25 December 2013

Christmas Crackers

Not just any old crackers.  Yellow star-shaped crackers.  

The bright yellow of these sourdough crackers add a festive splash to your holiday spread.

Festive Sourdough Star Crackers

adapted from Bint Rhoda's Kitchen

(these can also be starfish crackers in the off-season)

300 g white sourdough starter

200 g unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 c. good quality olive oil
1-1/2 tsp tumeric
1/4 tsp salt 
more salt for dusting

In a non-reactive bowl, mix all the ingredients together using your hands. When it becomes difficult to mix, knead in the bowl until everything is incorporated.  One benefit of the tumeric is that it's very easy to tell when it's well mixed.  

Form into a ball, cover and let rest for 8-10 hours.

Pre-heat oven to 350F.

Divide dough in two.  Using one section at a time, turn out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out nice and thin, as evenly as possible.  I try to keep the flour on the bottom only, and flour the rolling pin very lightly when needed.  This keeps the top of the cracker from looking dusty but allows you to transfer the crackers to a baking sheet with minimal distortion.

Cut into star shapes.  You will find a star-shaped cookie cutter is very helpful here.  Hand cut stars are fabulously whimiscal, but are a pain in the bum to make.  But if you have more patience than I do, or you just want to win, knock yourself out.  Just be aware that the dough is stretchy, so you need to make quick, short cuts to avoid distortion.

Transfer the crackers to a baking tray.  Crowd them on there or you'll be baking all day.  They don't expand during baking, so won't get stuck together unless they are already touching when they go into the oven.  Dust them with salt, to taste.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the cracker.  You want them to be well cooked, and lightly browned (undercooked crackers don't get crunchy).  These will puff up a bit in the middle.  That's fantastic, because now you have a star that looks filled with joy.  It's just an air bubble, but it gives them character. 

(Goes well with baby cheeses.... heh...)

For a more traditional snack cracker, whole wheat sourdough and poppy seeds are an excellent combination.

Variation:  Whole Wheat Poppy Seed Crackers

Use whole wheat sourdough starter instead of white and omit the tumeric.  When the dough is rolled out, sprinkle liberally with poppy seeds then lightly roll once more to press the poppy seeds into the surface.  If you don't roll them in, they will just fall off.  Cut into squares, or any other shape of your liking.  If you don't want them to puff up in the center, poke a few holes in them with a fork.


I came across Bint Rhoda's recipe when I was looking for ways to use up sourdough starter.   To some extent, I am still making peace with sourdough.  I love it, I just wish I was a more predictably talented sourdough bread maker.  In the meantime, these crackers have never failed, even when I've drifted away from the recipe (but this might be my bread problem).

I know I can throw out sourdough starter.  Lots of people do.  Every day.  But it seems not just wasteful, but somehow pointless to have fed and fed and fed, only to throw it out by the cupful.  Now, not only do I use more of the starter, but I'll never have to buy crackers again.  Win!

Happy holidays from The Moose Curry Experience!

submitted to YeastSpotting

17 December 2013

Eggnog? What the fudge?

Sure, fudge can be for any time of year, but eggnog fudge is seasonal... and 'tis the season.
Eggnog fudge is a versatile treat: stocking stuffer, thoughtful hand-crafted gift, perfect snack for outdoor winter activity.  Go ahead and suggest a potluck hiking or snowshoeing snack with your friends or family over the holidays, just so you can win with this fudge.  Potluck is a competitive sport, right?

Eggnog Fudge

500 ml eggnog
100 ml whipping cream
200 g butter
700 g granulated sugar
2 tbsp rum
freshly grated nutmeg to garnish

Line a square baking pan with parchment paper.

Combine eggnog, cream, butter and sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Heat slowly, stirring frequently until all the sugar is dissolved and the butter is melted.  Raise heat to med-high and bring to a boil.

Boil, stirring constantly, until it reaches the soft ball stage.  We stick to the cold water method (syrup dropped into cold water forms a ball that flattens out, but does not run, when you remove it from the water).  If you have a candy thermometer and you're confident in both the thermometer and your ability to use it, feel free to rely on it.  Either way, the boiling will take 15-25 minutes at sea-level depending on the size saucepan you are using (longer for smaller surface area).  

Remove from heat, quickly stir in the rum, then let cool for 5 minutes.  Stir until no longer glossy, pour into prepared pan.  Sprinkle nutmeg over the surface as a garnish and let cool completely before cutting.


This is an old-fashioned fudge recipe: no corn syrup; no marshmallow fluff; no condensed milk.  Is it absolutely fail proof?  No.  But it's the best fudge you'll every eat (in my biased opinion, anyway).  If you read "fail-proof" or "no fail" in the title of a fudge recipe, it's a lie, my friends.  Things can go wrong.

