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Posts Tagged ‘seasonal food’

We don’t have that many hens.  I haven’t counted lately, but I would guess around 35.  Some of these hens are three years old, now; they should probably go in a stew pot, but we decided to free-range them for bug control, and if the fox happens to get them…well, that’s too bad, but not the end of the world.  The three year olds are pretty savvy anyhow, as they are the ones who survived the foxes in the first place.

 

So, now that the days are longer and the weather warmer (this weekend’s dump of snow notwithstanding), out of our 35 (ish) hens, we’re suddenly getting 12 or 16 eggs, depending on the day.

 

A dozen eggs a day.   Or a dozen and a half.

 

It doesn’t sound like a whole lot of eggs.  It really doesn’t.

 

bucket of eggs

 

Until you have to figure out what to *do* with them!

 

It’s actually not a bad problem to have, and I’m lucky to work in a large office, so we haven’t had too much trouble selling off the surplus.  We eat some, of course, and feed the ones that are too dirty to bother washing to the dogs in their porridge.  There’s also a local food charity we support with occasional donations of the extras that build up.

 

I’m not sure what we’re going to do when I go on maternity leave, though…

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I have a friend who works for a greenhouse in the province, growing peppers and cucumbers and such. He also mans a stand at the farmer’s market in his city. We dropped by on market day this spring, and not only was he kind enough to shut my shrieking kid up by handing him free mini cucumbers to munch on, but he also talked us into buying a small bag of his special all-natural chipotle spice.

 

Now, I am not normally a fan of chipotle. Most of the chipotle-flavored stuff from the store is marred by artificial flavors and liquid smoke. Of course, chipotle is one of Hubby’s favorite flavors. So when my friend went on about how he had ordered real mesquite wood from the southern States and properly smoked the adobo peppers with it, my ears perked up. Here was a chance to make stuff with one of Hubby’s favorite flavors that I might also enjoy.

 

measured spice

 

Of course, we’ve been trying to invent recipes to use it in ever since.

 

With the hot weather this summer, we don’t always want to cook, though. In fact, I rarely want to cook, but my motivation is sapped that much more when it’s thirty-five degrees (Celsius) in my kitchen before I even look at the stove. Luckily, we’ve been able to come up with a recipe that requires no stove-top cooking at all.

 

This is not the bean salad you remember from childhood potlucks, but it’s a crowd-pleaser around here. If we’re too lazy to barbeque something to go with it, we’ll even just eat this as our main dish…it’s that good!

 

Not Your Grandmother’s Bean Salad

 

2 cups sweet corn (I use home-frozen stuff)

2 – 19 oz cans red kidney beans

1 – 19 oz can black beans

1 red pepper, chopped fine

1 onion, chopped fine

1/2 cup lime juice

1/2 cup olive oil

2 tbsp honey

1 tsp mild chili powder

1/4 to 1/2 tsp ground chipotle peppers (to taste – 1/4 tsp of my friend’s chipotle spice makes a moderately spicy dish, comparable to medium mainstream brand salsa from the store; 1/2 tsp makes it more comparable to the hot salsa, but your chipotle spice may vary)

 

 

Warm the lime juice together with the honey in the microwave enough to dissolve the honey. Mix all of the other ingredients, and pour the lime juice / honey mix over top. Stir thoroughly, and eat immediately, or chill in the fridge. We find the flavors meld overnight, and peak flavor is on about day three…if it lasts that long!

 

 

chipotle - lime bean salad

chipotle – lime bean salad

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We did not have much of a garden in 2012 – everything kind of conspired against us.  Me being hugely pregnant, Baby M’s birth being so traumatic, his allergies (and constant screaming), and that big storm in late June that knocked over an awful lot of our little plants.

 

However, we did manage to harvest a significant amount of carrots (maybe forty or fifty pounds) about the same of potatoes, and a lot of onions (we planted 500 sets).  In the autumn, we bought some cabbages, beets, and turnips in bulk, and also we picked up some pumpkins and spaghetti squash from the farmer’s market to round out our winter vegetable supply.

 

In 2011 / 2012, the root-cellared carrots were done by mid-February.  This year, however, we’re still eating them from our root cellar.  Some have rotted, and the texture is not as crisp as when they were harvested, for sure, and there is some fuzz on some of them – we peel them now, instead of just scrubbing them – but we ate some in our soup tonight, and they are still entirely edible.  The potatoes are also fine, and the cabbages as well, though you have to peel off several layers of dessicated leaves to get to the good stuff.  The beets, like the carrots, are softer, but still edible.  The squash is fine.  Squash lasts forever.   Some of the onions are starting to sprout, but the rest are still as good as the day they were harvested.

