Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Seed Catalogue Season!

Here we go... the start of the gardening season! At least the planning part, which is always exciting because all your ideas and dreams have not yet collided with reality. This post is starting to be a tradition, where I review various more-or-less local seed companies (well, Canadian anyway) and talk about some of the things I'm looking forward to trying next year as well as some of the new items people are listing generally. I'm finding it a bit complicated this year by the fact that I have been trading a lot of seeds this winter and have a fairly short list of seeds to buy as a result. Doesn't stop me from drooling over all the possibilities though...

However, as always, if you are looking to find a particular variety in Canada, the first place to look is the list of seeds sold in Canada in the last year, maintained by Seeds of Diversity. This has been so useful to me over the years.

Annapolis Seeds, out of Nova Scotia, has a good selection of peas, as always. Looks like Owen Bridges spent some time in New Zealand last year, and he has a selection of new varieties that he picked up there. Tasmanian Chocolate and Hawke's Bay Yellow tomatoes sound interesting. So do Graham's Goodkeeper (a storage tomato) and Absinthe, a green-when-ripe beefsteak tomato. How about Italian Red Parella lettuce, Blooming Prairie dry beans, and more soy beans than I've seen anywhere else. I think for peas this year I will try The Pilot, Ne Plus Ultra, Yorkshire Hero and Lancashire Lad. We grew his White Bush Lebanese zucchini last year, and I think it was good... a few did survive the bugs. (Which is as well as anything did last year.) He's now accepting PayPal which will make ordering easier.

To their usual strong collection  The Cottage Gardener has added British Wonder Peas, Brun d'hiver Lettuce, Marizol Gold, Ropreco, Sandul Moldovan and Savignac Tomatoes, Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato Squash, White Egg Turnip, and Winningstadt Cabbage, amongst other things. Regulars include Blue Jay Beans, Coloured Carrot Mix, Amish Melon, Early Hanover Melon, Moon & Stars Watermelon, Lucullus Swiss Chard, and many, many tomatoes.

Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes remains Canada's best supplier of unusual potatoes. What else to say? Their new varieties for this year are Yellow Finn, Rode Eersteling, Seglinde, and Duke of York, but I'm probably still stuck on Pink Fir Apple, Purple Viking, German Butterball and Russet Burbank "Netted Gem".

There is a huge list of tomatoes (420 tomatoes!) to be found at Greta's Organic Gardens; in fact she's strong with all the solanacea family, and the lists of melons, squash and cucumbers are not to be sneezed at either. There's a surprising amount of tobacco, if that's your thing. There's Flageolet Beans, Littleleaf Cucumbers (hard to find, nowadays), Morden Midget Eggplants, Dupuy Lentils, Freckles Lettuce, Jenny Lind Melons, Tunisian Baklouti Peppers, and much more.

Hawthorn Farm is another good, small Ontario company. They don't seem to have updated their catalogue for 2013 at the time of posting this, but I expect they are likely to still have such goodies as Tongue of Fire Beans, Trionfo Violetto Beans, True Red Cranberry Beans, Purple Peacock Broccoli, Red Express Cabbage, Perfection Fennel, Brown Golding Lettuce, Meeting Place Organic Farm Snowpeas, Costata Romanesco Zucchini, Nutter Butter Squash, German Striped, Polish Linguisa, Stupice (the earliest reliable!) and many other tomatoes. Also Blacktail Mountain watermelon, reckoned one of the earliest and most cold resistant varieties.

As ever, Heritage Harvest Seeds has a list I can pour over for hours. They have strong collections of tomatoes, beans, melons, lettuce, peas, beets, radishes... all kinds of things. Gnadenfeld Melons, Dolloff Beans and Sweet Siberian watermelon are all very successful seeds I've gotten there. This year she seems to be interested in amaranth and quinoa, with some new selections of those. I'm looking at Iroquois Cornbread Bean, Hidatsa Shield Figure or Snowcap Beans, Deacon Dan Beets, Amish Bottle Onion, Yellow Carrot-Rooted Radish, Carter's Daisy Peas, Champion of England Peas, and Sutton's Harbinger Peas. Prices are a little higher here than some places, so look around before ordering from here.

Hope Seeds is another Nova Scotia company, They don't seem to  have their 2013 offerings up yet, but they should be up soon. I expect to see lots of their east-coast heirlooms back though; things like Baie Verte Indian Bean, Goose Gullet Bean,  Jacob's Cattle Bean, Tante Alice Cucumber, Long Pie Pumpkin, Tribes Tobique Tomato and Gilfeather Rutabaga. But plenty of other things too, like Golden Grex Beets, Falstaff Red Brussels Sprouts, Red Express Cabbage, and Golden Midget Watermelon.

