Real, Creative Eats

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Category Archives: Recipes

Bacon – The best reason to abandon factory food for local goodness


I started eating local for one reason and one reason only, the quality of the food.  I later started to understand the economic benefits, the health benefits and the value of developing a sustainable local food system here in Nova Scotia.  But to be honest the reason I started was because the quality of the food I was getting from Superstore and Sobeys was no longer acceptable.  I was tired of getting food that was an unreasonable facsimile of the food I remembered growing up in the Annapolis Valley.

 

Nowhere is this more true than with bacon.  The waterlogged packets of chemically treated flaccid pork belly… its just not right.  What I was not aware of was that you can get some of the best bacon you have ever had directly from our farmers or local smokehouses.  I have sampled 7 different varieties of bacon from 4 different local producers.  This bacon cannot be compared to that which you get in a grocery store.  The smoke is from… wait for it… smoke.  They use natural flavors and spices and do not load the bacon up with chemical filled solutions to increase the weight of the product.  The pork that is uses is small farm raised and it shows in the quality of the meat.

The first local bacon I tried came from Active Life Farm just outside of Truro.  This lightly smoked bacon was made from Berkshire pork, the kobe of pork.  I got a side from them and the first thing that was gone was this rich meaty bacon.  From there I started exploring bacon from as many local farms as I could.

The next bacon I tried was from Sweet Williams at the Halifax Seaport Farmers Market.  They have an amazing variety of bacon including back bacon, shoulder bacon, and nitrate free bacon.  Check in with them and see what they have for you on any given weekend.  The nitrate free bacon was great, there was no taste difference and for those who want to remove nitrates from their diet this is a great option.  Back bacon has always been one of my favorites and this is a great product.  However the most remarkable experience for me was the shoulder bacon.

Pork shoulder is one of the most flavorful cuts of pork and is sought after by BBQ connoisseurs everywhere because of its ability to take smoke.  A well marbled shoulder is the essential cut for amazing pulled pork.  Sweet Willams takes this cut of meat, cures it (in the same way you would cure belly to make traditional bacon) and then slowly smokes it and slices it thin.  This shoulder bacon is full of rich pork flavor, has a great toothy bite and is full of salty, smoky goodness.  You can use this bacon in baked beans or use it instead of corned beef with cabbage for a great east coast supper.  My favorite application of shoulder bacon though is in a traditional breakfast sandwich.  A couple slices of this bacon with a nice poached egg on a homemade english muffin is a real taste treat.

The other location to get great bacon at the Halifax Market is Roselane.  They have your standard sliced bacon but the bacon that brings me back over and over is their double smoked bacon.  It is well cured, double smoked and then sliced ever so thin.  A little bit of this in a sandwich or in a potato salad adds a beautiful rich smokey flavor without overpowering your dish with bacon.  The other thing I like about this bacon is it is dry… it has not been loaded with water to increase the weight so when you cook it you can actually get a sear.  It is a real treat to cook bacon without getting a steam facial.

The most recent place I have tried getting bacon from is Meadowbrook Meat Market located just outside of Berwick.  This farm to table operation produces some of the best bacon I have ever had.  Using sustainable farming methods to produce the pork and then curing it and smoking to perfection they produce an amazing product.  Their varieties include a maple bacon that has my house smelling like a sugar shack and a Montreal smoke meat spiced bacon that as Chef Greg Clancy of Untitled Eats says “is a game changer.”  This farm to table high quality approach has earned Meadowbrook the Taste of Nova Scotia 2011 Producer of the Year Award.  Here in the city you can pick up their product at Pete’s or at the Alderney Gate Ferry Terminal 7 days a week.

Once you have sourced some real bacon from one of our local suppliers you need to take your time cooking it.  Never slap bacon into a hot pan, this will lead to bacon where the meat is hard and overcooked and the fat is stringy and unrendered.  Pork belly requires low slow cooking.  On a griddle or in a frying pan heat the pan over very low heat (1 or 2) and then lay the bacon in filling as much of the pan as you can without overlapping.  Allow the bacon to slowly cook, I turn it every 3 to 5 min for the first 15 min to ensure even cooking.  Then in the end turn in more frequently.  It takes about 20 minutes to get it cooked properly.  Also never drain off the fat, cooking bacon in its rendered fat helps keep it tender and stops the meat from burning before the fat is rendered out.  When you see really small bubbles of fat that indicates that much of the water has been cooked out and you are almost done.  Rest your bacon on a clean paper towel and serve.  This will give you a crispy bacon where much of the fat has been rendered out so there are no stringy bits.

Pork is the most popular meat in the world and bacon is so popular I know vegetarians who eat it. (I kid you not I roomed with a vegetarian who tried to sick me out when I ate meat but would drive across town to get bacon).  However as with many great foods we don’t get the real goods at our factory food outlets.  If you want to have the best bacon available I strongly encourage you to try out some of our great local suppliers.

