Thursday, 28 April 2011

Gardening Update

In spite of all the rain this week we have been able to get out into the garden and get some work done, now that the soil has warmed up enough that our hands don't turn to ice after 5 minutes of weeding. Mr. Ferdzy got the trellising up for the peas and beans, and I have weeded a number of beds. When I say weeded, I mean taken a shovel and dug out the up to a foot of encroaching twitchgrass all around. Snow peas have been planted.

Our lettuce planted last fall under the hoophouses has gotten big enough to pick, and mild and tender enough to eat, so we've been having some salads lately. Spinach, too. Love the early spring spinach - fall planting rules!

Rhubarb is coming up! Another week or two, depending on the weather, and we'll be able to pick some.

Our so-called lawn is full of little purple violets.

Inside, the tomatoes are lank and weedy, but seem reasonably healthy.

Peppers and eggplants vary from quite a good size to barely sprouted, but generally seem healthy.

There are a few pots of peppers and eggplants still waiting to sprout, but the unsprouted section gets smaller every day.

Last night we planted all the squash, zucchini, melons and cucumbers. Today it's back out to the garden, weather permitting to try to get some root vegetables planted and some chard and other greens transplanted or planted. We feel like we are really behind, because it's been such a cold spring. In spite of how nice it was yesterday, it's still pretty cold so we are probably not so far behind as we think. Anyway, that's it, as I am being dragged away to work...

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

A Visit to the Cheese Gallery

I'm always so happy to find another shop selling local food. The Cheese Gallery in Thornbury (aka Town of the Blue Mountain) is a great find. They are fairly new (I believe they have been open for about a year or even a bit less.)

Inside is a long, modern space with a counter and a few armchairs in case you can't even get your loot out of the store... and I can see how that could be a problem. In addition to a huge range of cheeses, there are breads and pastries, and a cup of tea can be had, or even something a little stronger.

Most of the store is full of fridges containing dairy products, also a number of prepared foods (many locally made) and beverages.

But mostly, it's about the cheese. Stacks of cheese are carefully labelled with point of origin, and although there are cheeses from across Canada and many from Europe, there is a particular emphasis on Ontario cheese.

My impression is that their prices are actually very competitive, but don't expect to come out of the shop without spending a fair bit of money. Good cheese is expensive, and they are selling some really good cheeses.

Fifthtown, Monforte, Black River, C'est Bon, Thunder Oak, Western Creamery, and Thornloe were all Ontario cheese names I recognized, and I know I didn't catch them all. Hey! That's Kolapore Trout, that is!

There's an excellently curated selection of cookies, crackers, pasta, sauce, mustard (Kozlik's, yeah!), jams, jellies and preserves. (Pause for breath.) Confectionary (mostly chocolate), oils, vinegars, roasted nuts and no doubt much more. Again, a more than respectable portion of it is quite local.

Lots of great gift ideas here too (maybe for yourself?) I love the wooden cutting boards; it's really hard to find a good, wide wooden cutting board that isn't made by gluing boards together but they have them.

And finally, in addition to all the edible goodies, it really is a gallery too. Artworks by local artists (for sale!) hang on the walls, and clay and glass works are scattered around the shop. They even do custom framing - the back of the shop has a small but impressively wide selection of frames to choose from.

The Cheese Gallery is at 11 Bruce Street South in Thornbury. (That's right at the main intersection, pretty much.) They are open Sunday to Thursday 10:00 to 6:00, Friday 10:00 to 7:00 and Saturday 9:00 to 7:00.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Leek, Spinach & Potato Soup

We still have our own potatoes from last year, although most of them are pretty sprouted by now, so it's race between the kitchen and the compost heap as to who gets them. There are leeks still in the garden, and they are perking up now that the weather is getting nicer (it is getting nicer, isn't it?) and we have lots of lovely spinach in our hoop-house. Altogether, they make a lovely soup.

4 to 6 servings
45 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

Leek Spinach and Potato Soup
500 grams (1 pound) potatoes
6 cups chicken stock
2 bay leaves
3 medium leeks
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon celery seed, ground
6 cups finely chopped spinach
salt & pepper to taste

Scrub the potatoes and trim off any bad spots; peel them if you like. Cut them in chunks and put them in a large pot with the chicken stock and the bay leaves. Bring to a boil, and boil steadily until the potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, wash and trim the leeks. Slice them fairly thinly. Heat the butter in a large skillet, and cook the leeks with the celery seed until soft but not browned. Add them to the potatoes.

