Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Lesson Learned

Strolling along the river with our dog Mars, I was enjoying the sights and sounds of a warm, sunny autumn day. Suddenly, I spotted a bush brimming with beautiful, crimson fruit.  I stopped dead in my tracks delighted at my find.  Four days away from Thanksgiving and I had just stumbled upon a stand of high bush cranberries.  Thanksgiving dinner with fresh cranberry sauce - can it get any better than that!

Just look at these beauties!

I picked a couple of handfuls and returned home.  Of course, it didn't take long to remember that high bush cranberries have a very distinctive odour.  Their smell, does not resemble their attractive appearance at all.  In fact, the words repulsive, nasty, and disgusting come to mind.  

I opened the windows and carried on, determined to make the most amazing cranberry sauce ever!

I washed them.

I boiled and separated them.

I added sugar and turned them into jelly.
I even filled two jars with the jelly, hoping things might mellow overnight.  But, no matter what I did, that smell and bitter taste could not be deterred.  Even, Darryl, my brave husband, who tasted the concoction the following day, couldn't find anything polite to say.  Sadly, this experiment failed miserably.
But I was reminded of a very important lesson.  Don't judge by appearance - it's what's inside that counts!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Freezing Celery

Melanie's celery, despite being overtaken by her tall, beautiful, lanky cosmos, did very well this year. As a result, we have more celery than we can use right away.

Luckily for us, celery can be frozen. Of course, it will loose it's crisp texture, but we usually just use it for cooked recipes anyway, so limp celery is just fine with us!

June 2010
September 2010, hidden beneath the cosmos
There seems to be some debate about blanching or not blanching celery.  While it's a little bit more work, we're fans of blanching.  Blanching stops the enzymes that affect the texture, colour and flavour of vegetables even in the freezer.  I never believed there could be that much difference between blanching or not blanching until a terrible pea experience last year.  Based on a convincing internet tip I read, I froze some peas without blanching.  While they looked fine, their sweet flavour was destroyed and I ended up tossing them because they tasted like 10 year old frozen peas.  Now, we blanch everything - even celery.

September 30 (2/3 of our celery harvest)

Trim and wash the celery

Chop to desired size

Blanch for 3 minutes

Cool in ice water for 3 minutes

Dry and freeze

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dried Bush Bean Recipe

Out of curiosity we left our green, yellow and royal burgundy bush beans in the garden long after they stopped producing tasty tender beans.  By the end of September, we had quite a few dried beans along with some really tough beans.  We decided to pick the dried pods and leave the tough green pods for the compost pile.

After we shelled them, we had about 3 cups worth of dried bush beans.  We also had a few questions:

  • Is there an official name for dried bush beans?
  • Will they make good seed for next year?
  • Can they be used in any dried bean recipe?

A Name
What do you call dried beans from yellow, green and royal burgundy bush beans?  Can't seem to find an answer to that one.  Do you know?

If they are nameless, perhaps we can be the first to name them!  Any ideas?

Seed for Next Year
These aren't fancy beans that we're talking about.  They're the standard McKenzie seed package that you can buy in any store.  The label doesn't say anything about GMO's, Hybrid, Heirloom or anything else that would indicate that they could or could not be used as seed for next year.  We thought about putting a couple beans in water to see if they germinate - but that would only tell us if they germinate, not necessarily if they'll produce beans next year.

We're betting that they'll produce and have saved enough "seed" for next year.

Cooking with Dried Bush Beans
When we searched for dried bean recipes, one recipe came up so frequently, that we just had to test it out - Cajun Red Beans with Rice.  Of course we modified the recipe since our beans aren't red, we're Manitoban and we like using Cavena Nuda.

