Sunday, 31 October 2010

Smoked Fish Pie

Dear me, I haven't been cooking lately, have I? I didn't even make this; my mom did. It's Akiwenzies' Smoked Fish Pie from "Good Food For All" by Joshna Maharaj of The Stop. My excuse is that I had no kitchen sink (well, okay, the sink was there but the taps were gone) for much of last week. The good news was I finally figured out where the bad smell in the kitchen was coming from. The bad news was that I stuck my head under the sink to look for something, and oh, dear. Anyway. I now have a nice, new and hopefully much sturdier, leak-free kitchen tap thanks to Mr. Ferdzy's strenuous efforts.

Mom made this pretty much by the recipe, although I suspect she might have cut down the butter a bit; that's what I tend to do and I got that trick from her originally, soooo....! Mind you, she certainly left in enough for this to be very rich and delicious.

Make 4 to 6 servings
1 hour 15 minutes - 45 minutes prep time

1 kg (2 pounds) potatoes
1/2 cup unsalted butter
salt & pepper
4 large eggs
1 kg (2 pounds) smoked fish
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup soft unbleached flour
3 cups milk
a pinch of ground nutmeg
1 cup grated Cheddar cheese

Wash and trim the potatoes, and cut them in chunks. Put them in a pot with water to cover and boil for about 10 minutes, until tender.

Drain the potatoes and rinse in cold water. Cool enough to handle, then peel the potatoes. (Or don't. If I had been making this, I wouldn't have bothered.) At any rate, then mash the potatoes with the first quantity of butter, and season with salt and pepper to taste. (Again, if I had been making this I would have used about half the butter and a bit of buttermilk. )

Put the eggs in a pot of water and bring them to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, then turn off the heat and leave them covered for 10 minutes. Cool the eggs in cold water, then peel them and cut them into chunks.

In 9" x 13" baking pan or other large casserole dish, arrange the egg pieces and the fish, broken into bite-sized flakes. Sprinkle the parsley over them. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Put the butter and flour into a saucepan, and cook over medium heat for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Slowly mix in the milk, and cook for 1 or 2 minutes more, until the mixture thickens. Season with salt, pepper and a little scrape of nutmeg. Pour the sauce evenly over the eggs and fish in the casserole.

Spread the mashed potatoes evenly over the fish and sauce. Rough up the surface a little with a fork, and sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top. Bake for about 30 minutes, until bubbling and golden brown. Serve at once.

Last year at this time I made Braised White Beans & Root Vegetables.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Stir-Fried Broccoli with Red Peppers & Onions

Everything except the ginger ( and oils and soy sauce) came out of the garden for this dish! Red peppers may be harder to find by now, but I hope there are greenhouse ones out there at the least. You can use whatever sweet red peppers you like, although bell peppers are by far the most common.

I used my last few Alma paprikas (4 little ones rather than one large one) and they were sweet, delicious and for me very digestible. I am so used to not using peppers in my cooking as all the bell pepper family give me awful indigestion, so this was a treat. I really am going to grow a LOT more Almas next year.

4 servings
30 minutes prep time

Stir Fried Broccoli with Red Peppers and Onions
5 to 6 cups broccoli florets
1 large red onion
1 large red pepper
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce

Put a large pot of water on to boil. Wash and trim the broccoli, and cut it into florets. When the water boils, drop the broccoli in and boil for between 1 and 2 minutes, until bright green; no more. Drain very well and set aside.

Meanwhile, Peel and chop the onion into bite-sized chunks. De-stem and de-seed the pepper, and cut it into bite size chunks. Peel and mince the garlic and the ginger.

Heat the oil in a large skillet until very hot. Add the peppers, and cook, stirring constantly, until they begin to soften and brown slightly in spots; 2 or 3 minutes. Add the onions and cook for another minute or so, then add the ginger and garlic and stir well. Add the drained broccoli, and continue cooking and tossing the vegetables in the pan until they are cooked to your liking. Drizzle over the sesame oil and soy sauce and serve at once.

