25 December 2012

Happy Christmas!

121225 Xmas Pudding

Happy Christmas and a Jolly Holiday to all my friends, followers and fans.  I wish you all peace, love and laughter this holiday season.

jasmine I'm a quill for hire!

06 December 2012

23 Years on, je me souviens

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

Montreal Massacre


22 October 2012

Zeus: my big, strong boy

For those of you following my Twitter feed, you'll know that I've had a pretty rough time over the past few months with my cats Hagia and Zeus.  Hagia passed away in July and last week her brother Zeus lost his battle.  They were both about 17years old.

They were born in my parents' garden on 1 September 1995.  Zeus, the eldest of the litter was the most adventurous of the four.  My father first spied this little stripey kitten when tending the garden.  The grey kitten decided my father was the best thing since sliced bread and bounded out whenever my father went out to pick veggies or water the garden.  Soon Zeus (then called Sofia*), Scutterbotch, Groucho and Hagia moved in.  Scutterbotch and Groucho found homes; Zeus and Hagia stayed.

For almost 15 years Zeus was wary of me--there was no secret he preferred men to women, but I seemed to hold a special place of fear and distrust in this mackerel cat's mind.  He hissed, ran away and generally hid from my sight when I came near.

Four  years ago Mum's cat, Bean, became too rough and tumble.  This aggressiveness became too much to bear.  I'd talked to my parents about moving Zeus in with me (there's no way I'd bring Bean in...he'd simply beat up my poor little girl),  they were against it.  Then one night I received a call from my father asking me to take his sonny boy in.  It was a difficult decision for my dad.  Zeus and my father were two peas in a pod.

So in Zeus came.  Scared, alone, separated from his papa,

Within a few days he was given full run of the house.  It took a bit longer for him to get back in Hagia's good books...they'd been separated for a while and although she was willing to be friends with him immediately, Zeus hissed and growled so much she just went off him.  That would soon be rectified and for the next few years they'd pal around and chatter to one another.

Zeus still treated me as if he thought I was a huge, giant monster.  It didn't help that he developed diabetes and I had to chase him with a syringe of insulin.

In the past year my little mackerel cat's view of me shifted...I was no longer a scary person but someone who was almost okay.  Heck...I could scritch him!  He no longer cowered or hid.

Then Hagia fell ill and passed away.  Zeus' loneliness was so evident.  He simply did not leave my side.  Unfortunately, his health was also on the decline--his diabetes crept back and his kidneys stopped functioning properly.  Daily subcu was thrown into the mix. By the end, he was a shadow of his robust self, weighing about 1/3 of what he did in that photo above.

He spent the last two weeks of his life at the vet's.  I visited him every day, bringing in special people food treats (baked ham, roast beef and turkey) in hopes he'd eat something.  And pretty much every day he came up to me for a cuddle and a purr.  In the end, I had to make a decision...even with artificial stimulants, he wasn't producing enough red bloodcells on his own and his sugar levels kept elevating...and then he had a stroke or some other haemmorhagic episode...he held on until I'd returned from my client's that day.

Zeus purred and slurmed my hand.  It was the most response he'd offered in at least six hours.  We all knew it was a matter of time.

And as my vet said, "he doesn't deserve to die alone."

So I made the call.  He wasn't going to get better.  And I didn't want him to pass, like his sister, in the middle of the night without anyone there.  As he was injected I told him he would be with Hagia soon and they'd play with one another and he would be able to look after her.  He passed, with his head cradled by my hand, purring until the end.

Goodbye, Zeus, my big, strong boy.  You are missed.

jasmine I'm a quill for hire!

* When we first took them in, they were so small...this little grey stripey cat appeared to be a girl, so I named her Sofia...paired with sister Hagia.  The vet set us straight.  When I told my father this, he simply said "He needs a man's name.  His name is Zeus."  or something like that.


08 October 2012

Happy Thanksgiving! Pumpkin swirl cheesecake

Happy Thanksgiving to all my fellow Canadians!  I hope all of you have had a safe and wonderful weekend, surrounded by good friends and family...and...of course a table ladened with the bounty of the season.

My Dear Little Cardamummy asked me to bring pumpkin pies to dinner (yes, plural).  I was all set to whip up something special but my body had other plans.

The day I was to bake I awoke with the beginnings of a cold.  Little surprise as my life has been busy as of late--between my new client that's a teeny bit of a distance away along with my volunteer responsibilities (oxymoron??) I've been burning the candle at both ends.  Long days, late nights and little time to actually take care of myself (or cook...or blog).  This isn't a complaint, just a statement of how my life is right now.

Knowing full well food I cook when I'm not feeling at my best rarely turns out well, I succumbed to the  bigscarymegamart and picked up a couple of pies. I must admit my heart seized a titch when I saw what their head office decreed as "regular price".. +$8!  The "sale" price was $6.  Good gravy.  Given these are factory pies, frozen and then heated in the bowels of the store, I question the $6 price tag...and do not believe the $8 at all.  Alas, I was in a bind and I paid $12 for two rather mediocre pies.

