Monday, 30 April 2012


Last week it occurred to me that I hadn't seen any ramps for sale this year, but that it was probably time for them to be out and about. Of course, it then promptly snowed a foot of snow. However, I contacted a farmer friend who had offered me wild leeks (ramps) from his woods last year. I had been too busy then to take him up on the offer, but this year has been much more manageable. To make a long story short, on Sunday afternoon we headed off to his woods with a shovel and a couple of large plastic tubs, where we found wild leeks in abundance.

I feel a bit bad about digging up wild leeks and taking them away given everything I have read about how long they take to get established, or to recover once picked. However, the edge of his woods had been fairly damaged by heavy equipment, and his assurance that there were lots and lots of them ("and if you take all these, my mother-in-law has 100 acres of them...") proved to be quite true.

We did not take all of them, of course. I tried to stick to the rule of not taking more than one-twentieth of a clump, and to move around and take them from different spots. We dug them up with a good amount of earth because our goal was to plant a bunch of them in our sparse and sorry woods, with the aim of being self-sufficient in wild leeks some time in the next decade or so.

One tub filled and ready to go! One reason we had picked Sunday as the day to go and get them was because it was supposed to rain for the next week, and we hoped that would settle them in well. Of course, between the time we left and the time we came back, the weather report was revised and we are now down to chances of showers instead of the promised 2 days of rain with intermittent showers on the other 3. Phooey. But absolutely standard. We watched that happen week after week last summer. So, we have them planted but will have to trek back to the woods to water them no doubt.

I did save some for cooking, so the rest of the week will be rampapalooza time!

Friday, 27 April 2012

Applesauce Jelly

My first pictures of this did not turn out (I had knocked the dial off of "auto-focus") and so I was obliged to photograph it again. That is why the custard looks so lumpy and scrambled-eggish. It was actually reasonably smooth.

I tried using an electric mixer on the custard, and it worked okay although it had to be used intermittantly as the custard would froth up too much even with the mixer set on low. I will probably just stir the stuff next time. But if you want to use an electric mixer, you can. Just watch carefully that it doesn't get to frothy and yet gets mixed enough not to stick or get lumpy... yes, I think I am recommending that you just stir or whisk it by hand. Or you can eat your jelly plain and solve the problem completely. Somehow this is more fun and dessert-like than just plain applesauce. I used some of the applesauce we canned last fall, but if you want to make your own there's nothing to it... just peel, core and slice a bunch of apples, and cook them down with a tablespoon or so of water in the pan to prevent sticking. 

6 servings
2 hours 10 minutes - 10 minutes prep time

Applesauce Jelly

Make the Jelly:
1/2 cup apple cider, juice or water
1 tablespoon plain gelatine
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups homemade unsweetened applesauce

Bring the apple cider, juice or water, sugar, and cinnamon to a boil and put it into a mixing bowl. Sprinkle the gelatine evenly over the top and mix it in, making sure it is thoroughly dissolved. Mix in the applesauce.

Divide the applesauce between 6 individual serving bowls (or you could mix it in a nice serving bowl to start with, and leave it there). Chill until set; about 2 hours. If you like, serve it with custard:

Make the Custard:
1/4 cup sugar
a pinch of salt
1 tablespoon arrowroot or cornstarch
2 extra-large eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Put the sugar, salt and cornstarch in the top of a double boiler and mix well. Beat in the eggs, and when well blended, mix in the milk.

Heat the double boiler and cook the custard until thick, stirring almost constantly (especially as it begins to heat up and cook). Once it thickens, remove it from the heat and mix in the butter and vanilla extract.

Serve warm or cold over the jelly, but I will say right here that it is best at least a little warm (although not quite hot).

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

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Celeriac Mash with Blue Cheese

The rich flavour of blue cheese gives a great kick to celeriac, and the potatoes just smooth the whole thing out a little. This is delicious with beef - if not a really good piece of steak then a nice juicy home-made burger will do the trick. 

4 servings
45 minutes - 25 minutes prep time

Celeriac and Potato Mash with Blue Cheese

3 cups peeled, diced celeriac
2 cups peeled, cut-up potatoes
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese
freshly ground black pepper to taste
plus 1 tablespoon more crumbled blue cheese to garnish

Peel and dice the celeriac. Peel the potatoes, and cut them into chunks about twice the size of the celeriac pieces. Put them both in a pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil and boil until tender; about 20 minutes.

