Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Salmon with Cucumber, Lemon and Dill

Moving fast is not the same as going somewhere. – Robert Anthony 

Simple, fast and delicious.

Yesterday was a bit of a “day.” As much as the country life in this village is far less stressful, whenever you need to attend a client meeting it sure puts a dent in your hands-on work time.

Unless you teleconference, at least 1 hour of the day is spent on travel alone.

Simple, fresh, tasty.
Yesterday I had a working meeting with a great local client of mine that ran to over twice what I anticipated. I’m not complaining. We accomplished a lot and it will save on the other end of the work.

But by the time I finished running some “town” errands 5 hours had evaporated. 

When I arrived home I then had to do the work that was waiting for me all day... It was pretty difficult to stay inside because yesterday felt like a very late spring day – about 16°C. Gorgeous.

I needed a quick and uncomplicated dinner. But at the same time I wanted to put something nutritious and appealing on the table.

I had a few weapons in my arsenal to accomplish it. I had bought salmon, lemon, a cucumber and some dill. The rest is stuff many already have hanging around.

On a warm day there’s precious little that tastes better than salmon with a cucumber salad. It really hits the spot. It’s also unbelievably light on the sweat equity necessary to make it.

Tips and tricks?

Make the lemon butter first. You can use it warm, but if it has started to re-set it then melts down over the salmon. It will separate if you let it sit, which is perfectly normal. Just whisk it briefly and it will come together and be beautifully creamy.

You can also make the salad ahead. The acids in the dressing acts on the onion if you do. It mellows the taste. No need for a fancy sweet onion. Just a regular yellow one works just fine.

Use an English cucumber. They are firmer through the centre than field cucumbers. That means less moisture will come out into your dressing.

If you can’t find decent salmon at a reasonable price try steelhead trout. It looks and tastes much like Atlantic salmon and is cheaper as well.

Outside? You could do this recipe on an outdoor grill surfaced with foil just as easily. Keep this one in mind as the weather turns warmer, like this weekend... fingers crossed.

This whole dinner for four took about 20 minutes. Not too bad when the outdoors is beckoning!

Salmon with Cucumber, Lemon and Dill
Prep 10 min  |  Bake 6 min  |  Serves 4
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 whole salmon filet, or salmon portions for 4
1 English cucumber, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
1/4 cup butter
salt and pepper to taste
smoked paprika, to taste

Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Stir in the juice of 1/2 a lemon and 2 tablespoons dill. Let cool if you wish, while you make the rest of the dinner. Remember you can whisk the butter back together in a matter of seconds if it separates.

To make the salad, slice an English cucumber using a mandolin (or finely slice) and place in a non-metal bowl. Slice the onion and add to the cucumber. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Mix together the sour cream, mayonnaise, juice of the last 1/2 lemon and 1/4 cup dill. Pour over the cucumber and onion and let sit while you cook the salmon.

Turn the broiler of the oven on high. Heat the oil in an oven-proof pan. Sear the salmon, skin side down, until it appears opaque half way up the fish, about 2-3 minutes. Season the top with salt and pepper.

Place the pan under the broiler, about 4” away, and finish cooking the fish. This will take another 2-3 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the top with smoked paprika.

Serve the salmon with the cucumber salad. Drizzle the top of the fish with the lemon dill butter.


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Monday, April 29, 2013

How to build your own vine arbors

The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones. – William Shakespeare 

Click on the image for full size printable version. There's a materials
list on the right hand side.

This post is "news you can use," so to speak. It's a get your hands dirty "how to", not only for your garden, but also a "how to" keep money in your pocket.

A few years ago we erected two supports for grapes, two Pinot Noir. They're meant to be a sort of summertime privacy "fencing", and also look very nice when the leaves are gone. 

Marechal Foch grapes. Photo: Wiki CC
Since moving to the country the plans for these have gained added importance. Not only will they add to our privacy so we can more fully enjoy our side yard, but they’ll help me grow food.

I plan on building at least two more of this size as well as perhaps a couple lower ones for climbing vegetables like peas and beans. Maybe even cucumbers and squash. I understand you can train them that way.

