Monday, 25 August 2014

Swiss Chard Strata

An awful lot of strata recipes get a bit too precise. It's true that this is a rather rich and impressive dish, but really, it's the perfect vehicle for using up odds and ends.

Don't have leeks? Use shallots or onions. Don't have Swiss chard? Use spinach or kale. Cheese? Use whatever seems appropriate and/or you have on hand. I used the dog end of a roll of soft chevre that was alarming me with how long it had been living in my fridge (and which I thought was particularly good here), and bulked it out with my good old stand-by old Cheddar. Finish up that last half-litre of milk that really has to be used today, some bread that got a bit stale, and there you go. (Eggs, I hope, are always on hand! It's urgent panic shopping time for me if they are not.)

6 to 8 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

Swiss Chard Strata

3 to 4 cloves of garlic
3 large leeks
1 bunch Swiss chard (6 cups chopped)
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon rubbed basil, oregano, or savory
1 to 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
300 grams (10 ounces) cheese
5 large eggs
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon butter
2/3 to 3/4 of a 450 gram (1 pound) loaf of bread, preferably rather stale
1/4 cup finely grated bread crumbs (optional)
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Peel and mince the garlic. Trim, wash, and chop the leeks. Give them another rinse and drain them well. Wash the Swiss chard. Separate the leaves from the stems of the Swiss chard, and chop them finely. If you wish to use the stems, chop them finely as well - I find them a bit too prominent and use about half of them.

Heat the oil in a large skillet, and cook the leeks and chard stems gently until softened and considerably reduced in volume; about 5 minutes. Add the seasonings during this process. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or so, then add the Swiss chard leaves. Stir constantly until they are well wilted down, then turn off the heat and set the pan aside.

Grate, crumble, or cut in small cubes the cheese, depending on the type. Beat the eggs and whisk in the milk. 

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 2 1/2 to 3 quart shallow baking pan (3 litre), and line the bottom with slices of the bread, cut into quarters or torn into large pieces. Spread about 1/3 of the vegetable mixture evenly over the pieces of bread, then top with about 1/3 of the cheese also evenly distributed. Add another layer of bread, and continue in the same way, finishing with a final layer of bread. Pour the eggs and milk evenly over the mixture and let it sit for 5 minutes or so to be sure the bread has soaked up all the liquid. Press the top down gently for a minute or two if it seems to need assistance.

Sprinkle the top with the Parmesan and bread crumbs mixed together - this is not strictly necessary, but gives the top a nice texture. Bake at 350°F. for about 1 hour, until puffed and nicely browned around the edges. Let the strata rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Last year at this time I made Broccoli & Tortellini Salad.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Golden Yellow Cake

As ever, late August brings a flurry of family birthdays, and as ever, that means it's time for some cake. 

Here is a classic cake recipe; it comes from the The Canadian Woman's Cookbook, which dates from the 1930's. My edition does at least; it may be rather older as a book.  I have improved the instructions and corrected the baking time, which was frankly fantasy (18 minutes!) in the original. I may have meddled with the amount of sugar; in fact that's a fairly safe bet.

The result is a very fine cake; a little on the plain side in these days of death-by-chocolate cake extravaganzas, but in my opinion none the worse for that. Use the icing to dress it up, pass it with ice-cream and/or fruit, and enjoy. 

The only drawback to this cake is that it will leave you with 5 orphaned egg whites. You could make a double recipe of Seven Minute Frosting, or Maple Syrup Boiled Frosting, and apply it to the cake. You would then have 3 egg whites left, with which you could make a batch of Meringues. Or perhaps you will just have to come up with your own nefarious plan.

I do wonder how this cake would do with the the grated zest of an orange added, and the milk replaced with orange juice. I will have to try it some time. 

8 servings
1 hour - 30 minutes prep time

Plain But Good Yellow Cake with Chocolate Glaze

1/2 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
5 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 2/3 cups soft unbleached flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk

Line the bottoms of 2 9" round cake pans with parchment paper, and butter the parchment paper and the sides of the pans. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Put the softened butter into a mixing bowl with the sugar, and beat them together with an electric mixer, for 3 or 4 minutes,  until very light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time. Once they are all in, beat in the vanilla extract. Scrape off the beaters and put the electric mixer aside; it is time to switch to a spoon.

