Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Painless Broccoli

Natalino broccoliNatalino broccoli
From our garden last year

My Aunt Jean introduced me to an extremely painless, low fat, way to eat steamed broccoli - sprinkle with lemon juice. Thanks Aunt Jean! That's how I always serve it now, with a little scrunch of mixed pepper & pink salt, perfect.

She also introduced me to broccoli slaw, which I don't remember ever having before. I did get the recipe from her, but I believe it's sitting at Mom's right now, doing not much of anything. So I did a search to see what I could turn up, and got this dressing recipe.

I had purchased a couple of deep butcher-trays filled with cut broccoli this week while grocery shopping; each one was less than a dollar, and I'm pretty sure there was the equivalent of one large head in each. I suppose that they were trimmings, but they were all perfectly good and very fresh. So I steamed some up, others went into a frittata this afternoon with the leftover roasted root veggies (very tasty and filling); the rest got de-stemmed, blanched & vacuum sealed for the freezer in single-portion units.

I was going to toss the stems into the compost when Dave reminded me of the slaw. Oh, yeah!! So Dave shredded his way through all the following veggies, and I mixed up the dressing.

Broccoli Slaw

Grate the following using a coarse grater:

stems off of two heads of broccoli
2 gala apples
2-3 medium carrots
1 small zucchini


1 cup raisins
1 cup sunflower seeds

for dressing, combine:

1 tbsp malt, balsamic or apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp dark maple syrup
1/4 cup mayonnaise and plain yogurt (half and half)

Stir everything together and refrigerate overnight if you can (or serve right away) to let the flavours develop.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Blood Orange Marmalade

As I've mentioned previously, I love blood oranges. When Thrifty's in Mill Bay had Buck Brand organic ones for sale, I knew I had to do something interesting with them.

My trusty, recently purchased food preservation bible Stocking Up: The Third Edition of America's Classic Preserving Guide
has a wonderful marmalade recipe, but I didn't even think to look there first! I found a blood orange marmalade recipe on the web, and decided to kind of merge the two together. I know, you're supposed to follow jam and preserve recipes exactly, but what the heck! But I did follow the boiling-water bath processing instructions in Stocking Up. I am lucky enough to have two enormous enameled metal water bath pots, each with racks, one that's Mom's and one from Dave's uncle Steve. As a result, I was able to process two layers of jars simultaneously. Bonus!

Blood Orange Marmalade

This recipe here resulted in seven (7) 250mL/half pint jars of somewhat loose marmalade. I'm sure that I'd have better results exclusively following the Stocking Up recipe, but I really liked elements of both that I wished to incorporate.

10 blood oranges (two were larger ones, 8 were very small - the online recipe calls for 7)
1 lemon
12 cups of water
approximately 1 cup of chopped fresh rosemary per two cups water (we have LOTS leftover in the freezer from a couple of years ago)
3 cups mild-flavoured honey (yes, honey - Stocking Up uses honey in all its jam & jelly recipes)

Bring water to boil (I did this in 4 cup stages), and pour over appropriate measure of chopped fresh rosemary (e.g. for 4 cups water, use 2 cups rosemary). Let steep for at least 20 minutes. Repeat until you've got 12 cups of rosemary infusion.

Slice citrus very thinly, and place into non-reactive (e.g. stainless steel, enameled metal) pot large enough to hold the mixture and allow for boiling, together with the rosemary infusion. Bring to a full boil, then reduce heat and cook at a simmer for one hour, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, and let sit, covered, overnight (we placed the pot outside on the veranda to keep cool).

Bring fruit mixture to a boil. Stir in honey. Return to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly, until mixture resembles a thick syrup (keep at a full rolling boil or it will take longer to reach the gel stage). In Stocking Up, this is supposed to take about 30 minutes. I think that we boiled for closer to 45 minutes altogether, and it probably still could have stood to be reduced a little further.

