Sunday, 28 October 2007

Mixed Apple Pie

I suppose I should confess right off the bat that I am not the greatest maker of pies. Firstly, not eating wheat makes crust-making tricky, and secondly I only make them once or twice a year at most. That lack of practice shows. Still, if approached in a calm, relaxed manner pie-making is quite do-able. Mine always taste just fine, but they can be funny looking.

Unbaked Apple PieI took a picture of the raw pie, because I figured that might be as good as it ever looked. I like a well-filled pie but it must be said I did come awfully close to overdoing it. The crust barely fit. I used 9 1/2 apples; it was going to be 9 but one of them proved to be a haven for worms, so I added another. Seven of them were very small (one was not an apple at all but my last little quince) but the 2 that were large were really very large. Those were Mutsu. I also used the Golden Russets and Red Gravensteins.

Baked Apple PieIt looked lovely baked, and overflowed just a tiny, tiny bit. As soon as it was lukewarm the vultures gathered, and the destruction of all my labour began.

Apple Pie is ephemeral1 recipe double crust pastry

6 to 9 apples, depending on size
1/4 cup arrowroot flour
1/2 cup Sucanat or sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons apple butter

Prepare the dough first, and set aside according to instructions.

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Peel the apples, core them, and slice them fairly thinly. Mix them with the flour, Sucanat, and spices.

Roll out the bottom pie crust (you will need about 60% of the dough) on parchement paper, using a little extra flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking to the rolling pin. Invert your dish over the dough, and flip it over with the paper. Peel off the paper, and patch and neaten the pie crust as required.

Put the apple butter in the pie crust and spread it as evenly as possible over the bottom. Add the apples and press them in as tight as you can. Keep them off the edge. Roll out the remaing dough on the parchment paper, and flip it carefully over the pie. Peel off the paper, and press it firmly around the edges, trimming off any extra if necessary. Cut a steam hole in the top if you like, but at any rate pierce it in a number of places with a fork or knife to let the steam out. Chill the pie for 15 to 20 minutes before baking.

Put the pie on a cookie sheet - this will catch any leaks; and they generally do leak. Bake it at 450°F for 15 minutes. Turn the temperature down to 350°F and continue baking for another 45 minutes. Let cool. Serve warm or at room temperature. The pie can be kept out for a day or two (if it lasts that long) or you can put it in the fridge, well wrapped, but it is better not.

Pastry for Pie Made with Brown Rice Flour

This is a very sandy-textured, tender pie crust, but it doesn't hold together wonderfully well, since there is no wheat. However, it works well enough! You can certainly do this with soft (pastry) whole wheat or unbleached flour, or a combination of the two. However, note that you will need rather less water before the dough starts to stick together. Perhaps around 5 tablespoons will do it.

I list different formulas depending on the amount of crust you need:

To Line a 9" x 9" pan:
1 cup brown rice flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons neutrally flavoured vegetable oil
3 tablespoons butter, or perhaps a little more
1/4 cup ice-cold water
To Make a Single Crust, for a 9" Pie Plate:
1 1/2 cups brown rice flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons neutrally flavoured vegetable oil
5 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons ice-cold water
To Make a Double Crust, for a 9" Pie Plate:
2 1/4 cups brown rice flour
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup neutrally flavoured vegetable oil
1/2 cup butter
7 or 8 tablespoons ice-cold water

Put some water in a bowl with a few ice cubes; set aside until needed.

Put the flour and salt in a food processor and pulse. Add the oil, and pulse again.

Cut up the butter into teaspoon sized pieces, more or less, and sprinkle them around over the flour. Pulse until mostly chopped into the flour. Drizzle about 1/3 of the ice-water required for your particular formula over the flour. Pulse to mix in. Repeat with another third of the water needed. Finally, add the last third and pulse in, adjusting the amount if necessary. You want a crumbly mix that just barely starts to look like it will hold together. Squeeze a little gently together to test; if it holds, you are done.

Turn the dough out into a bowl, and gently squeeze it together to form a ball. Cover with waxed paper and let it rest at room temperature for 20 minutes to an hour, until you are ready to proceed.

Chill the rolled-out pie-crust thoroughly before baking, according to the recipe, or at 425°F for 10 minutes, until light brown.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Pea (Navy) Bean & Parsley Salad

Yes, yes... more bean salad. Nothing wrong with that.