Out in Manitoba, Mandy's Greenhouses has a small but interesting selection of seeds. Look for Dedo's Day & Night Beans, Golden Lima (not a lima bean, apparently!), MacGregor's Favourite Beet, Black Aztec Corn, Knight and Mummy White Peas, German Giant and Saxa Radishes, Kral Russian Parnips and Petrowski Turnips... Whew!

Mapple Farm in New Brunswick has a few seeds, but they are mostly known for their roots, especially sweet potatoes. But they also have Jerusalem artichokes, crosnes and horseradish. Unfotunately, Greg Wingate required a hip operation last year and they are short on stock this year... so order early!

Ontario Seed Company is one of Ontario's two remaining older, well-established companies. I just realized last year what a fabulous collection of prairie plants and grasses they have, and their prices are extremely reasonable. In the veggie line, they have expanded their range of oriental vegetables this year; otherwise they have their usual good list of locally tested varieties including Soldier Beans, Early Wonder Beet (our most reliable red), Lemon Cucumber, Black Beauty Eggplant, Red Russian Kale, Crimson Sweet Watermelon, Sweet Banana and Cubanelle Peppers, and many more. This is the place to find all the staples, especially if you are on a budget. However, if you are avoiding F1 hybrids, double check - not all of theirs are labelled as such. Some of their seeds are from Seminis (Monsanto).

Prairie Garden Seeds in Saskatchewan is another very interesting place. I find the site somewhat difficult to read, and it is one of the few places you will still need to order by mail and pay by cheque. Packaging is, uh, handmade. However, prices are great and you will get things here that are very hard to find elsewhere. In particular if you want garden-sized quantities of heritage grains, this is THE place. Also if you want Canadian-bred tomatoes, Jim Ternier has the best selection out there, and what's more $1 from each packet goes to Seeds of Diversity's Tomato Project. I originally acquired Arikara Beans, Kahl Beans, Amish Snap Peas, and Pfalzer Yellow Carrots here. His beans are some of the best for quantity to price ratio. There's still much more to explore here...

Solana Seeds, out of Quebec, is very strong on hot peppers - unusual in Canadian seed catalogues, but they also have a large collection of sweet peppers, tomatoes, melons, and unusual items. Look for Kamo Eggplant, Shangai Pac Choy, Montreal and Oka Melons, Navajo Sweet Watermelon, Ancho, Anaheim, Espelette and Padrone Peppers, Tinda (Squash), Achocha, Huauzontle, Jicama, Sorghum, purple tomatillos, and more. I didn't even look at the tomatoes yet - pages of them. The website is in English, but seed packets will be in French.

One of the first of the new wave of small local seed houses was Terra Edibles. They still have an impressive tomato list, and a good selection of beans. lettuces, melons and squash. Look for Listada de Gandia Eggplant, Red Sails, Tennis Ball and Yugoslavian Red Lettuces, Charentais melon, Spanish Skyscraper Pea, Fish Pepper, Jimmy Nardello Pepper, Kakai Seed Pumpkin, and Tatume Climbing Zucchini. Also Apricot, Cosmonaut Volkov, Dr. Wyche's Yellow, Ildi, Jaune Flamme, Osu Blue, Persimmon, Wapsipinicon Peach, and many more tomatoes. If you are interested in sweet peas (the flower, not the vegetable) they have a nice selection of old varieties.

Somehow I just discovered Tree & Twig last year and so haven't had a chance to order from them yet. Looks like they have a strong collection of brassicas, including Romanesco, Piracicaba and Solstice broccolis, and gad! They're sold out of Spigiarello already! I wanted that. Oh well, next year. There's Poona Keera Cucumber, Ping Tung Eggplant, Orangeglo Watermelon, Purple Beauty Peppers, Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck Squash, Red Round Turnip, and a few tomatoes including Black Cherry and Pineapple.

Last but not least is William Dam Seeds, the other old reliable local supplier. In addition to checking them first for good-priced seeds, they are our favoured source of fertilizers, seed starting trays, bean trellis mesh and other garden essentials. We love Guelph Milennium Asparagus, Blue Lake S-7 Beans, Chioggia Guardsmark and Touchstone Gold Beets, Amsterdam Maxi Carrots, Claytonia Miner's Lettuce, Early Yellow Globe Onions, Norli Snow Peas, Tall Telephone Peas, Ostergruss Rosa Radishes, Viroflex Giant Winter Spinach, Waltham Butternut Squash, Bright Lights Swiss Chard and Goldana Turnips. I'm going to try Telegraph Improved Cucumbers this year, along with Lucullus Swiss Chard and Amsterdam Cutting Celery. I'm getting a bit frustrated with regular celery; it doesn't love our dry sandy soil, and why should it? Check for unlabelled F1 hybrids. Some of their seeds are from Seminis (Monsanto).