You use the wrong sized pot or a pot with too thin a base.  Your glass candy thermometer breaks and you can't find the missing glass.  Your metal candy thermometer isn't reliable.  Your fully-reliable probe thermometer is set in the froth rather than the liquid and accurately reads the wrong temperature.  Your cold water isn't cold enough.  Your cold water is too cold.  It's too humid. It's too dry.  You are distracted and miss the soft ball stage.  You are impatient and take it off the heat too early.  A cat gets into trouble exiting a reusable-shopping-bag-play-house and needs rescuing from the noisy laminated fabric chasing it around so you stop stirring just long enough for it to burn.  You're dehydrated from the heat in your kitchen while you try to cook eight million treats for the holidays and your judgement is compromised.

First, don't panic.  We all have to throw a batch of candy out at one point or another.

Second, don't panic.  I have made this fudge a LOT.   It only failed very rarely and always due to, uh, well, user error (that is, when I think I know better than my own recipe).  Follow the recipe, and it will work. 

Third, don't panic.  Perfect fudge is excellent for stuffing in stockings and gifting to neighbours (or teachers or colleagues).  The slightly imperfect fudge, in the rare event it happens, is something you get to keep for yourself.

4 December 2013

Dance of the Sugar Plums

di-di dee dee di-di dee dee di-di dee dee   doo   doo   doodloodlee  di-di dee dee di-di dee dee di-di dee dee doo doo doodloodlee... deedee dee deedee dee deedee dee didi didi dee...

Sugar plums are like fruit and nut truffles; nature's candy in a candy-like format.  Know a ballet-nutty child or a middle-aged recreational jogger?  Gift problem solved.  Read on.

Sugar Plums
I find it extraordinarily satisfying to lay out all the ingredients
together.  It feels so gluttonous and yet so wholesome.

1-1/3 c. walnuts
1 c. pecans
2/3 c. almonds
zest of two clementine oranges
1 tsp. (heaping) ground cinnamon
1 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1-1/4 c. dried prunes
1-1/4 c. dried apricots
1 c. dried dates
1 c. dried cranberries
1 c. dried figs
1/2 c. dried apples
8 slices candied ginger
6 tbsp orange liqueur
turbinado sugar (fine grain, but not powdered), for dusting

Grind walnuts, pecans and almonds in a blender or spice grinder.  Have a food processor?  You lucky son of nutcracker, use it.  Do not over grind, you want nut meal, not nut butter.

In a LARGE mixing bowl, combine nuts, zest and ground spices together.  Use your clean dry fingers, there's no point in getting a mixing spoon out for any part of this recipe.

Using a sharp knife, finely chop all dried fruits and the candied ginger.  (Yes, okay, or use your food processor, but aim for a crumbly texture, not a paste.)  Since the fruits are moist and sticky, you may need to rinse your knife and your hands under hot water occasionally.  Unless you enlist a lot of help or some appropriate technology, this is going to take a long time.  That's okay, put Hawksley Workman's Almost a Full Moon on, keep your shoulders back and relaxed, and get into a fruit-mincing groove.  Add chopped fruit to mixing bowl whenever your cutting board gets crowded.

Using your hands, thoroughly mix dried fruit and nut meal together.  The dried apples will stand out in the mix because they're such a light colour... so use the distribution of dried apple bits to gauge how well blended everything is.  Also feel around for clumps of fruit that didn't separate and be sure to work them into the mixture well.

Sprinkle orange liqueur over the mixture.  If you didn't pre-measure this, you might need someone else to help you get the lid off and pour out what you need.  Work the liqueur throughout the mixture which should now pull itself together like a dough; if you squeeze a bit of it, it will stick together in the shape you squeezed it into. (If it's not sticky enough, add a bit more liqueur.)

Shape into balls that are slightly bigger than your average truffle.  Roll them in the sugar and lay them on waxed or parchment paper in a single layer on baking trays.  Let air-dry for 1-2 hours, roll in sugar again to cover any remaining moist spots and pack layered with wax paper into a tin.

Leave the sugar plums out at room temperature for a week to mature.  After that, store them in the fridge for a few weeks or in the freezer for longer.   If they've been frozen, you may want to roll in sugar again before serving.

This recipe makes six or seven dozen sugar plums.  Enough for gifting and for keeping for yourself.

My older sister was obsessed with Laura Ingalls Wilder when we were kids.  Consequently, I have happy Christmas memories of us making pulled taffy using a recipe from the Little House Cookbook...  even though it's something which is supposed to be cooled before you pull it by pouring over snow.  Which we really didn't have much of (if any) as early as December in the deep south of Canada.  We might have only done it once, but I will never forget the little hard bits of taffy twisted into the shape of candy canes.  Er, a few of them, anyway.  I also have vague peanut brittle memories which are less exactly happy (the wrong sugar used, the right sugar burnt).  Peanut brittle was probably made more frequently but I don't actually like it so it's not sticking well in my mind.  Candy making was probably inconsistent year to year.  Nevermind though, because Grandma always (or nearly always, or maybe only sometimes) made marshmallows and dipped apricots in something like chocolate.  Or is it possible these were an actual chocolate exception to the no-chocolate-because-your-brother-is-allergic household rule?

