Nip It in the Bud!

Nip It in the Bud

I’m growing a wee herb farm in my kitchen.  I am tired of the wilted overpriced garbage I get in the grocery store, so I’m growing my own mint, rosemary, oregano, basil, and cilantro.  And it’s coming along just fine.

Nip It in the Bud

If you know anything about gardening, then you will know all about this little tip.  If you don’t know anything about gardening (like me) then this little tip will be super cool.

Nip It in the Bud

To make your plants branch out more (i.e. produce more leaves and therefore more things for you to eat), just pinch out the tiny leaf buds at the tops of the stems.  Those little wee leaves there.  Just pinch them off.

Nip It in the Bud

Then your plant is forced to rely on its secondary growth and you get a nice branching effect, which in this case will give me more basil.

Nip It in the Bud

And more rosemary.

Nip It in the Bud

And more mint!

Nip It in the Bud

And when those grow out a bit you can do it all over again, more pinching, more branching …

Nip It in the Bud

Blue Egg Group

Happy Friday the 13th!

Blue Egg Group

I do not suffer from triscadecaphobia, the fear of Friday the 13th.  Normally it’s an extremely lucky day for me.

And true to form, what do I get but some fresh St. Phillips BLUE eggs, a gift from Miss Awesome?  It’s always my lucky day.

Blue Egg Group

Aren’t these beautiful?

Blue Egg Group

I don’t want to waste them on something banal, so stay tuned for the amazingness I plan to create with them.

Blue Egg Group

I have a number of project ideas lined up for the next few weeks, but they all take a bit of time, so please be patient with me if the posts you’ve been seeing are a little simpler than you are used to.  As Blackadder would say, it’s all part of my cunning plan …

Poached Pears

Poached Pears

This is another recipe I borrowed from Caroline over at The Wanna be Country Girl, who in turn got it from David Leibovitz, one of my favourite chefs.  I may have borrowed a few of his recipes myself on a few occasions.

Poached Pears

Fall is the time for apples and pears, and delicate pears lend themselves well to a gentle poaching. So cut up 4 firm, ripe pears.  These are Bartletts, I think — I got them at Costco.  They could be Anjou. There was a big pile and they were all messed around, and I’m not that good at fruit identification. Quarter, core, and peel the pear pieces and plop them in a large saucepan.

Poached Pears

Slide in 1 sliced lemon, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, and 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar. Pour 1 quart (1 litre) water over the fruit.

Poached Pears

Cut a square of parchment paper, fold it into quarters, and cut a hole from the centre.

Poached Pears

So when it’s unfolded you have a hole in the middle.  This will let the steam out.

Poached Pears

Tuck the parchment paper into the saucepan and bring the fruit to a simmer for 25 minutes.

Poached Pears

Then I removed the fruit to cool slightly and turned up the heat on the remaining liquid to reduce it to a syrup.

Poached Pears

As we had clafoutis for dessert that night, we let the pears cool and had them for breakfast the next day, with their own syrup and a daub of whipped cream.

Poached Pears

Amazing on top of pancakes!  Try the pears in sandwiches and salads, too.

Poached Pears

O Canada: Canadian Bacon

Peameal Bacon

Today is my dad’s birthday.  He’s 64.  Happy birthday Dad!  It’s also the 75th birthday of the CBC.  Happy birthday to a Canadian institution!

I’m going to finish off our O Canada feature month with a delicacy that was originally introduced to me by my dad, back when we were both quite a bit younger than we are now.

In Canada we call it back bacon, or peameal bacon due to its peameal crust.  You might know it as Canadian bacon.  And oh is it ever divine.

Peameal Bacon

There is no extra fat, no dripping, spitting, liquid pain when you’re cooking it.  Just solid bacony goodness.

You just slice it up thin and heat it in a pan — it’s pre-cooked!

Peameal Bacon

You can also cube it up and put it in soups and stews.  Marvellous.

