Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Cheesy Spaghetti Squash Bake

Well, I am posting this recipe but I have to say that as usual I am not wildly impressed by spaghetti squash. It is one of those things that sounds like such a good idea but rarely lives up to the hype. I have had some that worked well, but usually it is a little softer and mooshier than it should be and so it proved to be this time, as usual. Never mind; add enough cheese and no-one will complain.

I have you cook the entire spaghetti squash here, as you will need both sides of the rind, even though half of the squash gets saved for some other nefarious purpose. I shall reveal mine in the fullness of time.

It seems like a heck of lot of time to make this, and it is. The good news is that most of that time is spent with the squash sitting in the oven, and even better is that it can be broken up over 2 days. Once you have the squash cut in half - the hardest part of this recipe by far - it is all very easy and little actual work. 

2 servings
2 3/4hours - 30 minutes prep time
not including cooking the broccoli or spinach

Cheesy Spaghetti Squash Bake

Cook the Spaghetti Squash:
1 medium spaghetti squash
2 teaspoons mild vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Cut the squash in half from the stem end to the blossom end. A very large, sharp knife will be required for this. Scoop out the seeds and soft material surrounding them with a spoon and discard them. Rub the squash over the cut edges with the oil.

Place the squash face-down on a baking tray and bake until the flesh is tender and will form strands when scraped with a fork. I have found the time needed for squash quite variable, but expect between an hour and an hour and a half.

Stuff and Bake the Squash Again:
2 cups blanched broccoli
OR 1 cup cooked spinach
2 to 3 cloves of garlic
1 green onion
OR 1/4 cup minced chives
1/2 cup 10% cream
1 teaspoon arrowroot or cornstarch
1 cup grated old Cheddar cheese
OR other strongly flavoured cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Have the broccoli or spinach prepared. This is an excellent opportunity to use up some leftover vegetables. Chop to broccoli into smallish florets, or shred the spinach finely.

Peel and mince the garlic. Wash, trim and mince the green onion or chives. Mix them in a mixing bowl with the cream, starch, and 2/3 of each of the cheeses. Mix the remaining cheeses together and set aside.

When the squash is ready, cool enough to handle, use a fork to pull the strands from the rind. Keep the rind in good condition. Be careful. The rind is a bit fragile and easy to tear. (Or they can be cooked the day before and brought up to room temperature before removing the strands.) Set half the squash strands aside to use for another purpose.

Mix the remaining strands with the vegetables, cream, and cheese. Divide the mixture equally between the 2 half rinds, and place them in a snug baking pan. Sprinkle the remaining cheese evenly over them. Bake at 350°F for 30 to 45 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and lightly browned.

Last year at this time I made Ginger & Dried Fruit Fruitcake

Monday, 16 October 2017

Cauliflower with Leeks & Carrots

Leeks can be a late summer or early fall vegetable, but since they store so well I tend to leave them for the winter when choices are few, or even the spring, as they overwinter successfully in the garden. I couldn't resist them with some lovely cauliflower, though! They go together so well, and if you then throw in some carrots you have some really good eating. 

4 servings
30 minutes prep time

Cauliflower with Leeks & Carrots

3 large leeks
2 large carrots
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
2 bay leaves
1/2 medium cauliflower (3 cups florets)
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
1/4 fennel OR dill seed
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1 teaspoon arrowroot or cornstarch
2 tablespoons chicken broth or water

Wash, trim, and slice the leeks into 1" pieces. Rinse them again and drain them well. Peel and trim the carrots, and cut them into thin slices lengthwise, then into 1" pieces.

Put the butter, chicken broth, and bay leaves into a goodish sized pot. Add the leeks and carrots, and bring up to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, wash and trim the cauliflower, and cut or break it into florets. Grind the celery seed and fennel or dill seed together and mix with the salt and pepper. Mix the paprika, arrowroot or cornstarch and broth or water in another little bowl.

After the leeks and carrots have cooked for 10 minutes, add the cauliflower and the mixed seasonings. Cover and cook for 5 to 7 minutes more, until the cauliflower is done to your liking. Stir once or twice. Just one minute before the cauliflower is done, stir in the paprika and starch mixture. Cook for another minute or so, stirring constantly, until the remaining cooking liquid (there shouldn't be too much by this time) thickens slightly. Turn out into a serving dish and remove and discard the bay leaves. Serve at once.

Last year at this time I made Sausage or Ham & Cheese Eggplant Casserole. Staaaaale bread! Get'cher staaaaale bread here!

Friday, 13 October 2017

Kohlrabi Soup

We enjoyed this soup very much. For once we are getting a good crop of kohlrabies - they seem to be one of the few vegetables in our garden to do well in this cool, rainy summer.

Mum came over and helped us eat this. She commented that her vegetable soups always seem to come out bland but this one had lots of flavour. That is a hazard with vegetable soups, and the solution is pretty simple: sharpen it up. Be sure to use enough salt - the amount of salt a pot of soup will absorb is a little disconcerting, but you are really going to miss it if it is not there. Ginger adds another shot of sharpness, and so does the vinegar. You don't really notice any of these flavours particularly when you are eating the soup, but now the vegetables sing together instead of sitting there in sullen silence.

6 to 8 servings
1 hour - 45 minutes prep time

Kohlrabi Vegetable Soup

1 medium carrot
1 stalk of celery
2 medium onions
3 medium or 2 large kohlrabies
1/4 cup unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon rubbed savory
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 cups unsalted chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Peel and grate the carrot. Wash, trim, and chop the celery. Peel and chop the onions. Trim the greens off the kohlrabies and set them aside. Peel the kohlrabies and grate them - it is easiest if you leave a little of the stem/peel at one end to give you a handle.

Heat the butter in a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the chopped and grated vegetables and cook gently, stirring occasionally, until softened and reduced in volume considerably.

Sprinkle the flour and seasonings  over the vegetables and mix in well. Cook for another 5 minutes or so, stirring regularly to prevent it from sticking. At this point, begin mixing the stock in slowly, stirring between each addition to avoid letting the flour form lumps. Once it is all in, mix in the apple cider vinegar.

If you wish - and unless your greens are in very poor condition you probably do - discard any bad or tough leaves and stems from the greens, and wash and chop the remainder very finely. Add them to the soup. 

Let the soup simmer, stirring occasionally, for another 10 or 15 minutes before serving. Check and add a bit more salt if needed first.

Last year at this time I made Chicken in Roasted Red Pepper Sauce.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Pasta & Broccoli with Goat Cheese & Croutons

I've done this simple pasta sauce of thinned goat cheese before. It really is so convenient for a quick and simple meal. The toasted bread crumbs/cubes add some delightful crunch and keep the dish from being too mooshy. Also more stale bread - the saga continues!

Two people will eat all of this as a meal; as a starter pasta course it will go twice as far.

We are actually getting a little broccoli in the garden this year. Amazing. 

2 to 4 servings

Pasta & Broccoli with Goat Cheese & Croutons

1 head (3 cups) broccoli, in florets
250 grams (1/2 pound) pasta
2 or 3 slices stale French or Italian style bread
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cloves of garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon rubbed basil
150 grams (5 ounces) soft chevre (goat cheese)
1/4 to 1/3 cup rich milk or light cream

Wash and trim the broccoli and cut it into florets. 

Put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta, and salt it generously when it boils. Cook the pasta according to the instruction until done. Add the broccoli when the pasta has about 5 minutes left to cook.

