Tuesday, September 28, 2010

mrs. doucet's apple chutney

Fall has arrived and you might be wondering two things:

1. What will I do with all the blemished, ugly apples on my tree?
2. What will I bring to parties for the next few months when I don't have time to make anything?

The answer to both questions: apple chutney.

Yup, take a few hours to whip up a batch and then sit back and relax. When it's party time, just pull a jar of apple chutney off the shelf. Stop by the store on the way to the party and buy some fancy crackers and chèvre (or cream cheese if you're averse to goat stink) and get ready to impress the crowds with a homemade appletizer.

Who came up with this brilliant idea? Not me, although I have co-opted the idea so fully that I almost think it's my own.

The brilliance comes from my friend Angela and her mother, Mrs. Doucet, in Nova Scotia. They are two of the best bakers and cooks I know, and have contributed many invaluable recipes to my repertoire. (Remember that lovely yellow split pea dahl?)

And just how did they come up with this chutney? Well, a while back, Angela was at a friend's house for dinner and tried some apple chutney there. She loved it so much that she took the rest of the jar  home to her mother. Angela explained how much she loved it, and asked if her mom could make a recipe for it.

Mrs. Doucet tasted it and created this recipe. Angela says it's exactly like the chutney she first tried. This chutney is dark and thick, with plump raisins and the surprise of fresh cardamom. In short, it is perfect dolloped over a cracker spread with a creamy cheese all ready to adorn your party plate.

P.S. If you were at the Brigden fall fair in Ontario a few years ago, yes, this is the apple chutney that won the prize. 

mrs. doucet's apple chutney

yields 5 1/2  cups

1/4 c. lemon juice
1/4 c. cider vinegar
24 dates
1/2 c. raisins
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. cardamom seeds, crushed
1 tsp. ginger
8 c. apples, peeled, cored and chopped
4 c. sugar

Mix lemon juice, cider vinegar, dates, raisins and garlic in a big pot with a heavy bottom. Cook over medium-low heat until dates and raisins are soft.

Add cardamom, ginger, apples and sugar. Bring to a light simmer. Turn heat down to low and cook slowly for one hour, until thick. Stir often.

Ladle into sterilized jars, seal and can for 10 minutes in boiling water. 

Serve with a creamy cheese on crackers.

This post is part of Fall Fest 2010, which is a community food blogging event to write about (and eat!) seasonal produce. If you’d like to see other Fall Fest recipes for apples, try these:

To Market, To Market with San Diego Foodstuff: Revised Medieval Apple Tart
The Wright Recipes: Apple Stack Cake and Dark Caramel Apples
Eating from the Ground Up: God and Apple Pie
Simmer Till Done: Louisa May Alcott's Apple Slump
Food2: 22 Awesome Ways to Use Your Apples
Cooking Channel: Apple Dessert Recipes
Gilded Fork: Apples—Sweet Seduction
Food Network: Pick the Perfect Apple
White on Rice Couple: Apple picking, and Broiled Leeks with Apple Vinaigrette
Food Network UK: Five English apples you should know and love
Healthy Eats: 31 Days of Apple Recipes
Pinch My Salt: Favorite Apple Recipes
The Sister Project: Third-Prize Apple Pie


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

good spinach

Spinach had always been a difficult vegetable for me.

Oh, I understood it was full of vitamins, it offered Popeye superhuman strength, and it was probably something I should eat more often.

But I had just had too much bad spinach. Wilted, soggy, cold spinach with a strange odour. Ew.

Until I saw the light. The golden yellow light, that is.


For this revelation, I have my husband to thank. He taught me that spinach holds the possibility to become delicious in its deep-green vegetable heart.

Here’s how: add butter, salt and pepper. (I know. I’m also a bit shocked I didn’t think of this before.)

Would you like more specific instructions?

good spinach

Rinse the spinach in a colander.

Pour an inch or two of water into a small pot. Bring it to a boil. Salt the water, if you like.

Add the spinach. Simmer, partially covered, for 1 to 2 minutes, until it’s deep-green and softened.

Use a slotted spoon to scoop the spinach onto a plate. Put a dollop of butter on top. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Eat before it gets cold.

This post is part of Fall Fest 2010, which is a community food blogging event to write about (and eat!) seasonal produce. If you’d like to see other Fall Fest recipes for spinach, try these:

A Way to Garden: Why I plant spinach late, and other tasty tidbits 
The Wright Recipes: Spinach Rotolo, a rolled ricotta and pasta extravaganza
Sweetnicks: Spinach Egg Breakfast Cup
Gilded Fork: Spicy Artichoke Spinach Dip, and a Dossier on Spinach
Simmer Till Done: Spanakopita Scones
Eating from the Ground Up: Spicy Indian Lentil Soup with Spinach
Healthy Eats: Mini Spinach-Mushroom Quiche
Food2: Spinach Artichoke Dip
Cooking Channel: Paneer With Spinach
FN Dish: Everyday Spinach Dishes with Giada
Food Network UK: Eggs florentine, brunch of champions

If you'd like to join the festival, leave your comment or recipe about spinach on my blog and the others' blogs. The idea is to get everyone talking about what's ripe right now and how we can eat it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

a taster menu from gluten-free girl & the chef

If you’re looking for a tempting new gluten-free cookbook, may I recommend Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef: A Love Story with 100 Tempting Recipes?

