Showing posts with label Holiday. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Holiday. Show all posts

December 17, 2017


Pfeffernüsse ("Pepper Nuts") are traditional German cookies that flood the markets and stores during the Christmas season. Light yet dense, sweet but spiced, they are pretty much the taste of Christmas. They really do have pepper in them, along with cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, coriander, ginger, anise, and cardamom. That's a lot of spices! Fortunately, here in Germany, you can buy sachets of ready-blended "Lebkuchen Gewürze" (gingerbread spices) but you could mix them yourself (or use pumpkin pie spice, plus cardamon and anise, or other gingerbread spice blend).

The cookie-making part is easy and not time-consuming, but the glaze requires a bit more patience. The good news is, these cookies actually get better with age, so you can make them well before you need them. In fact, you should wait at least three days before eating them, as the cookies will be too hard at the start. Don't worry - that's a sign of success! Just box them up and leave them at cool room temperature, and they'll last for weeks.

The texture is partly owing to the old-fashioned leavening power of ammonium bicarbonate (Harzhornsalz) or ammonium hydrdocarbonate (Hirschhornsalz), which I discussed more thoroughly in my Amerikaner recipe. See safety note at the bottom of this post.


Makes 20 good-sized cookies

Adapted from My Best German Recipes

100 grams honey
25 grams Zuckerrübensirup (dark sugar beet syrup (such as Goldsaft) - you could also use treacle, or fancy molasses)
50 grams sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
250 grams all purpose, unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon ammonium bicarbonate
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons Lebkuchen spice mixture (see comments above)
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/16 teaspoon salt

125 grams powdered sugar
1 tablespoon rum
1-2 tablespoons cold water, as needed

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

In a small pot on the stove, combine the butter, honey and sugar, and warm gently until melted.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, mixed spices, and white pepper. Add the honey mixture and stir through quickly, and then add the beaten egg and mix until thoroughly integrated. You can use a food processor or stand mixture if you like, but I just use a wooden spoon.

Let the dough stand for about 15 minutes to allow it to firm up, and then use a tablespoon or small scoop to form small balls of dough. Roll each ball between your palms to make it round(ish) and place on a lightly greased baking sheet with plenty of space between them (eg 9 - 12 cookies per standard baking sheet). I used a 1 tablespoon-capacity scoop, scant-filled, to get 20 cookies. You could make them a bit smaller, although reduce the baking time if you do.

Bake the first tray about 12 minutes or until golden brown - watch the bottom edges to make sure they don't burn. BE CAREFUL opening the oven! See the safety note below: avert your face from the oven door as you open it.

Transfer the freshly baked cookies to a rack to cool. Bake the next portion first for only for 10 minutes, and then check to see if they're ready. The cookies will be hard as rocks (very light rocks, that is) but don't worry. It's all part of the master plan.

When the cookies have completely cooled - 20 to 30 minutes - it's time to glaze them.

In a small bowl, combine the powdered sugar and rum and a bit of water by mixing all ingredients well until smooth, but not too thin. Depending on the thickness of the glaze, you can dip the cookie-tops, or use a knife to spread the glaze over the cookies. You may need to adjust the thickness of the glaze by adding more sugar or water, to get the consistency you need for your environment.

Let the cookies dry completely (overnight should do it), before boxing them up in a waxed paper (or parchment) lined tin. Add a small piece of bread or a slice of apple (ideally, not touching the the cookies themselves - I put it between the folds of parchment). Wait, oh-so-patiently, for at least three days (a week is better, to be honest) before devouring, ideally with coffee.

*Safety note: ammonium bicarbonate is an irritant to the skin, eyes, and respiratory system. The heat from your oven causes a certain amount of it to sublimate, which releases it as a gas into the hot air inside your oven. If your face is in front of the oven door when you open the oven to remove the cookies, you will get a face-full of ammonia gas. Don't do it; instead, shield your face whilst opening the oven door, to give the gas a chance to disperse. If possible, open a door or window or use a hood fan for additional ventilation while you are cooking with this chemical. For more information, click here.

October 15, 2017

Braised Jumbo Turkey Thigh

There are a lot of turkey thigh recipes out there, but most of them don’t envisage a single thigh that weighs over a kilogram. This is specifically for those big, huge, gigantic turkey thighs, and yields crispy skin, succulent meat, rich gravy. It takes a long time because it is rather dense meat with a big bone in the centre, and therefore benefits from a low-and-slow braising technique, finished with a higher-heat, skin-crisping. The slow braise allows the meat to cook very gently, but thoroughly, melting potential toughness into delicious, unctuous texture. The meat slices well, but also shreds very easily, making this recipe an excellent choice for pulled turkey applications - from sandwiches to salads to tacos, to meal prep bowls and more.

Braised Jumbo Turkey Thigh

Serves 4
Total Prep & Cooking time: 4 hours (mostly unattended)

1 jumbo turkey thigh (1 to 1.3 kg, bone in, skin on)
1/2 tablespoon canola oil or chicken fat
1 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt
2-3 celery stalks
2 bay leaves
1 medium onion, sliced lengthwise
1 clove garlic
300 - 400 mL turkey stock or broth
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cold water (or cold stock)

You will need a Dutch oven or similar pot with a tightly fitting lid for this dish. It should be big enough to allow you to add the turkey stock without covering the thigh. It should come up 1/3 to 1/2 way up the thigh.
The thigh must be fully thawed to start. Rinse the thigh and pat dry with paper towels. Discard the paper towels and place the thigh on a clean plate. Season the turkey with the salt on both sides. If you want to get fancy, you can add a tiny bit of ground sage or thyme or white pepper – or all of the above.

Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F.

On the stove top, heat the empty Dutch oven, and add the canola oil or chicken fat. Swirl to coat the bottom of the pan with the fat, and give the fat a moment get hot. Add the turkey thigh skin-side-down, and sear until golden brown, turning the thigh with tongs every few minutes to ensure the whole surface of the skin gets nicely golden. Next, remove the pan from the heat and transfer the turkey to a clean plate.

Place the celery stalks in a single layer in the bottom of the Dutch oven (I cut mine into halves to make them fit nicely). Lay the turkey thigh, skin-side-up, on top of the celery. Add the bay leaves, garlic, and onion slices around the sides of the turkey. The pan will still be hot, so be careful to avoid clouds of steam as you pour the turkey stock around the thigh, only coming 1/3 to 1/2 way up the thigh. Place the Dutch oven back on the heat, and bring the liquid up to a simmer. Turn the burner off, cover the Dutch oven, and place it in the preheated oven. Let the thigh cook for 2.5 hours, and then remove the lid and turn the heat up to 180°C/350°F and cook for 30 minutes more. Use this time to clean up every dish, tool, or surface that touched the raw turkey, and then have a nice relaxing beverage. You’ll still have plenty of time to prepare some vegetables or other side dishes, if you like.

Remove the Dutch oven from the oven, and place it on a stove top burner. Carefully lift the thigh from the braising liquid and place it on a clean plate for carving shortly. Cover loosely with foil if you think necessary, but don’t cover it too tightly or it will steam away the crispy skin. The meat will be much easier to slice once it has rested for twenty minutes or so.

Gravy: Remove the bay leaves and the limp celery stalks from the braising liquid. You can leave the onions, if they haven’t fully melted, and in fact you can use a fork or a potato masher right in the pot to quickly turn them into a tasty puree to further flavour and thicken the gravy. Turn the heat on under the pot and bring the liquid up to a simmer.

Make a slurry of the cold water (or stock) and flour, and shake/whisk vigorously until smooth. Add the slurry to the simmering braising liquid, stirring (or whisking) constantly, as it comes back to a boil. Reduce the heat and continue to let it simmer, lid off, stirring periodically, for twenty minutes to half an hour – just enough time to roast a tray of vegetables to go alongside your turkey. The gravy will thicken fairly quickly once the liquid comes back up to a boil, and will thicken further as it simmers. The simmering time is necessary to thoroughly cook the flour, which otherwise has a bit of a raw aftertaste. Taking the time to cook it through will make your gravy at least twice as good.

The finished gravy should be a light colour – more tan than brown, but if you want it darker, you can add a couple of drops of dark soy sauce (don’t go overboard: in this case, more is not better). It won’t make the gravy taste like soy sauce, but it adds a little extra flavour and deepens the gravy slightly.

