Smoky Duck Breast with Tart Black Currant Sauce

Duck lends itself to sous vide cooking and strong flavours, so don’t think I’m part of a cult that only cooks sous vide and with tea. Although that’s not a bad basis for a cooking obsession. But I sincerely believe that this recipe is transformative to a duck breast in the best way. So don’t assume I’ve gotten lazy. Assume that you’ll love this.

As it is sous vide, it’s oddly easy to make on a week night, as you can make it ahead. Of course, with many people working from home, you could take a 10 minute break, pop the duck in the water bath and return at your convenience to quickly brown these darlings when you please. And dry duck breast is a tough, miserable business. Sous vide can keep it lower temperature longer, preserving the texture and eliminating the risk of over cooking.*

My husband loves every bit of this and eats the fat without hesitation. The smoky and salty flavours permeate the fat and flesh, and fill you up, so that all you need is a side green or a salad as accompaniment. Ina Garten’s mashed rutabaga is also perfect with this, but you don’t need it.

You simply wash and dry your duck breast. Salt it all over. Throw it in your cooking bag and pat Lapsang Souching liberally all over your duck breast until you’ve covered both sides. Pack it generously with fresh bay leaves and forget about it for a few hours. The tannins in the tea and bay leaf will tenderise the duck breast and infuse it with delicious smokiness, like duck bacon but meatier.

If you have time, chop an onion in a fine dice, put it in some melted butter in a pan, and stir it in. Leave it on low for an hour or two while you go back to work. When you are ready to brown your duck breast, you’ll have some lightly caramelized onions as a home base for some quickly sautéed Swiss chard. The bitterness of the greens is balanced by the sweet onions and rich duck.

I thank Kenji Lopez-Alt for his sous vide duck recipe. The man was an engineer before he switched to food. You can trust that his calculations are precise, and in the name of food safety I would never vary from his recommendations of cooking times and temperatures. That said, I stick to the very lowest recommended cooking time because I like my duck breast as rare as is permissible.

*(FOR YOU NON-SOUS VIDE BELIEVERS: don’t trust that sous vide cooking is safe? Read this by Cook’s Illustrated. New to sous vide? Read this by Serious Eats engineer-turned-chef J. Kenji López-Alt.)

Kenji is not a snob and so recommends IKEA Lingonberry jam with your duck breast. I don’t doubt him for a minute. Blackcurrant jam would be more French and is what I like, having had it on pigeon every chance I got in France. But I am trying to cut sugar, which is changing my palate. Also, most jam tastes more of sugar than fruit. So I have devised a sauce that has all the flavour of black currant, all of the sour, and as much sweetness as you like. But the black currant is the thing.

This dish goes well with a medium bodied, peppery red wine but is also just a fabulous with a Blanc de Noir. In Toronto this is pretentious. In France this is just Tuesday. We won’t be in France for a while, so let me dream.

The blackcurrant sauce is a reduction of freeze-dried black currents, although if you have fresh or frozen by all means use those. Black currants are high in pectin, which means a steep reduction doesn’t need any thickener. They are boiled down in red wine into a tart juice with fresh bay leaf, peppercorns and a shallot or onion. Much as I love all thing garlic, it doesn’t really work here. I have tried and it just doesn’t fit. You can add a little duck juice at the end if you can get it mostly separated from the fat, but you’ll likely just have melted duck fat in the pan, so skip it.

The resulting liquid is really very tart, but you taste the black currants first and foremost. Then you add a little honey, bit by bit, unless you have the right balance of sweet and sour. I tend to favour the sour, but you just do as you please.

Smoky Sous Vide Duck Breast with Tart Black Currant Sauce

Smoky tea and fresh bay leaf tenderize and flavour a duck breast. Sous vide cooking keeps from going beyond medium rare. Freeze-dried black currants dominate a red wine reduction without the excessive sugar of the more traditional blackcurrant jam.
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Total Time 1 hr
Course Main Course
Cuisine Canadian, French

Equipment

  • Sous vide appliance
  • Cast iron pan

Ingredients
  

  • 2 duck breasts
  • ¼ cup kosher salt
  • ¼ cup lapsang souching tea
  • 1 package fresh bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 cup freeze-dried black currants
  • 2 cups red wine
  • 1 tbsp black peppercorns
  • 4-6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1-4 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp brandy (optional)
  • ½ tsp sea salt

Instructions
 

  • Wash and pat dry duck breast. Rub salt all over. If you have time, leave them uncovered in the fridge overnight. If not, skip it.
    When you are ready to cook, preheat your water bath to 54°C (130°F).
  • Place in a Ziploc bag and sprinkle in tea, making sure to get tea all over every part of the surface on both sides of each breast.
  • Using half of the leaves from the package, line the sides of the bag with fresh bay leaf.
  • Lower into the water, letting all the air out, and cook for a minimum of 45 minutes, up to 4 hours.
  • Heat wine and black currants until boiling, pressing down on currant and stirring them in until fully hydrated. Add in shallot, bay leaves, thyme and peppercorns. Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for about 15 minutes, or until reduced to ½ cup. Turn off heat. Let sit until ready to use.
  • When duck is done, remove the breasts from the bag. Brush off as much of the tea as you can. If it really sticks, you can rinse it off, but if you have a clean scrub brush, try that instead.
  • Heat oil in a cast iron pan set on high heat until smoking.
  • Add duck breast and cook until sizzling, about 2 minutes.
  • Reduce heat to medium and cook about 5 minutes, pressing and moving to make sure the skin is browned evenly. Flip and cook the skinless bottom until barely browned, about 30 seconds. Transfer to paper towel-lined plate and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
  • When ready to use the sauce, remove the herbs and strains out the shallot and peppercorn. You can add in a few more black currants if you like texture in your sauce.
  • Reheat reduction, adding in honey to taste. Add brandy, butter and salt to finish.
  • Slice and serve with sautéed greens.
Keyword #blackcurrantreduction, #duckbreast, #freezedriedblackcurrants, #sousvide, #sousvideduckbreast

Pistachio Meringue Roll with Roasted Strawberries

Welcome Spring, and failing that, welcome Easter. Sadly, we won’t be welcoming family or friends again the year. But don’t give up. Drop off desserts, make each other care packages, decorate whatever outdoor spaces you have, and remember—this will not last forever. It’s not much longer now.

Every Easter we are drowned in chocolates: eggs and their nests, bunnies, chickadees, or more modern creations like some of the beautiful chocolate creations I ordered for my family at the Grand Order of Divine Sweets. I went for the Star Wars theme, but there are many other gorgeous creations, including Wonder Woman and Doctor Who-themed merch, and multicoloured, hand-painted eggs. Chocolate not only makes beautiful gifts, it counts as self care, too.

Every spring I make a lemon cake accompanied by coloured white chocolate eggs, either more lemon or coconut, just for variety’s sake. But this year I went back to my favourite combination for inspiration: pistachio and strawberry. If strawberries don’t represent spring, then what does?

Some of the strawberries we see at this time of year are maybe not as ripe or intensely flavoured as one might hope. Easily fixed by roasting them. I used BraveTart’s recipe, following her recommendation to use toasted sugar, which takes the sweetness down a peg or two. I was keen to use rosewater or orange blossom water as well as spent vanilla pods on my berries, but this might have been pushing the palates of my loved ones, so I’ll save that for a dinner party.

Roasting the strawberries not only concentrates the flavours, it removes the fresh sharpness that is normally such a great balance to the sweetness of a ripe berry. Pistachio is such a gentle flavour, it didn’t want any tartness to overwhelm it.

For the pistachio paste: BraveTart has a beautiful recipe for that as well, and I urge you all to make it and play with it. Only good things will come from such endeavours. However, Soma has a beautiful pistachio paste that you can just pick up when you are buying your Easter bunnies. I always keep a couple of jars on hand, because you never know when you need to make something fabulous at a moment’s notice. I was also lucky enough to come across some Watkins pistachio extract, which is not easily found. You could use almond, but use half the amount. Or use pistachio liqueur, if you can find it. I used vanilla as well. I find it supports the flavour perfectly.

I did this as a roll, but you could easily do it as a stack, or in mini-mason jars as little individual desserts. There are a few steps, and it’s best made the same day, but you can make the pistachio cream, the roasted strawberries, and the candied nuts a day ahead. The candied pistachios could also benefit from rosewater or orange blossom water, but again, it’s not for everyone. The meringue you do want to make same day, and leave time for the eggs to hit from temp, then for it to cool. But it’s not hard to throw together, and it will crack, so you can just not worry about that at all. Cover it with more cream and strawberries and absolutely no one will care.

Pistachio Meringue Roll with Roasted Strawberries

A beautiful pistachio cream coats a chewy, dense, nut-laden meringue filled with roasted strawberries.
Course Dessert
Cuisine American, British, Canadian, French
Servings 8 servings

Ingredients
  

Pistachio Cream

  • ½ cup pistachio paste (see link)
  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • 1 cup mascarpone
  • ½ tsp pistachio or ( ¼ tsp. almond extract)
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract

Pistachio Meringue

  • 1 cup ground pistachios (available at Nuts.com, or make your own)
  • 1 cup white sugar, plus 2 tbsp.
  • tsp cornstarch
  • ¾ cup egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  • ½ tsp pistachio extract

Candied Pistachios

  • 1 cup pistachios
  • 2 tbsp sugar

Roasted Strawberries

  • 7 cups fresh strawberries
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 hull vanilla bean
  • juice from ½ lemon
  • 1 pinch salt

Instructions
 

  • Set the oven rack to the middle position and set the oven to 425°F (220°C).
  • Line a 12 x 17 inch (30 x 43 cm) sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside.
  • In a small bowl, combine the ground pistachios with 2 tbsp of sugar and the cornstarch.
  • Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Begin mixing on medium speed until egg whites are foamy. Increase the speed to medium high and beat until soft peaks.
  • Add remaining 1 cup of sugar in a slow stream, then stop the machine and scrape down the edges.
  • Continue beating until the egg whites form stiff, shiny peaks.
  • Add in the vinegar, pistachio or almond extract.
  • Remove the bowl from the mixer and gently fold in the ground pistachio mixture, one third at a time.
  • Spread the meringue evenly in the pan, levelling the top gently.
  • Place in the oven. Immediately reduce the heat to 275°F (140°C).
  • Bake until meringue is lightly set and light golden brown, about 40 minutes. Leave on a wire rack until completely cool.
  • Turn oven back to 375°F (190°C).
  • Wash strawberries and slice off the tops. Slice biggest ones in half. Toss with lemon juice, sugar and vanilla pod.
  • Roasted, stirring one or twice, until just softened and swimming in juice, about 30 minutes. Let cool.
  • Rinse out the bowl of the stand mixer. Add 1/2 cup of cream to the pistachio paste, and blend together with the paddle attachment. Blend until smooth.
  • Scrape off the paddle attachment and replace it with the whisk attachment. Add in mascarpone, the extracts and the rest of the cream. Beat together until stiff.
  • Spread the cream evenly over the meringue, leaving a little border for spillover.
  • Strain strawberries and rough chop (or squish with freshly washed hands) and spread over cream.
  • If you have a helper to assist with the roll, do so. It will crack. You don't care, because you are not Martha Stewart and you are covering it with cream anyway. Do your worst.
  • Slather more pistachio cream over the outside, and pop it in the fridge or freezer while you candy the whole pistachios.
  • Warm pistachios over low heat with 2 tbsp sugar stirring all the time. Let cool.
    Decorate roll with more strawberries and pistachios.
  • Serve within a couple of hours. Prepare yourself for adoration and pledges of undying loyalty. Happy Easter!
Keyword #pistachio, #pistachiocream, #roastedstrawberries, #strawberry, #strawberrydesserts

Hearty Kale Salad

Isn’t all kale salad hearty? and healthy? Isn’t that why we eat it? Surely nobody actually LIKES kale salad. Well, do it right, and you might.

