Gluten Free

Buttery Popcorn and Flashbacks

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popcorn and apples (4)

Popcorn, you say? She’s going to write a post on popcorn? She is indeed.

You see, popcorn has been an integral part of my life as long as I can remember. We fed lunch to a crowd of visitors after church every other Sunday. There could be anywhere from twenty to thirty people seated around the table on those days. Yup. You can read more about those early Sundays here. Then, around 3:30 or 4:00 pm, we would bring out the popcorn kettle and make popcorn for the good folks before they started making movements toward departure. Very often the popcorn would be served with apples, and in maple syrup season, homemade taffy. Let it never be said that they would leave our home hungry! Later we learned that popcorn could be served for supper instead, which made more sense to me.

popcorn and apples

Making good popcorn is an art. It needs to be perfectly popped, with six kernels or less being the maximum left unpopped, at least that was the criteria in our home. There needs to be the perfect balance of saltiness, crispiness, and butteryness. I am absolutely of the persuasion that there needs to be a little butter on the popcorn. I see no point in masticating endlessly on a flat, saltless, butterless piece of rubber. Why eat popcorn at all? AND, I don’t insist on it being a point of membership or anything, but I use a sturdy popcorn kettle, used only for popcorn. I use my grandma’s well-seasoned kettle that I bought when she auctioned off her estate. It was the one thing I was going to get at any price. Let my cousin have the ugly stiff rubber doll that we used to play with; I was going to get that kettle!

Six years ago we went with my sister and her husband on a memorable trip to Portugal, Spain, Southern France, and Andorra. In the last week of our trip we were planning to stay at a very remote Portuguese village at the top of a mountain in a house owned by one of our employees. We knew it was rustic, and figured it was probably not well-stocked, so we stopped at the foot of the mountain and proceeded to shop for groceries. We were overjoyed when we found popcorn kernels on the shelves of the store. After all, we had not had popcorn for over two weeks! We bought some olive oil and butter, figuring there would be some kind of kettle there.

Upon arrival, after exploring a bit, we noticed that there was no salt there. This would not do. Popcorn with no salt??? It was too far to go back down for just salt. A few of us were nearly in tears, our expectations dashed. Popcorn withdrawal will do that to you. After all, my sister and I had both been raised in the same popcorny environment.

A dear little lady in need of a hip replacement seemed to have been put in charge of us and kept hobbling over between our house and hers, wanting to help us. The trouble was, she only spoke Portuguese and we spoke about two words in Portuguese, with neither of them being “salt”. We communicated with sign language and us trying to pronounce “salt” in different cadences for a while, when my eyes spied an empty spice jar on the counter. Aha! I grabbed it, and shook it as though I was salting something. Bingo! Her eyes lit up and we could tell that she had got it. She hastened uphill to her home with surprising alacrity considering her lopsided gait, and returned with TWO containers of salt. One was a shaker of table salt; the other one a jar of very moist, fishy-smelling sea salt. We took the little shaker of salt, profusely saying “Obrigado” over and over. We had learned the Portuguese “Thank You” by then.

We made our popcorn in olive oil and butter, seasoned with salt we were very thankful for. Then we ate it with gusto on our front porch, waving at the neighbours trotting by, checking out the new kids in town. We surmised that they didn’t get a lot of visitors up there.

That was our initiation into a world of new experiences in the next few days; many hilarious, some touching, but all enthralling. You may hear more of them as life goes on.

I served the popcorn this time with Ambrosia apples. If you like a crunchy apple that STAYS crunchy in the dead of winter, this is the apple for you! If you like a pretty apple, this is also the apple for you. If you only like sour apples, this is NOT the apple for you. It is very sweet, as its name implies. It also happens to be my husband’s favourite. He’s sweet that way; liking the apple I’m featuring.

ambrosia apples


There are a few apples that are especially good for eating with popcorn. Some of my personal older favourites would include the Cortland and Snow apples in season, and the Empire. One of the newer ones would be the Ambrosia, a sweet apple that is similar to the Gala, but is firmer and even sweeter. It gets picked in mid-October, about a month after the Gala, so as a result it stores much better and retains its firmness longer.

