Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Bruschetta Margherita

In January we start planning the garden, and select our tomato varieties to grow. In March we start them inside, in little pots. By late April and through early May we haul those pots in and out according to weather, and water them daily, and watch them anxiously for aphids or other problems. We heave a sigh of relief when they can be planted outside, but they must still be covered if we've pushed the timing and we probably have, watered, and weeded, and tied to supports. And then finally in August it all comes to fruition - literally - and the wait is worth every moment.

These were so good I practically leaned back, drummed my heels, and let out a shriek.

And yes, the 2 of us ate it all. This recipe is about the equivalent of 2 sturdy cheese and tomato sandwiches, so not too unreasonable. If you wanted to share them and serve them as a starter, it might stretch to 6 servings. I'm not sure I would count on it, though. SO GOOD. 

I've seen this described as Bruschetta Margherita, Bruschetta Caprese, or Bruschetta Pizzaiola.  Whatever you want to call it, it's just lovely.

2 to 6 servings (12 slices)
30 minutes prep time

Bruschetta Margherita; Bruschetta Caprese

350 grams (12 ounces) firm, ripe tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
1 small (275 grams) day-old ciabatta or baguette
2 tablespoon olive oil
100 grams (4 ounces) mozzerella di bufala OR fior di latte

Put the broiler on to heat. 

Wash the tomatoes and cut out the cores. Slice them in half from top to bottom then into wedges. Toss them with 1 tablespoon of very good olive oil then season with salt and pepper to taste. Broil the tomatoes for 8 to 12 minutes, until very soft and juicy.

Meanwhile, slice the baguette into 12 angled slices about 3/4" of an inch thick. Drizzle both sides with some more of the olive oil, and arrange them on a baking tray to go under the broiler. When the tomatoes are done, swap them out and toast the bread lightly on both sides.

While the bread toasts, slice the cheese into 12 fairly even portions, and wash and dry the basil.

When the bread is toasted, arrange it so the less toasted sides are up. (You know there always is one!) Spoon slices of broiled tomato and their juices evenly over the pieces of toast. Intersperse them with the cheese, broken up a little to fit and to be spread out over the slices, and with the leaves of basil, 2 or 3 per toast.

Return the toasts to under the broiler, and broil for another few minutes until the cheese is melted. Serve at once.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Black Bean, Corn, & Tomato Salad with Avocado

This delicious summery salad is adapted from one by the California Avocado marketing board, but apart from the avocado and the lime juice, it contains mostly things that are local to here right now. If you want to cook the beans from scratch, I always think 2/3 to 3/4 of a cup of dry beans are the equivalent of a can of beans. At this time of year, though, I am inclined to ignore all the jars of dried beans in the basement and just buy a can. It's far too hot to be boiling beans for hours.

I would have been tempted to put another avocado in - I love avocados - but there were only 2 in the bin when I was shopping, and the other one was hard as a brick. Oh well; I was lucky to find one ripe enough to use right away. They are generally better bought a couple of days in advance but I have trouble being that organized. One was fine, and it's a salad after all; the exact proportions of things to each other can vary according to how much you like or have of each.

I used some Aleppo pepper for my hot chile powder, mostly because I still have well over a cup of the stuff in the cupboard from growing it a few years back, but something more Mexican would be entirely appropriate, if you have it.

As ever, the 2 of us ate it all and called it dinner, but if you were serving it with other things it would go further.

2 to 6 servings
30 minutes prep time

Black Bean, Corn, & Tomato Salad with Avocado

Make the Dressing:

1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon (or to taste) hot red chile powder
the juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup olive oil

Grind the cumin seeds and mix them with the remaining spices in a small bowl or jam jar. Add the lime juice and olive oil, and stir or shake well.

Make the Salad:
2 cobs of corn
1 large tomato
1 540 ml (19 ounce) can black beans
1 small banana pepper OR 1/4 bell pepper
1 medium-small sweet onion
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
1 large ripe avocado OR 2 medium avocados

Put a large pot of water on to boil the corn. Husk the corn and boil for 5 to 8 minutes, until done to your liking. Plunge the cobs into cold water and let them cool. While the corn is cooking, drop the tomato into the boiling water for 1 minute. Rinse it in cold water and peel it and chop it.

