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.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Honeyed Pumpkin-Cranberry Pie

A few sharp-eyed people may recognise this from last  year; it got briefly posted in a very unfinished state then set aside until too late in the season for some reason that I do not now recall. However, I do remember this pie with pleasure, so here it is, for lovers of both pumpkin and cranberries. 

1 hour 45 minutes - 45 minutes prep time - plus time to cool
8 servings

Honeyed Pumpkin-Cranberry Pie

Make the Crust:
1 1/2 cups soft whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
4 to 5 tablespoons ice-cold water

Mix the salt into the flour.  Cut the butter into the flour, until it is about the size of small peas. With a fork, mix in the oil rapidly, then the water, adding one tablespoon at a time and mixing between each addition. When the flour is moistened all over and pulling together into a dough, press and mix it by hand to form a ball. Wrap it in parchment paper and set it aside in a cool spot for 15 to 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Roll the dough out on a piece of parchment paper or a floured board or countertop, until it is the right size to fit a 10" pie pan. Transfer it to the pie plate and neaten the edges of the dough, making sure they are even. Prick it all over with a fork. Bake for 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Set aside to cool, but leave the oven on if you are proceeding right away.

Make the Filling:
3 large eggs
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons soft unbleached flour
1/4 of a medium nutmeg, finely grated
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 to 2 1/2 cups cooked puréed pumpkin
1 1/2 cups chopped cranberries

Whisk together to eggs, honey and sugar. Mix the flour with the nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon, then mix it into the eggs. Mix in the pumpkin purée, then the chopped cranberries.

Pour the filling into the prepared pie crust, and spread it out smoothly. Bake at 350°F. for about 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes, until set in the middle. Let cool before serving.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Lamb with Leeks & Celery

One of our other bumper crops this year, besides squash, is our leeks. The celery is not too shabby either, and they both go very well with lamb. I left the pieces of leek fairly large, in the hope they would hold together. They didn't though, so I suggest you cut them a bit smaller right from the start. It will make them easier to serve and eat. 

I have gotten to really like adding a little vinegar to many things, meat dishes in particular. It adds a subtle tang - assuming you don't overdo it - that enhances the salty qualities of the dish, without requiring more salt. If you can't get or afford really decent balsamic vinegar, it may be better to use a good sherry or wine vinegar.

4 to 6 servings
6 to 7 hours - 30 minutes prep time

Lamb with Leeks & Celery

1 2 to 3 kilogram (5 to 7 pounds) bone-in shoulder of lamb
4-6  large leeks  (2 bunches)
6 to 8 stalks of celery
3 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
2 to 3 bay leaves
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup tamari or soy sauce
1 1/2 to 2 cups unsalted lamb or beef broth
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup unsalted lamb or beef broth OR red wine
3 tablespoons arrowroot or cornstarch

Check the lamb shoulder, and trim off any excess fat. Put the lamb into a large casserole dish which can be covered for baking. Preheat the oven to 250°F. If, perchance, you have a lamb shoulder with has been boned, and it has arrived in a net bag, remove and discard the bag before putting it in the baking dish.

Wash and trim the leeks. Cut them into 1" slices, and rinse them again, and drain them thoroughly. Clean and trim the celery, and cut it into 1" slices.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet, and cook 1/2 of the leeks until softened, and just a little brown in spots - don't let them get too brown: scorched leeks are not nice. Arrange them around the lamb. Repeat with the remainder of the leeks, and the celery, each as one round in the skillet.

Tuck in the bay leaves by the lamb, and pour over the vinegar, soy sauce, and broth. Season with a little pepper. Cover the casserole, with a lid or tightly fitted aluminium foil, and bake for about 6 hours, until the lamb is very tender. (Subtract about an hour for boneless lamb.)

When it is done, remove the lamb and vegetables to a serving dish using a large slotted spoon, discarding the bay leaves. The lamb should basically fall apart into pieces; if it does not, encourage it to do so. Remove and discard any bones and cartilage. Drain the broth left in the baking pan into a large saucepan. Have the remaining cold broth or wine and the arrowroot whisked together, and whisk them quickly into the hot broth in the saucepan. Cook, whisking continuously, until thickened.

Pour a little of the gravy over the lamb and vegetables, and pass the rest in a gravy boat or jug. This makes a lot of fairly thin gravy; any leftovers will make an excellent soup. Mashed or boiled potatoes, rice, polenta, or noodles will help soak it up the first time around.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Chai-Spiced Roast Squash

Well, here comes the squash. It was bound to happen sooner or later.  Spiced squash is a staple around here; it is so easy to prepare and yields such good results. This version is inspired by the flavours of chai. 

3 to 4 servings
1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes - 10 minutes prep time

Chai-Spiced Roast Squash

1/2 of a large butternut squash (600 to 800 grams; 1 1/2 to 2 pounds)
1/2 teaspoon allspice berries
3 to 4 pods of green cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons mild vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut the squash, remove the seeds, and peel it. Cut it into large bite-sized chunks. Place them in a shallow baking tray, where they are mostly only one piece deep.