Monday, 28 January 2013

Ginger-Orange Beets

Here is a simple and tasty way to dress up beets. The sauce is just enough to coat them, so don't expect them to be particularly juicy. I used blood oranges, which are in season at the moment and which go very well with beets. However, any other medium-sized eating oranges would work as well. 

4 to 6 servings
20 minutes prep time plus 40 minutes to pre-cook the beets

Ginger-Orange Beets

500 grams (1 pound; 4 medium) beets
the finely grated zest of 1 orange
the juice of 1 orange
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch or arrowroot
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 oranges

Wash the beets, and put them in a pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil and boil them for 40 minutes, until tender. Let cool, at least enough to handle, and peel them. Cut them into bite-sized slices and put them back into the (rinsed out) pot.

Mix the orange zest, orange juice, grated ginger, cornstarch or arrowroot together. Add this to the beets, with the butter, and bring to a simmer, stirring regularly.

While the beets heat, peel the oranges and cut them in half along the equator. Pull apart the segments and add them to the beets.

When the beets are hot through and the sauce has thickened and coated them, they are ready to serve.

Last year at this time I made Irish Potato Scones.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Orange & Red Cabbage Salad with Feta Cheese & Nuts

For a few simple ingredients, this salad has big flavour and a great interplay of textures. I used pistachios and thought they were perfect, but walnuts, hazelnuts or cashews would work too. We ate this as our entire lunch so I was generous with the nuts and cheese, but if you serve it as a side salad you can tone them back a bit. Blood oranges are in season, so that's what I used, but any good eating orange will be fine. 

4 servings
30 minutes prep time

Orange and Red Cabbage Salad with Feta Cheese and Nuts

Make the Dressing:
the juice of 1 medium orange
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper corns
1 teaspoon fennel seed

Juice the orange and mix it with the olive oil and salt. Grind the black pepper and fennnel seed and mix those in.

Make the Salad:
4 cups finely chopped red cabbage
3 medium oranges
1/3 to 1/2 cup nuts
100 grams (1/4 pound) crumbled feta cheese

Chop the red cabbage finely. Peel and segment the oranges, and cut each segment into 3 or 4 pieces. Mix them with the nuts and crumbled feta cheese. Toss with the dressing.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Purple Potato Soup with Sauerkraut

I hoped that by adding acidic sauerkraut to my purple potato soup, it would do a better job of staying purple. I guess it sort of worked, although the results seemed a little browner in real life than in the photo. Still, this was a tasty, zingy soup that hit the spot on a cold day.

You could keep that purple colour up by adding a little beet juice, or if you had red sauerkraut (I didn't, alas) it should add to the colour too.

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

2 medium carrots
4 or 5 shallots
4 or 5 cloves of garlic
900 grams (2 pounds) purple (blue) potatoes
6 cups chicken stock
2 cups sauerkraut with juice
4 or 5 bay leaves
1 teaspoon savory
2 tablespoons chicken fat or vegetable oil

Peel and dice the carrots. Peel and finely chop the shallots. Peel and mince the garlic. Scrub, trim, and dice the potatoes.

Put the potatoes in a large pot with the chicken stock, sauerkraut, bay leaves and savory, and bring them to a boil. Boil gently until tender; about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, Heat the fat or oil an a medium skillet and cook the shallots until soft and slightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two, stirring frequently. Add this to the soup.

Put the carrots in their own little pot (sorry!) with water to cover and boil them until tender.

When the potatoes are cooked, mash or purée the soup - don't forget to pick out the bay leaves first - and add the carrots. If you used a blender or food processor to purée the soup, use the carrot cooking water to swish it out, and add it to the soup.

This can be brought back up to the simmer and served at once, or re-heated and served at a later time.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Rosemary-Garlic Rutabaga

Rutabaga is, in my opinion, a grossly under-rated vegetable. It's delicious all on its own, but it dresses  up really well too. 

Just to give you another way of measuring the rutabaga, you want about half of a large one. I'm saying 2 to 4 servings, but this is awfully good so 2 is probably more accurate, unless you are serving a lot of other choices at the same time. 

