Thursday, February 26, 2015

Spring Has Sprung?

Crocus in full splendor
I hate to brag, but our weather on the West Coast is about a month ahead of 'normal'. With double digit daytime temperatures; daffodils and crocus provide a welcome splash of color and the garlic sprouts have pushed through their winter straw cover. A bald eagle nest at the top corner of the property has been busy and 'loud', as are the sea lions... meaning the herring should arrive soon. Since moving to Denman, the annual herring spawn has always signified Spring to me.

Straw mulched garlic bed 
~planted October 26th, 2014 for 2015 harvest
There was frost on the garden February 22nd when these photos were taken.
The main garden is on a north-facing slope, so my crops are usually a good 2 weeks behind friends who live on the south (sunny) side of the Island. The winter straw mulch was pulled off of the garlic and strawberries but not totally removed. These three beds will be fertilized in a week or so when it warms up a bit more.
I am often asked for the 'recipe' I use to make a complete and well balanced fertilizer for my garden. This recipe was originally found in a 'Buckerfield's Country Store' flyer many years ago and I have mixed it myself ever since. I purchase 50 pound bags of each component from either 'Black Creek Farm and Feed' or 'South Country Feeds' in Courtenay (where you can purchase smaller amounts in bulk). It is broadcast on new beds or mixed and stored in large pails to sprinkle around the overwintered plants or when transplanting into the garden. I know a few of you might be thinking, "I thought she said no garden this year" and you are right. I will be container gardening around the house this year but the strawberries and garlic overwinter in the main garden and that is that!
August 2010 garlic harvest

Balanced Fertilizer ~ Basic Formula
4 parts seed meal (ie: canola or cottonseed)
1 part rock phosphate
1 part bone meal
1 part green sand (optional)
1/2 part kelp meal

Suggested application rate: 2-3 kg. per 10 square meters or 30 meters of row...
Or use 75-100 ml. (1/3-2/3 cup per transplant.

Till next week, Happy Gardening and Bon Appetit!

Photos of Sally's garden by Sally Rae

Friday, February 20, 2015

Mise En Place

How many of you have started a recipe only to find you are missing one or two of the key ingredients? Pronounced mee zah 'plas, is a French term which means 'putting in place'. It is a chef secret used in professional kitchens to describe the practice of organizing, preparing and arranging the ingredients to a point where it is ready to be used in a dish during food service. 
Mise en place for Teriyaki Beef Stir Fry
It may be as simple as chopping vegetables, assembling sauces or washing and separating herbs into individual leaves. Or more time consuming components like caramelizing onions, slow cooking meats or cooking dried beans. It is the reason restaurants are able to deliver many different dishes to your table in a short amount of time. If you have ever eaten in a restaurant with an exposed kitchen, you will have witnessed the magic of mise en place. What you will not see is the hours spent during the day when prep chefs are working to get everything ready for a meal service. In a good restaurant as many hours go into prepping as there are for actual cooking. The main benefit of mise en place is the speed and ease of preparation to get food on the table after the customer has ordered. This translates to time saving and ease of preparation in your home kitchen too.
Stir fry, about 12 minutes to cook

Time sensitive recipes like a stir-fry are a good example; when food cooks quickly and must be added in a certain order. If you have company coming and are serving a dish that must be prepared at the last minute it is very beneficial to have everything prepped before guests arrive. Baking also benefits by say, preventing the use of salt instead of sugar or omitting an ingredient all together.
On cooking shows, TV Chefs use dozens of tiny bowls and ramekins to store measured ingredients they will need for a recipe. Sets of small prep bowls are available but not really necessary. I saw an interesting idea on America's Test Kitchen where they used a muffin tin with paper liners. This makes it easy to remove each from the tin when you're ready for the ingredient. Of course this would not work for liquid where you would use a small drinking glass, custard or measuring cup. Mise en place was taught early in culinary school, I prefer to use my assortment of prep bowls, ramekins and cups. Some may complain about extra dishes and the clean up of piles of tiny bowls used. There are several methods that will lighten the dish load... one, by making little piles on one or two larger plates. Keep each vegetable separate, this will work for the par-cooked vegetables to be all be added at the same time in the top photo. Uncooked veggies, minced herbs etc. can be kept in neat little piles on a cutting board or on another plate.
Another method is to layer all ingredients in one larger bowl. The trick to this method is to put the ingredients in the order you will need for cooking (eg. the one you need first will be on top) and separate each layer with a sheet of wax paper or plastic wrap.This way you dirty only one bowl and have extra space on our counter.
Which ever method you choose, the importance of mise en place cannot be over stated for fast and flawless execution of any recipe. If you practice and incorporate this one basic skill before you get started, you will become a more organized and more efficient cook. The experience makes cooking more fun, it is pure joy to see all the colors and textures lined up ready to cook.

