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Thursday, 15 December 2011

Belsnickel Cookies

The name of these cookies raised a discussion amongst my friends, some of them of Germanic background. I thought "belsnickel" was some sort of gnomish or tomte-nisse figure. Some others said he was more like Father Christmas or Santa Claus. Again, others said the belsnickels were like mummers, dressed in costumes and going from house to house. Apparently it depends on the region of northern Europe or Deutsch Pennsylvania from which one hails.

So "belsnickel" cookies might be made in the shape of the belsnickel, or made to reward good children in December or in the Christmas festival, or they might be to serve to the belsnickelling neighbours who are proceeding from house to house in disguise.

Here's a warning about these cookies: they are a rich little butter and sugar cake. They burn. They burn fast. I had to adjust the cooking time and temperature from the original Amish recipe of a "hot oven" for ten minutes. The first batch was in for about seven minutes and was heralded by a  cloud of grey sugar-butter smoke.

I am not one to indulge in rich cookies very often, but at the Christmas holiday, why not? These are a small indulgence and there is no way to make them a health cookie.

Utensils: Mixing bowl, electric handmixer or sturdy wooden spoon, rolling pin, shiny baking sheets (I use well-washed aluminium foil pizza pans), cookie cutters.

Ingredients: 1 cup white sugar, 1/2 cup real butter, melted slowly, 2 eggs, 1 1/2 cups white flour, 3/4 tsp. Baking soda, 1/8 tsp plain table salt, 1/2 teaspoon rosewater. If you can't find rosewater, use vanilla or almond extract, but the rosewater is so lovely and old world.

Directions: Put the sugar in a large mixing bowl, pour the melted butter into it, and beat it until well blended. Add the eggs and beat in well, then stir the soda and salt into the flour and add that to the sugar mixture, stirring well after each addition. Blend in the rosewater. The dough should be cohesive but a bit sticky; don't add too much flour. Refrigerate for an hour or overnight, covered tightly - press a  piece of plastic, foil or a damp tea towel right down onto the dough.

Flour a board or counter top well, and if you have a marble rolling pin, chill it, too. If you have a glass pin, fill it with ice and cold water. Roll out about half the dough, cut into fancy shapes or simple circles, and place on a buttered cookie sheet. Bake at 350F for about 7-9 minutes, watch carefully, These should not even brown, just seem no-longer-raw; your index finger should make a minor dent, but not a hole - then they are done. Let them sit on the cookie sheet for a couple of minutes, and then gently pry loose with a thin spatula or knife blade before transferring to a wire rack to cool. They firm up considerably, so don't be scared of them. Scrape down and re-butter the cookie sheets if you need to re-use them for the next batch.

Everyone knows - it's a law everywhere - that damaged cookies belong to the baker.

These are good just like that - a plain sugar cookie with an exotic taste. I frost mine with a little buttercream flavoured with more rosewater. Try this: 2 tablespoons soft butter, one cup icing (confectioner's) sugar, a tablespoon or so of milk, a 1/4 teaspoon of rosewater. Beat the soft butter well, beat in the sugar, thin slowly with the milk to the right consistency, and add the flavouring. Tint if you like. I spread this on the cookies and then sprinkle with coloured sugar or jimmies or non-pareils.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Scarborough Fair Soup

I have a lot of lentils and barley in the house, along with beans, rice and bulgur wheat. We have all that it takes for lots of high protein vegetarian meals. Still, the usual curried lentils and rice, or baked beans and mashed potatoes meals can seem a bit repetitive. Winter is soup weather, I think, no matter if it is snowing and blowing, or raining and misting. And even on the bright, cheerful days, when we want to be outdoors, it is great to come inside to a warm bowl of hearty soup.

Soup can be made in the crock pot, but I recommend getting it started and at boiling point in a kettle on the stove, and then transferring it. I would give this soup at least five hours in a crock pot, and two on the back of the stove at a low, simmering heat, once it has come to a boil.

I also have dried herbs from the summer garden, and winter storage vegetables - this is a way to use all of that. I added some mild sausage; a vegetarian sausage can be used, or add two tablespoons of olive oil. Legumes and grains don't have much flavour without some fat.

Equipment: Soup kettle or large pot; (slow cooker or crock pot for unattended cooking); butcher's block and knife; measures and spoons.

Ingredients: 2 quarts water or stock or a combination of both; 2 tablespoons dried parsley, one teaspoon dried sage; 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary; 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (vary amounts according to taste): 1/2 cup lentils; 1/2 cup barley (double if not using sausage); 1/2 pound mild sausage - I used Danish sausage locally made, or add 2 tablespoons olive oil; 1/2 large onion, one cup peeled and sliced carrots, one peeled and diced white potato.

Directions: Bring the liquid to a rolling boil, add the herbs, lentils and barley. Let simmer for at least half an hour. Add the sausage and vegetables, simmer at least one more hour. If using the crock pot, brown the sausage and onion before adding to the soup with the rest of the vegetables.