2 to 4 servings
30 minutes - 20 minutes prep time

Rosemary-Garlic Rutabaga

500 grams (1 pound, 3 cups diced) peeled, diced rutabaga

3 to 5 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large sprig fresh rosemary (24 leaves or so)
salt & pepper to taste

Peel and dice the rutabaga, and put it in a pot with water to cover it. Bring it to a boil, and boil for 15 to 20 minutes, until tender.

Meanwhile, peel and finely mince the garlic. Heat the butter gently in a small skillet with the rosemary sprig. Monitor it carefully; you want it to be hot enough to slowly brown and infuse the rosemary, but it should happen slowly, over 5 or 10 minutes. Don't let the butter turn brown at once, or it will be overcooked!

When the rutabaga is cooked, drain it well and mash it. Remove the rosemary sprig from the skillet of butter, and add the garlic. Cook gently for one minute, until fragrant but not browned. Add the mashed rutabaga, and mix it in well. Allow it to heat through again, then remove it to a serving dish.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Vegetable-Noodle Stir-Fry Featuring Spaghetti Squash

Ideally, this should be made with fine rice vermicelli to match the texture of the spaghetti squash. Guess what was in the cupboard, though.  This makes a nice vegetarian main dish, or add chicken pieces (get them cooking before the water boils for the noodles though).

4 servings
45 minutes prep time, not including cooking the squash

Vegetable-Noodle Stir-Fry Featuring Spaghetti Squash

4 cups loosened cooked spaghetti squash strands
1 medium carrot
1 medium onion
1 cup shredded green Savoy cabbage
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger
4 to 6 cloves of garlic
200 grams (1/2 pound) thin rice noodles
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
2 to 3 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 to 1 teaspoon hot sauce OR chile-garlic sauce

Cook the squash in advance, by cutting it in half, removing the seeds and loose strands in the centre, then rubbing the pieces lightly with vegetable oil. Roast them at 350°F for an hour to an hour and a half, until easily pierced with a fork. Cover and refrigerate once cool until wanted.

Loosen the strands of squash from the shell with a fork and discard the shells. Peel and grate the carrot. Peel and cut the onion into slivers. Wash and trim the tough stems from the cabbage, and shred it finely. Peel and mince the ginger. Peel and mince the garlic.

Put a pot of water on to boil, and prepare the noodles according to the package directions; usually either soaking the noodles in boiling water, or boiling them for a few minutes. Drain and rinse in cool water; drain well again.

When the noodles go into the pot, start heating the oil over high heat in a large skillet. Add the carrot, onion and cabbage, and sprinkle with a couple tablespoons of soy sauce. Cook, stirring constantly, until softened and slightly reduced in volume. Add the ginger and garlic, and mix in well. When the noodles are ready, add the drained noodles and the spaghetti squash, and mix in well, along with a little hot sauce or chile-garlic according to taste - yours and the sauces'.

When everything is hot through and nicely amalgamated you are done. Adjust with a little more hot sauce or soy sauce if desired.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Beef Pot-Roast with Horseradish Sauce

A good beef pot-roast is one of winters' pleasures and a classic comfort food. One of the things that makes it a pleasure is that it's so quick to assemble, and then it keeps the house warm while it cooks! It can be made in the oven, or simmered on top of the stove. They main thing is long, slow, moist cooking.

The horseradish sauce is a Russian touch. I think it adds a lot to the dish. Use a good sour cream and good horseradish - I think the best horseradish is found in refrigerated section, and doesn't contain preservatives.

There are a number of cuts of beef that can be used for pot roast. Blade roast, chuck roast, rump roast, or cross rib roasts are the classic cuts for pot roast. These are usually cheaper cuts, and can be tough if not cooked with slow, moist heat. However, any roast can be used for a pot roast; the finer more tender cuts make fabulous, tender pot roasts. Most people just think they should be reserved for regular roasting, but it doesn't have to be that way.

I cooked mine in a Romertopf*, but any heavy covered casserole dish will work. If you cook it on top of the stove, a cast-iron Dutch oven (bastible**) is ideal.  I used to pre-brown my roasts, but I've given it up for cleaner, less smoky house, fewer accidental burns, and less time and trouble spent on cooking. I don't miss it. Give your roast a sprinkle of paprika before you cook it if you don't want it to seem pale. If you use a roast with a bone in it, you will need a slightly larger roast and can expect it to take another half hour to cook.

