Saturday, October 4, 2014

fresh plum kuchen

















You know when you have something in mind, maybe something you haven't eaten properly since you were a child? And you set out to make it but you're not very hopeful because you haven't eaten it for so long and recreating recipes almost never works out on the first try?

That's how I felt going into plum cake.

I knew what I wanted: plum cake like I had from German bakeries when I was a child. Possibly plum cake that my mother even made, although I'm not sure.

What I do remember is that it had a hearty, buttery crust that was the furthest thing from a grocery-story white cake you could imagine. Plums in the top, sunken and weeping purple juice. On top of the plums there's this light crackling of sugary something.
















We would eat it, my mom, my dad, my brother and I sitting under the cherry tree on our front lawn, around 4 o'clock in the afternoon on a weekend when it's officially coffee time if you're German.

I hadn't had such a plum cake for years, but I bought Italian prune plums at the market this week and they were just crying out for a dough resting place.

I found this recipe for fresh plum kuchen in The Essential New York Times Cook Book by Amanda Hesser. This particular cake dates from 1947, which gave me hope that it wouldn't be too modern or light. As far as I'm concerned, plum cake has heft and is not meant to be a mere wisp of cake.
















I adapted it to have gluten-free flours and sent it into the oven with a hope and prayer.

Before it was done baking, I knew it was the plum kuchen I'd been looking for. Would you believe me if I tell you that I could tell by the smell?

There is something about plums with just a little bit of cinnamon that is magic. The cake itself baked into a texture I haven't encountered with gluten-free flours before. It tastes buttery but almost chewy, almost as it it had yeast in it.

It is exactly what I remembered. Perhaps that's why I've already had three pieces since it came out of the oven 21 hours ago.
















one year ago: leek gratin
two years ago: beet salad with honey-horseradish dressing
three years ago: star anise plum jam
four years ago: finally yummy brussels sprouts





fresh plum kuchen
slightly adapted from Jane Nickerson in the Essential New York Times Cook Book by Amanda Hesser

cake
1 1/2 c. wheat flour
     or gluten-free:
     30 g. millet flour
     30 g. sorghum flour
     30 g. wheat-free oat flour
     60 g. sweet rice flour
     60 g. potato starch
     1 tsp. xanthan gum
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. butter or vegetable shortening
1 large egg
1/3 c. milk
grated zest of 1 lemon or lime
melted butter for brushing

topping
1/3 c. sugar (1/2 c. if your plums are very sour)
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. wheat flour
     or gluten-free:
     1 tsp. sweet rice flour
     1/2 tsp. millet flour
8 small ripe plums, halved and pitted
1 large egg yolk
2 tbsp. heavy cream
optional: whipped cream for serving

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and butter an 8 by 8-inch pan. Set aside.

To make the cake, stir the flour(s), baking powder, salt and sugar together. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or your fingers until it looks like coarse cornmeal.

Whisk the egg, milk and lemon zest together. Stir them into the flour mixture, until they're just blended to make a thick dough. Press the dough into the prepared pan, and then brush the top with melted butter.

To make the topping, stir the sugar, cinnamon and flour(s) together. Place the plums cut side up on the dough. Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the plums.

Whisk the egg yolk with the heavy cream. Drizzle over the plums and sugar mixture.

Bake in the oven for 15 minutes covered, then 20 minutes uncovered (35 minutes in all).

Serve alone or with whipped cream.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

mt. harris trail mix


































It is not summer anymore.

I know this because there is a light scattering of yellow leaves covering my front lawn and I've had a terrible cough for more than three weeks.

Therefore summer: please, come back soon.

In the meantime, here's one more summer memory  and a good snack that will take you through fall, winter, spring and all the way back to summer again.

















Almost a hundred years ago, Scott's great-grandfather, Ley Edwards Harris, helped survey a mountain deep in the Rockies. They climbed up on a snowy, blustery day and Harris almost lost the camera equipment in a whiteout. Later, the chief surveyor decided to name the mountain after him.

