Monday, 21 August 2017

An On-Farm Plant Breeding Day at Whole Circle Farm

Last week we headed out to another plant breeding workshop put on by EFAO and the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security. About 15 people gathered at Whole Circle Farm near Acton to hear about their joint breeding project for a thick-walled, blocky, early-ripening, open-pollinated red pepper.

We started with Rebecca Ivanoff telling us how the project came to be. In short, Ontario farmers interested in breeding and adapting vegetables to their farm conditions discussed the need for on-farm plant breeding, and connected with Dr. Michael Mazourek and Rachel Hultengren from Cornell University in New York state. They in turn had been in contact with farmers in the northern U.S.A., who had expressed a need for such a pepper. The Ontario growers agreed, noting that this was a pepper that many of their farmers market customers were looking for.

Dr. Mazourek and his students at Cornell started by trialing existing red peppers. They identified 2 hybrid peppers, Ace F1 and Aristotle F1 as being the best shaped and the earliest, respectively. They crossed these seeds and shared them with farmers for selection, Rebecca being one of the farmers.

Next we went out into the field to see the row of peppers growing. Rebecca outlined a bit about how the peppers were doing. This is not a good year for peppers, no kidding, but nevertheless the first peppers are beginning to turn red.

Next we walked down the row, marking plants that looked particularly promising. There's one! I noted that many of the plants with the earliest ripening peppers are also very small plants with only one or two peppers on them. Are they naturally small plants, or are they stressed by bad weather? At what point do you say it's worth taking the peppers that ripen second but are on a better plant over the earliest ripening? There are a lot of points to take into consideration. The row was on a slight slope, and it was clear that the higher up the slope the plants were, the earlier their peppers were inclined to ripen - something else to watch for.

There are 4 farmers involved in the project in Ontario, in addition to Rebecca, there is Greta Kryger of Greta's Organic Seeds, Annie Richard from the Kingston Area Seed Systems Initiative, and Kathy Rothermel of Mouse Seeds. They were all there to see how Rebecca's plants were doing.

They are all growing similar seed, as the seeds from the first round of growing out were sent to one of them, who mixed them all up and redistributed them. This ensures that they are all really working on the same project. As far as I can tell the results of this year will be F4, but I admit I forgot to ask.

Many of the attendees were interns on local farms, and Rebecca explained the basics of plant breeding for them. She demonstrated how crosses are done; emasculating a very young flower on the mother plant and bringing the pollen to it on a blossom from another plant. Fiddly work! This was just for demonstration purposes though; the farmers generally just let the bees do any crossing. Not all the peppers will be crosses though; peppers often self-pollinate.

One of the results of the original grow-out of crossed seeds were some yellow peppers. Rebecca was interested enough in them to save them separately and grow them out in their own spot. As you can see, many of them are reverting to red, but even though they look like they would be good peppers for the red pepper project, they won't go into it because it is known that they are carrying a recessive yellow gene.

There were also a number of fluted peppers which resulted from the original grow out; some of the other farmers are pursuing them as a side project as well.

We had a look at some of the other seed projects on the farm. The tangle of pods above are on plants of April Green cabbage; a very good storage cabbage (stays green until April!) This is not a breeding project but Rebecca is experimenting with varying ways to cut or trim the cabbages when they are re-planted in the spring to optimize seed production and quality.

Aabir Dey from the Bauta Initiative gives a run-down on another project - seed-grown potatoes which are being grown out and evaluated. You heard about this project before. We walked down the row of potatoes as well, and were impressed by the variation we could see in the top growth. The potatoes will be quite variable as well, no doubt.

After all that I have to say one of the most useful pieces of information that I picked up was a comment about how, when they grew out carrots for seed at Whole Circle farm one time, they replanted them under hoop houses, so they flowered before the Queen Anne's Lace. Hey, we can do that!

Thanks to Rebecca and Whole Circle Farm for in interesting and instructive day. It's always great to be able to meet and hang out with other seed fanatics.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Green Bean Greek Salad

What could be more summery than a Greek salad? Maybe one made with the liveliest, snappiest, fresh green beans. Otherwise, this is a pretty classic salad.

I didn't put in any green (or other colour) pepper because they have been very dilatory about producing this year, but if you had some and wanted some, about 1/4 of a typical pepper would be about right. I think a bit of yellow or orange pepper would add a touch of lovely colour. It was perfectly delicious without any though.

4 to 6 servings
45 minutes prep time

Green Bean Greek Salad

Make the Dressing:
2 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano
OR 1 teaspoon rubbed dry oregano
a little finely grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
the juice of 1 large lemon
1/4 cup olive oil

Peel and mince the garlic. Wash the oregano and strip the leaves from the stems; mince the leaves finely to measure 1 tablespoon. Put the garlic and oregano into a small bowl or a jam jar and add the rest of the ingredients. You just want a few passes on the grater for the lemon zest, before you juice it and add the juice. Stir or shake and set aside until needed. 

Make the Salad:
250 grams (1/2 pound) green beans
1 medium sweet white or red onion
2 small middle eastern type cucumbers
1 medium to large beefsteak tomato
a good handful of parsley
100 grams (4 ounces) feta cheese
green or black olives to taste

Put a small pot of water on to boil for the beans. Wash and trim the green beans, and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Cook them in the boiling water for 4 to 6 minutes, according to your taste. They should be bright green and still quite crisp. Drain them, rinse them in cold water until cool, then drain again very well. Put them in a salad bowl.

Meanwhile, peel the onion. Cut it in half from pole to pole,then cut each half into half-moon slivers. Put them in a strainer, salt generously, and set aside to drain for about 10 minutes.

Wash, trim, and peel the cucumbers, to the extent that you would like them peeled. Cut them in halves or quarters lengthwise, then into slices. Add to the beans.

Wash the tomato. Blanch and peel it if you like, then chop it into bite sized pieces. Add to the salad.

Wash and dry the parsley, and chop it. Basically, use however much you like. I think a good half cup chopped is not too much, but I like parsley quite a lot. Add it to the salad.

Dice or crumble the feta cheese and add it to the salad.

Rinse and drain the onion well, and add it to the salad.

Toss the salad with the dressing, and garnish it with whatever quantity of olives you deem appropriate.

Last year at this time I made a Savoury Zucchini Roll.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Tung's Beans

Also known as Mr. Tung's Beans. In spite of the fact that this is my second varietal report for beans this year, we don't generally grow too many new beans these days. However, I received some of these beans in a trade 2 years ago and I've been quite impressed with them so far.

I grew them last  year, but I forgot they were for eating fresh, and didn't try any! They grew well and left plenty of seed to plant this year, and this time we've remembered to eat them.

They are a remarkably tender bean. Flavour is on a par with my favourite pole green bean, Blue Lake, but the difference in texture is noticeable. These are almost meltingly soft where Blue Lake is crisp. They are stringless and tender at a larger size than many beans, but of course you can overdo it and let them get too big. Like most beans, they grow very fast and should be picked daily. They are flatter than Blue Lake, but not a broad flat bean like the Roma types. They don't grow as straight and even as Blue Lake, either, but tend to be a bit more wild looking. They are productive, but not quite as productive as Blue Lake.

