Friday, 31 August 2018

"Chaat" Corn Salad with Tomatoes

This is a very simplified version of a popular Indian recipe, but as usual I can't really get half the typical ingredients. For some reason I did have the amchur powder and the black salt, which with the cumin are probably the most distinctive flavours for this dish, and I decided it would have to do. I don't know that this would be recognizable to any person of Indian extraction, but it was eaten quite enthusiastically here.

The presentation in a hollowed-out tomato is nice, but not required. If you don't want to fuss with that, you can replace the whole lot of tomatoes with one medium one, peeled and chopped fine, and everything mixed as a straightforward salad. 

4 servings
45 minutes prep time

Chaat Corn Salad with Tomatoes

Make the Spice Blend:
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed
1/4 teaspoon fennel seed
1/4 teaspoon black salt
1 1/2 teaspoons amchur powder
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon hot red chile powder (to taste)

Start the water for the corn before making the spice blend.

Toast the cumin and fennel seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant. Transfer them to a plate to cool at once, then grind them very fine with the black salt. Mix with the amchur and chile powders.

Make the Salad:
2 cobs of corn
4 to 8 small salad tomatoes
1/4 cup finely diced sweet onion
2 to 3 tablespoons finely minced cilantro
1/4 cup finely diced green pepper
1 teaspoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
the juice of 1/2 lime

Put a pot of water on to boil for the corn. Husk it, and boil for 5 to 7 minutes, until tender. Rinse under cold water until cool enough that it can be handled, then cut the corn from the cobs. Set it aside for the moment.

Wash the tomatoes and cut off the top one-third of each. Use a grapefruit spoon or other small, sharp-edged spoon to remove the flesh, leaving the shells intact, from the bottom two-thirds of each. Salt the interiors and set them aside. Discard the stem scars and green cores (if any) and chop the remaining flesh and tomato tops to a size with the corn kernels. Put them in a mixing bowl.

Peel and finely dice the sweet onion, and add it to the chopped tomato. Wash, dry, and mince the cilantro. Wash, core, and finely dice the green pepper. Add those to the tomatoes and onions.

Peel and grate the ginger, and add it to the bowl of vegetables, along with the juice of 1/2 lime. Mix in the spice blend.

Lightly oil a large skillet - only enough to prevent the corn from sticking - and cook the corn kernels over medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until fairly crisp and browned in spots. When it looks done to your liking, add it to the salad.

Rinse and drain the tomato shells well. Arrange them on a serving plate. Fill them with as much of the salad as they will hold, then spoon the rest of it around them.

Last year at this time I made Three Variations on Blackberry Jam (or Syrup).

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Peach Flan with Caramelized Peach Sauce

I was sure this was going to be a faaaaabulous success, until I unmolded it, at which point I was sure it was a complete failure. As usual, reality fell somewhere in-between.

The flavour of this was really, really good, and I was quite satisfied with the texture. However, there is no getting around the fact that it is rather tender - that comes of replacing much of the milk in the original recipe with puréed peaches - and it will be tricky to unmold. Butter your baking pan well. Consider baking it in individual dishes and not unmolding it at all, if that's a thing you can do. But do go ahead and make it, because it is delicious.

If you have not caramelized sugar before, this recipe is a good place to start. It's aggravating enough to get that sugar to turn colour; you then normally have about 10 seconds to get it into the bottom of the baking pan and swirled to cover it. This avoids that last-moment terror, but gives you that rich caramel flavour.

You also don't even need to make the flan; you could use this recipe to make a caramelized peach sauce for ice-cream or cake. When you add the peaches to the sugar have a couple tablespoons of butter standing by, and add it too. Carefully, carefully! Caramel burns are nasty. Simmer it until slightly thickened, and voilà, you have your sauce.

6 to 8 servings
30 minutes prep time for caramel and peaches
15 minutes prep time for flan
1 hour to bake, plus time to cool

Peach Flan with Caramelized Peach Sauce

Prepare the Peaches & Caramel:
6 medium-large ripe peaches
1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

Put a large pot of water on to boil; sufficient to cover the peaches. When it boils, drop them in for 1 minute. Transfer them to a bowl of cold water and peel them. Cut them from the pits, then chop them into dice. Set them aside in another bowl, with any accumulated juices.

Mix the water, sugar, and salt in a heavy-bottomed pot, until the sugar is dissolved. Bring the mixture up to a boil and boil, without stirring, until the mixture caramelizes by turning a medium-light brown. Watch it constantly and do not let it get too dark. It will happen very suddenly which is why you must watch. As soon as the mixture is a definite brown, add the peaches and all their juices - carefully! Don't let it splatter. Mix well and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly now, until the peaches are quite soft. Let the mixture cool.

This can be done up to a day ahead.

Finish the Flan:
6 extra-large eggs
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons sherry
1 1/4 cups milk
1 teaspoon butter

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Measure out 1 cup of the caramelized peaches and their liquid (close to half of them) and keep it aside to serve over the finished flan as a sauce.

Put the remaining caramelized peaches and their liquid into a blender or food processor (blender preferred). Break in the eggs, and process on fairly low speed until well blended but not frothy. Add the almond extract, sherry, and milk. Process again.

Use the butter to grease the bottom and sides of a 10" ring pan. Pour in the liquid flan mixture. Place the pan in a shallow tray of water and place it in the heated oven. Bake for 1 hour, until firm. Let cool completely before attempting to unmold.

Serve with the remaining caramelized peaches as a sauce. 

Last year at this time I made Broiled Tomatoes au gratin.

Monday, 27 August 2018

A Fundraising Dinner for EFAO and a Visit to The New Farm

Last Thursday a couple of events coincided. The Ecological Farmers of Ontario (EFAO) held their first-ever fund-raising dinner at the The New Farm, which is just 45 minutes away from us. It was also my birthday, so I strong-armed Mr. Ferdzy into going as a birthday treat. Since we were in a wild and reckless mood, we took my Mom too. At $150 each, that was a bit wild and reckless. Still, I think this is about the second time in 30 years together that I have made Mr. Ferdzy take me out for my birthday so on a pro-rated basis he has not done badly.

