Friday, May 31, 2013

Homemade Teriyaki BBQ Sauce with Salmon

Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy. – Robert A. Heinlein 

An easy BBQ sauce, better flavour than commercial and cheap too.

I’m assuming the above quote doesn’t include adults. Let’s go on that assumption, because today’s recipe is easy. Just what one needs on a warm outdoor weekend.

This weekend is supposed to be pretty wonderful, so many of us will be making our way to backyards and patios for BBQs. We’ll have other activities on our minds than cooking.

Probably one of those activities will be breaking out the BBQ. For most that means meat on the grill, but we shouldn’t forget fish. Fish on a grill is easy. All you need to do is place it on tinfoil so it doesn’t end up down through the grates and on the fire.

Fish like salmon doesn’t take to traditional tomato barbecue sauce (yuck), but one sauce that tastes fantastic – and crosses over to meat – is teriyaki. It’s great on pork, beef and chicken and  can even be used to grill veggies. It’s also disgustingly simple to make at home.

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with teriyaki sauce. I love its taste, but hate to buy it because of the price. I find it difficult to put a bottle in my grocery cart, because it’s so cheap and easy to make at home. That’s me in a nutshell – cheap and easy.

This recipe fits perfectly with that philosophy. If you can find salmon "on sale" this meal for four can be inexpensive, and remember frozen salmon always costs less than fresh. If you buy frozen steelhead trout it’s even more cost effective. 

Steelhead trout is becoming far more common in grocery stores. It’s usually sold as full filets. If you don’t look closely you would swear it was salmon. And when you cook it I swear you won’t be able to tell the difference. We couldn’t. 

Making teriyaki sauce is something we should all know how to do. It takes so few ingredients and they’re all kitchen staples. It literally takes about 8-10 minutes to make about 1-1/4 cups. That time is from chopping the ginger to turning off the heat under the pot when done.

Homemade teriyaki is so much more flavourful than most of the bottled brands on the market. At least that’s my humble opinion. This one's a real keeper.

The only “strange” ingredient used in my salmon teriyaki is nanmi togarashi which is sold in Asian groceries – and probably larger grocery chains. It’s a mixture of ground chilli, sesame and orange peel. I used it on the veggies and rice. It adds a distinct, wonderful Asian flavour boost. I would imagine most of us have eaten it at a restaurant and didn’t know what it was.

Except for the teriyaki sauce this meal is quite healthy: raw vegetables atop rice with a delicious piece of fish. Let’s just pretend that teriyaki has no salt and sugar in it.

Actually, let’s not. It’s amazing, amazing stuff. The recipe makes about twice as much as you will need, but I wouldn’t worry about it lounging in your refrigerator. You’ll find uses if there’s any left over.

I have been severely disappointed more than once by the lunch-sized teriyaki salmon bowls that are sold at one of our larger grocery chains. I keep hoping “this next one will be good.” But it never is. Leave them in the display case.

This recipe banished all my bad memories about teriyaki salmon. Give it a try. You’ll love it too.

I did this recipe a while ago, so my directions are for the oven, but if you’re grilling place the salmon on foil on your BBQ grate, brush the fish with the sauce and cook until done.

Mmmmm... teriyaki.

Best Teriyaki Sauce
Time: 10 min  |  Yield 1+ cup
1/2” fresh ginger, minced
1 large garlic clove, minced
3/4 cup water*
1/4 cup natural brewed soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar**
5 tbsp brown sugar, packed
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp cornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup water

Homemade Teriyaki with Salmon Bowl
Prep: 5 min  |  Cook: 20-25 min  |  Serves 4
4 salmon portions
sushi rice for 4 (2 cups raw)
teriyaki sauce, recipe below
1 medium carrot, cut into matchsticks
1/2 green pepper, thinly sliced and chopped
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
nanami togarashi (assorted chilli pepper topping)*

Preheat the oven to 375°F (or fire up the grill). While the oven is heating make the teriyaki sauce.

Peel and mince both the garlic and ginger. Place in a small saucepan with the water, soy, rice vinegar, brown sugar and honey.

Mix the cornstarch and water together and stir in to the pot. Bring the mixture to a boli, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 4-5 minutes, Until very glossy and thickened.

Any leftover teriyaki can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.

