Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Bitchin' in the Kitchen

     It has been a while since I posted anything, too much too keep on top of at the end of summer. A family reunion, lots of fun, over way too fast and did I get pictures, well yes, two actually LOL. Canning apples, crabapples, tomatoes and all the variations of. It has been a little hectic.

     This was originally supposed to be a post about something I make at the end of summer, a bit different, something you might not think of. I decided to do a little checking around first to make sure the information I had was current and safe, big booster of food safety for the home preserver. I'd say canner but it wasn't a canning recipe per se. I was referred to a forum that came highly recommended because there were master canners on it who had lots of experience and knowledge to share. Sounds good, right?

     My experience on this forum is now the topic of this post, a less angry one because I have had some time to cool off. Here it is, my first, and probably not last bitchin' in the kitchen.

     I'm not going to name names or identify the forum, it doesn't really serve any purpose. My goal is not to discredit them or the people involved, only to maybe make people think a little before they type or speak for that matter.

     I was quite excited about this forum, from what I had read they were as concerned about food safety as I was and had offered decent advice on other topics I had read. In perusing other threads, I came across something which ran counter to what I thought I knew about a particular subject so I posed a question of my own. Big mistake.

    Rather than the information I was looking for I got referred to the threads I previously mentioned, which I had mentioned in my question looking for clarity and questioning why I would possibly want to do one of the things I had asked about. Thinking perhaps I hadn't been clear, I re submitted the question adding in what I knew about the topic. Now to be fair to all involved, my original query did mention I had been planning to gift what I was preparing, that's why I wanted the clarification.

     The next round of responses weren't quite as nice as the first. One basically called me irresponsible for wanting to gift something which was unsafe, another basically called me thick for being confused, while linking me to a pamphlet online which actually backed up what I thought I knew and ran counter to what they were saying. A quip "maybe a microbiologist could explain it better'  really got my blood boiling. At no point did anyone say "Oh, your understanding is flawed in this respect" and actually respond to the information I had posted.

     Another person asked a related question and got a "no responsible adult" response. Is it just me or is this becoming a little preachy and self righteous.

     Undaunted, maybe I really am a little thick, still thinking I'm just not being clear enough. I resubmit again, cutting and pasting information from the previously referred to articles that don't agree.

     Now I'm taking things out of context  and in other areas the information agrees. That's great, but I wasn't making the other things and I had no question about the other things. I had a specific question about a specific preparation and still two differing opinions.

    By this point, I'm now greatly annoyed and a little tired of being treated like an idiot. Rather than just dropping it like I should have, I copied and pasted the recipe, pointed out the differences and identified it as the continuing source of my confusion/concern.

     The final round of responses before I just abandoned the site entirely were just outright ridiculous. More implying I was irresponsible, the links had been provided for further information not recommendations etc etc etc all done in those annoying inappropriate capitals to emphasize a point. Hard to take very seriously and a big disappointment for me all around.

     After I had cooled down, I got to thinking about the whole rather negative experience and these are my conclusions.

     These people have no idea who I am, whether I'm concerned about safety or not, what level of cook I am, nothing. In an attempt to share what they considered a little wisdom or experience perhaps they were a little overzealous although I suspect I'm being kind.

     Perhaps the forum was not the right one to have posted my question. I really was looking for the microbiologist answer. I wanted the science and the why not just to have recommendations handed back to me that I had stated I already knew. My understanding of the science allows me to evaluate other recipes and preparations I find. It got me thinking, I could have asked my grandmother all about baking bread, she made thousands of loaves but if I had asked about the specific conditions required to optimise the growth of yeast, maybe not so much help. I finally did ask a microbiologist.

     My final thought on the subject, read the damn question before you answer. Make sure you understand the question before you submit an answer. If I'm providing specific information, that is what I want a response on, not your experience or your opinion and never your judgement. If you are providing additional information, make sure it agrees. What is the point of adding confusion?

     At some point we are all "newbies" and Internet forums can be a great place to find information. Is it really asking so much to be treated with some respect and to play nice? I will probably never visit the site again which is a shame. I'm sure there is lots I could learn and/or share but the whole experience has just left a bad taste in my mouth.

     And that's me bitchin'

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Wrath of Powdery Mildew, the saga continues

     Here is the latest from my little patch of dirt.

Powdery mildew, well established and destroying my zucchini

The close up

     Obviously I have not won the battle yet. The fates conspired and we have had some damp weather, not enough to really water the garden but enough to wash away any topical plant treatment. Then there was a friend's wedding, radiant bride, beautiful ceremony and all round good time so I forgot, which brings me to today and more damp weather. This is what a full blown outbreak of powdery mildew looks like, again this year.

