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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Local diets begone!

As of November 1st Terra’s all Nova Scotia diet finally came to an end. We decided to celebrate by inviting the gang over for a multi-course, all night Italian feast like no other we’ve hosted. As luck would have it, the selected night also coincided with a visit from our dear friend Adriana Palanca. What a way to welcome back food.

On the big day we had a ton to do. Shopping at the market, booze, dishes and glasses to pick up, lunch and finally a full afternoon in the kitchen. Bliss! Once home Terra made a fresh batch of her expert apple sauce and jarred it up for take-home gifts. In the kitchen Adriana and I made pasta and tomato sauce. With that done there were vegetables to prep, the antipasto platter to build and two chickens to tie-up. I knew the night of food would go late so the invite was for 5pm. I was only setting the table as NickPick and Doug showed.

We kept the food coming steadily trying to leave enough time between courses for wine refills, burps and the hope of digestion. By evening’s end we ate five courses, two less than I would have liked, but for 10 people we did some damage. The true sign of a successful dinner party here is when Doug says he’s so full he’s getting angry. Which he did, and always as he plates more. What a guy. The others were no slouches either. But those who went for more lasagna gasped a bit when I showed off the two chickens and vegetables about to be roasted. They thought the lasagna was the meal. Bwahaha!

The menu:

  • Cannelloni beans and onions marinated in olive oil and wine vinegar on bread
  • Olives and pickled mushrooms
  • Prosciutto and various salumi
  • Pecorino with aged balsamic
  • Olives Ascolane (Fried stuffed olives)
  • Lasagna
  • Roast chickens with sautéed carrots and roast beets with garlic
  • Chad’s homemade pistachio ice cream (killer)

It all went down with help from insults, jokes, Italian beers, champagne, 10 bottles of wine and finally limoncello.

No one would disagree the culinary stars of the night were the stuffed olives and lasagna. Both Palanca inspired and made possible with her awesome help. We even put in a long distance call to Mama in NDG for live tips!

Adriana calls Olives Ascolane “little prayers” and here’s why. Originally from Ascoli Piceno, the recipe calls for each olive to be carefully opened to remove the pit and stuffed with incredibly fine, sautéed ground beef and olive meat. The olive is then reshaped,
rolled in fine bread crumbs and fried. No we didn’t make them! That would be insane. Fourtunetly I happen to have a source that keeps me well stocked. Serve them hot with a lemon wedge to complete the miracle.

The lasagna though, was entirely homemade. We made a seven egg and olive oil pasta
that was light and airy like linen. The thin sheets dried in the dining room for an hour before a quick boil. Together with the tomato sauce, we had 12 gorgeously thin layers, bubbling with cheese after an hour or so in the oven.

By 11pm the chickens hit the table. It had been about an hour break since the last course and with all the wine going around we were ready to eat again. I seem to recall Chad and Shawn saying they were actually hungry. Nice! The closers were bowls of smooth, cool ice cream, made by Chad, which completely hit the spot. A fine ending.

This was easily our best dinner party yet. We celebrated Terra’s will power to eat local for a month and welcomed back to the table what she missed the most; olive oil, salt, pepper, citrus and pasta. Thankfully we had friends on hand willing to endure over seven hours of eating and who still asked for seconds.


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.


Chicken with the ham and onion stuffing

The eat local menu continues! Terra has one week left and we’re already planning how we’re going to celebrate. We have an epic Italian blow-out planned for that first weekend with special guests. More on that later.

For now I thought I’d offer up another successful, purely local meal we created this month. The recipe is for chicken breasts stuffed with sautéed onions, ham and cheese. Yet another SixTop take on Chicken Cordon Bleu.

Remember gang, while it’s constantly been a challenge for me to cook without salt, pepper and my much missed olive oil, you can still season your version how you want. And serve with whatever side you wish too! We had steamed cauliflower.

