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Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Egg Fu Yung with Zucchini

We like Chinese style food, but the average prepared Chinese restaurant or take-out meal is much too high in sodium and fat for us. Considering that the ingredients used are fairly low cost, the price seems a tad high, too. I adapted this recipe from one in More With Less, a famous Mennonite cookbook I first had back in the 1980s. My sister Jeanne was at university in Pennsylvania then, and got to know Mennonites. She sent me the cookbook for Christmas one year. I loaned that copy to someone and never got it back, and then bought another copy, which also disappeared the same way. I finally bought another copy this year through eBay. It has recipes from not only Mennonites living on farms, but missionaries and people who have traveled extensively. The recipes are simple, low cost, and nutritious, which is the mission of the editor and committee that compiled the cookbook.

Equipment: Box grater, knife, cutting board, mixing bowl, spoon, skillet and spatula, measuring cups and spoons.

Ingredients: Enough zucchini to make four cups grated, maybe one large or two mediumish zukes; 3-4 eggs; 1/3 cup flour; one clove garlic, pressed or minced; 1 finely diced or grated white onion, medium. For the sauce: 1 cup broth or stock, chicken or vegetable; 1 tablespoon soy sauce, preferably low sodium; 1 tablespoon cornstarch or arrowroot.

Directions: Wash but do not peel zucchini, cut into large pieces and grate on a box grater. Stir in the eggs, flour, garlic and onion. Fry in a little olive oil over medium high heat, turning when lightly browned. Keep warm in an oven set at 275-300F. Blend the sauce ingredients in a small saucepan, bring to a boil, reduce heat to a bubbling boil for a few minutes, until thickened.

Serve over rice or rice noodles, with the sauce poured over the little fu yung pancakes and anything else you are serving. I usually serve just steamed vegetables on the side. This is quick if you use the rice noodles, which cook in minutes.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Mennonite Bran Gems or Muffins

While I love to bake, so many homebaked goods are high in sugar and fat. That's what makes them taste so good, right? But there are good homemade treats that aren't all sweet and saturated, and can be served without a dollop of butter or jam. These little bran muffins, for instance, are delicious.

This is another adaptation of an old Waterloo County Mennonite recipe. I like this for a quick bread or sweet to go with afternoon tea, and my husband thinks they are as good as cookies. They aren't very sweet in terms of sugar, but the molasses and bran make them seem sweeter than they are.

Bran is part of the wheat kernel, and when flour is milled, it is removed. Usually it is included in the manufacture of boxed cereals or used for animal feeds. That's a pity, because it is nutritious and adds a good deal of necessary fibre to the diet. Why save it for grape nuts or bran buds, or feed it to the goats?

I buy it in the baking aisle of the store, or at the bulk foods store. It isn't expensive, and sometimes I add a half cup or so to baked products that are just white flour. It adds fibre without changing the taste or texture.

Equipment: Mixing bowl, mixing spoon or electric mixer, mini muffin or "gem" pan, measuring cup and spoons.

Ingredients: 1/3 cup white sugar; 1 tablespoon molasses; 2 tablespoons butter; 1 egg; 1 cup milk with 1 teaspoon vinegar, or 1 cup sour milk or buttermilk;  1 teaspoon baking soda stirred into 1/2 cup white flour; about 2 cups wheat bran.

Directions: Cream (mix thoroughly until soft) the sugar, molasses and butter. Beat in the egg, then the milk. Add the flour mixture, stir well. Add the bran until you have a soft, pourable dough that just starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl.

Butter the muffin tin cups and dollop a tablespoon or more or more of batter into each cup, depending on the size of the cups. My mini muffin pan takes about two tablespoons per cup, and that makes two dozen exactly.

Bake at 375F for 10-15 minutes or so, depending on the size of the muffins. Do not overbake. They should be nicely moist inside, without a crispy crust.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Another Apple Pie

This is a link to my friend Paula's blog. Paula and her husband farm in the Ottawa Valley of Ontario.