Thanks to Mum's home cooking and a bit of rest, I'm feeling a bit better now.

Needless to say, I wanted to get back into the kitchen and create an autumnal dessert.  My mind turned to my original thought of a swirled cheesecake.

Cheesecakes are rather easy to put together and once you master the basics, easily adapted to a myriad of flavours and combinations.  This time I decided to created a chai-spiced pumpkin and vanilla swirled cheesecake--something that celebrates the season's bounty and brings a titch of warmth to the cooler night air.

The resulting cheesecake is creamy, mildly spiced and perfect for a gathering.  If I were to have served this at dinner, I would have roasted some pear slices tossed in honey, vanilla and cinnamon and served each slice of cake with the warmed fruit with a spoon of Chantilly cream.

Chai-spiced pumpkin & vanilla swirled cheesecake
Yield: 1 20cm (8") cheesecake


For the crust
225g/560ml/2.25c graham wafer crumbs
100ml/0.33c+1Tbsp melted butter
pinch of salt

For the filling
750g/3 bricks cream cheese, at room temperature
250g /1.25c sugar
1tsp/5ml vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
3 eggs, at room temperature
100ml (0.33c + 1Tbsp) heavy cream, at room temperature
275g/280ml/1c+2Tbsp pureed pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
2 cloves, ground
2 pods' worth of cardamom seeds, ground
0.5tsp/2.5ml ground ginger
0.25tsp/1.25ml ground cinnamon
a kettle of boiling water


Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Wrap the outside of the springform pan with tinfoil (this will help to minimise leakage--both from the batter leaking out, but also the bain marie's water from seeping in.

For the crust:
Prepare the crust by mixing all its ingredients together and pressing firmly and evenly onto the bottom of the cakepan.  Set aside.

For the filling:
Cut the cream cheese into cubes, and cream together with sugar.  Blend in eggs, one at a time, scraping well between each addition.  Mix in vanilla and cream until well blended.

Reserve about one third of the batter in a jug and set aside.

Add the spices and pumpkin puree into the larger quantity of batter and blend until evenly mixed.

Pour half the pumpkin batter into the prepared cake tin and then pour, in alternate dollops the vanilla and pumpkin batters.  With a skewer or handle-end of a teaspoon, swirl the batters together until you've attained the desired visual effect.

Tap the filled tin on the counter to release any trapped air bubbles.

Place the tin in a roasting pan and pour boiling water in the roasting pan until it reaches approximately half-way up the side of the springform tin.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the outer area of the cheesecake is set and the middle jiggles.  Turn off the heat and let the cheesecake sit in the oven, as it cools, for one hour.

Remove  from the oven and let cool on the counter until it reaches room temperature.  Chill in the refrigerator.

Serve with Chantilly cream, poached or roasted pears, and/or drizzled caramel.

I'm a quill for hire!

09 September 2012

I be canning

Yes, I know...I've taken another break.

Lots happened in the past few weeks, gobbling up my time like a four month-old kitten gobbles up tinned food. Most of what's kept me busy hasn't been foodish, but some has.

What you see is a sampling of this year's canning adventures. I'll probably blog one or two recipes, but here what's come out of my kitchen (recipe linked, where available):

Blueberry-peach jam
Chili Sauce
Hot Dill Pickles
Peach Jam
Roasted Tomato Chipotle Ketchup

I'm a quill for hire!

15 August 2012

Happy Birthday Julia: Rocquefort and Pear Spirals

Happy 100th birthday to a woman who forever changed American kitchens.

As I wrote in my tribute for PBS.org's celebrations, Julia Child was a woman who taught more than just cooking. She taught viewers to think on the fly, because no matter how much we prepare for perfection, perfection is never guaranteed.

Think about that in context of today's Stepford Wife-ian cookery shows. Click over to Food TV and tucked in amongst the plethora of Amazing Race-like competitions, "reality" shows from the back rooms of bakeries and restaurants and shows focussing wacky food-related adventures, you will find what passes as instructional cooking offerings.

Seemingly perfect food, seemingly perfectly prepared by seemingly perfectly coiffed presenters. Sure they can hit their marks, tilt their heads so klieg lights glint off their bleached teeth and have perfectly mastered the forced, authoritative yet approachable "Mmm--that's so good!" They rate well with the 18-55 year old male demographic, don't intimidate those who could easily live with only a microwave, fridge, and are the darlings of those proud to have perfected "finger cooking."

But do you actually believe those presenters would know what to do if--horror of horrors--a bit of shell followed along with the yolk, or a drop of water found its way into a pot of melted chocolate? Without a doubt Laura Calder, Anna Olson, Nigella Lawson, Bobby Flay, Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay (to name but six) would. But others? Well I'm sure they've mastered the art of the teleprompter.

When I watch Julia Child I watch a woman who was passionate about food and cooking...but she was also focussed on instilling that same passion in us. In Julia's world, it was more than figuring out which of the Chicken Sisters would make the best roast or how to pan-fry mushrooms. In her world, part of that passion came from knowing what to do when things go wrong.

