A Very Short Vacation

‎A comfortably cool summer morning in mid-July; it’s 8:30 am on a Wednesday and the city is awake, bustling and off to work. I’m walking to a café.
In the past I’ve been in Vancouver, Montreal, Halifax, Winnipeg, and even at home in Toronto. On vacation, holiday, visiting friends. Usually single, living from a duffel bag or suitcase.
Today our office is just opening late because the local utility is doing some work. My afternoon will not be spent in another café, or on a beach, or in some museum or even just exploring.
But, ah, that morning breeze, just me and my purse in a cafe while the rest of the world scrambles to be “there” on time….
… this is my 2 hour vacation.
I recommend the coffee and any pastries or other foods at Supercoffee in Toronto’s Mount Dennis neighbourhood.
Supercoffee photo grabbed from BlogTO post: http://www.blogto.com/cafes/supercoffee-toronto

Supercoffee photo grabbed from BlogTO post: http://www.blogto.com/cafes/supercoffee-toronto

Kate’s “House Pasta”

This dish has evolved over the past few years but started as “anything I have left in the house” pasta. It features this decade’s “it girl” of the produce department – kale, but any sturdy green could be substituted. The sausage/meatball concept is something I saw Jamie Oliver do and is a great time saving technique and the sausage provides the flavour base for the rest of the dish.

The ingredients I’ve listed are the ones I usually use, but throw in whatever is in your home. Fresh or canned red peppers would be great. Capers, maybe, but I personally dislike them. Olives would make it more salty, but perhaps if you don’t have the sundried tomatoes they could be used.

This can also be a very fast dish. This could be done in 20 minutes (or the amount of time it takes to boil water and cook pasta) using two pots, one of pasta and one for the sauce, but I’ve written it to be one pot and 40 minutes, prepping sauce components as the pasta cooks.

Kate’s House Pasta

prep time, 15 min. Cook time, 40 min.
Serves 4-6 adults

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch of kale, leaves stripped off stems
  • 300g of pasta or your choice (I’m using penne)
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 1 lb of spicy Italian sausage
  • 2 T of sliced sundries tomatoes, packed in oil
  • 1/3 c of red wine (optional)
  • 1 small zucchini, sliced
  • 2 fresh tomatoes, cubed
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • Parmesan cheese to top
A little bit of everything and whatever is in the house

A little bit of everything and whatever is in the house

Directions

  1. In a large pot, get your water boiling. Once boiling, add a generous pinch of salt to season.
  2. Add kale leaves to water and boil for 4 minutes.

    Make use of your boiling water and cook the kale before you pour in the pasta

    Make use of your boiling water and cook the kale before you pour in the pasta

  3. Remove from water and rinse in cool water. Squeeze water out and form into a tight ball. Chop kale by slicing ball in 1cm slices in two directions. Set aside.

    A raw bunch of kale would fill this bowl. After 5 minutes in boiling water it squeezes down to something about the size of a baseball

    A raw bunch of kale would fill this bowl. After 5 minutes in boiling water it squeezes down to something about the size of a baseball

  4. Add pasta to water and cook according to instructions on package. In the meantime, prep other ingredients.

    While the water is coming to a boil, prepare your ingredients so they are ready to go

    While the water is coming to a boil, prepare your ingredients so they are ready to go

  5. When pasta is cooked, drain water and set aside (you could add a tablespoon or so of oil to the pasta now to keep it from sticking)
  6. Return now-empty pot to hot stove and add 2 T of olive oil, ideally from the sundried tomatoes. Add sliced onions and cook for 2 minutes or until onions soften.
  7. Squeeze sausage out of casings in 1 inch increments, creating meatballs. Add meatballs to the pot and cook until cooked through, stirring frequently. (cut one in half to check done-ness).
  8. Deglaze pan with red wine
  9. Add zucchini, fresh tomatoes, sundried tomatoes. Stir to incorporate and heath through and lightly cook the zucchini.
  10. Add chopped kale and cooked pasta, stir to incorporate

    Base flavours, fresh toppings and finally cooked pasta

    Base flavours, fresh toppings and finally cooked pasta

  11. Remove from heat and serve. Top with cheese as wanted.
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Mini Breakfast Stratas, for baby or mom and dad

Hubby is convinced this is a quiche or an omelette. It’s actually a strata. Strata just means layers (the condo-townhouse we’re in is often referred to as a strata too).