If you are looking for an easier, less fiddly pie crust, this is a good one.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

More Than a White Sauce and a Garden Supper

So many recipes call for "a can of cream of mushroom soup" or a can of some cream soup. We dutifully add "cream soup" to the shopping list, doubting if it is really a healthy choice for an ingredient, not liking to pay at least a dollar, often more, for a can of soup, but wondering what could be substituted. Well, once you make white sauce, you will wonder no more, and the soup people will miss your money, which you will keep, since making a cup of white sauce is pretty cheap.

Equipment: Small saucepan, whisk, measuring cups and spoons.

Ingredients: to make a medium thick sauce, about the consistency of an undiluted can of cream soup - 2 tablespoons butter, or half butter and half olive oil, or all olive oil; 2 tablespoons flour (some people use instant flour here, but it isn't necessary); 1 cup of milk - skim, 1%, 2%, whole, or even part cream. Or substitute a half cup of chicken stock for half the milk. Have all the ingredients at hand on the stove top before you start.

Directions: Heat the butter/oil in the saucepan over medium heat until melted or just starting to bubble. Whisk in flour until smooth. Don't let it brown, so reduce the heat a bit. Now whisk in the milk, dribble by dribble - don't add it all at once - stirring slowly so that the fat/flour combination (this is called a roux) doesn't lump. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring or whisking constantly, until it is thickened nicely. Take off the heat.

That's it. If you feel you've been cheated all these years by the canned soup people - well, now you are wiser and won't be fooled again. It takes minutes to do this, and you get a nice consistency and a better taste.

To make it mushroomy, chop finely about four mushrooms, saute for a couple of minutes in olive oil or butter (not much, maybe a teaspoon), and add to the sauce. You can dilute the white sauce by whisking in slightly warmed milk for a cream soup. Add pureed and finely chopped steamed vegetables of choice, either before diluting, if using in a casserole, or while diluting for a cream soup.

Cheese sauce, which I served tonight, is made by stirring a half cup of grated cheese into the hot sauce. Add a 1/4 teaspoon of dry mustard to improve the flavour.

Garden vegetables are plentiful right now. I boiled quartered new red potatoes for about fifteen minutes, added peeled and sliced carrots for another five minutes, and then whole green beans, ends snipped off, for five more minutes. Drain all the boiled vegetables, and meanwhile saute a sliced baby onion or two, and a small zucchini. Chop a large double handful of fresh parsley. Toss all the vegetables together in a bowl, and add the parsley. Just before serving hot, pour on the cheese sauce.

That is what we had for supper, and it was very filling and satisfying.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Traditional Apple Pie

"Easy as pie" is apparently a self-contradictory statement. Many people tell me they have never made a pie, or the one they made was such a horror that the dog buried it rather than risk eating it.

One friend tried to impress the man she was dating by making a pumpkin pie. the filling is just a custard with pureed pumpkin it it; that's pretty easy. She'd seen her mother make pie crust many times, and it didn't look like it took an advanced degree in engineering. So she pulled out the ever-faithful "Joy of Cooking" and got started.

First, the dough didn't want to hang together, so she added more water. This made it sticky, so as she rolled it out, she added more flour. And then some more flour. Then it was so stiff she had to bash it with the rolling pin to roll it into a circle big enough for the pie plate. The filling went in, she baked it as directed, and after a couple of grilled steaks and a nice garden salad, she served dessert.

The filling was great, she related. But the crust itself required a hacksaw. The pathetic empty crust had the same texture as an asphalt roofing shingle.

My father makes great pies, much better than my mother did. "Your mother was too impatient with it," he says. "You have to be gentle, gentle with it."

My Dad makes it sound like a Zen meditation, the Yankee equivalent of tea ceremony. Plan. Lay out the utensils and ingredients. Chill what needs to be chilled, including your attitude. Take your time. You can't rush a great pie crust.

