Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Sausage & Barley Casserole

I'm ashamed to admit we have been living mostly on very basic pasta dishes or home-fried potatoes and eggs, when we've been at home, which hasn't been nearly as often as we would like. However, we are home for 3 entire days in a row at the moment, and so I am trying to get my brain back into gear for cooking other things.

We stopped on the way up at a little country market and got some plain but good quality Mennonite-made pork sausage. A little rummaging in the fridge and cupboards turned up everything else needed for this dish.

4 servings
2 hours - 30 minutes prep time

Sausage and Barley Casserole
500 grams (1 pound) plain or garlic pork sausage meat
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (if needed)
1 large leek
2 or 3 stalks of celery
3 or 4 cups finely chopped cabbage
1 or 2 cloves of garlic

1 or 2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1 cup pot barley
3 cups crushed tomatoes
2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed black pepper

Cut the sausage into pieces, and set it aside while you prepare the vegetables. Trim and chop the leek, discarding any dark tough parts. Wash it well and drain it. Wash, trim and chop the celery. Chop the cabbage and the peeled clove of garlic.

Put the sausage into a large skillet with the oil (if you think your sausage is lean - otherwise don't bother) and about a quarter cup of water. Cook over high heat until the water evaporates and the sausage browns slightly. Turn the heat to medium.

Add the leeks, and stir them in well. Once they have softened and wilted, add the garlic and stir in well. After a minute or two, add the cabbage and another quarter of a cup of water. Cook, stirring regularly, until the vegetables are well wilted and the water has evaporated. Remove the skillet from the heat. Preheat the oven to 375°F.

If your skillet is large and can go into the oven, you can mix everything in the skillet and bake it that way. Otherwise, transfer the contents of the skillet to a large shallow casserole, such as a lasagne pan, and mix in the bay leaves, celery seed, barley, tomatoes and water. Season with salt and pepper, keeping in mind how salty your sausage is.

Cover the pan with foil. Bake the casserole for 1 hour and a quarter to 1 hour and a half, until the barley is tender.

Last year at this time I made Sformati di Broccoli, Clapshot, and Gehacktes Rinderschnitzel.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Leftover Oatmeal Cake with Apples

And what I mean by that is that the oatmeal is leftover, not the cake. Hey look! I finally cooked something. Actually, it started when my Sweetie made oatmeal for breakfast and absent-mindedly cooked an extra cup*. Well, you can't waste that. Plus there are all those apples in the cold cellar...

Leftover Oatmeal Cake with Apples
1/4 cup sunflower seed oil
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar or Sucanat
3 extra-large eggs
2 cups cooked oatmeal

2 cups whole spelt flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt

4 large apples, peeled and diced

Cream the oil and butter with the sugar or Sucanat. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then the cooked oatmeal until well mixed.

Preheat the oven to 350°F, and grease a 9" x 13" baking pan.

Stir together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.

Peel, core and dice the apples.

Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Stir in half the apples, then spread the batter in the prepared baking pan. Sprinkle the remaining apples over the top and press them into the batter gently.

Bake the cake for 40 to 45 minutes, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.

*That's a clue.

Last year, I was cooking up a storm around now. There was Horace's Tagliatelle (good stuff!) and Pumpkin Custard, as well as Spicy Roast Butternut Squash and Lentil Loaf with Carrots. Hell, it was all good stuff.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

What I've Been Doing Instead of Cooking & Posting

We've been driving back and forth a lot between our old lives and our new lives, pretty much rigid with stress. Not a good thing when you hit ice on a sharp curve.

Fortunately, we weren't going that fast. The total damage was one cracked hubcap and a bent rim, about 1 hour of our time, and $50 dollars to be fished out of the ditch. Later there was another 4 hours and $80 to replace the rim. That's pretty cheap, as disasters go. And many thanks go out to the 2 kind women who pulled us over (seperately) to tell us that our back wheel was wobbling like mad.

