Monday, 30 December 2013

Creamy Mushroom Dip

This is a simple, classic dip that goes together very quickly. The original recipe, which I got from our family cookbook, called for tarragon. I hate tarragon, but you could replace the savory or thyme with a couple of tablespoons of fresh tarragon. Actually, I think chervil would be excellent, but chervil is next to impossible to find.

There was a fair bit of this left over from our Christmas party. I sautéed some more mushrooms with a chopped leek, added the dip to the pan until just heated, then tossed it all with pasta and cabbage, and I think it was an even bigger hit than it was as a dip. 

12 to 16 servings
20 minutes prep time - but allow an hour to rest

Creamy Mushroom Dip

250 g fresh button mushrooms
1 or 2 cloves of garlic
1 cup cream cheese (light is fine)
2 tablespoons mayonnaise (light is fine)
1/3 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons dried chives (OR 1/4 cup fresh)
1 teaspoon rubbed savory or thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
the juice of 1/2 lemon

Clean and trim the mushrooms, and cut them into quarters. Peel, trim and slice the garlic. Put them in the bowl of a food processor with all the remaining ingredients except the lemon juice. Process until well chopped and blended, but leave a little texture to the mushrooms if you can. Add the lemon juice and pulse it in, then scoop it out to a serving dish. Keep in the fridge until wanted.

Last year at this time I made Squash or Sweet Potato Puff.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Caramel Popcorn

Need a last minute Christmas present or stocking stuffer? Don't want to go out in the freezing rain? Here's something that can be whipped up pretty quickly with cupboard staples.

Christmas is nearly upon us, and now that I am kind of back in the swing of posting it's time to take another little break. Things are going to be very busy over the next few days, even though we are probably not going to go down to visit Dad and his partner. (We have learned our lesson from Snowmageddon.)  Stay warm and safe, everyone, have a good Christmas, solstice, or whatever, and if I'm not back before then, best wishes for a happy new year.

12 servings
1 hour 45 minutes - 45 minutes prep time

Caramel Popcorn

10 cups popped popcorn
1 cup peanuts or other nuts of your choice
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup Sucanat or dark brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp vanilla extract

Mix the popped popcorn and the nuts of your choice in a very large mixing bowl. You will have to stir hot syrup into this so you need lots of room!

Bring the vegetable oil, Sucanat and honey to a boil in a good sized, heavy bottomed pot. Set a timer for 5 minutes. Keep it boiling steadily, stirring constantly. Medium heat is what you want. At about the time the timer goes, the vegetable oil will mostly disappear into the syrup. This is the moment you've been waiting for. (Use the timer just as a guide.) Remove it from the heat, stir in the vanilla, and pour it over the popcorn.

Use a spatula to scrape out the pot. The syrup should be stirred into the popcorn as quickly and evenly as possible. It doesn't hurt to have another person do this as you are pouring and scraping out the syrup. Be careful! Syrup burns are very nasty.

Spread the popcorn out evenly on a lightly oiled cookie sheet. Bake it at 250°F for 1 hour, stirring once or twice during that time. Allow to cool and break it up slightly, so that there are no very large clumps.

Last year at this time I made Cranberry Turkey Meatballs in Mushroom Gravy

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Spaghetti Squash au Gratin

I still had some cooked spaghetti squash left, so it went into this casserole. Very nice! You could serve it as a side dish with plainly cooked fish or chicken, but it's rich enough to make a good vegetarian main dish as well, which is how we had it. A green salad or steamed green vegetable will complete the meal. 

4 to 6 servings
1 hour prep time, plus 1 hour to pre-cook the squash,
not including cooling time

Spaghetti Squash au Gratin

4 cups cooked, loosened spaghetti squash strands
8 to 12 button mushrooms
2 large shallots
2 large cloves of garlic
1/4 cup chopped dried tomatoes
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
1 teaspoon rubbed basil
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 teaspoons arrowroot or cornstarch
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
140 grams (5 ish ounces) chevre (soft goat cheese)
2 tablespoons bread crumbs
1 teaspoon butter

Pierce the spaghetti squash with a fork, and roast it at 350°F (on a tray) for about hour, until soft. Let cool, then cut in half and discard the seeds. Loosen the strands of squash from the shell with a fork, and discard the shell.

Preheat the ovent to 350°F. Wash, trim and slice the mushrooms. Peel and dice the shallots. Peel and mince the garlic. Chop the tomatoes.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Cook the mushrooms and shallots until quite soft and slightly browned, stirring regularly. Add the minced garlic and basil, and cook for a minute or so longer. Add the dried tomatoes and most of the chicken stock. Mix the arrowroot in with the remaining chicken stock, and when the vegetables have simmered for a few minutes and the tomatoes look softened, stir in the remaining stock with the cornstarch. Season with salt and pepper to taste; the amount of salt will be affected by whether your chicken stock is already salted or not. Mix in the chevre, until it is completely dissolved.

Oil a 2 quart casserole dish (8" x 11" baking dish). Mix the spaghetti squash with the sauce and spread it in the prepared pan. Sprinkle it with the breadcrumbs and dot with the butter. Bake for about 45 minutes, until browned and bubbly around the edges.

Last year at this time I made Crisp Winter Salad with Cottage Cheese Dressing.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Roasted Brussels Sprouts in Spaghetti Squash Nests

This is a bit of a gimmick more than a recipe, but at least it's an attractive and good-tasting gimmick. Roasted Brussels sprouts make great "eggs" in little nests of spaghetti squash tossed with cheese and herbs. Serve them as their own course as part of a formal dinner, or with a piece of roasted or poached chicken breast alongside and call it the whole thing.

This was a spaghetti squash I grew myself, and it separated into nice clean strands, just as it should. I've had more troubles with purchased spaghetti squash being too soft and mushy, which is really annoying when they are not cheap. Pity we are not good growers of squash, generally getting few and small ones. I hope that one of these days we will get the amendments right and win the battle of the bugs.

Makes 4 to 6 servings
1 hour 20 minutes - 20 minutes prep time

Roasted Brussels Sprouts in Spaghetti Squash Nests

1  1 kilo (2 pounds) spaghetti squash
1 kilo (2 pounds) Brussels sprouts
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon rubbed oregano
1/2 teaspoon rubbed savory
1/2 teaspoon rubbed thyme
freshly ground black pepper to taste
a little more grated Parmesan to sprinkle over, if you like

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Wash the squash, and stab it in several places with a fork. Bake it - on a tray; it may leak - for 40 to 45 minutes, until soft.

Meanwhile, wash and trim the Brussels sprouts, and cut a cross in the base of each one to facilitate faster cooking. Toss them with the oil in a baking pan, and put them in the oven when the squash is about half done (20 or 25 minutes still to go). Sprinkle them with a little salt first if you like.

Have the butter and grated cheese standing by, along with the seasonings. When the squash is done, remove it from the oven and cut it in half. Scoop out and discard the seeds, etc from the middles, then use a fork to pull out the strands. put them in a bowl and toss them with the butter, cheese and seasonings.

Divide the spaghetti squash onto individual serving plates, and form into little nests. Serve with the roasted Brussels sprouts divided amongst the nests, and with a little more cheese sprinkled over top if you like. You will need to work quickly as I found the spaghetti squash cooled off fairly quickly. They could go back in the oven to stay warm if you need a few extra minutes to get other parts of the meal ready, as long as your plates are happy with that.

