Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Winter Gardening: Helleborus Niger, The Christmas Rose

And she was fair as is the rose in May. – Geoffrey Chaucer 

Helleborus Niger. Photo: Tie Guy II, Flickr ccl
It certainly doesn’t seem like winter here in Nova Scotia. The weather has been unseasonably warm to put it mildly (pardon the pun…). But we do have our moments. It’s snowing large flakes as I write this post.

Photo: Drew Avery, Flickr ccl
It also doesn’t help our longings for Spring that the plant and seed catalogues have started to arrive either. So what does one do except crack open their colourful pages and dream of weather (soon coming) when our gardens burst into glory.

I always look for those flowers that make the earliest appearance. In my mind the sooner winter is over the better. One of the earliest is the Christmas Rose, otherwise known as Helleborus Niger. It’s available as plants from catalogues and online as well as at certain local garden centres (when they open for the season).

Hellebores comprise around 20 species of herbaceous perennial flowering plants in the family Ranunculaceae. Buttercups are in that same family and some resemblance can be seen. Contrary to the common name, the Christmas rose is in no way related to roses.

See, it does bloom in winter! Photo: Tie Guy II

Photo: Nemo's great uncle, Flickr ccl
Hellebores grow wild in much of Europe, from Great Britain, Spain and Portugal, through to Romania and Ukraine and into the Caucasus. The greatest concentration of the species is in the Balkans. In the wild, the Christmas Rose (specifically) is found in mountainous areas, over a range from Switzerland, southern Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and northern Italy. 

The Christmas Rose is an evergreen plant with dark, leathery leaves carried on stems up to 12 inches (30 cm) tall. It bears large flowers on short stems from midwinter to early spring although I have never seen one bloom in winter in my back yard… Spring yes; winter no.

Our neighbours grow Eranthis (also called Winter Aconite) that break the frozen soil and bloom before the snow has melted. In ideal conditions Hellebores would bloom alongside them around the same time.

The flowers are usually white and sometimes tinged pink as they age. There are also many cultivars available, one of which has spots and another a deep pink. H. Niger are quite hardy as well, being able to withstand USDA Zone 4 or slightly colder.

Photo: M. Oefelein, Flickr ccl
It can be a bit of a trial to find the perfect spot for planting a Helleborus but it’s worth it. Moist, humus-rich, alkaline soil in dappled shade is preferable. Acidic soil is a plant killer. Dead leaves can be dug in to improve less than optimal soil;  and lime can be added to 'sweeten' acid soils. So it’s not really that difficult to give this plant the conditions to allow it to thrive.

Helleborus Niger will reward your efforts by increasing in size and number of blooms. Add to that one of the earliest bloomers after winter’s dreariness and you’ve got a plant well worth seeking out.


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Monday, January 30, 2012

Make Ahead Recipe: South Shore Fish Cakes

Don't tell fish stories where the people know you; but particularly, don't tell them where they know the fish. – Mark Twain 

Traditional fish cakes, with a slight twist.
A favourite dish for many folks in the Maritimes is fish cakes. It’s sad that so few people make them from scratch any more. There is nothing tastier than a well flavoured fish cake and they're very easy to make.

Don’t judge fish cakes by those orange/brown pucks you get in grocery stores made with "minced fish." These are the real deal. Wonderful flakes of haddock held together with highly seasoned potato with onion and parsley and then gently fried to a golden brown. 

Poaching the fish in milk with bay leaves imparts
more flavour than the traditional salt and pepper.
Sound great, don't they? This recipe is another one found on an old recipe card in my late Great  Aunt Hilda’s collection. I admit to some “liberties.” 

For example the lemon juice is my inclusion as are the bay leaves (both from looking at other recipes). The original recipe simmered the fish in milk with just salt and pepper. I added the lemon because it helps "brighten" the taste. The original card also said “cod (or haddock)”, but cod is rare now and I don’t much like it anyway… 

I have specified Russet potatoes. Russet are the driest of all potato varieties and as such make the lightest mashed potatoes. No one likes a sticky potato filling in a fish cake.

Always remember to get the freshest fish possible. That means translucent flesh. As fish gets further away from the date it was caught it begins to become very opaque and almost “chalky” looking.

