Thursday, 31 December 2009

Baked Onions

Hey - onions are vegetables too! Here's a very simple way of serving them that goes excellently well with roast or broiled meats. Really, you can season them however you like.

1 onion - 2 servings
1 hour - 10 minutes prep time

Baked Onions
large yellow onions
sunflower seed oil
salt & pepper
fennel seed, hot chile flakes (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400°F

One large onion will provide 2 servings. Peel the onions*, and cut them in half along the equator. Coat them lightly in oil, and put them in a roasting pan. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, and some ground fennel seed and hot chile flakes, if you like.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, depending on the size of the onions and how soft you would like them to be. That's it! You're done. Eat them while they are hot.

* If you are quite confident there is nothing under the skin of your onions that you should know about (and remove) you can leave the skins on. Just cut off the poles (north and south) and proceed as above.

Last year at this time I made Louise's Emergency Salsa Dip.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Rum & Raisin Sweet Potatoes

We liked these - the rum and raisin sauce added a nice touch of sweetness to the sweet potatoes without making them too sweet and gloopy. The orange juice adds some depth to the classic rum-raisin combo. I used two different colours of raisins, and thought they looked better than just one colour would have. Watch it towards the end of the baking, though: those raisins will burn if you give them half a chance.

6 servings
1 hour 15 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

Rum and Raisin Sweet Potatoes
Bake the Sweet Potatoes:
3 large sweet potatoes

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Wrap the sweet potatoes in foil and bake at 400°F for 45 to 5o minutes, until tender. Meanwhile, make the sauce.

Let the sweet potatoes cool just enough to handle. Remove the foil, and cut the sweet potatoes in half lengthwise, arranging them in a shallow baking dish. Score the flesh of each half into a diamond pattern. Spoon the sauce over the sweet potatoes evenly, and return them to the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until sauce is bubbly and caramelized. Watch them to make sure the sauce doesn't burn.

Make the Rum & Raisin Sauce:
1/3 cup raisins
1/3 cup rum
1/4 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
the juice of 1 small Valencia orange (about 1/4 cup)

2 medium shallots
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon rubbed oregano
1/4 teaspoon rubbed thyme

2 tablespoons honey, or more
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/8 teaspoon salt

Put the raisins, rum, orange zest and orange juice in a small bowl and set aside to soak.

Peel and mince the shallots. Put them in a small saucepan with the butter, oregano and thyme, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 15 minutes, until the shallots are soft and starting to show some colour. Stir frequently.

Turn off the heat, and mix in the honey, sherry and salt. Add the raisins and their soaking liquid. Taste the mixture, and add a little more honey if it seems required - it will depend on how sweet the orange is. Set the sauce aside until the sweet potatoes are ready for it.

Last year at this time I made Lemon Squares.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Beet Aspic

Jellied salads - I mostly hate 'em. Of course, people mostly make them with Jell-O, which is nasty, sweet and chemically, and frequently they don't stop there. Tinned fruit, tinned veg, salad "creme", even marshmallows are not unheard of. No wonder they have such a terrible reputation.

There are a few times when a jellied salad - lets call them aspics, and not confuse them with the nasty stuff - is a good idea. For a long time, Mum made a tomato aspic with shrimp in it for Christmas. That was lovely. Beets make a nice aspic too, with just a little touch of sweet and sour flavours and a little bite from some horseradish. They make a nice light and cool spot in a hot meal.

6 servings
30 minutes prep time - plus 3 hours waiting times

Beet Aspic
Cook the Beets:
3 or 4 medium beets ( 2 cups when cooked & diced)

Put the beets in a pot with water to cover, and bring to a boil. Boil steadily for about 45 minutes, until tender. Allow the beets to cool. Reserve the cooking water. Peel the beets and cut them into fairly fine dice. You may wish to reserve a slice or two of the beets to decorate the mold.

Make the Aspic:
1 stalk celery
2 tablespoons lemon juice
6 tablespoons cold water
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup pure cranberry juice
1 tablespoon powdered gelatine
3/4 cup boiling beet cooking water
1 tablespoon horseradish

Wash and trim the celery, and chop it finely. Set it aside.

In a small mixing bowl, mix the lemon juice, water, sugar, salt and cranberry juice. Sprinkle the gelatine over this and let it sit for 5 or 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring the beet cooking water to a boil.

Add the boiling beet cooking water to the gelatine mixture, and stir well, until the gelatine and sugar are completely dissolved.

Put a little of the gelatine mixture into your mould, and place the beet slices (presuming you have saved some beet slices) into position. Chill the mould until the gelatine has set; hopefully about 15 minutes. Leave the remaining gelatine mixture on the counter.

Mix the diced beets and finely chopped celery into the gelatine mixture. Spoon it into the mold and return the mould to the refrigerator until set; allow at least 2 hours.

To unmould the aspic, dip the mould into a bowl of very hot tap-water up to the line of the aspic, until you can see it melting around the edges. Lift the mould from the water, and give it a little shake from side to side to loosen the aspic. Put the serving dish over the top of the mould, and quickly flip it over so that the aspic lands in the middle of the serving dish. Return the aspic to the fridge for at least a few minutes to firm up again. Don't take it out until just before you want to serve it.

Last year I was posting right through Christmas, and I made Smoked Salmon-Trout Paté, Bacon & Potato Chowder and Aunt Helen's Raspberry-Rice Squares.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Away for a Couple of Days

Panettone French Toast
We're off for the usual Christmas cross-province driving adventure, and with good luck and good weather should be back in a couple of days. No posting, then, for a few days to come. To hold you over, have some panettone french toast. No recipe; it's french toast made with panettone. I will just say no need to add sugar or seasonings to the milk and egg mixture as the panettone should supply the flavour. Best with jelly rather than syrup, although a tiny touch of honey and butter might be good instead.

Hope you all have a good holiday and year end, as festive or as quiet as you like. And hurray! The days are now getting longer.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Braised Duck Legs with Rutabaga, Leek & Celeriac

Decent chicken is surprisingly hard to get your hands on; thank you Chicken Farmers of Ontario. There's plenty of bland and woolly factory-farmed chicken out there, but it's not worth eating on several different fronts, not least the blandness and woollyness. Duck and other forms of poultry, however, are becoming more readily available and I'm starting to investigate them more and more as an alternative.

The first time I had duck was back in the mid to late '70's, when my mother decided to get a couple for Christmas instead of the usual turkey. For some reason it was a one time thing - actually I'm pretty sure they were not cheap and that Mum found the quantity of fat that they exuded disconcerting. Mum was a fat-conscious cook long before it became a general cultural obsession. Now, we all know that duck fat is not only delicious and versatile, but better for you by far than the margarines and shortenings that prevailed at the time, but at the time we just regarded it as a shocking amount of grease. When you get some, put it in a jar in the fridge and save it to roast potatoes in. It's good stuff; people rave about it.

However, that was the first and only time I was involved in cooking duck until I decided to try making Duck Schnitzel just a little while ago, and discovered that duck could be lean and easy to cook.

Not only is duck less expensive (relatively speaking) and easier to find than it was back in the '70's, you also no longer have to buy a whole duck if you don't want to. It's common to see breast pieces, with or without the skin and bones, and legs being sold separately. They are a good place to start experimenting with duck. Well, I say common. You are going to have to find a butcher who deals with duck; they don't have it at the corner store by any means. Yet! Maybe the day will come.

2 servings
3 1/2 hours - 1/2 hour prep time

Braised Duck Legs with Rutabaga Leek and Celeriac
2 cups peeled, diced rutabaga
2 cups peeled, diced celeriac
1 medium leek
2 medium duck legs (500 grams, 1 pound)
1/4 teapsoon black peppercorns, crushed
1/2 teaspoon juniper berries, lightly crushed
1/2 teaspoon rosemary
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups duck or chicken stock*, or stock and white wine combined

Peel and dice the rutabaga and celeriac. Trim the roots and any dark, tough leaves from the leek, and cut it in half-inch slices. Rinse and drain it well. Set the vegetables aside.