We arrived in the late afternoon and enjoyed some drinks and nibbles before dinner, which was to be served in the barn - you can see one of the tables at the far right of the photo. We didn't know too many people so we milled around for a while. People seemed to be pretty friendly, and being the world's dorkiest conversationalist, I tried to break the ice by asking, "So, are you a farmer?" There were some, but mostly people weren't, is my impression. 

Guillermo, one of the chefs from Richmond Station restaurant, passes out appetizers and chats with some of the guests. Guillermo - gosh I hope I have that name right, somebody please correct me if I don't - actually works at the farm, growing vegetables in the large (laaarge) kitchen garden, which then go to the restaurant in Toronto. Except for the ones that are eaten on the spot, of course. The New Farm has a very efficient and attractive cooking and dining set-up and meals and events happen there regularly.

I can tell you who two of these people are; Mr Ferdzy and the famous Mom, both on the right. The man in the violet shirt is Thorsten Arnold, who told me that "his wife is the farmer, he just helps some" and not that he is the Strategic Initiatives and Fundraising Coordinator for EFAO. But I guess it serves me right; I asked him if he was a farmer.

 A couple of the chefs haul vegetable scraps out to the poultry pen. The chickens are plainly prepared for this routine, and mobbed the scraps as soon as they were dumped.

Gillian Flies (left) and Brent Preston (centre) are the farmers behind The New Farm. They introduced themselves and the event, and then we heard a few words from Ali English (right) who is the executive director of EFAO.

Next Gillian and Brent gave a tour of the farm. They talked about their conversion to a no-till system, newly implemented, and the changes they are already seeing. Behind them is one of their fields, recently mown, in which a "cocktail" cover crop had been grown. Sunflowers, radishes, and an assortment of other plants were grown to pull up nutrients from the depths of the soil and provide organic matter. They will compost over the winter then provide improved soil for spring planting.

The New Farm started as a mixed vegetable farm, but has evolved to supply mostly salad greens to mostly restaurants (about 70 of them, between Toronto and Collingwood) and a few markets; about 20 of those. That white streak in the background is another field of greens, being kept under row covers to keep the pests out.

 One of the new features of the no-till system is the use of tarps to prepare planting areas, by killing the weeds, and possibly warming the soil. Although as Brent said, that has not exactly been an issue this year. The photo above makes it clear that there are surprising differences between the covered spots and the uncovered spots. Ignore the lettuce on the right and focus on the spinach seedlings in the centre. The ones on the right were planted in the area that had been covered by a tarp. The ones on the left were planted in the area which was not covered. There was a very distinct line between the two!

The tarps they are using are made of a plastic film, actually for use with silage on dairy farms, as it is readily available and affordable. 

 Next we all trooped over to the "kitchen garden" The woman in the front there is Fran McQuail, one of the founders of the EFAO, of Meeting Place Organic Farm. She is looking at the beds of carrots, which are being grown as part of a trial of carrot seeds. EFAO does a lot of farmer-led research, which it turns out is a lot more complex, expensive and generally not done, than you would have thought. Because ecological farmers don't tend to be big consumers of industrial farm products, they don't tend to have much research done on their behalf. This is one of the real benefits of belonging to EFAO.

 Guillermo and Katrina McQuail in the garden.

And then, it was time for dinner. I took a picture of this first plate that was brought out, a delicious sign of things to come, with hummus, quinoa tabbouleh, roasted tomatoes, arugula and amazing little homemade pita breads  - the extra touch that let us know that dinner, by chef Carl Heinrich of Richmond Station, was going to something out of the ordinary.

After that the dishes came fast and furious, and I was too busy eating and talking to our neighbours to take any pictures. There were some really delicious beets with yogurt and mint (yes, there was a definite middle-eastern vibe going on); there was charred eggplant with yogurt and corn; stuffed pattypan squash; and a fairly simply cooked pastured chicken with grilled scallions. It was all so good!

At the very end I remembered to take one more picture of the very impressive peach shortcake which finished the meal, as we listened to a short speech from Tony McQuail. It wasn't quite as dark as the photo makes it out to be; but I did need to use the flash. After that we headed out, as we still had a bit of a drive to get home. It was a very enjoyable evening and I was sorry to see it end.

Friday, 24 August 2018

Deconstructed Pesto Chicken Salad

I admit I am not at all a fan of the fad - now receding, she said hopefully - for deconstructed dishes. They were constructed in the first place for a reason. Are these dishes the work of chefs who were once those annoying little kids who insist that nothing on their plate touch anything else on their plate, and who pick things apart so as to eat the components separately?

Having said that... here it is.

Mind you, it isn't the salad I've deconstructed here, just the pesto. I've made Pesto Chicken Salad before, and very good too. However, if you don't have any pesto made up on hand, this goes together much more quickly and to very similar effect.

We eat a lot of poached chicken in the summer. You can use a little salted water to poach it, but I keep a jar of broth in the fridge for it. It just keeps getting stronger and stronger until you start to think you had better use it for something else (within 10 days, I would think) and then you start again. I believe the current batch started life as the juices drained off a batch of baked chicken thighs. I haven't added any other salt to the salad; I've come to think the Parmesan adds plenty.

2 servings
15 minutes to poach chicken and a later 15 minutes to finish

Deconstructed Pesto Chicken Salad

300 grams (10 ounces) boneless poached chicken
a good handful (1/2 cup loosely packed) basil leaves
2 to 3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, pine nuts OR almonds
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove of garlic
1/3 cup mayonnaise
freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 to 6 lettuce leaves

Poach the chicken in a small amount of broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove from the poaching liquid (which can be reserved for another use) and let it cool completely. Keep refrigerated  until wanted.

Chop the cold chicken and put it in a mixing bowl.

Wash and dry the basil. Strip the leaves from the stems (discard) and chop them quite coarsely. Add them to the chicken.

