April 26, 2012

Honey Lemon Spelt Shortbread

Leaving the nest is never easy. 

2 days ago, I up and left the cozy nest of a home I've been living in for the past 2 1/2 years. And while I've been excited to leave Toronto for the summer to pursue my farming dreams a bit more concretely, the sad part was saying goodbye to my housemates, and the beloved kitchen that is always bustling with action and sending delicious smells wafting through the house. I had wanted to make a little video of some of my favourite recipes from the Victor kitchen before leaving (Mohssine's Moroccan pickled lemon chicken for instance and Julie's irresistible upside down peach cake), but I found myself pressed for time, running around town and trying to cram as much as I possibly could into my sister's car before the long drive to Maine. I did however, manage to capture a wee video of one of my favourite roommates. Her royal highness: Pepper, the cat, taking part in some "gardening". She was passionately throwing herself onto the poor unsuspecting catnip plant that Julie had JUST planted minutes before in the garden. It went on and on. And on...

Let's just say, between Pepper and the neighbourhood feline mob, the little plant didn't stand a chance and was obliterated in mere hours. There was not even a trace of it the following day. I am sure going to miss Pepper and her luxurious cameos in my cooking videosSo farewell to Toronto, Victor Avenue, and my dear beloved housemates. I will miss your company, your outstanding cooking, and your cat.

Here are the cookies I made today to feel the sweet comfort of home in a new place. 

Honey Lemon Spelt Shortbread Cookies 
1 cup butter
2 cups spelt flour
1/2 cup sugar
3 tbsp honey
1 1/2 tbsp lemon rind
3 tbsp finely chopped candied lemon peel (optional)

Cream the butter, sugar, and honey. Add grated rind and candied peels. Mix in flour until you get a soft dough. Pat down into a flat circle and refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes. Roll out using a rolling pin and cut into shapes. Bake for about 10 minutes at 375 F putting a rack on the top third of your oven so the cookies don't burn on the bottom. They should be lightly golden on top.

April 20, 2012

Rosemary Lemon Arctic Char

By the time a girl turns 35, you'd think she would know how to gut a fish. Well... 
Yesterday was my birthday and for the occasion I took a very special fish out of the freezer. A couple months ago, my dear friend Alana brought me a frozen Arctic Char all the way from Nunavut. She lives in Iqaluit, which in my mind is almost like living on another planet since, like many Canadians, I know embarrassingly little about life in the North. The fish was caught by a local in Gjoa Haven, given to Alana's boyfriend, and thanks to Alana, managed to make its way to Victor Avenue in downtown Toronto. Now that is a fish with a story! Since I've never gutted a fish in my life, Alana gave me a fish gutting 101 primer, and I managed to get the job done. See it in its full gory glory in my video below, but if you're squeamish, you may want to skip this one…

It was a very special birthday celebration, with a most amazingly delicious cake made by my roommate Julie. Julie is a hat maker (see her website here) and an expert in natural dyes, using various plants and flowers to create gorgeous colourful scarves, wools, and other fabrics. So she made an ombre cake, naturally dyed with strawberries and blackberries, and complete with a meringue frosting, and lemon curd between the layers. It was simply sublime. So today, I feel a little older and wiser (since I now know how to gut a fish), and extremely thankful for my lovely friends who made my birthday feel so magical!

And speaking of feeling grateful…  Thank you so much to everyone for all the wonderful feedback and kudos about the Saveur nomination. You've been so kind and supportive, and I appreciate you helping me get the word out about the online voting! There are only 6 days to vote - so click HERE if you haven't cast your vote yet - my video is called Baba au Rhum, in the best single food video category. And do be sure to look at the other videos, there are some wonderful ones in the running. My personal favourite is the cranberry cider video. But the one about the guy catching the ginormous fish by sticking his hand right in its mouth is pretty awesome too, yowzers!  

April 11, 2012

Blood Orange Cake with Salted Caramel Frosting

Yesterday was my last day at the office for a while. So this was a goodbye cake for my co-workers. I wanted to make an upside down cake, but I was also dreaming of a layer cake with fluffy frosting. So I did both, rolled into one, because who says you can't have your upside-down cake and eat your layer cake too?

