Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Latest Garden Report - Transplanting Tomato Seedlings

I knew Mr. Ferdzy couldn't bring himself to compost all the extra tomato seedlings that came up and that we would end up with massive quantities of seedlings clamouring for light and water. We went out and bought a shop light and some more full-spectrum fluorescent lights, and he made this makeshift set-up for them. There's also a bunch of seeds that were stuck in the fridge over the winter down there as well. Specifically, we put sour cherry, damson plum, peach and apricot pits and quince seeds in damp soil and stuck them in the fridge last summer. I opened up the cherries last week and discovered that they had all germinated and were beating on the lid to get out! We potted up 6 of them, and planted the other pits and seeds, minus the peaches and apricots which seemed to have vanished utterly. I think I cracked the pits before putting them in the fridge and so will make a note: don't do that next time. On the other hand, the quinces are sprouting after 2 days out of the fridge. I think there's only about 48 of them, lol. I'll have to thin them when Mr. Ferdzy isn't looking.

Here are some of the seedlings on the official seed-starting stand. The onions and leeks are doing fine and most of the peppers and eggplants and pretty much all of the tomatoes have come up and are doing well. This photo is actually out of date as shortly after I took it we potted up a bunch of these tomato seedlings, and started a new flat of brassica seeds.

In addition to all the seed-starting going on inside there are starting to be signs of life outside too. We were amazed to see that the last of the lettuce survived the winter in the cold frame. Unfortunately, it will just get pulled and composted as it has turned tough and bitter. But still, we're impressed.

The spinach we planted in the hopes of overwintering did indeed overwinter very nicely. We're planning to eat it for Easter, or rather the week after when Mr. Ferdzy's family comes up to celebrate it with us.

Mr. Ferdzy's other big project so far this spring was to build a hoop house over one of the vegetable beds. He used the ABS pipe sections we've put in the corners of the beds to support hoops made by bending 10 foot pieces of 1/2" electrical conduit. He ran rope, looped around each piece of conduit, from one long end to the other, and staked it into the ground to hold the whole thing tight. Then he covered it with 6 mil plastic, and weighted it down with various heavy objects to prevent it blowing away. We did this in the hopes of keeping the cauliflower and broccoli plants which survived the winter under the snow. Too bad; the cauliflower took one look around and promptly croaked and I don't expect the broccoli to amount to much. Still, I think we'll use the hoop house to start early spinach and lettuce.

My own project this week was much more modest. I took the Christmas tree that had been tossed out into the 4 feet of snow on our back deck early in January, and cut off all the smaller branches and green bits, and laid them on top of our blueberry bed to mulch them. They like acidic soil, so I hope it will help.

That's about it in the garden for the moment. Most things have too much sense to be up yet, except for a bunch of little crocuses in the front lawn, and some bright red rhubarb buds. Spring is coming though! Soon we'll be out there doing the bed-digging thing again.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Apple Dumplings

I haven't made, or had, apple dumplings in ages. They are one of those things that sounds good in theory but the reality is often too big and too doughy. Still... a good apple dumpling is a real treat. I used the same pastry that I used for Chicken Pot Pie with Biscuity Crust, and wrapped half apples and raisins in it. I also didn't worry about getting the pastry all the way up over the top of the apple, in order to keep the amount of pastry down to a dull roar.

These were not wildly sweet; you could eat one for breakfast as easily as for dessert. I made them without adding any sugar to the dough. If you want them sweeter you could add the sugar, or perhaps serve them with a sweet sauce or custard. I have to say though, I didn't miss the extra sugar. Not every dessert has to fall into the "death-by-chocolate" category.

I used two different kinds of apples for these, and one got quite soft and one stayed quite firm. You should pick a good baking type of apple accordingly. I used Empire (soft) and Red Prince (firm).

6 servings
1 hour - 20 minutes prep time

Apple Dumplings
Make the Dough:
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup mild vegetable oil
1/4 cup buttermilk
2 cups soft whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons sugar (optional)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Let the butter sit out for a while; it should be quite soft. Blend it with the oil and buttermilk, but don't worry about the butter being lumpy. It will be.

Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Mix this into the butter mixture, until it forms a ball of dough. If it does not come together, add a few drops more of buttermilk until it does.

Pat the dough out into a rectangle on a piece of parchment paper, then roll it fairly thin, into a rectangle that is 50% longer than it is wide. Cut it into 6 equal squares.

