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Feeling Korea-sick

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Our favourite Galbi (Korean BBQ) place in Gokbanjeong-dong, Suwon. It has since closed down; such a shame!

Sometimes I get Korea-sick. It’s not like being homesick, since Korea was never really “home” to me, but I did live there for nearly three years and it was the first foreign country I had ever visited. It holds a special place in my heart.

Patrick doesn’t get Korea-sick like I do. He was well traveled by the time he arrived, having finished backpacking the old silk route, from Istanbul to Beijing, and most of Nepal and India. He’d seen a thing or two at that stage, including a holy man in India who told him he’d meet his future wife in the coming year, would have four children (!) and would live to a ripe old age. True to form, we met the following year. We’ll see how many kids I’m willing to pop out after this one.

Korea, for me, was something entirely new and exciting. I had to learn a completely different way of life, I spent a huge chunk of my time teaching (something, after having my mom teach me my whole life, I had vowed never to do) and I had to learn new mannerisms. It was important for me to learn as much as possible about the culture – you see a lot of foreigners in Korea who don’t bother, and it’s painful to watch.

That was part of the excitement of living in a new place. It was also my first experience living in a city – I had to learn how to use a cell phone and public transit for the first time – and my first real experience with foreign food.

In Nova Scotia, at least, outside of Halifax, we don’t have a lot of ethnic food. It’s getting better now, but when I was growing up the most exotic meal you could get were the spicy noodles at Wong’s, the Chinese food restaurant in my hometown (I still often crave those spicy noodles; they’re so, so good). Sesame oil was a flavour I had to get used to, and it took about six months for me to like kimchi, the staple of any Korean’s diet.

After I started eating kimchi, though, a whole world of Korean flavours opened up to me. Kimchi Jiggae, a hot stew made of (you guessed it) kimchi with soft tofu, green onion and pork or tuna, Pa and Kimchi Jeon, which are Korean-style pancakes, often made tastier with the addition of “hae-mul”, or seafood. Bulgogi, dakgalbi, jjimdak, bibimbap and mandhu all became much-loved meals.

I started craving rice – just plain, Korean-style rice – regularly, as it had become a real comfort food for me. During my first months of pregnancy, I couldn’t eat anything – but Patrick could always convince me to down a bowl of Kimchi Jiggae with rice no matter how sick I felt.

A massive meal of ssamgyupsal (BBQ-ed pork belly) and beer or soju has been our date night of choice for years now. Every major occasion calls for it – weddings, birthdays, going-away parties. So yes, I get Korea-sick quite a lot, especially now that I live in a place with no Korean restaurant (Dear Koreans: Please move to Waterford and open a restaurant. PLEASE.).

For more Korean stories, you can check out my very first blog, ever: Getting My Suwon (don’t judge; I had no idea what I was doing!).

Since I’m having one of those days, I invite you to commiserate. Photos of some of my favourite Korean meals:

Korean-style Chinese food

Korean-style Chinese food

Shabu Shabu! Boiling broth with thinly sliced raw beef to dip in, followed by noodles when the beef and veggies are eaten.

Shabu Shabu! Boiling broth with thinly sliced raw beef to dip in, followed by noodles when the beef and veggies are eaten.

Buying produce off the ground never tasted this good.

Buying produce off the ground never tasted this good.

The necessary drinking glasses at any Korean BBQ establishment: beer, water & soju.

The necessary drinking glasses at any Korean BBQ establishment: beer, water & soju.

Street food in Namdaemun Market, Seoul

Street food in Namdaemun Market, Seoul

Red Mango, my favourite froyo OF ALL TIME. The toppings are unreal. It's expensive but so worth it.

Red Mango, my favourite froyo OF ALL TIME. The toppings are unreal. It’s expensive but so worth it.

Gamja Jeon, potato pancakes. Killer.

Gamja Jeon, potato pancakes. Killer.

It's sometimes best not to read menu translations. Itaewon, Seoul.

It’s sometimes best not to read menu translations. Itaewon, Seoul.

Homemade songpyeon for Chuseok (Korean style Thanksgiving)

Homemade songpyeon for Chuseok (Korean style Thanksgiving)

Dakgalbi (chicken with chili, cabbage, onions, rice cake) in Jongno-gu, Seoul

Dak Galbi (chicken with chili, cabbage, onions, rice cake) in Jongno-gu, Seoul

Korean wedding food. I went to a lot of Korean weddings. This banchan is just for snacking during the ceremony. The real meal happens after!

