Friday, 27 May 2016

Stracciatella with Sorrel, Spinach, and Shallot Greens

And here is this years installment in my attempt to get people to eat more sorrel. This is probably this years only installment because, believe it or not, I let the perennial herb bed go to weeds and it is being crowded out. I would have supposed it was a bit of a weed itself but apparently no such luck. Anyway, what little I was able to scrounge was absolutely delicious in this soup, along with spinach and some shallot greens. Shallot greens are something that you have to grow your own to get, and that just isn't right. They are so good! But you could use green onions, or even wild leeks if you can get your hot little hands on some.

For a soup that took 15 minutes to make - or even for a more labourious soup - this was delicious. Note that I'm not calling for any salt; I thought the cheese added plenty and if people want more they can add it at the table.

This served the 2 of us for lunch with a sandwich; if I wanted it for a starter to a meal I would add another 3 cups chicken broth, make sure the greens were chopped quite fine, whisk faster, and serve 4. 

2 servings
15 minutes prep time

Stracciatella with Sorrel, Spinach, and Shallot Greens

3 cups unsalted chicken stock
1 1/2 cups lightly packed chopped raw sorrel leaves
1 1/2 cups lightly packed chopped raw spinach leaves
3 green shallots or onions
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Put the chicken stock in a 2 quart soup pot, and bring it slowly up to a simmer. Slowly mostly to give you time to wash, trim, and chop the sorrel, spinach, and green onions. Chop the green shallots or onions fairly finely; the greens can be a little coarser.

Break the eggs into a small bowl and whisk the Parmesan cheese into them. Season with a little pepper.

When the chicken stock is simmering, pour the egg and cheese mixture slowly into it, whisking it in as you go. The faster you whisk, the finer the shreds will be. I wanted mine fairly substantial so whisked slowly. Scrape in the last of the egg, and maybe swirl out the bowl with a little of the stock if it is sticking.

As soon as the egg and cheese are in, add the sorrel, spinach, and onion or shallot greens. Mix in well and let simmer for 2 or 3 minutes, then serve.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Leeks & Asparagus

Well, you know how it goes; we ate it all. Still, I hear there are people out there who think 3 spears of asparagus is a serving, so this would serve 4 such people, if you can round them up all at once. Better to serve this to 2 people and if there are any leftovers you could always run them through the food processor, thin them with chicken stock, and reheat it as soup. I think that's pretty theoretical, though.

You will have a hard time finding leeks in the market right now but they may turn up at farmers markets. We have them because we grow our own. We just thinned them out, leaving only the ones chosen to go to seed in the bed. Spring leeks require more trimming than they do in the fall, as the leaves can look a bit ratty. They looked especially ratty this spring, given all the freezing and thawing that went on, but there's still lots of good eating on them. I did see that some of them are starting to form their flower stalks, which are tough and inedible and must be removed. All these things are why they rarely get sold in the spring, but for us they are an excellent vegetable and a little different from the parade of green leafy things that is the rest of the May vegetables. And they go very, very well with asparagus.

I'm saying 3 or 4 leeks which is a bit vague, but basically once your veggie are chopped, both piles should be roughly the same size.

2 to 4 servings
30 minutes prep time

Leeks & Asparagus

3 or 4 leeks
10 to 12 asparagus spears
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups unsalted chicken stock
1 tablespoons soy sauce
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Trim the leeks, and cut them in half lengthwise. Check for the blossom shoot and remove it if it is present. Cut the leeks into 1" pieces, and rinse and drain them well.

Wash and trim the asparagus, and cut each spear into 3 equal pieces. 

Put the butter in a medium sized skillet over medium-high heat. When it is beginning to bubble, add the leeks and cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes, until they are softened but not browned. Reduce the heat if they show signs of browning.

Add the chicken stock to the leeks and simmer them for another 5 to 10 minutes, until quite soft. Add the asparagus pieces and the soy sauce, cover the pan, and cook for another 5 minutes until the asparagus is just done.

Lift the leeks and asparagus out of the pan with a slotted spoon, and put them in their serving dish. Boil the remaining chicken stock in the skillet rapidly until it reduces to a syrup, and pour it over the leeks and asparagus. Season with a little pepper.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Pork Loin Stuffed with Spinach & Mushrooms

Here is a rather glamourous dish but very simple to make. By far the most laborious part is preparing the spinach. I've actually been making this fairly regularly throughout the past winter, using my own frozen spinach which really made it a cinch.