I was eating kale long before the Great Kale Craze of 2012. I tend to prefer it cooked, if only because raw kale tastes like cut grass, and not in a good way. Why else was everyone drowning it in Caesar dressing back in the day?

That approach is not without merit. A good amount of fat and salt can make almost anything taste good. But withering kale with a physical rub and salting it to soften the texture and flavour can make it something that I actually want to eat. And not just because it’s healthy.

Kale salad also has the benefit of being the only kind of salad that stays nice when made ahead. Whether you are still going into work sometimes, or whether you just want a batch of greens you can dig out of the fridge at a moment’s notice, kale salad is your friend.

The secret is twofold: use strongly flavoured, non-wilting ingredients that can stand up to the kale, then get your hands mucky.

Kale pairs well with strong cheese such as old cheddar or blue cheese. I used beef bacon, because for some reason it just really complements the flavours in this salad, but any bacon would do. Shredded duck with crispy skin would also be a perfect accompaniment, but I topped this with slow roasted chicken to make a complete meal. Keto much?

I always make an incredibly garlicky and mustard-filled dressing with a strong olive oil. Before I toss it and let it sit, though, I salt the kale, and massage it with some force for every batch I wash. I just keep grinding a little salt on, then taking every fresh bit I’ve washed and kneading it like bread to break it down. This recipe is not for baby kale. This is for the hearty stuff that you know you should eat, but are afraid will taste like hay and alfalfa sprouts. It won’t.

This recipe would be great with the addition of my Smoky Onion Pickles, if you have them. Or use a smoked mustard in your vinaigrette, like Kozlik’s Old Smokey.

If you find kale—or any cabbage—hard on your digestion, try sipping some Puerh tea along with it. This fermented tea does wonders with its probiotic properties, and the mushroomy, earthy flavours nicely offset the robust vegetal kale.

Do it! You won’t hate it. You might even like it. And your body will thank you.

Hearty Kale Salad

This one-bowl meal features rough chopped vegetables marinated in a flavourful dressing and kale that is tamed by massage. Hazelnuts and cheddar add fat and umami, carrots and purple cabbage adds crunch and colour.
Course Main Course, Salad
Cuisine American, Canadian
Servings 4

Ingredients
  

  • 2 heads green or purple curly kale
  • ¼ head purple cabbage
  • 4 carrots
  • 4 celery sticks
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 cup toasted hazelnuts
  • 1 cup cubed strong cheddar
  • 4 pieces crispy bacon (beef bacon works well here)
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 2 tbsp strong mustard
  • 3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup olive oil

Instructions
 

  • Wash kale carefully. Spin dry, then rip into smallish pieces.
  • Graet salt over each batch, then rub forcefully and throughy every time, incorporating the fresh washed kale with the salted and massaged.
  • Let the kale sit as you chop your other vegetables and fry the bacon.
  • Fry beef bacon on medium low until entirely crispy. Crumble into big bits.
  • Turn oven onto 350°F. Put hazelnuts on a baking tray and toast for 8-10 minutes, or until fragrant. Rub skins off. Rough chop or crush with a rolling pin.
  • Slice carrots into coins, not too small. You need the freshness and heft to stand up to the kale. Slice celery, erring on the side of bigger pieces.
  • Thin slice shallots.
  • Finely chop or puree the garlic, then mix with other dressing ingredients.
  • Toss dressing with all vegetables. Add bacon, cheese and hazelnuts.
  • Top with smoked duck breast or roast chicken. Or a cup of cooked lentils. Feel yourself slowing becoming fortified against any cold or or dreary landscapes, and wait for spring.
Keyword #kale, #kalesalad, #wintersalad

Christmas Tea Raisin Tarts

We wait every year for traditional Christmas foods. For those of who grew up in Western Canada, Murchie’s Christmas Blend Tea is a cherished annual treat. It’s on my list of seasonal creature comforts, not only for an afternoon break, but as a festive way to start my day.

Since the original writing of this post, Murchie’s Christmas Blend has sold out completely. Not to worry, the Orange Spice Blend is a perfect substitute.  It seems I’m not the only one who gets nostalgic for Murchie’s tea at Christmas!

Black tea is a fabulous ingredient in baking, especially in desserts. These little raisin tarts are not too sweet, thanks to the judicious use of brown sugar and the astringency that comes from soaking the raisins in double strength black tea. The tannins in the tea balance the sweetness of the syrup and the dried fruit, adding depth and just a hint of bitterness due to the extra strong brew. Like a cross between butter tarts and mincemeat, these little treats are delicately spiced, drawing on the flavours in this scented tea blend for a perfectly balanced taste. 

Tiny tartelettes are perfect for gifting and are just the right size to share space on a dessert platter with your shortbread and slices of Murchie’s Christmas Cake. They make a sweet contrast to my tangy Cranberry Apple Christmas Rose Tarts!

I use the rest of the pot to make a hot toddy based on the same flavours in the raisin tarts. You really won’t find a more comforting pairing than a tea toddy with tea-infused raisin tarts! 

CHRISTMAS TEA RAISIN TARTS

A cross between butter tarts and mincemeat, these little treats are delicately spiced, drawing on the flavours in this scented tea blend for a perfectly balanced taste. 
Prep Time 2 hrs
Cook Time 30 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine Canadian
Servings 24

Equipment

  • minimuffin baking trays

Ingredients
  

  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1 cup sultana or Thompson raisins (or black currants!)
  • ¼ cup diced candied lemon or orange peel
  • 1 cup double-strength Murchie’s Christmas Blend black tea
  • ¼ cup dark rum 
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 tsp lemon zest (or orange zest)
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 2 tbsp butter (if salted, skip pinch of salt above)
  • 1 batch your favourite double-crust pie dough 

Instructions
 

  • Roll your pie dough and cut out circles, rolling and re-rolling the leftover dough until you have 48 identical shapes. The ring of a wide-mouth mason jar is the perfect size for mini-muffin pans and should yield the correct number of pastry shells for 4 dozen tarts. Press circles into mini-muffin tins. Refrigerate for two hours, or up to 24 hours in advance. 
  • Preheat oven to 400ºF. 
  • Brew a pot of Murchie’s Christmas blend double or even triple strength. Loose leaf or tea bags both work just fine. 
  • Stir together brown sugar, cornstarch and pinch of salt, if using. 
  • Combine raisins and candied peel in a pot on the stovetop with tea and rum. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes on low. 
  • Turn up the heat to medium and add in the sugar mixture. Stir together for 2-5 minutes, until liquid begins to look a little less cloudy. 
  • Turn off the heat, then add vanilla, zest and butter. Stir until butter is melted and let cool. 
  • Carefully spoon the cooled filling into the prepared tart shells. Try to scoop up mostly fruit with your spoon, filling each shell no more than halfway. Distribute remaining syrup evenly throughout. Caution: too much filling will spill over during baking, making the tarts hard to remove from the muffin tin. 
  • Bake for 12 minutes, checking at 9 minutes to make sure they don’t bubble over. Unlike a cake, you can pop these out of the oven, and then put them back in to brown further if you desire. 
  • Serve with a Hot Tea Toddy. Merry Christmas! 

Notes

This recipe works beautifully with dried currants as well. Substitute raisins with dried currants (or a mixture equaling two cups) and cook for an extra 5 minutes on the stovetop. Pairs equally well with lemon or orange candied peel and zest, or a combination of both.
Keyword #buttertarts, #cookingwithtea, #mincemeattarts, #tea

Cranberry Apple Christmas Rose Tarts

When I saw the rose apple pie on the King Arthur Flour website, I was entranced. Had to make it. But one of the instructions confused me. It advised the use of white sugar to keep the apple slices as white as possible. I can see that brown roses might seem dingy. But white? For Christmas? I wanted red roses!

Cranberry apple is both seasonal and pretty. Dehydrated cranberries are the perfect way to colour and flavour your roses, along with some vanilla bean. The berries are pulverised with sugar and vanilla seeds, and are left to macerate while the dough is cut and resting.

Cranberry and apple is a classic combo, but even with the vanilla, these tarts were missing something. Cranberries and apples are both acidic, so sourness—while desirable—can be dominate here. Sugar alone does not posses enough depth to add counterbalance the high, tangy notes. And I didn’t want to do the heavy spice route, and diminish the brightness too much—just tone it down a touch. Lining the tarts with marzipan proved to be the perfect trick—a little umami and richness to mitigate the intensity of cranberry. And to make these lovely little tarts more Christmas-y!

NOTE: I prefer almond paste for lining pies, but this year it proved impossible to find in stores. If you bake regularly, you might want to order some online. https://www.odense.com

Often when you macerate fruit in flavour sugar for a pie, you add the juices to the fruit after you’ve placed it in the pie crust. I found when I did that, my tarts were too jammy and reminiscent of cranberry sauce. I want the apples to be the dominate flavour here. Besides, apple and cranberries are both full of pectin. You don’t need the tapioca-thickened juices to hold them together. You want distinct petals, not a red, gummy blob. Please excuse the crumbs below. This is blogging verité.

The amounts in my recipe should work well, depending on how thin you slice your apples. (See the King Arthur piece for tips on apple slicing.) I used a mandolin and also tried slicing by hand. Both require practice to achieve even thickness. But if you get some very thin pieces, and they get very soggy, not to worry. You can use them to glue together thicker pieces. They’ll actually add to the amount of apple you can pack into each tart when used this way. And if you run out of apples? Just add some fresh slices, and use the well-soaked mixed in with those that sit in the macerating liquid for a shorter time. You’ll be fine to wing it a little.

I tried baking these at a lower temperature after my first few batches were burnt at the edges. But the crust never firmed up and they fell apart. So I kept the temperature high and covered them lightly with foil halfway through to ensure full cooking and no burning. I removed the foil to let the heat set my little flowers in one final blast.

A dollop of whipped cream would not hurt these one bit. AFTER everyone has had a chance to admire their beauty. If you’ve got some holly, real or fake, use the green to keep the Christmas colours happening.

Raspberry, strawberry or cherries, dehydrated of course, would all work well here. But Christmas only comes once a year! Give these tart little tarts a whirl and brighten up your Christmas table. Much happiness to you all!

Gratitude to @bravetart, aka Stella Parks, both for introducing me to the glories of freeze-dried fruit, her method of macerating apples for a pie, and her fabulous pastry dough. And to King Arthur’s Flour for instructions on how to make a rose apple pie.