Measure the flour and mix the baking powder and salt into it well. Mix the flour and the milk alternately into the butter and egg yolk mixture, using a broad spoon or spatula. Divide the batter evenly into the two prepared pans, spreading out the batter to be as evenly flat as possible. Looking at my photo, it occurs to me that the old advice to run a knife through your cake batter once it was in the pans to remove large air bubbles might well be applied here.

Bake the cakes for 25 to 28 minutes, until they spring back from light pressure on top, or pass the old toothpick test. Let them cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn them out to finish cooling.

Put them together with the frosting of your choice. In spite of my suggestion of a boiled frosting, I am not convinced that something chocolate, or at least creamy, isn't a better option; perhaps one of these: Chocolate Custard Frosting, Chocolate Ganache Frosting, or even a simple Cocoa Buttercream Frosting.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Cauliflower Fried with Garlic

Oo, it's my favourite kind of recipe - a quick and simple vegetable that's just delicious. We are working hard to finish up last years garlic, as this years is presently curing in the garage. I did not think one head was at all too much though...

4 servings
20 minutes prep time

Cauliflower Fried with Garlic

4 cups cauliflower florets (1/2 medium cauliflower)
1 head garlic
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
a sprig of parsley or cilantro to garnish

Put a pot of water on to boil, sufficient to hold the cauliflower, perhaps with a steamer above it. Wash and trim the cauliflower, and break or cut it into florets. Peel and mince the garlic.

When the water boils, steam or boil the cauliflower florets for 3 to 6 minutes, until just shy of done to your liking. Just before it is done, heat the oil and butter in a large skillet. Drain the cauliflower well, and transfer it to the skillet. Cook, stirring regularly, until any lingering water is evaporated, and the cauliflower is nicely browned in spots. Season with the salt and pepper.

Add the garlic and continue cooking and stirring for another minute or so, until it is very fragrant and shows slight signs of browning. Remove the cauliflower to its serving dish at once, and garnish it with a sprinkling of parsley or cilantro, if you like.

Last year at this time I made Zucchini & Cucumber Salad with Sweet Onion & Parsley.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Quesadillas de Flor de Calabacita

My Mexican zucchini (Tatume) is pumping out the male blossoms, as well as the little calabacitas, so I thought I would put some of them to use.  Normally the herb used in these is epazote, but good luck finding that here. Cilantro fits in very nicely.

These are greasy and delicious little treat, serve them with a simple vinaigrette coleslaw to restore the balance, as well as some salsa to dip them in.

6 quesadillas
20 minutes prep time

Zucchini Blossom Quesadillas

12 fresh (frozen) corn tortillas
12 male zucchini blossoms
1 Jalapeño pepper
1 small onion
1 clove of garlic
a few sprigs of cilantro
1 teaspoon mild vegetable oil
200 grams (6 to 7 ounces) mild, melty cheese
         - such as mozzerella, Colby, or halloumi
4 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
tomatillo salsa to serve

If you are using frozen tortillas (the best way to buy them, in my opinion - look for ones with no preservatives) make sure they are thawed. If you are making your own, follow the instructions on the package of masa harina. I tend to make them in a big batch and freeze most of them, because they are a fair bit of work, so I usually start with frozen tortillas anyway.

Trim off the bulb at the base of each blossom, and discard the anthers as well. Rinse and drain the petals well, and chop them coarsely. Trim and chop the Jalapeño pepper. Peel and chop the onion and mince the garlic. Chop the cilantro. Thinly slice or coarsely grate the cheese.

Heat the teaspoon of oil in a large skillet, and cook the onion and Jalapeño until just soft and slightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for just a minute more. Add the squash blossoms and cook until just wilted, turning to mix them in. Remove the vegetable mixture to a plate at once.

Lay out 6 of the tortillas, and divide the cheese evenly between them. Spoon the vegetable mixture evenly over the cheese. Top each tortilla with one of the remaining tortillas.

Wipe out the large skillet gently with a paper towel if there is any remaining vegetable residue in. Heat one tablespoon of the oil in the skillet, over medium-high heat. Place 3 of the prepared quesadillas, (or 2, or 4; whatever fits) into the pan and cook for about 5 minutes on each side, until lightly browned and crisped. You will likely need to add another tablespoon of oil to the pan when you turn them.

Keep the first batch warm in the oven while you cook the remaining quesadillas in the remaining oil. Serve them with tomatillo salsa.

