Monday, 29 September 2008

Honey-Mint Glazed Carrots

I got some lovely young carrots in a variety of colours, and thought they would do well in a very simple dish to show them off.

3 or 4 servings
30 minutes - 15 minutes prep time

Honey Mint Glazed Carrots
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh mint
6 to 8 small carrots (450 grams or 1 pound)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon honey

Mince the mint and set it aside. Wash the carrots. If they are nice and fresh, and at this time of year they should be, don't peel them but just give them a good scrub. Cut them into slices a quarter of an inch thick, or just a little thinner. Put them into a pot with just enough water to cook them, and cook them for about 10 or 15 minutes, until nearly done. Drain off all but a tablespoon or so of water, and return them to the stove. Add the butter and the honey.

Continue cooking the carrots for about another 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Once the butter is absorbed and the honey begins to caramelize, remove the carrots from the stove and mix in the mint.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Crabapple Jelly; Possibly Applesauce

Our new property has an amazing number of fruit trees on it, including about half a dozen ancient old apples left from when the place was an orchard. There are also about a dozen young dwarf fruit trees planted by the previous owners. None of these are producing any significant quantity of fruit. There are only two trees producing lots of healthy fruit, a wild apple and a wild pear. The wild (crab) apples were a very pleasant surprise. They are remarkably bug and blemish free, and produced in large numbers. Unusually, they are tasty enough to eat right off the tree, and have a good non-mealy texture. They are definitely very zingy, and only amount to about 3 little nibbles each, so they struck us as being perfect for making jelly. But even the ornamental crab apples planted in suburban streets can be used for jelly. Just make sure they aren't doused in chemicals, and that they are yours for the picking.

about 1 250-ml jar per 1 cup of juice obtained
2 days, of which about 1 1/2 hours are work, not counting picking them

Crabapple Jelly
crabapples, lots

Your crabapples should be clean and in good condition. Remove any leaves and twiggy stems, as well as damaged or obviously buggy apples, and put them (good stuff, not bad stuff) in a large pot with enough water to come up high enough to make the top layer look like they are floating. If you want to get technical, that should be about half the quantity of crabapples; i.e. we used 24 cups of crabapples and 12 cups of water. However, you may need to add a bit more water to get it up there. If your apples are at all large, you can cut them in halves or quarters, but most crabapples are too small and too hard to make this a viable pastime.

Bring them to a boil, and boil gently until very soft and split open; anywhere from half an hour to 2 hours depending on your particular crabapples. You may need to top up the water. Don't mash or crush the apples, and don't stir them more than necessary to make sure they are not sticking.

Once they are cooked, turn the mess, liquid and all, into a clean jelly-bag. If you have a lot - and if you don't why bother? - you will likely need a clean old pillowcase which is ready for a second career, as a regular jelly bag just won't be big enough. Rig this up to drain into a large pot, and let it strain overnight. Discard the apple pulp and seeds, or if you are really a glutton for punishment and your apples are of good enough quality, you can mill it for applesauce. (However lots of crabapples can be mealy. Ours were nice wild apples - small and sour, but with a good texture.)

Measure the juice strained from the apple pulp, and put it into your canning kettle. Put what seems like a sufficient quantity of jars into the canner, and cover them with water and bring them to a boil. I got 10 cups of juice, which when finished produced 11 jars of jelly. I also put a little 125-ml jar into the canner to sterilize as it doesn't always co-operate and produce full jars.

To each cup of juice, add 7/10ths of a cup of sugar, up to 1 full cup of sugar. The exact proportions will depend on the sourness of your crabapples and how sweet you would like your jelly. I used the minimum figure for my jelly - we like it tart, and our apples were sour, but not insanely so.

When the jars are just coming to the boil, turn on the heat under the kettle to fairly high, and boil, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is ready to gel. If it produces a lot of very firm foam, it should be skimmed off. I like to live dangerously and use the sheet method to test for gelling: first the juice will run off the spoon in one stream, then in two, then it rejoins into one wide stream, or sheet - thus, you deduce the jelly is done. A better method if you have not made much jelly is to put a saucer in the freezer when you start, and put a few drops on it when you suspect it may be ready. If it sets when it's cold on the plate, it will set when it's cold in the jar. Actually, I could tell my jelly was ready this time because the scum I was skimming off the top set on the plate I was put it on.