4 servings
15 minutes prep time

Pea or Navy Bean and Parsley SaladSalad:
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes
1/4 cup water
1 540-ml (19 ounce) tin white pea (navy) peans
1 medium carrot
1 cup finely chopped parsley

Put the tomatoes in a small pot withe the water and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and let them soak while you prepare the rest of the salad.

Rinse and drain the tin of beans, and mix them with the carrot, peeled and grated, and the chopped parsley.

Remove the tomatoes from their soaking liquid (do not discard it) and chop them, and add them to the salad.

sundried tomato soaking liquid
the juice of 1/2 lemon
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon thyme
salt and pepper

Whisk these together - I do it right in the pot that the tomatoes were soaked in - then toss the dressing into the salad. Watch the salt; even rinsed, canned beans can be on the salty side.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Roasted Sweet Potato "Fries"

Here's a quick and easy way to cook sweet potatoes. These are not really all that French-fry like; they don't get nearly so crisp. However, they are very tasty.

2 servings
45 minutes - 15 minutes prep time

Roasted Sweet Potatoe Fries2 or 3 medium sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Wash the sweet potatoes, and trim off any bruised spots. Cut them into slices about 1 centimetre thick, or even slightly less. Cut each slice into further slices, lengthwise, about the same thickness to form the fries.

Put the oil in a shallow roasting pan. Toss the fries gently in it, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast the fries for 15 minutes. Turn the fries over, and roast for another 15 minutes.

Serve very promptly; because of their small size they will cool off fast.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Cocoa Brownies

Here's the other brownie in my repertoire. These are a fairly middle-of-the-road brownie; not as extravagantly rich and decadent as some, not particularly pared-down and healthy. I think they are just perfect, personally. They should not be cake-like, but fairly solid and moist. Don't overbake them.

24 to 32 brownies
45 minutes - 15 minutes prep time

Cocoa Brownies3/4 cup brown rice flour
1/4 cup white rice flour
1/2 cup oat or barley flour
OR 1 1/2 cups soft whole wheat (pastry) flour
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 2/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 extra-large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons brown rice syrup
2/3 cup milk (or soy or rice milk)

Line a 9"x13" pan with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Sift together the flours, cocoa, baking powder, salt and sugar.

Beat the vegetable oil with the egg. Beat in the vanilla brown rice syrup. Mix in the milk.

Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, until well mixed. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan.

Bake for 25 to 27 minutes. Let partially cool in the pan, then lift out to finish cooling. When cutting, keep washing the knife every few strokes to prevent it from becoming sticky and tearing the brownies instead of cutting them.

Nut-Butter Brownies

There are only two brownie recipes that I am inclined to make. This is one of them.

Peanut butter is really the only locally grown nut butter you are likely to find, but peanut butter is yet another on that tedious list of foods that give me indigestion. This particular batch was made with cashew butter, and while I prefer the almonds or hazelnuts, it was very tasty. I'd do it again, for sure.

24 to 32 brownies
45 minutes - 15 minutes prep time

Cashew Nut Butter Browines1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/4 cup white rice flour
1/2 cup oat or barley flour
OR 1 1/3 cups soft whole wheat (ww pastry) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup light vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups pure nut butter (peanut, hazelnut, almond or cashew)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 extra-large eggs
3 tablespoons brown rice syrup

Line a 9"x13" pan with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Sift together the flours, baking powder, salt and sugar.

Cream the nut butter thoroughly with the vegetable oil, working out as many lumps as you can. Beat in the vanilla and the eggs, one at a time. Beat in the rice syrup.

Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, until well mixed. This will make a fairly thick batter, more like a dough. Spread it evenly in the prepared pan.

Bake for 25 to 27 minutes. Let partially cool in the pan, then lift out to finish cooling. When cutting, keep washing the knife every few strokes to prevent it from becoming sticky and tearing the brownies instead of cutting them, although there will be less trouble with these brownies than with the cocoa brownies.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Quince Jelly & Quince Jam (Paste)

I looked at quite a few recipes for my quinces, and found a number that started out by covering the quinces with water and boiling them. Then one was to discard the pulp and keep the liquid or, conversely, discard the liquid and keep the pulp. The sensible thing, it seemed to me, was to keep both. Hence, this is a recipe to make both jelly and jam , also known as "paste", "cheese" or "membrillo", if you are Spanish.

The Spanish serve this with Manchego cheese. Being a Canuck, I plan to try it with some nice old Cheddar, or a good sheep's milk cheese if I can find one that seems right.

8 250-ml jars paste
3 250-ml jars jelly
Rather a long time. 3 or 4 hours I would think.

