Monthly Archives: March 2014

Eccles Cakes: Three Fillings


As other places in the world are springing forward, Montreal is actually wintering back with snowstorms and minus 25 C in the air (I can’t believe that two years ago people were already sitting on terraces with a beer, sleeveless, in the same city). As usually, snow is calling for some nurturing foods. Here is something to rave about on a cold March night: Eccles cakes with three different fillings – one is English authentic, one Canadian berry twist, and one which is called ‘place the order’.
The famous North of England sweet delicacy is made of puff pastry filled with mix of dried currants mixed with candied peel, butter, sugar and mixed spice.  Sometimes the currants are replaced by raisin, otherwise we are out of luck for variety. Well, I decided to extend the fillings selection…
The ancestor of Eccles dessert though was quite different from today’s or mine versions of cakes offering a lurid tale of Mrs. Elizabeth Raffald’s recipe that called for a boiled calf foot as a major filling ingredient…and was called ‘sweet patties’…   
Not that I was looking for such an exotic extreme, but I only had dried black currants enough for the first batch of filling, so I decided to make a second filling with dried Saskatoon berries (which were sitting in my pantry for a while screaming to be used), crushed walnuts and candied citrus peel, turning them into a Canadian berry twist on Eccles cakes. 
And when my daughter popped in asking for her favorite raspberries, I couldn’t but make a third filling with frozen raspberries mixed with raspberry jam and candied citrus peel. All of them made a huge hit! If you have some other berries in mind (blueberries, cranberries, etc.) you can totally piece them together with the same filling base (see candied citrus peel + butter syrup mix in the recipe) and I almost guarantee a satisfactory result.
Puff pastry is used to wrap the Eccles cakes filling in and I suggest you use a frozen ready-made one unless you are a pastry chef or are skillful enough to whirl your own in a wink (which I doubt). I used  three packs of pastry (one pack per each filling), which delivered around 56 cakes. As for the fillings, make sure they sit in the fridge for a few hours or overnight to let the juices mellow.

By the time the first bunch of Eccles cakes was piping hot and the tea was steeping, the blizzard increased and the temperature was dropping down fast. Suddenly, a family of gorgeous blue jays flew over to the bird-feeder right outside my window (perhaps to wow me on the cakes)… I was happy I had camera in my hands as I managed to take few of these cool blue jay shots:   

Whatever the weather, once you are close to a plate of these babies still warm from the oven three feelings will be revealed: JOY, HAPPINESS, LOVE. Try them to make them in summer with some fresh berries from your garden: complete awesomeness!

Enjoy your baking!

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ECCLES CAKES: THREE FILLINGS

