Friday, 31 January 2014

Malaysian Curry Powder

The thought having occured to me that I would like to make a Malaysian-style curry, I examined the cupboards. Unfortunately, I was out of Malaysian curry powder, which means I needed to make my own. I'm pretty happy with this one; I think it has that lighter, more floral quality that Malaysian curry has compared to some others.

So now that this is done, it will be used to make Malaysian-Style Chicken & (Sweet) Potato Curry.

Makes about 1/2 cup curry powder.

Toast Some Spices:
3 tablespoons coriander seed
3 tablespoons fennel seed
1 tablespoon fenugreek
2 teaspoons cumin seed
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
4 cloves
1 star anise
dried chiles (see NOTE)

Measure out the spices and have them standing by. Heat a dry heavy skillet over medium-high heat, and add the spices once it is hot. Toast, stirring or shaking the pan, until you see signs of slight browning and the spices are fragrant. This will not take more than a minute or two. Turn them out onto a plate to cool.

NOTE: You do not need to add the chile here. You can add ground chile (cayenne) with the other ground spices if you prefer. I used 4 small dry Thai chiles, but you can use whatever kind you like in whatever quantity seems right to you. Just remember my favourite mantra... you can always put in more... but once it's in, it's in. 

Finish the Curry Powder:
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons ground turmeric
about 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne, if no whole chiles used

Grind the toasted spices, mechanically if you have the means, or by grinding them with a mortar and pestle, in which case I would do it about 1 tablespoon at a time.

Mix the remaining pre-ground spices in with the ground toasted spices. Store the curry powder in a tightly sealed jar in a cool, dark spot until wanted.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Chicken & Mushroom Risotto

So the doctor said I shouldn't eat meat for a while, but I quickly figured out that low fat plus no meat equalled a shaky and ravenous Ferdzy, even when my stomach was actually quite full. Beans just don't cut it. Very lean chicken seems to be sitting well enough, so I guess there is going to be a lot of that around here for the next while. Fish, if I can get it, but even here on the lake it is amazingly hard to get.

This is probably on the edge of the amount of fat I should be eating, but if I was making this regularly I would have called for a tablespoon of oil where I am now calling for 2 teaspoons, so there's that.

4 to 6 servings
1 hour 30 minutes prep time

Chicken & Mushroom Risotto

Prepare the Vegetables:

2 medium onions
2 large stalks of celery
OR 1 1/2 cups diced celeriac
1 large carrot
2 - 3 cloves of garlic
225 grams (1/2 pound) button mushrooms
OR mixed fresh mushrooms
4 teaspoons mild vegetable oil

 Peel and chop the onions. Wash, trim and chop the celery. Peel and dice the carrot. Peel and mince the garlic. Clean and quarter the mushrooms, or otherwise chop them to a size with the other vegetables.

Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in a large skillet, and cook the onions, celery and carrots for about 10 minutes,  until softened, stirring frequently. Remove them to a dish to wait while other things are cooked.

Heat another 2 teaspoons of oil in the skillet, and cook the mushrooms until softened and slightly browned. Stir in the garlic, and cook for another minute or so, then remove them to another dish (seperate from the first set of vegetables).

Finish the Risotto:
2 medium skinless, boneless chicken breasts (500 g, 1 lb)
OR 4-5 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
2 teaspoons mild vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 teaspoon rubbed savory
1/2 teaspoon rubbed oregano
4 to 6 cups chicken stock
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

While the vegetables are cooking, cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Heat the last of the oil in the skillet, and add the chicken pieces to brown. When they are lightly browned all over (having been stirred) add the rice, and continue cooking and stirring until the rice is mostly translucent and slightly browned in spots. Mix in the herbs, and when they are well distributed stir in about 1/2 cup of chicken stock. Reduce the heat to medium-high. The stock should be absorbed almost immediately; stir in another 1/2 cup of stock. Let this cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the chicken stock is mostly absorbed, then add more chicken stock.

Continue this process of adding stock, stirring, and cooking for the next half hour or so. You will likely run out of chicken stock before the rice is tender and swimming in a slight creamy sauce; in which case, switch to water as needed. You will probably add about 8 cups of liquid overall. I didn't take a photo until after the meal had been eaten, so mine is not as saucy as it was when it went on the table - the rice continues to absorb the liquid. Leftover reheat reasonably well, but I think it is best when freshly made.

Last year at this time I made Orange & Red Cabbage Salad with Feta Cheese & Nuts and Purple Potato Soup with Sauerkraut.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Beany Cornbread (Gluten-Free)

Well, this has been a week. We visited Dad and Trevor over the weekend to have our postponed Christmas celebrations. (We had originally been scheduled to go down to visit when the big ice-storm hit.) We had a lovely visit, and ate out a couple times at restaurants. I had Veal Parmigiana for dinner, and a cheese and prosciutto panini the next day, washed down with a festive butter tart. Notice a theme? I ate, not wisely but too well. For certain values of well.

Sunday evening after supper I drank a glass of... water. Plain old water. And suddenly, I felt just terrible. I will draw a veil over the ensuing night, but suffice to say I still felt awful enough on Monday morning to ask Mr. Ferdzy to drive me to the hospital. I thought I was suffering from food poisoning. The hospital didn't think so. I wasn't surprised when they did blood tests. I was mildly surprised when they did a cat scan. I was quite surprised when they did x-rays and completely flummoxed when they admitted me, and didn't let me out for 2 days.

To make a long story short, my gall-bladder and I have agreed to have a divorce. I've known I've had gall-stones for at least 8 years, but I thought we could learn to rub along together okay. I just had to be patient and forbearing, and lay off the fried and the cheese and especially the fried cheese. But one little slip-up, and this... so, no. Out it goes. See how happy it is without me. Hmph.

I've always tried to keep the fat down to a dull roar around here, and I have now got an incentive to actually succeed, so expect to see some fairly plain stuff around here for a while. As ever, I still want it to be GOOD, so that will be a challenge. Eat more beans, said the doctor, and after all we sure have lots of them waiting to go.

So, here is an attempt at a plainish cornbread, with beans. It is inspired by one I had many years ago at a First Nations sponsored pot-luck. That one was a fairly standard modern cornbread, with whole beans added but without sugar and very low in salt. I found it striking as an example of a different view of how food should taste, and  I liked it quite alot even though some of my non-native friends thought it strange.

