Monday, 31 January 2011

Quinoa Pilaf

For some reason I have never really gotten into cooking quinoa. Actually, I know why; I tried it when it first came out and I didn't realize it had to be RINSED really well to remove its bitter, soapy-tasting natural coating. Ugh! That really put me off. Now I know that, and also I think that most quinoa is sold pre-rinsed nowadays. (Although I'm still going to rinse mine really, really well.) Anyway, Mum served us some quinoa (done more or less this same way) last week and I thought, yeah, I should get into that. Especially since it is something we could grow in the garden...

So, this was a fairly experimental dish for me. I did try it twice this weekend, once with a red quinoa and once with the more common pale straw-coloured quinoa. In either case you are to cook it until most of the little white thread-like seed embryos(?) separate from the seeds, looking like tiny white rings. My impression is that the red quinoa takes longer to cook than the light quinoa, but I also did it in a pan and the light quinoa in the rice-cooker (so much easier!) I also found that most people say it will cook in 10 to 15 minutes - no way, Jose! Twenty minutes for sure, and for the red I would allow half an hour at least. At least with the quinoa I had, and when I think about it I remember that we had to wait some extra time for Mum's quinoa to be done too, because it took noticeably longer to cook than advertised.

4 servings
50 minutes - 20 minutes prep time

Quinoa Pilaf
1 cup quinoa
1 2/3 cups broth, maybe a bit more

1 medium onion
1 medium carrot
1 1/2 cups grated rutabaga
1 1/2 cups grated celeriac
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
salt & pepper to taste

Rinse the quinoa very thoroughly, and drain well - you will need a fine-mesh strainer for this. Put it in your handy-dandy rice-cooker (or a heavy bottomed pot) with the broth .

Meanwhile, peel and chop the onion. Peel and grate the carrot, the rutabaga and the celeriac. Heat the oil in a large skillet and sauté the onion until soft and slightly browned. Add the remaining vegetables, and cook down for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add these to the rice-cooker (or pot) with the broth and quinoa, and mix well. Either turn on the rice-cooker and let it do its thing, or bring the pot to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer the quinoa until the broth is absorbed and the quinoa is tender, about 20 to 40 minutes. If the broth is gone before the quinoa is done, you may need to add a little more.

Let rest for 5 minutes before serving. Fluff it up a bit by running a fork through it.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Ginger Marinated Carrots & Turnips

More good winter crunch! This one bites back a little. Serve as a side salad, or add it to a sandwich.

4 servings
1 hour 40 minutes - 20 minutes prep time

1 1/2 cups carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups turnip or rutabaga, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
1/3 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon soy sauce

Peel and slice the carrots and turnip, as thinly as you can - paper thin. Season them with the salt and set them aside for an hour. Rinse them well, and drain them thoroughly.

Peel and grate the ginger, and mix it with the vinegar, sugar and soy sauce. Toss the carrots and turnips with the dressing, cover and put them in the fridge for about half an hour until chilled, before serving.

Last year at this time I made Beet & Red Cabbage Salad - Bottled as Relish.

Thursday, 27 January 2011


A rather old-fashioned dessert, Ambrosia. According to The Old Foodie, it originated in the southern U.S., in the middle of the 19th century, and at that point consisted of sliced oranges with grated coconut. By the time it had wended its way to our household in the mid 1960's, it had picked up some dates along the way. I've added a little preserved ginger because I love preserved ginger and because I think it goes. I've been getting some very nice navel and blood oranges at the grocery lately and they go together nicely but you can use whatever kind you like. Whatever quantity you like too; I've listed what I used but it is the kind of recipe where you just put in what you want.

There are so-called recipes for Ambrosia out there that call for things like yogurt, sour cream, Jell-O, marshmallows and/or Cool-whip. Ignore them. They are an abomination unto the Lord; yea, even the yogurt. The pleasure of Ambrosia is in the simplicity of it. Just make sure you have nice, moist coconut. I normally buy unsweetened coconut, but for this I get the largest flake available, and sweetened. Good, fresh, moist dates are important too.

2 to 4 servings
20 minutes prep time - plus some chill time

1 large navel orange
2 or 3 blood oranges
8 to 12 dates
1 or 2 cubes preserved ginger, finely minced (optional)
1/4 cup coarsely shredded, moist dessicated coconut

Peel and segment the oranges, discarding as much of the covering membranes as is practical. Cut or break each segment in halves or thirds. Put them in a container than can be covered. Cut the dates in quarters, and add them to the oranges. Mince the ginger and add it, if you like. I do think it is a good addition.

Cover the mixture and chill for one to 24 hours, to allow the dates to soften a bit. Just before serving, mix in the coconut.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Dried Corn Baked with Cheese & Cream

One of the great things to do with a food drier, if you have one, is to dry sweet corn when it is in season. You cut it off the cob, pour boiling water over it and drain it well, then dry it. You will likely need some sort of loose-weave cloth to keep it from falling through the racks. We cut up a nylon mesh laundry bag we bought once many years ago and which was never used for its intended purpose. It worked very well, and once the corn was dried we just put the squares of cloth in the dishwasher. It's a bit late to be telling you all this, I suppose.

