Acadian Chicken

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Many years ago as a teenager, I visited Cape Breton Island with my family. There wasn’t a lot of memorable meals on that trip—after all, what teenager wants to spend their vacation driving around in a van with their family! However, I do remember the stunning scenery and one particular dish.

We stopped for lunch on the Cabot Trail in a tiny French-speaking hamlet. It may have been in the Chéticamp area, but it was certainly on the eastern coast. We were hungry, and there was a single restaurant in town, serving just a very few dishes. One, which both of my parents ordered, was a simple stew of chicken and onions, served with mash potatoes. I remember trying their meal, and wishing I had ordered the same. It was so good that my parents asked the proprietors for the recipe. The ladies explained in broken English that you simply dredged the chicken in a bit of flour, salt, and pepper, browned the chicken, added in chopped onions, and let everything simmer in the oven until the onions have virtually melted to form a “sauce.” This is exactly the sort of meal you can imagine early settlers to the East Coast cooking over a fire in a great big 17th century cooking pot!

Since then, the so-called “Acadian Chicken” has become a part of our family meal repertoire. It may not be pretty, but it is filling, simply, and delicious, and especially good on a cold, Canadian winter’s day. We’ve doctored it over the years to suit our tastes, though the essence is the same. Now that autumn has taken a frozen turn towards winter, I cooked up Acadian chicken recently. It is nice served with mashed potatoes or egg noodles, and a vibrant vegetable.

Acadian Chicken

Serves 4-6

2-3 lbs of bone-in chicken pieces (or one large chicken, cut into pieces)
10-12 medium onions, sliced
1 tbsp oil
1/2 cup chicken stock
Splash of dry white wine (optional)
1 tsp dried thyme (or 1 sprig fresh thyme)
Salt and pepper

1. Add oil to oven-proof dish or roasting pan. On medium-high heat, brown chicken pieces. Set aside.
2. Turn down heat to medium-low. Add onions to pan. Cook 2-3 minutes. Preheat oven to 325F.
3. Add chicken pieces and stock. Add thyme, salt, and pepper to taste. You can also add some dry white wine at this point.
4. Cook chicken in oven with lid on for 1.5-2 hours. Remove lid and continue cooking for 1 more hour or until chicken is falling off bones and the onions have cooked down to create a sort of sauce. If the chicken is too saucy (or you are impatient, like me), you can thicken the dish with a slurry of chicken stock and flour.
5. Serve with mashed potatoes, a glass of wine, and enjoy!

Note: You could probably adapt this recipe easily to a slow cooker. We have often prepped everything and left it in the oven all afternoon to cook around 300F. It is a perfect meal to “fix and forget about it.”

Pumpkin Pasta Bake

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Caravaggio, Still Life with Fruit, c. 1603, oil on canvas. Denver Art Museum.

Building on my previous post about eating pumpkins, I thought I would go back further in time. Pumpkins, a member of the cucurbit genus, are native to North America. They have been consumed for thousands of years by indigenous peoples—they ate the pumpkin flesh, the seeds, and even blossoms.

After Columbus reached the Americas, pumpkins arrived in Europe. Some of the first images of cucurbits in Europe are found at the Villa Farnesina in Rome, a beautiful Renaissance gem that was decorated by Raphael and his pupils in the second decade of the sixteenth century. Other artists, like Caravaggio, included pumpkins in still-life paintings, like the one you see above.

Renaissance Europeans also began to cook with pumpkin. One recipe, found in Bartolomeo Scappi’s Opera, published in 1580, includes a recipe for a tourte of domestic pumpkin, which combines ricotta cheese, eggs, sugar, pepper and cinnamon that is then poured into a tourte shell, covered with an upper shell, baked, and finally glazed with sugar and rosewater. (Scappi, Book V. 106) This recipe sounds suspiciously like a precursor to our “modern” versions of pumpkin pie!