     All is not lost. First, it is very confined this year, only the zucchini has been hit. Secondly, I may win yet. It is supposed to rain tonight and tomorrow but on Tuesday, I'll strip the diseased leaves and treat the rest of the plant and surrounding soil with a sulfur spray. If that works, and Dad swears it did for him, I'll still get another picking or two from my plants before frost finally finishes what the mildew is trying so hard to do now.

     I am still suffering a plague of squirrels as well. Another reason to hate that walnut tree. The latest victim, my watermelons. It wouldn't be so bad if they would take and eat the whole thing but they just eat holes in every one. Argh. There will be blood meal everywhere next year, or a pellet gun. LOL

     On a more hilarious note concerning attempted pest control, here are some pictures of the owl in my parent's garage. A few years ago they were all the rage to stop all kinds of things from invading the garden or garage. The theory is that when they see the owl, a natural predator, they will be frightened off much like a scarecrow is supposed to work. Sounds plausible, right? Sound reasoning, logic I can follow.

     I guess someone forgot to explain that to the barn swallows who built a nest on the damn things head. Too funny. Four cute little hatchlings obviously unaware they are living on a deadly predator's head. ROFL

     On the bright side, my second wave of mini glads are in full bloom and the eggplants are putting out dozens of shiny purple fruit. Grilled eggplant with balsamic vinegar and thyme anyone?

The second wave

Eggplant doing just fine

     Prime canning season is here and the glut of fresh fruits and vegetables is calling to me to stop writing and get in the kitchen and get busy. They won't can themselves.

     Sadly, it is also time to consider where the fall crops will go for next year. I will be planting my winter onions and garlic in a couple of weeks. Summer is already waning, heavy sigh.

     What is happening in your patch these days?

Canning, Drying, Freezing and Pickling - A Plethora of Preservation

     Okay, the whole point of this post was to be able to use the word "plethora". Really, how often can you slip that into conversation. On a more serious note, this is a quick post about the various ways putting up the summer harvest to enjoy in the winter months ahead.

Yellow pear tomatoes, perfect for drying.
Zucchini, ready for shredding and freezing

     Canning includes all my jams, jellies, fruit butters, preserves and conserves as well as chili sauce, tomato sauce, ketchup and salsa. I make a lot of different ones to use by themselves or as ingredients in other recipes. The list below is what I make and when it is red the recipe is linked to it. Just to clarify, I don't make all of these every year. I don't always have enough time but in a perfect world....

Stewed Rhubarb
Strawberry Balsamic Jam
Strawberry Conserve
Sweet Cherries in Red Wine
Spiced Peaches in Honey
Crabapple Jelly
Hot Pepper Jelly
Grape Jelly
Chili Sauce
Apple Butter
Tomato Butter
Maple Pear Preserves
Tomato Salsa
Canned Beef
Tomato Sauce
Peach Jam
Plum Jam

     I'm sure I forgot a few but you get the idea. That may seem like a lot but I don't have a large freezer so space is at a premium. I haven't canned vegetables in the past because I didn't have a pressure canner but now that I do, the list will grow.

     I have a cheap  an inexpensive dehydrator, given to me by a friend years ago. I don't make as much use of it as I wish I did. Still learning about drying and using the reconstituted end result. Currently, I use it to put away the list below but I'm working on a dried vegetable mix to grind and use as a powdered stock base.

Savoury herbs
Mint for tea
Sun-dried Tomatoes

     If I had a walk in freezer, I would freeze everything. All kinds of things freeze beautifully to be used later and it is probably the easiest way to preserve food. If I had the space not only would I be freezing the ingredients, I'd be doing the finished products as well. You can buy lots of things in bulk or on sale and they are on hand for when you need them.

      I always freeze my fruits and vegetables in what ever form I'm going to be using them. Fruits are sliced and frozen individually on cookie sheets before bagging, ready for pies and sauces. Vegetables and dairy products in individual servings or by the cup and half cup. It just makes life easier when you are trying to use what you so diligently put away.  Here is what makes it's way into mine.

Swiss Chard
Sour Cream

     That brings us to pickling. It probably should be included in the canning section but... I don't pickle very many things, not a huge fan and my Mom's are always way better than mine. I can always do the trade off. Because time is an issue, many of the pickles I could can get used up as "quick" pickles but that is another post. Here is my short pickling list.

Spiced Crabapples
Bread and Butter Pickles
Mustard Bean Pickles
Beet Pickles
Sauerkraut - new this year so ...

     I'll be busy in the kitchen until the middle of September, squirreling away as much of the summer as possible.

     How do you save the bounty of summer? Drop me a line and let me know your tricks and tips. If you have any questions feel free to contact me or leave a comment and I'll be happy to share what little wisdom I have managed to accumulate.

