Yes, that’s how exciting it was. A hike and a fire for week 24 of the little red fire chicken (oooh, clever). We took it out to the woods. Or into the woods and out on the beach, really. An hour and a half hike down the coast past some of the most breathtaking scenery in Newfoundland…a whole gaggle of us, like a row of ducklings walking down the beach.

A lot of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians were reared up on toutons…leftover bread dough fried up and usually slathered in molasses. We were more of a bannock family. I don’t know if that was the Labrador influence, or the fact that Pop would make it in the woods all the time, but whatever the case was, Mom would make batches of it, not out in the woods but in the kitchen, in a frying pan on the stovetop. It was easy, great for any time of day, and most importantly it kept the three kids quiet and stuffing our faces for a while. Because as excellent as pancakes were for supper, bannock was even better. I’d cut a big fluffy bannock in half, spread both pieces in butter, top one with peanut butter and the other with molasses and make a good sticky mess of myself.

These past few years in Cow Head I’ve started making bannock for boil-ups and hikes. Everything tastes better cooked over a fire and because bannock is a type of bread you can make on the spot in the middle of nowhere, it’s hard to find a better food to cook out in the woods. I’m sure the traditional Native Canadian and Scottish recipes vary, but the ingredients are roughly as follows: 4 cups flour, 3 teaspoons baking powder and salt to taste. I halved the recipe to take on this particular hike because I didn’t have the room in my backpack for the full batch. Most times I’ll do up a big mixture and leave it in a closed container in my kitchen. When I’m packing up for a hike, I’ll scoop up some in a small tupperware or plastic baggie and…poof. Just add fire and water for magic bread in the woods. Whole wheat flour is a possibility, I’ve had it made that way and it’s good. But I prefer white flour outdoors….I don’t know why, it just seems weird and anti-ancestor to use any other flour over a fire. Like ordering whole-wheat pasta in Italy. Plus I can hear Pop from somewhere up there saying “whole wheat flour for bannock, don’t you be so goddamn foolish.”

I don’t know how Mom will feel about what I did with this particular batch of bannock, but I needed to make a new recipe and I wanted to do it in the woods. The night before the hike I made the bannock flour mixture and added some finely chopped fresh rosemary. Because I’m a little obsessed with bacon and rosemary on my roast chickens, I thought it would be an exciting experiment. With cheese. Lots of cheese.

The trick with bannock is to add enough water to make a softish dough. It can’t be too floury or it’ll be tough, and it can’t be too soft or it’ll fall off the stick and into the fire before it has time to set. Add your water accordingly, you’ll get what I mean. Half the battle is finding the right bannock stick, long, broad and flat. If you lump the dough thickly around a regular stick, it’ll fall off, or take ages to cook. If it’s spread evenly around a flat board-type stick, you’ll have a better chance of golden, evenly cooked bannock. I’m so confident in my bannock-stick selecting, I’m pretty sure it’s the only thing I could beat Gordon Ramsay at.

You know when you want a nice golden roasted marshmallow but you’re too impatient and you stick it in the fire and it ignites but you blow it out and eat it anyways? You can’t do that with bannock. If you’re not a patient person, don’t make it. Depending on how much you’re making and how awesome your bannock stick is, it could take anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes. Maybe more. You have to find the right spot on the fire, the fire can’t be too big and you can’t take your eyes away for a second. It’s easy to cook the top of the bannock, but then you have to wrangle the stick so that the bottom cooks without burning the top. The goal is to have it cooked evenly through, and not have a well-done outside, and a gooey mess on the inside. When someone asks me to make them a piece of bannock because it’s their first time and they don’t know how to do it, I tell them no. Making a perfect piece of bannock and having to give it away makes people resentful. Make your own, or roast a wiener.

With that half batch we made a good four or five big pieces, plus a couple of smallish pieces for people who just wanted a taste. The bannock-virgins did fine (including Evan, who coined the cheesy and excellent title for this blog).  A few mildly burnt pieces, but nothing too serious. I took ages to cook mine because I am a food dork and I was excited about the rosemary experiment. I wanted it to be perfect and you know, look pretty in the photos. It took a good 40 minutes.