Last year at this time I made Smörgåstartå to celebrate the posting of my 1,000th recipe on this blog.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Lamb Stew with Eggplant & Peppers

One of the things that set off the post on how to store produce was a rookie error I made this week - I sliced up tomatoes for a meal, and did far more than had any chance of being eaten! Since eggplants and peppers are starting to arrive in the kitchen as well, it seemed like a good time to make a stew. Especially since the weather has been feeling more like October than August! I hope the rest of our tomatoes are going to ripen!

This was simple, filling, and tasty. Nothing fancy, but just the thing for a chilly summer day.

4 servings
1 hour 45 minutes - 45 minutes prep time

Lamb Stew with Eggplant & Peppers

2 medium onions
2 medium green or red sweet peppers
1 head garlic
2 medium (450 grams; 1 pound) eggplants
2 cups chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned)
2 to 3 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
1 cup lamb broth, beef broth, or water
450 grams (1 pound) lean ground lamb
1 tablespoon fennel seed
1 tablespoon coriander seed
1 tablespoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1 teaspoon hot smoked Hungarian paprika
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 to 3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro or parsley

Peel and chop the onions. Core and chop the peppers, into bite-sized pieces. Peel and mince the garlic. Wash and trim the eggplants, and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Wash and chop the tomatoes if using fresh tomatoes.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the eggplant and toss to coat, then cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 to 15 minutes until fairly evenly browned and soft. Transfer it to a large stewing pan, and add the chopped tomatoes and the broth or water. Bring to a simmer. 

Heat the remaining oil in the skillet, and add the onions and peppers. Crumble in the lamb, and sprinkle the seasonings over it. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions and peppers are softened and the lamb has lost all signs of pinkness. Stir in the garlic and cook for another minute or so. Transfer the lamb and vegetables to the pot of eggplant and tomatoes, and simmer gently for about 1 hour, stirring regularly. Taste, and adjust the seasonings.

Serve the stew with crusty bread or rice, garnished with the cilantro or parsley. This can be made a day ahead and reheated to serve.

Last year at this time I made Cream of Corn Soup and Cheesy Zucchini Bake.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

How to Store Vegetables & Fruits


Things are busy around here, but I would like to draw your attention to this very useful poster from UC Davis, on the home (short-term) storage of fruits and vegetables. I'll re-iterate the main points here, including a few indispensable non-Ontario ingredients, and some of my own observations.

Poor storage practises will not only make your produce last for a shorter period of time, but also impair the flavour to a large degree. (Some things, lemons for example, will keep better in the fridge, but lose a lot of flavour).

Mostly, people have a tendency to put things in the refrigerator that really shouldn't be there! Including far too many produce managers, grrr. Most people know not to put onions and potatoes in the fridge, but I would like to draw your attention to the garlic, sweet potatoes and tomatoes! NO NO NO! Unless you like bitter sprouty garlic, hard shrivelled flavourless sweet potatoes, and tasteless sacks of red mush.

Onions and potatoes should be stored between 6°C and 10°C (42°F to 50°F);  winter squash between 10°C to 13°C (50°F to 55°F). Garlic and sweet potatoes should be kept at temperatures ABOVE 13°C (55°F), but still a cool room temperature. Potatoes in particular should be kept in a dark spot to avoid them turning green in spots, but they should all be kept in the dark, in a slightly humid spot but with good air circulation.

Once cut, many of the counter-stored items do have to go into the fridge, so try to avoid having too much of them on hand in the first place. Once refrigerated, those leftovers are almost always going to be better cooked than raw.

For items that need to go into the fridge, they should be kept loosely wrapped in plastic - I like to save those crinkly bread bags that keep bread fresh longer; they work on veggies too! I know there is a trick to keep celery longer, by wrapping it in foil, but I always go through celery so fast I have never tried it. What other tricks and tips do you have for keeping produce in top condition longer?

DO NOT Store in the Fridge:

 * Apples, for less than 7 days
 * Muskmelons (Cantaloupes)
 * Watermelons
 * (Most Tropical Fruit, including Citrus)

 * Basil (keep in a glass of water, like a bouquet)
 * Cucumbers
 * Onions
 * Eggplant
 * Garlic
 * (Ginger)
 * Peppers
 * Potatoes
 * Winter Squash (aka Pumpkins)
 * Sweet Potatoes
 * Tomatoes

RIPEN on the Counter, Then Store in the Fridge When Ripe:

 * (Avocados)
 * Kiwifruit
 * Nectarines
 * Peaches
 * Pears
 * Plums
 * Plumcots
 * (Bananas - I will put very ripe bananas in the fridge for up to 24 hours if I think it will get eaten within that period; the skin will blacken but the fruit will be... okay. Also, they freeze well in their skins for baking.)

