Friday, 21 April 2017

Crispy Spicy Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Coating roasted sweet potato "fries" in starch will make them a little crisper than they might otherwise be (that is, not very) and also help stick the seasonings to them. Delicious! Easy! Speedy! Well apart from the cooking time.

Our sweet potatoes are holding up very well. If properly cured, they will do better for keeping into the spring than regular potatoes. You will probably have to find them at a farmers market though, as most groceries only carry American ones.

4 servings
1 hour 15 minutes - 15 minutes prep time

Crispy Spicy Roasted Sweet Potatoes

2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sweet Hungarian or Spanish paprika
     smoked, if liked
1/4 teaspoon Cayenne pepper
1/2 cup corn starch or potato starch
3 large (600 grams; 20 ounces) sweet potatoes
3 tablespoons mild vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Grind the cumin and coriander seeds. Mix them with the salt, paprika, Cayenne, and starch.

Wash and trim the sweet potatoes, and cut them into long thin strips or wedges. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the sweet potato slices over it. Toss them with the oil. Sprinkle half the seasoning mixture over them, toss again, then sprinkle with the remaining seasoning mix. Once final mix then roast for about 1 hour. Turn them at the half hour mark.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Cocoa Crepes

Wow! So easy; so good!

For some reason I got a bee in my bonnet about making crepes with cocoa powder, and I thought that in that case they wouldn't need much flour. Maybe I could keep them gluten-free? Potato starch occurred to me as a possibility, and a little research showed that crepes made with potato starch are very common as a dish for passover, although I didn't see any made with cocoa powder.

Well, these were the easiest crepes to lift and flip that I have ever made! Even the first crepe came out perfect, and usually the first crepe is the chef's lumpy, broken sample.

I didn't add any sugar; I figured sweetness can come from the filling. I suspect you could get away with adding a few tablespoons of sugar if you really want to though.

In spite of the fact that there are 3 crepes on the plates in the photo, in most cases 1 or 2 will make a more than sufficient serving - maybe if you are having them for breakfast 3 is not ridiculous. It also depends how much filling you put in them, and what it is. I can think of all kinds of ways to serve these. I think in strawberry season I will just fill them with berries and pass the butter and maple syrup.

6 to 8 crepes (4 to 6 servings)
30 minutes prep time

Gluten Free Chocolate Crepes

1/3 cup potato starch
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups 1% or 2% milk
4 large eggs
approximately 2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil

Sift the potato starch, cocoa powder, and salt together in a medium mixing bowl. Whisk in the milk, half at a time. Whisk in the eggs very thoroughly, one at a time.

Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat. Use paper towel to brush a thin layer of oil all over it. When the pan is hot, ladle in about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of the batter (depending on the size of your pan). Quickly tilt the pan to cover the bottom completely with the batter. Cook until the top of the crepe is dry, then carefully lift it and flip it; cook the other side for just a minute or so. Remove the finished crepe to a plate.

Repeat with the remaining batter until all the crepes are cooked.

Serve warm or at room temperature; crepes can be filled, rolled or folded, and reheated in a lightly oiled skillet. Or not. Fill with ice cream, custard, fruit salad, etc; or serve with maple syrup, honey, fruit, or whatever seems good to you. I mixed 1 cup (250 ml) cream cheese thinned with a couple tablespoons of milk, with 1 cup (250 ml) cherry jam which did the trick nicely.

Last year at this time I made Mashed Potatoes with Caramelized Onions.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Aloo Mattar Chowder

Soup season isn't over yet! Even though it is warming up and greening up rapidly out there.

Our potatoes are sprouting like crazy, and we've eaten most of our peas so I won't be able to make this again for a while... too bad, it was delicious. I was actually pretty impressed with how my makeshift Madras curry powder worked out in this. We threw a couple of hard-boiled eggs into the leftovers and that went down very well too.

4 to 6 servings
30 minutes prep time

Cook the Potatoes:
750 grams (1 1/2 pounds) potatoes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup dried tomato bits

Wash and trim (or peel) the potatoes and cut them into dice. Put them in a pot with water to cover, add the salt, and bring to a boil. Boil for about 10 minutes, until tender. Two or three minutes before they are done, add the dried tomato bits.

Drain off all but approximately 1 cup of the water (don't sweat the exact amount; it's soup).

Mix the Seasonings:
2 to 3 teaspoons Madras curry powder
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon Cayenne pepper

Mix the seasonings in a small bowl and set aside for the moment. If you are not sure of the strength of your curry powder, or how strong you want it; use 2 teaspoons. You can add a little more to the soup later if you think it needs it. I started with 2 teaspoons and did think a third was required.

Sauté the Onions & Finish the Soup:
2 medium onions
2 to 3 cloves of garlic
1" x 1" x 2" piece of fresh ginger
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 cups milk
2 cup thawed frozen peas

Peel and chop the onions. Peel and mince the garlic. Peel and mince the ginger (or grate it, if you can't mince it very finely).

Heat the butter in a mid-sized skillet and cook the onions gently for about 5 to 7 minutes, until soft and reduced in volume; don't let them brown if you can help it. Add the garlic and ginger for the last few minutes of cooking, then mix in the seasoning mixture and cook until well distributed and absorbed.

Once the potatoes are cooked and mostly drained as directed above, mix in the onions, etc. Slowly stir in the milk. Add the peas and mix in. Bring the soup up to steaming hot and let it thicken slightly, but do not let it boil again.

Last year at this time I made Onion Soup with Toasted Barley Flour.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Madras Curry Powder

Has anyone else noticed that you can't get good old fashioned curry powder anymore? Oh, they're still selling stuff labelled "curry powder" but it's completely different and nowhere near as good. It's rough and unbalanced, and lacks the golden colour of yore. Where is the smooth and sprightly curry powder of yesteryear?!

Actually I blame the current fad that has declared turmeric to be a super-food; meaning that now they want you to pay through the nose and take it in capsules, instead of just eating the stuff.

Bah humbug.

Anyway, nothing to do but try making it myself. I don't know if it's the ultimate curry recipe - I can't get the original to compare, after all.  (Mutter, mutter.) My immediate thought is that this is good, but not quite there. Maybe a little more ginger? I have not added any heat at all; I thought I would take a hint from the Jamaicans and add it when making the dish. That way it's very flexible depending on to whom I am serving it. You can, however, add ground Cayenne ad lib.

makes about 1/2 cup
20 minutes prep time

Madras Curry Powder

2 teaspoons green cardamom pods (about 24)
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
2 teaspoons fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Crush the cardamom pods lightly and remove and discard the green papery husks. Put the cardamom seeds into a spice grinder with the coriander, cumin, mustard, fenugreek, fennel and black pepper. Grind until fine.

Let the dust settle and remove the mixture to a small glass jar (250ml; 1 cup). Mix in the remaining spices. Cover tightly and keep in a cool, dark place until wanted.

Last year at this time I made Swedish Colcannon.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Tea-Braised Pork

I often think I would like to do more cooking with tea, so when we succumbed to the lure of some very cheap pork roasts at the local grocery store I decide I would try braising some of it in a very smoky black tea. Lapsang Souchong is the most readily available smoky tea, but I used a tea I got at Ten Thousand Villages that was simply described as "Smoked". It was just fine for this purpose.

Given the strong flavours of the ingredients in the marinade, I expected to be able to pick them out easily in the finished dish. To my surprise though, I really couldn't. The meat just tasted intensely, deliciously, porky - I got the occasional zing of ginger, but otherwise it just tasted very rich.

6 to 8 servings
6 to 8 hours - 30 minutes prep time

Tea-Braised Pork

2 to 3 kilo (4 to 6 pound) pork shoulder roast
1 1/2 to 2 cups strongly brewed lapsang souchong
OR other very smoky tea
2 tablespoons smoked Spanish paprika
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup soy sauce or tamari
1/3 cup sherry or mirin
6 to 8 slices fresh ginger

Trim off and discard much of the skin and fat from the roast, but leave the bone in. Place the pork in a deep roasting dish with a lid; it should be fairly snug but you do need room to get the marinade ingredients in.

