Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Pizzoccheri alla Valtellinese

Here it is; the Italian recipe using homemade buckwheat noodles that I mentioned earlier. All the recipes I found were very consistent, but being me I  have made some changes. The main one was to add some carrots. I thought they would fit in well with the flavour profile and add some much-needed colour. I didn't put toasted bread crumbs on top, but our assessment of the dish was that although it was very tasty, the texture was just a tad soft and stodgy, and crisp bread crumbs would add just enough of a different texture. They are not absolutely necessary, however.

The original cheese to use is Valtellina Casera, which you will not find around here. Friulano should make an excellent substitute. All the recipes I saw cooked the garlic with the sage then removed and discarded it, which seems a bit precious to me for what is basically peasant chow. Not to mention that I have put much effort into growing and storing that garlic, and I'm eating it, damn it. I have also streamlined the process a bit; mixing everything together rather than layering it in bowls. Friulano melts pretty quickly, so don't mix it for more than a minute or so, but I do think that mixing it in the pot will give you better melting than just layering the ingredients.

Swiss chard is often used in this dish, but cabbage, kale, or spinach will work just as well, meaning this dish could be made pretty much all year long using whichever green was most seasonal, although I don't really see it as a middle-of-the summer kind of thing. On the other hand, given the last couple of cool, rainy summers; maybe.

2 servings, or 4 servings
20 minutes prep time, assuming the noodles are made

Pizzoccheri alla Valtellinese

Advance Preparation:
1/2 recipe buckwheat noodles, cut into short pieces
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup coarse, fairly dry bread crumbs

Make the noodles according to the recipe, at least 2 hours before preparing the rest of the dish, and let them sit out on the counter to get a bit dry.

Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat, and toast the crumbs in it until they are lightly browned and quite crisp. Turn them out onto a plate to cool, and set them aside until needed.

Finish the Dish:
1 medium potato (1 cup when diced)
1 medium carrot (1 cup when diced)
1 medium onion
4 cups chopped green or Savoy cabbage, Swiss chard, kale, or spinach
3 or 4 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
100 grams (4 ounces) diced Friulano cheese
30 grams (1 ounce) finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon rubbed dry sage
OR 3 or 4 fresh sage leaves
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil.

Wash and trim the potato (or peel it if you do that kind of thing), and cut it into 1/2" dice. Peel and trim the carrot, and cut it into slightly smaller dice. Peel and chop the onion. Wash, trim and chop the cabbage or other greens fairly coarsely. Peel and mince the garlic.

When the water comes to a boil, add the carrots and potatoes, and boil them for 8 minutes. Add the buckwheat noodles, and continue cooking for another 5 to 7 minutes, until the noodles are tender.

About 5 minutes after the carrots and potatoes have been started, heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. If using fresh sage, fry them briefly in the butter, then remove them - you can save them as a garnish if you like. Add the onion, and cook for 2 or 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the cabbage, and mix in well, stirring regularly to keep it cooking down evenly. After 3 or 4 minutes of cooking the cabbage, add the garlic, and the dry sage if that is what you are using. Mix well, and let cook for a few more minutes while the noodles cook. Use this time to dice and grate the cheeses. Mix the grated Parmesan with the prepared bread crumbs.

When the noodles are ready, drain them and return them to the pot over medium-low heat. Quickly mix in the diced Friulano cheese and the vegetables from the skillet. Stir for just a minute, until you see signs the cheese is melting. Turn it at once into a serving dish, or divide it amongst individual dishes, and sprinkle with the Parmesan and bread crumbs. Serve at once.

Last year at this time I made Creamy Mushroom Dip

Monday, 29 December 2014

Kielbasa Stew with Cabbage & Sauerkraut

Everybody got through Christmas okay, I hope? Just New Year's to go, and then there's a lo-o-o-ng stretch of winter until anything exciting happens. Valentine's day was always a big celebration on our family for just this reason. I, however, am looking forward to some lack of excitement for a while. Put my feet up and read, while some stew bubbles on the stove.

Is there a quicker, easier, stew to make than this? It's hard to imagine. You can have it on the table in an hour, but it also keeps and re-heats well. You can also make it with leftover ham, smoked turkey chunks, or other kinds of lightly smoked cooked sausage. This is also one that can be made all winter. Versatile and delicious!

4 to 6 servings
50 minutes to an hour - 30 minutes prep time

Kielbasa Stew with Cabbage & Sauerkraut

1 large carrot
4 cups unsalted ham or chicken stock
4 medium potatoes
4 cups chopped green cabbage
1 large onion
2 to 4 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon fat or mild vegetable oil
1 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1/2 teaspoon caraway or fennel seeds
freshly ground black pepper to taste
500 grams (1 pound) kielbasa sausage
2 cups sauerkraut

Peel the carrot and cut it into bite-sized pieces. Put them in a pot with the chicken stock, and bring to a boil. Wash, trim and cut the potatoes into bite-sized pieces, and add them to the carrots when they have cooked for about 5 minutes. Simmer steadily until the potatoes and carrots are barely tender.

Meanwhile, wash and chop the cabbage.  Peel and coarsely chop the onion. Peel and mince the garlic. Heat the oil in a large skillet, and add the onion; stir well and after a minute or two add the cabbage. Sauté the onion and cabbage until quite soft, and slightly browned in spots. Add the garlic, and the seasonings. Mix in well and cook for another minute or two.

Chop the kielbasa into bite-sized pieces and add them to the carrots and potatoes. Add the sautéed vegetables, and the sauerkraut. Simmer the stew for another 15 to 20 minutes, then serve.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Brussels Sprouts & Carrot Copper Coin Salad

We went to a festive roast beef dinner put on by one of the local churches recently, and they served one of the dishes they always serve, namely a carrot coin salad. My mother-in-law loves this salad; I personally quite dislike it. I got curious about it though, and hopped on the internet to do a little research.


If it was the most standard carrot coin salad out there, the dressing consists mostly of canned tomato soup, sugar and vinegar - I found one recipe that called for a cup and a half of sugar! Admittedly, for a much larger salad than this, but still. And which would explain very well who likes it and who doesn't in this household.

At any rate, I thought I would make it over to suit my own tastes. First, let's have some green! Brussels sprouts slice into coins very nicely; you can just consider them oxidized copper coins. I kept the pepper and shallots from the original, and made the dressing over so that it still has a sweet tomatoey tang, but not enough to give you an instant sugar rush. Like the original, this is a good salad for entertaining, since it gets made in advance. More than an hour in advance, and I would keep it in the fridge until wanted, and just bring it out to get the chill off half an hour before serving.

And now, as usual, it is time to take a little break from the blog until Christmas is over. Hope you all have relaxing holidays, and best wishes for an excellent New Year. (I want one too; better than this one, anyhow.) If nothing else, we are now into the-days-are-getting-longer territory, and for that I am very thankful.

6 servings
30 minutes prep time; 1 hour rest time

Brussels Sprouts & Carrot Coin Salad

Make the Dressing:
3 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
1 tablespoon apple butter
1 tablespoon tomato ketchup
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon celery seed, ground

Whisk or shake the ingredients together in a small bowl or jar.  Do make this before you proceed with the salad; it will be needed while the vegetables are hot.

Make the Salad:
250 grams (1/2 pound; 3 medium) carrots
250 grams (1/2 pound) Brussels sprouts
1/4 small green or red pepper
1 small shallot

Put a good sized pot of water on to boil - both the carrots and the Brussels sprouts are going into it. Peel and trim the carrots, and cut them into 1/6" slices. Add them to the water when it boils, and boil for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, trim the Brussels sprouts and slice each one into 3 slices, or 4 slices if they are unusually large. When the carrots have boiled for the 5 minutes, add the Brussels sprouts and boil both together for another 3 minutes.

Drain the carrots and Brussels sprouts very well, shaking the strainer to extract as much water as possible. Press gently down with a large spoon to get the last of the liquid out. Return the vegetables to the pot, and add the dressing immediately, while they are still hot. Let them sit uncovered to soak up the dressing while you prepare the pepper and shallot.

