Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Kitchen Table Cookbook and Moira Sanders Blog!

My new book!
It was recently brought to my attention that there may be some friends out there that still come to The Good Egg blog to find some of their favourite recipes. I love the thought of the Good Egg still providing inspiration to cooks near and far! However, in case you didn't know, I've moved on to a new website - www.moirasanders.com 

The new site has some old favourites from The Good Egg blog, as well as the Moira Sanders blogspot blog. But it also has new recipes, stories, information on my new cookbook - The Kitchen Table Cookbook - and links to the Provisions Food Company website (where you can order cookbooks, shortbreads, fruit pastes and caramels!

So come by for a visit. Happy cooking!!!

Moira Sanders

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Harrow Fair Cookbook

About a year ago, I was talking to my cousin Beth about the direction my professional life should follow. The next day she called me back. "I have the perfect idea for you. Why don't you write a cookbook about the Harrow Fair?"

The more we talked about it, the more we liked the idea. We brought my sister, Lori, into the mix and the three of us have been working on it ever since. By January, we had compiled an outline to send to publishers around the coutry. We did just that, and despite receiving very positive feedback from them, we had been waiting for something to happen since then.

Just before Labour Day, and the start of the Harrow Fair, we learned that Whitecap Books, based in Vancouver, has decided to publish our book! Whitecap is an amazing company, publishing the cookbooks of some of Canada's most famous chefs and TV personalities including Michael Smith and one of our favourites, Anna Olson.

Beth, Lori & I are over the moon and have now been spending most of our free moments writing and testing recipes and doing research for "The Harrow Fair Cookbook." It will be be completed by December and available at booksellers across Canada next summer.

If you are a loyal reader of "The Good Egg", you will have noticed that I haven't been blogging very often lately, and now you know why. I will continue to put the occasional new recipe on the blog (and information about www.theharrowfaircookbook.com ), but I won't be resuming regular postings until January 2010. Thanks for your support and understanding!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Harrow Fair 2009

It was another exciting year at the Harrow Fair! Take a look at some of the results.

1st prize - apple pie and the special "Memories of Brian Heaton" category
There are several special categories that stipulate you must bake another prize-winning pie/cake in order to receive your prize money. The rules state that the transaction must be accomplished by September 30th. Living four hours away, I don't enter those categories, but somehow I wiggled my way into one anyway!

To win the best apple pie was a real feather in my cap, but strangely enough, I almost didn't make the pie. It was the last item on my list and it was already dinnertime on the Wednesday. I said to my Mom, "I'm not making that apple pie." She was more than happy to have the baking wrap up for the day so there was no argument from her. I started thinking of all the pie dough that I had made, the apples that I had carted down from Mount Albert, and the fact that I didn't have any other pies going into the fair. It was enough to get me back into the kitchen, peeling the apples and rolling out the dough.

The pie was in the oven and I went outside to check on the kids. I must have been gone awhile because when I came back in the house, the smell of apple pie was very strong and the filling was leaking onto a bottom pan. I pulled out the pie, thankful that I hadn't dilly-dallied any longer. Before the pie had a chance to cool, it was being squeezed into a large Ziploc bag and dropped off at the Agricultural building, where all of the judging happens the following day. Under those circumstances, I didn't hold out much hope for my pie, but it did me proud!

3rd prize - Apple Pie by our neighbour Evie
Evie makes beautiful apple pies and her daughter (my friend) Kristin really encouraged her to enter this year. She was thrilled to have won a ribbon for her pie, but it wasn't the only thing she won for. Evie entered several quilting categories and even pulled out some macramay necklaces that she had made back in the 60's.

1st prize - Date Squares

3rd prize - Date Squares by our neighbour Jessica

2nd prize - Maple Fudge

1st prize - Carrot Cake by our friend Janette
Janette was thrilled to win first for her carrot cake. She is a great baker and after tasting her peach pie on Sunday, I think she should enter that next year!

2nd prize - Carrot Cake by my Mom
I made a carrot cake here in Mount Albert before the fair and it flopped. When we arrived at my Mom's in Harrow, she said that she had a recipe from Mary Moore that was great every time. Before I knew it, she had it made and in the oven. It was entered under my name but Mom is the one who gets credit. Thanks Mom!

1st prize - Jam Thumbprint cookies by Ellen (in the 9 years and under category)
Ellen was tickled pink to win for her cookies. She helped with every step and I really tried to let her take the lead, once shown how to do things. Gavin entered chocolate chip cookies in the same age category but they didn't place. There was lots of competition in the junior categories, which was great to see.

1st and 2nd prize - Red raspberry jelly and black raspberry jelly by my Mom
Sharon is obviously queen of the jellies now!

1st prize - Crab apple jelly by my Mom
This is her 2nd year running for the crab apple jelly.

2nd prize - Dill pickles by my sister's mother-in-law
Roberta didn't think that her pickles would do well, but this just goes to show that you never can tell. We love her pickles!

2nd prize - Zucchini cake by our neighbour Frances
3rd prize - Chili sauce
Frances came into Harrow with me for the last drop off on Wednesday night. She had been working all day and at the last minute decided to enter a couple of things. This was Fran's first time entering the fair, and she has decided that next year she's taking most of the week off!

3rd prize - Barbeque sauce for pork in the "Men Only" category, made by my Dad
Last year my Dad entered his favourite bbq sauce but was disqualified for using an incorrect container. Learning his lesson, this year he canned his sauce in a jar and it won 3rd place! He was very happy, and I bet he will enter again next year.

And besides baking and canning, there were other prizes won....

3rd prize - Ellen's macaroni flower picture
1st prize - Gavin's essay in the 6-7 category (a $10 prize which he has mentally spent many times over by now!)
2nd prize - Gavin's pencil sketch
3rd prize - Gavin's "article made by a Beaver"
2nd prize - my photo entered under "Harrow Fair 2008" photo
Honourable mention - Alan's photo of the sails of our boat entered under "Transportation"

And there were some entries worth mentioning that didn't win ribbons but were still very good.

Salsa - Made by my friend Tara. Stiff competition in this category, but I hope she tries again next year. And Tara's Dad has decided to enter his fruit cake next year - let's hold him to it!
Purple Plum Upside-Down cake - Very good, but incorrectly measured...
Butter Tarts - My friend Kristin entered her butter tarts, which were very good. I entered two types of butter tarts as well. Nothing. It was a tough category, or at least that's what I'm telling myself!

There were several other things that I entered, but they aren't worth mentioning now. We had a great time at the fair and we can't wait till next year. Maybe we'll see you there!

*The Harrow Fair runs every Labour Day weekend from Thursday till Sunday.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Delicious Vegan Zucchini Muffins

I am definitely not a vegan. And it is highly unlikely that I will ever be a vegan. Still, I was led to try something new to accomodate my son, Gavin. We had him tested for food sensitivities in the spring and to our surpise, he is highly sensitive to egg whites, among other foods (most of them ones that I enjoy using in baking!).

This was, to my mind, a huge problem. I am a really good "morning mom". I love getting up early and surprising my family with warm muffins, scones, sticky buns - whatever strikes my fancy. With egg whites (and yolks, to a lesser degree) on the list of foods to avoid, my breakfast repetoire has been seriously depleted.

I started searching the local library database for healthy baking books and I stumbled across a book called Babycakes by Erin McKenna. The book is described as, "Vegan, gluten-free, and (mostly) sugar-free recipes from New York's most talked-about bakery". I was intrigued and requested the book right away.

I was totally blown away by the book. The recipes looked really good and they were definitely well tested, but would they work in my kitchen? I started gathering the variety of ingredients needed, which was more expensive than I anticipated, but not difficult to find at my local, natural foods store. Agave nectar for sweetness, coconut oil for the fat, and whole spelt flour to take the place of my standard all-purpose. I had the rest of the ingredients needed and I went to work making these zucchini muffins.

The muffins were a revelation. Everyone enjoyed them, even Alan, who pretends not to be picky, but actually is. Although the kids were slightly concerned about the green flecks from the zucchini, they ate them up, too. I really liked the texture of the muffins and it was amazing to me that they could contain no eggs, flour, or sugar and still taste so good. The proof that these were winners was later that night. There were three muffins left covered on the counter, and upon seeing them, Alan and I both helped ourselves to a late-night snack (something I normally try to avoid). That left one, and when I came downstairs in the morning, it was gone.

