Warm Potato Salad with Grainy Mustard, Bacon & Ramps

This past weekend was gorgeous and sunny and we spent a good part of it outdoors, puttering in the yard, walking down by the water, and picnicking on the grass. It seemed like all it took was that burst of heat and the whole countryside exploded into vibrant green foliage. Our forest is carpeted with trillium, ferns, and in certain areas, ramps.

Synonymous with spring, ramps, or wild leeks, are slender white bulbs with a delicate green fronds and a mild garlicy flavor that grow on the forest floor in Northern US and Canada.  Ramps are known as ail de bois up here, and are held in high regard by chefs and foodies alike. The fact that we have our own special stash behind our home is amazing and enough to make this chef-forager positively giddy.

Last Saturday I took my morning cup of coffee, donned my purple Croc boots, and set out to harvest ramps for the potato salad I was making for a pot-luck that evening. Within just a few minutes, I had a handful of ramps, but I lingered amidst the wildflowers to finish my coffee, and let the sweet smell of spring rain in the forest rejuvenate my spirit.

I’m not sure which was more rewarding, the few minutes of solace or the haul of ramps.

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Unprocessed Week Recap (Recipe: Cream of Potato-Leek Soup)

To say that our week of eating only unprocessed foods went by without much ruffling of feathers would be a fair statement. If you remember, we had pledged to one week of ‘hard core’ unprocessed eating and the entire month of October as ‘soft core’, meaning we might indulge in chocolate chip cookies or hot cocoa once in a while.

Saturday wrapped our week of serious wholesome eating, and today I’ve brought you the highlights from that week, with a few recipes and tips for beating the cravings.

If you are smack in the middle of October Unprocessed and need a little inspiration for the week ahead, or just want to improve your diet in general, then hit the jump.

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Whole Family Cookbook Review & Giveaway (recipe: A-B-C Frittata)

Every so often you meet a person with whom you see eye to eye on many important topics. Thanks to online connections, these encounters happen more and more frequently. Michelle of What’s Cooking with Kids is one of those friends. Even though we have never met, her philosophy and well-researched posts often have me nodding my head in agreement and occasionally giving her a virtual high-five.

Michelle recently penned “The Whole Family Cookbook” and I knew from the onset that this was going to be a resource I could get behind. Without question, Michelle is an expert in her field of teaching children to cook and instilling a healthy food culture in a new generation.

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Reminiscing over Italy and the sandwich that came of it.

If you were to rewind ten years back you would find me eagerly stepping off a boat on a rainy April morning onto Italian soil. Six weeks of backpacking in South East Asia had left me ravenous for some good, crusty bread and I knew I wouldn’t have to look far. An apparent dependency on all things yeasty had surfaced amidst the many bowls of perfect Pad Thai and sublime Nasi Goreng, and despite my love of those flavours, I couldn’t help but dream about the focaccia and calzone of ‘the Boot’.

I had arrived in Brindisi via a flight to Turkey and a boat from Greece and to me, this port town had it all going on. No, there was no Ponte Vecchio or Trevi Fountain, but I quickly found all I needed- a bakery.
It had just opened it doors for the day and the shelves were stacked high with the most knee-weakening array of Italian specialties I could have ever hoped to see. This small-town Canadian girl nearly swooned at the perfectly dimpled Focaccette al Rosmarino, fruit and nut studded Cantucci and Biscotti, rustic peasant Pagnotta and perfect Grissini.

I don’t remember all that I purchased, but it was way more than I could possibly eat for breakfast. Standing at a small bar, I washed everything down with a perfect café and the gruff yet efficient clerk wrapped up the leftovers in brown paper and string for me, rations for the long train ride to Roma.
The rain soaked me as I walked the nearly deserted streets, but I barely noticed. My belly was happy and so was I.

I was to stumble upon a market a little later in the day and again satiate my bread-lust with a roasted vegetable-laden focaccia and a sausage-stuffed panini–both of which today’s immense sandwich reminded me of.
I guess that is why we took this little trip back in time; flavors have a strong tendency to transport one back to a certain spot, no matter how many years have passed. How amazing that memory fails, but taste buds do not!

I finished my gastronomical feasting for the day with a lemon gelato and another coffee before heading to the station to catch my train. Brindisi had been good to me and the rest of Italy awaited.

Ciao Brindisi Panini
serves 2

1 Italian sausage, grilled, sliced lengthwise
2 slices slab bacon, cooked, or Pancetta
4 slices Provolone
1 red pepper, quartered and seeded
1 zucchini, sliced lengthwise into four
4 thin slices of lemon
1/4 red onion, sliced into 4 wedges
olive oil
Two crusty bread rolls, Ciabatta or ‘petit pain’

Preheat grill.
Combine red pepper, zucchini, lemon and red onion in a bowl with a generous splash of olive oil and toss to coat. Season with salt and grill everything until soft and cooked. The lemons will only take a few seconds on either side.
Reduce the heat of the grill to low.
Slice buns in half, brush generously with olive oil and grill slightly. Pile all ingredients onto the bottom two buns and place the top bun on the pile. Yep, it will look gigantic!
Grill in a panini press until cheese is melted OR, if you are like me and don’t have a panini press, simply wrap a brick with tinfoil and place it on top of the two sandwiches on the BBQ. You will need to flip the panini once if you are doing this.

