Friday, 12 February 2016

Pink Fir Apple Potatoes Fried in Duck Fat

Well this is hardly a recipe, and it is definitely not breaking any new culinary ground. Potatoes fried in some sort of fat are almost certainly the most consumed vegetable in North America, and an awful lot of other places too. This is more of a comment on how much carefully sourced, good quality ingredients matter. They matter so much.

Duck fat is famous for producing fabulous fried potatoes, and Pink Fir Apple is a potato made for fried perfection. This is the time to break out your fancy pink or Malden or Guerande salt too, I suppose, although plain old table salt is in fact just fine.

I get to like Pink Fir Apple more and more. It stores so well, its flavour is great, and it turns out, according to Rebsie Fairholm in her book The Lost Art of Potato Breeding, that it is one of the few modern potato varieties around that does not have T-type cytoplasm, meaning it won't pass on male sterility to its offspring. Many people find Pink Fir Apple pretty shy of producing seed, but it has generally produced a few berries each year in my garden so I am looking forward to trying some breeding projects using it as the maternal parent.

4 servings
50 minutes prep time

Pink Fir Apple Potatoes Fried in Duck Fat

800 grams (1 1/2 pounds) Pink Fir Apple potatoes
3 tablespoons duck fat
salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

Wash and trim the potatoes, and cut them into 1/2 cm (1/4") slices. Put them in a pot with water to cover, and  turn the heat to high. Time for 10 minutes, during which time they should come to a boil and boil for several minutes, then drain them until very dry.

Heat the duck fat in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat; the temperature at which you would cook pancakes or eggs. Add the well-drained potatoes and cook for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so, until touched with brown and the fat is mostly absorbed. Sprinkle with a little salt at the beginning of the cooking time, and season with a bit more and some pepper before turning them out onto a plate to serve.

Last year at this time I made Tartar Sauce

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Chocolate Waffles with Marmalade Cream & Fruit Sauce

Pretty decadent! These are dessert, really, rather than breakfast - although I suppose you could, if you wanted to really go for it. Valentine's brunch, anyone?

The good news about these is they are really no harder to make than any other waffle, and like all the waffles I've made so far they froze and toasted beautifully. That means these are very easy to serve at a fancy dinner to guests; sauces made ahead and standing by, the cream in the fridge and the fruit sauce not. I would heat up the sauce in the microwave, in fact, while the waffles toast. Not super hot, just warm. Apply cream and sauce to the hot toasted waffles, serve, aaand Wow!

p.s. Don't get that nasty gummy cream cheese in bars. Get the soft kind, in a tub. I wouldn't go too low fat either, because I'm not sure it would whip properly. Also, we ate 2 waffles each because we *did* eat them for breakfast, but one waffle is probably plenty for most people as dessert.

12 to 16 waffles
45 minutes prep time

Chocolate Waffles with Marmelade Cream & Fruit Sauce

Make the Waffles:
2 1/2 cups soft unbleached flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup Sucanat  OR dark brown sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter
4 ounces (120 grams) unsweetened chocolate
2 cups buttermilk
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
mild vegetable oil to brush waffle iron

Measure the flour, baking powder, salt, and Sucanat into a large mixing bowl. Stir to blend.

Put the butter and chocolate, broken into pieces, into a heavy-bottomed pot, and heat over low heat until both are melted. This could also be done in the microwave in a glass bowl, heating in short bursts and stirring well between times.

Meanwhile, preheat the waffle iron. Have a little bowl of vegetable oil and a pastry brush standing by.

Measure the buttermilk and mix it in another mixing bowl, or right in the measuring cup, if it is big enough (hint!) with the eggs and the vanilla extract. Whisk well.

Mix about 2/3 of the buttermilk and egg mixture into the dry ingredients. Scrape in the slightly cooled melted butter and chocolate mixture, and mix it in. Add the rest of the buttermilk and egg mixture, and mix well.

Ladle into the heated, oil-brushed waffle iron so that the bottom is evenly covered in a slightly convex layer, and cook in batches; my waffle iron took about 7 minutes per set of waffles. Keep warm in a heated oven; or, if you are freezing them for later, let them cool quickly on a wire cooling rack.

Make the Marmalade Cream:
1/2 cup whipping cream
4 tablespoons soft cream cheese
2 to 4 tablespoons orange or ginger marmalade,
 - or strawberry or cherry jam to match sauce

Put the whipping cream in a cool glass or metal mixing bowl and beat it with an electric mixer until fairly but not completely stiff. Add half the cream cheese and marmalade, and beat them in; repeat with the rest. Beat until the cream is stiff.

Either dollop onto the waffles just before serving, or pass the cream in a nice bowl for people to apply their own.

Fruit Sauce:
2 cups frozen strawberries or pitted cherries
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon arrowroot or cornstarch

Thaw the strawberries or cherries, and put them in a pot with the remaining ingredients. Stir well to dissolve the starch. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the sauce is clear and thickened; under 5 minutes.

Last year at this time I made Quick 'n' Dirty Pan-Braised Cabbage

Monday, 8 February 2016

Duck Broth with Cellophane Noodles

After you have roasted your duck, and eaten the breasts, and set aside the legs for Pulled Duck Sandwiches, you have a carcass left, as well as a couple of wings, and the bits of meat still clinging to it. These will make a meal, as long as you have not been too efficient in the removal of the breasts and legs. Pro-tip: efficiency is was inefficient, if you want to make this meal. Now though; now is the time to get efficient.

Tear every bit of meat that you can from the carcass and wings, and set it aside in little chunks and shreds. There should be a cup to a cup and half, with luck, and skin definitely counts. Wrap these meat scraps up and keep them in the fridge until wanted, and proceed with making the broth. 

