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Archive for the ‘Cooking & Baking’ Category

Pumpkin Scones

I arrived home a week ago and, having not touched the blog once in the entire time I was away, am having some trouble getting back into blogging, mostly because I have so many other things keeping me busy these days.  I had an amazing trip, a whirlwind of activity from start to finish, that left me exhausted and, sad to say, sick with a cold.  Which I then passed to my mother.  Who has now passed it to my father.  So while I am happily recovered, I am now responsible for taking care of two people who are sick, two people who are frankly not very good at being so.  Between work and cooking for and cleaning up after them, I am definitely lagging behind on my list of things I hoped to accomplish this week, the least of which is blogging – I am only just getting to start on all the laundry I dragged home with me, which I’m rather more concerned about!

But incapcitated parents has also meant free range over the kitchen this weekend, which has been delightful.  I’ve been cooking up soups and baking like a crazy person.  Saturday morning I was down to the shops at seven to pick up baking supplies for two different types of scones, which I immediately set to making and which we then brought with us when we went to visit my aunt in the late morning.  Is there anything more satisfying that a really productive baking session early in the weekend?  I went with suitably autumnal flavours too: lemon cranberry (with fresh, local cranberries) and pumpkin.  Both were delicious, though I think I prefer the pumpkin ones (I do love anything with cinnamon and raisins).

Lemon Cranberry Scones

Aside from baking, I’ve also finally had some time to organize the many, many photos from my trip which means I’ll soon be sharing them here!

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Woke up early, baked a batch of lemon and cranberry scones, enjoyed some local blueberries and melon, and had a leisurely read of yesterday’s paper, cup of tea in hand.  Altogether a lovely start to my Sunday.

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A Taste of Summer

It might not be sunny here, it might not even be particularly warm, and yes, I may have been fighting a head cold for several weeks but my calendar assures me it is summer and so summer foods will be prepared.  And in my home there is nothing more summery than this pflaumenkuchen mit streusel.  It was the first dessert I learned to make on my own and I can do it in my sleep.  It is the go-to dessert for office parties, potlucks and picnics and is, for me, the essence of summer.  And of all the fruits I make it with, plums are my absolute favourite. 

I don’t actually use a recipe but, if you want to try it for yourself, Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for blueberry crumb bars yields a very similar and delicious result (though I use more fruit and don’t mix it with sugar or cornstarch).

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My Saturday was surely as close to perfect as any Saturday can be.  I woke up annoyingly early, lay in bed until about six willing myself to fall back to sleep but only becoming more alert each moment, and then by six thirty was out in the garden, weeding and planting one of the last neglected beds.  The day continued in a similarly productive yet leisurely fashion, including the testing of two new recipes.

I started with Dorie Greenspan’s ‘Thumbprints For Us Big Guys’ cookies from the wonderful Baking: From My Home to Yours.  Essentially, they are small hazelnut shortbreads with a dollop of raspberry jam.  What is not to like?  I had some major problems with this recipe, which provided the only stressful moments of the entire day, and only ended up baking half the dough (the remainder is resting in the refrigerator, waiting to be baked off at a future date) and of the two trays that I did bake, only one turned out.  A little frustrating considering all the fuss I had gone through attempting to locate ground hazelnuts before finally grinding my own.  The finished cookies are delicious though and made the perfect teatime accompaniment while I sat out in the garden to finish reading Bill Bryson’s captivating At Home

Tea in the garden (accompanied by suitable reading material, of course)

And then for dinner I finally got to make shakshuka, which has been on my ‘must make’ list since the recipe first appeared on Smitten Kitchen over a year ago.  Eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce, served with pita breads?  And sprinkled with feta?  What about that doesn’t sound completely delicious?  It was a big hit with everyone and will certainly be pulled into the regular rotation.  It looked wonderful in real life but I’m afraid the photograph doesn’t entirely capture its beauty.  Trust me though, it’s fabulous and both quick and easy. 

Shakshuka

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A friend came over Friday afternoon for a chat, a game of Scrabble, and a delicious bite of cake.  We only decided to meet up a few hours before but in the half hour between finishing work and her arriving I was able to whip up a wonderful Swedish Visiting Cake out of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking, From My Home to Yours.  This is the PERFECT afternoon cake, with just a hint of lemon and crunchy almonds sprinkled overtop, and it really is made with things that most people will already have around the house.  And, more importantly, everyone who tried it loved it (the first half disappeared before I could even take a picture)!