We dried quite a lot of corn this summer and I am now looking for ways to use it. We liked this, but why wouldn't we? It's quite rich and cheesy, and the corn retains a little bit of chewiness that makes it very appealing. I imagine you could make this with frozen or canned corn, though; just skip the soaking part of the recipe and use 4 cups corn. Maybe add a tiny bit more liquid, or maybe expect it to be done in closer to 45 minutes instead.

4 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 15 minutes prep time

Dried Corn Baked with Cheese & Cream
2 cups dried corn
2 cups water
2 tablespoons cornmeal
2 cups whole milk or light cream
150 grams (6 ounces) old Cheddar cheese, grated
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

Put the corn in a pot with the water and bring it to a good rolling boil. Cover the pot, turn off the heat, and let it rest for 10 to 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Meanwhile, mix the cornmeal, cream and grated cheese in a mixing bowl. When the corn looks pretty much reconstituted, mix it into the cream and cheese, along with any liquid remaining in the pot. Season with salt and pepper, remembering that the cheese will supply a certain amount of salt.

Butter an 8" x 11" casserole (lasagne) dish, and pour in the corn mixture. Spread it out evenly in the dish. It will be pretty soupy, but persevere. Bake for 1 hour, until firm and beginning to brown around the edges. Stir it once, at the half-way point.

Last year at this time I made Tofu "Schnitzel".

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Cocoa Oatmeal

For over 20 years Mr. Ferdzy and I ate oatmeal for breakfast almost every day. About a year ago I hit some kind of wall and just couldn't face it any more. I've been eating cold cereal, mostly bran flakes, ever since although Mr. Ferdzy has kept on keeping on with the oatmeal. However, I can see a wall approaching with the cereal, too - after only a year or so. Maybe I will give the oatmeal another try. Breakfast cereal is really expensive for what it is, and it's hard to find one that isn't loaded with sugar.

On that note, one of the things I used to do once every couple of weeks or so to liven up the oatmeal a little was to make cocoa oatmeal. Chocolate for breakfast; how decadent! Only, really, probably no worse than your average sugar-loaded breakfast cereal. It's just a little cocoa cooked with the oatmeal and with very finely chopped dates. The dates melt right into the oatmeal and provide just enough sweetness. Yummy!

This also works well in the microwave. By the way, the leaving of the oatmeal to sit, covered, for 5 minutes before serving it is the difference between ho-hum oatmeal and excellent oatmeal, at least in my opinion, whether it is plain or chocolated.

2 servings
15 minutes - 10 minutes prep time

Cocoa Oatmeal
8 - 12 dates, finely chopped
1 cup old fashioned oats
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 pinch salt
2 cups water

Finely chop the dates; really, very finely. They should dissolve in the cooking. Mix them with the oats, the cocoa and the salt in pot. Add the water, and stir well.

Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently. Once the oatmeal has thickened and looks pretty much done, cover it and turn off the heat. Let it rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Last year at this time I made Spaghetti Squash Kugel.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Mashed Celeriac with Buttery Leeks

This is very similar to a dish of Parnips and Leeks I made in October. It works just as well with celeriac. The idea is to cook the leeks gently in plenty of butter until they are soft and the butter is infused with the leek flavour, which when mixed into the mashed celeriac carries the leek flavour throughout. I added a little potato just to mellow the celeriac a bit and give it a smoother texture, but not enough to make it taste particularly potatoey. The result is really quite amazing for such a simple list of ingredients and basic techniques. Of course, it's hard to go wrong with all that butter.

4 servings
45 minutes - 20 minutes prep time

Mashed Celeriac with Buttery Leeks
750 grams (1-2/3 pounds) celeriac
250 grams (1/2 pound) potatoes
1 large or 2 medium leeks
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
a grind of black pepper to finish

Peel the celeriac and cut it into chunks. Peel the potatoes and cut them into similar sized chunks. Put both in a pot with water to cover them generously. Bring to a boil and boil steadily until they are tender.

Meanwhile, wash and trim the leek. Cut it into thin slices. Rince them and drain them well.

Put the butter on to heat in a medium sized skillet. (Not too small - the celeriac and potatoes will be added to it.) Add the leeks to the butter and cook gently for about 15 minutes, stirring regularly. The leeks should soften and cook down, but don't let them get more than a very few slightly browned spots. Browned leeks are really not nice.

When the celeriac and potatoes are tender - don't forget to test them both - drain them well and return them to their pot. Mash them well, then turn the mash into the pan with the leeks. Continue cooking gently, while mixing the mash and the leeks together well.

This can be served at once, or it will hold on the stove for a few minute if the rest of the meal isn't quite ready.

