Monday 30 September 2013

Planting Garlic

I decided to plant some garlic this past weekend; the weather was beautiful and I already had some that had been split up into individual cloves - nice big ones!

This might even be a bit early.  Any time until mid-November is usually okay; it is best to get the garlic planted a few weeks before the ground freezes.  This gives enough time to start forming some roots but not enough time to send shoots upwards (or at least not very big ones).  You want the garlic to have a bit of time to root in as the freezing soil can heave the cloves out of the ground if they have nothing to hold on to.

I generally plant them only about an inch or two below the surface.  I just kind of shove them into the dirt root-end first then shovel a bit of soil over top, so maybe two full inches below the soil.

It was recently suggested to me that I put lots of mulch (hay in this case) over top and that's a particularly good idea for me as I plant them rather shallow.  I've read on some sites that they should be planted 3-4 inches deep.

I was hoping to put in about 100 this year, but have only planted about 75-80 so far.  One raised garden got about 40, and another 40 went into a portion of the garden used this year for the pathetic onion crop (can you even call it a crop, when so few made it?).

Even with the new hugel garden that will be available next year, I still feel like I don't have enough garden space for everything I want to grow!  Maybe I'll try some in containers in the greenhouse ... sigh.  Some of my greenhouse experiments did not do so well this season, so maybe I'll think about that a bit more.

Even with all the garden and yard maintenance left to do, I might just be able to get one more garden space set up and get a few more garlic in before the end of the season.  We'll see.

Sunday 29 September 2013

Corn Cone Tacos with Vegetarian Lentil Filling

Ever since I came across "The Tacone" post, I've been planning my own version.  I loved the concept right away ... I have also had that unfortunate experience of "filling spill" when the hard taco shell broke apart, or the filling simply slipped out the other end.  The cone shape is perfect to keep everything in place until the last bite!

As for my choice of filling, I've been using lentils for my taco filling for many, many years starting back when I was vegetarian.  Although I very much enjoy pulled lamb or fish tacos, I eat this lentil version much more often as it is so simple to make.  The cone is also simple, but took more than a few experiments to figure out how to do it properly.  Unlike DudeFoods who actually bake their own cone using a waffle maker, I used a store-purchased corn tortilla as the starting point.  My homemade corn tortillas tend to come out a bit puffier and I needed something thinner to make the cone with, so I used Dempster's corn tortillas - not that easy to find in stores so I stock up when I find them and keep them in the freezer.

Making the Cone:
I used some butcher's twine to hold the tortilla in its rolled up cone shape then used some toothpicks in the bottom. I did not want the bottom to widen during cooking.  It's important to use the freshest tortillas on hand; my first attempt was with a tortilla that had been in the fridge a few days and it cracked.

Next step was to coat with a spray cooking oil.  The biggest challenge was how to maintain the cone shape during cooking ("cooking" by the way is about one minute in the microwave until it hardens).

First I tried resting the unbaked cone in a coffee mug.  The problem is that the cone actually softens first before it begins to harden so it collapsed into the mug (and I microwaved it a bit too long and it burnt).

Then I decided to use my silicone garlic peeler - I can't say I use it much, but there it was in my kitchen drawer.  But it did not hold the shape, and I was still a bit worried about using it in the microwave.

And that's when I saw the tube from a roll of paper towels on my counter.  I cut it so that it could be shaped into a cone and ... success!!  I made several in a row with no problems.

Final Cone Instructions:

(1) Form cone, tie with butcher's twine and use toothpicks as needed to hold bottom together;

(2) spray with cooking oil;

(3) insert formed cardboard tube to maintain shape;

(4) microwave for approximately one minute;

(5) remove immediately from microwave and take out the tube to keep it from sticking;

(6) if not crunchy enough, pop into microwave for another 10 seconds or so but the tortilla will burn if cooked too long.

Taking the advice of DudesFood, I tossed my filling ingredients in a bowl before stuffing into the cone to ensure a bit of everything in each bite.  BUT ... I did stuff a small piece of lettuce into the bottom first just to be absolutely sure of no drips.  The cone will only take about 2/3 of a cup of total ingredients.  I prefer to add the lentils last as they'll wilt the lettuce if added too soon.

Taco Filling:
Canned Lentils (two cans will easily serve 4 people)
Taco Seasoning (see below for recipe or just use a store-bought package)
Lettuce, sliced or chopped
Salsa and/or Hot Sauce
Sour Cream
Avocados, sliced (or make guacamole)
Cheese, grated

Drain and rinse the lentils, place in a sauce pan.  Add seasoning to taste, depending on how spicy you like it.  I used about 2 Tbsp for one can of lentils, plus 1-2 Tbsp of water to keep the lentils from drying out. Then just heat up, it's that simple.

Toss your favourite selections together with the hot lentils, scoop into your cone and enjoy.