Pumpkin is often found in sweet foods, but it is equally tasty in savoury pasta dishes. In the Northern Italian town of Mantua, for example, raviolis are filled with a mixture of pumpkin, amaretti, and mostarda (a spicy condiment of fruit preserved in sugar syrup and mustard oil). I opted for a simpler pumpkin pasta recipe when I had some friends over for supper recently. This recipe has a creamy pumpkin sauce covering ziti noodles, peppered with chunks of sausage and fresh sage leaves. It was delicious, and a perfect way to consume seasonal produce in a slightly different way!

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Pumpkin Pasta Bake
Serves 6-8

1 pound ziti or rigatoni noodles, cooked to al dente
1 pound sausage meat (I used a combination of mild Italian and British bangers)
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
6-8 sage leaves, chopped
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
pinch of cinnamon
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 of a garlic and herb cream cheese spread (i.e. Boursin)
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup cream
15 oz can pumpkin puree (approx. 2 cups of pumpkin)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
2. Brown the sausage in a pan over medium high heat until the sausage is no longer pink. Break up larger chunks as you cook.
3. In the same pan, add the onion, and garlic. Cook until the onion is soft and translucent, about 3 minutes.
4. Add the wine, and then the sage leaves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until the wine has reduced by half.
5. Add the chicken stock, cream, and Boursin cheese. Stir in the pumpkin puree. Mix until everything is incorporated. You can also add some extra grated Parmesan to the sauce for a more cheesy flavour.
5. Transfer to a casserole dish with the pasta. Mix until combined.
6. Top with Parmesan cheese. Bake for 25-35 minutes until bubbly.
7. Garnish with parsley (or fried sage) and enjoy with a nice glass of white wine!

A new take on an old Pumpkin Cake recipe

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During October, we celebrate two holidays in Canada: Thanksgiving and Halloween. For me, the entire month is all about the sights, smells and tastes of autumn—the smell of crisp leaves falling, frost sparkling on the grass in the morning, and the firm end of the harvest season. Pumpkins are king in October. You see them decorating front porches and store displays, and jack-o’lantern images are found in every window. Vibrant orange gourds dot farmers’ fields as you drive past.

And they are delicious.

In the past 10-15 years, we have become obsessed with pumpkin [spice] everything during autumn. Not only are pumpkins drank in lattes, but they are cooked up into everything from layer cakes to cookies to seasonal lasagnas. I don’t recall ever hearing about pumpkin macaroni and cheese when I was kid. But now? Pumpkins feature heavily in October food, both sweet and savoury!

Out of curiosity, I checked into some old cookbooks recently at my grandmother’s house. Fascinatingly, old cookbooks might associate pumpkins with autumn, but they didn’t serve them in very many ways. One cookbook, the Laura Secord Canadian Cookbook, published in 1966, included only 4 pumpkin recipes out of hundreds of dishes that reflect “Canadian cooking.” Given that pumpkins are native to North America, and have been consumed for centuries, I found this lack of pumpkin recipes interesting. Other cookbooks from 50 years ago are similar—they might include a recipe for pumpkin pie, perhaps one simple cake or muffin recipe, and occasionally a version of pickles, but rarely anything else.

In the spirit of history, I cooked up the pumpkin cake recipe from the Laura Secord Canadian Cookbook, albeit a modified version to suit 21st century pumpkin tastes. (What makes the originally cake specifically from Calgary, I’m not sure.) I changed the spices to more of a blend of warm, autumnal spices, including cloves and ginger, which always go well with pumpkin. In addition, I swapped shortening for butter because—hey, who doesn’t like butter? The original recipe used very little pumpkin, so I increased that to one cup. If you eat pumpkin cake, you want to taste the pumpkin’s flavour!

