Fruits of My Labour

It’s that time of year when I start seeing the fruits of my labour (quite literally) in my garden. I always find this very exciting. You can plant as many seeds and seedlings as you want, take care of them as best you can, and sometimes they still don’t yield fruit. I can understand how this excitement can turn into outright dread if you farm for a living, but it’s a lot of fun when you garden for pleasure.

My self-seeded tomatoes are actually fruiting! I did have my doubts that they would produce anything at all. But I did start to see flowers a few weeks ago, and now there are some tiny rows of tomatoes growing. I wasn’t sure what kind of tomatoes these would be (since even when you buy them from a garden center, they can get the variety wrong), but these are definitely a cherry tomato of some sort. Since that was exactly what I wanted, I could not be happier. The next question is, what colour will they be?

Over in my long skinny garden by the fence, the large gourds aren’t showing much yet (although there are some promising bulges near the flowers), but the cucumbers are starting to bear fruit. They’re still in their tender young stage that I know is terribly tempting to rodents and earwigs alike, but I have hope that I may be able to make some home-grown pickles come fall.

Breakfast Bagel

I noticed the other day that there was a Cadman’s Montreal Bagels open now at the intersection of the Vanier Parkway and Montreal Road, so I thought that I’d try it out. Bagels are a staple in our household, whether I make them myself or buy them from a bakery or grocery store. When I was a kid, my parents would take us almost every weekend for breakfast at Bagel Bagel at the corner of Clarence and William in the Byward Market, where I believe the Cornerstone Bar and Grill is now. I’ve also been lucky enough to visit Montreal frequently and try fresh bagels there from a variety of restaurants and bakeries. The signs outside of Cadman’s proclaimed that they were the best Montreal-style bagels in Ottawa, so I was intrigued.

I purchased the All Day Breakfast Bagel Combo for $6.59 (plus tax), with an additional bowl of fresh fruit salad for another couple of bucks. The sandwich is on any of their freshly-baked bagels (I chose pumpernickel) and is topped with an egg, cheddar cheese, and bacon, and comes with a latke and a drink. One of the things that my photo fails to convey is how absolutely huge the portions are. The bagels here are especially massive. I came out of there stuffed after a late breakfast and didn’t need to eat again until dinner.

But are they the best Montreal-style bagels in Ottawa? Personally, I don’t think so. A good Montreal-style bagel is, to me, quite chewy, and these bagels were very soft. They also didn’t have the slightly sour tang that I associate with that kind of bagel. Perhaps they’re not working the dough long enough, boiling them long enough (or at all?), or using a high-enough protein flour. Whatever the reason, these bagels are really light and fluffy. Now, I know that some people prefer theirs that way, and there’s nothing technically wrong with a fluffy bagel. However, to me a Montreal-style bagels should be chewy and dense.

That being said, overall the breakfast was quite tasty, and it was good value for money. It wasn’t the best Montreal-style bagel I’ve had in Ottawa, but it was pretty good in its own right. So I’ll probably be back.

Pancake Tuesday

Mardi Gras isn’t really a thing around here, although I’d love to head down to New Orleans some day to celebrate it. However, my family does have British history, and hence strong cultural ties to the Anglican church. As such, when I was growing up we honoured Shrove Tuesday, which immediately precedes Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent) — although perhaps “honoured” is stretching things a bit. We never sought out the church in order to obtain absolution for our sins on Shrove Tuesday, and we didn’t give up certain foods for Lent. What we did do was make a point of serving pancakes on Pancake Tuesday. As you can see, the celebration for us, such as it is, was much more secular than religious. It’s kind of like how many people celebrate Christmas without ever going to church.

I’ve decided to keep the tradition alive with my children by cooking pancakes for dinner every year on this day (when I remember). It’s not like this is the only time we have pancakes, after all. This year I served it covered in a mound of freshly-prepared fruit salad that included green grapes, blueberries, honeycrisp apples, oranges, bananas, and strawberries. As winter drags on, these pops of colour and flavour are welcome additions to our diet. That being said, every single one of these items is an import (except maybe the apples, which store well), so the fruit commands a premium price.

I used my Spiced Pancake Recipe for the pancakes themselves, since they’ve become quite a hit in my household of late. There were all kinds of sweet toppings available: whipped cream and non-dairy whipped cream substitute, black currant syrup, elderberry syrup, maple syrup, caramel syrup, and icing sugar. I had mine with elderberry syrup and non-dairy whipped cream substitute. It was delicious! I made a bit extra for the kids to reheat in the morning for breakfast, too, which makes our morning that much easier — and tastier.

Christmas Breakfast

Christmas breakfast was a big thing at my house when I was a kid. Mom and Dad pulled out all of the stops and bought all kinds of awesome food that we pretty much never had any other time of the year. I associated these foods so strongly with the holidays that it came as a great revelation to me when I moved out that I could buy Havarti cheese with dill or caraway seeds, or Babybel miniature cheeses, or Stoned Wheat Thins all year long.

