Monday, September 19, 2016

Pantry in Action: Cider-Braised, Barbecued Pork Loin

The "Pantry in Action" series shows creative ways of using all the wonderful food we've preserved during the year. I will include recipes wherever appropriate with links back to the post(s) where a particular ingredient (or ingredients) was canned.

After a rainy, but productive Saturday, we were rewarded with a beautiful sunny Sunday. It started out cloudy and muggy but by noon the sun was out and it turned into a lovely afternoon. So, I decided to invite Colin over for a barbecue.

Earlier last week, I had found a nice little boneless pork loin roast that I had stashed away in my freezer so I decided to try a method I had used previously to great success on spare ribs that involves braising, applying a dry rub and then barbecuing low and slow, slathering with a tasty sauce. But, to gild the lily once more, I thought I would try adding hickory smoke to the mix.

So, to start, I gathered a few things together: my thawed pork loin roast, some aluminum foil, a small half-pint jar of my Cherry Barbecue Sauce, and a bag of hickory wood chips.

Put 3 cups of wood chips in a large bowl a cover with warm water. I placed a plate on top of the chips to keep them submerged. Allow the chips to soak for at least 20 minutes. I left mine for over an hour.

Take 2 similarly sized mini potatoes and cut them in half to use as stilts for the roast to sit on. Pour a can of apple cider into a dutch oven and arrange the four potato halves in the cider so they will support the roast. Lightly oil the roast, season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and place gently atop the potato halves so the roast sits above the cider.

Cover the dutch oven and place it in a 275F oven to braise for about 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the roast.

Meanwhile, prepare the soaked wood chips by folding them into a foil packet leaving the ends slightly opened. Pierce with a fork  in several places on both sides. About 20 minutes before the roast is ready, remove the grill from a gas barbecue and place the packet of wood chips on one side of the heat shield. Replace the grill then light the entire barbecue, close the lid and leave on high heat for about 15 minutes or until there are generous tendrils of smoke issuing from the wood chip packet and you can readily smell the hickory.

For a charcoal barbecue, leave the grill off and light the coals right after you've put the roast in the oven. When the coals have a light coating of ash, spread them out and place the packet of wood chips directly on the coals to one side of the barbecue. Replace the grill and cover the barbecue. Leave it until there are generous tendrils of smoke issuing from the wood chip packet and you can readily smell the hickory.

Remove the roast from the dutch oven to a platter and rub with a dry rub. Turn all barbecue burners down to low and place the seasoned roast on the grill above the wood chips. Brush the top and sides of the roast with a nice barbecue sauce like this Sweet Cherry Barbeque Sauce. Close the barbecue and allow the roast to slowly cook in the smoke for about 30 minutes. Watch carefully. With a boneless roast it's easy to overcook it and end up with a dry chunk of meat. This method really does work best with bone-in cuts and is especially good with ribs.

While the roast is starting to grill, halve some more mini potatoes and place in a foil-lined barbecue basket with a bit of olive oil, tossing to coat. Turn cut side down so they crisp up. Add in the four half potatoes from the braise. Place the potatoes on the empty side of the grill and turn that burner up to high. Turn the roast over and brush with more barbecue sauce. Once the potatoes start sizzling, turn the heat down to medium-high and continue to cook. Every 10 minutes, turn the roast and brush with more sauce until a nice glaze develops.

When the roast appears done, remove from the grill and shut off that burner. Place on a cutting board, tent with foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes before slicing. When the potatoes are a nice golden colour, remove them from the grill and shut off the rest of the barbecue. 

Serve roast and potatoes with some steamed mixed vegetables.

The Last Weekend of Summer

The summer heat continues and even though the sun is now rising later (already I am getting up in the dark -- ugh!) and setting earlier, it still feels like mid-July.  We've gotten a few good rainfalls which combined with the heat are making the gardens give it their all in a last great push to the end of the growing season.