Here's what we ended up with: 
Manitoban Dried Bush Beans with Cavena Nuda
A crockpot recipe that's easy, but takes time.

the dark brown beans are from green wax bush beans and the lighter ones are from royal burgundy wax bush beans and the green beans are french cut scarlett runner beans

2 cups dried bush beans (or any other dried bean)
1 tbsp canola oil
1 onion chopped
2 cloves garlic chopped
1 cup chopped celery
2 dried cayenne peppers finely chopped
2 cups vegetable broth
1tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp corn starch
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 cup scarlett runner beans (fresh beans, not dried)
salt and pepper to taste

1 cup brown rice
1 cup cavena nuda

Wash and rinse beans at least two times.
Place beans in a bowl and cover with water about 2 inches above the beans.
Let soak overnight.

Rinse beans.
Place in crockpot.

Heat canola oil in a fry pan.
Saute onions, garlic and celery until soft and tender.
Add to crockpot.
Add chopped cayenne peppers, vegetable broth and Worcestershire sauce.
Turn crockpot on low and let cook for 8 hours or until beans are tender.

Dissolve cornstarch with a little water and add to bean mix to thicken the sauce.
Cut fresh beans into small pieces (or french style).
Add green beans and parsley to crockpot.
Season with salt and pepper.

Place rice and cavena nuda in a pot.
Add 3 cups water.
Bring to boil.
Reduce to simmer and cook until brown rice is tender (40 minutes). Cavena Nuda will not get as soft as the rice, so use the rice as the indicator of doneness.

Serve beans over brown rice and cavena nuda mixture.

Serves:  4 adults for one meal or 2 adults and 2 picky children for two meals

The verdict:
Our Manitoban dried bush beans worked very well in this recipe.  The texture and taste were just like any canned beans you can get in the store.

The Cajun recipes often included ham or sausage.  I can definitely see how that would add to this recipe.  Next time, I think we'll try it with browned sausage meat or bits of Manitoba farmer sausage.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Scarlett Runner Beans

Scarlett Runner Beans
This is the third year that we've planted scarlett runner beans (year 2 and 3 were from dried seeds collected from year 1).  We've always admired the beautiful red (I mean, scarlett) flowers that they produce in huge abundance, but we've never actually ate the beans - until this year.

What a wonderful surprise to discover they are as tasty as they are beautiful.  Not to mention that they attract beneficial pollinators for other plants in the garden and they provided a great canopy (8 feet high) for Mars on those hot, sunny days.
A great spot for Mars.

We only picked the tender beans, some as long as 10 inches!

Using this french bean slicer was great for these big beans.
Boil for 5 minutes to stop any enzyme action.

Cool in ice cold water, drain and use in your favourite recipe or freeze
And, check out the great dried beans that we collected at the end of September.

We know they're good as seed for next year, but we haven't tried cooking with them - yet.  We'll see how our experiment with the dried bush beans goes first.

I wonder if we could turn these into edible jewellery?

Do you have a favourite dried bean recipe we could try?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Preparation for 2011

The veggies are all gone, but there is still some work to do at the garden.

Now's a good time to prepare the soil for next year.  Last fall, we added compost manure to our plot, this year we chose to add a 4 way soil mix.  It's a mix of top soil, compost manure, peat and sand.  We hope it will lighten the clay and add vital nutrients to our heavy clay soil.  Five yards is a lot to shovel, but only adds about 1 1/2 inches of depth  in our 30x40 plot.  Once that gets turned over by the plow, it will seem minimal, but if we keep at it every year and if we add some of our own compost, I'm sure it'll give our veggies a boost.

After the plowing is done, we'll plant some garlic and even some strawberry plants given to us by a gardening neighbour.  Apparently she's had great success, despite having to remove the plants for a few days each year while the plots get plowed.  

