Friday, 30 December 2011

Cornmeal Pancakes

I trust that when I call for cooked, cooled cornmeal mush you recognize that it's leftovers. Make cornmeal for cereal one morning, cook some extra and have pancakes the next day. In order to have a cup of cornmeal mush left over, you should cook a generous 1/3 of a cup extra. Cornmeal gets cooked at the rate of 3 parts water to 1 part cornmeal, with a pinch of salt.

Delicious with maple syrup, honey, peanut butter, applesauce, applebutter, jam; all the usual pancake accompaniments in other words. These are a bit more solid and moist than regular pancakes with a nice delicate flavour. As always with pancakes, honestly: buttermilk is so much better than regular milk. It keeps extremely well (generally a couple of weeks past the date on the carton) and is useful in all kinds of baking. It should get used more often.

12 4" pancakes
40 minutes prep time

1 cup cooked cooled cornmeal mush
1 tablespoon sugar
2 eggs
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
about 1 cup buttermilk or milk
mild vegetable oil to cook

Preheat the oven to 150° to 200°F. Put your plates in there to get warm.

Mix the sugar into leftover cornmeal mush. Beat in the eggs.

Mix the baking powder and salt into the flour, then beat it in.

Mix in the buttermilk to make a smooth, pourable batter. Start with 1/2 cup and add more as needed; 1 cup will probably be about right, but it depends on how thick your cornmeal turned out and how thick you would like your pancakes to be. You will likely need a bit more buttermilk than you would plain milk.

Cook in an oiled pan at pancake temperature for about 2 minutes on each side, until nicely browned. Keep them warm in the oven on the plates there until they are all cooked.

Last year at this time I made Paprika Soup.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Cranberry Cole Slaw

Cranberries! They go with so many things, even cole slaw. What can I say? I do love those fruity, nutty salads. Here's another one.

Makes 6 to 8 servings
1 hour - 30 minutes prep time

Cranberry Cole Slaw
Make the Dressing:
1/2 cup mayonnaise (light is fine)
1/2 cup buttermilk
a little finely grated lemon zest
the juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon anise seed, ground
salt & pepper to taste

Mix the mayonnaise and buttermilk. Grate in a little lemon zest, about 1/8th of a teaspoon, then add the lemon juice. Grind the anise seed and mix it in, with salt and pepper to taste.

Make the Salad:
6 cups finely chopped cabbage
2 medium apples
1/2 cup chopped nuts (pecans, almonds or hazelnuts)
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries

Put a pot of water on to boil.

Chop the cabbage finely. Wash the apples, and cut the in quarters. Core them, then dice them. Mix the cabbage, apples and nuts.

When the water boils, add the cranberries and boil them for one or two minutes, until they are mostly popped but still whole. Lift them out of the water with a slotted spoon, draining thoroughly, then add them to the salad. Discard the water.

Toss the dressing with the salad, and let rest in the fridge for 20 to 30 minutes before serving.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Hazelnut Macaroons

Here's a quick and easy recipe just in case you need to make some Christmas cookies at the last moment. Of course, you will then be left with the egg yolks. Maybe you could make Eggnog Shorties with them, unless there is call for them elsewhere.

I'm going to step away from the computer for a while since Christmas is indeed just about upon us. Hope everyone has a great holiday, and a happy new year. And best of all, todays the day: from here on, the days get longer and the nights get shorter!

24 cookies
40 minutes - 20 minutes prep time PLUS overnight

Hazelnut Macaroons

2 extra-large egg whites
1 cup icing sugar
1 cup ground hazelnuts
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon almond extract

Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Beat the egg whites until very foamy. Continue beating, and add the icing sugar, about a quarter at at time, until it is well amalgamated and the egg whites form stiff peaks. Fold in the ground nuts, lemon juice, and almond extract.

Scoop out with a melon baller and place on a the prepared cookie sheet. Let the cookies stand overnight in a cool spot (not the fridge) to dry. Preheat the oven to 350°F and bake the cookies for 15 to 20 minutes.

Last year at this time I made Dried Tomato Pesto.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Cranberry-Orange-Poppy Seed Loaf Cake

This is a cake I came up with about 10 years ago, to combine some of my favourite cake flavours. It was still in the days of low-fat cooking, so I really cut back on the butter a lot. It seems to work fine though. Nowadays I am probably more worried about the amount of sugar in things. Heigh-ho. Still, I don't make cake all that often, in spite of the inordinate number of desserts that I seem to be posting this month. Hmm. This was for someone's birthday, honest.

I actually made this particular cake with Meyer lemons instead of oranges. They worked out very well. I used 3 in the cake and 1 for the glaze. If you use oranges, don't forget you will need 3 of them if you want to glaze it.

8 servings
1 hour 15 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

Cranberry Orange Poppy Seed Loaf Cake Make the Cake:
2 cups fresh cranberries, chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 extra-large egg
the zest of 2 large oranges
2 cups soft whole wheat flour
1/3 cup poppy seeds
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup buttermilk or milk

Chop the cranberries coarsely; actually I just cut them in half individually. Lightly butter a large loaf pan or 8" round springform pan. If using a springform pan, line the bottom with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Put the butter in a mixing bowl with the sugar, and work it in until it is evenly distributed throughout. Beat in the egg. Grate in the zest from the oranges, and mix it in.

Measure the flour and mix it with the poppy seeds, baking powder, and salt.

Mix the flour into the sugar and egg mixture alternately with the orange juice and buttermilk. Gently stir in the chopped cranberries.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread it out evenly. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Optional Glaze:
1/4 cup orange juice
1/3 to 1/2 cup icing sugar

If you would like to glaze the cake, while it is still warm mix the orange juice and icing sugar until smooth. Poke the cake all over the top with a fork, then drizzle and spread the glaze over the top of the cake as evenly as you can. Let the cake finish cooling before serving.

Last year at this time I made Baked Ricotta Cheese.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Brussels Sprouts Salad

I feel like I always add fruit, nuts and cheese to salads. Look! It's another salad with fruit, nuts and cheese! Surprise!

But really, that's the salad that I like. So here it is again, with Brussels sprouts this time. Yep, you can eat them raw. Who knew? Okay, I'm surprised.

4 to 6 servings
30 minutes prep time

Brussels Sprouts Salad with Dried Cranberries Hazelnuts and Cheese
Make the Vinaigrette:
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup lemon juice (the juice of 2 medium lemons)
2 teaspoons honey
3 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/3 cup hazelnut or walnut oil
salt & pepper to taste

Mix all the above ingredients in a small bowl and whisk, or put them in a jam jar, seal, and shake until well blended.

Make the Salad:
1/2 cup hazelnuts
200 grams (scant 1/2 pound) Brussels sprouts
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 or 3 clementines or mandarin oranges
1/2 cup coarsely grated or finely shaved Parmesan cheese

Toast the hazelnuts in a dry skillet, stirring frequently until they turn a little darker in spots. Put them out onto a plate to cool.

Meanwhile, wash trim and shred the Brussels sprouts as finely as you can and put them in a salad bowl. Add the dried cranberries. Peel the oranges, and divide them into segments. Cut the segments in half and add them to the salad. Chop the nuts roughly and add them to the salad.

Toss the salad with the dressing, then sprinkle the cheese over and mix it in gently.

Last year at this time I made Finnish Nisa (Pulla) and German Stollen.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Squash with Roasted Squash Seeds

This is a ridiculously simple way to serve squash, and it uses the whole thing. I love the rich, nutty flavour of the roasted squash seeds.

You can use any other squash besides butternut, provided it is reasonably dense and mashable, and the seeds are tender enough to be nice to eat.

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

Squash with Roasted Squash Seeds
1 medium butternut squash, about 1 kilo (2 pounds)
2 or 3 tablespoons butter
salt & pepper to taste
2 teaspoons mild vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Cut the squash in half and clean out the seeds and any stringy bits from the core. Peel and cut the squash into thickish slices or chunks to be roasted. Put them in a shallow roasting pan, and dot them with the butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Roast until tender, about an hour and a quarter to an hour and a half.

