Friday, 30 December 2011

Cornmeal Pancakes

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

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

12 4" pancakes
40 minutes prep time

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last year at this time I made Paprika Soup.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Cranberry Cole Slaw

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

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

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

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

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

Put a pot of water on to boil.

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

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

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

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Hazelnut Macaroons

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

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

24 cookies
40 minutes - 20 minutes prep time PLUS overnight

Hazelnut Macaroons

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

Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.

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

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

Last year at this time I made Dried Tomato Pesto.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Cranberry-Orange-Poppy Seed Loaf Cake

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

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

8 servings
1 hour 15 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last year at this time I made Baked Ricotta Cheese.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Brussels Sprouts Salad

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

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

4 to 6 servings
30 minutes prep time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 19 December 2011

Squash with Roasted Squash Seeds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 16 December 2011

Kipferl; Nut Crescents

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

48 to 64 cookies
1 hour prep time

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

1/2 to 3/4 cup icing sugar

Line 2 large cookie trays with parchment paper.

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 15 December 2011

January King Cabbage

January King Cabbage

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Cabbage with Coriander & Juniper

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

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

4 servings
20 minutes prep time

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

Lightly toast and grind the coriander seed.

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

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

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Black Forest Cookies

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

36 to 42 cookies
1 hour prep time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last year at this time I made Scalloped Sweet Potatoes.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Sausage, Radish & Apple Stew

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

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

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

2 servings
1 hour - 30 minutes prep time

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

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

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

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

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

Last year at this time I made Jap Chae.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Stuffing or Dressing Bread

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 demi-baguette or small loaf or crusty white bread

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Shchi; Russian Cabbage Soup

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

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

8 servings
1 hour prep time

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

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

Chop the cabbage finely and set it aside by itself.

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Hard Sauce

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

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

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

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

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

Steamed Chocolate Date Pudding

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beat the sugar with the eggs and the vanilla extract.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Amsterdam Maxi Forcing Carrots

Amsterdam Maxi Forcing Carrots

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 5 December 2011

Braised Lamb Shanks with Beans

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

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

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

Braised Lamb Shanks
Cook the Beans:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preheat the oven to 300°F.

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

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

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

Friday, 2 December 2011

Thelma Sanders Acorn Squash

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Broccoli & Chick-Pea Salad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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