Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Spanish Beef & Turnip Stew

This is based on a recipe from 13th century Spain. As such, it is more "Moorish" than Spanish. It was made by Medieval Spanish Chef, which is where I first saw it. The Anonymous Andalusian Cook Book of the 13th Century is available on-line in translation, but I can't find this recipe there even though that is where it is supposed to have come from, so I have adapted this from Medieval Spanish Chef's version.

I used our lovely little Goldana turnips, which are probably fairly different from what was actually used. No complaints though; they're delicious. If you can't get them, I would suggest using rutabaga. I did not add the large quantity of puréed cilantro called for, as there is none right now. I did manage to rescue a "bouquet" of parsley before it sn*wed, so it was there to add a little colour. The spices should be as finely ground as you can get them. I did not do a good job and the texture of them was a bit distracting. I have laid them on with a much heavier hand than Medieval Spanish Chef did, and more vegetables too. I was very happy with the results. 

The original recipe called for "meat". It would certainly not have been pork, but beef, lamb, or goat would all be appropriate. Lamb and goat often come on the bone, and in that case I would use twice as much by weight.

4 servings
1 hour prep time

13th Century Spanish Beef & Turnip Stew

2 medium onions
500 grams (1 pound) boneless stewing beef
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt to taste
freshly ground white pepper (black is okay)
2 teaspoons coriander seed
1 teaspoon cumin seed
2 bay leaves
2 cups beef stock (or water)
4 or 5 small turnips
OR 2 cups peeled, diced rutabaga
1/4 cup finely minced or puréed cilantro, if available

Peel the onions and chop them coarsely. 

Check that your beef is trimmed of fat and gristle, and is in reasonably sized chunks. It should also be dry, so if it is very juicy pat it dry. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot and brown the beef on both sides. Add the onions and mix in well. Season with the salt and pepper, taking into account the beef stock. Unsalted beef stock may require up to 3/4 teaspoon; commercial salted beef stock may not need any at all. Continue cooking for another few minutes until the onions are softened and slightly browned. Stir regularly. While they cook, grind the coriander and cumin seeds finely and add them.

Add the beef stock and bay leaves, and simmer for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel the turnips or rutabaga and cut into about 1" cubes. Cook them in a separate pot with about 1 cup of water until tender; about 10 minutes. Add the turnips, with or without their cooking water as you like. Let simmer together for another 10 minutes or so.

Like most stews, this is better made a day in advance and reheated before serving. There should not be a great deal of liquid left by the time you serve it.

Last year at this time I made "Chicken Soup" Pasta.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Cheesy Brussels Sprout Bread Pudding

With all the eggs and cheese, this is really a main dish and not a side dish, unless you are into highly luxurious side dishes.  In fact it is really a complete meal in itself. I served it with a a sliced tomato which was more of a garnish than a salad, and that was fine.

I used a mixture of old Cheddar and smoked mozzarella, which happened to be on sale last week. However, this will be pretty flexible about the cheese as long as it has lots of flavour and works with the Brussels sprouts. Friulano would be good, or Havarti, or all kinds of things. I wouldn't normally recommend mozzarella as it doesn't have enough oomph, but smoked and mixed with Cheddar it was okay.

Sorry for the terrible picture. Alas, we have reached the time of year where if I make something for the evening, there isn't enough light to take a good picture. For some strange reason most of my Brussels sprouts pictures seem to suffer...

6 to 8 servings
1 hour 30 minutes prep time

Cheesy Brussels Sprout Bread Pudding

300 grams (10 ounces) Brussels sprouts
2 medium leeks
4 to 5 shallots
4 to 5 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 cups finely cubed stale bread
2 1/2 cups milk
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons rubbed mint
1 teaspoon rubbed oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
300 grams (10 ounces) firm, strong cheese

Wash, trim and shred the Brussels sprouts. Wash, trim, and chop the leeks. Peel and chop the shallots. Peel and mince the garlic.

Heat the oil in a large skillet and add the leeks and shallots. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until softened. Mix in the garlic and cook for a minute or so then mix in the Brussels sprouts. They should be well drained but with just a bit of moisture clinging to them. Mix them in and cook, stirring occasionally until well wilted down and bright green. Season with the salt and pepper. If they get too dry and look like scorching, add a tablespoon or so of water. Once done, remove from the heat and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Oil or butter an 8" x 10" shallow baking pan.

Cube the bread and put it in a mixing bowl. Add the milk and mix well, until the bread is completely saturated in it. Mix in the eggs and the seasonings.

Grate the cheese and set aside about 1/4 of it. Mix the remainder in with the bread, etc. Mix the vegetables in as well.

Turn the mixture out into the prepared baking pan and smooth it out. Sprinkle the set-aside cheese evenly over the top. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour until the pudding is firm and the cheese on top is lightly browned and bubbling. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.

Last year at this time I made Pumpkin French Toast.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Balkan Sour Vegetable Soup

It's another simple vegetable soup, with a little something sour to sharpen it up. Vinegar, yes; but tart yogurt or sour cream to give it a delicate tang. The egg yolk mellows it a bit. As usual with soups that have dairy products added at the end, you must be sure not to let it get too hot or it will curdle.

This is a lovely soup as a starter course, or it will pair up with a sandwich to make a very good lunch.

You can use whatever vegetables are in season. I had onions which had not died down properly, so I put in about the equivalent of one better onion, and added the chopped green tops with the cabbage. A little parsley would give the same nice touch of green if you had some.

