Carries Best Rhubarb Muffins

I just loooove rhubarb. When I was growing up we had a large garden, even larger if weeds count. The elementary school was right behind my parents house. I just climbed up the chain link fence, fell over the top and I was in the schoolyard. After school or at lunch I would just reverse the process - climb > curl > fall. How hard is that? My siblings also followed this routine but occasionally mishaps occurred. Once my big little brother (he's younger than me but a whole lot bigger) somehow became entangled. Frankly I have no idea how but it wasn't my fault and I hear he was found hanging by a few fingers from the top of the fence. My mother was peering through kitchen window - probably to make sure he actually went to school - and saw him dangling form the top of the fence and flapping his free arms and legs. She rushed out and rescued him saving his fingers and his dignity. Anyway - he's okay, he didn't lose any fingers or anything, he can still count in whole numbers. So all's well that ends well even when much discomfort is involved. 
I always came home for lunch that way as as did my siblings -well, my brother may have started walking the long way home after his experience. After lunch we would dawdle although I don't dawdle at all anymore - or at least I don't call it dawdling anymore nor do I do appreciate it when others use the term in reference to me. What was once dawdling I now recognize as an early zen like awareness of how much more pleasant it is to take my time - anyway - as we dawdled our way off the porch and past the laden apple trees (we won't talk about the caterpillar nests) through the backyard past the garden we would invariably be distracted by the huge deep green leaves of rhubarb. I mean they were big. Like 2 feet by 1 1/2 foot leaves. The size of a kiddy umbrella. Frequently I would break off a big piece of rhubarb and carry it back to the house holding it upright and twirling it about like an umbrella. In my fancy I liked to pretend I was a fairy, albeit a overlarge one. I would pour lots and lots of white sugar into a cup and dip my torn rhubarb stem into the sugar - just coating it with a crusty layer of pure white sweetness - then take a little tiny bite (very sour - even with the sugar)and dip it into the sugar again and take another tiny little bite.  God knows how long it actually took me to eat the thing, probably an hour at that rate. I probably got as much sugar as rhubarb. Well, healthy eating wasn't much on my mind then. Being a fairy with an edible umbrella - a child of nature was pretty neat - fairies don't worry about healthy eating and fibre content and such. 
This is all to say - in case you are wondering if I have a point - yes, I do - these are just my most favorite muffins in the world. I don't really care much for 'cake' muffins. The best muffins are hearty and flavorful and dense and moist like most quick breads. I don't usually like those cakey things at all - unless it actually is a cake. These are lovely - if you love rhubarb and want another way to use it in which it is the showcase then this is for you. I developed this recipe by finding about16 recipes for rhubarb cakes and muffins then taking what I wanted from them and creating this recipe. I have no idea why the first time I made it it was super. But it was. That'll never happen again. The only change I needed to make was to add more rhubarb. Recipes with rhubarb always call for one cup of rhubarb. Whatever. I can hardly taste it. So I use 1 3/4 cups in my recipe. Go big or go home. This is Alberta, big sky and big muffin country. Big hats too, lots of trucks, even though the farmer's don't even live in the city. I have no idea why all males in Calgary feel they need a truck but for some bizarre reason they all share this strange need - there must be something in our air here or maybe it's being surrounded by prairie and the foothills to the Rockies. Honestly,it is a mystery - even to them. Something about the prairies makes all men want to be a hayseed. Don't get me wrong. I like hayseeds, I just don't like their trucks because a man driving a truck never exceeds 40 kilometers an hour unless it's an emergency - then they race along madly at 50 kilometers an hour. I swear, you would think trucks are made of glass the way city boys drive them. It's enough to drive me to drink if I didn't already. I digress - it is time to lay the wine aside for the evening. 

Anyway, if you love rhubarb try this recipe and let me know what you think.

Carol's Best Rhubarb Muffins

    1 cup all-purpose flour
    1/2 cup whole wheat flour
    3 tablespoon wheat germ
    1/3 cup bran  
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1 cup loosely packed dark brown sugar
    ¼ cup milk  plus ¾ tsp lemon juice or vinegar OR ¼ c.buttermilk
    ½ cup plain yogurt
    2 tablespoon canola oil
    2 tablespoon Tbsp margarine, melted
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1 egg  

    1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups frozen chopped rhubarb 

Mix the wet and dry ingredients in separate bowls. Then add the contents of the wet bowl to the contents of the dry bowl and stir just until mixed. You will see little spots of dry 'unmixed' ingredients. That's okay. Now, add the frozen chopped rhubarb. Some pieces may be about 1 inch by 1/2 inch around. That's okay. Leave them alone. If they are larger you may cut them in half, leave large chunks alone.
Spoon into 12 greased muffin cups.  
Bake 25-30 minutes.

Note :  If you wish to simplify the recipe you can do so easily - use 3 tablespoons of all purpose flour instead of the wheat germ and us 4 tablespoons margarine in place of the oil and margarine.  I don’t add salt. 
Do use 1 ½ - 1 ¾ c.  I tend to use closer to 1 ¾ c.  These freeze beautifully.

