Pesto pasta, Pesto pizza, Pesto potatoes (with green beans and slivered almonds!) Pesto potato salad…there are SO many fabulous dishes which need only a little dash of Pesto to make them magical.
So it has been really awful that Ontario has endured a “Basil blight” for almost 4 years now. I kept buying plants, only to watch them wither and die in front of my eyes: spotty leaves, brown patches, wilting stems. Even professional growers told me: “No one can grow Basil. A blight is killing the plants.”
Well, somebody figured out something – we must have a more resistant strain of plants this year – because for the first time in 4 years, Basil is growing like gangbusters!
I can’t believe I was able to harvest enough leaves to make a triple batch of Pesto on only June 19th! By August, my freezer will be stuffed full, I promise.
I love it when anything I cook makes people happy, but probably the most memorable compliment I ever received was from Sean Burke, a beloved family friend whose father was in the hospital after heart surgery.
“Every night when we got home from the hospital, we stayed up and talked and ate chips with Rita’s salsa and it made me wonder: why does her salsa taste so much better than other salsas? What does she do that makes it taste so different?”
He sent this question in an email to my brother. I was happy to write him back with my recipe and my process, but mainly I had to point out: it takes time. A really good batch of my salsa takes 3 days.
The Hedemark Family is so grateful to the Burke Family for all the generosity they have shown us over the years. One Christmas when Sean’s dad was in the hospital, I passed by their house to drop off a case of the salsa his family loved so much; it seemed the very smallest thing that I could do for them.
Here, for the first time, I have actually done a video of my salsa process. Many people will not have the time or the equipment or the patience that it takes to do this kind of job. However, whenever anybody asks me why my salsa is so different – this is the reason. I cook it for 3 days. Usually it works out that I can get it started on Friday, let it bubble away Friday night and Saturday, then pay closest attention as it begins to darken and carmelize on Sunday morning and jar it and process it on Sunday afternoon.
While it seems like a long, slow process, in fact the actual work involved is minimal: chopping vegetables at the start which is about 15 minutes’ work. Stirring it throughout – that’s fun, not work. And at the end, getting it into hot jars and processing for 15 minutes: not a huge task.
It’s a very practical thing to do during the summer when peppers are plentiful and cheap, and you’re going to be outside barbecuing anyway…why not just toss a pile of hot peppers on the grill to blister and sear while you’re out there? You can easily make enough Chipotle in one afternoon to freeze or can for a whole year. A little Chipotle goes a very long way!
Here are the basic proportions for Chipotle Puree, from “Chevy’s and Rio Bravo’s FreshMex Cookbook.” My proportions vary widely from this – I add more garlic and more vinegar than they call for, and I use fresh (not dried) peppers which I blister myself, but here’s a basic to get you started:
6 cups water
4 ounces Chipotle peppers, stems removed
2 tablespoons garlic
1 cup tomato paste
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup olive oil
I will post videos for Sweet Chipotle Salad Dressing and Chipotle Aiolo as soon as I can…oh, yes, and Cranberry-Chipotle Jelly, my kids’ favourite.
For some reason, BBQ ribs seem to be one meal you never eat alone…whenever I cook ribs, I am cooking for a crowd.
Here is my best recipe and best process. From ‘way back in my restaurant days, I have been a big believer in pre-cooked ribs. The last step, slathering them with your favourite BBQ sauce (I like Sweet Baby Ray’s) is the most fun and easy to do even with a whole yard full of company. Because the ribs are pre-cooked, you don’t need to worry about food safety and fully-cooked pork.
In fact, during one bleak period of our Hedemark Family history, money was so tight that my mother Johannah Hedemark decided to prioritize her grocery budget on two items: liver, and beets.
“I’ve researched it. Liver and beets are basically the two most nutritious foods you can purchase for the money; if we have nothing else to eat this winter, we will have liver and beets.”
