Refreshing and healthy ginger-maple drink

Switch things up with a tasty switchel

I’d never heard of switchel until I was recently served this refreshing drink that tastes a lot like ginger beer. I couldn’t wait to get home and play around with the concept.  It’s sometimes called switzel, swizzle, switchy, ginger-water or haymakers’ punch (because it was popular with colonial farmers looking for rehydration while haying fields). It’s a lot like a shrub (also known as ‘drinking vinegar’, typically made of vinegar infused with fruit juice plus herbs or spices and used as a base for cocktails or mocktails). Some feel switchel originated in the Caribbean, while others claim it hails from 19th century New England. It’s enjoying a resurgence today and there are several companies that produce bottled switchel beverages in Canada which you’re most likely to find at health food stores. Many believe switchel boosts the immune system and gut health, plus it’s enjoyed as a caffeine-free energy-booster that’s loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and enzymes. If you like the taste of this sweet-sour beverage, you might also enjoy my lavender-blueberry shrub recipe.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 4 teaspoons maple syrup (or to taste) *
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger **
  • 1/4 cup water

* or use your favourite sweetener such as honey, agave syrup, molasses or stevia

** substitute with 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) ground ginger though fresh is much better

Method

  • Combine all ingredients in a glass jar. Cover and refrigerate at for at least three hours so flavours can blend.
  • Before serving, give the jar a good shake. With a spoon, taste a small amount and adjust sweetener, if desired. If using fresh ginger, strain through a fine sieve or cheesecloth.
  • Pour into two glasses partially filled with ice or and top with cold water or chilled sparkling water.

Makes 2 drinks although recipe can easily be multiplied. Switchel syrup can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a month.

 

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Snazzier stuffed peppers

A great new way to enjoy this classic dish!

I have always felt a little conflicted about stuffed peppers. I knew I should like them; after all – the base is a vegetable (hip, hip, hooray!) and they’re typically made with so many other things I love (ground meat, onion, rice, spices, tomatoes, etc.). I only recently figured out what stopped me from loving them and the reason might surprise you. Let’s call it architecture. I find it really difficult to eat stuffed peppers made the traditional way – cutting off the tops and adding the stuffing via that opening. Also, I often found that the rice absorbed so much of the moisture from the meat and vegetable filling that it seemed too dry. Plus, if cheese is added to the top, it’s all gone within the first few bites which makes me sad. My solution? Cut the peppers lengthwise and then they are much easier to eat, plus there is much better cheese distribution. I also solved the problem of dry filling by waiting until just before cooking time to add the rice to the ground meat and tomato mixture. I can’t wait to play around with different flavour profiles now that I’ve got a stuffed pepper technique I am happy with!

Ingredients

Filling

  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) olive oil
  • 1 pound (454 g) ground chicken, turkey or beef
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) diced fresh mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) red wine (substitute with chicken stock or water if desired)
  • 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) diced canned tomatoes and juice (half a 28 oz / 796 mL) can)
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) each dried oregano and basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) each salt and pepper
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) Worcestershire sauce
  • Few shakes tabasco or other hot sauce

To assemble

  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) rice, cooked with water per package directions
  • 5 – 6 fresh peppers
  • 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) chopped fresh parsley or basil

Method

  • Heat olive oil in a large, broad skillet over medium heat. Add ground meat and cook, stirring often, till no longer pink. Add onions and garlic and cook for 3 – 5 minutes longer, stirring often, until onions are softened
  • Add mushrooms to pan and cook, stirring often, until softened (about 4 – 5 minutes). Add wine and cook until liquid is reduced by half.
  • Add tomatoes, tomato paste and all seasonings. Stir to blend well then cover and let cook for 10 – 15 minutes over medium low heat, stirring occasionally to break up tomato pieces with a spoon. Once the tomatoes have softened, you can proceed to assembling the peppers or refrigerate the meat mixture for up to 48 hours (or freeze for longer storage; thaw before assembly).
  • When ready to assemble the stuffed peppers, preheat the oven to 350F.
  • Wash peppers then slice in half lengthwise (from stem to bottom). With the tip of a sharp knife, cut out stem and interior ribs, discarding both and any remaining seeds. Place peppers cut side up in a large parchment-lined baking pan.
  • Combine the cooked rice and the meat mixture and carefully stuff each peppers, packing down the mixture slightly but not too tightly. Top each pepper with a generous amount of grated cheese.
  • NOTE: If you prefer to assemble peppers and filling ahead of time, refrigerate until ready to cook. Add 2 teaspoons (10 mL) of water to each pepper immediately before cooking.
  • Cover pan with a lid or foil. Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes, then remove foil and bake 10 minutes more.
  • Top cooked peppers with chopped fresh herbs and serve hot.