Thanks Stephanie - I don't have your email.



The Fresh Snowfall - two days after the Sweet Peas went in ...

Love my molasses ... and Olives muffins ...

Who doesn't love molasses? Well, everyone loves this thick rich gooey syrup. I always welcome an opportunity to use it and I have a lovely new quick and delicious way to enjoy it more frequently. Molasses lover's unite! This recipe came to me by way of my good friend Olive. The last time we visited she served me rich perked coffee and these beautiful moist muffins cut in half and slathered with butter. They drove me crazy and I must confess to eating more than my share. 'Would you like another muffin?' ... 'Oh I don't want to take more than my share!' (well I do actually ... and I did) ... what can I say - I love them.  When I asked Olive for her recipe she said that she actually used a mix and just made a few changes. Low and behold - when she showed me the package I was thrilled! It was the same muffin mix I use except that she had boldly played about with hers! Wow! These are fantastic and it is a real bonus to whip them up so quickly from a mix. I added nuts to the top of mine for the protein to give me super powers and also - I just love the flavor of nuts.

Olives Molasses Bran Muffins (with Nuts)

3 cups Quaker bran muffin mix
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/3 cup (heaping) fancy molasses
1 egg
1 cup hot water
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts.

Pre-heat oven 400 farenheit.

In a medium sized bowl mix the muffin mix and the wheat germ. In a measuring cup mix the molasses and egg and water. Pour the contents of the measuring cup into the bowl and mix until just mixed.
Fill paper muffin cups 3/4 full. (Use cupcake liners as these are tricky to get out of greased muffin tins because of the molasses. Don't ask me how I know this - just trust me on this.) Bake on the center rack of the oven for 12 minutes then start checking. Cook these less time than the package directs as they can overcook quickly with the molasses. They are ready when the top bounces back when gently poked with a fingertip (like a little pillow).

Pour yourself a coffee, slather a few of these up with butter - find a chair in the sun and enjoy one of the loveliest muffins you will ever have!


Sweet Peas seeds are going in ....

Well, here I am up bright and early for me (it's 9 now but I was up by 8) - I am on my second coffee of the morning and the sun is shining in my window lighting up my office and my morning even though the ground is still covered (mostly) with rather deep snow. For the last week I have been waiting for the snow to melt enough so that I can plant some sweet pea seeds. For the last few years I have been planting sugar pumpkins and acorn squash and some kind of two coloured winter squash - can't remember the name - must check. But I miss my sweet peas ... so I should have put the seeds into the ground in the fall so that I would not have to poke about in hard, cold ground now. It will be rather inconvenient for me but it won't hurt the seeds so here goes ...

There is a big chunky growing post in there that is partially built. You can see the base and the top of the post in the pics. The plans were from one of the gardening magazines for a growing post that looks like a sign post. It looked really great in the picture in the magazine but I never quite finished it. Smaller pieces of 1 inch x 2 inch x 24 inch lumber are nailed horizontally to the post here and there to allow the plants to climb up the post. The 1 x 2 x 24's were supposed to be cut into points on one end to resemble signs pointing in some direction (didn't do it) and the whole thing was to be painted either white or green or whatever colour I so choose. Well, I didn't finish it - so I didn't actually choose any colour. I should finish it and complete the sign so that people can find their way around my small yard - to shade garden, to shed, to back of yard, to deck etc. It would be most helpful.

Well, anyway here is the little plot of ground I am going to put my sweet peas in. I used to grow them there until I switched to winter squash - great plants - big leaves and a great show but I miss my sweet peas. They are the loveliest smelling flower and I have had great luck with them in the past in that location. As I wander to and fro on the deck I am able to enjoy their sweet seductive scent many times in the day.

Oh - my sweet peas are Heirloom Bicolor Mixed and Deep Lilac Spencer. Anyone who has seen the pics of my garden probably has noticed I love the purples and blues in particular. So, in they go ...
Well, it is done.
My gardening fork was in the shed and I didn't feel like digging around in there. I briefly considered using a large serving fork from the kitchen but I wasn't sure just how hard the ground would be but the ice made me dubious ... so instead I just plucked a big chef's knife out of the drawer and took it out with me. Good thing to ... the ground was thawed (well the first few inches) but as you can see in the photo there is thick ice over some of the soil. Still, that is why I took out a big knife so I stabbed and chopped away most determinedly at the ice pack, praying that the knife didn't slip through my gloved hands and cut through my fingers. Apparently (and fortunately) my grip was tight enough and I successfully hacked and pried away clumps of dirty hard snow and tossed them aside. When I was happy with the size of my little patch (I was pretty happy pretty quickly) I scraped the knife in and about the top couple inches of soil to rough it up a bit. When it was sufficiently mucked up I sprinkled the seeds on the ground, swooshed around the soil with my gloved hand, gave it a final pat and dashed back into my warm house.
I wish I had bothered to retrieve my gardening fork from the shed afterall. It would have been easier than hacking away at the dam ice like a madwoman.

Two days later ....


The Garden is Sleeping ... a few photos

Well, even though it is spring I have decided to post pics of the garden in winter - seriously winter - though much of the snow is gone now. Frankly there is still to much for but c'est la vie ...


