Thursday, 30 April 2009

Fasta Pasta Salad

We have been out digging in the garden, in spite of the on-and-off threat of rain. We are, of course, way behind where we would like to be, but we are making progress. Cooking has been a bit sketchy while this happens, but here's one of the quick lunches that I made this week.

What could be simpler than cooking pasta and vegetables together, cooling them and tossing them in a mayonnaise dressing? Not much, that's what. This also makes use of frozen veggies, since we are still waiting for the first real vegetables of spring.

Which reminds me - there are half a dozen fat purplish noses pushing up in the asparagus bed! This is exciting partly because when we bought the house, we could tell it had an asparagus bed because the asparagus was 6 feet high, which is to say 6" taller than the surrounding and engulfing weeds. We had to do a lot of digging and weeding to find the actual dirt in which they were growing and we were a bit afraid we had killed them, or at least set them back tremendously. At least some have survived. And it's also exciting because hey, asparagus!

More disappointingly, I finally made it across the boggy bit at the back of the garden and into the woods. No sign of ramps that I can see, just acres and acres of trout lilies. Ah well. Anyway, back to the salad, and also back to Presto Pasta Nights, home to everyone's favourite fast and tasty meals.

2 to 6 servings
20 minutes prep time

Fasta Pasta Salad
Start the Salad:
150 to 200 grams small pasta, as macaroni, shells, etc
1 large or 2 medium carrots
2 cups frozen corn
2 cups frozen peas

1 or two stalks of celery
2 to 4 green onions, chopped finely

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil. When it boils, add the pasta. Peel and dice the carrot. Add it to the pasta about 5 minutes before it is done. About 1 minute before the pasta is done, add the corn and peas. Cover the pot and bring it up to the boil again. Drain the pasta and vegetables, rinse them in cold water until cool, and drain well.

Clean and chop the onions. Wash and dice the celery.

Make the Dressing:
1/3 to 1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup buttermilk or thinned yogurt
the juice of 1/2 lemon or lime
salt & pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon Korean red chile
OR other seasoning to taste

Whisk the mayonnaise, yogurt, lime juice and seasonings in the salad bowl. Mix in the onions, celery, and the cooled drained pasta and vegetables. Serve at once, or keep chilled in the fridge for up to 24 hours.

Last year at this time I made Marinated Mushroom Salad and Fruit & Carrot Salad.

Monday, 27 April 2009

A Visit to Byward Market in Ottawa

Would it be possible to visit an Ontario market at a less propituous time of year than mid-week in late April? Probably not, but that was when I found myself in Ottawa, able to visit the Byward Market.

The old market building is a very handsome brick structure, which forms the centre of a large square surrounded by shops.

Our first stop was Sausage Kitchen, just off the square by the parking building. They are a European-style deli with a lot of imported deli items, but their meats are local, with many being prepared in the shop.

Small vendors set up outdoor booths on both sides of the market building. One side is generally flowers, vegetables and fruits. Not much there at the moment, but it should start filling up in the next month.

Many of the stores surrounding the market are devoted to food, such as the Aux Delices Bakery.

Maple products are in season, and there were a couple of maple and honey vendors there, even in mid-week.

Indoors, the market is essentially a food court full of international lunchtime foods.

There were a few vendors with imported produce outside.

And a couple with flowers and plants. Apparently, these are a big portion of the market in season.

One side of the square is generally vendors selling craft items, such as this spot selling jewellry.

There are a few shops in the market itself; one of them is plainly aimed at tourists, but carries an interesting selection of foods from across Canada.

Including quite a large selection of items from Ontario.

We visited both of the cheese shops across the street from the market. It was not surprising to see a very large selection of Quebec cheeses, and a much smaller selection of Ontario cheeses. Given Ottawa's location, cheeses from Quebec will be just as local, if not more so, and Quebec has the advantage that small artisanal cheese makers have not been hampered, as we are in Ontario, by laws that favour large corporations at the expense of small companies.

One of the frustrations of such a short visit, of course, is that you only just begin to pick up the clues to what is available in the local region... here's one now... but we are heading back to the house to visit... well, next time I will be sure to make more time for nosing around.

And finally, The French Baker is near the market but not in it. However, I had to include it because not only is it a very fine bakery, but my cousin used to work there.

Blue Cheese & Apple Cole Slaw

One of the great things about pot-lucks is that they are a source of new recipes. This one was brought by Rachel, who got it from her mom, Fran. When she brought it to Meeting I started hounding her for the recipe, and she has graciously passed it on. (Or at least graciously gotten me to stop bugging her!) Thanks, you guys! The combination of sweet apples with the bite of blue cheese, onions and horseradish really appeals to me.

I used the shoots of green oniony stuff from my garden again. Yay!

4 to 6 servings
30 minutes prep time

Blue Cheese and Apple Cole Slaw
Make the Dressing:
3/4 cup mayonnaise (light is fine)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons prepared horse radish, drained
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt

Whisk the above together, and set aside.

Make the Salad:
4 cups savoy cabbage, chopped
1 large OR 2 medium tart apples
4 green onions
1/2 c. crumbled blue cheese

Chop the cabbage, fairly finely. Wash, core the apple(s) and chop them, and mince the green onions. Toss gently and mix in the blue cheese. Scrape the dressing over the salad and toss gently but thoroughly again.