4 to 6 servings
1 hour 30 minutes prep time

Balkan Sour Vegetable Soup

1 medium onion
1 or 2 stalks of celery OR 1/2 cup peeled diced celeriac
1 medium leek
1 medium carrot
1 medium potato
1 medium turnip OR 1 cup peeled diced rutabaga
1 tablespoon chicken or bacon fat, or mild vegetable oil
2 or 3 bay leaves
3/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon rubbed savory
4 cups unsalted chicken or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 cups finely chopped cabbage

1/2 cup rich yogurt or sour cream
1 egg yolk

Peel and chop the onion. Wash, trim and finely chop the celery. Wash, trim, and chop the leek. Peel and dice the carrot. Wash, trim, and dice the potato. Peel and dice the turnip or rutabaga.

Heat the fat in a large heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and celery and cook for a few minutes, stirring often. Add the leek, potato, turnip, and bay leaves, and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until everything is softened and impregnated with the fat. Season with the salt, pepper, and savory as it cooks.

Add the stock and vinegar, and simmer for 15 minutes or so, until the potatoes and turnip are just about tender. Add the cabbage and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Mix the yogurt or sour cream with the egg yolk. Thin it with a couple ladle-fulls of the soup, then mix it well into the soup. Turn off the heat, but let it stay on the stove for a couple of minutes.

Last year at this time I made Kohlrabies au Gratin.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Cranberry Meringue Pie

I came across this quite old recipe for Bogberry Pudding and thought it looked interesting. Bogberries, of course, are cranberries. I was a little worried that it might be too much like cranberry sauce in a pie crust, but it wasn't at all. The spicing made it quite different and very appealing.

Since it called for egg yolks I decided to use the egg whites to make a meringue topping, which I think really contributed to the success of this dish. I was a bit dubious about it being thick enough with just egg yolks to thicken it, and rightly so as it turned out. I added some potato starch but not quite enough - I have called for twice as much as I actually used. You can see in the photo it did not set completely and was a bit runny. Part of that was because it needed more starch but I have to admit that at least part of the problem was that I did not wait long enough to cut it. The leftovers were set much better.

Apart from that minor problem, we really liked this. Mr Ferdzy is encouraging me to make it again soon, to be sure that I now have the starch amount exactly right. Because he is very concerned about that.

The flavour is quite intense and I suggest cutting it into 8 portions because of that.

6 to 8 servings
2 1/2 hours to make; 4 hours to overnight to cool

Cranberry Meringue Pie

Make the Pie Crust:
1 1/2 cups soft unbleached flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
1/4 cup (about) buttermilk

Mix the flour and salt in a mixing bowl, then cut in the cold butter until the size of peas or smaller. Mix in the oil and buttermilk. Stir with a fork until well mixed then form it into a ball. If it is still too dry to form a cohesive ball, dribble in a little more buttermilk and mix again.

Wrap the dough loosely in parchment paper or a clean damp tea towel and set it aside while you make the filling.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. While the cranberry purée cools, roll out the dough on the parchment paper or a floured board, and use it to line a 9" pie plate. Flute the edges, and poke the crust all over with a fork. Bake the crust for 10 to 12 minutes until it looks dry all over. Set aside while you finish the filling, but leave the oven on.

Make the Filling: 
340 grams (11 ounces) fresh cranberries
1 1/2 cup apple cider and/or cranberry juice
the finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon or orange
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
a few scrapes of nutmeg
2/3 to 3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup sweet sherry
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons potato starch

Wash and pick over the cranberries and put them in a pot with the cider or juice and bring them to a simmer. While they simmer, grate in the orange or lemon zest and add the cinnamon and nutmeg. Simmer the cranberries until all have popped and are quite soft, then press them through a sieve. Discard the skins and seeds which won't go through; there should be about a quarter cup of them.

Add the sugar and butter right away, stirring to dissolve them, but wait until the cranberry purée has cooled enough that it will not cook them to add the egg yolks. Measure the sherry and mix in the vanilla and potato starch. Mix this in with the cranberry purée. Pour it into the prepared pie crust and bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the surface has puffed all over. Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F and let the pie cool slightly while you make the meringue.

Make the Meringue & Finish the Pie:
3 large egg whites
1/3 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

Put the egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar in the top of a double boiler (or metal bowl that will fit over a pan of boiling water) and turn on the heat to medium-high. Give it 3 or 4 minutes to warm up, then begin beating it all with an electric mixer. Beat for about 5 or 6 minutes, until the egg whites are very light and begin to pile up behind the blades of the mixer as you beat them. Remove from the heat at once (using oven mitts!) and scrape out the meringue onto the top of the pie. Spread it over the pie from edge to edge, mounded slightly in the centre. Return the pie to the oven and bake for 20 to 30 minutes until the meringue is set and just lightly browned.

The pie must be cooled completely before being cut; it is probably a good idea to make it the day before you plan to eat it. 

Last year at this time I made Roasted Beets & Pears.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Roasted Potatoes Manti Style

When we were in Turkey, we ate manti at various times. These are the most darling tiny dumplings, filled with meat. They exist to be delicious and to make clear that the labour of women isn't worth squat. Not too surprisingly people have come up with various "cheats" to make them, or in this case just serve potatoes with the sauces that go on manti and call it good. No argument from me! I love a good potato and the sauces are half the pleasure anyway, but a long long way from half the work.

My original source for this boiled then quickly sautéed the potatoes to give them a little colour. Roasting them takes longer but is even easier.

