Uh oh!

November 30, 2009

Photo: James Tse

According to a study by Ketchum that was reported in the February issue of Canadian Grocer magazine, 78% of Canadians would like to get their food from local farms or companies by 2020.  Regrettably, this isn’t likely since as Rebecca LeHuep, executive director of the  Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance pointed out in the September issue of that same magazine, “by 2012, more than 60% of farmers and farm managers will be retiring. The average age of a farmer is about 57 and he doesn’t have a succession plan for his farm.” In an email correspondence Rebecca shares another grim stat that between 1991 and 2001 Ontario lost 135 of its farmers.

Beyond the fact that these stats reveal a disappointing gap between Canadian consumer aspirations and the reality of farming situation, LeHeup’s comments point out that we may be en route to becoming a society almost solely dependent on other countries for food.

Would you ever consider being a farmer?  Or, if you are a farmer, is it a career choice you’d make again?

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Arils. My new food word

November 23, 2009

pomegranate

One of the things I love best about being in a food-focused profession is that there’s always something new to learn. But new food terms – unless they’re from other cultures – aren’t that plentiful at this point in my career.

And, even if I don’t know a particular term, chances that Amy or Sabrina will know it are very high. So, last week when I encountered the word arils for the first time, I was super surprised when it was new to my two smarty pants colleagues as well.

So, what the heck is an aril? Aril (arilles, en francais) is the name for the juicy, garnet-coloured, flesh-covered seeds inside a pomegranate.

Now, be honest, did you know the word ‘arils’ before reading this post?


Smoke signals

November 16, 2009

grilling eggplant

A lot has changed since I was a kid. Today, apparently, it’s a tragic embarrassment to have your mom call across the street that it’s time to come in from playing street hockey to eat your dinner. I’ve been instructed to text my son that his dinner is ready. Apparently, he’ll still be able to claim me as his mother if I follow such instructions. Otherwise, there’s a good chance that I’ll be sent into exile.

Not so when I was 12 going on 13. In those days the only texts I knew about were the books in my school bag and I certainly didn’t take those outside to play or want to spend any extra time with them!

One way to get attention from the ball hockey players, basket shooters or skateboarders on the street is to grill something delicious that gets them coming to you. But grilling in cool weather presents some challenges you don’t face in summer time. So, in order to produce smoke signals that create enticing foods night after crisp, autumn night, follow these cooler weather grilling tips (not be confused with my winter grilling tips.

• Cook even small foods covered to retain heat
• Likewise, don’t leave the lid open too long when turning or basting food
• Increase the setting by one notch if the air is 10 degrees Celsius or more cooler than room temperature
• If cooking over indirect heat, rotate the food more frequently than usual.
• Bring larger foods (such as roasts and whole chickens) to room temperature before grilling in cold weather
• Take foods inside as soon as they are cooked so that they don’t cool down too quickly

This  Grilled Honey Spiced Eggplant (pictured above) is perfect for autumn grilling.


Garlic: it’s not too late to plant

November 13, 2009

iStock_000002952072SmallYesterday I had a nice chat with Warren Ham, the farmer who runs August’s Harvest garlic farm in Stratford, Ontario and guess what he said? It’s not too late to plant some garlic so that you have a home harvest next year. In fact, even if the ground is frozen in your area, Warren says you can scatter compost over the hard ground; plant the cloves and then top them with a thickish layer of compost and you’ll have garlic scapes for stir fries next spring. Seriously.

So, if you were wondering what to do this weekend, now you have plans!  Just follow these tips – provided by Warren – for growing garlic:

  • Make sure you choose cloves that are hard and solid.
  • Plant in a raised bed of about 4-inches to give the bulb uncompacted soil that will allow the roots to develop and for excess rain to drain away in the spring.
  • Plant each clove with the root plate end down
  • Space the cloves 5 inches (12.5 cm) apart
  • Plant near a fence or hedge that can act as a wind break to prevent winter kill

In the spring, harvest the scape flower 10 to 14 days after it appears and use it in your recipes. Harvest the bulbs at the end of the season when the leaves have died back by 30% (the bulbs will open if left longer. Dig from the ground, hang and cure for at least a week before using them in recipes.

Have you ever grown your own garlic?  If not, now that you know how easy it is, will you try?


Germ patrol

November 2, 2009

applesinpailHave you noticed all the ‘green’ fruit and vegetable washes in the produce department lately? It seems that many companies are hoping to capitalize on our fears about H1N1 and food contamination.

But do we really need to buy these products?

I asked members of the Ontario Home Economics Association for their take on this matter and I got a range of responses. Despite the fact that each respondent used different words, none of them recommended using fruit and vegetable washes.

