Monday, September 30, 2013

Dining in Halifax drove me to Anchovies

Just sit right back, And you'll hear a tale, A tale of a fateful trip, That started from this tropic port, Aboard this tiny ship. (if you’re of a certain age you know what that is.)

The solution to bad dining experiences in Halifax.

Or, as I like to call it, "the reason you take your chances when boarding the ferry in Dartmouth to dine out in Halifax."

When I visit my spouse at college we try to pack as much activity and enjoyment into 2 days as possible. We’re kind of “dating” again, which is really nice. Of course an important part of the whole process is eating.

One restaurant that we thoroughly enjoyed was Bistro Le Coq, a French restaurant on Argyle Street. Loved, loved, loved it. We had exceptionally good luck dining for the month of September, except for this weekend. It was an unmitigated disaster.

It all started on Friday night when three of us went out to eat. You know the phrase: “you can never go home again.” Well, you can never go back to your favourite bar again, either. I’m talking the Economy Shoe Shop. You used to be able to set the Town Clock by our arrival.

I always loved their nachos, and Marty always knew when to come by to see if you were “ready for another.” You used to get good food and friendly service there. We received neither. If I could have left a negative tip I would have.

The food, significantly more than sub-par, was expensive for what you received (not like before) and our waiter spoke so fast you could hardly understand what he was saying. The food was so bad that we ended up going to The Old Triangle for something else to eat to get the taste out of our mouths. 

Let me elucidate. The nachos were a mess – undercooked, cheap tasting cheese, too few actual chips, served with salsa that probably was from a jar. Enough said there. Easy to understand. 

We also had the Build-a-Board Antipasti. It starts at $3. It is “an assortment of artisan breads, house made chutneys and pickled onions.” You can add fresh fruit, olives and sun-dried tomatoes for $6. Additionally you can add cheese, cured meat and smoked salmon for $8 more.

We shot the works for $17. What did we get?The "assortment of artisan breads" was slices of dried, round bread. No “assortment,” unless they meant "more than one piece"...

The house-made chutneys consisted of blueberry and peach. You could tell blueberry season just ended. There was three times as much of it as the peach. The peaches had to have come from a can. A cheap can. Both chutneys were overbearingly cinnamon-y. At the time I said that they tasted like the inside of Cricket on the Hearth smells – Christmassy. And not in a good way.

The $6 addition consisted of 7-8 olives, around a dozen blueberries (a small assortment plate where the same ingredient is used twice?!?), four wafers of pear and 3 sun-dried tomato halves. 

But it gets better. For $8 extra, you get 3 small triangles of herbed havarti, two rolls of some sort of packaged sliced Italian meat and two pieces of smoked salmon.

Seriously? Not a good experience and one I will never repeat.


Saturday night wasn’t any better. A couple weeks before we tried to dine at The Bicycle Thief, a trendy restaurant on the waterfront, but couldn’t because they were too busy. That's a good sign, so we tried again.

I can’t comment on the food, or wine, because we received neither. We were seated at the bar, which usually isn’t too awful an experience. But their bar was cramped – four chairs in a 5 foot space. We received menus and a wine list. But then we were completely forgotten. 

Should have put on six anchovies.
We waited a full 15 minutes and no one even so much as came by to ask us if we would like something to drink. The busy bar staff assiduously avoided eye contact with all of us sitting at the bar.

That’s a real shame, because I had my eye on a $90 bottle of wine. We could have dropped $200 on dinner easily. I was hungry.

But after 15 minutes we picked up our coats and left. I don’t even think anyone said “thank you” or “see you again” when we exited. We could have been there eating for hours for all they knew...


Next stop, Pipa, a new-ish Portuguese restaurant on Argyle Street. Once again we waited and waited and waited and waited for someone to take our order. There were probably 12 patrons in the whole place. What gives? Are people incompetent, lazy or a combination of both?

But since we were exceptionally hungry we decided to order. Our server informed us they had very little red wine (in contrast to several on the wine list). So we opted for a Portuguese beer. There were two on the menu. They had neither.