Mustard and Horseradish crusted Standing Rib Roast


We have been lead to believe that the grain fed beef is the bench mark for quality beef and that Alberta is the best source of Canadian beef.  Marketers have spent millions to create this perception because the cheapest way to produce beef is by feeding it grain.  How can that be when grass fed beef is just eating grass and you have to buy grain you ask?  It is because of the amount of land it takes to produce grass fed beef.  This is not intended as a shot at feedlot beef, I choose not to eat it but there is no other way to produce the quantity of beef that we desire in North America.

Having said that if you desire a real taste treat you should try grass fed Nova Scotia beef.  Getaway farms produces a premier product and you can get fresh cuts 7 days a week from Meat Mongers at the Halifax Seaport Farmers Market.  This is a nice lean beef, that is full of flavor.  The fat that there is has a beautiful flavour and texture and is a nice compliment to this prime beef.

For a real treat I purchased a 2 rib standing rib roast and was not disappointed.  I took great care in preparing this roast to ensure that I would be able to enjoy it fully.  I seared it, crusted it and slow roasted it to a medium.  Then made a jus out of the pan drippings and served it with roasted potatoes and veggies.  If you are a lover of roast beef this is the recipe for you.

Ingredients 

1 2 rib standing Rib Roast

2 Tbsp Dijon Mustard

1 Tbsp Prepared Mustard

2 tsp Horseradish

12 Cloves of Garlic

1 tsp each Black and White Pepper Corns

2 tbsp Grape seed Oil

2 Carrots pealed and cut into strips

2 Stocks of Celery cut into strips

1 Onion rough chopped

1 Cup of Red Wine

1 Cup of Homemade Beef Stock 

2 tsp olive oil

2 tsp honey

Salt the Rib Roast with course salt and bring to room temperature on a paper towel.  Wipe the roast dry, dust with fresh ground pepper.  Heat the grape seed oil over high heat and sear the roast on all sides for about 3 minutes each side until you get a good hard sear.  Allow to cool a bit on a plate so you can handle it.  Peal and crush six clove of garlic.  Slit the roast with a paring knife and insert the cloves of garlic into the slits. Combine the mustards, horseradish, course ground white and black pepper corns, 2 cloves of chopped garlic and coat the entire outside surface of the roast with it.

Preheat the oven to 325 and line the bottom of the pan with the carrots, celery, onion and 4 cloves of rough chopped garlic and toss in olive oil.  Place a rack over the veggies and set the roast fat side up on the rack.

Roast the beef in the oven, that fat drippings will coat the veggies and the juices and veggies will flavor the jus.  Cook to 130 degrees then when resting the temp should go to 135.

While the beef is resting strain out the drippings remove the veg and put back into the roasting pan.  Heat over high heat then deglaze with red wine, reduce a little then add in the beef stock.  Strain into a sauce pot add in the honey and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the beef sliced off the bone with roasted potatoes and seasonal veggies.

Thanks to my Nova Scotia farmers for the amazing product, local is so much better!!

Beef – Getaway Farms

Veggies – Taproot Farm

Red Wine – Jost Vineyards 

Garlic – Evan’s Family Farm

Herb and Lemon Spatchcocked Chicken


I was looking for something special to do with chicken so I asked Graham from Meat Mongers at the Halifax Market what he suggested.  He introduced me to spatchcock or butterflied chicken.  This chicken is cut down the backbone and split so that it rests on the bones and the skin is all exposed to the air allowing for a very crispy skin.  The fat layer under the skin is on the top of the meat as it roasts allowing it to baste itself as the fat renders off.  In addition the presentation on the plate is beautiful.

Get Away Meat Mongers at the Halifax Seaport Farmers Market has sourced some amazing free range chicken.  They have whole chicken, chicken pieces and spatchcock chicken.  I love the way they store the chicken pieces and spatchcock chicken, in a cooler open to the air.  This dries out the skin, making it that much easier to get a crispy skin.  There is a difference in appearance in air dried chicken, honestly because of what I am used to in stores it does not look “fresh”.  However it is significantly fresher than chicken in the stores.  The air dired skin looks different but it is the bet way to get delightfully crispy skin on your roasted chicken dishes.  This free range chicken is much better for us and way more flavorful, it is worth the extra cost.  When you add the craftsmanship shown by my butcher, you are going to get much better results in the kitchen.

Here is my first (definitely not last) spatchcocked chicken recipe.

Lemon and Herb Roasted Spatchcock Chicken

1 Spatchcocked Chicken

1/2 cup butter

zest from one lemon

4 lemon halves

6 leafs thai basil

2 olive oil poached garlic cloves

1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Course sea salt

Place the chicken on a sheet tray on paper towel, sprinkle with course sea salt, on all sides and bring to room temperature.  Pat dry then carefully separate the skin from the meat over all the cuts making pockets to hold the compound butter . Combine butter, lemon zest, thai basil, garlic and pepper in a food processor and pulse until combined.  Using your fingers slide the compound butter under the skin over the breast and thighs, then spread the remaining butter over the skin reserving a couple tablespoons for basting during the cooking process.

