Gastronomy and microbiology

Two of my favourite this are food and microbes! Therefore I got really excited when I saw this article in NY Times. So many things that we eat and drink are dependent on microbes – cheese, beer, wine, bread, yoghurt, kimchi, sauerkraut… the list goes on! Earlier this year, Rob Dunn wrote a fun article-series for scientific american kind of on this theme. The first piece was called: A Sip for the Ancestors: The True Story of Civilization’s Stumbling Debt to Beer and Fungus.

Despite my love for both food and microbes I have not yet ventured so much into the field of combining the two (besides using yeast for baking bread). Since we moved to our little house, that has started to change… Last year David and I made our very first attempt at making wine and one year later… *drumroll* ta da! It actually turned out really nice. We were expecting something tasting equivalent of cough syrup, but instead it is a nice raspberry wine.

This was the goey raspberry mess we started with.

And here’s the end product – Raspberry wine!

Now the next step is to be self supplying in beer, and the first bottles are filled. Luckily, you don’t have to wait half as long for the beer to get ready for drinking :).

Jammin’ in the okanagan

All jam-making normally starts with a nice little adventure of fruit picking. Here in Kelowna, BC, we harvest apricots from an abandoned tree by the university (if we get to them before the wasps) and heaps of raspberries from our backyard. Blueberries don’t really grow in the dry forests around here, but you can buy them for cheap from some farmers that cultivate them.

Once you’ve got the berries all you need is two large pots, some old jars and a bunch of sugar (and spices if you want to mix things up a bit).

The amount of sugar you need to add depends on if the fruit is sour or sweet. I normally just fill up with sugar so that it looks like the fruit/berries are somewhat covered. In most cases you don’t need to add water, the sugar will dissolve the fruit into nice a juicy jam.

When the jam is boiling (on low heat so that it doesn’t burn) foam will form on the surface. Remove the foam by scooping it off with a spoon since you don’t want it to end up in the jars.

Once the jam has boiled for a while and reached a nice consistency (it will be rinnier hot than once it’s cooled down), put the empty jars and their lids in a boiling water bath to kill potential pathogens and then while the jam and the jars are still hot, fill the jars with jam and seal the lids. Let the jars rest until they cool down, then the lids will pop down and seal. A lot of people buy new jars or lids, but I’ve always just used old olive jars or jam jars with their lids and it has worked just fine, as long as you make sure to boil everything.

The end result might look something like this:

Here are some of the flavour-mixes for this year’s harvest:

From the left: Apricot-ginger-cinnamon (made with fresh chopped ginger and cinnamon sticks), Raspberry-lime and Blueberry-vanilla (made with a dried vanilla pod that I cut open).

My favourite out of the bunch is the blueberry-vanilla one. It has a perfectly balanced sweetness and the hint of vanilla coats your mouth in a smooth and comforting way. I actually got the idea to combine bluberry and vanilla from a jam I got from my friend Amanda that she had bought in a cheese store in Umeå where they make cheese and jam pairings. It is considered a good complement to soft cheeses like a brie or a cambozola and I can guarantee that it sure is!

Harvest times

We’re just harvesting more and more from our little garden. Here’s a taste of what we have to cook with right now:

  • Rainbow carrots (unfortunately we got very few red ones…)
  • Yellow zucchini
  • Green beans
  • Dry pinto beans
  • Yellow onions
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Oaxacan tomatoes (the first ones are just starting to ripen)
  • Black russian tomatoes (awsome deep tomato flavour)
  • Oregano (that has started to flower in pink)

A freshly cut sun ripened black russian tomato

 

My own little red lentil lasagna

When it’s really hot outside, warm meals can feel a little too much, but I feel a good pasta dish still tastes great under the gazing sun, and here’s my recipe for a lighter version of lasagna  – without any meat!

All you need is:

Filling

  • 1 can of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tbs vegetable stock
  • ~ 200 ml red lentils
  • corn kernels from a fresh corn cob
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 red pepper
  • A handfull of kalamata olives.
  • fresh oregano
  • fresh basil
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 tsp sambal oelek

Fry the onions in some oil and then add the chopped tomatoes, lentils and stock. Let simmer until the lentils are soft, then add the rest of the vegetables and spices.

Bechamèl sauce

  • 100 g butter
  • 500 ml milk
  • 3 tbs flour
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 tsp nutmeg

Melt the butter in a pot with a thick bottom, stir in the flour little by little. Then add the milk and wait for it to come to a boil while stirring continuously. Be creful so it doesn’t burn. Keep it at a low heat and once the sauce has thickened, take it off the element.

Once you have the filling and the sauce, layer it in a glass pan with lasagna plates. Finish with a layer of bechamèl sauce and some grated cheese.

Bake in the oven at 200°C for about 20-30 min. Take out when the lasagna has a nice colour and the plates are softened.

