Monday, 18 September 2017

Chicken with Roasted Grapes

Amazingly, this is the first recipe I have made in over 10 years of blogging that calls for grapes. I like them fine, I guess, but I tend to prefer the imported ones and I tend to pull them off the stems and eat them; recipe over. However we went to Keady market recently, and I got a little container of green seedless grapes, juicier and zingier than their larger imported brethren.

You should serve these with mashed potatoes, polenta, or some such thing to soak up the cooking juices, which are perhaps the best part of this dish. That, and the fact that it isn't a whole lot harder than flinging the meat in a pan and sticking it in the oven, unadorned, would have been.

2 to 4 servings

Chicken with Roasted Grapes

4 to 6 shallots
1 teaspoon mild vegetable oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
4 medium chicken thighs
OR a 1 to 1.5 kg (2 to 3 pound) pork tenderloin
1/2 teaspoon each fennel seed and rosemary
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 cups green or red seedless grapes
1 teaspoon mild vegetable oil; yes, again

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Peel the shallots and cut them in quarters. Toss them with the oil, mustard, and vinegar in a shallow baking dish that will hold the meat to be roasted snugly. Spread them out evenly and put the chicken thighs on top of them. If you are using the pork, you should brown it in a little (unmentioned) oil before laying it on top of the shallots. Grind the fennel seeds and rosemary, and sprinkle this, with some salt and pepper, over the meat.

Roast the chicken for 30 minutes, or the pork tenderloin for 15 to 20 minutes. While the meat cooks, remove the stems from the grapes and discard them. Toss the grapes with the remaining teaspoon of oil. Remove the pan from the oven but turn the heat up to 400°F. Sprinkle the prepared grapes around the meat and return the pan to the oven. Roast for a further 15 minutes until the grapes have all split.

Let the dish rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Spicy Fried Eggplant - Baingan (or Begun) Bhaja

Here is my take on a classic Bengali treatment for eggplant. The eggplant is sliced, marinated in a spice paste, then coated in flour and fried. As usual I looked at a lot of recipes, picked the features I liked from each, and adapted for the fact that I can't get certain ingredients easily. I was pretty pleased with the results and we both enjoyed this very much.

This is rich enough to be a vegetarian main course, served with rice or Naan, or it will work well as one of 2 or 3 dishes (or more) comprising a fancier Indian-style meal.

While the salting and draining of the eggplant, followed by the marinating period makes it quite slow, this was really very easy to do and the actual work is divided up into 3 sessions of about 10 minutes each.

2 to 4 servings
1 1/2 hours - 30 minutes prep time

Spicy Fried Eggplant - Baingan (or Begun) Bhaja

Salt & Drain the Eggplant:
1 medium eggplant (300 grams; 10 ounces)

Wash and trim the eggplant, and cut it into slices about 1/4" thick. Peel off the skin from the side slices, as much as possible, and maybe trim them a bit to make them reasonably flat. Salt them generously and layer them on a plate. Set another plate on top, weight the plate, and let them sit for about half an hour.

Rinse off the eggplant slices and gently squeeze and pat them dry. This will draw off any bitter juices, and help speed up the cooking process.

Make the Spice Paste:
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, ground
1/8 to 1 teaspoon Aleppo or other hot ground chile
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons apple butter
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil

Grind the coriander seeds and mix them in a small mixing bowl with the chile powder, turmeric, salt, and ginger. Peel and mince the garlic and add it, along with the apple butter and vegetable oil. Mix thoroughly.

When the eggplant is ready, stab each piece all over with a fork, on both sides. Spread the paste evenly over the slices, on both sides.

Fry the Eggplant:
about 1 cup chick pea flour
about 1/2 cup mild vegetable oil to fry
a good handful parsley or cilantro to garnish

As you finish spreading the spice paste on each slice, lay it on a plate generously sprinkled with chick pea flour. Sprinkle chick pea flour between each layer as you stack them up; the eggplant slices should be thinly but completely dredged in the chick pea flour.