Drain the cooked vegetables well. Mash them with the butter and 2 tablespoons of crumbled blue cheese. Season with pepper to taste. You can add some salt as well if you think it needs it, but I think most blue cheeses will be sufficiently salty on their own.

Serve garnished with a another spoonful of crumbled blue cheese sprinkled over the top.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Curried Roasted Parsnip & Apple Soup

Nothing too fancy about this soup but it was really, really good. I'm going to have to run out and buy some more parsnips this week and make it again. The parsnips and apples make it quite sweet but the curry gives it just a little kick.

4 servings
30 minutes prep time plus 1 hour to roast

Curried Roasted Parsnip and Apple Soup

Roast the Parsnips & Apples:
500 grams (1 pound) parsnips
2 medium apples
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 375°F. 

Peel the parsnips and cut them into 1/4" slices. Peel and core the apples, and cut them in similar slices. Put them in a shallow roasting pan, that will take them all in pretty much a single layer and dot them with the butter.

Roast the parsnips and apples for about 1 hour, until very soft and browned in spots. Stir them after the first 10 minutes to distribute the butter evenly, and again about two-thirds of the way through cooking. This can be done in advance.

Cook the Shallots:
3 or 4 medium shallots
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon Madras curry powder

Peel and slice the shallots. Cook them gently in a small skillet with the butter, until soft and much reduced. They can be slightly browned in spots. Add the curry powder and cook for a minute or two more until well absorbed into the shallots. This can be done in advance. 

Finish the Soup:
4 cups chicken stock
salt & pepper to taste

 Put the roasted parnsips and apples, and the cooked shallots into a blender or food processor. Add about half of the chicken stock and purée well, until quite smooth. Scrape the purée into a soup pot. Use the remaining chicken stock to swish out the blender or food processor and add it to the pot as well. Bring the soup up to a simmer, and add salt and pepper to taste.

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

Monday, 23 April 2012

Starting Sweet Potato Slips

Sweet Potatoes Half Submerged in Jars, So They Will Form Slips for Rooting

We have decided not to send away for sweet potato slips this year, but to try starting some ourselves. I don't believe it's difficult. It's the sort of thing you used to do in grade school as a science project.

Stick 3 or 4 toothpicks into a model sweet potato; the sort of sweet potato you would like to grow - I suggest you get one grown locally so that you know it will mature in an Ontario summer - and stick the end into a glass of water or a jar, so that the sweet potato is half in and half out.

There is a right end and a wrong end. A little examination should show which end is inclined to sprout shoots and which end is inclined to sprout roots. That would be blunt end up, pointy end down pretty much. Some of our sweet potatoes were obligingly sending out a few buds to help make it clear which end was up. Now we will keep them on a warm, sunny windowsill as they grow.

When the sprouts are about 6" long we will carefully break them off and put them into a glass or jar of water, half in and half out until they form roots. Then they can be potted up or planted out, whenever it is warm enough; probably the beginning of June.

This is the first time we've done this. I'll keep you posted on how it works, but if you want to do it too I'd say now is the time to get started.

UPDATE: May 28, 2012. Next stage has begun

Friday, 20 April 2012

Chicken with Herb Dumplings

Well no doubt I will soon be using more spinach from the garden (I hope it is starting to show up at farmer's markets too) but right now it is still a bit chilly and good hot filling winter food is still in order. Alas, the carrots are gone so I had to use parsnips. Nothing wrong with that, parsnips are excellent at this time of year although I would have liked that touch of orange to give the stew some colour. Still, if you are lucky you may still find some Ontario carrots. On the other hand I am getting some bits of herbs out of the garden. You can put whatever herbs you like into the dumplings, really, in whatever quantity you like but they should end up nicely flecked with green. 

This is a classic dish, with very good reason. I think I will have to make it again soon. I kept the seasoning in the stew pretty plain because of all the herbs in the dumplings; if you wish to omit the herbs from the dumplings you should probably season the stew a bit more enthusiastically.

6 servings
1 hour 15 minutes - 45 minutes prep time

Make the Stew:
1 large leek
500 grams (1 pound) button mushrooms
1 cup celeriac, peeled and diced
1 cup rutabaga, peeled and diced
1 cup parsnips OR carrots, peeled and diced
1.5 kilos (3 pounds) skinless, boneless chicken pieces
4 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
4 to 5 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons soft unbleached flour
1 teaspoon rubbed savory OR poultry seasoning

salt & pepper to taste

Wash and trim the leek. Cut it into slices and rinse it again, and drain it well. Clean the mushrooms and cut them in halves or quarters if necessary.

