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".

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Smoked Trout Paté, Stuffed in Mushroom Caps If You Are So Inclined

Smoked trout paté is very fast and simple to make, and looks very elegant presented in mushroom caps. The two tastes and textures also go together nicely. However, there's no question that preparing the mushroom caps is tedious - and the paté would be perfectly lovely with crackers or chips as well. You could also thin it with a tad more mayonnaise, and dip an assortment of crudités into it.

About 80 stuffed mushrooms; 2 cups paté
15 minutes to make the paté
30 minutes to prepare the mushroom caps
20 minutes to stuff the mushrooms

Smoked Trout Pate in Mushroom Caps
Make the Paté:
2 smoked fillets salmon trout (about 500 grams or 1 pound)
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1/3 cup chopped chives or green onion
1/4 cup fresh parsley
1 or 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill (optional)
the juice of 1/2 lemon
black pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon smoked sweet paprika
2 to 3 tablespoons mayonnaise (light is fine)

Peel the skin from the trout fillets. Crumble one of them into the bowl of a food processor, and add all the remaining ingredients. Process until well blended, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Crumble in the other trout fillet, and process again, briefly this time to leave some texture in the fish. Pack into a coverable bowl, and refrigerate until wanted.

Stuff the Mushrooms:
70 to 80 mushrooms, about 1" or a bit less in diameter
allow a few more than you want, as some may break

Wipe the mushrooms carefully with a damp tea-towel or paper towel. Remove the stems, by wiggling and twisting them. If they don't come out completely, remove the remains of the stems with the tip of a vegetable peeler.

Put a teaspoon of the paté into the space left by the stem on each mushroom. Place them on a plate, and keep them covered (a clean, almost dry but not quite tea towel is ideal) and cool until you are ready to serve them.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Butternut Squash & Hazelnut Lasagne

Okay, I know some of you (I'm looking at you, Joanne!) have been waiting with 'bated breath for this recipe. Actually, you could have pretty much had it at any time because I got it from Epicurious, and have not meddled with it much beyond the usual.

I should give a call-out to Presto Pasta Night, now that I finally have some pasta for them. It's at Pots & Plots this week. I should also have taken a picture as the first perfect slice was removed, but I was otherwise occupied and so the photo didn't happen until half the lasagne was gone, alas.

This is the first time I have made this recipe and I thought it was delicious. I'm not completely sure about the presence of the hazelnuts; I love hazelnuts, and indeed most nuts, but I'm not convinced they belong in things. It's a texture problem. However, the flavour was lovely with the squash, onions, cheese etc. It may be just one of those insoluble problems, or maybe I will try it with finely ground hazelnuts next time. And if you happen to be one of the many people who DO like nuts in things, there isn't even any problem at all.

As noted in the directions, I made this ahead of time and froze it before it was baked, and that worked out perfectly.

6 to 8 servings
2 1/2 hours - 1 1/2 hours prep time. But for heavens sake, allow yourself lots of time and assemble it in advance.

Butternut Squash and Hazelnut Lasagne
Make the Filling:

1 large (1.5 kg or 3 to 4 pound) butternut squash
1 or 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 cup chopped hazelnuts
1 large onion
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 or 2 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons rubbed sage
1 teaspoon rubbed savory
black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut the squash in half, and remove the seeds. Peel the squash, and cut it into thin slices. Toss it with the first quantity of oil in a large roasting pan, and roast until barely tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, toast the chopped hazelnuts in a dry skillet until golden brown. Put them aside in a large mixing bowl.

Peel and chop the onion. Heat the second quantity of oil in a large skillet and cook the onions very gently until golden, about half an hour over medium-low heat, stirring regularly. Add the garlic and seasonings, and cook for another 5 minutes or so. Add them to the bowl with the hazelnuts, along with the cooled squash. Mix and set aside.

Make the Sauce:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
5 tablespoons flour
5 cups milk
1 or 2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt

Without cleaning the large skillet above, melt the butter in it. Cook the garlic gently for a minute or two, then sprinkle in the flour. Mix well, and cook for a minute or two longer. Slowly, oh so slowly, mix in the milk to make a smooth lump-free sauce. Add the bay leaf and salt, and continue cooking over medium heat, stirring frequently, until thickened. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Assemble the Lasagne:
16 lasagne noodles; but be smart and cook a few extra
450 grams (1 pound) fresh mozzerella
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil, and cook the lasagne noodles for about two-thirds to three-quarters* of the recommended time. They should be barely pliable. Rinse them in cold water at once to stop them cooking any further.

