From November 2011

The Secret to Great Home Fries? Patience.

With summer fruit season behind us, I’ve started in on my weekend winter breakfast menu.  Heartier fare, such as oatmeal and bacon and eggs, gets you ready for heading out the door in cold weather and still makes use of local ingredients.

This doesn’t mean that I’ve abandoned local fruits entirely.  We’ve put away a pretty good selection of dehydrated strawberries, frozen raspberries, and fruit preserves in an impressive number of flavours.  Sumac jelly anyone?  I’ll be showing you how to use some of these saved summer fruits throughout the winter, with recipes for frozen fruit smoothies and homemade granola with dehydrated apples and strawberries.  And I’ll definitely be using some of our various jams whenever I serve up a plate of bacon and eggs.

It’s bacon and eggs that I want to cover right now.

More specifically, it is the home fried potatoes that make or break a bacon and eggs plate.

Just about everyone on the planet can pull off acceptable bacon and eggs.  Sure, the eggs may be more mangled in some restaurants and households, but they are almost always good enough to be appreciated.  But home fries?  A different story altogether.

Many restaurants deep fry their home fries.  This is an unforgiveable breakfast atrocity.  Serve me deep fried home fries and I will never, ever, eat in your establishment again.

Other folks will serve up potatoes that are browned on the outside, but still hard on the inside.  While I appreciate the use of frying pan or griddle, I’m still left unimpressed.  This is usually a case of not pre-boiling the spuds.  And another case where I’m unlikely to return.

As you can see, I’m picky about my breakfast potatoes.

As should you be.

After all, when it comes to a great bacon and eggs breakfast, it is the home fries that will make it memorable.  How many people walk away from a restaurant saying, “wow, that fried egg was sublime!” or “That dude really knows how to cook a slice of bacon!”

No, it is the home fries that people will notice.

So, let’s teach you how to make home fries that people will notice.  For all the right reasons.

Let’s start off with choosing the ingredients.

Local potatoes come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colours.  And while a waxy potato with a firm flesh and high moisture content will hold its shape the best, any potato will do.  Home fried fingerlings?  Yes please.  Red potatoes?  Blue potatoes?  Why not?  These heritage varieties can make your breakfast plate more visually interesting.  I suggest experimenting with different potatoes.  You may settle on one, or you may enjoy the constant variety.

You can – and should – experiment with onions as well.  I use everything from a green onion, to a shallot, to a leek, to a red onion, to a cooking onion.  Again, they’ll all work, and you’ll come to choose your favourite flavour.  For day-to-day cooking, I stick with a plain old cooking onion.

I get my butter either from Stirling Creamery in Campbellford or Kawartha Dairy.  If you are using bacon, you may not need butter at all.

Really, with potatoes, onion, and butter, you’re pretty much set.  A dash of salt and pepper and you have home fries from heaven.

That doesn’t mean you can’t add other ingredients.  You should experiment here as well.  Here are a few ideas that I tend to use.

Bacon.  Make it double-smoked for extra smokey goodness.  I have a couple of sources for bacon, including several at the Farmers Market (off the top of my head, the Polish butcher – whose name I forget right this second, but he’s the one with the big glass display – and Evergreen Farms from Bailieboro).  Most often, I pick up some from Franz’s on Lansdowne on Friday night.  We make our own pizzas on Fridays, so the bacon serves double duty.  Franz smokes his bacon in house.  It is divine.

Peppers.  Red peppers add a dash of colour.  Hot peppers give you some good heat.  I’ll throw in some finely chopped cayennes on occasion – they look pretty and taste great.  Use sparingly.

Spices.  I’ll add a dash of either paprika or cumin in when I’m in the mood.  Heck, sometimes I’ll add both.  But, then, I’m a rebel.  Smoked paprika will have people wondering what the heck kind of magic you’ve worked in the kitchen.  Don’t tell them.  Just smile and say “my secret ingredient is love.

So, recipe time.

