Winging It

Chicken has always been one of my favourite meats. I could happily eat it every dinner, week after week, for quite a long time. Chicken’s versatility allows it to be transformed into an entirely different taste experience with each meal.

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Chicken has always been one of my favourite meats. I could happily eat it every dinner, week after week, for quite a long time. Chicken’s versatility allows it to be transformed into an entirely different taste experience with each meal.

Oddly enough chicken wings have never really captured my attention or appetite until quite recently – at the instigation of my youngest son who frequently orders wings when they’re on a menu. I’ve possibly been put off by the fact that most restaurant wings are deep fried. While I own a deep fryer and several deep skillets that are perfect for shallow deep frying, I just don’t like the idea of all that combustible hot oil, all the splatter, and all the oily smell that comes with fried food. And that isn’t even taking the health considerations into account! It’s not that I won’t ever eat fried foods, I really enjoy them on occasion, but I am happy to leave the frying to a restaurant.

Good - Wings 8

Then, a couple of summers ago, when collaborating on the food for a multi-family cottage dock party, I found myself inexplicably exploring the idea of chicken wings as a possible contribution. Now, I didn’t want to go through the hassle of deep frying chicken wings and I didn’t want to go with store-bought, frozen wings. In my taste-imagination I envisioned wings with Asian flavours that would make my taste-buds sit up and pay attention. I also wanted a wing recipe that could be made ahead. The wings would have to  taste great whether hot, warm, or at room temperature, and not require a drippy dipping sauce that might land in the hosts’ carpet. So…

After combing through what seemed like hundreds of recipes and approaches, I found one baking method on the internet that promised a tasty, crispy wing that could be combined with any glaze or sauce desired. It involved dusting the wings with a spiced-up flour mixture, rolling them in melted butter, and then baking them in a hot 425F oven. Although I had reservations about rolling the wings in butter, they did come out quite crispy and good. Once I had coated them with my glaze and given them another brief bake, they were what I had been aiming for in my taste-imagination. So I made ten pounds of them!

Good - Wings 7

Last fall, when I was cruising around the various cooking websites and blogs, I stumbled across a recipe for the “the crispiest ever” chicken thighs (at ifoodblogger.com). This rub recipe included baking powder as an ingredient. Here was something new and totally different that I had never come across before!

Achieving a crisp skin involves drawing out moisture which is why recipes often tell you to pat the meat dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper before placing it in a hot pan. The patting and salt help to dry the surface of the meat in advance of cooking and helps the browning and crisping process. Ever since I discovered that baking powder is a drying agent it has become a necessary part of any rub I make for chicken because it improves immeasurably the crispiness of the chicken skin. And, if you are going to indulge in eating the skin, it might as well be worth the fat and calories right? And, no, you don’t taste the baking powder.

Good - Wings 10

With chicken wings, it is not a case of eliminating skin and subcutaneous fat (some of which is rendered during baking) but rather one of not adding fat by rolling the wings in butter or deep-frying them. I decided to try making a baking powder rub for my wings to see if they would crisp-up satisfactorily and met with great success on the first try (one for the history books). The wings were even crispier than those that I had rolled in butter and I detected no loss in flavour, juiciness, or tenderness. I now had a basic approach to wings that was not only easy, but could also be switched up and played with depending on the desired flavour profile. I have started keeping a jar of the basic rub at hand for speedy preparation of skin-on chicken pieces that I want to come out of the oven baked to perfection. Although I haven’t actually tried it, I see no reason why a tablespoon or so of baking powder couldn’t be added to any favourite rub.

I also discovered that baking the wings can affect the end result and have found that two approaches are the best. The method I use will depend on the oven I’m cooking in. Both methods are very similar, the basic preparation being the same. The main differences are the time required for cooking and the type of oven used. Method 1 is the quickest but requires a convection oven function to move the hot air up and around the wings. Method 2, by contrast, takes a longer cooking time but produces the same results as Method 1 using a standard oven.

Good - Wings 1

Orange Ginger Chicken Wings

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  • Serves: 6-8
  • Time:
    • Wings – Approx. 35 min for trimming.
    • Rub – 5 min.
    • Glaze – 35 min.
    • Baking – 42-87 min.

General Ingredients:

  • 5 lbs (2.25 kg) chicken wings

Basic Rub Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 tsp ground ginger
  • 3 tsp Chinese five spice powder
  • 1 tsp garlic salt or ½ tsp garlic powder
  • pinch cayenne pepper

Orange Ginger Glaze Ingredients:

  • 4 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 4 tsp olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 ½ cups hoisin sauce
  • 1 ½ cups orange juice (can be fresh or a pure, without preservatives commercial brand)
  • zest of 3 oranges
  • 6 tbsp finely grated ginger root
  • 3 tsp low sodium soy sauce
  • 6 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp Chinese five spice powder (optional)
  1. Basic Rub:

Put all ingredients in a small bowl and mix well to combine. To change the flavours in the rub, start with the baking powder, Kosher salt, and black pepper and then add the spices and/or herbs that you desire for a total combination of about 8 tsp (unless you are using hot pepper spices like cayenne – then use a little all-purpose flour to make up the 8 tsp once you have your desired level of spiciness).

  1. Orange Ginger Glaze:
    1. Place the oil and minced garlic in a small saucepan and sauté the garlic over medium heat until it is softened but not browned.
    2. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer slowly for 15 – 20 minutes, until the mixture is reduced in volume by about a half and is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Set aside. The glaze can be made a day or so ahead and stored in the refrigerator until needed. Warm before using.
  1. The Chicken Wings:
    1. If you have whole wings that have not already been trimmed you will start by doing this. It is the most time-consuming part of the preparation. You will see that the wing divides naturally into three sections: the lower part that is almost like a mini drumstick, the centre section, and the thinner wing tip. There is a joint between each section. Separate the end of the wing from the middle by cutting through the joint. Separate the middle section from the tip by cutting through this joint. Discard the wing tip as it is all skin and bone and no good for eating. Reserve the other two sections. Repeat this process with each wing. It is a real time saver if you buy wings with this work already done for you.
    2. Cook the wings:
      1. Cooking Method 1 (for a convection oven):
        1. Preheat the oven to 450F (non-convection mode).
        2. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and place a wire rack on top. Either spray the rack with a non-stick cooking spray or brush with oil.
        3. Dry the wing pieces well with paper towels.
        4. Coat pieces well with the rub mixture. You can do this by either rubbing each piece individually with the rub mixture or you can place all the pieces in a Ziploc bag, dump the rub in on top, and shake vigorously until the pieces are well covered.

          Process - Wings w Rub
          “ay, there’s the rub!”
        5. Place the prepared wings on the rack, skin side up, in a single layer. It’s okay if the pieces are touching.
        6. As you place the wings in the oven, switch to the convection function at 425F and bake for 35 minutes.

          Process - Baked Wings
          Baked wings without glaze
        7. Remove the wings from the oven but leave the oven on. Place the wings in a heatproof bowl (they could melt a plastic bowl) and coat with the desired glaze. You will only need about half the glaze to sufficiently coat the wings. Use any remaining glaze as a dip, if desired.