Wash and trim the pepper, and chop finely. Peel and mince the shallot. Mix them in with the carrots and Brussels sprouts. The salad should rest in the dressing for about an hour before being served, at room temperature or perhaps lightly chilled. I think room temperature is better, though. At some point in the procedure transfer the salad to its' serving dish, pouring any unabsorbed dressing over the salad.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Making Buckwheat Noodles

Or, as they are often known, soba noodles, since they are pretty much a Japanese delicacy. Or are they? I discovered an Italian dish made with buckwheat noodles a little while ago; who knew? Well, besides the Italians, of course. Since I had bought a bag of buckwheat flour on a whim a little while ago, it seemed noodles were in my future.

Most recipes, European or Asian, call for a ratio of 4 parts buckwheat flour to 1 part wheat flour. I tried making a gluten-free version, and it worked well enough but it was definitely harder to work with than the version with wheat. Still, it was fine; just don't expect to cut it into long thin strands, but something shorter and more rustic. The wheat version was much easier to roll out, and I liked the finished product better too, but then I can eat wheat without trouble if I am careful.

I am calling for specific amounts of water, but they are starting amounts. One thing that was clear when I was researching recipes is that the amount of water required will vary, perhaps quite a bit, depending on what flour you have. Seasonal fluctuations in rain affect the absorbtive qualities of flour, as does the milling, and how much hull is left in the flour. The important thing is to add water until you have a smooth, easily pliable but not sticky dough. Also, I suspect a finely milled flour will yield better results than a coarsely ground flour.

4 servings per recipe
Allow at the very least an hour; it's the kind of job you pick away at
Also, best made in advance

Gluten Free Noodles:
2 cups buckwheat flour, plus a little more
2 tablespoons tapioca starch
1 cup boiling water, perhaps a little more

Regular Buckwheat Noodles:
1 2/3 cups buckwheat flour, plus a little more
1/3 cup soft unbleached OR all-purpose wheat flour
3/4 cup water

In either case, put the flours into a small mixing bowl, and stir in the water. Once it is mostly mixed with the spoon, I found it easiest to turn it out onto a clean counter or board, and knead it a bit. You will most likely need to add a bit more water, spoonful by spoonful, to achieve the right texture. If you overdo it, or if your dough is sticky from the start, add flour in the same way. The resulting dough, as noted, should be smooth and easily pliable, but not sticky.

Be careful if you are making the gluten-free noodles; the boiling water will cool off rapidly once it is in the flour, but not so rapidly that you could not burn yourself by starting to knead it too soon.

Once the dough has been mixed and kneaded, leave it for 20 minutes to an hour before rolling it out. Keep it covered with a damp cloth, or wrapped in parchment paper or plastic.

I find it easiest to roll out on a sheet of parchment paper; a well floured board would do. Roll it quite thin. I then trimmed off the rough edges to make neat rectangles, and cut the edges into short rustic noodles. Cut the dough into noodles of the size and shape you like; in either case shorter noodles (up to 6" long) will be easiest to deal with. Lightly flour the sheets of dough before stacking them to cut noodles, so they don't stick to each other. Letting the rolled out dough sit for a little while before cutting will also help.  Once cut, the noodles should be left to dry out a little more.

Once made, the noodles should be cooked in plenty of boiling water. Whether you add salt or not is up to you. The Japanese traditionally don't add salt, but they also usually would be serving them with soy sauce or other very salty soy products, I would think.

The cooking time will depend on how thinly the noodles are rolled; mine took 6 to 7 minutes, but I would start testing them as soon as 4 minutes if you have manage to get them very thin, or expect to leave them as long as 10 to 12 minutes if they are very thick. 

I served my first batch with my favourite Ginger-Peanut Sauce. That was actually half a batch of noodles, to a full batch of peanut sauce, and that was a bit too much sauce. One batch of sauce should do one batch of noodles. These were the gluten free noodles, and I cooked them with some cabbage, carrots and leeks, drained them, then returned them to the pot with the sauce until it was well mixed in.

I use that sauce mostly on vegetables, and I found that on noodles I wanted to add a bit more soy sauce to sharpen it up. I also left out the allspice and green peppercorns, and added a couple of cloves of minced garlic and some toasted sesame oil instead.

Last year at this time I made Caramel Popcorn.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Brussels Sprouts & Celeriac Slaw

Brussels sprouts make a great bowl of coleslaw, enhanced with crunchy nuts (whatever kind you like; perhaps to match the oil used), the sweetness and tang from the apple butter (and fruit, if used), and a good  hit of mustard. I always love to have a little red cabbage in my coleslaw; it just adds so much to the colour. 

It doesn't hurt to have this put together a little in advance of serving. That gives the flavours time to meld, and the veggies soften slightly. Leftovers keep reasonably well; better if there is not an apple in it. If you think you have more than you will eat in one sitting, and you want the apple in it, perhaps just add apple to half, or pass it separately.

4 to 6 servings
30 minutes prep time

Make the Dressing:
the juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons walnut OR hazelnut oil
1 tablespoon grainy Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon apple butter
salt and pepper to taste

Whisk or shake together in a small bowl or jar.

Make the Salad:
2 cups finely shredded Brussels sprouts
1 cup grated carrot
1 cup finely sliced red cabbage
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1 small apple AND/OR 1/4 cup raisins (optional)

Wash, trim and finely shred the Brussels sprouts. Peel and grate the carrot (1 medium should do it), and wash, trim and slice the red cabbage. Toss them with the nuts and the salad dressing. You could add a small apple cored and diced, or a handful of raisins, if you wanted to accentuate the sweet notes in the salad.

Last year at this time I made Spaghetti Squash au Gratin

Monday, 15 December 2014

Shepherd's Tourtière (Tourtière Chinois)

I made this as a trial run to see if it would work for our Christmas dinner. It won't, unfortunately. Dad's partner is now well enough to join us in eating dinner, but he is on a very soft diet after being fed through a tube for the better part of 7 months, and I decided that this has just a little too much texture to it, even without the pastry. Most people will be perfectly happy about that, though, so here it is.

We thought it was very tasty, and for anyone who wants a gluten-free tourtière the potato topping works very well. I am not the first person to come up with this idea, but for an amalgamation of two very popular Quebecois dishes, it is surprisingly not common.

4 to 6 servings
2 hours - 1 hour prep time

Shepherd's Tourtière

Make the Potato Topping:
1 kilo (2 pounds) potatoes
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup buttermilk
salt & pepper to taste

Peel (or just wash and trim off the bad spots) the potatoes, and cut them into even chunks. Put them in a large pot with water to cover them, and boil them until tender. Drain them well, and mash them with the butter, buttermilk, salt and pepper. Meanwhile...

Make the Spice Blend:
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
3/4 teaspoon allspice berries
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon rubbed thyme
1 teaspoon rubbed sage
2 teaspoons rubbed savory
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Grind the pepper and allspice thoroughly, and blend with the other spices.

Make the Filling & Finish:
1 large onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 medium carrot
1 stalk celery
OR 1/2 cup diced celeriac
2 cups chopped mushrooms (optional)
1 tablespoon oil or fat, possibly
500 grams (1 pound) ground pork, chicken or turkey
250 grams (1 pound) ground beef
3 tablespoons flour (or other starch to thicken)
1 cup beef broth
1 or 2 bay leaves
a sprinkle of paprika to finish

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Peel and chop the onion finely. Peel and mince the garlic. Peel and finely chop or grate the carrot and celery or celeriac. If you wish to add mushrooms, clean, trim and chop them.

If you choose the chicken or turkey, you will need to add a little fat to the skillet before you get started to help things along, as they are so very lean. Otherwise, add the crumbled up meats to the pan, along with the onions, carrots, celery, and mushrooms if using. Cook, stirring and breaking up the mixture constantly, until it has changed colour all thoughout. Mix in the garlic and the seasonings, including the flour and the bay leaves; cook and stir for a minute or two more, then add the broth. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 5 or 10 minutes until the sauce is thickened and much reduced.