     Thanks for dropping by.

Strawberry, Watermelon and Kiwi Chiller

     My food processor came with the blender and ice crusher blade attachment and I couldn't be happier. Other than making perfect frozen margaritas and daiquiris, this three fruit chiller is fast, simple and so refreshing on a hot day.

Strawberry, Watermelon and Kiwi Chiller
1 cup each; chopped strawberries, kiwi and seeded watermelon
2 tablespoons sugar - optional
fruit for garnish
In the bowl of your blender, combine fruit and sugar (if you are using it) and blend until smooth.
Add ice, about a cup at a time and blend until you get a slushy consistency. The amount of ice varies on the water content of the fruit.
Pour into a glass, garnish with fresh fruit, mint or a citrus wheel.
Add a milkshake straw and enjoy.

     For those of you who are like me and enjoy the occasional cocktail, add rum, gin, vodka or peach schnapps before you add the ice and you have an ideal frozen beverage for the patio. They are like fresh fruit Popsicles in a glass, and good for you too. Until you add the alcohol, LOL

     There you are RoryBore, the only healthy summer recipe I could think of off the top of my head LOL

Hey, Bartender - Mojitos, a Cuban classic with a twist

     I have been remiss in my recipe postings this summer, no beverage recipes. Just in case you all thought that was because I don't drink in the summer ROFLMAO, here is a favourite, with a Canadian twist.

     For any of you who have been lucky enough, the Mojito is a classic on the beaches and in the resorts of Cuba. It is a mix of rum, sugar, lime and mint topped with soda water for a little summer sparkle. There are hundreds of recipes and preparation tips, the recipe below is how I make mine. (Making use of the mint my Grandmother gave me, I'm sure she's so proud LOL)

All the bits and pieces,
Rum, spiced or regular, pitcher, soda water
Lime, mint and maple syrup and a big wooden spoon for muddling
All that's missing is the ice

Mojito Recipe
10-12 mint leaves
1 lime , cut in quarters
1 tablespoon of maple syrup*
2 ounces of rum
6-8 ounces of soda water

In the bottom of a 10 ounce glass/pitcher(whatever you are serving from or in),  muddle mint, juice of 1 lime quarter and syrup.
Muddling is crushing the mint with a spoon or pestle to release the juice and oils into the liquid. It is sometimes referred to as bruising.
Add rum, ice  and top with soda.
Garnish with lime and a sprig of mint.

* The classic recipe calls for sugar, not maple syrup.

     I usually make these by the 60 ounce pitcher so this scaled down version will have to be adjusted to taste if you want to do the same. Use more or less syrup to sweeten, adjust the amount of  lime for tartness or change the amount of mint for flavour.

     You can also add 1-2 ounces of crushed fruit; watermelon, strawberries, mango, nectarine, blueberries, pineapple, kiwi or peaches. A delicious variation that takes advantage of what ever is fresh and in season.

     Let the kids run through the sprinklers, I'll be relaxing on the patio with a pitcher one of these in my hand.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Fruit Salsa

     A while back, my cousin Les, aka RoryBore, did a guest post for me about making jam in the bread maker.One of her SAHM online pals, dropped by and I made a return visit to her bit of cyberspace, Diaries of a Grateful Grumpy Mom. Once I stopped laughing, a brilliant sense of humour this woman has, I poked around and stumbled on her recipe page and the following recipe is hers, copied and pasted in its original form.
     I have had this before and it is delicious. I can't remember when or who made it but I make a variation of this to have with grilled fish, tilapia, snapper, or chicken. So, her recipe first and mine after, kind of a co-post.
     Why might you ask, the reason is simple. We forget the food we make is more versatile than we think. This recipe is a perfect example, it is delicious as a sweet dip or as a  more savoury pairing with fish or poultry.
Baked Cinnamon Crisps with Fabulous Fruit Salsa
 Must Try!
Really.  Truthfully.  I have never made this without rave reviews.  I first discovered this recipe here and have been making numerous versions ever since.  It is very easy and oh so delicious! 

Baked Cinnamon Crisps
16 medium-sized flour tortillas
Butter-flavored cooking spray
2 cups sugar
3 teaspoons cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350.  Coat both sides of tortillas with cooking spray, then cut into triangles with a pizza cutter.  (I cut four at a time). Combine cinnamon and sugar in bowl.  Dip coated triangles in cinnamon-sugar.  Place triangles on parchment or foil-covered baking sheet and bake until gold brown, about 12 minutes.  These can be made even weeks ahead.

