Friday, 30 March 2012

Gingerbread Brownies

Mmm, two of my favourite things, together. Is there a difference between a dense, moist gingerbread, and brownies? Well, humour me, and pretend there is. I think these are the better for sitting overnight before you eat them. If you can stand to do that.

48 brownies

45 minutes - 20 minutes prep time

1 ¾ cups soft whole wheat flour
1 cup Sucanat or dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ of a nutmeg, grated
2 teaspoons dried lemon zest
2 teaspoons dried orange zest
½ cup mild vegetable oil
½ cup fancy molasses
3 extra-large eggs
¼ cup finely chopped preserved ginger

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the bottom of a 9" x 13" baking pan with parchment paper, and butter the sides of the pan. 

Sift the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. Mix the wet ingredients. Add the ginger to thedry ingredients, then mix in the wet ingredients.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan and bake for 23 to 25 minutes – no more – until barely just firm in the middle. Let cool then cut into rectangles and remove from the pan.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Smoked Salmon or Trout Loaf

One of my very first summer jobs was as a replacement cook for a month in a group home while the regular cook went on her holidays. I only got the job because I was the only person who applied; I'm sure they thought I was far too young and they may have been right. Still, I muddled through and did okay, and I enjoyed trying out a lot of new things on my test subjects, most which things turned out to be actually edible. When I left, the one recipe they asked me to leave for the regular cook, though, was Aunt Verna's Salmon Loaf; which was a perfectly standard 1950's budget cooking classic. New to them apparently, and it had been a big hit with the residents. I haven't tried to make the original recipe in  years. I don't think it would really work anymore without a major rejigging, because the size of the crackers and the size of the tins of salmon have changed so much over the years.

Since I had to rethink it anyway, I've rethought it completely and have used a mix of fresh and smoked salmon (salmon trout would work just as well, I'm sure) instead of the canned. No longer a budget dish, alas, but excellent. This is best eaten while freshly baked, but it keeps and reheats reasonably well for a day or two.

6 servings
1 hour 15 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

Smoked Salmon or Trout Loaf

250 grams (1/2 pound) smoked salmon or trout
450 grams (1 pound) fresh salmon or trout

2 cups cracker crumbs (I used 8 rye crackers)
1 1/2 cups milk
3 extra-large eggs
3/4 teaspoon salt
fresh black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh dill
OR 1 teaspoon dried dillweed

Put the fish in a large pot in a single layer, skin side down. Add about 1/2 cup water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a bare simmer, and cook for about 10 minutes, until firm. Remove to a plate and let cook for about 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9" or 10" pie plate well and set aside.

Meanwhile, put the cracker crumbs and milk in a mixing bowl to soak. Divide the eggs, putting the whites in a separate bowl to be beaten stiff, and adding the yolks to the crumbs and milk. Season the crumb mixture with the salt, pepper and dill. Beat the eggwhites until stiff.

When the fish is cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skin and any bones. Crumble the fish into the crumb mixture, and stir well. Fold in the beaten eggwhites. Place the mixture in the prepared pie plate and spread it out evenly Bake for 45 minutes, until firm and lightly browned.

Last year at this time I made A Quick Cucumber-Beet Salad, which would go well with the Salmon Loaf, as a matter of fact. 

Monday, 26 March 2012

Sherried Mushroom & Shallot Soup

This is a quick, easy and yet very elegant and richly flavoured soup. You can certainly use a mix of fancier mushrooms if you like, but there is nothing wrong with the good old button.  If there is any secret to this, it is to cook the mushrooms and shallots slowly and gently, yet getting them just that bit browned; caramelized in the case of the shallots. Also be sure to mix the chicken stock in slowly and avoid lumps.

4 to 6 servings
1 hour prep time

Sherried Mushroom and Shallot Soup

500 grams (1 pound) button mushrooms
8 large shallots
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup flour

4 cups good chicken stock
2 teaspoons soy sauce or tamari (about; see note)
1/4 cup sweet sherry

Clean and trim the mushrooms, and slice them. Peel and slice the shallots.

Heat the butter in a large soup pot, and cook the butter, shallots and mushrooms in it until they are softened and slightly browned. Add the flour, sifting it over and mixing it in carefully to avoid lumps. Cook for several minutes more, stirring constantly, until the flour is well amalgamated and slightly browned.

