“She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
"Winter is dead.”
~AA Milne, when we were very young
NOTE: I am away at the moment helping my mother with her treatment for lung cancer. I have set up a few posts to post whilst I am away as a special surprise. Some are new and some are reposts of old favourites that you may have forgotten, or if you are a new reader may not even have seen. I'll be back at the end of May, but in the meantime . . . Enjoy!
PS - I will only have sporadic internet use, so if you ask a question and I don't get back to you . . . it's not that I don't want to. It just may take me a while.
Monday, 31 August 2009
I spent most of my life living in Armed Forces housing, most of my homes being cookie cutter stamps of the same house . . . the only thing different being it's location, having lived in almost every province in Canada. My father was in the Air Force as was my ex husband. Small, comfortable and sadly lacking in space, something I always wanted to have was a . . . larder.
A lovely room, however large or small, that I could stuff to the rafters with all of the provisions that I could possibly want or need to be able to provide tasty meals for my family . . . something along the same lines as those tasty tuck boxes I used to read about in all those Enid Blyton stories I devoured as a girl . . . but on a much larger scale.
My nan had one as did my first mother in law . . . the shelves filled with jars of preserves, boxes of apples and potatoes, all safely tucked into their newspaper sleeves and beds of straw, nylon stockings full of onions hanging from pegs and smoky hams and sausages hanging from the rafters . . . my grandfather even had barrels of his own homemade kraut.
Finally I have been blessed with a small room that we call the larder here at Oak Cottage . . . a tiny room with shelves along it's walls which lays just off our back entrance, tucked away behind a sliding wooden door. My shelves are lined with all sorts of food stuffs and I pride myself on being able to go inside and produce a tasty meal out of the goodies on it's shelves without much problem at all.
Here are some of the items I would never be without and that I think all kitchens should have in their storecupboards and larders. My favourites list and things I always have at hand here at Oak Cottage.
Good Quality chocolate, for baking and for eating. Although Todd doesn't really like chocolate cakes or the like, I do like to keep a good quantity of nice chocolate on hand to bake brownies and the occasional chocolate cake. Something with at least a 70% cocoa content. I also like to keep a variety of cocoa powders, both natural and Dutch process.
A good quality Balsamic Vinegar, along with an assortment of other vinegars. Sherry, White and Red wine, Apple Cider, Malt, and Rice Wine. You really do get what you pay for here. I also make my own tarragon and other flavoured vinegars, using a good white wine vinegar.
An assortment of mustards, including a good Dijon, grainy, English, and Dry mustard powder. I use them in vinaigrettes, marinades and you just can't beat a nice ham sandwich on a rustic loaf and adorned with a good slather of a tasty mustard.
Capers. I keep several varieties on hand, salt preserved, regular, those exquisite little non pareil capers and delicious caper berries. They are fabulous in sauces and dressings and salads. A Nicoise salad would not be the same without the adornment of caper berries.
Dried mushrooms, an assortment . . . all woodsey and earthy and just waiting to be steeped and made into a delicious soup or tucked into a tasty stew.
Dried pasta. Of course it is nice if you have the time and energy to make your own pasta, but one cannot overlook the blessing of having good quality dried pasta to hand. I like to keep a variety in my larder, some short kinds such as macaroni, and then the longer ones like Spaghetti, linguine, some noodles of various widths, farfelle, lasagna, and of course fusilli and other twisty types. I prefer Italian brands myself.
French Cornichons. Great with cold cuts and cheeses and an indispensable ingredient for making tartar sauce and certain salsa verdes. I also keep several other pickles and chutneys . . . pickled cipoline onions, mango chutney, Branstons and a good quality piccalili.
Dried Spanish Chorizo sausages. These are fantastic additions to omelets, sauteed potatoes, salads, stews, the possibilities are endless. I wouldn't be without them.
Italian tinned plum tomatoes, whole, chopped and pureed. A tin of them and you always have a ready soup to hand, or a tasty pasta sauce . . . the uses are endless.
I love French Mayonnaise. Rich and glossy and in a class of it's own.
Extra Virgin Olive oil, in a variety of guises. I like a nice mild one for cooking and a stronger more full flavoured one for use in salads. I prefer Greek.
A variety of olives, black and green. I love Greek Kalamata, the tiny nicoise olives of France, spanish black and green. I adore oil cured and dried black and green olives and always have several packets of them to hand, ready to be tossed into salads, baked into loaves or pizzas, and to be used as tasty hors d'ouevres and tapas, or eaten out of hand . . . just because . . .
