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. Add in the rest of the spices.

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. 

UPDATE, NOV 26 2017 - I made this cake again at my mothers' request for her birthday. I used greenhouse strawberries! I am so excited that they are available even in November now! I doubled the recipe and baked it in a 9" x 13" pan, which worked fine. Cake was very well received!

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.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Midsummer Garden Update

It's been a while since I've given a garden update. To cut to the chase, this has been a very frustrating year. Between the rain (nearly constant) and the critters things are on the whole below average to bad. It has been nice not to have to water, beyond one dryish week that pretty much coincided with our planting the bulk of the seeds, but the weeding has been stupendous. We had deer getting in for a while in the earlier spring but Mr. Ferdzy got up early one morning and caught one in the act. He was able then to find where it was getting in and out and reinforce that bit of fence, and we haven't had a deer since. Rabbits, oy.

Above are peanuts, looking okay from a distance. They are not actually doing too badly in spite of having been nibbled by marauding rabbits. It has been cool enough and wet enough we expect to keep them covered off and on all summer, hence the hoops and plastic to go over them.

Those carrots sure look lush! Especially the front half which is seed I saved from last year. This is one of the few times I have managed to save carrot seed. The bad news is I have a horrible fear that the father of all of it may be Queen Anne's Lace... time will tell. The garlic looks good but I am seeing signs of possible virus in some of them. Or maybe they are just in danger of drowning. IT HAS BEEN SO WET. Fortunately (or unfortunately in dry years) our soil is sandy and fast-draining. But still. SO WET.

The section next to the garlic looks good, but it's mostly weeds. There are a reasonable amount of parsnips in it, but the beet seed hardly germinated. I will try replanting it again this week; fortunately they are fast enough that they should still have time to mature.

Tomatoes are in and trellised and mostly growing well; ditto the squash, melons, and cucumbers. We had some problems with rabbits (?) nibbling on the tomato plants and killing a couple. Fortunately we had replacements still on hand - we always grow extra plants, most of which we hope to compost - and they are a little behind but at least there.

This bed looks pretty bad, but in fact it's good. This was our weedy horrible mess, now cleared out. We expected an immediate regrowth of weeds and there is some but not as bad as we feared. If we can keep it clear we will plant peonies all down the middle in the fall.

That one big clump of green at the far end is my sorrel; it survived this attempt on its' life and is recovering nicely.

Mr. Ferdzy now has all the previously unfinished inner walkways dug out and ready for gravel. We will be travelling next week to visit relatives, but after that he plans to order gravel and get it moved in. That will finish the gravel paths (for now at least) and will be a momentous occasion!

Because we hope to be away all next winter in Spain we are growing peas and beans more for seed saving and breeding purposes than eating, freezing, and drying purposes. We are growing small quantities of lots of different things, including quite a lot of crossed peas and beans saved from the last couple of years. I will be excited to see how these turn out if not eaten by rabbits. We are also trying 3 different kinds of Lima beans.

Mr. Ferdzy got fed up with how much work it is to string all these trellises and experimented with some lathing instead but I think his conclusion was that it is faster to put up but has other problems.

The 2 carrot plants above are self sown. I am starting to be able to tell the difference between Queen Anne's Lace (wild carrots) and domesticated carrots. The one on the left is a domesticated carrot, with slightly sparser, much more upright leaves. I suspected the one on the right of being a wild carrot, because the leaves were fuller and tended to spread out lower.

I scraped away enough soil to determine the carrot on the left was a real orange carrot, and pulled up the other one. It looks like a wild-domestic cross; that's a wild type root but larger and fuller than usual. It isn't guaranteed that the sparser leafed, more upright plants are domestic carrots, but I have yet to see a spreading or branching specimen that wasn't a wild carrot.

Peas and beans are trellised; again we had some problems with them being nibbled on by rabbits. We seem to be having a real outbreak of them this year. They have occasionally wandered in in the past but it's been rare that they've been persistent pests. We have been putting out traps for them but no luck. Not surprising. Why go into a trap to eat tired picked vegetables when there is an all-you-can-eat buffet of fresh, living vegetables all around you already? We may try a sonic device to keep them off if they persist.

That last bed on the right was also a disappointment. We grew chick peas successfully for the first time last year, but we didn't know when to pick them and they stayed in the garden too long, got rained on and went a bit mouldy. Not good enough to eat but I saved the best for seed. However the germination rate was just terrible. I seeded several times, hundreds of seeds each time, and we have have about 30 plants. Good enough to keep us in seed I hope, providing they are not nibbled to death by rabbits, a possible outcome it has to be admitted.

Our peas for freezing are a bit of a mess this  year. In addition to the rabbits, the deer were breaking in for while and wreaking havoc. Plus we were short on seed and they were spaced at 6" apart and not 4", our preferred distance for packed beds like this. Six inches allows way too much room for weeds and we have 'em. Plus I got so absorbed in weeding I forgot to pick the peas and the first batch got a little over mature. *sigh* Good thing a certain amount of this was intended for seed anyway.

On the right are onions from last year, going to seed; the seedlings for this years onions are behind them. The sweet potatoes and peanuts are big heat lovers and benefit from being covered with plastic whenever it's anything less than outright hot.

And that brings us full circle around the garden. We are resigned to the fact that this is going to be more of a make-progress-on-infrastructure year than a great vegetable year, but at least we are making a lot of progress on the infrastructure and re-jigging of the garden. I have booked 2 days of help to come in September and pull out and move or discard a lot of plants. Then we will seed over those old beds with grass and probably have about 20% to 25% fewer beds going forward. We love our garden except its sheer size has been burning us out, and we want some time off to rest and pursue other interests on occasion. Overall in spite of the frustrations of this year we are happy with the longer term direction of the garden for the first time in several years and the end of garden infrastructure construction seems to finally be in sight.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Happy Canada Day!

Here; have some peonies.