Place the salmon portions on foil in a rimmed baking dish. Generously paint the top of each fillet with teriyaki. Sprinkle the top with salt and pepper.

Bake in the oven for 15 minutes for every inch of thickness.

While the fish is baking, prepare the sushi rice and chop the carrot, green pepper and green onions. To make very thin pieces of carrot and green pepper use a mandolin. Then chop into strips.

To serve, divide the hot rice among four bowls. Add some chopped carrot, green pepper and green onion and sprinkle well with the nanami togarashi.

Top with the salmon and drizzle more teriyaki sauce, if desired. (Give in to desire...)

* For an interesting variation, try substituting the water for either orange or pineapple juice.

** If you don't have rice vinegar substitute 2 tbsp cider vinegar mixed with 2 tbsp water.


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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Claiming A Hillside Micro-climate

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need. – Marcus Tullius Cicero 

One level of terracing completed. The other(s) may have to wait until next year.
Our Scarborough Fair herb lineup: parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, plus others.

We don’t have much room here in the country. Since we want to grow as much of our own food as we can we need to be a little clever.

One of the best areas we have is on the north side of the house. It is almost completely free of shade and since the driveway goes down that side to the garage it is less used than the south side yard.

A but gloomy looking because it was raining. Nice and bright
when the sun is out.
One part of it we planted about three weeks ago when we removed a very overgrown rose. Luckily the rose had killed everything underneath it. Unluckily we had to dig the rose root out. But we did and planted a cheek-by-jowl garden. 

It’s coming up quite well. We have beans (green and purple), peas (sugar and regular), purple and regular carrots, corn, chard, salad mix, beets and squash (spaghetti and buttercup). It’s fenced in so hopefully will be protected from the deer.

Besides the far side yard, the other area that we have that’s sunny is a small hill. In the spring we had used it to burn old wood and some other items we should have gotten rid of quite some time ago. So it was fairly bare to start and begging for green.

There’s two ways to plant on a hill. You can either plough it and plant rows, or if you’re into a little extra work, you can terrace it. The soil you take from the incline fills in the terraced parts. Just make sure you improve it with manure or other fertilizer.

The clay pots came with us from the city. They
were unsuccessfully used in there. Just not enough sun...
We chose the terracing and started yesterday. We (my spouse actually) were able to put in one tier thanks to a very large piece of wood we had on hand. At least one more is in the works, probably for next year. 

The reason one would chose terrace over rows has a lot to do with what you want to plant.

If located in the right area, a hillside can be a micro-climate, giving you the potential for a half a USDA zone increase, or even a full zone, from the rest of your yard. Our hill faces north, but has sun through most of the day. 

It’s also sheltered. The sheltering is what’s important for those plants that may need a little more special care and warmth. It’s an ideal place for herbs that overwinter outside in Nova Scotia.

We have several Mediterranean herbs that do so in Nova Scotia. Among them are sage, oregano and thyme. If they like where you plant them they will get quite large. Lavender would be another good choice, but has minimal culinary use. (Good in liqueur, though.)

Rosemary, although usually only an annual here, benefits from the additional shelter a terraced hillside offers. We are going to try to protect it over winter, although a new plant next year will only cost about $4.00. I’ve heard it may be possible. Nothing ventured, nothing gained...

Some other herbs that we put in our terrace are chives (thanks to a dear friend), mint (thanks again), basil, parsley, Italian parsley and dill. They will all be happy in a warm place. We also put in tomatoes (always heat lovers), lettuce, cucumbers, eggplant and bok choy.

All were purchased as plants, so the late-ish date won’t put anything behind as far as harvesting. We filled in some areas with seeds. We'll see how that goes.

It will be interesting to see how the creation of a micro-climate changes the speed of growth. Just 20 feet away we have tomatoes as well, so they can be our yardstick.

If you have hilly property with sun and want a garden, be it vegetable or flower, think about terracing. Our is just small scale, but a step in the direction of self sufficiency. Hopefully it will give us the boost we need to grow those more challenging plants that like it a little warmer.

We may try a watermelon or two, although they probably won't get very big. At the very least I am looking forward to having hardy herbs for many years to come.

This is our other garden. Everything is growing. It's a good feeling.

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Donair Sausages & Crusty Buns

Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut. – Ernest Hemingway 

Have lots of napkins on hand.