Meanwhile, go back and clean the seeds, picking out all the stringy orange stuff that attaches them to each other or the squash, and discarding it. Rinse the seeds thoroughly, and drain well. Put them in a shallow roasting pan and toss them with the oil, and salt to taste (or other seasonings if you like). Roast the seeds for 20 to 30 minutes, ideally timing them to come out at about the same time as the squash. They should be lightly browned and a bit crisp.

To serve, mash the squash with the butter it was roasted in. Coarsely chop the roasted seeds and sprinkle them over the top of the squash once it has been placed in a serving dish.

Last year at this time I made Jelly-Glazed Acorn Squash - more quick and easy squash.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Kipferl; Nut Crescents

I got this recipe from my great-aunt Hilda many years ago, but I could have gotten it anywhere, just about. This is a ubiquitous and much-loved Christmas cookie for many people. I've adjusted it a little; more nuts and flavouring but otherwise it's the same. I had my usual problem with shortbread type cookies here, in that my crescents were very much inclined to flatten out. Delicious, though. I like that you get most of the hit of sweetness from the icing sugar on the outside, leaving the buttery, nutty richness to shine through in the middle.

48 to 64 cookies
1 hour prep time

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups soft unbleached flour
1 1/2 cups ground hazelnuts (OR almonds OR pecans)
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 to 3/4 cup icing sugar

Line 2 large cookie trays with parchment paper.

Cream the butter and sugar, and mix in the extracts. Mix the flour, ground nuts, and salt. Mix the flour into the butter until well blended.

Divide the dough into 48 to 64 equal pieces. I find it best to divide the dough into 4 equal portions and work with one portion at a time. Keep the remainder of the dough in the fridge while you work. Cut each quarter into quarters again, and each small quarter (sixteenth of the original dough) into 3 or 4 equal pieces. Roll each little piece into a spindle shape; that is, a cylinder a little thinner at each end than in the middle. Lay the dough thus rolled on the prepared cookie tray, and arrange it in the form of a crescent.

When the first tray is formed, put it in the freezer until the second tray is formed. At this point, preheat the oven to 325°F. Continue forming the cookies for the second tray. Bake the first (cold) tray of cookies for 10 to 13 minutes, depending on their size, while the second tray goes into the freezer to chill. Let the first baked tray of cookies cool while the second tray bakes.

When the first tray of cookies has cooled for about 10 minutes, measure out the icing sugar and sift a little onto a plate. Gently place as many cookies on the sugar as will fit on the plate and sift some more sugar over them. Turn them to be sure they are completely coated, then return them to the tray. Continue sifting and coating the warm but not hot cookies in icing sugar until all are done. Store in an air-tight tin. Cookies are best after several days, and will keep for a couple of weeks if kept dry and cool.

Last year at this time I made Aunt Alethea's Famous Squares.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

January King Cabbage

January King Cabbage

The first thing people comment about when they are talking about January King cabbage is how beautiful it is. And it is. It's one of the most gorgeous vegetables out there, and veggies in general are things of beauty. January King is not quite a savoy, and not quite a smooth cabbage; not quite red and not quite green; it combines the most attractive features of all those cabbages.

Now that I've gotten that out of the way, let me also note that it's been one of our most successful cabbages in the garden; slow-growing but but it can be left to stand in the garden for a long time, and it is tolerant of both heat and cold, although cold weather brings out the best colours and sweetens it. The flavour is excellent and it keeps well when properly stored. The heads aren't quite as tight as some cabbages, but dense enough and they can get to a good size.

While it is often thought of as an English heirloom, grown there before 1885, it is recognized that it came originally from France. There it is known as chou de Milan de Pontoise, "de Milan" indicating that it is a savoy type cabbage, and Pontoise being a town to the north-west of Paris where they were traditionally grown.

At 120 days to maturity, this is a slow-growing cabbage. We planted ours out in early June and didn't pick them until after the first snow in December. We didn't weigh ours, although they were plainly our largest cabbage. They are supposed to reach 3-5 pounds and that sounds about right.

Brassicas in general are not a great crop for us. We give them plenty of manure but they still aren't completely happy. Cabbages do the best, and January King is one of the better ones. They don't seem to be quite so thronged with happy crowds of cabbage butterfly larvae as some of the other brassicas, although we do need to check. Most of our starts formed heads, with fewer frizzly-leaved meltdowns than any of the others. Our soil is more acidic than brassicas like; that's one problem. Possibly we are also low on some other vital nutrient. However, as noted, this was our best cabbage crop. We will be growing it again, along with Copenhagen Market, which is a much earlier cabbage. One for the summer, one for the winter.

One thing I find amusing about January King is how readily it forms little sprouts along the stem. Yes, rather like Brussels sprouts. I wonder how much this variety contributed to the eventual development of Brussels sprouts. When I harvested our January King cabbages, I set all the sprouts aside as I trimmed them, and we had those for a couple of meals. They did indeed taste like a cross between cabbage and Brussels sprouts.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Cabbage with Coriander & Juniper

I read a description of a way of cooking cabbage from ancient Rome, with coriander and rue, and I was intrigued. From research it seems that was coriander and rue in the form of fresh green leaves. Neither of those are really available at this time of year, and I wouldn't want to cook with fresh rue either. It's bitter and nasty - I have grown it as an ornamental and knowing it used to be used as an herb I cautiously tasted it; ptui - and I'm pretty sure it's not even all that good for you. The seeds of a related plant are used as a spice in Ethiopia, but I wouldn't be able to get any easily. I did however have some juniper berries in the cupboard, as well as the coriander seed.

The result is a dish with complex flavours, slightly astringent. In short, a very good thing to serve with rich meats such as duck, pork or goose. I served mine with some nice juicy sausages.

4 servings
20 minutes prep time

Cabbage with Coriander and Juniper
1 teaspoon corander seed
4 cups chopped cabbage
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup water
4 or 5 juniper berries
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons sherry
salt & pepper to taste

Lightly toast and grind the coriander seed.

Wash and chop the cabbage and drain it well. Put it in a pot with the butter, water, coriander and juniper, and bring to a boil. Cook until the water is mostly evaporated, about 7 or 8 minutes. Add the sherry vinegar, sherry and salt and pepper as required, and continue cooking for just a minute or two more, until the vinegar and sherry are absorbed.

Do watch the cabbage carefully as it cooks, and don't let it scorch, which can happen quickly as the water boils off.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Black Forest Cookies

Here's one of my more decadent creations. I love Black Forest cake; the chocolate! The cherries! The cream! I've tried to carry that theme into other desserts such as trifle, or these cookies. Maybe I should try a Black Forest cherry pie, but that will have to wait for cherry season. In the mean time, these are awfully good, and so rich I daren't make them more often than once every 4 or 5 years.

36 to 42 cookies
1 hour prep time

Black Forest Cookies
1 cup dried cherries
1 tablespoon kirsch or rum
100 grams (4 ounces) unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 extra-large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups soft unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
225 grams (1/2 pound) white chocolate chips

Put the cherries in a small bowl, and soak them in the kirsch or rum. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line 2 large cookie trays with parchment paper.

Melt the chocolate and butter in the top of a double boiler, or in the microwave. Set aside to cool slightly.

Put the sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat in the eggs and the vanilla extract.

Measure the flour, and stir in the baking powder and salt.

Mix the melted chocolate and butter into the sugar and egg mixture. Mix in the flour, then the cherries and rum or kirsch and the white chocolate chips.

Drop the batter by spoonfuls (or use a small disher) and flatten slightly. Bake for 8 to 12 minutes, until firm around the edges and just setting on top. Do not overbake - these should be moist and fudgy. Let cool on the trays before removing.

Last year at this time I made Scalloped Sweet Potatoes.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Sausage, Radish & Apple Stew

This is an odd little dish in some ways, but I've been growing all these damn winter radishes and now I need to do something with them. You could use regular radishes too, if you can still find them. You can often get Ontario radishes in the bags much later than you expect.

One thing I have decided is that radishes is radishes. The quick spring kind or the big winter ones for storage: they all taste pretty much alike, some are just prettier than others or grow better. They sweeten and mellow when they are cooked, although a fairly slow cooking like this will leave them with a little bite still. I put in 4 different kinds of radish here, but apart from providing a little colour they all tasted the same. In spite of the rather unusual combination of ingredients here, we enjoyed this.