Saturday night, in September – cruise ship time, and you have hardly any wine and no signature beer? I bet if we had ordered the Feijoada - their "Brazil's national Dish" (served only on weekends) they wouldn’t have had that either. So we showed our displeasure with the soles of our shoes.


By this time we were pretty weary of poor service in Halifax’s finest dining establishments, but we made it to one last place: Baton Rouge.

As you can imagine our annoyance and disgust was almost palpable. We escorted to a (dirty) table, and when we asked for a clean one our second option was dirty as well. But by this time we weren’t even in the mood to eat. So we went back across via the ferry without so much as a crust of bread to show for our effort.

Saturday night left a metaphorical bad taste in our mouths, and Friday night a literal one.

The moral of this fateful trip? I have no idea, but writing about it certainly was cathartic. I guess, if anything, be careful of where you choose to dine in Halifax if you like your food “good” or “in a reasonable amount of time.” 

And if the entire population of Halifax thinks somewhere is good, then it’s probably not. It’s just trendy. This I know from past, as well as this weekend’s, experience.

So I’m in the mood for some real food, and for me that's anchovies. Lots of anchovies. I’m going to fry me a sandwich. 

This recipe is actually an Italian classic. It will be the first decent food I’ve had since Thursday.

Fried Mozzarella & Anchovy Sandwich
Time: about 10 min  |  Makes 1 really good sandwich
2 thick slices of sturdy bread
1 cm thick slice of mozzarella, about 150g
anchovy filets, to taste
torn oregano leaves
sprinkle of pepper
1/4 cup milk
1 egg
flour, mixed with salt and pepper
olive oil for frying

Place the mozzarella on the face of one slice of bread. Lay as many anchovy filets as you wish on top of the cheese. Then add the oregano and some black pepper. Close the sandwich up.

Heat a good amount of olive oil (1/4” deep) in a small skillet until it is fragrant. Reduce the heat to medium.

Take two plates. Mix the milk and egg together on one; the flour, salt and pepper on another. Dip the sandwich in the egg mixture, letting it soak a little and coating both sides well. Then dredge in the flour.

Place the sandwich in the hot oil and let it cook until the cheese has softened and the bread is deliciously crunchy and brown on both sides.

Remove from the heat, hide in a corner, snarl and devour it.


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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Sweet Apricot, Pepita and Flax Bread

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything. – George Bernard Shaw 

Lots of progress and change going on here recently – in many facets of life. It seems one hurdle is just vaulted and another one rises in front of you. The vicissitudes of life...

Last Friday it was a new furnace; the week before a new roof shingle job; a month before a new drilled well. Today it's a front door.

The door was needed. We had an attempted break-in before we were living here daily. They smashed the front glass but couldn’t get in. Bastards. I "patched it with plexiglass. Quite inelegant.

Although it was a nice heavy wooden door, the old glass was single pane so wasn’t very energy efficient. So in goes a vented steel door with argon glass. Should not only make the front look nicer but save on heating costs. Sweet.

But what does that have to do with bread? Nothing, really. But man cannot live by doors alone. We do need bread – especially for those quick snacks. My spouse at college needs bread, too (even though he may not totally agree) – as well as his “landlady,” a good friend.

So baking I did. Two loaves. One for the chef and one to help out. This one’s not your run-of-the-mill loaf. It’s packed full of apricots, pumpkin seeds and flax, so hopefully it is a little healthy, too.

I love my no-kneading breads. They do take time (a day, or overnight) but dovetail easily with a busy schedule, much like mine recently.

Of course the pepita and flax can be changed. Try walnuts or any other rough chopped nut, or quinoa, or whatever. Variations are endless.

For added sweetness I used molasses, but honey could be substituted, too.

If you’re looking for a slightly sturdy loaf (most with fruit are) this is one you should try. It was quite delicious, still warm, and slathered with butter!

Sweet Apricot, Pepita and Flax Bread
Prep: 10 min  |  Rise: 8 hrs  |  Bake: 30 min  |  2 loaves
5 cups flour
2-1/4 cups water, 110°F
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup shelled pumpkin seeds, unsalted
1/2 cup flax seeds
1/4 cup molasses
1 tbsp yeast
1 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients in a large ceramic bowl. Knead to bring together and then knead in the bowl for an additional 3 minutes.

