Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Let’s make Homemade Cultured Butter

You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture; just get people to stop reading them. – Ray Bradbury

Almost 1 lb of cultured butter, plus over 2 cups of buttermilk from 1L!

Chalk this one up to the experience, as opposed to a massive cost saving measure. It costs a few dollars less ($5.49 for 1 L cream versus $8.00 for 2 packages commercial) than purchasing it. So I guess it does save some money, and it's also satisfying to make!

This one was fun to do, if a bit messy.  As the liquid came out of the butter I had to resort to using my mixer’s splash guard. But it was a small price to pay for nearly one pound of homemade cultured butter.

I "cultured" my cream on the counter with a little yogurt.
Making butter at home would be great to do with your kids. They would be amazed. Try it on a rainy day for an indoor activity.

There are two main types of butter on the market: regular butter and cultured butter.

The first is made from cream that has been pasteurized. Very good, and can run you anywhere from $3.50/lb on a good day to around $5.00. It depends on the brand, and what sale may be offered.

Cultured butter is different. Usually it is sold by the half pound at approximately $3.99. Commercial cultured butter has bacterial cultures added to it to give it a more homey, country taste. It’s meant to mimic butter that was made on the farm.

When people made butter on the farm they used to have to collect the cream over several days. This meant the older cream would sour somewhat as the proper quantity was collected.

This souring gave the butter a delicious tangy taste. When making cultured butter at home, you have to artificially introduce culture. This is done by adding yogurt to the cream and letting it sit on your counter.

Don’t worry, it won’t “go bad” during the time it matures. The good bacteria in the yogurt help in that regard.

This step can get a bit messy. You're whipping 1 L of cream.
The result of culturing on the countertop is that you can adjust the taste of your butter. The longer it “sours” the tangier your butter will be. I left mine on the counter the whole day I was at work, but my home was a little cooler than 70°F, which is normal room temperature.

The souring works best at 70°F, or warmer. The warmer your room, the faster it will culture. The cream will thicken slightly and take on a slightly (very slightly) sour smell and taste.

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you whipped your cream too long? Well, here’s the result.

When you make your own butter it goes through some defined stages. First it whips, then it separates and becomes “grainy,” and finally it whips into a luscious buttery mass.

The original recipe called for 1 pint of cream. I doubled it to make nearly 1 lb. Go big or go home, I say. This actually yielded two products, the butter and well over 2 cups of buttermilk.

This butter is sweet, yet a little tangy. I was amazed how much it made. I guess I’ll have to make some homemade bread worthy of it!

This is what I had after pouring off the first collection
of "buttermilk." I poured off a little liquid two more times.
Cultured Butter
Adapted from Food52, posted by Ashley Rodriguez
Makes almost 1 lb
1 L heavy cream 
1/4 cup plain whole milk yogurt 
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Use good quality whipping cream and whole milk yogurt with active bacterial cultures.

Place the cream in a container and add the yogurt. Shake or stir well to combine. (Don’t shake too hard or you’ll start to whip the cream.

Cover and place somewhere at room temperature, about 70°F. Let the yogurt culture the cream for a few hours. Taste it to see when you want to stop. The longer it goes the tangier the butter will be.

Pour the cream into a mixing bowl. Slowly beat the cream, increasing the speed as it thickens. This will help reduce splashing when using 1 L of cream.

The butter is lighter in consistency because it is whipped,
but it felt nearly the same weight as a purchased block of butter.
The cream will pass from fluffy whipped cream into a consistency far more “lumpy.” At this point you will see the buttermilk begin to separate from the butter. Drain the liquid off as it collects. Save the buttermilk for another use.

The whole process will take anywhere from 6-10 minutes depending on your mixer. The KitchenAid finished the job in about 5 minutes, but that's because of the planetary action of the mixer, which makes mixing everything faster. Ahh, KitchenAid – how I love you..

Once it seems that all the liquid has come out of the butter turn the mixer to low. Add 1/2 cup of very cold water and “wash” the butter. Do not beat the water into the butter.