Wash and pick over the spinach. Chop it finely.

When the potatoes are tender, mash them thoroughly, in the broth. (Remove the bay leaves first.) Add the spinach and cook until done, just a few minutes. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.

Last year at this time I made Cinnamon Sour Cream Coffee Cake.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Lamb Meatball Soup with Cabbage & Barley

When I ordered my lamb last year, they asked if I wanted the bones for soup. Of course I did! Still, they were the last things sitting in the freezer when the new lamb arrived. (Yes my "fall lamb" just got here this week. Don't ask.) Anyway, out they came and I made a big pot of stock.

If you don't have bones to make your own stock, use beef stock, either home-made or from a carton. Just be sure to adjust the salt; that is, you may not even want to put in any, depending on how salty it is! You may also want to put in less Worcestershire sauce. I think Worcestershire sauce does great things for lamb stock - the flavours blend perfectly, and it gives the broth a bit more colour. Lamb stock, even if you roast the bones before you make it, tends to look a little dishwatery. But it too adds some salt, so be careful.

4 to 6 servings
1 hour prep time, not including cooking the barley or making the broth

Make the Broth:
3 to 4 pounds lamb bones

Put the lamb bones into a shallow roasting pan, and roast them at 375°C for about an hour, until quite browned.

Turn them into a large stock pot, and add water to cover them generously, and a bay leaf or two. Bring them to a slow simmer and simmer for 5 to 6 hours. Strain out the bones, and let cool. Chill overnight, then remove the hardened fat from the top.

You could instead start with 2 litres of prepared beef stock.

Cook the Barley:
1 1/2 cups barley
1 teaspoon salt
4 1/2 cups water

Rinse and clean the barley, and put it with the salt and water into a rice cooker. Turn it on, and let cook until done. Alternately, it can be put in a pot and brought to a simmer, then covered and cooked until tender, but it will have to be watched much more carefully. It should be done in about 45 minutes, but can be done any time in advance up to 24 hours ahead, and the cooked barley stored in the fridge until wanted.

Make the Meatballs:
450 grams (1 pound) ground lamb
1 extra-large egg
1 1/2 cups of the cooked barley
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon rubbed dried mint
2 teaspoons rubbed basil
1 teaspoon rubbed savory
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, ground

Put all the above ingredients in a mixing bowl, and mix well by hand. Form into smallish meatballs, and set them on a plate or tray until they have all been made.

Finish the Soup:
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
2 large onions
6 cups finely chopped green or Savoy cabbage
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
salt to taste

Heat the oil in a large skillet, and cook the meatballs in it until quite brown, turning to brown them evenly. Be gentle with them; the barley makes them a bit fragile. When they are well browned, put them in a large soup pot, along with 2 litres of the lamb stock and any remaining barley. Bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, peel and chop the onions. Trim and chop the cabbage.

Once the meatballs are out of the pan, add the onions and cook until fairly soft. Add the cabbage, and cook it down for a minute or two. Add a scoop of the lamb broth if it looks like getting brown.

Add the cabbage and onions to the soup. Swish out the pan with another scoop of the lamb broth, scraping up any browned bits to add to the soup.

Add the Worcestershire sauce to the soup, and season with salt. Since the homemade broth has had no salt added until this point you will likely need close to a teaspoon of it - add half that amount and test, then add more as needed. If you start with a prepared broth it will not likely need any additional salt.

Simmer the soup for about 10 to 15 minutes, until the meatballs and cabbage are done.

Last year at this time I made Trout with Ramps & Potatoes and Fruit & Nut Pilaf with Wild Rice. Not a whisker of a ramp to be seen yet this year though.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

A Visit to Elmvale Maple Syrup Festival

The 46th annual Elmvale Maple Syrup Festival took place on Saturday, and your intrepid reporters were there. I suspect far fewer than the usual number of people were though, as the weather could only be described as pissing. Well, cold. I guess it could also be described as cold. Cold and pissing. Brrrrr. Snow would actually have been better in some ways, but never mind; we had that later. This is spring, is it?

