Winter is Coming

Although I am much better, my kids are still fighting their colds. Last night I decided to go the more traditional route, dinner-wise, in an attempt to help them get well. I don’t know that it actually helped, but it didn’t hurt at any rate, and it was pretty tasty.

I made up a batch of chicken noodle soup based roughly on the recipe on page 125 of the Joy of Cooking (2006 edition, Rombauer & Becker). I added carrots and rosemary mostly because it’s what I happened to have around the house. I served the soup alongside fresh-baked Poppy Seed Loaf (page 138, Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter, 2002)) with avocado slices on top. Unlike me, the rest of the family ate their bread with butter and scooped the avocado out of the skins directly with a little bit of salad dressing on top.

Last night ended up involving a lot more food prep than just supper, though. The forecast called for the temperature to drop precipitously overnight to a low of -10°C (14°F) with a windchill of -20°C (-4°F). I had left a few frost-hardy plants in the garden after the main harvest, but I knew that cold this intense would kill them. So I had to bring in two good-sized bunches of celery, which I washed and trimmed the leaves off of, then put in a jug of water in the fridge for use over the next week or so.

I had a whole mess of Swiss chard to bring in — believe it or not, this was all from only two bunches!

I washed it all, then chopped the stems into bite-sized pieces, which I bagged to freeze in single-use packages over the winter in soups, stews, stir-fries and casseroles. The leaves don’t freeze nearly so well, so they’re still drying off in my sink while I figure out what to do with that much chard. A friend suggested a soup, but I don’t have a recipe yet.

My uncarved Halloween pumpkins had to come inside; freezing isn’t terribly hard on them as a general rule, especially if you’re just going to cook them, but a frozen-solid gourd is really difficult to prepare. Heck, it would take an axe or a sledgehammer just to get through it!

I also brought in the last of my summer herbs so they didn’t get frostbitten (along with half a case of Coke that I’d been cooling outdoors since the Halloween party; cool fall temperatures mean that the outdoors makes a great refrigerator for non-perishables). There are two pots of lavender, one of mint, one of rosemary, and one of parsley. Some of them I will eventually dry, others I will preserve (I have an interesting recipe for parsley jelly I want to try). They’d survive just fine in the house all winter, but the pots are quite large and take up my whole patio window. I think I will just plant new herbs in the spring and not deal with the hassle.

Jack-o’-Lantern Herb Pots

I grow most of my indoor plants (and some of my outdoor ones) in terracotta pots a) because I like the look of them, and b) because they’re inexpensive. I generally have a row of herbs growing in a window planter all year long. I was looking for a way to spruce them up for Halloween on the cheap.

I came up with this quick craft — and I do mean quick, as in it took me less than ten minutes to decorate five pots. There are all kinds of tutorials out there for how to paint or draw on terracotta pots to make them look like Jack-o’-lanterns, which is simplified by the pots already conveniently being orange. I wanted something a little less permanent, since I didn’t want to have to re-pot my herbs for every holiday.

I took a sheet of black construction paper and cut it out freehand into the appropriate shapes. If you’re not comfortable drawing or cutting freehand, you can always Google “Jack-o’-lantern face template” and either trace one of those designs or print it and cut it out. I then stuck the pieces onto the pot with tape. Any tape will work, but for something so temporary I prefer to use painter’s tape (any brand), which isn’t meant to stick forever and rarely leaves any sticky residue behind.

I really like how they all turned out! The plants in the pots make fun “hair” for the Jack-o’-lantern faces, which tickles my kids to no end. Those plants are, left to right: chives, oregano, baby pine tree (okay, technically not an herb; this craft will honestly work with any kind of plant, I just like how quickly and thickly herbs grow), thyme, and garlic chives.

I think that this craft cost me maybe a quarter? Of course, I already had the potted plants. If you don’t have that, the pots generally run only a few dollars for the smaller sizes (they’re generally available at dollar stores and at WalMart all year round), and you can pick up a small pot of herbs for only a few dollars more at your local grocery store or garden center. As a bonus, after Halloween you can use the herbs in your cooking.

The Last of the Summer Tomatoes

I feel like I’ve spent all of my time over the last few weeks canning. One thing in my garden will become ripe all at the same time, meaning that I have to either eat or can it all (generally a combination of both) before it goes bad. Most of the food that I grow will go bad faster than I can eat it, with the exception of my potatoes and shallots, which have a great shelf life if kept in a cool, dark place.


Tomatoes in the sink being washed.