I've kept it as low fat as I thought I could get away with, and since I wanted something really corny and beany I eliminated any other flours. The beans keep it reasonably moist. I enjoyed it, but keep in mind that my tastes are modest at the moment (Does it hurt? being the main consideration.) It would certainly have been tastier with a good schmear of butter. So many things are. If I had bacon fat, and if I dared to eat bacon fat, I would replace the oil with it. I am sure that would be delicious. If you use canned beans, omit the salt. Maybe if you use bacon fat and it is salty, omit the salt.

6 servings
30 minutes - 10 minutes prep time

1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
1 cup bean cooking water
1 cup cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups cooked beans
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 large egg
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Put the 1 tablespoon of oil in an 8" cast iron skillet and put it in the oven to preheat as well.

Heat the bean cooking water to a boil. Put the cornmeal in a mixing bowl with the salt. Mix in the boiling bean water. Stir well.

Drain and mash 1/4 cup of the beans very thoroughly, and mix them with the baking powder. When the cornmeal has cooled for a few minutes, mix in the remaining beans, the egg and the 2 tablespoons of oil. Mix in the mashed beans and baking powder.

Remove the skillet from the oven (POTHOLDER!) and swirl it to make sure the oil covers the bottom and sides completely. Scrape in the batter and smooth it out. Return it to the oven and bake for 17 - 20 minutes, until firm and lightly browned.

Last year at this time I made Rosemary-Garlic Rutabaga.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Saving Onion, Shallot & Leek Seed - Part II - Fun With Onions

In Part I of Saving Onion, Shallot & Leek Seed, I assumed you had the traditional goals of seed-saving in mind; that is, to maintain a specific cultivar or variety in healthy genetic condition and true-to-type in perpetuity. This is important work, and someone needs to do it. In most cases, though, it doesn't have to be you. Unless you have a very rare variety, you will only be saving seed for your own personal benefit, and can augment it or replace it in the future, barring unexpected disappearances from the seed catalogues.

In that case, you can play much more fast and loose with the rules, and have some fun, including working on creating an onion cultivar particularly suited for your garden soil, climate and work style. That's one of the things that Mr. Ferdzy and I are working on right now.

On the plate, there are 2 each of 3 different varieties of onions. From left to right, they are Mako (Makoi) which is an heirloom Hungarian cultivar, our own hybrid made from crossing Early Yellow Globe and Rossa di Milano, and Early Yellow Globe which is an northeastern U.S. heirloom. This is a large turkey platter, and the Early Yellow Globe are perfectly respectable sized onions - it's just that the others are even larger. The Mako in general are about the same size as the Early Yellow Globe; the real giants are our homemade hybrid.

The Mako onions are one we cannot easily get seed for again, so we are working to keep them as a pure line. We grew them out for seed this past summer and now have a plentiful supply. We'll grow them as onions this summer, and save the best for seed production again in the summer of 2015. Meanwhile, the onions on the plate will be re-planted in the spring and grown out for seed in 2014. They will be allowed to cross each other ad-lib, grown for onions in 2015, and then the best of them as well as some other onions we may wish to add to our line will be planted for seed in the summer of 2016. So, to recap, we are keeping two kinds of onions going - one pure heirloom variety, to which all the principles in the first post on onion seed saving apply, and a second group, which is an ever-evolving group of onions allowed to cross-breed and be selected to our own criteria. If we keep this up long enough, we may eventually have our own distinct variety.

In the meantime, I don't worry about growing large numbers of onions for seed in my homemade hybrid. I only have about 24 set aside for seed this year, but because I will continue to add new genetic material each time I grow them out, I am not worried about inbreeding depression.

This years homemade hybrid onions are on the whole very impressive. They are in general twice the size of any of the other onions (although there were a good few that were very small as well - those ones are not going into the gene pool). They were from two lines of long-storing cooking onions, and so far they are keeping beautifully as well. The flavour is very good. If I have one complaint about them, it's that the tops are prone to being rather flat and hard to slice off, but that's something I figure we can quite easily select against as we proceed and add more onions to the pool. ADDED: These are an F1 hybrid, so I expect to see much more variation in them next grow-out, even if I don't add new onions to the mix. Right now they vary only slightly in size and colour.

The shallots, seen on the table below the platter, are even more interesting to me. These are the result of letting two sets of seed-grown shallots cross. A number of years ago, I planted red shallots from Costco in the garden. They did not split or otherwise act like traditional shallots; they flowered. However, they produced no seed. I dug most of them out except for a few in the perennial herb garden and kind of forgot about them, although I did some research and found out about the new modern hybrid shallots from seed. While I was in this process of discovery, I found some organic eschallions on sale at Zehrs for 99 cents a package, and popped a few of them in the garden to see what would  happen. The answer was that they were only slightly better at splitting, and they too all went to flower. The difference was that they formed seed - and so did the other shallots still left in the herb garden.

I kept both sets of seed and planted them out the next spring, carefully keeping them separate. The results of both sets of seed were pretty much identical, however. That is to say, both beds contained small shallotty onions ranging from white fleshed with yellow skins to purple fleshed with red skins, in a range of sizes, and with no tendency for splitting to having split at least partially to completely into 4 to 6 bulbs. We pulled the best "splitters" out of both beds, and I have been cooking one section of them, and if I like the flavour, putting the other sections back into a basket for replanting in the spring. My goal is to achieve a line of shallot-flavoured onions that can be grown from seed OR split, although I realize the situation is more complicated than that suggests.

I also have some seed that was sent to me in an exchange, for something called Green Mountain Potato onion. This is seed from an heirloom white potato onion, which never produced seed, that anyone knew of. One year it did flower and set seed profusely in Kelly Winterton's garden in Utah. He recognized what an unusual event this was, and saved the seed and shared it around.

One thing that seems to have emerged from the gardeners who have subsequently grown this seed, is that the longer an allium is reproduced solely vegetatively, the less able it becomes to reproduce via seed. The figure that has been suggested is that alliums should be allowed to go to seed at least within 10  years, or they may lose the ability to do so altogether. Garlic is in even sadder straights - a few people have induced it to set seed in recent years, but it requires enormous effort to get it to do so, and widespread success has yet to be achieved. (Although I rather think we may be seeing some results in within as few as 5 years on that front).

As for my shallots, after going through most of them I have concluded I usually like the red skinned ones the best. The one at the front of the pile of red shallots (right side), would have been just about perfect - except it's sprouting! So out of the seed stock it goes and back into the cooking basket. That's my very first selection criterion: must make it to spring without sprouting.  I'm hoping I can find an isolated spot for these to go to seed this spring. A neighbour offered us some garden space a couple of years back, and I will try to take him up on that. Otherwise, I will take them to a clearing on the other side of our property (through the woods) and plant them there - at least the deer are unlikely to eat them. I'm debating whether to add any to our onion hybrid or not. I think not though; I don't want our onions to be small and split-prone, like the shallots.

