Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Lucullus Swiss Chard

Lucullus Swiss Chard

We've been growing Bright Lights (Rainbow) Swiss chard for the last few years in the garden, but I thought I would try something else this year. I remembered Lucullus Swiss chard from my allotment garden days as being absolutely superb. It's fairly readily available; we got ours from William Dam but you can also get it from a number of other Canadian and Ontario seed suppliers. I have not been disappointed - it's just as good as I remember it.

According to William Woys Weaver, in Heirloom Vegetable Gardening, Lucullus Swiss chard is a selection from White Curled Swiss chard. White Curled was introduced in France in 1828 by Vilmorin; Lucullus made its appearance in 1890. It belongs to the same group of chards that produced Bright Lights chard, having a fine large but thin leaf, rather savoyed (crumpled and indented) and fairly delicate in texture and flavour. Weaver refers to these as Chilean Beet, but makes no explanation of what makes them Chilean. As my post for Bright Lights describes, coloured Swiss chards have been around since the late 1500's at least, and the origin of chard is Mediterranean. Lucullus, however, is often referred to as being a Dutch variety; entirely possible.

Lucullus is named after Lucius Licinius Lucullus, a Roman general and patron of the arts and agriculture. He lived so well after his retirement with vast plunder from Asia Minor (Turkey) that his name became synonymous with culinary extravagance and gourmet quality - a pretty fancy association for what's basically a beet.

The stalks are pale celery green, but with that familiar earthy tang of Swiss chard or beets (which is after all what Swiss chard is), and maintain their tenderness even when quite large. The leaves are particularly mild and sweet, yet round and full in flavour. This is the most spinach-like of the Swiss chards I have had, more so than the variety known as Perpetual Spinach, which physically resembles spinach more but which has a stronger typical Swiss chard beety flavour. Many people proclaim Lucullus, sometimes spelled Luculus or called Giant Lucullus, as the best tasting Swiss chard around, and I think they may well be right.

It's often described as heat tolerant and bolt resistant, both of which descriptions perplex me a little. Of course it is; it's Swiss chard. Swiss chard likes good steady moisture and decent soil, especially if you are picking it heavily, but is otherwise a very easy to grow, tolerant plant. As for bolting, it's a biennial so unless you manage to get it to overwinter, it will not flower or form seeds. Same as all the other Swiss chards.

At any rate, I highly recommend this one. Swiss chard in general is a great vegetable, easy to grow, and a well-managed planting will provide greens for up to 5 or 6 months in a fairly modest space. Lucullus in particular is hard to beat for flavour and ease of growing. 

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Swiss Chard with Garlic, Chile & Cranberries

This is a very quick and easy dish to put together, and the robust greens are terrific with a bit (or more!) of garlic, a little hit of heat, and a touch of sweetness from the cranberries.

I'm giving quantities for the garlic and chile, but really, quantities will depend very much on what you like and how strong it is. The garlic is cooked, so I think it's hard to put in too much (unlike with raw garlic) but chile varies so much and so does people's tolerance for it. I just try to remember that more can always be added, but once it is in it's in!

I am working hard to use up the last 6 or 8 heads of garlic from last year. We have already pulled this years' garlic and it is curing in the garage, so I have about 2 weeks to do it. Otherwise it hits the compost. I'm actually pretty amazed that we managed to use as much garlic last year as we did. This years crop is a fair bit better though, so I'll need to use even more.

4 servings
20 minutes prep time

Swiss Chard with Garlic, Chile & Cranberries

3 to 4 cloves of garlic
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon ground red chile (cayenne)
OR 1 small dried hot chile, roughly ground or flaked
OR 1 small fresh hot chile, finely minced
1 bunch (12 to 16 leaves) of Swiss chard
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
1/4 cup dried cranberries OR raisins
1/4 teaspoon salt (about: to taste)

Peel and mince the garlic. Wash, trim and mince the fresh chile pepper, if using a fresh one. Cut the stems from the chare, wash and trim them, and chop them into bite-sized pieces. Wash the chard leaves well, roll them up and chop them, then set them aside to drain thoroughly.

