Friday, November 29, 2013

Make Brioche with your mixer!

But since you're asking me, I'll tell you my opinion: all cornbread is authentic, as long as it's good, hot, and made with love and fresh ingredients. – Jeremy Jackson 

The quote begs a very interesting question: what makes a recipe “authentic”? Is it ingredients, technique, location something is made? All are valid to argue in the positive and negative.

Consider how you get down from a hilltop. You can walk, roll, bike, run, sled, ski, etc. The end result is getting down the hill in one piece. How you get there is of no great concern, really. It's the end result.

The flour, sugar, yeast, salt and butter.
The same is true with making brioche. It has to be rich and buttery, with a moist, tender crumb. But it's a French classic – it must be difficult. As with all classic French recipes, there’s more fear and mystery surrounding how to  make them than is necessary.

But for a moment, let's talk original. As far as “authentic” goes, look no further than Julia Child. She uses a spatula and her hands. (Of course she would!) I would imagine that is exactly the way she was taught when she was studying cooking in France.

If you want to read how she does it, look here.

Interestingly, the method of choice nowadays is a mixer with a whisk and dough hook. Many fine dining magazines have published recipes that use that most useful kitchen tool. 

If it’s good enough for Fine Cooking magazine it's good enough for me... So I don’t feel that guilty in using my KitchenAid to help me out. Otherwise I would be in for a bit of a mess.

The "paste." before first long rise.
Before being baked, brioche is part dough, part paste, or “pâté de brioche.” Luckily my excursions in overnight raises have conditioned me for what to expect from an 8-hour bread rise. It’s substantially different than when first started.

A few sites lament about “fast” brioche recipes common nowadays where the flavour is not allowed to develop before baking. This also is solved by the overnight rise. The length of time lets “yeastiness” develop that 2-3 hours just doesn’t deliver.

I made this recipe because I was bored one night this week. If it failed all I would be out was a few cups of flour, some butter and eggs. No big deal.

That’s the good thing about baking. If it’s a flop you just throw it out. Luckily this was not. Any fear I may have had about making brioche has now completely evaporated. It’s no more difficult than any other bread.

This was delicious warm and plain, and the next morning toasted with butter. It can be used to make excellent French toast, or even sandwiches. The dough itself can be shaped into rolls, as lining for tarts, or rolled into croissants. They can then be broiled briefly with French pastry cream and almond slivers. Versatility at its finest!

So what’s stopping you from trying your hand at this? Nothing. I know you want to...

Settled in for 2nd rise. Dish is 8" wide x 5" high.
Time: overnight, plus 3 hour rise |  Bake: 1 hour  |  yield 2 regular or 1 lg loaf
4 cups unbleached flour
1/4 cup white sugar
2-1/2 tsp yeast
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter
3 large eggs
1 cup milk
1/3 cup water
1 tbsp cream (for brushing)

Place the flour, sugar, yeast and salt in the bowl of your mixer. Using the whisk attachment, mix the dry ingredients together.

Cube the butter into 1/2” pieces. Add to the flour and whisk until the butter begins to break up. Then add the eggs all at once. Continue to whisk until the mixture looks granular, about 2 minutes. (see photo)

Switch the whisk for a dough hook. Then add the milk and water. Beat the dough until it comes together in a mass, but is very sticky. This will take a couple minutes. Remove the hook.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl so all the dough is together in one mass. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel. let rise overnight, or for 8 hours.

After the first rise, butter your hands and remove the dough to a board. Using a small amount of flour, knead briefly to make the dough smooth. It will still be very moist but will not stick.

If making two loaves, divide in two and place in two well buttered loaf pans, or two fluted “mousseline” moulds. (They have deep flutes and flare out on the sides.)

If using a circular baking dish (like I did), butter it well, line with parchment paper 1” up past the sides and butter the paper. Place the dough in the dish.

Let the dough rise again for 3 hours. It will almost triple in size. 