Grate the Parmesan, as coarsely or finely as you like. Add to the chicken.

Peel and mince the garlic, and sprinkle it over. Add the mayonnaise and pepper, and toss until well blended.

Wash and dry the lettuce leaves and arrange them in a serving dish. Pile the salad on top and garnish with a reserved leaf or two of basil.

Last year at this time I made Argentinian Chicken (hah!) and Corn.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Beans & Cherry Tomatoes in Mint Vinaigrette

Beans marinated in a mint vinaigrette is a classic Italian dish; I've added cherry tomatoes because they go so well, and also we have an awful lot of cherry tomatoes at the moment. 

Blue Lake beans seem to need about 6 minutes of cooking to be perfect (by my definition) but some of the more modern bean varieties have less heft to them, and cook faster.

4 to 6 servings
30 minutes - 15 minutes prep time

Beans & Cherry Tomatoes in Mint Vinaigrette

300 grams (10 ounces) green beans
1/4 cup finely minced fresh mint
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh oregano
OR 1 teaspoon dry oregano
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
300 grams (10 ounces) cherry tomatoes

Put a pot of water on to boil for the beans. Wash and trim them, and cut them into bite-sized pieces. When the water boils, cook them for 4 to 6 minutes, depending on variety of bean and desired tenderness.

Meanwhile, wash and mince the mint and oregano, discarding any tough stems. Put them in a salad bowl with the oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Wash and de-stem the tomatoes, and cut them in halves or quarters. Keep them separate from the rest of the salad until just before serving.

When the beans are cooked, drain them very well and mix them into the dressing in the salad bowl while they are still hot. Once they have cooled to room temperature, mix in the tomatoes and serve. 

Monday, 20 August 2018

Melon, Parsley, & Sweet Onion Salad

This is a simple little salad, very pleasant and easy, and inspired by the classic starter of melon and prosciutto. I used both orange and green melon, as one of the melons planted in the "orange melon patch" turned out to be green. Such are the hazards of open pollination and home-saved seeds. Both were very tasty though, so no problem. It's nice to use both if you can, just for the subtle difference in flavour and texture, but just one will certainly do.

Mint is a notorious weed, so it is frustrating that we have had a hard time growing it. I had some growing by the tap for the garden hose for a while, but it seems to have been crowded out. However, a bit we planted in a low spot in the garden and which sat and did nothing for at least 5 years finally seems to have taken off. I am enjoying using it. I can see using basil instead, though, if mint is hard to get.

4 servings
30 minutes prep time

Melon, Parsley, & Sweet Onion Salad with Prosciutto

1 small (1 cup chopped) sweet onion
1 cup finely chopped parsley
2 to 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
2 to 3 cups diced, peeled orange or green melon
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
freshly ground black pepper to taste
salt to taste
the juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
125 grams very thinly sliced prosciutto or similar dry ham (optional)

Peel the onion and chop, a little coarsely. Sprinkle it with salt, and leave it in a strainer to drain for 15 or 20 minutes. Rinse them and drain them well.

Wash and dry the parsley and mint, and chop them finely, discarding any tough stems.

Peel, de-seed, and dice the melon. Toss the melon, herbs, well-drained onion together. Season with Aleppo pepper, pepper, and salt. Drizzle over the lemon juice and olive oil. Toss gently.

If you like, serve garnished with the prosciutto or ham.

Last year at this time I made Green Bean Greek Salad.

Friday, 17 August 2018

Meatball Pilaf with Green Beans & Peppers

This certainly isn't a dish for a weeknight, given the times involved. I could also only consider it because we are finally getting a few cooler days interspersed with the really hot ones. However as usual with me, the actual work was neither difficult nor time consuming, making this a fine thing to make on a weekend. Also good for entertaining; you just have to pull it out of the oven and serve it with no last minute fussing required. A good crisp salad would finish the menu nicely, this one seems appropriate.

While this was lovely with fresh vegetables from the garden, it would actually do very well made in the winter, with frozen beans, greenhouse or dried peppers, and canned tomatoes. About 3 cups of diced or crushed tomato in that case, I would think. If I had had any celery I would have put in a stalk or two with the onion. Garlic is a bit betwixt and between at the moment. The old stuff is, well, old; and the new stuff is pulled from the garden,but hanging in the garage to cure for a couple of weeks. Still, I made a Turkish garlic sauce for the leftovers (you know the routine; a fat clove of garlic and a pinch of salt to about a cup of thick yogurt) and it went very well. This isn't a traditional Turkish dish, but it's definitely Turkish inspired.

6 servings  
2 hours and 30 minutes - 45 minutes prep time
not including resting time for meatballs (up to 2 hours)

Meatball Pilaf with Green Beans & Peppers

Make the Meatballs:
1 medium fresh onion, with green top
500 grams (1 pound) lean ground beef
400 grams (1 pound) lean ground lamb
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 teaspoons rubbed savory or thyme
1 tablespoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil, if needed

Trim the onion; set the green top aside to go into the rice. Peel and chop the bulb of the onion finely. Put it in a mixing bowl with the 2 meats.

Add the seasonings to the meat, including the parsley and mint once they have been washed, dried, and finely chopped. Mix very thoroughly. Form the mixture into 18 to 24 patties, keeping them about 3/4" thick. If possible, cover and let them rest (refrigerated) for 1 to 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Heat a large skillet over high heat, and cook the patties in batches until browned; just a minute or two on each side. Put them into a large shallow roasting pan (such as a 9" x 13" lasagne pan) as they are cooked. Use the oil if it is required to prevent sticking. Don't wash the pan once you are done - you will want to sauté some veggies still.

Finish the Pilaf:
300 grams (10 ounces) green beans
3 or 4 medium-large (450 grams; 1 pound) tomatoes
1 or 2 medium sweet banana peppers or similar
the green top from 1 fresh onion
2 cups medium grain white rice
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon salt

Meanwhile, put a pot of water on to boil. Wash and trim the beans, and cut them into thirds or quarters. When the water boils, blanch them for 1 minute then remove them and drain them well. In the same water, blanch the tomatoes for 1 minute, then remove them and rinse them in cold water. Remove the skins.

