Where has summer gone? The golden rod is in full bloom, swaying in my meadow as if in a dance with the Queen Anne’s lace. The crickets are busy chirring and the birds are stopping to fuel up on their way South. The baby raccoons and groundhogs are all grown up and fending for themselves.
The baby pileated woodpecker was caught begging for food yesterday from its parent, even though he is just as large as they are.
The nights are getting cooler and maple leaves are finding their way to the green carpet all over the farm. Harvest time is beginning and my days are about to get busier.
Yes, it is that time of year again when my garden is bursting with zucchini. I turn my back for a moment and the zucchini have doubled in size. I find myself looking for new homes for this versatile vegetable. One hint: Always call and ask first if your friends or neighbours want to take in your zucchini. Sometimes they can take up an entire shelf in the fridge.
Of course it is best to try and pick them while they are still young, but it never seems to happen that way. No matter what, I always end up with a few the sizes of dirigibles. Growing zucchini is wonderful for children; the plants are the size of the plants that appear in the landscape of "Jurassic Park."
As a chef I love to find different ways to prepare this vegetable. To me it is the tofu of the vegetable world.
Here are a few suggestions. Let me know what you like to do with your surplus zucchini crop.
Deep fried zucchini served with a blue cheese or chipotle dip
Grated raw into a salad or on top of salad fixings
Baked zucchini coins with parmesan or pecorino
Stuffed baked zucchini – this can be vegetarian
Marinated with balsamic and grilled zucchini
Zucchini pancakes and fritters or waffles
Stir fried Asian zucchini or tempura battered
Zucchini fries coated with panko or cornmeal
Zucchini coins with sun dried tomatoes and goats cheese appetizers
Zucchini ribbon salad with vinaigrette and herbs
Grated or diced and tossed into pasta
Use zucchini in omelettes or quiches
On top of pizzas or as the base for a pizza
Zucchini and spinach soup
The one dish that zucchini fails at for me was pickles. They became soggy.
The best part about zucchini is that it can be used in baked goods such a muffins or bread pudding and now we come to Zucchini Bread.
Every year I make this delicious fast and easy zucchini bread. You can pull it together in minutes with ingredients that you have on hand. This loaf freezes beautifully and I make two so there is one in the freezer for company. If you have too much zucchini on hand, just grate it and freeze it for later use. I add blueberries, nuts or frozen cranberries to the batter if I have them on hand. I also put some granola on top after it has been in the oven for about 15 minutes.
TIP: If you find that zucchini is watery, gently press out the excess fluid.
I love this zucchini bread because it is moist and not too sweet.
Farmhouse Zucchini Bread
1 cup white sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice, optional
2 cups grated zucchini, yellow or green
2 large eggs at room temperature, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
1/2 cup orange juice (and I add some zest as well)
1/4 cup neutral vegetable oil
1/2 cup toasted chopped nuts, optional
1 cup of cranberries or blueberries, optional
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease 9-by-5-inch loaf pan; set aside.
In large bowl, mix together sugar, flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and pumpkin pie spice.
Stir in grated zucchini, beaten eggs, vanilla, orange juice and oil. Add nuts and/or berries.
Mix well until flour has disappeared. Pour into prepared pan.
Bake for about 1 hour, until toothpick inserted in loaf comes out clean.
Tip out of pan and cool on rack. Enjoy while warm, and this bread toasts beautifully the next day.
Summer is in full swing and it is wonderful to have a show-off cake in your repertoire. My Classic Black Forest Cake always gets rave reviews and is a stunning summer time dessert. Something magical happens after the combination of cream, cherries, chocolate and Kirsch, a cherry based liqueur. The cake recipe is so simple and makes a delicious and moist cake. The real time-consuming element is the assembly.
I know it may seem complicated, but you can use a cake mix if you are pressed for time. If you are not good with a piping bag, you can just spoon little piles on top of the cake – or eliminate the rosettes altogether. I would not use a canned whipping cream dispenser as the cream melts so quickly.
