Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Beans & Kale with Tomatoes

I cooked a large sack of beans this week and made soup, but there were so many of them that I had quite a few left over. I've done similar things to this before, but the combination of white beans, greens and tomatoes is so classic and so good it never hurts to do it again.

I used what was probably the last of the chard from my garden. Chard will be hard to find at this point, but kale should be around for a little while yet. If those fail there is always cabbage - a good, dark leaved one if you can get it.

3 or 4 servings
20 minutes prep time - not counting cooking the beans

Beans and Chard with Tomatoes
1 large onion
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
4 cups cooked white pea (navy) beans
4 cups chopped kale (or chard)
4 cups crushed or diced tomatoes
salt & pepper to taste

Wash the kale or chard and drain well. Peel and chop the onion. Peel and mince the garlic. Heat the oil in a large skillet, and sauté the onion until soft and slightly browned. Add the beans and continue cooking, stirring regularly, until the oil is mostly absorbed; just a few minutes. Add the garlic and mix it in until if becomes fragrant.

Meanwhile, chop the kale (or chard) coarsely. Add it to the pan, and cook down, mixing and turning so it cooks evenly. Once it is soft, add the tomatoes and simmer the mixture until it is well amalgamated and hot through. Season with salt and pepper.

A little bread and butter will make it a meal, or serve it atop a little rice.

Last year at this time I made Brussels Sprouts Braised with Chestnuts.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Christmas Plum Pudding

I'm late! I really should have made these a month ago. I kept eating my figs though, before I could round up all the other ingredients. Also I can't say I am really looking forward to Christmas. What I would like to do for Christmas is to go sit on a tropical beach somewhere for a week. Or Spain. Spain would be nice. What I am actually doing, though, is having a 2 day house-party for 10 people. It seemed like a good idea in July. However, I have finally conceded that ignoring it won't make it go away and started making some plans.

I didn't really use the exact proportions of fruit listed below. What I ended up doing was going through the cupboards and using up any old fruit I could find. I did keep the orange peel and ginger about right though. Some of it was rather old and tough so I soaked it in some old sherry that also wanted using up. I can actually see some space in the pantry now! If your fruit is really fresh and moist you could skip soaking it.

Below you can see the pot I used to steam the puddings. I believe this is sold as a set to make pasta but I have only resorted to using it for pasta when my regular pasta pot is otherwise occupied. Mostly I use it for steaming things, which it does very well.

I also experimented with putting my puddings into wide-mouthed glass jars, from which they slide quite nicely, since they taper straight down. Don't regard this as long term canning, say all the experts, but I don't see why they wouldn't keep as long if not longer than puddings taken out of the mold and wrapped up in foil - at least 3 months. Plenty of booze of course is a major contributing factor in this keeping ability.

Christmas Puddings in the Steamer
Makes 4 puddings of 4 servings each
about 45 minutes prep time - 1 1/2 hours cook time
Should be made 1 to 2 months in advance

Christmas Puddings Waiting for Christmas
Mix the Fruit:
100 grams (1/4 pound) black mission figs
100 grams (1/4 pound) light raisins
100 grams (1/4 pound) dark raisins
100 grams (1/4 pound) dried cherries
100 grams (1/4 pound) chopped nuts
100 grams (1/4 pound) candied peel
50 grams (2 ounces) preserved ginger
1/4 cup rum or other booze of choice
1/2 cup soft unbleached flour

Trim the stems from the figs, and chop them to be of a size with the other fruits. Mix all the fruits (and nuts) in a container that can be sealed, with the rum, and let them soak overnight. When you are ready to make the puddings, toss them with the flour.

Mix the Dry Ingredients:
1 cup fine whole wheat bread crumbs
1 cup soft unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Mix these together and set them aside.

Finish the Puddings:
3 extra-large eggs
3/4 cup brown rice syrup
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup mild vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
and finally, more rum or other booze ad lib

Beat the eggs lightly with a spoon. Heat the brown rice syrup and molasses gently until they are quite fluid, but not really hot. Beat them into the eggs, then beat in the oil and buttermilk.

Butter 4 500-ml molds thoroughly.