Drain the water off (but don't pour it into your collected buttermilk) and knead the salt in with your hands. The amount of salt you use will be up to your individual taste. 

Drain off any additional liquid that appears as you knead, if any.

This butter is best on bread or vegetables where it can be appreciated on its own. It’s a bit tricky to bake with it as the moisture content is different than commercial butter. That probably won't stop me, though.

Cultured butter will keep in the refrigerator for between 7-10 days.


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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Recipe: Pepper Garlic Sauce for Steak

No one is indifferent to garlic. People either love it or hate it, and most good cooks seem to belong in the first group. –  Faye Levy

Steak and portobello with the most amazing sauce. before this I thought my
favourite steak sauce was Béarnaise. It now has competition.

As I am writing this the winds are quite high outside the house because of Hurricane Sandy, even though the storm is hundreds and hundreds of miles away.

We’re in Halifax and the storm is making landfall on the New Jersey Shore in New York State. My thoughts are with all those people. In September 2003 Halifax was given a direct hit by Juan, a Category 2. It was the worst storm to hit Halifax since 1893. The city was essentially shut down for nearly a week.

This is hard neck garlic. It's larger and more expensive than the
3-packs for 99¢ from China. But it is so worth the extra money.
They’re in for a few rough days, to say the least. And because of the size of Sandy, Halifax will have strong winds for the next three days.

But it’s just the beginning. Fall is absolutely here, and with it the inevitable downturn in temperature and the threat of storms coming up the East Coast. There is nothing we can do about it but hold on.

But there is something we can do about the inevitable colds and flu that accompany the change in season. By taking care of what we eat we can shorten, or even avoid, the ills that others around us fall prey to.

One of the most powerful foods in our arsenal to keep our immune system strong is garlic. It has been used for millennia for its health-protecting properties. This sauce has garlic in it – plenty of garlic.

Are you willing to smell a little worse to feel a little better?

Health properties of garlic

Historically, garlic (Allium sativa) was used by many Mediterranean, Asian and African cultures. The Egyptians were using it when the Giza pyramids were being built, about 5000 years ago.

The benefits of garlic may not have always been know, but must have been suspected. Garlic has been used to treat ailments as diverse as sore throat and to dress wounds. Garlic not only has strong antioxidant properties but is also antibacterial.

Garlic promotes heart health, boosts the immune system and helps maintain healthy blood circulation. But one of garlic's most potent benefits is the ability to support the body's immune cell activity.

I used the full 3 tablespoons called for in the recipe.
For quite some time researchers believed it was the chemical compound allicin acting as a very efficient antioxidant. Allicin is also an antibacterial compound, so it suppresses the ability of germs to grow. Allicin is the compound that gives garlic both its taste and smell.

In studies conducted at Queens University here in Canada, researchers found that when allicin decomposes it reacts instantly with free radicals. Radicals are believed to cause damage to the body, allowing all manner of diseases to take hold.

Their findings are published in the January 2009 issue of the international chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie.

Garlic has other health benefits as well. It helps regulate cholesterol, helps strengthen the body agains allergies and reduces plaque from artery walls. There are currently 12 published studies supporting garlic's actions on cholesterol.

Besides its wide health benefits, and more to the point of my topic, in a 12-week double-blind study garlic was found to reduce the incidence of the common cold by 50%.

One word of warning. Garlic, and its family member onions, are both toxic to dogs. So resist the urge to feed your furry loved ones scraps of food that have been prepared with either ingredient.

By the way, if you just can’t stand the smell of garlic breath, drink a little lemon juice or suck on a slice. It will help take the odour away.

Oh, and before I forget – this is one heck of a sauce!

Wow. Wait until you make this sauce. It was great on the
mashed potatoes too.
Pepper Garlic Sauce for Steak
Prep: 5 min  |  Cook: 15 min  |  Serves 4
4 servings grilling steak
4 portobello mushroom caps
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
2 tsp cracked black pepper
2-3 tbsp garlic, chopped
1 beef boullion cube
1 cup whipping cream

Grill or broil the steaks and mushrooms while the sauce is being made. 