Once you have boiled the jars in the canner for 10 minutes, remove them to a clean heat-proof board, draining half of them back into the canner and half of them into the sink in order to keep the level of water in the canner at a good level. Put the lids and rims on to boil - they must boil for 5 minutes.

Fill the jars with the prepared jelly. Wipe the rims with a bit of paper towel dipped in the boiling water, and seal them with the lids and rims once they are ready. Return the finished jars to the boiling water in the canner, and boil them for 5 minutes. Let them cool, and check that they have sealed. Wipe the jars and label them.You are done!

Unless you think your pulp is good enough to save for applesauce, which we did. We ran it through a food mill, and got 12 cups of fairly stiff applesauce. We added 2 cups of water to thin it a little, and 4 cups of sugar. Normally if making applesauce I wouldn't sweeten it, but these were sour little apples. We brought this mess to a boil, packed it into sterlized jars as usual, and processed it for 20 minutes. (500-ml jars.) Results; 8 500-ml jars of applesauce. At least I hope it's applesauce. It looks very firm. It may end up being more like this Quince Paste.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Hot & Sour Greens - Beet Greens, Chard or Kale

Use a good quantity of greens, or the sauce will be too strong. These were some lovely - truly beautiful! - beet greens; I believe they were the variety known as "Bulls Blood". The leaves where an intense dark garnet red, and were tasty but fairly strong and just a touch bitter. Alas, by this time of year the stems of beets have gotten somewhat tough, so they were discarded. Swiss chard or kale would also do very well in this recipe. I didn't put any toasted sesame oil in my greens - they were strong enough without it - but it would be good added to mild kale or Swis chard.

3 to 4 servings
15 minutes prep time

Hot and Sour Beet Greens
The Sauce:
1/4 teaspoon white peppercorns (scant)
1 small dried hot chile
1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
2 tablespoons mild vinegar (apple cider or rice)
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon corn starch or arrowroot
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil (optional)

Grind the pepper and hot chile tegether, and put them in a heavy-bottomed pot large enough to hold your prepared greens. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir well to dissolve the starch. Don't start cooking until your greens are ready.

The Greens:
the greens from 1 large bunch of beets
OR a good bunch of kale,
OR a good bunch of chard;
6 to 8 cups prepared greens in all

Prepare the greens: wash them, pick them over discarding any tough stems or damaged leaves, and chop them coarsely. Let them drain until most of the water is out of them.

Five minutes before serving time, put the greens in the pot with the sauce ingredients, and turn the heat on to medium-high. You can cover the pot for a minute or so, but after that you should uncover them, and stir them frequently as they cook. Once the sauce is thickened and the greens well wilted, the dish is done. As you will surmise, this should not take more than about 5 minutes. Serve with a barley dish, or with rice. I find this a good foil to egg or cheese dishes.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Sweet Fruit "Pizza" made with Basic Sweet Roll Dough

I made this last week, but didn't have time to post it. Now it's probably rather late to find peaches. However it would be just fine with plums, or apples for that matter. You can use hard whole wheat flour for the spelt flour if it's easier to find.

The dough is a basic sweet dough that can also be used for cinnamon buns or a strudel-type loaf filled with poppyseed filling, nut filling or the streusel recipe below, with raisins. Any of those, or this pizza, could be made a bit sweeter by drizzling a simple sugar glaze over it. As it is, it's not too sweet to eat for breakfast which is how we had it. The sugar glaze would make it more suitable for dessert.

12 servings
20 minutes to make dough, 30 minutes bake time, several hours to overnight for rising

Peach Pizza made with Basic Sweet Roll Dough
Sweet Roll Dough:
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons yeast
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups hard unbleached flour
2 1/2 cups whole or lightly sifted spelt flour
2 extra-large eggs
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
extra spelt flour to knead and roll out

Heat the milk until it is warm to the touch, but not too hot. Sprinkle the yeast into it and let it sit for about 10 minutes, until foamy.