This post is sponsored by Martin’s Family Fruit Farm. Memories and stories are my own.

Buttery Popcorn

Ingredients

popcorn and apples (4)

  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 3/4 cup popcorn kernels (I love the white hull-less variety)
  • 1/8 – 1/4 cup butter
  • salt to taste

Directions

Get out a very large bowl. Heat the oil in a heavy pot or popcorn maker on high heat until shimmering hot. I often toss in a few kernels first; if they start “swimming” and sizzling, the oil is ready. Add the rest of the kernels and the butter and swirl the pot well, holding it above the burner. Do this a few times until it begins to pop, returning it to the burner in between. Keep the lid slightly ajar to keep popcorn crisp. Once it starts popping, remove pot and shake the kettle mid-air several times to shake the unpopped kernels to the bottom before returning it to the stove. When the lid begins to rise, shake about a third of the popcorn into the bowl. Return the kettle to the burner, shaking it again; repeat these steps until the popping slows down significantly. Shake salt over the popcorn, taste, and adjust. Serve with apples for an old-fashioned economical snack.

Zingy Chicken Noodle Soup

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Zingy Chicken Soup (3)

Happy New Year, folks! I totally missed doing a December post because we were gone, then gone again, then there was Christmas, and Christmas, and more Christmas. Please don’t mistake me; I LOVE Christmas; it’s just that all the festivities seem to preclude blog posts. This may be why it’s wise to have a few posts done ahead of time. Some day I hope to be wise. I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, with just enough stuff happening to make you feel loved, but enough quiet time to reflect on the Child Jesus who came to this world to show us how to live and love.

Immediately after Christmas, I came down with a wicked head and chest cold that stayed and stayed and is still staying, when what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a soup entitled Flu-Fighter Chicken Noodle Soup by Baker By Nature. I decided to enlist in the battle against all flu infestations, and make it. The recipe caught my eye because it uses roasted chicken tenderloins instead of a whole chicken, and has lemon juice and dill in it. All the ingredients were here, and it seemed very doable. Plus, Flu-Fighter! Let’s kick this baby! Incidentally, this roasting method turned out to be highly revolutionary to every chicken soup in my future. I will do that every time I make ANY kind of chicken soup. I took our dog for a walk through the orchard and around the old barn to stretch both our legs and clear my foggy head, then I began chopping and roasting.

The Poultry Place is across the road from us and I keep their souvlaki chicken strips in my freezer at all times, as well as their housemade chicken broth. Having just watched the Downton Abbey Episode in which Mrs. Whats-her-name tries to make a chicken broth for the old dowager and ends up with a vile concoction that ended up being thrown out, I deemed it wise to use some premade broth. I added one gel pack of Knorr’s chicken stock for extra flavour. At least I thought I did. I like that stuff; it tastes good, and it’s gluten-free to boot. Each little pack flavours three cups of water.

I scoured my fridge and found some leeks that needed to be used. I used shallots, leeks, and onions instead of only onions. Ontario garlic is much more potent than the typically-stocked Chinese varieties, so I cut the garlic down to four cloves. I added half a tomato, chopped, because it was sitting in my fridge too, and we like tomatoes. It is soup after all; you can add what you like. Between Martin’s Family Fruit Farm, my pantry and fridge, and The Poultry Place, I had what I needed! Yay!

 

Zingy Chicken Soup (2)

I made the soup and gave it to my husband to taste test because my tester is not very reliable these days. I trust him and know his language; if he tells me that it’s “okay”, it means that it’s not very good. If he says, “Wow”, it means exactly that. If he doesn’t say anything and just hums sounds of delight as he eats, it’s the best. The first taste I gave him needed more salt and pepper. Although we loved the zing of the lemon juice, the second one was still “missing something”.  Eventually, I discovered that I had forgotten to add the Knorr broth package to the soup after taking the bouillon photo. After adding it, he declared “Now, that’s good!” and ate a hearty bowlful with two slices of my homemade Mennonite-style sourdough bread. So there you have your endorsement.

