Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Celeriac Dip

We got another very good celeriac crop this year, and one of them did very well made into this dip. We served it cold the first time, and then grated a little more cheese over the top of the leftovers, broiled it, and served it warm the second time. Good both times!

Celeriac is pretty subtle; I don't know that I would pay the ridiculous price that grocery stores charge for celeriac to make this. If you can grow it yourself or get it at a farmers market where prices are reasonable, however, it's well worthwhile.

2 cups - 8 to 12 servings
1 hour - 20 minutes prep time

2 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup mayonnaise (light is fine)
140 grams (4 ounces) chevre
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
the finely grated zest of 1/4 lemon
the juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon cumin seed, ground
1/4 teaspoon celery seed, ground
2 cups peeled and finely grated celeriac

Peel and mince the garlic, and cook it gently in the butter in a very small skillet over medium heat until the garlic is cooked and fragrant but not browned. Turn it out into a food processor at once.

Add the mayonnaise, chevre, mustard, lemon zest and juice, Parmesan cheese, and the seasonings, first grinding the cumin and celery seed. Pulse to blend.

Peel and grate the celeriac, then add it to the food processor. Blend again, until well blended but still with texture.

Pack the dip into a serving bowl, cover, and refrigerate for 30 to 45 minutes to allow the flavours to blend. Serve with crackers or crudités.

Last year at this time I made Brussels Sprouts & Carrot Copper Coin Salad.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Signing Off for the Holidays

Probably a little earlier than usual. However, Dad died earlier this week so I am quite busy at the moment. I am a little embarrassed about how calm and accepting I have been about the whole thing so far, but the last few months of his life were so truly dreadful  that it became really clear that death is not the worst thing that can happen to a person.

I'll be back sometime in January, not sure exactly when. In the meantime I hope everyone has the holidays that are all they could wish for. See you when the days are getting longer!

Friday, 18 December 2015

Chai Honey Butter

Use this to make chai toast, as you would cinnamon toast. Broil you bread on one side until nicely toasted, then flip it over. Toast until it just short of toasted as you like. Spread it with some of the Chai Honey Butter, then return it to the broiler until bubbly all over.

I reckon the tea componant of this comes from the cup of tea you drink with your toast, but you could add a little very finely ground tea - matcha comes to mind - to the butter. I didn't do it, so I can't say how much, but I'd be inclined to start with no more than 1/2 teaspoon, and maybe even 1/4; on the well-known principle that more can always be added, but once it's in, it's in.

If you made a triple recipe, and packed it in a nice little 125 ml (1/2 cup) jar, it would make a nice little present along with a loaf of home made bread.

about 4 tablespoons
10 minutes prep time

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
a scrape of nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon whole (6 to 8 berries) allspice
3 to 4 pods of green cardamom

Put the butter and honey into a very small mixing bowl. The butter should be soft enough to mix easily.

Add the ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Grind the allspice and cardamom, and sift them in. I ground mine by hand, so I picked out the green papery coverings from the cardamom, sifted them over the butter, then reground everything that was too coarse to go through the mesh a second (and indeed, third) time. Once it is all in, mix until no visible streaks of butter remain.

As usual, I try not to make things too sweet. You could add a little more honey if you were so inclined.

Last year at this time I made Buckwheat Noodles

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Fresh Raw Cranberry Orange Relish

Here is a variation on a well-known Christmas classic. The honey adds a local ingredient and also another subtle but rich layer of flavour. A little candied ginger may be something you would like, or not; it desirability may also depend on what else is being served. This is standard with turkey, but try it with chicken or roast duck as well.

This is best with fresh cranberries, but frozen ones will actually work quite well. The relish may be a little more inclined to separate, and the honey will probably not completely blend until the cranberries are well thawed - give it a good stir again before serving - but these are minor quibbles. And apart from the fact that you now need to wash the food processor, this is about as simple a recipe as you will ever find for the resulting pleasure.

about 3 cups
15 minutes prep time

Fresh Raw Cranberry Orange Relish

1 large navel orange
1/3 cup wildflower honey
a slice of candied ginger (optional)
340 grams (12 ounces) fresh or frozen cranberries

Wash the orange, and remove any hard stem bits that may be present. Dry it, and grate the zest into a food processor. Peel the orange and discard the skin. Cut or break the orange into chunks and add it to the food processor, with the honey, and ginger if using. Pulse until blended. Add the cranberries, and process until fairly finely chopped, but with some texture remaining.

Can be made anywhere from 1 hour to 3 days in advance; a little time in the fridge to let the flavours develop is beneficial.

Last year at this time I made Brussels Sprouts & Celeriac Slaw.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Squash & Chevre Strata

This delightful dish can make a festive vegetarian main course - in which case I might sprinkle some grated Cheddar over the top before baking it - or it's very nice with ham. I used a good cheese bread from the day-old rack, which added extra flavour and a pleasant sensation of frugality. (I do love feeling frugal, but not enough to not actually spend any money). Slightly stale bread is actually best for this kind of thing. I left the squash as quite distinct chunks, but you may wish to mash it a bit coarsely if you prefer your squash more diffused.

6 to 8 servings
1 hour - 15 minutes prep time
not including roasting the squash

Roast the Squash:
a 1.5 kg (3 pounds) butternut squash
a little mild vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Cut the squash in half, and remove the seeds and strings from the seed cavity. Rub the cut edges of the squash with a little oil, and roast for an hour to an hour and a quarter, until the squash is tender throughout. This can be done a day or two ahead, and the squash kept refrigerated until needed. Don't forget to clean and toss the seeds with a little oil and salt, and roast them in a small pan, in a single layer, as well! They make a delicious little snack.

Make the Strata:
2 medium onions
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
300 grams chevre
a loaf of day-old sandwich bread
6 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon rubbed savory
1 teaspoon rubbed basil
1/2 teaspoon rubbed thyme
1/4 teaspoon rubbed rosemary
plenty of freshly ground black pepper
2 cups whole milk or light cream

Peel and chop the onions finely. Heat the oil over medium heat in a small skillet, and cook the onions until soft and translucent. Only let them brown a very little bit. Let cool as you proceed.

Peel the squash and cut it into bite-sized chunks. Place them in a 9" x 13" roasting (lasagne) pan. Crumble the chevre and add it to the squash. Cut the bread into similar cubes to the squash, and add them to the pan with the cooled onions. Gently mix them all together and spread them out evenly in the pan.

Break the eggs into a mixing bowl, and whisk in the seasonings. Whisk in the milk or cream. Pour the mixture evenly over the ingredients already in the baking pan, stirring gently if needed to soak all the bread in the eggs and milk. Make sure the mixture is spread out evenly again.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the strata for 50 to 55 minutes, then allow it to rest for another 10 minutes before serving.

Last year at this time I made Shepherd's Tourtière (Tourtière Chinois).

Friday, 11 December 2015

Pad Thai

As has been the case on other occasions, I ordered a dish at a restaurant, and was so horrified by the results that I felt obliged to rush home and make it properly. I've read recipes where people are admonished that there is no ketchup in Pad Thai, and snickered. Who on earth would do that - beyond perhaps a not very noticeably tablespoon or so - I wondered?

I now wonder no more. I would swear that the so-called Pad Thai from the restaurant in question consisted of noodles in a sauce of ketchup, sugar and chile-garlic sauce, a little third-rate chicken, and nothing else. Oh, some oil in the pan, no doubt. An insult in fact, although I haven't yet decided if the insult was more to me the customer, or to the noble dish of Pad Thai. What a nasty, gummy mess.

I'm always a little surprised that a dish from a tropical country like Thailand is so suited to Canadian winter vegetables, but there you are. It is, and so much the better for us. I have on occasion tried to Ontario-ize this a little more by replacing the lime juice with apple cider vinegar, but while the results are reasonably pleasant, the lime juice is definitely better; or lemon juice will do too. Still, something to keep in mind for emergencies, since most of the other ingredients are pantry staples.

If you don't want tofu you could replace it with similar sized bits of chicken or pork, cooked pretty much as described, or with a couple of eggs, in which case scramble them with a couple teaspoons of the oil, remove them from the pan and continue with the onions and carrots going into the now empty pan, and add the eggs back in with bean sprouts at the end. 

2 to 4 servings
1 hour prep time

Pad Thai

Make the Sauce & Cook the Noodles:
225 grams (1/2 pound) broad rice noodles
1/4 cup apple butter
3 tablespoons fish sauce OR light soy sauce
the juice of 2 limes (about 1/4 cup)
1 teaspoon chile-garlic sauce
1 teaspoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger

Put a pot of water on to boil for the noodles.

Mix the remaining ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.

When the water boils, boil the noodles according to the package directions - usually 4 to 8 minutes. Drain and rinse briefly in cold water. Drain well again.