“The Canadian Produce Marketing Agency (CPMA) website  recommends washing with water,” pointed out Mary Carver. “I have received some consumer comments (complaints) that produce can have  a soapy flavour after using a vegetable wash.”

Here’s the official word from Health Canada on washing and preparing veggies safely:

• Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly under fresh, cool, running water, even if you plan to peel them. This helps prevent the spread of any bacteria that may be present. (This is a general safety tip that may not always apply. For example, you do not need to wash a banana before peeling it.
• Use a clean produce brush to scrub items that have firm surfaces (e.g., oranges, melons, potatoes, carrots, etc.). It is not necessary to use produce cleansers to wash fresh fruits and vegetables.
• Ready-to-eat, bagged, pre-washed leafy greens do not need to be washed again before eating. However, pre-cut or pre-washed leafy greens sold in open bags or containers should be washed before eating.
• Place peeled or cut fruits and vegetables on/into a separate clean plate or container to prevent them from becoming cross-contaminated.
• Refrigerate fresh fruits and vegetables within two hours of peeling or cutting them. Discard any cut fruits and vegetables that have been left at room temperature for more than two hours.

What’s your personal take on washing produce? Do you buy vegetable and fruit washes? Or, are you like one woman I know who scrubs every carrot and apple she can with a stiff bristled brush?


My torrid affair with Swiss chard

October 15, 2009

swiss chard blog

It’s quite possible that 2009 has been the year of Swiss chard at our house. We didn’t have a big build up to it or anything and we didn’t even know it was happening until the summer was almost over; but, now that we’re in full-on autumn mode and the Swiss chard continues to flow from fridge to frying pan on a regular basis, there is just no denying that this veggie has become a family favourite!

I’ve prepared Swiss chard dozens of ways this year, but one of my fav recipes is to saute thickly sliced Swiss chard leaves with lemon and mixed olives – so yummy! I love this dish as part of a vegetarian plate and  it’s also great served under grilled Italian sausages.

Olive & Swiss Chard Toss

1 tbsp                            vegetable oil

¼ cup                          chopped onion (preferably red)

¼ tsp                          hot pepper flakes

1 small bunch          Swiss chard leaves, cut into wide strips

1/8 tsp                        finely grated lemon zest

3 tbsp                          assorted small olives or chopped larger olives

Water

Salt and pepper

Lemon juice

  • Heat the oil in a non-stick skillet set over medium -high heat; add the onions and hot pepper flakes and saute for 5 minutes or until the onion is softened and becoming golden at the edges.
  • Add the Swiss chard leaves and stir fry until the leaves are becoming wilted. Stir in the lemon zest and olives. Add a little water to the pan if necessary to prevent scorching.
  • Remove from the heat and season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice.

Do you find that you fall into passionate  love affairs with certain veggies? I do; last year it was broccolini while this year it’s all about fennel and Swiss chard. Good thing I’m more steadfast in my married life!


Give thanks for Brussels sprouts

October 9, 2009

brussels sprouts

Raise your hand if you don’t like Brussels sprouts. Okay, now put your hand down so that you don’t reflexively hit me when I tell you that you can like this cruciferous veggie. In fact, you can make it this weekend for Thanksgiving dinner and get rave reviews. I speak the truth.

I know it’s hard to believe me when there are so many nasty Brussels sprout memories competing with my claim. But trust me: the reason you don’t like Brussels sprouts is because you’ve eaten them either 1. overcooked or 2. cooked when they were too old. Honest.

In fact, I didn’t think I liked Brussels sprouts either until I started buying them on the stalk and learned that they don’t need to be boiled to death.

Ready to take the plunge? The first step is to find fresh, young Brussels sprouts. You can hit a farmers’ market or a good grocery store that brings in fresh, local vegetables. While on the stalk, the sprouts should be firm and the outer leaves shouldn’t be yellowed or wilted in any way. The stalk should be pale green and heavy. To use the sprouts, simply cut them off the stalk and peel away any loose outer leaves. Easier than shucking corn!

Maple Mustard Glazed Brussels Sprouts

2 tsp (30 mL) olive or other vegetable oil
1 cup (250 mL) thinly sliced leeks
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 tsp (4 mL) dried thyme leaves
1/2 tsp (2 mL) each salt and pepper (approx.)
4 cups (1 L) halved small or quartered large Brussels sprouts
3/4 cup (175 mL) water
1 tbsp (15 mL) each maple syrup and whole grain Dijon mustard

Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet set over medium heat. Add the leeks, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Increase the temperature to medium-high and add the sprouts.

Stir-fry for 3 minutes. Add the water and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 3 to 4 minutes or until liquid is evaporated and the sprouts are almost fork tender.

Stir in the maple syrup and mustard. Cook, stirring often, for 2 to 3 minutes or until the sprouts are browned and fork tender. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Makes 6 servings.