April 24, 2019

Äggakaka med Zucchini - Swedish Egg Cake with Zucchini

Äggakaka is the Swedish cousin of Yorkshire Pudding, and is typically served for lunch (or possibly as a light supper). However, the close kinship of the pancake/popover oeuvre suggested itself as breakfast to me, so that's how we had it. The most traditional versions do not contain zucchini - that appears to be a more modern option - and the garnish is generally thick slices of sidfläsk - fried, salted but uncured pork belly, and of course the ever-popular lingonberries. Adding zucchini gives it a character reminiscent of an oven frittata or firmly set quiche.

I've used chopped bacon for convenience, par-cooked on the stovetop and added straight on top of the äggakaka batter before it goes into the oven, but if you are using full slices of pork belly, you'll want to cook them separately, and simply lay them over the finished dish before serving.

Äggakaka med Zucchini

Serves 2-4 depending on appetite and other dishes

3 large eggs (at room temperature)
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup whole milk
pinch kosher salt
300 grams zucchini, shredded
1 tablespoon butter
125 grams chopped bacon (or 4 thick slices of uncured pork belly).

Place a 23cm/10" skillet on the middle rack of a cold oven, and set it to preheat to 225°C/425°F. Set a second skillet (for the bacon) to preheat over low heat on the stovetop.

In a mixing bowl, whisk/beat the eggs until smooth (whisk or electric beaters are fine) and add the flour. Whisk/beat again until smooth. Add the milk and salt, and stir through again. Grate the zucchini using a box grater on the large hole side. I like to slice the zucchini lengthwise, stopping just short of the stem-end, and then holding it together to grate into shorter strands, but you can use longer strands, too. Squeeze the excess water from the zucchini, and stir it into the batter.

Let the batter stand while you cook the pork. If you are using uncured pork belly, start frying it over medium temperature now, and it will continue to cook through while the äggakaka goes into the oven. If you are using bacon, turn the heat to medium high and stir fry the bacon pieces until they are about half-cooked. Drain the excess fat, and use a slotted spoon to remove the meat from the pan.

When the oven has come fully up to temperature, remove the skillet (carefully, of course, it's very hot) and add the butter to the skillet. Let the butter melt and swirl the pan to coat the entire bottom of the skillet. Pour the batter into the hot pan, giving it a shake to level the zucchini. Add the half-cooked bacon to the top of the batter (avoiding, if possible, about a couple of centimetres around the edge of the pan), and return the pan to the preheated oven. Cook for 15 minutes, or until puffed and golden, and then serve with lingonberry preserves. If serving for lunch or dinner, a green salad would be a good addition.

It is very easy to slice the äggakaka into portions with the side of a firm spatula.

April 15, 2019

Cracked Barley Spring Salad with Asparagus

Springtime in Europe means asparagus season is upon us. When we lived in Germany, it was 90% white asparagus (also delicious, but needs to be handled a bit differently), but here in Sweden I've seen mostly green. Green asparagus makes a terrific salad ingredient - blanched and shocked to stop the cooking, it retains its fresh flavour and tender-crisp texture beautifully.

I accidentally bought cracked barley (aka barley grits) instead of pearl barley, whilst navigating the aisles of a Swedish supermarket. Relatively undaunted, I carried on with using it in different ways, from plain side dish to jambalaya, to salad. Salad was the clear winner here. You could use whole pearl barley instead, or even couscous or quinoa or bulgur, if that's what you've got on hand. Similarly, you could swap out the chickpeas for white beans, if the fancy takes you.

While the salad is a complete vegan meal in itself, we had some eggs to use up, so I made devilled eggs with feta as a topper. You could also add crumbled feta into the salad itself, if you wanted the extra protein without the extra effort.

Double the recipe if you like - it will keep well in the fridge, and make a terrific work/school lunch.

