Friday, 30 December 2016

Ground Beef & Mushroom Stroganoff

The last time I made Beef Stroganov (or Stroganoff, if you prefer) it was a budget effort. Still, that was a definite party or special occasion dish. This on the other hand is frankly workaday. Versions of it made with canned mushroom soup abound, but there is no need to abrade your tongue with that much salty muck. I don't think this is any slower to do than the versions with canned soup, since it can still be made in about the time it takes to bring a pot of water to a boil and cook some noodles. You are probably just chopping a few more mushrooms and spending a little more for the ingredients - a good investment in good food.

Dill or Russian tarragon pickles often show up in Stroganoff, and a very good addition they are too. 

4 servings
30 minutes prep time

Ground Beef & Mushroom Stroganoff

375 grams (12 ounces) egg noodles
2 medium onions
2 medium shallots
2 to 4 cloves of garlic
300 grams (10 ounces) button mushrooms
2 tablespoon unsalted butter
500 grams (1 pound) lean ground beef
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon rubbed thyme or savory
3 tablespoons soft unbleached flour
1 1/2 cups beef or chicken broth
1 medium dill pickle, diced
3/4 cup sour cream

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil for the noodles. Cook them according to the package instructions.

As soon as the water is on the stove, peel and slice the onions. Peel and chop the shallots. Peel and mince the garlic, and set it aside. Clean, trim, and slice the mushrooms.

Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When it is melted add the onions and shallots, and cook, stirring frequently, until softened. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring regularly, for about 5 minutes until you see some signs of browning. At this point, add the crumbled ground beef, the garlic, the salt and pepper, the mustard, and the thyme or savory. Mix in well, and cook until the ground beef is done. Stir regularly.

Sprinkle the mixture with the flour, mix in, and cook for another few minutes. Add the beef or chicken broth and simmer until thickened; about 5 minutes. Dice the dill pickle and add half of it. Mix in the sour cream.

Serve the Stroganoff tossed with the cooked, drained noodles, or on top of them. Garnish with the remainder of the dill pickle sprinkled over top.

Mixing the Stroganoff with the noodles keeps the noodles from sticking to each other but creates a homelier dish. Speaking of homely, I would be as inclined to serve this over toast just as much as noodles, and that might be a good way to serve any leftovers.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Apple & Rutabaga Soup

This was a very nice soup, with subtle but slightly surprising flavours. I used Empire apples but really, you can use whatever kind you like for this.

I just mashed mine and left it fairly rustic, but if you want something more suave, you can run it through the food processor with a teaspoon of starch, and reheat it until thickened. Just remember to remove the allspice and star anise first. 

4 servings
50 minutes prep time

Apple & Rutabaga Soup

2 cups peeled, diced rutabaga
4 cups unsalted chicken or vegetable stock
2 or 3 allspice berries
1 star anise
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 small onion (1/2 cup chopped)
1 medium carrot (1/2 cup chopped)
1/2 cup peeled, chopped celeriac OR 1 stalk celery
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium apples (2 cups diced)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons sherry (optional)
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Peel and dice the rutabaga. Put it in a soup pot with the chicken stock, allspice, star anise, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil an simmer for 25 to 30 minutes, covered. If the chicken stock reduces too much, top it up with a bit of water.

Meanwhile, peel and chop the onion. Peel and chop the carrot. Peel and chop the celeriac, or trim and chop the celery.

Heat the butter in a mid-sized skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the onion, carrot, and celeriac until softened and reduced. While they cook, wash the apples and chop them into dice, discarding the cores. You may peel them or not as you like - I left mine on and did not find them distracting. Add them to the pan of vegetables when ready and cook until they too are softened and reduced in volume.

When the rutabaga has simmered for 25 to 30 minutes, add the vegetables from the pan. Season with the vinegar, sherry, and Worcestershire sauce. Mix well and simmer for a further 10 minutes. Remove the allspice and star anise, and mash well or purée before serving.

Last year at this time I made Celeriac Dip.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Beet, Apple & Goat Cheese Stacked Salad

I'm always such a sucker for a fancy presentation. There's no question, it can be very nice! I will also admit that such presentations usually take extra time and fiddling on the part of the cook, and tend to make things harder to eat. This one certainly fits that pattern.

The stacks consist of layers of firm (beets), crunchy (apples), and smooshy (cheese). This is a slightly tricky combination to cut, and I suggest you supply each diner with a steak knife to best approach these.

There is also a lot of "waste" from these, because you will have the trimmings from the stacks themselves, as well as bits of the apple and beets which were not suitable for cutting into 2" or larger rings. Don't throw that away! Chop it all up a bit and toss it together with any leftover cheese and marinade; put it back in the fridge and serve it in little scoops on mixed greens tomorrow as a more informal salad. Of course, if you can't be bothered with cutting your salad into fancy stacks at all, you could do that with the whole lot in the first place.

And now it's time to take a break for Christmas... we are up to 11 here this year so it will be a very full house and lots to do. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone. I hope all my readers have good holidays, and best wishes to you all for a happy new year.  

4 to 6 servings
30 minutes prep time
 - not including cooking or marinating the beets

Beet, Apple & Goat Cheese Stacked Salad

Cook & Marinate the Beets:
2 to 3 large beets (about 500 grams; 1 pound)
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary, ground
1/4 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
the juice of 1 large orange, minus 3 tablespoons set aside

Cook the beets in plenty of water to cover until tender; given that you want to use quite large beets expect it to take somewhere between 45 minutes to an hour. Drain and cool enough to handle. Peel them and slice them a scant 1/4" thick.

Mix the ground rosemary, orange zest and orange juice in a coverable container. Add the beet slices, gently moving them to be as covered in orange juice as possible. Cover them and set them aside for an hour. They can also be put in the refrigerator and kept until the next day.

Make the Salad:
150 grams (5 ounces) soft goat cheese (chèvre)
3 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon rich milk or light cream
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary, ground
1/4 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 or 2 large apples (same diameter as the beets)
about 2 cups mixed salad greens
parsley or walnut halves to garnish

Put the goat cheese in a small mixing bowl, and mix in the orange juice and cream to make a light, spreadable but not runny mixture. Mix in the rosemary, orange juice, salt, and pepper.

Wash the apple(s) and cut into scant 1/4" slices. Cut out the cores.

Stack the slices of beet and apple, spreading about a teaspoon of the cheese mixture into a 2" circle in the middle of each slice as you go. I found 3 slices of beet with 2 slices of apple worked well. You should start and finish with a slice of beet - the apple is inclined to break when cut, so it's better inside. Don't spread cheese on the top slice.

Cut the finished stacks with a good sturdy, sharp, 2" biscuit cutter. Be sure to centre it well and press down gently and evenly. When the biscuit cutter has made it down to the cutting board all around, use a knife to trim away the cut off bits. Lift the stack, with the cutter still around the base, and press gently up to remove it from the cutter. Place it on a bed of salad greens, either on a serving platter or on individual serving dishes. Garnish with a sprig of parsley or a walnut half held in place with a dab of cheese. Repeat with the remaining slices of beet and apple, and the cheese.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Cucidata - Italian Fig Cookies

Oh, here is that stray cookie recipe that almost got away! These are a traditional Italian cookie, and they are like glamorous and much more interesting Fig Newtons. The instructions are a bit detailed but really, they are probably easier than rolled and cut cookies. Make the filling, make the dough, wrap, slice, bake, eat. Perfect! They seem to be keeping pretty well too.

These are not the sweetest cookies ever. Some people brush a little glaze over them. I didn't but if you wanted to, just thin 1 cup of icing sugar with 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, and about a tablespoon of milk. Brush it on with a pastry brush, adding a little more milk if it stiffens up before you can get it onto them - that's a hint; you should work quickly.

72 cookies
1 hour 30 minutes prep time - plus1 hour chill time

Cucidata - Italian Fig Cookies

Make the Filling:
1 cup chopped figs
1 cup raisins
1 cup mixed candied peel
the finely grated zest of 1 large navel orange
the juice of 1 large navel orange (about 2/3 cup)
1/3 cup rum or brandy
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Trim the stems from the figs, and chop the figs. Put them in a pot with the remaining filling ingredients, and bring them to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes, until all the liquid is absorbed - check carefully during the last few minutes. Let cool.

