Saturday, October 24, 2009

Making Apple Cider

Apples, apples, apples. It's a good thing there's so many ways to prepare them, because they're going to be a staple for the next few months. In the past few weeks I've made apple/cherry applesauce, baked apples, apple and walnut stuffing, apple and cheddar grilled cheese, squash and apple soup... the list is endless. I bought a peck of Spy apples two weekends ago, and they're disappearing fast from their basket in my closet (I know, weird, but it's cool and dark, perfect for storing apples). It seemed like a large amount at the time, but in retrospect, I could have gone for the bushel.
Last weekend I went to Hart House Farm. It was a delightful chance to get out of the city, and included stealing apples from an orchard (just one!), getting lost on the bruce trail, sitting in the autumn sun next to quarry ponds, and helping make apple cider!

Mulled Apple Cider

4 cups apple cider
2 0r 3 thin slices of orange
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a pot. Over high heat, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove orange slices and cinnamon sticks and serve!

Baked Apples

6 apples
1/8 cup brown sugar
1/8 cup melted butter
1/2 cup trail mix (I used a mix with pecans, raisins and sunflower seeds)
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
about 1 cup of apple cider

Hollow out apples - the easiest way I can figure is to cut a cone shape down into the top of the apple, then use a melon baller to take out the rest of the core. Just be sure not to go right through the apple; leave a thin layer at the bottom. Then, use a paring knife to score a circle in the skin around the centre of the apple. This will prevent the apple from bursting through it's skin.

Combine butter and sugar. Add trail mix, cinnamon and salt. Stuff each apple with this mixture. Put apples in a baking pan. Pour over apple cider, until there is about a 1/2 inch of liquid in the pan. Bake for 40 minutes. If you let the apples cool somewhat, the liquid leftover in the bottom of the pan will thicken, making a delicious sauce. I served the apples with plain yogurt. You could be decadent and have them with vanilla ice cream.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Spinach, Roman Style

Last Thursday, I picked up some interesting looking spinach at the East Lynn Farmer's Market. It was shaped like large arugula leaves with deep red stems, reminding me of beet greens. I tried to find out what it's called - and found an interesting plant called Malabar spinach, which isn't really a spinach at all. I'm going to look into growing it next year. It's a hot weather plant that forms long vines, and tastes like a mild spinach.

Anyway, that wasn't the plant I bought.

The spinach I bought might be Bordeaux spinach. It's a F1 hybrid, bred specifically for those green mixes. Presumably the idea with to add some colour to the plastic boxes of gas-treated salad mixes? Anyway, it was delicious in a fritatta with roasted red peppers and goat cheese, and it was even tastier as the spotlight in this dish. I've fallen in love with pine nuts, and started adding them to everything I eat.

Roman Style Spinach
(adapted from a New York Times article from the 80's. The original had raisins in it, which sounded... different? I'll be brave and add them in next time I make this.)

1 small bunch of spinach (about 5 or 6 cups), washed, dried and coarsely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/8 cup of pine nuts

Heat olive oil on med-high heat in a saute pan. Add garlic and pine nuts, cook, stirring often, until browned, about 1-2 minutes. Add spinach and cook until wilted, about 3 or 4 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

I enjoyed this with polenta and leftover mushroom gravy from thanksgiving.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Soups for rainy weather

Leek and Potato Soup
(with special appearances by corn and red pepper)

There's chunky, broth based soup, and then there's ultra -smooth, pureed soup your grandma would love. Sometimes I feel like something in the middle! Removing and pureeing just a bit of the soup can make it extra creamy without adding cups of milk or cream. My lactose intolerant boyfriend also appreciates this.

(this soup disappeared to fast to be photographed. Here's an ingredient instead.)

A note on leeks: they can by sneaky vegetables, hiding dirt and sand in between their leaves. I cut off almost all of the green part (and feed it to my compost worms), then slice the leek lengthwise in half. Then I rinse it, making sure to check between the layers.

2 tbsp olive oil
2 large or 3 small leeks, cleaned and sliced thinly
4 fist sized potatoes, peeled and diced
1 red pepper, finely diced
salt and pepper
6 cups of vegetable broth
1 cup milk or cream (leave out for a dairy-free soup, just add 1 more cup of broth)
2 cups of fresh corn (about 2 cobs)

Heat olive oil in a large pot. Cook leeks for 5 minutes, then add potatoes and pepper and saute for 5 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add broth, and simmer soup for 20-25 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Remove 1 cup of soup and puree with an immersion blender (or other blending device). Return pureed soup to pot, add milk (if using) and corn. Simmer (but don't boil!) for another 5 minutes, until corn is cooked to your liking.

I enjoyed this soup with grilled cheese: some gluten-free cinnamon raisin bread with spy apples and aged cheddar. Mmmm. Finished leftovers the next day with my new favorite crackers - Mary's something or other, made out of rice and quinoa. 

Curried Pumpkin and Apple

Here's a creamy vegan soup I invented for one of my New England Pie pumpkins. 

1 pie pumpkin, halved with seeds removed
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 apples, diced (no need to peel, the skin will break down)
salt and pepper
2 tbsp curry powder
4-5 cups of vegetable stock 
1 can coconut milk

Preheat oven to 375. Rub pumpkin flesh with 1 tbsp olive oil and place face down on a cookie sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, or until soft. Remove from oven and let cool. Then scoop the flesh into a bowl. 

Heat other tbsp of olive oil in a large pot. Sautee onion and apples for about 10 minutes, until soft. Add curry powder, salt and pepper and saute for 1 more minute. Then, add cooked pumpkin and stock, and simmer for 10 minutes. Finally, puree soup until smooth, then add coconut milk and heat through. The end! 

Monday, October 5, 2009

gardening update

Almost time to clean things up for the winter - ripping up plants, throwing around compost, pulling up bamboo rods and stacking pots. By some divine miracle, the tomato plants are still thriving. Here's some harvest from last weekend: 2 New England Pie pumpkins, some potatoes (actually, the only two potatoes my plant produced), and three tomato varieties: Juliet, Green Zebra and Matt's Wild Cherry tomatoes.

For the first time this year, I'm saving seeds! It's about time, I'm kicking myself for not saving some Montreal Tasty tomato seeds from last year. There are numerous containers of fermenting seeds on my kitchen table. I should probably let my roommates know what they are before someone throws them out. Here's what I'll have for next year - planting and trading:

Matt's Wild Cherry Tomatoes
Juliet Tomatoes
New England Pie Pumpkin
Butternut Squash
Marketmore Cucumbers

And - look! I grew fruit! Somehow more exciting than carrots and beets, this year I grew gooseberries and 'Hearts of Gold' melon (below).

Also, I just realized I like blackberries. Usually, I'm lured towards the raspberries and blueberries and give the blackberries a pass, but last week I read a recipe for blackberry sauce in the book Gluten-free Girl (also an awesome blog), and picked some up at St. Lawrence. I only used 1/2 pint for the sauce, and was forced to eat the other half. How have I lasted this long without realizing how delicious they are?

Blackberry Sauce
adapted from Gluten-free Girl

I used this sauce for my once-monthly fish extravaganza - it's delicious on a pan-fried salmon fillet. I used up the rest in some plain yogurt, and I imagine it would be amazing on ice cream, too.

1/2 pint blackberries
1/4 cup water
1 lemon, juice and zest
1 tsp balsamic vinegar

Just simmer everything together for 10 minutes. Shauna's recipe suggests straining the sauce, but I like the crunchy seeds, so I left it as is.