Meanwhile, cut the bread into small cubes or crumble it into large crumbs. Heat the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat and add the bread. Toss it well to get the butter coating it as evenly as possible.

Peel and mince the garlic finely, and add it with the salt, pepper, and basil to the bread cubes. Continue to cook them gently, stirring regularly, until they are crisp and golden brown. If they are done before the pasta and broccoli turn them out onto a plate to wait. Not too likely though; they should be done at about the same time.

When the pasta and broccoli are done, drain them well. Put the empty pot back on the stove and add the chevre and the milk or cream. Mix well, breaking up the cheese, to form a smooth sauce. Add the pasta and broccoli back into it and toss well. Arrange the pasta in a serving bowl or on individual plates and sprinkle the toasted bread bits over it.

Last year at this time I made Alu Gobi.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Watermelon Projects Update for the Year

Hey, it's the moment I've been waiting for, and you all get to hear about it. Lucky you! It's time to asses our watermelon breeding projects. So how did things go?

To sum up, the phrase of the year is "Thinning the herd." Yeah. Like that.

On the other hand, if we think we are breeding watermelons for lousy Canadian summers I guess we have to have some lousy Canadian summers in order to test how things are going. And in spite of my griping, I do feel like we continue to make some good progress.

In the picture above, you can see some melons from our golden-when-ripe project. From the picture you would get the impression we got a good number of melons, none very large and few yellow when ripe. That would be accurate.

On the bright side, the first 2 melons to ripen did turn yellow when ripe, and they achieved a very decent size. They are at least half siblings if not siblings (most of our melons are still within the range of second cousins once removed, if not more closely related, but at this point I'm mostly not keeping track).

Melon GR001-0904 came in at 1.181 kg, and melon GR002-0906 weighed .846 kg. I regret to say that melon GR002-0906 tasted a bit better and was a bit less seedy. However they both compare favourably to last year's GR001-0825, which was the largest of the year and weighed .82 kg.

The interior of GR001-0904. We seemed to have some problems with incomplete fertilization but there are enough seeds to go on with.

Last year was a much better year for growing watermelons so I am very happy about the increased size I am seeing in these 2 melons as well as in general this year. Both of these will supply seeds for next year.

We planted a few plants of the original Golden Midget. We only got 3 Golden Midget fruits, of which 2 are seen above in the back row. The third one rotted on the plant and would have been smaller than either of the two I picked. Note the weights: at approximately half a pound each they are very unimpressive. Even our also-rans are coming in larger than that, for the most part.

I don't seem to have that melon at .405 kg recorded. I guess it wasn't great and I didn't bother to keep seeds or number it. The little green one is GR004-0923. Not very big and not golden rinded, but one of only a few melons to score an 8 out of 10 for flavour. I might plant a few seeds from it next year. I don't want tiny melons, but if we are going to have them, I want ones that taste good. But I still have to think about it. There were 3 other larger melons that scored an 8 too and would perhaps be better candidates.

This is GR006-0926. It did not turn yellow when ripe, although the rind is naturally fairly yellow. At 2.05 kg this was our second-largest melon from this project and the only large melon to score an 8 out of 10 for flavour. It's in, for sure.

Seeds were a little on the pale side, as was the flesh, but not awful, and the rind was nice and thin.

The next melon of interest was GR010-1002. Again, it didn't turn yellow when ripe, but size was within the desired range.

The seeds were paler than I like and so was the flesh, the rind was not as thin as some, but okay. Flavour scored an 8 though - one of the best, so it is probably in next year too.

This was in some ways the most interesting melon of the year. GR011-1003 came up as a volunteer in what became a strawberry bed this year. It was our only volunteer melon this year and it got started a fair bit later than any of the ones we planted out. As soon as I saw the first female flower I started basting it with pollen from the set of plants that produced GR001-0904 and GR002-0906. Although this one did not turn yellow when ripe, it carries the gene, so I have very high hopes that it will have yellow offspring since it is crossed with yellow ripening melons. 

In spite of its late start it became our largest melon of this project for the year. We will be planting lots of seeds from this one. 

Alas, it only scored a 6 for flavour. I'm hoping that it had potential for better flavour, but was cut a little short by the vine dying before it was completely ripe. The texture was excellent, the rind was nice and thin, and the small black seeds were plentiful but not ridiculously so. 

Overall, my hope is that next  year we will get enough large, sweet and tasty, yellow when ripe melons to stop planting ones that turn out to have green rinds. We are definitely getting closer to having the size/colour/flavour we want in individual melons, but for this year we are still in the stage where we have to accept melons that have 2 out of 3 of those characteristics. Progress is definitely happening though!

Our other project, crossing Orangeglo with Sweet Siberian for a larger, tastier, orange fleshed melons did not apparently go so well, but I am reasonably pleased nevertheless. 

We only got 4 melons ranging from 2.148 kg to 3.745 kg, which is what I would consider our target size. There are a few other melons at smaller sizes under consideration, but these 4 form the core of what we will be moving forward with. PJ003-0922, shown above, was our second largest of this group and shows a typical shape. They varied from green netted to having various stripes. I prefer the striped rind, but we are not yet to the stage of fussing about that by any means.

PJ001-0916 started off the project looking hopeful. It grew down at the end of the bed where we had left some lettuce to go to seed as well as planting our squash, and it was the only melon produced down there as the watermelon vines got rather smothered. The colour is not exactly what we wanted, but reasonably close. It got very badly fertilized and there are hardly any viable seeds, (but a few) and it did not come out mis-shapen which often happens with incomplete fertilization, so that's good. Again, rind is somewhat annoyingly thick. Scored a solid 7.5 for flavour and we noted it as "very sweet". Size was an acceptable 2.362 kg.

PJ002-0921 was a bit dismaying to open. Seed colour is good, but the flesh is way paler than we want. Flavour was an acceptable but not thrilling 7 out of 10. The seeds were small and the rind was not too thick, although it's hard to tell because it blended in with the flesh so much. At 2.148 kg it was one of the smaller of the big-enough melons. We may decide not to replant from this one.

Well so much for orange flesh. This is PJ003-0922. I might have thought that it picked up some pollen from the other watermelon project given the red flesh, but the size, the shape, the rind pattern and the seed colour all suggest that no, this is the offpring of Orangeglow and Sweet Siberian. Watermelon flesh colour genes are numerous and their interactions are complex. We are not throwing this one out of the project yet, even though it is not the colour we are looking for. For one thing, it was the only one of this group to score an 8 for flavour. At 2.783 kg it was also our second largest melon of this set.

Like most of the melons from this group this year, the rind is sturdy (good) but thicker than I like. Again though, I don't think we are at the stage of worrying about that particularly.

PJ006-0930 came the closest of the large melons to having the colour we want. At 3.745 kg it is also notably the largest melon of this group. Flavour was a just barely acceptable 6 though, and the texture was okay but not great. Still, I think it will get planted next year just for the colour and size.

I broke these 2 runts open in the garden expecting to discard them but curious about them. Imagine my annoyance to discover that they were the orange colour we are looking for. I gave the larger of the two a taste, and it was surprisingly good although I didn't formally rate it. Since one of the problems with Orangeglo is that smaller specimens fail to develop good flavour, I saved seeds from it. The tasty-when-small characteristic is one we definitely want to have. It is now known as PJ005-0928 and its seeds will likely go into the ground next spring. It weighed in at a laughable .645 kg.