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

Beef Pot-Roast with Horseradish Sauce

Cook the Beef:
600g to 800g (1 1/2 to 2 pounds) whole boneless pot roast
salt & pepper
3 bay leaves
4 medium potatoes
2 medium carrots
1 leek OR 3 shallots
1 medium white turnip OR winter radish
4 stalks of celery OR 1 small celeriac

2 cups beef broth, or broth and wine combination

Season the roast with salt and pepper, and place it in a pot which will fit it and the vegetables snugly but sufficiently, with the bay leaves underneath it.

Wash and cut the potatoes into chunks. Peel and cut the carrots into bite-sized pieces. Clean and trim the leek and cut it into bite-sized pieces, or peel and chop the shallots. Peel and dice the turnip or radish - you could also use about 1 cup diced rutabaga instead of either of those. Trim and chop the celery, or peel and dice the celeriac.  Fit these in around the roast. Pour in 2 cups of beef broth, replacing up to half of it with leftover wine, should you happen to  have any. You could even use water if you lack both broth and wine, but add a little good vinegar and or Worcestershire sauce in that case.

If you elect to cook your roast on top of the stove, put it on the burner and bring it up to bare boil. Reduce the heat and simmer it gently for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. It should never actually boil. Turn it half-way through the cooking process. Keep it covered while it cooks. Turn it off and let it rest for about 15 minutes once it is done.

If you cook your roast in the oven, I find it easiest to put it into a cold oven, then turn the oven to 250°F. Roast for about 2 hours; again, once it is done, leave it in the pot to rest for about 15 minutes before carving.

 Make the Sauce:
4 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon flour
3/4 cup broth
1/3 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish

Put the 4 tablespoons in a small pot with the flour, and mix well. Cook gently until the mixture is thick and pasty.

Remove the broth from the roasting pan, and slowly mix it into the horseradish. Bring it up to a simmer, and simmer until thick. Set this aside until the roast is sliced and the vegetables are in their serving dish. Then, bring it back up to the simmer and mix in the sour cream and another tablespoon of horseradish. As soon as the sauce is hot through again, put it in a serving jug or bowl and pass it with the beef and vegetables. The remaining broth can be used to make soup.

Last year at this time I made Ropa Vieja and Picadillo.

*If you use a Romertopf, don't forget it must be soaked for 15 to 20 minutes before you fill it.  I also have started using a slightly lower temperature with it, because I think it builds up a lot of heat.

**I was amused to discover, a number of years back, that a "Dutch" oven got the name as an ethnic slur - it was an "oven" for people too poor to have a proper oven. The correct name is bastible, but it is now so obscure that few people know it.

Monday, 14 January 2013

River Village Co-op Market

After our visit to Pine River Cheese, we had another destination in mind, this time in Teeswater. Teeswater is a small town of about 1200 people, set in a pretty, shallow valley, and with a nice old yellow brick main street. It's about 15 kilometres north of Wingham, and about 25 kilometres southwest of Walkerton. We were actually very tempted to move there when we were first looking for a house to buy, but we decided we needed to be closer to family.

One of the things that makes it rather unusual is that it is home to no fewer than 4 co-operative ventures (not including Pine River, which isn't in Teeswater.) There's the Huron Bay Co-operative, which is a farmers supply store chain, there's a Gaylea plant, which is a farmer's dairy co-operative, there's the Ontario Dairy Goat Co-operative, and finally, there's the River Village Co-op Market, which is where we visited.

River Village Co-op Market looks like a fairly typical small-town grocery store on the edge of the main downtown strip. That is in fact what it started out as, and what it basically is today. It's just that now it is owned by the co-op members in Teeswater and surrounding area.

We met with Doug Trenter, the manager, who gave us a tour and answered our questions. He's one of about 20 staff at the store, three-quarters of them part-time. Work shifts are not a requirement of membership in the Co-op, but some members do volunteer to come in to help stock shelves and clean.

Doug mentioned that their delivery truck had arrived very much behind schedule the day before, so they were a bit behind on getting the shelves stocked. I didn't really notice it walking around, but I do see it in the photos!

We were there at a very quiet time of day, but it wasn't quite as deserted as it looks in the photos. Teeswaterians seem a bit photo-shy! The products look like typical grocery store offerings, and mostly they are. The Co-op has access to the same supplier used by Sobey's and Foodlands markets, and they compare prices in the grocery stores in other local towns to make sure theirs are comparable.

At about 5,000 square feet, it's more modest grocery store than those in the larger nearby towns, but it's big enough to carry all the basics and more.