1.8 kilos (4 pounds) quinces
4 litres (4 quarts, plus) water
sugar - more or less 7 cups

The quinces should be just ripe; slightly greenish to yellow and rather hard. Wash them and cut them into small pieces, peels, cores and all. (Do feel free to discard any obviously bad bits.) Put them in your kettle with water to cover generously - about 4 litres.

Bring to a boil, and boil until they are very tender and falling apart, about 45 minutes. Let cool enough to handle. Lift the quince pieces out of the kettle with a slotted spoon, and put them through a food mill. Discard the seeds and stringy bits that won't go through. Strain the remaining liquid through a jelly bag.* They always say not to squeeze the bag or you won't get clear jelly, but I always squeeze like heck. It isn't as pretty, but it doesn't affect the flavour and you get more; in this case I would say much more, but that may just have been my particular jelly bag.

At this point, you can store the substances obtained in the fridge and continue the next day if you like.

Put the number of canning jars you think you will need for the jelly into a canner, and cover with water to 1" above the rims. Bring to a boil and boil ten minutes. It's a good guess that you will need one 250-ml jar for each cup of juice you have.

Meanwhile, measure the strained juice, and put it in a heavy-bottomed pot with 2/3 the amount of sugar. So for example if you get 4 cups juice, you should add 2 2/3 cups sugar. Bring to a boil and boil, stirring occasionally, until it tests as ready to gel. You can put a little on a very cold saucer (put in the freezer in advance) and see if it wrinkles up when you push it, or you can run it off the spoon until it forms a sheet, or at least runs off in more than 2 streams. I found this very quick; quinces are packed with pectin and my jelly was done in about 10 minutes. (I also didn't have a lot of liquid, so that helped speed up the process.)

Ladle the jelly into the sterilized jars and seal with lids and rims that have been prepared by boiling them for 5 minutes. Pop the finished jellies back into the boiling water bath for 5 minutes to ensure a good seal.

When they come out of the canner, put in the number of 250-ml jars you think you will need for the paste. Again, one 250-ml jar for each cup of purée. Measure the puréed quinces, and put the purée in a larger heavy-bottomed pot (ideally a canning kettle) again with 2/3 cup of sugar for each cup of purée. Bring to a boil and boil, STIRRING CONSTANTLY, until thick; again, 10 or perhaps 15 minutes will likely do it.

It was recommended that the cook should wrap their arm in a towel, and I took that as good advice; I would add, pin it in place with a safety pin. The stuff gets very thick, and plops and spits like a boiling lava pit. Nothing like clinging, boiling sugary fruit pulp to give you burns that will leave scars for years, so use caution. At the same time, this is why you must stir constantly: it is so thick that it will scorch in seconds if left unstirred.

When it is thick enough put it in your sterilized jars. Run a knife through it to remove as many air pockets as you can. Seal with boiled lids, and put back in the canner for 5 minutes, as with the jelly.

My jelly turned out very well, I thought. The paste is a bit coarse in texture, which doesn't bother me particularly. If it did, I might peel and core the quinces instead of just chopping them, and wrap the cores and peels in cheesecloth to be boiled along with the rest of the fruit then discarded. The strained quinces could then be put through the food processor for a smoother texture. I doubt I'll bother though; I don't find the rustic texture I achieved unappealing.

*A clean old pillowcase will do very well, or 4 layers of cheesecloth in a strainer.


QuincesQuinces have been very hard to find in Ontario until recently. (Let's face it; they still are.) However, with the surge in demand for a wider range of fruits and their varieties, a few farmers are starting to grow them. My quinces in the picture above are somewhat runty; they were the last that the farmer had of his first commercial crop, and so they are somewhat small and on the green side. Also, some of them were inclined to split; the result of drought this summer. As it turns out, these hard and slightly under-ripe quinces are perfect for jelly and quince cheese. Quinces should never be soft; that is a sign of over-ripeness.

However neglected they have been in Ontario, quinces are an ancient cultivated fruit, with roots back to the highlands beyond the fertile crescent of Mesopotamia, from whence they spread; east, west, north and south although they have been particularly cherished around the Mediterranean. The golden apples that show up in many fairy tales and legends are almost certainly quinces. They are a relative of apples and pears, and have a sweet elusive pear-like fragrance that will fill a room. The trees are lovely and elegant in bloom, with pink blossoms sparser but larger than those of apples.