          Process - Wings w Glaze
          Wings coated with glaze before second bake
        8. Return the wings to the rack and bake an additional 7 minutes.
      2. Cooking Method 2 (for a standard oven):
        1. Preheat oven to 250F.
        2. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and place a wire rack on it. Either spray the rack with a non-stick cooking spray or brush with oil.
        3. Dry the wing pieces well with paper towels.
        4. Place the wings in a Ziploc bag. Dump the rub mixture into the bag and shake vigorously until all the pieces are coated evenly. Drizzle 1 tbsp of vegetable oil into the bag with the wings and shake again.
        5. Place the prepared wings on the rack, skin side up, in a single layer. It’s okay if the pieces are touching.
        6. Bake for 30 minutes, then increase the oven temperature to 400F and bake for another 45 to 50 minutes or until the wings are golden brown.
        7. Remove the wings from the oven but leave the oven on.
        8. Place the wings in a heatproof bowl and coat with the desired glaze. You will only need about half of the glaze to sufficiently coat the wings. Use any remaining glaze as a dip, if desired.
        9. Return wings to rack and bake an additional 5 to 6 minutes.

Notes:

  • You can use any barbeque sauce (commercial or otherwise) in place of the Orange-Ginger Glaze if you wish. Start by using about ½ cup to glaze the wings, adding more if needed for good coverage.
  • When serving the wings, try to avoid piling them on top of each other as doing so reduces their crispiness.
  • I often leave half of the wings unglazed, and return them to the oven with the glazed wings for the final few minutes of baking. Usually I make a dipping sauce to go with the unglazed wings.
  • In the event you want a dipping sauce, you can make one very quickly by stirring some of your glaze into 1 cup of mayonnaise or a combination of ¾ cup mayonnaise blended with ¼ cup of sour cream. For these uncooked sauces I use fat reduced mayo and sour cream. Another quick dipping sauce is:
    • Mustard Mayonnaise Dip (adapted from thespruceeats.com) – Combine 1 cup mayonnaise, 1 tsp Dijon mustard, 3 tsp yellow ball park mustard, 2 tsp grainy mustard, 2 tsp chopped fresh dill in a small bowl and mix well. If you want a sweeter version, add 2 tsp of honey, or to taste.
  • The cooked wings will keep for a day or two in the refrigerator and still taste good but they will lose their crispiness.

Good - Wings 9 - End

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(Almost) Sugar Free Meringue

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Starting a blog is a fun and interesting for me (and a lot of work for my more tech-savy kids, Owen and Deanna). Through the blog I’ve reconnected with friends I’d lost touch with and have had some good conversations.

Good - 28One of my friends and I shared a back-and-forth on the challenges of hosting parties given all the dietary restrictions – beyond the usual food likes and dislikes – that abound today. For example, in my immediate family there are several considerations that have to be taken into account when planning a menu: one of my children has a nut allergy (developed as an adult), another has become lactose intolerant and cannot, like one of her aunts, tolerate pork or ham; a sibling has become lactose intolerant and cannot have gluten products unless they are organic; another family member is allergic to shrimp and prawns. All things considered, at times it feels like the list of foods that cannot be served is longer than the list of those that can! Plain rice anyone? Some of the problems are easily solved – like the pork and prawns – just don’t serve them. Keeping things both lactose and gluten free is more of a challenge. Finding organic flour is easy these days but we have a friend who has Celiac Disease and so any gluten-containing flour, organic or not, is out. My friend, with whom I was having the conversation,commented that my family sounded like hers, except that her husband is also diabetic and has to be very careful about sugar intake. As our conversation continued, she told me about how her husband, an Australian, loves pavlova and meringue which, of course, are mostly sugar. She had tried experimenting with various sugar substitutes and found them either way too sweet, with a bitter aftertaste, or, that they responded to heat in ways that didn’t work.

Now here was a challenge that I was excited to tackle! How to get the sugar out of meringue and yet have a good meringue. And, four cartons of egg whites and numerous eggs in the shell later, I think I have an answer.

It is important, however, if sugar consumption is critical for you, that you make your own determination of what amount is good for you. I am not an expert on diabetes or blood sugar levels.

Good - 1

Meringue 101 – The Prerequisite

Meringue is basically sugar suspended in egg white and baked. Rather than going the sugar substitute route, I decided to see what was the least amount of sugar I could add and still get an edible meringue.

Good - 26My starting point was classic meringue. My Nain used to make meringue nests quite often and stored them in a huge glass jar. They were sweet and crispy – the kind of crispy that taught you why a fork and spoon are provided across the top of your place setting for dessert. If you didn’t pin down the meringue with your fork, more often than not a chunk of meringue went flying across the table (and if you were really unlucky, off the other side and into someone’s lap) . The meringue nests got various fillings – lemon curd, a mousse, or ice cream and sauce. All very good but definitely an etiquette challenge.

From watching The Great British Bake Off I have learned that the most desirable meringue is not just  crisp on the outside but softer and more marshmallowy on the inside. This difference in texture is achieved by the addition of a small amount of either lemon juice or vinegar as the meringue is being beaten. Personally, I prefer lemon juice to the slight note vinegar leaves.

Aside from egg whites, the next major ingredient in meringues is sugar; as much as two cups over four egg whites in some recipes – enough to make your teeth want to retract back up into your gums and completely impossible for a diabetic.

Reinventing the Wheel

I started with a rough estimate of how much sugar might be acceptable using my friend’s information (1 tsp of sugar over 2 meringue cookies) and worked to lower the sugar even more to allow for fillings in a meringue nest or pavlova. For the meringues I developed, I used 8 tsp of sugar for 4 large egg whites (12 tbsp of egg white from a carton). When whipped up, this amount will yield about 8 – 3 inch meringue nests or 1 large pavlova base. That amounts to no more than 1 tsp of sugar per nest!

Good - 23While working on the sugar reduced meringues, one of the first things I found was that using my stand mixer beat way too much air into the whites and the baked product was akin to styrofoam. Using my electric hand mixer on high worked perfectly.

To help stabilize the whites (especially because of the drastically reduced amount of sugar), I used somewhat more cream of tartar than would normally be used for the number of egg whites. Finally, without all the sweetness of sugar, the meringue was lacking in taste. This problem was remedied with vanilla extract, a small amount of almond extract, and a pinch of salt.

When baking, I found that small meringue kisses piped through a large star tip, crisp up with a 25 to 35 minute bake and can be cooled either in or out of the oven. Larger meringues, like the nests, shrink a little during baking and cooling and then need several hours to crisp up.

Good - 12The real baking challenge was the large shell for for a pavlova. I tried baking it at a higher starting temperature (350F – normally meringues are baked at between 200F and 250F for around an hour) to set the meringue. Then, after 5 minutes, I turned the temperature back down to the more usual range to finish baking but the meringue browned too much and didn’t crisp. I tried a longer bake at a low temperature. The first attempt at this resulted in a charred meringue as the oven setting had somehow got changed from Fahrenheit degrees to Celsius without me noticing. Oven tricks aside, the longer bake at a low temperature was ultimately a fail. It looked good but it just wasn’t crisp.

This effort was left sitting to one side in the kitchen for two days before it caught my attention again. And guess what? It was nice and crisp on the outside and softer on the inside! Looks like a prolonged drying time was all that was needed. Lesson learned: if you want to make pavlova using this meringue recipe, start three days ahead of when you want it. Other alternatives are to either make a deconstructed pavlova using “kisses” or individual pavlovas with meringue nests. All the meringues will keep several days in a dry, airtight container once they have crisped.Good - 16

Meringue 201

Now, whether making a high or low sugar meringue, there are some basic rules that apply. Meringues are sensitive to moisture and humidity in the air so it is always best to make them on a dry day. Most important of all, however, is that the egg whites remain totally free of any fat because even the smallest amount of yolk in the whites will prevent them from whipping up properly. Also, the bowl in which you are whipping the whites needs to be either glass, stainless steel, or copper. Bowls made of plastic or other materials may look clean but, in fact, they have absorbed fats and oils over time and will prevent your egg whites from whipping up. I do not even use rubber or wooden spatulas in my egg whites before they have reached the desired degree of stiffness.