 

The difference between this year and last year, for the carrots at least, is that we managed the humidity better.  Last year, some of the carrots got dried out quite early in the year, and got too dried out and bitter to eat much earlier than they should have.  Others of our storage carrots last year were too damp, and rotted early, as well.  This year, we kept the carrots in a plastic Rubbermaid tub, with a plastic bag draped over top, which we adjust when we’re down there – pull it off a bit if things seem too humid, or pull it more closed if things look like they might be drying out.  It appears to be working quite well, considering we’re still eating last September’s carrot harvest, on May first.  While the root cellaring books I have read suggested storing them in damp sand or sawdust, we haven’t found a good supply of either of those things, and are happy that our rigged system appears to suffice.  I am quite delighted to be eating our own local produce, eight months later!

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I have a friend who is trying to go gluten free and vegetarian.  He also claims to be a bad cook.  He asked me to post up some recipes for him; today seemed like a good day to oblige 🙂

 

I was down in the root cellar this afternoon.  Some of the turnips were going wrinkly-soft (as opposed to rotten-soft), and some beets, too.  The carrots are still going strong, but I grabbed a few anyhow.  I also grabbed a bag of parsnips – we bought a bunch on sale back in October, but keep forgetting to use them.  I also grabbed a couple of sweet potatoes.  Several onions.  Two cans of chick peas.  A head of garlic that was starting to sprout.

 

Really, this recipe is awfully flexible.  As far as vegetables go, the critical bits are a couple of onions, a sweet potato or two, and whatever other root veggies you have on hand and/or need to use up.  Today, I used three onions, two sweet potatoes, four or five parsnips, four beets, four carrots, and most of a head of garlic (I cut each clove in half, and sprinkled it over the veggies); however, any of these things are pretty optional.  You could also add white potatoes, if you wanted.  Just chop everything into sticks or bite-sized chunks and spread them out on a cookie sheet (or, like me tonight, two cookie sheets).  Make sure to chop the sweet potatoes into bigger chunks than everything else, since they cook a fair bit quicker; conversely, you can cook everything else for twenty or thirty minutes first, then add the sweet potatoes – your choice.  Being lazy, I just cut things to different sizes – turnips and beets in little chunks, sweet potatoes in big sticks.

 

Once everything is chopped, spread it out on the cookie sheet(s) and pour a generous amount of olive oil over top.  I’m talking a few tablespoons per cookie sheet.  Toss the veggies around a bit to get them covered in oil, then sprinkle with salt and Italian seasoning.  Be generous with the Italian seasoning – maybe a tablespoon or two per cookie sheet.  Give everything another stir, then throw it in the oven, uncovered, at 350F for about 30 to 45 minutes, depending on how small you chopped your veggies.  At that point, they should be still a little crunchy – basically not-quite-cooked.  Drain a can of chick peas per cookie sheet, and stir them into the mix.  Put the veggies back in the oven, and start your rice.

 

For this particular recipe, I used to make couscous with a bullion cube (or two, depending on how much couscous I was making) and some fresh-grated ginger.   Of course, couscous is not gluten free, so now I just boil up a pot of rice with a bullion cube (or two).  You could use vegetable bullion, onion bullion, or chicken – whatever you prefer – or nothing at all.  It is just to keep the rice from being too bland.

 

By the time the rice is done (about 20 minutes, by the time you boil the water and let the rice cook 15 minutes), the veggies should be cooked.  Serve immediately.

 

This is a favorite around here, because it only uses stuff we have on hand in the winter, and it uses up any root cellar veggies that are starting to go soft, but are still edible.   The leftovers are awesome – the flavors have extra time to blend – but this particular recipe does not freeze well.

 

This is probably a terrible recipe if you want to lose weight, but it’s a seasonal winter recipe that’s vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, nut-free, and very, very tasty!