This is an excellent dish for entertaining, especially as you could prepare it a few hours in advance and keep it in the fridge until the right time to cook it. In that case I would add another 5 minutes or so to the cooking time, but then there is nothing to do but put it in, take it out, slice, and serve. Very low stress to wow-factor ratio. 

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

Pork Loin Stuffed with Spinach & Mushrooms

8 cups packed raw spinach leaves
8 to 12 button mushrooms
3 medium shallots
3 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons bacon fat
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon rubbed savory
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
1 700 to 900 gram (1 1/2 to 2 pound) pork loin
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
a sprinkle of paprika

Wash and pick over the spinach, discarding any bad bits or tough stems. Drain well, chop, and steam until just limp. Let it cool enough to handle, then squeeze out as much liquid as you can from it, and chop it well.

Clean and chop the mushrooms fairly finely - I slice them one way, then turn and slice the other way. Peel and mince the shallots and the garlic.

Heat the bacon fat in a medium skillet over medium-high heat, and cook the shallots until just soft. Add the mushrooms, and cook until they too are softened and reduced. Stir often. Add the garlic and seasonings, and stir for a minute more. Mix in the bread crumbs and the chopped cooked spinach, and remove the pan from the heat. Let cool enough to handle.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut the pork loin with a large, sharp knife along the long side, working about 1" from the outside of the roast, to create a spiral cut that opens the loin into a flattenable oval. Lay 3 pieces of kitchen twine on the board you are working on, and lay the roast on top of them so the roast is longest up and down, and the strings run horizontally under it at even intervals. Pile the filling over the loin, covering it to within about an inch of each side. Use the strings to tie it closed into a neat sausage shape. If the long ends are a little pointy, it may be possible to tuck them up to be tied in place - a good thing if so.

Place the stuffed and tied pork loin into a fairly snug roasting dish, and pour the water, soy sauce, and balsamic vinegar over it. Sprinkle it with a little paprika. Roast for 40 to 45 minutes at 350°F, then remove the pork loin from the oven, cover it, and let it sit for about 10 minutes before carving and discarding the strings. Once the loin is sliced into serving portions, drizzle any liquid remaining in the roasting pan over them.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Cheesy Rhubarb (or Raspberry) Bread Pudding

Very rich! Very delicious! In spite of being a rather homely bread pudding, this is really something for a special occasion. It's basically bread pudding with gobs of cheesecake in it. It's also kind of big, and easily could be cut in half for a smaller special occasion. 

I did bake mine in 2 pans, because I made one half with rhubarb and the other half with (frozen) raspberries, as Mr. Ferdzy loathes rhubarb. I haven't had a chance to try the raspberry version myself yet, but the noises I was getting were very enthusiastic. The puddings took 50 minutes to bake; the full recipe in one pan will take just a little longer. To make 8 cups of bread cubes, by the way, you will require pretty much a whole loaf of bread. You can trim off the crusts or not, as you like; however you should pick up your loaf of bread from the day-old rack.

Makes 12 servings
1 1/2 hours - 1/2 hour prep time

Cheesy Rhubarb Bread Pudding

Cook the Rhubarb & Prepare the Cheese:
4 cups sliced rhubarb
1 cup sugar
2 cups mascarpone or other soft cream cheese
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Wash, trim and slice the rhubarb. Put it in a pot with the 1 cup of sugar and simmer until the rhubarb is cooked and at least partially falling apart. Let cool.

Mix the remaining sugar and vanilla extract into the mascarpone or cream cheese.

Make the Pudding:
4 large eggs
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons sherry
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 cups of cubed stale bread
1 tablespoon butter

Whisk the eggs, sugar, milk, sherry, and salt together in a mixing bowl. Cut the bread into about 1" cubes. Use the butter to grease an 8" x 10" baking pan.

Put half the bread cubes into the pan and spread them out evenly. Dot the cream cheese mixture around by spoonfuls, evenly spaced. Set aside about 1 cup of the stewed rhubarb to use later as a sauce, and drizzle the remaining rhubarb over the bread and cream cheese. Spread the remaining bread cubes evenly over the top. Ladle the egg and milk mixture over the pudding, making sure to soak all the bread cubes.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Put the pudding on a baking tray with sides, and put it in the oven. Pour enough water into the tray to fill it about half an inch deep. Bake for 1 hour.

Serve warm or cool with the extra stewed rhubarb as a sauce.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Chicken, Asparagus & Mushroom Casserole with Wild Rice

A simple dish, but a bit luxurious it has to be admitted. On the other hand, it can be made mostly in advance which makes it great for entertaining.