So there you go - keeping pure selections of onion may not be that easy, but very good results can come from saving your own seed anyway. Decide what onions you want to combine - I personally would do all sweet, or all storage, and not mix those two kinds, but really it's up to you. Make sure you keep any male sterile onions out of the mix. If you decide to share any of your resulting seed, do let them know that it is a cross. And that's it! Fun with onions.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Vegetable Soup with Cheese Dumplings

This is a fairly plain and basic soup, although one I really like. There is something about the sweetness of cabbage in soup that is just so appealing. The dumplings are a little unusual and make it a complete meal in itself. 

6 servings
1 hour prep time

Vegetable Soup with Cheese Dumplings

Make the Soup:
4 cups chopped cabbage
2 medium onions (2 cups diced)
3 to 4 stalks celery (2 cups diced)
OR 2 cups diced celeriac
2 to 3 medium carrots (2 cups diced)
1 cup sliced mushrooms
3 to 4 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
1 teaspoon rubbed savory
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
3 cups water
3 to 4 bay leaves
salt & pepper to taste

Trim and chop the cabbage. Peel and chop the onions. Wash, trim and dice the celery, or peel and dice the celeriac. Peel and dice the carrots. Clean and slice the mushrooms. Peel and mince the garlic.

Heat one tablespoon of oil in a large skillet, and add the celery (celeriac), onions, and carrots. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until softened and reduced in volume. Put them  in a large soup pot. Heat the remaining oil in the skillet, and add the mushroom. When the begin to brown, add the cabbage and cook, stirring frequently, for several minutes, until the cabbage is wilted. Add the garlic and the savory, and continue cooking for another minute or so. Add these to the soup pot.

Add the chicken stock and water to the soup pot, along with the bay leaves and salt and pepper to taste. Bring it all to a low boil and then simmer for 15 to 20 minutes while you make the dumplings.

Make the Dumplings:
1 cup cottage cheese
1/2 cup grated old Cheddar cheese
1 large egg
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
salt & pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh or dried minced chives

Mash the cottage cheese thoroughly, or make the dumplings in a food processor. Mix the cottage cheese, Cheddar, and egg. Mix the baking powder, salt and pepper, and chives into the flour then mix it into the cheese and egg to make a slightly sticky dough.

Drop the dough by spoonfuls into the simmering soup - you should get about 18 dumplings. Cover the soup once they are all in and continue to simmer it for another 15 minutes, until the dumplings are firm. Serve at once.

Last year at this time I made a Vegetable-Noodle Stir-Fry Featuring Spaghetti Squash

Friday, 17 January 2014

Saving Onion Seed, Including Shallots and Leeks - Part I - The Basics

It seems an odd time of year to write about saving onion seed, but in fact this is where it needs to begin: first, choose your onions. The seed catalogues available now are the place to look, and since onion seed should be started indoors in mid to late February, now is the time to place your order.

Most gardeners buy onion sets (tiny onions) and plant them in the spring, then harvest fully-grown onions in the early fall when the greens die down. However, these onions are almost certainly not suitable as a source of onion seed. If you want to save seed from onions, you will need to start by growing onions from seed. There are two main reasons for this.

The first, something I have only just clued into, is that there are varieties of onion seed that will grow useable onions in the first year, and there are varieties of onion seed that should be sown with the production of sets in mind. Actually producing sets yourself is a fairly complex and time consuming system of onion production, and there are very few heirloom or open-pollinated varieties available for this type. Amish Bottle Onion is, in fact, the only one I know of, and it is really quite rare and hard to find.

The other reason to avoid saving set-type onions for seed, is that as mainstream commercial varieties they are almost certainly hybrids. And onion hybrids are almost always male sterile, meaning that almost any attempt to save seed from them will fail. Given that onions are biennials, and don't flower until the second year (or third, from sets) that's a lot of time spent waiting for something that may or may not happen.

So, unless you are specifically looking for an onion to produce as sets, you need to look for open pollinated varieties of onions that will produce a usable onion in one season and go to seed the next. As I mentioned already, that will be most of the open-pollinated onions available in seed catalogues. Here in Canada you will prefer  "Long Day" onions - onions are affected by the number of hours of daylight in a day, and different varieties are required in different latitudes. This shouldn't be a problem if you are buying seed from local suppliers, and we can in fact produce decent onions from "Short Day" varieties,  unlike folks in the south, for whom the reverse is not true (that is, they cannot get reasonable onions from "Long Day" varieties).

Hybrid onions are becoming more and more prevalent amongst onions grown from seed to bulb, so you will still need to take care in choosing your onions. If an onion is sold as an F1 hybrid, you can assume it is one and avoid it, but not all hybrids are labelled. I bought some "Red Marble" onion seed one year, not realizing many seed companies, for some reason, don't label it as an F1 hybrid. It is one, though. Fortunately for me it also failed to overwinter before I realized this. It is safe to assume that ALMOST ALL hybrid onions have Cytoplasmic Male Sterility at this point in time, and are thus going to be useless for producing seed. If you wish to allow different varieties of onions to cross, do not be tempted to use the hybrids as mother plants (they will produce seed if pollinated, but no pollen). The CMS will be passed on and is next to impossible to eliminate from your gene pool once it is in.

All onions - and shallots, if they flower - will cross with each other, but not with leeks. All leeks will cross with each other, but not with onions or shallots. Therefore, if you wish to keep your line pure, you can only grow one of each to go to seed each year. Unfortunately onion seed is a very poor keeper. It will be best the first year, adequate when heavily sown the second year, and yield poor germination the third year - and that assumes that it has been properly stored. Proper storage is well wrapped up in the freezer, when not being used. Since onion varieties need to be isolated by anywhere from 1/4 of a mile to a mile (depending on who you ask and the number of obstacles in between them) in order to be kept pure, the number of onion varieties a person can maintain will be pretty limited. Of course, this assumes you are aiming for near-perfect isolation, which is a level of purity most of us don't absolutely need. Still, check around and see what your local fellow-gardeners are growing. The good news is, not too many of them will be letting their onions go to seed  - unless maybe they read this post!

Onions are outbreeders pollinated by insects, and are subject to inbreeding depression; that is, the quality of a variety will deteriorate if you do not allow a sufficient  number of onions to go to seed together. I've seen recommended numbers ranging from 18 to 200 onions. My own personal view is that 50 to 75 is reasonable for the home grower who can improve their seed with new stock every few years. More good news is that I think there is no reason not to replant onions for seed very closely together - it may make them lank and weedy, but at that point who cares?

