Friday, 30 November 2012

Carrot Soup with Ginger, Cardamom & Orange

There's a definite Indian influence to this soup, but it's subtle enough to allow it to fit in with many different menus. It's light enough to serve as starter to a large meal, although it would do just fine alongside a sandwich.

As my soup cooled I realized it would probably be just as good served cold as hot, which really makes it versatile. Making it in advance will allow the flavours to develop thoroughly, so if you can do that, it's a good idea.

6 to 8 servings
1 hour prep time

1 kilo (2 pounds) carrots
3 or 4 stalks of celery
6 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
12 green cardamom pods
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
the finely grated zest of 1/2 orange
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons honey
the juice of 1 orange
2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup sweet sherry

sour cream or yogurt to garnish

Scrub or peel the carrots, and cut them into chunks. Wash and trim the celery and cut it into somewhat larger chunks. Put them in a large soup pot with the water and the salt. Bring to a boil and boil gently but steadily for 30 minutes, until the carrots are tender.

Meanwhile, crush the cardamom pods enough to be able to remove the green papery husks (discard them) then grind the seeds with the peppercorns. Peel and grate the ginger. Wash the orange well (with soap) dry it, and grate the orange zest. Heat the butter in a small skillet and cook the cardomom, pepper, ginger and orange zest in it for 3 or 4 minutes, stirring regularly, until slight signs of browning appear. Put this mixture into a blender.

Lift the carrots and celery out of their cooking water and put them in the blender. Add a ladle or two of the cooking water, and purée very smoothly. You will need to do this in 2 batches; once you are done, swish out the blender with the cooking water and add it back in with the carrots (soup).

This much can be done in advance; when ready to serve the soup, add the honey, orange juice, buttermilk and sherry, and heat through. Although I rather think this could work as a cold soup in the summer as well, in which case just whisk them in. In either case, pass some good thick yogurt or sour cream with the soup.

Last year at this time I made Creamy But Non-Dairy Pumpkin Soup and Rum & Raisin Baked Apples.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Cranberry Salad Dressing (& Sweet Spicy Pecans)

It's always fun when you make something that looks as good as it tastes - and it tastes great. This bright pink dressing put a big smile on my face. 

This is a dressing that will go well on simple green salads for holiday dinners. Alas, I didn't think to pick up any apples and I haven't seen a single pear this year, but when I make this dressing with more of a plan in mind, I will be sure to add one or the other to my greens along with some dried cranberries and the spiced pecans.

4 servings
15 minutes prep time

Make the Dressing:

1/2 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1/4 cup almond or hazelnut oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons sweet sherry
2 tablespoons maple syrup

Put all the above ingredients in a blender, and blend very smoothly - you may need to scrape down the sides and it may take several minutes. 

And since that didn't take much time to speak of, why not make some sweet spiced pecans to add to your salad too:

Make the Sweet Spiced Pecans:

1 green cardamom pod
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon allspice berries

2 to 3 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups pecan halves

Crush the cardamom pod to allow you to remove and dicard the papery green hull. Grind the pepper, allspice and cardamom together, and mix in the sugar. 

Put on the broiler, and put the butter in a broil-proof pan, that is just large enough to spread out the pecans in a single layer. Melt the butter in it, then add the pecans and mix well. Sprinkle the spiced sugar over them and mix well.

Return the pan to the broiler and broil for a minute at a time, then taking them out and stirring them. When the pecans are well toasted - not likely more than 3 or 4 minutes - let them cool, before using them to garnish your salad.

Last year at this time I made Ginger-Lime Mashed Sweet Potatoes.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Chicken & Kohlrabi Stew

Thursday evening it turned cold, as the weather forecast said it would. In preparation, we spent the last few days prior running around the garden making sure everything was stashed and that we had harvested everything that we could, or at least wanted too. In the process, I rediscovered our patch of kohlrabi that got planted sometime mid-summer then kind of forgotten.

I was impressed at how well they stood up to that. They are generally considered a summer to early fall vegetable, but if the leaves are trimmed off they will actually store quite well. You won't find them in a regular grocery store at this time of year, but they may turn up at a farmers market. Since mine were from the garden, they still had their leaves, but any you find now are more likely to have been trimmed for storage. In that case, replace the missing leaves with a bit of kale or cabbage. These later season kohlrabis will likely need a bit more trimming than fresh ones in the summer.