Preheat the oven to 400°F with a pan (with 1 cup of water in it) on the bottom rack. Brush the loaf (or loaves) with the cream.

Bake the small loaves for 30-35 minutes, or the large one for 1 hour. The loaves are done when they are well browned on top and sound hollow when tapped. 

Note: the large loaf can be tricky because of its size and the dough moisture content. The very centre has a tendency to cook very slowly. That’s why the time is twice that f the smaller loaves.

Remove from the oven and the pans, and let cool.


Feel free to comment. They’re always appreciated. I’ll answer quickly and as best I can. Feel free to share this post. All I ask is if you repost, please give me credit and a link back to the original on this site.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Black Braised Pork with Kale

Too many people just eat to consume calories. Try dining for a change. – John Walters 

Mr. Walters was right. We so often sit down and shovel food into our open maws with hardly a thought as to what’s going in there.

This simmers, covered, for three hours.
I’m as guilty as the next person. But every once in a while it’s nice to treat yourself to something healthy AND extraordinary, as long as it's not too labour intensive.

This recipe does not take a whole lot of work. What it does take is time. Three hours of braising, to be exact. But it’s well worth the wait. Pick a day when you’re trapped inside either by pouring rain (like today is going to be) or snow.

This recipe seems quite simple when you look at it, and it is. But something magical happens when all that time elapses: the onions and garlic disappear into the sauce and all the flavours infuse into the meat.

This is not “blackened” in the Cajun cooking sense. If anything this is more Mediterranean (Italy or Provence) than anything. So whence cometh the name?

I called this recipe “black” for two reasons: the black pepper and portobello mushrooms. The decent amount of cracked pepper adds a nice background spiciness, while the portobello gills break down and make the liquid in the pot a very, very dark colour. It certainly makes the green kale pop!

The result.
This is a deep, delicious and complex tasting dish. If you want to step it up a notch try adding 1/2 cup of white wine to the pot if you don’t think you have enough liquid just before you thicken it. Just make sure it’s wine you would actually enjoy drinking.

Here’s a sage word of advice. Choose a piece of pork that is well marbled. It will break down as the dish cooks and render the meat unbelievably tender. Pull apart tender.

This recipe is quite filling. Both the portobello and kale helps in this regard, I believe. A little goes a long way. It’s a bit of an anomaly, because usually dishes that taste this rich are loaded with calories. I can state with almost certain conviction that this one is not.

I do have to admit that this is one of the best things I have made in quite a while.

Black Braised Pork with Kale
Prep: 10 min  |  Braise: 3 hours  |  Serves 4, easily
1.5 lb pork roast
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1-1/2 medium onions, quartered
3-4 portobello caps, diced large
3 lg garlic cloves
3 cups chicken stock
2 tsp cracked black pepper
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp flour
2 tbsp water
4 cups chopped kale

Heat the butter and oil in a Dutch oven or other large, heavy pot with a lid. Sprinkle the roast with a little salt and pepper and sear on all sides.

Add the onions, mushrooms and garlic to the pot. Then add the chicken stock, the 2 tsp of pepper, sage and a little more salt.

Bring to a boil, cover and reduce the heat to medium low. Let cook for 3 hours. Check periodically to ensure there is still liquid in the pot.

At the end of the time, remove the roast to a plate. You should have between 1.5-2 cups of liquid. Mix the flour with the water to make a smooth paste. Add to the pot. Increase the heat to medium and stir until the sauce thickens.

Add the chopped kale, stir in well, cover and let cook for 5 minutes.

To serve, tear the pork apart into bite-sized pieces. Place some sauce on the bottom of the plate. Pile some pork in the centre and serve.

Be prepared to serve seconds, because you WILL be asked.


Feel free to comment. They’re always appreciated. I’ll answer quickly and as best I can. Feel free to share this post. All I ask is if you repost, please give me credit and a link back to the original on this site.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Baked Lobster & Penne 2

The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found? – J. B. Priestley

I love the crunchy bits of penne.