Makes 10 – 12 stuffed pepper halves, depending upon size of peppers.

 

 

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Three cheers for quick pickles!

Fast, flavourful small-batch preserves made in minutes!

When I was growing up, my mom had eight hungry people to feed every day, not to mention the frequent guests welcomed into our home. One of her secret weapons was our huge vegetable garden and everyone in the family was expected to pitch in with planting, weeding and harvesting. Of course, this was a small price to pay for getting to enjoy the freshest, most delicious food. Her other secret weapon was preserving this bounty and I loved helping her transform bushels of fruit and vegetables into vibrantly-hued jars of jams, pickles, chutneys and relishes each year. While I have continued this tradition in my own home on a much smaller scale, I know that many people avoid making pickles because they feel it’s too much work. That may be true for large batch recipes that require processing the jars in hot water to make them shelf stable for many months, but did you know there is another way to make pickles? Sometimes called refrigerator or ‘quick’ pickling, this method means you can just make just a jar or two or three at a time, and store them in the fridge. Below are some of my favourite quick pickle recipes.

Chili-dilly pickled beans

Quick-pickled grilled corn

Quick-pickled cucumbers with dill and coriander

Crunchy curried cauliflower pickles

curried cauliflower pickles

Quick-pickled fennel with orange and star anise

Fennel is ideal for pickling and adds a bright pop of flavour to any plate.

Check the Constantly Cooking archives for more great pickle, relish, chutney and jam recipes!

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Small batch zucchini relish

Make a few tasty jars to capture the flavour of summer!

I’ve been making this relish for years and it’s a real family favourite. We enjoy it in the usual places – on burgers, hotdogs and sausages – but also with roast chicken and turkey. I’ve scaled down my mother’s large-family sized recipe but you can easily double or halve this one if you want a bigger or smaller batch. As you can see below, some of the quantities are not precise; that’s simply because vegetables don’t grow in precise sizes! Your goal is to assemble about 12 cups of combined chopped vegetables; I find it easiest to first check the capacity of the bowl or container I plan to put the vegetables in to rest overnight (do this by filling with 12 cups / 3 L of water and taking note of the ‘line’ to which you have filled it) and then when I get to that level, I know I have enough prepared vegetables. If you’re looking for a unique and thoughtful hostess gift to offer up this fall, why not hand out jars of homemade deliciousness?

Ingredients

  • 5 – 8 medium zucchini
  • 2 – 3 medium onions
  • 3 stalks celery
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1/2 green pepper
  • 1/3 cup (90 mL) coarse kosher salt
  • 3 1/2 cups (875 mL) white vinegar
  • 2 1/2 cups (625 mL) white sugar
  • 2 large cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (7.5 mL) each celery & mustard seeds

Method

  • Halve 5 of the zucchinis lengthwise and cut into one inch (2.5 cm) pieces. Using a food processor (or you can do this by hand with a sharp knife), chop zucchini into pieces approximately 1/4 inch or smaller in size. Put them in a large bowl or food storage container (capable of holding more than 12 cups).
  • Use the same technique to prepare the onions, celery and peppers, adding them all to the zucchini. If you’re not yet at the 12 cup (approximately) mark, chop additional zucchini as needed.
  • Sprinkle the vegetables with the coarse salt and stir gently to blend.
  • Place a plate on top of the vegetables (it doesn’t have to completely cover them) then weight the plate down with a large glass jar (or a large glass measuring cup) filled with water.
  • Let sit overnight so the vegetables will release some of their moisture.
  • The next day, drain the vegetables in a sieve or colander and rinse well.
  • Prepare your jars by washing well in warm water and placing in an oven that’s been preheated to 220F. Turn the oven off. Place the two parts of the lids of your canning jars in a small pot of water and bring to a boil.
  • In a large pot, combine sugar, vinegar, garlic and seasonings. Cover and bring to a boil and simmer gently for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the drained vegetables and bring back to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes. With a ladle and wide-mouth canning funnel, transfer the relish into the sterilized jars. As you fill each one, wipe the rim with a clean, damp cloth then immediately put the hot lid on and tighten the band with your fingers.
  • The relish can be stored in the fridge for up to 6 months. For longer term storage, or to store at room temperature, please follow instructions for safe hot water bath processing for high acid foods.