Heat the oil in a large skillet, and add the Swiss chard stems along with a tablespoon or two of water. Cook until softened and perhaps slighly browned - you should consider them just shy of being done to your liking, since they will now be cooked for only a couple of minutes longer.

Add the garlic, chile, cranberries and salt, and mix in well until the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minutes. Add the chopped green leaves, and mix them in well. Continue to cook and stir in the leaves until they are all evenly and completely wilted. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Peach Coffee Smoothie

I have to confess, I made this with peaches that have been in the freezer since last year. It's the old, "Better use them up fast, so I have room for this years!" problem. Thus I had no fresh peaches to use as a prop, and had to make do with a  fu-dog instead. He looks suitably refreshed at any rate, and so he should. Ahhhh!

You can make this peachier, or more coffee-like, or creamier, or sweeter, or less sweet; really all these quantities are just suggestions. This is very flexible - and however you make it, just the thing for a hot summer morning, although since the peaches are frozen, you can arrange to make it all year long if you are so inclined. 

2 servings
10 minutes advance prep, 10 minutes finishing time,
at least 2 hours freezing time

Peach Coffee Smoothie

3 large peaches
1 cup cold brewed coffee
1/3 cup milk or light cream
1 to 2 tablespoons maple syrup

Blanch the peaches by dropping them into boiling water for one minute. Remove them to a bowl of cold water, cool them and peel them. Cut them in chunks, discarding the pits, and spread them out on a plate or tray that can go in the freezer. Freeze them until ready to proceed. Keep them sealed up if you are not using them right away.

It's perverse, I know, but now let your frozen peaches sit out for about 10 minutes to soften up slightly. They should still be frozen, but let's not commit blender abuse. Put them in a blender or food processor with the coffee, milk and maple syrup, and blend until smooth. Pour into glasses and serve.

The quantities of all the ingredients (all 4 of them!) can be adjusted to your taste.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Bean & Zucchini Curry

Yes! Those are yellow beans from my garden! And zucchini, too. We came back from our trip to Ottawa to discover that all the zucchini plants had stopped sulking and were churning them out like widgets from the widget factory. We're going to be mighty sick of both beans and zucchini by the end of the summer (assuming they don't resume sulking), but right now we are very excited to have them.

The beans can be green or yellow (or purple; I don't care). I didn't add mushrooms OR chopped pepper, having neither on hand, but both would make good additions. I don't have any ripe tomatoes yet either, so I used some tomato sauce - we still have some from last year! - and that was good. Don't use a really thick, acidy spaghetti type tomato sauce, but otherwise any canned tomato stuff is fine. Uh, not ketchup, okay? A little chopped cilantro would definitely add a nice herbal note to this. Mine is still out in the garden bolting rapidly as I completely forgot to pick any until it was too late. Dang.

4 servings
1 hour prep time

Bean & Zucchini Curry

Make the Spice Blend:
2 teaspoons coriander seed
2 teaspoons fennel seed
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne (OPTIONAL)

Toast the coriander, fennel, and cumin seeds, mustard seeds, and the black peppercorns in a dry skillet for 2 or 3 minutes over medium-high heat until fragrant, shaking or stirring the pan to keep them from scorching. Tip them out at once onto a plate to cool.

When they are cool, grind them and mix them with the turneric, salt, and a little cayenne if desired. Set aside.

Make the Curry:
2 medium zucchinis (500 grams or 1 pound)
3 cups chopped fresh green or yellow beans (250 grams or 1/2 pound)
1 large onion, with the greens if it has them
1 cup quartered button mushrooms (OPTIONAL)
1 sweet green, yellow or red pepper (OPTIONAL)
2 to 4 cloves of garlic
1" x 1" x 2" piece peeled fresh ginger
1 1/2 to 2 cups chopped tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, or tomato sauce
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
chopped cilantro to garnish (OPTIONAL)

Wash and trim the zucchini, and cut them in slices, halved or quartered if the thickness of the zucchini warrants it. Wash, trim and chop the beans. Peel and dice the onion. Wash and trim the green onion top, if it has one, and chop it. Keep the greens seperate from the bulb of the onion. Clean and quarter the mushrooms, if using. Cut the stem and core from the pepper, and dice it, if using. Peel and mince the garlic. Peel and mince the ginger. Peel and dice the tomato, if using.