Last year at this time I made Good Tasting Yeast Spread.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Belgian Endive with Blood Oranges & Honey

This was not the most attractive looking dish I have ever made (although I've seen worse, I'm sure) but it worked out just the way I hoped it would. The slightly bitter endives were right at home in the slightly sweet and tangy orange and honey sauce, and they balanced each other beautifully. Blood oranges aren't local, but they are seasonal and great to have right now to give a boost to our winter vegetables, which tend to be pale, or starchy, or both.

I served this with baked chicken thighs which was a good choice as I didn't have to fiddle with them and could give my attention to the vegetables.

4 servings
20 minutes prep time

Belgian Endive with Blood Oranges and Honey
4 to 6 Belgian endives (450 grams or 1 pound)
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon honey
2 or 3 blood oranges

Put a kettle with a litre (quart) of water on to boil. Meanwhile, wash and trim the ends of the endives, and cut them in halves, or quarters if large, lengthwise. Put them in a strainer in the sink. When the water boils, pour it over them. I find it best to pour over about half, then turn over the endives and pour the remainder of the water over them. This helps keep them evenly blanched. Drain well. Peel the oranges and chop each segment into 3 or 4 pieces.

Heat the butter in a medium sized heavy skillet, one that will hold the endives somewhat snuggly in a single layer. Once it is hot, add the drained endives and spread them out as much as possible. Pour over about 2 or 3 tablespoons of water, and season with the salt and the honey. Simmer for about 5 minutes, until the water is reduced.

Turn the endives over after the 5 minutes and add the chopped orange segments. Continue cooking, turning the vegetables as needed to keep them cooking evenly, until the sauce thickens and the oranges are soft.

Last year at this time I made Whole Wheat Tortillas, Refried Beans and Braised Beef Brisket.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Seed Ordering Time for All You Gardeners!

So the other thing I have been doing this week, besides not cooking anything of great interest, is finalizing our planting plans and ordering seeds. I wrote about ordering veggie seeds last year as well and not all that information is repeated here.

Same as last year the first place to go look for who sells which seeds, where, is Seeds of Diversity. They have an excellent list of seed sellers, of both vegetables and ornamental plants, Canadian, American and further abroad. On top of that, you can look up each vegetable individually and see if anyone in Canada sold seed of that variety in the last year. For a volunteer-run organization, they do a good job of keeping these lists up to date. Believe me, there are waaaaay more interesting seed sellers in Canada listed there than I can even begin to list here.

This year I am ordering from Annapolis Seeds, William Dam, Ontario Seed Company, Greta's Organic Gardens, Solana Seeds, Tatiana's TOMATObase, The Cottage Gardener, Hawthorne Farm Organics, Heritage Harvest Seed, Mandy's Greenhouses, Prairie Garden Seeds, Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes, and Mapple Farm. Oh my poor credit-card!

In the past I've also ordered from and had good results from Terra Edibles and Richter's Herbs, and been happy with both. There are still a lot of other seed suppliers out there but I'm going to write about my experiences with these companies this year, insofar as I can - not all seeds have arrived (or even been ordered) yet, and I don't have experience growing seed from all the companies.

Annapolis Seeds: run by a young guy in Nova Scotia. I have ordered some peas from him, as he has a good list of unusual peas. In particular, I want to grow pole peas, and they can be very hard to find with the exception of Tall Telephone. Most people seem to want bush peas. I've ordered Crown peas (a genetically rare novelty; beautiful plant but low productivity), Sapporo Express, Mrs Van's, and Spring Blush. I've also ordered Shirafumi soy beans and Purple Peacock beans. Annapolis Seeds doesn't take credit cards, so ordering must be done with a cheque, through the mail. It does slow things down a bit and so I haven't received these seeds yet. Note that he is also short of pea seeds this year (damned deer!) so if you want some from him you should order promptly.

The Cottage Gardener: My order from here came very promptly. We got a few things from them last year and they all did well. Since the seeds are in front of me I can critique their packaging though: seed quantities are a little skimpy compared to some (not awful) and there isn't any information about seed count, germination rate, planting advice, or anything but the name, really, on the packets. On the other hand, how many seeds does the average small gardener need? And prices are on the low side for organic at $2.50 a package. Every little bit helps.

Again, we're ordering from them because they have things we can't get anywhere else: Bleu de Solaise leeks, Small Shining Light watermelon (this is the one that makes me say "skimpy". I haven't opened it, but if feels like about 6 seeds), Ailsa Craig onions and Federle tomatoes, which hardly anyone seems to even know about, but everyone who does know it raves and swoons. It's a paste tomato, and we thought we would try something other than our old staple Opalka this year.

Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes: Just seed potatoes, and garlic later in the year. We were very happy with our order from them 2 years ago. We'll order again this year, although I haven't done it yet. I have my eye on Pink Fir Apple and Green Mountain. Russian Blue, Russet Burbank and Purple Viking are all foregone conclusions. Mm, potatoes!

