1/2 grapefruit, juiced
Use sea salt in this recipe because, well, the sea is where
the star ingredients come from.
2 tbsp silver tequila
Use glass or other non-reactive material.  Jars work well
because the high sides help reduce the amount of citrus
juice required to cover everything.

*if you use tiny bay scallops, don't bother chopping

Once all the prep work is done, this recipe is dead simple.

In a clean 1 litre glass jar** spread 1/5 of the cilantro, garlic and peppers over the bottom.  Top with 1/4 of the cod and scallops.  Add another layer of cilantro, garlic and peppers and 1/4 tsp of salt.  Continue to layer the fish and seasonings, ending with a seasoning layer.

**or use a glass bowl but you may need additional citrus juice to cover the fish; the tall narrowness of a jar helps minimize the amount of juice required... and with the price of limes this year, it's a definite advantage

Use a spoon handle or knife along the edges of the jar to
release pockets and bubbles of air.
Mix the lime and grapefruit juice with the tequila.  Pour into the jar.  This will cover or nearly cover your fish. Run a knife or spoon handle around the edge of the jar to release air bubbles.  If the fish mixture is not completely covered in liquid, add more lime juice.

Cover and refrigerate for 12-36 hours.  Check that the fish and scallops are opaque right through before serving (if not opaque, return to fridge for a few more hours).  How quickly the ceviche will cure depends on how cold your fridge is, how acidic your citrus fruit was, and how big your coarse chopping is.

Use a fork or slotted spoon to remover from jar and serve on grilled sweet potato slices (see below).

Reserve the curing liquid and mix it into fresh salsa the next day.

Grilled Sweet Potato Rounds

sweet potatoes 
drizzle of sunflower oil
pinch or two of salt

Discovering that sweet potato can be cooked directly on
the grill was a culinary epiphany of the best sort.
Pre-heat your grill scorching hot.

Slice sweet potatoes into 1/4" thick rounds.  Toss with oil and salt.

Put sweet potato rounds directly on the grill in a single layer and immediately turn the grill down to medium heat.  If you have a charcoal grill or are using a griddle, use your own judgement with how to manage this shift in heat, I have no advice.

Cook for 4-6 minutes on each side.  You want the outside to blister and char a bit and the potato to cook through.  Salt lightly as you take them off the grill.

These are perfect as a base for ceviche, but are also good as a side for pretty much anything (and a simple but seriously delicious way to get your orange vegetable for the day).


Although this is not exactly an authentic recipe, it's inspired by the Peruvian style of ceviche with hot peppers and served with sweet potato.  It's best with sweet potato, but grilled avocado will also do in a pinch...

Summer in Newfoundland is always busy.  For starters, you can never be sure how much of it you'll get, so as soon as the weather turns you drop everything else and concentrate on summer: coaxing food out of the back garden, outdoor house projects... running, cycling or hiking without multiple layers, driving with the windows down, synthesizing vitamin D... turning the heat off in the house (at least during the day), whale watching, cocktails on the porch... and most importantly, after months of complaining about the cold and the damp and the unfairness of it all, finally taking a deep breath and saying, "it's too damned hot".

The other thing about Newfoundland summer is that, as astounding as it may seem for the foggiest place on earth, this island in the north Atlantic is something of a vacation destination.  Some years, before you know it, you are blocked solid with visitors.***

***Now don't take that as a complaint.  Visitors give us the excuse to do touristy things and the opportunity to show off some of the off-the-beaten-path secrets of this place.  And conscripting house guests to a work-for-your-food scheme**** resulted in speedy progress on The Fence Project, a good start on The Window Restoration Project, and knocking a bunch of items off the Round-To-It List.

****That sounds a bit cruel, I suppose, but in the interest of full disclosure, these particular guests insisted they wanted a project to work on... 

This has been a Summer of Visitors, thus a summer of especially good food.  (We can't have it be said that anyone ate poorly chez The Moose Curry Experience.)  It's been tricky though, since the fish truck that used to live across the harbour closed a couple years ago and the fish truck we stumbled across last year did not reappear this spring.  We were scrambling to find seafood closer to home than St. John's*****.  After many driving excursions wild goose chases, a failure of the power of social media, and some disappointingly not-as-fresh-as-it-should-be purchases from big chain groceries, we finally found a place hiding right under our noses.  Some good old fashioned postering brought the recently opened Admiral's Market to our attention.  If you're in Conception Bay North, you can find them in the boat-shaped building at the southside marina in Harbour Grace.  Both the scallops and the cod used in this dish were bought from the fabulous women who run the market.

