Monday, 28 February 2011

Winter Succotash

Last summer I made Succotash and speculated about the seasonal changes in the dish. Here's a winter version of the same thing; a little richer and meatier to keep you warm in the cold weather, and reliant on dried vegetables - more of those dried corn and tomatoes, along with dried beans.

Again, if you don't have dried corn you could use frozen or canned, but be sure it is very well drained - almost dried out a bit - before you use it. The same goes for canned beans, which are much softer and soggier than home cooked ones. I wouldn't actually recommend them if you could avoid them, because the texture is important here.

You don't want it soggy, you want it almost crisp-chewy in texture. A certain amount of fat is important to achieve this texture. Normally I buy the leanest bacon I can find, but not in this case. I also save any bacon fat that accrues in the course of regular cooking, and some of it did come in handy here as I thought my bacon wasn't supplying quite enough grease on its own.

4 servings

30 minutes
prep time not including cooking the beans

Winter Succotash
1/2 cup dried tomatoes
2 cups dried corn
2 cups water

225 grams (1/2 pound) bacon
plus extra fat if needed
1 large onion
2 cups cooked white pea (navy) beans
2 teaspoons rubbed savory
1 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
salt & pepper to taste

Snip up the tomatoes into bits, and put them with the corn and water into a pot. Bring to a boil and boil for 1 minutes. Turn off the heat and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, chop the bacon. Peel and chop the onion. Cook the bacon in a large skillet until it is about half done, then add the onion and continue cooking until the onion is quite soft. Add the very well drained corn and tomatoes, and mix in well. Add the very well drained beans and mix in well. Continue cooking and stirring, until the corn and beans show signs of crisping and browning in spots. Add a little extra bacon or other fat if anything shows signs of sticking.

Mix in the seasonings, and continue cooking for just a minute or two longer, then serve.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Lemon-Meringue Pudding (Or Pie)

Lemon-meringue is a very popular kind of pie, but I've noticed more crusts being sent back to the kitchen with this kind of pie than any other. People don't eat their pie-crusts for various reasons; too full, kind of dieting, don't actually like it all that much. I've never felt that the crust was the best part of a lemon-meringue pie. It just doesn't seem as well integrated with the filling as it does with some pies.

With those considerations in view, I made some lemon-meringue pudding, which was exactly the same as lemon-meringue pie except without the actual pie part. Simpler, quicker, and I have to say I for one didn't miss that crust a bit. But if you want it, there's no reason why not.

One other advantage to not using a crust is that in fact I put in the juice of 1 1/2 lemons, instead of the juice of just one. It definitely made it a little softer and runnier. It would have been quite hard to cut it as a pie, but as a pudding in individual dishes there was no problem - just lots of really zingy deliciousness.

As ever when using the lemon zest, I look particularly hard for organic lemons. Either way be sure to give it a good scrub before proceeding.

People sometimes wonder what the heck cream of tartar is. It's an acidic sediment created in wine-making, and it's perfectly harmless stuff. It just helps the egg whites hold those stiff bubbles.

6 servings
40 minutes for filling - 20 minutes prep time, not including making crust

Lemon Meringue Pudding
1 prepared single pie crust

(1/2 recipe of this or this for instance) but only if you want pie, and it needs to be pre-baked. Ten to fifteen minutes baking should do it. It can be warm or cool when the crust goes in, but cool is probably better for avoiding excessive sogginess.

Filling & Meringue:
3 tbsps corn starch
2/3 cup sugar
1 large lemon, zest & juice
3 eggs, separated
1 cup water
1 tbsp butter
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 cup sugar

In the top of a double boiler, beat together the cornstarch, 2/3 cup of sugar, and the finely grated zest and juice of the lemon. Separate the eggs and beat in the egg yolks, setting the whites aside in a mixing bowl. Slowly mix in the water, stirring constantly to keep the mixture very smooth. (You should not be heating the double boiler until after this is done.) Just drop in the butter. It will melt in as the filling cooks.

Now turn on the heat and cook until thick, stirring nearly constantly. An electric mixer is useful for this, but a whisk is fine too. Do not overcook the mixture; once it has thickened it should be removed from the heat promptly.

Pour the thickened filling into custard cups, or the baked crust if you are making a pie. Preheat the oven to 300°F.

Wash and dry the beaters before using them again. Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until fairly stiff. Beat in the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, until the meringue is stiff and glossy. Spread the meringue over the lemon filling, making sure it is attached right along the edges of the custard cups or pie plate - this will prevent it from shrinking away from them when baked.

Bake the puddings or pie at 300°F for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown. Cool and chill before serving.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Lamb & Squash Barley Hash

Pictured below are the inelegant remains of an inelegant meal. I'm calling it a hash because I'm not sure what else to call it. I guess that's what it is. I had not intended to post about it but Mr. Ferdzy was so surprisingly enthusiastic about it that I decided I would. I had expected lack of enthusiasm because it contains, in substantial quantities, two things that he will eat but really doesn't love: winter squash and barley. Apparently, add enough lamb and he can enjoy them both, which is funny because I am usually much more of a carnivore than he is.

This was the last squash in our cellar and likewise it will be pretty hard to find Ontario squash by now, unless you stashed some away earlier. If you have access to a good farmers market you might find some.