Last year at this time I made Duck Schnitzel with Green Peppercorn Sauce.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Leeks "Wellington"

One of our most succesful crops this year is our leeks. They are quite magnificent, and so I determined to make a dish where they could be the star performers rather than take the quiet, supporting roles that so often falls to them. After doing a lot of thinking while doing clean up in the garden, I came up with the idea of a Leek Wellington. Instead of rolling a piece of beef in pastry with paté and mushrooms, I would roll up leeks with a sauce of cheese and mushrooms. I used a regular pie type pastry rather than puff pastry (which frankly intimidates me) and I added broccoli to the cheese and mushrooms for extra flavour and to keep it from being too rich. There is all that pastry, after all.

These were, I'm afraid, fairly time-consuming although really not difficult. I divided the work up over 2 days. I made the pastry, and kept it well wrapped in the fridge until about an hour before I wanted to roll it out. I cooked the leeks and broccoli ahead of time as well. Then I just had to mix the filling, roll out the dough, form the Wellingtons, and bake them.

I suspect if you wanted to make them in advance and bake them just before they were wanted you could do that, although I wouldn't do it more than a few hours ahead of time for fear of the pastry getting soggy.

4 to 6 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 1 hour prep time
Not including making the pastry

Make the Pastry:

for a double crust recipe. You can use this recipe, which is the one I used, or this one here.

Cook the Leeks & Broccoli:
4 large to 6 medium leeks
2 cups chopped broccoli

Wash the leeks, then trim off the root end and any part that is darker than pale green. You should end up with as uniform pieces of leek as possible.

Steam the leeks for 15 minutes, until just tender, adding the broccoli pieces for the last 5 minutes. Let them cool, at least enough to handle.

Make the Filling:
1 cup chopped shiitake mushrooms
2 clove garlic
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
250 grams soft, mild cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt (be prepared to adjust this)
1/4 teaspoon hot smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon rubbed oregano
1 large egg
1/4 cup light cream

Clean and chop the mushrooms, discarding the stems. Peel and mince the garlic. Heat the oil in a medium skillet, and sauté the mushrooms until soft. Add the garlic for the last minute or two of cooking. Let the mixture cool enough to handle.

Put the cooked broccoli and mushroom mixture into a food processor along with the salt, paprika and oregano. (Use more or less salt according to how salty the cheese is.) Process until the mixture is well chopped, although it should still have a fair bit of texture. Mix in the egg and cream.

Assemble and Bake the Wellingtons:

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a large baking tray with parchment paper.

Divide the pastry equally into as many portions as you have leeks. Roll each portion out into a rectangle on a floured board or piece of parchment paper (my preference) until it is about 2 inches longer than the leek pieces.

Divide the filling equaly into as many portions as you have leeks. Top each rolled out portion of pastry with a strip of the filling, spread out to be about the same size and shape as the leek pieces.

Top it with one of the leeks. Lift the sides of the rectangle of pastry and close them up around the leek and the filling. Seal the ends, turning them up towards the seam.

Lift the resulting pastry-covered leek onto the prepared baking sheet, seam-side down. Continue filling, wrapping and sealing the remaining leek pastries, placing them on the baking sheet seam-side down and an inch or two apart.

Bake the Wellingtons for 30 to 35 minutes, until well browned. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Last year at this time I made Roasted Potatoes.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Squash Gnocchi

These were such fun to make; kind of like playing with plasticene. A lot more tasty, though!

You can use a different flour, but I recommend the kamut flour because it resembles durum semolina, which is the flour usually used for pasta-making (and the best other flour to use).

Too much flour makes gnocchi tough and gummy, so you don't want to put in much more than I've called for. That means your squash must not be too moist, or you won't form a good dough without more flour. Keep your squash on the dry side by selecting a good variety to start with; butternut, buttercup or other dense-fleshed orange squash. Do not cook it by boiling or steamng, but bake it until tender and let it cool while it is spread out, to allow as much steam to escape from it as possible. I think it is best to cut the squash into pieces and remove the seeds, rub it with a little oil, and bake it at 350°F, probably for an hour or a bit more depending on the size of the pieces.