Prepare the Vegetables, Etc. & Finish:
2 cups mung bean sprouts
2 cups finely shredded green or Savoy cabbage
1 medium onion, peeled and slivered
1 medium carrot, peeled and julienned
2 stalks celery, trimmed and sliced
8 to 12 button mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
150 to 200 grams (1/3 pound) firm tofu
3 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
2 tablespoons chopped roasted peanuts (optional)

Rinse and drain the bean sprouts. Wash, trim out the tough stem ribs, and shred the cabbage. Peel and liver the onion; peel and julienne the carrot. Wash, trim and slice the celery. Clean and quarter the mushrooms. Cut the tofu into bite-sized cubes. 

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Cook the tofu gently for 6 to 10 minutes, stirring regularly, until it is lightly browned all over. Turn up the heat, add the carrots and onions, and cook for another few minutes until they are softened, stirring frequently. Add the mushrooms - ideally the noodles are going into the boiling water to cook right about now too - and cook and stir for another few minutes. Add the cabbage, the drained noodles, and the mung bean sprouts, cooking and stirring for a minute between each addition. Once the sprouts go in, give the sauce a stir to reblend, and dump it in. Mix it in thoroughly. Once the bean sprouts have mostly wilted down but are still reasonably crispy, you are done. Remove the Pad Thai to a serving dish, and serve it. Sprinkled with a few chopped peanuts, if you are so inclined.

Last year at this time I made Cocoa Cream Roll.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Brussels Sprouts, Sweet Potato & Shallots

Here is a simple vegetable dish very similar to one I made 6 years ago, only with squash.  I hadn't realized  that it was so close to the time I held a 75th birthday/30 year anniversary party for my father and his partner when I made the first version. So much has changed since then. For the last 2 years, almost, they have both been either in the hospital or in a nursing home. And now, my father is dying and will probably be dead within the month. He is in so much pain and has so little quality of life left that I really kind of hope so. We literally wouldn't do this to a dog.

Well, that's a nice cheerful start to a recipe that was really very pleasant and deserves a better introduction. Not too much to say about the recipe, though; it's roasted vegetables, starch and green together and just needs a nice piece of protein to go with it to complete your meal. Baked chicken pieces make a lot of sense, since they could go in with the veggies and optimize your oven usage.

4 servings
1 hour - 15 minutes prep time

450 grams (1 pound) sweet potatoes
450 grams (1 pound) Brussels sprouts
6 to 8 medium shallots
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Wash, trim, and cut the sweet potatoes into thin (1/2 cm) slices. Toss them in a large roasting pan with the oil, and roast for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, trim the Brussels sprouts and cut them in quarters (or slice them into coins). Peel the shallots, and cut them in halves or quarters, depending on their size. Whisk the soy sauce, vinegar and mustard together in a small bowl.

When the sweet potatoes have roasted for about 20 minutes, remove them from the oven. Stir in the Brussels sprouts and shallots. Drizzle the soy and vinegar mixture over the vegetables. Toss once more, and return to the oven to roast for a further 20 to 30 minutes, until the vegetables are done to your liking.

Ha ha! Last year at this time it was Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Cranberries & Pear; how does that always happen? Seasonal eating, I guess!

Monday, 7 December 2015

Rum Ball Bars

Rum Balls are one of my favourite Christmas treats, but I thought I would try to simplify them a bit this year, what with one thing and another. I'm calling for chocolate cake crumbs, but I have to admit I bought ready to use chocolate baking crumbs for these, as part of my effort to reduce the work. The texture is not as good, but they taste fine. Making bars is also much less laborious than dipping individual rum balls.

I have to say the marzipan is a bugger to roll out though. It's very stiff. I just worked on it off and on until I got it thin and even enough, which makes it hard to say how long it took me. I was tempted to try a graham cracker crumb crust and next time I might do that. On the other hand, marzipan is a traditional fellow-traveller of rum balls.

Now is the time to make these; they keep well for at least 2 or 3 weeks and in fact improve with sitting.

48 to 60 bars
45 minutes to an hour prep time,
not including making the cake

Rum Ball Bars

200 to 225 grams (1/2 pound) marzipan
4 cups chocolate cake crumbs
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 cup unsweetened dessicated coconut
1/4 cup finely minced preserved peel
1/4 cup finely minced preserved ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup rum
1/2 cup butter
4 ounces (100 grams) unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup apricot or raspberry jam
8 ounces (225 grams) semisweet chocolate
6 tablespoons unsalted butter

Roll out the marzipan, on a sheet of parchment paper, to fit a 9" x 13" baking pan. You will need to keep it thin and even. Trim the edges and patch to keep a neat rectangle. Place it in the bottom of the pan, with the parchment paper, when you are done.

Mix the cake crumbs, cocoa, coconut, preserved peel and ginger, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle the rum over the mixture.

Put the 1/2 cup of butter and the unsweetened chocolate in a heavy bottomed pot, and heat over very low heat until melted. Mix in the jam, then scrape into the bowl of cake crumbs and mix well. Press this mixture evenly over the prepared marzipan.

In the same pot, also over very low heat, melt the semisweet chocolate and remaining butter. Scrape it out over the pressed down cake mixture, and spread it out evenly, covering the entire pan. Set the pan in the fridge to set, then cut it into bars. Keep the prepared squares well sealed in a tin, in a cool, dry spot. Bring them up to room temperature before serving.

Last year at this time I made Baked Polenta with Cheese & Sausage.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Onions au Gratin

Creamed Onions seem to have mostly disappeared from festive menus, much to my disappointment. Maybe people find eating whole onions a little disconcerting? In that case, maybe these will do the trick - it's basically creamed onions, sliced and hidden under a slightly cheesy crumb topping. I will cheerfully eat either version. It's onions! And cream sauce! What's not to like; seriously?

If you make them in advance with the expectation of putting them in the oven to be baked just before dinner, keep in mind that if they go into the oven cool you will need to bake them for probably at least an hour or a little more. Also, don't add the crumb topping until just before they go in.

6 servings
1 1/2 hours - 45 minutes prep time

Onions au Gratin

Make the Crumb Topping:
1 cup fine dry bread crumbs
1/2 cup (50 grams; 2 ounces) finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Put the above into a small mixing bowl and rub together with your fingers until well blended; in particular, keep track of that butter. Set aside.

Prepare the Onions & Sauce:
4 to 5 medium (750 grams; 1 1/2 pounds) cooking onions
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon soft unbleached flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon sherry
1/4 cup 10% cream

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Peel the onions and slice them into 1/4" thick slices. Put them in a pot with water to cover them, and bring them to a boil. Boil for just 1 or 2 minutes, then drain well.

Meanwhile, put the butter, flour, salt, pepper, and mustard into a pot (or directly into your casserole if it can go on the stovetop) and heat them over medium heat. Mix well and stir constantly until everything has blended and sizzled together for a few minutes. Slowly stir in the chicken stock, and continue stirring until the mixture thickens.

Either put the sauce into a shallow 1 quart (litre) baking dish, or not, if it is already there. Add the drained onions, spreading them out evenly and pressing them down into the sauce until it covers them. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture evenly over the top. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes until nicely browned and bubbly.

Last year at this time I made Pear & Cranberry Crisp with Granola Topping

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Scotch Broth

This is quite a quick and easy soup to put together, providing you have cooked lamb and lamb stock on hand, but the best way to have cooked lamb and lamb stock on hand is to have had a lamb roast at a previous meal, so there's that.

 This will provide a certain amount of stock, and the meat you need too, but do make sure the butcher gives you the bones from the roast because you will need them to make additional  stock.

Roast the bones in the oven in a shallow greased pan  until fairly brown, then cover them with water, add a bay leaf, a small onion with the skin, and a stalk of celery, and simmer for several hours. Strain and cool, and remove the excess fat.

Or; you can always use some beef stock if you have it.

Finally, if you have neither lamb roast nor stock of any description, but still hanker for Scotch Broth, get a pound of lean stewing lamb and cut it into quite small pieces. Brown it in a little fat, then put in 8 cups of water and simmer very slowly and gently for 45 minutes to an hour. Strain out the meat and set it aside to use as  your cooked lamb, and you should  have about 6 cups of broth. If you have more broth, just put it in the soup. There will be no complaints, and at any rate the barley does suck it up as it sits. If you don't add it at the start, you may want to hang onto it to thin the leftovers.

But all this mucking about with stock making and lamb cooking happens on a prior day; that should be clear. Lamb stock also tends to be pale and weak looking even when it is really quite strong; Worcestershire sauce goes with it well and as a bonus it improves the colour quite a bit.

6 servings
45 minutes prep time, not including cooking the barley
OR making the stock, for that matter

Scotch Broth

Cook the Barley:
1/2 cup pot barley
2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt

In the rice cooker, is how I do it. Fling it all in, turn on, wait. Or you can do it in a pot on the stove, over low heat once it has come to a boil, but you will need to watch it. Closely. Should cook in 45 minutes to an hour.

