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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.