Cut the corn from the cold cobs and put it in a salad bowl with the chopped tomato. Drain and rinse the beans, and add them. Wash, trim and chop the pepper fairly finely. Peel and chop the onion, also fairly finely. Wash, dry, and mince the cilantro. Add these to the salad along with the dressing and toss together.

Cut the avocado in half and remove the pit. I find it easiest to use a large, flattish, and rather thin spoon to cut and remove small slices from the halves, but it could be peeled and chopped fairly coarsely. Sprinkle the avocado pieces over the salad and toss it very gently to incorporate them. I add them last to avoid smooshing them too much.

Last year at this time I made Cherry Tomato & Shallot Clafoutis

Friday, 10 August 2018

Some Bean Crosses

Here is a post about some beans that are not available to anyone. They only exist in my garden.

Last fall I finally found something I had been looking for for a while. A plant with black-coated seeds showed up in the Blue Lake beans. Given the beans I've been growing, that means it was a Blue Lake - Cherokee Trail of Tears cross. I was looking for such a cross because ever since the summer of 2013 we have been struggling with anthracnose in the beans.

Blue Lake appears to have moderately good resistance to anthracnose, not succumbing until we have managed about half a crop, but Cherokee Trail of Tears has better resistance, not succumbing until near the end of the season. The flavour of Cherokee Trail of Tears is quite similar to Blue Lake, although it is a much more variable bean. At any rate, I was quite excited and carefully saved all the black crossed beans to plant this year.

Cherokee Trail of Tears beans are green, but often have a purple flush to them. I was not too surprised therefore when about three-quarters of the f2 beans turned out to be actually purple. I was a bit more surprised that three-quarters of the beans turned out to be flat. I'm looking for beans as much like Blue Lake as possible, but with better anthracnose resistance. That means that right off the bat, I am eliminating fifteen-sixteenths of them on the grounds of looks alone, although on re-examination of Blue Lake beans they seem to have some variability in shape. I think of them as round, but they go from round to flattish.

When I grow out these beans next year I will be eliminating a bunch on different grounds. I see many of the green beans, but not all, have pink flowers. Blue Lake flowers are white, but I think I will eliminate white flowers from the crossed group. I want them to be very like Blue Lake but it will be helpful to have a way to differentiate them! None of these beans seem to have strings, but it will be something to watch for as well. Also, I want white seeded or at least very pale seeded beans.

There are two skinny little beans in the photo above which have the look of Blue Lake. Unfortunately, I don't think either of them quite have the flavour of Blue Lake either. One of them comes close, I think. They are from 2 different plants. They are so small because these 2 green, round-podded plants also seem to have started producing one to two days later than most of the others. The beans in the picture are all I picked on the first day there were enough of them ready to pick.

So it looks like I have exactly one bean plant that looks and tastes like what I want, which is certainly a big step up from having zero. The next question is, does it have improved anthracnose resistance? I don't know yet, as the anthracnose has yet to get going. The very hot dry weather we have had this year seems to be slowing it down at least.

I did not plant all the beans from last years crossed plant; I will plant the rest next year and see if I can get another plant of the type I am looking for. Also I should watch the purple and flat plants to see how they do with anthracnose, and how they are for flavour. Just because they aren't exactly what I am looking for doesn't mean they couldn't be good, desirable beans.

The other bean I was quite excited about last year was one that I grew out from an Annelino Yellow - Cherokee Trail of Tears cross. (Yes, Cherokee Trail of Tears is a stud. If I wasn't growing it, I would think beans hardly ever cross; but since I am, I think they cross all the time.) It was a long, dark green bean with a purple haze over it, and it was delicious. It was also productive and had good anthracnose resistance. I saved most of the beans for seed and planted them again this year.

The first group of beans I picked from the resulting plants were disappointing. They were much stubbier, didn't have the purple haze, and didn't have the delicious flavour. I'm starting to see some slightly later producing plants with longer, purple hazed beans on them so I am still hopeful that I can get the style of bean I am looking for out of this batch, but it isn't going to be a doddle. I had Mom try some and she thought they were really tasty but noted that some of them had strings. That will be a trait we will want to weed out.