Although she wanted to show us the proper way to prepare recipes, sometimes things didn't quite go to plan. Mistakes weren't to be feared but to be quickly and deftly dealt with. They were lessons that made us stronger in the kitchen and, by extension, in life.

So when it came to a dish to prepare to mark her centenary, I went to the very first Julia Child cookbook I purchased: The Way to Cook. It wasn't the first cookbook I bought, but it was within the first five...maybe three.

I was drawn to all the loveliness found in the pages dedicated to pâte feuilletée--puff pastry. In a perfect world I would have spent a day dedicated to layering butter within pastry dough. But this is not a perfect world and I don't have a day to devote to making puff pastry. However...in this imperfect world of mine I do have a mediumscarymegamart around the corner that does stock frozen butter puff pastry.

Julia would understand--in the first French Chef episode, the one about Boeuf Bourguignon, she counselled viewers on using canned beef bouillon instead of consommé. Yes, she advocated making stock, but she seemed very aware that not everyone had the time or ability to make their own beef stock.

Her variations of cheese tarts caught my eye, so I decided to improvise slightly. I decided to make spiral nibblies, with (as she suggests in a tart variation) a mixture of bleu and cream cheeses. Since I'm a fan of pears and nuts with bleu cheese, I chopped a couple of sugar pears and pulled my walnut pieces from the freezer as well.

The resulting Julia-inspired appetiser is easy, with a tasty contrast between flaky pastry, crunchy nuts and soft filling, sharp cheese and sweet fruit. Serve them as nibblies, or along side a simple salad made of rocket (arugula) lightly tossed in balsamic dressing.

Rocquefort and Pear Spirals
Yield 12- 16 spirals

225g (0.5lb) puff pastry
165g (approximately 6oz) softened cream cheese (2/3 package)
55g (2oz) Roquefort cheese
2 small sugar pears, peeled, cored and cut into a small dice
a couple of handfuls of walnut pieces
black pepper


Preheat oven to 200C/400F. Line a cookie tray with parchment paper.

Roll the puff pastry into a about a 0.5cm (0.25") thick rectangle.

Mix the cheeses together until well blended. Spread the mixture on the puff pastry, leaving about 1cm (approx 0.5") clear boarder around the rectangle. Strew the chopped fruit over top the cheese, followed by the nuts.

Roll the smeared and sprinkled pastry and lightly pinch the ends together. Slice the long roll into 2.5cm (1") rounds. Place the discs onto the lined cookie tray. Sprinkle with pepper.

Bake for 10-12 minutes and serve warm

You can make your own puff pastry, or you can buy a package from the shop. If you do buy it , make sure it's all butter puff pastry.

Bon appetit!
I'm a quill for hire!

06 August 2012

Cook For Julia: Seeni Sambol

For the next few days PBS food celebrates what would have been Julia Child's 100th birthday. Their senior food editor sent me a note several weeks ago asking me to write a tribute--you can find it here.

In as much as she was a great force in American (and North American cooking) I have to admit that I really didn't know all that much about Julia. From her various cookery shows, I knew she was a cookbook author and teacher; she was tall and has a sing-song voice. She was devoted to her husband Paul, loved cats and she was, at some point in her life, was part the US's Office of Strategic Services, where she worked on top secret things during the war. I also gleaned this and that from Nora Ephron's Julie and Julia.

I picked up Noel Riley Fitch's Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child. I'm about half-way through (various things kept distracting me--I hope to finish it by summer's end). I've just gotten to the point where Julia McWilliams has returned to the US, from OSS duties in Asia, and she is absolutely besotted with the older and much more worldly Paul Child.

I am totally engrossed in this love story...and I say that as someone who rolls their eyes at such things (well, except for Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy)...I know there are decades ahead for them, and I'm looking forward to following their journeys.

When I thought of my own foodish tribute #CookForJulia tribute, I decided to not go with one of her recipes, but instead take inspiration from an important point in her life.

Julia met Paul, when they were both stationed in the OSS in Sri Lanka. She was young and free. But then came Paul who would open her to many new experiences, including exploring local cuisines where they were stationed. Not much is said about the foods they ate (or if there was, I don't recall). My guess is their cooks made available meals palatable to Americans and the British who were homesick, as well as some curries. That said, in my mind, I want to believe Paul may have introduced her to local home cooking.

In looking through my cookery library for Sri Lankan dishes, I came across Sri Lankan sambols--condiments made by grinding ingredients with a paste, served with meals and snack. Most of the recipes I have are for uncooked sambols, but I chose to make Seeni Sambol, a cooked condiment from Jeffrey Allford and Naomi Duguid's Mangoes and Curry Leaves.

This is a very easy dish to make, but it does require time and attention. The end result is a gorgeous brick red, salty-sweet-sour-hot dish that can be used to accompany meats, used as a dip, or to flavour soups, or mixed with other ingredients for marinade.

Seeni Sambol

Adapted from Jeffrey Allford and Naomi Duguid's Sri Lankan Seeni Sambol in Mangoes and Curry Leaves.

