Just Peachy

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I’ve been working on a writing project that’s taking more time than I expected, and so have neglected my blog, which I promised myself I wouldn’t do but hey, the road to hell paved with good intentions and all that…
Joyce, the bringer of good things, came by with some local peaches that she’d bottled. Peaches are one of those fruits that must be eaten at the peak of their ripeness, when the kitchen fills with their perfume–about a split second before the fruit flies arrive.
I’m not a fan of fresh peaches eaten out of hand though, I don’t care for the fuzzy texture of the outside, but I do love bottled peaches.
Peaches and blueberries make a delicious combination; my friend Claire makes an amazing peach-blueberry pie with a streusel topping that I must get the recipe for. Claire, are you reading this? Send me that recipe!
Peach shortcake? Sure! I use my favourite cream scone recipe (here)
I’ll leave you with this recipe for Peaches & Cream cake*, and I’d love to hear what recipes you think are peachy keen.

Peaches & Cream Cake

Makes 1 9” cake

1-2 teaspoons butter or margarine
1-2 teaspoons flour

For the cake:

6 large eggs room temperature
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

For the filling:

3 cups heavy (35%) cream, whipped
1 /4 cup icing sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 /2 cup peach schnapps
2-3 cups bottled sliced peaches

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease the tube pan with butter, then dust with flour, shaking off excess.

For the cake:
In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine eggs and sugar, beating on high until light in colour. Beat in vanilla, salt and flour, making sure to scrape down sides of bowl as you mix.
Pour batter into tube pan, and bake until cake springs back with touched and toothpick comes out clean when inserted, 30-40 minutes.
Loosen edges of cake; remove from pan and let cook on wire racks.

For the filling:
Whip the cream until firm but not stiff, and whisk in icing sugar and vanilla.

To assemble the cake:
Using a serrated knife, slice the cake horizontally so that you end up with four layers. If you have a steady hand, dental floss can be pulled through the cake the make the layers quite easily.
Place bottom layer on a plate, brush with schnapps, and spread with 1 /3 cream filling. Add second layer. Brush with schnapps, spread with 1 /2 the sliced peaches. Add the third layer, brush with schnapps, and spread with 1 /3 cream filling. Top with last layer, brush with schnapps, and layer remaining peach slices.
Using a cake spatula, cover the sides of the cake with the remainder of the cream filling.

*This cake is a riff off the Bakeapple Lakka cake in my cookbook “A Real Newfoundland Scoff”

True story: Poppin’ Caps

I thought I was going to die that night. That long, lonely stretch of highway between the airport and home seemed especially desolate in mid-winter’s chill; small white wooden crosses scattered roadside serving as silent sentinels, reminders that some didn’t make it home.
With freezing temperatures and the chance of black ice, I was completely focused on the road, traveling well below the speed limit, and watching for the deer that occasionally leapt out. On the left, just across the median, I could see the moon shining on Miller Lake’s icy surface. On the right, up the embankment, the silhouette of the trees against the inky sky.
I had just passed my exit sign, and was starting to relax, when I heard the first shot–an ear-splitting crack that ruptured the silence and ignited nerve endings. Before I had time to react, a rapid-fire pop, pop, popping. I couldn’t think straight, couldn’t figure out what was happening–who was shooting at me? And where from? Were they deer jackers? Was it some kind of sick joke? Jumbled thoughts flashed through my mind. I forced my attention back to the road, not daring to look to the side, just trying to get off the highway, white-knuckling the SUV’s steering wheel and feeling my shoulders pull together with tension. Turning off the highway, leaving the shots behind, I pulled on to the shoulder to take a deep breath. Prying my fingers from the wheel, feeling my heartbeat starting to slow, and then, again–another deafening bang, right beside me. I ducked down below the window level, covering my head as the volley continued. It seemed like hours, but was only seconds before the popping slowed, til finally, silence.
Again the thoughts filled my head so fast I could hardly process them, and finally a bit of reasoning and sense began to prevail. If someone had been shooting at me, they couldn’t have caught up and done it again, there’s no side road, and the shoulder where I pulled over was well lit. Whatever it was, it wasn’t as bad as I thought, surely.
By now my hands had stopped shaking and I slowly got out of the truck. I looked around, somewhat composed, and began to check: tires, okay. Windows, okay. Bumper, okay. I lifted up the truck’s rear gate and the dome light revealed the truth.