Cut the sausage into pieces before serving and return to the soup. I served this with homemade Irish soda bread (  one night, and then with boiled pasta and cubed cheese the next. (Spoon the cooked pasta into a soup bowl, top with a handful of cheese cubes, then pour the hot soup over it.) I did not add a photo of the finished soup because lentils and barley do not lend the most appetising colour to a finished soup. If you are put off by the grainy-gray look of it, sprinkle liberally with fresh or dried parsley.

Are you goin' to Scarborough Fair? Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.
Remember me to one who lives there, she once was a true love of mine.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Coffee Squares

Sometimes you need a dessert in short notice. Supper is a bit thin and the family is hungry after a day of hard work; friends have dropped in and you want a little tasty treat to go with coffee or tea.

These bar cookies, or squares, are quick to make and bake in less than 30 minutes. They have a delicious butterscotch richness. I put almonds in them because almonds don't overwhelm the buttery-sugar taste, but any other mild cooking nut could be used, or none at all.

I adapted this from an old Ontario Mennonite recipe.

Equipment: Medium mixing bowl and wooden spoon; small saucepan and spoon; 9x9 square baking pan; measuring cups and spoons.

Ingredients: 1/4 cup butter, and use real butter; 3/4 cup brown sugar; 1 egg; 3/4 cup flour; 1 teaspoon baking powder; 1 tablespoon cold brewed coffee; 1/2 cup slivered almonds or other nuts.

Directions: Heat the butter and brown sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat, just until they meld and turn a rich brown, but not until the mixture is melted into a liquid. Pour the butter and sugar mixture into a medium mixing bowl, let cool a bit, then add the egg, mixing in well. Add the flour and baking powder, and beat, then the coffee and nuts, mixing them in thoroughly. Butter the 9x9 pan and spread the batter across the bottom. Bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes, just until the top is done and the cookie dough is firm but still moist and a bit gooey. Cut into bars or squares while still warm, and serve. They don't come out neatly, but don't worry about that, as they are so delicious even in uneven pieces. These do not become fluffy like a cake.

Don't neglect to scrape down the saucepan while the remaining butter-sugar mixture is still warm and fudgy. Just don't burn your mouth tasting it. It is sumptuous, and if I lived alone, I would be tempted to make the butterscotch mixture sans other ingredients just to spread on squares of white cake or sugar cookies, or - oh, I'll admit it - eat right out of the pan.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Food for the Hungry

Black Creek Pioneer Village
The winter holiday season is fast approaching - Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice. We are all thinking about what great festival food we will cook and serve. But before we get there, I think we need to consider not only those who will have less than sufficient for their holiday meal, but those who are suffering daily, and losing their lives, because of famine, drought, political trouble and malnutrition-linked disease. The first to die are the very young and the very old; then people weakened by disease, and finally those who should be in the prime of life.

I am advocating that everyone who plans to keep the holidays with gifts, parties and food cut back their festivities by half, and give the rest to the poor. Yes, by half. Half the giving, half the traveling, half the food budget. I don't mean a token $5 in the Sally Ann bell ringer's kettle, but half of what you would usually spend on holidays. If you plan to spend $500 on gifts and food, give $250.

This could go to an overseas mission like Samaritan's Purse or Doctors without Borders, or it could go to a local food bank.

This may mean your own holiday feast is less than your family expects. There is no reason it has to be a huge roast turkey or beef. Buy a cheaper cut of meat, serve a couple of fresh vegetable side dishes, and a simple pie or fruit crumble for dessert. Bake two kinds of cookies instead of five, and make them regular sugar cookies or molasses-gingerbread shaped cookies instead of rich butter cookies or nut cookies. Serve a non-alcoholic sparkling beverage or dry cider instead of wine.

My turkey pot pie recipe is a good one for entertaining - all the turkey taste, and the bird goes much farther. Roast a small, cheap turkey, or make the one bird last several post-holiday meals. Stuffing and gravy can be made separately. You get the idea.

Also, instead of the soporific and wasteful big Christmas dinner, have a soup meal late Christmas eve, before or after the church service, a Christmas brunch based on eggs, cheese and bread, and a light evening meal later. Lay out sliced bread, cheeses, fresh raw vegetables and dip, and the cookies for people to snack on through the afternoon.

Find a time in the holiday season to take on a charity project - help with a dinner at a shelter, a street ministry, a hospital or a soup kitchen. Encourage your church or spiritual group to adopt a mission. It doesn't have to be Christmas day - perhaps another Sunday or weekend would be better for the institution and those who utilize it. A lot happens on Christmas - volunteer for February instead.

For more information:

Monday, 7 November 2011

Baked Beans

We used to call these New England Baked Beans. I suppose it is because New England is good bean growing country, has long winters with woodstoves and fireplaces providing heat, and Yankees have a reputation for frugality. Baked beans are a very frugal dish, especially if you grew the beans or bought them in bulk.

Dried beans need to be soaked and parboiled before using. It doens't matter which you do first. Boiling will drive out the starch, which is the cause of the embarrassing intestinal gas that causes some people distress. Soaking gets the beans ready to be slow-cooked, and in some varieties of beans, removes the possibility of a toxic compound that can develop as beans dry.

Equipment: Deep saucepan with lid; beanpot, colander, cutting board and knife. Beanpot or all-metal enamelled or stainless pot with handles, about 8 cup size.

