Enroute

A couple of months ago I received a message from ginger, she said it was my last chance. She had booked tickets to Paris and if I wanted in on the action I had better step up my game. Back in the fall she had told me of her plans and asked if I was interested. I had been non-committal, busy at work and all in all just not sure. But when my final warning came in I decided to give the trip some more serious thought.

Here we are about 2 months later and I’m sitting in seat 16F looking out my window, 35,000 feet in the air and halfway across Canada. To be exact, somewhere over Beausejour, where ever that is. For one reason or another Ginger and I always manage to make time for each other when it comes to Paris, although this time our visit is much overdue.

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I have always enjoyed traveling with Ginger. We seem to have a similar idea of what it takes to have a good vacation. So far we have a Google map with some rough ideas of sites, food and general things that we want to do while we are in Paris. Unstructured is a good way to describe how we approach things. We often find ourselves gathered around a table with our sketchbooks and a couple of cups of tea, planning the area that we want to visit the next day. Most of our time is spent wandering streets, taking photos and I like to stop often for treats.

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In the days leading up to my departure, when I wasn’t making little stacks of items that needed to be packed on the living room floor, I was scanning the internet for all things French. That is when I came upon this recipe in Dorie Greenspan cookbook, Paris Sweets for World Peace/Korova Cookies. It was fate, they were french and I had to make them. We devoured them in record time and when the cookies were all finished I hopped on my plane for Paris.

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Rise and Shine Granola

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Within certain circles, my mother has a bit reputation when it comes to cooking from a recipe. We like to tease her about her freewheeling approach to following directions. She doesn’t sweat the details – recipes are a starting place to her, not a set of directions that must be followed. Of course, this approach has advantages. Rare are the days when she passes on a recipe because she doesn’t have an ingredient – there is always a suitable substitute. However, when something goes wrong, it’s hard to fault the recipe. 

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But, in the end, I love this carefree approach my mother brings to her cooking, mostly because it is in such contrast to my own tendencies. Once I see the recipe pictured, I want to reproduce it as closely as I can. I’ve written before about going out on shopping expeditions to find the right size pan for my cherry picnic cake. If my mom made the cake, she’d have been eating it for days before me, having roughly sized up an appropriate cake pan from the stack in the cupboard by the oven and carried on without missing a beat. 

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But on to the granola – this recipe has been handed around and adapted within the family for a few years now. It is also one of Sean’s favorite breakfast items at my parents house. Knowing that he loves it, my mom often gives him a bag of it as a gift. While I have dabbled with other granola recipes over the years, this one remains his favorite. So, I decided I should try and make it at home.

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When my mom gave me this recipe, I teased her that trying to reproduce it was a bit like translating a foreign language. The basics of the recipes were spelled out with my mom’s unique abbreviations, accompanied by notes, crossed out measurements and directions accumulated over several rounds of baking. There were notes about baking in a convection oven versus a food dryer. But one of the key things this made me realize is that the baking process is not so much about cooking the granola but drying it out. So, to keep things easy, I added directions on how to bake in a conventional oven. You’re on your own with the food dryer!

Rise and Shine Granola

The thing with granola is that it thrives on improvisation. This recipe comes from my aunt Georgia who shared it with my mother. And it is not lost on me that I’ve adapted it for you!

6 cups (700 g) thick oatmeal
1 cup (140 g) sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds
1 cup (145 g) coarsely chopped almonds
½ cup (70 g) sesame seeds
1 cup (140 g) raisins
1 cup (90 g) unsweetened coconut flakes
½ cup (85 g) candied ginger, chopped
1 cup (150 g) dried pineapple
½ cup (150 g) maple syrup or honey
⅓ cup (70 g) oil
¾ cup (170 g) unsalted butter
¼ cup (65 g) brown sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Prepare two large rimmed baking sheets and line with parchment paper. Set aside. Heat oven to 275 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the oatmeal though the dried pineapple. Stir gently to combine.

