Dealing With the Autumn Harvest

Yesterday I spent most of the day and well into the evening trying to use up some of the produce from my garden before it went bad. This time of year can be a real challenge when everything needs to be harvested, cleaned, prepared, and often canned or frozen all at once. And I haven’t even started dealing with my root vegetables, which are starting to pop out of the soil they’re getting so big!

I harvested the four pears that were growing on my tiny little pear tree. The three on the left were of one type, and the one on the right is another. The tree has four different kinds of pears grafted onto the main trunk, but I stupidly removed the labels and now I can’t remember what varieties there were. I’m pretty sure the odd one out on the right is a Bartlett, though. I considered trying to bake something with the pears, but my kids claimed them for their lunches.

My black sweet pepper plants only yielded one black pepper; unfortunately, the others all died or turned out to be green peppers. I really only grew these as an experiment anyway, since I’m not a huge pepper fan, so I gave them to my mother.

My apple tree is starting to drop its fruit; sadly, the poor tree suffers from a nasty case of apple scab despite my care, and a lot of the fruit aren’t good to eat. Apple scab itself is safe (although it’s ugly), but it does mean that the fruit often ends up cracked and rotting on the tree, or creates areas where it’s easier for pests to crawl inside. Even so, I have lots of apples to use up in recipes — this variety is very tart, so it’s best cooked.

I’m still harvesting a lot of tomatoes; although I feared frost a few weeks ago, this past week has been one of summer-like heat, so my tomatoes are actually still flowering! What fruit is on the vine is ripening nicely, so I may not have too many green tomatoes to deal with this year (even though I have a few great recipes for those too). Last night I made up another batch of Blender Salsa from page 92 of Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces (Marisa McClellan, 2014), since my husband likes that version so much. The above photo was taken immediately after removing the jars from the hot water canner.

The basil plant in my mom’s garden needed to be cut back for the season, so she let me have all of the leaves in exchange for some of the pesto I made with them. Pesto is one of my favourite sauces to make because it’s so darned easy and can be made with so many leafy greens. I’ve made pesto before out of beet leaves, nasturtium leaves, and garlic scapes. The one that I made last night was the most common type: basil, garlic, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese.

Before I made the salsa and the pesto, I set aside two large tomatoes and a tablespoon of basil so that I could bake Fresh Tomato and Basil Loaf. The recipe is found on page 156 of Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter, 2002). This bread is started in the bread machine, which mixes, kneads, and proofs the dough. Then the dough is removed from the machine and additional ingredients are kneaded in by hand, the dough is left to rise in a loaf pan, and then the bread is baked in the oven. The addition of the tomatoes made this dough really sticky and unpleasant to knead, and I made an enormous mess, but it was totally worth it since this bread is delicious. I will definitely be using this recipe again.

Birthday Leftovers

I am happy to report that the Furikake Salmon Ramen (page 82 of Simply Ramen by Amy Kimoto-Kahn (2016), or online here) is nearly as delicious as a leftover as it was freshly made for dinner.

In an attempt to cook as little as possible the other night, I served the salmon on some steamed rice topped with eggs sunny-side-up and sliced avocado. Of course, the apple pie and brownies from Mom’s birthday dinner are long gone, devoured by voracious children. Okay, I might have had some too. But the kids are the main culprits, I swear.

Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala

Yesterday ended up being hot and humid, so I wanted to make a dinner that didn’t require heating up the kitchen all that much. Community Table’s recipe for Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala had come across my feed recently, so I thought I’d give it a try. How does cooking something for eight hours not heat up my house? Well, I put the slow cooker out on a table in the garage.


I wish I owned the pretty dishes that they use to serve it in the video.

I had high hopes for this recipe, because a) true to my heritage, I like making easy food where you just put everything in a pot and we boil it for seventeen and a half hours straight, as Denis Leary put it; and b) this dish smelled absolutely fabulous while it was cooking. My garage has never smelled better, to be honest, and sometimes I use my bread maker in there. But when I actually took a bit, the flavour just didn’t live up to the hype. It was just… Bland. There was no depth.