We received our first real snow here in the country last night. Two inches of white, fluffy solitude. There’s a feeling that arrived with it I haven’t experienced for a very long time. I have nowhere I need to go so can enjoy it for its beauty, like a child. That’s one of the benefits of working from home.

I was listening to our national broadcaster, CBC, this morning and my ears perked up when I heard the word “lobster.” I had almost forgotten that lobster season is to start today in the waters off Nova Scotia.

They were interviewing someone about pricing and today's delayed start of the season in the Atlantic from Halifax to Digby in the Bay of Fundy. That’s a big area.

It's due to the weather. It’s a bit too dangerous to allow men and their small boats out to set traps. Our Department of Fisheries and Oceans will make another call about safety on Wednesday. The season lasts for six months. 

The interview reminded me it’s been a while since I had of one of my most favourite of foods –  and how crazy the pricing can be leading up to Christmas. But if you think lobster is too rich for your wallet, read on.

The price is vastly different between wharf and processors. It can be almost as much as three times more at our esteemed grocery chains than what our fishers are being paid. It is always a complaint and friction between the two.

So the secret is to know someone with connections who can get them “off the boat.” In the city, you can find fishers selling in mall parking lots for less than in the grocery chains. Support your local fishers if you can. It costs a lot to run and maintain a boat, gear and crew. They don’t have debit machines. Carry money.

There’s a thousand ways to cook lobster, the most common ones at home being freshly shelled with butter, or in a chowder.

But they’re certainly not the only two that are easy to pull off at home. This recipe is a little unusual, being a baked pasta dish. It doesn’t have a “sauce” per se, but you'll never miss it.

The stated time does not include boiling and cleaning a lobster, but I would recommend it. It’s so much better than canned meat or even a pre-cooked lobster from the store. A 1.5 lb lobster will take 15-18 minutes in well salted water. Since this is baked, go for the lower time.

This would make an excellent buffet dish – just in case you’re attending one or two over the next four weeks – and no one’s allergic to shellfish. Anaphylactic shock is a real concern. 

This recipe is really easy. It makes a decent sized pan, too, at 8x8x3. Certainly enough for 4-6 for a main meal.

Baked Lobster & Penne 2
Prep: 15 min  |  Bake: 35 min  |  Serves 4-6
1.5 lb steamed lobster
350 g penne
400g ricotta
1/2 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup 18% cream
1 cup white wine
1 cup black olives, sliced
1 cup grated mozzarella
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp garlic powder
1 cup chopped fresh basil
1 tbsp capers, drained and chopped
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 bunch green onions, sliced
1 slice fresh bread, grated

Grease an 8x8x3 baking dish with butter. Cook the penne and drain. Preheat the oven to 400°F. 

Clean the lobster and cut the meat into bite-sized pieces. Grate the slice of bread into crumbs.

Whisk the ricotta, tomato paste, cream and wine together in a mixing bowl. Stir in the chilli flakes, garlic powder, chopped basil, capers, salt, pepper, green onions and black olives.

Add the drained penne and half of the cheese. Mix well and then stir in the lobster.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and then the grated bread.

Add more pepper if desired and bake for 35 minutes, or until bubbly and golden.


Feel free to comment. They’re always appreciated. I’ll answer quickly, and as best as I can. If you like this post, feel free to share it. All I ask is if you repost, please give me credit and a link back to this site.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Mushroom & Brie Soup

Can anything be so elegant as to have few wants, and to serve them one's self? – Ralph Waldo Emerson 

If you are thinking of having people over for a dinner during the holidays, you may be looking for a first course. Here it is.

There’s nothing quite as delicious to start off a festive gathering as a rich, wonderful soup. It may take a little time, but can certainly be made ahead and then simply re-heated when ready.

One may not think of mushroom soup as all that elegant, but when you add melted brie cheese and wine something magical happens – something deep and unexpected. I don’t really know how to describe it.