6 servings
40 minutes - 30 minutes prep time, not including cooking the squash

Squash Gnocchi with Broccoli, Bacon and Dried Tomato
2 cups cooked, cooled, mashed squash
1 cup kamut flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
a little freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 cup kamut flour

Mash the squash thoroughly, or put it through a ricer. When it is well mashed, add the first quantity of flour, with the salt and a little grating of nutmeg - just a little. Mix well. I find this easiest to do by hand, and at any rate as soon as it is mostly mixed you should turn it out on a clean board and knead it for a few minutes, until the dough is smooth. Use the extra flour to flour the board and keep it from sticking. If it is still very sticky, you may use a bit more, but try to use as little as you can.

When the dough is smooth, divide it into 4 equal portions. Roll each one out into a long, skinny log, about half an inch in diameter. If it gets too long you can break it into shorter pieces and work with those. Use a fork to cut off about an inch of your log of dough, then press it into a disk with the fork. From the base of the tines, press the dough off the fork; it will sort of roll up a little and thus you will have the classic groved, rounded log shape for your gnocchi.

As you finish each gnoccho put it on a clean, dry teatowel. Let them rest for half an hour before cooking them. They can also be stored overnight in the fridge (wrapped up) or frozen, and thawed before cooking.

To cook, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the gnocchi and boil them until they float; 3 to 5 minutes. Boil for 1 minute more, then drain and serve them dressed as you like.

I served mine with broccoli and onion sautéed with bacon, and chopped dried tomatoes dropped in to boil with the gnocchi. Garlic or sage butter with grated Parmesan is pretty classic, or there's nothing wrong with a nice light tomato sauce. Hmm, how about blue cheese & walnuts?

Last year at this time I made Simple Celery Soup.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Hurray for Pizza

I've made pizza before, of course, and there's not too much new for me to say about. I used the pizza dough here, which I think I prefer to the one here. I definitely recommend the making of 6 batches and freezing them thing. We've also started making 6 batches and dividing it into 8, as we're trying to eat a bit less these day, with only middling success it has to be admitted.

This one was first smeared with tomato sauce, then topped with dried tomatoes (soaked in boiling water first) as the fresh ones are finished for us now, a piece of buffalo pepperoni sliced up, slices of the last zucchini from the garden (sautéed), one of the Alma peppers sliced and slightly sautéed, and the last of the eggplant from the garden, also sliced and sautéed. Oh, and mozzerella and cheddar cheese, and a good sprinkle of oregano.

That's the great thing about pizza. You take your scraps of this and that, apply to the dough and sauce and top with cheese, and you've got something fabulous. Those last eggplants were really pretty small and ratty, and I debated throwing them in the compost, but they were delicious on the pizza. Same with that zucchini (except it was big and ratty). And of course, pizza will change from season to season... but it's always a favourite.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Cranberry - Raisin Pie

Here's a traditional Ontario pie. It used to be known as "Mock Cherry Pie" in some old cook books, and there is a resemblance. However, there's absolutely nothing wrong with bright, tangy cranberries and rich, juicy raisins so let's give credit where credit is due.

As a kid I really didn't like raisin pie - it was far too rich - and I still wouldn't pick it as my first choice. However, they are a great balance for those zingy, zingy, okay sour, cranberries. The overall effect is still pretty rich, and I generally serve this in a bit smaller pieces than I would with most pies because of that.

I used the spelt flour pastry recipe (first link) but whatever pastry you like will be fine.

Cranberries are in season right now, but they freeze so beautifully - just toss them into the freezer, bag and all, to have them all winter.

8 - 12 servings
1 hour 45 minutes - 45 minutes prep time

Cranberry Raisin Pie
double crust pastry

4 cups cranberries, fresh or frozen
1 cup water
2 cups raisins
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon pure almond extract

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Divide the pastry into two parts; one about 2/3 of the pastry or a little less, and one about 1/3 of the pastry or a little more. Roll out the larger piece pastry on a sheet of parchment paper, dusting with more flour if necessary to prevent it from sticking, and line a 10" pie plate with it.

Bring the cranberries and water to a boil in a large pot. As soon as they begin to pop, add the raisins. Let cook for a minute or two, stirring frequently. Meanwhile, mix the sugar and flour thoroughly in a small bowl.