So when is life returning to normal? Next month, I hope. Oh, please! Let it be next month.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Freezing Pumpkin

We made it home for one day this week; hopefully we will get back for one more. However, we are still back in Cambridge cleaning and painting for the most part, and when we are here, we still have a pile of work to do which precluded my doing any cooking to speak of, never mind writing about it.

However, I bought one little pie pumpkin right after halloween, and was given three others, so I spent this evening pureeing them to be frozen. First I cut a lid in each one, and removed all the seeds and loose stringy bits. The stringy bits were discarded; the seeds were washed and tossed in salt and spices then roasted at 350°F until lightly browned and crunchy. I also roasted the pumpkins at 350°F, until the largest were soft through.

Once they were cooled, they were peeled and puréed.

Then I packed them into tubs to be frozen.

If I had had time, I would have preferred to cook the pumpkin in batches in a large cast-iron skillet, stirring frequently, until thick and very slightly caramelized. This would have reduced my total quantity of pumpkin, but it would have been better quality. Howver, if I have time, I can still do it on the other end.

And that's probably it for this week... now it's back to the salt mines.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Some November Thoughts


No sun--no moon!
No morn--no noon!
No dawn--no dusk--no proper time of day--
No sky--no earthly view--
No distance looking blue--

No road--no street--
No "t'other side the way"--
No end to any Row--
No indications where the Crescents go--

No top to any steeple--
No recognitions of familiar people--
No courtesies for showing 'em--
No knowing 'em!

No mail--no post--
No news from any foreign coast--
No park--no ring--no afternoon gentility--
No company--no nobility--

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member--
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,

Thomas Hood

Well, the weather, which has been so lovely, is now rapidly heading to something much more in line with Thomas Hood's vision of November, and I'm finding myself feeling tired and grumpy. The end of daylight savings time has made a big difference in how short the days feel.

It doesn't help that I'll be very busy for the next few weeks, and will be unable to post much if anything. (Note to tenants: Stop moving! Moving season is over. Just quit it. And next time, try to keep the damned magic markers out of reach of your toddlers. Srsly.) At least they are moving out a few weeks early and we will have time to wrestle with the magic marker before the next round of tenants move in.

In the mean time, I will try to remember a different autumn poem:

I built my cottage among the habitations of men,
And yet there is no clamor of carriages and horses.
You ask: "Sir, how can this be done?"
"A heart that is distant creates its own solitude."
I pluck chrysanthemums under the eastern hedge,
Then gaze afar towards the southern hills.
The mountain air is fresh at the dusk of day;
The flying birds in flocks return.
In these things there lies a deep meaning;
I want to tell it, but have forgotten the words."

Tao Yuan Ming

Oh and this one's good; I like this one, and it brings us back to my favourite theme:

Buckwheat Cakes

Now the frost is in the air.
Blue the haze at early dawn.
There is color everywhere.
Old and ragged looks the lawn.
Autumn's resting on the hills.
Harvested are fruit and grain,
And the home with gladness thrills.
Buckwheat cakes are back again!
Every season has its joys,
Every day its touch of mirth.
For us all - both girls and boys -
God has well supplied the earth.
What if care must fall between
Peace and pleasure now and then?
Autumn holds this happy scene:
Buckwheat cakes are back again!
Time and trouble change us all,
Youth gives way to middle age,
One by one our fancies fall
Till we reach life's final stage,
But in spite of aches and pains
And the difference old age makes,
Man devoted still remains
To a stack of buckwheat cakes."

Edgar A. Guest

Hope to be back soon, with some buckwheat cakes or other goodies.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

A Visit to Shears to You

This little outing had nothing to do with food, but I had to write about it anyway. And it is about a locally processed agricultural product...

On Saturday we went to Shears To You, an alpaca farm and mill near Listowel as there was an open house at the mill that day. They had a fabulous day for it; clear and mild. There is no sign advertising the store or the farm, but they are at 5128 Line 90, R R #2, Palmerson, Ontario, N0G 2P0 and the number is well marked. Their map instructions are quite clear. You will also know you are there by the alpacas!

