Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Cool Breeze vs Corentine... A Cuke Comparison

As a follow up to my previous posts; 'In A Pickle' and 'The Need For Seed' pickling cucumbers are now producing, so it is time for the initial comparison.
Top-Cool Breeze  ~  Bottom-Corentine Hybrid

Cool Breeze as you may remember, was my all time favorite; dark green, crunchy-sweet, small-spined and seedless. I was really disappointed to hear that the seed for this little darling was not in stock due to crop failure. 
Corentine Hybrid was the closest substitute I could find. William Dam Seeds describes them as a "very early, improved European Gherkin". They are dark green with a smooth skin, slow seed development and are supposed to stay crisp long after pickling. 

Both varieties have the ability to set fruit under cool conditions and are 'parthenocarpic' which means they are self-pollinating. All the flowers are female and all will develop into cucumbers without the need for pollination. Both Cool Breeze and Corentine are great for making my signature, tiny cocktail-sized pickles and just as delicious when allowed to reach full size and eaten fresh.

I just finished fermenting a quart jar with 'The Perfect Pickler' There were not enough from the first harvest of small cukes to fill the quart, so I topped it up with cauliflower. If you have never tried it, Dilled Cauliflower is amazingly delicious!! With outside temperatures soaring, it was difficult to find a spot in the basement to keep the brine lagering temperature at 19C. for 4-5 days. Once fermentation was complete, I added 2 tablespoons of Organic Apple Cider Vinegar to the jar to make the pickles into 'full sours'. I have tried both half and full sours and prefer the later. If you have a Perfect Pickler, I used the instructions for 'Garliky Dill Pickles' on page 17 of the enclosed Instruction CookBooklet. I keep records for each fermented batch... ingredients and amounts used, the start date, how many days to ferment, at what temperature, if anything is added after fermentation and how much. Having a record makes it easy to change or replicate your recipes.

So far I am really impressed with Corentine as a substitute; I prefer their smooth skin and the symmetrical shape easily packs into jars. They look like the European cornichons I am familiar with.  
Move over Cool Breeze, I am leaning heavily towards a new favorite!
Corentine Hybrid Cucumber
Till next week, Happy Canada Day and Bon Appétit!

Photos by Sally Rae

Friday, June 19, 2015

What Are Garlic Scapes?

Garlic Scapes are the 'flower stalks' of hardneck garlic plants. They are both edible and delicious, with a mild garlic flavor and a slight sweetness. If you grow your own garlic, these stalks start to appear a month or so after the first leaves. The scapes are more tender if you harvest them before they begin to curl. They get more fibrous and tough the longer they grow.
If I am on top of things, I tend to cut mine as they are starting their first circle. If left on, they will continue to curl and eventually open a flower head then form small 'bulbils' that can be planted to grow more garlic... but it will take 2-3 years for them to form large bulbs. Leaving the scapes on the plant diverts the plants strength away from bulb production, reducing the size of the garlic cloves. 
If you harvest scapes young and tender, you can chop them into salads or use them as a topping like scallions. More mature scapes can be sauteed lightly and used with pasta, eggs, pickled or used in pretty much any dish that would be complemented with garlic. My favorite way to use them is in 'Garlic Scape Pesto', recipe below. The pesto can be frozen in ice-cube trays before storing in freezer bags. (I freeze my pesto in snack size baggies, 1/4 cup in each bag. Freeze the baggies of pesto flat on a bake sheet then pack into a larger freezer bag. Of course the bag is marked as 'Garlic Scape Pesto' with the date it was made!) Throughout the winter, pop a frozen garlic scape pesto cube into your soups, salad dressings, omelets, rice, sandwich spreads, dips, sauces or simply tossed with pasta.

Even if you don't grow your own garlic, you may still be able to find them at your local Farmer's Market. Fresh garlic scapes are available from June to early July. The window is short, so keep your eyes peeled or you might miss them. If you scoop more than you can use, freeze them for later... or make more pesto!

GARLIC SCAPE PESTO        Yield: about 3-1/2 cups 
Although this pesto is good freshly made, it is even better when refrigerated for several hours or overnight.
2 cups coarsely chopped garlic scapes, *see preparation below

1 cup pine nuts, walnuts or sunflower seeds
3 Tbsp.  lemon juice, more if preferred
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1⁄2 tsp. salt or to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
More oil, lemon juice or water as needed to puree

*To prepare the scapes - snip the flowering tip off,  rinse scapes in cold water before chopping, then roughly chop into half-inch pieces.
Place garlic scapes, pine nuts and lemon juice into a food processor and puree (smooth or coarse as desired), scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula. With the machine running, slowly add olive oil and process until thoroughly incorporated, about 15 seconds. Then add the Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper, and blend for another 5 seconds. Add additional liquid 1 Tbsp. at a time to thin to preferred consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning. Scrape into a glass bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap.
Will keep for one week refrigerated or freeze in air-tight containers for up three months.

Till next week, Happy Gardening and Bon Appétit!