When the cranberries and raisins have amalgamated and slightly thickened, turn off the heat. Mix in the sugar and flour, then the almond extract.

Roll out the remaining pastry to cover the pie on the piece of parchment, again dusting with flour if necessary, and let's be serious, it will be. Pour the warm filling into the crust. Centre the top piece over the pie, and peel off the parchment. Pinch the edges sealed all the way around the pie, trimming off any excess crust. Cut steam holes, or poke the pie all over with a fork to create them.

Bake the pie at 350°F for 50 to 55 minutes, until lightly browned.

If you want to make a 9" pie, you will only need half the filling, and the pie will likely be baked in 40 minutes. In that case you will likely have a little excess pastry. In that case the proper and traditional solution is to roll it out, cut it in pieces, sprinkle it with cinnamon sugar and bake until lightly browned and bubbly once the pie comes out. That'll be pretty quick, probably not more than 10 or 15 minutes.

Last year at this time it was green tomato season - I made Green Tomato Mincemeat and Green Tomato Chow Chow.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Alma Paprika

Alma Paprika
It's long been my ambition to grow my own paprika peppers, since there is probably no seasoning I use as much as sweet Hungarian paprika. I tried growing 2 varieties this summer; Alma, a heritage Hungarian variety, and Conquistador, a Spanish variety. I'll give Conquistador another try as I crowded it and it acquired a virus, but it really didn't produce anything much for me this year.

Alma, on the other hand, which was also crowded and exposed to the virus, did very well indeed. The plants were compact, not reaching above 2 feet in height, and absolutely loaded with peppers. The fruits are round, and from a slight distance easily mistaken for tomatoes, although the thick stems and hexagonal stem base give them away. They have thick, juicy walls and are a sweet, mild pepper. Mind you I've seen mention by a few people that they can be unexpectedly hot. I know my fingers were stinging after the last batch I cut up.

They are a fairly early pepper, ready in 70 to 80 days from transplant. We had an early frost here, so I have pulled the plants and brought the unripe ones in to finish ripening. They do continue to ripen very well off the plant. A few have developed bad spots, but it also seems to take some time for the bad spots to affect the entire pepper. I just have to keep an eye on them.

The virus, by the way, was probably mild mottle virus. It came into the garden on one of a few pepper plants we bought on sale from a garden centre to fill in a some bare spots once our seedlings were planted. It was quite interesting, in a nasty sort of way, to watch it spread out from the original infected plant like a ripple in a pond when a stone is thrown in. The Alma peppers were further away from patient #1 than the Conquistador, but they were somewhat affected. I think they had fairly good resistance though; there was only a little leaf-twisting and very few of the peppers developed the brown scabby netting that appeared on other peppers nearby. And I doubt pepper formation was affected as the plant was absolutely smothered in peppers.

Like most peppers, Alma likes hot weather and a steady, moderate amount of water, and needs decent soil fertility. We planted them out June 1st to make sure the soil was good and warm. I would describe them as a somewhat determinate pepper: we pulled all the peppers off in the course of 3 weeks to a month. They are quite tolerant of cool nights - they were one of the last pepper plants to succumb to the cold for us. I understand they can be susceptible to early blight though.

I have dried most of my peppers but they are excellent for fresh eating and cooking, and it's also traditional to pickle them. They would make a very good stuffed pepper. In spite of the large numbers produced by each plant I am left feeling like I don't have nearly enough, and I'm going to plant quite a few more next year.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Apple & Beet Borscht

Apples add a nice touch of sweetness to an otherwise simple, basic borscht. I used turkey stock, but chicken stock, or even a good vegetable stock if you wanted a vegetarian soup, would work well. We do like a bit of sour cream with our borscht. Alas, this was yogurt. Not quite the same.

I used Gala apples, because I had them, and they held together nicely. I would probably have prefered something a bit more tart, but it does need to be an apple that will hold up to cooking without turning to mush. Mutsu (Crispin) apples should work well, as would Ida Red, Empire, Spartan or Northern Spy.