When the are all done, let them rest for about half an hour.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil - enough to generously cover the bottom of the skillet - in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once it is hot, lay in as many of the prepared eggplant slices as you can while still having room to turn them. Fry for 2 or 3 minutes per side, until well browned. Add a little more oil to the pan as needed, generally when the slices need to be turned or new ones are being added. Put the finished slices on a plate and keep them warm in a 200°F oven until they are all done. Garnish with chopped parsley or cilantro and serve hot.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017


This looks a lot like the Fattoush I made a while back, and why not? It's another Mediterranean salad based on the magical interaction between ripe tomatoes and stale bread. The Italian version is more basic, maybe even a little austere. Still, the Italians can get into fights over whether you use a bread made with salt or not, even while declaring that this is a versatile salad designed to use up whatever is around.  You are not so likely to have the luxury to choose the exact iteration of Italian style bread so I say use whatever you can get.

You can certainly use cherry tomatoes instead of the beefsteaks if you prefer or that's what you have. This salad doesn't always even have the cucumber in it, so you could omit it and add a bit more tomato to compensate. Personally I think the basil is pretty indispensable but you could replace it with fresh oregano or parsley.

4 servings
30 minutes prep time

Panzanella, an Italian Bread Salad

1/2 large sweet Spanish OR red onion
4 to 6 slices stale Italian bread
1/4 cup olive oil
1 English (long) cucumber
1 large or 2 medium beefsteak tomatoes

1/4 cup finely torn or shredded fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

I do the onion first because I like to salt it to make it milder. Peel it and cut it in half from top to bottom, then cut into thin slices the other way. Put them in a strainer and sprinkle them with salt, then set them aside to drain for about 10 minutes or so. Rinse and drain well before adding them to the salad.

Your bread should be good and stale. Brush it with the olive oil on both sides, arrange it on a baking tray, and toast in the oven at 425°F until crisp but not more than lightly browned around the edges. Crumble it up and put it in your salad bowl.

Peel (if you like) the cucumber, and cut it into dice. Peel (if you like, by blanching for 1 minute in boiling water then dropping it into cold water) the tomato, and cut it into slightly larger dice. Mix them in your salad bowl with the bread.  Add the onion at this point. If you don't care to salt and drain it, wait until now to prepare it. Wash, dry, and tear up or shred the basil and add it.

Sprinkle the balsamic vinegar over the salad. If perchance you didn't use the full 1/4 cup of olive oil to brush the bread, sprinkle any remaining over the salad now. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss well. Let the salad sit for 10 or 15 minutes to soften before serving.

Last year at this time I made Versatile Chocolate Cake Dressed as an Owl, Because Why Not? which also made  use of Vanilla Pudding Frosting. And the chocolate version too, for that matter.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Plum & Blackberry Pie

Ooo, pie! I haven't made one of those in a while. But we bought a big basket of plums, and we've frozen oodles of blackberries, and still they come.  If you want to use up fruit there is nothing like a pie. Fruit crisps can come close, and I may resort to that yet, but for now; pie.

This was new pie crust recipe for me, and I have to say I mostly approve. Mostly, because I made it with white flour and I prefer whole wheat flour in a pie crust. I'm out of it though. I tend to buy a big sack of each at the same time and as usual the whole wheat is gone long before the white flour. If I had had whole wheat flour I suspect I might have wanted to add an extra 2 tablespoons to allow for the bran in it.

I speculate that this could have been made earlier in the season using Japanese type plums, but they are softer, juicier, and more sour. I would add a bit more sugar and probably a tablespoon of arrowroot to reinforce the tapioca if I did that.

I put some of that blueberry honey in this and as usual, I definitely could tell it was there! Honey is expensive though, and I suspect it could have been replaced with sugar and worked just fine. Maybe just a hair less tapioca in that case. 

