{ Archive for the ‘food’ Category }

Garden project: Cocktail toppers

Wouldn’t you like to make these DIY herb ring drink toppers created by the talented staff at Terrain. Using sprigs from your windowsill herb garden, you can easily fashion these to grace your winter cocktails.

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Gardening resolutions for 2014

The new year is upon us, and goal setting comes to mind — though for me, what mostly comes to mind is all the past resolutions I’ve made and then abandoned by the following January 6th. As a result of the ensuing guilt, I have actually resolved to reject resolutions of the New Year kind. I tend to set some goals at the beginning of the school year, as that is a fresh start for me more than this time of year, and sometimes my birthday gets me thinking about them.

But I have come up with a list of gardening resolutions for this year. With it being winter and all, and the actual implementation of these goals is safely located in the hazy future, it seems like a good time to commit myself to unlikely outcomes.

So here it goes.

1. I declare serious war on my weeds. Quackgrass? I’m looking at you. I am stockpiling cardboard for smothering and investing in a wholelota black plastic. I realize I’ll never eradicate weeds — they’re a fact of life, especially in my agricultural location — but I’m getting the upper hand this season. You can come and hear all about my strategies at the Calgary Horticultural Society Garden Show this spring.

2. I’m pretty good already at growing what we eat, and eating what we grow. But this year I want to grow a little extra and take it to the local food bank. Most food banks and soup kitchens appreciate this kind of donation; check with one close to you or visit Plant a Row, Grow a Row.

3. I promise to put in an apple tree this spring. I’ve been talking about it for years, I have the spot and the cultivar chosen, I’ve just got to do it. Trees need years to get established, so it’s worth putting money into them early. I know this. I have practised this. But I have been nervous about the apple because of the tricky weather we have–unpredictable frosts, winter thaws, high winds. It’s time to cross my fingers and plant.

4. Finally, I’d like to try growing sweet potatoes this year.

Pretty reasonable list, right? We’ll see how reasonable it feels come, oh, May long weekend. But now that I’ve voiced these goals to the internet world, I’m accountable. No chance to forget these like a well intentioned gym membership.

I think a garden exploded in my kitchen

Ah, the beautiful, bountiful, overwhelming grasp of harvest time.

It began, for us, when a neighbour begged us to come take the last of her ever-bearing strawberries (and some runners while we were at it). Then the squash arrived from another neighbour, along with some overgrown cucumbers, which I quickly dispatched into relish.

Then came the apples. And more cucumbers.

Pickles and applesauce waiting to happen.

Then I brought in beets, and more zucchini–which I thought I was staying on top off but apparently wasn’t– and look! Tomatoes, which I thought hated me, are growing for me this year in abundance.

 

Oh, did I forget to mention I have four cases of pears ripening slowly in the corner? Well, I do.

She loves 'em, but even she can't eat them all.

The canning jars are filling and the dehydrator is running.

Tomorrow, I’m picking chokecherries and my four cases of peaches arrive.

I need my head examined.

 

 

 

 

Ever heard of a huckleberry?

Other than the famous Finn, I had never heard of a huckleberry until I moved to southern Alberta. Apparently it’s an appellation given to many small fruits, Solanum melanocerasum (garden huckleberry) being one of the more common (a cousin to tomatoes and potatoes). However, if you hear ‘huckleberry’ around these parts, chances are it’s not the nightshade that’s being referred to, but one of the Vaccinium species which grow wild here.

I had not so much as even tasted a huckleberry when my friend Tina invited me to come picking with her at the Castle Mountain Huckleberry Festival. Yes, an entire festival for huckleberries. I had no idea.

They look a lot like blueberries, but taste more like a saskatoon. (And you need to know what those are too.)

It’s held at the local ski hill, with music, food, the whole deal. They even sell lift tickets so you can pick from the top of the mountain all the way down.

Say hi Tina! The reddish foliage you can see are the huckleberry bushes.

Part of our haul. We baked them up in a fruit crisp, which disappeared too quickly for me to take pictures.