By the way, do use only the amount of pasta asked for in the recipe, even if it seems skimpy. If you add more, you will end up with chicken noodle stew or chicken noodle casserole by the next day. Or even by the next hour. Trust me, I know this. Tomorrow’s recipe: Chicken Noodle Casserole. Just kidding. Gonna have to add more broth to the leftovers!

Martin’s is still well-stocked with Ontario root vegetables as well as apples. Carrots, leeks, onions, garlic, shallots…they’re all waiting to go into your next pot of soup! 

This post is sponsored by Martin’s Family Fruit Farm. Stories and viewpoints are my own. 

Zingy Chicken Noodle Soup

Ingredients

Zingy Chicken Soup

Chicken:

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken tenderloins (or breasts, cut in strips)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon black or mixed peppers

Soup:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 3 stalks of celery, diced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 leek, sliced
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 4 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 4 cups of water
  • 1 Knorr gel pack of chicken bouillon mix
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cups gluten-free or wheat-based broad noodles or pasta (I used rotini)
  • juice of one lemon
  • 1 small tomato,chopped (optional)
  • 1/4 cup fresh or 1 teaspoon dried dill

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190C). Place chicken tenderloin strips in a 9″ x 13″ baking pan. Drizzle with the 2 Tbsp olive oil and sprinkle with the seasonings. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 – 30 minutes, flipping once. Remove and pull into bite-size chunks with two forks. Set aside until ready to add to soup. Seriously, roasting the chicken for the soup adds a whole ‘nother dimension. I’m going to roast my chicken for every soup I make from now on.

While the chicken is roasting, prepare the soup by heating the second amount of olive oil in a very large kettle. Chop and slice all the vegetables and add them (except the garlic) to the oil. Cook over medium heat for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and salt and cook for another minute. Add the bay leaf, chicken broth, water, and Knorr gel pack. Increase heat to high until boiling, then add the pasta and turn down the heat to medium-low. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until the vegetables are soft and the pasta is al dente. Stir in lemon juice, tomato, chicken and dill just before serving. Check for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if needed. Join the cold-fighting army and serve this soup.

 

 

 

Roast Beef for Grandpa with Mushroom Shallot Gravy

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I grew up living beside my paternal grandparents for most of my life at home, so many of my childhood memories include them. Grandparents can have a huge impact on children and I hope to be as positively impactful to my own grandchildren as my own were to me.

My grandpa was a strong, independent, deep-thinking Old Order Mennonite man; rather intimidating to children, but highly respected by adults. As I became an adult and listened to people talk about him, I realized that his advice was sought by many, including the community at large. He was a great horseman, taking in young horses or ones from “the tracks” and retraining them for buggy use. I loved to watch him handle them, crooning to them while currying their coats to a sleek, glossy shine. Every now and then he would let us sit on one while holding its head. Sometimes on rainy or snowy days he would drive us to school in his dachvegli (a covered buggy) OR… oh, joy of joys, his sleigh, with the bells ringing merrily. As I write this, I realize that this makes me sound really ancient, which I’m not, honestly! I just grew up in a pretty special setting and time. Later on, he had a mild stroke which forced him to retire from breaking in horses and eventually he had to sell off his own horse. That was a heartbreaking day for him.

One particular food that grandpa was fond of was beef. I can still picture him coming over to our house, beaming widely and declaring, “Vell! Mir hen da beshtischta beef rosht das mir noch einmal kotta hen.” (Well! We had the best roast beef that we’ve ever had!) We kids would snicker later, saying that if this continues, the roasts will be off the charts in goodness! I think of him whenever I cook a particularly savoury roast, and that comment is still heard rolling off our tongues many years later.

It seemed like a good time to post about my favourite new method of preparing the “best beef roast ever”, because any time now we hope to kill the fatted calf, figuratively speaking, in celebration of our third grandchild; our first granddaughter! I’m so excited.

This roasting method uses a high heat and an open pan to kick off the roast, which creates a nice brown crust and deep flavour. I drizzle it with a good olive oil (to sear and seal the crust), red wine or red wine vinegar (to tenderize it), and season it with salt, coarsely ground pepper and beef seasoning mix before the first roast. Then I add the mushrooms and shallots, cover the pan and roast it low and slow for several hours. Take it out, make the gravy, carve it and serve The Best Roast Beef We’ve Ever Had. Hats off to you, Grandpa, for encouraging me in my search for the elusive best!

