Tuesday, 30 June 2009

The Wedding Cake at the Wedding!

Gluten Free Wedding Cake
As anyone who reads this blog knows, I have been obsessing about wedding cake for some time now, as I had one to make. My cousin Elizabeth and cousin (now!) John Iannou's wedding was on Sunday, and it went off perfectly splendidly, in spite of a cool, fresh little rain and the fact that it was supposed to have taken place outdoors. The golf club where it took place had a lovely covered sitting area that worked just fine, and everything looked lovely. I at least was very happy it was not too hot; the icing didn't melt, hurrah!

Gluten Free Wedding Cake - Marzipan Roses
I was sweating bullets up to the last moment. I took all the components down to assemble the morning of the wedding, as I knew I could not manage to get the cakes down undamaged if I tried to prepare them elsewhere. I got there at 8:30 am and was sticking on the last rosebuds about 5 minutes before the groom was to head up the aisle, at 11:00 am. However, it was done, and I got to my seat in the nick of time.

Cutting the Wedding Cake
And there they are! Looking just as happy as I hope they will always be. Congratulations, John and Liz!

Monday, 29 June 2009

Stir-Fried Beef & Kohlrabi

Kohlrabi is a very fun vegetable. Not only does it look like it flew in from outer space, once it's in the kitchen it is effectively two different vegetables, with the leaves that cook like kale or chard, and the crisp-tender white swollen stem. (I'm going to refer to it as a bulb, although it isn't one, at least not in a botanical sense.)

It is very effective in a simple stir-fry, with the two parts of the plant providing contrasting textures and complementary flavours. I did mine with beef, but chicken pieces would work very well also. If you use chicken, add the chicken and kohlrabi bulb pieces to the pan at the same time - the chicken won't need to cook quite so long as the beef.

It is much better to get smaller kohlrabis and use more of them, than to get large ones, as they get woody once they are a certain size. Practically speaking, most that come to market are not so big as to be terribly woody, but woody enough to need a bit of trimming. But definitely pick the smallest, most tender ones you can get. The stems can be used if they are tender, but discard them once they get tough.

2 to 3 servings
20 minutes prep time

Stir Fried Beef and Kohlrabi
300 grams (2/3 pound) round steak cut in thin slices
- (can use chicken instead)
black pepper
1 large onion
1 tablespoon peeled and finely minced fresh ginger
2 to 4 medium-small kohlrabis
1 tablespoon sunflower seed oil
3 to 4 tablespoons oyster sauce

Slice the steak into bite-sized pieces of about 1/4" thick. Season with black pepper to taste.

Peel the onion and cut it into slivers. Peel and mince the ginger and add it to the onion.

Rinse the kohlrabis well and cut of the leaves. If the stems are tough, cut them off and discard them - you should be able to pierce them with a thumbnail. Chop the leaves coarsely. Peel off the tough base of the kohlrabi bulbs, and peel up the sides as far as they are tough and woody. Once you have reached tender skin it can be left on. Cut the prepared kohlrabi bulbs in quarters, and slice each quarter thinly.

Heat the oil in a large skillet or wok. When hot and showing signs of smoking, add the beef and stir well. Once it is browned, add the sliced kohlrabi bulbs, and stir them in well. Once they look a bit softened, add the onions and ginger. Continue mixing and turning the meat and vegetables. Add the oyster sauce.

Once the dish looks to be essentially cooked, add the kohlrabi greens. Cook for about 2 minutes more, stirring in the leaves until they are well wilted.

Serve over rice or noodles.

Last year at this time I made Spinach Sautéed with Mushrooms & Green Onions, and Strawberry Agua Fresca.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Mrs. A. B. Marshall's Souper du Bal

I'm at a wedding today - the second one this month. I noticed that in both cases guests were offered a choice of chicken, beef or vegetarian entrees, with appetizers before and dessert after, followed by another round of dessert when the wedding cake is served.

I thought I would look up a wedding menu from an old cookbook of mine: Mrs. A.B. Marshall's Cookery Book. There is no date in this book, but judging from the illustrations it's from the late 1870's or early 1880's. Mrs Marshall was the Martha Stewart of her day, running a successful cooking school and mail-order business in London, as well as publishing a cookbook that went through many editions, right into the 1930's.