Best if made an hour or two in advance and kept in the fridge, so that the flavours can blend.

Last year at this time I made Peanut Butter Cookies Loaded for Bear.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Maple Custard

So very, very simple and sooo good. I've been going a bit wild with the maple syrup lately. I bought quite a lot last year and still have about half of it. Of course, I want to buy some of this years stock while it's fresh! I buy it by the gallon, which is the cheapest way, but it comes in plastic. I always re-bottle it in sterilized 500 ml jars, after having once had a nasty experience with plastic-flavoured bulk maple syrup.

You can serve this cold but it's also very good still slightly warm, so it's not a bad idea to bake it shortly before dinner. I garnished mine with a teaspoon of maple sugar. If you do this, don't do it too far in advance or it will just melt. It's good for an hour or so.

6 servings
1 hour - 10 minutes prep time

Maple Custard
4 extra-large eggs
1/2 cup dark maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup cream (however rich you like)

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Beat the eggs with the maple syrup, salt and vanilla. When they are very smooth, beat in the milk and cream.

Divide the custard amongst 6 custard cups, or put it into a 1 quart (litre) glass or enamel baking dish. It can be strained first, if you like, to make sure there is nothing to impede a smooth texture. (There always seem to end up being one or two little lumps of egg that just won't meld with the rest.)

Put the custard cups or baking dish in a shallow pan, and add water to come halfway up the cups. Bake for about 40 minutes, until set. They will look dry and slightly puffed at the edges; the centre will still appear a little moist, but will not flow when jiggled slightly.

Last year at this time I made Quiche Whatever and Cabbage, Carrot & Avocado Salad.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Pasta Salad with Marinated Vegetables

Here's a nice simple salad. It does require a bit of advance planning, but if you marinate the veggies the night before when you are cleaning up the kitchen, you can come home the next night and have dinner on the table in the time it takes to cook the pasta. This is starting to feel nice and summery. Nice to eat sitting out on the porch, where we can wave to the neighbours and to Presto Pasta Nights, this week at Chew On That.

4 to 6 servings
1 hour prep time - plus marinating time 4 hours to overnight

Pasta Salad with Marinated Vegetables
2 recipes Italian Salad Dressing

8 to 12 small greenhouse tomatoes (plum sized)
2 to 3 small Mediterranean type greenhouse cucumbers
8 to 12 button mushrooms (optional)
1/4 to 1/2 green, yellow or red bell pepper(optional)
2 stalks of celery
1 or 2 green onions (optional)
150 to 200 grams stubby pasta

Cut the tomatoes in quarters, and slice the cucumbers. Clean the mushrooms, and dice the pepper if using. Put them all in their own non-reactive container, with a cover, and divide the dressing between them. You may have a little left over, which is fine; it can be saved for something else.

Marinate the vegetables for 3 or 4 hours to overnight. The tomatoes should be put in a cool spot, but not the fridge. The others can go in the fridge.

Half an hour before you are ready to serve the salad, cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water until tender. Drain and rinse in cold water until cooled. Drain well. Chop the celery, and green onions if you are using them.

Lift the vegetables out of the marinade with a slotted spoon, and toss with the pasta, celery and green onions. I do tend to cut the mushrooms in half first. Add a bit of dressing from one of the marinated vegetables if it needs some more, and it probably will. I tend to prefer the tomato-y one. Check the seasoning; it may need a little more salt.

Serve over lettuce leaves.

Last year at this time I made Maple Layer Cake and Maple Syrup Boiled Frosting.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Dragons-Breath Devilled Eggs

With the first garden crop - shoots of chives, garlic and shallots! Combined with blue cheese, they are not exactly subtle and won't leave you with sweet-scented breath, that's for sure. Tasty though! Just make sure everybody eats them, or prepare to be solitary for a while.

Per egg
20 minutes prep time; a bit longer if you are doing a lot of eggs.

Dragons Breath Devilled Eggs
1 extra-large egg
1 teaspoon finely minced chives, garlic or shallot greens
- (ideally a combination)
1 teaspoon crumbled blue cheese
3 to 4 green peppercorns (in brine)
pinch salt
1/8 teaspoon hot Dijon mustard (bit more, maybe)
1 rounded teaspoon mayonnaise

paprika to dust

Put however many eggs you wish to devil into a pot and cover with water. Add a tablespoon (or so) of salt, and bring to a boil. Boil for one minute, then remove the pot from the heat but leave covered for 10 minutes. Rinse the eggs in cold water until they are cool, then peel them. Cut them in half, and remove the yolks to a small bowl.

Add the remaining ingredients minus the mayonnaise to the egg yolks, not forgetting to multiply by the number of eggs. I find it best to mash up everything then mix in the mayonnaise to get it to be fairly smooth, although a few chunky spots are fine. Give it a little taste and adjust the quantities to suit your taste.

Put the yolk mixture back into the egg whites, dividing it evenly amongst them. Dust with a little paprika.

Last year at this time I made Mashed Potatoes & Celeriac with Chive Oil, which also called for the first chives of the year!

Tuesday, 21 April 2009


We're off to Gatineau to visit Mr Ferdzy's father for a week. It's a long trip, and most of our time will be spent visiting, but I'll try to keep my eyes open for interesting foodie stuff.

Once we get back we will have a very busy week. (It's time to dig the veggie garden!) So, posting will be somewhat sparse for the next couple of weeks.