At this point the potatoes should be sufficiently cooked to drain and mash; do so.

Transfer the meat filling to the pie dish or casserole in which you wish to serve the tourtiere. A 9" pie plate will be the right size. Gently spoon the mashed potatoes evenly over the top and smooth them out to form an even, solid top layer. Sprinkle with a little paprika for colour. Bake at 350°F for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until lightly browned and bubbling around the edges. Let rest 5 minutes before serving.

Last year at this time I made Roasted Brussels Sprouts in Spaghetti Squash Nests

Friday, 12 December 2014

Cocoa Cream Roll

I grew up with a copy of  the Toronto Star's "World's Best Recipes" in our kitchen. It came, I'm sure, as a freebie or bonus of some kind with the newspaper at some time, probably in the 1950's. It was actually a good little cookbook in its day; more cosmopolitan than most Canadian cookbooks at the time, although that's not saying much. Maybe it was actually a reprint of an American cookbook - that would explain much.  I can't say Mom (or anyone else) used it all that much, but there it was. I read through it quite a bit - it was quite an entertaining read. I think I may still have a slightly disintegrating copy (it was a cheaply printed little thing, after all) of it somewhere.

I was always intrigued by the recipe for Cocoa Cream Roll, which called for lots of cocoa, whipping cream, eggs, very little sugar, and no flour. This is not that recipe, although I have kept most of those features. Oddly, I have added sugar for once - it really was strangely skimpy with it. At any rate, the cake I have come up with is a rich, dense and chocolatey roll; a wonderful foil for the whipping cream. It would make a terrific Bouche de Noel, and as you may note, it is, like the original, potentially gluten free.

1 hour - 35 minutes prep time for cake
20 minutes prep time to frost
8 to 10 servings

Make the Cake:
4 large egg whites
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
4 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder

Line a 9" x 13" jelly-roll pan or cake pan with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Beat the egg whites until stiff with the salt and cream of tartar, being sure to use a clean, non-plastic mixing bowl.

In a slightly larger mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla extract for 3 to 4 minutes until very pale and light. You can use the same beaters from the egg whites, without needing to wash them in between.

Sift the cocoa powder and baking powder together, and fold about 1/3 of the cocoa into the egg yolks. Fold in about 1/3 of the egg whites. Then, fold in the remaining cocoa followed by the remaining egg whites. Be very gentle, and do not overmix. A few white streaks are okay. Gently scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and spread it out as evenly as possible.

Bake the cake for 23 to 25 minutes, until it will spring fully back when lightly touched in the middle. Let it cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then flip it out onto a clean tea towel. Roll it up across the short end, and let it cool completely.

Frost the Cake:
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup whipping cream
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
AND 1/3 recipe Chocolate Custard Frosting, Chocolate Ganache Frosting, Fabulous Chocolate Frosting, or Cocoa Buttercream Frosting

OR 1 recipe Chocolate Whipped Cream Frosting

Beat the whipping cream with the sugar and vanilla extract until stiff. Use the smaller quantities and make 1/3 recipe of one of the suggested frostings if you want to have a chocolate frosting on the outside of the cake. Or, make the Chocolate Whipped Cream Frosting according to the recipe for chocolate whipped cream throughout.

Gently unroll the cake from the towel, and loosen it from the parchment paper using a broad icing spreader or other very large, thin, flat tool. It may crack some; don't worry, it can be pieced back together but try not to let it crack much. Leave it sitting on the parchment paper.

Spread the inside evenly with half the whipped cream (or all of it if you are frosting the outside with something else) and roll it up again.  Frost the top and sides with the remaing whipped cream, or the other frosting of your choice. Trim off the ends to make a neat presentation. Lift the cake onto the serving plate using the parchment paper, then slide the paper out from underneath. Neaten up the frosting, and wipe any smears and crumbs from around the cake with a dampened paper towel. Spectacular!

Last year at this time my long dry spell came to an end, and I made Dressing (Stuffing) Flavoured Baked Beans

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Cranberries & Pears

Still with the pears! I told you there were a lot!  We enjoyed this very much. Actually, I made it twice, sort of. The first time the power went out (and stayed out for 17 hours!) when these had been in the oven for only half an hour. I took them out and finished them in a frying pan (hurray for gas stoves that can be lit with a match) and they were pretty good, although they cooked a bit unevenly that way. They definitely worked better in the oven, and much less fussing required. Good enough for Christmas, I would say; if you can still find pears.  Also, it is my suggestion that you use generous amounts of black pepper - it balances out the sweetness of the other ingredients.

4 to 6 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 15 minutes prep

1 kilo (2 pounds) sweet potatoes
2 large Bosc pears
1/2 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
a good grating of nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Wash and trim the sweet potatoes, and cut them into bite-sized chunks. Put them in a shallow 9" x 13" roasting (lasagne) pan. Peel and core the pears, and cut them in similar, or slightly larger, chunks. Add them to the sweet potatoes with the whole cranberries, if frozen. Toss it all with the oil until evenly coated, then toss again with the seasonings. Don't be shy with the pepper; it's an important addition to the finished dish.

Roast the sweet potatoes et al. for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes, until everything is tender and slightly browned in spots. Stir once, half an hour into the roasting, and if you are starting with fresh cranberries, that is when they should be stirred in.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Los Angeles Times Article - "Product of Mexico"

One of the main reasons we eat as much of our food locally grown as we can, is the fact that the only labour laws we can have any impact upon are our own. Not that agricultural labour in Ontario is without it's own problems, but we're a long way from the world descibed in this must-read Los Angeles Times article, "Product of Mexico".

Except, of course, we aren't. Our grocery shelves are just as full of products produced by what might as well be slave labour as the grocery shelves of the United States.

The triumph of modern capitalism is how everthing arrives in stores completely divorced from any indication that it is a product of nature or industry; instead, its appearance is almost magical, and it arrives as a kind of manna from heaven. Yes, yes; we know it came on a truck and not literally falling from the sky. But we take one thing, and the next day if we return to the store it has magically reappeared on the shelf, and there is sits, as though it just sprang up like a kind of mushroom. But like most magic, this is a mirage and the result of immense amounts of labour and energy which have been carefully hidden lest they spoil the effect. Thanks to journalists like Richard Marosi and Don Bartletti, the curtain is pulled back and the reality is shown.

I will be looking forward to the next three installments of this series.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Baked Polenta with Cheese & Sausage

Mr. Ferdzy is a big lover of cornmeal mush, grits, polenta; whatever you want to call it. (He's all over the tortillas and corn chips too, come to think of it.) I am just not a fan of cornmeal mush at breakfast so I try to serve it to him at other times, in other ways. This is one I could stand to do quite often. Apart from all that scrumptious sausage and cheese, it was ridiculously quick and easy to put together. True; the time in the oven doesn't make it a quick week-night supper, but at this time of year I am very happy to have the oven on for a while. Serve this with a green vegetable or a salad, and you have your complete meal.

I must say, I really like Friulano cheese when I can get my hands on it. It has the lovely melty qualities of Mozzerella, but a much more interesting flavour. Mozzerella would do, though. 

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

Baked Polenta with Cheese & Sausage

3 or 4 cloves of garlic
1 medium onion
400 grams (1 pound, scant) spicy Italian sausage
200 grams (1/2 pound, scant) Friulano cheese, diced
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
1/4 cup chopped dried tomatoes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon rubbed oregano
1 teaspoon rubbed basil
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon* hot paprika
1 cup coarse cornmeal (polenta)
3 1/2 cups water
3 cups tomato sauce

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Peel and mince the garlic. Peel and chop the onion. Cut the sausage into bite-sized pieces. Cut the cheese into dice.

Heat the oil in a large ovenproof skillet. Add the onion, and cook, stirring constantly, until softened and slightly browned in spots. Add the sausage pieces, and mix them in well. Once they begin to brown, add the dried tomatoes and the seasonings. Once those are mixed in, hot on their heels add the cornmeal, followed by the water.