O Canada: French Toast

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!French Toast

Wait a second. Are you telling me that French toast is Canadian?

No, not really.  In fact the first reference to a dish resembling French toast is written in Latin and dates back to the 4th or 5th century.  French toast, or pain doré (“golden bread”), can be found in a lot of recipe books from all over the world.

But it does form part of what the Pie and I refer to as a “lumberjack breakfast,” and that makes it part of our Canadian cuisine.

French Toast

Picture this: most of Canada is unpopulated by people, and in many places still there are huge tracts of old-growth forest stretching off past the horizon.  One thing we do got is trees.  A steady supply of timber is one of the reasons Canada was colonized in the first place.  Our capital city was founded in the 1850s as a lumber town, and mills operated there even as late as the 1960s, clogging the Ottawa river with rafts and rafts of logs.

From our old $1 bill, image from Steve Briggs

The timber that flowed downriver to the mills came from logging camps far upstream, and these camps were occupied by big, rough men, mostly immigrants from Poland, Ireland, or the wilds of Québec, working in miserable conditions to earn enough money to send to their families, who often lived hundreds of miles away.

Norris Point

Logging was (and still is) a rather dangerous occupation, and it took a lot of energy just to stay alive and get the job done.  That is why every logging camp worth its salt (and many weren’t) had a reputable camp cook, and this cook was responsible for providing all the loggers with the caloric intake they needed to last out the day.  This meant a breakfast crammed with carbohydrates, proteins, and fats: bacon, biscuits, eggs, pancakes, bread, sausages, steaks — and French toast.

French Toast

The traditional lumberjack French toast would have originally started out as a loaf of stale bread, sliced and left to soak overnight in a mixture of milk and eggs.  It was fried up and served hot, slathered with sugary maple syrup and dusted with more sugar.  Our version is only slightly more refined.  Oh, and if you’d like to read a bit more about logging camps, John Irving produced a great novel recently on the subject called Last Night in Twisted River.  It’s a good read, one of Irving’s best, in my opinion.

French Toast

Anyway, French toast.  Here we go.  This recipe will give you six to eight slices of eggy toast, depending on the size and absorbency of your bread.

In a shallow bowl, whisk together 2/3 cup milk (or half milk and half cream) and 4 eggs.

French Toast

Add in as well 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla.  If you want to go very traditional, try a teaspoon of rum instead and replace the sugar with maple syrup.

French Toast

One at a time, soak your pieces of bread in the egg mixture.  Here we used raisin bread because we love it.

French Toast

Traditionally you would use a thick hearth loaf, but if you want to get fancy, it’s also good with brioche, or pannetone, or even biscuits.  Experiment. Make sure to get both sides good and eggy.

French Toast

Slip the bread into a hot buttered skillet.

French Toast

Brown both sides (this takes about three minutes a side if you use medium heat).

French Toast

Serve hot, sprinkled with icing sugar and fresh fruit, if available.

French Toast

You can add a sprinkle of cinnamon, too, if the mood strikes you.

French Toast

Canadian-style means, of course, lots and lots of maple syrup. Lumberjacks need their caffeine, too, so have it with a hot cup of coffee.

French Toast

Makes a great start (or end) to any day.

French Toast

Tofu Feature Month: Tofu-Spinach Calzones

Tofu Spinach Calzone

[Note from Photographer’s Ego: Yes, I know these pictures fail to follow that number one rule of food photography: use natural light!  I will be building myself a light box soon, not to fret.]

This will be our final tofu recipe for you folks for a while.  Our digestive systems are not used to so much soy and they have unequivocally had enough.  The Pie especially so.  Poor man.  Pity him that his wife cooks new things for him on a regular basis.  Tsk.

The last time the Pie and I attempted calzones, we ended up with floor pizza.  I was determined to get it right this time.  The recipe below, with some modifications, comes from the Savvy Vegetarian, and it’s pretty easy.  The dough is nice and stretchy, and I could definitely use it again for a calzone with a different filling, which is exciting!  The yield for this is 10 hand-hold-able calzones, and I halved it (because there’s only the Pie and myself — Gren doesn’t get people food).