Ingredients: 2 cups dried beans, preferably great northern or white navy beans, sometimes called pea beans; boiling water, about four cups; 1/4 cup fancy or blackstrap molasses, 2 tablespoons prepared mustard or 1 tablespoon dry mustard; one whole onion, peeled; 2-3 strips of smoked bacon, or a small piece of ham, or leftover pork roast, especially the fatty end, or a two inch square of salt pork.

Jacob's cattle or brown field beans can be used, or even dried soybeans. I try to use the traditional white beans, though. The molasses can be light or dark (fancy or blackstrap here). In England you would call it treacle. Dark or blackstrap will have a stronger flavour, less sweet. Any kind of prepared mustard you might have will work, or dry mustard powder. Adjust the amount to taste, as with the molasses. The most traditional recipes do not include tomato sauce or catsup, but if you prefer, add about 1/2 cup.

Directions: Begin the night before. Sort through the beans and remove any small stones, weird things, and strange beans. (This is an important step - I broke a tooth in someone else's kitchen because the child designated to sort the beans didn't.) Put the beans in a colander and rinse under cold water. Place the beans in the saucepan, add about 3-4 cups of water, and bring to a boil. Let boil a few minutes, skimming off the foam. Drain the beans again, and cover with four cups of water. Cover the pot and set aside overnight. In the morning, drain the beans and put into the stoneware beanpot or the covered pot. (Most covered casseroles are too shallow.) Peel the onion but don't slice it. Cut almost all the way through the onion in a cross shape, put into the beanpot and push it down into the beans. Get four cups of water up to a boil. Add the molasses, mustard, bacon/ham/pork, and tomato sauce, if using. If you want your beans to be vegetarian, add two more tablespoons of molasses and a 1/4 cup of olive or safflower oil. Beans are mealy and bland if no fat is used in the cooking. Pour enough boiling water over the beans to cover them by about 1/4 inch, stir a little, cover, and put the beanpot into an oven of about 275F-300F. It will take anywhere from 4-7 hours to cook the beans, depending on the type and how old they are. (Old beans take longer, so try to rotate bean stocks once a year.) Check occasionally to make sure the beans are still covered with water. If not, add just enough hot water to bring up the level. When done, the beans should be nicely brown and soft enough to mash with a fork.

This makes enough for a family or for the two of us to have over three days. Leftovers can be frozen.

Add pieces of kielbasa or Polish sausage the last hour for a heartier meal. My mother always served boiled potatoes, corn or carrots, and tomato slices along with homemade bread. She would sometimes go to the trouble of making steamed brown bread, a true Yankee tradition.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Autumn Spice Cookies

These don't have to be autumn-oriented, but I used oak leaf shaped and  pumpkin shaped cookie cutters. They have a mild flavour of cider spices. I wanted a heartier version of a sugar cookie using whole wheat flour. And I was out of vanilla extract.

Equipment: Mixing bowl, electric hand mixer or sturdy wooden spoon, rolling pin, cookie cutters, baking sheets.

Ingredients: 3/4 cup butter, solid shortening or lard, or a mixture of them; 1/2 cup white sugar; 1 egg; 2 cups whole wheat flour; 1/8 teaspoon each of nutmeg and ground ginger; 1/4 teaspoon each of cinnamon and salt; 1/4 cup of brewed coffee.

Directions: Beat together the butter (shortening or lard) with the sugar, then beat in the egg and coffee. Add the flour, salt and spices, blend well.

Refrigerate the dough 2-3 hours. Flour the counter top or pastry board and keep a little extra flour on hand to keep the pin from sticking to the dough. Roll out the dough until it is about 1/8" thick, cut into shapes with the cookie cutter. I divide it into four portions for rolling. Grease lightly two baking sheets, preheat the oven to 350F. (I baked these in the wood stove which fluctuated between 325F and 400F.) The cookies don't spread, so place as many as will fit without touching on the baking sheets, bake about ten minutes until they are flexible but firm and maybe just lightly brown at the edges. Cool on wire racks.

If you would like, sprinkle the tops of the cookies with a little sugar before baking. The cookies also look nice with a butter frosting plain or tinted.

Pumpkin Pickle

This is a firm, spicy, transparent pickle. I like it better than watermelon pickle, which it resembles. This pickle takes a couple of days to prepare, and a week to absorb the spices. I mention the amount of water you will need for a good reason: Try to use spring water or filtered water, or a low mineral well water. High chemical or mineral content will soften or discolour the pickles.

Equipment: Very big knife and thick cutting board; vegetable peeler or paring knife; glass or ceramic deep mixing bowl; colander; enamelled or steel saucepan, wooden spoons; 5 or more pint sized canning jars and lids; hot water bath canner; canning funnel is helpful.

Ingredients: One small to medium small cooking pumpkin (pie or sugar pumpkins are preferable, but if all you have is the smaller sized field pumpkin or a firm yellow-fleshed squash, well, go ahead. I used a field pumpkin the first time and it was very good.) At least one quart of tepid water, plus some for boiling the syrup;  sea or kosher salt; 5 cups total white sugar; 4 cups vinegar, and I prefer cider vinegar. If all you have is white vinegar, no harm done, but use Heinz or a quality brand that is made from grain, as some cheap cleaning-type white vinegars are made from petroleum by-products. 2 tablespoons whole cloves, plus at least four sticks whole cinnamon bark sticks; I use more. (Scratch your whole spices with a paring knife and sniff to make sure they are not completely dessicated.)