Traditionally, a strata (the eggy kind) is one of those recipes you see in the “easy brunch food! Make it in advance!” type of lists. In a large baking dish you put down layers – chunks of bread, a few yummy flavours (veg often, cheese for sure), pour egg over top and let it sit overnight so that the bread soaks up the egg and you get a complete meal in a slice when you pull it out of the oven the next morning.

In my hunt for smart ideas for baby food, I came back across stratas. The little one wants to feed herself, so rather than resort to Cheerios (again) or pear slices (again), this is a handful of food that stays together, isn’t sticky and gets her some yummy protein. Better yet, it’s scalable, so you can make a batch, freeze them and then bring them out one at a time when you need a quick meal.

My recipe was inspired by/based on one I found online at the Of The Hearth blog. On her page she goes into the cost breakdown to show why this is an awesome meal for mom and dad too. (healthy, proteiny-filling and cost efficient at approximately $0.22 each). My recipe is vegetarian but her’s has ham. Once the little one is better at chewing I will add meat.

Make this your own. Add seasonings and flavours that you have in your home. And if anyone can figure out a good way to clean the darn muffin tin after this bakes, please let me know!!

Mini Breakfast Stratas, for baby or mom and dad
prep time, 30 min. Cook time, 15 min.
Serves 12 babies?

Ingredients

  • 2 Heels (end slices) of brown bread loaf, cubed
  • 1 cup Grated Cheddar cheese (or cheese of your choice)
  • 1-3 cups of other seasonings/flavourings (what left overs do you have?)
    • squash, chopped
    • spinach, cooked and chopped
    • Roasted vegetables, chopped
  • 6-8 large eggs, mixed in a container with a spout
Grated cheddar, Chopped acorn squash, bread cubes, (frozen) spinach, roasted veggies chopped

Grated cheddar, Chopped acorn squash, bread cubes, (frozen) spinach, roasted veggies chopped

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350’F/175’C
  2. Grease a 12-up muffin tin. (could use mini muffin tins if you’d like, just adjust your baking time accordingly

    Rather than use a kitchen spray to grease the pans, I keep the papers from bricks of butter and just rub the pan with the residual butter.

    Rather than use a kitchen spray to grease the pans, I keep the papers from bricks of butter and just rub the pan with the residual butter.

  3. Begin layering: in each muffin tin, add bread cubes to cover bottom, put cheese on top and other toppings. Alternately, you can mix all of your ingredients aside from the bread and eggs and just spoon in the mix to each cup.

    Breadcubes, squash, spinach, roasted veg and cheese

    Breadcubes, squash, spinach, roasted veg and cheese

  4. Carefully pour egg overtop, filling each muffin cup to about 3/4 full.

    Pour the egg over last to ensure even distribution of the fillings.

    Pour the egg over last to ensure even distribution of the fillings.

  5. Place muffin tin in oven and bake for about 15 minutes, or until egg is set.
    Notes: if the egg is still runny, it will be runny in the middle of the cup, the edges will be cooked. The eggs will puff up and look quite lovely as they bake. If you’ve filled the cups too high you might risk overflow at this point.

    They will puff as they cook and shrink as they cool. Don't overfill!

    They will puff as they cook and shrink as they cool. Don’t overfill!  – I made a slightly bigger batch so there are four extra on the right.

  6. When the egg is cooked through, remove from oven and allow to cool. Run a butter knife around the cup to release the egg. At this point I ate one myself. Obviously with a baby make sure the food is cool enough to handle. I cut babe’s into chunks that she could hold and shove into her own little mouth.
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  7. To freeze, remove from muffin tin and freeze in a single layer. They can be brought out individually and defrosted and reheated. They should not be reheated from frozen.

Share, freeze and feed babies generously!