Meanwhile, measure and mix the sugar, salt and flours, and melt the butter.

Whisk the butter and eggs into the yeast mixture, then stir in the flour and sugar mixture. When it becomes hard to stir, turn the whole mess out onto a clean board or counter sprinkled with flour. Knead the dough for about 5 or 10 minutes, incorporating a little more flour if needed, to achieve a smooth, soft and only slightly sticky dough.

Put a bit of oil in a clean bowl, and turn the dough in it until it is coated. Cover the bowl and put the dough in a warm place to rise. When it is doubled in size - and I find this dough quite slow-rising; you might want to leave it to rise overnight - roll it out to fit in a pizza pan.

Streusel Topping & Peaches:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup Sucanat or other dark brown sugar
1/3 cup soft unbleached flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
6 large peaches or apples, or 12 to 18 German or Italian prune plums

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Mix the butter. Sucanat, flour and cinnamon until the mixture forms coarse crumbs. If it seems too clumpy, add another tablespoon of flour.

Wash the fruit. Pit or core the peaches, plums or apples, and cut them into slices. Arrange the slices over the dough. Sprinkle the streusel topping evenly over the fruit. Bake the pizza for 30 minutes, until baked through and the fruit is soft.

Serve warm or cool, as-is or with a simple glaze drizzled over it. (One cup sifted icing sugar, with 2 tablespoons liquid - milk, lemon or orange juice, or even water. Mix well, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Adjust with a little more sugar or liquid if it is not the right consistency to drizzle over the pastry then set.)

Last year around this time, I made Braised Leeks with Mushrooms, Plum & Apple Compote with Custard, and Wild Rice Pancakes.

Friday, 19 September 2008

A Visit to Holstein Farmers Market

Where the heck, you ask, is Holstein?

Holstein Farmers Market Sign
It's a small village not far from Mount Forest, just off Highway 6, and for a village of its size (not large) it has a remarkably good farmers market. At least so I was told, and I believe it. It is certainly the friendliest farmers market we have been to so far. Unfortunately we were there on a Saturday when it was predicted to bucket rain all day, and about half the vendors had gone awol. But if the weather is good, and you find yourself scooting along highway 6 near Mount Forest on a Saturday morning, be sure to drop in.

Holstein Farmers Market Park Entry
The market is located in the middle of Holstein, in Egremont Community Park, which is a lovely long little park that leads to a walking trail along an old railway line, and contains a sprightly little river with a small dammed lake.

Holstein Farmers Market Lake
Somewhat to my surprise, I met an acquaintance from Cambridge on the dam; he had come up to fish for trout. Am I the last person to find out what a marvelous little place Holstein is?

Holstein Farmers Market View From Dam
Looking down at some of the market from the dam.

Holstein Farmers Market Baked Goods and Wooden Items
We indulged in some very nice baking from a local cafe - we had cinnamon rolls and carrot cake - and eyed the wooden items with interest. Unfortunately we had not brought very much money, and so I did not buy one of the attractive, affordable and practical looking little wooden spoons.

Holstein Farmers Market Organic Produce
These vendors were a bit camera-shy, but as friendly as all the rest. We bought some zucchini and carrots, and were invited to help ourselves to as much of the beet greens as we liked, gratis, as a previous customer had discarded them and otherwise they were pig-food.

Holstein Farmers Market Perennial Plants
A nice selection of perennial plants.

Holstein Farmers Market Down by the Old School
I'm not quite sure what was happening that was so fascinating when I took this picture, but a number of vendors were hanging out by another source of baked goods, and chatted with us for at least half an hour. Like I said, a very friendly market.

Holstein Farmers Market Wooden Cutting Boards
The building in the background is an old school, which once housed about 80 students in 4 classrooms. Now it's used as a workshop for the fellow who makes these sturdy wooden cutting boards in a variety of woods. Most of them are one piece, which can be hard to find and expensive when you do. These were well within the expected range, and now that I know about them I plan to go back and request a couple in a custom size.

Holstein Farmers Market Pictures in the Gazebo
Here in the gazebo was a good selection of attractively mounted picture (prints) in a variety of subjects.