Cut any large, loose bits of fat from the duck legs, and render them slowly in a heavy skillet, with a little water if necessary. Once you have a good amount of fat cooked out (and no more water, so don't add much) and coating the bottom of the pan, add the 2 duck legs, and brown them well on both sides.

Preheat the oven to 250°F.

Remove the duck legs to a shallow roasting pan, placing them with the best browned skin sides up. Drain most of the fat from the skillet and reserve it for some other use. Leave about a tablespoon of it in the skillet though, and use it to slowly cook the vegetables. Turn them regularly, until they are softened and slightly browned in spots.

Sprinkle the seasonings, except the bay leaves, over the vegetables, and mix them in well. Remove the vegetables to the roasting pan, arranging them around the duck legs. Tuck in the bay leaves.

Deglaze the skillet with the stock or stock and wine mixture (use about 1/2 cup wine, if you have it.) Add any juices that were in the packet of duck legs. Pour the stock carefully around the duck legs, without wetting the tops of them if you can help it.

Braise the duck legs for 2 1/2 hours at 250°F, then turn up the heat to 375°F for another 30 minutes. Serve with mashed potatoes, rice or noodles.

*Or even water will work okay, although stock is better if it can be arranged.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Beet & Grapefruit Salad

I got some grapefruit on sale a while back, and forgot to eat them promptly; I am so unused to having them around. It turns out they go really very well with beets. Yes, it's another recurring theme around here: salad with fruits and nuts. I eat more fruit that way than any other.

You will need to use hydroponic lettuce no doubt, but I can't help boasting about the fact that that's lettuce from our garden in that salad. I picked most of the remaining lettuce in the cold-frame just before it got really snowy about a week ago. That's the last of it for the year I'm pretty sure, but wow. Score one for the cold-frame. Co-operative weather, too, but still, wow.

6 servings (side salad)
30 minutes prep time, not including cooking the beets

Beet and Grapefruit Salad
Cook the Beets:
4 medium-small red beets (450 grams; 1 pound)

Either wrap them in foil and roast at 400°F until tender, about 45 minutes, or put them in a pot with water to cover and boil until tender, about 45 minutes. Let cool and peel. Cut them into bite-sized wedges. You can - and probably should - do this the day before. Keep them in the fridge until wanted.

Make the Dressing:
1 tablespoon honey
3 tablespoons hazelnut oil
1/4 cup raspberry or other fruit vinegar
1 teaspoon grainy Dijon mustard
salt & pepper to taste

Put it all in a jar and shake. I found it helpful to heat the honey in the microwave for 20 seconds or so, until it was quite runny before adding the remaining ingredients.

Make the Salad:
2 large red grapefruit
1 head (hydroponic) lettuce
1/4 cup shelled pistachios or other nuts

Peel the grapefruit, and divide them into segments, removing and discarding the membrane and seeds. This can be done ahead of time as well, and the grapefruit segments kept refrigerated until wanted. Wash, dry and tear up the lettuce.

Arrange the lettuce on serving plates, or in a salad bowl. Arrange the beet slices, grapefruit segments and pistachios over it. Drizzle with the dressing and serve.

Last year at around this time I made Vegetarian Lentil Tourtiere.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Eggnog Shortbread

The thing about making the Basler Brunsli is that then you have 2 leftover egg yolks, about which something must be done. Consequently, these rich and rummy eggnog shorties have been a Christmas custom for about the last 25 years as well. They make an excellent foil to the crunchy, nutty, chocolatey Brunsli, being soft, buttery and melting in texture.

The rum and nutmeg, along with the egg yolks, give them their flavour of eggnog. Unlike the Basler Brunsli which have some claim to being real food, it has to be admitted that these are evil through and through. Good thing they are strictly once a year.

40 to 42 cookies
1 1/2 hours prep time, divided into 2 sessions

Eggnog Shortbread
Mix the Dry Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups soft whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon (1/2 large) finely grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt

Mix and set aside.

Mix the Wet Ingredients & Finish:
1 cup softened unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 extra-large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon extract

Put the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl, and beat with an electric mixer until soft and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolk and the flavourings.

Stir in the dry ingredients by hand, until well blended. (Be sure to scrape off the beaters into the bowl as quite a bit of butter will stick to them.)

Preheat the oven to 350°F, and line 2 cookie trays with parchment paper.

Use a 1" disher or tablespoon to scoop out cookies, and place them, reasonably well spaced, on the prepared trays. Press each cookie with a fork to flatten.

Bake the cookies for 12 to 16 minutes, until just set. Let them cool completely before icing.

Ice the Cookies:
4 tablespoons softened unsalted butter
2 cups icing sugar
4 tablespoons dark rum
nutmeg to grate over

Cream the butter, and work in the icing sugar alternately with the rum.

Place a dab of icing on each cookie, and spread it out as best you can. Top with a grating of nutmeg. Let the icing set before stacking the cookies for storage.

Last year at this time I made Brussels Sprouts & Carrots. Sounds like a good idea after all these cookies.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Basler Brunsli

These are not the most beautiful cookies in the world, but they are perhaps my favourite cookie of all time, although it's true that whatever cookie I'm eating tends to be my favourite cookie - at the time. At any rate, these have been a Christmas custom for at least 25 years now. They are also notable for being wheat-free and dairy-free (yay!). They should be crunchy around the edges, with a hint of chewiness in the middle. I use the egg yolks left from this recipe to make Eggnog Shortiebread.

The name translates, more or less, as Brownies from Basle. A good Swiss chocolate would not be inappropriate.

45 medium cookies
2 hours prep time

Basler Brunsli Cookies
2 cups ground blanched almonds
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
100 grams (3 ounces) unsweetened or bittersweet chocolate
2 extra-large egg whites
1 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Make sure the rack is in the middle of the oven. Line a couple of cookie trays with parchment paper.

Put the ground almonds, icing sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, cloves and salt into the bowl of the food processor. Process until well-blended and until the nuts have been ground to a fine powder; stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl if necessary.

Add the chocolate, preferably broken into manageable chunks, and process again, until the chocolate is very finely ground.

Add the egg whites and almond extract, and process again, until the mixture is completely blended and forms a solid mass.

Remove the dough to a sheet of parchment paper, and let it rest for about 5 minutes.

Brush your rolling pin lightly with oil, and roll out the dough to about 1/4" thick. It is a very sticky dough, so work carefully. You will likely need to use some icing sugar to prevent it from sticking to the rolling pin. I coat the rolling pin rather than sprinkling it onto the cookies, in the hopes of achieving evenly brown cookies instead of ones covered in white spots, but good luck with that.

Cut out cookies with cookie cutters, and move them to the prepared cookie trays. Re-roll and cut the scraps; the dough should be easier to work with the second time around, and the re-worked dough produces fine cookies.

Bake the cookies in the centre for 10 to 12 minutes, until firm and slightly puffed looking. Let them cool completely before removing them from the paper.

Last year at this time I made Cocoa Sponge Cake, with Rum Balls in mind. This year I've made them already. Also a favourite cookie - if that's what they are - of all time.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Roasted Vegetable Wild Rice Salad

I think I did roasted Brussels sprouts with shallots and squash not long ago, but I still have them and they still go together, so here they are again, in a salad this time. This is a good salad to make ahead of time as it holds well. It also makes quite a lot so it is ideal for entertaining; it will serve 4 easily if you are not serving much else, but as part of a party spread it will naturally go much further.

4 to 8 servings or more
1 1/2 hours - 45 minutes prep time; plus allow time to cool

Roasted Vegetable Wild Rice Salad with Squash, Brussels Sprouts and Shallots
Cook the Wild Rice:
3/4 cup wild rice
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups water

I like to cook this in the rice cooker (put in, close up, turn on and wait) but you can do it in a pot on the stove as well, in which case you will need to watch it more closely. Bring the rice, salt and water to boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until tender, probably half an hour to 45 minutes. Drain (if there is any water left) and let cool.