Fabulous Fruit Salsa
1 lb. fresh strawberries
8 ounces raspberries (fresh or frozen)
1 peach or nectarine
2 kiwis
2 apples (I used 1 Fuji and 1 Golden Delicious)
2 teaspoons sugar
3 tablespoons peach fruit preserves (adjust amount to desired sweetness)
a bit of lime juice

Chop all fruit, saving apples for last to prevent browning. (I usually use my Black and Decker Food Chopper).  Combine fruit with sugar, preserves, and lime juice.  Keep refrigerated and enjoy with crisps!

     Now my version.

Fabulous Fruit Salsa for Grilled Fish or Chicken
1 lb. fresh strawberries
8 ounces raspberries (fresh or frozen)
1 peach or nectarine
2 kiwis
1 mango
2 teaspoons sugar
1-2 tablespoons fresh cilantro - optional
Juice of a lime or lemon
Hot peppers, fresh or pickled, to taste - I use fresh scotch bonnets
Coarsely chop all the fruit, you can pulse it in your food processor
Combine in a bowl with sugar and lime or lemon juice.
You can either
Add chopped pickled peppers and cilantro and serve immediately
Let sit overnight, refrigerated
Strain off juice into a medium sauce pan. You should have at least a cup if not more.(If not top it up with a bit of water)
Finely chop hot peppers, reserving the white membranes and the seeds (the heat)
Tie the membranes and seeds in a bit of cheesecloth, or a tea ball, they work too.
Simmer the juice, pieces of pepper and the seeds about 10-15 minutes stirring occasionally.
I press the seeds as I'm simmering to release maximum heat.
Remove from heat, discard seeds and cool.
You have just made a hot pepper infused fruit syrup.
Pour back into fruit and mix to combine.
Add chopped cilantro and serve on the side or top of your grilled fish or chicken.
The contrast of hot and cold, sweet and spicy is delicious.

     There you have it, two ways to serve what is essentially the same recipe. This is infinitely variable, use whatever is in season or you like, make it as sweet or spicy as you care to. Grateful, Grumpy Mom, thanks for sharing. Enjoy.

Sweet Cherries in Red Wine

     This is a new recipe for me and I'm looking forward to trying the finished product soon. The recipe is adapted from one in the cookbook "Well Preserved" by Eugenia Bone. A great book that not only has the preserving recipes but supplementary recipes on how to use them. Perfect. I used all the ingredients, slightly different quantities and a different technique. For her unaltered recipe, buy the book, you won't be disappointed.

     Cherries and red wine pair together very well. Throw cherry juice into Sangria and see for yourself. Add in orange and cloves and you got me sold.

Cherries in Red Wine
2 pounds of pitted sweet cherries
1 750 ml bottle of wine (a regular sized bottle, I used the stuff we made earlier in the year)
1 cup of orange juice
1 cup of sugar
8 long pieces of orange zest
6 250 ml sterilized jars with lids and bands
Place three whole cloves in the bottom of each of your jars.
In a large stock pot, combine red wine, orange juice and sugar.
Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Add the cherries, reduce heat and simmer about 10 minutes until cherries are tender but not mushy.
You're poaching them, not cooking them down, so you want them to keep their body.
Remove cherries with a slotted spoon and place into sterilized jars.
Add orange zest to the remaining wine mixture and reduce to about half the volume.
It takes about 15-20 minutes to reduce, or at least it did for me.
You are concentrating the flavour of the wine mixture and incorporating more orange with the zest.
Strain the hot wine mixture and fill the jars of cherries leaving 1/4 inch headspace.
Cover with sterilized lids and tighten bands to fingertip tightness.
Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.
Remove from heat and let stand an additional 5 minutes.
Remove from canner and let cool.
Check your seals, tighten the bands and store in a cool dark place.
Allow a week to ten days before using to allow the cloves to develop.

     Because this is a new recipe and I changed it, this might not be everything I want it to be and there may be adjustments for next year.

     This would pair really well with duck or just about any game fowl. It would also be good with lamb and she suggested beef tenderloin. You can also use it with whipped cream as a dessert parfait and I think it would go well as the topping for a flourless chocolate cake or a dense cheesecake. Time will tell and I'll keep you posted.

Sour Cherry Pie

          Nothing compares to fresh baked cherry pie. Well maybe strawberry rhubarb, or lemon, or butterscotch, or pumpkin, maybe Dutch apple  Are you noticing a trend? I love my pie. Double crust, crumb topping, with ice cream or whipped, I love them all. (And am getting the waistline to prove it LOL)

     The hardest part of this recipe is finding and/or pitting the cherries. The season is over, it is only about ten days to two weeks long for sour sherries, but you can sometimes find the canned/frozen ones in a store. If you do, definitely try this pie, it is a real treat.

