Friday, 3 April 2020

Pushing the Envelope; Starting the Garden

The world may be going to hell in a handbasket, but spring is coming regardless. We are champing at the bit more than usual to get out and start gardening, what with having spent ridiculous amounts of time inside, and it looks like the weather is being reasonably co-operative.

We have three beds covered in plastic at the moment. The far one holds - we hope - some spinach and lettuce that was seeded in the fall. We did not get good germination and we are waiting a week or so to see if we get some now with an assist. If not, we will re-seed, and in fact we have started some lettuce and spinach in flats to be transplanted out either way. The two nearer ones cover our two beds of early peas. Most of them are the variety Knight, but there is a section of Norli and a section of Strike, as well.

We ordered some new 6-mil vapor barrier as we threw some old sheets of it out last fall. When we first bought it we hoped it would last 5 or 6 years; in fact, it seems to have lasted 10 years and would have done even better if the deer had not stepped on some of it. Ordering it involved what is now the usual furtive exchange in a semi-deserted parking lot, and letting it sit the garage for 3 or 4 days before opening it. However, it will be nice to have some better hoop-house covers this year.

We transplanted some leeks out of what are now the pea beds. The spot they are in now will be between some tomato plants eventually, and that is turning out to be a good place to put leeks, onions, and carrots to go to seed.

This is our strain we have been saving from the seeds that overwintered in the garden; my hope is that eventually we will end up with a variety that is particularly good in the spring. I'll be looking for clean plants with the outer leaves in good condition, and late to go to seed. The tips are quite frozen and tatty on these but I won't worry about that; they are usually trimmed off anyway. However, I am not wildly impressed by them this year - it looks like it will take some more years of selection to improve them. 

There are sprouting greens from garlic, shallots, and other oniony things around the garden, and some overwintered but flattened parsley and chervil. Other than that the sorrel, in the photo above, is the greenest thing out there. I think I may be able to pick some by the end of the week if the weather stays nice. Forecast is for some chilly weather, though, so we'll see.

Inside, the usual eggplants and peppers have been started, along with onions, leeks, shallots, celeriac, potato seeds, and the aforementioned lettuce and spinach. This week we will start the tomatoes. There are a few herbs too. Other than that, I think everything else will be planted directly outdoors, although I know the brassicas will do better started in pots. If I decide to do that, they will get planted in about 3 weeks.

Next up outside will be barley - a new crop for us, I'm quite excited about it - chick peas, maybe some rutabagas for greens and some rapini, and the next round of peas. There is lots of garden clean up to be done - we did half the asparagus, but the other half still needs to be done. It all sounds daunting, but somehow it always gets done.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Clapshot Roasties

Clapshot is a traditional dish from the Orkney Islands of Scotland, and versions of it abound in Ontario too now. Usually Clapshot is made with boiled and mashed potatoes, rutabaga, and carrots, and I love it that way, but it occurred to me to take the same ingredients and roast them instead. Yes! Very good. And since I let the vegetables cool overnight before roasting them, I figure much better for the blood sugar.

4 servings
1 hour 45 minutes - 20 minutes prep time

Roasted Potatoes, Carrots & Rutabaga

225 grams (1/2 pound) rutabaga
225 grams (1/2 pound) carrots
450 grams (1 pound) potatoes
2 to 3 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Peel the rutabaga and cut it into fairly small dice. Peel and trim the carrots and cut them into similar dice. You can peel and cut the potatoes into just slightly larger dice now, or wait until after they have been cooked.

Put the rutabaga and carrots into a pot of water to cover. Add the potatoes now (they still should be covered with water) if they are whole or in larger chunks. (You should cut them into approximately 1 x 2" chunks if they are large; leave them if that is close to their natural size.)

Bring the vegetables to a boil and boil for 10 minutes. If you have cut the potatoes into dice already, don't add them until the others have cooked for 5 minutes.

Drain the partially cooked vegetables well. You can let them cool completely or finish cooking them now. If the potatoes are still in large pieces, they should be cut into dice slightly larger than the others.

Preheat the oven to 375°. Toss the vegetables with the oil in a 9" x 13" or similar shallow roasting (lasagne) pan. Season with the salt, pepper, and nutmeg and toss again. They should be just lightly coated in oil.