Vegan Zucchini Muffins

2 cups whole spelt flour
1/2 cup flax seeds, ground
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1/2 cup coconut oil
3/4 cup agave nectar
3/4 cup rice milk
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups shredded zucchini

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a standard 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, ground flax, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ginger. Add the oil, agave nectar, rice milk, and vanilla to the dry ingredients and fold in the zucchini just until evenly distributed throughout the mixture.
3. Fill the muffin cups evenly. Bake the muffins on the centre rack for 22 minutes, rotating the pan 180 degrees after 15 minutes. The finished muffins will bounce back slightly when pressed, and a toothpick inserted in the centre will come out clean.
4. Let the muffins stand in the tin for 15 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and cool completely. Store the muffins in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

*Coconut oil is solid at room temperature. The book didn't say anything about how to use the oil in the recipe, so I gently heated the oil in a small pan just until it liquified.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Creamy Iced Coffee

While in Harrow this summer, we found ourselves hiding from the rain in the local library. I eventually wandered back to the cookbook section, my curiousity kicking in. I was delighted to see a few books that were new to me, and I quickly added those to the pile for checking out.

The one book that I absolutely loved reading was called Eating Royally by Darren McGrady. Former chef of Princess Diana, Mr. McGrady spent many years working for the royal family. Not only were the stories fascinating, the recipes all sounded delicious, as you can imagine they would be for Queen Elizabeth and her family.

This drink reminds me of a "Starbucks frapuccino" without the blended ice - not something you should have every day, but a real treat once in a while. Apparently, this iced coffee is served at summer garden parties. I used the whipping cream that the recipe called for, however using a lighter cream won't make this any less good. I added all of the simple syrup to the coffee mixture without thinking; the iced coffee became just a little too sweet for my taste. I would suggest adding the simple syrup to your taste.

Creamy Iced Coffee

1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups water
5 cups strong coffee, chilled
1 1/4 cups cream (whipping cream or something lighter)

1. In a small pot, combine the sugar and water. Bring to a boil and reduce the mixture by half. Chill before using.
2. In a large bowl, combine the coffee, cream and the sugar syrup. Pour the mixure over ice and enjoy.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

In the Garden: Tomato Plants

This summer, I have tried my hand at vegetable gardening. Before digging up our yard, I decided I would give container gardening a chance. I have 15 large tomato plants, most of them in pots, 4 or 5 cherry tomato plants, several types of lettuce, sweet peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, celeriac, eggplant and lots of herbs.

Ever since my canning escapades last year (see The Art of Canning, Sept. '08), I have been dreaming about growing my own tomatoes for canning. And the tomato I have had in mind is the San Marzano. An Italian tomato with a wonderful reputation for canning; how could I resist? I also have two heirloom varieties - brandywine and oxheart. And the rest are yellow pear tomatoes, I think.

Back in the early spring, my sister brought me several little tomato seedlings, half of them San Marzanos. I nursed those little guys along for what seemed like ages. Around the time that rhubarb came into season, I noticed that my tomato plants were not only incredibly long and skinny (some over 10 inches long with hardly any leaves), but they were also changing from green to a weird gray-green colour. I knew I had to act fast. I threw the baking sheet full of plants into the back of the car and headed over to see Steve at Cooper's farm for some advice. He told me to that they would have to be fertilized as soon as possible and I left with instructions on what I needed to do.

Instead of heading to a garden centre, I drove over to Farmer Jones' place. I told him I had a 911 emergency with my tomato plants. He looked them over and then we went out to his shed, where he mixed up some fertilizer in a watering can. He poured the mixture over my plants and told me that most of them would probably live. He assessed that the plants weren't getting enough sun and that I should be putting them outside in the sun during the day. But not in the wind. Quickest way to kill a young tomato plant is to let the wind burn it. Farmer Jones was generous with his advice, and for his trouble, I baked a rhubarb custard pie for him and his wife.

While the tomato plants got back on their feet, I carted those things around like they were a third child, moving them around our deck several times a day depending on the sun and the wind. Finally, it was time to get them planted. I mixed potting soil with manure and most of them went into the several pots that were purchased especially for them. I should mention that my sister was here again, prodding me to get the darn things into soil before I really lost them for good. I was nervous, unsure if the spindly little plants would really be able to survive without coming into the house at night.

Those little plants have now turned into some pretty big plants, most sporting some degree of green fruit. As it turns out, our deck isn't that great for catching the strong afternoon sun and my plants have suffered somewhat. My neighbour Nancy, the gardener, suggested that I move the pots to the west side of the house where the sun beats hardest. I am still dragging the plants around; for watering (I really need to buy a second hose to reach them), for cutting the grass underneath them, and for research (how will they do against this fence?). Nancy has even taken one of the plants over to her house to see how it does in a certain area of her garden. When you have 15 plants, and they say that one plant will feed a family of 4, you can afford to share the wealth! (Our raspberry bushes are behind the pots, not producing much fruit, but taking up more room every year...)

I was in Niagara at my sister's house last week. She has tomatoes in her garden, some in the ground and some in pots, all of them enjoying the same prime location. We have come to the conclusion that the plants in the ground are doing much better because of two things. The pots don't hold moisture very well and it is easy for the plants to dry out. We also believe that there are a limited amount of nutrients in the pots and the tomatoes in the ground are able to spread their roots farther and access all of those good things in the soil.

Then there is the question of organic. Of course, if I'm going to be growing fruit and veggies for my family I want them to be organic. But is it really organic if I have to feed those plants with Miracle Gro tomato food? Probably not. Farmer Jones never uses any chemicals on his plants (he doesn't use the fertilizer that he mixed up for me). What's his secret? Chicken manure. Hard to come by, unless you have a flock of chickens. I might try composting to see if I can produce some ultra rich soil for next year. Improving the quality of the soil is probably one of the most worthwhile things that I can do. For now, I'm going to keep gardening, asking questions, and feeling good that next year will be even better... and there is nothing like a clean slate.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Cheesy Stuffed Zucchini

I have two zucchini plants this year. Neither of them are doing anything remarkable (they need more sun) but that might be a blessing. The farm that we receive our veggie share boxes from has a bumper crop this year and every week there are at least a couple, sometimes more, of these most versatile of vegetables in our boxes.

I came across a version of this recipe on my friend Tamara's blog and went to work. Her recipe called for chopped tomatoes but I substituted those for the cooked potatoes, making this a vegetable and starch all in one package. I also added the Parmesan cheese, because I believe that there are few foods that don't benefit from a sprinkling of genuine Parm. The only thing that comes to mind is ice cream...

Stuffed Zucchini

2 medium zucchini, green or yellow
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 c. onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 c. cooked potato, chopped small
1/4 c. bread crumbs
1 1/2 T. capers, drained and chopped fine
1/2 c. fresh basil, chopped fine
1 c. goat cheese, crumbled
Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the zucchini in half, lengthwise, and trim both ends. With a teaspoon or grapefruit spoon scoop out the centre of each half and reserve the zucchini flesh for later.
2. Put the zucchini shells in a baking pan and add a 1/2 cup of water. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 15 minutes, until the shells are softened but still firm. Remove from the oven and reduce the heat of the oven to 350. Drain the water from the baking dish.
3. Heat the oil a large skillet and the onion. Saute for about 5 minutes. Chop the reserved zucchini flesh and add to the pan along with the garlic and the potatoes. Cook for another 5-10 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the rest of the ingredients. Mix well and season with salt and pepper.
4. Fill the zucchini halves with the stuffing. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and bake for another 15 minutes or so, until the cheese is melted and starting to turn golden.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Red Grits

What a title to make a comeback with! What can I say... it has been a very busy summer for me and I hope that it will start to slow down enough that I can get back to blogging, even just a sliver of the recipes and ideas that I've been thinking of during my unofficial break.

Most recently on the agenda, my family and I went to East Hampton to visit my cousin, her husband, and their beautiful baby boy. In case you're wondering, the Hamptons are located at the end of Long Island, New York. A short drive from NYC, they are famous for being the summertime hangout of many American big-wigs.

There was one famous resident of East Hampton that I was dearly hoping to run into. The Barefoot Contessa herself, Ina Garten. After my cousin showed me where her house was, I did attempt several drive-bys, with no luck. The best we did was see her car in the driveway. Still, I was thrilled !

Next on my list was a little more realistic. A visit to the Loaves & Fishes food shop in Sagaponack. The owner-operator, Anna Pump, has been friends with Ina for 30 years. As you know if you have read through any of the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks, Anna Pump gets at least a couple of mentions in every book and is credited with being a huge inspiration for Ina.