Mix the dry ingredients into the fruits, then mix in the wet ingredients until well blended. Ladle the batter evenly amongst the molds. It will be quite runny, as you will gather. Cover the molds with buttered aluminum foil, and tie it in place with kitchen twine (or use rubber bands, if you have any of the right size).

Put the puddings into a steamer with water to the bottom of the jars. Steam for 1 1/2 hours, checking the water level regularly and topping it up with boiling water if necessary, and it will be necessary at least once I am sure.

Remove puddings from the steamer once done. You can test them with a toothpick, which should come out clean and dry. At this point I poured as much more rum over them as I could get them to absorb (several tablespoons each), put a lid and ring on them, and popped them back in the steamer for 10 minutes. They should now keep for about 3 months, I would think, in a cool dark place.

You could also make these in 2 1-litre molds, but in that case they should be steamed for at least 2 hours. These would have to be removed from the mold and well wrapped in foil once sprinkled with more rum. Again, keep in a cool dark place for up to 3 months.

To Reheat and Serve:
To reheat and serve the pudding(s), they should be steamed again for an hour. Or, what I actually do, which is to sprinkle them with a little liquid (more booze!) and microwave them until hot. The time will depend on your microwave, but almost certainly under 10 minutes to get one hot through. Much, much faster and doesn't tie up the stove when you are almost certainly wanting to use it for other things.

Serve them with Hard Sauce, which is basically boozy butter frosting.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Radish Fried Rice

This was a pleasant dish but not too different from the last time I made fried rice. I'm only posting it because it was such a good way to use up a lot of radishes, which we are now swamped with, having pulled all the root veggies out of the garden this past week. I used 3 different radishes - some spicy, some not - but the end result was extremely sweet and mild. I aimed to use the same flavours as in lo-bak go, and it was a little reminiscent of it, although the texture was of course completely different. Like lo-bak go, it went well with a good dollop of our Chile-Garlic Sauce, which I'm also pleased to report is hot but not as insanely hot as I thought it would be when I canned it up.

You could use any kind of daikon or lo-bak radish for this. Mine were a large watermelon radish - this was the one that needed peeling - a Blauer Herbst radish, and a couple of China Rose. Yes, I went on a radish seed buying binge last spring. No, I didn't know what to do with all those radishes. But so far, so good. I'll be sure to plant lots next year too.

We ate it all, but it was all I made. And we're pigs too, of course.

2 to 4 servings
30 minute prep time

Radish Fried Rice
5 to 6 cups grated radish
1 medium carrot, grated
2 stalks celery (OR 2 cups grated celeriac)
1 medium onion (OR 3 or 4 green onions)
12-16 shiitake mushrooms
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
250 grams (1/2 pound) bacon
3 cups cold cooked rice
1 or 2 tablespoons soy sauce

Wash the radishes, and trim off the tough stringy parts of the roots, along with any damaged spots. Peel off any skin that seems really tough. (Only likely to be a problem with home-grown radishes I suspect.) Grate the radishes.

Peel and grate the carrot and celeriac, or if using celery, wash and chop it. Peel and chop the onion or green onions. Trim the stems from the shiitakes and cut them in quarters. Mince the ginger. Chop the bacon into bite-sized pieces.

Heat a large skillet or wok and cook the bacon until it is soft and has let off enough fat to coat the pan. (Add a little oil if your bacon is too lean to do that - ha ha! But it has happened.) Add the mushrooms and sauté them for a minute or two. Add the onion (but not the green onions, if using) and the celery and carrot. Cook, stirring for a minute or two. Add the radishes and ginger and continue cooking and stirring, until soft; just a few minutes.

Using wet hands, break up the rice as much as you can and add it to the pan. Rinse those fingers quickly then start stirring in the rice, breaking it up so no significant lumps remain. Add the green onions, if you are using those. Sprinkle over a little soy sauce. When the rice and vegetables are well mixed and the rice is beginning to brown in spots, serve it up; you're done.