Last year at this time I made White Chocolate Mousse with Cranberries, on the occasion of my mothers birthday. I was just thinking about what a fabulous knock-out dessert it was, and that I should make it for Christmas dinner this year, and there it is. Oh yeah, I think so. It was SOOO good.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Dressing (Stuffing) Flavoured Baked Beans

It has been my opinion, ever since childhood, that the best part of a Christmas (or Thanksgiving, or turkeys-were-on-sale) turkey is the dressing, or stuffing. (We can discuss religion and politics and even computers at our dining table. But don't get us going on whether it's properly called dressing, or stuffing. You'll notice I waffle on the topic.) So I'm always interested in bringing that flavour profile to other dishes.

I'm going to have to come up with a lot of bean dishes this winter, since we ended up with jars and jars of dried beans. Seed selection for the win! Also, we just plain planted a lot. Anyway, here is my first new bean dish of the season, and I am declaring it a success. Apart from the fact that dried beans are always a bit slow on their journey from jar to table, this is very easy to make, and requires little attention as it cooks. We both thought it was really tasty.

These are my rare and exotic Deseronto Potato beans, but navy (pea) beans are readily available and should work perfectly well for this dish; really any mild white bean.

We were impressed by the Deseronto Potato beans, by the way. This was the first time we actually tried any even though it is our second year of growing them and we got a decent crop last year. Unfortunately, last year I put them away in a glass jar when I thought they were well dried down, but I was wrong, and they went mouldy. The seed beans were okay as I had stored them in paper bags, but it's been a long wait to try these. THIS year I made sure they were well dried in our food drier before they went into the storage jar!

4 to 6 servings
3 hours - 30 minutes prep time. NOT including pre-cooking the beans.

Dressing (Stuffing) Flavoured Baked Beans

2 cups (450 grams; 1 pound) dried white beans
2 recipes Poultry Seasoning
2 large onions
OR 4 to 6 shallots
6 stalks of celery
OR 2 cups peeled, finely diced celeriac
salt as needed
2 tablespoons sunflower seed oil
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock

Put the beans (rinsed and picked over) into a large pot with plenty of water to cover them. Bring them to a boil, then turn off the heat and cover them, and let them sit and soak for an hour or so. Repeat the boiling and soaking one or two more times, until the beans are soft enough to eat. You can, and probably should, do this the day before you bake them.

When you are ready to proceed, mix up your poultry seasoning. If you decide to use canned beans, and your chicken stock is salted, you should probably omit the salt, as they will have plenty already. I found it necessary to use an extra teaspoon (so 2 teaspoons altogether) but neither my beans nor my chicken stock were pre-salted.

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Peel the onions or shallots, and chop them finely. Wash and trim the celery or celeriac, and chop it finely. Drain the beans well.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Cook the onions (shallots) and celery until fairly soft. Halfway through the process, add the poultry seasoning and mix it in well. Add the beans and mix them in well, then transfer everything to a 9" x 13" baking pan. Or you can mix them in the baking pan; whichever you think will be easier. Spread them out evenly and pour the chicken stock over them.

Bake for 2 to 2 1/2 hours until starting to dry and brown just a bit on top. That's it; easy! We had ours with cole slaw.

Last year at this time I made Leek & Garlic White Bean (!) Soup, and Michael's Grandmother's Pickled Onions.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Yeah, I've Not Been Posting

You may have noticed, if there's anyone out there still to notice.

This has been a difficult season. Dad fell down the stairs and spent a week in the hospital being observed; fortunately he was just badly bruised and there were no long-term repercussions. This was followed by a discussion with my mother-in-law about how we think she shouldn't be driving anymore; fortunately, she agreed and we will now be spending a certain amount of time driving her around. UNfortunately, this was followed by her suffering from gallstones, kidney stones, and heart irregularities, and the driving started immediately and with a vengeance, not to mention the waiting around in doctors offices. Again, we are lucky that in spite of these problems she is basically in very good health.

While all this has obviously eaten up a certain amount of my time, the real problem (for me) is that it all sent me into a complete funk. Intellectually, I've known for a long time that we are all getting older. However it was a lot easier to ignore 2 months ago when I didn't even know any of this was on the horizon. So I've been busy digesting all this change and it turns out I needed such a complete break from the blog that I couldn't even bring myself to post a be-back-sometime message.

Since I have now been able to cope with the idea of posting a be-back-sometime message, I guess that means things are improving, and I'll be back - sometime - probably even this month and if I am able to get myself in gear, later this week. In general, though, I suspect I'll be posting at a slower rate than I was.

Hope you all have happy, holidays, with the people you love, and a healthy and productive new year.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Kale & Parsnips à l'orange

I usually prefer my parsnips roasted rather than boiled, but I'm prepared to make an exception for this dish. The creamy parsnips, astringent kale and floral orange flavours all blend together very well, and on top of that this is a very easy dish to make.

4 servings
45 minutes - 15 minutes prep time

Kale & Parsnips à l'orange

3 medium parsnips, about 12 ounces or 300 grams
4 cups finely chopped kale
1 tbsp butter
the finely grated zest of 1/2 of an orange
the juice of 1 large orange

Peel and slice the parsnips. Put them in a large pot with water to cover them well, and boil them until tender, about 20 to 25  minutes.

Meanwhile, wash the kale well, removing any limp or discoloured leaves and coarse stems. Chop it finely. Steam the kale - over the parsnips is a good place to do it. Put them above the parsnips when the parsnips are easily pierced with a fork; the kale will be cooked in about five minutes.

Remove the kale to drain, and drain the parsnips well. Mash them with the butter and orange zest, then mix the orange juice and the kale into them.  Be sure the kale is well drained.

Last year at this time I made Chocolate Cranberry Panforte.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Broccoli with Bacon, Mushrooms & Onion

I try not to do too many vegetable dishes filled with rich, fatty things like bacon, butter, cream or cheese. However, if you can get a good lean bacon, this is more of a main dish than a side dish, just needing some rice or other grain to complete it. Otherwise, if you keep the bacon down to 2 or 3 slices, it would also make a good side dish. Therefore I'm not saying how much bacon to use; put in whatever seems appropriate to you. If you are treating it as a side dish, maybe cook the bacon fairly crisp and keep it out until the end, just sprinkling it over the top as you serve it.

Of course, the bacon, mushroom and onion combination is just as good with other vegetables, such as cauliflower, cabbage, or green beans.

2 to 4 servings
20 minutes prep time

1 medium onion
8 to 10 large button mushrooms
1 medium head broccoli

Put a pot of water on to boil, in which you will blanch the broccoli, so it should be sufficient to cover it. 

Peel the onion and cut it into slivers. Clean the mushrooms and cut them in quarters. Wash and trim the broccoli, and cut it into florets.Cut the bacon into inch-long pieces.

Cook the bacon in a large skillet until just shy of what you would consider done. Remove it to a serving plate. The broccoli should go into the boiling water at this point, and cook for about 2 to 4 minutes, depending on how large your pieces are and how tender you would like them to be.

If there is too much fat left in the pan, drain some of it off (or in the remote possiblity it is necessary, add a little more oil to be sure the pan is sufficiently greasy. Then add the onions and mushrooms to the pan and cook until softened and browned in spots, stirring frequently. Drain the broccoli well, and add it to the pan about halfway through this procedure. Once the broccoli, mushrooms and onions are looking all happy and well acquainted, add the bacon back in, and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the bacon is hot and the dish otherwise strikes you as "enough".

Last year at this time I made Celery & Peanut Butter Soup

Monday, 28 October 2013

Beet & Egg Salad

This was a simple little salad to put together, but it made good use of some of the vegetables now coming of our garden. I found the original recipe in a cookbook from around 1890, and have expanded it a little - yeah, that was a really simple recipe.

I garnished mine with a few sliced olives, which I thought was a nice touch.

2 to 4 servings
15 minutes prep time but allow 2 hours for cooking and cooling

Beet and Egg Salad

Make the Dressing:
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
 1 tablespoon sunflower seed oil
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
salt & pepper to taste

Whisk or shake together in a small bowl or jar.