One quality they seem to have retained from last year (when they were f1) is that they develop quite slowly. This means they are not the earliest of beans, but they only started a few days after the Blue Lake, and they seem to actually hold quite well, both on and off the plant - an excellent trait. Finally, they do seem to have maintained one other very desirable quality; they are extremely productive, right up there with the Blue Lake. I'm not quite as excited about these as I was last year, but I think they are worth continuing to grow out and select.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Flakkee Carrots

Mr Ferdzy lends a hand with Flakkee Carrots

This is another one that I'm a little surprised to realize I have never written about. On the other hand, carrots are one of the world's most popular vegetables and Flakkee is one of the most common older types of orange carrots out there - in a funny sort of way it is so ubiquitous as to be easily overlooked.

Actually, most of the carrots bought at the grocery store these days are much more likely to be F1 hybrids of some sort. Flakkee is one of the last widely-available open-pollinated carrots, although I have seen some F1 hybrids described as Flakkee types. Beware of carrot hybrids if you want to save your own seed. Carrots were one of the earliest vegetables to be converted by the seed industry to Cytoplasmic Male Sterility and just about every hybrid now has it (meaning no seed can be produced).

Flakkee straddles the line between being a named variety and simply a type of carrot. Their shape is also somewhat intermediate between a Danvers type, and an Imperator type. They are fairly long, longer than most Danvers, but they do end in a blunt tip (unlike the true Imperators). They can get quite large and in fact when the discussion turns to growing giant vegetables, their name tends to turn up. I can find very little about their history. I see a surprising number of seed-sellers claiming they are Italian. They may be popular in Italy, but they are plainly Dutch. The name is a reference to the Dutch island of Goeree-Overflakkee; one has to assume a centre of Dutch carrot culture. Orange carrots did develop in Holland, after all.

Just to make things more confusing, they are known by a number of other names. Autumn King is one you will see often; this is a particular selection of Flakkee. They may also be known as Flak. Flakkese 2 is described as a selection of Autumn King.

We have consistently found them one of our easiest and most productive carrots to grow. As an older type of carrot, they have lush, leafy tops, which perhaps means they can't be quite as crowded as the newer hybrids and varieties bred for minimal foliage. I think this gives them resiliency in the garden though, and in general I associate good foliage with good flavour. They need a relatively long season to fully develop. William Dam (where we get our seeds) says 75 days to maturity. I think that's a bit low. In good growing conditions, you can start harvesting them around then, but for full development and good winter storage you can expect them to need longer. The ones in the photo are probably not much past the 75 day mark, but I also wouldn't consider them particularly impressive specimens.

We often leave half of our carrots in the ground over winter for spring consumption; they keep as well there as anywhere for the home grower. My one caution is that the largest and most impressive carrots don't hold in the ground well. Perhaps water sits on the tops, and rots out the crown. You might as well pick your biggest and best in the fall, in other words. I save my carrots selected to go to seed next spring in our basement fridge, after having lost too many left in the ground. I can supplement them with the best of the spring-dug carrots, but this way I know I will have some, although a few always seem to rot in the fridge too, so check them occasionally through the winter. As for eating the spring-dug carrots, once they are ready to go to seed they will get tough and woody, so don't leave them too long. For fall digging on the other hand, we leave the main harvest as late as we can, which means just before it snows to stay or it looks like the ground will freeze.

So far as growing them goes, the same as for any other carrot. Don't plant them too early; the soil should be at least 10°C - in other words, wait until the dandelions bloom. Don't plant them too deeply, but in good stone-free and well-worked soil. Once they are in the ground they must be watered-watered-watered-watered-watered until they germinate, and after that regular waterings are important, but you can leave off watering twice a day. It is helpful to keep them covered during this time; people use things from row-cover cloth to plywood. Everyone says not to put compost on carrots, and it's true that too much compost will cause luxurious leafy tops but spindly, hairy, and forked roots. On the other hand it is my observation that carrots actually love compost - provided it was applied three years ago.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Gravedigger Peas

I seem to have missed the opportunity to photograph these peas close up, as I was too busy shelling them and eating them. There they are a little earlier in the season, setting pods like crazy, along with one lone and solitary Sugar Magnolia which seems to have gotten slightly lost. They are over and done long since, of course.