Yield: 310ml ( 1.25c)

60ml (0.25c) flavourless oil or coconut oil
750ml (3c) thinly sliced red onion (approximately one very large onion)
60ml (0.25c) minced garlic (approximately 10cloves)
2Tbsp (30ml) minced ginger
10 fresh curry leaves
8 dried red chillies, stemmed and crushed
1.5tsp (7.5ml) fish sauce (optional)
5ml (1tsp) ground cinnamon
0.6ml (1/8-tsp) ground cardamom
0.6ml (1/8-tsp) ground cloves
185ml (0.75c) coconut milk
0.5tsp (2.5ml) salt, to taste
juice of one lime
sugar, to taste


Over a medium-hight flame, heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the onions, garlic and ginger. Stir frequently until all the water has evaporated and the onions have softened and caramelized, turning colour from a spring lilac to a golden colour.

Stir in the curry leaves, dried chillis, fish sauce, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and coconut milk. When the mixture starts to bubble, turn down the heat to a bare simmer and let blurble for about 30-40 minutes, stirring every so often, so the mixture doesn't catch on the bottom of the pan. Don't be concerned as to it's pinkish-grey hue--it will deepen in colour as it simmers.

Remove from heat, add the lime juice, salt and sugar. Stir well. Puree to a smooth paste (the curry leaves are slightly fibrous, so don't be surprised if you see threads wrapped around the blades). Balance flavours to taste.

Let cool to room temperature before storing in a sealed jar. This will keep for a month in the refrigerator.

Serving Suggestions
  • Alongside puri, parathas
  • As a condiment chicken, fish or pork or kebabs
  • Mixed into tuna salad
  • Spread on toast
  • Mixed with mayonnaise and served with fish or chicken fingers
  • Mixed with sour cream or Greek yoghurt as a dip for pitas or tortillas

For other Julia Child-related posts I've done, click here.

Bon appetit!
I'm a quill for hire!

26 July 2012

My Darling One: Five years later

Five years ago today the man I loved passed away.

A lot has happened in those years--new home, new job, new opportunities, new romances--but I know he is still with me, cheering me on in my victories, hiding his head in embarrassment when I proffer a Jasmine-ism, and consoling me when things just don't go as expected.

In general, my life is good and I know how lucky I am. I love my day job because I get to do work that's interesting to me, and work with fun, hyperintelligent and caring people. My volunteer and community work are fulfilling because I am able to help make the lives of others better--whether it's through providing services to our community's most vulnerable or being a conduit for inspiration. And of course my omnivorous ramblings keep me creative and exploring ideas, cultures and history.

Yes, I do wish Michael were physically here with me to really share all of this, but some things are just not meant to be.

I've often said that I believe people leave us when they have learnt all they have to learn and they have taught all they have to teach. As long as we continue to pass on those lessons we've received, those who have passed on have never truly left any of us.

Thank you, Michael, for teaching me so much.


22 July 2012

Mmm...Canada: Wild boar chops with red wine and mushroom sauce

My weekly visit to Matt my butcher, is always a treat. Apart from having wonderful meat, he's a font of great information and advice and he usually has something that tempts my culinary soul. The other week was no different. My eyes brightened as he told me Perth Pork, a local family-run farm, delivered gorgeous wild boar chops to his shop.

Quite honestly I'm not entirely certain that my part of the world has indigenous swine, but it really doesn't matter. The de Martines have done what has occurred time and time again since Canada was settled--they brought over livestock and reared them for our tables. I haven't been on a tour yet, but I'd love to be able to visit their farm.

Needless to say, when I saw the almost claret red meat, surrounded with an almost snow white cap of fat, I had to take a couple of chops home with me. Boar--like most game--is strongly flavoured. I love its deep flavour--it makes a nice change from its pallidly banal domesticated cousins. After some research (and a bit of a trip down memory lane to the cinghiale I had in Tuscany far too long ago), I decided to whip up a simple marinade.

Play with the spicing, to satisfy your palate. I pan fried the chops, but I think this would be nicely done on a barbecue. Serve with grilled or roasted potatoes and grilled veggies.

Wild Boar Chops with red wine mushroom sauce
Serves two


For the Marinade
250ml (1c) red wine, such as a barolo, cabernet sauvignon, or merlot
0.5tsp (2.5ml) salt
0.5tsp (2.5ml) pepper
0.5tsp (2.5ml) dried thyme
6-8 juniper berries, crushed
1Tbsp (15ml) olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed

2 wild boar chops, trimmed of excess fat, if the rind is too thick
olive oil
1Tbsp (15ml) butter
227g (0.5lb/one container) mixed mushrooms, choppped
1 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced

Mix the marinade in a zippy bag. Set the chops in and let marinate, in the fridge, from four hours to overnight.

About 15 minutes before cooking, remove the chops from the marinade, and blot dry with kitchen towels. Do not discard the marinade.

Grill, or sautee the chops until done.