The real charm about these tasty cakes is that they can be made in the morning and refrigerated until you’re ready to eat. Cooking time only takes about 15 minutes. They can also be frozen quite easily. Just make sure they’re frozen separately, and completely thawed before use.

Once you make the fish cakes you can enjoy the rest of your day knowing that dinner is only minutes away.

I’ve paired this recipe with a curry/lemon mayonnaise and a light salad. Together they take only 10 minutes maximum to make. The curry mayonnaise is also used as an ingredient in the dressing for the salad.

If you’re feeding four as a main course you may want to double the fish cakes recipe and make eight. As a starter the quantities would be perfect for four people.

I made 4 cakes. You can make more from the same recipe,
but they will cook faster if thinner than these.
South Shore Fish Cakes
Prep: 20 min  |  Cook: 10-16 min  |  Makes 4 cakes
1 lb (454 g) fresh haddock fillets
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup milk
3/4 lb (2 medium) Russet potatoes
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp onion, grated
2 tbsp fresh parsley, minced
1 egg
1 cup dry bread crumbs
salt and pepper
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp butter

Place the bay leaves, fish and milk in a wide sauté pan (or other pan) with a lid. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the fish sit in the milk for 5 more minutes. Then drain and remove the bay leaves.

Cube the potatoes quite small, add to salted water and bring to a boil. Cook until fork tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and mash.

Add the lemon juice, onion and parsley to the potatoes and combine well. Add salt and pepper and taste. The potato mixture should have lots of flavour. If not season it with more lemon, onion, salt or pepper as needed. Good flavour in the potato is important.

Break the drained fish up into large pieces and use your hands to mix with the potatoes. Bring it together just enough so the fish is well distributed. Do not make it a homogenous mush.

Prepare two plates for bound breading: beaten egg on one plate; bread crumbs on the other.

Divide the fish and potato mixture into four equal pieces. Shape into a patty about 3/4” thick and 4” wide. Coat each patty with egg and then dredge in the breadcrumbs, making sure both sides and the edges are covered.

When ready to fry, heat the vegetable oil and butter in a frying pan set to high. Reduce the heat slightly and fry each cake for about 5-8 minutes per side until nicely browned. Take care that they don’t brown too fast and burn. If they look like they may turn the heat to medium high and continue.

Serve with half the curry mayonnaise, a wedge of lemon and the salad.

Curry Lemon Mayonnaise
Prep: 2 min
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp Garam Masala
1/4 tsp cayenne
(or substitute equal amount curry powder for the last 2 ingredients)

Mix together and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Curry Dressed Salad
Prep: 5 min  |  Serves 4
1/2 cup curry lemon mayonnaise
mixed with 2 tbsp vegetable oil
4 cups shredded Napa cabbage
2 medium carrots, cut into matchsticks
6 green onions, sliced

Add all ingredients to a bowl. Toss to lightly coat the vegetables.


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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Ingredient of the Day: Cardamom Spice

Once you get a spice in your home, you have it forever. Women never throw out spices. The Egyptians were buried with their spices. I know which one I'm taking with me when I go. – Erma Bombeck

Green cardamom pods and ground. Photo: .michael.newman., Flickr ccl
I wonder which one she took…? I was thinking today about what to post and was searching my mind for something that perhaps not everyone is familiar with. All of  sudden cardamom popped into my mind.

Green and black cardamom pods. Photo: Wiki CC
Cardamom is a wonderful spice unlike any other. It is a staple in Indian, Chinese and Southeast Asian cuisines. It has an intense flavour and aroma which is fairly indescribable – some people say “resinous.” I prefer “floral.”

What is Cardamom?
Cardamom is the third most expensive spice in the world, just behind vanilla and saffron. It comes (when not ground) in the form of hard pods. It’s not to say that it costs a fortune to use. A small amount is all that’s needed in any recipe.

Cardamom is best stored as whole pods because (like every other spice) once ground it begins to lose its flavour. Although native to India and Sri Lanka, the largest producer today is Guatemala.

Cardamom comes in two varieties: green (Elettara) and black (Ammomum). Both are from the ginger family, believe it or not. Green cardamom is the most common. Uses of both types in cooking and in medicine has been well documented for millenia.

