Monday, December 24, 2007

An Easy, Nutty Meal

Cook whole wheat rotini and toss it with almond or hazelnut butter (look in the natural foods section). On the side, green and yellow beans (preferably ones you grew in your garden) simmered in vermouth and dressed with a touch of sesame oil.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Pan de Polvo

I can't say that I have ever been crazy about Pan de Polvo, aka Mexican shortbread or Mexican wedding cookie. But my mother was proud of her recipe and made it for every special occasion, from faculty parties to the time I was bullied into bringing food to the Junior Prom even though I didn't go.

Recently I came across a weatherbeaten index card on which she had written her recipe. (After doing a search, I discovered that it is practically identical to this one at

3 lbs flour
1 1/2 lbs Crisco (by which no doubt she meant shortening)
8 oz sugar
1/2 cup cool cinnamon tea

Mix all ingredients and work into a smooth dough.

Pinch off tiny pieces, roll between palms, and form into tiny rings.

Bake in moderate oven (about 350 degrees) until rings start to brown.

When cool roll in powdered sugar and cinnamon.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Slow Cooked Venison Roast

My attitude toward hunting has changed. Don't get me wrong, I still love animals. But my study of ecology has led me to understand that, like it or not, we live by eating. And by we I mean all of us, from worms to trees. This doesn't excuse cruelty or waste, so I remain opposed to factory farming and excessive consumption of protein from flesh. But I no longer see anything wrong with eating the flesh of an animal that has either lived wild or been well cared for on a family farm, and has then been quickly killed.

When I moved to the country, I had a chance to get to know more about animals that are often eaten for meat. I still haven't reached the point where I could kill one myself. But I now have a better understanding of the relationship between humans and meat animals.

Deer are an example. They're beautiful, and I love to see them. But they also tend to overpopulate in the environment humans create. When humans arrived here in Nova Scotia, there were relatively few if any deer. When we cut down most of the forests and replaced them with gardens and crops, we created an environment that is far more hospitable to deer than the ancient forests were. We eradicated the cougar and wolf and brought down the bobcat population; nowadays, if it weren't for coyotes (which are also not native) and the automobile, deer would have almost no predators at all.

Which brings me to hunting. Being shot is not a great way to die, I'm sure. But it's better than starving, which is the fate that awaits animals that overpopulate, and it is certainly no more painful than being killed by a wolf. Not all hunters behave responsibly, and I don't want those hunters on my land. But recently I met a hunter who kills what he shoots at and eats what he kills, and he is welcome here. As a result, I sometimes get a gift of venison, and it gives me great pride to be able to cook and eat flesh that grew wild on or near my own land.

4 lb. venison roast*
one onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoonfuls canola oil
2 cups crushed tomatoes**
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp celery salt
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoonfuls brown sugar
1 tablespoonful Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
dash of nutmeg
2 large potatoes, peeled and quartered**
2-4 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks**

1. Sautee onion and garlic in olive oil
2. Add tomatoes
3. Add salt, celery salt, Worcestershire sauce, ground pepper, brown sugar, mustard, lemon juice, and nutmeg
4. Place roast in a large (5 qt slow cooker) or pot
6. Cover with tomatoes
7. Add carrots and potatoes

Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.

* If your roast is bigger than 4 lbs, increase other ingredients accordingly.
** Preferably ones you grew yourself or that were grown locally.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Oatmeal's Revenge

I GREW UP IN TEXAS. Probably the wealthiest family in the area were the owners of a large ranch. One day when I was very young, for reasons now lost to time, this family invited my parents to dinner.

In retrospect, I realize it's likely my parents were not expected to arrive accompanied by a minor. But that wasn't my parents' style (I cannot remember ever having a babysitter), so the three of us arrived together at the grand hacienda.

The next thing I knew, my parents were being ushered to a beautifully set dining table while I was being hauled off into the kitchen to eat with the rest of the children. That alone was enough to infuriate me in those days. But imagine my ire when I discovered that, while the adults were experiencing what Texans considered fine dining, the children were being given ... oatmeal.

And by oatmeal I mean just oatmeal. It appeared to have been made with water. If salt was used, it was imperceptible. And nothing was placed on the table that might afflict the tastelessness of this meal. No salt, no butter, no milk, no sugar.