Preheat oven to 375, roast chickens and lemon halves on a grill pan or a rack in a roasting pan until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 155 to 160 and allow carry over cooking to bring it up another 5 degrees.  Brush with the remaining butter a couple times during the roasting process to help crisp the skin.

Serve table side as a family style dinner or divide into quarters.  Squirt oven roasted lemon over the lemon table side to sauce.

Thanks to my local suppliers for the wonderful raw materials:

Chicken – Get Away Meat Mongers

Garlic – Taproot Farm

Thai Basil – Seabright Nurseries

 

 

Sloppy Joes with Garlic Scape Pesto


One of my favorite childhood meals has to be sloppy joes.  A flavorful rich meaty sauce over grilled bread topped with cheese.  My families sloppy joes were made with a homemade meat sauce which is the key.  You cannot get the flavor of a true rich meat sauce out of a can and as with most canned goods the sodium levels are through the roof.

A good meat sauce takes time but you can make it in a large batch and it freezes beautifully.  For my sloppy joes I use a lean or extra lean ground beef.  You can mix in ground pork, veal or chicken as well but for simplicity I stick with beef.

I use grass fed beef from a local supplier (Getaway Farms).  You cannot get this kind of flavor in grain fed beef and nutritionally it is far superior.  I also know if it is fresh or frozen and can handle it appropriately.  It comes from one or at most two cows which makes it more controlled from a food safety standpoint.  My butcher and farmer can tell me the exact cut or cuts that went into it so I know what I am eating.  With this beef I never get that liver/organ meat taste that I experience from some factory food ground beef.

Unlike a burger which benefits from a higher fat content to add flavor and moisture in a meat sauce you would just strain off the fat so you might as well go lean.  Also extra lean ground beef benefits from the long slow simmer we will do a the end of this process to meld flavors.  We will also use celery, carrots and onions in this sauce and caramelization to build a deep rich flavor.  This sauce is a favorite of mine and it makes the perfect sloppy joe.

To bring this dish up a notch I replace the burger bun with some panini pressed french bread and add in some of the garlic scape pesto from my last post.  I also replace the traditional cheese slice with some fresh cheese curd.  It is still sloppy and super flavourful.

Meat Sauce

Ingredients

1.5 tbsp grape seed oil

2 pounds of fresh or thawed extra lean ground beef (allow to sit at room temp for 1 hour before using)

1 large or 2 medium onions (small dice)

3 large or 6 small carrots (small dice)

3 stalks of celery (small dice)

3 cloves of garlic (chopped)

1 tbsp tomato paste

2 tsp smoked paprika

1/3 cup bourbon or rye

1.5 tbsp worcestershire sauce

1/4 cup whole milk

1/2 tsp fresh grated nutmeg

2 cups red wine tomato sauce (prior blog post)

salt and pepper

In a large pot or dutch oven heat up 1.5 tbsp of grape seed oil over medium high to high heat, I tend to do mine on MAX.  I use grape seed oil here because of it’s high smoke point. My dad used to tease my grandmother about there being other settings on the stove then Max, now I understand why she cooked with high heat… flavor.  We have warmed the beef a bit so we don’t cool the oil off, we want to caramelize the beef to build flavor adding cold beef to hot oil will give you boiled beef.  Break the beef up and add it into the oil, sprinkle in a tsp of salt to help draw out moisture. Stir the beef with a wooden spoon often, don’t leave it sitting on high heat while you do something else, it will burn.  Keep stirring and breaking up the beef until it is well browned.  Brown is flavor.  We will end up with brown bits on the bottom of the pot, we will get that later too.

When the beef is browned, remove the beef to a plate and set aside.  If there is not enough oil to cook the veggies add a tsp more and reduce the heat to medium high.  We have find diced the veggies because we want good caramelization and when we simmer it the veggies will almost dissolve into the sauce adding amazing flavor. Add the onion, carrots and celery into the hot oil, add in another 1/2 tsp of salt which will flavor and draw water out of the veggies allowing for better caramelization.  Stir the veggies until they start to brown, then add in the garlic.  Continue to cook until everything is browned.  Be careful not to burn any components here.

When everything is well browned add the tomato paste, and paprika and cook until you see the oils separate, tomato paste is always better when you fry it off a bit.  Now we go after the brown bits on the pan which are full of flavor.  Deglaze the pan with the bourbon and worcestershire sauce.  Then add in the beef, stir well to combine and add in the milk and nutmeg and finally the tomato sauce.  Now reduce the heat to low and maintain a low simmer.  Cover and let simmer for a good 2 to 3 hours.  Stir every half hour or so adding in a little water if it starts to get too thick.  This will make the meat super tender and the flavors will meld beautifully.  When it has finished simmering add salt and pepper to taste.

This sauce is amazing in lasagna, on homemade pasta or in this case on a sloppy joe.  Make lots and freeze it for a quick family meal during the week.

