01 July 2014

Mmm…Canada: Strawberry shortcake

140701 Canada Day Strawberry Shortcake 1 

Happy Canada Day to my fellow Canadians, adopted Canadians and everyone who has a bit of Canadianess in side of them :)

One of the lovely things about having an early summer national day is this is the time when some of the most gorgeous strawberries come into season.  From about September until June, we suffer through imports that only a marketer or an accountant in some far off land like Toronto would eat and find palatable: the strawberries I find in the scary megamart conglomerate appear to suffer from some form of gigantism (I often call them cow's heart berries); their rock-hard texture sometimes makes me wonder if these berries were poured into a concrete mould and left to set *too* long; many of the berries are reddish or mostly red with oddly blotched whitish-yellow-green spots (as if someone held the berry in their hand when spraying them with paint, but forgot to turn the berry to ensure it was evenly coated with colour; their cores are as white as snow, and when I sniff them, they smell of…nothing.

Contrast that to the fresh local berries I proffer from my favourite local country market from June until September: sizes very from dainty little gumball-sized jewels to golfball-sized treats (I must admit I prefer the smaller berries that I usually find in August); they are tender and when pressured, yield sweet ruby juices; their happy summer red penetrates the skin and travels through soft flesh to an equally garnet core, and their scent is of…strawberry.

So here we are, in strawberry season, celebrating my fair nation's 147th birthday.  The other week I went to my most marvellous (ex-)manager's house for a bit of a catch up. His lovely wife, upon hearing I would bring strawberries, immediately piped up with shortcake. It was simply lovely…and possibly the best biscuit-style shortcake I've ever had.  I'm asking for the recipe.

So, when thinking about today's recipe, I knew it would be strawberry shortcake--little fluffy biscuits filled with billowy clouds of whipped cream and gorgeous strawberries.  It's red, white and oh so lovely.

The shortcake recipe itself is based on this Canadian Living recipe--I've made some minor changes to the recipe.  The rest is what I call a non-recipe recipe--the strawberries are macerated with balsamic vinegar, and the whipped cream is a crème Chantilly--slightly sweet, and flavoured with a splash of vanilla.

Can you use other fruits or berries?  Of course you can.  But really, in these fleeting months of strawberry season, why would you want to?

Happy Canada Day!

140701 Canada Day Strawberry Shortcake 2Strawberry Shortcake
Yield: 8-10

For the shortcakes:
200g/2 rounded cups/515ml all purpose flour, + more for kneading 1dspn/10ml baking powder
0.5tsp/2.5ml bicarbonate of soda
0.5tsp/2.5ml salt
25g/2Tbsp sugar, + more for sprinkling
55g/0.25c/62ml very cold butter
1 egg, beaten (see notes)
250ml/1c yoghurt
1Tbsp/15ml milk or cream

For the strawberries:
hulled strawberries as you want (see notes)
sugar, to taste
1tsp/5ml balsamic vinegar (see notes)

For the crème Chantilly:
500ml/2c heavy cream
2 heaped tspns icing sugar (to taste)
1tsp/5ml vanilla extract


Start with the biscuits: 
Preheat oven to: 450F/425F (fan-assist) 230C/200C (fan-assist)

Sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarb, salt and 25g sugar.

Grate the butter on the large holes of a box grater, and rub into the flour, so there are butter pieces of varying sizes--ranging from the size of grains of rice, to the size of small pebbles and peas. Alternatively, cut the butter into small cubes and cut into the flour mixture, aiming for the same range of butter bits as above.

Mix together the yoghurt and egg an then pour into the flour mixture. Lightly mix together until just combined.

Turn out the very sticky dough onto a well floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes. Add flour as needed until you have a soft dough.

Roll the dough to a 2.5cm/1" thickness. Using a floured 6.25cm/2.5" biscuit cutter (or larger or smaller, as you see fit), cut rounds of dough. Gather scraps together, re-roll and cut. Place rounds onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush with milk or cream and lightly sprinkle with sugar.