Sour Cherry Pie
pie crust pastry for a 9" double crust- recipe here
4-6 cups pitted sour cherries
1 cup sugar
1-2 tablespoons of cornstarch
Preheat oven to 425 degrees
Roll out pie dough and prepare for filling.
In a small bowl, whisk together sugar and cornstarch until well mixed.
Pour over pitted cherries and mix until cherries are well coated.
Pour into prepared pie shell and top with plain or lattice top.
Bake in preheated oven for about 15 minutes and reduce heat to 350 degrees.
Continue baking for about 30-35 minutes until crust is golden brown.
Serve warm with whipped or ice cream.

     Sour cherries are really juicy so the amount of cornstarch depends on how runny you want your pie. I like mine runny, so usually use no more than 1-1 1/2 tablespoons.

    I use 4 1/2 to 5 cups of fruit. I like a heavy pie. You can use sweet Bing or Ranier cherries or mix sweet and sour but it will change the sweetness of the final product. I like mine tart.

    I always do a double crust. Not co-ordinated enough to get the lattice top looking nice. If I want to fancy the top up, I cut out inserts with cookie cutters and offset them. Can be a little tricky but if company is coming...

     Almonds are a nice compliment to cherries. You can add a bit of extract to the filling, add slivers to the top or grind them into meal and incorporate into the pie pastry. The last is what I do, but not often. Lots of extra work and fuss.

     I hope you enjoy this as much as I do.

Are you a Locavore?

      I laugh every time I see or hear this phrase. It sounds like a cannibal that only eats crazy people. LOL
What it refers to is eating locally grown food, something I whole heartedly support.

     Although I always have some kind of a garden, there is no way I can grow all the produce I use. To get the best of the season, I head on out to the local farmers markets that have sprouted up all over the city in recent years.

A couple shots of my local market on Atlantic Avenue

     Places like this are where I buy most of the fruit I use for preserves if I haven't been able to actually go to a grower and pick my own. You can browse around, chat and get to know the farmers and how they grow their produce. Are they organic, pesticide and herbicide free, what ever? Best of all, the produce is fresh and you can find things that are a little harder to find in a grocery store.

Sour Cherries

     That's how I found these beauties, eleven pounds of sour cherries and at a fantastic price might I add. They are all pitted and frozen, just waiting to be made into pies and tarts. If you like cherry pie and have never had fresh, do yourself a favour and try it. It is almost a religious experience. LOL

     I also bought a bunch of sweet cherries. More pitting and now I have 14 jars of delicious cherries in red wine to see me through the cold winter months.

    Soon I'll be back for plums for plum jam, the easiest jam I have ever made, free stone peaches, spiced peach preserves in honey and peach jam and pears, maple walnut pear preserves. I will be busy in the kitchen gathering up as much of summer as I can to get me though the winter.

     One other thing to note, lots of farmers markets are now featuring locally raised meat and poultry and dairy products as well. It is like the farm coming to your front door. The next best thing to being able to raise/grow your own.

     So, do you support your local farmers? Are you a locavare? I certainly am. How do you enjoy the summer and all of its bounty?

     Take care and thanks for dropping by.

The Beginning of the End - Powdery Mildew

     As I was walking my various garden spots, I noticed the first signs of my #1 enemy in the garden, powdery mildew. Last year it killed my zucchini, pumpkins, watermelon, sunflowers, peonies, stock, tomatoes and cucumbers. I looked it up in my gardening books and the description is that it is an unsightly fungus that does no real harm to the plant. WTF If it kills the leaves of the plant, how exactly is it just an unsightly infestation.

 Powdery mildew, just starting on my zucchini

   As it turns out there is a lot of information on-line. This year I'm prepared or so I hope.

     It thrives in hot, dry weather, see heat wave alerts all through July, and then bursts into flower when the humidity is right, covering your plants in a downy grey film. Plants with heavy, dense foliage are particularly susceptible It spreads like wild fire and in a day or two it can be very well established. Here is where what I read and what I have experienced differ.

     Everything I read says it doesn't survive/thrive in full sunlight or water. It always hits my zucchini first, full sun all day and watered every day if there is no rain???

     There are several ways to combat it.

     The most obvious is a commercial fungicide. I do not use them in my gardens. They are toxic and you have to be very careful about application before harvesting. I try to keep things like herbicides, pesticides et al out of my soil. I have enough problems with out adding to it.

     There is an organic fungicide available called Serenade that is a wide scale fungicide that I may check out next year if what I try this year isn't effective. The active ingredient is a soil bacteria, Bacillus subtilis.

     Sulfur is very effective and garlic is high in sulfur so a garlic spray can be used. Soak 3-4  crushed garlic cloves in 1 quart/litre of water overnight, strain into a spray bottle add a couple of drops of liquid dish soap and use on your plants making sure to get the underside of the leaves as well.

