On board: Planked pork

Plank soaking in apple juice and spices.

Although underwhelmed by the prime rib, David is convinced planking can work well for more than just fish. Pork, he decided, would be our next experiment.
This recipe, which calls for soaking the cedar plank in apple juice and spices, sparked our interest. We modified it for the grill rather than the oven.
We liked the results: the flavours of mulled cider, maple and mustard plus a smoky finish; pretty enough to serve to guests.

Cedar plank apple pork
A quick sauté of sliced apples in butter and a little sugar would be an excellent accompaniment to this dish. I served it with some homemade honey apple butter.

2 L (8 cups) apple juice
5 cinnamon sticks
5 mL (1 tsp) ground nutmeg
7 mL (1/2 tbsp) cloves
7 mL (1/2 tbsp) cardamom pods
1 cedar plank
two pork tenderloins
125 mL (1/2 cup) maple syrup
30 mL (2 tbsp) Dijon mustard
10 mL (2 tsp) dried tarragon
2 large cloves garlic, minced
sea salt
cracked black pepper

Combine apple juice and spices in a large shallow dish. Place cedar plank in dish, weight if necessary to keep submerged in liquid. Soak several hours or overnight.
Bring tenderloin to room temperature. Rub with minced garlic. Season with salt and pepper.
Combine maple syrup, mustard and tarragon.
Place pork on cedar plank and transfer to hot grill.
Roast, basting the maple syrup and mustard glaze, about 25 minutes. (Pork should still be slightly pink inside.)

The final result.


Soup 101: Vegetables and broth

Ingredients for vegetable soup.

Wade through the hundreds of soup recipes out there and you’ll discover most follow one of a few basic methods. Master these and you can switch up the ingredients based on what’s in season and in the cupboard to make a different soup every week of the year.
This method is a basic vegetables and broth. It’s quick-cook method, perfect for a weeknight meal. With a little practice, you can go from raw ingredients to finished soup in about 40 minutes.
Start with what the French and classically trained chefs call mirepoix or a mixture of diced carrots, celery and onions. Amounts will depend on how big of a pot of soup you’re making. But use at least one large carrot, two stalks of celery and one large yellow onion. (Don’t forget to save the scraps for stock.)
Heat a little vegetable or olive oil in your soup pot, add the mirepoix and some salt and pepper and sauté until the vegetables start to soften. For variation, add some diced red or green pepper or some minced garlic or ginger after a few minutes. Or, for a different look, julienne the vegetables or cut into large chunks.
Next, add the liquid. This can be chicken, beef or vegetable stock or water. For additional flavour, add a splash or two of wine and/or a can of tomatoes.
Then, experiment with combinations of additional ingredients. Boost the vegetable content with some sliced zucchini, mushrooms or chopped greens, such as Swiss chard, boy choy, kale or spinach.
For protein, add cooked legumes, such as black, kidney or cannellini beans or chickpeas, cubed leftover cooked chicken or beef, sliced smoked sausage (debreziner and chorizo are two favourites) or raw shrimp or other seafood. Add bulk with uncooked pasta (noodles, orzo, tortellini), potatoes or cooked rice.
Round out the flavour with fresh herbs, including parsley, thyme, basil, marjoram or summer savoury, a splash or two of cider or wine vinegar, soy sauce or lemon juice.
Simmer until everything is cooked/heated to your liking.

Asian inspired vegetable and prime rib soup.

The top photograph shows the ingredients for a recent vegetable soup. It started with a sauté of diced carrots, onions, celery and red peppers. I added chicken stock and chopped tomatoes (fresh, then frozen Romas), as well as fresh thyme, Swiss chard and canned black beans.
The Asian-inspired soup featured julienned carrots and celery, grated garlic and ginger, red pepper flakes, beef and vegetable stock, mushrooms and Swiss chard (we had a bumper crop this year), smoky barbecued beef and soy sauce.

Roasted cauliflower

Roasted cauliflower.

Stumbling on the right preparation can take an ingredient from sustaining to sublime.
Consider the often-neglected cauliflower. When overcooked, its slight sulphur odour can be a turn-off. And, with its bland appearance, it’s never called on to add visual life to a plate. (Roast chicken, mashed potatoes and steamed cauliflower anyone? Anyone?)
But break it into small florets, toss with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and roast for 30 minutes or so in a 400 Fahrenheit oven and you have a side that will have ‘em asking for seconds. You can add a bit of spice if you like — curry powder and cumin are two good options.
Whenever I roast cauliflower for a side, soup or my favourite roasted cauliflower barley risotto (recipe to come, I promise), I can’t stop myself from eating several of the crispy, golden florets off the pan before they make it to the plate.

No edamame for me

I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard for so little reward in the vegetable garden than I did this season with edamame (immature soybeans).
I love these nutty little beans for snacking and in salads, and usually pick up a bag or two in the frozen food section whenever we visit J-Town. I’ve had varied luck finding the beans in the shell (the only way I’ll buy them) at grocery stores. I’ve never seen them fresh locally. So, naturally, I thought, why not grow my own.
I was so excited to find a Canadian source for seeds, McFayden Seed Company, and thrilled that the company was able to fill my order not once but twice (I’ll get to that) this spring despite losing time and stock to the severe flooding in Manitoba.