Quarter the pumpkin, Scoop out the seeds - either save them for roasting or for next year's crop - and carefully and with some frustration peel the tough skin off the pumpkin. Unless you have a sharp paring knife or a good quality parer, you will find it slow, so make sure you have one or the other, as you should. Cut the pumpkin into even sized cubes of about one inch or so square. A little variety in shape is more appealing. Put the cubes in a bowl, and add salted water, adding 4 tablespoons of kosher salt to each quart of water. (Always use kosher or un-iodized sea salt for pickles, as the iodine will make the pickle soft. I use sea salt.)

Cover the bowl with a dish towel and leave overnight in a fairly cool spot in the kitchen or pantry.

In the morning, or sometime during the day, drain the water, rinse the pumpkin cubes in a colander and  rinse the bowl to get rid of any lingering salt, put the pumpkin cubes back in it, and cover with this syrup:

Bring to a boil 1 quart of water, 2 cups of sugar, 1 cup of vinegar, the whole cloves and half the cinnamon sticks. Boil for about 5 minutes; be careful that it doesn't boil too hard or too long. Pour the syrup over the pumpkin in the bowl, cover - I use a pizza pan - and set back in a cool place overnight.

In the morning, prepare jars, lids and rims for canning, and get the canner water boiling.

Put the pumpkin pieces in clean, warm canning jars up to an inch of the brim. Put the remaining cinnamon bark sticks in the jars. Heat the syrup in a saucepan and add 3 cups of sugar and 3 cups of vinegar, bringing to a boil.

Pour the syrup over the pumpkin in the jars, getting some of the clove pieces in each jar. (Hint: put a thin table knife or steel chopstick or skewer in jars as you fill them to dissipate the heat and prevent cracking.) Leave 1/2 inch of head space in each jar; cover with prepared lids and rims, and process in the hot water canner for ten minutes. Remove to racks or towels to cool.

Let it mellow for a week or so before opening.

This is such a pretty gift pickle that it is worth using decorative jars and lids. You can use gift-sized half pint jars if you prefer. I made this for a friend who admired the pumpkin pickle at a restaurant she liked, and after looking at a few recipes, decided this was close to what she described. It is a sweeter pickle than I usually make, but it suited her taste.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Turkey Pot Pie

I used to serve as a student minister in a church that had monthly turkey pot pies throughout the summer. It was in a picturesque region of central Maine, in the midst of popular campgrounds, and notices were posted at all of them of each upcoming supper. A big sign went in front of the church with the date of the next one.

These were not bigger versions of Swanson's pot pies, pallid little things that they are, with pathetic diced carrots and potato in an insipid sauce. And they weren't Mrs. Tweedie's chicken pies, with some old laying hen stewed into stringy gravy. These were properly roasted turkeys, real gravy, and no apologetic vegetables, in a truly crusty homemade crust. Big bowls of mashed potatoes, turnip, carrot and what ever garden vegetable was handy were served on the tables, with additional gravy and lots of fluffy bread rolls. Pie was also on the dessert menu, too, with coffee and tea. It was not a low-fat, low-calorie meal. It was the apex of church suppers. Everything else is just trying to reach that degree of near-perfection. I suspect that the heavenly banquet will include St. Martin's turkey pot pie menu.

This is a satisfying meal. It uses up a lot of turkey at once. It takes all afternoon, but there you go. It is definitely for a post-holiday weekend when there are extra hands to carve the rest of the meat, help make the gravy, and roll out the crust. One pie will serve six to eight people, depending on what there is for vegetables to go with it. We eat it over three days quite happily.

I recommend pot pie if you are serving a crowd of people who are expecting a turkeyish dinner experience, but you can't manage two large roast turkeys with all the goings-with. Roast the turkey, and strip the frame of the meat. One turkey will make at least two pies or more, depending on the size and type of turkey. Simmer the frame, giblets and neck, plus skin and strange bits into stock for the gravy. (If you have never made stock before: Put the bare turkey carcass along with the giblets, etc. into a large stockpot. I sometimes have to cut apart the carcass with kitchen shears to get it to fit. Cover it with water, add a bay leaf or so, and other whole spices like peppercorns, just a little. You don't want stock overseasoned. Don't salt at this stage.)

Make gravy from the stock: Melt butter or chicken fat or lard or use olive oil, about two-four tablespoons, in a saucepan, and whisk in quickly at least two tablespoons of flour, making a smooth, not lumpy, paste. Don't get it too hot, or you will burn the flour. Then pour in, slowly, warm turkey stock, at least two cups, whisking all the time to keep it from lumping. I'd make a good four cups of gravy for the pie, and you will want extra for the mashed or baked potatoes you serve with it. Heat to a slow boil, and stir, stir, stir. If it doesn't thicken much, whisk a couple more tablespoons of flour into a half-cup of cold water, and add in a trickle, still stirring. If you use cornstarch instead, you won't need as much. The flour thickened gravy is more traditional, and most people like the taste best. I've substituted arrowroot for cornstarch, but it has a different flavour some people will notice. Season the gravy with freshly ground black pepper, a pinch of sage and summer savoury, and a wee bit of salt.