Chicken with the ham and onion stuffing

  • 2 – Large chicken breasts
  • 3 – Onions (sliced)
  • 2 – Garlic cloves (mined)
  • 1 – Hot chili pepper (mined with seeds)
  • 4 – Pieces of smoked ham (1/4″ inch square and 3″ long)
  • 4 – Pieces of cheese (1/4″ inch square and 3″ long)
  • 1/4 cup – white wine
  • 3 tbsp – Butter
  • Plastic wrap and kitchen mallet
  • Butcher’s twine or toothpicks
  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. In a small sauce pan melt 1 tbsp of butter over medium heat.
  3. Once butter has stopped bubbling add the onions, chili and garlic.
  4. Sweat the onions et al. After about five minutes add the wine and cover. Let cook until onions get much deeper in colour.
  5. With a nice sharp knife butterfly the chicken breasts. Put the plastic over the breasts and pound them out with the mallet to about 1/4″ thick.
  6. But the ham and cheese into the 1/4″ inch square and 3″ long pieces.
  7. Heat up a large frying pan to medium, medium low. Not too hot!
  8. When the onion mixture is ready, spoon half onto each flattened breast.
  9. Place the ham and cheese in the onion mixture. Keep about an inch inside of both sides of the breasts.
  10. Roll up the breasts, tucking in the side edges. Tie them up or use toothpicks to hold them together.
  11. Melt the last two tablespoons of butter. When the sizzle has stopped add the stuffed breasts.
  12. Cook on all sides until you get a nice brown colour all over.
  13. Once ready put the whole pan in the oven and let the breasts continue to 175°. Use an instant read thermometer.
  14. When they’re ready take the breasts out and let them rest.

Normally for this kind of dish you would season the breasts with salt and pepper before and after stuffing. Then the next usual steps would be to roll them in flour, followed by an egg bath and finally dipping them into Panko or bread crumbs. I skipped the crust part altogether (cuz I had to) and worked around the seasoning by adding the chili to compensate for pepper. The onions and garlic we’re the salt. These stuffed breasts were not low on taste.

Go the traditional if you like, but as we are learning, there are many ways to get over salt. Seven days from now, we’re going to need high blood pressure pills.


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.


Eating 100% localish

So I decided to challenge myself and eat 100 per cent local this month. If it wasn’t grown in Nova Scotia, I wouldn’t eat it. Everything had to be from a local farmer or producer, or something I had foraged on my own. Simple enough. But four days in, as I sit here hungry and cranky, I feel the need to re-evaluate.

First off, let me say that the province produces a cornucopia of edible delights. I can spend hours at the farmers’ market checking out the variety of foods and ingredients on offer. And since signing on with a CSA I’ve had great meals that have been pretty close to 100 per cent local.

But going totally local means no coffee, lemon, olive oil, chocolate or rice — all foods that I crave or rely on as key ingredients. I can’t find a local producer of grains, so pasta and bread is out. In fact, pretty much anything that comes packaged is out because there are usually some ingredients that I can’t track. Logistically, it means planning meals two or three days ahead and scouring the city and countryside for edible things that can keep me alive. And one more thing: It means doing this on my own because Tom refuses to give up coffee.

Right from the start I knew I was in for an ass-kicking. I didn’t plan properly and found myself without eggs or meat. I had homemade applesauce and strawberries for breakfast and a dressing-free mixed greens salad for lunch. I sucked back hot water (tap water, of course) with honey all day. I was in a haze the whole time.

Dinner was a lot better. We had roasted potatoes and chicken thighs that I had taken out of the freezer that morning. The tricky thing was cooking without oil and salt and pepper. The potatoes were rather bland and dry, even with a sprinkling of thyme. But the chicken turned out great thanks to a good dose of rosemary.

We squeezed a lot out of that chicken. We used the fat drippings to make a salad dressing with roasted red peppers and garlic, and parsley. I had leftover chicken for the next two lunches, along with a new-and-improved salad.

We also boiled several eggs that first night, which made the next couple of breakfasts far more filling and nutritious.

But let me be clear: At no point was I truly enjoying it. I was spending more time thinking about food (or rather about being hungry) than actually preparing and eating it. I found substitutes for some things, like a pricey maple sugar for cane sugar, and I was learning to live without coffee and chocolate. But cheese? I wasn’t touching the delicious caerphilly from Knoydart Farm in the fridge. It was certified organic but contained salt and herbs, and I didn’t know where they were from. And wine and charcuterie meats? I was avoiding those too for the same reason.

Something cracked in me on Day 3. I was at Obladee Wine Bar, which proudly serves local wine, cheese and meats. I decided then to loosen up and eat something. I wasn’t going to scrutinize the list of ingredients so much. Rather, I would enjoy the food that local farmers and growers were labouring to produce. I stuck with the meats and cheeses from Nova Scotia and ignored everything else, including the bread and olives. I had a glass of wine from the Gaspereau Valley. It was glorious.

Tonight we had a tasty haddock from Alyssa Foods. It was poached in Nova Scotia wine, with farm-fresh zucchini, onions, garlic, tomato and thyme. We reduced the poaching liquid after the fish was cooked and made a beurre blanc sauce. We had beans and steamed broccoli on the side. Tom had an Italian beer and I didn’t beg for a sip.

It feels like I know what I’m doing now. Yes, it was a tough start, but I have meals planned for the week and a better idea of where I’m headed. Progress!