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Well, I looked out my window, and discovered that winter has properly arrived:

 

 

Lately, we’ve been craving heartier food – root veggies, meat, and big bowls of stew – our bodies have known for a while that winter was coming.  We’ve been cooking up a storm, and Baby M’s ever-growing list of allergies and sensitivities has meant we’ve needed to be creative in our culinary adventures.  We can’t eat beef, dairy, or soy.  Cabbage, eggs, wheat, almonds, sunflower seeds, and beans are all questionable, and need further testing, so we are avoiding them at the moment, as well.  These restrictions eliminate many of our favorite go-to recipes, which has led to the invention of a whole bunch of tasty new recipes…ones that I suspect will stay in frequent rotation even when (if?) Baby M outgrows his allergies – they are that good.  In fact, some of them I could see becoming new comfort foods around here.  Two recent hits have been Stuffed Pumpkin and Pork and Sweet Potato Stew.

 

Stuffed Pumpkin:

 

I start with a proper pie pumpkin, partly because they are sweeter, and partly because that’s what we have grown.  They tend to be smaller than jack-o-lantern pumpkins, so the recipe may need to be doubled if you want to use a bigger pumpkin.  Also, I tend to cook big pots of rice, then use them in multiple recipes; I often cook the rice in chicken stock to give it some flavor.  If you are using plain white rice cooked in water, I recommend dissolving a bullion cube or two in a small amount of boiling water and pouring it over the rice mixture, or your stuffing will be pretty bland.  If you are gluten-free, watch the sausages, as most seem to have some sort of gluten-y ingredient like bread crumbs.

 

1 pie pumpkin

1 onion ( I happened to use a red one the day I took the picture below, but any kind will do)

4 stalks celery

2 farmer sausages or garlic sausages

4 cups cooked white rice (preferably cooked in chicken stock, as noted above)

2 tsp poultry seasoning (a generous amount, to taste)

1/2 tsp black pepper (or more, to taste)

salt to taste

 

Cut the pumpkin in half, and scoop out the seeds. Set in a roasting pan or on a cookie sheet. Chop the celery and onions finely. Chop the sausage into smallish bite-sized chunks (I cut it into 1/4″ half-rounds). Mix the sausage, celery, onions, and spices into the rice, and stuff this mixture into the pumpkin halves. Bake, covered, at 350 for 1.5 to 2 hours, until pumpkin is soft.  We usually use a roasting pan, but have faked it with a cookie sheet and some foil on one occasion.  You can remove the cover for the last 30-45 minutes of cooking time if you like crunchy bits – sometimes we do, and other times we don’t – it’s completely personal preference.  If there is stuffing mixture left over, put it in a covered baking dish or make it into a packet using aluminum foil, and bake it alongside the pumpkin; it can be used when you are serving.

 

 

 

Pork and Sweet Potato Stew:

 

This was last night’s hit.  We were not feeling like spending a lot of time in the kitchen, and needed something that we could just throw together and ignore.  We had pork in the freezer that needed using up, and we came up with this gem:

 

4 thick pork chops, cubed (we used pork chops, because that was what was in the freezer needing to be used up.  You could also cube a pork roast or tenderloin.  Just make sure there’s at least a couple of pounds of meat)

2 large sweet potatoes, cubed

2 large onions, chopped roughly

4-5 stalks celery, chopped

2 chicken bullion cubes, dissolved in 2 cups boiling water

3 bay leaves

1 tsp sage (or more, to taste)

1/2 tsp black pepper (or more, to taste)

salt to taste

 

Put all ingredients in a large roasting pan. Cook in oven, covered, at 350 F for about one hour, or until sweet potatoes are soft and the pork is falling-apart done.  You can eat this with bread, like my husband does, or have it over rice, which is what I did, or just enjoy it as-is.  This is really a spectacular meal for such a short ingredient list and for such easy preparation!

 

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Baby M has had gut issues pretty much since we brought him home in mid-June.  First, it was gas and fussiness, but that progressed to diarrhea, then to green, mucous-y diarrhea, followed by all of the above plus blood.  At that point, we were able to get in to a pediatrician, thank goodness.

 

By the time we got to the pediatrician, I had already started experimenting with eliminating allergens from my diet, including dairy, peanuts, and tree nuts.  I was about to try getting rid of soy, too.  I was ready to give up breastfeeding entirely, and put him on the bottle, just to see if it was something I was eating.   Baby’s constant crying and obvious pain were making us crazy, and the level of helplessness we felt was really overwhelming.  After two months of constant screaming, diarrhea, and lack of sleep (on all our parts), I would have cut off my left arm if I thought it would help.

 

The pediatrician suggested going one step further than cutting the dairy, and also cutting all beef products.

 

Unfortunately, that worked.