“Old-Fashioned” Pumpkin Spice Cake

1/2 cup butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup sour milk or buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup canned pumpkin (or pureed pumpkin you have prepared yourself)
1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 heaping tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp cloves
1/2 cup raisins

1. Heat oven to 350F. Grease an 8×8″ square baking pan.
2. Cream together butter and sugar. Beat in eggs, one at a time.
3. Add vanilla, buttermilk, and pumpkin. Mix until well incorporated.
4. Add dry ingredients and spices. Mix. Fold in raisins.
5. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Because I found the cake a bit dry, I served it with a Grand Marnier cream cheese icing. I think the cake could also be served with butter, similar to a loaf or muffin.

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Cooking with Bushra

In my current line of work, I encounter a number of newly-arrived residents of Canada, including many Syrian refugees. Recently, a co-worker of mine assisted a Syrian lady, Bushra, who she brought in an array of snacks as thanks for the help. Her Syrian generosity meant that there were a lot of snacks to share. I tried several delicious foods, including little pizza flatbreads, a sweet semolina cake, and kibbeh. The kibbeh were amazing—little balls of bulgur wheat stuffed with slightly spiced meat. They were so tasty, in fact, that I wanted to find out the recipe.

With the help of a woman who works for a local immigration agency, we set up a cooking demo at Bushra’s home. “Cooking demo” for Syrians apparently means “large feast with friends” because, when my co-worker and I arrived at Bushra’s place, there was a veritable banquet of dishes awaiting us. Bushra and her husband, Abdulwahab, are from Aleppo in Syria, which is a city known for its food culture. Aleppo was a major stop along the Silk Road, so the cuisine there was a sort of melting pot of influences and the diverse communities—Arabs, Armenians, Kurds and also Christians—who lived there. Abdulwahab ran a restaurant in Kuwait for many years, thus both husband and wife are accomplished cooks and prepared different aspects of the meal for us.

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The spread included some familiar foods and some new dishes. There was hummus (almost Israeli-style, with lots of tahini) and a lusciously smooth baba ganoush, decorated with shreds of carrot, olives, and pomegranate seeds. The tabbouleh (pictured above) was dressed simply, with just lemon juice, olive oil, and salt, and finely-diced tomatoes and onions made it one of the nicest tabboulehs I’ve yet had. Abdulwahab told us that the proper way to eat tabbouleh was with lettuce, which actually made it very easy to eat!

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(Clockwise from left: Green beans, hummus, Abdulwahab’s Famous Salad, chicken curry, rice)

Vegetables played a major role in the meal. Abdulwahab made his “famous salad,” that he used to serve in his restaurant days—it was mainly cucumber, lettuce, tomato, and onion dressed in lemon juice, olive oil, and mint. Another dish consisted of tomatoes, red peppers, eggplants, and onions simmered in olive oil (Bushra noted that you have to make sure to salt the eggplant before cooking so it absorbs less oil). My favourite vegetable dish was probably the simplest: onions simmered in about a half cup of oil on low (so they don’t brown). Add to that green beans, put on the lid, and let cook gently for an hour. Bushra served the beans cold. They were unexpectedly simple yet very tasty.

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(Clockwise from left: hummus, salad, curry, simmered vegetables, baba ganoush, kibbeh, rice)

There was also a big platter of yellow rice, served with a turmeric-heavy chicken curry. Spinach and onion handpies and the ubiquitous kibbeh finished off the meal. Bushra and Abdulwahab told us that they have a saying in Aleppo that “you eat as much as you love them.” The host wants to be generous with their guests, and Bushra and Abdulwahab were immensely warm and inviting. My co-worker and I tried our best to finish everything, but we failed in that challenge!

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Bushra gave a brief demonstration to me of how to make kibbeh. Years of practice have made her adept at forming the egg-shaped balls of kibbeh deliciousness. She uses an electric meat grinder to combine the bulgur wheat and meat, forms them into elongated little cups, stuffs in the spiced ground meat and onion mixture, then she moulds it into a tapered egg to be fried in a fairly shallow pan of oil (about ½ an inch deep). Bushra said that the thinner the kibbeh are, the better.