Make a double pie crust for each pie, using my standard crust recipe: or any kind you favour. Paula's at: is a good one if you don't like the shortening type crust. Line the pie plate with the bottom crust, then heap lots of turkey in. Don't stint.

Spoon gravy over the turkey until the turkey is well-covered. It will take a good two cups of gravy. I don't mix the turkey and gravy together and pour it in the pie shell, because the bottom crust should have a few minutes in a hot oven to crisp, and if the gravy is on top, the bottom crust won't be as soggy. Cover with the top crust, and crimp the edges, which I do by trimming the crusts along the pie plate rim, and then rolling the two crust edges in toward the center, just so it clears the flat rim. My mother always crimped against the rim with a fork, and while this looks nice, her pie fillings always bubbled out and made a caramelized mess in the bottom of the oven. Make sure to cut a good sized vent in the top. I make a cross with a sharp knife, then fold back the edges.

Start the pie at 425F, and after fifteen minutes, turn the temperature back to 375F and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until the crust is starting to brown a bit and the gravy is bubbling hot. Let it cool for twenty minutes - it won't get tepid if the kitchen is warm - and then slice it.

Serve with mashed, baked or boiled potatoes, steamed vegetables, and more gravy.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Copyright Notice

Please be informed that all my material here, recipes, instructions and photos taken by myself, are under copyright. Do not reprint, borrow, copy or post to tumblr, facebook, google+ or any publishing platform online without my permission. Do not extract recipes to be included in newspapers, magazines, newsletters or books.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Cooking Disasters

I may have given some of my friends the idea that I have always been some fabulous cook. Yes, I'd like to think of myself as Nigella Lawson in cape dress and prayer kapp.

Probably I look a little more like this.

My mother had this cookbook, as did many women in the 1960s and 1970s. I don't hate to cook, and some of the recipes from this book were quite revolting, involving cans of tuna or salmon, cream of monstrosity soup, and noodles. And tinned peas. And catsup as a sauce.

I've had my share of kitchen mishaps and total disasters. I left home when I was seventeen, settled down into my own home at eighteen, and proudly invited my mother's parents to a Thanksgiving dinner. What is so hard about that? Mashed potatoes, roast turkey with stuffing, salad, two vegetables, and Nana bringing two pies.

No one told me that turkeys come with the giblets and neck stuffed in the cavity. I had used a spoon to stuff the bread mixture into the hollow place where Mr. Turkey was once solid, and I was a little surprised that more did not fit, but the Better Homes and Garden Cookbook said to pack it loosely. I put the rest of the stuffing in a baking pan and basted it with turkey pan juices, as my mother had done.  Nana asked if I wanted to make gravy with the giblets, but I said, "The turkey didn't come with any." She thought this was a bit odd, and wanted to know where I had bought the bird; she had been a butcher for the IGA for several years.

When it came time to serve, my grandmother came into the kitchen and helped me carve the turkey. She scooped out the stuffing and then exclaimed, "Oh, my! Whatever is..." And then she started to laugh. Nana had a piercing, cacophonous laugh. I'm sure the neighbours heard her, and they probably heard about the cause of the merriment. ("Donald, you will never believe what your granddaughter did!") The gizzard, giblets and neck were nicely cooked inside their cellophane wrapper, inside the bird. She soon relayed the story to my mother, and it was something of a family legend.

I managed to get through a few more years without a total failure beyond a pot of burned rice. I turned out a fair number of grilled pork chops, beef stews, pots of soup and loaves of bread, although I shied away from exotic things like pie crust and cake. I had the opportunity, though, to work on a cookbook for the importer of a quality ingredient (expensive and rare, and I had the luxury of oodles of it to work with) and my cooking skills expanded and improved. I made infused Austrian tortes, baba au rhum, and bay scallops en flambe. I made real corned beef, and juniper scented aged roasts. Then I was asked to produce an authentic Swiss fondue, flavoured with my rare and expensive ingredient. I was to host a small party, with the daughter of one of the company's principals invited along.

This daughter was a bit of a flibbertigibbet, beautiful, young and careless. She was a darling to her father and his associates, and it was unthinkable that we would have the party gather at the table without her. I started the fondue in the kitchen, hovering over the pot like a mad scientist. I timed it right down to the minute I planned to serve, with a heap of french bread cubes ready to serve in bowls with the fondue forks.

The darling daughter was late, late by half an hour. My precious fondue suddenly gave up, and glopped into particles of cheese curds in a greasy wine soup. I simply did not have enough cheese on hand to make another pot. I grabbed my whisk, and did all the things one does when the cheese fondue separates. I managed to get it back into a passable suspension, but it was hardly fondy anymore. I buttered a casserole, tossed the bread cubes and some diced parsley in, beat in my special ingredient, poured the cheesy sauce on, sprinkled lavishly with bread crumbs, and baked it for fifteen minutes, finishing it under the broiler. I snatched the fondue forks off the table, laid out proper flatware and plates, served the salad, and presented my fromage en croute as the divine daughter arrived. I poured white wine generously, and little Miss D.D. said, "Oh, I thought this was going to be fondue."