Done! Finally! I’m the most impatient person in the world, but why I have all the patience in the world for dough on a stick, I’ll never know. When you’re all golden and lovely and so’s your bannock, take a knife and slice it off the stick, minding the bits of wood that might be stuck in the cooked dough. You should have two evenly cooked pieces, hot in the middle and ready to be spread with butter, molasses, peanut butter, jam, nutella, whatever you like. Because I was doing a savoury-type deal with rosemary, I used butter and cheese, topped with a bit of bacon I had fried up on the fire.

The best thing I have ever eaten on a fire. The best thing I have ever eaten. I would make this for Nigel Slater and Gordon Ramsay, so there. And if Pop Porter was still here I’d make it for him too, and I think he’d be very impressed. And maybe a little proud.

Week 23: Peach and Pineapple Cobbler

Grasping at straws for week 23. Needing another grocery run to Corner Brook for some fresh fruit and vegetables, but another Monday off with no grocery run in sight and have to feed eight people for supper, so…chilli and cobbler! The perfect meal to serve the second week of June. Not really. More like a February meal. But if I can pull off a February meal in June in Gros Morne, I’m doing okay.

For this day off, I did what I think I might be doing a lot this summer…Googling. A can of peaches I can’t remember buying somehow ended up in my cupboard. I Googled “peach cobbler” and the easiest no-frills recipe I found was from So off I went to the store to buy another can of peaches…all I found were peaches in “a light syrup” (gross. who eats those?) so I opted for a can of pineapple (in its own juice…which clearly makes me morally superior to the light syrup people) and thought I might really be pushing the limits of cobblers everywhere.

Cobbler filling:
4 cups peeled and sliced fresh peaches (blanch in boiling water for 30 seconds to remove the skins)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon flour

Cobbler crust:
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons brown sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon brown sugar, for topping
Whipped cream

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Generously butter a 1 1/2-quart shallow baking dish. Place the sliced peaches in the dish and sprinkle with brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, and flour. Mix gently and spread evenly again. Bake for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile combine all dry ingredients for cobbler crust in a bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or your fingers, to make the texture like coarse crumbs. Add buttermilk and stir to form a soft dough.

Remove fruit from oven and drop rounded spoonfuls of dough on top. Sprinkle with last tablespoon of brown sugar and return to oven. Bake until fruit is bubbly and crust topping is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Serve warm with whipped cream.

So here’s where I tweaked…I thought a teaspoon of cinnamon might be a little overpowering so I went with a half teaspoon and then threw in a half teaspoon of nutmeg. Yep, you heard me, a half teaspoon of nutmeg because I thought an extra half teaspoon of cinnamon would be too overpowering. Everyone claimed they loved the cobbler even when I said “Too much nutmeg! Don’t lie! Need criticism!” And it was a very, very good cobbler, but there was too much cinnamon and nutmeg. I’ll make it again (in February) but I’ll go with a quarter teaspoon of each. And I knew with the unavailability of fresh fruit and having to use cans, I wouldn’t need as much sugar, so I went with a 1/2 cup of brown sugar as opposed to 3/4 cup. No buttermilk and no plain vinegar to make buttermilk (I didn’t think balsamic would quite do the job) but one percent milk seemed to get it done.  Peach and pineapple, a nice combination. I’d like to try it again with fresh fruit….maybe on the next grocery run to Corner Brook. Although produce gets delivered here every Tuesday and a fresh pineapple or two has been known to make an appearance. If pineapples could talk, that would be some story. “How I made it from Oahu to the Riteway in Cow Head”.  So much for the hundred-mile diet.

Overall…nice. It sure looked great in my new enameled cast iron dutch oven, a gift from Nan Porter (thank you nanny, you may have changed my life).  More suited to a winter’s night, but a crowd-pleaser on a cool June evening in Cow Head. Served it with Fussell’s cream, and of course we passed it around the room beforehand and took turns shaking the can.

Week 21: A Garlic and Vermouth Roast Chicken

Week 21. My third in the weird eggshell-coloured kitchen. I had some fresh rosemary in the fridge and wanted to do my usual roast chicken with garlic and bacon but I found a recipe in Nigel’s Kitchen Diaries (Fourth Estate, 2007) using ingredients I could find in Cow Head. It’s listed in his book as “a chicken roasted with new garlic and a fresh pea pilau to go with it.” Fresh peas, an obvious impossibility. Vermouth and garlic (not so new), doable.

large chicken-about 1.5kg
olive oil
young summer garlic – 2 whole heads
white vermouth – 2 wine glasses

Set the oven at 200 C. Rub the chicken all over with the olive oil, massaging in a generous amount of sea salt and black pepper as you go. Put the seasoned chicken breast-side down in a roasting tin in which it will not have much space around it. Put it into the hot oven and leave it to roast for just over an hour. Break open the heads of garlic and separate the cloves but don’t peel them. Drop them into a small pan of boiling water and let them simmer for five minutes. Drain them and add to the chicken tin.