We heard from other more seasoned pickers that the crop was not as plentiful this year as most, but we still had a good time. It’s got me thinking about growing some Solanum melanocerasum to see how they compare, and so I could have them right here without the trip and the hike. But at the same time, isn’t the hunt part of the fun?

 

 

Zucchini “pizza” three ways

It seems if I walk away from my garden for five minutes, another zucchini will appear. My plants are very happy this year. There was no room for them in my veggie gardens, so I had to find other spots with ample space. Two I plunked in an ornamental garden beside a peony and a butterfly bush. The other two are in a new garden off my garage that has lots of sun. The soil is terrible (and full of bindweed), but I started amending it this spring with compost (and I have to weed every few days to prevent my plants from being strangled). Needless to say, both locations are producing equal amounts of zucchini.

As I started my attempt to eat through my haul (sharing some of it with friends, family and neighbours, of course), I remembered a photo someone posted to Facebook (or was it Pinterest?) last year. It was a recipe for zucchini pizza. My google search turned up a few recipes that involved the oven, but I wanted to barbecue, so I made these up. Descriptions for each are in the captions below.

The first ones I made as a side dish because I didn't know how they'd turn out. I sliced open the zucchini and hollowed out each half to remove the seeds. Then I spread tomato sauce, and sprinkled chopped peppers and cheese on top. They were delicious!

My husband wondered how they'd taste with taco meat, so that was our next zucchini meal. I fried up ground beef with taco seasoning while we barbecued the zucchini for about 20 minutes (after experimenting, I prefer to lay them on foil to prevent the skins from charring). I brought out the meat and again sprinkled cheddar and peppers on top, letting it cook for another 10 minutes. We ate it with sour cream and salsa. Perfection.

Last night, we barbecued chicken and then added the slices to the barbecuing zucchinis with red onion, peppers and goat cheese. I drizzled balsamic vinegar overtop as they cooked. Another winner!

Strawberry season takes over my kitchen

We have either eaten or processed four flats of strawberries and one of blueberries in the last two days. As much as I wish I had grown all that myself, alas, it is not so; one day I will go there, but it is not today. I ordered them from a grower.

I picked them up Monday afternoon, and realized what I had done to myself. See, when I say ‘flat’ of berries, I’m not talking about the plastic tubs from the grocery store, I’m talking about the big cardboard trays that hold twelve dry pints. When I ordered them, it seemed like a very reasonable amount for what I wanted in my pantry and freezer for the year; when I actually saw them, all I could think was, That’s a lot of berries.

Monday night we froze most of the blueberries. That goes pretty fast: just sort, rinse, and bag.We saved a pint for Tuesday breakfast and ate about another while we worked.

Tuesday morning we tackled the strawberries. We washed, we topped, we sliced. We sliced some more.

The whole gang pitching in!

We picked the last of the rhubarb from the garden and chopped that up too to make strawberry rhubarb jam.

I like to use half strawberries/half rhubarb (my rhubarb is a sweeter variety) and use about 5 cups sugar to every 6-7 cups of fruit. After it's cooked down a little, I use an immersion blender to get even texture, then skim the foam. I then add a little box of strawberry gelatin, bottle and process.

Twelve pints later, we decided to freeze the rest (those that hadn’t already made it into the oatmeal, into Monday’s dessert, or into our mouths) before they could spoil.

Then…

We did dishes.

 

 

Things I never knew would sprout

Here in Alberta, we’re still willing away the last of our snow, and most of my growing (other than daffodils) is happening on the kitchen counter top.

This is my “jungle”–a couple of tomatoes and peppers waiting for summer, a lemon verbena, a poinsettia I am attempting to hold over the season, a spider plant baby sprouting roots in a glass of water, a mossy saxifrage (that may be my new favorite ground cover, picture below), an overgrown pot of philodendron (known lovingly as “Dagobah” a Pulsatilla vulgaris (crocus), some alfalfa and radish sprouts, and that little greenness bottom left is the wonder of the week: Romaine lettuce.