Overall, we agree we will likely be growing these again, and our "regulars" are now a tough set to break into. We have frozen some, but it will be a while before we find out how well they do. If they freeze well, we will be that much more likely to persist with them. Heritage Harvest says they do freeze well.

One caveat: as regular readers know, we have been struggling with bean anthracnose in the garden for a few years now. We have made some progress in cutting it down, but so far it is reappearing late each summer. I have noted a few specks of black rot on a few of the Tung's beans already, so I would have to say that these have limited to little resistance to bean anthracnose. All sorts of viruses and fungi are rampaging through the garden this year. There is a little of some sort of virus that seems to be affecting all the beans fairly equally but only random plants here and there. There is one virused plant in amongst the Tung's beans, so it is doing about the same as all the others as far as resistance goes. Naturally, none of those virused plants will be kept for seed.

Tung's Bean has a well-documented history. It was grown in the garden of James Kerr of Kootenay Lake, BC, during the early years of the 20th century by the gardener, a Mr. Tung who had come over from China bringing these beans with him, according to the family record. Mr. Tung eventually returned to China, leaving the beans behind. They were grown by the Kerr family for a number of years, then almost lost during World War II when the gardening was interrupted for 7 years. They were revived from 4 beans found in the shed with the garden equipment, and after that shared around to keep the same thing from happening again. You can read the detailed version of this story at The Populuxe Seed Bank.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Late Summer Garden Update; Seed Nerd Alert

In the spring we planted all kinds of experimental seeds, and by now we are getting some kind of an idea about how they are doing. Above are the most interesting (to me, so far) of this years crossed bean seeds. I know the father was Cherokee Trail of Tears (when isn't it?) but I am embarrassed to say I did not record the mother! Perhaps Annelino Yellow? However, there are lots of beans, in an attractive dark green hazed with purple, following nice bright pink flowers. They were quite tasty eaten as fresh beans, stringless and with a melting texture, and so we did not eat them as beans... we are saving them for seed to grow again. We don't have many plants of this as the bloody rabbits ate about two thirds of them as seedlings. Unfortunately I have spotted a bit of anthracnose on one bean. So far that's it, but I will have to watch them carefully.

We are now keeping the peanuts and sweet potatoes covered, and they are now finally showing lots of top growth. Hopefully something is happening underground too. We shall see.

Onions have been blighted by some kind of fungus this year. It seems to be mostly on the tops and mostly doesn't seem to cause die-down until the bulbs are reasonably well formed. The Walla Walla are the worst affected; I'm not sure if it's because of the variety or because they bulb up faster than any of the others. You can just barely see some of the stems of our seed onions in the top left corner; about half of them have black patches all over the stems. Fortunately, we are going to have enough seed by the looks of things that we can afford to cull the fungus-affected plants heavily.

I am absolutely agog at this potato berry. It is on a plant that was sold to me as Russet Burbank. All the Russet Burbanks flowered profusely this year, but this is the only berry that formed. Given that Russet Burbank is generally sterile except under highly controlled laboratory conditions, it is still a minor miracle. Either that, of course, or what was sold to me is not actually Russet Burbank. Still, given the fact that this was the only berry in spite of the prolific flowering suggests that it's not impossible. Needless to say, we will be saving the seeds.

The next day after I took this picture it got knocked off the plant, to my considerable annoyance. It should be far enough along to still ripen nicely though. 

Compare it to the way this potato is forming berries! I believe this is on a potato we grew from seed ourselves, but I'm not completely sure of that until we dig up the plants, as I can't find my notes about what we planted. I know this bed is heavy on our own seed-grown potatoes. On the other hand it might just be Purple Viking.

Much to my relief, watermelons are finally starting to form. I was starting to worry for a bit; time is marching on. Seeds from the largest, earliest watermelon were planted at the far end of the bed, with later, smaller melons supplying seeds in descending order down the bed. You can see the difference in the plants. We did plant a few seeds from melons that did not turn yellow, but you can already see that the golden-ripening gene prevails in this bed.

These golden-ripening project melons are actually producing lots of melons! Sadly, I doubt any will be ripe for another month at least. There's no photo, but there is also one melon that came up as a volunteer from last years golden-ripening project. It is in a newly planted strawberry bed so I decided I could leave it in place. Last week it opened 2 female flowers which I attempted to fertilize with male flowers from the strongest end of the bed.

The orange-flesh project melons are also starting to form, but in general they are not as far along and there are notably fewer. Looks like we will have those melons in October.

This looks pretty sad, but it's actually our most successful crossed pea grow-out. I believe this is an f2 grow-out of Harrison's Glory x Dual. It combines the productivity and high seed-per-pod count of Dual with a more indeterminate growth habit from Harrison's Glory, making it more suited to home gardeners. Season is second early. The peas are the traditional paler green rather than the really dark green of Dual, which is more expected by modern pea-eaters, but what can you do? The flavour is excellent. The seed dries to a pale green with lots of wrinkles, suggesting that they are high in sugars. We will be growing this out again and following it with interest!

Okay, lots of things happening in this photo. In the bottom left, leeks have finally been transplanted for their final growth stage. We started seedlings this spring but most of them died through lack of care. Fortunately, we found a whole bunch of seedlings started up in the spot where we grew leeks out for seed last year. They all seem to be dropped from Verdonnet, a Swiss leek landrace. I wonder if they were mostly fertilized by Bandit, which is quite distinctively dark green and advertised as particularly winter-hardy. Interestingly, no seedlings were found around the spot where Bandit grew. This is the first and only time we have had leek seeds survive in the open over winter. We will be following this one with interest, too.

In the centre of the photo, we are experimenting with leguminous ground covers; hairy vetch and crimson clover. Good news/bad news - the rabbits love both of them. It's a bit exasperating, but hopefully the fact that they head there first takes pressure off of other things. They both seem reasonably good a suppressing weeds. Our one problem was that a fair bit of the vetch was eaten by birds as it germinated, but we can solve that in future by covering for a week or so. The little yellow flags mark some peppers that volunteered, and that I moved over to this bed. Again, first time I have ever had volunteer peppers. They appear to be out of Fish, which is variegated, making identification conveniently easy.

In the upper right corner, you can see an empty spot. We planted Flageolet beans in there this spring. That whole bed is beans, which was asking for trouble. They are out of rotation sequence and in the same spot we planted beans last year. But we had so many legumes, and so few leaf crops to plant this year. At any rate, about 2 or 3 weeks ago they suddenly became badly infected with anthracnose and so I pulled out the entire crop and hustled it into a green garbage bag. The Rocdor beans on the right are living up to their reputation and show no signs of the anthracnose. On the left are Berta Talaska beans and Ohio beans. The Ohio beans seem very resistant, but the Berta Talaska seem to be fairly susceptible, alas.

Our few, sparse chick pea plants are surviving and thriving and filling much of the space. I did come out one morning and catch a rabbit with its mouth full of chick pea leaves so it's pretty amazing they have survived this long. They are flowering and forming pods and we actually hope to get some seed. Oddly, a few plants have just up and died for no discernible reason. I noticed this with chick peas last time we grew them too.