Cover with plastic wrap and a tea towel. Let rise on the counter for 8 hours.

Once risen, punch down and divide in two. Fold each piece with your hands into two logs, each able to fit in a 4x8 buttered bread pan. You may need to use a little flour to do this.

Place the loaves in the pans, dust with flour and let rise again until doubled.

Preheat the oven to 450°F with a pan of water on the bottom rack. Bake the loaves for 10 minutes with the water bath, then remove the water and bake for an additional 20-25 minutes.

The loaves are done when nicely browned on top and sound hollow when tapped with your fingers.

Remove from the pans and let cool on a wire rack.


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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Garlic & Olive Sausage with Penne

Autumn wins you best by this, its mute appeal to sympathy for its decay. – Robert Browning 

Garlicky sausage in a delicate cream tomato sauce.

I just realized I’ve published two garlic-inspired recipes in a row. It’s not that I’m medicating myself with garlic. It just worked out that way. The buffalo wings posted last time were actually barbecued a month ago.

That was during summer. It most definitely isn’t summer today. It’s 14°C outside, in late afternoon. I know it’s nothing to complain about, but when compared to the high 20s of the last several days it’s quite a difference.

You can feel fall in the air, and see it beside the roads as the maple leaves change from green to reds, oranges and yellows. It’s definitely coming. I guess my entreaties didn’t work in the least.

So what can you do? Well, in short, nothing – at least about the weather. But your food certainly can change, and should.

Fall opens up a whole host of bone- and soul-warming recipes for the kitchen. They’re the kind that were just too darned hot to make during the full heat of summer. Delicious, deep braises, or heady rich sauces, all screaming to be accompanied by starch-heavy sides like pasta, crusty bread and potatoes.

This one’s no exception. I was going to cheat today and only give you the sausage recipe. It’s the star of today's post. But that wouldn’t be very nice of me would it. So it follows.

When I say star, I actually mean despot, in a good way. There’s enough garlic in here to knock a vampire from the sky. I know I have used more in other recipes but that can be a really good thing. 

Perhaps because the substantial amount of garlic is finely minced as opposed to chopped. Less air pockets, more garlic.

This sausage recipe will perk up any dish you add it to. I didn’t even bother to stuff casings with this one. I opted to use it loose. Oft times you purchase sausages and then remove the casings, so I just skipped an unnecessary step.

If you purchase ground pork this recipe is a real breeze. At the most you will have to “grind” the fat. Use a food processor. It is fast and efficient.

“Serve with friends.” That way no one notices the garlic breath.

Garlic & Olive Sausage
Prep: 10 min  |  Yield: 1 kg sausage
2 lbs pork, ground or cubed meat
200g salted pork fat back, ground
1/4 cup black olive slices, finely chopped or ground
1 tbsp + 2 tsp finely minced garlic
1 tsp fennel seed
1 tsp oregano, dried
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1 tsp salt

If not purchased ground, grind the pork and pork fat. You can use a food processor to pulse both to a ground texture. It’s faster and easier than getting out the grinder attachment.

Mix all together and knead with your hands until everything is very well incorporated. Chill for at least 1 hour before use. 

The mixture can be stuffed into casings, flattened into patties or used loose. Can also be frozen.

Tomato Cream Sauce
Time: about 15 minutes  |  Serves 4
4 cups cooked penne
1 lb sausage meat, in chunks
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion
5 plum tomatoes, sliced into rings
3/4 cup 32% whipping cream
3 cups chopped Swiss chard
1 tsp dried oregano
3/4 tsp cracked black pepper
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
parmesan for at the table

Cook the pasta while you make the sauce.

Sauté the onion and tomatoes in the oil until the tomatoes break down. Then add the sausage and cook until no longer pink. (It won’t brown with the tomato already in the pot.)

Add the cream, chopped chard, oregano, pepper and salt. Cover, reduce heat and cook until the sauce is slightly reduced and the chard is wilted. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust.