A few years ago, it occurred to me that despite living thousands of kilometers away from home, there was no reason I couldn't take over the job of providing chocolate-covered apricots for Christmas.  So Fefe Noir and I started a tradition of making Christmas candy to mail home (and despite a complete disaster with turkish delight, we've been pretty good at soldiering on).  Thus began my love affair with sugar plums.  Dried fruit, nuts, orange and spices: they are the epitome of winter flavours.

Even though Fefe does not believe in nature's candy unless it includes chocolate, she makes an enthusiastic exception for sugar plums (huh, wait, I wonder if it's because of the booze?). 

Make these for the holidays.  You'll be so proud of them, you'll want to share... but if you don't make enough you will regret giving any away.  But don't worry, the problem is solved for you because my recipe makes about 80, which is plenty for both gifting and hoarding. 

These are time-consuming, but very simple.  No cooking means no chance of accidentally burning them, no struggling to determine if your candy thermometer is working (for that matter, no tearing the kitchen apart looking for your candy thermometer), and, if you have any of those miniature humans in your house, you can conscript them to help with ball forming and sugar coating duties.  If they are the nearly-fledged variety, you might even be able to hand out the tedious job of chopping the fruit into teensy pieces... while you supervise the liqueur, of course. 

Yeah, uh, there were absolutely, definitely no cats on the counter when I prepared the batch of sugar plums scheduled for postal delivery to friends and family.  Honest... 

1 December 2013

Not Your Nan's Pea Soup

The usual suspects are there: split peas, salt pork, carrots... but taking the opportunity to use up the dregs of last week's wine and the rind from your parmesan adds depth and complexity to this store-cupboard meal.

Never let a bit of snow or a gale-force wind put you off your picnic plans.  If nothing else, you can feel superior to all those people holed up in their houses, eating in their cozy kitchens.  Well, at least if you're going out in that weather, bring something warm.

Pea Soup with Parmesan and Red Wine

salt pork riblets, a small hunk (about fist-sized, if your fist is about the same size as that of a middle-aged woman with small-but-not-tiny hands)
1/2 c. red wine
1 med onion or 3 shallots, finely diced
1 stalk celery with leaves, finely diced
1 big carrot, finely diced
3-4 c. turkey or chicken stock
1-1/2 cups dried green split peas
3 oz. parmesan*, grated + chopped rind

*if you have rind to use up, this is a good place to do it... grate what you can, then coarsely chop the rind; the rind won't melt entirely, but that just leaves delicious bits of goopy chewy cheesiness

Soak salt pork in water for 3-4 days, changing the water once a day.  If you  don't soak it long enough, you will make soup that is so salty, even your girlfriend - who will eat anything - won't be able to finish a bowlful.

Pat the salt pork dry, then brown in olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan or dutch oven.  Remove and set aside.

Saute the mirepoix (onion, celery and carrot) until softened. Deglaze with the red wine.  Return salt pork to pan.

Add 3-1/2 c. of stock, then stir in the peas.  Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer.  Simmer for 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally.  If you are planning to make bread to go with the soup, this is a good time to get started.

Stir in grated parmesan (and chopped rind, if using).  Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 2 hours.  Add more stock or water as necessary.  When it's done, the peas will be mushy, the pork will be falling off the bone, and it will be exactly as thick as you like your pea soup.


The Hotel Harbour Grace (formerly Archibald Hotel), as
seen from our window.
Harbour Grace, the semi-rural town where we live, is famous to aviation nerds as the originating airstrip for Amelia Earhart's solo flight across the Atlantic.  (Harbour Grace was the origin of a few important flights in aviation history, briefly described on Plane Crash Girl's blog.)  For us, of course, the most intriguing part of that 1932 flight has very little to do with flying at all.

Before departing, Amelia Earhart took an afternoon nap at Archibald's Hotel.  Archibald's Hotel, now known as the Hotel Harbour Grace, is so close to us, we can see it from the upstairs windows.  As the story goes,  Amelia Earhart left the hotel with a can of tomato juice and a thermos of Rose Archibald's soup to sustain her on the trip. 
The commemorative Amelia Earhart statue in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland.  With our thermos of soup, naturally.


We have yet to find a version of the story which elaborates on that part.  Was Rose Archibald famous for her turkey soup?  Her seal soup?  Her pea soup?  (If anyone reading this can shed some light, we would LOVE to hear from you... caribougrrl is losing sleep over Rose Archibald and her soup.)

Top: The airfield is located very close to Lady Lake, the site
of the second-oldest competitive regatta in North America.
Bottom: Welcome to the airfield, please leave your golf clubs,
horses, and ATVs at the gate.
We don't know what kind of soup Rose Archibald made for Earhart, but in 1932, Newfoundland was generally in pretty rough shape: the Great Depression was in full force and conditions were so poor that, a little more than a month before the famous flight, the un- and under-employed of Newfoundland held a demonstration which escalated into a riot.  The hotel kitchen likely had access to some foods that ordinary Newfoundlanders didn't, but what we do know about food in Newfoundland at the time, is that it definitely included split peas.  So when we made this fancy-ish split pea soup it seemed natural we should take a thermos-full out to the airfield to eat it.  