Make the Dumplings:
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 medium-large apples
3 tablespoons raisins

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Mix the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and set it aside. Peel one of the apples and cut it in half. Cut out the core from each half, in a "v" shape, then clean out any core still left in the middle. Poke each piece of apple 5 or 6 times with a fork - this will help them bake through. Dip each piece of apple into the cinnamon sugar, turning to coat them thoroughly.

Place 1/2 tablespoon of the raisins on one of the dough squares, and put the half apple over them, face down. They should fit into the core section. Fold up the dough around the apple, and pinch it so it stays around it, although it won't cover it. Using a thin spatula, lift the dumpling and place it on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining apples and raisins. Sprinkle any leftover cinnamon sugar over the tops of the dumplings.

Bake the dumplings for 35 to 40 minutes, until the pastry is browned and the apples are tender. They may get a little softer as they cool. Serve warm or at room temperature. I don't think they will keep too well, but who would know?

Last year at this time I made Applesauce Spice Cake.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Baked Beans with Cabbage

This turned out to be more like a baked soup or stew rather than traditional baked beans, but nothing wrong with that. I made these fairly mild on purpose; I was in the mood for something quite plain. You can certainly up the seasonings if you like. I think a little hot dried chile and fennel seeds would be nice, for example.

My Mom was here for lunch and commented that I've been posting a lot of cabbage dishes lately. What can I say? 'Tis the season. Still. And for a while yet, I'm afraid, although we do have some nice spinach in the garden! This was spinach we planted last year in the fall. Half of it was left in an open bed and half of it was covered by a cold-frame. The spinach in the cold-frame, not too surprisingly, looks much larger and healthier. So we should have a few meals of fresh spinach coming up soon. Not sure I can post them with a clear conscience though; where is anyone else going to get fresh local spinach this early? Beans and cabbage it is then.

6 to 8 servings
1/2 hour prep time - 1 1/2 hours baking time - plus time to cook the beans

Baked Beans with Cabbage
Cook the Beans:
500 grams (1 pound) dried white beans

Put the beans in a large pot with water to cover them generously. Bring them to a boil, then turn them off and let them soak for several hours. Repeat 2 or 3 more times, until the beans are fairly tender. Obviously, this needs to be done the day before you finish the dish.

Bake the Beans:
3 cups chopped green cabbage
1 large leek
OR 2 medium onions
1 large carrot
1 or 2 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
3 cups crushed or diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons rubbed thyme
1/2 teaspoon rosemary

Chop the cabbage. Trim the leek or onions, and chop. If using leeks they should be rinsed and drained to remove any grit hiding in them. Peel and chop the carrot fairly finely. Peel and mince the garlic; keep it separate from the other vegetables.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Cook down the cabbage, onions and carrots, over medium heat since the leeks scorch fairly easily and browned cabbage isn't really a treat. When the vegetables are soft and slightly browned, mix them with the drained beans in a large casserole dish. Stir in the tomatoes and the seasonings. Add some bean cooking water if necessary, to raise the level of the liquid so that it looks like the top layer of beans etc are floating.

Put the beans in the oven and heat to 350°F. Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Last year at this time I made Aunt Alethea's Cheese Soufflé and Cucumber & Carrot Salad.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Sandwich Buns

I've been yearning for some buns lately, and since that means making them myself usually, I made some myself. Not bad; could have been a little lighter in texture. It's that red fife flour, I guess. You could use more white spelt and less red fife if you liked.

16 buns
30 minutes work time - at least 6 hours rising - 15-20 minutes baking

Sandwich Buns
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup warm water
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon dry yeast

3 cups white spelt flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups red fife flour
red fife flour to knead

Heat the milk and butter until the butter melts; set aside to cool slightly. Mix the sugar into the water then sprinkle the yeast over. Let it sit 5 minutes until foamy.

Meanwhile, mix the salt into the spelt flour and red fife flour in a mixing bowl.

Mix the milk and yeast mixtures into the spelt flour. Turn out the dough onto a clean, floured board or counter, and knead it with extra red fife flour as needed to form a soft, slightly sticky dough. It should pull away from your hand or the counter reluctantly, but completely. Knead the dough for 10 minutes.

Put the dough in a clean, oiled bowl, and turn it to coat the dough in the oil. Cover and set aside in a warm place to rise until doubled in size.

Roll the dough out into a rough rectangle, and cut it into 16 equal squares. Put them on a prepared baking ban (or two) lined with parchment paper. Cover with a clean tea-towel and put in a warm place to rise again until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 375°F, and bake the buns for 16 to 18 minutes, until firm and very lightly browned.