Cracked Barley Spring Salad with Asparagus

Serves 2

1/2 cup cracked barley
115 grams drained, cooked chickpeas (about half a 400 gram can)
1 scallion
10 spears green asparagus
8 cm English cucumber
2 - 4 tablespoons lightly chopped dill


3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse or kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, pressed

Lemon wedges for squeezing (optional)

Cook the cracked barley according to directions. I used 2:1 (water:barley), bringing the mixture to a full boil and then covered tightly and reduced the temperature to low heat to cook for 35 minutes, followed by 10 minutes resting off the heat before opening the lid.

While the barley cooks, you have plenty of time to drain and rinse the chickpeas and prepare the vegetables and dressing. If you find tinned chickpeas have a metallic flavour, try rinsing them with boiling water, and then draining thoroughly.

For the asparagus, trim the woody end from the stalk and slice them on the diagonal into bite-sized pieces. Bring a pot of water to the boil, and blanche the asparagus pieces for no longer than 2 minutes, or until just tender when pierced with a fork. Drain immediately and plunge into cold or iced water to stop the cooking process. Leave them in the cold water (replace the water if it gets warm) while you make the dressing.

For the dressing, combine all of the ingredients and beat vigorously with a fork or whisk until you have a smooth emulsion. Set aside until ready to use.

You can also add the dill into the dressing, but for some reason I usually add them separately. Either way, remove the heavy stalks from the dill and give it a rough chop. Slice the scallion finely on the diagonal and set aside.

Slice the chunk of cucumber into quarters, lengthwise. Stand each piece on its end to easily trim away the seeds with your knife, before dicing the cucumber flesh into small pieces. If you have a field cucumber, you will need to remove the skin as well, which you should do first off.

Once the cracked barley has finished cooking and resting, remove the lid and stir through with a rice paddle or fork to fluff up the texture and keep it from clumping. Then, add the dressing to the still-hot barley, and stir through. The hot barley will soak up the dressing very quickly, and it will help separate the grains a bit more. Drain the cooled asparagus, and add to the barley, along with the chickpeas, cucumber, scallion, and dill.

Gently mix everything together, and turn out of the cooking pot into bowls or a fridge-friendly sealable container. (You can serve it still slightly warm, or chill first.) Serve with extra lemon wedges for squeezing over individual portions.

This keeps beautifully in the refrigerator for a few days, and makes an excellent packed lunch or light supper.

March 26, 2019

Wagon Wheel Skillet Dinner

I love skillet dinners. They are a terrific way to get a home-cooked meal on the table with minimal cleaning up required, tend to be quick and easy to make, and are always well received. This Wagon Wheel Skillet Dinner hits all three of those points with ease. Of course, you can also use any other short pasta shape, but these rotelle seemed perfect to the southwest theme. If you like a saucier texture, more like a chili mac, feel free to double the salsa, or add a cup of crushed tomatoes.

This recipe relies heavily on the fresh chorizo for its seasoning, but you can always add additional cumin, chipotle, ancho, and Mexican oregano if your sausage is very mild.

Wagon Wheel Skillet Dinner

Serves 4

300 grams fresh Mexican-style chorizo
200 grams short pasta, such as rotelle/wagon wheel shape
2 cloves garlic
2 jalapeño peppers
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
250 mL frozen corn kernels/niblets (about a cup)
250 mL prepared tomato-based salsa, heat level of your choice
3 tablespoons tomato paste
500 mL water or chicken broth/stock, plus extra water if needed
225 grams cooked black beans (eg. a 400 gram can, drained)
1 red bell pepper
Tabasco pepper sauce to taste
Shredded cheese of your choice, to finish
Cilantro and/or avocado to garnish, if you like

Set a large skillet to warm on the lowest burner setting while you prepare the ingredients. Remove the chorizo from its casing and chop roughly. Mince or crush the garlic and set aside. Remove seeds from jalapeños and finely chop. Measure the cumin. Measure out the corn and the salsa. Drain the black beans in a sieve, and rinse them well if using canned ones. Measure the tomato paste. It's a time-saver to heat the stock or water, but not essential.

