Crying While Cooking

Jean Poutine came for supper the other night before we went to see the movie Monsieur Lazhar, a lovely Canadian film that is an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film. I didn’t feel like going out for groceries, so I did what I often do in those circumstances: take a look to see what I have and Google the ingredients for a recipe.  I had onions and feta, and I found several intriguing recipes for onion and feta tarts. I based mine mainly on the recipe from A Pot of Tea and a Biscuit.

I used both red and yellow onions. They were pretty powerful and I had a pretty good crying jag going, when I heard my cat meowing from her regular perch on top of the fridge. She was shaking her head and had tears pouring from her eyes. The poor thing had been overtaken by onion fumes.

I wiped her tears and put her outside for some fresh air. I didn’t take a video of her crying – it seemed too mean – but if I had, I could have put it onto the Crying While Eating website. Although strictly speaking, we were crying while cooking.

I caramelised the onions with brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper using the recipe from A Pot of Tea… Mine took a couple of hours, and you really have to watch it near the end of the cooking time so they don’t burn.

I used a frozen store-bought crust instead of making my own and it turned out fine. I just thawed it in the fridge and then rolled it flat between two sheets of parchment paper, mending where needed with a bit of water and my fingers. I loaded some of the caramelised onions into the bottom of the tart and crumbled 150g of feta cheese on top along with some thyme.  For a rustic look I folded in the edges of the crust and brushed them with an egg wash. My baking time was shorter than the recipe – you just have to watch it. It’s done when the crust is browned and the cheese is melted.

I had some quinoa on hand so I made one of my favorite salads which is basically cooked quinoa with whatever you have in the fridge that seems like a good idea to throw in there. The secret is the dressing: 2 Tbsp of melted honey and 2 Tbsp of lemon or lime juice. This time it had arugula, red onion, avocado, roasted pumpkin seeds and dried cranberries. The cranberries were a Christmas gift from my sister-in-law.  They are from Cranberries Naturally in Fort Langley BC and they use orange to flavour them – delicious!

Both Jean Poutine and The Man With Whom I Keep Company gave the meal two thumbs up, so I’ll definitely be adding it into the rotation!

Tradition

Hello my far-flung friends! How was your Thanksgiving? Here in Edmonton, the family and I had a traditional meal yesterday. That tradition, however, was not ours, and not Thanksgiving. We made a Danish Christmas meal. This is something we were planning to do last year at Christmas time but it got put off for various reasons and didn’t happen until now.

This is where the inspiration came from: The Time-Life Cooking of Scandinavia book, published in 1968. If you want the recipes, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding this book (or any of the Time-Life cookbooks) in just about any thrift store in the land.

The centrepiece of the meal is roast goose – something I’ve long wanted to try. The Bro-in-law has made goose before and knew what to do. He pricked the skin all over before roasting to allow the grease to stream freely. Goose is very fatty – there was a lot of grease in the roasting pan, which my sister poured off into a container to throw out. Doing some reading today, I discovered that goose fat is “culinary white gold” (for things like roasting potatoes), so I phoned her to see if it could be saved. Luckily it was still in the fridge – another victory for procrastination.

Goose is delicious – it’s all dark meat, which I love. The crispy skin was heavenly (and much coveted by my parents).

The bird was stuffed with apples, prunes and onions – all of which gets thrown out because it becomes drenched in grease. It’s there to impart flavour and moisture. Apples and prunes are part of the meal though.

Poached apple halves with prunes soaked in sherry (should be port, but sherry’s what I had in my cupboard).

Brunede kartofler (caramelized potatoes). You brought this to a party at my house once, Truly Scrumptious. Yours were better. For some reason the caramel didn’t adhere to the potatoes, so it was more like potatoes in toffee gravy. We’ll have to compare notes.

Also, peeling all those little spuds, while not difficult (the skins can mostly be pulled off with fingertips), sure is tedious.

The rødkaal (braised red cabbage) was much more successful. Even my sister (who’s unable to eat raw cabbage) loved it. Here’s the recipe:

Rødkaal

1 medium head red cabbage (2 to 2 1/2 lbs.)
4 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup red currant jelly
2 tbsp. grated apple

Wash the head of cabbage under cold running water, remove the tough outer leaves, and cut the cabbage in half from top to bottom. Lay the flat sides down on the chopping board, cut away the core and slice the cabbage very finely. There should be approximately 9 cups of shredded cabbage when you finish.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Combine the butter, sugar, salt, water and vinegar in a heavy stainless steel or enameled 4 to 5 quart casserole. When it comes to a boil and the butter has melted, add the shredded cabbage and toss thoroughly with two wooden spoons or forks. Bring to a boil again, cover tightly and place in the centre of the oven to braise for 2 hours. There is little danger that the cabbage will dry out during the cooking, but it is a good idea to check on the liquid level occasionally. Add a little water if it seems necessary.