NOTE! These should all be stored in the fridge once ripe, but do not let them stay there for long! Use them quickly. 

Store in the FRIDGE:

 * Apples (if not using in 7 days)
 * Apricots
 * Blackberries (but use within 24 hours!)
 * Blueberries (but use within 24 hours!)
 * Cherries (but use within 24 hours!)
 * Cut fruits
 * Grapes
 * Raspberries (but use within 24 hours!)
 * Strawberries (but use within 24 hours!)

 * Asparagus (but use within 24 hours!)
 * Green Beans (but use within 24 hours!)
 * Beets
 * Belgian Endive
 * Broccoli
 * Brussels Sprouts
 * Cabbage
 * Carrots
 * Cauliflower
 * Celery
 * Cut vegetables
 * Green Onions
 * Herbs (other than Basil)
 * Leafy Greens (such as Arugula, Chard, Kale, & Spinach)
 * Lettuce
 * Mushrooms
 * Parsnips
 * Peas (but use within 24 hours!)
 * Radishes
 * Rutabaga
 * Sprouts (use within a couple of days)
 * Summer Squash (Zucchini)
 * Sweet Corn (but use within 24 hours!)
 * Turnips

Monday, 11 August 2014

Kamo Eggplant

So there it is; the first eggplant of the season, our just-about 1 pound Kamo eggplant. I feel a little badly, sometimes, that so many of the vegetable varieties that I grow in my garden and write about are pretty much completely unavailable, unless you grow them yourself. I'm afraid this is one of them.

Kamo is a kyo yasai, or traditional vegetable variety from Kyoto. It is named for an old village which is now part of the city, where these eggplants were grown for hundreds of years. As the old capital of Japan, Kyoto accumulated the best produce the country had to offer, and from them developed the varieties of vegetables that are now so highly regarded. The fact that it had a large Buddhist population, and less access to fresh seafood than most Japanese cities also contributed to the development of a large number of traditional Kyoto vegetable varieties.

This eggplant caught us by surprise. We did not even know it was coming along. We have been keeping our eggplants and peppers under hoop-houses quite a bit this summer, as it has been quite cool  here, rarely making it past 25°C and getting down well under 20°C at night - often ridiculously close to 10°C. When we decided to have a look and discovered this one, I was amazed. They are usually not even this big, never mind so early in the season. The actor depicted on that wrapping cloth, by the way, is pretty much life-sized, to give you an idea of the scale.

Kamo is a solid, rather smooth fleshed eggplant. The flavour is very fine, but mild. It is supposed to absorb less oil than other, coarser fleshed eggplants, but I'm not so sure about that. Maybe it's true. I will have to cook another, and another, to be sure. At any rate, this eggplant is very suitable for making tempura.

Kamo is usually described as round, but it isn't, quite. I think of it as purse-shaped; it has a flattish bottom it will sit on, usually, and sometimes the top of the fruit is almost pleated into the calyx. The calyx tends to be quite thorny, so be careful when handling one. The colour of the skin is lovely; a rich purple when ripe, and shows almost a wood-grain quality to it before it is ripe.

Like all eggplants, it should be started indoors 8 weeks before last frost date, and kept as warm as reasonably possible all through its useful life. A hoop-house is definitely a good idea. Given good conditions, you should have eggplant about 2 months (65 days) after planting them out. I think our first eggplant hit that date almost exactly. Kamo will grow to about 2' tall, and should bear 3 or 4 eggplants around here. 

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Quinoa Salad with Eggplant & Cucumber

We got our very first eggplant from the garden this week, and it was spectacular! It was a Kamo eggplant, a classic eggplant from Japan, and it weighed in at just a few grams short of a pound. (Why yes, I am a Canadian of a certain generation; why do you ask?)