I have three recipes that receive significant hits on this blog every single day:

My original recipe for donair meat is one from It links to “Dash Rip Rock’s” Halifax Donair meat. It’s pretty good and darned close to what one gets on drunken escapades in Halifax.

They say you haven’t partied in Halifax until you wake up the next morning with donair sauce down the front of your shirt. Dirty ashtrays, stale beer and donair sauce are the signature odours of a good time had by all... Luckily for me those days have passed.

These taste like the best donair meat...
Of course you don’t need a “foggy” Halifax night to enjoy a donair. I love them. And you don't have to be drunk to get donair sauce all over yourself. They're a messy venture.

Donair is a highly spiced Middle Eastern meat mixture that is absolutely delicious. It is spit roasted in pizza shops, sliced and served with a special sweet, garlicky sauce, tomatoes and onions wrapped in pita.

Donair is usually uncased, but to make sausages you have to stuff them. Unfortunately the most common sausage casing is pork. This makes them not quite such a Middle Eastern delight as consuming pork is not allowed.

The benefit of sausage is that they’re easy to put on the barbecue, or do in a pan on the stove at home. There are artificial casings available (plus lamb casings – expensive), so of you have Muslim or Jewish friends search them out.

I did have some issues with the original recipe. It contained no lamb and I found it a little lacking in spice. I like my donair meat on the spicy side. This recipe fixes that issue.

If you don’t want to stuff casings, you can shape the mixture into a loaf and bake it. Then slice and you’re on your way.

I'm including the recipe for a classic Halifax donair sauce, as well as one for sausage buns. Nice buns with a crusty exterior and soft interior.

Donair Sausages
Makes 8 sausages, 8” long
 400g lean beef
400g lamb
125 g beef suet (fat)
3 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
1-1/2 tsp salt
1-1/2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

diced tomato
diced yellow onion

Donair sauce
370 ml can evaporated milk, chilled
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp garlic powder
1-3 tbsp vinegar (see directions)

Sausage buns (makes 6)
3 cups flour
1-1/4 cups water, warm (110°F)
3/4 tsp yeast
3/4 tsp salt

Start the buns first
Mix together all the ingredients together in a bowl and then knead briefly to incorporate everything well. 

Grease the bowl with a little olive oil and then place the dough back in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel. Let rise for 3 hours in a warm spot, but out of the direct sun, until doubled. Alternatively, you can proof the yeast, mix in the flour and salt and let rise for  about 1.5 to 2 hours.

Once risen, punch down, knead for 2 minutes and divide into 6 equal pieces. Roll each one into a log about 6-7” long. Place on a floured baking sheet and let rise again for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place a pan of water on the bottom rack. Once the buns have risen again, slit the middle of the tops along the length. Bake for 25 minutes until golden brown, removing the water pan 10 minutes into the baking time.

Make the donair sauce
Place the chilled (important) evaporated milk in a plastic, glass or ceramic bowl (not metal). Mix in the sugar and garlic powder.

Stirring painfully slowly, add vinegar very slowly. The mixture will thicken. If you stir too fast the mixture won’t thicken and if you add the vinegar too fast it won’t thicken. Once thickened, chill the sauce.

This is tricky business. I had to make it 3 times, because I was impatient.

Make the sausage
To make the sausage, cube the fat and meat into 1” pieces. Grind with the coarse plate of your grinder. Add the remaining ingredients and knead together with your hands.

Stuff the sausage into casings and twist into 8” links.

To cook, cut the sausages apart, and place into a frying pan with a little water and oil. Bring to a boil. As the water boils the sausage cooks. Make sure to flip the sausage, and pierce them with a fork a few times. Once the water evaporates, the sausages will brown.


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Monday, May 27, 2013

How to make Moroccan Merguez (Sausage)

A donkey laden with books is neither an intellectual nor a wise man, for it is said that however much one studies one cannot know without action. – Berber saying

What did you do on Friday night? Me? I made homemade sausage.

Sounds a bit boring to most folks I would presume. But not to me. It actually was quite exciting because it was only the second time I got to use my sausage stuffer. To each his own.

For me, waking up to a plate of fresh sausage is way better than waking up with a hangover. Call me old. I don’t care. I say it’s more a case of priorities.

