Thursday, February 9, 2017

old-fashioned scottish shortbread

I've had Scotland on my mind lately.

At the end of January, Scott and I hosted a big Robbie Burns Day party, where we ate Scottish meatballs and everyone wore plaid. Our friend Niall also read Burns poems in Old Scots wearing his Campbell kilt. It was glorious.

When I think of Scotland, I think of mountains and strong black tea and beautiful woolen blankets and ... shortbread.

I've made gluten-free shortbread before, but I was hankering after something a bit more old-fashioned in the shortbread department.

One cold January afternoon, I pulled out my recipe binder for cookies. I kept turning the pages until I found my Great-Aunt Marjorie's recipe for shortbread.

Well, Marjorie gave it to me but I think she got it from her mother-in-law. Although I'm not actually completely sure about that. In any case, it's called "Mom Allison's Shortbread" and Allison is a Scottish name, so I feel good about its authentic Scottish-Canadian roots.

All that to say — it's just what I was looking for. You bake it in an 8-inch tin and then cut it into "petticoat tails," which look like triangles, for the uninitiated.

The recipe says that letting it sit in a sealed tin for a couple of days brings out the flavour, and that is true. However, it was also fantastic an hour out of the oven. So it's good on all fronts: right away, two days later, ten days later. I can't give you any longer time frames because it won't last that long in our household.

one year ago: gluten-free sandwich bread
two years ago: cheesecake in a jar with passion fruit sauce and tomato soup with two fennels
three years ago: nuts and bolts and tuscan white beans


mom allison's shortbread
bakes an 8-inch round you may cut into 8 or 12 pieces
note: whether you use wheat flour or the gluten-free flours, you still also add the white rice flour

vanilla castor or berry sugar to sprinkle on top*
6 oz. all-purpose wheat flour
     or gluten-free: 
     2 oz. millet flour
     2 oz. potato starch
     2 oz. sweet rice flour
     1 tsp. xanthan gum
2 oz. white rice flour
3 oz. berry or castor sugar**
1/2 tsp. kosher salt (or 1/4 tsp. table salt)
5 oz. salted butter, at room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Whisk the dry ingredients together. Rub in the butter with your fingers or use a stand mixer to make a stiff dough.

Roll the dough out between two sheets of plastic wrap. Remove the top layer of plastic wrap and invert the dough into an 8-inch cake tin. Now, peel off the new top layer of plastic wrap.

Mark into 8 or 12 pieces and prick all over with a fork. Bake in the mid-oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until it's set and just the edges are slightly golden.

Take it out of the oven and sprinkle with vanilla sugar. Mark pieces off again.

Once it's cool, you can try some right away. You can also let it sit in a sealed container for a couple of days to bring out the flavour. We found it just gets better with time but it still great the first day.

* Make your own vanilla sugar by immersing a split vanilla bean into the sugar for some time. If you just think of this right before baking — no problem. It still works and you can use the leftover sugar for future baking projects.

** If you don't have this finer sugar on hand, just whiz it up in the food processor for a little while until the grains look smaller. This worked for me.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

christmas cookie (and gift) time!

Last weekend, I was suddenly given the gift of time.

You can probably guess what I used it for.

That's right: Christmas baking!

I made hazelnut-almond batons* and thin gingerbread almond cookies* from my favourite new cookbook, Classic German Baking. Of course, I also had to make a loaf of marzipan stollen.*

After two of those recipes called for grated lemon peel, naked lemons started colonizing my kitchen. I thought I should use them up before they multiplied, so I re-adapted my Great-Grandma McNair's lemon loaf to be gluten-free. It was fluffy and soft and buttery — I'll be posting about that soon.

After all that ... I was done. If I don't cook or bake for the next two weeks, I will be a happy camper. (Yes, that includes Christmas. Maybe we could have a cookie plate for dinner?)

If you haven't made your Christmas cookies yet, I thought you might like a round up of my favourites over the years, so here are few links. And do check out Classic German Baking by Luisa Weiss — it is a lovely tome of German goodness I will treasure for years. It even has a whole section devoted to Christmas baking.
What's that I hear? Now that I've given you cookie ideas, you're still looking for a few gift ideas? Oh, OK ...
  • The Trudeaus gave these lovely scarves to the Obama daughters when they visited earlier this year.
  • I finally had a chance to see this pretty jewellery in person today at a pop-up downtown. I am especially enchanted with the interesting stud earrings.
  • Not exactly romantic or magical, but who wouldn't want a fat separator for making gravy and stock? I know I do.
* I adapted all these recipes to be gluten-free and they worked perfectly. Let me know if you'd like the details.

one year ago: ginger meringues
two years ago: peppermint lavender balm
three years ago: annie's sun-dried tomato dip

Thursday, December 1, 2016

hitting the road ...