The fruits are also charming, in a wabi-sabi kind of way, being green to yellowish, with a knobby uneven shape and slightly fuzzy skin that catches the light beautifully. (The fuzz is a sign of immaturity; when the fruits are fully ripe most of it will be gone. At any rate, it is easily washed away.) There may be a tuft of tiny leaves at the blossom end.

So why are they so neglected here in Ontario? Well, they are simply inedible raw. The flesh is dry, sour and astringent. It is not until they are cooked (and usually sweetened) that their flavour develops and their fine qualities become apparent. In England they are traditionally used for pastries, preserves and jelly. They are used this way in Mediterranean and middle-eastern countries as well, but they are also cooked with meats (generally lamb, but sometimes chicken.)

I hope that in future quinces become more widely available here. They deserve to be much better known, and they have many possibilities for delicious eating.

Quince on Foodista

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Sweet Potato & Carrot Soup

Somehow the colour in the photo doesn't look quite right; but this is a really delicious - and attractive - Soup.

6 to 8 servings
2 hours - 30 minutes prep time

Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup

500 grams (1 generous pound) sweet potatoes
250 grams (1/2 pound) carrots
1 cup chicken stock

3 tablespoons minced fresh basil
2 tablespoons butter
sea salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
3 cups chicken stock
3 tablespoons good sweet sherry

1/2 cup light cream

Wash the sweet potatoes, and stab them several times each with a fork. Bake them at 350°F until tender; generally 1 to 1 1/4 hours.

Peel and cut the carrots into chunks. Cook them in the cup of broth until tender. Reserve the broth.

Cook the finely minced basil and the carrots very gently in the butter, until the butter is mostly absorbed; about 10 to 15 minutes.

Purée the carrots and basil with the stock from cooking the carrots, and put the purée in a soup pot.

When the sweet potatoes are done, let them cool sufficiently to handle. Peel them, and purée them with the remaining chicken stock. Add them to the carrots. Season with salt to taste (it will depend on the saltiness of your chicken stock) and with the ginger. Add the sherry and cream, and reheat gently until just below the simmer. Do not let the soup come to a boil.

Unlike most soups, I think this is best the day it is made, although it can be kept in the fridge overnight and re-heated the next day.

Russet Apples

Russet ApplesRusset apples are a subset of apples, rather than one particular variety - Wikipedia lists 14 different varieties, and there are surely many more. However, I have never seen them sold as anything other than generic russets. The Canadian Apple site lists only Golden Russets for Ontario, so that may very well be what I have been getting. Golden Russets are a variety dating from the mid 1800's in New York State. The tree is hardy and disease-resistant.

They are a medium to small apple, with the typical rough brown patches on the skins which give them their name. Individual apples vary from having little russeting to being completely covered in it. The apples have a fine sweet-sour tangyness, and are good for eating, cooking, cider and drying. In particular, the (presumably hard) cider made from this apple is frequently compared to champagne, which I am inclined to take as hyperbole. We particularly like this apple for munching.

In spite of the rough look of the skin, it is not particularly thick or tough. They can be stored for a little while, but are not one of the better apples for storing, and can be expected to disappear from the markets after Christmas.

Golden Russet Apple on Foodista

Friday, 19 October 2007

Macaroni & Cheese

Everybody's favourite comfort food. I don't think I've ever met anyone who didn't love it. I think it's best baked in a glass dish; that way it gets brown and crispy all over. The mint is a surprising subtle but interesting addition.

See also Presto Pasta Nights at Once Upon a Feast for more delicious pasta.

6 to 8 servings
1 1/4 hours - 30 minutes prep time

Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and Cheese DishTo Make the Sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon dried mint
2 cups milk

500 to 600 grams (1 pound to 1 1/4 pounds) extra-old cheddar

Cut the cheese into smallish dice and set aside.

Melt the butter, flour and mustard together in a saucpan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until well amalgamated and inclined to stick to the pot. Add the mint. Slowly stir in the milk, pausing to ensure the mixture is lump-free before adding more. Continue stirring over medium-low heat until the sauce thickens.

Add the cheese, and stir, over low heat, until the cheese melts. The sauce can be made a day or so ahead, and kept in the fridge until wanted.

To Assemble:
450 grams (1 pound) macaroni
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Just before starting the sauce, put on a large pot of salted water to boil. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Boil the pasta until about three-quarters done. Drain and set aside until the sauce is ready. When the sauce is ready, mix in the pasta then put it in a 2 1/2 quart (litre) glass casserole dish, and sprinkle with the Parmesan, if using.

