Saturday, 27 February 2010

Where Have I Been?

In Victoria, that's where. Most of last week, actually. Now that we are back I have been slow to pick up posting again, but I'm hoping that by Monday there will be something.

We had an excellent visit. The daffodils were in bloom, along with many shrubs, including camellias and we saw one magnolia in full bloom. (Most were still just in bud.) It's been a shock to come back to the slop and cold and mountainous piles of snow.

Unfortunately, a week of unaccustomed almost-constant walking, followed by a hellish 20 hour trip home of almost-constant sitting has left me with a painful and almost immobile lower back. It's slowly improving, but I am still hobbling around pretty slowly, and not getting back into the cooking groove. So, I'll be back in a bit. Hopefully Monday.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Last Call for Monforte Subscriptions

I got an email this morning from Monforte Dairy, with the exciting news that they have raised $350,000 through CSA cheese shares. Wow, that's going to be a lot of cheese. However, they'd like to make it more. Their goal is to raise $500,000 in shares, but they are only going to be offering the CSA shares until April 25th. That's a 50% return on your investment in cheese... if you can find a little money now you'll be eating fabulous cheeses and more for the next 5 years.

Also on April 25th they will be holding a Hootenanny to celebrate their successful fundraising and the rebirth of Monforte cheese. If it's half as good as their last celebratory event, it will be a terrific party and I'm looking forward to attending it. Looks like it will be in the Festival Theatre lobby in Stratford.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Butternut Squash Curry

I have not seen local squash for sale for some time, then suddenly I saw some in 2 different stores. Why that should be I don't know, but I was happy to take advantage of it.

The squash can be roasted ahead of time. Indeed, it would make sense to roast twice as much (or so) as you need a day or two in advance, eating part of it plain and saving the rest for this curry.

3 or 4 servings
20 minutes prep time - plus 1 1/2 hours to prep and roast the squash

Butternut Squash Curry
Roast the Squash:
1 kilo (2 pounds) butternuts squash
- (about 6 cups when peeled and cubed)
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil

Peel the squash, remove the seeds, and cut it into pieces to roast. Toss them with the oil and bake them at 400°F for about 1 hour, or until tender.

Make the Curry Sauce:
2 medium onions
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh ginger
2 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
2 tablespoons mild curry powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
500 ml coconut milk
1 tablespoon arrowroot
100 grams (3 ounces) pea sprouts
OR 1 cup frozen peas

Peel and chop the onions. Peel and mince the ginger and the garlic.

Heat the oil in a large skillet, and sauté the onions until soft and slightly browned. Add the ginger and garlic, and cook for a minute more. Sprinkle over the seasonings, and blend well. Add most of the coconut milk, and allow the mixture to simmer until well amalgamated, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, mix the arrowroot with the last few tablespoons of the coconut milk.

When you are about ready to serve, add the roasted squash and heat through. Add the pea sprouts or peas and allow them to heat through as well. Mix in the last of the coconut and arrowroot, and cook for about a minute, until thickened. Serve with steamed rice.

Last year at this time I was working on perfecting Almond Pound Cake for my cousins wedding in the summer.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Char-Siu Style Pork Ribs

Mmm, ribs. I admit to being a "pig" for ribs. It's a good thing good ribs can be a little hard to get hold of. My goal was to make ribs that taste like Chinese barbecue pork (char-siu), and these are somewhat close, if not exact. Delicious, anyway. No, I didn't add any food colour, unlike as with most of the char-siu you see out there. Still, they did take on a fair bit of red colour which does add to the effect.

These are but one step away from being "honey-garlic" ribs. If that's what you want, be sure to use the higher amount of honey and add finely minced garlic, lots of finely minced garlic. The lower amount of honey will probably give a more traditional char-siu flavour.

4 servings
3 hours - not including overnight marinade

Char Siu Style Pork Ribs
Make the Marinade:
2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon 5-spice powder
¼ teaspoon finely ground white pepper
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
¼ cup hoisin sauce
3 or 4 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce

Mix well in a bowl.

Prepare and Cook the Ribs:
2 kilos (4 pounds) pork ribs

Cut the ribs into individual pieces. Place them in a single layer in a roasting pan, and spoon the marinade over them, spreading it around and turning them so they are all evenly coated. Marinate the ribs overnight, covered in the fridge.

When you are ready to start cooking them, drain most of the marinade off the ribs into a pot, which should be kept in the fridge until the ribs are almost done.

Meanwhile, put the pan of ribs without the marinade (and uncovered) into the oven and bake the ribs for 2 to 2 ½ hours at 250°F.

At this point, reduce the pot of marinade on stove, until it is quite thick. This won't take long, probably about 5 minutes. Stir constantly.

Drain any accumulated fat from the ribs. Brush them with the reduced marinade, and bake them for a further 20 minutes at 400°F until dry and crisped.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Not so Funny Money!