Till next week, Bon Appetit!

Photos by Sally Rae 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Gift of Chocolate

Truffles rolled in Cocoa
Valentine's Day is a chocolate lovers holiday. On February 14th dazzle your sweetheart with a box of handmade truffles!

Of course the most important ingredient in truffle making is chocolate. It is also the most temperamental and difficult to use. Most imported chocolate is of high quality. Although a foreign label does not guarantee quality, but it is a good bet. I use only Belgian Callebaut. Alternately the Swiss brands Lindt and Tobler and Ghirardelli from the United States are also excellent for truffle making. 

Humidity and heat are chocolates greatest enemies; both can cause ‘bloom’ to appear on the surface. Heat-induced bloom is the result of cacao butter crystals rising to the surface and recrystallizing. The flavor is unaffected, but the appearance is ruined. Humidity-induced bloom is more damaging. It is a result of sugar crystals being drawn to the surface, where they dissolve in the moist atmosphere and eventually recrystallize to form an unpleasant grey coating. Once the texture and taste of chocolate deteriorate, it is best to discard it. 
The ideal temperature for storage is 50˚ to 60˚F, slightly warmer than the refrigerator, and the humidity should be 60-70 percent. Chocolate absorbs surrounding odors easily and should be kept in an airtight container.
For sheer intensity and depth of flavor, richness and smoothness, nothing can compare to these divine morsels. From now on; for personal enjoyment, gift giving or entertaining, truffles can be yours for the making.

Chocolate Truffles        Yield: 40 truffles  
The ultimate chocolate indulgence! A truffle filling in its simplest form consists of chocolate and whipping cream... termed 'ganache'. This ganache is dense and easier for beginners to work with.   
1 cup whipping cream 
14 oz. top quality dark chocolate, very finely chopped 
2 Tbsp. liqueur (for alcohol free truffles use; coffee OR flavored syrups) 
1½ lb. dark, milk OR white top quality chocolate for dipping, coarsely chopped 
Garnish: crystallized edible flowers, chopped nuts, cocoa powder, threads or swirls of chocolate 

      In a heavy 2-quart saucepan, scald the cream. Remove from the heat and quickly stir in the finely chopped chocolate until completely melted. (If you are using syrup, add it to the cream before scalding.) Cool 5 minutes stirring once or twice to be sure all the chocolate has melted to a smooth ganache then add the liqueur. Pour into a large glass bowl and cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

      Line a baking sheet with plastic wrap. Form the ganache into tablespoon sized balls, roll between your palms until round, place on the bake sheet, cover and refrigerate for an hour or until firm. If the ganache is too soft, spoon them out but do not form them, place them in the fridge and then form.
Tempered Chocolate
     Meanwhile, ‘temper’ the dipping chocolate (
see 'To Temper Chocolate' and line a bake sheet with parchment or wax paper. Dip each ball into the tempered chocolate, tap to remove the excess chocolate and to prevent a ‘garden slug foot’. Invert the dipped chocolate onto the lined bake sheet. Allow the dipped truffles to set up or harden without touching or your fingerprints will blemish them.
      To garnish; drizzle threads or swirls of different colored chocolate for each variety if you are making multiple flavors so you can tell them apart. If using crystallized flowers or nuts they should be placed while the chocolate is still soft. For cocoa, allow the chocolate to cool completely then roll in cocoa. I use cotton gloves (available from Pharmacies) to handle the chocolates once they are set. Put each chocolate into a paper chocolate ‘cup’ and box to store. These truffles can be frozen for up to 3 months. Wrap the box in 2 layers of plastic wrap, then with tin foil. To defrost, remove to the fridge and defrost in the plastic and foil wrapping.  
Till next week... Bon Appetit!

Photos by i-Stock 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Valentine's Day Dinner

This Valentine's Day, fan the flames of romance by cooking for the one you cherish. The recipe is simple; use this easy to prepare menu, add soft music, a splash of champagne and a generous sprinkling of affection. Arrange the table with your best linens, crystal, silver and china then set it off with beautiful flowers and candlelight. What could be more romantic?
* Dinner for Two *
 Cornish Game Hens with Wild Rice Stuffing
 Honey-Dijon Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Roasted Winter Squash
Raspberry Fool
*Shopping list: besides all the groceries needed for recipes, don't forget the...
     -optional Cranberry Sauce
     -heart-shaped shortbread or sugar cookies 

*Preparation the day before:
     -read all recipes you will be preparing... from ingredients to instructions
     -defrost the 'Cornish Game Hens' on a plate, in the fridge
     -cook, cool and refrigerate the 'Wild Rice Stuffing' 
     -trim and wash the Brussels Sprouts-store covered, in the fridge
     -clean, peel and cut the Squash-store covered, in the fridge
     -place the Champagne in the fridge to chill