I found that there is very little difference in performance between using egg whites from a carton and egg whites obtained by separating whole eggs in the shell except that I was then left with a lot of yolks that I didn’t necessarily have a use for. On the other hand, if you are planning to make crème pâtissière or crème diplomat for your nests or pavlova, then whole eggs are the way to go. Whatever the source of your egg whites, you should let them come to room temperature before whipping them because they will whip up higher. Hint: it is easier to separate cold eggs just out of the refrigerator and then let the separated egg whites and yolks come to room temperature. The final thing to know about meringues is that they like a long slow bake in a low oven (200F to 250F) and are best left to cool for at least an hour in the turned-off oven. For full sugar meringues in particular, cooling in the oven helps to prevent cracking.

Good - 7One last note about these low sugar meringues. Once they are exposed to moisture they soften much more quickly than traditional meringues. For this reason, I recommend not filling or constructing your nests or pavlova more than about 45 minutes before you plan to serve them. You can have all the elements ready and then it takes not even 5 minutes to finish the dessert off. You will also notice in the photos, that I have sandwiched some of the little kisses together with raspberry jam and they became soft quite quickly. The jam I used was a President’s Choice blue brand that I hadn’t noticed before: a raspberry jam without added sugar and also without any artificial sweetener (which I can always taste). It’s quite a moist, soft-set jam, but really good. I’ve also been using it as an accompaniment to lemon cheesecake.

Good - 20Because my trials and experiments left me with egg yolks, I also made an orange flavoured crème pâtissière in which I reduced the sugar to 1 tbsp for the whole amount and used orange extract and orange zest for the flavouring. If you are not concerned about adding sugar or alcohol, you might want to increase the sugar to 3 to 4 tbsp and flavour with orange zest and an orange liqueur. For one pavlova, I used the crème pâtissière as was and then topped it off with vanilla flavoured, unsweetened, whipped cream and fruit. For the other pavlova and the meringue nests, I folded the crème pâtissière and the whipped cream (which I further stabilized with gelatin) together to make crème diplomat.

Meringues are quick and easy to make. You can have them in the oven in under ten minutes and the results are impressive and elegant.

So, let’s make meringues!

Good - 11

Crispy and Practically Sugar Free Meringues

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**It is important if sugar consumption is critical for you, that you make your own determination of what amount is good for you. I am not an expert on diabetes or blood sugar levels. **

  • Serves: 6-8
  • Hands-on Time: 10 min
  • Cooking: 45 min

Ingredients:

  • 4 large egg whites (or 12 tbsp. egg white from a carton), at room temperature
  • ½ tsp. cream of tartar
  • ⅛ tsp. salt
  • 8 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp. pure almond extract

Meringue Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 225F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. If you are making nests, draw eight 3” circles, about 2” apart, on the parchment and then turn it over so the pencil marks won’t transfer to your meringue. If you are making a base for a Pavlova, draw an 8” or 9” circle on the parchment and turn over.
  2. With an electric hand mixer or a balloon whisk, beat the egg whites until they are frothy – like the foam on a latte. Sprinkle the cream of tartar and salt onto the whites and continue to beat until you have soft peaks (another minute or two). Gradually start to beat in the sugar, about a teaspoon at a time and continue to beat until you have stiff peaks and you can no longer feel any graininess or grit when you rub a little of the mixture between your fingers. It should feel completely smooth. This indicates that the sugar has totally dissolved into the egg whites.

    Whipped Peaks
    Eventually it should have whipped peaks.
  3. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and beat for another three minutes.
  4. At this point you have several options:
    1. Meringue Nests – spoon the meringue onto the circles you drew and then spread them out from the centre with the back of the spoon, building up the edges to form a nest.
      1. Another way to make a meringue nest is to place the meringue in a large piping bag fitted with a large open star tip. Then pipe the meringue onto the circles, starting at the centre and piping out in concentric circles until you reach the edge. Then you can build up the sides by piping around the outside ring, one layer on top of another until you have three layers forming the sides.
    2. Pavlova – mound the meringue in the centre of the circle and then use a spatula to work the meringue out from the centre, make sure that there is an indentation in the centre when you are done. Smooth out the meringue on the sides as if you were icing a cake and then make deep diagonal grooves from bottom to top at intervals, all around the circle of meringue.

      Dip
      Baked Pavlova – Dipped Centre
    3. Kisses – Pipe the meringue into kisses using the large open tip star (you can also do this with extra meringue if you have some left after piping your nests).
    4. Eton Mess – Spread the meringue flat on the sheet in a single layer.
  5. Once you have formed your meringues, place them in the oven and bake them for 35 to 45 minutes. The meringues will still feel soft and kind of leathery, but not sticky, when touched gently. If they still feel sticky and show your fingerprints, bake for about 10 minutes longer. Turn off the oven and leave the meringues in it to cool for about an hour. After that, remove the meringues from the oven and cool completely. Nests will take about three hours to crisp up, Pavlovas, up to three days. Drying meringues out with so little sugar just takes patience.
  6. Depending on whether you wish to make a nest, Pavlova, or Eton Mess, do the following:
    1. Nest – You can treat the nests as mini Pavlovas or use other fillings such as lemon curd, a mousse (fruit or chocolate flavoured), ice cream and sauce, or sherbet. Add any other sprinkles or decorations.
    2. Pavlova – Place the meringue base on a serving plate. Fill the centre of the meringue with either crème diplomat or a layer of crème pâtissière, followed by a layer of stabilized whipped cream (see below). Decorate with the fruit of your choice. I used strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. Just have lots of fruit.
    3. Good - 10Eton Mess (or Eat-in-a Mess) – In a blender or food processor, purée most of a pint of strawberries, keeping a few back to chop roughly by hand. Fold the puree and chopped strawberries into stabilized whipped cream to combine. Break the sheet of meringue into pieces that range in size up to 5 cm. Fold the smaller pieces into the whipped cream/strawberry mix. You will not use all the meringue – maybe about half of the sheet for about 6 servings. Store leftover meringue in an airtight container for up to two weeks. Fill a fluted or other glass with the mixture and stick a few larger shards of meringue into the top to decorate. Serve chilled.

Crème Pâtissière

  • Serves: 6-8
  • Hands-on Time: 20 min

Ingredients:

  • 1 ¾ c milk
  • ¼ c whipping cream
  • 1 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 ½ tbsp. cornstarch
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp. pure orange extract
  • Grated zest of 1 orange
  • 3 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened

Steps:

  1. Place milk and cream in a saucepan and bring to a boil over a medium heat.
  2. While the milk is heating, combine sugar, egg yolks, large egg, cornstarch, salt, and vanilla in a bowl and whisk them together until thick and smooth. Set aside.
  3. As soon as milk starts to boil, remove it from the heat. Slowly pour about half of the hot milk in a thin stream into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly, so that the yolks become tempered before being added to the remaining milk. Add the now-tempered yolks to the remaining hot milk still in the saucepan.
  4. Heat the custard base over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  5. While continuing to stir constantly, let the mixture come to a boil. You will see bubbles begin to rise to the surface. Cook a further 1 to 2 minutes after the custard begins to boil. Remove from heat and add orange extract and zest. Stir to combine. Whisk in the butter thoroughly.
  6. Pour the custard into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. The wrap should be placed directly on the surface of the custard to prevent it from forming a skin.
  7. Let the custard cool to room temperature, then refrigerate it for a few hours or overnight to chill completely.
  8. Use the crème pâtissière as desired.

Tip: You can make the custard dairy free by using any neutral-flavoured milk substitute of your choice.