In early 2006 the grocery store in Teeswater closed, meaning that any grocery shopping then had to be done in either Wingham or Walkerton. The local residents got together and formed the co-op to buy the store, which they re-opened in April, 2007. Why are Teeswaterites so keen on co-ops? Nobody could answer this question for me, but perhaps it's just the power of example. When you see other groups doing it, the idea that you can do it too doesn't seem too far-fetched.

Since we were there before Christmas, there was a large selection of chocolates and cookies from a local chocolatier, Sweets 'N Treats.

Like most groceries, it has a bakery and deli area. Theirs also offers pizza and subs from Bell's, a local pizzeria.

By chance, one of the members of the Co-op's board was doing some shopping while we were having our tour. Gail Britton told us a bit more about the forming of the co-op. About 350 people each paid $1000 to become members and form the co-op. When you consider the size of the town, that's an amazing proportion of the local families who have bought into the co-op. Still, there are no real benefits to being a member, other than the benefit of still having a grocery store in town. In theory, members receive a share of profits, but there have not been any profits so far, although the store has done well enough to continue. In many ways, it's been a difficult struggle to keep the market going; it takes a lot of volunteer labour and there is a lot of complex paperwork involved in being a co-op.

You can read more about the River Village Co-op at the Newfoundland and Labrador Regional Economic Development Association site (no kiddin').

While in many ways the River Village Market is a typical small-town grocery, they do have one advantage over chain groceries: they are not committed to getting their products from one or two suppliers only. Consequently, they are able to sell locally produced items whenever it's feasible, and they do so as a way of distinguishing themselves from the larger groceries in the nearby towns, and as a way of connecting more strongly with the local community. (By the way, check out Teeswater's on-line newspaper.)

We were visiting late in the season so the local produce on hand was mostly root vegetables, but the co-op started getting produce from Bruce-Huron Produce Auctions this summer. Local tastes tend to be conservative, but apparently purple peppers were a surprise hit when they were in season. Local strawberries are a huge seller in season. Dairy products come from a local distributor, and it looked like about half their cheese came from Pine River Cheese. There's honey from Fear's, a local apiary, and jams and preserves from a local Mennonite company. (There are many Mennonites in the area - the parking lot includes an area for horses and buggies.) They get a lot of meat from Greens Meat Market in Wingham.

One very popular local item is Chapman's Ice Cream, made in Markdale. It's so popular that River Village Co-op doesn't even bother to carry any other brand of ice cream. (Gotta admit, I'm a Chapman's fan myself!)

It's not easy being a grocery store in a very small town - several previous owners decided it wasn't worth their while, after all; but River Village Co-op Market shows what can be done by a determined and organized community. I have to admit to being a little envious, and wish we had something like this nearby.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Mushroom Salad in Endive Leaves

Ridiculously simple, but tasty and attractive enough to serve as a buffet plate, an appetizer salad, or a pass-around cocktail party tid-bit. Unlike many such offerings, it's also light and not too filling - it's always a relief to see things like this in amongst the great piles of rich and fatty party food.

12 filled leaves (3 to 4 servings)
20 minutes prep time

Make the Dressing:
1/4 cup mayonnaise (light is fine)
1/4 cup buttermilk or yogurt

a pinch of salt & black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Whisk these ingredients together in a bowl.

Make the Salad:
125 grams (1/4 pound) button mushrooms
1/3 cup dried tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons pumpkin or sunflower seeds (optional)

1 large head Belgian endive

Clean and trim the mushrooms, and chop them fairly finely. Chop the dried tomatoes, and put them in a small pot with water just enough to cover. Bring to a boil, then cover and let rest for 5 minutes. Drain well.

Mix the mushrooms, tomatoes and seeds into the dressing.

Separate the endive leaves, discarding the too-small ones at the core. (Chop the core and add it to your next regular tossed green salad.) Lay the ones large enough to fill out on a plate, and divide the salad amongst them.

Last year at this time I made Bocadito Elena Ruz.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Smoked Trout & Barley Salad with Avocados

Once the barley is cooked - and that should be done in advance - this is a very quick and easy salad to put together. Wonderful smoked trout from Kolapore Springs made it very special and combines beautifully with the chewy barley and the herbs. Avocado makes it rich and creamy.

6 to 8 servings
20 minutes prep time - not including cooking the barley

Smoked Trout and Barley Salad

Cook the Barley:
1 cup raw barley
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups water

The barley is best cooked in a rice cooker. Put the above ingredients in it, and turn it on. Put a tea-towel around the rice cooker as the cooking water tends to foam up from the starch released by the barley, and leak out.

If you don't have a rice cooker, the above ingredients can be put in a pot and brought to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and simmer until the water is absorbed and the barley is tender. It will need to be checked regularly, but the cooking time should be about 40 to 45 minutes.