BREAKING NEWS! While I was typing up this blog the new little miss decided to make her entry into our family. She is obviously a young lady of impeccable timing.

All the ingredients are ready to prep the roast. Need a good olive oil source? Olive My Favourites from Stratford is my go-to store. Great service and many wonderful choices.

 

 

Roast Beef for Grandpa (5)
The Best Beef Roast Ever. Remember this term is subjective. It might always be better next time!

 

Roast Beef for Grandpa (9)I like to serve the roast with mashed potatoes, carrots, and Brussels sprouts. With browned butter, of course. They’re all available at Martin’s Family Fruit Farm who kindly sponsors my posts.

 

I used cremini mushrooms for the gravy; one of my favourites. They are actually a baby portobello mushroom, so the flavour is similar, but not as intense. They have a firm texture and nutty flavour that pairs well with beef. Their look is similar to a white button mushroom.

Shallots are a staple at my house. Their flavour and appearance is somewhere between a red onion and a garlic bulb. I love the subtle garlic/onion infusion it adds to a roast.

Roast Beef for Grandpa with Mushroom Shallot Gravy

Ingredients

  • 4 – 5 pound beef blade roastRoast beef for Grandpa (10)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons red wine or red wine vinegar
  • salt (generous sprinkle)
  • pepper (generous sprinkle)
  • beef steak seasoning of your choice (generous sprinkle)
  • 2 – 3 bulbs French shallots, chopped
  • 2 – 3 cups coarsely chopped cremini mushrooms

GRAVY:

  • beef broth plus water to make 3 cups
  • approximately 1/4 cup of flour or cornstarch to thicken
  • additional water
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat oven at 400°F (204°C) on regular bake or convection roast setting. I like convection roast for this stage because it browns the roast so nicely. Place roast into a large casserole dish or medium roaster. Drizzle with olive oil and red wine (vinegar) and sprinkle with the seasonings. Roast, uncovered, for approximately an hour until it looks brown all over. Turn the heat down to 250°F (121°C) regular bake. Remove from oven and add the chopped shallots and mushrooms. Add about a cup of HOT water and stir the vegetables lightly. Now you cover it and put it back into the oven. Bake it for about three hours. If it’s browning too much, turn the heat back further. At this point you want it low and slow. Remove roast when it’s soft and succulent when pierced. Cover lightly with foil and let it rest while you prepare the gravy.

GRAVY: Strain the broth and vegetables through a sieve into a large measuring pitcher. Add hot water to the broth to make at least 3 cups. Pour into a medium saucepan and heat until steaming. Whisk flour or cornstarch into an additional 1/2 cup of cold water. Slowly pour into steaming hot broth, stirring constantly, until the gravy is as thick as you would like it. Let it bubble until thick, then taste for seasoning and add more if needed. Add the strained mushrooms and shallots to the gravy.

Slice the meat and pour some of the gravy over the top to serve. Serve remaining gravy on the side. Cheerio, Grandpa!

Note: The finished beef and gravy can be layered in a slow cooker if you want to prepare it ahead. Heat on low for 3 – 4 hours before serving.

 

 

 

Fresh Peach Pie with Gluten-Free Pastry

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Fresh Peach Pie (9)

If I were asked to point to one fruit that epitomizes those warm, hazy last days of summer, I would, without any hesitation at all, choose the peach. The fuzzy, warm skin with its encroaching pink shadows that lengthen as the peach ripens, the dewy golden flesh dripping with sweetness all portray summer teetering on the cusp of fall. And if I were asked about my favourite dessert incorporating peaches, I would shout “Fresh Peach Pie!”.

