Garden Report 3

I’ve let a little too much time pass between reports — but I got behind on the weeding and busy with spring chores and social engagements.
But, without further ado, here’s where we’re at.

Asparagus ferns.

The asparagus plot is doing nicely. Each crown sent up a few slender stalks that turned to wispy ferns. Its location at the east of our vegetable garden and back of our lot is perhaps a little less than perfect. Keeping the weed seeds that blow in from the no-man’s land behind our property from taking over is an ongoing challenge.

Pak choi.

My greens – particularly the pak choi and to a lesser extent the Swiss chard – were hard hit by an invasion of flea beetles. I searched the web for eco-friendly solutions – one suggested planting pak choi as a diversion crop since it’s practically irresistible to the tiny jumping bug. But I want to eat it. So I used an old all-purpose standby – a mixture of onion, garlic, hot sauce, dish soap and water. It seems to me making a difference, but I’m afraid much of the pak choi could not be saved.

Early early girl tomato.

Everything else is growing like mad. All the seeds – carrots, parsnips, green beans, zucchini, summer squash, cucumber and pumpkins – have sprouted. The tomatoes are starting to bloom and I see a few green fruit on the early girls. Same goes for the Thai chile and jalapeno peppers. My garlic is just beginning to produce scapes.

As long as I can manage any further pest infestations and keep up with the watering the long, hot summer this is shaping up to be will require, it should be a good harvest.

Garden report: Part 1

Tilling the vegetable garden.

Over the past two weeks, I planted my cold weather crops.
First, I had to harvest the last of last season’s parsnips, which we enjoyed tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted alongside some carrots.
On April 14, David rented a tiller from a local shop and, I say without hyperbole, it was the best $20 we ever spent. In two hours, he had tilled the entire garden, incorporating some of the decomposing leaves we applied in the fall into the soil (the rest went into the compost heap) and leaving lovely, loose dirt at least 30 centimetres deep, ready for planting.
I sowed seeds the next day: two rows of harris model parsnips, three rows of organic scarlet nantes carrots, two rows of organic rainbow swiss chard (with a bit of leftover standard green mixed in), a row of pak choi and a row of baby leaf blend organic lettuce. The greens are already sprouting.

Red and green lettuce is beginning to sprout.

In my herb garden, I sowed some curly parsley seeds I harvested off a second year plant (parsley is biennial) last fall.
I also dug trenches in anticipation of the giant jersey asparagus roots I ordered from Vesey’s. Growing this vegetable is an exercise in patience; I’m not expecting a real harvest until 2014. But I could not resist the appeal of a perennial edible that is ready to eat in May.

Young leeks.

April 21, during at an impromptu stop at Joe’s Market for some local honey, I bought three small pots of leeks and a large rosemary plant. This year, I may keep the rosemary in a pot and bring it in during the winter. But a row of leeks was planted in a shallow trench the next day. (The whites of leeks are created by covering the bottoms with soil as they grow.) I love leeks in soups, grain dishes and pastas (including David’s favourite mac ‘n’ cheese, which also features pancetta, gruyere and blue cheese). After reading in Lois Hole’s Favourite Vegetables that you can dig them up whole (with a shovel or two of soil) and store them in a box somewhere cool like the garage to eat all winter, I knew I had to give growing them a try.
Yesterday (April 24), the asparagus crowns arrived in the mail. I planted them in my pre-dug trenches this evening.

This year’s harvest has already begun, albeit very slowly, with herbs: A few chives in a lemon chive mayo for a piece of grilled pickerel; several sprigs of thyme in a potato onion soup; lots of cilantro (self-seeded) to balance the pickled onions in fish tacos.
To my surprise, a lone kale plant survived the winter and should soon have sprouted enough leaves to add to a vegetable soup.

Shop, cook, eat: St. Lawrence Market

This post is a few months overdue. The seed of this blog was germinating when we planned and executed this field trip and meal with David’s parents. I had the foresight to enlist David as official blog photographer that day.
It began with a Saturday morning trip to the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto and ended with a fabulous four-course dinner at our house. We had no set menu — with the exception of the first course, which was to be our own version of one David had enjoyed at a restaurant nearly a year before. Instead, we decided, we would be inspired by what we saw and plan our meal accordingly.
We spent a couple hours wandering through the market’s stalls, salivating over the fresh meats, fish and produce and sampling mustards and cheeses.
Here, in no specific order, is what we bought:
large loaf of French bread
.7 kg piece of black cod
.5 kg thick cut organic beef striploin
asparagus
crimini mushrooms
small eggplants
mini red potatoes
A well-stocked pantry, fridge, bar and herb garden, plus a quick stop at the grocery store for some cream cheese, offered everything else we needed for our four-course feast.
With the exception of dessert, all dishes were prepared without a recipe. So instructions are minimal, but offer enough detail, I hope, to provide inspiration to any home chef.
We served the first and second courses with an unoaked chardonnay — a nice match for the hollandaise and buttery black cod. The beef course demanded something big and red. We went with malbec.

First course: Asparagus crostini
1. Make hollandaise sauce.
After much patient instruction from my sister chef, David now makes a killer hollandaise. We like ours with a little hot sauce and lots of fresh squeezed lemon juice. He made the hollandaise, while I prepped the crostini and vegetables.
2. Add some butter and a little oil to a hot pan. Saute sliced crimini mushrooms until brown. Add asparagus (four spears per person) and cook until tendercrisp.
3. Cut thick slices of French bread (not baguette, bread) on the diagonal. Lightly toast in 350 Fahrenheit oven.
4. To assemble, place one slice of bread on plate, arrange mushrooms and asparagus spears on bread. Top with hollandaise. Serve immediately.

