Seasonal


Photo by Ric Ernst

I’ve been growing garlic for nearly 20 years, and for a number of those years, I had no idea the scapes – or “flower” heads – were good for anything but compost. In fact, at first I left them on and wondered how you could possibly peel and slice the tiny cloves each flowering scape had yielded.
It turns out, those tiny cloves were seed garlic – also known as bulbils — which apparently is one way to “purify” the strain you’re growing. Garlic doesn’t actually reproduce by seed, so there’s no cross pollination but over time, you might grow from bulbs that have certain characteristics – for example, large but fewer cloves, or multiple cloves within single skins – and you want to get back to the original. Apparently you can do that with the seed garlic, though it will take several years before you have a full-sized crop to harvest. (more…)

Cake Pops: Tips, Tricks and Recipes for More Than 40 Irresistible Mini
Treats
By Bakerella
Raincoast/Chronicle 2010, hard cover, 160 pages; $22.95

The book offers instructions on how to make these cute snowmen.

The cupcake craze has pretty much passed me by, perhaps because I no longer have kids at home and the bake sales, birthday parties and other sundry cupcake friendly events have long ceased to involve me. And most cupcakes I’ve eaten haven’t really inspired me to love them enough to keep baking them.  In fact, there’s been only one one cupcake in memory that left me lusting for more, and that was one made about a year ago by Terra Breads baker Mary McKay, a Vancouver legend who could make cardboard taste good. I don’t know what she did, but those cupcakes were rich and tender, yet light enough to make me swoon, with frosting as ethereal as an angel’s wing.

I’ve now had to rethink my cupcake aversion, only because I adore Cake Pops, a new book by Bakerella, aka Angie Dudley. Dudley is not a professional baker — in fact she has no compunction whatsoever about telling the world that she’s still fond of yellow and chocolate cake-mix cakes and actually suggests you use boxed mixes for best results. She does provide several from-scratch recipes, but on the whole, this is a decorating book, not a cookbook. Bakerella doesn’t even really make cupcakes. These are whole cakes she bakes, then turns them into crumbs, mixes them with frosting and uses that to mold cake balls around lollilop sticks

It all started as a lark, Dudley says. She’s never been interested in baking, but she took a cake decorating class and was immediately hooked. She started a blog to keep track of her baking and decorating attempts, and as a result of her finesse with frosting, she’s now a cupcake star with a new cookbook and cake pops orders from Disney.

She calls them “fascinating tiny treats”, and even I could be convinced to try one despite knowing her penchant for boxed cake mixes. That’s because they look like so much fun, like toys you can eat.

I don’t know if I’d have the patience to attempt the ladybugs and pirates, the puppies, pumpkins, pandas and pussycats Dudley painstakingly shows you how to make with everything from edible ink to cookies and candy sprinkles. There are lots of photos showing her technique and there’s even a video at marthastewart.com where she demonstrates her sweet specialty. It’s actually quite fun to watch Martha fumble her way through making one of the simpler pops, but her clumsiness also serves as a reminder that even the queen of “I do it all myself and so should you” isn’t an immediate pro when it comes some things. If, however, you’re at all crafty and enjoy baking, you’ll have hours of fun with this one. And the nice thing is, you can always eat the mistakes.

Fabulous boletes, aka porcini, have sprouted on Vancouver Island and feature prominently in an upcoming dinner at Deerholme Farm.

Feeling peckish? Let me whet your appetite even more with the following.

Duck-liver and pine-mushroom pate with cloud berry jelly on raisin bread croutons followed by a salad of pan-seared duck breast, frisée, bacon, candied pine mushrooms and a blue cheese and citrus vinaigrette. Still hungry? Consider the ultimate lasagna: porcini bechamel, shredded duck and buffalo mozzarella (from nearby Fairburn Farm), all of it laced with sage and roasted garlic.

Oh my, I’m almost drooling as I read the mouthwatering menu featured at Deerholme Farm’s teaching kitchen in Cowichan on Vancouver Island Saturday, Nov. 20, the final wild mushroom dinner of the season. There’s duck in every course, including a dessert of duck-egg crème caramel with port-poached pear and dried pear crisps. The man behind the menu is our favourite Island foodie, chef Bill Jones, who also happens to be a master wild-mushroom forager (he taught me much about finding them in the Lower Mainland when he still lived here).

Jones seems to have a built-in radar for finding boletes (porcini), chanterelles and pine mushrooms, not to mention lobster, cauliflower and other fab fungi. Jones dries, pickles and freezes the mushroom bounty, much of it practically outside the front door of his farm, where he also grows veggies year-round. Jones is part of a network of great food and wine producers and promoters that have made the Cowichan Valley a foodie’s dream destination.

If you’re on the Island in late November, sign up now for this dinner, which you’ll watch being prepared and eat in the cozy kitchen/dining area of Deerholme. Cost is $90. You will not go away hungry! More info at deerholme.com.