This is a variation on a traditional Hungarian recipe. I find the slight sweetness of the kohklrabi goes very well with chicken. You can omit the parsley root (or replace it with a small parsnip) if you can't find it, but it does add a subtle and interesting flavour.

6 servings 
45 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

Prepare the Vegetables:
6 to 8 (2 pounds, without leaves) medium-small kohlrabis
2 cups chopped kohlrabi leaves or kale or cabbage

1 medium carrot
1 or 2 parsley roots
2 large leeks
1 or 2 stalks of celery
3 or 4 cloves of garlic

If the kohlrabis have leaves, cut them off and discard any tough or damaged ones. Chop the remaining ones fairly finely; there should be about 2 cups but it could be a bit more. If the kohlrabis arrive without leaves, use some good green cabbage or kale to replace them.

Peel any skin which is tough and fibrous from the kohlrabis - if it is tender and green it can be left on. Cut the kohlrabis into halves or quarters, and slice them about 1/4" thick. 

Peel the carrot and parsley roots, and dice them finely. Trim the leeks, and chop them. Rinse well and drain. Wash and trim the celery, and chop it. Peel and mince the garlic.

Start the Stew:
4 cups chicken stock
4 (1 kilo; 2 pounds) medium skinless boneless chicken pieces

Put the chicken stock in a large pot. Add the prepared kohlrabi stems (leave the leaves until later) and the carrots and parsley root. Cut the chicken into largish bite-sized pieces and put them on top. Bring up to a simmer and simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes.

Finish the Stew:
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste
1 teaspoon rubbed thyme or savory
1 teaspoon dillweed
1 tablespoon sweet Hungarian paprika
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
the juice of 1/2 lemon

 Mix the flour, salt, and seasonings in a small bowl and set aside.

Melt the butter in a large skillet and add the leeks and celery Cook gently for about 5 minutes, until softened and reduced. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two, stirring regularly. Add the flour and seasonings and cook fo another 5 or so minutes, scraping up the flour to keep it from sticking to the pan but allowing it to cook thoroughly.

Ladle in enough chicken stock from the stew, stirring asidiously, until the flour has formed a smooth paste. You will likely need at least 2 cups of the chicken stock to be added to the skillet. Once this is done, add the contents of the skillet to the large pot and mix in well. Add the chopped kohlrabi leaves or cabbage. Simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes; total cooking time should be 20 to 25 minutes. The chicken should be cooked and the kohlrabi tender, and the kohlrabi leaves or cabbage doen to your liking.

Squeeze in the lemon juice just before serving.

Last year at this time I made Roast Lamb Shoulder with Cranberry-Nut Buckwheat Dressing.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Anyone in the Meaford Area...

... want a little black kitten?

There is one meowing outside our back door right now. It has been doing this both night and day for the last 3 days. I think some creep-o abandoned it. Couldn't even make it out to the farms to dump it, not that that would have been any better.

After 3 days my nerves are shot so I am off to give it some water and tuna. It is shy and runs away, but I suspect with a little care and tuna it could be resocialized. It's obviously not one of the local feral cats kittens, as they have always been, well, feral, and I've never seen any of them survive to get this big anyway.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Cheesy Pasta Casserole with Squash & Kale

It's another cheesy pasta casserole, with squash and kale this time. This one is more rich and elaborate than the Broccoli Kugel I made last week, and takes longer to make because of needing to pre-cook the squash in particular. However, it is not difficult and could be broken up into sections and made at least partially in advance. I expect it to freeze well; in fact I have made an extra batch and stuck it in the  freezer to form the vegetarian main dish for our Christmas dinner.

If you made this earlier in the season you could use Swiss chard in this, but by now it is pretty much gone and you will need to use kale - nothing wrong with that!

8 servings
2 1/2 hours - 1 3/4 hours prep time

Pre-Cook the vegetables & Pasta:
1 large (1.5 kilos, 3 pounds) butternut squash
4 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
3 medium leeks
4 to 5 cloves of garlic
1 bunch kale (or Swiss chard)
250 grams (1/2 pound) stubby pasta

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Cut the squash into chunks, and peel it and discard the seeds (and by discard, I mean wash them, and toss them with oil and salt and roast them, but that's another dish.) Cut the peeled squash pieces into smallish bite sized pieces, and spread them on a baking tray. Toss them with 3 tablespoons of the oil. Roast for 30 minutes, until fairly soft. Wash the kale and chop it finely, discarding any tough stems.