Prosciutto & Roasted Vegetable Lasagna - the best almost vegetarian lasagna that you will ever have ....

Prosciutto & Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

The last time I made a lasagna it was really cold outside. I had been freezing my ass off for days so that morning I figured I may as well just stay in bed and keep warm and stay cozy.  This was very successful for oh - 45 minutes - but really one can only read so much ... boredom finally drove me out of my nest. I pulled on my pink sock slipper things you can buy everywhere for a dollar and put on my huge pink housecoat that is so fluffy but weighs less than a pound and makes me look like a Yeti's girlfriend then set out to make some coffee. Wine is great but it was before noon so I sought out my other favorite drink. In the morning I have only one simple requirement for my happiness - well two but they are so fundamental to my well being that I think of them as one - warmth and great coffee. I said one because it is all about comfort and comfort is one word. In any event I was all set - my housecoat warmed me and my coffee sustained me. I sat and sipped my coffee and started planning my supper. When it is cold, that is what I do. Plan my supper. It doesn't matter what time it is. Part way through my coffee I realized that it was actually quite warm in the house - actually I was sweating to death and it will show up on my heating bill at the end of the month - anyway I took off my Yeti costume and wandered about the house peering into the refrigerator and cupboards nosing around for ideas. I strolled into my office and started rifling through my cookbooks ... seeking inspiration ... something warm and comforting.  When the very air outside takes your breath away and leaves you gasping it is time for something warm and moist and flavorful ... some kind of comfort food casserole.

All of a sudden - I had an epiphany. It would have come sooner but it takes a few minutes for the coffee to kick in. I didn't need a cookbook to figure out what to have on this frigid day - there was really only one perfect food for such weather. One of my favorite foods in all the world - rich sumptuous lasagna, a simple green salad and toasted garlicky garlic bread.

I absolutely love vegetarian lasagna but I have found that it is almost always far to sweet for my tastes. While I love vegetables with all my heart when you combine sweet vegetables with a sweet tomato sauce you end up with something that is saccharine sweet masquerading as a savory dish. So I put some extra thought into which vegetables and sauces I would use and how I would prepare them. I also decided to add a bit of prosciutto for the bit of savory smokiness it imparts. So it is not quite vegetarian after all though it started out that way. The result was this fabulous lasagna which was absolutely perfect the first time!? It is what I have been seeking since the first time ...  don't ask - the gods were kind to me that day - probably because I was freezing my ass off and they took pity on me.

This lasagna is rich and hearty. It has lovely deep flavours and is utterly delicious - everything a winter lasagna should be. It is gently sweet and lovely, and balances the savory beautifully.

I love this lasagna utterly! There are 4 different layers here but none takes more than a few minutes to prepare. This is the best almost vegetarian lasagna I have ever had anywhere. You could easily eliminate the prosciutto completely if you want a fully vegetarian dish.

Prosciutto and Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

Tomato Sauce
1 large onion, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 - 4 large cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp oregano
3 cups meatless tomato sauce, your favourite homemade or store bought
1/2 cup tomato paste

Fry the diced onion in the olive oil over low-medium heat until soft and translucent. Add garlic and oregano and cook 4-5 minutes more. Add tomato sauce and tomato paste. Cook 15-20 minutes. Take off heat and set aside.

Vegetable layers
1 medium zucchini, sliced into 1/4 thick coins
1 med-large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1" cubes
1 med red pepper, cut into 1" dice
2 cups fresh baby spinach (pack fresh spinach into cup to measure)

Pre-heat oven to 425 Fahrenheit. Spread zucchini coins on a non-stick cookie sheet (or a cookie sheet covered with non-stick foil) and spray or toss with 1 teaspoon oil.

Spread eggplant cubes on another non-stick cookie sheet and spray or toss with 2 tsp oil.

Roast in oven 5 minutes. Add the red pepper to the tray of eggplant. Continue cooking both trays for a total of 15-20 minutes. The vegetables should be cooked, soft but not without some firmness & texture. They will be rather dry - good (unless you added a lot of oil - don't). Set aside.

Béchamel Sauce
2 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt or to taste
1 cup milk
1/2 - 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup fresh grated parmesan reggiano

In small saucepan melt butter. Once melted whisk the flour into the butter. Whisk and cook for 2-3 minutes to remove the raw flour taste. Add about half the milk. Whisk one or two minutes until it thickens. Add the rest of the milk. Whisk and cook until it thickens. Add the cheeses, stir for one minute then remove from heat. Add salt if needed and set aside.

6-8 slices prosciutto, your favourite - sliced 3"4 wide x 2" long

Cheese topping
1 1/2 - 2 cups grated mozzarella
1/4 cup fresh grated parmesan reggiano

enough for 4 layers in an 8" x 8" square pan

I use a really thick amazing pasta - the thickest one I could find - bring salted water to a boil. Add a teaspoon or so of oil (to keep the pasta starch from causing the water to boil over). Boil the pasta sheets for about 10-15 minutes until cooked al dente (still has some firmness when you bite or press it between your fingers. It will continue to cook in the oven later).

