Sunday, 18 September 2016

Grape Muffins

At this time of the year we are scrambling to keep ahead of the produce.  The Italian prune plum tree has been dealt with.  Plums halved, pitted and frozen for future Pflaumkuchen this winter.  Onions and garlic stored away.  Bean pods for dried beans spread out on trays in the potting shed.  Tomatoes mostly harvested and turned into soup, salsa, pasta sauce - but more tomatoes still out in the garden ripening.
And now the grapes!  There are signs that the racoons have been visiting - all of the easily-reached grapes are gone, but bunches hanging from the sides of the arbour which the racoons can't reach are ripe and ready to be picked.  A quick harvesting scooped up one big basket and those were stripped from the bunches and popped into the dehydrator.  One lonely bunch was left - how about grape muffins?

The Candice grapes growing on the arbour are small, tart, seedless grapes - perfect for dehydrating.  Most recipes I found on the Internet called for halved red seedless grapes.  Our grapes are the size of large blueberries, so no halving necessary.  Using my old standard recipe, I had a go at making muffins.  Recipe at the end of the post.
It's a pretty basic recipe - dry ingredients in one bowl, wet in another.  Add the wet to the dry (and dump in the grapes!) and mix only until the dry is incorporated and no more.  Spoon into muffin tins and bake at 350F for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.  They're not as pretty as blueberry muffins, but they taste great!

Grape Muffins

Dry Ingredients
2 1/2 cups flour
2 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup sugar (these are tart grapes!)

Wet Ingredients
2 eggs well beaten
1 cup milk
1/2 cup oil
1 1/2 cup grapes

Friday, 16 September 2016

Pear Galette

This year I finally find myself with some pears!  For years the pear tree we had below the house refused to bear fruit in spite of the fact that an Asian pear, which can be a pollinator, was right beside it.  A couple of years ago we bought a couple of new pear trees - a Bartlett and a Commice.  And this year, we have fruit on the Bartlett.  More than I can deal with actually, because while I enjoy a fresh pear, my husband doesn't.  And I have more than I can eat fresh!  So what to do?
Pear Galette to the rescue!  Recipe at the bottom of the post.
The first thing I did was make the pastry and put it in the fridge to rest.  I set the oven to 425F and started to make the filling.  The recipe calls for 3 pears, but mine are small, so I used 4, which I sliced thin.
These were tossed with lemon juice, then a mixture of cornstarch, brown sugar and cinnamon.  By now the oven was ready.
 I pulled out the pastry, rolled it to a 9" round and placed it on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Then I piled the pears in the centre leaving a 2" border.  The edges were folded up over the edge of the pears and the whole thing popped in the oven.
When the galette was baked, I glazed it with honey mixed with a little water.  It's sitting on the counter giving off a delicious aroma while we wait for it to cool. And I might have enough pears left to make another one in a day or two!

ps:  it's delicious!

Pear Galette

1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp granulated sugar
1/8 tsp salt
4 Tbsp cold, unsalted butter cut into small pieces
2 Tbsp buttermilk
3 Tbsp ice water

Whisk together the dry ingredients.  Add the butter and cut in the flour mixture with a pastry blender until you get a coarse, pebbly texture.  Using a fork, gradually add the liquid and form into a ball.  Pat the dough into a 4" round, wrap in plastic and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

3 medium pears
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp cornstarch
3 Tbsp brown sugar
1/8 tsp cinnamon

Peel, core and slice the pears to 1/4" slices.  Mix with lemon juice.  In a measuring cup mix together the cornstarch, brown sugar and cinnamon.  Sprinkle over the pears and gently mix to coat.

Assembling the galette:
Roll the pastry out to about a 9" round and place it on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Mound the pears in the centre and fold the edges of the pastry over the filling.  Bake at 425F for 15 minutes then lower the temperature to 350F and bake a further 40 minutes until the pears are tender and the crust is golden brown.  Glaze with 1 tsp of honey mixed with 1/4 tsp of boiled water.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Racing the Squirrels!