I also did a plant run yesterday where I picked up, among other plants, a Marechal Foch wine grape. I guess viticulture has really taken hold in Nova Scotia when you can buy grapes like that at garden centres. Besides the Pinot Noir I also bought Chardonnay two years ago and plan on picking up a red seedless called Canadese.

Deal of the day yesterday?  A good sized haskap berry at the Village Nursery in Pleasantville outside Bridgewater. $19.99. Twice the size of the ones at Canadian Tire for the same price.

Arbors are good for 12 months a year. They add to the "bones" which keep your garden looking nice in the non-growing months. There’s nothing worse through the winter months than looking out over a barren garden with nothing of interest there at all...

These also are easy on the wallet. Purchasing structures like these – if you could get them –  would cost in excess of $200. Materials, way less that $100. Sweat equity: priceless.

The design of these echoes elements of an arbor entrance we also built, and the top of a summer porch but you can customize them to blend with whatever decor you have. The porch will have wisteria flowers hanging down through it — eventually... maybe. 

Use the plan above "as is", or as an inspiration for designing and making your own. They're not rocket science. They just take a little time. You can probably make one, from start to standing in the ground, in about 3 hours. That includes all fabrication, digging holes, mixing cement, and standing up.

The 2x2 pieces which make up the centre of the structure are not cut from their purchased 8' length. That speeds fabrication up greatly. All you have to do is make sure that the inside space between your 4x4 uprights is also 8", or they won't fit.

If there is ONE secret, it's to assemble with either brass or coated screws as opposed to nails. If you use screws, any breakage or rot can be replaced far more easily. Nails are far harder to deal with down the road.

The above image shows them "in situ". They still have their side supports because the cement was just poured. The trees in front have been removed. 

Grapes are funny creatures. They can struggle for years and then take of like a house afire. We’re still waiting for the “afire” bit. 

We had grapes at the city house that took forever to reach their support, but once they did... I’m hoping the same is true here. The pinot noir grapes will be a bonus. We don't expect to make wine...probably. I wonder what they will taste like?

Remember, treated wood will last longer so buy it if you can. Or paint it with a preservative, but then be wary if you're growing anything on them that you want to eat.. These arbors are now at least three years old and look like the day I made them. 

Plans and materials list is for one support.

One final word: we used 8' uprights, which meant that 1-1/2 feet went into the ground. Our frostline is 3 feet in Nova Scotia, so you may want to purchase 10' 4x4, just to be safe. We like to live on the edge.



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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Lillies. Work now. Enjoy later.

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they labour not, neither do they spin. – Matthew 6:28

Lillium supurbum (Turk's cap lilies), a few years go.

Yesterday was the first time all year I spent any real time playing in the ground.

I did it because I had to. I purchased some lilies from Canadian Tire on Friday. Now is the time to stick them in the ground, without delay. Our current lilies from previous years are bursting out of the ground at a rapid rate.

Day lilies at the old house in Halifax.
Two types of lilies
What kind of lilies you may ask. That can be a complicated question. Common name and real names sometimes don’t mean the same thing.

We have two main types of “lilies” in Nova Scotia: day lilies, and then the rest – true lilies. They’re easy to tell apart.

Day lilies
Day lilies, as the name suggests, have blooms that last only one day before withering. The stems contain many buds that mature, one after another, giving constant bloom for up to a couple weeks in very late spring/early summer. They have strap-like leaves and the blooms are at the end of leafless stocks.

Day lilies are not real lilies. Their proper name is hemerocallis. It comes from the combination of the Greek words for “day” and “beautiful.”  They grow from rhizomes close to the surface of the ground. It doesn’t take long for a large mass to form if they’re in a happy spot.

Day lilies are divided into two main types: diploid (the old fashioned spindly ones) and tetraploid (the big flowered sturdy ones). Tetraploids have had their chromosomes increased. Both varieties come in re-blooming varieties, which is a good thing to look for. Hemerocallis seem to come and go far too quickly.