Equipment: Mixing bowl, pastry blender, fork, pie plate.

Ingredients: To make a 9-inch double crust pie, 2 cups sifted flour; 1 teaspoon salt (or not if you prefer); 1/2 cup lard or vegetable shortening, cold; 1/4 cup or so of very cold water.

Do not substitute cooking oil for the solid shortening. I use lard because I am wary of how vegetable shortening is made to be solid at room temperature. Lard will make a flakier crust, too, but some people object to the subtle taste difference. Obviously, for a vegetarian pie you would use vegetable shortening. You can use fine whole wheat flour instead of white flour. I don't find a big difference.

Directions: Mix the salt into the flour in a bowl. Cut the lard/shortening into the flour with the pastry blender until it is pretty thoroughly mixed in. (Some people say until the particles are the size of small peas, or rough ground meal. It just needs to be well blended, but not so worked over that it gets warm and starts to melt.) Now add the cold water all at once, stir quickly with a fork to work in most of the flour/fat particles. Don't worry if there is some at the bottom of the bowl. Try not to add more than a tablespoon more, working quickly, if it seems way too dry. This will be a fairly dry dough.

Now turn it out onto a floured pastry board or counter top. Very lightly knead it gently to hold it together. It should look like layers of shale or something flaky, not like bread dough. With a floured rolling pin, and a little flour sprinkled over the top, work half the dough out into a round, rolling from the middle with a light touch. When it is big enough to fit in the pie plate and up the sides, lift it with the rolling pin and slide it in. Roll out the other half the same way, and set aside. I sometimes refrigerate the dough before rolling it out, and if the kitchen is warm, put the rolled dough in the refrigerator while you get the filling ready.

Apple filling:
Peel and core 7-9 medium to large apples. I used yellow transparent for this pie, as the flavour is old-fashioned appley, although the slices dissolve into a wondrous apple butter. If you want visible slices, use a firmer cooking apple. Slice into eighths or so, but not too thin. Toss in a bowl with about 2/3 cup of white sugar or, half white, half brown; 2 tablespoons flour; 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon; 1/4 teaspoon each nutmeg and allspice. Spoon into the prepared pie crust (don't prick the lower crust, though, or you will have a gooey mess), add some dabs of butter, about 4 teaspoon size pieces, then top with the crust. Trim the crusts around the outer edge of the pie plate, and fold the two crusts together inside the plate. My mother always crimped hers along the lip of the plate, and the filling always bubbled out and burned in the oven. Then cut slits in the top crust to vent the steam.

Bake for ten minutes at 400F, then turn down the heat to about 350F for 30-40 minutes, until the crust starts to brown. If you like a nicely browned crust, brush it after the first ten minutes with a bit of milk. My crusts don't brown as much in the wood stove as the heat is even all around and not concentrated at the bottom.

 That's a basic pie. You can use other fruit instead of apples, but berry pies usually need cornstarch to keep them from turning into soups.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Blueberry Cake

One of the local potato farmers keeps a couple of fields in low bush blueberries. These are the true Nordic blueberries, about the size of a large pea, that are either handpicked or hand-raked with something like a cranberry scoop. There is no easy mechanized way to pick low bush blueberries, so they are a labour intensive crop. Equally, though, they are a low maintenance crop, and the bushes last for years, preferring our acidic soil. I didn't hand pick this year, which would mean each pound would have cost $1.35; I bought picked berries at five pounds for $16. That is still a bargain considering what berries cost in the supermarket.

I had made a blueberry grunt previously, but I found the biscuit dough could have been sweeter, and I should have used more berries. It was good, but not the best showcase for the beautiful berries. My mother used to make what she called a "buckle" with any fresh berry we happened to pick. A buckle is, essentially, a white cake with berries folded into the batter. Sometimes it has a crumb topping, but I prefer just a sprinkle of sugar instead.

Equipment: Cake pan, either 9" round or 9" square, mixing bowl, electric hand mixer or pastry blender and wooden spoon.