At any rate I didn't find a menu for a wedding, and so will have to leave you with a menu for a ball. Let us suppose it is a wedding-ball.

(For 400 to 500 persons. Can be modified for a less number.)

Consomme clair.
Cotelettes d'Agneau aux petits Pois.
Cailles au Cresson.

Jambon a la Gelée.
Paté de Gibier a la Francaise.
Galantine de Dande a la Gelée.
Sandwiches a la Espagne.
Sandwiches a la Victoria.
Chaudfroid de Faisan.
Mayonnaise de Homard a la Gelée.
Salade de Volaille a la Hanson.
Perdreau a la Souvaroff.
Filets de Sole a la Sefton.
Petities Cremes de Saumon au Salpicon.
Chaudfroid de Cailles a la Princesse.
Petites Nectarines de Foie Gras a la Belle.
Supreme de Volaille a la Darmstadt.
Mauviettes a la Ripon.
Cotelettes de Fois Gras en Aspic.
Salade a la Adeline.
Petits Patés aux Huitres.
Filets de Hareng marinés a l'Osborne.
Olives a la St. Augustin.
Pailles d'Anchois.
Peches a l'Australienne.
Champignons Meringues a la Nuremburg.
Pommes a la Princesse Maude.
Petits Nougats a la Creme.
Jumeaux Siamois.
Gelée a la Francaise.
Bavaroise aux Pistaches.
Petites Gateaux a la Russe
Dessert. Glaces. Thé. Café. "

Goodness. That'll keep the scullery maid hopping.

It's interesting to see that some of it is, by modern standards, far too fancy to consider serving to "400 or 500" poeople; things like the Mayonnaise de Homard a la Gelée, or the Perdreau a la Souvaroff, while other things are perfectly possible, although possibly deemed not fancy enough; sandwiches, pickled herrings, anchovy straws and olives. The last two are probably festive enough, just not worth actually putting on the menu.

And what the heck are "Jumeaux Siamois"? Yes, I know they're Siamese (conjoined) twins, but presumably not actual Siamese twins. That would be... disconcerting, to say the least. I don't think even the Victorians were quite that decadent.

Well, I'm off for my apps-chicken-dessert-cake wedding dinner. I don't think I'll be coming away hungry, although I will spare a pang for the Bavarois aux Pistaches, which I'm sure was fab.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Strawberry Cream Pie

I made what I consider to be the ultimate strawberry pie last year, which is a tough act to follow. However, this year I thought I'd make something a little different. It's also an unbaked pie; when it comes to fresh, in-season fruit they are frequently the best.

If you think it looks an awful lot like banana cream pie, well, that's because it pretty much is. Only with strawberries. As such, it isn't likely to cut too nicely. It's going to be a bit of a goopy, creamy mess. Don't worry, once everyone has taken that first bite, they will be too busy eating to notice.

It should be added that when I say a 9" pie, I mean an actual 9" pie; not an 8" pie with flanges, which is what you get if you buy pre-made pie crusts. If you do that and end up with too much filling to go in you could put the extra into a glass cup and call it a parfait, I suppose.

I'm up to my eye-brows in wedding cake preparations at the moment; posting is likely to be spotty to non-existant over the weekend and into next week.

8 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 1 hour prep time, not including setting time

Strawberry Cream Pie
1 prepared single 9" pie crust, baked - I used this one

1 quart (4 cups) strawberries, hulled and sliced

1 cup whipping cream
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup arrowroot or cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 whole extra-large egg
2 extra-large egg yolks
2 cups rich milk or light cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Put the sugar, starch and salt in a heavy-bottomed pot, and beat in the egg and egg yolks. Slowly beat in the milk or cream.

Heat the mixture gently, stirring constantly. Cook over medium heat until thickened. Stir constantly. Mix in the vanilla extract. Allow the mixture to cool but not set.

Meanwhile, have your prepared baked pie shell ready. Fill it with the strawberries; washed, drained, hulled and sliced. (Save a few berries to garnish the finished pie.) Pour the custard mixture over them, and mix them gently in.

Put the pie in the fridge to set for several hours to overnight. Just before serving, beat the cream stiff with the sugar and vanilla extract. Spread the cream over the pie, and garnish with any reserved berries.