Our new bed of currents and gooseberries, and next to them the well-established blackberry bed. A little too well-established. They are going to have to come out, at least from this spot, as they have intentions for world domination. Sad, because they produce loads of fruit over a long period of time.

Aaaand, hazelnuts! It looks like there will be an actual crop, if the squirrels don't beat us to it! (They will, of course, but we hope to snatch a few.) This is the first time since we moved that there have been any to speak of. I think the plants are finally mature enough, and also they like a mild winter followed by a mild summer, which is pretty much what we have had.

Speaking of eventual crops, Mr. Ferdzy has taken a break from working on finishing the gravel to work on finishing the trellis for our kiwi vines. It's finished! Now all we need is for the kiwis to grow, flower and form fruit. Might happen in the next few years. They have taken a long time to get going though; our soil is too poor and too wet to make them happy. Still, they have grown a lot in the last year or so, and Mr. Ferdzy raised and fertilized some of them and they are doing much better as a result.

And the gravel has at least been ordered; now they just have to figure out how to get the amount of gravel we have ordered onto our driveway. Apparently their bigger truck can't make the turn. Looks like lots of work to do still!

Friday, 11 August 2017

Cherry Tomato & Shallot Clafoutis

Clafoutis is a dessert, usually made with cherries, but I decided to make a version with "cherries". Cherry tomatoes, that is. Clafoutis is described as a cross between a custard and a pancake; this one is also reminiscent of quiche.

The work to make this was very minimal, but the baking time does mean a bit of advance planning is required. Also the smell of it baking just about drove us to a frenzy while we waited for it. Fortunately the flavour matched the smell and it was completely worth waiting for.

4 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 15 minutes prep time

Cherry Tomato & Shallot Clafoutis

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 to 16 cherry tomatoes
4 to 6 large shallots
24 basil leaves
1/3 cup soft unbleached flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 large eggs
1 cup milk
100 grams (4 ounces) cheese curds
OR Cheddar cheese cut in small cubes

Put the butter in a 9" to 9 1/2" pie dish. Put it in the oven and preheat it to 375°F.

While the butter melts, wash the cherry tomatoes and cut them in half. Peel the shallots and cut them into slivers. Pick and wash the basil leaves, and drain them.

When the butter has melted arrange the tomatoes in the pie dish flat side down. Scatter the shallots slivers over them, and put them into the hopefully now heated oven to roast for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, measure the flour into a small mixing bowl. Season with the salt and pepper, and whisk in the eggs. Whisk in the milk a little at a time to ensure a very smooth batter. If using Cheddar, cut it into about 1 cm dice.

When the vegetables have roasted for 20 minutes, quickly sprinkle the cheese curds or cubes over them. Scatter the basil leaves around. Whisk up the batter once more and pour it evenly over the vegetables. Return the pie dish to the oven at once, and bake for a further 40 minutes.

Best served somewhere between warm and room temperature, so allow 15 minutes or half an hour for it to sit after it comes out of the oven.

Last year at this time I made Eggplant Cordon Bleu. Wow! Eggplant is NOWHERE near so far along this year. 

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Corn Fritters

"To a pint of grated corn add two well beaten eggs; one-half cup of cream, and a half cup of flour; with one-half spoon of baking powder stirred in it; season with pepper and salt and fry in butter, dropping the batter in spoonsful ; serve a few at a time, very hot, as a relish with meats."
                                               from the Canadian Home Cook Book of 1877

There were 3 recipes for little fried corn patties in the Canadian Home Cook Book; they were all fairly similar to the one quoted above, and called Green Corn Oysters or Patties. I suppose they were about the size and shape of a fried oyster, hence the name.

I have tried versions of them at various times over the years and have never been very happy with the results. Either there is too much batter and they are like pancakes with corn in them, or else I messed around with the recipe with the result there wasn't too much batter, but they didn't hold together. At all.

However this year I remembered my success with using potato starch in crepes, and tried making them again, this time with potato starch. Wow! MAD SUCCESS!

None of the recipes indicated whether the corn should be raw or cooked; they took it for granted that you knew. Since the "recipe" for boiled corn called for it to be boiled for 30 minutes, I'm going to assume they meant cooked. However, since I wouldn't dream of boiling corn for 30 minutes I just went with raw corn. It worked fine.

You'll note that half of them are, uh, well-browned. That's because I eyeballed the pan and decided it didn't need to have more oil added for the second batch of corn. I was wrong. Also you should probably turn the heat down a bit at that point as it will get pretty hot while the cooked fritters are switched out for new batter. On the other hand, the well-browned fritters were fine, just not as pretty as the first batch.

2 to 4 servings
20 minutes prep time

Corn Fritters

2 cobs of corn (about 2 cups of kernels)
1 large egg
1/4 cup potato starch
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup mild vegetable oil

Husk the corn, and cut it from the cobs. Put it in a mixing bowl. Scrape the cobs well and add the scrapings to the bowl. Mix in the egg.

Mix the potato starch, salt, and baking powder, and mix that into the corn and egg.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Spoon in 4 patties each consisting of about one-eighth of the batter, and spread it out a bit. Fry until a nice, crisp brown then turn and cook on the other side. This won't take more than a minute or 2 per side.

Remove to a rack covered in paper towel, add the remaining oil, and spoon out the rest of the batter and cook in the same way. Serve at once.

Last year at this time I made Cauliflower Salad.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Stir-Fried Green Beans with Peanuts

Originally this dish was long beans with cashews. You can use long beans, if you can find them, but regular green beans are just fine. A mix of green and yellow beans would be pretty. You can use either salted or unsalted peanuts, according to which you prefer, or maybe which you can find. If they are salted you may wish to hold back on the soy sauce a bit.

These were very quick and easy, and would make a good accompaniment to 5-Spice Pork Chops, along with some steamed rice.

2 to 4 servings
20 minutes prep time

Stir-Fried Green Beans with Peanuts

1 or 2 cloves of garlic
1 piece ginger
250 grams (1/2 pound) long or green beans
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
up to 1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1/3 cup roasted peanuts

Peel and mince the garlic. Peel and mince the ginger; the volume should be about the same as the volume of garlic. Wash and trim the beans, and cut them into bite-sized pieces.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the beans and and a few tablespoons of water and cook, stirring frequently, until the beans turn bright green and the water evaporates. Continue adding water, a few tablespoons at a time, until the beans are just about done to your liking. Then, when the last of the water is gone, add the soy sauce and cook for a minute or two more until it too is pretty much gone. Add the toasted sesame oil, chile flakes, and peanuts. Mix in and cook, stirring for another minute or so until hot through. Turn out onto a serving dish and serve at once.

Last year at this time I made Kohlrabi Slaw.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Cheese-Stuffed Zucchini

Another day, another boat! This time it's one we found in the zucchini patch. Fortunately, the rind was not tough and the seeds were just starting to form, so still quite edible. Usually I do a meat-stuffed zucchini but I thought cheese would make a nice change. This is still pretty stuffed to the gunwales, so mound up that filling carefully.

One zucchini down, *counts* - 22 to go. More coming. We're in trouble; aren't we? Tell me again why I let Mr. Ferdzy plant 14 zucchini plants?