I’ve been sprouting philodendron leaves and spider plant babies for years, and edible sprouts are a staple at my house. And I’ve heard of people trying to sprout avocado seeds or pineapple tops, with mixed results. But I never knew you could get lettuce crowns to sprout year round on your counter top! One of the instructors of the gardening class I am taking showed me how. Instead of tossing the lettuce ends in the compost, place them in water. Change the water daily, and you’ll get more lettuce! (And fast, too: the largest one there is about four days growth.) You can keep them going in water or you can pot them up. I potted mine up today.

This totally makes sense when you think about it; I ‘cut and come again’ my garden lettuce and green onions all the time; I just never thought to do it with my store bought stuff through the winter.

Next on the list of things to try: celery and lemongrass.

Mossy Saxifrage, “Pixie”. Isn’t she lovely?

What to do with zucchini-shaped bounty

A friend recently posted on her Facebook: “Anyone who wants zucchini, come and get it. I have lots.”

I wanted to post back–but didn’t–”I’ll come get some of yours if you come get some of mine.”

Let the jokes, jibes, and ring-and-run deposits begin.

But for all the groans about its proliferious growth and size, zucchini is a great vegetable. No, really. I mean it. I’m not being sarcastic at all. It’s got next to no saturated fat, cholesterol, or sodium, but chock full of good stuffs like minerals, vitamins, and dietary fibre. It fills you up quick and takes on the flavour of whatever it’s cooked with, so it’s great for stretching out meals.

But, dang it all, you’ve got to eat that stuff almost constantly to keep up with it when you convince yourself every year that six plants will be about right. (Next year, I SWEAR, I will only have two.) I have tried slicing, blanching, and freezing it, as well as drying it to add to soups and such, both with marginal results. (The exception: shredded it holds up well enough for baking.)

It really is best fresh, that’s all there is to it. And it’s best picked early. Tiny baby zucchini 3-5 inches long tossed in a salad are just lovely, prime 8-12 inch squash are ideal for most other uses. If you see one this size, pick it now. Really. If you leave it, thinking to return at supper time to prepare it, it may have gained 5 inches. Do not turn your back.

In the event you end up with some oversized specimens, do not despair. You can peel them, core them, and shred the remaining flesh for quick breads (or the lovely marmalade included below). I also like to split them lengthwise, core them, and lay the halves on a baking sheet to receive fillings of almost any kind (ground beef and mushroom soup is a stupidly easy one). Throw it in the oven for 45 minutes or so, sprinkle with cheese, and dinner is served.

Not that there is a lack of zucchini recipes out there, but here’s a few more ideas I personally endorse (being quite experienced at getting rid of this stuff):

-add it to chilli, minestrone, spaghetti sauce, lasagne, taco filling even, sliced, shredded, or pureed, depending on preference or how sneaky you are trying to be.

-As a side dish, zucchini pairs nicely with carrots and baby onions. Steam and toss with a little butter, dill, and rosemary. Or try tossing slices or wedges with an equal amount of similarly chopped tomatoes and roasting them. Serve sprinkled with mozzarella or Jack cheese.

-If you like sautéed onions with your steak, add some mushrooms and zucchini too. Don’t forget the pepper.

-Grill zucchini strips and red, yellow, and green pepper strips that have been tossed with olive oil, garlic, oregano and thyme. About 15 minutes will do. Serve over Caesar salad.

-Quick breads hide zucchini very well. Recipes for brownies and spice-type cakes abound, but this is my favourite as it is a little less sinful but still feels like a treat. My kids know these just as “chocolate muffins”. Insert mad-genius laughter here.

3/4 cup butter or margarine

3/4 cup applesauce

1 cup white sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup plain yogurt

3/4 cup cocoa powder

2 1/2 cups flour (I use half white, half whole wheat)

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 cups grated zucchini

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Beat together first 5 ingredients until light and creamy. Add the yogurt and cocoa powder and beat until smooth. Stir in remaining ingredients except zucchini until just combined, then fold in the zucchini. Fill muffin cups, and bake 25 minutes. Nutella is the perfect topping. But that kind of goes without saying, doesn’t it? Makes 20-24 muffins.

 

-Zucchini Marmalade

This is an old recipe from Chris’ grandmother that has stood the test of time. I’m not that crazy about marmalade, but I love this.