Top left: A view of the famous airstrip.  Bottom left: A few hobby pilots still use the airstrip on occasion; whether planes are ever stored in these hangars, we don't know.  Right: How long has this outhouse been here?  Is it possible Ms. Earhart had a nervous pee here before her flight?  Surely she'd have had to start with an empty bladder... it's a long way to Derry, Ireland.
Sure, it wasn't May, but Newfoundland weather in May is not so different than Newfoundland weather in early December... a bit of snow on the ground, gale-force winds.  Strangely, as you can see from the photos, despite the significance of the place, there were very few tourists milling about.  (There was a car full of teenagers parked near the airfield, but they never got out.  It occurred to us they might have been there for a flight of a different kind... )

Okay, maybe not quite gale-force, but it was really, really windy.
In the interest of full disclosure, we underestimated the wind chill factor, and were completely under-dressed for the excursion.  After hopping up and down for a few minutes, we realized it would be difficult to eat soup with our hands tucked into our armpits, so we bailed and sat in the car to eat. (The teenagers already gone from the parking lot, presumably frightened off by a pair of middle-aged ladies and a couple of vicious dogs...)  Staring through the windscreen, imagining the ridiculous danger inherent in that trip across the ocean, we were glad of a warm home to go to and especially glad we lived close enough to hop back home before we needed use of the outhouse.


What a handsome dog that lady-pilot has!


Update 7 December 2013:  caribougrrl's obsession with Amelia Earhart's soup finally led to this discovery.  It seems Rose Archibald made a chicken soup that day.  So there we have it.

historical newspaper story about amelia earhart flying across the atlantic
Picture of article found on The British Newspaper Archive http://blog.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

22 November 2013

Sourdough Toutons

One of the best things about living in Newfoundland is that you can fry bread in pork fat and not feel ashamed of yourself.

Breakfast good and proper:  toutons, scrunchions, and molasses.  Yeah, okay, it's not a well balanced meal, but you have all day to correct that..

Sourdough Toutons

Since this is traditionally a breakfast food, make the dough at least a day ahead of when you plan to cook the toutons; once it's made up, it can be stored in the fridge for a few days.  That means very little thinking is required before you finish that first cup of coffee on touton morning. If you're a breakfast-for-dinner kind of person, you can get the first step done before you go to work and finish it up when you get home.

Step 1 - Thicken up your sourdough starter (8-12 hours)

400 g mature sourdough starter*
100 g cool water
300 g unbleached all-purpose flour

*I have a white and a red fife sourdough one on the go (both started with the feral apple method found in this post) and used 250 g of white starter and 150 g of whole wheat starter... as long as you weigh it, it doesn't matter what proportions you use or if you only use one type.

Stir together all ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Cover with beeswaxed cloth wrap or plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature for 8-12 hours.  Enough time for a full day's work or a full night's sleep.

Step 2 - Make the dough (~2.5 hrs)

There are a few 45-minute breaks in this process, so don't let the 2.5 hours frighten you... take advantage of the breaks to get other stuff done: darn your socks, write a letter, bathe the dogs.  No, on second thought, don't bathe the dogs, it would be too difficult to keep hair out of the dough.  Turn your compost instead, you're always forgetting to do that...

starter from step 1
40 g butter
60 g milk
350 g warm water
2 tsp salt
150 g whole wheat flour
750 g unbleached all-purpose flour

Heat butter and milk in a saucepan until butter is just melted; remove from heat and add warm water and salt to butter mixture.  Stir together and let cool until comfortable to hold your finger in the liquid (this shouldn't take long).  Add liquid and dry ingredients to sourdough mixture from step 1. 

I'm about to share a sourdough miracle with you.  In my continued self-education about baking with sourdough, I finally gave in to the stretch and fold technique .  Years of using baker's yeast made it really difficult for me to let go of kneading, but I'm a convert now.  And here's the first part of the miracle: stir all the bread ingredients together until the dry ones are just moistened.  That's it.  It doesn't need to be smooth or taut, just combined.  Cover and let it rest for 45 minutes, when it will be time for 
the first stretch and fold (here's a good video demonstration from Mike Avery of Sourdough Home).

Turn onto a clean surface.  Using a flat palm under the dough, stretch it out into a big rectangle.  Fold in thirds lengthwise, then in thirds crosswise.  If the dough feels really soft and unstructured, stretch and fold again.  Put it back in your bowl, cover, and let rest for 45 minutes.
Above: Ingredients for breakfast.  Who wouldn't want to start
their day with bread, sugar and pork fat?  Below:  Lest you
should imagine that we cut corners, please note that we used
the Atantics BEST pork back fat... packaged locally which
saved my mainlander self from having to reach into the big
tub of brined back fat at the store. 

Repeat the stretch and fold, return to bowl for 45 minutes.  Stretch and fold a final time, then pack the dough up in an airtight container and put it in the refrigerator until you are ready to use.  Ready to use it already?  Move on to step 3.