These ones were hanging out near the front.

They have rather deluxe accomodation in a large house-like shed.

The guys in the back, by comparison, live in Bachelor Hall. This is the "mobile mating service" which presumably is handy, but not too handy, to the girls across the way.

"Who are you callin' a hayseed...?"

Actually, the alpacas were lovely; very calm and nice tempered, curious and friendly. They are charmingly goofy looking critters who are mostly interested in eating. Their recent sheering left them with mukluks and a funny top-knot.

When we arrived, the females were mostly all out grazing.

However, when we looked into "Alpaca-trazz" they came in to check us out.

Then they stayed around to do some indoor munching.

Next we went into the mill where we were given a tour of the processing plant. When the fleeces arrive, they are bagged and labelled. Shears To You is proud of the fact that when alpaca farmers send them their fleeces to be processed, the farmers receive back their own product. (Other mills will send back the same weight, but from random producers.) The tags will stay with the fleece throughout the milling process.

First, the yarn is carefully washed, by hand or by machine, as many times as it takes to get it clean. Generally, this is two to five times, not including the rinses, which will be more. But wait! they're not done yet: the fibres are then set through a picking machine, which loosens the fibres to absorb conditioners that will improve their ability to be spun and knit. The fibres must then rest while they absorb the conditioners.

Heres' a batch destined for socks, spread out on one of the drying racks.

After being conditioned, the fibres go on to the carder to be combed into long, soft coils called slivers (pronounced "slyvers".) This also cleans out any remaining bits of vegetation that might have been clinging to them.

Next, the coils of carded fibre are "pin drafted". This means they are combed together into rovings (the long coils of unspun fibre) to be spun. This is done at least three times to create smooth and uniform rovings.

Finally, the yarn is spun. The rovings enter the top of the machine, and are spun onto cones.

They're not done yet though; next the spun yarn must be twisted together into plied yarn to give it the finished strength, thickness and twist.

The finished yarn is then wound onto cones by the cone winding machine, or...

onto the skein winder to be wound into skeins to be sold to hand knitters.

You can purchase the finished yarn on cones or by the skeins in their shop. However, much of the yarn goes on to be made into socks. When the local sock-making industry closed down in recent years, Shears to You was lucky to be able to buy some of the old sock-making machines. Even better, the machines came with their cousin who worked for decades in the sock mills and knows how to maintain the machinery. He's now one of only a handful of people in all of North America who are able to do this.

When we were there, they were running sample socks through the machine in synthetic fibres, just so people could see the process. It's fascinating, I must say. A series of round plates (you can see them in the photo above this one) act almost like a crude computer in determining the pattern of the socks. The knitted sock appears, and is received into a drum. I say the sock; it's actually a long tube of joined socks. Each sock-to-be is joined to its' neighbours by yarn that will dissolve when washed. The almost-finished socks are then seamed shut at the toe.

And there, finally, you have it. A sock.

After all this, it will come as no surprise to hear that their socks are considerably more expensive than those produced abroad. At about $35 a pair (some are more, some are less) these are pricey socks, when you compare them to the ones generally available. When I look at the amount of work that goes into producing each pair though, I have to rate them as a bargain, really. There's a whole screed about exploitation and our unjust expectations of ever-cheaper goods which I am going to spare you here, but it sure gives you something to think about when you see the amount of work involved in making a pair of socks. Sure, large companies can make huge savings through economies of scale that just aren't possible here, but mostly we are... oh, sorry. I said I was going to spare you the rant.

When cared for well, these socks should last for a year or two. They should be hand-washed (or at least washed on a very gently cycle) and definitely air-dried.

My sweetie bought a pair to try out. He hasn't worn them yet, as the weather has been very mild (beautiful, eh?!) and these socks are going to be toasty, toasty, toasty warm. We also got some felt inserts made of half alpaca and half regular wool. (We bought seconds. Cheapskates.)

If he decides he loves them, we'll be back for more. We'll have to decide whether to order them on the Shears To You website, or if we want to have the fun of going back to visit those charming alpacas. There's a lot more information on their website, so be sure to check it out.