Until then, we've got our work cut out trying to store, freeze and use all those veggies stashed in our garage.
The last day
Melanie's cosmos on the last day

Mars eagerly (but thankfully, not successfully) digging for mice 

5 yards of 4 way soil mix

An hour later, the plot is ready for plowing.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Final Harvest 2010

Yesterday was the final harvest at our community plot for 2010.  Here was our final haul:

Dried beans
The scarlett runner beans (the big pods), the green bush beans and the royal burgundy bush beans all had these dried pods.  We collected them for both seed for next year and for dried bean recipes.  This is the first time we'll cook with dried beans from the garden.  Right now we've got some of the dried beans in the crock pot for our version of Cajun Red Beans and Rice (they're not red beans, we don't have any ham and we'll probably use cavena nuda but other than that we'll follow the recipe - well sort of).  You'll know if it works out by whether or not I post the recipe!

Celery and cabbage
Apparently, you can blanch and freeze celery.  Judging by the amount of celery Melanie grew, we're going to have to try out that technique.

We weren't the only ones to harvest our leeks - the night time garden robbers helped themselves to some as well.  Maybe they'll share a recipe with us!  We're considering putting up a sign in our garden next year "Please pick 5 weeds for every veggie you take!"

As for an example of a recipe that I didn't post - Leek, Potato and Purple Carrot Soup.  What started off as a well intentioned idea to use up all the things we hauled from the garden one day, turned into a very visually unappealing soup.  The taste was good, but just imagine the colour you get when blending green, cream, purple and orange.  Oops! We'll have to try Leek and Potato soup (sans carrots) again.

Carrots - yes, more carrots!
Have I mentioned what an amazing year for carrots this has been?!  Here's the last batch of carrots we dug up.  The carrot/rhubarb cake I made last week was OK, but not good enough to share.  Still experimenting on that one too!

A hollowed out, mouse house
 And finally, we had to bring this zucchini home for show and tell.  The family of mice that were living underneath our zucchinis did an amazing job on this zucchini.  There were two holes on one end and the inside was completely hollowed out.  Pretty impressive, if you can get passed the fact that there was a family of mice running around our garden.

Well, that's it.  All in all, an amazing, bountiful and delicious gardening year.  I can't even fathom having to buy fresh veggies from the grocery store again.  Store bought tomatoes?!  It's going to be a long winter!!!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Food Safety Quiz

My friend and fellow Home Economist, Joshua Lockhart recently posted a quiz on Food Safety at home.

Along with teaching our kids where food comes from and how to cook it, it's also important to pass on lessons about food safety. But first, we need to be confident in our own knowledge. Check out the quiz and see how well you fare.

Notes on Parenting: Food Safety Quiz

The original source of the Food Safety Quiz came from the University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter, March 2006.  It was reposted on as well.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tips for Storing Tomatoes

We've pulled all of our tomato plants (sigh) and took home a bunch of green, somewhat orange and red tomatoes.  Looks like we'll have a few more soups, sauces, salsas, salads and sandwiches to enjoy - as long as we can store them properly, that is.

Here are a few tips we've discovered about storing tomatoes:

Tomato Storing Tips

Tip # 1 - Do not store split, punctured or damaged tomatoes, even the ones with just a tiny spot.  It only takes a couple of days for any tomato that has a wound to turn really, really nasty and spread mold and rot to your nice tomatoes.  Trust us, we know!  Two days after storing a batch of tomatoes I went to the basement to do laundry - that's when I learned just how critical this step is.  The smell was intense!

Tip # 2 - Place unripened tomatoes in a cool dark place.  We place ours in a single layer in a shallow cardboard box with a folded newspaper on top.  Our friend Chris, who is able to keep tomatoes for a very long time, wraps each one individually in newspaper and places them in a box.

Tip # 3 - Check and smell your tomatoes regularly to catch any trouble before it spreads.

Tip # 4 - Once the tomatoes are ripe - use them, they won't last very long once they are fully ripe.

Here's one final suggestion that my friend Kathy sent to me.  This tip is reprinted from Cook's Illustrated.  I haven't tested this theory myself, but it's worth try.

How can I prolong the shelf life of a tomato?