Step 3: Make the toutons (~1 hr, depending how many you make at a time)

dough from step 2
a piece of salted pork back fat, cut into small cubes
fancy molasses

Cut dough into pieces.  Half of the dough will make about 18 toutons. (If you are feeding a crowd, use the whole batch. If not, use as much as you need and either refrigerate or freeze the rest, or make a loaf of bread with it.)  Gently form each piece into a ball-like shape, then roll into a circular-ish disk.  Set aside to let rise while preparing the cooking fat.

I used a piece of back fat about 8 cm x 6 cm to cook half the dough.  Place the cubes of salted back fat into a cast iron skillet and heat over medium, stirring occasionally, to render the fat.  This will take a while.  When the fat stops bubbling but before it starts smoking (ask me how I know it will start smoking if you aren't quick enough), use a slotted spoon to remove all the crispy cubes of salty deliciousness from the fat and cool on brown paper.  These crispy bits are called scrunchions, you need them later, so just set aside.

If the fat is not hot enough, your dough will soak up way too much of it, so, keep the fat hot, but try not to let it smoke; adjust the temperature as needed as you go.  If you used flour when rolling out your toutons, tap off as much as you can before cooking but without deflating your touton (the flour will eventually burn in the fat and fill your kitchen with intolerable smoke, trust me). Working in batches, fry the toutons until puffy and golden brown (~2 minutes on each side, more or less).  Drain on brown paper.

Serve hot, with scrunchions and molasses.  The sourdough results in lots of big bubbles in the touton and that delicate soft bread is a perfect contrast to the crunchy, salty scrunchions and the sticky sweet molasses. 

Lots of big air pockets in the sourdough resulted in a very pillowy touton.  Mmmm...

Toutons (tout pronounced like shout or lout) are touted (heh. get it?) as one of the backbones of traditional Newfoundland cuisine, but I would be remiss if I didn't point out that although it uses a different leavening agent, toutons are not really different than fry bread (the post-contact bread of indigenous North Americans).  And never mind North America, similar fried breads are found everywhere: Maori paraoa parai, South African vetkoek, Indian poori, Yemeni m'lawwah, Moroccan harsha, Uruguayan tortas fritas... the list goes on far and wide. So although scrunchions and molasses make Newfoundland toutons specific to Newfoundland, don't feel restricted by them.  Go ahead and serve toutons with curries and tagines.

Regardless, toutons are real folk food in Newfoundland: the sort of thing no one needs a recipe for because you just make them with your regular home made yeasted bread dough, fried in a pan.  (Of course, just like anywhere else, a lot of people don't make bread.  However, the same modern conveniences that caused that problem have also solved it: in any grocery store in Newfoundland, you can buy raw bread dough labeled "touton dough".)  Nearly every restaurant serving breakfast here will offer toutons as a side or as a main served with a side of baked beans.  Toutons are part of the fabric of life.

Admittedly, we never ate sourdough toutons before creating this recipe.  But keep your traditionalist socks on, there's no need to imagine William Coaker rolling in his grave: the sourdough makes for a pillowy fried bread, and these are certified heavenly*.  Well worth the effort of sourdough.  Also, I'm willing to bet money that toutons were made with sourdoughs in the days before commercial yeast was readily available.

Regarding the brined pork back fat: You might be shaking your head and feeling grossed out by it.  Indulge me for a moment though to consider it may not be so icky as all that when you consider that it provides an opportunity to get a bit more personal with your food than buying a pound of lard packaged into a nice reliable block.  I know the homesteaders and food revivalists among you are cheering because this is exactly what your grandmother would have done, rendering salt-cured fat from the hand-raised pigs; the hipsters and foodies among you are clapping your hands in delight because fat is in right now.  At any rate, for how often you're really going to spend two days making fried bread, go ahead and enjoy the pork fat and the excessive molasses.   And molasses is a good source of iron, so it's practically a health food anyway, right?  

By the way, this is perfect food for eating with your fingers from a shared plate.  Especially out on your back step, in the crisp morning air, with a steaming cup of coffee, watching some boats being put into dry dock for the winter.  It doesn't get much better.  (And it gets you out of that smokey kitchen...)

*I made that certification up, but if it existed, well, hoo boy.

The entire time I was rendering pork fat and frying the toutons, I felt as though someone was looking over my shoulder.

submitted to YeastSpotting!

8 November 2013

A Cheese Board with a View

So it's November and chilly and rainy and full of autumn-nearing-winter-ness, that doesn't mean you can't picnic.  Take a fancy cheese plate somewhere with a good sunset view.

Potato cracker with Alexis de Portneuf's La Sauvigne, Keep Calm and Eat On's Debjani's chutney and some toasted wild beaked hazelnuts.

Still buzzing from the recent Wine Show and having been reminded by a meal at Chinched Bistro that there's more to cheese and crackers than cheese and crackers, we bring you:

A Cheese Course for the Canadian Outdoors

Although we highly recommend taking this outside, it will work nearly as well at a fancy-dress-up dinner party or in your pjs on your couch during a marathon of Ru Paul's Drag Race.