"It is," I said through gritted teeth. "It's an oven fondue. Something new."

I am not a casserole person. I can make a nice white sauce in the blink of an eye; I make my own noodles; I am not opposed to meat and vegetables mingling in a dish. But the average casserole recipe leaves me uninspired. Unless they contain lobster and shrimp, with a touch of kirsch perhaps, I am not fond of a casserole. I make them for other people occasionally, but I'm more likely to serve my leftovers in a soup or simply heated in the oven under a blanket of gravy.

My church was having a huge public buffet dinner, the one big moneymaking fund raiser of the year. I had been let off the hook from cooking for some other event, on the grounds that some of the ladies had been in my kitchen, and I had no food. This was not true - I had chicken breasts and shrimp along with some packets of lovely, high-end frozen vegetables in the freezer. I had a wedge of Parmesan to grate. I had fresh angel hair pasta. I had salad ingredients. I had flour and yeast and salt and honey and olive oil. I had hummus and toastable

I had nothing in a tin or a can or a box. I had a bowl of fresh eggs from my own chickens, but I never bought a dozen eggs.

I lived alone. I was thin and elegant and ran three times a week.

The week before the big event, one of the women on the committee called me. "It's your turn to make a casserole." I put my head down on my desk. I hadn't made a casserole in about 20 years.

"Couldn't I bake some bread? Or brownies? Or baba au rhum?"

"No, the baking is all taken care of. We need a casserole."

"I've got a great recipe for a salad that has watermelon and feta cheese and black olives. From Nigella Law..."

"I'm afraid people are expecting a casserole."

I called a sister. "What do I make for a casserole? Not tuna. And not Nana's salmon loaf."

She suggested one my mother used to make. Tinned corned beef, macaroni, cream of something soup, with those fried crispy onions from the fancy little can ornamenting the top. I think it had a grated cheese product in it, too.

I threw this concoction together, baked it and sneaked a bit out from under the oniony crust. Bland, ugly and salty. I took it down to the community hall anyway. The ladies in the kitchen eyed it, and I know as soon as I went out to help serve, they hid it under a box.

At the end of the evening, as I helped clear tables and bag the trash, one pulled out the remains of the woebegone casserole. It looked as if someone had half-heartedly tried a spoonful, to show willing. "We didn't get this served until the end," she said. "Do you want to take it home?"

No, I did not. And as I had wisely baked it in a foil pan, I foisted it off on someone with a family. I don't know if they ate it, but I never heard anything of it again.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Cooking Hiatus

Well, I still have to cook...but I am on a month long restricted diet, a tempting to clear up a problem with allergic reactions. It is bland and monotonous, so I haven't felt much like cooking for the blog. I will try to get some posts up next week from photographs I already have.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Recipe Ethics

Not "ethnic recipes.|" It's happened to me before - I post a recipe - a tested, photographed and annotated recipe I developed from an older one, or even one that is creatively new, and someone posts it elsewhere with no credit, no link back to my work. I've called strangers to task for it, because this is plagiarism.

Recipes are really, really susceptible to it. There are only so many ways to make bread, or noodles, or roast beef. We are all working from the same basic techniques.

I don't have a lot of recipes on this blog yet because I do test every single one. I am as meticulous about it as a scientist in the lab. I make notes as I go, weigh and measure twice, take photographs, and sometimes make the recipe several times before I am satisfied. If I am using a vintage recipe, I must modify it for modern kitchens and ingredients, and every time, untangle and interpret the instructions, and improve on them for people who don't know what "cream butter" and "make sponge" mean.

Obviously, I put hours into every dish. I will accredit the originator of the recipe, if I know it, without plagiarizing, and if necessary, note the variants I have added.

If you take my recipe and directions and repost them, even if a little altered, then you have stolen my work. Maybe you wrote the recipe long hand and didn't note the source; maybe you copied and pasted and didn't think it mattered. But the minute you expose that recipe to a public audience- on a blog, on Facebook, demonstrating it on television or youtube even - you have stolen my hard work.

There is an implied international copyright on everything written, photographed or created. The creator has a right to control their work until they sign away the rights. This is the only blog I have with advertising. One of the ways Google designates the value of the advertising is by the number of visits to the site, and the number of links posted to the site. If you take my work and use it without links back to it, then I don't get those page visits, which keeps my statistics low and makes my site less valuable for advertising.

I hope this clarifies what can be borrowed or re-used. Ask questions if you want more information.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Egg Fu Yung with Zucchini

We like Chinese style food, but the average prepared Chinese restaurant or take-out meal is much too high in sodium and fat for us. Considering that the ingredients used are fairly low cost, the price seems a tad high, too. I adapted this recipe from one in More With Less, a famous Mennonite cookbook I first had back in the 1980s. My sister Jeanne was at university in Pennsylvania then, and got to know Mennonites. She sent me the cookbook for Christmas one year. I loaned that copy to someone and never got it back, and then bought another copy, which also disappeared the same way. I finally bought another copy this year through eBay. It has recipes from not only Mennonites living on farms, but missionaries and people who have traveled extensively. The recipes are simple, low cost, and nutritious, which is the mission of the editor and committee that compiled the cookbook.

