Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Growing Potatoes from Seed

Potato plants grown from seeds

Nothing to report on the cooking front around here - for the last week I have had one of the several nasty colds making the rounds this year and still feel pretty wiped out, although I am definitely starting to mend. Mr. Ferdzy, on the other hand, is just starting up with his, so he has a full week of being sick to look forward to yet.

We have ordered our seeds so that bit of gardening excitement is also over for the year. I think we will plant our onions and celery a little later than usual this year - early March instead of mid-February - so the only gardening thing we have going on at the moment is the one tray you see above, which contains potato seedlings.

This is the second year we have tried growing potatoes from seed. As I'm sure everyone reading this blog knows, potatoes are normally grown by planting chunks of potato; in other words each variety of potato is a clone. However, while many modern potato varieties are sterile, others are not and may produce seeds in a little green seed ball about the size of a marble. They look like little green tomatoes or tiny round green eggplants. The seeds inside look like tomato or eggplant seeds too, they are just much smaller.

In the fall, once the fruits have been allowed to ripen, we open them up and rinse the seeds out into a very fine (very fine!) strainer. They are allowed to dry out, but we decided to plant ours very early, just after Christmas, because we are hoping to gain a year in growing these out. When you grow potatoes directly from seed, the plants and potatoes stay fairly small. That is one of the main reasons no-one grows potatoes for food directly from seed. When our plants go dormant later this winter, we will sort through the resulting mini potatoes and select the ones that look the most promising to grow again. They will be stored in the refrigerator for 2 or 3 months as an artificial winter, then planted outside to grow for the rest of the summer. In the fall, when they die down again, they will be dug up and assessed. By this time, they should be getting close to producing the size and volume of potatoes we can expect in future years. That is also the second dormant period for these potatoes this year, so we will have gained a year in growing them.

I won't get too much into the details of starting potato seeds here. If you have some to grow out, here are some  very good instructions by Tom Wagner, breeder extraordinaire of open-pollinated  potatoes and tomatoes.

(If you want to grow potatoes from seeds in the future, select and order varieties of potatoes this spring to plant together. Research the varieties you are considering, and find out if they have any fertility, because many potatoes do not; those ones will be of no use to you. In the fall when the potato plants start to die down, collect the seed balls and proceed.)

Some potatoes forming

When I lift out the root balls, I am finding little potatoes forming on some of them. For some reason, all the potatoes forming in this batch that I have seen thus far are variations on pink skins. The mix of parents is, I would have said, pretty similar to last years, and include Alaska Sweetheart (pink skinned), Envol (beige skinned), Russian Blue, and Purple Viking (both purple skinned). Last year we got a mix of those colours in the skins of the offspring. This year it seems the Alaska Sweetheart colouring has taken over. No idea why the difference, other than who fertilized whom and who we collected berries from has clearly changed more than we realized.

When we go to select which potatoes will get planted on and observed, we will be looking for a few things. The first thing we will look for will be multiple potatoes per plant - this is an intimation that the plant will be a good producer. Two small potatoes will rate more highly than one larger one, although two larger ones will be better than two smaller ones.

Other qualities are more subjective, and until we have sufficient quantity of any one kind to eat a few, and until they have grown in the garden long enough to give an idea of their general good health (or lack thereof), a bit arbitrary. I have to admit good looks count. Last years batch included some luminous peach potatoes that were really lovely. I'm a bit annoyed to realize I took no pictures of them; however, there are a number of them planted in the garden and I hope they will survive the winter and carry on. So far there are none that look like that this year; the potatoes are surprisingly uniform.

What I am noticing this year is an amazing variation in the leaves. Some are pale and some are dark. That was expected. What was unexpected was that some have surprisingly narrow leaves and form short dense plants, and others are sprawling, very vine-like, and sending out surprising numbers of aerial roots. They will be a bit of a tangled mess to sort out once they die down. I wonder if this is a sign of a plant that would produce a lot of potatoes once planted out and hoed up (I don't think they will have the time or space to do it in our little seed tray). There is only one way to find out...

