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.