Greta's Organic Gardens: Again, I've placed an order but it has yet to come. I know it was processed immediately, because I made a mistake entering my order and so had some email contact with Greta. I expect it in the next day or two. She's a bit more expensive than most places at $3.50 per packet, but she does have things not otherwise available. I got Chieftain Savoy cabbage (open pollinated savoy cabbages are very hard to find, I think that was the only one I found in fact), Red Express cabbage (a very fast forming small red cabbage; looks nice and handy), Thelma Sanders' Acorn squash and Wood's Early Scallop Squash. All things pretty much impossible to find elsewhere. Definitely worth checking out.

Hawthorne Farm Organics: Last year I was excited to find they were selling seed for Meeting Place Organic Farm snow peas. Hey, we know them! We planted the peas (a little too late) last fall and they grew well and were starting to produce tasty peas before they got killed by the frost. We've ordered more for this year. We also ordered more Mammoth Melting snow peas and Trionfo Violetto beans. New to us will be Fortex beans (people rave) and Winter Luxury pumpkins. We got all the seeds very promptly except the pumpkins, which are still being tested for germination and which should come next week. Good packaging here for a small local company: date of germination tests, test results and seed count all prominently displayed on the the packages. At $3.00, prices are average for organic seed.

Heritage Harvest Seeds: These folks are out of Manitoba. Their website is nicely laid out and easy to navigate but I had some troubles at check-out time and ended up phoning in my order. Hopefully computer glitches will be fixed soon. Prices are average to high at $3 to $3.95 per package. Again, things that no-one else has; huge long lists of rare things. (How to sell seed to me: put RARE! in the catalogue.) The ones I succumbed to were Hidatsa Red bean, Alma paprika, Kaiser Alexander cucumber, Arikara squash, Galeux d'Eysines pumpkin, Algonquin pumpkin, Mandan squash, Gnadenfeld melon, Sweet Siberian watermelon, Amish Bottle onions, Harrison's Glory peas, Amish Snap peas, Caroube de Maussane peas and Djena Lee's Golden Girl tomato. Look them up! Some very cool stuff there.

Mandy's Greenhouses: Another Manitoban. She only takes money orders, not even cheques, so a bit of a challenge. You have to really want her seeds... and we did. Nobody else has half the varieties of corn she has. Excellent carrot list too, and I have to respect a gal with a radish obsession bigger than my own. We bought Snow White and Purple Dragon carrots, and Bloody Butcher, Chires Baby and Simonet corn. Almost succumbed to Orchard Baby corn but will have to save that one for next year... beds are full.

Mapple Farm: Last year I urged them to gettawebpage, and they promptly did! (Co-incidence, I'm sure.) I plan to order from them, but haven't yet. If you want sweet potatoes, they are pretty much the only Canadian source. They're located in New Brunswick. Short-season sweet potatoes are their specialty, but they have some unusual seeds and a good selection of really unusual root crops as well. Very interesting stuff indeed. Crosnes, anyone?

Ontario Seed Company (OSC): Look at their website, and you will be left with the impression of a very old-fashioned, fuddy-duddy company. And it's true. They're based in Waterloo and have been selling to local Mennonite farmers for over 100 years. The thing is, they are so old-fashioned and out of date, that many of their seeds are now... heirlooms! They don't particularly advertise this fact; it's just the stuff they've been selling for years and years. Decades and decades, even. But don't tell them, or they might raise their prices, which are ridiculous. $1.69 per package seems about average (not organic). Shipping costs are on the high side with a $6.95 flat rate, though. In other words, it pays to order enough to make that shipping charge worth while. Also old-fashioned? I ordered Monday morning (Sunday night, actually) and the seeds were in my mailbox, in a sturdy box, and all present and accounted for by Wednesday noon. Impressive.

I ordered Sweet Cubanelle, Jalapeno and Hungarian Yellow Sweet Banana pepper seeds... all tried and true varieties. Also Large Musselburgh leeks, and Soldier beans. We got Dwarf Grey Sugar snow peas and Henderson Bush lima beans in the large economy packs.

Prairie Garden Seeds: One of my later discoveries of last year. We ordered some Pfalzer yellow carrots and Tom Thumb peas from Jim Ternier mid last summer. Both went in late and the peas were promptly eaten by rabbits, but you can't blame the seed supplier for those problems. This company is out in Saskatchewan, and if you are a small gardener interested in grains you won't do better than to check out his lists of wheat, oats, millet, amaranth, quinoa, etc. No-one else has the range he has, and prices are low at $2.50, while quantities are quite generous. Packaging is pretty makeshift though, so you will need to know what to do with your seed once you get it. Descriptions tend to be pretty laconic and the layout of the listing is a bit of a pain, with everything lumped together in a paragraph. Persevere though. There are treasures in there. Orders must be made through the mail as he only takes cheques, no credit cards.

We ordered Arikara Yellow, Kahl, Dragon's Tongue, Snowcap, True Red Cranberry and Grandma Nellie's (Yellow Mushroom) beans; Boothby's Blonde and Early Russian Pickler cucumbers; Zeiner's Gold (dry), Spanish Skyscraper and Golden Sweet peas. We are also getting Mortons's Lettuce Mix and Purple Peacock broccoli which are all open-pollinated new varieties from Wild Garden Seeds in California, where some very interesting vegetable breeding is taking place. The broccoli is actually a cross between broccoli and kale - looks like a small headed broccoli, and you eat the whole thing. Wow!

