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Archive for March, 2010

New York City legalized urban bee keeping this Month (just over a week ago).

There had been strong bee keeping movements `underground` in Brooklyn and other areas of the city until this week.  `Underground` locations were frequently on the top of buildings where dedicated bee keepers have been creating honey for years.  Each hive can produce as much as $100 pounds of honey in a year.

A good friend keeps bees North of Toronto.  The amount of work he puts in is considerable.  I was surprised to find out that to purchase a queen bee is about $150 and can come from anywhere in the world.  Different regions produce different Queens and different Queens produce different styles of honey.  It`s a fascinating process.

I`m not sure that Toronto every realized that making this illegal was an option.  The Royal York Hotel announced it`s own apiary in 2008  and continues to produce honey for patrons and diners within the hotel.  They are home to approximately 40,000 bees in the middle of Toronto.

New York also allows for urban chicken cooping – unlimited hens but no roosters.  A lot of US cities are allowing urban chickens though we are following slower in the North.  A good friend, who is a rural chicken farmer, pointed out that if chickens are left to live to a natural death, they will live for years past their egg-laying state.  This could produce a heck of a dilemma for those who are not aware and raising them as pets.

The argument to legalize roof top (and backyard) coops stems from the hardiness of the chicken, the relative ease of care and the quality, health, ethics, freshness and feeling it comes from producing and consuming your own eggs.

There are many arguments on both sides of legalizing bees and chickens.  I know that, emotionally, I am 100% for it – I don`t know enough to completely understand the risks and benefits to truly weigh in as any expert.  I grew up in areas with bee hives, chickens and rabbits (in an urban setting) and found it exciting and fascinating.  There seems to be a lot of information and misinformation on the Internet.  I hope that we can continue logical conversations that, hopefully, bring more solutions like this to our cities.

What are your thoughts?

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I woke up on Sunday morning and, after a long play date in the dog park, it was time for something to eat.  I`m not a giant breakfast person – I far prefer something `lunchy`to start the day.  All time favourites are hamburgers or spaghetti but one could not live like that for a long time (I tried for several years :)).

I was flipping through Twitter when I saw a post from Julia (she is a fellow can jammer and blogger and she has chickens) – she had made ricotta pancakes and used her chickens eggs.  I was getting hungrier by the minute.

I should also mention that cooking breakfast is another skill that is largely underdeveloped.  Ask Dana about the omelette incident – a collapsed flop of a thing that included cheese, apples, jalapenos and about 8 other flavours.  Try as we might, we couldn`t make it through.

It was time for baked eggs – I had never tried it out before and am thrilled with the results.  We took two small ramekins ( you could use any oven-safe dish including a large one to make a tray of this) and lightly buttered them (you could barely see the butter, if at all).  I lined the bottom with polenta, a layer of onions, garlic and celery root.Topped with salsa, pepper flakes, two cracked eggs and dried herbs (I used oregano).  We even topped with a few tiny pieces of strained ricotta.

See if you can figure out the trick to cooking them based on the picture below:

You place your dish within a water bath.  We used pie plates and poured boiling water into them before adding the entire thing (covered) into the oven at 350 degrees.  The water stays hot and maintains a steady cooking temperature through your dish.  Cook until you are happy with the doneness – I would have prefered things a little runnier but it was great nonetheless (great as in stunning good, I can`t beleive I cooked this breakfast oh my goodness I like it a lot kind of great).  We cooked them for about 30 minutes – 20 would have done the job (you can safely check throughout):

 The eggs are the most expensive piece (I suppose chicken owners might disagree :))  The use of polenta lowers the cost and the entire plate is well under $2.  You could easily replace the salsa with tomatoes, sauce or anything that would keep the moisture in the pan.  There are thousands of variations and an exciting option for eggs for me.

Click on the CHEAP TUESDAY GOURMET tag for more affordable meal ideas – and check out Julias blog to get your appetie going.

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Some things are better seen than described.  I found this time-lapse video on YouTube and, based on the comments, it took 8 hours for 100+ Amish farmers to raise the following barn for community member John Helmstetter (click on the video twice to link to the original if you wish for more detail).

It`s 2 minutes and 34 seconds:

Stunning, in so many ways.

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Dana went out for a few errands – newspaper, milk and that type of thing.  It was all a short walk from home.

She came back about 15 minutes later and proudly proclaimed `I got you a gift!`  It was too cold for ice cream today so I wasn`t sure what was left (the 24-karat tennis bracelet I`ve been dreaming about is at least a 20 minute walk away…laugh).

She proudly held a piece of red metal above her head – after briefly fearing for her fingers, I got most excited:

An interesting  new store has opened in our neighborhood (where you can find the odd treasure – the owner claims to be a “Captain” with “the best booty around”) that’s basically a mix between trashy flea market and pretentious upscale furniture gallery.  Leave it to Dana to find (and recognize) a beer capping machine.  It really is a lot of fun.

I love to think about it’s history.  Who used it?  What did they make?  Who did they share it with?

At any rate, for $15 we now have the first piece of our mini-micro-brewery!

It’s a very exciting day for me so you’ll have to pardon the pun in the title of the post.

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We decided it was time for ribs.  They aren`t something I eat regularly though I do enjoy them when we do.

The biggest tip I have for ribs is fairly common knowledge now – take the time to remove the membrane from the bottom part of the ribs.  I do this by cheating – I use needle-nosed pliers and things go smooth and quick.  There`s no skill involved in this one.

I wanted to cook ribs because of our recent adventures dehydrating onions and celery root and our homemade celery salt.  It`s funny how a pantry of ingredients made with care really starts to guide your food choices.  We have eaten more and more vegetarian dishes and smaller meat portions these days – in this case it was a natural call (in my mind at least), to create a dry rub.