Alternatives:

  • Stabilized Whipped Cream – Soften ½ tsp. of gelatin in 1 tbsp. of cold water to soften the gelatin. Then gently warm the mixture on the stove top until the gelatin melts into the water and you have a clear liquid. Begin to whip the cream and once it thickens somewhat, add any sugar and flavourings (if using), then pour the gelatin into the cream in a thin stream while beating continuously. Continue to beat until quite thick, being careful not to overbeat.
  • Crème Diplomat – Fold about half of the chilled crème pâtissière into the stabilized whipped cream. Use as desired.

Good - 15 - SQ

Soupapalooza

I can truthfully say that a river of soup runs through my life.

Button-BroccoliSoup Button-CarrotSoup Button-TurkeySoup

The last few days have been the kind of winter cold that makes me long for a nice hot soup. I love soup. When I was doing my Bachelor of Education at York University, I think I had soup every day for lunch. At least I had it often enough that it became a bit of a class joke. I, however, came to realize what a soul-satisfying source of nourishment soup can be.

Childhood: The Canned Years

As a child, I only remember ever having Campbell’s canned soup and at the skating rink learned what I, at the time, thought of as a really risque rhyme:

Campbell’s soup makes you poop,

Down your leg and in your boot.

My Nain made  the most delicious soup of my childhood but even she started with a can. And that can was Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup, which she combined with her own homemade chicken or turkey broth. It was so good and, if I’m making soup from a can, which is rare, it is what I still do.

Adulthood: The Dawn of True Soup

I don’t think I had a truly homemade soup before taking the “Soup, Salad, and Muffins” course at Bonnie Stern’s cooking school and what a revelation! I found that making soup from scratch does not have to take a lot of time and, minute for minute, yields the most bang for your buck of anything produced in the kitchen.

Turkey_good_1

Homemade soup is so easy and can be rustled up from ingredients you likely already have in your refrigerator or pantry. It works just like the Stone Soup in the classic children’s story. I have been making soup from scratch ever since that eye opening Bonnie Stern class. I have also found that soup has connected me to others in some …odd…(and wonderful) ways.

I Soup Therefore I Am

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“Oh my god it’s Lipton’s!!” -Deanna

I have also discovered that others are interested in soup as well. Once in 1995, when I arrived in the schoolyard to pick-up my daughter, Deanna, from kindergarten, her teacher came hurrying down the steps to ask me about my chicken soup recipe that Deanna had been raving about. Goodness knows what a five year old can say about soup to arouse such interest, but I had to tell the teacher that this most wonderful soup was Lipton’s Chicken Noodle dry soup mix. (At that stage in her life, Deanna had a strong preference for processed foods). LOL.

Another time, the creator of the food show that used to be held on the CNE grounds, was looking for some sure-fire, nutritious recipes to include in their promotional materials and approached me. She hoped that I, as the mother of five and a recognized neighbourhood good cook, might have something that  would fit the bill. My Carrot Soup recipe was the first thing to spring to mind; its almost impossible to get wrong, very nutritious, and an excellent way to sneak other vegetables past the picky eaters which some children can be. And, so a soup came to be my first officially published recipe.

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Making Stone Soup

Over the years, soup and the act of making soup has provided the medium for some great learning and community building experiences. I made Stone Soup with my own kids using the recipe from the story. We would begin by finding a good stone on our way home from school. Once we found a stone that we liked I would give it a good scrub, then boil it for 15 minutes and allow it to cool before starting the soup. After rummaging through the fridge for ingredients we would simmer the ingredients and then puree the soup for a thickened liquid and voilà. Fun Fact: The rock adds nothing, but it managed to trick Deanna into eating a healthy soup. I later made this soup with the children in my classrooms because with Stone Soup, the more that goes into the pot, the better the soup.

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Vegetables?

In my MumNet group we chopped veggies and made Ribollita to take home while reconnecting after a break.

For the past few years a friend of mine has been active in organizing a group of us from the neighbourhood to make soup in support of Soup Sisters – an organization that provides warm soup to women in shelters and hostels. Most of us met years ago as young mothers with kids at the same school and the soup making has been a great way to touch base now that we’ve evolved beyond the school yard. As we chat and chop away an evening under the guidance of several chefs and soup experts, we produce gallons of soup.

When my mother and mother-in-law were ill and unable to eat most things, especially solids, homemade soup was the answer and for several years I was making batches of soup up to three times a week and sending it out in big, plastic juice jugs.

I can truthfully say that a river of soup runs through my life.

Soup 101

Carrot_good_2

No recipe is required to produce a good soup. At the very least you need water and one other ingredient (and a stone if you’re making that soup). Obviously this will not yield the soup of your dreams.

Soup is the most forgiving thing you can make in the kitchen, allowing you to play endlessly with flavour combinations and textures. About the only rule has to do with the quality of your ingredients. You do not need pristine produce for soup. However, your vegetables cannot have one foot in the disposal bin. As they used to say in the computer world, garbage in, garbage out.

An immersion blender is your best friend in soup making. It allows you to purée your soup right in the pot without having to transfer the hot liquid to a food processor or blender. The only time I forgo the immersion blender is when I want a flawlessly smooth soup. Then, I use a blender or force the soup through a fine sieve – achieving a smoothness that not even a food processor can accomplish. With the immersion blender I just have to shove the wand around the soup in its pot until all the chunks are reduced to a purée. Just be careful to keep the head submerged; otherwise it will splatter the hot soup all over the place.

Over the years I have developed a basic formula for creating a soup that will not fail to satisfy. It goes like this:

  • 1 tbsp. of butter or oil (any type)
  • 1 onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 potato, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 3 cups vegetable of choice, coarsely chopped
  • 1 litre of broth (salt reduced or no salt chicken, beef, or vegetable)
  • 1 can evaporated milk (regular or fat reduced)
  • Herbs (fresh or dried) and/or spices to compliment your featured vegetable. For ideas, think of classic combinations or tastes that you have enjoyed when added to your featured vegetable.
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

With these ingredients you then:

  1. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, over medium heat, melt the butter or oil and sauté the onions until softened and translucent.
  2. Add the potato and other vegetables and cook for about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring every so often.
  3. Add the broth. If the broth does not cover the vegetables, add enough water to just cover. Bring to a boil, place a lid on the pot, reduce the heat, and simmer until vegetables are soft – 35 to 45 minutes.
  4. Purée, using the means of your choice, the vegetable/broth mixture. If you like some texture in your soup, leave some chunky bits.
  5. Stir in the evaporated milk. If the soup is too thick, add some additional milk (any kind) or water to thin it out.
  6. Add herbs and/or spices, to taste. You can use either fresh or dried herbs depending on what you have on hand. The rule of thumb is to use half as much of a dried herb as you would fresh. I usually start with a tablespoon of a finely chopped fresh herb or 2 tsp. of a dried herb. For spices, with the exception of hot spices such as cayenne, I add 1 tsp. at a time until I like the result.
  7. Add salt and pepper, to taste.

The combinations of things you can do with this basic formula are endless. If you want to add an additional step, you can roast your vegetables before making the soup. This will result in more depth of flavour and will also reduce the cooking time of the soup.

You can substitute any type of cream (from coffee cream to whipping cream) for the evaporated milk for a richer soup. Because of concerns about the fat content of cream, I eliminated it in favour of evaporated milk that provides a better sense of richness and creaminess than a straight milk substitute does.

I also discovered that silken tofu can be hidden in the soup without affecting its taste or texture by pureeing it in with the other soup ingredients. It’s a great way to up the protein and nutritional value of the soup without having someone object that they won’t eat tofu. Hello Canada’s new Food Guide!