Assemble the layers:
In a deep 8" x 8" baking pan spray or oil the sides of the pan then layer:
3/4 cup tomato sauce
1 layer pasta
all the zucchini
3/4 cup tomato sauce
1 layer pasta
all the béchamel sauce
1 layer pasta
all the eggplant and red peppers
3/4 cup tomato sauce
1 layer pasta
all the spinach
all the prosciutto
1/2 cup tomato sauce
the mozzarella then the parmesan reggiano

Place rack 1/3 up from oven bottom. Bake lasagna at 450 Fahrenheit for 45 minutes or until hot and bubbly and the cheese is lightly browned.
Let sit 10 minutes then serve.

Crunchy Cranberry Orange Biscotti

Biscotti is just one of those great little snacks that is impossible not to like. The crispy, crunchy texture and subtle flavors are just wonderful ... and really - they are very little work. With little effort and no fuss you can enjoy these fabulous cookies and they are so so much better than anything you will find in any package. I'm not sure why - as they are so easy to make. It is easy to adjust them to suit your own tastes - use a different kind of nut or dried fruit or extract. All you need is a great basic recipe and this is it.

I love these things with coffee or tea or - yes - even straight up (when they first come out of the oven that is). Citrusy orange and sweet tangy dried cranberries have such wonderful flavors and when you put them together - bang - they are a culinary delight and an object of beauty as well. Add some earthy hazelnuts or sweet pecans and they are exquisite.

Crunchy Cranberry Orange Biscotti

1/3 cup butter
3/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoon orange zest
2 c all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup chopped pecans or hazelnuts (whatever you want the most)

1 egg for wash

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a large baking pan or use a large insulated cookie sheet.

In a large bowl beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy.

Add eggs, vanilla and zest. Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Stir into the cream mixture until just blended. Stir in cranberries and nuts. Divide dough into two long flat loaves - each 1/2 inch tall and 12 inches long and place 2 inches apart on baking sheet.

Bake 25 - 30 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool 5 minutes.

Beat the egg well with a fork then paint the biscotti with it. With a serrated knife, cut the biscotti diagonally into slices about 1/2 inch thick. Stand the biscotti up on the baking sheet with a bit of space between them. Bake 10 - 15 minutes longer.

Store biscotti at room temp in an airtight container until they are gone.


Pork & Cabbage Potstickers

I love these! The first time I made them was under my little big brother's tutelage. (He may be bigger than me but I am older therefore he is still my little big baby brother.) It was so easy and fast! I thought they would take much longer to make.  But as the wrappers are store bought the entire process moves along very quickly. My brother makes various kinds with meat, shrimp, vegetables ... he is very creative with his and makes various dipping sauces for his dumplings. My dumplings are just a simple dumpling - as I am just a simple girl - but I played about to find the right balance of ground pork, cabbage and seasoning for my taste. In my ever so humble opinion this is not too heavy, not too light - it is just riiiight. The flavour is soft and full but not rich or complex. Prepare your ground meat mixture then fill a dumpling, quickly pan fry it, taste it and adjust your seasonings to suit yourself before you go any further. When I make these I make about seventy at a time so I really do not want to discover when I go to serve them that I wished I had added more salt! As I fill my wrappers I lay the uncooked dumplings on a sheet of plastic wrap on a cookie sheet. When I have filled the sheet I cover the pan with another sheet of plastic wrap, and place it in the freezer. Then when the dumplings are solidly frozen I pour them all into a freezer bag. This way they are always 'free flow' and do not stick together.   
Pork and Cabbage Dumplings
2 cups ground pork
2 cups chopped Chinese cabbage (also called Napa cabbage)
1 stalk green onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon minced ginger
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon sesame oil

35 dumpling skins (not wonton skins which are to thin - you will regret it if you use them)

Mix altogether. Place 4-6 skins on counter. Swirl outside edges with pastry brush dipped in water.
Place 1 Tbsp pork & cabbage filling on half of skin. Fold skin over and seal, removing air pockets.

To cook (fresh or frozen): Pour 2-3 tsp oil in a no-stick pan over medium low heat. When oil is hot add enough dumplings to cover 1 layer. Check here and there to ensure they are browning on bottom. When they are brown enough for your tastes flip them and add about 3 Tbsp hot water to pan. Turn heat to low and cook until brown and cooked through. Serve with dipping sauces.
If you make any dipping sauces you love please send me the recipe to add here. I think everyone likes to try different variations. Enjoy.

Soy Sauce & Sesame Oil Sauce:
    3 Tbsp light soy sauce
    1 tsp cooking sherry or rice wine vinegar
    1 tsp sesame oil

 Janey's Hot & Sweet Hoisin Sauce
    2 tbsp. hoisin sauce
    ½ tsp. Sriracha Chili Sauce (or to taste)
    1 – 2 tbsp. hot water from the tap.


Thanksgiving isn't enough ....