Let the mixture simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until it thickens up and begins to "plop". Sprinkle the cubes of cheese evenly over the boiling polenta, but don't stir - just let them settle in. Transfer the skillet (oven mitts on both hands!) to the oven, where bake it for 30 to 40 minutes, until firm and slightly browned. Remove it from the oven and let it rest for 15 minutes before serving. Use those 15 minutes to heat up the tomato sauce, and pass it to be poured over the top of the polenta.

* Most "spicy" Italian sausage hasn't got that much bite to it, and it needs reinforcing, but every so often someone will surprise you. Make sure your sausage isn't, in fact, genuinely spicy spicy Italian sausage before you bring in the cavalry.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Salmon or Trout Tourtière

Wow! I expected this to be more serviceable than exciting, but it was really terrific. It certainly tastes like a gourmet treat, and not like 1 pound of fish has been stretched to feed 6 people. Well, 6 assuming they are not pigs like we are. *ahem*

Use whatever pie crust you like. I've linked to my spelt pie crust recipe, which is a pretty standard recipe except that it has more liquid required to allow for the differently absorbtive qualities of spelt flour. 

Salmon or trout should give equally good results. I  have not tried it with smoked trout (or salmon) but I think they could be very good too.

6 servings
1 hour 45 minutes - 45 minutes prep time

Salmon or Trout Tourtière

Advance Prep:
 3 medium potatoes
pastry for a double crust

Put the potatoes in a pot with water to cover, and bring them to a boil. Boil them steadily for 10 minutes, then drain them and put them in cold water to cool rapidly. Set them aside until needed. They can be done up to a day ahead, and kept, wrapped, in the refrigerator.

Make the pastry, then while it is resting before being rolled out, make the filling.

Finish the Tourtière:
2 or 3 medium shallots
1 or 2 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
the finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh dillweed
OR 1 to 2 teaspoons dried dillweed
3/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 large egg
1/2 cup rich milk or light cream
500 grams (1 pound) fresh salmon or trout

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Peel and mince the shallots. Peel and mince the garlic. Heat the butter in a small skillet, and cook the shallots gently, until softened and just slightly browned. Stir in the garlic and all the seasonings, and cook for just a minute more, then remove the shallot mixture to a mixing bowl to cool.

Peel and grate the partially cooked, cooled potatoes - there should be about 2 cups when grated. Add them to the shallots. When the shallots are cool, break in the egg and mix it in. Mix in the cream or milk.

Skin the salmon or trout, check for and remove any bones, and chop it into small pieces. Mix with the shallots and potatoes, etc.

Roll out about 60% of the pastry, and use it to line a 9" pie plate. Fill it with the prepared filling. Roll out the remaining pastry, and cover the pie, pinching it around the edges to seal it well. Cut some vents for the steam, and bake the pie for 45 to 55 minutes, until golden brown. Let rest 15 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Pear & Cranberry Crisp with Granola Topping

I wasn't going to make a pear dessert (or any dessert at all, in fact), but I had just bought some pears in order to make the Pear & Celeriac salad, and there were quite a few left over. Then Mum showed up for lunch, with a big bag of pears. "I just bought a basket of pears and there are too many for me!" So now I had really a lot of pears, and they just don't keep forever. Nothing for it but to cook them... with some cranberries, into a Crisp. Can't complain.

8 servings
1 hour 30 minutes

Make the Topping:
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup chopped nuts
1/3 cup raisins
2 cups large flake rolled oats

Melt the honey and butter together, either in a small pot or in a bowl in the microwave. Mix in the vanilla extract.

Chop the nuts and mix them with the raisins and the rolled oats. Mix all of these into the honey-butter mixture. Set aside until needed.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Finish the Crisp:
6 large Bosc pears
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
2 tablespoons finely minced preserved ginger

Peel the pears, and core them, and chop them into bite-sized pieces. Put them in a shallow 9" x 13" baking pan (lasagne pan). Mix  in the cranberries. Finely mince the ginger, and sprinkle it over the pears and cranberries. Top with the granola mixture, sprinkled evenly over the fruit.

Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until nicely browned. Serve warm or cool.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Spiced Squash & Pear Soup

You will need a medium-small squash for this; about 2 1/2 pounds, or a very generous kilo. Roast it in the usual way; cut it in half and deseed it; rub the cut edges with a little oil, and roast at 375°F for somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half. As usual, I tend to do this the day before; serving roast squash, and just making extra. Or at least, if I have the oven on for another purpose, it's always a good idea to fling something more in there at the same time if I can.  At any rate, first roast your squash.

4 to 6 servings
45 minutes prep time, not including roasting the squash

Spiced Squash & Pear Soup

Make the Spice Mixture:
2 pods green cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed
1/2 teaspoon coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Crush the cardamom lightly, to allow you to remove the papery green husks. Grind the seeds with the cumin, coriander, fennel and pepper. Mix in the ginger and salt, and set aside. NOTE: if you are using salted stock and butter, omit the salt and adjust the salt once the soup is made.

Make the Soup:
3 cups squash purée
3 cups unsalted chicken stock
3 medium Bosc pears
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sherry

Put the squash and 1 cup of the chicken stock in a soup pot, and bring to a simmer. Meanwhile, peel, core, and slice the pears into thin slices. Heat the butter in a large skillet, and cook the pears until lightly browned on each side. Sprinkle the spice mixture over the pears, and mix it in well; cook for another minute or two until the spices are very fragrant. Transfer the spiced pears to the soup pot. Use a second cup of chicken stock to deglaze the pan, and add it to the soup.

Simmer the soup for 15 minutes or so, until the pears are completely soft. Purée the soup until fairly smooth in texture. Return it to the soup pot, and use the last cup of chicken stock to swish out the food processor. Add it too, to the soup, along with the sherry. Heat the soup through and serve.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Mushroom & Leek (or Onion) Fried Rice

I know it's not local, but there's no getting around it: we really love rice in this household. Consequently, there is usually left-over rice in the fridge, and so fried rice happens on a regular basis.

This particular version can be made in some iteration all year. In the spring, use green onions; whatever green onions are available; a little later garlic scapes would work well. Once the onion greens start to die down, leeks become available. By mid-winter when the leeks are gone, you can use regular onions or shallots - in particular any that are sprouting! Carrots are not available all year; just omit them when you can't get them. As for the mushrooms, you can use whatever kind you like, or best, a mix of several different kinds.

Because there is no protein in this dish, it does very well combined with other Chinese style dishes, or with a piece of chicken, fish or pork served alongside. As usual though, we ate it all ourselves and that was dinner. 

2 to 6 servings
1 hour prep time

1" x 1" x 1" cube of peeled fresh ginger, minced
3 to 4 cloves of garlic
250 grams (1/2 pound) mushrooms
1 large leek
OR 8 to 12 green onions
1 medium carrot
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
2 tablespoons apple cider or rice vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 cups cooked white rice
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Peel and mince the ginger finely. Peel and mince the garlic finely, and set them aside together.

Clean and chop the mushrooms. Trim, wash, and chop the leek (or green onions) fairly finely. Peel and grate the carrot.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat. Cook the mushrooms and carrots until just wilting, then add the leeks or green onions. Cook the lot, stirring frequently, until everything is softened, slightly browned, and well mixed. Sprinkle with the vinegar and soy sauce, and mix it in well

Crumble in the rice, wetting your hand first to keep it from sticking. Continue cooking and turning and mixing the ingredients  until everything is well blended, and the rice begins to crisp up. Mix in the sesame oil well, then remove the pan from the heat and remove the contents to a serving dish. Serve at once.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with Mashed Parsnips

Well, this is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. It's a very nice combination, at any rate.

I felt like having fairly solid lumps of Brussels sprout, so I cut mine in half although they were fairly large. Next time I might cut them smaller, and have the sprouts and mash more of a mixture. It's one of those things where you should just do what you like; it's all good.