     Sodium bicarbonate/baking soda is also recommended and that is what I am trying. Mix 1 teaspoon of baking soda into 1 quart/litre of water, add a couple of drops of liquid dish soap and mix until the baking soda is dissolved. Spray onto your plants making sure to get the undersides as well. This is a contact fungicide so I should know by the weekend if it worked or not. It should be applied every 7 to 10 days as long as the infection continues.

     Have you ever tried to make sure you got a complete covering of a zucchini plant. Those leaves are prickly. I'll be happy if I can get most of it and can keep it under control. I'll keep you updated.

     So here is the update, it didn't not work. It killed off the worst of the mildew but not all of it. At worst it has bought me time to try another method of control. My father used a powdered sulfur spray, that's my next line of attack. Just as soon as the rain stops.

     How do you do battle with the various challenges your garden throws your way? Let me know, I can always use the help. Good luck and happy gardening.


Singin' n' Dancin' in the Rain, Finally

     Praise the Lord it is finally raining. From a wet, cool spring to a parched summer, what  a growing season this has been. I have been very busy outside trying to keep my gardens green. It has been a while since I did a garden update so I'll have to back track and bring you up to speed.

     I spent Canada Day, and the following week, at home on the farm with my parents. Well okay, I did so much visiting and poking around the old neighbourhood I didn't actually end up spending a lot of quality time with the folks. You know how it goes.

     I finally got some pictures of my aunt Barb's gardens.

The two "smaller" beds by the garage
The evening I was there visiting
there were so many fireflies in these gardens
I thought she had twinkle lights going
It was awesome

The long bed behind the smaller ones

Some of the highlights

Beautiful hostas by the house

The bed in the yard

Going down to the water

The view from the dock
In the spring that slope is covered in creeping phlox

     This was at the start of the heatwave that lasted all of July for me here in Toronto. When I was home I was concerned about my own gardens back in the city and the lack of rain. My aunt Deb piped up "Relax, the roots won't be dead", insert big laugh as only Deb can.

     On my arrival back in the city, my poor plants were flat on the ground desperate for water and it has been a bit of a losing battle ever since. The roots might not be dead but.....

The long view, with far too much brown

     One of the big problems of not enough water is blossom drop. If the plants are struggling, they don't produce any fruit, so I lost an entire picking of just about everything. My peas went from bountiful to burned off, then the beans, the tomatoes, the cucumbers etc etc etc. Watering everyday only goes so far, sandy soil, raised lot, I can't keep enough water on my little 1/100th of an acre.

     That's right, 1/100th of an acre. I had someone ask how much I was gardening to have so much trouble keeping it wet so I measured. My six "spots" total 423 sq feet of garden. An acre is 43,560 sq feet.

     This was a thriving pot of lupin seedlings getting ready to be put in the garden for next year
Now it is just a couple of sprouts

     It hasn't been all bad news. My herbs have never looked better and my flowers are beautiful.

Grandma Fisher's Dahlias just starting

Mini Gladiolus, I have two varieties
They're edible too

A tangle of Morning Glory

Gorgeous Stargazers, and the scent...

More lilies, I think this one was called Meteo

Bronze Dwarf Sunflower
I still want those gigantic 12 foot ones Grandma Craig grows but I can never find seeds

      Although I lost a few things, peas, radishes and all my beans strangely enough, it hasn't been a total loss. I've had about 20 pounds of zucchini and cucumbers. The Swiss chard is thriving. My yellow pear tomatoes are coming by the bucket load, three pints of blackberries and a beet. That's right, a single beet has survived the squirrels and the drought. It better be a good one LOL.

     My biggest disappointment is the beans, green to eat and yellow for pickles. They are normally such great producers for me and almost trouble free. Maybe next year or Mom's ??

     Powdery mildew has also made its appearance but hopefully I'm prepared for it this year. We'll see and that is a whole other post.

     We've had a bit of rain lately, not near enough but it all helps. I'm hoping the rain all day today forecast is true. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

     So how is your garden faring, are you beating the heat?

     Thanks for dropping by.

Rice Salad

     Here is another recipe from my aunt Gladys. A cold  rice salad, perfect for summer get togethers. The quantity of rice is dry, to be cooked before hand. That makes sense right? Two cups of dry rice will give more than two cups cooked, I've never measured and the recipe included rice cooking instructions. Living with a rice fanatic, has to be washed three times etc etc, I would never presume to include cooking instructions. If you don't care for rice, and I can't say I do, you could substitute orzo, a rice shaped/sized pasta and it would work just as well.