Drizzle the gill side of the mushroom caps with 2 tsp of olive oil each. Salt and pepper the steaks. Cook as you normally would either under the broiler or on a BBQ.

To make the sauce, melt the butter in a sauté or small frying pan. Add the pepper and chopped garlic and sauté on medium until the garlic is very fragrant.

Add the cream and bouillon cube. Stir and let simmer until reduced to a sauce, about 4 minutes, or until it reaches your desired consistency. Keep warm until the steak and mushrooms are ready.

Do not add salt because there is probably a great deal in the bouillon.

Slice the mushrooms in wide sections and place on the steaks. Drizzle the steaks with the garlic sauce. 

Serve any remaining sauce at the table – or risk being asked if there’s more by your hungry family.


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Monday, October 29, 2012

Recipe: Brown Sugar Whisky Glazed Salmon

What would you try if you had no fear? Fear is not your enemy. It is a compass pointing you to the areas where you need to grow. – Steve Pavlina

Spicy and sweet, with hints of whisky goodness.

This recipe isn't particularly adventurous, but sometimes you have to be reckless to discover better ways to do things. The way things are isn’t necessarily the way things always have to be. You can take monumental chances, or small ones, like in the kitchen.

Because of trying something different I have a new favourite way to cook both fish and chicken. If I hadn’t tried it I would still be cooking them the same old way I always did. 

Both, as well as beef and pork, benefit from being browned in a pan and then finished off in the oven. It seems to somehow lock in their natural juices.

The victim this night was salmon. As you can imagine, I found it on sale at one of the local groceries.

The rest of the ingredients I had on hand. The clever chef will always use what’s in their pantry to give interest and variation to their meals. For example, I have a 375 ml bottle of Johnnnie Walker whisky in my pantry. I don’t drink it. It’s for cooking, and it seems to be lasting forever. 

The salmon after marinating.
I’ve been dreaming up ways to include it in all kinds of things. It has found its way into this marinade as well as some chocolate cookies I made a couple weeks ago.

Sites that help you search by ingredients
But what if you don’t have that combination of bravado and stupidity that other chefs have in the kitchen? Well, there are sites that will give you a helping hand.

Most allow you to search by what you have in your refrigerator. Some to look for are:
Recipe Matcher
Super Cook
Not Beans Again
and many more.

Just do a quick search. You'll be amazed at what sites you can find.

Usually you start with one ingredient and then narrow down from there. They certainly help you use up what’s in your fridge. The result is decreasing your waste and increasing your culinary repertoire.

But what about the sauces, glazes and such? Well, for the most part you’re on your own. Of course a recipe that has a sauce will have the directions listed as part of it.

If you have a well stocked pantry you already have a leg up.

Be brave, and take a chance. Try something new.

Seared on the bottom and ready for the oven.
Brown Sugar Whisky Glazed Salmon
Prep: 30 min  |  Cook: 20 min  |  Serves 4
Salmon portions for four, skin on
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp whisky
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp fried ginger powder
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp salt

Mix together all the ingredients except for the salmon and vegetable oil in a small bowl. Whisk until the brown sugar is mostly dissolved.

Pour the marinade into a zip-lock bag and add the salmon. Rub the salmon in the bag to coat well and let marinate on the counter for one half hour.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Heat the oil in an oven proof pan. Remove the salmon from the marinade and place in the hot pan.

Let the fish fry until you can see it has turned opaque half way up the sides. The skin should also easily release from the pan.

Place the pan in the oven and let bake for about 15 minutes for fish that is 1” thick. It may take more or less time, so check.

Check for doneness by inserting a fork in the thickest part and gently twisting. The fish will flake and be opaque down through to the centre.

Serve with side dishes of your choice.