Put the beans in a very large skillet with about 1/4 cup of water, and cook over medium-high heat until the beans are about half cooked and the water evaporated; about 3 or 4 minutes. Stir frequently.

Add the oil to the pan, as well as the zucchini pieces (and pepper pieces, if using) once it is hot. Mix well, and cook until the zucchini is softened and browned in spots. Stir frequently. Add the onion (mushrooms if using) and ginger, and cook for a minute or two longer, still stirring regularly.

Once everything is looking cooked down with nicely browned spots, add the garlic and the spice mixture. Continue cooking and stirring for another minute or two until well amalgamated and fragrant, then add the chopped tomatoes or whatever tomato substance you are adding. Mix well and simmer gently for about 10 to 15 minutes. At this point you can stir occasionally.

Garnish with a little chopped cilantro, if you like. (I totally meant to, but I forgot!) Serve with polenta, rice or noodles.

Monday, 22 July 2013

A Visit to Carp Farmers Market

It's been a while since I've been to a new Farmers Market! We were in the Ottawa area over the weekend, though, and Carp Farmers Market was recommended as a place to visit. We arrived a bit late on Saturday morning (it runs from 8 am to 1 pm) and found it in full swing, in the Carp Fairgrounds on the main street.

There is a long, wide space with booths all around, which made it wide open and accessible, even though this was a very busy, popular market.

As you would expect from such a large market, there was a wide array of products. This was actually the only seller of plants that I saw, but they had a great selection of shrubs and perennials. 

I'm always excited to find a producer of oil - there are so few small local oil producers. This is Kricklewood Farm, with cold-pressed sunflower seed oil. We tried a sample and just had to buy a bottle. Delicious! Just the thing for salads or delicate cooking. 

There are very few cranberry producers in Ontario as well, but Upper Canada Cranberries supplies the Ottawa area at a number of markets. 

Buffalo and elk were available, along with turkey and eggs, from Bearbrook Game Meats Inc. Wait, what? Peacock eggs? Wow!

My mom was very interested in this display; in spite of which neither of us got good information about it. I believe though, that it may be a local spinners and weavers association. There was a good selection of high quality artisan crafts at the market; you cannot just rent a booth, you must be selected through a jury process. Like all the products, it's producers only - the market brochure says they are the largest producer based farmers market in Ontario.

There were quite a few vendors of fresh vegetables. This one is Rainbow Heritage Garden, with a rainbow of fresh crunchy roots and greens. 

Once we had finished looking around outside, we went inside. Inside was a long key shaped space, in the building seen in the first photograph. A long narrow shed culminated in an wider octagonal space at the front, although we went in the back. This is full of yet more vendors, many of them meat sellers who need access to electricity. There were also a lot of crafts, baked goods, maple syrup... this was a market with everything!

Some of the aforementioned baked goods, from Kym's Old Fashion Bakery in Arnprior.

This is Pork of Yore, about which I will have more to say later as our other little expedition on this trip was to visit the Pork of Yore farm. Their sign in the back says it all - they are all about the all-natural pork! Pastured Tamworth pork, to be precise. 

Let's finish up on a sweet note with a little something from Pat's Sweet Temptations. Pat makes all kind of cakes including West Indian fruitcake. Yummers!

Friday, 19 July 2013

Zucchini "Hummous"

This is a ridiculously simple and tasty little thing to do with zucchini. I first heard about it 3 years ago when my mother made it, and I declared I would do it myself too, soon. Well, soon is a relative term, I guess. We've been struggling to getting our zucchini plants to produce, which is a laughable problem given their reputation. However, I managed to round up enough this week to give it a go. It does taste a little lighter than regular hummous, but is otherwise surprisingly similar. Just the thing for a light summer meal.

about 2 cups - 4 servings
20 minutes prep time

Zucchini Hummus

1 medium zucchini (2 cups diced)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup tahini
1 small clove garlic
2 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cumin seed, ground
a sprinkle of paprika, a grind of black pepper

Wash and trim the zucchini, and cut it into dice. Put it in a blender or food processor with the remaining ingredients and purée until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides if necessary. Give it a taste and adjust the flavours if you think it needs more of anything. (Less? Sorry; too bad.)