Brew the tea. Meanwhile, pour the remaining ingredients over the pork, except the ginger slices which should get tucked under and in around it. Pour in the tea; 2 cups if you can get it in but a bit less is okay. Then add the tea ball or 2 tea bags that you used to brew the tea to the roasting pan and let it stay there right through cooking the roast. Put the cover on the roasting pan.

You can cook the roast right away, or marinate it in the fridge overnight as you prefer. To cook, put it in the oven and bring the heat up to 225°F. Remove the lid about halfway through the process. Cook for approximately 1 hour per pound, but expect that it may take a little longer. The meat should be falling apart when done, and the bone will pull right out. Let rest for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.

I like to cook this in advance; that gives time for it to cool down so I can remove the bone(s) and any remaining fat (and remove and discard the tea and ginger slices). Pull the meat apart (preferred) or slice, and reheat gently in the strained sauce. You can thicken the sauce or not with a little starch; I don't bother but I generally serve the meat with mashed potatoes or rice to soak it up.

Last year at this time I made Swedish Colcannon.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Garlicky Dill Vegetable Salad

Here is a simple, ordinary salad made a little subversive by the generous use of garlic and the slightly off-beat addition of dill pickle. Next time I might throw in a spoonful or 2 of the dill pickle brine and make it a little sharper. Or not; it was good the way it was. It will depend on what else is being served, I suppose.

This makes a quick and easy supplement to sandwiches, or plainly cooked meat of any kind. Leftovers will keep, covered, for a day or 2 in the fridge, but the garlic may gather strength as it sits. 

4 to 6 servings
30 minutes - 15 minutes prep time

Garlicky Dill Vegetable Salad

2 cups frozen green beans
2 cups frozen peas
2 cups grated carrots
1 medium dill pickle
1 or 2 cloves of garlic
1/3 cup mayonnaise (light is fine)
salt & pepper to taste

Put a pot of water on to boil. Chop the green beans to make them of a size with the peas and the carrots once grated. When it boils add the beans and peas, and cover for 2 minutes (it does not need to return all the way to the boil). Rinse in cold water to stop them cooking any further and drain well.

Meanwhile, peel and grate the carrots. Chop the dill pickle fairly finely. Peel and mince the garlic. Put these all in a mixing bowl with the well-drained beans and peas, the mayonnaise, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss well and let rest for 15 minutes or so before serving.

Last year at this time I made Spinach Salad with Mustard Cream Dressing

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Creamy Tomato - Barley Soup

Yet another variation on the ever-popular tomato soup. Barley, celeriac (if you can find it) and onions give it texture, crunch, and substance. Still good with some grilled cheese!  Open faced, maybe, because that barley is filling.

By crushed tomatoes I mean canned tomatoes, chopped up. We whizz our own in the blender and can them, but I have bought crushed tomatoes that were obviously pretty concentrated. If that's what you have, use less and add some water or broth to bring them back to the consistency of actual tomatoes.

4 servings
45 minutes - 30 minutes prep time
not including cooking the barley

Creamy Tomato - Barley Soup

Cook the Barley:
1/4 cup barley
1 cups water
a pinch of salt

Put these in your rice cooker, and cook. Alternatively, cook the barley in a pot - bring it to a boil with the salt then reduce heat to as low as it will go and cook it, covered, until tender; about 45 minutes. This can be done in advance.

It's probably a good idea to cook more barley than this - the rice cooker does not deal well with such small quantities. Leftover cooked barley can be frozen, if you don't have an immediate use for it. You should have about 1 cup of cooked barley for the soup.

Make the Soup:
1 large onion
2 cups peeled dice celeriac
OR 2 stalks of celery
1/4 cup unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon rubbed savory
3/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 cups crushed (chopped, diced) tomatoes
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
a little cream, sour cream, or yogurt to finish

Peel and chop the onion. Peel and dice the celeriac, or trim an chop the celery. Heat the butter in the bottom of a large soup pot, and add the onion and celery once it is melted and foaming. Cook slowly for about 5 or 10 minutes, stirring regularly, until soft and translucent. Keep the heat low and don't let it brown. Butter is a little less forgiving than cooking in oil, but it really adds to the flavour of the soup.

Sprinkle the flour, savory, salt, and pepper over the onion and celeriac and mix in well; let cook for another minute or two. Then slowly mix in the crushed tomatoes and mix well. Thin with a little water or stock if the soup is too thick. Season with the Worcestershire sauce. Simmer for 15 minutes.

When you are ready to serve the soup, mix in about 1/4 cup of coffee cream but do not add it if the soup is bubbling and do not let it get hot enough to bubble thereafter. Alternatively, serve it with a dab of sour cream or yogurt to top each bowl of soup.

Last year at this time I made Thuringer Mohnkuchen: German Poppyseed Cake.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Moroccan Spiced Roasted Carrots

Here we are in April and the veggie selection is definitely shrinking. Lots of good old carrots, though. These take a little time to roast but are otherwise very fast and simple. They'd be great with baked chicken, which would cook in a similar amount of time if you are using bone-in pieces. Fish too, but it should just go in to be baked for the last 10 minutes or so.

As ever, the hot pepper should be the type and amount that is right for you. (I used Aleppo, and thought it could have been a bit hotter for me but others may not think so.)

I would also try this paste with squash or sweet potatoes - can't see how it wouldn't be good.

4 servings
1 hour - 15 minutes prep time

Moroccan Spiced Roasted Carrots

Make the Spice Paste:
2 teaspoons coriander seed
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon sweet or smoked Hungarian paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground Cayenne or Aleppo pepper
1 tablespoon apple butter
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
3 tablespoons water

Grind the coriander and cumin seeds, and put them in a small mixing bowl with the rest of the spices. Mix in the apple butter, oil, and water. 

Prepare the Carrots & Roast Them:
450 grams (1 pound) carrots

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Peel and trim the carrots, and cut them into quarters lengthwise (or sixths, or eighths, if they are fat) and toss them with the paste. Roast them for 30 to 40 minutes, until done to your liking.

Last year at this time I made Korean Sweet & Salty Potatoes.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Okonomiyaki... Waffles!

This was a bit of an experiment. I was thinking of making an Okonomiyaki - that is to say, a savoury Japanese pancake who's name translates as "grilled as you like it" - when I wondered if I could cook it in my waffle iron. A little searching showed that there are lots of people doing that; and I would think it would cook very nicely on most electric grills. You can always cook it in a skillet instead, but I would allow 20 minutes to cook it, since it will require turning to get both sides done.

This is not the world's most authentic recipe; I put more weight on local ingredients rather than traditional ones. I can't compare it to the real thing, but we enjoyed it very much, and I'll be making it again as long as the cabbage supply holds out.  I didn't put any meat or tofu in mine, I just served a little pan-fried tofu on the side but most recipes call for some to be added. You can switch the vegetables around for other ones too... they call it "as you like it" for a reason.

The actual pancake is fairly plain in flavour; if I was not putting on sauce I would certainly add salt to it. However, the sauce is very salty and it is an integral or at least very traditional part of the dish. You should use it (and the mayonnaise)! I would have served it with pickled ginger, if I could have found any that didn't contain aspartame. Ugh! I guess I need to make it myself. (I've done that before, using the brine recipe and technique for dill pickles.)

I remember there was a restaurant in Toronto that served nothing but Okonomiyaki back in the days I lived there - a long time ago now. I never went there; it was not within my budgetary constraints. I wonder if it is still there? (Yes! A little searching shows that it is. It seems quite inexpensive now; was it always less expensive than I thought, or have their prices dropped or at least failed to rise? I wonder. But now I will have to try to go on my next trip into the big smoke.)

2 servings - 6 "waffles"
40 minutes - 20 minutes prep time

Grilled as you like it... savoury Japanese pancake in the form of waffles

Make the Sauce:
1/4 cup tomato ketchup
1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce OR oyster sauce
1 tablespoon sherry OR mirin

Whisk the above together in a small bowl.