8 servings
1 hour 45 minutes - 45 minutes prep time

Plum & Blackberry Pie

Make the Pie Crust:
2 cups soft unbleached flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup mild vegetable oil
1/4 to 1/3 cup buttermilk

Mix the flour and salt in a mixing bowl, then cut in the cold butter until the size of peas or smaller. Mix in the oil and 1/4 cup of buttermilk. Stir with a fork until well mixed then form it into a ball. If it is still too dry to form a cohesive ball, dribble in a little more buttermilk and mix again.

Wrap the dough loosely in parchment paper or a clean damp tea towel and set it aside while you make the filling.

Make the Filling & Finish:
450 grams (1 pound; 16 to 20) German or Italian purple plums
4 cups blackberries
1/4 cup minute tapioca
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon lemon, lime, or orange juice
a few scrapes of zest from the above

Wash the plums, split them in half, and remove the pits. Cut each half into quarters and put in a mixing bowl. Wash and pick over the blackberries (removing any stems or debris) and drain them very well. Add them to the plums. Add the remaining ingredients and mix gently.

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Divide the dough into 2 pieces, about 60% and 40%. Roll out the larger piece on the parchment paper or a clean, floured board (you will need to flour the parchment paper if you use that) until evenly thin and large enough to fit your pie plate with a very slight overhang. Centre the upside-down pie plate over the crust, flip it over, and peel off the parchment paper. If you didn't use parchment, roll the crust loosely around the rolling pin to transfer it over the pie plate and then unroll it into position.

Roll out the remaining pastry to cover the pie. Transfer the filling to the lined pie plate. Top it with the pastry and seal well around the edge, pinching it closed. Cut holes for steam to escape, or just poke holes with a fork over the top of the crust. Put the pie plate onto a baking tray to catch any drips, and bake at 425°F for 15 to 20 minutes. Reduce the heat and continue baking for another 45 minutes. Pie should be lightly browned. You will probably see some leaking juices, which should be bubbling. You may want to give it another 5 minutes or so. Remove to a rack and let cool before serving.

Last year at this time I made Artichoke, Mushroom, & Spinach Soup.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Sweet Corn Hash, Mexican Flavours

Well, this is not so much a recipe as a bunch of things thrown into a pan, but at least they were thrown in to good effect.

I put in the bacon, mostly because I already had some left over to use up. I assume about 15 minutes to cook it;  without it this will be really quite quick. On the other hand; bacon. Likewise the amount of cheese I call for assumes that this is your main dish, but you could put in less or even none and serve this as a side dish with something else. That's why the number of servings is so variable. It depends on what, if anything, else you are serving with it.

You could use about 2 cups of diced potatoes instead of zucchini if you preferred, but they should be par-boiled first. Or as we say in this household, leftovers. 

You can use a bell pepper if you like, but I prefer something more interesting. Mexican, for preference, but I haven't seen any ancho peppers so far this  year and the hot Banana peppers we found were about the only other option. It has been a terrible year for peppers, and it shows at the market. (And if it wasn't a terrible year for peppers, we wouldn't be trying to buy them... but, yeah. Ours are nowhere in sight.) If you use a hot pepper though, be careful about using a hot pepper flavoured Monterrey Jack. I'm not saying you can't, just that you should decide that's what you want to do (or not) first. 

2 to 6 servings
40 minutes prep time

Spicy Corn Hash with Zucchini & Peppers

1 medium onion
1 large sweet or hot red or green pepper
3 cobs of corn
1 medium zucchini
6 slices of bacon, optional 
1 to 2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
about 150 grams (5 ounces) Monterrey Jack or similar cheese
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Peel and chop the onion. Wash, de-stem, and chop the pepper. Husk the corn, and cut the kernels from it, scraping the cobs to get it all. Wash, trim, and cut the zucchini into small dice.