I love these muffins!  Two of my favorite foods at Thanksgiving are cranberries and pumpkin pie.  I can't get enough of those tangy deep red cranberries (whole cranberry sauce please - not that jelly stuff for me) and the earthy rich not to sweet spiced pumpkin flavors.  So if you feel that way to ... well - this is the recipe for you.  They are delicious and hearty and full of lovely tang and great texture.  They are also very healthy.  When I am in a hurry and feel the need for a quick breakfast muffins are just right. Not to big, not to small, not to messy, no work. Frankly, you can just cram half in your mouth if you feel the need and sometimes ... well ... sometimes it is necessary. Also, these are a great filling snack at work.  Add a cup of strong aromatic coffee or cold white milk and you are in heaven.  At least as long as the muffin lasts or until your break is over.  Usually I consider muffins to be a small meal so I like them to be substantial and healthy.  You won't find any of those cake type muffins here.  As usual - this goes for most of my my recipes - I tend to like my food a little less salty and sweet than some people so I encourage you to add add a bit more of each if you like those flavors to be a little more dominant.
Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins

1 3/4 c. all purpose flour
3/4 c whole wheat flour
1 1/2 c. wheat bran
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
3/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/3 c. sunflower seeds
1/3 c. pumpkin seeds (or walnut crumbs or pecan crumbs)
1/4 c. white sugar
1 c. brown sugar (lightly packed)
2 eggs
1 c. mashed pumpkin
2 tsp. finely grated orange peel
1 c. milk
1/3 c. yogurt
1 tablespoon orange juice
3 tablespoons canola or olive oil
4 Tbsp butter, melted
2 1/2 c. (generous) thawed cranberries

Mix 3 tbsp. each of oat bran, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds (or walnut or pecan crumbs)
in a small bowl and set aside.

Pre-heat oven to 350.
Spray muffin tins with oil.
Whisk dry ingredients (from flour to the brown sugar) in a large bowl.
In another bowl stir together eggs, pumpkin, buttermilk and oil then pour into the dry ingredients
bowl and stir until just mixed. Fold in cranberries.
Fill muffin cups to 4/5 full.
Sprinkle with the topping, gently pressing the topping in a bit.

Bake 17-18 minutes or until the muffin springs back when the top is poked. Remove from oven and let cool 5 minutes then remove from pan.

Makes 18 muffins.


Autumn Opulence

Vibrant Hollyhocks last flush

Subdued Solomon's Seal

Geranium cups without their flowers ....

Rich pink John Davis shrub roses in their last full flush

The still green foliage of shrub roses against multicoloured Cotoneaster

Deep shell pink berries of the Coralberry shrub in dappled sunlight

Deep purple-black, plum and green leaves of a Virginia Creeper vine

Empimedium (bottom left); clematis vine above; brown sharply lobed leaves of Snakeroot (right) and beautiful cup shaped Brunnera (bottom right)

Clematis vines on the lilacs on the left side of the gate and shrub roses and cottoneaster on the right

Deep rose and green Elephant ears on a bed of softly spiked Campanula. Sharply cut leaves of Geraniums in the foreground


Curried Pork Hamburgers with Mustard Seed Raita

These are great and easy to. I love my regular cheeseburgers but these are a great variation when you feel the need for a change or you want an Indian cast without going to any work. This recipe makes 4 normal sized hamburgers for a normal sized hamburger bun ... humph. What's normal - well my normal is the smallish hamburger bun - 3 1/2 inches across or so. (I like the ones with sesame seeds myself.) Therefore if you like those big Kaiser buns you will need to use more ground pork for sure.

Curried Pork Hamburgers with Mustard Seed Raita

1 pound gr. pork
8-9 french onion biscuits (crackers) soaked in just enough water to moisten, smack into a paste
4 Tbsp fresh chopped cilantro
1 1/2 - 2 tsp curry powder
1 hot chili pepper - your favorite type seeded & finely chopped (I like the long thin green hot chilis best)
1 tsp fresh minced garlic
1 tsp fresh minced ginger
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Mix altogether. Form into 4 patties 3/4 inch thick. Pan fry or barbeque.

Top with Mustard Seed Raita, charred red onions, and a crisp lettuce like romaine.

Mustard Seed Raita
     1 1/4 tsp cumin seed
     1 1/4 tsp black mustard seed
     dash salt
     4 Tbsp thick yogurt

     Microwave seeds for 1/2 - 1 1/2 mins then add to yogurt.
     Check after 20 secs. Cumin seeds burn quickly in the micro.

Charred Red Onions
     1 large red onion, sliced

     Pan fry over med high heat in a dash of oil until charred on edges. Add dash salt & pepper.


Lavender Honey Baked Apples

Autumn is here again. Lovely, long lazy days. Indian Summer we call it in the north. The sun bathes us in a warm yellow light. The trees have donned their most beautiful dress for one last dance before the winter comes upon us. We marvel at their beauty - orange and brown, red and yellow leaves - until the fall winds pluck their rich finery away and carry them off, swirling round our feet, scattered over our yards, entangled in our gardens. Red leaved fruit trees, rosehips the size of nickels, windfall apples. Oh my - this is a Northern autumn!