Slowly stir in the chicken stock, stopping to mix well and avoid lumps. Once it is all in, taste then season with the soy sauce and the sherry.

Note: the amount of soy sauce will depend on how salty your chicken stock is. Adjust it accordingly.

Heat the soup through and serve.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Vietnamese Beef & Carrot Stew, or Bo Kho

Living out here in the boonies, there are very few interesting restaurants around. Amongst the many cuisines I used to eat in Toronto and Kitchener/Waterloo when I lived there, and can no longer get, is Vietnamese food. I remember this stew fondly though, and thought I'd have a crack at making it myself. Verdict: very good, and not hard to do at all, although it does require some advance planning because of the long marinating period. 

Like most stews, this isn't too quick to make but it is really quite easy. A few of the ingredients can be hard to get if you are not in a big city. Every recipe I've seen calls for lemon grass, but I can't get it here. What I did instead was put in a half dozen or so dried keffir lime leaves. I was able to get them last time I was in Toronto and unlike fresh herbs they will keep. I thought the results were very good, if not precisely authentic. 

4 servings
20 minutes prep time plus marinating time;
20 minutes prep time plus 1 hour cooking time or more

Make the Marinating Paste:
2 large shallots
4 to 6 cloves of garlic
a 1/2"x1"x3" piece of peeled ginger
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne
1 tablespoon 5 spice powder

Peel and roughly chop the shallots. Peel the garlic. Peel and slice the ginger. Put all this into a food processor, and process to a fairly smooth paste.

Marinate the Beef:

500 grams (1 pound) stewing beef
1 stalk lemon grass
2 bay leaves
3-4 star anise pods

Mix the marinating paste into the beef, and add the lemon grass, cut into 2" pieces, the bay leaves and the anise pods. Cover and refrigerate 6 hours to overnight.

Make the Stew:
500 grams (1 pound) carrots
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil 
4 cups crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon sugar
 thai basil or coriander sprigs, bean sprouts

Peel the carrots and cut them into bite sized pieces. Put them in a pot with a 2 cups of water, and bring them to a boil. Boil gently until just tender.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the beef, with the marinade mostly scraped off (but kept) and spread it out well. Brown on both sides, then add the remaining marinade and cook for a minute or two longer.

Put the beef and marinade into a large stewing pot with the tomatoes. Add the sugar. Bring to a boil then simmer gently for about 1 hour, adding the carrots and their cooking water as soon as they are ready. This should be a fairly soupy stew, so add a little more water if you feel it needs it. Like most stews, this is best prepared in advance and then reheated. Even allowing it to cool for an hour before reheating will make the beef much more tender.

Serve the stew with bread, or over rice or noodles. Garnish with chopped fresh basil or coriander, and bean sprouts if desired.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

5 Spice Powder

This is an ingredient often called for in Chinese and other Asian cooking. If you can get it, great. If, like me, it isn't readily available, you can make your own quite easily. Of course, if you can't get 5-spice powder, you likely can't get szechuan pepper either. This isn't actually a pepper; it comes from the seeds of plant in the citrus family and has a peppery but more resinous or floral flavour. If you can't get it, use black pepper and add just a grate of nutmeg and/or a juniper berry to add that floral/resinous note.

Yep, I'm going to post a recipe calling for this tomorrow.

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
3/8 teaspoon ground cloves
3 pods star anise
3/4 teaspoon szechuan OR black pepper (whole)
1 teaspoon fennel seed
a little grate of nutmeg (optional)
1 juniper berry (optional)

Mix the cinnamon and cloves and set them aside. Scrape in a few grains of nutmeg, if using.

Heat the star anise, Szechuan OR black peppercorns and fennel seed, and the juniper berry if using, in a small skillet over medium heat, until slightly toasted and aromatic, stirring regularly. Turn them out to cool at once, then grind them finely and add them to the cinnamon mixture.

Store in a cool, dark place until wanted; it is, of course, best to not make this until immediately before use but there will almost certainly be leftovers.

Last year at this time I made Roasted Garlic, and Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Oven Baked Polenta

Mr Ferdzy loooooves cornmeal mush, and always wishes I would serve it more often. I have to admit I don't find it exciting for breakfast. However, I liked this very much and maybe I will start making it more often. Cooking your polenta in the oven makes it extremely easy and fool-proof - smooth and creamy with no stirring and no chance of scorching - my kind of cooking! It just  takes a bit of a long time.