So why grow potatoes from seeds? This is how new varieties are created. They may taste excellent, they may store well, they may be very productive, they may be disease resistant. They may not be any of those things, either. The odds are very good that our new potato varieties will be mediocre at best. However, they will give us an entertaining project to follow, a good few dinners hopefully, and an opportunity to gain some knowledge about potato genetics. And you never know, we may win the potato genetics lottery and come up with something very interesting. Because they are recently grown out from seed, too, they will be freer of viruses and fungi than older varieties, which tend to accumulate problems as time goes on.

There are some potato breeders working on creating varieties of potatoes that can be grown from seeds giving offspring essentially identical to the parents, thus ensuring that the variety can be continued with minimal disease load. It's also a lot easier to transport potato seeds than seed potatoes, making them much more mobile; important in times of changing climate and political unrest.

Europeans (and North Americans) were introduced to potatoes through a very narrow selection of varieties, and have consequently a very narrow idea of what potatoes should be like, with too much reliance on potatoes from a small and impoverished genetic stock. In their original homelands of Peru and Bolivia and beyond, there are thousands of potato varieties, in multiple species.  Potato breeders are working to incorporate the strengths of these little known but often very robust potatoes into commercially viable and useful strains. In particular, potatoes are always at war with late blight, the fungus that famously caused the Irish potato famine of the 1840's, and potato growers need more resistant varieties. I'm not engaging in anything so considered or vital - I'm just growing potato seedlings for my own entertainment and edification.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Buckwheat Crepes

It's crepes again! The recipe is essentially the same as for wheat flour crepes, the only difference being that less flour is required. Buckwheat gives them a robust and distinctive flavour that is really delicious. They are very appropriate for savoury fillings, or you could match them with buckwheat honey and butter for a sweet treat.

8 to 12 crepes - 4 to 6 servings
45 minutes prep time

I find the crepes much easier to turn if I leave a little space along one side to allow me to get the lifter in under it. It's not as elegant as a perfectly round crepe, but since I serve them folded or rolled, it is not that noticeable.

4 large eggs
2 cups low-fat milk (skim to 2%)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup buckwheat flour
about 2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil

Whisk the eggs and milk together thoroughly in a mixing bowl. Whisk in the salt and buckwheat flour, to make a smooth, thin batter.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. 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.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Curried Squash Soup

I hope you can still find squash out there. My laundry room is still bursting at the seams with them, although we have been doing our best to keep them moving along.  This soup managed to use up a whole one, and quite a good sized one too. Four pounds, perhaps. When you are eyeballing a squash to choose, you should pick one that gives the visual impression of 8 cups, to allow for peeling, deseeding, and shrinkage while cooking.

You can use what squash you like, but I like butternut. It is by far and away our favourite squash, and I think we are going to stop growing much else, because why grow it if it isn't our favourite?

I made this for people who don't like much heat, so I didn't add any chile-garlic sauce to the pot of soup. It got added to some individual bowls, though, and those of who thought that would be an improvement, thought it was an improvement.

8 servings
30 minutes prep time, plus about 1 hour to roast the squash
but not including cooling time

4 cups mashed cooked squash
4 cups unsalted chicken stock
1 tin rich coconut milk
6 to 8 keffir lime leaves, fresh or dried
3 or 4 shallots
3 or 4 cloves of garlic
1" x 1" x 3" piece of fresh ginger
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
3 tablespoons Malaysian curry powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

To roast the squash, cut it in half and remove the seeds. Rub the cut sides with a little vegetable oil, and roast it at 375°F for about 1 hour, until tender when pierced with a fork. Allow the squash to cool, at least enough to handle, before proceeding.

Peel and mash the squash, and put it in a large soup pot with the chicken stock, coconut milk, and keffir lime leaves. Bring to a simmer; stir occasionally.

Peel and chop the shallots,  peel and chop the garlic, and peel and mince the ginger. Heat the oil in a skillet, and cook the shallots gently until softened and only very slightly browned. Add the garlic and ginger, and cook for a minute or two more. Add the curry powder and salt, and again, cook for a minute or two more. Stir constantly.