As the gravy finishes its simmer, go ahead and carve the turkey thigh in the same direction as the bone. The meat should be very tender, almost falling apart (it makes excellent pulled turkey, of course). When you’ve carved all you can manage easily, turn the thigh over and grasp the bone. It should come mostly away from the meat on its own, but it may leave a bit of cartilage or sinew behind, but that can be easily cleared away with your impeccably clean fingers. Set aside the bone to make stock for the next time around. The remaining piece of meat can be turned skin-side up once more, and sliced further if necessary.

This thigh was 1.2 kg and, despite the big bone running down the centre, gave us three generously sized dinners-for-two, plus a big lunch for one: Roasted and sliced with gravy and vegetables on the first night, then Stuffing-Topped Turkey Skillet Dinner (which further yielded the (big) lunch), and finally, the last bit of meat was chopped up and made into a quick creamy pasta with turkey and sautéed zucchini.

December 31, 2016

Holiday Yams (Sweet Potatoes)

For some reason, in Canada (and in parts of the USA) we called orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (Convolvulaceae) "yams" even though they have no relationship to the true yam (Dioscoreaceae). Technically, this dish should be Holiday Sweet Potatoes, but so far the change hasn't really stuck. I am apparently a prisoner of my childhood lexicon.

I dreamed this recipe up years ago, and we've had it for Christmas dinner every single year since, whether we're having turkey, ham, duck, goose, or anything else. You can cook them in the oven with the other dishes, if you have room, but you could also cook them on the stove-top if that works better for you.

Holiday Yams

Serves 4

2 medium orange-fleshed sweet potatoes
1 cup orange juice (or a mixtured of citrus juices)
4 slices fresh ginger root, peeled
1-2 star anise stars
1 cinnamon stick
4 whole cloves
4 green cardamon pods
small pinch of salt (optional)

Peel and dice the sweet potatoes. You can cut them into larger, stew-sized chunks, or smaller dice, however you prefer. You should have about 4 cups' worth of cubes.

Pour the orange juice over the cubes, and tuck the spices around them, being sure to submerge the spices into the juice, so that the flavour is carried throughout.

Cover the pan and bake until tender - the timing will depend on the oven temperature, so if you've got other items in the oven that require a specific temp, you'll need to work around that. For small dice, such as the one you see here, 40-45 minutes at 325°F/170°C should suffice, but if your oven is hotter, it could take as little as 30 minutes (you'll need to check).

Drain the orange juice or use a slotted spoon to remove the cubes of sweet potato from the juice and remove the spices (I leave the ginger in) to serve. If you have leftovers, they can be stored as-is in a refrigerator container, and gently reheated on the stovetop either in fresh orange juice, a little water (steaming), or fried in a little oil or butter.

July 03, 2016


I continue to be inspired by my vacation in Marrakech last year, and as you can see I have many more Moroccan recipes still to explore.

Harira is a traditional soup from Morocco, and while it is enjoyed year-round as an appetizer or light meal, it gains particular significance during Ramadan, for many households being a significant dish for iftar, the traditional meal that breaks the daily fasting during that month. Its recipes are as varied as the households they come from, but generally are all based on a combination of tomatoes, legumes, a starch such as rice or pasta, green herbs, and spices. Meat is an optional component, but used in fairly small quantities as it is not the focus of the soup. I've used lamb in this version, because we have such an excellent supplier of good quality lamb that I cook with it as often as I can, but beef or chicken could be used instead or the meat could be omitted entirely. For a meatless, vegan harira, I would double the amount of lentils, and possibly also increase the amount of chickpeas.

The soup is thick and hearty, and always served with bread. As part of iftar, it might also be accompanied by dates, hard boiled eggs, small savoury pastries, even homemade pizza. Iftar is served just after sundown, and although it is Ramadan right now, we are not Muslim so we enjoyed the harira at our usual dinnertime.

This version of harira is pretty close to the one I first tried at the market restaurants that spring up every evening in Jemaa El Fna, the main square of Marrakech. It is adapted from MarocMama's recipe.

Harira with Lamb

Makes 7-8 cups

1 medium yellow onion
4 cloves garlic
5 large roma tomatoes
225 grams lamb, diced small (optional)
1 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 small pinch saffron, crushed between fingers (optional)
400 grams cooked chickpeas
1/4 cup dry green or brown lentils (washed)
30 grams spaghettini or other thin pasta (broken into short lengths)
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
5 cups water

Prepare your mise en place: roughly chop the onion and garlic together, and the tomatoes and herbs each separately.

In a food processor, puree the onion and garlic until smooth (a tablespoon of water may help this process).

In a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion/garlic puree, and stir and cook for a few minutes. Increase the heat slightly, and add the meat, if using. Stir and cook the meat until it has lost its raw look on all sides.

Add the tomatoes to your now-empty food processor and quickly puree. Add the pureed tomatoes, tomato paste, chopped herbs, salt and the spices, and stir well. Add four of the five cups of water, and bring up to a simmer. Add the washed lentils and chickpeas, and stir through. Reduce the heat to a bare simmer, and let cook for an hour, to let the lamb get tender. This can be reduced to 30 minutes if you aren't using the meat - long enough for the lentils to get tender.

While the soup is simmering, whisk together until smooth the remaining cup of water with the flour. Let it stand while the soup cooks, so that the flour fully hydrates.

When the lentils are cooked and the lamb has had some time to get tender, add the broken pasta and stir through. Then, stirring constantly, add the flour/water mixture in a thin, steady stream. The soup will start to thicken very rapidly, but keep stirring it until all of the flour mixture has been added. This is a very thick soup. Cook and stir for another 20 minutes, to allow enough time for the raw taste of the flour to cook out, and for the pasta to cook. You will need to keep the burner on its lowest heat and stir the soup regularly, to prevent the scorching. Serve as an appetizer or whole meal, with bread and any other accompaniments you like.

April 23, 2016

Duck and Rabbit Pie

Pie is not very common in Germany, and savoury pie seems almost completely unknown, at least not this part of the country. I've had to explain it to a number of people, who seem, frankly baffled by the whole thing. We like savoury pies rather a lot, though, so I'm forced to make my own. To be fair, I tended to make my own even in Canada, where I could pick up a frozen pie in almost any supermarket, so this is no hardship.

This pie, though, is a little different. I should start by saying that yes, this was our Easter dinner. Rabbit is shockingly popular for Easter in Germany, even if pies aren't, and the markets are full of fresh and frozen rabbit. Not just the usual whole-or-parts options (rabbit liver is a special treat), you can also get fresh, boneless, fillet of rabbit at this time of year. It is a bit more expensive, just like boneless fillet of anything else, but for this kind of dish it seemed worth it not to fuss with the myriad tiny bones.

I was originally going to make the pie with just rabbit, but when my eye fell on the smoked duck breast, I couldn't help but think of that Bugs Bunny cartoon "Rabbit Fire" (is it rabbit season or duck season?), and decided to make it with both. The flavour of commercial rabbit is very mild and the texture much like chicken breast, so the smoky notes of the duck, along with its firm texture, created a nice balance in the finished pie filling.

Duck and Rabbit Pie

Serves 6 - 8

Pastry for a double crust pie (such as this recipe)

600 grams rabbit fillet, fresh or thawed
600 grams smoked duck breast, skin removed
500 mL duck broth (or chicken)
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, finely diced
2-3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
Salt to taste
one egg, beaten

In a shallow pan such as a small skillet, heat the broth until just bubbling. Place the bay leaves and the rabbit fillets in the liquid, cover tightly, and turn off the heat. Let stand for 20 minutes, after which the rabbit will be perfectly cooked, and very tender.

While the rabbit cooks, dice the smoked duck breast into smallish bite-sized pieces (reserve the skin for another purpose, such as duck skin tacos, or an omelette) and set aside. Peel and finely dice the onion. Strip the leaves from the thyme.

In a different shallow pan/medium skillet, melt the butter over medium heat, add the onions, the white pepper, and the thyme, and sauté until golden. Add 2 tablespoons of the flour, and stir to make a thick roux. Cook and stir the roux, lowering the temperature if necessary, until the rabbit is cooked. Remove the rabbit to a plate to cool enough to dice. Add the broth from cooking the rabbit to the onion-y roux, and stir or whisk until smooth. Continue to cook the gravy until it is very thick. Increase the temperature if you need to, stirring constantly, and let it reduce if it isn't looking very thick. You can also let it simmer, uncovered, on low heat, while you do the rest.

Dice the cooled rabbit to similarly sized pieces as the duck. When the gravy is satisfactorily thick, ie thick enough to coat the pieces of duck and rabbit and not just create a flood of liquid when you cut the finished pie, add the chopped meat to the gravy and stir about. Let stand while you roll out the pie crust.

