25 December 2011

Happy Christmas!: Caramel Cup Cookies

Happy Christmas and happy holidays to all my friends and followers. I hope you spend these days, surrounded by those
whom you hold dear, with tables ladened with delicious foods and drinks.

I know I've been remiss in posting my kitchen adventures these past few weeks. Lots of things have kept me busy...and out of the kitchen. I hope to get back into the swing of things in the new year...but until then, I have but a plate of caramel cup cookies to offer you and Santa.

These cookies are baked in two-bite or mini muffin tins and the end result is a cookie-encased caramel cup, kissed with whisky (What? Given all the busy-ness of the season, a little extra, hidden Christmas cheer is never a bad thing).

Caramel Cup Cookies
Yield: 24

125g (225ml/ 1c less 1Tbsp and 2tsp) all purpose flour
0.25tsp (1.25ml) salt
0.5tsp (2.5ml) bicarbonate of soda
110g (125ml/0.5c) softened butter
100g (125ml/0.5c) brown sugar
1 egg
0.5tsp (2.5ml) vanilla extract
Splash of whisky (optional)
24 mini caramel cups, denuded of papers and set in the freezer for at least 15 minutes

Preheat oven to 190C/375F.

Sift together flour and bicarb. Set aside

Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Incorporate vanilla, salt and egg. Add flour mixture and mix well.

Divide the batter into 24 equal portions--approximately the size of a chestnut. Roll into balls and plop one into each of the 24 mini bun pans.

Bake for about 10 minutes. The edges will be golden, but the centres will be this side of anemic.

Immediately after you take the tray out of the oven, spritz or dribble the whisky into each cookie before shoving a frozen caramel cup into the centre of each hot cookie.

Let cool in the pan before popping out.

I'm a quill for hire!

06 December 2011

22 Years on...

...and not forgotten

Geneviève Bergeron
Helene Colgan
Nathalie Croteau
Barbara Daigneault
Anne-Marie Edward
Maud Haviernick
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz
Maryse Laganière
Maryse Leclair
Anne-Marie Lemay
Sonia Pelletier
Michèle Richard
Annie St-Arneault
Annie Turcotte

I'm a quill for hire!

30 October 2011

Happy Hallowe'en: Chocochocochip pumpkin cupcakes with orange cream cheese icing

Happy Hallowe'en to all ghosties and ghoulies, big and little alike.

Regardless of what you think of the day and how it's evolved into from its long-past roots, I think it's a day where we can have a little fun, let our alter egos become our real egos and...of course...eat chocolates and cakes and cookies.

As if I need an excuse to eat chocolate and cakes and cookies.

As if I need an excuse to wear my tiara...or my red sequinned devil horns...or my bumblebee wings.

I thought of doing something on the spooky side like these witch finger cookies but I really couldn't think of anything truly gross or spine tingling to make.

Since it's autumn, and I can't let an unopened can of pumpkin puree remain unopened...and it seems my chocolate tooth has come back in full force. I was highly unimaginative and resorted to a cupcake default. Double chocolate pumpkin cupcakes, to be precise.

My screen flickered with several recipes for chocolate sour cream cakes and chocolate pumpkin cakes, and from those I came up with this one.

I think it's a rather deceptive little cupcake. On the surface it looks like a chocolate cupcake. Then you bite into it and the pumpkin with its spices add warm and earthy notes to their chocolate partner. Then you get an extra burst of chocolate from the studs of chocolate chips that lie within.

I don't think these cupcakes need icing, but I whipped up some orange cream cheese icing and swooshed a little on top of the cooled cakes.

Double Chocolate Pumpkin Cupcakes
Yield: 24
Inspired by recipes by Anna Olson, allrecipes.com, Country Living, Adventures in Cooking, and Life's Ambrosia

100ml (0.33c + 1Tbsp) sour cream
90g (100ml/0.33c + 1Tbsp) pureed pumpkin
55g (155ml/0.5c+2Tbsp) cocoa
125ml (0.5c) boiling water
0.25tsp (1.25ml) ground allspice
0.25tsp (1.25ml) ground cloves
0.25tsp (1.25ml) ground cardamom
0.25tsp (1.25ml) salt
260g (500ml/2c) cake flour
1tsp (5ml) bicarbonate of soda
0.25tsp (1.25ml) baking powder
60ml (0.25c) flavourless oil
55g (60ml/0.25c/4Tbsp) softened butter
100g (125ml/0.5c) brown sugar
200g (250ml/1c) white sugar
2 eggs
180g (250ml/1c) semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Line two 12-bowled muffin trays with papers.

Mix together the sour cream, pumpkin, cocoa, boiling water, spices and salt. Set aside to cool slightly.

Sift together the flour, bicarb and baking powder. Set aside.

Combine the oil and butter and mix well. Tip in both sugars and beat for a few minutes, until light and fluffy. Incorporate eggs, one at a time, mixing well between additions. Scrape down the bowl

Add the dry and wet ingredients in the usual alternating way (dry-wet-dry-wet-dry), again scraping the bowl down between each addition. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Divide equally between the papered bowls. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until an inserted skewer comes out relatively cleanly, with a few crumbs clinging to the wood.