We grew them last year for the first time. I have wanted to try them ever since I read about them on Rebsie Fairholm's blog, so I was quite excited to see them listed by Annapolis Seeds. We planted a nice little patch last spring, and when we picked the first couple of pods to try, Mr. Ferdzy and I looked at each other in amazement and promptly agreed to eat no more - because we wanted to grow them out for seed, so we could grow masses of them this year.

Their history is not much known. They are English, and probably date back to the 19th century; no earlier. They were donated to the Heritage Seed Library who named them, as is their custom, for the furthest grower back to whom they can be traced; in this case a man who was a gravedigger by trade and pea grower by vocation. Rebsie says pretty much all that is known about them. 

We planted them a bit late this year and so they were not particularly early to produce. I think at any rate they are a mid-to-late-season pea, of a middle height. They are extremely bushy and dense, and produce heavily but somewhat slowly - a nice pea for the home gardener, since they should produce for a few weeks. I think ours were cut a bit short by the very hot dry weather this year but they still went longer than most peas. We will want to grow them in our trellised beds, I think, even though they are not the tallest. Their substance does mean they should get good support.

The pods are fat, and full. I don't think most will have more than 6 peas, but the peas are quite large. They are a lighter green than modern peas tend to be but they are so tender and flavourful. The peas tend to be a bit more ovoid than round. They are really quite distinctive and a little different than any of the other peas we have grown.

These are very obscure and rare, and I am so happy that Annapolis seeds was able to get hold of them. I can see already that these are going to be one of our must-grow favourite varieties.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

A Bounty of Zucchini

From all my garden writing and various other comments, you might conclude that we grow a lot of zucchini. That would be correct! And yet, somehow, I don't have many varietal reports for zucchini. This should help fix that!

The troubles I refer to below to which zucchini are subject, are squash bugs, cucumber beetles, and powdery mildew. Other people complain of vine-borers but thus far *spits, knocks wood* we have been spared that pest. Pretty much all squash, cucumbers and some melons are prone to these ailments in a greater or lesser degree, and they must be regarded philosophically. 

Golden Zucchini:

In the photo above; do I even have to say which one? Oh, all right - on the left. 

We've grown this every year since almost the beginning, in spite of some frustrations with it. The colour is lovely, and our mothers can be relied on to pounce on them whenever one turns up in the offerings. That's not quite as often as we would like, because this is not the most productive variety, and the fruits tend to run a little on the smaller side.  But golden! And a very pleasant flavour. The other problem is that some plants produce reasonably steadily and others just sit there doing nothing much; we generally plant 2 and between them can expect to get some golden zucchini. They are otherwise no more or less trouble-prone than other varieties, and in keeping with their smaller size as fruits the bushes are fairly compact as well. Should be about 55 days to maturity. In spite of this apparently late date I think our second zucchini of the summer was a Golden one, so not that far off the others.

I'm not aware of another readily available open-pollinated golden variety of zucchini, and even hybrid versions seem a bit sparse. I'd give one a try, given the limitations of this one, but the lack of choices suggest that if you want a yellow zucchini, this is in fact as good as it gets.

It was introduced in 1973 by Burpee, "from material supplied by Dr. Oved Shifress". Burpee used to be a fine old American company producing better things than anthracnose infected beans (grrr, I am pretty sure that's where I picked up my nasty case of bean plague). Some people claim it as an heirloom variety, although that seems to be pushing the meaning of heirloom a bit far to me.

I can't find much information about Dr. Shifress, beyond his association with Burpee and Rutgers University, but that he emigrated to Israel in the 1940s. That suggests Burpee spent up to 30 years working on this variety; a considerable investment of time. It may also explain why no-one has come up with a better version yet.

Black Beauty Zucchini:

Also in the photo above, on the right. It is also prosaically known as "Dark Green" which is a more technically accurate description of the colour, but lacking in that marketing oomph.