From left, collards, kale, Swiss chard and Japanese mustard greens. Photo by Ric Ernst

Although some things did not do well in the garden this year, our patch of greens, which included Tuscan black kale (sometimes called dinosaur kale), rainbow chard and collards, did flourish. I’m particularly fond of the kale, as were the many bugs that invaded our garden this damp and cool growing season. Yes, eating insects is trendy in some places, but not on our farm. And the dimpled, curled leaves of  Tuscan kale are perfect places for them to hide, so my habit of blanching the leaves for 30 seconds or so before rinsing in cold water, squeezing dry and chopping helped flush these little critters out very nicely.

I’ve found that blanching kale and collards before cooking them up in other dishes also helps remove the cabbagey smell and bitter flavour that the longer cooking they require brings out. My favourite way to serve these super-healthy greens is by simply sautéeing the chopped, blanched kale (remove the stems after blanching) for about five minutes  in a little olive oil and bacon fat (this adds a wonderful rich and smoky flavour, but if you’re not into bacon, use a drop or two of liquid smoke for similar affect or skip this altogether; it’ll be just as good) with minced garlic and a splash of broth. Salt and pepper to taste plus (more…)

  • Make good use of the barbecue this season. NYT’s minimalist Mark Bittman offers 101 quick hits on the grill, from grilled lime to squeeze over grilled buttered corn to slowly grilled fresh figs stuffed with cheese. Some of it seems a bit overdone, such as grilling avocadoes for guacamole, but there are so many other good ideas here, it’s easy to dismiss the few questionable ones.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/30/dining/30mini.html?ref=dining

  • An unusual way to highlight the tempting  bounty of fresh strawberries is in a cheesecake that uses soft goat cheese instead of cream cheese and tops it with a balsamic-berry sauce.

http://www.latimes.com/features/food/la-fo-summerpierec2-3jul02,0,4017525.story

  • Gourmet Magazine is being revived as an online entity this fall, apparently with an app for the I-Pad. But what about the rest of  us who haven’t bought into the latest Apple gotta-have? I was a long-time subscriber and loved what Ruth Reichl had done with the magazine. No word yet on whether she’ll be involved with the new online entity. “It will be free to download, with registration required, followed by paid content options,” says an announcement on the website. Mmmm, paid content options: is the “everything’s free online” ride finally ending?

http://live.gourmet.com/

The Best of Chef at Home: Essential Recipes for Today’s Kitchen

By Chef Michael Smith

Published by Whitecap, 2009; softcover, $29.95; 258 pages.

Michael Smith is one of those people you wish was  your friend, or at least your neighbour. The mild-mannered Food Network star has no need to shout, eat questionable things or set fire to whatever he’s cooking. He’s like the Mr. Rogers of the kitchen, and that’s a good thing.

When Mr. Rogers, er, Mr. Smith wanders on set in his popular Food Network Show, Chef at Home, he brings with him an air of friendly excitement and discovery about what he’s doing (“Oh good, there’s some fresh rosemary in the fridge. I can use that!”), but it’s never in your face or scary, just comfy enough that you want to stand next to him and watch what he’s doing and hear what he has to say about it.

This same jolly ease comes through in his latest book, which has been on the B.C. best-seller list for a number of months now. (more…)

“The goals of the spot prawn festivals are to highlight an environmentally sound and locally sourced product and to remind us that farmers markets don’t stop at the waters edge.” The Chefs’ Table Society of B.C.

Behind this declaration lies a stark market truth. Spot prawns are a seasonal delicacy in B.C. and the influx of farm-raised Asian prawns into our grocery stores over the past decade or so have posed a threat to the local fishery. The Asian variety are available year round and they are generally cheaper. But even 10 years ago, the intensive farming being done on the shorelines of Asian countries to meet world demand were killing whole swaths of seabed. The dead areas were becoming so large that they could be seen by satellites high above the earth. Those who actually went out to see such farms in operation were appalled at the filth and destruction left behind when farms could no longer be productive and had to move on to cleaner waters. In short, such production just isn’t sustainable. (And, by the way, if you’ve ever tasted a local prawn next to an imported, farmed specimen, you’ll never go back to the import.) (more…)

It’s raining today so there is a welcome break in my feverish attempts to get our two acres into reasonable shape. I had to crawl up the stairs yesterday after more than six hours of weeding and cleaning out the many beds around the property — a job that takes up most of the dry days at this time of year — but the old chassis is feeling just fine right now, thank you very much.

Everything is starting to look good, and the seedlings I’ve started under my new grow light — 12 kinds of tomatoes, three kinds of zucchini, several squashes, tomatillos and my summer favourite, sweet basil — are looking vigorous.

Most of those seeds were saved from last year’s harvest. All of the tomato plants are from seeds of heritage tomatoes I’ve tasted and decided I want to grown again, and the squash pictured here is some kind of Spanish variety that has dense flesh and very sweet flavour, so I saved a few seeds from it as well, along with kabocha, mini-hubbard and delicata seeds.