Roast the Vegetables:
450 grams (1 pound) Brussels sprouts
300 grams (2/3 pound) butternut squash
200 grams (1/2 pound) shallots
2 or 3 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon rubbed rosemary
1/2 teaspoon rubbed oregano

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Trim the Brussels sprouts and cut them in quarters. Peel and seed the squash, and cut it in pieces about the same size as the Brussels sprouts. Peel the shallots and cut them in halves or quarters to be of a size with the other vegetables.

Toss the vegetables in a large shallow roasting pan (lasagne pan) with the oil and seasonings. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until they are tender and lightly browned. Let cool.

Make the Dressing:
1/4 cup sunflower seed oil
1/4 cup balsamic or sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon grainy Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Mix or shake together in a small jar.

Assemble the Salad:
2 to 3 stalks of celery
1 medium carrot
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Clean and chop the celery. Peel and grate the carrot.

Mix the celery, carrot and cranberries with the cooked, cooled wild rice and the roasted vegetables. Toss in the dressing.

If you are making this in advance, you may wish to leave off the dressing until shortly before the salad is to be served.

Last year at this time I made Instant Biscuits.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

A Reminder About Monforte CSA Subscriptions

Last week I got an email from Monforte Dairy about their CSA subscriptions. I've written about their innovative way of raising funds to build their new dairy operations before.

Ruth Klahsen has now set a deadline to subscribe to their investment CSA offer of $300 worth of cheese for $200, $750 worth of cheese for $500, or $1,500 worth of cheese for $1,000, all to be received spread over 5 years. (Click through to their web-site for more details.) It's a darn good deal for some of the best and most innovative cheese in Canada, and Ruth has lots of exciting plans underway.

However, you need to sign up by December 31st to get that deal. In the spring they will be starting production again, and they will be back in regular business. I'm really looking forward to that!

p.s. No need to eat all that cheese yourself... if you need a gift for a cheese-lover, a subscription would be just the ticket - or should I say, voucher.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Rolled Spice Cookies

Another variation on the rolled cookie theme. This one takes the flavours of Lebkuchen, and it's probably my favourite version so far. As with the lemon cookies, you could omit the sugar if you want to ice them. I think these should keep quite well, but who knows? We certainly won't; they are disappearing very quickly.

36 to 48 cookies
1 1/2 hours prep time

Rolled Spice Cookies

Mix the Dry Ingredients:
3 cups soft whole wheat flour
1/4 cup sugar (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon anise seed
6 to 8 pods of green cardamom
1/4 cup candied peel, finely minced
2 tablespoon preserved ginger, finely minced
the finely grated zest of 1 orange

Mix the flour, sugar, soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon and cloves in a mixing bowl. Toast the anise seed lightly in a dry skillet, and grind them finely, with the cardamom. Sift them into the bowl, discarding the papery husks of the cardamom. Mince the peel and the ginger, and add them to the bowl with the orange zest.

1/3 cup mild vegetable oil
1/2 cup dark maple syrup
1/4 cup orange juice

Measure the oil and maple syrup into a glass measuring cup, and heat for a minute or so, until the maple syrup is very liquid. Mix with the orange juice, and stir into the dry ingredients.

Mix the dough well, and turn it out to knead for a minute or two. Roll the dough out to about 1/4" thick, or slightly less, on a floured surface or - better - on a sheet of parchment paper.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters, and place them on the trays. Bake for 13 to 16 minutes, until firm and just lightly browned. Re-roll the dough and cut out cookies until the dough is all used.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Rolled Lemon Cookies

It isn't very often that you see a cookie recipe where the sugar is optional. The thing is, though, if you just use the honey these are not very sweet cookies. If you propose to ice them I would suggest that the honey-only cookie is the way to go - icing will provide more than enough extra sugar. However, if you are going to eat them plain they are perhaps better with just a touch more sweetness. Or not; a cookie with some subtlety has it's charms too. If you ice them, use a lemon icing - the lemon flavour of the cookie is mild; I think next time I would put in the zest of 2 lemons. Excellent with tea.

36 to 48 cookies
1 1/2 hours prep time

Rolled Lemon Cookies

Mix the Dry Ingredients:
2 3/4 cups soft whole wheat flour
the finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar (optional)

Mix 'em, in a mixing bowl.

1/3 cup mild vegetable oil
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup lemon juice (the juice of 1 lemon)

Measure the oil and honey into a glass measuring cup, and microwave for 1 minute, more or less, until the honey is melted. Stir in the lemon juice.

Mix the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients to form a smooth dough. Turn the dough out and knead it for a minute or two.

Roll the dough out to about 1/4" thick, or perhaps slightly thinner. You can do this on a lightly floured surface, but I prefer to do it on a sheet of parchment paper. This is a very non-sticky, easy dough to work with.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 2 cookie trays with parchment paper. Cut out shapes using cookie cutters, and place them on the tray, fairly well spaced. They do expand a little.

Bake the cookies for 13 to 16 minutes until firm and just lightly browned. They will firm up more as they cool, and should end up fairly crisp.

Last year at this time I made Butternut Squash, Carrot & Potato Soup.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Mom's Meatloaf

You can make this using only one or two types of meat (the same total quantity) but there is no question it is most interesting and flavourful with a blend. I'm pretty sure Mom's original recipe called for ground veal, but I have not seen it in yonks. Lamb and turkey (or chicken) give noticeably different results, but they are both very good and I would be hard pressed to choose between them.

This is the old ancestral meatloaf, the one I regard as proper meatloaf. I don't actually make it very often, as it's a pretty solid chunk of meat, and Mr. Ferdzy got fed too much meatloaf as a child and so regards meatloaf in general with mere tolerance, although I noticed he did go back for seconds. Fortunately there is plenty left for sandwiches, which should be liberally spread with ketchup for the proper nostalgic flavour. Kind of like turkey, meatloaf is at least as desirable for the leftovers as it is the first time around.

6 to 8 servings
1 hour 15 minutes - 15 minutes prep time

Mom's Meatloaf
Prepare the Vegetables:
1 medium onion
1 large carrot
1 tablespoon sunflower seed oil

Peel and chop the onion fairly finely. Peel and grate the carrot. Sauté them in the oil until soft. Let them cool as you prepare the remaining ingredients.

Make the Meatloaf:
3/4 cup fine breadcrumbs
2 extra-large eggs
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon rubbed basil
1/2 teaspoon rubbed savory
1/2 teaspoon rubbed thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
250g (1/2 pound) each ground beef & lean pork
250g (1/2 pound) ground lamb or turkey

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a large mixing bowl, put all the ingredients except the meats, and mix well. Crumble in the meats, and add the cooled sautéed vegetables. Mix everything thoroughly; I find it easiest to do this with my hands.

Press the mixture into a loaf pan and bake for 1 hour. Let rest 5 or 10 minutes before lifting the meatloaf from the pan to a serving platter, and slicing. Serve at once, although it should be noted that the cold leftovers make lovely sandwiches.

Last year at this time I made Maple Eggnog.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Beet & Celeriac Soup

A medium celeriac, I would say, is about the size of a baseball or somewhat larger. They do vary in size quite a bit. Let's say it should be baseball sized once peeled, and remember they take a lot of peeling thanks to their hairy, gnarly skin.

This is a lovely soup in a beautiful shade of magenta, and very tasty too. It's a family favourite, and it can be made almost all year round. Excellent both hot and cold.

8 servings
1 hour - 15 minutes prep time, but not including chill time

Beet and Celeriac Soup
4 large beets
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 medium celeriac (celery root)
1 teaspoon anise seed
1 medium onion
1 tablespoon sunflower seed oil
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup water or stock

sour cream or yogurt to serve

Peel the beets, and cut them into slices. Put them in a soup pot, with the chicken stock, and bring them to a boil. Simmer them for about 45 minutes, until tender.

Meanwhile, peel the celeriac, and cut it into slices about twice as thick as the beets. Add it to the pot; it will be tender in 20 to 30 minutes. Add the anise seed at the same time.

Peel the onion, and chop it. Sauté it in the oil until soft but not browned. Add it to the simmering vegetables.

When the beets are tender, allow the soup to cool a little. Purée it until it is very smooth in texture. Use the vinegar and water to swish out the blender or food processor, and add to the soup.

It can be served hot or chilled, with a dab of sour cream or yogurt.