1 hour, not including cooking the beets
8 servings

Apple and Beet Borscht
4 large beets
2 medium onions
3 or 4 stalks of celery
4 cups chopped red cabbage
4 medium tart apples
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
4 cups beet cooking water
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon caraway seeds, ground
salt & black pepper to taste

Wash and trim the beets, and put them in a pot with plenty of water to cover them. Bring them to a boil and boil them steadily for about 30 minutes. Let them cool enough to handle - or this can be done the day before.

Peel and chop the onions. Wash, trim and dice the celery. Chop the red cabbage. Wash, core and chop the apples.

Heat the oil in a large skillet and gently cook the onions and celery until soft, but not browned. Add the red cabbage and apples, and cook for a few minutes more, stirring regularly, until they too are softened. Meanwhile, peel and dice the beets.

Put the beets into a soup pot with the chicken stock, 4 cups of the beet cooking water and the vinegar. Add the sugar, bay leaves, ground caraway seed, and the diced beets. Add the cooked down cabbage, apples, etc.

Simmer the soup for about 20 minutes until well amalgamated, and all the vegetables are tender. Serve with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream, if desired.

Last year at this time I made Hot Garlicky, Cheesy Broccoli or Cauliflower.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Cocoa Madeleines

I seem to be suffering from cooks block, if there is such a thing, so have not had anything to post, and also we ended up with a 17 pound turkey this year for Thanksgiving, which considering there was 3 of us was rather a lot of turkey. It's been turkey sandwiches allllll week. However, the turkey does seem to be winding down and maybe I will start cooking something again.

These madeleines are adapted from a recipe I found in the Toronto Star many (many) years ago. They were meant as cookies, but I found them sufficiently cake-like that I thought they would make better madeleines. However, if you don't have a madeleine mold, you can revert to the cookie idea. They are a very light and simple cookie and I think they would do well with a chocolate glaze but I have to admit I have thus far never bothered.

12 to 18 madeleines
30 minutes - 15 minutes prep time

Cocoa Madeleines
butter for madeleine pans
2 eggs, separated
pinch salt
1/3 cup Sucanat or dark brown sugar
2 tsps vanilla extract
1/4 cup soft unbleached flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously butter the madeleine forms.

In a medium sized mixing bowl, beat the egg whites with the salt until soft peaks form. Slowly beat in the Sucanat; beat until stiff.

Beat the egg yolks with the vanilla in a smaller bowl, and fold them in with the egg whites.

Mix the flour, cocoa and baking powder, and sift them over the egg whites. Fold in. Drop onto very well buttered madeleine forms and bake for about 15 minutes at 350°F, until just firm. Let cool in the trays for 10 minutes then remove them to finish cooling.

This will make 12 to 18, depending on the size of the molds. You could also drop them free-form onto buttered parchment paper (set on a cookie sheet) and make small, rounded cakes that way. You could glue them together with frosting and call them whoopie pies, even.

Last year around now I made Sweet Potatoes Roasted with Plums & Ginger, and Green Tomato & Turkey Chile.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Traditional Pickled Beets

Last week I was given 6 quarts of "Cylindra" beets that were starting to go just a tad soft, so the obvious thing to do was to pickle them. This is a very traditional eastern European beet pickle recipe, although my version has less sugar than many recipes.

If you are going to make a smaller batch that you think will be eaten quickly, you could put in up to twice as much pepper and cloves. I find that the flavours of those two spices get stronger and stronger the longer the pickles sit; something to keep in mind. You could also spice up a few jars more than the others, and label them to be eaten first.

This was the first time I've used Cylindra beets. They're the ones that are long - 3" to 5" long, like a stubby carrot. They are recommended for canning and pickling, and the long, cylindrical shape makes them very good for creating fairly evenly sized slices. In spite of how large each beet was, they were quite tender, although I do think they might be a bit less naturally sweet than some other varieties. We might try growing them next year. If you can't get them, I suggest smallish beets for pickling; about 1 1/2" to 2" in diameter. They can be cut into quarters for a nice sized pickle.