Chop the bacon into bits, and sauté it in a large skillet until crisp. Remove it from the pan. If you are not using bacon, put some oil in the large skillet and heat it. You may need to use a little more oil even if you do put in the bacon, but only assuming it was very lean, or conversely if it looks like too much drain off a bit before you start the vegetables.

Add the onion and peppers and cook, stirring, for a few minutes until softened. Add the zucchini and the corn. Continue cooking, stirring regularly but giving things time to brown a bit between times. When it's cooked to your liking, mix in the presumed bacon, and sprinkle the cheese cut in dice or grated, over the hash. Cover with a lid and let continue to cook for a few more minutes, until the cheese is melted.

Sprinkle with the chopped cilantro, and serve.

Last year at this time we cooked some Artichokes

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Pickled Sweet Spanish Onions

We made these last year; I can now report on how they did.

We have always grown a sweet onion for fresh raw eating in the summer, but for some reason hardly anybody ate any last year. At the end of the season when the tops died down, we were left with 3/4 of a bushel of sweet onions, and they quickly made it clear they had no intention of storing.

I desperately searched the internet for pickled onion recipes. "No canning needed for these quick onion pickles!" they all promised, and I moaned, "But I NEED to can them! Three-quarters of a bushel! Already sprouting!"

Anyway, I had to come up with my own in the end, and I was pretty happy with it. I had hoped that the pickles would keep for a year, but while they are still usable, at the 8 month mark they got a bit too soft to be really good. I suspect that may be because they were sweet onions, and they are just not good keepers even when pickled and placed in a jar. Regular onions might hold up better. Or maybe I should have done the 3 day brining that my other onion pickle recipe calls for. I guess it's nice to know that it might not be done in vain!? 

Still, for the first 6 months these were better than fine, and I used them a lot. I was worried they might be a bit plain and they kind of were, but that actually made them very usable. I threw them in salads, onto sandwiches, even into soups and stews. (Yeah I have scaled the recipe way down from what I made - I had A LOT.)

makes 3 500-ml jars

Pickled Sweet Spanish Onions

10 cups sliced sweet Spanish onions
pickling salt
3/4 cups water
1 1/2 cups white vinegar

Peel and slice the onions, a layer them in a large strainer (I used a steamer insert for a pasta set) sprinkling each layer lightly with pickling salt. Set aside in a cool spot and let drain for 3 hours.

One hour before assembling the pickles, put the jars in a canner with water to cover them by a good inch and bring to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes. 

Put the water and vinegar together in a pot, and bring up to a simmer. 

1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon white peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon pickling salt
1 teaspoon sugar

Lift the jars from the canner, draining half of them into the sink and half of them back into the canner. Put them on a heat-proof board and add the seasonings to each jar. Fill each jar with the well-drained onion slices. Pour the hot brine over them. There should be about 1/2" headroom at the top of each jar. Wipe the rims of the jars with a bit of paper towel dipped in the boiling water in the canner.

Bring the lids and rims to a boil, and seal the jars. Return them to the canner and boil for 20 minutes. Let cool, remove from the canner, test the seals, and label the jars. Keep them in a cool, dark spot for up to 6 months; once opened they must be kept in the refrigerator.

Last year at this time I made Dill Pickle Brined Pork Tenderloin.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Melon, Cucumber & Feta Salad

This is a variation on a salad I made in first few months of this blog, only with apricots instead of melon. It is interesting (to me) to note that while I have never thought of myself as a reckless user of sweeteners, I called for a lot more honey then than I would think appropriate now. In fact, I think you could use less, or even none, although it does help play up the sweet-sour-salty flavour triangle here.

I had intended to put some mint into this but some annoying little critter had beaten me to it, leaving nothing but bare stems and a few very tattered, wilting leaves. Bah humbug. 

