Sunday, May 26, 2019

First Miniature Harvest

I was pretty excited this morning to pick the first small zucchini and Corentine cucumbers!! It's no use leaving these tiny specimens to mature, I would rather let the plant put its energy into growth right now... so tonight I get a delicious miniature salad for dinner!

The nights are still cool, so these 2 beds of delicate plants are covered and tucked in with remay over hoops. In the morning I lift the remay cover around the edges for air circulation, then add an additional shade cloth over top... the delicate, small, pickling cucumber plants were not doing well in the sun. 

First of the Season!  Partenon and Cassia Zucchini,
 Winter Kale, Red Orach, Corentine Cucumbers, Dill Weed
Most of the winter kale has gone to seed but I have one unknown variety that was from a 'Winter Kale Mix' packet of seed that is still tender and sweet. The Red Orach is allowed to volunteer in the garden, so I have it in 3 of the raised beds and have numerous beautiful fuchsia plants to pick from. Even Canadian Living Magazine featured an article May 2016 stating "Orach is the new kale!" It is a distant relative of spinach, simple to grow and a good ornamental plant because of its beautiful color. 

Dinner is served! Salad garnished with crumbled  
goat cheese and toasted pine nuts
On another gardening note... I've had it with fighting my collection of heavy, stiff, kinking, commercial grade, 80' garden hoses. A few days ago I decided to trade up with the new "Flexzilla Swivel-Grip" 100' garden hose through Lee Valley Tools. Flexzilla has been around for a while and when my friend got hers a few years back and suggested I 'drag it around her garden' I was impressed at how lightweight and kink free it was! 

Watch for my reviews of the Flexzilla in a future post... and Denmanites, guaranteed, the commercial grade hoses will be part of my summer Garage Sale! 

Until next time... Happy Gardening and Bon Appétit!
Photo by Sally Rae

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Weird Weather and Early Planting Experiment

Garlic bed May 12th, 2019
Today is an overcast, rainy day... never thought I would be happy about that around here! However, it has given me time to finally get some indoor work done including a much delayed Blog Post!!

Our weird weather continues... it was a shock to start watering the garlic and strawberries in March! Once fertilized with blood meal and watered, the garlic shot up and is looking great! It has been very sunny, hot and dry, so the straw mulch will remain until a few weeks before harvest.
Broccoli w. copper blocker, mulch & shade
The brassica starts were planted out on April 29, 2019... they could have been put out the week before when the weather was a bit cooler. Each plant was amended with steer manure, my fertilizer mix and lime. Once planted, all brassicas were surrounded to the stem with wood shavings to prevent root maggots, I have had success with a ring of copper blocker around each transplant to keep slugs away, the straw mulch retains moisture and cools the soil for new small plants.
Elevated remay, open sides for shade
With the hot, sunny weather, I used hoops to elevate remay to shade the cabbage and broccoli plants but still provide ventilation. 

Brassicas, shaded from afternoon sun
Remay will create warmth which is not needed for brassicas at this time, it is used to shade from the afternoon sun until the plants have a more sturdy root system. Black plastic mesh trays, burlap or cardboard can also be used for shade, see examples in Early Summer in the Garden from June 2016 and Let Planting Begin from May 2015.

Plastic cloche over April squash transplants
Last year I did an early planting experiment with one winter and one summer squash plant. It was successful, I was eating fresh zucchini when most were getting their plants in the garden... so I did a repeat this year with all my squash plants, summer and winter varieties! 
On April 29th I put in 4 hills of Sunshine Winter Squash, 2 hills of Butternut Squash, 2 hills of Partenon Zucchini and 2 hills of Cassia Zucchini, all started from William Dam Seeds.
Triple layer of protection for squash

The squash hills were prepared with steer manure and my fertilizer mix. Fresh straw was used to mulch close around the plants and the complete bed. A plastic cloche with vent in the top was placed over each hill of plants then straw piled up the sides for more insulation, see above. The third layer of protection for the cooler April nights was a complete cover of remay for warmth, with only a little airspace left on the sides. Over 2 weeks later everything is still alive and looking healthy. I had removed the plastic cloche from all squash plants and just had the straw pushed up higher around the plants and remay to cover the bed. With recent cooler nights and rain, the squash now have their cloche and remay tucked in tight again for warmth.