Turn up the heat under the skillet, and let it come up to medium-high. Add the chopped, skinless chorizo, and fry it in its own fat, stirring periodically, until the meat starts to turn golden brown (about six to eight minutes). Add the minced/crushed garlic and stir through. Add the jalapeños and the cumin and stir through. Cook and stir for about a minute, and then add the frozen corn kernels, and stir them through, too. Give them about a minute on their own, and then add the prepared salsa and the tomato paste, and stir through. You can immediately add the pasta and the broth or water, and stir everything carefully together.

Bring the mixture up to almost boiling, then cover the pan and turn the heat to medium-low. Cook for about 10 - 15 minutes, stirring periodically, until the pasta is tender. The length of time is really going to depend on which pasta you are using, so test the pasta as needed. While the pasta cooks, dice the red bell pepper and grate the cheese.

When the pasta is almost tender, add the drained black beans and the diced bell pepper, and stir through. Bring the temperature back up to a simmer, and if it is looking too dry (it should be just slightly saucy) add extra water - maybe half a cup or so, as needed, to get a pleasingly consistency. Reduce the heat again, and simmer for another five minutes to heat the peppers and beans through. Remove the lid and sprinkle Tabasco sauce over the skillet, and then gently stir it through. Turn the burner off. Taste the pasta to confirm that it is cooked through, and if necessary add 1/4 teaspoon salt (probably not necessary if you have used broth - it depends on the existing saltiness of the chorizo, the beans, and the salsa).

Sprinkle with cheese and cover briefly cover again to let the cheese melt. Serve with cilantro if you like (we were out, and so we served it with diced avocado to squeeze in an extra vegetable.

This dish heats up very well in the microwave (add a bit of extra cheese if you're feeling frisky) and so makes an excellent lunch.

March 05, 2019

Black Bean Soup

This is based on a Mayan recipe for a very simple black bean soup with big, striking flavours. It is easy to cook the beans the day before, and start from there. It is quite filling as a main dish, but half-sized portions make a terrific starter. The soup shown in the picture above includes finely diced ham, which is a purely optional add-in to a recipe that is otherwise completely plant-based.

Black Bean Soup

Serves 4

1 cup dried black beans (no need to soak)
water to cover beans
5 cups water (extra) or stock of your choice
2 tablespoons canola or corn oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped or pressed
1 teaspoon dried pequin (aka piquín) chiles, crushed
1 medium or large tomato, peeled, seeded & diced
1/2 teaspoon dried epazote
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 cup dry sherry
Freshly ground black pepper
cilantro to garnish

Part 1 - Cook the beans

Rinse the beans well - you don't want grit or dust in your finished dish. Also give them a quick look-over to make sure there aren't any cunningly disguised little rocks in there - sometimes you find little tiny stones or other debris in dried beans.

Cover the rinsed beans with fresh water, up to about 5 centimetres above the beans. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook until the beans are quite tender, stirring occasionally. This can take as little as an hour or as long as two or two and a half hours, depending on how old your beans are. Play it by ear, but don't let the beans boil hard, or they will split and turn quite mushy. Most of the time, I find that dried black beans are ready in just one hour. Once the beans are tender, you can add a little salt - if you will be using stock in the second part, make sure you don't over-salt at this stage. You can also skip salt entirely until Part 2 and then adjust to taste. Note that if you have hard water (or beans of dubious age), a scant pinch of baking soda added to the water when you begin to cook the beans will help soften them more quickly. You can make the beans a day ahead, and then proceed from this point when you want to serve them. If you will be making the soup at a later date, allow the beans to cool and then refrigerate in their cooking liquid. Once they are completely cold, you can freeze them if you like.

Part 2 - Make the soup

If you are making the soup straight away after cooking the beans, you can prepare and sauté the vegetables while the beans simmer in Part 1 above. 

Remove two thirds of the beans to a blender or food processor and puree. If you have an immersion blender, you can certainly use it right in the pot, but in that case you will want to remove about a third of the whole beans before pureeing (they will be stirred back in later, after the vegetables are added).