Make the Okonomiyaki Batter:
1 1/2 cups finely shredded cabbage
1 medium carrot
3 green onions OR 1 medium onion
1 cup soft unbleached flour
1 tablespoon arrowroot OR corn starch
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs
1/3 cup chicken or vegetable stock

Trim and shred the cabbage, then peel and grate the carrot and trim (peel) and chop the onions. Set them aside. Turn the waffle maker on to heat.

Mix the flour, arrowroot or corn starch, and baking powder in a fairly large mixing bowl - it will end up here at some point - then whisk in the eggs and the stock.

Mix in the vegetables and any optional ingredients. Yes, there is a lot of filling in proportion to the batter. That's fine.

Add Optional Ingredients & Finish:
1 sheet toasted nori (optional)
225 grams (1/2 pound finely chopped chicken, tofu, OR white fish
OR 125 grams (1/4 pound) bacon
a little mild vegetable to brush the waffle iron

I just added a sheet of toasted nori, cut with scissors into shreds. You could also put in finely chopped chicken, tofu, or white fish. If you want to use bacon, I would chop it and partially cook it before mixing it in. I've seen it placed in the skillet then the batter poured over it, but we aren't (or at least I didn't) using a skillet here. I would be dubious about that working in a waffle iron.

Brush the heated waffle iron with oil, and spoon in enough batter to fill the waffle iron, once it is evenly spread out. For me, that was about half of it. Close the waffle iron and cook until lightly browned over most of okonomiyaki waffle, and it should feel fairly firm to the touch - about 15 minutes. Keep the okonomiyaki warm in a 200°F oven while you brush the waffle iron with a little oil again and cook the remaining batter.

Drizzle the ononomiyaki waffles with the brown sauce and with mayonnaise to taste before serving.

Last year at this time I made A Basic Korean Style Marinade.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Irish Soda Farls

Here's another thing that was ridiculously simple to do but awfully good. When the (Northern) Irish talk about soda bread this is what they mean, and there are a lot of instructions out there that make it look very complicated. It isn't really though. If you can make biscuits, and you can make pancakes, then you can make these.

Essentially, these are a kind of low-fat biscuit that is baked on a griddle (skillet) rather than in the oven. I say low fat, but the Irish are sure to remedy that on the other end by applying generous quantities of butter. Me too. On the other hand, these are traditionally made with all white flour, which is not my preference. I thought they worked well with half and half. And yes, soft flour is what is needed - you will need to have a very light hand with them if you use all-purpose flour.

Mine got a little dark - they cooked quicker than I expected, and rose really well too - but unless they are actually scorched a little dark just adds to the experience. 

Makes 4 to 8 servings
20 minutes prep time

Irish Soda Farls

1 cup soft whole wheat flour
1 cup soft unbleached flour
3/4 to 1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
a little flour to roll out
about 1 teaspoon mild vegetable oil

Mix the flours, salt, and soda in a mixing bowl. Stir in the buttermilk to form a rough dough; when it is mostly together turn it out onto a clean counter, board, or sheet of parchment paper and knead gently to bring it all together - about 20 to 30 seconds or 12 to 20 turns.

As soon as you have a nice smooth dough, pat it out into a circle about 8" or 9" in circumference, and about 1/2" thick or slightly less. You could roll it out with a rolling pin, but it's easy enough to pat out. Sprinkle it with a little flour if it gets sticky, on both sides. Check - turn it once or twice as you pat it out.

Brush a large cast iron skillet with a very thin layer of mild vegetable oil - I dribbled a bit in then wiped it around with a piece of paper towel and discarded the excess, much like when I make crepes. Most recipes don't call for oiling the griddle or skillet, but this kind of griddle baking really sucks the finish off the cast iron and I think this helps to keep that down to a dull roar. They need to not be sitting in any more oil than just a film, though.

Heat the skillet on the stove, over medium heat. Specifically, turn it to the temperature at which you would cook pancakes or eggs, then lower it just a tad, because these are thicker and will need a little longer. Let the skillet pre-heat for a minute or two while you cut the dough into quarters. A pizza cutter is ideal for this. Gently place the farls into the pan, and cook for about 5 minutes per side. Lift them gently after a few minutes to make sure they are not browning too fast - lower the heat if they are. Turn them once they are lightly browned and risen, and cook on the other side.

Serve warm, split and buttered. If there are leftovers, they can be split and toasted.

Last year at this time I made Dutch Beef & Onion Hachée.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Rutabaga & Mushroom Soup

I have to admit this looks simple, even plain, but we both thought it was really tasty. Butter-sautéd mushrooms and herbs do great things for good ol' rutabaga. It's simple and plain where it counts - it goes together very quickly. It's also good eaten right away or will keep for a day or two in the fridge for re-heating.

It will serve 2 with some bread and butter or small sandwich for a meal, or make 4 starter portions for a multi-course dinner.

I would have liked to have some green oniony stuff to toss into this, but the weather is not yet co-operating. Soon, I hope!

2 to 4 servings
1 hour - 45 minutes prep time

Rutabaga & Mushroom Soup

Cook the Rutabaga:
4 cups peeled, diced rutabaga
3 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt

Peel and dice the rutabaga, and put it in a small soup pot (2 quarts or litres) with the water and salt, and bring to a boil. Boil for 30 to 40 minutes, until tender.

Mix the Spices:
1/2 teaspoon dry rosemary leaves
1/2 teaspoon dry thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon flour

Grind the rosemary and thyme leaves together, and mix them in a small bowl with the salt and flour.

Finish the Soup:
1 large onion
300 grams (10 ounces) white button mushrooms
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups unsalted chicken or vegetable stock

Peel and chop the onion. Clean, trim, and cut the mushrooms in thickish slices each way, creating little mushroom sticks.

Heat the butter in a medium skillet, over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, for a minute or two until softened. Add the mushrooms. Cook for about 5 to 10 minutes, stirring regularly, until softened and browned in spots.

Add the spice and flour mixture (from above), and mix it in well. Let it all cook for another several minutes, stirring regularly, then gradually add the chicken or other stock, stirring constantly. Let simmer a few minutes to thicken.

While it does that, and when the rutabaga is tender, mash the rutabaga well in the pot without draining it. Stir in the contents of the skillet, and adjust the seasonings if necessary. Let simmer over medium-low heat for another 5 or 10 minutes. Stir regularly.

Last year at this time I made the fabulous Red Cabbage & Parsley Slaw... somehow forgot to mention it's also full of parsnip.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

A Visit to Rolling Ridge Maple Products

Wow, has it ever been a long time since I've paid a visit to anyone, but when we were coming home from Windsor last weekend we drove past Rolling Ridge Maple Products, remembered we were out of maple syrup, and paid a flying visit.

Rolling Ridge is located at 22681 Vanneck Road, just west of Ilderton, Ontario. (Ilderton is about 20 kilometres north-west of London.)

This is a very nice little set-up. In addition to the combined boiler room (refinery? evaporator? sugar shack?) and store, you can walk through the bush from which the sap is collected, reading notes on the production of maple syrup as you go. Although I admit my eyebrows went up at the description of the method of collecting sap as being "invented by the early pioneers". Um, really?

There's the old sugar shack, as well as the original cast iron kettle.

They have a couple of the old collection buckets on display, but as with every modern maple producer, the sap is now directed straight to the boiler via blue plastic tubing.

You can just about spot the tubing in the background behind the old sugar shack.

Inside, our purchase is rung up by Jamie Robson, a member of the family behind Rolling Ridge. There's maple syrup, maple syrup, and more maple syrup - oh, and little maple sugar patties in the form of maple leaves, maple "butter", and if you are there at the right time apparently maple cotton candy, which sounds to me like genius or at least about the only thing that would induce me to eat cotton candy. They opened up in late February and will go until some time in April at this location, although their products are available all year in other places.