Enjoy possibly the best sandwich you have ever had.

WFD? Pizza Quattro Gusti (four flavors)

After months and months of putting up with my current refrigerator randomly freezing items out of spite, we’ve broken down and purchased a brand new one. For some of you this may not be such a big deal, but for us, it’s our first official appliance purchase. Ever. Until now we’ve made do with family cast-offs and the generosity of former landlords and friends.

We try not to be big consumers; if something is broken or needs replacing, we don’t run out and buy the item brand new. There’s always someone around who wants to upgrade or is moving into a furnished place and generally, if we come and get the washer/stove/whatever, it’s ours for the taking. So far this has worked in our favor…until this renegade fridge came along.

Too long I have endured solid yogurt, rock-hard berries, and frostbit greens. Too long have I spent extra money for fresh seafood–only to have it frozen in my refrigerator before I get a chance to cook it. I was due for a brand new appliance and that’s what I got.

It arrives tomorrow.

Who knew that shopping for a fridge would open my eyes to all the possibilities that I never considered as options? Suddenly I needed a built in Britta drinking water system–how do I get by without one? And it sure would be handy to know the exact temperature of my fridge displayed digitally for me at all times. How about a beeper that goes off when the door is left ajar? I do that ALL the time, it drives Danny nuts.
Oh well, for now I’ll just have to content my self with a fridge that ‘just’ keeps things cold–not frozen. Although if anyone hears of a second-hand version of this model looking for a good home, I’ve got dibs on it. I would love the glass door. That is the coolest.

So, I’ve been cleaning out my old fridge in preparation for the switch. I don’t want a pile of items just sitting around on counters for extended periods of time while the new fridge is installed and starts cooling. (Apparently you can’t plug it in for THREE HOURS after it arrives?? Help!)
As usual I have dozens of small leftover items that need finishing off to fully empty those drawers: half a stick of Chorizo, a teeny block of feta, a tired bundle of asparagus, a rind of Parmesan; those items and many more were the inspiration behind this pizza.

If you can call it inspiration. More like desperation.

I made a batch of Jamie Oliver’s pizza dough, rolled it out onto a cookie sheet, divided it into four quadrants and proceeded to disguise my fridge odds and ends as pizza.

Guess what? It rocked! Everybody ate it–even the baby, who particularly loved the soft cross of crust that divided the pizza. Clockwise from top left the flavors are:

  • Chorizo, Olive & Mozzarella
  • Spinach, Egg, Fresh Garlic & Feta
  • Bacon, Plum & Cheddar
  • Asparagus, Cippolini Onion & Parmesan

I’m passing on the pizza dough recipe, because I like it a teeny bit better than my other one. It was softer and the bottom colored beautifully. I like a dark, crispy pizza underside. If you haven’t gathered from this post, pretty much anything goes for toppings.

Pizza Dough

Adapted from Jamie at Home

this recipe will make 2 11×15 rectangle “Pizza Quattro Gusti”. You can make one for dinner and freeze the other ball of dough for another night, or make tons and enjoy the leftovers.

7 cups white bread flour
1 Tablespoon sea salt

2 Tablespoons dry yeast

1 tablespoon raw sugar

4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 1/2 cups lukewarm water

Sift the flour and salt onto a clean work surface and make a well in the middle. In a large measuring cup, mix the yeast, sugar and olive oil into the water and leave for a few minutes, then pour into the well. Using a fork, bring the flour in gradually from the sides and swirl it into the liquid. Keep mixing drawing larger amounts of flour in, and when it all starts to come together, work the rest of the flour in with your clean, flour-dusted hands. Knead until you have a smooth springy dough.
Place the ball of dough in a large flour-dusted bowl and flour the top of it. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and place in a warm room for about an hour until the dough has doubled in size.

Now remove the dough to a flour-dusted surface and knead it around a bit to push the air out with your hands – this is called punching down the dough. You can either use it immediately, or keep it, wrapped in plastic wrap, in the fridge (or freezer) until required. If using straightaway, divide the dough up into as many little balls as you want to make pizzas – this amount of dough is enough to make about six to eight medium pizzas. (or two huge rectangles)
When you are ready to fire the pizzas, crank the oven up to 500F. Dust your work surface with a little flour, punched-down dough and divide in two. Roll out dough into a rectangle about 3/4 inch thick.
Grease a cookie sheet generously with olive oil and spread out your pizza dough on it, using your finger tips to push it into the corners.
Trip a 1/8 inch strip off of one long and one short side of the rectangle and lay these in the shape of a cross in the middle of your pizza.
Top with your four flavors of choice and place pizza in preheated oven. Bake for about 10-15 minutes until the dough is golden brown.