Turn the chicken over for the last twenty minutes. Continue roasting until the chicken is golden and puffed and its juices run clear. To test, push a skewer into the thickest part of the leg; if the juices that come out are clear rather than pink, it is done. It should take an hour to an hour and a quarter.

Lift the chicken from the tin and leave it somewhere warm to rest. Crush the garlic cloves with the back of a spoon so that the soft centres squish out of the crusty brown skins into the tin.

Pour in the vermouth and bring to the boil. Stir, scraping at any crusty bits in the tin, and leave to simmer enthusiastically for a couple of minutes. Season generously, then pour the juices through a small sieve into a warm jug or small bowl. Keep this warm whilst you carve the chicken. Stir the gravy a bit before you pour it over.

So here’s the the thing with the roast chicken….I was terrified. Nigel said to use a small roasting tin, I didn’t have one. I didn’t know if he meant to cover the chicken or not…what’s a roasting tin like in England and does it have a cover? And why is my house full of smoke?  Not to mention that when a chicken is lying there breast-side down in the tin naked with no potatoes tucked in around it, it looks like…like a chicken with no head.  Sometimes I totally get vegetarians.  Nigel said to use “new garlic”…I don’t even know what that is. The only garlic I had to work with was what I like to call “Northern Peninsula Garlic.” Not local by any means, but probably grown in Peru or China and spending most of its above ground life in a shipping container on a boat and then in a tractor trailer across Canada and then on a ferry until it makes its way to Cow Head. I wanted to tart up the chicken with rosemary, garlic, lemons and bacon, like I usually do, to disguise the fact that often times I can’t find the freshest of ingredients in Newfoundland. But I went with it. I followed the recipe to a tee, used whatever I had that was closest to what Nigel said and I cannot convey to you the joy I felt at being able to make this meal on the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland in May. With ingredients that I had purchased in town. So simple and so good. Just a roast chicken, roasted garlic, a couple of glasses of vermouth. And some potatoes mashed with butter and sour cream. I will make this again and again. It was perfect. Worth all the scrubbing I’ll have to do at the end of the summer to get the blackened and burnt olive oil of the walls of the oven.

Week 22 while I’m here trying to catch up. And a really simple salad dressing that I made somewhere between 20 and 21, can’t remember, but it was lovely. Salads are such a pain in the ass but I love them so much…only if they’re made with real effort and a bit of time to make a homemade dressing. Had all the ingredients for this one in the house, but only because Didi had been to Corner Brook a couple of weeks earlier for groceries and there was a piece of ginger the size of a terrier on the counter. I’m glad she thinks ahead.

Ginger Soya Dressing

1 1/2 tsp soya sauce
2 tbsp light sour cream (I used Balkan-style yogurt)
3/4 tsp crushed garlic
1 tsp minced ginger root
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar

In a small bowl, combine all ingredients. Mix well.

This dressing was like a smack in the face. I lived in Asia for almost three years, and it tasted a little like all the countries I traveled in. If that makes sense. Really fresh and raw and strong. Not so good for delicate palates but good if you’re feeding adventurous guests. Or you want to scare the guests with the delicate palates. That might be fun. Had the salad with smoked paprika potatoes and garlic mayonnaise because I have no sense of fusion and salad’s great, but so are carbs.

From Rose Reisman’s Light Cooking (Robert Rose Inc,1995). I brought that one to Cow Head too. You should know Rose and Nigel quite well by the end of the summer.

Salmon with Bacon and Rosemary

A little red chicken original. Probably not. Maybe I’ll start a big fight on the internet. I did something bacon-like a while back with salmon…wrapped it in thinly sliced pancetta…and it was fantastic. No pancetta to be found in town but lots of bacon, so I chopped up four or five slices with some rosemary and spread it on a lovely big pink fillet of salmon that I bought at the fish store in Rocky Harbour the day before. That’s all…no seasoning, the bacon was salt enough. Baked it on a foiled pan on 400 F for twenty or twenty-five minutes. Probably too long by fish standards, but I wanted to make sure the bacon was crispy. Rich enough to only have a small piece so there was lots for myself and the housemates with some leftover to eat cold out of the fridge the next day. I don’t know what the deal is with pairing fish and pork. Is that…cool? Would I get kicked off Top Chef? And most importantly, what would Nigel say?