In a medium frying pan, preheated over medium heat, heat the oil and sauté the finely chopped onion, chopped garlic, and the pequin chiles until the onion is soft. Add the prepared diced tomato, epazote and cumin and stir until well blended. Add the onion mixture to the black bean purée and purée the mixture again until as smooth as possible. Combine the whole beans and the puréed mixture in the soup pot and add the five cups of extra water (or stock) and simmer gently, stirring frequently until the soup thickens and its components integrate. This takes only about five to ten minutes, in my experience.

If you want an even heartier soup, you could at this point add smoked tofu, diced ham, or diced chicken, as you wish, and simmer gently to heat the new additions through, stirring frequently. Remove any thick stems from the epazote that might have escaped the food processor. Add the sherry and stir through. Taste the soup and add more salt if needed, and it's ready to serve. Add cilantro to individual servings, or substitute finely sliced green onion if preferred.

I like to serve this with crispy baked flour tortilla-crackers, and sometimes a drizzle of contrasting hot sauce to add brightness. You can also top the soup with a scoop of salsa (preferably not cold from the fridge).

The soup also freezes very well, as do the cooked beans from Part 1.

January 28, 2019

Biff à la Lindström: Swedish ground beef patties

We've just moved to Sweden, and I am currently cooking in a furnished apartment with a minimalist kitchen, but I couldn't wait to dive into Swedish cuisine. This little gem caught my eye right away, and I'm really glad we tried it.

Biff à la Lindström isn't an ancient dish by any means, but it has become a beloved classic nonetheless. Its origins trace unanimously to an artillery captain named Henrik Lindström, whose family purchased the Hotel Witt in Kalmar, in Southeast Sweden. This dish was added to their menu shortly thereafter. Henrik Lindström was raised in Russia, which is suggested by the inclusion of chopped beets and pickles in the meat mixture, but as far as I know there isn't an analogous Russian dish. Those of you familiar with the French dish Steak Tartare will note a number of similarities in the ingredients and preparation...up to the point where these ones are dropped onto a hot skillet (although the "aller-retour" version is indeed lightly fried). Interestingly, the term "tartare" also suggests a Russian heritage, but again, no true link In any event, these days it makes a frequent appearance on Swedish restaurant menus, and is just as frequently made at home. It's very easy.

You can choose to make small patties, as I have here, or larger, more hamburger-sized patties. In fact, there's nothing at all stopping you from turning this into a burger complete with bun and condiments (I think I'll give that a go myself, in fact). If you're serving it in the classic Swedish mode, with boiled potatoes, you can also add a fried egg on top.

Biff à la Lindström

Adapted from Tasteline

Serves 4

500 grams ground beef (or mixed beef and pork)
125 mL / 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh breadcrumbs (not packed)
45 mL / 3 tablespoons cold water
1 large egg
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoons ground black pepper
100 mL / 1/2 small onion, finely chopped
3 cornichons, finely chopped
6 slices pickled beets, finely chopped (about 1/3 cup chopped)
2 tablespoons drained capers
1 - 2 tablespoons butter (for frying)

If desired, a cup of hot stock, broth, or water, and a spoonful of pickled beet juice to make a pan sauce.

Mix the breadcrumbs and water and let it rehydrate for about 10 minutes, while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Finely chop the onion and sauté in a teaspoon of butter for about 2 minutes, or until softened but not browned. Remove from the heat and let cool. Beat the egg with the salt and pepper in a small bowl. Chop the cornichons, beets, and capers, and set aside.

Combine the ground meat with the cornichons, beets, and capers. Stir in the seasoned beaten egg, and then the damp breadcrumbs. Shape into 4 or 8 patties. If you can, let them stand for an hour, covered, in the fridge, for the flavours to meld.

Fry the patties in a tablespoon of butter over medium heat for (about 3 minutes per side for small ones, 6 - 8 for larger/thicker patties).

If you are making a pan sauce, remove the patties to a platter.

Whisk the stock, broth or water into the emptied frying pan. Add a spoonful of the beet juice if you like, for extra colour. Add a teaspoon or two of butter and boil, whisking until slightly thickened. Spoon over the patties on each plate.

Serve with boiled or mashed potatoes and salad or other green vegetable.