Oddly, when we went to the St. Jacobs market before heading out to Shears To You, we found another local sock manufacturer. This is Simcan, who produce socks designed for people with circulation problems, including diabetes. They don't produce their own yarn, but the socks themselves are made in Cambridge. Their prices are more standard. You can check them out at Simcan.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Pear Pie with Dried Apricots & Ginger

More pears - I'm on a pear binge this year, although that's about to change - we just bought a bushel of apples.

If you had dried some apricots when they were in season, you could use Ontario apricots. Otherwise, like me, you are out of luck and they will have to be imported. I wish it was possible to buy dried Ontario fruits. I'm hoping to buy a food dryer next year. We'll see.

1 10" pie - 8 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

Pear Pie with Dried Apricots and Ginger
1 recipe spelt pie crust

1 cup dried apricots
1/4 cup finely minced preserved ginger
1/4 cup honey
1 cup water
3 tablespoons minute tapioca

5 or 6 cups peeled, sliced ripe pears

Roll out the bottom crust as directed in the pie crust recipe. Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Cut the apricots into quarters, and put them in a pot. Add the finely minced ginger, the honey, the water and the tapioca. Set this aside for the moment.

Peel the pears, quarter them and cut them into slices.

Now, heat the apricots, etc, in the pot until the honey melts, then mix this with the sliced pears. Put the filling into the prepared pie crust.

Roll out the top part of the pie crust and top the pie with it, pinching the crust sealed and cutting slits for the steam to escape.

Bake the pie at 375°F for about 1 hour, until golden-brown.

Last year at this time I made Honey Rice Pudding with Blueberries.

Spelt Pie Crust

Basic pie dough with a nice nutty flavour from the spelt.

1 double pie crust
30 minutes - 10 minutes prep time

Spelt Pie Crust
2 1/2 cups whole spelt flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter
6 to 8 tablespoons ice cold water

Put the flour and salt into a food processor, and whizz briefly. Cut the butter into chunks and add them to the food processor. Process until the butter is the size of peas, then start adding ice cold water in tablespoons. Once you have added enough that the mixture begins to hold together, turn the contents of the food processor out onto a sheet of parchment paper or waxed paper. Press everything together to form a disc of dough, and wrap it up in the paper loosely. Set it aside to rest for about 15 minutes.

Divide the dough into 2 unequal portions. One should consist of about 60% of the dough, and the other should be about 40% of the dough.

Roll out the larger portion into a circle a little larger than your pie plate, sprinkling it with a little flour to keep the rolling pin from sticking. Flip the circle of pastry into the pie plate while it is still attached to the paper, then peel the paper off. Press the pastry into the bottom and sides of the pan.

Once the bottom crust has been filled, roll out the remaining dough in the same way as the first piece, although it should only be the size to top the pie. Place it in the same way, then pinch it sealed all the way around the pie. Cut or pierce the top of the pie in several spots to allow the steam to escape as the pie cooks; 45 minutes to an hour depending on the pie.

Last year at this time I made Brussels Sprouts with Bacon & Onion.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

The Pumpkin

Here's an amusing and seasonal poem from the great American poet, John Greenleaf Whittier; and it makes me think it's time to make some pumpkin pie!

The Pumpkin

OH, greenly and fair in the lands of the sun,
The vines of the gourd and the rich melon run,
And the rock and the tree and the cottage enfold,
With broad leaves all greenness and blossoms all gold,
Like that which o'er Nineveh's prophet once grew,
While he waited to know that his warning was true,
And longed for the storm-cloud, and listened in vain
For the rush of the whirlwind and red fire-rain.

On the banks of the Xenil the dark Spanish maiden
Comes up with the fruit of the tangled vine laden;
And the Creole of Cuba laughs out to behold
Through orange-leaves shining the broad spheres of gold;
Yet with dearer delight from his home in the North,
On the fields of his harvest the Yankee looks forth,
Where crook-necks are coiling and yellow fruit shines,
And the sun of September melts down on his vines.