The sausage should be a raw, garlicky one, or you should be prepared to add some more garlic at the appropriate time (just before the apple cider and veggies go in).

2 servings
1 hour - 30 minutes prep time

Sausage Radish and Apple Stew
250 grams (1/2 poound) garlic pork sausage
1 large onion
1 stalk celery
450 grams (1 pound) winter radishes such as daikon or lo bak
2 medium carrots
1 large apple
3 cups apple cider
1/4 teaspoon each salt & pepper
1 teaspoon fennel seed

Cut the sausage into bite-sized pieces, and put it in a large skillet with abut 1/4 cup water to get it started cooking, or a little oil if it is very lean. Get it started browning and letting off a little fat. Meanwhile, peel the onion and cut it into large chunks. Add them to the sausage and let them cook and brown as well. Chop up the celery and add it. Stir regularly.

As soon as the onions and celery go in, start peeling the carrots. Cut them into bite-sized pieces. If the skins of the radishes are thin and tender you can leave them on, otherwise they should come off. Cut the radishes into bite-sized pieces.

Add the carrots and radishes to the pan, along with the cider. Season with the salt and pepper, and the fennel seed, which should be ground. Simmer for about 30 minutes, until the radishes are tender. Stir regularly.

While the stew is cooking, wash the apple, and cut it in quarters. Remove the core, and cut it into bite-sized pieces. Add them to the stew 5 or 10 minutes before it is done. The cider should be reduced to a rich sauce, and the radishes should be tender.

Last year at this time I made Jap Chae.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Stuffing or Dressing Bread

Somehow while American thanksgiving was happening, I spent an awful lot of time reading about what people planned to make, what they were eating, and then, once they were done, how good it all was, and the end result was that I got a serious hankering for some stuffing, or maybe some dressing, depending on which you want to call it. I didn't particularly have a hankering to roast a turkey though, or even a chicken for that matter. And then I thought: stuffing bread! Like garlic bread, only with poultry seasoning. How could it be less than fabulous? True; not bathed in juices of a roasting turkey, but on the other hand, toasted in butter. Toasted in butter, people. And yes, it's grand. Truly grand! This may have been a mistake, in fact.

Also, I am not the kind of cook who calls for "1/2 an onion" (or whatever). You want less onion? Use a small one. You want more onion? Use a big one. So when I say "2 teaspoons minced shallot, sautéed in a teaspoon of butter", I don't do this lightly. Two teaspoons minced shallot, and what you do with the rest of it is up to you. Sorry.

1 small loaf
30 to 40 minutes, 15 minutes prep time

Stuffing Bread
Mix the Seasonings:
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
3/4 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon dry rosemary
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon savory
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon sage
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Grind the pepper, celery seed and rosemary. Mix with the remaining ingredients.

Make the Stuffing Bread:
2 teaspoons finely minced shallot
1 large clove of garlic
1/3 cup unsalted butter

1 demi-baguette or small loaf or crusty white bread

Peel and finely mince the shallot and garlic. Preheat the oven to 350°F or 375°F. (I am assuming that this is likely to be made when something else is in the oven; it's fairly flexible about what temperature it can be baked at.)

Put aside the 1/3 cup of butter, minus 1 teaspoon, to soften in a small mixing bowl. Heat the teaspoon of butter in a small skillet. Cook the shallot gently until soft, just a minute or so, then add the garlic. Remove from the heat as soon as it is strongly fragrant and set aside to cool. I remove it from the pan and put it in the bowl the herbs were in to stop it cooking any more.

Cream the herb mixture into the softened butter. When the shallot and garlic is cool, mix them in as well. Cut the bread into slices, almost but not quite all the way through. Gently separate each cut enough to spread some of the prepared butter on one side of each slice.

Transfer the bread to a sheet of aluminium foil, and wrap it loosely around it. Bake for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the temperature of the oven, the heft of the bread, and how toasty you would like it. Serve piping hot.

Last year at this time I made Fried Tofu with Stir-Fried Cabbage.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Shchi; Russian Cabbage Soup

Shchi is simply Russian cabbage soup. I've seen recipes that are your basic peasant fuel, and I've seen rich and elaborate versions fit for the Tsar. Over the years I've developed my own idea of what it should be like, which is somewhere in the middle. All the richness in this version comes from the bacon, and if you get good, lean bacon it won't even be that rich - it will just seem that way. You could take it over the top if you like by adding some cream or sour cream, but really I think it is absolutely fine without it. This is a thick and filling soup, so some good rye bread would make it a complete meal.

You may wish to rinse the sauerkraut before adding it to the soup. Check it and see. Some is mild and doesn't need to be rinsed; some of it can be quite sour and briny. It will also depend on your taste, of course. I tend not to rinse mine, but you should consider the possibility.

8 servings
1 hour prep time

Shchi or Russian Cabbage Soup
Prepare the Vegetables:
1 cup celeriac, peeled and grated
1 large parsnip
OR 1 large parsley root
1 large carrot
2 to 3 large shallots
3 cups finely chopped cabbage

Peel and grate the celerariac. Peel and grate the parsnip or parley root. Peel and grate the carrot. Peel and finely chop the shallots. Set these all aside together.

Chop the cabbage finely and set it aside by itself.

Make the Soup:
4 cups pork, beef or chicken stock
3 cups sauerkraut
2 or 3 bay leaves
3 tablespoons tomato paste
250 grams (1/2 pound) smoky bacon
2 cups water
1 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1 teaspoon dillweed
2 tablespoons soft unbleached flour
2 tablespoons hot horseradish
salt & pepper to taste

Put the stock, sauerkraut, bay leaves, and tomato paste in a soup pot and bring it to a simmer.

Meanwhile, chop the bacon and cook it over medium heat until it is about half cooked and a bit crisp. Add the celeriac, parsnip, carrot and shallots, and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until well softened and slightly browned. Add everything to the soup.

Put the cabbage with the 2 cups water into another pot and bring to boil; cook until bright green then add both cabbage and cooking water to the soup.

Make a slurry of the paprika, dillweed and flour mixed with a couple of tablespoons of cold water, and stir it into the soup. Continue simmering the soup, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 20 minutes more. Season with pepper to taste. You may need some salt, but check it first - there may be enough from the ingredients in the soup already.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Hard Sauce

I've never figured out whether hard sauce is called that because it's pretty firm, for a sauce (well, really it's icing, is what it is) or if it's hard sauce because it is full of booze. Whatever the actual reason is, I belong to the get-as-much-booze-in-there-as-you-can school of thought, so I put in the 4 tablespoons of rum. I like my hard sauce hard enough to be a little runny, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. Other people may have other ideas. This is not exactly a hard and fast recipe, if I may use that phrase. Everything can be adjusted as you see fit.

4 to 8 servings, depending on if it gets doled out or people help themselves...
5 minutes, plus chill time

Hard Sauce for Pudding
1/3 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 to 4 tablespoons dark rum, sherry or brandy

The butter should come out an hour or so before you make this, to allow it to get soft. Once it is, cream it with about half the icing sugar. Mix in the vanilla, and about half the rum, or whatever. Mix in the remaining sugar and then the remaining rum, or whatever.

Chill before serving, although it will certainly melt once it hits a hot pudding.

Steamed Chocolate Date Pudding

If you want a traditional Christmas pudding, but you also want something chocolate, here's a possibility. This pudding is moist, rich and chocolately, but not overly sweet, so as to be able to support ridiculous amounts of hard sauce without your teeth running away screaming. If you don't want to serve hard sauce with it, I would double the sugar. Although if you want to serve it with, say, ice cream, I wouldn't.

I like the ginger in it, but I think I would skip the peel next time. It's not bad, I just think it could do without it. It depends how much you like candied peel, I guess. Or you could put in some other kind of dried fruit to replace it if you like. Just as a note, the dates pretty much dissolve and you wouldn't know they were there, except for the sweetness they add.