Makes about 12 cups.

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Grilled baby bok choy

A summery side dish that’s full of flavour!

I love the taste and texture of bok choy but also appreciate it because it’s a great source of potassium and other nutrients. While this versatile vegetable is a family favourite in stir fries, I decided to try something new recently. In the summer, I’m always looking for new side dishes to serve with grilled fish and meat so this was a timely (and delicious) experiment. I’ll be making this again, often.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) freshly-squeezed lemon or lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon Sambal Oelek (chili-garlic paste) or Sriracha (or more, to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon very finely minced or grated fresh ginger root
  • 8 baby bok choy, rinsed and halved lengthwise

Method

  • In a large, broad bowl, whisk together soy sauce or tamari, vinegar, oils, lemon or lime juice, Sambal Oelek or Sriracha and ginger.
  • Add bok choy and toss to coat; let sit for 1 hour (or refrigerate for up to 6 hours).
  • When ready to cook, preheat barbeque to medium-hot (375F).
  • Place bok choy, cut sides facing up, on heated grill. With a spoon or silicone brush, drizzle any marinade remaining in the bottom of the bowl over the bok choy.
  • Let cook 3 – 4 minutes then turn over and cook 3 – 4 minutes more until lightly charred but still tender-crisp. Serve immediately.

Serves 6.

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Road tripping: the Kawarthas-Northumberland Butter Tart Tour part 3

Tasty treats, spectacular scenery and breathtaking boat rides!

The third and final day of our fantastic road trip to the Kawartha Lakes-Northumberland region began with a self-guided kayaking expedition in Bocaygeon with Buckeye Surf and Snow, right across from Lock 32 where Sturgeon and Pigeon lakes meet. Initially known as Buckeye Sports, the fourth-generation, family owned business was established in 1949 as a tourist destination for fishermen, with the name ‘Buckeye’ chosen as a tribute to the area’s many visitors from Ohio (the Buckeye State).

Now run by the very friendly David Poole with his sons Taylor and Craig, Buckeye Surf and Snow is recognized as a leader in the surf apparel and water sports industry and offers an impressive selection of gear and an extensive rental program of personal watercraft, pontoon boats, fishing boats and kayaks.

Before we set out, we were given knowledgeable advice on the best route to follow. As a result we found it so peaceful to paddle slowly, observing things that can only be seen from the water, including structures that ranged from rustic wooden cottages right up to palatial dwellings.

We also encountered vessels that varied in size from canoes and aluminum fishing boats to enormous cruisers, while leaping fish and loud, hungry osprey kept us company.

We were reluctant to get off the water in Bobcaygeon but knew we had to get moving in our loaner Ford Edge as we had tickets for the very popular Peterborough Lift Lock Cruise. Before we departed, we chatted with the friendly Parks Canada staff at Lock 32 who told us that on a busy day, approximately 250 boats pass through their station. Nearby signage informed us that useful, real-time boater information is available on Twitter at @TSWBoaterInfo.

Enroute to Peterborough, we stopped in Omemee at the newly-opened Mickaël’s Café Librairie; it’s a second location for this baker who hails from Brittany, France and whose products have become popular at his first café in Lindsay and which are also in hot demand at numerous farmers’ markets across a vast swath of eastern and central Ontario. We picked up a loaf of still-warm bread to take home but eyed the croissants and bagels longingly as we were bid a friendly adieu. We also wished we had time to stop at the Youngtown Rock and Roll Museum, celebrating the life of Neil Young and other great musicians including the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Elton John and more. Neil sang of Omemee, his childhood hometown, in the song Helpless: “There is a town in north Ontario / With dream comfort memory to spare / And in my mind / I still need a place to go / All my changes were there”.

Just like you never know what’s around the next bend in the road until you get there, you never know what you’re going to find when you seek out another bakery … but we knew we just had to hit up one more stop on the Kawarthas-Northumberland Butter Tart Tour. We were glad to make a wee detour to The Shed Bakery in Peterborough thanks to a tip on Facebook from someone who was following our adventure virtually. The butter tarts here were so good we just had to buy extra to bring home.

What a pleasant surprise the Lift Lock Cruise experience was! Despite having visited Peterborough on several occasions in the past, we had never heard of the lift lock so really didn’t know what to expect. We had an idea, however, that we were in for something fun immediately upon boarding, when we met the personable Captain Grant. He provided very engaging – and often humorous – narration about the history of Peterborough and the development of the Trent-Severn waterway as he deftly piloted the vessel through Little Lake, the Otonabee River and the locks. It was fun to watch the water rise as we sat inside Lock 20 (Ashburnham) and then we proceeded past the efficient swing bridge.