I had been terrorized by root beer. A case of pop, left in the back of the truck, had frozen and refrozen, and the “gunshots” were the tops of the cans blowing off. Now the barrage of “artillery” was slowly melting down the back seat, the sides, the cargo floor. I set about clearing most of the slush out before it melted too much, weak with relief and laughing at my own foolishness (oh come on, you would’ve thought the same!)

I was unloading groceries the other night, and brought everything inside except a case of root beer. As I unpacked the food and put it away, I thought that the pop would be fine til the next day–and then I remembered this story, and despite the fact it is summer, I went out and brought in the pop. No need to take unnecessary chances.

Aside from gastrointestinal issues, have you ever had cause to think your food was trying to kill you?

Sunday Small Bites

A weekly roundup of tasty tidbits for your eatertainment!

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When I set about writing A Real Newfoundland Scoff, my most personal project, I had no idea of how it would be received. I have been amazed and humbled by the interest and support in the book, and so many folks had asked about a getting a signed copy that I ordered a stock from my publisher, in order to send those out direct and fulfill these requests.
A Real Newfoundland Scoff is available on the East Coast in multiple outlets including Chapters, and online via Amazon.ca, but I do have a couple of copies left if you would like a signed one. Email me: liz (at) foodcritic (dot) ca for details.
And thank you, so much, for that continued interest. Why don’t you all come over for dinner? I’ll cook!

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Bath snacks! Long-suffering chronic insomniacs like myself know the benefits of a warm bath; it’s relaxing, soothing, cleansing, and aromatherapeudic with the right potions and lotions.
My late night soak typically involves a bottle of water and a granola bar, with iPhone entertainment. Tonight, however, I indulged in a cup of mango lassi, leftover from last night’s Indian feast, and a chocolate bar from the Newfoundland Chocolate Company. Oh Me Nerves, in fact.
My favourite tub viewing is River Monsters episodes (“I’m Jeremy Wade, biologist and extreme angler…”), although I’ve taken to listening to Halifax Examiner podcasts. (A must for anyone interested in Halifax news).
Over at the Kitchn, I found an older post on bath snacks, check it out here. Now tell me all about your bath snacks!

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Last night’s dinner guests brought along this beautiful cake lifter. Remember last week I wrote about kitchen gadgets? This is one of those instances where lack of use does not translate to uselessness; this lovely piece of art may never see a piece of cake (that remains to be determined), but will always serve (see what I did there?) as a reminder of our West Coast sojourn. You can see more Victoria-based Spirals artsy pieces here.

Coming up this week: More radical Jackson Martin cupcakes, an off-topic cautionary tale, and a restaurant review.

Taking the (Cup)Cake

The Hangover

The Hangover

As promised in Sunday Small Bites, I’m featuring some of Jackson Martin’s amazing cupcakes. I worked with Jackson a while back, and he turned a penchant for baking and knack for the sweet treats into a culinary career before taking yet another detour; burned out by difficult working conditions and low pay, like many in the industry. But his passion for food still burns bright, and I think you’ll agree there’s nothing ordinary about these creations! Take “the Hangover”, above: Chocolate Guinness cupcake with bacon and pretzel bits, vanilla bean buttercream, and a crushed plain chip garnish. I’d buy into that as a hangover cure–add an Advil and you’re good to go!

Black olive & white chocolate

Black olive & white chocolate

This black & white cupcake is a kalamata olive batter with white chocolate buttercream, and olive “dust” garnish.

Banana Split

Banana Split

The ice cream favourite takes cupcake form: banana chocolate batter, strawberry buttercream, pineapple rum preserve with cherry on top.