Make the Salad:
4 medium beets
1/4 cup sliced sweet onion
1/2 cup (1 small) sliced fennel bulb
OR 2 stalks of celery
2 large eggs

Cook the beets in advance by putting them in a pot with water to cover them generously, and boiling them until tender, about 40 to 45 minutes. Alternatively, wrap them in foil and bake them at 350°F for a similar or slightly longer amount of time. Let them cool, peel them and slice them.

Peel and slice the onion. Trim and slice the fennel or celery, into fairly thin, fine slices. Put them in a shallow dish, and salt them heavily. Set them aside for about half an hour, then rinse them well and squeeze them gently dry.

Put the eggs in a pot with cold water to cover. Bring them to a boil and boil them for one minute, then turn off the heat and leave them, covered, for 10 minutes. Put them in cold water until cool enough to peel. Peel them.

Arrange the onion and fennel or celery on individual plates, and arrange the beet and egg slices over the top. Less decorative, but probably a bit easier to eat would be to chop the beets and eggs finer, and mix them with the onion and fennel.  Either way, then drizzle the dressing over the top of the salad.

Last year at this time I made Pork with Fennel & Peppers

Thursday, 24 October 2013

A Visit to Tree & Twig

A few weeks ago, just before I had my little fit of incompetence, we went down to visit my father. Since we were in the neighbourhood, I arranged to visit Tree & Twig, a small farm on the edge of Wellandport run by Linda Crago, who has a finger in an awful lot of pies, both for income and her own interest in unusual and heirloom plants.

These chickens, which supply her with eggs, are Plymouth Barred Rocks and Rhode Island Reds. 

The garden was in the process of being cleaned up for the winter, but there were still quite a few things still growing. It's definitely warmer in the tip of the Niagara peninsula than it is up here!

This little vine is melothria scabra, known as Mexican sour gherkin, or mouse watermelons (sandia de raton). You can see one hanging by the first wire support to the right. They do look amazingly like tiny, tiny watermelons, although the flavour is of slightly sour cucumber. They are a little on the seedy side, but not bad, and apparently make good pickles.

In addition to the chickens, Linda has some geese, and a pot-bellied pig named Joey. A chorus of dogs greeted us when we arrived. Linda may be in the business of heirloom vegetables, but she is obviously also very fond of animals.

She is also very interested in unusual plants. This one is Morelle de Balbis, or Litchi Tomato. To me they look more closely related to the physalis family; tomatillos, ground cherries and the like. We sampled a couple; they were surprisingly appealing. Slightly tomatoey in flavour, but with a sweet fruity quality as well. I can see them making excellent chutneys and relishes, as an ingredient in salads, and perhaps even used in desserts. Behind them, there is a comparatively more prosaic row of Lacinato (Dinosaur) Kale.

The garden is relatively small, with about 4 acres of the 9 acre property planted. About 3 of those acres are vegetables. Plenty of work for one person, though! I don't know how she does it. The 2 of us do half of that and think it plenty. She's right on the edge of Wellandport, and the property is backed by the Welland River; a very attractive spot.

Linda runs a CSA all year - it really is milder in Niagara - although of course most of the winter vegetables are stored or grown under cover. She sells a few vegetables to restaurants. Her biggest endeavour, though, is plant sales in the spring. She grows 700 - wow! - varieties of tomatoes, as well as peppers and other vegetables.

Here is another look at the Lacinato Kale, mulched in hay. Behind them there is a row of lettuce, long gone to seed. Linda sells seeds, some of which she grows herself and some of which come from Seed Savers Exchange. She has been a member for many years, but for most of us here in Canada it can be hard to get SSE seeds, so this is a good way to access them.

Linda shows us some of her pepper plants, still producing nicely at this point. I always feel a bit bad at how closely we pack our pepper plants, but Linda's are even closer. Her soil is heavy clay, so her plants don't get that big - ours are certainly larger, and we really don't fertilise beyond a little compost or manure to start - but they looked very healthy and productive. She grows a large selection of the very hottest pepper varieties; apparently they are popular with young male customers in particular. Ghost, Carolina Reaper, Scorpion and 7-Pot Brain Strain were some of the varieties in her plot. Yikes!

In addition to her other projects, Linda is a test grower for Rodale's Organic Gardening Magazine, the only one in Canada in fact. Each year she is sent, along with their other test gardeners, a set of seeds to grow out. They are tested for their ability to grow in different parts of the continent, and rated.

I was really interested to see this plant - it's red-foliated cotton. I don't know how much cotton it would actually produce here, but it makes an excellent ornamental plant, with reddish heart-shaped leaves, big pink hibiscus-like flowers and attractive seed pods.

Here is Linda's winter hoop-house - a little bigger than ours, and much more accessible. She still has tomatoes growing down one side, along with what looks like a zucchini that doesn't want to pack it in, but the other side and been cleared out and planted with winter greens such as arugula, chard and kale.

On top of all her other projects, Linda organises Seedy Saturdays in Niagara Falls. For those of us who are too far away, though, her mail-order seed list is full of interesting things. It was really exciting and inspiring to visit Tree and Twig. Linda left a career in the city as a social worker to do what she really loves, and it was great to meet her and her amazing garden. I'm going to be sure to order seeds early this year, as I've missed a couple of items I've wanted to try for the last 2 years as they have sold out before I was ready to order. I suppose I shouldn't tell you that; now I will have to order even earlier...

Monday, 21 October 2013

End of the Season Garden Notes

Uh, hello. Kind of fell of the edge there for a while. The noise-to-signal ratio in my brain is never the best, but lately it's been all-static all the time. However, sooner or later one has to attempt to pull things together again, so here goes.

It's been a long time since I've done a garden report, so I'm going back to the end of August for this part. We had a wild thunderstorm one evening, during which we heard an enormous "CRACK". "Wow, that was a close strike!" we said. In the morning we went out and found this 100' poplar had fallen over. It hadn't actually been struck by lightening that we could see, just blown over. Fortunately, even though it fell towards the house, it was about 95' away, so it just brushed the house, and it was the tip of the tree that broke and not the house.

We hired a tree company to come in and chip up everything small enough to chip, so we now have an enormous pile of mulch available. The trunk was cut into "manageable" pieces and left to us. Fortunately, a neighbour saw them and asked if he could have them, and we were able to get rid of them quite quickly.

This photo is from mid September, I guess. I can see the beans still look okay, although we got anthracnose in them this year, and our harvest was definitely cut short. We did get 90% of what we expected to freeze and a very large quantity of dried beans, so it wasn't a complete disaster. Still, anthracnose is a nasty disease and I am very annoyed to have yet another bacteria/fungus cavorting in the garden to be dealt with.

I can see from this picture that one bed has been cleared of dry beans and planted with lettuce for the late fall/early spring. Also that we have not put away the live-trap, with which we hoped to catch the damned rabbit that ate a bunch of our soybeans, but failed.

Here is Mr. Ferdzy with our largest watermelon of the year, a Moon & Stars (Van Doren strain). If Mr. Ferdzy looks a little dismayed, it's because when he picked it up to pose with it, rotten liquid poured out the bottom. It turned out that a number of watermelons failed to seal up properly on the blossom end, and so the insides rotted. Too bad; this would probably have been close to 40 pounds of watermelon.

However, we weren't exactly short of melons. They were my project of the year, and we had lots and lots. It wasn't the best year for melons at all, but I console myself with the thought that if you are assessing a large number of melons, there are benefits to doing it in a bad year. You can at least tell which ones hold up to abuse and which ones don't. And since abuse is a regular garden feature, it's something you need to know sooner or later.