Last year at this time I made Cocoa Snaps.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Our New Toy

Sausage Maker Food Dryer
Sometime in the late summer - I think it was August, but it might have been early September - we ordered something we've been wanting for a few years, and for which we now have the space. It finally arrived, about 2 weeks ago. Yeah, a little bit of a wait there, which was annoying as we wanted to dry a bunch of fruit while it was in season, and obviously too late now. When we were told it was on serious heavy-duty back-order, we debated whether to get something else, but decided to wait it out.

We had picked this particular model because it looked like just what we wanted, and now that it's here we are really happy we waited. We ordered it from Berry Hill, but they don't seem to have it listed any more. It's listed here but I'm not sure they're actually selling it. If you're interested you may need to hunt around a bit.

Obviously, we haven't used it much - once, so far - but we are really, really happy with it. It was outrageously expensive, but we have already burnt out 2 cheaper plastic models. We know we want to dehydrate food and quite a lot of it, so it was worth making the investment in something sturdy that will stand up to hard use. We also debated whether to get the 5-shelf version or the 10-shelf version and after only one use we are already glad we spent the extra bucks and got the 10-shelf version.

It's beautifully made, and very simple. Whoever designed it obviously did some actual thinking, because even though it's very simple, it all disassembles for easy cleaning and it's immediately obvious when you look at it how everything goes together. All the trays dried very evenly, too. I wish all appliances could be gotten this well designed and made.

Last year at this time I made Whole Wheat Noodles with Stir-Fried Vegetables.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Ham, Squash & Leek Orzotto

It seems that whenever I cook a large ham, the first thing I want to do is make orzotto. It's what I did the last time I cooked a large ham, and I'm already looking forward to the next time. No doubt I should branch out a little, but I love it so much. It's so creamy and richly flavoured.

6 servings
2 hours - 1 hour prep time

Ham Squash and Leek Orzotto
Pre-Cook the Barley and the Squash:

1 cup barley
3 cups ham or smoked turkey stock
1 medium butternut squash
2 tablespoons sunflower seed oil

Cook the barley in the stock, until the stock is absorbed and the barley is tender. I prefer to do this in my rice-cooker.

Meanwhile, peel the squash, and remove the seeds and stringy bits from the centre. Cut it into thin slices, and toss them with the oil in a shallow roasting pan. Bake the squash at 400°F for about 40 to 45 minutes, until tender.

Both of these steps can be done up to 24 hours before you plan to assemble the dish, and stored in the fridge once cool until wanted.

Make the Orzotto:
2 cups diced ham or smoked turkey
2 medium leeks
2 tablespoons sunflower seed oil
8 or 9 cups ham or smoked turkey stock
1 teaspoon rubbed savory
1 teaspoon rubbed thyme
salt & pepper to taste
1/2 cup white wine (optional)
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
- plus more grated Parmesan to be passed with the dish

Cut the ham or turkey into dice, and set it aside. Trim the leeks, and chop them finely, discarding the roots and any very dark, tough or damaged portions. Rinse the chopped leeks thoroughly, and drain them well.

Heat the oil in a very large skillet, and cook the leeks fairly gently, stirring frequently, until soft and slightly browned. Heat the stock, and keep it warm but not boiling as you prepare the orzotto.

Mix the barley and several ladles-full of the stock into the leeks. Add the seasonings. While that simmers, mash the squash with a fork, leaving it fairly chunky.

Mix the squash into the barley with a little more broth. When that has simmered, and absorbed most of the stock, mix in the ham, the wine and a bit more stock. Adjust the seasonings, keeping in mind that you should think it just slightly undersalted - don't forget that the cheese will add a fair bit of saltiness when it goes in.

Once you have achieved a well amalgamated, flowing but not too soupy mixture, the orzotto can be served. Mix in the cup of grated Parmesan, and continue cooking until melted, just a minute or two. Serve at once, although leftovers do reheat very nicely.

Last year at this time I made Cabbage, Apple & Walnut Salad, and Barley & Cheese. Hmm, must be barley season.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Cookie Planning Time

Well, I didn't get much done this weekend. I don't know if I am fighting off the flu or if I am just having a reaction to my flu shot (although three days of mild ear-ache seems like an odd reaction) but I have been practically hibernating. Nothing to post, in other words.

However, it is time to be thinking about what sort of Christmas cookies to make this year. I just made the lebkuchen, and the rum balls are pretty much a sure thing - a double batch, at least. The coconut macaroons sound kind of appealing, and I will need to make some cut-out cookies this week for the annual orgy of cookie decorating with my First-Day school class, which will get posted about later this week or early next week.

I'm not likely to make them this year, but I particularly recommend the Icebox Cookies in Four Variations and the Gingersnaps.

Here are my recipes - thus far - that seem appropriate choices for the holiday season:

Buckwheat Lebkuchen

Maple Sugar Cookies

Chocolate Chip & Peanut Butter Cookies

No-Bake Puffed Barley Squares

Lemon Squares

Aunt Helen's Raspberry Rice Squares

Rum Balls Made with Cake Crumbs

Cocoa Snaps

Peanut Butter Cookies Loaded for Bear

Maple Cream Puffs

Haystacks - An Unbaked Cookie

Chocolate-Ginger Graham Squares

Icebox Cookies in Four Variations

Gingerbread Snaps

Cocoa Brownies

Nut Butter Brownies

Coconut Macaroons with Preserved Ginger

So... what kind of cookies are you all going to be making this year?

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Chick Pea, Tomato & Cabbage Soup

I've been making this very simple but flavourful and healthy soup quite a bit this fall. If you find it plain, you could certainly add various herbs such as thyme, basil, oregano, savory or sage to it but I actually really like the simplicity of the flavours.

6 to 8 servings
1 hour prep time - not including soaking and cooking the chick peas

Chick Pea Tomato and Cabbage Soup
Cook the Chick Peas:
2 cups (450 grams, 1 pound) dry chick peas
4 cups diced tomatoes, with their juice
2 or 3 bay leaves

Rinse and pick over the chick peas, and put them in a large soup pot with water to generously cover them. Bring them to a boil, then turn off the pot and let them soak overnight.

The next morning, bring them back to a boil, and simmer them until tender; about 1 to 2 hours.

When they are tender, add the tomatoes with all their juice, and the bay leaves.

Prepare the Vegetables:
2 stalks of celery
1 large leek
1 large carrot (optional)
2 tablespoons sunflower seed oil

4 to 5 cups finely chopped green cabbage
4 cups water or chicken stock
salt & pepper

Rinse the celery and leek. Trim them and chop them finely. Peel and grate the carrot, if using. Sauté the vegetables slowly in the oil until they are fairly soft and reduced in volume by about a half. Add them to the chick peas.

Meanwhile, chop the cabbage and put it in a separate pot with water or chicken stock to cover. Bring to a boil and boil steadily for about 10 minutes, until fairly tender. Add the cabbage and cooking water/stock to the soup. Check for salt, and add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer the soup for about 20 minutes to amalgamate the flavours.

It can be served at once, or it keeps and re-heats well for several days. If it gets too thick, add a bit more water.

Last year at this time it was Kitchen Sink Soup - another favourite winter soup.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Brussels Sprouts, Leeks & Carrots

There's something about the texture of finely shredded, sautéed vegetables that I find really appealling - cooked briefly enough to still have a hint of crunch, but with everything well blended and tender. This is a particularly nice combination, too.

4 servings
30 minutes prep time

Brussels Sprouts Leeks and Carrots
1 medium leek
1 large carrot
500 grams (1 pound) Brussels sprouts
2 tablespoons sunflower seed oil
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Trim the leek, and chop it finely. Rinse it well and drain thoroughly. Peel and grate the carrot. Trim the Brussels sprouts, discarding any limp or damaged leaves. Shred them finely.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add all the vegetables and the water and cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 to 10 minutes, until the water is evaporated. If the vegetables are not done to your liking at that point, add a little more water and repeat.

Sprinkle the sugar, soy sauce and vinegar over the vegetables, and stir well. Continue cooking for a minute or two longer, until absorbed. Serve at once.