Now, I’m no expert when it comes to Indian cuisine, but if I ever try this recipe again I would change a few things. Instead of just throwing everything in the pot raw, I would first toast the spices, then brown the onions and the garlic in a bit of olive oil, and then brown the chicken. This would pre-cook some of the ingredients, so it probably wouldn’t be necessary to have it in the slow cooker for as long, maybe 4 hours. Instead of chicken breasts, which have a tendency to be dry (even in sauce), I’d use chicken thighs. I’d use fresh tomatoes run through a blender instead of canned tomato sauce for a fresher taste. I’d add a few more veggies chopped up bite-sized; sweet peppers and mushrooms go well in this kind of dish (cooked first on the stove as well in bit of olive oil), but I could probably throw in anything on hand. It’s not like I’m going for authenticity here.

If nothing else, this recipe is in desperate need of salt, which enhances flavour. I added salt after I served the dish and it really did help, but I think it would be so much better if it was done during the cooking process. However, I’m not sure exactly how much salt is required for the whole potful (which feeds my family twice over, by the way). Salting to taste unsafe to do when the chicken is raw, so I’d really have no choice but to pre-cook the chicken anyway, and if I’m doing that I might as well make use of all of the previously mentioned techniques as well.

Mom’s Birthday Dinner

We celebrated my mother’s birthday this past Saturday. At her request, I hosted dinner at my house and made her up some of my ramen — which somehow she had never tried before. The version that I chose to make was Furikake Salmon Ramen (page 82 of Simply Ramen by Amy Kimoto-Kahn (2016)); the recipe is also available online here. This recipe uses a shoyu base (page 8, or online at easypeasyjapanesey.com), which I made up in advance in my slow cooker. I remain rather enamored of this base recipe, but every time I make it I remind myself that sometime I really need to try the tonkotsu base, which is my favourite but appears much more difficult. I used soft-boiled eggs instead of marinated half-cooked eggs, mostly due to time constraints. I also used packaged noodles; one of these days I will make my own, but that really requires a pasta maker, which I don’t own. I didn’t use the kind from the instant soup packages, as I find they get soggy much too quickly, but instead a package of dried noodles on their own for which I unfortunately can’t read most of the label.

The real star of this dish is the salmon. I was lucky enough to find it on special at the grocery store, pre-portioned and ready to go. The furikake topping was delicious even though I used North American mayonnaise instead of Japanese-style. There were some leftovers and I really look forward to having them served over rice in the next few days. I think that this topping is going to become part of my regular dinner roster; it would probably be good on other pink, oily fish like sea trout.

In our family, there’s always dessert with a birthday dinner, even if you’re stuffed from the meal itself — that just means that you take a breather and have the treat later in the evening. This year I made apple pie using fruit that I’d grown on my own tree in the back yard. For the chocolate lovers, Dad made brownies with chocolate icing, which were delicious and, if you know my dad, a very special treat, since he rarely bakes. We served it all up with whipped cream and/or vanilla ice cream (and dairy-free alternatives thereto). Oh, and candles! I was thrilled to find that it’s possible to get the candles that burn with coloured flame at the dollar store these days. I used to have to go downtown to a specialty store to buy them.

So happy birthday to my mom! Love always to the woman who helped shape me into the person that I am (whether that’s a good thing or not is a matter of opinion).

Second-Hand Cookbook Finds

This past Friday I went thrift shopping with a friend of mine, and we must have spent at least an hour going through shelf after shelf of second-hand books. In addition to finding a stack of books for my girls (classic Nancy Drew mysteries for my eldest and Garfield comic books for my youngest), and a number of vintage copies of the Serendipity series for my friend, who collects them. For me, I found another copy of the Joy of Cooking (2006 edition) that I plan on gifting one of my girls when she eventually moves out — or I will use to replace my own copy should I ever dump a cupful liquid in it. What made me most excited, though, was:

Nanny Ogg’s Cookbook (Terry Pratchett, 1999), which is a “useful and improving Almanack of Information including Astonishing Recipes from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld”. As my ComicCon costume of Discworld Death probably hinted, I am a huge fan of this series of books. I’m currently loaning my copies out in the hope that my friends will want to do a group costume next year. I am looking forward to trying such recipes from the book as Sticky Toffee Rat Onna Stick (page 98) and Nanny Ogg’s Perfectly Innocent Porridge with Completely Inoffensive Honey Mixture Which Shouldn’t Make Anyone’s Wife Laugh (page 70). Honestly, the book is more of a hilarious commentary than an actual cookbook, but I do hope to try out some of the recipes just for fun.