When we entered the charming little store, there was Anna behind the counter, working away. Not only did she serve us, she also signed a number of her own cookbooks for me (she has three). She was friendly and obviously very hands-on in her store. She also runs the Bridgehampton Inn and the Loaves and Fishes Cookshop, a beautiful kitchenware store. It was a delight to meet her.

This afternoon the kids and I went raspberry picking. They have finally hit ages that are appropriate for berry picking. No more rotton or underripe berries in their baskets. They were a great help and I'm actually looking forward to taking them back again, unlike any other berry picking adventure I have ever taken them on, up to this point!

This recipe comes from Anna Pump's book Country Weekend Entertaining. This dessert doesn't actually contain anything resembling grits, so don't let the name put you off. I added the cinnamon that she called for but I would have preferred to have had it without (the new Vietnamese cinnamon that I have been using is quite strong). For the berries, I used 2 cups of red currants, 2 cups of black raspberries, and additional 4 cups were the fresh raspberries that the kids and I picked. Serve with lots of whipped cream and you have a simple very-berry dessert that is perfect for almost any summer gathering.

Red Grits

2 cups red currants or raspberries
2 cups black currants or black raspberries
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup + 1/4 cup water
1/4 cup potato starch or cornstarch
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 cups additional berries of your choice
1-2 cups whipping cream
1-2 tablespoons fruit sugar (extra-fine sugar)

1. In a large saucepan, combine the currants or berries, sugar, and 3/4 cup of water. Stirring often, bring the mixture to a boil. Cook for 2 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the remaining 1/4 of water and the potato starch. Pour it into the berry mixture while it is still over the heat. Stir constantly until the mixture thickens and becomes clear. Fold in the lemon juice, cinnamon (if using), and the 4 cups of additional berries. Remove from the heat and chill.
3. Just before you're ready to serve dessert, beat the whipping cream and the fruit sugar to soft peaks. Serve the red grits with a dollop of whipped cream.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Spinach Appetizers

This recipe, originally from my mom, has been around for many years. It is really delicious, and yet it has sat in my recipe box, unused, for a long time. The truth is, with so many great cookbooks at my fingertips, I don't often reach for my recipe box and the treasured recipes that it holds.

I was reminded of these spinach appetizers by my friend, Kathy. I'm helping her with an open-house party this weekend, taking food, as well as being there in the roll of caterer/friend. She asked if I could make the spinach appetizers, which used to be my old standard party recipe. In fact, she asked if I could make two pans.

There is nothing fancy about this, and I admit that with almost a pound and a half of cheese, anything is bound to taste good. But it's more than that. It's the grated apple, the chopped onion, and the spinach, coming together with the old cheddar and parmesan. It's the savoury goodness, that truth be told, is delicious any time of the year.

*The day after... The party was a success, and this spinach appetizer was happily consumed, especially by one guest. There was a woman who was thoroughly taken with the appetizer and was thrilled that she could eat them, even with her dietary restrictions (no wheat). I had to give her the truth, that the dish does have flour in it. She looked disappointed, but resigned. The news, however, didn't stop her from helping herself to another piece as she sauntered by the buffet table some time later! Apparently, they were worth the consequences.

Spinach Appetizers
10 oz. pkg frozen chopped spinach, liquid squeezed out
4 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature or softer
3 eggs, beaten
1 c. milk
1/2 c. chopped onion
1 c. all purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
1 lb. aged cheddar, grated
4 oz. mozzarella, grated
2 oz. Parmesan, grated
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, pared and grated
1/2 t. fine sea salt
1/4 t. fresh ground pepper

1. Butter a 9x13 pan and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Beat the eggs with soft butter. Add the flour, baking powder, salt, pepper, and milk. Stir in the cheeses, onion, apple and spinach. Mix well.
3. Spread the spinach mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for about 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and let sit for at least 10 minutes before cutting. Cut into small squares and serve warm.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Rose Petal Pound Cake

Last summer, I was at my sister's house and she offered me a slice of rose petal angel food cake. A gift from a friend, the cake was everything an angel food cake should be, just more interesting. The cake had a very subtle rose smell and there were bits of rose petals throughout. I was enamoured of this cake, and it was the reason I bought 5 rose bushes at the end of the summer.

This summer, only one of those rose bushes has made it through the winter, but what a glorious specimen it is. Known as "Salet", this rose originally came from France and is very fragrant, but in a nice way. The rose bush is already on its second round of blossoms, but let me assure you that the first round didn't go to waste.

My neighbour Nancy is a first-rate gardener and has encouraged my green thumb, inviting me to horticultural society meetings and giving me bits of advice. Last week, when my special little rose bush was just starting to flower, Nancy and I stood out on the sidewalk admiring the beautiful pink buds and petals. She was looking at the rose bush with a gardener's eye, while I was looking at the same plant with something totally different in mind. "Do you think the petals will be OK to...." The look of shock on her face made me double over with laughter. She guessed what was on my mind.

I made two rose petal cakes this week. The first was an angel food cake that really didn't turn out all that well. Angel food cakes seem to be tricky and, unless you are making them all the time and you have mastered the knack, there is plenty of room for errors. The second cake was my new favourite. I have made one plain pound cake and one rose petal pound cake. To achieve excellent results with a pound cake, there are a number of rules you should be adhering to. I hope I have included most of them in the directions for the recipe. I also added a little rose water to give the cake a little more fragrance - not too much, please.

I used a 2-piece tube pan and during the first 20 minutes of baking time, the batter leaked out onto the tray beneath (I at least learned something from the first time I made the cake and placed a pan underneath). I want to get a 1-piece tube pan, light in colour, that will suit this cake perfectly. Something to keep in mind is the greasing and flouring of the pan. Do not rush and miss any spots. You will see them when the cake comes out of the pan (or doesn't come out of the pan in parts).

Enjoying your roses, either in the garden or in a cake, is one of summer's special pleasures. I hope to enjoy my roses, in and out of the kitchen, for many weeks to come!

Rose Petal Pound Cake

12 oz. unsalted butter, at room temperature + more for greasing the pan
3 cups all purpose flour + more for dusting the pan
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup milk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon rose water
3 cups granulated sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup or more of untreated rose petals, gently washed and patted dry, roughly chopped

1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Generously grease a light-coloured 10" tube pan with butter. Add couple tablespoons of flour to the pan and shake the flour until it coats the pan evenly. Tap out any excess flour and set aside. The inside of the pan should be smoothly and evenly coated with butter and flour. Any gaps or clumps that you have will affect the end result of your cake.

2. Sift the 3 cups of flour, with the baking soda and salt, 3 times. Combine the milk, vanilla, and rose water.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter at medium-low speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the sugar, about a 1/4 cup at a time. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, and beat until satiny smooth, about 3 minutes.

4. Add one egg at a time to the butter mixture, beating for 15 seconds after each one. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour alternately with the milk, in three batches, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat just until the batter is smooth and silky. Gently fold the chopped rose petals into the batter.

5. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and firmly tap on a counter to allow the batter to settle evenly. Bake until light golden and a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 30 minutes. Invert cake onto a rack and let cool completely before slicing.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Good Egg and a lot of Chicken

Summer is almost here and today I picked up our first veggie box of the season. I had also requested 6 fresh-from-the-farm chickens to be picked up at the same time. After seeing how the chickens were being raised, I emailed the farm practically begging for a chance to buy 6 chickens when they were ready. The chicks spent their days in a movable coop, being moved to a new patch of grass everyday. I was very impressed.

Along with our full veggie share (you can also order a 1/2 share), I picked up 2 quarts of strawberries (our strawberry season is just starting), 2 green house cucumbers, 4 honey-garlic wild boar sausages and 4 sweet italian sausages. Lisa tallied up the total for me - $234.00. Oh my.

Now let's step back for a minute. I had already paid for our veggie share, so that wasn't included in that number. "How much are the chickens per pound?" I casually asked Lisa. "$4 a pound." The price didn't seem unreasonable, but I couldn't wrap my head around the total. Lisa asked one of the farm hands to take the chickens out to my car, so I didn't realize the size of the birds.

When I got home, I unpacked the car, taking several trips to get all of the chicken out of the trunk. I started thinking, "Wow, this is a lot of chicken." I had asked Lisa for 3 whole chickens and 3 chickens that were already cut in half. Each bag of chicken had a sticker with the weight and price. A 9-pound chicken is very big. Now imagine 6 of them - sitting on your counter, waiting to be cut up.