Preheat your oven to 425 F/ 225 C. Beat the egg very thoroughly in a small bowl and have standing by.

Roll the lower pie crust out and line the pie plate. Before filling the crust, roll out the top crust and have it ready.

Once the oven is preheated, the pie plate is lined with the bottom crust and the top crust is rolled out and standing by, Use a slotted spoon to scoop the meat up out of the gravy and into the pie plate. Fill the pie plate evenly, and if there is leftover gravy add a tablespoon or two (no more) on top. Add the top crust, and finish however you like. I use classic crimped edges, because my mother always did.

Use a pastry brush to gently paint the top of the pie crust with egg wash (there will be a lot of egg wash left over. Use it for scrambled eggs in the morning). Cut a couple of vents for steam in the top of the crust, and then place it in the oven.

Bake for 15 minutes at the high heat, and then lower the heat to 375 F / 190 C for another 25 minutes. Keep an eye on it, and if the top and bottom crust (if you have a glass pie plate) are both golden brown, remove the pie to stand for ten minutes before slicing into six (or eight) pieces.

Serve with a big green salad, ideally one packed with vegetables and with a lemony dressing.

December 31, 2015

Nanaimo Bars

Much like the recipes for Kalte Schnauze and shortbread, this was one of the required Christmas baking items of my childhood. They are a quintessential Canadian treat named after the city of Nanaimo ("Nan-EYE-mo") on Vancouver Island, and these days are available year round in bakeries across Canada (sometimes in disconcertingly large serving sizes). You can get them with non-traditional flavours added to the filling - orange or mint or caramel, for example - but I've always preferred the standard version.

For the pan, I always use my 7x11" Pyrex glass baking dish, but I note that the original recipe called for a 9x9" pan, so either would do. Of course, the area of a 7x11" pan is 4 inches smaller, so the bars will be a tiny bit thicker. We always used a 7x11" pan, and I don't think I ever noticed that it was technically the wrong pan size.

Did I mention that these are no-bake? You do need a stove top, but not an oven.

Nanaimo Bars

Makes a 7x11" pan

Prepare your pan. For easy removal, a strip of parchment paper works well. Grease the sides with a thin skim of butter.

Base layer

1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
5 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg, beaten
1 1/2 cups graham wafer crumbs*
1 cup unsweetened, dried shredded coconut
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Put the butter, sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla, and beaten egg in a bowl (or the top of a double-boiler), and set the bowl over hot water, stirring until the butter has melted and the mixture resembles a thick custard. If your butter is very cold, chop it into small bits to facilitate the process.

Remove from the heat, and add the crumbs, coconut, and walnuts. Stir rapidly and thoroughly (I find a fork is the best tool here), to incorporate all of these dry additions into the mixture, until it becomes a damp, crumbly mixture without any dry spots. Turn it out into your prepared pan, spread it evenly across the bottom, and then pack it down tightly with your hand (as evenly as possible). Don't be afraid to press firmly - that will help it hold together later, when you're slicing it. Set aside, and make the filling.

Filling layer

1/4 cup butter, softened
2 cups (500 grams) icing sugar
2 tablespoons custard powder (We always used Bird's Custard Powder)
3 tablespoons whole milk

Put all of the filling ingredients in a medium mixing bowl, and mix until smooth. A hand mixer is really the easiest tool for this, and if your icing sugar is really old and clumpy, you might want to sift it first, for best results.

The result should be a thick, stiff butter icing, slightly yellow from the custard powder. Dollop the icing onto the chocolatey base, and spread and smooth it until it evenly covers the base layer.

Let the filling harden for at least 15 minutes at normal room temperature, 30 minutes is better (gives you time to clean a few dishes, or make a whole different recipe).

Top layer

200 grams dark/bittersweet chocolate (75%)
1 3/4 tablespoons butter

Melt the chocolate and the butter together, stirring until smooth. You can use the double boiler, a pan directly on the stove over low heat, or the microwave, however you prefer to melt chocolate. Just don't burn it. I just use a small pan directly on the stove.

When the butter and chocolate is melted and smoothly combined, pour it evenly over the surface of the filling layer, using a spoon or a spatula to spread the chocolate quickly and evenly over the whole surface, before it begins to set. I always pour the chocolate so that it falls onto the spoon, held right above the filling layer, so it sort of floods over the edges of the spoon and doesn't hit the filling from a height. That's possibly an unnecessary precaution, but that's my method.

Now the difficult part: The whole thing needs to set, preferably at cool room temperature (pantry, root cellar, that sort of thing) before you can slice and serve. Once it has cooled completely to room temperature, we normally slip a plastic bag over it to keep dust etc. off, and put it aside at least overnight. Far better if you can bring yourself to wait an extra day or two (my mother would try to hide it in the pantry for a couple of weeks when we were small). We've never kept it in the fridge -- it usually disappears far too fast to worry about it getting stale anyway.

When you're ready to serve it, run a sharp knife along the un-papered edges, and then lift the parchment ends straight up to lift the whole thing out at once. Transfer to a cutting board, paper and all, and slice as you wish. I find that quite tiny squares, the size of large truffles, are perfect, although as a child I always wanted much more than that. You can also leave them in the pan, and just slice and lift squares as you go, but I'd usually rather free up the pan.

Below is our family's original recipe, in my mother's handwriting. You will note a couple of differences - mostly in the somewhat expanded directions, and a thicker layer of chocolate for the top layer (which makes it easier to spread evenly over the surface). Of course, you could make it the more frugal way with only 4 ounces/114 grams chocolate and one tablespoon of butter, but that does result in a very thin layer of chocolate on the top. I note that the adjustment from 2 cups to 1 1/2 cups of graham cracker crumbs was my mother's correction to prevent the base layer from being too dry and crumbly.

*Living in Germany, it was a challenge to find an appropriate substitute for graham crackers - crumbs or otherwise. I eventually settled on Leibniz Vollkorn Kekse, and used my chef's knife to finely crumble them. It turned out really well, and I would use that substitution again.

November 22, 2015

Cranberry Sauce with Orange & Sherry

It's that time of year again. Canadians have already had Thanksgiving, Americans are just revving their KitchenAid™ motors and/or checking travel schedules.

Cranberry sauce has a place on many of our holiday tables. In North America, wherever there is a roast turkey, cranberry sauce must not be far behind. For some folks, it's as easy as opening a can and upending the contents into a bowl, and for others, it takes a little more time, but really not by much. Plus, you can make it ahead. Freeze it, if you're really super organized (labeled, of course) or just store it in a sealed container in the fridge for a few days before the big event.

This version is made with a bit of orange juice instead of water, and a splash of sherry (optional) at the end. It takes about fifteen minutes to make. If you like your cranberry sauce sweet, go with the full amount of sugar. If you prefer it tart, use the lesser amount. If you're not sure...well, you can always add more sugar later.

Cranberry Sauce with Orange & Sherry

340 grams fresh or frozen whole cranberries
3/4 cup - 1 cup sugar
3/4 cup orange juice
1 cinnamon stick
zest of one clementine, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons dry sherry (optional)

If you are using fresh cranberries, rinse them in cold water, and discard any that are overripe (discoloured, already squishy), and pick out any bits of stem, if necessary. Drain.

In a large saucepan (do not be fooled into using a small one! You want high sides to keep hot sugar from splashing and burning you) over medium heat, dump the cranberries (fresh, frozen, or defrosted), sugar, cinnamon stick and orange juice into the pan. Using a long-handled wooden spoon, stir it about and let it come up to a simmer. Add the zest, stir through, and let the mixture bubble and spit for about ten minutes, until all of the cranberries have swollen up and split open, and then about five minutes longer, stirring periodically. Taste the mixture carefully, by spooning some onto a cold spoon, letting it cool down, and then tasting. If you want to add a bit more sugar, by now you should be able to tell. If you want more sugar, add it and cook for another five minutes, until fully dissolved.

Take the pan off the heat, and stir in the sherry. Let the mixture cool (it will thicken up a lot as it cools, and the natural pectin in the cranberries has a chance to set). When it has cooled down to your satisfaction, put it in a serving bowl and cover with plastic or a sealable fridge/freezer container, and store in the fridge until ready to serve (or ready to transfer to the freezer). It will set up very firmly, so you may wish to stir it about before serving.

If you prefer your cranberry sauce warm, you can reheat in a saucepan it over low heat, or in the microwave (in the appropriate kind of dish, partially covered, so rogue cranberries don't explode all over the interior).