The rub consisted of our homemade dried onions and celery salt and other flavours which had been purchased – pepper, cayenne, salt, brown sugar and smoked paprika.  There was a lot of our own dehydrating in it – all “white” things in the photo below came from the dehydrator.

Once we covered the top and bottom, we let flavours meet each other for several hours.  I would have liked 12-18 but had a later start on these so had to force them a little.

Being a saucy guy (I adore all things sticky and poured), I also made a Jack Daniels Barbeque sauce – it wasn’t made of homemade ingredients so I lost some of the essence of the dry rub but it’s presence was clear in the taste.

They were fantastic – the flavour of the concentrated celery and onion were obvious but not overpowering and knowing that we had done those ourselves is just a feeling that can’t be beat.

One favourite use of left-over ribs is to trim the meat off the bone and add it to a pasta sauce.  Stunning good.

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The can jam continues…

The great wall of preserves now contained 3 different types of alliums from this year and last year – we have malted onion rings, small pickled onions and pickled garlic.  It was time to try something different.

I adore using a mandolin (more on that in a different day) and I quickly realized that leeks would be great fun to put through my slicer.  Te rationale was simple – the smaller the object, the more cuts I get to make a jar.  We cut about 12 leeks ($15) and bottled them with some simple ingredients (about $6).  It`s not a cheap batch (we yielded about 5 cups of product) but the results will last a long time (I can eat a jar of garlic in a sitting – this will be more of a side dish).

The intended uses include salads, side dishes, condiments and cheese.

We did 2 slightly different variations.

The first was the prettiest.  We sliced tiny rings of leeks – it really is wild to see the amount of different colours that they come in:

We blanched them for 20 seconds, salted and left overnight (just as we did with the pickled onions yesterday).

The brine was based on the River Cottage Cookbook on preserves (which means it`s metric – fine for any scale.  1 pound is approx 450 grams and 1 cup is approximately 250 ml):

  • They use 1kg small pickling onions
  • 50g fine salt
  • 600ml vinegar (cider, malt or wine – we used a white wine vinegar)
  • 150g honey or sugar
  • 15g frush ginger
  • 2 tsp allspice berries
  • 2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp peppercorns
  • 1 cinamon stick
  • 2 dried chillies
  • 2 bay leaves

Of course you bring everything to a boil (sans onions), add everything to hot, sterile jars and process.

The results will continue to develop flavour for 2-3 months and I will be patient (I think I can, I think I can, I think I can) and wait for them to mix, mingle and be generally social with each other.

THe second bit was more experimental.  The further up the stalks I got, the harder it was to slice the leeks.  I cut the remaining leaves into 3-inch slices and ran those, in bunches, through the mandolin lengthwise (some knife work needed to clean them up at the end.

These will be a heartier version of the first.  The leaves are tougher, some outright chewy.  I do believe they will be fantastic and I`m excited to see what the vinegar does to their texture – time will tell the difference between the two.  Our brine was a combination of yesterdays pickled onions and todays (use great care when mixing brines like this as you can alter the acid count – because of the vinegar I was using, the quantities of them and the little amount the vinegar has to penetrate, I felt comfortable).

I did think they are particularly pretty:

We`ll let you know how these have turned out by mid-summer – they will hit their peak flavours and bbq season at the same time!

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It’s that time of month again – time for Tigress’ Can Jam (12 months, 12 ingredients and more than 100 canners).  This month’s ingredient was alliums – one of my faves.  We still have some of last year pickled garlic as well as small pickled pearl onions (from my smallest batch of the year last year) so it was time to put the thinking hat on and go a different direction.

Today’s post is on the first of 3 different pickles we made – the other two will come tomorrow.

This was a really simple recipe based on English pub food.  I see myself eating them with an old cheddar, added to a salad (perhaps a topping to some pasta sauces) and definitely on sandwiches – the mighty hamburger being the most welcome pairing.

I was really excited to get Ontario Onions direct from a farmer (our friend Mark Trealout from Kawartha Ecological Growers) at the Wychwood Barns farmers market in Toronto (Saturday mornings).  Thee onions were beautiful and I came home with way too many (intentionally) and have been eating onions all week.

For our pickles, we sliced them using a mandolin.  It’s a very gratifying process and I’ll have to post more about my passionate love affair with my mandolin soon.

The onions were blanched in boiling water for 20 seconds and cooled down with water as quickly as I could.  They were then layered with salt and spent the night in the fridge to allow the salt to pull moisture from the cell structure of the onions.

On the second day, a thorough rinsing of the onions is needed – they will taste overly salty otherwise.

The brine is heavy on vinegar and briefly infuses flavours of pepper , bay leaves and chillies but none make it to the jar.  This is a pickle to highlight the onion – and the vinegar it bathes in (a combination of malt and cider).  When working with vinegar such as these you want to ensure that the acid content is at least 5% (the bottle will say and if it doesn’t; move on).

Ingredients:

  • 3 pounds onions
  • 2 tsp peppercorns
  • 2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 2 tsp allspice
  • Several chilli peppers
  • fresh ginger (we shaved about a teaspoon worth with our peeler)
  • several bay leaves
  • 2.5 cups malt vinegar
  • 2 cups cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar

Place the dried ingredients in a jelly bag (or cook them in a pot and strain out before adding liquid to the jars).  We tie them in a few layers of cheesecloth and find a few of the smallest seeds sneak through the mesh but the strainer takes care of them.

Simmer your ingredients for 5 minutes, add onions to jars and cover with hot liquid.  As was shared yesterday I should have warmed my onions up with hot water when I rinsed them to avoid breaking jars.

We are left with 2 jars of this (we did about 1.5 pounds of onions and yielded 3 jars that are 500 ml each (pre breakage).

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