Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Nova Scotia Chow Chow- Using up those Green Tomatoes!

If you're like me, you have lots of green tomatoes reddening (and rotting) on your basement floor. I post here a delicious green tomato recipe from my dear neighbour Trish. She shares a wee bit of the heart of Nova Scotia with us...

Chow, chow!  I just like saying the word, even typing it is fun. chow, chow.  chow, chow. meow meow.
This is a Nova Scotia Chow Chow recipe.
To be used on hunks of dry meat or to sweeten up a dull meal.
Delicious any time of year.
Best to can. 
1. Slice:
 - 16 cups finely sliced green tomatoes
 - 8 cups sliced onions

2. Sprinkle well with salt (preferably sea salt) and let sit overnight.  Mmm..salty juices.

3. Drain.

4. Put drained tomatoes and onions in a large pot, add:
  - 3 cups of vinegar, 
  - 4 to 5 cups of sugar (depending on how sweet you want your chow chow)
  - 1/2 cup of pickling spices (in a cheesecloth bag)
5. Cook, stirring often until soft and thick.
Makes six whopping pints.

Monday, September 27, 2010

More Pumpkin Recipes

I'm not a fan of the texture of pumpkin soup, but the flavour in the recipe below is fantastic... I use it more like a dip with pita chips, which bypasses the whole mental problem over texture.

Both recipes come from those crazy Canadian ladies, Janet and Great Podleski (Loonyspoon girls). If you've got extra money in your cook book budget, their recipes are fantastic- flavourful and healthy.

Pumpkin Soup with Apples and Ginger

2 tsp olive oil
1 C chopped onions
1 t minced garlic
1 T grated ginger root
1 t  curry powder
1/2 t cumin
4 C chicken broth
2 C peeled and chopped apples
2 C canned (or cooked) pure pumpkin
1 C chopped carrots
1/2 t salt
1/4 t pepper
3/4 evaporated 2% milk, or light 5% cream

1. Heat oil in large, non stick soup pot over medium heat. Add onions and garlic. Cook and stir until onions begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add ginger root, curry powder and ground cumin. Mix well and cook for 20 more seconds.

2. Add broth, apples, pumpkin, carrots, salt and pepper. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer. covered, for 12 to 15 minutes or until carrots are tender. Stir occasionally.

3. Use a hand blander and puree until smooth. Stir in milk or cream. Serve hot.
(From Eat, Shrink and Be Merry)

Pumpkin and Carrot Muffins

1 1/2 C flour
1/2 C wheat bran
2 t  baking powder
2 t  pumpkin pie spice (I mix nutmeg, all spice, ginger, cinnamon up equal parts)
1t   baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 C cooked/ canned pure pumpkin
1/2 C grated carrots
1/2 C buttermilk and honey
1/4 C butter or margarine, melted
1 egg
1 t vanilla
1 t grated orange zest
1/2 C chopped walnuts (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 375. Spray a 12- C muffin tin with non stick spray and set aside.

2. In a large bowl, combine flour, wheat bran, baking powder, pumpkin spice, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together pumpkin, carrots, buttermilk, honey, butter, egg, vanilla and orange zest. Add wet ingredients to flour mixture and stir just until moistened. Batter will be thick. Gently fold in walnuts, if using.

4. Divide batter among 12 muffin cups. Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove muffins from pan and let cool on wire rack.
(From Crazy Plates)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Cooked me a Pumpkin

'Tis the season that you can finally buy (or are harvesting) Jack O'Lantern's head.

When Madi saw one among the grocery bags, she immediately begged to make pumpkin soup. I was a little surprised because at four years old, veggies and/or soup is not her thing. Pleased that my daughter's palate was becoming open minded, immediately upon her request I tossed the 2 foot wide squash into the oven.

With the oven rack set as low as it could go, Jack the Pumpkin filled the space. He sat on a ridged cookie sheet for at least 2 hours, roasting at 300 F. He slowly sagged and sweated in the heat. Madi forked him every half an hour, "Is the soup ready yet?" she asked continually. I think she thought that we'd open the pumpkin up and soup would be inside. A nice idea- huge orange bowl of pumpkin soup... perhaps this could be done with a little clever manufacturing (suck out the seeds and insert the spice?).

Once the fork pierced the flesh easily, we pulled out the tray and let Jack cool. On numerous occasions, I have nearly cut my hand off while trying to chop up fresh squash. It was only last year that I began roasting them whole; I'll never know how many fingers this method saved me, but I guarantee a few.

Slicing Jack in half took about half a second and the inside stringy bits and seeds were easy to remove. From this large pumpkin, bought for $4 from Superstore, I gleaned 18 Cups of cooked pumpkin (about the equivalent of 8x 540 ml of canned pumpkin or about $24 worth!)