Last year at this time I made Chicken and Pasta Salad with Peas and An Ethiopian Style Salad.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Strawberry Streusel Oatmeal Muffins

You know, in two years of posting I'm pretty sure this is the first muffin recipe I have done. I like muffins, but they figured far too prominently in my career trajectory to be something I want to make often. I spent a couple of years working in an anarchist bakery collective making vegan banana muffins, vegan banana muffins and more vegan banana muffins. Actually, on reflection, I made vegan bran muffins too, but for some reason the banana muffins really stick in my memory, and yes, that is my least-favourite muffin flavour as a result.

Some people don't know when enough is enough, and later Mr. Ferdzy and I went into business manufacturing organic baking mixes, which involved not only baking muffins, but baking teeny tiny, sample-sized muffins. I'm sure I baked thousands of the little buggers.

However, after having some company visit last week I had leftover cooked oatmeal. I know to the flake how much Mr. Ferdzy and I will eat, but with company I feel obliged to err on the side of too much, and I did. Since I have already made leftover oatmeal scones and leftover oatmeal cake with apples, it was time for muffins. Since I bought a flat of strawberries this week, I added strawberries and streusel too. The strawberries made the muffins a bit soft, but they were delicious and disappeared remarkably rapidly.

12 muffins
45 minutes - 20 minutes prep time

Strawberry Streusel Oatmeal Muffins
1 1/2 cups cooked oatmeal
1/3 cup Sucanat or dark brown sugar
1 extra-large egg
1/3 cup sunflower seed oil

1 1/2 cups chopped or sliced strawberries
1 tablespoon flour

2 cups soft whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 cup buttermilk or milk

3 tablespoons Sucanat or dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter 12 muffin cups, or line them with muffin liners. Wash and drain the strawberries, then hull them and cut them into fairly small pieces. Toss them with the tablespoon of flour. Set them aside.

Mix the Sucanat into the oatmeal, working it to break up any lumps in the oatmeal. Beat in the egg, then the oil.

Measure the flour then mix in the salt and baking powder.

Mix the remaining flour, Sucanat and cinnamon in a small bowl. Rub in the butter until it is well blended and the mixture forms coarse crumbs.

Mix the flour and buttermilk alternately into the oatmeal mixture. Fold in the strawberries. Divide the batter amongst the prepared muffin cups, and top them with the streusel mixture.

Bake at 375°F for about 25 minutes, until firm to the touch. It is best to let the muffins cool before "peeling" them and eating them; otherwise they may be rather crumbly.

Last year at this time I made Spinach, Asparagus & Pea Soup.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Lentils with Spinach & Tomatoes

If you think this looks a lot like the filling from the lasagne I made last week, you would be right. This is what I did with the extra lentils that I cooked for that dish. Still perfectly happy to eat them with tomatoes and spinach; it's such a terrific combination.

Serve this with rice, or with bread as a stew.

2 to 3 servings
30 minutes prep time, not including cooking the lentils

Lentils with Spinach and Tomatoes
The Basic Mixture:
1 large onion
1 tablespoon sunflower seed oil
2 cups crushed tomatoes
2 to 3 cups cooked brown or green lentils
4 cups ( 1 bunch) spinach

Use one of the following groupings:

1 teaspoon cumin seed, crushed
1 teaspoon coriander seed, crushed
1 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika


1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
the juice of 1/2 lemon

Peel and chop the onion. Cook it slowly in the oil in a large skillet, until soft and lightly browned; about 10 minutes. If using the spices, add them when the onion is about two-thirds done.

Be sure the spinach is well washed and drained.

Add the crushed tomatoes and the lentils to the pan of onions, and heat through. Add the spinach, and cook, stirring to keep the spinach cooking evenly, until it has all wilted into the lentils.

If using the feta and lemon, squeeze the lemon juice into the lentil mixture. Top with the crumbled feta cheese.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Garlic Scape Butter

Garlic scape butter makes a delicious topping to fresh steamed vegetables such as peas or green beans, or use it to sauté vegetables such as zucchini or baby potatoes (parboil them first), or top poached chicken or fish with a little slice as a sauce. Pasta? Rice? Garlic bread? Yes, yes, yes. Great stuff.