2 to 4 servings
1 hour or a bit more - 30 minutes prep time

Cheese and Breadcrumb Stuffed Zucchini

1 semi-boat zucchini; say about 600 to 700grams  (1 1/2 pounds)
3 slices stale sandwich bread
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 medium onion, with a green top
1 shallot
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon minced fresh savory or thyme
225 grams (1/2 pound) ricotta cheese
1 large egg
100 grams (1/4 pound) extra-old Cheddar cheese

Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise. Scoop out the flesh to 1/4" or so of the skin, and salt the zucchini halves and place them in a steamer insert. Put the pot of water on to boil, and when it does put the zucchini in and steam them for about 7 to 10 minutes, until just tender. Rinse under cold water (gently!) until cool then place them in a lightly oiled baking dish.

Meanwhile, cut the bread into fairly small cubes. Heat the oil in a large skillet and put in the bread cubes, tossing them around at once to coat them as evenly in the  oil as possible. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until crisp and toasted. Season with the 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste.

Cut the zucchini flesh into small bits. If there are any mature or at least tough seeds, remove them; but there should not be too many or your zucchini is too far gone. Peel the onion. Wash and trim the fresh green stem from it, and chop it finely. Chop the onion finely. Peel and mince the shallot and garlic cloves. Clean and mince the herb.

When the bread cubes are crisp and toasted, put them into a mixing bowl. Add the remaining olive oil to the skillet and cook the chopped zucchini flesh, the onion with its greens, and the shallot until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, remaining salt, and minced herb to the pan and mix in well, cooking for just a minute or so more. Transfer to the mixing bowl with the bread cubes and let cool for 10 minutes or so.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

When the zucchini, onion, etcetera,  mixture is cool enough, beat in the ricotta cheese and the egg. Grate the Cheddar cheese and add half of it to the veggie and cheese mixture. Fill the zucchini halves with the mixture, and sprinkle the remaining Cheddar over the tops. Bake for 30 to 40  minutes until the Cheddar cheese is lightly browned and bubbling. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.

Last year at this time I made Green Beans with Mustard-Tahini Dressing

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

A Voyage with U Catch'Em Charters

This is not exactly an efficient way to acquire local food, but when Mr. Ferdzy's cousin was here from California last week, he wanted to go fishing. So, after living in Meaford for 9 years, we finally went out on the water for a few hours in a boat.

Jeff Brattain runs U Catch'Em charter boat trips out of Meaford harbour. Mr Ferdzy's cousin - let's call him Seth, because that's his name - was luckily able to set something up on short notice. We've been telling him for years that this is a great area for his huntin' and fishin' interests but I don't think he took us too seriously until he actually got up here.

At any rate, we were booked for 4 hours from 5:00 pm to 9:00pm. Fishing trips run either in the morning or evening; fish are most active in searching for food during those times.

The boat was plenty large for the 5 of us, including Jeff, and quite comfortable in the cabin. Good thing; there was a fair bit of rain during the trip. It was fascinating to watch the sonar screen by the steering wheel and see just how many fish we were passing over.

Salmon and lake, brown, or rainbow trout were the fish we were hoping and expecting to catch. Above, Jeff selects some lures to set on the lines.

We got one! We got one! Our first catch was a fairly small salmon; a nice meal for 2 people.

Admittedly, a lot of the trip looked like this, and that was after it cleared up a bit. Still it was extremely enjoyable to be out on the water. At least it was very smooth sailing as there was no wind.

Alas, after that first fish we only caught one more; a rainbow trout that was a fair bit larger. I think you are allowed to catch up to 2 fish per each license you acquire, but of course there is no guarantee that the fish will bite and indeed they mostly didn't. It's all a matter of luck!

There they are; then they were rapidly gutted by Jeff and put in a bag for us to take home. I have to say, this sort of trip makes it amazingly easy for the person who has never fished before to try their hand at it.

One interesting thing I learned on this trip is that salmon were introduced to the great lakes fairly recently. I asked about smelts, which used to be a spring time tradition, available in the supermarkets when I was a kid. They disappeared when I was in my teens, and apparently it's because the salmon have eaten them in huge numbers! There are not enough left to support a fishery.

Seth left the larger rainbow trout with us, and we ate half of it the next day for lunch. So fresh and good! I think most of our fish will continue to come from the grocery store...  but this was an excellent way to enjoy some time on the water and see Meaford from a new perspective.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Chicken, Corn, Peach, & Tomato Salad

This salad is rather fancy and a bit time-consuming to make, although it could be pretty quick if you just bought a rotisserie chicken for it. A good-sized one should provide enough for 2 people to eat one night and make salad with the other half the next day.

Either way, this is a lovely summer salad and makes the most of the best fruit and vegetables of high summer; the ones we wait for all year. Heirloom tomatoes if at all possible!

We served this alongside this quinoa salad and they went together very well. 

6 servings
45 minutes advance prep
30 minutes to assemble the salad

Chicken, Peach, Tomato & Corn Salad

Cook the Chicken & Corn:
2 pounds skin-on bone-in chicken pieces
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon each of salt and black peppercorns
2 cobs of corn

Put the chicken into a pot with sufficient water to just cover.  Add the bay leaves, salt, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil and reduce to at once to a simmer. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until the chicken is cooked. Let cool and remove the chicken from the broth. Strain the broth and reserve it for some other use. (You may wish to add the skin and bones from the chicken and let it simmer for a while again first.)

Pick the chicken from the bones, discarding the skin and bones, and cut it into bite-sized pieces. Instead of cooking your own chicken you could use prepared rotisserie cooked chicken. You should have 3 to 4 cups of prepared meat for the salad.

Put a pot of water on to boil for the corn. Shuck the cobs, and boil them for 5 to 6 minutes. Rinse under cold water until cool. Cut the corn from the cobs, and mix it with the chicken.

Make the Dressing:

the juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon honey
3 tablespoons sunflower seed oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup mayonnaise - light is fine

Mix all the ingredients in a jam jar or small bowl, and mix until blended. It may help to heat the dressing slightly (in the microwave or on the back of the stove) to help the honey to dissolve. Don't add the mayonnaise until after that is done!

Finish the Salad:
1 small sweet Spanish onion or 1/2 large sweet Spanish onion
1/4 cup finely minced fresh mint
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh basil
4 large ripe peaches
2 large beefsteak tomatoes
a few large whole lettuce leaves for serving

Peel and chop the onion. Salt it and set it aside to drain as you prepare the other ingredients.

Wash, dry, and finely mince the mint and basil and add them to the chicken and corn. If you like, you can blanch the peaches and tomatoes for 1 minute before dropping them into cold water and peeling them. Otherwise, just cut them into small bite-sized pieces and add them to the chicken and corn.

Rinse and drain the onion well and add it to the salad. Toss the salad with the dressing. If you like, serve it on a bed of lettuce leaves, washed and dried and arranged on a serving platter. I also saved out a few bits of the tomato and peaches to garnish the platter.

Last year at this time I made Tuscan White Bean Salad with Tuna.

Friday, 28 July 2017


I can't believe it has taken me this long to make naan!

The first time I encountered naan was as a child at a friend's house. I was quite impressed by the fact that my friend's mother had made it. I couldn't imagine either of my parents making bread. She told me it was very easy to make, but I was dubious. Somehow I have managed to carry that dubiousness right up until now, even though I have made lots of other breads that are really more tricky to do than this.