Meanwhile, grate the mozzerella and Parmesan cheeses.

When you are ready to proceed, spread a little of the white sauce in the bottom of your lasagne pan, which should be approximately 9" x 13". Lay down a layer of the semi-cooked, drained noodles. Spread over them about one-third of the squash mixture, top with about one-quarter of the sauce, and one-quarter of the cheeses. Continue in this manner until you have used up all the filling, and have a final, top layer of noodles. Pour (spread) over the rest of the sauce and sprinkle over the remaining cheese.

You may now bake the lasagne at 425°F, for 30 to 40 minutes. Cover it with foil if it is getting too brown too soon. Let it rest for 15 minutes before serving.

I froze mine, and semi-thawed** it before baking. As it was in a glass baking dish, I put it into a COLD oven, turned it on to 350°F for about 20 minutes then turned up the heat a bit more and proceeded. I'm not completely sure of the time; just keep an eye on it. Hot, golden-brown and bubbly is the goal, and about an hour from turning on the oven is probable. If you are not making it too far in advance (like a day ahead, or two) keep it covered in the fridge rather than freezing it, but proceed as described for the cold lasagne.

*Help stamp out mushy lasagne - they're going to get cooked some more, yo.

** On account of how I allowed it 24 hours to thaw, and 48 would have been more like it.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Roasted Pepper, Artichoke & Tomato Salad with Sundried Tomato Dressing

This salad should be made somewhat in advance; in particular the roasting of the peppers should be done in good time. However, it's extremely simple to make and does not actually involve much work. There will almost certainly be more dressing than you need, but you can easily use the extra on some other salad. It should keep in the fridge for a week or so.

This is the entire amount of salad I made for The Party, but it was one of the few things to be completely eaten. It's a fair bit of salad but it's hard for me to discern how many servings it would make under more normal circumstances. The photo is of half the recipe. Certainly, it would be very easy to cut the amount made in half. Also, I would think it could be stretched, or diluted (it has a strong, almost relish-like quality as-is) with cooked beans or cooked grains such as barley or rice. Make this one all year with greenhouse peppers and tomatoes. Artichokes, alas, are from "away".

8 to 16 servings
30 minutes prep time, plus 1 hour to roast and cool the peppers

Roasted Pepper, Artichoke and Tomato Salad
Make the Dressing:
8 large dried tomatoes (1/2 cup, about)
1/2 cup boiling water
1 or 2 cloves of garlic
1 medium shallot
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon smoked sweet paprika
1 teaspoon rubbed oregano
1 teaspoon rubbed basil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 or 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Soak the tomatoes in the boiling water until very soft, and the water has cooled. Meanwhile, peel the garlic and shallot. It's probably helpful to halve the shallot. Put them, with all the other ingredients, into a food processor or blender, and process (or blend) until very smooth. Scrape it all out and store it until needed. If you find it too thick you could thin it with a little water.

Make the Salad:
4 large bell peppers in mixed colours
2 398-ml (14 oz) tins of artichoke quarters or hearts
5 or 6 ripe tomatoes

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Put the peppers in a cast iron skillet or other heavy casserole dish, and roast them for 10 minutes. Turn them a third of the way around, and roast them for another 10 minutes. Turn them so the final third surface of the peppers is now down, and roast for a final 10 minutes. Kitchen fan ON during this process!

Allow the peppers to cool, then cut out the cores. Cut the peppers in halves and discard the seeds. Rinse the halves, and drain them to remove any last lingering seeds. Lay them out on a cutting board, skin up, and peep off the roasted skins. Chop the remaining flesh and put it in your salad bowl.

Rinse and drain the artichokes and chop them in about the same size pieces as the peppers. Likewise, wash and chop the tomatoes.

Toss with as much of the salad dressing as seems good to you. The salad can be made somewhat in advance and kept refrigerated, although as ever I would leave out the tomatoes until the last minute. "Never, never, put tom-a-toes in the re-friger-a-tor!" That's how that old jingle went, isn't it? If not, that's how it should have gone, because they too originally come from the tropical e-qua-tor. Never chill them; they go mushy and lose anything resembling flavour.

Last year at this time I was not doing much cooking. Last year at this time I froze some pumpkin.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Happy Anniversary! Happy Birthday!

Well, the party is over and I'm happy to report it was very successful. We held it in the room you see above, which was in a local arena (how Canadian!) I took a few pictures at the beginning, but once people started to arrive I put my camera down and mostly forgot to pick it up again, so you won't get any sense of the fact that there were at least 50 people attending. However, there's the room set up and ready above.