For the last 3 years, I've been a lucky lady to get to wake up every morning and go to work with the most amazing team of caring, committed people who are trying to make this world a better place. Working for a non-profit environmental organization is incredibly satisfying but also incredibly exhausting. People work long hours because they care about their work, and as with most jobs, it can be difficult to find the time for one's own projects. That's why I feel especially lucky to be going on a 7-month leave of absence to finish my master's thesis which has been on hold for years. While I'm at it, I'll also be doing an organic farming apprenticeship, learning how to grow delicious veggies and tend to farm animals. Something I've been wanting to do for only, oh, um, FOREVER. So while I'm sad I won't get to see the marvelous people I work with every day, I have to admit that this morning, the first day of my leave, I woke up feeling like a free woman!! Yeeeehaw! I spent the morning taking pictures of the maple tree outside my bedroom window, something I've been wanting to do ever since it started flowering but... couldn't find the time. Ah, life is good.

But back to this cake…  initially it was meant to be a pear upside down cake since I needed to use up a big jar of pears I canned a couple falls ago, but it turns out they had started going bad, and it was late in the evening, stores were closed... so I used the blood oranges I had kicking around on the counter. And then I remembered this gorgeous tart recipe I saw recently on Journey Kitchen that combines salted caramel and blood oranges. So that's how the caramel frosting came into the picture. No video for you this week sadly, but lots of photos instead. And the cake, well I didn't even actually taste it myself, but I can tell you that it disappeared within minutes and there were many smiling faces.

Once last thing. I should tell you about a fortuitous mistake I made with the recipe that gave it a neat twist. When I made the caramel for the frosting, the first batch turned out way too hard so that when I beat it into the frosting, it turned into a bunch of little hard caramel candy pieces, which at first I was upset about but then decided was actually quite lovely. Candy pieces in the frosting! So the recipe below doesn't include this mistake, but you could make it happen if you really wanted to (just leave out the cream when you make the caramel, add a bit of orange juice instead and cook it a bit longer than 6 minutes)...but if you do this, make sure you also make a batch of soft caramel to mix into the frosting.


I adapted Martha Stewart's pear upside down cake, substituting blood oranges for pears, and adding orange rind to the batter, but if you have a favourite upside down cake recipe, you can use that. I found this cake recipe to be a wee bit less fluffy than I had hoped (maybe it's because I didn't have cream of tartar, can any bakers out there tell me?) but on the plus side, it made it easy to cut each piece in half for frosting. I doubled the recipe to make 2 cakes instead of one, which I cut into 4 and frosted between the layers. Here is my adapted version...

Cake topping:
6 tablespoons of butter
3/4 packed brown sugar (I only had white so I used that instead)
6 ripe blood oranges, thinly sliced (I used 2 for the top of the cake and 4 for the layers)

Cake batter:
3 cups flour
3 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 cup butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
4 large eggs, separated
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar (I didn't have any so I left it out)
2 tsp. grated blood orange rind

Salted Caramel Frosting (adapted from chow.com):
1/2 cup white sugar
4 tablespoons water
1/3 cup whipping cream (I didn't have cream so I used a bit of orange juice instead, maybe that's why my caramel turned hard :-)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup butter
1 tsp. sea salt
2 cups icing sugar

Make the topping: Melt the butter over low heat adding brown sugar until dissolved. Remove from heat and cool. Cut a piece of parchment paper in a circle to line the bottom of one of the cake pans. Butter the paper generously. Peel and slice 2 blood oranges, arranging them at the bottom of the cake pan. Pour the sugar mixture on top.

Make the batter: Preheat the oven to 350 F. Mix flour and baking powder. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, add vanilla and egg yolks, one at a time beating to combine. Alternating with the milk, gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, and mix at low-speed just until flour is incorporated (do not overmix). In a large bowl, beat the reserved egg whites and cream of tartar until stiff but not dry. Gently fold the eggs into the batter. Pour half of the batter over the oranges. Pour the other half of the batter into a second buttered cake pan (with no oranges). Bake both cakes until a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean. Immediately invert the upside down cake onto a cooling rack. Once the cakes are completely cooled, carefully cut both across so that you end up with 4 layers.