Every year it's a contest to see who gets our produce first - us or the squirrels and raccoons.  The raccoons have a better track record with the grapes than we do.  I'd love to let the grapes go to fully ripe but we'll lose the whole crop if we do that.  Fortunately, the squirrels aren't interested in the grapes but hazelnuts are another matter!

The other day when I was out picking tomatoes with my daughter, we heard a squirrel scolding us.  At the time we thought it was in a nearby fir tree, but today I realized he was in the hazelnuts.  I went right up to the bush and there he was on a branch with the hull in his paws carefully removing the nut - not bothered by me at all!  Of course by the time I came back with a camera he was gone.  Now we don't begrudge the squirrels a nut or two.  Our little guys are the native ones and the big invasive greys and blacks haven't made it to our little island yet.  We are happy to let them share the sunflower feeder with the birds and even to have a few nuts.  But enough is enough!
When we started harvesting this year, there were signs on the ground that the squirrels have had more than their fare share!  Lots of empty husks!

This year's hazelnut crop is a good one.  We only have 2 mature bushes bearing nuts and 2 young bushes just about ready to start. And the young ones have Perigord truffle spores at their roots!  One mature bush is a heavy producer.  It's smaller but always loaded with nuts in clusters.  The other bush is huge but bears very few nuts although the nuts it does produce are very big.  This year it has a good crop, too.
Hazelnuts are not the easiest to see in the bushes.  The clusters appear near the end of the branches on the undersides and tend to blend in very well.  It took a good half hour with our relatively small bushes to get most of the crop.  My husband pulled down the branches for me to strip.  Once we got most of the clusters off the bushes we extracted the nuts from their husks.
I think this is the best crop we've had so far from our hazelnuts.  We'll allow them to air dry in the house for a few weeks before they're ready to eat.  And I'm sure there are still some up there to keep the squirrels happy.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Time to Make Salsa!

I have two baskets of Health Kick tomatoes sitting on the counter and there are lots more ripening in the garden.  I don't have a lot of time to spare today because I'm a tester for a new women's shirt pattern, but these tomatoes need to be dealt with.  Vegetable gardening, cooking, sewing - I sound like the quintessential housewife, don't I?  Well don't be fooled!  But I digress.
I have all the ingredients for salsa on hand.  The recipe is on this website.  The only fresh ingredient not from the garden is bell peppers as mine aren't ripe enough yet.
The recipe calls for onions and garlic.  I showed you a quick way to peel garlic on this blog.  Now here's a quicker way to deal with onions.  First quarter the onions through the middle - skin and all.
Now cut the root from middle to skin but not all the way through the skin.  It's now easy to pull the skin off.
Trim off the dried bits from the top.  Your onion is now ready to chop.  I got through 2 cups of chopped onions in record time and not a tear to be had because it was so quick.
Onions and garlic chopped, it was added to my big Maslin pan along with the vinegar, tomato paste and spices.  The oregano was fresh so I added a tablespoon instead of the teaspoon of dried called for in the recipe.
Next, the peppers.  I didn't have quite enough jalapeño peppers as I inadvertently gave away a plant leaving me with only one, so I supplemented it half and half with Hungarian Wax peppers.  And they're hotter than jalapeño peppers.
I needed 3 cups of chopped mild peppers and I used Ancho and Anaheim.  They're the green ones in the basket picture above.  Now I just needed tomatoes.
The tomatoes needed to be peeled and coarsely chopped.  No need to seed as Health Kick has very few seeds.  The quick way to peel tomatoes is to first cut an X on the bottom.  Plunge them in boiling water until the skins come off easily.  The X makes it easier to see when the skin will come off and also makes it easier to peel them.  I dealt with the tomatoes 4 at a time.  While I was peeling one batch another was in boiling water.  The peeled tomatoes went into a bowl for chopping later.  I think that's the fastest I've dealt with tomatoes, too!
In no time I had my 8 cups chopped and into the pot with the rest of the ingredients.  The pot was set to boil and then turned down to simmer.
While I type this, the house is filled with the delicious aroma of salsa!  All that's left is to bottle it.  And think of something to do with the big basket of tomatoes that's still sitting on the counter.