Equipment: Box grater, knife, cutting board, mixing bowl, spoon, skillet and spatula, measuring cups and spoons.

Ingredients: Enough zucchini to make four cups grated, maybe one large or two mediumish zukes; 3-4 eggs; 1/3 cup flour; one clove garlic, pressed or minced; 1 finely diced or grated white onion, medium. For the sauce: 1 cup broth or stock, chicken or vegetable; 1 tablespoon soy sauce, preferably low sodium; 1 tablespoon cornstarch or arrowroot.

Directions: Wash but do not peel zucchini, cut into large pieces and grate on a box grater. Stir in the eggs, flour, garlic and onion. Fry in a little olive oil over medium high heat, turning when lightly browned. Keep warm in an oven set at 275-300F. Blend the sauce ingredients in a small saucepan, bring to a boil, reduce heat to a bubbling boil for a few minutes, until thickened.

Serve over rice or rice noodles, with the sauce poured over the little fu yung pancakes and anything else you are serving. I usually serve just steamed vegetables on the side. This is quick if you use the rice noodles, which cook in minutes.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Mennonite Bran Gems or Muffins

While I love to bake, so many homebaked goods are high in sugar and fat. That's what makes them taste so good, right? But there are good homemade treats that aren't all sweet and saturated, and can be served without a dollop of butter or jam. These little bran muffins, for instance, are delicious.

This is another adaptation of an old Waterloo County Mennonite recipe. I like this for a quick bread or sweet to go with afternoon tea, and my husband thinks they are as good as cookies. They aren't very sweet in terms of sugar, but the molasses and bran make them seem sweeter than they are.

Bran is part of the wheat kernel, and when flour is milled, it is removed. Usually it is included in the manufacture of boxed cereals or used for animal feeds. That's a pity, because it is nutritious and adds a good deal of necessary fibre to the diet. Why save it for grape nuts or bran buds, or feed it to the goats?

I buy it in the baking aisle of the store, or at the bulk foods store. It isn't expensive, and sometimes I add a half cup or so to baked products that are just white flour. It adds fibre without changing the taste or texture.

Equipment: Mixing bowl, mixing spoon or electric mixer, mini muffin or "gem" pan, measuring cup and spoons.

Ingredients: 1/3 cup white sugar; 1 tablespoon molasses; 2 tablespoons butter; 1 egg; 1 cup milk with 1 teaspoon vinegar, or 1 cup sour milk or buttermilk;  1 teaspoon baking soda stirred into 1/2 cup white flour; about 2 cups wheat bran.

Directions: Cream (mix thoroughly until soft) the sugar, molasses and butter. Beat in the egg, then the milk. Add the flour mixture, stir well. Add the bran until you have a soft, pourable dough that just starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl.

Butter the muffin tin cups and dollop a tablespoon or more or more of batter into each cup, depending on the size of the cups. My mini muffin pan takes about two tablespoons per cup, and that makes two dozen exactly.

Bake at 375F for 10-15 minutes or so, depending on the size of the muffins. Do not overbake. They should be nicely moist inside, without a crispy crust.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Another Apple Pie

This is a link to my friend Paula's blog. Paula and her husband farm in the Ottawa Valley of Ontario.

If you are looking for an easier, less fiddly pie crust, this is a good one.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

More Than a White Sauce and a Garden Supper

So many recipes call for "a can of cream of mushroom soup" or a can of some cream soup. We dutifully add "cream soup" to the shopping list, doubting if it is really a healthy choice for an ingredient, not liking to pay at least a dollar, often more, for a can of soup, but wondering what could be substituted. Well, once you make white sauce, you will wonder no more, and the soup people will miss your money, which you will keep, since making a cup of white sauce is pretty cheap.

Equipment: Small saucepan, whisk, measuring cups and spoons.

Ingredients: to make a medium thick sauce, about the consistency of an undiluted can of cream soup - 2 tablespoons butter, or half butter and half olive oil, or all olive oil; 2 tablespoons flour (some people use instant flour here, but it isn't necessary); 1 cup of milk - skim, 1%, 2%, whole, or even part cream. Or substitute a half cup of chicken stock for half the milk. Have all the ingredients at hand on the stove top before you start.

Directions: Heat the butter/oil in the saucepan over medium heat until melted or just starting to bubble. Whisk in flour until smooth. Don't let it brown, so reduce the heat a bit. Now whisk in the milk, dribble by dribble - don't add it all at once - stirring slowly so that the fat/flour combination (this is called a roux) doesn't lump. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring or whisking constantly, until it is thickened nicely. Take off the heat.

That's it. If you feel you've been cheated all these years by the canned soup people - well, now you are wiser and won't be fooled again. It takes minutes to do this, and you get a nice consistency and a better taste.