For the dough:

In a small bowl, dissolve 1 teaspoon granulated sugar in 1 1/4 cups warm water.  Stir in 2 teaspoons active dry yeast and allow that to sit for 10 minutes.

Tofu Spinach Calzone

Or until it gets all foamy.

Tofu Spinach Calzone

In a larger bowl, add 1/2 teaspoon salt to 3 cups flour and mix well.

Rub in (exactly how it sounds) 1 tablespoon olive oil.  Rub it between your fingers until there are no large clumps left.

Tofu Spinach Calzone

Stir the water/yeast mixture into the flour until it forms a shaggy ball.  Make sure to get all the floury goodness at the bottom of the bowl.

Tofu Spinach Calzone

On a floured surface, knead the ball for about 10 minutes.  The more you knead it, the tackier it will get, so you will need to add more flour on occasion.  Also, keep in mind that the more you knead it, the more elastic it will be (because you worked all the gluten together).  You want your dough to be nice and stretchy.

Tofu Spinach Calzone

Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover it with a clean cloth and set it in a warm place to rise for about an hour.

Tofu Spinach Calzone

For the filling:

Dice up 1/4 cup onion, and about 8 mushrooms and toss them in a frying pan with 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons minced garlic.  Sauté until soft.

Tofu Spinach Calzone

In a small bowl, mix up 1 tablespoon flour, 1 tablespoon powdered vegetable stock, 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon dried basil, a pinch of cayenne, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper.

Tofu Spinach Calzone

Toss that on the vegetables in the pan and stir it around.

Tofu Spinach Calzone

Plop in 16 ounces fresh baby spinach (you can use frozen spinach, if you thaw it and drain it first), as well as 2 12-ounce packages of firm silken tofu and a dash of soy sauce.  You can break up the tofu before you toss it in, but it gave me something to do while I waited for the spinach to wilt.

Tofu Spinach Calzone

I had some leftover chèvre, 8 ounces worth, so I tossed that in as well.  So if you’d like to add that to this recipe, chuck in 8-16 ounces goat’s cheese and stir it around until well-incorporated and completely melted.

Tofu Spinach Calzone

Remove the mixture from the heat.

Tofu Spinach Calzone

Calzone Assembly and Baking:

Preheat your oven to 425°F.

Tofu Spinach Calzone

Punch down your dough.  Literally.

Tofu Spinach Calzone

Divide it into 10 equal parts, rolled into balls (remember, my recipe is halved, that’s why you only see five).

Tofu Spinach Calzone

On a floured surface, roll each ball out into a 6″ round.

Tofu Spinach Calzone

Divide the filling into 10 equal parts and place each portion on a round, slightly to one side.

Tofu Spinach Calzone

Wet the edges of the dough with your finger and fold over each round to make a half circle.

Squish down the edges with your finger and crimp with a fork to seal them.

Tofu Spinach Calzone

Place the calzones on a baking sheet.  You can brush them with oil and sprinkle them with salt if you like, for a crusty, salty top.  I chose to cook ours on our pizza stone, which I put in the oven when I turned it on. Cut two diagonal slices in the top of each calzone to let the steam escape.

Tofu Spinach Calzone

Bake for 15-25 minutes, until the dough is golden brown and the filling bubbles up through the holes.

Tofu Spinach Calzone

Be careful, they’re HOT!

O Canada Cuisine Suggestions

Toronto

One of my colleagues, the Multilinguist, is off in Vega doing research.  She has requested I whip up a feature month of Canadian food so she can impress her research participants, and it’s a challenge I have happily accepted.

And what a challenge it will be!  Canada is a country of vast natural resources, which include lots of fantastic things to eat.  It’s also a country of immigrants, which means that much of what we eat is flavoured by influences from other countries.