Remove to a serving dish and let rest for 30 minutes or so to allow the flavours to blend. Serve with crackers or crudités. I don't know how well this keeps; the issue has never arisen.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Green Pea Pancakes

Sorry to be still going on about peas. It has just been such a fabulous year for them, and the garden has been producing them by the tubful. Now it is getting rather hot (or is it just me? No, I don't think it's just me) and they are getting a bit starchy. Still absolutely pea-licious though, and you won't notice any starchiness when they are whirled into a pancake batter.

You could serve this as a meal in itself (as Mr. Ferdzy and I ate it) but it would also make a great appetizer or hors d'oeuvres. I mention sour cream as a possibility to serve them with, and perhaps a little smoked trout or salmon as well in that case. Be judicious with the garlic or onion type substances; it would be easy to overwhelm the delicate pea flavour. Leave it out altogether if you are so inclined.

Makes 2 to 8 servings (16  3" pancakes)
30 minutes prep time
not including shelling the peas

Green Pea Pancakes

2 cups fresh shelled peas
1 small clove garlic OR a garlic scape
OR a tablespoon minced chives, etc
1/4 teaspoon salt
fresh black pepper to taste
1/4 cup chick pea flour
2 large eggs
1/3 cup cooking water from the peas

2 to 3 tablespoons mild vegetable oil to fry
more peas to garnish

Shell the peas, and boil them in sufficient water to cover them well, for about 3 minutes. Strain them out, but keep the cooking water.

Rinse the peas briefly to cool them slightly, and drain them well. Put them in a blender or food processor with the garlic, peeled and sliced (or roughly chopped, or whatever is appropriate for the oniony substance you are using). Add the salt and pepper, and the flour. Break in the eggs and add the slightly cooled cooking water. Purée until fairly smooth.

Preheat the oven to 200°F. Heat a tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Pour out the batter to form pancakes about 3" across, and cook for just a minute or two on each side, until lightly browned. Keep the finished pancakes warm in the oven while you finish the rest, adding a little more oil between batches as needed.

Serve with bacon, or sour cream (or bacon and sour cream for true decadence) or just a little knob of butter, but with a good strewing of freshly steamed peas, snow peas or snap peas.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Two Peas in Pods

It's that time of the year again! Actually, it's almost past that time of the year, as the peas are slowing down and the beans are starting to think of producing. At any rate, here are two peas that were new to our garden this year. This one is the very popular and readily available Homesteader, also known as Lincoln, or sometimes Lincoln Homesteader. In spite of this very American sounding name, it is actually an English variety introduced in 1908. Perhaps it is named for the city of Lincoln.

The pods in my hand look great, with 10 peas per pod being quite common. They are also a fine tasting pea, which started fairly early at about 65 days to harvest. They are said to be heat tolerant, and they seem to be holding up to the blistering temperatures we have been having off and on for the last several weeks quite well.  We planted them a bit later than some of our peas, so they are still going fairly strong. The one problem we have had is that they have been struggling with some kind of fungus or mold, with a good (bad, rather) proportion of the pods turning a greyish-brown and failing to develop properly. Now admittedly we have them jammed in there, but so are a lot of our peas jammed in there, and none of the others are showing this problem.

There they are; another pea at the right hand end of the bed, then beans, then the Homesteader, then more beans. You can see one of the vines is turning a bit yellow or something. Obviously, they are short enough that we did not really need to put them in the trellised section, although they are tall enough to need some kind of support. Looks to me like they won't hit more than 3' in height, so a selection of sticks stuck in the ground, or a simple tripod would do it.

These are generally regarded as a particularly productive and tasty variety, but without much in the way of disease resistance. They do seem to hold on the vine reasonably well for several days, and as noted  have good (for peas) heat tolerance. They freeze well.