Here was the second-largest of the Sun & Moon watermelons, a 24 pounder, along with a selection of other melons. The spotted pear-shaped melon in the middle was an excellent melon I will certainly grow again, a crenshaw-type melon called Sweet Freckles. Most crenshaws don't do well in short, cool summers, but this one was specially bred to handle it, and handle it it did.

Early in October, right after we did our garlic tasting, we planted our garlic for next year. We cut it down from 7 varieties to 4 varieties, although we still planted the same quantity of garlic overall; a 5' by 16' section. That's a lot of garlic, but we use it and/or share it with friends and family, and we expect to run out before the next batch is ready to harvest.

For the first time, we were actually able to harvest sunflower seeds. This is something Mr. Ferdzy has been trying to do for several years, and failing because usually the birds get to them well before we do. We picked up some sunflower seeds in Turkey, and they turned out to work well. The blossoms are slow to fall of the seeds, which I think helps hide them from the critters, and then they are very tightly packed, which makes them harder to get out once the critters do find them.

Unfortunately, we picked them then left them in a cool spot when we should have been drying them with heat, and they went mouldy! We've rescued enough for seed, but very frustrating. I'm also not convinced that they are worth all the trouble involved in processing them, though I suspect sunflowers will be a useful thing to grow if we ever get around to getting some chickens.

Even though the weather has continued to be cool and rainy, we have been working on getting the garden cleaned up for the winter. The compost compound is full to bursting, with much more still to come.

Most of the trellises are now down, just a couple still to go. Lots of weeding still to be done, and we need to run around and pick up all the hoses, rakes, ladders, etc that have just been left lying around. (Neatniks we are not.)

The peanuts and sweet potatoes have been harvested, so only the peppers are still under plastic and they will come out as soon possible at this point. We got an okay sweet potato harvest in spite of the weather, as we kept them under plastic pretty much all season. Unfortunately, there is a lot of mouse damage because the plastic provided good cover for them too. Next year if we cover them, we will have to also run a trap-line.

After that, there will only be a few frost-hardy things left in the garden: brassicas, rutabagas, parsnips, carrots, celery, leeks, and winter radishes. Some will be picked and used or stored, and some will be left in the garden to overwinter.

Here's some of this years dry beans. Compare them to the ones from last year. I don't think the weather was better for beans, and we had the anthracnose to contend with this year. Still, this is WAY more beans (holy cow, it's more than double!) from the same space as last year - I believe this is one years worth of seed selection, paying off.

We had a couple of crossed beans show up this year. One would have happened at the seed company, and one would have happened in my garden. The first one wasnt' worth keeping, but I was impressed at how this one turned out. The mother was Dolloff, and the father, I'm pretty sure, was Cherokee Trail of Tears. There were 3 plants from the cross, and between them they produced about 2 cups of seed - pretty impressive. The beans are also attractive. I have yet to try eating them, but I've saved some for seed and if they are tasty we will grow them out and try to stabilise them. If we succeed, it will be a new variety of bean! That would be fun.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Pepper Steak (Stir Fried Beef with Peppers & Onions)

Pepper Steak is a classic of North American-Chinese cooking. We first had it in the 1970's, made by a friend of my father. We all enjoyed it enough that it went into my father's little collection of recipes. It's also quick and simple enough to make for a week-night supper.

At this time of year there's a great selection of peppers to choose from for this dish. I recommend sweet ones such as Doe Hill, Alma paprika, Cubanelle, Red Shepherd, or Hungarian Sweet Wax, but there is no reason not to add a little bit of hot pepper as well... use discretion. Or not, depending on how you like it!

3 to 4 servings
40 minutes prep time

Pepper Steak (Stir Fried Beef with Peppers & Onions)

500 grams (1 pound) round (or other) steak
3 or 4 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon finely minced peeled fresh ginger
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 cups sliced peppers, preferably in green, yellow & red
4 large shallots
OR 2 medium onions
1 tablespoon arrowroot OR corn starch
3 tablespoons broth OR water
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil

Cut the steak into pieces about 1 1/2" wide, with the grain of the meat. Cut each piece into strips about 1/4" side, against the grain of the meat. Peel and mince the garlic finely. Peel and mince the ginger finely - the two should be roughly equal in volume.

Mix the garlic, ginger and soy sauce in a small bowl with the beef strips and let them marinate while you prepare the peppers and onions.

Core and deseed the peppers and cut them into bite-sized slivers. Peel the shallots or onions, and cut them into similar slivers.  Mix the arrowroot or cornstarch in a small bowl with the broth or water.

Heat one tablespoon of oil in a very large skillet over high heat. When it is hot add the beef strips with their marinade, and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until browned all over and slightly dry. Remove them from the pan. (They can go back into the same bowl they marinated in.)

Heat the remaining oil in the skillet over high heat. Add the peppers and shallots or onions, and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until slightly softened and about half cooked. Return the beef to the pan, and mix it in well. Continue mixing and cooking until the beef and vegetables are done to your liking, probably another 3 or 4 minutes. Stir up the starch and broth, and pour it into the pan, mixing well as you add it. As soon as the starch has thickened and is evenly distributed throughout the dish, remove it from the heat and serve it up.

Friday, 27 September 2013

A Garlic Tasting

Ann's Italian, Azores, Bogatyr, Ferganskij, Fish Lake, Foundling, and Tibetan Garlic

A few of years ago, after attending the Stratford Garlic Festival, we ended up growing 9 kinds of garlic. We thought that was a bit excessive, and that we should assess them systematically, and pare down the number. Last year we eliminated 2 of them because they were not healthy, so this year we are down to 7 kinds. (One of them was Music, a bit oddly.) Still a bit much! I can't keep track of them, and just grab one at random. We want to know: which are the best raw? Cooked? Of course, we also have to consider how well they grow in the garden and how good a crop they produce as well.

We are getting ready to plant our garlic within the next week, so it was time to do that assessment and eliminate a few. Is there really much difference between types of garlic? I have to say, while they were all noticeably garlic, the flavour profiles did vary quite a bit. We sampled each garlic raw, and then I cooked a small slice in a neutral vegetable oil for 45 seconds to one minute, until just showing faint signs of browning. One thing that quickly became clear was that our cool, rainy summer had a big impact on our garlic flavour. It was very weak in general compared to other years. Still, we went ahead and rated everything. We seem to get a cool, rainy summer about one year out of every 5, so it's not like it's an aberration.

We gave everything but Ann's Italian a 10 for storage - they were all still just barely showing signs of sprouting and the occasional bad clove when we harvested the new crop in July, except Ann's which had pooped out in mid-spring, thus earning an 8 out of 10 points.

We realised that when eaten raw, garlic has 2 noticeable layers of flavour: an initial burst of pungency, or heat, and then the underlying characteristic garlic flavour. The pungency disappears when the garlic is cooked, and the garlic flavour also changes, meaning that garlics can be quite different raw and cooked.

Ann's Italian: 
This is an unusual garlic that we chose to grow because it often produces extra cloves further up the stem; a double decker garlic. More interesting to me is that it is a semi-softneck garlic meaning that if I wanted to make a garlic braid, this would be a very good candidate.

The bad news is that in every other way it was at the bottom of the list of garlics we grow. We gave it a rating of 5 out of 10 for production (healthy growth and size of bulbs), that 8 out of 10 for storage, a 6 out of 10 for raw flavour and a 5 out of 10 for cooked flavour.

The flavour ratings may have been slightly affected by the fact that it was the first garlic we tried, but we were shocked by how, well, bland it was. Both raw and cooked it was weakly flavoured, and when cooked it had a slight bitter aftertaste. Raw, it had a good sharp horseradishy pungency to start, but it faded very quickly leaving... not much. It may have been better in a better year, but we both agreed that this was an easy elimination.