Farm to Table Home Fries

Ingredients

Potatoes – cooked and sliced into 1/8 to 1/4 inch rounds – you can either boil them or nuke them before chopping.
Onion – finely chopped – you decide the ratio, lots if you like onions, little if you don’t.
Butter – just enough to coat the bottom of the pan when melted.
Bacon (optional)
Peppers – finely chopped (optional)
Cumin (optional)
Paprika or smoked paprika (optional)

Procedure:

  1. I start by cooking the bacon that I am using for bacon and eggs.  By saving some of the fat, you have a great browning agent/lubricant for your potatoes.  I’ll pull a few slices of the bacon out early and roughly chop them for adding to the potatoes afterwards.  You can also just chop up a few slices of raw bacon and cook it over medium heat until the fat starts to melt.  If you are not using bacon, add a spoonful of butter to your frying pan.
  2. Toss in your onion, coat with whichever fat is in the pan.
  3. Add potatoes, toss well to make sure they all get a smearing of your fats.
  4. Reduce heat to medium/low and let cook.  Toss them around a bit every few minutes to make sure they brown evenly.
  5. Add peppers, cooked bacon, spices, or other ingredients.
  6. Fry until the potatoes are golden brown.   The peppers should maintain their bright colour.  I sometimes wait until the potatoes are almost done to add the peppers.  They don’t impart as much flavour that way, but they’ll look prettier.
  7. Serve hot with a dash of salt and pepper.

It is the low, slow heat that makes these potatoes so great.  The long cooking time – they usually take 15 minutes or so – allows for even browning and a good blending of flavours.  Don’t be tempted to turn up the heat when the first few minutes pass without any browning.  They’ll get there.  And you will be rewarded by your patience.

An Apple a Day…

I felt my first snowflakes of the year this week.

Sad, but true.

I was riding my bike, wearing sunglasses to protect my eyes from the winter-announcing wind, and heard a “tink, TINK!” as small, solid objects hit the lenses.

And then I felt it.

Cold wet bites against my cheeks.

Snow.

It was a shock to the system.  I mean, it shouldn’t have been – after all, winter only happens every year – but I always seem surprised when it suddenly arrives.  It seems like only last week I was harvesting hot peppers from the garden.

Actually, come to think of it.  Two weeks ago I was harvesting hot peppers from the garden…

Ah, well.

Anyhow, bundle up, folks.  We’ve got 5-6 months of much worse ahead of us.

Now, just because we’ve left summer behind us, it doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy fresh local fruit.  Living in Peterborough, we have one of nature’s perfect foods available to us all winter long.

Apples!

Sure, the year’s apple-picking season is now officially behind us.  But they are one of the best storage foods that exist.  We’ll be eating local apples until the first local strawberries begin next year.

I’ll be blogging a lot about apples throughout the winter.  They are versatile enough to inspire countless recipe ideas.

With apples, I tend to make a lot of kid fare. First and foremost, applesauce. Making your own applesauce gives you the perfect school snack for weeks to come, and it’s simple to do. Just  peel, core, and chop apples. Place in a large, heavy pot with just enough water to prevent them from sticking and burning. Cook on medium-high heat until soft – anywhere from five minutes to a half-hour depending on the variety. You may want to turn the heat down slightly for more firm varieties. When they’re good and tender, smash and smoosh them with a potato masher – another very fun activity for your kids. Add a few dashes of cinnamon or nutmeg.

Natural Caramel Apples

Speaking of kids, they’ll totally love this recipe.  While I missed blogging this for Halloween, it is still a great seasonal treat.  This time of year offers up a greater variety of apples – including some softer ones that won’t store throughout the winter.  I love using Courtland Apples.  Get them during the next few weeks at market.  They won’t be around forever.

Ingredients:

1 cup local honey
1  cup heavy cream
a generous pinch coarse salt (kosher or pickling salts work fine)
6 apples (on popsicle sticks)

Procedure:

In a thick-bottomed pot, warm the cream and salt until just before a boil (small bubbles should be forming). Slowly mix in the honey and bring to a boil. Once at a boil, reduce to a slow simmer and cook for roughly 15 minutes or until the mixture reaches just over 250 degrees (the “hard ball” stage for candy making). Gently immerse the pot into cold water to prevent the caramel from overcooking – be sure that none of the water enters the pot. Continue stirring until the caramel reaches the point that it will easily coat your apples without running off. Don’t worry if it gets too thick. You can put the pot over the burner for a few seconds to thin it out a bit. Dip apples into caramel and set on a parchment-lined baking pan or cutting board to cool and set.

Caution: the stove-top candy-making process can be very hot. You may want to wait until the dipping portion of the recipe to involve the kids.

Last of the Autumn Pumpkins Call for a Great Soup!

There are still a few fresh things to eat from our garden.  Our Brussels sprouts should be harvested any day now and our kale continues its late season charge.  These hardy plants mean that we’ll have our own greens for a little while to come.

