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Archive for April, 2011

It’s amazing how quickly things turn from feeling like winter will never end to suddenly realize that we’re in the heart of Spring and summer is around the corner.

There’s still some limited preserving this month (though lots of options including winter hold-overs) as Spring starts with delicate leafy things – awesome for the table, a little slow to jar.  There will be lots of great local eating coming this month.

Here’s a partial list of what you can expect to preserve this month (along with some links to help):

Here are links that will work for May that also worked for April (i.e. we shared them – and more – last month):

There’s a lot morre foraging going on this month too – pickled cattails are high on my list of want-to-learns. 🙂

Any other ideas that we’re missing out there?

Come on over to our Facebook page – we’ll share more ideas through the month and learn from each other!

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I really enjoy sharing simple, quick and easy-to make recipes here.  This recipe fits some of that criteia (the ingredients are certainly simple and the technique is not difficult) – but it’s a lot of work – that, in my estimation, is worth it.

Homemade pasta is just so different from the store-bought stuff.  Flavour aside (and there’s plenty of benefit here), the giant difference is the texture.  After hearing advice to cook noodle “Al Dente” for years, the entire experience takes a different turn when you are using fresh noodles and the description suddenly makes a whole lot more sense.

The other benefit is the amount that one can consume.  I find that the fresh stuff is so filling that it feeds twice the amount of people as the store-bought stuff.  For example, a pound of store-bought pasta may feed 3 hungry people while a pound of this feeds 6.  Just make sure to warn your diners in advance that this stuff is far more filling and to wait a few minutes before diving into seconds – you’ll easily fill-up on far less pasta than you normally will.

I weigh my ingredients when making noodles like these.  Similar to baking, this ensures a more accurate measurement of your ingredients.  You can easily multiply or cut this recipe in half (this will feed 4-6 people):

  • 18 ounces of flour
  • 9 ounces of gently beaten eggs (this is generally about 5 if you are buying groceries)

I get things started in the food processor.  I use the plastic blade and pour my flour in and turn the machine on.  Pour the eggs in a slow but steady stream – they should all be in the bowl within 10-15 seconds.  I generally have to stop the blender a few times to mix things up – and sometimes remove larger ‘balls’ of pasta that form so the rest can be incorporated.

If your mixture does not easily ball together, add a small bit of water (emphasis on small).  If it’s too sticky, add a bit of flour.  You shouldn’t need a lot of either.

Once the dough is worked together like this (I try to blend for 30-60 seconds at most), I roll it in a loose ball and cover it with a damp cloth for 30 minutes (or more; it’s not an exact science).

Once it’s done resting, remove the ball and cut into quarters (for this size of batch).  Keep dough that you’re not working on covered.

I work each small ball as flat as I can between my hands before rolling out with a rolling pin (or wine bottle) on a floured surface.  You can leave the sheets whole for lasagna or ravioli – but I generally place it under a damp cloth and work the remaining dough balls and wait to cut it all at once (although one sheet at a time).

A good hint: roll out the dough again just before slicing it – this resting often makes one more good roll easy.  

Fresh dough can be frozen once cut (unless of course you plan to use it whole) and you can cook it from frozen, which is why I typically make a larger batch.  I haven’t experimented with drying it yet – the thought of the eggs calls for some more research before proceeding.

Cook in a LOT of well-salted water at a full boil (it should taste like the ocean).  Put a small bit of that water in your pasta sauce to help the starches bind to the sauce.  You’ll find that fresh pasta can cook in 2-3 minutes so test it as you go (keeping in mind that noodles of different thicknesses will cook at different rates).

This is a case where all of the extra work is, to me, worth it.  It’s super simple and I suspect that my technique will improve with time and make this even easier/ quicker.  The flavours and texture are far superior to anything I’ve bought and I’m looking forward to adapting the recipe further (i.e. adding dehydrated mushroom powder to my flour) to alter the results further.  I also anticipate a pasta-roller/ slicer will be in the nearish-future as it would save a LOT of time hand slicing noodles.

Any tips, tricks or other recipes for homemade noodles out there?