Wash, trim, and de-seed the pepper(s). Chop them, not too finely. Wash, trim and chop the green onion top.

Using the pan the meatball patties were browned in, cook the pepper pieces until soft and slightly browned in spots. Add the green onions and beans, and cook for another minute or two, until the onion greens are wilted. Sprinkle the vegetables over the meatballs. Sprinkle the rice over the meatballs, and finish with the chopped tomatoes. Stir gently until evenly combined, trying not to break the meatballs.

Heat the water to boiling with the salt. (Or if your blanching water is clean, you can use some of that.) Pour it gently over the pilaf. Make sure all the rice is below the water line. Cover the pan, with foil if it does not have its own lid. Bake at 350°F for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the rice is cooked. It is a good idea to stir gently once or twice as it cooks. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Bruschetta Margherita

In January we start planning the garden, and select our tomato varieties to grow. In March we start them inside, in little pots. By late April and through early May we haul those pots in and out according to weather, and water them daily, and watch them anxiously for aphids or other problems. We heave a sigh of relief when they can be planted outside, but they must still be covered if we've pushed the timing and we probably have, watered, and weeded, and tied to supports. And then finally in August it all comes to fruition - literally - and the wait is worth every moment.

These were so good I practically leaned back, drummed my heels, and let out a shriek.

And yes, the 2 of us ate it all. This recipe is about the equivalent of 2 sturdy cheese and tomato sandwiches, so not too unreasonable. If you wanted to share them and serve them as a starter, it might stretch to 6 servings. I'm not sure I would count on it, though. SO GOOD.

I've seen this described as Bruschetta Margherita, Bruschetta Caprese, or Bruschetta Pizzaiola.  Whatever you want to call it, it's just lovely.

2 to 6 servings (12 slices)
30 minutes prep time

Bruschetta Margherita; Bruschetta Caprese

350 grams (12 ounces) firm, ripe tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 small (275 grams) day-old ciabatta or baguette
2 tablespoon olive oil
100 grams (4 ounces) mozzerella di bufala OR fior di latte

Put the broiler on to heat. 

Wash the tomatoes and cut out the cores. Slice them in half from top to bottom then into wedges. Toss them with 1 tablespoon of very good olive oil then season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle them with the minced garlic. Broil the tomatoes for 8 to 12 minutes, until very soft and juicy.

Meanwhile, slice the baguette into 12 angled slices about 3/4" of an inch thick. Drizzle both sides with some more of the olive oil, and arrange them on a baking tray to go under the broiler. When the tomatoes are done, swap them out and toast the bread lightly on both sides.

While the bread toasts, slice the cheese into 12 fairly even portions, and wash and dry the basil.

When the bread is toasted, arrange it so the less toasted sides are up. (You know there always is one!) Spoon slices of broiled tomato and their juices evenly over the pieces of toast. Intersperse them with the cheese, broken up a little to fit and to be spread out over the slices, and with the leaves of basil, 2 or 3 per toast.

Return the toasts to under the broiler, and broil for another few minutes until the cheese is melted. Serve at once.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Black Bean, Corn, & Tomato Salad with Avocado

This delicious summery salad is adapted from one by the California Avocado marketing board, but apart from the avocado and the lime juice, it contains mostly things that are local to here right now. If you want to cook the beans from scratch, I always think 2/3 to 3/4 of a cup of dry beans are the equivalent of a can of beans. At this time of year, though, I am inclined to ignore all the jars of dried beans in the basement and just buy a can. It's far too hot to be boiling beans for hours.

I would have been tempted to put another avocado in - I love avocados - but there were only 2 in the bin when I was shopping, and the other one was hard as a brick. Oh well; I was lucky to find one ripe enough to use right away. They are generally better bought a couple of days in advance but I have trouble being that organized. One was fine, and it's a salad after all; the exact proportions of things to each other can vary according to how much you like or have of each.

I used some Aleppo pepper for my hot chile powder, mostly because I still have well over a cup of the stuff in the cupboard from growing it a few years back, but something more Mexican would be entirely appropriate, if you have it.

As ever, the 2 of us ate it all and called it dinner, but if you were serving it with other things it would go further.

2 to 6 servings
30 minutes prep time

Black Bean, Corn, & Tomato Salad with Avocado

Make the Dressing:
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon (or to taste) hot red chile powder
the juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup olive oil

Grind the cumin seeds and mix them with the remaining spices in a small bowl or jam jar. Add the lime juice and olive oil, and stir or shake well.

Make the Salad:
2 cobs of corn
1 large tomato
1 540 ml (19 ounce) can black beans
1 small banana pepper OR 1/4 bell pepper
1 medium-small sweet onion
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
1 large ripe avocado OR 2 medium avocados

Put a large pot of water on to boil the corn. Husk the corn and boil for 5 to 8 minutes, until done to your liking. Plunge the cobs into cold water and let them cool. While the corn is cooking, drop the tomato into the boiling water for 1 minute. Rinse it in cold water and peel it and chop it.

Cut the corn from the cold cobs and put it in a salad bowl with the chopped tomato. Drain and rinse the beans, and add them. Wash, trim and chop the pepper fairly finely. Peel and chop the onion, also fairly finely. Wash, dry, and mince the cilantro. Add these to the salad along with the dressing and toss together.

Cut the avocado in half and remove the pit. I find it easiest to use a large, flattish, and rather thin spoon to cut and remove small slices from the halves, but it could be peeled and chopped fairly coarsely. Sprinkle the avocado pieces over the salad and toss it very gently to incorporate them. I add them last to avoid smooshing them too much.

Last year at this time I made Cherry Tomato & Shallot Clafoutis

Friday, 10 August 2018

Some Bean Crosses

Here is a post about some beans that are not available to anyone. They only exist in my garden.