*Preparation the day of:
     -start the Cornish Hen recipe about 2 hours before you want to serve dinner
     -put both vegetables into the oven 30 minutes before you want to serve dinner
     -once the vegetables are in the oven, prepare the 'Raspberry Fool'...
     -spoon into serving bowls but do not garnish until serving

Cornish Game Hens with Wild Rice Stuffing
Also known as 'Rock Cornish Game Hens', these are very small, tender chickens... perfect as a special occasion entree for two! (The Cornish Hen in the photo is almost 2 pounds and was enough to feed both of us.)
2 Cornish Game Hens (1 pound each)
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper
2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 tsp. dried tarragon
Cranberry Sauce-optional
     Preheat oven to 375 F. Rinse hens under cold running water and thoroughly clean the cavity. Sprinkle inside the cavity with salt and pepper, stuff with the cooled rice mixture (see recipe below). Spray a rack and a 13"x9"x2" baking pan with non-stick cooking spray. Place with breast side up on the rack and pour a small amount of water in the baking pan. Keep 1/2" of liquid in the bottom of the pan, (this can be made into a flavorful gravy if you wish.) Melt butter, add tarragon and brush some over the hens. Cover loosely with tin foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the tin foil, bake uncovered another 45 minutes to 1 hour and baste several times with tarragon butter. The hens are done when the internal temperature is 180 F or the juices run clear. Be sure to check the internal temperature of the rice stuffing, it should be at least 165 F. Serve with Cranberry Sauce if you wish.
*NOTE: if you do not want to stuff the hens, heat and serve the rice as a side dish.

Wild Rice Stuffing
'Converted Rice' is long grain rice that has been steamed before it is husked. This process causes the grains to absorb nutrients from the husk. When cooked, the grains are more nutritious, firmer and less clingy than white rice grains.
2 tsp. butter
1 small white onion, finely diced
3/4 cup sliced mushrooms-optional
3/4 cup vegetable stock
2/3 cup water or stock
1 Tbsp. chicken soup base mix or bouillon cube

Pinch black pepper
1/4 cup wild rice
1/3 cup 'Uncle Ben's' Converted Rice
      In a medium saucepan, melt butter. Add onion and mushrooms; cook stirring occasionally until softened, about 5 minutes. Add stock, water, chicken soup base, pepper and wild rice. Bring to a boil then reduce heat, cover and simmer 35-40 minutes. Stir in Converted Rice and simmer covered for another 25-30 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender.

Honey-Dijon Roasted Brussels Sprouts
2 cups Brussels sprouts
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. honey
Sea salt 
Freshly ground black pepper
     Preheat oven to 400 F. In a medium bowl, whisk together oil, Dijon and honey. Add Brussels sprouts and toss to thoroughly coat in honey mustard mixture. Spread sprouts evenly on a lightly oiled, small bake sheet. Season with salt and pepper. Bake on the top rack for 15 minutes, remove from the oven and toss so they bake evenly. Place back in the oven and roast another 10 minutes. The outside leaves should be slightly charred and the inside tender.

Roasted Winter Squash 
My favorite winter squash from last year's garden is 'Sunshine' from William Dam Seeds. It is a scarlet orange Kabocha type with smooth, sweet, bright orange flesh. 
1/4 to 1/2 buttercup or butternut squash
Olive oil
1/4-1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/8-1/4 tsp. Chipotle chili powder
Coarse sea salt
     Preheat oven to 400 F. Cut squash in half, remove seeds and peel if desired. Cut into wedges and place on a baking sheet. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with spices and salt. Bake 30-45 minutes or until browned on the edges and fork tender in the middle.
*NOTE for quicker cooking: peel then dice the squash into 1 inch cubes and reduce cooking time to 15-20 minutes.

Raspberry Fool
Foolishly simple to make, 'fools' are fast mixtures using stewed fruit and can be sweetened to taste. In the dessert world, a  'quenelle' is an elegant football shaped scoop, made using two spoons.
Total time needed to prepare: 10 minutes!
1/4 cup seedless raspberry jam
Raspberry Fool Quenelle Trio 
 with Shortbread Hearts

2/3 cup whipping cream
1-1/2 tsp. granulated sugar
1/2 cup fresh raspberries
2-4 heart-shaped shortbread or sugar cookies

Fresh mint leaves for garnish-optional
      In a medium bowl, beat the cream and sugar until stiff peaks form. In a small bowl, whisk jam until smooth; fold into whipped cream. Spoon into serving bowls. Just before serving garnish with fresh raspberries and a
mint leaf. Place the cookie last so it does not get soggy.
Happy Valentine's Day and Bon Appetit! Till next week...

Photos and dinner prepared by Sally Rae