Taco Seasoning:
This recipe comes straight from "Taco Seasoning 1".  With 2975 reviews and 5 stars, it's obviously pretty good and I didn't make any changes other than to reduce the salt and pepper, and quadruple the total recipe as it made very little, and who wants to make this up every time you have tacos?

In a mason jar (for storing extras), combine all ingredients.

4 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp paprika
6 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp kosher salt (original recipe called for twice this much)
2 tsp black pepper (again, original recipe called for twice this much)

Friday 27 September 2013

Pickled Garlic

A month or so ago my friend Dan harvested his garlic and I bought quite a bit as I had not been able to plant myself this season.

It is organic Red Russian garlic from the Lanark County area and absolutely delicious.  There is nothing like fresh garlic ... it is in a completely different universe from the month's old (year old?) garlic most often found in grocery stores.

It's incredible how much garlic I use to cook with, but I also needed some to plant myself this fall...

I tried a bit of pickled garlic at the Manotick Farmer's Market last month and immediately decided to try some of my own.  Mine did not come out as spicy as I had hoped, but maybe leaving the canned jars to sit for a month or two might improve the heat from the chilies in the jars.  Tasty either way, and a great method for storing garlic.  If stored properly (in a basket or other "breathable" container in a dark, cool spot), garlic will easily keep through to the spring, but this is just another option.

As this is my first time to pickle garlic, I researched a number of recipes.  They all suggested the same method for peeling garlic by placing it in a pot of boiling water.  Garlic can be difficult to peel and you do not want to crush or damage the clove in any way before pickling so this is highly recommended.  The spices are up to you ...

Preparing and Peeling Garlic:

Carefully break apart garlic bulbs into separate cloves.  I used about 1 1/2 pounds of large garlic bulbs for this recipe.  Put a large pot of water on to boil. Meanwhile, place a large bowl of water on the counter and fill with ice cubes.  This is to stop the garlic from cooking once it's been in the hot water.  I realized too late that I had no cubes so I had to make do with "freezies".

When the water is boiling, toss the garlic cloves into the water for one minute - start counting one minute right away; do not wait for water to boil again.  After one minute, remove garlic with a slotted spoon (or strain in a colander) and place in the ice bath.  Let completely cool.  Skin should come off easily (I kind of squirted the clove out most of the time, it was very easy).

Pickling and Canning the Garlic:

In a medium sauce pan, combine 4 1/2 cups pickling vinegar (any vinegar minimum 5% acidity), 3/4 cup white sugar, 1 1/2 Tbsp pickling salt.  Add 1 Tbsp whole black peppercorns and 1 Tbsp mustard seed.  Bring to a boil, then simmer.

Sterilize jars.

In each hot jar, place fresh thyme leaves, fresh rosemary and a whole chili pepper (or slices).  Fill with garlic cloves, then pour hot brine over top leaving a 1-inch head space.  Continue to process using safe canning procedures (boiling water method).

Thursday 26 September 2013

Lamb Shepherd's Pie

Growing up, our shepherd's pie was always made with beef (cowherd's pie?).  I was excited to try it out with lamb recently, and was very happy with the result.

I don't have many pics of the cooking process as I had company over, but it's about as basic as you can get - very simple to make.  I have been looking for recipes with potatoes as I've had a good harvest and have lots to cook with (or will store some if I can figure out how to do it properly!).

3 potatoes, peeled and diced
Milk or Half-and-Half
1/2 large white onion, chopped
3 carrots, diced small
2 cloves garlic
6 oz field mushrooms, chopped
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 lb minced lamb
1/2 cup chicken stock

Boil the diced potatoes until tender.  Mix with a couple of Tbsps butter and just enough milk or half-and-half cream to make a spreadable mashed potato.  Season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Meanwhile, saute the onion, carrots and garlic in a Tbsp of olive oil about 10 minutes until onion is translucent and carrots are starting to soften (I always add a wee bit of stock if the pan is getting too hot just to keep the veggies from burning).  Add mushrooms and saute until browned.  Stir in the tomato paste, and cook for 2 minutes.  Crumble in the lamb, and cook until browned. 

Add the chicken stock, herbs and some S&P.  Simmer for about 20 minutes.  Check seasoning again.

Toss some peas into the lamb mixture (1 cup maybe ... I even told my friend to remind me to put the peas in and we both forgot) then into a casserole dish. Top with mashed potatoes.  Bake at 350 degrees F for about 30 minutes to allow all of the flavours to mingle (what looks like cheese is just the juices bubbling up and getting browned).

Tuesday 24 September 2013

Pumpkin Pancakes (might as well be dessert) and Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

I will first comment on my complete inability to get an "OK" picture of this "meal".  I'm not great at taking photos, and I am particularly challenged when I cannot wait to eat what I've cooked!!  Who cares about lighting when you are hungry ...