Drain the pasta, toss with the sauce and serve. Grate fresh parmesan on top at the table.


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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Garlicky Buffalo Chicken Wings

You can never have enough garlic. With enough garlic, you can eat The New York Times. – Morley Safer 

It’s pretty bad when the only chicken that is affordable is wings... It’s not that bad, but it does hurt to pay through the nose for other cuts. Thank goodness for the $5/6 thighs deals they have occasionally at one of our local groceries. But this day it was wings. I actually love them if they're done right.

On a different yet related note, there was an interesting festival at Avondale Sky Winery outside Windsor yesterday. A garlic festival. All things garlic, all day. Demonstrations, cooking, biggest garlic, etc, plus wine from local wineries. Hopefully, it will be an annual occurrence.

For those of you not familiar with Nova Scotia (in Canada), the winery is on the edge of our beautiful Annapolis Valley – a rich and diverse tourist mecca. Plan a vacation here. You won’t regret it. The whole province is a wonder.

I believe at one point I could smell the garlic in town, where I am visiting. (We’re 1 hour+ away from the winery.) Or maybe it was a restaurant we walked past... Whatever the source, it made me hungry for garlic!

Regardless, garlic has to be one of my all-time favourite flavours. For those of you who think they shouldn’t eat garlic when having company, dismiss the thought. No one notices if everyone is eating it...

This recipe is a double whammy of garlic. Lots in the marinade and enough in the dipping sauce to keep vampires away for weeks.

You will have dipping sauce left over. Don’t worry about it. It’s great on a tossed spinach and tomato salad, or any other way you can dream up. It would be perfect as a sauce on thick, juicy steak.

So if you love garlic – or hate vampires – read on. Even though it is now fall, barbecue season is most definitely not over!

Garlicky Buffalo Chicken Wings
Prep: marinate 2 hours or overnight  |  Cook: 20 min
24 chicken wing pieces, chilled
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1-1/2 tsp chipotle pepper powder (or to taste)
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
Blue Cheese Dipping Sauce:
1 cup Danish blue cheese, crumbled
2/3 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3-4 garlic cloves
3 tsp Worcestershire sauce
milk (see recipe)
salt and pepper, to taste

Combine marinade ingredients together and mix well. Place chicken wings in a large resealable bag. Pour marinade over top. Rub the marinade into them well and marinate on the counter for 2 hours, or overnight in the refrigerator. Longer won’t hurt them in the ‘fridge, but 2 hours max (using chilled chicken) on the counter.

For the blue cheese sauce, combine the blue cheese, sour cream, mayo, garlic and Worcestershire in a small blender. Add enough milk to give the sauce the consistency of you want. Add salt and pepper. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the barbecue. Remove the wings from marinade, reserving the liquid to use to baste. Barbecue the wings on medium-low, basting occasionally until done (about 10 minutes per side). Move the smaller wings to a cooler part of the barbecue if they finish cooking before the thicker “drums.”

If you're reading this in winter, don't despair. You can easily "barbecue" in your oven using the broiler. The trick is to place the wings on a rack sitting in a rimmed pan so the heat circulates all the way around. Use this trick for all your barbecue favourites when the snow is swirling outside.

Serve with the blue cheese sauce for dipping.


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Friday, September 20, 2013

Mongolian Beef

Fake is as old as the Eden tree. – Orson Welles 

This recipe is quite common in many Chinese/American restaurants. The only place it is not common (probably) is in Mongolia. This recipe has nothing to do with Mongolia. This is a fake.

But just because this is “fake” doesn’t mean it’s not good. As I typed that, I searched my mind for another example. But I couldn’t come up with one. Usually fake means cheap, knock-off tat. But this is tasty.

So perhaps rather than calling it fake, we should call it a misnomer. It’s got plenty of tasty Asian flavours, but it just has nothing to do with Mongolia, except for the beef. I guess it’s just supposed to elicit thoughts of "the exotic."

There’s lots of Chinese/American dishes like that. Any that are familiar with real Asian dishes know exactly what I am talking about. They’re the true exotics, to our taste.

So if you can get past the fact this isn't Mongolian, you’re good to go.