Make the Soup:
6 cups lamb broth, or mix of lamb & beef broth
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 large onion or medium leek
1 medium carrot
2 stalks of celery
OR 1 cup peeled, grated celeriac
1 cup peeled, grated rutabaga
2 cups finely shredded cabbage
2 tablespoons bacon fat or mild vegetable oil

2 cups diced cooked lamb
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
chopped parsley to garnish (optional)

Put the stock into a large soup pot, add, the Worcestershire sauce, and set it on the back of the stove.

Peel and chop the onion, or wash, trim and chop the leek. Peel and grate the carrot. Wash, trim and chop the celery, or peel and grate the celeriac. Peel and grate the rutabaga. Wash, trim, and shred the cabbage.

Add the cabbage to the stock, and bring it up to a simmer. Meanwhile, heat the bacon fat or oil in a large skillet, and add the onion or leek, the carrot, the celery or celeriac, and the rutabaga. Cook the vegetables over medium heat until they are quite soft and very slightly browned in spots. Add them to the stock, along with the diced cooked lamb. Add the salt and pepper. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Serve garnished with a little chopped parsley, if you can get it.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Squash Polenta

Here it is just about December and we have barely made a dent in the Great Wall of Squash in our laundry room. However, this was good and easy enough to give me hope that someday we may make some progress. Also it got thumbs up from Mr. Ferdzy, who loves polenta (and cheese) but not squash, really. So apparently 2 out of 3 is good enough. Nice to know.

Do I have to tell you how to cook squash? In this case, it should be butternut (in nearly every case it should be butternut, in my opinion) and you cut it in half, remove the seeds etc, rub it lightly with oil, and roast it cut side down on a tray at 350°F for an hour or so, until very tender. Preferably yesterday, if you want to do the polenta today. Don't forget to roast the seeds, although they only get half an hour. 

4 to 6 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 10 minutes prep time
not including roasting the squash

Squash Polenta

1 medium onion
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup corn meal
2 cups cooked mashed squash
4 cups water or chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon rubbed savory, sage, or rosemary
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 to 1 cup diced cheese

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Peel and chop the onion finely. Heat the butter in a small skillet, and cook the onion gently until it is very soft and slightly browned; about 10 minutes. Put it in an shallow 2 quart (litre) baking pan (8" x 10"). Add the corn meal, mashed squash, chicken stock or water, salt, and savory or other herb. Stir gently but well, then dot the mixture with the butter.

Bake the polenta for 1 hour. Stir gently, and mix the cheese into it, the quantity to depend on the type of cheese and what else you are serving with the polenta. Return the polenta to the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes. Serve hot.

Last year at this time I made Wheat Crepes. And very good they were too...

Friday, 27 November 2015

"Sauer" Curtido

I did say I was going to try this. Attempt now underway!

I don't know why last time I made Sauerkraut I got 12 cups of vegetables into a litre jar, and this time I only got 8 to 9 cups. And yes, a litre jar is approximately 4 cups, so that is still some serious packing.) I made Sauerkraut in red and green as well as the curtido, and it was all pretty consistant.

You'll note that unlike when I made traditional short-fermentation Curtido, I did not add any fresh hot peppers. Firstly, they are no longer in season, and secondly, they got hot enough after a week in the fresh Curtido that I was a bit nervous about what would happen after 6 weeks. I'll add an update to this post once I know how this turned out...

1 packed litre - 16 servings?
1 hour prep time - plus 6 weeks fermenting time

Fermented Curtido with Sauerkraut in the background

Make the Curtido:
6 cups finely shredded white (green) cabbage
2 cups carrot, peeled and grated
1 cup sliced onion
1 teaspoon pickling salt
1 tablespoon rubbed oregano
1/2 to 1 teaspoon hot paprika or cayenne flakes

Put the number of litre canning jars you intend to fill into a canner and cover them with an inch of water. Bring them to a boil and boil for 10 minutes. 

Meanwhile, wash and trim the cabbage, and finely shred it. Measure it and put it in a large mixing bowl. Peel, grate, measure, and add the carrot. Peel the onion, and slice it in half from pole to pole. Cut each half 2 or 3 times again from top to bottom, as each half lies flat side down on the cutting board. Then, cut into thin slices the other way. Add these onion shreds to the bowl of veggies.

Add the salt, oregano, and paprika or cayenne to the vegetables. Using your very clean hands, massage the vegetables together until the seasonings are very evenly distributed throughout, and the vegetables feel limp and are giving up a little juice. When the jar is sterilized, drain it well and pack the vegetables into it, using a wooden or stone tamper to pack it all in. A funnel (dropped into the boiling water for a few minutes before use) may be useful. There should be about an inch and a half headroom at the top of the jar once it is all in.

Add the Brine & Seal:
1 cup filtered water
1 teaspoon salt

Put a lid and rim on to boil. They can be used, if they are in good condition.

Put the water and salt into a pot and heat until the salt dissolves. The water can be warm, but should not be very hot. Ladle this brine over the vegetables now packed in the jar. Once it is all in wipe the rim carefully and put the lid on, making good contact with the jar but not tightening it too much. Put it in a cool spot on a pile of newspaper to ferment for up to 6 weeks.

Check every few days. If the jars overflow and the vegetables become exposed to the air, top up with a little more brine made as above. Change the newspaper as well!

Once the curtido is fermented, keep it in a cool spot, and once you open a jar keep it in the fridge.

Last year at this time I made Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with Mashed Parsnips.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Beets à la Marmalade

I've done beets with orange and ginger flavours before, but you can't beat (sorry) this version for simplicity and speed. Well, apart from the fact that beets still take 45 minutes to cook first. However, you can do that right before the meal, or up to a day ahead. It will just take a little longer to reheat them and get the sauce going.

4 servings
15 to 20 minutes prep time, plus 1 hour cooking time in advance

Beets à la Marmalade

4 medium (500 grams, 1 pound) beets
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons orange or ginger marmalade
the finely grated zest of 1/4 orange
the juice of 1/2 orange
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Wash the beets and put them in a pot with water to cover them. Bring them to a boil and boil for about 45 minutes, until tender. Drain them and let them cool enough to handle, then peel them and slice or cube them.

Put them in a pot with the butter, marmalade, orange zest, orange juice, salt, and pepper, and bring up to a simmer. Simmer, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens enough to coat them lightly, and they are hot through.

Last year at this time I made, uh, Sweet Roasted Beets. How about that. Yes, I like my beets a bit sweet. Bite me.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Cream of Leek Soup

Yes, I know it's a plain, unrelieved beige. It looks like wallpaper paste, as a matter of fact. But don't let that fool you, nor the fact that the ingredient list is fairly short and the technique simple. This stuff is delicious; so, so delicious. It's absolutely fine enough to serve at a very fancy occasion, perhaps even Christmas. Do try and find a sprig of parsley for it though, if you can, to gussy it up a bit. Unfortunately, mine is snowed under. Gack.

I put cream in mine because I had it in my head to put cream in it, but I have to say the taste I had of it before the cream went in was awfully good. If you are eschewing cream, it could be omitted with very little pain. 

6 servings
1 1/2 hours prep time

Cream of Leek Soup

3 medium leeks
4 cups unsalted chicken stock
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
2 medium shallots
2 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons soft unbleached flour
2 tablespoons good sherry
a couple scrapes of nutmeg
1/3 to 2/3 cup 10% cream, OPTIONAL

Trim the leeks, and slice them. Wash the slices carefully and drain them well. Put them in a large soup pot with the chicken stock, the bay leaves, and the salt. Simmer for about an hour until the leeks are very tender. Let cool a bit, then put the leeks and stock into a food processor or blender. Don't blend yet, though.

Peel and slice the shallots and garlic. Heat the butter in a small skillet over medium heat, and cook the shallots and garlic gently until they are both ever so slightly browned; about 5 minutes. Stir frequently. Sprinkle the flour over them and continue cooking and stirring for another few minutes.

Slosh in a little of the stock from the stock and leeks, and mix it up quickly. Before it thickens, pour and scrape the shallots into the food processor or blender with the stock and leeks. Add the sherry and nutmeg, and purée until the soup is extremely smooth.

Pour and scrape it back into the soup pot. To serve, reheat to a simmer - let it thicken slightly - then stir in the cream, if you want it. Continue heating until it returns to steaming hot, but do not let it simmer again once the cream goes in.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Cornmeal Waffles

Goodness, all these waffles. This is what happens, apparently, when I have a working waffle iron. And very nice, too! 