That said, I can’t do this without your help — what stands out in your mind as being distinctly Canadian cuisine?  I’d like to take a culinary journey across all Canada’s provinces and territories, but I just don’t know enough about all of them do it alone.  Not to mention that many dishes from many provinces (like the prairies, the territories, or the forever intertwined-and-annoyed-about-it Ontario/Quebec) tend to blend into each other in terms of available foodstuffs.  Your suggestions will be most helpful.

Is there a place you visited/lived/read about that had something tasty to offer?  What kinds of food do you think about when (if) you think about Canada?

I’m looking for main courses, desserts, beverages — anything you can come up with.

Here’s my opening salvo into this Canadian menu.  I’m really just spitballing here.  We’ll start out west, then zig-zag north and south as we work our way east, shall we?

CANADIANA — ON MY PLATE:

British Columbia

Smoked salmon on cedar planking.  Nanaimo bars for dessert.

BC has a large number of residents of Asian descent, so maybe smoked salmon sushi?

I also remember driving past a number of llama farms there as a child.  I wonder what llama tastes like?

Yukon Territory

All that comes to mind here is Robert W. Service’s The Cremation of Sam McGee, which is not particularly helpful, I know.  But what did the gold-diggers eat (aside from their sled dogs)?

From a little bit of research I see that the Yukon has a thriving wheat growers’ association.  Perhaps some hearty hearth bread?

Northwest Territories

Caribou stands out as a traditional food here.  In fact, you can see all the useful bits of a caribou and other local fauna here.  I’m pretty sure I can get caribou in St. John’s, if I do some looking around.

Bannock is also another possibility, or a wild berry tart.

Alberta

Alberta beef is a dear, dear thing to us.  It’s not something readily available to me in Newfoundland, but I can probably make some substitutions.  Alberta also produces a large number of elk and other large livestock.

Saskatchewan

Most of the recipes coming up here involve home-grown grains, like rice, barley, and lentils.  Lots of pilafs and stews.

They (and all the other prairie provinces) also grow a hardy little berry called the saskatoon.  I am pretty certain I can’t find that this far east.

Nunavut

Because Nunavut is Canada’s newest territory (c. 1999), it’s gotten a lot of press in the past decade and so it’s all over the internet.  Nunavut recipes involve caribou, arctic char, and seal.  Please don’t ask me to cook seal.  It is such a strong, oily meat.  I’ll try anything twice, and seal has already reached its limit in my tummy.

A quirky adaptation is the Nunavut bar, a modification of the Nanaimo bar with a snow-white centre.

Manitoba

I really know nothing at all about prairie cooking.  I’m pulling all this stuff off the internet.  Pork, poulty, and mushrooms seem popular here.  Please fill me in if you know anything different.

Ontario/Quebec

This massive conglomerate has the same sort of food availability as the prairies.  You can get good Ontario produce all throughout the summer and fantastic Quebec cheese from tiny hamlets all across the province.  Having lived on the Ontario/Quebec border for a long time, I’m a little muzzy on who “owns” what kinds of food, but I’m definitely thinking poutine, which originated in the Ottawa-Gatineau area, as well as the ubiquitous beavertail pastries you can pick up on the banks of the Rideau Canal.

New Brunswick

Like the other Atlantic provinces, New Brunswick cuisine features glorious amounts of seafood.  Man do I love seafood.  And New Brunswickers can do their seafood with an Acadian twist, which makes their dishes just a little bit different from the rest of the ocean provinces.

Nova Scotia

All that’s running through my head is lobster lobster lobster lobster apple crumble lobster lobster blueberry picking lobster lobster lobster.  Though I do remember cooking an egg on the sidewalk in Lunenburg when I was little.  And the fact that lemon meringue pie is considered a maritime staple, despite the fact that lemons don’t grow on the east coast.

Prince Edward Island

Despite being Canada’s smallest province, PEI is BIG on potatoes.  I can definitely work with that.