The meal ended with a round of tea and a platter of baklava and Syrian desserts. The whole evening was lovely—not only was there delicious food, but we learned a lot about Syrian culture. There was no political agenda, just a gathering of people with an appreciation of good food. We were there to share and learn, just one-on-one, as people. Bushra and Abdulwahab seemed surprised at how much I knew about architecture in Syria, and I was surprised at how they could be so generous in light of everything that they lost back home. I hope that there is a future for Syria that isn’t just warfare and destruction, because they have such a rich history, fascinating food culture, and such warm, welcoming people.

Cheese Soufflé

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When I was commuting to and from Bishop’s University a couple years back, I stayed at a lovely B&B run in Lennoxville, Quebec, Les Matins D’Antoine.

Every morning, the owner, Ronald, cooked up a delicious breakfast. Often, because it was Quebec after all, maple syrup was on the menu. But one of the last mornings that I stayed there, he made a cheese soufflé. I was a bit leery—in part because I’d never had a cheese soufflé but also because I generally avoid eating eggs at breakfast. However, the soufflé was delicious, filled with bright herbs and gobs of melty, stringy Quebec cheese.

I was determined to try making it myself.

Making a cheese soufflé turns out to be fairly easy, as long as you make certain to keep your egg whites pristine. There must be absolutely no trace of the egg yolk in the egg whites! Cooking the soufflés in a bit of a water bath also helps keep everything nice and even when they cook. This is a good recipe to use up scraps of cheese, or use your favourite cheese. Myself, I like a nice combination of sharp cheddar (for flavour) and Havarti or mozzarella (for melt-ability).

Cheese soufflé is delicious at breakfast or brunch with toast, or you could even serve it at dinner with a nice green salad.

Cheese Soufflé

Makes 3 servings

2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter + extra for buttering dishes
1 1/2 tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp dried mustard powder
1/2 tsp flat leaf parsley, chopped
1-2 tbsp fresh chives, chopped
Pepper, to taste
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (packed) coarsely grated cheese (cheddar, gruyere, gouda, or any mix of your favourite cheeses)

1. Position rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 390F. Butter 3 small ramekin dishes. Add Parmesan cheese and tilt dish, coating bottom and sides.
2. Place ramekin dishes in a low roast pan. Carefully add water to roast pan until there water is about halfway up the height of the ramekin dishes.
3. Warm milk in heavy small saucepan over medium-low heat until steaming.
4. Separate eggs, making sure that no trace of yolk is found in the egg whites.
5. Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and whisk until mixture begins to foam and loses raw taste, about 2-3 minutes (do not allow mixture to brown). Remove saucepan from heat; let stand 1 minute.
6. Pour in warm milk, whisking until smooth. Return to heat and cook, whisking constantly until very thick, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat; whisk in spices, salt, and herbs. Add egg yolks 1 at a time, whisking to blend after each addition. Add half of the grated cheese, and mix into base. Set base mixture aside.
7. Using electric mixer, beat egg whites in another large bowl until stiff but not dry.
8. Fold 1/4 of whites into lukewarm soufflé base to lighten. Fold in remaining whites in 2 additions while gradually sprinkling in the rest of the cheese.
9. Transfer batter to prepared dishes. For an even rise, run a knife carefully along the inside perimeter of the dishes.
10. Place dishes (in the roast pan) in oven. Bake until soufflés are puffed and golden brown on top and center moves only slightly when dish is shaken gently, about 25 minutes (do not open oven door during first 20 minutes). Serve immediately.

This recipe can easily be doubled.

Pear Almond Streusel Loaf

Pears are one of the many delicious foods that come into season in September in my region of Canada. This was a good year for the pear crop, and I have seen so many branches of pear trees literally bent over under the weight of the fruit!

Madonna of the Pear

Giovanni Bellini, Madonna of the Pear, c.1485. Galleria dell’Accademia Carrara, Bergamo.