There you have it: a glistening jewel on your holiday table, and absolutely fantastic on turkey sandwiches the next day.

October 13, 2015

Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin pie represents such a beloved combination of flavours in North America that we're apparently even happy to consume it as a latte (okay, maybe not all of us), or (better still) beer.

It is also a staple long associated with harvest season feasts such as Thanksgiving and Hallowe'en - eminently sensible, since this is when pumpkins are ready for cooking. There's a lot of great options for pumpkin desserts - everything from flan to mousse, and that's not even counting the muffins, quick breads, and scones. My sister makes a fantastic pumpkin cheesecake, with a baked on sour cream topping, but that's a lot more advanced than this simple pie, which is just a single bottom crust and a filling that could best be described as mix-and-pour.

Somehow, though, pie remains the classic pumpkin dessert. This one is a little bit tangy from the crème fraîche, sweet (but not breathtakingly so), and not too dense. If you prefer mild spices, reduce the cinnamon to 1 teaspoon and the ginger to half a teaspoon. You can substitute ground cloves for the allspice, if you like.

Pumpkin Pie
Makes 1 pie

1 single pie-crust, unbaked
425 grams pumpkin puree (unsweetened, unseasoned)
3 large eggs
1/3 cup raw sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
200 grams crème fraîche
3 tablespoons dark rum
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon salt

Make your favourite single pie crusts recipe (or try the one shown here), and line a standard 23 cm pie-plate, folding and crimping the edges under if you like, or even simply pressing them gently with a fork against the top edge of the plate, if you want to go super simple.

Once the crust is in the pan, preheat your oven to 425 F / 225 C.

In a medium-large mixing bowl, beat the eggs until smooth (I use a whisk, but you could also use a food processor). Remove a tablespoon or two into a separate ramekin dish and set aside. Add the sugars to the mixing bowl, and beat until smooth. Dissolve the cornstarch in the rum, and add to the eggs and sugar, and stir through. Add the pureed pumpkin, the salt, and the spices, and stir until smooth. Finally, stir in the crème fraîche and mix until thoroughly combined. It will be a very pale orange at this stage, but it will darken up nicely as it cooks.

Put the pie pan on a baking sheet (or pizza pan) for easier handling. Use a pastry brush to paint the top edges of the crust with the reserved beaten egg. Pour any leftover egg into the pie filling, and stir it through.

Pour the thick pumpkin mixture into the unbaked pie shell, and give the pan a little jiggle to settle it evenly.

Move the pie (on its baking sheet) to a rack in the middle of the oven, and bake for 15 minutes. Lower the heat to 350 F / 180 C, and bake for another 45 minutes. The pie filling should look kind of rounded, glossy, darker than it was, and still a touch wet in the middle. The middle might even still jiggle a bit, which is okay - this pie must cool for a couple of hours before being cut, and it will continue to cook as it cools, and it will set up very nicely during that time.

Remove the pie from the oven and place on a cooling rack. As the pie cools, the surface will flatten out, losing the slightly domed look for a completely flat surface. Sometimes cracks will appear in the surface, but that's fine - doesn't change the flavour (and you can always fill them with whipped cream if you like).

Wait a minimum of two hours before slicing and serving. Excellent with a cup of coffee, or a glass of bourbon. If you like, feel free to add a little whipped cream (or a lot).

Cover leftovers well with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to three days.

May 27, 2015

Orange Blintzes with Warm Strawberry Sauce

Blintzes, either sweet or savoury are ultimately a particular handling of the ever-so-versatile crêpe. They are a bit decadent and a little fiddly to make, but can be prepared a day in advance (or frozen, if you have the freezer space for it), and a wonderful item to look forward to - especially for breakfast or dessert. Their origin appears to be central and eastern European, with the Russians, Hungarians, and Poles (and maybe more) all laying claim (and infinite regional variations). They were popularized in North America by the Jewish population, where they are a holiday favourite (particularly for Shavuot) and are also a Shrove Tuesday classic for Christians.

Because this is meant to be a luxurious, festive dish, I am using my recipe for the egg-rich French-style crêpes, but after consulting a lot of references, I decided to go with what appears to be the standard method, namely cooking the crêpe itself only on one side until the top becomes somewhat dry, and using that as the inside surface of the wrapped blintz.

Living in Germany, quark is the natural cheese of choice for the filling, although ricotta would also work nicely. These are sweet, with both sugar and orange marmalade in the filling, but not too sweet. I've topped them with fresh strawberries that have been warmed in melted marmalade, but you do run the risk of the strawberry flavour dominating. The solution for that would be to use peeled mandarin slices instead of strawberries, so that the orange flavour stays consistent. We were pretty happy with the combination of flavours, although the orange was a little overwhelmed.

Orange Blintzes with Warm Strawberry Sauce

Makes 6 Blintzes


1/2 recipe egg-rich crêpes
butter for frying finished blintzes


250 grams quark
3 tablespoons cream cheese
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons orange marmalade
1/2 egg, beaten
zest of one orange (optional)


2 tablespoons orange marmalade
2 tablespoons water (or one tablespoon water, one tablespoon lemon juice)
6-8 fresh strawberries, sliced

First thing: I have not lost my mind when I call for half an egg in the filling. A half-recipe of the crêpes calls for one and a half eggs, and the filling calls for half an egg. I simply beat two eggs until smooth, and then remove 2 tablespoons of beaten egg to use in the filling, reserving the remaining 1 1/2 eggs for the crêpe batter. Easy. Of course, if you decide to double the recipe, you can operate in terms of whole eggs.

You can make the filling ahead and store it in the fridge while the batter for the crêpes rests, and then cook all of the crêpes before you start filling them. You do want to make sure the crêpes have cooled at least to room temperature before filling, though, or the filling will start to melt and slide around, and the rolled-up blintz will be super floppy and hard to transfer to a plate or skillet; I know this from curse-laden experience. Let your crêpes cool! Spread them on a cooling rack until they're all cooked, and then start with the oldest to fill them. By the time you get to the last crêpe, it should be cool enough to handle without melting everything.

Cook the crêpes according to the recipe in the link, but only cooking on one side. As soon as the top of the crêpe is dry looking, remove the crêpe to a cooling rack and start the next one. The dry "top" side of the crêpe will be the inside of the finished blintz.

Fill the blintzes by piling a couple of tablespoons' worth of filling on the lower third of the cooled crêpe. Fold the bottom up just to cover the filling, and fold the sides in, envelope (or burrito) style. Continue to roll up until the blintz is a tidy package. It may take a few tries to get the shape the pleases you most - longer and thinner, or shorter and squarer. Your choice.

Move the filled blintzes to a tray or plate, cover with plastic wrap, and chill up to one day. At that point you could move the tray to the freezer until they are frozen solid, and then pile them carefully into a bag for longer-term storage. Or, you could fry them up right away.

You can make the sauce ahead, too, but it is best made just before you fry the blintzes. Melt the marmalade and water together and stir until smooth. Add the sliced strawberries (or orange segments) and stir gently until glossy and coated with the glaze. Turn off the heat.

Blintzes should be fried in butter, for the best flavour. They don't take very long, so make sure your attention is not needed elsewhere. If you're also making other items, or you're making a double batch, you can make the blintzes and keep them hot in a warm oven until you're ready to serve.

Heat a knob of butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter has foamed out, start laying your blintzes in a single layer in the pan. I find my 12-inch skillet works very nicely for 6 blintzes at a time. As soon as the blintzes are golden and starting to crisp on the underside, carefully turn them over using a spatula or flipper - don't try to use tongs, because they are far too delicate. When both sides have browned nicely, transfer to the tray in the pre-warmed oven, or serve immediately.

Just like with crêpes, there are many ways to finish blintzes. If you've made the strawberry sauce, go ahead and spoon that over the plated blintzes, but you could also go with powdered sugar with-or-without a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, or a pile of mixed fruit on the side, for example. A few curls of orange zest would be beautiful on these - I would have absolutely done that, if I had had a fresh orange on hand.


April 03, 2015

Hot Cross Buns

Hot Crossed Buns, or Hot Cross Buns? I guess it depends on whether you prefer a noun or an adjective. I grew up saying "Hot Crossed Buns" but now I find myself saying "Hot Cross Buns" so somewhere along the line I guess I gave way to what I hear around me.

My mother used her classic bread recipe to make these buns (with a little extra sugar), but as I've lamented before, the exact formula for that is now lost to us. Over the years, I've made a few different types, from using Challah dough to plain pizza dough, and they've been fine, but never quite what I wanted. This year, I decided to go with the classic from The Joy Of Cooking, and I'm very pleased with the results (although, next time I would use altogether more fruit, and possibly be a bit more heavy-handed in the way of spices).

