Three Very Good Things: A Fennel Salad, Not Enough Kale, and Pedal-Powered Chocolate

I am writing this installment of the Three Very Good Things series from Canada, where I’ve been for a week now, as the Gastronomic Writer in Residence for the Stratford Chefs School. I’m having a wonderful time, the weather is unseasonably balmy, squirrels are running around everywhere, and I am eating very well. Here are a few highlights from this past week:

~ A salad of shaved fennel, frisée, and slim artichoke wedges, topped with fresh herbs and crispy prosciutto.

This exceptionally well-balanced and well-dressed salad was served at the “restaurant lab”, where second-year students of the chef school cook and serve dinner every weeknight. It was served as an appetizer-sized portion, but I could have eaten a bucket of it.

~ Kale, kale, and more kale. Kale is an elusive ingredient in France: it is grown essentially as an ornamental plant (I’m told the name is chou vert demi-nain) and not commonly sold as a vegetable. So I took the opportunity of being in Canada, and having access to a well-equipped kitchen in Stratford, to get organic dino kale from The Gentle Rain, the local health food store.

I turned to twitter to hear your best kale ideas, and from the outpouring of responses, I think it’s safe to say that kale is much loved in Twitterland.

I ended up making kale chips, which had always intrigued me in a how-can-this-possibly-work sort of way, and was blown away, as so many cooks before me: you wash and dry the kale, slice off and discard the spines, cut the leaves into bite-size pieces, dress them with a touch of olive oil and some salt (I kinda overdid it with the salt, so beware), spread on a baking sheet, and bake for about ten minutes at 175°C / 350°F, until lightly golden. The resulting chips are thinly crisp, with a flavor halfway between potato chips and popcorn, and really: they are blow-away material.

The rest of my kale I sautéed in olive oil with some garlic, tossed with spelt pasta (from Maria’s Home Made Noodles in Toronto) and sheep’s milk ricotta (from Shepherd Gourmet Dairy in Southern Ontario), and showered generously with freshly ground black pepper. (I’m getting more kale later this week, for my kale hunger is nowhere near sated.)

~ Pedal-powered chocolate. I got a bar of Chocosol raw chocolate from Revel Caffe in Stratford, and the woman who sold it to me explained that it is made by a Toronto-based, bean-to-bar, eco-conscious chocolate company that sources cacao beans from southern Mexico through what they call “horizontal trade,” and uses pedal-powered stone grinders to process them.

The bar I got is called Hemp Gold: it is a dark chocolate studded with hemp seeds, sweetened with maple butter, and lightly seasoned with sea salt. It is very good.

(More information on, and photos of, the Chocosol operation can be found here; from what I understand, their chocolates are sold chiefly at local farmers markets.)

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