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...

6 October 2013

Les Pommes de Terre & les Pommes de l'Arbre

In the continuing effort to make good use of the bounty of feral apples, we've made an apple ketchup.  Serendipitously, we've recently found some locally grown blue-right-through potatoes.  A match of epic greatness: blue potato oven fries with spicy apple ketchup.

Blue Potato Oven Fries

4 medium-smallish blue potatoes
2-3 tsp avocado oil*
1 tsp salt

*or use another oil with a high smoke point (like safflower or peanut)

Preheat oven to 450F.

Not just blue-skinned, these lovelies have a beautiful
purple-y-blue flesh as well.
Pour boiling water into a heat proof bowl large enough, but leaving room, for the potatoes.  Wash potatoes, leaving the skin on and cut into french-fry-sized sticks.  Drop the cut potatoes into hot water and let sit until edges are just softened (but not soft).  When the oven has reached temperature, drain potatoes and pat dry with a clean tea towel.  Rinse and dry the bowl (or get out a new one, but why make more dirty dishes than necessary?).  Place the potatoes in the bowl, drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt and mix until fully covered.

Arrange on a baking tray lined with parchment paper in a single layer.  Turn oven down to 425F and bake for 22 minutes, turning after 12.  Total baking time will depend a bit on how thinly you sliced them, and the particular variety and age of potato used... so rely on your instincts as much as our guidance.  When they are done they will be cooked through and look browned and blistery.  Which is a long way of saying: when done, they will look like french fries.

Feral Apple Ketchup

Adapted from Marguerite Patten's 500 Recipes: Jams Pickles Chutneys

Use the pulp you put aside after making apple jelly:

After making apple jelly, run the contents of the cheesecloth
through a food mill to obtain apple pulp for this recipe.
for each 2 lbs apple pulp:
1 onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
2/3 c. malt vinegar
2-1/2 tbsp cider vinegar
1-1/4 tsp coarse salt
3/4 tsp pickling spice
1 tsp curry powder (the commercial americanized stuff will do, but bonus points for using your own)
1/2 tsp tumeric
1-2 dried hot chili peppers, crushed between fingers to release the seeds (we used gundu chilis, but any dried red chili will probably do)
3 oz. organic cane sugar
2 pint or 4 half-pint jars, sterilized

Put onion, garlic, vinegars, salt and spices into a heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Bring to a boil and cook at a slow boil until onion and garlic are soft.  Stir in apple pulp and return to a boil then remove from heat.

Working in batches, run the mixture through a food mill with the smallest-holed plate (or press through a sieve).  Return to heat and boil slowly until the desired consistency is reached.  Because the pulp has already had most of its liquid drained, it may be done almost as quickly as it reaches a boil.

Pour or ladle into sterilized jars and heat process for 10 minutes at sea level.  If you've made a small batch, skip the heat processing and store in the refrigerator.



Lately we have fallen in love with the Adirondack Blue potato variety grown locally at Lester's Farm in St. John's, NL (if you're in the St. John's NL area, they also sell Adirondack Reds which also carry the colour through the flesh).  Admittedly, a good part of that love is superficial and entirely related to the beautiful purple-blue colour, but it's also a good potato: not too starchy, not mealy but not too wet.  We can attest that it's lovely boiled or roasted and it makes some of the best oven fries we've ever done.  That said, the success of the fries depends largely on using a an oil with a high smoke point: these are baked at 425F which is too high for olive or canola oil if that's what you're used to.  Splash out for avocado oil if you can (something too bitter for salad oil, by the way... which surprised us because avocados are delicious raw... but is a fantastic cooking oil).  We bought ours half-price when the nearby chain grocery was clearing it out (the bad news, we can't even buy it full priced there any more).

This whole pairing really started with the feral apples we've I've been picking compulsively.  Fefe Noir has been busy making dried apple rings and using the scraps from the apple rings and the apples too small for drying for making jelly.  Which leaves a great big mass of skins and seeds and stems and pulp.  There's a lot of goodness still in there which we didn't want to waste.  After running it through the food mill, the texture reminds me of extra-thick tamarind paste... so I told Fefe Noir she should make a samosa dipping sauce.  She looked at me.  You know that look? The one when someone's been all day in the kitchen, overheated from canning, then in all the excitement of preserves and jars and steam you innocently come up with a really good idea for more preserves and suggest it?  Oh yes, that's the look she gave me.  So I quietly milled the apples and put them in the freezer. (The remaining skins, seeds and stems fed our composter.)

The next morning, flipping through a recipe book over breakfast, I happened across instructions for apple ketchup.  Simply to prove I wasn't crazy thinking that the apple pulp would make a nice savoury sauce, I wrote a note that said "APPLE KETCHUP, p. 70!" before I left for work.  Instead of trying to convey the phone call I got later that morning, I will assume that you are smart enough to catch my error...

You will be glad to know, however, that I did step up and make some ketchup.  Yes, I got in the way in the kitchen, mucked up plans for an uneventful evening, and created general chaos.  But even Fefe will admit this ketchup was absolutely and completely worth the headache of it's manifestation.  I'm not sure it's the right thing for samosas, but apple ketchup will certainly elevate your french fries, burgers and grilled cheese sandwiches.

Spicy Apple Ketchup on Punk Domestics