4 servings
1 hour pretty much all prep time and not including cooking the barley

Lamb and Squash Barley Hash
4 cups cooked barley (1 cup raw)

900 grams (2 pounds) buttercup or butternut squash
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil

2 medium onions
2 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
500 grams (1 pound) lean ground lamb (or beef)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon rubbed savory
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup dried tomatoes
4 cups beef or chicken stock

Put 1 cup raw barley into the rice cooker with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 3 cups of water. Cook until done. This needs to be done in advance. Mine was done so far in advance that it had spent several months in the freezer, but this is not required. It is sufficient that it be cooked at about the time you continue with the rest of the meal.

Peel, deseed and slice the squash into bite-sized chunks. Toss them with the oil. Roast them at 400° for about 40 minutes, until fairly soft.

Meanwhile, peel and chop the onions, and peel and mince the garlic.

Heat the oil in a large - very large - skillet and sauté the onion until soft and slightly browned. Add the ground lamb, broken into clumps, and continue cooking until it is mostly browned. Season with the salt, savory and Worcestershire sauce. Add the dried tomatoes and the stock. With wet hands, crumble in the cooked barley so that it doesn't stick together in lumps.

Reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or so, until the broth is mostly absorbed. Stir regularly. At this point mix in the squash, which should be cooked by now.

Um, that's pretty much it. Serve it up. What can I say; it was a mess. (A tasty, tasty mess.)

Last year at this time I made Butternut Squash Curry, funnily enough.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Spicy Garlicky Roasted Potatoes

I haven't posted nearly as many potato recipes this winter as I expected, given the number of potatoes that we squirrelled away in the fall. We've been mostly eating them baked, fried or mashed. A darn good potato really doesn't need anything too fancy done to it. Still, these made a nice change of pace.

You could reduce the cayenne (or increase it for that matter) according to taste. If you can't find amchur powder, which is made from green mangoes and adds a tart zing to the proceedings, you might like to squeeze a little lemon juice over the potatoes to achieve some of the same effect.

6 to 8 servings
1 hour 10 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

Spicy Garlic Roasted Potatoes
Make the Spice Mixture:
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1 teaspoon cumin seed
3 green cardamom pods
2 teaspoons fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon cayenne (to taste, really)
1 teaspoon amchur powder (optional)

Grind the pepper, coriander, cumin, cardamom and fennel seeds. Mix in the remaining seasonings.

Prepare the Potatoes:
1.5 kilos (3 pounds) potatoes
1 head (5-6 cloves) garlic
1/4 cup mild vegetable oil

Wash and trim the potatoes, and cut them into chunks. Put them in a pot with water to cover and bring to a boil. Boil them for 10 minutes drain well.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400°F. Peel and mince the garlic.

Toss the potatoes with the oil and seasoning mix in a large, shallow roasting pan. Leave the garlic out! Roast the potatoes for 20 minutes. Stir the garlic into the potatoes, and roast for another 15 to 20 minutes.

Last year at this time I made Char-Siu Style Pork Ribs and Crustless Rhubarb Pie.

Monday, 21 February 2011

What to Grow in a Small, Basic Garden

Or, general recommendations for the novice vegetable gardener.

I know a lot of people are just starting to get into vegetable gardening. Not that I'm an expert by any means, but after having allotment gardens for a number of years, and now my own right out the door, I'm starting to get a sense of which vegetables are worth growing and which ones probably aren't. I thought I'd try to sum up those ideas here.

First of all, I really like the system I found a number of years back for rotating my vegetables. Rotating them is a must to keep pests and diseases down to a dull roar, no matter how small your space. This system divides vegetables into four groups, according to their needs and growth patterns. It's simple to remember and has very few exceptions. Its weakness is that it does not really allow for succession planting. We just keep succession planting the same group of veggies throughout the season.

I've written a bit about this system before; you can read it here: Planting Season Begins. See also When to Plant Vegetables.


Peas: can be podded peas (eat mature peas only), snap peas (eat tender pods and well-formed peas inside) or snow peas (eat flat, immature pods only) and in addition, many of the snow peas are also good eaten as sprouts or young, tender greens. These grow upright, with slight to strong support required depending on the variety. Many of them can be frozen successfully. They hate hot weather and are best grown in the early spring and summer or restarted in late summer to grow into the fall. We regard these as pretty indispensible. There are a ton of varieties out there, many of them good, but at the moment I am liking Norli and Mammoth Melting snow peas, and Dual peas.

Green & Yellow (and a few Purple, Red & Pink) Fresh Beans: also indispensible for us. These may grow on short bushy vines, or long ones that need support. The bean pods may be round or flattened. Many varieties can be successfully frozen. I like pole beans (the ones that need support) because they are much easier to pick and often produce longer. Lots of people also think they tend to be better flavoured varieties. Of course, you do have to take the time and effort to build those supports at the beginning. Favourite varieties include Roma II, Provider, and Trionpho Violetto. I'm still looking for a really good yellow bean. I remember Gold Straw being good from my allotment days, but I can't even find a trace of its existance now.

Shelly Beans: are beans where the pods are discarded and the interior beans are eaten, while mature but still moist and fresh. Lima beans, borlotti beans, fava beans and soy beans would all fall into this category. They can be successfully frozen. They are most likely bush type beans, although some of the lima and borlotti beans may be pole beans. In general I would not really recommend these to the person with limited garden space. Lima beans have a very long growing season and will not do well unless it's hot, also they need quite a bit of space relative to their yield. On the other hand, they are expensive to buy and only available frozen and imported. If you are real lima bean lover and have the space, try Fordhook 242, or Henderson's Bush Lima. Borlotti are not that different from other beans, although I have never grown them. Fava beans I find a pain. They are not earlier than other peas (which they resemble more than beans) , don't produce all that great a yield, and in addition to being shelled have to be peeled. Unless you are already an enthusiastic consumer of favas, probably worth skipping. Soy beans might be worth trying. They have a decent yield for the space, although you only have about a week to harvest them fresh. They do freeze well though, and are also useful dried if you miss the window to pick them fresh.