Anyway, a special eggplant requires a special dish, so I got to work! This was really delicious and it will be made again. I actually thought the only way it could be better was if it had a bit higher proportion of eggplant in it, so feel free to be generous with it. Of course you will need a bit more oil in that case too. I try to keep the oil down to a dull roar when cooking eggplant, but if it doesn't have enough, it doesn't cook to a nice brown, it just sits and sits in the pan doing nothing, then eventually scorching. Apart from the little bit of sesame oil, though, it does provide the oil for the salad.

6 to 8 servings
30 minutes advance prep time
plus 20 minutes assembly time

Quinoa Salad with Eggplant & Cucumber

Cook the Quinoa & the Eggplant:
1 cup quinoa
1 2/3 cups water
pinch of salt
450 grams (1 pound) Japanese eggplant
1/4 cup mild vegetable oil

Put the quinoa, water, and salt into a rice cooker, and cook until tender. Let cool. This can be done up to a day ahead. You can also cook it in a pot by bringing it all up to a boil and then reducing the heat to minimum for 15 to 20 minutes. You will need to watch it more carefully, though.

Wash and trim the eggplant, and cut it into 1 cm wide slices. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, and cook the eggplant slices on each side until the slices are soft through and well browned. Add more oil when you turn the eggplant slices. I found it easiest to brush each slice with oil as it went into the pan, if it was replacing one that was coming out.

As they are cooked, lay the eggplant slices on a plate to cool. They too can be kept, covered in the refrigerator, until the next day if you wish. Both quinoa and eggplant should be at least cool before you proceed.

Make the Dressing:
2 large cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon finely minced peeled ginger
hot chile flakes or powder to taste
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons peanut butter
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
3 tablespoons apple cider or rice vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce

Peel and mince the garlic and ginger very finely. Put them in a small mixing bowl and stir in the chile flakes, sugar, and peanut butter. When well mixed, stir in the remaining ingredients, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Finish the Salad:
1 medium slicing cucumber
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro or parsley

Chop the cooled eggplant into bite-sized pieces. Trim and chop the cucumber. You can peel it if you like, but I tend to think this salad could use the boost of green from the skins, so better to pick one with a nice, tender skin and leave it on. Wash, dry, and finely chop the herbs.

Mix the eggplant, cucumber, and herbs with the cooled quinoa. Toss the dressing into the salad.

Last year at this time I made Green Bean & Apricot Salad.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Light & Tart Summer Borscht

We planted some beets this spring, in a spot that promptly got overtaken by weeds because we neglected it. Meanwhile, they are popping up all over near the spot where we grew some beets out to collect the seed last year. So now, as I wander around the garden weeding or doing other chores, I keep finding beets in odd spots. Once I had collected enough of them, I made this soup.

It's inspired by eastern European versions of borscht in which the beets are fermented for several weeks, in the same way as dill pickles or sauerkraut are fermented. I didn't want to get into fermenting my beets, so I just used the dill pickles I already have. Sauerkraut would be a little different, but should also work well. The goal is to have a thin, tart, refreshing soup. We ate some of it hot, and the rest of it cold the next day. It was good hot, but we agreed it really shone as a cold soup. I suspect that having it rest in the fridge overnight helped bring all the flavours together.

My beets are the offspring of 5 or 6 different varieties that we let cross, and I'm a bit surprised at  how many are paler than expected. There were a good number of Chioggia and yellow beets in there, I suppose. 

6 to 8 servings
30 minutes prep time - 24 hour chill time

500 grams (1 pound) beets
2 stalks of celery
1 medium onion
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
3 cups water
a fresh sprig of lovage or dill
1 cup pickle juice, or to taste
AND 1/2 cup finely chopped dill pickles
OR the same proportions in sauerkraut juice and sauerkraut
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Trim the beets, leaving an inch or so of the leaf end to hold onto. Peel the beets, then grate them fairly finely (while holding on to the end, which then gets discarded!) Wash, trim, and finely chop the celery. Peel and finely chop the onion.

Heat the oil in a large soup pot, and add the beets, celery, and onion, and cook gently for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the water, and a sprig of lovage or dill, and simmer gently for another 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the lovage or dill.

Add the pickle juice and chopped pickle (or sauerkraut). Taste the soup, and adjust the amount of brine or salt as needed, and seasonwith some pepper. Allow the soup to cool, and chill, covered, until the next day. Serve it with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream if you like.