There are a few melons from the orange fleshed project still to open and assess. None are as small as PJ005-0928 and if I find one or two that I think just as well flavoured and with the same orange flesh, it may get bumped by them. But in general, we have our candidates. I'd say most of the qualities we are looking for in this project are here, they are just not combined into one melon. Still, we'll stir them  up and plant them out, and hope for better luck next year.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Roasted Peppers in Cream

I found some nice big Red Shepherd peppers at the grocery store - somebody seems to be getting some peppers this year I'm happy to say - and I mixed them with a few hot Hungarian Banana peppers that I had on hand, also red, the better to lull eaters into complacency and then have them say, "Wow!" But use your discretion - you need to have diners who like that kind of thing.

I think red peppers are the best for this, but it might be nice to mix in some yellow ones too. Green would not be my choice except I think this might be very good with green Poblano (Ancho) peppers. What I would avoid in any colour are Bell peppers, which apart from having a tendency to cause indigestion, are just not very interesting peppers in my opinion. They are thick walled enough to work, though. Cubanelles, like the Hungarian Banana peppers, would be a little thin walled but could be okay. 

Other than that, not too much to say about this. It's peppers. In cream. And yes I'm afraid that prep time is right. Most of it will be taken up with broiling and preparing the peppers, which is a remarkably slow and tedious job. The one good thing is that it can be done ahead of time at your leisure.

I don't  think this quite cuts it as a main course in and of itself, but it's pretty rich so I suggest serving it with fairly plainly cooked fish or chicken, or perhaps a second substantial vegetarian dish.

2 to 4 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 45 minutes prep time

Roasted Peppers in Cream

Make the Sauce:
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup 10% cream

Grind the fennel and pepper together. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, and add the flour, salt, and ground spices. Cook, stirring, until pasty and bubbling throughout; a minute or two. Reduce the heat and gradually stir in the cream to form a smooth sauce. Cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens (just a few minutes) then remove from the heat.

Roast the Peppers:
1 kg (2 pounds) long peppers (see above)

Wash the peppers and put them under the broiler, just a few inches away. Broil them until the skins start to char. Turn them frequently to char them as evenly as possible. As they become charred all over, remove them to a bowl or other dish that can be covered. Once they are all in, cover and let cool, at least enough to handle. This can be done up to a day in advance.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Pull out the stems and cores of the peppers, removing all the seeds. Peel off the skins. It can be helpful to rinse the peppers under cold water to remove the last bits. Cut the peppers into strips or chunks and lay 2/3 of them in a lightly oiled baking dish that will hold them in a single layer but fairly snugly.

Pour the sauce evenly over them, and gently press the remaining pepper pieces down into it, so they don't stick out but can be seen on top of the sauce. 

Bake the peppers for about 45 minutes, until the sauce is browning slightly on top.

Last year at this time I made Branstonesque Pickle.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Taco Joes

Sloppy Joes started life as Ropa Vieja served on a bun, in a bar in Havana called - surprise - Sloppy Joe's.  It seems more like Picadillo to me, but whatever.  For some reason it got picked up by mainstream American cooking in the 1950s, where it was stripped down to be pretty plain (and let's face it, pretty dull). It's an awfully quick and convenient dish to make though, and this spin off towards Mexican flavours makes it interesting again.

If you expect this to really have Mexican flavours, you will need to use Mexican peppers and chile powder. Anchos would be my first choice for the fresh peppers, and chipotle powder (or add some tinned chipotle to the meat later instead) would work well for the chile powder. But if you cannot find those, any other will be nice, just not necessarily very Mexican. 

I've listed quite a few toppings for this; you don't have to use all of them, just a good selection. I realized afterwards that I had intended to put cheese on them, but it somehow didn't happen when the time came. I can't say we missed it terribly, but I do think if you don't have the cheese you want the sour cream, and vice versa. You could also omit the meat and double the beans for a vegetarian version.

4 servings
40 minutes prep time

Make the Spice Mixture:
2 teaspoons cumin seed
3 teaspoons rubbed oregano
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sweet Hungarian paprika
1/8 to 1 teaspoon hot chile powder

Grind the cumin seed and mix the remaining ingredients. Yes, that last measurement means "however much you like and also it depends". As always when dealing with hot chiles.

Make the Taco Joe Filling:
1 large onion
3 or 4 cloves of garlic
1 or 2 peppers, preferably Anchos or similar
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
500 grams (1 pound) ground beef
2 cups cooked pinto or kidney beans
2 cups tomato sauce
1 cup water

Peel and chop the onion. Peel and mince the garlic. Wash, de-stem and de-seed the peppers. Chop them in pieces about the same size as the onion.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and peppers, and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and slightly browned. Add the ground beef, breaking it up into small bits, and cook, stirring, until no pink is left. Add the garlic and spice mixture, and cook for a minute or two more. Mix in the beans.

Add the tomato sauce and water, and simmer until everything is nicely amalgamated and the sauce is "sloppy"; neither too wet nor too dry. You can add a little more water (or tomato sauce) if you need to.

Assemble the Taco Joes:
1 cup grated old Cheddar or other cheese
1 large tomato, peeled and chopped
1 large avocado, peeled and chopped
6 medium radishes
1 cup of washed and chopped lettuce
1/2 cup of washed and chopped cilantro
1/2 cup sour cream
4 hamburger buns

Grate the cheese. Blanch for 1 minute and peel (if you are so inclined) the tomato. Cut the avocado in half and remove the pit; peel and dice the flesh. Wash, trim and chop the radishes. Wash, dry, and chop the lettuce and cilantro. Put all these in separate little bowl (you can mix the lettuce and cilantro if you like) as well as the sour cream.

Toast the buns and top each of them with 1/4 of the Taco Joe filling. Let each diner add the toppings according to their wishes.

Last year at this time I made Dirty Kasha.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Gingerbread Pear Crumble

I love fruit crisps or crumbles! (What's the difference? I don't think there is any, really.) They are so quick and easy to make, not expensive (usually) and if you are going to have dessert, they at least have something to offer in the realm of actual nutrition. Their one drawback is that I don't find them very photogenic! This one brings the lively flavours of gingerbread to sweet, mellow pears - it's a classic combination and one I really like.

It took 2 tries to get this right. The first time I made it I modelled it on Apple Crisp and the rolled oats were just not right - they really took away from the gingerbread effect. Oat bran gives you that same oaty goodness without the distracting texture.

I used 6 pears and it was fine, but they do tend to cook down and next time I might throw in 1 or 2 more. It depends on their size too; you want fairly decently large ones if you can.

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

Gingerbread Pear Crumble

Make the Topping:
1/2 cup Sucanat or dark brown sugar
2 cups soft whole wheat and/or unbleached flour
1 cup oat bran
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 of a medium nutmeg, finely grated
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 cup butter
3 tablespoons honey

Mix the Sucanat, flour, bran, salt, and spices in a mixing bowl. Heat and soften the butter and honey somewhat (I give them about 20 seconds in my microwave, but you could put them on the back of the stove until the honey is runny and the butter is soft instead.)

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Mix the butter and honey into the dry ingredients, until it forms loose crumbs and none of it looks completely dry. There should be bits of butter in small pieces throughout.

Finish the Crumble:
6 to 8 medium-large Bartlett or Bosc pears
2 to 3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons minute tapioca

Peel and core the pears, and cut each quarter into 3 slices. Toss them in an 8" x 10" shallow baking dish with the honey and tapioca. Spread them out evenly over the bottom of the dish.

Sprinkle the crumb mixture evenly over the pears.

Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour until lightly browned and the pears are tender. Let cool slightly or completely before serving. I have found the flavour of this to be better the second day, so if you want to serve it warm I think it is best to make it the day ahead and warm slightly before serving.

Last year at this time I made Moussaka.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Cauliflower with Spiced Tomato Sauce

Well, sort of  a sauce, I suppose. More like spicy clinging bits. Not your regular tomato sauce out of a jar, that's for sure.

Serve this zippy mixture with fairly plain grilled or roast meat, chicken, or fish; it may be the side dish but it wants to take centre stage.

4 to 6 servings
30 minutes prep time

2 medium tomatoes
3 shallots
3 to 5 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon finely minced peeled fresh ginger
1/2 cup chopped dried tomatoes
1/2 a medium cauliflower (4 to 5 cups florets)
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
1 teaspoon coriander seed, ground
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon (OR to taste) Cayenne pepper

Peel and chop the tomato. Peel and chop the shallots. Peel and mince the garlic and ginger. Roughly chop the dried tomatoes.

Wash and trim the cauliflower, and break it into florets. Put it in a pot with water to cover, and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, until just barely tender.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until softened and reduced in volume, but don't let them brown much. Add the dried tomatoes, garlic, ginger, ground coriander seed, salt, and Cayenne. Cook gently together for a few minutes, then add the cooked and drained cauliflower. Mix in well and simmer for a few minutes until the sauce is well worked into the cauliflower. Serve at once.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Turkish Tray Kebab

TRAY KEBAB! At least, that's how Google Translate renders it, and that sounds right - delightful, actually - to me. Basically, it's meatloaf, seasoned by Turks and baked in a tray; something like a pie plate or other shallow casserole dish. A sturdy cake pan might do.

Do I even need to say it's delicious? And you're not eating plain old boring meatloaf; oh no, not you! You're eating exotic tray kebab which fortunately is no harder to make than meatloaf.

I used half beef and half lamb. When we were in Turkey anything sold as "meat" generally was a combination. So in addition to being very tasty it's authentic. But if that is not possible one or the other will do. I'll also note that you can use peppers of whatever heat level you like, but if you use hot peppers in the kebab and hot peppers to garnish in addition to the Aleppo pepper, it's going to be, you know; hot. Your call. Some mildly hot banana pepper were about all I've been able to buy this year, other than bell peppers and I just don't eat those, so our kebab had a nice little nip to it.

When I say fresh breadcrumbs, I mean your bread can and should be pretty stale. Just actual bread, not powdery dust from the grocery store.

4 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

Turkish Style Tray Kebab

1 medium onion
2 to 3 cloves of garlic
1/2 a medium sweet green or red pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
1/2 cup fine fresh bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed, ground
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon rubbed savory OR thyme
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
500 grams (1 pound) ground beef, lamb OR half of each
1 large egg
200 grams (1/2 pound; 2 medium) potatoes
2 teaspoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
salt & pepper to taste
1 to 3 small sweet or hot banana peppers
5 large or 10 small cherry tomatoes

Peel and mince the onion. Peel and mince the garlic. De-stem and de-seed the pepper, and chop it very finely. Wash, dry, and finely chop the parsley. Put all this in a mixing bowl as you go.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

If your bread crumbs are very stale, moisten them with a little water then rub them until they crumble - you want to avoid any big lumps of bread. Otherwise, just add them to the bowl. Grind the cumin seeds and add them to the bowl with the salt, savory or thyme, and Aleppo pepper.

Add the meat and the egg to the bowl. I recommend using half lamb and half beef it is at all feasible.

Mix everything - I put in one clean hand and squelch away at it - until very well and evenly combined.

Wash and trim the potatoes. Slice them very thinly. Pour 2 teaspoons of oil into a 9" pie plate. Toss the potatoes in this oil, then season them to taste with salt and pepper. Spread them out as evenly and flatly as you can over the bottom of the pie plate. Turn the meatloaf mixture out on top of them, and spread it out evenly to the edges without disturbing the potatoes. I found it easiest to drop it in handfuls around the dish then press them down to form an even, continuous layer over the potatoes.

Wash the remaining peppers and the tomatoes. De-stem and de-seed the peppers, and cut them into strips. Cut out the stem scar from the tomatoes, if it is warranted, and either cut them in half or leave them whole depending on the size. Use these vegetables to garnish the top of the kebab, pressing down gently but firmly to be sure they are well engaged with the surface. Brush them with the remaining oil.

Bake for 1 hour at 375°F, and let it rest for 5 or 10 minutes before serving.

Last year at this time I made Feta Cheese Stuffed Kohlrabi

Monday, 25 September 2017

Grape, Arugula, & Spinach Salad with Goat Cheese & Walnuts

It's a salad I like - it's got fruit, nuts, and cheese! Well, I had to do something with the other half of the basket of grapes I bought for the Chicken with Roasted Grapes, and very nice it was too. I think red grapes might have been prettier for this recipe but nothing wrong with the green ones.

4 to 6 servings
20 minutes prep time

Grape, Arugula, & Spinach Salad with Goat Cheese & Walnuts

Make the Dressing:
3 tablespoons walnut oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Put the above ingredients in a small bowl or jam jar and whisk or shake until well blended. 

Make the Salad:
2 cups red or green seedless grapes
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
2 cups baby arugula
2 to 4 cups baby spinach leaves
1/2 cup walnut pieces
125 grams (1/2 pound) goat cheese

Wash the grapes and remove them from the stems, discarding any bad ones. Drain well.

Wash, dry and chop the parsley finely, and the arugula and spinach coarsely. Mix them in your salad bowl.

Arrange the grapes and walnut pieces over the greens, and crumble the goat cheese over as well. Drizzle with the salad dressing.

Last year at this time I made Veal in Tomato Sauce.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Broccoli with Chile & Garlic

This may be a very simple treatment for broccoli but it's really delicious, if you like butter, chile, and garlic, and I do, very much.

In fact the only thing better is to make twice as much of the garlic and chile oil, then toss in not only broccoli but cooked pasta, finishing the whole thing with a generous sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese.

You could do this with cauliflower too, I wouldn't doubt. Perhaps not a large head of it; about 4 cups of florets would be sufficient. I figure that's the same amount as the broccoli.

2 to 4 servings
15 minutes prep time

Broccoli with Chile & Garlic

1 large head broccoli
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes

Wash and trim the broccoli, and cut it into florets. Put it in a pot with an inch of water and bring to a boil; boil for 5 minutes. Drain very well.

Meanwhile, peel and mince the garlic. When the broccoli is draining, be sure the pot is dry then put the garlic, butter, olive oil, salt, and chile flakes into it. Return to the burner and bring it up to a simmer. Let it simmer for a minute or two, then add the very well drained broccoli. Stir it into the garlic and chile sauce for a minute or two, until well distributed and soaked into it, then turn it out onto its serving dish. Serve at once.

Last year at this time I made Caprese Tortellini Salad.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Bread Fritters

I'm really on this stale bread kick, aren't I? I mean, there always tend to be little themes that I pick up and follow for a while; but why stale bread in the middle of the summer I really don't know. Blame it on the Fattoush, I guess. Also this summer's herb theme continues, although these are really flexible in terms of how you season them and you could do other things than what I did to good effect.  I can see using poultry seasoning for stuffing-like fritters, or curry powder, or a mix of Italian herbs, or...? I'll probably make this again and use the water drained from tomatoes as the liquid - there's a fair bit of that going on at the moment, as we process our tomatoes - and in that case I might add some fresh basil (and reduce the salt). I used chicken stock but water would work perfectly well; the chicken stock was really not noticeable.