Solana Seeds: while this is a Quebec site, it can be navigated in french or english. There's a good selection of many vegetables with an emphasis on cold hardiness. They have the Oka and Montreal melons, of course, but also a surprisingly large selection of peppers. We have ordered Doe Hill Golden, Aji Amarillo, and Black Hungarian peppers, Cocozelle zucchini, Ogen and Rampicante Zuccherino melons, Aunt Ruby's German Cherry, Snow White Cherry and Jaune Flammé tomatoes. Seed packets are not information rich, and in french anyway, so you will need to get your planting information elsewhere. Prices vary but in general are low. Seed quantities also vary, and are sometimes on the low side. They do generally state on the website what you are going to get. I've been happy with what I've gotten from them.

Tatiana's TOMATObase
: This site has been around for a few years and has a well-known reputation as being THE encyclopedia of information for just about every variety of tomatoes out there. I didn't notice until this year that she is also selling seeds. Since it says "New", next to the link I presume she hasn't been selling them for long. As you might expect, she has a good long list of verrrrry interesting tomatoes there. Our choices: Gardener's Delight (Sugar Lump), Eva Purple Ball, Sasha's Altai, Amish Paste (tried and true for us), Great White, Paul Robeson (a Mr. Ferdzy favourite), Persimmon and JD's Special C Tex which is a fairly recent black tomato/Brandywine cross with good reviews. Cheques only, so through the mail. Prices are low at $2.25 per packet, but quantities are not given.

William Dam: I've saved them for last but they are definitely not least. Like OSC, they've been around for decades, although at 62 years old they are a somewhat newer company. Like OSC, at first glance their listing don't look particularly exciting. They have a lot more new main-stream hybrids (which I try to avoid) than OSC, but they also have a good selection of older, open pollinated varieties in there. Again, they don't tend to tell you a lot about the history of these varieties so if you don't know them already you could just slide right over them. Their prices are generally low (though not as low as OSC) but quantities are good. Their packages are a joy, with dates, seed counts and good planting information on them. They sell mostly conventional seed, but have a good solid sprinkling of organic seed available as well. When we were growing in an allotment garden years back, we got our seed mostly from them and their seed has always been very reliable; as advertised and with good germination. On top of that, they have a great selection of seed starting and other garden equipment at good prices.

Our order from them this year will include Blue Lake S-7 beans, Chioggia beets, Nelson Hybrid carrots (supposed to be very fast growing), Amazing cauliflower, Brocoverde, Bright Lights (5 Colour Silverbeet) chard, Sweeter Yet Hybrid cucumber, Waltham butternut squash, Zucchini Black Beauty, Hilde II Improved lettuce, Dixter MI lettuce, Candy Hybrid onion, Red Marble onion, Tall Telephone (Alderman) peas, Upland Cress and Aqua Watercress.

We're not going to have enough vegetables, are we? I think I had better place another order.

And finally, one last link not to miss if you are a grower of vegetables: the Vegetable Varieties for Home Growers site from the University of Cornell, in New York state. You can review and read reviews of vegetable varieties there, and if you dig around on the site you will also find excellent growing advice from people in basically the same climate as us. This site is a treasure and I refer to it all the time.

Happy gardening in 2011! Let's hope we get an excellent summer including plenty of RAIN but no blight. Yeah, and world peace while we are at it. Never mind, onward and upwards.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

River John Blue Potatoes and Purple Majesty Potatoes

River John Blue Potatoes
Two more potatoes from our trip to Pinehaven Farm: River John Blue, above, and Purple Majesty, below.

Purple Majesty Potatoes
I was very interested to try these two potatoes. River John Blue were particularly exciting since they come from the same part of Nova Scotia as one branch of my family. On the other hand, the Purple Majesty are said to be the darkest of the purple (blue) potatoes. As you can see from the photo, they were indeed very dark, darker than the River John Blue, although there is enough light being reflected from the cut sides of the River John Blue that in their photograph they seem lighter than they were.

To try these, I just boiled a couple of each potato in separate pots. Interestingly, by the time they were done they were very similar in colour; a medium lavender shade. The water from cooking the Purple Majesty was positively turquoise while the water from the River John Blue was a muddier shade. However, practically no difference was seen on the plate.

So far as flavour, they were also very similar. Like other blue or purple potatoes I have had, these both had a slightly minerally quality, but would be recognized by anyone as being potatoes. The Purple Majesty were perhaps just a tad smoother in flavour.

Apparently blue potatoes have the same anti-oxidants as blueberries. Also, according to the Potato Research Centre in New Brunswick the potatoes known as Congo, British Columbia Blue, McIntosh Black, River John Blue, Sharon's Blue and Nova Scotia Blue are all genetically identical. I've seen All Blue added to this list in other places, but having grown the All Blue I would have to say they seem fairly different; if nothing else they have been selected for a smaller, rounder shape.