Last year at this time I made Spanish Rice.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Cabbage, Carrot, Sprout & Apple Salad

I wasn't going to post this; it's just a salad, I thought. But after I found myself making it for the fourth time in two weeks I have to say it's a good salad. Nice and crunchy and juicy. You could dress it up some more with some nuts and dried cranberries if you liked, but it's perfectly good as-is.

2 to 6 servings
20 minutes prep time

Cabbage, Carrot, Sprout and Apple Salad
Make the Dressing:
1/3 cup hazelnut or sunflower seed oil
1/3 cup cranberry juice
1/3 cup raspberry vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Whisk together in a bowl or shake in a jar. The jar is a better idea, as there will likely be some left over.

Make the Salad:
2 1/2 cups shredded green cabbage
1/2 cup shredded red cabbage
1 medium carrot
1 1/2 cups sunflower sprouts, chopped finely
1 1/2 cups pea sprouts or other micro-greens, chopped finely
2 medium apples

Shred the two cabbages and put them in your salad bowl. Peel and grate the carrot and add it too. Chop the sprouts and mix them in. Wash the apples, quarter and core them, then chop them up and throw them in. Toss with as much of the dressing as seems good to you.

Last year at this time I made Chocolate-Chip Peanut-Butter Cookies.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Okay, I'm Going to Call It...

... that the red-winged blackbirds are back. It's been funny this year; usually they are not here one day and then the next day they are everywhere. This year I've been hearing one or two calling in the morning for the last 4 or 5 days but there just aren't huge numbers of them all over the place. Are they trickling up slowly, confused by the fact that it's been so cold down in the U.S.? Or did they decide to go to Europe this year? Or is the Big Wave still to come and I am just impatient?

And honestly, I think we've had more warmth in the last week than we had all of last summer. I am left with the feeling that this summer too will be a gardening challenge for completely different reasons than last year.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Chick Pea & Potato Curry #2 - with Tomatoes

Compared to the first chick pea and potato curry I made last week this seemed too simple, even crude, and when I first tasted it I wasn't sure it was going to be all that exciting. However, after it rested overnight and was reheated, I was very happy with it. The flavours really combined well. The tomatoes, of course, were the ones we canned last fall - a 1-litre jar.

This is a combination of spices I have been tinkering with for a while now, and I think it is ready to become my "standard curry blend". It's somewhere between mild and medium in heat, but with a rich full flavour. If you want something hotter, you can put in more cayenne; but really I thought this was very nice; bitey, but not so hot that the more fragrant spices were overwhelmed.

You will need about a cup and a half of raw chick peas to get about 4 cups cooked. See the previous recipe for notes on cooking them. If you use canned chick peas, you can use their liquid as the water, but omit the salt from the spice blend, and adjust the salt at the end of the cooking time. You should need considerably less.

6 servings
1 hour - 30 minutes prep time - not including cooking the chick peas

Chick Pea and Potato Curry
Make the Spice Blend:
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon fennel seed

2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground hot mustard seed
2 teaspoons salt

Grind the first four spices together, then mix in the remaining spices. Set this mixture aside until wanted. (If you make it further ahead than just before starting the curry, it should be stored in an airtight jar in a cool, dark spot.)

Make the Curry:
4 cups cooked, drained chick peas
4 cups crushed or diced tomatoes
2 cups water
4 medium potatoes
1 large onion
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh ginger
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil

Put the chick peas, tomatoes and water into a large pot. Scrub the potatoes, and cut them into dice, and add them to the pot. Bring to a boil and boil steadily for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Stir regularly.

Meanwhile, peel and chop the onion, and peel and mince the garlic. Peel and mince the ginger. Heat the oil in a medium skillet and sauté the onion until it is soft and slightly browned. Add the garlic, the ginger and the spice blend, and continue sautéing for another minute or two.

Add the onions etc, to the stew-pot with the rest of the ingredients, and mix in well. Continue cooking as noted above, until the potatoes are tender. I used a little of the water to clean out the skillet, and added it to the curry.

This dish was okay once the potatoes were tender, but it improved considerably by being cooled and refrigerated overnight then reheated; the flavours were much more developed and blended. Even the colour seemed better.

Last year at this time I made Celeriac, Apple & Broccoli Sprout Salad.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Sweet Breakfast Buns

Really, these are hot cross buns, without the cross. Good-tempered buns, maybe. I was inspired by recipes found here, although you will note that I was considerably more restrained on the subject of butter, eggs and cream. Or perhaps not really, since I didn't use a pound of flour either, I don't think.