Allow to cool completely before icing.


- Don't use pumpkin pie filling
- If you want, you can play with the spicing--take away some or add cinnamon or nutmeg

Orange Cream Cheese Icing
Adapted from The Sweet Melissa baking Book (Carrot Cake with Fresh Orange Cream Cheese Frosting).

125g (approx 4oz/0.5 regular container) softened cream cheese
75g (85ml/0.33c/5Tbps +0.5tsp) softened butter
85g (170ml/0.66c) icing sugar, sifted
minced zest of one orange
0.5tsp (2.5ml) vanilla extract

Beat together the cream cheese, butter and zest. If your icing sugar isn't of the mindset to explode into a cloud when introduced to your mixer's beaters, incorporate the sugar in three additions, beating well after each addition. Blend in the vanilla.


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23 October 2011

Pumpkin scones

I find it amazing how hyperpriced, underqualitied and overroasted beans can set the standard for coffee. Now it seems that purveyor sets the standard for pastries too.

As you can tell, I'm not their fan.

Time and time again I've heard people wax lyrical about said purveyor's red velvet cake and recently their cakepops. At this time of year, it seems as if their pumpkin scones have won lauds and honours from those accustomed to their wares.

I tried one. I found it absolutely amazing that a lead-like pastry coffined by icing so thick, that it bore more of a resemblance to an oversized Trivial Pursuit wedgie, could be as dry as sawdust.

This is considered to be an amazing scone? I'll just chalk that up with other opinions like Chef Boyardee is the best Italian food (yes, said by a guy I used to date), Combo Number 3B at that restaurant around the corner that gives you free fried rice with orders that cost more than $15 is what people really eat in China (unless you are in China and the resto around the corner really does have a Combo Number 3B), and edible oil products are just as tasty as real cheese or actual whipped cream.

Part of the issue is, I think, this obsession with encasing every baked good in icing. Cookies, cakes, cupcakes, muffins and scones. Heck...I wouldn't be surprised if pies and tarts get the frosted over. Oh wait...certain commercial Bakewell tarts have fallen victim.

It's gotten to the point that I think people honestly believe that a thick slathering of icing sugar held together by butter/ margarine/ shortening/ water/ lemon juice/ stuff I don't want to think about will absolve all evils of the baked good it smothers.

No. No it doesn't.

I fully realise we all have different ideas as to what a scone should be like--heck, people can't agree how to pronounce the word--but I'm of the belief that a scone should be light, tender, abundant with nooks and crannies to nestle in clotted cream, jam or butter...and uniced.

I also think its pronunciation should rhyme with "lawn" as opposed to "loan."

Maybe that's the other problem... Maybe what the ubiquitous coffee shop sells is a scone-rhymes-with-loan (would explain the price), and I'm looking for a scone-rhymes-with-lawn (heck, I have no airs...I'll eat my scone on a lawn).

With about a third of a cup of leftover pumpkin puree, from Thanksgiving baking, I decided to make some pumpkin scones-rhymes-with lawns. After looking at about half a dozen recipes, and referring to my favourite one by Tamasin Day-Lewis, I came up with this one.

I'm quite happy with these scones. They come together easily, are tender, lightly pumpkinny and not cloyingly sweet. Perfect warm with a bit of butter.

Pumpkin Scones

adapted from recipes by Tamasin Day-Lewis, Shoebox Kitchen, Baking and Books, Eggs on Sunday and Pinch My Salt

Yield 12 (with a 6.25cm/2.5" cutter)

100ml (0.33c+1Tbsp) yoghurt
75g (0.33c/85ml) pureed pumpkin
1Tbps (15ml) cream of tartar
0.5tsp (2.5ml) cinnamon
0.5tsp (2.5ml) ground ginger
0.25tsp (1.25ml) ground cardamom
0.25ml (1.25ml) ground cloves
0.25tsp (1.25ml) ground nutmeg
280g (2c/500ml) all purpose flour
1.25tsp (6.25ml) bicarbonate of soda
0.25tsp (1.25ml) salt
65g (0.33 c/85ml) sugar
55g (0.25c/60ml) very cold or frozen butter
50g (0.33c/85ml) dried cranberries
25g (0.25c/60ml) walnut pieces

milk, cream or eggwash
sugar or demerara sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 200C/400F and line a baking tray with parchment or tin foil.

Mix together the yoghurt, pumpkin, cream of tartar and spices. Set aside.

Sift together the flour with the bicarb, then mix in the sugar and salt. Grate in the butter. Rub the butter into the flour until the mixture looks like a combination of coarse bread crumbs with some pieces the size of small peas.

Quickly fold in the yoghurty mixture and lightly knead into a soft spongey dough. Incorporate the fruit and nuts.

Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to 1.25cm (0.5") thickness and cut into rounds. Remove to the lined baking tray and let rise for 10 minutes

Brush the tops with milk, cream, or an egg wash made of an egg beaten with water and sprinkle the top with a little granulated or demerara sugar.

Bake for 8-12 minutes. The scones will have risen, the bottoms will be a medium golden and the sides will have firmed a bit.