Now for the Sloppy Joe

Ingredients:

French Bread

Garlic Scape Pesto

Meat Sauce

Butter

Cheese Curds

Assembly

Slice the french bread horizontally across the middle and then cut into as many servings as you desire.  Lightly butter the bread on both sides and put it into a hot panini press and cook until crispy, turning 90 degrees half way through to create cross hatching.  Then spread on a layer of garlic scape pesto.  The cross hatching we created will grab a little extra pesto which is a nice treat.

Heat up your broiler to 500 degrees, top the bread with the meat sauce and a generous amount of fresh cheese curds.  Broil until the cheese is bubbly and starts to brown, top with a little more pesto and serve.

Thanks to my local producers for providing me with ingredients to make this pop:

Beef: Getaway Farms via Meat Mongers at the Halifax Market

Celery and Onion:Taproot Farm

Garlic and Carrots: Evans Farm Market

Milk and Cheese Curd: Fox Hill Cheese House

Garlic Scape – The Green Onion of the Garlic World


I love being introduced to new product, it is one of the main reasons I enjoy my CSA share.  Garlic scape is the green ropey sprout that grows out of the garlic bulb.  During the summer these are trimmed off so the bulb can finish maturing.  I got a bunch of these in my CSA share over the last few weeks and went to the internet to figure out what to do with them.  They are too tough to just cut up and eat as you would a green onion but they have a beautiful, sweet, fresh garlic flavor.

The first thing I tried was making garlic scape pesto.  I removed the flower buds and cut the scape into 2 inch pieces which I then ground up in my food processor. I then drizzled in olive oil until I reached the consistency of a rough paste.  Then it is just a matter of adding a little salt and pepper to finish it.  I love the fresh garlicky taste of this pesto and set off on finding dishes I could make with it.

Creamy Garlic Scape Pizza:

Ingredients:

1/2 pound of pizza dough (I use my bread machine to make this)

2 tsp olive oil

1 cup béchamel sauce

1 tsp garlic scape pesto

1 tomato

1 cup spinach

1/2 cup green olives

3/4 cup fresh cheese curds

1/4 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese

I have a simple bread machine recipe for pizza dough that I like to use, the bread machine takes all of the time and effort out of this.  I can even set a timer so it is ready for me when I get home if I am out all day.

While the dough was in the bread machine I made one recipe of the béchamel sauce from a prior blog post and set it aside to cool.  Then I added in 1 tsp garlic scape pesto.

I rolled out the pizza dough onto a square cookie sheet, brushed on the olive oil and blind baked it for about 3 minutes in a 475 degree oven to crisp it up a bit.  When the pizza skin came out of the oven I spread on the béchamel sauce until the skin was covered with a thin coat, it took about a cup.  Then I topped it with tomato, sliced green olives spinach, and fresh cheese curds.  I then grated the parmesan cheese on top and baked at 500 until the cheese started to brown and the sauce was bubbly.  Allow to cool so the sauce will set up, slice and enjoy.

Garlic Bread made with Garlic Scape

Garlic bread is a favorite in this household and there is no better way to make it than with garlic scape pesto.  Raw garlic is harsh and garlic butter can get really greasy.  Garlic scape pesto has a nice amount of oil and will give a fresh garlic taste without it being over powering.

 

 

Ingredients:

1 loaf of french bread (I used my bread machine for this as well)

Garlic Scape Pesto – enough to cover off the surface of the bread

Butter

Fresh Cheese Curds

Take your loaf of french bread and slice it down the middle horizontally butter it lightly and spread with the garlic scape pesto, I like a nice layer across the whole surface, you can be generous with it.  Then top with fresh cheese curd and put into a 475 degree oven until it is bubbly and the cheese starts to brown.  This is no doubt the best garlic bread I have ever had.

I have one more recipe that I want to share with you but I will do that in my next post later this week.  Sloppy Joe’s on panini pressed french bread topped with garlic scape pesto.  It is a winner.

This is an amazing ingredient that I was not familiar with but you can pick it up at many of the local farmers markets in Nova Scotia in July and early August.

I would like to thank my farmers for the following ingredients:

Tomato, Spinach, Garlic Scape : Taproot Farms

Milk for the Béchamel and Cheese Curds: Fox Hill Cheese House

Flour for my bread and crust: Speerville Mills

Creamed Asparagus on Toast – Béchamel the Creamy Mother Sauce


Sauces are the core of great cooking.  They add flavor and moisture to food and can elevate an average meal to exceptional. We have done 2 of the 5 french mother sauces (tomato and hollandaise) and now I am going to show you a few things you can do with a béchamel sauce.

Béchamel is your classic white sauce.  It is the base for creamed eggs, alfredo sauce, cheese sauces, and is found in greek pastitiso and moussaka. When you master this quick and easy sauce you can eliminate many processed food from your pantry and make a wide variety of flavorful meals.