In order to get the higher number of onions you probably need to plant around 400 seeds in the hope of getting at least 300 seedlings. Plant out the 200 to 250 best seedlings, then continue removing weak or non-typical plants as the season progresses. If they are storage onions, discard any that don't die down cleanly at the end of the season. As they store, discard any that sprout, become soft, or show signs of mould. Hopefully, when spring comes and it is time to replant them, you will be left with a number that is within the range required. See my post on selecting plants for seed for more things you should be considering. When you replant your onions, do not plant them too deeply - observe, when you harvest them in the fall, how they situated themselves and aim to reproduce that. Photos taken before harvest time will be useful.

If you really, really want to grow more than one variety of onion for seed in a year, there is a way to do it, if you are prepared to do the work, or so I am told. Keep your onion beds as far apart as you can reasonably manage, and when they flower, cover them both with row cover, well sealed at ground level, just before the first buds open. On alternate days, or mornings and afternoons, remove the covers from one at a time, and make like a bee with a paint brush. The more thorough you are, the better seed set you will get. I've also heard of one fellow who glues dead bees to the end of a wooden coffee stirrer - he says they work better than paintbrushes. But that's some real dedication. When you are done, cover them up. Do this daily, or every second day, for a week to a week and a half. Then, keep the flowers covered until all the blossoms are done and the seed ovaries are starting to swell.

Leave your fertilized onion flower heads to mature until the seed pods are fat and round, and start to change from green to yellow and dry out. You want to pick them when they are fully mature, but not falling out of the seed pods yet. Tie them in a bunch, suspend them into a paper bag, and hang up to finish drying. A lot of seeds should fall into the paper bag. To finish cleaning them when they are completely dry, crush the seed pods and pull out as much debris as you reasonably can. Then put the onion seed and remaining debris into a large bowl and fill it with cool water. Stir it gently around. The debris and low quality seed will float; skim them off. Drain the remaining good seed, blot it well with towels, and get it dry as fast as possible. I spread it out on paper towel and dry it in my food dryer, with the fan blowing but the heat off.

Thus far I have been refering mostly to onions. Pretty much everything I have said applies to leeks as well, with the note that I don't bring them inside to store over the winter - I leave them in the ground over the winter and do my selecting in the spring, by eating the substandard specimens as spring greens. And of course, anything not tough enough to have made it through the winter is automatically eliminated. Elephant garlic is a leek, not a garlic, and should not be allowed to flower with your leeks for seed (unless that 's what you are growing).

Shallots have traditionally only been reproduced vegetatively. That is; you plant one bulb in the spring, and over the summer it splits into a nest of 6 to 12 bulbs. Potato Onions are basically a form of shallot, but one more like regular onions - traditional French shallots have a distinctive mild but garlicky quality. In the 1990s Dutch vegetable breeders induced some Dutch shallots to bloom, and crossed them with onions. They refined the resulting hybrids, and now nearly every shallot you will see for sale is the result of hybrid seed, not vegetatively reproduced bulbs. They are so much cheaper to produce that it is now practically impossible to find the true French shallots for sale, which still only reproduce by splitting. If these modern shallots are planted and allowed to bloom they will certainly cross with any other onions in bloom at the time.

If you plant shallot seed, or plant hybrid shallots, you can expect that it is likely that Cytoplasmic Male Sterility will be present. The one notable exception that I know of is eschallions, also known as Banana Shallots or Cuisse de Poulet du Poitou, which are a traditional French variety grown from seed. By sheer good luck, I planted another hybrid shallot with them that was self-infertile but apparently not male sterile, and they crossed and produced a lot of seed on both sets of plants. "Zebrune" seems to be the name of the most common open-pollinated strain of eschallions. There are hybrid eschallions out there as well though, and all the usual caveats apply.

All of this assumes that your goal is to keep a particular variety of onion, shallot or leek true to type, genetically sound and in perpetuity. If you wish to sell or trade seed under the name of its specific variety, or cultivar, then this is what you must do. However, that is not always going to be the goal in saving onion seed, in which case there are other points to consider. I'll be talking about them next week in Part II.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Mashed Squash with Roasted Garlic & Balsamic Reduction

I've still got some squash stashed in the pantry - I hope you do too. It will be gone from the grocery stores unless you get quite lucky, but farmers markets should still have some.

The directions for making this got kind of long, but really this was very easy to make. I thought the rich but almost rough flavour of the garlic balanced with the sweet balsamic and squash really well.

This is best served with some fairly plainly roasted meat, and since the oven is on anyway that's easy to do. You can adjust the temperature the squash roasts at if your other dish requires it but it will then need longer to cook. Better to get it in too early than too late - as noted, it can be reheated and it will hold in the oven quite well.

8 servings
2 hours - 30 minutes prep time

Mashed Squash with Roasted Garlic & Balsamic Reduction

1 1.5 kilo (3 to4 lb) butternut, sweetmeat, or similar squash
1 large head of garlic
a little mild vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Cut the squash in half, and remove the seeds and stringy bits. If the squash pieces are more than in inch thick, cut them into smaller chunks. Rub the squash pieces lightly with a little oil and spread them in a baking tray. Bake them for 1 hour to an hour and a quarter, until easily pierced with a fork.

Once the squash is in the oven, trim the base and top off the head of garlic - just enough to expose the cloves. Wrap it loosely in a bit of foil, and add it to the oven with the squash. It should roast for 45 minutes to an hour, until soft.

When both squash and garlic are tender, remove them from the oven and let them cool enough to handle. Peel the squash pieces and place them in a large but shallow mixing bowl. Peel the garlic cloves and add them as well. Mash them thoroughly together with the salt, pepper and butter. Spread the mashed squash in a lightly oiled baking dish. This can be done a day ahead of time, if you like; it will just then require extra time in the oven to heat the squash purée again.

Either return the squash to the oven to keep warm, or reheat it at 350° the next day; you had better allow at least half an hour for it to be hot through in that case. In any event, drizzle the balsamic reduction over the hot squash just before serving.

To Make the Balsamic Reduction:
1/3 cup good balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon honey

Put the vinegar and honey in as small a pot as you have, and cook it over medium heat, stirring regularly, until it reduced in volume by half. Immediately pour it into a little dish to cool.

If you are proceeding directly to serving the squash as soon as it is prepared, make the balsamic reduction while the squash is baking for the first time. Otherwise, make it while the squash is being re-heated. 