Anyway, this one is more Turkish than Lebanese and if you wanted to serve it with yogurt infused with crushed garlic that would probably be a very good idea. I admit I was too harassed at the time and just passed it with some mayonnaise. Yogurt would certainly have been better but it did the job. 

6 to 8 fritters (2 to 4 servings)
20 minutes prep time

Bread Fritters

2 cups diced or crumbled stale bread
2/3 cup water, chicken stock, etc.
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
3 small shallots or 1 medium onion
1 cup finely minced parsley
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
freshly ground black pepper to taste

about 1/4 cup mild vegetable oil to fry

Cut or crumble the bread and put it in a mixing bowl. Pour the water, stock, or other liquid over the bread and mix it in.

Peel and mince the garlic. Peel and mince the shallots or onion. Wash, dry, trim and mince the parsley. Add all these to the bread.

Break in the eggs, and mix them in. Sprinkle the flour and seasonings over and mix them in. Let the mixture sit for about 10 minutes, then heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add enough oil to coat the bottom of it liberally.

Spoon in 1/6th or 1/8th of the batter, smoothing it out to form a neat, flat pancake. Add as many more pancakes as your pan will hold, and cook them for 3 or 4 minutes per side, until nicely browned. Lift them out to a plate and keep them warm in a 200°F oven (if you like - they cook pretty quickly and shouldn't cool off that much if just left on the back of the stove) while you cook the remaining fritters.

Last year at this time I made Watermelon Jelly and Sicilian Watermelon Pudding.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Chicken with Roasted Grapes

Amazingly, this is the first recipe I have made in over 10 years of blogging that calls for grapes. I like them fine, I guess, but I tend to prefer the imported ones and I tend to pull them off the stems and eat them; recipe over. However we went to Keady market recently, and I got a little container of green seedless grapes, juicier and zingier than their larger imported brethren.

You should serve these with mashed potatoes, polenta, or some such thing to soak up the cooking juices, which are perhaps the best part of this dish. That, and the fact that it isn't a whole lot harder than flinging the meat in a pan and sticking it in the oven, unadorned, would have been.

2 to 4 servings

Chicken with Roasted Grapes

4 to 6 shallots
1 teaspoon mild vegetable oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
4 medium chicken thighs
OR a 1 to 1.5 kg (2 to 3 pound) pork tenderloin
1/2 teaspoon each fennel seed and rosemary
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 cups green or red seedless grapes
1 teaspoon mild vegetable oil; yes, again

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Peel the shallots and cut them in quarters. Toss them with the oil, mustard, and vinegar in a shallow baking dish that will hold the meat to be roasted snugly. Spread them out evenly and put the chicken thighs on top of them. If you are using the pork, you should brown it in a little (unmentioned) oil before laying it on top of the shallots. Grind the fennel seeds and rosemary, and sprinkle this, with some salt and pepper, over the meat.

Roast the chicken for 30 minutes, or the pork tenderloin for 15 to 20 minutes. While the meat cooks, remove the stems from the grapes and discard them. Toss the grapes with the remaining teaspoon of oil. Remove the pan from the oven but turn the heat up to 400°F. Sprinkle the prepared grapes around the meat and return the pan to the oven. Roast for a further 15 minutes until the grapes have all split.

Let the dish rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Spicy Fried Eggplant - Baingan (or Begun) Bhaja

Here is my take on a classic Bengali treatment for eggplant. The eggplant is sliced, marinated in a spice paste, then coated in flour and fried. As usual I looked at a lot of recipes, picked the features I liked from each, and adapted for the fact that I can't get certain ingredients easily. I was pretty pleased with the results and we both enjoyed this very much.

This is rich enough to be a vegetarian main course, served with rice or Naan, or it will work well as one of 2 or 3 dishes (or more) comprising a fancier Indian-style meal.

While the salting and draining of the eggplant, followed by the marinating period makes it quite slow, this was really very easy to do and the actual work is divided up into 3 sessions of about 10 minutes each.

2 to 4 servings
1 1/2 hours - 30 minutes prep time

Spicy Fried Eggplant - Baingan (or Begun) Bhaja

Salt & Drain the Eggplant:
1 medium eggplant (300 grams; 10 ounces)

Wash and trim the eggplant, and cut it into slices about 1/4" thick. Peel off the skin from the side slices, as much as possible, and maybe trim them a bit to make them reasonably flat. Salt them generously and layer them on a plate. Set another plate on top, weight the plate, and let them sit for about half an hour.

Rinse off the eggplant slices and gently squeeze and pat them dry. This will draw off any bitter juices, and help speed up the cooking process.

Make the Spice Paste:
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, ground
1/8 to 1 teaspoon Aleppo or other hot ground chile
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons apple butter
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil

Grind the coriander seeds and mix them in a small mixing bowl with the chile powder, turmeric, salt, and ginger. Peel and mince the garlic and add it, along with the apple butter and vegetable oil. Mix thoroughly.

When the eggplant is ready, stab each piece all over with a fork, on both sides. Spread the paste evenly over the slices, on both sides.

Fry the Eggplant:
about 1 cup chick pea flour
about 1/2 cup mild vegetable oil to fry
a good handful parsley or cilantro to garnish

As you finish spreading the spice paste on each slice, lay it on a plate generously sprinkled with chick pea flour. Sprinkle chick pea flour between each layer as you stack them up; the eggplant slices should be thinly but completely dredged in the chick pea flour.

When the are all done, let them rest for about half an hour.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil - enough to generously cover the bottom of the skillet - in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once it is hot, lay in as many of the prepared eggplant slices as you can while still having room to turn them. Fry for 2 or 3 minutes per side, until well browned. Add a little more oil to the pan as needed, generally when the slices need to be turned or new ones are being added. Put the finished slices on a plate and keep them warm in a 200°F oven until they are all done. Garnish with chopped parsley or cilantro and serve hot.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017


This looks a lot like the Fattoush I made a while back, and why not? It's another Mediterranean salad based on the magical interaction between ripe tomatoes and stale bread. The Italian version is more basic, maybe even a little austere. Still, the Italians can get into fights over whether you use a bread made with salt or not, even while declaring that this is a versatile salad designed to use up whatever is around.  You are not so likely to have the luxury to choose the exact iteration of Italian style bread so I say use whatever you can get.

You can certainly use cherry tomatoes instead of the beefsteaks if you prefer or that's what you have. This salad doesn't always even have the cucumber in it, so you could omit it and add a bit more tomato to compensate. Personally I think the basil is pretty indispensable but you could replace it with fresh oregano or parsley.

4 servings
30 minutes prep time

Panzanella, an Italian Bread Salad

1/2 large sweet Spanish OR red onion
4 to 6 slices stale Italian bread
1/4 cup olive oil
1 English (long) cucumber
1 large or 2 medium beefsteak tomatoes

1/4 cup finely torn or shredded fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

I do the onion first because I like to salt it to make it milder. Peel it and cut it in half from top to bottom, then cut into thin slices the other way. Put them in a strainer and sprinkle them with salt, then set them aside to drain for about 10 minutes or so. Rinse and drain well before adding them to the salad.

Your bread should be good and stale. Brush it with the olive oil on both sides, arrange it on a baking tray, and toast in the oven at 425°F until crisp but not more than lightly browned around the edges. Crumble it up and put it in your salad bowl.