I also picked up English 18th Century Cookery (Roy Bloom, undated but online research indicates it was first printed sometime in the 1970’s). I look forward to going through the book and recreating what recipes I can, which will be a challenge because, well, as per the foreward:

Many [of the recipes] are still favourites today, yet others have somehow been forgotten. Certainly the quantities are often overwhelming, the directions not always precise and indeed sometimes the ingredients are not suitable for present-day use. Nonetheless the able cook need not be disheartened — commonsense and a little imagination are all that is required to adapt some of these ideas into delicious realities.

The contents of the book are much older than the printing date, as they originate from an 18th-century household library. Luckily there is a glossary, as some of the terminology is no longer in use, and the Net will help me fill in the other blanks. Some substitutions will have to be made, since a number of the ingredients are no longer in common use, and others aren’t available outside of England. Updating recipes from this book looks to be an interesting challenge that I hope I am up to!

Cloths

I’ve been laid up a bit lately, and I had to do something with my hands before I lost my mind. To that end, I picked up a bunch of Bernat Handicrafter Cotton Yarn in a variety of colours so that I could make some cloths. I love to make these to give away at Christmas; I figure that while they’re not terribly fancy, they’re a very practical gift — and you can never have too many.

I started with Bella Coco’s How To Crochet the Waffle Stitch tutorial. I cast on 34 stitches and worked the waffle pattern from there. I used, top to bottom in the photo above, Lemon Swirl Ombre, Poppy Ombre, Pale Yellow, and then Poppy Ombre again. I haven’t crocheted for years, but I found the tutorial laid everything out very clearly. The waffle pattern makes a nice, scrubby texture in this yarn that will be great for cleaning dishes.

I also knit some cloths using the free pattern on the back of the yarn ball band that’s also available for free online: the Brick Stitch Dishcloth. I’d never done this pattern before either, but I loved how it turned out. Now that the leaves are starting to change, I thought it would be fun to make some cloths in Halloween colours. They’ll probably be Christmas gifts too, but many of my friends would prefer these combinations anyway. I used Black Licorice with (from top to bottom) Hot Green, Hot Orange, Hot Purple, and Red.

Onion Soup Pork Chops & Baked Panko Zucchini Sticks

In an attempt to use up the zucchini I received this weekend, I made another round of Baked Panko Zucchini Sticks for dinner last night. Enough for my entire family only uses up about a quarter of one of those giant summer squash. Of all of the recipes that I have for zucchini, this one uses the most in one go. It may end up being a contest to see which gives out first, my supply of zucchini or my kids’ ability to consume it. To be fair, the girls were really happy to see the zucchini on their plates last night, and that’s two suppers in a row where I didn’t have to fight with them to get them to eat their vegetables.

However, the real star of dinner wasn’t the zucchini sticks, although my kids may argue otherwise. The best part to me was the pork chops that I baked as the entree. I found these 1″ thick slabs of pork on sale for less than the cheap cuts, so I stocked up and planned on a few for dinner. I greased a broiler pan, lay the chops flat on top, and then covered them with a thick coating of dry onion soup mix. Then I baked them at 275°F (135°C) for about two hours. They were a very fatty cut, but the low, slow bake made them moist, tender, and not too greasy. Honestly, they couldn’t have been much easier. Now, if only I’d planned a meal cooked entirely in the oven for a day that wasn’t 30°C (86°F).

I was inspired to cook the meat this way after reading The I Hate To Cook Book (Peg Bracken, 1960). On page 12, the author writes about Sweep Steak, which is “[s]o-called because a couple of seasons ago this recipe swept the country“. Basically, it’s beef coated with dry onion soup mix and roasted in the oven.

Now, this cookbook predates me, but I distinctly remember dry onion soup mix being a staple of the kitchen when I was growing up. It was used to coat steak, to bread pork chops and chicken, and to season meatloaf. In our house, it was most commonly mixed with sour cream to become chip dip — which is referred to as Classic California Dip on page 84 of The I Hate To Cook Book, so I guess this combination predates me as well. I remember doing groceries with my parents and there was a whole assortment of dried soups along an aisle. But when I went to pick up some mix for this dish, the dried soups took up only part of one tiny shelf, most of which was taken up by Cup-A-Soup. There are probably a hundred or more types of canned and tetra-packed soup, not to mention the refrigerated stuff in the deli section, but apparently the dried kind is no longer popular. I guess that’s to be expected with the popularity of fresh ingredients being back on the rise. I certainly hadn’t bought any dried soup mix in years. Still, it came as quite a surprise to me to see the selection so limited.