Last year at this time I made Stir-Fried Cabbage & Carrots.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Leek & Potato Soup

Leeks and potatoes; a classic soup. I was a bit surprised I haven't posted about this before. Mr. Ferdzy really loves this and has been lobbying for it for a while. I used Alaska Sweetheart potatoes, which have pinkish flesh and so if you look closely you will see that the soup is also a bit pink. Nice! But you can use any starchy potato you like. I am lazy and leave the peels on but it is more traditional and makes a smoother soup to peel them. Up to you. If you decide to leave them on, they should be well scrubbed, and don't leave them too big. Guess who did.

8 servings
1 hour prep time

Leek and Potato Soup
1.5 kilos (3 pounds) starchy potatoes
1 teaspoon salt
2 or 3 bay leaves
1 litre water
3 or 4 large leeks (6 cups once chopped)
3 or 4 shallots
3 or 4 stalks of celery
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon celery seed, ground
1 teaspoon rubbed savory
pepper to taste
2 cups light cream

Scrub the potatoes well, or peel them if you like. Cut them into chunks. If you leave the peels on, make sure the pieces of peel will be bite-sized. Put them into a large pot with the salt, bay leaves and water. Boil until tender.

Meanwhile, wash, trim, chop and wash again the leeks. Drain them well. Peel and chop the shallots. Wash, trim and chop the celery.

Heat the butter in a large skillet and add the celery and shallots. Cook gently until they soften somewhat. Add the leeks, and continue cooking, stirring occassionally, until all the vegetables are very soft. They will give off a fair bit of water as they cook; cook this off, then reduce the heat as they cook as you don't really want them to brown. Watch and stir them well. Towards the end of the cooking, add the ground celery seed and the savory.

Mash the cooked potatoes in the cooking water. Add the cream, and stir in the cooked vegetables. Season with pepper to taste. Can be served at once, or made ahead and re-heated.

Last year at this time I made Pumpkin Bran Muffins and Chocolate Syrup.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Rutabaga Hash

For the last couple weeks I have been in a hash-slinging mood; that is I haven't been very interested in cooking. Time to eat? Throw something in a pan 'til it's edible. This has coincided with pulling the root vegetables out of the garden the last few days, and getting them ready to store. Result; hash. This was actually quite nice. Softer and less crispy than a potato-based hash, but with a lovely delicate rutabaga flavour. Of course, these were lovely delicate rutabagas right out of the garden which couldn't hurt.

My onion tops never died down, so I still have onions with green tops (although they do look rattier by the day). If you have a green onion top, or a green onion, or even some chives or parsley I definitely recommend chopping them fine and throwing them in. They will add a very welcome touch of colour.

The two of us ate this all with no problem. If you serve it for breakfast, maybe with a poached egg it won't go any further than that. It sounds like a lot of vegetable, but it really cooks down. If you serve it as part of a larger meal, it would stretch to 4 most likely.

2 to 4 servings
45 minutes prep time

Rutabaga Hash
1 1 /2 cups grated celeriac
OR 2 stalks celery
4 cups grated rutabaga
1 medium onion
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter
salt & pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika

Peel and grate the celeriac (or chop the celery) and peel and grate the rutabaga. You will need about a quarter of a medium-large celeriac and a quarter of a large rutabaga. Peel and chop the onion.

Heat the oil and butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion softens and browns slightly. Add the celeriac or celery and continue cooking for a minute or two. Add the rutabaga and water, and mix in well. Cook for about 5 to 10 minutes, until the water is absorbed or evaporated and the rutabage is softened. Stir once or twice.

Continue cooking for about 15 minutes, lifting and turning the hash as it cooks. Allow the bits in contact with the pan to brown, then turn and mix to allow new bits to come in contact with the pan. When the hash is browned to your liking, mix in the salt and pepper, and the paprika. If you have a green onion or some chives or parsley to add, mix it in as well and cook until just wilted. Serve piping hot.

Last year at this time I made Budget Beef & Mushroom Stroganov, and Smoked Trout Paté in Mushroom Caps.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Curried Noodles with Vegetables

I was thinking Singapore-style noodles here, although in a vegetarian incarnation. You could add some scrambled egg and mushrooms to the mixture, or even the traditional barbequed pork and shrimp (or chicken). We liked it fine as it was, though. Cabbage, carrots and onions is a combination of vegetables I never get tired of. Just as well. They are around for a long time.