Korean wedding food. I went to a lot of Korean weddings. These banchan (side dishes) are just for snacking during the ceremony. The real meal happens after!

Dakgalbi in it's raw state, with a chilled radish soup on the side.

Dak Galbi in it’s raw state, with a chilled radish soup on the side.

Waiting for our Kimchi Jeon (Kimchi pancake) to arrive we sip on Maekkoli (fermented rice alcohol, served chilled in a teapot, looks like milk).

Waiting for our Kimchi Jeon (Kimchi pancake) to arrive we sip on Makkoli (fermented rice alcohol, served chilled in a teapot, drunk from a bowl, looks like milk).

Beachside ssamgyupsal on the island of Muuido.

Beachside ssamgyupsal on the island of Muuido.

Street food in Busan - ddeokbokkie (spicy rice cake) and fried mandhu (pork or kimchi dumplings).

Street food in Busan – ddeokbokkie (spicy rice cake), kimbap and fried mandhu (pork or kimchi dumplings).

We had this delicious clam Jiggae (stew) after a long hike in Jeollnam-do

We had this delicious clam Jiggae (stew) after a long hike in Jeollnam-do

Kimchi Jiggae in Baengyeongdo (an island off the coast of North Korea).

Kimchi Jiggae in Baengyeongdo (an island off the coast of North Korea).

Donkatsu in Baengyeongdo (breaded pork cutlet).

Donkatsu in Baengyeongdo, plus banchan (breaded pork cutlet and side dishes).

My first ever Korean meal, Kimbap (rice, ham, egg, pickled radish, root veg) at 5AM. Jetlag.

My first ever Korean meal, Kimbap (rice, ham, egg, pickled radish, root veg) at 5AM. Jetlag.

Typical "service" (meaning: free) bar snack in Korea - squid jerky with ketchup and mayo!

Typical “service” (meaning: free) bar snack in Korea – squid jerky with ketchup and mayo!

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Silage

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Still cutting at 10:30 PM. Thank goodness for long summer evenings.

This past weekend, the Kennedy’s finished their first cutting of silage. Relief ensued.

I’m not that familiar with silage; this was my first real experience with it (and at a whopping eight months pregnant, my duties were largely delegated to the kitchen). I grew up on a highland cattle farm – quite possibly the most gorgeous type of cattle in the world, if you could ever consider a cow gorgeous. A dairy farm, by comparison, is way different. A dairy farm in Ireland is different yet again.

Back home, we would make hay every summer, and maybe a very small amount of silage, if any. But what’s the difference?

Silage is cut when the grass is still green, heaped in a large pit (or silo) and left to ferment. The cows go crazy for it. On my dad’s farm, we would wait for the hay to get really high and dry out, then we would cut it and shape it into bales. These bales would generally feed the cows all through the winter. Silage will feed the cows through the winter, as well, and we’ll be doing another batch with the second growth of grass, probably in August.

Like hay-making days back home, though, at my father-in-law’s farm lots of people come together to lend a hand during silage and then enjoy a big meal together afterwards. This is kind of old-fashioned, but it’s the way my father-in-law has always done it and he loves the social aspect.

Today, many Irish farmers will hire contractors to come in and cut the silage. These guys are professionals – they’re equipment is well-maintained, break-down’s are rare and they get the job done faster (for a price). It is much easier to hire contractors, but I tend to agree with my father-in-law on this one – the folk helping out and taking part this past weekend were working extremely hard, but had huge smiles on their faces as well. The camaraderie is refreshing.

Patrick hauls the silage over to the pit.

Patrick hauls the silage over to the pit.

Since I was in no shape to drive a tractor or throw old tires on top of the pit to keep the plastic sheeting secured (recycling works, people!), I took a few photos of the process.

Ben the farm dog stayed with me while the others did the heavy lifting.

Ben the farm dog stayed with me while the others did the heavy lifting.

My husband, brother-in-law and sister-in-law on top of the pit.

My husband, brother-in-law and sister-in-law on top of the pit.

Hauling tires to hold down the plastic.

Hauling tires to hold down the plastic.

Ben is the best farm dog in the whole world.

Ben is the best farm dog in the whole world.