Barrels of maple syrup sit in the boiler room. This years season has been early, long, and odd; with temperatures all over the map, making the process somewhat trying. However, spring approaches and the sap rises and the outcome is maple syrup. 

As the syrup is decanted from the boiler, it passes through a serious series of filters. Jay Robson, Jamie's brother, oversees the process.

Maple syrup grading names are in a period of change. From my point of view this will have advantages and disadvantages. What is now being called Very Dark is my favourite, and it used to be somewhat hard to get but often cheaper when I could find it - not always! I think I am not alone in preferring it now (it used to be that the lightest in colour and flavour was at least officially the most highly regarded) so I will find it easier to get but no less expensive than any other kind. Of course, the exact proportions of each kind produced will continue to depend more on weather conditions than on the demand for them.

Our gallon of syrup came in a big plastic jug. Since it takes us quite a while to go through that much, we will re-can it into smaller glass canning jars. It will keep up to 3 years in our cold cellar that way, although I doubt it will take us that long to use it.

I Think They're Back!?

The red-winged blackbirds, that is. I'm pretty sure I heard one last Friday morning, and last Saturday morning, but only one so I didn't count it as "they're back" - just one crazy dude determined to get the very, very best nesting site.

Sunday we headed down to Windsor for the weekend, and as we drove we quickly spotted half a dozen before we had gone very far. "THEY'RE BACK!"  I squealed, and then spent the next few days thinking about other things. This morning it is bloody cold (this often happens - up they come on a warm day, then they spend a couple of very cold, miserable days, if not weeks) and I have not heard anything more from them. I got up and shut the window at 4:00 am though. It was too cold even for me.

In other signs of spring, I spotted a couple of male wild turkeys on top of a small pile of logs at the edge of a wood, doing their display dance for a small but presumably interested audience. They looked very strange as we whizzed by. Are those empty, black metal spools? I wondered, or giant black mushrooms on their sides? - NO! Dancing turkeys!

And also we just bought a gallon of this years maple syrup, so there's that too.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Baked Apples with Cheesecake Filling

If there is anything more Ontarian than apple desserts, I really don't know what. This is lighter than eating a slab of cheesecake but still makes a pretty rich and solid dessert. Serve it with a lighter meal; it makes a fine finish to a soup, salad or sandwich supper.

I used rum and thought it made an excellent combination with the discreet touch of cinnamon. Some chopped raisins added to the filling might have been nice, but I was lazy and tend to like a smooth textured filling anyway. If you like them they would be good, though.

Depending on the size of your apples and the degree to which you hollow them out, this amount of filling might do 4 to 8 of them, but in general I think 6 will be about right.

6 servings
1 hour and 45 minutes - 30 minutes prep time
allow time to cool

Baked Apples with Cheesecake Filling

Make the Filling:
250 grams (1/2 pound) cream cheese
1 large egg
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon rum
OR 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350°F. 

Put the cream cheese into a small mixing bowl and work it until it is easy to stir. Mix in the egg, sugar, rum or vanilla, and cinnamon.

Prepare & Stuff the Apples:

6 medium-large baking apples
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup water OR apple juice or cider
2 tablespoons honey

Using a small, sharp paring knife, cut out as much of the core of an apple as possible (you will remove a cone-shaped piece) then use a grapefruit spoon to hollow out the apple to within about 1 cm of the skin or slightly less. Don't break through the bottom of the apple. Peel a thin strip of peel off around the equator of the apple (if you like - this makes it a little easier to eat, and helps avoid splitting while baking but is not strictly required).

Have the lemon juice and water or apple juice or cider mixed together in a small pot; use this to swish the apple around in, covering all the cut sides. Drain it back into the pot and place the apple in a shallow baking dish (approximately 8" x 10"). Repeat with the remaining apples.

Chop all the material removed from the apples roughly and add it to the pot of water and lemon juice. Bring to a boil and simmer until quite soft. Add the honey and mix in until well dissolved. Strain the mixture through a sieve, discarding anything that won't go through, and spoon it around the apples in the baking dish.  Add a little more water or juice if the amount does not seem sufficient to cover the bottom of the pan to the depth of about 1 cm.

While the apple sauce cooks, use the prepared cheesecake filling to fill the apples. Once the apples are filled and the sauce distributed around them, bake them at 350°F for approximately 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes, until they are soft and the cheesecake filling shows slight signs of browning. 

Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Last year at this time I made Baked Spring Rolls.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Duck & Wild Rice Salad

And finally, the last dish made from our one little duck. The legs are roasted with 5-spice powder, and tossed with wild rice, pumpkin seeds, apples, and slightly sweet vegetables, then tossed with an orange and sesame dressing. Delicious!

Four servings assumes you are not serving much else - put it on a bed of hydroponic lettuce, and pass some nice bread and butter - but for this to stretch to six servings assumes that other dishes are on the table; a couple of other light and complementary salads, perhaps.

4 to 6 servings
45 minutes prep time
not including the advance cooking

Duck & Wild Rice Salad

Cook the Duck, the Sweet Potato & the Wild Rice:
the legs from a 2.25 - 2.5 kg (5 pound) duck
2 teaspoons 5-spice powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large sweet potato
1 cup wild rice
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups water

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Put the duck legs in a snug, shallow baking tray and sprinkle them with the 5-spice powder and the1/4 teaspoon salt. Poke the sweet potato with a fork in several spots.

Put both in the oven and bake until done; at least an hour to an hour and a quarter. Such are the vagaries of life that the duck legs are likely to be done before the sweet potato. Let both cool and refrigerate until wanted.

Meanwhile, put the wild rice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and water into the rice cooker; turn on and cook. Alternatively, you could put them in a pot, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to very low; cook for about 45 minutes or until tender. Cool and refrigerate the wild rice as well. 

Make the Dressing:
the juice of 1 Meyer lemon
1/4 cup sunflower seed oil
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon Aleppo or other mildly hot pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon 5-spice powder

Squeeze and strain the Meyer lemon into a jam jar or small mixing bowl, and add the rest of the ingredients. Whisk or shake well.

Finish the Salad:
1/2 cup finely diced peeled celeriac
OR 1 stalk celery
1 large carrot
2 medium apples
1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds

Trim and dice the cold cooked sweet potato. Debone the duck legs, and chop the meat. Toss the sweet potato, duck, and wild rice in a mixing bowl.

Peel and finely dice the celeriac, or trim and finely chop the celery. Peel and grate or finely dice the carrot. Peel, core and dice the apples. Toss the celeriac, carrot, apples, and pumpkin seeds into the salad. Drizzle the dressing over and toss again; transfer to a serving bowl or individual dishes.

Last year at this time I made Braised Guinea Fowl with Carrots & Prunes.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Hungarian Mushroom Duck Soup

Here is a nice mushroom soup made a little unusual by just a few tweaks. The duck is the most obvious one; and you could revert to chicken if you really can't do the duck, but the duck is delicious and really goes with the mushrooms. Try to use at least a mix of the regular white ones with some shiitakes (don't forget to remove the stems), but if you can get a few other varieties to throw in there so much the better. Paprika, caraway, and dill (like duck) are popular Hungarian ingredients and continue the theme. 

This can be made somewhat in advance (you will need to make the duck stock a day ahead at any rate) and can be reheated and served as needed.

4 to 6 servings
45 minutes prep time

Hungarian Mushroom Duck Soup

300 grams (10 ounces) mixed mushrooms
1 large leek
OR 2 medium onions
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons duck fat
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
1/2 teaspoon caraway seed
1/2 teaspoon dill weed
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 to 6 cups unsalted duck stock
1/2 to 1 cup chopped cooked duck meat, if possible
sour cream to top the finished soup (optional)

Clean, trim, and slice the mushrooms. Peel and chop the leek or onions. Peel and mince the garlic.

Heat the duck fat in a large soup pot. Cook the mushrooms and leek or onions over medium heat, stirring regularly, until softened and reduced in volume.