I love honey and I always have several jars in the larder. Runny varities, Italian, French sunflower and lavender, Greek with it's lovely licorace flavour and good old clover honey. I also love set honey, all creamy and white and spread onto thick slices of toasted and buttery home made bread . . . carrots are delicious steamed and then glazed with butter and honey . . .
A variety of flours, organic and stone ground, French, plain, self raising, strong (both white and brown) whole wheat, malt, spelt. They all have their uses, but, please, only keep what you are going to use within a few weeks to hand on the shelves. Store the rest in the freezer as it can go rancid very quickly.
I like to keep quite a few different sugars . . . light and dark soft brown, caster and granulated white, golden caster, icing sugar, dark and light muscovado, demerara, lump sugar. They all have their uses. I also keep a variety of syrups such as Golden, Dark Treacle, Molasses and Maple.
I love Maldon Sea Salt and French fleur de sel. I use them in almost all my cooking. I do keep a large tin of household salt as well, along with a variety of pepper corns . . . green, pink, black and a lovely mixture of the three.
Garlic both regular and smoked, and shallots and onions, both brown cooking and red. These are a must for me, and used often.
A variety of good quality dried herbs and spices. I have quite a few different ones and I use them all frequently. I do love fresh herbs, but the uses of a good quality bottled herb cannot be underestimated.
One thing that I absolutely love and adore is unearthed barrel aged feta cheese. I know this is kept in the fridge but I just couldn't not mention it. It's wonderfully delicious and worth every penny. I also keep a good Parmesan Reggiano that I grate myself and a variety of different strengths of cheddars.
I also have a weakness for Danish butter. It's very good, and I always have several pounds of it in the fridge and freezer, sweet and salted, not to mention some good vegetable shortening.
This is by no means an extensive list of all the things that one should have in their larders, but just a few of my favourite things. It goes without saying that one should keep a variety of tinned fishes as well as fresh fruits and vegetables amongst other things, and I do. I just thought it would be fun to talk about some of my most beloved ingredients.
One thing that you are never short of if you keep bananas, eggs and milk around is a tasty bowl of bananas and custard, my Todd's dessert of choice. Old fashioned yes, delicious yes, satisfyingly comforting, yes . . .
*Bananas and Custard*
You can call it many names . . . creme de la vanille, creme anglaise . . . it matters not. It's all vanilla custard and it is wonderfully delicious when properly made and homemade. Why anyone would ever bother with the powdered version when they can make it so easily from scratch is beyond my comprehension!
1 pint whole milk (2 cups)
1 vanilla pod
4 egg yolks
1 TBS caster sugar
4 medium bananas
Put the milk in a saucepan. Slit the vanilla pod down the centre and scrape out the seeds into the milk with a sharp knife. Drop the split pod into the milk as well. Heat the milk over a medium heat, just until you see bubbles forming around the edges. Remove from the heat and remove the vanilla pod. (Just rinse it off and dry it and you can then stick it into your sugar bin where it will give your sugar a lovely flavour and fragrance . . . no worries and no waste.)
Beat together the egg yolks and the sugar. Pour the hot milk over top of it very slowly, whisking constantly. Strain the mixture into the top of a double boiler. Place over the top of the bottom of the double boiler over simmering water and cook ove rvery low heat, stirring all the time. When it thickens to the consistency of double cream (it should coat the back of your spoon), remove it from the heat and pour it straight into a bowl to reduce the heat. Let cool to warm, before proceeding.
The secret to successful custard is to not be in a hurry. If the worse happens and it starts to separate, whizz it in the blender. You can of course, pre-empt this problem by adding a small teaspoon of cornstarch to the egg yolks before adding the milk.
Peel and slice the bananas into four dessert dishes. Spoon the warm custard over top of them and serve.
Sunday, 30 August 2009
Ever since I read about Coddled eggs on Dorie Greenspans page, back in April of this past year, I have been wanting to experience and taste what looked like a rich and lucious concoction. She made it sound so easy and delicious.
The first thing I needed to do was to procure myself some egg coddlers. An egg coddler is a small porcelain or pottery cup with a lid, that is used to prepare and cook coddled eggs, which are very similar to poached eggs, from what I could see. It took several months and a lot of searching and I was finally able to procure some that fell within my affordability range. Sure, I think I could just have used plain ramekins, but I really wanted to experience that whole coddled egg experience, and to me . . . that meant with a real coddler.