While the chops are cooking, slick a pan with olive oil and melt in a tablespoon of butter. When hot, add the chopped mushrooms and sautee. Add the shallots and garlic and stir until perfumed. Tip in the marinade and stir well. Cook, reducing the wine to a thick syrup. Balance flavours to taste.

I'm a quill for hire!

19 July 2012

Julia's Legacy


As many of you know, PBS.com's food section is marking what would be Julia Child's 100th birthday on 15 August 2012.

Several weeks ago, their senior editor contacted me (as well as chefs and other foodbloggers), asking if I'd write a tribute, noting Julia's impact on my life. What an honour!

The celebrations started a little while ago, so you can explore many aspects of Julia's life--the site will grow daily, and culminate in a 10-day cooking and baking tribute to America's favourite chef.

In the meanwhile, my own tribute was uploaded today. If you'd like to read it, you can find it here.

I'm a quill for hire!

14 July 2012

Hagia: My Little One

Hagia was the littlest of the litter born on 1 September 1995 in my parents' garden. We them took in: Zeus (then called Sofia, but that's another story), Groucho and Scutterbotch. Scutterbotch, an affectionate marmalade tabby, was adopted out within a few weeks and Groucho, a grey kitty with anger management issues, eventually found a home with the exbf. Hagia and Zeus stayed (Bean later joined the tribe).

In as much as they were so small, she was the smallest: for weeks she'd hide under the dishwasher, hissing and growling as if she were a cat the size of a dishwasher. Hiss, growl and carry on she did, until one day I picked her up (squirming with needle-like claws and yelling at the top of her lungs), lay down on the couch, and held her on my tummy as I fell asleep. I awoke about an hour later to find this little grey and white tabby with tiny vampire fangs and a little goatee sprawled on my belly, fast asleep.

When she awoke, Hagia decided I was her human. And the rest is history.

For almost 17 years she was my constant companion. She followed me around the house, her little bottom bouncing up and down like a bunny's as she ascended and descended the steps and quietly kept me company as I tapped away on my laptop.

She took care of me as much as I did her--the first time I had food poisoning Hagia mustered all her courage to explain (at great length) to the exbf that her human was sick and he, having opposable thumbs, needed to do something to fix it. One night when I came in very late from a date, she waited for me, and tried to corral me into the basement so I could deal with the burst water heater (tried being the operative word...I put her off...that was the last time I would ignore her anxious chatter). She even took care of My Dear Little Cardamummy, purring while lying on mum's bad ankle, like little furry heating pad.

Hagia also had opinions on the various men in my life: The exbf was there to do her bidding. Michael was fine to talk to on the phone, but couldn't bother with him in real life (in the three years we were together, she never came out to see him). And Dear Soul...Dear Soul wasn't worth the effort and she didn't see what I saw in him.

She was a determined little neat freak: she straightened rugs and decided what actually belonged on the dresser (new-to-her things were always nudged off)...and what she couldn't do, she decided who amongst the humans was the best person to do her bidding.

They say pets and their people take on each other's personalities. I have it on good authorities (yes, multiple sources) that this was true of Hagia and me: rather shy, born organisers, headstrong unless you can prove you know better. We can both defend ourselves--me, with words..her, with paws.

And while she wasn't one for cooking, Hagia liked to sit and watch me in the kitchen, her little nose following aromas as they wafted by. Her palate was akin to mine: black olives, bleu cheese, butter, croissants, flour, lemon grass, sugar, vanilla cake. She also had a taste for tequila, as I found out while I had margarita ice cream.

For all but the last month or so she looked and acted nothing like an almost 17-year old cat should. She was pleasantly plump, bunny hopping up and down the stairs, and (of course) offering her opinions on everything. The above photo was taken three weeks ago; this week she was looking drawn and gaunt.

But time caught up...kidney issues and seizures meant regular visits with Dr. Bonnie and assistant Julie: being being poked and prodded, pilled, jabbed and occasionally force fed. Hagia didn't complain...much.

But time caught up.

In one sigh I lost Hagia in the day's wee hours.

I like to think she had a good life--she was warm, dry and well nourished. She played safely, she snoozed deeply and she realised that there were humans she could direct. But most of all, she was loved.

Sleep well, Little One.

I'm a quill for hire!

08 July 2012

Mmm...Canada: Bumbleberry Grunt

There are just some words that bring a smile to my face.

"Bumbleberry" is one of them. Sheer onomatopoeic bliss, to my ears at least.

I've done some reading on bumbleberry--and while it may not be a Canadian term, it certainly is embraced in many kitchens across my fair land.

Add "grunt" -- both as in a Nova Scotian blueberry grunt and another bit of culinary onomatopoeia referring to the sound of the fruit erupting through biscuit dough -- and I think we've got a dish that sounds as good as it tastes.

Bumbleberries, of course, don't exist. The term refers to a mixture of berries, of no particular ratio. Sometimes it includes apples (as this one does), sometimes rhubarb. I mostly have bumbleberry pies and tarts, to use up last bits of berries or to make up enough filling for a pie.