2 to 6 servings

1 to 1/2 cups duck meat shreds
the denuded carcass that supplied the above
all the fat and drippings accrued in the roasting of the duck
1 1/2 litres (6 cups) water
2 or 3 slices peeled fresh ginger
1 piece star anise
8 to 12 dry shiitake mushroom stems (optional)
2 to 4 tablespoons soy sauce
300 grams cellophane noodles
2 to 3 cups prepared green vegetable of your choice
 - blanched or frozen snow peas, broccoli, bok choi, choi sum, etc. 

Put away the duck meat shreds removed from the carcass; they will not reappear until quite near to serving time.

Break up the carcass and put it in a pot where the water will cover them. Add the fat and drippings from the roasting pan, and the water. Bring to a simmer and simmer for 2 or 3 hours. Add the seasoning elements, up to and including the shiitake stems if using, to simmer with the duck for the last hour. Top up with a little more water if it seems to be getting down below 4 cups worth. Strain the broth, discarding the solids, and set it in the fridge overnight.

In the morning, or whenever you are ready to proceed, remove the cold solid fat carefully from the surface, removing any bits of stock that cling to it. I put it into a strainer and let it drain off back into the stock for about 10 minutes. Then, melt it and put it in a very clean (straight out of the dishwasher, ideally) glass storage jar. The easiest way to do this is put the drained bits of fat into the jar cold, and heat them gently in the microwave until melted. Cap the melted fat and keep it in the fridge for cooking with (once the jar is cool enough to go back in).

To serve, put the broth on to boil. As soon as it does so, add the cellophane noodles and your green vegetable. If raw, the veggie should be blanched (put the cut up pieces in a strainer and pour boiling water over them) first. If frozen, the veggie should be thawed. Cover and let the temperature come back up slowly. After about 5 minutes, the noodles should be cooked and the vegetable too.

Meanwhile, once the broth is on to heat, put the duck bits into a pan to heat. Add the bits of skin first; they will crisp up and render a little more fat. Add the rest of the duck bits and heat through.

Ladle the noodles and vegetables into serving bowls with the broth, and top with the hot duck bits.

Last year at this time I made Beet & Potato Salad.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Deli Style Creamy Coleslaw

Here is a very simple, basic cole slaw, very similar to the kind sold in tubs and deli cases all over the continent. If you make your own it will be fresher, even if it sits for a week, and also probably lower in salt. Definitely lower in sugar.

This is classic with grilled or barbequed meats of all kind, and fried chicken or fish. We're finding it very handy to have a little salad with a sandwich at lunchtime. You can dress it up with a sprinkle of chopped red cabbage - none goes into the basic cole slaw as it will tint everything greyish-pink - raisins or chopped apple for a touch of sweetness, or chopped sauerkraut or pickles for a little more zing,

8 to 12 servings
30 minutes prep time
at least 2 hours in the fridge

Deli Style Creamy Coleslaw

Make the Cole Slaw:
6 cups finely grated green cabbage
2 cups finely grated carrot
1 cup finely grated celeriac (optional)
1/4 cup finely minced onion
a little salt

Use a small, solid head of plain cabbage. Trim of any battered leaves, then, just pick it up and start grating it, using the finest side of your grater. You will likely use most if not all of your head of cabbage. Any bits of leaf that fall off, collect until you are done then mince them as fine as you can and add them to the rest of the cabbage. Put it in a mixing bowl, preferably one with a cover.

Peel and grate the carrots and celeriac and add them to the cabbage. Peel and mince the celeriac, if using. Add it to the cole slaw. Peel and mince the onion. Put it in a strainer with a sprinkle of salt and let it drain for a couple of hours before adding it to the cole slaw. 

Make the Dressing:
1/4 cup mayonnaise (light is fine)
1/4 cup thick yogurt
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon celery seed, ground
1/4 teaspoon salt

Whisk the mayonnaise, yogurt and apple cider together, then grind the celery seed and add it. Add the salt. Pour this over the vegetables and mix well. It should be quite thick and seem a bit stiff and skimpy in the cole slaw; the vegetables will exude liquid as they sit and thin it out. Keep the cole slaw in the fridge for at least 2 hours - mixing in the onions before serving - or up to a week. Stir well before serving.

Last year at this time I made the fabulous Bableves; Hungarian Bean Soup.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Pulled Duck Leg Sandwiches

Here is our second meal from our little roast duck of Monday. This one is more lunch oriented, rather than dinner, but one does eat lunch, after all.  Serve with salad or cole slaw, and pickles if you are so inclined, but the sauce is pretty distinct and we didn't think they would quite go. In retrospect, I think a couple of slices of fried onions would have been the ideal finishing touch.

2 servings
20 minutes prep time,
   always assuming you have already roasted your duck

Pulled Duck Leg Sandwiches

the meat from 2 roasted duck legs

1 medium shallot
1 large clove of garlic
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon duck fat
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon hot paprika
2 good sandwich buns

Pull the meat from your roasted duck legs and shred it. Recipes always say with forks, but I'm here to tell you that a cold roasted duck leg is a ... firm roasted duck leg. Start with your hands, and have a good little sharp knife standing by.

Peel and mince the garlic and the shallot. Peel and grate or mince the ginger.

Heat the duck fat in a heavy-bottomed but not too large pot, and cook the shallot and garlic in it until softened and slightly browned. Add the ginger, then add the shredded duck and all the rest of the ingredients, (except the buns, strangely enough).