Roast at 375°F for 1 hour to 1 hour and 20 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked and looking a little browned around the edges. Serve at once.

Last year at this time I made Claypot Chicken - in the Romertopf

Monday, 30 March 2020

Chicken Kerala Style

Very good! A little different from the usual "curry", having a simple but sprightly assemblage of spices made zingy with the addition of plenty of fresh ginger and lemon juice. It's cooked more like a stir fry than a stew, and should come out drier and crispier than I managed. I did not use a large enough pan, that was my trouble. It was delicious anyway.

I don't know where all that garlic went. I mean, it had garlic, but I wouldn't have guessed a whole head. The chile flakes, as ever, are to be applied according to your taste and theirs. Also, while you could serve this without the cilantro, I thought it brought a really important profile to the balance of flavours, so use it if you can.

4 servings
time to marinate: 15 minutes prep time plus 2 to 18 hours
time to cook: 20 minutes prep time

Chicken Kerala Style

Make the Marinade:
1-2 teaspoons hot chile flakes
1 tablespoon coriander seed
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 tablespoons red lentil OR chick pea flour
1 head (5 to 8 cloves) garlic
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
the juice of 1 lemon

Grind the chile flakes, coriander, cumin, and fennel with the salt. Put them in a container which will hold the chicken. Add the paprika, turmeric, and lentil or chick pea flour. Mix well.

Peel and finely mince or grate the garlic. Peel and grate the ginger. Add them to the spices, along with the lemon juice, and mix well. 

Marinate & Cook the Chicken:
500 grams (1 pound) boneless chicken pieces
 OR 750 grams (1 1/2 pounds) bone-in chicken pieces
1 medium onion
3 to 4 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
a few sprigs of cilantro to garnish, if possible

Have the chicken cut into pieces; bigger than bite-sized but small enough to cook fairly quickly. Three or four bites to the piece, maybe. Mix them into the marinade until thoroughly coated, then cover and refrigerate for 2 hours to overnight.

When ready to proceed, bring the chicken out of the fridge to lose its chill while you peel the onion and cut it into slivers.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until wilted and slightly browned. Remove them from the oil to a plate. Add the chicken pieces individually, but with their marinade, and cook, turning them as needed until they are cooked through. Scrape up the marinade regularly; I found it inclined to stick. To the pan, not to the chicken. Once the chicken is about half-cooked, add the onions back in.

While the chicken cooks, wash, dry, and chop a few sprigs of cilantro to sprinkle over the chicken once it is cooked and dished, with as much of the marinade as can be removed from the pan.

Last year at this time I made Ye'atakilt Wot (Stewed Vegetables).

Friday, 27 March 2020

Stovetop Barley Pudding

This is, essentially, Mexican Rice Pudding made with barley instead of rice. I've cut the sugar way back, and given how much barley expands, a lot less of it is needed than of rice. The barley is more assertive than the rice, too; it brings a distinct, chewy texture. Being the barley lover that I am, I enjoyed this very much. Mr. Ferdzy, it has to be admitted, was considerably less enthused.

Other than the fact that it must be stirred regularly while cooking to prevent the starches from settling and scorching, this is a very simple recipe to make. I would tend to cook the barley some time in the afternoon, then cook the pudding while kitchen clean-up is going on after dinner. That will keep me around while the stirring needs to happen.

4 to 6 servings
2 hours - 10 minutes prep time

Stovetop Barley Pudding

Cook the Barley:
1/2 cup pearl barley
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups water

Put the above in a rice cooker, and cook. This can be done up to a day in advance; if so, keep the barley refrigerated until needed.

Make the Pudding:
4 cups dairy or non-dairy milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
the finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup raisins
the juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons rum OR 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Put the cooked barley in a 2 litre (qt) heavy-bottomed pot, and break it up. Mix in the milk, sugar, cinnamon, and lemon zest. Bring the mixture up to a simmer and simmer until thick, stirring regularly. This should take about an hour. Add the raisins about halfway through the cooking time.

Remove the pudding from the heat and mix in the lemon juice and rum or vanilla.