This is probably the most widely-available standard open-pollinated zucchini in North America, and has been available as seeds to gardeners since the 1930s, although it finally seems to be being supplanted by newer varieties. This site say introduced by the Jerome B. Rice Seed Co. in 1931, and that it won the All American Selection in 1957. I'm comfortable calling this one an heirloom variety, although given its long history I suspect it has been improved over the years. It is so widely popular because it is quite early to start producing - 50 days to maturity - very productive, and resilient in the garden. The flavour is good - what we expect zucchini to taste like, in fact, given its ubiquity - but there are better tasting varieties out there. (Cocozelle and its selection Costata Romanesco come to mind at once.) Still, we grow it most years and are happy to eat it. Best a little on the smaller side.

Mutabile Zucchini:

This is a new one to us this year; we got the seeds from Hawthorn Farm.  It is the top zucchini in the above photo.

As you can see, this is very much in the style of Black Beauty. It is still an open pollinated variety, although it seems to be of fairly recent origin. I can trace its voyage to Hawthorn Farm back through Adaptive Seeds and Turtle Tree Seed in the U.S. to Sativa-Reinau in Switzerland. It is not clear to me whether they were the breeders of this variety or not; very possibly.

The main advantage of this over Black Beauty is the open structure of the plant which apparently contributes to it being resistant to mildew. Since we have not yet hit mildew season here, I cannot comment. The above mentioned seed companies all seem to be very impressed though. Like Black Beauty, it should start producing in about 50 days. It is on the larger side of average for a zucchini bush. The stems do feel faintly fuzzy rather than prickly, but I'm not sure how that really affects things. I guess if you are a market gardener picking zucchini for hours it makes life more pleasant, but I worry that it makes them less resistant to bugs. Since we haven't had any significant squash pests in the last few years I have no data. So far, they are a good, productive standard zucchini. I'm not even growing Black Beauty this year - we were out of seeds and bought these instead - so I cannot do a direct comparison. My impression is that they are at least as productive and probably more so. We are likely to continue to replace Black Beauty with this variety.

Dunja F1 Hybrid Zucchini:

We got this one from William Dam, and this is the second year we have grown it. It is the bottom zucchini in the above photo.

Mr. Ferdzy had a grump last year about vegetable seeds, and decided he wanted to try a bunch of hybrids. This was one of them. As usual with hybrids, I am just not that impressed. I mean, it's fine. It's a nice compact plant and really quite productive. The zucchini are pretty much indistinguishable from Black Beauty for looks and flavour. It's supposed to have intermediate resistance to powdery mildew, papaya ringspot virus, watermelon mosaic virus, and zucchini yellow mosaic virus. Since we have had none of those diseases in the 2 years we've grown it, I cannot comment except for the powdery mildew. Again, Dunja comes with an open plant habit and lack of spines. My impression last year was that powdery mildew hit hard overnight towards the end of August bringing the production of zucchini by any and all plants to a complete halt simultaneously, including Dunja. So, no on that one. I was quite annoyed as I expect to get zucchini into September. It was, I guess, a bad year for mildew since it was so cool and damp overall. But I can't say that I think slightly improved production on a compact plant justifies the kind of price that gets charged for hybrid seed. 

We'll plant what we have left of this (maybe nothing because there sure weren't a lot of seeds in the packet) and go back to open pollinated varieties. William Dam says 43 days to maturity, which is certainly very early. I think it was the first to produce this year, but I wouldn't say by a week; only a couple of days so that sounds a bit optimistic too. On the other hand a study from Cornell found that Dunja is quite good at setting squash without being pollinated by insects, so if you are struggling with a lack of pollinators you may wish to try this one. Again, this is obviously a newer variety and as far as I can find it comes from a Dutch company called Vitalis

Cocozelle / Costata Romanesca:

I was a bit amazed to realize I don't seem to have ever reviewed this variety. All three zucchini in the above photo are Costata Romanesca. 

Costata Romanesca seems to be a particular selection of an Italian type generally known as Cocozelle. I've grown zucchini labelled Cocozelle in the past, and my impression is that while the two were not completely identical, they were similar enough that either would do. The striped, slightly fluted fruit is quite distinctive. The flesh is a creamier yellow than most other zucchini I have had, and for flavour they leave all the others in the dust. The texture is also extremely superior and these are nicer raw than any other variety I have had.

