{ Archive for the ‘food’ Category }

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.

Rethinking how we do food

Here’s a news article that caught my attention this weekend: a Dutch architectural firm has plans to construct a supermarket in Rotterdam where everything is grown on site, from avocados to fish. An interesting take on the concept of urban farming, it’s intended to be totally sustainable, and save all kinds of resources (including money) because of the virtual elimination of packaging and transport, as well as providing public green space.

Ambitious? Oh yeah. Will it actually happen? We’ll see.

But beyond the possibility and plausibility, what I love about the idea (and I don’t love everything) is that it’s another attempt to think outside the box and recreate our food system. We’ve hit 7 billion humans on the planet now, and it’s going to take some creativity to feed them all. Big scale projects like the Rotterdam supermarket, high-rise greenhouses in our downtowns, and stashing heirloom seeds in Scandinavian caves are likely going to be key to making a real difference, but it gets me thinking about all the things each of us can do to make our personal load on the system as light as possible.

People do try to grow everything we are accustomed to eating on their own land, though few of us have the space, time, resources, or motivation to pull it off. Nor is it always terribly efficient. But, in your own yard, is there a vegetable or two you love that could cozy up with your prize perennials? Do you really need all that lawn? Or even like taking care of it? Why are our public parks full of ornamental trees and annual flowers? Why aren’t there apple trees and annual vegetables in the mix? Would it be more maintenance? Could the food be harvested by food banks and soup kitchens?

Okay, I know, I’m a new-age hippie who wants to save the world. Maybe I’m crazy. But how about just letting some of these ideas settle in the back of your brain for the winter? Think about it as you daydream about planting for next year. Keep it in mind when your community is looking for projects. Maybe you’ve got a little save-the-world streak too.

Cabbage, and that sense of accomplishment

With the first of the frost warnings bearing down on me, I’m in the mood for some warm comfort food. Especially if it’s made with — ahem — the first cabbage I have ever grown! Ta da! Not that cabbages are tricky, I’ve just never grown them before, and I must say, they are very satisfying and quite beautiful. I came into the house holding my lovely green prize (with only one slug hole apparent) and presented it to Chris, gushing, “Look what I made!” He was suitably impressed.

Here's a lovely red one that should be ready soon.

But then I actually turned it into supper the next day. There’s something really fulfilling about that. If you’ve never grown food, please try it. (You can sign up for the Seed to Supper newsletter, too.)

So the supper I turned my wonderful Brassica into was cabbage rolls. I’m not classically trained in the art, but I love them, especially if it involves as little work as this recipe does. I’d be sorely tempted to eat the whole pan myself if it weren’t for the… consequences…

LAZY MAN’S CABBAGE ROLLS

Serves 6

1 pound (500 g) ground beef
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 cans (10 oz./284 mL each) tomato soup
2 cups (500 mL) water
1 cup (250 mL) long grain rice
1 teaspoon (5 mL) chicken or beef bouillon mix
1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) freshly ground pepper
1/8 teaspoon (0.5 mL) cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon (0.5 mL) nutmeg
1/2 green cabbage, chopped (or 6 cups (1.5 L)coleslaw mix)
sour cream for serving

Brown beef, onions, and garlic over medium heat about 7 to 10 minutes, stirring to break up meat. (Use oil if needed.) Drain off any excess fat.

Stir in next 8 ingredients (tomato sauce through nutmeg). Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes.

Sprinkle half of cabbage over bottom of a greased 9 x 13 inch baking dish.

Spoon half of beef mixture over top and spread evenly. Sprinkle with remaining cabbage.

Spread remaining beef mixture over top. Bake, covered, at 350 F (170 C) for 1 1/2 hours or until bubbly and heated through.

Serve with sour cream. Really. I don’t care if you’re on a diet, it’s required.

A taste of spring

I love watching the birds come back, and the blooming bulbs defying all logic, and turning the soil for new plantings, but really, at the end of the day, spring usually comes back to my stomach.

Radishes. Parsnips. Asparagus. Peas and lettuce and spinach. There’s something about stepping out your door and finding something to eat; something liberating about being independent of the grocery store for tonight’s meal, something energizing about knowing you are eating food that was growing ten minutes ago, growing because of you. This is a huge part of the joy of summer for me: several glorious weeks of choosing my menu based on what’s in the backyard.

Not that I’m quite there. All we can eat right now is some lettuce and spinach I overwintered last fall, making for some very early and no-care salad. I planted the radishes kind of late, but really, at 20-50 days maturity, we won’t be waiting long. Though the peas aren’t here yet, I already have a smile on my face thinking about eating them right off the vine with the kids after a good weeding session.

What we should be harvesting is asparagus. We had store bought for dinner last night. My asparagus patch is dead. The short version of the story: my pregnant brain thought it was a great idea to dig up and relocate the whole patch in late September 2009. Don’t say a word, you.