12 to 16 servings
1 1/4 hours to 1 1/2 hours - 30 minutes prep time

Steamed Chocolate Date Pudding
1 1/2 cups finely chopped dates
1/4 cup canded peel (optional)
1/4 cup finely chopped preserved ginger (optional)
1/2 cup unsalted butter
150 grams (6 ounces) unsweetened chocolate
1/3 cup sugar
3 extra-large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups soft unbleached flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup rum
1/4 cup buttermilk or milk

Chop the dates and measure them, and measure the candied peel and ginger, if using.

Put the butter and chocolate in the top of a double boiler, and heat gently until both are completely melted. Stir regularly. Set aside to cool slightly.

Beat the sugar with the eggs and the vanilla extract.

Measure out the flour, and add the salt and baking powder.

Butter 4 large mouthed 500 ml glass canning jars, or a 2 quart pudding mold.

When the chocolate has cooled slightly, beat it into the sugar and egg mixture. Mix in half the flour, then mix in the chopped dates, and other bits, if using. Mix in the rum and the buttermilk. Mix in the remaining flour to make a smooth batter.

Divide the batter evenly amongst the prepared jars or put it in the prepared pudding mold.

Cover the jars with a layer of parchment paper and a layer of aluminium foil, then hold them in place with the rings. If using a pudding mold, also cover it with a layer of parchment paper and foil, but you will need to hold it in place some other way, such as with string.

Put the pudding(s) in a steamer and steam for 40 minutes if in the jars, or about 1 hour and a quarter to 1 hour and a half if in a single mold. (Test with a toothpick or straw to be sure it's done, but don't over cook it. I would start checking at the hour point, just in case.)

If you want to seal them in the same way as the Christmas Puddings I made last year, take them out at the 30 minute mark to put the lids on then return them to the steamer for the final 10 minutes of cooking. More detail at the Christmas Pudding recipe. To keep one large pudding until Christmas or New Years, sprinkle it generously with more rum, then wrap in parchment paper and foil. Keep cool.

To serve, it's most easily reheated in the microwave. The small puddings reheat in as quickly as 3 minutes, but it will depend on your microwave and how hot you would like them.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Amsterdam Maxi Forcing Carrots

Amsterdam Maxi Forcing Carrots

I've been very resistant to the idea of planting "baby" carrots. My thought is we plant regular carrots and get baby carrots anyway, half the time. I see no benefit in planting carrots, covering them in burlap, watering them, weeding them, thinning them, waiting, waiting - then pulling them up and getting something dinky. I'd rather get a nice big, fat carrot.

However, Mr, Ferdzy talked me into trying these, and I have to say I'm extremely impressed. We planted them on August 9th, some in our wet bed - thick, sticky clay - and some in our dry beds, which are sandy and quick draining. They both did fabulously. William Dam says they are ready in 45 to 55 days, and they might have been, but we left them much longer (we picked the last on December 4th) and they held very well. Only a couple have split out of hundreds. We also had much less trouble with forking than usual, but that's because we have finally gotten the message: no manure please, we're carrots. We were very slack about thinning them, and they just stood there shoulder to shoulder, mostly getting to a perfectly respectable size anyway. They pulled out easily, and while some were on the small side, at about 4 or 5 inches long, some got as long as a foot*, and a good width too, although none were really fat. And sweet! And juicy! And yummy! These are a real winner, and all this in an open-pollinated heirloom carrot.

I wouldn't want to plant them much later than when we did, but it was a good time. Our annual July drought was over, and we were getting some rain. As you may suppose by the planting date, they went in after we had harvested an earlier crop of beets and turnips - two crops from one space, very nice! Next summer we may try these first, with beets and turnips to follow and see how that does, as these would be an excellent summer carrot, as they are so crisp and juicy; delicious raw. William Dam says they store well. We have enough that we should be able to find out.

In spite of the name, which suggests to me Victorian market gardening and a Dutch origin, the earliest references I can find to the Amsterdam forcing carrot as a variety seem to be from 1948. Given the tendency of seed sellers to re-name vegetables if it seems like a profitable idea, these may well be an older variety than that. They may even be Dutch in origin, although they are certainly extremely popular in England. Apparently the Dutch grew many forced vegetables, including carrots, in the latter part of the 18th century, although the practice began to wane in the early 19th century. Holland is also the apparent origin of orange carrots in general; until the 16th century orange carrots were unknown or rare, most being a muddy brown, red, purple or white.

At any rate, I do intend to "force" some of these in the spring; that is, to plant them earlier then normal in our coldframe, and also under one of the plastic hoop-houses. We'll see how they do, but I am optimistic. Also, I am not proposing to try growing carrots in pots, but if I were, this is probably the variety I would choose. Certainly they are a good choice for smaller gardens. Or anyone, really - they're a great carrot.

*Not, admittedly, the ones planted in the clay. But they got long enough, and I did harvest that batch about a month before the others.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Braised Lamb Shanks with Beans

Still in love with braising... it's just the thing for cold weather meals.

I braised 4 lamb shanks, since that's how many come with a lamb. If you are buying them as their own thing, you could put up to 6 on this amount of beans and vegetables. There were 3 of us to dinner, and the leftovers were turned into soup by removing the meat from the last shank and shredding it, and adding a bunch of broth. That was another 2 meals for the 2 of us. So plenty of beans and veg here, is what I'm saying. If you were going to braise 6 shanks, you will need a very large dish or - probably a better idea - divide it all amongst 2 baking dishes.

4 to 6 servings
1 hour prep time, not including cooking the beans
4 to 5 hours to braise

Braised Lamb Shanks
Cook the Beans:

1 1/2 cups dry pea (navy) beans
1/2 teaspoon salt

Rinse and pick over the beans and put them in a pot with water to cover. Bring them to a boil, then turn them off and leave them, covered, to soak overnight. The next morning, change the water (fresh cold water to cover them by about an inch) and add the salt. Simmer until tender, about 1 to 2 hours. This can be done a day ahead, if you like.

Braise the Lamb Shanks:
2 medium leeks
2 cups peeled, diced celeriac
2 medium carrots
1 cup peeled, diced rutabaga
2 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
3 or 4 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup tomato paste
the juice of 1 lemon
3 or 4 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dry rosemary leaves, ground
1 to 2 cups lamb or beef broth, or water, or some portion of this in wine
salt & pepper to taste
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
4 to 6 lamb shanks

Put the cooked beans in a large, shallow baking tray with their cooking liquid.

Wash and trim the leeks, and cut them in half lengthwise, then into thin slices. Peel and dice the celeriac. Peel and dice the carrots. Peel and dice the rutabaga.

Heat the oil in a large skillet, and cook the vegetables until softened and browned in spots. Turn them frequently. While they cook, peel and mince the garlic. Add the garlic once the vegetables are ready, and cook for just a minute or two more, stirring frequently.

Put the vegetables into the baking dish with the beans. Add the tomato paste, lemon juice, bay leaves, ground rosemary, the broth and the salt and pepper. There should be enough liquid to come to the top of the vegetables, but no more. The amount of salt will depend very much on how salty your broth is.

Preheat the oven to 300°F.

Add the remaining oil to the skillet in which you cooked the vegetables, and heat over fairly high heat. Brown the lamb shanks on all sides. They need to be quite dry when they go into the pan to brown well.

When the lamb shanks are browned all over, nestle them into the bean and vegetable mixture. Cover the dish, with foil if it does not have its own cover, and bake for 4 to 5 hours, until the meat is very tender and coming off the bone.

Last year at this time I made Leek & Brussels Sprout Soup.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Thelma Sanders Acorn Squash

Thelma Sanders Acorn Squash
Also known as Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato Squash, this is a lovely little squash. It was grown for generations in Adair County, Missouri, before it was passed on to Sue and Tom Knoche, two early members of Seed Savers Exchange in who released it in 1988, and named it for the woman who first supplied the seeds. This one caught my eye as I share a last name with Thelma. I was happy to see that this is has become a very popular squash with home gardeners, and with a bit of luck you may find them at farmers' markets too, as they become more popular every year.

In spite of their southern origin they do well in northern gardens, as they are fairly quick growers, with fruits ripening from 85 to 90 days after planting out. They are also known for being quite prolific, reliable and disease resistant, and also tolerant of very variable conditions. The vines do get large, but this would be a good candidate for trellising if you wanted to grow them in a somewhat constricted space, as the squash themselves are on the small size.