Later in the week (or whenever we harvest the sprouts), I’m going to share an incredible recipe with you.  Have someone in your family that won’t touch Brussels sprouts?  I’m going to offer up a recipe that might just change your mind.

And finally, we’re just getting around to taking care of the last of our pumpkin.  I promised you a pumpkin soup recipe.  And I shall deliver.  Krista made this bit of pumpkin perfection last week.  She takes pride in the Farm to Table soups, so I shall give credit where credit is definitely due.

See my entry on making pumpkin puree to find out how to prepare your own pumpkin for soup.  http://www.mykawartha.com/blog/post/1234735–pumpkins-not-just-for-jack-o-lanterns

2 cups pumpkin puree
3 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup milk or light cream
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium apple, diced
3 teaspoons fresh ginger (grated)
1/2 teaspoon salt

-prepare pumpkin puree
-saute onion & apple in the butter until soft
-add chicken broth, pumpkin, salt & ginger
-cook about 20min
-remove from heat, cool & puree (blender works well) in small batches
-return to pot and heat through
-remove from heat & add milk/cream, if desired (i added 1/2 cup of skim milk as I prefer a less creamy soup)
-garnish with yoghurt/parsley/black pepper

Local Producers Win Big at Royal Winter Fair

Ok, confession time.

I’m a food geek.

How much of a food geek?  Well, how’s this: Each year my equally geeky wife and I travel down to the Royal Winter Agricultural Fair in Toronto and check out the craft food competitions.  We spend some quality time in sections of the Coliseum that are rarely visited by others: the jams, preserves, honey, syrup, and dairy competitions.

While the rest of the place is swarmed, we usually have the food section to ourselves.  And we take our time browsing the winning entries.  Like any true food geeks would.

This year, I was happy to note, there were plenty of winners from around these parts and plenty of names that I recognize as being “local” food producers.

While we were shut out in the canning (jams/jellies/pickles), honey (which surprised me with some of the great honey we have here) and the butter categories, we did exceptionally well in cheese and syrup categories.  Remember, this is the largest competition of its kind in Ontario and features producers from across the province and the country.

In other words, winning at the Royal is an indication of both an incredible product and an incredible achievement.

Before I get to some of our local winners, I have to give a shout-out to a couple of the local businesses that were on hand showing off their wares and making me proud to have come all the way down from our beautiful growing area to take part in the fair:

First of all, Sprucewood Handmade Cookie Company of Warkwarth, you make some of the best shortbread on the planet.  I was excited to see people lined up to buy your goods.

And Mariposa Dairy of Lindsay, not only did you kick some serious butt in competition, but you had people buying your goat cheeses like mad.  Congratulations.

Now, on to the results:

Cow’s Milk Cheese

One Extra Mature Cheddar 24 Months or Longer

Empire Cheese & Butter Co-Op, Campbellford, 4th place.

 

One Mature Cheddar 12-24 Months

Empire Cheese & Butter Co-Op, Campbellford, 4th place.

 

One Medium Cheddar 6-8 Months

Ivanhoe, Madac, 3rd Place.

Empire Cheese & Butter Co-Op, Campbellford, 4th place.

 

Mild Cheddar 2-4 Months

Empire Cheese & Butter Co-Op, Campbellford, 3rd place.

Ivanhoe Mild Cheddar, Madoc, 6th Place.

 

One Extra Mild Cheddar 1-2 Months

Ivanhoe Extra Mild Cheddar, 3rd Place

Empire Cheese & Butter Co-Op, Campbellford, 4th place.

 

One Marble Cheddar Any Age

Empire Cheese & Butter Co-Op, Campbellford, 1st place.

Ivanhoe, Madac, 6th place.

 

Stilton Shape Cheddar Two coloured or white, made from ordinary

Cheddar curd, weighing from 4.5 to 5.5 k.g.each

Empire Cheese & Butter Co-Op, Campbellford, 3rd place.

 

 

 

Goat Milk Variety Cheese

In a very impressive showing, Mariposa Dairy of Lindsay took home the Grand Champion Goat Milk Variety Cheese Award – making them the best Goat Cheese maker at the competition.  Congratulations!

 

Firm Cheddar, Mozzarella, Caprano Firm Cheddar, Mozzarella, Caprano

Mariposa Dairy,  Lindsay Bandaged Goat Cheddar, 1st place.

Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Co. Lighthall Tomme, 4th place.

Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Co. Premium Goat Cheddar, 5th place.