Pour into sterilized half-pint jars, leaving 1/4" headspace, and seal. Process for 10 minutes in boiling-water bath. Stocking Up recommends allowing the marmalade to "age" two weeks before tasting or it might be too bitter. We couldn't wait, and yes, it's bitter, but it's SO GOOD! If you're not familiar with the "modern" method of boiling-water bath processing, I highly recommend that you learn about it before proceeding. Many sites/books don't usually suggest it for jellies, but the Rodale Stocking Up recommends this processing method for all preserves, jellies included. It's a sure-fire way to sterilize everything and have it last.

Crunchy Banana Breakfast Muffins - This morning I discovered that using 1/2 cup of no-fat vanilla yoghurt instead of 1/2 cup milk really makes these fluffy and moist, so I recommend the substitution. Also, I just purchased some silicone cupcake cups (12 of those were cheaper than a silicone muffin tin yielding only 6), which seem to work really well for baking muffins. Yes, they're somewhat annoying and futzy to clean, but they are easier to clean well than a metal muffin tin, and so much easier to decant the muffins from!

Sunny Spring Day

Spring? In February? Yup, we're sure blessed here on the West Coast. Or maybe you're thinking more along the lines of "Sun? In Vancouver?" We've had spectacular sunny weather for the past few days (we'll appreciate it while we've got it, because I'm sure it'll change to rain soon!), and our early spring bulbs are poking their noses through the ground and even flowering. So, for your viewing pleasure, here is some cheerful evidence of spring beauty to enjoy!

Giant Snowdrops
Sedum buds
Purple Crocus
Golden Crocus

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Cleansing Power of Flame

We are now returned from our visit to Mom's, which lasted a little longer than expected. Dave did heaps of pruning, and wheel-barrowed loads and loads of manure from Lady's field to the veg garden, as well as moving loads and loads of compost in the same direction. He also dis-assembled the raised beds; we decided that it was too hard to use them given the amount of soil improvement still required. Besides, Dave couldn't use his rototiller in there with them.

Dave taking latex paint sampleI spent most of my time income working, plus helping somewhat with the yard work. Dave had a bunch of brush to burn, so we spent one day doing that. Then another day was spent searching for the source of some latex paint that poured down from the subdivision uphill from us and into the drainage ditch, straight through Mom's property. That was an exercise in futility.

Mom and I had a girls only trip into Victoria. We investigated a (new to us) sports store for Mom's curling equipment, where she purchased a new pair of curling shoes. Then onto Artworld to stock up on glassine bags for my art. Then we headed over to Winchester Gallery on Royal Oak to view a printmaking show, which was really excellent; lots of styles & techniques represented, from Canadian & international artists, historical and contemporary. We'd been to the Fenwick Lansdowne exhibit there at the end of 2007 which we both immensely enjoyed. For lunch, we decided to try the Italian deli next door, called Ottavio. They have a café beside their deli, specialty foods & bakery, which serves wonderful soup, salads, sandwiches, and a antipasto plate full of delicious deli meats and cheeses, olives and fruit. Mmmmmm! Too bad Dave decided not to come with us, he so missed out!! Off to Costco for stocking up, then we dragged our pooped selves back up the Malahat and collapsed for the evening.

We also made a little excursion up the hill (just off of Thain Road, which is the road that borders one of the sides of Mom's property) to the world's best chocolate, at Organic Fair. Check out their site - you can order online. I recommend the Chiapas if you like chocolate with kick. The bars are thick and rich, and you need about one square (savoured slowly) to satisfy even the strongest chocoholic cravings. They also make a lovely powdered hot chocolate, but beware - it's not the chemical, over sweetened stuff you get from the local store; it's hard core chocolate in a mug. Best made with whole milk or cream, if you can manage! Anyway, we had a very nice visit with the proprietor, who is also the chocolatier, and learned a little about their business. They're very interested in permaculture, and are in the process of setting up woody herbs and perennial food plants, along with an organic veg patch and free range, heritage breed chooks. Here's a little blurb from their website intro:

Organic Fair Inc. is an artisan crafter of exclusively organic, fair trade and biodynamic products. Many of our organic gourmet ingredients are sourced directly from the growers themselves. Our lovingly handmade products, grown by fairly paid farmers, offer tantalizing flavors and fragrances that all of your senses will enjoy.