Most of them are the classic heart-shape of acorn squash in general, but some of them tend to be more elongated, like the one I cut for the photo above. The skin is a warm creamy yellow, much like the raw flesh. The seed cavity is neat, with the seeds very easy to remove. If you are cooking more than one squash at once it is well worth rinsing off the seeds and roasting them with a little oil and salt. (One doesn't have very many seeds, although if the oven is on anyway you may wish to find some room for them.)

The flesh is dense and flavourful when baked, and a bit on the drier side than most acorn squash. It gets compared to sweet potatoes, or chestnuts. I find them just right for cutting in half and baking one for the two of us, or cutting a larger one into smaller pieces if a number of other vegetables are to be served at the same time.

Like all squash, they should be set in a warm room to cure for 10 days before being eaten or stored for the winter. They will store best if they keep their stems, but they are inclined to come off the stems when being picked, so be careful. Use the stemless ones first. Leave them on the vine as long as you can, but they must be picked before the first frost. I've seen reports of them storing for up to 5 months or more, but in general acorn squash aren't the best for storage. I doubt I will have much in the way of personal observations to make as I expect we will eat all of ours long before the end of winter - we are already burning through them. Some people say they improve with storage, being best in the new year, but we'll be lucky to have more than one or two left by then - they are plenty good right now.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Broccoli & Chick-Pea Salad

As usual, a bit late here. I hope you can still find local broccoli. I was lucky enough to find some very big nice bunches at the local grocery last week. This has been an amazingly long fall, although it looks like it's over now.

Anyway, this was a nice substantial salad. It should serve 4 to 6 people if it is the main part of the meal, or go quite a bit further as a side dish. It could also be easily cut in half if you prefered. I'm calling for a carrot because I really meant to put one in, but somehow it got overlooked. I think it would have done the salad nothing but good.

4 to 12 servings
30 minutes prep time, not including cooking the chick peas

Broccoli and Chick Pea Salad
Make the Salad:
4 cups cooked chick peas
1/2 cup dried tomatoes
1/2 cup boiling water
2 large heads broccoli
1 medium carrot
1/4 of a red bell pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
200 grams (1/2 pound) diced feta cheese
OR 200 grams (1/2 pound) bacon, diced and cooked

If you don't cook the chick peas yourself, you will need 2 tins. If you do cook the chick peas yourself, you will need about 1 1/3 cups of dry chickpeas, and to start cooking them the day before.

Put a kettle of water on to boil. Pour about half a cup of boiling water over the dried tomatoes, and put them aside to soak. Cut the broccoli heads from the stems and use the stems for some other purpose. Cut the florets into small pieces. Put them in a strainer, and pour boiling water slowly over them to blanch them. Rinse in cold water and drain well. Put them in a bowl with the drained chick peas.

Peel and grate the carrot, and add it to the bowl. Wash, trim and deseed the pepper, and dice it finely. Add it to the salad. Wash, drain and mince the parsley finely, and add it to the salad.

Finish by adding either the feta cheese, rinsed and diced, or the bacon, chopped and fried until crisp and drained.

Make the Dressing:
1/3 cup mayonnaise (light is fine)
1/3 cup buttermilk
the juice of 1/3 lemon
1 teaspoon rubbed basil
salt & pepper to taste

Whisk together the above ingredients and add them to the salad. Toss well.

The amount of salt required will vary considerably, depending on whether you cooked the chick peas yourself or used tinned ones, and how salty the cheese or bacon is.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Samosa Pie with Apple Butter Chutney

I don't deep-fry! I've said it before and I pretty much mean it. But it did occur to me that you could bake samosas, like a pie. And then it occured to me; well why not just make a pie with samosa filling? So I did.

It also occurred to me that I could adapt this recipe to make a pie crust that was sturdy yet flaky and not too rich, and it worked fairly well. I may try tweaking it a bit more, but it's certainly good enough to go on with. We really liked this, both warm from the oven and cold. Which is good, because it was a bit time consuming to make. I made the dough and the filling the night before, and assembled the pie the next day. That is not a bad way to do it at all. The result is an impressive and tasty vegetarian main dish - I'm thinking it could very well get served at Christmas time along with the Vegetarian Tourtiere for a meatless feast.

And yes, that is lettuce from our garden in the last picture. It occurs to me that I'm amazed.

Start the Dough:
1 cup hard unbleached flour
1 1/3 cups hard whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup boiling water
1/4 cup cold water

Mix the two flours and the salt in a mixing bowl. Stir in the boiling water with a fork, then the cold water, until a rough dough forms. Turn it out and knead it briefly, until it is all amalgamated and smooth. Wrap it in parchment and put it in a plastic bag. Refrigerate until wanted, at least one hour to overnight.

Mix the Spices:
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seed
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seed
1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seed
3-4 pods of cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne
1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon salt

Toast the whole cumin, coriander, fennel and cardamon in a dry skillet until slightly toasted and aromatic. Turn them onto a plate to cool, then, grind them. (Discard the papery outer shells of the cardamom.) Mix them with the remaining spices, and set aside until needed.

Make the Pie Filling:
750 grams (1 1/2 pounds) potatoes
6 large shallots
2 or 3 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
1 tablespoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger

Wash, trim and cut the potatoes into dice. Put them in a pot with water to cover, and boil until tender, about 7 or 8 minutes. Drain well.

Meanwhile, peel and chop the shallots finely. Heat the oil in a large skillet, and add the well-drained potatoes. Fry for several minutes, until browning in spots, turning regularly. Add the shallots and continue cooking for several minutes, turning regularly, until the shallots are softened. Start with the 2 tablespoons of oil, but add a little more if it looks like it may stick.

Add the ginger and spices, and continue cooking for several more minutes, turning to ensure the spices are evenly distributed. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool somewhat as you proceed.

Finish the Pie:
1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons unsalted butter
flour to roll the dough
1 1/2 cups frozen peas

The butter needs to be quite soft and spreadable, although not melted. Use 1 teaspoon of it to thoroughly butter a 9" pie pan. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Divide the dough into 2 not quite equal portions, about 60% and 40%. Roll out the larger portion on a floured board into a large rectangle, very thin. Turn the dough and sprinkle with more flour as needed to keep it from sticking while you work.

Take 60% of the 1/4 cup of butter - (just eyeball it, okay?) - and spread it as evenly as you can over the dough. It doesn't have to be all that even; see the first picture. Fold up the bottom line of the dough to roll the whole thing up into a cylinder. Roll the cylinder of dough into a coil (second picture), and roll it out flat again, into a circle this time. The circle should be large enough to fit into your prepared pie pan.

Mix the frozen peas in with the potato filling, and put it in the pie crust.

Roll out the second piece of dough and smear it with butter in the same way as the first piece of dough. Coil it up, and roll it out to fit on the pie as the top crust. Pinch the edges sealed and cut some vents in the top of the pie.

Melt the remaining teaspoon of butter, and brush it over the top of the pie. Bake for 1 hour and 10 to 15 minutes, until golden brown. Serve warm to room temperature with the chutney.

Make the Chutney:
1/4 cup apple butter
the juice of 1 small lime
1 teaspoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger

Mix in a small bowl.

Last year at this time I made Aunt Hilda's Spanish Cream becomes Ricotta Panna Cotta. Quicker to make than to type.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Brussels Sprouts au Gratin

Please don't be lead astray by the photo, which is admittedly humdrum. It is so very hard to photograph things at this time of year, when it gets dark so very early. This was amazing. Truly. It may have been our slightly bohemian homegrown Brussels sprouts, although I didn't treat them kindly - they spent 4 days sitting on the laundry room floor before I got around to removing them from the stems and cooking them so I didn't have high hopes for them. But even with regular commercial sprouts I can't see this being anything less than marvelous.

I'm considering a variation where I omit the butter and cheese from the crumbs, and replace them with very, very finely chopped raw bacon, just a little on the fatty side. That could be good too. I will have to find out. Hard to imagine it being better though.