2 lbs makes 8 sausage.
These sausages are more than a little  interesting too. They are Moroccan, which means they have loads of flavours we usually don’t find in sausage – cumin and coriander being two.

The word “merguez” is most probably from a Berber word (amargez) for pie. The Berbers are from North Africa. It is a common sausage in Morocco as well as the Middle East. Today the word means “sausage” so it’s a little repetitive saying merguez sausage. Merguez are often used in tagines or simply cooked and served with couscous.

As you would expect from being popular in Muslim countries, they contain no pork. They can be made from lamb with lamb fat, beef with beef fat, or a combination of the two.

Because they contain smoked paprika and cayenne, the colour is quite dark. And they have a spicy kick as well. They are quite popular around the world now, and if I remember correctly you can purchase them fresh at Pete’s Frootique in Halifax.

If you have never made your own sausage, either in links or for patties, you should try it at least once. You don’t need a meat grinder, although it does help. Before I purchased mine I “ground” the meat in a food processor. The consistency is a little different, but not much.

Merguez Pizza
A simple Google search for "merguez"  brought up many recipes that call for its use, and of those many used just the meat – unstuffed. One recipe I found was a simple pizza that had the cooked, sliced sausage, onion, ricotta, a little tomato sauce, rosemary and spinach. It was a very tasty pizza. That was part of Saturday evening dinner. It really wasn't anything more than that.

Homemade = Gluten free
The following never really occurred to me before: making your own is a great way to ensure you are eating gluten-free sausage. It sounds strange to say gluten-free sausage, but it’s true. Many commercial sausages use wheat (often bread) as a filler. If you make your own you know exactly what goes into them.

The same holds true for the much maligned hot dog. It’s said that you never know what has been ground into the mix. Some more “unsavoury” pieces of meat are often touted out as possible ingredients. I won’t outline them here.

Frankfurters are on my list to make this year. I’ll let you know how they go.

In the meantime, if you want to try your hand at this highly spiced, delicious sausage, here’s the recipe!

I don’t list a time to make these. It all depends if you’re stuffing or not. To grind and mix the meat is only about 20 minutes.

Moroccan Merguez (Sausage)
8 links, 6” long
1.5 lb beef roast (a cut with some fat in the meat is best) 
1/2 lb ground beef fat (suet)
6 cloves garlic, chopped 
2 tbsp smoked paprika 
1 tbsp brown sugar
3 tsp dried coriander leaf 
3 tsp ground fennel seed 
3 tsp ground cumin
3 tsp salt
2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp black pepper 
4’ sausage casing, optional

Cube the beef and fat into 1” pieces. If using suet, it usually comes pre-ground. If not pre-ground, cut it as well. Grind the meat into a bowl using the coarse plate on your grinder.

Add the remaining ingredients (except for the casings) and knead well to distribute the spices evenly.

Shape as desired or stuff into sausage casings and twist into individual links. Alternatively, if barbecuing you can leave as one whole link. Coil the sausage and pierce with a skewer to maintain its shape then barbecue whole and slice.

If making sausages, twist into links about 6” long. You will have 8 links. Let the links sit for at least 1 hour for the flavours to fully develop.

The sausages can be refrigerated for 1 week or frozen for several months.


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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Sandwich “French” Loaf

All things are difficult before they are easy. – Thomas Fuller 

Here’s just a quickie for a Sunday morning. It’s another bread recipe. I have yet to buy a loaf of bread at the store, and it’s getting on three months we’ve been in the country.

I am finding in the country that a more functional shape of bread makes most sense, unless you’re having company. By “functional” I mean sandwich loaf-shaped.

Beautiful bread brought fresh to the table is a marvellous thing, but sometimes you have to be practical. There’s only two of us here so a loaf has to have more uses than one meal.

That’s where sandwich-shape comes in. It fits neatly into the toaster for morning breakfasts as well as to make sandwiches.

But I hate the thought of giving up on tasty bread. A fresh loaf is delicious, no matter what kind, but I wanted to see what would happen if I used a classic French bread recipe as a loaf. I love the flavour of baguette.

So that’s what I did. It actually worked quite well. The crumb is quite similar, and it has some holes.