Put the filling into the bowl of a food processor and process until finely chopped and cohesive. Turn out into a bowl and set aside until needed.

Make the Dough:
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups soft  (pastry) whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Cream the butter and sugar until light. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla extract.

Mix the soda into the flour, then stir it into the butter and egg mixture. The dough will be quite stiff; at some point I find it easiest to abandon my spoon and mix the dough with my hands. Do not over-knead it, however. 

Wrap the dough in parchment or plastic and chill it for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Divide the dough evenly into 3 parts. Roll out each section on parchment paper, to form a rectangle about the size of a piece of paper (8.5" x 11"). Trim and patch the dough to make it as neat a rectangle as possible. The dough is very putty-like, and will patch together nicely. When you have your rectangle, cut it in half across the longest way, to form 2 sections of about 4" x 11".

Divide the filling equally into 6 parts. Using wet hands, form one part into a long rope, the length of one of the pieces of dough, that is, 11". I do this on the parchment paper next to the rectangle of dough. I then use a thin metal icing spatula to loosen it and lift it onto the centre of the strip of dough. Use the spatula to loosen the dough from the parchment as well. Fold up the sides of the dough to form a tube around the filling, and transfer it to one of the prepared pans, seam-side down. Cut the filled tube of dough into 12 equal sections and spread them out, at least an inch apart in every direction.

Repeat with the remaining dough and filling, forming 6 filled tubes of dough in total. If the dough gets warm and sticky as you roll it out, you can sprinkle it and the rolling pin with a little icing sugar to help keep it dry. However, if it is too soft and warm for that to work you may need to return the dough to the fridge for a few minutes.

When you have half the cookies prepared and laid out on one of the baking sheets, bake them for 12 to 15 minutes until very lightly browned and firm. Repeat with the remaining cookies.

Let cool and store in a tightly covered tin, in a cool spot.

Last year at this time I made Chai Honey Butter

Friday, 16 December 2016

Vegetarian Sausage

We always have a vegetarian at the table for Christmas dinner, so I always have to come up with at least one dish that is reasonably festive and suitable for them. And of course, everyone else will want to try it too.

Wheat gluten, sold as vital wheat gluten or gluten flour, is the protein part of wheat with the starch removed. In the old days you had to rinse it out yourself and it was a bit of a chore. Now, you can buy it ready to go. Like bread, the sausage mixture should be kneaded until the gluten forms strands and becomes smooth and a bit rubbery; it's these strands that give the result a meat-like texture. It can be hard to cook these gluten based mixtures so they aren't dry; a lot of recipes add beans, tofu, or vegetables to keep them moist. Good tasting yeast is often added because it has a distinctly chicken-like flavour, especially when combined with the right herbs.

It's both a nuisance and a benefit that these are best cooked in advance, then fried to reheat them and put a nice crisp finish on them. It makes them a bit of a project, but the final cooking is fast and easy and not too much work at the last moment.

It took me a couple of tries to get these satisfactory, and we have been enjoying them cut up into slices, fried and then put in tomato sauce, and served over pasta. I tried forming some into cutlets, which gives you lots of crispy surface but the soft, sausagey interior seems odd that way. We prefer them sausage shaped. Patties might be more convincing, and would be good on a bun.

8 to 12 servings
1 hour 20 minutes - 40 minutes prep time - plus 15 minutes to fry
 - but not including 1 hour to soak the lentils

Vegetarian Sausage

1 cup red lentils
1/4 cup dried tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon salt
boiling water
1 cup grated carrot
2 cups grated (raw) beets
4 to 6 cloves of garlic
1/3 cup good tasting yeast
1/3 cup chick pea flour
4 teaspoons poultry seasoning
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1/2 cup mild vegetable oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 cup gluten flour

Put the red lentils, dried tomatoes, and salt into a glass or ceramic mixing bowl (which will hold the heat better than metal or plastic) and pour boiling water over them to cover generously. Cover the bowl and let sit for 1 hour.

Wash, peel, and trim the carrots and beets. Grate and measure them into the bowl of a food processor. Add the remaining ingredients except the gluten flour, and process until well blended. Add the drained lentils and tomatoes, and process again. The mixture should be fairly smooth but with some texture to it; quite a bit like actual sausage meat.

Turn the mixture out into a mixing bowl, and stir the gluten flour in by hand. Turn the mixture out onto a clean, dry counter top or sheet of parchment and knead for a few minutes. It will be fairly sticky, but should form a soft but cohesive ball.

Cut the mixture into 8 to 12 equal portions. Form them into "sausages" and roll them up in pieces of parchment paper, folding over the ends to make a neat packet. Steam them for 40 to 45 minutes, until firm to the touch.

To serve, fry the sausages in oil until brown on all sides and serve hot.

These can be frozen, or will keep in the fridge for up to a week before being fried.

Last year at this time I made Fresh Raw Cranberry Orange Relish.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Leek & Spinach Dip

Leeks again! We had a fabulous harvest of them this year, and there are a couple of dozen in the fridge still waiting to be used. Of course, at this time of year the spinach will have to be frozen. I try not to call for too many frozen vegetables in my recipes because it seems like cheating, somehow; but the reality is that we use a lot of frozen vegetables over the winter. That's much of the purpose of having a very large garden.

This is a pretty classic dip, but none the worse for that. Onions are more usual, and you could replace the leek with a couple of medium ones, but the leek is to my mind both more subtle and more interesting. 

8 to 16 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

Leek & Spinach Dip

4 - 6 cloves of garlic
1 large leek
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon dried dillweed
1 teaspoon rubbed savory
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, ground
1/2 teaspoon salt
a good grind of black pepper
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
150 grams (5 ounces) cooked (frozen) spinach, thawed

Peel and mince the garlic. Trim the leek, chop it finely, rinse it and drain it very well. Heat the butter in a small skillet and cook the leek in it gently for 5 to 10 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. Don't let it brown; it should just soften and cook down as it sizzles slightly. Add the garlic and dry spices for the last few minutes of cooking.

Meanwhile, mix all the other ingredients except the spinach. Chop the spinach very finely - mince it , really - and add it as well.

Add the leeks and garlic, and mix the dip thoroughly. Spoon it into a serving bowl and keep chilled until ready to serve; allow at least an hour for the flavours to develop and meld. Serve with chips or crackers. It also makes a fine topping for baked potatoes.

Last year at this time I made Squash & Chevre Strata

Monday, 12 December 2016

Ham & Leek Quiche

Here is a very classic combination and one I really love. Ham, leeks, cheese, pastry... ohhhh yesssss. So good. And easy, and something that can be made in advance, and suitable for a work-day lunch or a Christmas buffet.

Much as I love the combination of ham and cheese, I am obliged to admit that this could be made suitable for vegetarians by leaving it out and replacing it with a cup of diced, fried mushrooms (2 cups when raw). 

4 to 6 servings
1 hour 15 minutes - 30 minutes prep time
plus some time to cool

Ham & Leek Quiche

pastry for single 9" pie crust

3 cups sliced leeks
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon soft unbleached flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
a grating of nutmeg
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 large eggs
1 cup 10% cream
100 grams (4 ounces) old Cheddar cheese
100 grams (4 ounces) diced smoked ham
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Make your pastry, or use a frozen pie shell. Half of this one; or half of this one would work well. At any rate it should be baked at 450°F for 10 minutes once it has been rolled and fitted to the pie plate, and pricked with a fork to prevent bubbling. Let it cool slightly.

Wash and trim the leeks. Cut them once down the middle lengthwise, then into slices of about 1/4". Rinse them again and drain them very well.

Heat the butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat, and add the leeks once it is melted and beginning to bubble. Cook, stirring regularly, until quite soft but not browned; about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the flour for the last couple of minutes, mixing it in well until there are no signs of it left, other than a slight stickiness.

Preheat (or reduce) the oven to 350°F.

Whisk the eggs, cream, and seasonings together. Dice the Cheddar and the ham, and grate the Parmesan.