Wild rice makes it into my diet when I buy a bunch in a fit of recklessness, after which it sits in the cupboard for a year or so while I forget just how much it cost. Then at last I can use it. I hadn't completely forgotten the price though, and I started off with 3/4 of a cup of it. When it was cooked, it looked so skimpy in comparison to the sauce that I mixed in a quarter of a cup of raw buckwheat groats with the cooked rice. I was very nervous but it cooked up nicely and the 2 flavours combined excellently. So you can do that too, if you like; or just cook more wild rice to start with.

Half a pound of asparagus is not nearly enough for 4 people, at least no 4 people that I know, so cook up at least the other half pound, or better another pound, and serve it with the casserole.

4 servings
1 1/2 hours - 1/2 hour prep time
not including cooking the wild rice

Cook the Wild Rice:
1 cup wild rice
and 3 cups unsalted chicken stock or water
2/3 cup wild rice
and 2 cups unsalted chicken stock or water PLUS 1/3 cup buckwheat groats
1/4 teaspoon salt

Put into your rice cooker; cook. This can be done up to a day in advance. Cool and keep refrigerated until needed.

If you wish to cook it in a pot, likewise put it all into a pot - except for the buckwheat if using, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. You will need to watch this more carefully than if you use a rice cooker.

If you wish to use buckwheat as part of this dish it actually gets used in finishing the casserole.

Make the Sauce:
3 or 4 green onions
250 grams (1/2 pound) button mushrooms
1/4 cup unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon rubbed savory
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 cups milk
1 cup chicken stock

Wash, trim and chop the green onions. Clean and slice the mushrooms.

Heat the butter in a large heavy-bottomed pot. Add the mushrooms, and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and slightly browned. Add the green onions and cook for a minute or so longer. Mix in the flour, salt, savory and pepper. Once it is well in and no white spots remain visible, mix in the milk and the chicken stock. Cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens. 

Finish the Casserole:
250 grams (1/2 pound) asparagus
4 small skinless boneless chicken breasts
OR 8 small skinless boneless chicken thighs.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Wash, trim, and cut the asparagus into 1" pieces. Blanch it by pouring boiling water over it, in a colander in the sink, or drop it into boiling water for 1 minute. Drain well. Mix it into the sauce. Mix the cooked wild rice into the sauce as well. If you are using buckwheat as part of the recipe, mix it in now as well -  yes, raw.

Pour most of the sauce into an 8" x 10" shallow baking (lasagne) pan. Nestle the chicken pieces into it, then pour the rest of it over the top. Spread it out so the rice/buckwheat is all down in the sauce. Bake for 1 hour.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Wild Leek Chimichurri

Chimichurri, if there is anyone left who is not familiar with it, is a sauce from Argentina, generally served with their famously excellent beef. It's basically a very garlicky, herby vinaigrette. Today the "garlic" comes from wild leeks (or ramps, for Americans) but you can also use shallot greens, green garlic, garlic scapes, or, er, garlic as they come into season. Also later in the season, you can replace some or all of the parsley with cilantro.

Don't just use it with beef. Lamb chops, pork roast, chicken breast, pink or white fish, even cheese dishes or crispy sautéd slices of tofu would all like to be served with a little chimichurri. I whisked the leftovers into mayonnaise and used it as a salad dressing. Yum!

4 servings
15 minutes prep time

Broiled Steak with Chimichurri

4 or 5 wild leeks, roots trimmed
a handful of parsley (equal to wild leeks)
1/4 cup sunflower seed oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Wash and trim the wild leeks (ramps), discarding the roots and any tough or damaged bits. Chop roughly and put in a food processor with the rest of the ingredients. (Wash yer parsley, and remove tough stems/damaged bits ditto). Process, until the mixture has reached a texture that appeals to you. Put it into a serving dish and put it on the table... yes, that's right: we're done here.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Mashed Potatoes with Spinach & Spring Onion Greens

This one came out of an old cook book, Cookery for English Households, by a French lady, where it was rather grandly called Pommes de terre à la Hambourgeoise. As ever, I did not quite follow the instructions. I did not put them in the oven, and I omitted the nutmeg in favour of some lovely shallot greens from the garden, although any greens from any oniony thing will be fine. Wild leeks, if you could get 'em would be superb.  And yes, this is a 3-pot vegetable dish. No apologies; all you need to serve with it is a nice piece of protein; fish, chicken, lamb... almost anything, really. Hamburger? Yes, that would be good!