Ever since I met Scott, he's been talking about climbing Mt. Harris. The mountain is practically buried in the back country of Banff National Park. There are no hiking trails and it only sometimes shows up on maps of the area.

This summer, Scott and his two brothers charted a way to Mt. Harris. It involved a week of hiking, lugging 70-pound packs and watching out for grizzlies (they only saw one).

















Scott is an experienced hiker, and I quickly learned that Scott thought my suggestions for food and packing were a bit amateur.

Still I wanted to help, so I offered to make trail mix.

Yes, this was something the expert would let me do. So I set about making trail mix. I tinkered with a Canadian Living recipe called "Fanny Pack Trail Mix." (I certainly didn't tell the expert the name or he would think I was really amateur.)

I subbed in some salted seeds and nuts where the recipe called for unsalted, on the theory that you need salt when you're exercising and it would taste better. The expert agreed. I also added banana chips because, actually, banana chips are awesome.
















The expert packed himself a big Ziplock bag full, and a couple smaller ones for the brothers. I held a bit back for my non-adventurous non-hiker life here in Edmonton.

















While they were off scaling Mt. Harris, I ate a small container of trail mix every day at work as a mid-morning snack and thought of them.

When they came back  tired, hungry, but having reached Mt. Harris  the expert reported that the trail mix had served them very well. I was pleased.


















one year ago: warm salad of crispy chicken thighs and green beans with garlicky tomato concassé
two years ago: little house on the prairie and beet hummus
three years ago: hop & go fetch it: german edition and parsley lentil pasta
four years ago: salted chocolate shortbread and mrs. doucet's apple chutney






mt. harris trail mix
adapted from canadian living

2 c. (500 mL) salted roasted sunflower seeds
2 c. (500 mL) green pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1 1/2 c. (375 mL) raisins
1 c. (250 mL) roasted almonds
1 c. (250 mL) roasted cashews
1 c. (250 mL) salted roasted peanuts
 2 c. (250  500 mL) banana chips

Get your biggest bowl out. Mix everything together. Store in an airtight container on the counter.


Monday, September 1, 2014

summer: nova scotia



















I promised to show you Nova Scotia. Let's go to Cape Split.

One morning, we got up early to drive to the Annapolis Valley.


































We wound our way through the valley, fields of corn and early-morning storm clouds, out to a little piece of land that juts into the Bay of Fundy.


















We walked over patches of mud and tree roots and dry path until we reached the point where the cape actually splits.























We settled into the grass and Queen Anne's lace that carpets the top of the cape, and had our picnic lunch: blueberries, carrots, smeerkaas (spreadable Gouda cheese!), smoked maple sausage and a bit of mint dark chocolate we'd picked up along the way.



It was a nice view for lunch.



















one year ago: summer road trip to b.c.
two years ago: cherry peach jam and ode to victoria
three years ago: salmon for dinner
four years ago: peach crisp and tomato zucchini gratin

Sunday, August 24, 2014

summer: prince edward island
























When I think back on this summer, I will think of the beauty.

Of the way the sun hit the blue Atlantic and how clouds chased each other across the sky faster than I remembered possible. Of sand dunes and fine red sand between my toes. Of wild raspberries on the beach path and the smell of warm salt air. Of the East Coast in summertime.

Let me show you.

We'll start with Prince Edward Island. Nova Scotia will come in a few days.

















These are the Greenwich dunes in Prince Edward Island National Park.

The boardwalk stretches on for ages, leading over bog and marsh and freshwater.























Until suddenly, at the foot of a dune, you take off your shoes for the sandy path and walk barefoot over that dune and right into the Atlantic Ocean.

















Later, we drove east  all the way to one of the eastern-most points in North America.























The East Point Lighthouse was built in 1867 and is still manned.

















Better keep an eye on that boat.

