Cardamom cakes. Photo: Akane86, Flickr ccl
History of Cardamom
Like many other spices, Cardamom was first used for its medicinal, rather than culinary, properties. It was featured in an Egyptian papyrus of medicinal plants from 1550 BC. In addition to a medicine, it was also used by the Egyptians as perfume and an embalming agent. 

Historical Indian texts dating to 200 BC mention cardamom as a flavouring and medicine. Cardamom is also mentioned in Sanskrit texts of 400 BC where it was used as a ceremonial offering.

Around this same time the Greeks had made contact with the East and began importing what they called amomon and kardamomon. Even then there was a distinct recognition of the two distinct varieties. 

Cardamom became a commodity of significant European trade aroung 1,000 AD when contact with Arab countries brought it into the limelight. Exports from the area in India now called Kerela (the Malabar coast) were written about by European explorers in the early 1500s. By the mid-1500s international trade in cardamom was well established and documented.

Cardamom sweet rolls. See post of February 6, 2012
Kerala continued to monopolize the cardamom trade until British colonial times. Until the time of the British Raj all cardamom was grown wild. It  was the British who established plantations to cover the increased desire of this spice. It was often grown as a secondary crop on coffee plantations.

Cardamom today
Cardamom has found its way into cuisines all over the world. For example, Caribbean curries use it as a flavouring agent. Cardamom is also common in Scandinavian cookies as well as breads. It was one of the favoured spices brought home by the Vikings.

Cardamom is a flavouring agent in Chai tea. In cooking, besides being a curry staple, it is wonderful paired with citrus, puddings, cakes or in meringues. Arab coffee is also strongly flavoured with cardamom. Drop a few pods into the next pot you brew to impart their exotic flavour. It can also be steeped in sugar syrup and used as an ice cream topping, or in ice cream itself.

Cardamom might not be in your spice cupboard now, but you should seek it out. It has a thousand uses. It’s unique flavour and aroma most certainly will brighten your day.


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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Recipe: A French Classic – Coq au Vin

In France, cooking is a serious art form and a national sport. – Julia Child

As classic as the French countryside.
This recipe is a French classic and probably one of the best known of French recipes – at least by name.

Up until the early 1900s it was common for French families to raise chickens for eggs and meat. Of course to have eggs one must have a rooster. The rooster would do its “duty” until it became too old. Then it would be killed and eaten.

Marinate the chicken with the wine and vegetables overnight.
Since an old rooster is quite tough, it was simmered with wine to soften the meat. Because of these origins Coq au Vin was long considered poor people’s food, as those other than peasants could afford to eat better quality meats.

The translation of Coq au Vin is “rooster of the wine”. Of course modern versions use commercial chicken, not only because of availability but because old poultry of any sex are quite tough. The name, though, has stuck.

There is a story about the recipe being made for Napoleon at a campaign stop over. The innkeeper was rather stretched for ingredients because of the war so had to make up a recipe on the spot.

Not surprisingly, like many recipes associated with Napoleon, it’s completely untrue. Napoleon recipes are the French equivalent of the American stories of beds Washington slept in.

The truth of the matter is that there is documentation of this recipe being made for centuries before Napoleon. It’s truly a French countryside classic.

The recipe did not gain popular acceptance until the early 1900s when the availability of chicken (without raising it) and good quality wine increased. Then it was transformed magically into fine cuisine.

This recipe is actually extremely easy to make. It just takes time. Try it and fall in love with Coq au Vin!

This is the liquid level. You don't have to add any more.
Classic Coq au Vin
Prep: overnight  |  Cook 2 hrs 10 min  |  Serves 4
8 chicken thighs, skin on and bone in
1/2 bottle good quality Burgundy (or Côtes du Rhône) red wine
2 medium onions, chopped large 
3 cloves of garlic, mashed 
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut quite large 
1 tsp thyme
2 bay leaves
6 slices of bacon, chopped
1/2 lb (250g) white mushrooms
2 tbsp flour mixed with 1/4 cup water
salt and pepper, to taste

The day before cooking place the chicken in a pot with the wine, onion, garlic, carrots, thyme and bay leaves. Leave the carrots in fairly large pieces. If not they will disappear when simmered for 2 hours.