December 30, 2018

Jalapeño Cheddar Cornbread - small batch

Sometimes, you don't need a big batch. Sometimes, you just need a half-pan of cornbread. That's when a wide 12.5cm/5" wide loaf pan is the perfect size. Excellent news, however, for those who do want a bigger batch — when you're feeding a crowd, or have an adequate freezer — this recipe doubles beautifully into a 23cm/9" square baking pan.

What kind of cornbread is this? Well, I'd place it in the Soul Food category of Southern cornbread, as it has a little sugar and some flour (unlike other Southern cornbreads, which are all cornmeal and completely unsweetened), but is not sweet tasting (unlike Northern cornbread), and uses buttermilk rather than sweet milk. But your mileage may vary, and I am not an authority on Soul Food.

Naturally, you don't need the jalapeños or the cheddar if you don't fancy them - this cornbread is just as good straight up.

Jalapeño Cheddar Cornbread (Small Batch)

125 mL (1/2 cup) all-purpose flour
125 mL (1/2 cup) cornmeal (white, yellow, or blue)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
30 mL (1/8 cup or 2 tablespoons) canola oil (or melted butter, or bacon fat)
1 egg, lightly beaten
175 mL (3/4 cup) buttermilk

Optional extras: any or a combination of:
60 mL (1/4 cup) finely chopped pickled jalapeño peppers
60 mL (1/4 cup) shredded cheddar or pepper jack
pinch of ground cumin seed
60 mL (1/4 cup) corn kernels

Preheat oven to 220°C/425°F with a rack in the middle or lower middle slot. 

Lightly spray with canola oil, or grease lightly or line with baking parchment, a 5 inch wide loaf pan.

Mix all of the dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. In another bowl, beat the egg lightly, and add the buttermilk and oil. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients (and add any optional extras) and stir rapidly with a fork just until moistened through, with no dry streaks. Do not attempt to remove every last little lump! Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes (25-30 for a double batch in a square pan), or until the top starts to turn golden brown. Test with a skewer or tooth-pick to ensure it is cooked through (the toothpick should come out clean). Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before slicing.

PS: You can also drop dollops of raw batter on top of hot, thick, gently simmering chile con carne (or sin carne, of course, or indeed any thick stew) to make cornmeal dumplings. Cover, and let cook gently for 15 minutes without lifting the lid. The dumplings won't brown, of course, but they will be delicious.

December 16, 2018

Lamb & Okra Stew (Persian Inspired)

I didn't experience Persian cuisine until I was an adult, and took to it immediately. The deeply flavourful, slow-cooked stews and luscious pilaffs made me want to immediately start incorporating recipes into my repertoire, and I've been gradually adding them ever since.

This particular lamb and okra stew came from researching which flavours would have dominated some of the common stews before the introduction of tomatoes, which have been thoroughly adopted into many dishes. The intense flavour of dried limes/lemons was the obvious answer, in combination with the typical fragrant and nuanced blends of spices. This recipe does contain potatoes, optionally, which is also an introduced ingredient, but otherwise draws on some of the most traditional flavours of its region.

Go ahead and use fresh okra if you like, but try to get the small ones.

Persian Inspired Lamb and Okra Stew
(Khoresht e Baamieh)

Serves 4

500 grams stewing lamb, diced
1.5 tablespoons canola or olive oil, divided
2 medium yellow onions, finely diced
5 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 - 3 cups water/vegetable broth/light stock
3-4 dried limes
400 grams frozen petit okra
200 grams waxy nugget potatoes, halved or quartered (optional)
2 branches rosemary
2 tablespoons chopped dill to garnish (alternatively sumac)

In a medium-large soup pot over medium heat, heat one tablespoon of the canola oil and add the onion and garlic. Stir and sauté until the onion is translucent and just starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, and then add the lamb. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, turmeric, cumin, paprika, and cinnamon (if using), and continue to sauté until the lamb colours slightly. Add the water, and bring to a simmer. Add a couple of dried limes if you like, hammered open. Reduce the heat and cover, and then simmer for an hour and a half, until the lamb is tender.