Yes this is a butter and milk based sauce and contains all of the calories that would indicate.  However if you are going to eat food with a white sauce base you are better off to make it yourself.  Commercial white sauces which claim to be better for you because they are low in fat are loaded with sodium, modified vegetable fats, preservatives and simple carbohydrates. Many health researchers will tell you these sauces are worst for your weight and overall health than a homemade white sauce.  From a flavour standpoint there is no comparison, commercial white sauces taste like salted wallpaper paste.  If you are going to enjoy a white sauce you are always better to make it yourself.

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp Butter

2 Tbsp all-purpose flour

2 Cups of Fox Hill Cheese Milk (If using regular milk add in 1/2 tbsp more butter)

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp fresh nutmeg

Finish seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

Yields about 1.5 cups of sauce.

The foundation of béchamel is butter and flour, this cooked together is called a roux.  You need to melt the butter over medium heat and then add the flour and stir with a whisk.  A common mistake here is to just add in the milk, you don’t want to do that yet.  You need to cook the flour, so whisk over medium heat until the roux turns a golden, almost brown color.  This is a blonde roux, there are darker ones but for a white sauce we stop the cooking here.  This process toasts the wheat a bit, if you don’t do this it will rob your sauce of flavor and add a starchy taste to it.

Once your roux is golden, slowly add in the milk and whisk until it is smooth, heat until it starts to bubble and then remove it from the heat, add in the salt and nutmeg.  You can add more milk if you desire to thin the sauce.

This sauce can be used as is, but I usually add different flavours to it depending on what I am making.

Creamed Asparagus on Toast

This recipe uses a basic béchamel sauce with a few little twists.  Prepare the béchamel as per the recipe above with the following changes.

  • After you melt the butter add in 1 tbsp of minced onion then after they soften, about 1 min add in the flour for the roux.
  • When the milk is added add in 1 tsp of dried mustard and 1/4 tsp of tabasco sauce.
  • When the sauce starts to thicken add in 3 tbsp of fresh grated parmesan cheese.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste

Preparing the Egg:

I like my boiled egg in this dish with the yolk firm but not dried out.  Take one or two eggs per person, place them in cold water, Bring to a boil over high heat then reduce to medium low for 6 minutes.  Drop into an ice bath until you can handle then peal the eggs.

Preparing the Asparagus and Plating:

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil.  Trim the lower 1/2 inch of asparagus off.  Allow 4 to 5 spears per person.  Salt the water with 1 tbsp of salt and then drop in the asparagus for 3 minutes.  Allow to dry for a couple minutes on a clean tea towel and then place on the toast, top with the béchamel and a boiled egg cut in half.  Season with a pinch of sea salt and fresh ground pepper.

This is one variation using the Béchamel mother sauce.  It is also the base for a great cheese sauce, which I will use to make spicy macaroni and cheese, and nice garlicky Alfredo sauce or any herb based cream sauce, like the one I used to make my Dill Lemon Creamed Eggs with Foxhill Cheese Milk” href=”http://realcreativeeats.wordpress.com/2011/02/24/dill-lemon-creamed-eggs-with-foxhill-cheese-milk/” target=”_blank”>Dill Lemon Creamed Eggs on Toast.  Master this mother sauce and say good by to all of the starch salt and chemical filled processed food that will harm your health and rob you of flavour.

Thanks to my local farmers for producing the high quality ingredients I used in this recipe:

Milk:          Fox Hill Cheese

Eggs:          Evans Family Farmers Market 

Asparagus:     Taproot Farms

My Week 7 CSA – More great greens including Stinging Nettles.. hmm


Week 7 of my 52 week CSA experience sees more spring greens coming my way.  There are beet greens which were a favorite of my grandfather, kale, mixed salad greens and stinging nettle ?!?! Yeah that was my thinking, but one of the advantages of having your own farmer is that they can tell you all about new products and how to use them.

Here is a clip from the email (which Taproot sends out a couple days before the share arrives) to explain how to use this product.  I will give you this because I have no clue what to do with it :).

From My Farmer: Taproot Farms 

The nettle seems to create some sort of fear. Please do not be afraid and don’t let the kids at them until they have been blanched. If you touch them you will get a bit of a tingle/sting. Dump from bag into water to rinse and then into your pot for steaming. We encourage you to embrace the nettles. There are lots of recipes for them. They are super good for you. We have recipe ideas shared by members on our blog. You can just put nettles in the search area and see what comes up. Please share your ideas with us. Use them for fresh tea, dehydrate them for future tea use, add to bread or biscuits, blanch and freeze for use another day, or make into this delicious soup that people have raved about once they tried it.

Delicious Cream of Nettle Soup

1 pound of nettle leaves

2 Tbsp oil or butter

1 minced onion

4 tsp chopped chives

3 tbsp flour

2 cups hot chicken or vegetable stock

1 cup water

2 tsp salt

1 tsp fresh ground pepper

1 cup cream

Heat oil or melt butter into soup pot.  Saute onion until soft.  Add chives and flour and stir until blended.  Slowly stir in stock, beating with wooden spoon until smooth.  Add remaining ingredients except cream and heat to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes.  Add in cream and heat until just boiling.  Season to taste.  Run soup through a sieve and sprinkle with nutmeg if desired.