I added diced cheddar as this was our dinner along with some ratatouille out of the freezer and so we wanted a bit of protein in it.You can add as much or as little (or no) cheese as you like really; it will depend on what kind of cheese and what else you are serving with it. Parmesan and other strong cheeses will go a long way and less will be needed, while farmers or mozzeralla type cheeses can be added with a heavier hand.

That frozen ratatouille, by the way: what a great idea that was. I made up a big batch at the end of tomato/eggplant/zucchini season last fall, and put it in tubs in the freezer. It's a little soupier once it's thawed than it was when it was freshly made but it's been a real treat to have it in the middle of the winter. I just boil it a bit to thicken it up, or add some of our frozen green beans. I've also picked out the solids and put them on pizza, then put what's left into soup. This will be a staple for us for sure. Of course, any kind of stew, braised meats or beans will go very well with polenta.

4 servings
1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes - 10 minutes prep time

1 cup polenta (coarse corn meal)
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/3 cup to 1 cup grated or finely diced cheese (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. 

Mix the polenta, salt, and water in an 8" x 10" shallow baking (lasagne) pan. Break up the butter and dot it around on top. Bake the polenta for 1 hour.

Remove the polenta from the oven and give it a stir. Add the cheese, if you wish, at this point. Test it for done-ness, and return it to the oven for 10 to 20 minutes, until it is thick and the cornmeal is done. (No gritty or crunchy quality left.)

Serve hot. Cold leftovers can be cut into slices, and pan-fried until golden brown and crunchy on each side.

Last year at this time I made Palestine Soup.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Holy Mackerel, We Have Planted Peas

No, really. We planted peas. Hard to believe - last year at this time it was going to be another 2 weeks before we could fight our way through the snow to check the hoop-houses. But it is warm (17°C today and it was even warmer on Saturday) and it is dry (somewhat alarmingly so) for mid-March.

Getting the trellis up took us 2 days (2 part days, really). Frames, bracing, strings to cut and tie - it's a long somewhat fiddly job before you even get to the actual planting. Look at that side-brace: warped much?

Strings were tied on to the top braces before being screwed in place - much easier that way.

Then the bottom braces are screwed in place, and the strings tied around them. This is to prevent the all-to-common effect we've had the last few years, of the well-grown peas catching the wind and billowing and creaking like a tea-clipper in full sail.

And finally, the planted peas. Two double rows on each side of the string-covered braces. There's Mrs. Van's, Spanish Skyscraper and Tall Telephone down the middle, with Dual, Harrison's Glory and Tom Thumb on either side. You can't see them; they're not up yet. Can't think what's taking them so long.

Okay, gotta go - off to plant some more peas.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Chocolate Pudding (Custard) Frosting

I remember when I was about 7 years old I was invited to the birthday party for one of my schoolmates. Much as liked said schoolmate, I found the party something of an ordeal. It was then that I first discovered that I was destined to be a food snob; that in fact, I already was a food snob.

The first difficulty was that hamburgers had been provided for the adults, but hot dogs had been provided for the children. I hated hated hated hated hated hot dogs. In the interests of being polite (aided and abetted by the fact that there wasn't much else to eat) I managed to choke most of one down, without staring too wistfully at the hamburgers, which I actually would have liked.

Next the parent of my friend offered me some of the birthday cake. I think she actually liked and approved of me, and so offered me the corner piece, plainly intending it as a special treat. Ugh! Horrible! I did manage to lobby for a middle piece, which had much less icing. My friends mother was surprised, but obliging. Yes, even as a kid I thought most frostings were just inedibly too sweet and I wanted less. 

This alternate, custard-based kind of icing has been around for decades, but I only discovered it a few years ago, and have never tried making it before. What can I say? I'm a convert! I love that it's not so disgustingly sweet as most icings.Unfortunately it makes up for that by having extra butter, but hey! Life is tough. Sacrifices must be made. And if this had been around when I was a kid, I would have been thrilled to get that corner piece.

Update: I've changed the name to better describe the techinique; there are no eggs so the base is really a pudding, not a custard. 