In a small sauce pan over medium heat, combine the maple syrup, oil, butter and brown sugar until the sugar dissolved. Remove from heat, whisk in the salt, cinnamon and vanilla extract.

Pour the warm liquid over the dry ingredients. Stir well to combine.

Spread the granola evenly between the two pans. Place in preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes. Turn the oven off and let the granola sit in the hot oven for 10 minutes. Rotate pans, then turn the oven back to 275 and bake for another 15 minutes. Turn oven off and let sit for 10 minutes with the door closed. At this point, the granola is done, but I like to open the oven door and let the granola cool in the oven.

Once cool, store in an airtight jar or container.

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Winter greens

Winter is one of my favourite seasons. I love winter clothes, sweaters, boots, cozy jackets and woollen scarfs. I am always happy to be mucking around in the snow with my snowshoes on or out on a ski hill. Of course with the cold weather and winter outings comes all the delicious comfort foods and toasty warm drinks. Mmm, so good.

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As kids Ginger and I could often be found bundled up and packing down the snow on the driveway with our toboggans, this was a non-sanctioned idea and if we were caught by our parents we were kindly asked to move along. One of our other favourite activities was making snow horses. Unlike most kids who make snowmen, Ginger and I liked making more useful snow creatures, you can actually ride a snow horse, where as a snowman can only be looked at. Our snow horses probable looked a lot like a haphazard or fallen down snowman with two big snowballs making up its body and some strange configuration of other snowballs that never seemed to actually resemble a horses head. But we tried non the less and spent many an hour out in the yard tending to our horses.

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This years winter has been a little more green than it has been white. No snow horses for me. To be honest, I would have been happy to have a little more of the white stuff, but what can you do. Instead we have had to trade our snowshoe clad wanders, for rainy treks through the forest and around our local lakes. It only seemed fitting to also trade in the stews and comfort foods for something that matched our surrounds a little more. Greens.

I stumbled upon this recipe on Food52 a few weeks ago and knew straight away that I had to make it. It kind of reminded me of larb and that is about all that mattered to me. The original recipe serves 6 – 8 people as a side, but I halved the recipe and the two of us polished off most of it as a main.

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Luang Prabang Fusion Salad
Recipe adapted from Food52

For the salad
2 large or extra-large eggs
1 medium head of lettuce, washed and dried
2 scallions, trimmed, smashed flat with the side of a cleaver, cut lengthwise in half or into quarters, and then cut crosswise into 2-inch lengths
1/2 cup cilantro sprigs
1/2 cup celery, sliced on the diagonal
1/2 cup Japanese cucumber, sliced

For the lime juice dressing and the cooked dressing
1/2 tablespoon minced ginger
1 serrano chiles, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
1 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 cloves garlic, minced (divided)
1 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
1/4 pound ground pork
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons hot water
1/4 cup rice or cider vinegar
2 tablespoons dry-roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped

Place eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water, bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook for 10 minutes. Drain and let eggs cool.

Tear lettuce into large pieces. Place all the greens in a salad bowl and set aside.

Peel the hard-boiled eggs and cut crosswise in half. Remove the yolks, place in a small bowl and mash; reserve for later. Cut the whites crosswise and set aside in a separate bowl.

In a medium bowl, mix together the ginger, chiles, fish sauce, lime juice, and 1 clove of minced garlic; set aside.

Put the remaining dressing ingredients near your stove. Heat a wok over high heat. Add the oil and heat for 20 seconds, then add the remaining cloves of garlic. Stir-fry until the garlic starts to change colour, about 20 seconds, then add the pork. Break the pork up into small pieces as you stir-fry. Once the pork has changed colour completely, about 1 to 2 minutes, add the salt and sugar, then add the hot water and bring to a boil. Add the vinegar, add the reserved mashed egg yolks, and stir to blend.

Pour the hot liquid and pork over the prepared greens and toss. Add the lime juice dressing and toss. Transfer the salad to individual plates and mound. Sprinkle on the chopped roasted peanuts, arrange slices of egg white on top, and serve immediately.