Mix the flour, paprika, crushed caraway seed, dill weed, salt, and pepper. Sprinkle this and the garlic over the mushrooms and leeks or onions, and mix in well, cooking for several minutes more. Slowly add the duck stock, mixing well to avoid lumps. If you have any bits of meat that you pulled from the carcass after making the duck stock, chop them finely and add them to the soup now.

Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Serve with a dollop of sour cream if you like.

Last year at this time I made Rutabaga with Parmesan & Rosemary

Monday, 13 March 2017

Duck Terrine Roasted in the Duck Skin

This is, admittedly, a rather time-consuming and elaborate dish, and there is much wrestling to be done with the duck. The advantage is that it allows a single fairly average sized duck to serve 4 to 6 people, with leftovers for Hungarian Mushroom Duck Soup and Duck & Wild Rice Salad. That's some extreme duck frugality.

I put the liver into mine, with the result that this had a certain resemblance to haggis. You may or may not wish to do that. Note that the duck stock is not used in this recipe; it's just that you might as well make it when you are doing your preliminary duck preparation.

4 to 6 servings
allow 1 hour to prep the chicken stock
 - plus 3 to 4 hours to cook it
2 1/2 hours to finish and cook the terrine - 45 minutes prep

Duck Terrine Roasted in the Duck Skin

Prepare the Duck & Make Duck Stock:
a 2.25 to 2.5 kilo (5 pound) duck
2 to 3 bay leaves
1 star anise pod
3 to 5 juniper berries
6 to 8 black peppercorns

Carefully cut the wings and legs off the duck, leaving the remainder of the skin as whole and undamaged as possible. Put the legs aside in a small roasting pan and cover and return them to the fridge for now. Put the wings into a stock pot with the seasonings.  If your duck came with a neck, add it to the pot as well.

Cut the skin down the backbone of the duck, and carefully peel it off, keeping it in one piece. Wrap it up and return it to the fridge. Cut the breast meat off the duck, and indeed any other bits of meat that you can find. Wrap them and return them to the fridge. Break up the carcass of the duck and put it in the stock pot along with 2 litres of water. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer and simmer for 3 or 4 hours, until you have good stock. Strain the stock, discarding the solids, and cool the stock.

This can and should be done a day in advance. The duck stock is not used here; it goes to the Hungarian Mushroom Duck Soup.

Make the Seasoning Mixture:
1/2 teaspoon dry rosemary leaves
1/2 teaspoon fennel
1/4 teaspoon ground Aleppo or other mildly hot pepper
3 allspice berries
6 to 8 black peppercorns
3/4 teaspoon salt

Grind the spices together and set aside for the moment.

Make the Duck Terrine:
3 cloves of garlic
1 medium carrot
1/2 cup finely diced peeled celeriac
OR 1 stalk of celery
2 small onions
1 tablespoon duck fat
2 large eggs
1/2 cup fine dry breadcrumbs
2 medium potatoes

Peel and mince the garlic. Peel and finely grate the carrot. Peel and finely dice or grate the celeriac, or trim and mince the celery. Peel and mince the onions.

Heat the duck fat in a medium skillet, and gently cook the vegetables until softened and reduced in volume; add the garlic last and just for the last few minutes of cooking. Add the seasoning mixture at the same time. Transfer the cooked vegetables into a mixing bowl to cool.

Meanwhile, finely chop the breast and any other bits of meat. You can add the heart and liver or not, as you like, although duck liver is fairly strong so keep that in mind. Mix the chopped meat in with the vegetables once they are cool.

Mix in the eggs and the bread crumbs. Wash and trim the potatoes, and grate them finely. There should be about 1 packed cup once grated; add them to the mixture.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Cut 3 pieces of kitchen twine to tie up the terrine. Lay the duck skin, outside down, over them. Form the filling mixture into a long sausage shape over the skin, then wrap it around the filling to cover, as much as possible. Tie it closed with the twine.

Put the terrine onto a metal rack over a pan to catch the drips with the seam side up, and roast it for 45 minutes. Carefully turn the terrine over so the whole skin side is up, and roast for a further 30 minutes to 45 minutes, until the skin is brown and crispy. Let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before cutting into slices and serving.

You should roast the legs at the same time; they will be ready a bit quicker. See the recipe for Duck & Wild Rice Salad for more details. 

Save the drippings and fat; put them into a small but deep container and refrigerate. This will allow you to remove the fat and keep it for cooking - the other drippings can be added to soup. 

Last year at this time I made Cheese & Carrot Barley Casserole.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Cumberland Sauce

Cumberland sauce, named for the Duke of Cumberland, is - it will not surprise you, given the name - an English sauce from the Victorian era. Unlike an awful lot of Victorian English cooking it is not difficult, overly elaborate, or bland. This is actually quite zippy, even zingy.

Believe it or not I have reached the ripe old age of 56 without previously tasting Port. It's more like sherry than I would have supposed, given its' reputation as a purely masculine drink. A good robust sherry would probably make a respectable replacement for it, if you liked. Likewise, instead of half each of a lemon and an orange, I used an entire Meyer lemon - my first ripe one of the season.

Cumberland sauce is traditionally used with just about any kind of red meat; I made mine to go with a duck recipe. Next week is going to be duck week - stay tuned.

6 to 8 servings
15 minutes prep time

Cumberland Sauce on Duck Terrine

zest of 1/2 of a lemon
zest of 1/2 of an orange
the juice of 1/2 of a lemon
the juice of 1/2 of an orange
1/2 cup red currant jelly
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon arrowroot or cornstarch
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup Port

Zest the lemon and oranges into a small pot, then squeeze out and add the juices. Add the remaining ingredients, with the exception of the Port. Stir well to be sure the starch is completely dissolved.

Heat the mixture gently over medium to low heat, stirring regularly, until the currant jelly has dissolved and the starch has cooked and thickened the sauce very slightly. This is a thin sauce; the starch is just sufficient to give it a little body rather than to thicken it substantially.

When the sauce is ready, stir in the Port and remove it from the heat. Strain it through a sieve into a serving pitcher or gravy boat. Serve at once.

Last year at this time I made A Late Winter Salad with Avocado.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Thai Style Peanut & Sweet Potato Soup

In spite of the long list of ingredients this is pretty easy to put together, especially if you purée it instead of rubbing the sweet potatoes through a sieve which is what I did. What was I thinking? Washing the food processor would have been so much faster and easier.

Anyway, in spite of this being pretty easy to put together, it isn't super fast, what with having to cook the sweet potatoes in advance and also simmering the soup for a bit. I also thought the leftovers were even better than the first time around, and this should keep in the fridge for up to a week, so I would definitely say it's a thing to make in advance.

It's a very substantial soup; either serve small portions or don't serve too much else with it. I used the chicken stock, but the simple substitution of vegetable stock would make this vegetarian. I'm saying the keffir lime leaves and the lemongrass are optional, but do try to have at least one of them and both if you can get them. 

4 to 6 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 30 minutes prep time
not including roasting the sweet potatoes

Thai Style Peanut & Sweet Potato Soup

Roast the Sweet Potatoes:
750 grams (1 1/2 pounds; 4 medium) sweet potatoes

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Wash the sweet potatoes and prick them with a fork; roast them until soft, about an hour to an hour and a quarter. Let cool enough to handle. This can be done up to a day ahead.

Make the Soup:
3 or 4 large shallots
3 or 4 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
1 cup coconut milk
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
6 to 8 keffir lime leaves (optional)
the pared rind of a lime
1/4 cup chopped lemongrass (optional)
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh ginger
2 to 4 teaspoons finely minced pickled Jalapeño chile
2/3 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon salt
the juice of 1/2 lime
chopped cilantro to garnish
chopped roasted peanuts to garnish
lime wedges to garnish

Peel and mince the shallots. Peel and mince the garlic.

Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add the shallots and cook over medium heat, stirring regularly, until lightly browned throughout; at least 15 to 20 minutes. Add the garlic and mix in well but let it cook for just a minute or two.