Fresh cod and fresh scallops were bought locally from Admirals Market.
*****There are some good fish shops in St. John's and since I work there, it's not always inconvenient, but it means not being able to decide on a holiday or Saturday that it feels like a mussel night... plus, there's something nice about being able to spend your money in the community where you live.

To be frank, I was hoping to write a blog post about catching our own cod during the food fishery.  But that's a one-that-got-away story.  Er, a one that never bit story.  (Anyone who wants to help improve some mainlander jigging skills in September should leave a comment or send an email to the.moose.curry.experienceATgmail.com!)

Although the cod fishing was a bust, it's been a Summer of Perfect Cilantro.  Serendipitiously, Fefe Noir had the foresight to order several pounds of coriander seed this year and sow it in the bed where we buried the not-quite-composted bits from the old composter.  As a result, we have a serious bumper crop of cilantro.  Despite the unbearable heat (for those of you who will take pleasure in mocking our weather intolerance, we had about 3 weeks in the mid-high 20C range), there was no massive bolting event.  

Our cilantro crop is phenomenal this year.  Too bad none of our guests were as enthusiastic about it as we are...

An amazing cilantro year.  And five or six weeks of guests who don't particularly like cilantro.  Or very hot peppers.  Or very much raw garlic.

So as soon as the house was empty we started chopping... 

6 July 2014

Hurri-cake Season

When it's too windy to get any outdoor work done, there's not much left to do but make cupcakes.

Summer is for outdoor projects, but hurricane storm systems occasionally make that impossible.  Unprepared for serious indoor work, all there is left to do is bake.

Spruce Drizzle Cakes

(adapted from the pancake princess)

4 tbsp hand-crafted butter (okay, or commercial butter if you must)
3/4 c. spruce sugar (see below)
4 egg yolks
1-1/2 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1-1/2 tsp salt
1 c. buttermilk (see?  might as well make your own butter...)

for the drizzle:
juice of 1 lemon
3 tbsp spruce sugar
2 tbsp icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 325F.  Grease a muffin tin/ cupcake pan (or any pan made for baking 12 little cakes).

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg yolks one at at time, mixing until the batter is smooth.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  

Add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk in alternating additions, ending with dry ingredients.  Mix until smooth.

Divide the batter across the 12 cups in your baking pan.  Bake for 15 minutes or until done (cake is firm but springy to the touch).  Let cool for 5 minutes before removing from the pan.

While the cupcakes are cooling in their pan, mix the lemon juice, spruce sugar and icing sugar together, stirring until all the sugar is dissolved.  

Turn the still warm cupcakes out of their pan and arrange on a plate or tray in a single layer. Pour the drizzle over top.  When you eat them, feel free to dredge them in the excess drizzle that collected on the plate...

The lemony drizzle for the spruce cupcakes will drip and collect on the plate.  If I were you, I'd go ahead and soak some of that up with the cupcake I'm eating...


How to Make Spruce Sugar

(adapted from Along The Grapevine)

Infusing sugar with ground spruce is a fantastic way
to preserve spring spruce buds for the rest of the year.
1 cup spruce tips, papery caps removed
1 cup granulated sugar

In a spice grinder, working in batches as necessary, grind together spruce buds and sugar.  The spruce buds are moist and sticky, so you want to clean your spice grinder immediately after you've finished (ask me how I know... it may be months before our spice grinder recovers from an unfounded belief that somehow it would be easier to clean when the spruce sugar remnants had dried into a cement-like crust on the bowl of the grinder).  

Spread the sugar-spruce mixture onto a baking tray and dry in a 150F oven for about an hour.  If you live in a dry climate (we definitely do not), you might get away with air-drying.  

Store in a clean jar, breaking up large clumps as you fill.

This recipe is easily scaled larger or smaller (one part spruce bud and one part sugar by volume).