Peel (if you like) the cucumber, and cut it into dice. Peel (if you like, by blanching for 1 minute in boiling water then dropping it into cold water) the tomato, and cut it into slightly larger dice. Mix them in your salad bowl with the bread.  Add the onion at this point. If you don't care to salt and drain it, wait until now to prepare it. Wash, dry, and tear up or shred the basil and add it.

Sprinkle the balsamic vinegar over the salad. If perchance you didn't use the full 1/4 cup of olive oil to brush the bread, sprinkle any remaining over the salad now. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss well. Let the salad sit for 10 or 15 minutes to soften before serving.

Last year at this time I made Versatile Chocolate Cake Dressed as an Owl, Because Why Not? which also made  use of Vanilla Pudding Frosting. And the chocolate version too, for that matter.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Plum & Blackberry Pie

Ooo, pie! I haven't made one of those in a while. But we bought a big basket of plums, and we've frozen oodles of blackberries, and still they come.  If you want to use up fruit there is nothing like a pie. Fruit crisps can come close, and I may resort to that yet, but for now; pie.

This was new pie crust recipe for me, and I have to say I mostly approve. Mostly, because I made it with white flour and I prefer whole wheat flour in a pie crust. I'm out of it though. I tend to buy a big sack of each at the same time and as usual the whole wheat is gone long before the white flour. If I had had whole wheat flour I suspect I might have wanted to add an extra 2 tablespoons to allow for the bran in it.

I speculate that this could have been made earlier in the season using Japanese type plums, but they are softer, juicier, and more sour. I would add a bit more sugar and probably a tablespoon of arrowroot to reinforce the tapioca if I did that.

I put some of that blueberry honey in this and as usual, I definitely could tell it was there! Honey is expensive though, and I suspect it could have been replaced with sugar and worked just fine. Maybe just a hair less tapioca in that case. 

8 servings
1 hour 45 minutes - 45 minutes prep time

Plum & Blackberry Pie

Make the Pie Crust:
2 cups soft unbleached flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup mild vegetable oil
1/4 to 1/3 cup buttermilk

Mix the flour and salt in a mixing bowl, then cut in the cold butter until the size of peas or smaller. Mix in the oil and 1/4 cup of buttermilk. Stir with a fork until well mixed then form it into a ball. If it is still too dry to form a cohesive ball, dribble in a little more buttermilk and mix again.

Wrap the dough loosely in parchment paper or a clean damp tea towel and set it aside while you make the filling.

Make the Filling & Finish:
450 grams (1 pound; 16 to 20) German or Italian purple plums
4 cups blackberries
1/4 cup minute tapioca
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon lemon, lime, or orange juice
a few scrapes of zest from the above

Wash the plums, split them in half, and remove the pits. Cut each half into quarters and put in a mixing bowl. Wash and pick over the blackberries (removing any stems or debris) and drain them very well. Add them to the plums. Add the remaining ingredients and mix gently.

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Divide the dough into 2 pieces, about 60% and 40%. Roll out the larger piece on the parchment paper or a clean, floured board (you will need to flour the parchment paper if you use that) until evenly thin and large enough to fit your pie plate with a very slight overhang. Centre the upside-down pie plate over the crust, flip it over, and peel off the parchment paper. If you didn't use parchment, roll the crust loosely around the rolling pin to transfer it over the pie plate and then unroll it into position.

Roll out the remaining pastry to cover the pie. Transfer the filling to the lined pie plate. Top it with the pastry and seal well around the edge, pinching it closed. Cut holes for steam to escape, or just poke holes with a fork over the top of the crust. Put the pie plate onto a baking tray to catch any drips, and bake at 425°F for 15 to 20 minutes. Reduce the heat and continue baking for another 45 minutes. Pie should be lightly browned. You will probably see some leaking juices, which should be bubbling. You may want to give it another 5 minutes or so. Remove to a rack and let cool before serving.

Last year at this time I made Artichoke, Mushroom, & Spinach Soup.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Sweet Corn Hash, Mexican Flavours

Well, this is not so much a recipe as a bunch of things thrown into a pan, but at least they were thrown in to good effect.

I put in the bacon, mostly because I already had some left over to use up. I assume about 15 minutes to cook it;  without it this will be really quite quick. On the other hand; bacon. Likewise the amount of cheese I call for assumes that this is your main dish, but you could put in less or even none and serve this as a side dish with something else. That's why the number of servings is so variable. It depends on what, if anything, else you are serving with it.

You could use about 2 cups of diced potatoes instead of zucchini if you preferred, but they should be par-boiled first. Or as we say in this household, leftovers. 

You can use a bell pepper if you like, but I prefer something more interesting. Mexican, for preference, but I haven't seen any ancho peppers so far this  year and the hot Banana peppers we found were about the only other option. It has been a terrible year for peppers, and it shows at the market. (And if it wasn't a terrible year for peppers, we wouldn't be trying to buy them... but, yeah. Ours are nowhere in sight.) If you use a hot pepper though, be careful about using a hot pepper flavoured Monterrey Jack. I'm not saying you can't, just that you should decide that's what you want to do (or not) first. 

2 to 6 servings
40 minutes prep time

Spicy Corn Hash with Zucchini & Peppers

1 medium onion
1 large sweet or hot red or green pepper
3 cobs of corn
1 medium zucchini
6 slices of bacon, optional 
1 to 2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
about 150 grams (5 ounces) Monterrey Jack or similar cheese
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Peel and chop the onion. Wash, de-stem, and chop the pepper. Husk the corn, and cut the kernels from it, scraping the cobs to get it all. Wash, trim, and cut the zucchini into small dice.

Chop the bacon into bits, and sauté it in a large skillet until crisp. Remove it from the pan. If you are not using bacon, put some oil in the large skillet and heat it. You may need to use a little more oil even if you do put in the bacon, but only assuming it was very lean, or conversely if it looks like too much drain off a bit before you start the vegetables.

Add the onion and peppers and cook, stirring, for a few minutes until softened. Add the zucchini and the corn. Continue cooking, stirring regularly but giving things time to brown a bit between times. When it's cooked to your liking, mix in the presumed bacon, and sprinkle the cheese cut in dice or grated, over the hash. Cover with a lid and let continue to cook for a few more minutes, until the cheese is melted.

Sprinkle with the chopped cilantro, and serve.

Last year at this time we cooked some Artichokes

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Pickled Sweet Spanish Onions

We made these last year; I can now report on how they did.

We have always grown a sweet onion for fresh raw eating in the summer, but for some reason hardly anybody ate any last year. At the end of the season when the tops died down, we were left with 3/4 of a bushel of sweet onions, and they quickly made it clear they had no intention of storing.

I desperately searched the internet for pickled onion recipes. "No canning needed for these quick onion pickles!" they all promised, and I moaned, "But I NEED to can them! Three-quarters of a bushel! Already sprouting!"

Anyway, I had to come up with my own in the end, and I was pretty happy with it. I had hoped that the pickles would keep for a year, but while they are still usable, at the 8 month mark they got a bit too soft to be really good. I suspect that may be because they were sweet onions, and they are just not good keepers even when pickled and placed in a jar. Regular onions might hold up better. Or maybe I should have done the 3 day brining that my other onion pickle recipe calls for. I guess it's nice to know that it might not be done in vain!? 