She was right, though! It really is a very easy bread. I'm sorry it's taken me this long to make.

My first attempt bears the marks of amateurishness, of course. The smaller skillet was plainly hotter than the other, even though they were set at the same mark, and tended to scorch the naans.  They are a bit uneven in size and texture. We didn't care though; they were warm fresh bread and very tasty. I think I will be making these often. This kind of pan-cooked bread is also far more pleasant to make in the summer than a loaf, since the oven does not need to be turned on.

4 to 6 breads
40 minutes prep time
1 to 2 hours rising time

Naan Bread

1/2 cup warm water
2 teaspoons fast-acting yeast
3/4 cup yogurt
2 1/2 cups hard unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
more hard unbleached flour to roll
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

Warm the water gently. It should feel definitely warm to the touch but not actually hot. Put the water into a mixing bowl and add the yeast. Let it sit 10 minutes; the yeast should dissolve and begin to foam up.

Mix the yogurt into the water, then stir the salt into the flour and mix it into the liquid ingredients. Turn it out onto a clean surface, dusted with a little more flour, and knead for 5 minutes. It will be a soft, sticky dough; sprinkle it with flour as needed to keep it from sticking to your hands but keep it as soft as is reasonable.

Clean out the mixing bowl, and put in a little of oil to coat the dough. Return the dough to the bowl, turning it until it is coated in the oil. Cover with a clean cloth and put it in a warm spot to rise for 1 to 2 hours.

Heat 2 large skillets at the temperature you would cook eggs or pancakes. While they heat, take a portion of the dough (1/4 or 1/6) and pat it out, again sprinkling it with flour as needed to keep it from sticking. When it is evenly less than 1/2" thick, place it in one of the hot skillets. Cook until it is puffed and looking a little dry on top, and the bottom shows brown spots. Turn and cook for a few more minutes on the other side, until it too shows some brown spots.

While the first naan is cooking, pat out the next one in the same way and cook it in the second pan. Prepare the next 2 naans and cook them when the first 2 come out of their pans.

As each naan is removed from the pan, brush it with a little melted butter on each side. Set it on a rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature. 

Last year at this time I made Cold Zucchini Stuffed with Cheese & Seeds.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Keema Matar (Ground Meat Curry with Peas)

Lately I've been contemplating the number of dishes made of ground meat, loosely cooked and served with bread of some sort. There are quite a few, and they vary surprisingly.

I think the first such dish I became aware of was Maid-Rites, which did not inspire me to rush off to Iowa to try them. They are more generically known as loose-meat sandwiches, which tells you pretty much what you need to know. It's a hamburger that doesn't even attempt to hold itself together.

No, wait - before that I knew about Sloppy Joes. Ate some even, as a kid. It's not something I've made in a long time, though. They are not that different, as they have evolved, from the loose-meat sandwich although they have more in the way of tomatoey sauce incorporated into the meat. As far as I can tell, they were first served by a bar named Sloppy Joe's - oddly enough - in Havana, Cuba. AHA! This is basically Picadillo, served in a bun. (And pretty devolved, in its current incarnation, if I may use that term. This site says it was Ropa Vieja; in which case it's deteriorated even more than I thought during its transfer to American cuisine.)

Then in the last week or so I noticed a bit of a bun-fight between the British and the New Zealanders over something called "Mince on Toast" at The Guardian. Looks pretty much of a muchness.

Meanwhile... the Pakistanis and northern Indians have been quietly eating Keema for centuries. Keema apparently just means ground meat, and I made mine with matar - that is to say peas - so this is Keema Matar.  It gets served with hot, fluffy naan and it's full of amazing spices and flavours.


A little research suggests this was once a rather luxurious dish, no doubt due the amount of chopping required to make it before the advent of mechanized meat grinders. Now it's the kind of thing that can be made at home as a quick dinner dish. I also suspect it's very adaptable; lamb is probably most traditional but people make it with beef or even chicken. (I would do turkey, too.) I put in peas because it is pea season, but I see no reason not to switch to green beans in a week or two. Fresh tomatoes now; canned in the winter along with frozen peas. Not everyone seems to put in tomatoes at all; some use broth or even just water. As it is, it would work well as part of an ensemble of dishes; throw in a boiled potato or two, peeled and diced, with the peas and would be quite substantial enough on it's own. (Actually it's pretty substantial even without them.)

Don't be put off by roasting and grinding the spices. That can be done in 15 minutes, then the rest goes together in half an hour, apart from shelling the peas. 

4 servings
45 minutes prep time

Keema Matar (Ground Meat Curry with Peas)

Make the Spice Blend:
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
4-5 green cardamom pods
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 to 1 teaspoon ground red chile (to taste)

Heat a small skillet over medium heat and lightly toast the whole spices until just fragrant. Turn them out onto a plate at once to cool.

Grind all the whole spices, removing the papery covers from the cardamom after they have been broken open. Mix the toasted ground spices with the remaining spices and set aside.

Cook the Keema:
2 cups shelled peas (1 generous quart with pods)
1 to 2 tablespoons grated peeled fresh ginger
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and grated or minced
1 large onion, peeled and minced
500 grams (1 pound) ground beef or lamb
up to 2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil (if needed)
2-3 whole bay leaves
1 2" stick cinnamon (or add 1/2 teaspoon ground to the spices)
2 cups crushed tomatoes OR 2 or 3 medium fresh tomatoes
1/4 cup finely minced fresh cilantro

Shell the peas and set them aside. Peel and grate the ginger. Peel and grate or mince the garlic. Peel and mince the onion. (If you are using fresh tomatoes, they should be blanched, peeled and chopped and set aside now too.)

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.

If your meat is very lean, add a little oil and start frying the ginger, garlic, and onion. Add the meat once they have softened and reduced slightly in volume.

 If your meat has enough fat, break it up into the pan and start it cooking; add the ginger, garlic, and onion once it has rendered some of it.

Sprinkle 2/3 of the spice mixture over the cooking meat, etc. Add the bay leaves and cinnamon piece, if using. Cook, stirring frequently, until there are no signs of pink in the meat. Use the tip of your flat utensil to break the meat into quite fine bits as it cooks.

At this point, add the prepared tomatoes, and cook, continuing to stir frequently, until the liquid from them has reduced noticably. Add the peas so that they cook in the remaining liquid, but continue to cook until the liquid is essentially gone. You can leave the mixture fairly moist but not runny, or you can continue to cook it to a drier and more crisped texture; whichever you prefer.

Transfer the keema to a serving dish, removing the bay leaves and cinnamon piece as you do so. Serve with naan, potatoes, or rice.

Last year at this time I was cooking Rutabaga Greens.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Corn, Zucchini & Barley Salad with Feta & Herbs

Lots of flavour in this one, but not so much as to overwhelm the milder barley, zucchini and corn. There's a nice interplay of textures too, between the chewiness of the barley, the crispness of the corn and the softness of the cheese. 

While this is a substantial salad I'm not quite sure it rises to the level of being a complete meal. Serve it with simple fish or chicken, or as part as an ensemble of salads.