4 servings
30 minutes prep time

Curried Noodles with Vegetables
2 cups finely chopped cabbage
2 cups grated carrots (2 medium)
1 large onion
2 stalks of celery
200 grams fine brown rice noodles
4 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
2 to 3 teaspoons Malaysian curry powder
salt to taste

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil.

Chop the cabbage. Peel and grate the carrots. Peel and slice the onion into thin slivers. Wash, trim and slice the celery thinnly.

When the water boils, drop in the noodles and boil them for just a minute or so. Drain them and rinse them in cold water. Chop or snip them with scissors into short pieces.

Heat half the oil in a large skillet. Add the celery and onion, and sauté until they begin to soften. Add the carrots and cook for a minute or two more, mixing well. Add the cabbage and cook until soft. When the vegetables look done to your liking, remove them to a serving plate.

Heat the remaining oil in the skillet. Add the noodles, and sprinkle them with the curry powder and salt. Cook for a minute or two, tossing them well until they are evenly coated in the curry powder. Add the vegetables back into the pan, stirring and turning until the noodles and vegetables are well mixed and hot through. Serve at once.

Last year at this time I made Roasted Pepper, Artichoke & Tomato Salad and Butternut Squash & Hazelnut Lasagne.

Friday, 19 November 2010

A Visit to Pinehaven Farm

The same day we went to Ontario Water Buffalo, we also stopped in at Pinehaven Farm, just outside of Millbrook. I had heard about John Wood, who - I had read - grows 40 kinds of potatoes at Pinehaven Farm. As it turns out, that piece of information is outdated. He actually grew 56 kinds of potatoes this year. You didn't even know there were 56 kinds, did you? I suspect most people could name Yukon Gold, and maybe Russet Burbanks (the classic baking potato). After that, they tend to be sold as "red" (skins) or "white" (beige skins).

That's pretty much what most people know, but there's a lot more to potatoes than that. While they are all recognizable as potatoes, there are distinct differences in flavour, colour and texture in different potatoes. Texture is particularly important as it has the most effect on the cooking technique chose for each kind.

From the farmers point of view there may be reasons to grow particular varieties of potatoes for other reasons besides looks and flavour; disease resistance, insect resistance, keeping qualities, the length of the growing season or ease of harvesting being the main things to consider.

John Wood is a 4th generation farmer, the third to farm this particular spot. He grows other vegetables as well; squash and pumpkins, beets, carrots, beans and cucumbers. Potatoes are obviously his main interest though, and what's mainly available at this time of year.

I won't even try to list all the potatoes he showed us, but I'll mention a few that sounded interesting to me: Irish Cobbler, a floury heirloom; MacIntosh Black, very dark; Red Thumb, a strong pink fingerling; Purple Majesty; a strongly purple fleshed potato; Pink Fir-Apple; an heirloom fingerling; River John Blue*, another blue from Nova Scotia; Mountain Rose, a good pink. Yes, I like the colourful ones! But he also has the old stand-bys like Norland, Sebago, Kennbec, Red Cheiftan and Viking. And, well, many others, old and new.

The potatoes are stored in a number of different containers. Most are in large wooden crates, although the ones he has in smaller quantities are in cardboard boxes or bushel baskets. Large nylon bags are also used. The room is kept pretty dim, and well ventilated. Potatoes keep best at about 7°C, and for the first few weeks they are stored give off a fair bit of moisture, which must be dispersed.

The potatoes are stored unwashed. They keep better that way. John sorts out the damaged or scabby ones as he sells the potatoes. He and his mother Marg eat the best of the seconds, and the remainder get fed to his cows. This has to be done with caution; cows love potatoes, but they can choke on them, and there is no giving a Heimlich maneuvre to a cow.

John rummages through his boxes of potatoes to show us particular varieties.

These ones are La Ratte, a traditional French fingerling variety. They are firm and waxy, with pale yellow flesh and are described as having a nutty flavour. They're pretty glamourous, for potatoes.

These are Peruvian Purple, another fingerling, and another heirloom potato. They are purple right through. John says he is selling more purple potatoes as they are becoming very popular.