  • Don't use pumpkin pie filling
  • If you don't have all the spices, change them as you will, or simply use 1.75tsp of pumpkin pie spice (though I'm not entirely sure what's in it)
  • Omit the fruit and/or nuts, or use what you think will work nicely
  • Of course...the number of scones you'll get is dependent upon the size of cutter you use.

I'm a quill for hire!

10 October 2011

Happy Thanksgiving! Double Chocolate Whisky'd Pumpkin Pie

Happy Thanksgiving to all my fellow Canadians.

I know I've been remiss in posting my foodie adventures (and yes, there have been some), but *gasp* I've been going out! and having fun!

More about that later.

Today is Thanksgiving Day in Canada. Yes. Canada celebrates Thanksgiving. We've been doing so since 1578 when the English explorer Martin Frobisher was absolutely thrilled he didn't become a popsicle while searching for the NorthWest passage. About 30 years later Samuel de Champlain (the foodie he was) and his French settlers initiated their own feasts of thanks.

My Dear Little Cardamummy has quite a fondness for pumpkin pie. It's not really Thanksgiving unless there's a pumpkin pie on the table. My Big Strong Cardapoppy on the other hand, calls all pies "apple pies" (including cherry, pumpkin and banana creme) and, from what I've gathered, isn't too fussed on what the sweet is. He just wants a 10kg/22lb turkey on the table (did I mention it's usually just three or four of us for lunch?). Yes, really.

Needless to say, after a certain amount of negotiation and some consternation, I won the dessert battle (really, Mum store bought pie?) and I was allowed to bring in dessert.

I immediately cottoned onto the idea of a chocolate pumpkin pie. I checked my library to see what there was--a number of pumpkin pies, but no chocolate pumpkin pies. My online search basically came back with three recipes, and their permutations reposted over and over and over again. None of them truly excited me, so I put on my apron and started playing.

The finished result was this pie--chocolatey but not overpowering the pumpkin, laced with warming spices that remind me of both falling leaves and crunching snow. Underneath it all is a deeper warmth carried by whisky and vanilla.

Double Chocolate Whisky'd Pumpkin Pie
Adapted from recipes by Edna Staeber, Martha Stewart, Baking Bites and Dreena's Vegan Recipes.

Yield: one 9" pie (1.75" deep)


For the crust
170g (1c+3Tbsp /295ml) all purpose flour
20g (4Tbsp/60ml) cocoa
25g (4Tbsp/60ml) sugar
0.25tsp (1.25ml) salt
85g (6Tbsp/90ml) very cold (if not frozen) unsalted butter
2 egg yolks, beaten
0.5tsp (2.5ml) vanilla extract
1-2 Tbsp (15-30ml) ice water

For the filling:
28g (2Tbsp/30ml) unsalted butter
70g (0.33c/85ml) semi sweet chocolate chips
2Tbsp (30ml) heavy cream
0.5tsp (2.5ml) cinnamon
0.25tsp (1.25ml) ground cardamom seeds
0.125tsp/ 1/8tsp (0.6ml) ground cloves
0.125tsp/ 1/8tsp (0.6ml) nutmeg
pinch salt
135g (0.66c/170ml) brown sugar
280g (1.25c/310ml) pureed pumpkin
2 eggs3-4Tbsp (45-60ml) whisky (see notes)
1tsp (5ml) vanilla extract

Serve with any of the following, if desired
Whipped cream/Chantilly cream
Ice cream
Icing sugar

For the crust

Sift together the flour, cocoa, sugar and salt. Grate in the butter with the large holes on a box grater, then rub in the butter into the dry ingredients, until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Mix in the beaten egg and vanilla then dribble in enough water so the dough comes together but is not wet or tacky. Form the dough into a disk and pop into the fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 300F/160C. Lightly butter a pie tin that's 9" wide and 1.75" deep (approx 22cm wide, 4.25-4.5cm deep).

Line the pie tin with the dough that's been rolled out to approx 0.5cm (0.25") thickness. trim the edges and crimp the crust as you see fit. Dock the bottom and sides of the crust by piercing the dough with a fork's tines--I do this until it reminds me of my dentist's acoustical tiles. Line the crust with tin foil and then weight it with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 15 minutes.

Remove from oven, take the foil and the weights off and let cool as you make the filling.

For the filling:
Preheat oven to 375F/190C.

Melt the butter until slightly foamy. If you're doing this on the stovetop, turn off the hob and add the chocolate chips. Stir until smooth. Add the cream, spices and salt and stir until smooth. Mix in the brown sugar. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a separate bowl, mix together the pumpkin eggs, whisky and vanilla, until well mixed. Fold in the slightly cooled chocolate mixture and mix until you cannot see streaks of orange or brown. Pour evenly into the cooled crust and smooth the top. Bake for 40-55 minutes. The filling will be set and an inserted skewer will come out clean.