Dad brought 13 of his little paintings and we held a silent auction, with the proceeds to be divided between Amnesty International and Canadian Friends Service Committee. It never hurts to clean out the basement a little either...

They also went through their photo collection and pinned up a selection of pictures of them throughout their lives, as well as a few general family photos.

Mostly familiar, but there were a few I hadn't seen before.

This one of Dad drew forth lots of comments and a few sighs... don't we all wish we could stay young, if not forever, at least longer!

The two little girls in the corner are my cousin's children, Julia and Olivia. They set all those places, and they took the guest book around to be signed by everyone, and in general were a great help. It was wonderful to see them - they came up all the way from Pennsylvania for the party (with their Mom, Aunt and Grandma).

A peek at some of the food... I'll be posting recipes for a lot of it, so not too many photos here; althought these are the Baked Scotch Eggs made with quail eggs.

The salad bar...

The vultures are beginning to circle...

And then there was a photo op... there they are! Congratulations, guys!

Happy 75th birthday Dad, and congratulations to you both on your 30th anniversary this year.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Today's the Big Day

Well, if all has gone well by the time this note appears we will have packed our little car to the gills and headed off to host a party for my father George and his partner Trevor. It's Dad's 75th birthday and he and Trevor have now been together for 30 years! Congratulations, guys!

I'll post some photos once the event has actually happened, supposing I have any time to take pictures which is perhaps a rash assumption, *gulp*.

Meanwhile, here's the menu. Many of these items are things I've made before, and some of them you can expect to see posted shortly. Once they are up, I'll add the links. You may note I gave up on the won-tons. They didn't bake well, and I decided I was also, as usual, biting off more than I could chew. So to speak.

Baked Scotch Quail Eggs
Mushroom Caps Stuffed with Smoked Trout
Cheddar Cheese with Quince Paste on Seedy Red Fife Crackers

Mulled Cider
Quaker Punch


Salad Bar
Chick Pea, Egg & Belgian Endive Salad

Roasted Pepper, Tomato & Artichoke Salad
in a Sundried Tomato Dressing

Garden Lettuce* & Assorted Crudités
Italian Salad Dressing
Buttermilk & Herb Dressing

Dill Pickles


Spinach Lasagne with Friulano & Ricotta Cheeses

Butternut Squash & Hazelnut Lasagne

Beef Stroganov
Buttered Noodles


Chai Pumpkin Pie
Whipped Cream

Banana Cake with Chocolate Ganache Frosting

Tea, Coffee

*Yes! From our garden! I'm amazed; last year at this time we were up to our knees in snow.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Fennel & Celery Salad with Orange-Anise Dressing

Ontario fennel is scarce as hen's teeth. Mostly it comes from the U.S., but last time I was in the grocery store I saw some labelled "product of Canada". I asked the produce department if they could pin it down more than that, but they couldn't. So there's a chance it came from Ontario - although they suspected Quebec was the most likely source. Anyway, in the spirit of lobbying Ontario farmers to grow fennel (no, it is not anise as the grocery stores insist on labelling it) I bought some. This was one of the results.

Anise seed and fennel have similar licorice-like flavours that get along very well, and oranges and cranberries are buddies from way back. You could up the Ontario quotient a bit by throwing in a bit of cut-up apple if you liked.

4 servings
20 minutes prep time

Fennel and Celery Salad with Orange-Anise Dressing
Make the Salad:
1/2 of a medium head of fennel
1 large celery stalk
1 1/2 clementines
1/4 cup dried cranberries

Trim the fennel, discarding the tough round stalks at the top and a slice of the thick base. Rinse the remainder, and slice it as thinly as you can. Chop it up a little as well. Clean and trim the celery stalk and slice it in the same way. Peel the first clementine, and divide it in sections. Cut the sections in half, and discard the seeds. Add the pieces to the salad. Cut the second clementine in half. Reserve half for the dressing, and peel the remaining half. Pick out any seeds, and pull it apart into segments. Add them to the salad. Add the cranberries.

Make the Dressing:
2 tablespoons mayonnaise (light is fine)
the juice of 1/2 clementine
1/4 teaspoon anise seed, finely ground
salt & pepper to taste

Put the mayonnaise in a small bowl. Squeeze in the juice of the clementine, discarding any seeds. Grind the anise seed, and add it along with a grind of salt and pepper. Mix until smooth.