We're in the midst of fence-building chez The Moose Curry Experience.  This has been a long process involving measuring tapes, string, a million sketches, tearing down the old partially-rotted-but-surprisingly-difficult-to-destroy fence.  Oh, and the chatting with the neighbours about The Fence Project.  

We live in a small town.  Instead building a fence that looks exactly like what we demolished, we are building something different.  In a small town, these kinds of unnecessary changes can make people nervous.  We have enthusiastically described our beautiful mid-century modern vision to assure them it will be alright.  Somehow, this does not seem to put them at ease.  Just wait until they find out we intend to stain it blue...

We had a lot of work to get done today.  The wood is here, so holes need to be dug for fence posts.  The lawn needs cutting, the early greens desperately need thinning, the third sowing of lettuce needs doing, tomatillos need transplanting... but no luck.  

Well, not exactly NO luck.  We were lucky enough not to be in the direct line of the tropical storm formerly known as hurricane Arthur, but we are on the edge of the system. (Spring arrived too late this year, hurricane season has started too early.) 

It's windy enough that our deep and well-protected harbour is choppy.

It's really windy.  It's the kind of windy that blows around you in circles making you feel crazed.  The kind of wind that means you need a lid for the container you are attempting to fill with garden greens, lest they get swept away.  The kind of wind that means you spend a lot of time shouting "I can't hear you!" to someone who is a few feet away probably shouting the same thing.  The kind of wind that blows the dirt from your fence post holes into your mouth and nose and eyes... and, well, back into the hole.

Eventually we had to admit defeat.  Faced with no indoor jobs on the list, there was nothing left to do but bake.

27 June 2014

Spruce up Your Gravlax

A recipe so smart, you'd be foolish not to try it.

Foraged spruce tips and juniper berries were used to flavour the salt cure for this gravlax recipe.

Spruce and Juniper Scented Gravlax

2 tbsp young spruce buds
6 wild juniper berries
1 + 1 tbsp coarse sea salt
2 tbsp granulated sugar
salmon, filleted, skin-on* 
2 tbsp local vodka (we used vodka made with iceberg water)

*this recipe is good for up to 2 lbs of salmon, but it's easy to scale up or down as needed.  Also, you will want either 2 fairly even-sized pieces or a large piece that can be cut into 2 more-or-less equal-sized bits.  For frugal gravlax, buy the cheaper tail end fillets.  If you go to an independent local fish monger (like The Fish Depot in downtown St. John's) and tell them what you are planning to do, they will help you find the right piece of fish.

Grind the spruce tips and juniper berries with half the salt.
In a spice grinder (or using a mortar and pestle) grind together spruce buds, juniper berries and 1 tbsp of the sea salt to a fine powder.  Combine with remaining coarse salt and sugar.

Spread the curing mixture over the salmon, but do not rub in.
If your fish is in one piece, cut it in half.  Spread a large piece of plastic wrap over your work surface and place the fish on it, skin side down.  Lightly spread a thick layer of the spice and salt mix over the fish (don't rub!).  Get one hand under one piece of fish.  Working quickly, pour the vodka over the other piece of fish and turn the dry piece onto it.  Wrap tightly in the plastic wrap**.

**if you are hopelessly inept with plastic wrap, make sure you have a friend on-site who can do the wrapping for you... it's important to get it closed up tight to contain the vodka quickly

Once the salmon is wrapped, use a heavy flat stone (or
weighted plate) to press the fish during curing.  
At this point, take a deep breath and look at your packet to make sure you've followed the instructions:  you should have spice and salt mix sandwiched between two pieces of salmon; the salmon should be flesh-to-flesh with the skin out.  There will be liquid all over the place inside the plastic wrap.  Good?  Good.  Put that packet into a plastic zipper bag, squeezing out the air as you seal it.

Put the salmon on a flat plate or platter or tray.  Put a flat, heavy, gravlax stone on top of it***.  Refrigerate for 3 days to cure the salmon, turning it twice a day when you feed your dogs****.

***You don't have a gravlax stone???  You can top the salmon with another flat plate and weigh the plate down with a brick or stone or large jar of pickles.

****You don't feed your dogs twice a day?  What do you mean you don't even have dogs?  We flip gravlax (and rinse sprouts, change salt cod soaking water, and do other things that need to be done twice a day) at 5 am and 5 pm.  You don't necessarily need to get up with caribougrrl to make gravlax... just remember to flip it over about every 12 hours.