There hasn't been much cooking or baking in my world over the past month.

Instead, I ate many snacks of roasted hazelnuts (a tiny Tupperware container easily fits in my fancy purse) and was lucky to try tacos in Vancouver, dumplings in Toronto and burgers in Calgary.

During the day, I've been putting on a suit and going to business meetings —just call me Corporate Stephanie. During the evening, I've been catching up with my good friends who are sprinkled across Canada. All in all, a pretty great month.

Now that it's December, I'm happy to be back in Edmonton, plotting the German cookies I'll bake for my Christmas cookie plate and settling into the routine of reading Christmas cards after dinner.

But! I thought you might like to know about the restaurants I discovered, so I've updated Hop & Go Fetch It with eight new spots from my travels.

Check it out for that taco bar in Vancouver, not to mention sushi like butter and a hippie lunch spot. For Toronto, look for my new favourite neighbourhood coffee shop and a fancy, independent coffee shop in the heart of all those shiny office towers downtown.

one year ago: wish list
two years ago: shortbread peppermint pattie cookies
three years ago: annie's sun-dried tomatoes

Thursday, November 3, 2016

kladdkaka: sticky chocolate cake

This simple chocolate cake is apparently ubiquitous across Sweden.

I haven't visited Sweden yet, so I think I should probably do a serious research trip soon to confirm that.

But in the meantime, I can make kladdkaka at home in approximately two seconds. (Or half an hour, which is the equivalent of two seconds in the cake-baking world.)

Kladkakka is the original Swedish word and it's pretty fun to say. Kladdkaka is sticky and dense with ground hazelnuts and practically breathes chocolate. It also has a fudgy centre. In other words, it's just what I want in a quick weekend dessert.

The original recipe in the lovely Fika calls for unroasted almonds ... but hazelnuts are my very favourite nut, so I went with them. I also roasted them first because a roasted hazelnut is the ultimate hazelnut.

This cake seems pretty forgiving, though  I think you couldn't go wrong with roasted or unroasted almonds, hazels or walnuts, or even a combination of all three.

Kladdkakka also has the fun option of sprinkling poppy seeds on top! How unexpected is that? That's why I love these recipes from other parts of the world. I didn't have any poppy seeds in the house, but I'll definitely put them on next time.

So, if you have some nuts and cocoa, go ahead  make kladdkaka!

one year ago: ginger meringues
two years ago: hazelnut cacao nib granola
three years ago: japan in pictures


sticky chocolate cake (kladdkaka)
slightly adapted from fika by anna brones and johanna kindvall
note that this recipe halves beautifully

1/2 c. (71 g., 2.5 oz) hazelnuts, if possible roasted and rubbed in a tea towel until their skins come off*
1/2 c. (113 g., 4 oz) butter
2 eggs
1 c. (198 g., 7 oz) sugar
1/3 c. + 1 tbsp. (28 g., 1 oz) unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. salt
 4 tsp. poppy seeds (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 Celsius). Grease a 9-inch (23-centimetre) springform pan.

Put the nuts in a food processor and grind until almost fine.

Melt the butter. Set aside to cool.

Whisk the eggs and sugar together in a bowl. Stir in the cocoa powder and salt. Then add the almonds, then the slightly-cooled butter. Stir until smooth.

Pour into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the top evenly with poppy seeds. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, until it's set on top but still a bit sticky inside. To check this, carefully lift one side of the pan. It's done if it doesn't move. If it still looks runny, let it bake a little longer.

Cool before serving  either alone or with a dollop of whipped cream.

*The original recipe calls for unroasted almonds. I think walnuts would be good too.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

salted butter crackers

Well, it turns out that starting your own business can leave one a little frazzled and forgetful.

I could tell you all about leaving the locker key on the bench in the change room at the swimming pool instead of pinning it to my bathing suit  but that isn't really food related.

Instead, let's talk about these crackers.

Last weekend, I was supposed to bring a second dessert to our friends William and Nancy for Thanksgiving dinner. It needed to be gluten-free and nut-free, so we settled on salted butter break-ups. They're a crowd pleaser and I've written about them before: basically, a giant butter cookie that everyone can break up at the table.

I got down to work early Sunday afternoon, mixing and rolling the dough onto the pan. I noticed that the dough didn't look quite right and wasn't as big as usual ... but assumed everything would right itself in the oven.


The giant "cookie" came out thin and impoverished looking. Basically, like something that would feed four people instead of 15.