This was inspired by a trip to Costco. They sell “family-sized” soups that actually sound interesting. One was mushroom and brie. I had never heard of it. Of course they add "stuff" to it to extend shelf life, so perhaps it’s better to make it at home. Soup is always better when made at home.

Except for the dicing and chopping, this soup was a snap. It would be great for a family or for a table of 8. As a first course always make your servings smaller so you don’t spoil anyone’s appetite for your main attraction!

Two ingredients are signature in this: the wine and cheese. Don’t buy anything that you wouldn’t serve on its own. The tastes really do come through. So make sure your wine is nice and your cheese creamy. Neither have to be expensive, just good.

Don't add salt until the end. The chicken stock and brie can both add saltiness to the finished soup, so adjust at the end.

I made this because I found white mushrooms on sale this week and already had some brie. In the recipe I call for cremini mushrooms. They will add a little more flavour than white. You could also use portobello or wild.

This does have an acceptable amount of mushroom pieces, always a necessity for mushroom soup. You may want to sauté more than the called-for 16. It’s up to you. It depends on how hearty you want your soup to be.

Each spoonful of this soup is bursting with flavour. Just make sure your main course can stand up to the competition!

Mushroom & Brie Soup
Time: about 35 minutes  |  4-8 servings
26 medium cremini mushrooms
225g brie, rind removed & cubed
1/2 cup butter
1 medium carrot, diced
1/3 cup onion, diced
2 tbsp flour
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup white wine
1 tsp dried thyme
salt and cracked black pepper, to taste

Roughly chop 16 of the mushrooms. Melt 1/4 cup of the butter in a frying pan and sauté the chopped mushrooms until golden. Do not add salt. Set aside.

Melt the remaining butter in a soup pot. Slice the remaining 10 mushrooms and add to the butter. Dice the carrot and onion and add to the pot. Sauté until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5-6 minutes. Do not add salt.

Sprinkle with the flour and sauté for a further 2 minutes, stirring so the flour doesn’t burn but darkens slightly.

Add the stock, wine, thyme and a decent amount (1 tsp) of cracked black pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and let cook for 10 minutes. After the 10 minutes purée until smooth.

Remove the white rind from the brie by barely cutting it away from the surface. Cube the cheese. Add the brie and browned mushrooms and stir until the cheese has melted.

Taste for salt and adjust. Serve.


Feel free to comment. They’re always appreciated. I’ll answer quickly, and as best as I can. If you like this post, feel free to share it. All I ask is if you repost, please give me credit and a link back to this site.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Cranberry Rum Liqueur

Let's be naughty and save Santa the trip. – Gary Allan 

Christmas, in liquid form.

We’re not exchanging Christmas presents this year. With the expenses we’ve occurred in moving, etc., and my business just starting to build, it doesn’t make sense. Especially when most people don't need what you give.

The leftovers from the infusion.
Think about your gift shopping... Do you have trouble buying for some people? That’s a good indication that there’s not really anything they actually require. You may very well just be contributing to the clutter they have in their house.

So, if you feel you must give something, why not something that can be used up? Try gifting baked goods, or other homemade items. How about a liqueur? That’s almost always appreciated, unless the recipients don’t drink.

There are some signature tastes of the holidays – and I don’t mean fruitcake. Face it, very few people like fruitcake. So don’t do it. Another signature taste is turkey, and another is cranberry. 

Since turkey is notoriously difficult to drink, why not introduce the tartness of cranberries and cinnamon into a liqueur? That's sure to be a hit. It was one of the favourites I made two years ago. 

You have to infuse the cranberries and spices into the rum. It takes one month but if you start now you’ll have it ready in time for the holidays.

The infused liquor is a very beautiful cranberry red. It tastes of spice and cranberries, just like what you would expect. (Most homemade liqueurs will last unrefrigerated for 3-4 months.)

Drink it chilled “straight up” or use as a mixer in any number of vodka, rum or even whiskey-based cocktails this Christmas.

The 375 ml bottles and corks are easy to get. Look in any wine kit store. Tie a bow around the top, attach a gift card and you’re good to go.