Ingredients for classic Eccles Cakes with Currants:
Yields: 16 to 20 cakes
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 ½ cups (375 ml) fresh, frozen or dried currants
1/3 (75 ml) cup soft brown sugar
1/3 (75 ml) cup chopped candied citrus peel 
1 tsp (5ml) ground nutmeg
1 tsp (5 ml) ground allspice
1 tsp (5 ml) ground ginger
Juice of ½ lemon, freshly squeezed
14 oz (397 g) package frozen puff pastry
1 small egg, beaten to moisten edges and brush tops
2-3 tbsp Demerara sugar for dusting
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 425F.
Melt the butter in a sauce pan, add sugar, currants, mixed peel, nutmeg, all spice, ginger and lemon juice. Stir to combine and remove from heat. Let cool and keep refrigerated until ready to use.
Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to about 1/8 inch (3mm) thickness. Cut circles 3 to 4 inches (8 to 10 cm) in diameter using a cookie cutter or drinking glass. Place a teaspoon of filling in the middle of the half of the circles you made. Lightly brush the edges with beaten egg. Place the remaining circles on top, crimping the edges to seal. Brush tops with beaten egg white; dust with Demerara sugar. Cut several small slits on top of each cake. Place about 2 inches apart on the greased baking sheet.
Bake for about 15 minutes or until puffed and golden.
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Ingredients for Eccles Cakes with Canadian Saskatoons & Walnuts:
Yields: 16 to 20 cakes
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup (225 ml) dried saskatoons (prarie berries)
½ cup (50g) walnuts, chopped
2 tbsp (15 ml) soft brown sugar
1/3 (75 ml) cup chopped candied citrus peel 
1 tsp (5ml) ground nutmeg
1 tsp (5 ml) ground allspice
1 tsp (5 ml) ground ginger
Juice of ½ lemon, freshly squeezed
14 oz (397 g) package frozen puff pastry
1 small egg, beaten to moisten edges and brush tops
2-3 tbsp Demerara sugar for dusting
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 425F.
Melt the butter in a sauce pan. Add sugar, saskatoons, walnuts, mixed peel, nutmeg, all spice, ginger and lemon juice. Stir to combine and remove from heat. Let cool and keep refrigerated until ready to use.
Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to about 1/8 inch (3mm) thickness. Cut circles 3 to 4 inches (8 to 10 cm) in diameter using a cookie cutter or drinking glass. Place a teaspoon of filling in the middle of the half of the circles you made. Lightly brush the edges with beaten egg. Place the remaining circles on top, crimping the edges to seal. Brush tops with beaten egg white; dust with Demerara sugar. Cut several small slits on top of each cake. Place about 2 inches apart on the greased baking sheet.
Bake for about 15 minutes or until puffed and golden.
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Ingredients for Eccles Cakes with Raspberry & Pecan Nuts:
Yields: 16 to 20 cakes
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup (225 ml) frozen raspberries, crushed
½ cup (50g) pecan nuts, chopped
2 tbsp (15 ml) soft brown sugar
1 tbsp raspberry jam
1/3 (75 ml) cup chopped candied citrus peel 
1 tsp (5ml) ground nutmeg
1 tsp (5 ml) cinnamon
1 tsp (5 ml) ground ginger
Juice of ½ lemon, freshly squeezed
14 oz (397 g) package frozen puff pastry
1 small egg, beaten to moisten edges and brush tops
2-3 tbsp Demerara sugar for dusting
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 425F.
Melt the butter in a sauce pan. Add sugar, jam, raspberries, pecan nuts, mixed peel, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and lemon juice. Stir to combine and remove from heat. Let cool and keep refrigerated until ready to use.
Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to about 1/8 inch (3mm) thickness. Cut circles 3 to 4 inches (8 to 10 cm) in diameter using a cookie cutter or drinking glass. Place a teaspoon of filling in the middle of the half of the circles you made. Lightly brush the edges with beaten egg. Place the remaining circles on top, crimping the edges to seal. Brush tops with beaten egg white; dust with Demerara sugar. Cut several small slits on top of each cake. Place about 2 inches apart on the greased baking sheet.
Bake for about 15 minutes or until puffed and golden.

Dublin Lawyer


I absolutely have to post this, because I can’t stop falling in love with Dublin Lawyer and what can be a better occasion than St. Patrick? It’s hard to imagine more festive and luxurious dish made in a jiffy from just a few ingredients, such as lobster or crab, butter, cream and whiskey (preferably Irish). Yes, it is the opposite of a typical Irish budget meal, but that is why it is deservedly famous as a rare treat called the Dublin Lawyer, ‘’named after the city’s wealthy lawyers and their liking for large amounts of whiskey’’.* I assume more whiskey is applied towards dinner wrap up, but it’s totally optional.

If you want to be a hero or act like a pro, you can take your time to dismember and remove the meat from a freshly cooked lobsters or crabs, which would ultimately deliver the tastiest results. I however, took a shortcut (because ‘we are worth it’ during holidays) and used canned crab/lobster meat to complete the dish in less than 10 minutes. I did the first batch specifically for the photos during the sunset using the canned crab. 

The best part of the process was flambéing the crab meat by drenching it in whiskey and setting it on fire until it extinguishes itself. It infuses the dish with additional layer of aroma and flavor and moderates the harshness of the spirit. A touch of smoked Spanish paprika enhances the exquisite richness of the dish.  Finally, I also happened to have a real Irish butter this time procured from Costco in Vermont.