Last year at this time I made Swiss Chard with Garlic, Chiles, & Cranberries

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Tatume Climbing Zucchini; Calabacita

April 23rd arrived this spring, as it does. That is the date we normally plant squash, zucchini, melons, watermelons, and cucumbers inside in little peat pots to go outside in late May. Unfortunately, this year April 22nd arrived first. As it does, too. That was the date I had my gall-bladder surgery. No problem, we thought. We'll just put off planting for a week. But then family disasters rained down upon us non-stop and are still ongoing. No cucurbits got planted indoors. Eventually, around June 7th, we were organized enough to plant all those seeds outside, in the hope that we would get something, maybe.

It looks like melons, watermelons, and cucumbers will be pretty much a bust. They are there, but struggling. The weather has been all over the map. Hot, cold, wet, dry; but never enough of any one thing. The squash are the only thing that look at all hopeful, but we are still waiting for 8 kinds of summer squash to produce something, anything. And then there is lucky number 9.

We got Tatume squash from Hawthorn Farm as our new summer squash to try this year. It's a climbing squash, a trait that has been bred out of most summer squashes grown in North America. Most home gardeners prefer bush zucchini, which produce a lot of squash in a very compact space. The appeal is understandable. Market gardeners like bush squash too; as they are also easier to find and pick. We were interested in Tatume because we have already built a sturdy trellis system, and we were hoping that by growing them upward we could avoid some of the problems we have had with cucumber beetles and squash bugs. 

Well, it turns out that Tatume is very attractive to both squash bugs and cucumber beetles. The good news is, it doesn't care. It is so large and rampant a plant that quantities of bugs that would kill a lesser zucchini have no noticeable effect on it. My research suggests that it is also reasonably impervious to vine borers, a pest we have not yet (*knock wood!*) encountered, but which ravages cucurbits by, well, boring the vine and cutting off the flow of nutrients from the roots. Partly this is because the stem is tough and dense.

Also, Tatume, like many vining squash, will root itself at nodes along the stem as it grows along the ground, bringing more water and nutrients into the plant and insuring itself against having one part of the plant severed from another - once rooted, the stems can continue on on their own. This also makes it drought resistant and tolerant of poorish soils. Obviously, we have lost this advantage by trellising it. Still, our garden has decent soil and plenty of water, so trellising is working out fine so far. In spite of the large size of the plants, we have already picked about half a dozen little squash (calabacitas, in Spanish). They are about the general size and shape of a hand-grenade. We have found them dense and nicely textured, with a mild but very pleasant flavour. They are not quite the calabacitas I remember as a child in Mexico, but close.

I thought such a large plant would be later to produce, but it has beaten any other summer squash in the garden by at least a week; from seed to fruit in about 6 weeks!

My impression is that this sort of calabacita is extremely widespread in Mexico, Central America, and the southern U.S.A; South America too for that matter. There are no doubt a number of different strains of it, with slightly varying qualities and flavours. Tatume has been circulating under that name for a good few years - I remember seeing it listed in one of the first seed catalogues we got when we first started our allotment garden. I did not try it then as the advertising copy described it as "not as annoyingly productive as most zucchini". I'm afraid I did not regard that as a selling feature! I wanted annoyingly productive, as I had very little space. Too bad! I believe that properly trellised, Tatume will produce quite as much summer squash as any other zucchini in a similar space.

Tatume is also known for its' generous production of male blossoms. At first, I would not have believed that. I kept checking the plants, and seeing female blossoms forming, but no male blossoms. I was afraid all the female blossoms would abort; but no problem, they all swell up nicely. Eventually I realized that all the female blossoms were on the south side of the trellis, where by chance it is easy for me to check, and all the male blossoms were on the north side! That tidy division seems to be breaking down as the season progresses, but for a while it was remarkably consistent. Still, if you want to cook with squash blossoms, this is a good variety.

I have not yet had a chance to try it, but these are also used as winter squash. If you miss picking them as summer squash, leave them to mature completely. Or so goes the advice. My impression is that the mature squash will be somewhere between bland and dull, but maybe I am wrong. It looks like in some strains the flesh may be a bit spaghetti squash like, which would actually be nice because I have a very hard time getting spaghetti squash to survive the swarms of cucumber beetles and squash bugs. At any rate, I will certainly leave one or two to mature and try them out. I may be pleasantly surprised!

Monday, 28 July 2014

Raspberry Eton Mess

Traditionally, Eton Mess is made with strawberries, but it can be made with raspberries or blackberries equally well. How about blueberries? I would, perhaps with a bit of very fine lemon zest instead of the vanilla.