We are passionately committed to making products that are good for the planet, good for people and good for your tastebuds in the most infinitely pleasurable way. We believe organic and fair trade should be both delicious and gourmet simply because they can be.

We grow many of our raw ingredients on our organic farm in beautiful Cobble Hill on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, where you can drop by and visit us. From our dark chocolate bars to our spiced coffee and even our lip balm, they are all created right here on our farm. By us, for you.
So if you find yourself on the Island, and needing to have a foodie day, check out Organic Fair, along with other great foodie stops in the Cowichan Valley.

Anyway, we had so much fun burning the brush pile, we decided to finally tackle the, um, rustic sheds that were beside Mom's property. They were built when the property wasn't properly surveyed, and haven't been used in at least a couple of decades. They were smothered in blackberry vines, which, while we certainly enjoy blackberries for winemaking, were infected with some kind of rose-disease, and we didn't want them to harbour it in case it infected our raspberries eventually. Besides, they were so out of control and overgrown, the productivity was very poor, and it was hard to get at what berries were there. So we started by tearing down the doghouse at the end closest to the road, and piling the bits up on top of the blackberries at the other end of the shed line. Burning that was day one. Day two consisted of emptying and knocking down the other sheds. One of them wouldn't budge though; it was working towards falling, but was being pretty securely held in place by an old split rail fence. So we burned it in place. Was that ever a hoot! The flames ROARED! We were careful to keep it under control though; we kept the roof and sides wetted down to cool the fire, but not so much to douse it. Most of the wood in the sheds was cedar, so you can imagine how well (and hot!) they burned. You, too, can enjoy the cleansing power of flame:

There was lots of scrap metal and nails left over after the burn, so a couple of days later we picked over the ash for the bits and took a load to the metal recycler. Unfortunately, that was my downfall. I was stooping rather than squatting, and I then sat and worked on the computer for a few hours (I'd been income working in the evenings), which sealed my fate. I really pooched my lower back. The unfortunate thing is that I can stoop without any trouble and without pain until much later, and of course, squatting is comfortable, I just don't think to do it.

Ghost Cherry TomatoesDeciding that being a lump wasn't good for my back (somewhat erroneously), Dave & I went to Victoria's Seedy Saturday event. The event was quite large, held at the Conference Centre right downtown, with lots of turnout, lots of vendors, and about 10 or so presentations during the day on various aspects of food gardening. We picked up some seed packets (I love the tomatoes from Two Wings Farm, especially their ghost cherry tomatoes, my all time favourite cherry tomatoes: they're translucent pale yellow with a delicate peach-fuzz, and such a beautiful delicate flavour). I picked up a salsa tomato ("Apple of Novi Sad") and a jalapeño pepper for my Aunt Jean's salsa recipe, and a heritage winter squash called "Marina di Chioggia" (Dave read online they're supposed to be delightful barbequed, and is a traditional gnocchi ingredient, as well as a wonderful pie squash) from them, too. We also picked up a couple of sunchoke (Jerusalem artichoke) tubers; yes, we know they become a weed, and yes, we understand they're not that palatable, but we wanted them for the perennial sunflower aspect. We're planting sunflowers, sunchokes, cardoon, poppies and hollyhocks in the burn patch, with the hopes that they'll all really like it there. So after a couple of hours of perusing & being jostled aggressively by backpacks and shoulders, my aching back and I decided to take Dave to Ottavio's on Oak Bay. He agreed - fantastic food. This time we also treated ourselves to gelato ... mmm. Mine was lavender (VERY lavender, almost too much for a full scoop) and Dave's was Panettone (which literally was Panettone; he'd been expecting a flavour, but it was actually bread made gelato - kind of a weird combination, but not bad).