To make it mushroomy, chop finely about four mushrooms, saute for a couple of minutes in olive oil or butter (not much, maybe a teaspoon), and add to the sauce. You can dilute the white sauce by whisking in slightly warmed milk for a cream soup. Add pureed and finely chopped steamed vegetables of choice, either before diluting, if using in a casserole, or while diluting for a cream soup.

Cheese sauce, which I served tonight, is made by stirring a half cup of grated cheese into the hot sauce. Add a 1/4 teaspoon of dry mustard to improve the flavour.

Garden vegetables are plentiful right now. I boiled quartered new red potatoes for about fifteen minutes, added peeled and sliced carrots for another five minutes, and then whole green beans, ends snipped off, for five more minutes. Drain all the boiled vegetables, and meanwhile saute a sliced baby onion or two, and a small zucchini. Chop a large double handful of fresh parsley. Toss all the vegetables together in a bowl, and add the parsley. Just before serving hot, pour on the cheese sauce.

That is what we had for supper, and it was very filling and satisfying.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Traditional Apple Pie

"Easy as pie" is apparently a self-contradictory statement. Many people tell me they have never made a pie, or the one they made was such a horror that the dog buried it rather than risk eating it.

One friend tried to impress the man she was dating by making a pumpkin pie. the filling is just a custard with pureed pumpkin it it; that's pretty easy. She'd seen her mother make pie crust many times, and it didn't look like it took an advanced degree in engineering. So she pulled out the ever-faithful "Joy of Cooking" and got started.

First, the dough didn't want to hang together, so she added more water. This made it sticky, so as she rolled it out, she added more flour. And then some more flour. Then it was so stiff she had to bash it with the rolling pin to roll it into a circle big enough for the pie plate. The filling went in, she baked it as directed, and after a couple of grilled steaks and a nice garden salad, she served dessert.

The filling was great, she related. But the crust itself required a hacksaw. The pathetic empty crust had the same texture as an asphalt roofing shingle.

My father makes great pies, much better than my mother did. "Your mother was too impatient with it," he says. "You have to be gentle, gentle with it."

My Dad makes it sound like a Zen meditation, the Yankee equivalent of tea ceremony. Plan. Lay out the utensils and ingredients. Chill what needs to be chilled, including your attitude. Take your time. You can't rush a great pie crust.

Equipment: Mixing bowl, pastry blender, fork, pie plate.

Ingredients: To make a 9-inch double crust pie, 2 cups sifted flour; 1 teaspoon salt (or not if you prefer); 1/2 cup lard or vegetable shortening, cold; 1/4 cup or so of very cold water.

Do not substitute cooking oil for the solid shortening. I use lard because I am wary of how vegetable shortening is made to be solid at room temperature. Lard will make a flakier crust, too, but some people object to the subtle taste difference. Obviously, for a vegetarian pie you would use vegetable shortening. You can use fine whole wheat flour instead of white flour. I don't find a big difference.

Directions: Mix the salt into the flour in a bowl. Cut the lard/shortening into the flour with the pastry blender until it is pretty thoroughly mixed in. (Some people say until the particles are the size of small peas, or rough ground meal. It just needs to be well blended, but not so worked over that it gets warm and starts to melt.) Now add the cold water all at once, stir quickly with a fork to work in most of the flour/fat particles. Don't worry if there is some at the bottom of the bowl. Try not to add more than a tablespoon more, working quickly, if it seems way too dry. This will be a fairly dry dough.

Now turn it out onto a floured pastry board or counter top. Very lightly knead it gently to hold it together. It should look like layers of shale or something flaky, not like bread dough. With a floured rolling pin, and a little flour sprinkled over the top, work half the dough out into a round, rolling from the middle with a light touch. When it is big enough to fit in the pie plate and up the sides, lift it with the rolling pin and slide it in. Roll out the other half the same way, and set aside. I sometimes refrigerate the dough before rolling it out, and if the kitchen is warm, put the rolled dough in the refrigerator while you get the filling ready.

Apple filling:
Peel and core 7-9 medium to large apples. I used yellow transparent for this pie, as the flavour is old-fashioned appley, although the slices dissolve into a wondrous apple butter. If you want visible slices, use a firmer cooking apple. Slice into eighths or so, but not too thin. Toss in a bowl with about 2/3 cup of white sugar or, half white, half brown; 2 tablespoons flour; 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon; 1/4 teaspoon each nutmeg and allspice. Spoon into the prepared pie crust (don't prick the lower crust, though, or you will have a gooey mess), add some dabs of butter, about 4 teaspoon size pieces, then top with the crust. Trim the crusts around the outer edge of the pie plate, and fold the two crusts together inside the plate. My mother always crimped hers along the lip of the plate, and the filling always bubbled out and burned in the oven. Then cut slits in the top crust to vent the steam.

Bake for ten minutes at 400F, then turn down the heat to about 350F for 30-40 minutes, until the crust starts to brown. If you like a nicely browned crust, brush it after the first ten minutes with a bit of milk. My crusts don't brown as much in the wood stove as the heat is even all around and not concentrated at the bottom.

 That's a basic pie. You can use other fruit instead of apples, but berry pies usually need cornstarch to keep them from turning into soups.