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