The other pickle in the picture is the zucchini Bread and Butter pickles we made earlier this summer. At the time I didn't know what I would think of adding Jalapeno chiles and hot chile flakes to them, but I can now report back: delicious!

6 500-ml jars
about 2 hours, not including time to cool the beets

Pickled Beets
Beets & Brine:
3 quarts beets
3 cups vinegar
3 cups beet cooking water
1/2 cup Sucanat or dark brown sugar

Wash the beets and put them into a large pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil and boil for about 40 to 45 minutes, until tender. Let the beets cool. This can be done the day before, and the beets kept in a cool spot. They don't have to be refrigerated if you have a good cool spot for them.

Put the jars into a canner, and bring to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel the beets, and keep 3 cups of the cooking water. (Lift it carefully out of the top of the pot - I find however thoroughly I have washed the beets there is always some grit that settles to the bottom during cooking.)

Slice the beets or cut them into bite-sized chunks. Put them in a large pot with the vinegar, beet cooking water and the Sucanat or dark brown sugar. Bring to a boil.

Per Jar:
1/4 teaspoon pickling salt
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
3 or 4 whole cloves
1 bay leaf

Put the above spices into each hot, sterlized canning jar. Fill the jars with the hot beets and brine. Wipe the rims and seal the jars with lids and rims prepared according to manufacturers directions. Return the jars to the canner and boil them for 10 minutes.

Remove and let cool. Check for seals, label and store for 4 to 6 weeks before opening. Like most preserves, they will keep sealed for a year or so, and must be refrigerated once they have been opened.

Last year at this time I made Chai Pumpkin Pie.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Parsnips with Leeks

Parsnips! A great, underused winter vegetable. I usually roast or fry them, but I thought I'd try something different for a change, and we liked this very much. Not much to say about it; it's a pretty simple and straightforward vegetable side dish.

4 servings
20 minutes prep time

Parsnips with Leeks
3 mediums parsnips (3 cups sliced)
1 medium leek ( 1 cup sliced)
2 tablespoons butter
a pinch of salt
a little nutmeg

Peel the parsnips and trim the tops and ends. Cut them into 1/4" slices. Put them in a pot and cover with water; bring to a boil and boil them for about 10 minutes, until tender.

Meanwhile, trim the leek down to the white and light green parts, and cut it in thin slices. Rinse the slices to remove any lingering grit, and drain them well. Heat the butter in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat. Sauté the leeks gently until quite soft but not browned.

Drain the parsnips and add them to the leeks, mashing them with a potato masher and mixing them in well. Season with a pinch of salt, and a grating of nutmeg.

Last year at this time I made Pork Ribs Cooked with Sauerkraut and Pumpkin Gingerbread.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Ground, Rubbed & Whole Herbs & Spices

Since I've been getting some feedback from recipe testers, it's become clear that many don't understand what I mean by "rubbed" when I call for "rubbed basil" or "rubbed oregano" or "rubbed whatever" in my recipes, so I thought I would try to clarify.

The fine, green substance in the bowl on the right side of the picture contains ground oregano. I don't generally use or recommend purchasing ground herbs. The more the dried leaves have been broken up, the more surfaces there are that will lose flavour as they sit, whether in the store or on your shelf.

Rubbed herbs - and this is the term that is generally used on packaging - are dried herbs that have been processed to mimic the texture you would get by rubbing the whole dried leaves between your fingers until they crumble. Because they have fewer broken edges than ground herbs, they keep better. The bowl on the lower left contains rubbed thyme.

Herbs aren't generally sold whole, but rosemary leaves are an exception. That's what's in the bowl to the top left. If you can get whole herbs, that's great - as you would expect they store the best, although they do tend to be more bulky to store. To use them, either grind them in a mortar and pestle just before use, or if they are soft enough rub them through your fingers until they are finely crumbled.

Herbs which are also seeds are generally available either whole or ground (no picture). I infinitely prefer to buy them whole, and grind them myself. Seeds in particular tend to contain volatile oils which will quickly dissipate once the hard outer shell is broken. Coriander seems to be the worst for this - the flavours seem to vanish in as little as 5 or 10 minutes after the seed is ground if left exposed to the air. Or as with black pepper, nutmeg and celery seed for example, they will tend to go rancid and develop a bitter flavour.