Make the Dressing:
1/2 cup mayonnaise (light is fine)
1/2 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt
the juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
1/4 cup fresh minced chives
OR 2 tablespoons dried chives
2 tablespoons fresh minced dill
OR 2 teaspoons dried dillweed

Mix the mayonnaise, buttermilk and lemon juice in a small bowl. Add the salt, celery seed - it should be ground well, first - and minced herbs to the dressing and mix them in. Set this aside while you assemble the salad.

Make the Salad:
1 250 gram (1/2 pound) filet of smoked trout
2 medium ripe avocados
1 cup peeled, finely diced celeriac
OR 1 to 2 stalks finely diced celery
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley

Peel the skin from the trout filet and discard it; the skin that is. Flake the trout into a mixing bowl with the barley. Cut the avocados in half and discard the pits. Use a large spoon to cut out slices of the avocado, then cut them into smallish bite-sized pieces. Add these to the salad. Peel and dice the celeriac, or wash, trim and dice the celery. Rinse the parsley and drain it well, and chop it. Mix these into the salad. Toss in the dressing.

If you wish to make the salad in advance, leave out the avocados and the dressing. Keep everything refrigerated, and add the chopped avocado and dressing just before serving the salad.

Last year at this time I made Pizza Mushrooms

Monday, 7 January 2013

Pine River Cheese

Just before Christmas we made a trip out to visit friends near Wingham. It seemed like a good time to also visit a place I've been meaning to go to for a while - Pine River Cheese. The factory is located in the hamlet  (or really, more of a crossroads with a name) of Pine River and is a nice new (more about that later...) mid-sized facility.

They have an attached store full of their cheese products, as well as a nice selection of complementary food products.

Since it was just before Christmas, they had a good selection of gift boxes and baskets made up.

We had arranged to have a tour of the factory with Vijay Kumar, the factory manager. With our usual impeccable timing, we had arranged to visit on a day when they were not making any cheese. As with everyone who makes cheese, cleaning is a big part of the operation, and at Pine River they make cheese one day and clean the next. This was a cleaning day.

We started upstairs where they have a little cheese museum - a display of old equipment, photos, and notes about the history of the company. There is a seating area for watching films - they get a number of school and group tours coming through. Next year the museum display is to be expanded.

You can also look down and get a panoramic view of the entire factory floor.

Tonnes of gleaming stainless steel, scrubbed and shiny, wait for the milk to be made into cheese tomorrow. It's all extremely bright and new, as a result of a catastrophic fire that destroyed the factory on September 6, 2010. It took 15 months to rebuild, and the factory has only been operating again since February 2012.

As you might suppose, this has had a big effect on their sales and availability, and they are still struggling to get back into the marketplace. Vijay is working hard to expand their profile. Many stores in Bruce county sell Pine River Cheese, and they have recently acquired vans to carry cheese as far as Pickering, London and Waterloo. They are looking to break into the Toronto market. Vijay is thinking about a cheese festival next year too. 

A few of the employees go around and finish the cleaning.

Vats on the factory floor. Pine River Cheese is, I believe, the last remaining farmer-owned cheese co-operative in southwestern Ontario; there are only a few others remaining in Eastern Ontario. All the rest have been bought by large multinational companies. As such, Pine River is also one of the last few companies still making cheese in the traditional way, or as I'm inclined to call it, real cheese. Vijay Kumar told me that 95% of cheese now being made (in Ontario? in North America?) has had the cream removed and replaced with what he referred to as margarine, or with modified milk ingredients.

If you think cheese doesn't taste as good as it used to, that would be why! Unfortunately, it's hard to find Pine River Cheese unless you live in the general area around Lake Huron. They are gearing up to full production again, but they lost a lot of customers after being mostly out of business for more than a year after the fire.

When you do find real cheese like Pine Rivers, you have to expect to pay more for it than you would for the stuff made with cheap filler ingredients. I have to say though, that Pine River is the most modestly priced real Cheddar cheese out there that I am able to find right now, and it compares very favourably in quality to Balderson, which used to be superb but is now only good. (Balderson Cheese used to be an independent dairy but it was bought by Parmalat a number of years back, and they have kept it as their high-end brand of Cheddar. In my opinion, Pine River is now the better cheese, and still less expensive.)

There is an entire room which holds the cleaning fluids, with pipes that take them throughout the factory.

This is a row of cheese presses: the drained curds are put into hoops (the rectangles seen in the picture below) which are then placed beneath these H-shaped presses for 8 to 10 hours to have yet more whey squeezed out of them.