Cranberry Rum Liqueur
Time: 4 weeks  |  Yield: 4 x 375 ml
2 1L Mason jars
4 cups fresh cranberries, chopped
1 medium orange, quartered
2 x 2” cinnamon stick
12 whole cloves
750 ml Demerara rum (or Amber)
3/4 cup brandy
2-1/2 cups white sugar
2 cup water

Divide the chopped cranberries, orange, cinnamon, cloves and rum between two Mason jars. Seal well and let steep for 4 weeks shaking periodically. 

After the month, strain through a fine sieve or cloth to remove all the solids. Press to extract as much juice you can. Stir in the brandy. You should have about 1L of liquid.

Place the sugar and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook for 7 minutes. The syrup will make a little less than 1L. Remove from the heat and let cool. Add the syrup to infused liquor. Cool slightly and then fill four sterilized 375 ml bottles.

This liqueur will improve if left to sit for two further weeks, but can be used right away (if you can’t wait). After all, you’ve already waited a month…

Photo: Urban Mixer, Flickr ccl
Here’s a drink recipe using this liqueur for a festive gathering. Attach a hand written card with the recipe to each bottle. This version of the classic Crantini is a blend of sweet, sour, spice and tart. Be careful. They’re deceptive!

1 oz Cranberry Rum Liqueur
2 oz vodka
1 oz cranberry juice
cinnamon sticks (optional)
Coarse sugar for rimming the glass
lemon wedges

Rim each glass with lemon juice. Dip into coarse sugar to coat.

Pour the liquid ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain into the garnish martini glass.

Serve with a cinnamon stick as a swizzle for more spiciness.


Feel free to comment. They’re always appreciated. I’ll answer quickly, and as best as I can. If you like this post, feel free to share it. All I ask is if you repost, please give me credit and a link back to this site.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Roast Beef with Caramelized Onion

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. – Leonardo da Vinci

This is cooked to "medium." Note the lack of juice pooling around the
meat. Let it rest and you keep all that flavour, and moistness.

You know, some things are really simple. It’s when we try to tart them up that possibility of failure comes in.

Sear both sides well.
Take, for instance, the “Sunday joint.” A roast is expensive, so you don’t want to screw it up. Dry beef is not a good thing.

Luckily, roast is one of the simplest things on earth to do. And so are the accompanying caramelized onions that many of us love as an accompaniment. 

Simple ingredients, simple technique, amazing result. There’s precious little that delivers so much for so little effort. All they take are time.

Low, and slow. If you can remember those two words you’ve got both of these done. Seriously, there are really no tricks to either of these. But two actions do benefit them.

First, you need to make sure you have a good sear on both sides of the meat before it goes into the oven. Second, the roast does benefit from sitting in the refrigerator rubbed with the spices. They start permeating the meat as opposed to just sitting on the surface.

Special equipment? Yes. An instant-read meat thermometer. You should have one in your kitchen. Your roast, chicken, chops, etc will thank yo for it. So will all of your barbecued goodies when that season rolls around again.

So I’ve given you lots of time to plan for next weekend. If you have the roast rubbed and in the fridge on Thursday you’ll be ready for Saturday dinner. If you want to wait until Sunday, have the prep done by Friday.

Any leftovers can be put to good use, with any leftover onions, in sandwiches.

Slow and low caramelizes. Rush and they may burn.
Roast Beef with Caramelized Onions
Prep: 1-2 days  |  Roast 1 to 2 hours*
1.5 to 2 kg beef roast
2 tsp salt
2 tsp cracked black pepper
2 tbsp vegetable oil

2 medium/lg yellow onions, sliced
2-3 tbsp water, juice or white wine
2 tbsp olive oil

Mix together the salt and pepper. Rub the entire surface of the roast with the spices. Place in a dish, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one to two days.

Preheat the oven to 275°F. Sear the roast in the oil using an ovenproof pan, like cast iron.