12 servings
20 minutes, plus 15 minutes prep time, plus about an hour to cool

Chocolate Custard Frosting

3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup soft unbleached flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
50 grams (2 ounces) unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup unsalted butter

Sift the sugar, flour, cocoa and salt together. Put them in the top of a double boiler, and slowly mix in the milk, making sure the mixture is smooth and lump-free. Turn on the heat, and cook the mixture, stirring constantly until it thickens. Remove it from the heat and let it cool completely.

When ready to proceed, melt the chocolate in a mixing bowl large enough to hold all the ingredients generously, either over the double boiler again or in the microwave. When it is melted, cool slightly. Add the softened butter and beat them together with an electric mixer. Begin adding the cooled chocolate custard, about one-third at a time, beating well between each addition. The finished icing should be smooth, creamy and light.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Chocolate Beet Cake

For the last month I have found myself wanting chocolate cake. So, eventually, I broke down and made one. Also for the last month I have been looking at some beets in the fridge and trying to decide what to do with them. I'd been hearing about this cake for  years, so I decided now was the time.

I also tried an unusual icing I've been hearing about for years too, which I will post tomorrow. Together, they were great. This was a nice cake but I do think the better for some frosting. It was very moist and kept well.  The beets added colour and kept it moist but if you did not know they were there, you probably would not guess.Neither the cake nor the icing were intensely sweet, but dense, moist and richly flavoured.

12 servings
1 hour 15 minutes - 30 minutes prep time, not including cooking the beets or icing

Chocolate Beet Cake

2/3 cup mild vegetable oil
100 grams (4 ounces) unsweetened chocolate
1 cup sugar
3 extra-large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups very finely grated or mashed cooked beets
2 cups soft unbleached flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Put the oil and chocolate into a mixing bowl that can be heated over a double boiler, and do so, stirring regularly, until the chocolate is melted. Alternatively, it can be heated and melted in the microwave, if you are sure to check and stir it regularly. In either case, don't let it overheat or scorch.

When the chocolate is fully melted, mix in the sugar. Beat in the eggs once you are sure that the mixture is cool enough that it won't cause them to set (cook). Mix in the vanilla and the peeled and grated or puréed beets.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line the bottom of 2 9" round springform pans with parchment paper, and butter the sides and the paper.

Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt, and mix it into the wet ingredients in 2 passes. Divide the batter (it will be quite thick) between the 2 prepared pans. Spread the batter evenly to the edges of the pans and be sure it is level.

Bake the cakes for 40 to 45 minutes, until just firm. Let cool before icing.

Last year at this time I made Lamb Cabbage Rolls.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Mashed Rutabaga & Celeriac

Here are two fine old storage vegetables that will be available right through April, that's how fine they are at storing. My own personal ones won't be around then as we are eating them up rapidly but such is life. They go together in the pot just as well as they sit next to each other on the coldroom shelf. A little garlic to liven them up, and yum, delicious. Don't know why it took me so long to think of mashing these together but now that I've done it, it will happen again. I'm also getting into this long, slow cooked in butter or oil thing with the garlic. You do have to watch it - the hardest part of this recipe - and not let it scorch at all, but the results are very, very nice.

4 servings  
1 hour - 20 minutes prep time

Mashed Rutabaga and Celeriac

4 cups peeled, diced rutabaga
2 cups peeled, diced celeriac
4 to 6 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
salt & pepper to taste

Peel and dice the rutabaga. Put it in a pot with plenty of water to cover it, and bring it to a boil. Boil for about 10 or 15 minutes. While it boils, peel and dice the celeriac. Add it to the rutabaga and continue boiling for another 25 or 30 minutes, until they are both tender.

Meanwhile, peel the garlic and cut each clove in half. Remove and discard the central green core. Heat the butter in a very small skillet or pot over medium-low heat and cook the garlic gently in it until it is softened and slightly browned, about 10 or 15 minutes.

When the rutabaga and celeriac are quite tender, drain them and mash them with the garlic and the butter it cooked in. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Last year at this time I made Rosti Potatoes.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Kahl (Hutterite Soup) Beans & Soldier Beans

Kahl Beans; a form of Hutterite Soup Bean

We got the seed for these from the Prairie Gardener. He gave them his usual laconic description, which I quote in full: "KAHL is a yellow-green bean shaped like a navy bean but almost twice as large. They are our fastest cooking beans. A few days later than Great Northern" That guy, he is such a salesman. Actually, for him that's enthusiasm so we decided to give them a try.