These are some of the bulblets that grow on the stalks of
many lillium. You can plant them and get more plants. First
year there's just one leaf. Give them time.
“True” lilies (lilium) grow from a bulb composed of “scales.” The bulbs can be quite large on mature plants. They most commonly reproduce by the bulb naturally dividing. So the year after you have a fantastic tall lily you may have two sad, spindly ones. Never fear. If in a good spot they’ll come back strong.

Lillium have leaves that appear along the stem and they can grow to quite impressive height. For a few years in Halifax we had a “Scheherazade” that grew to well over six feet with approaching 20 flowers. Stunning. It was an “Orienpet” type – a cross.

True lilies come in several different forms: Asiatics, Martagons, Candidiums, Longiflorum, Trumpet, Orientals, and species (plus a few others). Each has a different looking flower and height, but all come from that scaly bulb. Orienpet is a cross between Oriental and Trumpet. Most true lilies are highly fragrant.

Many lilies have multiple ways to reproduce. For example, they can divide underground, produce seed from the flowers, and then (especially in tiger lilies) also grow odd little bulbs where the leaves meet the stalk. Plant them and in a few years you will have many, many more lilies.

Here’s an interesting fact. Even with all the breeding, no blue lilies have ever been produced.

A small section of the day lilies we have across the front of our property.

Buying lilies
Lilies of all kinds are in full force now in pots at garden centres and as bare root bulbs even in grocery stores. 

Most day lilies are sold in pots, so all you do is take them home and plant. They’re not cheap. Never buy a day lily that hasn’t poked through its ground by now. There will be tears before bedtime if you do.

If buying lillium “bare root,” only buy bags that feel like they have some weight to them. Light bags mean the bulbs may be withered and/or dead. 

This clump of day lilies is in desperate need of division.
Lillium in bags with wood shavings are quite affordable. I paid $6.69 for 5 bulbs per bag of some very nice Oriental hybrids. I got two bags. I may buy more.

The longer those bulbs stay in the bag the more chance you run of them drying out so plant as soon as you’re able. Our other lilies are up several inches already, and the new bulbs had stalk growth emerging.

Planting and dividing
When planting, put lillium bulbs at least a few inches under the ground, but don’t worry too, too much about how deep. A few inches is good. Lillium have roots that actually drag the bulb down to its proper depth. Weird, huh?

Often as lillium mature and divide they can crowd each other out. If you see you have a clump that may be a little tight you can move them in spring. 

True lilies. Up a good 3-4" inches already. They can
probably stand to be re-spaced next year.
Carefully dig a circle out a way from the sprouts. If you get too close you may slice down through a bulb. Divide the bulbs from each other. If possible, leave some dirt around each bulb as you do so. Replant and you’re done.

If you want to transplant hemerocallis now is the time too. Actually, a couple weeks ago would have been better, but you can still do it now, or in the Fall if you would prefer.

Day lilies can form dense mats quite quickly. If you dog up the clump you will see it’s composed of many, many separate rhizomes. Each one is capable of producing a day lily. 

When I divide I tend to replant them in bunches so there’s not a sad, lonely single lily standing by itself. They’re far more effective in clumps.

I’m working to have a row of day lilies the full way across the front of the property. It’s getting there. They are absolutely stunning when in bloom.

The weather is supposed to be glorious here today. I would imagine I’ll be out mucking around in my lilies again.


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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Homemade Blueberry Liqueur

Teaching, real teaching, is — or ought to be — a messy business. – Harry Crews

Photo: Wiki CC

My laptop desktop is getting messy. I don't know what's wrong with me. 

I used to be horrifically "anal" about keeping it neat and tidy. It used to drive me around the bend. Now... meh, not so much (apparently). 

I’m sure my pestering annoyed many people where I used to work. I was voluntarily their desktop police too.

I was cleaning up and spotted this recipe just hanging around. I had made it about a month ago. Since I haven’t posted a boozeer for a while, why not. I may need a drink later. I’m finishing my taxes today... Lucky thing is they’ll be owing me.

Regardless... this one can’t be simpler. It can also be made year-round using frozen berries. I would suggest using only wild blueberries. The large bush blueberries have no flavour in comparison.