Newfoundland and Labrador

We’ll finish off our tour at home, which will be a little bit less of a challenge.  Starting a blog while living here has made me a bit more conscious of what’s going on, food-wise, than I had been about the other places I lived.  Aside from the usual seafood and the absolutely vile seal-flipper pie (as I said, don’t ask me to cook seal, I won’t do it), there’s a bunch of scoffs (that’s Newfoundland English for a meal) around here with local flavour.  Fish ‘n’ brewis, scrunchions, any form of salted meat, moose pizza, toutons, and not to mention famous Newfoundland berries such as partridgeberries, blueberries, and bakeapples.  I’m sure I can arrange something outta that.

In Sum,

basically what we have to work with here are a wide variety of grains, fish, shellfish, livestock, berries, and fruits.  How can we make them Canadian?

 

 

Summer Soft Tacos

While it’s in our immediate plans to learn how to make our own tortillas, we haven’t gotten there yet.  So for now we’re using store-bought corn tortillas and that’s working out just great.

Tacos and wraps are great because you can get creative with what you use.  You can use poultry, beef, pork, soy … whatever you want.  You can even use leftovers, add new spices, and come up with whole new dishes.  Plus they’re easy for when you don’t have a lot of spare time at night.  And kids like making their own.  So it’s a win-win situation for all.

This super-easy recipe takes about 20 minutes from start to finish, and by my measurements, feeds 3 people and uses 10 small corn flour tortillas.  You can of course up the recipe for more.

Start by finely chopping up 1 red onion.

Put half that onion in a good-sized bowl and the other half elsewhere.

Then finely chop up 2 tomatoes and add them to the onion.

Ditto 4 leaves lettuce (Romaine).

And an avocado.

And a bunch of cilantro.

Toss.

Liberally season with salt and pepper and lime juice.  Set that aside to get all percolated with cilantro and lime goodness.

In a tiny bowl, mix 2 tablespoons chili powder with 1 tablespoon ground cumin and 1 tablespoon corn starch.

In a medium saucepan, sauté up that other half onion with a clove or two of minced garlic (about 2 teaspoons).

Add in about 1 pound (450g) lean ground beef and stir until browned.  Add in the spice mix and cook for a few minutes longer, until thick and saucy.

Grate up some cheddar cheese and have some sour cream handy as you artfully arrange all your foodie bits around you.

Now take a tortilla and smooth on some sour cream.  Then sprinkle some of your tex-mex meat.

Scoop on some salad and a dropping of cheese.

Roll from one end to the other.

Like rolling a dead person up in a rug.  Or a burrito.  And eat that sucker.  Mmmm.

The Chicken Salad Sandwich to Convert the Non-Believers

When the Pie and I first started dating, we both had a lot more money than we do now (read: we have NO money now, and then we HAD money).  So we used to go on these elaborate dates, which were so much fun.

On this one in particular, it was my turn to plan.  We started out picking raspberries from a local farm (where I got bitten by a dog and I still have the scar, seven years later, but that’s another story), followed by a picnic lunch in a village park, a game of mini-golf (where I soundly beat the pants off the Pie), a nap, and then a late dinner at a fancy restaurant downtown.  A good time was had by all.

But this story is about the picnic.  As I said, we had only been dating a few months, and I wasn’t yet fully versed on the Pie’s various food likes and dislikes (he insists he’s not a picky eater, but the rest of us look at each other and shake our heads).

To impress my new man, I had prepared a sumptuous picnic feast, featuring as a main course my signature chicken salad sandwiches with moist, tender chicken, crisp celery, and just a hint of spice.

It turns out that the Pie didn’t like chicken salad.  Note that I said “didn’t.”  He gallantly took a bite of the sandwich, to be polite (after all, I had made him two sandwiches in anticipation of his appetite).  Instantly, he was converted.  Now he gets chicken salad all the time when he buys sandwiches.

So here is that recipe for you.  Go forth and proselytize!

We had 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts that we’d poached the day before.  The trick with chicken salad is to mince your chicken.  Most chicken salads have these huge chunks of chicken in them, which, while tasty, tend to fall out of your sandwich all over the place.