 

I say unfortunately because I was hoping it would be something else.  Something that did not involve having to cut all my favorite foods from my diet.  I mean, no burgers, no roast, no butter, no yogurt, no cream, no cheese, no milk chocolate, no ice cream…really?  Add to that the fact that it’s been 30+ degrees, and I’ve been miserable.  My go-to foods for a hot summer day include cottage cheese and fruit, cucumber-and-cheese sandwiches, and barbequed burgers.  Hmm.  Can you tell I’ve been feeling sorry for myself?

 

We’ve been on the hunt for suitable replacements, and found a vegan margarine that is passable, and some rice-based “milk” chocolate that’ll do in a pinch.  Unfortunately, cheese is out.  Most of the non-dairy cheese replacements I was able to find contained milk ingredients, and the one that did not, tasted fairly awful.  This is a tragedy.  I eat cheese with everything.  Like probably at least two meals a day.  Because of that, most of my cooking involves cheese.  I can substitute ground pork or chicken for the meat in most recipes, but spaghetti without parmesan?  Chili without cheddar?  Chowder with no cheese?  And seriously, no pizza?  Bleh.  So, basically, all my go-to recipes are missing something.  Something important.  Something that reminds me how much I’m missing out every time I try to eat a ‘regular’ meal.

 

I got to feeling so sorry for myself that I was polishing off a bag of Fudgee-O cookies (the only non-dairy cookie in the whole aisle) and a bag of wine gums every two or three days.  We were eating a fair bit of fast food, too, just because we did not know what else to eat.  Besides the aforementioned cookies and candy, plus barbequed pork chops and grilled peppers, I did not feel like there was anything in the house to eat.  My diet was taking a serious turn for the worse.  Usually I eat a very healthy diet, with plenty of fruit and vegetables, plus made-from-scratch meals, so the sudden influx of deep-fried chicken and sugary crap had me feeling physically terrible, too.

 

Yesterday, I decided I needed to snap out of it before I hit 300 pounds and gave my poor kid rickets or scurvy or some other horrifying deficiency.  I mean seriously, he can only get as good of nutrition as I do, right?   An attitude adjustment was clearly in order.

 

I needed to cook something new, something that had no associations with beef, butter, cream, cheese, and all the rest.  Something that did not remind me of my enforced dietary changes every time I ate.

 

Today, I went through the freezer, trying to decide what needed using up.  Corn season is almost upon us, and we still have a few bags of frozen corn from last year, so that became the base of the meal.  As it is cool today, I decided on soup, since it’s been a long time since it’s been cool enough to cook soup, and soup is such a quick, easy meal.  Though I am not good at measuring, here is the approximate recipe:

 

Fill a 2-quart pot about 1/3 with chicken broth (or vegetable broth, for a vegan meal; I used a couple of chicken bullion cubes and 1/3 pot of water).  Add a few carrots, chopped small, and around 3 cups of frozen corn.  Spice to taste with mild yellow curry (I used around a tablespoon) and hot chili paste (about 1/2 tsp for me).  When the carrots are cooked, add one whole can of coconut milk (unsweetened).  Bring the whole thing back to a boil, and serve.

 

As I was eating my dairy-free, gluten-free, soy-free, nut-free, beef-free, but still very tasty soup, I realized that every single ingredient started with the letter “C” – this soup should be sponsoring a Sesame Street episode!  Chicken stock, Corn, Carrots, Chili paste, Curry, Coconut milk…this is a real C-food soup!

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There are lots of things I like to eat that don’t grow around here.  Mandarin oranges, for instance, and sweet cherries.  Coffee, chocolate, mangoes, cinnamon.  If I am going to eat these, I don’t really have much choice but to buy them at the store.  Back in Alberta, I could at least buy BC fruit (cherries, peaches, plums) from grower-run stands, but I have yet to see such a stand here where we live.   So, the grocery store is my supplier.  As much as I would like to keep my eating local, I also want to be able to enjoy food I can’t grow; I feel that growing our own or buying local for things that grow here, but continuing to indulge in ‘far away’ treats is not entirely unreasonable.  However, I still try to follow the seasons with my non-local food purchases, so I can get it as close to home as possible – peaches from B.C., for instance (in season shortly), versus peaches from Mexico (which is what you’d get in January).