But you can still check out what I made last year at this time, which was Garbanzos Deliciosos.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Beet & Red Cabbage Salad with Horseradish

There was a popular recipe for a pickle, relish or salad (it was described and classified as all three) throughout the 19th and well into the 20th century which was basically for the following. I've made it before, and canned it, thinking of it more as a pickle or relish than as a salad. However, there is no reason not to make it as a quick salad.

Traditionally, it was served with beef. I tend to like it with eggs. This time the eggs were devilled, but for a while it was a household tradition to have it on Saturday morning with poached eggs on toast.

It is a rather intensely flavoured salad, so I tend to eat it in fairly small portions. Leftovers will keep, covered in the fridge, for a week.

4 servings
15 minutes to assemble - 45 minutes to cook beet and marinating time

Beet and Red Cabbage Salad with Horseradish
1 medium-large red beet
1 cup finely shredded red cabbage
2 tablespoons Sucanat or dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
black pepper
1 tablespoon hot horseradish

Put the beet in a pot with water to cover and boil until tender; about 45 minutes.

Allow the beet to cool, then peel it (leave the stem end on to give you something to hang onto) then grate it. Mix it with the finely shredded cabbage. There should be rougly equal amounts of each.

Put the Sucanat, vinegar and salt in a small pot an heat until the Sucanat and salt dissolve. Mix in the horseradish, and toss this dressing into the beets and cabbage. Let the salad marinate for 2 hours to overnight before serving.

Last year at this time I made Stovetop Honey-Mustard Chicken.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Jerome, George, William Samuel Harris and Montmorency Plan a Trip

Have you ever read "Three Men In A Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)", by Jerome K. Jerome? If you haven't you are missing a treat. It was published in 1889, and although it was considered rather shockingly "slangy" at the time, it proves that the only real change in the nature of young men in the ensuing 100 years is that their language has gotten even worse. It may have been considered vulgar at the time, but to my modern ear it sounds like something Jane Austen would have written if she had been male and 22.

As you would expect in a book about young men (and a dog) there is a certain amount of food and eating involved, and starts off with the four of them (Jerome, George, William Samuel Harris and Montmorency) waiting for supper at his boarding house...

"THERE were four of us - George, and William Samuel Harris, and myself, and Montmorency. We were sitting in my room, smoking, and talking about how bad we were - bad from a medical point of view I mean, of course.

We were all feeling seedy, and we were getting quite nervous about it. Harris said he felt such extraordinary fits of giddiness come over him at times, that he hardly knew what he was doing; and then George said that HE had fits of giddiness too, and hardly knew what HE was doing. With me, it was my liver that was out of order. I knew it was my liver that was out of order, because I had just been reading a patent liver-pill circular, in which were detailed the various symptoms by which a man could tell when his liver was out of order. I had them all.

It is a most extraordinary thing, but I never read a patent medicine advertisement without being impelled to the conclusion that I am suffering from the particular disease therein dealt with in its most virulent form. The diagnosis seems in every case to correspond exactly with all the sensations that I have ever felt.

I remember going to the British Museum one day to read up the treatment for some slight ailment of which I had a touch - hay fever, I fancy it was. I got down the book, and read all I came to read; and then, in an unthinking moment, I idly turned the leaves, and began to indolently study diseases, generally. I forget which was the first distemper I plunged into - some fearful, devastating scourge, I know - and, before I had glanced half down the list of "premonitory symptoms," it was borne in upon me that I had fairly got it.

I sat for awhile, frozen with horror; and then, in the listlessness of despair, I again turned over the pages. I came to typhoid fever - read the symptoms - discovered that I had typhoid fever, must have had it for months without knowing it - wondered what else I had got; turned up St. Vitus's Dance - found, as I expected, that I had that too, - began to get interested in my case, and determined to sift it to the bottom, and so started alphabetically - read up ague, and learnt that I was sickening for it, and that the acute stage would commence in about another fortnight. Bright's disease, I was relieved to find, I had only in a modified form, and, so far as that was concerned, I might live for years. Cholera I had, with severe complications; and diphtheria I seemed to have been born with. I plodded conscientiously through the twenty-six letters, and the only malady I could conclude I had not got was housemaid's knee.

I felt rather hurt about this at first; it seemed somehow to be a sort of slight. Why hadn't I got housemaid's knee? Why this invidious reservation? After a while, however, less grasping feelings prevailed. I reflected that I had every other known malady in the pharmacology, and I grew less selfish, and determined to do without housemaid's knee. Gout, in its most malignant stage, it would appear, had seized me without my being aware of it; and zymosis I had evidently been suffering with from boyhood. There were no more diseases after zymosis, so I concluded there
was nothing else the matter with me.

I sat and pondered. I thought what an interesting case I must be from a medical point of view, what an acquisition I should be to a class! Students would have no need to "walk the hospitals," if they had me. I was a hospital in myself. All they need do would be to walk round me,
and, after that, take their diploma.

Then I wondered how long I had to live. I tried to examine myself. I felt my pulse. I could not at first feel any pulse at all. Then, all of a sudden, it seemed to start off. I pulled out my watch and timed it. I made it a hundred and forty-seven to the minute. I tried to feel my heart. I could not feel my heart. It had stopped beating. I have since been induced to come to the opinion that it must have been there all the time, and must have been beating, but I cannot account for it. I patted myself all over my front, from what I call my waist up to my head, and I went a bit round each side, and a little way up the back. But I could not feel or hear anything. I tried to look at my tongue. I stuck it out as far as ever it would go, and I shut one eye, and tried to examine it
with the other. I could only see the tip, and the only thing that I could gain from that was to feel more certain than before that I had scarlet fever.