The result of 2 hours cooking.  I thickened it with a
little flour and water to make a thin sauce. Fantastic.
Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight.

The next day remove the chicken, reserving the vegetables and wine.

Brown the chicken pieces in a Dutch oven or other large pot with a lid. Remove the chicken and drain off the collected fat.

Add the bacon and mushrooms to the pot and sauté until the bacon is cooked. Add the chicken back in and pour the reserved wine and vegetables over the top. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp of salt and 1 tsp of pepper.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cover. Let cook for 2 hours. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust.

Add the flour and water mixture. Let simmer for an additional 10 minutes to thicken slightly. Sprinkle the dish with parsley and serve with mashed potatoes or rice.


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Friday, January 27, 2012

Untested Booze: Homemade Pimm's

I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it. It is never of any use to oneself. – Oscar Wilde 

The one and only. Photo: whitenyinchicago, Flickr ccl
I’ve been scant on liqueur recipes since Christmas, and I am truly sorry. I have four different liqueurs “cooking” and all will be ready soon, but in the meantime…

Photo: Wiki CC
Have you ever had Pimm's? It's an unbelievably refreshing drink for the summer with lemonade or soda, as well as in winter with warm cider or cranberry juice. 

For a while the NSLC (our local liquor agency) didn't carry it. I just looked on their site and lo and behold it's back. Pimm's No. 1 Cup, in all its glory, at $26.98 for 750 ml.

But what if you only want a drink or two instead of a whole bottle (although I'm sure a bottle wouldn't go to waste)? How about making your own substitute? The recipe I am posting is untried I admit. If anyone does do it I would appreciate a comment . I haven't made it yet, but will be doing so soon, believe me.

This liquor has the benefit of being ready the second after you mix everything together. I doubt it's a dead ringer for Pimm's, but if it's "close enough" I'll be happy. The "real thing" is probably cheaper unless you have the ingredients hanging around or only want a drink or two... Such is life...

This recipe is in "parts" so it's easy to scale up or down – ounces, cups, gallons... the only tricky bit would be adjusting the bitters.

What exactly is Pimm's?
Pimm's is a class of liquor called a "fruit cup." Fruit cups are medium alcohol content liquors, always gin-based, meant to be used in "long" drinks or mixed with soda or juice. The gin is flavoured with herbs and spices, so I guess it's somewhat akin to a vermouth. It's very nice comfortably warming at 25% alc. vol.

Pimm's was first produced in 1823 by James Pimm. He sold the liquor in a small tankard known as a No. 1 Cup  as a digestion aid. The Pimm's produced now is actually called "Pimm's No.1." 

Pimm's began large-scale production in 1851. The distillery began selling it commercially in 1859 using hawkers on bicycles. From 1865 to1887 the brand changed hands several times. It wasn't until 1946 that the corks were replaced by twist-off bottle caps. In 2006, the Pimm's Company brand was bought by Diageo, a global alcoholic beverages company.

As I said, this recipe is completely untried. Just think if it works! 

Pimm's Cup. Photo: ReeseClloyd, Flickr ccl
Homemade Pimm's
I calculate this at about 25% alc. vol
2 parts gin 
2 parts red vermouth
1 part Cointreau® (or other orange liqueur) 
1 dash Angostura® bitters

And to use it… 

Classic Pimm's Cup
This recipe came from a British site so they should know their Pimm's…
Fill a glass with ice.
Mix one part Pimm's No. 1 with 3 parts lemonade (or gingerale or soda)
Add some mint, cucumber, orange and/or strawberry.

That's it. Enjoy!


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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Junky Chinese, Refined: Pork in Honey Garlic Sauce (plus one more)

The problem is when that fun stuff becomes the habit. And I think that's what's happened in our culture. Fast food has become the everyday meal. – Michelle Obama

This does taste as good as it looks, with an unusual salad to boot!
Here's another homemade version of a dish that's a staple of take-out and grocery store Chinese food. Yes, it's loaded with honey, but hopefully it's a little more healthy than what you buy. Once again I'm trying to rescue the "junky" Chinese while walking that thin line between homemade/authentic and what we appreciate about take-out in the first place. I believe I succeeded.