I only had a spoonful’s actually, and my friends can’t tell me. I took a bottle to a weekend “gathering” and it definitely was emptied, but I think their taste buds may have already been a bit strained, if you get my drift.

If booze can be good for you though, this one would be it. It is blueberry jam packed (pardon the pun) with fruity goodness. Blueberries are quite good for you, in fact. 

They have the highest antioxidant content of any fruit. Antioxidants fight free radicals in the body. Blueberries also affect the body’s capacity for storing and burning fat, in good ways.

The blue red colour pigment is caused by anthocyanins that help fight hypertension. Those same chemicals help improve brain function.

Pterostilbene, a compound found in blueberries has been shown to fight colon cancer. Colon cancer is the second highest cancer killer among Canadians. Lung cancer is first.

Be careful with this liqueur. If anything can stain your clothes, furniture, etc., it would be this. It is blueberry juice after all.

But if you want to have an excuse for a tipple that may very well be packed with blueberry’s health benefits, give this one a try. It may just extend your life – if “pickled” is the way you prefer to be...

Homemade Blueberry Liqueur
Prep: 10 min  |  Infuse: 1 week  |  Yield: 3 x 375 ml
375 ml vodka
2 cups frozen wild blueberries, thawed
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
rind of 1/2 lemon
3 whole cloves
1 cup whey, optional (it is a preservative)

Simmer the berries (and collected juice) with the sugar, water, lemon rind and cloves for 5 minutes.

Let cool, then pour into a jar and add the vodka. Stir well.

Let sit in a cool place for 1 week. Strain the mixture through cloth and bottle. If you press the berries to extract as much juice/booze as possible you may want to strain it two more times.

Let sit for another week for optimum flavour, but can be drank/drunk right away.

This liqueur will be at its best for about 4-6 months.

Without the whey this would probably be about 16% alc/vol; with the whey, about 10%. Both are pure conjecture. Drink responsibly... :-)


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Friday, April 26, 2013

Return to Sender

There's an old saying... that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again. – President G.W. Bush

Of course what he was trying to say was “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” In effect, be wary of those who have already proved untrustworthy lest they do it again. Be vigilant.

Well, the Canadian Conservative party is at it again – trying to destroy another person’s credibility, focusing their bullying (yes, bullying) against newly minted Federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau.

First it was their attack ad released mere moments after he won the nomination. It was aired on programming viewed mostly by middle-aged males, a Blue Jays baseball game, an English Premier League match and a PGA golf tournament. “He’s way in over his head.”

One part of that ad resurrects very old footage of Trudeau saying "Quebequers are better than the rest of Canada" (CTV, 10/15/1999). The attack ad states this is divisive.

Just don't talk about this: Stephen Harper opening up the 2010 Calgary Stampede, where he called Calgary the "greatest city" in the country. Talk about East/West divisiveness.

Airing the ad during middle-aged male programming is an important fact. Trudeau is polling as well with men as he is with women. Men are the Tories’ voting base. They’re afraid, I believe.

Not only did the Tory attack ad use old and out of context quotes but also out of context imagery to try to smear how we voters feel about this man. The 2011 "striptease" was for a "win a lunch date" fundraiser for the Canadian Liver Foundation. He helped raise $1,800.

For this they used their own Conservative Fund of Canada money to make and distribute that travesty against decency and Canadian values.

This time it’s a bit different. They’re using our taxpayer money, and are not just attacking his abilities, but casting doubt on his masculinity. This is dangerous ground, Mr. Harper. There are laws against behaviour similar to this. I believe you have even passed some in “your” parliament, and are about to pass more.

My knickers are in a twist
The latest missive from the "Harper Government" is what forced me to raise my voice today and speak.

The newest bit of nastiness from the Conservative party is a bulk mail flyer that will be arriving in your mailbox soon. This is mailed courtesy of our MPs constituency mailing service. So we are paying for this, but it has nothing to do with government affairs.