I like a mortar and pestle for grinding my herbs and spices; I rarely grind so much as to make an electric grinder a necessity. However, if you want an electric grinder a dedicated coffee grinder will not be expensive and will do a good job. Run a piece of stale bread through it once you are done to remove any lingering flavours.

And finally, however you buy your spices, never buy them in a little glass jar if you can possibly avoid it! You will pay through the nose for a big piece of glass and a tiny amount of something that is probably not terribly fresh. Go to a shop that sells them in bulk or at least in plastic bags and has a good turnover. Those of you who live in larger towns and cities should have not difficulty finding a number of places with wide herb and spice selections and good turnovers. For those of us in the boonies, Bulk Barn is, well, a boon. Although even there, it's a good idea to give a discreet sniff before you buy - I have found some bulk spices that were not fresh as the turnover just doesn't seem to be there sometimes. Try not to buy more than you think you will use in a month or two. Keep your herbs and spices stored in a cool, dark spot. Some, such as sumac or celery seed, will keep best well wrapped and sealed in the freezer.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Braised Turkey

This is a photo and recipe I've been saving since last Christmas; not much use in posting it after Christmas I didn't think. So here it is in plenty of time for Thanksgiving.

For years, I've been aware of the old verse;
Turkey boiled is turkey spoiled
And turkey roast is turkey lost
But for turkey braised,
The Lord be praised!
I'm inclined to take their word - whoever they were - that turkey shouldn't be boiled. (Although I can't see any reason why turkey breast couldn't be poached lightly, like chicken breast.)

Modern cooks, or even cooks for the entire last two centuries however, are and have been of the opinion that roast turkey is not at all lost, but in fact the only way to proceed. It is a method that does have its drawbacks though; the white breast meat cooks faster than the dark legs, and so it is prone to being served dried out and overcooked. Furthermore, unless there is someone in the family who is adept at carving, it's a lot easier to cut up the bird before it is cooked, and then just have to slice the boneless breasts before serving. You don't have to worry about "performing" in front of your guests, while the rest of the meal is either scorching or getting cold, and if you find it easiest to put your hands all over it while you cut it up, no problem! It's about to be cooked for several hours anyway.

The one disadvantage that I can see, is that you don't get to present a a shiny brown entire bird to the table in a burst of (usually imaginary in my experience) trumpets - most people have been waiting around for hours and just want to get on with it at that point. And the skin is not so uniformly crisp and delectable, which I do admit is a loss that I feel; that, and the stuffing which obviously cannot be stuffed. Still, if it makes the actual meat moister and tastier, that's a sacrifice I believe I am prepared to make.

This method is particularly suited for smaller turkeys, which are also particularly prone to drying out when roasted. Or, you can (in some places) get turkey pieces instead rather than buying a whole turkey. In a family like ours, where 9 out of 10 diners strongly prefer dark meat, it means you can formulate your pieces to suit peoples tastes. I got 1 breast and 4 thighs for our family one year; there was no leftover thigh meat at all and half a breast left over at the end of dinner. You can imagine that everyone was a lot happier than they would have been with a whole bird. Unfortunately, that was in the days before I had sworn off conventionally raised turkey. If you get organic, free range turkey, they do seem to be available whole or not at all.

Serves, in theory, 10 to 14; although perhaps not if you want plentiful leftovers, and surely you do.
1 hour prep time AND about 5 to 6 hours cooking time, including making but not cooling the stock.

1 10 to 14 pound turkey
1 or 2 bay leaves
1 large parsnip
2 medium carrots
1 large onion
3 large stalks of celery
salt & pepper

Cut the legs and wings from the bird. Cut the tips from wings and put them in a large soup pot. Put the leg and wing pieces aside. If there are any other portions of meat still attached to the back end of the carcass, remove them carefully and set them with the legs and wings.