Elmvale is a small town of about 1,700 people, north of Barrie and south of Midland. Wasaga Beach lies pretty much directly to the west. We had driven through it before, but had never really stopped to look at it. I was surprised at what an attractive town it really is, and how much it had going for it. The downtown seemed almost as big as Meaford's, which has 4 or 5 times the population.

As is customary with maple festivals, the main attraction was a pancake and syrup meal. Elmvale has a very nice, downtown community centre in which the pancake breakfast takes place.

Oh, here's where everyone is, and why not? For $6 we got three big pancakes and three breakfast sausages, along with a cup of tea, coffee or juice. Maple syrup stood on the tables in bottles, to be applied ad lib.

We arrived at about 9:00 am, which was just the right time. Any later and the line up was a lot longer. However, they had a good system going and we quickly got our breakfast. All my indoor photos are a little misty. I'd wipe the lens, take a picture, wipe the lens, take a picture... but it would fog up again pretty instantly. It was a lot warmer inside than out - thank goodness.

I believe the group playing on stage was "North of 50". They looked like they had been drafted from Timmy's but they sounded absolutely great! One of our tablemates was singing along with them and I would have joined in, if I had known the words and if they wouldn't have popped a bag over my head and hustled me out. Yes, we had a lot of fun at breakfast!

As we left, the line up was really starting to grow.

The main street and cross street to the arena were filled with vendors, many of them selling maple syrup. Our one disappointment was that the season has been late and long this year, and no-one has any dark syrup yet. Overall that's a good thing though - there should be a bumper crop this year.

More syrup - can't miss this guy, his truck is orange!

But there were other things too; quite a lot of sausage and cold cuts, but what we bought were some of these Dutch stroopwaffels as we walked back from the arena. There was a craft and quilt show in the arena, along with a midway out in front, which is something I haven't seen at a maple festival before.

We ducked into the local bakery as well, which was an old-school bakery such as I haven't seen in a while.

It had a lot of German style baked goods, but also all the old Ontario favourites: donuts, date turnovers, buttertarts, Chelsea buns, shortbread and more.

This little shop, Field of Greens, caught my eye, and we checked it out too.

They have a lot of the usual imported and health food type items as well as a good selection of vegetables. Not many local at this time of year, but the owner, Greg Miller, aims to get as much in as he can when they are in season. He also makes and bottles his own soups and sauces, and says he sells a lot of them. They looked good!

He makes and sells jams and other preserves as well. Pickles are something he makes in season, but they sell so fast that they are only available for a short time.

It's a small shop, but you could do quite a bit of the weekly shopping here.

All in all, we enjoyed this outing in spite of the dreadful weather. We would definitely go back next year. Maybe next time we will be up for one of their maple bush tours, which I'm afraid we skipped this time.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Dilled Trout Cabbage Rolls with Lemon Sauce

Yes, I know I just did cabbage rolls. But we got another cabbage so of course cabbage rolls again. Hm, what have I not put in cabbage yet? Fish? Fish it is.

I love cabbage rolls, and these were great. Very light, yet filling and just so good. I'm going to make them again, soon. The lemon sauce was just right, and some mashed potatoes rounded out the meal.

6 cabbage rolls (3 servings)
1 hour - 45 minutes prep time

Trout Cabbage Roll
Prepare the Vegetables:

6 large outer Savoy cabbage leaves
1 large carrot
2 cups packed raw spinach
3 green onions
2 to 3 tablespoons fresh dillweed

Choose a cabbage with large outer leaves in good condition. Remove 6, and shave down the thick part of the stems. Blanch or steam until just limp, then cool at once under cold water. Drain well.

Peel and finely grate the carrot. Wash and pick over the spinach. Trim the onions, and cut them into inch long chunks.

Put the spinach, onions and dill into the bowl of a food processor.

Prepare the Filling:
450 grams (1 pound) fresh trout fillet
1 extra-large egg
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon rubbed savory
1 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika

Peel the skin off of the trout fillet - I find it easiest to start at the tail end. Cut the trout into chunks, and add it to the vegetables in the food processor. Break in the egg, and add the seasonings. Process very briefly, until the mixture is chopped and amalgamated but still retains some texture. Remove it from the food processor and mix in the grated carrots.

Fill & Cook the Cabbage Rolls:
2 cups water

Lay the drained cabbage leaves out, convex side up. Place 1/6th of the filling in the middle of each leaf. Fold the stem side over the filling, then fold in the sides and roll up. Place the finished cabbage rolls in a single layer in a steamer, in a pot containing about 2 cups of water.