Remove from the oven and let cool completely.Serve with whatever accompaniment (or none at all) you wish


  • You don't have to make the chocolate shortcrust if you don't want to. A regular shortcrust or graham wafer crust will be fine (but then it would simply be a Whisky'd Chocolate Pumpkin Pie...nothing wrong with that).
  • Do not use pumpkin pie filling. Goodness knows what's in that stuff.
  • Whisky. I suppose it's optional, but it's Thanksgiving (or Christmas, or whatever occasion that warrants pie). You may feel better with a few drams of whisky.
  • More about whisky. I'm Canadian, so I use rye/Canadian whisky. You can use what you have on hand (even if it means bourbon, scotch or Irish whisky). If you don't have whisky in the house, use brandy, rum, cognac or creme de cacao (or whatever else you think may work) :)...I welcome any and every effort to make this pie happier

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19 September 2011

Balsamic glazed duck with lentils

The palate worm struck again.  This time the craving monster wanted duck.  Simple enough--no real curveballs -- just a lovely duck breast with lovely crispy skin with a lovely pink centre.

The only problem?  It's not duck season (for that matter, it may not be rabbit season, either).

Oh, palate worm, you are a sneaky one...making me believe that you can be easily satisfied

I called my favourite butcher and there was no joy--his supplier wasn't able to get any in yet.  Several rounds of telephone tag later and more than 30 minutes on the road and one lovely, plumptious duck breast was in my hot little hands.

So now what?

Part of me wanted to rub it in juniper, part of me wanted to create a spicy masala for it.  Then my mind hovered over orange and cherry.  What to do, what to do...

I thought of the lovely crisp skin...then it hit me.  Even though a lot of duck fat is rendered, there's always a thin layer left (at least when I do it).  That wee bit of richness would do well with a bit of tanginess, tinged with a bit of sweet and punctuated with a bit of a bite.  After some reading and recipe perusing, it was clear this breast should be bushed with a balsamic glaze.

Cooking duck breast is relatively easy, so I didn't really want to make a complicated dish to  accompany it.  Lentils mixed with bacon, sautéed mushrooms and vegetables seemed to be the obvious pairing.

The full meal is really quite simple to prepare (really, if I can do it, anyone can), and once the veggies have been chopped can be pulled together in less than an hour...which, I think, places it within Wednesday night supper party territory (or, in my case, Wednesday night supper territory...with enough leftovers for Thursday lunch).

Balsamic-glazed duck with lentils with mushrooms and bacon
Serves two


For the lentils:
100g (3.5oz/3-4 rashers) rashers of smoked bacon, chopped roughly
Olive oil or butter, for frying
1 shallot, minced
100g (3.5oz/approx 1.33c) sliced mushrooms
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 celery rib, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, diced finely
110g (9Tbsp/0.5c +1Tbsp) dried puy lentils (green lentils)
1 bay leaf
500ml (2c) vegetable broth

For the duck:
1 duck breast
75ml (0.33c) balsamic vinegar
1Tbsp (15ml) runny honey


First...the lentils.

In a pot, sauté the bacon until crispy.  Remove to a bowl.  Sauté the shallots in the bacon fat until wilted.  Add the mushrooms (and a bit of oil or butter if you need it), with a good sprinkling of pepper. Add the garlic with the mushrooms are soft.  Stir for about 30 seconds or until the garlic's scent is released.  Tip the mixture into the bowl with the bacon.

Add about a spoonful of oil or butter (or duck fat!) to the pan.  Soften the carrots and celery in the fat.  Add the lentils and the bay leaf and give it a good stir.  Pour in the stock, bacon and mushrooms and stir well.  Over medium-high heat, bring the pot to a boil and let bubble for about five minutes.  Turn down the heat and let simmer for about 30-45 minutes or until the lentils are tender and most of the liquid has evaporated.  Stir and balance flavours to taste.

Next...the duck.

While the lentils are cooking, score the skin in a  harlequin (or a diamond) pattern, with the tip of a sharp knife--cut deeply enough to cut the fat, not the meat.  Rub a pinch or two of salt and pepper into both sides of the breast.  

Place the breast skin-side down on a cold, heavy pan.  Turn the hob to low to medium-low heat and let the fat slowly render, while crisping the skin to a golden colour.  This will take about 10-15 minutes.  

Remove the breast to a plate, pour off (but save!) the duck fat.  Brush a tablespoon or so of the fat onto the meat side and return the breast, meat side down to the pan.  Sear over medium-low to medium heat for about two to five minutes.  Remove the breast to a plate and cover tightly with foil (let rest at least five minutes).

While the duck is resting, make the balsamic glaze.  Remove excess fat from the pan and  pour in the balsamic vinegar and honey, add a couple of pinches of salt and a good amount of pepper (enough to satisfy your palate).  Give it a stir.  Over medium heat reduce the mixture by half, until it's thick and syrupy.

Brush the skin side of the duck with the balsamic reduction  (and the meat side, if you wish), and thinly slice the breast.

Serve immediately, laying duck slices over the lentils.


  • Be sparing when adding salt as commercial broths and bacon can be quite salty
  • Don't throw away that lovely duck fat!  Decant to a baggie and freeze it for the next time you roast or fry potatoes.
  • The older your lentils, the longer they will take to soften, so check the lentils after 30 minutes to see how they're doing, and go on from there.

 I'm a quill for hire!