Heat the duck in its sauce over medium heat, stirring regularly and keeping the lid on between times, until the duck is hot through and the sauce at least partially absorbed by the duck. Meanwhile, slice and toast your buns and put them on plates. Top them with the duck, lifting it out of the pan with a slotted spoon and discarding excess sauce. I mean, you can put the sauce on the sandwich if you want, but it will definitely make the bun quite soggy.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Chopped Duck Liver on Toast

Oh how I hate to throw out the giblets that come with poultry. Mr Ferdzy won't eat them though, so this was my own little treat. Really too much for one person, if you are also about to each chunks of the roasted duck, so I kept it and reheated it for breakfast. Very tasty, but I think it would have been better fresh out of the pan.

The third giblet found inside the duck was the gizzard. I find it too tough for this sort of treatment so it went into the duck stock to give its flavour there when the time came.

Chopped Duck Liver on Toast

2 servings
20 minutes prep time

1 tablespoon dried tomato bits
2 or 3 fresh shiitake mushrooms
2 teaspoons finely minced peeled shallot
1 duck liver
1 duck heart 1 tablespoon duck fat
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 to 8 green peppercorns, lightly crushed
1/8 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
 4 slices baguette

Chop the tomato bits finely, and put them in a small bowl with just enough boiling water to cover. Set them aside to soak for about 10 minutes.

Remove and discard the stems of the shiitake, and chop them fairly finely. Peel and mince the shallot. Chop the duck liver and heart; the liver fairly coarsely and the heart as fine as you can manage.

Retrieve the duck fat from the pan of the cooking duck, and place it in a very small skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, shallots, and tomato bits, drained if they are still sitting in any significant quantity of water. Add the seasoning. Cook, stirring well, for just a minute or two. When the mushrooms and shallot are soft, add the duck heart and continue cooking and stirring for a minute or so longer. Add the liver, and cook for just a minute, again stirring all the time. Remove the mixture to a dish to cool slightly. The liver should still be fairly pink, although seared all over. It will continue to cook a little as it cools.

Re-chop the mixture a bit to make it finer and more inclined to stick together, but it should have a fair bit of texture (for my taste, anyway). Serve on 4 little slices of baguette, toasted. And buttered, if you wish to be really decadent. Garnished with a little pickle if you like. It doesn't need to be super hot, but should still be warm when served. 

Monday, 1 February 2016

Beer-Can Roast Duck

It's duck week here at Seasonal Ontario Foods!

Just before the holidays I was able to purchase a mix of poultry from nearby Cirrus Hill Farm. I got a duck, 2 roasting chickens, 2 Guinea fowl, and a turkey. The turkey is gone, eaten at Christmas, but the rest should make an appearance as the winter progresses. Here's the duck. Not sure what kind exactly, but unless you have a muscovy duck, they should all cook similarly.

This one was fairly small, at about 3 1/2 pounds, but I expect to get three meals and an appetizer out of it for the two of us. Admittedly, one of those meals will be soup, but there will also be a generous amount of duck fat, very suitable for delectable frying; of potatoes in particular.  

The first meal is plain roasted duck; the breasts then carved off and served, and the rest set aside for later in the week. Since the skin is such an important component of a duck, I roasted on an upright roasting frame. The customary frame to use is, of course, an actual beer can, but I am dubious about the safety of the plastic films and dyes used in the labels. You can buy a roasting frame quite reasonably, and it will be well worth the money if you roast any amount or kind of fowl regularly. 

Here the bird has been dried, rubbed with salt, mounted on the frame, wing tips clipped off, and the wings tied to the bird with a bit of kitchen twine. The broth and reserved juices from the duck are about to be poured  into the pan, then it will be covered loosely in foil and into the oven it will go.

2 servings of roast breast meat
PLUS materials for other dishes
2 1/2 hours prep and cook time, plus overnight to dry off

a 1.5 to 2 kilo (3 1/2 to 4 1/2 pound) duck,
   including neck and giblets
1 cup unsalted chicken stock or water
1 teaspoon salt

If your duck is frozen, then it will need to go into the fridge, set on something to catch any leaks, and thaw slowly for 2 days.

The night before you wish to cook your duck, remove it from its packaging, draining it well as you lift it out. Carefully reserve any juices that were with it, though; mixing them with the chicken stock or water and the vinegar. Keep that covered in the fridge. Keep the neck and giblets wrapped and cold as well. Pat the duck dry with a paper towel, then leave it to air-dry on a plate overnight in the fridge.

Check that your duck and its pan will fit into the oven. You will likely need to remove at least one rack, and keep the remainder very low in the oven.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Rub the duck with the salt, then sit it on the roasting frame, making sure it is stable and will not tip. Clip off the tips of the wings at the first joint. Reserve them with the neck piece. Tie the wings to the duck with a piece of kitchen twine. Place the frame with the duck into a deep little roasting pan; it should hold at least a quart to a quart and a half (or litres, ditto); pour the broth and duck juices half into the dish of the roasting frame and half into the larger casserole.

Cover the duck loosely with aluminum foil. You will need to seam together 2 pieces in order to get it to cover the whole bird. This is not for the benefit of the bird, but to keep your oven from being covered with a fine mist of baked-on duck fat once this is all over. If the foil is loose the duck will crisp up nicely, so do be sure to keep it loose. A little hole in the top to vent steam is a good idea.

Roast the duck for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes, according to the size of the duck. Remove the foil (but keep it), and increase the heat to 425°F. (If you wish to make and serve the Chopped Duck Liver before this meal, start it now.) Leave the duck to roast for 20 to 30 minutes more, until browned nicely to your liking.