You can cook the cornmeal just before you make the waffles, but it makes sense to use leftover cooked cornmeal from another meal if you can. You want to have about 2 to 2 1/4 cups of cooked cornmeal. If you can get the butter into the hot cornmeal to melt it, so much the better, but it works perfectly well to melt it later and add it.

about 18 waffles
1 hour 15 minutes prep time

Precook the Cornmeal:
3/4 cup cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups water

Mix the cornmeal, salt, and water in a sufficiently large pot, and bring to a boil. Simmer, stirring constantly, until the cornmeal thickens; about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool, with the butter added so it will melt.

Make the Waffles:
1/4 cup unsalted butter
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups milk

1 1/2 cups soft unbleached flour
1 1/2 cups soft whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup sugar, OPTIONAL
mild vegetable oil to brush the waffle iron

If your cornmeal was cooked in advance (leftovers), melt the butter and mix it into the cornmeal. Otherwise, once it has cooled enough not to set the eggs, beat them in one at a time. Slowly mix in the milk. Put your waffle iron on to heat.

Mix the dry ingredients, and put them in a large mixing bowl. I like to add 2 tablespoons sugar, but you can add more or none, as you like.

When the waffle iron is hot, stir the cornmeal mixture into the flours. Blend thoroughly, but do not overmix. Ladle the batter into the prepared (hot, and brushed with oil) waffle iron. Cook each set of waffles for 7 to 8 minutes. Keep warm in the oven at 200°F, or let the leftovers cool and freeze them for reheating in a toaster.

Last year at this time I made Pear & Celeriac Salad.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Beef with Brussels Sprouts

I've mentioned before that Chinese cooking really ought to call for more Brussels sprouts. They fit in so nicely! Nothing much to serve this with but steamed rice. 

4 servings
1 hour prep time

450 grams (1 pound) Brussels sprouts
100 grams (1/4 pound) shiitake mushrooms
2 large shallots
2 or 3 stalks of celery
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
450 grams (1 pound) lean beef steak
1 cup unsalted beef broth or water
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Trim the Brussels sprouts and cut them into halves or quarters, depending on the size of them. Remove and discard the stems from the shiitake mushrooms. Peel and cut the shallots into slivers. Trim the celery, and cut it into bite sized pieces. Peel and mince the garlic. Trim the beef and cut it into thin, bite sized pieces.

Put the Brussels sprouts and broth or water into a large skillete and cook over high heat until the water is mostly absorbed. Remove them from the pan and set them aside. Heat the oil, and cook the shallots and celery until slightly softened, then add the beef and the mushrooms. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the beef and vegetables are cooked. Add the Brussels sprouts back into the pan, along with the garlic. Stir and cook for a minute more, then add the oyster sauce and sesame oil. Mix them in well, and turn out onto a serving dish once the sauces are absorbed into it.

Last year at this time I made Quick Braised Chicken with Leeks & Garlic.

Monday, 16 November 2015


Today we have another installment in the series, Obscure Italian Peasant Chow. I ought to make it a searchable feature; I've cooked enough of them.

Apparently this is a dish from the Versilia-Garfagnana area of Tuscany, and I'm not quite sure what it is. Soup? Polenta? Soupy polenta, I guess; thickened by the beans as much as the cornmeal. One recipe I found suggested  putting sausage in it, but I'd be more inclined to cheese myself.

Some recipes call for a potato to be added as well. If you would like that, I would cut it in small cubes and boil it with the beans for the last 10 minutes of their cooking time. 

2 to 4 servings
1 hour

Cook the Beans:
1 cup dried kidney or borlotti beans
water to cover x 2
pinch of salt

Cover the beans with boiling water and soak overnight. Drain, rinse and cook in 4 cups of water until tender, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Add a pinch of salt during the last half hour or so of cooking. This can, and probably should, be done a day in advance.

Make the Intruglia:
1 large onion
1 or 2 stalks of celery
1 medium carrot
3 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon rubbed sage
1/4 teaspoon rubbed rosemary
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup tomato sauce
2 cups bean cooking water or broth
1/3 cup cornmeal
2 cups finely shredded kale or Swiss chard

Peel and finely chop the onion, celery, and carrot. Finely mince the garlic.

Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed soup pot. Saute the onion, celery, and carrot in the oil until soft. Add the sage, rosemary, pepper, and garlic. Mash well 1 cup of the beans and blend into the sauteed vegetables, along with 2 cups of the bean cooking water. If you don't have 2 cups of bean cooking water, top it up with broth or plain water. Add the remaining whole beans, and the tomato sauce.

Bring the intruglia to a simmer and pour in the cornmeal in a slow stream, stirring constantly. Slow! Or it will be lumpy. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, then add the finely shredded kale or Swiss chard. Simmer for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently, then turn off the heat and leave the pot covered for another 5 minutes. And so serve it forth.

Last year at this time I made Quick & Easy Braised Tofu

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Squash Glazed with Apple Cider

Still working my way through that bottle of apple cider... and also our laundry room full of squash. We planted a lot less this year than last year, but it did very well and we are again swamped with squash. Fortunately, since it was a lot warmer and dryer this year the quality of the squash is much better.

4 servings
1 hour 15 minutes, 15 minutes prep time

1/2 of  a large (900 grams; 2 pounds) butternut squash;
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 of a small nutmeg, finely grated
1 cup apple cider

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Peel the squash and cut it into centimetre thick slices.

Put the squash in a shallow roasting pan dotted with the butter, and sprinkle the salt, cinnamon, pepper, and nutmeg over it. Toss gently. Pour over the apple cider.

Roast the squash for about 1 hour, stirring once or twice. Towards the end of the cooking time the butter and cider with thicken into a sauce; watch carefully and remove the squash just as it is thick enough to coat it .

Last year at this time I made Freeze & Bake Pumpkin Pie. We enjoyed eating pumpkin pies all winter last year!

Monday, 9 November 2015

Sautéed Brussels Sprouts & Leeks

Here is a nice, easy, flexible dish of Brussels sprouts. Add mushrooms if you like, or have your bacon fat attached to chunks of bacon. Or both; why not. But we didn't do either of those and it was still just fine.

4 servings
30 minutes prep time

300 grams (10 ounces) Brussels sprouts
2 medium leeks
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons bacon fat or butter
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt

Wash and trim the Brussels sprouts, and put them in a pot with water to cover. Bring them to a boil and boil for 2 or 3 minutes, until bright green. Drain well.

Meanwhile, trim, chop, and wash the leeks. Drain well. Heat the fat or butter in a medium skillet, and cook the leeks gently over medium heat until softened. Add the Brussels sprouts, and cook, stirring frequently, until the leeks and the Brussels sprouts begin to brown. Add the balsamic vinegar, and then the garlic and salt. Cook and stir until the garlic smell overcomes the vinegar smell. Total cooking time should be about 10 minutes, not including boiling the sprouts.

Last year at this time I made Broccoli & Cauliflower Cheese Casserole.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Ginger-Garlic Pulled Pork

Well this is just a great big hunk o' meat, I admit it. Still, this is a cut that is very inexpensive when it goes on sale, it's stupidly easy to make, and it tastes great. Leftovers refrigerate and freeze well. Also, it's very versatile: put it on sandwiches, stew it in its own sauce and serve over mashed potatoes or rice, or use it to fill tacos or burritos, maybe with some Vaguely Asian Cabbage Salad, since this is vaguely asian itself.

12 to 16 servings
15 minutes prep time plus 9 to 11 hours

2 1/2 to 3 kg (5 to 6 pounds) pork shoulder roast
2 cups water
1/2 cup tamari or soy sauce
1/2 cup vinegar
1" x 1" X 3" piece of ginger
1 head garlic
1 or 2 dried hot peppers (OPTIONAL)
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Put the roast in a snug fitting, coverable roasting pan. Add the water, the tamari, and the vinegar. Peel and slice the ginger, and peel and trim the garlic, and arrange them around the roast, with the hot peppers if you want them. Dust with pepper.

Put the cover on the pan, and put it in the oven. Turn the oven to 200°F. Roast for 8 to 10 hours. Let rest for 1/2 hour before you remove the skin and fat from the top (if present), and remove the bones. The meat should pretty much fall apart in chunks. Cut them as desired, or pull them into strands with with a pair of forks.

I find it best to cook this a day ahead, then refrigerate. This allows for easier removal of more of the fat, and the pork reheats very nicely in a skillet, with a portion of the cooking liquid. If you don't use all the cooking liquid with the pork, it makes the most fabulous soup base ever, once you strain out the seasonings.

Last year at this time I made Squash & Carrots with Cinnamon & Ginger

Monday, 2 November 2015

Apple Cider Spice Cake

Lots of cider left after the Chai Cider Tea,  so naturally I used most of the rest to make cake. This is a nice, moist cake and since we are making an effort not to bolt it all down at once, I can say that it seems to be keeping (in a tin) quite well.