In spite of their heat tolerance, like most peas, they should be planted as early in the spring as can reasonably be managed. I say we planted ours later than some of our peas, but I am talking about perhaps a week difference. They were still planted reasonably early.

I guess I will grow these again; I'll get some new seed just in case the fungus on these came in on the seeds, and try them in a spot with better air circulation.

This is Ne Plus Ultra, a fairly tall pole pea, finishing up at 5 to 7 feet in height. Unlike the Homesteader, these will need good trellising. At 60 days to maturity, they are surprisingly early for such a tall pea. They have produced steadily if not prolifically since then, and are still going after about a month, as I write this. I suspect they are slowing down, but the harvest is fairly spread out, for peas, which in general are not long producers. Some sources describe them as late, but mine were definitely the earliest of the talls to get started, and not far behind even our very short earlies.

The flavour is excellent, and the pods are a nice size, with 8 or 10 peas per pod being typical.

They are being grown in our wet bed, in the first section on the right. The peas right next to them are Mrs. Van's. They look remarkably similar. They started producing in similar time, although the Mrs Van's were perhaps a week later to get going. Mrs. Van's might be a tad larger and sweeter, but they are so close it is very hard to say for sure. I could not tell them apart in a blind taste test, I'm sure. In other words, I strongly suspect that Mrs.Van's is a selection out of Ne Plus Ultra.

I would be very happy to grow either of Mrs.Van's or Ne Plus Ultra again; they are both great peas. In fact, I suspect I will just mix together my saved seed from both of these peas and return to calling them Ne Plus Ultra.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Saft (Berry Cordial)

Saft is the Swedish name for this fruit syrup, but versions are made all through Scandinavia. It's basically a sweetened fruit syrup used as a drink, hot or cold. Currants are not always used, but I think they are ideal to add that tart tangy flavour and make a really refreshing drink. You can use all currants if you like, of mixed colours or just one. I used half red currants plus black currants, the last of our strawberries and some cherries in this batch.

Actually the English drink this too; see Ribena. Unless you put in waaaaay more sugar than I'm calling for here, yours will be nowhere near as sweet though. You may wish to put in a little more sugar than I call for, depending on the tartness of your berries and your taste, but start with this amount and taste it first! More can always be added, even as late as when the syrup is being put in the glass, but once it's in it can't come out!

If you don't wish to process the saft for storage, it can be frozen. I'd let it cool completely, pour it into clean glass jars beng careful to leave plenty of room at the top, and freeze them with the lids off. Once it is frozen solid, the lids can be put on, and the saft kept until you wish to unthaw it and use it. In either case, once opened it should be stored in the refrigerator. It's important to leave the lids off at first as the syrup will expand quite a lot as it freezes, and if the lids are on the glass may break. For me though, freezer space is at a premium and shelf-stable canning is the way to go.

30 minutes for preliminary cooking
2 hours to overnight to strain
1 hour to can (20 minutes plus cooling time if freezing)
about 5 x 500ml jars

Saft or Berry Cordial

4 cups mixed berries; strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and/or cherries
4 cups currants; black, red or white
2 cups water
2 cups sugar, or a bit more

Pick any large leaves or other debris from the berries, and pick them over for bad ones. Rinse them well. Put the water into a canning kettle or other very large pot to boil, and add the drained berries when it boils. Simmer them gently for 10 to 15 minutes, then turn them into a cloth - over another large pot - to strain. You are unlikely to find a jelly bag large enough to cope with this quantity of fruit; I use a clean old cotton pillowcase which has moved on to a second career. (Not appearing soon on any beds near you.) You can strain this for several hours, although I put it in our cool, dry basement and left it to strain overnight.

Put the jars into a canner with boiling water to cover them, and bring them to a boil. 

Meanwhile, squeeze out the pulp through the cloth as much as you like - the harder you squeeze the cloudier the syrup will be but personally I don't care - fruit is expensive enough in both time and money that I want every drop I can extract. Return it to the (cleaned) canning kettle. You can measure it first if you like; it will give you some idea whether you have the right quantity of jars.