Layer the cooked leeks, the Cheddar and the ham in the prepared pie crust, adding two tablespoonfuls of the Parmesan to the middle. Slowly pour the egg and cream mixture over the leeks, ham, and cheese, allowing it to percolate through the the bottom as you go. Once it is all in, sprinkle the remaining Parmesan over the top.

Bake for 40 minutes until puffed and slightly browned. Let cool to just warm or to room temperature before serving.

Last year at this time I made Brussels Sprouts, Sweet Potatoes & Shallots

Friday, 9 December 2016

Super Seedy Rye Crackers

Another (upcoming) Christmas, another round of crackers. Yes I know I promised cookies, but you are getting crackers. You can't complain; they're SUPER SEEDY! And also delicious. My experience is that most crackers benefit from being made at least a week or 2 in advance of the time wanted, so that's something to keep in mind.

36 crackers
40 minutes - 20 minutes prep time

1 cup whole rye flour
1/4 cup flax meal
1/4 cup poppy seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup pepitas (green pumpkin seeds)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon caraway seed
3/4 teaspoon cumin seed
1/3 cup sunflower seed oil
1/2 cup cold water
1/2 to 2 teaspoon sea salt to top

Measure the rye flour, flax meal, poppy seeds, and sesame seeds into a mixing bowl. Measure the sunflower seeds and pepitas and chop them coarsely, either with a large knife on a cutting board or in a food processor. Add them to the mixing bowl, along with the 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Coarsely grind the caraway and cumin seeds and add them as well. Mix well.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a large baking tray with parchment paper.

Drizzle the oil and water over the dry ingredients and mix well. It should form a stiff but cohesive dough; if necessary you can add another teaspoon or two of water.

Pat and roll the dough out into as thin and neat a rectangle as you can, on the parchment paper. Cut it with a pizza cutter into 36 crackers (or whatever number you like, really - 36 gives a fairly standard cracker size). Bake the crackers for 20 to 25 minutes until lightly browned and dry-crisp. They will continue to harden as they cool. Break them apart and store them in an airtight tin until wanted.

Last year at this time I made Pad Thai.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Spumoni Cookies

I saw these cookies at An Expat Cooks, and being a fan of all things spumoni, I decided they had to go on the list for Christmas. Of course I fiddled, mostly by cutting the sugar in half (why do people use so much sugar? Nobody who has tried these thinks that the half-sugar version is anything but cookie-sweet.) I also upped the cherries and made them a fair bit smaller, although they didn't take much less time to bake.

To me, spumoni ought to have a mixed peel/tutti-frutti component to it, although modern versions frequently don't. (Yes I am officially old; I spend a lot of time whining about how everything has gotten woooooorse.)

And now I have to admit that actually I didn't put in any mixed peel, but only because I had intended to make the Rolled Spice Cookies which are full of it and I didn't want all my cookies tasting the same. Otherwise, for sure.

36 to 42 cookies
45 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

Spumoni Cookies

2 cups soft unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup shelled pistachios
1 cup dried cherries
OR 1/2 cup dried cherries
and 1/2 cup mixed peel

Measure the flour and mix in the baking powder and salt; set aside

Cream the butter and sugar until very light, then beat in the eggs one at a time. Mix in the almond and vanilla extract. Mix in the flour, along with the chocolate chips, pistachios, dried cherries, and the mixed peel if using.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line 2 baking trays with parchment paper.

Drop the dough by spoonfuls onto the prepared parchment paper, keeping the cookies 2 to 3 inches apart. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until set on top and just starting to brown at the edges. Remove to a rack to cool.

Last year at this time I made Rum-Ball Bars. The cake has been baked for this years; they'll be made in the next day or so! Yes, I'm behind. What else is new. 

Monday, 5 December 2016

Rolled Spice Cookies Again

This is the first time I have re-published a recipe on this blog, essentially unchanged. But my back-stage list of posts tells me that these cookies have been looked at just 78 times, and people, that ain't right. You should be making a pilgrimage to these cookies.

I have to admit that the first time I made them, I carefully put in all the things that I thought would make the ultimate cookie. I mixed them and rolled them and baked them, and thought they were very good. Not quite as ultimate as I was expecting, but very good, so I posted them.

And then they sat around for a few weeks while we ate them. During that time they just got better and better and BETTER. Now that I know these really need to be made in advance and aged, they are MY FAVOURITE COOKIE OF ALL TIME. Yes, I know I said these ones were. But that was then. These are... yes, okay. These are BETTER. On account of being THE BEST COOKIE OF ALL TIME.

As you see, they are quite plain little things but don't be fooled. Just make a bunch of fancier looking things so that when you put these out, people go for the fancier looking things and leave these for you.

I think I've kept these for as long as 2 months, just getting better every day. How long will they keep? I don't know, because I've always eaten them all before then.

Anyway, brace yourselves - it's going to be cookies all week. 

36 to 48 cookies
1 1/2 hours prep time

Rolled Spice Cookies

Mix the Dry Ingredients:
3 cups soft whole wheat flour
1/4 cup sugar (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon anise seed
6 to 8 pods of green cardamom
1/4 cup candied mixed peel, finely minced
2 tablespoons preserved ginger, finely minced
the finely grated zest of 1/2 large navel orange

Mix the flour, sugar, soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon and cloves in a mixing bowl. Toast the anise seed lightly in a dry skillet, and grind them finely, with the cardamom. Sift them into the bowl, discarding the papery husks of the cardamom. Mince the peel and the ginger, and add them to the bowl with the orange zest.

Finish the Cookies:
1/3 cup mild vegetable oil
1/2 cup dark maple syrup
1/4 cup orange juice

Measure the oil and maple syrup into a glass measuring cup, and heat for a minute or so, until the maple syrup is very liquid. Mix with the orange juice, and stir into the dry ingredients.

Mix the dough well, and turn it out to knead for a minute or two. Roll the dough out to about 1/4" thick, or slightly less, on a floured surface or - better - on a sheet of parchment paper.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters, and place them on the trays. Bake for 13 to 16 minutes, until firm and just lightly browned. Re-roll the dough and cut out cookies until the dough is all used.

Speaking of homely but favourite things, last  year at this time I made Onions au Gratin

Friday, 2 December 2016

Finally, A Final Garden Report

I think this is the latest we have ever finished up in the garden. Partly because we were so behind, what with Mr. Ferdzy being out of commission for 6 weeks after mid-August followed by a 2 week trip to Nova Scotia, and partly because the weather has permitted or even required it.

However, 2 days ago we dug a bunch of leeks, carrots, shallots, and rutabaga for storage and cut the last of the cabbages (possibly a mistake - now what do we do with them?)

All the beds are reasonably clean for the winter except for the quadrant where Mr. Ferdzy is standing.

We grew 4 kinds of leeks this year. The top right quadrant shows Portage, a new variety from New Zealand which I received in a trade with the breeder. He would like some of my leek genetics, and he is curious about how this variety will overwinter in Ontario, since New Zealand winters are much milder than ours. I am hopeful that it will do well - it is the second bluest leaved of the varieties, and that's usually a sign of cold tolerance.

The bluest variety is Bandit, a traditional Dutch variety, and the top left quadrant is Verdonnet, a traditional Swiss variety. The bottom right is Inegol, from Turkey. An international leek selection!

Portage and Verdonnet were about the same size; Inegol was the largest by a bit and the Bandit were noticeably smaller than any of the others. There are lots of all the varieties left in the bed to overwinter.

With the long, mild fall we were able to get one of our 2 disastrous beds cleaned up. That just leaves one of them, and the path to one side plus the leg down to the lawn to be gravelled. I have not been able to keep the paths trimmed and they are a big source of weeds in nearby beds. We really hope to get them cleaned up next spring.

Mr Ferdzy demonstrates how he goes through so many pairs of reading glasses, and also digs leeks. From front to back it's Inegol, Bandit, Verdonnet, and Portage.

Slightly off in the distance you can see a bed of spinach covered for the winter. We planted a second bed but did not bother to cover it as germination was so bad. Actually, I don't think germination was bad so much as it was infested with slugs and snails who ate it as fast as it germinated. Why one bed and not the other? No idea. We'll just plant it again in early spring at this point though.