The biggest issue for about a week was my tomatoes, because we were starting to get the occasional frost at night. It was only a light frost and the damage was primarily to the plant’s inedible leaves, but here those light frosts are a warning of deeply freezing night temperatures coming soon, so they must not be ignored. I pulled out all of my tomato plants and picked every single fruit, whether they were ripe or not. Actually, most of what was left was green, but I didn’t mind too much since I have lots of dishes that work well with green tomatoes.

I separated the ripe tomatoes from the green ones, and made my last batch of homegrown Blender Salsa until next year. (The recipe can be found on page 92 of Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces (Marisa McClellan, 2014).) I also included tomatoes from a friend’s garden in this batch, but I still only ended up with about two litres of the end product.

I thawed some of the rhubarb from earlier in the season, and I cooked up about 1.5L of Tomato-Rhubarb Chutney (page 132, You Can Can: A Guide to Canning, Preserving, and Pickling from Better Homes and Gardens (2010)). This chutney was a big hit with my in-laws last year, so I knew I had to make some more.

I really hope that I got the recipe right for this last one, because I made almost five litres of it. I got a huge number of compliments last time I made Green Tomato Chutney, and many requests that I make more. I would have done so immediately, but it calls for green tomatoes and they’re really only available at a very specific time of year. Imported or hothouse tomatoes are never sold green around here. The thing is, the last time I made this preserve was before I started recording my cooking in this blog, and I didn’t write down what book the recipe came from. (I can’t tell you how useful this blog has been for keeping track of what I made, when, with what recipe, and with what changes. The fact that it’s searchable has made my life so much easier.)

This year, when trying to recreate my success, I realized that I own five different preserving cookbooks with five slightly different versions of this recipe — and that’s without going into any of my “big fat cookbooks that tell you everything about everything”, as they call them in the I Hate to Cook Book. At any rate, I think I found the correct recipe, since it’s the only one in my library that calls for golden raisins, and I distinctly remember putting golden raisins in the last batch. The Green Tomato Chutney recipe that I used can be found on page 208 of The Canadian Living Complete Preserving Book (2012). I have my fingers crossed that I remembered correctly and that it will be enjoyed as much as the previous batch!

Harvest

Even though the days have been lovely, it is now the beginning of October, so the nights are getting colder and there is often the threat of frost. This means it’s time to bring in the harvest. I dug up about half of my garden last week, and it wasn’t all mutant carrots!

Please excuse the long grass. My plants were hanging over the sides of the wooden garden border, so I figured I should pull them all up before mowing.

I picked the last of the hot peppers and dug up the few shallots that survived the season. For some reason, most of my shallots didn’t sprout this year. I will freeze the hot peppers with the intention of making hot sauce at a later date.

I tried growing lemongrass this year, which was very pretty but didn’t yield a huge amount of edible parts. It’s supposedly a perennial, but the root ball may not survive the harsh Canadian winter. We shall see if it sprouts in the spring.

I’m still harvesting ripe cherry tomatoes, much to my surprise. Last week’s heat wave meant that the plants haven’t started to die down as much as usual by this time of year.

I had a total yield of about 30lbs of Prince of Orange potatoes. These potatoes are apparently a pretty new breed. They have reddish skins and a dark yellow interior (actually pretty close to my Creampak carrots when cooked). They also have a stronger flavour than traditional white-fleshed potatoes, which I really like. I may plant these again next year, or may be I’ll alternate with Violet Queens, which have purple skins and flesh. I figure hey, if I’m going to grow it myself, why be satisfied with the few varieties that are available at the average grocery store?

Carrots

I love both cooking with and eating carrots, so I’ve been planting them in my garden for a couple of years. I haven’t had great success, though. Last year, one of my carrots looked like this:

(That’s a dime for size reference.)

So when I planted my carrots this year, I didn’t have any great expectations. Instead of growing them from seeds like I’d tried in previous years, I bought pre-started seedlings from Laporte Gardens. I hoped I’d get a few decent-sized carrots and probably some finger-sized ones as well. Little did I know that I was growing MONSTERS.


Thing 1 helping me harvest the carrots.

I left lots of space between each planted seedling (so I never had to thin them), made sure they got lots of water (not a problem this year) and that they weren’t being eaten alive by pests or crowded out by weeds. I also fertilized the entire garden with sheep manure compost early in the spring. And that was all I did. I’d learned the hard way that you really just have to leave root vegetables alone for as long as possible so that they develop fully. Um… Mission accomplished, I guess?

(Yes, I know now that I probably should have re-buried the carrots as they began to poke out of the ground so they didn’t discolor, but I didn’t know that back when it mattered. My carrots have never before grown so large.)