If you’re into tender slices of beef in a sweet/spicy sauce, then you’ll like this dish. 

The recipe makes enough for four, if you serve another side with it. If not, it can make a good meal for two, albeit not very well balanced from the healthy eating food groups... Make some veggies for with it.

At just a few minutes to cook, it’s a great way to have something on the table on a week night that’s not your standard fare.

The sauce ingredient looks long, but it’s all stuff you should have on hand. Except perhaps for the Hoisin. It’s essential. Go get some.

Mongolian Beef
Prep: 10 min  |  Cook: 10 min  |  Serves 4
1 lb beef steak, sliced thinly
1/4 cup cornstarch (to coat)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion
1/4 cup Thai basil
for the sauce
1 tbsp fresh ginger, diced
1 tbsp garlic, diced
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp Hoisin sauce
1 tsp dried crushed red chilli
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp cornstarch

Mix all the sauce ingredients together in a bowl and set aside.

Keep the beef in the refrigerator until ready to slice – or freeze briefly. It makes it easier to slice. Toss the beef with the cornstarch to coat well.

Chop the onion into large pieces.

Heat the oil in a wok. Fry the beef slices in two batches until just barely cooked through. Remove to a bowl. Add more oil if necessary.

Fry the onion until it begins to soften. Then add the sauce and let cook until it begins to thicken. Then add the beef and let cook for a minute or two. Finally, stir in the basil.

Serve on hot cooked white rice.


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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Pulling a leg – Blanquette du Poulet

I'm a practitioner of elegant frugality. I don't feel comfortable telling other people what to do, so I just try and lead by example. – Amory Lovins 

Feed three with one chicken leg with attached thigh, elegantly.

My late Great Aunt Hilda used to tell a story. One time she and my other great aunt, Nettie, were visiting friends in Shelburne and they stayed into dinnertime. The host said she could certainly feed them all. It was a roast chicken. 

When Aunt Hilda was served, what was on her plate? A chicken wing. I can remember her telling that story many times. She was a bit hungry afterwards, apparently. No McDonalds in rural Nova Scotia at that time (the 1960s-70s) to stop into on the way home either.

I'm hoping she would be proud of me with this frugal dish. I’ve turned a leftover leg of roast chicken into a meal for 2, or even 3 in a pinch. Staying for dinner, Aunt Hilda? Wish she could.. she has been gone for nearly 20 years...

It’s quite easy to stretch a meal. All you need are the proper fixin’s to bulk whatever you're preparing up. It's not so much about small portions, but knowing what to add. Mushrooms, chard, onion, rice in this case... All in a velvety sauce.

When I first started to cook (about the time Hannibal was attempting to cross the Alps) I used to make a dish called Blanquette du Veau (Blanket of veal). This is a take on that dish, with a lot of departures.

If you have a little leftover chicken, as one often does after roasting, tuck some aside to try this recipe. It’s a great way to stretch a little bit to go a long way.

Blanquette du Poulet*
Prep: 10 min  |  Cook : 15 min  | Serves 2-3
1 lg chicken leg and thigh, pre-cooked
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion
6 white mushrooms
1 cup long grain white rice (or basmati)
2-1/2 cups chicken stock
3 tsp fresh lemon thyme (3/4 tsp dried)
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
1 tsp cracked black pepper
2 cups chopped Swiss Chard
1 egg, mixed with 3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

Slice the mushrooms and dice the onion. Heat the oil in a stock pot. Sauté the mushrooms and onion until slightly browned.

Remove the meat from the chicken leg and dice. Add to the pot.

Stir in the rice, stock, lemon thyme, salt and pepper. Cover and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat to simmer, and let cook for 10 minutes. 

Add the chopped chard and stir in. Then remove the pot from the heat.

Mix the egg and milk together very well. Pour the mixture into the rice, stirring constantly. Stir in the chopped parsley and serve.

*To "gild the lily", stir in 1 tbsp of brandy or cognac with the egg and milk.