According to OMAFRA, River John Blue is very susceptible to scab, and you can see that the potatoes we got have quite a bit of scab. They also have those little round black spots that potato growers assure us are "just dirt". I think that is right, but certain potatoes seem more susceptible to these intensely dark dirt-spots than others. My theory - and I would be happy to be corrected - is that some varieties of potatoes exude sap or juice as they grow, and cause dirt to be "glued" to their skins. These spots of dirt are then rather hard to scrub off.

Purple Majesty potatoes were bred at Colorado State University by David Holm. They are not genetically modified - a question a number of people seem to have about them - but were developed from other, older varieties of potato, including All Blue.

I have not been able to find much more about them, although a little Googling showed that they were grown in Scotland in large quantity last year, and sold through Sainsbury's (a major British grocery chain) with a very aggressive marketing campaign. All the news sources I found had the same story practically word-for-word; obviously a press release from either Sainsbury or the grower. Hurrah for modern journalism. Oi.

On the whole, I think (alas) that the Purple Majesty are probably slightly the better potatoes, but if they are patented, and I think they might be, I will be just as happy to stick with the River John Blue or All Blue potatoes.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Pea Soup Made with Blue-Pod Capucijner Peas

Blue-Pod Capucijner Soup
Well, no recipe here, this is more of a varietal report, but I thought I would comment about this dish of pea soup. Yes, that really is pea soup.

We grew the peas in our garden this summer. They were Blue Pod Capucijner peas, which have become readily available from seed companies in the last few years. Thanks to the fact that the deer got in and ate half the plants when they were half-grown, we did not get a bumper harvest of peas - just enough to make one fairly small pot of soup. However, in general these are supposed to have a very good yield.

The peas have a romantic history - they were grown by by Capuchin monks in Flandres and Holland as early as the 1500's - and they are attractive plants with pink blossoms and purple-flushed pods. When dry, the peas are oddly shaped, wrinkled and a dull but strong brownish colour. Similar strains of peas were, and still are, found throughout northern Europe. They are still popular in Dutch cooking, although I have never seen them for sale here: if you want them, you will have to grow your own. The Dutch cook them with bacon and onions, and serve them with pickles.

Growing the peas was quite straightforward; we planted them perhaps a little later than our other peas since there was no rush to get them in, as we wanted them dry. On the other hand, they can go in with the other peas. Like them they will be very cold-tolerant, and if you get them finished soon enough you could plant some lettuce or spinach after them. They grew all season, and apart from the unfortunate incident with the deer were a simple and troublefree crop to grow. Shelling them was a bit tedious but again, quite easy.

So, how were they?

Well, they were... interesting. They were really not like peas at all, in my opinion. They looked more like little round beans than peas. I started off by cooking them in water (and cooking them, and cooking them) and they cooked much more like beans than peas, that is to say slowly. Once they were cooked they had a bland, mealy texture and rather tough little hides. They were not nearly as sweet as most Canadian strains of soup peas. In other words, they were very bean-like.

At this point I put them into a quart of very lovely ham stock, and cooked them some more. This time I mashed them roughly to break up those tough skins some more. I added carrot, celeriac, onion and leek, all diced and cooked down in a little ham fat to the soup. Seasoning was simple, just a few herbs. The result, I have to say, was far more delicious than I had been expecting from our first taste of the plain cooked peas. Still, that was such good ham stock I think you could have cooked anything in it and gotten good soup.

Would I grow these again? Yes, I think I would. We aren't going to grow them next year though. There are so many other types of peas and beans to try. And while we enjoyed them, I think they were not the ultimate dried soup pea.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

A Question About Cookbook Organization

How would you like to see recipes arranged in a cookbook (about, oh say, Seasonal Ontario Food)? Specifically, I am thinking about whether to sort by type of dish, or by main ingredient.

For example, would you like to look for "Spinach Soup" and "Spinach Salad" under "Spinach"? Or would you prefer to look for them under "Soup" and "Salad" respectively? Just wondering...

Busy & Grumpy

In case anyone didn't notice, posting is going to be light around here for a while. My computer died a horrible death on the weekend, but thanks to the miracles of modern medicine (and Mr. Ferdzy's heroic efforts) it has been revived.* However, short term memory is now shot and it needs a lot of physiotherapy before it is back to normal.

In addition, when we moved to this house we agreed to paint my mother-in-law's half of the house. Two and a half years later, it's time to pay that particular piper, and that's taking up a lot of time as well. I have to say, putting beige over beige makes for the most boring painting ever. Not to mention I keep losing track of where I am. The good news is that if I do a less than perfect job on the baseboards, no-one will ever know, including me.