If I wasn't such a procrastinator, my knives would be nice and sharp all the time. Do not try to cut up chickens with a dull knife. It is very easy to cut yourself, and it's miraculous that I didn't. The chickens wouldn't fit into the fridge so they had to be dealt with right away. I sharpened my favourite knife the best I could, and proceeded to carve those monsters up into pieces. The picture above was at about the halfway point. It was chicken madness.

I was up to my eyebrows in chicken when Ellen came over with the ear checker from her doctor's kit. "I need to check your ears," she told me seriously. "Now??" I asked. She nodded and I bent over, chicken covered hands (and arms) held out behind me, and had my ears checked. The good news is, they were fine. Unfortunately, my hands are still slightly raw and an old callus from my restaurant days has resurfaced. Cutting up one chicken is not a big deal - cutting up 6 chickens, that look a lot like little turkeys, is another matter all together.

Eventually, I had all of the chicken seperated into bags, labelled, and ready for the freezer. My freezer has never, ever been this full. I had to take a cake out of the freezer to make some room. One of my neighbours (with 4 kids) happily took it home. I might have considered keeping it for ourselves, but while I was playing butcher, I had a strawberry-rhubarb crisp in the oven, and even I had to draw the line somewhere.

If you are thinking of trying Cooper's chickens or local chickens from your neck of the woods, it may be wise to ask a few questions.
  • Can you get the chickens completely cut up? If you can, I would recommend asking them to include the backs and wing tips for making chicken stock. I have just finished straining 8 litres of stock for soups and risottos. For my chicken stock recipe, go to November 15, 2007.
  • What is the average size of each chicken? If the chickens are smaller, you may wish to have a couple of whole chickens for doing roast chicken. I left one of mine whole, for a special occasion.
  • How much are the chickens per pound? They will cost more than the grocery store chickens, but they are sooooo worth it.
  • Make sure you have the space in your freezer or fridge to store the chicken.
  • Check out Coopers Goat & Veggie farm at www.coopersfarm.ca

Friday, June 12, 2009

Pickled Asparagus

Here's the deal - I haven't opened any jars of pickled asparagus yet because they need at least another couple of weeks to pickle. And since this is the first batch of pickled asparagus that I have ever made, I pass this recipe on to you to try at your own risk.

Lorne happened to be out getting his morning paper last week while I was gardening and he pulled in to have another chat. I asked him why the recipe hadn't mentioned anything about mustard seeds, when I could see lots of mustard seeds in the jar he had given me. He seemed surprised that the mustard seeds had been left out of the recipe, but didn't recommend an amount for the seeds. As I mentioned in the initial blog entry, his pickled asparagus had a little hot pepper, black and pink peppercorns, and who knows what else. Obviously, he uses his recipe as a base and has added ingredients over the years.

I am also thinking that to make really good dills (asparagus or otherwise), using the hearty dill weed (which you usually see in the middle of the summer) would give you the best dill flavour. Instead, I used the dill that is available year-round from the grocery store, although I'm betting that the dried dill seed would have been a better choice for flavour.

There has been some debate with my friend, Tamara, on the subject of needing to use a pressure canner to ensure that there will be no botulism, or if the boiling water bath will do. If you were canning vegetables without adding the vinegary brine and turning them into pickles, I would say you should be using a pressure canner. However, the brine is preserving the vegetables, along with keeping any bacteria at bay. At least, that is my hope. Botulism sounds almost as nasty as it probably is.

It is important to pack the asparagus into the jars very tightly. According to my sister, you have to be pretty aggressive when packing the asparagus. I didn't realize that mine weren't packed tight enough and my jars have asparagus that have floated to the top of the jar, leaving the tips out of the dilly brine. This is undesirable in anything pickled, and should be avoided. I also decided I would try a few different ways of packing the jars. Some have the tips pointed up, some have the tips pointed down, and there is even one jar with little pieces that I had leftover from trimming the asparagus to fit the jars. Since then, I have read that tips down are the way to go.

If you end up pickling asparagus, I'd love to hear how yours turns out. Good luck!

Preparing your jars for canning:Either hand wash the jars or run through a hot cycle of your dishwasher. Place the clean jars on a baking sheet and set in a 250 degree oven. Place the snap lids and rings in a saucepan full of water and bring to boil. Keep the lids and rings in the hot water until you are ready to seal the jars. While you are getting this prep work done, drag out your big canning pot, fill it two-thirds full of water and bring to a rolling boil. If you don't have a big canning pot, they aren't very expensive and they are very necessary if you are canning veggies and fruit (I bought mine at the local Home Hardware). FYI - I keep old rings to use again but you should never try to use the snap lids twice. Once a jar has been opened, it must be refrigerated; and once the jar is finished, the snap lid can be disposed of.

Pickled Asparagus
Makes about 7 1-quart jars.

6 lbs. very fresh asparagus, washed and trimmed
8 c. filtered water
2 c. white vinegar (if not using filtered water, increase the vinegar by a 1/2 cup)
1/2 c. granulated sugar
3 T. pickling salt
1/4 t. alum
1 clove garlic per jar
1 sprig fresh dill or 1 T. dill seed per jar
Optional: 3 peppercorns per jar

1. Place the water, vinegar, sugar, salt, and alum into a large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Meanwhile, wash and trim the asparagus to fit into the jars.
2. Remove the jars from the warm oven. Place one clove of garlic, a sprig of fresh dill, and 3 peppercorns (if using) in each jar. Pack the asparagus tightly into the jars. Carefully pour the boiling brine into the packed jars, being sure to cover the ends of the asparagus that are sticking up, but leaving about a 1/4-inch of space from the top of the jar.
3. Wipe the rims of the jars and place a snap lid on each one, followed by a ring. Tighten the rings well. Place each jar into the rapidly boiling water in the canning pot. Set the timer for 10 minutes. You are basically boiling the jars of asparagus during this process, killing the bacteria that might be inside the jar.
4. When the 10 minutes is up, carefully remove the jars from the boiling water and set on a flat surface to cool. As the jars cool down, you should here the snap lids "snap". This tells you that they have sealed and they are fine to store at room temperature (when those lids pop, your heart will probably start to do a little happy dance!). Don't eat the asparagus for at least 3 weeks to allow the flavours to penetrate the asparagus.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Asparagus Man

I've made a new friend. His name is Lorne and he is THE expert on pickled asparagus. Let me tell you the story.

I was picking up asparagus last week and happened to catch one of the owners of the farm at home. We started talking about food and I mentioned that I was interested in pickling asparagus. She claimed to know the perfect person for me to talk to - Lorne. Apparently, he has been pickling asparagus for years. She told me to drop in on him, that he would probably be very happy to share his recipe and tips.

Ellen and I dropped by his house one morning. I pulled into the driveway, surveying things from the safety of the car. There were no cars in the driveway, but Lorne was sitting outside in a lawn chair. I waved and he threw his hands up in the air with a look of sheer delight, as if to say, "Finally you're here! It's so good to see you!"

Describing Lorne as tickled pink would be an understatement. Within a minute of our introductions, I found myself caught in a big bear hug from a man that, besides being a pickled asparagus maker of some repute, I didn't know from Adam.

He ushered me into the house, where he keeps his recipe for pickled asparagus under the phone book in the kitchen. The recipe wasn't where he thought it would be; his wife had been doing some cleaning and must have moved it, he explained. He grabbed a jar of the asparagus and two forks and we headed back outside. I tasted a couple of the asparagus spears, and they were good. Besides the main ingredient, there were cloves of garlic, pink and black peppercorns, and a red chilli pepper. When I begged off having more, he told me that I could take the jar home.

Throughout this time, Lorne kept shaking his head and saying that he just couldn't believe how great it was that I had stopped in. In no time, I found out many details of his life, the pickled asparagus bridging the gap between us. At almost 80 years of age, there was a lot of history to catch up on. Our visit probably lasted less than 15 minutes, but you would be shocked if I told you what I discovered about my new friend during that brief meeting.

While I was there, I had many thoughts running through my mind. "Are you crazy? Don't go into the house with him. What if he's a creep?" And into the house I go. "I hope this asparagus is ok to eat. I wonder when his wife is coming back? Oh, the lengths I'll go to for a recipe..." And out for a tour of his wife's garden I go. What I realized after my visit was that he was not a creep, nor was he senile. I think he was a lonely person who was thrilled to have a young person (ok, I'll say it - a woman) stop in for a visit, express interest in one of his hobbies, and give him the time of day. It amazes me time and time again how food brings the unlikeliest of people together, no matter their ages or their backgrounds.