At good Chinese restaurants this dish is probably not even on the menu. At take-outs what you get is hit and miss; from the grocery it's often a teeth-rattling, sweet, runny mess. Both can be either dry with no sauce but somehow sticky, or the pork is swimming in thin brown liquid. Often this dish has the added "bonus" of monosodium glutamate (MSG).

Browning the meat, onions, ginger and garlic.
MSG is used to enhance flavour in many Chinese (and other) dishes and it gives me a raging headache. This recipe has none at all, as should all good home cooking.

This recipe will answer all your honey garlic cravings. It is full of garlicky flavour, and just enough spice and sweetness. It's thick enough to coat the meat nicely and the five spice powder gives just the right taste.

You also don't have to baste this pork as it cooks as some recipes call for. Just stirring the pot as the sauce thickens is all the effort you have to exert.

Although usually used for spare ribs, I used a pork loin because I couldn't find any decent pork or beef ribs in my "allotted price range." The loin worked very well as a substitute. I can't wait to try it once pork or beef short ribs go on sale. (I think beef will be stellar.)

One other word: Instead of the peanut oil I used the leftover fat from frying bacon used in the potato salad recipe at the end of this post. It certainly didn't do the dish any harm!

Try the potato salad. It's completely different than any potato salad you've ever had before. I can almost guarantee it.

Let the sauce reduce until thick and dark brown.
Pork in Honey Garlic Sauce
Prep: 10 min  |  Cook 30 min  |  Serves 4
2 lb pork loin, cut into serving pieces (or pork or beef ribs)
1/4 cup peanut oil
1/4 cup garlic, chopped
1/4 cup chopped onion
2 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
1 Thai red chilli, chopped with seeds
1 tsp five spice powder
1 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup soy
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

Heat the oil to a saucepan. Add the pork, garlic, onion, ginger and chilli. Fry until the pork is no longer pink.

Add the star five spice powder, pepper, soy, honey, sugar and rice wine. Then add just enough water to cover the pork.

Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and let cook for 20-30 minutes or until the sauce has become very thick and dark.

Serve with steamed rice, or the following recipe.

Chinese Potato Salad
Prep: 10 min  |  Cook: 20 min  |  Serves 4-6
Loosely based on a recipe from The Frugal Gourmet
5 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
4 slices bacon, fried and crumbled
1 lg rib of bok choy, diced
3/4 red pepper, diced
6 green onions, sliced
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp Sichuan mustard, or Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp salt

Sichaun peppercorns add a very distinctive flavour to anything they are added to. They're sold in fairly large bags in relation to how fast you'll use it. If you wish substitute the Dijon, although it won't be the same.

Fry the bacon and crumble it into a bowl.

Cook the potatoes until just done. Drain and add to the bacon. Add the bok choy, red pepper, green onions and cilantro. Toss well.

Combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl. Pour over the potatoes and mix well. Chill before serving, although you can serve it warm if you wish.


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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sub-Continent Delight: Kerala Chicken Curry

Europe is merely powerful; India is beautiful. – Savitri Devi 

Kerala. Photo: Sylvianism1, Flickr ccl
Kerala is an interesting place. It is located in India on the south-west tip of the country.  According to a survey conducted  by The Economic Times (India's leading business newspaper), half of the ten of the best cities to live in India are located in Kerala.

Kerala is popular with tourists because of its unspoiled nature. It has the highest literacy rate in the country (99%) and hopes to be the first completely e-literate state in India. It also is currently the only state to have banking facilities in every village. That's a development feat in itself.

So much for what most North Americans think of India… Our apologies.

Kerala has a very rich culinary heritage as well due to its location. Over millenia it has had contact with traders from the Mediterranean, the Middle East and Europe. All these influences have made their way into the kitchen traditions of the region.

This curry is an excellent example. The use of tomatoes and chilli peppers are two obvious outside influences in this wonderful dish.

Brown the onions slowly taking care not to burn.
In this photo they've just been added.
This curry is not your standard fare – yet at the same time it is. It’s hard to describe, and exceptionally good. The ingredients in the spice mix makes this curry different from any other I’ve ever had.

Give it a try. It won’t disappoint.