The bad news: I'm not sure they're all that much bigger than navy beans, at least the ones I've been getting. Maybe a bit. The good news: they grew nicely, and were tied for first place with 2 other beans for quantity produced and did not seem affected by the yellow bean mosaic virus we had in the garden last year. We needed to have done a better job of keeping them out of the too-long grass surrounding the bed; we lost a number to rot because of that. But that's not exactly the fault of the bean. (Although it is a bush bean, of which we are trying to grow fewer. We find pole beans well worth the trouble of supplying them with poles.) They seemed to take a typical time to mature for dry beans; about 100 days give or take.

There is next to no information out there about these under the name Kahl. I found one other person selling them (Mandy) and she's not carrying them now. It seems clear, from looking at them, is that they are a form of the Hutterite Soup Bean. They are the right size and shape, and they have the typical slightly-bruised look around the white hilum. (That's the beans belly-button to you, where it was attached.) It also explains their fast cooking qualities, since Hutterite Soup is known for cooking quickly and forming a smooth creamy soup. The colour is little more green than most Hutterite Soup beans, that I can see, but maybe not. Mine were greener than they show in the picture, but maybe other peoples' are too.

Soup Made With Kahl Beans

There are claims out there that they cook in 20 minutes. Um, no. I soaked them overnight, and they cooked in a couple of hours, or maybe a bit less; quick for beans but not wildly bizarre. The soup above is basically Dad's Bean Soup without the Tabasco sauce. You can see that compared to the navy beans in the first soup, they really did fall apart and make a thick, creamy soup. The flavour was typical bean; mild verging on bland. This isn't a terrible thing in a bean, since they are something of a canvas on which to paint other flavours anyway. On the whole, I think I would grow Kahl (or some other iteration of the Hutterite Soup Bean) before I would grow navy beans. But on the whole, I also think we are going to continue to migrate to pole beans.

Soldier Beans

One of the other beans that tied for first place in terms of production were the Soldier Beans we got from OSC. They are really quite fun looking. I had a lot of difficulty getting them to stand at attention though! Possibly they have been unduly influenced by the anarchist/Quaker/unherdable-cat tendencies of this household. Or maybe they are just round on the bottom. Anyway, you can see the markings and they do look a bit like a stiff upright human figure, if you are looking for it.

These were very like the Hutterite Soup Beans (or Kahl if you want to call them that) in terms of their growth habit. Same resistance to the virus, same size plants, same yield. They are very similar in flavour, that is to say very mild with a smooth, slightly starchy texture. Alas, the soldier disappears when you cook them. I think they hold together better though, so might be better for baked beans - a very traditional use for them - than soup. They are somewhat larger beans, individually. I guess I got fewer of them, but they filled up my jar to almost exactly the same line as the others.

These have been described as an East Coast heirloom bean, on both sides of the border. I've seen a version from Quebec and there seem to be plenty of people growing them out west. If OSC has them, you can bet they've been an Ontario standard for quite some time too. They've been around since prior to 1800; that's as early as anyone wants to commit to, but I'm sure they are older. These red-coated soldier beans are by far the most common of this form, but there is a black-coated version, sometimes known as Bumblebee out there as well, and also an intermediate dark brown form.

Even though they are now found all over it seems pretty clear that Soldier beans do come from the area of Maine, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. They are one of a handful of bean types traditionally used in making baked beans, the modern version of which is plainly descended from the way members of the Mi'kmaq, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, Abenaki and Penobscot groups (the Wabaniki confederacy) cooked beans; par-boiled, then buried in a clay pot surrounded by hot coals with maple syrup and bear fat mixed in. It is no coincidence that their traditional lands are still the lands of the baked bean.

In spite of giving both of these beans a high rating I doubt we will grow these again as, like the Kahl Hutterite Soup Beans, they are a bush bean and we are getting more interested in pole beans. However, they have been around for this long for better reasons than just being cute. If you are interested in growing dried bush beans, both of these varieties are well worth trying.