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Sunday, October 28, 2012

JIT versus Local Grown with Local Impact

Farmers are philosophical. They have learned that it is less wearing to shrug than to beat their breasts. – Ruth Stout

Stormy days ahead for our food supply? A farmer's field at Three Mile Island, NS.
Photo: jhoc, Flickr ccl

I was looking again this morning at “A Guide to Good Cooking with Five Roses Flour.” I was looking for an old recipe but I found something far more interesting instead.

On page 5 was a call to “buy local.”

The Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market.
Photo: Spacing Magazine, Flickr CCL
Believe it or not it says:

A Guide to Good Cooking is an All- Canadian Cook Book.
The Five Roses Cook Book is in tune with the strong movement to use Canadian materials and Canadian products. Just as Five Roses Vitamin Enriched Flour is made of the best Western Canadian Hard Spring Wheat, “A Guide to Good Cooking” is made  and printed in Canada by Canadian paper-makers and printers. Canadian housewives can also help their country by insisting on Canadian-made goods and Canadian-grown foodstuffs. Follow this golden rule and insist on Five Roses Vitamin Enriched Flour. You will reap the benefits and safeguard the results of your cooking.

The intro paragraph hit me quite hard. This cook book was published in 1959, as an 18th revised edition.

How long was this call to “buy local” printed in its pages. And why?

Of course, the late 1950 were a very different time. But this paragraph resonates to this day. Stronger now than ever before I would say.

Without any solid research to back this assertion, I would say that your choices for international products were probably quite limited in the 1950. The occurrence of products grown in far away lands is now more commonplace in our groceries than those grown locally. This is a fundamental shift. 

What is JIT and why is it dangerous?
Was that cookbook recognizing the start of the great flood of products from international companies? Were Canadian goods being supplanted by the start of a just-in-time mindset – even in 1959?

Just in time (or JIT, as it is short-formed) is how our foods are now delivered to market. It’s a very dangerous method to support how we feed ourselves.

In a nutshell, JIT is the system where products are shipped via water, air or rail to destination points just as they’re needed and at their peak ripeness (or a little under-ripe and ripened artificially, but that's a different story). They are then distributed via rail or truck to their final selling points.

Take the time to look and see where your food comes from. It’s on all packaging in Canada and right on the green produce signs in the grocery stores. Here’s an example. I purchased sage at a local grocery this past week. Usually our herbs come from Riverview Herbs in Nova Scotia. This sage came from Israel. Why?

JIT is 100% susceptible to world interruptions. If anything goes wrong in the shipping then the distribution network grinds to a halt. This can be anything from weather to war to human error. We live on the point of a pin.

There was a very enlightening series that aired on PBS in 2010 (and again in 2011) called Food Inc. about the food industry in the USA. The documentary garnered a Peabody Award and was nominated for an Oscar.

Its premise was that the United States food supply was now controlled by a handful of large corporations. To illustrate it followed the lives of buyers and distributors of the foods on which Americans rely on every day to literally put food on their tables.

Every day a veritable army of workers – starting in the wee hours –  ply their trade to ensure the foods are off-loaded, distributed and delivered to markets and groceries to be placed on shelves.

A vendor at the Windsor Farmers' Market.
Photo: Social Enterprise Coalition, Flickr CCL
It was both awe-inspiring and terrifying. Any break in the chain and the whole thing collapses. 

That’s why the call from the past in Five Roses is of such importance. It’s kind of like a ghost appearing before you to warn of impending doom.

I’m no babe in the woods about marketing and advertising, being a graphic designer for over 20 years – 17 of them in an advertising agency. So I know the message in the cook book was self-serving.

But it went further than that. It supported local food producers as well as even the lateral industry of local book production. At that time who would have cared? The statement had to carefully intentional.

Of course now a very common mantra is to “buy local.” But I fear for the most part it falls on deaf ears. I try, but I am as guilty as the next person.

What actually happens when we buy local goods? 
They are important, significant impacts.