Remove the duck from the oven, and cover it loosely with the foil again. Let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes before you carve it. I found the easiest way was to tip the contents of the dish of the roasting frame into the larger roasting pan while holding it with good sharp forks at stem and stern, then transporting it thus sideways to a carving plate. Be prepared that you will need to pull out the roasting rack by hand, padded with a clean (soon to be not-clean) rag. Carve off the breasts and serve them with whatever else you have planned; after dinner will be soon enough to start the prep for the next set of dishes.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Toka Toka Gold, Purple Flesh, & Owairaka Sweet Potatoes

Toka Toka Gold, Purple Flesh, & Owairaka Sweet Potatoes

These sweet potato varieties are ones that I bought last year as slips from Burt's Greenhouses, near Kingston, and grew in our garden. This was the first and therefore only year I've grown them, and so I note that my observations about their growing habits may or may not apply in subsequent years. It was a reasonably warm year, so we did not keep them covered with plastic as much as we have some years, but perhaps not hot enough for really optimal growth without it.

I bought 25 mixed cuttings, and Brian Burt was kind enough to set up a way to order them without any Georgia Jets, since I already had my own stock of that. The rooted cuttings we received were small but healthy, and settled in rapidly. I'm always a bit horrified by how puny sweet potato cuttings look when they arrive, but I've come to realize it's a mistake to let them get too large and rooty before they get planted out - that just creates a mass of skinny, tangled, unusable tubers. Cuttings with just 2 or 3 good little rootlets are ideal. They need to be planted with the rootlets spread out as straight as possible too, in order to have any hope of getting straightish tubers.

As you listen to me whine about the quantity produced by each variety, keep in mind that only Georgia Jet is known to be even a fair producer in most Canadian conditions; certainly in mine.

Toka Toka Gold

Of all the sweet potatoes I have grown thus far (admittedly only five) this is my favourite. The flesh is dense, sweet, and almost nutty in flavour. The texture really makes these for me, being very noticeably denser and drier than most; they remind me a bit of my beloved Boniato from Cuba. Unfortunately these were not big producers for us. That may be typical of drier-fleshed sweet potatoes. Burt's describes them as later than Georgia Jet, which in a short season means smaller and fewer tubers.

Fortunately, they had a distinct look to them. Apart from the Purple Flesh, all the other sweet potatoes we grew last year resembled each other enough that we had a hard time telling them apart. If nothing else, these will be useful to plant between similar looking varieties and keep them separate. But even without that excuse I intend to grow these again - see the bit about them being my favourite grown so far. Amounts were probably about half the amount of potatoes I could have expected from the same space. In other words, disappointing but not pointless.

Toka Toka Gold is a variety native to northern New Zealand, where it is also known as Golden Kumara. It seems to be one of the three standard varieties grown there, along with Owairaka, also known as Red Kumara, and Beauregard, an American variety. Toka Toka Gold was bred by B. Coleman, grown by I. McKinley, named Toka Toka Gold by W. Stacy, of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and introduced commercially in 1972.

Purple Flesh

This is more of a classification than a specific varietal name, and as such I don't know exactly what I have. It will definitely be a bit of a novelty rather than a staple for Canadian growers, as I had even lower yields of these than of the Toka Toka Gold. Since the purple fleshed sweet potatoes are generally long season varieties, that's not particularly surprising. Like the Toka Toka Gold, these will be very good for keeping patches of similar looking varieties separated.

It seems that purple fleshed sweet potatoes are associated with Japan, specifically Okinawa, although this is not the variety known as Okinawan Purple, which has white skin - this one is purple in and out. It's possible this is the heritage Hawaiian variety known as Molokai, and carried by Baker's Creek in the U.S. There's also one sold by Southern Exposure they call All Purple, which may or may not be the same thing. Both of those seem to ultimately trace back to Japan.

We found the flavour of these to be milder than most varieties of sweet potatoes we have grown, but still with that distinctive sweet potato flavour. Mr. Ferdzy thought these were his favourite variety for flavour. I was not so keen, but thought they were fine. The colour is certainly amazing and would lend itself to lots of Fun with Food (TM), as well as presumably being rich in anthocyanins. The texture was moister than that of Toka Toka Gold, but drier than that of Owairaka. It was also extremely smooth and non-stringy.


Owairaka is also known as Owairaka Red, or Red Kumara. It is by far the most common variety of New Zealand, accounting for 80% to 90% of the sweet potatoes eaten there. In its modern iteration, it is a selection of a mutation of Waina, made in the 1950s from a large number of strains then available. Waina was brought from South America in the 1850s, and it displaced to some degree the smaller, lower producing varieties that the Maori already had.

I think this variety produced fairly well, but not as well as Georgia Jet. It's hard to tell though, as I had it planted next to the Georgia Jet and they turned out to be very similar in skin colour.

As to the flavour, I don't know what to say. I cut mine open and instead of being the expected white colour it was a pale yellow. Is that the actual colour, or have I mixed my varieties up hopelessly? I thought this was the one of the three look-alike (on the outside, at least) varieties that I had kept good track of, the other two being Georgia Jet and Tainung65. From examining my remaining raw sweet potatoes, so far as I am able, none seem to have really white flesh; they are all pale yellow. Certainly I don't think I could distinguish these by taste from either of the above, assuming that what I ate was Owairaka. In which case it's a quite sweet, quite moist, and flavourful sweet potato.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Scotch Broth with Dried Peas & Barley

When I made Scotch Broth a while ago, I realized - for the first time! - that Scotch Broth is sometimes made with dried peas. Barley, of course, is a frequent ingredient, although I didn't add it to my last version as I wanted a soupier soup. This one has both and so is much more substantial (not that the other one was a lightweight).  The other one was more of a soup made from scraps and leftovers; a kind of bonus leftover dish, whereas this one is more intentional.

They taste surprisingly similar - well, not so surprisingly, I guess, given how much the ingredients and seasoning overlap - it's just that this one is more of a ribsticker.