* For now. It did this in the summer, too, and what really vexed me was that I was finally getting the computer back to where I wanted it. I think the Times New Roman is on the wall, and it's time to start shopping for a new one. I have to say, it's pretty amazing that these objects which are the apex of modern technology have the lifespan of gerbils, pretty much.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Bean & Barley Burgers

These are still something of a work in progress, as a recipe. Mr. Ferdzy thought they were a bit bland, and I have to agree. Still, that's not really the problem. Seasoning is a personal thing and I expect people to adjust them to their own tastes.

The real problem is that the texture is a bit soft, and they tend to moosh out the sides of the bun. I need something to firm these up. Suggestions, please? I'm trying to avoid egg to keep them vegan, but egg would do it, I'm sure. Maybe some ground flaxseed, which might also help with that too-soft mouthfeel. But if anyone has other ideas, I'd love to hear them. Those patties in the picture are half-size; the full recipe would make 16 of them.

These are somewhat slow to make, what with all the drawn-out stages, but that has some advantages. They can be made in advance, and cooked up as needed. I'm pretty sure the formed but uncooked patties would freeze well.

8 regular sized burgers
30 minutes prep time not including cooking beans or barley

Bean and Barley Burgers
1 cup cooked barley (1/4 cup dry barley)
1 1/2 cups well drained cooked black or kidney beans
1/2 cup dried tomatoes
1/2 cup boiling water

1 cup grated carrot (1 medium)
1/2 cup chopped onion (1/2 medium)
1 cup shiitake mushrooms
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon rubbed thyme
oil to fry
(added equivalent to 1/2 cup flour to second half of the batter, which helped but not enough)
flour to fry
Advance Prep:
You could use tinned beans, or beans you have cooked yourself from dry, but in either case drain them well. If you use tinned beans, do not add the salt until you have tasted the mixture to make sure you don't add too much.

Cook the barley. I do it in the rice cooker, at three parts water to one part barley. My rice cooker won't cook 1/4 cup raw barley, so I cooked more and have extra to put into something else. (Or to try these again.)

When you are ready to proceed, soak the dried tomatoes in the boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes.

Make the Burgers:
Peel and grate the carrot. Peel and chop the onion. Clean and slice the mushrooms. Sauté these together in the oil until softened and lightly browned in spots.

Put the sautéed veggies into a food processor with the drained beans, drained barley and drained tomatoes. Add the seasonings and flour. Blend well, leaving some texture, but until everything is well amalgamated.

Form the mixture into patties, 8 to 16 depending on what size you would like. Roll each patty in flour and set aside. Cover the bottom of a heavy skillet with a layer of oil. Heat the oil over medium-high heat, and cook the patties for about 3 minutes on each side, until they have a browned and slightly crisp finish to them.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Caroline's Low-Sugar Sweet Potato Cake

My mother (that would be Caroline) has received notice from her doctor that she needs to be on a low sugar diet, and by diet of course is meant "from now on, permanently." Bummer. This is the sort of notice that turns a person from someone who really doesn't eat that many desserts into someone who thinks about dessert all the time. At least it would me, and it seems to have had somewhat that effect on Mom.

At any rate, she came up with the idea that if you made a cake with sweet potatoes, it really wouldn't need that much sugar, perhaps even none, and she proposed that I should see if I could come up with such a thing. I have not quite achieved the goal of none, since I did feel that a very small amount of maple syrup was required. However, it's really pretty discreet, and since we are in diet mode here I kept the amount of oil down to a dull roar as well.

We all agreed that the end result was very successful. It's not the sweetest, fanciest cake in the world, but it doesn't scream "I am a lousy, fake diet substitute for what you really want" either. It's quite moist, and I suspect will keep fairly well as a result.

I only put in some cinnamon, and it was good. However, you could add more spices and have it somewhat gingerbread-like. Cream cheese icing would be classic on something like this but then there goes the diet. It was fine without. I suspect it would also bake up quite well as muffins, or cupcakes if you prefer to call them that.

And just as a note, Blogger informs me that this is my 1,000th post. Cake seems appropriate to celebrate.

8 servings
50 minutes - 15 minutes prep time - not including baking the sweet potatoes

Caroline's Low-Sugar Sweet Potato Cake
1 cup baked sweet potato, peeled and well mashed
- (2 medium sweet potatoes)
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil

1 1/4 cups soft unbleached or whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 to 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon finely grated nutmeg and/or ginger, optional

The sweet potatoes should be baked the day before you plan to make this, or at least long enough in advance to completely cool. I baked mine for 45 minutes at 400°F, until soft. Don't forget to poke them with a fork several times before you bake them.

Peel, mash and measure the cold sweet potato. Put it in a medium mixing bowl and beat in the eggs. Beat in the maple syrup and oil.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the bottom of an 8" round baking pan with parchment paper, and butter the sides.

Measure the flour and add the baking powder, salt, and spices, stirring gently to combine.