Azores (Azores Portuguese):
This one was a complete contrast to the Ann's Italian.  The flavour was strong and dark, earthy and almost harsh, but in a good way.The initial pungency was slower to build than in Ann's Italian, and lasted longer. It was never quite as sharp, but the flavour, in addition to being much stronger, lingered in the mouth.Cooked, it was still quite strong and earthy in flavour, but well-balanced.

The bulbs were large, and rated an 8 out of 10 for production, an 8 for raw flavour, and an 8 for cooked flavour.

This was one we picked up at the Stratford Garlic Festival (as was the Ann's Italian) and I don't know much about it beyond that not surprising fact that it was brought over to Canada from the Azores. We agreed that we will continue to grow this one.

Bogatyr is a fairly well-known and popular variety from Russia. The name means "hero" in Russian, and it is said to have originated near Moscow. It's a purple striped hardneck garlic with 4 to 7 cloves, and is one of our largest garlics along with Azores.

In contrast to the Azores, this seemed light and sprightly in flavour, although not weak. Nicely pungent but not too lingering, the phrase we kept repeating was "well balanced". It rated an 8 for production quality, an impressive 8.5 for raw flavour (the highest rating we gave) and an 8 for cooked flavour. Yes, we are keeping this one.

Another garlic from the Stratford Garlic Festival, Ferganskij was collected by John Swenson of the Seed Savers Exchange in a Samarkand (Uzbekistan) bazaar. Alas, in spite of this romantic history and source in the original homeland of garlic, it did not generally rate well.

It received a fairly wimpy 5 out of 10 for production, an unimpressive 5 out of 10 for raw flavour - it was surprisingly weak and bland, lacking in pungency - and an amazing 8.5 for cooked flavour: rich, nutty and well-balanced. This was the highest rating we gave for cooked flavour, but a few others were close on its heels, so we decided that did not justify our planting it again, and it was eliminated.

Fish Lake:
Here is a classic garlic, well-known amongst Canadian garlic lovers. Ted Maczka, a Polish immigrant to Ontario after World War II worked as a tool and die maker, but garlic farming was his true passion and calling. In the late 1970's and 1980's, he did much to publicise the fact that Ontario has the climate to produce great garlic, and to provide the necessary material for other growers. He became known as The Fish Lake Garlic Man, and this is the garlic that bears the Fish Lake name.

So, how does it rate? It received a 9 out of 10 for production quality, the highest rating in that category. This is a truly robust and healthy garlic. For flavour, though, it rated a 6 out of 10 raw, and a 6.5 cooked - good, but not great. Fresh, flavour was mild but built slightly. Mr. Ferdzy thought it had a faint bitter aftertaste when cooked. It was similar to Ferganskij in flavour profile, but weaker overall.

Foundling: aka The Meaford Weed:
About 4 years ago, we were driving along a side road just outside of Meaford. "Stop the car! Stop the car!" I yelled. Mr. Ferdzy stopped the car. "Back up! Back up!" Mr. Ferdzy backed up. "GARLIC!" And sure enough, it was. Around the ruins of a long-burnt down house straight scapes topped with garlic bulbils waved above the grass and weeds. We collected the best-looking specimens, and brought them home and planted them. Those first specimens were extremely puny, but they have gotten bigger and better every year as they return to a healthy cultivated state.

Meaford has a history as a garlic growing town; I keep meaning to do some research on when it started and where the garlic would have come from. We have since realised that there is garlic growing in the ditches all over the place throughout town, including just down the street and on our next-door neighbours property.

We gave it a rating of 7 out of 10 for production quality, although we hope it is still improving. For raw flavour it rated a 7.5 out of 10, and for cooked flavour a 7.5 out of 10. So overall, not the best of the garlics but a good solid second tier, and given its local history we intend to keep growing it. Fresh, it had low pungency and an even, balanced yet lingering aftertaste. Cooked, it was mild yet rich and nutty and still maintained a trace of pungency.

In previous years, Tibetan stood out as tasting distinctly different from any other garlic we grew, being particularly hot and pungent. This year, that pungency just wasn't there. It does make us a little uneasy that in a hot, dry summer our garlic ratings might be quite different. Still, as I noted, it's not like cool, wet summers don't happen regularly, so on we go...

Tibetan is up there with Azores and Bogatyr for size, and rated 8 out of 10 for production quality. This year it achieved a 7 out of 10 for raw flavour and an 8 for cooked flavour. Raw, it was mild and even with a lasting flavour. Cooked, it was nutty, well-balanced and fairly strong. Last year we rated it as very hot, but not lingering in flavour when raw - quite different.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Chicken in Roasted Garlic & Paprika Sauce

I had a little accident with this sauce; I used some fresh paprika peppers from an assortment of peppers I was growing out from seeds we picked up in Hungary a few years back. My assumption was that they were all reasonably sweet peppers. That assumption, it turned out, was quite, quite wrong. At least one of them was a humdinger of a hot pepper. Everybody still thought this was delicious, some of us because of the hot pepper, and some of us despite the hot pepper. I'll have to try it again with a little more attention to which peppers I am using.

As usual, salt will depend on whether your stock was salted or not, but if not, then try about half a teaspoon of it.

4 to 6 servings
1 hour 45 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

Chicken in Roasted Garlic & Paprika Sauce

3 heads of garlic
2 cups chopped fresh sweet red peppers
8 large (1.5  kilos; 3 pounds) skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon smoked sweet Spanish or Hungarian paprika
salt to taste
1 tablespoon sherry
1 teaspoon honey

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Trim the garlic heads (HEADS, not cloves), and wrap them in foil. Roast them for about half an hour, until tender.

Meanwhile, wash, core and chop the peppers. Thick-walled peppers are best; such as Alma paprika, but Red Shepherd is widely available and should do. Put the peppers in a roasting pan, and arrange the chicken pieces over them.  Pour on the stock, and put them in the oven with the garlic. At this point, the garlic should be ready in 15 or 20 minutes; at that point remove it and reduce the heat to 350°F. (If the garlic isn't quite done, just leave it in until it is, but do reduce the heat.)

Once the peppers are very soft, in about 45 minutes, remove the pan from the oven. Remove all the peppers into a food processor, and as much of the chicken stock as you can as well. Return the chicken pieces to the oven to continue cooking while you make the sauce.

Squeeze the garlic out of the heads into the food processor, and discard the papery hulls. Add the flour, paprika, salt to taste - this will depend very much on whether your chicken stock was salted or not - the sherry, and the honey. Purée until very smooth. Pull the chicken out of the oven again, and pour the sauce evenly over it. Return it to the oven for another 15 or 20 minutes, until the sauce is thickened and bubbly.

Last year at this time I made Vaguely Asian Cabbage Salad.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Swiss Chard or Kale with Apple & Onion

Here is a very quick and easy way to serve Swiss chard or kale. The apples and onions add a touch of sweetness to balance the astringency of the leaves. This would make a good side dish with just about any pork dish, although I served it with chicken and got no complaints.

4 servings
20 minutes prep time

Swiss Chard or Kale with Apple & Onion

1 large onion
1 large apple
8 to 12 leaves of Swiss chard or kale
1 tablespoon butter or mild vegetable oil

Peel the onion, and cut it into slivers. Peel the apple, core it, and cut it into thin slices. Wash and trim the Swiss chard or kale. Cut off the stems, and discard if using kale. If using Swiss chard, cut as many as you wish to add to the dish (anywhere between all and none - I used half) into bite-sized slices. Roughly chop the leaves.

Heat the butter or oil in a large skillet. Add the onion, apple, and stem pieces if using, and sauté until they are softened and slightly browned, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add the chopped leaves and continue cooking and stirring until they are all cooked down to your liking. Serve at once.