 

Then there is the stuff that we could grow, but haven’t got a harvest of yet – blueberries, for instance, and apples, and plums.  Sour cherries, also, and pears and hazelnuts.  We have planted all of these, but the trees and bushes are not yet bearing, and mostly won’t be for some time yet.  Some of these things, we have gotten lucky and found a local source for – apples and raspberries, in particular.  However, we have never found someone selling local blueberries, nor pears, nor sour cherries, which is a shame, as we would really like to buy these things from a local seller, since we are going to buy them anyways.  Especially with pregnancy last year, and now with a baby who will be starting on solids in the next 6 months, I am not going to be a purist about eating only what we can grow or acquire locally.  Being healthy and well-nourished trumps heroic efforts at local eating, or even making political statements, for me.   However, I do find it sad that there is so little opportunity to buy local varieties of things that actually grow very well here.  Once we get a transfer down to the farm, and have the space and irrigation water to do so, we plan to BE the local supplier of several things, but I digress…

 

All of this is a long lead-in to the fact that I have seventy pounds of random fruit sitting in my kitchen that needs dealing with, not counting the 20+ pounds I have already put up for the winter.  Now is the season for sweet cherries, as well as blueberries from the West Coast (local blueberries are much later – more like the end of August, I believe).  I have no idea what the season for mangoes actually is, but they are on sale by the case right now, and were on sale by the case this time last year, so I assume that means they are in season somewhere right at the moment.   So I bought 50 pounds of them, as well as 20 pounds of sweet cherries and 20 pounds of West Coast blueberries.  Ninety pounds of fruit…sounds a little excessive, doesn’t it?  But we managed to chew through a lot more than that last year, and now we are three, so I am erring on the side of having too much, rather than too little.

 

So what do you DO with fifty pounds of mangoes?  Well, last year, we dehydrated a ton of it, as well as freezing some.   We found that, while we enjoy the dehydrated mango, we don’t eat that much of it, but we do love mango smoothies, and had to ration the frozen mangoes, so this year, it will all go into the freezer.  You could also can it, but Hubby and I agreed that it would probably be too slimy for our tastes (mango is a little slimy at the best of times), and we couldn’t think of how we might ever use canned mango, so frozen it is.

 

The cherries will also mostly be going into the freezer.  If  I had been able to find sour cherries (also called pie cherries), I would have canned up a bunch for pie fillings and maybe jam.  However, sweet cherries don’t make nearly as flavorful a jam, and are too sweet for making pie filling (in my own opinion), so they will also mostly be frozen.  I am making an exception to try a recipe for cherry preserves that I think might be nice with yogurt, so 2 or 3 pounds will end up in the pantry, but the rest will be frozen for making smoothies and eating over yogurt and ice cream later, or possibly flavoring some applesauce that I plan to can in the fall, time and energy permitting.

 

Most years I would make blueberry jam, and even canned blueberries in light syrup (for pies and muffins), but I went overboard making both of these things last year, so this year’s berries are also being frozen.  We absolutely burned through the frozen blueberries last year, so I am putting much more away.

 

We have picked most of the peas that we are likely to get from this year’s garden, and frozen those, too.  While the harvest was rather disappointing, it was entirely our own fault…we had to excavate the peas from under a mat of thistles and nettles and other weeds before we could even harvest them – the garden got away on us, again.

 

The raspberries should be coming soon, as well.  We won’t be able to harvest enough to meet our own needs for the entire year, but we’ll still get some, and there is a fellow from a nearby town who sells them for a reasonable price, so we’ll be buying some for…you guessed it…freezing.  I would normally make jam and raspberry preserves, but we do still have plenty of those put away.  I did not realize how much jam we were giving away in a typical year in Alberta, so we seem to have a glut.

 

You may be beginning to notice a pattern, here.  It has been between 25 and 35 degrees Celsius for the majority of the last few weeks (save a few days when it has rained), and the idea of boiling anything on the stove for any length of time at all is not appealing.  Freezing is a relatively quick and easy way to preserve seasonal fruit, especially if you like smoothies like we do, or if you like yogurt and fruit (my usual breakfast at work).  It just happens that the fruit that is in season right now lends itself well to being frozen, though the peaches will be coming soon, and we generally like to can a bunch of those – however, when I was pregnant, I was less interested in eating the canned peaches and pears, so we still have a respectable stash of both, and I am debating whether or not to can any new ones this year at all.   In the end, it will depend on the weather and my overall energy level, I suppose.  It is amazing how much produce you need when you are planning for an entire year of eating, but I would rather be eating frozen blueberries that I bought for $2 per pound than paying $7 for per pound later for frozen berries, or $4 or 5 for a tiny clamshell package of berries in winter when we’re having a craving…

 

 

 

 

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