We’ve been hosting Christmas breakfast at our house since the year that Thing 1 was born. Given that she would have needed to be fed and then probably put down for a nap sometime during the festivities, it just made sense for us to stay home and have the rest of my family come to us. Breakfast is generally served buffet-style, so that everyone can have a little bit of everything and then head over to the Christmas tree to open gifts, often while still munching.

This year I served (working roughly from left to right):

Nan’s pan rolls* with butter
– red grapes
– rosemary bread from the bread machine**
– homemade dill pickles
– Chevrai Original Goat Cheese
– Garlic & Fine Herbs Boursin cheese
Chicken Bones
– Daiya Plain Cream Cheeze Style Spread
– Crème Oka cheese
– Laughing Cow cheese
– my husband’s homemade cornmeal muffins
– homemade pickled beets
– coffee & tea with sugar & milk
– chocolate toffees
– meat platter with Hungarian salami, Montreal smoked meat, roast beef, and Black Forest ham
– shrimp ring with cocktail sauce
– Christmas Cookie Monster’s Shape Cookies (made, for the most part, by Thing 1 and Thing 2)
– cold hard-boiled eggs
– Babybel miniature cheeses
– cracker plate with Stoned Wheat Thins, Ritz, Vegetable Thins, and Rosemary & Olive Oil Triscuits
– pepperettes (all-beef by my hubby’s preference and European style for mine)
– Oka and Havarti cheeses
Fudgy Pumpkin Brownies (this time with no coffee)
– bananas
– strawberries
– clementines
– blueberries

In case you’re worried, no, the seven of us did not eat this all in one sitting. This much could have easily fed twice that amount of people, with food to spare! The point of this kind of meal (which only happens once a year) is that everyone can have as much as they like, and then it all gets packed away to become lunches and dinners for the next week or so. There were still a few leftovers as of New Year’s Day, but that was of the kind of thing that takes forever to go bad, like crackers. Some of it will probably even make its way into the kids’ lunches in the new year.

*I discovered that these rolls can be left to do their second rise overnight in the refrigerator, and then just popped into the oven to serve fresh-baked for breakfast. If you’re going to do so, make sure that the pan you use is metal and not glass, as it takes the glass longer to heat up and can make the bottom of the rolls take a little too long to cook. Also, if the top is browning but the bottom isn’t quite done yet, cover the top of the rolls with aluminum foil to prevent them going from “browned” to “burnt”.

**Classic White Bread, found on page 24 of Betty Crocker’s Best Bread Machine Cookbook (1999) — but with half the sugar, olive oil instead of margarine, and about 1/4 cup fresh chopped rosemary added.

Pear & Honey Jam Recipe

As I wrote about before, I had a lot of cooking pears that needed to be used up recently. All of this excess meant that I had a chance to experiment with making a jam of my own devising. Pears are a naturally acidic fruit, which makes them perfect for hot-water-bath canning with a bit of sugar. It took me a couple of tries to get this recipe right, since since I didn’t want to use like ten cups of sugar (with would generally produce and easily firm set), since I wanted to taste the fruit and the spices more than the sweetness. In the end, I had something that I am quite proud of. Next year, when pears come into season, I think that I will make this the main pear jam (although I did really like the Spiced Pear Jam with Pineapple found on page 935 of the Joy of Cooking (2006 edition, Rombauer & Becker), or on the app). Maybe next year I’ll have a yield of more than four pears off of my baby pear tree, and I’ll be able to make more things from fruit I’ve grown myself!

Pear & Honey Jam
Yields six 250mL (1 cup) jars

Prepare and sterilize six 250mL (1 cup) jars (or twelve 125mL (1/2 cup) jars) and matching lids as per manufacturer instructions. Keep jars and lids warm until it is time to fill them.
In a Maslin pan or other non-reactive, heavy-bottomed pot, combine:
1.5 Kg (3.3 lbs) ripe/slightly overripe pears, peeled, cored, and roughly chopped
350 mL (1.5 cups) honey*
700 mL (3 cups) sugar
60 mL (1/4 cup) lemon juice
2.5mL (1/2 tsp) ground allspice
5 mL (1 tsp) ground cinnamon
2.5mL (1/2 tsp) ground cloves
2.5mL (1/2 tsp) ground nutmeg
2.5mL (1/2 tsp) ground ginger
Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly to prevent burning. Boil for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Run the mixture through a blender or food processor until it reaches a smooth consistency, being extremely careful as the ingredients will be very, very hot. Return the mixture to the pot and bring it back to a boil.
Add:
one 85 mL (2.9 oz) package of liquid pectin
Bring mixture back to a boil. Stir constantly as mixture boil hard for an additional minute.
Ladle the jam into the prepared jars, leaving a 5mm head space. Wipe jar rims with a clean, damp cloth or paper towel. Top jars with lids and screw metal rings into place until fingertip tight. Place jars on top of a canning rack inside a boiling water canner, being sure that none of them touch the sides of the pot or each other. Jars should be covered by at least 2.5cm (1″) of water, so add hot water if necessary. Bring to a rolling boil and process for 15 minutes, starting your timer once the water is boiling.
Remove jars from canner and place them on a cooling rack, not touching each other. Let them rest for 24 hours before touching. Label if desired. Jams may take up to 48 hours to set, so do not open them until this time has passed.
This jam may be kept in a cool, dark area for up to one year.

