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)

Monday, September 13, 2010

September Goodies from the Garden

The gardening season is quickly coming to an end.  The rule in our community garden is all plots must be cleared by September 30, so the tractor and cultivator can turn the soil.

And so, reluctantly, we harvested the remaining tomatoes, pulled the final beets and cut down the corn stalks this weekend.  The beans, cukes, zukes, cabbages, leeks, peppers, carrots, pumpkins, butternut squash, celery, and potatoes haven't given up yet, so we're leaving them for as long as possible.

September 12, 2010
Our pumpkin patch
And I didn't think these leeks would grow!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Open Farm Day in Manitoba

I love our city garden, but there's nothing like visiting a farm in beautiful, rural Manitoba.  If you're curious about life on a farm, what's growing where in Manitoba and who your local farmers are Open Farm Day is the perfect opportunity for you to find out.

Mark your calendar for Sunday, September 19 and plan your route to visit and explore Manitoba farms as they welcome us to learn more about farming life.

Which route will you take with your family?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A new freezer

Some women get excited about shoes, jewelery or the latest fashions. I get excited about freezers.  Maybe, just maybe, I need to get out more!

But... check out my new 16.7 cubic feet upright freezer and tell me you don't love it!
No more freezer diving expeditions for us!  Now, even my children and husband can just open the door and find whatever we need.  There's one shelf for breads, one shelf for cider (we're relocating the rest to our small chest freezer), one shelf for veggies, one shelf for fruit, a basket for meat and door racks for ice cream, pizzas and other store bought stuff.

In case you're thinking of a new freezer, be aware that upright freezers are great for organization purposes but they're actually less energy efficient and store less than the same size chest freezer.  And, while the actual footprint of the freezer is smaller, you need a lot of clearance in front of the freezer to be able to open that big door.  But, as long as you're good with all that, they're pretty awesome!

Curious about all that frozen apple cider?  Check out the story on FruitShare.