11 September 2011

Chocolate chip pecan toffee cookies

Oops!  I mean Lacey Chocolate chip pecan toffee cookies

Even though it's only been about five or six weeks since I last posted, it feels longer...much longer.  I fully admit to a bit of sheepishness about the length of this past break.  My usual two or so week break stretched to three...and then a month...and then it became...umm...a wee bit longer.

I think I have good reason.  The fact is...I really didn't cook or bake a lot this summer. Between this and that, this food fete and that dinner, most of my kitchen activity seemed to be microwaving or simply pulling a cold drink...erm...salad fixings from the fridge.

That's the way it goes sometimes.

This week I made a very conscious effort to reacquaint myself with my kitchen and create something to write about.  I decided upon chocolate chip cookies.

Goodness knows I've made hundreds of dozens of them over the years.  That should be a nice, easy way of easing me back into the swing of things.


You know what it's like to take a yoga class after not doing a Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana for five years?  That feeling that even the corpse pose is well beyond capabilities?

Okay...maybe you don't.  But I do...and it's weighing heavily as I'll be unfurling my mat for the first time in half a decade on Tuesday.  No...I'm not concerned...overly.

Yeah.  That's what it was like baking these cookies.

I looked at a few recipes, including the Alton Brown's Chocolate Chip Cookie #10 (aka the Toll House Recipe) and a couple of community even cookbooks and came up with another way to build a chocolate chip cookie (because, of course, the world needs another chocolate chip cookie recipe).

It all came together nicely and I scooped out the first tray of cookies.

After eight minutes I took out the first tray of cookies from the oven.

The first tray looked more like crocheted lace doilies by someone obsessed with the popcorn stitch.  Half the tray was one lacy cookie ooze of sugar and butter, held together by the occasional molten pool of toffee and studded with softened chocolate, as well as the just scant amount of flour I used.

Don't get me wrong, they were buttery and soft and nummily sticky with melted toffee bits...but they didn't have  the toothsome weight that I wanted.

Thank goodness I can fix things on the fly.

Based on the amount of dough left, I measured out some flour.  Presto!  Cookies that keep their shape without being too cakey (the bane of My Dear Little Cardamummy's cookies (but you didn't hear that from me)), lovely and chewy and just salty enough to cut through the combined sweetness of the dough, the chocolate and the toffee.

Not bad for my return to the kitchen, I think.

Chocolate Chip Pecan Toffee Cookies
Chocolate Chip Toffee Pecan Cookies 
Yield 3-4 dozen

175g (1.25c/300ml) all purpose flour
0.5tsp (2.5ml) bicarbonate of soda
0.5tsp (2.5ml) salt
115g (0.5c/120ml) soft butter
125g (10Tbsp/150ml) brown sugar
75ml (6Tbsp/90ml) white sugar
0.5tsp (2.5ml) vanilla extract
1 egg
175g (1c/250ml) chocolate chips
100g (0.5c/125ml) chopped pecans
75g (0.5c/125ml) toffee bits

Preheat oven to 180C/350F/Moderate. Line cookie trays with parchment paper.

Sift together flour, bicarb and salt. Set aside.

Cream together butter, both sugars and vanilla for about five minutes or until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg. Mix in the flour until just combined. Fold in the chocolate, nuts and toffee.

Roll into teaspoon-sized balls and place about 4cm (1.5") apart on the prepared cookie trays. Do not flatten.  Bake for 7-9 minutes, or until the cookies have spread and are golden around the edges and on the bottom.

Let cool on the the tray for about five minutes and then transfer to a wire wrack to cool completely.

Note: for the lacey version, reduce the flour by about 35g (0.25c/60ml); when you portion them out, flatten then slightly before baking.

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26 July 2011

My Darling One: Four Years

In as much as I imagine Michael's long suffering sigh as (yet again) the volume goes up when Depeche Mode, The Cult or Amy Winehouse comes on, I also hear his little clucky noise as (yet again) I serve something that isn't beef, chicken or pork. I giggle when I remember his enthusiasm at wonderful things and I smile when I think of how strong and comforting his arms were when I needed them most.

But I know he's not here. I won't hear him trundle down the stairs, I won't find him snoozing on the couch, and I won't catch him snooping in the kitchen, hoping to figure out what it is I'm planning to serve us for supper.

Four years on. It doesn't get easier. It just gets less difficult.

cheers!jasmineI'm a quill for hire!

18 July 2011

Mmm...Canada: Vietnamese-inspired steak salad

I know I get on a bit of a soap box when I talk about Canadian cooking. The fact is it's a cuisine so heavily influenced by all the cultures who come here, that it's hard not to like it.

Yes, I know...many people would argue that there is no Canadian cuisine, save the usual: maple syrup, beer, poutine, smoked salmon and butter tarts. But I think a lot of Canadian cuisine is about how people come here and adapt their home cooking to what's readily available...making a far-off place not so far away.

The other week I found some gorgeous Grey County, grass fed and barley finished flank steaks at my favourite butcher. I bought a piece, marinated it and grilled it. My word it was buttery-lovely.