I've always been more of a waffle fan as I like the crusty/crunchy/crispy style.  But I've been noticing a lot of recipes for these pumpkin pancakes lately.  I actually did not like pumpkin pie until well into my adulthood, but it is now a favourite that I look forward to each fall.

After checking out a few recipes, I realized it was just a matter of adding pumpkin puree to a regular pancake batter along with some spices and a touch more sugar to balance out the extra bits.  So I turned to an old pancake batter recipe that I had on hand and mixed in the extras.  My first thought was ... how did pancakes ever become breakfast, let alone these??  Totally dessert worthy (ooh, whipped cream?!).

The small sugar pumpkins that I grew this year ended up quite small ... in fact, the one I used for this recipe only resulted in a 1/2 cup of flesh.  Good thing that was all I wanted to use.

I have also wanted to try a technique that has been floating around the web lately ... bacon cooked into the pancakes.  Again, I failed miserably on the photos, but OH MY GOD, SO GOOD!  I also screwed it up because I just poured the pumpkin batter on top of some cooked bacon when I should have had batter under and over ... so I ended up with pancakes that had chunks of bacon stuck on them.   I say, WHO CARES, OH MY GOD, SO GOOD!

When baking the pumpkin, I had set aside the seeds for roasting, so I've noted the details of that process further down.

Pumpkin Pancakes

Sift: 1 1/2 cups flour, 3 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp salt, 2 Tbsp white sugar, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg and 1/4 tsp freshly grated ginger.

Stir in 1/2 cup pureed pumpkin (bake fresh pumpkin pieces at 350 F until tender, remove skin and puree with immersion blender).

Create a well and add in: 1 1/4 cup milk, 1 beaten egg, 3 Tbsp melted butter.

Stir all ingredients together.  Heat butter in frying pan, cook a few minutes per side (come on, everyone knows how to cook pancakes, huh?!).

Serve with butter and warmed maple syrup (the real stuff, please!).

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds (Pepita)

After removing the pumpkin seeds from the pumpkin, clean them to remove any flesh (rinse in a colander).  Allow to air dry, then toss with a small amount of olive oil to coat.  Spread on a baking sheet, and bake at 350 degrees F until lightly browned.  Be careful they do not burn.  It can take as few as 15 minutes but more like a half hour ... keep an eye on them!

It is unlikely they will last long; it's hard not to eat them all right away.  If any are left, try this pepita pesto on pasta or as a pizza sauce:  Oven-Dried Tomato and Pepita Pesto.

Monday 23 September 2013

Hugel up a new garden

During the dark days of February, I had a weekend with not much to do except putter around the house and check on the seedlings.  I don't remember exactly how it happened but ... I discovered "Stumble Upon".  Crap, I was instantly addicted!  All I had to do was identify a few areas of interest, give the thumbs up on a handful of pages and next thing you know, it's 9 hours later and I'm being amazed by all sorts of amazing things on the ol' world wide web.

During those blink-of-an-eye 9 hours, I stumbled upon a website about Hugelkultur.  This is a variation on the lasagna garden.  But what is so awesome about it is that you can use up yard waste.  I highly recommend you check out a site from someone who really knows what they are talking about, but the gist of it is that you take LOGS ... you heard me, entire trees if you want ... and other debris and toss it into a pile (okay, maybe not entire trees, you'll want to determine the appropriate length of your garden).  Then cover it up with mulch, compost, and then a pile of soil.  Some of them are really RAISED, as in many feet high due to the logs as the base.  The amazing thing is that the logs will continue to decompose, and will literally (yes, literally) self-till the garden for the first few years.   Eventually the height will decrease due to the decomposition of the harder material, which is fine with me, as I don't really want a 4-foot high garden (actually, that doesn't sound so bad for weeding).

The previous owners here left a pile of branches in a spot that I thought was perfect for compost, so my plan was to hugel this pile of yardwaste, which would clear up the space and create a raised garden all at once.  Although typical of my approach, I kind of didn't fully follow the method and did things my own way once I got started ...

I actually spent 6 months very slowly getting this new garden together.  It started in the early spring when I laid down some cardboard moving boxes just to get them out of the house and I held them in place with some logs. 

I changed the location of the garden several times before the snow melted, and the final spot came after I had a load of soil delivered in April and the truck made very deep grooves in the very wet grass during the dumping.  So I decided to cover up the tire tracks with the garden. 

I eventually added more logs (most were pine logs I found near an old firepit - I can't use them in my wood stove and don't do a lot of outdoor fires) and branches that had fallen during the winter. 

I also kept extending the garden as I obtained more cardboard boxes (from my new lawnmower, from my new wheelbarrow ...).

Long after the snow melted off the pile of yard waste, I went back to clear out the branches (and newly grown foliage) that I had originally planned to use.  It turns out there were just a few weeds covering a huge fully-composted mound of beautiful soil!  So some of that went on the garden.