Add the coconut milk and stock to the soup pot and reduce the heat to low.

Put the lime leaves, pared lime rind (avoid the white pith as much as possible), the chopped lemongrass and the sliced ginger into a large spice ball, or tie it up in a bit of muslin and add it to the pot of soup. Simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Peel the sweet potatoes, and press them through a sieve or food mill into the soup. Alternatively, you can just chop them up and add them, then purée the soup before serving for a really smooth texture.

Measure the peanut butter in a large measuring cup. Ladle some of the soup in with it, and mix well before stirring it all back into the pot. (Although if  you are puréeing the soup, you can just dump it in and break it up as best you can first.) Season with the salt.

If you have opted to purée the soup - probably a smart move in retrospect, yeah I didn't - now is the time to do it.

Reheat the soup to serve, with the lime juice mixed in first. Pass it with chopped cilantro, chopped roasted peanuts, and wedges of lime to squeeze over.

Last year at this time I made A Late Winter Salad with Avocado.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Etta Ferguson's Oat Cakes

Last summer we spent 2 weeks in Nova Scotia, scattering Dad's ashes and visiting relatives. My aunt from Pennsylvania also came up, and she spent a little time chasing after oat cakes. That got me interested in them too, and before I left I asked my cousins if they had a good recipe. "Etta Ferguson's" they all replied in a chorus. So, I got it and here it is.

I don't know who Etta was but her oat cakes are terrific. She used shortening, which I replaced with half butter and half lard but for once I did not meddle beyond that. I thought it looked like a lot of salt and a lot of sugar, and yes it is. However, as I sat there eating the first cookie and thinking, hmm, too much salt? too much sugar? everyone else was saying OMG OM NOM NOM. The salt and brown sugar does give them a salted caramel quality that is very appealing.

I used Sucanat, which is a very unrefined brown sugar and probably quite similar to the cheap brown sugar originally used in the recipes from the Maritimes that call for brown sugar. Now, of course, you pay considerably extra for it, but I do think it makes a difference. You can use large or small flake rolled oats; I prefer large flakes for making oatmeal but for baking I tend to prefer the small quick-cooking ones, and that's what I used here.

Etta says to roll the cakes thin, and bake for 10 to 12 minutes at 350°F to 375°F. I think that 375°F is the proper temperature, and I needed to bake mine for closer to 15 minutes even so. Perhaps I didn't roll them out thin enough, but they were still rolled thinner than the commercially baked versions I saw. Mine ended up a bit chewy rather than really crisp but no complaints. I would happily eat them either way.

makes 32 to 40
30 minutes - 15 minutes prep time

Etta Ferguson's Oat Cakes

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup lard
1 cup Sucanat or dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 cup soft whole wheat flour
1 scant teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Cream the butter and lard in a large mixing bowl until soft and fluffy, then beat in the egg and the vanilla extract.

Mix together the dry ingredients, and stir them in until evenly and throroughly combined, and no dry bits remain.

Turn the dough out onto a sheet of parchment paper to fit on your baking sheet. Pat it into a neat flat rectangle, then roll it out as evenly as possible. You can trim and patch the edges without much difficulty. The finished rectangle should be about 1/4" thick and fit onto your baking tray.

Use a pizza cutter to cut it into 32 (4 x 8) or 40 (5 x 8) pieces, but no need to move them apart. Put the sheet of parchment with the cakes onto the baking sheet, and bake for 12 to 15 minutes until set (no longer shiny) and slightly browned.

Re-cut the lines with the pizza cutter and let the cakes cool. Lift them from the parchment with a thin lifter, and break them gently apart. Store in a tin, in a cool dry spot for as long as you can keep people out of them - not long.

Last year at this time I made Ham & Cheese French Toast

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Spicy Chinese Style Noodles

This is not an outstandingly authentic Chinese recipe; it's more in the line of making-do with what you can find in small-town grocery stores where there is not much if any Chinese population. I had seen a few Chinese noodle recipes that called for cucumbers and since I still had some to use up from the packet I bought last week I decided to give it a go, using just what was already in the house. We thought it was pretty good actually!

Cooked cucumbers end up much like cooked zucchini, only more bland. I'm not really excited by them. These go in so close to the last moment though, that although their flavour becomes milder, they still taste like cucumbers and they have a little crunch. Do be careful not to overcook them - they should be in the pan for just a minute or two. 

As ever, the correct amount of noodles to cook is the amount you intend to eat. I have broken the list of ingredients into 2 sections according whether they get boiled and/or added to the skillet at the last moment, or whether they get cooked in the skillet longer. Both these things need to be happening at the same time though, so do read the whole recipe before starting (always a good plan...)

2 to 4 servings
40 minutes prep time

Spicy Chinese Style Noodles

Cook the Meat Etc.:
2 large chicken thighs
4 teaspoons soy sauce
4 teaspoons rice vinegar
4 teaspoons black bean garlic sauce
3 to 4 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons finely minced peeled fresh ginger
4 to 6 large shallots OR green onions
100 grams (1/4 pound) shiitake mushrooms
2 tablespoons chicken fat or mild vegetable oil

Cut the bone out of the chicken thighs (if it is there) and chop them into smallish bite-sized pieces. Put the meat into a bowl to marinate in the soy sauce, vinegar, and bean paste while you prepare other things; about 20 minutes.

Peel and mince the garlic. Peel and mince the ginger, and put it aside in a small bowl with the garlic. Peel and sliver the shallots, or trim and julienne the green onions. Remove the caps from the shiitakes and discard the stems. Dice the caps.

When there is approximately 10 minutes left for the noodles to cook (which, depending on the noodles may actually be once the water boils but before they go into it,) heat the fat or oil in a large skillet over high heat. Dump in the meat with the marinade ingredients, and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the shallots and shiitakes. (If you are using green onions hold off adding them until the last few minutes of cooking). When they have softened, browned and cooked down some, add the ginger and garlic and cook for another minute or two.

Cook the Noodles Etc.:
150 to 200 grams (5 to 6 ounces) wheat noodles
1 medium-large carrot
3 to 4 small greenhouse cucumbers
3 to 4 cloves of garlic
1 handful of chopped cilantro (optional)
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil (optional)
1 to 2 teaspoons chile-garlic sauce
OR hot pepper flakes to taste

Put a pot of salted water on to boil for the noodles and cook them according to the package instructions. You can throw the carrots in for the last 2 minutes of cooking if you prefer them not to be too crunchy; you may wish to allow an extra minute to cook the noodles, to cope with the fact that they cool the water down some.

Peel the carrot and cut it into julienne. Wash and trim the cucumbers, and cut them into julienne. Peel and mince the garlic. Wash, dry, and chop the cilantro, if wanted.

When the noodles are done, drain them well. As noted, the carrot can go in with the noodles or add them now, with the noodles and cucumbers, to the pan of chicken and sauce. Mix in well and cook for a minute or two, until the noodles are well coated in the sauce and everything is fairly evenly distributed. The carrots and cucumbers should be just wilted. Sprinkle the garlic, sesame oil, chile-garlic sauce or hot pepper flakes over the noodles and mix in well.

Serve the noodles up at once, sprinkled with a little chopped cilantro if you like.

Last year at this time I made Ham & Cheese French Toast

Monday, 27 February 2017

Grilled Cheese à la French Onion Soup

I made some French onion soup for Christmas, and I still had a hankering for more. I didn't want to get into the whole soup-making thing again though, so I thought of this way of getting many of those delightful onion soupy flavours. It's still awfully time-consuming to cook the onions so not something I would go to the trouble for if I wanted just a single slice. Although I would think you could prepare the onion topping in advance and keep it in the fridge, toasting up slices of bread as you wanted them, for up to a week.

The cheese you use should be whatever you think most appropriate for French onion soup. Usually that will be a Gruyère or Emmentaler. If I had Gouda I would try it, but Mozzerella is too mild, I would think. I might try Friulano (Montasio) but it's not the usual. (I actually have some in the fridge at the moment, so I probably will try it... especially since this recipe was greatly approved.)

