Category Archives: recipe
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.
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.
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 oneself; 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.”
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.)
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.
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.
As 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.
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.
I am a product of my upbringing. The tales of root cellars where everything was preserved, my Grampa’s stories of living during the war when things were rationed, and the prevalence of farm culture from both my parents’ prairie life – all these elements combined with those Little House on the Prairie volumes in my head to make me thrifty in the kitchen.
Gramps used to say when I refused the last morsel, “Can’t be wasting!”, and I would capitulate. It was like referring to those starving kids in Africa. I often wondered, would they eat sandwich crusts?
This time of year is when we work to save and store. It’s the end of harvest of course, so it’s a mad dash to make sure as little is wasted as possible. Some of the bounty doesn’t get used – it’s impossible to eat it all, even when we share. But I am heartened when I remember my farmer neighbour’s words that everything going back to the ground helps the soil for the following year. Mother Nature provides.
We dried fruit and canned chutney and jam and made hot sauce and kimchi and infused vinegars and oils. I baked bread and pies and bread pudding. I roasted squash and tomatoes and put them in the freezer. my last effort is to plan menus for the next couple of weeks so we can use the last of the arugula, green beans and green tomatoes.
It can be exhausting. I have new admiration for the pioneer housewives and their fortitude in the face of such a daunting task: providing a variety of flavours for a household through a cold, dark winter. Before there were OXO cubes, Heinz ketchup and Classico pasta sauce, there were women who kept everyone from losing their minds over endless bowls of turnip soup and boiled potatoes with mutton.
Perhaps the return of Outlander on TV has given me my second wind… are there any other fans among my readers? If Claire could manage to survive in a kitchen-of-old, then surely I can do it too.
My inspiration this weekend is to use the last of the apples and some quince with my final trimmings from the mint to make a sort of preserve that I’d like to use for both sweet and savoury purposes. My plan is to make it on the sweet side, and then when I want to use it say, for roast pork, I’ll sauté some onions and add in the apple mint preserve with a bit of cider vinegar to get more of a chutney or Branston-pickly kind of condiment. (If anyone has any experience with a similar recipe, I’m all ears.) I shall post up the recipe once I’m happy with the result.
And perhaps I’ll make a batch of Millionaire Shortbread in celebration of the Outlander premiere on Sunday. Since Claire and Jamie will be in the New World, it seems only fitting that we encourage that spirit of entrepreneurship, don’t you think? (wink)