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Monday, September 16, 2013

Old Fashioned Pickled Beans

Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions. – Dalai Lama

Photo: norwichnuts, Flickr ccl
Vicissitudes will beset even the most happy person. But how we feel is entirely how we react to them. It's our response to what is happening that determines how happy we are. There's a saying that we all walk around with problems that are invisible to those we meet. I believe it's true. 

So don't think you have it all that bad. Everyone is dealing with their own trials that you don't know about. If you keep that in mind, and that problems don't last, it's easier to keep your equilibrium. 

The delicious Caesar cocktail.
Photo: Thomas Hawk, Flickr ccl
This week I get a new door, furnace, liner and am busy with work. Last week this time I felt the world was falling in.

I've been noticing a trend on my page views lately. It seems many folks are coming looking for recipes on how to preserve nature's bounty. Unless you planted your garden very late you probably don't have beans right now. But you can buy from a store and they're just as good. And they don't break the bank. 

So here’s an old, old recipe from the South Shore of Nova Scotia. They're one of my more favourite ways to have beans during winter. Just add some baked pork and sauerkraut, mashed potatoes and you're set.

Many may be familiar with spicy pickled beans often served in a Caesar cocktail. Although that's one good way to eat them, it's not really a meal, unless you're a lush.

This pickled bean recipe is not the spicy variety, but with a few simple additions can be changed into those. To use the beans all you need to do is rinse, soak if desired, and then boil them until done. They can also be baked on top of sauerkraut with sausages and white wine in the oven. Mmmmmm.....

The taste is difficult to describe. If you like them, you love them. They’re very difficult to find now in any stores. Only a few places I know of still offer them for sale, and they’re all on the South Shore of Nova Scotia. It probably has something to do with the German influence in that area of the province. 

We always used to have a few jars in the basement when I was growing up for use during the winter. They're pretty easy to do. Easier than tomato sauce!

It’s actually quite easy to turn this recipe into the spicy variety if you wish. They’re the twin sister of the old time recipe, with "additions." As opposed to a dinner vegetable, they are consumed as a salty snack, or in a Caesar or Bloody Mary.

The ingredients listed as optional in the recipe will do the trick for you.

Photo: paige_eliz, Flickr ccl
Old Fashioned Pickled Beans
Makes 4 pints

2 lbs  green or yellow beans
1/4 cup pickling salt
2 cups white vinegar
2 cups water
1 tsp whole black pepper
4 dill fronds (optional)
4 whole dried red chilies (optional)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and whole (optional)

It is important to get the best looking beans you can find. Ugly raw beans will make ugly pickled beans. Usually fresh imported beans show up in our local grocery stores from the USA in Spring. You can also wait for our local beans to come into season, but that is much later (but cheaper).

Ensure that your jars and canning pot are well washed. The jars themselves should be sterilized. To do so, place the jars, rings and lids in the canning pot with enough water to cover and boil for a few minutes. Remove with tongs and place on a clean surface.

Wash the beans well and allow to dry. Snap or cut the stem ends off the beans and pack into the jars. You can put beans in whole or cut in two. I prefer the long beans for presentation value. Just make sure you have 1/2 inch of head room in your jars. If not, trim the beans.

If using the optional ingredients for spicy beans, place them in the jars with the beans.

Heat the salt, vinegar and water just to boiling. Take the hot sauce and pour into the jars. Ensure to leave some space between the liquid level and the top of the jar (between 1/2 and 1/4 inch) — enough to cover the beans.

Put the sterile lids and rings on the jars and tighten “finger tight”. This means enough to ensure there is no leakage, but don’t force the rings on too tight. 

Processing the beans
Stand the jars of beans upright in the pot. Ensure that the water level is up over the jar tops. It’s best to put a rack or some kind of elevation between the jars and the pot bottom. It’s not entirely necessary and I have processed beans without a rack many times. Bring to a boil and process for the recommended time for your altitude.

0-1000 ft. – 5 minutes
1001-6000 ft. – 10 minutes
Above 6000 ft. – 15 minutes

Remove from the hot water bath and allow to cool on the counter overnight. You will hear the characteristic “pop” of the lids as they vacuum closed as they cool. Once cooled, you can tighten the rings again to ensure a tight fit.