I found I had to add quite a lot of flour as I kneaded this, as it was unbelievably sticky. Mind you, I started out with 4 cups. I have just called for 5 cups to start with in the recipe; hopefully that is a lot closer to what you will actually use.

The cardamom should be 16 to 18 pods. Bruise them thoroughly, then pick out the green papery hulls and discard them, and grind the remaining seeds as fine as you can.

I was really happy with how these turned out. They were delicious fresh out of the oven, and now that a couple of days have passed since I made them I am enjoying them toasted, with butter. Jam seems like gilding the lily, even though there are pots and pots down in the basement that we have just not been eating our way through this winter, although I suspect at least one bun will get some marmalade applied to it before it is dispatched.

If you want hot cross buns, the traditional way of marking them is to mix up a little white flour and water, and pipe it onto the buns after the glaze has been put on them. Modern cooks often use a white icing to apply the cross. Seems excessively sticky to me, but undoubtedly much easier.

24 buns
30 minutes work time - up to 6 hours rising time - 15 minutes to bake

Sweet Breakfast Buns
Start the Yeast Working:
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon dry yeast

Put the milk and teaspoon of sugar in a small pot and heat it until it starts to steam. Test it with your finger; it should feel warm but not hot to the touch. Sprinkle the yeast over the top and leave it to foam for 5 to 10 minutes.

Make the Dough:
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 extra-large eggs

5 cups white spelt flour
1 teaspoon cardamom pods, ground and sifted
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar or Sucanat (I used half and half)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup candied peel
2 tablespoon minced preserved ginger
the grated zest of 1 orange OR 1 lemon
more flour to knead

While the yeast gets started, beat the eggs into the softened butter in a small bowl. Measure the flour into a larger mixing bowl, and stir in all the remaining ingredients. Wash your hands well in preparation for kneading the dough.

Once the yeast mixture is high and foamy, mix it, with the egg and butter blend, into the flour. Once it becomes hard to stir with a spoon, turn it out onto a lightly floured board or counter. Begin kneading the bread, sprinkling it with more flour if it sticks to your hands or the board. Once the dough is slightly sticky - that is, it pulls away from your hands or the board a little reluctantly, but cleanly - stop working in any more flour, and knead the bread for a further 5 minutes or so. Total kneading time should be about 10 minutes.

Put the dough into a clean bowl into which a dab of oil has been poured, and turn it so it is lightly coated all over in the oil. Cover it with a clean cloth and put it in a warm spot to rest until the dough is doubled in size.

Line a large cookie sheet or other baking pan with parchment paper, and turn the dough out onto the paper. Cut it into 24 equal pieces. (I cut it into eighths, then cut each eighth into thirds.) Roll the pieces into round balls, and space them on the tray. Cover the tray with the cloth and let them rest in a warm place until doubled in size again.

Glaze and Bake the Buns:
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons milk

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Heat the milk and sugar just enough for the sugar to dissolve. Brush this glaze over the top of the buns, discarding any excess.

Bake the buns for about 15 minutes, until nicely browned. Let cool 10 minutes, then remove from the tray to finish cooling.

Last year at this time I made Shepherd's Pie.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

An Open Letter to the Ontario Government

Dear Social Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur;

I have been following the situation in Ontario regarding the Special Diet Allowance for people on various forms of social assistance in this province with interest for some time now.

According to this article in the Star,the province is considering doing away with the Special Diet Allowance and replacing it with a general increase of 3 or 4 percent.

I have a much better idea: give the Special Diet Allowance to everyone on social assistance.

Current levels of social assistance are absurdly low.

I'm retired now, but when I was a landlord I saw a lot of people on social assistance, and got an unusually intimate look into how they were coping in their day-to-day lives. When I first started out, someone on social assistance could keep a roof over their head and eat. There wasn't any extra money, but it covered the basics. That was over 15 years ago. By the time I retired about a year ago, it was clear that the social assistance was no longer sufficient to do the job. And this was in a city with very affordable rents by provincial standards (Cambridge).

"No longer sufficient to do the job." By this I mean that people had to start trying to double up in apartments not meant to be doubled up in, with people they didn't have anything in common with but poverty. You can imagine how well this works. By this I mean the quality of people's possessions dropped as constant moving without any money to move with obliged them to leave things behind for me to discard. It was heartbreaking to throw away people's photos and other life mementos. By this I mean that people's health, and that of their children, suffered as they cracked under the stress of having no money.