Add the contents of the skillet to the soup, swishing out the skillet with a little of the broth. Return it to the soup. Continue simmering the soup, stirring occasionally, for another 20 minutes to half an hour.

Remove the keffir lime leaves and discard them. Purée the soup in a food processor or blender, in several batches, until very smooth. This soup is better the next day; but in any case, heat it a simmer before serving.

Last year at this time I made Vegetable Soup with Cheese Dumplings

Monday, 19 January 2015

Pasta "alla Pizza"

This is rather fun, but a little more complex and time consuming than most of the pasta dishes I make.  Also pretty rich! It's still a family type meal rather than something for fancy entertaining. Informal entertaining, maybe. Perhaps a good way to celebrate Friday. Finish the meal off with a nice green salad or steamed green vegetable.

I picked pepperoni, mushrooms, peppers, and onions as very classic pizza toppings, not to mention seasonally available right now. If you have other favourite toppings, feel free to use them instead. The goal is to produce a pasta dish that reminds you of your favourite pizza. I used linguine for the pasta, but again, just about any favourite pasta will work, although I would not use one that takes less than 10 minutes to cook or more than 14. Still, that will allow most of them.

You will need to use your judgement as to whether other ingredients need pre-cooking with the sauce, or can just go onto the top when the pasta is ready to go into the oven. I would sauté most vegetables, but things like anchovies, hot pepper rings (pickled), olives, etc, I would add when the pasta gets sauced. Any type of sausage that goes on pizza would be fine, but I might stay away from bacon, unless you really love it, because I think it ought to be pre-cooked separately, then placed on top of the sauce. Not impossible, but a bit fiddly.

I turned to Google to discover if this dish was out there already, and I found a few Italian versions, which actually reassured me some. They seemed to consist of pasta with a thick tomato sauce, heavily seasoned with oregano, and mozzarella cheese. The Italians definitely take a more minimalist, or should I say purist, attitude to pizza. Being a North American, I am inclined to put more in there. I do think it is not a bad idea to keep it to 3 or 4 well-considered additions though.

I also suggest, since this finishes cooking in the oven, that you use a tomato sauce that is no thicker than average, and perhaps a little thinner. Since the pasta finishes cooking in the sauce, it will soak up quite a bit of liquid and leave the sauce much thicker.

makes 4 to 6 servings
45 minutes - 25 minutes prep time


100 to 150 grams button mushrooms
1 medium green or red pepper
1 medium onion
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
2 tablespoons rubbed oregano
3 cups tomato sauce
450 to 500 grams dry pasta
250 grams (1/2 pound) pepperoni sausage
250 grams  (1/2 pound) mozzarella cheese
other pizza topping ingredients as desired...

Clean, trim, and slice the mushrooms. Wash, trim and dice or thinly slice the pepper. Peel and slice the onion. Peel and mince the garlic.

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta, and preheat the oven to 375°F. I put the shallow casserole dish from which the pasta is to be served into the oven to preheat with it.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, and sauté the mushrooms, pepper, and onion slices until softened and slightly browned. Mix in the garlic and the oregano - yes, buddy, I said 2 tablespoons - and cook for just a minute or so more before adding the tomato sauce.

Meanwhile, when the water boils, add the pasta to it and cook it for HALF the recommended time on the package. Drain  it well, and arrange it in the casserole.

The other thing you do while the vegetables are sautéing, is slice the pepperoni and cheese. The pepperoni should be a bit chunkier than you would put on a pizza; the mozzarella slices should be about the same thickness.

Arrange about 1/3 of the mozzarella slices in amongst the pasta once it is drained and placed in the casserole. Pour the sauce, etcetera, over the pasta, and spread the etcetera out as evenly distributed over the pasta as you can. Dot the top with the remaining slices of mozzarella.

Put the casserole back in the oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until the cheese looks fairly melted. Turn the oven on to broil, and place the casserole under the broiler for 3 or 4 minutes, until the cheese is lightly browned. Let the casserole rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Last year at this time I made Mashed Squash with Roasted Garlic and Balsamic Reduction.