Serve the pudding chilled or at room temperature. Serve it plain, or with applesauce or whipped cream.

Last year at this time I made Doro Wat for An Ethiopian Feast.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Beet, Prune, & Walnut Salad

This salad is all over the internet; it is in fact a traditional Russian salad although this particular iteration seems to come from a cook book called Please to the Table. Some cooks claim there are no prunes in a Russian beet salad; others confirm that that is how it was made in their family. We thought it was really delightful, and the prunes are what make it not just another beet salad, although they were surprisingly subtle.

Leftover kept quite well until the next day. I wouldn't keep it longer than that, and it wasn't any issue anyway.

4 to 8 servings
1 1/4 hours to cook the beets
30 minutes to assemble the salad

Beet, Prune, & Walnut Salad

Cook the Beets:
500 grams (1 pound; 3 large) beets

Wash the beets and wrap them in foil, and bake them at 375°F for about 1 hour 15 minutes, until soft. If you prefer, they could be put in a pot with plenty of water to cover them, and boiled for 45 minutes to an hour, until tender. Let them cool. This can be done up to a day in advance.

Make the Dressing & Salad:
125 grams (1/4 pound; 16 to 18) prunes
1 tablespoon brandy OR rum
1 or 2 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons sour cream OR thick yogurt
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
100 grams (3 ounces; 1 cup) walnut pieces

Cut the prunes into 6 or 8 pieces each, and soak them in a little tepid water for 10 to 15 minutes unless they are already very soft and moist. Drain (if soaked) then sprinkle them with the brandy or rum and let them sit another 10 or 15 minutes to absorb it.

Meanwhile, peel and mince the garlic. Mix it in a mixing bowl with the lemon juice, sour cream or yogurt, and mayonnaise. Season with salt and pepper.

Peel and grate the or finely dice the beets. Mix them into the dressing, along with the prunes. Chop the walnuts to a similar size as the beets and prunes, and mix most of them in - reserve a few (unchopped) for garnish if you like.

Refrigerate the salad for at least an hour to several hours, and bring it back up to room temperature before serving.

 Last year at this time I made Ater Kik Wot (Dried Pea Stew)

Monday, 23 March 2020

Turkish Red Lentil Kofte

Remember the Kibbeh? This dish is Turkish, not Lebanese, but it is related. At least, it's another paste made by mixing bulgur with other foods.The resulting little balls are eaten cold, like a sturdy salad, and I'd be very inclined to serve them on a bed of lettuce, possibly with the usual Turkish yogurt flavoured with garlic and a bit of salt. I did try sautéing some of the leftovers, and they were okay, but cold is better.

24 kofte - 4 to 6 servings
1 hour - 30 minutes prep time

Turkish Red Lentil Kofte

Cook the Lentils & Bulgur:
1 cup red lentils
2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup fine bulgur

Put the lentils, water, and salt into a rice cooker and turn on. It's a good idea to set a timer for about 20 minutes, as when the lentils are almost done you should add the bulgur and mix it in. If it turns off, don't worry; just mix in the bulgur as soon as you hear the "click". Place the covered container on a heat-proof surface and let cool enough to handle.

Make the Kofte:
1 medium onion
2 tablespoons olive OR sunflower oil
1 teaspoon cumin seed, ground
2 tablespoons tomato paste (if you have Turkish pepper paste, use for half)
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (to taste)
1 teaspoon rubbed savory
1 teaspoon rubbed mint
1/2 cup finely minced fresh parsley OR green onion
    (can also use cilantro, dill, or mint; in smaller quantities to taste)
the juice of 1 medium lemon
lettuce to serve

Peel and finely chop the onion. Heat the oi in a small skillet and cook the onions gently until softened and translucent. Add the ground cumin seed, tomato and pepper pastes, savory, and mint, and mix in well for a minute . Turn the onion into a mixing bowl and let cool for a minute. Add the lentils and bulgur.

Wash, dry, and finely mince the parsley and green onion and/or other herbs. Mix them in with the lemon juice. Take handfuls of the mixture and form into egg-shaped balls. Serve them on a bed of lettuce.

Last year at this time I made Yedifin Miser Alicha Wot (Stewed Lentils).