Ingredients: 1/2 cup butter; 3/4 cup white sugar; 2 eggs; 1 1/2 cups white flour; 1 teaspoon cream of tartar, 1 teaspoon baking soda;1 cup milk; 1 teaspoon vanilla extract; one cup or more of blueberries, fresh or frozen.

Directions: Let the butter soften at room temperature, then cream it with the sugar, using either the mixer or the pastry blender. Beat in the eggs. (You will switch to the spoon if you are doing this by hand.) Sift or stir the cream of tartar and the baking soda into the flour, add about half of the flour mixture, stir; then the milk, and finish with the rest of the flour. Add the vanilla last. Beat it until it is almost smooth, but don't over beat. Fold in the blueberries with a spatula or spoon, gently mixing into the batter.

Butter and flour the cake pan, pour the batter in, and smooth it a bit on the top. Have the oven preheated to 350F, bake for about 45 minutes, but I'd test it after 30 minutes just to see how done it is getting. About ten minutes before removing from the oven, sift some ordinary white sugar on the top.

This is good warm, with whipped cream or ice cream, but we eat it plain. It will keep a couple of days. It is relatively low in sugar for a cake dessert, since there is no frosting. Don't try to substitute cooking oil for the butter, or it will be flat. It makes at least eight servings, so I'm not going to say it is low in fat!

Friday, 2 September 2011

Radish Relish, Radish Relish, Radish Relish

I had an excellent crop of radishes. Very few split, none bolted. Lots of radishes! I don't particularly like radishes, except sliced into a salad. My husband will eat a few with a meal. They don't store well, and they can't be frozen. I gave some away, but still had too many.

I found a recipe for radish pickles, but there was a caveat that the radishes tended to get wizened and unattractive. Thanks for the warning. I'm not going to bother with an unattractive pickle, thank you.

Radish relish sounded better, although the recipe seemed to be more celery than radish, and I don't like celery much. So I modified that considerably, using just the proportions given to calculate how much vegetable to syrup I needed.

I used an old fashioned food grinder/grain mill to chop the radishes and onions. If you have or can borrow a food processor that would work well, too. A blender wouldn't work, I think, and the strainer type food mill wouldn't handle the tough radishes. A hand grater would be impossible.

So, equipment needed: Food grinder or processor; medium sized pot; pint or half-pint jars for a total of 2 pints; canning lids for those jars; hot water bath canner and jar lifter.

Ingredients: 3 cups or so radishes, any variety; 2 medium onions; 2 teaspoons salt; 1 cup white sugar; 1 tablespoon brown mustard seed; 2 teaspoons dill seed; 1/2 teaspoon celery seed (increase to 1 teaspoon if you like); 1 teaspoon coriander seed; 1 cup cider vinegar.

Grind the radishes, having topped, tailed and scrubbed them, but don't peel them, as the skin lends the colour; peel and quarter the onions, then grind into the radish mixture. Mix with the rest of the ingredients, cover and let stand overnight. Make sure you are using a non-reactive bowl or pot, not aluminum or non-stick. When ready to can, bring the mixture to a boil and cook about ten minutes. Process in the hot water canner for 20 minutes.

The old fashioned mill I used is like the one my mother had. Once clamped to a suitable tabletop or counter - and it took three attempts to find one the appropriate thickness and stability - be sure to place a pot under it, as the juices run through. I had a puddle of pink juice at first, cleaned that up, got a pot and hastily improvised rags under it, and still had splashes. Canning is not a job that calls for a white apron. The juice did not stain, though. I use a small roasting pan to catch the ground vegetables, as a bowl is too high. Use a heavy wooden spoon as a pusher, especially if you are the kind of person who tends to poke at jammed items in a chute while simultaneously trying to clear the clog by wiggling the handle. Ouch. That nail will have to be removed in the ER. (No, I didn't do that this time, because I had a wooden spoon.)