Last year at this time I made Beef Pot-Roast with Horseradish Sauce.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Stuffed Chicken Meatloaf

My love for stuffing (dressing?) continues to express itself! In this case, to heck with messing with an actual chicken - meatloaf is a lot easier, at least when it comes to cutting it up and serving it, and really, making the meatloaf mixture is not that much more work than wrestling with a slippery chicken.

I used ground chicken but I don't see why turkey wouldn't work just fine. This was a dish that was definitely well received.

8 servings
2 hours - 1 hour prep time

Stuffed Chicken Meatloaf

Make the Stuffing:
1/2 sandwich loaf of bread (250 grams; 1/2 pound)
1 recipe poultry seasoning
2 to 3 stalks celery OR 2 cups finely diced celeriac
1 medium onion
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil

Trim the crusts from the bread, and set them aside to go into the meatloaf. Cut the remaining bread into 1 cm cubes and set aside to dry out a little.

Mix up the poultry seasoning and set it aside. Wash, trim and finely chop the the celery or celeriac. Trim and finely chop the onion.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet ovr medium heat, and cook the onion and celery until soft and reduced in volume. Mix in the poultry seasoning, then the bread cubes. Drizzle the remaining oil over them, and continue to cook the mixture, stirring frequently, until the bread cubes are quite dry and browned in spots. Turn the stuffing out onto a plate to cool.

Make the Meatloaf:
crusts from the above bread
1 kilo (2 pounds) ground chicken or turkey
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1/3 cup buttermilk
2 to 3 tablespoon ketchup

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Put the bread crusts into the bowl of a food processor, and process to coarse crumbs. Add half of the meat, the eggs, and the seasoning and process until just mixed. Turn this out into a large mixing bowl and mix the remaining meat and the buttermilk in by hand.

Lightly oil a 10" pie plate. Take about 60% of the meatloaf mixture and pat it into as flat a circle as you can manage in your hands, then place it in the pie plate and continue to flatten and spread it until it covers the entire plate with a cm or so protruding all around. Place the stuffing into the "crust" thus formed, and spread it out evenly. Flatten the remaining meatloaf into a neat disc to cover the filling. Put it in place, and pinch it sealed all around the meatloaf. Brush the finished meatloaf with the ketchup.

Bake the meatloaf for 1 hour at 350°F. Let it rest for about 10 minutes before you slice it and serve it. 

Last year at this time I made Mushroom Salad in Endive Leaves.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Annual Seed Report

The mailbox is full of catalogues and in another 5 weeks it will be time to start planting onions and celeries, so it's time for my annual review of Canadian seed companies. The list is long this year! Partly I'm discovering places new to me, and partly there has been a real upsurge in the number of people going into the seed business. Excellent!

You can find my previous reviews here: 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.

As usual, let me point out that if you are looking for a specific variety you can't beat Seeds of Diversity. The best place I have found for reviews of specific varieties is Cornell University's Vegetable Varieties for Gardeners site, although they have let their list of varieties get slightly outdated. Still, it's a valuable resource and I encourage people to use it and contribute to it.

We have been doing more and more of our own seed saving and trading, so our purchases this year are strangely weighted. We are still going to manage to spend over $200 at 8 different companies though! Yes, we are seed addicts! Still, I'm going to go on about things I think (or know) are good and interesting varieties rather than what we are actually buying, particularly.

Agro Haitai. We haven't purchased anything here yet, although as specialists in oriental vegetables they have a fascinating list. There are more F1 hybrids than suit our taste, but there are still plenty of open pollinated varieties too. They have 15 varieties of Pak Choy alone, along with Gai Lan, 6 kinds of Choy Sum, 9 kinds of radishes, Thai eggplants, and much, much more.

Annapolis Seeds. Located, not surprisingly, in the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia, this small company has a very interesting seed list. Their 2014 list is not up yet as I write this, but in general there is the largest selection of peas around, with The Pilot, Mrs Van's, Duke of Albany, Yorkshire Hero and Lancashire Lad being just a few of the offerings. King Sieg leek, Moonbeam watermelon (a dehybridized version of the popular Yellow Doll), Gaia soybeans (his own variety), Blooming Prairie and Kahnawake Mohawk beans,as well as many tomatoes including some Owen Bridge picked up on a recent trip to New Zealand.

The Cottage Gardener. This Ontario based company has a fine selection of very desirable varieties. Look for Arikara beans (a tough and well adapted regular for us!), Provider beans, Early Wonder beets, Bloody Butcher and Hopi Blue corn, Achocha, Tom Thumb lettuce (a personal favourite - stays delicious even as it bolts), Golden Purslane, Amish melon, Early Hanover (our best green) melon, British Wonder peas, Alma Paprika pepper, Galeux d'Eysines pumpkin, German Giant radish, and much more. We're giving Galilee spinach a try this year.

Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes. I don't know of any other source in Canada (they're in Alberta) that specializes in a large range of potatoes for the home grower. This year their special offering is a set of 4 different variety packs: Fingerlings, Mixed Season, Gardeners Favourites and Heritage. This is a great chance to try a large variety of potatoes and pick your favourites. We already know our favourites: Pink Fir Apple, Purple Viking, All Blue, German Butterball and Russet Burbank. Our standard source of potatoes.

Edible Antiques. This is a new company in Prince Edward County, Ontario, or at least I just discovered them a couple of weeks ago. They are working with Vicki's Veggies, a well-known area grower of organics, for locally adapted seed. They have some interesting things; look for: Jackson Wonder bush lima bean (still trying for success with lima beans), Taiwan Swordleaf lettuce, D'Espelette peppers (a famous Basque heirloom), Sibley squash, and their own White Calabash tomatoes.

Greta's Organic Vegetable Garden. Greta probably has the largest list of organic garden vegetables in Canada. She's got 66 NEW varieties this year alone, 40 of them tomatoes. They include Sakata melons, Prize choy, Long Pie pumpkins, Old Jake rutabaga, and Trombetta di Albenga summer squash. Tomatoes include Berkeley Tie-Die, Captain Lucky, Casady's Folly, Pineapple Pig and Red Furry Boar amongst many, many others.

Hawthorn Farms. Hey, we've been here! They have a very well considered and locally adapted selection of seeds. In their new offerings, I know Kim is really chuffed about Matchbox pepper. Double Standard corn makes me wish I was still trying to grow corn. I am going to give Sokol Breadseed poppy a whirl. I have hopes that Tatume, a climbing zucchini, will help in the War Against the Bugs. Old favourites include Fortex and Trionfo Violetto beans, she has all my favourite beets, Purple Peacock brockali, Ping Tung and Listada de Gandia eggplants, Rossa di Milano and Siskiyou Sweet onions, Meeting Place Organic Farm snowpeas, and German Striped tomato. Brown Goldring lettuce gets rave reviews, and I'll be trying it this year.