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The urge to bake continued through the weekend and Saturday’s financiers were quickly joined on Sunday by a batch of granola.  I hate store-bought granolas (always too oily and too dry) but I love to make this Rose Reisman version, with almonds, dried apricots and dried cranberries.  I have been making it for three years now and it is absolutely perfect for those days when I’m in the mood for a cereal-like breakfast.  It also keeps really well, which was particularly useful when I was living on my own.

Have you guessed by now that all this baking talk is really just a ruse to entertain you while I stall for time in writing up my recent book reviews?  If so, clever you.  I’m particularly eager to relive my enjoyment of Wives and Daughters and to gush about Howards End is on the Landing (oh yes, I am in the ‘love’ rather than ‘hate’ camp for this one, thankfully) but I’m having trouble discipling myself to stay in one place long enough to write a review.  There are so many books to read!  So many flowers to plant!  So many walks to take on these lovely, long spring evenings!  My plan for tonight is to exile myself into my study long enough to get at least one review finished but if tomorrow brings an ‘Archive Raid’ quote rather than actual thoughtful commentary, you’ll at least know what happened!

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All I want to do this weekend is bake.  I have no particular craving for anything and, as usual, don’t really care about consuming what I create, but I really just want to get my mixing bowls out, grease up all my pans, and set to it.  One of the highlights of working in an office used to be having people to feed all my weekend baking to.  Surely, the loss of this audience must be one of the saddest things about now working from home.

So far, I’ve only managed to bake a batch of Elizabeth Bard’s mini financiers aux framboises, knowing that they freeze well if my family doesn’t show much immediate enthusiasm for them (doubtful).  This is the first time I’ve made them since moving home and, knowing my family as I do, I’m sure they’ll be a big hit.  We don’t really like iced cakes and anything with lots of chocolate is apt to be ignored but fruit- and nut-based desserts are generally welcome.  Since these are made with ground almonds and topped with a raspberry, what is there not to like?  Even I, who can usually resist most baked goods, adore these.

If you’re interested, I posted the recipe on the blog when I made these for the first time last fall (this recent batch was much more photogenic than that one!).  They are wonderfully easy and quick to make – high recommended!

I am sort of reading these days, but not too diligently.  I am bouncing from book to book with alarming speed.  The only things that have managed to hold my attention for a sustained period of time have been Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours and Andrew Cohen’s biography of Mike Pearson, which I enjoy more each time I read it.  I mounted an expedition to the central branch of the library on Saturday morning and the result was impressive (though heavy and rather burdensome to haul back on the bus).  I don’t lack for options, just the ability to focus!  Also, while baking on Saturday evening, I rewatched the biopic “Miss Potter” which a) made me desperate to return to the Lake District, b) had me pondering the whereabouts of my favourite Potter book, The Tale of Two Bad Mice (conclusion: sadly, I believe it is in storage) and c) made me very sad that I hadn’t picked up the Beatrix Potter biography I’d been examining in the library that morning (Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature by Linda Lear).  Isn’t that always the way though?

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With the weekend winding down, I feel more in need of a rest now than I did on Friday.  It was definitely, by my usually sedate standards, quite a busy couple of days.  Saturday afternoon was my only quiet period but it was absolutely delightful: I spent it baking a delicious fruit cake and savouring the last few pages of Wives and Daughters:

Sunday morning was more adventurous.  My great aunt is visiting from Ontario and we took her to the Museum of Anthropology out at the University – my first visit there in at least ten years, probably closer to fifteen.  It used to be a favourite field trip destination when I was in elementary school, presumably because it was so close.  By age ten, I had seen enough totem poles and woven baskets to last me a lifetime.  But lately I’d been wanting to go back – it has been a long time, after all – and so when this trip was proposed, rather than run screaming in the opposite direction, I eagerly gave my endorsement for the plan.