After 3 days, remove the gravlax from it's packaging and rinse under cold water.  Pat dry gently with clean kitchen towel (or paper towels).  Store in an airtight container in the fridge. (If it lasts long enough without being eaten, this will store for a week or two according to the varying advice on the miracle of the internet.)

To serve, use a sharp knife to separate from the skin and slice thinly.  Eat on open-face sandwiches of rye bread or rye crackers, with mustard and yogurt sauce, and dandelion capers.  Or on bagels with cream cheese... on sandwiches, salads, pizza, pasta...

One of our favourite ways to eat gravlax is thinly sliced on rye crackers with mustard sauce and dandelion capers.


Anyone who's had good salmon sashimi can verify that fresh raw salmon is soft and buttery and beautiful as-is.  Salt-curing salmon concentrates and intensifies those qualities, extends the shelf life of the fish, and turns the salmon from a wholesome to a jeweled pink.  It looks almost too opulent to eat.  

I can't find a specific scientific paper or pop science article to back this up, but I once heard a radio program about the benefits of green space and being outside in the wilderness.  The thing that stuck in my mind from that radio show was that walking through coniferous forest is especially good for you.  Specifically, that inhaling the scent of spruce and pine improves cognitive function.

Which means the smell of spruce -- and by extension I will assume the taste, because it's all the olfactory system anyway -- is good for your brain.  And we've known for a long time that fish is brain food. So with all the appropriate warnings about unscientific and unsubstantiated claims: eating spruce-cured salmon will make you smarter.


Identifying and Harvesting Spruce Tips and Juniper Berries in the Rain****

****this also works on not-rainy days...

We took the dogs with us on a rainy day foraging trip.  Bella was not convinced spruce tips were edible, but found that a good spruce branch makes a passable umbrella.

Spruce and juniper are both conifers, but spruce are all tall and up-righty, while juniper are more of a prickly woody ground cover.


Spruce is a short-needled coniferous tree, with tough (i.e. prickly) needles
spiralling around the branches. The needles are round and will roll easily
between your fingers.

The species of spruce you harvest makes no difference.  From a safety perspective, it's not even vital in the boreal forest that you can distinguish spruce from pine, larch and fir since the young tips from all of them can be used as a seasoning.  Nonetheless, there are differences in scent and therefore differences in flavour, so you may as well learn to tell them apart.

Pine trees have LONG needles in clusters of 2-5.  When you think a Group Of Seven painting, it's probably a pine tree you have featured in your mind.  They are the charismatic ones.

Larch (also called tamarack, called juniper in Newfoundland, just to be confusing) have short needles found in clusters, like tufts.  They lose their needles every year, so all the needles you see are young-of-the-year.  (Yes, I did just tell you about a deciduous conifer, feel free to call your grade 3 teacher and pass on that tidbit.)

Fir trees have short flat needles which grow along the length of the branch... if you look closely, they are in opposite pairs.  You cannot easily roll the needles between your fingers, though I'm sure some cheeky teenager would show you it can be done.

Spruce, then.  Spruce trees have short needles spiralled along the length of the branch.  The needles roll easily between your fingers.  This is the tree you are looking for for this recipe.

Spruce tips are the soft new bright green growth on the tree.  When the buds are swelling enough to break through the paper, they are ready to pick.
The young-of-the-year needles on spruce are bright green and soft.  Early enough in the year, they will still have a papery cap on them.  If you are picking spruce tips for pickling or other applications where you want them to stay whole, choose swollen tips that still have paper.  If you are using them as a spice, go ahead and harvest them any time before they harden up and get dark.

When you pick them, take a few from here and a few from there... you are pruning the tree, so be respectful of it.

Juniper Berries

Juniper is a low-growing evergreen with needles.  Juniper berries are actually cones, it's just that the cone scales are fleshy and merged together, making it look like a berry.  The best way to find the berries is to lift a branch of juniper up and look under it.