Toast the allspice lightly in a dry skillet if you like. Crush the cardamom to remove the green, papery hull, then grind the seeds with the allspice. Mix them with the ginger, cinnamon, cloves, salt, and pepper.

Toss the squash pieces with the oil, then again with the spice mixture. Make sure they are evenly coated and spread out in the pan. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring once in the middle of cooking, until browned and tender.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Eggplant with Anchovies

It's plainly time for some slow-baked dishes around here (brr!) so here is a good one. You do have to like both eggplants and anchovies, but then we all do. You can adjust the quantity of anchovies to suit yourself - anywhere between a mere whisper of them to frequent salty little nuggets. I've aimed for somewhere in the middle; about half a small tin of them, or perhaps a little less.

6 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

Eggplant with Anchovies

700 grams (1 1/2pounds) eggplant
3 to 4 shallots
1/3 cup sunflower seed or olive oil
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
8 to 12 small anchovy fillets
freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup unsalted chicken, beef or vegetable broth

Wash and trim the eggplants; peel them if you like. I didn't, but I suspect that next time I would, for a smoother textured dish. Slice the eggplants a scant centimetre thick. Peel and chop the shallots.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a skillet, and fry the eggplant slices on both sides until they are softened and slightly browned. You will need to do this in batches, adding more oil as needed. Set the fried eggplants aside on a plate as they are done.

In the same skillet, fry the shallots in a little oil until they too are softened and slightly browned. Scrape them into a small bowl, and mix them with the minced fresh parsley, and the anchovy fillets, which should also be minced quite fine.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a small casserole dish with 1/3 of the eggplant slices, then sprinkle 1/2 of the shallot, parsley and anchovy mixture over them. Top them with another 1/3 of the eggplant slices, the remaining chopped anchovy mixture, and finally the last of the eggplant slices. Pour the broth over the casserole, and cover it with a lid or with a snuggly fitted layer of aluminum foil. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until very tender.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Mushroom & Cauliflower Macaroni & Cheese

Hey! I'm back. Life has been very busy lately, what with the end of the gardening season being upon us, and family life continuing to be as busy and complicated as ever. Still, I've managed to have a little outburst of cooking lately, so I have a few things to post.

As for this dish; well, it's macaroni and cheese! With mushrooms and cauliflower! How could you go wrong? You couldn't! This was very much enjoyed, and so I should think. The vegetables cut down the amount of pasta in this dish compared to my usual Macaroni and Cheese, but it's still thoroughly rich. The crumb topping is not absolutely required, but I thought it added a delightful crispy texture. The Colby cheese is also a change from my usual Cheddar cheese, and it worked very well, providing a good cheesy texture and flavour, but not so strong as to overwhelm the vegetables.

6 to 8 servings
2 hours - 1 hour prep time

Mushroom & Cauliflower Macaroni & Cheese

Make the Sauce:
500 grams (1 pound) Colby cheese
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk

Cut the cheese into slices and set aside. 

Melt the butter and flour together in a large saucepan, and cook for 3 or 4 minutes over medium heat, until the flour browns slightly. Stir frequently. Slowly mix in the milk, a few tablespoons at a time, to make a smooth paste. Once it is thin enough to flow easily mix in the remainder of the milk. Continue to cook the sauce, stirring constantly, until it thickens. Stir in the cheese, a few slices at a time, until melted. Once they are all in remove the pot from the stove and set it aside until needed.

Sauté the Mushrooms:
225-250 grams (1/2 pound) oyster or button mushrooms
1 medium onion
1/4 cup minced chives
1/4 cup minced parsley
a sprig each of dill and mint (optional)
2 tablespoons butter

Clean and trim the mushrooms, and chop them into bite-sized pieces. Peel and chop the onion. Wash, drain well, and mince the herbs.

Heat the butter in a large skillet, and cook the mushrooms over medium-high heat until softened and lightly browned in spots. Add the onion about halfway through the cooking process, and the herbs at the end to be cooked for just a minute or two. Add the mushrooms to the pot of cheese sauce.

Finish the Dish:
3 cups cauliflower florets (1/2 smallish cauliflower)
225 to 250 grams (1/2 pound) macaroni or other short, stubby pasta
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup fine bread crumbs

Wash, trim and chop the cauliflower into fairly small florets. (I do this just before I do the mushrooms, so that the macaroni and cauliflower can cook at the same time as the mushrooms.) Put a large pot of salted water on to boil, in which to cook the macaroni and cauliflower.

Preheat the oven to 350°F

When the water boils, cook the macaroni for about 2/3 of the time recommended on the package. Add the cauliflower to it when it has 5 or 6 minutes more to cook.

Drain the macaroni and cauliflower well, and toss them with the sauce and mushrooms in a 2.5 to 2 quart shallow baking pan - a 9" x 13" lasagne pan would work well. Mix the grated Parmesan and breadcrumbs and sprinkle them evenly over the top of the macaroni and cheese.

Bake the macaroni and cheese at 350°F, for about 1 hour, until golden brown and bubbling.