We’ve heard that storing a tomato with its stem end facing down can prolong shelf life. To test this theory, we placed one batch of tomatoes stem-end up and another stem-end down and stored them at room temperature. A week later, nearly all the stem-down tomatoes remained in perfect condition, while the stem-up tomatoes had shriveled and started to mold.

Why the difference? We surmised that the scar left on the tomato skin where the stem once grew provides both an escape for moisture and an entry point for mold and bacteria. Placing a tomato stem-end down blocks air from entering and moisture from exiting the scar.

To confirm this theory, we ran another test, this time comparing tomatoes stored stem-end down with another batch stored stem-end up, but with a piece of tape sealing off their scars. The taped, stem-end-up tomatoes survived just as well as the stem-end-down batch.

Storing a tomato stem-end up allows air to enter and consequently loses moisture, shortening shelf life.

Storing a tomato stem-end down (room temperature is best) prevents air from entering and moisture from exiting its scar, prolonging shelf life.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Homemade Granola - Nutty Maple Granola Recipe

None of the ingredients in this recipe came from our garden.  So why include it in our gardening blog?  Because it is so delicious, that's why!

Nutty Maple Granola Recipe
6 cups large flake oats
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
3/4 cup walnuts
3/4 cup almonds
3/4 cup hazelnuts
2 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 325.
Crush your nuts! (This line makes my boys giggle and wince!)
In a huge bowl, mix oats, seeds, nuts and cinnamon.
In a small bowl, mix oil, syrup and vanilla.
Pour oil mixture into oat mixture and stir until well distributed.
On a cookie sheet with a high edge (I use our stone pan), spread out half of the mixture.
Bake for 20 to 30 minutes.
Starting at 15 minutes, stir the granola every 5-8 minutes.  I've found the edges start getting crisp much quicker than the granola in the centre of the pan.  And, I discovered that granola can go from beautiful golden brown to dark and burnt very quickly.
Take out and bake the second batch.
Cool granola completely before storing in an airtight container.  It will keep for several months or you can also freeze it for extra freshness.

Makes about 9 cups of granola

Dried Fruit
I like my granola without dried fruit.  But for those of you who prefer to add dried fruit, you can add whatever kind you'd like (raisins, apricots, craisins, prunes, cherries, dates, apples, banana chips, etc.), after the granola comes out of the oven.  Because the fruit is already dried and preserved, it doesn't need the extra heat processing and may even taste burnt if you do put it in the oven.

Other Additions
The beauty of homemade granola is that you can add whatever you prefer.  Add more seeds (pumpkin seeds, flax seed, sesame seeds), use different nuts (pecans, peanuts, coconut) or add nutritious boosts (wheat germ, oat bran, hemp hearts).

Special Flavours
This recipe features maple syrup, but you can easily change that as well.  Instead of syrup, try honey, brown sugar or some combination.  I often add a little bit of homemade preserves to the mix as well - 1/2 cup apple sauce, strawberry freezer jam, or apple butter.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Picking the first cucumber of the season is a great delight.  But all too soon, no one wants to see another cucumber salad or cucumber slice on their dinner plate.  When we reach that point we turn to this great tzatziki recipe.

Homemade Tzatziki Recipe
1 cucumber, peeled, halved, seeded and grated
2 tsp salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp dill
salt and pepper to taste

Peel, slice in half lengthwise, remove seeds and grate cucumber.
Place grated cucumber in a bowl and add 2 tsp salt.  Let sit for 1 hour to draw liquid out of the cucumbers.

In another small bowl, combine sour cream and yogurt.  Mix well and place mixture in a sieve lined with a coffee filter.  Let sit for at least 1 hour to allow as much liquid to drain out as possible.  This will make for thick and creamy tzatziki.
Drain cucumbers and pat dry with a cloth or paper towel.  (The more moisture you can remove, the thicker and less liquidy your tzatziki will be.)

Mix drained cucumbers with the sour cream and yogurt mixture.
Stir in remaining ingredients.
If you can wait, cover and place in refrigerator for at least one hour to allow flavours to blend together.