4 servings
15 minutes prep time

Watermelon, Cucumber & Feta Salad

1 cup peeled, diced cucumber
1 cup peeled, diced watermelon, muskmelon, or cantaloupe
1/2 cup drained, diced feta cheese
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh mint or basil, optional
the juice of 1/2 large lime
1 tablespoon honey
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Wash, peel (if you like) the cucumber, and cut it in dice; put it in your salad bowl. Wash, peel (I do recommend) your melon, and cut in similar dice and likewise put it in. Drain and dice the feta cheese; add it to the bowl. Wash, dry, and mince the mint or basil if you would like to add some and have not been visited by egregious pests.

Squeeze the lime juice, and mix it with the honey - I find it helpful to heat them together in the microwave for just a few seconds - then toss this dressing into the salad. Finish with a good, rather coarse, grind of black pepper.

... Aaaaand serve.

Last year at this time I made a Pasta Salade Niçoise.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Dancing With Smurfs Tomato

When we first started gardening here, 9 years ago, there were no "blue" tomatoes available. Since then, they have become a big fad and almost common. One of the most popular and widely available is Dancing with Smurfs. I received a few seeds in a seed-trade a few years back, but they are available from Greta's Organic Gardens, Solana Seeds, and Urban Harvest, at least this year.

We did not jump into the mania for blue tomatoes feet-first; by the time we heard about them we had a pretty full complement of tomatoes going. Also early reports were that these blue tomatoes didn't taste that great. In fact, we grew Dancing with Smurfs last year for the first time and I have to admit... we forgot to pick any. I kept looking at them, and admiring how lovely they looked, and just not eating them. This year I resolved to do better.

Part of the problem is that although they look like an oversized cherry tomato or small salad tomato, they are not particularly early to ripen. The truss in the picture is the first I have picked. They get their lovely blue colour quite early in their development, but the underlying red of ripeness does not come until later. Days to maturity is said to be 70 days; I think they took longer than that but then tomatoes in general have been dire this year, what with the unrelenting rain and lack of really convincing heat.

Most of the blue tomatoes available in North America came out of a breeding program at Oregon State University, under the direction of Jim Myers. He was using material dating back as far as the 1960s, when the first attempts at a blue tomato were made. Apparently all tomatoes have the genetic ability to express anthocyanins in their skins; they just don't. It stays in the leaves and stems, where it does not provide any nutritional benefits. At OSU they crossed domestic tomatoes with wild species which did express the gene for blue skins.  Their first successful variety seems to be one known as P20. Out of that came a series of varieties with Indigo in the name... Indigo Rose is the best known of these, but I have not grown it. The general agreement though, is that these are not the best tasting of the blues.

In 2004 Tom Wagner, breeder of the well-known Green Zebra tomato (and many other things) and a number of other independent tomato breeders got some material from the university and they continued with their own breeding work on blue skinned tomatoes. In 2011 Tom Wagner released the f3 of what is now Dancing with Smurfs, and apparently it has been quite stable since then, although I suspect growers are still selecting for the plants with the most blue to the tomatoes.

Those wild tomato genes also make the blue tomatoes robust plants with resistance to diseases, including to some degree, it is said, to the dreaded late blight. I have never had that - *knocks wood, sprinkles salt over shoulder, spits* - so I really can't comment. However, I note that they don't have any particular resistance to our endemic septoria leaf-spot. Given that they have rather sparse foliage to start with, mine are now looking very denuded. The sparse foliage does help to ensure the blueness of the tomatoes, though, as the colour is produced in conjunction with lots of sunlight.

So, how do they taste?

Quite pleasant, I would say, although they won't be my favourite tomato. They are distinctly sweet, a bit mild, with a slight but definite note of bitterness in that anthocyanin-rich skin. I'm not about to replace blueberries with these, is what I'm saying. Given what a crappy year this has been for tomatoes, I may not (almost certainly not) be tasting them at their best. I'd say they're well worth trying particularly if you want to have a range of small tomatoes in a rainbow of colours - definitely a worth-while ambition. Keep in mind, too, that I am not the greatest lover of raw tomatoes and cherry tomatoes in particular. You may think these are terrific - lots of people do.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Three Variations on Blackberry Jam (or Syrup)

Our blackberries are producing masses of berries this year. They are a decent quality in spite of the rain, if a little on the tart side compared to some years. So far, I have made a version of all of these variations. The Blackberry-Orange combo was made as jam, and the Blackberry-Honey was made as syrup. I would only suggest the Blackberry-Peach as a jam, which is what I did. 