I used an exact pound of stewing lamb which was quite fatty, so I removed a substantial portion of it from the top after the meat was cooked. I thought the results were a bit skimpy on the lamb, so I am calling for more, but a pound will do. Unlike most meats, I don't save the fat from lamb for using in cooking. That stuff is called tallow, and they used to make perfectly functional candles out of it; enough said.

4 to 6 servings
2 days - 1 1/2 hours prep time

Scotch Broth with Dried Peas & Barley

500 to 600 grams (1 pound to 1 1/2 pounds) stewing lamb
4 cups lamb or beef broth, or water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 or 2 bay leaves
1/2 cup pot barley
1/2 cup split yellow peas
3 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups peeled, diced rutabaga
1 cup peeled, diced celeriac
1 medium carrot
1 large onion
1 medium leek
2 tablespoons bacon fat or mild vegetable oil
1 teaspoon rubbed savory, thyme, or a combination

Trim the lamb of excess fat, and dice it up into bite-sized pieces. Put it in a large soup pot with the broth, salt, and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer and simmer for 2 or 3 hours very gently. Let cool, and chill overnight. Remove and discard any fat that has hardened on top of the broth.

Rinse and pick over the barley and split peas. Put them in the rice cooker with the water and next round of salt. Cook 'em. Or, I suspect you could throw them in with the lamb and let them cook there. Also add the water or more broth, and the salt! I suggest the rice cooker because I know that they will cook evenly that way.

Peel and dice the rutabaga. Peel and dice the celeriac. Peel and dice the carrot. Peel and chop the onion. Trim, slice in half lengthwise, then slice the other way, the leek.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add all the vegetables except the leek, and cook, stirring frequently, until everything is slightly softened and cooked down, and there is a little browning. If things are browing too quickly, turn down the heat. Add the leeks and cook, with continued frequent stirring, until they too are softened and cooked down, but not browned.

Add the vegetables, the peas and barley (if cooked separately), and the herbs to the pot of meat and broth. Simmer for another hour or so. You can serve it at once, or it keeps and reheats nicely. 

Monday, 25 January 2016

Annual Seed Catalogue Highlights

Here it is, the moment you all a few of you have been waiting for!  My annual list of most Canadian seed companies that sell organic and/or untreated seeds, and some of their new and/or interesting listings. Interesting to me at least - it's hard to believe I am still finding new things I would like to grow, but I am. You can also look in the Canadian Seed Catalogue Index at Seeds of Diversity if there is something specific you are trying to track down - that is the most comprehensive list of varieties sold in Canada that you will find. Here is the post from last year which will then take you to all the previous reports.

Agro Hai-Tai; Ontario's own specialist in Asian (mostly Chinese) vegetables, but frustratingly heavy on the f1 hybrids. How about Red Beard bunching onion, Dah Ye garlic chives, Chuan green beans, Petch Siam eggplant, Song Hua Choi F1 cauliflower (might have CMS though), White Ball and Szechuan Red radishes, Welcome Hon Tsai Tai choi sum, and many, many more. Wa Wa Gaichoi (Tsubomina) and North Round stem-mustards strike me as really intriguing.

Annapolis Seeds; from the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia, after just a few years in business is now up to offering nearly 500 varieties. This years new items include North Georgia Candy Roaster squash, Montreal melon, Jamaican burr cucumber, Glass Gem popcorn, Fireball tomatoes, Blue Lake pole beans (our fave!), Standfast sunflower, Rainbow Inca sweet corn (an Alan Kapuler variety), Black Beluga lentils, and lots more. Returning items include Early Moonbeam watermelon, Squisito spaghetti squash, Swedish Red (Biskopens) dry pea, Tonello yellow romano bean, and Creola Sella (baccatum) hot pepper. 

Burt's Greenhouses: Sweet potatoes are a hot item, and here is an Ontario (Kingston) supplier, with a good selection and good prices. It looks like the same selection as last year (which is to say the best we've found anywhere so far). We tried their sample pack (3 or more varieties, pot luck, with a special request for no Georgia Jet, since we already had our own) and they all did reasonably well. In addition to our old favourite Georgia Jet, they have Toka Toka Gold from New Zealand, Covington and Beauregard (most popular varieties in the southern U.S. at this time), Cuban Red (not Cuban, as far as I can tell), and several Japanese and Korean varieties.

The Cottage Gardener: A great source for some really useful seed. From their list of new introductions, Amethyst Cream tomato immediately caught my eye. Indigo "Blue Berries" tomato would make a great partner for them. I see they have MacGregor's Favourite Beet (mine too!) Fish pepper may be new to them, but it's a staple for us. Garden of Eden romano bean looks excellent. Returning favourites include Arikara and Hidatsa beans; Early Hanover melon; Suyo Long cucumber; Tom Thumb lettuce; Tom Thumb and British Wonder peas; Orange Thai, Alma paprika, Chervena Chushka, and Jimmy Nardello peppers; Paul Robeson, Jaune Flammé, Bellstar (sic), and Stupice tomatoes.

Eagle Creek Seed Potatoes: It looks like Eagle Creek is roaring back from a terrible year last year, with a bigger and better selection than ever. They have 4 different variety packs for those who just can't narrow it down. I still have my eye on Amarosa, with bright red skin - and flesh! Pink Fir Apple is one I've been growing for a few years and get more and more interested in. Ruby Gold is highly recommended by Duane Falk, and Purple Viking, Warba, German Butterball, Russian Blue, and Russet Burbank are all varieties I've tried and liked.