Last fall I finally found something I had been looking for for a while. A plant with black-coated seeds showed up in the Blue Lake beans. Given the beans I've been growing, that means it was a Blue Lake - Cherokee Trail of Tears cross. I was looking for such a cross because ever since the summer of 2013 we have been struggling with anthracnose in the beans.

Blue Lake appears to have moderately good resistance to anthracnose, not succumbing until we have managed about half a crop, but Cherokee Trail of Tears has better resistance, not succumbing until near the end of the season. The flavour of Cherokee Trail of Tears is quite similar to Blue Lake, although it is a much more variable bean. At any rate, I was quite excited and carefully saved all the black crossed beans to plant this year.

Cherokee Trail of Tears beans are green, but often have a purple flush to them. I was not too surprised therefore when about three-quarters of the f2 beans turned out to be actually purple. I was a bit more surprised that three-quarters of the beans turned out to be flat. I'm looking for beans as much like Blue Lake as possible, but with better anthracnose resistance. That means that right off the bat, I am eliminating fifteen-sixteenths of them on the grounds of looks alone, although on re-examination of Blue Lake beans they seem to have some variability in shape. I think of them as round, but they go from round to flattish.

When I grow out these beans next year I will be eliminating a bunch on different grounds. I see many of the green beans, but not all, have pink flowers. Blue Lake flowers are white, but I think I will eliminate white flowers from the crossed group. I want them to be very like Blue Lake but it will be helpful to have a way to differentiate them! None of these beans seem to have strings, but it will be something to watch for as well. Also, I want white seeded or at least very pale seeded beans.

There are two skinny little beans in the photo above which have the look of Blue Lake. Unfortunately, I don't think either of them quite have the flavour of Blue Lake either. One of them comes close, I think. They are from 2 different plants. They are so small because these 2 green, round-podded plants also seem to have started producing one to two days later than most of the others. The beans in the picture are all I picked on the first day there were enough of them ready to pick.

So it looks like I have exactly one bean plant that looks and tastes like what I want, which is certainly a big step up from having zero. The next question is, does it have improved anthracnose resistance? I don't know yet, as the anthracnose has yet to get going. The very hot dry weather we have had this year seems to be slowing it down at least.

I did not plant all the beans from last years crossed plant; I will plant the rest next year and see if I can get another plant of the type I am looking for. Also I should watch the purple and flat plants to see how they do with anthracnose, and how they are for flavour. Just because they aren't exactly what I am looking for doesn't mean they couldn't be good, desirable beans.

The other bean I was quite excited about last year was one that I grew out from an Annelino Yellow - Cherokee Trail of Tears cross. (Yes, Cherokee Trail of Tears is a stud. If I wasn't growing it, I would think beans hardly ever cross; but since I am, I think they cross all the time.) It was a long, dark green bean with a purple haze over it, and it was delicious. It was also productive and had good anthracnose resistance. I saved most of the beans for seed and planted them again this year.

The first group of beans I picked from the resulting plants were disappointing. They were much stubbier, didn't have the purple haze, and didn't have the delicious flavour. I'm starting to see some slightly later producing plants with longer, purple hazed beans on them so I am still hopeful that I can get the style of bean I am looking for out of this batch, but it isn't going to be a doddle. I had Mom try some and she thought they were really tasty but noted that some of them had strings. That will be a trait we will want to weed out.

One quality they seem to have retained from last year (when they were f1) is that they develop quite slowly. This means they are not the earliest of beans, but they only started a few days after the Blue Lake, and they seem to actually hold quite well, both on and off the plant - an excellent trait. Finally, they do seem to have maintained one other very desirable quality; they are extremely productive, right up there with the Blue Lake. I'm not quite as excited about these as I was last year, but I think they are worth continuing to grow out and select.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Flakkee Carrots

Mr Ferdzy lends a hand with Flakkee Carrots

This is another one that I'm a little surprised to realize I have never written about. On the other hand, carrots are one of the world's most popular vegetables and Flakkee is one of the most common older types of orange carrots out there - in a funny sort of way it is so ubiquitous as to be easily overlooked.

Actually, most of the carrots bought at the grocery store these days are much more likely to be F1 hybrids of some sort. Flakkee is one of the last widely-available open-pollinated carrots, although I have seen some F1 hybrids described as Flakkee types. Beware of carrot hybrids if you want to save your own seed. Carrots were one of the earliest vegetables to be converted by the seed industry to Cytoplasmic Male Sterility and just about every hybrid now has it (meaning no seed can be produced).

Flakkee straddles the line between being a named variety and simply a type of carrot. Their shape is also somewhat intermediate between a Danvers type, and an Imperator type. They are fairly long, longer than most Danvers, but they do end in a blunt tip (unlike the true Imperators). They can get quite large and in fact when the discussion turns to growing giant vegetables, their name tends to turn up. I can find very little about their history. I see a surprising number of seed-sellers claiming they are Italian. They may be popular in Italy, but they are plainly Dutch. The name is a reference to the Dutch island of Goeree-Overflakkee; one has to assume a centre of Dutch carrot culture. Orange carrots did develop in Holland, after all.

Just to make things more confusing, they are known by a number of other names. Autumn King is one you will see often; this is a particular selection of Flakkee. They may also be known as Flak. Flakkese 2 is described as a selection of Autumn King.

We have consistently found them one of our easiest and most productive carrots to grow. As an older type of carrot, they have lush, leafy tops, which perhaps means they can't be quite as crowded as the newer hybrids and varieties bred for minimal foliage. I think this gives them resiliency in the garden though, and in general I associate good foliage with good flavour. They need a relatively long season to fully develop. William Dam (where we get our seeds) says 75 days to maturity. I think that's a bit low. In good growing conditions, you can start harvesting them around then, but for full development and good winter storage you can expect them to need longer. The ones in the photo are probably not much past the 75 day mark, but I also wouldn't consider them particularly impressive specimens.

