Jerusalem Artichokes

Last night I cooked up the Jerusalem artichoke tubers from my garden to go with dinner. Sadly, my two plants, which ended up topping my fence by quite a bit (and yet for some reason didn’t flower), only produced enough root veggies for me to make a single dinner’s worth. I Googled and found Jamie Oliver’s Jerusalem Artichokes with Garlic in an article titled Top 5 Jerusalem Artichoke Recipes. It looked simple enough that it would let their natural flavour shine through, so I thought I’d give it a go.

I’m happy to say that it was a success! I served the Jerusalem artichokes with barbecued chicken and steamed spinach. The family loved them, and Thing 2 even asked for a second helping of vegetables — how often does that happen?

Personally, I was rather surprised by the intensity of their flavour, since they look and smell quite a bit like a rather bland potato. I found them to be sweet and tangy, and utterly delicious. I think I’d like to make them again, but they’re not something that can be found in grocery stores around here. I will have to grow a whole bunch of them next year, I guess!

I was a little worried that the Jerusalem artichokes might aggravate my digestive tract, since the Internet is filled with dire warnings of how windy they can make you. I honestly don’t think they affected anyone in the family any worse than the average person eating something like beans or cabbage — definitely not enough of a reaction to be a deterrent for an occasional dish. Mind you, I did cook them thoroughly, which apparently can help break down the inulin (which is a starch that is broken down by bacteria in the colon, causing gas). Apparently regular artichokes have about twice as much inulin as Jerusalem artichokes, so if you’ve never had problems with artichokes before, you probably won’t with these either. Inulin can also be found in chicory, leeks, asparagus, sugar beets, onions, and garlic, among others. So if you’ve never had a problem with any of these foods, you probably won’t with Jerusalem artichokes either.

All that being said, if you’re allergic to sunflowers and/or sunflower seeds (which I know some of my friends are), treat Jerusalem artichokes with caution, as they are part of the same family. If you are anaphylactically reactive, I would highly recommend having a professional test before eating Jerusalem artichokes, or simply avoiding them altogether.

Chicken Salad Sandwich

Yesterday I made a visit to Costco, and was it ever slammed! I guess a lot of people lost a lot of their perishables to the power outage, and had to stock up. Not only that, but with the power out for so much of the weekend and a request for people to stay off of the roads Monday, most people weren’t able to do their weekend grocery shopping.

While I was at Costco, I picked up a rotisserie chicken, which at $7.99 for a fully cooked bird is the best price around, so far as I know. I honestly am not certain whether buying poultry cooked at a grocery store is more energy-efficient than cooking it at home, but I have an inkling that it is. If not, well, at least I wasn’t cooking it near dinner time, which tends to be a peak time for energy usage because so many of us have electric stoves and microwaves.

From what I understand, the rerouting of power around the downed Merivale power station means that the grid is just holding until the station is repaired. However, a large spike in energy usage, such as everyone running their A/C on a hot day, would likely black out the city again. So, to do my part I’m trying to be as conservative with my electricity as possible. (And did I mention that the tornado count for last Friday has gone up from two to six?)

At any rate, I decided to do another cold dinner, so I stripped the chicken carcass and chopped up all of the meat into bite-sized pieces. Then I mixed them with some chopped green onions and mayonnaise. I served the chicken salad with baby spinach on toasted ciabatta bread (also from Costco). As sides, I peeled oranges and sliced strawberries.

The weather yesterday was rainy and dull, so while cooking outdoors could have been done if necessary, I wasn’t really looking forward to it. Sadly, tomorrow’s weather isn’t predicted to be any nicer; actually, we’re supposed to get thunder and lightning again. Yay?

Too Many Tomatoes

It’s that time of year again when everything seems to be ripe at once and it’s physically impossible to eat it all before it goes bad. Case in point: my tomatoes. I grow predominantly cherry tomatoes, although a friend did give me one black tomato plant that has done very well this year. I just find cherry tomatoes to be more flavourful than most of the larger varieties. And I plant tonnes, since I know that I’ll want to include them in a number of preserves come fall.

Case in point: this is what I brought in from the garden the other day. I think that these tomatoes, and probably the onions as well, will soon become spaghetti sauce. I might even go for the healthy veggie tomato sauce I made last year, and include the eggplant that should be ripe in a few days. (I had a lovely huge one ready to go, and then an animal go to it. Figures.)

At the same time, I had a few small radishes, the last of the cucumbers (the vines were starting to die back), and a few potatoes that were beginning to poke through the surface of the dirt. Something needs to be done with all of this produce before it rots!