Wishing for warmer weather so the pickling cucumbers can go outside soon! They are getting too big for the sunroom! 

Until next time... Happy Gardening and Bon Appétit!
Photos and gardening by Sally Rae

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Portobello, the Giant Mushroom

Large Portobello Mushroom, compared to a can of tuna
I've got a new obsession with the ginormous mushrooms you've probably seen in stores, known as 'Portobello Mushrooms'. When immature and white, this mushroom may be known as common mushroom, button mushroom, crimini mushroom and champignon. When immature and brown it may be known as cremini/crimini mushroom, chestnut mushroom or Swiss, Roman or Italian Brown Mushroom. When mature they are known as Portobello Mushrooms, (also Portabella and Portobella).

One of the things I like most about the Portobello Mushroom is their 'meaty' quality. This may sound odd because it is a vegetable after all, but the texture is satisfying, dense and well... just meaty! And you never have to worry about food safety, cross contamination or internal temperatures! For vegetarians, they make a great meat substitute without relying on processed soy alternatives. Portobello Mushrooms can be grilled, roasted, sauteed, stuffed or baked. They are a quick side dish or vegetarian meal served as 'steaks', 'burgers' or stuffed with your favorite filling as a hearty main course. The mushroom itself is low in calories and a good source of plant based protein.
Sauteed Portobello slices with onion

The key to success with this giant is to enhance the fairly neutral flavor with a marinade or seasonings that will play up their earthy factor. Easy marinades can include; balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, granulated garlic, (Note: avoid fresh minced garlic because it may burn), black pepper, cayenne, rosemary and fresh thyme. Marinate for only 10-20 minutes, no longer than 30 minutes. If in a marinade for too long they may get a slimy texture that is not appealing.

Often I've heard that people don't know what they can and can't eat of the Portobello. The stems are technically edible but sometimes have a 'woody' texture, although I have not found this to be true... so far! The stem can easily be pulled off with your hands and used for another recipe, in bone broth or discarded. To clean the mushroom, rub off any dirt with a dry cloth. Some people remove the darker 'gills' with a spoon, they are edible so if they don't bother you, skip this process. I would however suggest to remove the gills if you are going to marinade and grill them or when making stuffed/baked recipes.

Because of their size and weight, Portobellos can be quite expensive. Look for them at Costco for a descent price, in packages of 3-5 (depending on size) and grown in Langley, BC. Choose mushrooms that are firm and the edge of the cap curves under, not flared out. The flared caps have an older and inferior texture. For an example, scroll to the bottom of this page to the 2 Portobellos in marinade. The mushroom cap on the left is still curved, the one on the right is slightly flared out and a bit ragged looking. 

If you love mushrooms and this is your first time with a ginormous Portobello, fear not!! You're now equipped to enjoy its versatility, ease of preparation, quick cooking time and 'meaty' texture!

This is my recent Paleo Diet, go-to obsession; a fast, simple and delicious side dish or snack! Leftovers are great in any number of incarnations.  Note: *ghee is clarified butter.
Mise en place

2 medium or 1 very large portobello mushroom
1/2 large yellow onion, sliced
1-2 Tbsp. coconut oil or *ghee
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Optional seasonings; granulated garlic, thyme, rosemary
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar (sulphite free for Paleo Diet)

Clean the portobello mushroom, remove the stem and slice the mushroom cap 1/2" thick. Heat 1 Tbsp. coconut oil or ghee in a stainless steel fry pan over medium heat. Place mushroom slices in the pan but don't overlap. If the pan seems dry, add more oil or ghee. Saute until golden brown then turn over each slice, add more ghee if the pan seems dry. Place the onion slices around the mushrooms so they have contact with the pan. Season with salt, pepper and any optional seasonings, push them around a bit with tongs so they lightly brown. When the mushrooms and onions are caramelized, remove from the heat and immediately, pour in the balsamic. Toss or stir quickly to coat all and move to a serving plate. Serve warm.
**NOTE: leftovers are delicious chopped up and stirred into scrambled eggs for breakfast.