I have given proportions and there is nothing wrong with these proportions, but this is the kind of dish that consists of however much of each ingredient seems good to you. Do not hesitate to meddle.

And in case you were wondering, this is where some of the whipping cream from Miller's Dairy ended up. Do not let your meddling lead you into using anything but real whipping cream, consisting of whipping cream and whipping cream alone, without added gums, stabilizers, etc, etc. 

4 to 6 servings
20 minutes prep time, 30 minutes rest time

Raspberry Eton Mess

2 cups raspberries
1 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 pre-made crisp meringue nests (about 60 grams)
OR 1/2 recipe homemade meringue nests
another 1/4 cup or so of raspberries to garnish

Pick over the berries, and rinse them briefly. Drain them very well.

Put the cream in a medium sized mixing bowl with the vanilla and beat it with an electric mixer until you can form soft peaks. Crumble in the meringue nests, then mash the 2 cups of raspberries quite lightly, and fold them in.

Set the mess in a cool spot for about half an hour for everything to come together as an ensemble. Don't leave it too long though, or those meringues will completely melt, and you will just have sweetened whipped cream with raspberries.

Garnish with the remaining raspberries just before serving.

Last year at this time I made a Peach Coffee Smoothie. Just saw peaches available today!

Friday, 25 July 2014

Black Cap Raspberries

I had never heard the term "Black Cap" until someone mentioned them on this blog, and I then realized that in fact, we have quite a few of them growing in our yard! These are wild black raspberries - not blackberries* - and their presence almost makes up for the fact that our woods are not full of wild leeks, as we had once hoped for.

According to Wikipedia, they are rubus occidentalis, closely related to rubus leucodermis, a western North American variety. It is somewhat amazing to me that I have never run across them before; our cottage was surrounded by red raspberries and blackberries, and I have rambled through a lot of Ontario countryside, but somehow I had never run across these. Yet they have a range that runs from Quebec through North Dakota, and south to Arkansas and Georgia. In the past they were extremely popular and there were numerous cultivated varieties. There still are some, and apparently out west they are still grown commercially. 

My interest though, is in the wild ones to be found around here. They are a plainly wild plant; extremely prickly all over with small and rather seedy fruit. The flavour is marvellous, as it so often is in "unimproved" fruits which tend to get selected for size, ease of picking, disease resistance, and in fact anything but flavour. Rubus occidentalis is said to be prone to disease, but ours have been very healthy. It is recommended to keep them away from any commercial cultivars you plant, as they may pass on diseases.

Unfortunately, they do not seem to transplant all that well, but then we always seem to do it at the wrong time of year (midsummer!) and manage to have some success. Do it in the spring or fall, and keep them well watered, and you are likely to have more success. Here is some interesting advice on how to grow them in a cultivated manner that takes into account their natural growth habits.

We have a patch that comes up by our deck in full sun, and they do very well, but most of our berries come up under the north side of a long line of spruce trees planted many years ago to mark the property line, so they tolerate quite a lot of shade. These ones produce a week or more later, and not quite so heavily as the ones in the sun, but I'm always amazed by how much they do produce. We have picked about 8 cups so far in two pickings, and I expect we have another 2 picking to go before they are over. This is, admittedly, in quite a few plants. Still, I have probably pulled off 3 cups of berries from the 3' square patch by the deck alone so even a small patch is worthwhile.

Black caps are delicious plain, right off the plant, but there are many things to do with thm. They are the basis of Chambord liqueur. Put them in pie, eat them with cream, ice cream, or custard, make jam or jelly with them, or check out my berry recipes for other ideas.

To make a liqueur of them, mash them gently and place them in a clean, sterilized jar, so as to fill it about 2/3 to 3/4 full. Cover with vodka, and close it up. Set in a cool, dark spot for a month. Strain out and discard the berries, pressing them to extract as much juice as possible. Add sugar to the resulting liqueur, tasting it until you have added just enough sugar to counteract the rough flavour of the vodka. Seal it up again in attractive, sterilized bottles, and you have a lovely gift, or treat for yourself. It should keep for at least a year.

*Blackberries are related, but they are juicier, hairless berries, and the receptacle (interior support) comes off with the berry when picked, whereas black caps are hollow when picked, and have fine hairs between the drupelets.