We made our own cheese board by picking up a flat piece of slate on day when we were out walking... we took it home, scrubbed it up and sealed it with olive oil.  I won't guarantee it's food safe, but it's awful pretty, it was very nearly free, and neither of us seem to be suffering ill effects.

For the cheese:

Use this as an excuse to buy a bunch of good looking cheeses.  We typically like to include at least three or four from a range of textures and ages.  Canadians are producing a lot of good cheese these days and if you do a bit of work to find it, you may be surprised at how much more there is than mild cheddar. We purchased a really nice selection of cheese, all from Quebec, at Belbin's (a local independent grocer, which is the next best thing to local cheese):

La Sauvagine (soft)  and Tilsit (semi-soft) from La Fromagerie Alexis de Portneuf

Mont Gleason Emmenthal (semi-hard) from La Fromagerie 1860 du Village

Bleu Benedictin (blue) from Saint-Benoit du Lac Fromagerie


For the accompaniments:

Plan a variety of complimentary flavours covering some basics: sweet, sour, spicy, nutty.  We used:

Apple jelly

Dried feral apple rings

Late Summer Chutney, a handmade gift from Debjani of Keep Calm and Eat On (for the record, not only does she have a beautiful blog, but she is a real pleasure to talk to)

Olive oil toasted beaked hazelnuts (see below for instructions)

For the crackers:

Because we're those people, we made our own potato crackers.  Try it yourself, we promise that you won't be disappointed.  They have a down-to-earth flavour but won't compete with the cheeses.

For the wine:

Quite frankly, pick a wine you enjoy or you've been wanting to try or is recommended by the helpful people at your local liquor store.  Outside in the chilly air, it might have been advisable to pick a white wine, but cool weather = red wine weather.  Yeah, you aren't supposed to chill red wine, but it turns out that if it's not too heavy on the tannins (e.g. beaujolais, simple valpolicella, pinot noir), a chill doesn't really hurt it .  If it's very cold out, tuck the bottle in your jacket.  No matter what you do, if you are outside, it will taste like camping wine (and don't misread me: there is absolutely nothing wrong with camping wine), so pick something you like but in the lower end of your price range.

Sit back and relax and enjoy the autumn sunset.

 Olive Oil Toasted Beaked Hazelnuts

2 tbsp olive oil
dried beaked hazelnuts, shelled

Heat oil in a cast iron skillet on medium-high (use more than 2 tbsp if your skillet is large; don't worry about having too much, you can use it later).  When it's hot, put the nuts in the pan and turn the heat down to medium.  Stir frequently with a wooden spoon until nuts are golden brown in colour.  Remove from heat and strain oil into a heat proof container through a wire sieve.  Salt the nuts in the sieve and toss to coat.  Let cool before eating.

The remaining olive oil, cooled, makes for a good base for dressing your next salad.

You can substitute other raw nuts.  The hand-picked and painstakingly peeled and shelled wild hazelnuts are best, but olive oil toasted almonds are very good too.


When we moved to Newfoundland from Ontario, we drove across the country, crammed in to our '91 Tbird with all our earthly belongings during a serious summer heat wave with a stuck-forever-shut passenger-side window.  You're right, that is a spacious car, but earthly belongings plus camping equipment plus a good-sized dog take up a surprising lot of room.  When we got to North Sydney (way too early to line up for the ferry) we were hot and exhausted and hungry.  So we drove around looking for a shade tree .  If you've ever taken the ferry from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland, and can recall the landscape near the dock, you will have a sense of how difficult this task was.

We did eventually find a tree.  Granted, it was a short skinny tree but acceptable because it had a picnic table to provide shade for the dog.  It quickly became apparent that we were a source of some amusement, given how many people were slowing down and staring at us.  We were a bit puzzled and becoming a bit worried.  Then, as Fefe was juicing a lemon and I was pressing garlic over our freshly chopped greek salad, it hit us:  when you bring sheep's milk feta and kalamata olives to a picnic (never mind a garlic press), you might be interpreted as putting on airs.  Those girls are from Toronto for sure; no doubt about it.  I hoped they packed enough olives for the trip because they won't find any* where they're headed.

*That was true 11 years ago, but is not true now.  We used to get Fefe Noir's mother to mail vaccuum packed kalamata olives; these days we can buy them just about anywhere, though not necessarily whenever we want.  Buying them in 4 liter jars reduces the likelihood of being without for any length of time.

We still take our picnicking seriously.

For one thing, since being outdoors is it's own reward, eating outdoors is like winning best-of-show.  We are like the mythical postal service when it comes to picnicking: sun, rain, sleet, snow, hail, cold, hot, humid, windy... it doesn't matter.  I have a very strong memory of a particular early spring hike where it was so cold the olive oil in the dolmades had solidified.  Did I say dolmades?  Yes, that's the other thing: eating outdoors is a great excuse for really really good finger food.