I liked it. I think Nigel would too. Maybe not those arsehole judges on Top Chef though.

Dandelions: Use Them or Lose Them. We Lost.

One of my challenges in Cow Head is finding good ingredients for good meals. With a little planning it can be done and done well, especially if I get out and find my own ingredients. In the woods, that is, not down at the liquor/convenience store for a box of pizza pockets. Didi had the idea of making a dandelion green potato curry…a friend had made it for her a few years back while visiting the Peninsula and she swore it was one of the tastiest curries she’d ever eaten. I was totally game and thought that if we could pull this off, it would make the best blog ever and we’d receive heaps of praise from friends commending us for being cool earthy chicks. Didi emailed her friend and asked for the recipe. He gave it to us with a word of warning that we were too late in the spring, the greens would have turned bitter by now. We scoffed. Well, yeah, in St. John’s. Everything grows a little later on the Peninsula. We’ll be fine. Her friend is a vegan. They know that kind of stuff. We should have listened.

Another gorgeous, sunny Monday off. A couple of lazy beers on the back step in the sun in the early evening. Really warm for May in Cow Head. I realized for the first time how beautiful the view was from here and got excited about summer barbecues. We dragged ourselves in eventually. Didi sorted through the greens that she had picked off her land the day before while I sorted through the spices. I was a little alarmed at first. The recipe called for two or three teaspoons of pretty much everything in my spice library….one that had to do me the whole summer. We didn’t have an obnoxious amount of greens so I halved the spices just to see if we could pull it off.

Chopped up garlic and onions, sauteed them in canola oil, put in the greens and spices and we watched everything reduce down like nice wilty spinach while thinking how great we were to be living off the land like our hearty Newfoundland ancestors did. Except we had cumin and Sapporo beer and nobody had scurvy. We tasted. Really strong and…bitter.  Well, of course!  We hadn’t added the potatoes yet.

So we peeled and boiled some potatoes, neither of us mentioning our growing panic: This curry might be the shits. Had we wasted all those precious spices on something that we’d have to heave out the door for the crows? The potatoes went in in nice-sized chunks. We stirred and tasted. Again, strong and bitter. We were determined to make it work. We threw the bowled-up curry back in the pot. A precious, precious two-hour-drive-away can of coconut milk was thrown in. Still. Not. Good enough. Two tablespoons of honey to counteract the bitterness.

…saved. But just barely. The greens were still bitter but the curry was smoother and edible. Mildly enjoyable. A paranoid, panicky moment of “are these actually dandelion greens…? We’ll be okay tomorrow…yes?” Didi told me not to be so foolish. I cleaned my bowl. Don’t try a dandelion green curry unless you get the very first green shoots of them. Or you know a vegan/botanist/someone who knows what they’re doing. Not a terribly successful meal for the little red chicken. But a good Monday with good beer and warm and sun.

Redemption! A brownie pie to finish everything off. Didi made it while I drank more beer. I’ve made this recipe so many times that the page in the book is splattered and stained. Not an experiment for the week but such a quick and easy fix that I had to share. Sour Cream Brownies from Rose Reisman Brings Home Light Cooking (Robert Rose Inc, 1995). This is the original recipe using light sour cream and margarine, but I’m over that nineties low-fat thing and I use butter and full-fat sour cream whenever I make them now. Sorry, Rose. The cookbook is still a lovely one.

2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup soft margarine
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup light sour cream

In bowl, beat together sugar and margarine until smooth. Beat in egg and vanilla, mixing well. Combine cocoa, flour and baking powder. Stir into bowl just until blended. Stir in sour cream. Pour into 8-inch square cake pan sprayed with nonstick vegetable spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until edges start to pull away from pan and centre is still slightly soft.

Lighter and fluffier than Nigel’s brownies, a little more like cake. A quicker fix and dead easy to throw together, especially if you’re like me and you always have basic baking supplies in your cupboard and sour cream in your fridge. A greased pie plate will suffice if your rented house for the summer is lacking in bake ware. Good with your favourite chocolate bar cut up in chunks and sprinkled on top before baking. We (miraculously) had an unopened Caramilk bar lying around. Not even time for a cup of tea. Gone before the kettle was boiled.