You don't actually have to strain out the seeds, but I have to say it's nice not to have them. They are quite intrusive and as I get older they inevitably get stuck in my gums. On the other hand, the berries cook down and you will probably mill out close to 2 cups of seeds, meaning that 12 cups of blackberries are not nearly as much as you might think.

I always think each berry has an ideal citrus partner. Oranges seem to be it for blackberries; lemons go with raspberries and strawberries and blueberries love limes.

The honey I used in the syrup was blueberry honey, and I could really taste it in the syrup, at least as I canned it up. How it will hold, I don't know. I expect the blackberries to be delicious at any rate.

After this, I think any more blackberries will be frozen for smoothies. 

6 250-ml jars of jam
OR 8 250-ml jars of syrup

Blackberry Jam

Blackberry-Orange Jam or Syrup
12 cups blackberries
the zest and juice of 2 large navel oranges
1 cup water if making syrup
2 cups sugar

Blackberry-Honey Syrup or Jam
12 cups blackberries
the zest and juice of 1 large lime
1 cup water if making syrup
1 cup honey
1 cup sugar

Blackberry-Peach Jam
8 cups blackberries
900 grams (2 pounds; 6 medium-large) peaches
2 cups sugar

Rinse and pick over the blackberries; drain them very well. Put them in a large pot and add the zest and citrus juice, if using. If you are making jam, do not add water. If you are making syrup, add the 1 cup of water. Heat the berries gently over medium heat, stirring frequently, and bring them up to a steady simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring regularly, until all the berries have broken open. Let cool for 15 minutes.

Put your jars into a canner and add water to cover by at least an inch. Bring them up to a boil. I add my ladle and funnel to the top to sterilize them as well.

Meanwhile, press the berries through a food mill - I find it best to not put in more than 1 cup at a time - and strain them into a maslin pan or other large heavy bottomed pot. Discard the seeds. If you are making the Blackberry-Peach jam, blanch and peel the peaches, and chop them, discarding the pits.

Add the sugar, or sugar and honey, or sugar and peaches, to the strained berries, and bring up to a boil. Boil until a thick syrup, if making syrup, or until it runs from a spoon in a wide ribbon if making jam (probably about 20 minutes).

When the jars come to a boil, boil them for 10 minutes. Remove them from the water but keep it boiling. At this point I have taken to dropping the rings and lids into the boiling water while I fill the jars - they should boil for about 1 minute and you could also do them in their own pot of water.

Fill the jars with the jam or syrup. Dip a bit of paper towel in the boiling water and wipe the rims of the jars to make sure they are clean. Top them with the lids and rings, and tighten to be just snug. Return them to the boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes. Let cool (if you can, in the canner but otherwise remove them to a heatproof board), test the seals, label, and store in a cool dark place for up to 1 year. Keep refrigerated once open.

Last year at this time I made Corn & Tomato Salad with Feta Cheese, and also Cherry Tomato & Shallot Bruschetta.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Thornless Blackberries

If you asked me to list all the berries we can grow in Ontario in order of how much I like them, blackberries would be an also-ran. It isn't that I don't like them, it's just that I like most other berries better. However, over the last 6 years or so, as we have struggled to grow strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries, we've been eating lots of blackberries because they grow so easily and well. I'm starting to warm up to them...

Our blackberries were brought by my mother-in-law when she moved here, so I do not know exactly which variety we have. There was a popular series of blackberries bred in the U.S.A. and given the names of native tribes; I suspect them of being one of those, possibly Apache, but who really knows? In some ways, it doesn't matter much because the differences between one variety and another are not that enormous, although Apache is particularly long-producing which makes it a good choice for home gardeners.