I am apparently amongst the last to have received my Monforte vouchers, since the first batch mailed to me went AWOL in the mail. However, the replacements are here and I am looking forward to a year of great cheese! In a way, it's a good thing they came late. I'm less tempted to run out and spend them right away on what little cheddar remains at this point. I'm at peace with the thought of saving them until the milk begins to flow in the spring, at which point we will make a pilgrimage to Stratford and stock up on a much wider range of fresh cheeses. I'll be telling you all about it then...

In the meantime: SQUEEEEE! I feel so rich. And why not - after all, how many investments return at a rate of 50%? Yes, you have to take your dividends in cheese, but such cheese! I think it's not to late to sign up for vouchers at Monforte Dairy.

And last year at this time, I made Honey-Garlic Lamb Ribs.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Caledon Farm Workshops

Mr. Ferdzy is all excited about a list of upcoming workshops from Caledon Farm, in Alton. They've done a few already but they still have The Secret of Healthy, Super-Productive Soils on February 27th, Growing High Yield, Healthy, Organic Vegetables on March 20 & 21 and March 27th & 28th (a 2 part course), Composting on April 17th, and No Till, Low Labout, Easy Sheet Mulch Gardening on May 7th or 8th.

These are all $75 for a one day course that runs from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm. The one 2-part course is $150.oo for the 4 days.

In addition, there is an Evening Panel Discussion Series being planned, although dates are not yet available, on topics relating to small farming using permaculture principles.

For more information, call Shalani Ingham at 519-941-4116 or email caledonfarm AT gmail DOT com; you know how to translate that I trust.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Micro-Greens From a Micro-Farm

Last week, I visited a very small farm. How small is it? Well, this is it... you are looking at the whole thing. It fits inside Sharon Zoschke's utility room very nicely, on shelves she built herself.

Sharon's sprouts start off as organic seeds and peas, which are soaked, drained and sprouted in these glass jars.

Nylon mesh circles in the mouths of the jars (cut from embroidery "canvas" bought at the craft store) keeps the seeds from getting too soggy and going bad. There's an art to keeping the seeds moist enough, but not too wet.

The sprouted seeds are then densely planted in a blend of seed-starter potting mix and vermiculite, and grown until they are dense and green. Then they are snipped and packed in 5 ounce bags, where if kept properly stored (refrigerated) they will keep for at least a week.

Sharon grows pea shoots, radish sprouts, sunflower seeds and what she calls buckwheat "lettuce". These are all micro-greens (small young plants) rather than actual sprouts, although they are marketed as sprouts since people are more familiar with that term.

The different plants have different requirements. For example the sunflower sprouts are started with weights on top (in this case trays of radish sprouts) otherwise they won't root down properly. Then they are exposed to the light to green up. The resulting greens look large and coarse for sprouts, but are surprisingly tender and delicate, with a lovely sunflower flavour.

These are well-established plants when they are cut, although still young and tender. They are fed with an organic mineral solution only. The buckwheat lettuce takes a bit of grooming, as otherwise it tends to hold the hulls.

The harvested greens are sold to a local store and become part of a CSA share. Soon, they should be appearing on the menu in a couple of local cafés.

The CSA was what got Sharon started. She asked the farmer who runs her CSA if there was any chance of sprouts being available during the winter. He said he could not do it as he was too busy, but perhaps she could do it. So she did. At this point, micro-farming doesn't produce much in the way of income. However, it's a way for Sharon to get her micro-greens in the winter and share them with others. She won't be producing them in the summer; she feels it's better to eat plants grown in the sun and (actual) earth during that time.

Sharon with a small tray of radish sprouts. Sharon is happy to tell you all about how she does it. She'll be running a class in sprouting at the 100 Mile Market in Meaford on February 23rd, and if you can't make that you can contact her about setting up other classes. (Grey-Bruce area.)

Last year at this time I made Sunflower-Vegetable Paté.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Crustless Rhubarb-Custard Pie

More rhubarb, whottasurprise. I've been eating rather a lot of it this week. This is a bit like a pie, a bit like a clafouti. I always think custard goes really, really well with rhubarb. Cuts the acidity a bit. However, this is also good with berries and if you have some in the freezer they will certainly work. They need to be thawed in advance though, and drained well so the juices don't dilute and discolour the custard.

8 servings
1 hour - 15 minutes prep time

Crustless Rhubarb Custard Pie
3 cups chopped rhubarb OR mixed berries

1/3 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar (1/3 cup if using berries)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 extra-large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup milk or buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter a 10" pie plate, and spread the chopped rhubarb over the bottom. If you are using frozen berries, they should be thawed slowly and drained first.

Put the remaining ingredients in a blender or mixing bowl and blend or beat on high for 3 minutes. Pour the batter gently over the fruit.

Bake the pie for 40 to 45 minutes, until set in the middle. Let cool before serving.