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil. 

Meanwhile, wash, trim and chop the leeks, and rinse them again and drain well. Peel and mince the garlic. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large skillet, and gently cook the chopped leeks until soft and translucent. Do not let them brown. Add the garlic and stir in well, for just a minute, then remove from the heat.

When the water boils, add the pasta and cook for HALF the time recommended on the package. When there are 2 minutes more for it to cook, add the finely chopped kale. When done, drain and rinse in cold water, and drain well.

Either leave the oven on when the squash is roasted, or preheat it to 350°F again just before you finish the casserole. 

Finish the Casserole:
450 grams (1 pound) cottage cheese
450 grams (1 pound) ricotta cheese
100 grams (1/4 pound) feta cheese, crumbled
2 teaspoons rubbed basil
2 teaspoons rubbed oregano
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
salt & pepper to taste
250 grams (1/2 pound) old Cheddar or Colby cheese, grated

When the pasta and kale have been well drained, return them to the cooking pot. Add the roasted squash and the cooked leeks and garlic. Add all the remaining ingredients, except the grated Cheddar or Colby cheese. As usual, the amount of salt will depend on how salty your cheeses are. I do find fresh cheeses need to have some, so maybe about half a teaspoon. Mix well.

Spread the mixture out evenly in a 9" x 13" baking (lasagne) pan. Top with the grated Cheddar or Colby. Bake at 350°F for 45 to 50 minutes, until the cheese on top is bubbling. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.

Last year at this time I made Jerusalem Artichoke Caponata.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012


The Highland Companies have withdrawn their application to blast southern Ontario to smithereens:
'Mega-quarry' in southern Ontario won't be built. 

It sure is nice to get some good news for a change.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Balsamic Red Cabbage

Red cabbage is so classic with sweet and sour flavours that it is very hard to think of any other way of serving it - so I didn't. Balsamic vinegar provides both qualities.

This is quite simple, but since it should be cooked to the point of being moist rather than wet, good temperature regulation and frequent stirring are important. 

4 to 6 servings
45 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

4 cups finely chopped red cabbage
4 to 8 shallots - 1 cup when chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup chicken stock OR apple juice OR white wine
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
salt & pepper to taste

Trim and chop the cabbage. Peel and chop the shallots. Heat the butter in a large non-reactive (stainless steel or glass) pot.

Add the shallots and cook gently for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly, until softened and reduced and slightly browned in spots. Add the cabbage, mixing in well, and let it too cook down for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly.

Add the chicken stock or other liquid, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring once or twice to be sure it isn't catching. Remove the lid, and add the balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper. I would use about 1/4 of a teaspoon of salt, unless you think your chicken stock is particularly salty, in which case use less. You could use white wine or apple juice or cider if you wanted a vegetarian dish.

Continue cooking for another 10 minutes or so, stirring regularly, until the broth and vinegar are absorbed and the dish is just moist. The closer it gets to done, the more often you will need to stir it to prevent it from scorching, but it is still probably a good idea to increase the heat a little from when it was cooking covered, in order to speed the process a bit.

This reheats well, but it is probably easier to do it in the microwave or in a covered dish in the oven than on the stove-top, where there is the most danger of it burning.

Last year at this time I made Apple Brown Betty.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Cauliflower & Leeks with Saffron

We actually got 2 cauliflowers out of the garden this week! One of them was the size of a golf ball, but still! I have been eyeing the heaps of greenery with their distinct lack of cauliflowerness for some time now, and wondering if we should even try growing them again next year. But if we don't grow corn, and we don't grow broccoli, and we don't grow cauliflowers, and we don't grow lettuce... what are we going to grow in the leaf rotation of our garden? 

I stumbled upon the motherlode of all antique crochet patterns this week and lost several days wandering around in them. Must dig out my crochet hooks... in the meantime, I dug out an old crocheted potholder I got at a garage sale a number of years back. Too valued to use as a potholder, of course, but I should use it as a model more often.

4 servings
30 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

1/2 of a large cauliflower (4 cups choppped)
2 large leeks
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon (large pinch) saffron threads

Clean and chop the cauliflower, and put it in a pot with enough water to cook. Bring to a boil and boil for 4 or 5 minutes. Drain well. While it cooks, crumble the saffron into a small dish with 1 tablespoon of water, and let it sit on the back of the stove to warm.