Edit: I may have found a “kitchen hack” for cleaning the muffin tins – the square wooden spoon. This saved me destroying a kitchen sponge and allowed me to add some muscle to the cleaning. Soak your eggy tin in warm soapy water and then give’r with the square spoon. The handle end can be used to attack the corners of the pan. And My non-stick pan, greased with butter cleaned up much faster than my grandma’s old stainless pan, greased with olive oil. That said, a 12-cup pan took 15 minutes of spoon scrubbing to get clean. A bit of a pain.

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What does my baby eat? Everything!

When I started feeding the little one, three months ago now, I was unsure how to start. Previous instructions said to give packaged, fortified rice cereal and other mush. New Government of Ontario guidelines suggested mushy with lumps. The newly popular “Baby Led Weaning” method said to give actual chunks and to let her feed herself.

Cutting to the chase, the method that is working for us is a combination of foods and textures. She really wants to feed herself but is still having problems having the hand hit the mouth, which makes for cute pictures but mess and lots of clean up. We try to keep foods “Close to the farm” (non-packaged/processed) as much as possible but stay reasonable and practical too. After slowly introducing foods we’re now into full on eating – home made meals, a few packaged baby foods, toast, “rice rusks”, oatmeal.

Now, chunky and lumpy works but baby girl’s mouth is still pretty small. Some meals get chopped down, and some get fork mashed, but my go-to tool is my Munchkin Fresh Food Grinder. (I have not been compensated for any of this, I just love this tool). I bought it at the local big-box discount retailer and its used almost every day.

My favourite baby feeding tool

My favourite baby feeding tool. Sorry for the screen grab.

My mother and mother-in-law were told to feed babies bland food so they’ve been a little shocked when I tell them my baby eats (and LOVES):

Roasted Vegetable Spaghettini

Roasting veg makes flavours intense. Spaghettini makes fun eating for babe

Roasting veg makes flavours intense. Spaghettini makes fun eating for babe

Mushroom Risotto (made low-sodium by using half chicken stock, half water):

Mushroom risotto (low sodium) with meatball and asparagus.

Mushroom risotto (low sodium) with meatball and asparagus.

and this weekend’s Chickpea curry

Mom and baby bowls of chickpea curry

Mom and baby bowls of chickpea curry

In the end, what is working for us now is a combination of purées, mush, lumpy and chunky. I’ll feed her with the spoon and give her chunks to feed herself and hold. So, follow your the guidelines, follow the expert’s suggestions and follow your gut, but for sure follow your baby’s lead. If she likes flavourful food, give her big flavour! Just remember, if she’s using her hands and the food has some spice, make sure her hands get washed before she can rub her eyes… just saying.

Roasted Apple Sauce – Carmel and Spiced options

I have been blessed to grow up getting to know and love all four of my grandparents. Even at 35 years I still get to see them regularly. As I’ve grown up they all at some point shared with me stories of growing up during the depression or different times where the family didn’t have a lot of money to spare. Stretching food and allowing nothing to go to waste were always the theme.

Today’s generation of western society, by and large, wastes food. Sometimes it is in the grand sense (buying food and allowing it to go bad before consuming), sometimes it is more subtle (throwing out the Christmas turkey carcass with gobs of meat stuck to good soup bones). In our grandparents’ time, if more food was harvested than was needed it was canned, preserved, shared or sold. Should you still have food left and it was about to turn – cook it with some good strong spices, no one will notice, right?

These apples might look nice, but they were either going to be cooked down or tossed in the garbage! Soft and good for little else.

These apples might look nice, but they were either going to be cooked down or tossed in the garbage! Soft and good for little else.    

Today’s yummy apple sauce is partially inspired by that trick. We found ourselves with a fridge full of soft apples that no one was interested in and a baby who needed fruit. That said, momma is eating a good amount of this before babe can get her little lips on it! I’ve made two versions, Carmel Apple and Spiced Apple. Roasting the apples, rather than stewing them concentrates the flavours and makes the fruit so naturally sweet. I’m calling it Carmel Apple Sauce but note I’ve added no sugar. The spiced option is chai/cider inspired and will be mixed in to oatmeal for junior in the coming days (It’s a little strong to feed the baby on its own). I think this recipe could also be awesome done with pears. Try other spices too – nutmeg or even a pre-mixed “pumpkin pie spice” would be excellent.