Fresh Peach Pie (4)

I have a memory of making fresh peach pies for one of my sisters’ wedding. It was a hot September week, similar to the weather we’ve had this summer. The entire wedding was held at my parents home, and we had cleaned, cooked, mowed, weeded, planted, painted, and I don’t know what else most of the summer in preparation. The pies were cut and served on plates down in the basement for the meal, as it was the coolest part of the house. To save time and refrigerator space, we had decided to use those cans of whip cream spray, which we had seen in stores, but never used. Well, to make a long story short, it was a disaster. The cream turned to foamy liquid 30 seconds after it landed on the pie slices and the poor servers were trying to get them to the guests without having the cream running off the plates and down over their frilly aprons. But the peach pie tasted good, and my sister and her husband are still loving and enjoying each other 26 years later. Moral of the story: a failed peach pie doth not a marriage break.

EDIT: Apparently I had the wrong sister in mind. This can happen when one has six sisters. I have edited it to say September instead of August and it’s only been 26 years, not 34. My apologies!

I have tried this wheat-free pastry three times now and it was a success each time. Those of you who do any gluten-free baking know how delightful that feels! I have only used butter so far and it gives the pie crust a lovely shortbread texture and flavour. I find it works best to roll the chilled dough only partially, then fit it into the base of the pan and press the rest into shape. For wheat-based pastries, I use the recipe on the back of the Tenderflake lard box. It makes a large batch and is nice and flaky.  I divide the dough into 5 or 6 pieces, flatten them into discs, stick ’em in a freezer bag and pop them into the freezer for such a time as this.

 

Ontario Peaches

Find these delicious peaches at Martin’s Family Fruit Farm!  Also, check here on their site for more recipes. The recipes, views and stories on this blog are my own. 

This may surprise some of my readers but there are a fair number of peaches grown in the Niagara region of southern Ontario. They are available from early August to mid-September. The season begins with clingstone (fruit does not release easily from the pit, or stone), and progresses to freestone (fruit easily removes from the stone). The hazy fuzz on peaches is called “bloom” and is a protection for the peach. The bloom is removed through washing the fruit. Generally speaking, the later peach varieties are better for canning and freezing, since they are sweeter and the flesh holds up better in preserving.

Fresh Peach Pie with Gluten-free Pastry

Ingredients

GLUTEN-FREE PASTRY:Fresh Peach Pie (9)

  • 2/3 cup white rice flour
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons potato starch
  • 2 tablespoon tapioca flour (or starch; they are the same)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup cold butter
  • 1 large egg, beaten

PEACH PIE FILLING:

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch or clear jel
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons peach-flavoured gelatin powder (I like Shirriff’s)
  • 4 cups peeled and sliced peaches (4 – 6 peaches)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped, lightly sweetened if desired

Directions

PIE PASTRY: Before starting, make sure all your ingredients and utensils, including your rolling pin, are free of any wheat. This is very important! I cover the pastry with waxed paper or parchment before rolling to avoid any gluten touching the dough. Combine all the dry ingredients. Cut the cold butter into 1/2 inch cubes and add to the dry mixture, tossing to coat. Use your pastry cutter or hands to break the butter into smaller clumps, flattening them into discs. Add the beaten egg and lightly knead just until combined and the dough is starting to smooth out. Shape into a disc, wrap in cellophane and place in the freezer for 10- 15 minutes until it firms up. Sprinkle your counter liberally with more gluten-free flour mixture and roll out as well as you can. I usually roll it big enough to fit the bottom of the pan, then press it up the sides and flatten with my hands into the pan. This recipe fits a 9 inch pan perfectly. Prick the crust all over and chill again while heating the oven. Bake at 400° F for 20 minutes until golden brown. Cool completely before filling. 

PEACH PIE FILLING: Mix white sugar and cornstarch or clear jel in a medium saucepan, then add water. Heat on medium heat, whisking frequently until mixture begins to thicken and clear. This will take about 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in the peach gelatin. Let it sit while you peel and slice peaches. Pour warm gelatin mixture over the peaches and fold together lightly until every slice is covered. Mound into cooled pie pastry shell. If there is more filling than what will fit into the pie, someone may have to eat it. Oh, dear. Chill for at least 4 hours. Whip cream and top the pie to serve.