I had walked into that reading-room a happy, healthy man. I crawled out a decrepit wreck.

I went to my medical man. He is an old chum of mine, and feels my pulse, and looks at my tongue, and talks about the weather, all for nothing, when I fancy I'm ill; so I thought I would do him a good turn by going to him now. "What a doctor wants," I said, "is practice. He shall have me. He will get more practice out of me than out of seventeen hundred of your ordinary, commonplace patients, with only one or two diseases each." So I went straight up and saw him, and he said:

"Well, what's the matter with you?"

I said:

"I will not take up your time, dear boy, with telling you what is the matter with me. Life is brief, and you might pass away before I had finished. But I will tell you what is NOT the matter with me. I have not got housemaid's knee. Why I have not got housemaid's knee, I cannot tell you; but the fact remains that I have not got it. Everything else, however, I HAVE got."

And I told him how I came to discover it all.

Then he opened me and looked down me, and clutched hold of my wrist, and then he hit me over the chest when I wasn't expecting it - a cowardly thing to do, I call it - and immediately afterwards butted me with the side of his head. After that, he sat down and wrote out a prescription, and folded it up and gave it me, and I put it in my pocket and went out.

I did not open it. I took it to the nearest chemist's, and handed it in. The man read it, and then handed it back.

He said he didn't keep it.

I said:

"You are a chemist?"

He said:

"I am a chemist. If I was a co-operative stores and family hotel combined, I might be able to oblige you. Being only a chemist hampers me."

I read the prescription. It ran:

"1 lb. beefsteak, with
1 pt. bitter beer
every 6 hours.
1 ten-mile walk every morning.
1 bed at 11 sharp every night.
And don't stuff up your head with things you don't understand."

I followed the directions, with the happy result - speaking for myself - that my life was preserved, and is still going on.

In the present instance, going back to the liver-pill circular, I had the symptoms, beyond all mistake, the chief among them being "a general disinclination to work of any kind."

What I suffer in that way no tongue can tell. From my earliest infancy I have been a martyr to it. As a boy, the disease hardly ever left me for a day. They did not know, then, that it was my liver. Medical science was in a far less advanced state than now, and they used to put it down to laziness.

"Why, you skulking little devil, you," they would say, "get up and do something for your living, can't you?" - not knowing, of course, that I was ill.

And they didn't give me pills; they gave me clumps on the side of the head. And, strange as it may appear, those clumps on the head often cured me - for the time being. I have known one clump on the head have more effect upon my liver, and make me feel more anxious to go straight away then and there, and do what was wanted to be done, without further loss of time, than a whole box of pills does now.

You know, it often is so - those simple, old-fashioned remedies are sometimes more efficacious than all the dispensary stuff.

We sat there for half-an-hour, describing to each other our maladies. I explained to George and William Harris how I felt when I got up in the morning, and William Harris told us how he felt when he went to bed; and George stood on the hearth-rug, and gave us a clever and powerful piece of acting, illustrative of how he felt in the night.

George FANCIES he is ill; but there's never anything really the matter with him, you know.

At this point, Mrs. Poppets knocked at the door to know if we were ready for supper. We smiled sadly at one another, and said we supposed we had better try to swallow a bit. Harris said a little something in one's stomach often kept the disease in check; and Mrs. Poppets brought the tray in, and we drew up to the table, and toyed with a little steak and onions, and some rhubarb tart.

I must have been very weak at the time; because I know, after the first half-hour or so, I seemed to take no interest whatever in my food - an unusual thing for me - and I didn't want any cheese."

If you have heard the expression "I like work ; it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours." you have heard a quote from"Three Men in a Boat". You can read the whole thing at Project Gutenberg.

My only objection to this book is a single phrase of gratuitous racism; a bit like finding a rat turd in the soufflé. Still, overall it's a delightful read and I recommend it.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

News from Monforte

I received an email from Monforte Dairy this week...

Monforte Dairy has a new home!
Monforte is thrilled today to be able to say that we now officially have a home in Stratford and a building that will be started in June of this year. Monforte's new facility will be built at 211 Lorne Ave. and we will start production as soon as the milk starts to run in 2010. In the meantime, as soon as the dairy is built we are anticipating a school for cheesemaking.

The most important thing I can say today is thank you to Tom Melanson and Perth Community Futures. This morning I had four meetings with different banks, including leftwing, government supported institutions as well as conventional banks and credit unions, only to be told by each and every one of them that my debt to equity ratio was not appropriate and even with the offer of my pregnant Clydesdale I didn't have enough security against my business. This with five years of sound financials.
All I can say is thank heavens for grassroots movements like CSAs and Perth Community Futures, and of course to all of you who have supported Monforte with your money and passion.