Unfortunately, most of the squash seeds I planted (and some seeds I had saved in open containers for spring planting) were raided by a mouse in our supposedly mouse-proof garden workshop.  Mr. Mouse met his own unfortunate end by trying to unjam a peanut we had stuck in a mousetrap placed under the table where the seedlings are. I only hope he isn’t part of a larger family, but just to make sure, more mousetraps are at the ready. And more squash seeds have been planted.

Saving seeds is not only economical. It’s also a way of helping our planet’s biodiversity. If you’re interested in finding out more, check out Seeds of Diversity where you’ll find “descriptions, stories, history, cultivation details, and real gardeners’ comments on 19,000  cultivars of Canadian garden vegetables, fruit, grains and  ornamentals”. That’s a whole lot of eating!

The site also lists all the fruit, vegetable and other food seeds for sale in Canada and who offers them. For example, there are 34 different kale varieties, more than 130 varieties of carrots, and more than 320 squash varieties (Mr. Mouse would have been ecstatic!), plus listings for oriental and specialty greens and vegetable seeds, quinoa, amaranth . . . the list goes on. Makes you hungry just reading through it.

Happy gardening!

You don’t have to be Irish to enjoy a green beer on March 17.

St. Paddy’s Day usually revolves around good cheer, good  food — and of course, good drink. Check out these 15 St. Patrick’s Day recipes in this week’s LA Times food section, among them marinated wings, lamb chops with mint pesto, beer-battered shrimp, Irish soda bread, corned beef and cabbage, and Irish bread pudding with whiskey caramel sauce. Sounds like a party to me!

And if a mid-week bash isn’t in the cards for you, Saturday is the spring equinox, another good reason to celebrate.

Enjoy!

Bill Jones in the Deerholme Farm kitchen

Want a taste of the good life? It’s only a ferry ride away.

Consider: Baked Cortes Island oysters with locally foraged morel and leek gratin. Seared Qualicum scallops over  pork belly and stinging-nettle casserole. Flat bread with spectacular B.C. spot prawns and handmade cheese spread. Grass-fed beef-tenderloin carpaccio with roast garlic and Saltspring’s Moonstruck blue cheese.

The above dishes are on the cooking-class menus in the coming months at Deerholme Farm Cooking School in Vancouver Island’s fabled Cowichan Valley. Most — if not all — the foods cooked and served in the 1918 heritage farm’s updated kitchen are from nearby farms, fishers, cheesemakers, and bakers.

Jones checks out planting beds at Deerholme.

The greens and other veggies are from Deerholme’s own planting beds, just a stone’s throw from the kitchen. And the eggs that might make their way into the desserts and other dishes are from several varieties of heirloom chickens that happily cluck, scratch and pick away at any bug or worm silly enough to cross their paths at Deerholme.

“My favourite is the Ameraucana which lays those beautiful blue-green eggs. They also . . . have thicker, deep yellow-orange yolks — great for making custards and ice cream,” says Deerholme owner Bill Jones.

Aside from its heritage status, the kitchen also boasts wall ovens and a sink from the late James Barber’s Urban Peasant set. Barber was a neighbour and good friend of Jones, who spent three years restoring and updating the kitchen before he began holding cooking classes in 2005.

Jones, a French-trained chef, author of nine cookbooks, avid wild mushroom hunter, and wild plant expert is a champion of local and sustainable food sources. Jones fled the urban landscape of Vancouver 10 years ago to further pursue his passion for growing, foraging for and cooking fabulous food.

He is part of a vibrant food community in Cowichan that has helped turn it into a wonderful food and wine destination. His classes are mostly demonstration – with lots of sampling, so bring an appetite – but there are several hands-on classes too, one on dungeness crab (March 27)  and the other on wild salmon (June 5). A wild-foods class (April 24) includes a trek through nearby forests to hunt for morels.

Classes, which can accommodate up to 15 people, run from noon to 5 p.m., and cost $90 for most sessions (hands-on and specialty classes cost more). Here’s a list of what’s coming up this spring:

March 20, Island Spring Seafood, including salmon, scallops, octopus, oysters and crab — all from local waters.

April 17, Morel Mushrooms find their way into tarts, alongside pate, on salads and stuffed with several other delectables. It promises to be a good year for this prized mushroom, says Jones.

May 22, Asparagus and Spot Prawns, two of B.C.’s best spring-time foods, done five different ways. Spot prawns, sweet and wonderfully succulent, were once caught and immediately shipped offshore to eager palates in places like Japan. Today, thanks to a concerted effort by a number of B.C.’s top chefs, the prawns are made available to locals as well. It’s food for the gods.

June 19, Pasture-raised Meats, including chicken, beef, pork, duck and lamb. Taste the difference and learn how to bring out their best flavours.

More details at 250 748-7450, or check out deerholme.com, or email bill@magnorth.bc.ca.