Some of my roast ended up in sandwiches.
Place the pan and roast in the preheated oven for 1 hour and then check the internal temperature with a meat thermometer. Cook until internal temperature reaches 145°F for medium rare or 160° for medium.

Tent with foil and let sit for 15 minutes for the juices to redistribute throughout the meat.

While the roast is cooking, place the sliced onions in the hot oil in a frying pan. Stir, turn the heat to medium low and add the liquid.

The liquid can be water, juice (like apple or orange) or white wine. It allows the onions to “sweat” and begin the caramelization process. Stir the onions occasionally to prevent burning. 

Cook until very translucent and they have begun to brown. This will take about 1 hour.

* Length of time depends on the weight, thickness and desired level of doneness. Flatter cuts will take shorter time; “fatter” cuts, longer.


Feel free to comment. They’re always appreciated. I’ll answer quickly, and as best as I can. If you like this post, feel free to share it. All I ask is if you repost, please give me credit and a link back to this site.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Coconut Milk Pound Cake

The two basic items necessary to sustain life are sunshine and coconut milk. – Dustin Hoffman 

I’m not entirely sure about the second item, Mr. Hoffman, but it’s darned close...

I have been craving something coconut-y lately, which is a bit odd, because I’m not all that fond of it in some uses. My all-time most un-favourite cookie is coconut macaroon. It's a texture thing, I believe.

I do like pina coladas (who doesn’t?), and use a lot of coconut milk in curries,. But for some reason I recently have been craving a dessert. I found my muse in coconut milk pound cake. 

It is what it sounds like: the cow’s milk has entirely been replaced by coconut milk, with shredded coconut thrown in for good measure.

Many recipes for coconut pound cake – or coconut cake, for that matter – simply add coconut extract and shredded coconut to the batter and call it a day. That’s not coconut cake, at least not the way I envisioned it.

This recipe has probably been passed around like a doobie at a frat party. I found my start on The person who posted their recipe said they found it somewhere else, which was probably based on another’s recipe, ad infinitum. They said they “had perfected it.” I beg to differ.

Of course I couldn’t leave well enough alone either. My recipe is fairly close to what I found except for a few salient points. I used coconut extract (not vanilla), sweetened coconut and slightly more coconut milk. Can’t have enough of a good thing, can we? 

The cake is now cooling on the stove. It has domed and split like every good pound cake should, and the house smells like the inside of a coconut, if you can imagine that. I may very well have reached my goal.

When you buy coconut milk for this recipe don’t use the “lite” variety. I don’t know for sure, but I would imagine the amount of plant “fat” in regular coconut milk allows some sort of chemical reaction necessary to success.

One could go whole hog and use coconut cream. If you've never used it you should seek out a can. It is NOT the stuff you make mixed drinks from. That’s highly sweetened. Coconut cream is about four times as thick as coconut milk. It would be akin to cooking with partly whipped whipping cream. You can find it in most Asian groceries.

This is the classic "crack" in a pond cake. Note they're not
present in store made...
The cake has a wonderful crispy exterior. The flavour is quite coconut-y and the grain nice and tight like a pound cake should be.

The next person to perfect this recipe has their work cut out for them!

Coconut Milk Loaf Cake
Prep: 15 min  |  Bake: 1 hr 30 min
3/4 cup butter, softened
1-3/4 cups sugar
4 eggs
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 tsp coconut extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup coconut milk

Preheat over to 325°F. Butter and flour a 5x9 loaf pan. Set aside.

Beat the butter and sugar together until well mixed, about 5-6 minutes – scraping the sides and bottom a couple times.

Add the eggs, one at a time, incorporating each well. Then add the coconut, baking powder and coconut extract. Add 1 cup of the flour and mix in. Then add 1/2 cup of coconut milk. Repeat with the remaining flour and coconut milk.

Pour the batter unto the prepared pan, making sure to get into the corners with the batter to avoid air pockets.

Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour 30 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the centre comes out clean. If you have any doubt leave it in an extra 5 minutes. My cake took 1 hour 50 minutes.

