Home-ground garam masala

Making garam masala, a spice mix common in Indian cooking, is easy. Sourcing the ingredients, in particular the black cardamom, can be difficult. Check the ethnic section of your local grocery store and bulk store. If you happen to have one close, an Indian grocer is your best bet.

Ingredients for garam masala.

Garam masala
This recipe comes from ecurry. I recommend it. Use it in traditional Indian recipes or make up your own, as I did last week, adding it, along with some tumeric, grated ginger, garlic and yogurt to a quick saute of chicken, cauliflower, onion, carrot and red pepper.

Ingredients
125 mL (1/2 cup) whole coriander seeds
60 mL (1/4 cup) cumin seeds
30 mL (2 tbsp) small green cardamoms
6 to 8 black cardamoms
30 mL (2 tbsp) cloves
15 mL (1 tbsp) black peppercorns
cinnamon sticks measuring 20 cm (8 inches) total
3 bay leaves
3 dried red chiles
2 mL (1/2 tsp) ground nutmeg

Method
Toast each spice separately in a dry pan, until just fragrant. They will burn easily. Allow to cool.
Grind spices in a spice grinder (I have a coffee grinder I use just for spices.)
Store in a tightly sealed container.

Home-ground garam masala.

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Braised baby bok choy

Baby Shanghai bok.

Bok choy, along with a host of other Asian vegetables, is grown right down the road from me in the Holland Marsh. Regular boy choy has white stalks and dark ruffled leaves. Shanghai bok has light green stalks and smooth leaves. Depending on the weather, you can expect to find local bok choy in Ontario grocery stores through November.
This robust slightly bitter green is a natural in stirfries and Asian inspired soups.
But my favourite way to cook it is braising. Baby bok choy works best for this. Simply wash, cut in half lengthwise and cook in a flavourful liquid.
For a side dish, sauté some chopped onions in a blend of vegetable and sesame oil. Add some grated ginger, minced garlic and/or red pepper flakes, then a splash or two of soy sauce, fish sauce and rice wine vinegar. Add boy choy, sprinkle with black sesame seeds and cook in the liquid until leaves are slightly limp and stalks tender crisp.
I served this for dinner Saturday night along side a barbecued striploin roast that had been marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, ginger, orange zest, red pepper flakes and brown sugar.

Braised baby Shanghai bok.

For a quick one-pot dish, braise chicken thighs and baby bok.
Start by browning skinless chicken thighs in oil in a deep, lidded pot. (I love my enamel-coated cast iron Dutch oven for recipes like this.)
Remove chicken and sauté chopped onions in a blend of vegetable oil and sesame oil. As above, add grated ginger, minced ginger, red pepper flakes, soy sauce, fish sauce and rice wine vinegar to suit your tastes. Then add a few cups of homemade chicken stock. Return chicken to pot, cover and simmer until nearly done, about 20 or 25 minutes.
If desired, add a slurry of a spoonful of cornstarch mixed with 60 to 80 mL (1/4 to 1/3 cup) of cold water. Simmer for a minute or two to thicken sauce.
Add halved baby bok choy, sprinkle with sesame seeds and cook until leaves are slightly limp and stalks tender crisp.
Serve over rice.

The last stalk

I picked the last of your Swiss chard on Sunday afternoon. I sautéed it simply with olive oil and a couple cloves of sliced garlic for dinner. It was a perfect accompaniment to roast pork loin with a mustard-peppercorn crust and apple cider sauce and puree of butternut squash and apple.
I also cut the kale and froze the leaves for a future soup.
And I dug up our first parsnips of the season for a thick turkey stew on Monday.
With a pitchfork stuck at the end of parsnip rows (we’ll need the visual reminder once the snow arrives) and brown leaves covering the now bare soil, the garden is ready for winter.

The last of the Swiss chard, ready for the saute pan.

In search of India

It’s easy to pull together a fairly tasty Indian dinner using the pre-blended spice mixtures, curry powder or garam masala, or sauces you find at the grocery or bulk food store. But for a meal that is more authentic and satisfying in its preparation and flavours, I am learning to start with the whole spices, then grind, toast, fry and blend.
We are hosting dear friends for an Indian feast this weekend. And, while I won’t spoil the surprise by detailing the menu here, I did want to post about the spices required to make six dishes from scratch — starter, main, two sides, condiment and dessert.
Although my spice cupboard (not rack, cupboard) is well stocked, I did need to add some items for this undertaking. Here is the sum of my list.

Perhaps the prettiest of spices, star anise.

These items (most of which I always have on hand) are readily available in my local Bulk Barn:
• green cardamom
• star anise
• coriander seeds
• cumin seeds
• fennel
• cinnamon sticks
• whole dried red chiles
• bay leaves
• saffron
• nutmeg
• mace
• tumeric
• cloves
• cayenne

Indian ingredients: mustard oil, dried fenugreek leaves, fenugreek seeds, kalonji, black cardamom and black mustard seeds.