 

 

Creamy Oats with Honeyed Apricots

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Creamy Oats with Honeyed Apricots (2)

Let it be known that I love to travel. Travelling is good for the soul and it keeps you humble.  How, you ask, does travelling keep one humble? You see, when it’s YOU that’s the odd one out; YOU driving on the wrong side of the road, YOU asking for a translation of a menu item, YOU wondering what that sign said, then finding out that it meant to Keep Out, it helps you realize what those “furriners” experience when they visit our fair country and commit those unpardonable cultural gaffes. It also creates a sense of empathy for them within me. If you’re thinking that this all sounds like an excuse to keep travelling, you might also be right.

I also love breakfasts. But you know how when you’re travelling, you fluctuate between all those gourmet breakfasts and mediocre hotel breakfasts and eventually just long for a simple homey cereal or muffin breakfast? Yeah, well, for me that often means longing for a steaming bowl of oatmeal. I LOVE oatmeal, so when I spied Porridge Oats with Honey Blueberry Compote on the menu close to the end of our trip to Ireland, I ordered it posthaste. It was everything I wanted it to be; both homey and delightful. Steel cut creamy oats topped with a lightly sweetened blueberry compote and drizzled with honey. For years I’ve been cooking my oats in a half milk/ half water solution, then adding apples and raisins, so this seemed like a great dish to recreate at home. I did it, and it was great, but this time of year when fresh Ontario fruits abound it seems a shame to cook the fruit. Apricots are in season now, and due to the dry heat we have experienced this year, they are extra sweet.  I love anything with apricots, so I thought why not try apricots with honey? I cooked my favourite steel cut oats in our own local milk, sprinkled a wee bit of cinnamon on the oats, topped them with chopped apricots, and drizzled it all with honey. I sure did enjoy it, and as I was eating it, I thought, “This sure would be good with peaches too. Or peaches and blueberries.” Next time…

Steel-cut Oats, Apricots, Guernsey Milk, and local Honey!
It makes me happy when I can use all local products in my cooking!

 

Creamy Oats with Blueberries
My daughter opted to top hers with fresh blueberries and brown sugar, and ate it with gusto.
Creamy Oats with Honeyed Apricots
Delicious apricot chunks swimming in honey on an island of oats

 

This post is sponsored by Martin’s Family Fruit Farm, where most of this stuff is available. As always, the views and stories are my own. 

Apricots are said to be one of the healthiest fruits in the world, with tons of Vitamins A and C, and potassium packed into its little furry body. We saw acres and acres of apricot orchards as we were climbing the mountainsides in Spain and Portugal a few years ago. It was a beautiful sight; those orange ovals hanging in the trees. 

Creamy Oats with Honeyed Apricots

Ingredients

Creamy Oats with Honeyed Apricots (4)

  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • dash of salt
  • 1 cup steel cut oats
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh apricots (or your favourite seasonal fruit)
  • honey (or maple syrup or brown sugar)

Directions

Pour the milk and the water into a medium-sized saucepan. Heat, stirring now and then until it begins to steam and smell “milky”. Stir in salt and oats. Reduce heat and slowly boil for 10 to 20 minutes, until it is just a little thinner than you like to eat it it. Cover and remove from heat. Let it sit for 3 to 5 minutes to let it thicken. Scoop into your prettiest bowl, top with chopped apricots or desired fruit and drizzle with honey.

 

Summer Strawberry Salad with Candied Walnuts

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Summer Strawberry Salad with Candied Walnuts (2)

My history with both strawberries and walnuts goes back a long, long way. Growing up as the oldest of a large family, we always had long rows of strawberries where we fought with varied feathered and furred creatures to be the first to get to as they ripened. Later I married into the Martin family and they had a pick-your-own patch in those early years. I remember picking with Asian pickers and being simply agog at their flying fingers while chatting at equal breakneck speed with each other. After the stork began using our home as a drop-off location, I sold strawberry plants in the spring from our house as a little sideline income as a stay-at-home mom. It turned out to be a great way to meet the neighbourhood, as well as neighbouring communities. I also got to know the berry types and which ones grew best in certain soils. Those were good years.