In Turkey I suspect these would be served noticeably warmer than room temperature but not exactly hot. I remember in one tiny restaurant we asked the proprietor if she could heat up our food before we ate it. She was plainly a bit baffled and suspicious - was she looking for the film crew to jump out and shout CANDID CAMERA, even? - but once she decided we were serious she did it for us. We remember it as one of the best meals on that trip just because it was hot. So go ahead and serve these hot if that's what you want! We foreigners are weird, what can I say?

2 to 4 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

Roasted Potatoes in the Style of Turkish Dumplings

Roast the Potatoes & Make the Yogurt Sauce:
750 grams (1 1/2 pounds) potatoes
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
salt to taste
1 clove of garlic
1/2 cup yogurt

Wash and trim the potatoes, and cut them into bite-sized chunks. Put them in a pot with water to cover, and bring to a boil. Boil for 5 to 7 minutes. Drain well and spread them in a shallow baking tray that holds them snugly, but in a single layer. I used my 8" x 10" lasagne pan. Toss them with the oil and sprinkle them with salt.

Preheat the oven to 375°F while the potatoes are boiling, and once they are drained, oiled, and salted put them in and roast for 1 hour. Stir at the half-way point.

To make the yogurt sauce, peel and mince the garlic very finely, and mix it with the yogurt. Set it aside in a cool spot (the fridge is fine but cover it unless you want everything in there to come out with garlic breath) until wanted.

Make the Tomato Sauce & Finish:
1 teaspoon rubbed dry mint
1 teaspoon rubbed dry savory OR thyme
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup water

Mix the seasonings in a small bowl.

About 5 minutes before the potatoes are done, heat the butter and tomato paste in a very small skillet or saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Let cook for just a minute or two then dump in the seasonings. Mix in well, and let them be absorbed. Begin thinning the sauce with water, a spoonful at a time and mixing it in well, until you have achieved a sauce that will dribble off the spoon nicely. Let it simmer for a minute more then remove it from the heat.

When the potatoes are done, warm the yogurt sauce a little - 20 seconds or so in the microwave should do it, or have it sitting on the back of the stove while you make the tomato sauce.

Drizzle the yogurt sauce over the potatoes, then drizzle the tomato sauce over. Serve at once or let cool slightly first in the true Turkish style.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Lentil, Carrot, & Parsley Salad

If there is anything in the garden that is still really thriving in tip-top condition, it's the parsley. We haven't had a hard freeze or even more than one really light freeze, and that one wasn't even a freeze, really; it was just a bit of snow that didn't last. Consequently, the parsley is bushier and perkier than it has been all summer. This won't last much longer though, I don't think!

The parsley will overwinter, of course. But next spring it will supply a few sprigs, then get down to the serious business of producing seeds, and the flavour and texture will suffer accordingly. Seeing that it took all summer to achieve its current state of magnificence, I couldn't say good-bye to it without using some of it in something.

This is a very simple salad, if a bit time-consuming. Most of that time, though, is just waiting for cooking to happen, so it isn't particularly a lot of work.

It should keep in the fridge for a day or two as well, although if you expect that to happen you may want to leave the parsley out of it and just add it in proportion to the bit that is expected to be eaten within a short period of time.

4 to 8 servings
1 hour prep time, plus 1 hour to cook the lentils

Lentil, Carrot, & Parsley Salad

Cook the Lentils:
1 cup dry brown or green lentils
2 1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 bay leaves

You know the routine: put it all in the rice cooker and turn it on. Or, put them in a pot on the stove and bring to a boil, then reduce to as low a simmer as possible. Let cook until the water is absorbed and the lentils are tender; about 45 minutes. You will need to watch them closely at the end.

Let the lentils cool. They can be cooked up to a day ahead and kept in the fridge 'til needed.

Make the Salad:
6 to 8 shallots
1/4 cup olive oil
3 medium carrots
1 to 2 cups finely chopped parsley
1/4 cup (from 1/2 large) lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
the grated zest of 1/4 lemon
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, ground
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon smoked Spanish or Hungarian paprika, sweet or hot

Peel the shallots and cut them in half lengthwise then in thin slices across. Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat and add the shallots. Cook them, stirring occasionally, for 40 to 45 minutes, until golden brown. If they show signs of browning much before then, reduce the heat.

Meanwhile, peel and grate the carrots. Add them to the prepared lentils and mix well. Wash, dry, and finely chop the parsley, and mix it in. Add the lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

At about 10 minutes before the end of the cooking of the shallots, grate in the lemon zest. Just before the shallots are done, grind the cumin seed and add it to the shallots. Add the paprika to the shallots as well, and mix in. Let cook for just a minute or so, then mix the shallots in with the salad, along with all their cooking oil. Let the salad rest for 10 minutes or so to allow the shallots to cool before serving; it can also be made up to several hours ahead and kept refrigerated until just before serving time.

Last year at this time I made Pumpkin Waffles.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Dad's Blue Cheese Waldorf Salad

I have been going through a couple of old scrapbooks that Dad put together starting in 1974. In them he wrote down recipes (or notes, at least) for things he had made, and collected magazine clippings of recipes that interested him. I see I was already sticking my oar in, as a number of things are in my handwriting, at least until I left home.

I don't imagine that the clippings got made often, if ever, but if it was written in by (his) hand he had made it. This one was made for a party in November of 1990; one of the later additions as he pretty much stopped cooking by the mid '90s.

This is just a simple variation on the classic Waldorf salad, but it's a good one. I'm sure he used a bottled dressing, but it doesn't take long to put together a home-made one, and hey! I have a very fine recipe.