I pulled Scott into the kitchen for a consult. He stumbled in from a nap and looked at it bleary-eyed. Unfortunately, he agreed with my assessment. We set to work on another dessert: sour cherry crumble, this time.

While we were baking our second dessert, I thought we might as well break into the sad cookie and try it ourselves.

It broke with a happy snap and we cautiously tasted a piece. That was when it dawned on me.

I had forgotten the sugar.

No wonder it was smaller and thinner and paler.

It was not a cookie. It was a cracker.

And you know what? It was a really good cracker: buttery and salty and just crying out for cheese.

I threw a few in a bowl and we brought them along to the dinner. After dessert, they became the cheese course. Indeed, with grapes and bellavitano cheese, they were heavenly.

I guess being frazzled and forgetful isn't so bad after all.

one year ago: squash pasta with onions caramelized in maple syrup and apple cider vinegar
two years ago: fresh plum kuchen
three years ago: leek gratin


salted butter crackers
via myself and the little red kitchen 

1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
     or gluten-free:
     127 g. (4.5 oz) tapioca starch
     42 g. (1.5 oz) sweet rice flour
     42 g. (1.5 oz) sorghum flour
3/4  1 tsp. sel gris or kosher salt or sea salt
9 tbsp. (127 g./4.5 oz) cold butter, cut into 18 pieces
 5 tbsp. cold water
1 egg yolk, for the glaze

Pour the flour(s) and salt in a food processor and pulse to mix. Drop the butter in and pulse until it looks like coarse meal with pea-sized and smaller pieces. While the machine is running, slowly add some of the cold water. Only add enough water to make a dough that almost forms a bowl. It will be very malleable.

Move the dough onto a big clean cutting board and form it into a square. Wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for about 1 hour (or up to 3 days).

When it's time to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and make sure your rack is centred. Line your baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.

Roll the dough out between sheets of plastic wrap until it becomes a rough rectangle that's about 1/4-inch thick and about 5 by 11 inches. Peel it onto your prepared baking sheet.

Whisk the egg yolk with a few drops of cold water, and use a pastry brush to brush the dough with the egg glaze.

Bake 30  40 minutes, or until golden. It should be firm to touch, but with a little spring when you press its centre. Dorie says the perfect break-up is crisp on the outside and still tender on the inside. When it's not too fragile, transfer it to a rack and let it cool to room temperature. Break into cracker pieces   or let your guests break it up  and serve with cheese.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Eating Out from Amsterdam to Vienna

Favourite restaurants in the Netherlands, Germany and Austria

Last summer, we went to the Netherlands, Germany and Austria for the month of August. We cycled, we swam in lakes and the Blue Danube! we hiked, and we walked around the big cities, poking into urban nooks and crannies.

And we ate. So well.


Crusty buns with chewy centres
Perfectly-balanced lunch salads
Crisp croquettes with hearts of melting cheese or tender meat
Chilled cucumber soup with tomato "caviar"
Fresh apricot juice in the afternoon
Creamy German cheesecake with mandarin
Warm plum cake with melting whipped cream
Hot plum dumplings in buttered-breadcrumbs  

Speaking of dumplings and you must speak of dumplings if you speak of Austria have you heard of kasnocken?

It's pure Alpine comfort food: little dumplings swimming in a sharp cheesy sauce that's baked in an oven skillet with slivers of deep-fried onions on top. I could go back to Bärenwirt in Salzburg just to eat their kasnocken and sip my glass of Grüner Veltliner while I sit out on the patio and watch the green Salzach River flow by.

We ate so many good meals that I thought it was high time I share my favourite restaurants with you.

From the little Wink we happened to see down a side street in Amsterdam which turned out to be one of the most exquisite meals of our lives to the photocopied menu at the cozy Gasthaus Jell high above the Danube River to a flight of nine Alpine cheeses at the very modern Meierei in Vienna's city park ...

I've just added my favourite restaurants in Amsterdam, Osnabrück, Cologne, Salzburg, the Wachau and Vienna in the European edition of Hop & Go Fetch It.

And to finish this post, I leave you with two very different dining experiences: sitting in the elegant terrace garden at Loibnerhof in the Wachau wine region and finding amazing dim sum at Mama Lui & Sons in the heart of Vienna.

one year ago: chicken coconut curry soup
two years ago: oatmeal chocolate cherry cookies and vietnamese noodle and chicken salad
three years ago: silken chocolate mousse and super fudge

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

walnut pesto

Sadly, my friend Isabelle recently moved to Toronto.

Happily, she gave me a big bag of walnuts before she left. (Not to mention other pantry treasures: pomegranate molasses! a big vat of olive oil! glass noodles!)