Sauteed Portobello with Onions and Balsamic Vinegar

PORTOBELLO SANDWICH       Yield: 1 sandwich
Although not Paleo, this recipe is a favorite from my cookbook 'For the Love of Food'. Who said you need meat to get a messy, juicy, run down your arms burger? This sandwich is just that! The amazing crusty roll in the photos was purchased at 'The Church Street Bakery' in Comox, BC. 

Meaty, juicy, messy, run down your arms goodness!
2 Tbsp. butter, softened
2 sun-dried tomatoes, minced
10-12 capers, minced
Pinch of red chili flakes
1/4 tsp. minced fresh garlic
1 sprig fresh thyme, remove & mince leaves
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large portobello mushroom
1 large crusty roll
    or 2 slices sourdough bread
Dijon mustard 
Avocado slices, optional

Preheat oven to 400F. Clean the portobello, remove the stem and leave the gills intact. Mix butter with sun-dried tomatoes, capers, chili, garlic and thyme leaves, season with salt and pepper and spoon over the inside gills of the mushroom cap. Bake in a parchment paper lined pan for 10-15 minutes, check and add another 8-10 minutes or until tender. 
Toast the crusty roll or sourdough bread and spread with Dijon mustard.Top with baked mushroom, it will look very juicy, don't worry, the bun will absorb most of it. Cover with the other half of bun or bread. Press down firmly and cut. Add the avocado slices if desired.

GRILLED PORTOBELLO MUSHROOMS         Yield: 4 portobello mushrooms
These simple, grilled Portobellos are perfect as a side dish, mushroom burger or vegetarian 'steak'. Avocado oil is Paleo compliant and used for its high smoke point. 
Marinate for 15, no longer than 30 minutes

4 medium/large Portobello mushrooms
3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar (sulphite free *for Paleo)
1 Tbsp. avocado oil
1 Tbsp. coconut aminos (or soy sauce)
2 sprigs chopped fresh rosemary (about 1 Tbsp.)
1 tsp. granulated garlic 
1/2 tsp. coarse ground black pepper
Avocado oil for grilling

Wipe the mushrooms clean, remove the stem and gills. In a shallow baking dish whisk together marinade ingredients; balsamic vinegar, avocado oil, coconut aminos, rosemary, granulated garlic, and coarse black pepper. Place the mushrooms in the marinade and turn to coat, spoon a bit of marinade into each cap. Marinate for 10 minutes, turn and marinate another 8 minutes. 

Heat a BBQ grill or grill pan to about 400F. Brush the grill or pan with avocado oil. Remove the mushrooms from marinade and shake off any excess. Reserve remaining marinade for basting. Grill for 3-4 minutes per side, or until caramelized, golden brown and softened. Basting with reserved marinade as they cook. Serve warm as a mushroom burger or slice for a side dish or vegetarian 'steak'.

Until next time ... Happy Easter and Bon Appétit!
Photos by Sally Rae
Recipes by Sally Rae

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Finally, Welcome Signs of Spring!

Storm #3 Denman Island ~ February 12th 2019
Most of Canada and the US had a rough 2018/19 winter and Denman Island was no exception. The fall brought high winds, broken trees, power outages and rain. By mid January we had high temperatures and spring like weather. Everyone was out pruning orchards, the daffodils hung heavy with buds ready to pop open... on Vancouver Island, Victoria was in bloom! I picked the 4 remaining large cabbage from my garden and made a big batch of Dill Pickle and Garlic Kraut. In the garden, garlic shoots were poking through the maple leaf mulch. We were even contemplating mowing the lawn ... in January!!
Storm #3 Denman Island ~ February 12th 2019
Too quickly all our 'BC weather boasting' went down the tubes as a polar vortex set in. By February 3rd we had a dusting of dry Alberta-style snow and cold winds whipped us from the north. Next came the storm systems, dumping snow in white-out conditions about every second day, to an accumulation of over 31 inches. The temperatures stayed cold and you want to bet I was not happy. I left Edmonton to get away from this kind of weather. We had snow and ice on the ground for almost 6 weeks. I can't remember in the past 29 years on Denman ever having snow on the ground for that long.
Yesterday we finally got the lawn mowed, there has been no rain to speak of for months. Most of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands were already in a state of drought in March! Last month I had to start watering the garden; garlic, strawberries and kale. With the temperatures now at daytime highs of up to 21C and lows still around 6C, if this crazy weather isn't climate change I don't know what is. I'm now seeing the damage from the cold. My rosemary plant has died, the strawberries are slowly growing, the garlic looks okay although much smaller than the April 2016 crop.
Garlic - April 2nd 2019