So why doesn't everyone grow Cocozelle, Cocozelle, and nothing but Cocozelle? Well, as usual, there are trade-offs. First of all, this is not a compact plant. I'd still describe it as bush rather than a vine (like Tatume), but pretty much by the skin of its teeth. By the end of the season you can expect to be picking zucchini at least 6 feet from where the plant first emerged from the soil. It's also doesn't have an open habit, or lack of prickles, or whatever. Some people describe it as positively sticky. For all the space that it takes up, you don't get more squash than with the compact bush varieties; a bit less even. At 52 days to maturity, it's on the late side - although I will note that you are not waiting more than a week from the earliest varieties to start picking these, which isn't that long in the grand scheme of things. Besides the distinctive ribbing, they are likely to be a slightly ungainly shape compared to more modern varieties. 

But really, when all is said and done, this is a variety I recommend to just about everyone. Only a great deal of space pressure would induce me to give it up for another variety. We do plant other varieties, for different colours or earlier production, but I just wouldn't want to be without this one. It is the best.

 It is said to have decent powdery mildew resistance but as usual, not that I've ever noticed.

Monday, 6 August 2018

Algarve Beans

I am away this week, dealing with getting Dad's house (now belonging to his partner, who has moved to Scotland) ready to sell, so I thought I would leave a series of varietal reports to fill the time I am gone. It is August, and you should be eating salads and simply cooked things anyway.

So! We saw these beans listed by William Dam as an early producing bean and decided to give them a try, instead of our usual Early Riser. They seem quite similar to that bean, although I do think they are slightly better. The photo makes them look scraggly, but bear in mind that we have had a most trying summer thus far. We have had one other summer that was as dry as this one in the decade we have been here, but although it was hot it was not consistently around 30°C for weeks on end like this one has been (although it seems to have finally cooled off a bit). Since we didn't grow Early Riser this year I can't compare them directly, but my memory says they too struggle a bit in extreme heat and drought.

In spite of it looking like quite a few beans were aborted due to the above mentioned heat and drought, they are producing really very nicely. They have an excellent, tender texture and flavour from when fairly small through to fairly large. Like other beans of this type, once they start to thicken you have missed them, but they seem to develop a little slowly and even when quite large they are tender and delicious. I saw one site listing them as 52 days to maturity and while that seems a little optimistic I don't think it is too far off; in cooler summers I would probably expect 60 days. My impression is that they may leave off producing a little earlier than Early Riser, but I don't actually mind. Early beans are for early; once the Blue Lake get going we tend to switch our focus to them.

I had visions of these beans growing in southern Portugal in little allotments, and who knows - they might be grown there. All the descriptions describe them as French beans. However they were bred by Holland Select Seeds, presumably fairly recently, and who as their name would suggest are based in Holland.  Algarve beans are supposed to be resistant to bean mosaic, and to do well at being grown under cover for earlier production. So far the bean anthracnose has not started up in the garden - the heat and drought is good for something - but I will be watching nervously (and update).

All in all, these are a lovely bean and we will grow them again as our early bean.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Today's Pickings!

Presented without (much) comment:

And closer up:

Mr. Ferdzy and my mother wanted today's pickings recorded for posterity... and I have to say, pretty spectacular! Yes, there are a few little strawberries in there. Our seedling turned out to be day-neutral and is still producing small waves of berries. "Fraise de Bois!" said Mom, about the couple we gave to her. They aren't of course, but they have that shape in a much larger size and much of the flavour too. I am so glad we kept that little seedling, we think it is very special.

And now, off to make a batch of Ratatouille to be frozen.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Zucchini, Beans, & Onion Japanese Style

It must be summer; it's zucchini and beans. From here to September, zucchini and beans. And oh, look! An onion! Well, this was a slightly different thing to do with them. They went with the Tsukune, of course, and also some rice.

You know how I'm always banging on about drying your shiitake stems and saving them? This is what you are saving them for, or one thing anyway. You could replace them with 4 or 5 whole dried shiitakes, in which case you should save the tops, slice them up, and add them to the vegetables, but even so you are going to lose some frugality points.