Dried Beans and Peas: Again, I likely wouldn't grow these in a small garden. The yield is fairly small for the space and time required. They are generally inexpensive to buy and readily available. There are some dual purpose beans that can be eaten as fresh green beans or let to mature and dry. This may be a way to get some dried beans out of a small garden. On the other hand, there are also enough interesting and different varieties out there that you never see commercially that if you have even a medium sized garden they may be worth the space.

Peanuts: fun, but space-hogs for what they produce and also need loose, sandy soil. Probably not for most people.


Chard: absolutely worth while. A small patch will provide greens from mid-June to hard frost - 5 straight months - if properly managed. They are much more resilient and weather proof than spinach, and stay more tender than kale. Not many insect pests, but the things with teeth love this stuff - must be fenced.

Kale: Good, and easy to grow. May become a self-inflicted weed (or free bonus veg) if you let it run to seed. Probably best planted out in the very early spring, and again in the fall. It tastes best when touched by some frost. (If it hasn't been, it can be improved by keeping it in the fridge for a couple of days.) If I had to pick between kale and chard, I'd pick chard, but kale does stand longer in late fall. It's a good idea to start some in late summer to fill in empty spaces and keep some greens going as long as possible.

Spinach: Try it. It may or may not like your soil and climate. We've done best with it covered and overwintered for an early spring start, or planting for fall harvest. It doesn't like heat and will bolt as mid-summer approaches no matter what size it is. Heat will trigger bolting too. In short; a desirable, high-value, space-efficient vegetable, but not particularly easy. On the other hand once you have had home-grown spinach you will never be able to eat imported spinach again. (That's a good thing.)

Lettuce: I always thought lettuce was easy and foolproof until we moved here. It does not like our sandy, acidic soil and hot, dry summers. Still, it is indispensible enough that we persevere. Numerous varieties are available and we can see already that some will work well for us and some we will have to give up on. So, experiment - the best lettuces will vary from garden to garden. Best in late spring and fall because like spinach it prefers it cool, even though high summer is when you want it. I'm going to try growing it in a wheelbarrow, if I can get my hands on a ratty old one. That way I can give it better soil and wheel it in and out of the sun according to how hot it is. Unlike most veggies, lettuce will take some shade.

Novelty Greens: including Malabar spinach, calalloo, orach, good king henry, upland cress, mache, miner's lettuce, etc. are definite maybes. My experience is that they are novelty items for a reason. They are generally considered either for their heat tolerance or cold tolerance, as season extenders to more desirable greens. On the other hand they don't take up a lot of space and can be fun to experiment with.

Watercress needs fresh, running water and is perennial. It doesn't fit into the garden rotation. Sorrel is also perennial, but easy to grow. Put it in the herb or flower bed.

Broccoli is probably the easiest of the brassicas to grow, and the most rewarding. With many varieties once the main, large head is cut, small side shoots will continue to form, right up to hard frost. It freezes well. You might want to plant a fast growing pick-once variety for the late spring/early summer, then take it out and replace with a cut and come again variety to take you from late summer into late fall.

Brussels sprouts on the other hand are a challenge, at least for me. I'm still trying to grow them successfully. Fertility and watering are key, along with a certain amount of room. I'd leave them if space was tight.

Cabbages are easier, but do need a fair bit of space, and are generally fairly slow. They are inexpensive to buy. I'd rate them as a definite "maybe".

Cauliflower have a reputation for being difficult, but I find them easier than Brussels sprouts are not nearly as bug-ridden as the other brassicas. They freeze well. I'd skip them in a very small garden, but try them in even a moderately larger garden.

Chinese greens: tatsoi, bok choy, choy sum, etc. As a catch-all term, this covers a lot of territory. Some of them are very easy and trouble free (tatsoi) and others (bok choy, I'm looking at YOU) will bolt at the slightest provocation. They generally like it cool, and will soak up a lot of water, but are mostly very fast growing, so best as spring and fall veggies. They are so fast growing that a few can be popped in wherever space opens up. They are well worth playing around with. Row covers will be a must - bugs love 'em.

All the brassicas (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, caulflower, Chinese greens, etc) are serious bug-magnets and will need either a lot of tolerance for squirmy green things and holes, or row covers, or both.

Arugula: another cool weather green (they mainly are) but quick growing and trouble free. If you let it go to seed, it will become a self-inflicted weed or a bonus extra crop, depending on how you feel about it. If you like it, it's good value for the space.

Celery: I put celeriac in here too, even though the root is what is eaten, because they both need lots of water and rich soil. Celery is a bugger to grow. It has a long, slow season, sucks up mega water, and most varieties should be blanched. Picky, picky, picky. I love it enough to persevere, but you may not want to. Celeriac, on the other hand IS worth growing. It too needs lots of water and takes forever, but it is far more tolerant than celery, and the roots store very well. They are often ridiculously expensive to buy. I'll be planting more celeriac and less celery this year. I'm also going to try perennial herb celery, which is also much more tolerant, just used for flavour rather providing any bulk to a dish. So: celeriac recommended, celery not, but if you do try it Utah 52-70 is popular for a reason.