Bake at 350°F until golden brown, about 45 minutes.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Broccoli Stem Cole-Slaw

Here's another option for those unloved broccoli stems.

4 servings
30 minutes prep time

Broccoli Stem Cole Slaw
the stems from 2 or 3 heads of broccoli (1 bunch)
1 large carrot
2 or 3 green cabbage leaves
1 red cabbage leaf

1 recipe Buttermilk & Herb Salad Dressing

Peel the broccoli stems and the carrot, and grate them both. Discard any tough stringy bits from the broccoli. Wash and shred the cabbage leaves.

Toss the veggies with the salad dressing. Let rest in the fridge for 30 minutes, if you have just made the dressing and it hasn't had a chance yet.

Buttermilk & Herb Salad Dressing

This easy, creamy dressing is one of my standards. I assume you have dry herbs only, but if you have fresh ones by all means use them, a bit more generously than called for.

Alas, this is the last picture I will get of this little glass bowl, because I broke it while washing it. *sniff*

4 to 6 servings (about 1 cup)
10 minutes prep time
Buttermilk and herb salad dressing1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon savory
1 teaspoon dillweed
1/2 teaspoon mint
2 teaspoons chives

Mix all the ingredients. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to allow the flavours to blend.

Generally, use this on mixed green salads, but cole-slaw is good too.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Baked Apples Stuffed with Cranberries & Walnuts

These are very quick to put together, and make a good dessert for days when you already have the oven on for a main dish.

4 servings
60 minutes - 20 minutes prep time

Baked apples stuffed with cranberries and walnuts1/3 cup dried sweetened cranberries
1/3 cup walnut pieces
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons cold butter plus 1 teaspoon

4 medium-large apples

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Put the teaspoon of butter in a casserole dish and put in the oven until the butter is melted. Tip the dish to coat the bottom in the butter and set aside.

Meanwhile, put the cranberries, nuts, honey and butter in the food processor, and whizz until just chopped enough to stick together; the nuts and cranberries should still be in fairly coarse pieces.

Core the apples. Divide the paste into 4 even sections, and with cold, dampened hands roll each section into a log. Stuff each log into the core of an apple, and put the apples into the buttered casserole. Bake at 350°F for 30 to 45 minutes, until the apples are soft.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Shepherd's Chicken Pot Pie

I had hauled out one of our half chickens from the freezer, and was wondering what to do with it. I was inspired by Peter M's Thanksgiving leftover Turkey Pot Pie to create this version. I didn't want to fiddle around with a crust, so I topped it with mashed potatoes. One of the secrets to a really rich chicken flavour is to use the fat from cooking the chicken.

6 servings
3 1/2 hours - 2 hours of that on the previous day

Shepherd's Chicken Pot Pie

Shepherds Chicken Pot PieCook the chicken:
1.5 kg (3 pounds) whole chicken or bone-in chicken pieces
2-3 bay leaves

Put the chicken in a pot with the bay leaves and water to cover, about 1 to 1 1/2 litres or quarts. Bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer for about 1 hour. Let cool. Remove the skin and bones from the chicken and put the meat in the fridge. Put the skin and bones back into the stock and simmer for another hour. Let cool and refrigerate overnight. Skim the fat (keep it!) and strain the stock. Discard the bones.

Assemble the pot pie:
1 kg (2 pounds) potatoes
2-3 tablespoons chicken fat or butter
1/2 cup buttermilk
salt & pepper

1 large leek
1 large carrot
2-3 stalks of celery
3 cups broccoli florets
2 tablespoons chicken fat or butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 teaspoons savory
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon basil
1/4 teaspoon rosemary
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups chicken stock

1 teaspoon paprika

Peel the potatoes, and cut them in large, even chunks. Cover them with water and boil until tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain and mash with the fat and buttermilk, and season with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Meanwhile, put the chicken pieces in the bottom of a large casserole dish. Wash, trim and chop the leek. Peel and dice the carrot. Wash and chop the celery. Wash and chop the broccoli. Sauté the leek, carrot and celery in 2 or 3 tablespoons of fat or butter, until softened. Don't let them brown. Sprinkle with the flour and seasonings, and cook for a few minutes more. Add 2 cups of the chicken stock, and stir well. Simmer until the sauce is thickened, and the vegetables tender, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, steam the broccoli florets in 1/2 cup of the chicken stock, until about two thirds done. Mix the broccoli with its cooking broth, and the remaining vegetables and their sauce with the chicken. Top with an even layer of the mashed potatoes. Sprinkle with the paprika. Bake the pot pie for 45 minutes until lightly browned and bubbling.