In religious art, such as Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna of the Pear, the fruit can symbolise Christ’s love for mankind. However, in more secular works, pears, along with other fruit (peaches, apples and apricots) have sexual connotations about female anatomy.

Regardless of what the fruit might allude to, the sweetness of a perfectly ripe pear is unmatched. I like to pair pears—pardon the pun—with a bit of spice. The sharpness of cloves compliments the taste of the fruit, and brings to mind the spicy perfumes that so many associate with autumn.

This loaf is deliciously moist, and makes an ideal afternoon snack. The crunch of the nuts in the streusel adds a nice contrast to the softness of the fruit.

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Pear Almond Streusel Loaf

For the streusel:
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp cold butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup chopped almonds or pecans

For the Loaf:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp cloves
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract (OR 2 tsp amaretto)
1 1/4 cup chopped pears, skin removed

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F degrees. Grease a 9×5 loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.
2. First, make the streusel topping. In a small bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and cold butter pieces. Rub the mixture together with your fingers until combined and crumbly. Stir in the almonds. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugars, baking soda, salt, and spices. Make well in centre.
4. Whisk together in the well egg, buttermilk, oil, vanilla extract, and almond extract.
5. Stir together until there are no lumps. Don’t over-mix. Fold in the chopped pears.
6. Pour batter in prepared pan. Sprinkle the almond streusel topping evenly over the bread.
7. Bake for 60-70 minutes, loosely covering the bread with aluminium foil after 30 minutes to prevent the top from getting too dark. A toothpick inserted in the centre of the loaf will come out clean when the bread is done. Remove from the oven and allow the bread to cool for 15 minutes on a wire cooling rack. Use a knife to loosen the bread around the edges in the pan. Carefully remove the bread from the pan and cool completely.

Sourdough Bread

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For the past couple years, I have been cultivating a sourdough bread starter. My locally-sourced wild yeasts, so to speak, have helped created many delicious dough products, including whole wheat loaves, naan bread, pizza dough, and cinnamon buns. The sourdough starter is truly a versatile and delicious yeast to use!

The bowl in the second image below is, in fact, one that we have inherited from my great-grandmother. She was a farmer’s wife, and cooked everything for her family from scratch—pies, bread, preserves, even ketchup! I don’t make nearly as much bread as she did, but I like to think that her years of using this bowl have perfectly “seasoned” it for the task!

The recipe that I use originally came from BBC Good Food. Their suggested starter recipe is pretty simple, though I admit that when I first started cultivating my yeast, I cheated and added a bit of quick-rise bread yeast to help “kick start” the starter.

If you are not intending to make a fresh sourdough loaf (or even feed your starter) every day, keep it in the fridge. Refrigerating the starter allows you the luxury of only needing to feed it once every week or two. It will separate in the fridge, so make sure to stir the starter before each feeding.

In addition, I often add a bit of regular yeast to my loaves—in part because it cuts down the potent flavour of the sourdough, but also because it lessens the amount of time the loaf needs to rise.

The loaf shown is an oatmeal sourdough, so follow the option below for wholewheat flour, substituting oatmeal for the wholewheat flour.

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500g all-purpose flour (to make a whole wheat loaf, use about 100g whole wheat flour and 400g A/P flour)
1 tsp fine salt
225ml warm water
1 tsp quick rise yeast
1 tbsp honey
300g sourdough starter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cornmeal

1. Combine warm water, honey, and yeast. Allow to sit for about 10 minutes, until the yeast becomes foamy.

2. Measure out flour into large bowl using a kitchen scale. Add salt. Mix together, and make a well in the centre. Re-set scale to zero, and measure out the sourdough starter. Add yeast mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon, or on a slow setting in a machine (using a dough hook), until combined, adding a little extra flour if it’s too sticky or a little extra starter if it is too dry.

3. Tip dough onto a work surface and knead for about 8-10 mins, or until dough soft and elastic, if using a mixer, turn the speed up a little and mix for 5 mins. The dough is ready when it bounces back when gently pressed with a finger.