This is the shape of a classic "pound cake". It humps up in the centre
and then cracks open. Test for "doneness" down through the crack.

Feel free to comment. They’re always appreciated. I’ll answer quickly, and as best as I can. If you like this post, feel free to share it. All I ask is if you repost, please give me credit and a link back to this site.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Flowering Quince Jam!

The important thing is that men should have a purpose in life. It should be something useful, something good. – Dalai Lama 

Not too sweet, and "floral." No other way to describe it.

This is a re-post from last year but bears repeating. It’s the perfect time to go out foraging the flowering quince. Yes, they are useful, and make something quite delicious.

Photo: fyrefiend, Flickr ccl
Flowering quince can be a bit of a test of your tenacity. We have one under a front window that was planted far too close. There is no way we have been able to kill it, and the root is too large to move. Currently it is buried under a hill of dirt. That will probably only make it angry.

I would love to have one in a more practical spot, especially now that I know a “secret.” You can use the fruit to make jam.

Everyone knows the bush I’m talking about. It’s actually quite breathtaking in bloom – literally covered with hot-pink flowers. This bush's botanical name is Chaenomeles speciosa.

Quince in the store are Cydonia oblonga. Cydonia are not winter hardy in Nova Scotia.

Any recipe that uses those quince can use flowering quince fruit. The flowering quince fruit is smaller, so if a recipe calls for a specific number of fruit be aware that you’ll need more. Cydonia quinces can be the size of apples.

Remove seeds and obvious blemishes.
You can "forage" your flowering quince from your own, or your neighbour's bush. They probably won't have a use for them and will look at you strangely when you ask to pick.

Because of our growing season don’t expect the quince to be ripe as you would expect an apple to be ripe. They will be as hard as rocks – and almost as difficult to deal with. They also will be somewhat green/yellow outside. If you can, pick ones that have started to yellow.

It’s also best to wait until the frost hits them once or twice. This helps develop the internal sugars. But don’t try to bite into one. It will either break your teeth, or suck all the saliva out of your mouth. They are unbelievably astringent. Smell the quince – it should have an pleasant, unusual, floral aroma. This translates into your jam.

I’m actually quite amazed that such a nice jam can be made from something so unpromising. When you're making the jam it does a magic trick close to the end of cooking time. It turns from yellow to quite a lovely orangey red º– almost the same colour as the flowers!

Quince makes a very old-fashioned and unusual jam. It has a bright flavour that is unlike anything else. It also is not overly sweet which makes it very different than other jams and jellies.

This is what it looks like at the start.
Quince are high in natural pectin so all you need is the fruit, sugar and water. They also contain more Vitamin C than lemons.

Flowering Quince Jam
Prep: 45 min  |  Cook: 45 min to 1 hour  |  Yield: 3+ cups 
Adapted from Simply Recipes
4 cups finely chopped flowering quince (between 5-7 fruit)
3-1/2 cups water
juice of one orange
zest of one orange 
3 1/2 cups sugar
*1/4 cup Grand Marnier (optional)

Unless you are used to making jelly, use a candy thermometer for this.

And then, miraculously, it turns this colour!
To prepare the quinces first wash the fruit well and remove any obvious blemishes. The ones I picked had some dark spots on the skin, which I didn’t remove. Bruises were removed.

Quarter the quince and cut out the cores. This may take some doing. They are very hard. 

Chop the quince in a food processor – or a chef’s knife – into small pieces. Measure out 4 packed cups of fruit.

Place the quince, water, orange zest and juice in a stock pot. Simmer for 10 minutes to soften the flesh. then add the sugar, bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium low.

Cook the quince until a thermometer reads 220°F. This is the jelly stage. It may take 45 minutes; it may take an hour; it may take longer. 

Stir occasionally to ensure the jam doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Skim off any "scum" that forms on the surface.

Once ready, prepare your canning jars by sterilizing the glass, rings and lids in very hot water. Fill the jars leaving a little head room. Place the tops on and tighten the rings on top.