Another way to visualize our harvest is to imagine my kitchen filled with:

- 4 dozen pumpkin/carrot muffins
- 8 servings of pumpkin/apple/ginger soup
- 5 pumpkin pies
- 1 cup of roasted seeds

What a feast! Gleaning Jack's flesh required us to get our hands dirty (slimy might be a better descriptor), but it was great value for little effort.  What pumpkin I didn't use, I packed in 1 Cup baggies and froze.

See below for my roasted pumpkin seed recipe (for nutritional information see here for seeds and here for pumpkin). I'll post the soup and muffin recipes tomorrow.

Roasted Pumpkin Seed Recipe

1. Wash and dry seeds. If all the strings don't come off, pick them out after roasting when they are crispy and easy to sift out.
 2. Toss seeds with (olive) oil and (sea) salt. You could also use seasoning salt, cajun spice, fajita spice...
3. Spread out seeds evenly on a cookie sheet and roast in 200 F oven until they are crispy like you like them (plan for a few hours). Stir them occasionally for even roasting.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Apple Oatmeal Recipe for a Too Early Fall

The first frost here in the great North was a frost to be reckoned with. Nothing like -5 C to clobber most of the garden leaves to a drippy, translucent mess. Not to mention how it left most tomatoes and squash that I was optimistic enough to leave on the vine. But, focussing on the positive, one has to turn to the carrots and apple- they really are divine after such a frost lays out their more tender garden compatriots. This is their time to shine.

Our grey, cold weather is enough to make me start making oatmeal again. If you're not a fan, try it one more time adding shredded apples and (a wee bit o') cream- and you may just be hooked (and healthier for it!).

Now that my black pot has been moved from the needs-to-be-redesigned- solar cooker, it has become my oatmeal pot. For something worth getting up in the morning, find yourself a pot and put in it:

1 Cup Oatmeal (I prefer regular, but use instant if you have it)
2 Cups Water
pinch of salt
splash of cinnamon (or 3 or 6)

Heat this up to boiling then turn to low for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. While you wait, shred an apple.

Add the shredded apple to the pot when oatmeal has thickened. Warm for another 5 minutes. Try experimenting, adding almonds or raisins as you prefer.

Sweeten with brown sugar, or maple syrup. I mix in a splash of cream to make it the kind of porridge you get for $9 a bowl at Vancouver hotel restaurants.

Happy warming, folks. The season for furnaces has begun.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Meeting Cora's Bees

Cora Suits Up
To watch the bees in action, check out this video of Cora opening the hive.

Quick quiz: What do you do when something black and yellow buzzes by your head? If you’re with my neighbour, Cora McLachlan, you better not swat at it- McLachlan is a beekeeper and keeps four hives on a Camrose area farm.  Her hives face a field of swaying gold grain heads. It is a short commute to work for her busy bees.

Last month I had the opportunity to watch thousands of her honeybees. Standing in their flight path from their hive to the field was surreal; the bees, like a lazy house cat, gave me no notice. “Things to do and flowers to see,” they buzzed.

Their homes are innocuous, simple wooden boxes stacked two to five high. Each one houses an average of 60,000 bees. Their door is a narrow, horizontal entrance at the base of the stack.
The hives on the left are healthy.

This year, only two of McLachlan’s colonies are strong. One weak hive was over exposed to winter gusts and the bees starved to death, huddled together at the base of the hive, too cold to venture to the food in the box above. The other colony has mites. These tiny parasitic creatures are wreaking havoc on Canadian bee colonies and in some areas are threatening the beekeeping industry. McLachlan doesn’t like medicating, but this year she must do it or face an extinguished colony in the spring. Prevention is her main interest in combating the mites and she is experimenting with a variety of methods.

Most honeybee colonies in Alberta travel from New Zealand in a capped tube, narrow in diameter and as long as a small car is wide. Eight to ten thousand bees are in this tube; there is one queen. This lucky lady will spend her life laying eggs in cells and secreting a pheromone that ensures all other females remain sterile. In the larger cells she lays drones (the male, minor characters in our story). The virgin queen will mate once in her life, mating with multiple drones. After the festivities, the lucky guys romantically, literally, drop dead.

From the smaller cells, females will hatch. As a beekeeper, you hope that most of the eggs laid are females because it’s the ladies who do all the work. In fact, too many guys can seriously weaken your colony by eating food the females spend their life collecting. In their short life span of about 6 months, the females will cycle through most roles in the hive. The queen must be cared (she will outlive her compatriots ten times!). Then there are the drones to run out and keep from the hive, the combs to build, the colony to defend, the collection of pollen and nectar from the field, and the honey to make. Most of their life will be spent in the fields.  