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Royal Flush

I have a lot of English in my blood: my Mum and her family came to Canada on boats when she was 13 – except aunt Marg, she got to fly! but that’s another story – and my grandparents on my Dad’s side were both English…so along with a love of football (or soccer if you prefer), I’m adept at providing ‘translation’ for Joel when he wants to make a Jamie Oliver dish (aubergine?), I think Monty Python and Little Britain are HILARIOUS (Joel leaves the room)…. and I have a small obsession with the Royals.  I have a good memory of being dragged out of bed when I was 8 to watch Diana (who was only 12 years my senior!) marry Prince Charles with her awesome hair and that big cream puff of a dress.

So…If you’re going to haul your arse out of bed for 3am (Toronto time) like I am….to watch all the pomp n’ circumstance of this Friday’s Royal Nuptials plus all of the ensuing news coverage you’re going to need some provisions. Call it ‘breakfast’ or a ‘late night’ snack who cares!  This is the “Wedding of the Century” and I’m here to help. The photo above shows my carefully curated spread for the occasion (minus a bottle of champagne!)….it’s not organic and it’s sure as heck not local…

1. Chocolate is essential! None of that dark chocolate…it’s got to be “milk chocolate”….
• Cadbury Flake “the crubliest flakiest milk chocolate”
• Nestlé’s original Yorkie…it’s “not for girls” because it’s marketing strategy circa the late 70s was to make a chocolate bar for men.  I rebel against 1970s marketing strategy!
• York Peppermint Patties are actually from York Pensilvania…oops…but they’re yummy anyway

2. Candy!

Walkers’ nonsuch Treacle Toffee – just ‘whack unwrap and enjoy” (your emergency trip to the dentist), or switch the words around a bit and…Honeymoon! (okay, the mum’s might be reading this…sorry)
Polo Mints – Britain’s best selling mint! Don’t eat too many, I wont be held responsible.

3. Tea and Biscuits

• Red Rose Orange Pecoe…was my grandmother’s favourite (both of them I think) – it’s actually a Canadian brand, but we’re part of the common wealth so it counts (I say so…and my english grannies would too). They had a commercial where the tagline was “Only in Canada you say?….pity.” (If you’re about my age and Canadian you might remember it)…I also used to pinch the little Wade ceramic figurines from the box when it was first opened if I had a chance.

• Social Tea biscuits…for dunkin’ in the Red Rose….good and soggy.

4. Breakfast

• Crumpets…really, Tea and Crumpets…it’s a given. (I might be able to find some homemade jam to slather on there I think).

Gin and Dubonnet…the Queen Mum’s favourite cocktail I hear, she was a ‘legendary drinker’ and quite the Lady…

A fitting spread for the big day, laid out on my best (tarnished) silver platter (Value Village 5 bucks!), complete with a rusty ol’ lucky horse shoe for the Bride and Groom (snagged 3 of them at my new favourite store Chief Salvage, Cody is awesome) and an ‘official’ Royal Wedding Collector mug for my ‘tea’. I’ll raise that mug for Rose & Jim, and Myrtle…who might have watched it with me if they were here…and of course Diana and the Queen Mum who would have liked to have been there I’m sure.

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I was so excited to see that cornmeal had returned to my favorite farmer’s table – an excitement that would quickly turn bittersweet.

I have become a giant convert to eating – and making – my own polenta (originally posted as Polenta – the Easiest Thing I’d Never Made).  My recipe has been tweaked since its early days (I’ll gladly share as I perfect it).  It’s now common that dehydrated products such as our own celery, onion and mushroom powders often sneak their way into the cornmeal bath that becomes a little log of heaven.  I also adore it because it is a natural pairing with our preserved tomato sauce and polenta shares my adoration with cheese.

It’s nearly perfect.

General consensus (on the blog, Facebook and in the Chef circles I have asked) is that the slower you cook it the better – I have yet to try the overnight method in a crock pot but boy I’m willing.  The general thought is that the slower it cooks, the creamier the final product (though you can make some tasty morsels in about 5 minutes if you’re in a pinch).

So I was thrilled that cornmeal was back at our market.  It generally arrives late winter – once the corn has dried and the farmer has time to grind it but before seeding and prepping for spring arrives.  Once spring hits its stride, there’s simply no time to grind last years crops.