Meanwhile, Trim and chop the leeks. I cut them in half lenghtwise, then in 1/4" slices. Heat the butter in a large skillet - the cauliflower will be going in there too - and gently cook the leeks until soft and reduced, but do not let them get brown. Grind the fennel seed, add the peppercorns and coarsely grind again. Add them to the leeks with the salt.

Drain the cauliflower well, and add it to the leeks. Mash it in roughly with a potato masher. Pour in the saffron and soaking water, and mix in well. Cook for a few more minutes, until the cauliflower and leeks are dry and show very slight signs of browning - but don't overdo it; burnt (i.e. even medium-browned) leeks are nasty.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Pan Fried Jerusalem Artichokes with Ginger & Garlic

Look what has turned up at the local store! It's Jerusalem artichoke time. The more I eat these, the better I like them. Since they remind me a bit of water chestnuts I decided to cook them with Asian flavours, which I would say works well.

Be sure to have everything ready and standing by before you start cooking the Jerusalem artichokes. They should still have a bit of crunch left in them if possible.

2 servings
30 minutes - 25 minutes prep time

500 grams (1 pound) Jerusalem artichokes
2 to 3 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon arrowroot or cornstarch
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil

Wash the Jerusalem artichokes. They don't need to be well peeled, but pare off any tough or scabby bits. Cut them in 1/4" slices.

Peel and mince the garlic. Peel and mince the ginger. Set them aside together.

Mix the soy sauce, vinegar, water, sesame oil, and arrowroot in a small bowl.

Heat the oil in a mid-sized heavy skillet. Sauté the Jerusalem artichoke slices until evenly browned, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and mix in well. Stir up the sauce and mix it in well. As soon as it is thick and evenly distributed - under a minute - serve up the dish.

Last year at this time I made Brussels Sprouts & Jerusalem Artichokes - how bout that - and Light Christmas Fruitcake. This years' is already sitting in the cold room, marinating. I made three smaller loaves this year, and should go update the baking info.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Impossible Pumpkin-Coconut Pie

Okay, now that you have presumably finished displaying all your seasonal pumpkins... it's time to eat them! Here's one way to do it, and very quick and easy it is too, presuming you have cooked your pumpkin first.  I'm actually using some left from last year, which it turns out is not a bad thing as this years harvest was dismal, although in fact the only squashes we managed to get to harvest were pumpkins.

This is a variation on a popular pie back in the '60s and '70s. The original versions were made with a commercial biscuit mix, but the recipes have long been "dehybridized" if I may use that term. The idea is that the flour settles out of the quickly beaten-together ingredients and forms a bottom crust without the work of having to make and roll one out. Much lower in fat and calories too, as a result. This one combines 2 popular flavours; pumpkin and coconut. The coconut adds a nice crunch. It might be a good idea to toast it before adding it.

6 to 8 servings
1 hour 15 minutes - 10 minutes prep time

1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup unsweetened dessicated coconut
1/3 cup flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups puréed cooked pumpkin or squash
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup milk

Put the butter in a small dish and melt it - 30 to 40 seconds in the microwave will do it, or set it in the oven as it preheats. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9" pie plate.

Put all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and give them a stir. Add the remaining ingredients, and beat them with an electric mixer for 1 to 2 minutes, until thoroughly blended. Pour the batter into the prepared pie plate, and bake for 1 hour 10 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes, until firm in the middle. (No jiggle!)

Serve at room temperature, or chilled.

Last year at this time I made Brussels Sprouts & Jerusalem Artichokes.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Broccoli Kugel

This has been a very popular dish around here this broccoli season. And why not? It's light but filling, and easy to put together, if admittedly not super fast, although most of the time is spent baking it. The leftovers keep very well, and it reheats fine in either the oven or the microwave although it's perfectly nice at room temperature too. Serve it for brunch, lunch, or dinner - heck, I would eat it for breakfast. 

The veggies should be chopped fairly finely and the noodles should be broken into somewhat short lengths, of 3" or so. This helps everything mix up evenly and meld into a well-balanced whole. You can use regular or whole wheat noodles, as long as they are on the fine side. I haven't tried it with fine rice vermicelli yet, but it's on my to-try list. I don't see why it wouldn't work. Also when I say discard the broccoli stems, I mean use them somewhere else.