Those grey rectangles are the hoops where the cheese curds are pressed into blocks.

These pipes that run around the factory floor bring the cleaning fluids to all the tanks and vats. Above them, you can see the windows of the museum and viewing floor.

A worker cleans out one of the cheese making vats. I'm sorry I ended up visiting on a cleaning day as seems to be my usual procedure! However, it turns out that Pine River has made and excellent video about their cheese-making process, that can be seen on YouTube. Check it out! it's impressive.

Another worker packs cheese in boxes. There are 30 full-time and about 8 part-time workers at the Pine River Cheese factory. The milk for the factory comes from 16 farmer members.

Cheddar is their specialty, but they make a good range of about a dozen other cheeses as well, including chocolate cheese! Yes, really. Mr. Ferdzy talked me into buying some and it was a big hit at our Christmas dinner. It's definitely dessert though, and not something you would put on your pizza. 

There is a climate-controlled warehouse attached to the factory, although they also have off-site aging facilities. Because of that you can still get old Cheddar and other aged cheese from Pine River, which survived since they were elsewhere at the time of the fire. Unlike a lot of cheese made at the present time, Pine River ages their cheese naturally - their 5 year old cheese really is 5 years old. According to Vijay, many cheeses nowadays are artificially aged through the addition of enzymes.

The same multinational companies that have snapped up almost every other cheese factory around would also love to snap up Pine River. They have received multiple offers to sell. So far though, Pine River remains true to their history of co-operative cheese making, and  have no intentions of selling. Their dedication shows in some of the best cheese around and it is still available at very reasonable prices. You will have to look for it though! Or maybe pay them a visit and stock up in their shop.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Carrot Dip or Spread

This is a very simple dip to put together, and since it calls for pantry staples it could be made at the last moment if necessary, although I think it's better to make it the day before it is wanted to allow the flavours to mellow. I should also mention that I have found it seems saltier with sitting for a while, so the miso should be added with some discretion. All the better if you can find a lower-salt miso to start with. 

3 to 4 cups
30 minutes prep time

Carrot Dip or Spread

450 grams (1 pound) carrots
3 to 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and trimmed
2 tablespoons tahini
2 to 3 tablespoons light miso
1 teaspoon honey
the juice of 1 small lemon
1 teaspoon chile-garlic sauce or hot sauce

Wash, peel and slice the carrots, and put them in a pot with water to cover. Boil them until quite tender; they should be easily pierced with a fork. Lift them out of the cooking water and put them in a food processor with the remaining ingredients.Start with 2 tablespoons of miso, and taste once everything is blended before adding more if it is required.

Purée everything until the texture is very smooth. You will need to scrape down the sides of the food processor several times, no doubt. If you want a dip, you should add a few tablespoons of the carrot cooking water until the exact consistency that you would like is achieved.

Transfer the dip or spread to a serving dish. Cover and let rest for an hour or so to allow the flavours to blend. Serve with crackers, bread, celery sticks, etc.

Last year at this time I made White Bean & Dried Tomato Dip. I'm so predictable...

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Red Cabbage, Carrot & Onion Stir-Fry

I tried - I really did - to get away from the sweet-sour dynamic that so constantly prevails with red cabbage. In the end though, it pulled me in. Because, really, it works so well. A little acid also helps the cabbage keep its bright magenta colour. 

Throw in some bacon and serve this with rice for a complete meal, although it works just fine as a vegetable side dish with any kind of roasted meat. 

4 to 6 servings
20 minutes prep time

Red Cabbage, Carrot and Onion Stir Fry

Make the Sauce:
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 cloves garlic

Mix the honey, soy sauce and vinegar in a small bowl. Peel and mince the garlic, and add it. Set this aside.

Do the Stir-Fry:
2 cups chopped red cabbage
2 medium carrots
1 large onion
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil

Wash, trim and chop the cabbage. Peel and grate the carrots. Peel and slice the onion in fairly thin wedges.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the onions and carrots, along with a tablespoon of water. Cook over high heat, stirring constantly, until softened and browned in spots, and the water is evaporated; about 2 or 3 minutes. Add the cabbage and another tablespoon of water and cook for another 2 minutes or so, stirring constantly, until the water is evaporated. Mix up the sauce again, and add it. Stir in well, and cook for another 2 or 3 minutes, until it too is absorbed or evaporated. I find the vinegar has an unpleasant odour as it first goes into the pan; it should be back to smelling pleasant before the dish is declared to be done.

Last year at this time I made Cornmeal Pancakes.