For other items, look in the Indian section of larger grocery stores or an Indian grocer.
Since I happened to be in downtown Toronto Tuesday, I stopped by a stall at the St. Lawrence Market that had everything else on my shopping list:
• dried fenugreek (methi) leaves
• fenugreek seeds
• kalonji
• black cardamom
• black mustard seeds

I’m excited to start cooking.

One last kick at the canning

There is really no other way to can than with the seasons. You make strawberry jam in late June, pickled beans through July and August, salsa in early September. To make strawberry jam now with those near tasteless California berries or salsa mid-winter with hothouse tomatoes and peppers is just begging to be disappointed.
If you live in Ontario and are canning local, apples mark the end of the season.
And in our house, apples mean apple butter — a thick spread of spiced apple puree that tastes as good on hot tea biscuits as it does with roast pork.
Years ago, when I was a reporter with the local community newspaper, David and I were introduced to apple butter at the Wellesley Apple Butter and Cheese Festival. As is typical at such a community fair, there was a variety of food for sale and sample. We bought grilled sausage on a bun and, as seemed fit for the occasion, topped them with apple butter.
We were hooked.

Honey apple butter.

Honey apple butter
This recipe comes from Bernardin. For the best flavour, use a combination of apple varieties. I used a blend of McIntosh, Cortland and Empire this year. Probably the best batch I ever made — I think it was 2004 — featured the heirloom yellow apples a coworker picked off the tree in his yard. He shared the fruit; I shared the butter.
This recipe makes 6 250-mL jars or 12 125-mL jars.

Ingredients
2.3 kg (5 lb) apples (McIntosh, Golden Delicious, Empire)
500 mL (2 cups) pure apple cider
15 mL (1 tbsp) ground cinnamon
2 mL (1/2 tsp) allspice
250 mL (1 cup) pasteurized honey

Method
Wash apples, remove cores and coarsely chop.
Place apples and cider in a large stainless steel saucepan. Bring to a boil. Simmer covered until apples are soft, about 20 minutes
Press through a sieve or food mill and measure 1875 mL (7-1/2 cups) puree.
Combine apple puree an spices in a clean saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
Add honey and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until apple spread mounds on a spoon or desired thickness is reached.
Ladle into hot, sterilized 125 mL or 250 mL jars. Process in hot water canner for 10 minutes.

Post-Halloween pumpkins

Since we don’t see trick-or-treaters in our neighbourhood, I don’t decorate for Halloween. But I do like to acknowledge the season in some small way.
This year, I bought two pie pumpkins and nestled one beside each of the potted cedars that flanked our front door. An enormous deep red mum from my mother-in-law at the bottom of the stairs rounded out our minimalist fall display.
This morning, I made use of those pumpkins.

Pumpkin puree.

Pumpkin puree
Ingredients
pumpkins

Method
Wash pumpkins and cut into manageable pieces. Scoop out seeds (reserve) and guck.
Place in a baking dish skin side up and add some water.
Bake in 400 Fahrenheit oven until very soft, about 40 minutes.
Puree in food processor until smooth.
Using a wire sieve, strain liquid, leaving thick puree.
Use in muffins, bread, pies or any other recipe calling for pumpkin puree or canned pumpkin.

Roasted pumpkin seeds.

Roasted pumpkin seeds
Ingredients
pumpkin seeds
sea salt

Method
Wash and dry pumpkin seeds.
Spread on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt.
Bake in 400 Fahrenheit oven until brown and crisp, 10-15 minutes.

Chocolate orange surprise cakes

Whether making or eating, I can generally take or leave desserts.
But if I feel a meal (or the company) calls for one, individual cakes are good bet.
Baked in ramekins, they encourage small portions appropriate for dessert, bake quickly while you’re lingering over wine after the main course and allow for nearly endless variations.
I made these cakes last week. I found a recipe on Two Spoons, which was in turn inspired by a recipe in Julia Le Clerc’s Made By Hand. Don’t you just love the way recipes travel and evolve? I followed this one pretty closely.
I changed the title and asked my husband to name the surprise ingredient. He guessed dried cherries, which was pretty close. The prunes, dark chocolate and cocoa make these cakes intense and rich — without the addition of butter or oil.

Chocolate orange surprise cakes

Chocolate orange surprise cakes — with the surprise ingredient.

Ingredients
50 g pitted prunes, finely chopped
125 mL (1/2 cup) fresh orange juice and water (use freshly squeezed juice of one orange
50 g dark eating chocolate (70 per cent cocoa)
30 mL (2 tbsp) cold water
1 large egg
60 mL (1/4 cup) brown sugar
zest of 1 orange
pinch sea salt
30 mL (2 tbsp) cocoa
60 mL (1/4 cup) flour
2 mL (1/2 tsp) baking soda

Method
Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit.
Heat prunes and orange juice/water mix on medium heat to soften the prunes and reduce the liquid until thickened.
Beat the egg and sugar on high until pale and frothy.
Remove prunes from heat. Stir in chocolate and cold water.
Fold chocolate mixture into egg mixture. Add orange zest.
Sift in dry ingredients and fold until just incorporated.
Divide between 4 125-mL (1/2-cup) ramekins.
Bake about 20 minutes. Cool on a rack.
Dust with icing sugar and serve warm or at room temperature.