How to make applesauce

My flirtation with homemade applesauce has become an obsession. I make batches all the time now. It’s just so easy and the results are always so tasty. Besides, you can add different ingredients to come up with your own mix.

I start with firm, tart apples, though to be honest, I’ll often use whatever’s going soft on the counter. You can buy a big 10 lb bag at the farmers’ market or start with just four or five apples. It’s really up to you.

You need to core out the apples. I also peel them, though some recipes say you don’t need to do that. Then cut them into even-sized chunks.

Put the apple chunks in a pot and add enough water to cover the bottom. I always add too much water and have to boil it off at the end.

You can add sugar and cinnamon, though I don’t. I find the applesauce tastes too much like pie filling this way.

Cover the pot and adjust the burner to medium heat. Set the timer for 10 minutes, though this is more of a reminder to check on the apples. There’s no exact moment when they’re done. You simply want the apples to turn soft enough to mash.

Take the pot off the burner and allow to cool. Then use a potato masher on the apples. If you like your applesauce kind of lumpy, don’t mash too much. I find 4 to 6 medium apples will fill 2 regular (500ml) Mason jars.

I’ve made batches with cranberries, pears and plums, and they all turned out great. The apple-pear combo is popular in my house, though you can’t beat the purity of just apples.

TIP: When using cranberries, put them in the pot first and wait for them to pop, then add the apples. The apple-cranberry combo is pretty tart, so you may want to add a bit of sugar. Or just drizzle a little maple syrup on it when serving.

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Lessons from an all-local diet

My month-long experiment of eating local is over. It was a long month, and one I don’t plan on replicating any time soon. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the many trips to the market, the meal planning and the research. It’s just that there were so many trips to the market, and so much meal planning and research. It really is easier to shut down your brain and grab the closest food-like product.

But I learned a lot from this experiment. I ate my way through Nova Scotia, so to speak, and had some amazing meals and conversations about food. I even lost 11 pounds. Now I’m ready to share these lessons with anyone prepared to embark on a similar adventure.

Define “local”: It’s funny how one five-letter word can mean so much to so many people. I started off thinking I’d eat only foods that were grown or produced in Nova Scotia. Basically, this meant ignoring anything that came in a wrapper. But why deny myself organic cheese from Pictou County or dried cranberries from Lunenburg? The cranberries are local, even though they are lightly coated in oil and sugar — two ingredients not produced in the province. It’s the same issue with wine. Why not drink something when the main ingredient is truly local? I could have saved myself a week of grief if I had defined the term at the start. In the end I accepted that I was on a 95-98% local diet.

Read the fine print: Vendors like to throw the L word around. I had more than one seller tell me something was local even when the main ingredient clearly wasn’t. It’s also easy to be taken in by misleading advertising. For example, Acadiana Soy Products tofu is made here but the soybeans are from P.E.I. The flax in Omega Crunch is from Manitoba and the maple syrup is a mix from here and Ontario. Read the ingredients list. Scour websites. Question vendors. This is important once you define what local means to you.

Plan ahead: There is no such thing as spontaneity with an all-Nova Scotia diet. You have to plan your meals a day or two ahead. If not, prepare to go hungry or eat eggs for every meal. I scanned websites for Nova Scotia ingredients and came up with a list of meals based around them. I took that list with me every time I went to the market, which turned out to be a couple of times a week. I knew every morning what I would be having for dinner that night. Planning meant having enough variety in my meals to keep it interesting and healthy. And the big question of “What will I eat tonight?” became “How do I get leftovers from that?” You can make it even easier on yourself and plan months ahead. Store that precious bag of local flour. Collect your fats. They will come in handy.

Learn to cook: Remember that long list of meals you drew up? Well, someone needs to prepare them. If you’re a great cook with a creative bent you won’t have a problem. But if you’re like me, go find your Home Ec. book from junior high. I looked up the correct way to boil an egg since I was eating so many of them. (Don’t laugh — I guarantee my eggs are better than yours) I flipped through a number of cookbooks to find recipes I could adapt and looked for substitutes for all the ingredients I was missing. I found a simple recipe for shepherd’s pie on the Kraft website of all places, and it turned out surprisingly well, though it needed salt. Tom even came up with his own Shake n’ Bake recipe for me using finely chopped rosemary, thyme and hot peppers with seeds. That’s one trick that’ll get a lot of play in the kitchen.

Enjoy the solitude: I hope you like your own company because you’re gonna spend a lot of time at home, specifically in your kitchen. Now, I love dining out with friends. But you can’t eat out in restaurants if you don’t know exactly what you’re getting. Other than that one time at Obladee, I stayed home every night and cooked. No restaurants or bars meant no friends. There was one dinner party where I served spaghetti squash, but that meal was less than spectacular. Truth be told I was reluctant to host more dinner parties because I felt it was unfair to subject others to my diet. Also, I was pretty focused on meal-planning and preparation. Keeping one person well fed and healthy is tough enough.

Accept you’re on a diet: It took me a while to figure out I was basically on an elimination diet. I only found flour that final weekend, so I didn’t have any bread or pasta during the month. Snacks consisted of vegetables and fruit. Every time I stared at my empty coffee mug I’d pound back the water. I didn’t plan it, but I lost 11 pounds.