Chicory, dandelion, endive & radicchio: to a large degree, these grow like lettuces and the same conditions apply. Some of them can be trickier though, and they are even more prone to going inedibly bitter. It really depends how much you love them.

Kohlrabi: fun, cute and space efficient, and the bulbs will even store for a while. Worth growing if you know what to do with it and like it.

Corn: kind of the odd plant out here. Also probably not worth growing in a small garden. You'll get poor fertilization unless you plant a fair number of plants, in a block to maximize their exposure. It's one or two cobs per plant, generally, and although homegrown corn is a whole 'nother thing compared to bought, it is just a space (water, fertilizer, sun exposure) hog. If your garden is not tiny and you want to try a little corn, popcorn is a bit more tolerant. There are also smaller varieties of corn out there, if you look, which may help you shoe-horn some in if you really, really want it.

Basil is one of the few annual herbs I would let into the regular vegetable beds. (Most of them are a little too seedy to be trusted - give them their own herb bed and let them romp.) Needs heat and good light, but easy to grow and well worth the space, especially if you want to make and freeze pesto, and of course you do.


Tomatoes: I don't have to tell you to grow tomatoes, you will anyway. Probably the first thing almost everybody wants to plant. Need full sun and decent soil, but otherwise they are pretty tolerant and there are a number of varieties that do well in containers. If you want to grow tomatoes for canning in a small space I really recommend Bellestar. Other than that, tastes and requirements in tomatoes are very personal, so do your research before picking what appeals. Tatiana's TOMATObase is a great place to start looking.

By the way, when I did my review of seed suppliers, I had not yet received my seeds from Tatiana. I'll say here that seed quantities were very generous for the price, and the years the tomato seeds were produced were clearly noted on the packages. Some of those years were not that recent, so even though tomato seeds will easily keep for 10 or more years, expect to need to grow seeds ordered from Tatiana within the next 5 years. (Yeah, probably not a big issue for most people.)

Peppers: These depend very much on your taste. There is a wide enough variety of hot and sweet peppers though, that most people will want to grow at least a few plants. Like tomatoes, the wide variety makes them a fun experiment. However, Ontario is not ideal pepper growing territory, and so there are a few varieties that are widely grown because they are tried and true. Sweet Banana and Cubanelle are the most popular and reliable sweets, and Long Red Cayenne and various strains of Jalapeno are the best hots. Many of the hot chiles need a longer, hotter summer than we can usually supply but if you are keen, go ahead and give them a try. You never know. Just have a couple of the Cayennes as a back-up. Also, a number of the hot chiles can be grown in pots. They are perennials, so if you have a sunny window for them they can be overwintered inside for early production the next year.

Eggplant: You will need to be very keen on eggplant for this to be worth growing in a small garden. Production is not high for the amount of space required. If you grow potatoes, though, it is worth having at least one plant as a trap for potato bugs.

Cucumbers: worth growing even in small gardens as there are a number of varieties that can be trellised upwards, making the volume of fruit provided fairly high for the space required.

Melons: can be trellised as well, at least some of them, but in very small gardens they may not be worth the space. However, there are some fairly compact ones, and a good home-grown melon is an amazing thing. I don't have much experience growing melons yet, but was pleased with Collective Farm Woman last summer.

Watermelon are mostly too large and sprawling for small gardens, but I've grown Sugar Baby for a couple of summers now, and although it didn't produce much it didn't take up much space either.

Summer Squash: zucchini is notoriously productive for the space required - a good thing in a small garden.

Winter Squash: are probably worth skipping given that most of them take up huge amounts of space. A little research will find you some more compact varieties if you really want them though.


Carrots: are a definite maybe. They are suprisingly hard to grow, for something sold so cheaply in the market. Germination is slow and iffy and takes huge amounts of water. Growing them on requires a fair bit too. On the other hand, fresh from the garden carrots are stupendous.

Potatoes are much more worth trying, in my opinion, which may surprise people who think of them as a very cheap market staple. But again, fresh from the garden potatoes are amazing, you can grow so many more varieties than you are likely to find sold anywhere, and they are really very easy, tolerant plants to grow. Potato beetles are the one thing likely to cause the small (or, okay, large) gardener lots of grief, but they can be controlled with hand picking. A lot of people try growing them in containers but this is easier said than done. Give them the ground space if you can. For container growing, you need sharp drainage, the right variety and frequent attention to the soil level. We've been doing research on growing potatoes in containers and are planning to try some this summer. I'll let you know how it goes.

Radishes are ridiculously easy, fast and space-thrifty. Definitely worth growing. If you don't like regular radishes, try some of the large, mild oriental varieties. They take a little longer but get big and store well, and as noted, are generally quite mild.

Onions: most people start them from sets (mini onions), which is easy but will give you a very limited number of varieties to grow. If space is tight you might as well buy them; they are awfully cheap. On the other hand, onions are generally pretty compact and don't take a lot of room, and growing your own can mean varieties you rarely see for sale. These more interesting varieties will need to be started from seed, and right now is not too early to start them. (You've probably got up to another month to start them.)