4. Use the olive oil to grease the inside of another large, clean bowl. Place the dough in well-oiled bowl and cover with an oiled sheet of saran wrap. Leave in a warm place to rise for 3 hrs, or until the dough is doubled in size. Depending on the time of year and the temperature, this could take as little as 2 hours or as long as 6 hours.

5. Tip the dough back onto your work surface and knead briefly to knock out any air bubbles. Shape the dough into a smooth ball and dust it with flour. Place the dough, seam side up, in another bowl that has been floured, cover with a sheet of oiled cling film, and leave for 1-2 hours, until roughly doubled in size. This second rise will be quicker than the first.

6. Preheat oven to 385F. Fill a small roasting tin or loaf pan with some water, and place this in the bottom of the oven to create some steam. Grease a large baking sheet, and sprinkle the cornmeal in the center, roughly the size of your dough ball. Carefully tip the risen dough onto the sheet. You can slash the top a few times with a sharp knife if you like.

7. Bake for 25-35 mins until golden brown and hollow sounding when tapped. Leave to cool on a wire rack for 20 mins before serving.

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Pieter Aertsen, A Meat Stall with the Holy Family Giving Alms, 1551, oil on panel, 115.6 x 165 cm. North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC.

Pieter Aertsen, a late 16th century Dutch painter, shows a butcher’s stall with a variety of cuts of meat, sausages, ham, fowl, and fish. Although the painting seems to be focused on the representation of meat, in the background, there is a biblical scene with the Flight into Egypt of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.

Aertsen is often considered one of the founders of the still life genre of painting, which developed in the late sixteenth century. Many of his paintings show market stalls, kitchens, or feasts. His scenes of abundant produce and fresh meat make me want to cook up the lush ingredients that he renders in meticulous detail!

With the cold weather approached, I am beginning to crave “winter fare.” Out with the summer picnics and BBQs, and in with the stews, casseroles, and crockpots!

I decided to cook some short ribs recently that had been lingering in the freezer, but I didn’t feel like any sort of Asian-style short ribs on the BBQ. Instead, I decided I would get in the autumnal spirit a little early by cooking up the short ribs in the oven.

This recipe is fairly straightforward, and you could leave out the carrots and parsnips, or add other root vegetables as you see fit. I left out the mushrooms, because I don’t really like mushrooms. A lighter beer is probably best for this recipe, because darker beers would be too bitter.

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Beer Braised Short Ribs

(The inspiration for this recipe was one at Chef Not Required)

3 1/2 lbs beef short ribs
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 parsnip, peeled and roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups button mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp tomato paste OR 1 large tomato
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 can/bottle beer (I used an IPA)
2 cups beef stock
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 325F.
2. Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a large flameproof casserole dish/dutch oven over medium high heat. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Brown ribs all over, adding extra oil if required. Remove to a plate.
4. Turn off stove. Add beer to de-glaze pan. Add vegetables to browned short ribs. Add balsamic vinegar, tomato paste, and herbs, then beef stock.
5. Once combined, add ribs.
6. Put lid on casserole. Cover & bake for 2.5 hrs. Meat should fall apart with a fork when ribs are ready. If not, place back in over for a further 1/2 hour.
7. Once cooked to your liking, remove ribs and vegetables from pot and keep warm. Simmer sauce on stove over medium heat for 5 mins to thicken. You can also add a flour slurry (2 tbsp flour mixed with 1/4 cup beef stock) to help thicken the gravy, if you like.
8. Serve ribs topped with sauce and a side of cheddar smashed potatoes.

Lemon Cake

In the popular book and tv series, Game of Thrones, Sansa Stark has a famous love for lemon cakes. There are lots of recipes out there for lemon cakes, in addition to the recipe on HBO’s website.