European cakes often call for simple syrup, which is simply water and sugar combined in equal amounts, brought to the boil to dissolve the sugar, and then cooled. Leftover syrup is perfect for mixed drinks (I was once a bartender and this is one of their tricks) and in fruit salads.
Kirsch may be hard to find – you can substitute another liqueur if you like or omit it altogether if you do not like alcohol in your cakes. By the way, Kirsch is that secret ingredient in Swiss Cheese Fondue.
Chef Elizabeth's Classic Black Forest Cake
2 1/3 cups lukewarm water
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs at room temperature, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 1/3 cups white sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder, sifted
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 to 1/2 cup Kirsch liqueur, optional
See notes above.
1 jar (500 ml) pitted sour cherries, drained and soaked in Kirsch
2 to 3 cups heavy cream
2 packets (9 grams each, about 2 teaspoons) Dr. Oetker Vanilla Sugar
2 packets (10 grams each, about 2 teaspoons) Dr. Oetker Whip It (whipping cream stabilizer)
1 teaspoon Kirsch
3 to 4 ounces grated semi-sweet chocolate
8 macerated sour cherries
1. Heat oven to 325 F. Grease and flour two 9-inch pans, or use parchment paper liners; set aside. If you like, you can use 4 pans, but I slice my cake once it has cooled after baking to create layers.
To prepare cake:
2. In large bowl or mixer, place water, oil, eggs, vanilla, sugar and cocoa powder. Beat on low speed, or by hand, for about 2 minutes, or until batter is well-blended.
3. Sift together flour, baking soda and salt, and then add to cocoa mixture. Beat for additional 2 minutes, scraping sides of bowl. NOTE: This batter is very thin.
4. Divide into pans and bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.
5. While cakes bake, prepare Simple Syrup; set aside.
To prepare filling:
6. Drain cherries (reserve juice to add to simple syrup if you like) and soak cherries in some Kirsch.
7. Once cooled, cut each cake in half. If you made just 2 layers, sprinkle with Simple Syrup and/or Kirsch. (I do both. You may have to level off the cakes at this stage or they will not stack easily.)
8. Whip heavy cream and add vanilla sugar and stabilizer as cream thickens, if desired (it does help), and flavour with some Kirsch, if desired.
To assemble cake:
9. Assemble cake by spreading some whipped cream on top of 1 layer of cake and distributing cherries evenly on top, then repeat process.
To decorate cake:
10. Grate chocolate and sprinkle on sides and top of layered cake.
11. Pipe 8 rosettes of whipped cream and top each rosette with 1 Kirsch marinated cherry.
Summer is around the corner and everyone loves to have a delicious fruit muffin recipe in his or her repertoire. Here is a recipe that works well with all sorts of seasonal fruit. These blueberry muffins are absolutely delicious. The extra step of stewing some of the berries is well worth the trouble. These muffins are more like a coffee cake with its crumb/streusel topping. I am a huge fan of streamlined baking recipes that do not call for creaming the butter and sugar. This muffin recipe is fairly low in fat, and yet it stays moist. Many muffins dry out very quickly. I published a cake recipe last summer that called for the cooked fruit method, and it really does adds flavour, texture and moisture. (This recipe has been adapted from Cook's America's Test Kitchen.)
I pick my blueberries each summer at a local farm called Patch of Blue in Penetanguishene, Ontario. I use frozen berries all year round, and I love having them in my freezer to make these muffins, compote for my desserts and pancakes, to add to my morning cereal, to add to crisps, and to use in smoothies.
One of the great benefits of country living is that I am near several pick-your-own farms. I have always loved picking my own fruit and vegetables with my children, and we still do it every summer and fall. I have already picked local fiddleheads and my asparagus. I recall picking strawberries and apples when my eldest daughter was just a baby, and she waited patiently in the baby carrier. Picking peas was more difficult because I had to keep bending down, and she would almost fall out of the carrier. The chef in me is happy when I stand in the heat and stare at a sea of berry bushes begging to be picked.