My method of overnight raising is a godsend. It takes practically all of the work out of bread making, and all but 2 minutes of kneading. It’s really easy.

If you’re of a mind to have fresh bread on the weekend, why not try this recipe this coming Friday night? In the morning you’re all ready to go. In about an hour or so after waking up you’ll have fresh bread from the oven!

Sandwich “French” Loaf
Prep: overnight  |  Bake: 30-35 min  |  Yield: 1 loaf
4 cups unbleached flour
2 cups warm water (110°F max)
1 tbsp yeast
1 tsp salt

Combine the four ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Then knead briefly until all of the flour is incorporated from the bottom of the bowl.

It will be sticky.

Cover with plastic wrap (or place the whole bowl in a plastic grocery bag and tie), place a towel on top and let rest on the counter overnight.

In the morning punch the dough down, knead for 2 minutes and place in a well buttered 5” x 9” oven-proof baking pan.

Let rise for about 45 minutes until doubled. While it is rising preheat the oven to 425°F with a pan of water on the bottom rack.

Bake the loaf for 10 minutes, remove the water and then bake for an additional 20-25 minutes. The loaf will be hard on top and sound hollow when tapped.

Remove from the oven, take out of the pan and let cool.


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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Flowering Almond (Prunus glandulosa)

If you find it in your heart to care for somebody else, you will have succeeded. – Maya Angelou 

I thought today I would show you a shrub we just recently cut out of some overgrowth of wild rose and choke cherry trees. Plants, like people, need love and tending to reach full potential. This one was desperate for some TLC.

It’s an understatement that we had let things go down here in the country. Before the move I was only ever down here every other weekend and most of that time was spent mowing the lawns. So there was little time to keep border shrubs cleared out.

That has changed. We were lucky that this little shrub is so darn tough. It fought off encroachment for literally decades. Of course (by the title of this post) I’m writing about Flowering Almond.

This bush belonged to my Great Aunts Hilda and Nettie and I can remember it being quite spectacular when I was young. So it’s been here for quite a long time, possibly 40 years or so.

Flowering Almond is a small deciduous, multi-stemmed  shrub that bears spectacular, if small at about 3/4" wide, rosy pink flowers during May in our garden. There are a few varieties, including ones that set fruit, but the double flowered cultivars do not.

That’s what we have. Double flowering almond grow in USDA Zones 4 through 8 or 9, so that’s a fair range. They usually grow to only 4-5 feet high with a spread of 3-4 feet.

The flowers are borne tight to the stock just as the leaves are starting to emerge. Coincidentally, they flower just as the forsythia if finishing its blooming cycle. That’s good to keep in mind.

Unfortunately the blossoms have little to no scent, so unlike Mock Orange there’s not real benefit to planting it close enough to the house so you can bend down and enjoy the scent. But it is enough to be able to enjoy the flowers. They are quite beautiful.

The scientific name is Prunus glandulosa. Prunus is the family of plants that include plums, cherries, peaches, apricots, nectarines and almonds. In other words, the “stone fruits.”

Flowering almond likes the sun and fairly moist soil, but does not like to have its roots constantly wet. I have read that it is a short-lived bush, starting to decline in about 10 years, but we have a plant that makes me seriously doubt that fact.

It is tolerant of urban growing conditions and some drought. But like all plants don’t push it. Since it is multi-stemmed after a while it can begin to look a little “unkempt” after a while, so perhaps it is better at the edge of property.

This shrub benefits to being cut back slightly after flowering. This will encourage new growth, which we need.

Our bush has responded quite well to being cleared out and I look forward to trying to nurse it back to the shrub I remember from my youth.

Fingers crossed. In the meantime, we will enjoy the blossoms it has graced us with this year.

Since they’re a little uncommon, i you can find one at a garden centre I would strongly suggest you buy it. You won’t be disappointed.


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Friday, May 24, 2013

Old-fashioned Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie

And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down. Without the rain, there would be no rainbow. – Gilbert K. Chesterton 

Word to the wise: I cut 6 slits in the top. It's neater to cut along them,
so if you want 8 slices, make 8 slits.

This weekend is supposed to be a weather write-off. So why not take a quick pop out to the grocery store and stay inside and make a pie?

There’s nothing quite as tasty as strawberry-rhubarb pie. I just wish that strawberries were available locally at the same time as rhubarb. Our rhubarb patch out back is doing quite nicely this year.