Waters from the Northumberland Strait and the Gulf of St. Lawrence meet at the foot of the lighthouse.

















Dusk falls after a dinner of mussels, halibut and the most exquisite cobbler made with teeny-tiny Island blueberries at the old Shaw's Hotel near Brackley Beach.

Good night.


one year ago: snack chronicles: super fudge
two years ago: finding jim mitchell lake and tarragon three-bean salad
three years ago: tschüss, deutschland! and german groceries
four years ago: rote grütze on ice cream and rosemary corn butter


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

vietnamese noodle and chicken salad

















This is a Honolulu-Edmonton noodle dish.

I know what you're thinking: of course, those two cities have so much in common!

Well, here's how it happened. Two years ago, Scott and I ate a Vietnamese-inspired cold noodle salad for lunch sitting out in the courtyard at Café Julia in Honolulu. The salad was so refreshing and so exactly right that we asked the manager to give us hints about what was in it.
















I faithfully wrote his few words down. Lime. Fish sauce. Cilantro. I tucked those words away, waiting for just the right time to recreate the salad. But as it turned out, I just needed to wait for my friend Isabelle to have us over for lunch.
















A couple weeks ago on a hot Saturday afternoon, Isabelle served us this noodle and chicken salad she had adapted from Nigella Lawson.

The chicken was moist and packed a punch of flavour  which I now know comes from the genius idea of soaking torn pieces in the dressing. And it was a grocery-store roasted chicken! Hallelujah for not heating up the kitchen!

We gobbled it down as if we'd been starving for two years (which we had) and were soon eating the leftover jap chae noodles with a bit of extra sauce dribbled over.
















We've already made it twice at home, usually working with whatever we've got handy in the fridge and garden. Last week, that was kale, lettuce, chives, and peas. It does indeed call for lime, fish sauce and cilantro. Those are key ingredients, but we didn't have cilantro last time, so we threw in some sorrel from the garden and it was fantastic.

Now, do you know about Korean jap chae noodles? They are made from sweet potato starch and they're the best noodle ever  transparent and tremendously long with a nice firm elastic bite. We find them in Asian stores: they're worth the trek.

So, there you are: a new summer noodle dish inspired by Honolulu, made in Edmonton.
















P.S. Works well in your lunch, too.

one year ago: homemade barbecue sauce
two years ago: eton mess
three years ago: sun tea
four years ago: chocolate raspberry horse turds





vietnamese noodle and chicken salad
adapted from nigella lawson and isabelle
feeds 3  4

dressing
2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1/4 – 1 tsp. red pepper flakes (or chili flakes if you like heat)
2 tbsp. fresh ginger, minced
1/4 c. fish sauce (nam pla)
juice of 1  2 limes
1/4 c. water
2 tbsp. sugar

salad
 2 c. bought roasted chicken, shredded or torn
500 g. Korean jap chae (sweet potato) noodles or glass (bean) noodles
2 c. greens: tender kale, lettuce, spinach, tender swiss chard, beet greens, mustard greens*, torn if you like
fresh peas, if you have them around
3 green onions, sliced diagonally (or lots of chives, chopped)
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped (or a few leaves of sorrel if you have it)
2 tsp. neutral oil, like canola or grapeseed
1 tsp. + 1 tsp. sesame oil

Whisk all the dressing ingredients together.

Take 1/2 cup of the dressing and toss it well with the torn chicken pieces.

Boil the noodles according to their package directions. Drain and rinse them well with cold water. Toss with 1 teaspoon sesame oil in their pot. Use kitchen scissors to cut through them a few times so they're only a foot long instead of ten feet long (seriously). Mix in the chicken, greens, peas, green onions, and some of the cilantro. Add the oils and see if you'd like to add the reserved dressing  probably you will. If you're having trouble mixing everything, use your hands or two salad tongs and try not to stress out.

Serve with more cilantro sprinkled over top.