I am hoping to have some lettuce from the garden for Christmas. It would not be the first time, but it is a somewhat unusual occurrence. Right now all the lettuce is self-sown from plants that went to seed earlier. Some of it is in the gravel paths; lettuce seems to like them just fine for growing. I don't mind it; I just keep an eye on them and pick them first, before they can really send down long tap roots and wreck the underlying cloth.

Usually we get a break between end of gardening and the start of Christmas planning; this year no luck. That's the downside of Christmas lettuce.

Next year we plan to downsize the garden somewhat. Now that we can see how much a well maintained and fertilized garden can produce, we don't need so much space and it's too much work to keep it all going, especially as our remaining parents plainly have no intention of doing anything but get older. We're both creaking a little more ourselves these days too. Plus maybe we would like to do some other things besides garden... but that will be another post. Possibly another blog.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Turkey Tourtière

This is actually mixed turkey and chicken tourtière, but I could not resist the alliteration, and you could replace the chicken with a piece of turkey, if you can get it.

It is sometimes said that tourtière is named for the passenger pigeons (known in French as tourtes) which once were very common in Canada. More realistically, it may be named for the dish in which it was baked and is related, linguistically at least, to tortes and tarts. Still, it seems very likely that the first tourtières of New France would have been made with tourtes more often than with pork or beef. I have read about early settlers (in Ontario) complaining about the ubiquity of passenger pigeon at the table; they were so numerous that people turned to them as food the way I turn to a bowl of spaghetti when other foods seem too complicated or time consuming.

Be that as it may, pork or a pork and beef combination is now the nearly universal filling for tourtières. I thought I would do something different though, and I can say I was very pleased with the results.

2 hours - 1 hour prep time
6 to 12 servings

Turkey Tourtière

Make the Pastry:
2 1/4 cups soft unbleached and/or whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup lard or shortening
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 to 4 tablespoons water
1 large egg white
1 teaspoon cream

Measure the flour into a mixing bowl. I used half whole wheat and half unbleached flour. Add the salt and mix it in well, then add the lard and butter cut into thin slices or chunks. Use a pastry cutter to cut the fats in, until they are the size of a pea or smaller throughout. Break in the whole egg, and add the yolk from the second egg, keeping the second white aside in a small bowl.  Work the egg into the dough with a fork. Add the water, a tablespoon at a time, until the dough is moist enough to come together as a ball. I find myself abandoning the fork at some point, and working it with my hands. Gently though; it should not be over-mixed and certainly not kneaded. Use as little water as you can.

When the dough has formed a ball, cover it with a tea towel (leave it in the mixing bowl) and set it aside in a cool place until wanted. Add the cream to the egg white, blend well, and set it aside too.

Make the Filling & Finish the Tourtière:
2 or 3 medium potatoes (300 grams; 10 ounces)
500 grams (1 pound) skin-on but boneless chicken thighs
1 medium onion
2 stalks celery
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
4 teaspoons poultry seasoning, salt omitted
3/4 teaspoon allspice berries, ground
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
500 grams (1 pound) lean ground turkey
2/3 cup fine bread crumbs

Wash the potatoes, trim them - indeed, peel them if you are so inclined - and cut them into small cubes. Put them in a pot with water to cover them well, and bring them to a boil. Boil them for 5 or 6 minutes then drain them and rinse them in cool water. Drain well and set aside.

Meanwhile, cut the skin and fat from the chicken, and chop it roughly. Put it in a large skillet and let it render over medium heat while you chop the chicken into pieces about the size of a teaspoon. Peel and chop the onion finely, and wash, trim, and chop the celery finely. Peel and mince the garlic.

When 2 to 4 tablespoons of fat have been rendered from the skins, remove the solids and discard them. Add the onion, celery, and drained potatoes to the pan and cook, stirring regularly, for about 10 minutes, until softened and very slightly browned. Add the chicken pieces and cook until white throughout. Sprinkle with the seasonings and the garlic, and cook for a minute or 2 more. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

While the filling cools, roll out about 60% of the dough on a sheet of parchment paper, sprinkled with a little flour. Fit it into a 9" pie plate, and peel off the paper.

Mix the ground turkey and bread crumbs into the filling, and place it into the prepared crust. Roll out the remaining pastry on the parchment and flip it onto the top of the tourtière. Pinch it sealed all around, and cut vent holes at intervals in the top crust. Brush it thoroughly with the reserved egg white and cream.

Bake the tourtière for 50 minutes until a deep golden colour. Best to do this on a tray; the pastry is very rich and may spatter grease. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving, although it is equally good warm or cold.

Last year at this time I made Squash Polenta.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Leek Mushroom & Dried Tomato Soup

We always have more dried tomatoes than I know what to do with. In fact, we end up drying some every year because we plant too many tomatoes, but the dried tomatoes I am presently using are from 3 summers ago now. This tasty, easy soup was useful in getting rid of a few of them anyway. Who knows, I may be able to start on last years dried tomatoes before the new season even starts. I guess that would be progress. 

4 to 6 servings
40 minutes prep time

Leek Mushroom & Dried Tomato Soup

1 large leek
1 large stalk celery
225 grams (1/2 pound) button mushrooms
1/2 cup chopped dried tomatoes
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 cups unsalted chicken stock

Wash, trim, finely chop, and rinse the leek again. Drain well. Wash, trim and finely chop the celery. Wash, trim, and chop the mushrooms. Chop the dried tomatoes.

Heat the butter over medium-high heat in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Add the leek, celery, and mushrooms, and cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, until everything has softened and reduced without letting it brown. Add the chopped tomatoes, flour, salt, and pepper and mix well; cook for a few minutes more. Mix in the chicken stock and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes before serving.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Acorn Squash with Sausage Stuffing

This is a simple little dish - really not too much in there - but it was very tasty and satisfying nevertheless. Easy to make, although the long baking time for the squash does make it a little slow.

Anyone who can count, even with the aid of fingers, will soon note I used 3 little Gill's Golden Pippin acorn squash. They really are little though, and for most other varieties the quantity of stuffing made by this will be sufficient for 2 squash, or perhaps if you had a particularly large specimen you could mound it all into just one. I don't think I recommend that though. You'd have to bake them longer, and cut them into serving portions, because half this recipe is going to be too much for almost everybody. Two halves of the little Golden Pippins were enough for us, and if there had been much else on the plate 1 would have sufficed.

When you make the poultry seasoning - which you should do before you start this recipe, along with cubing the bread - omit the salt. Most sausage is pretty salty, and should supply enough. You can taste the mixture before you put it into the squash shells, and add a little more at that point if you think it needs it. If you can't get a plain/breakfast type sausage, then you may need to adjust the seasonings to the sausage you have. If I could only have gotten Italian sausage for instance, I would have replaced the poultry seasoning with some ground fennel seed, hot pepper flakes, and oregano.

If you like the idea and think you can squeeze it in, a cored, chopped apple added to the pan with the garlic may be a good addition. 

3 to 6 servings
1 hour 45 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

Acorn Squash with Sausage Stuffing

2 or 3 acorn squash - see notes above
- approximate total of 750 grams (1 1/2 pounds)
a little mild vegetable oil for roasting them, etc
1 stalk celery
1 medium onion
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
300 grams (10 ounces) plain raw sausage
2 cups finely diced stale bread
2 teaspoons poultry seasoning, salt omitted

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Cut the squash in half, and scrape out the seeds and pulp. Rub the cut sides lightly with oil, and bake them for 1 hour until just tender.

Meanwhile, wash, trim, and chop the celery. Peel and chop the onion. Peel and mince the garlic.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Chop or crumble the sausage, and begin to cook it to brown the crumbles. As soon as it produces a little fat, add the celery and onion - if your sausage is very lean, it may be necessary to add a little oil to get things going.

Cook the sausage, celery, and onion until the sausage is lightly browned through and the celery and onion are soft; stir regularly. Add the garlic and cook a minute or two more. Add the finely diced bread cubes and poultry seasoning, and mix them gently in; cook, stirring carefully for another few minutes until the crumbs are mostly fairly dry and toasted in spots. Set the pan aside to cool somewhat until the squash is ready.