Last year at this time I made Beans with Peppers & Shiitakes.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Kohlrabi, Fennel & Apple Salad

Here's a nice quick salad, with tangy flavours and a good crunchy texture. Next time I make it, I'll cut things finer than I did this time, I think. They should be a little coarser than if you had grated them, but not by too much.

This has been a difficult year in the garden in many ways as it has been so cool and damp, but the fennel is loving it, and I have the best I've ever grown. I'll need to think of more ways to use it. Two little kohlrabies are preferable to one larger one, as they will likely be more tender, but you make salad with the kohlrabies that you have, not the ones you wish you had. I did have two little ones, as the kohlrabies are not loving it - all the brassicas have been so disease and bug-ridden this year - but I don't know that they were notably tender. Still, they were okay, once they were peeled and trimmed.

4 to 6 servings
20 minutes prep time

2 medium-small kohlrabies
OR 1 large kohlrabi
1 medium bulb fennel
1 large apple
the juice of 1 large lime
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons sunflower seed OR olive oil

Peel the kohlrabies and cut them into fine julienne. Trim the tough stems and base from the fennel, and slice it very finely. Peel the apple if you like, although if you have a red one the colour will add a nice touch - I suggest you leave it on. At any rate, cut it in quarters, core it, and cut it in fine julienne to match the rest of the vegetables. Toss them all with the lime juice.

Mix the honey, mustard and oil in small bowl  until well amalgamated, then toss it with the salad. Season it with a little salt to taste.

Last year at this time I made Beans with Peppers & Shiitakes. Couldn't make that this year! Between anthracnose (yes, it's as 'orrible as it sounds) and cold, the beans are over.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Fresh Corn Pancakes

Corn season is drawing to a close, and perhaps it's not quite as nice just eaten off the cob as it was. Especially if you forget you have it in the fridge for 4 days, as I did. Ooops. Still, modern corn keeps much better than it used to, and it worked very well in these yummy little pancakes.

We ate them for breakfast, but I can see them making a nice side dish as part of a regular meal. The amount of corn does make them softer than regular pancakes, and they will cook a bit slower too, so allow for that. 

12 to 16 pancakes (4 servings)
45 minutes prep time

Fresh Corn Pancakes

2 large eggs
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
kernels cut from 4 cobs fresh corn
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cups soft unbleached flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
extra oil for cooking

Put all the ingredients in the order listed into the bowl of a blender. The corn should be raw; cut the kernels off in rows onto a large cutting board then scrape the cobs well before putting it all (er, not the cobs) in the blender.

Preheat the oven to 200°F, with a heat-proof plate in it to put the pancakes as they finish cooking. Heat a large skillet (or two) over medium-high heat, with enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan(s) completely. Blend the pancake batter until very well mixed and smooth.

Pour 3 4" pancakes into the pan, and cook for 3 or 4 minutes on each side until well browned. Put the finished pancakes in the oven to keep warm, and continue cooking the rest of the batter, adding more oil to the pan as needed to prevent sticking and to keep the pancakes browning properly, as opposed to scorching. Note that the temperature to cook these should be a shade lower than the usual temperature used to cook pancakes, and they will take a little longer to cook. The finished pancakes will still be quite soft in texture.

Serve as you like, with butter and maple syrup, which is what we did, or with little breakfast sausage and broiled tomatoes, which is what we didn't, due to the lack of any sausages and being to lazy to go pick tomatoes. Not to mention we scoffed the lot, just the two of us. If we were more moderate, this recipe would cut in half quite nicely. Oh well, next time.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Pot-Roasted Chicken in Tomato-Sage Gravy

Brr... chilly for September, isn't it? My tomatoes have not been the best this year, between the rain and the cool weather.  Good enough for this, though, which is a good start to fall cooking - still using fresh tomatoes and herbs, but something slow cooking and filling to warm you up.

This is a pretty simple way to cook a chicken, but tomatoes and herbs make the sauce seem very rich and fancy. I used my favourite Persimmon tomatoes (which I don't even think I have written about yet!) They are a large, solid, orange tomato and gave the sauce a lovely golden colour. You can use whatever tomatoes you like or have, though.

6 to 8 servings
2 1/2 to 3 hours - 45 minutes prep time

a  2 to 3 kilo (4 to 6 pounds) chicken and its giblets, if available
2 - 3 shallots
2 - 3 large tomatoes
2 - 3 stalks of celery
1 cup chicken stock
2 bay leaves
6 to 8 fresh sage leaves
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
3 tbsps flour
salt, if needed
sage leaves and a little oil to fry, OPTIONAL

Remove as much visible fat from the chicken as you possibly can. You can take a lot of the skin right off, if you like. This will save you from having to skim the juices for the gravy. Finely mince the giblets, always supposing they came with your chicken. If they didn't, oh well. Sucks to be your chicken.

Peel and chop the shallots. Wash, trim and chop the celery. Blanch, peel and chop the tomatoes. Put the veg in a large heavy-bottomed pot with the chicken stock, the giblets, and the chicken. First, though, stuff the bay leaves, sage, and rosemary into the chicken. Cover the pot.

The chicken can be cooked on top of the stove, over medium-low heat for 30 to 40 minutes per kilo. Turn it over halfway through the cooking time. If you prefer, you can instead cook it in the oven (for 45 minutes per kilo, at 350°F.) It is not necessary to turn the chicken over in this case, but it must go in a pot that can go into the oven, obviously.

Remove the cooked chicken to a serving plate, and cover it with foil while you make the gravy. Let it rest for about 10 to 15 minutes.

Strain the pan juices* and discard the giblets and vegetable pulp; press them to extract as much usable liquid as possible. Skim off the fat if there is too much. Put the flour in a saucepan, and slowly stir into it 2 cups of the pan juices, being sure that the flour is smoothly dissolved. Taste, and adjust the salt.

Cook the gravy over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened.If you have much more than 2 cups of pan liquid when you make the gravy, you can thicken it all - just add another tablespoon and a half of flour per extra cup.

To garnish the chicken with sage leaves, pick 6 or 8 medium-sized leaves in good condition. Heat a little oil (just enough to cover the leaves) in as small a skillet as you have, and fry them over medium-high heat, a few at a time, until crisp and lightly browned.  Turn them half way through the process. Drain them on a paper towel, and arrange them as you like over the chicken.

I put the sauce and garnish over the whole chicken, then cut it up. It probably makes more sense to do it the other way. Cut it up and arrange it on the serving plate, then pour over the sauce and garnish.

*If you didn't have any giblets, you can instead just remove the herbs and purée the vegetables in a blender for a naturally thick sauce, although I would still thicken it with the flour. 

Last year at this time I made Tomatillo & Sausage Soup.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Apple & Blackberry Pie

When my mother-in-law moved up here, one of the things she brought for the garden were some thornless blackberry bushes. I have to say, they're amazing! They flower for months, then they ripen for months - sweet-tart, spicy-scented and juicy. They are easy to pick, and go beautifully with apples. Mmm... pie.

Cloves are not my favourite spice in general, but when I was picking the blackberries they told me they would like to go with some cloves. They were right.

8 servings - a 10" pie
2 hours - 1 hour prep time - allow time to cool

Make the Crust:
2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter
8 to 9 tablespoons ice cold water

Put the flour and salt into a food processor, and whizz briefly. Cut the butter into chunks and add them to the food processor. Process until the butter is the size of peas, then start adding ice cold water in tablespoons.

Once you have added enough that the mixture begins to hold together, turn the contents of the food processor out onto a sheet of parchment paper or waxed paper. Press everything together to form a disc of dough, and wrap it up in the paper loosely. Set it aside to rest for about 15 minutes.