Cranberry Apple Christmas Rose Tarts

Dried cranberries coat apple slices to give a seasonal taste and look to a rosebud apple tart. Marzipan softens the sourness of the cranberries and makes them even more Christmasy!
Prep Time 3 hrs
Cook Time 30 mins
Total Time 3 hrs 30 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine American, Canadian
Servings 12

Equipment

  • Food processor
  • muffin tins
  • Tin foil

Ingredients
  

  • 1 batch favourite pie dough
  • 1 ½ oz dehydrated cranberries (or 45 gr) (you can use 1 oz or 30 gr for a less assertive cranberry flavour)
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 3 lbs sweet apples
  • ¼ cup tapica starch also known as tapioca flour
  • 1 tube marzipan

Instructions
 

  • Make pie dough, roll out and cut into circles until you have 2 dozen circles to line 2 muffin tins. Let rest for two hours.
  • Put your freeze-dried berries, sugar, salt and the vanilla seeds together in the food precoessor until the cranberries are powdered, about one minute. Do not add tapioca at this point.
  • Put the powdery mixture in an ziplock bag or a bowl and place it beside the cutting board where you'll be slicing your apples. Add in the hollowed-out vanilla pods.
  • No need to peel your apples.
    Slice apples evenly about ⅛ inch thick. Don't worry if they are not perfectly even. Trancluscent is fine, transparent is for eating. Throw away the first slice that is mostly skin.
  • Cut the round slices in half and throw in with the cranberry-vanilla sugar mixture, tossing to coat.
  • Once all your apples are sliced, let them sit in the ziplock bag, making their own juices, for at least one hour and up to three. Toss and squish once in a while to distribute flavours evenly.
  • When you are ready to assemble your tarts, add tapicoa and give the apple slices one last good squishing to distribute it evenly.
  • Remove the tart shells (pastry dough) from the fridge and preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
  • Cut slices from your tube of maripan, about ¼ inch thick. Line the bottom of the tarts by pressing the marzipan in gently. (Don't skip this step! It MAKES the tarts!)
  • Line each tart with overlapping apple slices, starting at the outer edges and working your way in. Start with the tallest pieces. Use a variety of thicknesses to get a more natural look and to help the bigger pieces stay in place.
  • When there is a small hole in the centre, take a few thin pieces and roll them together, pressing tightly. Jam this little roll into the centre and watch it expand. If there's enough room, do it again.
  • Do not top up your roses with extra macerating liquid, or your little roses will look like little red gummy blobs.
  • Bake for 15 minutes, then check to see that no burning is happening at the edges.
  • Cover lightly with tin foil and bake for 15 more minutes.
  • Remove foil and let cook for 2-5 minutes more.
  • Remove from oven, and let cool for 5 minutes. When cool enough to handle, use a knife to loosen around the edges. Use a fork if necessary to help the tarts out of the pan. The reason to do this quickly is that any juices that may have spilled over could cause them to stick to the pan when completely cooled.
  • Serve with whipped cream or just as is! If you can find any edible metallic spray, gold or silver would be an amazing final touch. Enjoy!

Notes

  • Freeze-dried cherries would make an excellent substitute here. Or try raspberries or strawberries. 
  • I prefer almond paste to marzipan for lining pies, but it’s been impossible to find this year. Odense makes both: https://www.odense.com
  • Mini-muffin tins make beautiful bite-sized rosebuds. Cut the baking time to 20 min, half covered, half not. They can still burn in a shorter cooking time. 
  • Gratitude to @bravetart, aka Stella Parks, both for introducing me to the glories of freeze-dried fruit, her method of macerating apples for a pie, and her fabulous pastry dough. And to King Arthur’s Flour for instructions on how to make a rose apple pie.
Keyword #applerosetarts, #christmas, #christmastarts, #cranberry, #cranberryapple, #rosetarts

Fresh Cranberry Salsa

Welcome to Cranberry Week at The Everything Kitchen!

Cranberry sauce is so easy to make for Thanksgiving. In Canada, we have a long wait between our celebration in October and Christmas. In between now and then, those little bags of fresh cranberries wait patiently on the shelves, waiting for the next holiday. What do they do in the in-between time?

I was trying to think of ways to use use fresh cranberries, in the name of good health and because our use of them seems absurdly limited. I’m not one for dried cranberries, just because they are so sugar laden, you might as well have candy instead. But cranberries on their own can be overwhelmingly tart.

I remembered a recipe I saw years ago for a fresh cranberry sauce. I have termed it salsa, because many people identity that with an uncooked sauce, but really, same word, different language. Call it what you want, this sauce is versatile, delicious, and healthy as can be.

It does make more than you can eat at one sitting, so I’ll follow this post with a few more, highlighting all the delicious ways you can use fresh cranberry sauce for everyday occasions. No need to wait until Christmas! (Or American Thanksgiving. For that, you want my Perfect Cranberry Sauce.)

Fresh Cranberry Salsa

Cranberries are for more than turkey. This fresh sauce can be used for every meal of the day. It does not get healthier than this, folks!
Prep Time 1 min
Cook Time 5 mins
Course Garnish
Cuisine American, Canadian

Equipment

  • Food processor

Ingredients
  

  • 1 bag fresh cranberries
  • 1 orange
  • 1 apple
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 pinch salt

Instructions
 

  • Chop the orange roughly to make it easier to pulverize.
  • Core and slice the apple. Leave the skin on. We are being healthy here, people!
  • Put the cranberries, orange and apple in the food processor and blitz them together until they from uniform, tiny pieces to make a rough salsa. Open the machine and scrape down the sides to avoid any big chunks. Add honey and a touch of salt and continue.
  • You can leave it slightly rough, as I have here, or break it down until it's almost smooth. Smaller pieces are more versatile and easier to use, but a little texture is still desirable.

Notes

This recipe is great on turkey, chicken or fish. It’s also great as a sandwich spread, used to flavour mayonnaise, good in a tuna or chicken salad. It works in salad dressing, in plain yoghurt or in a smoothie, on top of cheesecake, in baked sweet potatoes, melted in the middle of a brie wheel. Check my blog for more ideas! 
Keyword #cranberries, #freshcranberries, #freshrawcranberries

Ugly Soup

Lentil & Potato Soup

I’m sure there are many Italians who do not appreciate the nickname I’ve given this soup, but really, I had little choice. Whenever make this soup for someone for the first time, objections are raised immediately. I mean, it does look like dog food. It’s really just not even a little bit pretty.

Happily, what it lacks in beauty it makes up for in taste. Especially my jazzed-up version. Traditionally, this is a comforting yet very dull soup. But I’ve added a little trick that takes it from good to great, and all because my kids are little potato-heads.

In most versions, this is a plain lentil soup with diced potatoes, a tomato base (I prefer a broth base), some aromatics. Cheap and…not cheerful, exactly, but nourishing. I made it a touch nicer by using Puy lentils or black beluga lentils which retain their shape a little more, are not so musty tasty as regular lentils, and are a less dreary shade of khaki when cooked. I threw in a Parmasean rind to the broth for a little more backbone.

But the greatest tidbit is this: use leftover fried potatoes. Fry them up in olive oil, or bacon grease, or duck fat. Whatever you like. But fry them up with big slices of garlic that get nicely browned and caramelized on the outside and soft and sweet on the inside. Add those to your soup, then add more garlic. And top with Parmesan cheese.

Now come on. Anything would taste great if you cooked it up like that and drizzled it with olive oil. But these garlicky lentils are more palate-pleasing than you can possible believe. And given that they are full of protein, fibre, magnesium, folic acid, zinc and Vitamins A & C, and cheap to boot, why are earth are you not cooking lentils with regularity?

I know you all have Instapots now, so you can pressure cook your lentils, like I did. Or just cook them on a stovetop. I have a stovetop pressure cooker, which I really should use more often. I find it provides me more control and flexibility than a countertop version. But to each her own.

If you don’t have leftover fried potatoes, it’s worth making them for this soup. Plain peeled, uncooked are fine, but we can have good nutrition AND great taste, and so we shall.

This is your new comfort food. And when you’ve made it and surprised yourself, you can torment and delight your friends and neighbours like I have. And feed them well at the same time.

Ugly Soup

Lentil and potato soup gets a flavour boost form two kinds of garlic and hearty fried potatoes.
Course Appetizer, Main Course, Side Dish, Snack, Soup
Cuisine American, Canadian, Italian

Ingredients
  

  • 1 cup Puy or black lentils Rinse and pick over your lentils
  • 3 cups water
  • 8-10 fresh bay leaves (or 3-6 dried)
  • 2 lbs. Yukon potatoes, diced
  • 1 head garlic
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • fine sea salt (non-iodized)
  • 3 tbsp olive oil (or fat of your choice)

Instructions
 

  • Rinse your lentils. If you're using the fancy Puy variety, they should be clean but take a look for tiny twigs nonetheless.
  • Add lentils to a pressure cooker with 3 cups of water, 4-6 fresh bay leaves and a teaspoon of salt. Bring to high heat, reduce to medium high, and cook for 10-12 minutes. The lentils will mostly retain their shape, but if they get a little mushy, that's just fine. That will help add some body to the soup.
  • Or bring the above ingredients to a boil, reduce to a simmmer and leave on the stove for an hour and a half. You choose. (Get a pressure cooker!)
  • While the lentils are cooking away, rinse then dice the potatoes.
  • Preheat a non-stick pan over medium heat. Once the pan is heated, add your oil and let it get hot before adding your potatoes. Throw them in the hot oil, sprinkle them with a tbsp of salt and turn the heat down to medium low. Leave undisturbed while potatoes develop a nice brown crust.
  • Take 6-8 cloves of garlic and slice them into thick pieces, 2 or three per clove. Drop on top of the potatoes as they cook.
  • When the lentils are done, turn off heat. Open the valve for quick release. Once it's quit sputtering, remove the lid. Check to see how much water remains. They should be almost covered but not quite. Add 1-2 cups of chicken stock, depending on how much water has evaporated from the lentils.
  • Throw in the Parmasean rind and the rest of the bay leaves. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer while you turn your attention back to the potatoes.
  • Using a spatula, try to flip potatoes around so that they brown all over.
  • Simmer the lentils for as long as you need to to ensure lentils are thoroughly softened. This could be as little as 5 minutes if the pressure cooker did the trick, but take whatever time you need.
  • Mince 4-8 cloves—I'm serious!—and add them to the soup.
  • Once the potatoes are thoroughly browned, add them to the soup. Stir in grated Parmasean. Taste for salt.
  • Top with more cheese, Italian parsley if you can find it, fresh pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Like most soups, this is better the next day, but it is delicious and fortifying straight from the pot. Stay warm, my friends!
Keyword #lentilpotatosoup, #lentilsoup, #lotsagarlic

Old-Fashioned Dad’s Cookies

My favourite cookies, this recipe is simplicity itself. These cookies are humble, delicious and beautifully unpretentious.

They don’t need beurre noisette (browned butter), they don’t need a topping of large flakes of exotic salts, and they certainly don’t need chocolate chips! (But I can’t stop you, can I?) They just need to made and enjoyed as is.

These may seem plain when compared to the many decadent, multi-layered, adorably shaped cookies that appear all over Instagram and Pinterest. That’s okay. I have always love the delighted look of surprise on the faces of those who try them, often out of sheer courtesy. “These cookies are really good!” they exclaim with shocked expressions. These cookies defy expectations.