Still, there are points to consider. Blackberries are naturally very thorny canes, but for over a hundred years now thornless versions have been commercially available. It makes them far more pleasant to pick and otherwise work with, no question! But thorny versions are still sold, so if you are shopping for blackberry canes, do check. After that, canes may be erect, semi-erect, or trailing. Ours are plainly an erect version, although that doesn't mean they don't arch enough to touch the ground if they are not pruned. Also, while these are often described as self-supporting, it makes a lot of sense to build them a trellis if you have more than one or two plants. They will be more tolerant of neglect than trailing varieties though.

You don't, by the way, need to have more than one plant unless you want more fruit; they are self-fertile so even just one will produce fruit. One plant will also produce more plants. They tend to send out runners and in many ways the hardest part of growing blackberries is keeping them under some kind of control. They drop seedlings all over, too. At least any that come up in the lawn don't survive mowing. My impression is that most if not all of those seedlings will have thorns, so do try to remove them while they are cute, baby thorns.

We mulch our row of blackberries with wood chips, which seems to suit them fine. They should definitely be mulched quite heavily.  Mowing around them is the best way to keep them in check, so their bed should be surrounded by mow-able grass. They like full sunshine for best production. About 1/4 of our bed is lightly shaded though, and this works out reasonably well as it is the last section to start ripening - and also the last section to finish ripening, extending our picking time by a week or so. If our variety is Apache, they are supposed to produce over 5 weeks and we get at least 6 weeks of picking - it's pretty amazing, actually. They just keep coming and coming.

Like most fruits, they are best in a warm, not too wet season although blackberries are more tolerant of - or require, if you prefer to put it that way - a certain amount of water. It has been warm enough this year for the fruit to be decent in quality, but I have learned to make a point of not picking them until at least 24 hours after a rainfall, or the fruit will be soft, bland, hard to pick, and spoil quickly. Unlike most things I prefer to pick them late in the afternoon when the sun has been on them all day for that final burst of ripening.

Most descriptions you will find on-line describe them as ripening as early as June, but those are American sites. Here in mid-southern Ontario they start ripening in the middle of August, and go until the end of September. They match well in particular with the peaches and early apples that are in season at the same time.

Blackberries are easy to care for. Mostly what they need is pruning and a little support. Since they are perennial, that "little support" does need to be sturdy. We put in 2 8' tall, 2" diameter metal poles, set 2' into the ground and held in place with post cement. (You dig your hole, dump it in, add water - voila, cement. They mix it up special for this purpose.) There are then 2 sets of wires strung between them and we weave the canes up through them to hold them in place.

While the plants are perennials, each cane lasts 2 years. The first year they just grow; you pretty much ignore them. In the fall they should be pruned back to about 4' in length - the exact length will depend on what variety you have, but hopefully they will tell  you - and the next summer they will send out a series of side shoots, which will flower and fruit. In the meantime, once the existing fruiting 2 year old canes have finished fruiting, they should be pruned out. Late fall is ideal, but you could leave it to early spring if you had to. Then you just keep repeating that cycle.

Blackberry pests are rare - other than the birds. There are some diseases but decent air circulation and good soil quality will avoid most of them, and a little light fertilizing once each year will keep them in top condition. It's not quite plant them and stand back, but blackberries are an easy and satisfying fruit to grow.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Broiled Tomatoes au gratin

It's those magic words again - quick and easy! Serve these juicy little morsels as a side dish or pop them onto toast for bruschetta.

For some reason I think these would really go with a meal of steak, corn on the cob, and green beans although that wasn't what I served them with. Still, would be good!

My tomatoes were a bit on the skimpy side so I actually used 3 of them. This is an ideal use for heirloom beefsteak tomatoes, and the advantage of 3 was that they were all slightly different colours, flavours, and textures.