Turn upside down and let sit on the counter for 1/2 hour. Flip over and let cool completely. The lid should be dimpled down to show that the jars are vacuum sealed. If they aren’t, refrigerate. Better safe than sorry.

I used Dollarstore cage-top jars. Since there was no way I could know if they were sealed, I refrigerated mine.

* If adding the Grand Marnier, stir it in after the jam has reached 220°F and is off the heat. The extra liquid will make a slightly softer jam but I wouldn't worry. It certainly won't make it runny.


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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Thai Beef with Lychees

Revenge is sweet and not fattening. – Alfred Hitchcock

Have you ever eaten lychees? They can often be found fresh in the grocery store. They have a red, nubbly husk. Inside is a large seed surrounded by sweet, white flesh. You can also find them canned in the fruit or “international” aisle.

Photo: sugree, Flickr ccl
Lychees are pretty sweet—sweeter than any of our local fruit—so I was a little leery when I concocted this recipe. But I wasn’t too worried because there are similar recipes floating around. I also had a steak that needed cooking, and a can of lychees that had been hanging around without a use.

I was kind of surprised that this recipe wasn’t as sweet as I thought. It’s no sweeter than pineapple chicken or sweet and sour recipes, although a little on the “junky” side.

Maybe that’s what the attraction is for me. It’s a little un-authentic. Although – as far as I can figure – it is close. Fruit goes very well with beef, so it’s a good match.

If you’ve never eaten lychees you should do yourself a favour and try them. They’re an amazing ingredient.

Lychees are amazingly versatile. Some easy to find recipes are cucumber lychee salad, gorgonzola and lychee dip, various lychee salad dressings, lychee muffins, and lychee glazed roast chicken. See what I mean? 

For my own part, I have posted a fried calamari dipping sauce that uses lychees. It’s one we recreated from one of our favourite Halifax restaurants, Vinnie’s Pasta Bar on Inglis Street.

So if you’re up for some Asian food, buy a can of lychees and go to town. This recipe makes enough to feed 3-4 easily as a main course with rice.

Thai Beef with Lychees
Prep: 15 min  |  Cook: 15-20 min  |  Serves 4
1 lb beef, cut into strips
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp corn starch
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
pinch of salt
1 530 ml can lychees in syrup, halved (reserve syrup)
1 red pepper, thinly sliced
2 dried red chillies, chopped (or to taste)
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1” piece fresh ginger, diced
1 bunch green onions, sliced
salt and pepper, to taste
the sauce
1 cup lychee syrup, reserved from can
2 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp corn starch, mixed with some of the syrup

Prepare all the ingredients before you start. It makes life far easier.

Thinly slice the beef and place in a bowl. Add 1 tbsp soy sauce, 2 tbsp cornstarch, pepper and a generous pinch of salt. Toss well to coat and set aside.

Drain the lychees (reserving 1 cup of the syrup) and slice in half. Slice the red pepper and place with the lychees in a small bowl. Slice the green onions.

Chop the red chillies, garlic and ginger and set aside. Mix all the sauce ingredients together in another bowl. Now you’re ready. 

Heat a generous tablespoon of vegetable oil in a wok. Add half of the beef and stir fry just until no longer pink. Remove to a bowl and add the rest of the beef and cook. Then remove it as well. 

Scrape the bottom of the wok if there is a brown crust, and remove it. If not you won’t be able to fry the aromatics.

Add a little more oil and stir fry the chillies, garlic and ginger for 2 minutes. Then add the lychees and red pepper. Stir fry for 2-3 minutes and then add the beef back to the wok.

Pour in the pre-mixed sauce. The mixture will thicken almost immediately. Add the green onions, some salt and cracked black pepper, toss and serve with hot rice.


Feel free to comment. They’re always appreciated. I’ll answer quickly, and as best as I can. If you like this post, feel free to share it. All I ask is if you repost, please give me credit and a link back to this site.