Gladys’s Rice Salad
2 cups rice, cooked - as opposed to 2 cups of cooked rice
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup chopped celery
1 small green pepper, chopped
1 can mushrooms, drained
½ cup sugar
¾ cup olive/vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon dry mustard
½ teaspoon celery seed
½ cup vinegar
In a small bowl whisk together all dressing ingredients until well combined
Pour into a bowl containing all other ingredients and mix well
Served chilled
      The dressing recipe is very similar to sweet cole slaw so you could probably add carrot and cucumber to this if you wanted to change it up a little.

     Thank you Gladys for sharing, now all I need is a picture.

     Thanks for dropping by.

The Secret Ingredient - Homemade Salad Dressing/Mayonnaise

     It just isn't summer without deviled eggs, potato, macaroni or cabbage salad. All staples in my family. What makes ours, is the dressing. It is called mayonnaise or salad dressing at home and used as such. It isn't a mayonnaise exactly, it's cooked, or even a salad dressing , really. I'm not sure where this actually falls in the recipe categories or what it should be called. To my family, it's just delicious.

     My Grandma Fisher always used this, as do many of her children and my aunt Gladys also gave me a recipe. They are similar but different and I'm not sure I have ever had my aunt's to be able to compare the taste. Here are both.

Homemade Salad Dressing
Grandma Fisher’s recipe
3 eggs
½ cup milk
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon dry mustard
½ cup vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.
Continue boiling until mixture starts to thicken and mixture will coat a spoon..
Cool and refrigerate

Gladys’s recipe
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon dry mustard
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup cold milk
Combine all ingredients in the top of a double boiler
Cook over boiling water until thick and smooth, stirring constantly.
Cool and refrigerate

     You can use this to replace some, or all of the mayonnaise in a recipe. That's what we do back in the "Valley". I'm not sure how long this keeps refrigerated, at least a week to ten days, it's cooked and has a lot of vinegar....  There was always some at my grandmother's, I'm not sure she ever used store bought mayonnaise. We swear by it, hope you enjoy it too.

The King of the Season - the Barbecue

     One of the greatest things of summer is outdoor grilling. From the humble little Hibachi to the tricked out outdoor kitchens, nothing beats the taste of food fresh off the grill.

Mine, looking very well used

     Here are a couple of tips just to help you enjoy your outdoor cooking all summer long.

   Never start your gas barbecue with the lid down, that's how people blow themselves up. You would think it's a no brainer but I can't tell you the number of times I've seen that big ball of flame and the lid thrown back. And the slightly singed cook with that bemused look on their face. Really??

     If possible, always have a back up tank. There is nothing sadder than running out of gas midway through cooking, I know. Learn from my mistakes.

     Clean the grill before you cook, every time. Food sticks to a dirty pan, why wouldn't it stick to a dirty grill?

     Now that it is clean, brush it lightly with a bit of oil on a paper towel. It helps prevent sticking and scorching. Do not use non stick sprays when you have your grill on. You are asking for trouble. Ferd does it all the time and I'm just waiting for the explosion one day.

     Start cooking on a hot grill, always preheat. You are searing the food like you would pan sear indoors. A cold start guarantees your food will stick like crazy.

     Wait until your food is ready to turn before you flip it. If it is stuck to the grill chances are it isn't ready. Give it a minute and try again. It should release from the grill fairly easily if it is clean. People mangle what they are cooking by trying to pry it off too early.

     Have a spray bottle of water handy to damp down those inevitable flames. It works like a charm.

     Don't overload the grill, it makes it hard to rotate the food so it cooks evenly. I'm guilty of this one, I never seem to learn.

     Pay attention. Another one I'm guilty of. Hamburger, pork, chicken, steaks: all have a fair amount of fat that renders out when you're cooking. Very flammable. Reduce your heat, have that spray bottle handy and pay attention. I have served blackened chicken a number of times just by not paying attention. LOL

     If you are cooking on indirect heat, great way to cook chicken and pork, make sure you clean out the grill after. The fat that renders out sits on the bottom of the barbecue just waiting to ignite. I ruined one by not making sure it was kept clean and once it starts to burn it is next to impossible to put out. The barbecue got so hot it melted the dials in the front. Funny now but not at the time.

     Do you have any tips? Pass along your favourites and we can all enjoy the summer just a bit more... and safer. Take care and happy grilling.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Salad Nicoise

     After referring to it in the previous post it seemed only fitting to post the recipe for a summer classic, Salad Nicoise. Almost every restaurant I have worked in has this on the menu at some point during the summer. It has the best of summer, new potatoes, fresh green beans and vine ripened tomatoes. How can you not love it?

     The original is a French creation from the city of Nice. Julia Child popularized it in North America and true to form, it is nothing like you would get in Nice (according to die hard purists). I have had several variations, the following recipe is the one I like that is the easiest to prepare. The one I like best substitutes fresh grilled tuna for the canned.

     This is supposed to be a composed salad, similar to a Cobb, like the picture below.