Then compost and mulch (both wood chips and hay) was next.  And what took so long was the final layer: the soil.  There is only about an inch or so of soil on this garden right now.  I just wanted to get the mulch covered up for the winter.  Depending on how well it all breaks down, I might not have to do anything else.  There is a good chance that when the hay breaks down, soil will fall through the cracks in the logs underneath ... but if necessary, I can add more soil in the spring.

It took forever, but was not really much actual effort (thanks to a friend that helped with the last final layer!).  And it's full of nutritious mulches, compost and decaying matter that should serve well whichever plants end up on this spot next growing season!

Saturday 21 September 2013

Butternut Mac and Cheese

I've seen a few recipes floating around for this dish, and have been patiently waiting for my homegrown butternut squash to be ready for harvest.  The flavour of the squash is not quite as prominent as I would have liked; probably overpowered by the cheese, but I like my mac to be cheesy!  So I guess this would be a great dish for parents who have to trick their kids into eating veggies ...

This can be eaten right off the stovetop.  But I added garlic-butter breadcrumbs so baked it for a half hour for a crunchy texture.

2 1/2 cups diced butternut squash
3 cups milk
8 oz aged cheddar, grated or cubed
2 Tbsp parmesan
2 cups dry macaroni or any short pasta

The sauce can easily be made in the time it takes to cook the macaroni.  While the pasta water is heating up place milk and diced squash in a saucepan at medium heat and cook until squash is tender.  Take off heat and puree with an immersion blender.  Remove 1/2 cup of the liquid and stir in 1 heaping Tbsp of flour.  Return the flour slurry to the pot and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook about 15 minutes to thicken.

Grate in some fresh nutmeg and add the cheese.  Cheese will melt into the sauce quickly, so just keep on low until macaroni is ready.  Season with S&P.

When pasta is cooked, combine with the sauce in a casserole dish.  Top with breadcrumbs and bake (350 F) until browned.

This is a super simple recipe and can easily be added to.  Next time I'll try adding kale or swiss chard.

Friday 20 September 2013

Crap Apple Butter ... I mean Crab Apple

Last year I was given half a bushel of crab apples and decided to make Crab Apple Butter for the first time.  Unfortunately, I let it cook too long and it basically turned into fruit leather.  I did not realize how far along it was until it had already cooled down in the jars - although thick, it was still very "loose" when I canned it.
 It was only when I pulled out the half full jar of extra (you know, the portion that isn't enough to fit into one of the canning jars so just gets put into the fridge) and realized how thick it had become.  In fact, it was so thick it was very difficult to even dig out with a spoon.  Most of it was chucked out - run under hot water until it loosened enough to throw out so I didn't waste the jar.

So when my crab apple tree was full of these dark red beauties, I wanted to give it another try.  And ... I failed again.  Unbelievable.  Really unbelievable.

It was still only the thickness of thick apple sauce, not even jam texture, when I ladled it into the jars.  In fact, I had been taking a few tablespoons out every 15 minutes or so to sit in the fridge so I could see how it was setting.  I seriously don't know what happened (I mean, other than the fact that I overcooked it).   Well that was 10 pounds of crab apples that are probably going to be wasted again.  It isn't as solid as the fruit leather from last year, but by no means "spreadable".  I hope to find a use for it, but haven't thought of anything yet.

Luckily I had another 7 pounds, although it took me a few days before I was ready to try again. This time I checked out several recipes; they all said cook for 2 hours.  I don't really find that helpful.  Two hours of cooking can produce very different results depending on each individual stovetop, the type of pot being used, the actual heat of the element.  What I was hoping for was some indicator of when you know it's ready to be put into jars, but I never really found that.

So for this second batch, I cooked it for 2 hours, but it just didn't seem enough (I know, I know, you're thinking I made leather again).  But I cooked it a bit longer, for 2 1/2 hours, and this time only ended up with thick crab apple sauce ... not even "jam", and certainly not the thicker style "butter" that I was looking for.

Oh well ... at least this saucy batch is still tasty!  And it gave me a chance to try the food mill that I bought at a thrift store 3 years ago and just sat in storage until now!

But I'm officially putting a call out to anyone who can tell me how to make crab apple butter, with clear guidelines to determine doneness.  Without some expert advice, I do believe I will give up.

But just for my own reference, since the taste was great, here's the recipe for each 5 lbs of crab apples:

In a large pot, bring to a boil, then simmer until softened:

  • 5 lbs crab apples, blossom end removed (the stems didn't come off easily, so I just left them on)
  • 1 1/2 cups water

Puree in a food mill to remove seeds and skin.  Should have about 6-7 cups of puree.  Return to pot and add:

  • 4 cups white sugar
  • Grated rind and juice of 1 orange
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg

Cook however long you feel like because I have no idea!