We often leave half of our carrots in the ground over winter for spring consumption; they keep as well there as anywhere for the home grower. My one caution is that the largest and most impressive carrots don't hold in the ground well. Perhaps water sits on the tops, and rots out the crown. You might as well pick your biggest and best in the fall, in other words. I save my carrots selected to go to seed next spring in our basement fridge, after having lost too many left in the ground. I can supplement them with the best of the spring-dug carrots, but this way I know I will have some, although a few always seem to rot in the fridge too, so check them occasionally through the winter. As for eating the spring-dug carrots, once they are ready to go to seed they will get tough and woody, so don't leave them too long. For fall digging on the other hand, we leave the main harvest as late as we can, which means just before it snows to stay or it looks like the ground will freeze.

So far as growing them goes, the same as for any other carrot. Don't plant them too early; the soil should be at least 10°C - in other words, wait until the dandelions bloom. Don't plant them too deeply, but in good stone-free and well-worked soil. Once they are in the ground they must be watered-watered-watered-watered-watered until they germinate, and after that regular waterings are important, but you can leave off watering twice a day. It is helpful to keep them covered during this time; people use things from row-cover cloth to plywood. Everyone says not to put compost on carrots, and it's true that too much compost will cause luxurious leafy tops but spindly, hairy, and forked roots. On the other hand it is my observation that carrots actually love compost - provided it was applied three years ago.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Gravedigger Peas

I seem to have missed the opportunity to photograph these peas close up, as I was too busy shelling them and eating them. There they are a little earlier in the season, setting pods like crazy, along with one lone and solitary Sugar Magnolia which seems to have gotten slightly lost. They are over and done long since, of course.

We grew them last year for the first time. I have wanted to try them ever since I read about them on Rebsie Fairholm's blog, so I was quite excited to see them listed by Annapolis Seeds. We planted a nice little patch last spring, and when we picked the first couple of pods to try, Mr. Ferdzy and I looked at each other in amazement and promptly agreed to eat no more - because we wanted to grow them out for seed, so we could grow masses of them this year.

Their history is not much known. They are English, and probably date back to the 19th century; no earlier. They were donated to the Heritage Seed Library who named them, as is their custom, for the furthest grower back to whom they can be traced; in this case a man who was a gravedigger by trade and pea grower by vocation. Rebsie says pretty much all that is known about them. 

We planted them a bit late this year and so they were not particularly early to produce. I think at any rate they are a mid-to-late-season pea, of a middle height. They are extremely bushy and dense, and produce heavily but somewhat slowly - a nice pea for the home gardener, since they should produce for a few weeks. I think ours were cut a bit short by the very hot dry weather this year but they still went longer than most peas. We will want to grow them in our trellised beds, I think, even though they are not the tallest. Their substance does mean they should get good support.

The pods are fat, and full. I don't think most will have more than 6 peas, but the peas are quite large. They are a lighter green than modern peas tend to be but they are so tender and flavourful. The peas tend to be a bit more ovoid than round. They are really quite distinctive and a little different than any of the other peas we have grown.

These are very obscure and rare, and I am so happy that Annapolis seeds was able to get hold of them. I can see already that these are going to be one of our must-grow favourite varieties.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

A Bounty of Zucchini

From all my garden writing and various other comments, you might conclude that we grow a lot of zucchini. That would be correct! And yet, somehow, I don't have many varietal reports for zucchini. This should help fix that!

The troubles I refer to below to which zucchini are subject, are squash bugs, cucumber beetles, and powdery mildew. Other people complain of vine-borers but thus far *spits, knocks wood* we have been spared that pest. Pretty much all squash, cucumbers and some melons are prone to these ailments in a greater or lesser degree, and they must be regarded philosophically. 

Golden Zucchini:

In the photo above; do I even have to say which one? Oh, all right - on the left. 

We've grown this every year since almost the beginning, in spite of some frustrations with it. The colour is lovely, and our mothers can be relied on to pounce on them whenever one turns up in the offerings. That's not quite as often as we would like, because this is not the most productive variety, and the fruits tend to run a little on the smaller side.  But golden! And a very pleasant flavour. The other problem is that some plants produce reasonably steadily and others just sit there doing nothing much; we generally plant 2 and between them can expect to get some golden zucchini. They are otherwise no more or less trouble-prone than other varieties, and in keeping with their smaller size as fruits the bushes are fairly compact as well. Should be about 55 days to maturity. In spite of this apparently late date I think our second zucchini of the summer was a Golden one, so not that far off the others.

I'm not aware of another readily available open-pollinated golden variety of zucchini, and even hybrid versions seem a bit sparse. I'd give one a try, given the limitations of this one, but the lack of choices suggest that if you want a yellow zucchini, this is in fact as good as it gets.

It was introduced in 1973 by Burpee, "from material supplied by Dr. Oved Shifress". Burpee used to be a fine old American company producing better things than anthracnose infected beans (grrr, I am pretty sure that's where I picked up my nasty case of bean plague). Some people claim it as an heirloom variety, although that seems to be pushing the meaning of heirloom a bit far to me.

I can't find much information about Dr. Shifress, beyond his association with Burpee and Rutgers University, but that he emigrated to Israel in the 1940s. That suggests Burpee spent up to 30 years working on this variety; a considerable investment of time. It may also explain why no-one has come up with a better version yet.

Black Beauty Zucchini:

Also in the photo above, on the right. It is also prosaically known as "Dark Green" which is a more technically accurate description of the colour, but lacking in that marketing oomph.

This is probably the most widely-available standard open-pollinated zucchini in North America, and has been available as seeds to gardeners since the 1930s, although it finally seems to be being supplanted by newer varieties. This site say introduced by the Jerome B. Rice Seed Co. in 1931, and that it won the All American Selection in 1957. I'm comfortable calling this one an heirloom variety, although given its long history I suspect it has been improved over the years. It is so widely popular because it is quite early to start producing - 50 days to maturity - very productive, and resilient in the garden. The flavour is good - what we expect zucchini to taste like, in fact, given its ubiquity - but there are better tasting varieties out there. (Cocozelle and its selection Costata Romanesco come to mind at once.) Still, we grow it most years and are happy to eat it. Best a little on the smaller side.