Friday, 16 January 2015

It's Time! My Annual Review of the Seed Catalogues

In between cataloguing all of our saved seeds, I've spent the last few weeks checking out Canadian seed companies' web sites, to see if they have their lists of "new" seeds up yet. Finally, most of them do, and Mr. Ferdzy and I can now start fighting discussing which ones we would like to grow this year. It does get harder every year to justify adding new varieties, as the quantity that we are already growing and saving seed from increases. Still, nothing will stop me from looking.

One of the things that has become clear is that there are 2 - okay, 3 - very noticeable trends this year: grains and grain-like seeds for the home garden, and "blue" tomatoes. Both a lot of fun, and I may just partake! Also, it seems "yardlong" beans are suddenly all over the place - and yeah, I have a packet of those I bought last year and haven't managed to squeeze in yet. This year for sure! I would hate to be out of fashion. 

So, as has become an annual tradition, here is a list of most of those Canadian seed companies, and some of their new or at least noteworthy offerings. Don't forget that you can also look in the Canadian Seed Catalogue Index at Seeds of Diversity if there is something specific you are trying to track down - that is the most comprehensive list of varieties sold in Canada that you will find. Here is last years report which will then take you to all the previous reports.

Agro Hai-Tai; Their catalogue makes fascinating reading. Mostly, they have Asian varieties of familiar vegetables, but there are some things that are extremely startling to the average North American. How about Toon shoots (xiang chun); sprouts of seeds from a deciduous tree! Or you could try growing them into trees, which are still useful as a vegetable. How about growing your own luffa, or chrysanthemum greens as a vegetable? Bottle gourd? Water spinach? Winged bean? Try it, you might like it! Prices are very reasonable, so experimenting will be cheap.

Annapolis Seeds; from the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia, a good selection of organic seeds. This years new introductions include Sweet Granite melon from famed vegetable breeder Elwyn Meader, Magenta Spreen, Blueberries tomato, Eezer Perennial wheat (yeah, we want to try that!), Dark Galaxy tomato, Minutina, Black Salsify, Kabarika Kenyan beans, and Maria Nagy's Transylvanian hot pepper. Lots of other good things from previous years too - Chinese Salad Mallow sounds fascinating.

Burt's Greenhouses: I know people want a source of sweet potato starts! Here is one right here in Ontario (Kingston), with a good selection and good prices. We intend to try their sample pack (3 or more varieties, pot luck) and see how we do. In addition to our old favourite Georgia Jet, they have Toka Toka Gold from New Zealand, Covington and Beauregard (most popular varieties in the southern U.S. at this time), Cuban Red (not Cuban, as far as I can tell), and several Japanese and Korean varieties. Sweeeeet! Potatoes, that is!

The Cottage Gardener: One of our favourite suppliers. Note that to get their new items for 2015, you need to click on "Browse Our Catalogue Online". All-Seasons Cabbage catches my eye, as does Canada Crookneck squash, Canada Wonder beans, Des Vertus Marteau turnip, Hopi Rattle gourd, Indigo Rose tomato, Sumter cucumber, and Arikara sunflower - which you can read about in Buffalo Bird Woman's Garden, an American classic on Arikara gardening techniques. Their list is comprehensive, their seed is organic, and their prices are reasonable.

Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes:  Alas, Eagle Creek has had a tough year. Their crop was seriously damaged by hail, and they have a lot fewer potatoes than they usually do. If you want to order potatoes from them, I suggest you get in there early to get the best selection (or any selection). The good news is, they are starting the process of converting to organic farming!

They still have Linzer Delikatess, Caribe, Pacific Russet, and Nicola, all of which look interesting. Hopefully next year they will have Amarosa, a strongly red-fleshed fingerling that looks amazing! Looks like it was one of the ones that got blitzed this year, though.