Last year at this time I made Sweet Potato & Carrot Purée and Pumpkin Squares.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Funeral Sandwiches; Otherwise Known as Ham Salad

The first time I ate a ham salad sandwich was at a funeral. The second time I ate ham salad sandwich was at a funeral. So were the third, fourth, fifth and etcetera times. In fact, up to about the fourth or fifth funeral at which I ate a ham salad sandwich, I was mentally referring to them as Anglican sandwiches; but then I branched out and attended a United Church funeral - where I was fed the exact same menu of tuna, egg and ham salad sandwiches on standard white or brown bakery bread, and assortment of squares and bars - and so was obliged to start calling them funeral sandwiches.

Tuna and egg sandwiches are common enough, but until I made my own I had never seen a ham salad sandwich outside of a funeral. In fact, it took me several funerals before I had even figured out what they were, and the general list of ingredients. For some reason, you never see them on sale, and I have never gone to anyone's house and been served one. If you check old cookbooks, you will see they were once common enough; it puzzles me a little that they have now become such an arcane item of eclesiastical ritual.

Being a Quaker, I had not realized until I had attended quite a few that the menus of church funerals were so steeped in unvarying tradition. For once we leave the committees to others and cater by means of pot-lucks, which means you will get a strange and always changing selection of items such as tofu casseroles and sushi, but someone is bound to bring a salad and some cheese and bread, so that's all right. Still, just like an awful lot of Quakers tend to sneak off for midnight mass on Christmas eve, it's sort of comforting to know that even if we wouldn't dream of bringing ham salad sandwiches to a funeral ourselves (what would the vegetarians eat?) there's other people out there engaging in time-honoured if theologically baffling rituals.

I do wonder what will happen when the present generation of refreshment committee ladies have had the ham salad sandwiches passed around over their own coffins. Are novices being initiated into the refreshment committees at a sufficient rate to ensure the survival of the ham salad sandwich? Or will the terrible day arrive when not only does no-one know how to make them, but no-one even knows that they ought to be made? I lie awake at night and worry about things like this.

Oh, and by the way - they're really very tasty. Don't wait for a funeral.

Enough for at least 8 sandwiches
About 10 minutes prep time, not counting cooking the ham

Ham Salad Sandwiches

2 cups chopped cooked ham
a slice of onion, or a green onion, if wanted
1/3 cup mayonnaise, light is fine
1/3 cup green cucumber relish
1 teaspoon mustard or horseradish

Put the ham into a food processor, with the onion slice or chopped green onion if desired, and process briefly, until finely chopped. Turn it into a bowl and mix with the remaining ingredients.

Use as a sandwich filling, or to stuff mushroom caps as an hors d'oeuvre.

Last year at this time I made German Style Red Cabbage & Apples.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Buckwheat Lebkuchen

Lebkuchen are a traditional German Christmas cookie, made with honey and spices. It's not unusual to see recipes that call for rye or buckwhat flour; I decided to make mine with all buckwheat flour. It gives them a hearty rustic quality that goes well with the spices, and also makes them gluten free. There is no dairy in this recipe either.

They are best let to rest for a couple of days to a couple of weeks before being eaten, to allow the flavours to blend and mellow. At any rate, they keep extremely well and it is not too soon to make them for Christmas.

I made mine in madeleine moulds, which will no doubt annoy both the Germans and the French. By no means traditional, but they worked very well, I thought.

36 to 48 lebkuchen
1 hour prep time plus 8 to 12 hours resting time

Buckwheat Lebkuchen

Mix the Dry Ingredients:
2 cups buckwheat flour
1 cup icing sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder

Mix these in a small mixing bowl and set aside.

Chop the Fruit & Nuts:
1/2 cup candied citron
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 cup ground hazelnuts
the zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup buckwheat flour

Put the citron, cranberries, hazelnuts, lemon zest, cinnamon and cloves in a food processor, and sprinkle the flour over the top. Process until the mixture is well blended and crumbly in texture.

Finish Making the Cookies:
1 cup honey
1/4 cup orange juice
3 extra-large eggs

Put the honey and orange juice in a mixing bowl that can be heated. Heat for a couple of minutes (in the microwave, ideally) until the honey is very soft and easily beaten into the orange juice. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.

Mix in half the flour, then mix in the contents of the food processor and the remaining flour.

Now, you can put spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and oiled, or you can put some of the batter into buttered madeleine pans or other similar sized baking moulds. The batter will be quite amazingly sticky, but persevere. I use a small disher to spoon out the batter, and it is very helpful to have a glass of water standing by, and dip it in between each cookie.

Once the dough is all partitioned, cover the trays lightly with clean tea-towels and leave in a cool spot overnight (or about 10 hours) before baking.

To bake, preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake for 12 to 18 minutes; time very dependant on the size of the cookies made. They should be firm but not more than lightly browned at the edges.

Once the cookies cool, loosen them from their pans and wrap them in parchment paper or foil. Stash them in an airtight tin, where they should stay for at least several days and up to several weeks before being eaten - this rest improves them; they soften and mellow.

To Serve:
about 3 cups icing sugar
the juice of 1 lemon
150 grams good dark chocolate

The cookies are perfectly good plain, but it's always nice to gild the lily.

Make a glaze by mixing the icing sugar and lemon juice in a shallow bowl. Give each cookie a bath in it; set it in and spoon the glaze over it until completely covered. Lift it out with a fork, letting it drain for a few moments, then place it on a rack over a cookie sheet to dry. Repeat with the remaining cookies.


Melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler. Dip the bottom of each cookie into the chocolate with a fork, to cover the bottom. Lift out, let drip for a moment or two, then place on parchment paper to set, with the chocolate side up.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Steamed Potatoes

This is a pretty straightforward way to cook potatoes; I only note it because I wanted to see if cooking coloured fleshed potatoes with vinegar does help to preserve their colour, as I had heard. I should have done a side-by-side comparison, but I didn't think of it at the time. However, I'm sure that the result is clearly yes. You can definitely tell which pieces are the Russian Blue, which the Alaska Sweetheart, and which the Warba, which was much more debatable in previous cooking attempts. Tie-dyed mashed potatoes, coming up!

3 or 4 servings
30 minutes - 10 minutes prep time

Colourful Potatoes Keep Their Colour When Steamed With Vinegar
500 grams (1 pound) coloured potatoes,
- such as Alaska Sweetheart, Purple Peruvian, All Blue, etc.
butter, salt & pepper

Give your potatoes a good scrub, and cut the larger ones into chunks, about the size of the smallest potatoes, which in these varieties will likely be about the size of ping-pong balls. If they are not, that's the size to aim for.

Put them in a steamer in a pot with plenty of water and a couple tablespoons of white vinegar. Steam them until fork-tender, about 20 minutes. Remove them to a strainer in the sink, and rinse briefly with cold water. Drain and let rest for about 5 minutes in the drained pot.

The potatoes can be served at once with butter, salt and pepper, or mashed with butter, buttermilk, salt and pepper.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Heirlooms & Hybrids

I talked a lot about varieties of heirloom vegetables this summer, as opposed to the ubiquitous hybrids that crowd our grocery store shelves. Or is that really true? Are heirloom vegetables not hybrids? Are hybrids not eligible to be heirlooms? What's the difference?

The first question then is, what is a hybrid, exactly? describes it as "the offspring of two animals or plants of different breeds, varieties, species, or genera, esp. as produced through human manipulation for specific genetic characteristics."

There are two problems with this definition; the first is that it is actually quite accurate. The second is that it is also breathtakingly vague. Offspring of breeds, varieties, species or genera? Well that covers the waterfront. Cross two of just about anything, then, and you've got a hybrid, more or less. So why do some things get described as hybrids, and other things not? Like so many things, it boils down to politics and laziness, or at least verbal shorthand.