Look underneath the juniper branches for the berry-like cones.  The ripe
ones are sometimes quite dry and shrivelled in the spring but rub it
between your fingers: if it has some scent, use it.
Juniper berries take 1-3 years to mature, and birds apparently love the ripe ones, so chances are good any juniper you investigate will have many more green berries than blue ones.  In the spring, the ripe blue juniper berries are drier and less fragrant than they were in the fall, so you need more of them this time of year.  Roll them gently between your fingers and if there's any scent to them, they will work.  If they are dry and shrivelled and have no scent, it's probably not worth using. 

You might have heard that juniper berries are toxic, and I would suggest that eating handfuls of juniper berries is not a good idea.  As a spice or seasoning, however, there is no reason to be alarmed.  (With the usual caveats that if you are pregnant or have serious health concerns, you might want to leave them out of the recipe.)

Spruce and Juniper Scented Gravlax on Punk Domestics

13 June 2014

Stingin' in the Rain

Using the same chemical weapon as fire ants, there's something just a little Day-of-the-Triffids about stinging nettles.  But not to worry, they're only dangerous until you cook them.

Serve nettles cooked in red wine over fried polenta and top with some shaved parmesan.  A first course worth building a dinner party menu around.
Stinging Nettle and Polenta Starter

for the polenta

1 c. chicken stock
1 c. nettle tea (see below) or vegetable stock
generous pinch of salt
3/4 c. cornmeal
1/2 tbsp good quality olive oil
butter for pan-frying (bonus points for using your own hand-crafted butter!)

for the nettles

1 tbsp olive oil (or more or less to coat bottom of skillet)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
ground pepper to taste
salt to taste
1 dried red chili pepper, torn into pieces
1 c. blanched and drained stinging nettle leaves (see below), roughly chopped
1/4 c. red wine
1/4 c. nettle tea (see below) or water
Parmesan-Reggiano, shaved, to taste

Prepare the polenta at least 3 hours and up to 2 days ahead of time.  In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the stock, nettle tea and salt over med-high heat until boiling.  Turn down to medium, but keep the liquid at a rolling boil and slowly pour cornmeal in, stirring constantly to prevent lumps.  Turn the heat down more if the polenta is sputtering.  Continue stirring until the cornmeal is cooked and the polenta is thick.  Remove from heat.  When the mixture is no longer bubbling, stir in the olive oil.  Pour into a square baking pan (glass, non-stick, or lightly oiled), spread to corners and level out.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours to set the polenta.

(Three hours, conveniently, is enough time to go back out to pick and process another batch of stinging nettles for the freezer.)
You can tell they're good for you just by looking at the rich green colour
of the blanched stinging nettles.  They taste good too.

Prep your nettle ingredients.  Cut the polenta into 4 squares and set aside. (Trim the outside for a more even edge, the scraps can be fried as a snack or to dip in soft-cooked eggs for breakfast...)

You do have at least two skillets, right? 

Put a generous pat of butter into the pan where you plan to fry the polenta.

In your other skillet (the one you have a lid for), heat olive oil over medium-high heat.  Saute garlic and shallot until softened.  Add black pepper, salt and hot pepper and saute for another minute.  Add nettles toss until fully covered in oil and slightly wilted (1-2 minutes). 

Turn the heat under your polenta pan to medium.

Add red wine to nettles and stir until liquid has evaporated.  Turn heat down to med-low, add nettle tea, cover and cook for 5-6 minutes.

While the nettles steam, fry your polenta squares.  When the butter in your polenta pan is thin and the foam is subsiding, add the squares of polenta.  Cook 2-3 minutes on each side until heated through.  They should have a thin golden brown crust.

Remove cover from nettles and allow any remaining liquid to evaporate.

To plate, top each polenta square with 1/4 of the nettle mixture, then artfully place shaved parmesan on top.  Serve as a first course.  (This would also make a good side dish for grilled salmon or lobster.)

Nettles have a very present yet delicate flavour but none of the bitterness that many wild greens have... their defense is stinging, so they don't need to taste bad to avoid being eaten.  While the flavour is not as strong as mature spinach, but the texture is much meatier.  


There is an enormous nettle patch a short diversion from one of our favourite coastal trails.  Getting ready to head out foraging, it felt a bit insane choosing to go out gathering food in the famous Newfoundland rain, drizzle and fog... especially knowing that when we returned, we'd be cold and damp and the dogs would inevitably smell like, well, wet dogs.