     I hate it like this. I like it tossed all together and that is how I prepare it. The choice is yours. I haven't given quantities, just the ingredient list. It is fairly easy to figure out how much you will need based on how many or few you will be feeding.

Salad Nicoise
Tuna, canned or fresh grilled
Tomatoes, quartered
Potatoes, boiled to tender crisp
Green beans, blanched
Eggs, hard boiled and quartered
Anchovy fillets *
Vinaigrette Dressing
1/2 tablespoon finely minced shallot /scallion/onion
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil
1” of anchovy paste*
1 teaspoon thyme or oregano – 1 tablespoon if using fresh
1 clove of garlic minced
Salt and pepper to taste
* Use either /or not both or omit altogether
Kitchen Wisdom from Julia Child on oil to vinegar ratios for salad dressing
I use the proportions of a very dry martini, since you can always add more vinegar or lemon but you can't take it out.

     The beauty of this salad is taste of the fresh produce. Make sure not to overcook the potatoes or beans. Composed or tossed, this hearty salad is sure too please. Enjoy.

Mediterranean Tuna Salad

     Another recipe from the BBQ. This recipe was given to me by a co worker and uses my fresh tarragon. I mentioned to her that I had tons of the stuff that I didn't know what to do with it, she remedied that.

     Tarragon is one of the French "fine" herbs. It tastes a bit like a combination of fennel and basil. It is the main seasoning in Bearnaise sauce and also used in Dijon sauce.

     This is a similar recipe to my favourite summer salad, the Niciose. Like Salad Niciose, you could probably substitute fresh grilled tuna for the canned with delicious results. I haven't..... yet.

Mediterranean Tuna Salad
1 can solid white tuna, drained
1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
1 grilled red pepper, canned or fresh, chopped
1 cup chopped pitted olives*
1 cup red onion finely chopped
Salad greens - endive, arugula, frisee or radicchio
Tarragon Mayonnaise Dressing
¼ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons fresh tarragon or 2 teaspoons dried
2 anchovy fillets, finely chopped or about an inch of anchovy paste**
Combine tuna, beans, red pepper, olives and onion and mix together.
Whisk or pulse in a food processor, all of the dressing ingredients until well mixed.
Pour about half the dressing into the tuna mixture and re-toss until combined
Place tuna mixture on a plate/platter lined with salad greens.
Serve remaining dressing on the side.
* I use Kalamata olives and just warn my guests that there are pits. I never use canned olives, only brined.

** I like the taste but not the texture of anchovies so always use the paste. It keeps longer and is easier to use.

     This was a delicious and interesting addition to my usual summer salad repertoire and one I will make again and again. Enjoy.

Garlic and Oregano Marinade for Chicken

     This is the recipe from my BBQ oh so long ago. I finally got it typed up. A delicious marinade that makes use of the fresh oregano I have growing in the garden.

Garlic and Oregano Marinade for Chicken
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup garlic, chopped or minced
½ cup fresh oregano, chopped
1 tablespoon red wine or balsamic vinegar
Juice of a lime*
Juice of an orange*
1 tablespoon honey or to taste
1 teaspoon chili powder – adjust to taste or use your favourite hot spice
* To maximize the citrus taste you can add ½ teaspoon of zest from one or both
In a large mixing bowl combine and whisk all ingredients until well mixed.
Coat chicken and let sit at least 8 hours or overnight, refrigerated.
Turn chicken pieces occasionally to maximize marinating.

     I used this on chicken I had cubed to put on skewers but would work equally well for whole pieces.

Happy grilling.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

     This is the pie that proved my father's "Golden Ratio" rule. You can make it with as little as four cups of fruit or as many as eight. I usually split the difference and go with six. I prefer this with a double crust, but the crumb topping is good too. I usually use Demerara sugar for the crumble, I like the heavier, molasses taste.

     No picture unfortunately, by the time I think to snap one, it's gone. LOL

Prepared pastry for single or double 9” pie crust - recipe here
2-4 cups strawberries
2-4 cups rhubarb chopped into ½-1” pieces
½ cup white sugar
½ cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons of corn starch
Crumble topping –optional
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter
¼ teaspoon cinnamon -optional
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts – optional
Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Roll out pie crust and place in pie plate, ready for the filling.
In a large bowl, combine strawberries and rhubarb.
In another bowl, whisk together sugars and cornstarch until well combined
Mix fruit with cornstarch and sugars until well coated.
Pour into prepared pie shell and top with second crust or crumble topping
Place pie on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet to catch drips.
Bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes and then reduce heat to 350 degrees and
continue baking about an hour until crust is golden brown.

     Always a crowd pleaser, not too tart and not too sweet, just right. Enjoy.