Category Archives: recipe

I Can’t Wait… Have to Bake!

It’s been hot the last couple of weeks. So hot the last thing I wanted to do was turn on the oven. I don’t know what was worse, having all those ideas of baking pies and crisps and pound cakes that incorporated all the fruit coming into season or sweating through the muggy days with only a small air conditioner that was as overwhelmed as me.

Finally today it clouded over and cooled just a little. I whipped out an old magazine and started the quickest recipe I could remember – fruit streusel muffins I used to make when I first started baking. I had peaches sitting on the counter, so away I went!

 

About an hour later, I was duly rewarded. Not only did the house smell divinely delicious. there was a rack of muffins proudly displaying themselves on the kitchen island.

I did not hesitate. I poured myself a fresh cup of coffee, grabbed a side plate and a dob of butter, and sat myself down with a warm muffin. Nirvana was the word that came to mind.

It’s supposed to warm up again tomorrow. But we are coming to the end of summer, and there is still plenty to harvest. The fast has been broken, and I feel a burden has been lifted from my gourmand soul.

Not to mention there are more muffins awaiting consumption. I might just have one for breakfast…

A Bit of Razzle Dazzle

Sundays. The day of the week that is all about quality time. In our house, that often means time around the table, with homemade delicacies. This time of year those delicacies involve part of the wonderful bounty we enjoy.

At the moment we are blessed with an embarrassing amount of raspberries. I could lie under the bush and just let them fall in my mouth, but I think the neighbours would talk. So instead, I made raspberry financiers.

These delightful mouthfuls look, smell and taste decadent but they are amazingly easy to make. They also work well with delicate fruit like berries. Many recipes will end up looking like a dog’s breakfast when you mix in berries (no offence to my dog, but presentation isn’t her thing). Here, you can place the berries on top of the batter and they will bake right in.

They are not a diet item. I bet the calories you get from inhaling the fumes of the butter browning are enough to blow most diets. But trust me, these are worth having a cheat day. Share them around, package some up if you have to and drop them off to a friend.

Tomorrow I’m making Cherry Clafoutis, to use up some of the cherries we picked. The peaches have only just started, so there is no rush to bake with them yet, thankfully. There isn’t enough time to work out and cover all those treats!

Happy Sunday!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Staff of Life

 

I love bread. I find it satisfying, intimidating, humble and rewarding, all at the same time. As a young person cooking, bread was a daunting chapter in any cookbook. It was not until recently that I screwed up the courage to take on that food central to survival for so long; the staff of life.

In my teen cooking years, I was thrilled to discover I could veer onto the side road known as “Quick Breads”, and worked up my confidence with Soda Bread, Zucchini Bread, Baking Powder Biscuits and cornmeal muffins.

One of my childhood friends was German, and her mom did a lot of hearty baking. She had an old family recipe for bread rolls that she made once a month. If the universe was smiling on me, I would happen to be stopping at my friend’s house after school, and we would be allowed to have a warm bun with butter. It was my first taste of Nirvana.

buns with butter

I have been working with my sourdough starter for a year and a half now, and I am still humbled every time I make a loaf. Just when I think I am the master, the starter behaves differently or the weather changes or the flour combination seems not work as well… it’s all edible, but I am far from the works of art I see on Instagram and in my cooking magazines. Those elusive bubbles and the intricate scoring patterns are like a foreign language – one in which I have only learned a few greetings and a few cuss words, like any other novice.

Yesterday, though, I think I got back to the heart of the matter. I made a recipe that I turned into a sort of pull-apart loaf and some rolls, and it was divine. It was an enriched yeast dough that I just happened to add some starter into, so it was truly a mish-mash of ingredients and techniques. But never mind, it worked. It tasted good. Even my chef hubbie said so!

I think perhaps that my interpretation of bread being “the staff of life” involves a more complex sort of survival than just sustenance. The shared experience of breaking bread is truly part of the magic for me. The love shared for the meal is also something I crave. (Like they say, we cannot live by bread alone.)

So I’m rejuvenated for another day, another effort, another bake. Leaving more crumbs, in case there is someone else out there, struggling along the same road. I posted my Kindred Spirit Milk Rolls, as a record of my progress and a message for those souls who want a taste of the magic.

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Cookie Withdrawal

new years start A New Year. Endless possibilities. A whole world of opportunity and adventure. And the chance to get back to more healthy eating and avoid the never-ending indulgences of baked goods and cocktails. It all sounds simple in theory.

But I’m sitting here wishing there were just a few mincemeat tarts left, or maybe one more lebkuchen. My cup of tea is lonely. I did work out this morning, so I would be deserving of a wee something, wouldn’t I?

It’s hard to start fresh. The pressure of new goals, new resolutions, hopes for improving Christmas cookiesoneself; it’s all a lot to handle. I wonder if it didn’t come on the heels of all that Christmas spirit, would even bother attempting such lofty efforts? Who can blame us if we need a little help in getting over the hump?