This is my grandma’s recipe, and she made damn good cookies. You want super-charged, ultra-loaded, tweaked and upgraded cookies, look elsewhere. Here lies the beauty of the original. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Old-Fashioned Dad’s Cookies

Grandma's original recipe, these plain-seeming cookies are rich in flavour and tradition.
Prep Time 15 mins
Course Dessert, Snack
Cuisine American, British, Canadian

Ingredients
  

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp fine sea salt (or ½ tsp kosher salt)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 375°
  • Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.
  • In a stand mixer, beat together butter and sugars. Add eggs, then vanilla. Alternatively, you can mix them all together by hand in a large bowl.
  • Add flour mixture to the sugar-butter mixture. Stir until combined. Add coconut and oats. Stir in until dispersed evenly. I like to use my hands for this last step.
  • Drop from a tablespoon onto a parchment paper lined cookie tray. Bake for 15 munites, or until tan at the edges and golden brown all over.
Keyword #dadscookies, #oatmealcookies, #simplerecipes, oatmealcoconutcookies

Pumpkin Coconut Soup

This is less of a pumpkin-spice recipe and more of a pumpkin-herb recipe. I started by wanting to use up leftover Thanksgiving pie pumpkins, so I went to a Bon Appetit recipe that caught my eye. It used butternut squash and coconut milk, but a squash is a squash is a squash. Use whatever you have—I certainly felt free to. And that’s what good home cooking is: using up what’s at hand while making it taste delightful.

The Bon Appetit recipe used garlic and ginger as the main sources of flavour, adding a little heat with chili flakes and cilantro. All well and good, but I needed more from my soup. If I’m to be drinking/eating healthy vegan things, they must have maximal flavour, dammit.

An upgrade was easily achieved with the addition of some chopped lemongrass and fresh lime leaves, simmered in with the pumpkin as it cooks. This made a huge difference. My pumpkin soup went from having a nice taste to an excellent one. It meant putting the lemongrass in some cheesecloth, then extracting it along with the lime leaves right before blending, rather than just dumping the whole pot into the blender. A tiny effort well worth the exertion.

This soup is warm, healthy, and cheerful as can be. If you want to reduce the fat content, use light coconut milk. I made a big batch that was a perfect host to leftover grilled shrimp, some sautéed kale from the night before, some quickly cooked green beans. I topped it with the cilantro leaves and toasted pumpkin seeds, and of course peanuts and toasted coconut would be lovely as well. Cilantro haters, you know very well that you can and will skip that particular ingredient. You know who you are.

Pumpkin Coconut Soup

A warming, filling, herbacous soup that is as healthy as it is tasty.
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 25 mins
Total Time 40 mins
Course Appetizer, Soup
Cuisine Southeast Asian
Servings 8

Ingredients
  

  • 1 large onion
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp fresh grated ginger
  • 2-3 Thai chilis (optional)
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, bottom parts only
  • 4-6 lime leaves
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 3 tbsp grapeseed oil or coconut oil
  • 3 tsp kosher salt
  • 4-4½ lbs pumpkin
  • 1 small bunch cilantro

Instructions
 

  • Preheat the oven to 350°.
  • Preheat a thick-bottomed pot on medium heat, adding the oil once it's warm. Dice the onion and sauté until translucent. Turn down to medium low.
  • Mince garlic and chilis, if using. Grate ginger, wash and chop cilantro stems. Sauté everything together on medium low.
  • Peel and seed the pumpkins, or whatever squash you have. A thinner skinned squash willl yield more flesh, so you could start with 3½-4 lbs. Chop into roughly evenly sized cubes and add to the pot.
  • Add water just to cover, then add coconut milk and 2 tsp of salt.
  • Chop lemongrass and wrap in cheesecloth or put into a dispoable tea bag and add to soup. Add lime leaves and salt.
  • Bring to a boil then turn heat down and simmer until pumpkin is soft, about 15-20 minutes. Let cool a bit.
  • Rinse seeds, discarding most of the stringy flesh. Don't worry if you don't get it all, it will dry up and separate more easily after baking. Cover seeds in 1 tbsp of oil and 1 tsp of salt.
  • Spread on a parchment-lined rimmed cookie sheet. Toast for 15-20 minutes, stirring halfway through. Toast until golden brown.
  • Come back to your soup. Just before you pour it in the blender, remove the lemongrass and lime leaves. Fill the blender no more than 2/3 full, and make sure there's a little ventilation if it's still steaming hot. You do not want your kitchen to look like a Jackson Pollack painintg.
  • Blend until silky smooth. Pour back into the pot to reheat before serving. Top with cilantro, pumpkin seeds, and unsweetened toasted coconut, if you have it. Voilà!
Keyword #coconut, #lemongrass, #pumpkin, #pumpkinsoup, ginger

Perfect Cranberry Sauce

Three small additions take your homemade cranberry from good to great.

So everybody knows you don’t buy cranberry sauce. It’s the very easiest thing to make ever.

You buy a package of cranberries, and as per instructions on the back, you boil them with sugar, water and the zest of an orange. Fait accompli.

That does very nicely. But these three small tweaks take your cranberry sauce from good to great in short order.

You replace the water and brown sugar with maple syrup. Add a strong pinch of salt. Add a tiny pinch of cloves. It’s perfect.

The maple syrup adds complexity. The salt adds depth. The musty, heavy flavour of cloves battles the tart tinniness of the cranberries. The ultimate Thanksgiving cranberry sauce. For a Christmas turkey, add an extra pinch of cloves. Tastes like Christmas in a jar.

This is not only a great sauce, it’s a great gift. My family prefers gravy, so I end up putting the cranberry sauce in plain yoghurt for a week. This is a happy occurrence. But I make it for company, and they always describe it in superlative terms.

Perfect Cranberry Sauce

Maple syrup, salt and cloves add a little backbone to this tradiitonal sauce.
Cook Time 5 mins
Course Garnish
Cuisine American, Canadian

Ingredients
  

  • 1 package fresh cranberries (8 oz, 227 g)
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • tsp kosher or sea salt
  • zest and juice of one orange
  • 1 pinch cloves

Instructions
 

  • Put all ingredients in a pot, and bring to boil over high heat. Put a lid on and cook over medium heat. When you no longer hear the cranberries popping, about 5 minutes, turn off the heat.
  • Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

Notes

Cranberry sauce is lovely stirred into plain yoghurt or on top of plain cheesecake. 
Keyword #bestevercranberrysauce, #cranberries, #cranberry, #cranberrysauce, #maplesyrupeverything, #newcranberrysauce, #thanksgiving, #turkeydinner

Double Maple Pear Pie

This is the most Canadian of pies. And just in time for Canadian Thanksgiving, for those of you who don’t like pumpkin pie. (Why don’t you like pumpkin pie? I don’t understand.) Okay, maybe butter tarts or straight up maple sugar pie are slightly more Canadian, but this is delightfully seasonal and tasty as all get out. Perfect for your Thanksgiving table. 

This award-winning pie came first in our local pie contest last year. I was so looking forward to entering again with a new creation. No pie contests being held this year, obviously, but since it’s Thanksgiving, I’m going to focus on gratitude. Thankful for my family, for kind friends, and the comforts of our yearly turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes. Hoping you able to take comfort in the same blessings this year. 

Most of the pear pie recipes I consulted before making this one used either maple syrup or maple sugar. I say double down like you’re at Timmy’s. I have maple flavouring, so I added that as well. And I serve it with a thimble of Sortilège on the side. 

It used to be that you could only find blocks of hard maple sugar at farmer’s markets that you had to grate by hand. Local is always superior, but you can buy maple sugar online now or at Costco. 

Use dark maple syrup if you can find it. I love cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and other spices with pears, but I’ve only used allspice (you could substitute cloves) here because it amplifies the maple flavour without distracting from it. Lemon juice has been replaced by Sortilège, bourbon or rum. 

I always double the recipe so that I can use a variety of pears for a more complex flavour profile. 

Double Maple Pear Pie

The pear pie uses maple syrup and maple sugar combined for an extra dose of flavour. Perfect for Thanksgiving!
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 1 hr 15 mins
Resting time 1 hr
Course Dessert
Cuisine American, Canadian
Servings -8

Equipment

  • Pie plate
  • Tin foil
  • Apple slicer

Ingredients
  

  • 3 ½  lbs. firm Bosc pears, usually 7-9 large pears
  • ¼  cup maple sugar (plus extra for decorating)
  • ¼  cup dark maple syrup
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp allspice (or 1/8 tsp cloves)
  • 1 tsp maple or vanilla extract (optional)
  • 1 tsp maple liqueur, rum, or bourbon 
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 double crust pie crust, rolled and rested

Instructions
 

  • Line pie plate with one half pie dough. Prick the bottom all over with a fork. Roll the other half flat and return both to the fridge. 
  • Preheat oven to 375° F (190°C) in a regular oven, or 350°F (180°C) in a convection oven. 
  • Mix sugar, syrup, salt, cornstarch, allspice, extract and liqueur (if using). Stir together until sugar and cornstarch dissolves.  
  • Section pears with a handheld apple slicer if you have one (see photo), slicing peels off and making each slice relatively even. Toss to coat after each pear to prevent oxidization. 
  • Put pear mixture in the chilled pie dough.
  • Beat the egg with a tsp. of water to make an egg wash.
  • Paint the edge of the dough with the egg wash, then add the other rolled out pie dough in top. Brush egg wash all over. Pinch the edges together.
  • Cut vents with a knife. Sprinkle with more maple sugar on top. Cover loosely with aluminum foil. Place or a cookie sheet to catch any spillage.
  • Bake for 45 minutes covered. Remove foil, then bake for another 30-45 minutes, or until golden brown and the juices are bubbling up through the cracks. 
  • If you double the recipe, you can skip the tin foil. Just rotate the pies, one above and one below.

Notes

  • For deep dish, add another 4 pears and 2 tbsp. maple sugar. Don’t add more liquid.
  • Use pears that are just ripe or almost ripe. Very ripe or over-ripe pears become mushy when cooked.
  • If a pear is grainy, don’t add it to your mix. Just toss it or eat it raw.
  • For the best all-butter, double piecrust recipe, check Brave Tart’s recipe.
Keyword #falldesserts, #fruitpie, #holiday, #maplepear, #maplepearpie, #pearpie, #pie, #thanksgiving

Poached Pears in Magnolia-Scented Oolong

Many of us are familiar with jasmine tea, but magnolia flowers are a prized ingredient in Chinese cuisine as well, appearing in recipes for food as well as in scented tea. 

Magnolia is usually associated with spring, with weddings, with feminine beauty and purity, so now is an odd time of year to feature this flower. But in traditional Chinese medicine, magnolia is also associated with respiratory health, as are pears. And pears are definitely a fall fruit, so we’ve got all the reasons we need to go ahead. (Note that I’m not claiming this combination as a health tonic, but I feel we need every little bit of comfort we can contrive these days.)

The real reason I’ve united these two together is that they are both delicate. Stronger flavours easily overwhelm the beauty of a pear. Now, not all pears are beautiful. Supermarket pears can be dreary and uninspiring unless they are local and even then, they are often picked far too soon. But when you do get one in its prime, it is a shame to bury it under a heavier flavour.

I’ve used Murchie’s Magnolia Oolong  for this recipe, although I’ve also made it with David’s Tea’s version, which also has jasmine flowers in it. Could you make this recipe with jasmine tea? Sure, but why not try something new? These flowers are prized for their beauty and scent and are every bit as lovely in teas as jasmine flowers.