Around dinner time that evening, I was busy in the kitchen when I heard Ellen call out, "Mom! The asparagus man is here!" Sure enough, Lorne had photocopied the recipe for the pickled asparagus and was dropping it off. Yes, I must have mentioned where I lived. No, I don't mind if "The Asparagus Man" drops by once in a while for a chat. I have followed his recipe to pickle some asparagus since then, and I think he is looking forward to critiquing them for me. If I'm lucky, maybe I'll learn something.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Creamiest Hummus

Making hummus with dried chickpeas has been on my mental list of "recipes to try" for awhile now. I (finally) remembered to soak the dried chickpeas in water overnight.

There are a number of sources claiming that soaking and cooking dried chickpeas makes for the best hummus. The biggest problem with using this method is remembering to do the soaking - so much easier to open a can of chickpeas. And then there is the cooking of the chickpeas for an hour before you can even start the recipe in earnest. Do not let these factors deter you from making this. You won't be able to whip up a bowl of hummus at the drop of a hat, but you will have a seriously good hummus for those times that you do plan ahead, possibly wishing to impress company (or just yourself).

I used to make hummus quite often, until the kids started turning their noses up at it. They seemed to prefer the supermarket variety, and even that has fallen from favour recently. Hummus is the perfect food for kids. Not only is the hummus itself good for them, but it encourages lots of dipping with fun things like carrot and celery sticks, colourful sweet peppers, rice crackers and pita bread triangles.

It is official - this hummus was really creamy and really smooth. Much smoother than any hummus I have made before. Prior to this, I was always adding more oil and lemon juice to try and get it to the desired consistency, without much success. I can only assume that soaking the chickpeas made all the difference. Or how the ingredients are added the ingredients to the food processor helps, too. Whatever the reason, this hummus was delicious.

The Creamiest Hummus

1/2 cup dried chickpeas
1/8 t. baking soda
3 T. fresh lemon juice
1/4 c. cooking water from the chickpeas
4 T. tahini, stirred well
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1 small clove garlic, minced (optional)
1/2 t. sea salt
1/4 t. ground cumin
Pinch cayenne
1 T. fresh parsley or cilantro, minced

1. Place the dry chickpeas in a large bowl. Cover with 1 litre of water, and soak overnight in the fridge. Drain. In a large saucepan, bring the soaked chickpeas, baking soda, and a fresh litre of water to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer gently for about 1 hour. Reserve 1/4 cup of cooking water from the chickpeas before draining. Set aside.
2. In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice and the reserved cooking water. In another small bowl, thoroughly combine the tahini and 2 T. of olive oil.
3. Place the chickpeas in the work bowl of a food processor. Remove 1-2 tablespoons of chickpeas for garnish; set aside. Add the garlic, salt, cumin, and cayenne to the food processor and process until the almost fully ground, scraping down the bowl as you go.
4. With the machine running, add the lemon juice mixture in a steady stream through the feed tube and continue to process for about 1 minute, until the mixture is really smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary. With the machine running, add the oil/tahini mixture in a steady stream through the feed tube. Process until the hummus is very smooth and creamy.
5. Transfer the hummus to a serving bowl, sprinkle with the reserved chickpeas and parsley. Drizzle with a little extra olive oil and serve.

*For my hummus yesterday, I omitted the garlic (only because I was out of fresh garlic), and the flavour was still great.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Rice Noodle Salad with Barbecued Chicken & Shrimp

Who wouldn't love to come home to this? After being away this week, Alan certainly appreciated dinner. He was almost as happy as the Barefoot Contessa's husband, Jeffrey, on a Friday night.

This recipe has a number of different steps, none of them difficult. The marinade is great for anything you might be grilling. You don't have to add the chicken and the shrimp to the salad, if you don't want. Just skip the marinade and barbecuing instructions and carry on with the rest of the recipe.

Rice Noodle Salad with Barbecued Chicken & Shrimp

Marinade for the chicken and/or shrimp:
1 clove garlic, minced
2 T. coarsely grated ginger
1/4 c. cilantro, chopped fine
Juice of 2 limes
2 T. tamari (or soy sauce)
1/2 t. kosher salt
1/4 t. hot red pepper flakes
1/2 c. olive oil or sunflower oil

1. Mix all of the ingredients together. Marinate a half pound of shrimp (shelled) and 4 boneless chicken thighs or 2 boneless chicken breasts. Leave to marinate for at least half an hour. While you are waiting, start the barbecue and work on the rest of the salad.

For the salad:
1/2 lb. thin rice noodles, cooked according to directions on the package
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. fish sauce (aka: Nam Pla)
1/4 c. rice wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 green onions, sliced into 1/2-inch lengths
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 t. hot red pepper flakes
1/4 c. fresh lime juice
1 c. snow peas, sliced thin
1/2 c. salted peanuts

1. In a large bowl, pour boiling water over the noodles. Let sit from 5 to 10 minutes, or until the noodles are soft enough to eat. Drain well and drizzle with sesame oil to keep them from sticking together. Scramble the eggs in a small skillet, just until cooked. Chop and set aside.
2. Mix the sugar, fish sauce and rice wine vinegar together. Set aside. At this time, you may want to start barbecuing the chicken and shrimp. For the shrimp, cook them on each side for a minute or two and then take them off the grill right away. Cook the chicken, skin side down, and let it get nice and crispy. Continue cooking the chicken until it is cooked through, then remove it to a cutting board and slice thin, skin and all.
3. In a large pot, heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil over medium heat and saute the garlic and half of the green onions for a few minutes. Add the rice noodles and the fish sauce mixture. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the liquid is absorbed. Add the scrambled eggs, shrimp, chicken, the rest of the green onions, 1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, snow peas and lime juice. Mix well.
4. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts and cilantro. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 3 or 4, depending on how hungry you are.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Cream of Asparagus on Toast

This recipe may seem old-fashioned to you, but we still love it in our family. I remember asking my Grandma if she could show me exactly how she made it. Of course there wasn't a recipe, but it is easy enough to make. She showed me how she would bend the asparagus, starting near the bottom, until she found the sweet spot where the stalk would naturally give way and snap in two. These days, I prefer to trim the bottoms and then peel them. However, if I am flush with asparagus, I snap the ends like my Grandma did.

You will want to make sure that your asparagus is washed well. The cooking water is used as part of the dish, so you don't want it to be sandy. Cover the asparagus with just enough water. If you find that the cooked asparagus is too soupy, drain some of the water off before adding the milk mixture. Take your time and really taste the asparagus for seasoning. Too little salt and you might as well not bother eating it. It isn't much to look at, so it better taste good.

I spent one long day picking asparagus for my Uncle Tom, who has a farm just east of Harrow. The pickers sat on the back of an apparatus that was pulled behind a tractor. Our bottoms were very low to the ground, while our feet were elevated to keep them out of the way. Each picker had a sharp knife and as we moved along the rows, we cut the asparagus near the base. It helped if you were quick and coordinated. Uncle Tom never did ask me back, making me wonder if I lacked one or both of those qualities...

Cream of Asparagus on Toast

1 lb. fresh asparagus, washed, trimmed, and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 T. flour
3 T. milk
1/4 t. sea salt
1/4 t. fresh ground black pepper
4 slices good-quality bread

1. Place the asparagus in a medium saucepan. Add water until just covered. Add a little salt and bring to a boil. Cook over medium heat for about 30 minutes. Mash with a wooden spoon or a potato masher.
2. Whisk together the milk and flour. Add to the asparagus and cook for another 3 minutes over medium-low heat. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Toast the bread and butter the slices, if you wish. Spoon the asparagus over the toast and serve immediately.

Serves 2 or 3.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Rhubarb Tapioca Pudding

My mom used to make a pot of stewed rhubarb for us every spring. It didn't matter if it was served warm or cold. We ate it on its own or over ice cream, any which way we could think of. Then one year, she started adding tapioca to the stewed rhubarb. In my opinion, it made it even better - a little thicker, a little more pudding-like.

My neighbour, Nancy, loaned me a cookbook a while ago. It is a 1936 edition of The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook, by Fannie Farmer. The book is fragile, to say the least, but with kid gloves I have been looking through the pages and finding some great old recipes. Rhubarb tapioca pudding was one of them.

I immediately remembered my mom's stewed rhubarb with tapioca and I got straight to work. This might be for die-hard rhubarb lovers only, but when I mentioned it to one of my friends, her husband's eyes lit up and she said, "That would be something that he would love."