This summer I strongly suggest you pick your own fruit and/or vegetables and that includes blueberries, or buy local organic – you will be happy you did. Picking your own saves you lots of money, and you will see how much hard work it is. Picking your own brings you great satisfaction, and it also helps to release your inner harvester – after all, we are hunter-gatherers. The best part is that you will have loads of berries all winter at a fraction of the cost. Blueberries that are frozen are just as good in baking as fresh ones. One piece of advice would be to pick what you think you can eat or put up for the year. It is best not to pick more than you need because then it becomes wasted energy and food. Last night I made sauce (ragu) with the tomatoes that I canned last fall, and it tasted as fresh as if the tomatoes were freshly picked. I hope everyone enjoys nature's bounty this summer.
When you go to pick your own remember: Bring lots of water, a hat and wear sunscreen.
Best Blueberry Muffins
Yields 12 muffins.
For Crumb Topping:
1 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 cups (about 10 ounces) fresh or frozen blueberries, picked over and divided into two amounts of 1 cup each
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon white sugar, divided
2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/3 cup neutral flavored oil
1 cup buttermilk or soured milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1. To make the crumb topping: In a bowl, whisk together flour, brown sugar, salt and cinnamon. Pour in melted butter and toss mix until large crumbs form.
2. To make the muffins: Adjust oven rack to the upper-middle position and preheat oven to 400 F. Spray standard muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray or line with large parchment paper liners; set aside.
3. In small saucepan, bring 1 cup blueberries and 1 tablespoon sugar to simmer over medium heat. Cook gently while crushing berries with potato masher or whisk, and stir frequently, until berries have broken down and mixture is thickened and reduced to 1/4 cup, about 6 minutes. Transfer to small bowl and stir the berry mixture until it cools to room temperature, 10 to 15 minutes. To speed up the process, place the mixture in the fridge. (You can do this ahead if you like or even substitute thinned down jam.)
4. In large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In medium bowl, whisk together reaming sugar and eggs until thick and homogeneous, about 45 seconds. Slowly whisk in butter and oil until combined. Whisk in buttermilk, vanilla and almond extract. Using a rubber spatula, fold egg mixture and remaining blueberries into flour mixture until just moistened. (The batter will be very lumpy, be careful not to over-mix.)
5.Divide half of the batter equally among prepared muffin cups. The cups should be about half full. Spoon 1 teaspoon cooked berry mixture into center of each mound of batter. Using a skewer or the handle of a spoon, gently swirl berry filling into batter to evenly distribute the mixture. Cover the berry mixture with the rest of the batter. Sprinkle the crumb topping evenly over muffins, pressing the crumb mixture gently into the batter so that it sticks to the batter.
6. Bake until muffin tops are golden and just firm, 15 to 20 minutes, rotating muffin tin from front to back halfway through baking time.
7. Place the cooked muffins on a wire rack and let the muffins cool for 5 minutes, then remove them from the muffin tin to finish cooling. If you use parchment paper, which prevents sticking, this job will be much easier. (They are delicious while still warm, try spreading some butter over the muffins.)
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Mitzi's German Goulash is a family heirloom recipe that is the essence of simplicity and rusticity. You can make it with just three ingredients: stewing beef, onions and seasonings.
You will never believe how just a few ingredients can turn into such a hearty flavorful dish. This goulash is perfect comfort food on those chilly spring nights. There are many variations of goulash and, in certain areas of Europe, it is considered a soup if it is served with bread. You can add potatoes or celery or carrots, but I like how intense the flavor is with fewer ingredients. That is the magic of the recipe. When Mitzi first served this goulash for me a few years ago, it was love at first bite.
This is the simplest recipe you will ever make, and, trust me, it is delicious. No need to brown the meat or the onions. This would make a great slow-cooker recipe – just increase the cooking time to 6 to 8 hours on low depending on the slow cooker. There is no need to use any oil.
Some people like to buy a whole cut of meat and break it down themselves for stewing meat. This way you are sure of what you are buying. What you buy at the grocery store is of the large variety of bits and pieces from various cuts or scraps. Often the pieces in the “stewing meat” packages are very uneven. If you buy your ow,n you can cut it into equal sized pieces that will cook evenly.