The one problem was that the cranberries all sank to the bottom. If  you want to try to avoid that, don't soak them; toss them in a tablespoon of flour and mix half of them in just before putting the batter in the pan. Sprinkle the rest evenly over the top and let them sink in as they bake. However, the cranberries were so nice and moist after their soak that I would be sorry to not give them the opportunity.

8 to 12 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 40 minutes prep time

3 cups apple cider
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
a good scrape of nutmeg (1/8 of a small one)
1 cup dried cranberries or raisins
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup honey
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup rum

2 cups soft unbleached flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder

Put the apple cider, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg into a fairly large heavy-bottomed pot. Bring to a boil and boil steadily until the cider is reduced in volume by half.

Preheat the oven to 350°F, and line an 8" x 8" pan with parchment paper (or butter and flour it if you prefer).

Turn off the heat and add the cranberries or raisins, the butter, and the honey. Cover and let sit until the butter is melted - stir occasionally. When the mixture has cooled enough not to set the eggs, beat them in. Add the apple cider vinegar and the rum.

Measure the flour and mix the salt and baking powder into it. Shake the flour into the pot of boiled cider, mixing it in well. Turn the batter - it will be fairly thin - into the prepared pan and bake it for about 50 minutes, until firm and set.

Last year at this time I made Spaghetti Squash Singapore Style

Friday, 30 October 2015

Chai Cider Tea

Here is a very simple little thing; more of a trick than a recipe, definitely a treat.  Since there are a number of chai flavoured teas around, both black and herbal, use your favourite, and be prepared to adjust proportions and brewing times according to their differences and  your taste.

A commenter on one of my favourite sites, The Toast, mentioned this as an idea, and I went off and bought the cider at once. Another reason to regard it as one of my favourite internet places to visit.

per 1 or 2 servings
10 minutes prep time

2 cups apple cider,
OR 2 cups apple cider and water mixed
1 chai flavoured tea bag, black or herbal

For a stronger flavoured, sweeter drink, use straight apple cider, but if you prefer the tea flavour to predominate, use up to half water - a little experimentation will determine the correct proportions for you. Bring the cider, or cider and water, to a boil. Turn off the heat, throw in the teabag at once, cover and let steep for 4 to 7 minutes, until brewed to your liking. Remove the teabag and serve.

Last year at this time I made Wheat Crepes.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Crazy About Watermelons

If you are not Crazy About Watermelon, prepare to have your pants bored off.

This was a very good year for growing watermelon in the open, without much use of row covers or irrigation. It could have been hotter, and therefore better, but it was still better than average. This is also, I think, the 3rd year from our deciding to let all (or rather most) of our watermelons cross, and growing out the seed to see what we get. We are now at the point where a few preliminary conclusions can be drawn; so this will be a post about watermelon seed-saving, selection, and breeding as well as a look at my best results of the year.

Watermelon seed saving is easy: eat your melon, putting your seeds aside in a small bowl and discarding any you have bitten. Fill the bowl with water, swish them around, then let them sit a minute. Decant off anything that's floating, then wash the remaining seeds with a little dish detergent. Rinse and drain well. Spread them out on a (labelled) piece of paper towel and dry well for about a week. If you want pure seed, you must plant just one variety, or keep varieties apart by 1/4 to 1/2 mile. Ha ha! Good luck with that. (About 100 feet actually worked passably well for me - but there was a little crossing.)

However, I mostly have not, up until now, wanted to keep my watermelons isolated. In fact, I wanted them to cross. I have had 3 main goals: to just let everything cross with everything else ad lib, and select the results for size, flavour, earliness, and keeping qualities, amongst others; to create an early melon with the golden ripening gene but larger and tastier than Golden Midget; and to cross Sweet Siberian with Orangeglo to produce a larger, tastier melon than Sweet Siberian but one that is adapted to northern growing unlike Orangeglo. This last project required a separate bed, as noted about 100 feet from the mass-cross bed. The mass cross bed contains lots of Golden Midget and Golden Midget crosses, and therefore it has been where I have been looking for my improved Golden Midget offspring to show up. Now that it has, I need to find a way to keep it isolated from here on too.

One of the things that happened this year is we got lots of really fairly small watermelons. Not surprising. I'm looking for the Golden part of Golden Midget, but the Midget part is also well represented. In the next few years I hope to shift melon size up a bit while still pursuing the golden ripening gene. Still, I am not against small watermelons. In a 2-person household, cutting a watermelon in half and eating it all at once has much to be said for it. 

The melon above is MC01-0920. MC refers to our mass cross project, 01 means that it was the first mass cross watermelon we cut open and ate, and 0920 is the date upon which this happened. Unfortunately this is only a general indication of how ripe and how early the melon was. Others may have been just as ripe and ready at the same time but we can only eat so much watermelon at once, and so they may sit and end up much further down the list through no fault of their own. I try to select early watermelon seeds for replanting, but this is a point I must keep in mind.

September 20th is a rather late date for watermelon, at least from the point of view of wanting to eat them. Ideally, ripe watermelon would appear from mid-August until the end of September, and here is our first watermelon perilously close to that end date. This is certainly one of the problems with growing watermelon in this climate. We get a lot of ripe watermelons right through October, but it is not necessarily when one would like to have them.

I think I could likely have picked it up to a week earlier. After a number of sad experiences cutting under ripe watermelon, I do now tend to err on the side of caution. I think I only picked one under ripe watermelon this year, other than a couple that got picked because the season was over and there was no point leaving them longer.

Not only was this watermelon early (for us), it was quite large (for us). In general, larger watermelons are likely to be later ripening watermelons at least comparing them variety to variety. In our patch of mixed-up seeds, large watermelons were just as likely to ripen early as smaller ones, because they were often the first melons produced by a vine and therefore they were large because they got a lot of the plants resources, not because they were a variety that naturally produces large watermelons. None of our watermelons were really massive, because all the varieties that have gone into the mix varied from mid-sized to small (midget, in fact).

This watermelon, being our first, is likely to contribute seed to next years planting. However, flavour was fine but not outstanding, and the texture was a little... tough, almost. It won't be as heavily represented as it might have been otherwise. 

Here is MC03-0921, and one of my champions of the year. Yeah, I know it looks like a runt. It IS a runt, but a very special one. This watermelon turned yellow (apart from the green stripes) when ripe, like its parent Golden Midget. To get this required saving seeds for 2 years, in order to get Golden Midget - Something Else crosses on both the maternal and paternal side in the first year, then a cross between those that passed the golden ripening gene on from both sides. Odds of that happening were approximately 64 to 1, although I brought those odds down to approximately 4 to 1 by planting multiple plants.

Because this melon will almost certainly have been fertilized by something else yet again, I don't expect it to produce nothing but golden ripening offspring. However, I planted plenty of pure Golden Midget plants in the mass cross melon bed this year, and in general my genetic material may be up to 65% Golden Midget in there, given the rate at which I have been planting Golden Midget, so it is not ridiculous to hope for the golden ripening gene to come in from both sides in many of the seeds next year. What I would like to do is to find a spot where I can grow the offspring of this melon in isolation next year, so that they cross only with each other.

It is interesting to me that this melon has such distinct stripes. I have not grown a lot of striped melons; Crimson Sweet, Orangeglo, and Cream of Saskatchewan being the ones I can think of. Those stripes look like Crimson Sweet to me. I hope so. Crimson Sweet is a very popular watermelon in many places including around here, because it produces decently large, early, tasty, trouble resistant, attractive and adaptive melons - all qualities I would like to have in upcoming generations. But are stripes dominant, or could they too have come from hidden genes in some other variety of watermelon? I just don't know.

Here is the flesh from MC03-0921. I forgot to take a cut-in-half photo until too late. However, while the flesh is a little on the pale side, it was sweet and tasty, and the seeds are interestingly small and black. One of the flaws of Golden Midget is that it has large, coarse seeds and lots of them. So this too is good!

MC11-0930 was a melon I was watching from as soon as the plants went out. We had 6 volunteer watermelon plants come up from seeds left in the garden last year. This is the only large melon produced from one of those plants; I lost track of the rest. It was not the world's greatest melon, and if it had not been from a volunteer plant I would have been a lot less interested in it. That splitting is not unusual in large melons (and this was one of our largest melons) but it's not a quality I want to encourage. It also had ridiculous numbers of seeds. However, it tasted really good in spite of possibly being a tad overripe when picked. (Also not a good thing - I'm looking for melons that hold). Still, this has "survivor" qualities I'd like to keep in the gang.

Sweet Siberian was clearly one of the parents of MC12-1002. We had a lot of good orange fleshed melons this year, and this was one of them. Looks like there are hints of red or at least a different orange in the flesh.  Crossed watermelons of different colours can produce almost a marbled effect or so I am told; most of ours were pretty solidly coloured and any internal colour variations were pretty subtle.