When the jars in the canner come to a boil, set the time to boil them for 10 minutes. Add the sugar to the fruit juice and bring to a boil. Put the lids and rims into another pot and bring them to a boil. (Turn off the heat when they have boiled for 1 minute).

Lift and empty the jars, place them on a board or other heatproof surface, and fill the jars with the syrup. Wipe the rims with a bit of paper towel dipped in the boiling water and top them with the prepared lids and rings. Return them to the boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove, let cool, label and store.

To use, dilute one part saft with 4 parts plain or sparkling water, or to taste. Also good with white wine, sparkling apple juice, and in hot tea or punch.

Last year at this time I made Batter-Fried Zucchini.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Carouby De Maussane Snow Peas

Step aside, Mammoth Melting. Here's an even bigger snow pea. Carouby de Maussane is a snow pea originally from Maussane, in the south of France, grown as far back as the 19th century. While I still think Mammoth Melting is a geat pea, we seem to have switched to Carouby de Maussane, which has  a few advantages over it. The pods are extremely tender and can get very large yet still be good quality. I did leave that one stretched across my thumb a bit too long, and it was developing fibrous strings around the edges. The plants don't get so tall as Mammoth Melting, although they will hit at least 5 feet. I think the overall yield is fairly similar, although it's hard for me to say for sure as this is the first year the deer have not eaten half the Carouby de Maussane - if it has a disadvantage, it's that it's extremely popular with the critters.

The flavour is perhaps not as sweet as some snow peas, but it lacks any bitterness either; the flavour is rich and green. Rebsy Fairholm didn't love it, but I do. They seem to produce for about a month, and start later than our other favourite snow peas, Norli, so between the two of them we get a good spread of availability. I have frozen a few, but haven't tried them yet. I suspect that they may not be the best for freezing since they are so very soft and tender - I am not sure they will hold up very well. But I have yet to see for sure.

Do not be misled  by the size of the pods into thinking that these do not need to be picked every day. Just like all the others, they must. Their enormous size is paced by their rapid growth, and it is easy to let them go too long by skipping picking for a day when they are in season.

There they are, along with a whole lot of other legumes. They are the batch at the end of bed depicted in the mid-ground, just behind the very warped support posts. Sharing the bed further along are the much rangier Sugar Magnolia. Still, Carouby de Maussane are tall enough that good support will be needed.

Plant them when you plant the rest of your peas, that is not too long affter the snow has melted and the soil is thawed and workable. Like most peas they prefer cooler weather, but they hold up better than most when the weather gets hot so it may be worthwhile to plant a second batch 2 to 4 weeks after the first batch to ensure a longer supply. They take about 70 days to maturity.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Chicken & Vegetable Stir-Fry

This is a fairly straightforward little stir-fry; nothing out of the ordinary about it except for my tendency to like the combination of oyster sauce and ketchup as a sauce. However, it marks a significant point in the progress of the garden: this is the first dish I have been able to make this seaon using more than one or two vegetables at a time (lets face it I'm talking about PEAS, much as I love them it is exciting to have the choice of something else!)

The Swiss chard was thinnings, but it is starting to look nice and tall, the onions are fattening up but the greens are still juicy and useable and we have even managed a couple of zucchini. The plants look far healthier than last year, but they have mysteriously been very slow to produce any zucchini. We've been finding lots of squash bug eggs on them in the last day or two, so full of suspicion we watered the heck out them and stood by for 15 minutes. Up they came - we removed 32 of the little monsters. Could they have been sucking so much juice out of our zucchini so as to prevent them from fruiting? We suspect so. Here's hoping we've gotten most of them, although we will repeat that process in a day or two to make sure.