Cuts of meat vary across North America. Some of the suggested cuts are chuck, top chuck, rump roast top round, or outside round. You are looking for lean cuts that have collagen in them that break down through slow cooking to make the meat so tender.
Choose well-marbled meat for the best results. For deep flavour you need the fat to break down and add moisture over a long cooking time. If the meat is too lean, the goulash will be dry and tough.
Do not cut the pieces too small or they will dissolve in the goulash.
Make sure your pan has a heavy bottom and a tight fitting lid because this is what causes the steam and creates the juices for the sauce.
I use sweet onions, but you can use regular cooking onions. If you like, you can cut back on the onion.
You do not need to add wine if you do not want; the result is delicious just the same.
Make sure your paprika is fresh. Feel free to use smoked paprika if you prefer.
I serve this with fresh homemade bread or over egg noodles or mashed potatoes.
This recipe keeps well in the fridge for two or three days, and in the freezer for up to a month. Remember to label and date your leftovers.
Mitzi’s German Goulash
2 pounds well-marbled stewing beef cut into even-sized pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 pounds onions, sliced (I use the sweet variety)
2 or 3 medium carrots, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (optional)
1 to 2 teaspoons paprika
Cut the beef into even sized pieces for even cooking; season with salt and pepper.
Place the meat and the onions in a medium heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or sauce pan with a tight fitting lid, and place lid on top.
Bring to a gentle boil and let simmer for 2 to 3 hours, stirring often to prevent scorching. Check to see if enough liquid is being generated by the steam. If not, add water or wine.
If desired, you can add carrots during the last 45 minutes of cooking.
Thirty minutes before the goulash is done, add paprika.
Serving Recommendations: I serve this with cayenne pepper on the side and fresh homemade bread or over egg noodles.
Beverage Recommendation: Cabernet or Merlot or a Cold glass of German Beer
Pecan pie is a very indulgent treat, yes, it is sweet and, yes, pecans are expensive. This special pie reminds me of my childhood, I loved it. Pecan pie was my mother's favourite pie of all, she only ate the pecans. After baking with the filling, the pecans become so deeply nutty. I could understand why she would eat the entire topping. Everyone loves Pecan Pie. How do you pronounce Pecan? Puh-con or pee-Can? Homemade pecan pie is quick and easy to make and so delicious. I find it a go-to dessert for company. No one believes how easy it is to make. But everyone agrees how delicious pecan pie is and how hard it is to resist a second slice.
For the pie crust, many bakers swear by the Tenderflake lard recipe. I like to use a pure butter crust. If you follow me you know that I recommend having a few homemade pie crusts in the freezer, they do come in handy. Remember to date them.
For convenience, you can buy a pre-made crust. I have tried the Pillsbury brand and it is very good. You will find it in the refrigerator section of your grocery store. Make sure to check the best-before date on the package. I find that the frozen pie shells are often chipped and they break too easily. I add a tablespoon of lemon juice to the pie to cut the sweetness. Make sure to taste the pecans before using them to test for freshness. I use both roughly chopped and whole pecans as this gives the pie a more complex texture and flavour. Use only pure vanilla when you bake, it makes all the difference.
Farmhouse Pecan Pie
1 1/2 to 2 cups pecans, divided (3/4 whole pecans, 3/4 cup roughly chopped pecans)
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup corn syrup
3/4 cup white sugar
Pinch of salt
4 tablespoons butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons Bourbon, Kahlua or Rum (optional)
1 (9- to 10-inch) unbaked pie shell
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Place the pie plate on a baking sheet covered with parchment or foil to catch any spills; set aside.
Place the 3/4 cup whole pecans on the bottom of the unbaked pie shell.
In a medium bowl, stir together eggs, corn syrup, sugar, the pinch of salt, melted butter, vanilla, lemon juice and liquor until well-blended.
Stir in roughly chopped pecans. Pour into shell and place on the prepared baking sheet and then into the preheated oven.
Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until center is set. Cool on a wire rack.
Serve with bourbon- or vanilla-laced whipped cream, or ice cream if desired. I do not add sugar to my whipped cream, this pie does not need any more sweetness.