Grunts are one of my favourite quick puddings. Unlike many where you simmer fruit on the hob, this one is entirely done in the oven. I've outlined how to make steamed dumplings below, but if you want more of crispier top, don't cover the dish with foil after you've dolloped the dough over the fruit.

I do recommend serving this shortly after making it. Otherwise, the dumplings could absorb the fruit juices, and you'd be left barren of those that gorgeous claret-coloured sauce.

Bumbleberry Grunt
Yield 1 22cmx22cm (9"x9") pan; Serves 4-6

For the fruit
140g (250ml/1c) blackberries
150g (250ml/1c) blueberries
125g (250ml/1c) raspberries
160g (250ml/1c) strawberries (quartered, if they are large berries)
1 tart baking apple (such as a Granny Smith), peeled, cored and chopped into 1cm pieces
100g (125ml/0.5c) sugar
1.5tsp (7.5ml) cornstarch
125ml (.5c) water
0.25-.5tsp (1.25-2.5ml) orange flower water OR 1tsp (5ml) vanilla extract

For the dumplings
220g (375ml/1.5c) all purpose flour
1Tbsp (15ml) baking powder
0.5tsp (2.5ml) bicarbonate of soda
0.25tsp (1.25ml) salt
1Tbsp (15ml) sugar
30g (20ml/2Tbsp) cold butter
80-125ml (0.33-0.5c) buttermilk (or more, if needed)

Preheat oven to 200c/400F.

Combine fruit with sugar, cornstarch and orange flower water or vanilla. Tumble into a 22cm square (9"x9") tin. Pour water over top. Cover tightly with tin foil and pop into the oven for about 20 minutes, or until bubbling.

About five minutes before the fruits are done stewing, set to work on the dumplings.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarb, salt and sugar. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Pour in about 80ml of the buttermilk and gently mix, adding more liquid until you have a soft, but not damp dough.

When the fruit is happily blurbling away, remove the tin from the oven and carefully decloak the foil from its top. Drop the biscuit dough over top the bubbling fruit, leaving gaps, so the juicy liquid can flow and burst atop the grunt. Replace the foil, covering the tin carefully. Return to the oven for 20 minutes.

Serve while hot.

To serve:
Place a spoonful or two of dumplings in a bowl and spoon the fruit mixture and its juices over top. If you wish, serve with Chantilly cream, custard or ice cream.

I'm a quill for hire!

01 July 2012

Mmm Canada: Made In Canada Cupcakes

Happy Canada Day!

I know they don't look like much, but these little cupcakes carry a grand name--well, the recipe on which they're based carries a grand name: Made In Canada Cake.

Lately I've been interested in older cookery books (Canadian and otherwise) and those issued by community groups, so when I came across them the other day while reading an article looking at some historical Canadian desserts in theglobeandmail.com, I read it with more than a passing interest.

The author included links to a few recipes, including a grunt and a buckle (both are dessert types I rather like). But one--Made In Canada Cake--held my fascination.

'What a bizarre little title,' I said to myself. But then I thought to when the cookbook was published. 1911. Robert Borden replaced Wilfrid Laurier as Prime Minister, and what seems like the never ending points of Canadian identity as well as international affairs, particularly Canadian-US relations were front and centre.

Whether or not the creator of the original recipe intended it to represent a slice of Canadian history is unknown. What I do know, based on the ingredient list (the only addition I've made is the salt, and I adjusted the recipe for cake flour instead of regular), it is a cake made with Canadian ingredients--notice the lack of flavours or spices. If this were being created today, there would undoubtedly be a splash of vanilla or perhaps some orange and spice.

The cake itself is like many other vanilla or plain cake recipes--it's easy to put together. The final cake is tender, and can be eaten on its own or served with your favourite icing or glaze.

Made In Canada Cupcakes
adapted from Made In Canada Cake submitted by Mrs. Guy Simmonds, Wilton, Lennox Co.Ont for the1911 Canadian Farm Cook Book, as found in the Globe and Mail.

Yield 12 cupcakes

55g (60ml, 0.25c) butter, room temperature
100g (125ml, 0.5c) sugar
1 egg
130g (250ml, 1c) cake flour
15ml (1Tbsp) baking powder
pinch of salt
60ml (0.25c) milk

Paper the bowls of a 12-bun cupcake tray. Preheat oven to 180C/350F

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside

Beat the butter until light. Cream in sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg. Incorporate the flour and the milk, in alternate additions, in the usual way (dry-wet-dry-wet-dry), scraping the bowl down after each wet addition. Beat together for a minute or so.

Divide the batter, equally between the papered bows--you will have to scrape out each drop.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.

Ice, glaze or decorate as you wish.

I'm a quill for hire!

10 June 2012

WIP: Lemon-rhubarb cake

Has it really been more than a month since I was last here?


My absence wasn't intentional. Thanks to unreliable home Internet service...more than three weeks of unreliable home Internet...and phone...and TV service (don't you love the lack of provider competition, combined with bundling that "saves" the customer money?) I've not really been able to post. Those adventures haven't ended (I still need to get my billing adjusted)...when things are sorted, I'll post about all the loveliness.