We learned that the Trent-Severn is one of the longest inland waterways in all of North America, stretching for 386 kilometres (245 miles) from Lock 1 at Trenton, on Lake Ontario, to Lock 45 at Port Severn, on Georgian Bay. It took 87 years to complete construction of all the locks on the system, making this one of the longest federal government projects ever. The Peterborough lift lock, built in 1904, is lock number 21 and for many years was the highest hydraulic boat lift in the world, raising vessels 20 metres (65 feet). This was a considerable accomplishment in the first years of the 20th century, when conventional locks usually only had a 2.1 metre (7 foot) rise.

We were absolutely fascinated by the process of proceeding through the lift lock; as fun as it was to go up, coming down was even better. The Peterborough Lift Lock was designated a National Historic Site in 1979, and was named a Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1987.

As we zipped home to Ottawa after the lift lock cruise, we found ourselves once again relishing the smooth ride of the Ford Edge and the benefits of the adaptive cruise control. The trip took just over 3 hours, making this area a very reasonable day trip destination (but, really, it’s much better to spend a couple of days exploring this beautiful part of Ontario). Although we didn’t really want to go home, we were eager to share all the butter tarts we had stowed in our cooler.

While we sure packed a lot into our three days in the Kawartha Lakes and Peterborough, there is so much more we are eager to see and do (not to mention so many more butter tarts to sample). Our growing wish list, compiled in part from recommendations offered by many of the friendly people we met on our travels, includes the following:

If you’re interested in learning more, please enjoy part 1 and part 2 of this road trip recap.

Looking for one more buttery, sugary treat? Check out my new butter tart-inspired biscuit recipe, as seen below:

Disclaimer: We were guests of Ford Motor Company of Canada and Kawartha Lakes Tourism but all opinions, as always, are our own.

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Butter tart-inspired biscuits

A tasty twist on a favourite Canadian dessert!

I was asked by a friend to come up with a sweet treat similar to butter tarts but without eggs due to a family allergy. Rather than trying to reinvent the characteristic butter tart filling, I decided to go in a slightly different direction. With their crisp, flaky pastry and sweet filling, these biscuits are somewhat cookie-esque, in a great way. They are really easy to make and make a great alternative to my classic butter tart or butter tart squares. They’re super portable too, for packed lunches or picnics. If you wanted to get fancy, you could serve these biscuits with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt and a drizzle of caramel or butterscotch sauce. And if you feel you must add raisins to this recipe, I recommend halving the amount of pecans and adding no more than 1/4 cup (60 mL) of currants.

Ingredients

  • 1 sheet pre-rolled puff pastry (approximately 8 x 10 inches)
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) very soft butter
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped pecans
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 mL) smoked sea salt (optional but delicious)

Method

  • Place thawed but still cold puff pastry on a clean sheet of parchment paper and carefully spread very soft butter evenly over the whole surface of the pastry.
  • With your fingers, sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the whole surface of butter-covered puff pastry, then sprinkle chopped pecans over top.
  • Starting from the side closest to you, gently roll the pastry and toppings into a tight log shape, pinching at the far edge to gently seal. If the puff pastry is soft and hard to roll, place the topped pastry, parchment paper and all, on a baking sheet and put in the freezer for a few minutes to firm up.
  • Wrap the log in the parchment paper you were using as your work surface and refrigerate for 30 minutes or longer.
  • Alternatively, wrap the log in plastic wrap, making sure it is completely enclosed in the plastic, and refrigerate for up to a week or freeze for up to a month.
  • When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400ºF. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Unwrap the chilled log. If working with a frozen log, let thaw for several hours in the refrigerator before cutting.
  • With a sharp knife, trim off rough ends at either end then slice into pieces that are about 1/2 to 3/4 inch (1.25 to 2.15 cm) wide (I got 12 pieces from my log). Lay the cut pieces down on the prepared baking sheet.
  • Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, until pastry is golden brown. Remove pan from oven and using a small spatula, immediately flip biscuits over so the sticky filling that has oozed out the bottom is now on top.
  • Sprinkle with a little bit of smoked sea salt then let cool and serve warm or at room temperature.
  • Store in a tightly covered container at room temperature for 2 days or in the freezer for up to one month.

Make approximately 12 biscuits.

 

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