Banana Bread for a Fire

Cow Head. My summer home on and off for the past twelve years. Sad to leave the little red chicken kitchen for one that’s even smaller and kind of a weird eggshell colour, but happy and interested to see what I come up with in the next few months. Cow Head is stunning and what it lacks in fresh produce, it makes up for in personality and neighbours who don’t think twice about dropping off a feed of moose or fresh cod. You can’t really truly complain about no tomatoes at the store when you’re too busy cooking moose sausages over a fire or having a crab boil on the beach. It sounds a little like a cheesy tourism ad, but that’s it. And I love it. After a few years of working, living and cooking in rural Newfoundland, I’ve learned that if I bring enough spices to last the summer, everything else sort of falls into place. And if falling into place is a pot of moose chilli, then I guess I’m not doing too bad for myself.

First week in Cow Head, first day off, a gorgeous sunny day. Not enough time for a full on hike and boil up (company coming for supper) but enough time for a walk out to the head and a small fire. Everything in the house for banana bread. Not a massive banana fan. Eat them out of necessity, really. Like when there’s no other fruit to be found in Cow Head and I’m afraid of getting scurvy. But blend it up with some sugar and eggs and I’m there. If I can toast it and put butter on it, even better.

I only packed a few cookbooks to take with me for the summer. The Complete Magnolia Bakery Cookbook is one of them, and of course Nigel. If things become repetitive over the next few weeks you can blame lack of car space. A bit of a twist on regular banana bread, with some sour cream, pecans and coconut thrown in. A perfect recipe for someone who doesn’t like their banana bread too banana-y.

Banana Bread with Coconut and Pecans

3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup canola oil
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature, well beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas (around 3)
3/4 cup sour cream
1 1/2 coarsely chopped toasted pecans
3/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut

To toast the pecans, place on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned and fragrant (I like to dry roast mine in a frying pan on the stove, otherwise I forget about them and I burn them and swear a lot. Nuts are expensive).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and lightly flour a 10-inch tube pan. In a medium-size bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, on the medium setting of an electric mixer, beat together the oil and sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla, and beat well. Add the bananas and sour cream, and mix well. Add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Stir in the pecans and coconut. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the centre of the bread comes out with moist crumbs attached. Let cool for at least 1 hour before removing from the pan and serving. Makes one 10-inch cake.

Cow Head modifications: no pecans at store. A shame, my favourite nut. Did I just say that? Used walnuts instead. And I added chocolate chips because that’s the kind of day it was. I don’t know what the hell kind of 10-inch tube pan they’re using at the ol’ Magnolia Bakery, but I filled three (regulation-size?) loaf pans with the batter from this recipe. I know everything’s a little bigger in Manhattan, but this is getting a little ridiculous, Magnolia. In the best way possible. There was heaps of this stuff. A loaf for the house, a loaf for my boss for his birthday, a loaf for the freezer.

A new oven to get used to, along with the eggshell painted kitchen. My roommate lived in the house last year and she warned me to bake everything 50 degrees lower. I did, stuff still browned too quickly while being completely raw in the middle.  Panic.  Kept lowering the temperature and it all worked out in the end, just barely.

Not a bad start to the little eggshell kitchen. A hit the next day at rehearsal, unless everybody was just being nice. Quite possible, lovely bunch of people working up here the summer. Sliced up a loaf and put it in the freezer. A little messy for the toaster, but nice for breakfast, warmed over in the oven for a few minutes and with a little butter and cheddar cheese (sounds weird, try it, really good) or nutella.

Packed up a few slices and went for a hike out to the head. Built a little fire and toasted the bread on a hot rock with some butter. Bliss. Everything tastes better outdoors, especially with the view I had. We’ll see what the next few weeks bring. Hopefully the little red chicken will be having lots more moments like this one.

A Birthday for Week Eighteen…

A very busy day, but not too busy to make a birthday cake for Didi. Spent the week packing and seeing friends before leaving for the Northern Peninsula for the summer. She told me it was okay if I didn’t have time and I told her that the only thing keeping me sane that week was the cake and the possibility of sticking my face in a bowl of pink icing. And of course she was more important than packing. That too.