This is a friend's patch. Ours is somewhat smaller.
You should be able to find rhubarb in the grocery store now, if not very soon. It is one of the first “local grown” crops to come onto market every spring and is loved (or hated) by many. Let’s face it – rhubarb is tart. Some like it, some don’t.

A favourite way to enjoy rhubarb is to therefore combine it with other fruits that are sweeter. Although there are many that could be chosen, the most common pairing is strawberries. This is even though local strawberries don’t become available until the last week of June.

Thank goodness for imports (I guess). That’s what I used to make this pie. Oddly enough, many of the USA grown strawberries are from Nova Scotian plants. The Annapolis Valley is a major exporter.

Strawberries aren’t a problem, but the amount of rhubarb can be. By that I mean too much, not too little. If you have a patch of your own, you probably have much more than you can reasonably use.

So the thing is to preserve it for later. I find the best way is to chop fresh stalks into 1” pieces. This is the size you would use for a pie filling and many other recipes. Then blanch the pieces in boiling water for about 1-1/2 to 2 minutes – with no salt. Then simply drain, bag and freeze.

To harvest, simply pull the stalks and break off the leaf.
If you deal with your over abundance of rhubarb in this way you can have the next best thing to fresh any time of the year!

For those who don’t know, here’s some important information. Rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid which is poisonous. You would have to eat quite a lot of the leaves to die (about 5kg), but even a little will give you quite an upset well before that level is reached. The stalks also have some oxalic acid, but far less than the leaves. So never eat rhubarb leaves.

I pride myself on my pie crust. Sometimes I have a dud, but most times it’s flaky and pretty good (if I do say so myself). The trick is to just bring the dough together and not maul it until it's smooth. Rough dough is flaky dough. I learned from my dad, who was impatient in making his crust. It always came out well.

This crust recipe is a keeper. The addition of the egg and vinegar may have had something to do with it, but I mostly blame it on using lard, as opposed to shortening. You can substitute vegetable shortening if you must… but try the lard.

Crust goeth before a fall. Or is that pride...?
Old-fashioned Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie
Prep: 30 min  | Bake: 40-50 minutes

Crust: Prep: 15 min
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional flour for rolling 
1 tbsp sugar
2/3 cup lard
1/2 tsp salt 
2 teaspoons vinegar 
1/4 cup ice cold water

Filling: Prep: 15 min
3 beaten eggs 
1 cup sugar 
1/4 cup enriched flour  + 1 tbsp
1/4 teaspoon salt 
1 tsp cinnamon
This is one of my favourite pies, plus apple, blueberry,
custard, cherry, chocolate...
1 tsp lemon zest
2 1/2 cups 1-inch slices rhubarb 
2 1/2 cups sliced fresh strawberries 
Pastry for 9-inch lattice top pie 

Make the crust by cutting the lard into the flour/sugar/salt until the size of small peas. Mix together the vinegar, egg and water. Stir into the dough until just combined. 

Do NOT force it together. It needs to be ragged. Any additional flour left in the bowl ca be incorporated by using it on your board to roll out the crust. 

Chill until ready to use.

Combine eggs, sugar flour, salt, cinnamon and lemon rind and mix well. Chop and toss the rhubarb and strawberries together. 

Line a 9” pie plate with half of the rolled pastry. Do not trim the edges. Fill with the cut fruit. Pour egg mixture over the top. 

Top with the remaining crust. Trim both top and bottom doughs about 1/2-34" out past the plate rim. Fold both in under the inner edge of the plate. Pinch together, crimping the edge. Cut several vents in the top.* 

Bake in a preheated 400°F oven for between 40-50 minutes. 

Let cool slightly before serving to allow the filling to set. Vanilla ice cream goes very well with a slice.

HINT: I cut six vents in the top of this pie. I found it very easy to cut along the vents to serve and the crust didn't break apart or collapse. Six vents equaled six slices. If you wish, cut 8 vents and divide the pie into that many pieces. This is a trick I will be using a lot in the future!


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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Dandelion Pesto Eggplant Parmigiana

People think that I must be a very strange person. This is not correct. I have the heart of a small boy. It is in a glass jar on my desk. – Stephen King 

The time has come to talk of strange foraging. Not so much for the eggplant, but the other star of this dish. Yes, you can make pesto out of dandelion greens. 