I am going to try this recipe and will garnish with more fresh chives (probably garlic chives) and some fresh grated parm.  I am excited to try this.

I got some more apples in my box, and have already filled the slow cooker with them.  I cored and quartered them and caramelized them off.  I have added ginger and other spices and will be turning them into delicious apple butter.

There are also a couple of nice frozen tomatoes, which will be made into pizza sauce, carrots which will be eaten raw and by special request the parsnips will be turned into a puree again.

I absolutely loved my fiddle heads last week, which I blanched off and combined with a lemon cream sauce and tossed into pasta.  They were amazing and I am seriously thinking about creating a breakfast with english muffins, fiddleheads, poached eggs topped with a cream sauce.  I think this will be a great Sunday breakfast, what do you think?

I had some more apple cider which you will notice in the pictures never gets photographed before it is opened :).  I love that stuff.  I also have frozen strawberries and cranberries.  The strawberries and half the cranberries will be used to make fresh jam and the other half of the cranberries will be put into an orange cranberry muffin.

I am thrilled for another great week of farm fresh food curtsey of my friends at Taproot farms and Noggins Corner Farm Market.

Fresh Pasta – Comfort Food for All Seasons


Italian food is my idea of comfort food and nothing says Italian more than a plate of pasta.  I enjoy fresh pasta with a rich meaty tomato sauce.  Soft toothsome noodles coated with a rich tomato sauce with a little bits of tender ground beef.  All of this topped with fresh grated Parmesan cheese and fresh basil is a treat worthy of a fine restaurant but is simple enough to prepare at home.

In the spring time pasta can be combined with a little ricotta cheese, some wilted spinach, browned butter, balsamic and toasted pine nuts.  We can make our favorite stuffed ravioli or use it to make the perfect lasagna.  Fresh pasta will enhance your Italian recipes and it is quick and easy to make.

To make fresh pasta I am going to rely on my favorite kitchen toy, the ever helpful Kitchen Aid Mixer.  This takes all of the kneading and most of the floury mess out of making pasta.  It is quick and easy, and there is no comparing proper fresh made pasta to that which you can get in the store.

Flour is very important.  You want to use 00 Semolina flour.  This course grain flour is is perfect for making a toothsome tender noodle.  Using all purpose or whole wheat flour will still give you a noodle but the texture is just not the same.  The other thing you want to avoid is using a lot of water in your pasta. Too much water will build excessive gluten and make your noodles tough.  You also do not need to add salt into your pasta, as you will see you will boil the pasta in salted water, that will give you all the salt you need.

Here is a simple pasta recipe that you can use as the base for all of your italian favourites.

Ingredients

300 g  Semolina flour (about 2 cups)

3 Eggs and 1 Egg yolk at room temperature

1 tbsp olive oil

Room temperature water if needed (1 tbsp or less usually)

Making the dough

In the bowl of your KitchenAid mixer pour in the flour and make a well in the middle.  In a small bowl beat your eggs and oil together. Add into the well.  Attach your dough hook and begin to mix on low.  The flour will begin to get mixed into the liquid, after a few minutes scrape down the sides and continue. Once all the liquid has been incorporated lift the hook and bring the dough together with your hands.  Put the dough hook in the middle of the ball and again mix on low.  The ball should break up then reform after a minute or so, if not add in a little water, I usually don’t need any.  Allow this to kneed for about 2 minutes.

Remove the dough and wrap in plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for about an hour.  This is particularly important, the semolina needs the time to hydrate or your dough will fall apart when working it and the gluten you have formed needs to relax or the dough will be springy when your working it.

If you don’t have a mixer, this is still easy to do.  Just put down a pastry sheet and pour the flour in a mound and make a well in the middle.  Add the egg and oil mixture into the middle.  Stir the liquid scraping a little flour in each time.  Slowly incorporate the until it is a thick paste.  Then put a little flour on your hands and using your hands fold in the rest of the flour into the paste.  Form a dough ball and kneed on a floured surface for about 3 minutes.  This will be a firm dough but if it breaks up add a little water.  When done you will wrap and rest as above.

Cutting the Pasta

If you are going to make pasta it is best to have a pasta machine but it is not required.  A pasta machine will allow you to get a nice thin noodle with a consistent thickness.  If you are good with a rolling pin, flour your counter, and roll the noodle to about 1/8 of an inch thick.  Flour the top of the dough lightly then roll it up like you would a jelly roll.  Using a very sharp knife slice off the pasta into the widths you desire.  You can also use the pasta as lasagna sheets or as the top and bottom or raviolis.  I will be posting lasagna and stuffed pasta recipes in the near future.

If you are using a pasta machine then roll the dough out until it is about 1/4 inch thick, then set the rollers on the machine to the wides thickness.  Pass the pasta though the machine, reducing the thickness each pass until you reach the desired thickness.  You can then use the cutters to cut to the desired noodles or use it for lasagna or ravioli.