Last year at this time I made Dad's Bean Soup, which is a simple, simple soup that I love. I need to make it again.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Deli Style Potato Salad

Our Linzer Delikatess potatoes have been holding up very well in storage; much better than I expected. They are just starting to show a few sprouts. They are also nearly gone; we have been eating them. I have to say they are wonderful potatoes. We will definitely grow them again.

You can make this salad with any small, firm-waxy potato, since it is unlikely you will find Linzer Delikatess potatoes easily.

4 to 6 servings
1 hour prep time - can be started a day in advance

Deli Style Potato Salad
4 cups small "new" potatoes (such as linzer delikatess)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon sugar

4 extra-large eggs
1 or 2 stalks celery
1 medium carrot
1 green onion or shallot (optional)
1 to 3 dill pickles
1 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 cup mayonnaise (light is fine)
1/2 cup yogurt or sour cream
salt & pepper

Scrub the potatoes and cut any which are larger than the others in half, to create evenly sized pieces. Boil the potatoes until just tender. Drain them and toss them with the vinegar, water and sugar. Let them cool. Toss again, then drain off any excess vinegar mixture. This can be done a day ahead and the potatoes covered and kept in the fridge. In that case, leave them in the marinade until needed.

Boil the eggs for one minute, then turn off the heat and let them continue cooking for 10 minutes. Drain, cool and peel them.

Meanwhile, wash and chop the celery very finely. Peel and grate the carrot. Peel and mince the shallot, or finely chop the green onion, if using either. Chop the pickles finely. Mix all of these into the drained potatoes.

Grind the celery seed and add it to the salad with the mayonnaise and yogurt or sour cream. Mix well. Give it a taste, then season with salt and pepper. (Salt will depend on how salty the pickles are.) Add the coarsely chopped boiled eggs.

Last year at this time I made Baked Scotch Eggs.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Rhubarb Tapioca

I'm on a tapioca kick at the moment, and why not? It's about as simple a fruit-based pudding as you can do. You have to like the boingy texture that the tapioca has when cooked with fruit; it's not as creamy as a milk-based tapioca pudding at all. But I do like it a lot, as well as the clarity and intensity of flavour that you get without any milk or cream. Mind you, this is very nice with custard. I wouldn't say no to custard.

This was, of course, made with rhubarb from Lennox Farm.

4 to 6 servings
15 minutes prep time - 2 hours chill time

Rhubarb Tapioca
4 cups diced rhubarb
1 cup water or apple juice
a pinch of salt
4 tablespoons minute tapioca
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup to 3/4 cup sugar

Clean and trim the rhubarb, and cut it into short pieces. Put it in a large pot with the remaining ingredients. Bring the mixture to a boil and boil, stirring freqently, for about 5 minutes, until the tapioca is all clear and the rhubarb has disintegrated.

Spoon into a serving bowl or individual dishes and let cool. Chill before serving.

Last year at this time I made Tuna & Pea Salad.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Sunflower- Honey Granola

Granola is another one of those things I don't make very often. I enjoy eating it, but I don't like the smell as it bakes. Given that it smells like toasted oats and honey, this may sound strange until I tell you it was another popular product from the anarchist vegan bakery days. I spent several years saturated in that odour, and could now do without it, thanks.

The main baker claimed, in a moment of exasperation, that their "Fruit & Nut" granola was named after their commune, which consisted of the baking couple, another anarchist vegan and a bunch of drag queens with fetishes for TTC workers in uniform. I remember listening to one fellow sighing on and on about how he "wished he knew how it felt to be a woman". Eventually I got fed up and grossly offended him by telling him that if he really wanted to know how it to be a woman, he could go and wash some of the dishes that all the men in the commune left stacked up for the one woman in the commune to do (who of course was also one of the few people there with a full time job.) Ah, the smell of granola in the morning... smells like unexamined male privilege. Well, it was the '70's, in case you couldn't tell already.

Anyway. Granola is easy enough to make, and if stored properly keeps for a good long time. I like it best with yogurt and fresh fruit. This is a fairly moderate version, not too sweet and rich, but not too pared down either.

Makes about 12 cups, at least 24 servings
1 hour 15 minutes - 15 minutes prep time

Sunflower Honey Granola
8 cups large flake rolled oats
1 cup bran
1 cup unsweetened dessicated coconut
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup nuts; walnuts, pecans or almonds

1 cup honey
1/2 cup sunflower oil

1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup dried apples, broken or cut up

Mix the oats, bran, coconut, sunflower seeds and nuts in a large bowl.

Preheat the oven to 300°F.

Put the honey and oil into a pot, and bring them to a boil. Pour them into the oat mixture, and stir well with a large wooden spoon, making sure all the oats are coated. Turn the mixture onto a large cookie tray or better, a large jelly-roll pan - looks like a cookie tray but has sides. You could also divide it between 2 9" x 13" cake pans.