For the pears: different types of pears require different cooking times. The first time I made this recipe was with beautiful little Fiorelle pears, but those weren’t available when I went to the store. Determined not to let the memory of the perfect become the enemy of the altogether lovely, I tried with the pears that I did find. 

For poached whole pears, I used mini-NorthBrites, since I had those from a local farmer. And my word were they incredible! Perfect pear flavour! But such tiny pears are cooked through the minute the poaching liquid comes to a boil, and so receive very little infusion. This is not much of a problem, since the reduction imparts the magnolia flavour very well, and the magnificent taste of these precious pears is fully manifest.  

To poach larger pears in what is some very expensive tea, I couldn’t bury whole pears under a ton of liquid. I solved this easily by slicing them in half, poaching them, and allowing them to cool just a little before peeling them and basting them with the still-reducing liquid. Here’s where the variety REALLY makes a difference.

Both red and yellow Anjous cook very quickly and become slightly grainy. The texture is like that of tinned pears, so not unfamiliar, and still tasty. Certainly, the red ones offer a lovely hue. But a Bosc pear poaches into a lovely firm, smooth texture, and can be cooked just before it’s ripe. It requires a longer cooking time, which allows for greater absorption of the magnolia flavour, and the result is a delight. 

This recipe is not quite vegan, because it calls for honey, but agave syrup would be an acceptably mild substitute. 

When poaching pears, you can peel them first, or poach and then peel. The peels slip off easily if you blanch them and then shock them in ice water, but we don’t wish to dilute our poaching liquid. You can poach them, then peel them while still warm, and thus make a smoother surface. I’m far too impatient for such careful measures, though, so my pears were a little rough on the surface. I don’t care, but if you do, proceed accordingly. Make ahead, store for a few days, or enjoy the same day.

Magnolia Oolong Poached Pears

Pears are poached in a glorious magnolia scented oolong and drenched in a magnolia-pear-honey reduction for a simple, delicate, unexpected dessert.
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 1 hr
Course Dessert
Cuisine Canadian

Ingredients
  

  • ½  cup magnolia oolong loose leaf tea
  • 4 cups water
  • 6 Bosc pears
  • 1 cup pear juice
  • ½  cup honey

Instructions
 

  • Bring water to a boil. Let cool to 85°C (185°F) and add tea. Let sit for 3 minutes, then remove tea leaves and set aside.
  • Peel pears, then slice pears in half, coring with a melon baller. Place pears in tea, bring tea to a boil. Turn heat down to medium and simmer for 2 minutes, or until a knife goes in easily.
  • Remove pears with a slotted spoon to a drying rack.
  • Bring tea back to a boil and reduce heat to medium. Reduce by half, then add in pear juice and honey, and continue reduce to 1 cup.
  • Remove pears to a dish, middle facing down. Brush occasionally with reducing liquid. When it is reduced to one cup, baste the pears again.
  • Drizzle the remaining rediuction over the pears. Serve right away, or store for another day.

Notes

Use reserved tea leaves to make tea to serve alongside the pears. Fine quality oolong can be re-steeped at least a half a dozen times. 
To make the tea again, heat filtered water to 85°C (185°F) and pour over tea leaves. Always bring the water to the tea, not the other way around. Steep for 3-4 minutes, then strain into teapot. (For a first steeping, try 2 -3 minutes.) Do not leave the tea in the water too long—it will become too bitter. 
Jasmine tea would be lovely in this recipe. A white tea is often too delicate to impart much flavour, so I’d recommend a jasmine oolong or green tea, but experiment as you please. The cost of the tea will likely guide any decisions. 
Try this recipe with a chai blend, or Earl Grey, or blackcurrant tea with blackcurrant juice or syrup instead of honey and juice. 
You could also make pears sous vide with a few tea leaves and some honey – omit the juice, as the pears will create their own juices as they cook. Sealed in a vacuum-packed bag, sous vide pears can be prepared a week in advance.
Keyword #magnoliaoolong, #oolong, #pearseason, #poachedpears

Lady’s Slipper and Black Currants

I was delighted to be a guest blogger for Lady’s Baker Tea in PEI. I stumbled across their blog after finding mention of their beautiful teas on a friend’s post, and then I was thoroughly impressed with the care and expertise that goes into their curated offerings, especially the house blended teas. I begged them to allow me to develop a recipe using my favourite, Lady’s Slipper.

Little did I know that black currants are native to North America. Why are they so popular in England, France, and the rest of Europe, but an imported food in North America? The US of A made them illegal in many northwestern states, because their thick foliage interfered with pine tree logging. A few farmers across Canada are trying to reignite the domestic black currant market, but they need a little promotion to put them back into the hearts and minds of Canadians. Here’s my two cents worth:

https://ladybakerstea.com/blogs/blog/ladys-slipper-and-black-currants

Lady’s Slipper and Black Currants

Black currant has been a favourite of mine since childhood, like many Canadians with some British heritage (Scots, Irish and English on my mum’s side). We had it mainly as a jam, and it made me feel a little closer to the Enid Blyton novels I read as a child. It was at once exotic and comforting, cozy, yet refined. I grew up loving black currant tea, as well, although I thought of it as a family preference, not something I thought to serve to friends.

On a family trip to France last summer (remember those?), I was surprised by the presence of black currants everywhere: in the ubiquitous cassis liqueur, as a savory sauce for pigeon or duck, or in cakes, puddings and of course, as a spread. This should not have surprised me, as the north of France would have similar growing conditions to England.

Little did I know that black currant is also native to Canada. It lost its early popularity among Canadian and American settlers when several American states banned the black currant bush as a nuisance that impeded the logging of pine trees. Since then, it’s been seen mainly as an import, a quaint reminder of British teatime. Black currant, however, is as Canadian as the Lady’s Slipper flower, and every bit as deserving of being in this lovely tea blend as any other local berry.

Earl Grey has also long been a favourite of mine, either on its own or in a vanilla-infused London Fog. So I was delighted to discover this precious flavoured tea, Lady’s Slipper. A hint of bergamot, reminiscent of Earl Grey, a touch of black currant, and vanilla to tie them both together. This fragrant, unique flavoured black tea seems quite fitting with shortbread or plum cake in the afternoon but is gentle enough that it is welcome at my breakfast table, too.

I have paired the Lady’s Slipper tea with black currant jam and infused it into cream for this icebox cake, so as to best appreciate all the different notes at play. Adding the black currant jam, made into a syrup with the addition of tea, hints at a trifle, the more complicated British version of an icebox cake. Add some cassis liqueur at your own discretion, if you please, on top of the cookies, but don’t whip it into your cream. You want to savour the delicately balanced flavour profile of the black currant, bergamot and vanilla—as well as the tannic undertones of the Yunnan black tea leaves – in your whipped cream. Bright and familiar strawberries are a welcome addition here, and blackberries fit nicely if you can find them.

The glory of an icebox cake is that you make it a day ahead. It is so easy as to be the culinary version of child’s play. The presence of sugar and vanilla extract in the cream is very low, because there is already enough of each in the tea and cookies. The only trick here is that I ask you to infuse the cream for a few hours, then wait again overnight as the cookies meld and bloom into their layers of jammy tea-syrup, berries and cream. But I promise it’s worth the wait. This sophisticated flavour profile makes a homey dessert once again seem fancy, like the elusive but homegrown black currant itself.

Lady’s Slipper & Black Currant Icebox Cake

4 cups whipping cream

2 tbsp Lady’s Slipper tea leaves

¼ cup granulated sugar

½ tsp vanilla

2 tbsp Lady’s Slipper tea, brewed

1 cup black currant jam or syrup

3 pints strawberries

2 pints blackberries

½ box vanilla wafers, such as Nilla brand

Infuse the whipping cream with 2 tbsp of dry tea leaf overnight, if possible, or 8 hours. You can pop them right into the container in the morning and reach for them in the evening when you are ready to construct your dessert.

Bring brewed tea to a boil in a small saucepan. Turn off heat and stir in jam until thoroughly blended. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Reserve one pint of whole strawberries and one pint of blackberries for the top layer.

Rinse your berries. Slice 2 pints of strawberries and toss with one pint of blackberries. Stir in jam mixture to coat thoroughly.

Strain the whipping cream with a fine mesh strainer. Add the sugar and vanilla and whip into soft peaks.

Using a clear glass bowl, place a thin layer of cream on the bottom of the dish. Lay cookies over the cream, fitting a few broken cookies into any big gaps. Scatter berries over the cookies, then top with cream. Smooth whipped cream gently to fill in any large air bubbles. Follow the layers in the pattern of cookies, berries and cream until you reach a final layer of cream. Top with whole strawberries and blackberries, and chill overnight.

 Serve with a sprig of black currants, if you can find them. Enjoy with a cup of delicious Lady’s Slipper Tea.

Best-Ever Pumpkin Spice Muffins

AKA The Ultimate Pumpkin Loaf

It is NOT too soon. It’s not! 

I can see you rolling your eye and groaning. I know, I know. Wait for bloody October for the pumpkin spice business to begin. It’s like ads for Christmas paraphernalia before Hallowe’en. Just hang on, dammit! 

I’m getting this out there now because if I don’t, you’ll go ahead and make some other silly pumpkin spice muffin recipe and there is absolutely no need. This is it. Full stop. 

Ûber-pumpkin-spice muffins. Ultimate pumpkin spice muffins. Top-tier, best-ever, incomparable, essential, supreme, perfect pumpkin spice muffin recipe. No need to trust me. Try it yourself. You’ll see. 

This definitive pumpkin spice muffin recipe, which works equally well as a loaf, is a variation on a recipe I found in an old Food & Drink magazine around 15 years ago. I’ve tried others but they don’t deliver like this one does. Everyone—and I do mean EVERYONE—who has tried it loves it. Obviously pumpkin-spice haters don’t even try. 

I swapped out the whole wheat flour for almond flour to make them even more rich and moist. With the added fat, however, I needed to cut it down a touch to avoid making them heavy and soggy. You would think almond flour would be too hearty but it was not, adding a nice heft along with some protein and fibre. They do last longer with the almonds, in fact, they are better the next day, making them ideal as a make-ahead recipe. 

I found the original recipe a little frustrating because you had to mix all your spices, then parcel a bit out and set it aside, and then stop yourself from accidentally mixing up the bowls…all too much for an early morning. Plus I needed more topping for muffins than I did for a loaf. So I’ve upped the spice, added white pepper as a further nod to lovely speculaas. You could do a cream cheese topping, if you’re feeling decadent. 