Mix the flour into the wet ingredients, until well and thoroughly blended. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and smooth it out so it is level. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until firm. Let cool for 10 minutes before removing it from the pan.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Jerusalem Artichoke, Celeriac & Turnip Salad with Ginger-Orange Dressing

Nice crunchy salad! Such a treat in the winter. This one has Jerusalem artichokes, celeriac and some of our delightful little Goldana turnips in it. You will most likely need to use rutabaga, in which case you might want to cut down the amount of them just a smidge as they are stronger tasting than the turnips. Although really, this is the kind of thing where you just put in what you have or want; proportions are pretty flexible.

The dressing is a nice light one, and would certainly go well on other salads. I served the salad with the dressing passed separately to keep it nice and crunchy. There were leftovers, so I marinated the rest of the salad in the rest of the dressing, and that worked well. As expected, the marinated salad was softer in texture, and brought the flavour of the dressing more to the fore.

4 to 6 servings
30 minutes prep time

Jerusalem Artichoke, Celeriac and Turnip Salad with Ginger-Orange Dressing
Make the Dressing:

1/2 to 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/4 cup orange juice (1 mandarin or tangerine)
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 or 2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce

Peel and grate the ginger into a small bowl or jar. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well, until the sugar is dissolved. One teaspoon of sugar will usually be enough, although my orange was so sour I added a little more this time.

Make the Salad:
2 cups peeled celeriac, grated or julienned
2 cups peeled rutabaga or yellow turnip, grated or julienned
2 cups peeled Jerusalem artichokes

Peel the above vegetables and cut them into thin julienne strips. If you prefer a softer texture and to spend less time, they can be grated instead. Mix them together. Toss with the dressing. Er, that's it.

Last year at this time I made Jerk Spareribs.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Sebago Potatoes

Sebago Potato
The Sebago potato was bred in Maine in 1932, and released in 1938 by the Maine Agricultural Experiment Station. It was a cross between Katahdin and Chippewa, both of which are also still around, although uncommon now. It was very popular in North America for quite a while, but has mostly been displaced by other, newer, varieties. However, it took Australia by storm and it is still the most popular potato in Australia, by far.

It's a versatile potato in the kitchen, lending itself to boiling, mashing, roasting, baking and frying with equal ease. It's a pretty classic looking potato, with excellent classic potato flavour - an entire continent swears by it, after all - and it stores quite well.

It's good in the garden too; with a decent range of disease-resistance (although susceptible to blackleg) and generally good yields of large, even, shallow-eyed potatoes that are white fleshed with medium-thick tan skins. According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, disease resistance includes PVA, wart disease, yellow dwarf, common scab, fusarium dry rot, late blight, early blight, tuber net necrosis, verticillium wilt, and PVY. As a plant, they are notably attractive and healthy looking, with strong green, vigorous leaves and mauvy-pink flowers. Those big plants need room and the yield will drop if the plants are crowded, so give them plenty of space. The pollen is said to have low fertility, but I don't know how it does at forming berries.

So why has it dropped out of favour here? I suspect its weakness for Canadians is its long season to maturity; 110 to 120 days, or more. However, those of us in Southern Ontario should be able to grow them without great difficulty. These were one of the potatoes I got from Pinehaven Farm, from just south of Peterborough.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Pasta with Roasted Squash, Mushrooms, Onions & Dried Tomatoes

Two of my favourite things together - roasted squash and pasta. The tomatoes were ones we grew and dried ourselves. As I mentioned before, I'll need to find a lot of ways to use them.

I thought when I started putting this together that there was an awful lot of squash in proportion to the pasta, but pasta expands and squash shrinks as they cook, so in the end I would have eaten even more squash with the pasta, although overall the balance wasn't bad. I've called for a bit more than I actually used.

3 to 4 servings
1 hour 20 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

Pasta with Roasted Squash, Onions, Mushrooms and Dried Tomatoes
Roast the Vegetables:
1/2 of a large butternut squash (6 cups diced)
3 medium onions
3 cups button mushrooms
2 or 3 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
salt & pepper
2 teaspoons rubbed basil
2 teaspoons rubbed oregano

Peel the squash, and discard the seeds. Cut the squash into bite-sized cubes and put them in a large lasagne pan. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Peel and chop the onions fairly coarsely, and add them to the squash. Clean the mushrooms and cut them in halves or quarters, and add them to the squash. Drizzle the oil and seasonings over the vegetables and toss well until they are evenly coated.

Roast the vegetables for 45 minutes to an hour, until tender and browing slightly. Stir them once in the middle of the cooking time.

Finish the Dish:
250 grams (1/2 pound) stubby shaped pasta
1/2 cup dried tomatoes, chopped if they are not small
3/4 to 1 1/2 cups light cream

When the squash has about 15 or 20 minutes left to cook, put a large pot of salted water on to boil. Cook the pasta until just barely tender. Have the tomatoes sitting a small bowl which can be covered. When the water first boils, ladle enough water to cover them well over them. Cover the dish and let them soak as the pasta cooks.

When the pasta and vegetables are both done, drain the pasta and toss it with the roasted vegetables and the tomatoes (drain them first). Mix in the cream until it is mostly absorbed.

Last year at this time I made Sauerkraut Coleslaw.