So, as you can see, the rapidly encroaching evening darkness and chilly temperatures don't dissuade us from heading out to a favourite picnic spot to enjoy wine and cheese while the loons call in the sunset. 


31 October 2013

Halloween for Grown Ups

Halloween is exhausting for kids and grown ups alike.  But the kids end the night in a sugar low, passed out clutching a big bag full of candy.  What do the grown ups get?  With a little bit of planning, a really good scotch whisky cocktail, that's what.

Peppy Scotch & Lime

2 ice cubes
1-1/2 oz ginger and black pepper infused scotch (see below)
juice of 1/2 lime

Pour scotch over ice, top with lime juice, stir once to lightly mix.  Better than a scotch and lime because it's gingery and peppery.  Better than a whisky sour because it's dry.  

Ginger and Black Pepper Scotch

6 black peppercorns
5 very thin slices fresh ginger (or more, or less to taste)
6 oz. blended scotch

A good blended scotch is better than a crummy single malt.  Plus, infusing a blend is somehow less sacrilegious than infusing a single malt.  Just don't use a crummy blend, there's no point to it.

Place the peppercorns and ginger in a clean jar; pour scotch in.  Cap with a tight fitting lid and store in a dark place for 36-48 hours.  Strain into a second clean jar to remove ginger and pepper.  Voila!  Fait accompli.  Now make a drink.


Rushing to open the door before anyone knocks so that the dogs don't start barking like a pack of ferocious cerberus every time children approach the house.  Kids wrinkling their noses at nature's candy.  (Kidding, really, caribougrrl is no longer permitted to hand out dried fruit and cheese sticks.)

"I'm not a fairy!  I'm a fairy princess."

"Can I get an extra one for my dad?"

"I'm allergic to those."

"Want to see me do my frog dance?"

"My brother is a devil without the costume too."

"Do you have anything bigger than that?"

"I'm a cat princess, silly."

"Don't you even know who Optimus Prime is?"

"Noooooooooo!  I'm Snow White The Princess."

"Want to see my other frog dance?"

How many times did you have to pick up that big bowl of candy from the bench in the front hall?  You absolutely deserve a drink.

21 October 2013

Crackers for Overachievers

Ever get tired of reading the novels which make up the ingredient section on the side of a cracker box?  Ever wish  you could make crispy-salty-delicious crackers at home?  This is your lucky day.  Dead simple.

Blue Potato Snack Crackers

3 medium blue potatoes*, peeled, boiled, and chilled
dash of salt
1-1/2 c. organic whole wheat pastry flour**
1/3 c. butter
1/4 c. large flake oats
more salt, to taste

*or any sort of potato, really (but the blue-fleshed potatoes give the crackers a lovely purple-ish colour)... or 1 rounded cup of leftover mashed potatoes

** or any pastry flour, but if you substitute white for whole wheat you need less.  Or more. I can't recall.  Use whole wheat, it's better for you.

Work chunks of cold butter and a dash of salt into 1 c. of the pastry flour with your fingers until you get a nice crumbly texture.  Work in the oats to distribute.  Stick the mixture in the fridge while you mash the potatoes.

Mash the blue potatoes.  If you need to add a bit of milk or cream to mash well, go ahead and do that.  A few small lumps are alright so don't kill yourself with worry about whether it's smooth enough.  It's smooth enough.

Using your hands again, mix the potatoes into the flour mixture until combined.  Turn onto a floured surface and knead until melded.   You may need more than the additional 1/2 c. of flour, depending on how moist your potatoes were, how humid it is, etc.  You want a nice smooth ball of dough, where everything sticks together, but don't overdo it.  Think of it as a cross between a pastry and a rolled cookie.

Pre-heat oven to 400F.

Did I say dead simple?  It is if you have a pasta maker, or you're a whiz with a rolling pin.  Throw the dough into the refrigerator while you get your pasta maker out and set it up.  Taking a big handful of dough at at time, run it through your pasta maker on the thickest setting.  It's probably messy, but bear with me.  Fold the strip of dough, as best you can, in thirds.  Run it through the machine again.  If it's very wide, fold lengthwise in half, then crosswise in half and run through again (if it's not very wide, fold in thirds again and run through).  Repeat once more, or until you have a nice smooth length of rolled dough. (If you are using an old-fashioned rolling pin, roll the dough out, fold it in thirds and roll again until cracker thin, ~3 mm.)

Pierce the rolled dough all over with a fork (this will keep it from bubbling up too much during baking).  Cut into cracker-sized pieces.  I cut mine in ~2.5 cm x 5 cm rectangles.  I have used cookie cutters in the past to make star-shaped crackers (and using white potato and adding tumeric, they were lovely yellow stars).  If you want to be really mean to your dogs, use your dog biscuit bone-shaped cutters and laugh hysterically when they drool and look forlorn as you eat your crackers.  

(I'm kidding.  Don't tease the dogs. But go ahead and giggle to yourself about the idea.)