So of course I refused to eat it.

The story might well end there--I would have gotten hungry, but my parents would have fed me when we got home and everything would have been find. Except that wealthy Texans in those days were big on discipline, this distinguished household had a rule that children were to eat whatever they were given.

I was ordered to eat. I balked. I was hauled, crying, out into the dining room where the adults were in the middle of their sumptuous meal (evidently it never occurred to anyone that flaunting what the adults were eating might not be the best way to get me to eat the wallpaper paste waiting in the kitchen).

My parents, who had never forced me to eat anything I didn't want to, were helpless. And so the rancher himself stepped up to deliver ... you guessed it, the Starving Children in India speech. While he sat there surrounded by the symbols of his own wealth, eating to excess while his own children choked down oats and water, he actually had the nerve to give That Speech.

I don't remember what happened after that. I do know that my parents were never invited back. And yet they never mentioned my behavior, never blamed me for the collapse of this social opportunity. From what I know of my parents, I doubt they cared.

Which brings me to the subject of oatmeal. With nothing added to it, oatmeal is as close to tasteless as any foodlike substance ever comes. But with just a little of the care that the rancher's kitchen staff failed to take, it can be very yummy without being loaded down with bad-for-you sugars and fats. Whole oats (never quick cook or instant!) are a great source of insoluble fibre, which lowers cholesterol among other benefits.

On these cold mornings, I often make oatmeal, happy in the knowledge that the rancher in my story probably died years ago from a heart attack brought on by eating too much steak.

6 cups water
3 cups old-fashioned or steel-cut oats (steel cut oats cook faster but make a mushier porridge)
1 3/4 cups raisins or other chopped dried fruit (tip: dried apricots have a low glycemic index and are very nutritious)
1/2 teaspoon salt or salt to taste
1 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce
6 tablespoons maple syrup or molasses (omit this or use artificial sweetener if you want to cut the sugar content)
6 tablespoons of chopped nuts (I usually use walnuts)

Combine all of the above and simmer until it achieves the desired consistency. You can also make this in a rice cooker. Contrary to a widespread misconception, oats do not take a long time to cook. I put a pot of oatmeal on just before going to my office to write this. By the time I'd finished, the oatmeal was done.

For a treat, add cream or butter. But this isn't necessary. For calcium and a milky flavor, I sometimes pour on evaporated skim milk.

This recipe makes enough to over-feed 4 people. You can save the leftovers and reheat them in the microwave the next day.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Pecan Puddings

NO MATTER HOW YOU SLICE IT, pecan pie is rich. It's also a minefield for cooks: If you make pecan pie, your guests will eat it, which is good. But they tend to eat too much, and the next thing you know you're listening to a lot of whining because they've made themselves sick.

This year I stumbled on a way to get all the good stuff out of making pecan pie while lightening the load a bit. My trick also encourages portion control, letting people enjoy this much-loved dessert with much less risk of overeating it.

What happened was this: I made a pecan pie for Thanksgiving, but I ran out of space in the pie crust before I ran out of pie filling. So I grabbed a small glass ramekin, just big enough to hold about a quarter cup of pie filling, sprayed it with cooking spray, poured the remaining pie filling into that, and put it in the oven alongside the pie. I took it out of the oven about 10 minutes before the pie was done (it cooked faster because it was in a small glass container), let it cool, and then gave it to my husband as a treat. He said he didn't miss the pie crust at all, and that the amount of pie filling in the ramekin was exactly the amount he would (ideally) eat in one serving.

Tim also raved about the recipe I used for filling, which is based on the one in my precious 1997 edition of The Joy of Cooking. I've tried a lot of pecan pie recipes, and also tasted a lot of commercially made pecan pies. In my opinion (and Tim's), this is the one that gives the perfect balance of sweetness to pecan flavor.

2 cups pecan pieces
3 large or 4 medium eggs (I prefer the latter)
1 cup sugar
1 cup golden corn syrup
3 tablespoons regular butter (with salt), melted
1 tablespoon dark rum (I use Gosling's Black Seal, which is also my favorite sippin' liquor)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, with the rack in the center of the oven.

Spread the pecan pieces on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven, stirring at least once, for 6 to 10 minutes. (To find out whether they're done, give them a sniff. If they smell roasted, they are.)