Somehow in the last year potato starch has become an absolute kitchen staple, without which I cannot do. I'm okay with that.

4 servings
30 minutes prep time - but note the need to soak some ingredients longer

Zucchini, Beans, & Onion Japanese Style

Make the Sauce & Toast the Sesame Seeds:
1/4 cup dried shiitake stems
a 4" x 6" piece of kombu (kelp)
1 cup water
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons miso
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon mirin
1/2 teaspoon potato starch
1 teaspoon sesame seeds

Put the shiitake stems and broken up kombu into a small pot with the water. Let them soak for half an hour anywhere up to overnight.  Bring them to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes, covered, then strain the liquid and discard the solids. There should be at least 1/2 cup broth, which is the amount you need to continue.

Mix the sugar, miso, vinegar, and mirin into the broth, stirring well to be sure the miso is dissolved. Best to do this while the broth is still a little warm. When it is cool, stir in the potato starch until dissolved.

Heat a very small skillet over medium heat, and toast the sesame seeds in it until lightly browned. Stir regularly, and watch carefully - nothing will happen, and then they will go from golden to burnt in approximately 10 seconds, unless you turn them out immediately onto a small plate to cool. So do that.

Cook the Vegetables:
1 medium-large zucchini
1 medium sweet onion, with the greens
2 cups green bean pieces
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil

Wash and trim the zucchini. Cut it in half lengthwise, then into half-moon slices of about 1/2" thick. Slice the onion the same way, but in slightly thinner slices. Chop the greens into pieces about 1" long; set them aside by themselves. Wash, trim, and cut the beans into 1" lengths.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the zucchini pieces and cook, stirring, for a minute or so. Add the beans and continue cooking for another minute or two. Add the white half-moon onion slices, and continue cooking and stirring until the vegetables look just a couple of minutes short of done to your liking.

Pour the sauce over the vegetables and mix in well. Let simmer for another 2 or 3 minutes until the sauce has thickened and coats them, stirring occasionally, then transfer them to a serving dish. Sprinkle them with the toasted sesame seeds.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Tsukune (Chicken Patties) with Yakitori Sauce

These were quite a lot of fun to make! As you can tell from the photo, I have acquired a sandwich press/grill and have been using it. I think I made panini exactly once, and then it's been more burger-y things non-stop.  I see no reason not to cook them in a skillet, though, if that's what you have.

Like a lot of Japanese dishes, the flavours are distinctive but mild. You can serve these with rice or noodles and vegetables as a meal, or make them smaller and serve them as an appetizer or party tid-bit. It seems to be pretty common to cook them on a bamboo skewer, but if you decide to do that you will need to soak your skewers in water for at least half an hour before using them.

Most of these ingredients should be widely available. The only one I have trouble getting is the mirin; I have to admit I substituted it with sherry.

4 servings
8 to 24 patties
30 minutes prep time

Tsukune (Chicken Patties) with Yakitore Sauce

Make the Yakitori Sauce:
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon potato starch
1/4 cup cold water
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 slices of ginger

Mix the sugar and potato starch in a very small pot, then mix in the water until smooth. Mix in all the remaining liquids. Add the ginger slices.

Heat the mixture over medium heat until simmering; stir frequently. Once it thickens - just a minute or two - remove it from the heat and let cool. Remove and discard the ginger.

Make the Tsukune (Chicken Patties):
1 green onion OR 2 tablespoons finely minced chives
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
1 large egg
2 tablespoons potato starch
2 teaspoons miso
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
500 grams (1 pound) lean ground chicken
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil

Wash, trim and finely chop the green onion or chives. Put them in a mixing bowl. Grate in the ginger. Add the egg, potato starch, miso and sesame oil, and whisk everything together well until the miso in particular is dissolved.

Add the ground chicken and mix thoroughly. Often with making meat patties you want to handle the mixture as little as possible, but in this case it is the opposite - the meat should be mixed until really very smooth.