Kerala Chicken Curry
Prep: 10 min  |  Cook 35 min  |  Serves 4
3 lb chicken, cut into serving pieces
1 tbsp vegetable oil or ghee
1-1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
3/4 tsp fennel seeds
6 whole cloves
4” cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
8 green cardamom pods, crushed
1 lg onion, chopped
3 tbsp fresh ginger, chopped
2 tbsp chopped garlic
3 hot green chillies, chopped
2 tsp garam masala
4 plum tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup coriander, chopped
salt to taste

Cut the chicken into serving sized pieces.

Heat the oil in a large pan with a lid. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper and fry on both sides until golden brown and nearly cooked through. This will take about 15-20 minutes. Remove to a plate.

Add the spices (black pepper, fennel, cloves, cinnamon, and cardamom) to the oil in the pan and fry until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Add the onions, garlic, ginger and chillies and sauté until the onions begin to brown. 

It's important to brown but not burn the onions. Cooked properly they add great depth of flavour.

Add the tomatoes and coriander to the pan, scrape the bottom of the pan until any fond begins to release and then cover. Let cook for 5 minutes.

After the 5 minutes the tomato should be fairly broken down. Check the sauce for salt.

Nestle the chicken into the sauce, place the cover on slightly ajar, and let cook for an additional 7-10 minutes until the sauce has thickened and the chicken is cooked through.

Serve with basmati rice and more coriander if desired.


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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Recipe: Haddock “Devil” with Puff Pastry

Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil. – C. S. Lewis 

Puff pastry atop haddock poached in a spicy cream sauce.
Here’s a recipe for a weeknight or an evening when you have company. It only takes about 40 minutes from start to finish. That’s the "fast enough for a weeknight" part. The company part is that it’s quite beautiful to look at. I’m not sure my pictures do it justice.

Real puff pastry. Photo: North River Food, Flickr ccl
If you want “fancy” always think of using puff pastry. It’s notoriously complicated to make at home, regardless how easy Julia Child used to make it seem on PBS. That’s why the home chef shouldn't feel bad about using frozen pastry from the grocer. 

You can get an actual butter puff pastry at one of the local groceries. The majority of pre-made rely on shortening, which changes the flavour and colour of the pastry significantly. Look for the butter variety and use it if you can find it.

Now it’s not really nearly as good as homemade, but in a pinch, for spectacular layers of flakiness, it will do. If you want to experience the “real deal” without making it yourself go to some of the bakers that frequent the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market. They have the facility (and ability) to pull it off.

So that’s the puff pastry part. The haddock part should be self-explanatory. But where hides the devil? Well, the devil lurks in two ingredients in the sauce: dijon mustard and cayenne. 

Cayenne pepper. Photo: Wiki CC
Dijon is a wonderfully spicy mustard made with wine (recipe here). Cayenne is a red hot pepper related to bell peppers. It is used culinarily, as well as in medicine. It is rated at 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville units. Jalapenos rate 2,500 to 10,000 Scoville units.

Since we only use a small amount in the recipe the end result isn’t overly hot – but does leave a warmth on the lips. You know there’s something spicy lurking with all those delicious onions and celery.

Don’t cheap out and use "doctored" celery soup. The sauce only takes a few minutes and it is so superior there’s no comparison.

This recipe is based very, very loosely on a recipe I found called “white devil.” I kept the devil and haddock and changed everything else. It’s amazing what you can do with a few simple ingredients and some inspiration!

Haddock “Devil” with Puff Pastry
Prep: 10 min  |  Cook: 10 min  |  Bake: 20 min  | Serves 4
1 to 1-1/2 lbs haddock fillets (2-3 filets)
1/4 cup butter
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp tarragon, dried (or 1 tbsp fresh)
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1-1/2 cups milk
1/2 package puff pastry
16 oz package baby spinach

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Chop the haddock into pieces and line the bottom of an 8” square baking dish. 

While the oven heats, melt the butter in a saucepan and sauté the onions and celery until the onions are translucent. Add the flour and mix well. Let cook for 1 minute.

Slowly add the milk and whisk until thickened. It will appear too thick for a béchamel, but some liquid will come out of the haddock and thin it down. Add the mustard, tarragon, cayenne, salt and pepper. Mix well and pour over the fish.

