Shortbread cookies

December 27th, 2013

My mother made these every year from a hand-written card in her recipe box. I don’t know if it’s the best, but it’s what christmas cookies mean to me. Missing are the instructions to cut the cookies out with a cookie-cutter after rolling out the dough, and to decorate the cookies with a bit of red or green glacé cherry in the middle before baking. Personally my favourite cookie-cutter is a small tomato paste tin with both ends cut out.

I used to use “cultured unsalted butter” thinking it would add a delicate sour-cream flavour, but people complained the cookies tasted cheesy. I think plain (sweet) unsalted butter would suit the sophisticated palate best though my mother used ordinary salted butter.

225 g/ 1 c butter
125 mL/ ½ c icing sugar
500 mL/ 2 c all-purpose flour OR
      500 m
L all-purpose flour + 50 mL rice flour
      (2 c – 3 T all-purpose flour) + (3 T rice flour)

¼ t baking powder
¼ t salt

Work butter, add sugar.
Sift dry ingredients. Add. Work together. Roll out.
Grease sheet lightly. Bake at 150°C/ 300°F 15–20 min till brown on bottom only.

Creamed onions for Thanksgiving and Christmas

December 27th, 2013

This recipe is for a traditional holiday dish from the american side of the family. I don’t know what their recipe is — it’s unlikely to be as fussy as this one — but this is mine adapted from the Joy of Cooking.

Steam 600g/ 20 oz pearl onions in a single layer for 30 minutes or until done. Peel. (If you live in the States where you are lucky enough to be able to get pearl onions frozen, go for it! Follow the instructions on the package.)

Melt in the top of a double boiler:
30 mL/ 2 T butter

Stir in:
30 mL/ 2 T flour

When blended, add gradually:
500 mL/ 2 c stock at 1.5 concentration By which I mean:

  • if 1 stock cube is supposed to be good for 2 cups/ 500 mL, then use 1½ stock cubes in 2 cups/ 500 mL boiling water.
  • if 1 stock cube is supposed to be good for 1 cup/ 250 mL, then use 3 stock cubes in 2 cups/ 500 mL boiling water.
  • if 10 mL/ 2 t concentrate is supposed to be good for 1 cup/ 250 mL, then use 30 mL/ 2 T concentrate in 2 cups/ 500 mL boiling water.
  • if you’re starting with regular stock, whether home-made, canned or from a box, simmer 750 mL/ 3 c until you’ve reduced it down to 2 c.

Stir over low heat until well combined and thickened. Add:
60 mL/ ¼ c mushroom peelings

Place in the double boiler and simmer over — not in — hot water for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Strain through a fine sieve, then add:
A pinch of nutmeg
1 egg yolk mixed with 30 mL/ 2 T cream

Stir the sauce until it is slightly thickened. Just before serving, stir in:
15 mL/ 1 T lemon juice
15 mL/ 1 T butter

Cook the onions and the sauce together for 1 minute. Add:
60 mL/ ¼ c chopped parsley
A dash of cloves
1 mL/ ¼ t paprika
30 mL/ 2 T dry sherry

Wonderful additions are:
125 mL/ ½ c sautéed mushrooms
or:
Minced celery

Christmas fruitcake, evolving

December 1st, 2013

My mother and I used to make fruitcake together every Thanksgiving so it could sit and ripen six weeks until Christmas. The recipe we used was her mother’s, which we assumed was a long-cherished family recipe from England. In fact my grandmother clipped it from a magazine in Saskatoon in the late ’40s.

Since Vivian died I’ve been having trouble locating the most important ingredient — seeded muscat raisins. One year I skipped making the cake entirely. Other years I made different recipes but they just weren’t the same. This year I was more persistent.

Seeded muscat raisins are special because seeding the grapes before drying them punctures the skin. The raisins dry with grape juice both inside and out and they are soft and sticky. It turns out that they are no longer being distributed by Sun-Maid which left me with the alternatives of ordering them online or substituting. Since shipping would bring the price of internet raisins to over $50, and paying that kind of money would go against everything Vivian stood for, I substituted. Just as Vivian would have. This is the 2013 adapted recipe. (The other change I made is to use ginger instead of cloves because this recipe is the only use I have for cloves and they go rancid from one year to the next.)

Cake

Line sides and bottoms of baking tins with parchment.

1½ c shortening
2 c sugar
⅓ c sherry or brandy
9 eggs

675 mL (2½ c) molasses
750 g (1½ lb, 4½ c) Thompson raisins

3 c flour
1 t baking soda
1 t ground ginger
1 t nutmeg
1 t cinnamon
1¼ c chopped dates

¾ c drained maraschino cherries, halved
750 g (1½ lb, 4½ c) sultana raisins
1½ c currants
500g (1 lb, 3 cups) mixed cut fruits (glacé fruits and/or candied citrus peel, dried apricots, golden or green raisins and dried cranberries)
200 g (½ lb, ¾ c) slivered almonds

Mix Thompson raisins with molasses. Heat in microwave, let cool.