I can't imagine that him and I are the only ones who would enjoy this pudding, even if I am the only one who would eat it at my house...

Rhubarb Tapioca Pudding

1/3 c. quick-cooking tapioca
1 1/4 c. boiling water
1/2 t. salt
3 c. fresh rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/3 c. granulated sugar

1. In a heavy bottomed sauce pan, mix the tapioca with the boiling water and salt. Cook over medium heat until the tapioca has absorbed the water.
2. Place the peeled rhubarb in a bowl and sprinkle with the sugar. When the tapioca has absorbed all of the water, add the rhubarb to the pan. Cook until the tapioca is transparent and the rhubarb is soft. Serve with extra sugar, if desired, and thin cream.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Rhubarb Cheese Torte

This is not your average cheesecake. In a nutshell, a walnutty crust, topped with rhubarb that has been stewed in Grand Marnier, topped with a ricotta-cream cheese mixture, topped by more crumbled crust.

I have been wanting to make this dessert for years, but for some reason or another have never gotten around to it. Our super-brunch on Sunday was a perfect reason to make it, and it was adored by everyone - including the kids. So much so, that I forgot to take a picture of it, before it was, literally, almost gone.

This recipe is from Sarah Leah Chase's Cold Weather Cooking cookbook. This is a book that I bought when I was just out of high school and I have made so many great recipes from it. She takes you through the fall, Thanksgiving, Christmas, the long winter, and into spring. There are several rhubarb recipes in the spring section, and I have tried most of them. If you come across this book in a second hand store or in a bargain bin somewhere, snap it up. You can never have too many great cookbooks.

Rhubarb Cheese Torte

4 c. fresh rhubarb, diced
1 2/3 c. granulated sugar
1/3 c. Grand Marnier, Triple Sec or other orange liqueur
1 c. all purpose flour
1/2 c. walnut pieces
2 t. ground cinnamon
1 T. orange zest
1/2 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into small pieces
15 oz. ricotta cheese
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
2 t. vanilla extract
3 eggs

1. Place the rhubarb, 2/3 c. of the sugar, and the liqueur in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, then reduce the heat and simmer until the rhubarb is cooked and thick, about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.
2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan. Cut a circle of parchment paper and fit it into the bottom of the pan. Butter the parchment paper.
3. For the crust, process the flour, 1/2 cup of the remaining sugar, the walnuts, cinnamon, and orange zest together in a food processor until the nuts are finely chopped. Add the butter and process just until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Press half the crumb mixture over the bottom of the prepared pan. Reserve the remaining crumbs for the top.
4. In an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the ricotta, cream cheese, and the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar until very smooth. Beat in the vanilla and then the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Pour the rhubarb over the crumb layer in the pan. Top with the cheese layer, using a spatula to smooth and distribute it evenly.
5. Bake the cheesecake 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the top with the remaining crumb mixture and bake until the top is golden brown, about 20 minutes more.
6. Let the cheesecake cool completely on a rack, then refrigerate for a couple of hours before serving. Remove the side of the pan and cut into generous wedges.
Makes 8-10 servings.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Rhubarb Oatmeal Muffins

Yesterday, I stopped by Farmer Jones' place to see what he has on offer right now. If this is the first time you have heard of Farmer Jones, check out the Rhubarb Custard Pie (June '08).

He has plenty of rhubarb ready and we went to his back garden where he pulled a big armful for me. He also gave me a clump of chives, which I have added to the two chive plants I got from him last year. You can never have too many chives. We also picked up a little rhubarb plant to add to the garden. All this, and a large jar of honey (from his hives out back) and three dozen eggs (from his brood of chickens), and I walked away a very happy customer!

There is something so satisfying about doing grocery shopping this way. Walking around his little pond, we were mesmerized by the plump white goose with the bright orange bill, and a pair of ducks, new to the farm. I wish I had taken my camera. The bees were getting busy in the hives, and Mr. Cogburn, the rooster, looked happy sitting in the sunshine.

Farmer Jones came from a family of market gardeners, farming 5 acres of vegetables. He is great for giving little tips and tricks about gardening. For instance, I have been harvesting my own rhubarb patch with a paring knife. He reminded me that if you pull the stalks from the base, the rhubarb will continue to sprout new growth. I think I did know that, but I had forgotten in my excitement at having my own rhubarb patch. We also discussed natural fertilizers, the only kind he uses. These can be sort of mucky, as you would expect, coming from the chicken coop and the rabbit's quarters, but is very effective.

I feel very lucky to have many different food sources practically at my back door. When I told my sister about our trip to Farmer Jones', she reminded me that when you live in the country, as we pretty much do, you have a better chance at finding the local producers as you drive around the countryside doing other things. For city dwellers, farmer's markets are the next best thing.

I have made these muffins several times over the years. They are simple and good for you. I also like having a few muffin recipes on hand that use oil instead of butter. If I wake up in the morning with muffins on my mind, I don't have to worry if I only have rock-hard butter. The pieces of rhubarb will be soft and moist in the muffin, almost custard-like.

Rhubarb Oatmeal Muffins

1/4 c. vegetable oil
3/4 c. brown sugar
1 c. all purpose flour
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/4 t. kosher salt
1 c. buttermilk
1 egg
1/3 c. large flake rolled oats
2/3 c. oat or wheat bran
1 1/2 c. rhubarb, chopped into small pieces
Demerara sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper muffin cups.
2. Combine oil, brown sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add buttermilk, egg, oat or wheat bran, and rolled oats. Mix gently. Fold in the rhubarb pieces.
3. Scoop the muffin batter into the 12 muffin cups. Sprinkle the top of each muffin with demerara sugar. Bake 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove the muffins from the pan and let cool.

Makes 12 muffins.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Pasta with White Beans & Rapini

I have a new favourite podcast. "At the Splendid Table" airs weekly on APM (American Public Media radio) and is the show for people who love to eat. I have been listening to it in the car, in the kitchen, and when I'm taking the dogs for walks. Any chance I get, really.

Each show is almost an hour and it is packed with interesting information and stories - about food. Let me give you an example. I was out for a walk the other night and I listened to a show. It began with two regulars who travel around the US, reporting on great spots they find, and they talked about a place in North Carolina that does incredible barbecue. Next up was a discussion on fava beans and green peas. A scientist discussed the confusing world of good fats (omega 3's and 6's) and a wine expert talked about Barolo winemaking in Italy. By the end of that dog walk, I felt I had really learned something (I have been wanting to know more about fava beans, but I hadn't gotten around to it).

On a different show, the host and a guest were talking about simple pasta dishes. They rattled off one of their favourites. I came home and made my own version of it. The key to the sauce is adding some of the pasta cooking water to the other ingredients. The starch from the pasta adds some thickening, and the saltiness of the water adds all the seasoning you really need. They said to salt the water really well, with maybe a handful of kosher salt. You can add almost anything to this sauce - I used what I had - and the can of beans is surprisingly good in this, and good for you.

If you would like to check out these podcasts for yourself, go to www.splendidtable.org

Pasta with White Beans & Rapini

1 package pasta (I used spaghetti)
1/4 c. kosher salt
1 onion, chopped
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 c. fresh tomatoes
1 can white beans, rinsed
1 bunch rapini
1/4 t. fresh ground pepper
1 c. fresh grated parmigiana reggiano
1/4 c. fresh parsley, chopped fine

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the kosher salt. Place the rapini in the boiling water for a minute or so, remove, and set aside. Cook the pasta until almost done to your liking. The pasta will continue to cook once it goes into the sauce. Reserve 2 cups of the pasta water. Drain and set aside until the sauce is ready.
2. In another large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and saute the onions and garlic until soft and fragrant, about 8 minutes or so. Don't let the garlic burn. Add the fresh tomatoes and continue cooking until the tomatoes start to break down. Add the beans, rapini, and a half cup of parmigiana reggiano. Add one cup of the reserved pasta water. Stir to combine and add more pasta water, if necessary, to make a nice sauce.
3. Add the chopped parsley and the pasta. Toss together and serve warm with the remaining cheese.

*I have to admit that I went ahead and drained the pasta without reserving the cooking water. The sauce wasn't as thick and sauce-like as it could have been, but I added some extra olive oil and another handful of cheese and it was still very good.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Grilled Lemon Chicken

I was very excited this morning to see that my chives have flower buds. I will be making chive flower butter (June '08) probably within the week. There are a few options for making chive flower butter. Regular unsalted butter, organic unsalted butter, or make your own sweet cream butter. If you haven't tried making your own butter yet, for something as delicious as chive flower butter, it is a real treat. If time is an issue for you, better to make the chive flower butter with whatever you have on hand, rather than miss the chive flower season all together.