Toss the salad in the dressing. It can be served at once, or kept chilled for up to 2 or 3 hours.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Cheese & Potato Soup

We put some kale in this - I don't know why it vanished so completely when the time came to take a picture. Camera-shy, I guess. (Actually, this is a photo of the leftovers, and I think it had been mostly fished out by then.) It made a very nice addition to a classic soup.

Just about everyone likes this, and it's easily made ahead of time. You can certainly add the milk and cheese and simply reheat the soup later - it reheats quite well - but we were taking this to a pot-luck and it was easiest to keep the milk and cheese separate until the final heating for transportation purposes. It's also helpful to finish the soup at a later time if you need to keep it in a smaller container until serving time, on account of fridge space or the lack thereof.

Anyway, potatoes and cheese; cheese and potatoes. I've said it before: what could possibly go wrong?

6 to 8 servings
1 hour - 30 minutes prep time

Cheese and Potato Soup
6 to 8 medium potatoes (about 1 kilo, or 2 pounds)
3 cups water
1 teaspoon salt

1 large onion
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour

5 cups of milk
2 cups finely shredded kale (optional)
2 to 3 cups shredded old Cheddar cheese

Scrub the potatoes, and cut off any bad spots. Chop them in dice. Put them in a large pot with the water and salt, and bring to a boil. Boil about 20 minutes, until tender.

Meanwhile, peel and chop the onion. Peel and mince the garlic. Melt the butter in a large skillet and cook the onion very gently until it begins to turn golden. Don't let it brown. Add the garlic and cook for a few minutes more. Sprinkle the flour in and mix well, again cooking for a few minutes more.

Mash the potatoes in their cooking water, and stir in the floured onion mixture. Cook the soup until thickened.

At this point, you can finish the soup and serve it, or if you prefer it can be cooled and refrigerated until about 15 minutes before you wish to serve it.

Heat the soup gently, stirring constantly. Have the kale ready, if you are using it - it should be washed and chopped finely - add it to the soup once it is hot, and stir it in well. Slowly mix in the soup, and continue cooking and stirring until it thickens again.

Mix in the cheese, until just melted. Serve the soup at once. Pass it with extra grated cheese if you are feeling extravagant. If you haven't got any kale, it would be nice to at least garnish it with some chopped parsley.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Mission Manure - Accomplished!

Remember that great big pile of manure on the driveway?! It's now all moved...

And what a relief that is. We snuggled up a bunch of it around the cauliflowers; I'm hoping if I pile some leaves on top they will survive the winter and produce some cauliflowers next spring. But wait! What's that? It's our second cauliflower already! The only problem is that I doubt it's going to get much bigger, given the lack of light at the moment. I guess I'll leave it and see until the weather gets cold - we seem to be having a second summer at the moment; at least it's still nicely above freezing and it isn't raining every day - how astonishing.

Not sure how to handle the cold frames over the winter. I'm a bit worried about them being damaged by the weight of the snow. I worry even more that once they are hidden under snow and the electric fence is down that the deer will step on them. However, right now they are still out there doing their thing.

When I first wrote about the cold frames, I didn't think they were doing much. But by now you can really see the difference between the outside lettuces and the inside lettuces, which were both planted at the same time.

We've also got some spinach seedlings coming along in the larger of the 2 coldframes. My idea was that they were for the spring, but if they keep growing for another month we may actually get some this fall. All those white spots are crushed eggshells - the plants aren't the only thing that enjoys the heat of the coldframes. We noticed a lot of holes in the leaves as soon as they got big enough that a hole wouldn't make them disappear completely. The eggshells seem to be helping, which confirms my guess that slugs are the culprits.

The lettuce outside is still doing well, in spite of two heavy frosts that had them frozen solid for hours. Just a little frost burn around the tips. I'm hoping to use this for the salad bar at The Party. Speaking of which, time to get back to work...

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Slow Roasted Lamb Shoulder

I hauled this piece of lamb out of the freezer a couple days ago, as I was attempting to make room for all the lasagne which will ultimately be going to The Party. Since I spent the day working on those lasagne, I wanted a very easy way to cook the lamb; no fuss at all. I kept the seasonings very simple and classic, and roasted it slowly like pulled pork. Mmm, amazingly good... and practically no work at all, not even carving.

Next time I think I would try to remove some of the fat from the top first. You want a very thin, or even intermittant layer to keep it moist, but lamb fat quickly becomes too much of a good thing. I spent quite a long time (i.e. about 15 minutes) de-fatting the pan juices.