Many of our watermelons looked a lot like this one, MC27-1016, and the one below. Pretty small - I didn't weigh these but they were probably just under 3 pounds each - with crisp pale pink or orange flesh, smallish seeds, and very decent keepers. I suspect that many of these had Grover Delaney as a parent. They tended to have that size and configuration, with a fine netted pattern over a more or less green background on the rind.

MC28-1018 wasn't picked on October 18th; that's when we ate it. It was probably picked about 2 weeks earlier. Keeping qualities really tend to show up in the last few watermelons eaten (or not) and so they are just as likely to be selected for seed as earlier melons. This one was great - very small, but nice thin rind, crisp texture not deteriorating in storage, small and few black seeds, and a nice sweet flavour. A winner for sure. Could have had a bit better colour, but life is tough. We'll see what happens with it next year, because it will get planted.

We got quite a lot of melons that looked like this one. From the outside, PJ02-0920 looked a lot like a large Sweet Siberian. That's PJ for project - in addition to the mass cross, I planted a more-or-less separate bed for a planned cross between Sweet Siberian and Orangeglo. I'm pretty sure that's what this is. It's two shades of orange rather than a weak red, and the seeds have the look of Orangeglo - cream with dots on each side of the "pinched" end of the seed, although these are more of a buff, and the dot now extends down around the side of the seed as a stripe. Watermelon seeds are surprisingly diverse, and can be a good clue as to who your parent melons were.

Orangeglo has a reputation as a fantastic watermelon. I obviously grew it out once, but it has problems growing here. Its season is too long, and if the melons are less than 20 pounds, they do not develop their famous good flavour. I got my first grow out of melons ripe enough to save seed, but they were neither large enough nor ripe enough to eat. However, I think it will do good things crossed to Sweet Siberian, a smaller and more northern adapted orange melon.

PJ09-0923 was the best of the Sweet Siberian - Orangeglo crosses. It resembles an Orangeglo more than a Sweet Siberian, but at just over 15 pounds it was not big enough to be a good Orangeglo. Since it wasn't pure Orangeglo, though, it was able to be superb! Five of us tried this watermelon and all of us rated it as fantastic for flavour and texture, including 2 people who don't actually really like watermelon much. I have no trouble describing it as the best watermelon I have ever eaten.

I was worried that my separate Sweet Siberian x Orangeglo bed would not be isolated enough. I did have one red watermelon show up in the patch, but all the rest seemed to be either pure Sweet Siberian, pure Orangeglo, or a cross between the two. So I am concluding it's not great, but good enough to go on with. Now I just have to decide for next year: do I grow a mix of seeds from various successful Sweet Siberian - Orangeglo crosses, or just from this one fab melon?

I'd love to have comments and suggestions from experienced watermelon growers/breeders, if there are any out there reading (and the peanut gallery too, of course).

Monday, 26 October 2015

Tomato & Celery Soup from 1908

About a month ago, when there were still tomatoes, I was browsing an old cookbook and came across the following recipe:
"Three large tomatoes or one can, one bunch celery, one onion, one quart water, salt and pepper to taste. Thicken with one tablespoon of flour and one of butter creamed. - Very good - Mrs. Babbitt."
Of course, by the time I got around to trying it, the tomatoes were gone, so "one can" it had to be.

I also have to say now I have been growing my own celery, I am adjusting to what used to seem like massive quantities of celery called for in old recipes. In fact, I guess all bunches of celery used to be like what I get, compared to modern supermarket bunches - sadly small.

Another recipe on the opposite page called for bay leaves and cayenne, and I thought they sounded like a fine idea. In fact, I thought the recipe needed some more seasoning generally, and when I puréed it and found it rather pale, some paprika solved both those problems. I didn't add it, because I wanted to stick fairly closely to the original, but I think this would be improved by the addition of some garlic.

This is a simple, fairly plain soup, best as a starter to meal rather than a meal in itself, but we did find it "Very good".

6 to 8 servings
40 minutes prep time

Tomato & Celery Soup

4 cups chopped, peeled tomatoes, fresh or canned
6 to 8 stalks of celery (4 cups chopped)
2 medium onions (1 cup chopped)
2 or 3 cloves of garlic OPTIONAL
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 to 4 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 cups water
1 or 2 bay leaves
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
1 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika

Prepare the tomatoes, either by blanching them, peeling them, and chopping them; or by opening the can. Wash, trim and chop the celery. Peel and chop the onions.

Heat the butter in the bottom of a large heavy-bottomed soup pot, over medium heat, and add the onions and celery. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, until they are quite soft and wilted. Sprinkle them with the flour, salt, and pepper. Mix in well, and cook for a minute or two more, until the flour is well amalgamated. Add the tomatoes, mix well, then add the water, bay leaves and cayenne. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes more, stirring frequently.

You can leave the soup chunky, especially if you have cut everything up nicely, or you can purée it in a food processor or blender to the texture you would like. Return it to the pot, mix in the paprika, and reheat to serve.

I used 4 tablespoons of flour, and although I didn't think it was too thick, I can imagine wanting it a little thinner. Use less flour if you prefer a thinner, more brothy soup. 

Last year at this time I made Creamy Celery & Leeks with Rice and Leek & Squash Soup.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Gill's Golden Pippin Squash

For some strange reason, these are not readily available. The only Canadian source of these seeds that I was able to find is Naramata, a company I was not previously aware of. I bought my seeds from Adaptive Seeds, in the U.S. I say some strange reason, because these are fabulous. FABULOUS.

Lots of people advertise them as the best tasting acorn squash available, and having now had a few, I am not inclined to argue. They are small, but in fact just the right size for 2 servings. The flesh is as golden as the shell, dense and a little on the dry side. This gives them a rich, chestnutty texture and the flavour is lovely. The seed cavity is rather small, and the number of seeds therefor not enormous either. They are excellent cleaned up and roasted with a little oil and salt though; worth doing even if there are only a few tablespoons of them.

The started seedlings went out a little on the late side - early June - into a spot where there were still Brussels sprouts going to seed. This definitely delayed them a bit, but once the Brussels sprouts came out they forged ahead and grew very nicely up our trellis, ripening in plenty of time. I think it would be best to trellis these, if you can, but they could be left to grow on the ground. I'd want to keep the bed well weeded and mulched with something like grass clippings, if I did theat. Easier to just trellis them, I would think. Days to maturity should be about 95.

I presume they have the usual ills that squash are heir to; squash bugs, cucumber beetles, vine borers, mildew, etc, but this was a good year for squash in our garden and they had no particular difficulties. Actually, I have seen a number of people comment that they are rather attractive to pests such as voles and slugs... the best tasting varieties often are; what can I say? They are pepo squash, so they will cross with a lot of other garden squash, unfortunately. Too bad; I will just have to eat those tasty little seeds.

These are not a true heirloom vegetable, since they have not been around long enough, but since they were developed by the Gill Brothers Seed Company, of Portland, Oregon, in the mid 20th century I suppose you could say they are a vintage vegetable. In the 1960's, Gill Brothers was bought out by the Joseph Harris Company. They dropped many of the varieties devoloped by Gill Brothers, as they were locally adapted to Oregon, and the Joseph Harris Company dealt nationally. Not a good decision... many of those varieties have been revived and gone on to good success.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Cooked Oatmeal Waffles

I suppose this is something of a series at this point; things to do with leftover oatmeal. Muffins, cake and scones were my previous efforts; now that I have a good working waffle iron I guess these waffles were bound to be next. 

These were very fine, with a nice smooth soft texture and well-rounded flavour. We froze the leftovers, and they toasted beautifully.

12 waffles
1 hour prep time, not including cooking the oatmeal

2 cups cooked oatmeal
1/4 cup mild vegetable oil OR melted butter
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups soft unbleached or whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk, thinned yogurt, or milk
mild vegetable oil to grease waffle iron

Put your waffle iron on to heat. Put the cold cooked oatmeal into a medium mixing bowl, and mash it thoroughly with your mixing spoon. When it is pretty much lump-free, mix in the oil or butter, and the eggs, one at a time.

Measure out the flour and mix the baking powder and salt into it.  Measure the buttermilk as well, and mix the flour and buttermilk alternately into the oatmeal mixture until everything is blended; do not overmix. The mixture should be a thick but flowing batter; depending on how thick your oatmeal was, you may need to adjust the flour or buttermilk quantities slightly.

Brush the hot waffle iron with oil, and spoon in enough batter to fill it, spreading it evenly to all corners. Close the iron and cook for 7 to 8 minutes, or until the waffle is golden brown and easily removed from the waffle iron. They can be kept hot in the oven until the are all done; or let them cool, freeze them, and reheat them in a toaster.