About 10 minutes before the cabbage is finished, stir in the jelly and grated apple, replace the cover and complete the cooking.

The piquant taste of red cabbage will improve if, after it has cooled, it is allowed to rest for a day in the refrigerator and then reheated either on top of the stove or in a 325 degree oven. In any case, serve hot, as an accompaniment to a stuffed loin of pork or goose to complete the traditional Danish Christmas dinner.

Dessert was something more traditionally Canadian:

While the guys made dinner, the ladies had a cat nap.

And what did you have for Thanksgiving?

A Leisurely Lunch

Since I have transitioned to a new and more relaxed lifestyle, I have decided to do a little nutritional research and cook up some healthy and hopefully tasty recipes. I will post them as the muse strikes.

One of my favorite cook books is Lee Bailey’s Soup Meals. He has menus for different seasons and recipes for each menu. It was published in 1989 and I picked it up second-hand about 10 years ago.

Since I have been reading about how super healthy spinach and its relatives are, and I had never made his Spinach Soup recipe, I figured I’d give it a try. Apparently leafy greens have more nutrients than almost any food on the planet, including the somewhat obscure Vitamin K and the highly functional family of flavonoids (antioxidant and anticancer properties).

I also had some beet greens on hand so I substituted those for about half of the spinach. I sautéed the stems from the beet greens and spinach along with the onions. Why waste perfectly good food?  The  instruction to puree gave me an excuse to use my new Vitamix too, which I love and use daily.

I was a little worried about how the colour of the spinach soup might turn out, but it was actually a pleasantly mossy green, and pretty much any colour of green is welcome at this time of year in Edmonton. It is delicious – velvety and rich – and the nutmeg added an interesting note. I squeezed the lemon slice into the soup which added a nice zing to the flavour. I’ll be adding this soup to my favorite recipes.

Lee’s menu for Spinach Soup included Cayenne Wafers, which sounded delicious, and I had been reading about the health giving qualities of turmeric, which are boosted by pepper, so I added 1/4 tsp of turmeric to the recipe. (Turmeric has anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties, is good for digestive disorders, and a whole whack of other good stuff. My fondness for Indian food has been  justified). I think I’ll try whole wheat or oat flour next time.  And there will be a next time – they were yummy – crisp and warm from the oven.

I made 24 wafers from the recipe – I think 32 would make for  too small a wafer.

I ate the lunch on one of my favorite dish patterns – “Ridgway Homemaker” – a funky 1950s design. Both I and The Man With Whom I Keep Company have found different pieces for this pattern  at second-hand stores, and we continue to look for more.

I had a lovely lunch sitting at the kitchen table in the sunshine in the middle of the week – ahhhhh.

Posted by Truly Scrumptious

I’m baaaaaacccccck!

So Jean I bet you thought I had quit on you? Well I’m back and I have a bunch of posts I am going to be writing in the next week or so. So I am not only back, but back with a vengeance. This first post will just be a teaser of the mediocre writing and sub-par photography you will have to look forward to all week. Consider it an early Christmas present.

The easiest most delicious thing I know how to make is mussels steamed in a white wine sauce. First I chop onions, shallots and garlic and saute them in butter and olive oil. When they are translucent I add a bunch of mussels and 1/2 cup white wine. I put a lid on pot, walk away for a few minutes and when I return….

… delicious mussels! Slice some crusty white bread for dipping in the wine sauce and you have one awesome appy!

Posted by King Crabby

Ginger Scones and Tea

These have been my favourite scones ever since my friend Elicia made them for me in her Seattle home. She got the recipe from epicurious.com and I’ve adapted it slightly, using fresh ginger instead of candied. They’re best served warm from the oven with butter, jam or jelly, and pots of steaming hot tea.

Ginger Scones

  • 2 1/4 cups unbleached flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 3/4 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 large knob fresh ginger root, peeled and finely chopped (about 1/3 cup or more, to taste)
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream or half-and-half, plus extra for brushing the tops of the scones
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

    Combine the flour, sugar and baking powder in a bowl. Stir in lemon rind. Cut butter into flour mixture using a pastry cutter until the mixture is pale yellow and the consistency of fine meal (you can also use a stand mixer with paddle attachment at low speed).

    Stir in the ginger. Make a well in the center and pour in the cream. Mix until just combined.

    Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead a few times to gather it into a ball. Roll or pat the dough into a circle about 3/4-inch thick. Cut out scones with 3-inch diameter round cookie cutter.

    Gather the scraps, pat and press the pieces back together, and cut out the remaining dough. Place the scones 1 inch apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

    Brush the tops with the remaining cream.

    Bake in centre of oven for 12 to 16 minutes, until the surface cracks and they are slightly browned.

    Makes 8 to 10 3-inch scones.


    Breakfast: Bannock

    I was disappointed not to have any bannock at Fort Edmonton Park this year so I made my own for breakfast the other day. I used the recipe on this page (only halving it). I bought whole wheat flour from Treestone bakery ($2.75 a kilo). They grind it themselves and it has a slightly coarse texture like cornmeal.

    I mixed the dough into a ball and waited for King Crabby to arrive.

    I rolled it out to the thickness of pie crust and cut it in squares. I think next time I’ll roll it a little thicker so it’s soft and doughy inside.

    I fried it in Crabby’s homemade lard (I really need to get a cast iron skillet).

    They puffed up in the pan like chapatis.

    When they were golden I drained them on paper towels.

    Because I rolled them so thin they were more like elephant ears than biscuits (or like Paulina’s bannock here. I think maybe she used more baking powder than I did to get such a fluffy result). Not that I’m complaining. We ate them with some of our Nanking cherry syrupy jelly. They would also have been good sprinkled with icing sugar or cinnamon sugar or drizzled with maple syrup.

    Bannock

    2 cups whole wheat flour
    1/2 tsp salt
    2 tsp baking powder
    1/4 cup melted lard or butter
    3/4 cups water
    lard or oil for frying

    In a bowl, combine dry ingredients. Make a well in the centre and pour in melted lard and water. Combine until thoroughly mixed. Knead briefly on floured surface (add more flour if necessary – dough should be fairly dry, not sticky). Let rest for half an hour or longer under damp tea towel. Roll out to desired thickness and cut in squares. Fry in melted lard on each side until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot.

    Posted by Jean Poutine

    Tri-Colour Harvest Vegetable Cake

    Saturday

    I thought the produce at the Old Strathcona Farmers Market was more plentiful and beautiful than usual this week

    but that’s probably a function of me getting there earlier

    before all the good stuff was gone.

    I can’t remember what gave me the idea, but I’ve had it kicking around in my head for a while now,

    and this weekend I finally decided it was time to do it

    while local farm vegetables are in such glorious profusion.

    I think I’ve told you my idea, Crabby, for a multi-layered vegetable cake. Like a carrot cake, but each layer would be made from a different vegetable, and each layer would be a different, vibrant colour (natural colours only, no food colouring allowed).

    One layer would be carrot cake, of course. Beets seem a natural, for the extraordinary colour (there are lots of beet cakes online but they tend to have chocolate in them). Zucchini would work.

    I used this recipe as the basis for the cake batter. I mixed it as per the recipe, without adding the grated vegetables. I divided the batter equally into three bowls (this cake requires a lot of washing up).

    I grated the vegetables finely, reasoning that they would be dispersed more evenly through the batter than if I grated them coarsely, producing a brighter colour once it’s baked. That’s my theory anway, we’ll see how it pans out.

    I wanted to pair each vegetable with a single spice, something to complement it without disguising its vegetable essence. I considered cinnamon for the carrot layer (of course), but the recipe I used as my starting point also has ginger in it and I thought that was a much better idea.

    What spice to go with beets? I’m not sure why, but cardamom came to mind. It may turn out to be a mistake – I hope not. I crushed some whole green cardamom pods and extracted the seeds. I was thinking it might be more interesting to have little bursts of intense fresh cardamom flavour from seeds than to use ground cardamom.

    I folded the grated vegetables and their respective spices into the batter.

    Carrot and a scant teaspoon of chopped ginger (don’t want to overdo it).

    Mixed.

    Beets and cardamom.

    Look at that colour!

    Zucchini has a lot of water so I squeezed most of it out before measuring. I couldn’t think of a spice that would complement zucchini without squashing (bad pun) its delicate flavour, so I used a little bit of fresh thyme for a herbal accent.

    Because I wanted a rich green colour, I used all of the skin and only a bit of the flesh. You could use smaller zucchinis to get a higher surface-area to flesh ratio.

    The beet layer had a rich reddish brown crust when it came out of the oven. I’m hoping the interior will be intensely red – like red velvet cake.

    Compared to the carrot layer (left).