“Prime Minister Stephen Harper says there’s nothing wrong with using taxpayers’ dollars to finance a bulk-mail campaign against Justin Trudeau.” (Maclean’s.ca – April 25, 2013)

Well I believe that the majority of Canadians would disagree with you, Mr. Harper.

I’ll tell you what really pisses me off. It’s the manner of the attack.

I’m a designer. I know what a visual message is – and this one is bad. The flyer uses some not so subtle techniques to throw doubt on Trudeau’s manhood. 

The flyer is divided in two. On the left Trudeau, on the right Harper. One of the main typefaces used is a very feminine script (Honey Script to be exact). 

The image of Trudeau shows him a little scruffy with an open collar shirt and a jacket slung over his shoulder. He kind of looks like a sleazy guy at a bar. 

There is also a trail of “pixie dust” swirling down and around him. It looks very much like what Tinkerbell used to leave circling Cinderella’s castle at the opening of Disney’s Sunday night TV.

Mr. Harper, on the other hand, is button down perfect, on a plain background with only what as a designer we would call “masculine” typefaces. He even has a little bit of the Peace Tower on the bottom right.

Visual messaging has a long and proven record of swaying opinion, as we all know.

This not so subtle messaging is meant at best to give the feeling of effeminate weakness to Mr. Trudeau, and at worst associate him with being a “fairy.”

Read the text on the left. "Drama teacher for 2 years." We all know about drama teachers, wink, wink.

(Did you know Stephen Harper worked in a mail room at Imperial Oil once? Not much qualification for Prime Minister there...)

A record worth running on?
Attack a foe’s positions? Yes. 
Attack a foe’s character? No.

Those who attack others usually have no record of merit to stand on themselves or have things they want us to forget. That’s why they do it. Deflection is the best friend of a poor record.

And our current government is in desperate need of deflection. The litany of problems associated with this government seems endless. 

Here’s just a small sampling: 
  • omnibus bills stuffed full of unrelated legislation, with little to no debate, 
  • government assets used for personal use (Peter MacKay and the helicopter), 
  • Bev Oda and her $16 glass of orange juice, 
  • Peter Penashue running for the Conservatives in a by-election in Labrador after the sitting MP resigned amid scandal. That disgraced MP? Peter Penashue,
  • the "Robocalls Affair" where voters reported being misdirected to non-existant polling booths during the last election. The majority of those report these calls were non-Conservative voters (this is currently still under investigation by Elections Canada),
  • appointing Tory friends as Senators who either try to game the system or are currently facing charges of assault, 
  • decimating our environmental laws and oversights effectively enabling smoother “tar sands” production, 
  • cutting funding to science, and muzzling scientists, so there are fewer bothersome “facts” to deal with, 
  • suppressing the opinions of their own back bench MPs, 
  • slamming Trudeau for his comments about wondering of the root causes for the Boston bombing (2 days later same opinion voiced by Obama), 
  • closing of the Parliamentary Budget Office (that Harper set up...Kevin Page did his job too well, kudos – I believe he’s still in court over it),
  • walking away from Kyoto,
  • walking away from the UN Anti-drought Convention,
  • running quite probably the most opaque government in decades after being elected on transparency,
  • destroying our global reputation as a peacekeeper nation,
  • abandoning large portions of traditional social policy, like the fight against poverty,
  • killing the long form and mandatory census so StasCan data is less reliable (this data is used not only by private companies but Government to develop policy),
  • defunding many social groups, such as Katimavik,
  • trying to paint environmentalists as anti-democractic (including David Suzuki),
  • spending millions on promoting last year’s 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 (a series of border skirmishes with the USA) while cutting funding to significant social outreach groups...

Today’s horror? 
News organizations are reporting on a RCMP memo that says no members are to meet with MPs or Senators without prior approval. It cites the need to avoid "negative consequences for the organization and the government.” 

Specifically, they are to ask permission from a liaison office that co-ordinates RCMP strategy with the office of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews. Our national police force was just politicized.

The above is sadly a very partial list. It seems every day brings some other assault on our traditional Canadian values. And we have to put up with it until 2015.