* If you have tougher greens, such as old spinach or thick curly kale, steam it a tiny bit first or throw it in at the end of the noodles cooking for a minute.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

oatmeal chocolate cherry cookies

















Oh, the power of a humble little cookie.

I work at CBC Radio and with all the government cutbacks over the last little while, morale is low. One Thursday a couple weeks ago, we were all bracing for yet another lay off announcement.

But that morning  before the announcement  we couldn't help but smile. My colleague Niall got up early and made oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. He passed his "gratitude cookies" around with little napkins that thanked us for our hard work and said our work was valued.

It was such a small thing but also such a big thing.
















It was a reminder that we are still doing good work and that people do care.

Also, his cookies were really good -- warm and comforting in the way that only oatmeal cookies can be. They reminded me how much I love making oatmeal chocolate chip (not raisin) cookies.

Now, making a chewy cookie gluten-free is not an easy feat. I dug out my favourite old Martha Stewart recipe, which I first came across back in 2004. You know, back when it seemed like Martha Stewart was the only reliable recipe provider on the whole world wide web?

This recipe also has the added bonus of calling for dried cherries and toffee bits. I didn't have the toffee bits, but I did have a leftover piece of marzipan calling my name, so I grated it up.

I pulled out my scale and weighed the gluten-free flours and hoped for the best . . .

And you know what?

They baked up chewy and rich, full of comfort and chocolate and cherries and marzipan. A small victory, but I'll take what I can get.
























one year ago: asian slaw and silken chocolate mousse
two years ago: salmon with warm tomato basil oil and balancing tofino and the plane
three years ago: kristina's nuss kuchen and german zucchini soup
four years ago: honey orange cream and loganberry jelly





oatmeal chocolate cherry cookies
adapted from Martha Stewart
bakes about 24 3-inch cookies

1 1/2 c. wheat flour
     or gluten-free flours:
     60 g. sweet white sorghum flour
     40 g. pure oat flour*
     60 g. sweet rice flour
     50 g. tapioca starch
     1/2 tsp. xanthan gum
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 c. butter, room temperature
3/4 c. white sugar
3/4 c. brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 c. oatmeal
1 c. dried cherries, chopped
1 c. dark chocolate chips or pieces
1/4 c. marzipan pieces or 1 c. toffee pieces**

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line your cookies sheets with parchment paper.

Stir the flour(s), salt and baking soda together and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 2  3 minuets. Mix the egg in well. Follow with vanilla extract and make sure you scrape the sides of the bowl down. Slowly add the flour mix and stir until it's fully integrated. Stir in the oatmeal, cherries, chocolate and marzipan/toffee pieces.

Divide the dough into 3 and use plastic wrap to roll 3 logs that are about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Cut into 3/4 inch pieces and place fairly far apart on baking sheets. (I only put 6 on my regular cookie sheets because they like to spread.) If using gluten-free flours, chill in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.

Bake until golden-brown, about 8  10 minutes. Let cool on the pan for a few minutes before removing to a rack.

* I make oat flour by grinding rolled oats in the food processor. Make sure you use "pure" oats, which are not grown near wheat or contaminated in processing.
** You should find toffee pieces in a bag next to the chocolate chips at the grocery store.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

summer salad template: warm asparagus kale salad


















Salad doesn't interest me very much.

Usually, I just think, hmmm, fresh vegetables, nice. At home, we make perfectly nice lettuce salads with a simple vinaigrette . . . but I almost never go back for seconds.

Occasionally, and I mean occasionally, a salad makes me sit up straight and look at the big blue glass salad bowl to make sure I can eat some more.

Tonight, we happened upon one of those salads.

We had tender young kale and some local asparagus that needed to be eaten stat. I ripped up the raw kale and tossed it in the bowl, while I set the asparagus to boiling in salted water.

While the asparagus was simmering away, I pulled out a mug and made the vinaigrette. I wanted fairly strong flavours since I knew the asparagus would be sturdy and assertive.