Last year at this time I made Chai-Spiced Roast Squash.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Cauliflower with Mushrooms & Garlic

I do like pan-cooked cauliflower, and mushrooms, and garlic... so here they all are, along with paprika, which I also like very much. Yeah, I liked this, is what I am saying. Why not? It was good.

I used a plain paprika but only because I didn't actually have anything with more of a nip to it in the cupboard. Otherwise I would have used that, and liked it too. Smoked paprika would work well here, I think. 

4 to 6 servings
50 minutes - 30 minutes prep time. 

1 medium (1 kilogram; 2 pounds) cauliflower
250 grams (1/2 pound) oyster or button mushrooms
4 to 6 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon sweet or hot Hungarian or Spanish paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chopped parsley to garnish

Trim the cauliflower, wash it, and cut it into bite-sized florets. Clean and trim the mushrooms, and slice or chop them into smaller pieces. Peel and mince the garlic.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, and add the cauliflower along with enough water to just cover the bottom of the pan. Cook, stirring frequently, until the cauliflower is about half done and the water has evaporated - add a little more if it is gone before the cauliflower is to your liking.

Once the water has evaporated, add the mushrooms. Continue cooking and stirring, until the mushrooms and cauliflower are starting to brown and break up a bit. Turn down the heat just a little and mix in the garlic, paprika, and salt, and continue cooking and stirring for a minute or two more until everything is nicely cooked. and combined. Turn it out quickly onto a serving plate - don't let the garlic scorch - and garnish it with parsley.

Last year at this time I made Eggplant with Anchovies.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Spiced Maple Poached Pears

So simple! So delicious! It seems like nowadays the hard part is finding the pears, even around here, surrounded as we are by orchards. But persevere - these are well worth while. 

6 to 8 servings
15 minutes prep time - 45 minutes total

6 to 8 small (1 kilogram; 2 pounds) bosc or Bartlett pears
2 cups water
1/2 cup maple syrup
4 to 6 pods green cardamom
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
OR 1 6" cinnamon stick
1/4 of a nutmeg, finely grated
2 or 3 tablespoons sherry or rum
OR 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Use ripe but firm pears. Peel them, cut them in half, and remove the cores. (If you want to be fancy, and your pears cooperate, you can leave them whole, excavating the cores from the bottom with a vegetable peeler.) Place them gently in a 2 quart pot, and add all the remaining ingredients except the sherry or rum (or vanilla).

Bring to a simmer and simmer steadily for 20 to 30 minutes,  until the pears are just tender. (But check them after 10 minutes - if they are very ripe they may cook faster.) Add the sherry or rum (or vanilla) and let cool. 

Serve as they are, or over pancakes, waffles, sponge or pound cake, custard, cream, yogurt, or cottage cheese, or whatever else seems good to you.

Last year at this time I made Mushroom & Cauliflower Macaroni & Cheese.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Farmers' Long Beans

Back in the winter of 2014 I mentioned that I planned to order some seeds for this variety from William Dam. I did order them, but they did not actually make it out into the garden last year. This year I made a little room for them, and I'm glad I did.

I planted them very late, around the 1st of July, as they went into one of the beds in which we grew early determinate green peas for freezing, after the peas were over. Just about the time (late August) when the heat was causing our regular green beans to really slow down, they started to produce, and they went right through September producing very well. These are advertised by William Dam as being cold-tolerant, which I believe they are, for this species of bean.

Long beans, also known as yard long beans, and asparagus beans are from a different species (vigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis) than are the usual green and yellow beans grown around here (phaseolus vulgaris). They are really a tropical plant and until recently there were not any good northern adapted varieties. That is why their cold tolerance is emphasized by William Dam, but it is equally important to the Ontario grower that they are very heat tolerant as well, and will continue to set beans at temperatures that will leave all your common beans dropping their blossoms in despair. They are fast growing, and the beans are indeed much longer than common beans, although half-yard long beans would be a more accurate description.

Long beans are related to other southern beans; cow peas, black eyed peas, crowder peas, and less closely to mung and azuki beans. As the references to peas suggests, these are generally smaller beans than most common beans, sometimes much smaller. I am growing an Italian member of this family, Fagiolini di Trasimeno, and have had a fair bit of trouble to get them adapted to our long summer days. The Farmers Long beans don't seem to have this trouble, which is excellent. I grew a variety called Red Noodle a few years back, and it too had difficulties with the day length. I persisted with it for a few years, and it seemed to be improving, but eventually I gave up because I didn't love the flavour and the beans, while a beautiful purple when raw, turned so dark as to be almost black when cooked and did not look very appealing to me.

These ones seem to have no difficulty with day-length, and the flavour is excellent. Many people think long beans are better tasting than regular green beans, and I have to admit, I could be convinced. They are a bit different in flavour from regular beans, but probably not much more difference than you get between varieties of regular beans. Their length and delicate width make them very nice for working with in the kitchen.

I can't seem to find any reference to these other than the William Dam site. The name is sufficiently bland and generic as to make internet searching difficult, but while there are no doubt many other strains of long bean out there, only William Dam seeds to have this specific variety. The describe it as having been bred in Taiwan.  Agro Haitai have 5 different long beans, including Red Noodle, but none that seem to be the same as this one. They have a bush version if you wish to avoid trellising, but I suspect for best quality beans trellising is very desirable, and at any rate Farmers Long is long not only in the beans but in the plant - they will need very good support.

I did not have enough of these to freeze, so I cannot say how they will do if frozen.

Plant these, preferably not as late as I did, but with other heat lovers such as tomatoes, peppers and melons - June 1st would be the ideal date around here. As noted, good trellising will be required. The beans seem quite easy and disease resistant, in particular they have shown no signs of the anthracnose I have had in the garden the last few seasons (none of my vigna have). Like most beans, fertilizing should not be required. Steady amounts of water can do nothing but good, although they seemed moderately tolerant to intermittent water once they were growing well. 

Friday, 2 October 2015

An Organic Potato Seed Production and Potato Breeding Day at Duane Falk`s Farm

On Tuesday, Mr Ferdzy and I went to an afternoon workshop on potato breeding and potato seed production sponsored by the Ecological Farmers of Ontario and The Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security. It was held at the farm of Duane Falk, near Hillsburgh. About 10 enthusiastic and waterproof people attended.

As a "backyard breeder" I was interested to see that this major project in developing new varieties of potatoes suitable for medium to large scale (mechanized) organic growing actually requires a relatively small amount of space. The garden above is where Duane grows the parents of his seed lines, and the potatoes being grown out from their seeds. Parents are in one row (originally two rows but one came up when his grain projects in the next section were harvested) on the right hand side.

Duane Falk (centre, holding the white umbrella) is a very interesting fellow. Originally from a farm in Montana, he acquired a PhD at the University of Guelph on the subject of wheat breeding. He began his career in New Zealand, where he spent 4 years working with barley breeding. Ultimately his career brought him back to Guelph, where he continued working with barley and wheat. In 1999 he bought this farm, and 4 years ago he retired to it. The farm consists of 85 acres, some of it in bush, much of it now in hay. He knew when he bought the farm that it would be good for potatoes, as he found an old horse-drawn potato harvester in a fencerow. When he pulled it out, he found it was still working, and he used it for several years. Currently, he has 4 small field plots he uses for his work with potatoes, with a fifth being developed this year.

Through his work at Guelph, Duane came to know Gary Johnston, the man who developed the Yukon Gold potato, amongst a number of others, including the excellent but never fully commercialized Ruby Gold. Today Yukon Gold is the second most popular potato in the world, only after the Russet Burbank. Gary Johnston continued to breed potatoes in his backyard after he retired from Agriculture Canada, and eventually Duane inherited his personal breeding collection. For a few years, Duane continued to work with this material on a hobby basis.

In 2014, the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security asked him if he knew anyone who could start a potato breeding program. The person he knew... was himself (I should think so!) They pay him a much more modest salary than the University of Guelph, and make sure he can attend all the potato breeding events that he needs. Anything released by this project will belong to the organic growers who will be doing the actual selection and evaluation, and likely be in the public domain, unlike most potato breeding efforts.

Mind you, Duane compared potato breeding to buying lottery tickets. At what point, he mused, do probabilities become so small that they are effectively zero? Both lottery ticket purchases and potato breeding efforts fall into that category, he concluded. I conclude that he doesn't buy lottery tickets but he does breed potatoes... well human beings just aren't completely rational, it's true.

Here he is holding a few lottery tickets, I mean potato seed balls, which contain true seed. As I've noted before, they look like miniature unripe tomatoes or maybe eggplants, to both of which potatoes are related. Duane commented that a good clump of large seed balls are probably self-fertilized, while when a plant produces few and small seed balls, the odds that it has been out crossed go up. Both are likely to be useful, as even self-fertilized potatoes may contain quite a lot of diversity. Duane doesn't usually attempt to make manual crosses, although in some special circumstances this may be necessary. He lets the bees do it and takes pot luck. The first trait Duane is looking for is fertility. You can`t breed plants if your parent material is infertile, and that is currently the case with a lot of potato varieties.