Friday, 9 March 2012

A New Year Has Begun

Seeds are in and started! Well, at least a few. These are the peppers and eggplants. Every year, there seems to be a little evolution in how we do things. This year, we are pre-sprouting seeds in coffee filters in plastic baggies, kept warm by the fireplace. We did this last year with a few things that were out of sequence, or otherwise odd-balls, and discovered it works really well.

The advantages are that seeds sprout faster and at a higher percentage than when planted in trays or pots directly, and that we won't have trays and pots sitting around taking up space that are supposed to have something germinating in them, but don't. The disadvantage is, well, more stuff to "support the economy". At least the coffee filters are unbleached and can go into the compost. We started with paper towel, actually, but the coffee filters are better, being pre-cut and easier to work with. Place seeds in one quadrant, fold in quarters, dip in bowl of water, place in labelled baggie; done. Watch daily and remove and plant sprouting seeds. Seeds  have to be big enough to work with, obviously.

Here's what's been potted up so far. Asparagus, leftover onions, and Golden Berry and Giant Poha, both selections of physalis peruviana.

We bought the Giant Poha seeds, and got the Golden Berry in a packet of Golden Berries purchased at 10,000 Villages. Ate the Golden Berries, picked our teeth and, voila. Sorry if that's TMI but really, they have germinated amazingly well for a snack food. They will probably have to be grown in pots and kept in the basement over the winter as they are tropical, and slow to produce. They are related to Ground Cherries, which can be grown here much more easily (but here's the rub: I don't like them. They don't taste the same.)


Onions, looking feeble. We switched to the coffee filter method three-quarters of the way through the onions, and this is kind of why. There were a lot of onion seeds from last year, and they germinated about as well as year-old onion seeds generally germinate, which is somewhere between poorly and not at all. They have been replanted with new seed, but it's not up yet.

There's even a little action outside. This weeks' thaw and rain encouraged us to uncover our hoop-houses, where things were looking pretty dry. Spinach is looking lovely! We should get a bumper crop by the looks of it.

In the next bed you can see the rutabagas that were too small to pick last fall. They seem to have survived nicely, unlike the radishes which are still visible but plainly only sacks of mush now. Have to decide whether to grub them up, or let them go to seed. (Assuming they are still alive in another month; we are now entering the time of year when plants actually die of winter - it's the freeze/thaw that gets them, more than any actual cold usually.)

Since we're getting a cold day today, Mr. Ferdzy just straightened  up a few supports - which worked really well, by the way - and we covered things up again.

Won't be covered for long though! Next week should be mild and within 2 days I expect the covers to be off again, possibly for good! (*knocks wood*) Compare all this to last year. I note we have not started any spinach (well really, don't need to) or chard or lettuce. I think it's safe to say that even if we have an early spring, it is too early for them yet. Last years lettuce didn't amount to anything much, and the large chard transplants didn't actually produce chard any earlier than later transplants. So, even though we are itching to get going, good sense will prevail.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Garlic & Shallot Mashed Potatoes

We really enjoyed these garlic and shallot infused mashed potatoes. Good thing, there's lots more garlic to go...

4 to 8 servings
30 minutes prep time

Garlic and Shallot Mashed Potatoes

900 grams (2 pounds) floury potatoes
1 or 2 large heads of garlic
4 large shallots
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 to 1/2 cup buttermilk
salt & pepper to taste

Wash and trim the potatoes in the usual way for boiling; peel them if you must, although I don't bother. make sure they are cut in pieces of roughly equall size. Cover them with water and bring them to a boil. Boil until tender.

Meanwhile, peel and cut the shallots in half lengthwise, then in thin slices horizontally. Peel and cut the cloves of garlic in half, removing the green inner cores.

Put the oil and butter in a medium skillet, and heat it gently over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic, and cook them quite slowly, stirring occasionally, until they are very soft and slightly browned. They should not be ready until the potatoes are, so be sure to keep them going quite slowly.

When the potatoes are ready, drain them and return them to the pot. Add the cooked onions and shallots along with all the butter and oil they cooked in, and mash well. Add the buttermilk and season with salt and pepper, and mash again.