The 1-pound bags don’t last long.  The coarsely chopped meal barely resembles the yellow powder so commonly available in bulk bins.  It is this combination of texture and the size of the chunks (the larger the piece of dehydrated food, the more flavour it retains as a smaller percentage of its contents are exposed to the air which rob it of flavour) is simply the best cornmeal I’ve ever encountered (before finding it, I didn’t know there was such a category).

I had been waiting with eager anticipation for the start of this years cornmeal.  I arrived at the market late (so late that they were packing up).  This typically is a massive disadvantage as you miss on selection – but such is the requirements of life.

“Cornmeal’s here!” I could see both excitement and concern on the face of my friend Shannon who tends the co-op, “But this is it for the year.”

My head tried to catch up as I asked the details.  The grinder had broken and time had run out for processing for the year.  We all shared the disappointment (and a bit of self-depreciating humour at the fact that we were even mildly upset at the loss of something so small in the big picture of all that is going on in the world).

There was a silver lining – being last meant that everyone had their turn.  I was able to bring home the remaining 6 pounds (which will go surprisingly fast).  I was also offered whole corn if I could just find a way to process it and imagined returning home with bushels of dried cobs to the horror of all who love me for being just that crazy.  In the interest of my own sanity (and the fact that I couldn’t think of a connection with a grinder off-hand), I passed on the offer and have decided to make the most out of ‘my’ bounty.

It’s amazing to think how scarce some of our food actually is – and how involved people, machines and nature all are in bringing it to our tables.  Buying artisan-produced product like this has it’s downsides because of circumstances like this but it’s absolutely humbling to have connections directly to a source and a great reminder of the human connection involved in every meal that crosses our plate.  It’s tough to see that in a world of mass production – and it’s an inconvenience that only makes me want to make my polenta even better than it is now – after all, there’s probably about enough for 12 meals and it will go fast!

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I’m humbled to announce that I have been named ‘Ocean Wise SeaFoodie.’  I hope that the ultimate winner is Ocean Wise and their message of sustainability and our oceans.

Here was our final video:

There is a certain irony that I’ve spent the last two days lying on the couch and my stomach turns at the thought of food (something that I never remember encountering in my life before).

A giant thank-you goes out to so many people – more than 200 voted, more than 50 tweeted and about the same shared across their Facebook profiles.  A similar thanks goes out to the restaurant that hosted us (Starfish) along with our hosts (Chef Kyle Deming and Shucker Paddy).  I’ve known Kyle for some time and continue to be blown away by his approach to food and sustainability in all that he cooks.  We had met Shucker Paddy several times but this was our first chance to hear him sound off on his passion of Oysters and Sustainable Seafood.  We will definitely be going back to Starfish.

Our video featured the 3 key questions around sustainable fish:

  • Know what type of fish you are eating
  • Know where it was from (or farmed)
  • Know how it was caught

There is a great guide that our main competition, Cherlyn (an amazing advocate of sustainable seafood) shared on the site.  It’s a useful tool and is also complimented by a free Smart Phone App to help make the most educated choices.

For those who have been following us for any time you’ll know that fish was largely out of our diet until a few months ago when Hooked opened in our neighborhood.  We’re fortunate to have the option to have all 3 questions answered any time we walk-in and my experience with Dan and Kristen definitely was part of the inspiration for entering this.

Another thanks goes out to Chateau Des Charmes – they sponsored this event and provided wine for the dinners.  They did this very quietly and continue to be ambassadors to the local and/or sustainable food scene.  They are one of the few ‘larger’ Ontario wineries who have never lost the family/ community touch and we were spoiled by enjoying their wine with our dinner at Starfish.

A thank you goes out to Laura at Cubits who offered some seed packs as prizes without asking and helped spread the word about our entry.  Laura and her seed-supplying genius will be a feature here in the coming days because we just adore what she does and her pure entrepreneurial spirit in deciding to walk away from the dependable world of 9-to-5 and decided to sell and spread the message of organic, rare and heirloom seeds.  We’ll be distributing prizes by the end of the weekend and will announce here as well.

I hope I’m not sounding pretentious thanking everyone – the truth is that I (and Dana who was a significant part of this team effort and spent hours working on the titles in our little ditty) are both thrilled – and humbled.  So a final thank you must go out to each of you who participated, voted and shared – friends, family, strangers and bloggers alike.

Thanks for your support – and for making us smile.  We’ll continue to share the message of conscious food choices and am thankful to be part of a community who is so passionate about doing the same!