I've managed to collect a few batches of tomatoes here and there, but the cucumbers are all but done. I have great hopes for my carrots, though and will leave them well into the fall before pulling some. They are growing well and will sweeten up in the cooler weather. In her excellent book The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Your Own Food 365 Days a Year, No Matter Where You Live, Niki Jabbour mentions covering your carrots with straw or mulch to protect them from freezing and leaving them in the ground over winter, pulling them as needed. I'm not sure if I'm brave enough to try it with all my carrots, but I may try one patch and see what happens.

Meanwhile, Saturday was warm, steamy, gray and rainy, so I decided to get warm and steamy indoors and do some canning. I missed the boat with the Ontario peaches this year -- they weren't around long -- and the few I did have a couple of weeks ago went from under-ripe to rotting in the blink of an eye. However, the Ontario nectarines were still plentiful and looking good, so I bought several quarts and decided to make jam as well as put up some diced fruit in a very light syrup.

The recipe I used as a base is this one for Peach Jam from Canadian Living magazine.  As usual, I tweaked it to use nectarines instead of peaches, I substituted 1 cup of brown sugar for 1 cup of the granulated sugar and I gilded the lily by adding 2 oz of Triple Sec and 1 oz of Courvoisier. In case you're interested, here's the difference between Triple Sec, Cointreau and Gran Marnier.

The thing I like about nectarines is that although they are technically a type of peach, they combine the best features of peaches and plums: they have the larger size, bright colouring and taste of peaches, but with the smooth, fuzz-free skin of plums that breaks down nicely when cooked.  This means no blanching and peeling is necessary!

So, to start I prepared my water bath canner and 6 jam jars. Next, I washed, pitted and diced a dozen medium-sized ripe nectarines to end up with 6 cups of diced fruit.

Next, throwing the fruit into a large pot and using a potato masher, I reduced the diced fruit into a pulpy mess. To speed things up a little, I finished it off by using my hand blender for a few quick blasts.

Next, I added two tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice (about half a medium-sized lemon) and put the pot on high heat.

While the fruit was beginning to heat, I combined 1 packet of light pectin with a quarter cup of granulated sugar then stirred into the fruit and brought everything to a boil.

Once the fruit mixture was at a steady boil, I added the remaining sugars, stirring well and brought the pot back up to a full rolling boil that couldn't be stirred down.

I added 2 oz of Triple Sec, 1 oz of Courvoisier and I boiled it hard for 1 minute, then turned off the heat and skimmed off any foam.

By this time, the canner had been boiling for well over 10 minutes, so I removed the sterilized jam jars and I filled 5 of them with a little left over for sampling.  I processed them in the canner for 10 minutes, then turned off the heat and left the canner for another 5 minutes before unloading the jars to a folded tea towel to cool undisturbed for 24 hours.  You can find my recipe here.

I had 18 nectarines left which I wanted to dice and preserve in a very light sugar syrup. I had about 2/3 of a quart of syrup left over from putting up some diced plums a few weeks ago that I had originally thought I would use for diced peaches. However, that being an exercise in disappointment, I decided to use the left over syrup on the nectarines.

So, like the jam, I began by washing, pitting and dicing the fruit while the left over sugar syrup was simmering and a half dozen pint canning jars and their rings were heating in the canner. After the jam, I had to top up the water in the canner and add another splash of white vinegar and by the time I had finished pitting and dicing the nectarines, I had time to sit with a cup of tea while the canner boiled.

Once the jars were sterilized, I removed them from the canner and packed 5 of them with the diced fruit, using the pestle from my mortar-and-pestle to tamp them down, packing them tightly into the jars without crushing them.

Using my canning funnel, I poured the sugar syrup into a large measuring cup and then poured from that into each of the jars, jiggling and tapping each jar to dislodge any air bubbles. Bernardin's canning instructions for putting up fruit in syrup state to leave a half-inch of head space, but I ended up with more like a quarter-inch. Typically this would jeopardize the sealing of the jars as there isn't enough room under the lids for steam to develop and expel from the jars thereby creating the vacuum that creates the seal.