This weekend I went back for more and came back with a bavette steak. Bavette, his assistant told me, is just behind the flank, and is much more tender, which means it needs less marinating time. When figuring out what to do with it, I thought of this year's Canadiana series and realised I could probably pull together a great example of what I think of as new Canadian cuisine.

One of my favourite Vietnamese dishes is beef salad. A southeast Asian flavoured grilled steak, thinly sliced and served with crisp, cooling veggies.

My rendition marinated, grilled and thinly sliced that lovely bavette and served over equally lovely locally-in season veggies: crisp and spicy radishes, sweet carrots, sweet-tender lettuce and sliced spring onions and finely minced garlic scapes. The recipe I provide gives you more veggies than this, but add whatever you have on hand.

Is it "authentic" as only those food snobs who've scaled unheard of mountains and waded through far off streams to get real food as only prepared by a singular cook in a singular subset of a singular culture? Far from it. But does it evoke a far off place, made not so far by what my country market has to offer.

Vietmamese-inspired flank steak
serves two

350g (12.5oz) flank steak or bavette steak
2Tbsp (30ml) olive oil
1.5Tbsp (22ml) runny honey
1Tbsp (15ml) nam pla (fish sauce)
1Tbsp (15ml) soy sauce
1tsp (5ml) sriracha, chilli garlic or hot sauce (to taste)
0.5tsp (2ml) garlic powder
0.5tsp (2ml) onion powder
0.25tsp (1ml) black pepper
0.5tsp (2ml) dried basil

Mix all ingredients together and marinate six to 12 hours.

Grill the steak to your pleasing. Let rest 15 minutes or so and then thinly slice

Vietnamese-inspired Dressing
juice of one lime
1.5Tbsp (22ml) runny honey
2Tbsp (30ml) fish sauce)
2Tbsp (30ml) olive oil
1tsp sriracha, chilli garlic or hot sauce, or 1 minced fresh chilli

shredded lettuce
thinly sliced spring onions
radishes, cut into thin matchsticks
carrots cut into thin matchsticks
thinly sliced cucumber
thinly sliced mushrooms
finely minced garlic or scapes (or chives)
Thinly sliced red or yellow bell peppers

I'm a quill for hire!

10 July 2011

Mmm...Canada: Saskatoon Berry Salad

Punnets of deep blue awaited me at Trevor's. No, not blueberries, but Saskatoon berries.

Little, midnight blue and bursting with flavour, Saskatoon berries are a fleeting summertime treat. A fleeting summertime treat made even moreso as I'm not in Saskatchewan.

My Most Marvelous Manager told me about them ages ago--they sounded wonderful, but I thought I'd never see them here.

Never say never.

I was so happy to find them at Herrle's last year. A couple of punnets came home with me and I spent a week making muffins, tarts and sauces followed. I could see why MMM remembered them fondly.

This year's punnet would still be used for baking, but I wanted to play with the savoury side of these berries. With summer's heat upon us, a salad seemed to be the way to go.

I don't know if people usually complement these berries with arugula and goat cheese, but they were the first things to come to mind. Add some thinly sliced red onion (or shallots) and toasted almonds, and it all worked so very nicely--bitter pepperyness from the greens against the sweet berries, tangy cheese, sharp onions, crunchy nuts and the sweet and sour vinaigrette easily came together for a lovely summer salad.

Like many salads I make, this is a non-recipe recipe. Add as much or as little of each ingredient as you like. Serve on its own or with grilled chicken or a some poached or seared white fleshed fish.

Saskatoon Berry, Arugula and Goat Cheese Salad

Soft goat cheese
Saskatoon berries
Thinly sliced onions
Toasted almond flakes
Balsamic vinaigrette

I'm a quill for hire!

06 July 2011

Mmm...Canada: Crabcakes

Pattycake, pattycake,
Baker's man!
Bake me a crabcake as fast as you can.

I knew I wanted to continue my Canadian food journey with something from the East Coast, but I really didn't want anything big. I just wanted something to nibble on, along side some leafy greens.

When I think of the Maritimes, lobster is the first food to come to mind. Maybe one year I'll boil a lobster but not this year. I wanted something seafoodish, but little and fun to make.

Crabcakes fit the bill nicely. What I like about these is they aren't deep fried--simply browned in a pan and then finished in the oven for a few minutes. I served them with a mustardy mayonnaise, but you can choose whatever sauce you wish.

Yield approximately 20 small cakes

450g (1lb) cooked crabmeat, drained
0.5 bell pepper, finely diced
6 spring onions, finely sliced (greens and whites)
1 Tbsp (15ml) minced parsley
30g (0.5c) dried breadcrumbs (plus more for coating)
0.5-0.75tsp (2-4ml) finely minced lemon zest
1tsp (5ml) Old Bay seasoning
1 egg
1Tbsp (60ml) mayonnaise
1tsp (5ml) Worcestershire Sauce
a good squeeze of lemon juice
a few drops of hot sauce (to taste)
oil for frying

Mix together the crab, pepper, spring onions, parsley, half cup of breadcrumbs and zest. In a separate bowl, mix together the Old Bay, egg, mayonnaise, lemon juice, hot sauce, salt and pepper. Pour over the crab mixture and gently combined. Fry a little bit of the crab mixture, taste and balance flavours to taste.