Traditional Vanilla Birthday Cake

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and lightly flour three 9×2 inch round cake pans, then line the bottoms with waxed paper. In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about three minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine the flours and add in four parts, alternating with the milk and the vanilla, beating well after each addition. Divide batter among the cake pans. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the centre of cake comes out clean. Let cakes cool in pans for ten minutes. Remove from pans and cool completely on wire rack. When cake has cooled, ice between the layers, then ice the top and sides of cake.

So here’s where I had to stray from the recipe a little. I had no self-rising flour so in total I used 2 3/4 cup regular flour with 2 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder. I can’t get away from the salted butter, I love it in baking, I love the contrast, so I just went with it. At the time I was really worried about the cake because it just wasn’t cooking in the middle but was rapidly browning around the edges. I only had two standard round cake pans. That’ll do it. Took more like 35 or 40 minutes and I had to reduce the heat a little, but if you only have two, it’ll work. No wax paper seemed to be okay.  Just mind the heat and be patient. Icing, please. Cream cheese icing. Pink.

Cream Cheese Icing

1 pound (two 8-ounce packages) cream cheese,
softened and cut into small pieces.
6 tablespoons unsalted butter,
softened and cut into pieces.
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
5 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and beat well. Gradually add the sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating continuously until smooth and creamy. Cover and refrigerate icing for 2 to 3 hours, but no longer, to thicken before using. Makes enough for one 2- or 3-layer 9-inch cake.

I used to stay away from pink….clothes, icing, didn’t matter. But I’ve learned that, if not for clothes then definitely for icing, girls love it. Seven, twenty-seven, seventy, doesn’t matter. And if you’re going pink, go pink. Pastel’s kind of wishy-washy I think, unless it’s a baby shower. I like Chanel-suit kind of pink. I wouldn’t paint my bathroom that colour or anything, but it sure is nice for birthday cakes. And despite what the recipe says, this batch of icing did me one two-layer vanilla cake and a batch of 24 cupcakes, both generously iced, so if you’re going for one or the other, half the recipe. It keeps well in the fridge for a couple of days, I thought. Salted butter worked out well in the icing too…Great recipes, both of them. From The Complete Magnolia Bakery Cookbook, Simon and Schuster, 2009.
My cake-decorating skills still have a lot to be desired, but I had fun. I was in a rush to get the cake done, iced and decorated so it was still a little warm. Icing too soft, cake too warm, and surgery had to be performed when the cake got to its final destination after a bit of sliding in the car and some pink rosebuds falling off. I’m no professional and was lucky enough to get it done in the first place, but the cake was delicious. Sweet, but too sweet, especially with the tang of the cream cheese icing. Moist, delicious, all that good stuff. And a very happy Didi.

Fifteen, Sixteen, Seventeen…

Three weeks, no new recipe. A recurring theme, I’m over it, moving on. A bit of a scramble but I managed to make three new recipes in the span of two days. One I made because I saw it on the WordPress homepage.  Baked Oatmeal jumped out at me and I had all the ingredients. Admittedly, I wasn’t too excited about it. There wasn’t a whole lot of butter and sugar in it and the only reason we make oatmeal is to make a lame attempt at being healthy while trying to make it taste like a cookie.

But this was really really good….and healthy! And I know healthy can be tasty, but lately I’ve been going a little cracked on the butter and cheese and I was prepared for a big let down. I modified the ingredients a little, and halved it because I was making it for just me and my dad. When he came over I said “It’s a new recipe, it’s for the blog, it’s supposed to be healthy, sorry if it tastes like crap.” We then proceeded to eat half the pan in one sitting with big mugs of tea.

This comes from Janae Monir’s gorgeous blog and she got the recipe from Heidi Swanson’s new cookbook, Super Natural Every Day: Well-loved Recipes from My Natural Foods Kitchen. Quite a mouthful, but if this recipe is any indication, healthy isn’t so bad half the time.

Ran out of dad’s hand-picked blueberries in the freezer so I used his partridgeberries. Really tart, but I get my taste buds from dad and he’s not afraid of partridgeberries either. I went full on with the butter and maple syrup, although there are a few steps you can skip if you’re watching things. But I’m of the belief that if it’s real butter and maple syrup and not processed sugar and margarine, it’s just better for your heart. In a different way. I had some soy milk that needed to go so I used that instead of regular milk. Worked like a charm.