Further, having the canning liquid so close to the top of the jar facilitates siphoning which ends up draining some of the canning liquid under the edge of the lid and compromising the ability for the lid to seal to the lip of the jar.

I was fortunate this time in that despite considerable siphoning, all my jars successfully sealed, although one jar took much longer to seal than the others.  I was thinking it would be a refrigerator jar that I would be eating from in the next week or so, when it suddenly "pinged" to let me know that it, too, had sealed and was shelf-stable.

Just to be sure, though, I removed the bands from each of the jars, then one-by-one I picked them up by the edges of the their lids using my fingertips. Each lid held fast which proved that its seal was intact. If any of the lids had released from the weight of the jar, I would have put the lid back on, secured it with its band and stored the jar in the fridge, using it up within the next week or two. But, happily, all are intact, so I can safely store them down in my pantry to enjoy throughout the coming winter.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Isn't this where we came in?

Happy Anniversary to "A Locavore's Life"! It was exactly one year ago today that I posted my initial welcome to you, inviting you to share my journey. It's had its ups and downs, but overall I'd say I've enjoyed it.

Faded glory, 2016
Just for fun I took the photo above yesterday evening to compare to this one,

Faded glory, 2015
 taken last year at this time. Not much difference, although this year's garden does look a little more "bedraggled" to me and I'm blaming the insane lack of rain over the summer combined with the sporadic torrential downpours we've had over the last 6 weeks or so.

It's made for a very unusual growing season and as my previous post indicated, I have been less than thrilled with the harvest this year. I still haven't put up any peaches yet, so I will hit the farmer's market again this weekend and see what I can find. Maybe some tomatoes too to put up as diced and perhaps some passata.

Truth be told, though, I've sort of run out of steam when it comes to the garden this year, so I've decided to more or less leave it to do its thing. Besides, in contrast to last year at this time when I was going through a slow period at work and had time to actually start this blog, this year I am insanely crazy busy, so I have very little real time or energy to devote to properly post. 

So, although I'm not actually saying I am taking a break from blogging, I'm expecting my posts to be much fewer and farther between than they have been. At least for the next little while. 

I do have some grand plans for later in the fall to build raised vegetable beds and a cold frame. I've been inspired by this great book: The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Your Own Food 365 Days a Year, No Matter Where You Live by Niki Jabbour, figuring if she can grow lettuce in January in Nova Scotia, surely to goodness I can do the same here in Toronto!

However, it remains to be seen just how much time and energy (and money!) I will have. I may just be able to get the existing garden put to bed and ready for winter, never mind a major renovation! Then there's the fact that I have less than 10 months to go before I retire and then I will have all the time in the world to spend on such labours of love.

So, we will see. In the meantime, before I dove headfirst into the crazy circus that is my work at the moment, I was lucky enough to be able to spend 3 glorious days up at Sauble Beach at the cottage of my friend, Nancy.  

Despite the clouds, it turned into a glorious day!
Sauble Beach is about a 3 hour drive northwest of here on the eastern shore of the main body of Lake Huron renowned for its long stretches of sandy beaches and breathtaking sunsets. In fact it's been nicknamed "The Sunset Coast".

These shots were taken on an early morning walk and the sun hadn't fully risen yet. It turned into a beautiful clear, sunny day and later on this stretch of beach was packed with vacationers. I love the solitude and tranquility of early morning.

I cherished my time up there, but now it's back to work and full steam ahead!

Until next time...

Sunday, August 28, 2016


It's a bit of a downer to title a post "Disappointment" but that's essentially what I'm feeling right now after having spent all morning canning. If you put up food on a regular basis, every once in a while you are bound to have a disappointing session. Today was one of those.

I always have the grandest plans when it comes to canning (as well as a lot of other areas in my life!) and so I figured it would be a snap to do the strawberries and rhubarb, followed by the peaches I bought yesterday from the farmer's market and then the collected tomatoes from my garden.