Best Ever Pumpkin Spice Muffins

Theresa
Pumpkin spice muffins stay moist
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Course Breakfast, Snack
Cuisine American, Canadian

Ingredients
  

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (250 mL)
  • ½  cup almond flour (175 mL) or ¾ cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder (10 mL)
  • ½ tsp baking soda (2 mL)
  • ½ tsp salt (2 mL)
  • 1 ½  tsp cinnamon (7 mL)
  • ½ tsp freshly ground nutmeg ( 2 mL)
  • ½ tsp ginger ( 2 mL)
  • ¼  tsp ground cloves (1 mL)
  • ¼  tsp allspice (1mL)
  • ¼  tsp white pepper (1mL)
  • 1 ¼  cup brown sugar (300 mL)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin (250 mL)
  • 1/3  cup vegetable oil (75 mL)
  • ¼  cup orange juice, fresh or concentrate) (50 mL)

Topping

  • ½ cup brown sugar (125 mL)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (2 mL)
  • ½ tsp freshly ground nutmeg (2 mL)
  • ½ tsp ginger (1mL)
  • ¼  tsp allspice (1mL)
  • ¼  tsp cloves (1mL)

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).
  • Place flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and stir until well mixed.
  • Place spices and brown sugar in a bowl; add eggs and orange juice beat until smooth. Stir in canned pumpkin and oil.
  • Stir flour mixture into pumpkin mixture until just combined.
  • Stir together topping ingredients until well mixed. Spoon a little on top of each muffin, or spread equally over the loaf. 
  • For muffins, place cupcake liners in a muffin tin. Divide batter equally and top with sugar-spice mixture. If using almond flour, bake for 20 minutes.
    With whole wheat flour, bake for 12-15 minutes, or until a piece of spaghetti comes out clean. 
  • For a loaf, line a loaf pan with parchment paper and fill with mixture, then add topping evenly across the top. Bake on middle rack of oven for 50 to 55 minutes or until a toothpick (or spaghetti!) inserted in centre comes out clean. Let pan cool on rack for 15 minutes; turn loaf out and let cool completely.
Keyword #muffins, #pumpkinspice, #pumpkinspicemuffins

Warm Duck and Lentil Salad

I’m not even going to pretend that this is healthy, although honestly, it could be worse. Once you try it, you won’t care in the slightest. Picnics, family BBQs, feeding whosoever is in your bubble, or dropping it off to those with whom you cannot break bread at present. This is hearty, rich, decadent and yet still filled with healthful legumes. I won’t say it’s uncomplicated either—it’s full of several little steps­, which can be broken up and tackled in stages. 

Why is this a salad, rather than a warm side dish? Mainly because I use a vinaigrette to dress the lentils. But instead of oil, duck fat is warmed up and used along with the reduced pan juices. I got this idea from the brilliant Brad Long, chef and owner of Café Belong and Belong Catering, and sometimes star of the Food Network smash hit Restaurant Makeover. His Brown Butter Vinaigrette, born out of necessity, provided me with the understanding that different types of fat can stand in for oil in a salad dressing. Duck fat is delectable in any recipe. Here it is paired with the vinegar from my Smoky Onion Pickles, and the pickled onions, paired with a sweet mustard. Fresh tarragon makes this feel like the most French thing you’ll eat all summer, and well into the fall.

I made use of pre-made duck confit, but roast duck legs would work perfectly here. As long as the skin is crisped and thrown in with the shredded meat, you should have plenty of hearty flavour to boost your lentils, with or without pan juices. 

The other cool trick I learned this week is that sous vide lentils are their own thing entirely. I usually put puy lentils in the pressure cooker, not caring if some become mushy. Preferring it in fact, for lentil and potato soup. I’ve tried cooking them carefully on the stovetop to preserve them in distinct and unbroken form, only to find that the age of the lentils can create wildly varying results. And they require an exceedingly watchful eye. Sous vide lentils, on the other hand, can be left for hours without any fear of disintegration, and leaving you free to turn your attention to other matters. You can cook them in a Ziplock bag, but I cooked them in mason jars.

This salad can be easily doubled for a crowd. Makes a nice side dish or a main with a wholegrain sourdough and an endive salad. 

Warm Duck and Lentil Salad

Hearty, rich, decadent and yet still filled with healthful lentils, this salad uses pickled onions and crispy duck for a hefty wallop of umami.
Course Main Course, Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine American, Canadian, French
Servings 8 people

Equipment

  • Sous vide device (optional)

Ingredients
  

  • 1 cup puy or beluga lentils
  • 2 ½ cups water 
  • 2-4 fresh bay leaves
  • ¼ tsp sea salt 
  • 1 whole leg of duck confit (or 2 roast duck legs)
  • 1 cup tarragon, washed and chopped 
  • 1 cup fresh parsley
  • ½ cup smoky onion pickles 
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp salted capers
  • ½ cup vinegar (from the onion pickles, or white wine or champagne vinegar)
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard  
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • ½ cup duck fat, warmed
  • ¼ cup pan juices 
  • freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 pats duck fois gras (optional)

Instructions
 

  • Rinse the lentils in a fine mesh sieve, then place them in jars or bags with water, bay leaves and salt. Set sous vide devise to 190ºF (87ºC) and cook for 90 minutes, or up to 3 hours. Open and let cool. Drain and set aside. 
  • Alternatively, bring lentils, salt, bay leaves to a boil in 4 cups of water, then simmer until tender, 25-30 minutes.
  • Place hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and roast at 350ºF for 12-15 minutes. Let cool. Rub off most of the skins, then chop roughly with a knife or pulse in a food processor until roughly ground. Set aside.
  • Remove the duck from its bag, pouring the juices into a small pan. Bring juices to a boil, then reduce over medium heat until you have about ¼ cup. 
  • Reheat duck in a cast iron frying pan, browning and crisping the skin. Remove the skin and crisp it on all sides. Melt any fat under the skin. Reserve ½ cup of the fat.
  • Remove duck to a cutting board, let cool slightly. Shred with hands. 
  • Chop onion pickles (use fresh mild onions or shallots if you don’t have the onion pickles) into a fine mince. Chop tarragon and parsley, then throw all three into a bowl with the lentils. 
  • Make the vinaigrette: put the vinegar, garlic cloves, capers, mustard, salt and pepper together in a food processor and blitz until smooth. Pour over the lentils, onions and herbs. Warm up the duck fat in the pan. Toss together thoroughly. 
  • Add half of the hazelnuts and the duck meat and skin, and chopped fois gras, if using, and toss again. Top with remaining hazelnuts and a few sprigs of tarragon. 

Notes

You can use your own sous vide duck, buy it, or roast a couple of duck legs to use instead. 
If you happen to find duck foes gras, adding it in will take this dish from decadent to doubly delicious. 
Keyword #duck, #lentils, #salad

Potage Jacqueline

There is something so delightfully nostalgic about an old cookbook. Once beloved, long since fallen out of fashion, then dusted off and revived once more. Like finding your childhood teddy bear or an old photo you didn’t realize you’d kept.

I don’t generally go in for nostalgia. It’s usually only fun for a brief moment; a warm memory, a resurgence of feeling, a fuzzy image—suddenly ungraspable and empty, all-too-quickly receding again into the past. The present comes quickly knocking again to remind you of what’s what.

Not so with old cookbooks. It’s been twenty years at least, but I knew exactly where to find New Recipes From Moosewood Restaurant in my library, and exactly which page to turn to.

I learned to cook from Moosewood cookbooks. As a young West Coast vegetarian whose eating habits offended my family of hunters, I was thrilled to learn that books and restaurants and a whole food culture was geared to people like me, because there was a whole movement of people like me. I am no longer vegetarian, due to the pressure of feeding meat-lovers in my house, but I often eat vegan cuisine when I’m home alone. It’s better for animals, the planet and my health. And more vegetables can never be a bad thing.

This is a non-vegetarian take on a vegetarian soup that I made once for my friend Jacqueline. She was delighted to have a soup bearing her name. I’ve upped the cream and switched out the water for chicken stock. Both tweaks make for a richer soup, but honestly, water or veggie stock will do just fine. I’ve upped the ginger, too, but trust me, it’s not overwhelming. It’s a very balanced, still a very French-seeming soup, perfect for transition weather. Gently from summer to fall we go, back and forth, then and now. 

The other tweak was the lemon. The original recipe called for a floating lemon slice in the soup, which is a beautiful garnish, but it also was essential to the flavour, but a very uneven delivery method. I didn’t want the acid of lemon juice, and I didn’t want to boil the lemon zest, which would make the soup unbearably bitter. So, I grated so zest—a fair bit—to be blended in with the cream. It makes the sweet potato soup tastier and less insistently healthful.

If you can find fresh bay leaf, please do use it—dried is acceptable but just not the same. Tarragon also makes a lovely garnish. Potage Jacqueline, la deuxième fois.

Potage Jacqueline

A luxurious update of an old Moosewood recipe, sweet potatoes and cream scented with ginger.
Prep Time 30 mins
Course Appetizer, Side Dish, Snack, Soup
Cuisine American, Canadian, French

Ingredients
  

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 2 large onions, or 3 small
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
  • 6 fresh bay leaves
  • 3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 4 cups chicken stock 
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • ¼ tsp white pepper
  • 1 cup fresh whipping cream
  • 1 tbsp freshly grated lemon zest 

Instructions
 

  • Melt butter in oil over medium low heat. Sauté onions slowly until they are translucent. Add ginger and celery, stirring until celery is soft. 
  • Add chopped sweet potatoes, salt, bay leaf, white pepper and chicken stock. If you have the leaves from the celery, throw that in too. If the stock doesn’t quite cover the potatoes, don’t worry, they will submerge as they cook. You want them to be almost covered by liquid, not quite. Add more stock or water as needed, leaving about half an inch of potatoes sticking out. 
  • Bring to a boil, then simmer over medium heat for about 25 minutes, until the potatoes are thoroughly softened. Let cool a little to make the soup easier to handle. Remove bay leaves and celery leaves, if using. 
  • Blend soup with cream and lemon zest on high until perfectly smooth, about 2 minutes. Reheat gently on the stovetop. Serve with a slice of lemon and some chopped tarragon, if desired.
Keyword cream of sweet potato, ginger, soup, sweet potato ginger, sweet potato soup, sweet potatoes

Strawberry Pistachio Icebox Cake

The Ultimate in Strawberries and Cream

Is there any more heavenly combination than strawberries and cream? Actually—yes. Strawberries and pistachio. More accurately, strawberries and pistachio and cream. Okay, okay: strawberries, pistachio, cream and cookies. That’s it! I swear!

This is all you need to begin the most divine of all icebox cakes. What is an icebox cake, you ask? It’s like a trifle, minus the custard, booze optional. This is a family-friendly, liqueur and liquor-free concoction, and it is a crowd pleaser. There is nothing to it, but slapping some fabulousness together and letting it sit overnight until it becomes Über-fabulous. Heaven in a bowl, and easy as you please.

I’ve made this before with vanilla whipped cream and it was so good we all scarfed it down until our tummies hurt and then got up again the next morning to gobble it down for breakfast. But strawberry and pistachio has to be one of my all-time favourite combinations (you’ll see many incarnations of this delicious pairing to come on this blog) and it fits so perfectly here.

I have used a store-bought pistachio butter, but from the finest of food merchants: SOMA Chocolatemaker in Toronto. You can make your own, of course, but why would you, when products like this exist. Next time you are in the Distillery District or on Queen West, stop in a grab a couple of jars (the hazelnut too), along with a myriad of other treats.*

SOMA Chocolatemaker makes beautiful pistachio paste.

If you’d like to try this with Homemade Pistachio Paste, the incomparable Stella Parks aka BRAVETART gives you the key here. But I had the SOMA version in my cupboard, and the only raw pistachios I could find were from California. They are bland and lacking in the subtle, magical, ethereal pistachio flavour that comes from Sicilian, Iranian or Moroccan pistachios. So while I’m waiting on a special order of the very best pistachios, I’ll happily buy this smooth and flawless nut butter by people who know their stuff when it comes to good food.