Oh dear, which ones are these? I think they might be Annabelle, a yellow waxy potato, with a firm texture and an earthy flavour. But they could be Selma, or maybe Gala. Hmm. John would know - he knew all his potatoes by sight.

On Saturdays John loads up this trailer and goes to the Peterborough Farmers Market.

This piece of equipment is used to harvest the early varieties of potatoes, and all the fingerlings. They are small enough that they would fall through the chains of the bigger digger and be lost. The earliest potatoes are harvested at the end of June.

Pinehaven Farm has sandy, slightly acid soil, much like ours. Apparently, potatoes like that. We've certainly done better with potatoes than with some other vegetables. Potatoes are actually pretty tolerant of different conditions but the light soil means that the potatoes tend to be large and well-shaped.

There's the bigger digger, which will harvest several rows of potatoes at once, provided the potatoes are large enough. The later potatoes are harvested through to the beginning of November, in general.

The red bin-piler is basically a large conveyor belt, used to pile the potatoes in the wooden bins. Potato processing equipment (like an awful lot of farm equipment) is wildly expensive, and as a small family farm John is limited in what he can get.

For example, he has some trouble with hollow heart in some of his potatoes. Yukon Gold is particularly prone to get it. It just means that there's a hole in the middle of the potato, caused by uneven watering as it formed, or possibly a boron deficiency. There's no real problem with this, it's just unsightly as it may turn a little brown. If you get a potato like this, just trim around it a bit if it's discoloured. There is a machine to detect hollow heart in potatoes, but it costs about a million dollars. Yep, a million dollars. If it helps keep small farmers in the potato business, I'm prepared to do a little trimming, myself.

The fields look pretty bare at the moment, and mostly they are, although John is harvesting a few last potatoes still. This year is the latest he has ever had potatoes in the ground, and it was also the earliest he has ever planted potatoes in the spring. He starts early, and harvests early, because new (not fully formed) potatoes get a premium price in the summer. He also plants potatoes a lot later then we ever have. This means they get harvested as late as possible. If you are a specialty potato grower, freshness is important. I guess it also means that while he stores potatoes to sell into the winter, he doesn't have an enormous glut of them.

John grows about 25 acres of potatoes. He moves his crops around from year to year. He doesn't grow organically, but he takes a fairly philosophical view of the problems that affect potatoes. We discussed scab, white grubs and Colorado potato beetles. He says all these things are cyclical. By moving potatoes around and having a lot of different varieties, he knows he will always have some problems, but he will also always have some that do just fine.

It was a beautiful day, but you can tell it's November by the way the sun drops like a hot stone around 4:30. Time to go home and have some supper - how about some nice potatoes! (And yes, I did get quite a few from John, so expect some potato recipes in the next little while - although I also plan to cook most of them fairly simply, to assess them.)

*The name rang a bell when John mentioned it, but I didn't place it for a while. River John is in Nova Scotia, in Pictou county, home of me ancestors or at least some of them. Okay, gotta try these.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

A Visit to Ontario Water Buffalo

Digression: look at that picture. Does that look like November to you? No, not to me neither. I like it though, I have to admit. So, where was this bucolic scene of strangely pleasant weather? It's just north of Stirling, at the home of Ontario Water Buffalo.

Ontario Water Buffalo is a farm owned by Lori Smith and Martin Littkemann. In 2008 they wanted to get back into milking. Dairy quota for cows, though, is both staggeringly expensive and rarely available. Then a friend of Martin's told him about water buffalo. "You can milk those?" he asked. Even better, he was put in touch with Quality Cheese, who had a yearning to make mozzarella di bufalo - mozzarella made with buffalo milk, the way it's done in Italy. With a willing and able purchaser, he and Lori went to a water buffalo conference in Italy and then began putting together their herd. Their first water buffalo came from a herd in Vermont. Additions were made with buffalo from British Columbia and Michigan. Today, they have about 200 head of water buffalo. That's Lori with one of the bulls; in fact, the bull.

These are some of the young males. Eventually, they will be sent to the butcher, and the meat will be available through the farm, or served in Kingston restaurants. There's also a distributor, Wendy's Mobile Market.