Rinse the okra and set aside. In a separate skillet, heat the remaining half tablespoon of oil until it shimmers, and then add the okra into the hot skillet. Stir fry the okra until they are bright green (add an extra pinch of salt as you fry them), about 3 minutes. Pour the okra into the stew, and add a bit of lemon juice or sumac, especially if you are not using dried limes. Stir through, cover the pot, and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for about 45 minutes, until all of the flavours permeate the okra.

Serve with plain rice or flatbread.

It reheats very well, in fact it's even better the next day. Freezer friendly, if properly sealed.

December 09, 2018

Ginger Snaps

These are classic cookies - suitable for the holidays, with their fancy spices, but down-home enough that you can make them anytime. Plus, they're adorably, perfectly round cookies, which makes you feel like you've mastered something tricky. I use plain granulated sugar throughout the year, but during the holidays, red sanding sugar (or green, or silver, or gold...) feels suitably fancy. Do as you please!

My original recipe had only the cryptic instructions "Mix and bake for 10 minutes at 350" and assumed that I would know the rest. Frankly, I'm a little surprised it bothered telling me I had to mix the ingredients, since it was making a lot of other assumptions. Here's a teensy bit more detail:

Ginger Snaps

Makes 40 - 50 cookies, depending on size

2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup blackstrap molasses
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 big pinch of ground cloves

Extra sugar for dusting - either granulated sugar or colourful sanding sugar such as the sparkly red shown here.

Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F with a rack in the middle.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat the oil and sugar together. You don't need a mixer here, a wooden spoon is fine. Add the egg, and beat until smooth. Add the molasses* and beat until smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt and spices. Whisk until thoroughly combined, and then dump it into the molasses mixture. Stir slowly as the dough stiffens up into a thick paste, being sure to incorporate all of the flour. You don't want any white streaks in the dough; it should be a uniform dark brown.

Use a teaspoon to scoop up a walnut-sized lump of dough, and roll it between your palms until it is nice and round. Dip the top of it in white granulated sugar and place it on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Leave some room between each cookie, as they will expand.

Bake for about 10 minutes - they should be a little soft (underdone) when you pull them out, or they will get very, very hard and be useful only for dunking in coffee (which is not a bad way to go, really). If your oven is a little slow, feel free to crank it up to 190°C/375°F to ensure that the cookies develop their characteristic crackled tops. Remove to cooling racks immediately, and get the next batch in the oven. Try not to eat them all at once.

*a nifty way to make sure you get all the molasses out of the measuring cup is to use the same cup that you measured the oil in. The molasses will just slide right out.

December 07, 2018

Stuffed Pumpkin

Everyone can enjoy a beautiful centrepiece main dish that is as fun to make as it is satisfying to eat. Plus, it's even easier to make than a carved jack-o'-lantern, since you don't have to carve a face (I suppose you could, though...) The use of a pumpkin makes it terrific for Thanksgiving or other harvest feasts, but it would be beautiful on a Christmas dinner table, too.

Naturally, you could use any stuffing you like in your pumpkin, but I've chosen my mother's classic bread stuffing with bacon, sage, and onions. If you're feeling extra, go ahead a spoon a little mornay over the top to help seal in the moisture, but that's purely optional, especially if you're serving it with gravy (recommended).

You can use a larger pumpkin if you're feeding more people, although it might take a little longer in the oven. I'd actually suggest two medium pumpkins, baked side-by-side if you want more servings. Of course, if you have lots of other dishes on the table, you can certainly cut smaller slices.

The pumpkin part is so easy that it's almost not a recipe, but I'll give you the stuffing recipe at least. I've used a French "Muscade/Musquée de Provence" pumpkin, but a cheese pumpkin would work beautifully, too, as would any firm-fleshed winter squash with a spacious cavity and fleshy walls.

Stuffed Pumpkin

Adapted from Epicurious

Makes 1 medium stuffed pumpkin - 4 to 8 servings

1 medium fleshy pumpkin (1-1.3 kg/2-3 lbs)

To prepare the pumpkin, cut the top off and hollow out the seeds and strings the same way you would for carving a Hallowe'en jack-o'-lantern. Brush a little canola oil or melted butter over the inside of the hollowed out pumpkin, and set aside while you make the stuffing.