Later I repeat the same spectacular process with 320 g of canned lobster meat to have 4 generous serving portions. Now, let’s check the final breakdown approximation for 4 portions (from a store bought prices) to see if it is really that expensive: one 320 g can of lobster meat, which is now on special at Loblaws ($15.00); ½ cup Jameson whiskey (around $6.00); cream & butter ($3.00); plus one optional shallot and a pinch of Spanish paprika: total around $28.00. Divided by four, makes around $7.00 a portion – totally worthy holiday dish made in 10 minutes!  What $7 can buy you at the restaurant these days? Perhaps a ‘soup of the day’ or a little ‘crappetizer’ but never something as luxurious. 

Served with some lightly cooked baby carrots and asparagus or peas on the side and a little green salad St. Patrick dinner doesn’t get any better, except it just did.

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One year ago: Fish Chowder
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DUBLIN LAWYER
Yields: 4 generous portions.
Ingredients:
4 large freshly cooked crabs OR lobsters OR, 320g canned crab or lobster meat
4 tablespoons lightly salted butter
2 shallots, minced
½ cup Irish whiskey
1 cup heavy cream
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Pinch of paprika, (smoked Spanish paprika is my choice)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Instructions:
Pull the claws and legs from the crabs/lobsters and separate at the joints into sections, if using freshly cooked lobsters or crabs. Crack with a mallet. Use a skewer to pick out the meat from all the sections except the claws. Set aside. Pick out the meat from the body section, discarding the pointed gills, the stomach sac, and any sludgy brown sediment.
Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook for 5 minutes, until soft. Add the crab meat and the reserved cracked claws.
Pour in the whiskey and ignite it. When the flames die down, stir in the cream. Season with sea salt, freshly ground pepper and a pinch of cayenne. Stir for a few minutes until heated through.
Divide between four warm plates. Garnish with a pinch of paprika. Serve with lightly cooked baby carrots and asparagus or peas.
Adapted from: The Irish Pub: Fabulous Food from the Emerald Isle, Love Food, 2012*

Candied Citrus Peel: Versatile Cooking Ingredient

One of my grandma’s signature preserves was a gooseberry jam with orange peel – a super delicious treat with a strong citrus identity you can never forget. ‘’Can we use orange peel with anything else?’’, I used to ask my mother repeatedly when a kid and she would say: ‘’I’m not sure, but it makes a good still life subject’’… My mother, folks… She was an artist and a kind of a cook who would think that an orangette is made of an apple slice soaked in Grand Marnier. However, her mantra was stuck in the back of my head; for years I’ve been buying a scentless commercial mixed peel the color of a landfill waste for my baking needs like zombie. Until one day I actually read the label, discovered that the major ingredient was not even a citrus peel but rutabaga + a bunch of chemicals… I found myself peeling oranges and slicing lemons in candied-citrus-peel frenzy. I was stunned how easy and inexpensive the method of making a candied peel was. Stupefied and aghast, I was looking at the results of my own fresh and zesty mixed peel wondering what took me so long to discover this treasure trick to do about the citrus waste.
Whoever made this discovery was a genius. For all I know now, people have been using candied citrus for a long-long time. It’s truly a four-season condiment, which is also extremely versatile in its applications. Who said the candied citrus peel is only for Christmas?
Easter is around the corner with candied fruit panettone, cross buns, kulich and tsoureki. But why waiting for it if you can have it right now in your lemon drizzle, chocolate or bundt cake, Eccles cakes (coming next and the actual reason I’m writing this post), raspberry bar cookies, granolas, and so many more… Not to mention the increasing array of cocktails and simple treats where this vivid essential comes to garnish vodka martini, citrus granita or lemon peel yogurt. Heck, I am even using it tonight to garnish the citrus roast chicken with mashed potatoes for my non-fasting party (we have another snow storm outside, so a citrus granita alone would not help much).
 And, of course, the famous Parisian dessert: les orangettes!
The orange peel candied in syrup infused with peppercorns, anise and vanilla pod and dipped in dark chocolate. Va-va-voom! So art deco and so Josephine Baker dance… 
A little recycling effort and here you are with a cup of coffee and a few of these decadent morsels transcending Canadian winter boundary straight into Paris in spring, somewhere between 6ème Saint-Germain-Des-Prés and La Maison du Chocolat. 
 