Anyone can see the dandelions are up in full force, coming at us in battalions. With the weather supposedly rainy until Tuesday (you heard me right) they will be plentiful come the next sunny day. As I have said in the past, if you can’t defeat your enemies, eat them.

I have threatened to make this pesto before so I thought since the wild beasts are at my door the time had come. Just make sure you always harvest from an unpolluted spot. That's kind of key for any foraging, don't you think?

No, pesto isn't just basil
Pesto is usually made with basil, but many versions with some weird and wild greens are cropping up (pardon the pun). Some aren’t even green, for example sun-dried tomato pesto. 

Now before we go down the road of "pesto's only ever basil" the history behind the word is that it is from the Italian pestare, the meaning of which is to pound or crush. So it’s more about the method of preparation than classic ingredients.

What makes basil pesto the classic is that basil has a wonderful, almost sharp taste when used in volume. It’s not at all like what you may think. That’s what to look for in substitutes – that sharpness. If you can find a suitable replacement you’re on your way.

I have made pesto from cilantro and kale in the past. The kale pesto was a little unexpectedly delicious, but it shouldn’t have been. Kale leaves are very strong flavoured.

The same is true of dandelion greens. They do not taste like dandelion stems (if you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to taste one); they taste sort of peppery. 

Your task, if you accept it, is to go outside and find a clean dandelion leaf and eat a bit of it. You’ll then understand what I mean.

To the "Back 40"!
So off the the back yard I went, plastic bag in hand. I gathered a fair bunch rather quickly. Now is the time to harvest them since the leaves are still quite young. They grow stronger in flavour the older they get. 

I have actually never gotten around to harvesting very young leaves before and I noticed something interesting. Each leaf had a dark red vein on the ridge. This made for a darker than usual coloured pesto when puréed. But each pesto other than basil does have its own distinct hue.

Making pesto is a breeze, and it’s fun. All you need is a food processor. From there it takes mere minutes. 

If you’re venturing away from basil, your second consideration will be the nuts. Basil pesto uses pine nuts. Let’s all say it together: “They’re expensive!” I have used almonds, walnuts, and in this recipe cashews. I wanted the cashews for their richness.

We had a vegetarian friend from the city for the long weekend and it was up to me to prepare dinner for when she and my spouse arrived home. One of my favourite vegetarian dishes is eggplant parmigiana. I now have found a way to bump it up a notch.

The whole recipe itself is actually quite easy. If you can use a food processor, slice eggplant and open a jar of sauce you can make this dish.

All in all, if you’re looking for something that tastes great but is definitely out of the ordinary you’ve found it here. Also, the dandelion being free doesn’t hurt either.

Dandelion Pesto Eggplant Parmigiana
Prep: 30 min  |  Bake: 35 min  |  Serves 4
2 tbspolive oil
1 large eggplant
2 cups your favourite pasta sauce
linguine for 4
1 cup mozzarella
the pesto
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tbsp lemon peel
4-5 cups fresh dandelion greens, washed and chopped
1 cup unsalted cashews pieces
about 1/2 cup olive oil (see recipe)
1/2 cup grated parmesan
salt and pepper to taste

Slice the eggplant in 3/4” slices. Season with salt and pepper.

Fry the eggplant in batches in the 2 tbsp of olive oil until browned. It will soak up quite a lot so add more if necessary. Place in a 9x13 baking dish, in one layer.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

To make the pesto, place the garlic cloves, lemon peel and cashews in a food processor. Add the dandelion greens about a cup at a time, puréeing between additions.

Once all the dandelion greens have been added, slowly start to pour olive oil into the mixture while the motor is running. Use enough so the pesto moves smoothly in the bowl – but don’t make it a runny liquid. It needs to be slightly thick.

Add the grated parmesan and pulse to combine. Taste for salt and pepper and add as desired.

Place some pesto on top of each eggplant slice. You can freeze the remaining pesto, or refrigerate for 1 week. You will have leftover.

Then pour over the tomato sauce. Sprinkle the top with the mozzarella and bake until golden and bubbly, about 30 minutes.

Serve on top of hot linguine, with grated parmesan at the table.


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