First, we support local businesses, obviously. Those businesses employ local people. Regardless if you’re a lawyer, doctor or a graphic designer like me, this is important. Without local jobs to employ local people there will be no one to buy your particular service or good.

The Mahone Bay Farmers' Market.
Photo: pvsbond, Flickr ccl
It’s just common sense. The Maritime provinces are rife with people moving “out West” for employment. There are no jobs. Perhaps if we focussed our attention on purchasing more locally this wouldn’t be the case. One business feeds another, so to speak.

Second, we protect the supply of food we need every day from the shocks of global markets. If you buy apples or pears grown in the Annapolis Valley a typhoon in South East Asia won’t impact them at all. Of course we will still feel sympathy for those affected – and as good Maritimers – reach out to help, but our food will not be affected.

The recent XL meat scare is another case in point to serve as a warning about large food corporations. Did you know that ONE processing plant was responsible for one third (yes, 1/3) of all beef consumed in Canada? It boggles the mind.

There are local meat supplies that we should be supporting. That way we’re not dependent on a single source. Of course those suppliers are sometimes purchased by multi-nationals and the closed because the profit margins are too small. 

Case in point, the previous Maple Leaf chicken processing plant in the Valley. Bought, run for while, but when it no longer was “in the corporate interest” it was closed. “Corporate interest” is a euphemism for “profit.” You can’t tell me it’s not.

Luckily, the chicken plant is being resurrected by Eden Valley. They will once again employ local people and give them a reason to stay and live in our rural communities.

The third reason has to do with energy and costs. How much fossil fuel do you think is burned every day to ship food around the world? It must be a staggering amount.

Fossil fuel is finite. The cost will only go up – not down. As such the foods – which we will rely on if we don’t support local producers – will cost more and more and more. We often hear in the news that prices rise because the cost of fuel increases. 

You see it in your bank balance every day. That sage from Israel, or tomato from Chile, or peppers from the southern USA will cost you more in Nova Scotia as fuel costs escalate.

So what can we do? 
Well the obvious solution would be to grow your own, but that’s not feasible for most Nova Scotians. We’re rural, but not that rural. The most practical way is to support either small or medium-sized producers.

You can do this either at Farmers Markets or in your grocery. As Five Roses said “[insist] on Canadian-made goods and Canadian-grown foodstuffs.” 

It isn’t limited to food either. Canadian-made goods employ Canadians. I suggest going even more local. Local made goods employ local people, regardless of where you live.

If you want to protect your own livelihood, support local business.

As far as local produce, there  are many local markets where you can start the process. For a partial list visit I say partial list because this is an organization that you have to join and I’m sure there are numerous smaller markets that are not members.

By doing our bit – each one of us – we can protect and grow our own future. This will cascade into a better quality of life through more services being available – urban or rural – and a safer future for us all. 

According to the Five Roses Cookbook, it’s been a patriotic goal for quite some time.


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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Recipe: Scallops Newburg in Toast Cups

Do not overcook this dish. Most seafoods...should be simply threatened with heat and then celebrated with joy. – Jeff Smith

I love Newburg – scallops, shrimp, lobster...

Here’s a relatively quick recipe that serves as a light lunch or as a main dish with a salad on the side.

The most difficult part of this recipe? Making the toast cups. I always have a fight when I try to press a piece of square bread into a round muffin tin. If anyone has a technique to end my suffering please let me know.

I find that pinching the sides together seems to work. Kind of… But the end result makes “all that stress” worthwhile. You can serve on buttered flat toast, but it’s not as dramatic.

There are many variations of “Newburg” with different seafood ingredients. The most common are scallops, shrimp and lobster.

Photo: Renée S., Flickr CCL
History of Seafood Newburg
Abridged from
Lobster Newburg first appeared at Delmonico’s in New York in the 1870s. Its was among the most popular dishes served in the American Pavilion at the Paris Exposition of 1900 and the Columbian Exposition in Chicago 1893. 

