A Family Sunday

On Saturday morning, we found Candy Cane hiding under the chair in Thing 1’s room, riding a LEGO scooter, playing with the a Vaporeon and a Playmobil pegasus:

And Sunday morning we found her hanging around in the kitchen with Chimpy:

I spent most of that day with my little family decorating the house for Christmas. As of now we’re still not done, but that’s to be expected as we do Christmas almost as big as we do Halloween around here.

Of course, we had to take a break for dinner, which was roll-your-own sushi again at the kids’ request. Since this is a pretty healthy meal, I don’t mind indulging them.

Their rolling skills are getting better, but their knife skills could use a bit of work. Part of their difficulty was the knives we used, though, which could definitely use a sharpening.

One thing we did manage to finish was decorating the tree, which is a real one in our house so it doesn’t stay up all that long. We find three weeks (two weeks before Christmas and one week after) is about as long as the needles will stay on. I know that the kids would be more than happy to have it up in November otherwise, although I’m pretty sure my husband would object.

The addition of the tree and its decorations are, I think, the inspiration for the stuffed Christmas bear to tie Candy Cane to the tracks this morning. Although I do remember learning somewhere that there is actually no damsel-in-distress-tied-to-the-tracks scene in any old movie other than parodies; maybe I saw that on QI? At any rate, the elf is safe enough considering that the train has no batteries. Her predicament didn’t seem to bother the children at all.

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!

Beet Pesto

One of the things I love about beets is that pretty much the entire plant is edible; both the roots and the leaves not only taste good, but they’re great in other dishes. Case in point: beet pesto. As I’ve pointed out before, pesto is a really simple, no-cook pasta sauce to make, and it can be made with beet greens! Well, the ones I grew this year had red leaves instead of the more common, green, but they taste more or less the same no matter the colour.

The neat thing about making pesto with red beet leaves is that the pesto itself turns red, which makes for a much more colourful dish. As a warning, if you’re making or cooking with this kind of pesto, protect your clothing! Red beet juice stains very quickly, and this will also happen when it’s in pesto.

In this pesto I also used basil (from my mother’s and my mother’s friend’s garden), garlic, extra virgin olive oil, parmesan (from the deli, not the shelf-stable stuff that’s much harder and more powdery), and pine nuts.

This big batch made up sixteen 250mL jars that went straight into the freezer, plus one that I set aside in the fridge for use in the next few days. Each one of these tiny jars is easily enough to make dinner for our family of four. If stirred into prepared dried pasta, this means I’ll have sixteen easy meals (or at least side-dishes) over the coming winter. I like that kind of math!

Garlicky Pasta Primavera

Last night I was inspired by Delish to make their Bowtie Primavera recipe. It was originally posted back in 2016, but the video popped up again on my Facebook feed, and, well, I had lots of cherry tomatoes that needed eating, so I figured it was timely.

This dish features a lovely rainbow of vegetables: asparagus, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, and mushrooms. I find it funny that it’s advertised as a “spring pasta” because really the only spring part is the asparagus; the zucchini, cherry tomatoes, and most mushrooms are late summer/early fall produce. I actually couldn’t find fresh asparagus at the grocery store right now and so had to use frozen, but that works just fine cooked in a sauce anyway.

My cherry tomatoes were really juicy and released a lot of that juice when cooking, so I found that 1 cup of reserved pasta water was excessive. I ended up having to boil down the sauce in order for it not to be, well, soup. Additionally, I used lactose-free sour cream, which I don’t think make a huge difference to the consistency but it did mean that I could actually eat it. (I would assume that, to make this dish vegan, a cream cheese substitute could be used effectively.) I also didn’t garnish with chopped basil because, to be completely honest, I forgot to buy any.

All that being said, I was really happy with the end result. This dish was creamy but not cloying, came together quickly (although not as quickly as the recipe indicated), and was both healthy and tasty. I will definitely be making it again.