1 cup
1 hour - 20 minutes prep time

Garlic Scape Butter with Peas
6 garlic scapes
1/3 cup parsley sprigs
2/3 cup unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
pepper to taste
1 teaspoon rubbed basil (optional)

Rinse the garlic scapes. Wash and drain the parsley well. Put them in a food processor and process until finely chopped. Add about two tablespoons of the butter, the salt and pepper (basil if wanted), and blend in well.

Put this mixture in a small skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the garlic scapes are softened and fragrant; about 5 minutes. Remove to a small bowl and let cool completely. In the fridge is fine.

When the mixture is cool, mix in the remaining butter. Keep it chilled.It can be rolled in parchment paper then placed in a zippered freezer bag, and kept frozen if desired.

Last year at this time I made Steamed Sponge Cake with Fruit.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Farmers Feed Cities

"The slogan “Farmers Feed Cities!” was created as a placard for a 2005 rally and is now a successful public awareness campaign in its second year. The Farmers Feed Cities! campaign seeks to make a stronger link between farm and non-farm families by talking about the things we all have in common – the benefits we all enjoy that depend on a healthy agriculture sector.

Coordinated by Ontario Grains & Oilseeds, the campaign is focused on securing a long-term solution to the farm income crisis plaguing the grains and oilseeds sector.

The bright yellow signs, flags and banners can be seen at events, fairs, festivals and parades across Ontario, challenging everyone to ‘picture yourself getting involved.’ It’s working. Rural and urban families from every walk of life are taking the time to learn more about agriculture, grains & oilseeds and the challenges facing farm families. Building this kind of awareness is critical. While it’s clear that farmers feed cities, it’s also true that farmers need cities – to show their support of domestic agriculture.

Thanks for visiting this site, and for taking the time to learn more about us. Farm families have been growing food for generations, and we’re proud to provide safe, reliable food that tastes great."

From the Farmers Feed Cities campaign history.


Maybe it's the fact that I spent my first 30 years living in Toronto. Maybe it's my extreme allergy to propaganda in general and slogans in particular. Maybe* I'm just a cranky old cynic. But from the first time I saw one of those chirpy, smug little yellow "Farmers Feed Cities" sign, I have felt nothing but irritation.

Guys, do you hear yourselves? That's right, farmers feed CITIES. They don't feed fellow farmers, villagers and small towners. Well they do, of course, but that amounts to taking in each others' economic laundry. If it wasn't for cities, 80% of farmers couldn't be farmers. At least, that's the percentage of Canadians living in cities, those cities that Canadian farmers feed. Actually, I imagine that a pretty precise formula could be written estimating the number of farmers required as a percentage of the population, if you could control for variables like imported produce and the season of the year.

A healthy agriculture sector sounds like a good idea to me. I'm all in favour of a stronger link between farm and non-farm families. Hell, that's what this blog is all about. But - you knew there was going to be a but, right? - I can tell you, as a basically urban person, that slapping up what looks like a smug little reprimand to your urban customers is not the way to win friends and influence people.

There is a tension between urban and rural life that goes back as long as history. Certainly the Romans wrote about it. On the whole, urbanites have been able to dominate the debate, since they've been the ones with the printing presses (actual or metaphorical) for most of that time. Urbane, courteous, polite: words that literally mean "from the city", and would surely not apply to rural dwellers, who were beyond the pale. Literally. And how are you going to keep them down on the farm after they've seen Paree? City air makes free. On the other hand, going back to the Romans again, there has long been a view of cities as polluted, both physically and morally, and the countryside as being pure and clean, again both actually and morally.

It's interesting to note that the link to the biography of Virgil suggests that the Georgics "was actually a subtle propaganda piece for Octavian. In writing about a farmer working on his land, the idea was to give a much needed boost to the Roman Agricultural Industry".

The more things change...

Farmers need cities for much more than "to show their support of domestic agriculture". Especially if by "domestic agriculture" what is meant is a continuation of the disastrous developments of the last 70 years or so. Farming has always been a chancy occupation, subject to factors beyond the farmers control, from weather to politics, to war**. The big problems now, as I see it, are not the consumers. They are the suppliers (such as Monsanto) and the processors of raw farm commodities, wherein a few cents worth - to the farmer - of grains are magically transformed into a box of cereal that sells for $4 in a grocery store.

