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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Heart Baking

IMG_4001In the dark days following the loss of our Newf Fleur, there were rays of light brought by the kindnesses of the folks around us, and one such ray came in the form of a lovely lady named Joyce. Joyce showed up on our doorstep with a couple of pints of local strawberries, and the smell of those fragrant, ripe berries made me hungry for the first time in days.

And, as I find cooking and baking both comforting and therapeutic, I turned my attention to finding a recipe to showcase these beautiful strawberries. It wasn’t hard–strawberries mean shortcake, and I have the perfect scone recipe for the biscuits. Whenever I’m looking for a homestyle baking recipe, I turn to the venerable Company’s Coming title Muffins and More. (Huh–I just realized I’ve probably never made a muffin recipe from this book, it’s full of great loaves, biscuits and coffee cakes)
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I love the cream scone recipe because of the resulting dough: it’s soft, workable, and versatile. In fact, I recalled using it for cinnamon rolls, something I hadn’t made in ages, so I decided I’d make both the scones for the shortcakes, and the cinnamon rolls.

 

Spot the kitty!

Spot the kitty!

THE DOUGH

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Following the recipe, I made two separate batches of dough. Why make two batches instead of just doubling the recipe? Because unlike cooking, baking is based on science, and chemical reactions from ingredients like baking soda and powder; simply doubling a recipe will not necessarily give the same results. So, two batches, because washing the extra bowl is a lot less trouble (not the mention the waste) than having to remake a whole recipe.
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STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE

I patted down one batch of dough to about a 1″ thickness, and cut out the scones. Now, if you don’t have a biscuit or cookie cutter, the greased rim of an average drinking glass works fine and is about the right size. Tip: whenever you’re cutting out biscuits or scones, start from the middle of the dough and work your circles outwards, there’ll be less waste than if you start on the outside working your way in. Of note: the recipe claims to make 2 dozen scones, but I’ve never been able to get more than 18.
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As the scones begin to cool, break one in half and slather with butter. This is a test scone and is crucial to the process. You may need to test two for quality assurance.

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Assembly is the fun part, because you can either go old-school (scones, berries, cream) or run wild.
The basic East Coast version is simply to split the scone in half horizontally, pile the berries and real whipped cream on the bottom half, cap with the top half, and you’re done.

I wanted mine to be a little more special. I cut the scone into thirds, so I could have an extra tall shortcake. Rummaging in the fridge, I found this delightful jam from PEI that we had been given. It’s one of those jams that’s too nice for just toast, and I’d been looking for a more interesting way to use it.
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The bright orange note of Grand Marnier works well with berries, and so I spread the jam on all layers of the scone. Super sweet berries don’t need much in the way of flavour adjustment; had these been those giant tasteless California strawberries on steroids, I may have tossed them in simple syrup and a touch of liqueur. Or just tossed them, and drank the liqueur. Not an issue with these, fortunately.
As for the whipping cream part, I added a little sugar and vanilla extract. Whipped cream lends itself to all kinds of flavourings: cracked black pepper will add heat to the sweet, or try peppermint extract for complementary taste. If you don’t have strawberries, use a mix of berries, or whatever is in season.
If anyone out there has a signature shortcake, I’d love to hear about it, and possibly have some delivered to my house.

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CINNAMON ROLLS
The first place I worked as a professional cook was in a small hotel that served a continental breakfast; this is where I came up with the idea of using this scone recipe as a basis for a fast lot of cinnamon rolls.

To make these, I rolled the dough out into a rectangle–I forgot to measure it, but it’s not really critical to the recipe. For smaller cinnamon rolls, you’ll want a rectangle that is, from side to side, wide and from top to bottom, short. For bigger rolls, you’ll want a rectangle that is less wide, and taller.
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Once the dough is rolled out, the assembly begins. The basics involve softened butter, cinnamon, and brown sugar. I don’t measure this stuff out, I just eyeball it–this part is not too scientific.
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First, I used a pastry brush to spread the rectangle with softened butter. Over that, a generous dusting of cinnamon, and then a thin layer of brown sugar (you can use golden sugar, like I did in this particular batch). If you like nuts, now’s the time to sprinkle them in here. Crush some walnuts or pecans and just toss them over the sugar.
Then it’s time for the rolling up, into a cylinder shape, by starting at the bottom edge. Now, I’m terrible at giving instructions sometimes, so let’s go to the pictures to see how it’s done:
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Once I have that cylinder, I slice off rolls with a very sharp knife. It’s a good idea to keep a little flour handy; you can dust your knife blade with it after every few cuts to keep things from sticking to the knife. Thicker cuts mean thicker cinnamon rolls, thinner cuts mean, well, thinner cinnamon rolls.
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Onto a cookie sheet, sides touching. I use parchment paper on cookie sheets, it keeps things from sticking and I don’t have to wash the sheet, which is a delightful side bonus.
Bake at 400F until lightly browned–the cooking time depends on how thick the rolls are cut. Best way to test for doneness is to pull one off the sheet when you think it looks done, and taste it. You’ll need to eat the whole thing to make sure it’s cooked all the way through.
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I ate strawberry shortcake and cinnamon rolls for three days before I felt like getting back to “regular” food; and I started this post during that time but couldn’t bring myself to finish it, until now.