Seascape Strawberries - April 2nd 2019
Today, April 2nd 2019, I dressed the strawberries with my organic fertilizer mix, they seem to be struggling but some plants have blossoms starting. The garlic beds got a good helping of blood meal and I'm watering now every second day, waiting for rain!

Hardening off the seedlings
My seedlings are in desperate need of transplanting but with the warm days, they are on the deck to harden off a bit, then back into the sunroom for the cool nights. I put up my two little portable greenhouses on the weekend but it is still too cold at night to put anything in them. At least they are ready when the weather changes to warmer nights. I have started squash seeds early following my experiment last summer. 
Portable greenhouses

At the end of April 2018, I put out a 'Partenon Zucchini', a self pollinating variety, and a 'Sunshine Winter Squash', both from William Dam Seeds. Each plant was mulched, covered with a cloche, then straw around and covering about half of the cloche on the outside. It worked!! I was eating zucchini from my garden when others were just getting them into the ground. This year, I am going to experiment with early squash planting on a larger scale. 

I'm anxious to get out in the garden and get dirt under my fingernails ... horray for Spring, finally!
Until next time ... Happy Spring and Bon Appétit!
Photos by Sally Rae

Monday, March 11, 2019

Coconut Milk Yogurt in the DUO Instant Pot

Changing my diet to Paleo and omitting dairy was a challenge for me. I used to consume a great variety of cheese, homemade kefir, homemade Greek yogurt, Ricotta Cakes made in the Instant Pot, whipping cream in my coffee... 
One interesting result of going off dairy was that within two days, I was no longer congested. My 'drippy nose' and cough went away too! 

Removing and replacing foods that we love and ate often is disappointing to say the least. I now use coconut milk to replace whipping cream and also use it to make Coconut Milk Yogurt in my DUO Instant Pot. 
The ingredients used in this recipe
Working with non-dairy milks can be a bit tricky. I tried different brands of coconut milk, both organic and regular. Also different ratios of coconut cream and coconut milk combined or just all coconut milk. For my preference in flavor and texture, in this recipe I use 'Real Thai Coconut Milk' in the 1000ml tetra pack and 'Real Thai Coconut Cream' in 400ml tins. The tetra pack coconut milk can be purchased online through London Drugs or at Superstore.

The 'Vegan Yogurt Starter' was not easy to obtain and fairly expensive. I found it on Amazon and also by special order at the local health food store, Edible Island. My best results were achieved with "Cultures for Health" 'Vegan Real Yogurt'. The box of starter includes 4 packets, each packet makes up to 2 quarts.  It must be stored in a cool, dry place and for long term storage, keep in the refrigerator.

To avoid transferring flavors to dairy and delicate foods in the Instant Pot, I have two separate silicone gaskets ... one used for meat and savory dishes and another used strictly for yogurt, Ricotta Cheesecakes and other sweet, delicate flavored foods. Before making yogurt I always sterilize all the utensils including the Instant Pot.

COCONUT MILK YOGURT in the DUO Instant Pot        Yield: 3-1/2 pints   
Be sure to sterilize your utensils, jars and the Instant Pot with a clean silicone seal. 
3 - 400ml cans coconut milk
1 - 400ml can coconut cream
1 Tbsp. gelatin
1 packet Vegan Yogurt Starter Culture

To sterilize the Instant Pot; place 1-1/2 cups of water in the stainless steel inner pot, close the lid and set the valve to seal. Push the steam button then the [-] button until it reads 2 minutes. When the program is finished, quick release the pressure and pour out the water. Cool the inner pot before proceeding.