Last year around now I was making Parsnip Slaw, and Cheesy Baked Beans in Tomato Sauce.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Sopa de Ajo - Garlic Soup

Do you get the impression I am using rather a lot of garlic lately? That would be because I am using rather a lot of garlic lately. I went and looked in the laundry room closet, and lo and behold it is almost as full of garlic as it was at the end of the summer when we harvested it and brought it in. Something had to be done, and one of the things I did was this. It looks like an awful mess, but oh, it was SO delicious. So delicious that now I`m wondering if we have enough garlic on hand after all.

This is a soup in the original sense of the word, meaning something soaked (or sopped, if you like) in liquid, that something usually being stale bread. The Spanish - from whom comes this recipe - are a very conservative bunch in many ways, and see no reason to give up a dish just because it is, quite literally, pre-medieval. When it comes to this soup, I can only approve, no matter  how I may feel about some other forms of conservatism.

And yeah, I said 3 heads of garlic. No, I don`t mean 3 cloves. I mean 3 heads. Big fat ones, too - don`t be skimpy. I used 4 cups of chicken stock and the 2 of us ate it all up as our supper. If you wanted to serve daintier portions and have this as just part of a meal for more people, add more chicken stock and make it a bit less solid; smaller slices of toast and you could omit the egg or just garnish it with a slice of hard boiled. But really, this is SO good, you will be very happy to eat as much of this as you can get into you, and nothing else.

2 to 4 servings
1 hour prep time


4 to 6 cups chicken stock
2 or 3 bay leaves
3 heads of garlic
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1/4 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika

1 or 2 small slices of bread for each serving
2 cups finely diced stale bread cubes
1 tablespoon sweet sherry
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
salt & pepper as required
an egg for each serving

Put the chicken stock and bay leaves in a pot large enough to hold them, and a bit more, and bring to a simmer. Let them simmer as you continue.

Peel the 3 heads of garlic. Trim 2 heads worth of cloves, cut them in half and remove the green central core from each, and set them aside. Finely chop the remaining garlic and set it aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a skillet. Add the halved garlic cloves and cook them quite gently, stirring regularly, until softened and reduced in volume, and just lightly browned in spots. Remove them to bowl to cool, leaving the oil in the pan. Toast the slices of bread in the pan until golden brown on each side. Remove them and set them aside. Then, add the diced stale bread, and toast it, stirring regularly until golden brown all over. At some point in the procedure, you will almost certainly need to call upon that last tablespoon of oil to keep thing toasting rather than scorching.

When the bread cubes are toasted, add them to the chicken stock. Mash the cooled cooked garlic with a fork. Add the paprikas, and mash again, working it to be sure the paprika is well distributed throughout. Mix a little of the broth into the garlic paste, working it into a slurry, then add it all to the soup.

Gently break in the eggs, and let them poach for 4 or 5 minutes, until the whites are set and the yolks still soft. Taste the broth and adjust the salt and pepper as needed. Arrange the slices of toast in bowls, one bowl for each serving.

When the eggs are poached, lift them out and put one egg in each bowl. Stir the sherry, sherry vinegar, and the remaining garlic into the soup. Stir for just a minute, then ladle the soup over the toast and eggs in the bowls. Enjoy!

Monday, 5 March 2012

Pink Fir Apple Potatoes

Pink Fir Apple Potatoes

The Pink Fir Apple potato is an heirloom fingerling which is very popular in Great Britain; it is not well-known here although that may yet change. It was one of a number of fingerling potatoes developed in France and Germany, and then around 1850 it was introduced into Great Britain. It was sold by Sutton's for a number of years in the 19th century, but was for many years a pass-around plant amongst allotment gardeners and small farmers until television chefs catapulted it into the limelight within the last few decades. Any claims that it is an aphrodisiac should be taken with a grain of salt and a pat of butter. On the other hand, it is clearly one of the oldest European potato varieties still being commonly grown and many people rave about the flavour and texture. It is also unquestionably a very charming-looking potato. The best specimens are long and narrow, with a thin pink skin, but it is common to get sub-potatoes forming off of the main potato root, and some strange and hilarious shapes can result. It's also not unusual to get potatoes which are simply very knobby.

The name is a rather awkward translation from the German, Rosa Tannenzapfen. Pink Pine-Cone would have been more accurate,or at least more euphonious. It is still found as a traditional variety in Austria under that name, although the British are convinced it came to Britain from France. It's perfectly possible that it did. Veggies do get around.