    Because the different vegetables have different amounts of moisture, each layer had a different cooking time. The carrot layer was ready after 25 minutes, the zucchini needed 30 minutes and the beet layer took 35.

    Zucchini layer.

    All the layers look to have turned out beautifully. I’m putting them in the fridge overnight and I’ll ice the cake tomorrow before taking it to my parents’ house for Sunday supper.

    Sunday

    Here it is, all finished. You can see the “ribs” of the cake sticking through. That always happens to me. There never seems to be enough icing to completely hide the cake. I think the frosting recipe should be increased a bit because of the extra layer that needs to be filled.

    I was going to cut it in 12, but but they were fairly large slices so I started making them smaller. You can easily cut this cake into 16 pieces.

    On my first glimpse of the interior I was disappointed that the beet layer (top) wasn’t the red I was dreaming of. It was the more the color of a spice cake. The zucchini layer had a nice light green tinge with one vibrant green streak – I guess I didn’t mix it enough. Too bad the whole layer wasn’t this colour. The carrot layer had the best, most consistent colour. I guess I had some pretty unrealistic ideas about how the colours were going to turn out.

    The real

    The ideal

    It tasted great though and I was very please with the results. It has a nice texture that isn’t as dense as a typical carrot cake.

    The carrot combo worked well – just the right balance of carrot and zingy ginger. The zucchini layer was a real surprise. The thyme complemented the subtle flavour of zucchini without overwhelming it. The beet layer, however, had no discernible beet flavour – only cardamom. I don’t think you’d know it was a beet cake in a blind tasting. I guess this is good news if you don’t like beets (and it seems a lot of people don’t). Though the cardamom was very prominent it wasn’t at all unpleasant.

    I’m not sure how often I’d make all three layers, but I’d happily make any of these cakes again individually.

    Here’s my recipe:

    TRI-COLOUR HARVEST VEGETABLE LAYER CAKE

    • 3 cups all-purpose flour
    • 2 cups sugar
    • 1 Tbsp baking soda
    • 1 tsp salt
    • 1 cup vegetable oil
    • 4 large eggs
    • 1 Tbsp vanilla
    • 1 cup applesauce
    • 2/3 cup packed finely grated carrots
    • 2/3 cup packed finely grated beets
    • 2/3 cup packed finely grated zucchini (squeeze out water before measuring)
    • 1 tsp fresh ginger, chopped
    • 1/2 tsp cardamom seeds (or ground cardamom)
    • 1 tsp fresh thyme

    Preheat the oven to 350 F.

    Grease three 8 inch layer cake pans and line the bottoms of the pans with a circle of parchment paper.

    Scrape carrots and beets. Finely grate carrots, beets and zucchini (including skin) separately and set aside (make sure to thoroughly rinse grater after each vegetable to avoid “cross contamination”).

    In a separate bowl, stir together flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

    In bowl of electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the eggs until frothy (about 1 minute). Gradually add the sugar and beat until the batter is thick and light colored (about 3 – 4 minutes). Add the oil in a steady stream, then beat in the vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture and beat just until incorporated. Fold in applesauce.

    Measure cake batter (there should be approximately 6 cups). Divide into three equal parts in separate bowls. To one bowl, add grated carrots and ginger, stir to combine. Pour into prepared cake pan.

    To the second bowl, add beets and cardamom to batter and stir to combine. Pour into prepared cake pan.

    Add the zucchini and thyme to batter in third bowl and stir to combine. Pour into prepared cake pan. (If you don’t want to dirty three bowls, you can make the batters in sequence in the same bowl but be sure to rinse it well after each batch).

    Bake 25 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (times will vary depending on the moisture content of the vegetables – test each pan separately).

    Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack. After about 5 to 10 minutes, invert the cakes onto wire rack, remove the pans and parchment paper and cool completely before frosting.

    Cream Cheese Frosting:

    • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
    • 1 package (8 ounces/225 grams) cream cheese, room temperature
    • 2 cups icing sugar
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
    • 1 tsp grated lemon zest

    In bowl of electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the cream cheese and butter until blended. Gradually add the icing sugar and beat, on low speed, until fully incorporated and smooth. Beat in vanilla extract, lemon juice and zest.

    To assemble: With a serrated knife, cut the tops off the bottom and middle cake layer so that they’re flat for stacking (you can also trim the top layer if you want the cake to have a flat top). Place one of the trimmed layers onto your serving plate. Spread with about a quarter of the frosting. Gently place the other trimmed layer on top and spread with another quarter of the frosting. Place the top, untrimmed layer on top and spread the rest of the frosting over the top and sides of the cake.

    Posted by Jean Poutine