The first step for me is to make at least one dinner with the fresh ingredients. I barbecued some chicken thighs with my usual spice mix (parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, garlic powder, and sea salt), and cooked up some of the potatoes on the grill at the same time. I know that they look very similar post-grill, but the difference was immediately apparent once they were cut open. I added some cherry tomatoes and sliced radishes as a veggie once everything else was cooked. It was a very simple meal, but it was both tasty and easy to prepare — which I needed after spending a couple of hours in the garden!

Birthday Dinner Woes

Yesterday was my husband’s birthday, so at his request I cooked him a special birthday dinner. I’d say that overall it was a learning experience.

The dinner itself was one of his favourites: chicken thighs marinaded in Pataks Tandoori Curry Paste and coconut milk, cooked on the smoker grill (which is finally fixed). Despite appearances, it wasn’t actually burned, although it was definitely overcooked. Now that it’s running properly, the grill heats up better and faster than before, and I failed to take that into account. As sides I toasted some garlic naan bread on the barbecue, and we also had steamed butternut squash with butter and salt. I know I’ve prepared this meal better in the past, but it was still tasty.

The difficult part — and the greatest learning experience — of my husband’s birthday dinner was actually the dessert: a frozen lemon torte. We’d had this dish at a barbecue hosted by my husband’s boss a couple of months ago, and we both really liked it. Sadly, I could only have a mouthful, as it was filled with whipping cream. As we were leaving the party I requested the recipe from my husband’s boss’ wife, and she made sure to send along a copy a few days later. Sadly, I have no idea what recipe book it comes from, since she just sent me a photocopy of the one page.

The challenge for me was making this dish without the use of cow’s milk. I was sure that I should be able to make it with coconut milk instead; internet research indicated that it is possible to make an imitation whipped cream from coconut milk. Strike 1 against me was that the milk hadn’t separated after I’d placed the can in the fridge overnight; most instructions for whipping the cream call for using only the solids from the can. I’m not sure if it’s a canning/processing technique or an added ingredient, but my coconut milk didn’t separate. Further Googling told me that I could probably make whipped cream even with non-separated coconut milk, but I would have to whip it longer (15+ minutes), use a thickening additive, and it would still only form soft peaks. Well, mine didn’t even get that thick. I whipped it with a hand mixer for almost half an hour and just got slightly fluffier milk. By this time it was almost two in the morning and I was exhausted, so I combined all of my ingredients, threw the pan in the freezer, and hoped for the best.

I was really worried about removing the springform pan after dinner, which is why I took photos in advance just in case it all fell apart without support. It wasn’t quite that bad, but it did get mushy really quickly. I’d say that the lemon layer, which was supposed to have a mousse-like texture, was a lot more like ice cream. I mean, that wasn’t bad overall, but it wasn’t what I was hoping for. Also, the lady finger bottom crust, which should have been held down by the mousse, actually floated to the top of the too-liquid lemon mix, and then froze that way. After adding the meringue on top, the cookies ended up being more of a central layer than a crust.

In the end, the torte ended up being more of an ice cream cake with a meringue topping — but at least I could eat it! I really want to have a go at this recipe again, with less of a time limit and more than one brand of coconut milk to try whipping. Actually, I noticed on a grocery store trip today that there is a brand that sells full-fat coconut cream, so that may be the next thing I try. If I ever get the non-dairy version working to my satisfaction, I will post the recipe, I promise!

Fresh Tomato Bruschetta

My garden has definitely reached the “overgrown” stage. I sent the girls in to pick some tomatoes, and, well…

I almost lost them!

Just the other day I got what I’d consider my first real harvest of tomatoes (the first three cherry tomatoes didn’t really count, volume-wise). I thought that it was high time to bushwhack into the furrows and pick all of the ripe fruit before it rotted and fell into the dirt.

With Thing 1 and Thing 2’s help, I harvested a number of cucumbers, a bowl of tomatoes of various colours, and a lone eggplant. I did, however, forget that there are thorns on the greens of some kinds of eggplants, and I almost threw it across the room when I pricked myself. Lesson learned.

For dinner that night I wasn’t terribly inspired: just a rotisserie chicken and a pre-made Ceasar salad from the grocery store. But I did make bruschetta with the freshly-picked tomatoes! It’s honestly one of the quickest dishes in my repertoire. Throw tomatoes, a clove of garlic, a dash of olive oil, basil, and some grated parmesan into the food processor. Blitz it for a few seconds until it’s chunky, spread it on some thick slices of nice French or Parisian bread, and pop it in the oven at 350°F until heated and browned. This time, I also added a slice of lactose-free Gouda to the top of each piece of bread (any hard cheese that melts well will do). It’s lovely! As a bonus, it’s a dish that can be made in a toaster oven, i.e. outside where it won’t heat up the house in the dog days of summer.