Friday, 20 March 2020

Errors Fixed - Spiced Apple Baked Oatmeal Pudding

I made it again and fixed the errors - Spiced Apple Baked Oatmeal Pudding. Sorry for the confusion!

Gatta Curry

This interesting little dish is from the arid state of Rajasthan, and so relies mostly on low-water input foods; chick peas and yogurt. I found my chick pea flour dumplings a little stodgy and I suspect it takes some practice to get them just so; perhaps it's best to think of them as pastry and try not to work them too much. They were a tasty and surprising filling contribution to our Indian style feast nevertheless.

Another addition to the feast that was surprisingly appropriate and good was some Branstonesque Pickle.

2 to 4 servings
30 minutes to form and poach the dumplings
20 to 25 minutes to cook them in the sauce

Gatta Curry; Chick Pea Dumplings in Sauce

Make the Dumplings:
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon Cayenne chile
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
1 cup chick pea flour
about 1/4 cup water

Grind the cumin and coriander with teh salt, then put them in a small mixing bowl with the remaining spices. Mix in the vegetable oil. Mix in the chick pea flour until well combined and no oily lumps are visible.

Put a pot of water on to boil.

Mix half the water into the spiced chick pea flour, then keep adding more until you have a stiff but pliable dough. It probably will take most if not all of the 1/4 cup.

Roll it out into 3 or 4 sausage shapes of even and equal thickness. When the water boils, add them and boil until they are firm and floating; 10 to 12 minutes. Lift them out to a plate or cutting board to cool. Keep 1 cup of the cooking liquid.

When cool enough to handle, cut the "sausages" into 12 to 16 even pieces. This can be done in advance. 

Mix the Spices for the Sauce:
1 teaspoon mustard seed
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoon chick pea flour

Grind the mustard seed, cumin, and coriander with the salt, then mix in the turmeric and chick pea flour.

Cook the Dumpling in the Sauce:
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
1 cup cooking water from boiling the dumplings
1/3 cup thick yogurt
a little minced cilantro to garnish, if possible

About 20 minutes before serving time, heat the oil in a heavy bottomed shallow pot or skillet. Fry the dumplings until lightly browned on multiple sides, turning them as needed. Add the seasonings and continue cooking for 2 or 3 minutes, until the spices are fragrant and browning a little.

Add the cooking water and mix it in well. Reduce the heat and let the mixture simmer for another 8 to 10 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Mix in the yogurt and let the mixture reheat through, then serve at once. Don't let it simmer once the yogurt has been added, or it will likely curdle.

Last year at this time I made Ployes, instead of Injera.

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

More Thoughts on the Current Crisis

I know I alluded to this in my last post on the state of the world, but with nothing to do but sit home and read the internet and think, I've been reading the internet and thinking.

Guys, vegetables are going to be 1) in short supply this summer and 2) bloody expensive when you can get them, as an inevitable consequence of 1). This is going to apply to vegetables both domestic and imported. I think Canada's production of grains, legumes, and meat is both large enough and mechanized enough that while, like just about every industry they will take a hit, they should continue to function reasonably well.

Our local vegetable and fruit farms rely heavily - heavily - on foreign seasonal agricultural workers. Right now, they are not coming in. This is the time of year they arrive, with the blackbirds and the vultures. (Spring! I love it!) I think the government will find some way to get them in, but maybe they won't. They are going to have to assess and balance risks. We're off to a rocky start already; the best-case scenario is that they arrive somewhat late. Obviously, some crops will handle this better than others. The local apple industry, for instance, has a lot of work to be done right about, oh, now.

Imported produce is unlikely to replace local produce. Covid-19 is going to hit poor people particularly hard, and agricultural workers in the US and Mexico, where most of our imported produce comes from, are going to take it in the neck. I don't see how they won't: next to no healthcare access, living and working in crowded conditions, notoriously exposed to unsafe working conditions including pesticide and herbicide exposure which are bad for the lungs in particular along with the rest of the body in general.

Moreover, even if we are getting produce from other countries, the ethical concerns about them are going to be more severe than ever. Countries are going to decide to export produce for vitally-needed cash and leave their own populations short of food. Many do that already; it will only get much, much worse.