Preheat your oven to 170°C/350°F with a rack set low enough to accommodate the tray with the pumpkin on it. Prepare the tray (baking sheet, pizza pan, or similar) by lining it with foil for easiest clean up. You could theoretically bake it in a Dutch oven (or a French oven) but you'll have a much more difficult time getting it out, so I wouldn't recommend that approach.


4 large slices French bread, preferably stale or left unwrapped for a few hours
1/2 medium yellow onion
2 medium stalks celery
1 leek, sliced
2 - 4 pieces dry cured bacon, diced
2/3 cup hot chicken stock or broth
1 egg, beaten
2 teaspoons dried sage
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh sage leaves
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground celery seed

Dice the bread, toss with a teaspoon of dried sage powder, and set aside. Dice the onions, leek and celery, and bacon.

Fry up the bacon in a big skillet until crispy, then remove the bacon pieces to a plate and fry the onions, celery and leek in the bacon fat. Once the vegetables start to turn translucent, add the bread and stir it all around. Add the rest of the seasonings, and stir around. Empty into a large bowl. If you think it wants more sage or even a little more thyme (go easy on the thyme!), sprinkle a little more of the herb of your choice over the mixture, and stir through.

Add the bacon to the bowl and stir to distribute the pieces throughout. Add the beaten egg and stir well with a fork until combined. Pour the chicken stock over the bread mixture and stir again, vigorously.

Immediately spoon the stuffing into the pumpkin, packing it in gently until the pumpkin is full.

Top with the lid, and bake the pumpkin for about 1.5 - 2 hours, or until a wooden skewer (or dry spaghetti strand) inserted into the fattest part of the pumpkin slides in easily and comes out clean.

Serving can be done in a variety of ways: you can slice it, as we have done here, or you could scoop the stuffing and squash out with a spoon, as either separate items or mixed together. Either way, pass the gravy!

November 18, 2018

Tiger Balls

This was one of our family's favourite snacks when I was a child, and boy did we go through a lot of them! Much like many of today's "energy bites" or protein bars, it's based largely on nuts and seeds, is lightly sweet, and can actually quell a rumbling tummy between meals. It's extremely versatile, so you can feel free to substitute ingredients as you please: sun butter or almond butter for the peanut butter, for example, in addition to the suggested alternative ingredients below. The first ingredient in each case shown was the original we used back in the day.

If you like your treats to be sweeter and more candy-like, double the honey (in which case you will probably need all of the powdered milk as indicated.

Tiger Balls

Adapted from "Tiger's Candy" from Diet for a Small Planet
by Adele Davis

1 cup / 250 mL natural-type peanut butter
1/2 cup / 125 mL fine shredded coconut, plus extra for rolling
2 tablespoons / 30 mL toasted sesame seeds, flax meal, chia meal, or hemp hearts
2 tablespoons / 30 mL rolled oats or chopped sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons / 30 mL honey, agave, or date syrup
1 tablespoon brewers yeast (optional)
6 - 8 tablespoons / 95 - 125 mL non-instant skim milk powder, as needed

In a mixing bowl, layer all of the ingredients except for the skim milk powder, in order shown above. Use a fork to thoroughly combine everything, making sure there are no dry spots in the dough, and then add half the milk powder. Stir that in with a fork, and gradually add enough of the remaining milk powder that you get a stiff dough that you can roll into smooth balls without breaking and falling apart.

Using a cookie-disher or spoon, form small balls, rolling them between your palms until smooth, and then roll them gently in the extra shredded coconut. Place them in a sealable container in the fridge until needed. I note that we never refrigerated these, they just sat in a cookie tin for their (very short) lifespan, as we gobbled them up mighty quickly. These days, I refrigerate them for safety and freshness.

The ones shown here are rather large - a full tablespoon disher was used to portion them, but a half-tablespoon size is a more perfectly sized snack for me (and comes in at around 90 calories). Fortunately, you can also cut them in half later if you make them too large.