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Gathering new traditions: fika

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Some days I find myself stumped on what to share here. I love sharing stories and photos of what I’ve been up to. But I’ve got to come up with all of that good stuff first! Some days I don’t feel like I have good stories to tell and nothing seems to be coming together. Like this post – I’ve been waiting to share it for at least a couple of weeks while I try to come up with some story to share with you. But this recipe is too good to keep to myself, so here it is.

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I don’t know much about fika, but browsing through the January issue of Saveur, a photo of a sweet bread stopped me in my tracks. Reading more, it appears that fika is the Swedish concept of an afternoon coffee break, with snacks. I’m in! As a regular Instagrammer, I’ve seen people posting about their afternoon fika, so the concept is not foreign. But I’m no expert on all of the real details. So imagine my delight to find not only a recipe, but the mention of an upcoming book devoted to fika recipes. I may have even pre-ordered it!

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Without even really planning it, I’ve spent most of the winter so far with my own little interpretation of fika. As the early grey gathers on weekend afternoons, we’ll gather in the kitchen with candles and snacks arranged on the table. We spend some time chatting, browsing magazines or better still, drawing. And since finding this recipe, a few of our weekend gatherings have been accompanied by the sweet warm waftings of cinnamon and cardamom. I hope it will inspire some gatherings of your own.

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Swedish Cinnamon and Cardamom Bread

This recipe appeared in the January 2015 issue of Saveur and is ever so slightly adapted here.

Serves 8 to 10

FOR THE DOUGH

7 tbsp. unsalted butter
1½ cups whole milk, heated to 115°
2 tsp. active dry yeast
4½ cups flour, plus more for dusting
¼ cup sugar
1½ tsp. cardamom seeds, lightly crushed
½ tsp. kosher salt 

FOR THE FILLING AND TOPPING:

½ cup granulated sugar
7 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
1½ tsp. cardamom seeds, finely crushed
1 egg, beaten
Pearl sugar, for sprinkling

Make the dough: Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat and let cool just slightly. Stir in milk and yeast; let sit until yeast is foamy, about 10 minutes. Whisk flour, sugar, cardamom and salt in a bowl. Stir in yeast mixture until dough forms. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 3 minutes. Return dough to bowl and cover with a clean dish towel. Let rest in a warm place until dough is doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Make the filling: Mix granulated sugar, butter, cinnamon and cardamom in a bowl until smooth.

Assemble the bread: On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into an 11″ x 17″ rectangle, about ¼″ thick. Spread filling over dough, leaving a ½″ border along edges. Working from one long end, roll dough into a tight cylinder. Transfer seam side down to a parchment paper-lined  rimmed baking sheet. Cover with dish towel; let sit in a warm place until dough has doubled in size again, about 45 minutes.

Bake the bread: Heat oven to 375°. Starting 1″ from one end of the dough, make crosswise slices with a serrated knife, spaced 1″ apart, three-quarters of the way through dough. Gently fan dough slices away from the center, alternating left to right. Brush dough with egg and sprinkle with pearl sugar; bake until golden brown, about 22 minutes. Let bread cool completely before serving, if you can hold yourself back that long! Best enjoyed the day it is baked, it will reheat perfectly for breakfast the next morning.

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January views

Our side-by-side photo series combines two photos, one taken by each of us, for a snapshot of what we’re up to now.

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The toastest with the mostest

I wish that I could tell you that I baked this lovely loaf of bread, but I didn’t. Over the holidays our friend’s family stayed in our apartment while we were away in Kelowna and when we came home we found this bread waiting for us. Thanks guys!

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On my last day of holidays I decide to put this loaf to good use. With making the most of the one day that we had left in mind, I wanted something simple and delicious. What is more delicious than eggs, avocado and bacon? Probably nothing. So, I crisped up some bacon, smashed an avocado and poached a couple of eggs.

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We enjoyed these little guys with a hot cup of coffee and then hit the road in search of adventure. When I say adventure I mean grocery shopping, buying a new door mat and picking up a few different varieties of green tea. So fun, so adventurous!