Ruth Klahsen
Monforte Dairy Company

Friday, 17 April 2009

Maple Sugar Cookies

I posted a recipe for maple sugar cookies a while back, when I was talking about The Canadian Farm Cook Book; one that looked very simple but appealing:
"MAPLE SUGAR COOKIES. - 2 large cups maple sugar, 2 eggs, 1 cup butter, 2 tablespoons sweet milk, 1 teaspoon cream of tartar, 1/2 teaspoon soda, flour enough to roll soft. - Mrs Walter Edwards, Cookshire, Que."
I cut the recipe in half, and generally modernized it, and here's the result. I also have to admit to having been unduly influenced by those fake-flavoured commercial maple cookies, you know the ones; a pair of maple-leaf molded cookies glued together with icing. They're sort of nasty, but you can't help but think, "If only they were good! They'd be great!" and have another.


I don't really recommend cutting out leaf shapes though. This dough was very hard to work with. It didn't seem particularly soft when I was mixing it, but once it was out on the rolling board it quickly made it clear that it would take enormous quantities of flour to keep it from sticking to everything, and I was already afraid the flavour would be rather subtle. Consequently, I made only a few maple-shaped cookies, even though I had recently aquired a wonderful little maple leaf cookie cutter. It was just too much hassle.

The rest of the dough got molded into a cylinder, and chilled overnight. It was then sliced and baked, and the cookies sandwiched together. Not quite so pretty, but much, much faster and easier to make.

Maple cakes and cookies always seem a bit disappointing straight from the oven. I find with maple baked goods that if you can refrain from eating them for 24 hours or so, the maple flavour develops considerably, and what had seemed a bit of a dud at first becomes fabulous. I should mention that these are more cakey than crunchy.

36 single cookies
1 hour work time - plus chilling overnight

Maple Sugar Cookies
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup maple sugar
1 medium egg
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 cups soft unbleached (pastry) flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Cream the butter, and work in the maple sugar. Beat in the egg and the maple syrup. Mix the baking powder and salt into the flour, and work the flour into the maple mixture. Roll the dough into a tube on a piece of parchment or waxed paper, and roll it up.

Chill the dough for several hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut the dough into thin slices, and lay them on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Space them out well, as they expand a fair bit.

Bake the cookies for about 10 minutes, depending on thickness, until dry on top and lightly browned at the edges. Let cool and remove from the trays.

Maple Filling:
1/3 cup dark maple syrup
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons icing sugar

Put the maple syrup in a smallish pot. Bring to a boil and boil steadily for 2 minutes exactly. Remove from the heat and add the butter. Beat for 5 minutes with an electric mixer, then beat in the icing sugar.

Dip the bottom of one cookie into the filling, then press it gently onto the bottom of another cookie. Set aside, flat, until the icing sets. Continue with the rest of the cookies. By the end, you may need to scrape the filling out of the pot with a knife and spread it on.

Once the cookies are set, they can be stored in an airtight tin.

Last year at this time I made Lamb Meatballs Stewed with Chickpeas and Versatile Vegetable Patties with Apple Butter Chutney.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

5-Spice Parsnips

I can't say I thought these looked gorgeous when I pulled them out of the oven, but the taste was exactly what I hoped for - and that was very good. An excellent side dish for baked chicken or fish. I will definitely make these again.

2 or 3 servings
40 minutes - 10 minutes prep time

5-Spice Parsnips
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large or 3 medium parsnips
1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
2 or 3 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon 5-spice powder
1 teaspoon sugar, or a bit more if you like

Put the butter in a medium sized baking dish, and melt it, either on top of the stove, or in the oven if the baking dish can't go on the stove. You will need the oven set at 400°F.

Peel the parsnips, and cut them into thin french-fry shapes. Toss them in the melted butter, then add the orange zest and orange juice. Sprinkle the 5-spice powder over them, and toss gently. Sprinkle them with the sugar. They should be spread out in a thin layer, not more than one or two deep.

Bake the parsnips for about 30 minutes, until soft and browned. Serve hot.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Kasha Varnishkes

Here's a traditional eastern European Jewish dish, usually served as a side dish. It would be great with roast chicken, whole or pieces (from which you could glean your chicken fat) or with fish, but I have to say that I tend to regard dishes that require three pots as the main event. Certainly, it fills that role very nicely, with a blend of flavours and textures.

Buckwheat groats (often called kasha once toasted) can be a nasty mush if not cooked properly. There are 4 different things you can do to prevent this: coat them in egg before cooking, toast them, add them only to rapidly boiling water to cook, then let them rest after cooking for about 10 minutes. This recipe traditionally uses all 4 techniques, but I'm not crazy about the egg - it always ends up grossly overcooked to my taste - and the other 3 methods do the trick perfectly well if care is taken. If you want, though, you can coat the buckwheat in a beaten egg before starting. It won't take 10 minutes to toast in that case, I don't think.

Chicken fat is traditional, and adds good flavour, always providing you have good chicken. You can render it in advance, if you have enough. I usually don't, so I just take the raw chicken fat bits which I am always at pains to remove from chicken I am cooking (inconsistent, I know) and chop them finely. You could store them in the freezer between times if you like. Render them in the skillet for a few minutes before adding the other ingredients to be cooked. Vegetable oil works, though.

Check out Presto Pasta Nights for more great pasta.

3 to 6 servings
40 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

Kasha Varnishkes
1 cup buckwheat groats
2 to 3 tablespoons chicken or turkey fat, or sunflower seed oil
150 to 200 grams bow-tie pasta (farfalle) OR egg noodles
1 medium onion
3 shallots
6 to 8 button mushrooms
2 cups finely chopped cabbage
salt & pepper

Rinse the buckwheat groats, and drain them well. Heat 1 tablespoon or so of chicken fat or oil in a medium-large skillet.