Bake the granola for about an hour, stirring it every 15 minutes. The exact time will depend on how deep your granola is piled, and also on just how dark and crunchy you like it.

When it comes out of the oven, mix in the cranberries and apples while it is hot and still pliable. As it cools, it will set, and once it is cool you will have to break it up and crumble it by hand. Keep it stored in a cool, dark spot well sealed in a glass jar or tub.

Eat it plain, with yogurt or milk, blended with plainer cereals, or sprinkled on top of fruit or ice-cream.

Last year at this time I made Szegedin Goulash.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Sprout Salad with Wild Rice, Carrot & Mushrooms

Winter can get a little too heavy on the root vegetables and the cabbage; oh, the endless, endless cabbage. That's why it's so great when you can find some sprouts. This salad uses pea shoots and sunflower sprouts, which are surprisingly delicate in flavour and texture given their rather ungainly size. If you can't find that particular set of sprouts though, almost any combo will do. This salad tastes so fresh and alive, and you'll feel fresh and alive when you eat it too.

4 to 6 servings
15 minutes prep time, but don't forget to cook the rice in advance

Sprout Salad with Wild Rice Carrot and Mushrooms
Cook the Wild Rice:
3/4 cup wild rice
2 1/4 cups water
a pinch of salt

As ever, easiest to put it all in the rice cooker and cook it there. Use only half of the cooked wild rice for the salad; it's just hard to cook less and there is always a use for leftover cooked wild rice.

Make the Honey-Mustard Salad Dressing:
1 tablespoon honey
3 tablespoons sunflower seed oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Put the honey and oil in a small bowl or jar, and heat it in the microwave for about 20 to 30 seconds, until the honey melts. Mix in the remaining ingredients.

Make the Salad:
1 cup sliced button mushrooms
1 to 1 1/2 cups sunflower sprouts
1 to 1 1/2 cups pea spouts
1 medium carrot

Clean and slice the mushrooms. Rinse the sprouts and drain them well. Chop them roughly. Peel and grate the carrot.

Mix the mushrooms, sprouts and carrot with half of the cold cooked wild rice. Toss with the dressing and serve at once.

Last year at this time I made English Carrot-Almond Cake.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Ras-el-Hanout Hummus

Hummus has gone from being essentially unknown (in Ontario) when I was a kid, to being a regular staple in almost everyone's diet. You can buy it in tubs in every grocery store, and some of it's not bad at all. Still, like most things, it's way better when you make it yourself, and it's very easy if you have a food processor. You can used tinned chick peas but really, it's not hard to cook the chick peas and the texture and flavour are so much better it's well worth the time and minimal effort.

I made some ras-el-hanout a little while back and liked it but didn't quite know what to do with it. It occurred to me that it would be good in hummus. So it is, but if you want plain hummus, eliminate all the spices except the cumin and salt, and put in 3 tablespoons of tahini and taste it to decide if that's enough.

Makes about 2 to 3 cups hummus
4 hours to cook the chick peas - 15 minutes prep time for hummus

Ras el Hanout Hummus

Cook the Chick Peas:
2 cups dry chick peas

Which is a fair bit more than you will need for hummus, but why cook less? Extras can go in soups, stews or salad, and can be frozen for future use if you like. (2/3 to 3/4 cup dried will do if that's all you really want to cook.)

Put the chick peas into a large pot with plenty of water to cover - they expand considerably. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat, and let the peas soak for an hour or two. Continue bringing them to a boil then leaving them to soak, covered, three or four more times, until they are well on the way to being cooked. At that point, bring them to a steady low boil, and boil until tender. Let cool before making the hummus.

Make the Ras-el-Hanout:
3/4 teaspoons cumin seed
3/4 teaspoons coriander seed
1/4 teaspoon anise seed
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne
3/4 teaspoon salt

Grind the first 4 ingredients as finely as you can. Blend in the remaining ingredients. Set aside.

Make the Hummus:
2 cups cooked chick peas
2 to 3 cloves of garlic
4 tablespoons tahini
about 1/4 cup cooking water from the chick peas
the juice of 1 lemon

Put the drained chick peas, peeled and sliced garlic cloves and tahini into a food processor, and process briefly add the spices, and process again, scraping down the sides if necessary. Add the cooking water, a few tablespoons at a time until the mixture softens. Blend in the lemon juice, and add a little more cooking water if necessary to reach the desired consistency. Blend very well, until the hummus is smooth.

Pack into a tub and keep refrigerated until wanted; the hummus is best if the flavours are allowed to blend for several hours to overnight. Serve with bread, chips or crudités to dip.

Last year at this time I made Cheesy Potato Casserole.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Beefy Winter Borsch

This is a lovely soup; sweet, mellow and filling without being too rich. It can easily support a good dollop of sour cream or yogurt. It's definitely a meal in itself, needing nothing more than a little bread and butter or maybe some apple crisp for dessert.