Photos by Sally Rae 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Summer Salad Rolls

With outdoor temperatures soaring it's time to bring out the no-cook, summer, fresh recipe ideas. One of my favorites is 'Summer Salad Rolls' with an endless variety of fillings and dips. They are a great hot weather appetizer or light lunch.   
All ingredients assembled... ready to roll!
The rice paper wrappers can be found at Asian grocery stores or in the Asian section of most supermarkets. In the past, I used 'Red Rose' or 'Asian Boy' brands; made with rice, water and salt. I found the wrappers dried too fast making them unpalatable with a firm, chewy mouth feel. I now use wraps that have both rice and tapioca flour in them. They are a bit more difficult to work with, but remain pliable if made a few hours in advance. The brand I use now is 'Vina Bich-Chi'. The package front reads 'Rice Paper' but the ingredients are; 'Rice flour, tapioca flour and salt'... so read the ingredient list! I am told tapioca wraps are also available, personally I have never tried them but am told they are very difficult to work with.

It is most important to have all your ingredients cut properly and easily accessible when you start to roll. Give yourself plenty of time, a good amount of counter space and a few extra rice paper wrappers for practice. The rolling begins as sheets of rice paper are softened in water and used for the wrappers. Various dipping sauces can be used when serving the rolls; Sweet Chili, Hoisin, Fish Sauce, Peanut Sauce etc. ('Peanut Sauce' (on page 190 of 'For the Love of Food') usually accompanies the Vietnamese influenced wraps filled with shrimp, rice noodles and vegetables.) Store the rolls on a damp paper towel lined bake sheet without them touching so they don't stick together. Cover tightly with plastic wrap for a few hours. I would not suggest making salad rolls a day before, the texture deteriorates rapidly, fresh is best. Try to make them as close to serving time as possible. Cut in half and serve with a dip to rave reviews!

Crunchy Summer Salad Rolls      Yield: 8 rolls
Fill, then roll
Plenty of fresh vegetables provide color, flavor and crunch in these light, healthy summer rolls. 

 8 (22cm ~ 8-1/2") Rice paper wrappers
2 ripe avocados, remove pit and peel, slice thinly 
Leaf lettuce, wash and remove ribs 
1 seedless cucumber, cut into 6" sections, then julienne 
3-4 medium carrots, peel and cut into long julienne 
1/4 small head red cabbage, finely shredded 
Sweet Chili Sauce for dipping

Place plastic wrap, a clean damp tea towel or parchment paper on a work surface. Fill a medium fry pan or wide shallow dish (a pie plate should work) with hot tap water. Working with one rice wrapper at a time, completely submerge in the water until soft and pliable, about 15 seconds. Remove and carefully lay it on the plastic wrap. Working quickly, lay the thin avocado slices in a row, just above the center of the wrapper, leave an inch on either side.  Lay a lettuce leaf on top of the avocado then use 1/8 of each carrot, cucumber and red cabbage for each Salad Roll. 

TO ROLL: fold the bottom half of the rice paper over the filling. Holding it all firmly in place, fold the sides of the wrapper in. Continue to roll up then turn the roll so the seam is down and the row of avocado faces up. Don't worry if the first one is messy, it usually takes at least one to get the feel for rolling the salad rolls. 
Place finished rolls on a bake sheet lined with a damp paper towel. Leave 3/4" between each roll so they don't stick together and loosely cover with plastic wrap, chill. Repeat with the remaining wrappers and fillings. Replace the hot tap water when needed.
To serve, slice each roll in half and serve with Sweet Chili Sauce for dipping.
Crunchy Summer Salad Rolls with Sweet Chili Sauce

Till next week, Bon Appétit!

Photos by Sally Rae

Friday, June 5, 2015

Garden Strawberries... Finally!!

We savored the first small feed of strawberries early this week from the garden. Friends on the 'sunny side' of the Island were about a week ahead of us. As usual, the June crop is a battle with the birds and the bugs! Robins strategically place their nests close to the garden to feed their young, so the strawberry beds were covered with a wire cage and hoops with netting last week. The bugs... not such an easy fix. With tiny slugs, wood bugs and millipedes the June crop continues to be a frustrating harvest.  

The variety of strawberries I grow are called 'Seascape', a day neutral plant which means they will produce well into October. The second crop has larger fruit, a heavier yield and is easier to maintain from pests. For now, I enjoy them straight from the garden, warmed by the sun. Another way to extend a small harvest is to use as a garnish for desserts or in Red Wine Syrup.

Fresh Strawberries in Red Wine Syrup        Yield: 1/4 cup syrup
Use this fast and elegant syrup over Panna Cotta or Ice Cream. 

1/2 cup red wine 
3 Tbsp.  granulated sugar
Sliced fresh strawberries 

Combine red wine and sugar in a *non-reactive pan. Stir and simmer until the sugar is dissolved. Then simmer and reduce wine to half. Cool the red wine syrup then toss in the fresh strawberries until coated. Serve over panna cotta or with ice cream. 

*Chef's Note: Non-reactive cookware is made from a material that will not react with acidic ingredients. The most common is a stainless steel finish that will not discolor or pit when used with acidic ingredients. Glass pots that can be used over direct heat are also non-reactive as are most non-stick coatings including 'Green non-stick'. 
Materials to avoid when using acidic ingredients are unlined tin, unlined copper, raw aluminum and unseasoned cast iron.      

To read more posts featuring my favorite berry, click on 'Strawberries' under 'Labels' in the right hand column of my Blog. 

Till next week, Bon Appétit!

Photo by Sally Rae