Edible Antiques: New this year are Kabuli Black and Orion chickpeas, Moon & Stars watermelon, Filius Blue pepper, Don Ross's kale, and Dr Wyche's Yellow tomatillos. Returning items include Skunk pole dry beans, Dutch Brown Winter lettuce, Delicata squash, d'Espelette peppers, Algonquin pumpkin, and lots and lots of tomatoes. Possibilities include Black Crick, Crimson Sprinter, Fruit Punch, Morado, and their own White Calabash.

Greta's Organic Vegetable Garden: Greta doesn't indicate which items are new; but her list is so large and so wide ranging that even things that have been around for a while will suddenly strike you as surprising. I'm not a smoker, but I'm fascinated by Samsun Turkish tobacco. Actually, she has a lot of different tobaccos. Other fascinating things: Bozeman and Mountain Sweet watermelons, Chicago Pickling and H-19 Little Leaf (hard to find!) cucumbers, Ching-Chiang pak choi, Red Dragon mustard greens, Wong Bok cabbage, Gajo de Melon, Winterkeeper, Kenosha, and Romeo (another one hard to find these days) tomatoes, Zapallito del Tronco, Gem, and Longue de Nice squash, Korean Kim-Chee peppers, San Christoforo peas, Tall Green purslane, Tom Thumb popcorn, and Valencia onion. And more, much more...

Harmonic Herbs: have a good little list of herbs, including sea buckthorn, borage, Sunshine Flashback calendula, licorice mint and Mexican tarragon (actually anise flavoured) which I came across recently for the first time and intend to try this year. They also have garden-sized packets of seeds and grains including hulless oats and barley, amaranth, buckwheat, golden flax and quinoa. Vegetable seeds include Gaucho Argentinian beans, Turga Hungarian parsnips, Pink Beauty radish, and Midnight Lightening zucchini amongst other things. They also do some nice combo packs.

Hawthorn Farm Organic Seeds:  Very local for us, with a fine selection. We visited them a while back. Offerings this year include April Green cabbage, Purple Peacock broccoli (brocco-kale cross, actually), Cosmic Purple carrots, Macuzalito dry beans, Fortex beans (you may recognize that photo!), Tango celery, Iowne's True Blue corn, Green Wave mustard - a favourite of veggie breeder Carol Deppe - Matchbox Hot pepper, Principe Borghese drying tomatoes, and Cosmonaut Volkov, Moonglow, Indigo Rose, and Green Zebra tomatoes. Hawthorn is strong on lettuce, and their offerings include Brown Goldring, Red Sails and Jester amongst a good selection of others. Our standards each year include Cylindra, Early Wonder Tall Top, and Touchstone Gold beets, Ping Tung eggplant, Giant Musselburgh leeks, New Red Fire lettuce, Meeting Place Organic Farm snow peas, and Tatume Mexican zucchini.

Heritage Harvest Seed: New offerings here include Lena Spraybash's broad (fava) bean from northern Manitoba, Heirloom Dutch snow pea, Banana Melon, Mammoth Sandwich Island salsify, Gold Medal, Puck, and Soldacki tomatoes, and Yokohama squash. Last year's trend for home-grown grains continues; they have 5 new ones listed. Our standard varieties from Heritage Harvest include Anellino Yellow, Deseronto Potato, Dolloff, and Grandma Nellie's Yellow Mushroom beans (their bean collection is epic), Collective Farm Woman and Gnadenfeld melons, Chieftain Savoy and Copenhagen Market cabbages, and Jaune de Doubs carrot. Very strong listings for cucumbers, peas, spinach, peppers... almost everything, really. 

Hope Seeds: Specialists in Maritime heirlooms, they have a lot of things generally suited to short seasons as well. New items include Honeynut squash, Butterflay spinach, Wrinkled Crinkled Crumpled cress, New Hampshire College Red popcorn, January King cabbage, and Strawberry Blonde calendula. Old reliables include Tante Alice cucumber, Listada de Gandia eggplant, Small Shining Light watermelon, Bennie's Red onion, Golden Sweet snow peas, Melford rutabaga, Tribe's Tobique and Bernardo's Paste tomatoes. They have 4 kinds of Jerusalem artichokes, and a good little selection of potatoes. Looks like later in the season they will have several varieties of garlic as well.

Mapple Farm: The original Canadian supplier of sweet potato slips, located in New Brunswick. They recommend Georgia Jet as the best for Canadians, but they have a good selection of other possibilities. Their selection doesn't change much from year to year, but the things they carry are well considered and tried and true. They do mention Honeyboat squash and Italian Heirloom paste tomato as new. Speaking of tomatoes, they have their own Mystery Keeper tomato if you want to try keeping fresh tomatoes well into the winter. French Scorzonera, Turkish Rocket, or Shosaku Gobo can be grown from seed, or Volgo 2 Jerusalem artichokes, Chinese artichokes (neither of which are actually artichokes) and Horseradish can be acquired as roots.

Ontario Seed Company: One of Ontario's oldest remaining seed houses, OSC carries a mix of conventional and heirloom seeds. New items this year include Atomic Red and Solar Yellow carrots, Ailsa Craig onion, Zlata yellow radish, and Mouse Melon "cucumber". Old stand-bys include Chieftain savoy cabbage, Valencia peanuts, Alaska and Tall Telephone peas, Cubanelle peppers, Laurentian rutabaga and Crimson Sweet watermelon.