Form patties by pressing together two tablespoons' worth of crab. Refridgetate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Line a baking sheet with tin foil and grease lightly.

Heat a little oil in a pan. Coat the patties in bread crumbs and fry for about 3 minutes on each side. Arrange on the prepared tray and bake for 10-15 minutes.

Serve warm, with flavoured mayonnaise (curry, lemon-dill, chipotle, etc) or tartar sauce.

I'm a quill for hire!

01 July 2011

Mmm...Canada: Quick Rhubarb Chutney

Happy Canada Day to all my fellow countrymen and women!
My month of Canada-focussed cooking kicks off with a seasonal, local ingredient, prepared in a way borrowed from a couple of cultures that have shaped and are shaping Canadian culture--English and East Indian. What makes this lovely is that the finished condiment goes well with another (in my eyes) quintessentially Canadian ingredient, pork.

My previous recipes focussed on the sweeter side of this tart stem. Today I offer something on the savoury side of the plate, that pairs well with grilled or roast pork.

I had visions of photographing a lovely browned pork chop, slathered with a a spoon of chutney. I had the lovely browned pork chop and a bowl of freshly made chutney. Put them together and...well...I had a plateful of brown. Not necessarily an appetising picture (but then, I find meat difficult to photograph well).

Yet again, I provide you with more evidence that appearances can be deceiving. The chutney was tart and spicy with a hint of sweetness--the perfect accompaniment to what can be a rather bland meat.

I based it on other chutneys I do, and tried to keep as much of the rhubarb's signature tartness at the forefront. I think I did well

What I liked about this was how quickly it came together--unlike other chutneys I make, this can be served immediately, and doesn't need to be set aside for a few months. That said, this version does need to be refrigerated and used up within a few days.

Quick Rhubarb Chutney
Yield approx 500ml/ 2c

3Tbsp (45ml) brown sugar
2Tbsp(30ml) red wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 thumb ginger, finely grated
75g (125ml/0.5c) sultanas
0.25tsp (1ml) salt
0.25tsp (1ml) ground chilli pepper
0.5tsp (2ml) cinnamon
0.25tsp (1ml) ground cloves
0.25tsp(1ml) ground cumin
oil, for frying
1 onion, finely chopped
125g (250ml/1c) rhubarb, chopped in 1cm (0.5") pieces
1Tbsp (15ml) mustard (Dijon, whole grain)

Combine sugar, vinegar, garlic, ginger, sultanas, salt and spices and heat until the sugar melts. Add onion and a spoon or so of oil and saute until soft and translucent. Mix in the rhubarb and cover. Simmer over a medium flame until the rhubarb is tender. Stir in the mustard. Balance flavours to taste--it should retain the rhubarb's tartness, but have an slight, underlying sweetness.


26 June 2011

Plum Rhubarb Custard Pie

I bought an obscene amount of rhubarb these few weeks. To me they are like Cadbury Easter Eggs or Hallowe'en Kisses: Load up on as many as you can because they will disappear before long.

As a result, bundles of scarlet stems pack my fridge, they jut here and there and balance precariously on yoghurt tubs and containers of leftovers. Every time I open the door my ideas and experiments flood my my mind.

The other week a colleague brought in a rhubarb custard pie for the staff picnic. It was lovely--just sweet enough to let the fruit's tartness shine through. It was also something I'd not had before --a plain rhubarb pie or rhubarb or rhubarb-strawberry, yes, but a custard pie. No.

So that got me thinking.

Thinking about how custard pies scare me. Just a little.

Not scared in the sense that I break out in hives at the thought of someone leaping out from behind a hydrangea bush to slap me in the face with custardy-whipped creamy-crusty goodness

Scared...as in...they consistently cause problems...but in an inconsistent way.

Sometimes the custard just doesn't happen...and by that I mean it disappears. POOF. Gone. I don't know if it absorbed into the fruit or crust or simply decided to go AWOL when my back was turned.

Other times the custard just doesn't set. Slicing into the cooled pie reveals fruit in an eggy pools soaking into the crust.

No. I don't understand either.

Something happened when I made this pie. The custard not only appeared, but it set. It surprised me so much I made it twice to ensure it wasn't a fluke. It wasn't a fluke.

With my custardish conundrums overcome, I decided to infuse its cream sweetness with cardamom and match it with a compote of rhubarb and plums.

The result was visually stunning-- claret-coloured fruit swirled with primrose custard; its floral tartness contrasted against a sweet cardamom'd custard. I am quite happy with this.

The pie is easy to make, but is a bit involved. You can make things a bit easier for yourself by making the custard and compote a day in advance; the pastry can be made well in advance and frozen.