This recipe makes a small 1 cup batch, but it can easily be doubled and kept in the fridge for about a week.  Just drain off any liquid that accumulates while it rests.

We use tzatziki for souvlaki or pita sandwiches, but we also use it as an appetizer with crackers, pita chips or fresh pitas.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Butternut Squash

Here's one of our three beautiful butternut squashes.

We have two favourite recipes - Butternut Squash Soup and Moroccan Roasted Butternut Squash.  We discovered the second recipe last year at Thanksgiving - it was a big hit, especially with our teenage nephews (go figure!). Perhaps we'll make that again this Thanksgiving.

Tonight, however, it was time for Butternut Squash Soup.  This recipe was developed by my friends and peers, the Professional Home Economists at Winnipeg Hydro (check out the Manitoba Association of Home Economist's website for more info on Home Economists).  Sadly Winnipeg Hydro no longer exists, and even more sadly, the Home Ec test kitchens no longer exist.  I'm sure Heather and Rosanne won't mind me sharing this great recipe.

Melanie was so intrigued when "onion" tears came to my eyes that she wanted to cut some too.  After we both shed some more tears, she decided using the big knife and making soup with mom was a great way to spend some time.  I couldn't agree more.

Butternut Squash and Carrot Soup
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 butternut squash, peeled, halved, seeded and coarsely chopped
3 carrots, coarsely chopped
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin
3/4 tsp turmeric
3/4 tsp coriander
6 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 tbsp lime juice
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup cream
2 tbsp chopped cilantro or parsley

In a large saucepan, heat oil and sauté onion until soft.
Add squash, carrots and sugar and sauté for 10 minutes. 
Add paprika, cumin, turmeric and coriander and sauté for 5 minutes.
Add broth and bring to boil.
Reduce heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes until veggies are soft.
Puree soup using an immersion blender or food processor.
Add salt and pepper, lime juice to taste.
Slowly add cream to soup.
Garnish with chopped cilantro or parsley. 
Melanie was expert at using the big knife to chop the squash.
Sauteing the veggies and spices to lock in all the flavours.

Simmer in broth to soften the veggies.

Puree to make it silky smooth.

Add cream for a special touch.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Quinoa Tomato Basil Soup

Beautiful, gorgeous red tomatoes.  Despite the attack of late blight on our tomato plants, we have been lucky enough to harvest many, many tomatoes.  Soups, sauces, and salsas have been our favourite way to enjoy our tomatoes.

Here's a tomato soup recipe that includes basil (always a perfect complement to tomatoes) and quinoa (pronounced "keenwa").  Quinoa, originally from South America, is a nutritious powerhouse.  It's a great source of fibre and contains a complete set of essential amino acids making it a complete protein.  It is also high in iron, magnesium and phosphorus.

Quinoa tomato basil soup
Quinoa Tomato Basil Soup
8 or more chopped tomatoes (any kind will do)
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup water  
2 cloves sliced garlic
2 tbsp canola oil

1/2 cup quinoa

2 tbsp dried basil (more or less to suit your taste)
1/2 cup creamsalt and pepper to taste
1 tsp sugar

In a medium saucepan cook quinoa.

Place 1/2 cup quinoa in 1 cup water and bring to boil.
Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

In a large pot, heat canola oil.
Add celery and onions.
Saute for 5 to 10 minutes until soft.
Add garlic and cook for another 3 minutes.  Do not brown.
Add chopped tomatoes and water. 
Bring to boil.
Let simmer for 30 to 45 minutes until tomatoes are soft and falling apart.
Strain mixture through sieve or food mill.  
Pour soup back into the saucepan.
Add dried basil, salt, pepper and sugar.
Add cooked quinoa.
Heat cream until hot but not boiling*.
Add warmed cream to soup.Serve immediately.

* Heating the cream will help prevent it from curdling.   

Serves 8 (can be frozen)