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Aagaard Farms asked our Facebook community for any advice on books or websites on dehydrating.  We love requests like this – it makes coming up with ideas for new posts that much easier.  And we do love to share…

Before reviewing a few of the books we have on the topic, I have to emphasize that dehydrating is a far simpler science than many other types of preserving.  Don`t run out and buy a bunch of books – the book that comes with your dehydrator is often more than enough to get you started – and once you`ve started you`ll figure out a lot of this on your own (the exceptions being when you are working with meat or dairy which take more guidance.

The three essentials of dehydrating:

  • Control of temperature and knowing which temperatures to use.  If you dry herbs too hot they`ll brown – do fruit too cool and it`s won`t dry (or will take a very long time).
  • Precise thickness.  I use a mandoline.  A 3 mm slice of berry will dry 50% after a 2mm slice.  Using a hand slicer saves a bunch of time checking each product individually.
  • Space between the product for air circulation (if I`m using a slicer I cheat this and it adds time but does not interferes with completing the process)

With all that being said, here`s 3 books we have (and occasionally refer to):

Preserve it Naturally (3rd Edition) – The Complete Guide to Food Dehydration – Excaliber
This came as a `gift`with our dehydrator.  I particularly like that the photos and references match my dehydrated (although it could easily be used by others).  There`s a coding system that shows dehydration times and temperatures that took a while for me to learn but once I found the legend, it became very useful.  There is nothing glamorous or romantic about this book and it looks like it`s from 1970 – but it`s a workhorse and it`s lack of fluff makes this a solid guide to find what you need as you need it.  It`s a great resource.

How to Dry Foods – Deanna DeLong
A very thorough guide that will take you from beginner to expert by the time you reach the end of the book.  I appreciate that it`s well organized by ingredient and includes more updated recipes than what may be in the resource above – but this extra benefit can make finding core information (like temperatures) more difficult to find.  A good tool if you lack the confidence or want to be handed recipes that will yield dependable results.

The Dehydrator Bible – Jennifer MacKenzie, Jay Nutt, Don Mercer
This one`s an encyclopedia.  It`s a good resource for `recipes on the spot`but may be overwhelming if you`re starting out.  I like to have it on the shelf in case I`m looking to expand ideas but it`s recipes are so literal (an advantage to many) that I prefer to use this to brainstorm my own ideas from rather than to use it each piece.  This could apply to all levels of home preservers but I like it best as an on-demand reference as opposed to a manual.

We`ll also get a better list of recipes and articles here in the future – in the meantime here`s a link to a Google search of a bunch of our articles on dehydrating.

What are other great sites and books out there about dehydrating that you`d like to share?

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I struggled for years to make a great soup from dried beans.  I tried many tricks – soaking, not soaking, salting before then after, cooking them slow, cooking them long and I always struggled.

Most beans do not need soaking (though it can speed up their cooking time).  Simply bring dried beans to a strong boil with lots of liquid (I use a minimum of 3-4 times liquid to bean).  I generally use liberally salted water.  Leave at a boil for 10 minutes before lowering to a simmer and monitor their progress.  Most will complete cooking in 40-70 minutes.

Because of such a dramatic range of cooking, my secret to a great multi-bean soup is simple:

Cooking each bean is useful for many reasons:

  • It ensures each type of bean reaches the level of cooking you wish
  • It prevents discolouration from darker beans leaking into lighter ones
  • Excess liquid from lighter beans can be used if you don`t have enough in darker beans
  • You could flavour different beans with different stocks.

My standard stock for bean soup include a large can of diced tomatoes (2-4 cups of home canned slices), including liquid, 1-2 liters of stock and a can of tomato paste. I generally add some home-dried onions, dried-celery salt, salt and pepper. While cooking the beans I bring this to a gentle simmer and turn it off to cool (too much cooking turns the tomatoes to indistinguishable mush).

It`s a no-fuss amazing soup and one that improves through the week.

If you`re a Facebook user and haven`t entered our contest by liking our video for Ocean Wise we need your help!  There`s less than 24 hours left in the competition and we`re struggling to hold on.  Liking our video makes you eligible for prizes from Ocean Wise and us).  You have to like Ocean Wise before liking our video.

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