So all that running around really knackered me - I spent the next three days in pain, flat on my back, recouperating. We came home Wednesday, delayed by those three days. But we came home to beautiful sunny weather and my first spring bulbs up: snow drops & a patch of gorgeous glowing golden crocus under the pear tree (I'll have to take a shot of that!).

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Blood from an Orange

I love blood oranges. I don't think they taste remarkably different than their orange-fleshed brethren, other than being a bit more tart, but the just look so gorgeous. Unfortunately, this recipe doesn't highlight their glorious colour, but enjoy their blood as it runs into your juicer! Speaking of juicing, these are a particularly challenging citrus to juice: their flesh is pulpy and their skin, while thick, isn't particularly skookum, so they kind of crumble when using a traditional juicer like in the photo above. I discovered that if you gently work from the edges of the halved orange inwards and around on the juicer, it's better than if you do the typical whole-hearted push & squeeze of a lemon or lime. This recipe originally arises from a search on the internet which turned it up, but of course, I couldn't leave it alone! Naturally, you don't have to use blood oranges, but that's what I had in my fridge; so, for breakfast this morning:

Blood Orange Muffins

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2/3 cup quick or rolled oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
3/4 tsp ground ginger
1 tbsp grated rind
2/3 orange juice, freshly squeezed (or "squozened" as we like to say)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup chopped sunflower seeds (hulled, of course!)

Mix flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and spices. Combine juice, oil and beaten eggs with rind. Mix liquid into dry until just incorporated (don't over stir). Place into greased muffin tin (12 muffins), filling each cup to about 2/3 full. Bake at 350°F for 20-25 minutes.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Winter Sprouts

A couple of weeks ago a ordered Rodale's Stocking Up by Carol Hupping. It's a great book - it covers all sorts of food storage options, from freezing to canning to drying, and looks at not just fruit & veg, but also meat, poultry, fish, dairy, grains, seeds and nuts. One of the final chapter discusses sprouting, so we've been giving that a try lately. Not only are they tasty, but they're good for you and ridiculously easy to do, once you get into the habit of multiple rinsings during the day. The book provides a table for sprouting various seeds, grains and legumes, with how many rinsings per day, how long to let the sprout grow, flavour comments, etc. According to Stocking Up (p. 561):

When you sprout beans, seeds, and grains, you're unleashing their full nutritional potential. Wheat and millet sprouts, for instance, contain more than 5 times the vitamin C of their unsprouted counterparts. The amount of vitamin B grows substantially as bean sprouts grow, and most sprouts double their original protein content.
We have tried buckwheat and a couple of different types of lentils so far. The lentils are the easiest to grow, and most familiar flavour & texture. I would like to get some mustard/radish seeds to try for that extra zing, and Dave would really like to try sunflower seeds, as we both love sunflower sprouts. I currently have the seeds in clear mason jars with plastic mesh lids (to aid in draining), which works fine for short sprouts, but I think I'd need some kind of tray for the sunflowers.

Today, I used the sprouts in our luncheon "hamlette": a friend of ours gave us a chunk of Irish ham this week, and I've been turning it into hash and omelette-type food for our lunches.


1/2 cup cubed ham (this is ready-to-eat ham)
2 large mushrooms, finely sliced
1 celery stick, finely chopped
1 tsp dried crumbled oregano
dash fresh ground pepper
dash Louisiana Hot Sauce
two eggs
1 tsp fresh crumbled Parmesan cheese

Fry up the ham in small cast-iron pan over medium low to warm it up, add the mushrooms & place lid over pan. Once mushrooms are mostly cooked, add celery & cover again for about 2 minutes. Add seasonings and mix into meat & veg. Break eggs over the mixture (but don't scramble them in), and crumble Parmesan on top. Cover again and cook until you are happy with the consistency of the eggs. Split between two people over toast. You can add a splash of catchup if that's you're leaning. Enjoy!