4 servings
30 minutes prep time, including the dressing

Dad's Blue Cheese Waldorf Salad

1/2 recipe Blue Cheese Salad Dressing
8 or 12 lettuce leaves
2 large apples
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 stalks of celery
1/3 cup whole or chopped hazelnuts
2 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese

Make the dressing and set it aside.

Wash the lettuce and drain it very well. Arrange it divided on individual salad plates or lining a salad bowl, depending on how you are serving the salad.

Wash and peel the apples and cut them in quarters. Slice the quarters thinly, and toss them with the lemon juice.

Wash and trim the celery, and cut it in thin slices. Toss it with the apples.

Chop the hazelnuts roughly if they are whole, and mix them in with the apples and celery.

Mix in the salad dressing and arrange it over the lettuce leaves. Crumble the last bit of blue cheese over the salad(s) and perhaps sprinkle with a few reserved whole hazelnuts if you have them and are so inclined.

Last year at this time I made White Beans with Celery & Cream.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Onion Caraway Soup

Caraway soups are popular in central Europe, and range from the simple and almost medicinal, to the fairly complex. They are usually fairly light though, and do better as an introductory course than the main event.

Between the onions and the caraway this is a mild, almost sweet soup. Celery fills it out a bit, and as ever I like the toasted barley flour for adding a little colour and body to soup, along with another layer of flavour. You could thicken it with plain wheat flour though.

One recipe I read suggested cooking the caraway seeds in the butter for best flavour, which is what I did, but many recipes suggest keeping them in a spice-ball (tea-ball) so they can be taken out before the soup is served. It depends if you want flavour or refinement I guess... as ever, I went for flavour. I have to admit though, the last few tablespoons of soup in the pot were mostly caraway seeds, in spite of the fact that quite a lot were spooned up and eaten.

4 servings
1 1/2 hours prep time

Onion Caraway Soup

3 cups sliced onions
1 or 2 stalks celery (1 cup sliced)
4 tablespoons barley flour or unbleached wheat flour
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 cups water or chicken stock
2 tablespoons sherry
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Peel and cut the onions in half from top to bottom. Cut in half again if they are large, then cut into slices to form half-moon shapes. Wash, trim, and chop the celery.

If using barley flour, toast it to the colour of a brown paper bag in a dry skillet - stir frequently. Turn it out on a plate to cool.

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat. Add the caraway seeds, bay leaves, salt, and pepper, then the onions and celery. Cook for about half an hour to 40 minutes, until the vegetables are quite soft but not browned.

Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and mix it in well. Let it cook for another 3 or 4 minutes, stirring frequently, until well amalgamated with them. Slowly stir in the water or stock to form a lump-free soup. Simmer for another 15 or 20 minutes, stirring regularly, then season with the sherry and Worcestershire sauce. Adjust the seasonings generally, then serve. 

Last year at this time I made Carrot, Dried Tomato, & Herb Whole Wheat Biscuits. They would go well with this!

Friday, 3 November 2017

Trout & Spinach au gratin

This takes about 15 minutes longer than slapping some fish into an oiled pan and baking it, but comes across as much more sophisticated, never mind that it also solves the problem of what to have as a vegetable with it. We had ours with some Oven Baked Polenta, which was convenient because said oven was thus already on, but potatoes or rice would have rounded out the meal nicely too.  On the other hand, the polenta takes an hour to bake so I had a few minute breather after it went in then started preparing the fish. The timing works very well, is what I'm saying.

You could use a white-fleshed fish instead of the (pink fleshed) trout that I used, in which case I would be inclined to throw a few sliced mushrooms in to cook with shallots. You could do that anyway, I guess.

2 servings
50 minutes - 20 minutes prep time

Trout & Spinach au gratin

Make the au gratin Topping:
1 stale roll (2 stale dinner rolls)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons flour
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1 teaspoon rubbed savoury

Slice the roll(s) thinly in one direction then thinly across in the other direction. Crumble the bits up into a small mixing bowl. Rub in the butter until well distributed, then rub in the flour and seasonings. 

Finish the Dish:
3 or 4 shallots
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
6 to 8 cups loosely packed cleaned spinach leaves
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 teaspoons flour
3/4 cup 10% cream
400 grams (scant pound) skinless, boneless trout or salmon fillet

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Peel and slice the shallots. If you have a casserole dish that can start on the stove then go to the oven, use that; other wise start them in a skillet and transfer to a shallow ovenproof dish at the appropriate time. Heat the butter in the pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until softened and translucent.

Meanwhile, shred the spinach somewhat coarsely. Once the shallots are ready, start adding it to the pan by handfuls, and stir it in until well wilted. (Transfer to ovenproof dish now.)

Mix the salt, pepper, and flour into the cream. Pour it over the spinach and shallots. You can leave the fish fillet whole or cut it into 4 or 5 equalish pieces, which will make it easier to arrange over the spinach; in any case arrange it over the spinach. Sprinkle the crumb topping evenly over the fish. Bake at 350°F until the cream is bubbling around the edges and the crumb topping is lightly browned; about 30 minutes.

Last year at this time I made Broccoli & Cheddar Soup

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

German Leek Salad

This is a good thing to do if you are cooking leeks for some other purpose; do a few extra then set them aside for salad the next day.

Not too surprisingly this is a good thing to serve with typically meaty German dishes. I can really see it with pork, or duck. Turkey would be good too, though, or even salmon.