4 servings
1 hour advance prep - 15 minutes working time
20 minutes final assembly time

Corn, Zucchdini & Barley Salad with Feta & Herbs

Cook the Barley & Corn:
1/2 cup raw barley
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups water
2 cobs corn

Put the barley, salt, and 2 cups water into a rice cooker; turn on and cook. Alternatively it can be cooked in a pot on the stove. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and simmer gently until tender and the water is absorbed, about 45 minutes. Watch carefully, especially at the end.

Meanwhile put a large pot of water on to boil for the corn. Husk the corn and boil for 6 to 8 minutes until tender. Rinse in cold water until cool; drain well.

This can be done up to 24 hours in advance, and the barley and corn covered and refrigerated. The corn should be cut from the cobs; you can do this now or when you assemble the salad. 

Make the Dressing:
1/4 cup olive oil
the juice of 1 medium lemon
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 to 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper

Mix together in a salad bowl. 

Make the Salad:
1 medium zucchini
1/4 cup finely minced parsley
1/4 cup finely minced green onions
1/4 cup finely minced cilantro
1/4 cup finely minced fresh mint
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh dill
100 grams (3 ounces) feta cheese
salt if required

Put the cooled, crumbled barley and corn cut from the cobs into the salad bowl with the dressing. Wash, trim and grate the zucchini and add it as well. Clean, trim, and mince the herbs, and add them. Cut the feta into small dice or crumble it, and add it to the bowl. Toss the salad gently but thoroughly together.

Last year at this time it was Classic Pea Soup Made with Fresh Peas.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Snap Peas with Chive & Dill Dressing

I wanted to make a snap pea salad, highlighting the fresh sweet flavour and crisp texture of one of our favourite early summer vegetables. I didn't like the first version I made all that much. Mr. Ferdzy and I did eat it, critiquing it as we went. Our conclusion was they are just so mild and delicate that almost everything I had added overwhelmed them. So for the next version I left out the radishes, the onions, the everything-else I had put in. There isn't very much left now besides the snap peas.

But of course, that's what made this so much better a salad and exactly what I had been picturing to start with. You could serve it on a bed of lettuce, I suppose, if you had some.

Be sure the peas and herbs are completely dry; you don't want any water left on them to thin the dressing. 

2 to 4 servings
20 minutes prep time

Snap Peas with Chive & Dill Dressing

2 cups snap peas
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh dill
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh chives
2 tablespoon thick yogurt
2 tablespoons mayonnaise (light is fine)
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

Put a pot of water on to boil for the snap peas. Wash the snap peas, and top and tail them. When the water boils, drop them in and boil for 3 minutes, then rinse them in cold water until cool. Drain them very well.

Wash, dry, and mince the dill and chives. Mix them in bowl that will hold the peas with the yogurt and mayonnaise. Blot the peas completely dry, and mix them in. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Last year at this time I made Gooseberry Chutney & Jam.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Devillish Broccoli & Egg Salad

For a sweet, simple, little salad this required an annoying amount of advance preparation. I thought it was worth it though, and none of it is hard. You just have to plan ahead.

It's not really a side salad; it's pretty close to  meal in itself. It's light enough that I suggest a really nice roll and butter to be served with it, or possibly serve it as part of an assortment of salads. A potato or grain salad would add that little bit of heft that is lacking. I really like a salad bar type menu for summer entertaining and this would fit into that very nicely.

If you don't eat bacon you could replace it with something else to provide that little hit of salty something. Roasted salted pumpkin or sunflower seeds would do the trick quite nicely.

2 to 4 servings
45 minutes prep time in 2 separate sessions
30 minutes advance cooking, 15 minutes final prep

Devillish Broccoli & Egg Salad

Advance Cooking:
4 large eggs
6 slices bacon
1 bunch broccoli

Put the eggs in a pot and cover them with water. Bring them to a boil and boil for one minute, then turn off the heat but leave them, covered, in the pot for a further 10 minutes. Rinse in cold water until cool and set aside until needed.

Cut the bacon into small bits and cook in a skillet over medium-high heat until quite crisp, stirring frequently. Remove them to a sheet of paper towel to drain and cool. Set aside until needed.

Put a pot of water on for the broccoli. Wash, trim, and chop the broccoli fairly finely - small bite sized pieces. When the water boils, add them and cover the pot. Cook for 3 minutes then rinse in cold water until cool. Drain very well and set aside until needed.

Make the Dressing:
1/2 cup mayonnaise (light is fine)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon horseradish
freshly ground black pepper to taste
the finely grated zest of 1 lemon
the juice of 1/2 lemon

Mix the mustard, horseradish, pepper and lemon zest into the mayonnaise until smooth and well blended. Add the lemon juice and mix again. Taste the dressing; you may want to add just a little more of the mustard and/or the horseradish, keeping in mind that the dressing will taste much less strong once it is tossed with the salad.

Finish the Salad:
1/2 cup chopped sweet Spanish onion
a bit of salt
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
a sprinkle of sweet, spicy, or smoked Hungarian paprika

Peel and chop the onion. Place it in a colander and sprinkle it with a little salt. Let it drain while you prepare the rest of the salad. (I actually suggest doing this just before you make the salad dressing.) Wash, drain, and chop the parsley.

Mix the broccoli, bacon bits, and parsley in a salad bowl. Rinse and drain the onion thoroughly, then mix it in as well. Toss in the dressing.

Peel and cut the eggs in eighths. Mix them in very gently. Sift a bit of paprika over the top of the salad if you like.

Last year at this time I made Beet Salad with Berries & Nuts.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Rocdor Bush Beans

Rocdor is a very popular yellow (wax) bush bean. Gardeners like it because it is one of the earliest to start producing, at about 50 days to maturity. It is tolerant of germinating in cool soils, meaning you can plant it a little earlier than beans usually go in, getting even more of a head start on the season. We planted ours alongside all our other beans though, and it is still the first to be ready by what looks like will be at least a week and possibly 2 weeks. Mind you, all our other fresh eating beans are pole beans. I was reminded as I picked these why we don't often grow bush beans for fresh eating, even if they are ready sooner than the pole beans. Oh, my back!

Yields are very respectable, for a bush bean, and the flavour and texture are good. They have a rich deep beany flavour and nice crisp texture. The beans are very attractive, growing mostly straight and thin and having a lovely pale yellow colour. As with a lot of yellow bush beans, the seeds are black.

More reasons that gardeners like them: they are not only tolerant of cool weather - and they have been holding up to this cool, rainy summer very well - but also of heat and high humidity. They are said to be resistant to anthracnose and bean mosaic virus, both of which we have had in the garden at various times, so we shall see. Not yet though; the beans have generally been healthy so far this year. I have noticed, though, that if they suffer a physical injury such as a bird peck or poop landing on them or even just the tip dragging on the ground, that they are less likely to scab over but instead to develop mould and rot. This has not been a big problem, but I discard or at least have to trim 4 or 5 beans from every quart I pick.

This is usually described as a French heirloom. The French part is correct; they were introduced by Vilmorin seeds. However, that was apparently in 1982 so they are not a particularly old bean.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Curried Baked Chicken Thighs

I've been making these all spring, with either the spice combination listed below or some of the Madras curry powder I mixed up a while back. I'm actually pretty happy with how that curry powder has turned out. The chicken is very good both ways.