Lightly toast the almonds on low heat in a cast iron pan.

Sift dry ingredients. Stir in chopped dates and break them up with your fingers.

Combine remaining fruit and toasted almonds. Combine with sifted dry ingredients and dates.

Beat shortening until fluffy. Beat in sugar and sherry or brandy. Separate eggs and beat in the yolks one at a time, reserving the whites in a tall, clean glass or metal bowl.

Fold molasses and Thompson raisins into creamed mixture.

Add the dry mixture and mix thoroughly.

Wash and dry beaters well and beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold a third of them into the batter to lighten it before folding in the rest.

Bake at 300°F for 2½ hours.

Take strips of old cotton sheets, wet them in water and wring them out well. Sprinkle with sherry or brandy. When cakes are cooled, wrap them in the prepared cotton strips, wrap again in plastic bags and put them away for six weeks. While the cakes are aging you can take them out a few times to sprinkle with more sherry or brandy if you want.

Makes 7½ lbs fruit cake.

*** *** ***
Bring out the Christmas cakes at least a day before serving. Invert onto a serving plate. Protect the serving plate with strips of waxed paper under the edges of the cake.

Roll out marzipan or almond paste thinly like pastry dough and lay it over the cakes, covering the top and sides. Cover thinly with Christmas Cake Icing, below. You may decorate with bits of cut fruit at this point. Let the icing harden at least overnight.

Christmas Cake Icing

½ lb icing sugar
1 egg white
pinch cream of tartar

Beat til shiny.
Enough for one medium cake

*** *** ***
Granny’s original version, clipped from a magazine in Sakatoon in the 1940s, exactly as she passed it on to my mother Vivian in the 1980s.

1 c shortening
1½ c brown sugar
6 eggs, separated
¼ c fruit juice or sherry
¾ t baking soda
½ c molasses, heated
½ c drained maraschino cherries, halved
3 c seeded muscat raisins
3 c sultana raisins
1 c currants
2 c (1 lb) mixed cut fruits
¾ c chopped dates
1½ c blanched toasted almonds (I use less)
2 c all-purpose flour
½ t ground cloves
½ t nutmeg
½ t cinnamon

Cream shortening until fluffy. Add brown sugar while continuing to work with spoon. Add beaten egg yolks and fruit juice (or sherry or rum) and mix well. Dissolve soda in heated molasses and add to mixture.

Combine fruit and almonds and mix with 2 tablespoons of sifted dry ingredients. Add alternately with dry ingredients to the creamed mixture and stir thoroughly. Fold in stiffly-beaten egg whites.

Line baking tins with heavy oiled brown paper — both sides and bottom — and bake in a slow oven 300°F for about 2½ hours. Makes 5 lbs fruit cake.

It is best to get all the fruit measured and prepared first as this takes a bit of time. You add some of the flour and spices to prevent it all sticking together in a solid mess.

I don’t think any of the quantities are critical — I tend to add & subtract depending on what I have but in general follow the rules.

Notes from Bangladesh: New Market during Ramadan, 2013

August 3rd, 2013

Patrick writes about the preparations for the biggest world-wide party of the year.

*** *** ***

Isha and I accompanied Beli and Brother-in-Law to New Market yesterday. Imagine Christmas shopping, then multiply it by any absurd number you want. 100,000 (my guess) tiny shops in this one market. Everyone bargaining. Everyone pushing and trying to keep track of all their group members.

We are in about the third week of Ramadan. The city will empty for the actual Eid holiday in just over two weeks, with the whole population of Dhaka traveling to their villages. They bring gifts for extended family. Families are large, so the low New Market prices are a consideration; though middle-class shoppers will buy their own Eid clothing from fashionable, busting-at the-seams shops that are open until midnight or later.

Add to the crowds, the desperate activity, and the steam-bath heat – probably a majority of the shoppers are fasting from dawn and won’t have even a sip of water until dusk and Iftar. Last week I met a group in an air-conditioned office. They told me they lose approximately 20% of IQ points during Ramadan (every day). I fasted a couple of days and am pretty sure they were bragging. 20% is under-estimation. At my age I can’t afford to lose even a fraction of a percentage point, so have not continued.

After an hour of riding the surge, Isha and I gave up and found a rickshaw to take us home. Isha was devastated that we were leaving Ama and Uncle in the maelstrom. I don’t think it is anything we’ll be repeating.

Pictures are from Isha’s third birthday Iftar party and Isha waiting at a sari shop in New Market. (Blue Salamander top and pants by Alison.)

Isha’s third-birthday Iftar party

Isha’s third-birthday Iftar party

Isha waiting at a sari shop in New Market. (Blue Salamander top and pants by Alison.)