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With the upcoming season finale, I thought, ‘Why not adapt a recipe I already make and enjoy?‘ This lemon cake recipe is about as about as easy as it gets. In fact, if you are really lazy, you can mix everything in the same bowl—mix the sugar and dry ingredients together, then just make a well in which to put the liquids. The recipe is very adaptable. Lemon is delicious, as is clementine. You could be really radical, and use lime zest, or even grapefruit.

In the spirit of Sansa’s lemon cakes, I used mini loaf moulds, and baked them for about 25-28 minutes.

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Lemon Cake

1 cup sugar
1 lemon (or 1 lemon and 1 clementine)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
3 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tbsp honey, for glazing (or 1/2 cup icing sugar and 2 tsp lemon juice to make a glaze)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease an 8.5 by 4.5 inch loaf pan, and line with wax paper.

2. Measure sugar into mixing bowl. Use a microplane to zest lemon directly over the sugar. With clean hands, rub the zest into the sugar until the sugar is aromatic and moist.

3. Whisk together dry ingredients in separate bowl.

5. Mix the yogurt into the sugar and zest. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add vanilla extract and the oil. You can also add the juice of half of the lemon, if you wish.

6. Add flour mixture to the yogurt mixture until you have a smooth, shiny batter. Pour into loaf pan, making sure to get it into the corners.

7. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown and starts to pull away from the sides of the pan, and a toothpick inserted deep into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes, then invert and remove from pan. Turn the cake right side up and cool to room temperature.

8. If you want to glaze the cake, use either honey, or a mixture of icing sugar and lemon juice. Brush the glaze over the top of the cake. Let it sit at room temperature.

The cake is delicious on its own, with fruit, jam, whipped cream, or ice cream. It is also tasty toasted and buttered!

Chocolate Zucchini Loaf

Or, what to do with a surplus of zucchini!

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Zucchini, or courgettes, a type of summer squash, are native to central America and not—surprisingly!—Italy. This explains why there are no images or references to zucchini before the sixteenth century, as they would not have arrived in Europe until after Columbus “discovered” the New World in 1492. An early reference to zucchini is found in the 1580 recipe collection, L’Opera, written by the famous Renaissance cook, Bartolomeo Scappi. In the work, Scappi shares a recipe for a “thick soup of stuffed [summer] squash” that mixes veal sweetbreads, goat-kid fat, gooseberries, and spices with the zucchini

Varieties of zucchini are found in a few seventeenth and eighteenth century paintings, such as the above still life by the Italian painter Simone del Tintore.

For a few weeks every summer, our garden produces more zucchini than we know what to do with. I try to use up as many zucchinis as possible: zucchini “noodles”, pickled zucchini, zucchini muffins. Fried zucchini blossoms, stuffed with ricotta, are a treat that I am not often ambitious enough to make, but I always have time to make a chocolate zucchini loaf.

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Moist and sweet, this loaf is decadent, yet also “good-ish” and guilt-free on account of the quantity of vegetable used in the recipe. The shredded zucchini keeps the loaf ultra-moist, and cuts down on the amount of oil needed. It is delicious served as-is, warmed and buttered, or even with ice cream. You can freeze this loaf and enjoy later—but be sure to refrigerate after a few days, as the moisture makes it spoil faster than other loaves.

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Chocolate Zucchini Loaf

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder, sifted
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

1 1/3 cups grated zucchini (with peel), packed
1/3 cup sour milk (take 1 tsp lemon juice and add milk to make 1/3 cup total)
1/2 cup chopped pecans/walnuts/chocolate chips (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Cream butter and sugar together. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Stir in vanilla.
3. Add flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt on top. Mix a few times—it will be lumpy.
4. Mix lemon juice and sour milk in measuring cup. Add sour milk to flour mixture alternately with grated zucchini in 2 or 3 parts.
5. Mix in nuts (if using). Turn into a greased loaf pan (9 x 5 x 3 inches). Bake in oven for 70-80 minutes. A wooden toothpick inserted in the centre should come out clean. Let loaf stand in pan for 10 minutes before turning out onto a rack to cool completely.