Note this recipe is per slice; multiply it by the number of slices you wish to make. Mind you, my slices of bread were pretty large and you could probably stretch this amount of topping out over 2 smaller slices.

per slice
1 hour - 20 minutes prep time

1 small onion AND 1 small shallot
OR 1 medium onion
1 small clove of garlic
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
50 grams (2 ounces) melty cheese - Gruyere, Emmentaler, etc
1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
OR 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
a pinch of rubbed savory or thyme
1 large slice good sturdy sandwich bread

Peel the onions (and shallots). Cut them in half lengthwise, then lay them flat and cut them into thin slices across the width. Peel and mince the garlic.

Heat the butter in a skillet of the appropriate size over medium heat. Cook the onions in it until they are very soft and slightly browned; about 40 minutes. In between times is a good time to slice the cheese.

About 5 minutes before they are done start toasting the bread under the broiler until it is lightly toasted on both sides.

Add the garlic and balsamic vinegar or Worcestershire sauce, and the savory or thyme, to the pan of onions and cook, stirring frequently, for a few minutes more.

Pile two-thirds of the onions onto the pieces of toast, evenly divided, and spread them out to cover the toast. Top with the slices of cheese, and spread the remaining onion mixture over the top of the cheese. Return the toast slices to the broiler, and cook until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Last year at this time I made Kasha with Potatoes, Mushrooms, & Cabbage.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Cucumber Waldorf Salad

Greenhouse cucumbers are readily available right now, and this variation on the classic Waldorf salad (usually made with celery) suits them very well. You could add a little celery if you like, but I didn't miss it. It would have been nice to have served it on some lettuce leaves, if I had had any.

Greenhouse cucumbers vary quite a bit in size, which is why the recipe is so vague; however you want just a slightly larger pile once chopped than the apple.

2 to 4 servings
10 minutes prep time

Cucumber Waldorf Salad

2 to 4 small greenhouse cucumbers
1 large apple
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice
2 tablespoons sour cream
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
hydroponic lettuce (optional)

Wash the cucumbers, trim them, and cut them into dice. Wash, core and chop the apple. The volume of chopped cucumber should be just a little more than that of the chopped apple.

Toss the cucumber, apple, and walnuts in a small bowl, then add the lemon or lime juice, sour cream, and salt and pepper. Toss gently to combine.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Split Pea & Wild Rice Soup

In some ways this is a typical split pea soup, but the wild rice makes it a little different. This makes 4 meal sized servings (with toast or a sandwich) but if you wanted to serve it as a starter for more people, I would thin it with a little more chicken stock. It got pretty thick. I also used whole peas because we grew them, but I can't help but think they would have been better split. Maybe next time I will try putting them through the blender and see if I can't "split" them myself.

If you wanted a vegetarian version, I would suggest using 1/2 cup of wild rice and 3 1/2 cups of water to cook the peas and rice; omit the meat and use vegetable oil. If you just wish to avoid pork, smoked turkey makes an excellent substitute.

This will keep well in the fridge for up to a week, and it should also freeze well.

4 to 6 servings
1 hour - 20 minutes prep time
not including cooking the peas and rice

Split Pea & Wild Rice Soup

Cook the Peas & Wild Rice:
1 cup dried split green or yellow peas
1/3 cup wild rice
3 cups water or stock
1 teaspoon salt
2 bay leaves

Put the above ingredients into your rice cooker; turn on and cook. You could also do this in a pot; in which case bring them to a boil then reduce the heat to very low and cook for about 40 to 45 minutes; remove from heat when peas are tender.

This can and should be done a day in advance. Keep the mixture in the fridge or cool spot until wanted. 

Make the Soup:
4 cups unsalted ham, chicken, or turkey stock
1 large onion
1 medium carrot
1/2 cup peeled, diced celeriac OR 1 to 2 stalks celery
2 to 3 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon bacon fat or mild vegetable oil
1/2 to 2/3 cup diced cooked ham or diced smoked turkey
1 teaspoon rubbed savory or thyme
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

Put the cooked peas and wild rice into a soup pot. Add the stock and bring to a simmer.

Meanwhile, peel and chop the onion. Peel and dice the carrot. Peel and dice the celeriac (or trim and chop the celery). Peel and mince the garlic.

Heat the fat in a medium sized skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrot and celeriac, and cook for 5 or so minutes, stirring regularly. When softened and slightly browned in spots, add the garlic and savory, mix in and cook for another minute or two. Add the vegetables to the soup, along with the ham or smoked turkey.

Simmer the soup for 30 to 40 minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally. At some point check the seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.

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

Monday, 20 February 2017

Ham, Cheese & Belgian Endive in Buckwheat Crepes with Mushroom Sauce

Admittedly this is a bit complicated; not an everyday dish by any means. However it would be ideal for entertaining, as the crepes and the sauce can both be made in advance, leaving the assembly and baking for just before serving, and both of those are very straightforward. 

Note that I first list the crepes under "Finish the Crepes" but they need to be made ahead of time. They can be done a day ahead if you like, and kept wrapped in the fridge until needed. Heat the sauce (in the microwave is easiest) until it's just hot enough to spread easily. The number of crepes used is not a full recipe, but with a full recipe you should have no trouble getting the number of nicely formed ones that you need. Leftover crepes are very easily disposed of, after all.

The number of servings depends on whether people will eat one filled crepe or two; and that in turn depends on appetites and what else is being served. I'm inclined to think a nice crisp salad is what is needed to finish this off.

3 to 6 servings
1 hour 15 minutes - 45 minutes prep time
not including making the crepes

Ham, Cheese & Belgian Endive in Buckwheat Crepes with Mushroom Sauce

Make the Mushroom Sauce:
300 grams white mushrooms
3 to 4 large shallots
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon rubbed thyme or savory
1 cup ham or chicken stock
1 cup light cream

Clean and slice the mushrooms. Peel and mince the shallots. Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium high heat; when melted add the shallots and mushrooms. Cook for 10 minutes or so, stirring regularly, until the mushrooms are lightly browned.

Sprinkle the flour and seasonings over the mushrooms and shallots and mix in well; cook for a minute or two longer. Slowly mix in the stock, stirring well to prevent lumps, and simmer for a few minutes until thickened. Mix in the cream and continue stirring and cooking until thickened once more. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Finish the Crepes:
1 recipe buckwheat crepes, made ahead
 - you actually need 6 to 8 crepes
6 to 8 medium or 3 to 4 large heads of Belgian endive
6 to 8 slices smoked ham
3 to 4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
8 ounces smoked Cheddar or Gruyere
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Put a pot of water on to boil, and blanch the endives for 2 minutes. Rinse them in cold water to stop the cooking and drain them well.

Spoon a little sauce into a 9" x 13" shallow baking (lasagne) pan and spread it out.

Take a crepe, and lay a piece of ham in the middle. Trim an endive, and slice it in half. Use half an endive or a whole one per crepe, depending on their size. Lay the endive piece(s) across the ham to cover most of the crepe from side to side. Sprinkle with a little balsamic vinegar. Add the cheese, sliced to cover the ham and endive from side to side. Spoon over a little of the mushrooms sauce. Basically, you are placing a rectangle of fillings across the middle of the crepe, with the ham no doubt spreading out further. Roll up the crepe - I didn't bother to tuck in the sides - and place it in the prepared baking pan, snuggly against one short end.

Repeat with the remaining crepes and fillings until they are all done and the pan is full. Try to use about half of the mushroom sauce in this process, reserving the rest to spread over the top. Spread the remaining sauce over the top, and sprinkle it evenly with the Parmesan cheese.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until lightly browned and bubbling.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Caramel Apple Pudding

Here is a very simple milk-based pudding, made rich and unusual by the caramelized apples folded into it. The caramelized apples are also quite easy to do; the one thing I would note is that you should be careful not to let the caramel get too dark before the butter and apples are added - it will continue to darken for a number of seconds more, which given how quickly caramel goes from perfect to burnt is a consideration. Let there be definite brown colour throughout, but don't let it go further than that. 