The stars of the show, though, are the milking buffalo. There are only about 30 being milked at any one time right now, although the milking barn has room for 40. Some of the reasons why that number is so low include the fact that of their 200 head, there are a number of males, there are a good number of heifers (female buffaloes not yet mature enough to breed) and a number of females that are dry. The buffalo being milked will produce for 8 or 9 months, an average of about 8 litres a day. The best milkers will produce up to 15 litres though, and the amount varies with time. Depending on where they are in their cycle, they will be milked once or twice per day.

Left to their own devices, water buffalo would breed in the late summer and calf the next summer. Cows have a nine month gestation period, but water buffalo are pregnant for over 10 months. However, because the farm needs to keep a steady flow of milk throughout the year, the goal is to have some water buffalo impregnated every month. Most are done through artificial insemination, but if that fails to take (about 20% of the total attempts) the gentleman in the second picture is called upon to take up the slack.

Water buffalo are calm, friendly and curious beasts. Unlike cows, who just aren't that into you, the water buffalo are all sure to come right up the fence as soon as you appear. They reminded me a bit of dogs - they wanted to sniff me, then lick my hand. That would be a 1000 pound dog, mind you. Water buffalo calves are about the same size as other calves when they are born; about 70 to 100 pounds. They are bigger, stronger animals as adults though, although they don't immediately seem that much bigger than cows. Lori quoted, "If you can't move it with horses, try oxen. If you can't move it with oxen, try water buffalo. If you can't move it with water buffalo - you need dynamite."

In Thailand (and other places), water buffalo are used as draft animals, but they also race them, although I'd say that's easier said than done by the looks of it.

Even though water buffalo originally hail from much warmer parts of the world, they handle cold weather just fine. They can come in and go out of shelter as they like, and they generally like to be out for part of the day in all but the very worst of winter weather. They have thick skins and plenty of hair; more of both than cows. In the summer they do need shade, especially the darker ones.

This picture cracks me up. Actually, the water buffalo in general cracked me up. I thought they were adorable, with their sweet curiosity and big rubbery noses that seemed to have a life of their own. It's not a word normally associated with farm animals, but there it is: they're adorable.

They're stocking up at the buffet here; later they will chew their cud, just like cows. Like cows, they also have 4 stomachs.

From a little distance, the farm looks much like any other cattle operation.

From close up, it's a different story. Oh that face! Oh that nose! Adorable!

The present barn is an old one, with a definite upper limit to the number of water buffalo that can be milked. Martin and Lori are making plans to replace it with a modern barn, where the buffalo can be rotated in and out, with (theoretically, anyway) no limit on the number that can be milked. In spite of the age of the barn, it was clean and sweet-smelling. Actually, Lori says that water buffalo are hypoallergenic. We certainly didn't have any reaction to them.

The barn was also home to a large group of the cleanest, friendliest barn cats I've ever encountered, including these three cute kittens. Lori is clearly an animal lover, and in addition to the friendly cats and the friendly water buffalo, there was a very friendly dog. I don't think I've ever been anywhere else where every critter was so happy to see me.

Cats asleep on the top of the "kitty condo". Lori fills cages with straw and covers them with blankets, and the cats stay in the barn all winter, and keep the mice away.

One of the calves in the barn, who are being monitored. This little calico cat was the friendliest of the bunch and escorted us on most of our tour.

The light colour of this calf shows that she has swamp buffalo characteristics. There are two kinds of water buffalo; swamp and river. The swamp are traditionally draft animals, and the riverine are better for milk. The herd here is mixed, but with more river buffalo in the blend, and as time goes on that's the emphasis of the breeding program. Lori and Martin keep very careful breeding records, as it's likely that at some point they will begin to sell water buffalo to other farmers who want to start milking them.

Grain feed and sawdust wait in the barn. In general, water buffalo eat much the same things as cows. However, great care must be taken with medications. Early North American water buffalo farmers found out the hard way that some of the antibiotics that are safe for cows will kill a water buffalo. The good news though, is that they are very hardy animals and much less prone to mastitis than cows.