I crossed my not-so-green thumbs last season that it would come up, but no dice. I planted new crowns yesterday, digging deep with lots of sheep manure so as not to be responsible for any more death. I’ll have to wait at least until next year to enjoy them, but trust me, your own asparagus is well worth the wait, and once it’s established, is pretty self sufficient. I planted parsnips for the first time too, another be-patient vegetable, that will be wonderful to anticipate this winter.

So though the food hasn’t actually made it to the table, I’m already excited about all the springtime bounty. There’s lovage and sage and lavender, broccoli and kale in the cold frame, onions and garlic and chives, rhubarb waiting to be pie… and just imagine the strawberries…

My asparagus before I destroyed it

From seed to sprout to… cold frame?

Despite my seed buying frenzy of February late, I’m not really a seed starter. Most years I just pop a few squash seeds in pots a few weeks early and direct seed the rest of my veggies. Any other flowers, shrubs or trees I want I’ve either had given to me or I’ve bought from the nursery. I’ve had a few ambitious years where I’ve started the odd thing, but that’s hardly normal.

This year I’m bound and determined to really apply some things I’ve learned about seeds. Last week I realized it was almost the full moon, so I got it together and planted:

- tomatoes: ‘Roma V.F.’ and ‘Beefsteak’ for sauce and eating, ‘Tiny Tim’ and ‘Earlianna’ for the kids to snack on in the yard. I’m not very experienced with tomatoes in general, so this is a grand experiment.

- peppers: I found ‘Little Blue‘ because a neighbor grew some last year and they looked so fetching in their pots. Also a ‘California Wonder’ for your basic green pepper.

- broccoli: I’ve never grown broccoli from seed (other than for eating as sprouts) but I came home with a packet on my shopping spree, so here goes another experiment. ‘Green Sprouting’ is what this is; I expect I’ll still buy a few ‘Green Goliath’ or ‘Packman’ plants because I know I like them.

Broccoli babies

Izah labeled this "Tiny Tim" with a strip of styrofoam cut from an egg carton.

They’re all up except the peppers; not a peep from them yet.

I plan to start a few plants of different varieties every couple of weeks, so that, for instance, one batch gets scorched or drowned, I’ll have back up.

The flaw in this plan, of course, is my distinct lack of counter space. I would hate to annoy my wonderful dishwashing husband by eating up all his workspace with flats of baby greens, so the other part of my plan is to build the cold frame I’ve been thinking about building for the last three years. (See the to-do lists piling up? It must be spring!)

I hereby promise to tell you all about my cold frame adventures next week. Maybe that will mean it actually gets done.

Gardening gift of the day: Interesting pickles, jams and jellies

Yup, I said pickles. Let me explain. This past summer, I visited Reford Gardens in Grand-Métis, QC. Partway through our stroll through these amazing gardens along the St. Lawrence River, my little group met up with Alexander Reford. As he took us outside of the visitor area and started to show us some of the things he has in store for the next few years, we ran into chef Pierre-Olivier Ferry and a member of his team plucking blooms for a wedding the next day. I was able to taste some of his culinary magic at lunch in the Estevan Lodge. And as I was leaving, I ducked into the gift shop and grabbed a few jars of the specialty products Pierre-Olivier has started selling. A strawberry and lemon verbena jam was amazing on my summer toast. And this brings me to my next purchase: the pickles. Pierre-Olivier pickles daisy and daylily buds. I brought them to my parents’ house to try with our dinner one night this summer and they are quite delicious! I guess you could compare them to capers, but they’re a bit sweeter – the daylilies are pickled in honey vinegar. They make a unique addition to a salad and are delicious served with fish. Perfect for the foodie gardener on your list!

Price: Prices start at $5 a jar for some of the jellies and go up to $50 for 8 jars from the whole line.
Available at: Order online at the Reford Gardens Online Shop.

Last tasks of the season

On my to-do list for the last few weeks has been an entry reading, “dig beets” followed by an entry reading, “make pickles.” Whenever I see this list, I mentally add the carrots and the onions still in the ground. These are the last things I need to do to put the garden to bed (unless you count my pipe dream of getting around to dividing my tiger lilies). But, as I run around taking the girls to dance and choir, getting everybody to the dentist, doing my part on our local public library board, cleaning the house, chasing the barely-walking baby, and all the other louder demands on my time, the trio of vegetables keep getting shuffled to the next day’s list.

Today I finally got rid of both entries and replaced it with “mulch beets and carrots”. I’ve overwintered carrots in the garden before very successfully. You can leave them all winter and they will go to seed the next year (they’re a biennial, related to parsley), or you can dig them up throughout the winter for fresh eating. They need a heavy mulch for this; I’ve used corn stalks and husks as well as leaves, but small straw bales are ideal as they’re easy to get off and replace when you want to harvest your carrots. Be sure to only dig what you want to eat though; they won’t hold.

I’m going to have to get the onions out, I think. We’ve had a couple of hard frosts this week, so I don’t know if they’ll keep for me (I usually let the tops dry and then braid them and hang them in the pantry). Maybe I’ll try them in my new dehydrator.