Blogging for the Environment - Blog Action Day

I'm not one for joining too many group blog activities, but when I noticed on Blogger Buzz that Monday was to be a Blog Action Day on the environment, I thought I would give it a go, particularly since I've been thinking I should write something about my reasons for eating seasonal, local food as much as I do, if only to clarify my own thinking.

I started this blog just because it seemed to be a good time to do so, not because I had suddenly discovered the joys of eating locally. I've made eating local food a priority from the time I first left home, closer to 30 years ago than I care to think about. Perhaps that's why I focused on Ontario food, rather than limiting myself to the currently fashionable 100 mile radius, and why I am aiming for 80% Ontario food rather than 100%. It's what I have found to be - to use another current buzzword - sustainable.

Thirty years ago, my reasons for buying local food were more economical and political than environmental, although that was certainly a factor. Even then I was appalled by the unrestrained sprawl that was overtaking southern Ontario.*

A great deal of debate is going on at the moment about carbon footprints and whether local food necessarily has a better carbon footprint than imported food. The answer seems to be that although it often does, it is by no means guaranteed. But it seems to me that while this is an important question, it leaves out some very major issues, which to me boil down to a question of control. If we are ever going to have any kind of balance between agricultural and (sub)-urban Ontario; if we are to have any kind of say in what kind of inputs are used in the agriculture that produces the food we eat and which have enormous effects on the environment and our own health, if we are to have any hope that the workers who grow our food have protection under the law, if we are to even have any idea what the issues that affect our food are, we have no choice but to eat locally produced food. Not that it's exactly a hardship, and one of my main aims with this blog is to show that.

On a more spiritual and philosophical note, I regard eating local food as part of an attempt to live where I am. That may even be the unofficial motto of this blog: Live where you are. Living where you are calls upon the traditions of Buddhist mindfulness, of Quaker simplicity, of the universal need for connectedness to your community. Living where you are lets you look into the faces of the farmers, the land and even the food that sustains you. It's important.

* Nowadays, I become suicidally depressed when I drive down the QEW and see what has happened to the Niagara peninsula - and what's about to happen to the 401 between Toronto and Kitchener, and I harbour secret fantasies of running away to Saskatchewan. But there's no escape, really, is there?

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Jalapeño Pepper Jelly

This recipe originally came to me as a recipe for pepper jelly made with red bell peppers. However, I don't eat bell peppers; they give me indigestion. Could it, I wondered, be made with Jalapeños? Ha! It could! I was obviously not the only one wondering, because within a few years Jalapeño pepper jelly or recipes for it were all over the place. Although most of them seem to call for a combination of peppers.

I made 2 batches of Jalapeño jelly this week; one with the red ones and one with the green ones. I don't suggest mixing the colours of peppers, or you will get a muddy brown. The red Jalapeños made a hotter, and I thought more interesting jelly, but both are very good. This is customarily served over cheese and crackers as an hors d'oevre, but it makes a good sauce for broiled chicken or fish as well. I'm sure you can find lots of uses for it. I bet it would team up with baked squash and apples very nicely. It's a bit like a particularly spicy English-style chutney, but a little smoother and simpler in flavour.

Originally this recipe also called for pectin, which I ditched, as I have no luck using commercial pectin. That's because I also cut the sugar way, way back. Still, I've no trouble getting this to set.

7 or 8 125-ml jars
1 hour 15 minutes to 1 1/2 hours

Jalapeno Jelly5 cups Jalapeño pepper halves
2 sour green apples (or 2 small quinces)
2 cups white vinegar
4 cups sugar
3 dried red chiles (optional)

Put the jars in a canner and cover with water to 1 inch above the tops. Bring to a boil and boil for 10 minutes. This will likely take about 45 minutes, all-told.

WEARING GLOVES, and I mean it*, cut the stem end from each chile. Cut them in half and remove and discard the seeds and inner membranes. Measure 5 cups (or a little more is okay).

Cut the apples in quarter and core them. They should ideally be rather green and underripe.

Grind the chiles and apples finely in a food processor. Put them, with any liquid they exude, into a canning kettle, with the vinegar and sugar. Add three small dried red peppers if you would like a hotter jelly.

Bring to a boil, and boil for 15 to 20 minutes (20 minutes more likely) until the jelly is thickened, and tests finished for gelling. (Use the wrinkle test - put a little on a cold dish and slide it to see if it wrinkles up; or the sheet test - jelly poured from a spoon back into the pot should slide off of it more or less in a sheet, or at least in three or more streams.)