Peel and dice the celeriac, rutabaga, and parsnips or carrots. Make sure the chicken is cut into bite-sized pieces.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet and cook the leeks and mushrooms until softened and slightly browned. Put them in a large pot with the chicken stock. Put another tablespoon of oil in the skillet and cook the celeriac, rutabaga and parsnips or carrots until lightly browned. Add them to the chicken stock. Add the final tablespoon of oil to the skillet and brown the chicken pieces thoroughly. Sprinkle the flour and seasonings over them, and cook until the flour is all absorbed. Add the chicken to the pot with the stock, then use a little of the stock to deglaze the pan.

Simmer the stew for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, make the dumplings.

Make the Dumplings:
2 cups soft unbleached flour
1/3 cup mixed minced fresh herbs: parsley, dill, chives
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup softened unsalted butter
1 extra-large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
 2 cups frozen peas

Meaure the flour into a mixing bowl, and add the finely minced herbs (in whatever proportion seems good to you), the salt, and the baking powder. Cut the butter into small pieces and add it to the flour, then cut or rub it into the flour until it is in pea-sized bits.

Break in the egg and add the buttermilk. Mix until well blended and the dough forms a rough ball. Divide it into 16 to 18 roughly equal portions. Using floured hands, roll each portion into a ball and drop it into the simmering stew. (Put the peas in the stew just before you start adding the dumplings.) Once the dumplings are all in, cover the stew and simmer for 17 to 20 minutes. 

Last year at this time I made Lamb Meatball Soup with Cabbage & Barley.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Spinach Kuku

Springtime is icumen in, loud sing kuku! In this case, not the bird, but the dish. From Persia (modern Iran) it is similar to an Italian frittata or Spanish tortilla. However, this contains far more in the way of fresh green herby flavours. Recipes vary considerably; from mostly herbs with just enough egg to hold them together to basically green-flecked omelets. Spinach seems to be the most popular vegetable to add to a kuku, but other greens can be used as well. Cilantro is often added, but it won't be available at this time of year. In other words, you should feel free to adjust this as you like.

Kuku often has walnuts and dried barberries added to it. Dried cranberries would make a reasonable substitute. Sprinkle about a quarter of a cup of each over the top just before you bake it if you like. Kuku is often served with a dollop of yogurt. 

6 servings
1 hour - 20 minutes prep time; best to allow 20 minutes to cool as well

1 medium leek
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
1/2 cup fresh parsley
1/2 cup fresh dillweed
1/2 cup green onions or chives
4 cup packed spinach
2 tablespoon soft unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon salt & pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed
1/2 teaspoon coriander seed
about 1/6 of a small nutmeg, finely grated
8 extra large eggs

Wash and trim the leek. Cut it in slices. Rinse them and drain well. Heat the oil in a small skillet, and cook the leek pieces until they are soft and very slightly browned. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter a 9" pie plate. 

Wash, coarsely chop, and measure the fresh herbs and spinach. Put them into a food processor with the flour, salt and pepper. Grind the cumin and coriander seeds and add them, and grate in the nutmeg. Add the cooled leeks. Process until very finely chopped, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Turn the chopped greens into a mixing bowl, and break in the eggs, a couple at a time, and mix them into the greens well. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pie plate. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until set. It will probably puff up, but it will subside again as it cools.

This can be served warm or cold, but I think it's best to let it cool and set for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Last year at this time I made Dilled Trout Cabbage Rolls with Lemon Sauce and Maple Tapioca Pudding.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

That Was a Wind, That Was

Uh, hi. I'm still here, although things have been busy. We were away for two weeks and as soon as we came back it was time to get back into the garden and so we did. I'm going to post this just to try and get moving again on the blog front.

So, Monday night was a little windy. When we went to bed, all those beds were carefully covered with the plastic over the hoops. This is what we woke up to. Fortunately, nothing had actually broken loose and blown away. 

