Sunday, November 21, 2010

walnut slugs

I have always had a thing about slugs.

Slugs lived in the woods around my grandparents’ house and I always thought they were absolutely gross. I could handle the daddy longlegs spiders that kept finding corners to colonize. I could handle the smaller spiders that hung around just because they liked the West Coast. But slugs, with their soft antennae and slimy trails, slugs were the one bad thing about Vancouver Island for me.

And then, one night when I was about eight, I dropped my flashlight outside. I knelt down and felt around in the dark for it.

What my fingers found was not the hard, reassuring plastic of my flashlight. It was something soft and squishy and slimy and – it definitely wasn’t my flashlight. Gross. Gross. Gross. I couldn’t wash my hands enough.

Even now, as a semi-fearless adult, seeing a slug makes my face pucker.

That’s why I love these slug cookies. They are everything a real slug is not – pretty, tasty, crisp and definitely, definitely not slimy. In short, they redeem the word slug for me.

I have my dad’s friend Betty to thank for this new definition. Betty shared this old family recipe for slugs with me. She says the slugs had a more appealing name in her mum’s old cookbook, something like vanilla walnut ovals. But her family always made them moon-shaped and called them slugs. Betty grew up in rainy Prince Rupert, and I can imagine they saw enough real slugs to act as models.

The recipe is exactly what a good heritage recipe should be: simple ingredients and a happy, pliable dough that’s easy to shape. I was lucky enough to get my hands on some local walnuts, so I spent a lovely Saturday morning listening to Christmas carols (don’t tell me it’s too early!), cracking walnuts and shaping slugs.

Slugs. My face doesn’t pucker when I see these beauties.

A note about flours:  I have adapted this recipe for the gluten-free people. If you’re not gluten-free, Betty says she has also successfully used whole-wheat flour, instead of regular wheat flour.

walnut slugs

bakes about 40 slugs

1 c. butter
1/2 c. icing or confectioner’s sugar
2 tbsp. vanilla
2 c. wheat flour
            Or gluten-free flours:
            1 c. superfine brown rice flour
            1/2 c. corn starch
            1/4 c. tapioca starch
            1/4 c. potato starch
            1 tsp. xanthan or guar gum
1/4 tsp. salt
1 c. walnuts (or pecans), very finely chopped
granulated sugar for rolling

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Get an insulated cookie sheet out, or put a regular cookie sheet on top of another cookie sheet to make your own.

Cream butter, icing sugar and vanilla together.

In another bowl, stir flour(s) and salt together. Stir in nuts. Add this mixture to the creamed mixture to form one dough.

Roll dough into one-inch balls; then form short logs with slightly pointed ends. (Not too pointed, or they’ll burn!) Shape into a gentle curve. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet. If you are using gluten-free flours, chill in the fridge for 10 minutes.

Bake for about 20 minutes. The tips should just start to turn a light golden brown.

Remove from cookie sheet and quickly roll in granulated sugar. Cool on a rack.

Friday, November 12, 2010

butter tarts

This recipe is more than half a century old.

I wrote it out on a recipe card, copying it from my great aunt Marjorie’s recipe card. On her card (and now mine), the back says, “Original recipe from Elva Doyle in South Arm Cookbook, 1950?”

Elva’s recipe is simple and quick. The only patience comes in rolling out that pie pastry.

But these butter tarts are worth it.

They are full of hidden gems: currants, raisins, pecans . . . even figs and dates. They hide in a gooey, buttery filling that is the perfect foil to their flaky pie pastry crust.

Butter tarts are meant to be pantry food. Bake a batch, put them in a tin, and let them ripen. After a couple days, the character of the brown sugar starts to shine and their velvety centre tastes richer and darker than ever.

And did you know that butter tarts are enjoying a resurgence as a uniquely Canadian food? I say, anything I can bake and eat to bump doughnuts and poutine down the list, and I’ll be a proud Canuck.


A note about the filling:
Yes, you can choose whatever you like. For this batch, I used 3/4 c. raisins, 1/3 c. currants and 1/4 c. pecans.