Edible Antiques: A relative newcomer to the veggie seed lists, Edible Antiques has a fairly small selection, strongest in tomatoes. However, she has the Montreal melon, Bootheby Blonde cucumber, D'Espelette pepper, Jimmy Nardello pepper, Sandra's Super Storage (a selection of Waltham) Butternut squash, and Thelma Sanders acorn squash. Likely looking tomatoes include Cuban Small, Jaune de Bipani, Ozark Sunrise, and Wapsipinicon Peach.

Greta's Organic Vegetable Garden: Greta, based just outside of Ottawa, has a truly staggering list. In tomatoes alone, she has 255 varieties, including 15 new ones. There are a dozen different "blue" tomatoes, including Dancing with Smurfs, and OSU Blue. Other new veg that catch my eye include Jagallo Nero kale, Bloody Butcher corn, Wong Bok Chinese cabbage, and Capitano beans. Definitely a place to look for hard-to-find items.

Harmonic Herbs: in northern Alberta are a new source to me, although I gather they have been around for a while. They have a smallish but interesting list of herbs, including Sea Buckthorn (is that an herb? Nevermind - Sea Buckthorn seeds!) and also including a few that would make very attractive additions to the perennial flower garden (Maralroot and Skullcap, I'm looking at you). They also have garden-sized packets of seeds and grains including hulless oats and barley, amaranth, buckwheat, golden flax and quinoa. After all this, you would expect the vegetable seeds to take a back-seat, but they have Gaucho Argentinian beans, Turga Hungarian parsnips, Margaret's Sugar Snap peas, and Midnight Lightening zucchini amongst other things. They also do some nice combo packs for those who want to get the most bang, or at least variety, for their buck.

Hawthorn Farm Organic Seeds:  Another favourite supplier! We visited them a while back, and were very impressed. New this year, they have Jade bush bean, Diamond eggplant, Shintokiwa cucumber, and slew of peppers including, Aleppo, Wenk's Yellow Hot, and Corbaci Sweet. They too have some barley, oats, wheat (all new this year) and quinoa. Tender and True parsnip looks good (yes, I am looking for some new parsnip varieties this year). Old favourites include Cylindra, Early Wonder Tall Top, and Touchstone Gold beets, Ping Tung eggplant, Giant Musselburgh leeks, New Red Fire lettuce, Meeting Place Organic Farm snowpeas, and Matchbox Hot pepper, as well as last year's hit, Tatume Mexican zucchini.

Heritage Harvest Seed: It's a good question how their marvellous list could possibly be improved by new additions, but they've managed to find some new things. Sanjaku Kiuri cucumber, Vicar Hulless oats (Told'ja! Told'ja!), Champion of England peas, and Ziar poppyseed all sound very tempting. How about Yellow Carrot-Rooted radishes? Heritage Harvest is also the home of many of our garden favourites, such as Anellino Yellow, Deseronto Potato, Dolloff, and Grandma Nellie's Yellow Mushroom beans, Collective Farm Woman and Gnadenfeld melons, Chieftain Savoy and January King cabbages, and much, much more.

Hope Seeds: Their site is still being updated as I write, but I can see some good things ahead. Things like Rosalind (OP!) Purple broccoli, Tante Alice cucumber, Bernardo's Paste tomato, Listada de Gandia eggplant, and Small Shining Light watermelon. Their specialty though, is east coast heirlooms, and they have a great selection of those, including Melford rutabaga, Tribe's Tobique tomato, Ashworth's Rat Selected corn, and Baie Verte Indian beans. They also have 4 different varieties of Jerusalem artichokes - 2 of them east coast heirlooms - and a good selection of potatoes, including the delightful Pink Firapple, and the apparently similar Swedish Peanut.

Mapple Farm: The original Canadian supplier of sweet potato slips, located in New Brunswick. They recommend Georgia Jet as the best for Canadians, but they have a good selection of other possibilities. Not too much new here - they only mention Oka melons, but some intriguing things back again. French Scorzonera, Turkish Rocket, or Shosaku Gobo can be grown from seed, or Volgo 2 Jerusalem artichokes, Chinese artichokes (also not actually artichokes) and Horseradish can be acquired as roots.