Many farmers are starting to think about the problems inherent in commodity farming, and are no longer treating the products of their farm as commodities, instead focusing on producing the kind of goods that appeal to particular customers. But this is absolutely a two-way street, where farmers cannot continue producing whatever they want and having a "take it or leave it" attitude towards their customers - and then being astonished and affronted when customers leave it.

Customers - that is to say, people who eat food - also have to stop and think about what they are actually putting into their mouths. The multinational food processors who now dominate every shelf of every supermarket and corner store have worked very hard to make their product ubiquitous and their methods and processes invisible, with the result that for most people food isn't even a product, in the sense of something produced through growth or work, but a substance that appears magically, like manna. The only way to circumvent this sleight of hand is to really examine the whole chain that food travels, from field to fork, and the easiest way to do this is to deal directly with farmers and small producers.

But scolding won't work. I like another bumper-sticker I saw recently, that simply asked an open-ended question, like a Quaker query: Who's your farmer?

* Maybe?

**Which shapes modern agriculture far more than most people realize.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Ginger - Peanut Sauce

This is a very versatile sauce; we like it on all kinds of steamed green vegetables but it would also go on baked or poached chicken or fish. Rice and lentils are another favourite. As such, it's the basis for some very quick dinners. You could also make this up to a week ahead and keep it sealed in the fridge until wanted. It's then easily re-heated, or in fact it's not bad cold as a dressing for cold buckwheat noodles or salad. See? Versatile.

I adore ginger; if you are not quite so in love you might want to use a little less than I call for.

4 servings (2 cups of sauce)
15 minutes prep time

Ginger Peanut Sauce on Asparagus
1/3 cup smooth (peanuts only) peanut butter
2 tablespoons apple butter
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons arrowroot or corn starch
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice berries, ground
1/4 teaspoon green peppercorns, ground
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 1/3 cup water

roasted peanuts to garnish (optional)

Put the peanut butter in a small pot with the apple butter, vinegar, starch, tamari, ground spices and finely grated ginger. Mix well.

Mix in the water slowly, a little at a time, stirring well after each addition to avoid lumps.

Cook the sauce over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until thickened; about 5 minutes.

Last year at this time I made Pasta with Chicken, Asparagus & Mushrooms in Paprika Sauce.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Cranberry, Orange & Almond Salad with Orange-Fennel Dressing

June ought to be called Salad, because that's what it is: one salad after another. Most veggies are just getting going, but gardens, market or otherwise, are churning out the lettuce. Spinach too. Not local, but still in season, are Valencia oranges. I found a bag of organic ones for a reasonable price at the grocery store, and remembered how much I like an orange and almond salad - even better with a few cranberries thrown in.

4 to 6 servings
20 minutes prep time

Cranberry, Orange and Almond Salad with Orange-Fennel Dressing
Make the Dressing:
the juice of 1 medium Valencia orange
1/8 teaspoon of orange zest
1/4 cup almond or hazelnut oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed, ground
1/4 teaspoon green peppercorns, crushed
hot chile to taste

Wash the orange, and grate a little of the zest into your mixing bowl or jar. Juice the orange, and add it to the container, along with the oil and the salt. Grind the fennel and pepper together, and add them. Add a little chile if desired. Crushed red pepper flakes would be good - grind them with the other spices - or what I actually used was Korean red chile. You could use cayenne, but with a degree of caution. Whisk or shake it up, and drizzle over the salad when it is ready.

Make the Salad:
1 small head of lettuce
2 cups baby spinach leaves
3 or 4 Valencia oranges
1/2 cup slivered or sliced almonds
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Wash, dry and tear up the lettuce and spinach, and arrange them in a salad bowl or on individual serving plates. Peel the oranges, and arrange the segments over the lettuce and spinach. Ditto with the almonds and cranberries. If you are feeling meticulous, it is not a bad idea to toast the almonds in a dry skillet first, and let them cool before topping the salad with them. Drizzle over the salad dressing.

Last year at this time, I didn't make but did eat Salade Nicoisish. See? Salad.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

A Visit to Keady Market

If you were going to start a thriving farmers market, where would it be? In a small, obscure village with a tiny population, on a Tuesday morning? Yeah, me neither.

On Tuesday we went to Keady, which is a small village just southwest of Owen Sound. More of a hamlet than a village; I suspect if you went on a Wednesday the population would be about 20. The market is behind the main feature of the village; a handsome small church of Scottish stonemasonry.