I finally transplanted my tomato plants from their little seedling cups to larger containers. I have 9 San Marzano tomato plants and 9 yellow pear tomato plants. I am optimistic that I will be harvesting my own tomatoes this year, but there is still a lot of time between where they are now (about 8 inches high) and when they will start producing fruit. I will keep you posted on their progress.

This past week, I knew I wasn't going to be home for dinner but I still wanted my family to have a decent meal. I confess that there are many times when I don't give it much thought and they end up eating "Daddy's Famous Grilled Cheese sandwiches". And that's ok - I love a good grilled cheese myself - but I wanted them to have a really good dinner.

I flattened and marinated boneless/skinless chicken breasts in the lemon mixture below. It is essentially from the original Barefoot Contessa cookbook, with a couple tweaks. When I noticed the recipe, it was almost shocking to me that I hadn't tried it before. My original Barefoot is not in the greatest shape anymore because I have essentially cooked my way through it. It is definitely a desert island cookbook.

When it was time for Alan to get dinner ready, he started the barbeque. I had made a pot of plain brown basmati rice that just needed a minute or so in the microwave. He boiled some water and quickly cooked several bunches of baby bok choy. The chicken took no time to cook because they had been flattened. I had also made the peanut sauce that goes with the lemon chicken, but it didn't seem to be necessary (very little was eaten). The dinner was simple, very quick for Alan to prepare, and it was declared a winner by all. Especially the chicken.

Grilled Lemon Chicken

4 chicken breasts
1/2 c. fresh lemon juice
1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
1 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. fresh ground pepper
1 T. fresh herbs (whatever fresh herbs you like)

1. Combine the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, and herbs in a large bowl. Place the chicken breasts in a bowl and marinate for at least a 1/2 hour or overnight.
2. Heat the barbecue. Cook chicken about 3 minutes per side, or until cooked through. Don't overcook the chicken or it will be tough.

*The Barefoot Contessa serves this chicken as an appetizer. She grills the breasts whole, slices it thin, and threads the pieces lengthwise on bamboo skewers. This is where her peanut sauce comes in

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Chicken Marbella

This is a delicious chicken recipe. Perfect to serve when you have a houseful of company and you need something easy, but something that will blow their socks off.

I can think of so many occasions that Chicken Marbella will work, but this would be my favourite. Picture this... you are on your way to a beautiful home by the ocean with good friends. You don't want a lot of hassle on your first night there. You marinate the chicken the day before leaving, arrive at your destination (the Atlantic or Pacific oceans would both work for this), bake for an hour in the oven, make a pot of mashed potatoes, and voila - your friends are truly in awe of how you pulled such a tasty dinner out of your hat. Add good wine, candles, the sound of the pounding surf and you have the beginning of a wonderful weekend. (insert long sigh) Why do I live in the middle of the country?

This recipe calls for 10 pounds of chicken. I made it just for my family and there are plenty of leftovers. Last night, I needed a quick dinner for myself and I heated up some of the chicken on a bed of brown basmati rice and it was almost as good as having it with mashed potatoes. According to my friend Shaila, you can freeze some of the leftovers and the chicken still tastes great. I have no clue as to how many times she has made this chicken, but I'm sure it's in the double digits.

You may look at this recipe and wonder, "Why prunes?" You will have your answer the minute you take your first bite. The prunes turn into soft little blobs of sweetness, caramelizing as they cook. The olives and capers perfectly balance out that sweetness, making this, "a dish for all seasons". I cooked the chicken for about an hour and a half. The chicken tasted almost like it had been barbequed; not crispy, just full of flavour.

Chicken Marbella

10 lbs. chicken pieces (4 small, whole chickens or a bunch of thighs and legs) bone-in or de-boned, it's up to you
1 whole head of garlic, peeled and chopped in a food processor
1/4 c. dried oregano
1 T. kosher salt
1 t. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 c. red wine vinegar
1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1 c. pitted prunes
1/2 c. green olives
1/2 c. capers with a little juice
6 bay leaves

Combine all of the ingredients above in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight. If you are taking the chicken somewhere the next day, divide the chicken and marinade into large ziploc bags.

When you are ready to cook the chicken, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Arrange the chicken in a single layer in baking dishes, dividing the marinade evenly between them.

3/4 c. brown sugar
1 c. red or white wine
1/4 c. Italian parsley, chopped fine

Sprinkle the chicken with the brown sugar and pour the wine over everything. Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours for bone-in chicken. Bake for 30-45 minutes for boneless chicken. Baste frequently. I would try to baste every 15 minutes or so, less at the beginning and more at the end. When the chicken is finished, sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Muffuletta Sandwiches

This sandwich is intriguing. It sounds so good, but I don't think I have seen on it on many menus (could it be that I'm not getting out nearly enough?). Let me assure you, I made my first muffuletta sandwiches today and, they are as good as they sound.

As you may recall from reading about the apple strudel yesterday, my sister was visiting. Our visit was cut short because Hugh was under the weather, and she left early this morning. She left me four panini buns and all of a sudden I knew what I had to make - muffuletta sandwiches. I wrote up a quick grocery list and away I went.

Please understand this; these sandwiches aren't cheap. Lori bought the panini buns for around $2.00. I had some of the ingredients in my pantry and the rest I had to go out and buy. Here is what my grocery bill looked like.

Roasted Red Peppers - $2.49
Fresh olives - $4.10
Provolone cheese - $7.69
German Salami - $3.60
Mortadella - $5.62
Black Forest ham - $5.17
Total of ingredients that I bought today - $28.67

I did buy more meat and cheese than I needed. It happens every time. I was trying to visualize, in my head, the size of the buns. I pictured them being about 12 inches round, when in reality they were about 7 inches, at their longest spot. I only used 1 roasted red pepper out of the jar, but I can use those for something else (soon though, as roasted red peppers go bad quickly). Just note that the amounts for the meats and cheese are rough estimates - you may want more more or you may have leftovers.

These sandwiches are definitely impressive. Alan, who has been having a very busy week, will certainly appreciate one of them in his lunch tomorrow (I'm hoping he skips reading about the grocery bill, though...!). If you were going on a special picnic with friends, they would be blown away by these sandwiches. Hoping to impress that special someone? These would do the trick.

Muffuletta Sandwiches

4 flat panini buns
1/3 c. red wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced to paste
1 t. dried oregano
1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 t. kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
2/3 c. combination of green and Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped fine
1/3 c. roasted red pepper (from a jar works fine)
1/3 lb. thinly sliced Black Forest ham
1/3 lb. thinly sliced German Salami
1/3 lb. thinly sliced Mortadella
1/3 lb. aged Provolone, sliced
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
Baby spinach, washed and dried

1. Whisk together the vinegar, garlic, and oregano. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Add the olives and roasted red peppers and stir together well. Add the salt and pepper, to taste.
2. Slice the panini buns in half horizontally. Spread about 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette on the bottom of each bun. Layer the meats and cheese on the bottom buns. Top with slices of red onion and cover the whole thing with a layer of baby spinach.
3. Divvy up the remaining vinaigrette on each of the top halves. Place the top buns on the sandwich and press gently. Wrap each sandwich in plastic wrap.
4. Refrigerate for at least an hour before eating, to let the flavours mingle, or leave in the fridge overnight and have for the lunch the next day.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Apple Strudel

This is my sister's new go-to dessert. She arrived this morning with an unbaked apple strudel that had thawed on the drive up to our house. We just pulled it from the oven.

According to Lori, one of the secrets of this very simple dessert is the treatment of the phyllo pastry. Each layer of pastry is brushed with melted butter, followed by a light dusting of sugar. The recipe makes three strudels, enough to bake one right away and have two in the freezer for a rainy day.

I was reading a cookbook the other day, in which the author was insisting that making your own phyllo dough was easy enough to do. The recipe, following the enticing introduction, needed a dough that was thicker than pre-made phyllo, but still quite thin. With enough coaxing, I would consider making my own phyllo pastry - maybe in about 10 or 15 years, when I can fit it into my schedule!