Heritage Harvest Seeds. If they can grow it in Manitoba, I figure I can grow it here! This is a really exciting list of heirloom seeds, with an incredibly long and tempting list of beans. Dolloff and Deseronto Potato beans have been excellent for us. Gnadenfeld melons are our best orange melon by far. Chieftain Savoy and January King cabbages are our standard winter cabbages. Jaune de Doubs carrots have done well. We are going to try Tante Alice cucumbers this year. The list of treasures goes on and on. How I wish I had room to try Scaly Bark watermelon and Yellow Carrot-Rooted radishes, and, and, and...

Hope Seeds. Not updated for 2014 as I write, but I expect them to continue to have a small but good selection of heirloom seeds with an emphasis on Nova Scotia (their location), New Brunswick and Maine heritage varieties. Look for Jacob's Cattle, Maine Sunset and Baie Verte Indian beans, Golden Grex beets, Ashworth's Rat-Selected corn, Ruby Streaks mustard, New York Early onions, Gilfeather rutabaga, and Tribe's Tobique ultra-hardy tomato. They also have 4 kinds of Jerusalem artichokes (that's a lot!) and a good selection of unusual potatoes.

Mandy's Greenhouses. Mandy is getting out of the seed business, but she still has some stock and always had very interesting things. Have a look before it's gone.

Mapple Farm. Mapple Farm has a short but considered list of seeds - I'd really like to try French Scorzonera and Gobo burdock. However, it's their roots that they are known for, specifically northern-adapted sweet potatoes. Georgia Jet is widely regarded as the best, and we have also tried and liked Frasier White. This year we plan to give Ginseng Red a try. They also have Volgo2 Jerusalem artichokes, crosnes and horseradish. Their site is a little odd but useable, and you will need to pay by cheque, but if you want sweet potato slips THIS IS THE PLACE. They also sell Ken Allans extremely useful book on growing northern sweet potatoes.

Ontario Seed Company (OSC). You will find these seeds in racks in hardware stores all over Ontario in the spring, and you could do worse than to stock up there, although if you want the complete line it's best to check the catalogue. They do carry a number of F1 hybrids and Monsanto varieties, so do some research before buying (if that matters to you and obviously it's my opinion that it should). They also carry a large number of old reliable open-pollinated varieties, old and reliable enough to qualify as heirlooms.

Look for Soldier beans, Sweet Granite melons (an Elwyn Meader variety), Laxton's Progress #9 peas, Valencia peanuts, Hungarian Yellow Sweet and Sweet Cubanelle peppers, and Crimson Sweet watermelon. This year they have special collections of hot peppers, including one of Mexican peppers that looks extremely promising. 

Prairie Garden Seeds: Not updated for 2014 as I write. This is a seed-geeks delight, a little more trying to the novice. The listings run together and descriptions are laconic. But persevere, because there are lots of treasures here. Prices are low and quantities are high, the downside is that the packaging is makeshift. Jim Ternier specializes in Canadian heritage tomatoes, and has an amazing selection of heirloom grains for the small grower - a genetic treasurehouse in fact.

Look for Pencil Pod Black Wax beans, Odawa Soup bean, Coffee Bean fava, and Spanish Skyscraper peas. Raisin Capucijner, St. Hubert, Zeiner's Gold and Carlin soup peas. Simonet and Orchard Baby corns look promising. Lacinato Rainbow kale, Morton's Mix lettuce (that would be amazing veggie breeder Frank Morton), Giant Red celery, Phalzer Yellow carrots, Scarlet Ohno turnip, Boughem and Farnorth melons, Bozeman watermelon, Bellestar tomatoes... there's much more but I'm running out of room here.

Richter's Herbs is world-famous for herbs, yet a company from right here in south-central Ontario. If any herb seed, however obscure, is to be found anywhere, it's probably here. What a resource! They do have a selection of fairly standard veggies if you are already ordering, as well as the genetic and garden lottery they call SeedZoo. Check it out regularly for strange and fascinating things from around the world - but if you see what you want order it at once because quantities are limited and items won't be seen again once they are out.

Salt Spring Seeds. One of the oldest of the new wave of small Canadian seed houses, as you may guess they are located in British Columbia, and their seeds reflect the mild Pacific climate. They have traditionally had a good selection of the standard garden vegetables - they still do - but they seem to be evolving more towards small field crops such as grains and beans. Excellent! This is an underserviced area of seed selling, I would say.

If you want favas, lentils or chickpeas, they actually have a selection. More soybeans than anywhere else I know of. Wheat, barley, oats, amaranth, quinoa, and flax - they have them. Particular varieties that catch my eye include Gold Harvest and Swedish Red soup peas, Tanya's Pink Pod bean, Manitoba Brown soybean, Nodding onion, Darcy's Purple leek, Early Black Egg eggplant, Cossack Pineapple ground cherry, Isle of Capri and Michael Pollan tomatoes.

Solana. I suspect (but don't know) that this small seed house in Quebec does not grow much if any of the seed they sell, but prices are reasonable and they have been a good source of hard-to-find items. Look for St. Valery carrots, Aji Limon peppers, Tondo Liscio cucumber, Thai Long Green eggplant, and Yellow of Parma onions. They have the largest selection of physalis species and varieties I know of, and an impressive selection of peppers, both sweet and hot, including Aji Amarillo, Biquinho pepper, and the famous Spanish Padron. Lots of tomatoes too.

Stellar Seeds is another one from B.C. I haven't ordered from them, but they have been around for a number of years. Items that look interesting to me include Jack's Giant bean, Lily Mae's Little White cucumber, Tokyo Bekana mustard, Aunt Molly's ground cherry, Durabel leeks, New Red Fire lettuce, Punta Luze tomato, and Golden Treasure storage tomato (I have yet to try any of these, but they intrigue me).

Tatiana's Tomatobase. Tatiana's started off as the best tomato variety wiki around. It still is, but now she's selling seed too. She keeps a large number of varieties in circulation, so seeds will not always have been grown in the last year or two. However, she labels them clearly with the date and since tomato seeds are long keepers this will be fine for most people. She's the source for hard-to-find things you will want to grow out and save your own seed from anyway.