The Epiphany is the closing gesture on our  holiday season, by some accounts the twelfth day of Christmas. I like to celebrate in the French tradition, with a Galette des Rois, but I have also enjoyed the New Orleans version with an English name: King Cake. Either way, it’s a nice treat to share, shaking off the after-Christmas blues and giving us that kickstart for the New Year.

Food is sustenance, in many different ways. Perhaps as a gourmand, I need more sustenance than the average soul. The ambience of a good meal shared around the table is as fulfilling as the meal itself.

One of my  kindred spirits, Winnie the Pooh, expressed this philosophy best.

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”

“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”

“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.”

pooh and piglet breakfast

So whether a piece of cake does the trick, or the company of a friend with whom to share that cake, it’s still time well spent (and calories well consumed, if you ask me.)

 

 

It’s good to have a cardigan when it’s cold – or a mug of hot cocoa

I believe a cardigan sweater is the adult version of a teddy bear. It’s warm and snuggly, giving one that warm-fuzzy feeling we all crave from time to time. Cozy but not overbearing, if you’ll pardon the pun. On a cold grey day, I love wearing a cardigan.

Of course most things we love have to do with memories. I suppose my love for cardigans goes back to my teen years.

I grew up with a fascination for the 50’s, it having been the decade when my parents were kids. I heard all kinds of stories and saw all the old movies about bobby-socks-ers and their letter-sweater boyfriends. Girls either wore these cute finely knit cardigans that were part of a sweater set, or they wore the over-sized chunky cardigan given to them by an athlete wooing them. My first impression of sexy was the coquettish look those pony-tailed teens had in these outfits.

sweater set crowd

I was always torn between trying to fit in and wanted to feel comfortable in my own skin. I didn’t figure out until my 30’s that I’m one of those people who was not meant to fit in, but rather to stand out. (You’d think the horizontally striped socks I wore would have clued me in, but no.) There was one place I knew I could find comfort though – the kitchen.

Cooking has always warmed my heart and my soul as well as my tummy. But sometimes you need a quick fix rather than hours of putzing around. A mug of hot cocoa is the best quick fix I know.

Nestle Quik chocolate drinkAs a kid, warming up a bit of milk with a heaping spoonful of Kwik was good enough, but then I developed my palate and became a gourmand. I travelled to Europe and discovered steamed hot cocoa in Paris. Then I found nirvana at breakfast one morning in Barcelona when I sipped on an elixir that was akin to warm chocolate pudding. Needless to say, my Quik days were over.

When I returned from Europe and got ready for university away from home, I wanted to be independent but still feel connected to home. My Dad gave me one of his cardigans to keep warm in the damp Vancouver climate. It was a bit like having a teddy bear, or a cape with super powers that made me feel safe.

Nowadays you can buy mixes that have definitely stepped up a notch or two from the Quik of my childhood. And artisan hot cocoa from chocolatiers is a popular take-home item.

I like to buy chocolate from Thomas Haas in Vancouver. When I get to the city his cafes are at the top of the list of places to stop. There is nothing like dunking one of his flaky croissants in a mug of his deliciously rich hot chocolate. But there is something wonderfully decadent about being able to make this kind of hot chocolate at home.

Homemade authentic hot cocoa is very simple. Here are my proportions for 1 cup (250 mL). I like to use whole milk. Please just don’t try this with water.

Spanish hot cocoa

Method 1 – with chocolate

  • Heat milk in a pot, or steamer. Measure 5 tablespoons (2-1/2 oz or 70 g) of dark chocolate (55-70% cacao) into your cup, in small pieces or grated. Whisk chocolate and milk until blended. If desired, add a sprinkle of cinnamon or a bit more grated chocolate on top.

Method 2 – with cocoa

  • Rinse a small pot with cold water (this helps keep the milk from scalding in the pot).
  • Sift together 2 tablespoons cocoa, 1/4 teaspoon corn starch and if desired, 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon or ginger.
  • Pour 1 cup of milk into the pot, and stir in 1 tablespoon honey. Stir in the cocoa mix and heat to medium-high, stirring constantly until bubbles form and a gentle boil starts. (you have to get the liquid to a boil for the cornstarch to react.)

Either way, I like to top my homemade hot cocoa with vanilla ice cream, not marshmallows. You know how they say, “Go big or go home”? Well, why not go big at home?!

I have had a few sweater sets in my day, although I discovered the matching type of look was not really me (it’s more for those who really do fit in). But I do still have Daddy’s wool sweater, which I wear every so often with a jaunty scarf and sometimes a hat. It still makes me feel special, and a smile comes over my face every time as old memories come back. The same thing happens when I sip a good cup of hot cocoa.

KPL with Daddy's sweater

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