The next day! Brunch! Another one. Vegetarian-friendly and with Prosecco and my favourite ladies, naturally. It may have beat the last one. The jury’s still out…

Two new recipes: Sherried cheese toasts from The Great Big Butter Cookbook (again) and Raspberry ricotta pancakes from Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries (again). Did the cheese toasts with a green salad and I guess the pancakes were like a dessert. Not too sweet but fluffy and buttery and perfect. I know I went on about Nigel’s brownies, and now I will go on about these pancakes. They have ruined me. And as I catch up on blog entries from my new home for the summer on Newfoundland’s great Nothern Peninsula, the only thing I’m lamenting is the lack of ricotta cheese at the store. Wow. I never thought I’d use the word ‘lamenting’ and ‘ricotta cheese’ in the same sentence.

Sherried Cheese Toasts

10 slices French bread, 1-inch thick, toasted
8 ounces (2 cups) mozzarella cheese, shredded
4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon bottled hot pepper sauce
2 tablespoons dry sherry

Preheat the broiler. Combine the mozzarella cheese, butter, mustard, and hot pepper sauce. Using an electric mixer, beat at a low speed until well-mixed. Gradually add the sherry, beating until well-combined. Spread onto toasted bread slices, covering the entire surface of each slice. Place on a baking sheet and broil 4-5 inches from the heat for about 2-3 minutes or until cheese mixture is bubbly and golden brown.

Don’t let the weird ingredients scare you. I’m all over sherry in cooking and was intrigued more than anything. I think you could experiment with the bread…I used a dense multi-grain from the bakery at Sobey’s.  Pretty heavy ingredients, but nice and light when it boils down to it. Broils down to it. Yep. I said it.

Raspberry Ricotta Pancakes

250g ricotta cheese
4 tbsp caster sugar
3 eggs, separated
Finely grated zest of an orange
2 tbsp melted butter (plus a little more for cooking)
50g plain flour
100g raspberries

In a large bowl, mix the ricotta, caster sugar and egg yolks. Grate the orange zest into the bowl and stir it in gently with the melted butter. Sift in the flour and tenderly fold in (oh, Nigel). In a large bowl, beat the egg whites with a balloon whisk till stiff, then fold them lightly into the ricotta. It is important not to knock the air out. Carefully fold in the raspberries.

Warm a non-stick frying pan over a moderate heat and brush it with a little butter. Place a heaped tablespoon of mixture in the pan, then another two or three depending on the size of your pan. Let them cook for a minute or two, till they have risen somewhat and the underside has coloured appetisingly (I didn’t even know that was a word Nigel), then, using a palette knife, flip them over to cook the other side. Do this as if you mean it, otherwise they will collapse as you turn them (true, learned the hard way). A further couple of minutes’ cooking then serve immediately, hot from the pan. Makes 8.

The best pancakes I have ever made. Hands down. Make these pancakes, Make these pancakes after you have made those brownies from last week. Double the recipe, there will never be enough.  There might not be any ricotta cheese in Cow Head, but in a few short weeks there will be wild raspberries, strawberries, dewberries and, a little later on in the summer, bakeapples, crowberries and blueberries. They will be picked by myself and anyone else who would like a feed of pancakes. They will be folded lovingly (and tenderly) into a batter and cooked in butter and drizzled with Canadian maple syrup and it will be a very, very good summer.

Week Thirteen and Fourteen: Beer and Cheese and Chocolate. Oh My.

I’ve accepted the fact that a new recipe won’t get made every week. And instead of abandoning the project I’ve decided it’s okay to skip a week as long as I make up for it. Week thirteen and fourteen were thrown together at the last minute on the Sunday night before rehearsal for a new show. Had everyone over for beer and food….some of the beer going into Beer and Cheese Chowder which sounds kind of gross and awesome all at the same time. It turned out to be the second one, thankfully, my only regret being I hadn’t made it in January or February when St. John’s winter is at its very worst. Beginning of April, not so much. It was a warm and sunny evening (as warm and sunny as it can be in St. John’s in early April) and not quite right for one of the richest soups I’ve ever had. But I loved it. Right down in my bones. One of those recipes to make after a day of tobogganing or skiing or doing something cold.