I always use free range eggs. I have never actually tested the taste difference between free range and ordinary eggs myself, so I can't say with any truth that one tastes any better than the other, but I have a conscience, and having had hens myself in the past, I much prefer to pay a bit more and have an egg from a happy hen.
Dorie had suggested the inclusion of little tempting taste additions such as some cream and cheese. Once I had buttered the coddlers and added the eggs, it became clear that adding anything much in addition to the eggs was going to be very difficult indeed, and so I simply spooned a bit of cream on the tops, added some sea salt and cracked black pepper and popped on the lids.
Into the pot they went, all lidded and propped up on some paper kitchen toweling, just to make sure these lovely little coddlers wouldn't crack under the pressure and heat of the stove, and then I poured in some freshly boiled water, just to come about halfway up the sides of the cups. Dorie suggested a steaming time of 5 to 6 minutes.
Now is where the taste additions came in. I wanted to add cheese and spring onions, but lacking any space for this in the actual coddling cup I decided to add them by putting them on the toast fingers that I imagined Todd and myself romantically dipping into the golden silken egg yolk . . .
I'm afraid I took so much time putting those together that our eggs, were a bit more than softly done, and so dipping would not be possible today . . .
but all was not lost though . . . my . . . oh . . . my . . .
What a delightful breakfast we had this morning.
Two lovely free range eggs, accompanied with little buttery toasted fingers of bread, topped with some strong cheddar cheese, a bit of chopped spring onion and popped under the grill until meltingly golden and toasty.
I have not had such a tasty breakfast in a long, long time . . .
In my mind, we were Cathy and Heathcliff sitting at our kitchen table, looking out over the Yorkshire moores . . . he in his nightcap and gown . . . myself, glowing and dewy eyed, and wrapped in a gossamer gown, all soft and cottony and sprigged with delicate pink roses . . .
the reality may have been far, far more different . . .
but these eggs were delicious all the same.
There is no recipe. Just butter yourself some ramekins, drop in some eggs and cream, and any other tasty bits you care to indulge yourselves with . . . and then steam them for several minutes in a covered pot. Add some cheese toasted fingers . . . and voila . . . you have reached heaven!
Friday, 28 August 2009
As I may have mentioned before, or maybe not, we live in a little cottage in the rural English countryside, surrounded on three sides by beautiful English Orchards.
In the springtime, the area is a beautiful sea of pink and white blossom, in the summer a sea of green, filled with tiny miniature apples and pears and about this time of year the air rings with the sound of fruit pickers and is filled with the smell of ripening fruit.
Every intake of air fills the mind and heart with remembrances of the home of my childhood, the beautiful Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia, Canada . . . and dreams of apple pies, puddings and cakes . . .
One of the nice things about it all, is that we are free to help ourselves to the windfalls, and every few days one often finds a big pot of applesauce or apple butter simmering away on the top of my country kitchen stove . . .
In late August and early September my house permanently smells like cinnamon, and nutmeg, and cloves . . .
and apples . . . drying and hanging on strings, all strung across the back of the Aga . . . baking up all sweet and spicy into buttery apple pies . . . or into a cake stogged full of the lovely flavours of sweet sultanas, crunchy toasted walnuts, and moist with applesauce and spice . . .
*Applesauce Spice Cake*
Serves 10 to 12
This is a lovely cake that the whole family will enjoy. Deliciously moist and full of the wonderful flavour of spice, studded with soft raisins and crunchy walnuts, this truly is a joy to bake and to eat. The smell of this when it is baking is truly heavenly!
2 ½ cups plain flour
1 cups caster sugar
2 cups unsweetened applesauce
½ cup vegetable shortening such as Trex, White Flora or Crisco
½ cup water
2 large eggs, beaten
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground allspice
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup chopped toasted walnuts
1 cup sultantas
FOR THE ICING:
¾ cup of softened butter
5 cups icing sugar, sifted
¼ cup milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp lemon essence
Pre-heat the oven to 180*C/350*F. Lightly grease and flour a 9 by 15 inch baking pan and set aside.
Sift together the flour, soda, baking powder, salt, spices and sugar into a large bowl. Drop in the shortening, applesauce, water and eggs. Beat it all together with an electric mixer until it is all smooth, beating well. Fold in the sultanas and walnuts. Spread evenly in the prepared pan.