It is the most beautiful time of the year for me - for many of us. As fall sweeps over the land it brings back childhood memories of .... apples. Some of my favorite deserts are made with apples. Everyone has a favorite - mine - Macintosh. Hands down. There is no other apple in my narrow little world. I like many but love only one .... the lovely sweet and sour taste is perfect for eating out of hand and for cooking. I love the soft lovely texture but some find it to soft. You should use your own favorite apple though most types will require a few minutes longer baking time then our soft fleshed Macintosh.   

One of the deserts my mother made us frequently was baked apples. We never tired of them. I recently rediscovered them once again and here is my recipe for them - a new take on an old favorite.  Frankly, if you choose an apple you like and a honey you like it is impossible to go wrong. If the apple has little sour tang (such as Golden Delicous) I would add a bit more lemon juice to it the filling.

Lavender Honey Baked Apples

Preheat oven to 375 farenheit

4 large Macintosh apples
4 tbsp butter
2 heaping tbsp brown sugar (I like Demerara)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp lemon juice
2 heaping tbsp raisins
2 heaping tbsp chopped walnuts

1 cup water
2 Tbsp lavender honey (or any honey you like the flavor of)
4 tsp sugar

Mix together butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, lemon juice, raisins and walnuts.  Core apples down to 1/2 inch from bottom of apple. Peel away first 3/4 inch of peel from top of apple. Fill each hollow with 1/4 of the filling and place in a small casserole dish. 
Pour the water around the apples. Add the lavender honey and sugar to the water in dish and stir about a bit.
Bake uncovered about 25 - 30 mins until tender. Add another 5 - 10 minutes if you used a harder apple. Serve warm with the lavender honey syrup spooned over. Serve straight up or with and scoop of vanilla ice cream if you like.


Curried Red Lentil Soup

This is a lovely flavorful soup. If you are a 'Souper' (meaning you are addicted to soups) and lentils then this is the soup for you. If you don't - well - try it anyway. You may surprise yourself. It is a very quick soup to make - about an hour and has great texture and a full flavour. In spite of the curry powder it is not spicy just full of flavor. Like most soups it is great the first day and even more delicious the next day.
Curried Red Lentil Soup
(Adapted from the Chez Piggy Cookbook)

2 Tbsp butter
2 onions, diced
2 carrots, small dice
4 large cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp minced fresh ginger
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
2 c. red lentils
6 c. vegetable stock
1 1/2 c. coconut milk
1/4 c. fresh cilantro, chopped

Melt butter in large pot over medium heat. Add onions and carrots and fry 5 mins until onions are translucent. Add garlic, ginger, curry, cumin & turmeric & cook 5 mins. Add stock and coconut milk.

Add salt & pepper to taste. Simmer & stir about 40 mins until lentils tender. Stir in cilantro and cook 5 mins. Garnish with fresh cilantro.


Garden Dreamscapes ...

Clematis buds all in a row ...

Clematis clambering through lilacs ...

 John Davis Shrub roses with Geranium Sanguineum behind.

The arched trellis with the sun streaming through the gate ....

Fragrant rose petals on a bed of Sweet Woodruffe ... the perfume of these plants is beautiful ...

Toba Hawthorn with the early morning sun behind it ...

Dreamy False Forget Me Nots ...

Clematis sleeping among the lilacs ...

Shrub roses overhanging a rain drenched Lady's Mantle in early morning ...


Plummy Plum Jam

I love home made jams and jellies. They are wonderful tasting, lovely textured and evocative of another time that I did not live in but I like to idealize sometimes. Naturally this requires a little selective imagination such as conveniently forgetting that I don't have to chop a neverending supply of wood or smack my clothes against a washboard with a lye and ash concoction to clean my clothes or do any other myriad labour intensive chores.) Nonetheless ... the idea of a simpler way of life (translation - less choices) appeals to me for a short period of time. One of the reasons I prefer to make my own jams and jellies is because I can control the amount of sugar and the texture and softness of the final product. To me the best jam and jelly is soft, not hard, contains lots of fruit or fruit flavour and is not too sweet. Always they need a bit of sour to make the most of their tangy and fruity natural flavours. My grandmother always made her own preserves and jams and jellies and did a lovely job of it to. She always made black currant jam and that is the jam that I always associate with her. Jam and jelly making is a far faster process today and can pretty much involve as much or as little work as you are willing to go to.
Freezer jams are so fast, no sterilizing of jars, no processing (boiling) of the jam. But still, I love the old fashioned kind of jam as well and it is a pleasurable endeavor. So, here is my plum jam. It has far less sugar than most so be warned if you like a very sweet jam, this is not the one for you. If you like lots of lovely fruit flavor you will find it in this recipe. 
 Plummy Plum Jam