2 to 3 servings
45 minutes prep time

Stir-Fried Chicken with Chard, Snow Peas, Onion and Zucchini

450 grams (1 pound; 2 pieces) skinless, boneless chicken breast
1 summer onion
OR 4 or 5 garlic scapes
1 medium zucchini
1 cup snow peas
1 bunch Swiss chard
1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon peeled and finely minced fresh ginger

2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 teaspoon arrowroot or cornstarch
2 tablespoons water or apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil

Cut the chicken into bite sized pieces, and set it aside (in the fridge, for preference) while you prepare the vegetables. Trim, wash and chop the onion, using both the green tops and white bulb, but keeping them in seperate piles. Wash, trim and slice the zucchini. Wash and trim the snow peas. Wash and pick over the Swiss chard, and drain it well. Chop it roughly. Keep the green leaves and stems seperate if the stems are substantial (i.e. will need longer to cook than the leaves). Peel and mince the ginger.

Mix the oyster sauce, ketchup, arrowroot and water or vinegar in a small bowl and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large skillet or wok over high heat. Add the zucchini slices and cook until lightly browned on one side - just a minute or two - then add the chicken pieces and continue cooking and stirring, until the chicken is seared all over and browned in spots. Add the chopped whites of the onion and the ginger, the Swiss chard stems if they are thick, and stir in for a minute or so until well amalgamated. Add the snow peas and the onion greens, and stir and cook for another minute or two. At this point things should look pretty much cooked. Add the Swiss chard leaves, and mix in well until they are thoroughly wilted. Add the sauce, and stir in well until the sauce thickens and coats everything.

Serve with steamed rice or noodles.

Last year at this time I made Peas & Cheese.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Okay... This is New... I Made Strawberry Jam and It Set!

Strawberry Jam

So. I have made three batches of strawberry jam in the last couple of weeks and they have all set. Beautifully. This is a very new experience for me; my strawberry jam has traditionally been on the runny side. The reason is that I bought and tried Bernardin's No Sugar Needed Pectin.

I'm feeling a bit strange about this, because I am not usually very inclined to write about the products of mega-gigantico international corporations. Au contraire.  But this is the first time ever that I have used pectin and had it work. Moreover, I've made a batch of each of three suggested variations, and they all worked equally well.

While this is "no sugar needed" pectin, you can use sugar if you want. My first batch was made as they suggest, with 4 cups strawberries, 1 cup fruit juice and 1 1/2 cups sugar. Compare this to regular jam recipes - the sugar used is way lower. Next, I made a batch with Splenda for my dad, the sweet-toothed diabetic. Finally I made a batch with no sugar, just the strawberries and fruit juice, for my mom, who is on a low-sugar diet and who isn't quite so inclined to sweets. I used a mixture of lime juice and water for my fruit juice in the first batch, and grape juice for the other two batches. They all set up equally well.

My measurement of strawberries got bigger and bigger with each batch I made; I should really concede that the last batch had a good solid 5 cups of strawberries in it. Worked fine. This really seems to be pretty fool-proof stuff.

The ingredients are simple enough; dextrose (a sugar), fruit pectin, citric acid, and calcium ascorbate (a form of vitamin C. No problems there.

I didn't skim my jam, which jam recipes have always said to do. Mine always took so long to set up (assuming it did) that any foam had lots of time to settle out before the jam set. Not this time. The foam managed to make it about two-thirds up the jar before it was caught and set, so my jam looks a little funny. Ho hum. I can live with that.

I've had a number of people recommend Pomona pectin to me, but the trouble is I live in the sticks. It's the products of mega-gigantic international corporations, or local farmers, with nothing in between. In short, I can't get it. Therefore, I really don't know how well it would compare.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Midsummer in the Garden

Spring planting is done! Now we are into watering, weeding, picking and processing - as well as planning our summer and fall plantings. Each Monday morning we walk through the garden and make a list of the chores for the week.

We decided to plant as much through plastic and mulch as possible this year, and it is really making life so much pleasanter. Still behind on trimming the grass though; nothing new there.

Our celeriac is spectacular, the best we've grown so far (knock wood) and even the squash, melons and cucumbers are surviving quite well. There is a steady supply of cucumber beetles, but we start each day with a quiet, comtemplative 20 minutes of bug killing and so far we seem to be keeping on top of them. Squash bugs have been present, but relatively scarce.