Place on a baking tray.  You don't need to leave much room between, they don't really expand during baking.  Sprinkle with salt, to taste.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the edges and the tops of any bubbled-up bits are golden brown.  The ones on our old, well-worn, blackened baking tray took about 17 minutes, the ones on our shiny new tray took nearly but not quite 20.

Let cool completely on a wire rack before storing in airtight containers.


A quick survey at the supermarket revealed more than 18 ingredients in most popular brand-name crackers  AND I only counted one for flour and one for seeds no matter how many types there were.  There are a few exceptions, of course, but I find it shocking sometimes how easily I am sucked into a good sale on crackers, regardless of the content or whether I can even spell the ingredients without looking them up.  The worst part of that behaviour?  I know I can make crackers with not a lot of effort.

And you can too.  

The real bonus though?  The thing that will make you continue to make crackers?  Aside from the fact they are really fantastically tasty?

Everyone you serve them to will look at you with an awestruck expression and say, "I can't believe you made crackers!".  There is nothing so gratifying as being an overachiever.  Just don't tell them how easy it is.

15 October 2013

Hedgerow Under Frost

Fefe Noir's British heritage leaves her with a soft spot for desserts made from stale bread.  This is a handy predilection with a house full of apples and a freezer full of not-quite-successful sourdough bread.

Hedgerow Under Frost

(an interpretation of Peasant Girl with a Veil)
Rosehips add fantastic colour and depth of flavour to apples.

1-1/2 lbs apple and rosehip pulp* 
lemon juice (optional)
sugar**, to taste

8 oz sourdough bread crumbs
3 oz granulated sugar
2 oz butter

3/4 c. whipping cream
1 oz dark chocolate, shaved or grated

*mill the waste from apple-rosehip jelly after it's finished dripping  OR cook 1/2 lb rosehips with 1-1/2 lb apples in a bit of water with lemon juice until soft, then run through a food mill, then press through a sieve to separate pulp from seeds and skins to yield about 1-1/2 lbs pulp

**or honey, or syrup, or runny jelly from a batch which failed to set (wonder what gave me that idea...) 

Gently heat the apple-rosehip pulp in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, adding sugar to desired sweetness (the heat will help the sugar dissolve).  When gauging how much sugar is enough, taste it, bearing in mind that the crumb layer is quite sweet. So make a wee bit less sweet than you would want if it was on it's own.  You may need to add water if the pulp is very dry.  If you are using a liquid sweetener (like honey, syrup, or failed jelly), you can skip the heating but mix well to incorporate.  If you are boiling apples and rosehips specifically for this recipe, stir in the sugar while the pulp is still hot.  Allow apple-rosehip mixture to cool while you make the other layers.  

Mix the breadcrumbs and sugar together.  Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat.  Add the crumb mixture to the pan and fry until dark brown and crispy, but not burnt (see photo).  This requires patience.  If you give up too soon, you won't have caramelized breadcrumbs, you'll have butter-toasted crumbs with butter-saturated sugar... which isn't quite right.  While frying the breadcrumbs, stir frequently, adjusting the heat as necessary to prevent burning.  Properly toasting these breadcrumbs takes 30-40 minutes on our nearly-reliable electric stove.  Cool to room temperature.

Before (L) and after (R) for the breadcrumb mixture.  The crumbs are done when they are golden brown and crunchy.

Layer apple-rosehip mixture alternately with crumbs in a glass dish, finishing with a layer of crumbs.  Chill.

Whip cream until stiff peaks form.  Spread over chilled apple/crumb layers and sprinkle with dark chocolate.


This is a variation on the traditional Peasant Girl with a Veil.  Since Fefe included rosehips in it, and since all the apples were wild-picked, and since even the bread was made with wild-apple-yeast-inoculated sourdough, and since we think that in this day and age we really shouldn't be serving desserts named for peasant girls, we thought it deserved a re-naming.  We considered Pleasant Girl with a Veil, but we couldn't say it without giggling. 

Hedgerows, fields, river flats, forest edges, city parks... you may be surprised at how easily you could come by the major ingredients for this dessert.  Not that we would fault you for using market apples and bread because what's really important about this dessert is that it's frugal.  Don't throw out the stale bread.  Don't compost jelly making waste until you've milled the pulp from it.  Apples going a bit soft because you were overenthusiastic and bought more than you could eat?  Throw 'em in a pot with some water.

We know this is a thrifty recipe because (a) caribougrrl finds it endlessly entertaining whenever Fefe introduces another British*** recipe that uses stale bread as a major ingredient and (b) the back of the note paper where Fefe copied her mother's recipe is a testament to our financial stability the first time we made this (see photo).  That might have been the same week we discovered that dog shampoo leaves human hair with a lovely sheen.

Nonetheless, we remain convinced that everyone deserves a good dessert, no matter how economically creative they need to be (or not).  If you aren't saving stale bread to save money, save it to reduce waste anyway.  

***okay, caribougrrl's sample of British people who cook with stale bread are all from the same family.  And okay, it seems Peasant Girl with a Veil is of Scandinavian origin... and okay, it's not just the Brits and Scandinavians that have a way with stale bread...