Set to... Yogurt - Boil/More
To make yogurt directly in the stainless steel container; pour coconut milk and coconut cream into the stainless steel inner pot and place in the Instant Pot base. Plug in and press the 'Yogurt' button until the display reads 'boil/more' on the DUO model. Close the lid with the valve in any position. Whisk and check the temperature often, it will only take 8 to 10 minutes. When the temperature reaches 140F press 'cancel/keep warm'. Remove 1 cup of the coconut milk, sprinkle gelatin into the warm coconut milk and mix well so it is fully dissolved and lump free. Through a fine mesh strainer, strain this back into the rest of the coconut milk and mix well.

Place the inner stainless steel pot with gelatin/coconut milk mixture in a sink with a few inches of cold water. Whisk and cool to 110F, it will cool quickly, check the temperature constantly. With the temperature at 110F add the Yogurt Starter Culture and mix well. Dry the outside and bottom of the stainless steel inner pot and place back into the IP base. Close the lid with the valve in any position. Press the 'yogurt' button until the screen says '08:00' which is the default time, adjust the [+] or [-] buttons for different timing. I incubate on "Yogurt/Normal" for 9 to 10 hours for a more tart yogurt. When the program is finished "Yogt" will appear in the display.

Whisk, pour into sterilized jars and refrigerate
Whisk the finished yogurt, pour into sterilized containers and refrigerate. Coconut Milk Yogurt will not thicken until after refrigeration time, this may take up to 24 hours. 

**CHEF'S NOTE: To make a smaller batch of Coconut Milk Yogurt, use 800ml of coconut milk and 1-1/2 teaspoons gelatin with 1 full packet of Vegan Yogurt Starter.

Until next time ... Bon Appétit!
Photos by Sally Rae
Coconut Milk Yogurt by Sally Rae

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Pecan Pancakes... GF and Paleo!

This pancake recipe is delicious, easy and makes a healthy, impressive Valentines Day brunch. They are the perfect grain-free, sugar free, dairy free breakfast solution for those following a Paleo Diet or for anyone looking to reduce their wheat consumption. These delicate pancakes are kid friendly and freezer friendly. The batter is made in a food processor for a quick clean up and an easy special meal.
The batter is thin and will burn easily

Although gluten free and Paleo, I reserve this recipe for special occasions or as a treat. Since giving up refined sugar I find them very sweet with the addition of a banana and honey. Topping them with fruit and/or organic maple syrup definitely moves this into the 'treat' category, so not served often. 

The batter is quite thin and does not produce 'bubbles' on top when ready to turn over, like a grain pancake. They also burn quite easily, so I toggle the heat up and down while cooking and keep an eye on them.To remove lectins and make the nuts digestible, activate your pecans and store in the freezer for future use. Go to my Post on "How to Activate Nuts... and Why" for the details and instructions.

To freeze; cool the cooked pancakes on a wire cooling rack. Layer parchment paper between each one if you want to remove only a few at a time. Pack into a freezer bag marked with contents and date.

I love these served with warm, organic maple syrup and garden strawberries, either fresh or defrosted as in the photo below. A side serving of 'Coconut Milk Yogurt' (watch for the recipe in a future post) made in the Instant Pot rounds out a very special breaky indeed!

PECAN PANCAKES  Yield: 4 servings 
1½ cups activated pecans 
Cool completely on a wire rack
3 large eggs
1 banana, mashed (optional)
    —if not using banana, increase pecans to 2 cups 
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon 
½ teaspoon baking soda 
¼ teaspoon salt 
Coconut oil
Maple syrup, pecans and berries, for serving 

Finely grind pecans in a food processor to a flour-like texture. To the ground pecans, add eggs, mashed banana (if using), honey, vanilla, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Pulse until all ingredients are well incorporated. 
Serve with fruit, pecans, maple syrup and Coconut Milk Yogurt

Lightly coat a medium skillet with coconut oil. Place skillet over medium-low heat. Ladle a slight ¼ cup batter into pan for each pancake. ** These burn easily, toggle the temperature between low-medium and check often ** 
 Cook until crispy on the edges and flip. Hold cooked pancakes in a warm oven until ready to serve. Repeat until all batter is used. Serve the pancakes with maple syrup, whole pecans, berries and 'Coconut Milk Yogurt' on the side.