6 servings (meal sized)
2 hours - 45 minutes prep time

Beefy Winter Borscht
4 medium beets
2 medium carrots
2 medium potatoes
3 to 4 stalks celery (2 cups diced celeriac)
2 medium onions
450 grams (1 pound) stewing beef
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
4 cups crushed or diced tomatoes
2 cups beef stock
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns ground

Wash the beets and put them in a pot with sufficient water to cover. Bring them to a boil and boil them until tender; about 45 minutes. Keep the cooking water.

Meanwhile, peel the carrots, and cut them into dice. Cut the potatoes into slightly larger chunks. Peel and chop the onions. Chop the celery, or the peeled celeriac.

Put the potatoes and carrots into a pot with sufficient water to cover, and simmer until tender, about 20 to 30 minutes.

Cut the beef into small pieces similar to the sizes of the vegetables. Heat the oil in a skillet, and cook the beef until browned on all sides. Add the onions and celery about halfway through the process; they should be soft but not much browned.

Put the beef, celery and onions into a large soup-pot with the tomatoes and the beef stock. Add the drained carrots and potatoes. Add 2 cups of the beet cooking water. Peel the beets, dice them and add them to the soup. Likewise, add the vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper.

Simmer the soup 10 minutes to amalgamate the flavours. It can be served at once, or will keep chilled in the fridge for several days and re-heats very well. Mr. Ferdzy won't consider it complete unless you pass some sour cream with it.

Last year at this time I made Peanut Salad Dressing.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Lennox Farm Rhubarb

Lennox Farm Rhubarb
Snowy, isn't it? It's the middle of winter; nothing is growing... outdoors. On Monday we headed out to Lennox Farm, just north of Shelburne to see what's growing indoors.

Lennox Farm Rhubarb
We walked past the farm house to some pretty standard-looking farm outbuildings. You wouldn't know you are looking at one of the biggest producers of forced winter rhubarb in Ontario. Not that there are many; there are only about 4 major producers nowadays. At the peak of the business back in the 1940's and 1950's, there were 63 big producers of forced rhubarb. Lennox farms was around then, and they are still here.

Lennox Farm Rhubarb
Inside, members of the French family pack the forced rhubarb into 10 pound boxes for shipping. The variety is Sutton Seedless, with the occasional bit of (Queen) Victoria mixed in. The two got mixed a few years back, and while they can tell the difference when they pick it, the roots are indistinguishable. There's very little difference; Victoria has a white petiole, and Suttons is pink. They are both fast-growing varieties that tend to be green when grown outdoors, but force to a lovely shade of pink.

Lennox Farm Rhubarb
Every year the French family plants 5 acres of rhubarb in the field. When it is 3 years old, the roots from 3 to 4 acres are harvested in the fall and moved, along with the muck that clings to them, to a cement-floored, windowless barn. There, they begin to grow in the dark. The remaining acre or so of rhubarb provides divisions to be replanted and keep the stock going, because once the roots have spent a winter producing stalks of rhubarb in the dark, they are done. The expended roots are taken out and plowed back into a field to compost.

Lennox Farm Rhubarb
You can see Mr. Ferdzy disappearing into a back room. Where's he going...?

Lennox Farm Rhubarb
...In here, where the rhubarb grows. This is a poor photo because the light was SO dim. The rhubarb grows in the dark, which keeps it tender, sweet and pink. The lights are only turned on for picking. You can see that plantings have been staggered, to keep the rhubarb in production all winter and spring. Lennox Farm grows rhubarb from early January through to mid-May. Then, they get another 6 weeks and 100,000 pounds of rhubarb from outdoor plants. That's over 6 months of the year that fresh rhubarb is available in Ontario!

Lennox Farm Rhubarb
Bill French harvests some rhubarb. It's not exactly a highly mechanized process... you bend over and pull gently and twist from the bottom of each stalk, picking stalks that are between 18" and 24". The rhubarb is harvested about once a week. Nowadays, the farm produces about 240,000 pounds of rhubarb a year, down from the peak average of about 800,000 pounds. Their record annual harvest was 1,200,000 pounds!

Lennox Farm Rhubarb
So what happened? In addition to a much wider range of imported fresh fruits and vegetables becoming available to Canadians in the winter, the 1970's brought "the oil crisis" and the much higher costs of heating the barns combined to put a lot of Ontario rhubarb farmers out of business.

Lennox Farm Rhubarb
The survivors have adapted. Heating costs are much lower now thanks to heat-exchange systems which suck out the moist, condensation-heavy air from the closed in barn, but keep the heat from being lost and return it to the growing room. This also means that the rhubarb requires no sprays while they grow. Before the heat-exchange system was available, the rhubarb had to be sprayed with Captan to control mold. Now however, just picking and discarding the stems that start to show signs of black does the trick. The plants are sprayed only once a year in the field with Roundup to control weeds, while the rhubarb is dormant.