Finally, please don’t forget about the candied orange peel it when you make your next chocolate fondue…
As usually, I am saving some of my sweet teeth for the summer when I will have gooseberries back in my garden and will be canning them into my Grandma’s humble gooseberry jam along with these little orange shape-shifters for that one and only citrus kick. 
Not every citrus peel needs to be blanched three times. Below, I am giving you three different recipes for Candied Mixed Citrus Peel, the Orangettes and Candied Meyer Lemon Peel, respectively. Here are some general tips on making a candied citrus peel a success:
         * Boiling the peel and discarding the water 3 times is the key to remove bitterness from orange, lemon, lime and grapefruit peels.
         * Adding a bit of lemon juice to boiling syrup will help to prevent crystallization.
          * You can vary the texture of your future candied peel from soft (boiling for 10 minutes) to caramelized and chewy (additional 10 minutes of boiling).
         * Recycle the remnant citrus-infused syrup in cocktails, lemonade, fresh berries coulis, yogurts, etc.
          * The candied Meyer lemon preserve requires only one pre-boil, because the Meyer lemon’s skin is not as bitter as other citrus (especially when in season).
          * If you wish to make your orangettes version as close to the Parisian version as possible, please do use peppercorns, anise and vanilla pod in the boiling syrup and let your orange peels steep in it for at least few hours upon the end of boiling. As for the chocolate, please use the darkest you can find.
Enjoy your home-candying and I hope you will find this post helpful. À bientôt!

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One year ago: Homemade Chicken Stock;

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CANDIED MIXED PEEL
Ingredients:
2 small oranges, peeled
1 small grapefruit, peeled
1 lemon, peeled
1 lime, peeled
1 ¾   cups white sugar
3 tbsp lemon juice
2 cups water for syrup, plus more for blanching
Instructions:
Peel citrus fruits with the peeler. Reserve the fruits for another use. Slice peels in ¼ inch pieces.  Cover citrus peels with water in a sauce pan, bring to boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain and repeat blanching for two more times to remove the citrus peel bitterness. Drain citrus peel and set aside.  Combine sugar and 2 cups of water in a sauce pan, bring to boil and simmer until sugar has dissolved. Add lemon juice. Stir in citrus peel and simmer for 1 hour. Let cool. Drain. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the peel pieces to dry.  Let dry for 20-24 hours. Store in airtight container. Will keep on the shelf for about a week and for about a month in the fridge. Freezes well for longer shelf life.
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LES ORANGETTES – FRENCH BISTRO STYLE CANDIED ORANGE PEEL
Ingredients:
6-7 oranges peeled
2 cups water + more for blanching
1 ½ cups white sugar
3 tbsp lemon juice
5 peppercorns
1 piece star anise
1 small vanilla pod, pulp and bean
Instructions:
Cut oranges into quarters, peel and remove the pulp and save for another use. Slice the peel into thin strips. Remove the pith from the peels using paring knife.  Cover the peels with water in a sauce pan, bring to boil, simmer for 5 minutes, drain and put into an ice cold bath. Repeat blanching two more times. Place all the remaining ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to boil. Add the thrice blanched peel and bring to boil and simmer for about an hour on a very low heat without the lid. Remove from heat and allow the mix to cool overnight steeping peels in the syrup. Next day, drain the peels, distribute on a cooling rack and let dry for at least 6-7 hours. Store in the airtight container.
To coat in chocolate, melt 100g of the dark bitter-sweet chocolate in bain-marie and using tongs or tweezers dip each peel, coating fully or partially and leave to set on a baking sheet.
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CANDIED MEYER LEMON
Ingredients:
3 Meyer lemons, thinly sliced
2 cups white sugar
2 cups water
2 tbsp lemon juice
¼ cup sugar for sprinkling
Instructions:
Place sliced Meyer lemons in a saucepan and cover with 1 cup of water. Bring to boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Drain and set aside. Combine sugar and 1 cup of water, bring to boil and simmer until sugar has dissolved. Add lemon juice. Stir in sliced lemon and simmer for 45 minutes stirring from time to time. Let cool. Drain. Distribute on wire rack, sprinkle with sugar and let dry for 4-5 hours. Store in airtight container on the shelf for one week, or in the fridge for 2 weeks.