Remove the cooked squash from the oven and reduce the heat to 350°F. Gently scoop the cooked flesh from the shells of the squash onto a plate, leaving the squash shells whole and as unbroken as possible. Mash the squash with a fork. Blend the squash in with the pan of sausage and crumbs, etc. I found it best to use a cutting a folding motion for this. When everything is well and evenly amalgamated, divide the filling into sections equalling the number of squash shells you have. Fill the squash shells with the sausage mixture, mounding it up as necessary. Return the squash to the oven (in the original baking pan) and bake for another half an hour until lightly brown and crispy on top, and very hot through.

Last year at this time I made Beets à la Marmalade.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Pear Panna Cotta with Berry Sauce

My love affair with pears this fall continues!

You do need good, flavourful, ripe pears for this; ripe enough to mash easily with a fork. The resulting panna cotta has a tender, melting texture, but with a bit of grit from the pears. They will never be as smooth as some fruits but that's why we love them.

I recently bought some hazelnut extract which is a hard thing to find. You could use almond extract instead, or I wonder about using a hazelnut liqueur instead of the sherry (or rum). If anyone tries it, please let me know!

4 servings
1 hour prep time - plus 3 hours to overnight chill time

Pear Panna Cotta with Berry Sauce

Make the Panna Cotta:
3 tablespoons sherry or rum
1/8 teaspoon almond or hazelnut extract
3 teaspoons gelatine
1 1/4 cups bosc or Bartlett pear purée
3/4 cup cream
1/4 cup honey
1 extra large egg
a pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
a good scrape of nutmeg

Put the sherry or rum in a small bowl with the extract and sprinkle the gelatine over it. Set it aside until needed.

To make the pear purée, peel, core and chop the pears. They need to be quite ripe and soft but do make sure they are not bland or mushy. Press them through a sieve, scraping the back to collect then measure the purée. I started with about 2 cups of chopped pears and got a cup and and a quarter from them.  Discard any tough or stringy bits that won't go through the sieve.

Put the purée in the top of a double boiler, and mix in the cream, honey, egg, salt, ginger, and nutmeg. Mix well, then turn on the heat and cook, stirring frequently until it begins to thicken; stir constantly towards the end. Once it has thickened slightly and is steaming hot, remove it from the heat. Mix in the soaked gelatine until it is thoroughly dissolved and blended in, then pour it into a prepared 3 cup mold, or 4 individual serving dishes.

Chill until set; about 3 hours. To unmold, dip the mold in hot (tap) water without getting any on the surface of the panna cotta for a few seconds until loosened, then flip it onto the serving plate. Return to the fridge to let it reset. Serve with the berry sauce.

Make the Berry Sauce:
3/4 cup raspberries, blueberries, or cranberries
1 to 2 tablespoons honey
3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon arrowroot or cornstarch (optional)

Put the berries, honey, and water into a small pot and bring to a boil. Boil, covered, for 5 or so minutes until the fruit is all burst and cooked through. Press it through a sieve, discarding any seeds, skins, etc.

Cranberries will make a sauce thick enough to be used without thickening; if you use other berries and think them too thin, return the sauce to the pot with a teaspoon of arrowroot or cornstarch dissolved into 2 teaspoons of cold water, then bring it back up to a boil and cook until thickened, stirring constantly. Put it into its serving dish and chill before serving.

Last year at this time I made Cream of Leek Soup.

Monday, 21 November 2016

"Chicken Soup" Pasta

Everybody loves chicken soup, but sometimes it's just not enough to be a meal. This on the other hand, is plenty. (Maybe too much - I have to say I'm calling for the same amount of pasta for 2 servings that I've always called for, but the reality is that we are now eating half that amount, and half that amount is what I put into this. I've always operated on the assumption that if I say a pasta dish makes "2 servings" that you are going to adjust the quantity of pasta called for to the amount you actually eat, rather than cook what I say, and have too much/not enough*.)

Anyhoo. It's quick, it's simple, it's pasta with the flavours of chicken soup. Sounds like a plan. Of course, if there are other seasonings that are your idea of what it takes to make chicken soup be chicken soup, then those are the seasonings you should use.  I used orecchiette, because they were there, but I can certainly see egg noodles being a good choice for this dish.

You could make this with raw chicken, which is what I did, in which case like me you are likely to need to use vegetable oil to cook the chicken and veggies, or you can use leftover cooked chicken, in which case you may also have some chicken fat. If you've got it, you should definitely use it - it will do nothing but good things for the flavour.

2 to 4 servings
30 minutes prep time

Pasta with the Flavours of Chicken Soup

225 to 250 grams stubby pasta

1 or 2 stalks of celery
1 large carrot
1 large leek
225 grams (1/2 pound) mushrooms
300 grams (10 ounces) skinless, boneless chicken, raw or cooked
2 tablespoons chicken fat or mild vegetable oil
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1 teaspoon rubbed savory
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
generous chopped parsley to garnish

Wash, trim, and chop the celery. Peel and coarsely grate the carrot.

Put a pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta. Put the fat or oil in a large skillet and heat it over medium-high heat. Add the celery and cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, then add the carrots and continue cooking and stirring.

Meanwhile, clean, trim, and coarsely chop the mushroom. Clean the leek, trim off the tough dark green parts and root, then cut it through lengthwise. Cut in slices of about 1 cm. Chop the chicken into bite sized pieces.

When the water comes to a boil, add the pasta and cook for the time suggested on the package, stirring occasionally (I am assuming 10 to 12 minutes) and add the leeks, mushrooms, and the chicken - if it is raw - to the pan. Continue to cook and stir for about 5 or 6 minutes. If the chicken is already cooked, it should be added at the end of this 5 or 6 minutes of cooking.

Season the pan of chicken and vegetables with the seasonings, then sprinkle over the flour. Mix in until it is well absorbed with no signs of whiteness left. Mix in the chicken stock, and continue simmering until the pasta is ready to be drained. This is a good time to get the parsley washed, trimmed, and chopped.

Drain the pasta and add it to the pan of sauce. Mix well, and serve.

*Now I tell you.
Last year at this time I made Cornmeal Waffles.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Pumpkin French Toast

Pumpkin for breakfast! This is a bit faster and easier than the pumpkin waffles from not too long ago. And even possible if you don't have a waffle maker. I got 6 slices, but perhaps they were a little on the large/thick side so you might get one or two more. I was thinking I might freeze leftovers for heating up in the toaster but you know how that went...

My pumpkin came out of the freezer from last year (I know, I know) and was a little on the thin side, even after I cooked it down in a pan. You may need to thin the mixture with a little more milk or cream, or even another egg if yours is as thick as tinned pumpkin. Which it would be, if you used tinned, and in that case would surely give you 8 slices.

6 to 8 slices
40 minutes prep time

Pumpkin French Toast

1 cup cooked, puréed pumpkin or squash
2 large eggs
1/4 cup whole milk OR light cream
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2-3 allspice berries, ground
a grating of nutmeg
6 to 8 slices sandwich bread
4 or so tablespoons mild vegetable oil

Measure all the ingredients except the bread and oil into a shallow mixing bowl. Dip the bread slices into the mixture, turning to cover. This is thicker than the usual French toast coating, so you will need to almost be spreading it around. Lay each piece as it is coated on a plate, and stack them up. You may need to scrape off a little bit from the first dipped pieces to get the last dipped pieces coated. Let them sit on the plate for 5 or 10 minutes to absorb the mixture - put the least coated pieces in between better coated pieces.

Heat about 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the slices of toast until nicely browned on each side, adding a little more oil as needed to prevent sticking and create that nice brown finish. You will need to do them in 2 or 3 batches; keep them warm on a plate in the oven at 200°F until they are all done.

Serve with butter and honey or maple syrup. 

Last year at this time I made Beef with Brussels Sprouts.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Kohlrabies au Gratin

Suddenly kohlrabi seems to be quite trendy and I am seeing it around, even in our local grocery store which is not exactly adventurous. This is a delicious way to serve them; admittedly a bit rich so pair it with simply cooked chicken or fish.

Kohlrabi does take a bit of cooking to get it tender. You must also be careful to peel it sufficiently. I start by slicing off about 1/4" at the base, then peeling my way up. Likely a good 1/4" will need to come off as you start, but the skin gets thinner as you get closer to the top and you can peel off less as you go. Fortunately, it's pretty easy to tell where you should be peeling, as there is a bit of a line between the tough outer skin and the inner, tender pith.