The soup, prepared up to the end of step 4 can be packed in freezer bags and frozen for up to three or four months.

Two of my three “go to” soup recipes follow the Soup 101 formula; they are the broccoli and carrot soups below. As you’ll see, with the turkey soup, I’ve provided something a little different but no more difficult and just a little bit more time consuming – but so worth it. Soup’s On!

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Broccoli Soup

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All the chopping for this soup can be done in a food processor or by hand. I  make the soup up to the end of step 4 and then freeze it (up to 3 months). Once defrosted, I then stir in the evaporated milk. For a richer and more caloric soup you can substitute 3/4 cup heavy cream – or other cream – for the milk. If you are using evaporated milk or a cream lighter than 35%, be careful not to let the soup boil as the dairy can curdle.

  • Serves: 6
  • Hands-on Time: 10-15 minutes
  • Cooking: 35-40 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter or margarine
  • 1 ½ lbs. broccoli (about 1 large bunch), trimmed
  • ¾ cup fresh parsley, coarse stems removed
  • ¾ cup fresh dill, coarse stems removed
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1/8 tsp. Grated nutmeg
  • ½ tsp. salt and pepper
  • One, 354 ml can evaporated milk

Steps:

  1. Peel and coarsely chop the onion.
  2. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, melt the butter or margarine and, over a medium heat, sauté the onion until it is soft and translucent.
  3. While the onions are cooking, trim the broccoli. Remove any little green leaves and cut off the florets high up the stems. Peel the lower stems, discarding the tough ends, and chop them coarsely. Add the broccoli to the onions and continue to sauté gently while you prepare the parsley and dill.
  4. Finely chop the parsley and dill. You can combine them and chop both at the same time. Add to the onions and broccoli. Add the broth, nutmeg, and about ½ tsp. each of salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 35 – 40 minutes, or until the broccoli stems are soft.
  5. If you have an immersion blender, purée the soup in the pot. If using a food processor, strain the soup, reserving the liquid and returning it to the pot. Turn the contents of the strainer into the work bowl of the food processor. The processor should be fitted with the metal blade. Purée, using off/on pulses, then return the purée to the liquid in the pot. Stir together. If you want to freeze the soup, do so at this point, before you add the milk.
  6. Stir in the evaporated milk and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Carrot_good_3

Carrot Soup

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  • Serves: 6
  • Hands-on Time: 10-15 minutes
  • Cooking: 45 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 5 large carrots, trimmed, peeled, and cut into 2 cm disks or pieces
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled, and cut into several chunks
  • 2 medium onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 2 tbsp. butter, margarine, or olive oil
  • 4 cups of no salt added chicken broth
  • 2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • One, 354 ml can of evaporated milk
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Steps:

  1. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the butter (or margarine or oil), add the chopped onions and sauté until they are soft and translucent but not browning.
  2. Add the prepared carrots and potatoes and sauté for another 5 minutes.
  3. Add the thyme, 1 tsp. salt, ½ tsp. freshly ground pepper, and broth to the vegetables and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes or until the vegetables are very soft and tender.
  4. Use an immersion blender to purée the soup. Alternatively, strain the soup, reserving the liquid in the pot and placing the vegetables in a food processor or blender for puréeing. Return the puréed vegetables to the pot with the broth and stir to combine. If you want to freeze the soup, do so at this point before the milk is added.
  5. Stir in the evaporated milk. After the milk has been added, be careful not to let the soup boil.
  6. Taste, and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Variations:

  • Use beef or vegetable broth, or water in place of the chicken broth.
  • You can replace the thyme with a teaspoon or so of curry.
  • You can replace the evaporated milk with coconut milk or water for a vegan friendly soup.

Turkey_good_2

Turkey Soup

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This is my favourite soup for using my own homemade turkey or chicken broth. Of course, you can also use store-bought broth which I often do. The recipe makes a large pot of soul-satisfying soup that freezes well.

  • Serves: 12+
  • Hands-on Time: 20 minutes
  • Cooking: 34-54 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 3 medium onions, peeled and very roughly chopped
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 celery ribs, cleaned and cut into 2 inch pieces
  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 quarts of turkey or chicken broth, homemade or commercial*
  • 4 cups turkey or chicken meat, removed from the soup bones and cut into bite size pieces**
  • 1 cup uncooked long grain rice (either white or brown; I usually use brown)
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. chicken bouillon granules
  • ¾ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • One, 354mL can evaporated milk (add enough regular milk to the evaporated milk to have 2 cups worth of milk)

Steps:

  1. Blitz the onions, carrots, and celery in a food processor until they are close to finely chopped, but not quite – and certainly not minced or puréed. You may have to do this in batches, depending on the size of your processor. You can also finely chop the veggies by hand.

    Turkey - Process
    Vegetables – Properly chopped
  2. In a large pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter. Add the prepared vegetables and sauté them until tender. Reduce the heat and stir in the flour so that it is well combined. Gradually stir in 1 quart of the broth. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened – 3 to 4 minutes.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients, except the evaporated milk, reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, for 45 to 50 minutes or until the rice is tender. The cooking time will be about 30 minutes if you are using white rice.
  4. Stir in the 2 cups of milk. You can freeze this soup with the milk in it.

*When using store-bought broth, buy the no or sodium reduced type in the 1 litre carton. A little short of homemade broth? Make up the difference with water and increase the amount of chicken bouillon granules by ½ tsp.

** If you don’t have leftover cooked meat, either cook 2 chicken breasts or 6 thighs, 4 turkey thighs, or get a cooked rotisserie chicken.

All Soups_good_end

Pear Cake #9

And so began the search for the pear cake of my dreams.

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Button-JumpToRecipe-LowResA while ago I was looking through a newly purchased cookbook on Italian desserts. To be honest, I bought the book mainly because I was enticed by a photo of a pear cake; golden in colour and topped with a laurel of sliced pears. With greedy anticipation I bought the required four pears, waited for them to ripen, and then diligently followed the recipe. The cake that came out of the oven was beautiful to behold…and then the first bite. What a disappointment! You would have been hard pressed to say where the pears had disappeared to.

And so began the search for the pear cake of my dreams.

I leafed through several cookbooks in my collection but was struck by how similar the pear cake recipes were. Nothing that suggested it would yield the wack of pear flavour I craved. Soooo…time to get creative!

img_0602For years I have read and enjoyed the food writing and recipe development of America’s Test Kitchen. While I haven’t always agreed with what they’ve deemed the definitive version of whatever, I have been drawn to their methodology. Now I am determined to give it a go myself, wondering how many pear cakes it would take me to reach perfection (or cause a family revolt: “Not another pear cake!”).

The first thing I decided was that I had to know more about my main flavour: the pear.

Most grocery stores carry three or four varieties of pear: Anjou, Bosc, Asian, and on a more seasonal basis, Bartlett. Anjou and Bosc pears are both fine for baking and cooking. My pear of choice is the Bosc pear because it holds its shape and texture slightly better than the Anjou and has a somewhat more assertive flavour. Asian pears are closer to apples and are best eaten raw or used in salads. Bartlett pears are excellent for eating but turn to mush when baked or cooked. Most canned pears are Bartlett. For a reason I surmise has something to do with the canning process, canned Bartlett pears can be used (in a pinch) in baking if well drained.

The next thing I had to determine was, how do you know when a pear is ripe? Too often I’ve had pears that don’t appear ripe one day and then, almost in the blink of an eye, are brown and mushy in the centre. Bartlett pears are the only ones that change colour as they ripen, going from green to yellow. Pears ripen from the inside out which is what makes it tricky to determine their readiness. The best test is to press gently on the neck of the pear near the stem. If the pear is ripe, there should be a small amount of “give”. Store pears at room temperature until ripe and then refrigerate to gain a few extra days before they become candidates for the food waste bin.