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On Collecting and Buckwheat Cakes…

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For the past several years, my mom has been taking me to an antique store in a little town called Summerland. It’s a great shop and an even better town, but I’ll save that story for another day. For the longest time, I haven’t had much of an interest in antiques. But somewhere in the midst of working on this blog, I decided I needed to add some items to my kitchen. New pans, old dishes – at this point, I’ve added a little of both. There is a satisfaction in heading into a kitchen store and coming out with just what I need. But I’ve learned the thrill of the unexpected treasure found while rummaging in some antique collection.

Back in the little antique shop in Summerland, I found a worn muffin pan tucked away on a dark shelf of baking odds and ends. How exciting can a muffin tin be, right? But this little pan looked like it would turn out cakes, not just standard issue muffins and that has to be worth something. It hasn’t been the most well used of some of my finds, but things are turning around for my little pan.

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See, back when I was in Seattle a few months ago, I spent a little time tasting treats around town. I don’t think I can go downtown without stopping at Dahlia Bakery, part of the Tom Douglas megablock of dining establishments. This time around, I tasted a buckwheat cake with a whiskey glaze – a satisfying treat that feels wholesome and dessert-like at the same time. The cake was flecked with thick bits of oatmeal and drizzled with just enough of a sweet whiskey glaze. It was so good, I went back for a second one another day and this time I took notes.

I don’t really develop recipes – there is something about that process that sounds daunting. Probably because it is so precise and there is all this pressure to come up with a recipe that actually works for you. So when I came home, I had no plans to recreate it. I figured there would be a recipe out there for buckwheat cakes. As it turns out, that’s not really a thing and I couldn’t turn up a single recipe that looked right. So before that flavor memory faded in my mind, I decided I’d get baking on my own. Happily, these little cakes came together quite easily and we’ve been enjoying them most every weekend since.

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Tom’s version was labelled “flourless” so it made me think that these cakes had the potential of being gluten free. The final version I’m sharing here is just that, but if you’re not worried about a little wheat flour, feel free to sub out the gluten-free flour for a regular all-purpose blend. But the buckwheat is what makes this recipe unique, so don’t be afraid to try that out.

I’ve made this recipe two ways – frosted with a whiskey glaze or sprinkled with a light dusting of powdered sugar. The original cakes I tasted included the whiskey glaze, but I wanted a kid-friendly option! Try them both and pick your favorite. They both seem fitting in this winter season!

Buckwheat Oatmeal Cakes with Whiskey Glaze

Inspired by Tom Douglas’s Dahlia Bakery in Seattle
Makes about 10 muffins

¾ cup (110g) buckwheat flour
¼ cup (35g) all-purpose flour or all-purpose gluten-free flour mix
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (255g) applesauce
½ cup (50g) thick oatmeal
⅓ cup (60g) vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon
¾ cup (165g) sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt

Glaze, optional
½ cup (75g) powdered sugar
2 tablespoons whiskey

Heat oven to 350 and prepare muffin pan.

In a small bowl, combine the buckwheat and all-purpose flours, and the baking powder.

In a large bowl, whisk together the applesauce, oatmeal, oil, eggs, spice, sugar, soda and salt. Add in the flour mixture and stir until just combined.

Divide the batter amongst the tins so they are about ¾ full. Bake until puffed and starting to darken, about 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle just comes out clean. Cool the cakes in their tins for a minute or two, then remove and allow to cool on a cooling rack.

If using, whisk the powdered sugar and whiskey together until smooth and just pourable. Drizzle the glaze over the cooled cakes and allow to set. Or sprinkle with sifted powdered sugar once the cakes have cooled. Any leftover cakes will keep in an airtight container for a couple of days.

 

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One last weekend of summer

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One last weekend of summer. That has been the running joke this fall whenever we have a beautiful sunny day here in Vancouver. Although summer and basically fall have come and gone, we did have one last spell of summer this past weekend.

Our joke is more of a reminder to seize the moments and enjoy ever bit of sun that we see, rather than some delusion that pants are optional and maybe we can fit in a sunset swim later.