Homemade Rosemary Oatcakes for Cheese & Wine Party


My recent cheese degustation at ‘La Fête des fromages d’ici’ event during 2014 Montreal en Lumiere  prompted me to throw my own wine and cheese party for ‘the Oscars’.  It would be like any other cheese and wine gathering, except this time it wasn’t. It was much more than that due to the two new players in the setting, namely, the Rosemary Oatcakes and three- fillings Eccles cakes (will follow shortly). The salty-sweet combo really wowed my guests who were seriously hooked on them urging me to eventually write this post. This column is about the oatcakes, a wonderful day or night snack or tapas base with full, nutty and robust flavor that I can personally munch on all day long.

Oatcake is a traditional Scottish flatbread, an equivalent of what baguette is for French, although the oatcake it’s more of an acquired taste for non-Scottish. I’ve fallen in love with it the day I tried it first and have been baking the basic oatcakes since.  Oatcakes make a great substitute for bread or crackers and a flawless combo with cheese, which is my idea of a great breakfast, quick bite or travel companion. In this case, the herbs (you can use dried oregano, tarragon, sage instead of rosemary) and cracked pepper add some charmingly snooty touch to otherwise humble oatmeal snack.

I love to try local artisan cheeses. There are over 100 cheese producers in Quebec, the province that still remains the leader in Canadian artisan cheese-making. Each of them has his own unique variety of cheese worth trying. But here comes what I don’t like – the price of it. You step into any given grocery and see an impressive display of alluring artisan cheeses.  But you know that the way it looks is as good as this display is ever going to get. Once you turn a little cheese sliver wrapped by the hands of a concerned middleman, you put is back feeling like you just got beaten in a dark alley. This article would be more fluent on the subject of unaffordability of cheese all over Canada to the point that even policemen get caught trying to smuggle cheese from the US into Canada for the profit. 

But I won’t rock the boat any further since the good news is the newly signed Free Trade agreement with European Union will supposedly give us a break in 2015.   For now I’ve discovered my own way to procure local prize winning cheeses for less … by going directly to the cheese farm. The renown Fritz Kaiser inc for example has a great boutique at their manufacturing facility where they sell plethora of their own cheeses for at least 30% less. We have been going there regularly and each time it feels like a blast.

Assets on display at fromagerie Fritz Kaiser Inc.: FYI, you will notice the slight price change (from 2013 to 2014), but still this is nothing compared to the wallet abuse you will experience in a regular store.

Visiting farms on week-ends has many other perks – you have a gulp of fresh air, enjoy peaceful countryside winter stillness, take notes of the new destinations and share all of this with friends and family afterwards during cheese and wine impromptu. Marvelous!

It’s when cheese and wine usual hubbies step in: nuts, dried fruits, berries, honey and of course baguette. This time though (as I already revealed it to you) I decided to replace the traditional bread with Eccles (sweet)and oatcakes (salty) for a gorgeous mouthful.

The advantage of the oatcakes is that it’s easy and fast to make and you can make it gluten free applying gluten free flour.  In the meantime, set your cheese out to get to the room temperature (covered with a damp cheese cloth to prevent drying out) as it will taste best when ‘relaxed’ just by the time your oatcakes will be cooling on the rack. 

I’ve experimented with a few savory versions and this one is close to the real deal. Try it with your own added touch of sophistication (herbs & spices) and you might never want to buy crackers again. Cheers and Say Cheese!

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A year ago: Homemade Granola 
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ROSEMARY OATCAKES
Ingredients:
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/3 cup all-purpose OR gluten free flour
3/4 tsp sea salt
1/3 tsp freshly ground pepper (optional)
1/2 tsp crushed rosemary leaves
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 stick (1/3 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
1/3 cup milk
Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Put the oats into a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add flour, salt, pepper, rosemary, baking powder and butter. Pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add milk and pulse for about 15 seconds until a dough forms. Roll out the dough to 1/8 inch thick on a lightly floured surface and cut out about 30 rectangular or 60 square oatcakes. Arrange the oatcakes on the baking sheets 1/2 inch apart and bake in the middle of the oven for 12 to 15 minutes, or until brown on the bottom. Transfer oatcakes to a rack and cool completely.