Red Currant Orange Muffins

I’ve occasionally noted how alike in smell, flavour and texture red currant jam and cranberry sauce are. And since I’ve got a freezer full of last summer’s currants, I decided to use them in a recipe calling for cranberries.

The result was a lovely red currant orange muffin. Even better than the cranberry version, because the fruit came from our own garden.

2 cups all purpose flour
1 c. whole wheat flour
1 Tbs baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs
zest of one orange
juice of 1 orange, plus enough yogurt to make 1 1/2 cups
1/2 cup brown sugar
125 g (8 Tbs) melted butter
1 cup fresh or frozen (thawed) red currants

Combine flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, orange zest, orange juice, yogurt, sugar and butter. Combine wet and dry ingredients, stirring just until evenly moist. Fold in the currants.

Fill well-greased muffin cups—for me, this makes 21 muffins.

Bake 15 minutes at 210ºC (400ºF). Allow to cool in pan 5 minutes before removing.

Salt-preserved Green Beans

I always struggle with what to do with too many green beans. I can (bottle) some, but none of us really like the taste of canned beans, and their mushy texture leaves a lot to be desired. I don’t freeze any, because freezer space is at a premium, and I prefer to fill it with sweet corn and peas instead.

So this past summer, I preserved some green beans in salt. The recipe I used claimed that the flavour and texture of salt-preserved beans is far superior to canned or frozen.

I pulled out the crock of salted beans the other day to test them out.

At first glance, they didn’t win any beauty contests, especially the yellow wax beans, which came out of the salt a sort of dead-flesh colour.

I rinsed them and soaked them for two hours, as directed, and then tossed them into a green bean and potato charcharis.

Cooked into a flavourful Indian dish, the beans most definitely had better flavour and texture than canned beans. Almost as good as fresh, even.

Unfortunately, they were so excessively salty, they made the dish almost inedible. Even my salty-olive-loving family couldn’t choke them down. Most of the dish ended up on the compost pile, and I expect an epidemic of high blood pressure in the local sparrow and mouse population who dine at chez-compost.

There are still some beans left. I’ll try using them again—small quantities in otherwise unsalted stews or soups might work well (sort of like a salty ham hock in bean soup). Maybe.

But I’m thinking I’ll just give away the extra green beans next year.

Pumpkin Pancakes

Now that winter has set in, we’ve turned our culinary sights from eggplant and courgettes to pumpkin, pumpkin, and pumpkin. I blogged about our excellent pumpkin harvest earlier this year. That post was written mid-way through the harvest–ultimately we picked nearly 200 pumpkins and other winter squash.

So w’re eating a lot of pumpkin. That’s not a problem.

Yesterday I made lovely pumpkin pancakes for breakfast. They were moist, dense, and spicy—excellent with maple syrup or redcurrant jam.

To make these delicious pancakes, start with my World Famous Pancake Recipe. Add 2 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp cloves to the dry ingredients. Add 1 1/2 cups pureed pumpkin (or other winter squash—I used kabocha squash) to the wet ingredients.

If your pumpkin is dry, you may need to increase the milk to achieve the right batter consistency.

We found these pancakes didn’t store/reheat as well as regular pancakes—they became quite fragile upon reheating (though they were still delicious).

Healthy Cookies? No Thanks …

Seventeen years ago, when I was pregnant with my first child, I tried very hard to do everything the pregnancy books said I should do. Exercise, diet, sleep … the pressure to be perfect so my baby turned out okay was something all mothers can relate to, I’m sure.

My biggest pre-pregnancy vices were coffee and sweets. Coffee was easy to forgo—the moment I got pregnant, it made me sick to even smell it.

Sweets were harder to give up. I vowed not to eat any sweets I hadn’t made myself. But that only encouraged me to do a lot of baking, so then I vowed not to bake anything. That make me miserable.

I decided to adapt my favourite recipes to make them ‘good for me’, so I could justify eating them. I started with a cookie recipe I loved that was already full of whole grains and nuts.

Following the advice for pregnant mums (which I’m sure is completely different these days), I eliminated the sugar, sweetening the cookies with fruit juice instead. I cut down the butter by half, removed the chocolate, and added more nuts.

The resulting cookies nauseated me.

I don’t think they were necessarily bad, but they were emotionally unsatisfying and difficult for my stomach—a bit wobbly already from pregnancy—to digest. I choked them down anyway.

I thought maybe if I tweaked the recipe a little bit …

The second batch made me feel sick, too.

For over a decade, I couldn’t even look at the recipe for those cookies (not even the original recipe, which I loved) without feeling a bit queasy.

I’ve recently rediscovered those cookies, and am happy to report I’ve recovered all my love for the original recipe.

This comes from Farm Journal’s Cookies. Don’t change a thing. Trust me.

Wheat/Oat Crisps

3/4 cup shortening (I use 190g butter)
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup water
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
3 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
2 Tbsp wheat germ
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/4 cup chocolate chips (I actually increase this to 1/2 cup now)

Beat shortening and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, water and vanilla until creamy. Stir together flour, salt and baking soda. Stir flour mixture into creamed mixture and blend well. Add oats, wheat germ, coconut, nuts, and chocolate chips. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto lightly greased baking sheets. Bake at (180ºC) 350ºF for 12 – 15 minutes. Cool on a rack.

