Bacon Goes With Everything

Last night I ransacked my freezer and pantry in order to continue the trend of preparing meals that don’t require long cooking times indoors, which would heat the house up unduly. I came up with a box of spaghettini noodles, a small container of last year’s basil pesto, a package of sole fillets, and almost a pound of reduced-salt bacon.

What that turned into was essentially a meal where there was bacon on everything. I boiled up the spaghettini, drained it, and coated it in pesto. Then I dredged the sole in flour mixed with a bit of garlic powder, salt, and pepper, and then I pan fried it. (Whenever I cook my fish like this, I can’t help but think of lightly fried fish fillets, though.) I cooked up all of the bacon in the microwave, chopped it into bits, and sprinkled it on darned near everything.

My family couldn’t have been happier.

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.

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.

Bread Machine Baking

I’ve been taking the opportunity to play with my bread machine over the last little while, and not only because there have been some stinking hot days (30°C (86°F) with a humidex of 40°C (104°F) this past Sunday) where I don’t feel like baking in the oven. I’ve picked up a few more books about maximizing the potential of a breadmaker, and I think that the new knowledge I’ve gained, and the new recipes, are really making a difference in the results I’m getting.

For this bread I used the Golden Pumpkin Bread recipe on page 167 of Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf by Jennie Shapter (2002), omitting the pumpkin seeds. The nearly-fluorescent orange colour was created by using the homemade pumpkin puree that I canned last fall. Some of the pumpkins that I cooked up after Halloween were white-skinned (probably Casper pumpkins), and their flesh was a more brilliant orange than the usual orange-skinned pumpkins you get around here. I also bought a variety of pumpkin that had skin that was a deep reddish orange, with a very intensely-orange flesh. The resulting bread was lovely and moist while still being light, with a slight tang of pumpkin that goes well with hearty dishes like casseroles and soups.

This loaf, although it doesn’t look spectacularly interesting, but it had a lovely, subtly-sweet flavour. It was based on the Apple Butter Bread recipe found on page 172 of The Complete Guide to Bread Machine Baking from Better Homes and Gardens (1999). To take advantage of my recent batch of strawberry-rhubarb butter (which I will share the recipe for soon), I used that instead of apple butter, and omitted the apple pie spice/allspice. This bread isn’t as moist as the pumpkin bread, but is more moist than your average white or brown bread. As per the cookbook’s suggestion, I have tried it with honey for breakfast, which was absolutely divine. I haven’t tried it as part of a grilled cheese sandwich with cheddar cheese due to my issues with dairy, but I predict that the flavour combination would be amazing.

Last but not least, my favourite bread machine experiment so far has been Marbled Pesto Bread from page 142 of Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf. For this bread I used the Roadapple Ranch garlic scape pesto that I wrote about previously. The bread recipe required using the machine’s dough cycle, which means that the bread is then baked in the oven. It’s the economical version of using a stand mixer for bread dough, really, except that it also proofs the dough. The dough is rolled up kind of like a jelly roll, but with pesto instead of jelly. The final results were delicious! My husband has not stopped raving about this bread since I made it — and I’m pretty sure he ate most of the loaf. We didn’t serve this bread with anything; it was perfectly good all on its own, even without butter. I’m definitely making this one again once the days cool down a bit so I don’t roast myself by using the oven.

Garlic Scapes

Garlic scapes are in season! It has been especially wet this year, causing a delay in planting crops, and some planted fields being flooded out. So I was a little bit worried that I wasn’t going to be able to get one of my favourite local spring crops — one that generally only shows up at farmers’ markets in the first place, and rarely in stores. However, even fiddleheads are starting to be available in the fresh fruit & vegetable aisles, so maybe garlic scapes are not far behind. I spotted the scapes first this year at the booth in front of Orleans Fruit Farm, which means they’ll probably be available at the farmers’ markets this coming weekend.

Although they may look like the tentacles of Cthulhu, garlic scapes aren’t a plant in their own right, unlike, say, garlic chives, which are a variety of chives that have a garlicky flavour. Preserving by Pat Crocker (2011) has a pretty comprehensive write-up about them starting on page 243. Their description is as follows:

Not long ago, scapes were fairly rare in North America. Now, with more market gardeners growing garlic, we are seeing more of the fresh green flower stalks showing up around the end of June or beginning of July. Scapes are tender and very tasty stems that are cut from the garlic in order to allow the plant to put all of its energy in to growing the bulbs that will be harvested in the fall. These lightly garlic-scented vegetables can be grilled, steamed or poached. Treat them as you would asparagus or green beans, and use them in casseroles, soups and stews.

Preserving goes on to explain the best ways to preserve scapes (freezing being preferred), and has recipes for garlic scape relish, garlic scape pesto, and garlic scape pesto potatoes. Now, I bought this cookbook years after I developed an appreciation for scapes, so when I make garlic scape pesto I use the recipe that Roadapple Ranch would tuck into each bag of scapes that they sold at market; they have also made their simple and delicious garlic scape pesto recipe available online.

Pesto is a quick, simple green sauce served over fresh-cooked pasta, but it’s also great:

– drizzled on top of fried eggs or mixed into scrambled eggs
– spread on bread as a sandwich spread or burger topping
– baked on top of bruscetta, garlic bread, or crostini
– diluted with oil and vinegar to become a salad dressing
– mixed with cream cheese, yogurt, mayo, or sour cream as part of a dip (or mix pesto with your non-dairy version of these products — those averse to dairy will want to make a cheese-free version of the pesto)
– on top of baked or mashed potatoes
– as a marinade or sauce for chicken, lamb, pork chops, shrimp, and some kinds of fish (salmon is the first one that comes to mind)
– used as a replacement for traditional tomato pizza sauce (especially useful for people like a friend of mine who is allergic to nightshade plants, i.e. potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant)

Me, I am dying to try garlic scape pesto in the Marbled Pesto Bread on page 142 of Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf by Jennie Shapter (2001) or the Pesto Sourdough Loaf on page 91 of The Complete Guide to Bread Machine Baking from Better Homes and Gardens (1999). But given how much I like garlic scapes, there’s a good chance mine will be grilled or steamed for dinner before I have a chance to incorporate them into bread. Not that I’m too worried; I still have a number of jars of homemade pesto in the freezer from last year, simply because I made so much. I guess I’d better get cracking on eating those up!