Mariposa Dairy Celebrity International Goat Cheddar aged over 9 m, 7th place.

 

Mold Ripened Brie, Camembert, tre Fratello, L’Extra Goat, La Brie,Triple Cream Brie

Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Co. Nettles Gone Wild, 1st place.

 

Unflavoured Fresh Cheese Cream Cheese, Ghage, Quark, Ricotta

Mariposa Dairy Chevre Original Cup, 2nd place.

Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Co. Plain Jane Bagel Chevre, 4th place.

Mariposa Dairy Celebrity International Goat Cheese Original, 5th place.

 

Flavoured Fresh Cheese

Mariposa Dairy Celebrity International Goat Cheese Herb+Garlic, 1st place.

Mariposa Dairy Celebrity International Goat Cheese Mediterranean, 2nd place.

Mariposa Dairy Celebrity International Goat Cheese Fig, 3rd place.

Mariposa Dairy Chevre Mango Chutney Cup, 6th place.

Mariposa Dairy Celebrity International Goat Cheese Cranberry & Cinnamon, 9th place.

Mariposa Dairy Chevre Pesto Cup, 10th place.

 

Maple Syrup

Robert and Jill Staples not only did extremely well in most competitions, but they won the O.C. Grimm Trophy for the best “Reserve” Syrup at the Competition.

Class 1 – Maple Syrup – 2 bottles Canada #1 Extra Light

Robert & Jill Staples, Cavan, 4th place.

 

Class 2 – Maple Syrup – 2 bottles Canada #1 Light

Robert & Jill Staples, Cavan, 1st place.

 

Class 3 – Maple Syrup – 2 bottles Canada #1 Medium

Robert & Jill Staples, Cavan, 2nd place.

Robert W. Mccamus, McCamus Farms, Cavan, 3rd place.

 

Class 4 – Champion and Reserve Maple Syrup

Robert & Jill Staples, Cavan, 2nd place.

 

Class 5 – Maple Sugar – 4 – 125 g. blocks – hard sugar

Robert & Jill Staples, Cavan, 1st place.

 

Class 6 – Maple Sugar – 2 – 125 G. Boxes (Creamed Sugar)

Robert & Jill Staples, Cavan, 5th place.

World’s Easiest Pasta Dish: Cacio e Pepe

After visiting the Royal Winter Fair earlier this month (see previous blog post) and seeing all of the incredible cheeses that were produced in our area, I was in the mood for something decadently cheesy.  And after a day of traveling to and from Toronto, I was looking for something that was simple and could be made with a minimum of effort.

The answer?

Cacio e pepe.

What, exactly, is Cacio e pepe?  It’s pretty much a blend of the perfect Italian comfort food and a grown up Kraft Dinner.

A simple tossing of pasta in olive oil, black pepper, and hard, salty cheese, Cacio e pepe is a rustic peasant food that is often used as a side dish.  But, like our Kraft Dinner, it is also sometimes used as a main course when in a hurry (or, for student student budgets, when you can’t afford anything else).  Unlike Kraft Dinner, it is made from real cheese, rather than edible oil products and glow in the dark powder.

I’m guilty of using some fairly expensive imported cheeses for this dish (I never claimed to be a local food “saint” you know), including Pecorino Romano or Percorino Toscano (Pecorino is a fancy word for hard sheep cheese).  I recently tried it with Pecorino Medoro and also found it divine.  But, really, you can use any hard salty cheese.  Try Empire Cheese Parmesan or one of Fifth Town’s hard sheep cheeses.  As a student, I used to make this with grocery store Parmesan — and it still tasted good.  Due to its simplicity, this is a dish that can take heavy experimenting.

  • 250g  spaghetti
  • a good splash of olive oil – say 3 tablespoons
  • 2 teaspoons cracked fresh pepper
  • 1-1/2 cups grated hard cheese

Cook spaghetti until al dente.  Drain and reserve ¼ cup of the spaghetti water.  Meanwhile, heat a large skillet.  Add olive oil and remove from heat.  Wait a minute or so and add the pasta. Toss well in order to coat.  Sprinkle in the cracked pepper and half the cheese.  Pour in half the water and toss again until well mixed.  Add the other half of the cheese.  If things get too clumped, you can add a bit more of the water.

Serve immediately, while still hot.

Like I said, this is a great side dish, but there is a guilty pleasure in serving up a big plate of it for dinner.  You can feel slightly less guilty if you have a salad on the side.