Neenish Tarts

Neenish Tarts

The Darfield Bakery is a mandatory stop for us whenever we pass through Darfield.

Our most frequent purchase is neenish tarts—little lemon tarts with chocolate drizzled on top. I’ve had neenish tarts from other bakeries and none stacks up to Darfield’s.

Not all neenish tarts are lemon—my understanding is that the ‘traditional’ neenish tart (they originated across the ditch in Australia) has a gelatine-thickened cream filling and is topped with two colours of frosting. I’m not particularly fond of this overly-sweet, bland tart. Lemon neenish tart filling is made with lemon juice, icing (powdered) sugar, and sweetened condensed milk.

My neenish tarts probably shouldn’t even be called neenish tarts, because they bear no resemblance to the ‘original’ ones, and veer off course even from the Darfield Bakery’s tarts. Still, they’re inspired by neenish tarts, and are just as delicious as the ones at the Darfield Bakery.

Make your favourite pie pastry (enough for a one-crust pie). Roll out thinly (roll more thinly for little tarts than for pie, or you end up with a tart that’s all crust), and cut into 10 cm (4-in) rounds. Line the wells of a cupcake pan with the rounds. Bake the shells empty for about 15 minutes at 190ºC (375ºF), until the edges are nicely browned. Turn out of the pan and cool on a wire rack.

While the pastry shells are cooling, make lemon curd. Combine in a saucepan:

3 eggs
1/3 cup sugar
60 g (4 Tbs) butter
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup lemon juice

Heat over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thick. Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 tsp vanilla.

Spoon warm lemon curd into each shell and allow to cool.

Melt about 50 g (2 oz) dark chocolate and drizzle over the tarts. Allow lemon curd and chocolate to cool completely before serving.

In Praise of Parsnip

The rangy rosette of a parsnip plant.

A bit like carrots, but sweeter and starchier, parsnips are wonderful winter vegetables.

I’m not certain when I first ate parsnip, but I know I’ve eaten a lot of it. When I was breastfeeding my son, nearly everything I ate gave him colic (It took eight weeks of 24-hour-a-day screaming for me to work this out … longest eight weeks of my life). Parsnips were one of the few safe vegetables, so I ate parsnips. Lots and lots of parsnips. But I never got sick of them. Their comforting, earthy flavour only grew on me the more I ate.

I try to grow parsnips every year, but I’m not always successful. Parsnip seed has a short shelf-life, and germination can be poor, even with seed that isn’t officially past it’s ‘plant by’ date. I buy a new packet of seed every year, whether I’ve used all of the old seeds or not. Even so, I don’t always have luck germinating it, because parsnip doesn’t like to be transplanted, and needs to be seeded directly into the garden beds. In my garden, that means the seeds tend to dry out, in spite of my best efforts. It also leaves tender seedlings at the mercy of birds and slugs, which seem to enjoy parsnip as much as I do.

But this past summer the parsnips did well, like many other crops that appreciated the unusually warm, wet weather. The parsnip I picked for dinner yesterday was 15 cm in diameter at the crown, but still tender and delicious. And there are plenty more out there to harvest.

Parsnips are sweeter after the first frost, so they’re a great autumn and winter food. They store well in the ground, so there’s no need to fill your fridge with them at harvest time. When we lived in Minnesota, I used to use a pickaxe to chip them out of the frozen ground through the winter.

Parsnips make wonderful additions to stews and casseroles. Their flavours meld well with potato, carrot, and celeriac. They compliment beans and pulses. They’re great vehicles for butter and cheese. Back when I was subsisting on little beyond parsnips, we used to mash them (like mashed potatoes), braise them, and roast them, in addition to using them in stew and soup.

It’s no wonder these versatile vegetables have been cultivated since long before Roman times. They’re a great winter staple—a vegetable you can eat again and again and still enjoy.

Gluten Culture

“I’m allergic to gluten-free.”

That’s my son’s line when people ask.

In part, it’s true; he’s allergic to buckwheat, which is often used in gluten-free products. But what he’s really saying is that gluten-containing foods are a staple at our house. Our diet and our family culture would break down without gluten.

It’s been a while since I blogged about a bread day, but they still happen. Every two or three weeks my husband fires up the bread oven and bakes two dozen loaves of bread. I follow with a couple of cakes, cookies, or whatever sweets I feel like baking. On the tail-end heat, my husband might throw in some bac-un or seitan—gluten-based meat substitutes.

Between the bi-weekly gluten fests, we make pastries, muffins, scones, crackers, and all manner of other gluten-containing food.

If we took gluten out of our diet, we’d lose a protein source and a suite of family activities.

And, yes, you can bake gluten-free bread, cakes and cookies.

But they’re not the same.

There is something fundamental, something visceral about the feel of gluten—under your hands as you knead bread, in your mouth as you chew it—something that is integral to my family’s enjoyment of food.

Yes, I think we’re all allergic to gluten-free.