4 servings
30 minutes to cook the leeks
15 minutes to assemble the salad

German Leek Salad

6 to 8 medium leeks
2 tablespoons leek cooking water
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
1/8 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Trim and wash the leeks. Put them in a shallow pan with water to just cover them, and bring them to a boil. Boil gently for 10 minutes, then allow to cool. Drain the leeks very well, but keep a small amount of the cooking liquid. This can be done up to a day ahead.

Mix the leek cooking water, vinegar, sour cream, mustard, horseradish, salt, and pepper in a small salad bowl.

Drain the leeks again - they can be gently pressed to extract excess liquid - then cut them into 1" slices. You will need a very sharp knife. Mix them into the salad dressing, and serve.

Last year at this time I made Blanquette de Veau and Pear & Apple Torte with Ginger & Cranberries; yes I have decided on a name for it.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Lamb with Turnip Greens

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

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

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

2 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - in 2 parts

Lamb with Rutabaga Greens

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peel and mince the garlic.

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

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

Friday, 27 October 2017

A Final Look at the Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Groundcherries and Golden Berries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 23 October 2017

Spaghetti Squash Pancakes

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

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

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

Spaghetti Squash Pancakes with Cheese

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 20 October 2017

Mallorcan Eggplant Pastel

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

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

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

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

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

Mallorcan Eggplant Cake (Meatloaf)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Cheesy Spaghetti Squash Bake

Well, I am posting this recipe but I have to say that as usual I am not wildly impressed by spaghetti squash. It is one of those things that sounds like such a good idea but rarely lives up to the hype. I have had some that worked well, but usually it is a little softer and mooshier than it should be and so it proved to be this time, as usual. Never mind; add enough cheese and no-one will complain.

I have you cook the entire spaghetti squash here, as you will need both sides of the rind, even though half of the squash gets saved for some other nefarious purpose. I shall reveal mine in the fullness of time.

It seems like a heck of lot of time to make this, and it is. The good news is that most of that time is spent with the squash sitting in the oven, and even better is that it can be broken up over 2 days. Once you have the squash cut in half - the hardest part of this recipe by far - it is all very easy and little actual work. 

2 servings
2 3/4hours - 30 minutes prep time
not including cooking the broccoli or spinach

Cheesy Spaghetti Squash Bake

Cook the Spaghetti Squash:
1 medium spaghetti squash
2 teaspoons mild vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Cut the squash in half from the stem end to the blossom end. A very large, sharp knife will be required for this. Scoop out the seeds and soft material surrounding them with a spoon and discard them. Rub the squash over the cut edges with the oil.

Place the squash face-down on a baking tray and bake until the flesh is tender and will form strands when scraped with a fork. I have found the time needed for squash quite variable, but expect between an hour and an hour and a half.

Stuff and Bake the Squash Again:
2 cups blanched broccoli
OR 1 cup cooked spinach
2 to 3 cloves of garlic
1 green onion
OR 1/4 cup minced chives
1/2 cup 10% cream
1 teaspoon arrowroot or cornstarch
1 cup grated old Cheddar cheese
OR other strongly flavoured cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Have the broccoli or spinach prepared. This is an excellent opportunity to use up some leftover vegetables. Chop to broccoli into smallish florets, or shred the spinach finely.

Peel and mince the garlic. Wash, trim and mince the green onion or chives. Mix them in a mixing bowl with the cream, starch, and 2/3 of each of the cheeses. Mix the remaining cheeses together and set aside.

When the squash is ready, cool enough to handle, use a fork to pull the strands from the rind. Keep the rind in good condition. Be careful. The rind is a bit fragile and easy to tear. (Or they can be cooked the day before and brought up to room temperature before removing the strands.) Set half the squash strands aside to use for another purpose.

Mix the remaining strands with the vegetables, cream, and cheese. Divide the mixture equally between the 2 half rinds, and place them in a snug baking pan. Sprinkle the remaining cheese evenly over them. Bake at 350°F for 30 to 45 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and lightly browned.

Last year at this time I made Ginger & Dried Fruit Fruitcake

Monday, 16 October 2017

Cauliflower with Leeks & Carrots

Leeks can be a late summer or early fall vegetable, but since they store so well I tend to leave them for the winter when choices are few, or even the spring, as they overwinter successfully in the garden. I couldn't resist them with some lovely cauliflower, though! They go together so well, and if you then throw in some carrots you have some really good eating. 

4 servings
30 minutes prep time

Cauliflower with Leeks & Carrots

3 large leeks
2 large carrots
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
2 bay leaves
1/2 medium cauliflower (3 cups florets)
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
1/4 fennel OR dill seed
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1 teaspoon arrowroot or cornstarch
2 tablespoons chicken broth or water

Wash, trim, and slice the leeks into 1" pieces. Rinse them again and drain them well. Peel and trim the carrots, and cut them into thin slices lengthwise, then into 1" pieces.

Put the butter, chicken broth, and bay leaves into a goodish sized pot. Add the leeks and carrots, and bring up to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, wash and trim the cauliflower, and cut or break it into florets. Grind the celery seed and fennel or dill seed together and mix with the salt and pepper. Mix the paprika, arrowroot or cornstarch and broth or water in another little bowl.

After the leeks and carrots have cooked for 10 minutes, add the cauliflower and the mixed seasonings. Cover and cook for 5 to 7 minutes more, until the cauliflower is done to your liking. Stir once or twice. Just one minute before the cauliflower is done, stir in the paprika and starch mixture. Cook for another minute or so, stirring constantly, until the remaining cooking liquid (there shouldn't be too much by this time) thickens slightly. Turn out into a serving dish and remove and discard the bay leaves. Serve at once.