I've been a business person for much of my life. I have nothing against the argument that we should provide people with an adequate amount of money to live when we give them social assistance because it is the decent thing to do. Indeed, I don't want to live in a society where people think doing the decent thing isn't necessary.

But I also see that failing to provide the necessities of life to people on social assistance is very expensive in the long run, and even in the medium to short run. Sure, you will save millions by giving out less social assistance money. But you will pay billions more in increased health costs, in increased education costs, in increased policing and justice system costs, in decreased productivity as people fail to thrive sufficiently to return to employment in an effective manner.

Please don't waste my tax money. Please give social assistance recipients the money they need to live healthy, dignified lives, and to return to fully productive lives if and when that's possible. Please provide the money now available only as a Special Diet Allowance to everyone on social assistance in Ontario.

Yours Truly,


Please contact Madeleine Meilleur to express your views on this topic.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Perch, or Other Fish, Tacos

Mom just came back from her winter in Florida, bearing a few leftover tortillas. We were very pleased to see them (and her too, natch). For some reason it is ridiculously hard to get decent tortillas around here. There are a few local makers, but most tortillas* will be shipped up from the U.S. and even those are hard to find. Try the freezer of a Latin American grocery store - the "fresh" ones will be so full of preservatives as to taste positively disgusting. It's almost easier to buy the masa flour, and make your own. Just follow the directions on the package.

Anyway, it also happened that I had just bought some perch, so perch tacos seemed the obvious outcome. Fish tacos are a pretty traditional dish in Baja Mexico, but their fame has been spreading abroad in recent years, with complete justification. We only had cabbage, but I admit I would like a little avocado with this.

8 tacos
30 minutes prep time

Fish Tacos with Perch
Make the Sauce:
3 tablespoons mayonnaise (light is fine)
3 tablespoons sour cream
1/8 teaspoon finely grated lime zest
1 tablespoon lime juice

Mix together the above in a small bowl and refrigerate until wanted.

Prepare the Fillings:
1 1/2 cup finely shredded cabbage OR lettuce
1/4 cup finely chopped radishes (optional)
1 green onion, finely chopped (optional)
1 cup prepared salsa, red or green
1 small avocado, peeled and sliced (optional)

The salsa and cabbage are all that you must have and in fact were all I had to put on mine. The other ingredients make good additions, although maybe not all of them at once. You can have them prepared next to your taco assembly station, or you can put them out on the table and allow people to fill their own tacos.

Cook the Fish & Assemble Tacos:
600 grams perch fillets or other white fish fillets
fine corn (arepa) meal or flour, about half a cup
ground chile (yes, I used the neverending Korean stuff)
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed, ground
1 medium egg (optional)
2-3 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
8 corn tortillas

Skin the perch, and discard the skin. It is rather tough, so once you pry it up at the thin (tail) end of the fillet it should pull off fairly easily. Don't worry if the fillets break up a bit, because once skinned they should be cut into 16 relatively equal portions.

Salt the fish fillets, and season them with the chile and cumin. Roll the pieces in the meal. If you like, they can then be tossed with the beaten egg until coated, and rolled in meal again, which will give them a thicker, crunchier coating, but one layer will do if you prefer.

Heat most of the oil in a medium skillet, and just a dab of it in your largest skillet, both over medium-high heat. Cook the fish in the smaller skillet, until lightly browned and firm on both sides. Meanwhile, heat the tortillas in the larger skillet, getting in as many at once at you can, and turning them once they are hot and lightly browned in spots. Remove the tortillas to a plate as they heat, folding them in half as you go. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.

Once the fish is cooked and the tortillas heated, put 2 pieces of fish in each tortilla, and add a scant tablespoon of the sauce, along with a whatever quantity of the other fillings seems appropriate. Eat at once. A bib is helpful, and pass lots of serviettes.

* I'm refering to corn tortillas here, of course. Wheat tortillas have their place but they aren't, you know, "tortillas".

Last year at this time I made Celeriac & Beet Salad.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Cocoa Banana Muffins (Cupcakes)

These are good moist and chocolatey muffins, but not too loaded with fat and sugar. Still, you could ice them and call them cupcakes and no-one would say they weren't. I figure they check in at about 200 calories each, un-iced. Since I'm trying not to eat them all at once, I am about to find out how well they freeze. Should be alright, I think.

12 muffins
40 minutes - 15 minutes prep time

Cocoa Banana Muffins
2 cups mashed ripe bananas
3/4 cup Sucanat or dark brown sugar
2 extra-large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 2/3 cup soft whole wheat flour
1/2 cup cocoa, sifted
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 12 muffin pans with papers, or butter them.