I like putting the paste under the skin because that way you get crispy, crunchy, tasty skin, and also the paste is right on the meat. That way those annoying people who promptly peel off the skin and discard it when served roasted chicken (you know who you are!) still get the benefit of the paste as well.

These got a little overly brown because damn, it takes a long time to shell enough peas for 3 people. Next time I will have to start sooner.

Since I only wanted 4 chicken thighs cooked I put half the paste into a little tub and froze it. That's where the next round of chicken thighs are; I will just take them both out to thaw at once, making the next Curried Baked Chicken Thigh dinner very easy and straightforward. Unless I serve peas.   

6 to 8 servings
1 hour 20 minutes - 20 minutes prep time

Curried Baked Chicken Thighs

Make the Sauce:
2 tablespoons Madras curry powder
2 teaspoons coriander seed
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 tablespoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 to 1/2 teaspoon Cayenne pepper
1/4 cup peeled, sliced, fresh ginger
4 to 6 cloves of garlic
the juice of 1 small lemon or large lime
1/4 cup thick plain yogurt

Make the curry powder according to the recipe, or grind the coriander and cumin seed. Put them into a food processor, whichever you are using; all the spices if not the curry powder. If your food processor has a smaller bowl, so much the better; use it.

Peel and slice the ginger and garlic. Add them to the bowl of the food processor and process until quite smooth. Scrape down the sides as needed.

Once you have a reasonably smooth paste, add the lemon or lime juice and process again. When smooth, add the yogurt and process again. Scrape down the sides as needed.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Finish the Dish:
6 large or 8 medium skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs

Carefully lift the skin along one edge of a thigh, pulling it away from the meat all over but leaving it attached at the edges as much as possible. Using a large spatula or shallow spoon, spoon in 1/6th or 1/8th of the curry paste, depending on the number of chicken thighs you have. Spread it to the edges as much as possible, but don't worry about it too much - it will tend to spread a bit on its own. Put it into a shallow baking pan of sufficient size to hold the thighs fairly snugly. Repeat with the remaining chicken thighs. You can cook them at once, or cover them and return them to the fridge for up to 24 hours; take them out to warm up a bit when you turn the oven to preheat.

Roast the chicken thighs for approximately 1 hour, until golden brown and crispy, and cooked through.

Last year at this time I made Lentil Salad with Peas & Purslane. 

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Turkish Style Zucchini in Yogurt Garlic Sauce

Apparently my head is still in the eastern Mediterranean. From Lebanon we move on to Turkey, where they douse everything in garlic-infused yogurt with generally delightful results. We certainly liked this one.

I have to say this summer is developing a definite theme, and the theme is herbs. I have been using them in everything, starting with that massive patch of chervil in the spring and moving right along. I didn't plan it! It's just happening.

2 to 4 servings
20 minutes prep time

Make the Sauce:
1 clove of garlic
a pinch of salt
1/2 cup yogurt

Peel and mince the garlic very finely; I minced it then mashed it with the side of the knife. Mix it into the yogurt with the salt. Set aside.

Prepare the Zucchini:
2 or 3 medium zucchini, sliced (500grams; 1 pound)
2 or 3 green onions
2 or 3 tablespoons finely minced fresh mint
2 tablespoons olive oil or sunflower seed oil
1/4 teaspoon ground Aleppo pepper
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

Wash and trim the zucchini, and cut it into slices. Wash, trim and mince the onions and the mint; set them aside keeping them separate.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the zucchini and sauté until softened and lightly browned on both sides. Turn regularly. A minute or so before they are done, mix in the green onions and season with the Aleppo pepper, and salt and black pepper to taste. Just before it is done, mix in the mint and cook until just wilted. Remove the zucchini etc, to a serving dish at once and spread it out to cover it evenly.

Let the zucchini cool for 10 minute or so, then top with the garlic sauce. (This should be served with a little warmth left in it, but really neither hot nor cold.)

Last year at this time I made Chilean Style Beet (or Other) Greens.

Monday, 10 July 2017


When we were in Windsor recently we got a fattoush salad from a take-out restaurant and enjoyed it. I was already thinking about making some fattoush when I saw this recipe for it at The Guardian. This was quite different from the one we had just had which, lets face it, was mostly lettuce. But apparently a lot of people just don't put lettuce into fattoush at all, and that suits me fine. Our lettuce has all gone bitter. I am not a big fan of lettuce and tomatoes together in a salad, and I think this is part of the reason - they are just not at any kind of peak quality at the same time; one or the other is bound to be not good.

Felicity Cloake does not douse her pita breads in za'atar but the version we had in Windsor did, and that's what made it a good salad even if the rest of it was pretty heavy on the lettuce.

So, lets talk about the sumac, which is one of the things that makes fattoush distinctive. It's a hard thing to get around here. It is also a spice that doesn't keep well. Once I get my hot little hands on some I wrap it well and keep it in the freezer. I also tend to call for it with a heavier hand than most recipes, mostly because it is likely to have faded some in flavour before I get it. If you can get fresh sumac and think I am calling for too much, by all means cut it back.

I was amused to see that purslane is a traditional ingredient. I was putting purslane and cucumbers into salad this time last year, although nothing so elaborate as this. Reinventing the wheel, as they say. I've still got purslane even if it isn't as far along this year as it was last year, but I expect it will get big fast now that it seems to be warming and drying up some.

We 2 ate it all with a few cold cuts and some cheese on the side, but it would serve up to 6 as part of a more elaborate meal.

2 to 6 servings
40 minutes prep time

Fattoush Salad

Prepare the Bread:
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 teaspoons ground sumac
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 pita breads, stale is fine
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Mince the thyme and mix it with the sesame seeds, sumac, and salt in a small bowl.

Put the pita breads on a baking tray, possibly lined with parchment paper. Brush olive oil all over them, both sides, and sprinkle with the herb mixture (za'atar) on both sides. Put the tray in the oven and toast until the breads are lightly brown and quite crisp. They may bend a little but once they are out and cool they should crisp up. Brush them with a little more olive oil - both sides again - when they come out of the oven.

Let them cool then break them  up by hand into bite-sized pieces. You can make the dressing while they cool.

Make the Dressing:
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons ground sumac
1 clove of garlic, peeled and minced
the juice of 1 medium lemon

Mix all of the above in a jam jar or small bowl and shake or whisk until blended.

Make the Salad:
2 to 3 small middle-eastern type cucumbers
2 large ripe tomatoes
1 small white onion, with greens attached
6 to 10 radishes
1 cup purslane leaves (optional)
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves

Wash, trim, maybe peel, and cut the cucumber into chunks - in half or quarters lengthwise, then into thick slices. Peel (if you like) the tomatoes, and cut them into similar chunks. All this is getting tossed into a mixing bowl as  you go...

Wash trim, and slice the onion. If it is strong, sprinkle it with a little salt and set it aside as you do the rest, then rinse and drain it and add it. You can chop up the greens finely and add them too. Wash and trim the radishes, and cut them in quarters.