Until next time ... Bon Appétit
If you try this recipe please let me know your thoughts as a comment below. Thank you!
Photos by Sally Rae
Recipe adapted from 'Fabulous Food The Costco Way'

Thursday, January 17, 2019

January Harvest and Sauerkraut Hack

I haven't grown cabbage for about 5 years, with my new Paleo Diet and the need for probiotics I decided to plant LOTS of cabbage in my 2018 garden. I got some healthy bedding plants of a good size from Pat at Corlan Vineyard and Farm. The Danish Ballhead is an heirloom variety first introduced in 1887. When I was a youngster helping my Uncle on the Edmonton City Market, I still remember the Ukrainian grandmas wanting only Danish Ballhead. They make excellent sauerkraut! They are supposed to be winter hardy, not sure what happened with mine, maybe they were too mature by the fall. The first 3 Danish Ballhead I used for kraut in the fall were beautiful, huge, heavy, crunchy, blemish free. They made incredible kraut in my initial experiment of 'Garlic and Dill Pickle Sauerkraut' in November.
Unknown variety, Danish Ballhead and Red Russian Kale
I left 2 heads in the garden, the last Danish Ballhead in the photo was picked January 3rd, 2019. Late last year we had heavy frost, so I mulched maple leaves around and over the cabbage heads. The 2 unknown variety (Lennox Organic-See Jan. 28th comment below) on the left are incredible as seen in the photo. The Danish Ballhead was quite slimy and frost damaged so had to be peeled down quite a bit but was still a good size.

I digress, back to my experiment with 'Garlic and Dill Pickle Sauerkraut'. Actually, it is a hack on a recipe I have tried from Farmhouse Culture. 
Pound and massage with Celtic sea salt
My complaints about purchasing their brand are... it is quite expensive and the kraut itself, although organic, flavorful with the addition of garlic, dill weed and slices of fermented dill pickles is soft, not crunchy... and I want to use my garden cabbage. Fast forward to this month, January 2019 and a few pictures of my progress on the second version.

Following the instructions in my 'E~Z Pickler Fermenting Kit', the cabbage is cleaned and cored. Several leaves are kept whole and cut in circles to fit on top of the cabbage once packed in the jars. I used a food processor to finely shred the cabbage. Layer shredded cabbage in a sturdy bowl and sprinkle with required amount of Celtic sea salt. Pound and massage the cabbage to release juice that will form the fermenting brine.
Weight & cover to form brine

Top the pounded cabbage with a plate and a heavy weight, I use a gallon jar filled with water. Cover with a towel for several hours or overnight to form a brine. DO NOT proceed until the brine is formed.

By the next day the brine should completely cover the cabbage. Remove the towel, weight and plate. Mix in any additional ingredients. In this case, for my Garlic and Dill Pickle hack; to 16 cups of cabbage, I added 1-1/2 tablespoons finely minced fresh, organic garlic and 1 cup packed minced, fresh organic dill weed. Pack cabbage mixture lightly into sterilized, cooled jars. Pour over brine. Arrange reserved leaf on top and seal with air tight fermenting lid.
Ferment at proper temperature

The jars in bowls, to accommodate overflow, were moved to the basement with a consistent temperature of 19C for 10 days.
On Day 11 the final ingredient was added... a quart of thinly sliced, 'Fermented Dill Pickles' from my 2018 garden. The cabbage and dill brine were added and mixed. Then the dill and cabbage mixture was packed into new, sterilized, cooled, quart and pint sealers. The reserved cabbage leaf placed on top again. Lids and seals were closed until just snug, not too tight.
Sally Rae's 'Garlic and Dill Pickle Sauerkraut' Hack

The jars of kraut are now ready for the fridge where they will continue to ferment at a slower rate. I will taste test the result few weeks ... if I can wait that long!

On another note, it's time to look through and order your seeds for 2019. Don't forget a few of my favorites from William Dam Seeds; Cassia Organic Zucchini, Corentine Cucumbers for Dill Pickles,
and Sunshine Squash.

Till next time ... Bon Appétit!
'E~Z Pickler' by Sally Rae
Photos by Sally Rae
'Garlic and Dill Pickle Sauerkraut' Hack Recipe by Sally Rae