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A Hello, A Goodbye

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My author copies of A Real Newfoundland Scoff arrived the week before last, and I was thrilled to at last have the book in my hands; this, my most personal project. That joy was shredded by the loss of Fleur, our black Newf. She became ill the day the books arrived, and we said goodbye to her a week later. It was unexpected and heartbreaking–I had just written an Ode to a Newfoundland Dog in April and we could not have known we’d be mourning our beloved girl such a short time later.
Fleur had a voice in this blog, during our cross country trip, and she had the loudest voice at home.
She loved life, and was the light in our house and hearts. Our older boy, Jack, is the stoic, dignified, gentle giant and Fleur was his counterpoint.
And here she is, on the back of my book, wondering just when the picture taking would be over because she had Important Dog Things To Do Thank You Very Much. IMG_3859
It’s fitting that Fleur would somehow end up on a cookbook cover, because if ever a dog loved dinner, it was our girl.
And as we move through our grief, comforted by the empathy and sympathy of family and friends, relying on the resiliency of the human spirit, we know there’s a time to refocus on the living.
That includes finding some excitement in this book, and so I’m sharing a little sneak peek with you.
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It’s a beautiful sunny day outside, with just enough of a breeze to make walking comfortable, so I’m heading out with our boy Jack for a stroll. We’ll chat soon!

Sunday Small Bites

A weekly roundup of tasty tidbits for your entertainment!

CBC featured this bit on Newfoundland’s Tiniest Pub–and nope, it’s not on George Street.

If you want to tickle your brain cells instead of your taste buds, there are great food-related quizzes over at Sporcle. Everything from Shakespeare’s Kitchen Quiz to Food in Song Lyrics to Foods That Are Red. Go have a look, but take a snack, you might be there awhile.

And the drink of the day, compliments of Marylou Hoffman Zimmerman. Marylou is a Facebook friend of mine who adores all things food, and has Newfoundland dogs that sniff out truffles for her in the spring, which I think is pretty amazing.
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Elderflower Sipper: St. Germaine, homemade rose water, vodka, hibiscus lavender syrup and club soda make up her version of this summer sparkly cocktail.

Speaking of drinks, looks like disaster will be averted, as HuffPo reports there may not be a shortage of Prosecco after all!
This sparkling Italian wine is my go-to for special occasion toasting and by happy accident, we were served Kir Royales made with prosecco on Saturday night (how’s that for a segue?)

After our drinks, we sat down this wonderful supper made by a hostess claiming to have simple tastes.
Every bite was perfect, and I can’t recall enjoying a dinner so much in a very long time. Of course, that may also have had a lot to do with the company. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again–it doesn’t matter so much what’s on the table as who’s around it. In this case, it was the best of both!
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Sunday Small Bites

A weekly roundup of tasty tidbits for your eatertainment!

In both the Glass Half Full and When Life Gives You Lemons categories:
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After an especially long and arduous East Coast winter, my sister-in-law refuses to let a little of the leftover white stuff spoil a sunny day. Relaxing on her cabin deck in Birchy, Newfoundland, she uses the pristine snow as ice for her gin and tonic. Cheers Denise!

Ladies & Gentlemen, the “Swineapple“:
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Pineapple, stuffed with pork ribs and wrapped in bacon–c’mon on, you know you want to try it! I know I will, and I’ll let you know how it goes.

And if you think the pressure’s on cooking for mere mortals, imagine cooking for royalty! Even anti-monarchists should find this behind the scenes account of a former royal chef interesting: A Palace Chef here!

Finally, this guy proves that not everyone is taking food too seriously. He’s ranked the 27 best Pop-Tart flavours–who knew there were that many? Now I want one…

A Cup of Tea

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I love my nightly cup of tea, and it seems fitting to finish out National Poetry Writing Month with the same ritual I finish my day with. I can’t talk about tea without mention of Halifax’s Phil “Tea” Holmans. The proprietor of the World Tea House, Phil has a passion for tea that is unparalleled, and has just returned from travelling through Sri Lanka and India on his continuing tea journey. Find him on Facebook here.

Thank you all for reading along!

Water bubbles to a rolling boil
Pour slowly over leaves in pot
Steeping, familiar fragrance
filling air, filling cup
cradled in both hands
Warmth seeping through
Liquid love
with each
sip