Duane prepares his potato seed by whizzing a few preferably rather soft and squishy seed balls in a bullet blender with some water and a pinch of dirt, the bacteria from which help break down the gelatinous seed coatings which may inhibit germination. The mixture is left to ferment for a week or so, then rinsed clean and dried on paper coffee filters, then stored in paper envelopes. He soaks them for an hour before planting them.

A note for anyone wanting to try this at home - now is the time to collect your seed balls and get planting. Duane says that the mini tubers resulting from the first planting need 4 to 6 months cold treatment before being planted out again, so if you want them to be going out next June you will need to get going as soon as possible so they can spend late winter and spring in the fridge.

The prepared seed looks much like tomato seeds, but is smaller. Duane's is also much browner than mine has ever turned out; I think because he treats his rougher with a pinch of dirt in the processing and a longish ferment.

Seeds are grown out in flats of 32 cells, in a mixture of sterile seed starter and turface. A major local potato grower is going to allow him to store these flats overwinter in his facility for cold treatment, which will reduce the work of managing them quite a bit.

Here, Duane is talking about some of the things that make a good potato. This one is already showing some problems. The tubers are attached to the plant by rather long stolons, which will make hilling and harvesting the potatoes difficult. Conversely, if the stolons are too short, the resulting potatoes will be jammed together at the base of the stem, and are likely to be misshapen.

The list of requirements in a new potato is very long: plant growth habit both above and below ground specifically to be amenable to mechanized farming, resistance to pests and diseases, high tuber production, size and shape of tubers including eye conformation (they need to be neither deep nor with protruberant "eyebrows"), tuber quality (different uses do have different requirements) and storage qualities. Flavour? Yes, that's on the list somewhere.

It is also important that the potatoes be edible. Duane told us a hair-raising story of a variety developed in the U.S. in the 1960s, Lenape. It was a fine chipper with excellent pest resistance. Gary Johnston grew some at the University of Guelph, and one day he took a few home and ate them for dinner (and nothing else - his wife was away and he was batching it). He got very sick, although he made it in to work the next day where he complained about how ill he had been the night before. The thing about working at a university is that you get to complain to some very educated people. One of his listeners was a toxicologist, who asked some pertinent questions and determined that the potatoes were the problem. They were sent for testing, and found to be very high in glycoalkaloids. Potato plants generally are high in them, but usually they are confined to the leaves and stems and other green portions of the plant. (This is why you should not eat potatoes that have been exposed to the light and turned green.)  Through this unlikely but ultimately fortunate set of circumstances, Lenape was withdrawn from circulation - after certainly having killed some of it's unlucky consumers - and now all potatoes must be tested for glycoalkaloids before being registered as new varieties.

New varieties are generally developed by growing out seeds, but there are other possibilities. Here Duane holds three potatoes; the first being Ruby Gold. At one point he found a Ruby Gold with a section that had mutated, and had a light pink skin with red eyes. He saved that section and planted it out. It too threw out another sport, mildly different again. Oddly, this last one is up to 20% more productive than the original Ruby Gold.  While these potatoes are distinctly different from Ruby Gold, they cannot be registered (by Duane) as new varieties, as they are too closely derived from Ruby Gold, the intellectual property rights to which are held by the University of Guelph. There is, however, no reason he cannot collect seeds from these plants and  use them in his breeding work.

On the table you see the progression of growing potatoes from seed. From right to left, you see the (usually) single mini-tuber produced by growing out a true potato seed. When that tuber is planted, it produces a certain amount of tubers, which are stored in red net bags to keep them together. Four of these are planted out the next year, and the results stored in a yellow net bag. Next, 20 of those tubers are planted out, and the year after that a full row 30 metres in length. Selection against defects is practiced at each step and only the best are saved for further evaluation. Assuming that a potato has not been discarded for one reason or another during this process - with each step taking a year - the results will be distributed for multi-location trials. Only a small percentage of the potatoes will make it that far.

Next, we went out into the field and Duane dug up some plants - this one looks rather nice: numerous tubers and clean, even though blight killed the leaves. Many of them have been visited by potato late blight, resistance to which is one of the most important things any breeding program will be looking for. It's not as easy to identify as you might think; just because a potato plant does not die when exposed to it does not mean it has the kind of resistance breeders want. All potatoes are moderately resistant to it until they reach the stage where the plant is flowering and tubers are forming. A plant that is still green now is more likely to be late in breaking dormancy and/or forming tubers than to be resistant to blight.

While complete resistance to blight would be ideal, even partial resistance can be helpful. Blight may just kill the leaves, leaving the stems still relatively healthy. This is useful resistance, as the potatoes may still finish ripening and the potatoes may stay sound. Less resistant plants will have the stems die too, and completely unresistant plants will have the potatoes rot in storage as the tubers are also affected by the fungus. This was the case for most of the potatoes grown in Ireland at the time of the famines of the 1840s. 

Duane says the above plant is the kind of plant that many organic farmers tell him they want, because it is low and spreading and will suppress weeds. The problem though, is that it is very unsuited to mechanical hilling and harvesting, because that spreading foliage will be hacked to bits. Duane is looking for short, upright but densely foliated plants.

These rows of seedling potatoes were planted out quite closely, with the tubers about 8 to 10 inches apart. Many have already died down, others are just coming up now. Those ones are essentially selecting themselves out of the project, needless to say.

These are some plants from crosses with a northern Chilean variety. In theory, they offer some valuable genetic material, but in practise, potatoes are very day-length sensitive plants. These ones have only just started to flower and form tubers in response to the recent equinox. That's far too late here in Canada, and few flowers and no seeds were produced. Also, they are throwing out numerous very long stolons and just starting to form tubers; as noted, not a trait commercial potato breeders are looking for. Unless Duane can induce these to produce seed, and that seed shows some amenity to adapting to long northern summer days, this will be a genetic dead end for him. He suspects that although potatoes originated in northern Chile and Peru, most European (and now North American) varieties came out of southern Chile and Argentina, where they had already adapted to long day growing seasons.

Duane examines another potato. He has quite a number of Latvian varieties, and in fact he handed out some seed balls from one of them, called Imanta. (Yessss! Score!) Other varieties specifically mentioned include Agria, Island Sunshine, Chieftan, Dark Red Chieftan (apparently no resemblance to Chieftan) Atlantic, a Texas bred russet variety, Kennebec, and a traditional purple skinned variety from the Madeleine Islands, which I coveted something awful. Duane has had access through his professional contacts with a wide range of potato growers both professional and amateur, and has collected some amazing material. He mentioned a wild potato with hairy leaves and stems, which have resistance to leaf hoppers and other insects. I was a bit surprised to hear how much of a problem leaf-hoppers can be, and that much of the insecticides used on potatoes are directed against them specifically. Potato bugs are the other big one; them I know about. My neighbours breeding project is pesticide-resistant potato bugs. Duane deals with potato bugs the same way I do: regular hand picking. That won`t work for commercial growers though, so he is also looking for plants with resistance to potato bugs, possibly ones that don't taste as good to the bugs so they go elsewhere for lunch. There are differences among varieties for this trait.

When we were finished in the primary seed grow-out garden, Duane hauled us off to the field representing one of the next stages, where the full rows of potatoes were being grown.

Here his girlfriend, Vita Gaike, had started a fire and roasted some potatoes for us, in the Latvian harvest tradition (she`s a Latvian barley breeder herself). The potatoes were from his Ruby Gold mutations (Ruby Gold White A, to be precise), and they were delicious and just the thing on a cool rainy afternoon.

Once we were done, Duane fielded some questions. Someone asked about low-glycemic potatoes, and I was interested to hear that it depends more on how potatoes are cooked and served than on the variety. Cold potatoes are lower on the index, as are larger pieces. So potato salad is low on the glycemic index while hot fluffy mashed potatoes are (alas) very high.

Here`s a view of the second potato field, with the bonfire, his harvester, and his storage shed in the distance.

The potatoes harvested here will go on to the 7 or 8 organic farm participants across Canada (half of them in the Prairies) who have agreed to trial them. Duane is hoping that as the project progresses they will find more people willing and able to trial potatoes.

Thanks very much to Duane and Vita for an excellent and informative afternoon. We really enjoyed it, and learned some very helpful ideas for our potato grow-outs. For further information, Duane recommended two books, The Complete Book of Potatoes (de Jong, Sieczka, and de Jong), and The Lost Art of Potato Breeding by my hero, Rebsie Fairholm. I think I shall have to get them.