Last year at this time I made Sausage or Ham & Cheese Eggplant Casserole. Staaaaale bread! Get'cher staaaaale bread here!

Friday, 13 October 2017

Kohlrabi Soup

We enjoyed this soup very much. For once we are getting a good crop of kohlrabies - they seem to be one of the few vegetables in our garden to do well in this cool, rainy summer.

Mum came over and helped us eat this. She commented that her vegetable soups always seem to come out bland but this one had lots of flavour. That is a hazard with vegetable soups, and the solution is pretty simple: sharpen it up. Be sure to use enough salt - the amount of salt a pot of soup will absorb is a little disconcerting, but you are really going to miss it if it is not there. Ginger adds another shot of sharpness, and so does the vinegar. You don't really notice any of these flavours particularly when you are eating the soup, but now the vegetables sing together instead of sitting there in sullen silence.

6 to 8 servings
1 hour - 45 minutes prep time

Kohlrabi Vegetable Soup

1 medium carrot
1 stalk of celery
2 medium onions
3 medium or 2 large kohlrabies
1/4 cup unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon rubbed savory
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 cups unsalted chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Peel and grate the carrot. Wash, trim, and chop the celery. Peel and chop the onions. Trim the greens off the kohlrabies and set them aside. Peel the kohlrabies and grate them - it is easiest if you leave a little of the stem/peel at one end to give you a handle.

Heat the butter in a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the chopped and grated vegetables and cook gently, stirring occasionally, until softened and reduced in volume considerably.

Sprinkle the flour and seasonings  over the vegetables and mix in well. Cook for another 5 minutes or so, stirring regularly to prevent it from sticking. At this point, begin mixing the stock in slowly, stirring between each addition to avoid letting the flour form lumps. Once it is all in, mix in the apple cider vinegar.

If you wish - and unless your greens are in very poor condition you probably do - discard any bad or tough leaves and stems from the greens, and wash and chop the remainder very finely. Add them to the soup. 

Let the soup simmer, stirring occasionally, for another 10 or 15 minutes before serving. Check and add a bit more salt if needed first.

Last year at this time I made Chicken in Roasted Red Pepper Sauce.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Pasta & Broccoli with Goat Cheese & Croutons

I've done this simple pasta sauce of thinned goat cheese before. It really is so convenient for a quick and simple meal. The toasted bread crumbs/cubes add some delightful crunch and keep the dish from being too mooshy. Also more stale bread - the saga continues!

Two people will eat all of this as a meal; as a starter pasta course it will go twice as far.

We are actually getting a little broccoli in the garden this year. Amazing. 

2 to 4 servings

Pasta & Broccoli with Goat Cheese & Croutons

1 head (3 cups) broccoli, in florets
250 grams (1/2 pound) pasta
2 or 3 slices stale French or Italian style bread
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cloves of garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon rubbed basil
150 grams (5 ounces) soft chevre (goat cheese)
1/4 to 1/3 cup rich milk or light cream

Wash and trim the broccoli and cut it into florets. 

Put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta, and salt it generously when it boils. Cook the pasta according to the instruction until done. Add the broccoli when the pasta has about 5 minutes left to cook.

Meanwhile, cut the bread into small cubes or crumble it into large crumbs. Heat the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat and add the bread. Toss it well to get the butter coating it as evenly as possible.

Peel and mince the garlic finely, and add it with the salt, pepper, and basil to the bread cubes. Continue to cook them gently, stirring regularly, until they are crisp and golden brown. If they are done before the pasta and broccoli turn them out onto a plate to wait. Not too likely though; they should be done at about the same time.

When the pasta and broccoli are done, drain them well. Put the empty pot back on the stove and add the chevre and the milk or cream. Mix well, breaking up the cheese, to form a smooth sauce. Add the pasta and broccoli back into it and toss well. Arrange the pasta in a serving bowl or on individual plates and sprinkle the toasted bread bits over it.

Last year at this time I made Alu Gobi.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Watermelon Projects Update for the Year

Hey, it's the moment I've been waiting for, and you all get to hear about it. Lucky you! It's time to assess our watermelon breeding projects. So how did things go?

To sum up, the phrase of the year is "Thinning the herd." Yeah. Like that.

On the other hand, if we think we are breeding watermelons for lousy Canadian summers I guess we have to have some lousy Canadian summers in order to test how things are going. And in spite of my griping, I do feel like we continue to make some good progress.

In the picture above, you can see some melons from our golden-when-ripe project. From the picture you would get the impression we got a good number of melons, none very large and few yellow when ripe. That would be accurate.

On the bright side, the first 2 melons to ripen did turn yellow when ripe, and they achieved a very decent size. They are at least half siblings if not siblings (most of our melons are still within the range of second cousins once removed, if not more closely related, but at this point I'm mostly not keeping track).

Melon GR001-0904 came in at 1.181 kg, and melon GR002-0906 weighed .846 kg. I regret to say that melon GR002-0906 tasted a bit better and was a bit less seedy. However they both compare favourably to last year's GR001-0825, which was the largest of the year and weighed .82 kg.

The interior of GR001-0904. We seemed to have some problems with incomplete fertilization but there are enough seeds to go on with.

Last year was a much better year for growing watermelons so I am very happy about the increased size I am seeing in these 2 melons as well as in general this year. Both of these will supply seeds for next year.