There are several versions of how the dish got its name. Most agree on two important points: the restaurant that made this dish famous was Delmonico's in New York, and it was named for Ben Wenberg. It appeared on Delmonico’s menu as Lobster a la Wenberg

The story of how the name changed from "Wenberg" to "Newburg" is fuzzy. One story has that Mr. Delmonico and Mr. Wenberg had a bit of a falling out. In a fit of pique Mr. Delmonico wanted it removed from the menu, but it was so popular he couldn’t. So he switched the first three letters from “Wen” to “New” and Newburg was born.

Another story has the argument, but from Mr. Wenburg’s side. He didn't want his name used with it. But who in their right mind would not want their name associated with a recipe so delicious?

From Delmonico's the dish gained a life of its own. The first print reference can be found published in 1884. From there the variations – and names – began to accumulate. A Good Way To Prepare Lobster (1883), Lobster Newburg (1887), Creamed Lobster (1883), Newburg Sauce (1938)…

I tend to agree with the first name actually. This is a good way to prepare lobster, or shrimp, or scallops. The originals never had onion or mushrooms. Those are my additions and help stretch a little scallop meat into enough to feed four.

There’s something about the richness of seafood that pairs beautifully with cream, cayenne and liquor. I have written “optional” by the cognac, but you really should include it.

If like most of us you seem to be out of cognac, a perfectly acceptable alternative is either brandy or vermouth.

Delicious either in toast cups or plain toast, with a side salad or not, this recipe takes very little effort to bring together. I’m sure if your family likes scallops they’ll love them served this way!

So many people don't know how to cook scallops.
At their best they are simply seared on both sides and
sprinkled with salt and pepper. Never overcrowd the pan,
or they will steam. Photo: rory k mccharg, Flickr ccl
Scallops Newburg in Toast Cups
Prep: 5 min  |  Cook: 15-20 min  |  Serves 4
1 lb scallops
3 tbsp butter
200g mushrooms, sliced
1/4 medium onion, diced
2 tbsp flour
1-3/4 cups milk
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp dried tarragon, or 2 tsp fresh
1 tbsp cognac, brandy or vermouth, optional
1/2 tsp salt
8 toast cups

Make the toast cups by pressing slices of bread into muffin tins. Place in a 350°F oven until browned. Set aide. (These can be made while you make the sauce.)

Heat one tablespoon of butter in a sauté pan. Once hot, add the scallops. Do not crowd them in the pan.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper and let sear on one side. Then turn – only once – and repeat on the other side. A little on the raw side is best.

Remove the scallops to a pan, and if the scallops are large either quarter or halve them.

Add the remaining butter to the pan. Add the mushrooms and onion and let cook until the mushrooms begin to brown. Add the flour and mix in well. Then slowly add the milk.

Stir until the mixture has thickened. Then add the pepper, cayenne and tarragon. Add the scallops and cognac and let cook long enough to just heat through.

Taste for salt and adjust.

Divide the Newburg between the eight cups. Serve with a simple green salad if you wish.


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Friday, October 26, 2012

Recipe: Buttery Scottish Shortbread

You are the butter to my bread, and the breath to my life. – Julia Child

Shortbread cookies must be among the simplest cookies to make, especially if you use a food processor. One interesting facts is they have no added flavourings. All that goes into the dough is flour, sugar and butter, and sometimes cornstarch. I like the cornstarch because it makes a slightly lighter cookie.

All the flavour of homemade shortbread is carried by the butter. So choose it wisely. Butter today isn’t the same as that used decades ago. Back then butter had real flavour.

Butter production
The butter we commonly purchase today is only one of the types of butter that are available worldwide. Almost all North American butter is made from cow’s milk, but butter can be made from sheep, goat and even buffalo – each with a unique flavour.

North American manufacturers make their butter from cream separated from pasteurized cow’s milk.

While butter made from pasteurized cream keeps for several months, unpasteurized cream butter has a shelf life of only about ten days. (That’s one of the reasons why early settlers had well-used butter churns in their kitchens.)