Mash the bananas and mix in the sugar. Beat in the remaining wet ingredients one at a time; the eggs, the buttermilk, the oil and the vanilla.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, soda and salt.

Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until well blended, but do not overmix. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared muffin cups.

Bake for about 25 minutes, until firm (done). Cool in the tray for about 10 minutes, then remove them to finish cooling.

Last year at this time I made Pasta with Bacon, Shallots, Shiitakes & Cabbage.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Chick Pea & Potato Curry #1 - with Coconut Milk

This is Chick Pea & Potato Curry #1 because I went to a pot-luck on Sunday, and started cooking chick peas Friday night in massive quantities, with the idea that they would go too. They, however, had other plans and by late Saturday night were still distinctly firm. So, on our return I had a very large pot of chick peas awaiting my decorator touch, as the real estate agents say. Once this version is gone I will try another one with tomatoes instead of coconut milk with the other half of the chick peas. After all, there's no such thing as too much curry.

4 to 6 servings
45 minutes prep time, not counting cooking the chick peas

Chick Pea and Potato Curry
Cook the Chick Peas:
1 1/2 cups dry chick peas

rinsed and picked over, with water to cover them generously, in a large pot. Bring them to a boil, then let them soak for an hour or two with the lid on. Bring them to a boil several times more, followed by soaking. Once they begin to soften, bring them to a boil then reduce the heat, and simmer them until tender. Expect this process to take at least a full day, maybe most of two days.

Make the Curry:
1 medium onion
3 tablespoons finely minced ginger
3 cloves of garlic
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 to 3 tablespoons curry powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 or 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
500 ml coconut milk
4 large potatoes
2 tablespoons Sucanat or dark brown sugar

Peel and chop the onion, and peel and mince the garlic. Keep the garlic separate for the moment, but the other ingredients, up to and including the vegetable oil, can be put in a very large skillet or large soup pot. The cumin seeds should be lightly crushed.

Heat the oil and seasonings and fry, stirring regularly, until they all show signs of browning. Add the garlic and mix in well, and cook for a minute or two more.

Meanwhile, clean and cut the potatoes into dice.

When the seasonings are browned - do not let them scorch - mix in the coconut milk and enough water to come up to the top of the potatoes, which should be added as well once the mixture is sufficiently liquid to hold them. Add the drained, cooked chick peas (there should be about 4 cups of them) and the Sucanat, and simmer the mixture for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring frequently.

Serve over rice. Reheats well, although you may need to add more liquid, either water or a bit more coconut milk.

Last year at this time I made Indian Style Cabbage and Indian Style Rutabaga. Perhaps there's something about this time of year...

Monday, 8 March 2010

First Seedlings Are Up!

Leek and Onion Seedlings 1 Week After Planting
Woooooh, what a difference in our seed-starting over last year after only one week. We decided to heat the room they are in to 70°F, instead of leaving it at about 60°F as we did last year. Onions and leeks were up in 3 days and a fair number of tomatoes are up after 5 or 6 days. No signs of chiles yet, but it looks like one or two eggplants will be up in the next day or 2. Also, all 3 types of celery are showing signs of rooting, and we expect to see some green in the next few days. What a difference 10° makes. Not to mention not watering them with salt water, *hem, hem* as we did last year when we used water from our deep well. Peppers and tomatoes in particular did not care for that. Celery and asparagus, which originally came from Mediterranean marshes handled it better. But, still.

Tomato Seedlings 1 Week After Planting
We are already dealing with the fact that we put 2 seeds in each cell because, hey! What if one of them doesn't germinate? Of course both of them do and then one of them has to be culled. Mr. Ferdzy in particular has a hard time with this concept. So, they are going to be separated and re-potted and cause great crowding in the seed starting shelf, not to mention later in the garden. Maybe we can have a plant sale later in the spring, assuming no catastrophies between now and then. Apart from everything getting lank and weedy because they weren't expected to come up for another week at least and so have been planted too early.