Edamame seeds ready for (the first) planting.

The beans from first package I planted without soaking or treating, dry in the ground, like I do bush beans. When only a few sprouts appeared, I did a little digging around. The well-spaced holes in the soil were a dead giveaway — some critter also enjoyed snacking on edamame.
But I persevered. I ordered a second package and sprouted the seeds on damp paper towel before planting. Within a few days, I had shoots. A few days later, I had stubs.
I applied a mixture of dish soap, cayenne, garlic, onion and water, which works to deter rabbits from eating the Swiss chard. But, to paraphrase a lament I read on another website, edamame is like candy to rodents.
In the end, the only plants to (barely) survive were the ones planted very close to the green beans, which must have somehow masked their scent. And they were stunted — probably because they were practically smothered by the bean plants. Perhaps next year I will try alternating edamame and bean plants to see if that will fool the critters — if I think I can handle the heartbreak.
Has anyone out there had success growing edamame in their garden? What is your secret?

Good gravy

While gravy is normally a rarity in our house, I have made it twice in as many weeks: a thick turkey gravy for Thanksgiving dinner and a thinner, but still very flavourful, beef gravy to go with the surprisingly traditional prime rib dinner (beef, gravy, horseradish, roasted potatoes, carrots and rutabagas and steamed green beans — the last three from my garden) we had on Sunday.
Here is my basic method for making good gravy.

Pan drippings, flavourful liquid and a slurry are all you need to make a good gravy.

pan drippings
1 L (4 cups) or more chicken or beef stock and red wine (optional)
45 mL (2-1/2 tbsp) flour
375 mL (1-1/2 cups) milk or water
salt and pepper

Keep some liquid in your pan while roasting. This not only keeps your meat moist, it prevents any drippings from blackening in the pan and giving your gravy a burned flavour. For turkey, I always use homemade chicken stock. For the best beef gravy, I use a combination of dry red wine and beef stock. Add a cup or two of liquid to start and top it up as necessary while roasting.
Transfer meat or bird from pan to a large platter and tent with aluminum foil.
Place roasting pan on stove, covering two burners. Turn both up to medium-high. Add additional liquid to measure about 1 litre (4 cups). Boil while scraping the bottom of pan for five to 10 minutes.
In a mason jar, mix together flour and milk (for poultry gravy) or water (for beef gravy) and shake until combined. (This mixture is called a slurry.)
Add slurry, plus salt and pepper to taste to roasting pan. Cook until bubbly and thickened, then cook one minute more. Skim fat from top of gravy if necessary.
Strain gravy through a fine mesh sieve before serving.

One last corn recipe

When I happened upon this blog post on Chickens in the Road, it made my frugal domestic heart beat a little faster. I love finding new ways to use those bits and bobs that normally end up in the green bin.
It’s hard to describe the subtle flavour of this jelly. Some compare it to honey.

Corn cob jelly
I followed this recipe pretty much to the letter. Although I must have boiled it harder or longer, because I ended up with about 1,750 mL of jelly rather than the 2,500 mL Chickens did.

Step 1: boil cobs in water.

12 large ears of corn
2 L (2 quarts) water
30 mL (2 tbsp) lemon juice
1 package powdered pectin

The final result: corn cob jelly.

Cook corn; cut kernels from cobs and store for another use.
Add water and cobs to large pot. Bring to a boil; boil hard, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
Remove cobs. Strain liquid through cheesecloth or fine wire sieve.
Measure liquid. Return to pot.
Stir in lemon juice and pectin. Bring to boil. Add amount of sugar equal to liquid. Stir to dissolve sugar.
Bring to boil. Boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat. Ladle jelly into hot, sterilized jars. Process in water canner for 10 minutes.

You can’t have too much corn

When David’s brother, sister-in-law and young nephew agreed to a last-minute visit on Labour Day weekend, they promised to bring a peach pie and corn. I’d already purchased a dozen cobs for the weekend, so David pulled out the Weber Ranch and grilled the whole lot, alongside some pork tenderloin, for dinner. Potato salad and mixed greens rounded out the meal.
Naturally, we had leftovers. And, with my sister and her young son joining us all for brunch the next day, a great reason to try a new recipe.
We liked these fritters so much (and had so much fantastic grilled corn stashed in the freezer), we made them again Thanksgiving weekend.

Corn fritter frying in my favourite cast iron pan.

Corn fritters
This recipe a slight modification of one by PEI chef Michael Smith.
I found I needed just a little more flour to stick everything together and I used less oil to fry the cakes.
I served the fritters with a choice of maple syrup, chili sauce and piquante sauce. My preference is the piquante.
Makes four generous servings.

3 ears of fresh corn, kernels removed from cobs (about 1 L or 4 cups of kernels)
3 eggs
60 mL (1/4 cup) flour
45 mL (3 tbsp) corn meal
salt and pepper
2 green onions, thinly sliced
250 mL (1 cup) grated cheddar cheese
vegetable oil

Whisk corn and eggs in a large bowl.
Add flour, cornmeal, salt and pepper and mix well.
Stir in green onion and cheddar.
Heat large skillet over medium heat. Add a little oil and spread to evenly cover pan.
Add spoonfuls of batter and flatten to form cakes.
Cook until golden, flip and cook other side.
Continue cooking in batches, adding more oil as needed.