Lori mentioned that water buffalo like to crowd together and lean on each other. If she or one of the farm workers are between two of them, they may get leaned on. Pushing won't get them to stop, they'll just lean harder because they think you like it too. A scoop of grain tossed between them will get them to separate, so they can get at the grain. They're more inclined to step on your feet than cows as well, or at least less likely to notice that they're doing it and stop. They may be very friendly, but they're still big, strong animals and must be treated with a lot of respect.

This isn't quite the start of the chain of stainless steel that leads to the refrigerated dairy case where you buy your cheese - that was stainless steel piping in the barn, going to each stall - but it's the first really noticeable piece. Milk is stored in this tank for pick up by Quality Cheese.

The milking apparatus hangs on the wall. Quality Cheese tests the milk as it arrives at their factory, but of course it's up to the farm to make sure that the milk is clean.

The start of water buffalo farming in Ontario has created a lot of excitement. Even though Lori and Martin have not had water buffalo for quite three years yet, there have already been two annual water buffalo festivals held in the area, which have had good turnouts. Look for next years' sometime in August, and in the mean time keep an eye out for that mozzarella di bufalo.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Stir Fried Brussels Sprouts & Mushrooms

You never seem to see Brussels sprouts in Chinese cooking. Don't know why... this worked out very well!

2 to 4 servings
20 minutes

2 cups Brussels sprouts
1 1/2 cups shiitake or button mushrooms, or a blend
1 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 or 2 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon arrowroot or corn starch
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil

Wash and trim the Brussels sprouts, and cut them in halves or quarters depending on their size. Clean and trim the mushrooms, and cut them in halves or quarters as well.

Peel and mince the ginger and garlic.

Mix the arrowroot or corn starch with the soy sauce and water in a small bowl.

Heat the oil in a large skillet or wok over high heat. Add the Brussels sprouts, and about 1/4 cup of water. Cook, stirring constantly, until the water evaporates and the sprouts are a fairly bright green. They should look about half-cooked to you at this point.

Add the mushrooms, and continue cooking and stirring until the mushrooms soften and brown slightly, along with the sprouts. Add the ginger and garlic, and mix in well. Finally, stir up the starch and liquid, and pour it over the vegetables. Mix in well; it should thicken up and coat the veggies pretty much immediately. Serve at once.

Last year at this time I made Cheese & Potato Soup.

Friday, 12 November 2010

A Visit to Quality Cheese

Quality Cheese is located in Vaughan, at 111 Jevlan Drive, just off the 400 and north of Highway 7. In addition to the factory they have a very well stocked shop which carries all their cheeses - sold under the brand name Bella Casera - as well as an assortment of imported cheeses, pasta, baked goods, olive oil, balsamic vinegars and other Italian groceries. We asked if we could photograph the shop, and were referred to Joe Borgo, who not only agreed, but offered to give us a tour of the factory. Whoa, amazing!

We all started off by putting on white lab coats, hair nets and disposable booties over our shoes, and we washed our hands thoroughly (although I also tried to made a point of not touching anything!) As the door closed, it shot disinfectant over the first few feet we had walked over.

Every time I talk to cheesemakers about what they do, the first thing that gets mentioned is "cleaning". Half of each day Monday to Friday is dedicated to cheesemaking, and the other half of the day is dedicated to cleaning. On Saturdays they get serious and spend the entire day cleaning. Of course, we were there on a Saturday so what we saw happening was mostly cleaning.

There was a truck delivering milk for the next batch of cheeses. Apparently it came from Stayner. Hey! We know Stayner... we drive through it regularly. The other thing associated with cheese is stainless steel. This is just the beginning of all the shiny metal stuff...

The floor is wet because I think the driver had just finished unloading the milk and now he was cleaning. (You're sensing a theme here, aren't you?)

The next thing that happens is the newly delivered milk is pasteurized. The milk is on one side of stainless steel plates; steam is on the other. This allows the milk to heat and cool quickly. Then, off it goes through the pipes.

Some of it may go through a separator. Pizza block mozzarella and provolone are made with skimmed milk. Most of their cheeses, however, are made with whole milk, which also gets homogenized.

The milk is then stored in one of two stainless steel silos until it is time to send it off through more pipes into the cheese making area. Between the two silos they can have on hand up to 37,000 litres of milk. I'm saying "stored", but they frequently go through more than that amount of milk in one day.