I should also mention that posting is likely to be somewhat light around here for the next few weeks, for a variety of reasons. First, I really need to go on a diet (to lose some weight, which means less food being cooked and eaten) and also I need to go on a diet (to try and heal up some digestive problems, which means fewer - way fewer - types of foods being cooked and eaten). Combine this with the fact that I have posted over 600 recipes since this blog began and it's getting harder to not repeat myself, and also with the fact that March and April are the hardest months for eating Ontario-grown food, aaaannnnd that I have committed myself to trying to get the basement guest room painted this week, well, I think it's pretty clear that something has to give and that the something is blogging. I'll try and get one or two things up per week, but we'll see. Back, I hope, soon.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Nutty Mushroom Paté

Here's an easy, quick vegetarian spread for sandwiches or crackers. Yes, I'm afraid that colour is called "taupe" but it's very tasty anyway. I spent 2 days looking for Ontario greenhouse tomatoes but could not find any (WTF, Zehrs) so no tomatoes. Sad, because they go well with this. Nevermind; so do sprouts, pickles and relishes.

Makes about 2 cups - 8-12 servings
30 minutes prep time

Nutty Musrhoom Pate
1 cup nuts - almonds, pecans, walnuts or a mix
4 cups sliced mushrooms
1 medium shallot
1 clove garlic
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon drained green peppercorns in brine
OR 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

The nuts can be sliced or whole, but should be raw and unseasoned. You can toast them lightly in a dry skillet if you like. Place them in the bowl of a food processor, and process until well chopped.

Slice the mushrooms. Peel and chop the onion. Peel and slice the garlic.

Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and sauté until soft and slightly browned. The first time you give them a stir (after a minute or two of cooking) add the onions. When both are nearly ready (soft and slightly browned) add the garlic and continue cooking for a minute or two more.

Add the mushrooms to the nuts in the food processor. Add the seasonings, and process until the mixture is smoothly combined and the texture is appealing to you. You will need to stop and scrape down the sides once or twice.

Pack the mixture into an attractive bowl or mould. Serve warm, chilled or at room temperature, with crackers or bread.

Last year at this time I made Potato-Cheese Muffins.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Chocolate-Peanut Crisp Squares

Oh dear, more snicky-snacky goodies. I really ought to be on a diet. I've usually made these with crisp rice cereal, but in this case I used puffed millet. As usual, I bought a bag of puffed cereal in a fit of enthusiasm more months ago than I care to think about and now have to face the reality that I really don't eat the stuff. The puffed millet was okay, but not as good a texture as the crisp rice cereal would have been. I don't know if that's just puffed millet, or if it was rather stale. A distinct possibility, after all. If anyone tries it, let me know what you think. On the other hand, if you make these with crispy rice cereal, they are guaranteed to get people buzzing around them like a hive of happy bees.

60 small servings
1 1/2 hours - 15 minutes prep time

Chocolate Peanut Crisp Squares
1 cup peanut butter
2/3 cup honey
1 cup good semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup roasted peanuts, chopped
4 cups puffed barley or millet, or rice crisps

Lightly butter a 9"x13" pan and set it aside. Do not skip this step even if you have a non-stick pan says the slightly grumpy voice of experience.

Melt the peanut butter, honey and chocolate chips gently in a large pot over medium-low heat, stirring frequently.

Mix in the vanilla, then the peanuts and the puffed cereal. Press the mixture into the prepared pan. I find it easiest to dampen my hands slightly and use them to press the mixture, making it as evenly spread and dense as possible.

Chill the mixture for about an hour, then turn it out and cut it into squares.

Last year at this time I made Chicken Pot Pie with a Biscuity Crust.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010


Here's a version of a popular German salad, which is excellent for the late winter. It reminds me of a carrot salad I often make, and it also reminds me of the kind of Mennonite salad you sometimes get at buffets and pot lucks; the one that's made with tinned fruit and marshmallows. But in a good way, because this has neither of those.

Editted to add: Since this makes a fair bit of salad if it's just for the 2 of us I only put sour cream on half of it at a time, and keep the rest covered in the fridge for the next day. Once the sour cream goes on, it only needs to chill for 15 minutes to half an hour.

6 servings
20 minutes prep time, plus some chill time

2 cups finely shredded green or Savoy cabbage
1 medium carrot
1 large apple
1/6th of a peeled, cored pineapple
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup sour cream or plain yogurt

Shred the cabbage, discarding any tough stem pieces. Peel and finely grate the carrot. Wash, core and chop the apple. Dice the pineapple.

Mix the prepared ingredients in a bowl with the cranberries, lemon juice, salt and sugar. Toss in the sour cream or yogurt. Chill before serving.

Last year at this time I made Slow-Roasted Chicken with Poultry Seasoning, and Buttermilk Bran Loaf.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Planting Season Begins This Week!

This Years Seeds for the Garden
All our seeds are now here, except for a couple that are on back-order. That's them, spread out on the kitchen table. Stuffed in the boxes in the back row are all the saved and leftover seeds from last year.

