Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Samosa Pie with Apple Butter Chutney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mix in a small bowl.

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

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Brussels Sprouts au Gratin

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

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

6 servings - maybe
50 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 28 November 2011

Chicken with Quinces in a Creamy Spiced Saffron Sauce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serve with rice.

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

Friday, 25 November 2011

Rum & Raisin Baked Apples

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

4 to 6 servings
1 hour - 20 minutes prep time

Rum & Raisin Baked Apples

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

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

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

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

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

Last year at this time I made Radish Fried Rice.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Creamy But Non-Dairy Pumpkin Soup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Ginger-Lime Mashed Sweet Potatoes

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

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

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

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

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

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

Last year at this time I made Rutabaga Hash.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Roast Lamb Shoulder with Cranberry-Nut Buckwheat Dressing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

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

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

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

Monday, 21 November 2011

Jerusalem Artichoke Caponata

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

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

30 minutes prep time
8 to 16 servings

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 18 November 2011

Apple Brown Betty

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

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

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

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

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

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

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

Monday, 14 November 2011

Giraumon Brodé Galeux d'Eysines (Pumpkin)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Light Christmas Fruitcake

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

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

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

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

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

Light Fruitcake

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pour this batter over the fruit and mix them together.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Brussels Sprouts & Jerusalem Artichokes

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

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

30 minutes - 20 minutes prep time

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

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

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

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

Last year at this time I made Swiss Chard Rolls.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Winding Down the Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In goes the other end, forming the hoop.

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Doe Hill Peppers & Jimmy Nardello Sweet Italian Frying Peppers

Doe Hill Peppers and Jimmy Nardello Peppers
Last week we brought in the last of our peppers - and by the last, I mean most of the harvest we got this year; about a bushel in all. We kept our peppers going so long by covering them with a hoop-house once the weather got cool. Since it's starting to dip down below 5°C at night, we decided it was time to bring them in. They had reached a stage where they were keeping, but not growing or ripening any more.

Two of the peppers that did very well for us were Doe Hill, the little round yellow one, and Jimmy Nardello, the long red one in the picture above.

Doe Hill

Until a few years ago this pepper seemed practically unknown around here. It's an heirloom variety from the Doe Hill area of Virginia, grown there since before 1900. It looks like a small, squat yellow bell pepper, but it isn't. It's more in the family of tomato or apple peppers: small, thick-walled peppers named for their slightly flattened spherical shape. It tastes somewhat like a yellow bell pepper too, being sweet and mild yet with a rich strong flavour. That's when it's ripe. It can be eaten green, like a green bell pepper too. Everyone who tried this pepper this summer liked it very much. Me too! Since it isn't actually a bell pepper, I can eat it without getting the indigestion that bell peppers always give me. This is an exciting discovery for me!

Their one flaw, that I can see, is a tendency to go from golden perfection to a sack of mush overnight. Don't pick them until you need them, if you can help it, and watch them carefully if you can't.

The plants are quite compact, not getting much above 24" in height, and they produce a lot of peppers. They start early, about 60 to 65 days from planting out, and keep going all season, especially if you keep them picked. As all other peppers in this climate, they must be started indoors at the end of February or beginning of March, and planted out in late May once the soil warms up. They are said to be disease resistant. We had no disease problems this year, so I can't comment. I will definitely grow these again next year, and more of them!

Jimmy Nardello:

Like Doe Hill, Jimmy Nardello peppers are an heirloom variety, although better documented. Seeds were brought to Connecticut by Angela Nardiello in 1887 from the town of Ruoti, east of Naples in Italy. There's a very good article about their history here. Her son, Jimmy Nardello, eventually passed seed on to Seed Saver's Exchange. Like Doe Hill, they've been becoming more and more popular as they get saved and passed around.

In looks they could hardly be more different. They are a long, skinny pepper, turning from a medium green to a strong red when ripe. Their walls are thin, allowing them to dry easily and cook quickly. They are less sweet and more "peppery" than the Doe Hills, but they are in no way hot. If you read the history above, and the comments, you'll see mention that they can be fried directly from the dry state.

They are said to ripen in 75 to 85 days from planting out, but in my experience these are a fair bit later than the Doe Hills. The odd one will ripen earlier, but the majority of the peppers on the plant - and there will be lots - will not ripen until just before frost. I suspect that I'm at about the northern limit of their tolerance. Height of the plants is a little taller than the Doe Hills; somewhere between 24" and 30". Both of these varieties could reasonably be grown in large pots. I have had some difficulty in getting the Jimmy Nardello to germinate, using seed from 2 different sources. I now plant about twice as many as I want, on the assumption that many won't come up. They will also be pretty slow. The Doe Hill seem much more reliable, although my experience with them is more limited.