Beer and Cheese Chowder (Makes 6 servings)

5 tbsp butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
3/4 cup chopped carrots
1 1/2 cups small broccoli florets
1 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 cups milk
3 oz cream cheese, cut into cubes and at room temperature
1/2 pound (8 oz) cooked Polish sausage, cubed
6 oz (1 1/2 cups) sharp cheddar, shredded
1/2 cup beer, such as lager or light beer

In a medium saucepan, melt one tablespoon of the butter. Add onion, carrots, and broccoli. Sauté over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Add the stock and reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 8 minutes. In a large saucepan, over medium-high heat, melt the remaining 4 tbsp of butter. Stir in the flour, mustard, and pepper. Add the milk, stirring until thickened. Stir for an additional 1-2 minutes. Add the cream cheese and stir until smooth. Stir in the vegetable mixture, sausage, 1 cup of the cheddar cheese, and beer. Heat to serving temperature. Top each serving with remaining cheese.
See what I mean? Ridiculous and decadent. But the beer almost made it lighter with just a hint of fizziness. Enough to make you believe you weren’t eating a pound of cheese. I couldn’t find any cooked Polish sausage at Sobey’s, okay, didn’t really look that hard because in my heart I knew the recipe would be better with Italian sausage that I roasted in the oven first. And it was. I used light beer…Keith’s Light I think? But I’d like to try it again (next winter, but let’s not think about that quite yet) with something a little darker, just to see what will happen. I put all the cheddar in the soup and didn’t save any to sprinkle on top. No need with this one. I doubled the recipe because I was afraid it would be really good and I wouldn’t have enough for everyone. Turns out with the recipe was more than enough and we had heaps of leftovers, even better the next day. Not a soup you’d eat two or three bowls of, but so so good with a big piece of corn bread. And a glass of beer.

A recipe from The Great Big Butter Cookbook (Running Press, 2007). A gift from mom a couple of Christmases ago. Unreal and not recommended by doctors everywhere. Compiled by the Wisconsin Dairy Board (I know, it gets better and better. Butter and butter. heh.) who claim that butter is fine for you in moderation. But we all know better. Only the French can do that.

Keeping with the rich theme, I went with Nigel Slater’s Chocolate Brownies for dessert. I have to give credit to my friend Nell for introducing me to Nigel (his book, not him). We used one of his cookbooks to make a huge meal when I was visiting her in England a couple of years back and I fell in love on the spot. If you love food or even have a mild interest in it, get his book The Kitchen Diaries (Fourth Estate 2005). It will change the way you look at food and make you feel like a chef.

300g golden caster sugar
250g butter
250g chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
3 large eggs, plus 1 extra yolk
60g plain flour
60g cocoa powder (best you can get)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

You will need a baking tin, about 23cm square, preferably non-stick, or a small roasting tin. Set the oven to 180 C. Line the bottom of the baking tin with baking parchment. Put the sugar and butter into the bowl of a food mixer and beat for several minutes, til white and fluffy. You can do this by hand if you have to, but you need to keep going until the mixture is really soft and creamy.

Meanwhile, break the chocolate into pieces, set 50g of it aside and melt the rest in a bowl suspended over, but not touching, a pan of simmering water. As soon as the chocolate is completely melted, remove it from the heat. Chop the remaining 50g into gravel-sized pieces.

Break the eggs into a small bowl and beat them lightly with a fork. Sift together the flour, cocoa, and baking powder and mix in a pinch of salt. With the machine running slowly, introduce the beaten egg a little at a time, speeding up between additions. remove the bowl from the mixer to the work surface and mix in the melted and the chopped chocolate with a large metal spoon. Lastly, fold in the flour and cocoa mixture, gently, firmly, without knocking any of the air out.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared cake tin, smooth the top and bake for thirty minutes. The top will have risen slightly and the cake will appear slightly softer in the middle than around the edges. Pierce the centre of the cake with a fork; it should come out sticky but not with raw mixture attached to it. If it does, then return the brownie to the oven for three more minutes. It is worth remembering that it will solidify a little on cooling, so if it appears a bit wet, don’t worry. Leave to cool for at least an hour before cutting into squares. Enough for twelve.

I’m prone to dramatics and exaggeration when it comes to talking about and writing about food. But I mean this when I say it…if you make these brownies, you will be ruined for life. You will never ever want another brownie. I didn’t follow the recipe exactly, no golden caster sugar, no double boiler for the chocolate, no mixer, and god knows my grams to cups conversions were off, and the brownies were perfect. I can’t even fathom them if I did everything Nigel said. The dark chilli chocolate I used added just enough heat, and they were chewy, moist, rich, delicious, blah blah go make them. These do not need to wait for February.