6 servings - maybe
50 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

Brussels Sprouts au Gratin
1 cup fine fresh bread crumbs
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

500 grams (1 pound) Brussels sprouts
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
salt & pepper to taste
1/2 cup light (5% or 10%) cream

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Prepare the bread crumbs, by grating stalish bread, and grate the Parmesan cheese finely. Rub the tablespoon of butter into the crumbs, and mix in the Parmesan. Set aside.

Wash and trim the Brussels sprouts, and cut them in rough slices. Put the chicken stock in a large pot, and bring it to a boil. Add the Brussels sprouts and cook until just bright green, about 4 minutes. Stir once in the middle.

Meanwhile, rub the remaining butter, flour, salt, and pepper together. When the sprouts have finished their parboiling, drop the glob of butter and flour into the pot, and stir thoroughly to distribute it throughout. Add the cream, and continue to stir until the mixture thickens and coats the Brussels sprouts.

Turn the mixture out into a medium-sized shallow casserole dish and spread it out evenly. Sprinkle the crumb mixture over the top. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until nicely browned and bubbly. Oh man.

Last year at this time I made Beans & Kale with Tomatoes.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Chicken with Quinces in a Creamy Spiced Saffron Sauce

I was lucky to find some quinces for sale last week, although I suspect the season is drawing to a close. They are not easy to find, anyway. However, if you are so fortunate as to get your hands on some, this is an excellent thing to do with them.

Since this is a rich and special dish, you may wish to serve it to company. Parts of it can be done in advance, which would make that quite possible. Cook the quinces, shallots and chicken, and put them in one covered container. Simmer the cider and seasonings, strain and keep in another covered container. Then, when ready to proceed, mix them in your pan and cook for the 20 minutes (a little longer to allow them to reheat) and add the cream at the end as usual.

4 servings
1 1/4 hours - 1 hour prep time

Chicken with Quinces in a Creamy Spiced Saffron Sauce
6 large shallots
2 large or 3 medium quinces
2 tablespoons butter
500 grams (1 pound) skinless, boneless chicken pieces
1 1/2 cups apple cider
6 pods of cardamom
4 slices of ginger, each the size of a quarter
2 teaspoons coriander seed, ground
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
the juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup light (5% or 10%) cream
1 tablespoon arrowroot or cornstarch

Peel the shallots and cut them in halves or quarters lengthwise. Peel, quarter, core and slice the quinces. Make sure the chicken is in bite-sized pieces.

Heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a large skillet. Put in the quince slices, and cook them gently for a minute or two. Add the shallots and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until both are softened and slightly browned.

Meanwhile, put the quince peelings into a pot with the cardamom pods and peeled ginger slices. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for about 10 minutes, while the quinces, shallots and chicken cook.

When the quinces and shallots are softened and browned, remove them from the pan. Add the remaining tablespoon of butter, and brown the chicken pieces well. Return the quinces and shallots to the pan, and strain the apple cider into it as well, discarding the solids. Grind and add the coriander seed, and add the salt and saffron threads, rubbed between your fingers to break them up a bit. Add the lemon juice.

Simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring regularly, until slightly thickened. Mix the arrowroot or cornstarch into the cold cream until no lumps remain. Stir it into the chicken mixture, and cook until thickened, just a minute or two. Do not let it boil once the cream goes in or it may curdle.

Serve with rice.

Last year at this time I made Christmas Plum Pudding. As I noted, I was late in getting them going, but they were perfectly fine. It's not too late!

Friday, 25 November 2011

Rum & Raisin Baked Apples

Baked apples are such a quick and easy treat to make. Good for dessert, good for breakfast, if you are willing to be a little decadent at breakfast and I have to admit I am. I thought this filling would be more like mincemeat, but it turned out much lighter, in colour and flavour. Nothing wrong with that. The amount of filling probably fits 6 apples better than 4 apples, but I got Mutsu, and they are just so big. They're a good baking apple, but Cortlands or Northern Spy are other good choices as well.

4 to 6 servings
1 hour - 20 minutes prep time

Rum & Raisin Baked Apples

2 tablespoons butter, plus 1 teaspoon
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup light raisins (sultanas)
1/4 cup mixed preserved peel (citron)
2 tablespoons dark rum
the juice of 1/2 lemon
4 large or 6 medium apples
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/4 cup apple cider or water

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Use the teaspoon of butter to butter a casserole dish into which the apples will fit fairly snugly.

Put the remaining butter, honey, raisins, and peel in a small pot. Heat gently until the butter melts. Remove from the heat and add the rum and lemon juice. Set aside to cool as you prepare the apples.

Wash the apples, and cut the cores out of them. Peel one strip off around the middle of each apple - this will allow steam to escape as they cook and prevent them from bursting. Set the apples in the casserole as they are done.

Mix the bread crumbs into the pot of raisins, etc until they soak up the liquid. Divide the filling amongst the apples, pushing it down into each hollow core. There may be a bit left over; let it fall around them. Pour the apple cider or water into the dish and bake the apples for 35 to 40 minutes, until soft. Serve warm, or at room temperature.

Last year at this time I made Radish Fried Rice.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Creamy But Non-Dairy Pumpkin Soup

The pumpkin or squash does need to be baked in advance, but apart from that this soup is ridiculously simple. It didn't taste simple though. It tasted smooth, creamy and rich. Well, there is all that coconut milk, I'm afraid.

I used my Galeux d'Eysines pumpkin for this, but you could use Butternut squash instead. It might be a little denser so you might want to add a little more chicken stock in that case.

8 servings
1 1/4 hours to prepare the pumpkin - 15 minutes prep time
1 1/4 hours to make the soup - 30 minutes prep time

Creamy Squash Soup
Cook the Pumpkin or Squash:
1 medium pumpkin or squash (1 kilo or 2 1/2 pounds)
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut the pumpkin in half, and remove and discard the seeds and stringy bits. Rub the cut flesh lightly with the oil, and place the pieces on a baking tray. Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until tender. Let cool and refrigerate (wrapped) until wanted.

Make the Soup
6 large shallots
2 large apples
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil (or butter if you like)

4 cups cooked squash
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 3/4 cups (a 400 ml tin) coconut milk
1 teaspoon anise seed, ground
2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
the finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon
the juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Peel and chop the shallots. Core and chop the apples. (Peel them as well, if you think your blender won't handle the skins.) Heat the oil or butter in a large skillet and cook the shallots and apples until soft and slightly browned in spots.

Meanwhile, put the squash, chicken stock, coconut milk, and ground anise seed in a large soup pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add the ginger, lemon zest and lemon juice, and simmer for another few minutes.

Purée the soup until very smooth. No doubt this will take 2 or 3 batches in the blender. Reheat to serve.

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

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Ginger-Lime Mashed Sweet Potatoes

This is an easy and straightforward way to serve sweet potatoes. I've come to the conclusion though that there is one way and one way only to cook sweet potatoes: bake them. Steaming is bad, and boiling? Don't EVEN think about it. Actually, I have pan cooked them in slices and that's okay. Just keep them away from water unless you like bland sogginess.

Ginger-Lime Mashed Sweet Potatoes
4 large (750 grams, 1 1/2 pounds) sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons butter
the juice of 1 large lime
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
salt & pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Wash the sweet potatoes and poke them several times with a fork. Bake them for aproximately 1 hour or perhaps a little longer, until tender.

While the sweet potatoes are baking, put the butter, lime juice and ginger in a small pot or dish and heat until the butter melts. Set aside until the sweet potatoes are ready.

Let the cooked sweet potatoes cool enough to handle, and peel them. Mash them with the butter, lime juice, and ginger. Season to taste with salt and pepper. This can be re-heated in the oven or in a pot, if you let it cool that much.

Last year at this time I made Rutabaga Hash.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Roast Lamb Shoulder with Cranberry-Nut Buckwheat Dressing

I was quite surprised how enthusiastic everyone who it ate it was about this dressing. I mean, I worked on making it good and all that, but I wasn't expecting raves. I guess that's because I am used to living with Mr. Ferdzy, who doesn't get all that excited about buckwheat. He says it tastes like cardboard. However, a bunch of people who had never had it before were amazed and impressed. So there you go! If you haven't had buckwheat before, maybe you should try it.

The bits about toasting it and dropping it into water that has already reached a boil are important. Otherwise, it can get sadly soggy and mushy, and then no-one will be very excited about it. Also, it was a happy day when they first started to sell pistachios already shelled. I suggest you look for them.