Shallots, Multiplier and Walking onions: These are much more expensive to buy (shallots) or next to impossible to find (multiplier and walking onions) and are definitely worth the space if you are interested in them. Multiplier onions are basically forms of shallots - plant a bulb, and over the summer it will grow and split into a nest of bulbs. Walking onions form little bulbs on top, instead of flowers, which eventually become heavy enough to fall over and root. Cool!

Garlic: again, very space-thrifty. Good garlic is rather expensive, so growing your own is definitely the way to go if you can. It can be tucked in here and there, so should fit into even the smallest garden.

Welsh onions, Chives, Garlic Chives; are all perennial onions well worth growing in the small garden. Their space requirements are modest and they will even fit into flower beds quite nicely. Note, however, that chives and garlic chives are heavy self-seeders, and should be deadheaded unless you want to collect seed. If you let them form seed heads, do remove them before the seeds drop. Seriously. We did not keep on top of them in one of our allotments, and they were probably our worst weed. Everywhere, and not that easy to pull. (The welsh onions have never seeded much for us.)

Leeks: another rather expensive member of the onion family, well worth growing. They are slow, and require some attention not to mention lots of water, but for us they well repay the trouble. Can be stored for quite a long time in the fridge, or left in the ground for spring harvest, depending on the variety. Another one to start seeding now!

Beets & Turnips: easy to grow and don't take up too much space. Several crops can be planted in a year. Worth finding a little space for, as long as you like them.

Rutabaga: they are not hard to grow and a four foot by five foot space gives us more than we can eat in a winter. On the other hand, they are inexpensive to buy and readily available so if space is really tight, you might want to give them a miss.

Sweet Potatoes: I've never grown them! I'm hoping to grow some this year though, and I noticed when I posted my list of seed suppliers that a lot of other people were interested in them too. I think they are a lot easier to grow in a container than regular potatoes. If you don't want to order slips to start growing your own, you can also force a purchased sweet potato to form slips. Get one grown in Ontario to make sure you have a variety that will mature in our relatively short summers though!

OKAY, so that's my opinion. What are YOU growing, and how much space do you have? What would you recommend, and what do you think is not worth the space, time and trouble?

Friday, 18 February 2011

Carrot Bran Muffins

I'm not a big baker of muffins but every so often the urge hits. This time the urge was carrot-bran. With coconut, lemon zest and raisins. Yum. I could eat muffins more often. Do let them cool a little longer than I did before peeling off the paper cups; they come out much better. Also, I think it's best to grate the carrot fairly finely for these.

12 muffins
40 minutes - 20 minutes prep time

Mix the Dry Ingredients:
1 1/4 cup soft whole wheat flour
1 cup wheat, spelt or oat bran
1/2 cup Sucanat or dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
the finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 cups finely grated carrot
1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries
1/2 cup dessicated coconut

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a set of 12 muffin trays with paper liners, or butter them well.

Mix the dry ingredients in a good-sized mixing bowl.

Finish the Muffins:
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup mild vegetable oil
1 extra-large egg

I measure the buttermilk in a clear 2-cup measure; then the oil can be measured on top, and the egg mixed in. At any rate, whisk these together, then stir them into the dry ingredients until no dry spots remain.

Spoon the batter evenly into the prepared pans. Bake for 20 minutes, until firm to the touch and slightly coloured. Let cool somewhat before eating.

Last year at this time I made Rhubarb Tapioca and Sunflower-Honey Granola.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Red Thumb Potatoes

Red Thumb Potatoes
We picked up Red Thumb potatoes on our visit to Pinehaven Farm a few months back. They appealed to us because we had heard they were one of the stronger coloured pink potatoes. Pinker than Alaska Sweetheart? Hm, maybe. It's hard to say, really, which means that they are not all that intense of a pink.

Red Thumb is a fingerling (ha, ha, get it? Red Thumb?) type potato. It has a bright pink skin and a fairly pink/cream two-toned interior. The flesh is dense, but much more floury than most fingerling potatoes, which in general tend to the waxy side. They are versatile; good for roasting, frying and boiling.

Most references to Red Thumb describe it as a "recent" potato, but there is really no information out there about where it came from. Even the United States Potato Board doesn't know where it was bred, or by whom. Nevertheless, it is a popular and widely available potato, with the understanding that by "widely available" I mean "not one of the 4 or 5 potatoes found in every grocery chain, and therefore you will have a very hard time finding it, but it can be done". Quite a few American seed potato suppliers carry it, and if you look for it, it can be found.

The skins of Red Thumb are smooth and thin, and come cleanly out of the soil. Their bright colour makes them easy to dig. They add a lot to the colour effect on the plate too, so it's best not to peel these. Unlike a lot of fingerling potatoes, these are said to store well. The leaves are sturdy, green with red-flushed veins, on short to medium height plants.

Maturity is said to be 80 to 90 days, or perhaps 90 to 110 days. Actually, some seed suppliers said as low as 65 days, but that would surely be for "new" potatoes, dug well before the plants are completely mature. Probably an average of 90 days to maturity is realistic.

It's hard to find much information about disease resistance, but they may be mildly susceptible to early blight, although fairly resistant to scab.

This is a variety we are considering growing this summer instead of Alaska Sweetheart.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

A Visit to Janssen's Farm

We went down to visit my father this weekend, and on the way home we stopped at the Janssen farm, located between Simcoe and Delhi, to check out what they are up to this winter. They grow Belgian endive, amongst other things, and that's what's in full swing at the moment. They also have white asparagus, but that won't be available until May and June. Leasa Janssen, who gave us our tour, said that the thickest spears are the best, most tender spears to look for, in both green and white asparagus.