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

Kohlrabies au Gratin

4-6 medium kohlrabies (1 bunch)
1 1/2 cups unsalted chicken stock
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1 teaspoon rubbed savory or thyme
1/3 cup 10% cream
150 grams (5 to 6 ounces) soft goat cheese
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Peel the kohlrabies and slice them thinly; 8 to 10 slices each. Put them in a pot with the chicken stock and bring to a boil; boil for 15 to 20 minutes until tender.

Meanwhile, mix the butter, flour, and seasonings in a small bowl. 

Lift the kohlrabies out of the broth, draining them well, and put them in a shallow 2-quart baking pan. A small lasagne pan would work. Reduce the heat under the chicken stock to very low.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Add the seasoned butter and flour mixture to the pot of chicken stock, and mix in well. Once it is completely blended, return the heat to medium-high, and add the cream and the goat cheese. Mix well, and continue stirring until the mixture simmers and thickens slightly. Remove from the heat at once. Pour it over the kohlrabies, and mix them gently so that each slice is coated in the sauce.

Mix the bread crumbs and grated Parmesan, and sprinkle it evenly over the casserole. Bake for 45 minutes, until lightly browned and bubbling. Let rest 5 minutes before serving.

Last year at this time I made Intruglia

Monday, 14 November 2016

Roasted Beets & Pears

We are getting some large and fabulous beets out of the garden this year. Ours are perhaps a bit pale as we let several varieties cross, including golden beets, but they achieved a great size and flavour. The one downside was that every time the deer broke into the garden they headed straight for the beet greens. Fortunately this didn't seem to set them back too far.

For some reason I've been in the mood for pears this year, so here are some again. The spices enhanced the natural sweetness of the 2 main ingredients, as did the roasting of them. We ate this with some baked chicken thighs but I can really see it going with pork or turkey. 

4 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 20 minutes prep time

Roasted Beets & Pears

4 medium beets
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
2-3 pods of green cardamom, ground
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, ground
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 medium pears

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Peel the beets and cut them into chunks. Put them in a roasting pan with the oil. Crush the cardamom pods and remove the papery green husks, then grind them with the fennel seeds. Add them to the beets. Peel and grate the ginger and add to the beets. Season with salt and pepper, and toss the beets to coat them in oil and distribute the seasonings throughout them.

Roast for 30 to 40 minutes. Just before that time is up, peel the pears, slice, and core them. Add them to the pan, toss to combine, and roast for another 30 minutes.

Friday, 11 November 2016

The Watermelon Projects

Long-time blog readers will know that we are working on 2 watermelon breeding projects. Now that the season is over, it's time to assess how they are doing.

This was a terrific year for growing watermelon. It was a long, hot summer, in fact too dry throughout the middle although as the watermelons were beginning to be harvested it started to rain regularly, and I got to see how they stood up to the pressure to split in the face of a sudden influx of water. On the whole, they didn't do badly.

 In spite of the great conditions and the fact that we got excellent quantities of watermelon, I was a little disappointed with the results of this years grow-out, right from the beginning. It is not so bad that we need to give up, but there is going to be more work and more years going into these projects than I had hoped.

I'll start with the Golden-Rind project, as I guess I am now calling it. I am trying to create an improved version of Golden Midget, which turns yellow when ripe and is extremely early, but which also has enormous seeds, is very small, and the flavour tends to be a bit uneven.

Right from the start we had a hard time getting the seeds of our amazing lucky cross to germinate. Eventually, we had enough plants to fill the allotted bed but some of them went in quite late. The late ones were also late to produce fruit, even in such a marvellous year as this, which makes us reluctant to use them for future grow-outs. The late ones were also either green skinned or the size of golf balls. In spite of the earliness of Golden Midget, none of these were any earlier than our other, much larger, melons.

We did get 7 yellow skinned melons of edible size, ranging from 820 grams to 90 grams. (Yeah; 3 ounces to you. I'm taking a very generous view of what constitutes edible size.) The first 2 to ripen are shown in the above photo (GR001-0825 and GR002-0825). They were also the 2 largest yellow ripeners; the 820 gram one and a 600 gram one.

We still have to decide whether we will plant seeds only from the best couple next year or if we will plant from a larger selection. Right now I am leaning towards a larger selection including up to 3 of the ones that didn't turn yellow when ripe. We know they carry the yellow ripening gene on one side, so the odds that they will produce yellow ripening offspring are 50%, provided that they cross with one of the offspring of the yellow watermelons.

The above watermelon (GR007-0906) was interesting; it didn't turn yellow but it did have quite a large spot that did turn yellow. Partial expression of the yellow ripening gene? Or is it another different gene? I don't know, but still if I use a green-rinded watermelon in next years grow-out, this is a candidate. It was a decent size at 735 grams, had excellent texture and good flavour. (Flavour on the whole was weaker than I wanted by a fair bit, so that is a consideration.) On the down side, the seeds were a very nice small black, but more numerous than seemed reasonable to me.

The largest melon (GR010-0918, not shown) was 1.37 kilos, with nice light and dark green stripes, excellent texture, and good if a little mild flavour. Seeds were small, black and relatively few. Other than the fact that not even a spot turned yellow, the only negative point was that the colour was a little weak. I do think this one might make it into next years line-up.

Another candidate is GR004-0906 (above), which was a very decent 990 grams, also with a yellow spot when ripe. It was one of the best for good colour and flavour, but the texture was a little soft and the seeds, while black, were larger and more numerous than I wanted.

One interesting thing about this set of melons was that while the melons were extremely small upon the whole, so were the vines. You could have planted any three of these melons in a half-barrel planter and grown them quite nicely with a minimum of trellising. That may make them very good for many home gardeners.

The Orangeglo-Sweet Siberian project was also not as successful as we had hoped. We got lots of good melons, all grown from last years fabulous PJ09-0923, but none of them was as terrific as mom for flavour, and there were some definite issues with texture and storage qualities.

Interestingly, the vines of all the plants were surprisingly compact; normally they grow all over and we are picking them up and trying to send them back into the bed, or else we let them grow into the lawn and try to avoid mowing them. This year it was easy to keep them corralled. I do regard this as a good feature.

The above melon is PJ001-0822 and it was, in retrospect, one of the best. Very early, very sweet,  good texture, with small fairly dark seeds in reasonably low numbers. At 8 to 10 pounds it was a desirable size. The only negatives were its rather pale colouring and slightly too mild flavour. I guess I also thought the rind was a bit thick, but that's something I'm prepared to tolerate if everything else is good. This was the earliest and best of this phenotype, but it was a common type in the patch this year.

Here was a complete surprise. SU001-0829 was a melon that came up in last years mass cross bed, from a tiny handful seeds that survived the winter to sprout. This was the sturdiest and the only one we let grow. From the outside it looked a lot like a large Small Shining Light, but it turned out to be quite a bright yellow inside. It was also in the 8 to 10 pound range. The texture was very good, and it was probably the best tasting melon of the year! It lasted in the fridge for a long time.

We don't quite know what to do with it. We can't start growing out a 3rd set of watermelons; we haven't the room. Growing some elsewhere didn't pan out. We might fold it in with the Orangeglo-Sweet Siberian project; the colour is right, although it will almost certainly be carrying recessive red genes. That may not be a bad thing given that I thought too many of this years melons were too pale. Or we may be weeding out red watermelons for years to come.

Watermelon colour inheritance is very complex, with a number of possible genes that interact in different ways, sometimes within a single fruit. I do know that canary yellow is the most dominant colour; other yellows and oranges are less dominant. It seems fairly clear that this melon got its colour from the canary yellow gene, which surprises me. We were not growing any canary yellow fleshed melons, so if it is that dominant, how could it have been hidden? My guess is that it comes out of one of the orange fleshed melons, where the fact that it was a dominant source of colour was masked by the presence of another gene. 

In the above melon (PJ003-0901) you can see some of the problems we were having with texture this year - it's plainly loose and spongy. The colour is attractive and while the weight was only 4 pounds, that's really quite a desirable size. Alas, it was possibly overripe, and definitely a bit bland and quite mushy. Not a candidate for growing on.