We planted a few plants of the original Golden Midget. We only got 3 Golden Midget fruits, of which 2 are seen above in the back row. The third one rotted on the plant and would have been smaller than either of the two I picked. Note the weights: at approximately half a pound each they are very unimpressive. Even our also-rans are coming in larger than that, for the most part.

I don't seem to have that melon at .405 kg recorded. I guess it wasn't great and I didn't bother to keep seeds or number it. The little green one is GR004-0923. Not very big and not golden rinded, but one of only a few melons to score an 8 out of 10 for flavour. I might plant a few seeds from it next year. I don't want tiny melons, but if we are going to have them, I want ones that taste good. But I still have to think about it. There were 3 other larger melons that scored an 8 too and would perhaps be better candidates.

This is GR006-0926. It did not turn yellow when ripe, although the rind is naturally fairly yellow. At 2.05 kg this was our second-largest melon from this project and the only large melon to score an 8 out of 10 for flavour. It's in, for sure.

Seeds were a little on the pale side, as was the flesh, but not awful, and the rind was nice and thin.

The next melon of interest was GR010-1002. Again, it didn't turn yellow when ripe, but size was within the desired range.

The seeds were paler than I like and so was the flesh, the rind was not as thin as some, but okay. Flavour scored an 8 though - one of the best, so it is probably in next year too.

This was in some ways the most interesting melon of the year. GR011-1003 came up as a volunteer in what became a strawberry bed this year. It was our only volunteer melon this year and it got started a fair bit later than any of the ones we planted out. As soon as I saw the first female flower I started basting it with pollen from the set of plants that produced GR001-0904 and GR002-0906. Although this one did not turn yellow when ripe, it carries the gene, so I have very high hopes that it will have yellow offspring since it is crossed with yellow ripening melons. 

In spite of its late start it became our largest melon of this project for the year. We will be planting lots of seeds from this one. 

Alas, it only scored a 6 for flavour. I'm hoping that it had potential for better flavour, but was cut a little short by the vine dying before it was completely ripe. The texture was excellent, the rind was nice and thin, and the small black seeds were plentiful but not ridiculously so. 

Overall, my hope is that next  year we will get enough large, sweet and tasty, yellow when ripe melons to stop planting ones that turn out to have green rinds. We are definitely getting closer to having the size/colour/flavour we want in individual melons, but for this year we are still in the stage where we have to accept melons that have 2 out of 3 of those characteristics. Progress is definitely happening though!

Our other project, crossing Orangeglo with Sweet Siberian for a larger, tastier, orange fleshed melons did not apparently go so well, but I am reasonably pleased nevertheless. 

We only got 4 melons ranging from 2.148 kg to 3.745 kg, which is what I would consider our target size. There are a few other melons at smaller sizes under consideration, but these 4 form the core of what we will be moving forward with. PJ003-0922, shown above, was our second largest of this group and shows a typical shape. They varied from green netted to having various stripes. I prefer the striped rind, but we are not yet to the stage of fussing about that by any means.

PJ001-0916 started off the project looking hopeful. It grew down at the end of the bed where we had left some lettuce to go to seed as well as planting our squash, and it was the only melon produced down there as the watermelon vines got rather smothered. The colour is not exactly what we wanted, but reasonably close. It got very badly fertilized and there are hardly any viable seeds, (but a few) and it did not come out mis-shapen which often happens with incomplete fertilization, so that's good. Again, rind is somewhat annoyingly thick. Scored a solid 7.5 for flavour and we noted it as "very sweet". Size was an acceptable 2.362 kg.

PJ002-0921 was a bit dismaying to open. Seed colour is good, but the flesh is way paler than we want. Flavour was an acceptable but not thrilling 7 out of 10. The seeds were small and the rind was not too thick, although it's hard to tell because it blended in with the flesh so much. At 2.148 kg it was one of the smaller of the big-enough melons. We may decide not to replant from this one.

Well so much for orange flesh. This is PJ003-0922. I might have thought that it picked up some pollen from the other watermelon project given the red flesh, but the size, the shape, the rind pattern and the seed colour all suggest that no, this is the offpring of Orangeglow and Sweet Siberian. Watermelon flesh colour genes are numerous and their interactions are complex. We are not throwing this one out of the project yet, even though it is not the colour we are looking for. For one thing, it was the only one of this group to score an 8 for flavour. At 2.783 kg it was also our second largest melon of this set.

Like most of the melons from this group this year, the rind is sturdy (good) but thicker than I like. Again though, I don't think we are at the stage of worrying about that particularly.

PJ006-0930 came the closest of the large melons to having the colour we want. At 3.745 kg it is also notably the largest melon of this group. Flavour was a just barely acceptable 6 though, and the texture was okay but not great. Still, I think it will get planted next year just for the colour and size.

I broke these 2 runts open in the garden expecting to discard them but curious about them. Imagine my annoyance to discover that they were the orange colour we are looking for. I gave the larger of the two a taste, and it was surprisingly good although I didn't formally rate it. Since one of the problems with Orangeglo is that smaller specimens fail to develop good flavour, I saved seeds from it. The tasty-when-small characteristic is one we definitely want to have. It is now known as PJ005-0928 and its seeds will likely go into the ground next spring. It weighed in at a laughable .645 kg.