 3 lbs. plums, red or black, half of them ripe, the rest underipe
3 cups sugar
2 - 1/2 envelopes Knox powdered pectin (2 envelopes + 1 tsp)
  • Wash and chop plums coarsely. Put in 6 quart pot with 1 1/2 cup water. Cook over medium heat about 15 minutes until plums fall apart and are lumpy. Cool then fish out pits.
  • Add sugar, stir and taste. (Add up to 1 cup more sugar if you wish.) Remove 3/4 cup of jam to a measuring cup. Add pectin and stir. Add 3/4 cup boiling water. Stir then add to jam.
  • Bring to a boil while stirring constantly. After 1 minute remove the pot from the heat and do a spoon test and cold saucer test as described below. If too soft - put pot back on heat and repeat tests every 1 minute until ready. (I add the pectin, bring the jam to a boil and boil 4 minutes. I like a soft but not runny jam.)
  • Remove pot from heat and skim off foam. Place jars on tray. Ladle jam into jars. Place lids on and screw rings over. Place jars in canner and boil for 7 mins plus 1 min more for each 1,000 feet above sea level that you are at. (In Calgary, Alberta you need to boil for 11 mins). Start timing once water reaches a boil.
  • Remove jars to dishtowel covered tray and let sit 12-24 hours. After 12 hours check lids. If any lids are not sunken in then the jar is not sealed. Unsealed jars must be placed in the refrigerator and used first. Put other jars away in dark place until you want them.
  • Makes 9 - 125 ml jars or 4 - 250 ml jars
To prepare jars:
To prepare jars you can boil the jars, lids and rings and ladle in boiling water and keep them in the water until you use them. Place on a towel lined tray just before filling them. Or you can wash them in the dishwasher and remove the warm jars from the dishwasher just before filling them. I've done both... so handy...

Spoon test:
Dip the spoon into the jam and lift out. Tilt spoon to side and watch how the jam drips off. If it forms two drops that come together to form a sheet that falls from the spoon it is ready.

Cold saucer test:
Drizzle a bit (1/2 tsp) onto a saucer that has been chilling in freezer. Swirl plate a bit to spread it out then run your finger through it. This is the thickness the prepared jam will be, if processed for a while the jam will be a bit thicker than this. If it is to soft for your taste then boil jam again for 1 more minute, remove the pot from the heat, and perform saucer test.

Sucre A La Creme or Sugar with Cream ...

This fudge is the best. Fabulous fudge. It is a rich concocotion of sugar and butter and cream and how can you go wrong with that? You can't ... we all know it. Butter, cream and sugar are like a holy trinity to food lovers and non-food lovers alike. This is a French Canadian fudge recipe - and therefore it always includes brown sugar and cream. Many French Canadian fudge recipes include maple syrup as well though this one does not. This fudge melts in your mouth literally and is rich and creamy and decadent and when you look at the recipe you can see why. While most fudge recipes do include 1-3 tablespoons of butter - this one has lots of butter - like a caramel recipe but it is definitely a fudge. It contains 3/4 of a cup of butter. Oh yes, that is not an error. Make sure you make it when someone else will be around as this is so melt in your mouth delicious that you will eat all of it yourself instead of sharing it.
Perhaps that isn't such a bad thing ... is it?
Cook it, cool it, cut it and try not to eat it all in one sitting ...

¾ cup of soft butter (not margarine)
2 cups brown sugar (not packed, not loose)
¾ cup evaporated milk
2 cups of icing sugar
½ cup of walnuts (optional)
1 tsp of vanilla extract

In medium saucepan mix brown sugar, evaporated milk and butter together. Cook over medium-low heat until mixture reaches full boil - stirring frequently. After perhaps 10 mins the mixture will start to thicken slightly. Begin to test it to see if it has reached the soft ball stage. Remove the pan from the heat and perform the following test.  Test - drop 1/2 tsp or so into very cold tap water. Form into a ball with your fingers . If the ball loses shape and/or collapses when removed from the water it is ready. If it cannot form a ball put the pan back on the heat and keep cooking and testing every 1 -2 mins. ) Once it reaches the soft ball stage remove pot from heat and add icing sugar. Beat on low speed with an electric beater until the icing sugar is incorporated (1-2 mins).Pour into buttered or parchment lined 8" x 8" pan. Wrap your hand in plastic wrap and dab in butter lightly. Now lightly pat the fudge all over to smooth it down and make it 'level'. Cut and eat up.


Pasta Puttanesca ... the 'Working Girls' solution to rush hour cooking ...

Well, all working girls need some quick and easy great mains.  However it is not necessary for you to stand on street corners at night in order to appreciate this dish. It is one of my staples and it really is very quick and easy. Don't be hysterical about the amounts of anything in it really as it is very forgiving, I tend to like a little less pasta than most recipes call for. Just relax and add amounts that suit your tastes. You like garlic, go mad - it's your supper. You want 29 shrimp, hey go for it. My favorite is lovely large sea scallops but use whatever you want. I already broke the rule for you anyway, as Pasta Puttanesca is usually a vegetarian dish ... which is usually how I have it to. What a rebel. I hope the true Italian Pasta Police squad doesn't come looking for me for my outrageous crime. Well, if I'm not around for a bit you will know why...
I hope I don't sound arrogant but I have to recommend that you use a good pasta. One from Italy - De Cecco or Bernardo or Pirro or another brand that catches your eye. There is a huge difference in the texture of a really good pasta vs the American brands we all grew up on. A good pasta never gets gummy. Good pasta is only about fifty cents a box more so do try it. If you are the kind of person who notices textures, you will appreciate the difference immediately. And if you are not particularly fussy then don't worry about it. A great way to thaw scallops (and fish to) is to let them sit in milk to cover, or water with a dash of lemon juice. They thaw very quickly and this method removes any 'fishiness' smell. Once they are thawed rinse in clear water and use paper towels to blot thoroughly dry. Otherwise, when you fry them you will be unable to achieve the caramelization that makes scallops so delicious and beautiful. For those of you who are worried the scallops will become waterlogged do not worry so. These gentle tasty creatures once lived in the deep blue sea and never once sank to the bottom against their will. Scallops like to live way down there. They don't like crowds. Just because they are not wearing their bathing suits doesn't mean they will suddenly become waterlogged.