When you layer this cake, the cookies and strawberries will not lay flat or smooth, so you’ll press and spread the cream a bit to fill in any air holes. What doesn’t get filled will likely disappear as the dry cookies expand, absorbing liquid from both strawberries and cream, transforming overnight into the most heavenly, cakey, delightfully cream-covered strawberry slop you will ever have. It’s messy and sludgy and gorgeous in its deliberate disarray.

If you think something so simple and so easy can’t be this divine, you will be amazed and delighted beyond all measure. Try it. What have you got to lose, but your deference to structure, form and—once you taste it—proportion?

*For goods from SOMA: You don’t need to hit the brick & mortar actual store. Everything is online, with FREE shipping within Canada (min $50) & Porch Drops (min $50) + Next Day Curbside pick-ups at the factory. online@somachocolate.com. And NO! They did not pay me to say this. Sadly. Doesn’t matter. Just get your hands on some of this business because it’s the real deal.

Strawberry Pistachio Icebox Cake

Strawberries and pistachio cream soften vanilla cookies into a cake-like texture for a bowl of glorious decadence.
Prep Time 20 mins
Resting Time 1 d
Course Dessert
Cuisine American, British, Canadian
Servings 8 people

Ingredients
  

  • 4 pints strawberries, rinsed and sliced
  • 4 cups whipped cream (1 L)
  • 1 box Nilla wafers
  • ½ cup pistachio paste (storebought or homemade)
  • ½ cup granulated or superfine sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Instructions
 

  • Rinse and slice three pints of strawberries. For the last pint, remove the green tops and set those berries aside for later.
  • Add ½ cup of cream to the bowl of a standmixer along with the pistachio paste. Using the paddle attachment, blend on low until the pistachio is fully incorporated into the cream, scraping down the sides as necessary.
  • Add sugar, vanilla and the rest of the cream. Using the whisk attachment, beat together on low until mostly blended, about one minute, then beat on high until stiff peaks form.
  • Smear a ½ cup of pistachio cream on the bottom of your bowl (preferably glass) to anchor your cookies.
  • Your layers should proceeds like this: cookies, strawberries, cream. Smooth your cream over each layer gently. You want to fill in any huge gaps without completely squahing and deflating the cream. A few holes are not a problem, they will fill up as the cookies expand.
  • Keep going until you are out of sliced berries. Top with one last layer of cream, and chill overnight. You can add your whole berries to decorate before you chill it or after, whicheve rmakes it easier to wrap it up. Let sit at room temperature for 20 minutes before serving.
Keyword #chantillycream, #feedsacrowd, #goopygood, #iceboxcake, #iceboxcakerecipe, #makeahead, #overnightcake, #pistachio, #pistachiocream, #strawberries, #strawberry, #strawberrycake, #strawberrycakerecipe, #summerdesserts, #whippingcream

Haskap Berry Slushie

The newest, weirdest, surprisingly pleasing superfood

Haskap. How do you say that? Just as it sounds – with an “a” like “at” or “hat”. Doesn’t reel off the tongue with great ease, nor does it recall easily, since it sounds like nothing else you might hear in regular conversation. It is said to derive from a Japanese word; I’m sure there’s a gentler Japanese pronunciation than the awkward noise I’ve heard people make when referring to this berry. They are known by prettier monikers, too: edible honeysuckle, blue honeysuckle and honeyberry. This is a trick. It’s meant to make them sound so lovely that you fail to notice how ugly they are. You won’t.

There’s no way you could call these things pretty. I think the visual comparisons are immediate and thoroughly off-putting, (at least that my mind, perhaps you’re less squeamish or prone to imagination), so I’ll refrain from naming them. Not pleasant to behold in the slightest. 

Behold the haspkap berry. Also known as Swamp Fly Honeysuckle. Go figure.

What they are, though, is incredible tasty, which I only discovered by forcing myself to try one. First bite seemed mouth-puckeringly sour, next bite was all sweetness and joy. Which is great, because they are really, really good for you. 

“Haskap berries are high in Vitamin C and A, fiber, and potassium. Specifically, they have three times the antioxidants of a blueberry, more vitamin C than an orange and almost as much potassium as a banana. They are extremely high in antioxidants such as Anthocyanins, Poly Phenols, and Bioflavonoids.” LaHave Berry River Farm

I don’t know how many berries it takes to defeat an orange, but let’s accept that they are nutrient rich, shall we? Now, not every fruit or vegetable is best consumed raw, but Vitamin C and antioxidants are easily lost through heat, and the raw taste is so lovely, let’s go with it. Most people describe them as tasting like a mixture of blueberry and raspberry, with varying third influences such as Honey Crisp apples, elderberry or black currant. I think the more common association with black grapes is the most apt. And I gotta tell ya; ya put those all together, and —strange as it sounds—somehow it works. 

They are quite addictive once you get a taste for them, but what to DO with such an unappealing mutt of a berry? They are apparently a bit watery when baked, which can be easily remedied by using a small amount of haskap berries with a pectin-rich fruit like a plum (skin-on for more pectin and firmness). I’m guessing such a combo would make a heavenly pie. 

But this is the new superfood! We must find a way to enjoy the fabulous raw taste while – if at all possible – concealing the look of the hideous little beasts. So I went with a boring old smoothie.

I left a little pulp in the smoothie, not wanting to decimate all fibre.

A smoothie seems such a waste, and especially paired with blueberry, which could easily drown out the unique flavour of the haskap berries. But my wild blueberries got smushed and dampened in the delivery box, so there was nothing for it but to give it a whirl, so to speak. Just berries – haskap and blueberry – and a touch of watermelon to keep it sweet, light, and refreshing. Vegan, too. 

It was scrumptious. So delectable, the pickiest of toddlers would gulp it down, no added sugar. I tried swapping out the watermelon for yoghurt and a touch of water (milk coated the berries in a cloying manner). Also fabulous. No added sugar necessary! 

Try this smoothie/slushie. And try haskap berries when you can get your hands on them, anyway you like: in fruit salads, scones, pancakes or in a honey-sweetened cooked sauce. Roasted or raw on a green salad with cherries and goat cheese and almonds. Or a coulis, blitzed and strained. Make people guess what that is on their cheesecake. Or poundcake, ice cream or meringue. Or baked brie. 

Haskap Berry Slushie

Haskap berries are as nutritious as they are weird looking. Great in fruit salad or in a smoothie.
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 5 mins
Course Breakfast, Drinks, Snack
Cuisine American, Canadian
Servings 4 glasses

Equipment

  • Blender

Ingredients
  

  • 1 cup haskap berries
  • 1 cup blueberries, preferably wild
  • 1 cup cubed watermelon, seeds removed
  • ¼ cup water
  • ½ cup ice (otional)

Instructions
 

  • Throw your ingredients together in a blender until desired texture is acheived. I like it a little pulpy for extra fibre.

Notes

I tried substituting the water with milk or blueberry juice. Milk gives a discordant texture – I’ll try oat milk next time. 
Blueberry juice made it too sweet and overwhelmed the other flavours. This smoothie is so sweet already, it doesn’t need the sugar boost from juice. If you must add some, squeeze a quarter of a fresh lemon or orange in. Don’t overdue it or you’ll lose the elusive haskap berry flavour. 
Keyword #haskapberries, #haskapberry, #rawjuice, #smoothie, #superfood, #vegan

TRIGGER WARNING: BUGS

Bonus: if you have little children that love eating bugs, especially in defiance of parental rules and common decency, just tell them you’ve collected some very sizable larvae or baby slugs for them to eat and let them chase the neighbours’ kids through the yard. It’s a superfood AND an exhilarating pastime! 

Cheesecake feature image

New-fangled CHERRY CHEESECAKE

Fruit-filled, sous-vide, light and fluffy, this is the most flavourful cheesecake you will ever have

Welcome to the Cheesecake Revolution. This new ingredient-method mashup gives you a unique type of cheesecake: one with the fruit flavour in the batter, not on top.

I devised this cheesecake recipe for my audition for the first season of The Great Canadian Baking Show. Sad to say that I did not make it on, but the producers were incredibly gracious and I left the audition feeling lucky to have been invited to participate. What do you think—should I audition again? Maybe let me know after you’ve tried this cheesecake. 

This recipe is special thanks to two things: the miracle of sous vide cooking, and freeze-dried fruit. At the time, this was a really innovative use of ingredients and method, although both commonly used by foodies now.

Freeze-dried fruits are everywhere nowadays, but I first learned about them when I saw this post on the Serious Eats website by the brilliant Stella Parks (aka Brave Tart): Super Thick Fruity Food Processor Whipped Cream

Freeze-dried cherries are available all year around.

The idea is that you pulverize freeze-dried fruits with sugar into a fine, Kool Aid-like dust, and then blitz it with whipped cream. The fruit is hygroscopic, meaning that it absorbs some of the moisture from the cream, leaving an extra-thick, smooth, fully flavoured whipped-cream topping. I thought, if you can do this with cream, why couldn’t you do it with cream cheese? I wanted a cheesecake that was flavoured throughout, not just plain vanilla with fruit on top. 

Looks like chunkier Kool Aid.

Well, turns out that if you try to beat fruity sugar into your cream cheese, it doesn’t get all that light and fluffy.  But if you add to it the sour cream and let it sit while you make the rest of the batter, it supplies a fulsome, hearty flavour to your batter. 

Where it got tricky in devising the recipe is that you need granulated sugar to help aerate the cream cheese as you beat it, too. Obviously sugar in the cream cheese AND sugar in the fruit could lead to a cloying, tooth-aching mess. But both require it. So I had to reduce the sugar in each part of the recipe as much as possible while keeping it at a functional base level. Too little sugar in the cream cheese and your cake will be dense. Too little sugar in the fruit mixture and your fruit powder will harden as it is processed. After several trials, I hit a version that is just right.

This recipe owes much to Rose Levy Berenbaum’s Cordon Rose Cheesecake from her classic Cake Bible (as does my Banana Chai Cheesecake recipe, for those who love spice). I tried to replace the lemon juice with cherry juice, but it needed the tang to avoid being overly sweet. I’ve increased the amount of cream cheese to make up for the absorbent fruit powder. I’ve increased the vanilla both to add liquid and make a more assertive base note to complement the cherry flavour.

Once you try this cheesecake, you’ll be sharing it with all your friends. My taste testers were certainly enthusiastic, agreeing that all the experimentation along the way was well worth it. If you don’t have a sous vide device, you can cook this batter in the usual way. It just won’t be as fluffy and light, but then some people prefer a cheesecake that is more dense.

Almond cookies make the perfect crunchy accompaniment to this mousse-like cheesecake. @somachocolatemaker

Top with freshly made cherry sauce, crumble amaretti, and top with whipped cream. Or dark chocolate sauce on freshly pitted cherries. Or mixed berries, or lemon curd, or….you get the idea.