4 to 6 servings
7 hours - 30 minutes prep time

Slow Roasted Lamb Shoulder
1 2 to 3 kilogram (5 to 7 pounds) bone-in shoulder of lamb
1 head garlic
3 or 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
salt & pepper
2 cups beef or chicken broth

2 tablespoons arrowroot
1/4 cup beef or chicken stock

Peel and slice the garlic, and place about a third of it in the bottom of a casserole which will fit the lamb fairly snuggly, with 1 or 2 sprigs of rosemary. Pull the meat loose from the ribs, so far as you are able, and spread half the remaining garlic slices in the gap thus formed, and add another sprig of rosemary. Place the lamb shoulder in the casserole, and spread the remaining garlic and rosemary on top. Pour over the 2 cups of stock.

Put the lid on the casserole, or if it doesn't have a lid, cover it with foil so that it is well sealed. Put the casserole in the oven and turn it on to 250°F. Roast the lamb for about 6 hours (you probably have lee-way of about half an hour on either side) until the lamb is so tender it just falls apart. You can wiggle a bone to find out.

When it is done, remove it to a serving dish, cover it and set it aside for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, skim the fat from the pan juices, and strain them into a pot. Mix the starch with the remaining cold stock until it is well dissolved, and mix it into the pot of pan juices. Bring to a simmer, strirring constantly, at which point it should be thickened, and the starch clear.

Finish the roast by pulling it to pieces, removing and discarding all large pieces of fat and all the bones and gristle. Pass with the gravy.

Last year at this time I made Pear Pie with Dried Apricots & Ginger and, not coincidentally, Spelt Pie Crust.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Pork & Jerusalem Artichoke Won-Tons

Jerusalem artichokes, if cooked only briefly, have nice mild crunch to them, much like water-chestnuts, so unlike my other won-tons these ones seem fairly traditional.

If you don't want so many won-tons, either cut the recipe in half, or form the leftover filling into little meatballs. Brown them, then add them to broth to simmer for about 10 minutes. You can add any leftover won-ton wrappers, cut in strips like noodles as well if you like. Much less work, and very tasty.

72 won-tons, at least
1 hour prep time, also at least

Pork and Jerusalem Artichoke Wontons
450 grams (1 pound) lean ground pork
6 to 10 large Jerusalem artichokes
1 small leek
2 to 3 cloves of garlic
2 to 3 tablespoons finely minced or grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon salt

1 package won-ton wrappers

Peel the Jerusalem artichokes, putting them in icy cold water to soak as you work. When they are all peeled, chop them fairly finely and put them in a mixing bowl. Trim the leek, discarding any tough dark green parts and the roots. Mince the leek very, very finely, and add it to the bowl. Peel and mince the garlic, and peel and mince or grate the ginger. Into the bowl they go along with the pork, the sesame oil and salt. Using your clean hands, mix the filling thoroughly.

Have a small bowl of cold water standing by, and also a plate or tray to put the finished won-tons. Put a teaspoon of the filling - no more - onto a wonton wrapper. Dip a finger in the water, and wet 2 sides of the wrapper along the edge. Fold the wrapper in half, dry sides to wet sides, and pinch sealed. Dampen the three corners slightly, and fold the outside corners in and up, pinching them against the top corner. Set the finished won-ton on the plate or tray, and do it again. And again... until you have finished all of the filling or the wrappers, you have made enough, or you just can't stand it any more.

Cook the won-tons the same way as pot-stickers; by cooking them in a heavily oiled pan on one side for 1 or 2 minutes, until nicely browned. Turn them over, and add about half a cup of water. Cook steadily until the water has evaporated, and the dumplings are firm. Add a little more water if needed. Lift them out carefully, and serve them with a dipping sauce of 1 teaspoon soy sauce to 2 teaspoons rice vinegar, if you like.

You can also put them in chicken broth and cook them for 10 minutes for soup, or deep fry them.

Last year at this time I made Swedish Meatballs.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Potato & Green Onion Won-Tons

You won't get these in a Chinese restaurants because I invented them. They taste vaguely Chinese-ish, and they're vegetarian.They are very cheap to make (providing the maker is not getting paid, because they are definitely labour-intensive) and they can be made in advance, which is what I plan to do for the birthday/anniversary party this month. I'm experimenting; I'm happy with the filling but I need to figure out the best way to cook them as an appetizer. I cooked them like pot-stickers here, and we enjoyed them but I would like them crunchier for appetizers. Maybe brushing them with oil then baking them will work. I'll update the recipe once I have a plan. You could also serve them simmered in chicken or miso soup for about 10 minutes.