Combine that with a very full social schedule, I've not had much kitchen time.

My favourite country market opened for the season, and I picked up some gorgeous, tall stalks of rhubarb. I started playing with them--I love the cherry red ends and the tart tang they have--but I really don't have a properly finished offering for the blog...only a work in progress.

It's not bad for a first go--I need to adjust the egg--maybe drop it down to one, perhaps increase the rhubarb as well. Instead of waiting for me to be fully satisfied with it, here it is in its current state. Play with it as you will--and if you find ways of improving it, please let me know, via comments.

Lemon-Rhubarb Coffee Cake (WIP)
Yield: One 20cm/8" cake

For the topping:
70g 125ml 0.5c all purpose flour
55g 60ml 0.25c soft butter
50g 60ml 0.25c sugar
50g 60ml 0.25c brown sugar
85g 185ml 0.75c chopped nuts
0.5tsp 2.5ml cinnamon
1.5tsp 7.5ml ground ginger
pinch of salt

For the batter
200g 250ml 1c sugar
1dspn 10ml 2tsp finely grated lemon zest
250ml 1c milk
1Tbsp 15ml lemon juice
220g 375ml 1.5 all purpose flour
0.75tsp 3.75ml bicarbonate of soda
0.25tsp 1.25ml salt
75g 80ml 0.33c soft butter
2 eggs
250g 500ml 2c rhubarb, chopped into 0.5cm pieces (two stalks)

Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Butter and line a 20cm/8" springform pan

Mix the topping ingredients together and refrigerate.

Mix lemon juice and milk together, let stand for at least 10 minutes.

Rub the lemon juice into the sugar.

Sift together dry ingredients.

Cream butter and lemon sugar together. Beat in eggs one at a time. Alternate dry and wet ingredients in the usual way (dry, wet, dry, wet, dry). Fold in rhubarb.

Pour batter into the prepared pan. Strew the topping over top the batter.

Bake for about an hour, or until the cake pulls away from the sides and an inserted skewer comes out cleanly.

I'm a quill for hire!

29 April 2012

Red Lamb Curry

Whenever my parents go to India, I send them on excursions to bring something back for me. Sometimes it's a tiffin, sometimes it's a pashmina. Last year I asked for English-language cookery books specialising in Kerala's cuisines.

They returned with three thin shopworn paperbacks by someone only named as "Mrs. K. M. Mathew." The books really didn't elaborate on her life--she edited a woman's magazine and became a cookery writer. Wikipedia added a tiny bit more information.

Naturally, her recipes do remind me of My Dear Little Cardamummy's. Mind you, I can see Mum making mental notes to "fix" them. I'll probably take the books over and ask her for suggestions as to make them...like how she would make them. She will, of course, say that she doesn't know or say something like "oh...it needs some...you know...(name spice) but not too much." No one cooks quite like Mum...

This Easter I decided to cook a number of curries, and turned to Mrs. Mathew's Flavours of the Spice Coast for inspiration. The curry was tasty and easy to prepare.

Don't let the two teaspoons of ground chillies it calls for scare you off--there is a bit of a zing, but it doesn't scorch the tastebuds. You can, of course, reduce the quantity, but I'd recommend serving it with a cooling raita, made of sour cream, cucumbers, onions, salt and pepper.

Red Lamb Curry
Adapted from Mrs. KM Mathew's Mutton Red Curry recipe found in Flavours of the Spice Coast.

Serves six


For the Masala
1dpsn (2tsp/10ml) ground chilli
0.75tsp (3.75ml) coriander seeds
0.5tsp (2.5ml) black mustard seeds
0.5tsp (2.5ml) cumin seeds
0.25tsp (1.25ml) whole black peppercorns
0.25tsp (1.25ml) fenugreek seeds
2.5cm (1") ginger, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1Tbsp (15ml) vinegar

3-4Tbsp (45-60ml) flavourless oil
2 onions, sliced into thin lunettes
2 tomatoes, finely chopped
750g (1.5lbs) lamb, cut into bite-sized cubes
0.75tsp (3.75ml) salt
500ml (2c) water

To make the masala paste,
Put the coriander, mustard, cumin, peppercorns and fenugreek in a frying pan, over medium heat. Stir occasionally as the seeds colour. When they begin to scent the air, remove from the pan and let cool on a saucer. When cooled, add to a mortar and pestle or grinder and grind with the ginger, garlic and vinegar, to a smooth paste, then set aside.

To make the curry,
In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat the oil over medium heat until shimmery. Add the onions and saute until golden. Stir in the tomatoes and the masala paste and cook for a few minutes. Turn down the heat to medium-low until the water evaporates and the oil begins to rise to the surface.

Tip in the lamb and add the salt, and mix well in the spicy tomatoey mixture, to coat the meat. Add enough water to cover the meat (you may need more or less than then 500ml called for). Stir well. Turn up the heat to medium and stir occasionally until it boils. Lid the pot and let boil for about five minutes.