Meanwhile, whisk the remaining ingredients until blended.

Stir in the toasted nuts.

Spray ramekins with butter-flavored cooking spray. (How many ramekins you'll need depends on how big they are. For the best portion control, use ones that hold only about a quarter cup.)

Pour pie filling into ramekins. Put them on a baking sheet and put them in the oven. Bake until the edges are firm and the center is just barely set, about 25 minutes.

Cool before serving.

These can be served with a small dollup of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream (use nonfat for more calorie control).

They can be kept for 2 days in the refrigerator. But warm them to room temp or place them in a 275 degree oven for 10 minutes before you serve them.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Late Summer Sandwich

Two slices bread, preferably something whole grain and tasty
Extra virgin olive oil with fruity, peppery taste, to taste
Parmesan cheese, grated, about 2 T or to taste
2 eggs, preferably from local chickens
Chopped tomato, preferably locally grown. A mix of red and yellow cherry tomatoes right from the vine is especially pretty and good.
Fresh basil leaves, about 4

Scramble the eggs with the cheese and the tomato
Toast the bread and drizzle it with the olive oil
Assemble these ingredients into a sandwich with a layer of fresh basil leaves

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A Ducktail


IT WAS HOT, AND MY DUCK WAS GONE. ... OK, time to make the long story shorter. Duck is both a duck and a representative of the bird community frequently referred to as ducks. She's one of four I adopted back in May (and have blogged about on both the Wild Flora's Farm and Wild Gardening blogs). Yesterday we had a bit of a broo hoo hoo, as one might expect when adopting poultry. The ducks were learning how to fly; my ancient Great Pyrenees dog Molly (blogged about frequently at the Wild Flora's Farm blog) suddenly Rediscovered her Lost Youth and decided to (try to) chase them. Duck (the others being named Cover, Run, and Hide) took off. We made a sincere effort to find her but, alas, she seemed to have Vanished.

Cut to: The following day, and it was Hot. Hot by Nova Scotia standards is not ALL THAT hot--low 80s--but is humid enough to drown a squid. I'm not a fan of Heat, so I would have been in a Bad Mood anyway, even if Duck's disappearance had not been not preying upon my mind.

I got up early and went looking for Duck. I took my walking stick, which has a carved raven's head on the top, and I found my way carefully down the steep slope behind the house, which goes down to the pond. I was very worried that Duck was trapped somewhere, worried enough so that I took risk I'd fall and end up trapped myself as a result. But ... no Duck.

Cut to: The day has passed. It's almost 5. I've been looking for Duck every few hours, and have not seen or heard anything of her. In the meantime, I've cleaned the bathroom and washed the bathroom floor on a day when, really, I should have been lying on my bed naked, with a fan playing carelessly upon my supine body. The lack of nakedness and absence of my friend fan did not improve my mood.

I want a treat. More specifically, I want something cold, and an alcoholic beverage is sounding pretty good right now. We don't drink alcohol much, so there's not much in the house. We are also out of ice.

I go to the freezer, where I find a giant bag of no-name frozen fruit, kept in the freezer for emergencies just like this one: peach slices, strawberries, melon balls, pineapple chunks, whole grapes. I bring it inside and fill a martini glass with frozen fruit chunks. The only alcohol we have in quantity is dry vermouth, which we use for cooking, and kirsch (cherry brandy), which I like to add to fruit desserts. I fill the gaps left by the fruit in the martini glass with vermouth and then spike the drink with kirsch. It's not bad. Not bad at all. ... By the time I've had two of them, it's starting to be the best drink I've ever had. (Even though I think it would probably be a lot better with stone-cold vodka or gin.)

And dissolve: I hear Tim say, "There's a duck on the pond. It's your duck." (Obviously he's not yet clear on his relationship to our ducks.) I run to the window, grabbing the binoculars on the way. Yes, it's Duck. She's on the pond, looking quite content. I'm sure she misses her friends, and she's at risk of ending up as some coyote's lunch, but at least for now she seems healthy, and she is living in Duck Heaven, with the biggest wading pool ever and all the food she can eat.

Come to think of it, maybe the Florita should be made with Cold Duck.

Duck, shortly before she took off.