Slow Cooker Caribbean Lobster Bisque Recipe

About four years ago I had the opportunity to try PC Jammin’ Jamaican Lobster Bisque, which is a frozen entree that was created by Winslow Taylor of Mississauga, Ontario for the PC Recipe to Riches contest. I loved it! It was creamy and filling with just the right amount of bite. Sadly, this frozen dinner didn’t stay on the shelves long, and it has been years since it’s been in production, I think. So a I did some research and some testing, and I came up with what I consider to be a really nice non-dairy Caribbean-style lobster bisque that you can make in a slow cooker. I originally posted this recipe in my old blog a few years back, but I’ve had the chance to refine it somewhat since then. Enjoy!

Slow Cooker Caribbean Lobster Bisque

In a frying pan, gently heat:
1 Tbsp olive oil
To the oil, add:
1 white onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
Saute until the onions are clear. Stir often so that they do not brown. Put sauteed items in slow cooker.
Add to slow cooker:
4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
3 cups pumpkin* puree**
6 Roma tomatoes, peeled, de-seeded & chopped
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt***
1 tsp paprika****
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 tsp Scotch Bonnet hot pepper sauce*****
With a large sharp knife, cut off the fan part at the bottom of:
4 lobster tails****** (totaling 400g or more)
Reserve the remaining meaty parts of the lobster tails for later.
Add the fan part of the lobster tails to the crock pot. Stir. Cover and cook in the slow cooker for 6 hours on low.
Remove and discard lobster tail ends & thyme. Using a blender or food processor, puree the soup until it has an even, creamy consistency. Put the soup back in the slow cooker, and add the reserved meaty parts of the lobster tail. Stir, cover, and cook for about 45min to 1hr, or until lobster shells are pink and meat is cooked through. Remove remaining lobster from the slow cooker and let it cool until it is comfortable to handle.
While the lobster is cooling, stir into the slow cooker:
1 can (400mL) coconut milk
Remove lobster flesh from the shells. Discard shells. Chop lobster flesh into small bite-sized pieces and add to the slow cooker. Stir.
Optionally, garnish each serving with:
a sprinkle of fresh cilantro or parsley, chopped

This bisque is delicious as an appetizer or as a lunch. It freezes well; I like to freeze it in single-sized portions so that I can take it along with me for work lunches. It goes well with crusty bread and strong cheese.

Notes:
* Equal quantities of winter squash puree such as butternut, calabaza, or Hubbard squash may be substituted.
** When I can my own squash, it comes out much more watery than the commercial canned versions. If you are using a thicker canned squash, add enough water to the mixture in the slow cooker so that it has the consistency of a thinner cream soup. This amount will vary depending on the consistency of the puree.
*** If you use regular chicken broth instead of the reduced-sodium version called for in this recipe, omit the salt. If you use homemade chicken broth with no salt at all, add an extra 1 tsp salt.
**** If you can get it, smoked paprika adds an extra layer of flavour to this recipe. Otherwise, regular paprika will do.
***** I used the Scotch Bonnet hot pepper sauce made by Grace (which is available at most grocery stores around here), but you can use the one of your choice. My original recipe called for 4 tsp of this sauce, but it ended up too hot for anyone in my family except me. If you like your food spicy, add a little more than 2 tsp. If you aren’t that fond of spice, cut it down to 1 tsp for a tiny bit of a bite. If you don’t like spice at all, you can omit the sauce altogether for a mild bisque redolent with coconut – although if you do this, I’d recommend adding more thyme.
****** I have used lobster tails to make this soup, I have also done it with satisfactory results with other (cheaper) parts of the crustacean, like the claws. Just set aside the bigger, meatier parts for the last step of cooking, and use the smaller, mostly-shell parts for the slow-cooking stage to add flavour. Remember to take any parts with shell out before you blend!

First Harvest of the Year

I’m happy to report that there are finally fruits and veggies in my garden that are ready to harvest! It’s been a very dry summer for the most part, and although I’ve been watering my garden religiously, I think it’s having an effect on the garden. However, over the last week or so we have had a storm almost every day, alternating with sunshine, and my plants have loved it.