Bake for approximately 34 to 40 minutes or until lightly browned and the top springs back when lightly touched. Alternately you may use a toothpick to see if it is done, which when inserted will come out clean.
Remove from the oven and place in the pan on a wire rack to cool completely.
Once completely cool make the frosting. Beat the butter until light and fluffy and then beat in the remaining ingredients, beating until smooth and fluffy. Spread evenly across the top of the cake. (leave the cake in the pan and serve from there) If you want you can sprinkle more toasted walnuts over the top of the finished cake. Delicious!
*Note - You can also bake this lovely cake in two 9 inch rounds, giving you one delicious one to frost and eat right away and another tasty one to wrap up and store in the freezer for a delicious treat a few months down the road. ☺
Thursday, 27 August 2009
When I was growing up, my mother only ever made pancakes once a year, on Shrove Tuesday in February, Pancake Day. It was a day we looked forward to all year and we would gorge ourselves on them until we couldn't eat any more. We never ever had them for breakfast, ever . . . and we never ever had anything but ordinary plain pancakes, there was never anything added . . . like buttermilk or blueberries . . .
When my own children were growing up I think I made pancakes every Saturday morning for years and years. I began to appreciate why my mother had only made them once a year. It's an arduous job standing at the stove for what seems like hours, flipping pancake after pancake, only to watch them consumed and inhaled as soon as you scoop them out of the pan! But then motherhood has it's rewards and so you do it . . . and I always made buttermilk pancakes and often added blueberries, much to my children's delight.
If I hadn't added blueberries, I served them up with a big bowl of chilled tinned sliced peaches. Oh, they are lovely spooned over top and covered with lashings of maple syrup . . .
As an adult, pancakes are a treat that I splurge on every once in a while. Never for breakfast . . . I am never all that hungry first thing in the morning, a bowl of cereal usually does me fine, although I do confess to occasionally indulging in an entirely hedonistic fry up . . . Pancakes for supper suits me very well.
Perhaps its a throwback to my childhood . . . or not. But I do like them for supper every now and then. The other day I sprinkled blueberries and granola over top as I cooked them. It was lovely . . . sweet and berry-like and scrummily crunchy and nutty. It almost felt like dessert . . .
Especially when I added the butter and the maple syrup. Right now I am in live with Dorset's Honey Granola, which was perfect as there isn't huge lumps of nuts like my homemade version. Oh they were lovely, and I am thinking now that a dollop of greek yoghurt and some honey drizzled over would have been even lovelier than the maple syrup and butter . . .
Be warned however, the granola will soften upon standing so you will want to eat every scrumptious bit on the day/night. Don't let your imagination stop there though . . . a cooking pancake is the perfect canvas for lots of things . . .
dried cherries and chocolate chips . . . chopped toasted pecans or walnuts . . . sliced bananas and flaked coconut . . . slices peaches, pears and cardamom . . . chopped apples, sultanas and cinnamon . . . fresh raspberries and blackberries . . . dried cranberries, and white chocolate chips . . . poppy seeds and lemon zest . . . why not let your imagination go wild!!
*Blueberry and Granola Buttermilk Pancakes*
Makes about nine 6-inch pancakes
I love buttermilk pancakes full stop, but when you top each one with a sprinkle of blueberries and granola they take on an entirely new life. You get the sweetness of the berries, and then the crunch of the granola. Healthy, healthy, healthy! With the anti-oxidants from the berries and all the vitamins and goodness from the granola you almost feel like mother earth herself! Of course a pat of butter and some pure maple syrup complete the picture!
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 TBS white sugar
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
(I use only free range organic)
3 cups buttermilk
4 TBS butter, melted
plus butter for greasing the skillet
a small punnet of fresh blueberries
about 1 cup of crunchy granola
Sift the flour, baking powder, soda and salt into a bowl. Whisk in the sugar. Beat the eggs, buttermilk and melted butter together. Pour over the dry ingredients and whisk together until combined. The mixture will have small to medium lumps and that is ok, it's what you want.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat until very hot. Brush with some butter, and then ladle in about 1/2 cup of the pancake batter. Sprinkle with a few blueberries and about a TBS of granola. When the surface of the pancake is covered with tiny bubbles and they appear dry around the edges, flip over and cook on the other side until golden brown. Place on a heatproof plate in a warm oven to keep warm while you cook the remainder of the pancakes. (Brush the pan with a bit more butter each time) Serve hot with butter and Maple Syrup.