Armed with my new knowledge of pears, I went out and bought several pounds of Bosc pears, unsalted butter, eggs, sour cream, and buttermilk. After all, who knew what I might need before I was finished?

good1Recalling a coffee cake recipe that had the baker fold lemon curd into the cake batter, I made a thick pear sauce (reminiscent of apple sauce) and folded it into the cake batter of the original recipe. I increased the amount of flour by a few tablespoons to compensate for the extra moisture and then stirred in the chopped pear. When the cake came out of the oven, it looked promising. When cut, the texture was fine, the over-all appearance enticing. But the pear taste? Still wasn’t there. What next?

I decided to scrap the pear sauce as it hadn’t contributed anything but extra work – and who needs that? Then I had a brainwave. Inspired by my cranberry coffee cake that has a layer of fruit in the middle, I set to making a third version of the pear cake. I put half of my batter into the pan and covered it with all the chopped pears. I then blanketed the pears with the rest of the batter, and finished off with a fanfare of sliced pears on top. For the first time I was able to taste the pears as a distinct entity but, somehow the cake was lacking “umph”. Back to the drawing board.

I won’t bore you with the next several attempts – which included the introduction (and dumping) of streusel, cocoa, and chocolate — but jump to pear cake #8 which was almost there – finally!

In researching other pear cakes I had come across an upside down one that called for rock-hard (unripened) pears which were poached in a red wine reduction below the batter as the cake baked. I tried it and while the treatment of the pears worked really well, the cake part was, to my taste, awful. But it got me thinking. Why not replace the wine with a reduction of pear nectar? I really liked the idea of using rock-hard pears because *sigh* what else does the grocery store ever have? For the cake part I went to a recipe for an upside down vanilla pear cake by Great British Bake Off contestant James Morton that I had made before. I adapted his batter recipe by adding ground ginger and almond extract to up the flavours. I also substituted vanilla bean paste for the seeds called for in the recipe and combined his batter with the rock-hard pear treatment.

4by6.img_0607One last change – another “hit” of pear was needed to carry the taste from the top to the bottom of the cake. I’d learned that to be tasted, the pears inside a cake were best layered together rather than folded in. But I couldn’t use rock-hard pears in the middle of the cake and I wasn’t prepared to fuss around with coordinating pears of two degrees of ripeness nor was I prepared to go to the trouble of poaching the pears separately. After all, you reach a point where the whole baking project becomes too much effort. My solution? Canned pears because they are tender but maintain their shape in baking when well drained.

So – Pear Cake #9 – pears that you can taste throughout and a cake with just a hint of almond. The pear cake of my dreams. If you want to make it really extravagant, serve the cake with whipped cream, vanilla or coffee (preferably Hagen Daas) ice cream, and a sauce – chocolate or caramel.

This cake is to die for, no matter how you serve it.

Pear Cake #9


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  • Serves: 10-12
  • Hands-on Time: 60 minutes
  • Baking and Cooling: 2-3 hours

Ingredients:

Bottom Pear Layer (which will become the top):

  • 4 Bosc pears (rock-hard)
  • 1 cup pear nectar
  • 3 tbsp. dark brown sugar

Cake Batter:

  • One 796ml (28oz) can Bartlett pear halves in pear juice
  • 250 grams (approx. 1 cup + 2 tbsp.) unsalted butter, softened
  • 250 grams (approx. 1 ¼ cup+ 1 tsp.) granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 75 grams (approx. ¼ cup) Greek-style yogurt
  • ½ tsp. vanilla bean paste or ¾ tsp vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp. pure almond extract
  • 260 grams (approx. 1 ¾ cups + 2 tbsp.) self-rising flour*
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger

Steps:

  1. Prepare the pan by lining a deep, 9’’ cake pan with aluminum foil, being careful not to tear the foil. Spray the foil-lined pan with cooking spray. Sprinkle the 3 tbsp. of dark brown sugar evenly over the bottom of the pan. Set aside. Take 4 Bartlett pear halves out of their tin and cover with paper towelling to absorb moisture while you continue with other parts of the cake. Just before you start to make the batter, gently press each pear half with paper towel to remove more moisture – you won’t get it all but you will get enough to dampen the paper. Chop the pears into ½’’ cubes and set aside in a bowl lined with paper towel.

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    9″ Pan, lined with foil, sprayed, sugar sprinkled
  2. Pour the pear nectar into a small saucepan and, over medium heat, reduce to ¼ cup (takes about 15 minutes). Remove from heat and set aside.
  3. Making the bottom (it will become the top when you flip it): Peel the Bosc pears, cut in half lengthwise. Then remove the core with a spoon or melon baller. Cut the pear halves into ¼’’ slices starting at the bottom and working up towards the top, stopping short of the top so that the slices remain connected at the top of the neck. Fan out the sliced halves and place in the pan, necks towards the centre of the pan and insides facing up. The outsides of the pear are down, resting on the bottom of the pan. Pour the reduced nectar evenly over the pears. Set aside. Set the oven to preheat to 325F.

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  4. To make the cake batter: Combine the butter and granulated sugar in a large bowl and beat together until light and smooth. This will take about 5 minutes with an electric hand mixer or 3 minutes with a stand mixer fitted with the paddle.

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    Completed mixture for step 4
  5. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the yogurt, vanilla bean paste, and almond extract and beat well to combine. The batter may look curdled – that’s okay.
  6. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and ginger. With a spatula, gently fold the flour mixture into the butter/sugar/egg mixture just to combine. It will be quite a thick batter. If you find it too thick, stir in a little more yogurt so that it’s of a dropping consistency.

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    Completed mixture for step 6
  7. Using half the batter, drop in mounds on top of the pears in the pan and carefully spread the batter to cover the pears completely. Scatter the chopped pears evenly over the batter. Cover the chopped pear layer with the remaining batter by dropping it in mounds over the pears and then spreading carefully to cover.

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    Middle pear layer, before covering with batter
  8. Bake cake in the centre of the oven until a tester near the centre of the cake comes out clean (about 1 hour and 25 minutes). At about the 1 hour, 15 minute mark you may want to place a piece of aluminium foil over the top of the cake if it is browning too quickly.
  9. Once the cake is out of the oven, leave it to cool in the pan for 15 to 20 minutes. When cooled, flip the cake pan and turn the cake out onto a plate and carefully remove the foil. Let the cake cool completely. Enjoy!

*You can buy self-rising flour or you can make your own by adding 1 ½ tsp. baking powder and ½ tsp. fine salt for each cup of all-purpose flour.

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How I Came By My Obsession

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I come by my recipe obsession honestly. I don’t know about generations far past, but both my grandmothers were recipe collectors. Each had a small top drawer in the kitchen where they kept recipes neatly clipped, glued or taped into a newsprint notebook or captured in a large, plain brown envelope.

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Nain – an excellent cook.

My Nain was an excellent cook. Nain is the Welsh word for grandmother and what we called my mother’s mother as she came to Canada from Wales and to differentiate her from my father’s mother, Granny Rankin. In my mind, another significant difference between the two was their ability to cook; where Nain succeeded, Granny…tried. Nain even managed standing rib roasts so that at one end these roasts would be fairly well done – as my grandfather preferred – while the other end was rare, as the rest of the family loved. I’m not quite sure why Granny collected recipes – she was a terrible cook. She was so bad that she had a door installed by her stove on the end wall of the kitchen so that she could throw things that had caught fire out into the yard. You never knew when the door would jerk open and a flaming saucepan would come flying out. As children, my sister and I learned to give this door a wide berth. What can I say? One grandmother entertained with glorious food she had prepared herself; the other called Simpson’s Arcadian Court to cater. While my grandmothers neatly cut out their recipes, my own mother, more pressed for time, ripped whole pages out of magazines and newspapers which she eventually organized into file folders.