One of the pea-bed frames was fairly severely mangled. We figure the plastic sheet from the bed next to it flapped loose and spent a good part of the night whacking it. The good news is that we had some spare pieces of wood and got it put together again fairly quickly, also easier because the peas have not grown that high yet, although they mostly seem to have germinated well. Now that I'm done complaining about the wind I can start complaining about the lack of rain... we've already been out there watering. In April! Where are those April showers we are supposed to be getting? I hope it isn't going to be like this all summer!

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Cranberry Marshmallows

Yeah, I did make these around Valentines day, but didn't get them done in time to put them up then. You could make them for Easter instead; why not? It's by far the easiest and least wasteful to cut them into squares but you can cut out shapes with a cookie cutter if you don't mind wasting quite a bit, and getting about half the number of marshmallows (plus tasty, tasty trimmings).

I've been interested in making marshmallows for a while. The big problem with them is that they are so very, very sweet. I hoped that by using unsweetened cranberry juice, it would tone them down a bit, and it works very well. These are the least-sweet seeming marshmallows I've  ever had. I'd like to try them with lemon or lime juice as well but I have not gotten around to that yet.

If you wanted to accentuate the pinkness of these, you could add a drop or two of red food-colouring to the mixture as you beat it.

60 marshmallows
15 minutes prep time at either end, with a wait in the middle for setting

Cranberry Marshmallows

2/3 cup unsweetened cranberry juice
2 tablespoons gelatine powder

1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons water
1/8 teaspoon salt
about 1/4 cup corn starch

Put the cranberry  juice into a mixing bowl, and sprinkle the gelatine evenly over the top of it. Set this aside. Have your electric mixer set up and ready to go. Line a large cookie tray with parchment paper, then butter the parchment paper throughly.

Put the sugar, water and salt into a pot and bring to a boil. Boil steadily for 5 minutes, but DO NOT let the mixture caramelize - if you get the slightest indication that it is going to do that, remove it from the heat at once.

As soon as the boiling syrup is ready, pour it steadily into the juice and gelatine mixture and begin beating it at once. Beat on high speed for at least 5 minutes, until it is very stiff and fluffy.

Scrape the mixture onto the prepared pan and spread it out as evenly as possible, into a rectangular shape about an inch thick. Let it set thoroughly for several hours, then cut it into squares, using a knife dipped in corn starch between each stroke. Put a few of the cut up marshmallows into a bag containing a bit of corn starch and shake until evenly coated. Remove the marshmallows from the bag, shaking off any excess corn starch and set them out to dry slightly. Repeat with the remaining ones. That's it: marshmallows!

Last year at this time I made Lemon-Caraway Cabbage and Buckwheat Pilaf.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Endive & Mushrooms au Gratin

Wow, I've been using a lot of mushrooms and shallots around here lately. And it's not over yet, I'm afraid. Sorry. Not very sorry, because they are awfully good in my opinion, but still, sort of sorry.

This is wildly rich. If you don't serve it as a vegetarian main dish, I would serve it with some very plain and lean chicken or fish to keep things in some kind of a balance. And yes, really; that much mustard. It's not too much. 

4 servings
1 hour - 30 minutes prep time

Endive and Mushrooms au Gratin

250 grams (1/2 pound) button mushrooms
4 large shallots
4 heads Belgian endive
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2/3 cup whole milk or light cream
3 tablespoons soft unbleached flour
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon rubbed savory or thyme
black pepper to taste
1/2 cup finely grated old Cheddar cheese
3 tablespoons fine bread crumbs

Clean and slice the mushrooms. Peel and slice the shallots. Trim the ends of the endives, and slice them in half vertically. Preheat the oven 350°F.

Heat one tablespoon of the butter in a skillet, and sauté the mushrooms in it until soft and browned. Lay them in a 2 quart (or litre) shallow baking dish. Heat another tablespoon of butter in the skillet, and sauté the shallots until soft and slightly browned. Add them to the mushrooms. Add the final tablespoon of butter to the pan and cook the endive halves on both sides until softened and slightly browned. Turn them carefully to keep them holding together. Lay them gently over the mushrooms and shallots in the baking dish.

Measure the milk or cream, and whisk in the flour, mustard, savory, and pepper.  Mix in about 1/3 of a cup of the grated cheese. Pour this evenly over the prepared vegetables. Mix the remaining few tablespoons of cheese with the crumbs, and sprinkle them evenly over the top of the vegetables.

Bake for 30 minutes, until bubbly and lightly browned on top.

Last year at this time I made Bison Meatloaf.