What can we do in the interim?
Well, first don’t let this sort of virulent attack affect your opinion of Mr Trudeau or any other MP or person running for office. That’s what the Conservatives want. They did it with Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff and are trying again.

This time, though, I think they’ll fail. It’s obvious what they’re trying to do. They have finally achieved the transparency they campaigned on – and it isn’t pretty.

For my part, when my flyer comes I’m going to mark it “return to sender.” Hopefully we’ll do the same to many Tory MPs in the next election.


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Questions? Comments? Derogatory remarks? Just ask! I’ll answer quickly and as best as I can. If you like this post feel free to share it. If you repost, please give me credit and a link back to this site.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

One-pot Lamb, Eggplant and Feta Bake

I have never felt any ethnic connection between the Greeks and me other than how hairy I am. – George Michael 

Quite nice. Quite nice indeed. And simple.

Does anyone remember the “find” I made at the grocery store a few days ago? The lamb rack?

Well, I had a little left over. Actually about a pound (454 g) left over. What to do, what to do...

It's easy to turn meat into ground with a
food processor. Pulse and you're done.
I used to be the king of one-pot. It has many advantages, besides the obvious one of fewer dishes. One-pot usually means whatever you make is, in my mind, more of an infusion of flavours, as opposed to different items arranged on your plate.

I like one-pot meals – stews, braises, you name it... They’re my friend.

I make a Palestinian dish with chicken that is amazing called Maqloobeh. It’s really easy and quite impressive. The recipe is here.

Why couldn’t more dishes be done with this technique of baking/steaming with the rice cooked right in? There’s no real reason...

Since I had the lamb I thought I would give it a try. In a Greek way this time.

Whenever you’re faking/making dishes reminiscent of different cultures you have to be aware of some of the “staples” that are signature flavours. It’s simple enough if you spend any time either in the kitchen or in ethnic restaurants.

For Greek food some of the familiar culprits are lamb, eggplant, tomatoes, feta, oregano and nutmeg. Of course there are many more, but those are the ones I chose.

This was really tasty, and I would make it again in a heartbeat. My husband said it tasted like something you would get in a Greek country kitchen. Success!!

The recipe may sound like you’re salting too much, but if you don’t you’ll find yourself reaching for the salt shaker at the table. Eggplant needs salt, so does the rice. Tomatoes too...

It may also seem like there’s a lot of oregano and nutmeg, but it all balances out. Trust me.

While I’m on the subject of nutmeg, buy whole nutmegs and grate your own. You can get them at the bulk food store and they keep forever. 

I’ve had a bag that I’ve been slowly going through for years. Just grab a nut and grate. It tastes so much better than buying previously ground. 

That holds true for any spice. As soon as it’s ground it starts to lose flavour and strength. Buy yourself a small grater and a coffee grinder for exclusive spice use. They’re kitchen essentials.

Lamb, Eggplant and Feta Bake
Prep: 5 min  |  Cook: 1 hour  |  Serves 4
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium eggplant
1 lb lamb, ground or cubed
1-1/2 tsp dried oregano
34 tsp grated nutmeg
1 cup long grain rice
2 cups water
3 medium tomatoes, chopped
200 g feta, crumbled
salt & pepper, to taste

Cut the eggplant in half, rub the surface with half of the oilive oil and sprinkle with salt. Broil on a baking sheet until the top is well browned. Set aside.

Turn the oven heat from broil to 350°F.

Heat the remaining oil in a Dutch oven or other large oven-proof pot with a lid. Sauté the lamb until no longer pink. Season with the oregano, nutmeg, salt and pepper, remove to a bowl.

Cut the eggplant into chunks and arrange on the bottom of the pot. Then add the rice and water. Layer with the lamb and then the tomatoes. Season the tomatoes with a little salt. 

Then top with the crumbled feta cheese. Sprinkle with more pepper and oregano if desired.

Cover and bake for 40-50 minute, until the rice absorbs the water.

Remove the cover, turn the oven to broil and cook for an additional 5 minutes. This will brown the top of the cheese.