Let sit for 14 days before using. Store in a cool, dry place.


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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Herb Roasted Tomato Halves

Every moment of your life is infinitely creative and the universe is endlessly bountiful. Just put forth a clear enough request, and everything your heart desires must come to you. – Mahatma Gandhi

Beautiful quote, but Gandhi was assassinated... Doubt very much that was a request. But the sentiment remains, even if the great man himself did not.

I seem to be dealing with my own version of "endlessly bountiful" in the form of (you guessed it) our Roma tomatoes. The gift that keeps on giving, and giving and giving... I must sound like a one-note Johnny lately. But it's what's going on.

I do have to say I see the end in sight – just in time for the heirloom tomatoes to start to ripen. Sigh...

At least I have found a new trick in how to deal with them. I could make more sauce, but this night I opted for something a bit different. Roasting and freezing them.

I have to admit that I haven’t tried any yet but there’s no reason they won’t be delicious. You should have smelled these cooking. The kitchen and then the whole house was infused with the scent of garlic and herbs. Wow.

I plan on making some interesting things with these over the fall and winter. They’re like little flavour bombs. As they roast the flavours concentrate.

Just let them cool, put them in one layer in a large zip lock bag and freeze. If you put them in a jumble they will be hell to get apart.

Of course you could use them immediately. Let your imagination run wild. I bet they would be amazing nestled in pizza dough with mozzarella and basil, or smooshed onto toast triangles and sprinkled with some balsamic vinegar.

See what I mean? Those two were just off the top of my head. I bet you’ll find your own favourite way to enjoy these treasures – because treasures they most certainly are.

Herb Roasted Tomato Halves
Prep: 5 min  |  Roast 1.5 to 2 hours
18 Roma or 12 beefsteak tomatoes
5 stalks fresh rosemary
5 stalks fresh oregano
5 stalks fresh thyme
4 lg garlic cloves, chopped large
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and cracked black pepper

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Spread the olive oil on the bottom of a rimmed cookie sheet. 

Halve all the tomatoes on the short dimension (so they’re tall, not flat). Arrange on the sheet, turning to coat with the oil. Leave cut side down. Stick the herbs and garlic among the tomatoes.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper and then roast for between 1.5 to 2 hours. Check at the shorter time. The tomatoes must be beginning to collapse. Continue roasting if they have not.

Let the halves cool on the sheet. Then remove the herbs. If desired, slip off the skins, but it's not necessary.

Use immediately as you wish, or can be kept in the refrigerator for 5-6 days.

If desired, freeze the tomatoes for up to 6 months.


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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Canned Plain Tomato Purée

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. – Albert Einstein 

This is the real colour. No word of a lie.

Have you ever had an excess of problems? They seem to come in waves, one after the other. Lately it seems like they’ve been coming in tsunami form for me...

I’m slightly more calm today than a couple days ago. Had a good meeting in the afternoon Wednesday and had new roof shingles put on yesterday. Terry’s Roofing, from Mill Village, down the road. They worked fast, were very reasonable and clean-up was perfect. Highly recommended.

How unlike the last time I had a roof done in Halifax when I had to take the guy to court. That cost an arm and a leg, plus a few bites of belly.

That was Central Roofing. Not a good experience at all and had to have the entire job replaced for my own peace of mind. He was also arrested for threatening me. But I did learn about Small Claims Court and Adult Diversion (a farce), so it wasn’t a total loss.

I’m ready for the next time anyone screws with me. I'm short, but mighty. And tenacious.

So things are a little brighter than they were this time 48 hours ago. Still lots of hurdles to overcome – new furnace goes in September 20 – but I’m resilient, like a tree learning to grow in constant gale. Bent but not bowed.

Another “issue” I’ve been having lately is with the tomatoes in the garden. Our Roma have decided to mount a sustained attack. I pick a half a peck (4 quarts, or thereabouts) daily, or so it seems. If they came pre-pickled it wouldn’t be so bad.

But alas, they do not. So I’m left to deal with the bounty we created in our garden. Today I'll pick our first heirloom tomatoes. They're yellow.