This last weekend of summer was perfect. It came directly following a day of torrential down pour where streets flooded and spirits were seriously dampened. In the morning, when the clouds parted and the sun shone through, we donned our puffy jackets, toques, scarfs and sunglasses and headed for the nearest patio.

We sat outside, wrapped in blankets, sipping hot coffee and eating breakfast; just a group of friends enjoying that one last weekend of summer. According to environment Canada we might have one last weekend of summer again this weekend before the snow comes. You can bet that I’ll be the first one out the door if the sun is shining.

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Cornbread skillet goodness

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Last week, snow fell. It was a skiff, really, but with the dip in temperatures that accompanied it, that little dusting has managed to stay around all week. When the weather is cold and it is dark before I head home in the evenings, I feel like an extra measure of comfort is needed. I know I must have told you that when autumn comes around, my plans for cooking seem to make a turn all on their own. Suddenly, soup sounds like a good idea and I make at least one pot per weekend. One giant pot that simmers for hours on the weekend, then is doled out into quart jars in preparation for the week ahead. And as this ritual repeats itself over the first weeks of fall, my freezer fills up with lunch options. Corn chowder, red lentil and cream of cauliflower, portioned out and ready for a quick meal.

ingredients

If I am going to have soup for dinner, I like to pair it with a salad or some bread. Hot buttered slices of toast work well, as do savory little muffins. But really, what I want most with my soup is a skillet of cornbread. For one thing, once the oven is turned on in the evening, the kitchen just feels that much more cozy. And this recipe is quick enough that by the time the soup is warmed up and the table set, there is cornbread ready to come out of the oven. Around here, we top it with some butter and perhaps a slice of cheese. We’re a divided house when it comes to a sweet topping though, but a drizzle of maple syrup always wins out for me.

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This recipe came to me a few years ago when Tina shared it as an idea for a gluten-free quick bread. I’ve been making it several times a week already this season. In fact, it’s so good that I may have made it several nights in a row when my parents visited us. The three of us don’t eat the whole pan, but I like to toast the leftovers the next morning with a hard boiled egg, or make open-face sandwiches with more soup at lunch. And with Thanksgiving just around the corner, I couldn’t help but think that leftovers would make a tasty stuffing come next week.

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Recipe note: In my opinion, the main ingredient to watch is the cornmeal. Don’t be lulled into thinking any old grind will work. Stone-ground cornmeal gives a much better texture and bite to the cornbread. And meal that’s labelled for grits works really well, in my experience.

Skillet Cornbread

Recipe from Gourmet

1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal (preferably stone-ground)
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups well-shaken buttermilk (do not use powdered)
1/2 stick unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 425°F with the rack in the middle. Heat a well-seasoned 10-inch skillet in the oven for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile stir together the cornmeal, sugar, baking soda and salt in medium bowl. Whisk together eggs together in a small bowl and measure buttermilk in a large measuring cup.

Remove the now hot skillet from oven, taking care as the handle will be very hot. Add butter and return to the oven for about five minutes to melt. When the butter is melted, remove the skillet from the oven, swirling to coat bottom and sides (butter may brown and it’s delicious). Whisk hot butter into the buttermilk mixture and return skillet to oven. Stir cornmeal mixture into buttermilk mixture just until evenly moistened but still lumpy.

 

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Lunch time treats

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASandwiches are a bit of a lunch time treat for me. My usual lunches are made up of salads in the summer and soups in the fall and bread doesn’t have much of a place in my kitchen. When I am lucky enough to get a sandwich, a local place called Finches makes some of my favourites.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne such favourite includes pear slices, blue cheese and walnuts. I have been craving one of these sandwiches for a while, so I decided to attempt a re-creation of sorts at home.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn my version of the sandwich I switched out the blue cheese for a nice double cream brie, added a few slices of prosciutto, some sliced grapes, walnuts and topped it off with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Perhaps these simple and delicious sandwiches don’t have to be treats after all.

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