As ever, whipped cream would have been fabulous with this. Next time I might also soak a few raisins in rum and add them to the caramelized apples for the last few minutes that they cook, but this was certainly just fine as it was.

4 to 6 servings
40 minutes prep time

Caramel Apple Pudding

Make the Caramel Apple Sauce:
4 medium apples
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Peel, core and slice the apples.

Put the sugar and water into a fairly large (2 quart) heavy-bottomed pot. Heat over medium-high heat without stirring, until the sugar caramelizes. Do not let it get too dark; it will continue to cook a little as the butter and apples are added. So; add the butter and apples and stir well. Be careful - it will foam up and may splash about. Once the apples are well mixed in and the caramel is dissolved in their juice, let it simmer, stirring regularly, until the apples are tender and perhaps starting to fall apart. Remove from the heat and set aside. 

Make the Pudding:
4 tablespoons arrowroot or cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon rum (optional)

In a similar pot, mix the starch, salt, cinnamon, and sugar. Slowly mix in the milk. Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens. Remove from the heat; if you want to flavour it with the rum stir it in now.

Mix the caramel apple sauce into the pudding and divide the pudding amongst 4 to 6 individual serving bowls (nappies).

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Three Sisters Stew

If you have a food dryer, and use it to dry corn when it is in season, you will have a very handy and easy winter food. It reconstitutes to be just as good as frozen or canned corn, but takes much less energy (and trouble) to make and store. It has to be simmered a little longer to reconstitute it, but that is hardly anything.

I left this simple combination of three traditional native vegetables fairly plain; I wanted all the flavours to speak for themselves. You can certainly spice them up if you like. We ate some of it plain, and added chile-garlic sauce to some. This is a great use of (planned) leftover roast squash; fire up the beans while you are roasting it, and this goes together in no time the next day.

Makes 4 servings
30 minutes - 10 minutes prep time
NOT including cooking the beans and squash

Bean, Squash, & Corn Stew; A Kind of Succotash

Cook the Beans & Squash:
1 cup dried beans
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 medium (750 grams; 1 1/2 pounds) butternut squash
a little mild vegetable oil to rub the squash

Pick over the beans and put them in a pot with plenty of water to cover them. Bring them to a good rolling boil and then cover them and turn them off; let them soak for several hours to overnight.

Add the salt and bring the beans back up to a steady simmer. Simmer until tender, stirring regularly.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds and stringy bits. Rub the squash with a little oil and roast it until tender, about 1 hour on a baking dish or tray. Let it cool, peel it, and cut the flesh into bite-sized cubes.

Both of these can (should) be done a day in advance.

Assemble the Stew:
2 cups crushed tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 cups dried corn
OR 3 cups frozen corn
1 medium onion
3 to 4 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Put the tomatoes and bay leaves in a large soup pot, and add the cooked beans along with about 2 cups of their cooking water. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer gently.

Meanwhile, peel and chop the onion. Peel and mince the garlic. Heat the oil in a small skillet, and cook the onion until softened, translucent and reduced in volume. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or 2, then add them both to the beans. Add the dried corn, and the salt and pepper. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the corn is tender. Add the chopped squash and heat through.

Last year at this time I made Ham & Potato Dumplings.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Now What?

So now that all your most childish adolescent fantasies are coming true, and it's up to YOU to save Civilization As We Know It... well, uh, how exactly?

I expect to be wrestling with this question for some time to come myself, but the ideas I'm coming up with so far seem to fall under three general headings.

I'm also giving another plug for Bob Altemeyer's The authoritarians, and Jane Jacob's Systems of Survival. Long reading, but those two books have really clarified and directed my views of society for at least the last decade, and are both highly pertinent to the situation we find ourselves in. Like, seriously, written for it. If you do nothing else, please read those two books.

Continue to Educate Yourself:

No Time to be Nice  Naomi Shulman

On Being Good The Belle Jar

These times require a new language... William J. Barber II (NOTE: contains religious language)

Intolerant Liberals Tucker FitzGerald

Fight Fascists with Mockery not Violence David Neiwert

All of the above and the first 2 links in particular are important, it seems to me, to understanding the reality of being a resister. The point that every-day fascist followers are frequently nice people (as opposed to the political leaders who clearly aren't) is vital to understand. The mere fact of being a nice person may, in fact, lead you to behave in ways that support fascism. It is really hard to stop being a nice person when you have been trained to be one for your whole life. This is particularly true, I think, for women.Making the decision to stop being nice and start being a fascist resister requires working some mental muscles that most of us have not exercised too well.

In my experiences as a landlord, I found pretty much everybody, without exception, was absolutely frightened of any conflict and would go out of their way to avoid any interaction with others that could be interpreted as even mildly critical or confrontational. People would come to me, of course; full of complaints and wanting me to deal with it, whatever it was. So I've had a certain amount of training in telling people things they don't necessarily want to hear. Admittedly I was approaching people from a position of power, but it's notable that nobody ever responded to me with violence, and rarely with threats or insults. It can happen, of course, especially in these times when the nasty are emboldened. But people are generally much less prone to such responses than seems to be the general idea. Stand up for yourself; stand up for others. The more you do it the easier it will become, and it is a genuine contribution to a better world.

Take Actions:

Does going to demonstrations and public meetings actually do any good? YES, IT DOES. Go to demonstrations and public meetings:
Rise Up: This is not complicated

It may take only 3.5% of the population to topple a dictator...

We Can't Let Trump Go Down Putin's Path

Contact your government and engage in public discourse. As Canadians, we don't have much input into the American situation, but there is plenty going on here that is wrong and dangerous; now is the time to keep on top of that stuff and contact your MPs and MPPs as appropriate. Give 'em an inch; they'll take a mile. Fight back now.

This one is for Americans, but Canadians should read it too, and consider the equivalent possibilities:

Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda

Next up, don't buy products made or sold by companies that are damaging the world, as much as that is possible. In a way, that's always the central message of this blog. And as with local food, I try to be in it for the long haul and don't worry about being perfect or complete in my avoidance of products made by suspect companies. A million people eliminating 80% of their purchases of products produced by companies of ill-will would likely be a lot more effective than 10,000 who achieve perfect avoidance - if such a thing is even possible, and I'm not sure it is in the modern world.

We are so much more than consumers, but there are an awful lot of powerful people who regard us as nothing but that... the least we can do is be mindful and careful consumers.

Grab Your Wallet Boycott Tool

In particular the above focuses on companies dealing with the Trumps and so many of them aren't here in Canada. But I do note some that Canadians may have dealings with: Amazon, Bed Bath and Beyond, Hudson's Bay, Walmart, and a fair few others as well. Check it out.

Cultivate Connections:

Don't Be a Bystander  BCRW Videos

Here is a short little video about responding to the public bullying that happens more often when fascists are emboldened. People are often paralyzed by the fact that they have no mental preparation for dealing with shocking breaches of usual public behaviour. Having an idea about how you might act in advance really helps you deal with it if you are there when it happens. (If you prefer, there is a transcript here at Shakesville where I first saw it.)

Other possibilities; look for your local interfaith group and check out what they are doing.

Volunteer for something, somewhere. It's not enough to fight back against what is wrong; it's important to be building what is right as well. It doesn't have to be "political". When Mr Ferdzy got horribly distressed and depressed about the state of the world a few years back, I told him to stop complaining and do something. To my surprise, the thing he chose to do was to go volunteer at a programme that helped autistic and other developmentally delayed children get ready for school, and so once a week he would go off and wrangle 3 and 4 year olds for an afternoon. It was not just a socially useful thing to do, it also really helped cut his feelings of powerlessness and isolation, even though in the greater scheme of things it was a very small action and had nothing to do with the things that originally were distressing him so much. 


This doesn't seem very well organized or well written to me, but it's what I have at the moment. I have some more ideas that are still percolating; we'll see if I manage to do anything with them.