When the fat is hot, add the buckwheat and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the grains are well toasted and darkened but not burnt. Meanwhile, put 2 cups of water with 1/4 teaspoon salt on to boil in a fairly large pot after the kasha has cooked for about 5 minutes.

Add the kasha to the boiling water - be careful! the water will foam up amazingly; this is why you use a fairly large pot - and cover it, and reduce the heat to low. Cook for about 10 to 15 minutes, until the kasha is tender. Set the skillet aside, but don't clean it. You will be using it again.

Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables by peeling and slicing the onion and shallots, slicing the mushrooms, and chopping the cabbage. Put a large pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta. Don't acutally start the pasta until the kasha is done, because the kasha should rest for about 10 minutes before being mixed with the pasta and vegetables.

While the pasta cooks, heat the remaining fat or oil in the skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the shallots and mushrooms and continue cooking for another 5 to 8 minutes, stirring regularly. They should be very soft and golden-brown.

When the pasta has 3 or 4 minutes more to cook, add the finely chopped cabbage to it.

Drain the pasta and cabbage, and toss them with the sautéd vegetables and the kasha. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Globe Article on Antibiotic Use in Livestock

I'm taking a little break from posting today, but I came across this article in the Globe and Mail, and wanted to share.

Antibiotic Use In Livestock Questioned

A good reason to buy our meat from a butcher who deals directly with farmers, or from the farmers themselves. Wherever we buy meat though, we should be asking about antibiotic use.

Sunday, 12 April 2009


They fought the dogs, and killed the cats,
And bit the babies in the cradles,
And ate the cheeses out of the vats,
And licked the soup from the cook's own ladles,
Split open the kegs of salted sprats,
Made nests inside men's Sunday hats,
And even spoiled the women's chats,
By drowning their speaking
With shrieking and squeaking
In fifty different sharps and flats.

From The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning

Well, it's not that bad. We've only got mice. It's my own fault too; when we had the nice weather a week or so ago I went and started cleaning out a shed in the yard, which was the one place the previous owners had not cleaned before they left.

Let me digress, and state that much as I sympathise with the impulse to keep, from motives of economy and environmentalism, scraps of this and that which may be useful at some future date, the answer is NO!!! Unless you actually sort them and store them properly, with some actual future use in mind. All you are doing otherwise is putting off the day of reckoning when someone else will have to haul it all to the dump. Me, it generally seems.

I'm not sure this rather large and deluxe shed had ever even been used, except to store the leftover scraps from building it, which were tossed on the floor, along with sheets of styrofoam. Need I even say what happened next? Mousingham palace, it was.

Anyway, I was thinking that next year I would like to use this shed as a chicken coop, and so I went and began hauling out all the bits of board and wood, now chewed and wet with mouse urine and no good to anyone, along with the nests of dried grass and styrofoam bits, and huge quantities of empty walnut shells. Surprisingly, I only came nose to nose with one fat bastard in the process.

But there were more; oh yes, there were.

And you know what they did then? They moved into our house. They got into my kitchen linen drawer, and destroyed a number of tea towels and table cloths, although what tipped us off was the butter dish full of turds. We've caught two*; I really hope that's all of them. Now to go and stuff every opening we can find with steel wool.

*We have a long established and mutually satisfactory system: Mr Ferdzy sets the traps, because I'm afraid of snapping my fingers. I empty the traps, because he's squeamish. Oddly, it's been my job ever since I was a kid.**

**My younger brother once tried juggling his gerbil. Take note: it doesn't exactly work. I came back from flushing the poor little furry body down the toilet just in time to hear my father starting to agree to get him another one, and put my foot down. No gerbils for people not willing to do their own flushing.***

*** I didn't flush this pair. I was standing there wondering how to dispose of the first one, when my viewpoint suddenly shifted, and I realized what I had wasn't difficult garbage, but a perfectly good mouse. Fresh, and all. I put it outside, and sure enough, it was gone in the morning. No tracks, so presumably some large bird had a nice meal.****

****Speaking of which, we just came back from dinner with my mother. We told her about the mice, and so after dinner she showed us a certain episode of Corner Gas. Uncanny.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Rye and Flaxmeal Crackers

More crackers! They really are ridiculously easy to make, and much cheaper than any decent commercial cracker, where you are mostly paying for the shipping of air (they're fragile, after all) and advertising. Also, you know there's no trans fats.

Rye and Flaxmeal Crackers
36 to 42 crackers
1 hour - 15 minutes prep time

1 1/2 cups whole rye flour
1/2 cup flax meal
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sunflower seed oil
1/2 cup filtered water

1/2 to 1 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Cut parchment paper to fit 2 large baking trays.

Put the flour, flax meal and salt in a mixing bowl. Stir in the oil and water. Mix well. You will likely need to use your hands at the end. Form the dough into a smooth ball, and cut it in half.

Roll out each half of the dough on one of the pieces of parchment paper. The dough should be as evenly and thinly rolled out as you can get it. Cut the rolled-out dough into crackers with a pizza cutter, and prick them all over with a fork. Sprinkle the sea salt over the tops and press down gently. Use the lower amount of sea salt if you plan to serve the crackers with cheese or cold cuts.