The days are getting longer in Georgian Bay but there are plenty of snowy days ahead and this French Onion Soup is a delicious end to a busy day. This 1970s classic, made popular by Julia Child, deserves a comeback. At one point I am sure everybody had a set of onion soup dishes. Outside of the cheese, this is an economic meal.
This can be made in a slow cooker. You can use your food processor to slice the onions. Try and buy Vidalia – they are sweeter. You can make this ahead and refrigerate or freeze the soup. For best results use good quality baguette regular bread will disintegrate into the soup.
Chef Elizabeth’s Classic French Onion Soup
Servings: 4 servings | Difficulty: Easy
1/2 stick butter = 1/4 pound
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 cups thinly sliced onions (about 2 1/2 pounds)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
8 cups beef stock or chicken stock – beef gives a richer flavour, divided and heated
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup cognac, or other good brandy (this adds flavour but it is optional)
1 cup dry white or red wine or vermouth
8 (1/2-inch) baguette cut into thick slices and toasted or cut into croutons and toasted
3/4 pound coarsely grated Gruyere or Swiss cheese
Heat a heavy saucepan over moderate heat with the butter and oil. When the butter has melted, stir in the onions, cover, and cook slowly until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes.
Blend in the salt, pepper and sugar, increase the heat to medium high, and let the onions brown, stirring frequently until they are a dark walnut color, 25 to 30 minutes.
Sprinkle in the flour and cook slowly, stirring, for another 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat, let cool a moment, then whisk in 2 cups hot stock. Bring the soup to the simmer, adding the rest of the stock, cognac and wine. Add the bay leaves and sprigs of thyme.
Cover loosely, and simmer very slowly 1 1/2 hours, adding a little water if the liquid reduces too much. Taste for seasoning and remove the bay leaves and thyme leaves.
Divide the soup among 4 ovenproof bowls. Arrange toast on top of soup and sprinkle generously with grated cheese. NOTE: You can make the French Onion Soup up to this point and then refrigerate or freeze.
Place bowls on a cookie sheet and place under a preheated broiler until the cheese melts and forms a crust over the tops of the bowls. Serve immediately.
Wine suggestion: a crisp Sauvignon Blanc or Merlot
Recipe adapted from Julia Child's "The Way to Cook"
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Everyone looks for shortcuts in the kitchen especially during the weeknights. I suggest you pick up a package of broccoli slaw or even prepared coleslaw and have it as a staple in your kitchen. It is affordable, the work is done, and it is delicious.
When I'm busy on the farm, I like to have prepared broccoli and or carrot slaw in my fridge. I find that I reach for it all the time to add color, freshness, nutrition and crunch to my dishes.
There are two main ways to use Broccoli Slaw:
Make a Slaw: by that I mean dress and season it, and use it as you would any coleslaw – eat it as is or get creative and use it as a topping or filling.
Use it Raw: by that I mean no dressing – use broccoli slaw as a mixed vegetable to add flavour, color and crunch and, yes, nutrients. You can chop it or process it and use it as a nutritious filler for your meat or fish loaves.
Or try one of these suggestions:
- On top of grilled chicken, pork, beef
- As a “bed” for grilled chicken or seafood
- On top of burgers or hot dogs
- As a garnish for chili
- Use in fish or crab cakes
- On top of a lobster roll
- As a filling in po' boys
- Inside a submarine sandwich
- Inside a fish taco
- Add golden raisins or dried cranberries like Mom used to
- Add to rice or quinoa
- Mix with kale for a nutritious salad
- As a topping for pulled pork
- Inside a tortilla wrap
- Add it to soup
- Add it to or top a bowl of pho
- Inside salad rolls
- On top of any salad
- As a slaw to serve with salsa and tortilla chips
- As part of a stir fry
- Mix it with Asian noodles and dressing
- Chopped, it can be used in a veggie “burger”
- Chopped, it can be used inside meatloaf, burgers or meatballs
- Chopped, use it inside stuffed peppers or cabbage rolls
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