The leaf beds still look pretty sparse but they are now all planted. Leeks still need to be transplanted to their final spot; that should happen this week. Early planted cabbages are starting to look like they are thinking of forming heads, all the other brassicas are looking much better than usual, probably because we treated the beds with lime and Borax at as we planted them. Saw my first cabbage butterfly yesterday, so I guess the days of the cabbages and brassicas being relatively hole-free are now numbered with a pretty small number.

Swiss chard is ready for the first picking, or at least thinning. We are growing 2 new (to us) varieties this year, Green Perpetual  and Lucullus, both from William Dam. Actually, I remember growing Lucullus in our allotment garden days and want to see if it is as good as I remember.

Peas are pretty much in full swing, in fact the Tom Thumb are nearly over. Mid season peas are mid, and late peas are just getting geared  up. Yay peas! I could eat 'em all day. This is going to be a super year for them, I would say.

The chick peas are flowering. It's hard to see, as they are very small, single blossoms, but the plants are looking really lush. The beans are all doing well too.

Peanuts and sweet potatoes have been in for a while, but we are still sometimes getting cool enough nights that we should be covering them, although we are not always sufficiently organized to actually do it. Still, they look okay.

Tomatoes are doing well, although the second bed has never really caught up from their late planting. Fortunately these are all canning tomatoes. I won't mind doing my canning a little later in the summer. Cucumbers are surviving the beetles and a few even look like producing cucumbers this week. We picked our first zucchini yesterday, and more look like they should be ready in a day or two. They seem to be slow to really get started, somehow. Maybe I am just impatient.

Overall, I think we are more on top of the weeding than we have ever been so far. We actually feel like we are having time to relax and enjoy the garden... very different from last year when, honestly, we should have covered the whole thing in plastic for the year and walked away.

We are even getting extra projects done. We got a number of the paths laid down with landscape cloth. We still  have to get to one of the local landscape supply places and pick out a gravel to cover them (and have it dumped on our driveway, and haul it into place with wheelbarrows - whoohoo!) but it should happen this month and meanwhile we already feel that the cloth is really reducing the weeding and the grass trimming. We have bought quite a number of shrubs to go into our newly landscaped areas, and I have some perennials I have grown from seed to go in as well. We may even tackle the overgrown mess I call my flower cutting bed this year...

Monday, 1 July 2013

Barley Salad with Peas & Herbs

Barley makes such great summer salads.  This one is so cool and refreshing, with peas and herbs, and some cucumber if you like. We added chicken and ate it for supper.

This looks like being a great year for peas so far. I wish we had planted more, but I wish that every year. There's only so much space though, and also only so much time to sit and shell them... they are certainly a bit of a luxury fresh, but oh so good.

4 to 6 servings
20 minutes prep time, plus 1 hour to cook barley and shell peas

Barley Salad with Peas & Herbs

Cook the Barley:
1 cup pot or pearl barley
1/4 teaspooon salt
3 cups water

Put the above in a rice cooker, and cook. Alternatively, put them in a pot on the stove and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook until the barley is tender and the water absorbed. Allow to cool.

Make the Dressing:

1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
the juice of 2 medium lemons
1/3 cup sunflower or olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

 Wash the lemons and grate a little of the zest into a small bowl. Squeeze the lemons and add the juice, oil, salt and pepper to the bowl. Whisk before adding to the salad.

Make the Salad:
2 to 3 cups shelled peas (1 1/2 quarts with shells on)
1/3 cup finely chopped parsley
1/4 cup finely chopped chives
2 tablespoons finely chopped dill
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint

Optional Additions:
cucumbers, hard boiled eggs, cooked chicken or ham

Shell the peas, and blanch them in boiling water for one or two minutes, then rinse in cold water to cool them. Drain well. Toss them in a bowl with the broken up barley. Wash and mince the herbs finely, and mix them in. Add a cup or so of chopped cucumber if you like it and have it. Toss with the dressing. This can and should be made a little in advance, to allow the flavours to blend.

As-is, this makes a good side salad; to make it a full meal add a few hard boiled eggs, peeled and chopped, or 1 or 2 cold poached chicken breasts, chopped, or about a cup of diced cold cooked ham.

Last year at this time I made Pollo Oreganato.