Asparaugus crostini

Second course: Grilled black cod and eggplant
1. Marinate cod for about an hour in a citrus marinade. I used lemon juice and lemon and orange zest, as well as minced chives, olive oil, salt and pepper.
Cook on oiled grill. Black cod looks lovely when it is grilled; the layers of flesh separate in a very attractive way.
2. Cut eggplant in half. Sprinkle cut side with salt and let rest for an hour. This will draw out moisture and bitterness. Rinse.
Rub cut side with olive oil, finely minced garlic, salt and pepper. Grill, cut side down, until soft.
Sprinkle eggplant with freshly grated Parmesan. Broil until cheese is slightly browned.

Grilled black cod and eggplant.

Third course: Bourbon striploin with rosemary potatoes
1. Combine 80 mL (1/3 cup) each bourbon and soy sauce, 30 mL (2 tbsp) each brown sugar, red wine vinegar and olive oil, 2 mL (1/2 tsp) or more freshly cracked black pepper and 1 garlic clove, minced. (Add a small chopped onion if you like.)
Marinate beef for at least a few hours and as long as overnight for larger roasts.
Grill on hot barbecue to medium rare.
2. Meanwhile, boil remaining marinade on the stove until reduced to a thick sauce.
Allow meat to rest for several minutes before slicing against the grain. Serve slices topped with a bit of the sauce.
3. Microwave potatoes until just cooked. Season with salt and pepper. Toss with olive oil and chopped rosemary (dried or fresh). Grill until skins are slightly crisp.

Bourbon striploin with rosemary potatoes.

Fourth course: Bourbon pecan carrot cake
Carrot cake is my favourite dessert and I was waiting for an excuse to try out one of the recipes from the spring issue of the LCBO’s Food & Drink.
For the cake, I halved all the ingredients except the spices and made only two layers. For the icing, I omitted the vanilla and added some orange zest (which I grate when I eat oranges and keep in the freezer). The result was heavenly. But, for some reason, didn’t rate a photo. Blame all the wine perhaps.
Anyway, here is the original recipe, created by Monda Rosenberg.
Ingredients
1L (4 cups) grated carrot
175 mL (3/4 cup) golden raisins
75 mL  (1/3) bourbon, rum or orange juice (I used bourbon)
500 mL (2 cups) coarsely chopped pecans or almonds (I used pecans)
625 mL (2-1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
15 mL (1 tbsp) baking powder
5 mL (1 tsp) baking soda
5 mL (1 tsp) salt
7 mL (1-1/2) tsp cinnamon
5 mL (1 tsp) nutmeg
2 mL (1/2 tsp) allspice
250 mL (1 cup) vegetable oil
375 mL (1-1/2 cup) brown sugar
4 eggs
10 mL (2 tsp) vanilla
Icing
2 pkgs (250 g each) regular cream cheese, at room temperature
175 mL (3/4 cup) butter, at room temperature
30 mL (2 tbsp) bourbon, rum or orange juice (I used boubon)
5 mL  (1 tsp) vanilla
625 mL (2-1/2 cups) sifted icing sugar
Method
1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Spray or oil three 1.5-L (9-inch) round cake pans.
2. Grate carrots using a food processor. Measure out 1 L  (4 cups) and set aside. Plump up raisins by placing in a small microwave bowl and adding bourbon. Microwave on high 1½ minutes, stirring partway through. Bourbon should just start to boil. Set aside and stir occasionally. Chop nuts and toast in the oven for about 6 minutes, stirring partway through. Place flour in a large bowl. Sprinkle with baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Stir to blend, then make a well in the centre.
3. Combine oil, sugar, eggs and vanilla in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat on medium speed for 3 minutes. Scrape into well in flour mixture and stir with a spoon or spatula just until even in colour. Stir in carrots, followed by raisins and bourbon that hasn’t been absorbed. Sprinkle with nuts and just mix in. It will be very thick.
4. Divide batter between pans, adding about 550 mL (2-1/4 cups) to each. Spread evenly to pan sides. To remove air pockets, bang pans on counter 5 to 6 times. Bake until centres seem set when lightly tapped, from 30 to 35 minutes. Remove to a baking rack to cool. After about 15 minutes, turn cakes out of pans and cool completely on racks. It’s best to bake cakes a day ahead of icing and leave at room temperature overnight.
5. Cut cream cheese into chunks. Place butter in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until very creamy. Add bourbon and vanilla. Reduce speed to low and beat in cream cheese, piece by piece. Beating too much will cause thinning. Add about a third of the icing sugar and beat on low until just mixed in. Scrape sides of bowl and beaters occasionally. Gradually add remaining sugar, beating just until smooth. If too thin, work in a little more sugar. Can be refrigerated for about an hour before using.
6. To assemble, place a cake, top-side down, on a platter. Lay the other 2, top-side up, on waxed paper. Brush with bourbon if you like. Spoon an equal amount of frosting on each. Spread over cakes, leaving a narrow border of cake around edge of cake on platter and on 1 other cake. Spread frosting right to the edge of the third cake. Stack cakes, placing the fully covered layer on top. Garnish with whole pecan halves. It’s best to refrigerate several hours or overnight before serving.
Make 12 wedges.