I'm feeling a little nervous.
To peek in the hive, I suited up like a real bee keeper- white coveralls smelled deliciously sweet, elasticized elbow-high gloves and a safari hat surrounded by netting that was tied securely around my collar. McLachlan suited up as well. She has kept bees for two years and has never been stung in that time. She’s careful, but the bees are also very docile when she opens their hive, thanks to the (legal) smoke she puffs into the top box a minute before entry.

Inside the boxes, plastic combs hang like file folders in a drawer. The combs fit tightly together to ease the bees’ work filling the cells with nectar (their carbs) and pollen (there protein). When the time is right, they cover it all with a preserving layer of wax. One box can hold 75 lbs of honey.  As one box is filled and capped, they work their way up. McLachlan’s September’s harvest was slim considering the number of stacked boxes, garnering her just over 100lbs of fresh, free flowing honey.

While McLachlan keeps her bees outside the city, an urban bee movement is gaining momentum.  Many cities including New York and Vancouver have overturned bylaws restricting beekeeping in the city limits. In Edmonton, Patti Milligan, aka Lola Canola, told the Edmonton Journal, “My feeling is, if we go the way of most cities that have had this discussion, the bylaw will be changed.”
The buzzing field.

My trip to McLachlan’s bees was a reminder to think a little differently about buzzing creatures.  Wasps and hornets are important predators in our gardens. Honeybees not only produce their sweetener, they and other pollinators are critical for apples, squash, strawberries and other plants to fruit.  The makings and mysteries of life are in the hands and feet of much smaller creatures than I.

Their gift is a miraculous one to our incessantly swatting race.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Solar Oven Funks my Potatoes

I must report a big huge failing grade on my solar oven design. A couple days ago I 'cooked' potatoes after Conrad from greenedmonton's left an excellent link to one of his posts on cooking with his solar oven.

Into the black pot went the new garden potatoes. Into the oven went the pot at about 9:30 am. To be doubly sure I'd catch the solar rays, I tilted the oven more significantly south and ensured the inside tin foil and reflectors were properly arranged.

At 6 pm I proudly removed the pot's lid to discover tepid potatoes that looked more ready for the still than my dinner plate. The solar oven seemed to have advanced the potatoes' fermentation process; brown spots and sour smell have dashed my high hopes for this experiment with solar.

I'm afraid I need to start over with my design. Perhaps after some success next year I'll be able to report what was wrong with our garage-junk set up... but until then, if you've any wisdom, I'd love to hear it!

Got Beets? Boil 'em, chop 'em, fry 'em up.

Beet season in our house stretches through the summer into fall thanks to succession plantings from April to July. Before now, I'd always peeled beets because that's what I did to turnips and yams. 

My friend Louise set me straight, "You peel them? No, no, no, honey, just boil them and the skin rolls off."  

Always happy to cut out a step, I boiled a cylinder beet and- holy moly!- the skin just peeled off. The critical thing to remember when boiling beets to eat is: Cut the greens off an inch or two above the beet root. Otherwise, you'll bleed your beet.

Once beets are cooked you can eat them plain or slathered with any combination of butter, oil, spices, herbs, salt. sugar. Or you can refrigerate them for up to a few days. Or you can freeze them up to ten months. Or, you can can them plain, or pickle them, or dye things with them... Beets are a versatile vegetable and one of the prettiest cooked! Check out this page for the humble beet's nutritional information.

Here are a couple of my favorite recipes:

Balsamic, Beet Wonder Salad

1. Dice cool, cooked beets
2. Toss beets in Balsamic vinegar and a little olive oil
3. Throw in some arugula or basil (or experiment with other salad leaves) and mix with beets and dressing.
4. Top with feta or Parmesan cheese.
5. Top this with roasted nuts (try salted sunflower or pine nut, walnuts fried with butter and brown sugar is incredible!)
6. Serve and make some more.

Vegetable Bake

1. Thinly slice a variety of veggies. In the above picture I've sliced yam, potato, beet and zucchini.
2. Layer the harder veggies (in this case the beet, yam and potato) at the bottom of an oil covered, deep dish frying pan. 
3. Put a little water over top (sprinkle it on to moisten), salt and pepper, then cover until veggies are soft.
4. Add another layer of softer veggies (like zucchini) and sausage. Add fresh herbs to this layer. Cover until veggies are soft.
5. Add cheese. A mix of mozza and a stronger cheese like parmesan or blue cheese is nice. 
6. Allow cheese to melt.
7. Sprinkle with paprika and serve bake after letting it cool slightly.