My tiny cucumbers and zucchini have swelled up remarkably in the last week and a half! The largest of the cucumbers is about 7″ long (18cm) and is so thick that I can’t wrap my fingers entirely around it. The three cherry tomatoes (and now I’m sure that the self-seeded tomatoes were the little ones since they’re ripening at such a small size) were sweet and delicious straight off of the plant. I know the zucchini would have grown larger, but they’re more tender at a smaller size. Some of the absolutely enormous zucchini gifted by friends last year had a really tough skin that had to be peeled before it could be eaten. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I still ate every last squash, but the bigger they are, the harder the skin. (Also, the really big ones you have to scoop out in the middle like you would a pumpkin, because the seeds are quite tough too.) Also, I’ll admit that I wanted to get to the zucchini before the animals or bugs did. I know that it’s supposed to be one of the easiest things in the world to grow, but between insects and squirrels/chipmunks and just plain bad luck, I’ve only ever managed to grow a single zucchini before, and it was a tiny one barely worth harvesting.

I would be writing about the size of this first zucchini right now except for the fact that we ate it almost as soon as it was off of the vine. My husband fired up the barbecue yesterday and we had chicken thighs with the skin on, topped with a sprinkle of herbs (my usual sage, thyme, garlic powder, summer savoury, and sea salt; there would have been rosemary too, but I had run out). As a side dish, I sliced the yellow zucchini and threw it in our non-stick grilling bowl with a sprinkle of salt and a drizzle of olive oil. As it couldn’t possibly have been fresher, it was oh-so-tender and light-tasting. I didn’t even have to fight with the kids to get them to eat their vegetables, which is quite the feat at dinner time around here these days.

Roadside Produce Stands

One of my favourite things about summer is when the farm stalls start popping up in parking lots and along the main drag, not content to wait for the next farmers’ market to get all that great produce out to their customers. Sometimes it’s a single pickup truck with its bed full of corn or flats of foraged berries (if I’m ever near Sudbury in the summer, wild blueberries are a must). Sometimes it’s well-established farm booths, neatly organized with multiple products all protected from the sun and rain by pop-up tents. Whatever the style, the food is always much fresher and tastier than the stuff from the grocery store, which is usually picked when not-quite-ripe and shipped in instead of ripening properly under the sun. Due to ordering in bulk, grocery stuff is often cheaper, but you can’t beat the quality of the roadside stand.

Of course, due to our short growing season, the roadside farm stand is subject to seasonal and weather-driven fluctuation. Last year, when we had so rain that there was flooding and standing water in so many fields making it impossible to cultivate, there was a lot less available when it came to fresh local produce. Ditto the particularly dry years. But such is the way of the farm and garden.

Right now there’s a great variety of farm-fresh goods available. Garlic scapes are one of the first crops available around here in June, but the garlic plants keep growing flower stalks, so farmers can sell them for a good long time into summer.

Young carrots — true young carrots and not those “baby cut” fakeries available by the bag in the grocery store — are starting to become available now. The ones from my garden aren’t usually available until fall (if I tried to harvest now, they would look a lot like this), but most of the farms around here start their growing seasons early under the grow lamps.

The green onions are nice and crispy…

And zucchini are starting to become available! I’m particularly fond of the ones that grow in such interesting shapes, although they taste exactly the same. I’m trying to grow zucchini this year, but the chipmunks and earwigs love my gourds, so I historically haven’t had any luck. My friends, who generally have better luck than I, often have excess zucchini to gift me come fall, though. The kids love it, especially as zucchini sticks. The round ones pictured above are better shaped for stuffing, though.

We’ve been gorging on raspberries for a week or two now, but they’re still a personal favourite.

And most exciting at the moment, the corn has started to roll in! The local peaches-and-cream corn is my husband’s personal favourite, so we eat it in every form starting about now. Last night we just threw it on the barbecue whole on low for half an hour, and then peeled it and ate it off the cob. Delicious!