Bake the crackers of 15 to 20 minutes, until slightly browned around the edges and stiff. They will harden more as they cool. Break them apart, and keep them stored in an air-tight tin until wanted.

Last year at this time I made Sour Cherry & Apricot Food Processor Sorbet.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Seedy Red Fife Crackers & Monforte Cheese

I first heard about Monforte Dairy almost exactly one year ago at Taste of Woolwich. Ruth Klahsen, Monforte's founder, was there with some samples of her wonderful sheeps milk cheeses. Since then, I've occasionally picked up some of their cheeses at the 100 Mile Market in Meaford. The selection is getting slim though, because Monforte Dairy has not been producing any cheese since mid-winter.

For 4 years, Monforte was based in rented premises. This was not an ideal situation and even before the rent went up Ruth Klahsen was looking for an alternative. However, when the rent went up, she was unable to continue. She is now working to raise enough money to build her own dairy - a very pricey proposition. There's a lot more information about it on her website.

One creative solution that Ruth Klahsen has come up with is to market her dairy as a Community Shared Agriculture venture. You can buy a share now - for $200, for $500 or for $1000 dollars. Later you have a choice of receiving store vouchers to be exchanged for Monforte cheeses over a five year period, or having cheese baskets delivered twice a year for five years. In either case, you will reap a lovely dividend; you will receive $300, or $750 worth of cheese depending on your investment. (You can't get the baskets with the largest share because of shipping costs; you will have to take $1500 worth of vouchers.) Monforte made a wide range of sheeps milk products (and some goat milk products) so you would actually be able to get quite a variety.

We're planning to buy a share, although we will have to figure out which one we can afford, and when. I think it's a brilliant idea, and the cheese is fab. Meanwhile, there is to be a "Town Hall" meeting in Stratford mid-May, and a ground-breaking event in June. I'll post dates as I get them.

Above are two kinds of Cheddar; one plain and one smoked. There are also a number of flavoured Cheddars. I'm partial to the one with garlic scapes. The other cheese is Bauman's Smoked, which is Monforte's version of Oscypek, a Polish cheese. Halloumi, alas is long gone - I never did get my hands on any. Well, next year.

And, oh yeah, I made some crackers to go with our Monforte cheeses. Crackers are amazingly easy to make. Baking and cooling them is the most time consuming part, and even that doesn't take long. Store any leftovers in a tin, so they stay fresh.

40 to 48 crackers
1 hour - 15 minutes prep time

2 cups red fife flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup poppy seeds
2/3 cup filtered water
3 tablespoons sunflower seed oil

1/2 to 1 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Cut pieces of parchment paper to fit 2 large baking trays.

Mix the flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt and seeds in a bowl. Add the water and sunflower seed oil, and mix well. I generally give up on the spoon about when it's about three-quarters mixed, and use my hands.

Once the dough is well mixed and all the seeds and flour absorbed, form the dough into a ball and cut it in half. Roll out each half on one of the pieces of parchment paper, in a rectangle as evenly thin as you can get it. Use a pizza cutter to score it into crackers. Poke it all over with a fork. Sprinkle the crackers with a little more salt. If you expect to serve them with cheese or cold cuts, I would suggest you use the lower amount of salt.

Bake the crackers for 15 to 20 minutes; it will vary according to how thin you were able to get them. They should be stiff and just lightly browned around the edges. Let them cool and break them apart. They will get crisper as they cool.

Last year at this time I made Scottish Potato Scones and Maple Cream Puffs.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Chick Pea, Tomato & Cucumber Salad

With greenhouse tomatoes and cucumbers, and peppers if you would like them, this simple Mediterranean-style salad can be made all year long. I suppose you could serve it as a side-salad, but it's the kind of thing that we eat as our full meal. Round it out with some good, rustic bread and you are all set.

It's funny; though we could eat this all year, for some reason I tend to forget about bean salads in the fall. As soon as the first whiff of spring arrives though, I start making them again. I guess I prefer a hot meal in the winter.

I'm saying 15 minutes to prepare this salad, but that does assume you have made the salad dressing in advance. Also, this salad is pretty flexible about what goes into it. I wouldn't put all the optional ingredients in (I didn't use any of them here, in fact) because I do think its simplicity is part of its charm. However, any of the items suggested will fit in very well.

2 servings
15 minutes prep time

Chick Pea, Tomato and Cucumber Salad
1 large carrot
1 540 ml (19 ounce) tin chick peas, or 2 cups cooked chick peas
2 small cucumbers, or 2 cups sliced cucumber
6 to 8 small tomatoes, or 2 cups quartered
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup diced yellow pepper (optional)
6 to 8 brined black olives (optional)
1 stalk celery, chopped (optional)
1 green onion, chopped (optional)

1/2 recipe Italian Salad Dressing

Peel the carrot, and cut it into dice about the size of the chick peas. Put them in a pot with water to cover, and boil them for about 5 minutes. Drain them and rinse in cold water.

Meanwhile, drain and rinse the chick peas, and put them in a salad bowl with the sliced cucumbers, quartered tomatoes, crumbled feta cheese, carrots and any of the optional ingredients if desired.

Toss with the dressing and serve.

Last year at this time I made Shaker Baked Carrots.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Italian Salad Dressing

Traditionally made with olive oil, of course. However, the local sunflower seed oil which is cold-pressed retains a lovely nutty, sunflower-seed flavour and is equally good, in my opinion.