Mutabile Zucchini:

This is a new one to us this year; we got the seeds from Hawthorn Farm.  It is the top zucchini in the above photo.

As you can see, this is very much in the style of Black Beauty. It is still an open pollinated variety, although it seems to be of fairly recent origin. I can trace its voyage to Hawthorn Farm back through Adaptive Seeds and Turtle Tree Seed in the U.S. to Sativa-Reinau in Switzerland. It is not clear to me whether they were the breeders of this variety or not; very possibly.

The main advantage of this over Black Beauty is the open structure of the plant which apparently contributes to it being resistant to mildew. Since we have not yet hit mildew season here, I cannot comment. The above mentioned seed companies all seem to be very impressed though. Like Black Beauty, it should start producing in about 50 days. It is on the larger side of average for a zucchini bush. The stems do feel faintly fuzzy rather than prickly, but I'm not sure how that really affects things. I guess if you are a market gardener picking zucchini for hours it makes life more pleasant, but I worry that it makes them less resistant to bugs. Since we haven't had any significant squash pests in the last few years I have no data. So far, they are a good, productive standard zucchini. I'm not even growing Black Beauty this year - we were out of seeds and bought these instead - so I cannot do a direct comparison. My impression is that they are at least as productive and probably more so. We are likely to continue to replace Black Beauty with this variety.

Dunja F1 Hybrid Zucchini:

We got this one from William Dam, and this is the second year we have grown it. It is the bottom zucchini in the above photo.

Mr. Ferdzy had a grump last year about vegetable seeds, and decided he wanted to try a bunch of hybrids. This was one of them. As usual with hybrids, I am just not that impressed. I mean, it's fine. It's a nice compact plant and really quite productive. The zucchini are pretty much indistinguishable from Black Beauty for looks and flavour. It's supposed to have intermediate resistance to powdery mildew, papaya ringspot virus, watermelon mosaic virus, and zucchini yellow mosaic virus. Since we have had none of those diseases in the 2 years we've grown it, I cannot comment except for the powdery mildew. Again, Dunja comes with an open plant habit and lack of spines. My impression last year was that powdery mildew hit hard overnight towards the end of August bringing the production of zucchini by any and all plants to a complete halt simultaneously, including Dunja. So, no on that one. I was quite annoyed as I expect to get zucchini into September. It was, I guess, a bad year for mildew since it was so cool and damp overall. But I can't say that I think slightly improved production on a compact plant justifies the kind of price that gets charged for hybrid seed. 

We'll plant what we have left of this (maybe nothing because there sure weren't a lot of seeds in the packet) and go back to open pollinated varieties. William Dam says 43 days to maturity, which is certainly very early. I think it was the first to produce this year, but I wouldn't say by a week; only a couple of days so that sounds a bit optimistic too. On the other hand a study from Cornell found that Dunja is quite good at setting squash without being pollinated by insects, so if you are struggling with a lack of pollinators you may wish to try this one. Again, this is obviously a newer variety and as far as I can find it comes from a Dutch company called Vitalis

Cocozelle / Costata Romanesca:

I was a bit amazed to realize I don't seem to have ever reviewed this variety. All three zucchini in the above photo are Costata Romanesca. 

Costata Romanesca seems to be a particular selection of an Italian type generally known as Cocozelle. I've grown zucchini labelled Cocozelle in the past, and my impression is that while the two were not completely identical, they were similar enough that either would do. The striped, slightly fluted fruit is quite distinctive. The flesh is a creamier yellow than most other zucchini I have had, and for flavour they leave all the others in the dust. The texture is also extremely superior and these are nicer raw than any other variety I have had.

So why doesn't everyone grow Cocozelle, Cocozelle, and nothing but Cocozelle? Well, as usual, there are trade-offs. First of all, this is not a compact plant. I'd still describe it as bush rather than a vine (like Tatume), but pretty much by the skin of its teeth. By the end of the season you can expect to be picking zucchini at least 6 feet from where the plant first emerged from the soil. It's also doesn't have an open habit, or lack of prickles, or whatever. Some people describe it as positively sticky. For all the space that it takes up, you don't get more squash than with the compact bush varieties; a bit less even. At 52 days to maturity, it's on the late side - although I will note that you are not waiting more than a week from the earliest varieties to start picking these, which isn't that long in the grand scheme of things. Besides the distinctive ribbing, they are likely to be a slightly ungainly shape compared to more modern varieties. 

But really, when all is said and done, this is a variety I recommend to just about everyone. Only a great deal of space pressure would induce me to give it up for another variety. We do plant other varieties, for different colours or earlier production, but I just wouldn't want to be without this one. It is the best.

 It is said to have decent powdery mildew resistance but as usual, not that I've ever noticed.

Monday, 6 August 2018

Algarve Beans

I am away this week, dealing with getting Dad's house (now belonging to his partner, who has moved to Scotland) ready to sell, so I thought I would leave a series of varietal reports to fill the time I am gone. It is August, and you should be eating salads and simply cooked things anyway.

So! We saw these beans listed by William Dam as an early producing bean and decided to give them a try, instead of our usual Early Riser. They seem quite similar to that bean, although I do think they are slightly better. The photo makes them look scraggly, but bear in mind that we have had a most trying summer thus far. We have had one other summer that was as dry as this one in the decade we have been here, but although it was hot it was not consistently around 30°C for weeks on end like this one has been (although it seems to have finally cooled off a bit). Since we didn't grow Early Riser this year I can't compare them directly, but my memory says they too struggle a bit in extreme heat and drought.

In spite of it looking like quite a few beans were aborted due to the above mentioned heat and drought, they are producing really very nicely. They have an excellent, tender texture and flavour from when fairly small through to fairly large. Like other beans of this type, once they start to thicken you have missed them, but they seem to develop a little slowly and even when quite large they are tender and delicious. I saw one site listing them as 52 days to maturity and while that seems a little optimistic I don't think it is too far off; in cooler summers I would probably expect 60 days. My impression is that they may leave off producing a little earlier than Early Riser, but I don't actually mind. Early beans are for early; once the Blue Lake get going we tend to switch our focus to them.