Heat a grill or frying pan over medium-high heat; brush it with a little oil. Spoon out patties of the size you want, and spread them out to about 1/2" thick. Cook for about 4 minutes per side. I used a quarter cup measure to form the patties and got exactly 8 of them. You could also form them around bamboo skewers but in that case you must remember to soak the skewers for at least half an hour before forming and cooking the tsukune.

Brush the patties with the Yakitori sauce, and pass any extra for those who would like a little more.

Last year at this time I made Chicken, Corn, Peach, & Tomato Salad.

Monday, 30 July 2018

Mid to Late Summer Hodge-Podge

When I looked at all the lovely vegetables we have right now, I couldn't decide which one to cook, so it was "All of them, Katie!" I've made Hodge-Podge before, with a slightly different selection of vegetables. This one will take you later into the summer, once the peas are gone (which, let's face it, they are).

We ate this as our entire meal so a little grated cheese seemed like a good idea. If I was serving it as a side dish, I wouldn't add it and I would expect it to go a lot further than just the 2 of us. 

3 to 6 servings
30 minutes prep time

Mid to Late Summer Hodge-Podge

2 cobs of corn
4 to 6 medium new potatoes (about 2 cups when cut)
1 cup cauliflower florets
1 cup diced green beans
1 cup chopped green or Savoy cabbage
1 medium-small zucchini
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh dill, parsley, chives OR basil
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup sour cream
freshly ground black pepper to taste
a little more salt if needed
grated cheese to top, if liked

Put a large pot of water on to boil. Husk the corn, and when the water boils, cook the corn for 5 to 8 minutes; however long you like to cook your corn. Remove it with tongs to a bowl of cold water to cool once done, but keep the pot of water on the stove.

While the corn cooks, prepare the other vegetables. Scrub the potatoes and cut them into chunks. Break up the cauliflower florets. Top and tail the beans and cut them in pieces. Chop the cabbage. Wash, trim, and cut the zucchini into chunks. Wash, dry, and mince the herb of your choice.

When the corn comes out, add the salt to the boiling water and put in the potatoes to cook for 10 to 12 minutes. When there are 6 or 7 minutes left for them to cook, add the cauliflower, beans, and cabbage. When there are 3 or 4 minutes left, add the zucchini.

Meanwhile, drain the corn well and cut it from the cobs.

When the vegetables are cooked, drain them and return them to the pot on the stove. Add the butter and the corn. Season them generously with pepper, and with a little more salt if you think they need it. When they are well mixed and bubbling again, mix in the minced herb, then the sour cream. Transfer to a serving dish. Serve with a little grated cheese to sprinkle on top, if you like.

Last year at this time I made Naan.

Friday, 27 July 2018

Summer Fish Cakes

These are a little different from the classic fish and potato fish cakes, being made with corn and zucchini instead of the usual potatoes. Nothing wrong with that! Serve them with the same chow-chow, tartar sauce, or wedge of lemon that you might serve with more typical fish cakes. Accompany them with some lovely sliced tomatoes and a roll, and you have a terrific summer meal.

8 fish cakes
4 servings
45 minutes prep time

Summer Fish Cakes with Corn and Zucchini

300 grams (10 ounces) boneless whitefish
2 cobs of corn
1 medium zucchini
2 green onions
2 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons potato starch
mild vegetable oil to fry - about 1/4 cup

Skin the whitefish and discard the skin. Chop the flesh into small pieces, discarding any bones should you find them.  Put it in a mixing bowl.

Husk the corn and cut it from the cobs. Add it to the fish. Wash, trim and grate the zucchini; add it in. Wash, trim, and chop the green onions finely. Peel and mince the garlic, and add both to the bowl. Peel and grate the ginger; add to the bowl.

Break in the egg; season with salt and pepper. Mix well. Add the potato starch and mix well again.

Heat enough oil to coat the bottom of your skillet generously over medium-high heat. Spoon in 1/8 of the batter at a time to form 4 patties (assuming that is what your skillet will hold) and cook until set and lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Turn over the cakes and cook on the other side. Keep the finished cakes warm in a 200°F oven while you cook the remainder. Add oil to the pan as required to keep them cooking and browning well.

Last year at this time I made Keema Mattar (Ground Meat Curry with Peas).