A nifty trick I picked up at Looshaus, a hotel and restaurant in Kreuzberg, Lower Austria.
Pick evergreen “buds” (the small bundles of new needles that appear in late spring), simmer them in simple syrup (1:1 water to sugar), and transfer the whole mess into glass jars. The syrup takes on a fantastic, minty, pine flavour, which the Looshaus chef says gets even better with a few months storage. Strain the needles out before using the syrup.
Some ideas for usage:
- sauces for game meats (think: evergreen gastrique)
- ice cream
- in sparkling water (beer flavoured with young spruce needles was once common in Canada…)
- pork brines
The same process can be used for other common backyard plants, like dandelion … Continue reading.
I just had my mind blown. While Lisa and I were collecting sap from our maple trees, Judy was doing the same from a birch tree in her backyard in Spruce Grove. She just brought over some of her birch syrup. I had a spoonful. I’m reeling.
I mentioned that our maple syrup has a distinct fruitiness that I’ve never come across in commercial syrup. Judy’s birch syrup tastes like fruit juice – like pear juice, I would say – and it finishes with some of the green, nutty flavour of the fresh sap.
The birch syrup is very thin, nowhere near as thick and sticky as store-bought syrup. The flavour is remarkable. I don’t know exactly how I’ll … Continue reading.
This is one of my favourite ways to showcase my maple syrup. A simple oat cake is baked, then cut into squares and cooled. The baking dish is then filled with hot maple syrup, which the cake soaks up like a sponge. Essentially a lazy man’s pouding chômeur (a lazy man’s poor man’s pudding?)
Oat Cake in Maple Syrup
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1 1/4 cup boiling water
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp baking soda
For the soaking syrup:
- 2 cups maple syrup
- 2 cups
… Continue reading.
Even though maple syrup is popularly described as a “Canadian” ingredient, I consider it a highly regional specialty within Canada, as it’s only made on a large scale in Eastern Ontario and Quebec. In contrast to the sugar maples that grow down east, the maple trees around Edmonton produce less, and less sweet, sap. Birch and elm can also be tapped for sap, but they have even lower yields.
These facts notwithstanding, I have a perverse obsession with maple syrup (one of my favourite desserts of all time is pouding chômeur) as well as an abstract, academic nostalgia for the ingredient. Granulated sugar is one of the few highly refined products that I use regularly, and I’m interested in … Continue reading.
If you are unfamiliar with this dish, let me introduce you by way of an aimless personal anecdote. If you are familiar with the dish, you can skip the next paragraph.
My father’s family lives near Ottawa, my mother’s near Sudbury. When I was little my family would sometimes drive between these two sets of relatives, following the Ottawa River valley, where there are lots of French communities, even on the Ontarian side of the border. Along the way we would always stop at a diner called Valois in the French town of Mattawa. For dessert they offered “sugar pie,” a tidy translation of tarte au sucre. While some versions of sugar pie are made with corn syrup or … Continue reading.
…I have drugg’d their possets
That death and nature do contend about them
Whether they live or die.
-Lady MacBeth, in the Scottish play (fitting, no?)
Posset is an old British drink of cream curdled with sack (fortified wine) or ale. Nowadays the term usually refers to sweetened cream curdled so that it sets like a custard.
During the years in which the liquid version was declining in popularity and the solid version was rising, the term “posset” on its own was ambiguous. Qualifiers were added for clarity, resulting in terms like “rich eating posset.”
Anyways, this is one of the simplest desserts to make. I often serve it at Burns Suppers with shortbread cookies. The idea is to … Continue reading.
My mom has prepared a yule log cake every Christmas I can remember. I have no idea how this tradition came to my family, as it is extremely French (“bûche de noël”), and we are not.
The cake is a simple sponge. Whole eggs are beaten thoroughly, sugar is added, then a bit of water, and finally flour and cocoa are folded in. The batter is runny, and forms a shallow, uniform, fine-textured cake after baking.
The interior icing is a buttercream made by whipping room-temperature butter into Swiss meringue. Swiss meringue is a mixture of whipped egg whites and simple syrup cooked to soft ball stage.
The exterior frosting is icing sugar beaten into lard, which makes the colour … Continue reading.
I don’t cook rice very often, but I used to work at a restaurant that let me take home large amounts of leftover rice, and over the years I have developed a taste for rice pudding. My favourite version is made with a blend of brown and wild rice (which adds a satisfying chew to the dish), and dried saskatoons.
Lately I’ve been wondering if I could make a similar dish with a starch that is more common in my kitchen. Take that fifty pound bag of wheat berries in my closet, for instance. The one that I keep threatening to grind into flour if it doesn’t make itself more useful.
I was wary of trying to adapt wheat to … Continue reading.
This is a dish that confused me for some time. “Minced” means broken up (it’s actually related to the word “minute,” as in exceedingly small). The British use the word “minced” in places we might use the word “ground,” so when I started hearing about mincemeat pies, I assumed they were meat pies.
Then certain people (Lisa, Alton Brown) tried to explain to me that there was no meat in mincemeat pies at all, just dried fruit.
Just as I started grappling with the idea of a meatless mincemeat, I found one of my grandma’s recipes which seemed to combine the aforementioned concepts. The ingredients:
- beef chuck
- dried currants
- sultana raisins
- citron (I believe this refers to
… Continue reading.
The waiting is the hardest part.
-Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
I used to revile fruitcake, but in recent years a description by Jeffrey Steingarten has made me more receptive to the dish.
…full of dark, saturated medieval tastes and colors… aged for a year and then set aflame at the very last minute, carefully spooned out like the treasure it is…
I became mildly interested in the idea of aging baked goods, but I still regarded fruitcake as a gaudy curiosity. Then I came across fruitcake in the memoirs of a woman who grew up during the depression in Northern Ontario, called On Turnips, Teas, and Threshing Bees. Her description of fruitcake, and the lengths her family … Continue reading.