Lennox Farm Rhubarb
Lennox Farms has the equipment to process rhubarb for freezing for use in bakeries. However, they now sell so little that way that they only run the equipment one day a year. It used to be a big part of the business. Now, essentially all the rhubarb used in commercial baking (and let's cut to the chase here; we are talking about pies) comes from Poland. That's right, Poland. Apparently it's cheaper to ship it by water to Nova Scotia, where it gets baked into pies by one of two big remaining commercial bakers. (Bill listed off about half a dozen large companies once in Ontario; no more.) Apparently it's not then too expensive to ship those pies all over Canada. Is this a crazy freakin' system or what? I admit to being shocked. And, if you are a bakery in southern Ontario and you want local rhubarb, Bill French is the guy to talk to. He can do it.

Lennox Farm Rhubarb
There's no website for Lennox Farms, but they can be reached at:

Bill French
518024 County Rd 124
Shelburne, Ontario L0N 1S7


During the summer, they do have a farm stand where they sell rhubarb, strawberries, beans, peas, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage (all of which they grow) in season.

Otherwise, check your local store for fresh, forced Ontario rhubarb. If they don't have it, ask! It's available. Check the side listing for rhubarb recipes. There should be a fair number coming up in the next couple of weeks as well, because we were given a nice big box full of slightly blemished stalks as we left the farm.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Blood Orange Tapioca Pudding

More purple moosh. I didn't think I was going to post this, so I just glopped it into dishes without regard to how photogenic it was... result; not very. It was too good not to share, though. Blood oranges are such a treat, and if you love tapioca like I love tapioca, well...

Fruit-based tapioca puddings were always a minority taste but they have become rare to the point of non-existance, at least in this part of the world. They are less creamy (no duh) and more boingy in texture; something that does not appeal to everyone but those of us who like it, tend to really like it. It's extremely refreshing, especially after a heavy winter meal - and winter is when blood oranges are around. Not local but at least seasonal.

6 servings
45 minutes prep time - plus several hours to chill

Blood Orange Tapioca Pudding
4 large blood oranges
1 cup orange juice
2 to 4 tablespoons honey
a pinch of salt
3 tablespoons quick-cook (minute) tapioca

Peel the oranges, then peel the segments and break each segment into 2 or 3 pieces. Set them aside.

Squeeze the orange juice and mix it in a medium-sized pot with the honey, salt and tapioca. Bring to a boil and boil, stirring frequently (constantly at the end) until the mixture thickens and the tapioca is all clear; about 3 or 4 minutes in total.

Mix in the blood orange segments, and simmer for a minute or two longer. Put the finished pudding into a serving dish, or dishes, and chill.

Last year at this time I made Split Pea or Lentil Curry.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Beet Orzotto

In the fall I bought a 10 pound bag of beets. They were on sale for $2, or I wouldn't have. I've mentioned before; as a kid I hated beets with a passion. The idea that I could go through a 10 pound bag before winter was over would have completely astonished me. However, it's true. I have enough left for one batch of borscht, and then I'll be out. Looks like leopards can occasionally change their spots.

I'm not such a lover of beets, though, that I don't think this isn't improved by a good hit of cheese, which makes me think it's better as the main dish of your meal, with a salad to keep it company. However, you could keep the cheese down and serve it with a piece of meat, poultry or fish.

4 to 6 servings
20 minutes prep time - plus 1 hour to cook the barley & beets

Beet Orzotto
Cook the Barley & Beets:
4-5 medium beets
3/4 cup barley
a pinch of salt
various quantities of water

Wash the beets and place them, whole and unpeeled, in a pot and cover them with water. Bring them to a boil and boil them steadily for about 45 minutes, until tender.

Cook the barley by putting it in the rice cooker with 2 1/4 cups water and a pinch of salt. Turn it on and cook it... both these things should be done one day ahead.

Make the Orzotto:
1 medium onion
1 or 2 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoons rubbed sage
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/4 cup white wine
100 grams (4 ounces) Parmesan cheese, grated
salt and black pepper to taste

more cheese to finish, if desired

Peel the beets, and cut them into fairly fine dice. There should be about 2 cups of them. Peel and chop the onion, and peel and mince the garlic. Put the stock in its own pot to heat, and heat to simmering. Heat the oil in a large skillet

Sauté the onion until soft and lightly browned. Add the garlic and continue sautéing for another minute or two. Add the beets and the barley, crumbled to separate the grains. Add the sage.

Begin adding the stock, stirring well between each addition. Since it isn't a lot of stock, I break it up into 3 additions. Let it be mostly absorbed by the orzotto between each addition. Stir frequently.

When the last of the stock has been added and is mostly absorbed, add the wine and parmesan. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. As soon as the orzotto achieves a texture that you like, it is ready to serve.

If you are serving it as the main part of the meal - perhaps with a crunchy salad - you could sprinkle some more cheese over it; Parmesan, Cheddar or even blue cheeses would all be good.