At one point they grew lettuce, but they have been unable to compete with lettuce from Quebec which is heavily subsidized by the Quebec government. (They figure it costs about $9 to produce a crate of lettuce, but the Quebec lettuce sells for $6.) Likewise, they had to give up growing green asparagus about 3 or 4 years ago, when they pulled out 10 acres of 5 year old roots. It cost more to produce it than they could sell it for. Like a lot of farmers I talk to, the Janssens love what they do, but are acutely aware that they are competing in a world where produce prices are distorted at every level; by foreign and domestic governments and by the distribution systems that act within those government frameworks.

Belgian endive is something of a niche crop though, and they supply nearly all the endive in Ontario, with some going as far as Montreal. There is another grower out west in B.C., and enough producers in the U.S. that they have not really been able to break into the American market.

The endives are grown in the fields behind this stack of crates in the summer; it takes all summer for them to mature. In the fall they are dug out and stored in the wooden crates you see stacked to the side.

The roots are stored, frozen, until they are wanted for forcing. Then they are packed into these sturdy wooden tables, and put into a dark room to grow.

Here are the stacks of endives in the growing room. They must be kept in the dark until harvested, and temperatures and water temperatures must be carefully monitored, to keep the heads free of bitterness and growing steadily. It takes about 3 weeks for the endive heads to become large enough to harvest. There is a control room behind the growing rooms, where the water input and temperatures are monitored.

Each head is carefully cut off from the root and trimmed. The Janssens are particular about which endives get packed - they must be the right size and shape, and free from any spots. They do sell some seconds, but most of the imperfect endives are discarded.

Some of the endives are packed loose in 10-lb boxes as they are cut. That's Peter Janssen in the front of the picture.

Others are bagged; the woman doing this operation moved quickly enough that although I took several pictures all I got was blurs. However, the endives are packed in bags that are then heat-sealed, and placed in cardboard boxes.

Meanwhile, when all the endive heads have been cut from a table the finished mat of tangled roots and discarded loose leaves are dumped into a grinder. The chopped-up remains are taken out to a field and composted. They could in theory be fed to cattle, but neither the Janssens or any of their neighbours are raising cattle at this time.

And finally, the packed endives as they will be seen in stores, unless you find them sold loose. That's how they are sold at my local store, and they are one of just a few really fresh, crunchy Ontario vegetables available right now and through the spring.

They can be cooked with rich complements such as stock, cream or cheese to counterbalance their slightly bitter, juicy qualities, or they are an excellent addition to salads of all kinds. They make great appetizers with some flavourful little tidbit served on individual endive leaves. I don't have a lot of recipes for them, but there are a few on the side panel. Please check them out!

Monday, 14 February 2011

Bird's Nest - Another Apple Pudding

I've been interested in a recipe from The Canadian Home Cook Book of 1877* for a number of years, and have finally gotten around to trying it. Actually I more took the idea, which was to cook apples in a Yorkshire pudding batter, and ran with it. Recipe as follows:


Mrs. F. M. Cragin
Pare six or eight large apples (Spitzenbergs or Greenings are best), and remove the core by cutting from the end down the middle, so as to leave the apple whole, except where the core has been removed; place them as near together as they can stand with the open part upward in a deep pie-dish; next make a thin batter, using one quart sweet milk, three eggs with sufficient flour, and pour it into the dish around the apples, also filling the cavities in them; bake them in a quick oven; eat them with butter and sugar. "
Ya gotta love old recipes that can give you wildly detailed directions for coring the apples, but can't tell you how much flour to use.

The original, you'll note, does not include any leavening as it is basically a Yorkshire pudding, and Yorkshire pudding doesn't have any. However after a bit of experimenting I decided to add some. The original way was fine while the pudding was hot, but the leftovers were unbearably stodgy. (Well, not completely unbearably I guess, since we ate 'em, but not really ideal.) I also decided to bake the "butter and sugar" into the budding, and start with hot, mostly baked apples when the batter goes into the pan, in accordance with the advice in just about every modern Yorkshire pudding recipe to put the batter in a very hot pan and bake it fast, and also to make sure those apples get cooked through.

I used Empire apples and they worked well, and were a nice size - not too big.

6 to 8 servings
1 hour - 30 minutes prep time

Make the Batter:
3/4 cup soft (pastry) unbleached flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon melted butter

Put the flour, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl, and stir to blend. Add the eggs and milk, and whisk well. Melt the butter and whisk it into the mixture. The batter should be very smooth. Set this aside to rest for at least half an hour while you prepare the apples.

Bake the Apples:
6 to 8 medium-small apples
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup dark maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Peel the apples, and cut out the cores. Put them in a snug baking dish with the butter, broken up into little lumps and sprinkled amongst them. Drizzle the maple syrup over them.

Bake the apples for 30 minutes, or until they are fairly soft.

Finish the Pudding:
1 teaspoon baking powder

When the timer goes off for the apples, take them out of the oven and turn it up to 425°F. Whisk the baking powder into the batter, and pour it evenly over and into the apples, scraping the bowl out well. Return the pan to the oven at once and bake for a further 20 minutes. Best served warm, especially if you decide you want a more authentically Yorkshire pudding-like pudding, and leave the baking powder out.

Last year at this time I made Sprout Salad with Wild Rice, Carrot & Mushrooms, and Ras el-Hanout Hummus.