The Gobbler

The Gobbler

Dinner and dessert, in one cupcake! The Gobbler is a turkey and gravy cupcake, roasted maple sweet potato buttercream, cranberry sauce garnish. IMG_4558 And the sneak peek from last week: the Chicken Wing cupcake with Dave’s (r) hot sauce, blue cheese buttercream and a fried hot wing for garnish. Jackson provided the recipe in the comments section on Sunday’s post, and I’m reprinting it here in case you missed it. I can’t wait to try it! I’ll continue to feature Jackson’s work, and if you’d like a recipe or want to share your own whacky-doo creations, we’d love to hear from you! Jackson swears the best blue cheese for this recipe is the Dragon’s Breath Blue from Halifax’s That Dutchman’s Farm, and I am inclined to agree. Chicken Wing Cupcake Cupcake: 2 ¼ c all-purpose flour 1 ½ c white sugar ½ c shortening (I used butter flavoured) 1 ¼ c 2% milk 3 ½ tsp. baking powder 1 tsp. salt 1 tsp. vanilla extract 3 eggs Dave’s hot sauce (to taste) Beat eggs, shortening, and white sugar together until frothy/ thick. Sift together all dried ingredients (flour,baking powder, and salt) , and mix together all wet ingredients (milk, and vanilla). Add (fold in) dry and wet ingredients to the egg mixture; alternating between the two. Make sure to scrape down sides of bowl/ mixer often. Fold in Dave’s hot sauce to desired “heat”; remember that the heat from the hot sauce will intensify a bit during the baking process. Bake at 350c until done; springs back on the top after being touched (about 10-ish mins). Blue Cheese Buttercream: ½ c unsalted butter, room temperature 3 c powdered sugar Pinch salt ¼ c blue cheese (creamy texture is best!) 2-3 tbsp. milk Beat the butter on high speed for 2-3 minutes until it softens and lightens in colour. Slowly add in powdered sugar and beat until combined. Add salt and blue cheese and slowly add in milk until the frosting is spreading/ piping consistency. (I will add more if it seems too thick.) Top with a drizzle of hot sauce and a little more blue cheese, or a whole chicken wing for a “wow” factor. :) (All photos in this post courtesy & copyright Jackson Martin)

Who Gives a Fig?

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Joyce gives a fig, that’s who! She stopped by the other day to offer some figs from her tree. Fresh figs are a real treat, being so perishable, they tend to be on very limited time offer in markets and when they are available, fairly expensive especially on the East Coast.
To know someone who has a fig tree that actually produces figs? One more delightful thing about Vancouver Island living. I gratefully accepted her generous offer and after stuffing our gullets, set about to make best use of this unexpected gift.

Naughty fig fact: Giving someone “the fig” is a rude gesture, popular during Shakespeare’s time and called the “obscene hand” by early Christians. It involves poking one’s thumb through the V made by one’s index and forefinger, and you can see it in action here.

On to the business at hand. I decided a tart would be in order, something simple that showcased the figs in all their fresh glory. A plain tart shell, sweetened ricotta filling, and the sliced figs should do it.

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Fig-Blueberry Ricotta Tart

1 pre-made frozen pie shell (What? It’s hot out! Don’t judge me!)
2 large egg yolks
1 /8-1 /4 cup white sugar
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 /4 cup vanilla yogurt

fresh figs
bottled blueberries (Joyce brought these as well, bottled in simple syrup)

Bake the shell as per package instructions (unless, of course, you’re making your own which you can certainly do but I’m giving you an easy out here)

Whisk the egg yolks, add sugar until pale yellow. There’s a variance in the amount of sugar because you can determine how sweet you want to the filling to be; if you have especially ripe figs that are already sweet, you may want to add less sugar. Best thing is to add the 1/ 8 cup now, then add more sugar if desired upon tasting the completed filling.

Stir the ricotta cheese and vanilla yogurt into the egg mixture, and taste for sweetness. Add more sugar if desired. Pour the filling into the cooled crust, then bake @350F for 30-35 minutes until filling is set.