Preparing for the Storm

We’ve been getting dire warnings from the Weather Network over the past week that yesterday and today will be all about thunderbolts and lightning, and then the storm will pull in a massive heat wave behind it. I’ve been trying to plan my cooking to keep that in mind, but nothing seems to be going quite right.

On the hottest days, I try very hard not to cook indoors or, if that can’t be arranged, at least I try not to use the oven. So I figured that on Wednesday night I’d make the last “comfort food” for a while and throw on some pork loin, mushroom gravy, Dad’s biscuits, and steamed carrots. This is a meal that I’ve made a million times, so you’d think it would be easy, no?

Well, everything going well until I tried to get the biscuits on. That’s when I realized that I’d left my bag of all-purpose flour at my in-laws’ cottage; I’d intended to bake bread on the day that was predicted to be really rainy, but the weather never got bad enough to totally pin us inside. All I had left at home were the dregs left in one storage jar. I ended up combining those dregs with some multigrain bread flour that had been languishing in my cupboard for quite some time. (I’d bought it to make a specific kind of bread, and the package contained way more than I’d needed.) The multigrain flour actually worked out okay in that the biscuits rose and baked properly, but it did mean that they had a whole different texture than I was used to. Usually these biscuits are soft and fluffy, but the multigrain flour has crunchy bits and doesn’t rise as well.

Then last night it was supposed to be hot and humid, so I wanted to cook the majority of the meal outside. (It actually didn’t end up being that bad, with the storm pushing the cold air in front of it so that it actually cooled down around dinnertime, but I didn’t know that was going to happen.) Actually, “cook” is probably stretching it a bit, more “prepare”. I had bought a rotisserie chicken at Costco earlier in the day, which I’d just planned on reheating on the wood pellet grill. So I turned on the machine, preheated it, put on the chicken, and waited… And waited… And waited… But it didn’t seem to be heating up. It turned out that wood dust had clogged the auger that feeds the fuel pellets, so no fuel was burning. My husband took the grill halfway apart to figure that out, and he was still cleaning it out when it started to rain. He threw the cover over the grill and promised to finish cleaning it at a later date.

But that still left us without dinner. And a pre-cooked chicken is supposed to be easy, right? Not so far, not this time. We also have a propane grill, which I then tried to start, but nothing happened at first. Turns out the hose had somehow become loose and the fuel wasn’t getting to the grill. (This seems to be a theme.) A quick tightening did the job on that one, and I’m happy about that because I first assumed that the tank was empty — which would have delayed the meal even further.

Finally, I was able to reheat my chicken (and crisp up the skin — throwing a rotisserie chicken on the grill or in the oven is good for that). While it warmed up, I cooked up some penne and coated the noodles with basil pesto that I’d made and frozen last summer. At least that part was easy. By the time supper was finally complete, we were easily an hour and a half past our normal dinner time, so I didn’t even get a chance to take a picture with my good camera before the food was devoured — I had to use my phone, which I almost always have on hand.

Hopefully my cooking over the next few days will go a bit more smoothly.

Spelunking

We started Sunday with a hearty brunch eaten out on the porch at my in-laws’ cottage. I had bacon, eggs over easy, an everything bagel, apple slices, and a banana.

With this fuel under our belts, we made the drive out to the Bonnechere Caves, which are caves carved by the Bonnechere River into limestone deep underground. I’d been there once as a child, and again as an adult bringing my eldest along, but this was the first time that both kids had been old enough to partake in the tour. I think that it was an experience that they won’t soon forget!

The tour started outside along the Bonnechere River (you can actually see the natural entrance to the caves on the left).

Then you take a man-made staircase down into the bowels of the caves as part of a guided tour. We’d been to the Lusk Caves a few years ago, where the caves are left au naturel (although there is a trail leading to them) and there is no guide, so this was a very different experience. There is a boardwalk over the naturally jagged stone floors, and the caves are lit.

Despite the somewhat staged air that the man-made additions add, they did allow me to get a much clearer look at the rock formations.

For the last section of the tour, the path runs under the water table, so concrete barriers and pumps are put to use to make the area dry enough to walk through. This lets you see exactly how deep these caverns really go. Although if you’re claustrophobic, I can see how the idea of all of that ground above your head would be difficult to deal with. One lady kept making comparisons to The Cave…

It was a very neat experience. Maybe one day I’ll be lucky enough to take yet another generation of children to explore this enthralling natural formation.

Of course, after all of our spelunking we were ravenous, so we headed back to the cottage for dinner. We chowed down on grilled chicken legs with hot sauce, roasted fingerling potatoes, and a salad of mixed greens, red grapes, and ground cherries. What a great way to round out the day!