Divide the dough into 2 unequal portions. One should consist of about 60% of the dough, and the other should be about 40% of the dough. Roll out the larger portion into a circle a little larger than your pie plate, sprinkling it with a little flour to keep the rolling pin from sticking. Flip the circle of pastry into a 10" pie plate while it is still attached to the paper, then peel the paper off. Press the pastry into the bottom and sides of the pan.

Once the bottom crust has been filled, roll out the remaining dough in the same way as the first piece, although it should only be the size to top the pie.

Make the Pie:
1/2 cup honey
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 pods green cardamom
1/4 cup arrowroot OR tapioca starch
OR 3 tablespoons minute tapioca
2 cups blackberries
5 to 6 cups thinly sliced, peeled apples

Preheat the oven to 450°F. 

Mix the honey, cloves and cinnamon. Crush the cardamom pods, and discard the green papery hulls. Grind the seeds finely and mix them with the honey and other spices.

Rinse and pick over the blackberries, and drain them well.

Peel, core and slice the apples. Toss the arrowroot, tapioca starch, or minute tapioca with the apples. Fill the prepared pie crust with the apples and blackberries, a layer of each at a time, for a total of three layers of each.

Place the top pie crust over the pie, peeling away the parchment paper once it is in place, then pinch it sealed all the way around the pie. Cut or pierce the top of the pie in several spots to allow the steam to escape as the pie cooks.

Bake the pie for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375°F and bake for a further 45 to 55 minutes, until nicely browned. Best to bake this with a cookie sheet under the  pie plate - it will be pretty juicy.

Last year at this time I made Pollo alla Cacciatora.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Small Shining Light Watermelon & Sugar Baby Watermelon - Watermelon Twins

These two melons are remarkably similar in appearance and flavour, in spite of originating on different continents. I have found them both to be very good: not the sweetest watermelons, but sweet enough, with a pleasant flavour and crisp, juicy, fine-textured flesh. Seeds are small but numerous, and since they grow in defined channels fairly easily removed. I can recommend both these melons, but I do think that Small Shining Light is the better of the two, mostly because of its better keeping qualities. 

Small Shining Light Watermelon

Small Shining Light (Ogonyok)

This traditional Russian watermelon is still fairly difficult to find, although it is very well suited to growing in Canada. It was brought to North America by Seed Savers Exchange 1991, and has been picked up by a number of seed sellers since, including Cottage Gardener Heirloom Seed, Heritage Harvest Seed, and Tatiana's Tomato Base.

The watermelons are round to slightly oval, with a very dark green solid-coloured rind, often with a yellow patch where they rest on the ground. The vines are quite manageable, at about 10 feet, and the melons vary from about cannonball size to basketball size. At 80 to 90 days to maturity from planting out, they are very workable in our shortish seasons.The black seeds are small, and reasonably easy to remove from the crisp, juicy, pink flesh.

Small Shining Light is supposed to be tolerant of cooler weather, and certainly it still produced reasonably well in this cool, rainy year. However, it was not as sweet as it has been in other, drier, warmer, summers. Still, very enjoyable. Unlike Sugar Baby, Small Shining Light is a good keeper, and can be kept for several weeks after harvest in a cool, dry spot. Not surprisingly, I have found them to hold on the vine quite well too.

Sugar Baby Watermelon

Sugar Baby

Sugar Baby is a much easier to find watermelon than Small Shining Light. My first impulse is to say that, in spite of this, Small Shining Light is much the better watermelon, but this view is coloured by the fact that my first packet of Sugar Baby seeds grew vines that rarely produced any melons! It took me a while to figure this out, as the two melons look SO similar. I did finally figure it out last summer, and this spring I threw out my old seeds, got a new packet, and made sure the two were not growing close enough together to confuse me. So now, I finally have Sugar Baby melons. They seem to be producing more melons than the Small Shining Light, but noticeably smaller. Also, they have not kept well on the vine - I have had to throw away several which were very overripe (rotten) as I did not pick them early enough.

The description for Small Shining Light fits Sugar Baby as well, with the note that they are smaller melons, shorter vines at about 6 feet, and ripen sooner - 75 to 80 days to maturity should do it. As noted, mine did not hold at all well, so watch them carefully and eat them promptly.

Sugar Baby started life as the much less attractively named Tough Sweets. M. Hardin of Geary, Oklahoma, inbred and selected Tough Sweets for 13 years before releasing the resulting watermelon in 1955 as Sugar Baby, since which time it has spread far and wide as well adapted, early, small melon. Tough Sweets seems to have disappeared as a watermelon, completely supplanted by its offspring.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Polenta Tart with Tomatoes, Peppers & Feta Cheese

I made two of these at the same time, and since I only have one tart pan I put the second one in a 10" springform pan. Which worked fine, but I was a bit surprised to discover that it took a good 15 minutes longer to bake than the one in the tart pan. Thicker metal, and just a tad deeper; it made a significant difference. Just another little reminder that we recipe writers do our best, but there is no substitute for using your own judgement when cooking.

This looks a lot like pizza, but it isn't really like it at all. It's closer to quiche, but again, not really that much like it.  I think this is best served just warm rather than hot, or even cold (room temperature). It won't keep long though. We ate the leftovers 24 hours later (refrigerated in the mean time) and they were fine, but not as good as freshly baked.

6 to 8 servings
2 hours - 1 hour prep time - allow time to cool

Make the Crust:
2 1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup cornmeal
2 teaspoons butter
1 large egg

Put the water, salt and cornmeal into a pot and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. By the time this comes up to the boil, it should already be so thick as to be just about done. Once it is thick enough to be pulling away from the pot, remove it from the heat, cover it, and set aside to cool for about half an hour.

Use the butter to generously butter the sides of a 10" tart pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.

When the cornmeal has cooled, beat the egg into it. Press the polenta evenly over the bottom of the pan and up the sides enough to make a depression about half to 3/4 of an inch deep. Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Make the Filling:
3/4 cup plain thick yogurt
3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 large eggs
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Whisk the yogurt, feta, eggs, and pepper together. Spread the mixture evenly into the prepared polenta tart shell.

Finish the Tart:
1 medium beefsteak type tomato
1 or 2 small cubanelle or large sweet banana peppers
2 tablespoons sliced sweet or green onion
2 tablespoons finely shredded fresh basil or mint leaves
1/2 cup grated old Cheddar cheese

Wash and slice the tomato thinly. Core and deseed the pepper, and chop in thin slices. Mince the onion and herb. Grate the cheese.

Arrange the vegetables attractively over the top of the tart, and sprinkle the cheese evenly over them. Bake the tart for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until firm and set, and the cheese is lightly browned. Let cool to lukewarm before serving.

Last year at this time I made Corn & Chicken Egg Drop Soup

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Jellied Gazpacho

Okay, so it's tomato aspic. A very good tomato aspic, though. I'm proud to say that everything but the salt, vinegar, and gelatine (okay, and the olive garnish) came from our garden. 

I didn't have any white wine vinegar, only balsamic. Which was fine for flavour, but left the aspic looking a bit murky.

6 to 8 servings
45 minutes prep time; at least 2 hours to set

Make the Tomato Broth:
2 cups diced tomatoes
1 stalk celery
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt

Put the tomatoes, celery and water into a pot, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until soft, then strain through a fine seive. You should have 2 cups of liquid when finished; add a little vegetable broth or water if you are short.

Make the Gazpacho:
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon powdered gelatine
1 large cucumber (cups chopped)
1 small stalk celery, with the leaves
3 tablespoons chopped green pepper
2 sprigs parsley
1 small clove of garlic

Put the vinegar in a mixing bowl, and sprinkle the gelatine over it.