I'm giving a bit of a range of how long to cook them, because it all depends: on your oven, on your tomatoes, on your preference. Do check them early and often to be sure of getting it right.

2 to 4 servings
20 minutes prep time

Broiled Tomatoes au gratin

Make the Topping:
3 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 or 3 crackers, reduced to crumbs
a grind of fresh black pepper
1/2 teaspoon rubbed basil OR oregano

Grate the Parmesan and crush the crackers; mix them together in a small bowl. The volume of cracker crumbs should be about the same as the Parmesan. Mix in the pepper and basil or oregano.

Finish the Tomatoes:
2 medium-large tomatos
a little olive oil

Line a baking tray with parchment paper and brush it with olive oil. Preheat the broiler.

Wash and core the tomatoes, and cut them into fairly thick slices of about 1 cm. Lay them on the oiled parchment. Broil them for 3 to 5 minutes, until the top side is cooked. Turn them over and sprinkle the topping over them. Return them to the oven and broil for another 3 to 5 minutes, until the topping is browned.

Last year at this time I made Seedy Fried Cauliflower and "Mexican" Pesto.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Argentinian Chicken & Corn

I found the inspiration for this recipe in an old cook book of South American recipes from the 1930s. Most of them were pretty Americanized, and who knows; this one may be too.

It originally called for you to roast a chicken in order to make it but my immediate reaction that this was the ideal dish to use up the leftovers from an already cooked rotisserie chicken such as many grocery stores have available. I haven't actually bought any such chickens in a while because the quality available to me has really gone downhill, but you may be luckier. Or if you had leftover grilled (barbecued) chicken it would do very well and in that case you might even have leftover grilled corn and should certainly use if for this and skip the blanching.

Because I think it is the perfect dish to use up leftover cooked chicken I am quite vague about the amounts of chicken to use; it will depend on how much you think you will eat and even more on how much you have.

4 servings
30 minutes prep time, not including cooking the chicken
about 45 minutes to cook bone-in chicken pieces

Chicken & Corn Argentine

4 to 6 large chicken thighs
OR half a rotisserie chicken; see notes above
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 large onion
1 medium red pepper
2 to 3 cloves of garlic
3 cobs of corn
3 large tomatoes
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons rubbed savory or oregano

If you start with raw chicken, season it well with the cumin seed ground, savory or oregano, and salt and pepper. Roast at 375°F for about 45 minutes or cook on a hot grill until just done.

Put a large pot of water on to boil for blanching the tomatoes and corn.

Peel and chop the onion. Wash, deseed, and chop the red pepper. Peel and mince the garlic. Husk the corn.

When the water boils, blanch the tomatoes for 1 minute, then run them under cold water. Peel them, cut out the green cores, and chop roughly. Blanch the corn in the same water for 1 or 2 minutes, then cut it from the cobs. Scrape the cobs to get all the corn; keep the prepared tomatoes and corn aside until needed.

When the chicken is cooked, cut it in as neat slices as you can get off of the bones. (I set the bones aside and picked any remaining chicken off of them and added it to the skillet once it was cooler and easier to handle.)

When the chicken is ready, heat the oil or some chicken fat in a large skillet. Cook the onion and red pepper over medium-high heat until softened and slightly browned. If you started with a rotisserie chicken add the cumin and savory to the pan at the same time; season later with salt and pepper taking into consideration how the rotisserie chicken has already been seasoned. Put in the bay leaves now too.

 Add the garlic and cook for another minute, then mix in the tomatoes and the corn. Settle in the slices of chicken and add any juices from it. Simmer the mixture for about 10 to 12 minutes in total, stirring once or twice if you can to keep it from sticking but trying not to break up the chicken slices.

Serve with mashed potatoes, pasta, rice, or even just over thick slices of toast.

Last year at this time it was another South American corn-based main dish; Pastel de Choclo, and Zucchini Blossom Stracciatella.