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Questions? Comments? Derogatory remarks? Just ask! I’ll answer quickly and as best as I can. If you like this post feel free to share it. If you repost, please give me credit and a link back to this site.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

How to make Mascarpone Cheese

The time to save is now. When a dog gets a bone, he doesn't go out and make a down payment on a bigger bone. He buries the one he's got. – Will Rogers 

The end result. Well worth the 2 day wait.

Let's face it. All cheese is expensive. Sadly, the ones that I like seem to be among the priciest. Among them is mascarpone. That's the one commonly used in tiramisu, the classic Italian dessert.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to make it at home and save a little cash... 

I purchased a cheese making magazine a while back and was surprised to see a recipe for mascarpone. It looked so easy. And it was!

Mascarpone has existed for a long time. It dates back to the Lombardy region of Italy of the late 1500s. It is unclear where the name originated but it is possibly related to another milk product called mascarpa.

Mascarpone is made by coagulating cream via tartaric acid, citric acid, or lemon juice. After coagulation the whey is slowly drained out. 

This means, because of all the sitting, it isn’t a cheese you can just whip up like ricotta, which is ready in less that an hour. You have to plan for when you need it.

Aside from the 48 hours for the whole process, this cheese is a breeze. I made much more than I needed (word to the wise) unless I plan on making a big tiramisu. 

The quantities listed are for the larger amount, but feel free to halve it. The result will be the same. Go big or go home, I say.

Mascarpone makes the cholesterol police go on red alert. I always remember Julia Child’s admonition: “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” She was right of course. A steady diet of too much of anything will kill you, probably even broccoli. Variety is the spice of life, said the drake to the hen...

This stuff should be treated with some respect. The finished product has about 60%-75% butter fat. We’ll just leave that fact to settle in…

Mascarpone is the colour of cream and is thick like a spread. It has many uses (including in tiramisu). It can be served in savoury dishes or as a fresh fruit topping. It can also be used as a substitute for butter, or for parmesan in pasta sauces or in risotto.

The important fact is that it is wonderfully delicious and addictive. But just like everything else in life, don’t overdo it.

An important note about this recipe is price. To purchase this amount of mascarpone costs at least $12.99 CAN. To make it costs half that amount, if not less.

Homemade Mascarpone
Time: 2 days  |  Yield about 3 cups
2 cups 36% whipping cream
2 cups 18% coffee cream
2 tbsp lemon juice
instant read thermometer
double boiler (or similar homemade contraption)

The cream mixture needs to be around 25% butter fat. To do so use the two different creams. The ingredients above make a combination of 27%. Close enough.

Combine the cream in the top part of a double boiler. I do not own a double boiler so I inserted a smaller pot inside another pot partly filled with water. It works just fine.

Raise the temperature of the cream to 185°F. Scalded milk is 180°F so a little beyond that stage. You really need to use a thermometer… (remember yesterday’s post?)

Once the cream reaches 185°F on the thermometer, reduce the heat to hold it at 185°F and stir in the lemon juice. This is barely a low simmer – certainly not a boil.

Mix well. Cover the pot, hold the temperature at low simmer and let cook for 5 minutes.

Remove the pot from the double boiler. You will notice that the cream has thickened slightly. It will thicken more as it cools.

Place the pot with the cream in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

After 24 hours you will see the cream has thickened more (second photo at top). Strain the cream/cheese over a bowl through fine cloth lining a sieve to remove the excess moisture. Let it sit, back in the refrigerator, for another 24 hours.

After 24 hours remove the cheese from the cloth and place in a storage container. The cheese will last refrigerated for about one week.

This is the cheese, plus all the whey that came out. keep that whey! You can
use in in making bread, watering plants, as a treat for your pets...

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Family-sized Sweet & Sour Meatloaf

Every sweet has its sour; every evil its good. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

This recipe is a little bit sweet, a little bit sour – just like me. Have you ever heard of a sweet and sour meatloaf? We took this to a birthday party a week and a half ago. It went a long way among many people.

Sweet & sour meatloaf... it borders on "junky" (North Americanized) Chinese food. Or at least is related to it in a very strange bastardized North American way. My family makes kind of a version of this for meatballs.