Roasted Apple Sauce
prep time, 15 min. Cook time, 60 min. “Processing” time, 5 min
Serves 4 babies?

Ingredients

• apples, any variety
• water

Optional Spices, based on 4-5 apples

• 1/2 teaspoon, ginger – fresh grated or powdered
• 1/2 teaspoon, ground cinnamon
• 3 cardamom pods – whole

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350’F/175’C (I’m using my toaster oven to save energy)

2. Peel and core apples – I find this fastest to use other kitchen tools – remove skin with a potato peeler, remove core with a melon baller, remove stems with a pearing knife, slice prepared apples with a chef’s knife – it creates more items to was but cuts down on preparation time overall.

Preparing apples

3. IF ADDING SPICES, gently toss apple slices with Add all other ingredients.

Keep ginger root in the freezer if you use it as infrequently as I do. Grates wonderfully, you'll always have it on hand and doesn't go bad before you can use it.

Keep ginger root in the freezer if you use it as infrequently as I do. Grates wonderfully, you’ll always have it on hand and doesn’t go bad before you can use it.

4. Transfer apple slices to oven-safe baking dish, add enough water to the pan to cover the bottom and roast for about 40 minutes. Apples will become soft and bubbly, might have a few dark bits – this is good!

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5. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

Mash with fork. Try not to eat them all at this point.

Mash with fork. Try not to eat them all at this point.

6. When cool, mash with a fork. If making for a little baby, maybe whiz in the food processor until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Share, freeze and feed babies generously!

Baby Stew – an easy, versatile meal to make for your tot

According to the new Guidelines from the Government of Ontario moms are encouraged to breastfeed (or formula based on your family) exclusively until 6-months of age. I followed this recommendation and at 6 months enthusiastically roasted and puréed sweet potatoes and squash and apples for the little one on her 6-month birthday. One week later I was out of ideas. “What do I feed this little mouth!?” I panicked.

A few weeks later I started a 3-week class at my local Community Health centre run by the lactation consultant and registered dietician. This stew was the first thing we made and is now my go-to for feeding the kiddo. She loves this dish. I’ve made it three different times, with three different meats, including one time being Halal. The pictures I’ve used are using turkey thigh.

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If you make it and your baby enjoys, please leave me a comment and let me know what combination you used! Remember that (theoretically) your baby should have tried all of the components of your stew beforehand to ensure you can pinpoint any sensitivities/allergies. My little one loves this rich, flavourful dish.

Baby Stew
prep time, 30 min. Cook time, 60 min. “Processing” time, 10 min Total time, allow 2 hours
Serves 8 babies? Plan on sharing and/or freezing

Ingredients (suggested, swap out to your taste)
• olive oil
• 1 onion, chopped
• 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
• 3 stalks of celery, chopped
• 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
• 1 large or 2 medium carrots, peeled and cubed
• herbs, fresh or dried:
• for chicken or turkey try sage and thyme
• for beef or lamb try Rosemary and mustard seeds
• approx 1 lb of meat or protein of your choice, ideally on the bone. (2 skinless chicken breasts, turkey thigh, beef shank, etc)

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Directions
1. In a large skillet, heat 2T of olive oil. When hot, add onion and garlic. Sautéed until soft, about 5 minutes.

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Put down the salt!

2. Add all other ingredients. Avoid the temptation to season with salt at this point! Add boiling water to cover ingredients and bring pot to a boil.

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Cover with hot water rather than broth to save your babe unnecessary sodium. If you have chosen a meat on the bone, the bone will add an extra layer of flavour.

3. Turn down heat and allow to simmer until meat is cooked through and is tender. Chicken and turkey took about 30-40 minutes,beef took about 60 minutes.

4. Remove from heat and fish out meat from the pot. Remove meat from the bone and put directly in food processor. Pulse food processor to chop meat to your (baby’s) preferred size. Move from processor to a separate large bowl.