4 servings
20 minute prep time

Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with Mashed Parnsips

450 grams (1 pound) parsnips
450 grams (1 pound) Brussels sprouts
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

Peel and trim the parsnips, and cut them into 1/2 cm slices. Put them in a pot with water to cover and bring them to a boil; boil until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, trim the Brussels sprouts and cut them in halves or quarters depending on size. Heat 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large skillet, and add the Brussels sprouts and about 1 cup of water. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until the water is evaporated, and the Brussels sprouts brown in spots. Stir them regularly throughout this process, especially as the water evaporates and the sprouts begin to brown.

When the parsnips are cooked, drain them and mash them with the remaining butter and the salt and pepper. Scrape all the mash into the pan with the Brussels sprouts - or vice versa - and mix well. Once everybody is playing together nicely, tip the whole mess into a serving dish, and serve.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Sweet Roasted Beets

I do try to not serve vegetable dishes loaded with fat, and sugar, and salt. A little bit, sure. But every so often I just have to kick over the traces... and when the results are this good, I feel quite justified. Everybody oohed and aahed over these.

I used my models from the post on MacGregor's Favourite Beets, and I was interested to see that they took a long time to cook. (Longer than I've listed; I'm assuming you are using the usual beets at the usual times.) Suddenly those Victorian instructions to boil your beets for 2 hours make more sense. Still, their firm texture was really quite nice.

There is no reason not to roast the beets in advance the first time; they just may require a little longer in the oven the second time, if they are coming up from being chilled.

4 to 6 servings
1 1/2 hours - 20 minutes prep time

Sweet Roasted Beets

500 grams (1 pound) beets
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons apricot jam
salt & pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Wash the beets, but don't trim them. Wrap them in foil, and bake them for 45 minutes, until moderately soft. Reduce the heat to 350°F.

Run the beets under cold water until they can be handled, then peel them and cut them into bite sized chunks.

While the beets are in the oven, mix the butter, honey, vinegar, and jam in a small heat-proof bowl, and set it on the back of the stove, or microwave it for a few seconds; in either case until the butter and honey melt sufficiently to be well mixed together.

Toss the peeled and cut up beets with the butter mixture, in a roasting pan. Roast them again at 350°F for 30 minutes. Serve at once.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Pear & Celeriac Salad

Here is a very simple little salad that goes together quickly, with great crunch, and a lovely mix of flavours. It's very pretty too!

We had a great crop of celeriac this year; the weather was perfect for it. Look for it at farmers markets; it often seems strangely expensive in grocery stores.

4 to 6 servings
20 minutes prep time

Pear & Celeriac Salad

Make the Dressing:
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon horseradish (or maybe a little more)
3 tablespoons mayonnaise (light is fine)
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Whisk together the above ingredients, in a small bowl or jar.

Make the Salad:
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1 cup julienned or finely diced peeled carrot
2 cups julienned or finely diced peeled celeriac
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 large firm-ripe bosc pear

Toast the pumpkin seeds in a dry skillet over medium-high heat until slightly browned, and some of them "pop". Turn them out onto a plate to cool.

Peel and cut up the carrot as you like. Peel and cut up the celeriac similarly, and put the pieces into a bowl of water acidulated with the lemon juice while you work, to prevent them turning brown. If the skin is nice on the pear, do not peel it; otherwise, peel the pear, then core it and chop it into compatible pieces. Add them to the celeriac.

Drain the celeriac and pears well, and mix them with the carrots. Toss them with the dressing. Taste, and adjust the seasoning; in particular, add a little more horseradish if you feel it could use it. Just before serving, sprinkle the pumpkin seeds over the salad.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

MacGregor's Favourite Beet

McGregor's Favorite Beet

I was given some seeds for this beet in a seed exchange last winter, and they sounded very interesting. (Thanks, Holly!)Mostly, I've been quite pleased with them! As you see, they are large and carrot-like in shape, with brilliant purple leaves. They are not too large or too prominent, but form a nice foot-high tuft, shiny and gently ruffled. The purple leaves are what seed-sellers emphasize, declaring that they are "tender and delicious".

Uh, no. That's why I'm mostly pleased with them. The leaves, while lovely, were tough and bitter, even in this mild, rainy year, and even when small. Very beautiful; definitely. They would make a good plant for a Victorian style carpet-bed of vegetables. On the other hand, the roots - which nobody seems to promote much - are actually very good, with a distinctive sweet, rich flavour and bright mid-purple/red colour. The long carrot shape means they are also a very usable size, and they seem very tender even when large. They would be lovely roasted with other tapered root vegetables, such as parsnips and carrots, and presented in a riot of colours but nicely consistent shapes.

Like all beets, these are biennials, so if I want any seed from them (and I rather think I do) the remaining ones will have to survive the winter outdoors. Given our good snow cover, mice are more of a hazard than freezing. They went in late-ish (early June) and did well with little attention, due to the plentiful rain we received this year from June on. Like most beets, they are pretty pest resistant. Slugs and snails sometimes bother beets but they left these ones alone. I guess they thought there were better beet tops too. Like most beets, they should be thinned. We did thin them, although not quite as carefully as would have been ideal. They did well being a little crowded - again, that long narrow shape was helpful. You will need a loose, sandy soil like ours, though,  in order to get best results from these.They are described as 60 days to maturity; perhaps a little optimistic around here. However, they were fairly early and also held well in the ground.

I can find very little about the history of MacGregor's Favourite (or McGregor's Favorite, as it may also get spelt) but it is generally regarded as a Scottish heirloom. Whether this is in fact established, or whether people are simply extrapolating from the name, I cannot say. The one reference I can find to it in historic vegetable lists dates to 1890. It also seems to be known as "Dracena" or "Dracaena", presumably in reference to a resemblance to the well-known house plant.

The original wild beet had a long narrow root like MacGregor's Favourite, but the refined flavour and unusual leaves make it clear that it is the result of careful breeding. My guess is that it was developed in the mid to late 1800's, as part of the enormous burst of Victorian vegetable breeding, had it's little day in the sun, and is now rather obscure, indeed, flirting with extinction. I for one, however, think it well worth keeping going - it's a nice little beet, with beauty that is more than skin (or leaf) deep.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Quick Braised Chicken with Leeks & Garlic

Here is a dish that brings together a number of my current interests: leeks, seasoning with vinegar, braising, and getting a meal on the table with a minimum of time and fuss. Well, that last one isn't so much a current interest as a life goal. And I'm not sure this really qualifies as braising, given how quick it is, but it certainly isn't stir-frying either.

Did I say we have great leeks this year? We have great leeks this year!

quantities are per person
30 minutes - 15 minutes prep time

Quick Braised Chicken with Leeks & Garlic

1 medium leek
3 to 4 cloves of garlic
1 skinless, boneless chicken breast
OR 2 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup unsalted chicken stock or a little more

Wash and trim the leek, and cut it into inch long slices. Peel and mince the garlic.

Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in a skillet, over high heat, and brown the chicken piece(s) on both sides. Remove them from the pan and set them aside; reduce the heat to medium-high. Add the remaining oil to the pan, and then the leek pieces. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes, stirring regularly, until very slightly browned, and softened. Add the garlic, and stir it in for about 1 minute, until fragrant. Add the soy sauce, vinegar, and chicken stock, and then put the chicken back into the pan over the leeks.

Cover the pan, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer the leeks and chicken for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring gently once or twice,  until the chicken is cooked and the leeks are very soft.  Add a little more chicken stock if required, to keep the leeks sufficiently moist so as to not stick or scorch, but by the time the chicken and leeks are done, most of the stock should be absorbed/evaporated.

Serve with polenta, rice, potatoes, barley pilaf, or pasta.

Friday, 14 November 2014

A Visit to a Farm Boy Store

About a week or two ago, we finally made our annual spring visit to Mr Ferdzy's dad. Yeah, we are running just a tad behind schedule here, what with one thing and another. I really didn't expect to have the opportunity to check out any local food action, but the first evening I was there I picked up a flyer from the local paper, which was for Farm Boy. Now I'm sure all you eastern Ontarians are saying, "What, them? They're a grocery chain.", but I had never heard of them before and that flyer sure looked interesting. So, when we found ourselves with a free morning we headed off to the nearest one, which was in the Merivale Mall.