And now, on a completely different topic: what's gotten into the mice this spring? Mum had a few (?) hanging out in her cupboard for a while. I spotted one yesterday morning in the living room. I was on the way out to plant onions, so I mentioned it to Mr. Ferdzy, but then we got to planting onions and forgot about it. After lunch he went to lie down for a nap, and I was sitting at the computer when I felt something on my foot. The flies were driving my crazy when we were planting, so I supposed some had gotten in. I shook my foot a bit, but when the feeling didn't go away I looked down. The bloody mouse was sitting on my foot. I've always seen myself as the strong, silent type, but apparently I can scream like I mean it. It woke Mr Ferdzy up and he came pounding upstairs. Traps now set. But why are they moving in now; when they should be out enjoying the lovely spr - oh, well, yeah.

Anyway; potatoes, spinach, onions, butter - what's not to like? This should serve more than 4 but I can't think that it usually will. 

4 to 6 servings
45 minutes prep time

Mashed Potatoes with Spinach & Spring Onion Greens

1 kg (2 pounds) potatoes
8 cups lightly packed spinach greens
4 green onions, or the equivalent onion greens
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup buttermilk, sour cream, or thinned yogurt
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Wash and trim, or even peel, the potatoes. Cut them into chunks and put them in a pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil and boil until tender; about 15 to 20 minutes. I find the spinach slow enough to clean and prepare that I get a good head start on it before I turn the pot on though.

Meanwhile, wash the spinach thoroughly and pick it over, discarding any bad bits or tough stems. Steam it until cooked, about 5 minutes. If you have a steamer that fits over the potatoes you can do it there.

Rinse it in cool water and wring out as much moisture from it as you can. Chop it finely, or if you want it really fine run it through the food processor.

Wash the onion greens and mince them finely. Heat the butter in a small skillet and cook the onion pieces in it until softened. If you are puréeing the spinach, cut the onions in larger pieces and add them, with the melted butter, to the food processor with the spinach. Otherwise just mix them in with the spinach.

When the potatoes are tender, drain them and return them to the pot. Keep them over medium heat as you mix in the spinach, onions and butter, the buttermilk or other similar product, and the salt and pepper. Mash thoroughly together, mixing well.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Jerusalem Artichokes with Bacon, Onion, & Mushrooms

Two years ago we planted some Jerusalem artichokes, and they have been growing in the garden ever since. After the first summer we poked around and were underwhelmed by the number of apparent tubers, so we left them along for another year. Last fall we were too distracted to try to dig any up. However, we expected we could dig some in the spring.

We obviously left them a little too long as they are starting to sprout. Common sense says they would be, by now, but I think we were lulled into a false sense of their dormancy by how chilly it has been. They were quite useable, though! On the other hand, I have to say we were still underwhelmed by the quantity of tubers, and also impressed by how deep they were. They were quite hard to dig up!

4 servings
40 minutes prep time

Once they were up, it was quite quick and easy to fry them up and eat them for lunch...

2 cups sliced Jerusalem artichokes
1 medium onion
3 cloves of garlic
6 slices of bacon
6 large button mushrooms
1 cup water
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

Wash, trim and slice the Jerusalem artichokes. Peel and chop the onion. Peel and mince the garlic. Chop the bacon (cut it into 1" strips). Clean and slice the mushrooms.

Start the bacon cooking in a large skillet. Once it has rendered some fat and is about half cooked, remove it to a plate, leaving the fat in the pan. Add the Jerusalem artichokes and the water, and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the water is gone and the Jerusalem artichokes are about half cooked; about 5 to 8 minutes. Add the bacon back into the pan, along with the onion and mushrooms. Cook, stirring frequently, for about another 10 minutes, until everything is tender and slightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for just another minute or so.

Turn it into a serving dish and garnish it with the chopped parsley.

Last year at this time I made Stewed Rhubarb & Figs

Monday, 9 May 2016

Rhubarb Chutney

No, I don't have rhubarb in my garden yet! Most years I would be able to scrounge enough to make this by now, but it's been so cold everything is behind. But there should be some forced rhubarb out there, and if you are in a warmer spot than I'm in, there should be some garden rhubarb too. If not, very soon! But I have to admit; as usual, rhubarb season is coming up and I still have bags of it in the freezer. Well there goes one of them, anyway.

I had it with a piece of broiled salmon which was very good, but it would also go with quite a number of simple cooked meats, or with cheese - maybe in a sandwich or macaroni and cheese, for instance. 