Have the lids and rings in a pot of water standing by. Turn them on when the jelly tests done. Remove your jars from the canner, and fill them with the jelly. Wipe the rims. When the lids and rings have boiled for 5 minutes, seal the jars. Put the sealed jars back in the canner for 5 minutes. Remove and let cool. Check for seals and label the jars. Keep in a cool, dark place until opened, at which point they should be refrigerated.

For more information about jam-making - for that is what we are basically doing - see here.

*Jalapeños may not be the hottest peppers in the family, but they are hot enough to make you very, very sorry if you don't.

Rotini with Salmon, Mushrooms & Broccoli in Cream Sauce

Salmon trout would have been more local, but salmon was what was on sale, I confess. Yes, I can be cheap. *snicker* This was made with leftovers, since it was a very large piece of salmon, but if you wanted to use uncooked salmon, I would suggest that you cut it up and sauté it with the mushrooms. You might want a touch more butter or oil in that case.

And don't forget to check out Presto Pasta Nights at Once Upon a Feast for a feast of pasta dishes.

2 -3 servings
20 minutes prep time
Rotini with Salmon Mushroom and Broccoli in Cream Sauce250 grams rotini
1 head broccoli without the stem

2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
pinch salt
2 cup rich milk or light cream

4 cups prepared mixed mushrooms
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup mixed minced fresh herbs, such as chives, parsley, basil or dill - I used chives and basil
300 to 400 grams cooked salmon
salt and pepper

Prepare the vegetables; wash and cut the broccoli into florets, and clean and cut the mushrooms in halves or quarters depending on size.

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil, and cook the pasta in it until tender. Three or four minutes before it is done, add the broccoli pieces so they will be done at the same time.

Meanwhile, make the cream sauce, in a fairly large pot. Cook the butter and flour together stirring constantly for 5 minutes. Slowly mix in the milk or cream, again stirring constantly, until thickened. Set it aside.

Sauté the mushrooms in the remaining butter. When they are softened and slightly browned, mix in the minced herbs and the salmon, broken up. When hot through, mix with the cream sauce.

Mix the sauce into the cooked, drained hot pasta. Season with salt and pepper.

I kept the seasonings fairly simple, because I had baked my salmon with a layer of spices, including sumac and thyme. You may wish to add more seasonings if starting with plain salmon. Also, if starting with raw salmon, chop it and add it to the mushrooms shortly after they go into the pan.

Jalapeño Peppers

Jalapeno Chile Peppers

Jalapeño chiles (peppers) are native to Mexico, specifically Xalapa in Veracruz, although they are found throughout the country. They are used fresh, but also commonly preserved in brine (pickled) or smoked and dried, at which point they become known as chipotles.

When I was young, they were only available tinned from Mexico (still a common way to get them) and you really had to seek them out. Now, they are grown here quite commonly.

They are not considered outstandingly hot, and their heat will dissipate somewhat with cooking. However, they can be quite variable - I've had some that almost qualified as bland and others that pretty much made my hair stand on end. The variety being grown will affect the level of piquancy, but so will the growing season - hot dry weather producing hotter peppers than mild, wetter summers. Hence, the fresh Jalapeños available in Ontario markets can be relied on to be considerably milder than the ones which arrive in tins from Mexico.

They are considered to be best in their green state, before they reach full maturity and turn red. However, when I made jelly with mine, I segregated the red from the green, and I thought the red pepper jelly was better - hotter, prettier and fuller in flavour.

The fine, dry lines you can see on some of the peppers are a sign of maturity and hotness.

I've grown Jalapeños in pots, where they can do quite well. In spite of being a form of capsicum annuum, they are perennial, and can be over-wintered indoors, if you have a warm sunny place for them. They will produce a pepper or two, but they will slow down considerably, and by late spring may even have lost most of their leaves. Hang onto them though, once they go back outside in the spring they should revive.

Jalapeño Pepper on Foodista

Saturday, 13 October 2007

A Visit to St. Jacobs' Farmers' Market

I've been contemplating a visit to St. Jacobs' Farmers' Market for a while. It's THE big market in this area, probably THE big market in Ontario. I used to live quite close to it, and went regularly. Now I am further away and other, smaller, markets are often more appealing to me. I have mixed feelings about St. Jacobs.