As a rather waxy-textured fingerling it is best for use in potato salads, but it also pan-fries and roasts well, although it should be par-cooked first. Some people complain the knobbiness makes them hard to peel, but really, with such a pretty, thin skin, why even try?

 The plants are tall and rangy, with white flowers, although most sources say they do not produce any berries.

Ours grew well and without any problems, but we have a good garden for it, with sandy rather acidic soil and no real disease pressure. It`s generally regarded as a bit finicky in regards to its soil and water requirements. It`s a long-season potato, needing up to 120 days to fully develop. Pink Fir Apple also has a reputation for being prone to most potato diseases, including the dreaded late blight. Nor is it known as a good producer. Indeed, it produced the smallest crop of any of the potatoes that we grew last  year, providing 27 pounds from a 25 square foot bed. Our best potatoes produced almost twice that amount, although I should also note that we planted a considerably smaller quantity of seed potatoes by weight of the Pink Fir Apple than of the Russet Burbanks, as the seed potatoes we got of the Fir Apple were quite small. We just planted them whole, and still had more than would fit into the alloted space. Like a lot of fingerling potatoes they grew quite close to the surface, and had I realized I would have mulched them better. You can see some green in the cut potato in the picture above, as the tops of some of the potatoes were exposed to the sun as they grew. This should be trimmed off thoroughly; green potatoes contain unhealthy compounds.

All of that sounds rather discouraging, but Pink Fir Apple has survived this long for a reason. They are very tasty, very attractive, and have stored the best of all of our potatoes this year, by a significant margin. They are widely known for keeping their just-harvested flavour even when stored for quite a while. As I researched them, I read a number of comments that they had better disease resistance than their reputation would suggest. Certainly, they have survived these many decades because they are widely regarded as very desirable potatoes, and they can`t be that hard to grow or people wouldn`t keep growing them. I`ll be interested to see when I grow them again from larger seed-potatoes whether we get a better crop.

They were available from Eagle Creek, but I see they are already sold out for this year. Maybe next year...

Friday, 2 March 2012

Baked Chicken Croquettes

Chicken croquettes are such an old fashioned dish. I don't know why I had such a hankering for them recently, but I did. It's not like anyone in my family ever made them, but the idea of chicken encased in a creamy sauce and then cooked until crisp on the outside is very appealing and was calling my name there for a while. I guess they haven't really disappeared from modern eating either; they've just been displaced by the chicken "nugget". No comparison though. None at all.

It's really best to use leftover cooked chicken for these. It's an awful lot of work to cook it just so you can make them. But if you do have some, these are a food plan. 

8 - 12 croquettes; 4 to 6 servings
30 minutes cooking time in advance, not including cooking the chicken
1 hour to finish; 20 minutes prep time, not including the chilling


2 cups chopped cooked chicken
1 cup bread crumbs
2 large shallots
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons soft unbleached flour

1 recipe poultry seasoning
1 cup whole milk or light cream
1 extra-large egg

2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil or melted butter
1 cup bread crumbs
2 extra-large eggs

Chop the chicken with the bread crumbs. It's best to put them through a food processor, but do retain some texture.

Peel and mince the shallots. Put them in a large pot with the butter and salt, and cook gently until soft and slightly browned. Add the flour and cook for a few minutes more, stirring frequently, until well amalgamated and even a little browned. Mix in the poultry seasoning. Stir in the milk or cream, a little at a time, to make a smooth paste, working out any lumps before adding more. Once it is all in, continue cooking, stirring frequently, until thickened. Mix the chicken and bread crumbs into the sauce. Cover and refrigerate until cold and fairly firm in texture.

To make the croquettes, preheat the oven to 350°F. Brush a large lasagne pan with some of the oil or melted butter. Pu the bread crumbs in a shallow dish, and the eggs, beaten, in another. Divide the mixture into the number of croquettes desired. Roll each one in the crumbs, then the eggs, then the crumbs again. Do not attempt to flatten them into a patty shape until they are placed in the baking dish, at which point they should be gently pressed to be about 1" thick. This is because the mixture remains fairly soft even when chilled, and is easier to work with as a ball.

When all the patties are thus formed, brush them with the remaining oil or butter. Bake at 350°F for 35 to 40 minutes,  until firm and golden-brown.

Last year at this time I made Smoked Trout & Sweet Potato Cakes.