In any event, these are a pleasing, not-too-sweet holiday bread that is both a perfect teatime snack as well as a charmingly festive alternative to eggs, eggs, and more eggs (which I say with love, because I adore eggs, of both poultry and chocolate varieties).

Hot Cross Buns

adapted from The Joy of Cooking

Makes 18 buns

1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt (coarse sea salt would be fine)
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup raisins (or any other raisin-sized dried fruit) (next time I would use 1 cup)
1/2 cup candied orange peel (or mixed peel)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (next time I would use 1/2 teaspoon)
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg (next time, 1/4 teaspoon)
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 tablespoons warm water (not boiling)
1 egg, beaten, plus 1 egg, separately beaten until smooth (to be used as an egg wash at the end)
2 2/3 to 3 1/2 cups flour (depending on your flour - start with the lower amount)

Scald the milk and remove from the heat. Stir in the sugar, salt, butter, raisins, peel, and spices. Let stand to become lukewarm.

While the mixture cools, in a large, warmed mixing bowl, prove the yeast by sprinkling it over the warm water. When it foams up, sprinkle a little flour over it (no more than a half-teaspoon) to keep it "fed" while the milk mixture cools down. Add the now-lukewarm milk mixture to the yeast mixture, and stir. Add the beaten egg, and stir very thoroughly to combine. Add a cup of flour and stir it through. Add another cup of flour, and stir that through. Add 2/3 cup of flour and, if that looks like enough to bring it to being a soft but manageable dough, stop there and knead it for about five minutes. If not, keep adding flour until you have a workable dough. Living in Germany, I find I often need more flour than is called for in North American bread (and cookie) recipes. When your dough has been kneaded until nice and satiny, clean the mixing bowl, oil it lightly and put the dough, covered with plastic, someplace slightly warm to rise (such as an oven with the light bulb on for added warmth).

When the dough has doubled (about an hour, but start checking after 45 minutes), turn it out onto your workspace, and divide into 18 buns. I only got 17 because I wasn't paying attention, but it works better in the pan if you have full rows, as the buns cling together as they rise. I was short one bun, so the two buns on one end didn't keep their rows straight, and they rose a little wonkily. No matter. Shape the buns into tight, smooth balls, and lay them out in either a 9x13" glass baking dish or with sides just touching on a metal baking tray, Cover with plastic, and let rise for about 20 - 30 minutes, until not-quite doubled.

Preheat the oven to 425 F / 220 C, and while the oven pre-heats, use a table knife to gently press a cross into each bun. Do each bun separately, rather than trying to score a whole row at a time; each bun deserves individual attention. Don't press too deeply - you're just creating a guideline for adding the glaze later. (Although, in some cultures, the cross lets fairies, or variously the devil, out of the dough before it's baked.)

Brush each bun lightly with egg wash, trying to keep the egg was from pooling in the crosses.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until nicely golden brown, and remove to a rack to cool.

When they've mostly cooled, glaze the crosses:

In a small bowl, put 3/4 cup powdered sugar (or icing/confectioner's sugar). Add enough lemon or lime juice to make a thick glaze. Spoon the glaze along the crosses. You can use an icing syringe for nice, smooth crosses, if you like. Be generous enough with the glaze that it flows a little over the sides of the buns on the edge, but no so much that it just runs freely all over the top of the whole batch. Again, glaze each bun individually for best effect.

Devour at will. With some tea, would be nice.

February 07, 2015

Prawn & Pumpkin Risotto

This is the traditional Hallowe'en dinner in our household, but really, you can make it all winter long when the winter squashes are cheap and plentiful. I've used a butternut squash here, but you could of course use any cooking pumpkin with firm, dense flesh (acorn or muscat squash might not be at their best here, because they would likely turn to mush with all the stirring). The final colour of the dish will depend greatly on which squash you decided to use, but usually ranges from an intense yellow to a vibrant orange.

For the shrimp, please check out this Oceanwise resource page for prawns/shrimp if you need help making an informed choice about sustainable harvesting.

If you're vegetarian/vegan, or just not a fan of seafood, you can omit the prawns and still have a beautiful, delicious side dish. Either way, don't drown in in cheese at the end - it really doesn't want or need it.

Prawn & Pumpkin Risotto

Serves 4

4 cups diced-small pumpkin or winter squash
250 grams risotto rice (arborio, carnaroli, or similar)
1 small onion, finely diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
4 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup white vermouth or dry white wine
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
250 grams raw prawns or large shrimp (frozen is fine)
Hot water from a recently boiled kettle (just in case)

If you've read my other risotto recipes, you will know that I am extremely particular about the size of ingredients in my risotto. My theory is, broadly, if it's not a featured ingredient, it should be no bigger than a (cooked) grain of the rice that you are using. Basically, onions, I'm looking at you. Because the squash and prawns are features, they get to be bigger, but I do find having a small dice for the pumpkin here makes a more visually and texturally pleasing choice.

First step, as always, is get your mise en place ready: Peel, clean, and dice your pumpkin, and set aside. If you have a little less pumpkin than 4 cups, it's still fine, although 4 cups gives the best result. Finely dice your onion, and mince your garlic. Warm up your broth and keep it on a low flame on the stove, so it's ready to be ladled into the rice. Clean the shrimp, removing shells (if necessary) and veins. If frozen, rinse them in a sieve under cold running water until they are mostly defrosted. Basically, get all ingredients prepared, measured, and standing by, because you get no further time to prep once you've started cooking. Be sure to boil a kettle, and have the hot water standing by in case you need it later.

In a large saucepan, heat the butter or olive oil over medium heat until quite hot, and then add the shrimp and quickly sauté them until they just barely change colour. Remove to a nearby plate/bowl to add into the risotto later.

In the same saucepan, without cleaning it, add the onion and garlic, and sauté just until the onion begins to turn translucent. Add the salt and white pepper, and stir through.

Next, add the rice and stir well, to get a nice, thin coating of fat on the rice grains. Add the tomato paste, and stir through until it is completely integrated and there are no streaks of red running through the rice. Add the diced squash, and stir it through gently. (You can also reverse the order of adding the rice vs. the squash, no biggie as long as everything is nicely coated in the end. I find it easier to add the tomato paste before adding the squash, though, to get it evenly distributed.)

Add all of the wine/vermouth at once, and stir, carefully scraping up the bottom of the pot so that nothing sticks. Lower the heat to medium-low, and begin to add the warm vegetable broth, one ladleful at a time, stirring gently but pretty much constantly in between each addition until the liquid has been absorbed before adding more. It should take about 25 - 35 minutes to add all of the liquid, and that variable is based on how hot your burner is.

If you get to the end of your broth and find that the rice is not quite cooked enough to your taste, add a little of the hot water from your recently boiled kettle, and continue until the texture is just right - a little bite to the rice, but not crunchy. Next time, you might want to lower the heat a bit more.

When the rice is ready, stir the prawns gently into the risotto. If you want an especially luxurious dish, add in another tablespoon of butter or olive oil, but it's not strictly necessary. Cover the risotto, and remove from the heat. Let stand for five minutes, and then spoon into shallow bowls and serve. Feel free to add a garnish of parsley if you like, but steer clear of the parmesan.

December 27, 2014

Scalloped Potatoes

Scalloped potatoes are one of my favourite holiday side-dishes. They're quite cooperative - you can generally cook them at whatever temperature you are already using for your ham or turkey or other festive fare (simply adjust the time), and require little minding once they go into the oven. Classic, simple, and satisfying.

These are the antithesis of fast food - a slow-baking, satisfying dish that yields the unexpected dividend of being a terrific breakfast dish the next day - topped with a sunny-side or poached egg, or diced and turned into Spanish tortilla (in which case, add more garlic).

Made with milk rather than cream (but no less creamy), and with a nice sprinkle of cheese at the end, these are richer tasting than they really are. If you're having a large holiday feast with many dishes, you can easily get six servings out of this, and if you're having a pared-down holiday dinner, it serves four generously.

Scalloped Potatoes

The way my mother used to make them

Makes a 9x9 inch baking dish
Serves 4 - 6

1 kilogram half-waxy potatoes (such as Yukon Gold)
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (approximately)
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup coarsely grated parmesan cheese
Kosher or coarse sea salt

Prepare your 9x9 baking dish by lightly buttering or oiling it. Preheat your oven to 350-375 F if you don't have anything else already requiring a specific temperature.