Peel the cucumber, if it warrants it, and cut it up roughly. Trim and chop the celery, pepper, parsley and garlic. You can chop it all fairly finely by hand, or put it in a food processor and chop finely, but do leave some texture.

Bring the tomato broth up to a boil, then mix it with the vinegar and gelatine until the gelatine is completely dissolved. Mix in the chopped vegetables and pour the mixture into a 4 cup mold. Chill until set.

Last year at this time I made Peach Jelly.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Peach Upside-Down Cake

This year I didn't go for a traditional birthday cake. With all the lovely fresh peaches around, it seemed like time for Peach Upside-Down Cake, and very yummy it was too. I thought this was even better on the second day, so it can and probably should be made a day before you want to eat it. However, with the fresh peach topping it won't last long so keep that in mind too.

I used a 9" springform pan for this and that... didn't exactly work. It was fine until I got it into the oven and then the butter topping started leaking out.  So don't do that. I did put a tray under it, and it didn't leak horribly, but still, no springform pans.

8 to 12 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

Peach Upside-Down Cake

1 1/2 cups soft unbleached flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 medium peaches
1/3 cup unsalted butter
2/3 cup Sucanat OR dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons rum
3 tablespoons melted butter
4 tablespoons Sucanat OR dark brown sugar
1/4 cup buttermilk OR thin yogurt

Butter a 9" round, deep cake pan, and line the bottom with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Put a pot of water on to boil, to which at least 3 of the peaches can be added and have the water cover them. Measure the flour and mix in the baking powder and salt; set this aside in a small mixing bowl if you need the measuring cup to continue, or leave it in the cup if not. When the water boils, blanch the peaches for 1 minute, in one or two batches depending on the size of the pot. Rinse them in cold water at once to cool them, and peel them. Set them aside.

Cream the butter in a larger mixing bowl, and work in the sugar until soft and well amalgamated. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Mix in the vanilla extract and the rum.

Melt the butter and put it into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly over the bottom by tilting and turning the pan, or use a pastry brush if preferred. Sprinkle the remaining 4 tablespoons of Sucanat evenly over the butter. Cut the peeled peaches in half, discarding the pit. Place them cut side down evenly over the prepared butter and sugar.

Mix the flour into the butter and egg mixture alternately with the buttermilk or yogurt. Scrape this evenly over the peaches in the prepared pan. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until the cake tests done with a toothpick inserted in the middle.

Last year at this time I made Fresh Corn "Polenta".

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Minty Watermelon Agua Fresca

So how long have I had this blog? Six years, isn't it? And this is my first melon recipe, if you can even call this a recipe. But that's the thing about melons, both watermelons and the other kind - it isn't that I don't love them, and eat them, but they are so good just as they are, that they never end up in anything fancier than an ad hoc fruit salad.

Well, not quite never, because I just did this. Perhaps I will have a few more recipes too, since I grew a ridiculous quantity of melons this year and the results are starting to roll into the kitchen. So far it's mostly been melon for breakfast everyday, but I'm going to have to get a bit more creative to use them up. Although this was very good, and will take care of quite a few.

Taste your melon before you measure your sugar. I put in 2 tablespoons sugar because this was a little Golden Midget watermelon, and as such not very sweet. A really sweet, fine melon will need next to none, just a little to counterbalance the lime juice. I suspect your average watermelon will be fine with about 1 tablespoon of sugar.

2 servings
15 minutes prep time

2 spigs of fresh mint
1 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons sugar
the juice of 1/2 a large lime
2/3 cup water OR 6 to 8 small ice cubes
3 cups chopped deseeded watermelon

Rinse the mint and pat it dry, and put it in the bowl of a blender. Add the sugar and blend until the mint is finely chopped. Add the lime juice and water or ice cubes and blend again, until the ice is completely crushed if you are using ice. 

Scoop the watermelon from the rind, removing all seeds as you go. Add it to the food processor, and blend until fairly smooth. Serve garnished with mint sprigs, if you like.

 Last year at this time I made Green Bean, Sweet Onion & Cherry Tomato Salad with Parsley-Mint Dressing.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Green Bean Salad with Mushrooms, Onion & Bacon

Hot green vegetables cooked with bacon, mushrooms, and onion are classic and delcious, and there is no reason to give that up just because it is too hot for hot vegetables. The combo makes a great salad too.

Need I say that sour cream is certainly better than yogurt? But you have to do what you have to do. Yogurt isn't half bad either.

2 to 4 servings
40 minutes prep time

Make the Dressing:
1/4 cup mayonnaise (light is fine)
1/4 cup sour cream or yogurt
1/8 teaspoon celery seed
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Whisk the above together, and cover it and put it in the fridge until ready to proceed.

Make the Salad:
1/2 of a medium sweet onion
450 grams (1 pound) green or yellow wax beans
125 grams (1/4 pound) button mushrooms
125 grams (1/4 pound) bacon

Peel the onion, and cut it in half from pole to pole. Reserve half for another use. Cut the half-onion in half again, then cut it into thin slices. Salt them and set them in a dish to drain while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Wash and trim the beans, and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Put them in a pot with water to boil, and boil until just tender, 4 or 5 minutes. Rinse in cold water to cool them, and drain them well.

Clean, trim, and slice the mushrooms thinly. Rinse the onions and drain them well. Mix the beans, mushrooms, and onion in a salad bowl and toss in the dressing.

Chop the bacon into half-inch pieces, and fry it slowly until crisp. Drain well and cool, on a piece of paper towel, then mix about 2/3 to 3/4 of it into the salad. Sprinkle the remainder over the top of the salad, and serve. 

Last year at this time I made Mexican Pickled Carrots & Jalapeños.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Broccoli & Tortellini Salad

This summery salad couldn't be easier, thanks to frozen cheese tortellini, which also makes it suitable to be a full meal in itself - 2 servings in that case. If you make it part of a larger meal, it will stretch to 4 or maybe even 6 in a pinch. But don't count on it; this is popular!

I've made this later in the year with imported basil and dried tomatoes; 1/4 cup chopped dried tomatoes soaked in 1/4 cup of boiling water and set aside, covered, for 15 minutes. Toss them into the salad, along with any leftover soaking liquid. Still, it's better to make it now with squeaky-fresh local basil and ripe, juicy tomatoes.  

2 to 4 servings
30 minutes prep time

 Make the Salad:
250 grams (1/2 pound) frozen cheese tortellini
1 large head of broccoli
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1/3 cup minced fresh basil leaves

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil, and cook the tortellini according to the package instructions, or perhaps a minute or two longer. While the water boils and the tortellini cooks, cut the stem from the broccoli and reserve it for some other use. Chop the broccoli florets into bite-sized pieces. Wash and halve (or quarter, if they are large) the cherry tomatoes. Wash and mince the basil leaves.

When the tortellini has only 2 or 3 minutes left to cook, add the broccoli - cover the pan to bring it back up to a boil as sonn as possible. However, the broccoli only needs to be blanched more than cooked through. Be sure the tortellini is well done though, before you drain it. Rinse the tortellini and broccoli in cold water until completely cool then drain well.

Put the well-drained tortellini and broccoli in a large salad bowl and mix in the cherry tomatoes and basil.

Make the Dressing & Finish the Salad:
1/4 cup sunflower seed OR olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
the juice of 1 lemon
1 cup grated old Cheddar or other cheese of your choice

Whisk together the sunflower seed or olive oil, the mustard, and the lemon juice, and toss the dressing into the salad. Let it all rest together for 20 minutes to half an  hour. Just before serving, mix in about 3/4 of the grated cheese, then sprinkle the remainder over the top.

Last year at this time I was Making Meringues