This isn't it, but we did get one watermelon that had plainly crossed with something red fleshed. It was good and early ripening, but not good enough for me to contemplate keeping it in the herd. This seems to be a fairly typical rate of crossing between the 2 different projects, and as before I find it a tolerable level (like I have a choice).

PJ004-0902 (above) on the other hand had a super colour, and at just over 5.5 pounds a very nice size. The flavour was a little mild but good, and the texture was acceptable. Like its Orangeglo parent often does, it developed a fairly significant internal crack. The seeds were relatively few, small and black, and in spite of a slightly soft texture it held very well for several days in the fridge. I don't think the texture/cracking problems are sufficiently bad to disqualify it from growing on.

This one (PJ006-0906) was in many ways the best of the year. At 10.5 pounds, it was perhaps a shade on the large side - not the worst problem ever - but it had excellent colour, the best flavour of any from this project, very decent texture, and held up well in the fridge. It was big enough that I think it was in the fridge for close to 2 weeks before we ate it all, so it held up really very well. The only thing I didn't like about it was the seeds - they were pale and spotted like the Orangeglo parent's seeds, and fairly large and more abundant than I like to see.

It seems clear that for the Golden Rind project we will be selecting 6 to 10 melons to grow on. The Orangeglo-Sweet Siberian project is less clear. I don't know whether we will just grow on the one best melon (it will have been fertilized by other melons, after all) or if we should select a few others as well, and if so how many. At any rate, there's lots of time for the way to become clear by planting time.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Pumpkin Waffles

Mmm, very nice!

Your pumpkin (or squash) should be on the dry side; it does help to cook it down a bit in a pan before making the waffles. (As I describe in this recipe for Pumpkin Loaf.) Otherwise, these are as easy and straightforward as any other waffles, and like all the waffles I've made so far they freeze well and re-heat in the toaster for a very quick and tasty breakfast.

As a brief digression, I was interested to note how my attitudes and techniques have changed over time. In the Pumpkin Loaf recipe I call canned pumpkin inexpensive, but I have to say I haven't seen any recently that I would describe that way - the price seems to have gone up a lot! Also I am not so sure any of it would be local any more. Of course, I grow my own squash pretty exclusively now, and even if I didn't I think I would be inclined to stock up on squash while they are in peak season, cook, mash, and freeze. Lastly, note that I'm now talking about "squash" rather than "pumpkins". I'm more inclined to use butternut squash rather than (pepo varieties of) pumpkin for baking (and everything else pretty much).  

12 to 15 waffles
1 hour 15 minutes prep time

Pumpkin Waffles

Mix the dry Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups soft unbleached flour
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon finely grated nutmeg

Measure the flour in a 2 cup measuring cup, and add the remaining dry ingredients. Give it a stir.

Finish the Waffles:
1/4 cup mild vegetable oil
1 tablespoon molasses
1/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups puréed cooked squash or pumpkin
1 cup milk OR buttermilk
more oil to brush the waffle iron; about 2 tablespoons

Heat the waffle iron.

Whisk together the oil, molasses, sugar, and eggs in a mixing bowl. Mix in the squash or pumpkin until thoroughly blended. Mix in the dry ingredients, alternately with the milk.

Brush the hot waffle iron with a little oil, and cook the batter in batches until the waffles are golden-brown and release easily from the iron, brushing with more oil between batches as required.

The waffles can be kept hot in a 200°F oven, or put on a rack to cool. They freeze and toast very well.

Last year at this time I made Sautéed Brussels Sprouts & Leeks.

Monday, 7 November 2016

White Beans with Celery & Cream

I found the original for this recipe in "Good Things" by the eminent British food author of the 1970s, Jane Grigson. She describes it as "A delicious example of the elegance of French vegetable cookery". Certainly, it's quite different from the kinds of things that tend to occur to me to do with beans. Nutmeg? Cream? Beans? Well, okay then.

Naturally, I meddled. She served the celery quickly sautéed in butter and scattered over the top rather then cooked in with the beans. Usually I like my vegetables crunchy, but I am not a fan of the combination of very soft and very firm textures right next to each other so I stewed mine in with the beans. There should be about the same volume of celery as beans. I also used about half the amount of butter that she called for, and a lower fat cream. I still think this is plenty rich. A parsley garnish adds colour and flavour, but is not absolutely required.

I would be very inclined to mash and thin any leftovers with a little broth and serve it as soup. You could also make this all winter and into the spring once celery is gone by replacing it with celeriac.

4 servings
45 minutes prep time, not including pre-cooking the beans

White Beans with Celery & Cream

Cook the Beans:
1 cup (225 grams; 1/2 pound) white beans
2 litres water
1 teaspoon salt

Pick over the beans and put them in a fairly large pot with the water. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat and let them soak for several hours. Change the water if you like, add the salt, and bring them back to a boil. Simmer for about an hour, until tender but still fairly firm.

This can be done a day in advance.

Finish the Beans:
3 or 4 stalks of celery
1/4 cup butter
a good scrape of nutmeg
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 or 3 tablespoons lemon juice OR balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup 10% cream
a little chopped parsley to garnish

Wash, trim and chop the celery. Heat the butter in a large skillet, and gently cook the celery in it for about 10 minutes.

Add the beans, along with about half a cup of the cooking water. Cook for another 5 or 10 minutes, until the cooking water has reduced to the point of almost being gone. Repeat with more cooking water another 2 times, letting it reduce until you are left with a fairly thick sauce each time.

Season with a scrape of nutmeg - don't over-do it - and some pepper. Add a little more salt if you feel the beans need it. Add the lemon juice, and mix in well, then add the cream. Continue to simmer very gently until the sauce has thickened once more. You can leave it creamy enough to require a spoon, but I cooked it until it was thick enough to be eaten with a fork.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Carrot, Dried Tomato, & Herb Whole Wheat Biscuits

Mmm, biscuits! I wanted something with a substantial, rustic texture and flavour and these hit the spot. Excellent with soup. In fact, we ate them with Broccoli-Cheddar Soup, but if we hadn't I think they would be amazing with a good soft chèvre. Well, they would have been amazing with it anyway, but even I think - however regretfully - that that would be too much cheese at once.

Like most biscuits and scones, these are best fresh out of the oven.

12 biscuits
30 minutes - 15 minutes prep time

Carrot, Dried Tomato, & Herb Whole Wheat Biscuits

Prepare the Vegetables:
1 large carrot (2 cups finely grated)
1/3 cup dried tomatoes, chopped
1/3 cup finely chopped parsley
3 tablespoons finely minced chives

Wash and peel the carrot, and grate it finely.  Put it in a small mixing bowl. Chop the tomatoes, and add them. Wash, dry and chop the herbs and add them to the bowl. Mix well and set aside.

Make the Biscuits:
2 1/4 cups soft whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/3 cup unsalted butter
2/3 cup buttermilk

In a larger preferably somewhat shallow bowl, mix the flour, salt, pepper, and baking powder. Cut the butter into it with a pastry cutter or a couple of knives until evenly distributed and in pieces about the size of small peas.

Preheat the oven to 425°F. 

Mix in the vegetable mixture. Add the buttermilk, and mix well, until a dough forms. If your carrots are very dry, you may need to add a dribble more of buttermilk. Knead the dough a few times; this can be done right in the bowl if it is shallow enough.

Pat the dough out on a piece of parchment paper into a neat, evenly 1" thick rectangle. Cut it into 12 biscuits and move them apart from each other about an inch or so. Bake them for 12 to 15 minutes until the biscuits are firm and just show signs of colouring.

Last year at this time I made Ginger-Garlic Pulled Pork.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Broccoli & Cheddar Soup

Here is an old war-horse of a soup, best known as a third-rate chain restaurant choice served more or less directly out of a plastic bag from "food services". It doesn't have to be like that though - made with fresh, high quality ingredients it's delicious, and almost certainly a lot more nutritious too. Unlike a lot of soups, it doesn't need to be made in advance, but can be eaten as soon as it is made. Nor does it take long to make.

Stock will make the flavour more complex, but I find it just fine made with water. Also, while this calls for one whole head of broccoli, it will also use up the rest of the stems from the bunch, which makes this part of my collection of things to do with those unloved broccoli stems. 