Peel the potatoes and slice them thinly, but not quite paper thin (I disagree with the venerable Martha Stewart on that one). Peel and dice the onion. Place 1 tablespoon of flour in a very fine sieve and have it within easy reach.

Place a layer of potatoes in the baking dish, slightly overlapping the edges like fish scales. Sprinkle sparingly with salt, add about a third of the onions, and use the sieve to dust a small amount of the flour evenly over the entire dish. Repeat until you have run out of potatoes (no need to flour the final, top of the potatoes, though a further pinch of salt there is fine). You shouldn't need more flour for the layering stage than the initial tablespoon - go easy, to prevent the dish from becoming gluey.

Shake together the milk and the other tablespoon of flour, and pour it gently over the potatoes, making sure the whole top layer of potatoes gets wet with the milk. The milk should only come up about half way through the stack of potatoes - they should not be swimming in milk!

Cover the baking dish with foil, and place in the oven (I like to put a drip tray under it, in case the milk boils over) to bake for 45 minutes to one hour (test with a knife - it should slide easily through the potatoes with no resistance). If, due to the varied times and temperatures of your other dishes, your potatoes are done earlier than you need, simply remove them from the oven and hold them aside (still covered with foil) until about 15 minutes before you want to serve them (perfect resting time for a roast chicken, or duck, for example), before going on to the next step.

Remove the foil, and sprinkle evenly with the cheese. Sprinkle a delicate, tiny amount of nutmeg over the whole dish, and return, uncovered, to the oven to cook for another 15 minutes or until the top is lightly golden on the edges (or more deeply browned, if that's your preference).

Use a flipper-type spatula to loosen the edges, cut into portions, and serve.

December 14, 2014

Christmas Treats: Kalte Schnauze

This is one of the most beloved of all the Christmas baking of my childhood. I love the shortbread, mincemeat tarts, my sister's candy cane cookies and other classics, absolutely, but this was always the most hotly anticipated item - partially because of the chocolatey richness, and partially because my mother always made it at least three weeks before Christmas, and insisted that it took three weeks to "cure". In reality, she was merely spacing out the Christmas baking, but wanted us to leave it alone until the middle of the holiday season.

Kalte Schnauze means "cold nose" in German. By the time we got our Canadian hands on it, it was spelled "Kalter Schnautze" and I'm really not sure how it came into our holiday tradition, or who gave us the recipe. It is written out in pencil on a slip of paper that was in my mother's recipe box. It might have been our Dutch neighbour, or possibly some of the Mennonite relatives, but I do not recall; I only remember that it bumped Nanaimo Bars from the number one place in our chocolatey hearts. When I arrived in Germany, I found that it has a whole host of other names, too - Kalter Hund (Cold Dog) for example, Kellerkuchen (Cellar Cake) - presumably because you store it in a cool place - and Kekskuchen (Cookie Cake), for obvious reasons. There are versions ranging all over northern Europe, and parts of the United Kingdom, as well.

I've encountered some debate online as to the inclusion of, variously, eggs, rum, and coffee. My version has all three, and as it is a long standing family favourite, that's quite good enough for me.

One final note: the use of coconut fat is original to this recipe, and not some flavour-of-the-moment substitution. It's essential to the creamy and melting texture of the finished dessert.

Kalte Schnauze

Makes an 11x7 baking dish

225 grams solid coconut fat
2 cups powdered sugar/confectioner's sugar
1 cup cocoa powder
2 eggs
1 tablespoon instant coffee
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon rum
2 tablespoons very hot water
1 package of thin "German Social Tea" style biscuits (or Butter Kekse)

Line the baking dish with waxed paper (ensure it comes up over the sides, to make removal possible later). You can also use plastic wrap - this doesn't actually go in the oven at any point.

Pour the hot water over the vanilla extract and the rum, and let stand.

In a large mixing bowl, mix the eggs, sugar, coffee, with an electric mixer until thoroughly combined. Add the warm rum/vanilla mixture and mix again.

Melt the coconut fat over low heat. Add a quarter of the melted coconut fat to the chocolate mixture, stirring/mixing well to combine, and repeat until all of the coconut fat is smoothly integrated.

Place the bowl with the chocolate mixture over a pan of hot water, so it does not set up too fast while you are working.

Pour/scoop enough chocolate mixture into the prepared pan to just cover the bottom. Take your tea biscuits, and lay them in a single layer over the chocolate, leaving a small space between each biscuit. Top with a layer of chocolate mixture, and repeat. You should have a minimum of three layers of biscuits, as shown here, ending with chocolate on top. I used large, square biscuits for this one, but I remember using smaller, rectangular ones as a kid. The advantage of the smaller ones is that you can alternate direction of the biscuits, which results in small, creamy, bonus deposits of chocolate in the finished squares. If your biscuits do not fit nicely into your baking dish, break or cut them into smaller pieces to get full coverage. You will never be able to tell, once it's done, or if the biscuits didn't break cleanly.

The amount of biscuits you need is going to depend on the size of your pan and the size of the biscuits themselves. I've never needed more than one package of any size (and often much less than a whole package), but if you're nervous, get two.

Allow to cool completely, then cover tightly with plastic wrap and let stand someplace cool (do not refrigerate) for a couple of days before you dig in. The biscuits, so crisp when you lay them into the chocolate, soften and become quite easily sliceable after a day or two of rest in their chocolate bed.

These are very rich, so cut them small and treat them like truffles. I note that if you cut them all into squares at once, the biscuit edges will start to dry out, which you can see here. It is better to leave them in a solid piece, cutting off only the number of squares you wish to serve at any given time.

April 03, 2014

Turkey & Stuffing Skillet Dinner

A classic turkey dinner is a wonderful thing. Sometimes, however, it's just not in the cards⎯whether it's time or money that you don't have enough of, or maybe it's simply that a full turkey dinner can generate a daunting amount of leftovers. That's where this little "beauty" comes in. Well, actually, as you can see from the picture, this dish isn't really ready for its close-up. Fact is, while I make this several times per year, I just can't seem to photograph it in a way that does it justice. But it is such a tasty little number that I encourage you to try it despite its less than movie-star looks.

Think of it as an innovative pot-pie: silky gravy base with tender chunks of turkey, and a bread stuffing top crust fragrant with sage and thyme. Best of all, it comes together quickly. If you're cooking for just one or two, you'd be hard pressed to find a better stand in for the holiday classic. If you have some chicken gold on hand, by all means use it in place of the same amount of stock for a richer depth of flavour.

Turkey & Stuffing Skillet Dinner

April 04, 2013

Yorkshire Puddings

Yorkshire puddings are essentially a simple popover that has been flavoured with the drippings of the roast that they are made to accompany. They are airy, eggy, and made a perfect vessel to drunkenly cradle a gravy payload, half of which seeps slowly into the rest of your plate (and, if you're lucky), particularly your potatoes.

The batter is remarkably like crêpe batter. The only difference, really, is that instead of putting any fat in the batter, you place it in the cups of the popover/muffin tin before adding the batter. Well, and they're cooked in a very, very hot oven, as opposed to over a medium-ish flame on the stovetop. But enough about crêpes.

Yorkshire puddings are also somewhat terrifying for a lot of cooks - not because they're difficult, but because they require precise adherence to the rules, or they will come out as sad, dense little muffin-pucks. Some cooks claim that it's best to make the batter a bit ahead and let it rest - something about rehydrating the flour, I think - and I always do, simply for convenience. Here are the rules that make all the difference:

1) Preheat the empty popover or muffin tin. Preheat the hell out of it. I like to put mine into the oven 15 minutes before the roast is due to come out, and then leave it in when I crank the temperature up so that it will be ready to cook the popovers. That baby is hot! If you omit this step, all is lost. Have a dinner roll instead.

2) Preheat the fat. Once the roast is out of the oven, whether you are using roast drippings for a proper pud, or vegetable oil, or some leftover chicken fat that you've got stashed in the freezer (looks at ceiling, whistles to self), get the fat into the blazing hot pan...and put the pan back in the oven, for at least a few minutes, and put the overhead fan on high. If you omit this step, the pan and fat will not be hot enough, and all is lost. Have a dinner roll instead.

3) Add the batter quickly to the hot fat in the cups. Use a pouring jug with a spoon drip-catcher for maximum efficiency (actually, true maximum efficiency suggests that you would have your batter standing by in a squeeze bottle with a large bore opening, but unless you have such a pancake dispenser sort of setup, a jug with a lip (such as a big measuring cup) is your best bet). If you omit this step, the pan will cool down too much, and all is lost. Have a dinner roll instead.