It's pretty safe to say that when we talk about hybrid vegetables, they are almost always crosses between varieties. It's definitions 6 and 7 that are pertinent to vegetables. In fact, I would be inclined to combine them and say that, when it comes to vegetables, a variety *is* a plant produced by selection to form a category within a species, based on some hereditary difference. New varieties, then, are created by crossing other older varieties, or very occasionally other but related species. Once the cross is sufficiently stable that the offspring of the offspring of the offspring are reasonably uniform in quality, you have a new variety. This process of crossing and selecting to create new varieties has been going on for milennia, and the varieties that are "old" may be known as heirlooms. Old in this case meaning that they've been around for a hundred years or so, or perhaps even less.

Hey, wait! I've just said that heirlooms are hybrids.

Ayup. Sorta.

Once a hybrid vegetable is reliably reproducing offspring similar to itself - a process achieved by people with more knowledge of plant breeding than me - we tend to forget it's a hybrid, and reserve the term strictly for crosses which do not reliably reproduce offspring similar to the parents. There's a whole bunch about that process here; it's pretty technical but what it boils down to is that the varieties we call hybrids tend not to produce offspring of similar quality as themselves, and thus whoever wishes to grow said variety must go back to the producer of the hybrid each year for new seeds. It isn't feasible to produce seed yourself. In short, the problem is not whether a plant is a hybrid or not, the problem is who has control of the means of production - a concept that didn't used to apply to vegetables. If you could raise a plant to reproductive maturity, you had seeds. If not exactly easy-peasy, then at least accessible to everyone with a garden, some basic skills and co-operation from the weather.

A lot of people want to confuse hybrids with genetically modified organisms, but they are not the same thing. Plant hybridization simply involves acting as a matchmaker to plants which might not otherwise meet in nature, but letting natural reproductive processes take it from there. Genetic modification, or engineering, requires direct interference into the genes, often moving DNA from one species to another, in a way that would simply not be possible in nature.

There is a lot of question about what the long term effects of this sort of playing god will have. Proponents swear up and down that it's safe, but pretty much by definition, we just don't know. If it turns out to have been a crap idea - and there's a certain amount of evidence pointing in that direction - well, oops, too bad, so sad.

But as far as I'm concerned, the real problem with genetically modified organisms is obvious: it takes food access out of the hands of anyone who can farm or garden, and puts it SOLELY in the hands of the corporations who own the patents on the modified genetic material and the plants and animals in which it is inserted.

It doesn't take any knowledge of science to see that that is a recipe for complete and utter disaster on a four-horsemen-of-the-apocalypse scale: a little knowledge of human nature will be quite sufficient.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Boiled Ham with Cranberry Mustard

This was a beautiful piece of smoked ham from our meat CSA this year with Twin Creeks. I don't know how you will get anything like this without dealing directly with a farmer. Possibly some of the German butchers in the Kitchener area would have smoked ham of similar quality and style. Because it was so excellent, I opted to cook it very simply, and serve it with a cranberry mustard. The mustard would also be good with a pork roast, or with turkey or chicken

6 to 12 servings
2 to 3 hours - 30 minutes prep time

To Cook the Ham:

1 smoked (but otherwise raw) ham; 3 or 4 kilos (6 to 9 pounds)
bay leaves

Place your ham in a kettle or stock-pot, preferable fairly snug-fitting, but one in which the ham fits entirely and can still be covered with water, for that is what you now need to do. Add the bay leaves.

Bring to a boil, then reduce to a steady high simmer or low boil. Cook for 25 to 30 minutes per pound.

To serve, remove from the stock (a culinary treasure! save it for soup) and let it rest for 5 or 10 minutes before carving, to serve it warm, or until cool if you wish to serve the ham cold. Refrigerate any leftovers promptly.

Make the Cranberry Mustard:
1/2 cup cranberries, fresh or frozen
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup grainy Dijon mustard

Cook the cranberries with the sugar and water until very soft and well amalgamated; about 10 minutes. Stir constantly.

When the sauce is ready, remove from the heat and stir in the mustard. Let cool.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Brussels Sprouts Braised with Chestnuts

Here's a very classic combination. It's a bit of work peeling the chestnuts, but they can be done well in advance.

Unfortunately the chestnuts are highly unlikely to be local. Once, they could well have been. Chestnut trees were one of the most significant forest trees in eastern North America, and a major food source for the First Nations tribes throughout the area. They were reputed to be the best-tasting chestnut in existance. However, in the early 1900's, the trees were attacked by chestnut blight and within a few years the American chestnut was practically extinct.

I'm hoping to buy a few American chestnut seedlings in the spring, but don't look for any recipes made with my own chestnuts for about 10 years yet - assuming they even survive.

4 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 1 hour prep time, 20 to 25 minutes final cooking

Brussels Sprouts Braised with Chestnuts Bake the Chestnuts:
300 grams (2/3 pound) chestnuts

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Meanwhile, cut an "x" on the flat side of each chestnut and place them on a baking tray.

Bake for 20 minutes, until the cut edges of the chestnuts begin to curl. Do NOT overbake them. Twenty minutes will do it. Remove them from the oven and let cool enought to handle, about another 20 to 30 minutes. Be prepared to lose a few chestnuts to moldiness or an absolute refusal to peel.

This can - I would almost say must - be done in advance, up to 24 hours ahead. Cover and keep cool and dry until wanted.

Finish the Dish:
500 grams (generous 1 pound) Brussels sprouts
2 tablespoons butter
about 1 1/2 cups water
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Wash and trim the Brussels sprouts. Cut an "x" or a cross-cut in the bottom of each sprout, depending on size, so that they will cook through to the middle.

Heat the butter in a heavy skillet until bubbling. Add the chestnuts and the Brussels sprouts, along with enough water to cover the bottom of the pan by about 1/2". Cover and cook, stirring regularly, until the water evaporates, about 12 to 15 minutes, over medium-high heat. Add a little more water if the sprouts don't seem to be cooked enough at that point, and again cook until the water evaporates.

As the water disappears and the chestnuts and sprouts are cooking in the butter, start stirring and shaking them about. Sprinkle the sugar over, then the balsamic vinegar, and continue stirring and shaking until they are glazed and browned in spots. Serve promptly.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Pumpkin Pudding

Yeah, the reason I'm now so low on the frozen pumpkin: too much got thawed out when I was in pie-making mode for the party, and now it has to be used. So sad, but don't worry about me. I'll cope.

The ginger in this was fairly bitey. I think next time I might cut it in half but add a couple teaspoons of finely minced preserved ginger.

6 to 8 servings
15 minutes prep time, plus time to chill

Pumpkin Pudding
1/3 cup arrowroot or cornstarch
1/3 cup Sucanat or dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
a grating of nutmeg
a pinch of cloves
2 cups cooked puréed pumpkin
1 tablespoon molasses
2 cups milk or soymilk

Mix the arrowroot and Sucanat in a 2 quart microwavable bowl or heavy bottomed pot. Add the salt and spices. Mix in the pumpkin and molasses until well blended, then stir in the milk a bit at a time to ensure a smooth lump-free mixture.

Cook the pudding in the microwave 2 or 3 minutes at a time, stirring well in between each time until thickened. It's hard to give an exact time since microwaves vary, but about 7 to 10 minutes total.

Or, cook the pudding on the top of the stove over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until thickened. Time should be about the same as microwaving.

Cool the pudding. It should be put in separate dishes first, if you want a more elegant presentation. Either way, it's excellent with a dab of whipped cream.

Last year at this time I made Sausage & Barley Casserole.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Stir-Fried Cabbage & Carrots

Oh good, let's have something besides sugar and desserts this week. I was starting to get a little alarmed there when I looked at the line-up.

This is a very quick and simple dish to serve with any roast or broiled meat, chicken or fish, along with some rice.

If green onions are in season, you could replace some or all of the onion with chopped green onions, or just add a couple green onions along with the rest. A clove or two of garlic doesn't hurt either.

4 servings
15 minutes prep time

Stir Fried Cabbage and Carrots
Make the Sauce:
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
2 teaspoons arrowroot or cornstarch
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons water

Peel and grate the ginger, and mix the above items in a small bowl and set aside.

Make the Stir-Fry:
1 medium-small onion
1 large carrot
4 cups chopped cabbage
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Peel the onion and cut it into slivers. Peel the carrot, and either grate it or cut it into slivers about the size of the onion pieces. Chop the cabbage.

Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet until very hot. Throw in the onion and carrot, and stir them around. Add a couple tablespoons water and keep stirring. When the water evaporates, add the cabbage and another couple tablespoons of water, and continue stirring. When the water has evaporated and the cabbage is cooked but still very crispy, stir up the sauce and mix it in. (You may wish to add another little batch of water if the cabbage is not done when the first batche evaporates, before you add the sauce.) Stir well until the sauce is distributed throughout the vegetables and thickened; this should not take more than a minute or two. Serve at once.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Pumpkin Bran Muffins

It's a bit late to be posting about pumpkin, I suppose, unless you have some prepared and frozen for use throughout the winter. I hope so, it's very handy stuff. I have to admit I didn't freeze any this year, thinking I had lots from last year, and then went through three-quarters of it in about 2 weeks. Oops. Down to 2 little tubs, which will now have to be rationed.

These are good little muffins; not too huge and not loaded with sugar or fat (providing you are more discreet with the butter than I tend to be). The pumpkin keeps them moist and they are nicely spiced, as long as you don't get too carried away with the nutmeg - just a couple of scrapes will do. I think they are best with the cranberries added, but it's up to you.

12 muffins
30 minutes - 15 minutes prep time

Pumpkin Bran Muffins
Mix the Dry Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups bran
1 1/2 cups soft whole wheat (pastry) flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
a grating of nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt

Measure into a small mixing bowl and, er, mix. Actually, you should also preheat the oven to 400°F around about now, and either butter 12 muffin cups or line them with muffin papers.

Mix the Wet Ingredients:
1/4 cup Sucanat or dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons molasses
2 extra-large eggs
1 cup puréed cooked pumpkin

In a somewhat larger mixing bowl, beat the molasses and one of the eggs into the sugar. Beat in the second egg, then the pumpkin purée.

Finish the Muffins:
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 to 1/3 cup dried cranberries or raisins (optional)

Dump about half of the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, and stir until just blended. Stir in half of the buttermilk. Dump in the remaining dry ingredients, and the cranberries, and stir. Finish with the remaining buttermilk. The batter should be evenly blended but not overmixed.

Divide the batter evenly amongst the prepared muffin cups. Bake at 400°F for about 15 to 17 minutes, until firm. If you use papers, they are much easier to peel if the muffins have sat for a few hours. If you plan to eat them right away, it might be better to butter the pan.

Last year at this time I made Leftover Oatmeal Cake with Apples.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Chocolate Syrup for Homemade Chocolate Milk

There's a lot of controversy these days about just how much chocolate milk kids are drinking, particularly in schools. It's all part and parcel about how much sugar kids are eating - and even worse, drinking - these days, and the contribution that makes to our current epidemic of obesity.

There's way more chocolate milk around than when I was a kid, and it wasn't just that Mom would only buy it once in a very blue moon. We had some kind of milk program in my class in my first few years of school, and we all were given a half-pint of milk to drink each morning. I hated milk with a passion and regarded it as a form of torture. I remember clearing out my desk at the end of the year once and finding a little carton of ex-milk that had been shoved to the back of my rats' nest of papers inside, and which had plainly been there for months. Yeccchhh. Chocolate milk wasn't an option in those days, not that I liked it a whole lot better; it still had that nasty after-taste of milk. Still, it would have helped me choke it down.

And there's where the debate comes in: is it reasonable to give chocolate milk to kids if that's the only way to get them to drink milk? It all depends on how important you think it is for kids to drink milk, and there's a ton more debate about that than there was when I was young, when it was taken for gospel that kids should drink milk by the quart. Now that we're hearing from other people besides the Milk Marketing Board, we know about lactose intolerance and the fact that there are other sources of calcium besides dairy, and that exercise and sunshine are just as important in the formation of strong bones.

Now the problem is not only how much chocolate milk is out there, but the quality. I've been ranting about Beatrice' Chocolate Dairy Beverage, and how crappy it is, but even the better ones are not that impressive. If you must have chocolate milk, why not make it youself?

It's very easy, and you can keep the sugar down to a dull roar if you want. I've listed a range, and at 1 cup of sugar you will produce something much more like commercial chocolate milk. Personally, I think 2/3 cups sugar is plenty.

About 1 cup syrup - 8 to 12 cups chocolate milk
5 minutes prep time

Chocolate Syrup and Homemade Chocolate Milk
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2/3 cup to 1 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Measure the cocoa, sugar and salt into a good-sized, heavy-bottomed pot. Slowly mix in the water to make a smooth paste. Add the vanilla. Turn on the heat to high, and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly.

Once the syrup comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-high and boil for 2 minutes exactly. It should boil steadily, but not (duh!) enough to boil over. Watch it; it will expand quite a bit which is why you used a good-sized pot.

When it has boiled two minutes, let it cool. Keep it well-sealed in the fridge until wanted, for up to several weeks. To use, add a generous tablespoon to 1 cup of milk and mix well. I find it easiest to put them in a jam jar, seal it and shake well.

It won't surprise you, I'm sure, to hear that I used soy milk. You could also put it in coffee, or drizzle it over ice-cream.

You can double this recipe if you like, but in that case boil it for 3 minutes.

Last year at this time we were driving off the road - WHEEEHAH! I'll take a nice glass of warm (*gag*) chocolateless milk over that anyday.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

I Spoke Too Bloody Soon

Nothing like being all wet, not to mention just plain wrong.

I was leafing through the weekly grocery fliers when what to my wondering eye should appear but an ad for Beatrice "Chocolate Dairy Beverage".

A little googling showed me it's even been around for a while. I guess as someone who whizzes through the (liquid) dairy department, grabbing only the occasional litre of buttermilk, I managed to completely miss it.

I went out and checked the ingredients: partly skimmed milk (vitamin A palmitate, vitamin D3), modified milk ingredients, sugar, reconstituted skim milk powder, cocoa, dipotassium phosphate, modified corn starch, salt, colour, carageenan, cellulose gum, guar gum, artificial flavour.


They can't call it chocolate milk because it's no such thing. Reconstituted powdered milk, yay. Not to mention the modified milk ingredients.

Let me give you a little hint: never buy ANYTHING containing modified milk ingredients. Yes, there goes most commercial ice-cream, I know. But the more I find out about modified milk ingredients, the more disgusted and horrified I am.

The first time I really noticed them was some time early in the summer. I bought my usual brand of extra-old cheddar cheese: Presidents' Choice, or some such thing. Loblaws house-brand, anyway. It was a decent cheese for the price, very suitable for cooking with. I'd buy something better to eat plain, but as noted, it was fine used in cooked dishes.

However, this time I noticed right away that the quality had dropped considerably. It tasted downright weird, in fact. I checked the ingredients for the first time since I had first started to buy it and discovered the change: modified milk ingredients. I immediately switched to buying Pine River old cheddar. It's a dollar or two more, but it's still actual cheese.

I had not realized just how much imported dairy products have been making their way into Canadian foods over the last decade. Check out this article from CBC on ice-cream and cheese. In particular, that so-called "butteroil" is just vile.

The legal definition, as far as I can find, is as follows: "any of the following in liquid, concentrated, dry, frozen or reconstituted form, namely, calcium reduced skim milk (obtained by the ion-exchange process), casein, caseinates, cultured milk products, milk serum proteins, ultrafiltered milk, whey, whey butter, whey cream and any other component of milk the chemical state of which has been altered from that in which it is found in milk."

What a dog's breakfast that is. Some of those things sound fine - cultured milk products (yogurt? buttermilk?) whey, whey butter and whey cream - none of those strike me as problematic. The trouble is, which one is being used in the product you've picked up to examine? There is really no way to know, except it's a safe bet that most of it is nasty, ultra-processed reconstituted stuff, and not the "real food" options. I mean, if you make something with yogurt or whey butter, why wouldn't you just say so? Exactly. You would. "Modified milk ingredients" equals "cheap crappy crap" which is why anything with it on the list of ingredients is going to taste bad. And it may not even be Canadian, just as a kicker.