4 servings

Salmon with Rhubarb Chutney

1 cup diced rhubarb
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 clove of garlic
1 medium shallot
1/4 cup dried cranberries or raisins
2 pods green cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed
1/2 teaspoon coriander seed

Trim, wash, and chop the rhubarb. Put it in a pot with the honey and vinegar. Grate in the ginger and peeled garlic clove. Peel and chop the shallot, and add it to the pot. Add the cranberries or raisins. Crush the cardamom pods, remove the papery green husk, then grind the remaining seeds with the cumin and coriander. Add them to the pot.

Bring the pot up to the boil, stirring constantly. Reduce it to a simmer, and simmer until the rhubarb has softened and mostly fallen apart, and the mixture thickens; about 15 minutes. Stir frequently.

Let the chutney cool and serve with chicken, fish, pork, cheese dishes, or whatever else you think would suit it.

Last year at this time I made One Pot Creamed Spinach with Mushrooms.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Buckwheat Porridge

Here's another one from my Ukrainian friend. I've always given instructions for cooking buckwheat (kasha) so that it stays together in whole grains, but she pointed out it makes a good porridge or polenta-like dish if you fail to use those techniques, and sometimes that's what you want. It's really easy, too!

I did not toast my buckwheat a little in a dry skillet before I cooked it, but you could. That's one of the techniques to make it hold together, so results might not be quite so creamy. It would deepen and intensify the nutty, cardboardy flavour of the buckwheat though. (I say, cardboardy; but I mean it affectionately. Nothing but the finest gourmet cardboard flavour.) I also used the higher quantity of water, which contributed to a smoother, softer texture as well. You can experiment a bit to see how you like it best.

You could eat this for breakfast - we had the leftovers with a poached egg on top - or as a side dish with fish, chicken, beef - in fact, most meats would go well, I would think. We had it with salmon; very good. Back to breakfast, how about with cream and honey? Buckwheat honey seems the obvious choice.

4 to 6 servings
40 minutes prep time

Buckwheat Porridge

1 cup buckwheat groats
3 to 4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Put all the ingredients into a 2 quart pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to very low. Cover and cook for about 30 minutes, stirring regularly,  until the mixture is soft and thick.

Some of the grains will dissolve completely; others will retain their form. Check to make sure they are tender. Serve with a little more butter, if you like.

Last year at this time I made Herbed Goat Cheese Pasta.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Soaking Peas in Hydrogen Peroxide Before Planting

So here is something I have been doing for a few years, off and on, with some our seeds. It started when I bought some beans (from a well-known old American seed house, but one now reduced to selling in box stores) that turned out to be infected with anthracnose. I've been struggling with eradicating it ever since.

Someone suggested soaking them in hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and it definitely seemed to help. I still have anthracnose in the beans, but it starts out slowly and really doesn't pick up speed until late in the season.

We planted the last of our peas over the weekend (yes they are going in LATE, what else is new?) and we decided, kind of on a whim, that it might not hurt to soak them in H2O2 too. Mr Ferdzy did a quick check on the internet for information about how much and how long, and came across this little article: Role of H2O2 in pea seed germination. It's mildly technical, but what I came away with is that the H2O2 is not only useful for killing fungus or bacteria that may be on your seeds but, at least in the case of peas (and from anecdotal evidence many other seeds too), may actually improve germination and viability.

One of the mildly technical points that made the article difficult for us to use was that they described the strength of the H2O2 in mM, which is not a unit of measurement found on bottles sold in the drug store. From what I gather, it seems that the maximum strength they used would be roughly equal to about 60% H2O2. At that level, some damage was done to the emerging seedlings.

However, since the H2O2 available in drug stores or grocery stores seems to be about 10%, we decided it would be safe to use it straight up! We didn't quite have the nerve for that, and diluted it some more - down to about 2%. Our peas soaked it right up (we soaked them for about 24 hours) and indeed you can see from the picture that we didn't put enough solution over some of the peas. If they come up spottily I will assume the unsoaked peas on top were slower to germinate.

My conclusion is that I have been much too timid in soaking my seeds in H2O2. I've always regarded H2O2 as a kind of mild bleach, and consequently have treated it with a fair bit of caution. I am not wrong. It should be treated with caution, and if you get it on your skin it should be washed off promptly. Still, when it comes to planting my beans this year, I am going to try soaking them in H2O2 straight from the bottle and for 24  hours. Previously, I soaked them in about a 4 to 1 water to H2O2 solution, and for no more than a few hours. I hope this will make a bigger difference in killing the anthracnose spores, and that I will finally have anthracnose-free beans again.

Have you used H2O2 in planting your seeds? What concentrations did you use; how long did you soak your seeds; and what were the results?