4) Get the tin back into the oven pronto! Do not open the oven door until the puds are cooked - or at least 15 minutes have gone by. If you omit this step, all is lost. Have a dinner roll instead.

5) Marvel at how beautifully risen and crazy tall your popovers are, and serve right away.

A note about using vegetable oil instead of drippings or schmaltz - for the love of dinner, please use something with a really high smoke point, or you will fill your kitchen with acrid burnt-fat smell, and...and all is lost. Have a dinner roll instead.'s the recipe. I really do measure the flour by weight, but if you don't, it's approximately a scant cup of sifted flour)

Yorkshire Puddings

Makes 12 regular-muffin sized

115 grams flour
3 eggs
285 mL 1% milk
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons fat (roast dripping, schmaltz, or high-smoke-point oil)

Whisk the eggs, flour, salt, and milk together until smooth to make your batter. Pour the batter into a jug, and let it sit for 30 minutes before you use it.

See the critical steps listed above, or this abbreviated version: Turn your oven up to 475F, and place a dry 12 cup muffin tray in the oven to heat up for at least 5 minutes (or however long it takes the oven to get up to that temperature).

Place 1 teaspoon of fat in each muffin hole, and put the tray back into the oven and heat until fat is very hot, at least another 5 minutes.

Extract the muffin tin and carefully (and quickly!) pour the batter into fat in the muffin cups - only half-fill each cup. This bit kind of looks gross, because the fat swirls all around the batter. That's fine; it's supposed to.

Close the door and cook for 15 minutes without opening the oven door, reduce heat to 350 F and bake for another 5 - 10 minutes, or until golden.

If you have leftover puds, try them for breakfast, gently re-heated and filled with jam, or cheese, or even scrambled eggs! If the exterior is a little squidgy from sitting overnight, blot well with paper towels before heating/filling. They lose their crispness, but they are still delicious.

February 24, 2013

French Crêpes

These simple crêpes are the lovely foundation for many different fillings and styles - from Suzette to seafood, from lemon-and-sugar to stacks of savouries sliced into neat wedges. Some particular favourites include a filling of bacon, mushroom, and chicken (topped with parmesan), and tomato, goat cheese, and fresh basil. You can fill them with pretty much anything you like. These ones are filled with a creamy mixture of bacon, chicken, mushrooms, onion, and brandy. The recipe for the filling is below. The filled and baked crêpes heat up wonderfully the next day. Best of all - these are not difficult. They take a little time if you cook one at a time (recommended, to start), but rather low effort, especially once you get the knack of tilting the pan around.

Crêpes (Plain)

Makes 12 crêpes (8" diameter)
Total Prep & Cooking Time: 40 minutes (faster if you can cook two at a time)

3 eggs
1 cup milk (1% is fine)
1 tablespoon oil
3/4 cup unbleached flour

Combine in a blender or food processor until smooth. If you are beating by hand, you may wish to take the extra step of straining the batter once you have finished mixing, to ensure a smooth result.

If you are making a filling, let the batter stand at room temperature until you finish preparing the filling.

Heat a crêpe pan or 8" (20 cm) nonstick skillet over medium heat until a drop of water dances. Spritz with canola oil, or brush lightly with mild oil of your choice.

Using a ladle or scoop that holds 3 tablespoons, measure your first crêpe's worth of batter. Lift the skillet off of the heat (I hold it in the air) and quickly pour the batter into the middle of the pan. Drop the ladle and rapidly tilt the pan in a circular motion, to spread the batter until it evenly covers the base of the pan. Return the pan to the burner, and allow the crepe to cook until lightly golden, and the edges release from the pan, about a minute or two.

Slide a silicone spatula under the crêpe (or grab the edge carefully with your fingers) and flip it over. Let it continue to cook for a minute, and then slide the crêpe onto your work surface for filling.

Repeat until all of the crêpe batter has been cooked.

If I am making baked crêpes, I fill the finished crêpe and place it in a greased baking dish while the next crêpe is cooking, so the process becomes an alternation of tasks. You can also make the crêpes ahead, and fill them all at once. Crêpes keep well in the fridge for a day or so (unfilled, separated by waxed or parchment paper sheets) and can be frozen for up to a month with no ill effect.

Chicken & Mushroom Crêpe filling

Makes enough to fill 12 8-inch crêpes (enough to serve four people)

4 pieces thick cut bacon
2 tablespoons butter
200 grams cremini mushrooms (or mushrooms of your choice)
450 grams cooked chicken breast
1 medium yellow onion, minced
1 teaspoon chicken bouillon paste
2 tablespoons brandy
3/4 cup Greek style yoghurt, plain (or sour cream)
2 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 cup water
4 teaspoon grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup parsley

Dice the bacon and fry until almost crisp, and remove most of the rendered fat from the pan. Add the butter, chopped mushrooms, and onion, and cook until tender. Add the brandy, and stir through, and then add the chicken paste. Add the water mixed with 1 teaspoon of the cornstarch and stir through, and then the and yoghurt mixed with the remaining 1 teaspoon of cornstarch. Stir and cook until the mixture is reduced to a thick creamy sauce. Add finely diced chicken, and stir through until everything is nicely heated.

Lightly grease a 9x13" baking dish, and preheat your oven to 350 F. On your work surface, lay one crêpe golden-side-down, and place two tablespoons of filling on the bottom third of the circle. Fold the bottom edge up, and then roll the crêpe into a compact cylinder. Place in the baking dish. Repeat until all the crêpes are filled and in the pan - they should just fit nicely, ten across and two side-ways. Any leftover filling can be mixed with the parmesan and parsley, and spooned down the centre of the row of crêpes.

Put the pan of crêpes in the oven for about ten minutes, and then broil for a few more minutes, or until the edges are golden-tinged.

February 12, 2013

Breast of Turducken

Intrigued by the idea of an extravagance like the infamous "turducken", but without the oven space (or the army of people to eat it up)? Why not make a smaller beastie overall by stuffing a turkey breast instead of a whole turkey? After all, Valentine's Day is coming, and if you were wanting a sexy little meal for two, with a bit of extra panache and just a few leftovers for sandwiches or a casserole, then this is the recipe for you.

Sure, it looks difficult, what with the layers and all, but I assure you that it is actually quite simple. It's just showy that way. Best of all, it's really two dishes in one, since the gravy is made from the braising liquid.

My initial inclination was to use duck confit for the "duck" portion of the turducken, but whilst shopping at Oyama Sausage Co., I noticed that they had a special on black truffle duck sausages, and asked myself "What could be fancier than that?" Since sausage is a ground mixture, it also solved the question of how I was going to keep the disparate layers from falling apart when sliced; I simply placed the sausage layer between the flattened turkey and chicken breasts.

Which is, in essence, almost my entire recipe, but for the cooking instructions. You could easily figure the rest out for yourself, I'm sure, but here are the details, just for fun:

Breast of Turducken

Serves 6 - 8

1 large turkey breast (about 750 grams)
250 grams duck sausage
1 large chicken breast (about 200 grams)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 tablespoon peanut oil (or other)
1/2 cup dry vermouth
1 1/2 cups turkey broth
2 tablespoons flour
salt & pepper to taste

Butterfly and pound flat the turkey breast. Take the duck sausage out of its casings, and spread three quarters of it evenly over the inner surface of the turkey. Add the chicken breast (also butterflied and pounded flat) and place the last bit of sausage in a thin line down the centre of the stack. Roll up (in such a way that the centre-line of sausage will run the length of the resulting roulade) and tie with butcher's twine at two-inch (or so) intervals. Rub the surface of the roulade with peanut oil (or olive oil, or grapeseed oil) and sprinkle with salt.

In a large skillet, over medium-high heat, sear the roulade on all sides. Add the vermouth, cover well with foil, and transfer to a preheated oven at 375 F for 1 hour, or until completely cooked (use a probe thermometer to get it to a safe temperature).

While the roulade is in the oven, you can prepare any side dishes that you like. Mashed potatoes are a great one, since you're going to have gravy. Carrots, corn, Brussels sprouts, yams, any or all of these make a fine side to your breast of turducken.

Let stand for 15 minutes on a carving board (loosely tented with the foil) to let rest before slicing. This gives you enough time to make some gravy (not shown, because it obscured the pretty bullseye pattern of the sliced roulade).