Right off the bat they look distinctly a little different from any of the grocery chains around where I live - they had a sign out front calling for local producers to come and talk to them about having them carry their product!

Inside, they look pretty much like your standard grocery store, apart from a horrifically tacky animatronic farm boy blearing out a hideous welcome by the front door (no photo of that, you lucky dogs). That was just about enough to make me turn tail and run, but we pushed on past and after that it was clear sailing.

Like most grocery stores, they have the produce section at the front, where you first enter. Unlike most grocery stores, I really don't think I have ever seen a display with such a high percentage of Ontario-grown produce.

Look at those leeks! Seems like I wasn't the only one to have a bumper crop of leeks. Unlike me, they also have lots of really lovely looking broccoli. Those prices are ridiculous, too, and I mean that in a good way. Good for the shopper, anyway. I wouldn't sell my babies for less than a dollar each! Do you have any idea how much work goes into getting that long white shank? (You should - I've posted about the technique.)

Three kinds of cabbages, squash, beets...

Tri-colour and regular carrots, Brussels sprouts, potatoes, cabbages, all seasonal Ontario vegetables... it shouldn't be amazing, but it is. Of course, they are a full service grocery and have all the standard imported items as well, but the local produce is front and centre.

But their interest in carrying local products extends beyondproduce. These were samosas from a local manufacturer.

St Albert Co-op, a local dairy, was well represented.

Like most groceries these days, they have their own line of products under their own name; according to the flyer these corn chips are made by an Ottawa-based company.

The dairy case looks like a dairy case... with probably 1/2 to 2/3 of the contents being produced in Ontario or Quebec, from what I can see. Pretty unusual!

I recognize these cranberries from attending Ottawa area farmers markets. Yes, locally grown cranberries. Stupendous.

Just what the sign says; a selection of Canadian Artisan Cheese, most of it from Ontario and Quebec. We tried some sheep's milk Gouda from Cross Roads - very tasty!

There seems to be 15 Farm Boy locations in eastern Ontario, with 2 more to open in the spring - these new ones being in London! Which is great news for those of us living in Western Ontario. Think we could talk them into opening one in Collingwood?! Or Meaford! (Ha ha; no.)

Much as I love farmers markets and small retail shops, the reality is that most of us do most of our shopping in large grocery stores. It made me really happy to see a full-service grocery chain with a significant commitment to local food. Long may they prosper! And maybe they will even oblige some of the other big chains to get a little serious about local food.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Quick & Easy Braised Tofu

"Oh yum, tofu in barbecue sauce!" said Mr. Ferdzy. Well, kind of, I guess. Whatever you want to call it, he liked this sauce and so did I. You could add a little hot sauce or chile-garlic sauce to it if you like, at the stove or at the table, but I felt like not having hot sauce for once, so I didn't.

Serve it with steamed rice and a green vegetable, and have a very quick and easy meal, on the table in half an hour.

2 to 4 servings
30 minutes prep time

Quick & Easy Braised Tofu
Make the Sauce:
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1/4 cup water

Mix the ketchup, vinegar, hoisin sauce, and water in a small bowl and set aside.

Braise the Tofu:
3 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
450 grams (1 pound) firm tofu
1 tablespoon finely minced peeled fresh ginger
1 tablespoon finely minced peeled garlic

1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Slice the tofu into 16 equal slices, and add them to the pan once the oil is hot. Prepare the ginger and garlic and set them aside.

Fry the tofu until it is nicely browned on each side, about 5 minutes per side. At this point, add the ginger and garlic, and stir them, as much as you can without disturbing the tofu, for a minute or two to let them cook a bit. Then, add the sauce to the pan and reduce the heat to medium. Swish out the bowl the sauce was in with the water, and add that to the pan as well. Shake the pan a bit, or lift the tofu pieces, to allow the sauce to go under them.

Simmer the tofu pieces in the sauce for about 10 minutes, until the sauce is thickened. Stir gently, especially around the edges of the pan, where the sauce will thicken fastest (and may scorch if it gets too thick). Try to be gentle with the tofu pieces, and not break them.

Serve the tofu and sauce over steamed rice or noodles.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Freeze & Bake Pumpkin Pie

Time to stop eating so much squash! How about some pumpkin, instead?

Actually, this is a mixture of squash and pumpkin - they are quite interchangeable, when it comes to pie, and after all pumpkins are only squash of a specific roundish shape. I had a few that were starting to go bad shortly after we picked them all, so to save them I roasted them all up. Then, when I went grocery shopping, I found ready-made pie shells on sale. I don't usually buy prepared pie shells, but this was pretty serendipitous, so I bought 4 packs and now my freezer is full of pumpkin pies, ready to be baked. Well, was full. The level is dropping pretty quickly. (Just as well - I don't think these frozen pies should be kept for more than a month or two.) 

This is a very classic pumpkin pie recipe, with fairly mild, well-balanced spicing and a smooth, soft texture. Of course, you don't have to freeze them - you can bake them at once. Start them off at 400°F, as below, but once the heat is reduced to 350°F they should be ready in another 45 to 55 minutes.

Don't forget that if you are starting with pumpkin or squash you have cooked yourself, it is a good idea to spend some time caramelizing it before you use it. I didn't do that this time, as I was in a big hurry, but it does improve it. I give more detailed directions in my recipe for Pumpkin Loaf.

I used the higher amount of Sucanat, and thought it was a bit too sweet. This is, however, about half the amount of sugar that most pumpkin pie recipes call for. Next time I make it though, I'm going to cut back just a little more.

2 8-9" pies (12 servings)
15 minutes prep time, not including cooking the pumpkin
2 hours bake time, plus cooling time

2 cups cooked, mashed pumpkin
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2/3 to 3/4 cup Sucanat or dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup cream, 10% or richer
2 frozen 9" pie shells

Put the prepared pumpkin into a mixing bowl, and mix in the salt and spices. Mix in the Sucanat, then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Slowly mix in the cream.

Divide the custard evenly between the 2 pie crusts, which should still be completely frozen. Set them in the freezer, on a very level shelf, to freeze solid. Once they have frozen (overnight) wrap them up tightly in plastic. One can go back into the pie carton, if you like, so you can stack the second on top of it.

Note that this is a very soupy filling, so it will be a bit tricky to get the filled pie crust into the freezer. I put mine onto a large tray that fit into the freezer, and that worked, but if you do not have very steady hands you may want to put the pie crust into the freezer half-filled, then finish filling it up right in the freezer.  Once it is frozen, of course, it is easy to take it out and wrap it up.

To bake a pie, preheat the oven to 400°F. Bake the unwrapped but still solidly frozen pie for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350°F. Bake the pie for another hour and a half, until the top has puffed up all over and the crust is nicely browned. Remove it from the oven and let cool. The puffing will subside as it cools.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Broccoli & Caulflower Cheese Casserole

So what is this, exactly? I guess it's a variation on a sformato, or an odd riff on cauliflower with cheese sauce, but whatever you want to call it, it makes a nice vegetarian main dish. I'd serve it with some squash or carrots, and a good whole wheat roll if you wanted some carbs.

I had fun coming  up with a design for the top and I have to take my fun where I find it these days. Alas, this is not from our garden; we are still not able to grow these broccoli and cauliflower in particular, which is sad as they are some of my favourite vegetables.

6 to 8 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 20 minutes prep time

4 cups broccoli pieces (1 bunch)
4 cups caulflower pieces (1/2 - 2/3 large)
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons soft unbleached flour
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
450 grams (1 pound) ricotta cheese
2 large eggs
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup fine dry bread crumbs

Wash and break up the broccoli and cauliflower, and set aside about 2 cups of each of the broccoli and cauliflower florets; the nicest, most evenly sized ones, to set into the top of the casserole. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Put the remainder of the broccoli and cauliflower into a pot or steamer and cook until fairly tender; 6 or 7 minutes. Lift them out with a slotted spoon and put them into a food processor with the milk, flour, salt, pepper, ricotta, and eggs - you may need to do this in 2 batches. Pureé until fairly smooth. Meanwhile, put the remaining broccoli and cauliflower into the pot and cook for 5 minute, until tender-firm.