I had never had such a big bag of walnuts before. I knew they wouldn't last forever, so I set about finding ways to use them.

First, I whirled them up with extra asparagus and parmesan. I slathered the sauce over pizza dough with feta cheese and pickled red onions. After that, I roasted a quarter of the bag and took them to work every day as a snack. Next, I added them to my granola recipe.

But then. Then I came across a recipe for walnut pesto on Smitten Kitchen. It looked so easy   the perfect thing for the dinner party we were hosting that weekend.

Sure enough, it was incredibly simple to roast them and throw them in the food processor along with parmesan, garlic, thyme and a splash of sherry vinegar. After I pulsed them, I stirred in olive oil and chopped sun-dried tomatoes, tasted for seasoning and spread it on a cracker.

It was a beautiful, beautiful thing. Well, not exactly beautiful because it's brown with little flecks of red from the sun-dried tomato. But the taste! A beautiful, beautiful thing. Needless to say, our dinner guests agreed and wolfed them down.

Thank you, Isabelle. I now know that my pantry won't be complete without a big bag of walnuts. And if you come over for dinner any time in the next few years, I think you know what we'll be serving you as a little appetizer.

one year ago: pasta with yogurt, peas and chile and martini rosso
two years ago: penne with smoked trout and asparagus and quick zucchini sauté
three years ago: chewy granola bars and asian slaw

print recipe

walnut pesto
slightly adapted from smitten kitchen

1 c. roasted walnuts*
1/4 c. parmesan cheese, grated
1 garlic clove, crushed
couple small shakes of dried thyme**
nice salt to taste
small splash sherry vinegar
1/4 to 1/3 c. good olive oil
3 tbsp. sundried tomatoes, chopped finely (oil-packed or re-hydrated dry tomatoes)

Pulse the walnuts, parmesan, garlic, thyme, salt and a small splash of sherry vinegar together in a food processor. You are looking for a coarse grind, not a uniform paste. Scrape it out into a bowl and stir in the smaller amount of olive oil. Add more olive oil if you'd like it to be looser. Stir in the sun-dried tomatoes. Taste for seasoning and decide if you need another small splash of sherry vinegar or more salt.

Spread on crackers and eat. Store what you don't use in the fridge for quite a few days.

* To roast the walnuts, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread the walnuts on a cookie tray and roast them for about 10 minutes until they smell good and you can see the nut meat has become golden.  
** Smitten Kitchen's original recipe calls for the leaves from 3 sprigs of thyme. I'm sure that would be even better but I don't always have fresh thyme around. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

on good service

Last Sunday morning, at a coffee shop in Calgary, I was struck by how good service can change everything.

We were sitting in the sunshine of the little corner bar at Phil & Sebastian in the Mission, watching the world walk by. I was just finishing my avocado-sourdough toast and sipping my High Mountain tea, while Scott had already polished off his gluten-free breakfast sandwich and coffee.

We'd had a tough Saturday night.

It was our anniversary weekend and I'd found a good rate at a fancy hotel downtown. Now that Scott's a graduate student and I've started my own business, we don't get to stay at fancy hotels very often. We had been looking forward to this for weeks.

Well, we won't be going back to this hotel. After we were forced to change rooms late at night because of the hotel's loud stereo system  and then the hotel tried to charge us $500 for the new smaller room – we just wanted to get out of there.

So, Sunday morning, I thought about how this coffee shop could have been like the fancy hotel: uncaring and trying to get away with charging us the moon to sit there. But it wasn't. The staff were friendly and made exceptional coffee and tea along with a great breakfast at a good price.

When we got up to leave, I went over to the counter to thank the staff for running such a good café. They all smiled and thanked me and I walked back to Scott, happy to have this good experience.

As were were zipping up our jackets, a young man from behind the counter came over to us and asked if he we had to go right away. He wanted us to try a special coffee and it would just take a few minutes to make.

Of course we could stay for a special coffee. We sat back down on our cozy stools and looked out the window again.

Soon, he was back with two little cups of Pacamara coffee from Panama. He explained how it was a naturally-processed coffee, which means the farmers let the beans dry with the fruit still on them. He said it's a hard process to control, but when it works it can lead to coffee like this: coffee that is fruity and sweet.

We thanked him and tried our little cups of coffee. It was the most unusual coffee: it was juicy and almost tasted like fruit punch  but was definitely still coffee.

They were perfect little cups of coffee, and we couldn't help but smile at our good fortune.

one year ago: cheddar oatcakes
two years ago: lentil soup with chorizo croutes
three years ago: aspargus and cheese sauce on toast