Ontario Seed Company: One of Ontario's oldest remaining seedhouses, OSC carries a mix of conventional and heirloom seeds. Their new items this year include Lutz Greenleaf beet, Red Express Cabbage, Suyo Long cucumber, Lunar White carrot, and Ariana lettuce. Many other oldies and goodies at very reasonable prices, but do watch out for the f1 hybrids. Widely available in Home Hardware stores, although I doubt any of them have the complete list. Still, if that's how you need to get seeds, you could certainly do worse.

Prairie Garden Seeds: After a number of years of essentially being a somewhat idiosyncratic list, Prairie Garden has a new website which is much easier to navigate. They have not yet joined the Paypal world though; you will still need to pay by cheque. It is worth doing however; they have a great selection and prices continue to be very good. Jim Ternier has a great collection of Canadian-bred tomatoes, lots of beans and peas, 5 kinds of corn (in the world of grown-on-the-farm heirloom seed, that's a lot). I have gotten all kinds of fascinating things here. I am not even going to try to list them; just go read his site for hours of amusement and edification, not to mention lots of great seeds.

As for all those other companies jumping on the grains for the home garden bandwagon, Jim says: "Grains/Cereals 82". Yes, he is listing 82 different grains and cereals in small quantities, many of which you will never find anywhere else. That doesn't include the grain-like seeds. This list is a national treasure.

Richters Seeds: Internationally known for their amazingly comprehensive list of herb seeds and plants. I note they have declared my favourite herb, SAVORY, to be herb of the year. No argument from me! On the grain theme of this year, I see they have Teff, the Ethiopian seed used to make injera. Triamble winter squash is new, as are Butterbeans soybean, Taiwan Sugar snap peas, Mars celeriac, Red Swan bean, and Wasabi arugula. Lots of other interesting things as well!

I will note that they are the only Canadian company that I know of still listing genuine French, and Grey shallots - pretty much everyone else has the seed-grown ones now, which are really not the same.

Salt Spring Seeds: Now in their 28th year, they say, and in the last few years they've been branching out into more grains and cereals. Full Pint malting barley is one of their new offerings this year, for you gardener-beer brewers out there. Other new offerings include Japanese Climbing snowpea, Pink popcorn, Pomegranate Crunch lettuce, and lots of herbs. One of the few Canadian companies listing lentils and chick peas. Lots of peas, as befits their mild maritime location.

Solana Seeds: Located in Quebec, Solana seeds has a surprising and interesting list. They are very strong in exotic chiles (peppers), melons, and miscellaneous exotica. New this  year is Biquinho Yellow chile, a chinense variety, de Bode peppers, and Cumari do Para peppers - all Brazilian varieties. I note they have not one, but two, kinds of pepino. Lots of fun things. Quantities per packet can be small, but prices are generally very reasonable.

Stellar Seeds: Another B.C. seed company. I'm not seeing new listings, as such, although I note they have a write up about Amaranth on their front page. Look for Jack's Giant beans, Padron peppers, Lancer parsnips, Yellow Bedfordshire onions, Burgundy amaranth, and Satsuke Madori cucumber, amongst many others.

Sunshine Farm: located in the Kelowna Valley, B.C. I'm not seeing new items listed for 2015, but the whole company is new to me. Things that appeal to me: Haricot Tarbais beans, Dutch Golden carrot, Beluga lentils, and Golden Egg eggplant. There are 172 different tomatoes, if I'm not mistaken. 

Tatiana's TomatoBase: One thousand and fifteen varieties of tomato seed for sale. Let me say that again: one thousand and fifteen varieties of tomato seed. If you can't find it here, it's probably not out there. Seed prices and quantities are fine, seeds may not have been grown last year but dates are noted and you should have a couple of years of good germination left. But, there's more. Tatiana has an excellent selections of lettuces, peppers, squash, melons and watermelons, as well as a sprinkling of other vegetables. She has access to many varieties from Russia, which as it shares a similar climate with Canada means there are very interesting things here for the Canadian gardener. As a bonus, Tatiana maintains an encyclopedia of tomato varieties, so this is the place to do research on anything tomato.