On a Tuesday in the summer though, the population is probably several thousand. We arrived just after 9:00 am and had a very hard time finding a parking spot, in spite of the fact that there are at least three large parking lots. We ended up parking on the road and walking back.

One of the first things we saw were these wooden drying/storage racks; I was very taken with them and they were not terribly expensive (the one I'm interested in is $75.) I'm planning to do some measurements, and get one next time we go. There's some unusual and creative configurations there, and they fold down for storage.

The market is big enough to have its own little food-court. The menus are set out by the road. We were there in mid-morning so not inclined to eat, but the baked potato bar in particular looked intriguing.

There was quite a lot of imported produce, but there was nevertheless a good handful of local farmers with their own home-grown vegetables.

Local lettuce. I particularly like the idea this couple had of taking small, early lettuces and selling them as a lettuce bouquet.

In addition to the foodcourt area, there are a number of other spots to buy ready to eat food sprinkled throughout the market.

Homemade Italian sausage! Give it a try, hot or mild...

A number of local bakeries show up at the market.

At one point they put up a sign at the edge of the market. At least, I guess it was the edge then. Now about a third of it is on the other side of the sign.

Every kind of butter tart you could imagine.

As with most nurseries, there were a number of nursery and greenhouse growers. This one in Red Bay sounds particularly interesting, and I'd like to head out to visit it sometime.

There was a surprising number of beekeepers at the market, with a good range of honey and beeswax candles.

There were whole rows dedicated to antiques, or at least COJ (charming old junk).

I liked how this carpet merchant had his truck do double-duty as a display rack.

There were not one, but three psychic readers/astrologists with booths.

Potted geraniums add a bright spot of colour.

Pickles from Stratford! We sampled a good rich marmalade and curried pickles, which were much like a bread and butter pickle with a touch of curry - very nice and a little unusual.

One unusual item you could buy was a very unprocessed flax seed oil. In fact they had a little mill and were pressing oil right at their booth.

Here's the reason for having a bustling market in such an unlikely location: there's been a Tuesday morning livestock auction here for a long time. The market sprang up around it as farmers brought in their stuff to sell to other farmers. Soon, in addition to the farmers who came to the auctions, it was drawing a crowd of people with little interest in the auctions as well.

The other thing that makes the Keady market unique is that they also have an auction of small animals, generally chickens, ducks and other poultry, and rabbits but possibly other small animals as well. I was a little dismayed to see how small, dark and crowded the auction space is for these. I was thinking I should scout it out as a possible place to get some chickens if and when I ever get to that point, and I think it must be rather hard to get much sense of the animals before they go up for auction, especially if, like me, you are a rank amateur.

However, my impression of prices as the auction took place was that they were quite reasonable. Although I'm sure it varies, as with most auctions.

Time noted; if I had been interested in buying poultry that day I should have gone straight to the sales barn at 9:00 am.

I was amused by how make-shift most of the cages were. I hope that means they don't actually spend much time in cages, or maybe the sellers just want to make sure the buyers can get their new purchases home, without having to supply a cage themselves. This seller had had the sense to label his offerings: a pair of Indian runner ducks, a pair of golden sebright chickens and a Modena pigeon.

All in all, it was a fascinating market; being both very large and varied - I honestly think it's almost as large as the St. Jacobs market, and a great deal less touristy - and with some unusual features. We'll definitely be going back.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Goat Cheese, Spinach & Lentil Lasagne

This is a favourite dish to make for company, particularly vegetarian company. There is enough cheese to be deliciously gooey, but the lentils and spinach keep it feeling light and healthy. Likewise, although the cheese is a little pricey, the rest of the ingredients are affordable, even frugal, and it works out reasonably. (And the fact that it's lasagne makes it a contribution to Presto Pasta Nights.)

I don't know of any goats cheese curds but those made by Mornington Dairy, so that's what you should be looking for. If you can't get them, any squeaky-fresh cheese curds will do.