If your turkey broth is cold or room temperature to start (you could, of course, also use chicken broth or duck broth), shake it with the flour in a lidded container (holding tightly), and add to the now-empty skillet - do not clean the skillet first! Stir over medium heat until the gravy thickens, scraping up any goodness from the bottom of the skillet. If it is too thick, you can add a little more stock or water, or any vegetable water you might have from, say cooking potatoes, or carrots, or corn, or some other side dish.

If your turkey broth is hot, shake the flour with a little cold water and add it to the skillet after you have added the broth. Feel free to proceed in your usual gravy fashion, if you don't care for either of these methods. Let the gravy simmer very gently on low while you carve the roulade (make sure you remove the strings, first) and plate the rest of the meal, and then pour it into a gravy boat or bowl with spoon and take it to the table.

December 31, 2012

Coconut Friands

These were the sleeper hit of the season!

I generally tend to have dried coconut around the house - it's wonderful in a lot of baked goods, perks up a bowl of oatmeal, and makes a nifty sambal or chutney. A spoonful in a choco-banana smoothie almost turns a breakfast beverage into a party single handedly.

For all of that, I don't often feature coconut in all of its glory all that often. Sure, I've made the odd macaroon in my day, who hasn't? People like coconut macaroons. But! I suspect that people would probably like coconut friands even better.

I found this recipe on the delightful Girl Cooks World blog, where she subtitles them "little coconut tea cakes", which is a very good description to highlight the differences between friands and macaroons. She also differentiates them from the potentially related financiers, for which she also has a few recipes (and boy, they look good!).

These are gluten free (Girl Cooks World is quietly, entirely gluten free), which makes them an excellent treat to take to festive occasions where such bounty might be thin on the ground. Your gluten-free friends will be delighted, and so will anyone else who tries them. I halved the recipe, with excellent results (as listed below), but you can certainly "double" it again to get 24 lovely little cakes. Don't worry, they won't have a chance to get stale.

Coconut Friands

Makes 12 mini tea cakes

2 large egg whites
3/4 cup finely shredded unsweetened dried coconut
1/3 cup sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons superfine rice flour
1 1/2 tablespoons potato starch
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat your oven to 350 F. Spritz a 12-whole mini muffin tin with cooking spray, generously. Set aside.

Whip the egg whites until smooth and frothy, but not stiff. Add each of the remaining ingredients, in order, stirring well with a spatula between each addition.

Divide the batter between the muffin-cups. Bake for 17 - 20 minutes, or until the edges are tinged with gold. Remove from the oven, and carefully invert over a rack. A quick tap on the bottom of the pan should remove any stragglers, or you can use a little fork to help lift them out. Re-arrange so they are all right-side-up, and allow to cool at room temperature. Dust with confectioner's sugar, if you like.

Excellent, hot or cold.

Next time I make these, I plan to add a little lime zest in with the sugar. Doesn't that sound delightful?

January 03, 2011

The Last Pie of the Year is also the First Pie of the Year

Which can only mean one thing: Tourtière for New Year’s Eve (and again, New Year’s Day). (It's also often made for Christmas Eve, instead, depending on where you hail from.)

Tourtière is one of those wonderful foods which can be summed up as “those Quebecois pork pies” (doing it something of a disservice in brevity), but also holds an awful lot of holiday tradition, and hot debates as to the exact ingredients required (or, in some cases, permitted). There is the great potato debate - should it be included at all, should it be in chunks, or should it be mashed smooth? There is the meat debate - all pork, a mixture of pork and beef (and the percentages thereof), should you use game, such as venison or rabbit? And finally, last but not least, the seasoning. I’ve seen arguments for salt-and-pepper only (boring, but safe, I suppose), nutmeg and cloves (my personal favourite), and a sort of kitchen sink approach which encompasses every possible option from the spice rack, and infinite variations in between.

I am not Quebecois (although part French), and therefore do not have a family imperative to include in my definition of this dish, but I have a great fondness for French food in general, including its many regional variations. Here is an ad-hoc version that should prove tasty to most meat-pie loving folks:

Dawna’s Tourtière

Serves 6 - 8
Total Preparation & Cooking Time: 1.5 to 2 hours

Pastry for one double crust pie
2 cups flour
½ cup butter, cold
Pinch of salt
5 tablespoons cold water

Using a food processor fitted with a metal blade, blend the flour, butter and salt with quick, full-speed pulses until the butter is the size of little peas and evenly distributed throughout the flour. With the motor running on low, add the water all at once through the top of the food processor. Immediately crank the speed up on the processor, and in a few seconds it should start to become dough, little chunks of which start to glomb together and try to crawl up out of the bowl. Pull the dough clump(s) out onto a lightly floured counter, and knead just barely until it comes together. Separate into two roughly equal pieces, and pat down into disks. You’re done! You can refrigerate them until you are ready to work with them, or you can roll out the pastry now if your filling is ready. This pastry works beautifully for sweet or savory pies and tarts.


600 grams lean ground pork
300 grams extra lean ground beef
1 medium onion, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 bayleaf
1 medium potato, boiled and mashed (as smooth or lumpy as you wish)
½ teaspoon salt
Good pinch of ground nutmeg
Good pinch of ground cloves
Small pinch ground sage
Small pinch ground thyme
Black pepper to taste (lots)
½ cup vegetable broth

Brown the pork and the beef in a large skillet. Add the onion, garlic, and bayleaf and stir and saute until the onion becomes translucent and tender. Stir in: first the seasonings, then the broth, and finally the potato. Stir about, and taste. Adjust the seasonings to your liking, remove the bayleaf, and remove the filling from the heat.

Roll out your pie’s bottom crust and place it in the pie plate. Heap up the filling in the middle, and then spread it about so that the pie will be full, without gaps by the side crust. Sprinkle the filling with extra nutmeg, and lay the top crust over the filling. Trim and crimp the sides, and cut slits (air vents) in the top of the pie, and brush it with an egg wash (essentially, one egg, beaten smooth, applied with a pastry brush until the whole top surface, including crenellations, are liberally coated with yellow goo. This only uses up about a tablespoon, at the most, of your beaten egg, so put the rest in the fridge (in a little dish, covered well) for a future omelette or other baking tasks).

Place pie in a 450 F oven for 10 to 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 F and continue to cook for another 20 to 30, depending on your oven.

Allow to cool for about five or ten minutes before slicing, to help it preserve its shape when cut.

You may wish to serve this with a nice tomato chutney, or banana ketchup, or even salsa. I won’t judge - well, not much, anyway.

Happy New Year!

November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Redux

Happy Thanksgiving to my friends south of the border!

Up here in Canada, we celebrate Thanksgiving in October, so to allow time to sufficiently digest the turkey before having more at Christmas, or so the story goes (according to me). However, it's true that we don't always have turkey for Christmas dinner at our house (although we usually have one on Boxing Day with the family), and it's also true that we sometimes mess around with cross-cultural holiday traditions.

Tonight, we'll be having a turkey & stuffing skillet dinner, with roasted Brussels sprouts and a baked sweet potato. It's considerably less effort than a traditional stuffed turkey dinner, and perfect for those of us who like to squeeze in an extra turkey-related meal between the others. I'm still tweaking the recipe, though, and you'll get an update on it when I've figured it out completely...

On Canadian Thanksgiving, however, we let our fusion madness run amok. This time, the infusion was from Japanese cuisine. The above picture is our turkey gyoza with sage-rice, sake-steamed sweet potato cubes, and ginger-sauteed Brussels sprouts, with little bowls of miso gravy and cranberry-soy dipping sauce (made with cranberry sauce, rice vinegar, and soy sauce).

The sage rice needs work - I needed to use either more (and more finely chopped) fresh sage, or combine it with a pinch of dry sage to really infuse the rice with a pleasantly mild sage-iness. As it was, the inclusion of the sage was tasty, but seemed kind of accidental or incidental to the dish.

The sweet potato cubes were a new variation on our favourite "Holiday Yams" which are briefly described about half-way through this post on jerk chicken. Instead of citrus juice for the liquid, I simply used sake, and instead of the mixed spices, I used thin coins of peeled ginger. The results were lovely! I used a covered corningware dish to make these, and bake them for about 40 minutes at 375℉ (you can adjust the time accordingly if you are cooking something else concurrently at a different temperature. This version was also a big hit, and will definitely be called upon again.

As a weird, additional bonus on the day, we were let out early from work on account of the (snowy) weather, since Vancouver comes to a screeching halt if more than two snowflakes are spotted in the air together. This means that I had lots of time to get home, and get dinner on the table, which was much appreciated.