Once the tart has cooled, arrange the sliced figs on top, garnish with the blueberries. If you have self-control, you can take your time and make the tart look really spectacular, or you can layer the fig slices on quickly like I did to keep from eating the filling first. (Never bake when you’re hungry).

You can also let loose your artistic side with figs and raspberries, or figs and mandarins, or raspberries and mandarins if you bring home figs from the market and find mould on one because you didn’t check them carefully enough before you paid for them and don’t have time to bring them back before the dinner guests arrive, not that that has happened to me. More than once, anyway.

Sunday Small Bites

A weekly roundup of tasty tidbits for your eatertainment!

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This cupcake is not your typical vanilla cupcake–but then again, neither is it’s creator. I’ll be featuring more from the very talented Jackson Martin in upcoming posts. Yes, that’s a chicken wing on top of a hot sauce cupcake with blue cheese buttercream.

I somehow missed that July 31 was UK’s National Mustard Day; over at the Telegraph, they celebrated with “12 Fascinating Facts About the Condiment”. If you need to know about the Mustard Maker to the Pope (and who doesn’t?) click here.

HuffPost Taste featured the art of Carl Warner. Onions, mushrooms, and salami–not just for pizza! Have a look at his incredible “foodscapes” here.

Global News reporters James Armstrong and Heather Loney confirmed what I’ve suspected all along: that the Canada Food Guide is confusing, difficult to follow, and not long-term sustainable. Now I don’t feel so bad, using that as an excuse to not eat better.
Their report is here.

Spooning

There’s an interesting read over at Zulkey.com in which the contributors chat about “The Dumbest Thing in My Kitchen” (Go have a read, I’ll wait here).

I’m no stranger to ridiculous kitchen gadgets; with the exception of the electric hot dog maker, I’m pretty sure I’ve owned–actually, still have, most of the Zulkey list. Back in cooking school days, we filled our toolboxes with things we were convinced every Great Chef would have: green bean tippers, shrimp deveiners, nutmeg graters, orange zippers, melon ballers, butter curlers, cherry pitters.
Call them dumb, ridiculous or useless, these gadgets tend to to have one thing in common–they are (or were designed as) single-purpose items. And that purpose can generally be accomplished by using something far more versatile, like a knife.
Of course, that’s all relative. If you work in a Black Forest Cake Bakery, you might use a cherry pitter to it’s fullest extent.

Rule of Kitchen Gadgetry: The degree of uselessness increases as its number of designed purposes decreases.

On the other end of the kitchen spectrum are those tools that can be used for many tasks, those invaluable helpers that you can’t live without. Things like a good chef’s knife, a glass measuring cup, a stockpot. One of those staple implements, one that has been around forever, is the wooden spoon. Vikings, Iron Age Celts, ancient Egyptians–since man started hunting, knives have been around followed closely by spoons. (Forks, by comparison, are modern with the first appearing about in Italy around 1100). Early spoons were simple bowls carved from stone and wood, and that same basic design remains intact.

Wooden spoons have a myriad of uses, from stirring soups and sauces, to creaming butter and sugar, to wedging open an oven door–and those of us from a certain generation certainly remember the threat of a swat to the backside with a spoon.
I have my share of wooden spoons, but none mean as much to me as one I was recently gifted. Some of my local Facebook friends came out to my St. John’s book signing (making it one of my favourite book signings ever), and one of those women brought along a gift bag for me. In it were several bottles of her home canning (she called it carrying coals to Newcastle, I called it incredibly generous) and this beautiful wooden spoon.
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It came from across the Pond, and is engraved with a Newfoundland dog, swimming to shore with a child’s arms wrapped around his neck. It represents a bond of friendship, forged over mutual interests, and I will treasure it forever.

Now this spoon will never see the inside of a pot, feel the sizzle of hot butter, or taste a lick of sauce, lest something happen to it. Does that make it useless? Not at all–it’s priceless.
(Jacky’s suggested usage for the theoretical pot-stirring, but I’ll leave that to her-she’s much better at it ;) )

Do you have a useless kitchen gadget story to share? How about a favourite kitchen implement? I’d love to hear about it!

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