There is a smaller tank in the receiving bay to hold the water buffalo milk.

Soft, creamy cheeses like brie and what Joe referred to as blue cheese (a Gorgonzola type) are made in this vat. The whey is drained off and is used to make ricotta cheese. They make two ricotta cheeses. One is sealed in a plastic tube and has a short but manageable shelf-life. The other is a fresh ricotta sold only through the factory store as it has a shelf-life of only a week. (That's what I used in the Ricotta Gnocchi).

The "pasta filata" cheeses are started in this vat. That means all the "stringy" type cheeses, mainly forms of mozzarella.

After the curds are formed, they are left to settle in the whey. They are drained and shredded into fine strands, then soaked in hot water. The hot water causes the strands to stretch and clump, and the texture becomes doughy. Here's where it gets tricky. The clumps get stringier as time goes on. The cheesemaker must judge the right moment to drain them. Too soon, and the cheese will be crumbly. Too long, and the cheese will be too tough and rubbery.

Next, the cheese is extruded (molded) into different shapes.

It then goes into this litle wagon, where it is soaked in cold water to set and chill it. In general, they receive enough water buffalo milk to make three batches per week; a total of 3,ooo litres of milk, with half coming from each of the two farms.

These are the molds used to form the mozzarella into balls.

Looking across the floor of the factory, you can see the vats in which cheeses are started. They are then fed, by gravity, into the molds that will determine their final shapes.

This device is used to turn loads of cheese, so that the whey will drain off of the cheeses evenly, keeping them in good shape and consistent in quality on both sides.

Some cheeses need to be soaked in brine. There is a room mostly dedicated to that purpose. Since it's a cool room, some packaged cheeses find their way in there as well.

There is also a smoke room, which we didn't go into, on account of it being full of smoke. While there was no cheesemaking happening, cheeses were being packed and labelled, in this case smoked Cheddar. In addition to the cheeses they sell under their own brand name Bella Casera, Quality Cheese makes and finishes cheeses for other companies.

Next, we went upstairs. The entire upstairs is dedicated to cheese aging rooms. These are rounds of blue cheese.

Behind the blue cheese, trays and trays of "fondue brie", flavoured with herbs and designed to be served hot and melted.

Wheels of my old favourite, Friulano, wait in the packaging room.

Pairs of scamorza cheeses hang in the shop. After all that, I forgot to actually take any other pictures of the shop, but trust me: it's a great place full of Italian goodies, not to mention all the cheese. It's well worth a visit if you are anywhere near Vaughan, and the shop is just 5 minutes off the 400.

Right now, their cheeses are mostly sold in the Toronto area through stores such as Pusateri's, Longo's, Whole Foods, Olympic Cheese, Scheffler's Deli, The Healthy Butcher, as well as others. They are hoping that soon some of their cheeses will be carried by one or more of the national chains, so keep an eye out for them in your local Loblaws or Sobeys - or ask for them.

As we finished the tour, Joe said he would give us some samples. We were picturing slices on the end of a knife, so we were pretty floored when Joe handed us a box full of cheese. You can see many of the varieties they make here: starting at the bottom right and going clockwise on the plate: a mild, nutty brie, "borganzola" (their blue cheese), smoked scamorza and Friulano. Around the back from left to right: stracchino, ricotta, burrata and water buffalo mozzarella in two sizes.

I've already used some of the water buffalo mozzarella here, and the fresh ricotta (not pictured) in Gnocchi.

It was the first time we had tried burrata, so I didn't do anything fancy with it. It's an interesting and intricate cheese; bits of mozzarella trimming and cream are enclosed in a thin mozzarella pouch. The cheese is extremely fresh - it's so mildly milky and creamy it's almost like eating milk made solid. This cheese just won a first prize at the Royal Winter Fair, along with their ricotta and water buffalo mozzarella.

All this cheese expertise has been around for a long time. The present generation of the Borgo family are the fourth to be cheesemakers, although the second in Canada. The company was started in 1957 in Orangeville by Almerigo Borgo. He had come to Canada a few years earlier, but was obliged to work for the railway for a while before he was able to get back to making cheese. In 1988 Quality Cheese started up in its' present form.