Last year at this time I made Stuffed Baked Potatoes.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Orange Duck with Fried Wild Rice

This was inspired by the purchase of some Seville Oranges which are currently in season, as well as a couple of duck breasts in the freezer. It was not 100% successful, but close enough to post for future reference since I will definitely want to do it again. It may not have been perfect, but it was still pretty darn good.

Both of these dishes cook up very quickly. Apart from cooking the wild rice the day before, everything should go together in not much more than 20 minutes. I'm describing making each component separately, but they should start cooking at the same time. I'm also calling for carrot in the wild rice, which you can see is not there. It turns out someone used up all the carrots and didn't even notice, *ahem*. I think it would have been better with it.

As for the duck, the sauce was very tasty as I made it, but could use some tweaking. I put in star anise and dried chiles, but my technique did not allow the flavours to develop enough (or at all, frankly) so I am proposing making an infusion of them instead of just putting them in, which is what I actually did. The sauce cooks so quickly that that just didn't work.

Also, I sliced the duck before putting on the sauce as I thought it would make a nice presentation but nix on that. All it did was allow a lot of juice to flow out and dilute the sauce.

And finally, there were a lot of accumulated juices in the duck packet, and ever-frugal me dumped them into the sauce. This turned a nice clear-fruity sauce into something that looked a lot more like gravy, and rather lumpy gravy at that. It tasted fine, but not exactly beautiful. I'd say it's your call on whether you want to do that, but I recommend not.

I cooked twice as much wild rice as I needed, just because it is so hard to cook less. The second half will make a nice salad later this week.

Note that although I list cooking the duck and sauce second, the sauce ingredients should be mixed before you start cooking the fried wild rice.

2 servings
20 minutes prep time

Orange Duck with Fried Wild Rice
To Do Ahead:
2 skinless, boneless duck breasts (about 400 grams/bit less than a pound)
3/4 cup wild rice
2 1/4 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt

If your duck breasts are frozen, be sure to take them out of the freezer the night before. The wild rice should be cooked the night before as well, or at least early in the morning of the day it is to be served. As ever; wild rice, water and salt go into rice-cooker. Turn it on and cook. Once it's cool, chill until needed. (There was a small amount of water left over in my rice - if you have that happen, you should be sure to drain it off before chilling.)

Prepare the Fried Rice
2 stalks celery
1 medium onion
1 medium carrot
1 cup diced mushrooms, shiitake for preference
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
1/2 of the cooked wild rice
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon finely grated Seville orange zest
1 tablespoon good quality oyster sauce

Wash, trim and chop the celery fairly finely. Peel and chip the onion about the same. Peel and dice the carrot finely, or grate it if you prefer. Clean and dice the mushrooms.

Heat the oil in a large skillet, and sauté the vegetables until softened. (As soon as they go in, the pan for the duck should be turned on.)

Add the wild rice and the orange zest, and mix in well. Cook for about 4 or 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Mix in the oyster sauce in the last minue of cooking. The rice should be dry looking, with a few signs of things browning.

Cook the Duck and Orange Sauce:
2 star anise pods
4 or 5 dried whole little red chiles
1/4 cup water
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon finely grated Seville orange zest
the juice of 1 Seville orange
1 or 2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons arrowroot
1 teaspoon soy sauce

Put the star anise and red chiles in a small pot with the water, and bring to a boil. Boil for a minute or so, then turn off and cover. Let soak for about 15 minutes, then remove the anise and chiles, and discard them. Mix the remaining ingredients into the infusion, and set aside. (Do this before you start cooking the fried rice.)

1 tablespoon duck fat or mild vegetable oil
the above-mentioned duck breasts

Heat the oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium-high heat. Add the duck breasts, and cook for 2 1/2 to 3 minutes. Turn them over, and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes on the other side. The shorter times will produce quite rare duck, the longer times medium-rare duck. When they are done, remove them to a plate to rest for 4 or 5 minutes.

Keep the skillet over the flame, but reduce the heat to medium-low. Give the sauce ingredients a final stir to make sure the arrowroot is well dissolved, then pour it into the pan. Stir well. It should cook up and thicken in just a minute or so.

Finish the dish by arranging the duck breasts on or next to the fried rice, and pouring the sauce over them. Serve at once.

Last year at this time I made Apple Snow with Custard.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Parsnip Fritters

For something as simple to do as these were, they were crazy-good. We're going to have to go out and buy some more parsnips. Parsnips are softer than carrots and don't grate quite so easily, but they aren't particularly difficult. Also, watch them carefully as they cook - they will go from beautifully done to burnt fairly quickly. I took my eyes off them and one batch got a little too dark. I photographed them good side up, of course. I thought the burntish ones would be used for photographic purposes only but the other ones were so tasty I ate them too and they weren't half bad. (Not that burnt.)