Missing were the sock-monkeys (aw!), a soapmaker, a couple of the produce vendors, a honey producer, a maker of adirondack chairs, various other crafts including knitting and crochet, and photos, likewise the musicians and the bicycle repair station. Last market of the season will be on October 25th. I'm definitely planning to get there again - sounds like it should be a great source of Christmas goodies.

Speaking of Christmas, one of the events in Holstein that we definitely plan to return for is their Santa Claus parade, on the second saturday in December, which is completely non-motorized. All the floats are drawn by horses and other draft animals. Apparently they also have a Maplefest in the spring. Later on, in mid July, they have the largest rodeo in Ontario. Wow, I'm kind of sorry we didn't move to Holstein!

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Return of the Elms

We've been doing a lot of driving back and forth in the last month between our apartment (which is still our job) and our new house. It's a beautiful drive, and although I feel guilty about all the gas we are using, and although it can get a bit time-consuming and tedious, in general I enjoy the trip very much - especially when we are heading away from the work part and towards the home part!

Young elms
It has also been making me very cheerful (or at least less gloomy than I tend to be generally) to see that the hedgerows have been busy sprouting elm trees these last 30 years or so. Elms aren't very noticeable as young trees, being thin and whippy. They need to reach middle age or so before they really fill out and develop that beautiful and very recognizable "vase" shape for which they are famous. In the last year or so, suddenly a new crop of elms has reached the size where they are easy to spot as you drive by.

Dead elms
The other thing elms are famous for, of course, is being dead. I am just barely old enough to remember when every field in southern Ontario was ringed with majestic old elms. By the time I was a teenager, they were almost all dead and decaying wrecks, and by the time I hit my early 20's even the stumps were disappearing. The culprit was Dutch elm disease, which is a fungus spread by elm bark beetles. There seemed to be nothing that could be done, and it seemed probable that the elm had pretty much gone the way of the American chestnut, which is now counted by the single specimen. I, like many people, felt their loss as keenly as I have felt the loss of members of my family to death.

So it is with a sense of a miraculous resurrection that I see them in hedgerow after hedgerow this year. Many of them are struggling; some like the ones above have succumbed. But it seems pretty clear that they are down, not out. I will never see the hedgerows filled with mature elms in my lifetime, but there is at least the possibility that it will happen. Enough resistant elms are reproducing, and their most resistant offspring are living to reproduce too. At some point, there will be a balance.

And when that happens, there will be a lot more graceful old elm trees around, like this one. (Although I don't think this one is as old as all that - but it's sound enough to have reached a a good size and a shapely form.) I expect to see many of the hopeful young elms we've been driving past this summer sitting as sad dead skeletons in the next few years to come. But I also expect to see more and more sturdy survivors.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Just Sticking My Head Up Above The Water

The Reconstructed Ship Hector
Well, we've moved, and the internet seems to be up and working. I'm still waaay too busy to post anything much. We're still spending most of our time at the apartment, cleaning and painting, and that will last for another week at least. When we are at our new home, we need to spend time getting it cleaned, painted and generally organized.

Inconveniently timed as it was, our trip to Nova Scotia was a much-needed break. I'm looking back on it with nostalgia already. Here's a picture of the reconstruction of the ship "Hector", the broken-down old smuggling vessel on which some* of my ancestors came to Pictou; 169 desperate souls packed into a space the size of what is nowadays a smallish living room, on a trip that was supposed to take 4 weeks and took 6.

Ours was a trip for looking at pictures and gravestones, the site of my grandparents cottage, since burnt down, and of course the "Hector". Above all, for telling all the old family stories. How my grandparents were married in the house of a total stranger who they never saw again. About Mr. Brown, the town drunk who went to sleep in a rough grave overnight and gave the cemetery workers the scare of their life the next morning. We remember cousin Robbie, the youngest miner killed in the Westray disaster. Lots of stories about great-uncle Harry, who survived 5 years in the trenches of WWI. We all love to tell the story of when he stole the train and went to Quebec City with a couple of French-Canadian girls...

*Not the guy transported for stealing sheep. He came later. I don't know why, but I was absurdly pleased to find out about him.