A note for the gluten-free:
Gluten-free pastry crust tastes good, but is more difficult to work with. I’d recommend making small tarts with a special tart shaper device. I have a wooden tart shaper that I cover in GF flour and then use to push a ball of dough into each tart cup. This is much easier than rolling it out and transferring fragile circles of dough into the tart cups.

butter tarts

bakes 48 small tarts, about 12 – 14 big tarts

2 eggs
2 c. brown sugar
2 tbsp. vinegar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. butter, melted
1 1/3 c. currants, raisins, dates, figs or nuts, chopped
regular or gluten-free pie pastry (enough to make a double-crust pie)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

Make pastry and chill in the fridge.

In another bowl, beat eggs just until the whites and yolks are blended well.

Beat in sugar. Stir in vinegar, vanilla and salt and mix well.

Stir in melted butter and fruit and nuts. Set aside.

Pull the chilled pastry out and roll out circles or make small balls you can smoosh with a tart shaper. Put them in muffin or mini-muffin tins.

Fill with butter tart filling, leaving about 1/4 to 1/8 inch from the pastry top for it to grow.

Bake regular tarts at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes. Then turn the oven down to 350 and bake for 20 – 25 minutes, until the filling is firm.

For mini tarts, bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 5 minutes. Then turn the oven down to 350 and bake for 7 – 9 minutes, until the filling is firm.

Let cool before removing from pans.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

west african peanut soup via winnipeg

One crazy winter, I decided to visit friends in Winnipeg in February.

I was living on the West Coast and missing snow, so I thought February would be a perfect time to go to Winterpeg.

I packed my boots and my warmest socks and bravely flew away from the cherry blossoms.

I landed in winter. In fact, it was so wintery that my friend had plugged her car in while it sat for 10 minutes in the airport parking lot.

Perfect, I thought. That was when I could still feel my toes.

Little did I know I was in for a weekend of the coldest weather Winnipeg had that winter. A cold spell settled down over the city, and I was soon seeing billboards advertising the –44 weather. That’s –44 without the wind chill.

I have many cold memories of that weekend. One of my warmest memories – besides seeing my good friends – was a bowl of soup.

I was happily wandering around McNally Robinson, picking up books and thinking that I could stay in that warm haven forever, when I realized it was lunchtime.

The bookstore had a little café in the corner, and I took a chance on the West African peanut soup. It was exactly what I didn’t know I wanted: rich and smooth and earthy, with a spicy kick.

After the first bite, I began plotting how I could get the recipe. When I put my spoon down, I gathered up my bowl and my courage and went back to the counter.

I praised the soup and meekly asked if they could tell me what was in it. The friendly cashier said they might have the recipe and ducked into the back. He came back with the recipe printed out – the recipe I now have encased in a plastic page protector in my recipe binder.

Turns out that besides peanuts, the soup is full of carrots and sweet potatoes that make it thick and light at the same time.

I still love it. I’ve made a couple changes to the original recipe, primarily so that it doesn’t make enough to feed a small army (or bookstore). But it is still just the right bowl of soup to eat on a cold winter day – even if you live on the coast and that means pouring rain.

west african peanut soup

still a big pot of soup – probably enough to serve 8 - 10

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 big onion, roughly chopped
1 tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
4 big carrots, chopped
2 lbs sweet potatoes (3 or 4), diced
28 oz. crushed tomatoes
1/2 c. peanut butter
8 c. vegetable stock
1/2 – 1 tsp. salt

Heat heavy-bottomed pot over medium-low heat. Pour in oil and sauté onion until translucent, about 5 – 10 minutes.

Add ginger and sauté 3 more minutes, stirring often.

Add cayenne pepper, carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, peanut butter, vegetable stock and 1/2 tsp. of salt. Bring to a boil; then simmer until the vegetables are well cooked, about 20 minutes. Stir often.

Remove from heat and purée. Taste and decide if you’d like to add that other 1/2 tsp. of salt. Grind pepper over. Drop a dollop of honey on, and stir in.

This post is part of Fall Fest 2010, which is a community food blogging event to write about (and eat!) seasonal produce. For more recipes inspired by root vegetables, try these:

Gilded Fork: Hidden Jewels of Harvest
Cooking Channel: Roasted Beet Salad
Food Network UK: Return to Your Roots
Food2: Easy Roasted Root Veggies
Food Network: Root Veggie Sides to Try
Healthy Eats: In-Season Root Veggies
Pinch My Salt: Rutabaga Puff
The Sister Project: Sweet and Savory Soup Too Good to Hide