4 to 8 servings
1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes - 30 minutes prep time, 15 minutes rest time

1 large or 2 medium onions
2 stalks of celery
1 large carrot
3 to 4 cloves of garlic
2 heads (1 bunch) broccoli

1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon rubbed basil
1 teaspoon rubbed oregano OR savory
250 grams (1/2 pound) vermicelli, capellini or spaghettini
4 large eggs
2 cups cottage cheese
1 cup sour cream or yogurt
100 grams (4 ounces) old Cheddar cheese, grated

Peel and chop the onions. Wash, trim and chop the celery. Peel and grate the carrot. (These three can be put aside together until wanted.) Peel and mince the garlic.  Wash the broccoli. Cut off the stems, and discard. Chop the florets and tender upper stems quite finely. Butter 2 9" pie plates or a 9" x 13" baking pan and set them (it) aside.

Put on a large pot of salted water to boil. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Heat the oil in a large skillet, and cook the onions, celery and carrot in it until softened and reduced in volume. Add the garlic and seasonings, and mix in well, cooking for another minute or two. Remove the vegetables to a mixing bowl.

When the water boils, add the broccoli and cook for 2 to 4 minutes, depending on cooking time for the pasta - the broccoli should be just tender at the end of both cooking times, about 5 minutes in total. Add the broken up pasta and cook for HALF the recommended time on the package - this may be as little as ONE minute, but will likely be 2 or 3 minutes. Drain well, and mix with the vegetables in the mixing bowl.

Mix the cottage cheese, sour cream or yogurt, and the eggs into the vegetables and pasta, and transfer the mixture to the prepared baking pan(s), spreading it out evenly and pressing down slightly. Top with the grated Cheddar.

Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, until firm. Let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving, or let it set completely and serve at room temperature.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Red Flannel Hash

Here is a fine old dish. The name comes from the way the beets bleed all over the potatoes, like a red flannel shirt that got mixed in with the white laundry by mistake. It's always been delicious, but I added some fennel seed and cayenne and thought it was better than ever. The poached eggs are classic, and really make it a complete meal. The two of us ate it all, since we are apparently under the impression we are lumberjacks, but if you have a more modest appetite or serve it with other things, it will serve four. The stuff in the jar is my home-made chow-chow, another classic old-timer of a recipe. Ketchup would also go just fine.

As you may be able to tell from the photo, I am finally getting better at making poached eggs. Add a dollop of vinegar to the water, drop them in very gently, keep it at a steady simmer, allow 3 to 4 minutes for a soft egg and 8 to 10 minutes for the way Mr. Ferdzy likes them. Time them. Yes, I know. What a waste of good eggs. Oh well.

2 to 4 servings
1 hour 15 minutes - 30 to 40 minutes prep time

4 medium (500 grams, 1 pound) beets
6 medium (1 kg, 2 pounds) potatoes
1 large onion
3 to 4 cloves of garlic
2 stalks celery
2 to 4 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fennel seeds (optional)
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne or flaked red chiles (optional)

Wash the beets and trim off any leaves or stems. Put them in a pot with water to cover and boil for approximately 40 minutes, until tender. Meanwhile, wash the potatoes and cut them into 1 cm dice. Put them in a pot with water to cover generously, and boil for 15 minutes. Drain well.

Peel and chop the onion. Peel and mince the garlic. Wash, trim and chop the celery. When the beets are tender, drain them and rinse them under cold water until they can be handled and the peels slip off. Cut them in dice of similar size to the other vegetables.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet. Fry the potatoes until nicely browned all over, turning and mixing every few minutes or so as they brown. Heat should be medium-high; adjust so that they brown at a steady rate without scorching. Add a bit more oil as necessary. Once they start to brown, add the onions and celery. Once the potatoes are well browned, and the onion and celery is soft and cooked down, add the garlic, salt, fennel seeds and cayenne, and mix in well. Add the diced beets and mix in well. Continue cooking for 3 or 4 minutes more, turning and mixing as needed, until the beets are hot through. Serve with poached eggs, if desired.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Determinate and Indeterminate Vegetables

I write a fair bit about individual varieties of vegetables, but as I sit and plan next springs' garden it occurs to me that I should write a bit about some of the criteria I use to select the varieties I do. This is part of the series on seed-saving, but it's about seed selection on the macro scale: what seeds to you choose to grow in the first place? One of the things I need to know about a variety before I plant it is whether it is determinate or indeterminate.