Terra Edibles: They are the first of the new wave of we-grew-it-ourselves seed companies that I became aware of, and supplied us with many vegetables that became our favourites back when we were still gardening in an allotment. They are strong in tomatoes and beans, but have a good balanced selection of other vegetables as well. New this year are Charbonniere du Berry tomato, White Mikado tomato, Winterburn pole beans, Wachichu flint corn, Hungarian Hot Wax pepper, and German Giant radish. They also have, as always, a small but very choice selection of individual colours of sweet peas (ornamental).

Tree & Twig Heirloom Vegetable Farm: Here is another seed farm we have had the pleasure of visiting. Linda has a small but always interesting selection of seed, some of which she grows hereself and some of which comes from Seed Savers Exchange in the U.S.

Some things which appeal to me this year include Variegated OP collard greens, and Halbhoher Gruner Krauser kale, which looks like it would do well container grown. Look for Painted Hills Multicoloured sweet corn, Orangeglo watermelon, Morelle de Balbis "groundcherry" (not exactly), Sutton's Harbinger peas, Black Scorpion Tongue peppers, Red Round radishes, and a small but exciting selection of tomatoes including Big Red Peach, Evans Purple Pear, Fahrenheit Blues, Purple Bumblebee, and Togorific.

William Dam Seeds: Last on this list, but one of the places we order from every year! They are one of Ontario's 2 remaining old seed houses. Like the other one (OSC) they have a mixture of conventional and organic, hybrid and open pollinated seeds. However, all their seed is untreated which is really great. (Although, if a company sells mostly treated seed, they will not even get a place on this list.) -They often have things that get hyped up somewhere else as the latest and greatest, and when I check back with them it turns out they've quietly had it all along. The Dam family are originally from Holland, and they still have a great selection of Dutch varieties that are workhorses. They are also the place to get all your non-seed, non-tool gardening equipment, from organic fertilizer to seed starting trays, row covers, pea mesh, etc, etc. Unfortunately, almost all of their new offerings this year are f1 hybrids, and hence I have zero interest in any of them.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Lamb Chops with Coffee Gravy

If you are a coffee drinker, and if you are planning on lamb chops for dinner, save a little of your morning brew and make this simple coffee gravy to dress them up. I guess you could do it with beef steaks instead, although I never have - for me, coffee goes with lamb just as well as mint does, and considerably easier to get at this time of year.

2 or 4 servings
25 minutes prep time

4 medium-large (500 grams; 1 pound) lamb chops
1/4 cup brewed cold coffee
2 tablespoons coffee cream (10%)
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon arrowroot or corn starch
1/2 teaspoon sugar, optional

Trim as much fat from the lamb chops as seems reasonable, and render it in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once there is enough to keep the chops from sticking, remove and discard any remaining solid bits. Add the chops and cook on each side for 6 to 7 minutes, until well browned and cooked through. Remove them to a serving dish or distribute onto the diners' plates.

While the chops cook, mix the remaining ingredients in a small bowl or measuring cup. If as a coffee drinker you like your coffee quite sweet, you may wish to add the sugar; if you don't, leave it out.

Once the chops have been removed from the pan, pour off any accumlated amount of fat, beyond just enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Return the pan to the heat, and pour in the well-mixed sauce ingredients, stirring briskly as you do. Cook for another 2 or 3 minutes, scraping up the bits in the pan and stirring well, until the sauce thickens. Pour it over the chops and send them out into the world. Clapshot or mashed potatoes, perhaps with cabbage and peas alongside, will make excellent travelling companions.

Last year at this time I made Stuffed Chicken Meatloaf.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Braised Red Cabbage & Onion with Goat Cheese

It makes me a little sad that the photo cannot convey just how utterly delectable this was. Yes, it has the usual sweet-sour thing going on that always seems to happen with cooked red cabbage, but the plentiful application of onions and goat cheese make it a fairly different version from the usual. And so, so good. Not the simplest thing I've ever made, but not particularly complicated either, and on the table in just over half an hour. In short, it's a winner.