I had visions of these beans growing in southern Portugal in little allotments, and who knows - they might be grown there. All the descriptions describe them as French beans. However they were bred by Holland Select Seeds, presumably fairly recently, and who as their name would suggest are based in Holland.  Algarve beans are supposed to be resistant to bean mosaic, and to do well at being grown under cover for earlier production. So far the bean anthracnose has not started up in the garden - the heat and drought is good for something - but I will be watching nervously (and update).

All in all, these are a lovely bean and we will grow them again as our early bean.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Today's Pickings!

Presented without (much) comment:

And closer up:

Mr. Ferdzy and my mother wanted today's pickings recorded for posterity... and I have to say, pretty spectacular! Yes, there are a few little strawberries in there. Our seedling turned out to be day-neutral and is still producing small waves of berries. "Fraise de Bois!" said Mom, about the couple we gave to her. They aren't of course, but they have that shape in a much larger size and much of the flavour too. I am so glad we kept that little seedling, we think it is very special.

And now, off to make a batch of Ratatouille to be frozen.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Zucchini, Beans, & Onion Japanese Style

It must be summer; it's zucchini and beans. From here to September, zucchini and beans. And oh, look! An onion! Well, this was a slightly different thing to do with them. They went with the Tsukune, of course, and also some rice.

You know how I'm always banging on about drying your shiitake stems and saving them? This is what you are saving them for, or one thing anyway. You could replace them with 4 or 5 whole dried shiitakes, in which case you should save the tops, slice them up, and add them to the vegetables, but even so you are going to lose some frugality points.

Somehow in the last year potato starch has become an absolute kitchen staple, without which I cannot do. I'm okay with that.

4 servings
30 minutes prep time - but note the need to soak some ingredients longer

Zucchini, Beans, & Onion Japanese Style

Make the Sauce & Toast the Sesame Seeds:
1/4 cup dried shiitake stems
a 4" x 6" piece of kombu (kelp)
1 cup water
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons miso
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon mirin
1/2 teaspoon potato starch
1 teaspoon sesame seeds

Put the shiitake stems and broken up kombu into a small pot with the water. Let them soak for half an hour anywhere up to overnight.  Bring them to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes, covered, then strain the liquid and discard the solids. There should be at least 1/2 cup broth, which is the amount you need to continue.

Mix the sugar, miso, vinegar, and mirin into the broth, stirring well to be sure the miso is dissolved. Best to do this while the broth is still a little warm. When it is cool, stir in the potato starch until dissolved.

Heat a very small skillet over medium heat, and toast the sesame seeds in it until lightly browned. Stir regularly, and watch carefully - nothing will happen, and then they will go from golden to burnt in approximately 10 seconds, unless you turn them out immediately onto a small plate to cool. So do that.

Cook the Vegetables:
1 medium-large zucchini
1 medium sweet onion, with the greens
2 cups green bean pieces
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil

Wash and trim the zucchini. Cut it in half lengthwise, then into half-moon slices of about 1/2" thick. Slice the onion the same way, but in slightly thinner slices. Chop the greens into pieces about 1" long; set them aside by themselves. Wash, trim, and cut the beans into 1" lengths.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the zucchini pieces and cook, stirring, for a minute or so. Add the beans and continue cooking for another minute or two. Add the white half-moon onion slices, and continue cooking and stirring until the vegetables look just a couple of minutes short of done to your liking.

Pour the sauce over the vegetables and mix in well. Let simmer for another 2 or 3 minutes until the sauce has thickened and coats them, stirring occasionally, then transfer them to a serving dish. Sprinkle them with the toasted sesame seeds.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Tsukune (Chicken Patties) with Yakitori Sauce

These were quite a lot of fun to make! As you can tell from the photo, I have acquired a sandwich press/grill and have been using it. I think I made panini exactly once, and then it's been more burger-y things non-stop.  I see no reason not to cook them in a skillet, though, if that's what you have.

Like a lot of Japanese dishes, the flavours are distinctive but mild. You can serve these with rice or noodles and vegetables as a meal, or make them smaller and serve them as an appetizer or party tid-bit. It seems to be pretty common to cook them on a bamboo skewer, but if you decide to do that you will need to soak your skewers in water for at least half an hour before using them.

Most of these ingredients should be widely available. The only one I have trouble getting is the mirin; I have to admit I substituted it with sherry.

4 servings
8 to 24 patties
30 minutes prep time

Tsukune (Chicken Patties) with Yakitore Sauce

Make the Yakitori Sauce:
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon potato starch
1/4 cup cold water
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 slices of ginger

Mix the sugar and potato starch in a very small pot, then mix in the water until smooth. Mix in all the remaining liquids. Add the ginger slices.

Heat the mixture over medium heat until simmering; stir frequently. Once it thickens - just a minute or two - remove it from the heat and let cool. Remove and discard the ginger.

Make the Tsukune (Chicken Patties):
1 green onion OR 2 tablespoons finely minced chives
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
1 large egg
2 tablespoons potato starch
2 teaspoons miso
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
500 grams (1 pound) lean ground chicken
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil

Wash, trim and finely chop the green onion or chives. Put them in a mixing bowl. Grate in the ginger. Add the egg, potato starch, miso and sesame oil, and whisk everything together well until the miso in particular is dissolved.

Add the ground chicken and mix thoroughly. Often with making meat patties you want to handle the mixture as little as possible, but in this case it is the opposite - the meat should be mixed until really very smooth.

Heat a grill or frying pan over medium-high heat; brush it with a little oil. Spoon out patties of the size you want, and spread them out to about 1/2" thick. Cook for about 4 minutes per side. I used a quarter cup measure to form the patties and got exactly 8 of them. You could also form them around bamboo skewers but in that case you must remember to soak the skewers for at least half an hour before forming and cooking the tsukune.

Brush the patties with the Yakitori sauce, and pass any extra for those who would like a little more.

Last year at this time I made Chicken, Corn, Peach, & Tomato Salad.