Conclusion: read those labels carefully. Don't buy Beatrice "Dairy" Drink. There's still decent chocolate milk out there, for example PC Organic (all I can easily find around here) contains "organic partly skimmed milk, organic sugar, organic cocoa, organic vanilla, salt, carageenan, guar gum, calcium phosphate, vitamin A palmitate, vitamin D3."

You could buy Nesquik or some other chocolate syrup and make your own. (Sugar, water, cocoa, colour, salt, citric acid, potassium sorbate, vanillin, ferric orthophosphate). Well, maybe not. How about making your own syrup? I'll post a recipe this week.

*Actually, I haven't tasted this. And I'm not going to. Dipotassium phosphate? No thanks. I can picture it perfectly: sweet and gummy with a faint metallic tang to it.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Spinach Lasagne with Friulano & Ricotta Cheeses

This is a dish that can be made ultra-decadent by using homemade spinach lasagne noodles, and cream instead of the milk. I didn't do that this time; there was too much else going on that was also plenty rich. One of these days I will though, and then I will post the recipe for spinach pasta. In the meantime, you can get ready-made spinach lasagne, and it's fine. This is a much simpler dish than the squash lasagne, but it was at least as popular, or more so. And why not? It's full of cheeeeeeese! And spinach too, of course.

Like the squash and hazelnut lasagne, I made this in advance and froze it, which worked beautifully. Edited: Nearly forgot! Presto Pasta here, we come. It's in Hawaii this week, at Kahakai Kitchen. Wish I was in Hawaii...

6 to 8 servings
2 1/2 hours - 1 1/2 hours prep time
- (but use your noodle and make it ahead of time)

Spinach Lasagne with Friulano and Ricotta Cheeses
Make the Filling:
1 kilo (2 pounds) fresh spinach
450 grams (1 pound) ricotta cheese
1 extra-large egg
1 cup whole milk or light cream
2 teaspoons rubbed oregano
2 teaspoons rubbed basil
1/2 teaspoon salt

Wash and pick over the spinach, discarding any damaged or tough leaves and stems. Rinse it again. Put on a large pot of water to boil.

Working in batches, cook the spinach for a minute or two until well wilted. Transfer it with a slotted spoon to a bowl or sink of cold water to cool. When it is all cooked, lift it out and squeeze it fairly dry. Chop it as finely as you can manage. Put it in a large bowl.

Add the ricotta, egg, milk and seasonings and mix well. Set aside.

Assemble the Lasagne:
16 spinach lasagne noodles, homemade or dry
- it's always wise to cook a few extra though
450 grams (1 pound) Friulano cheese
OR a mixture of mozzerella and old Cheddar
2 or 3 tablespoons pine nuts (optional)

Cook the spinach lasagne for two-thirds to three-quarters of the recommended time. They should be just pliable. Drain them and rinse them in cold water at once. You do not need to do this, of course, if you are using fresh pasta.

Meanwhile, slice the Friulano fairly thinly.

Spread a little of the spinach mixture over the bottom of a 9" x 13" lasagne pan. Cover that with lasagne noodles, likely 4 of them. Spread with 1/4 of the remaining spinach mixture, and cover that with 1/4 of the sliced cheese. Continue making layers until you have used everything; you should end with a layer of the sliced cheese.

Toast the pine nuts, if you want to use them, in a dry skillet until just very lightly browned. Sprinkle them over the lasagne.

You can bake the lasagne at once, at 350°F for about 45 minutes, until golden brown and bubbly. Cover with foil if it is browning too quickly. It should sit out for 10 or 15 minutes once baked in order to reach a contemplative state of mature balance and sophistication.

If you freeze the lasagne, it should be taken out to thaw 48 hours before baking. If you are baking the lasagne cold or refrigerated, and in a glass baking dish, it is wise to put it into a cold oven, then turn it on. Add an extra 15 minutes baking time, or so.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Budget Beef & Mushroom Stroganov, Made in Advance

I served this out of a crock-pot, which did a good job of keeping it warm on the buffet table. Stroganov, or stroganoff as it is often spelled, is a classic Russian dish of quickly cooked beef in a sauce of mushrooms, onions and sour cream, generally served with noodles. Rice or boiled potatoes are also good.

Fortunately, the leftover Stroganov was fairly photogenic, as the shot I took at the party wasn't great. Stroganov isn't supposed to keep and reheat well, although I thought mine did okay. Just don't overheat it - get it warm through, but don't boil it. If the sour cream does curdle, add a little more flour to the sauce, cook it for a minute or two, then stir in a little more sour cream.

Like the lasagne, this was a request from the guests of honour at The Party. Stroganov is usually cooked quickly, using tender (and expensive) beef tenderloin, a.k.a. filet mignon. Because I needed to make quite a lot, and because I was going to have to cook it in advance in order to get anything else done on the evening of the party I froze the partially cooked beef and onions, then thawed it and re-heated it with the mushrooms and sour cream on the day of the party. I opted to use plain old stewing beef - a good quality one of course, but it was a much less expensive option. Since cooking, cooling then re-heating stewing beef makes it more tender, it was just fine - tender and not too chewy at all. Normally I only use grass-fed beef but this wasn't, which also would have contributed to the tenderness.

I've scaled down the recipe from what I actually made, but it still makes enough for a party or large family gathering. With the holidays coming up, this is something to consider making. It's always great to be able to do as much cooking as possible in advance, and keep things simple at serving time. Be sure to get stewing beef with as little gristle and fat as possible; consult your butcher. It won't be the cheapest, but it will be a lot less money than tenderloin.

12 to 16 servings
1 1/2 hours of work, divided over several sessions

Start the Stroganov:
1.5 kilos (3 pounds) well-trimmed good stewing beef
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 or 2 large onions
3 or 4 shallots
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups beef stock

Prepare the beef by examining it for gristle or fat, and removing any you find. Slice the chunks of beef about 1/3 of an inch thick, and no larger than bite-sized.

Heat the oil in a large skillet, and brown the beef at high heat on both sides, in batches as the skillet will hold them. The browned beef should then be placed in a container for storage in either the freezer, or the fridge if you are not making it more than a day in advance. Don't put it away yet though, you still need to add the onions. The beef should not necessarily be cooked through, just browned.

Peel and slice the onions and shallots. Put the butter into the skillet (no need to clean it between times) and cook the onions and shallots in it, rather slowly, until soft and golden. Sprinkle over the flour, and add the mustard and salt. Cook for a minute or two, then slowly mix in the broth, stirring constantly, until thickened. Add all this to the beef; now you can seal it up and put it away until wanted.

Start thawing out the beef (if frozen) 24 hours before you wish to serve it. If you are not making it more than a day in advance, it can be kept refrigerated.

Finish the Stroganov:
1 kilo (2 pounds) button mushrooms
250 grams (1/2 pound) shiitake mushrooms
1/4 cup unsalted butter, about

1 cup sour cream
3 or 4 tablespoons minced fresh dill
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Clean and halve or quarter the mushrooms. Actually, it's even better if you manage to buy quite small ones to start with; then at worst some of them will need to be halved and the rest can be left whole. But clean them, yes. De-stem the shiitakes and discard* the stems, again cutting the tops in half if they are large.

Then, take some butter - a tablespoon, say - and heat it in a large skillet over high heat. Add whatever quantity of mushrooms you can get in there, and sauté them until nicely browned and soft. Put them in their own coverable dish, to be refrigerated and added to the beef just before heating and serving the Stroganov. Unless you have left the mushrooms until you are already heating the beef in preparation for serving, in which case add them to the beef now. Continue cooking the rest of the mushrooms the same way.

To serve the Stroganov, heat the beef with the mushrooms over medium heat, until very hot throughout. Make sure it is, as it mustn't boil once the sour cream goes in. Stir in the sour cream and dill, and a little more mustard if you think it could use it. Season with black pepper to taste. It can be kept hot in a crock-pot or chafing dish, if that is convenient. Serve over noodles, rice or potatoes. Don't forget to pass the dill pickles.

*Given the price of shiitakes, by "discard" I mean "put them in a dish on the windowsill where they can dry out and be saved to use in the making of stocks and broths".