We children considered walnuts the bane of our existence. Our property had formerly been a black walnut grove and my parents had opted to keep about a dozen trees on our lawn. Starting in September, we had to pick up those big green globes before we could mow. At the end of the season we saved a few bushels of them and spread them out on the lower garage floor, then drove over them with the garden tractor to remove the thick pulpy, leathery skin. When the skin was squashed and cracked, we peeled them off, wearing rubber gloves. You know what walnut stain colour on wood looks like, right? Well, dear ones, that’s the colour our gloves were after that job was done and the stain dried. We let the nuts dry in their hard wooden shells for weeks down there, then gathered them in bushel baskets and stored them in the furnace room. Then…and this is the good part…on a cold, rainy night those old enough to help would gather in a circle and pound those wooden little nuts with a hammer until the shell split and pry out the nutmeat inside. We would beg dad to tell stories of his boyhood and he obliged with delight. When we were done, we trooped upstairs and Dad (or Mom, if the little ones had been put to bed already) would fry up those little hard-earned beauties in butter until they were sizzling and fragrant, shake some salt over them, and we devoured them with gusto. To this day, I cannot brown a nut without having memories of those late autumn delights flood my being. It’s funny how memories are attuned to smells like that.

Summer Strawberry Salad (2)

This salad uses an assortment of fresh seasonal goodies that are available now. I had to use English walnuts because I have no black walnuts on hand, but it was still delicious. The dressing is from the yummy Festive Tossed Salad in our cookbook. I cut back the sugar and butter amounts from the original recipe, as I often do.

Summer Strawberry Salad with Candied Walnuts
This post is sponsored by Martin’s Family Fruit Farm and my blog is featured on their new website. The views and stories presented here are my own.
Strawberries come in many varieties and types. It is best to grow them in raised rows so that the berries don’t sit in water and rot during wet weather. The plants need to be covered in winter with straw to prevent winterkill (hence the name). With the advancement of the day neutral or ever-bearing berry, we are able to have strawberries much earlier in the spring and later in the fall than we used to. Ontarians are now making fresh strawberry pies in October for Thanksgiving, alongside the iconic pumpkin pie! They are easy to freeze for smoothies or shakes.

Summer Strawberry Salad with Candied Walnuts

Ingredients

NUTS:

Summer Strawberry Salad with Candied Walnuts (2)

  • 1 cup walnuts, or pecans if you prefer them
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 – 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

DRESSING:

  • 1/2 olive oil
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar or honey
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (2 teaspoons dried)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or basil (1 teaspoon dried)
  • 1 garlic clove, cut in quarters
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

SALAD:

  • 10 – 12 cups torn romaine, or a mix of lettuces
  • 2 cups fresh strawberries, washed, hulled, and sliced
  • 1/2 cups sliced green or red onions
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese, or your favourite kind

Directions

NUTS: Melt butter in a medium skillet. Add nuts and cook until sizzling and fragrant over medium heat (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat and sprinkle with sugar, salt and pepper; stir it in. Set aside until serving time. These can be done ahead.

DRESSING: Blend dressing ingredients together in food processor or blender lightly.

SALAD: In a large salad bowl, layer half the lettuce, strawberries, onions and cheese. Repeat layers. The salad can be covered and refrigerated at this point for several hours. When ready to serve, top with the candied nuts and drizzle with enough dressing to suit your tastebuds. Eat and remember those who gathered the walnuts.

Asparagus and Bacon Quiche

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Asparagus Bacon Quiche
Asparagus and Bacon Quiche

Spring has been peeping around the corner for a while to tease us with her warmth and sunshine, only to sweep it away out of reach coyly. But she seems to have tired of her flirtatious game and has finally taken up residence in earnest. There is an old proverb that claims that good things come to those who wait, and whoever penned it knew whereof he/she spoke.

One of the good things that I wait for impatiently in the Spring is asparagus. I love asparagus and use it in a dozen different ways in the short season it is here for. Click here for last year’s Asparagus, Ham and Egg on Toast recipe; it’s great for breakfast or brunch. I can’t wait to make it again.