Fantastic foraging

Two weeks ago I had to go out on a field trip to collect some seeds for my experiments, and on our way, we found some delicious treats: Aspen boletes (mushrooms) and wild red gooseberries which turned into a delicious meal :)

With the boletes, I made a nice quiche. First I fried the mushrooms in some butter and then I used this recipie to make the quiche dough and egg-filling. I stuffed the quiche with onion, zucchini and mushrooms and used regular cheddar cheese.

 

With the gooseberries I decided to make a crumble, and since the harvest wasn’t quite enough for the glass baking pan, I added some frozen blueberries. For the crumble I mixed:

  • 125 g butter
  • 200 ml sugar (pour half on the berries and use half for the crumbles)
  • flour (add until the butter forms non-sticky crumbles
  • cinnamon
  • cardamom

Then I poured the crumbles on top of the berries and baked in the oven (200°C) for about 30 min (until it turns golden on top). Here’s the result:

Living in tomato wonderland

When we first moved to Kelowna, people kept telling us what a paradise for tomoato growers this place was, but I still remained a bit sceptic that I would be able to grow tomatoes like weeds. I have been disproven. As I write, probably about a hundered of tomatoes are ripening in the 35 degrees burning sun in our front yard. Small ones, big ones, smooth ones, ruffled ones, red ones, black ones, purple ones! so far we’ve just tasted some of the cherry tomatoes and a black russian, but oh boy, are we in for some more…

Here’s a little update on the different varieties we’re growing:

Black russian tomatoes

Just waiting for them to turn a tad darker, their flavour is amazing!

Purple calabash tomatoes

Still not turning red or purple, but there are tons of them, and their ruffled shapes make me laugh :)

Oaxacan tomatoes

These are supposed to turn red with yellow ridges, so it might take a while longer before that happens. In the beginning the flowers just kept falling off so I was worried that it wouldn’t produce, but as soon as it got warmer, magic happened and now it’s overwhelming.

Sweetie cherry tomatoes

Our first taste of the tomato harvest, and with a nice balance of sweet and sour.

Nasturtium pesto

Both David and I love to add pesto to some pasta, a nice sandwich, a chickpea salad, homemade pizza or pretty much anything. Of course we got excited when we heard that you can make your own pesto from Nasturtium leaves (which happen to grow in the size of bushes in our garden).

Pesto normally contains pine nuts, but since Kelowna (and our laundry room) is full of walnuts, it seemed like a natural substitution. On top of that I also had a bunch of onion stems left from harvesting all of our yellow onions earlier in the day that I decided to throw in for some extra flavour.

Freshly picked Nasturtium leaves and flowers

Here’s the whole list of ingredients that was inspired by this nice recipe:

  • A large bowl full of Nasturtium leaves and flowers
  • 2 cups of walnuts
  • 2 cups of green onion
  • Juice and peel from 1 lemon
  • 3 cups of olive oil
  • 1 tsp paprika powder
  • 8 cloves of garlic
  • salt & pepper

I simply mixed it all together into a smooth paste and then filled up a jar for immediate use and little boxes to save in the freezer for later.

Walnuts from our neighbour and garlic from the garden as well as some extra virgin olive oil and salt & pepper.

Our poor little hand mixer almost overheated from all the hard work of mixing pesto.

Lovely smooth pesto paste

Ready to eat – pesto from the garden :)

Chocolate balls

These little guys are the swedish take on rum balls and a treat. They take minimal time and effort to make, all you have to be prepared for is getting your hands sticky!

This is what you need:

  • 100 g butter
  • 150 ml sugar
  • 300 ml oats
  • 4 spoons of coacoa
  • 3 tbs liquid (There are many options here: coffee, kaluha, some fruity liqueur or simply water)
  • pearl sugar, finely chopped nuts, sprinkles or or grated coconut to roll the balls in.

Mix all the ingredients except the topping together with your hands to a solid not too soft dough.

Wash your hands from all the stickiness and start rolling balls. I tend to make them a small one bite size since they’re quite rich.

Roll the balls in which ever topping you chose and put them all on a plate in the freezer.

Once the balls have hardened in the freezer, eat them with a nice Iced latte – perfect for this crazy 35 degrees heat that just hit us!

Garden update!

Front garden has really taken off in the heat!

After the rain came sunshine, and it’s been blazing hot here in the Okanagan the last week. Just what all the tomatoes needed! Things are growing like crazy, but it’s not until I look back at old pictures that I realize what a difference it is in just a week or so. Right now we just started harvesting green beans and carrots should be ready to get pulled up soon too.

The tomatoes have almost outgrown their bamboo cages!

Tomato stems thicker than my thumbs

Shy tomatoes hiding from the blazing sun

Nasturtiums

Our potatoes have grown enormous!

Gorgeous deep red nasturtiums finding shade under their own umbrellas

These are invasive weeds but still oh so pretty…

Little cherry tomatoes on their way.