Monday, 22 August 2016

First, Peel the Garlic

This morning I'm going to be making tomato soup.  A friend gave me a terrific recipe and it's on the blog here.  All the main ingredients come from my garden - tomatoes, onions, carrots - and a few spices.  Now the recipe doesn't actually call for garlic, but I'm adding it to this batch.

But first you have to peel the garlic.  And this year, with my garlic getting rust, the bulbs are small which makes peeling a royal pain!  But there's a solution.
To do it the quick and easy way, you need 2 metal or ceramic bowls.  I just had one metal bowl and a lid.
Next, separate the cloves.  The easy way do do this is to smack the bulb with the heel of your hand.
Now place the cloves in the bowl and cover with the other bowl (or in my case, the lid!)
Shake vigorously for 10 to 15 seconds and voila!  Peeled garlic ready to go!

Be sure to check out the tomato soup recipe - it's a winner!

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Early Apples

It's going to be a tremendous year for tree fruits!  Before we realized what was happening, early Gravenstein apples were starting to drop off the trees!  We have an espaliered apple tree with 6 varieties grafted on it.  Apples on this tree seem to ripen earlier than on our other trees, and to my surprise, I was finding apples on the ground.  Time to do something with them!  It was easy to get my husband to gather apples for me when the reward was apple crisp for dessert.  I have a recipe that has to be one of the best apple crisps ever.  It's on the blog HERE.
Since there were so many apples, I made 2 crisps - one for the oven and one for the freezer.  I peeled, cored and sliced the apples, dropping them into water which had lemon juice in it to keep them from turning brown.
The topping is a sort of shortbread-like mixture with walnuts added at the end and roughly chopped.
When I had enough sliced, I drained the apples and mixed them with a sugar/cinnamon/cloves combination.
Topping is added to the apples and gently smoothed over the top.
Then into a 350F oven until golden brown and oozing juice.  The kitchen smells wonderful!  Now to get some vanilla ice cream and dessert is covered.  And there's another unbaked apple crisp in the freezer!

Raccoon Invasion!

Every year we have some invasion by the raccoons.  Usually it's the grapes and we have a race to see who gets them first.  If I'm not quick off the mark, I get none at all.  Greedy little raccoons!

One year it was the hazelnuts.  I usually harvest them when they start turning colour just to beat out the raccoons.  A few years ago I was a bit slow and there were none to be had.  Plus broken branches.

Devastation in the corn bed!
This year it's the corn, which is the first time they've ventured into this crop.  One morning I went out to find 4 stalks brought down and cobs ripped off.  The next morning, many more plants were brought low.
Downed corn stalks
I decided to leave the plants on the ground in the hopes that they'd leave the rest of the crop and just work on the cobs that were easy to get.
Fortex beans growing in the corn
This morning there are no new plants on the ground, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.  If I lose the corn, I'll also lose the Fortex beans that I have growing on them.  I'm growing these beans in the corn because they tie the plants together and provide strength from the wind.  One year I grew the heritage Italian beans in the corn, but it's so vigorous that they broke the stalks!  Fortex beans are much more courteous!
Heritage Italian beans striking out on ropes strung to the fence
I didn't want to give up on the delicious heritage Italian beans though.  We've built a special sturdy frame for them.  These beans don't like to be confined, however, and I've even strung rope to the fence.  The beans have taken over 2 of the 3 ropes and are heading into the grapevines - which are set to meet them halfway.  This will certainly make picking the beans easier!
Swiss Chard growing beside the beans
Elsewhere in the garden, things are coming along nicely.  We've had quite a few meals of Swiss Chard which is such an attractive plant.
Gypsy peppers
And the Gypsy sweet peppers will soon be turning colour.  Growing them in a proper bed has resulted in a much better crop.  They share this bed with Sweet Million and Indigo Rose cherry tomatoes.  The hot peppers are growing in a bed with the Health Kick tomatoes.  You don't grow sweets and hots together or the sweets get hotter and the hots get sweeter!