So yeah, that’s Thing 1 holding up one of the carrots/carrot clusters that she pulled up for me. It’s almost as big as her head.

Instead of the roots growing long and straight, they looped back upon themselves multiple times, creating gnarled, mutant bunches. Even in the spots where there was only one top, the roots looked like this.

These are creampak carrots, by the way. They’re supposed to be yellow instead of the more common orange.

All in all, my small planting of carrots yielded a root harvest that overfills a 11″ x 15″ x 7¾” IKEA GLES box.

Washed and untangled, the carrots looked more like the vegetables I’m used to. The photo above is of only one of the root balls. I kept giggling as I washed and separated, since it all seemed so absurd to me. This is honestly the funniest plant I have ever grown… And I have grown some weird-looking plants.

Thing 1 washed and cut up some of the smaller bits, then harvested a few cherry tomatoes from the garden to make her own carrot and tomato salad. I was very proud of her for taking the initiative to make a dish out of the food she’d helped harvest. She insisted that I photograph her creation and put it on “the blog”.

I included part of the harvest in yesterday’s dinner, which was steamed carrots, whipped potatoes (which are Prince of Orange potatoes and almost the same colour as the Creampak carrots when cooked), and maple & cinnamon sausages. After spending the afternoon in the garden, the whole family cleaned their plates.

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.

Autumn Produce & Baked Panko Zucchini Sticks Recipe

A friend came by this past weekend to hang out and chat, and also to gift me with some of the excessive produce from his family’s garden. Apparently zucchini has really liked this year’s rainy summer, and tomatoes weren’t far behind in the production department.


Zucchinis and tomatoes in cardboard boxes from my friend’s garden; tomatoes and cherry tomatoes from my garden in the green bowls.

I didn’t try to grow zucchinis this year, but my tomatoes are ripening up nicely as well, so I ended up with much more fresh garden produce this weekend than we could eat before it went bad. So I’ve found myself spending the majority of the last few days in the kitchen, cooking as much of these fruits and veggies as I can.

Since my freezer is getting pretty full so I wanted something shelf-stable, and my husband (the main salsa consumer in our house) really likes the Blender Salsa from page 92 of Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces (Marisa McClellan, 2014), making another big batch was a no-brainer. Once my hubby had snacked on some of the lovely cherry tomatoes, I cooked up the remainder into about four liters of salsa. That’s not nearly enough to get us through the winter, but there are still more tomatoes on the vine to ripen, after all.

I baked a loaf of Chocolate Zucchini Bread (page 104 of 125 Best Quick Bread Recipes by Donna Washburn & Heather Butt (2002)). This is a heavy, rich bread that is satisfying either as a dessert or as a snack. I opted for semi-sweet mini chocolate chips, which makes this dish almost bitter, since it doesn’t include all that much added sugar. You can also use dark chocolate chips for an even deeper flavour, or switch it up with butterscotch, raspberry, or white chocolate chips. I was a little worried about the texture that the grated zucchini might have created, so I used the same technique as when I rebaked the chocolate fudge zucchini cookies and precooked the zucchini, then ran it through the blender. This added a bit of extra moisture to the bread, so I omitted the vegetable oil entirely. I was quite happy with how it turned out, both in flavour and in texture.

For dinner yesterday I also made baked chicken with my usual sprinkling of parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, garlic powder, summer savoury, and salt as topping. As a side I made baked zucchini sticks, which my kids couldn’t get enough of, so I think I’ll be making them a few more times until I use up all of this zucchini (there’s still lots left). Instead of the more common (around here) seasoned bread crumbs, I went with panko, which is a much lighter style of Japanese bread crumb. I also baked the sticks instead of the more traditional deep-frying, for health reasons and because I just don’t particularly enjoy deep-frying. Here’s the very simple recipe that I used:

Baked Panko Zucchini Sticks
Serves 4 as a side dish

Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C).
Wash and slice into thick sticks, leaving peel on:
400g zucchini
In a small mixing bowl, beat:
1 large egg
In a second small mixing bowl, combine:
3/4 cup panko
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp garlic powder
4 Tbsp Kraft 100% Parmesan grated cheese*
Grease a cookie sheet lightly with olive oil or cooking spray.
Dry the zucchini on paper towel, then dip it into the egg until coated, then into the panko mixture until coated. Place the coated zucchini sticks in a single layer on the greased cookie sheet. Sticks will cook most evenly and be most crunchy if they are not touching.
Bake the zucchini sticks for 15-20 minutes, or until topping is golden brown.
Serve plain, or with ranch dressing or marinara sauce as a dipping sauce.

*Parmesan cheese may be omitted, but if so, double the amount of salt.