True to her word, she visited an abattoir in Owen Sound and bought whole frozen beef livers, thinly sliced, for something like 29 cents per pound. She also purchased bushels of beets directly from local farmers. Smaller beets were less expensive than the larger beets, so she got great deals on those.
That winter was, officially at that time, the snowiest winter in Ontario’s history. It snowed EVERY SINGLE DAY for something like four months. School busses were cancelled on a regular basis, and once our electricity went out for four days in a row. I remember mom making “pizza buns” with English muffins over the fireplace in our family room.
“Come and sit with me and let’s make pizzas,” mom invited us cheerily. It was a fun thing. I did not realize it at the time – we had no heat in our house and no other way to cook food. She wanted us to warm by the fire and eat whatever she could manage to cook over the fire; there was nothing else.
It’s hard to find words to describe how, at the end of months of dark days, endless snow, isolation and boredom, I loathed sitting down to a dinner of liver fried in lard and boiled beets. 4 days out of 7? 5 days out of 7? Liver again – beets again? I literally gagged trying to choke down the meat: I hated the flavour, hated the texture, and HATED the fact that it was being forced upon me. I would have rather starved than look at one more piece of liver.
However, the beets-by-the-bushel purchase led to one of our best family stories: occasionally when one of us kids was sent out to the cold room to get a bowl full of beets, a stray beet fell to the floor. Given the plump body of the little beet and its long root “tail,” a wayward beet looked a lot like a mouse laying on the floor. Mom often reminded us not to be sloppy and drop beets.
One day Mom walked into the cold room and saw a beet laying floor, and lost her temper.
“How many times have I asked you NOT TO LEAVE BEETS LAYING AROUND ON THE FLOOR?” she shrieked so loudly that we could hear it 3 rooms away.
Bending over to retrieve the nutritious beet – money being wasted – she was shocked to find out she actually HAD picked a mouse up by the tail, a real furry mouse. She screamed and threw it at the wall, killing it or at least knocking it senseless.
Pete, Paul and I came running to see what all the commotion was about and to rescue Mom from whatever disaster had befallen her. It was confusing to burst into the cold room and see Mom leaning against the wall, laughing so hard she was crying.
“I was yelling at you for disobeying me…and it wasn’t a beet, it was a MOUSE!” she wept, shoulders heaving with laughter. “I was yelling at YOU – and it was ME being wrong! I really have to be more careful about the things I yell at you for.”
Now, I am 53 years old and Mom has been gone for 25 years. When I remember that cold, dark, snowy, poverty-stricken Ontario winter, I focus on only three things.
Liver and beets are the most nutritious foods you can buy, for the money.
Be careful about the things you yell at your kids for.
When you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
This winter, I went on a real tear of making beef liver pate. No sooner was one batch gone, it seemed, than I needed to set about making the next batch, freezing slices for future meals.
One night I got home from work about midnight and although I felt too tired to eat, I knew that if I did not consume something I would wake up around 3am too hungry to sleep. So I put some beef liver pate on a plate with rye crackers, and when I surveyed the jars of pickles in my fridge, I passed over everything to dish up only a few pickled beets.
I sat down with my plate of food; I laughed and then I cried. 40 years later, in my brand new cozy warm house with all the money in the world to buy any kind of food I want – I am still eating liver and beets.
 And, given that dietary cholesterol has now been removed from the USDA’s “substances of concern” list, probably one of the top foods you can eat to attain this nutrition.
 Dale Carnegie, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” Principle #12
I have always told my kids, “Shopping is the first and most important part of cooking.”
Which is totally true – great shoppers can afford to prepare and serve fantastic, wonderful meals. Shoppers who do not pay attention to items on sale, or are forced to pay top dollar for food basics, cannot possibly serve such amazing meals.
So I am a great promoter of having a chest freezer (mine cost $125; it has paid for itself many times over). Living in the province of Ontario, you can buy AMAZING meat deals, and other deals, all the year around. Who on earth would pay $26 per pound for a T-bone steak, when you could get them for $5 per pound on sale, and freeze them?