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Cooked turkey thigh in food processor. After pulsing the meat looks “chipped” more than ground.

5. In a similar manner, add vegetables and as much broth as you want (or will fit In the bowl of your food processor). Pulse to chop to preferred size.

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This does look ugly before mixing but I wanted to show it just the same.

6. Mix veg and broth into chopped meat and stir to combine.
Share, freeze and feed babies generously!

Where does your food come from?

Question: Where does your food come from?

This is a big question in my life. I love food, I love to cook and I like to think of myself as reasonably socially responsible. Having grown up in a small town, surrounded by farms, I was never allowed to just answer, “from the store”. Food came from a farmer, or from Rick the butcher, or Ron the baker, or Mark the green grocer, etc. Someone made it. Someone grew it. Someone prepared it. Of course there were things like canned tomatoes and cooking oils, but as I grew up even those items had an origin that I wanted to learn about.

However, unless it came from your backyard garden or your own oven, your food does start “at the store” – or from a vendor.

How do you chose your vendor?

I love to purchase from as close to the source as possible. I find “middle men” add cost and remove the soul of the food. Vegetables, for example, can be purchased from a farmer at a farmers’ market, from a green grocer or from a large retailer (Walmart, Loblaws, etc). The bigger the store, the less money the farmer (likely) sees and the less connection you have with the land. The same goes for baked goods – buy from a bakery who is passionate about what they’re making, or purchase from the large retailer who sells the croissants two isles over from the maxi-pads and laundry detergent (maybe car tires and vacation packages too, if you’re in the right store).

Of course this could all be a larger social discussion: socio-economic standards, political and business interests vs consumer education and rights, etc. And i’m not trying to imply that I’m “holier” than anyone for my weekly shopping.

But my question stands: Where does your food come from?

While we do rely on a large supermarket chain for our general groceries, we are fortunate to live in a neighbourhood that has a farmers’ market in the summers. In the winter we subscribe to a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) that delivers. We’ve had a butcher to purchase meat from and a bakery in the neighbourhood that, while they may bake from frozen, is still “the local, little guy”. I’d rather give him our money than the supermarket. I’ve just learned that our butcher closed, prompting this post.

So, my question to you, few readers I have garnered, where do you shop? Tell me in the comments below.

Condo-Friendly Baby Toys – Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Smart Stages

Disclaimer, I was invited to Fisher-Price’s media launch for this toy series and given a free toy. We have subsequently purchased another toy on our own. Fisher-Price has not asked me to review or endorse their product.

We live in a small space in the city. There are smaller apartments, but compared to our friends and family, we are in close quarters. To live comfortably we’ve adopted the theme of Sport Compact Living – everything* in our home has to prove itself and is here for a reason (*we aren’t perfect, we do have some “packrat” tendencies, but we try).

As new parents we were anticipating the barrage of toys that come with a new baby. Thankfully six months in we’ve kept it to a minimum. But even 6 months in I can see my daughter is starting to get a little bored with some of the toys we’ve had for a while. I can see the look already, “yes mom, it’s a pink teddy bear. It’s the same one as yesterday. Oh! It rattles? Yeah, i know that.” (I project an attitude onto the little one).

This is why I’m excited about Fisher-Price’s new line of Laugh & Learn toys called Smart Stages. The toys can update and change as a child learns and grows. Fisher-Price is a name anyone who grew up in North America knows. You had the telephone, you had the bubble “lawn mower”, maybe you had the Little People. There’s a reason they’ve been around this long, they know babies and they know kids. Their Laugh & Learn line are those toys I feel okay giving to a tiny kid because they encourage learning.

At the press conference we were invited to let the kids play with the new toys. The lower recommended age for the toys was 6 months and my little one was just approaching that age. She was excited by the colours and sounds and generally wanted to taste the toys more than anything. She seemed to enjoy the “Laptop” ’cause she sees me on mine through the day. She was also attracted to the toy train.

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Stop distracting me, I’m playing with a train

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This lawnmower tastes fantastic!