Cultured butter
So what’s the trade-off? Flavour. Often when people made their own butter they had to save cream from their milking for several days. Over this time the collected cream would start to naturally ferment. 

During fermentation, the cream naturally sours as bacteria converts milk sugar into lactic acid. The fermentation process produces aromatic compounds, including diacetyl, which makes a more highly flavoured butter. 

You can still purchase cultured butter today, but because of health standards around milk it is made slightly differently. Pasteurized cream has fermentation introduced by Lactococcus and Leuconostoc bacteria.

Normandy-style butter
When you go to the Superstore you will see PC brand Black Label Normandy-Style Cultured Butter. This is butter that has been made by introducing active culture into the cream. It’s about the closest available at the supermarket to old-fashioned butter. 

There may be other brands that offer cultured butter as well. I believe Lactantia does. Both cost more than regular butter, which is not inexpensive on its own...

If you’re lucky enough to find butter at a local farmers market I’m sure that will be more flavourful than regular manufactured butter, too. And you would be supporting loal business.

You can make shortbread as a wonderful gift by baking a few and stacking them in an 8" decorative tin. Separate with waxed paper rounds or decorative paper doilies. Just make sure you make them slightly smaller than the size of the tin – or they won't fit!

Buttery Scottish Shortbread
Prep: 5 min  |  Bake: 25-30 min  |  8 large wedges
1 cup plain flour
1/4 cup cornstarch*
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter + 1 tbsp, softened
Demerara sugar, or other large crystal sugar

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Place the flour, cornstarch and sugar in a food processor. Pulse until combined. Add the butter while the motor is running until the mixture comes together.

Draw an 8” circle on a piece of foil on a baking sheet. Gather the dough and press out to the shape of the circle. make as round as possible.

Press marks into the dough around the outside edge with a fork. Then pierce the centre of the dough all over with the tines. (At this time you can make score marks for individual wedges, or wait until the cookie is baked to cut.)

Sprinkle the top generously with Demerara sugar. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until firm and golden.

Let cool slightly, but cut into wedges while still slightly warm. Cool completely (overnight) before serving.

* The cornstarch makes a lighter cookie. If you prefer heavier, substitute flour for the cornstarch.


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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Recipe: Squash Ravioli with Mushrooms and Sage

For man, autumn is a time of harvest, of gathering together. For nature, it is a time of sowing, of scattering abroad. – Edwin Way Teale

OK. It’s autumn. The time has come to break out the pasta machine, because the new harvest of squash is in the stores and farmers markets.

Nothing beats squash ravioli with sage in my books. It is the most wonderful combination of flavours. The pasta has bite, the squash is sweet and the sage imparts a taste and aroma that just can’t be beat.

Every Italian restaurant worth its salt will have either squash or pumpkin ravioli on the menu in the fall. Most good restaurants vary their menus by the season to offer diners the best and freshest ingredients. Come autumn, that means squash.

I had my first squash ravioli at Il Mercato on Spring Garden Road several years ago. They were fantastic. From that point on they were on my radar to make at home and I have done so several times since.

Don't worry if your pasta dough isn't completely smooth after
kneading. That 30 minute wait does miraculous things.
Here's an interesting tidbit for people who dislike "wet" squash as much as I do. I think I have found out the secret to picking a dry squash out of the pile at the market.

I love dry squash. Mushy squash is, well, gross. Dry squash is fluffy, light and soaks up butter like it was born to it.

The secret is kind of obvious. You lift the squash and compare how heavy ones of similar size feel. I was doing this at the store to get the biggest one for the least amount of money. They sell squash by the pound (most times). I was being cheap.

I have tried other techniques: pressing my fingernail into the skin to see if it dents easily, tapping for a hollow sound, etc. But my new technique makes so much sense. A lighter squash will have less water content. less water content means drier flesh.

Duh… It's worked twice so far, but "third time's the charm," so they say. I guess my theory will either pass or fail next time I buy a squash.