Think we have enough?!

I was going to list all the vegetables we want to grow this year, but that's 133 varieties not counting the asparagus which doesn't seem to be on the list for some reason (or the potatoes). Probably because I am trying to be in denial about the fact that we just spent $17 on 60 seeds. That's .28 cents per seed. Yes they are the fancy-pants Guelph Milennium. They'd better sprout, that's all. Anyhoo, I'll just mention some of the seeds I'm particularly excited about.

We've set ourselves up to do a 4 year rotational plan, with vegetables divided into Legumes, Leaves, Fruits and Roots (perennial vegetables obviously elsewhere) which all have slightly different nutrient requirements. There are 5 beds for each, and we have 3 beds of solanacea in the fruit section (chiles, tomatoes and eggplants) and 2 in the root section (potatoes) which we take care not to have overlap. It's a very easy system to remember; that's basically it although there are a couple of quirks; corn is a Leaf and not a Fruit, and garlic and shallots go into a Fruit bed late in the summer which becomes a Root bed the next spring.

So, amongst the Legumes, I have gone wild with the snow-peas this year. Four kinds, including Carouby de Maussane and Golden Sweet. We're also going to try asparagus peas, and Arikara beans. And many more...

With the Leaves, I'm most excited to try January King cabbage, Pink Plume celery, Red Bull Brussels sprouts and Tom Thumb lettuce. We've got about a gazillion lettuces, actually, not to mention a good selection of brassicas.

Fruits are where we go more than a little nuts: 27 varieties of tomatoes, including the tomatillos. Lots of old favourites, but we're trying some new ones, including Striped German*, Ildi and Principe Borghese**. But I've also succumbed to the lure of Collective Farm Woman melon, Green Nutmeg melon, and Kakai pumpkin. There will also be lots of zucchini, which is Mr. Ferdzy's favourite vegetable. Yes he's weird don't tell me I already know***.

Aaand with the roots, we've gone beety, with Chioggia, Crosby's Egyptian and Touchstone Gold. Also Goldana and Stielmus Green Top turnips, and Red Meat, Zlata and Blauer Herbst radishes. Still need to order some potatoes, although we saved some of last years harvest as seed.

Of course, most of these are not being planted yet. We're starting with the celeries, leeks and onions which can hardly be planted to early, to be followed by eggplants and chiles which are slow to get started and need a good run-up, and tomatoes will follow not too far behind. After that I think there will be a bit of a gap before the next round of things get planted. I need hardly say this is all in cell-packs under the lights in the library. Not outdoors; no.

*Actually, I grew it once before, in a pot where it could not produce much but what tomatoes it had I recall as being fah-bu-lous, darlings. And they looked perfectly respectable, too, unlike that ratty specimen. Where the heck did they find that?

** I've grown these before too. They are kind of nasty fresh, but the perfect tomato for drying, because they are so lacking in sweetness so that once they are dry they taste like tomatoes and not like tomato-flavoured raisins.

***About 20 of those tomatoes are his idea. He doesn't even like tomatoes. (Okay, cooked; but then why grow 20 kinds? Not, you'll notice, that I've stopped him.)

Monday, 1 March 2010

Lentil Chile

Great vegetarian chile for when you want chile fast - lentils are such quick cookers, compared to most other beans. Although like most legume dishes, it's better the next day. Serve it over steamed rice or toast for a sloppy joe type meal. A little grated cheese melted on top is always nice.

8 servings
45 minutes prep time

Lentil Chile
4 cups green or brown lentils
7 cups water
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
2 large onions, chopped
3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 825 ml (28 oz) tin diced tomatoes
1 156 ml (5 oz) tin tomato paste

Rinse and pick over the lentils, and put them in a large pot with the water. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 30 minutes, until they are tender and most of the water is absorbed.

Meanwhile, peel and chop the onions. Peel and mince the garlic. Measure out the seasonings into a small bowl, grinding the cumin and pepper first.

When the lentils are almost tender, heat the oil in a large skillet and sauté the onion until soft and slightly browned. Add the garlic and the seasoning mixture, and sauté for a couple minutes more.

When the water is mostly absorbed in the lentils, add the diced tomatoes and tomato paste. Simmer for another 15 minutes or so to amalgamate.

Reheats well and could be frozen.

Last year at this time I made Mushroom-Barley Soup and Vegetarian Cabbage Rolls with Cheese, Wild Rice & Mushroom Sauce.