Roll out one square of puff pastry from the package into an 8”x8” square. Trim if necessary. In Canada puff pastry is sold in packages with two squares. Place the pastry on a baking tray.*

Place both the fish and pastry in the hot oven for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes remove the nearly baked pastry and put it on top of the fish. Put it back in the oven and let cook for a further 5-7 minutes until the pastry is golden brown. 

While the fish is cooking, wash and cook the spinach with some salt. You really don’t need to add any more water than that stuck to the leaves after washing. Many people drown their spinach and then have to squeeze out the excess water.

Remove the fish from the oven and cut the pastry top into 4 equal pieces. Plate some spinach and serve the fish and pastry on top.

* Baking the pastry separately helps prevent a “soggy” bottom and undercooked crust.


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Monday, January 23, 2012

Lost Recipe: Mrs. Henderson’s “Angel” Gingerbread Cake

A great empire, like a great cake, is most easily diminished at the edges. – Benjamin Franklin 

A resurrected recipe. Light and spicy.
I was looking through my Great Aunt Hilda’s old recipe cards a few days ago and one in particular really caught my eye. It was for an “angel” gingerbread cake. The original cook was Marian Henderson of Liverpool, NS. I would guess the card was written out in the 1960s or 1970s.

It's not this...
Photo: momo go, Flickr ccl
In decades gone by (as now) it was common for cooks to share recipes that they were particularly proud of with friends and family. Since Mrs. Henderson lived in Liverpool it was a special treat to not only go to Liverpool (once a week) but be invited to visit AND to have the cake.

How times have changed. Now I share recipes with my “friends” the world over. That’s significantly more than would have ever experienced this cake when she was alive. That’s a shame.

The Henderson family ran Henderson’s Hardware in Liverpool for many years until the economic downturn of that area (and probably a local Canadian Tire – long since burnt to the ground) forced them to close. 

That is the way with many old family businesses in Nova Scotia. They are slowly being driven from the business scene by big box stores with the power to buy in bulk at lower prices. There’s no way for them to compete. A sad fact, but true.

And it's not this...
Photo: foodchronicles, Flickr ccl
This recipe seems to be a hybrid of a sponge cake and an angel food cake. I had never heard of an angel food cake that was other than white or chocolate so this was a really amazing recipe to stumble across.

This recipe was lost in another significant way in addition to be buried for the last 40 years in a recipe card box. The directions Aunt Hilda scribbled at the bottom of the hand written card were as follows: “Bake at 350° for 45 minutes.” Not another word. What kind of directions are those? So I had to look at similar angel food-type cakes to discover the actual order the ingredients were added and what was done at each step.

If you like the spices of gingerbread you should try this recipe. It is quite a surprise and very, very tasty. It is truly the “lightest” gingerbread I have ever had. The “angel” in the name is very descriptive.

It doesn’t have quite the loft of an angel food cake, but that's more than OK. Thank you, Mrs. Henderson for a wonderful cake!

Fold in the whites gently. They don't have to be
completely incorporated.
Mrs. Henderson's Angel Gingerbread
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup shortening (Crisco)
1/4 cup margarine
1/2 cup molasses
2 eggs + 2 additional egg whites
1-1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp allspice
2/3 cup boiling water

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a tube cake pan. For added security cut a ring of waxed paper fitted to the inside bottom of the pan. Grease and flour it as well.

Beat the four egg whites until peaks stay upright when the beaters are lifted. Set aside.

Cream together the sugar, shortening, margarine and molasses. Add the two eggs and mix well. Slowly add the flour, soda, ginger, cloves, allspice and salt. beat together well.

The slowly pour in the water and mix until the batter is smooth.

Take 1/4 of the egg whites and gently fold into the flour mixture to lighten it. Then add the remaining egg whites and fold just until blended. Do not beat the batter or you will deflate the whites.

Pour into the prepared pan and bake in the centre of the oven for 40-45 minutes. The size of the cake will double as it bakes.

Invert the tube pan to cool. This increases your odds of the cake not collapsing. Remove from the pan and serve with sweetened whipped cream.

Another option is lemon sauce. Two other fantastic options to accompany are  1) vanilla ice cream or  2) apple sauce in whipped cream – or both!


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