When they are all in the steamer, cover the pot and bring to a boil. Steam for 15 minutes.

Prepare the Lemon Sauce:
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons corn starch
1/4 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
the juice of 1/2 lemon

While the cabbage rolls cook, mix the above ingredients in a small bowl, stirring well to ensure that there are no lumps.

When the cabbage rolls are done, remove them to a serving dish. There should be about 1 cup of cooking liquid left in the pot, or perhaps a little more. Add the well-mixed sauce ingredients to the hot cooking liquid, stirring constantly as you pour them in. Cook until the sauce thickens, in just a minute or two, stirring all the time. Pour a little over the cabbage rolls, and put the remainder into a sauce boat to pass with the cabbage rolls.

Last year at this time I made Peanutty Asian Style Salad and Berry Mousse.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Seedling Progress

We have had an up and down time with our seedlings lately. Weather hasn't been very nice, so they've mostly been kept indoors. Peppers, above, are slow growing and a few of them are still germinating (we hope) after a couple of weeks. Actually, we've added new seeds to anything that hasn't come up so far.

We did put everything out on the one nice day we had earlier in the week. It was a very windy day, but everything was in a sheltered spot - we thought. We came back after a couple of hours and found that all the larger leaves on the tomatoes were badly shredded. We gave a cry of horror and whisked them inside at once. Fortunately, it looks that 95% of them will survive, although they have obviously been set back pretty badly.

Oh well - given how long it's taking to warm up this spring they are plainly not going out early anyway.

We got a lot of the lettuce and spinach we started planted out under hoop-houses. The lettuce is doing very, very badly - I'd say it's mostly dead - and the spinach varies from so-so to mostly dead. So much for that plan. We've started seeding them in the garden. Would have been better, I think, to have saved our energy to do that in the first place. Live and learn.

The leeks and onions are growing slowly but placidly along, undisturbed by all this carrying-on. Hurray for them.

We were going to plant peas yesterday, but we went out in the morning, looked at each other, and headed right back inside. It was 5°C, and there was a very brisk wind blowing again. Brrrr. Might try again today, but weather forcast is still pretty similar. Still, it would be nice to get them in before the week of rain we are supposed to get.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

A Visit to Kolapore Springs Fish Hatchery

A few weeks ago I bought some farmed trout from Kolapore Springs Fish Hatchery at the 100 Mile Market. I've been buying farmed trout regularly since moving up to Georgian bay, but this particular trout really made me sit up and say, "WOW!"

Consequently, on Saturday we got up early and drove out to visit the hatchery from whence it came. They are located east of sun, west of the moon off a narrow, gravel side road with no winter maintenance, in the Kolapore highlands - a rocky, wooded and sparsely inhabited bit of the Niagara escarpment. The Bruce Trail runs not far away.

After gingerly driving down the road, still covered in about 8" of hard packed and rutted ice, we met with Bruce Green and Lily (above) for a tour.

Winter had by no means given up its grip on the area, although Bruce noted that with another day or two of mild weather, he expected the black flies to be out in force. I couldn't help think we had come at just the right time!

The hatchery building is a modest, even slightly ramshackle looking cement block structure with a tin roof. It was build in 1962 and ran until 2006 under the original owners. The next generation didn't really want to farm fish though, so in 2008 Bruce Green and Sean Brady bought the operation, and began again basically from scratch. There were only a handful of fish remaining in the ponds. As of April, the hatchery has been in operation again for 2 years.

Their original plan was to sell trout to stock ponds, then start selling to restaurants, but the restaurant sales picked up very quickly. They too, were most impressed by the quality of the fish.

It turns out this is a very special spot for raising trout. Trout need clean, constantly moving water. The water comes from 2 springs about 400 metres further up in the woods. The water flows down, partly underground and partly through beds of wild watercress. By the time they reach this little series of dams, the water is rich in silt and nutrients and tiny wild fairy shrimp.

Some of the water continues to flow out to the small lake that the hatchery is on, but much of it is diverted through the hatchery.

The lake was still fairly frozen on parts of the surface when we were there, but various pairs of Canada geese were starting to set up housekeeping.