Still, for the first 6 months these were better than fine, and I used them a lot. I was worried they might be a bit plain and they kind of were, but that actually made them very usable. I threw them in salads, onto sandwiches, even into soups and stews. (Yeah I have scaled the recipe way down from what I made - I had A LOT.)

makes 3 500-ml jars

Pickled Sweet Spanish Onions

10 cups sliced sweet Spanish onions
pickling salt
3/4 cups water
1 1/2 cups white vinegar

Peel and slice the onions, a layer them in a large strainer (I used a steamer insert for a pasta set) sprinkling each layer lightly with pickling salt. Set aside in a cool spot and let drain for 3 hours.

One hour before assembling the pickles, put the jars in a canner with water to cover them by a good inch and bring to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes. 

Put the water and vinegar together in a pot, and bring up to a simmer. 

1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon white peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon pickling salt
1 teaspoon sugar

Lift the jars from the canner, draining half of them into the sink and half of them back into the canner. Put them on a heat-proof board and add the seasonings to each jar. Fill each jar with the well-drained onion slices. Pour the hot brine over them. There should be about 1/2" headroom at the top of each jar. Wipe the rims of the jars with a bit of paper towel dipped in the boiling water in the canner.

Bring the lids and rims to a boil, and seal the jars. Return them to the canner and boil for 20 minutes. Let cool, remove from the canner, test the seals, and label the jars. Keep them in a cool, dark spot for up to 6 months; once opened they must be kept in the refrigerator.

Last year at this time I made Dill Pickle Brined Pork Tenderloin.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Melon, Cucumber & Feta Salad

This is a variation on a salad I made in first few months of this blog, only with apricots instead of melon. It is interesting (to me) to note that while I have never thought of myself as a reckless user of sweeteners, I called for a lot more honey then than I would think appropriate now. In fact, I think you could use less, or even none, although it does help play up the sweet-sour-salty flavour triangle here.

I had intended to put some mint into this but some annoying little critter had beaten me to it, leaving nothing but bare stems and a few very tattered, wilting leaves. Bah humbug. 

4 servings
15 minutes prep time

Watermelon, Cucumber & Feta Salad

1 cup peeled, diced cucumber
1 cup peeled, diced watermelon, muskmelon, or cantaloupe
1/2 cup drained, diced feta cheese
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh mint or basil, optional
the juice of 1/2 large lime
1 tablespoon honey
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Wash, peel (if you like) the cucumber, and cut it in dice; put it in your salad bowl. Wash, peel (I do recommend) your melon, and cut in similar dice and likewise put it in. Drain and dice the feta cheese; add it to the bowl. Wash, dry, and mince the mint or basil if you would like to add some and have not been visited by egregious pests.

Squeeze the lime juice, and mix it with the honey - I find it helpful to heat them together in the microwave for just a few seconds - then toss this dressing into the salad. Finish with a good, rather coarse, grind of black pepper.

... Aaaaand serve.

Last year at this time I made a Pasta Salade Niçoise.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Dancing With Smurfs Tomato

When we first started gardening here, 9 years ago, there were no "blue" tomatoes available. Since then, they have become a big fad and almost common. One of the most popular and widely available is Dancing with Smurfs. I received a few seeds in a seed-trade a few years back, but they are available from Greta's Organic Gardens, Solana Seeds, and Urban Harvest, at least this year.

We did not jump into the mania for blue tomatoes feet-first; by the time we heard about them we had a pretty full complement of tomatoes going. Also early reports were that these blue tomatoes didn't taste that great. In fact, we grew Dancing with Smurfs last year for the first time and I have to admit... we forgot to pick any. I kept looking at them, and admiring how lovely they looked, and just not eating them. This year I resolved to do better.

Part of the problem is that although they look like an oversized cherry tomato or small salad tomato, they are not particularly early to ripen. The truss in the picture is the first I have picked. They get their lovely blue colour quite early in their development, but the underlying red of ripeness does not come until later. Days to maturity is said to be 70 days; I think they took longer than that but then tomatoes in general have been dire this year, what with the unrelenting rain and lack of really convincing heat.

Most of the blue tomatoes available in North America came out of a breeding program at Oregon State University, under the direction of Jim Myers. He was using material dating back as far as the 1960s, when the first attempts at a blue tomato were made. Apparently all tomatoes have the genetic ability to express anthocyanins in their skins; they just don't. It stays in the leaves and stems, where it does not provide any nutritional benefits. At OSU they crossed domestic tomatoes with wild species which did express the gene for blue skins.  Their first successful variety seems to be one known as P20. Out of that came a series of varieties with Indigo in the name... Indigo Rose is the best known of these, but I have not grown it. The general agreement though, is that these are not the best tasting of the blues.

In 2004 Tom Wagner, breeder of the well-known Green Zebra tomato (and many other things) and a number of other independent tomato breeders got some material from the university and they continued with their own breeding work on blue skinned tomatoes. In 2011 Tom Wagner released the f3 of what is now Dancing with Smurfs, and apparently it has been quite stable since then, although I suspect growers are still selecting for the plants with the most blue to the tomatoes.

Those wild tomato genes also make the blue tomatoes robust plants with resistance to diseases, including to some degree, it is said, to the dreaded late blight. I have never had that - *knocks wood, sprinkles salt over shoulder, spits* - so I really can't comment. However, I note that they don't have any particular resistance to our endemic septoria leaf-spot. Given that they have rather sparse foliage to start with, mine are now looking very denuded. The sparse foliage does help to ensure the blueness of the tomatoes, though, as the colour is produced in conjunction with lots of sunlight.

So, how do they taste?

Quite pleasant, I would say, although they won't be my favourite tomato. They are distinctly sweet, a bit mild, with a slight but definite note of bitterness in that anthocyanin-rich skin. I'm not about to replace blueberries with these, is what I'm saying. Given what a crappy year this has been for tomatoes, I may not (almost certainly not) be tasting them at their best. I'd say they're well worth trying particularly if you want to have a range of small tomatoes in a rainbow of colours - definitely a worth-while ambition. Keep in mind, too, that I am not the greatest lover of raw tomatoes and cherry tomatoes in particular. You may think these are terrific - lots of people do.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Three Variations on Blackberry Jam (or Syrup)

Our blackberries are producing masses of berries this year. They are a decent quality in spite of the rain, if a little on the tart side compared to some years. So far, I have made a version of all of these variations. The Blackberry-Orange combo was made as jam, and the Blackberry-Honey was made as syrup. I would only suggest the Blackberry-Peach as a jam, which is what I did. 

You don't actually have to strain out the seeds, but I have to say it's nice not to have them. They are quite intrusive and as I get older they inevitably get stuck in my gums. On the other hand, the berries cook down and you will probably mill out close to 2 cups of seeds, meaning that 12 cups of blackberries are not nearly as much as you might think.

I always think each berry has an ideal citrus partner. Oranges seem to be it for blackberries; lemons go with raspberries and strawberries and blueberries love limes.

The honey I used in the syrup was blueberry honey, and I could really taste it in the syrup, at least as I canned it up. How it will hold, I don't know. I expect the blackberries to be delicious at any rate.

After this, I think any more blackberries will be frozen for smoothies. 