6 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 45 minutes prep time

Goat Cheese, Spinach and Lentil Lasagne
12 whole wheat lasagne noodles
1 large bunch spinach or chard
4 cups tomato sauce
500 grams (1 pound) goat cheese curds
2 cups cooked green or brown lentils
2 teaspoons rubbed basil
2 teaspoons rubbed oregano
2 cups grated old Cheddar cheese
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil, and cook the lasagne noodles until just pliable; about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, wash and pick over the spinach. Rinse it well, and chop it, and leave it in the strainer. When the lasagne noodles are ready, drain them over the spinach so that they are well wilted by the boiling water.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce over the bottom of an 8" x 11" lasagne pan, and cover the bottom of the pan with three of the lasagne noodles. Spread on more sauce, 1/3 of the cheese curds, 1/3 of the lentils, 1/3 of the spinach or chard, 2/3 teaspoon each of the basil and oregano, and spread on a little more sauce. Press three more lasagne noodles evenly over this layer, and repeat twice.

Finally, spread the top with any remaining sauce, and sprinkle the grated Cheddar and Parmesan cheeses over the top. Bake the lasagne for 35 to 45 minutes, until golden brown and bubbling. Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Last year at this time I made Potato & Asparagus Salad.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Bacon & Mushroom Warm Asparagus Salad

Warm mushroom salads were kind of a fad - when? Late '80's or early '90's? But none the worse for that. Warm bacon salad dressings have been around for ages. Throw in some warm asparagus and you've got a very nice salad to serve as a starter, or with some bread and butter it will make a complete meal for two.

As usual, I went for presentation over convenience in eating, and left the lettuce and asparagus whole. It would certainly be easier to eat if they were cut in small pieces, but on the other hand you can always supply the eaters with a knife as well as a fork.

2 or 4 servings
20 minutes prep time

Bacon and Mushroom Warm Asparagus Salad
Make the Dressing:
2 teaspoons arrowroot or corn starch
2 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons water
pinch of salt
a good grind of black pepper

Mix the above in a small bowl, and set aside until needed.

Make the Salad:
8 to 10 leaves mixed lettuce
350 grams (3/4 pound) asparagus
200 grams (1/3 pound) fresh shiitake mushrooms
250 grams (1/2 pound) lean bacon
1 large shallot, or 1/2 small onion

the juice of 1/2 lemon

Wash the lettuce leaves, and drain them well. Divide them evenly among the serving plates.

Clean and trim the asparagus, and cut the stems from the shiitakes. Cut them in halves or strips if they are large. Chop the bacon. Peel and mince the shallot or onion.

Put the asparagus in a shallow pot with water to cover, and bring to a boil. Boil until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove them and rinse briefly in cold water. When they are warm, divide them amongst the plates of lettuce.

Meanwhile, as soon as the asparagus goes on to cook, put the bacon pieces in a large skillet and fry over medium-high heat. Once they have started to cook, add the shallot or onion and shiitakes. Sauté until the bacon is soft-crisp, and the onions and mushrooms show signs of browning. This should be about the same amount of time as it takes the asparagus to cook.

Once the asparagus has been distributed over the lettuce, stir up the dressing mixture and add it to the pan with the bacon and shiitakes. Stir well. Once it thickens - within seconds - remove the pan from the heat and distribute the bacon, shiitakes and dressing over the salads. Squeeze over a generous amount of lemon juice, or pass wedges so that eaters can apply their own.

I haven't been posting what I was making last year at this time, so to catch up: Quaker Punch, Chicken in Miso-Tahini Sauce and Rosemary Spinach.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Particular Customers

"Peter Henderson once lamented that it was the demise of the "particular customer" that eventually changed the way market gardeners did business. Boston and Philadelphia had been bastions of the type of consumers who demanded to know the background of their produce, how it was cultivated, and the comparitive tastes of different varieties, and tolerated no compromises in freshness and quality. This gave rise to hundreds of vegetables that sold themselves by virtue of having passed through this critical gauntlet: Boston lettuce, Philadelphia Market tomato, and much more. The New York market was different. As long as the produce looked good, it was possible to sell it. Henderson's greatest fear was that this standard should prevail nationwide once vast quantities of produce began moving across the country rather than coming from nearby farms. He was to be proved correct."

From Heirloom Vegetable Gardening, by William Woys Weaver.

It's time for my annual strawberry rant. This year, I'm going to urge you to become, if you are not already, a particular customer, not just of strawberries, but of all produce.