All in all, it was an experiment worth trying. Maybe next summer I’ll give it another go. I’ll make sure my BBQ works then.


Misery loves roast portobello with fried eggs

Terra’s long-suffering sentence of only eating 100% from Nova Scotia has been affecting us both. Now at the halfway mark, we are getting used to the restrictions. Some obstacles persist, limiting us in different ways.

I’m faced with a greater cooking challenge than normal. First off, everything has to pass the “Is it local?” test. Which isn’t really a biggie anymore. With two weeks in we have our sources and plan better for meals. The thing I can’t change is I have to continually figure out how to avoid olive oil, salt & pepper and citrus. All of which I normally rely on to enhance what I cook.

Of course, Terra is carrying the heavier sack of rocks. Take this weekend. She was miserable. Sitting there on the couch counting the days left. Depressed and hungry with her eyes shut tight, she was probably dreaming of November 1st and the sweet, tasty freedom to come. A nice meal out, bread and pasta, olive oil or awesome chips with a movie. Not that she ate those things often before but now the option to have them is missing too. I feel for her.

Truthfully our meals so far this month have been pretty damn good. Our thanksgiving dinner, the roasted chicken and fish dishes are only some of the great things we’ve conjured up that turned out well. This post is about last night’s creation; roasted portobello mushroom caps topped with mushroom duxelle, aubergine and tomato sauce with fried eggs. The only sin was the four tablespoons of butter. The fried eggs were a last-minute addition and I thought they made the meal something more special. We washed everything down with more Jost L’Acadie chardonnay, a surprisingly good Nova Scotia wine we’ve taken a shine to. Here’s what to do:

Roast portobello with fried eggs

  • 2 – Large portobello mushrooms
  • 4 – Button mushrooms (chopped)
  • 1 – Onion (chopped)
  • 2 – Garlic cloves (minced)
  • 1 – Small aubergine (chopped)
  • 3/4 cup – Tomato sauce. I used my usual recipe but omitted all the no nos.
  • 4 – Springs of thyme (stems removed)
  • 1/4 cup – Cheese (grated) We used a local cheddar.
  • 4 tbsp – Butter
  • Salt and pepper for you hipsters not on wacky diet like this.
  1. Set oven to 375°
  2. Cut off the stems from the portobellos.
  3. Chop button mushrooms, onion and aubergine and portobello stems into small 1/4 dice. Heat up a frying pan to medium high.
  4. Melt one tablespoon of butter and evenly drizzle it on the underside of the portobello caps. Put mushroom on a wire rack in a tray and into the oven.
  5. Put the other two tablespoons of butter in the pan, melt and the pour in all the copped vegetables. Cook until browned. After a few minutes add the thyme.
  6. Once the vegetable have cooked pour in the tomato sauce. Cook it down so it’s reduced and not runny. When done pour it all into a waiting bowl or something.
  7. Heat up another pan for the eggs.
  8. Turn the oven off and take the caps out. Spoon a good portion of the vegetable sauce mix on top of the caps.
  9. Put the last tablespoon of butter in the pan, crack the eggs in and fry ‘em.
  10. Sprinkle the grated cheese on the caps with topping and put back in the cooling down oven to melt.
  11. When the cheese has melted, plate the mushrooms and fried eggs.

With two weeks left to go eating only local we’ll have to keep up the creativity in the kitchen. And while Terra endures the pain, I’ll continue dealing with the cooking limitations and my effort to try something different every night while keeping things somewhat simple and delicious.


Thankful for fat

How do you make food taste great when you’ve cut out oil and salt from your diet? Butter is a miracle worker, but you don’t want to use it in everything. Thankfully, there’s always animal fat.

Thanksgiving pretty much kicked off my month of eating 100% local. We based the menu around a chicken we had in the freezer and vegetables that came from our CSA farm. Everything else came from the farmers’ market or the Local Source Market.

We settled on roasted chicken stuffed with herbs, mashed potatoes, mushrooms, roasted beets and sauteed turnip greens with bacon bits. I admit, the menu wasn’t all that innovative. The challenge here was to time every dish so we could use chicken or bacon fat for the other dishes.

For the chicken, we took thyme, parsley, rosemary and a little sauteed onion and stuffed it all under the breast skin. We got that roasting so we could ladle out the fat to use for the beets. Once the bacon was cooked for the turnip greens, we used that fat to prepare the chanterelle mushrooms.

We only used butter for the potatoes. I’ve been reluctant to use butter because it comes from the grocery store. It claims to be Atlantic, but I don’t think that qualifies as truly local since I can’t track exactly where it came from. The problem is I haven’t been able to find butter at the farmers’ market and I’m really too lazy to make it myself.

So, let’s just agree that this meal is 95-99% local and move on.

The meal was fantastic. It’s true what they say, fat does equal taste. But to be honest, I thought the mushrooms and potatoes needed salt (which is another thing I can’t seem to find). We washed it all down with a bottle of Jost L’Acadie chardonnay.