Apple Strudel

1 package phyllo dough
1/2 c. unsalted butter
3 T. granulated sugar
8 c. apples, peeled and sliced
2 T. fresh lemon juice
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/3 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 t. ground cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in a small saucepan. In a large bowl, toss sliced apples with lemon juice, 1/3 c. sugar, flour and cinnamon. Set aside.
2. Unfold sheets of phyllo and keep covered with a dish towel. Take one sheet of phyllo and lay on a flat surface. Brush thoroughly with melted butter. Sprinkle with sugar and place another sheet of phyllo on top. Repeat until 5 sheets have been used, keeping the remaining phyllo covered at all times.
3. Place 1/3 of the apple mixture down the centre of the phyllo sheets, lengthwise. Fold the top over the apples lengthwise, fold in each end and then fold the bottom over. Flip so that the seam of dough is underneath. Gently place sideways on a parchment covered baking sheet. Repeat twice more. Once all three strudels are finished and on the baking sheet, brush tops with melted butter and sprinkle generously with sugar. Cut three slits diagonally on the tops of each strudel to vent the steam.
4. Bake for 30 minutes or until the phyllo pastry is golden. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 3 strudels.

*If you are freezing one or two of the strudels for later, wrap carefully in 2 layers of plastic wrap and place in a flat area of your freezer or in a shallow plastic container. Allow to thaw before baking.

*A picture of my little nephew, Hugh, in honour of his favourite dessert.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Mexican Pizza

According to my husband, Alan, this is the best dinner I have "made in ages". You can imagine the look on my face after that comment... Blogging about this recipe hadn't even crossed my mind until he was still going on about it after polishing off the leftovers. Apparently, if he could find a restaurant that had this on their menu, he would eat lunch there all the time. Add a Corona and you have pure perfection (according to Alan)!

Mexican Pizza

1 lb. lean ground beef
1/2 c. onion, chopped
1 t. garlic, minced
1 c. tomatoes, chopped
1 medium carrot, grated
1 red pepper, diced
1 can refried beans
1/4 c. fresh cilantro, chopped
1 t. chili powder
1 t. ground cumin
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. fresh ground pepper
1/2 - 1 c. pizza sauce
4 naan breads
2 c. old cheddar, grated
1/2 c. green onions, sliced thin
Guacamole (Oct. '08), salsa, and sour cream

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add ground beef, onions, and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until the beef is no longer pink. Add the tomatoes, grated carrot, red pepper, and beans. Cook and stir for a few minutes, working the beans into the beef mixture. Add cilantro, chili powder, cumin, salt, and pepper. Cook for 2 minutes.
2. Spread a thin layer of pizza sauce over the naan breads. Top with half the cheese. Spoon the beef mixture evenly on top of the pizza sauce. Top with remaining cheese. Sprinkle with green onions.
3. Place naans on a baking sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the cheese is completely melted. Serve with your favourite taco toppings, such as sour cream, guacamole, and salsa .

Friday, April 3, 2009

Homemade Mayonnaise/Deviled Eggs

When I was working in France, there were many times that Linda Meinhardt (the owner) was back in Vancouver, leaving the place in my capable hands. During one of her absences, we planned a surprise party for Andy, the English gardener who lived nearby and had worked at the Chateau from the beginning.

Andy and his wife, Sue, were like family to me. They had given up running a busy pub in Hampshire, England to have a simpler way of life. They bought an old house in a small village and in their spare time, they renovated it enough to turn it into a small B&B.

For the birthday party, it was a beautiful July evening and we set up in the Chateau's outdoor kitchen. The details of the meal escape me now, except for one thing. A stainless steel bowl containing a bright yellow mayonnaise. A French couple, Patrick and Diana, showed up with a bottle of wine and the lemony mayonnaise. I remember thinking that it was an odd thing to bring to a party. But it was so good. We had steamed artichokes and pulled the leaves off, dipping each one in the mayo and scraping the leaves clean with our teeth.

Over the last 6 months, I have made deviled eggs a few times. Each time, I was trying different ingredients like capers, horseradish, or a variety of herbs, mixed with the egg yolks and Hellman's mayo. This time, I decided to make the mayonnaise from scratch and keep the deviled eggs very simple. It was a revelation. The yolk mixture was bright yellow and the deviled eggs tasted perfect.

Homemade Mayonnaise

1 cold egg yolk
1 1/2 t. Dijon mustard
1 1/2 t. white wine vinegar
1/2 t. sea salt
1/8 t. fresh ground pepper
1 c. sunflower or grapeseed oil

In a large bowl, whisk all of the ingredients together except the oil. Add the oil, a few drops at a time, until it comes together, and then add a little more. Once the mixture reaches a smooth, creamy consistency, you can add the oil a little bit faster. Still be sure to whisk any oil in before adding more.
Covered, the mayonnaise, will keep for 1-2 weeks in the fridge. Makes 1 cup.

Deviled Eggs

8 extra-large eggs
1/2 c. homemade mayo
2 T. fresh chives, chopped
1 t. fresh lemon juice
A little salt & pepper, to taste

1. Place eggs in a large pot and cover with cold water and 1 teaspoon of salt. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Let boil for 1 minute and then turn off the heat. Cover and let sit for 10 minutes. Drain the eggs and run cold water into the pan to cool the eggs.
2. Slice eggs in half lengthwise. Remove the yolks and place them in the work bowl of an electric mixer with the mayo, chives (if using), and lemon juice. Process until smooth and check for seasoning.
3. Fill the egg halves with about a tablespoon of yolk mixture. Makes 12 to 16 deviled eggs.

Friday, March 27, 2009

My Italian Wedding Soup

I haven't been reaching for my Barefoot Contessa books as often as I used to, but I did come across this soup in her newest book. Trying to wean myself off of Ina and enjoying other cookbooks in my collection. However, the picture in her book of the little meatballs on the pan was enough to end my hiatus.

I did change a few things from that recipe. I didn't have any small pasta to put in the soup so I decided not to add any. After a pasta is added to soup, no matter if the pasta has been cooked ahead of time or not, it still soaks up stock to some degree. Not much of a problem, but at this time of year, my homemade chicken stock is in short supply - I tend to use it soon after it's made. I'm sure to be a traditional Italian Wedding soup, it should have pasta in it - that's why I felt compelled to call it "My Italian Wedding soup". I have not had an Italian wedding of my own, though I have been a guest at a few.

Another prudent decision I made was not adding baby spinach to the whole pot of soup. I knew once I added the tender, healthy green leaves, my kids would immediately react negatively. Without the spinach, the kids enjoyed bowls of this delicious soup, and Alan & I enjoyed it with lots of wilted greens and extra Parmesan cheese sprinkled over the top.

In the Barefoot recipe, she calls for 3/4 pound of ground chicken and sausage. Most packages of ground chicken and sausages weigh in at about 1 pound each. I decided to use all of the chicken and sausage and I increased most of the other ingredients for the meatballs to make up for it. There were a lot of meatballs, but they are the star of the soup and people won't complain. You will need to add extra chicken stock or water to the soup pot, but wait and see until after everything has been added.

A word about homemade chicken stock - it is so easy and so worth it. When I buy a whole chicken to roast, I have two things on my mind. One is cooking the perfect roast chicken for dinner, and the other is using the leftover carcass for stock. For directions, go to the entry "Conspicuous Consumption & How to Make a Good Chicken Stock" (Nov. '07). I mentioned to a neighbour that I had made this incredibly good soup. She sort of frowned and said, "Well, you probably make your own chicken stock." I told her that I do, but that she could too. Really she could. And so could you.

My Italian Wedding Soup

For the meatballs:
1 lb. ground chicken
1 lb. sausage (chicken or turkey Italian sausages), casings removed
1 c. fresh bread crumbs
2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. fresh parsley, chopped fine
3/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
1/4 c. milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 t. salt
1/2 t. fresh ground black pepper

For the soup:
2 T. olive oil
1 c. onion, diced
1 c. carrots, diced small
1 c. celery, diced small
10c. chicken stock, preferably homemade
A handful of baby spinach for each serving of soup

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the ground chicken, sausage meat, bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, Parmesan cheese, milk, egg, salt, and pepper in a bowl and combine gently but thoroughly with your hands. Wish a teaspoon, drop little meatballs (about 1-inch in diameter) onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. There will be lots. They don't have to be perfectly round. Bake for about 30 minutes, until cooked through. Set aside.
2. In the meantime, heat the olive oil in a stock pot over medium-low heat. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and saute until softened, 5 minutes or so. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the meatballs to the soup. Simmer gently. Taste for salt & pepper.
3. For each bowl of soup you are serving, place a handful of baby spinach in the bottom of the bowl. Ladle the soup into the bowls with the spinach. Sprinkle with extra Parmesan cheese.