Make the frosting: Bring sugar and water to a boil over medium heat. Cook until dark amber, about 6 minutes. Remove from heat and add the cream and vanilla stirring until smooth. Allow to cool fully (30 minutes). If your caramel is too hard, you can reheat it and add a bit of water, mix thoroughly and re-cool it. In a large bowl, combine butter and salt and beat at medium speed, adding icing sugar and beating until a soft frosting is reached. Add the caramel and beat until fluffy.

Frost between each layer, adding thinly sliced blood oranges. Enjoy!

April 05, 2012

Maple Syrup Pie

OK folks. Before we get this maple syrup party started, I'm burning to tell you this (which I just found out today)... My blog is shortlisted for the 2012 Saveur Magazine best food blog award in the video category! More specifically, this video about my mom's Baba au Rhum, which I made this past Christmas. As a token of thanks for all your support and for indulging me in that bit of shameless self-promotion, I give you...  MAPLE SYRUP PIE.

A few weeks ago, I went to Québec to make maple syrup with my dad. 

I wrote an article about it which you can read in the spring edition of Edible Toronto Magazine. In the article, I share my 3 favourite maple syrup recipes: eggs poached in maple syrup, my stepdad's maple mousse, and my personal pièce de résistance... maple syrup pie! Yes that's right. Maple. Syrup. Pie. Otherwise known as tarte à l'érable. It's a Québec tradition involving butter, eggs, cream, and maple syrup. And how can anyone resist THAT? There are many different versions of this pie out there, and over the years, after baking several of these, I do believe I have finally nailed the exact ratios for that irresistible gooey pecan pie-like texture that makes me lose my mind just a little bit. Plus, my recipe uses no sugar, only maple syrup! So it's kind of... sort of... healthy-ish?? At least that's whaI like to tell myself. 

It's very easy to make. The hardest part is letting it cool and set for a full 3 hours before slicing! Don't even think about slicing earlier than that.

Here is a video I made to accompany my article and to capture my dad's enthusiasm for collecting maple sap and making his own syrup. He gets as wired as a kid on Christmas day. It's pretty freaking adorable. And I couldn't resist slipping in a little timelapse at the end, showing my own enthusiasm for MAPLE. SYRUP. PIE. (!!!)

(This recipe differs slightly from the one shown in the video... yes folks, this one is the new and improved version!)

All-butter pie pastry:
1 1/4 cup organic unbleached flour (or white whole wheat pastry flour)
1 stick (1/2 cup) organic cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
About 1/4 cup ice water
1/2 tsp salt (skip if your butter is already salted)

Pie filling:
1 1/2 cups pure maple syrup
6 Tbsp. organic butter
1/2 cup grassfed whipping (35%) cream
1 1/2 Tbsp. organic unbleached white flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs

To make the pastry, cut the butter into the flour until it's the size of lentils or small peas. Add the ice water and mix gently with a fork until you can gather a small amount in your hand it comes together. Add water if needed, 1 Tbsp at a time. Do not overmix the dough. Gather the dough into a ball. Flatten the ball into a disc. Wrap it up in waxed paper and place it in the fridge for about 1 hour. Roll out the dough and place it in a 9-inch pie plate, crimping the edges nicely. Place in the refrigerator until the filling is ready.

In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, bring the maple syrup just to a boil. Cook the maple syrup at a gentle bubble, reducing the heat if necessary, for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter until melted. Stir in the cream. Transfer about 1/2-cup of the mixture to a small bowl; whisk in the flour and salt and then whisk this back into the mixture in the saucepan. Allow to cool slightly. Beat the eggs well and whisk them into the mixture in the saucepan. Pour the filling into the pie shell. Bake in a 325 to 350º oven until the centre is golden brown and bubbly, and firm when lightly touched, about 45 minutes. Now, please don't hate me but you MUST allow this pie to cool completely to room temperature and set for at least 3 hours, for clean slicing. Serve at room temperature.