Put the mixture into a lightly-oiled 8" x 10" shallow (lasagne) pan, and mix in about 3/4 of the Parmesan cheese. Drain the remaining broccoli and cauliflower florets, and set them into the cheese mixture, in some sort of pattern if you like, so that the tops show and the rest is submerged. Mix the remaining Parmesan with the bread crumbs and sprinkle this over the top. Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes,  until the cheese is bubbling and the top cheese is lightly browned. Let set for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Squash & Carrots with Cinnamon & Ginger

Here is a dish I have been making quite often this fall, what with our fabulous squash harvest and equally fabulous carrot harvest. I'm not including the time to cook the squash, because you bake it and serve it the night before, and then you make this with what I hesitate to call leftovers, since you carefully set aside the amount needed so it wouldn't get eaten.

If you don't go the bake-it-the-day-before route, I generally find it takes an hour to an hour and quarter to bake squash, at 350°F; you will also need to cool it enough to handle, to get it out of the shell and mashed.

You can do this as I do, and leave the carrots rather chunky for some texture, or you could run it through the food processor for a much smoother texture, but that seems like a lot of unnecessary messing about to me.  This is so deliciously simple, or is that simply delicious, and a little texture never killed anyone.

4 to 6 servings
30 minutes - 10 minutes prep time, not including cooking the squash

2 cups cooked mashed squash
2 cups cooked carrots, mashed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt

Having obtained your cooked squash, and having mashed it, it is time to cook the carrots. Peel them and cut them into chunks, and put them into a pot with water to cover, and boil them until they are quite tender; perhaps as much as 15 minutes. Drain them, mash them, and add the squash to the pan, along with the butter, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. Mash and mix all these up thoroughly, and keep them on the burner until the mixture is hot through again, stirring all the time to prevent scorching. Aaaand that's about it; serve it up.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Spaghetti Squash Singapore Style

Our squash harvest was amazing this year, including 4 lovely spaghetti squashes. Unfortunately, due to the unrelenting rain in late summer and fall, it is all a little on the soggy side. Hence my instructions for draining the squash if yours, too, is more moist than it should be. With that treatment the squash was, if not perfect, quite acceptable, and the resulting dish was filling and flavourful.

I used green onion tops for this; my onions have also suffered this year. They died down very prematurely in early July during a fairly brief dry spell, and once the rain started again they sprouted with enthusiasm. Consequently, we have only about 1/4 of the number of storable onions as we expected, and I'm going to be using the sprouting onions from the garden for as long as I am able to get to them. A regular onion should be just fine though, if you don't have this problem!

If you don't want to make your own curry powder, Yeo's is a good brand to use for this, if you can get it.  This will serve 2 or 3 if it is all you eat; with some rice it would go further.

2 to 4 servings
to roast the squash: 1 hour 30 minutes; 15 minutes prep time
to make the dish: 45 minutes prep time

Cook the Squash in Advance:
1 1.5 kilo (3 pound) spaghetti squash
a little oil

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut the squash in half across widthwise, and scoop out the seeds and any loose stringy bits with a spoon. Rub a little oil on the cut ends of the squash, and put them in a roasting pan, cut ends against the pan. Roast the squash for an hour and a quarter, until soft. Let cool. This can, and probably should, be done a day ahead.

Once it is cool, the squash can be pulled from the shell with a fork, and loosened to form the spaghetti-like strands. You should have about 6 to 8 cups of squash.

It may be helpful to drain the squash in a colander for several hours as it waits to be finished; if it is really soggy gently squeeze it by handfuls to remove as much liquid as possible, without breaking the strands.

Finish the Dish:
2 to 3 stalks of celery
1 large onion
1 medium carrot
250 grams (1/2 pound) skinless, boneless chicken breasts or thighs
3 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
3 to 4 teaspoons Malaysian curry powder
salt to taste

Wash, trim, and finely chope the celery. Peel and chop the onion. Peel and grate the carrot. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces.

Heat one tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over high heat, and cook the chicken pieces, with a sprinkling of salt, until just cooked. When they are half done, add the celery, onion, and carrot. Stir frequently as they cook. Once everything is just short of done, remove it to a dish to wait while you cook the squash.

Add the remaining oil to the skillet, and cook the squash with the curry powder, stirring it gently to break it up and distribute the curry evenly throughout it. Once it is fairly dry and evenly coated, mix the chicken and vegetables back in. Season with a little more salt, if necessary. Serve at once.

Last year at this time I made Kale & Parsnips à l'orange.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Wheat Crepes

About every 5 years of so I decide I would like to make crepes, and until now I have not gotten very good results. Soggy! Broken! Broken! Lopsided! Broken!

The discipline of writing this blog, however, has made me keep much better notes and think much more about how I do things, and when I attempted them again recently... they worked perfectly! (Also I stopped believing the recipe I was using about how much flour was required. It was just plain wrong.) Woo-hoo! Look for more things made with crepes to come!

I served these crepes with applesauce and whipped cream, but they are also good with a pat of butter, a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkle of maple sugar. They are also the base for many savoury dishes; I look forward to making some.

10 to 12 crepes; 4 to 6 servings 
40 minutes to 1 hour prep time

Crepes with Apple Sauce and Whipped Cream

4 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups lower-fat milk

about 1 cup soft unbleached or soft whole wheat flour
about 2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil

Whisk the eggs with the salt thoroughly in a mixing bowl, then whisk in the milk, about 1/3 at a time, until completely blended.You can use skim, 1% or 2% milk.

Whisk in the flour, again about 1/3 at a time, until completely blended. If you are using white (soft unbleached) flour, you should be a little skimpy with it - say about a tablespoon short of the full cup, but if you are using whole wheat flour, you should use a full cup.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat; the same temperature you would use to cook other pancakes or eggs.

Pour about 2 tablespoons of oil into a saucer or other small dish, and dip one corner of a piece of folded up paper towel into it. Use this to smear a film of oil over the bottom of the skillet. If you want to finish the crepes faster, you can heat 2 skillets and keep them going - a crepe will cook on the first side in about the time it takes to prep a pan, so you can switch between them. You may want to use just one pan the first time though, so you can really get a feel for them.

Pour about 1/3 of a cup of the batter into the skillet, and AT ONCE swirl the batter to cover MOST of the bottom of the pan. I find if I leave a stretch of naked pan about 1" wide and 6" long along one side of the crepe, it becomes far easier to get the lifter under it and loosen it. You will need a good wide but thin metal lifter for this.

About a minute after the crepe has been formed, start running the lifter under the edges, all around the crepe, then working it in to the centre, particularly from the bare spot in the pan. Once it is completely loosened - and you will not be able to loosen it completely until the bottom is firmly cooked, so be patient - flip it over. It will then need only about 30 seconds to finish cooking on the second side. Remove it to a plate set in a cool oven (200°F is the lowest mine goes, but it could be 175°F if yours will do it) and keep the finished crepes warm while you make the rest of them.

Whisk up the batter before ladling out each crepe; it's so thin the flour tends to settle to the bottom of the bowl. 

* * *

You can serve the crepes at once, or keep them, well wrapped, in the fridge for up to 3 days. They can also be frozen, wrapped first in plastic then in foil (or in a vacuum sealed bag, if you have a sealer.) If frozen, thaw them for 24 hours in the fridge before reheating.

To serve them with the applesauce, I smeared applesauce over one half of each crepe, then folded the other half over to cover it. Then I folded them in half again, and heated them in a lightly oiled skillet (as they were cooked the first time) for about a minute on each side, until just hot. You can get 4 of these folded crepes into the pan at a time, of course.