I did not discover any burning passion for Northwest Coast art, which is primarily what the museum houses, but I did have a good time and I’m certain I’ll be back again.  I think it is an amazing place to take visitors, people who are not familiar with the traditions or artwork of the First Nations of the Northwest Coast, because the collection really is quite impressive, both in size and quality.  Thinking of all of you, I took a number of photos to share:

 


 

Silver engraving by Haida artist Charles Edenshaw (c. 1880)

 

Spruce root hats

 

The Raven and the First Men by Bill Reid (1980)

My favourite part of the visit was browsing in the Multi-verse Gallery, which houses an amazing variety of collections from all over the world.  About half of the gallery is filled with objects representing indigenous groups from across Canada but the other half includes items from Asia, the rest of the Americas, Africa, and Europe.  It is an overwhelming volume of stuff but so much fun to explore!  It was here that I found the only Haida button blanket on display (I love button blankets): 

Button blanket

It was certainly an educational way to spend the day!

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I am feeling rather smug about my cooking abilities.  Yes, again.  Wednesday was another cold, rainy day.  There have been enough of these lately that the usual routine of curling up with a good book or in front of a good movie (or, if the timing is right, hockey game) has grown tired.  I wanted to spice things up.  So I pulled out At Home With Madhur Jaffrey, which my brother kindly gave me for Christmas but which I hadn’t yet used, and composed the following menu:

 

Lamb Curry with Whole Spices

 

Red Lentils with Ginger

 

Spinach with Garlic and Cumin

 (served with homemade chapatis and cucumber raita)

 

Had I ever eaten lamb before?  Nope.  I have never particularly like red meat but have become more open to trying it as the years have gone by (‘open’ meaning I’ll eat it maybe once every week or two).  Today I just thought ‘lamb might be nice for dinner’, despite never having tasted it before, and it was.  Everything was delicious actually (though I admit some small preference for the lentils over the other dishes) and incredibly straight-forward to prepare.  I was most nervous about the chapatis but they turned out to be simplicity itself.  My father was delighted by the cooking process, my mother enchanted by the result, and all was well in the land.

I will get back to book reviews one day but for now I’m having fun slowly making my way through Wives and Daughters (which I love even more than I did when I reread it last year) and playing in the kitchen.  I’m eager to do some baking next – any suggestions for what to make?

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I love long weekends.  I love how decadent and indulgent they feel, particularly when the weather is like it is today, all cold and wet, and there is absolutely no reason for you to leave the house.  I was very productive yesterday with trips to the library, the bakery and the grocery store and now have sufficient supplies to read and cook and bake my way through the rest of the weekend.

It’s been a strange week for reading.  I’ve been struggling through Georgette Heyer’s Cousin Kate, which was intriguing enough for the first half.  At that point, I completely lost interest.  Well, not completely.  I still need to read through to the end, but it’s taking me ages to do so.  I’ve been toying with The Russian Dreambook of Colour and Flight but Cousin Kate keeps taunting me from the sidelines and I am determined to finish it today and then move on to more profitable reading. 

Not reading for a few days has been rather nice, I must say.  I’ve watched some favourite films (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Queen, as well as a few old Poirot episodes during the week) and indulged in the kitchen, making  a particularly delicious ratatouille during the week (excellent leftovers to take to work) and then french onion soup and financiers aux framboises on Saturday.  With a day and a half left in my weekend, who knows what else I’ll get up to!  I’m eying a few of the recipes from Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life with interest: lemon yogurt cake or macaroons with chocolate ganache sound quite appealing.

The financiers, made using a recipe from Elizabeth Bard’s Lunch in Paris, taste delicious though their appearance leaves something to be desired.  I think that the ground almonds I used weren’t ground quite finely enough and next time I might put a little less batter in each of the cups and adjust the baking time. 

 

Financiers aux Framboises
from Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard

3/4 cup turbinado (raw) sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp ground almonds
1/3 cup flour
10 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
4 egg whites
A pinch of salt
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 pint raspberries

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit (230 Celsius).

Pulse the sugar in a blender or a food processor to obtain a fine powder.  Combine with ground almonds and flour.

Meanwhile, melt the putter over medium heat.  let cool.

Whip the egg whites and salt just until they’re frothy – 10 seconds max.  Fold the egg whites into the dry ingredients.

Fold in the egg yolk and vanilla.  Then added melted butter.  Continue to fold gently until the butter is incorporated.

Spoon large tablespoons of abtter into nonstick mini muffin molds.  Gently place a raspberry in the center of each financier.  Don’t push it in too far or it will sink completely during baking.  Bake on the center rack for 10 to 11 minutes, until edges are crisp and golden, the insides tender.

Let cool 10 minutes in pan, then transfer to wire rack.

Yield: 25 mini financiers

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