*Complied by Ladies of Toronto and Chief Cities and Towns in Canada. Tried! Tested! Proven!

Friday, 11 February 2011

A Tale of Two Spaghetti Squash Dishes

Well I did some experimenting with a spaghetti squash this week, and although it all came out reasonably edible, it wasn't fabulous. The problem - and I've had this problem before with spaghetti squash - is that it was just incurably soggy. I thought I would try it as a "Pad Thai" first of all, and although I was pretty happy with the sauce - 2-3 tablespoons fish sauce, 4 tablespoons apple butter, 1 teaspoon chile-garlic sauce and the juice of 1 lemon - the dish was just mushy, even when I used half barely-soaked rice noodles instead of all spaghetti squash. It would go well with just noodles, and cabbage, bean sprouts, mushrooms, onion and carrots for the vegetable portion. I guess that's what I'll try next. I don't think this would have worked even with a squash that was drier in texture, as some of them are (and should be). I had a particularly damp one for some reason this time.

This dish was even more homely, but it worked better. It was still rather moist, but somehow as a casserole it was more acceptable. It would be worth doing again, especially with a somewhat better specimen of squash. I'll write out what I did here:

4 servings
1 hour 15 minutes - 30 minutes prep time not including baking the squash

4 cups cooked spaghetti squash (about 1/2 large)
100 grams whole rice vermicelli, soaked in cold water until barely pliable
450 grams (1 pound) bulk sausage
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and grated
2 cups chopped cabbage
2 cups quartered button mushrooms
a little oil
3 cups tomato sauce

Cook the squash and let cool enough to handle. Discard the seeds and gunk from the centre, and pull out the strands with a fork. Spread out to dry a bit on a tray while you prepare the rest.

Soak the vermicelli until just pliable, drain it well and snip it into manageable sections. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Peel and grate the carrot, chop the cabbage and clean and quarter the mushrooms. Heat the oil in a large skillet, and cook the onions and carrot until soft in a bit of oil. Put them in a 9" x 11" casserole (lasagne pan). Repeat with the cabbage and mushrooms. Then, cook the sausage, breaking it up into lumps. Add it to the casserole, with the squash, vermicelli and tomato sauce, and mix well. Bake for 45 minutes, until very hot through.

Last year at this time I made Beefy Winter Borsch and Blood Orange Tapioca Pudding.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Dried Corn Chowder

More soup! Well, it is definitely the heart of soup season right now. There will be more soup after this, too. Also, more of our dried corn and tomatoes (and potatoes!) get used up. This was delicious, actually, and I'll be making it again as long as the corn and tomatoes (and potatoes!) hold out.

If you don't have dried corn, you can use frozen corn. Just don't add it until the potatoes are mostly cooked, and use twice as much. I'd also start off with just 4 cups of water and see how that did before I added any more.

4 to 6 servings
1 hour prep time

3 to 4 medium potatoes (500 grams, 1 pound)
2 cups dried corn
1/2 cup dried tomato bits
6 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
2 bay leaves

2 medium onions
4 slices fatty bacon
1/4 cup flour

2 cups whole milk or light cream

Scrub the potatoes - peel them if you like, but I don't bother - and cut them into dice. Put them in a large soup pot with the corn, the dried tomatoes (cut up a bit), the water, the salt and the bay leaves. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 20 minutes, until the corn and potatoes are tender. Add more water if the mixture gets too thick.

Meanwhile, peel and chop the onions. Chop the bacon, and cook it until it has releases a fair bit of fat in a medium skillet. Add the onions and continue cooking, stirring regularly, until the onions are soft and slightly browned and the bacon is crisp.

Add the flour to the bacon and onions and continue cooking for 3 or 4 minutes, until the flour is well absorbed into the mixture. Add all this to the soup, and mix in well. When the soup has thickened up, add the cream. Let the soup get good and hot again, but don't let it boil once the cream goes in. The same goes when heating any leftovers.

Last year at this time I made Orange Duck with Fried Wild Rice and Beet Orzotto.

Monday, 7 February 2011

La Ratte Potatoes

La Ratte is a very trendy, yet still unusual and hard to find potato from France. It is quite lovely with long, narrow tubers of a rich golden brown with a faint pink glow to it. The flesh is also rather yellow, and on the waxy side. It could be mistaken for a Russian Banana fingerling potato, but La Ratte is, in my opinion, a shaplier and more refined potato. It has a rich, well-rounded flavour and is often described as nutty - the nuts being hazelnuts or sometimes chestnuts. The skins are thin and smooth, and wash clean with little to no scrubbing.

Like most waxy potatoes, it is recommended for boiling or salad use, and it also roasts very well. Although waxy, the texture is smooth and buttery. Chef Joel Robichon has been responsible for some of its recent fame, and his signature dish with these is a fluffy, buttery purée. Barbara Kinsolver also mentioned it in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. La Ratte dates back to 1870's France - or maybe Denmark, it isn't clear. Most recently it has been associated with Switzerland, where it was rediscovered after being lost from commerce sometime around World War II. It was mentioned by Vilmorin in 1922 and another French catalogue in 1935. La Ratte made the jump across the Atlantic when Houston tasted it in Paris and brought back to be farmed in Seattle in the 1980's.