So MINCE those suckers.

Also mince up a few stalks of celery.

I like the bottom of celery bits.  It’s like a green flower.

Mix the celery into the chicken.

Now add about a teaspoon of paprika, and 2 teaspoons chili powder.  You can add more if you like the taste.

Glop on about 2/3 cup mayonnaise (don’t skimp here, people, and use real mayo).

Mix that stuff up.  Garnish with a festive sprig of basil and you have yourself some salad.

Which you can then put into sammiches.  Which you can then eat.

Have you ever converted anyone to a food?

A Trip to Ferryland

The day dawned foggy and damp but we were convinced it would improve, so the Pie and I piled Rusty, Mags, and Gren into our rented car and drove an hour and a half south of St. John’s to the town of Ferryland (population: ~529).  This was the third time the Pie and I had made it to Ferryland, but the first time that we were really able to appreciate it.  On previous occasions, we had arrived in town after an afternoon of iceberg hunting and were too tired to take the time to walk around this historical settlement.  This year is a bad one for icebergs, however, so we were rested and refreshed and raring to go.

I’ll give you a little background on Ferryland.

Originally an acclaimed fishing location for migratory French and Portuguese fishermen at the end of the sixteenth century, the area, known as “Farilham” by the Portuguese and “Forillon” by the French, was granted to the London and Bristol Company in the early 1610s.  “Ferryland” is the Anglicization of those names.

In 1620, the land was granted to George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore (there are nearby settlements called Calvert and Baltimore, respectively, and yes, this is the same Lord Baltimore of Baltimore, MD).  In 1623 Calvert appointed a dude named Edward Wynne to establish a colony there, which grew into one of the first successful European establishments in North America.  In 1623 as well, King James I granted Calvert a charter creating the Province of Avalon.  This gave Calvert carte blanche to control all administrative and territorial matters in the area, and he chose Ferryland as its principal settlement.

Like many settlements in Newfoundland, the rich fishing grounds around Ferryland were much sought after, and Ferryland suffered a raid from the Dutch in the 1670s, before being decimated by New France in 1696.  It was soon reoccupied, and has remained so to this day, predominantly by Irish and English descendants.  There is an active archeological dig site, which shows you how Lord and Lady Baltimore lived nearly four hundred years ago. 

There is lots to see in Ferryland.  Unfortunately, when we went this time all of the exhibits were closed due to a water problem.  Still, the historic Ferryland Museum has an immense collection of artifacts recovered from the dig site, and is a historical artifact itself, dating back to 1916.

The principal attraction in Ferryland, however, is the Ferryland Head Lighthouse. 

A two-kilometre walking trail stretches across The Downs and along a narrow strip of land sandwiched between two green coves. 

A stunted forest opens onto a rocky promontory, atop which sits the lighthouse itself, a sturdy red tower with a squat white house attached.

If you go into the lighthouse, you’ll meet the Lighthouse Ladies, who, for $25 a person, will provide you with a scrumptious picnic lunch.  

They’ll give you a signal flag and a picnic blanket and send you outside to find a good spot in the cushy undergrowth to have your lunch. 

Once you’re settled, they’ll bring you your lunch in a basket: hearty sandwiches on thick oatmeal bread, rich pasta salad, melt-in-your-mouth desserts, and fresh, tart lemonade, served in Mason jars.  Just some more shots of this amazing al fresco meal:

After your post-lunch nap (the ground really is nice and soft here, believe it or not), you can explore the area around the lighthouse.

This is Rusty and Mags getting their first taste of the North Atlantic.

Some radioactively green algae:

A rusty thingamajig:

An awesome example of geological strata:Then you have the long trek back to civilization.  But so worth it.

Check it out for yourself!

Lighthouse Picnics

Ferryland Municipal Website

Ferryland Wikipedia Page

Colony of Avalon Archaeological Site

Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism Ferryland Page