If you want to make a double batch, it does keep well in the fridge for a week or so, when sealed well.

1 scant cup; 4 servings
15 minutes prep time - best to let sit 24 hours

Italian Salad Dressing
1 small clove of garlic
1/2 of 1 small shallot
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon fresh minced or dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon fresh minced or dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon rubbed (dried) basil
piece of lemon zest size of small fingernail
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil or sunflower seed oil

Peel the garlic and mince it as finely as you can; likewise the piece of shallot. Put them in a jar with the seasonings. Peel a small, thin piece off of the lemon before squeezing it, and mince it extremely finely and add it as well. Add the lemon juice, water and vinegar, and mix well. Add the oil, and stir well.

Let the salad dressing sit for 1 hour to overnight before using. Stir well before tossing the dressing with the salad.

Last year at this time I made Fruit Juice Jellies.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Holstein Maplefest

The small-town food-festival season has officially begun! Saturday saw a number of maple festivals take place. This year, we opted to go to Holstein; the village with the kind of volunteer event-organizing skills that could be used to take over the world, if they wanted. Fortunately, they seem to be a pretty laid-back and friendly bunch. (Actually I kind of wish they would. They'd do a lot better job than the current crew; that seems certain.)

Holstein is the only tiny village I know of with a large municipal parking lot. They need it, and make good use of it. We parked and boarded one of the several standard maple syrup festival hay wagons for the trip to the bush. However, they also had a school bus making the circuit for those who couldn't hack the wind - and the wind whipping across the open fields was pretty brutal, even though it wasn't - in theory - that cold.

We jounced across a large, windy (did I mention that!?) corn field towards the site of the festival. Gigantico tent ahoy! Warning: unlike other maple festivals I have been to, Holstein charges an admission fee. $7 for adults, children under 12 free.

Before we got to the tent, we passed a number of stations which allowed you to try such old-fashioned treats as sawing a log with a straight saw, or log rolling. Being old geezers, we wandered on past these.

The tent turned out not to be the main event, although it housed a lively pair of musicians and a number of displays for local groups.

We continued on down the lane into the sugar bush, which turned out to be in a charming, sheltered hidden valley. You can see the blue tubing running throughout the bush. No old-fashioned buckets here; this is a thoroughly modern maple farm.

As we got to the bottom of the valley, a series of sturdy wooden buildings came into view.

OooOO! They put these guys out here on purpose, for sure! Marketing genius. Those were some delicious smelling sausages, but we are self-disciplined*, so we walked around and looked at everything else before we succumbed.

The woodlot was spread with hay to keep it from becoming a mucky mess, and it was lovely to walk around in, being so sheltered. In spite of the snow, we were perfectly warm.

This young man was in charge of producing taffy. Here he is handing out sticks to a hopeful crowd.

Next, the boiled syrup is poured over a bed of crushed ice, where it quickly firms up enough to be scooped up with the aforementioned sticks.

Next door were some demonstrations of more old style kitchen skills. This young woman was churning butter in a rather unusual butter-churn,

and this one was making ice-cream.

Here's a little display of the stages between cream and butter, as well as some washed and stamped butter pats.

Oh, now this smells good! Smoked bacon and sausage...

... right out of the smokehouse! (And it was good, too!)

There were a few trees being tapped with buckets, just to show how it used to be done.

And a kettle of syrup over an open fire.

Here's where all those blue tubes converge.

Vast amounts of sap flow through their stainless steel collections system, as it goes through the process of being reduced to 1/40th or 1/50th of the original volume.

Much of that happens in the "Silver Bullet" behind this man, who was on hand to explain how it all works and answer questions about the maple syrup making process. There was no sap flowing at the time as it was too cold out. In spite of the process now being very mechanized, it has to be supervised at all times when the sap is flowing. Working hours during sap season are therefore long and variable, and very weather dependant.

Here we see how maple syrup was converted to sugar by the First Nations people. (They were just using sap here; but originally it would have been boiled down to syrup first, and the final conversion to sugar would have been done by the addition of hot rocks. This allowed a much higher level of control over a rather tricky process - especially when you are doing it without metal or even glazed pottery vessels.)

The fire in which the rocks were heated, and the steaming trough of sap. Lots of little fires and smoke here - we left smelling slightly sweet, sausagy and smokey.

There were a few farm animals on display - a cow; a large cage with rabbits and pigeons, and this charming little hut full of an eclectic mix of chickens. Why do I find myself thinking of Baba Yaga's hut?

There was a blacksmith, doing some blacksmithing.

Aaaand finally we heeded the call of the sausages and pancakes. We got the "Hungry Man" plate, with 3 pancakes, 4 sausages and a double scoop of beans, for $8. (Not each! We shared it. Yeah, restraint.)

And damn, but yes, that was some mighty fine sausage. The smoky cooking technique made up for the fact that it was a tad over-cooked (it was actually quite lean) with a rich, bacon-y flavour. We didn't buy any sausage on the spot, but I wanted to record the source for, um, posterity.

Then, replete, we tottered back up the hill.

We bought some Kettle Korn (sweet and salty) to console ourselves for the fact that our outing was over, jounced back over the fields and headed home.

* Snicker, snort.

Last year at this time we visited the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival.