Monday, 30 October 2017

Lamb with Turnip Greens

I took some influence from Chinese cooking for this, but it certainly isn't a stir-fry even though that is more or less the effect once done. More of a stew-fry, if there is such a thing. We enjoyed it very much, whatever it was. It would be fine with rice, but pasta or potatoes would step up to the plate very nicely too. Quinoa, even.

The greens were rutabaga greens, from the batch I planted in mid-August. They are actually starting to bolt and should probably have been eaten about 2 weeks ago. Nevertheless, once I had stripped the leaves from the stems they were tender, and while strong and astringent in flavour they were not bitter. I used 6 plants because that's how many looked good to use, but 8 would probably have been preferable. Like most greens they sure do cook down. A bunch of turnip or mustard greens from the market will probably give you about the right amount.

It looks like I will want to start planting more rutabagas just for eating the greens. They will be much the best in early spring (although they will be ready in mid spring) or late fall when the weather is cool. I think they are so much better than turnip greens which is not surprising because I like rutabaga much more than turnips. Mind you, I should try some of the greens from the Goldana turnips, which are the only turnip I really like.

2 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - in 2 parts

Lamb with Rutabaga Greens

Cook the Lamb in Advance:
300 grams (10 ounces) stewing lamb
1 tablespoon bacon fat or vegetable oil
2 cups unsalted chicken or beef stock, may need a bit more
1-2 tablespoons soy sauce
6-8 slices of fresh ginger
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon hot red chile flakes

Check the lamb that it is not too fatty and that it is cut in reasonable size pieces; pat it dry with a paper towel. Heat the fat in a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the meat and brown it on both sides.

Add the stock,  soy sauce, sliced ginger, and hot chile flakes (or a couple of dried peppers) to taste. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and simmer the lamb for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Let cool until 20 minutes before dinner time. It probably doesn't hurt to fish out the ginger slices and peppers (if you used whole ones) but I didn't. Keep those diners on their toes.

Finish the Dish:
1 bunch turnip, rutabaga, or mustard greens
2 to 3 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon arrowroot or cornstarch
1/4 cup chicken or beef stock
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Bring the lamb back up to a simmer. Add a little more stock if it has mostly cooked down, but don't over-do it: there should ultimately be just enough to thicken into a sauce.

Wash the greens carefully and well, discarding any tough stems and yellow or ratty leaves. It's not a bad idea to soak them in a little cold salty water. Rinse well.Chop them up.

Peel and mince the garlic.

When your chosen accompaniment to the meal is 6 or 7 minutes away from being done, add the chopped greens to the pot, mixing them in until well wilted. In another few minutes add the garlic, and the starch mixed smoothly into the stock. Stir in well and season with the sesame oil. Cook for a minute or two more, then serve.

Last year at this time I made Potatoes with Swiss Chard or Kale and Pear, Celery, & Arugula Salad with Spiced Apple Butter Dressing.

Friday, 27 October 2017

A Final Look at the Garden

Around the middle of August we did a final planting. I always mean to do a late summer planting, and sometimes we manage it and sometimes we don't. Unfortunately one of the reasons we got around to it this year is because our harvest was so poor and so we were not spending our time picking and processing the way we should have been.

The bed above is a mess. It had lettuce going to seed so I planted a bunch of rapini, rutabaga (for greens), Ethiopian kale, and I don't know what exactly, around it. I did not keep good records, and I think things got washed down the slope before they germinated anyway. Once the lettuce got pulled it all looked very erratic.

I can tell you the stuff that is going to seed at the end is the rapini. We have the 40 day variety (Quarentina) and if you don't pick it when it is ready, too bad for you. I have left it for the bees, who are loving it. We might get enough seed to replace what we planted, if the weather holds nice for long enough (not too likely though).

Lettuce and spinach were planted at about the same time. The spinach is magnificent - a little too magnificent, some of it is bolting - and the lettuce is actually starting to go bitter. Temperatures have been higher than expected for the last 2 months, given how low they were through the main part of the summer. We were hoping these would be just babies, and we would cover them for the winter and harvest them in the spring. I guess we will still do that, at least the cover in winter part. How they look in the spring we shall see.

In the above bed we planted, from left to right: red radishes, winter radishes, Goldana turnips, and several kinds of beets. The red radishes are over, the turnips are being picked regularly, the winter radishes will be ready soon, and the beets seem a little behind. Not too bad, I guess.

The tomatoes are out, and the beds are empty except for the Golden Berries. Mr. Ferdzy can take down the trellises at any time, but he is still hauling gravel. I intend to hang one of the Golden Berries in the basement and so how it does for continuing to ripen.

Another view of the radishes and beets. Carrot tops behind them have not died down yet, but the potatoes are long out and in fact we are putting a dent in them. The onions ended up being very frustrating as about 40% of them never died down and all of them were rather small. This was the result of a fungal disease hitting them in mid summer. Peanuts and sweet potatoes are still under plastic but not for long - they will be dug as soon as we have the time.

Another week or two and the garden will be finished for the year. I'm looking forward to it and I think Mr. Ferdzy is too. We are both having a hard time being motivated to make that final push. But soon the forecast will be for cooler temperatures and we will have to jump to it.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Groundcherries and Golden Berries

"We see that the vendors of this worthless thing are still at their old tricks, and with so much craftiness that they deceive the very elect. Our good friend of the Maine Farmer has listened to the humbug tale, and is so far deceived as to "recommend a general trial of it". Now, Doctor, we have had some experience with this plant - have destroyed thousands in a year as mere pests. Instead of the fruit being, as the pedler represented, "valuable for pies, puddings, and preserves, and making a good wine to boot," it is not fit to be used for any such purpose, and is not, where even the most ordinary fruits or berries can be had. The whole scheme of selling this "ground cherry" is a cheat."
                                                                  from the Boston Cultivator
                                                                  via William Woys Weaver,
                                                                  date not given

Groundcherries have been grown in Ontario for a long time; perhaps as long as 200 years. I expect they would have been brought up from the United States by Mennonite farmers. According to Mother Earth News, they were first recorded in Pennsylvania in 1837. Somehow, they have never spread too far beyond their original Mennonite and Amish roots, although there are little spurts of interest in them every few decades. That is because reviews of them are very... mixed.

Some people love them, and some people hate them. There doesn't seem to be a lot of middle ground, although I do inhabit what little there is. I confess I would have cheerfully counted myself a hater, until about 5 years ago when we purchased some dried Golden Berries from Ten Thousand Villages. Wow, tasty! I'll get back to these in a minute.

The historically grown-in-Ontario groundcherries - a term that gets applied to a number of physalis species - would be physalis pruinosa, sometimes known as physalis pubescens. Physalis longifolia and physalis heterophylla are weedy species in Ontario. Physalis heterophylla (clammy groundcherry) is edible, but I believe the fruits are fairly small and the plant is an invasive perennial. Chinese Lanterns (physalis alkekengi var. franchetii) and tomatillos (physalis ixocarpa) are relatives; both edible. Only the berries of any of these plants are edible, and only when completely ripe, a situation not uncommon in members of the solanacea family. They are not ripe until the husks turn yellow to brown and the fruits fall from the plant. They must be gathered quickly though, or rodents are likely to find them. Although they can be eaten raw when dead ripe, most people suggest that if they are to be eaten in any quantity they should be cooked.

The two best known varieties of groundcherry are Aunt Molly's and Cossack Pineapple, but there are certainly others. These are the groundcherries that would leave me in the "hate 'em" camp.  

The Golden Berries I have been growing are physalis peruviana, a tropical species not well adapted to growing in Ontario. This particular species is also known as the Cape Gooseberry or Poha, as well as Golden Berries which seems to be the marketers term du jour.

We planted a few seeds from those original dried Golden Berries, but only a couple - and I do mean 2 - of the resulting fruits ripened before frost, coming from I believe 4 plants total. We have planted them off and on since then, but have grown them most years regardless of whether we have planted them or not. Just about the time we decided to give up on them they started to volunteer.

We are definitely seeing a difference in their ability to ripen before frost. This year, in spite of a very poor growing year for anything of a tropical inclination, we expect to harvest dozens of fruits (in total from 4 or 5 plants, to be sure). On the other hand, many of them seem to be going bad, and I suspect this is because they have suffered chill damage.

These Golden Berries are a bit larger than the more traditionally grown pruinosa varieties, and dried at least I found them not to have the slightly musky aftertaste that I suspect puts many people off of them. No one ever seems to mention it; they are described as tasting of such disparate things as pineapple, citrus, mango, custard, tomato, tangerines, and strawberries. But as far as I am concerned it is definitely there, and does not appeal to me. As noted, it seemed to disappear from the dried berries. I recently found some fresh Golden Berries imported from Columbia which I bought and made into jam. The flavour improved with cooking, I thought, but it also made it apparent how very, very full of tiny hard seeds they are.They get touted as a highish protein fruit because of these seeds, but I am willing to bet that the vast majority of them pass through the digestive system fairly unchanged.

Groundcherries or Golden Berries are grown in the same way as tomatoes, peppers, or tomatillos. They can be hard to start indoors in spite of their tendency to volunteer by the score. It may be that fluctuating temperatures trigger them to sprout. Otherwise they are easy, tolerant plants to grow, if large and sprawling. They will continue to produce later than tomatoes, but frost will do them in. Apparently a lot of growers pull up the plants and store them indoors, hanging upside down, and pull off the ripe fruits into the early winter. I may try that with one this fall.

William Woys Weaver notes that there are a lot of species of physalis, and their nomenclature is a mess. Everything I have read about physalis tends to reinforce this view. According to him, some of them will cross, and some of them won't. Groundcherries and tomatillos won't cross, but there is a lack of information about other species. My impression from people who are trying is that it isn't very easy. The only other groundcherry I have grown, besides the Golden Berry, is Little Lanterns which I got from William Dam. At the time I bought seed it was given a species name which was a synonym for peruviana, but they no longer give any species name and I can't find it now. I suspect in fact they are not the same thing, which is why they have removed the species name. Certainly it has shown no signs of crossing with our Golden Berries. I have a few plants in the garden from volunteers, but they are much smaller plant with a much smaller fruit than the Golden Berries.

I'm going to persevere with the Golden Berries. A number of people have said that they are too tropical to be adapted to northern growing, but so far I am actually having pretty quick results in getting them acclimatized.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Spaghetti Squash Pancakes

Here is my nefarious plan for the rest of that spaghetti squash I cooked a few days ago. It's paired with cheese again, but it's hard to argue with success.

These pancakes cook up very quickly. Eat them for breakfast or brunch, or serve them as a side dish with chicken or fish.

2 to 4 servings (8 to 12 pancakes)
15 minutes prep time
not including cooking the squash

Spaghetti Squash Pancakes with Cheese

2 cups cooked spaghetti squash strands
 - (1/2 of a medium spaghetti squash)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon rubbed basil or oregano
1 cup finely grated strong flavoured cheese,
    such as extra-old Cheddar
mild vegetable oil to pan-fry; about 1/4 cup

Prepare the spaghetti squash by separating the strands with a fork.

Mix the eggs, flour, seasonings, and grated cheese in a mixing bowl. Mix in the spaghetti squash strands gently.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Spoon out some portion of the batter according to the number of pancakes you wish to make; say about a quarter cup of batter at a time. Spread it out thinly to form a pancake. Repeat to fill the pan with as many pancakes as can be cooked at once.

Cook for 2 or 3 minutes per side, until well browned. Remove the pancakes to a serving plate as they are done, adding more oil and more pancakes until they are all done. Serve 'em up.

Last year at this time I made Broccoli with Orange-Ginger Sauce.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Mallorcan Eggplant Pastel

Our eggplant this year did not do wonderfully well; you've heard that tune somewhere before. However, what did get produced happened all at once. I now have a pile of eggplant to use up. With the zucchini over and the tomatoes and peppers never really having happened, we will not be freezing any Ratatouille this year.

A little searching brought me to this recipe; Pastel Mallorquín de Berenjenas. Which is to say, Mallorcan Eggplant Cake. It is in fact another flat Mediterranean meatloaf. The recipe did not specify what kind of meat to use, and I have changed the proportions a fair bit. I didn't intend to get ham to put in the tomato sauce, although I did intend to get mushrooms, but then I forgot to go out and buy any. And then I forgot to put the tomato sauce on at all...

Never mind. This was very well received and it was quite delicious. Four of us did some pretty heavy damage to this the first time around, then I crumbled the leftovers and heated them in the forgotten tomato sauce, and served them on pasta for lunch.

I used a combination of lamb and beef. Between the lamb being a bit fatty and the amount of oil needed to sauté the eggplant, when I took it out of the oven the pastel had quite a lot of oil sitting on top. I drained it off, and after that it did not seem too greasy so no harm, no foul.

6 servings
2 hours 30 minutes - 1 hour 30 minutes prep time

Mallorcan Eggplant Cake (Meatloaf)

Prepare the Eggplants & Peppers:
800 grams (1 3/4 pounds) eggplants
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil, or more I'm afraid
250 grams (1/2 pound) red peppers

Wash and trim the eggplants, and slice them about 1/2" thick. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Brush the eggplant slices with the oil and cook them gently in the skillet until lightly browned on both sides and fairly soft. You will need to do them in batches and you may (likely) need to add a bit more oil - if there is not enough they will scorch rather than cook. Pile them up on a plate as they are done, and continue with more slices until they are all cooked.

Meanwhile, wash and dry the peppers, and roast them under the broiler until charred on all sides - turn them as they go to char them evenly. Set them aside to cool once they are done, then peel them, core them, and discard the seeds. Chop them fairly finely.

This can be done a day ahead. Otherwise, just let cool enough to handle. The eggplant, once it is cool, should also be chopped fairly finely. They can be mixed together.

Finish the Pastel: 
1 large onion
3 or 4 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
500 grams (1 pound) ground beef, lamb, or a combination
a little oil if needed
1 teaspoon rubbed oregano
1 teaspoon rubbed savory
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 large eggs
2 to 3 cups of tomato sauce, heated

Peel and chop the onion. Peel and mince the garlic. Wash, dry, and chop the parsley.

Heat the large skillet to medium-high heat again. Add a little oil if your meat is very lean, otherwise crumble it into the pan. Add the onion and cook, mashing and breaking the meat up into fine bits until browned through. Add the eggplant and pepper mixture and mix in well. Cook, stirring regularly, until it all seems fairly well amalgamated; about 5 or 7 minutes.

Add the garlic, and all the seasonings to the meat mixture and mix in well. Continue to cook and stir for a few minutes more.

Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool while the oven preheats. Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Beat the eggs, and mix them into the meat and eggplant mixture. Press it down into a shallow baking pan such as an 11" x 13" lasagne pan, or other 3 quart/litre pan. Bake for 1 hour.

When the pastel is done, let it rest for 10 minutes before serving. If it has a lot of oil on top when you remove it from the oven, drain it off as best you can. You can serve it from the baking dish or unmould it onto a serving platter. At any rate, serve it with the hot tomato sauce.

Last year at this time I made Acorn Squash Stuffed with Quinoa & Feta Cheese.

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 assess 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.