Prairie Garden Seeds: Here you will need to order by mail and pay by cheque. It is well worth the effort to do so. Jim Ternier has a very large list of Canadian and cold climate seeds. He doesn't indicate what is new and what isn't. I notice this year though, that he has 2 kinds of dwarf scarlet runner beans; a thing I have never seen before (Dwarf Bees and Pickwick Dwarf). They have the delightful French Flageolet bean, and an amazingly large collection of fava (broad) beans. Knight is a pea I have been looking for for a while; there it is. Amish Snap is one of our staples for summer eating and freezing; ditto Carouby de Maussane. This year he has 7 different kinds of corn, up from 5 last year. I see one of them is Carol Deppe's Cascade Ruby Gold. How about Kazakh Honeydew melon, or 1805 Smoothies and Super Zagross cucumbers? Sweetheart beet or Rote Reisen carrot? Pfalzer Yellow is a carrot that has done consistently well for us, and Kral parsnips have some real advantages. Lorelei and Prickly-Seeded spinaches look interesting. Flashback mixed calendulas are lovely. There's a heartstopping little collection of rare ornamental and edible alliums.

If you are looking for a Canadian bred tomato, this is the place. Also, Jim lists 60 kinds of wheat alone, never mind all the other grains and cereals. In short, wow!

Richter's Seeds: Quite possibly the most complete herb catalogue in the world. In particular they have a startling number of variations on the theme of basil. Offerings include Good King Henry, Nepitella, Trinidad Scorpion, Bhut Jolokia, and Hot Portugal hot peppers, Stevia (several strains), White Soul strawberries, Sweet Trefoil, Blue Lake pole beans, Early Purple English broccoli, Cardoon, Muncher cucumber, Huizontle, Jicama, Molokhia, Wasabi arugula, Yellow Moon and Stars watermelon, and much - much - more.

They are the only Canadian company that I know of still listing genuine French, and Grey shallots - pretty much everyone else has the seed-grown ones now, which are really not the same. Unfortunately, the prices reflect this fact.

Salt Spring Seeds: Located on Salt Spring Island, they are a well-established and substantial operation. New items this  year include Andover parsnips, Spello chick peas, Jack In the Beanstalk beans, Licorice, Red Legion onion (Torpedo shallot), Purple Cape cauliflower, and Yukon Chief corn. Of interest to me are Gold Harvest dry peas, Harry Burton's shelling pea, Mrs Van's, Sapporo Express, and The Pilot shelling peas, Zeghdulet Fluted squash, Darcy's Purple leek, Kakai oilseed pumpkin,

They are very strong in peas, pulses, and grains; second only to Prairie Garden.

Solana Seeds: Located in Quebec. In line with their interests, new items this year are mostly hottish to hot chiles. Green Tiger and Orange Banana tomatoes are new, as are Piaozinho, Mulato, Guajillo, Hot Paper Lantern and Chilhuacle Rojo peppers. St Valery carrots, Kamo eggplant, Zatta and Emerald Gem melons, Superschmelz kohlrabi, and lots of tomatoes (and other things) on the regular list.

Quantities per packet can be small, but prices are generally very reasonable.

Stellar Seeds: Located in the Kootenays. Promising looking offerings include Lutz Green Leaf beet, Goldette turnip, Sweet Granite canteloup, Amsterdam Gold carrot, Coastal Star and Hilde lettuces, Yellow Bedfordshire onions, Padron peppers, and Belstar Black scorzonera.

Sunshine Farm: located in the Kelowna Valley, B.C. They have a good standard selection plus some unusual items such as Azufrado Mexican bean, Rouge Sang Violette carrot, Rollison's Long English cucumber, Louisiana Long Green eggplant, German Winter leek, Guernsey Half-Long parsnip, Rocotillo peppers, Hilds Blauer radish, Whangaparaoa squash, and northward of 170 varieties of tomato.

Tatiana's TomatoBase: Last year I pointed out that she had one thousand and fifteen varieties of tomato seed for sale. This year it's one thousand, seven hundred and seventy eight. I don't mention any by name because where to even start? But if you want a rare tomato, look here first is what I am saying. Seed prices and quantities are fine, seeds may not have been grown last year but dates are noted and you should have a several years of good germination left.

Tatiana has an excellent selection of lettuces, peppers, squash, and melons, as well as a sprinkling of other vegetables. She has access to many varieties from Russia, which as it shares a similar climate with Canada means there are very interesting things here for the Canadian gardener. As a bonus, Tatiana maintains an encyclopedia of tomato varieties, so this is the place to do research on anything tomato.

Terra Edibles: I still have a soft spot for this company, one of the first of the small seed-company renaissance that I came across. They have a good selection of tomatoes and beans, and a smaller but well-chosen selection of other vegetables. Beans may be a bit short this year so order early. Prices remain very reasonable. Don't seem to have new offerings but I sure recognize the names of many of their tomatoes that have been grown in my garden, including Yellow Striped Roman, Stupice, Principe Borghese, Opalka, Matt's Wild, Ildi, Gardener's Delight, Garden Peach, Costoluto Fiorentino, Red Brandywine, Black Cherry, Banana Legs, and Amish Paste tomatoes.

Ferme Cooperative Tourne-sol: have been around for a while, but somehow have not made this list before. Oops! New this year I see Sugaree snap peas, Kew Gardens Purple pole bean, Rio San Lorenzo amaranth, Cream of Saskatchewan watermelon, and Black quinoa. Also of interest, they have Kahnawake Mohawk beans, Chufa Nuts sedge, Painted Mountain corn, Selection Tourne-Sol cucumber, Opal Creek snap peas, St. Hubert dry peas.

Tree and Twig Heirloom Vegetable Farm: Here is another seed farm we have had the pleasure of visiting. No online seed sales this year, although it sounds like she is still selling tomato plants.