6 to 8 servings
2 1/2 hours, not including cooking the buckwheat - 40 minutes prep time

Roast Leg of Lamb with Cranberry-Nut Buckwheat Dressing
Cook the Buckwheat:
1 cup buckwheat
2 teaspoons mild vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups water

Heat the oil in a large skillet, and add the buckwheat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the oil is absorbed and the buckwheat is toasted. Remove it to a plate to cool. Put the water and salt into a pot and bring it to a boil. When it boils, add the buckwheat. Cover and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until the water is absorbed. This can be done up to a day in advance, and kept in the fridge until wanted.

Make the Dressing:
1 small onion OR 2 or 3 shallots
2 or 3 stalks of celery
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
1 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
the finely grated zest of 1/2 large lemon
1/2 cup shelled pistachios
1/2 cup dried cranberries
the juice of 1/2 large lemon

Peel and chop the onion or shallots. Wash, trim and chop the celery. Heat the oil in a large skillet and sauté the onion (shallots) and celery until soft and slightly browned. Meanwhile, grind the rosemary and pepper. Add the seasonings to the pan, along with the finely grated lemon zest and the pistachios and cranberries, and mix well. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool enough to handle. Mix in the lemon juice.

Stuff and Roast the Lamb:
1 boneless lamb shoulder, about 2.5 kilos or 4 to 6 pounds
lamb or beef stock, OR water

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Remove the string or elastic bag holding the shoulder together, and spread it out in a baking pan. Spread the dressing over it and fold it closed again. Tie it back together so as to surround the dressing with the lamb. The pan should be of a size to hold the prepared roast somewhat snugly. If you can't get all the dressing in (probably not) arrange whatever is left around the roast. Add enough stock or water to cover the bottom of the pan by about a quarter inch.

Bake the lamb at 450°F for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325°F and cook for a further hour to hour and half, depending on the size and thickness of the lamb and the degree of doneness desired. Let rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

Last year at this time I made Curried Noodles with Vegetables.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Jerusalem Artichoke Caponata

We had a gathering of the clan this weekend, and I experimented on them. (What else are relatives for?) I had had the thought, a while back, that perhaps the classic artichoke caponata could be made with Jerusalem artichokes - there really is a similarity of flavour, after all - and so I did. Yes, it works! Although the distinct flavour of the Jerusalem artichokes did come through; especially right after I made the caponata. Leftovers the next day actually tasted quite a lot like caponata made with actual artichokes.

I did not put olives in mine, I only garnished it with a few, as I knew I was serving some olive-haters. If you are not labouring under this handicap, I think it is not a bad idea to toss a few in. I've said 2 tablespoons, but since I didn't actually do it, I'm not sure. If anyone makes this and adds olives, please let me know what you think.

30 minutes prep time
8 to 16 servings

Jerusalem Artichoke Caponata
450 grams (1 pound) Jerusalem artichokes
1/4 cup dried tomatoes
1 clove of garlic
50 grams (2 ounces) Parmesan cheese, finely grated
2 tablespoons green olives (optional)
2 to 3 tablespoons mayonnaise (light is fine)

Peel the Jerusalem artichokes, cut them in half, and put them into cold water as you work. Put a small pot of water on to boil, and snip the tomatoes into bits.

When the water boils, add the Jerusalem artichokes and tomato bits and boil for 5 minutes. Drain well and let cool.

Peel the garlic, and chop it a bit. Grate the cheese. Put the Jerusalem artichokes, tomatoes, garlic, cheese and olives (if using) into a food processor and chop finely. Add the mayonnaise and pulse in briefly. Remove the caponata to a serving dish. You can serve it at once, but it's best to let it rest in the fridge for a couple of hours to allow the flavours to blend. Let it sit out for a few minutes before serving to come up closer to room temperature.

Last year at this time I made Stir Fried Brussels Sprouts & Mushrooms.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Apple Brown Betty

This is a very old, and once very popular dessert. It seems to have been pretty much forgotten in recent decades, but I do think it deserves to be revived. It's original popularity was no doubt in part because of the simplicity and affordability of the ingredients - indeed, stale bread was once not so much affordable as inevitable, although still too valuable to waste. And apples, as any Canadian knows, are ubiquitous all winter.

Most old recipes for Apple Betty seem to be a bit bland and soggy. I hope I have managed to remedy those faults with this version. Forty five minutes should make the top fairly crisp; an hour will make it quite crunchy.

Apple Betty
6 cups cubed stale toasted bread
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup Sucanat or dark brown sugar
2/3 cup apple cider
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
a pinch of salt
3 large apples

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Toast the bread and cut it in fairly fine cubes. Meanwhile, melt the butter. When both bread and butter are ready, put the bread cubes in an 8" x 10" shallow baking pan, and drizzle the butter over them as evenly as possible. Toss the cubes to distribute the butter even more thoroughly.

Put the Sucanat, apple cider, cinnamon and salt in a small pot and bring them to a boil. Boil, stirring occasionally, for 3 or 4 minutes.

Peel and core the apples, and cut them in small pieces, of a size with the bread cubes. Lift about 2/3 of the bread cubes out of the baking dish, leaving the remaining 1/3 evenly spread over the bottom. Distribute the apples evenly over them, then top them with the removed bread cubes. Drizzle the cider mixture as evenly over the bread and apples as possible. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on how brown you would like your Betty.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Giraumon Brodé Galeux d'Eysines (Pumpkin)

Galeux d'Eysines Pumpkin
Suddenly, these seem to be everywhere.

They are an heirloom French variety of pumpkin, from Bordeaux, and were listed by Vilmorin in 1883. Then, apparently, they lapsed into obscurity until someone brought them to the Pumpkin Fair in Tranzault, France, in 1996.

The name is usually translated as "embroidered with warts from Eysine", but galeux means more like mangy or scabby than warty. They are certainly like no other pumpkin I have seen before. Beneath a maze of spongy peanut-textured protrubrances the pumpkin skin is a surprising shade of apricot pink.

Galeux d'Eysines, as they are usually referred to, are a variety of cucurbita maxima (so yes, they can get fairly large - 10 to 15 pounds is typical) ready in about 100 days from transplanting. They are reportedly quite drought tolerant as well as reasonably tolerant of cooler, wetter summers. Ours were grown in a very wet acidic clay bed. We did not get a bumper crop - I think they would have liked better soil - but they did not do too badly either, producing 2 large pumpkins per vine.

I did note with these, and with another "warty" variety we grew this year, that the warts are very attractive to slugs and snails. This is the last Galeux d'Eysines we have left as they did not keep well, partly because of the slug damage. In general though, I do not think they are particularly good keepers. One the other hand they are one of the most delicious pumpkins we have ever eaten, with soft, smooth, moist, rich orange flesh and a lovely sweet intense flavour, so I certainly intend to give them another try next year. In general, pumpkins are more watery than other kinds of winter squash, but this one is dry enough to be treated as a squash (although only just).

We should also have picked them a bit sooner. They get wartier and wartier as time goes by, and it is definitely better to get them before they are quite so smothered in warts as this specimen. The warts appear as a result of sugars developing under the skin, and also in response to slight damage. I understand that you could scratch your name on one when it is full-sized, but not yet warty, allowing you to display your name in warts later on. Yeah, I didn't. Maybe a paisley pattern or something next year.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Light Christmas Fruitcake

For as long as I can remember as a child, my mom made this cake most years at Christmas, at least until I took over making it myself. I love this cake, not only because it is delicious but because of the lovely flavour of nostalgia.

This is the first time I have made this cake in about 10 years. It has gotten to be so very hard to find decent quality fruit to go into it. The stuff at Bulk Barn doesn't cut it, and as for the stuff at any regular grocery store around here, forget it. Fortunately I have discovered that there is a shop in the St. Laurence Market that has imported Italian candied fruits and peels, and I get my brother-in-law to pick some up for me. Hurray! Fruitcake again.

NOTE: When I cut the cake, it became clear that it had been somewhat overbaked. My mother said, "Oh yes, that's right. The time written down on the original recipe was too long." Thanks, Ma! Now you tell me. But I obviously never made that adjustment myself so what can I say. Baking time has been adjusted now.