A sidekick that accompanies asparagus for an even shorter period is wild leeks, or ramps, as they are known as. An older friend of ours delighted in telling us a story at market about his class eating wild ramps during their noon hour break and having the teacher send them home from school early because the class reeked so badly. Imagine a room full of kids each eating a handful of fresh garlic and you might have a sense of how that classroom smelled! I have fond memories of meandering through the woods behind our place with grandma and pulling up the leeks and eating them straight out of the soil.

Asparagus and ramps combine with bacon, eggs and cheese to deliver this scrumptious quiche. I used an applewood-smoked bacon and a variety of cheeses, including Gruyere and an intriguing straw-smoked Scamoria that looks like a potato that I brought home from our recent trip to Ireland. The overall result was a swirl of flavours that blended superbly, yet allowed the asparagus to shine through.

I use the recipe for pie pastry that is on the box of lard, mix up a big batch and divide it into 5 or six portions, depending on the size of the pie plates, and freeze them individually. That way, it’s ready to go when I want to make a pie or tart. Or quiche, in this case. Chop and lightly fry the bacon, cook the asparagus quickly and chop the ramps, shred the cheese, and beat the egg mixture while they’re cooking. This egg mixture is a basic quiche base; you could also substitute broccoli or spinach for the asparagus, and ham or chicken for the bacon. If you want to make it gluten-free, this recipe is my go-to GF pastry.

Layer everything in the pastry-lined pan, pour the beaten egg mixture over it all and bake.

Asparagus Bacon Quiche (4)

Savour every bite and thank the good Lord for Spring’s bounties! I served it with a Caprese salad on the side. We didn’t eat the tulips.

Asparagus Bacon Quiche (3)

This post is sponsored by Martin’s Family Fruit Farm. Check out my blog and other recipes on their new website! The stories and views are my own.
Asparagus grows best in light sandy soil. As soon as warm weather arrives, it begins poking its head out through the ground. It grows quickly and needs to be harvested nearly every day. Cut off the grey woody bottoms until you reach the tender part of the stems. Asparagus can also be eaten raw, or very lightly blanched and chilled and makes a stunning and conversational addition in a fresh vegetable assortment.
Ramps grow wild in shady areas of the woods. They are in the garlic family, so you may use garlic or shallots as a fine substitute.

Asparagus and Bacon Quiche

Ingredients

  • 1 10″ pie crust, homemade or store-bought Asparagus Bacon Quiche (5)(I use the recipe on the lard packages and freeze the extra portions). Use a GF crust to easily make it gluten-free.
  • 3/4 to 1 pound fresh asparagus, washed well and trimmed (about 3 cups when chopped)
  • 1 bunch wild ramps or 2 garlic cloves, washed
  • 6 slices bacon or 1 cup ham
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded assorted cheese
  • 3 large or extra-large eggs
  • 3/4 cup half and half or whipping cream or whole milk*
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • generous grinding of black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon grainy or dijon mustard

Directions

PASTRY: On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry into a 13″ circle. fold into quarters and transfer to a pie or quiche pan. Unfold and fit into the pan, pressing it in lightly. Trim edges or fold them underneath inside the rim and crimp the edges.

FILLING: Preheat oven to 400°F or 205°C. Chop bacon coarsely and fry lightly. Slice asparagus into 1 inch pieces and cook uncovered in a little water for 3 – 5 minutes, just until it turns bright green. Finely chop the ramps or garlic and shred the cheeses. Whisk the eggs, add the seasonings and cream or milk*. Tilt pan on a low trivet to let the grease run to the bottom, then remove the bacon onto a paper towel. Strain hot liquid off of asparagus immediately.

LAYERS: In the prepared pastry, layer half the cheese, asparagus, bacon, and ramps, then repeat the layers. I start and end with the cheese; it keeps the crust from getting soggy and gives the quiche a lovely golden top. Pour the egg mixture over the layers.

BAKE for 35 to 40 minutes until golden and a knife comes out clean when inserted into the centre of the quiche. Don’t poke into the crust! Let it rest for 5 minutes before slicing. Serve with a salad for a lovely light lunch or supper and be thankful for spring.

*Using cream will result in the firmest quiche with less water separation happening as it bakes. I recommend using whole milk if you wish to use milk.