4 servings
40 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

Broccoli & Cheddar Soup

1 clove garlic
3 tablespoons finely minced fresh chives
OR 1 tablespoon dried chives
1 stalk celery
1 medium-small onion (about 1 cup chopped)
1 medium-small carrot (about 1 cup grated)
2-3 broccoli stems (2 to 3 cups grated)
1 broccoli head (florets) (about 1 cup chopped)
1/4 cup unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
3 cups water or chicken or vegetable broth
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1/2 cup 10% cream
1 1/3 cups grated extra-old Cheddar cheese
PLUS 2/3 cup grated extra-old Cheddar cheese to pass

Peel and mince the garlic. Wash, dry and mince the chives. Put these 2 items aside together.

Wash, trim, and chop the celery. Peel and chop the onion. Peel and grate the carrot. Peel any tough skin from the broccoli stems, and grate them. Chop the broccoli florets fairly finely and set them aside separately from the rest of the vegetables.

Put the butter into a large heavy-bottomed pot, and heat over medium-high heat. Once it is melted, add the celery, onion, carrot, and broccoli stems. Cook, stirring regularly, for about 5 to 8 minutes until the vegetables have softened and cooked down a bit, but don't let them brown.

Add the garlic and chives, and cook in for another minute or so. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and mix it in; cook for a minute or two until there is no sign of raw white flour left. Slowly mix in the water or broth. Add the chopped broccoli florets and the bay leaf, and simmer for 7 or 8 minutes.

Add the paprika, the cream, and 1 1/3 cups of grated Cheddar. Do not let it simmer again; just stir it until the cheese is melted and the soup is hot through. Fish out the bay leaves. Serve at once. Pass the remaining cheese for people to add a little more if they are so inclined (very few people aren't so inclined).

Last year at this time I made Apple Cider Spice Cake

Monday, 31 October 2016

Pear & Apple Torte with Ginger & Cranberries

So what is this anyway? I just can't decide. Is it a cake? Is it a pie? I'd say it's an F1 hybrid between a cake and a pie, but then what? Please let me know which "parent" you think it looks most like! Or if you have an actual other word to describe this thing that would be great too.

Experimental cooking is such fun. The cleaning up afterwards, not so much. I thought this would go into a spring-form pan, picked one that was too large, and then transferred everything to a second, smaller (also greased and lined) spring-form pan, at which point I decided that a spring-form pan was really not the way to go (too much filling) and transferred everything to a large pie-plate, which finally did the trick. Score one for the "pie" side of the ledger. On the other hand, when it was done I lifted it out to my cake plate and cut it there.

The dough starts off like a standard pastry dough (pie!), but instead of being held together by water, it's held together by egg, and also raised with baking powder. That makes it rich, airy, crumbly - score one for the "cake" side of the ledger. There's a definite filling - pie! - but in a fairly thin layer - cake! I just don't know! Whatever it is, it's really nice. No argument about that. Just like pie cake it would have been good with some whipped cream.

8 servings
2 hours - 1 hour prep time; not including time to cool

Make the Dough:
2 cups soft unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
 2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup unsalted butter
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla

Measure the flour and mix in the salt, baking powder, and sugar. Put it in a mixing bowl and cut in the butter, as for making pastry - it should be in small bits, the size of a pea or smaller. I find it best to rub in any large lumps with my fingers once most of the butter is the right size with just a few stubborn lumps remaining.

Break in the eggs, beat them slightly with the vanilla extract, then mix them into the flour with a fork. It should come together to form a dryish dough. My "large" eggs were on the small side, so I had to add a couple of teaspoons of cold water before I could get a dough to form; if you have to do that it's okay but keep in mind this should be a quite stiff and pastry-like dough. If you can get rid of any patches of dry, whitish flour it is probably then moist enough to form a dough.

Cut the dough in half, and pat or roll the dough out to an 8" circle. I used the centre of my 8" spring-form pan traced onto parchment paper, and used the paper instead of buttering the pie-plate. It worked very well.

Make the Filling & Finish the Thing:
2 tablespoons finely minced preserved ginger
1/4 cup dried cranberries, chopped
1 teaspoon anise seeds, ground
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon tapioca OR arrowroot starch
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups peeled and sliced (2 medium) pears
1 1/2 cups peeled and sliced (2 medium) apples

Mince the preserved ginger and chop the cranberries; put them in a mixing bowl. Grind the anise seeds and add all the spices, the tapioca or arrowroot, and the sugar to the bowl. Mix well.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Peel, core, and thinly slice the pears and apples. Toss them in the above mixture until it is evenly distributed amongst them. Pile the seasoned fruit in the middle of the rolled out pastry base, leaving a neat 1/2" of clear clean dough around the edge. Roll out the remaining dough to an 8" circle, on another piece of parchment paper I'm afraid, then place it evenly over the topping and peel off the parchment. Pinch it down to seal it to the edges of the bottom pastry. Press down gently to distribute the fruit filling as evenly as possible under the top layer of pastry. It should be flat to just slightly domed. Cut slits in the pastry to allow the steam to escape.

Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, until golden brown and firm. Cool to room temperature and serve, possibly with whipped cream.

Last year at this time I made Chai Cider Tea.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Blanquette de Veau

When Mr. Ferdzy and I were at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London (a good few years ago now) we ate Blanquette de Veau in their "cafeteria". It was really very fancy, and one of the most expensive meals we ate on that trip, but our eyes still glaze over and we drool a little whenever we think of it, so well worth it I would say.  And the museum itself was free! Talk about civilized!

There is no question that this is a very rich dish, and not cheap to make either. Veal can be very hard to find these days, but I saw some and snatched it up with immediate thoughts of this dish. Many recipes add the carrots to the stew, but I opted to keep the stew as "blanc" as possible, and served them on the side. You can do it either way. In any case you will also need some potatoes, pasta, crusty bread, or rice to soak up all that fabulous sauce, and a green vegetable will finish the meal. 

4 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

Start the Veal:
4 medium shallots
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
600 grams (1 1/4 pounds) stewing veal
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups unsalted chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt
4 cloves
8 to 12 black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
2 or 3 sprigs of thyme or savory

Peel and mince the shallots; ditto the garlic. Heat the butter gently in a large skillet, and add the shallots, garlic, and veal once it is bubbling. Mix them in well, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the veal has all changed colour (but not browned; you are not browning it). Sprinkle over the flour, mix it in well, and cook for another couple of minutes. Slowly stir in the chicken stock, and season with the salt. Put the cloves, peppercorns, bay leaves (broken  up if necessary) and sprigs of thyme or savory into a spice ball, or tie them up in a bit of cheesecloth, and add them to the pan. Simmer gently for 1 hour, stirring regularly.

This can be done a day ahead, if you like. It's a good idea, as cooling and reheating meat makes it more tender.

Add the Vegetables:
200 grams (1/2 pound) small white (pickling) onions
2 medium carrots (OPTIONAL)
200 grams (1/2 pound) small button mushrooms
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Trim and peel the mushrooms. Trim, peel and slice the carrots. Clean and trim the mushrooms. Put the onions and carrots into a pot with water just to cover them, bring them to a boil and boil them until fairly tender; about 7 to 10 minutes. Drain well and add to the stew.

Heat the butter in a small skillet, and cook the mushrooms until lightly browned and softened, stirring regularly to cook them evenly. Add them to the stew as well. Let the stew simmer for a further 15 or 20 minutes once the vegetables have been added.

Finish the Sauce:
2 egg yolks
1/3 cup 10% cream OR sour cream
2 tablespoons lemon juice (MAYBE)
1/16 teaspoon of finely grated nutmeg

Put the egg yolks in a small bowl, and whisk in the cream. If you are using sour cream, do not add the lemon juice, but if you are using 10% cream do add it. Finish with a good grating of nutmeg.

Mix a ladleful of the broth from the stew into the bowl of yolks and cream, then scrape out the bowl into the pot of stew, and rapidly blend the yolks and cream into it. Keep stirring until the sauce thickens; about 5 or 10 minutes. Keep the stew on the edge of simmering while this happens but do not let it boil. Remove from the heat and serve as soon as it thickens.