Boiling the Pasta

Heat up a large stock pot with water, add in about 1/4 cup of salt and a tbsp of olive oil and bring to a rolling oil.  The salt is important because it flavors the pasta, we did not add any into the recipe, the oil will coat the pasta when it is drained and adds flavor.  You want a rolling boil so the pasta does not stick together.

Place the pasta into the boiling water and boil for about 2 minutes.  To test take out a noodle and taste, it should be cooked through but still firm to the tooth.  You do not want mushy pasta.  Drain the pasta and DO NOT rinse it.  That starch is great to thicken your sauce and will help the sauce cling to your noodles.

Saucing the pasta

Finishing the pasta properly is very important.  At this point your pasta is like a sponge, all ready to absorb the the amazing flavors of your sauce.  What you want to do is heat up about a half a cup of sauce in a pot, once is is nice and hot throw the pasta back in pot over medium heat and stir until the sauce is absorbed.  This only takes a minute or so.  Then plate your pasta and top with a little more sauce.  This will give you a very flavorful pasta and you will find you will need less sauce.

I will put up a couple pasta sauce recipes to go with this soon.

The First Spring Greens of My CSA – Dandelion Greens


I can admit it, last year in my CSA I was totally unprepared for the spring onslaught of greens.  Collard greens, beet greens, kale, and swiss chard kicked my ass last year.  I could not get past the bitterness, was not sure how to cook them and was not happy at all with the results.  I watch a lot of Food Network and noticed that people from the Southern USA go crazy for greens, I could not for the life of me understand why.  Southerners, the guardians of BBQ, corn bread, mac and cheese and everything bacon, cannot be considered culinary martyrs.  If they are eating this stuff then it has to taste good.

I paid particular attention any time anyone on Food Network cooked greens, I also did some reading and discussed green preparation with a few of my twitter friends.  The first thing I learned was don’t be shy about cooking greens.  There are amazing nutrients in these greens, but they are locked up and cooking them well makes the nutrients easier for us to absorb.  Also cooking them leaches out some of the bitterness, they will still have a bitter flavor, but don’t be afraid of that, we will balance that with other flavours.

Bitter ingredients beg for fat, spice, sour and sweet.  Not to cover up the flavor but to balance it.  Now I know some people will question the use of fat here, but as was pointed out to me by Halifax nutritionist Kristine Elliott (@FeistyForks for twitter), many of the nutrients in greens are fat soluble so they will be absorbed much better if they are cooked with some fat.

My first greens this year are some of the most bitter, so it was exactly what I needed to get my green preparation down cold.  Greens were a major fail last year in this house, but the following recipes were very well received and I feel like I am ready for my spring greens.  Here are my two dandelion green recipes, and this approach will work for other bitter greens as well.

Initial Preparation:

Ingredients: 

6 cups of dandelion greens

2 tbsp sea salt

1 tbsp cider vinegar

Heat a stock pot about half full of water to a rolling boil, add in 2 Tbsp of salt and 1 Tbsp of cider vinegar.  Place the greens in the water for 12 to 15 minutes.

Drain the greens thoroughly and you can use them in one of the two following recipes.

Dandelion Greens with Bacon and Balsamic Vinaigrette

Ingredients:

1 batch of boiled greens

2 strips of thick cut meaty bacon

1/2 a small onion fine dice

1 tbsp sesame seeds

2 tsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp balsamic vinegar

1/2 tsp dijon mustard

1 tsp honey

Salt and Pepper to taste

Dice the bacon into 1/4 inch dice and render the fat off, cooking until crisp, remove from the pan and reserve.   In a saute pan heat up keep 2 tsp of the bacon fat and, add in the chopped onion and sweat until it become translucent, add in the sesame seeds.  Add in the drained greens and stir, separating the greens and mixing in the onion and sesame seeds.    Add in about 4 turns of fresh ground black pepper.  Saute until the greens are very hot and any excess moisture has cooked off.

While the greens are cooking make a dressing.  Dressings are a simple ration of 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar.  For this I used 2 tsp of olive oil, and 1 tsp of walnut oil to 1 tsp of balsamic vinegar.  I added in a 1/2 tsp of Dijon mustard and 1 tsp of honey.  Stir this together and add it to the greens.  Once it is hot add salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Sautéed Dandelions Greens with Garlic and Red Chili

Ingredients:

1 batch of boiled greens

2 tsp of olive oil

2 cloves of garlic

1/2 a small onion fine diced

1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

1/2 tsp dried crushed red chili

1 tsp of argan oil (or sesame seed oil)

1 tsp of white wine vinegar

1 tsp of honey

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a saute pan, add in the onion, crushed red chilies and garlic and sweat them off.  In another pan toast the sesame seeds until golden.  You want this toasted flavor, it will replace the smokiness from the bacon in the first recipe.  Add in the sesame seeds and greens to the pan and cook until they are very hot and the excess liquid has cooked off.  Mix the argan oil (or sesame oil), white wine vinegar and honey and then add to the greens.  Cook for a few more minutes then add salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Argan Oil: 