Pasta Puttanesca

8-12 scallops, depending on number of servings (substitute shrimp if you'd like)
1/2 pound spaghettini or 5 pasta nests (use 6 if you like more pasta than sauce)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 generous tbsp capers, rinsed
1/4 - 1/3 c. pitted black olives, roughly chopped
1 tsp anchovy paste or 12 anchovy fillets, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp chili flakes
2 - 3 tbsp fresh basil, roughly chopped or 1heaping tsp dried 
1 tsp dried oregano (optional)
extra - virgin olive oil
1 - 14 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained 
Salt & fresh ground pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese

Cook the spaghettini or nests in salted, boiling water until almost done. Pour off cooking water and add cold water to pot. Set aside until needed.

Dry scallops then salt & pepper them. Heat 2-3 tsp olive oil in pan over med heat. When hot add scallops and cook 1- 2 mins on one side, flip and cook 1- 2 mins other side. Remove to small plate and set aside.

Dash of oil in pan, fry garlic, add a couple tbsp of the liquid from the canned tomatoes. Add anchovies, stir about until smooth. Drain the tomatoe juice from canned tomatoes into a cup & set aside in case needed. Add the diced tomatoes to the pan. Add dash of salt if needed & pepper. Stir. Add pasta, cook 3-4 mins until pasta is reheated adding a bit of the tomatoe liquid if desired. Add capers, olives, chili pepper flakes & herbs & serve with 4-5 scallops / shrimp per person on top.

Pass pepper flakes & parmesan. 
Serves 2 not so generously ( and 1 if you have a big appetite like mine)

Triple Ginger Molasses Crisps

These are another cookie my friend and co-worker discovered and they are the best! I am utterly smitten with these cookies. Lots of ginger and a beautiful 'crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside texture'. I have added more ginger.  The original recipe calls for 1 tsp fresh grated/finely minced ginger and 2 Tbsp candied ginger. As I love ginger, especially candied ginger I have added more. What an excellent balance of flavours! An awesome cookie!

Triple Ginger Molasses Crisps
1 c. softened butter
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 egg + 1 yolk
3/4 tsp salt
2 tsp fr. grated ginger
4 Tbsp ch. crystallized (candied) ginger
2 c. + 2 Tbsp flour
1 1/2 tsp powdered ginger
1 tsp bkg powder
1/3 c. dark molasses

Preheat oven to 350. Grease cookie sheet if using but best to use a non stick cookie sheet. Beat butter & sugar. Add egg, yolk, salt, fr. ginger, crystallized ginger & molasses. Mix flour, powdered ginger & bkg soda together. Whisk dry into wet ingredients.

Make into 2 inch rolls and roll in coarse sugar. Chill a couple hours in fridge then slice 1/8 inch thick & bake. Or - roll into 1 inch balls, press onto cookie sheet. Sprinkle with coarse sugar & bake.

Bake 12 mins. Makes 6 dozen.


Garden Close Ups - Smile

Bergenia (Elephant Ears)

Bethlehem Sage / Lungwort (Pulmonaria)

Big Betony (Stachys Macrantha)
Bishops Cap / Barrenwort (Epimedium - 'Red Barrenwort')

Bluebird Clematis (Clematis Macropetala)

Clematis Constance (Clematis Alpina)

Clematis Francis Rivis (Clematis Alpina)

Clematis Helsingborg (Clematis Alpina)

Clematis Lemon Bells (Clematis Chiisanensis)

Clematis Willy (Clematis Alpina)

Dead Nettle (Lamium Maculatum - 'Pink Pewter')

False Forget Me Not (Brunnera Macrophylla)

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)

Geraniums (Geranium Sanguineum - 'Pink')

Hollyhocks (Alcea rosea)
John Davis Shrub Roses and Coral Bells /Alumroot (Heuchera sanguinea)

Jolly Bee Geranium (Geranium Cranesbill)

Labrador Violet (Viola riviniana)

Lady's-Mantle (Alchemilla)

Meadow Rue (Thalictrum finetii)

Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum commutatum)

Sweet Woodruff / Bedstraw In center (Galium odoratum)

Toba Hawthorn (Crataegus mordenensis)

Virginia Creeper / Woodbine ( Parthenocissus quinquefolia)

Woodland Forget Me Nots (Myosotis sylvatica)