She is a great source for Russian varieties and in addition to the scads of tomatoes of every description that I will not even try to list, she has Hanson, Kupusnjara Salata, and Moskovskiy Parnikovyi lettuces; Aji Rojo, Faludi, Guajillo, Kop'yo Indeytsa, Osmarsko Kambe, Pasilla Bajio, and Pelso peppers; Khutoryanka, Kustovaya Oranzhevaya, Melonette Jaspee de Vendee, and Vitaminaya squash; Ananasnaya, Hero of Lockinge, Tam Dew, Valencia Winter, and Verte Grimpant melons. Want more? How about Cream of Saskatchewan, Kleckley's Sweet and Marmeladnyi watermelons. Poona Kheera cucumbers, Crimson Forest bunching onions, and Highland (Ethiopian) kale are some interesting items. I'm going to give the kale a try.

Terra Edibles is another Ontario supplier, one that has been around for quite a while. In fact I was ordering from them when we first had allotment gardens many years ago and heirloom seeds were very hard to find indeed. Somehow they have kept a low profile as the market has boomed, but they are still ticking along and have a great selection of well-maintained and adapted seeds. They specialize in tomatoes and beans, but there is a good selection  of other things too.

We first found Amish Paste and Opalka tomatoes here. Black Cherry and Black Plum are good'uns. Garden Peach, Green Zebra, Ildi, Jaune Flamme, Matt's Wild Cherry, Paul Robeson, Persimmon, Pineapple, Principe Borghese... it's practically a list of the tomatoes we've grown, although there's a whole bunch more yet to try. Beans include Cherokee Trail of Tears, Dragon's Tongue, and Greek Fazolia. There is Luther Hill and Stowell's Evergreen corn, Montreal and Oka melons, Golden Sweet snowpeas and Tall Telephone peas, Bulgarian Carrot peppers, Kakai hulless seeded pumpkins, and Tonda Scuro di Piacenza squash.

Ferme Tournesol. This small seed company is located in western Quebec, on the north side of the river from Salaberry de Valleyfield. They are market gardeners as well as seed sellers, so I would guess they have a good selection for that purpose. I actually found them through their interesting blog.

Six kinds of amaranth... okay, off to a great start here. Grenoble beans - what, pick them once a week?! There's a novel idea. All their pole beans are intriguing but Kahnawake Mohawk catches my eye in particular. Dolico Veneto cowpeas, wow. Chufa nuts - make your own horchata! Painted Mountain corn, and what's this? Abyssinian mustard, which looks to be the same as the Highland kale from Tatiana. Sugar Magnolia snap peas are hard to find but they have them! There's Tennessee Sweet Potato Squash, and Golden Midget watermelon. This was hard to find when I first tried it but now it seems to be around quite a few places. Tomatoes include Dancing with Smurfs, Montreal Tasty, and Wapsipinicon Peach.

Tree & Twig. This was the second seed grower we visited this year. Linda Crago doesn't have a large list, but again, some very irresistable items. As I write, the site is not updated for 2014.

Still, look for Blue Ribbon, Jade and Saskatchewan Dry beans. Christmas lima bean - we're trying this one out in our quest for a workable lima. She has the 3 Root Grex beet from Alan Kapuler. There's Snow White carrots, Piracicaba and Solstice broccoli, and Spigiarello, which I have been trying to get for three years now, and which keeps selling out, but I THINK I've been quick enough this year. There's Beedy's Camden kale, and Gigante kohlrabi; Painted Hills corn, Bushy cucumbers, Pandora Striped Rose eggplant, Little Gem and Yugoslavian Red lettuce, Orangeglo watermelon, Garden Huckleberry, Kiwano Melon, Morelle de Balbis, Sutton's Harbinger peas, Philadelphia White Box radishes, and Red Round turnip. The selection of tomato seed is small compared to the 100s of varieties sold as plants at her farm, but she has Green Doctors' Frosted Cherry, Federle, Pineapple, Stupice, and Ukrainian Purple.

Upper Canada Seeds. This Ontario company has been around for a while but now concentrates exclusively on tomatoes, which they grow themselves in Prince Edward County. Look for Beaver Lodge Slicer, Cuban Black, Doucet's Early Quebec Market, Ivory Egg, Japanese Trifele (Russian, naturally), Manitoba, Orange Banana, Ottawa, Peacevine, Arbuznyi, Black Brandywine, Cream Sausage, Flin Flon, Great White, Green Velvet, Pink Ice, Purple Bumblebee, Snow White, Big Rainbow, Kellogg's Breakfast, and Nebraska Wedding. How can anyone resist tomatoes? The names alone make them worthwhile.

William Dam Seeds. Well, you'd think by now I'd have nothing left to say. WRONG! William Dam Seeds may be last, but they certainly aren't least. They've been around for over 60 years, and their collection is well honed. They do carry a lot of F1 hybrids, and get seed from Monsanto, so do your research. They also have a great selection of Dutch vegetables, and prices and quantities are terrific. They supply the foundation of our garden in many ways, and are the best source for things like planting trays, fertilizer, row covers and netting. They have always supplied very reliable seed for us.

Our favourites include Guelph Millenium F1 asparagus, Chioggia Guardsmark, Early Wonder, and Touchstone Gold beets, Sorrento rapini, Groninger Blue collards, Amsterdam Maxi, and Flakkee Autumn King carrots, Telegraph Improved cucumber, Miner's Lettuce claytonia, Early Yellow Globe onions, Ostergruss Rosa and White Dream radishes, Giant Winter Viroflex spinach, Bright Lights, and Lucullus and Green Perpetual Swiss chards.

This year I'm looking to try Astro arugula (supposedly milder than the usual), Farmer's Long yardlong bean (dayneutral!), and Goliath broccoli (back by popular demand). Just when I think I know their list backwards and forwards, I make new discoveries. I've been trying to aclimatize Golden Berry (physalis peruviana) to our northern life for the last few years; meanwhile, it turns out they have had Little Lanterns under the name physalis edulis all along. Sneeeeaky. But now I'm on to them, and giving them a try. Likewise, we found a recommendation to use Baby Blue Hubbard squash as a trap plant for cucumber beetles, squash bugs and vine borers. Who has it? That's right, William Dam (and a few other places, to be fair. But they are definitely the first place to look.) 

Aaand that's about it. Goodness, writing this was a job. Imma go lie down now... and dream of lots of marvelous veggies to come this summer.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Bittersweet Waldorf Salad

A classic Waldorf salad is made with celery, but regular celery is long gone. You can still get celeriac, but it is apt to be expensive and hard to find. Belgian endive makes a good substitute, bulked out with a little cabbage to help pull it out of the bitter and into the sweet.