Plum Rhubarb Custard Pie
Yield: one 23cm (10") pie

For the crust
350g (625ml/2.5c) all purpose flour
0.5tsp (2ml) salt
1tsp (5ml) sugar
150g (165ml/0.66c) very cold (frozen, preferably) butter
65g (80ml/0.33c) very cold (frozen, preferably) lard
60-90ml (4-6Tbsp) ice water

For the fruit
250g (500ml/2c) rhubarb, chopped into 1cm pieces
250g (3-4) plums, chopped into 1cm
100g (125ml/0.5c) brown sugar
1tsp (5ml) vanilla
0.25tsp (1ml) salt

For the custard
310ml (1.25c) table cream (18% cream) or milk
0.25tsp (1ml) ground cardamom
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
100g (125ml/0.5c) sugar
1Tbsp (15ml) cornflour

For the crust

Mix together the flour, salt and sugar. Grate in the butter and lard and then rub into the flour mixture. You're looking for a rubbly mixture where some pieces are like coarse sand and others are no larger than the size of a pea. Sprinkle in enough water so the dough comes together. Form a ball and flatten into a disc. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

For the fruit mixture
Mix all the fruit ingredients together into a saucepan. Over a medium flame, bring to a bubble, stirring occasionally, and let cook for about 10 minutes or until the rhubarb softens and the juices are thick. Take off the heat and let cool.

For the custard:
Add the cardamom to the cream or milk. Scald the cream, take it off the heat and let cool.

Beat the eggs into the sugar. Keep on beating as you dribble in the slightly cooled cream.

Remove about a quarter cup of the mixture and mix in the cornflour to make a slurry.

Rinse out and dry the saucepan in which you scalded the cream. Return the cream mixture( (the one without the cornflour) to the pan. Over a low flame, stir the custard for a few minutes. Add the slurry and keep on stirring until thick and the custard coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and let cool

To assemble.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F

Roll out the pastry to fit a 23cmx5cm (10" x 2") tin. Blind bake for 20 minutes.

Spoon in the fruit mixture and then pour the custard over top. Level as best as you can and bake for 30 minutes.

The pie is done when the custard is just set.

Remove from the oven and let cool thoroughly before slicing. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream, if you wish.

- You can use pluots or apriums instead of plums
- If you can substitute vanilla for cardamom
- If you have a pastry recipe you prefer (or a store bought crust in your freezer), you can use that instead of the pastry I suggested.

cheers!jasmineI'm a quill for hire!

19 June 2011

Rhubarb Bread

Rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb.

One thing springs to mind:

The theatre.

Yes, I know. You were probably expecting me to wax lyrical about how rhubarb is a harbinger of spring--it's vibrant scarlet stalks shooting from the earth, it tarty tang crying to be be paired with sweet strawberries or perhaps coated in sugar and roasted until tender in syrupy pink juices.

Nope. I think of the theatre...and more specifically, performing in grade school plays.

For two years my grade school had a teacher who loved putting on school productions. I auditioned both years and both years I was cast. Whenever a group of actors milled about onstage as extras or a crowd, the direction was say "rhubarb" to one another. Apparently, from the audience it sounds like muffled conversation, but without any real sounds to distract from the scripted dialogue.

But now that those aforementioned scarlet stalks are bundled and available for a few weeks at the market, I two things come to mind:

I wish I had rhubarb growing in my backyard.

I must eat rhubarb.

I fully admit to not being overly ambitious about how I eat it: roasted with sugar and vanilla is my favourite, followed by combining it with strawberries as a jam or in pie.

In researching what others do with rhubarb, I found many, many pies (including crumbles and crisps), preserves and fools, but fewer cakes and breads. Wanting something for my afternoon tea (well, more like my afternoon snack while tapping away at the office keyboard), I looked at a few recipes including this one, some of these and this one and came up with mine.

I'm quite happy with this moist quickbread. Sliced, it reveals hidden gems of pinks and greens. Even though there's a lot of sugar (by my standards) the fruit's sharpness still comes through nicely.

Rhubarb Bread
Yield One 8.5" or 9.25" loaf

175g (310ml, 1.25c) all purpose flour
0.5tsp (2.5ml) bicarbonate of soda
0.5tsp (2.5ml) baking powder
0.25tsp (1ml) salt)
0.25ml (1ml) powdered ginger
0.25ml (1ml) cinnamon
75ml (0.25c + 1Tbsp) flavourless oil
150g (180ml, 0.75c) brown sugar
1 egg
125ml (0.5c) soured milk
150g (375ml, 1.5c) diced rhubarb
Optional: a few handfuls of granola (approx. 0.5c)

Butter and sugar an 22cm or 23cm (8.5' or 9.25")loaf tin. Preheat oven to 180C/350F

Sift together flour, bicarb, baking powder, salt and spices; set aside.

Beat together the oil, sugar, egg and milk.

Stir in the flour until about half of the dry ingredients have been incorporated. Tumble in the rhubarb and mix until just combined.

Pour into the prepared loaf tin and sprinkle granola over top.

Bake for 40-50 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out cleanly.

Let cool fully before slicing. Serve as is or slather with clotted cream.

- I used milk that was just about to turn, but you can use buttermilk, a mixture of milk with yogurt or sour cream or add about a teaspoon or two of lemon juice or vinegar to a half cup of milk.

- If you want a crunchy topping, but don't have granola, use a struesel topping, or chopped or flaked nuts coated in brown sugar and melted butter.

I'm a quill for hire!