However, to get back to the strawberries: once upon a time, there were basically two types of edible strawberries; the small wild berries well-known in Europe and North America and a fleeting pleasure of early summer, and also a yellow strawberry that grew in Peru which was very large but insipid to the point of tastelessness. It was by crossing these two plants that the modern strawberry was invented - it acquired size from its Peruvian parent, and flavour from the (mostly) European wild parents.

Unfortunately, the link between size and flavour has proven to be very durable. The larger the strawberry, the blander and more insipid in flavour. The smaller the berries, the more they retain the rich flavour of their wild antecedants. It may be that in future some breeder will chance upon a berry that combines both features, but in the meantime all varieties of strawberries are to some degree a compromise between size and flavour.

I have in the past contemptuously referred to the large berries favoured first by growers in California as "California" strawberries. You know the ones; large, firm, beautifully coloured with a slight scent and the flavour and texture of acidulated cardboard. They are available all year, thanks to grossly exploited farm labour and hair-raisingly horrible cultivation practices, involving vast quantities of chemicals of dubious safety.

At least there were the local strawberries, in season, which were smaller, deliciously flavoured, softer and without much shelf-life, and entirely worth waiting 10 months from the end of one season to the beginning of the next. It is with perfect horror though, that I have seen that they are starting to be replaced with "California" strawberries, locally grown. NOOOOO!!!!!!

I urge you to avoid these strawberry zombies. Don't buy them. Don't pick them. If you accidentally buy some, take them back and complain bitterly, loudly and long. Be a particular customer. The world will thank you, or at least I will.

Friday, 12 June 2009

A Visit to Twin Creeks Farm

To celebrate my blogiversary, and to sign up for a meat CSA, we visited Twin Creeks Farm, just to the west of Meaford. This is a family-run mixed organic farm.

We started by walking to a back field, where pastured chickens were cleaning up a field after it was grazed by cows; this is a typical technique in rotational grazing. The cows leave the grass short, and full of their droppings. The chickens then come through and break up the droppings, eating bugs which hatch in them, thus reducing the number of pest which will follow the cows, and distributing the manure into the ground.

The chickens have two lightweight, mobile shelters so that they can be moved from field to field to follow the cows.

Ian, at 14 the oldest of the te Velde children, started the tour with us as his parents were both busy when we arrived. He was able to answer most of our questions, and one of these days soon he will man a booth at a Toronto farmers market by himself.

Next we walked over to see the cows and calves. They were curious, and came up to the fence to check us out before they decided that we weren't actually all that interesting.

The cows are mostly shorthorns, and are a beautiful shade of red and white. They don't all have horns, but many of them do. These are dairy cows.

As usual with rotational grazing, they are in small fields divided by movable electric fence.

There are at least four large piles of manure near the barns, in long rows so that they can be mixed with straw and turned occasionally; they may sit for three years before being deemed sufficiently composted to be used. If they were turned more often, they would be ready sooner, but space and time are more readily available than the labour to turn them, so they sit.

The vegetable gardens are extensive, and include large fields of corn and potatoes as well as smaller beds of greens.

These lush lettuces were planted in flats, and went into the ground very early. Row-covers get such early lettuces off to a fast start; keeping them a few degrees warmer than the surrounding temperatures, and also keeping flea-beetles off.

Here's some direct seeded lettuce, for later in the season.

Tomatoes get a head start growing through what looks like black plastic, but which is actually made of corn starch, which will eventually decompose.

Most of the pigs were in a far barn and we didn't see them, but we did see these three sows.

They were in a spot of their own to keep their babies safe. Once the babies are big enough that they can't get through the fencing, they and their mamas will go out to pasture.

Finally, we went to see the sheep. They are actually on a neighbouring farm.

There were three heifers (young female cows) staying with them, as they were a bit young yet to be put in the field with the bull. It's one way to avoid unwanted teenage pregnancies...

This was a rougher piece of ground than the main farm. We were amused at how much the rocks look like sheep, or is it that the sheep look like the rocks?


And this is Tasha, an important member of the family, even if her desire to herd outstrips her ability.

Twin Creeks Farms go to the Collingwood, Meaford, and Trinity-Bellwoods (in Toronto) farmers markets. You can buy CSA shares for pick up there as well as in Owen Sound, or you can buy whatever meat and vegetables they happen to have that week on an individual basis. If you are close enough you can also pick up at the farm. They have turkeys in season as well, which must be ordered in advance.