Bake for about 15 minutes. The biscuits should be risen and golden. The bottoms should be a slightly deeper shade of brown and should sound hollow-ish when tapped. If in doubt, slide a paring knife into the top of the biscuit and see that the inside of the biscuit is fluffy and cooked. Set on a cooling rack.

Next, get on with the strawberries: 
Mash them and give them a taste. Add sugar, if the berries need them. Sprinkle balsamic vinegar, to taste. Give the berries a mix and let them macerate.

Lastly, make the crème Chantilly:
Whip the cream, sugar and vanilla together until firm, but still soft.

To assemble: 
Slice a biscuit through its equator. Spoon some of the strawberry juice onto the cut sides of the biscuit halves and then spoon some mashed berries onto the bottom half. Top the berries with a spoon or three of chantilly cream.


  • Re: Eggs -- If in Canada: you'll be better off using an extra large egg, as official sizing seems to have decreased (used to be 56g, but I'm now regularly finding 48g eggs in my "large" cartons). I shall assume other nations have kept sizing sense and not followed suit. 
  • Re: Strawberries--this is totally by eye. I weighed out how many berries I serve per person, and it came out to about 75g, or three or four medium-large berries. 
  •  Re: Balsamic vinegar--if you're using real balsamic, use less than I've indicated. If you're using what's found in your megamart, you may need to boil down the vinegar until it thickens. Let it cool and then use it on your berries.

I'm a quill for hire!

21 April 2014

Feast: Happy Easter! Buona Pasqua!

Happy Easter to all who celebrate!  I hope you and yours had a wonderful Easter, filled with good people, good fun and (of course) good food.

After a longer and harder winter than usual, Little Robin Redbreast hops through shoots of grass and tells me warmer weather will soon arrive.  This of course means soon trees will bud,  my irises will  their striated leaves through the ground, and of course favourite farmers' tweets about their spring rituals will fill my Twitter feed.

I start thinking about my Easter feast when the leaves begin to turn and we all begin to resettle into shorter days and longer nights.  Rarely do my plans hold true.  In September I thought about roasting turkey; in January that turkey became an Indian-themed dinner.  

By March, Italy and the thoughts of homemade porchetta filled my mind.  Previously I'd done a Tuscan-style pork roast--a bit of a cheat on porchetta for those who don't want to wrap and tie a pork belly around a roast--so going the extra step only seemed right. Our Dear Little Puff of Cream suggested a recipe, and Alessandro gave me some moral support and tips as to what he looks for in porchetta (tip:  it's all about the crackling). The meal was rounded out with roasted capsicums, garlic and onions tossed with marinated artichokes in olive oil and lemon, grilled asparagus dressed in balsamic and parmesan, and potatoes mashed with (more) roast garlic.  I took a bit of a liberty with dessert, opting for a citrussy limoncello tiramisu.

Instead of snapping pics of each item, I decided to offer images and recipe links to the porchetta and tiramisu.

140421 Easter Porchetta 2

Porchetta (Bon Appetit (Sept 2011))
If you ever need a reason to go to a real butcher, this is it.  Matt (my favourite butcher), presented me with some beautiful tamworth pork, and he trimmed the belly to fit the loin exactly.

The roasted, fennelly-spicy meat was simply sublime.  And the crackling?  Burnished and amazing.

140421 Easter Limoncello tiramisu 2
Tiramisù al Limoncello (Lidia Matticchio Bastianich)
As a means to shake off winter's heavy mantle, I wanted an Italian dessert that also brought a promise of sunny skies and warm weather.  Lemon and limoncello fit the bill.

Don't let the fact this contains alcohol scare you--it's cooked off in both the zabaglione and the simple syrup, allowing its boozy nature evaporate. And what's better?  It can be made ahead (up to two days).

 I'm a quill for hire!

17 March 2014

Happy St. Patrick's Day!: Guinness-braised beef short rib poutine

Happy St. Patrick's Day! 