It has acquired afew other names, as is not infrequent with old varieties of vegetables. It may be known as Asparges, La Ratte d'Ardeche, or Corne du Mouton. The most common name translates as "the rat" and this may be a reference to it's ability to produce spreading clusters of narrow tubers, a bit like rats in a nest.

La Ratte is easy to grow but production may be variable and it does not have good disease resistance (except for scab). A good, steady supply of water is required for best tuber formation. Potatoes may be pushed out of the soil as it grows and so they will require mulching or hilling up. Maturity is in 100 to 130 days, so a fairly long-season potato. Still, it's best not to plant this one too early - it likes heat and stores best when harvested fairly late. Some people say they don't store well but ours have held up quite well so far. They are showing just a little sprouting at this point.

There is also a potato called Princess La Ratte out there, which is a trademarked variety. The general impression I get is that it isn't particularly different from La Ratte. The same with La Ratte du Touquet. I won't be going looking forthem. I am considering growing this one myself this year - it's an interesting and desirable potato. We got ours from Pinehaven Farm.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Sweet Potato & Lentil Soup

Look at all that direct sunlight in that photo! How many months has it been since we've seen any of that!? If that damn groundhog had seen this yesterday, it would have been 6 more weeks of winter, for sure. Fortunately yesterday was blizzarding, so it'll only be another month and a half.

Either way, there's a fair bit more of winter to go so some nice hot soup is always welcome. This isn't quite curried; there's just enough curry flavour there to give the lemongrass, ginger and sweet potato flavours some support.

6 to 8 servings
40 minutes prep time

Sweet Potato and Lentil Soup
2 cups mashed baked sweet potato (2 to 3 large)

2 cups red lentils
500 ml (2 cups) coconut milk
1 stalk lemon grass
1 teaspoon salt

1 large onion
1 large carrot
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
2 cubic inches peeled ginger root
1 teaspoon Malaysian curry powder

The sweet potatoes should be baked in advance until quite soft; the easiest thing is to bake a few extras when cooking them for another meal. The mashed sweet potato will keep for a few days in the fridge, or it can be frozen.

Put the lentils and coconut milk in a large soup pot. Trim the dried-out ends from the lemon grass, and cut it in half. Add it to the pot with the salt. Bring to a boil then simmer gently as you continue with the soup. Stir frequently.

Meanwhile, Peel and dice the carrot and the onion. Peel and mince the garlic and the ginger. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat, and sauté them until softened and slightly coloured. Add the ginger, garlic and curry powder, and cook for a minute or two more, until fragrant.

Add the carrot-onion mixture and the mashed sweet potato to the soup. Stir well and continue to simmer, stirring frequently, until the lentils are very soft.

Remove and discard the lemon grass pieces. The soup can be served as-is, or puréed for a smoother texture.

Last year at this time I made Parsnip Fritters.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Roast Pheasant, Not Entirely Successful

We've been trying to eat some space into our freezer as we expect to get our fall lamb soon... not exactly promptly but a little earlier than last year. One of the things I found in the freezer was this pheasant, purchased a while back on sale, and then left because I had never cooked a pheasant before. I'm not really sure I can say I've cooked a pheasant now, either, although it was edible, in the end. I'll have a better idea what to do (and not do) next time.

I followed the recipe I found here, at Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, and in retrospect, even though he talks about farmed pheasant, it's pretty clear that he intends it for hunted pheasant, which are presumably a fair bit smaller. I followed his instructions and the pheasant, when I went to carve it after taking the photo below, was nowhere near cooked. I stuck it back in the oven for another 15 minutes, and then another, and another. By that time we were famished, and had said to hell with it and had eaten something else. That meant the pheasant got re-heated for the next meal and by that time it was tough and dry. *sigh* The flavour was nice though; a lot like chicken but with a slightly gamey quality to it, about similar in intensity to turkey, but not quite a turkey flavour either. I'll have to try it again.

I also put bacon over it rather than rubbing it in butter, but I think the butter was probably a better idea, at least if you have bacon as lean as mine. It really didn't do much to keep the breast moist.

2 to 4 servings

Roast Pheasant
1 1kg (2 1/4 pound) pheasant
4 cups water
1 teaspoon juniper berries, lightly crushed or bruised
3 tablespoons salt
4 to 5 bay leaves
1 tablespoon sugar

an apple
2 tablespoons butter
the juice of 1 lemon
2 or 3 tablespoons crabapple jelly
1/4 cup water

Make a brine of the water, juniper berries, salt, bay leaves and sugar in a large pot. Bring to a boil, then cool. Cover the pheasant in the brine and marinate overnight in the refrigerator, if meant for a mid-day meal, or all day if meant for an evening meal. About 8 hours, as described.

The next day, when ready to cook the bird, remove it from the brine and drain it well for about half an hour, and pat it dry. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Cut the apple into quarters and put one quarter inside the bird, and the other 3 pieces sliced underneath it. Rub the bird with the butter (or cover with several slices fatty bacon if you prefer) and mix the lemon juice, jelly and water and spoon it over and around it.

Roast the pheasant for 20 minutes at 450°F. Reduce the heat to 325°F and continue cooking until the pheasant is done - for a 1 kilo bird I would expect another hour to hour and a quarter to be required. Remove the pheasant from the oven and cover it loosely with foil. Rest for 15 minutes before carving and serving.

Mash the apple pieces into the gravy and add a teaspoon of cornstarch dissolved in a little cold water. Heat and whisk well until thickened and serve over the pheasant.

Last year at this time I made Four Onion Soup.