What do determinate and indeterminate mean?:

Simply, whether the variety of vegetable will grow to a given size, produce all of its crop within a short period of time, then die down (determinate), or whether it will begin to produce slowly, continuing to grow as a plant and  to provide the edible part of the plant over a prolongued (indeterminate) period of time.

Usually, the vegetables that are described as determinate or indeterminate are the ones where the fruit is the edible part of the plant; tomatoes, peppers, peas and beans and perhaps cucumbers or melons being the vegetables where you are most likely to see the term used. However, it is also applicable to potatoes. They are generally described as short season, medium season, or long season rather than determinate or indeterminate. However, short season potatoes set a certain quantity of potatoes, then they die down. Long season potatoes will, if you continue to hill them up at a judicious rate, continue to form tubers until cut short by cold weather. Mid season potatoes will continue to set potatoes for a while, but die down naturally before long season varieties would. As so often is the case, determinate and indeterminate describe the more extreme ends of the phenomenon, but many varieties will fall somewhere in the middle.

So which should you grow?:

Well, I don't know! It depends on what you are looking for. Like most things in life, there are advantages and disadvantages to each growth strategy.

Determinate varieties:

One advantage of determinate varieties is that they are often the earliest producing plants. If you want early peas, you almost certainly need to grow a determinate variety such as Misty, or Strike. Carol Deppe, in her book The Resilient Gardener, points out that when gardens are stressed by unpredictable and fluctuating weather, or by an inability of the gardener to give them full their full attention, determinate varieties make a lot of sense. For instance, I can often get a batch of Envol potatoes in and out of the ground before the potato beetles even show up for the season. Determinate varieties are also generally more compact than indeterminate varieties, making them more suitable for container gardening and other gardens without a lot of available space. They are also good in gardens which lack shelter - the larger indeterminate varieties are much more likely to be damaged by wind and weather. Determinate varieties may also mean multiple crops from one space. For instance, we like to grow Bellestar tomatoes for their early determinate crop of canning tomatoes. (Although I find determinate fresh eating tomatoes just annoying.) We pull them out and put our fall-planted garlic in their spot. You can follow early peas with bush beans very easily in our 150 day season, say Dual, followed by Provider. Finally, determinates are practically the only varieties grown by commercial vegetable growers because they are the ones that are suited to mechanical harvesting, or harvesting by seasonal labour crews. If you are growing your vegetables to freeze or can, having your harvest come in within a short period of time is very helpful -  you can do it all in a few batches, rather than in dribs and drabs.

Of course, there are also disadvantages. If you don't want to freeze or can your vegetables, but to cut and come again over a long season, these are very annoying - one week you are awash in more vegetables than you can manage, and the next week they are gone. Furthermore, I have found that determinate varieties have less disease tolerance in general than indeterminate varieties. Of course, tolerance varies between different determinate varieties, but in general they can't evade molds, fungi or viruses (or even nibbling pests) by simply outgrowing them the way indeterminate varieties often can. There is also a definite relationship between the amount of foliage a plant produces and the flavour of the parts used as vegetables. For instance, many people believe - and I am certainly one of them - that pole beans and peas (almost always indeterminate) almost always have better flavour than bush peas and beans (almost always determinate).

Indeterminate varieties:

The advantages and disadvantages of indeterminate varieties are, of course, pretty much the reverse of the above.

You will wait longer for your indeterminate vegetables to start producing (usually), and that means more time for something to go wrong. You will generally need more space for indeterminate varieties, and they will usually need much more in the way of structural support than determinate varieties. You had better like them, because they will keep coming... and coming... The fact that they are indeterminate doesn't mean you don't have to pick peas and beans every day - you do!

Still, there are a number of indeterminate tomato varieties where I am happy to eat every one as they come available, at a very reasonable pace. Their flavour is superb, the product of time and the support of a strong plant. They ignore, if not shake off, the growth of some diseases while the Bellestars mentioned above, on the other hand, are almost certainly in a race to produce something before all their leaves die and fall off. (That dratted septoria spot!)They are often much easier to pick, assuming you have supported them properly, and are often cleaner and in better condition because they haven't been draggling on the ground.

So what do we grow?:

As we become more experienced gardeners, we find we are using a combination of indeterminate and determinate vegetables so that we can have the best of both possibilities. No reason to stick to just one or the other - it's all about what works in your garden.