I honestly believe that just about everyone should consider growing a few things this year. Even if you live in an apartment and have only a balcony or windowsills. A supply of sprouts and micro-greens, while not supplying much in the way of calories, will really help to fill some gaps and keep meals interesting. Very perishable leafy things are probably going to be the worst hit, so there's that too. NOW is the time to be ordering seeds, pots, soil, etc, and getting set up. Fortunately, much of it can be ordered on-line for shipping. (Well not the pots and soil.)

There is, of course, a learning curve involved in doing anything new, and growing things is no exception. Don't invest large amounts of time and money into this until you both know what you are doing and want to do it. 

I also believe this is going to drag on, and on, and on. This is probably a good year to buy produce when it is a available in season, and can, dry, or freeze it. Again, though, be realistic about your situation.

I've given Covid-19 its own label, as I suspect this is going to be a preoccupation of life for the next several years. I'd also really like to hear other people's thoughts and suggestions.

Mustardy Curried Green Beans

We eat a lot of frozen vegetables around here in the winter; beans, peas, spinach, and peppers mostly. I don't write about them much. Somehow, it feels like cheating. The reality, though, is frozen vegetables have their place in the winter. No fuss, no waste, and often quite good in winter cooking.

This easy little bean dish was really nice, and could be served, as here, as part of an Indian-style ensemble, or as a veg in the traditional meat and two veg.

Just about every actual Indian green bean dish I saw called for coconut milk. I'm sure it's very nice with them, but since it isn't local and doesn't always agree with me, I went with stock. No reason you have to, though.

4 servings
20 minutes prep time

Mustardy Curried Green Beans
Mix the Spices:
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed
2 teaspoons whole mustard seed
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seed
1/4 teaspoon fennel seed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon chick pea flour

Don't grind the seeds; I bruised them a little then just mixed everything in a small bowl.

Cook the Beans:
6 medium shallots
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
2 cups thawed frozen green beans in short pieces
1 tablespoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1/2 cup chicken stock OR coconut milk
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Peel the shallots and cut them into slivers.

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat, and add the shallots. Cook until softened and reduced slightly in volume, but don't let them brown much. Stir regularly. When they are well on the way, mix in the dry spices and cook, stirring often, until they brown a little and some of the mustard seeds pop.

Meanwhile, chop the beans and peel and grate the ginger. Add the ginger to the shallots and mix it in well, then follow with the beans. Add the stock or coconut milk. Reduce the heat and simmer for a few minutes until the beans are hot through and the sauce is slightly thickened. Stir regularly. Serve at once.

Last year at this time I made Berbere Spice Blend.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Red Winged Blackbirds!

They're back!

Interesting Times


We were away for 2 weeks in Cuba recently, just getting back very late on Saturday evening. We spent our time mostly in blissful ignorance of developments outside of our sunny little bubble. Sometime around Thursday, though, we checked in, and spent most of the remaining evenings burning up our WiFi allowance and watching the shit hit the fan.

Saturday night was probably the last comfortable time to get home. Our pre-arranged taxi-driver picked us up without qualms. Don't know what she would think now. At any rate, we are now in isolation for the next, oh, 13 days. Along with pretty much everyone else, it seems.

There is a little coronavirus in Cuba, brought in with Italian tourists. I wonder a little uneasily to which resorts they dispersed, but frankly I am more worried about the hours passed at Pearson airport.

We were going to go to Britain in April, but first the person who was at least part of the reason for going (Dad's partner) died, and then Hurricane Coronavirus hit. I spent much of yesterday cancelling hotels. 

It looks like this will be a good spring to put particular emphasis on producing your own food, so I'm likely to start ramping up the gardening posts, as soon as something happens. I can't help but think that supply chains are going to take a hit. Not too late to order some seeds! I don't put it on the list but if you are in an apartment or otherwise can't or won't grow vegetables, you can always do sprouting and microgreens, and Mumm's is probably the best place to get the seeds.

Otherwise, is there anything that people would like to see me working on? We're going to be planting peas with in a week, I hope, as we usually do in early spring, and some barley, which will be a new crop for us.

Stay home and stay safe, everyone.