As for the beets… you don’t want to have any other commitments when you set out to turn the kitchen red. Maybe next week will be a little quieter. Until then, here’s my F.A.V.O.R.I.T.E beet pickle recipe. Maybe you can get some done.

SWEET PICKLED BEETS

2 pounds whole beets (don’t peel, or top, just trim)

water to cover

1 1/2 cups white vinegar

1/2 beet juice (from boiling the beets, strain to remove any silt)

2 cups white sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1 Tbsp mixed pickling spices (that’s actually what the label calls them), tied in a cotton bag (or cheesecloth)

Cook the beets until tender, then let cool until they can be handled. Slip the skins off and cut up into chunks, placing the chunks into hot, sterilized jars to within 1 inch of the top.

Place the vinegar, sugar, beet juice and salt in a sauce pan. Add spice bag and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and pour over the beets; seal jars. (Here’s tips on processing; at my altitude 10 minutes is good for pints.)

Makes about 4 pints.

Frozen pesto cubes for winter pasta

Last weekend I had a tall, beautiful columnar basil plant (courtesy of President’s Choice) nestled beside my tomato plants (to help their flavour). It was almost up to my waist. Rather than let it go to seed, which hadn’t happened yet thanks to my consistent pruning, I decided to make pesto.

I found an easy pesto recipe online from Whole Foods and then did a little research to see how to preserve it. The easiest way I found was to freeze it in an ice cube tray, wrap it in saran, being sure to let out all the air, and then pop the frozen cubes into a freezer bag (again, letting out all the air). I left out the cheese from the recipe because I wasn’t sure how it would freeze.

Now throughout the winter, when I want to make a quick weeknight meal–say shrimp with brown rice pasta fettuccine–I can just grab a cube or two, let it thaw a little and then stir it in! No more jars of store-bought pesto required.

I’m feeling ambitious about my herb saving, so this weekend I intend to clip some tarragon, oregano, sage and thyme and dry it out. Charmian Christie wrote a great article for the site that I posted this week called 5 ways to preserve your herbs in 5 minutes. If I get the time, I might also try to create some herb-infused vinegars.

I want to learn to carve these flower garnishes for summer dishes!

Before I left for Amsterdam, I learned that my tourism board contacts wanted me to appear in one of a series of videos they’re creating for internal use. One of our shoots was at Puri Mas, an Indonesian restaurant not far from my hotel in the museum district. They wanted to record me being overwhelmed by all the dishes you receive upon ordering their traditional Rijsttafel. In English, Rijsttafel means ‘rice table’ and is an assortment of meat and vegetable dishes in different sauces accompanied by a couple of different kinds of rice. All the hot ones are placed on a type of tray that is heated underneath by candles. And not that anything needed extra flavour, but there were also several edible garnishes, like toasted coconut, spicy potato sticks and a hot sauce called sambel. I slowly ate my way through through each delicious dish, savouring the unique flavours. For dessert, I tried my first jackfruit, the national fruit of Bangladesh. It reminded me a bit of lychees. And while I didn’t necessarily feel overwhelmed by all the food, I was definitely glad for the walk back to the hotel after eating so much! What I wanted to show here was how flowers and gardening were truly the central theme of my trip. My dishes were garnished by flowers carved out of onions and tomatoes!

The actual food shown here was for filming purposes only. Luckily I got to try the real, hot version after!

The actual food shown here was for filming purposes only. Luckily I got to try the real, hot version after!

I'm sure the other restaurant patrons were wondering what was going on!

I'm sure the other restaurant patrons were wondering what was going on!

Dining between the charcuterie and the olives

Two nights ago I attended the launch of A Taste of Ontario, a cookbook jointly published by the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers and Foodland Ontario. The dinner was hosted by Mark McEwan and held at his new 23,000-square-foot grocery store, McEwan (located in The Shops at Don Mills). Between the European-style meat, deli and dessert counters, we sampled some of the delicious recipes conceived by award-winning chef Anthony John Dalupan.

Besides launching this free cookbook (which you can also download as a PDF here), the event was meant to showcase the fresh local produce from Ontario greenhouse growers. And what a difference the lack of distance between your food and your plate can make. I received an amazing basket of vegetables from local greenhouse growers — the taste and quality are amazing!

So in the dead of winter when you're trolling the grocery store for healthy local produce, keep an eye out for greenhouse-grown produce from a local grower.

Also, stay tuned as I will be posting an excerpt from the cookbook on our site!

It was pretty neat eating dinner in a grocery store, especially McEwan - I will definitely be going back to treat myself to some of the amazing cuts of meat, salads and produce!

It was pretty neat eating dinner in a grocery store, especially McEwan - I will definitely be going back to treat myself to some of the amazing cuts of meat, salads and produce!

I'll be cracking open A Taste of Ontario to use up some of these delicious peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes I received!

I'll be cracking open A Taste of Ontario to use up some of these delicious peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes I received!

Pages: Prev 1 2 3 Next