I pulled out the Japanese ume plum vinegar from the back of the cupboard because it has a special kind of round salty flavour to it. Put a splash of that in the mug  maybe one tablespoon? Pulled out the grainy mustard and dropped in a teaspoon or so. Ground salt and pepper over. Drizzled as much maple syrup as I could get from the end of the syrup bottle  maybe three teaspoons?

Whisked it all together and started drizzling in fruity olive oil. I would say I used about three tablespoons of oil all together. Tasted and added another teaspoon of grainy mustard. Tasted again.

When the asparagus was bright green and tender-crisp, I chopped it into inch-long lengths and threw it on the kale. Spooned some vinaigrette over and sent it to the table.
















It was absolutely heavenly. Suddenly we had a new summer salad template: raw kale with something steamed or boiled or roasted thrown on top and mixed with vinaigrette. I remembered to take a picture about 30 seconds before we ate it all.

With our bumper crop of kale, we will do this throughout the summer. I think you should, too.

You can make endless variations on the vinaigrette. Start with some kind of vinegar  red wine, sherry, rice  and mix it bit with a bit of mustard and something sweet, like maple syrup, honey or sugar. Grind a good amount of salt and pepper over it. Then slowly whisk in any kind of oil you like, about three times as much as the vinegar you used. Taste, season again, and toss with your summer salad.

Here's to summer salads!





Bonus photo!
North Saskatchewan River at 10:15 p.m. on the summer solstice.




















one year ago: chewy granola bars and longest day link love
two years ago: hop & go fetch it: pacific rim edition and penne with sausage and greens
three years ago: tomato cheddar soufflé with asparagus and kathleen claiborne's hot cakes
four years ago: chilli pasta


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

quick zucchini sauté

















I first learned to cook zucchini this way last November.

Now   boom!   I can't seem to cook it any other way.

I was hosting a book club potluck dinner where we were reading (that means cooking) Deb Perelman's recipes from Smitten Kitchen. I already make lots of Deb's recipes (hello, dilled potato and cucumber salad!) but I wanted to try something new for the potluck.

At the same time, I was short on time and ingredients. I was also busy cleaning the house and setting the table for eleven. I had a zucchini in the fridge and found what looked like the easiest recipe on the site.
















I was doubtful. I mean, four ingredients and you think it will be amazing? I threw it all together on the stove as the first book clubbers trickled in and set up their dishes.

It took all of five minutes and it changed my world when it comes to zucchini. I don't quite know how to describe it but to say that just a few slivers of toasty almonds really set off the zucchini and the shavings of parmesan make it feel very chic.

It is a very pleasing dish and possibly the best part   besides how it tastes   is that it's equally good at room temperature. That's right: you can make this a few minutes before your guests arrive for a dinner party and you will all be happy campers.
















one year ago: chewy granola bars and longest day link love
two years ago: hop & go fetch it: pacific rim edition and penne with sausage and greens
three years ago: tomato cheddar soufflé with asparagus and kathleen claiborne's hot cakes
four years ago: chilli pasta





quick zucchini sauté
via smitten kitchen inspired by the red cat, nyc
as deb notes, you don't really need to measure anything here  just throw it in

  2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. sliced almonds
  2 small zucchini, chopped into small matchsticks
salt and pepper
a few shavings of parmesan cheese*

Heat your skillet or heavy-duty frying pan over medium. Add the olive oil and swirl to warm it up. Stand back (in case the oil spatters) and throw in the almonds. Give them a few stirs. Cook for 1   2 minutes until toasted. Throw in the zucchini and grind a bit of salt and pepper over it. Give them a few quick stirs and cook 30 seconds to 1 minute, depending how big your zucchini is: you're really just warming the zucchini, not cooking it.

Serve hot or at room temperature with a few thin shavings of parmesan cheese.

*I find a sharp vegetable peeler works very well for shaving the parmesan