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Granny Rankin…tried.

My grandmothers didn’t have a collection of cookbooks. Nain owned one cookbook, given as a Christmas present the year it first came out, The Joy of Cooking. I now have this volume in my collection, complete with its instructions on How to Skin a Weasel. My mother had a small collection of about ten to fifteen cookbooks.

Then there’s me. I did none of these things. Cookbooks, cooking magazines and collected recipes by the box full over-run my house: tucked behind chairs and doors, filling bookcases, stacked by beds, corralled into binders and copied into notebooks. Now, where did I see THAT recipe?

In an effort not to lose track of recipes that work for me (at least as a starting point), my current approach is to record them in a small loose leaf recipe binder and annotate them as I work on them. At other times I’ve had to phone people I know I gave a recipe to in the hopes they can lay their hands on it, which, thankfully, they usually can.

topdownSome of my grandmother’s recipes that I really can’t do without are written on the end pages of one of the first cookbooks that I purchased for myself, The Fannie Farmer Baking Book, when I moved into my first apartment. Of those, the one that I return to most often is Nain’s Lemon Pudding. It is light, fresh, and deliciously lemon. I like to serve it warm with a scoop of frozen vanilla yogurt.

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Nain’s Lemon Pudding

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  • Serves: 6
  • Hands-on Time: 20 minutes
  • Baking and Cooling: 1 hour 45 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • ¼ c butter or margarine, softened
  • 1 ½ c granulated sugar
  • ¼ c all-purpose flour
  • 2c milk
  • Grated zest of one lemon
  • ½ c lemon juice

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly grease a deep, 1 ½ quart casserole or soufflé dish. Set aside.
  2. Separate the eggs, placing the whites in a large metal or glass bowl and the yolks in a small bowl. Set aside.
  3. Beat the butter and sugar together until well blended and fluffy – about 3 minutes.4by6.dscf6847
  4. Beat the 4 egg yolks into the butter/sugar mixture.
  5. Blend in the flour and the milk.
  6. Stir in the lemon zest and juice.
  7. With clean beaters or a metal whisk, beat egg whites until they form soft peaks. Carefully fold the whites into the lemon mixture. 

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  8. Gently pour the pudding into the prepared baking dish.
  9. Place a water tight pan on the middle rack of the oven. The pan should be big enough to hold the baking dish with the pudding. Place the baking dish in the pan and then pour one inch (2 ½ cm) of boiling water into the pan, being careful not to get any into the pudding. 

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  10. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the top is golden brown and a thin knife inserted in the centre comes out clean. Let sit for at least 30 minutes before serving. The pudding can also be easily reheated by placing it in a low oven while dinner is being eaten if it has cooled completely and you want to serve it warm. If I’ve had the oven on for the main course, I just place the pudding in the turned off oven while we eat. No need for the water bath at this point. 

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wlgyl

 

Sugar and Spice and All Things Orange

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Orange Ya Glad It’s The Holidays?

Orange is the citrus flavour that I most associate with the holiday season.

good - 1Most Decembers I make candied orange peel. Last year I decided to use my own peel in place of the commercially produced kind called for in recipes. Tasted side by side, there is no comparison between the homemade and store-bought peel. As I had made much more than I needed, I chopped up some into pieces similar in size to the commercial and suspended them in some of the cooking syrup. The rest, coated in sugar, I left in strips. I froze both in freezer-proof Ziplock bags and forgot about them until this November when I was working on my chocolate chip cookie recipe. Both peels survived well, although there was some loss of the intense orange flavour in the chopped peel suspended in syrup. The sugar coated strips were easily chopped up and used instead. This year I think I’ll only freeze the sugar coated peel. Of course, you can candy orange peel all year round but I prefer to make a large amount when oranges are in season – they’re a better quality and less expensive.

Candied orange peel is not difficult to make , just a little time consuming. However, you can go on with other baking while the peel is candying – just keep an eye on it! I recommend storing your finished peel in a plastic container or Ziplock bag to preserve its suppleness. Storing it in a glass jar or a tin causes it to become rock hard over time  – you want to indulge your sweet tooth, not break it. The sugar coated peel keeps well for several weeks at room temperature. Freeze for long-term storage. Peel preserved in syrup should be refrigerated.

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Button-PrintVersion-LowResThis old-fashioned treat is usually made without the addition of spices, but I decided to spice things up and be innovative. The spices are very mild – just an intriguing “something” in the background. Because I use my own peel in baking, I want the spices to be discrete so they won’t interfere in other recipes. They also have the effect of cutting the bitterness usually associated with the peel. If you are just making the peel to serve on its own, you can really ramp up the spices by doubling the amounts given in the recipe. And, of course, you can leave them out all together. I usually make two types of peel: one that is only the outer peel without any pith and the other that includes the pith with the peel. This second type is the best for serving as a candy and for using as the chopped orange peel in other recipes.

  • Makes: 2.5 cups of peel
  • Hands on Time: 30 min
  • Baking Time: 45 – 60 min

Ingredients:

  • 2 – 3 large, thick skinned oranges (such as navel), preferably organic
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 2 – three inch cinnamon sticks
  • 1 star anise
  • 1/2 tsp. black peppercorns
  • 6 green cardamom seeds
  • 1 tbsp. cider vinegar

Steps:

  1. A. For the thin, peel only version, use a vegetable peeler to remove just the thin orange layer of peel from the orange, leaving the white pith behind. B. For the thicker strips, cut the ends off the oranges, then cut down the orange from top to bottom in six cuts spaced evenly around the orange. Carefully work the peel and pith together away from the fruit in the sections created by the cuts. For some reason, it is easier to work the peel and pith loose going from the stem end and working up to the top. Slice the sections into 1/4″ strips.
    • Tip: Use a microplane to remove the zest from the cut-off orange ends and save in the freezer for when you need zest in a recipe. Just be careful not to grate your fingers. 

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  2. Place the peel in a saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Drain. Repeat this blanching process twice. This is what helps to eliminate the bitterness of the peel and pith. After the third draining, reserve the peel while you prepare the cooking liquid.
  3. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan combine the 1 cup of water, sugar, cider vinegar, and spices. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Simmer the mixture for 10 minutes. After the sugar has dissolved, do not stir the mixture as this action may cause crystallization. You can gently swirl the liquid in the pan if you feel the need.
  4. Add the reserved peel to the spiced liquid and return to a gentle boil. Let it bubble away, uncovered, until the peel becomes soft and translucent, about 45 – 60 minutes. The liquid will reduce and the bubbles will appear to be crystal-clear and slow moving. 

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  5. Remove the peel from the syrup and roll it in granulated sugar to coat. Place on a wire rack to dry for several hours or overnight. You can also skip rolling the peel in sugar and just dry it on a rack. 

  6. Store your candied peel in a plastic container or bag.

Variations:

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  • For a special treat, carefully melt 3/4 cup of chocolate chips and dip one end of  a strip of the finished peel in the melted chocolate to coat. Place chocolate coated peel on a wax paper lined tray and refrigerate to set the chocolate (about 15 min).

 

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  • Finely chop the very thin candied peel and use where you might use orange zest – like in pistachio-orange shortbread.

 

Enjoy and Happy New Year!