Isha waiting at a sari shop in New Market. (Blue Salamander top and pants by Alison.)

Good, colourful coleslaw for good friends + bonus hosting tip

May 27th, 2013

Supper last night included this broccoli-spiked coleslaw that I made for the first time.

Coleslaw


Cabbage and Broccoli Coleslaw

Start with the DRESSING
1/4 c/ 50 mL apple cider vinegar
2 T/ 30 mL vegetable oil (not olive oil because it hardens when it cools in the fridge)
1/4 t/ 1 mL celery seed
1/4 t 1 mL black pepper

Mix all the ingredients in the serving bowl. Place in the freezer while youre preparing the coleslaw.

COLESLAW
1 lb/ 500g green and red cabbage, grated
1/4 lb/ 125g broccoli crown cut in tiny florets; stem peeled and chopped small
1/4 c/ 100 mL sugar
1 t/ 5 mL salt

Place the cabbage, broccoli, sugar and salt in a large, microwave-safe bowl. (The combination of sugar, salt and heat will make the cabbage express liquid.) Cover with a plate and cook on high in the microwave for 1 minute. Stir well, cover with the plate and cook for another 3060 seconds until the cabbage has become a little wilted and reduced in volume by about a third. Transfer to a salad spinner and spin. Youll end up spinning out more liquid than you thought possible. Keep going until youve gotten out all the water youre going to.

Turn out into the cold serving bowl and toss with the dressing to chill the coleslaw quickly and stop any more cooking. Add vinegar to taste. (Other classic coleslaw additions: raisins, walnuts, toasted sunflower seeds.)

Chill for 15 minutes or until ready to serve. Keeps well for several days without getting soggy or soft.

Bonus hosting tip

If you are overcome with wine before the evening is done, serve everyone a finger of good whiskey, make your excuses and go to bed. Your lovely and delightful guests will help your partner do the dishes and clean up the kitchen.

Green and Orange

March 19th, 2013

I have irish ancestry and my beloved, while catholic, hails from the country of the House of Orange William of Orange was a dutch protestant and took over the british/irish crown from the catholics, with familiar fallout.

So yesterday we had a green-and-orange dinner party with all green-and-orange food and orangy ros wine. (No green beer. We had beer and we had food colouring at the ready but it was respectfully declined.) I made zucchini halva for the first time and it was really lovely. Also: garlic rapini; spiced yams; carrot-and-bean salad with sesame-tofu dressing; cabbage and coconut with black mustard seeds (meh, and not very green either); orange squash with green rind left on, cut in chunks and cooked in broth; and for dessert, fruit salad with oranges, dried apricots and green grapes, and the aforementioned zucchini halva.

[dessert not shown]

Mark wore an orange t-shirt from volunteering at the Festival du nouveau cinma; I wore a green silk salwar kameez from Bangladesh. (We didnt ask our guests to dress thematically because they arent the kind of people who take well to being told what to do.) I had always thought of green and orange as being gang colours, where young men spoiling for a fight would wear the appropriate colours and go somewhere to find someone wearing the opposite colours and set to. But I looked it up and its a bit more complicated than that.

St Patricks day is a legitimate irish holiday and has been observed in Ireland for over a thousand years. Its been observed in the US by irish immigrants since the 18th century. But apparently it took over as a general public festivity around the time of the irish potato famine, when starving irish started landing in the US and Canada. Non-irish started celebrating St Patricks day as a show of solidarity with the oppressed. Everybodys irish on St Paddys day was a variation on a theme we still see today, recently in the form of We are all Trayvon Martin.

I almost always serve rapini when Im cooking for guests because its colourful, nutritious (greens are actually an excellent source of protein) and somewhat bitter, which is a good counterpoint to starch and fat. Most importantly its hard to mess up and perfect for a multi-dish meal because the rapini are blanched in advance and set aside so I can focus on other things. It gets heated up quickly with garlic at the last minute before serving so I dont have to worry about it getting either overdone or cold. Since its so perfect Ive already supplied the recipe.

Now for the zucchini halva. You look skeptical. I understand. I was too, but I needed a green dessert and it did look intriguing. Turns out its really, really good and Ill be making it again.

Zucchini Halva

4 baby zucchini (about 1 lb or 500 g)
2 cups of milk
1 pod of cardamom or 1/2 t ground cardamom
2 T oil
6 T sugar
2 T coarsly chopped pistachios

Finely grate the zucchini. Put it in a wide pot with the milk and cardamom. Cook over low heat until the water has almost evaporated. (This takes a long time but you dont need to hover. Just give it a stir when you pass by as youre cooking other things.) Stir in the oil and sugar and cook more until it becomes thick and pasty. Turn out into a serving dish and sprinkle with pistachios.

Thats it. (From Madhur Jaffreys Eastern Vegetarian Cooking.)