Wash the purslane and pick it over carefully, removing any roots, debris, and tough stems. Add to the salad. Rinse and mince the parsley and mint, again discarding any tough stems.

Toss the vegetables. Then, just before serving, toss in the pieces of pita bread. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and serve at once. 

 Last year at this time I made Cucumber & Purslane Salad.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Strawberry Upside Down Cake

I had a lot of trouble with this recipe. I had to make it 4 times to get it just right! The thing is though, we enjoyed eating every one of those almost-but-not-quite cakes. There aren't too many cakes I would like to eat 4 times in a row but this is definitely one.

It's still not as glamorous as I think Strawberry Upside Down Cake ought to be, but oh well. Such is life. Also, I'm afraid the careful lining of a square pan with parchment is an important part of the recipe, so do not neglect it. On the other hand, this is a very quick and easy cake to make, and is really delicious.

One of the things I tested was how much arrowroot to toss with the strawberries. When I used 2 tablespoons, they stayed on the bottom of the pan making a better layer of strawberries on the top once the cake was turned over. When I used just one, the cake sunk down more into them as they baked, and it didn't look as nice. However, the texture of the berries was softer and nicer. You will have to decide whether to go for looks (such as they are) or flavour. I suggest that flavour rules, but it is up to you. 

8 to 12 servings
1 hour 20 minutes - 20 minutes prep time; also allow time to cool

Strawberry Upside Down Cake

Prepare the Pan & the Strawberries:
3 cups strawberries
1 OR 2 tablespoons arrowroot
3 tablespoons sugar

Wash and hull the strawberries, and drain them well.

Line a 9" square cake pan, bottom and sides, with parchment paper folded neatly into the corners. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Toss the berries with the arrowroot and sugar, and spread them in an even layer in the bottom of the prepared pan. They should cover it pretty completely.

Make the Batter & Finish the Cake:
1 1/3 cups soft whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup mild vegetable oil
2/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Measure out the flour and mix in the baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Cream the oil and sugar in a mixing bowl. Beat in the eggs and the vanilla extract. Beat in the vanilla extract.

The batter will be both fairly stiff and apparently skimpy; do your best to spread it out evenly over the strawberries without disturbing them. I get it to within about a quarter inch of the sides of the pan, and that is okay as it will spread to them as it cooks.

Bake the cake for 55 to 60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Let cool for at least 15 minutes in the pan before attempting to remove it. Let it cool completely before turning it over and slowly, gently, peeling off the parchment paper.

Last year at this time I made Minestrone di Piselli.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Cooking a Beef Tongue; Tongue Tacos

It has been a long time since Mr. Ferdzy and I have stocked the freezer with meat, but we committed this week to buying a whole lamb and a quarter cow. Freezer currently being defrosted! In the meantime, I was able to get a beef tongue from the beef farmer (it was Bluewater Organic Farms) which is an amazingly hard thing to get hold of nowadays.

Of course, Mr. Ferdzy was seriously not enthused. This is one of the reasons it is so hard to get beef (or any) tongue nowadays - not just him, but all those other people who are not enthused. Seriously not enthused. I'd say fine, more for me! But somehow it doesn't seem to work out that way.

If you want tongue and can track it down, it will either be very inexpensive (mine turned out to be free because it had been kicking around in the freezer long enough to get a little freezer burned) or it will be very expensive; this is what happens when a product is in both low supply and low demand.

Mr. Ferdzy declared 2 reasons for lack of enthusiasm, and they are pretty typical. One is just stupid: he "knows what it is". Yeah; it's tongue. That steak he likes so much better is a chunk of leg; deal with it. Mind you, he did agree to try Tacos de Lengua, which is to say Tongue Tacos. This is in fact a traditional Mexican thing, and since he loves tacos it seemed the best bet to try and generate some interest on his part.

The other reason is fair enough: he doesn't like the texture, he says. Even though tongue is not an organ meat in the usual sense - it's a muscle, just like that chunk of leg meat - it does have a different texture than most muscle meats. It has more fat and collagen distributed throughout, and so ends up with a softer texture, slicker and a little gelatinous. One of the few ways tongue may still occasionally be available is in gelatine, as a cold cut. I used to be able to get this at the Kitchener Farmers Market, and this was the only way Mr. Ferdzy had previously had tongue. (I hope you can still get it there; I just haven't been able to go there in years.) Meats in gelatine or aspic are about as far out of fashion in North America as it is possible to get and people here are just not used to them and tend not to like them when they do try them. On the other hand this texture is popular in Asia and apparently tongue is a valued ingredient in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese cooking.

If you want to try tongue, it is very easy to cook. First it gets poached for several hours, then it gets skinned. After that it is ready to be incorporated into recipes. So what did Mr. Ferdzy think of the tacos? He found them acceptable, and he was willing to eat them. It won't ever be his favourite meat, but hot in a taco it was sufficiently different from the cold jellied slice of tongue he so disliked, to be something that he could enjoy to a reasonable degree. Me, I enjoyed them very much.

Tongue Tacos or Tacos de Lengua

Cook the Tongue:
1 beef tongue, 1.5 to 2 kg (3 to 5 pounds)
3 to 4 bay leaves
1 medium onion, peeled and coarsely sliced
2 stalks of celery
1 carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 head garlic, peeled
2 litres of water
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
2 teaspoons black peppercorns

Pretty easy! Rinse off the tongue and put it in a large stock pot with the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil then simmer gently but steadily for 3 to 4 hours. Turn it over once or twice to ensure even cooking.

Remove it from the stock and let it cool. While it is still warm, peel off the skin that covers the tongue. Discard the skin. (A lot of people suggest feeding it to your dog, if you have one.) The tongue is then ready to be used in further recipes.

The cooking broth should be strained, and the solids discarded. It is a light but useful beef broth, which you can use right away or freeze. Maybe make some tongue soup with it.

Tongue Tacos:
corn tortillas
chopped cilantro
chopped lettuce
mild salty cheese, such as feta OR sour cream
tomato or tomatillo salsa

sliced avocado (optional)
sliced or shredded prepared beef tongue
bacon fat or lard (or other fat for frying)

Quantities cannot really be given; it's all a matter of what you think appropriate for the number of people and their appetites.

Around here if  you want edible corn tortillas you have to make them yourself, which is what I did, according to the package instructions; although I made them bigger and thicker than they suggest. If you have a Latin American grocery near you (lucky you!) ignore the "fresh" corn tortillas and buy them from the freezer. Check that they are not full of preservatives as the so-called fresh ones always are. They will taste so much better without them. Thaw the tortillas and be prepared to briefly heat them just before serving.

Wash and prepare any vegetables to be served; cilantro is traditional and lettuce or cabbage will also work. I mixed a little cilantro and lettuce together. Dice or crumble some cheese, have tomato salsa, and sliced avocado if you like; arrange these all in bowls and set them out on the table.

To serve, heat the bacon fat or lard and cook the prepared beef tongue in it until hot through and browned and crispy about the edges. Meanwhile heat the tortillas briefly in another hot skillet, just a few seconds on each side. Keep them warm in a covered dish.

Let diners assemble their own tacos at the table.

Last year at this time I made New Potatoes with Garlic Scapes & Parsley, and  Strawberry Poke Sponge Cake.