If you find a determinate variety you really like, but you lament how quickly it is over, you can plant several batches, timed to give you a harvest over the period you want. At least, that's the theory and what is usually recommended by garden writers. It works with some things; other times, whatever it is just sits there, regardless of when planted, and then when they decide the conditions are ideal they all take off together.

That has certainly been my experience with lettuce, which is marginal for us at best anyway. Spinach, too. Radishes work reasonably well. Peas? It all depends on the weather although peas planted for the fall - in theory a great idea - always seem to get mildew and fail to get really enthusiastic about spitting out the peas. Somewhat counterintuitively, I think it is best to plant indeterminate peas for the fall - they may out grow the mildew, unlike shorter determinates, although they need to be able to start in a relatively low number of days. Snap peas such as Amish Snap and Sugar Magnolia, seem very amenable to staggered plantings. Beans have proven reasonably amenable to staggered plantings. I don't have any data on cucumbers or melons, or tomatoes either for that matter. Onions etc have such a long growing season in general, and around here tend to be sensitive to day length anyway, that they are not particularly flexible in their planting times. On the other hand, we put some Russet Burbank potatoes in very, very late this summer (beginning of August!!!) and they still produced a respectable, if diminished crop. (We kept them going as long as we could under a hoop-house.)

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Chocolate Cranberry Panforte

I thought I would try a different kind of fruitcake this year for Christmas, and decided to tackle a panforte. The name is misleading - it means strong bread, in Italian - because this is not bread nor cake, but really a kind of baked candy. Staggeringly rich, is what I'm saying. So cut it in very, very small pieces.

It's supposed to be quite hard once it cools. The aging period will soften it up, but it will still take some effort to slice I suspect.  Little nibbles from the bits that stuck to the parchment lead me to suspect that it will also be quite amazing.

It was quicker and easier to make than I expected, although it's important to have everything else finished and ready before you turn on the heat under the sugar and honey. After that you must work quickly to get it into the pan and into the oven. I made 2 batches; one pretty much as described below, and one that I divided up into 6 little pie pans. Those were done in about 30 minutes. I used wheat flour for the first batch, and rice flour for the second batch as they will be presents and I needed them to be wheat-free. They seemed to work just as well that way.

24 to 48 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 45 minutes prep time

Prepare the Spices:
5 tablespoons flour (wheat or rice)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 pods green cardamom

1/2 teaspoon anise seed
1/4 teaspoon coriander seed
1/4 teaspoon white peppercorns
the finely grated zest of 1 lemon

Put the flour, salt and cinnamon in a small bowl. Crush the cardamom pod lightly, to allow removal of the green hulls. Grind the remaining cardamom seed with the anise, coriander and peppercorns. Add them to the flour along with lemon zest. Set aside.

Prepare the Fruit & Nuts:
2 cups nuts - hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios, or a mix
1 cup dried cranberries
2/3 cup light raisins
2/3 cup candied peel
1/4 cup preserved ginger

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the nuts on a baking tray and bake them for 10 to 20 minutes, until golden brown. Time will depend on the type of nut. Check regularly. If you use almonds, they should be blanched first.

When the nuts are toasted, put them in a large mixing bowl and add the cranberries, raisins and candied peel. Chop the ginger coarsely and add it to the mixture. Toss the fruit and nuts with the flour and spices until evenly coated, breaking up any clumps.

Finish the Panforte:
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 1 tablespoon for buttering the pan
2 tablespoons rum
60 grams (2 ounces) unsweetened chocolate

Line a 9" spring form pan with parchment paper, folding up the edges, and butter it thoroughly. Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Put the sugar and honey into a heavy-bottomed pot, and bring to boil. You can stir once or twice to be sure the sugar dissolves, at the beginning, but once it starts to really warm up stop stirring. Once one half of the surface is bubbling, set the timer for 2 minutes exactly. Watch it to be sure it doesn't boil over - reduce the heat if it is rising up too high. After 2 minutes, turn it off and stir in the butter, chocolate and rum. Keep stirring  until the chocolate (and butter, but it will go much faster) is completely melted.

Pour the hot mixture over the fruit and nuts, and stir well. Scrape quickly into the prepared pan with a spatula, and spread it out evenly. It will start to set quite fast, so you will need to do this before it gets too stiff to easily work.

Bake the panforte until it is bubbling gently all over the surface, about 45 to 55 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool. Wrap well and keep in a cool, dry, dark place for 2 weeks or more before serving.