When we left we were given the vacuum and we later purchased the laptop. The vacuum is recommended for 12 months + so I haven’t actually opened it up yet. The laptop is for 6 months+ and so far she enjoys chewing it and closing it. I’m having fun pushing the buttons and hearing the different colours and shapes. As she gets older I can change the setting with one easy switch from Stage 1 to Stage 2 and she’ll hear more about numbers and some new songs. Eventually Stage 3 will encourage her to play games with the toy – “can you find the “2” button?” etc

I really like this concept. It’s Laugh & Learn which means it’s developed to encourage learning but also the toys become “new” when she’s old enough to need the update. I will deem these toys “condo friendly” because each one really is three toys in one.

Fisher-Price Smart Stages Vacuum

Fisher-Price Smart Stages Vacuum

Fisher-Price Smart Stages Laptop

Fisher-Price Smart Stages Laptop

Butternut Squash Soup

Fall is soup time. So many tasty veggies at the market just asking to be cooked down and whizzed up. This year I’ve singed up to participate in a soup exchange. Six of us make soup and exchange a pack with each other. I’ll arrive with five packs of this naturally rich and creamy soup and leave with five new flavours. This recipe was given to me by my Godmother at my wedding shower.

To make my soup I stocked up at the farmers market and cooked in stages over a couple days as baby let me. The recipe calls for leeks and squash. For the leeks, see yesterday’s post, my Ode to Leeks. For the cooked squash, I split them in half and threw them in the oven with some water for about 90 minutes or until they softened, removed the seeds and the skins.

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Butternut Squash Soup
prep time, 2 hours. Cook time, 45 min.
Makes about 9 cups. (I’m making a double batch, so pictures will show bigger volume)

Ingredients
• 3 cups of cooked butternut squash
• 2 medium leeks, coarsely chopped and very well cleaned
• half of a large onion, chopped
• 1 clove of garlic (or more as preferred)
• 4 cups of stock, chicken or vegetable (I use Knorr stock-pucks)
• pinch of nutmeg
• olive oil, maybe 2 tablespoons

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Directions

1. In a large saucepan or pot heat olive oil and/or butter. Add onions, leeks and garlic, season with salt and pepper. Cook until soft, about 7 minutes.

2. Add squash and stock. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes.
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3. With emersion blender (hand blender), or transferring everything in batches to a traditional blender, blend until smooth. Season with more salt and pepper to taste, add nutmeg and blend well. Serve hot.

Suggested options
• a pinch of hot chili flakes will help this warm you up even more on a cold winter or fall day.
• serve with a crusty bread of a simple lunch, add a spoonful of ricotta cheese for some extra oomph
• top with roasted squash seeds
• add maple syrup to taste for a sweeter treat
• pack in a thermos, pair with a simple sandwich for a great ski-day lunch

My Ode to Leeks

Oh the leek. Giant, mild cousin of the onion; dirtiest veggie in the fridge; king of the soup onions; punch line of a lame family joke. I didn’t grown up using leeks but as I started making more soups I’ve grown to appreciate them.

The more I use leeks the more versatile I find them. This summer they have been the base for most of my quiche (quiches?), they are awesome sautéed in butter on puff pastry but mostly they are flavour-base for most of my soups.

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Good leeks will ideally be fresh and local, but like any onion you want leeks with shiny exteriors, they will go dull, dry and shrivelled as they age. Roots are never used, cut them off and discard. The fibrous, dark-green ends typically aren’t used but I will often keep them (washed) in a freezer bag and add them to bones to make stock. Most recipes will tell you to just use the white and light green portions.

Water is your friend. Leeks are dirty, dirty, dirty. Rinsing under cold, fresh water while peeling back layers or cutting through the length will help you get to most of the dirt but often soaking in cold water and changing it frequently, especially for small wild leeks (a.k.a. ramps), will be the only way you can get the soil out. Be careful, it isn’t sand, like on spinach. This is straight up muddy soil. Supermarket leeks will look clean but will have soil deep in. Leeks from a CSA or farmers market will usually have amounts of soil obviously on the exterior to remind you to clean them.

I will be posting my recipe for butternut squash soup in a few days, featuring fresh Ontario leeks.

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