I discovered Shauna’s recipe for better-than-wheat-flour chocolate chip cookies two years ago . . . And I was hooked. I have been reading their blog ever since. As they say, I have been dancing in the kitchen with Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef.

I just had the pleasure of making a few of the recipes in their new cookbook – a little sampler of the book to come.

To begin our tasting menu:

Seared Shrimp with Garlic-Almond Sauce

This is an easy, deluxe little starter. The garlic-almond sauce is has a salty, sharp bite that wakes the plump shrimp right up. I made it in 20 minutes and certainly didn’t mind doing all the taste-testing by myself . . .

How about a little pasta?

Fresh Gluten-Free Past with Anchovies, Lemon, and Olives

Anchovies are a revelation to me. They melt away into the sauce and just leave all the right sunny, briny Mediterranean notes. Not to mention: I made this gluten-free pasta.  I am still in shock. It has a nice, al dente bite and is very easy to work with. Not a sticky noodle in the bunch. Perfect to slip and slide around in the sauce.

Did you save room for dessert?

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Brownies

These are dream brownies. They have the perfect dense, chewy, fudgy texture to which every brownie aspires. The fact that they're gluten-free is a bonus.

I wish I could share these recipes with you but I’m not allowed. This is a cookbook I’m talking about, you see, not a food blog. Of course, you can always read Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef online. But for these recipes, you have to buy the book

If you do buy the book, let me know what you think. Maybe we can compare notes?

I'll be back soon with a recipe for how to make spinach delicious. Seriously.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

falling for a side cookie

 Never before have I fallen in love with a side cookie like this. In fact, it quickly moved from being a side cookie to the main attraction in my mind.

But what is a side cookie, you ask?

A side cookie comes on the side of a dessert. You know, the dessert – a crème brûlée, a pot de crème, a mousse – is supposed to be the star, with a little cookie on the side, almost as an afterthought.

I discovered this little side cookie one fateful Friday night at Lucy's in the Square restaurant. My husband had ordered the crème brûlée, and there, sitting on the side, was a lovely dark chocolate heart of a cookie.

I bit into it and tasted salt. It was exactly what I wanted after a good dinner: a few bites of dark-chocolate-salty goodness.

Now when we go to Lucy’s, I just ask for the side cookie as my dessert. It’s all I want.

After a few months, eating it at the restaurant wasn’t enough. I needed a home supply.

And here we are: a crisp shortbread that almost shatters on the bite, then melts into dark chocolate with a nip of salt on the tongue.

This is no side cookie. It has become a star – or a pumpkin or a leaf or an apple, since I thought fall shapes would be more appropriate right now.

The dough is incredibly easy to work with. You can whip them up in 15 minutes, chill them for 20, bake them for 12 . . . and be eating salted chocolate shortbread in an hour. See if you think this is a mere side cookie.

salted chocolate shortbread

bakes about 20 wee cookies

1/3 c. cocoa
1/3. c. cornstarch, and more to dust the cookie cutters
3/4 c. brown rice flour
1/2 tsp. xanthan or guar gum
1 tsp. sea salt, and more to sprinkle
1/2 c. icing or confectioner’s sugar
3/4 c. butter

Prepare a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Stir the cocoa, cornstarch, brown rice flour, xanthan gum and salt together to form one flour.

Pour the icing sugar into another bowl and cut in the butter. Blend well. Add the flour mixture and keep mixing until it all clumps together. (I like using a stand mixer for this part.) This might take a bit of time, but have faith: it will start clumping.

Place a piece of parchment paper on the counter. Gather the dough into a ball and put it on the parchment paper. Cover that with a piece of plastic wrap. Use a rolling pin over the plastic wrap to roll the dough out to about 1/4 inch (1/2 centimetre) thickness. Peel off the plastic wrap.

Pour a couple tablespoons of cornstarch in a small bowl. Dip the cookie cutters in the bowl to keep them from sticking to the dough. Cut out shapes and put them on the prepared pan. Repeat, until you’ve used up all the dough.

Sprinkle sea salt over the cookies. Chill in the fridge for at least 20 minutes.

Heat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Bake for 12 to 13 minutes. (They may not seem done, but they are.)

Leave the cookies on the pan, but place the pan on a rack. These just-baked cookies are too delicate to move until they have cooled and set. Once they have cooled, they will happily keep their form.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

plant yourself some garlic

I have been a local garlic convert for two years and one month now.