Break off theback half of carcass (now with all the meat removed) and put in the soup pot with the wing tips. Cut the breast meat carefully from carcass, in one piece from each side, along with any remaining pieces of meat that are large enough to cut off and use. Break up the remaining bones and put them in the soup pot. Cover them with cold filtered water, add the bay leaf, and simmer for several hours; cover and return the turkey pieces to fridge while this happens. You may wish to make the turkey stock the day before the turkey is to be cooked. Cool it promptly and keep it in the fridge as well until needed.

Peel and dice the parsnip, carrots and onion. Clean and dice the celery.

Brown the leg and wing pieces in fat. You can use mild vegetable oil, chicken or bacon fat, or any fat that formed on the top of the stock after it was cooked. Put the browned pieces in a large roasting pan.

Preheat the oven to 275°F.

Sauté the prepared vegetables and arrange them around the pieces of turkey in a large roasting pan. Add about 4 cups of the strained turkey stock, and season to taste with salt & pepper. Cover and braise in the oven at 275°F for about 2 hours.

Increase the temperature to 375°F. Add the boneless turkey breast pieces on top, skin side up, and bake for about 45 minutes longer, uncovered, until the breast pieces are done. Remove from the oven, cover, and let the meat rest for about 10 minutes before slicing - time enough to make some gravy if you are doing that.

Slice the breast meat. Shred and debone the dark meat. Serve with the braised veggies on the side, or they may (at least some of them) be puréed with the pan juice and thickened with a little flour to make gravy.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Ping Tung & Little Fingers Eggplants

Ping Tung and Little Fingers Eggplants
We grew 2 kinds of eggplant this summer; Ping Tung (lighter) on the left and Little Fingers (darker) on the right.

Little Fingers is one we will probably not grow again. They are described as maturing in 68 days from transplanting, and producing abundant mild to sweet eggplants that can be harvested very small. The plants themselves grow between 2 to 3 feet tall. They are also described as hardy, vigorous and disease resistant; yes, I suppose they were.

However, in spite of our having had a good hot summer, they did not produce that many eggplants and the ones they did produce we found to be quite bitter. Possibly we did not water them sufficiently during the drought that went with the heat, but still we just didn't love them.

The Ping Tung, on the other hand, produced at least twice as many eggplants, larger, a bit sooner and very nicely flavoured and textured, in the exact same conditions. The skins are thin and tender, and they are completely free of bitterness. They are supposed to take 65 to 75 days from transplant. The plants were a bit shorter, topping out around the 2 foot mark. The one criticism I might make is that the eggplants are long enough (up to a foot!) that some of them ended up dragging on the ground. Putting a plastic lid from a food container under them will keep them clean and reasonably bug-free. (Although we really didn't have any problems with bugs even when they dragged on the ground.)

Ping Tung originated in Taiwan. Many of the people selling seeds describe it as a hybrid, but a large number of heritage seed sellers list it as an open-pollinated heirloom. Are there 2 versions? Perhaps, but I suspect there's also just confusion. I'm pretty sure it's open-pollinated. It's certainly a common and well-liked variety; with very good reason I would say. We will be growing this one again.

In the case of both eggplants, I noted that they both performed best when temperatures were between 20°C and 30°C. They did not really produce any eggplants when the temperatures were over 30°C although the ones already in existance continued to develop okay. On the other hand, now that it is consistently under 20°C the plants seem to still be producing flowers, but development of existing eggplants has pretty much come to a halt. I suspect that this is typical of most eggplants.

Eggplants can be martyrs to flea beetles, and the only thing the Colorado potato beetle loves more then potatoes is eggplant. It's probably a good idea to put row covers over your eggplants early in the season while they are young and vulnerable. It will also help keep them warm, and since they are quite intolerant of cold temperatures that's a good thing.

Actually, if you grow potatoes, it's a good idea to have an eggplant growing next to them even if you don't like eggplant. If there are Colorado potato beetles in the vicinity, they will head to the eggplant first, giving you an opportunity to nab them before they get into the potatoes. You'll have to monitor it frequently, of course. That happened (by accident) for us this year. We got beetles on the eggplants, but we caught them right away and were able to destroy them all before they got to the potatoes, or even damaged the eggplants all that much. Once you have potato beetles established in your garden though, they are a major, major headache.