It all started encouragingly enough -- a beautiful, sunny Sunday morning, fresh Ontario strawberries and rhubarb.

The rhubarb was gifted from my friend Fred and he thoughtfully had trimmed, chopped and frozen it for me, so all I needed to do was thaw it and put it a large pot. The rhubarb released a lot of its juice during the thawing process, so there was no need to macerate it in sugar.

I didn't bother macerating the strawberries either, just trimmed, cored and halved or quartered them, adding them directly to the pot of thawed rhubarb. I reckoned I had about 6-7 cups of fruit altogether, so I guesstimated about 3 cups of sugar would do. As it turned out, I was running low on sugar and I had just over 3 cups left, so that's what I used. I didn't want to make jam, just stew the rhubarb together with the strawberries to create a sort of thick sauce to have on yogourt or oatmeal for breakfast (or over vanilla ice cream!)

Bring the whole thing to a full, rolling boil that can't be stirred down and cook until the strawberries are soft, about 10 minutes or so. Since the rhubarb had released so much juice during the thawing process, it more or less dissolved into the stew, but made for a lovely preserve nonetheless.

Ladle into hot sterilized jars and process for 20 minutes. See here for water bath canning instructions.

All in all a fine start. However, it all went downhill from here.

The peaches I bought yesterday at the farmer's market look perfect and seem completely ripe, but when I tried to blanch them to remove their skins, they wouldn't budge.

Similar to preparing tomatoes for canning whole, halved or diced, I set up a large pot of boiling water, a bowl of ice water, another bowl for the peeled peaches and a plate to catch the skins. No matter how I tried, though, the skins would not release. The peaches are obviously not as ripe as I thought they were. 

So, I will leave them for a bit and hopefully they will ripen up.

After aborting the attempt to can the peaches, I turned to my meagre collection of tomatoes that I had gleaned from my garden over the past few weeks. Compared with last year, these are truly pathetic. Like the peaches, they look ripe, but when I tried blanching them, the skins were difficult to remove. I did manage to peel them all, but it took a fair bit of determination and effort. The tomatoes are small, hard and not very plump and juicy like they were last year and I put this down to the severe drought-like conditions we had here in July. Despite my regular watering, there just wasn't enough good rain. So, the garden has definitely suffered.

Having peeled and diced the few tomatoes I had, I decided at the last minute to take the collection of cherry tomatoes I had in the fridge, halve them without peeling them and add them to the diced tomatoes. A lot of the cherry tomatoes I picked recently are split, which is due to the large amount of rain we've received in a relatively short period of time over the last few weeks.

I must admit I do like the colourful mixture of the various types of tomatoes. I just wish there were more of them! So, I brought the tomatoes to a boil, then put them in hot, sterilized jars with bottled lemon juice (1 tbsp for pint jars, 2 tbsp for quarts) and processed them for 40 minutes.

All this for one 750ml (1 1/2 pint) jar and half a 1/2 pint jar. Sigh! Well, next weekend, it being the Labour Day weekend, hopefully I will have suitably ripe, fresh produce and will make up for this rather dismal canning session.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Dog Days of Summer

Although we are a couple of weeks past the official "dog days", the hot humid weather continues here in Southern Ontario keeping us all in that slow, lazy, languorous state associated with late summer.

It's been a rather weird growing season as well.  After a cool and rather wet spring and early summer, for most of July we were in a severe drought with very little rain at all. Then August brought us a few decent rainfalls while still keeping the temperature hot.

What resulted is a garden that sprang to life, tomatoes and cucumbers full of blossoms and fruit which then seemed to come to a screeching halt through most of July.  I had lots of hard little green tomatoes which just refused to develop no matter how diligent I was about watering.  It was very strange -- everything was healthy and green, not shrivelling up and dying, but nothing was growing.