My conversion happened in Ontario when my friend and I attended the garlic festival weekend at the Carp farmers’ market. There were garlic growers everywhere, spouting off names I’d never heard: Music and Porcelain and Russian . . .

At first, I was shocked at the prices – generally about a dollar a bulb. A dollar a bulb! I could buy a Chinese bulb at the grocery store for 30 cents! However, it was the garlic festival, so I thought I should try a couple.

When I got the garlic home and broke into the bulb, my world changed. The clove smelled fresh and pungent at the same time, and the texture was firm and juicy. This is what garlic is meant to be, I thought.

I spent the next few weekends scouring farmers’ markets, looking for more local garlic. After a couple weeks, it disappeared from the markets. I asked the farmers and they said they just couldn’t grow enough to meet demand.

Our bulbs lasted a few weeks more . . . It was a sad, sad day when I had to go back to bland and wimpy grocery store garlic. I vowed not to let it happen again.

Which led to possibly my greatest discovery in the past year: I can grow my own garlic in my deck garden!

It is incredibly easy.

Last year, I stocked up on purple garlic at a farm market in Comox, a few hours up Vancouver Island. In September, I broke the cloves off, poked the clove down a couple inches with the tip pointing up, and waited for them to grow. (I planted three in each 16-inch-diameter pot.)

I cannot tell you how satisfying it was to see their green leaves shoot up in January. (We don't get much snow and frost here, so I could actually see them shooting up. If you do get snow, I hear you should make sure there's at least six inches over the soil to keep the garlic well insulated.)

The leaves grew and grew until June, when they pushed out scapes (flowery bulbs) on their tips. I wanted the bulb to keep growing, so I cut the scapes off and put them in water in a vase in the house. The scapes slowly peeled themselves open to reveal dozens of tiny cloves.

Finally, in July, most of the green leaves growing in the pots died down, and it was harvest time. I wriggled my fingers down into the dirt and found six perfect bulbs.

I let them dry out in a cool room in the basement for a couple weeks. Then I braided their shoots together and nailed the braid to our kitchen wall. Whenever I need a bulb, I cut one off the braid. It will keep this way for ages. Last year’s garlic ran out in February this year, and it was still perfectly fresh. I’m hoping our garlic this year lasts till July when the next harvest comes.

This year, I have four local varieties to plant: Salt Spring German Hardneck, Okanagan Music, a purplish one from Gabriola Island, and my trusty Comox purple from last year.

Please, find some local garlic before it’s too late and plant a few cloves. May the conversion begin.

A scientific note: If you are wondering how pouring your used coffee bean grinds from your French press affects the garlic . . . I conducted a very scientific study and it appears garlic that was fed coffee grinds every morning is about 5 to 10 per cent smaller than my control pot, which was only fed water. Maybe the garlic prefers tea?

This post is part of Fall Fest 2010, which is a community food blogging event to write about (and eat!) seasonal produce. If you’d like to see other Fall Fest posts and recipes about garlic, try these:

Eating From the Ground Up: Pickled Garlic
White on Rice Couple: Garlic Knots
Food2: Easiest Recipes Ever, Starring Garlic
Cooking Channel: Roasted Garlic
Healthy Eats: 5 Reasons to Eat More Garlic
FN Dish: Garlic Chicken Greats
The Gilded Fork: Garlic Dossier and Recipes
Food Network UK: Glorious Garlic

If you'd like to join the festival, leave your comment or recipe about garlic on my blog and the others' blogs. The idea is to get everyone talking about what's ripe right now and how we can eat it.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

black & blue scotch berries

Sometimes, at the end of a long summer day, I think I want a cocktail.

But what I actually want is a snack.

Yes, I want that kick of alcohol, but I also want to eat the little bits of fruit that have been used to make my fruit cocktail. (It’s almost dinnertime. Aren’t you hungry?)

Sadly, there have never been enough little bits of fruit swirling around my cocktail glass . . . Until now.

Presenting: black and blue scotch berries.

Blackberries and blueberries drizzled with honeyed whisky and topped with a dollop of cream. A cocktail and a snack. A snacktail.

The keys here are to use your freshest and best ingredients, like plump blueberries and blackberries, fireweed honey, and good, 12-year-old Scotch whisky.


black and blue scotch berries

creates 4 snacktails

2 c. blackberries
2 c. blueberries
1 tbsp. good whisky
1 tbsp. honey
1/2 c. whip cream
1 tsp. vanilla

Place blackberries in glasses with wide rims. Pour blueberries on top.

Measure honey in a small bowl. Heat in the microwave for 10 seconds to liquefy. Whisk in the whisky. Drizzle over berries.

Whip cream with vanilla. Put a dollop of cream on each snack cocktail.