I had some pork roast on the refrigerator and some lean hamburger. So why not make a meatloaf. 

Ready for the oven.
Never fear if you don't have ground meat. It's very easy to "grind" your own in a food processor. It only takes a minute or two, and that way you know exactly what ratio of meat to fat goes into your loaf. It does need some fat to come out right.

If you grind your own meat you have complete control. I think it's a little cheaper, too. Check the per kilo (or pound) price the next time you go to the grocery store.

If you don't have at least some fat there's a real possibility of ending up with a dry lump. If you cook it too long you can have the same problem.

There's a secret kitchen weapon you may have heard of… the thermometer. We really should all have one, two, or even three different kinds and use them often. I say three, because an instant read thermometer does one sort of job very well, an oven-proof thermometer does another and a clip-style candy thermometer is great for liquid temperatures.

Thermometers take the guesswork out of cooking. You can read the internal temperature of roast, or whatever you're making, to ensure you know that sweet spot between "done" and "inedible." 

I find a candy thermometer indispensable for measuring the temperature of liquid for proofing yeast. I would be throwing out a lot of bread if it wasn't for that tool. 

After the first half hour.
And you have to agree, there's nothing nastier than undercooked –or overcooked – meat. That tell-tale pool of pink-tinged liquid on your plate when you cut into underdone chicken is enough to put you off your kibble.

Cooking thermometers can be used for so many foods besides checking for doneness. There are certain bacteria that are killed above specific temperatures. That's why certain cuts of meat have very exact temperatures to reach for safety. Salmonella and E. Coli are two bacteria that we all know by name.

Undercook, you risk food-borne illness. Overcook and you risk a not so tasty meal. If you don't currently use a thermometer, you should get into the habit. We all should.

But a thermometer does so much more than just measure interior meat and liquid temperatures. I was actually amazed when I found the following.

If you want to know all about meat thermometers, doneness temperatures and even how to use thermometers, here is a 100% Docaitta-endorsed Link. Unbelievably valuable stuff. Bookmark it.

But back to the meatloaf for one second. Use some fat. Don't be afraid. I know everything is now supposed to be lean and fat free, but if you don't use at least some fat you won't be happy.

You won't be happy at all.

Sweet & Sour Meatloaf
Prep: 15 min  |  Bake 1 hr 30 min  |  Yield: one family-sized loaf*
1 lb (454 g)  ground lean beef 
1-1/4 lb (650 g) ground pork, with fat
2 cups fresh bread crumbs 
3 large eggs 
1/2 cup onion, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced 
1 tsp salt 
1/2 tsp ground black pepper 
1 tsp Chinese five spice powder
2 cups crushed tomatoes 
3/4 cup brown sugar 
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup white vinegar
salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, combine the beef, pork, bread crumbs, eggs, salt, onion, garlic, salt, pepper and half of the Chinese five spice powder. Mix together well with your hands. The longer you mix the "smoother" the consistency of your meatloaf will be.

Combine the crushed tomatoes, both sugars, vinegar and remaining Chinese five spice powder. Bring to a simmer in a saucepan and let cook for 5 minutes. The sauce should be fairly smooth. Taste for salt. Adjust as desired.

Place half of the sauce in the bottom of a baking dish big enough to accommodate the meat, but without too much room. 

Shape the meat into an oval, taking care that it doesn’t taper on the ends like a football. (These ends may overcook if you do so.) Place the shaped loaf in the pan. Sprinkle with some more five spice if desired.

Bake for 30 minutes. Then remove the loaf from the oven and pour the remaining sauce over the top. Bake for an additional 1 hour – or until a meat thermometer inserted in the centre reads between 160°F and 165°F. (My meatloaf took 1 hour 40 minutes.)

Let the meatloaf rest for about 5 minutes before slicing. Or let cool and then reheat, tented with foil.

* Since the oven's already on, roast vegetables for accompaniment.


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Questions? Comments? Derogatory remarks? Just ask! I’ll answer quickly and as best as I can. If you like this post feel free to share it. If you repost, please give me credit and a link back to this site.