The cucumbers have been coming in very slowly -- one or two every week or so, so I've only managed to put up a couple of small batches thus far.  My beloved Black Brandywine Cherry tomatoes along with a new member of my garden this year, Sweet Gold Cherry have been acting similarly, coming in a handful at a time.  The full-size Black Brandywines have been very sluggish and I've only picked three ripe ones so far with only another 4 or 5 green ones left on the vines.

As for the plum tomatoes, I nearly lost all of them to blossom end rot, but fortunately I sprinkled some bone meal around all the plants quickly enough to stop it from developing further.

Blossom end rot is caused by a lack of calcium, which is provided by a liberal application of bone meal. Ideally some bone meal should be sprinkled in the hole before planting with a light top-up later in the season.  Blossom end rot is characterized by circular dark brown lesions on the blossom end of the fruit as in the picture above. It's not contagious and all you need to do is remove the afflicted fruit and throw it out.

I'm still coming across a few diseased tomatoes, but they're few and far between now. And now with a number of good rain showers plus the continued heat, the tomatoes are finally starting to ripen.

It's nowhere near what last year's harvest was, so there is a lot less canning from the garden happening this year. 

Today's harvest

Instead, I am supplementing with produce from the farmer's market. This morning I went back out to the Port Credit Farmer's Market and picked up 2 liters of Ontario strawberries (the everbearing ones are still around although starting to dwindle), a 3 liter basket of freestone Ontario peaches and a 3 liter basket of Ontario plums.

The peaches and plums are destined to be canned in a very light syrup to be spooned over yogourt for breakfast on the coming dark mornings of winter. I will stew the strawberries together with some late-season rhubarb that my friend Fred gifted me.

First off, though, I wanted to add the few cucumbers I picked this morning to the ones in the refrigerator crisper and put up another couple of pints of pickles.

Same with the tomatoes. I figure I have enough now for a couple of jars of diced and a couple of the ones in the crisper are starting to go soft, so I will definitely get to that tomorrow.

While I was looking up the instructions for canning plums in very light syrup, on a whim I flipped through my jam recipes to see if there was anything plummy that might strike my fancy. And indeed there was! This one for Plum Jam with Star Anise sounded so simple and good I just had to try it. It calls for a pound of plums and the 3 liter basket I bought gave about 2 1/2 pounds so I thought I would try a batch of jam and put up the remaining 1 1/2 pounds in very light syrup.

So, tomatoes forgotten for the moment, I set about prepping the plums. I weighed out a pound of plums for the jam, then cut them in half, dug out the pit and chopped the fruit into small pieces.

Three quarters of a cup of granulated sugar and 3 star anise are added to the chopped plums then mixed well and set aside to macerate for an hour or so to let the star anise infuse the mixture.

I then pitted the remaining plums and cut them into quarters.

One pound of pitted and chopped plums macerating in 3/4 cup white sugar and 3 star anise on the right ready for jamming and 1 1/2 pounds of pitted and quartered plums on the left ready to be canned in very light syrup. After an hour of macerating, the star anise has infused the chopped plums and sugar with an exquisite warmth. It's truly a combination worth trying!

The quartered plums are now simmering in a very light syrup which is 1/2 cup white sugar dissolved in 5 cups of water and brought to a boil. I used half of the syrup here for the plums and I allowed the remaining syrup to cool to room temperature before putting it in the fridge in a quart mason jar.

I will use this tomorrow when I do the peaches.

The jam is made in a non-stick frying pan instead of a saucepan so that the wider surface area allows the jam to cook up and set quicker.

I had originally thought I would use 2 jam jars for the jam and 2 pint jars for the plums in syrup. It turned out that I only needed 1 jam jar (on the right in the picture above) for the jam and I had enough plums in syrup left over to fill the other jam jar as well as the 2 pint jars. 

The jam only needed 10 minutes processing whereas the plums in syrup needed 20 minutes, so I put them all into the canner together and then pulled the jam out after 10 minutes and let the rest of the jars boil for an additional 10 minutes.

Tomorrow I will tackle the tomatoes, the peaches and the strawberries and rhubarb.