Turn down the heat to a simmer, remove the lid, stir and reduce the liquid until the gravy thickens and clings to the pieces of lamb. Balance flavours to taste. When done, the The lamb should be fork-tender.

Serve over rice, with a dry veggie curry.

  • If you use an electric spice grinder, make sure it's one that can handle liquids.
  • I prefer meat curries with a thick gravy that clings to each piece of meat, which means it could blurble away, scenting your kitchen for a good while. Of course, if you want a thinner gravy, you it doesn't need to simmer as long. Mind you, if you want a thick gravy, but don't want a terribly long blurble, you can simply let it cook down over medium or medium-high heat).

I'm a quill for hire!

22 April 2012

Maple Harissa Chicken Wings

This post should have been a cookbook review.

But it's not.

A few months ago I received a gorgeous-looking book about Moroccan cooking.  Then I read it.


Let's ignore the writing style that oozes braggadocious smarm and reeks of self-satisfaction.

Let's ignore little gems like telling the reader if they want to use this cookbook they should get a scale that weighs in fractions of a gram (since getting the book I've checked every kitchenware department I've come across and cannot find one that measures such minutiae...one gram, not a problem...less than that, I'd have to special order it in.

Aye, there's the rub.

Every cookbook review I do includes several recipes reviews, with each recipe blindly followed, you'd think I were a sheep crossed with a Disney-prodded lemming.  There's no question that the book had a lot of recipes...the question was which recipes intrigued me enough to try them?

Apparently each recipe I found interesting required me prepping ingredients at least a month in advance, or scouring my local shops for ingredients they hadn't heard of.   And those ingredients I could find made me balk at the pricetag.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm all for authenticity, but this book really made it clear to me that this book--and many others are really written for those in major metropolitan areas (and yes, I do live in a CMA of more than half a million people...but that's not big enough to carry some of these ingredients).  Home cooks who would like to try these recipes who don't have easy access to more exotic ingredients would have to order them in or try and make do with what they have, not really knowing what the called-for herbs and spices really taste like.

Needless to say...the book is still untested...and probably will remain so.

In the meanwhile...the book did trigger something.

Although his harissa recipe called for spices I couldn't find, the idea of harissa grabbed me.  After looking up other recipes and playing with the flavours, another idea grabbed me.  

Maple-harissa chicken wings: the smokiness of the spices matched maple syrup's smokiness.  Sweet and hot are generally a good combination.  It's a spicier version of honey-garlic and a smokier version of sweet thai chilli.

The wings also gave me an opportunity to try out Alton Brown's chicken wing preparation technique I saw ages ago --essentially render the fat first by steaming the wings and then roast the wings on a cookie rack.  It's a bit labour intensive but the end result isn't too bad.

The sauce is sweet, hot and smoky.  It may be too hot for some, and if you find it so, add a bit of roasted pepper or tomato paste to the pan with the maple syrup and balance flavours to taste.  

Maple Harissa Chicken Wings

Yield 750g/1.5lbs

750g (1.5lbs) chicken wings, split into drummettes and wings

For the sauce
For the Harissa
0.5tsp (2.5ml) coriander seeds
0.5tsp (2.5ml) caraway seeds
0.25tsp (1.25) cumin seeds
2dspn (20ml/4tsp) lemon juice
5 dried chillies, soaked in boiling water for 45 minutes
2 garlic cloves
0.25tsp (1.25ml) salt
1Tbsp (15ml) olive oil

3Tbsp Maple Syrup (to taste)
salt (to taste)
pepper (to taste)
1-2 tsp (5-10ml) tomato paste or minced roasted red peppers (optional, to taste)


Preheat the oven to 225C/425F. Lay a tea towel or a double layer of paper towels on a baking sheet. Set a cooling rack over top the towels and set aside.

To cook the chicken wings, set about 2-3cm (approximately 1") of water to boil in a large pot. Lay the wings in a steamer basket and set in the pot. Lid the pot and let steam over medium heat for about 10 minutes.Remove the wings from the basket, place on the cooling rack, and pat dry. Let the wings cool. Remove the towels and line the tray with tin foil. Roast for 40 minutes, turning the wings once.

Start the sauce while the wings are roasting.  Toast the coriander, caraway and cumin in a dry pan, over medium heat, stirring occasionally. When the seeds have darkened and have released their aromas, remove the pan from the hob and tip the spices onto a plate to cool (five-10 minutes). Grind to a paste the toasted spices with the rehydrated chillies, garlic, salt, olive oil and lemon juice.

In a small saucepan, over medium-low heat, mix the harissa with the maple syrup. Taste the sauce--if it is too spicy for you, you can temper its zing by adding some tomato paste or finely chopped roasted red pepper. Balance flavours to taste.

When the wings are done roasting tip them into a bowl and pour the sauce over top. Toss the wings so they are evenly coated.

  • If you don't want to make your own harissa, use about three-four tablespoons of bought sauce.
  • You don't have to cook the wings in above-prescribed manner--if you prefer to bake or fry the wings, please do.

I'm a quill for hire!