New-fangled Cherry Cheesecake

Theresa
This original cheescake uses freeze-dried fruit to saturate the batter with cherry flavour. Sous vide makes it lighter and fluffier, but you can make it in a traditional cheesecake pan and water bath as well.
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 1 hr 30 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine American, Canadian
Servings 8 servings

Equipment

  • Sous vide device or oven
  • Mason jars, 16 x 4oz, or 8 x 8 oz jars OR cheesecake pan
  • Stand mixer
  • Food processor or mini-chopper

Ingredients
  

  • 3 pkgs cream cheese Philidelphia brand, if possible
  • 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 12 tsp freeze-dried cherries (60 grams)
  • 2 cups sour cream
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 1/8 tsp cherry flavouring 
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Instructions
 

  •  Attach your sous vide device to a heatproof container, then fill ¾ full of water. Preheat to the water to 80 °C or 176 °F
  • Make the flavoured cream first: into the bowl of a food processor (small bowl or mini-chopper if you have it), pulverize the cherries with ½ cup of sugar until it mostly resembles a fine dust. A few little pieces are okay but bigger chunks mean you need to pulse a few more times. Stir into the sour cream and let sit. 
  •  Place the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer and blend with remaining 3/4 cup of sugar using the whisk attachment. Beat for 3 minutes on medium high speed until light and smooth, scraping down the side as needed.
  • Add the egg yolks one at a time on medium low speed, scraping down the sides after each addition
  • Add the lemon juice, vanilla, and salt. Whisk until combined.
  • Stir fruit and sour cream mixture again, trying to make sure as much of the fruit sugar has dissolved as possible, squelching any little pockets you find with a brisk stir.
  • Beat into the cream cheese mixture gently until fully incorporated, no more.
  • Cast the batter into your jars using a ladle or serving spoon. Fill to just below the rim, leaving about a half inch of space between the cheesecake and the lid. Screw on fingertip tight (see here) and place gently in your preheated water bath. Use tongs if you like to avoid getting splashed by hot water. .
  • Cook for 90 minutes.
  • When they are done, use those tongs again to remove the jars to a tray or a flat tea towel on a hard surface. Let them sit until they have cooled to room temperature. Refrigerate overnight. 
  • Top with freshly made cherry sauce, crumble amaretti, and top with whipped cream. Or dark chocolate sauce on freshly pitted cherries. Or mixed berries, or lemon curd, or….you get the idea.

Notes

  • If the cherries aren’t powdered with some sugar they can turn sticky and hard.
  • If the bowl of the food processor is too big, the cherries won’t pulverize into a small enough pieces.
  • Cherry flavouring is really strong – err on the side of caution. You can always add more, but you can’t take it away. Add with care.
  • This recipe works really well with freeze-dried raspberries as well, and I’m sure blueberries would do too. Strawberries tend to be too mild in flavour to stand up to the tang of the cream cheese and sour cream.
Keyword #cheesecake, #cherrycheesecake, #sousvide

Plum & Blackberry Galettes with Hazelnut Frangipane

I’ve wanted to do a plum pie since Cook’s Illustrated rebooted the concept with a Plum Ginger pie in their last spring issue. I thought adding blackberries would be an original way to give it some depth, but a quick online search told me that combo has, of course, been tried a million times. The thing is, it’s usually done with Chinese 5-spice, or more ginger and cloves and orange, and while I love all that, it makes me think of Christmas more than summer.

I did not want to let the fruit sit too long in the sugar, as it does in their recipe, since it would release a lot of liquid that be too much for my little hand pies. I added a hint of Frangelico to make it stick to the fruit after a quick toss. Another dollop of Frangelico in the nut mixture worked again to intensify the flavour.

I made these galettes with purple plums first, then yellow. Both were good partners for the blackberries, and both benefitted from the softening effect of the bed of crushed hazelnuts. Almonds are the more obvious pairing with stone fruit (they’re related), but the earthiness of the hazelnuts combats the tartness of the plums.

With purple plums leave the skins on. It adds colour and retains the shape for defined slices. With the yellow plums, the sweet flesh can be overwhelmed by the tartness of the skins. I left them on and found them quite sharp. They were fine in a pie mixed with purple plums, where all the fruit was baked in the syrup that formed when they were left to rest in sugar for 20 minutes. For the little galettes, I might peel them and use the pretty blackberries to disguise any indistinguishable yellow plum flesh.

You can make one big galette, but smaller ones are great for individual portions (social distancing!) since there’s no need to cut and serve. You plop them on a plate and let people head up to the table one at a time.

Featured image
Seasonal plums and blackberries go nicely. Hazelnut base takes it to the top!

If you want to make pie instead of galettes, I would make both the pastry and the plum filling the day before, and add the blackberries just before you fill the crust. Letting the plums macerate for a good long while makes them swim in a gooey sugary syrup that would be too much liquid for the free-form galettes. But that same sweet nectar will bake into a delightful jammy mess in a deep dish. No need for the frangipane, but if you want a little nut flavour, you can line the bottom crust with some store-bought almond paste. No shame in that at all.

Gooey but tasty!

I used Brave Tart’s (Stella Park’s) Old-Fashioned Flaky Pie Dough Recipe, because it holds its shape well, especially when it’s had a day to firm up in the fridge. And it’s delicious.

Plum & Blackberry Galettes with Hazelnut Frangipane

Small, rustic, freeform pies loaded with seasonal fruit on hazelnut paste.
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Resting Time 1 hr
Course Dessert
Cuisine American, Canadian, French
Servings 8 portions

Equipment

  • Food processor

Ingredients
  

  • 1 batch basic pie dough

Plum & Blackberry Filling

  • 2 cups sliced plums, skins on (from 1½-2lbs plums)
  • 1 cups blackberries
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp Frangelico
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt

Hazelnut Frangipane

  • ¾ cup hazelnuts, toasted and cooled
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1 large egg
  • I tbsp Frangelico
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt

Egg Wash

  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp water
  • crystal sugar, to finish the crust

Instructions
 

  • Divide pie crust into 8 equal pieces by cutting it in half, then in half again. Roll out each piece into a rough 6 inch circle and stack them up on parchment paper. Refrigerate for two hours minimium. This is a great step to do a day ahead.
  • Preheat oven to 350°.
  • Rub loose skins off hazelnuts, leaving any that cling. Grind hazelnuts and ⅓ cup sugar in the food processor into a fine paste, 2-3 minutes. Add butter, flour, Frangelico, salt, and egg. Pulse until smooth and set aside.
  • Slice your plums into ¼ inch wedges and toss with ½ cup sugar and Frangelico.
  • Beat egg with water and set on the table next to all the other components. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper and have a pastry brush handy.
  • Add a heaping tablespoon to the centre of a disc of dough and spread in a circle, leaving a 1" border. Brush the border with egg wash. Spoon some fruit onto the frangipane, and fold the edges in, tucking each fold into the next, making little nests for your fruit fillling.
  • Brush egg wash over outer ring of pie dough, and sprinkle with large crystal sugar, if you have any. Otherwise regular sugar will do.
  • Pop them into the oven and cook for 35-35 minutes, checking after 30 minutes. The crust should be golden brown and the plums and blackberries entirely softened.
  • Cool on a wire rack for one hour. Serve with ice cream, if you like. Or just eat out of hand, without even taking the time to get a plate.
Keyword #fruitpie, #pie, blackberries, galette, galettes, hand pies, hazelnut frangipane, hazelnut paste, hazelnuts, plums, Stone fruit, Summertime

Green Chicken Chili

Tomatillos are not as common an ingredient here in Canada as they are south of the border, but they are an essential part of Mexican cuisine and utterly delicious. They are related to Cape gooseberries, and bear some similarities in appearance and taste with their papery husks and citrusy notes. I absolutely love them, and usually pair them with roast chicken to make enchiladas.

Roast or poached chicken would be an excellent (and more traditional) substitution for the ground chicken in this recipe, but ground was what I had, and everybody loved it.

I have used yellow green beans and yellow zucchini here in a somewhat gimmicky attempt at a monochromatic colour palette, but I couldn’t find yellow tomatoes. The red ones were delicious, just warmed and barely softened, rather than truly cooked.

Green Chicken Chili

A lighter, summery version of chili to celebrate the season.
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Total Time 1 hr
Course Main Course
Cuisine American, Canadian, chilli, Latin-inspired, Tex-Mex
Servings 8

Equipment

  • One large skillet.
  • One rimmed baking sheet.
  • Parchment paper.
  • Large colander.

Ingredients
  

  • 2 medium red or yellow onions
  • 1 jalapeño
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro
  • 1 tbsp Mexican oregano or epazote
  • 1 tbsp hot Spanish paprika
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 (4.5-ounce) can diced green chiles
  • 4 whole poblano peppers
  • 2 lbs ground chicken
  • 2 dozen tomatillos
  • 1 zucchini
  • ½ lb yellow beans
  • 4 yellow tomatoes
  • 1 can pinto bean
  • 1 can navy or cannellini beans
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • sour cream
  • tortilla chips
  • green onions, minced
  • avocado

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to broil. Rinse and pat dry poblano peppers. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and place peppers in oven.
  • Remove the husks from the tomatillos and rinse them in a colander over the sink. Place them whole in the pan with the poblanos. Turn poblanos over, making sure they are blackening evenly.
  • Set a timer for 10 minutes to check on thhe roasting vegetables. Removes poblanos when they are blackened on all sides. When the tomatillos are blackened on top and softened throughout, remove the tray from the oven and set aside.
  • Dice onions. Core, seed, and mince jalapeño pepper, and add to the onions. Mince the garlic cloves and add in.
  • Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large pan over low heat. Sauté the onion mixture until the onions are translucent, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the cumin, Mexican oregano and paprika to the onion mixture and stir, sautéing until fragrant.
  • Wash cilantro carefully, especially if it seems gritty. Place leaves aside, mince the stems, then add them to the pan. Add the canned green chiles and cook for about 5 minutes.
  • Remove your aromatics to a bowl, and set aside. Add the other tbsp of olive oil to the pan and raise the heat to medium high.
  • Add the ground chicken to the skillet, stirring until all pink is gone and brown bits start to appear.
  • Return the aromatics to the skillet and stir into the ground chicken, turning heat back down to medium low. Add beans, stock and salt and leave to simmer.
  • Peel blackened skins from the poblano peppers, then remove seeds (most of them, don't worry too much) and stems. Chop into fine bits and add to the pan. Using your hands, grab each tomatillo and squish it, then drop it into the pan. Once you've finger-mashed them all, stir them in, along with the considerable amount of pan juices they've released, and continue to simmer on low for about 15 minutes.
  • Mince zucchini and chop beans, and add them in, cooking until just tender.
  • Mince tomatoes, (yellow if you can find them!) and add, stirring until just softened. You're good to go! Top with the reserved cilantro leaves and some fresh squeezed lime, as well as any other toppings you desire: green onions, sour cream, avocado, tortilla chips.

Notes

If you have the time to cook your own beans from scratch, do so by all means. They are always better. 
And you can absolutely omit the chicken for a vegetarian version, swapping out the stock with veggie stock or water. I would add a (well-rinsed!) half a cup of quinoa along with the beans in that case. 
Keyword chili, green chili, tomatillos

Tea Tasting with WNED PBS

Hey Tea Cuppers! I’m going to represent the Canadian contingent with an online tea tasting on April 15th in partnership with Sloane Tea.

We’ll be talking about how to brew white, green, oolong and black tea, as well as herbal teas.

We’ll cover single leaf teas, blended teas, and why the journey from crop to cup really matters.

Check it out here:

https://www.wned.org/community/screenings-and-events/Tea-Basics-A-Virtual-Tea-Tasting/

Sing up online by March 21 to order a tea package for $40, or sign up anytime before the event for just $10 to attend.