3 to 4 servings
20 minutes prep time

Parsnip Fritters
225 grams (1/2 pound) parsnips (2 large)
1/4 teaspoon salt
fresh ground black pepper to taste (lots!)
1/4 cup flour
1 large egg
1/4 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup oil to fry

Peel the parsnips and grate them quite finely; they will cook better than if they are coarse. Toss them with the salt, pepper and flour. Mix in the egg well, then mix in the buttermilk to make a smooth batter.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Put the batter in by spoonfuls to form small patties; you should get 6 to 8 of them, although you could make them even smaller if you like. When you see the edges start to look brown, turn them over and cook them on the other side. They cook very quickly - 2 or 3 minutes will do each side.

When they are done, blot them briefly on paper towel and serve at once.

Last year at this time I made Seedy Wild Rice, Apple & Cranberry Salad.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Fruitabaga (Fruity Rutabaga)

This is a bit sweeter than most vegetable dishes I make, but what the heck. We had it with pork chops, and it went very well. Turkey is another one that would go well. You may note that I also served some of the Red Cabbage & Beet Relish I made last week with it as well, but in future I wouldn't serve them together - it was too many somewhat sweet vegetables. Plain cabbage would have been better.

Apple juice or cider could be local but I used orange juice this time, and it added a nice tang. I have to admit I find apple cider a bit inconvenient in recipes. I always want a cup or less, but it comes in a litre jug, and then what? Then you have to drink the rest, that's what. I should try freezing some in ice-cube trays next fall.

6 servings
1 hour - 20 minutes prep time

Fruity Rutabaga
4 cups peeled diced rutabagas
2 medium-small apples, cored and diced
the juice of 1/2 orange
OR 1/4 cup apple cider or juice
3/4 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
OR 1/3 cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons Sucanat or dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter

Peel and dice the rutabaga, and put it in a good-sized pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil, and boil for 3o minutes, until just tender.

Wash, core and dice the apples. Drain the rutabaga, but leave it in the pot. Add the apples, orange or apple juice, cranberries, Sucanat, cinnamon and butter. Bring the rutabaga back up to a boil and simmer, stirring frequently, until the apples are softened and everything is well amalgamated.

Last year at this time I made Irish (Potato Skin) Nachos and Japanese Carrot Salad Dressing.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Four Onion Soup - Vegetarian

There have been visions of onion soup dancing in my head for a while, but I wanted to make a vegetarian version, and one that wasn't drenched in cheese, so it took a little figuring. This is still fairly rich, and I have to admit it would be nice with cheese - but was also perfectly good without it. I made mine pretty thick and oniony, but it could be thinned down a bit, especially if you were making it with some good broth. I just used water. Again, I'm giving a pretty big range on the miso because it varies so much in strength. Just keep tasting the soup as you add it; remember you can always add more but once it's in the only solution to pollution is dilution - extreme dilution.

This is a fairly labour intensive soup; I chopped all the alliums except the garlic the night before and I have to say that cut up the work nicely. And yes, this should really have been called "Four Alliums" soup tobe strictly accurate, but it doesn't exactly trip of the tongue, does it?

4 to 6 servings
1 hour 15 minutes - pretty much all work time, sorry

Vegetarian Four Onion Soup
Make Seasoning Mixture:
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1/2 teaspoon rubbed savory
1/2 teaspoon rubbed thyme
1/2 teaspoon rubbed oregano
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns, ground

Mix in a small bowl and set aside until needed.

Make the Soup:
2 cups diced yellow cooking onion (2-3 medium)
2 cups diced shallots (12 to 16 medium, probably)
2 cups chopped leek ( 1 large or 2 medium-small)
2 to 3 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter
4 to 6 cups water or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon sherry or balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons sweet sherry
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 to 3 tablespoons light miso

Peel and dice the onions and shallots. Clean and trim the leeks, and cut them in half lengthwise, then cut them crosswise into 1 cm slices. Set all these aside. You may wish to do this the night before, keeping the finished vegetables well covered in the fridge until wanted.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. You may have to use two skillets if you do not have a really large one. Gently sauté the onions and shallots until golden-brown, stirring regularly especially towards the end of the cooking; about 20 minutes. When the onions and shallots are about half-done, and reduced in volume by about one-third, add the leeks and continue cooking towards your golden-brown goal.

When the onions are done and the leeks look softened, add the garlic and mix in well for a minute or two. Add the flour blend and mix in well, until there are no signs of white left. Mix in the water or broth, a cup at a time, stirring well after each addition.

Let the mixture simmer for about 10 minutes. Mix in the vinegar, sherry and mustard, and then the miso one tablespoon at a time. Keep tasting the soup, and when the miso has supplied the correct level of saltiness, stop adding it.

You can serve the soup with a slice of grilled cheese on top or at the side, but it's perfectly good as-is.

Last year at this time I made Vegetarian Sauerkraut Soup.