Bella and Sam are inevitably "helpful" when we're foraging.
To save them from their loyal and eager-to-please selves,
we tethered them away from the stinging nettle patch.
Bella was smart enough to take advantage of the tree and
get out of the rain.  Sam, on the other hand...
But if you always wait for perfect weather to go outside, you might rarely leave your house.  (Especially if live on an island in the North Atlantic.)  You'd miss out on the magic of being in water-saturated air... sure, it's wet, but the colour of the rocks and trees and birds is deeper and fuller and sound travels with more richness.  The reduced visibility makes the world a bit smaller and cozier.

As we were wading, drenched, through the knee-high patch of nettle, snapping of the tops of the plants, we heard the drone of an outboard motor halt.  It's funny how sometimes you only hear a noise because it stops.  The motor cut and was followed by the hollow thump-thump of lobster pots being checked.  The motor starts, then stops, thump-thump, thump-thump, repeat.  The rhythm of that work is very distinct to the ear and even though we both knew what we were listening to, we looked up anyway, because that's what you do.  

As though waiting for us to turn away from the nettles, a massive bald eagle suddenly flew close enough and low enough we could distinguish the yellowish-whites of its eyes.  An eagle beside us, a lobster boat below us, a couple of great big bags full of nettle... that's exactly why we were out in the rain instead of bundled up on the couch watching the new season of Orange is the New Black.


Identifying and handling stinging nettle (Urtica spp.)

Nettles tend to grow in patches and can often be spotted by the change
in texture they create.
Stinging nettle is most commonly found in disturbed and disused areas.  Old pastures, abandoned properties, gardens, the edges of your composter, fence lines...  it's also found on roadsides, but don't bother looking there, you don't want the contamination from exhaust fumes anyway.

The easiest way to identify a nettle is by touching it.  If you've ever walked through a patch of tall weeds when wearing short pants, only to find your legs prickling with fire, you've encountered stinging nettle.  The touch-method is not recommended.  Head out dressed for the job: long pants, long sleeves, gloves.

Since it was rain-drizzle-and-fogging the day we went out searching for nettle, in addition to pocketing a pair of rubberized gloves, I wore my rain suit.  Rain jacket, rain pants, rubber boots.  No matter that we've lived in rural Newfoundland for over 6 years, Fefe Noir's fashion rules irrationally exclude rain pants.  She refers to them as my "plastic trousers" and rolls her eyes at me whenever I put them on.  But who got the last laugh?  Not only did I stay dry, but as we were wading through a field of nettle, Fefe discovered that you can, indeed, be stung by nettle through a pair of jeans.

(But wait, between that handicap and her photo-taking duties, I ended up doing most of the actual harvesting...)

Stinging nettles are easily identified by touch, but try to avoid finding them that way.  Look for slender plants with large, toothed leaves in opposite pairs.  The stems and leaves are fuzzy from being covered in stinging hairs.

Nettles are tall plants with slender stems and paired leaves.  The leaves are broad but come to a definite point on the ends and the edges are toothed.  The leaves and stem are covered in tiny hairs.  The flowers are green-ish and hang in clusters, but you don't need to know that much: if it's already flowering, it's too late in the year (but write the location down somewhere so you can come back next year, earlier).

Wear rubberized gloves when you pick stinging nettle.
For older plants (over 20 cm high), snap off the top
15-20 cm only.
USE HEAVY RUBBERIZED GLOVES when you pick them.  Take the whole above-ground part of the plant if it is really young (less than 20 cm high); if the plant is older but not yet flowering, pick the top 15-20 cm.  A lot of people use scissors or garden shears for harvesting, but we found it awkward to hold kitchen scissors with our big rubberized gloves, so just broke the stem off with gloved fingers for efficiency's sake.

Once you're home and ready to process the nettles, keep your gloves on while you break off the top young leaves and pull the older leaves from the stem.  Toss the stems and rejected leaves (brown, moth-eaten, bruised) into your composter.  Blanch the nettle in saltwater to neutralize the sting, and squeeze the nettle tea from them.  Hank Shaw provides a very good description of processing stinging nettles, so I will direct you there rather than taking up unnecessary space.  Save the nettle tea for this recipe, or to use as a substitute for vegetable broth in all sorts of dishes.

Stingin' in the Rain on Punk Domestics