Last year at this time I made Broccoli with Bacon, Mushrooms & Onions.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Red Shepherd Peppers & Chervena Chushka Peppers

Red Shepherd Peppers & Chervena Chushka Peppers

Life has been too busy this summer to post much about what we have been growing, but we pulled in most of the peppers last week, and there are a few other storage vegetables that are doing well, so look for some varietal reports over the next month. It's probably too late to buy these, but not too late to consider growing them next year.

The 2 peppers in the top right quadrant of the photo are Red Shepherd, a variety of pepper commonly available in groceries in the fall. The other 2 peppers are Chervena Chushka, a Bulgarian heirloom. I've never seen them for sale (although you might find them at farmers' markets), but seeds are readily available for them, and they are a popular pepper to grow at home. These are both large, long, thick-fleshed red peppers.

Red Shepherd:

In general, Red Shepherd  (sometimes spelt Shepard or Sheppard) are very large peppers, great for stuffing. They are a mild and sweet pepper, long and thin, although as noted, not too thin to be good stuffers. They do not have the compound which gives me indigestion that Bell peppers have, but can be used in pretty much any recipe calling for red Bell peppers; the same is true of the Chervena Chushka.

If you look for seed, the exact variety name appears to be "Super Shepherd", and it's an open-pollinated variety of Italian ancestry, although these large red rams-horn type peppers are also common in Spain, and they may have originated there before becoming common in Italy.  Do pay attention when buying seed at any rate; there are some peppers with Shepherd in the name which are F1 hybrids.

The 2 peppers in the photo are not particularly large specimens. In general, I'd say they are at least twice as large as the Chervena Chushka tend to be. It's not unheard of for them to be as long as a foot, although mine were a "mere" 8 inches or so. The plant they grow on, however, is fairly compact - ours did not get above 2 feet tall, although well supplied with peppers. We kept them under plastic for most of the summer, as this was a very cool and damp year for us. That was enough to allow them to produce well.

They are described as taking about 65 to 70 days to maturity, but it seems to be late September to early October when they show up at the markets in large numbers. Ours certainly took that long, and I think 85 days is probably a more realistic time-frame in general. We bought these as seedlings and planted them outside in very early June, but usually we start peppers indoors on March 15th, expecting germination around April 1st.

Peppers in general don't have huge number of pests, but birds will sometimes peck at them, and with really sweet peppers like these, we have had some trouble with slugs and snails. This year was particularly bad, given how cool and wet it has been, and I opened too many peppers where I found a slug had drilled in and made itself at home. Still, these are pretty trouble-free peppers, and they hold on the plant well, and keep once picked quite well too.

Chervena Chushka:

Chervena Chushka looks a lot like Red Shepherd, only smaller. That is, the peppers are smaller, but the plant on which they grow is considerably taller and more robust, and produces more peppers overall.  Ours reached a good 4' tall, even in this rather poor season. While they are smaller than Red Shepherd, the shape, texture, and flavour are all quite similar. They are said to be 85 days to maturity, and while I think this is a realistic time-frame, I note that they were ready as soon or sooner than my Red Shepherds. Again, I had a few slug problems but like most peppers they were a pretty trouble-free crop for us. Like the Red Shepherds, they held very well both on and off the plants.

While this pepper is widely circulated under the name Chervena Chushka, apparently this is simply the Bulgarian for "Red Pepper". Michigan Heirlooms suggests that the correct name for this variety is Kapija, which in turns suggests that its origin is perhaps Serbian, or Croatian, rather then Bulgarian, since Kapija seems to mean "Gate" in both those languages. However; for most of us that is a pretty fine distinction. Let's just say it's from the Balkans.

Either way, it's a really terrific pepper, good raw or roasted. I used mine to make Ajvar this year, and that would certainly be a typical use for these. I also roasted them for 30 minutes at 450°F in a single layer, turning them once at the 15 minute mark, until regularly charred on each side. I covered them and let them cool, then peeled them and froze them for use this winter in pasta sauces, soups, and stews.

Overall, I would say these are 2 of the best red peppers out there for Ontario growers. I will probably continue to grow Chervena Chushka ( Kapija) rather than Red Shepherd simply because I think it's a little more productive for me, I like the large robust plants, and I probably have more use for a slightly smaller pepper in general; however, whichever one you choose should give excellent results.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Leek & Squash Soup

Butternut or buttercup squash would be the best for this. I used a Tennessee Sweet Potato Squash, which is a new (to us) kind we grew this year. It probably tasted more like an acorn squash, and it was a tad stringy, not creamy as I  had been hoping. I was thinking of this as a riff on the classic leek and potato soup, but by the time I left out the cream, and added apples and vinegar, there really wasn't any resemblance. Still, the soup wasjust fine as it's own thing!

I liked the parsley as a garnish; if you have some, do put a little on. 

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

4 cups mashed or finely chopped cooked squash
2 medium leeks
4 stalks of celery
1 head garlic
4 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
2 teaspoons rubbed savory
salt & pepper to taste
3 medium apples
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

For the squash, the easiest thing is to roast it as an extra quantity when having squash for dinner the night before you make the soup.You will need about a 1.5 kg (3 pound) squash to end up with 4 cups cooked squash. Cut it in half, remove the seeds, rub lightly with oil, and roast at 350°F for about an hour to an hour and a half, depending on the size and thickness of the squash. Chop it up finely, or mash it, when it is cool, discarding the skin.

Trim and wash the leek.Cut it in half, rinse it well again, and drain well. Chop the leek, and wash, trim, and chop the celery. Peel and mince the garlic.

Put the squash and chicken stock in a large soup pot to simmer. Heat the oil in a large skillet, and cook the celery until softened, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Add the leek, and cook for another 5 minutes or so, still stirring. The vegetables should be softened, but do not let them get more than a brown fleck or so. Mix in the seasonings, and the garlic, and cook for just another minute or two. Add these vegetables to the squash and chicken stock.

Peel, core, and chop the apples finely. Add them to the soup along with the vinegar. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Creamy Celery & Leeks with Rice

I keep wanting to call this a risotto, but it really isn't one, even though it calls for Arborio rice. The technique is different (easier!) and while risotto is generally creamy, it doesn't usually have any significant quantity of actual cream. This is definitely a bit luxurious; suitable for a special occasion. It stands quite well by itself, or it can be served with simply cooked chicken or fish, or perhaps nicely sautéed mushrooms if you are going vegetarian. 

Our leeks and celery (and celeriac) were both extremely successful this year, and will no doubt be making a number of appearances. They certainly go together very well.

6 to 8 servings
1 hour - pretty much all work time

Cook the Rice:
1 cup Arborio rice
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
salt if needed

Put the rice and stock into a rice cooker. If the stock is unsalted, you should add about 1/2 teaspoon. Cook until done. Alternately, bring the rice, stock, and possibly salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Immediately reduce the heat to minimum and cook until the stock is completely absorbed and the rice tender; about 15 to 20 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly if you are not completely ready to proceed at that point.

Assemble the Dish:
3 medium leeks (4 cups chopped)
6 to 8 celery stalks (4 cups chopped)
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
1/4 cup soft unbleached flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon rubbed savory
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups 10% cream
chopped parsley to garnish

Wash and trim the leeks. Chop them quite finely, rinse them well again, and drain thoroughly. Set them aside.
Wash and trim the celery, and chop it quite finely. Keep it separate from the leeks.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and add the celery. Cook, stirring frequently, for 15 to 20 minutes, until quite tender but not browned. Add the leeks and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring frequently. They too should be well softened and reduce considerably in volume, but don't let them brown.

Sprinkle the vegetables with the flour and the seasonings, and mix them in well, letting the flour cook in for a minute or two. Slowly mix in the remaining chicken stock, and continue simmering the vegetables until the sauce is thickened. The vegetables should be quite tender; add a little water (or more stock, if  you have extra) until they are done to your liking. Once they are done, the mixture should be allowed to get fairly thick, but before it does, stir in the cooked rice. Stir in the cream, a little at a time, until it is all in and the mixture thickens slightly again. It should be quite soft but not really flowing.

Check the seasoning, and adjust it if necessary. Serve at once, garnished with chopped parsley.