Yes, I'm using purchased won-ton wrappers here. Life is too short, etc.

Note: the plan to bake them really didn't work. They were hard and crunchy, rather than nicely crunchy. Edible, but just not great. Oh well. Cook 'em in a pan as described, or soup 'em.

60 or more wontons
1 hour prep time, not including baking the potatoes

Potato and Green Onion Won Tons
4 cups chopped cooled baked potatoes ( 3 large)

2 to 3 tablespoons finely minced fresh ginger
4 green onions, finely chopped
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon salt

1 package won-ton wrappers (about 75?)

Have your cooled baked potatoes ready, and chop the flesh of them finely. It's up to you whether to include the skins or not. I assumed not, but when I looked at the mixture, I thought it could use a bit more texture and put in half of them.

Add the finely (finely!) minced ginger, the chopped green onions, the sesame oil and the salt, and mix well.

Have a little bowl of cold water standing by, also a plate or tray for the finished won-tons. You may wish to have a little plate for the won-ton in progress, as well. Put a teaspoon or less of the filling in the centre of a won-ton wrapper. Do not over fill them. Dip a finger in the water, and brush the water along two sides of the square wrapper. Fold it in half, over the filling, forming a triangular shape. Pinch sealed along the edges - the water will make them stick. Dampen the three corners of the triangle slightly, and fold the two opposite corners inwards and up, towards the top corner. Pinch sealed, and place the won-ton thus formed on your plate or tray. Continue until you have finished filling all the won-ton wrappers, run out of filling, have enough, or are about to have an attack of screaming insano-boredom, whichever comes first.

At this point the finished won-tons can be covered with a very slightly damp tea-towel, and cooked somewhat later, but within the hour is best. As noted, you can add them to soup and simmer for about 10 minutes before serving.

To cook as pot-stickers, put enough oil to cover the bottom of a large skillet into said skillet, and cover the bottom.* This should be a tablespoonful or two. Heat over medium-high heat, and quickly add won-tons to fill the pan. When they have browned nicely on the bottom, which should take about a minute or two, flip them over and carefully pour in about half a cup of water all around them. Reduce the heat to medium-low heat, and continue cooking for about 6 to 8 minutes, until the water has evaporated and they are beginning to sizzle in the oil again.

Lift them out carefully, and serve at once, with the following sauce, if liked.

1 teaspoon soya sauce
2 teaspoons rice vinegar

Mix in a little bowl, and use to dip the won-tons. Make a little bowl of sauce for each diner.

Last year at this time I made Broccoli with Miso-Mustard Dressing.

*I'm typing this at 1:00 a.m. Does it show much?

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Roasted Squash, Brussels Sprouts & Shallots

Posting is going to be a bit erratic for the next two weeks. I've started doing the work for the party I am holding for Dad and his partner, and it's an awful lot like planning a wedding. Forty or fifty guests, dinner, a silent auction... yikes. A million little details to worry about. I need to get busy. Busier.

In the meantime, this made a nice, quick dinner with some rice, or at least the work part was quick. It does require some time in the oven. I'm kind of vague about the amount of squash, but really, whatever you think will be eaten. I used about a third of a good sized squash. It wasn't actually butternut, it was something called a sweet meat squash, which as it turned out was pretty similar, if just a tad milder.

4 servings
1 hour or a bit more - 20 minutes prep time

Roasted Squash, Brussels Sprouts and Shallots

1/4 t0 1/2 of a medium butternut or similar squash
2 tablespoons olive or grapeseed oil
salt & pepper
12 to 16 Brussels sprouts
6 to 8 medium shallots
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon rubbed oregano
1/2 teaspoon rubbed savory
1/2 teaspoon rosemary, ground

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Remove the seeds from your piece of squash, and peel it. Cut it into thin (1/2 cm) slices. Toss them in a large roasting pan with the oil, season generously with salt and pepper, and roast for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, trim the Brussels sprouts and cut them in quarters. Peel the shallots, and cut them in halves or quarters, depending on their size. Mix the honey, vinegar and herbs; it is probably helpful to heat the honey in the microwave or on the back of the stove to make it more mixable.

When the squash have roasted for about 20 minutes, add remove them from the oven. Stir in the Brussels sprouts and shallots. Drizzle the honey, vinegar and herb mixture over the vegetables. Toss once more, and return to the oven to roast for a further 20 to 30 minutes, until the vegetables are done to your liking.

Last year at this time I made Split Pea Curry and Pie-Spiced Roast Butternut Squash.