Family Holiday Recipes

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Button-ScotchShortbread Button-CoconutToffeeSquares Button-SwedishSpritz

In many homes the holiday season calls forth treasured family recipes that are an important part of celebratory traditions. With Christmas approaching, I’m looking to these recipes for some relaxed baking fun. Part of what makes them relaxing and fun is that they are perfect as they are. One of the must-do recipes in our house is for shortbread. When I was living in residence at university, I decided to serve these at a seasonal open house in my room. A perfect choice as they required few ingredients and could be made by hand if necessary (which was the case in the minimally equipped floor kitchen). I procured what I needed and set the pound of butter in a saucer and placed it on the radiator to soften while I went to work in the library. When I returned, I found that not only had the butter softened, it had mostly melted and overflowed the saucer, running down into the unreachable inner workings of the radiator.  So, into a refrigerator with the butter to firm it up a bit and then on to making the cookies. The shortbread was a huge success and, with the visible evidence of my mishap wiped up, I forgot all about it. A few days later though, my room began to acquire a rancid, sheep-like smell. Throughout the rest of the winter, I had to leave the heat in my room off and the window cracked no matter how cold it got outside. Made for a long winter.

Just in time for the season, here are some of my family’s holiday favourites. Enjoy!

Scotch Shortbread

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Of all the recipes tried over the years, this is still the family’s shortbread of choice. While you can use any butter and the shortbread will be great, I recommend purchasing a quality brand (as opposed to a store brand) as they usually have a higher fat content and slightly better flavour. I also like to keep decorations to a minimum so nothing detracts from the luxurious shortbread – usually a small snippet of candied fruit or a single silver or gold dragée. I avoid the balls that come in the round combination of sprinkles containers in the grocery store as they do not always retain their shape and melt into the cookies. I also roll the dough out between two pieces of waxed paper to avoid any sticking issues. The shortbread will keep in an airtight tin for at least a week (if they last that long – yum!) and can also be well wrapped and frozen for up to a month.

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  • Makes: Approx. 30 (Depending on size)
  • Hands on Time: 30 min
  • Baking Time: 20 min

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup salted or unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup icing sugar, sifted if lumpy
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. Cream the butter until light and fluffy (shouldn’t take more than a minute as you are not trying to whip air into the dough). Beat in the icing sugar just until combined.
  3. Gradually beat in the flour and mix until combined (about a minute, or so). Knead the dough briefly by hand to bring it all together. If your butter was very soft, you may want to wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for about 30 minutes to firm up a bit. Otherwise, you can proceed with the cookies once you have kneaded the dough and it is smooth and easy to handle.
  4. Pat the dough into a disk and lightly sprinkle the top and bottom with flour. Place a piece of waxed paper on the work surface and dust lightly with flour; place the dough in the middle and cover with a second piece of waxed paper.
  5. Roll out the dough to a scant ½ inch thickness and cut out your cookies. I usually use cutters between 1 ½ inches to 3 inches. The shortbread are really rich and you don’t want them too big. You also want to cut as many cookies as possible from this first rolling of the dough as cookies from subsequent rollings are not quite as tender (but still perfectly acceptable).
  6. Use a metal spatula to transfer the cookies to the prepared sheet and bake until the bottom edges are starting to turn a delicate golden brown colour (you can lift one up with a fork for a quick peek – see below), about 20 minutes. I usually do a first check for browning after 15 minutes just to be safe.
  7. When done, remove from the oven and cool on a baking sheet for 10 to 15 minutes, then place on a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

Variation:

  • Divide the dough in half, and add two tablespoons of coloured sprinkles. Pat
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    Variation Cookies

    the dough into a square about ½ inch deep and smooth across the top. Chill for at least 30 minutes. Cut the dough into ½ inch cubes. Bake the cubes as in step 6 above.

  • Divide the dough in half and add 2 tbsp of finely grated orange zest. Also add 3 tbsp of finely chopped crystallized ginger.

Coconut Toffee Squares

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These squares are sweet and totally yummy. They keep well for several days at room temperature in a sealed plastic container. I like to cut them into small squares of roughly 1 inch or so.

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  • Makes: 32 small squares or 20 larger bars
  • Hands on Time: 15 min
  • Baking Time: 40 min total

Ingredients:

  • Base:
    • ½ c butter, softened
    • ½ c brown sugar
    • 1 c all-purpose flour
  • Topping:
    • 2 large eggs
    • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
    • 1 c brown sugar
    • 1 tsp baking powder
    • ½ tsp salt
    • 1 c shredded sweetened coconut
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • ½ tsp almond extract

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line an 8 inch square pan with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. For the base: Cream the ½ cup of butter briefly with the brown sugar and then beat in the 1 cup of flour until combined. You will have a crumbly mixture. Press firmly and evenly into the prepared pan and bake for 10 minutes in a 350F oven.
  3. While the base is baking, prepare the topping. In a bowl, combine all the topping ingredients and beat them together.
  4. After the base has baked for 10 minutes, remove it from the oven and spread the topping mixture over the base. Return to the oven and bake for a further 25 to 30 minutes until the top is golden brown and the filling below is set. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan on a wire rack. When the squares are still somewhat warm, lift the uncut baking out of the pan by the parchment and cut it into squares. Cool completely.

My Christmas Variation: Add 2 tbsp of finely grated orange zest and a ¾ cup of dried cranberries to the topping mixture, stirring them in after the other topping ingredients have been combined.

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Swedish Spritz

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These cookies have always been a favourite of mine. My mom made these every Christmas. For these cookies, you will need a cookie press. These take a bit of practice. It’s worth mentioning that I learned some choice vocabulary watching my mom trying to operate her cookie press. But the cookies were always good! If you don’t want to use a cookie press, it is also possible to chill the dough and then roll it and cut it with cookie cutters.

Once I have the cookies pressed out onto the cookie sheet, I chill them in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. This helps the cookies to keep their unique shape while baking. Without the chilling, the cookies tend to spread and loose definition. You can decorate these cookies before or after baking. I usually add a sprinkling of coloured sugar before I bake them.  I make my own coloured sugar by adding a little food colouring (either liquid or paste) to some granulated sugar that I’ve placed in a baggie and then I give the whole works a good shake.

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  • Makes: Approx. 40 cookies.
  • Hands on Time: 45 min
  • Chilling and Baking Time: 40+ min

Ingredients:IMG_0375

  • 1 ½ cups salted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, well beaten
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3 ½ to 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder

Steps:

  1. Line two cookie sheets with parchment and set aside.
  2. Cream the butter briefly, then beat in the sugar thoroughly. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until well combined.
  3. Combine the flour and baking powder (and any spices you might be adding – see variations). Gradually beat the flour mixture into the butter/sugar/egg mixture and mix until you have a smooth dough. Do not over mix.
  4. If using a cookie press, force the dough through a cookie press now. If not using a cookie press, shape it into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for about 30 minutes before rolling out and cutting. If you are having trouble getting the dough to come away from the press and separate cleanly when forming the cookies, you probably need to add a little more flour to the dough. In this case, gather the dough back together and knead in by hand another ¼ to ½ cup of flour. Cookies should be about 1½ inches apart on the cookie sheet. Add decorations as desired and chill the cookies on the sheet for at least 30 minutes.
  5. Preheat oven to 400F. Bake the chilled cookies until set but not brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Keep an eye on these – they burn easily.

Variations:

  • You can also play with this recipe by adding spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, and ginger, or a combination along with the flour. A teaspoon or so should be enough, but you can also add to taste.
  • You can also wrap the dough around the small Lindt Lindor chocolate balls for a cookie with a surprise. Bake as above.

happyholidays