6 250-ml jars of jam
OR 8 250-ml jars of syrup

Blackberry Jam

Blackberry-Orange Jam or Syrup
12 cups blackberries
the zest and juice of 2 large navel oranges
1 cup water if making syrup
2 cups sugar

Blackberry-Honey Syrup or Jam
12 cups blackberries
the zest and juice of 1 large lime
1 cup water if making syrup
1 cup honey
1 cup sugar

Blackberry-Peach Jam
8 cups blackberries
900 grams (2 pounds; 6 medium-large) peaches
2 cups sugar

Rinse and pick over the blackberries; drain them very well. Put them in a large pot and add the zest and citrus juice, if using. If you are making jam, do not add water. If you are making syrup, add the 1 cup of water. Heat the berries gently over medium heat, stirring frequently, and bring them up to a steady simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring regularly, until all the berries have broken open. Let cool for 15 minutes.

Put your jars into a canner and add water to cover by at least an inch. Bring them up to a boil. I add my ladle and funnel to the top to sterilize them as well.

Meanwhile, press the berries through a food mill - I find it best to not put in more than 1 cup at a time - and strain them into a maslin pan or other large heavy bottomed pot. Discard the seeds. If you are making the Blackberry-Peach jam, blanch and peel the peaches, and chop them, discarding the pits.

Add the sugar, or sugar and honey, or sugar and peaches, to the strained berries, and bring up to a boil. Boil until a thick syrup, if making syrup, or until it runs from a spoon in a wide ribbon if making jam (probably about 20 minutes).

When the jars come to a boil, boil them for 10 minutes. Remove them from the water but keep it boiling. At this point I have taken to dropping the rings and lids into the boiling water while I fill the jars - they should boil for about 1 minute and you could also do them in their own pot of water.

Fill the jars with the jam or syrup. Dip a bit of paper towel in the boiling water and wipe the rims of the jars to make sure they are clean. Top them with the lids and rings, and tighten to be just snug. Return them to the boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes. Let cool (if you can, in the canner but otherwise remove them to a heatproof board), test the seals, label, and store in a cool dark place for up to 1 year. Keep refrigerated once open.

Last year at this time I made Corn & Tomato Salad with Feta Cheese, and also Cherry Tomato & Shallot Bruschetta.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Thornless Blackberries

If you asked me to list all the berries we can grow in Ontario in order of how much I like them, blackberries would be an also-ran. It isn't that I don't like them, it's just that I like most other berries better. However, over the last 6 years or so, as we have struggled to grow strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries, we've been eating lots of blackberries because they grow so easily and well. I'm starting to warm up to them...

Our blackberries were brought by my mother-in-law when she moved here, so I do not know exactly which variety we have. There was a popular series of blackberries bred in the U.S.A. and given the names of native tribes; I suspect them of being one of those, possibly Apache, but who really knows? In some ways, it doesn't matter much because the differences between one variety and another are not that enormous, although Apache is particularly long-producing which makes it a good choice for home gardeners.

Still, there are points to consider. Blackberries are naturally very thorny canes, but for over a hundred years now thornless versions have been commercially available. It makes them far more pleasant to pick and otherwise work with, no question! But thorny versions are still sold, so if you are shopping for blackberry canes, do check. After that, canes may be erect, semi-erect, or trailing. Ours are plainly an erect version, although that doesn't mean they don't arch enough to touch the ground if they are not pruned. Also, while these are often described as self-supporting, it makes a lot of sense to build them a trellis if you have more than one or two plants. They will be more tolerant of neglect than trailing varieties though.

You don't, by the way, need to have more than one plant unless you want more fruit; they are self-fertile so even just one will produce fruit. One plant will also produce more plants. They tend to send out runners and in many ways the hardest part of growing blackberries is keeping them under some kind of control. They drop seedlings all over, too. At least any that come up in the lawn don't survive mowing. My impression is that most if not all of those seedlings will have thorns, so do try to remove them while they are cute, baby thorns.

We mulch our row of blackberries with wood chips, which seems to suit them fine. They should definitely be mulched quite heavily.  Mowing around them is the best way to keep them in check, so their bed should be surrounded by mow-able grass. They like full sunshine for best production. About 1/4 of our bed is lightly shaded though, and this works out reasonably well as it is the last section to start ripening - and also the last section to finish ripening, extending our picking time by a week or so. If our variety is Apache, they are supposed to produce over 5 weeks and we get at least 6 weeks of picking - it's pretty amazing, actually. They just keep coming and coming.

Like most fruits, they are best in a warm, not too wet season although blackberries are more tolerant of - or require, if you prefer to put it that way - a certain amount of water. It has been warm enough this year for the fruit to be decent in quality, but I have learned to make a point of not picking them until at least 24 hours after a rainfall, or the fruit will be soft, bland, hard to pick, and spoil quickly. Unlike most things I prefer to pick them late in the afternoon when the sun has been on them all day for that final burst of ripening.

Most descriptions you will find on-line describe them as ripening as early as June, but those are American sites. Here in mid-southern Ontario they start ripening in the middle of August, and go until the end of September. They match well in particular with the peaches and early apples that are in season at the same time.

Blackberries are easy to care for. Mostly what they need is pruning and a little support. Since they are perennial, that "little support" does need to be sturdy. We put in 2 8' tall, 2" diameter metal poles, set 2' into the ground and held in place with post cement. (You dig your hole, dump it in, add water - voila, cement. They mix it up special for this purpose.) There are then 2 sets of wires strung between them and we weave the canes up through them to hold them in place.

While the plants are perennials, each cane lasts 2 years. The first year they just grow; you pretty much ignore them. In the fall they should be pruned back to about 4' in length - the exact length will depend on what variety you have, but hopefully they will tell  you - and the next summer they will send out a series of side shoots, which will flower and fruit. In the meantime, once the existing fruiting 2 year old canes have finished fruiting, they should be pruned out. Late fall is ideal, but you could leave it to early spring if you had to. Then you just keep repeating that cycle.

Blackberry pests are rare - other than the birds. There are some diseases but decent air circulation and good soil quality will avoid most of them, and a little light fertilizing once each year will keep them in top condition. It's not quite plant them and stand back, but blackberries are an easy and satisfying fruit to grow.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Broiled Tomatoes au gratin

It's those magic words again - quick and easy! Serve these juicy little morsels as a side dish or pop them onto toast for bruschetta.

For some reason I think these would really go with a meal of steak, corn on the cob, and green beans although that wasn't what I served them with. Still, would be good!

My tomatoes were a bit on the skimpy side so I actually used 3 of them. This is an ideal use for heirloom beefsteak tomatoes, and the advantage of 3 was that they were all slightly different colours, flavours, and textures.

I'm giving a bit of a range of how long to cook them, because it all depends: on your oven, on your tomatoes, on your preference. Do check them early and often to be sure of getting it right.

2 to 4 servings
20 minutes prep time

Broiled Tomatoes au gratin

Make the Topping:
3 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 or 3 crackers, reduced to crumbs
a grind of fresh black pepper
1/2 teaspoon rubbed basil OR oregano

Grate the Parmesan and crush the crackers; mix them together in a small bowl. The volume of cracker crumbs should be about the same as the Parmesan. Mix in the pepper and basil or oregano.

Finish the Tomatoes:
2 medium-large tomatos
a little olive oil

Line a baking tray with parchment paper and brush it with olive oil. Preheat the broiler.

Wash and core the tomatoes, and cut them into fairly thick slices of about 1 cm. Lay them on the oiled parchment. Broil them for 3 to 5 minutes, until the top side is cooked. Turn them over and sprinkle the topping over them. Return them to the oven and broil for another 3 to 5 minutes, until the topping is browned.

Last year at this time I made Seedy Fried Cauliflower and "Mexican" Pesto.