There are a few melons from the orange fleshed project still to open and assess. None are as small as PJ005-0928 and if I find one or two that I think just as well flavoured and with the same orange flesh, it may get bumped by them. But in general, we have our candidates. I'd say most of the qualities we are looking for in this project are here, they are just not combined into one melon. Still, we'll stir them  up and plant them out, and hope for better luck next year.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Roasted Peppers in Cream

I found some nice big Red Shepherd peppers at the grocery store - somebody seems to be getting some peppers this year I'm happy to say - and I mixed them with a few hot Hungarian Banana peppers that I had on hand, also red, the better to lull eaters into complacency and then have them say, "Wow!" But use your discretion - you need to have diners who like that kind of thing.

I think red peppers are the best for this, but it might be nice to mix in some yellow ones too. Green would not be my choice except I think this might be very good with green Poblano (Ancho) peppers. What I would avoid in any colour are Bell peppers, which apart from having a tendency to cause indigestion, are just not very interesting peppers in my opinion. They are thick walled enough to work, though. Cubanelles, like the Hungarian Banana peppers, would be a little thin walled but could be okay. 

Other than that, not too much to say about this. It's peppers. In cream. And yes I'm afraid that prep time is right. Most of it will be taken up with broiling and preparing the peppers, which is a remarkably slow and tedious job. The one good thing is that it can be done ahead of time at your leisure.

I don't  think this quite cuts it as a main course in and of itself, but it's pretty rich so I suggest serving it with fairly plainly cooked fish or chicken, or perhaps a second substantial vegetarian dish.

2 to 4 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 45 minutes prep time

Roasted Peppers in Cream

Make the Sauce:
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup 10% cream

Grind the fennel and pepper together. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, and add the flour, salt, and ground spices. Cook, stirring, until pasty and bubbling throughout; a minute or two. Reduce the heat and gradually stir in the cream to form a smooth sauce. Cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens (just a few minutes) then remove from the heat.

Roast the Peppers:
1 kg (2 pounds) long peppers (see above)

Wash the peppers and put them under the broiler, just a few inches away. Broil them until the skins start to char. Turn them frequently to char them as evenly as possible. As they become charred all over, remove them to a bowl or other dish that can be covered. Once they are all in, cover and let cool, at least enough to handle. This can be done up to a day in advance.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Pull out the stems and cores of the peppers, removing all the seeds. Peel off the skins. It can be helpful to rinse the peppers under cold water to remove the last bits. Cut the peppers into strips or chunks and lay 2/3 of them in a lightly oiled baking dish that will hold them in a single layer but fairly snugly.

Pour the sauce evenly over them, and gently press the remaining pepper pieces down into it, so they don't stick out but can be seen on top of the sauce. 

Bake the peppers for about 45 minutes, until the sauce is browning slightly on top.

Last year at this time I made Branstonesque Pickle.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Taco Joes

Sloppy Joes started life as Ropa Vieja served on a bun, in a bar in Havana called - surprise - Sloppy Joe's.  It seems more like Picadillo to me, but whatever.  For some reason it got picked up by mainstream American cooking in the 1950s, where it was stripped down to be pretty plain (and let's face it, pretty dull). It's an awfully quick and convenient dish to make though, and this spin off towards Mexican flavours makes it interesting again.

If you expect this to really have Mexican flavours, you will need to use Mexican peppers and chile powder. Anchos would be my first choice for the fresh peppers, and chipotle powder (or add some tinned chipotle to the meat later instead) would work well for the chile powder. But if you cannot find those, any other will be nice, just not necessarily very Mexican. 

I've listed quite a few toppings for this; you don't have to use all of them, just a good selection. I realized afterwards that I had intended to put cheese on them, but it somehow didn't happen when the time came. I can't say we missed it terribly, but I do think if you don't have the cheese you want the sour cream, and vice versa. You could also omit the meat and double the beans for a vegetarian version.

4 servings
40 minutes prep time

Make the Spice Mixture:
2 teaspoons cumin seed
3 teaspoons rubbed oregano
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sweet Hungarian paprika
1/8 to 1 teaspoon hot chile powder

Grind the cumin seed and mix the remaining ingredients. Yes, that last measurement means "however much you like and also it depends". As always when dealing with hot chiles.

Make the Taco Joe Filling:
1 large onion
3 or 4 cloves of garlic
1 or 2 peppers, preferably Anchos or similar
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
500 grams (1 pound) ground beef
2 cups cooked pinto or kidney beans
2 cups tomato sauce
1 cup water

Peel and chop the onion. Peel and mince the garlic. Wash, de-stem and de-seed the peppers. Chop them in pieces about the same size as the onion.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and peppers, and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and slightly browned. Add the ground beef, breaking it up into small bits, and cook, stirring, until no pink is left. Add the garlic and spice mixture, and cook for a minute or two more. Mix in the beans.

Add the tomato sauce and water, and simmer until everything is nicely amalgamated and the sauce is "sloppy"; neither too wet nor too dry. You can add a little more water (or tomato sauce) if you need to.

Assemble the Taco Joes:
1 cup grated old Cheddar or other cheese
1 large tomato, peeled and chopped
1 large avocado, peeled and chopped
6 medium radishes
1 cup of washed and chopped lettuce
1/2 cup of washed and chopped cilantro
1/2 cup sour cream
4 hamburger buns

Grate the cheese. Blanch for 1 minute and peel (if you are so inclined) the tomato. Cut the avocado in half and remove the pit; peel and dice the flesh. Wash, trim and chop the radishes. Wash, dry, and chop the lettuce and cilantro. Put all these in separate little bowl (you can mix the lettuce and cilantro if you like) as well as the sour cream.

Toast the buns and top each of them with 1/4 of the Taco Joe filling. Let each diner add the toppings according to their wishes.

Last year at this time I made Dirty Kasha.