On the one hand, being so big, it has pretty much everything. If you are looking for something specific and a little esoteric, St. Jacobs' Market is a good place to start looking. On the other hand, in addition to the farmers and food products, it has an awful lot of crap, and the mobs of shoppers can be just awful. The good news is the crap is fairly segregated from the food, so you can ignore it fairly easily. I would say that in general the prices are quite reasonable. It is a big tourist draw, but with so many vendors, the competition stays fairly fierce.

With St. Jacobs' generally being such a zoo, I chose today to go because it is after Thanksgiving. I hoped by going late in the season and early in the day, the crowds would not be overwhelming. Fortunately, that was the case. We got there at around 8:30 am, and the crowds were still fairly sparse. I really wouldn't want to arrive any later though.

We parked, and walked towards the main building.

We walked down the back of the building, which is one of the catchment areas for the crap.

Around the other side, there is a picnic area and a stretch of covered stalls for Mennonite vendors.

Kitty-corner, another stretch of mini-shops, with assorted crap. Actually, I should stop being quite so rude. Not all the non-food items are crap, just most of them. Over 80%, I would say, but I am a grumpy old fart, which must be borne in mind.

There were two broad outdoor alleys of stalls, which were devoted to assorted crap.

And one which was devoted to food, mainly fruits and veggies, with some plants and cut flowers. Everyone is looking well bundled-up. It was a brisk, not to say chilly, morning. Here I am looking down the alley towards the large parking area.

And, having walked down to the end of the alley by the parking area, I turned around and took a picture back up the alley towards the main building.

A gorgeous array of brassicas; white, yellow and purple cauliflowers and green broccoli.

There were lots of apple vendors with a very large selection of varieties. Mostly the current, standard commercial varieties, but a sprinkling of older and heirloom varieties as well. No Gravenstein, though!

Indoors, it was much more packed. I think everybody decided to shop indoors first, and hit the outside once it warmed up a little. Also, this is where pretty much all the meat and cheese are.

There was very little baking at the market which was interesting to me even when I (thought I) could eat wheat, and it hasn't changed. White flour and white sugar, and too much of it, for the most part.

There were several places with preserves. I always find farmers markets the best place to buy horseradish; they seem to be the only places that have brands of (or home-produced) horseradish that isn't full of preservatives and other extraneous matter.

Upstairs, there is a gallery that has small shops selling a better class of crap than the downstairs and outside stalls. Okay, okay, again I shouldn't be so rude. Some of the crafts up here are not bad, although I don't think any of them are particularly exciting.

Looking down to the market area below.

And down to the food court, full of cooking smoke and good smells.

If you go out through the food court, and through a little pic-nic area, there is another building dedicated to new but flea-marketish type stuff. There! I did it! I didn't say crap.

Actually, the quality of stuff here varies. Again, most of it is very dull, cheap imported stuff, but there is the odd flash of interest.

Back outside again, we paused to admire a selection of squashes.

A good selection of mushrooms, including puffballs!

This was a nice, well rounded vegetable selection which included Brussels sprouts onna stick! If you can find them this way, it's worth getting them - they keep better. In fact, if you have the space and cool - as cold as you can get it, without freezing - basement or garage spot, they can be stuck (the ends) in a bucket of damp sand and keep for up to a month, although of course you should keep an eye on them.

An apple vendor huddles up to stay warm.

More preserves, and the justly famous Mennonite summer sausage.

The exterior pic-nic area by the main building food court. Just beyond is the flea-market building.

Some maple products that arrived at the market in the back of a Mennonite buggy.

Apples and apple products.

This looked interesting; I just bought a 7-pound tub of honey so I didn't buy any, but the vendor said it does have a faint blueberry flavour.

By this time, it was nearly 10:00 am and the crowds were beginning to thicken up. We were ready to head out.

You can take the same horse-drawn tour that you can take across the street at the Waterloo Market.

The St. Jacobs market is big enough that people come on bus tours.

There's a whole bunch of so-called factory outlets next to the market, hoping to soak up some of the tourist dollars. As far as I can see, none of the products sold are made in local factories. Most of 'em aren't even made on this continent.

And so home with the goodies. I restrained myself most ferociously (yes, really) because we still have a fair bit of stuff in the fridge from last week. So, from the bottom, clockwise; garlic, red and Spanish onions, fresh shiitake mushrooms, mutsu apples, russet apples, quinces (yes, really!), vast amounts of leeks (3 bunches - 9 big fatties - for $5!), radishes, basil, celery, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. I've been looking for quinces for years; this was the first time I've seen them. I'm told that if you want them, you had better get there early.