Walnuts are the classic nut to go into a Waldorf salad, but I had pecans, and I think they worked better than walnuts would have anyway. Again, they are richer and sweeter and balance the Belgian endive a bit better.

4 servings
20 minutes prep time

Bittersweet Waldorf Salad

Make the Dressing:
3 tablespoons mayonnaise (light is fine)
3 tablespoons buttermilk
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon anise or fennel seed
1/8 teaspoon celery seed
3 or 4 black peppercorns

Whisk together the mayonnaise, buttermilk and salt. Grind the anise seed, celery seed, and peppercorns, and whisk them into the dressing. Set aside until the salad is ready.

Make the Salad:
1 large outer leaf of Savoy cabbage
1 large head Belgian endive
1 medium crisp apple
1/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Wash and trim the large, though central stem out of the cabbage leaf. Cut it in half, stack the halves, and roll them into a cigar shape. Cut it into thin shreds. Trim the endive, cut it in quarters lengthwise, and likewise shred them into thin slivers.

Wash the apple, cut it in quarters and remove the cores, and cut each quarter into fairly fine dice - about the size of the chopped nuts. Chop the nuts, if they are not already chopped.

Mix the cabbage, endive, apple and nuts in a small mixing bowl and toss with the dressing.

Last year at this time - well, okay, last year for Christmas or maybe it was New Year's - I made Smoked Trout and Barley Salad, a much fancier and richer salad than this one.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Acorn Squash Stuffed with Barley, Nuts & Cranberries

I hope it is still possible to find acorn squash. These are my Thelma Sanders, of which I still have quite a few sitting in the laundry room, sound as nuts. I suppose this doesn't help much now, but it definitely makes sense to stock up with local squash in October or November, if you don't grow your own, as they will keep in a warmish spot quite nicely for a couple of months anyhow, and quite likely longer. 

These would make a reasonable vegetarian main dish, if you used the vegetable broth, or a very good side to roast chicken, turkey or ham.

4 to 8 servings
2 hours 30 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

Pre-Cook the Barley & the Squash
1 cup pot barley
3 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large acorn squash

Put the barley with the water and salt into your rice cooker, and cook. Alternatively, it can be cooked on top of the stove; simmer until tender (al dente) and most of the water is gone.

Cut the squash in half, and scook out the seeds and string. Rub the cut sides lightly with a little oil. Bake at 350°F for 30 to 45 minutes, until soft enough to poke a fork into a piece without forcing it, but not completely done, either.

Both of these steps can be done up to a day ahead, and refrigerated. This recipe only uses some of the cooked barley, but it hard to cook less and the leftovers can be used in soups, salads or casseroles. If you don't have an immediate other use for it, it can also be frozen until wanted.

Finish the Stuffed Squash
2 cups button mushrooms
1 large leek or 3 medium shallots
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
1 teaspoon rubbed savory or basil
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 cups of the cooked barley
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock

Have the semi-baked squash halves arranged in a lightly-oiled baking pan, out to come  up to room tempreature, while you make the stuffing. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Clean and trim the mushrooms, and chop them. Peel and chop the leek fairly finely, and rinse and drain it well, if you are using the leek. Otherwise, peel and finely chop the shallots.

Heat the oil in a large skillet and cook the mushrooms and leeks or shallots until quite soft, stirring regularly. Mix in the seasonings, until well coated in the oil, then mix in the barley. Continue to cook for a minute or two longer, stirring contantly, until well mixed and fairly dry. Mix in the nuts, cranberries and chicken or vegetable stock. Continue cooking for just a minute or two longer, until the stock is absorbed. 

Divide the stuffing evenly between the squash halves, pressing it to form a neat mound in each. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, until the squash is tender.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Rye & Potato Crackers

These were quite popular! I thought the texture was a bit too hard; they were solid rather than crunchy. The flavour was really good though.  Again, as with all crackers, it's really important to get them thinthinthin.

Added: 13/01/2014. I just discovered half a dozen of these, forgotten in a cookie tin. WOW! They have actually improved with sitting, I would say. These are good!  Plenty crunchy, and the flavours have really blended and developed. Yum.

36 crackers
1 hour prep time, not including boiling the potatoes

1 1/2 cups whole rye flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 to 2 teaspoons fennel OR caraway seed
the finely grated zest of 1/2 orange (can use 1/2 teaspoon dried zest)
1 cup mashed potatoes
3 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
1/2 to 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit a large baking tray.

Mix the flour, salt, fennel or caraway seed, and orange zest in a small mixing bowl. Mix the vegetable oil  into the mashed potatoes. Mix the mashed potatoes into the flour, turning the dough out to knead briefly on the parchment paper when it gets hard to mix. Knead just until you have a smooth dough; don't overdo it.

Roll the dough out as thinly as you can, keeping it in a rectangle. Trim, patch, and re-roll to end up with a neat, straight-edged, evenly thin rectangle. Cut with a pizza cutter into crackers. Sprinkle the coarse sea salt evenly over the crackers.

Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until dry and hard, browning slightly at the edges. Let cool, during which time they should crisp up even more, then break them apart to serve.

Last year at this time I made Carrot Dip or Spread... yes, it would be good with these!

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Spicy Cornmeal Crisps

I made 2 kinds of crackers this year for Christmas. I thought this was the better of the two myself; but the others disappeared faster, so apparently that was a minority opinion. Still, these have a nice dry-crunchy sandy texture from the cornmeal, and the seasonings make them delicious plain or with cheese. Like all crackers, it is very important to make them as thin as you possibly can. Otherwise, they are not crispy, just tough.

32 crackers
1 hour prep time

1 cup soft unbleached flour
1 cup fine cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon rubbed dry rosemary leaves
1/8 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red chile, such as Aleppo
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 to 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Tear off a piece of parchment paper to fit a large baking tray.

Mix the flour, cornmeal, and seasonings together in a small mixing bowl. Melt the butter and mix it with the buttermilk. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. When it gets too stiff to mix easily, dump it out on the parchment paper and knead briefly until well amalgamated into an even dough. Don't let the dough sit, but roll it out at once - it will get very stiff and hard to work with unless you get right to it.

Roll out the dough as thinly and evenly as you can, on the parchment paper. Keep it in a neat rectangle as well, trimming and patching the edges to do it. Cut the resulting rectangle into crackers with a pizza cutter. Lift the parchment paper carefully onto the baking tray. Sprinkle the tops of the crackers evenly with the coarse sea salt.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until dry and firm, and slightly browned around the edges. They will continue to harden as they cool. Break apart the cooled crackers to serve.

Last year at this time I made Red Cabbage, Carrot & Onion Stir-Fry.