Don't be daunted by making your own pasta. Making it at home is really quite easy. Ravioli is a little more time intensive but the work is worth it. All you really need is a hand crank pasta roller. In Halifax the only place I was able to find one was at Stokes in Dartmouth Crossing. They’re about $29.98.

Go and get one now. You should have one. Tell them I sent you.

They don’t know me, but I will get some bizarre pleasure thinking about what they will think when people start showing up to purchase rollers and all say “Docaitta sent me.” Puzzled looks all around, I bet.

Anyway, less about my ego and more about ravioli. Homemade pasta cooks in minutes. As such everything that goes into a filling needs to be cooked beforehand. (There is an egg used for binder, but the usual four minutes cooking time is enough.)

Another important tip about ravioli is that you have to make sure they are well sealed on all four sides. If not you will have a terrible, disappointing mess when they cook. I usually pinch them together again just before cooking.

One last note. If you’ve never had fried sage you have no idea what you have been missing. A simple fried sage butter sauce is the perfect complement to these fall ravioli or even plain pasta. Two ingredients, and superb.

I added mushrooms to the sage/butter sauce to make it a little more filling, but that is all. Do yourself a culinar favour and make homemade ravioli soon. If you don't eat them all they can be frozen very easily.

Space the filling evenly along the strip of pasta.

Squash Ravioli with Mushrooms and Sage
Prep: 1 hour  |  Cook: 3-4 minutes  |  Makes 24 ravioli
Just before boiling, press the edges together again –
just to ensure the filling doesn't leak out.
Pasta dough:
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
1/4 cup milk + 1 tbsp
3/4 cup cooked squash
140 g soft goat cheese
1/4 cup parmesan (optional)
1 egg
1/2 tsp salt 
1/2 tsp cracked black  pepper
3/4 cup butter
150 g crimini mushrooms
1/2 cup sage leaves
cracked black pepper

Mix together the egg and milk in a small dish. Combine the flour and salt in a bowl. Whisk the egg mixture into the flour with a fork.

Continue to mix with your hands until a ball is formed. If necessary add a slight bit more milk but err on the dry, rather than wet, side.

Place the dough on a board and knead for about 5-8 minutes until relatively smooth and elastic. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest on the counter for 30 minutes. You can also let it rest longer in the refrigerator.

While the dough is resting, make the filling. Mix together the squash, goat cheese egg, salt and pepper. It should be fairly dry and a spoonful will keep its shape. If not, add the parmesan. Set aside.

After the dough has rested cut into four equal pieces. Roll each piece out to a thin sheet. (On my pasta machine I have seven settings. I roll to one from the thinnest – 6.) Roll all four pieces of dough.

Lay one sheet on the counter. It should be about 2-1/2 feet long. Place a rounded dessert spoonful of filling at each end of the dough about 1/2” from the edge. Place 10 more spoonfuls along the dough at equal intervals.

If your filling isn’t equally spaced adjust the balls so they are. Dampen all the pasta showing around the filling with water. Take a second sheet and place over the fillings. Firmly press down between the filling trying to push out as much air as possible. (Air will make them explode when cooking.)

After the top sheet is well adhered to the bottom trim the outer edges and ends with a sharp knife. Then cut down between each ball of filling. This will make 12 ravioli.

Repeat with the remaining sheets of pasta. Place the finished ravioli on a lightly dusted surface or a piece of plastic wrap or tin foil. Don’t worry if they’re not perfect. That is part of their charm.

Make the sauce by melting the butter in a frying pan. Coarsely chop the sage leaves. Chop the mushrooms and add to the butter. Once the mushrooms start to soften add the sage leaves and let cook until the mushrooms have browned and the sage has darkened. Do not let the sage burn. Season with pepper.

Brin water and salt to a boil in a large pot. Add the ravioli and let cook for 4 minutes. Drain and serve with the mushroom/sage/butter sauce.

These ravioli are on the large side. An appetizer serving is usually three or four ravioli; an entrée is six to eight.


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