Some of you may recall my mission to create Guinness-braised short ribs, and what I created was, in fact, Guinness-braised long ribs.  This year, I pledged to rectify this situation.  My plan was simple:

1) Buy beef short ribs when my darling butcher put them on special.
2) Label said shortribs.
3) Freeze said labelled short ribs.
4) Easily retrieve actual short ribs from the freezer, thaw and make Guinness-braised short ribs.

I am happy to report that my mission was successful.

I bought; I labelled; I froze; I retrieved; I thawed; I made Guinness-braised short ribs.

Although they were really good with a side of mashed potatoes and steamed veggies, I didn't actually want Guinness-braised short ribs. 

I wanted Guinness-braised short rib poutine.  Tender meat in a rich gravy, over a bed of golden crispy-on-the-outside and fluffy-on-the-inside chips.  Sauteed mushrooms strewn overtop and soft bleu cheese lightly blessing the entire glorious plate.  

Yes.  That's what I wanted.  And that's exactly what I got: a warm dinner plate of happy.

Of course the main part of this recipe is the short rib recipe itself.  I went back to my Steak and Guinness stew recipe and made a few minor adjustments.  The poutine itself is a non-recipe recipe, and very much up to your individual palate:

Guinness-braised shortrib Poutine
Chunky chips
Guinness-braised short ribs, meat cut off the bone (recipe follows)
Gravy from the above short ribs
Sauteed mushrooms
Bleu Cheese (Cashel, if you want to continue the Irish theme)

Guinness-braised shortribs
Serves four

1 clove garlic, minced
1dspn/2tsp/10ml mustard powder
0.5tsp/2.5ml black pepper
375ml/1.5c Guinness (or any other brand of stout you prefer)

1kg/2lbs beef shortribs, cut into 4cm (1.5") pieces
olive oil
400g/14oz mushrooms, sliced
0.75tsp/3.75ml salt
0.75tsp/3.75ml black pepper
2 medium onions, slivered nose-to-tail
2 fat cloves garlic, minced
2 celery ribs, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
625ml/2.5c diced tomatoes, fresh or tinned
125ml/0.5c Guinness (as above...or any other brand of stout you prefer)
375ml/1.5c beef broth
125ml/0.5c tomato paste
1tsp paprika (hot, preferably)
3 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs rosemary
2 bay leaves
40g/3Tbsp/45ml soft butter
25g/3Tbsp/45ml ap flour
1-2Tbsp/15-30ml Worcestershire sauce

Mix marinade ingredients together in a zippy bag and add shortrib pieces. Let marinate overnight.

Remove the meat from the zippy bag, and pat dry.  Do not throw away the marinade.

Heat your brasier pan or dutch oven over a hob and slick the bottom with oil.  Sear the meat on all sides and set aside.

Add more oil, if necessary and add the tomato paste and fry until the sugars caramelise and the paste's colour deepens to a brick red.  Remove from pan.

Tip in the onions (with more oil, if necessary) and caramelise to a light golden colour. Add garlic to the pan and mix.  Once the garlic releases its perfume, stir in the celery and saute until translucent.

Preheat your oven to 190C/375F.

Add the seared meat, with its juices to the vegetables. Pour in the marinade along with the diced tomatoes, Guinness, and enough beef broth to cover. Stir in the tomato paste. Add the paprika, thyme, rosemary and bay leaves. Stir well. Let the mixture come up to a boil and keep it there for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Lid the pot and pop into the oven to braise for two hours.

While the meat is simmering, melt oil and butter together; add salt and pepper. Tip in mushrooms and sauté until lovely and soft. Remove the fungi from the pan and set aside.

Just before your timer dings, knead the butter and flour together into a beurre manié.

After the dinger dings, put the pot back onto a medium-low flame on the hob. Remove about a cup's worth of liquid and mix it with the beurre manié and pour back into the stew. Stir well. Add the mushrooms and Worcestershire sauce and simmer for 20 minutes before serving.

I'm a quill for hire!