*It’s really not worth it to use unpasteurized honey here, since all the additional benefits are lost when the honey is cooked.

Low-Prep Suppers

I kind of have my kitchen back again… Okay, not the whole thing, but the counters and table are clear again, so I can cook properly. I made shepherd’s pie for dinner (but without the cheese topping, to reduce the amount of dairy and make it better for my gut). However, the meal was running late and we dug into it much too fast for me to take pictures. Instead, I have photos of the bread that was cooking while we were eating dinner:

That’s Beer Bacon Bread found on page 44 of Betty Crocker’s Best Bread Machine Cookbook (Betty Crocker, 1999). I used a flat Guinness beer, a package of crumbled circular bacon, and chives from my window garden instead of green onion because that’s what I had on hand. It’s only the second time that I tried out any recipes for this book, and so far so good! There’s a Cottage Dill Loaf on page 152 and Brandied Pumpkin Bread on page 104 that I can’t wait to try.

Earlier in the week I had to make a few easy and quick meals that required little in the way of prep space, so I whipped up a loaf of Sally Lunn bread (page 25, also from Betty Crocker’s Best Bread Machine Cookbook), which I think called for an unreasonable amount of butter in the dough (6 Tbsp!), but I have to admit tasted quite nice. I used it to make grilled cheese sandwiches for the girls, with sides of sliced apples.

Of course I have issues with dairy (and at any rate I’d run out of cheddar), so I fried up a couple of eggs each for my hubby and I, and served it with the Sally Lunn, sliced apples, and mandarin oranges.

Earlier this week I went with a less bread-based meal and baked up some trout with in teriyaki sauce, which I served over rice with a side of asparagus.

I’m really looking forward to having this mini-reno complete so that I can try some new recipes! This hasn’t been nearly as time-consuming an affair as a full gutting of the kitchen (much as I’d love to be able to afford a 100% fresh new kitchen), but it’s still rather disruptive. At least it’s cheap!

Canning Pears

A while back, a friend of mine brought me a box of cooking pears from his neighbour’s tree, which was producing an overabundance. Not too long after that, he brought me a second box full. I’m told that these boxes of fruit kept appearing in front of his house under not-so-mysterious circumstances; apparently that neighbour was getting really tired of being beaned in the head by falling fruit. This week I finally had the chance to tackle this mass of pears. I’ve been cooking with them for over a month, but my rate of attrition was much too slow, and some of the fruit was starting to turn.

First I made a double batch of Cinnamon-Scented Parsnip Pear Jam, from page 407 of Preserving: The Canning and Freezing Guide for All Seasons by Pat Crocker (2011). As interesting as this combination appeared at first glance, I found the final result much too sweet; it uses twice as much sugar as fruit by volume, which is a very high ratio even by jam standards. It would still be nice on Dad’s Biscuits, fresh bread, or toast, but I guess I was hoping for more of a flavour punch given my success with this book’s carrot jam. However, I do agree with the book’s assessment that this jam, when mixed with a bit of orange juice, would probably make a lovely glaze in which roasted root veggies could be tossed.

I well and truly overestimated how much fruit & veg to prepare to make this recipe, even doubled; I honestly thought I’d be able to get at least a quadruple batch in, but with all of that sugar, my pots just weren’t big enough. So I had a whole bunch of peeled, cut up pears (left) and parsnips (right) after this attempt.

The parsnips became part of our dinner last night, roasted in the oven with a sprinkle of salt, pepper, rosemary, and olive oil. I served them with baked pork chops coated in dried onion soup mix, which is a dish from my childhood that I’ve been making a lot lately once I was reminded of it. It’s just so easy! I probably have enough parsnips left for another three dinners like this one, but I think that would get old fast. I’ll need to research another recipe.

For my next recipe, I took a chance and tried peeling my ginger with a spoon, which is a kitchen hack I’ve seen floating around the Web for a while. I was quite satisfied with how this worked, actually. Not all cooking hacks are worth your time, but I found that this was honestly easier than a veggie peeler or a knife, and it wasted much less of the root.

The next step was to break out the candy/deep fry thermometer and bring the next jam up to the jelling point. (As an aside, am I the only one who feels like they need a shield as their jam/jelly gets thicker and it starts spitting huge globs of boiling-hot sugar and juice out of the pot?) This time I made Spiced Pear Jam with Pineapple found on page 935 of the Joy of Cooking (2006 edition, Rombauer & Becker), or on the app.

I was much happier with this jam than the previous one. I could definitely taste the fruit, and it wasn’t too sweet (it has a much lower sugar-to-fruit ratio). I have to admit that I couldn’t really taste the pineapple; the citrus note is definitely the strongest part of this jam, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, although it does end up tasting more like a marmalade.

I probably still have enough chopped pears to make one more batch of jam. What kind should I make? I still haven’t decided. I have a lovely old recipe for pears poached in red wine and then canned, but that’s really intended for whole pears. These cooking pears needed to be chopped up to remove imperfections, so they’re sadly not really suitable to such a dish.