Ah! on Thanksgiving day, when from East and from West,
From North and from South come the pilgrim and guest,
When the gray-haired New Englander sees round his board
The old broken links of affection restored,
When the care-wearied man seeks his mother once more,
And the worn matron smiles where the girl smiled before,
What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye?
What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie?

Oh, fruit loved of boyhood! the old days recalling,
When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling!
When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin,
Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!
When we laughed round the corn-heap, with hearts all in tune,
Our chair a broad pumpkin,—our lantern the moon,
Telling tales of the fairy who travelled like steam,
In a pumpkin-shell coach, with two rats for her team!

Then thanks for thy present! none sweeter or better
E'er smoked from an oven or circled a platter!
Fairer hands never wrought at a pastry more fine,
Brighter eyes never watched o'er its baking, than thine!
And the prayer, which my mouth is too full to express,
Swells my heart that thy shadow may never be less,
That the days of thy lot may be lengthened below,
And the fame of thy worth like a pumpkin-vine grow,
And thy life be as sweet, and its last sunset sky
Golden-tinted and fair as thy own Pumpkin pie!

John Greenleaf Whittier

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Swedish Meatballs

I've been reading a few sites where people have been talking about stereotypical foods from the 1960's, and Swedish meatballs inevitably get mentioned. They may be stereotypical "retro food", but they are also delicious, and after I read enough snickering comments about them I got a hankering to make some.

They were not everyday fare, but a popular party food in their day, and I was reminded why when I made them. They are definitely rather time-consuming to make, although they can be made ahead and re-heated. Definitely not something to whip up on a weeknight. And while I'm not generally inclined to worry about the fat content of foods too much, there is no doubt that these are extremely rich. I wouldn't want to be eating these every week. Well, I might want to, but good sense forbids.

6 to 8 servings
2 hours, and you will have to keep your nose to the grindstone

Swedish Meatballs
2 medium potatoes
2 slices bread
1/2 cup water
1 small onion
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
700 grams(1 1/2 pounds) ground beef
250 grams (1/2 pound) lean ground pork
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, ground
1/2 teaspoon allspice berries, ground
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 large eggs

Boil the potatoes until tender, and mash them. (It is perfectly reasonable to use some leftover mashed potatoes; say about a cup to a cup and a half of them.) Meanwhile, soak the bread in the water. I used a German style 100% rye bread which worked quite well, I thought. Crumble it up throughly.

Peel the onion and mince it as finely as you can. Sauté it in a smidgeon of oil until soft. No need to wash the pan if you are using it shortly for cooking the meatballs.

Mix the potatoes, crumbled soaked bread, sautéed onions, beef, pork spices and eggs in a large bowl. Mix very well. It is probably the easiest and most efficient to mix with your hands.

Form the mixture into meatballs, and set them out on a plate or sheet of waxed paper as you work. Form the meatballs firmly; they will need to withstand a certain amount of handling still.

To Cook the Meatballs:
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup flour
3 cups beef stock
500 grams (1 pound) button mushrooms)
3 more tablespoons butter... yeah, I know...
1 cup light cream (5% or 10%)
salt & pepper

Brown the meatballs in batches in the skillet you used to cook the onion. As they are browned, put them in a large pot.

When they are done, melt the butter in the pan, then stir in the flour to make a smooth paste and cook, stirring well, until golden. Slowly stir in the beef stock until you have a smooth sauce. Pour it over the meatballs, and simmer them for 40 minutes, stirring regularly.

Clean the mushrooms and slice them. Sauté them in the remaining butter until lightly browned. Add them to the simmering meatballs. Just before the meatballs are done, check the sauce and adjust the salt and pepper. Add the cream and continue to simmer for a minute or two until hot through.

Serve over mashed potatoes or Clapshot, with cranberry sauce or Currant Catsup.

Last year at this time I made pie - Brown Rice Pie Pastry made into a Mixed Apple Pie.