Put 5 firmly packed cups peeled, grated zucchini in a heavy pot. Add the juice and grated or finely chopped rind from 2 oranges and 1 lemon, 1 small can of crushed pineapple (drained), and 5 cups white sugar. Bring slowly to a low boil, and cook until thick, stirring often. Pour into hot, sterilized jars, and process for 10 minutes to seal (or just stick them in the fridge). Makes about 5 500mL jars.

The elusive white asparagus

On a high school trip to France, I spent a few days in Lyon, billeted by a local family. My first night at the dinner table, I was passed a plate of what looked like thick, albino asparagus. I had never seen such a thing! I don’t recall being much of a vegetable eater back then, but I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, so I put a couple on my plate. I tentatively tasted a small bite, worried that I’d hate it. But I didn’t. It was delicious, even though it was served cold—and it would be years before I’d get another taste.

Just as we anticipate the green asparagus season here in Ontario, Europeans await the spring window when white asparagus becomes available. My mom and I recently travelled to the south of Holland (to visit Floriade), Brussels and Dusseldorf where white asparagus season was in full swing.

At Floriade, there was a whole exhibit devoted to growing white asparagus (and preparing it)—with samples! My mom and I chatted up the sample lady, who was representing Teboza, a Dutch company that specializes in asparagus cultivation and research. Our little cup of peeled, boiled and buttered white asparagus was so delicious we vowed we’d find a restaurant that served it before our trip was over.

Opportunity knocked at Brasserie du Jaloa in Brussels, where a prix fixe menu offered white asparagus as an appetizer. Sold! I think the waiter thought my mom and I were crazy because we were so excited about it. And we weren’t disappointed. We each got four juicy stalks, covered in fresh herbs and egg salad. I know that sounds a little weird, but it all worked together! It was so incredibly delicious.

I love green asparagus season and I always get my fill of local stalks each spring. White asparagus, however, is like the Polkaroo. Some supermarkets have started to carry it, but it’s still rather elusive. Even the Canadian Food Inspection Agency doesn’t have grade standards for white asparagus. A little Google search turned up a couple of Ontario growers: Mazak Farms in St. Thomas and Janssen Produce & Specialties Inc. in Simcoe. Perhaps a little road trip is in order once the asparagus is ready sometime in May!

Are you able to find white asparagus where you live? And does anyone know why white asparagus is not more popular here in Canada?

White asparagus at Floriade. Apparently the small ones are more tender and considered restaurant-grade.

Success! We finally found white asparagus at Brasserie du Jaloa in Brussels, Belgium.

White asparagus is so popular, they make it in chocolate form, as seen here at a department store in Dusseldorf, Germany.

Residual Income

They say one sure-fire way to really get ahead financially is residual income: get something done that will continue to earn you money even when you have moved on to the next project. Like writing a bestselling novel or Top 40 hit and letting the royalties roll in while you focus on the next masterpiece. Or getting paid every time your movie reruns on TV, or dividends from investments, or a share of the profits from the well you let the oil guys dig in your back yard.

None of which have happened for me. Nor am I getting into network marketing: been there, done that, not going there again, thank you very much. But I did get a pretty sweet payoff this spring from some long forgotten work.

I’d been craving something fresh to eat, like not-from-the-grocery-store’s-cold-storage fresh, like peas or radishes straight out of the ground, but I knew they’d still be a few weeks away, at least. Just as a began to grumble, I remembered I had actually done something about this annual hankering: I planted parsnips last year! So out I went to the sleeping veggie patch with my dearly missed garden fork, moved aside some leaf-filled garbage bags, and dug in. Guess what? There they were!

I steamed some that very night, with just a bit of butter and nutmeg. Oh. My. Everything I’d been hoping for.

We’ve had three meals with parsnips, and there’s enough still in the ground for a couple more. Plus the spinach and lettuce planted in the cold frame one mild February day should almost be big enough to start doing their job in my kitchen.

It almost feels like cheating, getting fresh veggies out of the ground this early, but you better believe I’m doing parsnips again, and leeks this year too. I’m happy to do a little more work this spring. This kind of residual income is almost as good as money in the bank.

Almost.

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