Because the goat cheese makes it fairly rich, this is best served as part of a vegetarian ensemble, or if you want to serve it with meat it should be something fairly light such as simply cooked lean chicken or fish.

The onions I got were sold as pink onions, but alas, they are not the same as the pink onions I was so excited about a few years ago. Still pretty good, but just a regular onion. On the other hand, this was our first successful red cabbage out of our garden. Progress! And it was keeping quite nicely, too.

4 servings; maybe. People will fight for this.
35 minutes prep & cook time

Braised Red Cabbage & Onion with Goat Cheese

4 cups finely chopped red cabbage
2 medium pink or red onions (2 cups chopped)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
4 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons maple syrup
a good grind of black pepper
1 teaspoon ground ginger
75 to 100 grams (3 to 4 ounces) soft chevre (goat cheese)

Chop the cabbage fairly finely, and peel and chop the onions in similar sized bits.

Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat, then cook the onions for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly. They should not brown, but cook down a bit and soften.

While they cook, mix the soy sauce, vinegar, water, and maple syrup in a small bowl. Add the cabbage and the sauce, and mix well. Season with the pepper and ginger. Let the mixture cook, still slowly over medium heat, stirring regularly, for another 10 to 15 minutes, until the liquid has evaporated or been absorbed, and it caramelizes just very slightly. You will need to watch it particularly at the end. The step from caramelized to scorched is very short.

Immediately put two-thirds of the cooked cabbage and onions into a serving dish, and dot it with spoonfuls of the goat cheese. Cover it with the rest of the cabbage and onions, and serve at once.

Last year at this time I made Bittersweet Waldorf Salad.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Mushrooms on Toast

Over the holidays we ate at several restaurants, and at one of them I had mushrooms on toast as an appetiser. Why didn't I think of that?! So simple, and so good. And so... here's my version.

You could serve these as canapés, passed around on a tray (but I would use a  higher proportion of toast to mushrooms) or you could serve them as an appetiser, 2 toasts per person. I don't think they are quite the thing that most people would want to eat to make a full meal, but if you were serving a first course, a second course, and dessert, they would make an excellent first course with 3 slices of toast per serving. The recipe I am giving is half of what I made - the volume of which can be deduced from the picture - but maybe that's quite a lot. I'm not actually sure of that. We had, as ever, no trouble eating it all, with just a little salad on the side.

Use a mixture of oyster, shiitake, and button mushrooms if you can, but even just plain button mushrooms will be delicious. Whatever you use, discard any parts that are tough and woody when you trim them. I would have added a little splash of sherry if I had had any, but I didn't. Likewise, if there had been any parsley kicking around, a little scatter over the top would have given a nice touch of colour.

makes 2, 3, or 6 servings - easily doubled
30 minutes prep time

Mixed Mushrooms on Toast

6 slices baguette
150 grams mixed mushrooms
1 small shallot
1 large clove of garlic
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon rubbed savory or thyme
a pinch of celery seed, ground
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup light cream

Slice the baguette and set it aside; start to toast it once the mushrooms are in the pan and starting to cook down a bit. You can butter it or not, as you like, but keep in mind the mushrooms are pretty rich.

Clean, trim, and chop the mushrooms fairly coarsely. Peel and mince the shallot. Peel and mince the garlic.

Heat the butter and oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once it is sizzling, add the shallots, stir well, then the mushrooms. Let them cook for 3 or 4 minutes, until softened, slightly browned, and reduced in volume. Stir frequently. Once they are looking about three-quarters done to your liking, add the savory or thyme, the celery seed, salt, a good grind of pepper, and the Worcestershire sauce. Stir in the garlic, and cook for a minute or so. Stir in the balsamic vinegar until well mixed and absorbed, and then stir in the cream. As soon as it too is absorbed, leaving the mushrooms just moist, turn them out onto the slices of prepared toast.

Last year at this time I made Spicy Cornmeal Crisps and Rye & Potato Crackers. Which should apparently be made a week or two in advance, which is always (well, often) kind of handy.