ANOTHER NOTE: in 2012 I baked the cake in two loaf pans of differing sizes and a smallish bundt pan. In spite of dividing the recipe into three rather lopsided parts, they all baked in the same time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, just 15 minutes shy of the expected 2 1/2 hours for the full recipe. When I think about it, this isn't so strange. Because it is normally baked in a tube pan, changing the pans did not actually move the centre(s) of the cake all that much closer to the edge(s) of the pan(s), so the time change was minimal. Okie-dokie, then.

a large 10" cake
4 hours - 1 1/2 hours prep time

Light Fruitcake

Mix the Fruit:
225 grams (1/2 pound) blanched almonds
450 grams (1 pound) candied citron peel
450 grams (1 pound) red glacé cherries
225 grams (1/2 pound) golden raisins (sultanas)
1/3 cup soft unbleached flour

To blanch the almonds, drop them into boiling water to cover for one minute. Drain them, and pinch each one out of their papery covery as soon as they are cool enough to handle.

Mix all the fruit in a very large mixing bowl, then stir in the flour until the fruit is evenly coated with it.

Make the Batter:
3 3/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
6 eggs, separated
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
1/3 cup good sherry
1/4 cup buttermilk or milk
1 teaspoon cream of tartar

Measure the flour, and mix in the baking powder and salt. Set aside. Butter a 10" tube pan, and line the bottom with a circle of buttered parchment paper. Dust the cake pan with flour. Preheat the oven to 275°F.

Cream the butter, and beat in the sugar and the egg yolks, one or two at a time, until quite light and fluffy. (Put the whites aside in another mixing bowl.) Mix in the vanilla and almond extracts. Mix in the sherry, then half the flour. Mix in the milk and the remaining flour.

Pour this batter over the fruit and mix them together.

Beat the egg whites, with the cream of tartar, until stiff. Fold about 1/3 of the egg whites gently into the cake, then fold in the remaing 2/3 egg whites.

Scoop the batter into the prepared cake pan, smoothing it out and taking care not to leave large gaps in the batter.

Bake the cake for about 2 1/2 hours, until done. You will need to cover it with foil after about an hour, when it will be mostly as brown as you would like it. I would start checking it for doneness at the 2 hour mark.

Allow the cake to cool, and remove it from the pan. Wrap it in cheesecloth, and brush it all over with sherry. Wrap it in foil and keep it in a cool, dark spot until wanted. You can take it out and brush it with more sherry whenever you feel so inclined; no-one will complain.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Brussels Sprouts & Jerusalem Artichokes

Finally! We got some more-or-less edible Brussels sprouts from the garden. Gosh, they are hard to grow. Ours are very loose and also, er, highly organic or is the phrase high in protein? At any rate I gave them a good soak in very salty cold water before I cooked them. Now if we can just figure out how to get them to form denser heads next time.

I hoped this combo would be good and I have to say, it really was. I'll be making this again, for sure.

30 minutes - 20 minutes prep time

Brussels Sprouts, Jerusalem Artichokes and Shallots
Prepare the Vegetables:
12 to 16 Brussels sprouts
8 to 10 Jerusalem artichokes
4 large shallots

Wash and trim the Brussels sprouts, and cut an "x" in the bottom of each if they are large. Peel the Jerusalem artichokes, and slice them in fairly large slices. Put them in a dish of cold water as you go. Peel the shallots, and cut them in halves or quarters lengthwise.

Finish the Dish:
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
1 or 2 tablespoons soy sauce, low sodium is fine
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the Brussels sprouts, with a few tablespoons of water, and cook over medium heat until they turn a bright green and the water evaporates. Add the shallots and the Jerusalem artichokes, and continue cooking until the shallots are browned in spots and look cooked through. Season with the soy sauce and sesame oil, and as soon as they seem to be absorbed by the vegetables, remove them to their serving dish.

Last year at this time I made Swiss Chard Rolls.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Winding Down the Garden

The weather has been holding up amazingly well. We had a week or so of cool, grey weather, but not so cool as to make working in the garden unpleasant. Now we seem to be having more sunny weather, but we still have had only 3 frosts so far, only the one last night being a hard one. This has been great for us because we have been very behind in getting the garden ready for winter and this has allowed us to get much of it done.

The bed above is where we grew our potatoes in boxes. We dug up the second half, which was planted with German Butterball potatoes and got 88 pounds. A good, but not spectacular harvest. We were expecting more, and are going to have to assess whether we want to go to all the trouble of planting potatoes in a box next year. On the other hand, we have the soil and we have the wood so we might. We'll see how ambitious we feel next spring.

Those little green fruits sitting on the dirt are berries from the German Butterball. I've never grown a potato that set so many. I might try saving some seed and planting them next spring, and seeing what I get.

The garden as a whole is looking very different than it did just a week or so ago. The biggest change is in the fruit beds. Melon and cucumber trellises down, tomato trellises down, and all the dead and dying plants removed. Garlic is planted, and we are clean and ready to go next spring, when this section will be planted with root vegetables. We have put up a record number of hoop-houses, 6 in all planning to have lots of spinach next spring to sell.

In the root section, winter radishes still look very lush, with carrots behind them. This late summer planting is doing very well.

The leafy greens, mostly brassicas, are in the other beds that are still in use. Cabbages need to be picked and stored, as do Brussels Sprouts. I'll cut the chard down this week and freeze it. The beds where we grew corn have already been cleared and replanted with spinach, lettuce and mixed greens for the spring.

We planted peas in midsummer hoping for a late harvest. They did not do well. We did not keep up on top of the weeds, and they were probably planted about 2 weeks later than ideal. We'll just get a handful of peas and snow peas.

The beans have died down. As soon as this photo was taken, I cut down the vines and strings so Mr. Ferdzy could take down the trellises. In fact, I have already started, you can see the pile in the right hand lower corner of the picture.

Our sturdier trellises had some mixed results. The plants stayed better within their beds, but the whole trellis was inclined to sway when the wind blew, and they ended up pretty crooked.

The hoop-houses have been great for allowing us to extend seasons and overwinter greens, so I thought I would show some detail about how we make them. We are bracing them more this winter than we did last year, when one of the 2 we put up collapsed under the weight of the snow. Mr. Ferdzy put in rough-cut spruce (construction strapping) along the top and bottom in the middle of each bed. This is the cheapest new wood you can buy, about $3 for a 4" x 1" x 16' piece. Our beds are 24' long so we needed a total of 3 pieces per bed, plus scraps to brace them.

First, we lay out the bottom pieces. Then Mr. Ferdzy takes the piece and a half for the top, and drills holes where the electical conduit used for the hoops goes through.

The electrical conduit (3/4") goes through, and is anchored on each side in a 1' piece of ABS pipe (2") sunk into the ground. These are placed at 4' intervals all along the beds, and are also used to hold up the trellises.

In goes the other end, forming the hoop.

First we do the ends, then the middle, then we fill in the rest.

The electrical conduit is stiff enough to be a little hard to bend, but you want it to be fairly strong.

Once all the hoops are in, Mr. Ferdzy screws lengths of wood in every 8' (i.e. every second hoop) between the top and bottom pieces of board to brace the hoop-house. How well does this work? We don't know, I'll tell you in the spring.

At this point my battery ran out, so I don't have any more photos, but there isn't much more to the hoop-houses anyway. We buy 100' rolls of 6mil plastic (the kind used as vapour barrier over insulation in construction) and cut each one into 3 equal pieces. This is the right size to cover one of our beds. We place it over the hoops, and weight it down with paving stones, rocks and bricks. And there you have it, a hoop house. Including the taxes, it probably costs about $100 to make each hoop house and it is not really worth making fewer than 3 of them because that's the size of the roll of 6mil plastic. This also includes the ABS pipe, which remains as a permanent part of the bed. Not cheap, but we expect to get at least 5 years out of each one and hopefully more.

Hopefully we will have the garden cleaned up and ready for winter in another week or so. I admit I am happy to be done for the year. I will stop thinking about it for a month or so, then it will be time to start looking through seed catalogues and get revved up for another season, which will of course be so much better than this one!