Fish start with eggs. It's important to select the breeding fish and keep them safe and secure while they spawn, or the eggs will likely be lost. I was surprised to learn that there are particular individual fish kept specifically for breeding, just as with other farm animals. Unlike salmon, trout don't die after spawning. Breeding fish can be kept for 8 years or so. Each of those little trays holds about 4,000 eggs.

Once the eggs are ready, they are kept in fine mesh trays until they hatch. When they can rise to the surface they become "swim-up fry". This happens when they are several days old, and have completely absorbed the nutrients from their egg, and need to begin eating on their own.

You can see water trickling into the table-top tank in the top right hand corner. It ran out the other end with the same steady trickle. The whole indoor part of the hatchery had the scent, sound and air quality of a shady forest stream bed. It was a surprisingly pleasant place to be.

The spring water, as I mentioned, is full of nutrients. This actually has a downside, especially in the spring when it is particularly strong. The high nitrogen can lead to the fish getting fungal infections in their gills. When this happens, Kolapore Springs does not treat them with antibiotics or formaldehyde, which are often used for this elsewhere. Instead, the fish are treated with iodine, or a very weak chlorine solution. (1 1/2 teaspoons to a tank).

As the fish get larger, they go into larger tanks, still inside the building. The source of big losses of the fish here are not diseases, but predators. Raccoons, mink, kingfishers and herons were all mentioned as particular problems. The raccoons are not too hard to deal with. Dead fish and guts are placed in a pile on the other side of the lake, where the raccoons promptly eat them. The odd raccoon still gets into the hatchery, but most of them stay on the other side with the discard pile. Mink are more difficult, and traps are constantly set for them. There were 13 caught just in the last few days.

Kingfishers will catch a few fish, but are not a big problem. Herons on the other hand, are one of the biggest problems. Wires run in every direction over the outside raceways, but they still get through. They not only eat the fish, they also damage quite a few more than they catch - because only the biggest fish go outside and they are mostly too big for a heron to eat - and worst of all, they can bring in parasites and other fish in the form of eggs which stick to their feet. They are shot.

Bruce shows us some of the young trout. These are speckled trout, about 13 to 14 months old. There are about 10,000 of them in the tank, which seems a staggering amount but they are still small enough that they have plenty of room to swim around.

The whole hatchery is just one big room, with cement tanks on one side for the mid-sized fish, and the table-top tanks on the other for the small fry and eggs. All the tanks have water slowly but constantly running though them. They still need to be cleaned of silt, etc, and an employee was cleaning one of the tanks as we were there.

The water runs outside and rejoins more water from the springs which runs into the outside raceways. This is where the largest fish are, the ones that are breeding stock or trout that are large enough to be harvested, or nearly. There are 3,000 to 3,500 fish in each section of the raceways.

The large, deep raceways provide more room for the growing fish. The lake behind them is about 17 acres in size, with a smaller 3 acre lake behind it. The lakes are part of the 75 acre property belonging to Kolapore Springs. The water is tested regularly by the Ministry of the Environment, but the fishery has had no impact on the water quality.

The fish are fed an organic feed from B.C., but this is supplemented by the large amount of small aquatic life that comes in with the spring water; mosquito and black-fly larvae, caddis fly larvae, snails, minnows and above all the very abundant wild fairy shrimp. It is these last that give the trout their intense red colour and excellent flavour. Other trout farms aim to get this colour by adding the enzyme contained in the shrimp which causes this deep colour, but without the actual shrimp, the flavour is not there.

The reflections on the water made it hard to get good pictures of the fish outside, but here's a couple coming up for feed.

Mostly they stay down fairly low though. The water is always very cold. Even in the summer it does not get much above 10°C. This naturally cold water means the fish have an excellent, firm texture.

The raceways get cleaned out regularly, and Bruce and Sean will be selling the resulting rich gunk as compost.

Bruce shows us some fish from a tank containing speckled and tiger trout. They have 2 kind of rainbow trout, speckled trout, brown trout and tiger trout. The tiger trout are a cross between speckled and brown trout. They are infertile, but grow quickly.

And finally, those tiny objects in Bruce's hand are some of those tiny fairy shrimp. If you didn't know that Ontario streams had shrimp, this will by why - they are really not very large or prepossessing, and will not be appearing on any menus soon, unlike the trout that eat them. Kolapore Springs trout are available filleted, butterflied or smoked.