Luckily there’s tomato sauce. I’ve made two batches already. But one kind I haven’t made is good, old “plain” tomato sauce.

This is essentially just pure tomato, with salt added. It’s the basic you can use to create anything you want by adding to it: pizza, tomato soup, cabbage rolls...

It’s good to have on hand. I can’t believe that a full pot of tomatoes only made 1500 ml. But it is 1500ml I didn’t have before.

Do this. It’s handy to have.

Canned Plain Tomato Purée
Prep: 10 min  |  Cook: 3 hours  | Yield varies
3 500ml Mason jars
12 quarts Roma tomatoes
1 tsp salt
1 cup water
lemon juice

Chop the tomatoes into chunks and place in a 12 quart Dutch oven pot. Add the water and salt. Mash lightly. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, place the cover on ajar and let cook for 2 hours.

Purée with a stick blender and let cook again until the sauce is the thickness you desire – about 1 hour will do it. Stir occasionally so the sauce doesn’t stick.

Pass the sauce through a sieve to remove the seeds and then bring the sauce back to a simmer.

Place 1 tbsp of lemon juice in each 500 ml jar or 2 tbsp per 1 quart/1L. This makes the sauce more acidic so it won’t spoil.

Pour the hot sauce into each jar leaving about 1/4” to 1/2” head room. My yield was exactly 1500 ml but if you cook it more (or less) your quantity will change. 

Tighten lids with fingers. Process in a hot water bath for 35 minutes.

Let cool completely. Retighten lids and store.


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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

BLT Pasta

When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on. – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Don't let the idyllic setting fool you.

It’s been one helluva weekend and the week didn't start out any better. It makes me kind of wonder what I may have done in a past life that has now caught up with me. Axe murder? Tyrant? Politician?

It felt like if it could go wrong, it did, or will some time soon. On the weekend it was my fur-son's health (and will be from here on out). This week’s treasure—so far—includes having to purchase a whole new furnace, just one in a myriad of things to distract me from trying to build my business down here in “God’s green acres.” (Note the sarcasm.) 

A furnace is marginally less expensive than I thought, but it feels like I am haemorrhaging money as if I’ve opened up an artery. Delightful.

I need a drink. Or, since I don’t drink much any more, some good old fashioned comfort food – again. My last post was comfort food, wasn’t it? Yes it was... Hmmm.

On a more useful “problematic note” I am now officially inundated with Roma tomatoes. A full pot of sauce is currently cooking on the stove. They're also in various piles on the counter, so whatever I make better contain some. Luckily this recipe does.

When I used to work in the city one of my more favourite sandwiches for lunch was the toasted BLT (bacon, lettuce, tomato) available at a local grocery. But that doesn’t really fit the bill for a full dinner.

What if you could include all those flavours in, say, a pasta dish. Well you can, and it takes only slightly more time as making a BLT sandwich.

It really did improve my mood, slightly. Can you imagine how I would have written this if it hadn’t? Regular readers will note the difference in my “delivery.”

Oh well. Deep breaths. This too shall pass. Change is the only constant. I have to remember I am loved. In the meantime I think I’ll have some more BLT pasta. It’s actually really good.

BLT Pasta
Prep: 5 min  |  Cook: 10 min  |  Serves 4
1/2 lb penne or rigatoni
3/4 lb bacon
2 lg garlic cloves
5-6 Roma tomatoes, in large dice
1/2 cup coffee cream
4 cups swiss chard leaves, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (or 1 tbsp dried)
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1 tsp cracked black pepper
salt to taste

Cook the pasta according to package directions, drain and then let sit in warm water while you make the sauce.

Chop the bacon into 1” wide pieces. Fry in a large sauté pan until browned. Then remove and reserve, leaving the fat.

Add the garlic and sauté for about 1 minute. Then add the tomatoes, cream a little salt and the pepper. Bring to a boil and let cook for a couple minutes until they just start to break down. Then add the chopped swiss chard.

Cover the pot and let the mixture cook until the chard has wilted.

Drain the pasta and toss with the sauce, the reserved bacon basil and parmesan. Taste for salt and adjust.

Grate additional parmesan on top at the table.


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