This is a new product to me.  I am trying to expand my inventory of healthy oils to use in sauces, dressings and dips.  Argan oil is an extremely healthy oil rich in essential fatty acids and vitamins.  It is produced out of Morocco and using this oil is not only healthy but also humanitarian benefits. The tree that produces the nut is endangered and UNESCO has hope that the expansion of sales of this oil in developed nations will encourage the cultivation and preservation of this tree.  It is a tree that does well in the harsh North Africa climate so it would be very advantageous to have groves of this tree.   The purchase of this oil also supports the women of the Berber tribe as they produce and sell this exclusively.  This is an amazing product, very nutty and rich.  It will add a lot of flavor to your veggies and salads.  Though I use predominantly local ingredients if I am going to send money over seas for a product that cannot be cultivated here, this is a great product to use.  I encourage you to hit the Halifax Market on International Day (Every Friday) and drop by the booth where it is sold.  There is a very nice young man there that will tell you all about this fantastic product and give you a taste.

Thanks to my local suppliers:

Dandelion Greens, Onions :           Taproot and Noggins CSA

Garlic and Bacon:                              Active Life Farms

A Spicy Local Beef Burger for @SweetAmyRae


I was looking for a little culinary inspiration last week and tweeted out asking for suggestions about what I should cook.  Amy Sears (@sweetamyrae) came back suggesting a hamburger that was spicy with something crunchy on it.  That was just the ticket and I was off to the kitchen.

I am fortunate to have a great supply of Getaway Farm ground beef in my freezer.  I gave up on factory food ground beef about a year ago when I requested a food safety inspector check out the use of frozen beef in Superstore ground beef.  This beef packaging was not labeled as previously frozen and I thought the practice was inappropriate. A fellow foodie (Susie the Foodie – her link is to the left) recently tried to get clarification from Superstore about their ground beef and could not get a clear answer either.  Unfortunately this has not as of yet lead to changes but I am still in discussions with meat inspectors to see if we can get labeling changes.  Though I think their behavior is reprehensible I am thankful for them pointing me the way to local food.  Had they produced a quality product I would have never found the bounty I enjoy today.

If you have great beef as your base you need to do very little to it to make a great burger.  To a half pound of beef I add 1/2 tsp of salt, a half dozen turns of fresh ground black pepper and a tsp of worcestershire sauce. Mix the beef well with your hands and form into patties.  Cook the beef in a very hot pan in a little grape seed oil.  The sear adds flavor and locks in juices, brown well on both side.  The patty should be cooked to a temperature of 160 degrees.  Place a thin slice of medium cheddar on the burger.  I used Fox Hill Cheese for this burger.

I placed this burger on a homemade bun which I made using a Fresh Crusty Sandwich Rolls – Mexican Inspired” href=”http://realcreativeeats.wordpress.com/2010/12/11/fresh-crusty-sandwich-rolls-mexican-inspired/” target=”_blank”>bun recipe I blogged out earlier.  The only change I made to it was I a did not use an egg wash and shaped the buns differently.  To shape a hamburger bun roll a 2.5 oz ball flatten with the palm of your hand and then allow it to rise.  The rest of the instructions are the same as in the original recipe.

To add a spicy element I wanted a sauce.  I have seen a number of hot pepper mustard sauces so I wanted to make my own.  I roasted off 2 habaneros 3 serranos and a hot cherry pepper.  I put them into the blender with 1/2 cup of yellow mustard and 1/2 of a cup of apple cider vinegar, and 2/3 of a cup of sugar.  Blend until smooth then strain through a fine mesh strainer to remove any skin and seeds.  Bring this to a boil and add a Tbsp of honey.  I then mixed together equal parts of oil and flour to a bowl and added 2 tsp of this mixture to the sauce to thick it, stir and then remove from heat and allow it to cool.  This got spread on the top bun of the burger.

To add some brightness I tossed some fresh spinach with my fig and vanilla aged balsamic and put that on top of the cheese.  You can make a vinaigrette with 1 part vinegar 2 parts oil, 1 part honey and a splash of vanilla.  To finish the burger I made some fresh cut fries and crispy onion strings.

To make the fries cut potatoes into fries and then in 325 degrees blanch them until they just start to brown.  Don’t over crowd the oil do in smaller batches. Drain the fries off and allow to completely cool.  Heat the oil up to 390 degrees.  Add the fries back into the oil and cook till golden brown.  Drain on fresh paper towel and then salt right away with fine sea salt.

To make the onion strings peal the onion, cut in half and slice each half into thin slices.  Break the strings apart and coat them in lightly salted flour.  Drop them in the hot oil for a few seconds until browned, this does not take long at all but they are delightfully crisp and yummy and really add to the burger.

Thanks to My Local Providers

Beef :                                               Getaway Farms

Potatoes and Veggies :              Noggins and Taproot CSA

Cheddar Cheese:                         Fox Hill Cheese House

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