William Dam Seeds: One of Ontario's 2 remaining old establishment seed-houses. They sell untreated seed, but much of it is still f1 hybrids. Nevertheless, they still have a very good selection of well-priced basics. Their Dutch heritage means they carry many old Dutch varieties. Look for Namenia turnip greens, Goldana turnip, Lucullus Swiss chard, Viroflex Giant Winter spinach (by far our fave), Strike peas, Early Yellow Globe and Red Tropeana onions, Telegraph Improved cucumbers, Amazing cauliflower, Groninger Blue kale, Miner's Lettuce claytonia, and lots more. Best source I know of for all the physical accoutrements other than metal tools required for gardening.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

A Meditation on $8 Cauliflower

I know I live in a little bubble, but I have only been very vaguely aware that the prices of many commonly-purchased vegetables have been going up (up, up!) recently. Well, they would be, wouldn't they; what with the low dollar and environmental changes happening now. Suddenly this week though, I've been seeing lots of articles about cauliflower at $6 or $8 a head.

I had no idea. I haven't even glanced at a cauliflower since November, when they were last in season. With the exception of a few lemons and limes, and the odd banana or other fruit, I don't really look at, never mind buy, anything imported. The price of citrus has been brutal for a while, but it doesn't exactly make or break our budget, or our menu.

Of course this is very hard on many people. I'm in a rare position, in that about 80% of our vegetable and fruit intake is grown and preserved by ourselves*. The whole point of this blog, though, is that long before we had a garden, we were eating well, eating relatively cheaply, and eating in a way to mitigate human and environmental harm, by eating mostly food produced locally, and you can too, with just a little re-jigging. And yeah, that means no cauliflower in January (mostly because I can't freeze it well enough at home to suit my fussy tastes). Tant pis. We really aren't suffering. We're eating cabbage (and carrots, and onions, and rutabaga, and beets, and, oh, look at the list)**, and liking it. And in July, when the first locally grown cauliflower shows up again, I'll be ecstatic to see it.

Cauliflower is a special vegetable, as I've remarked before. It deserves an ecstatic greeting at least once a year. Of all the vegetables, it is probably the most refined and luxurious flowering of the plant breeders' and growers' art. It has been thousands of years in the making and perfecting, and still requires expert knowledge, skill, and precision to grow. The idea that it ought to be a cheap staple is laughable. What makes me sad is not that out-of-season cauliflower is expensive, but that so little of that increased price is going to the people actually out in the field growing it. Indeed, even as I type I'm sure people are working on how to get even more out of the hides of farm workers, rather than let international finance and big ag take the hits from increased prices.

I have noted that as imported produce has been increasing in price, so has locally grown produce, though not to the same degree. I think there are 2 reasons for this; the first being that since other things are more expensive, the prices can be raised. I try not to resent this too much; produce growing is one of the most precarious and labour intensive forms of making a living that there is, especially for the small or medium sized grower***. The other is that, as people have come to regard food grown and shipped from thousands of miles away as perpetually cheap, perpetually available, and in fact that they have a positive right to have it, the number of local growers and the variety of what they grow has shrunk, and shrunk a lot. The survivors inevitably can charge more, and have to, because the distribution chain also shrinks and gets more expensive and difficult to manoeuvre.

So until July and local cauliflower, please look around and buy other locally grown vegetables, hopefully at more reasonable prices. Even if you are not familiar with them. Then locate them on the index at the right hand side of this blog. I'm pretty sure you will find a simple and delicious way to prepare those vegetables, and you will not feel deprived. (And you can read this paeon to the potato from Carol Deppe - let's not forget the wonderful potato!)

*That actually probably takes more money and definitely a whole lot more time than if we were just buying it, by the way - but we have both, and want to do it. The point is you can eat like we do for less money and effort than we expend.

**Not even including our own frozen, dried, or canned goods.

***Although again, I have to wonder how much is actually going to the grower - good reason to go to a farmers market if you can.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Rutabaga with Bacon, Mushrooms, & Onions

Finally, we grew some successful rutabaga last summer. It generally hasn't done well for us, because as a member of the brassica family it doesn't like our soil much, our soil contains worms that do like rutabaga just fine, and I am pretty terrible at thinning at the time of year when  things should be thinned.

Is there any vegetable that doesn't go well with bacon, mushrooms, and onions? Maybe? None I can think of off the top of my head. So no new culinary ground is being broken here, but that's okay. Nothing wrong with the tried and true. If there is any difficulty with this dish, it's that it contains enough bacon to make it too rich to be your usual side dish, but not quite enough to be a main dish. It makes an excellent breakfast or brunch, along with some toast, or serve it with simply cooked lean fish or chicken and a green vegetable for a more substantial meal.

4 to 6 servings
1 hour prep time

Rutabaga with Bacon, Mushrooms, & Onions

450 grams (1 pound) rutabaga
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 medium onions
200 grams (1/2 pound) bacon
100 grams (1/4 pound) button mushrooms
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1/4 teaspoon rubbed savory or thyme

Peel the rutabaga and cut it into 3/4" dice. Put them in a pot with water to cover, and the salt, and bring to a boil. Boil steadily for about 30 minutes, until tender.

Meanwhile, peel and chop the onions. Chop the bacon into bite-sized pieces. Clean, trim, and slice the mushrooms.

Cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat; it should cook quite slowly for about 10 to 15 minutes. Stir occasionally. If it renders more fat than will nicely coat the bottom of the pan, drain some of it off. After 10 or 15 minutes, when the bacon is about two-thirds cooked, add the chopped onions and the mushrooms. Continue cooking slowly, stirring regularly, for another 10 minutes or so, until the bacon is quite done and so are the onions and mushrooms. If things look like they are cooking too fast, reduce the heat as needed.

When the rutabaga is tender, drain it well and add it to the pan of bacon, etc. Mix and mash it in fairly coarsely, and season with the pepper, paprika, and savory. You may wish to add a little more salt, but contemplate the nature of your bacon first. Heat through, and transfer to the serving dish.

Last year at this time I made Curried Squash Soup.