Braised Lamb Gnocchi

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I’m not sure what I was expecting for my first summer in Ireland, but it definitely wasn’t the gorgeous warm weather we’ve been enjoying. I mean, yes, some days are chilly, grey and rainy. Sometimes I have to turn on the heat in the house. But for the most part, the summer here has been lovely. Maybe not as warm as it would be in Cape Breton, but other than that the weather trends have been similar. I have been preparing for an Irish summer my whole life and never even knew it.

Last week, I definitely wasn’t expecting the day to be hot and sunny when I defrosted the lamb shanks my father-in-law had gifted to me the previous weekend (he has a deep-freeze full of lovely, tender lamb joints). I thought it was supposed to rain, and so planned to braise the shanks all day and have them with gnocchi for dinner that night. As soon as I got the shanks in the oven to braise, though, the sun came out, the grass dried and before I knew it Patrick was calling home to ask what we were grilling for dinner.

It had turned into the perfect BBQ day. The lamb would have to wait.

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Finally, even though the weather was nice last Thursday, I took it out of the fridge and we had the dinner I had planned several days prior. It worked out well in the end, since all the major work was done. All I had to do was whip up some gnocchi. I once spent several months making vast amounts of gnocchi every day, so it didn’t take long (especially when you’re only making it for two people as opposed to 500!). We were driving to Tipperary that night to help bring in the silage so the quick dinner was well appreciated.

The lamb in Ireland is so, so good. It must be from all the lush, green grass they and their moms get to munch on. The flavour just can’t be compared to any other kind of lamb I’ve tried – I’m hooked!

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Braised Lamb Gnocchi

Ingredients:

For the lamb:

2-3 lamb shanks, seasoned with salt and pepper

1 large onion, roughly chopped

1 large carrot, roughly chopped

1 stalk celery, roughly chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 bay leaf

5-6 whole peppercorns

2 sprigs fresh thyme

1 sprig fresh rosemary

1 Tbsp tomato paste

2 cups good red wine

1 can tomatoes

2 cups hot beef stock

2-3 Tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper

For the gnocchi:

6 large baking potatoes

2 eggs, beaten

1 1/2- 2 cups plain flour

salt

pinch of nutmeg

extra flour, for rolling

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Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees (160 degrees Celsius, no fan)
  • In a large dutch oven or lidded pot (that is oven-safe), heat 1-2 Tbsp olive oil on high heat until smoking. Sear the seasoned lamb shanks in the hot pot until dark brown on all sides (not burnt – if you think the heat is too high, reduce it to medium-high).
  • When the shanks have been browned, remove them from the pot and reduce the heat to medium-high. Add the remaining Tbsp of olive oil and then add the onion, carrots and celery to the same pot. Brown the vegetables, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic, thyme, rosemary, peppercorns and bay (you can put all of these things in whole as long as they’re washed – the aromatics/flavourings will be strained and thrown out, eventually).
  • Add the tomato paste to the pot and stir until the vegetables/aromatics are covered in the paste. Cook for one minute, then return the lamb shanks to the pot. Add the wine, tomatoes and beef stock.
  • Bring the contents of the pot to a boil. Once a boil has been reached, cover the pot with a lid and put it in the 325 degree oven. Braise the lamb shanks for at least 1.5 hours and preferably for 2.5-3 hours. If you haven’t braised the lamb long enough, it will still be tough. You know the lamb is ready when the meat falls away from the bone easily.
  • When the lamb is finished cooking, remove the shanks from the pot. Using two forks, removed the meat from the bone (and remove any large pieces of fat, as well). Strain the braising liquid into a saucepan and cook over medium heat on the stove top until the liquid has reduced to a sauce that coats the back of a spoon. When your sauce has reduced, add the shredded lamb to the saucepan.
  • Adjust the seasoning. You may have reduced the sauce enough that it doesn’t need any extra salt. Taste it first, then add salt and pepper as necessary.

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  • Make the gnocchi: wash the potatoes and prick each potato with a fork. Place on a baking sheet and bake in a 375 degree (190 degrees Celsius) oven for about an hour, until the potatoes have cooked through and are tender (easily pierced with a paring knife).
  • While the potatoes are still hot, slice them in half and scoop out the flesh (it will be hard to handle – you can use a clean dishtowel to handle the hot potatoes). Put the baked potato through a potato ricer or mash very well to get out any lumps. Add  about 2 tsp of salt to the potatoes and the pinch of nutmeg, then quickly mix in the beaten eggs. You need to mix the egg quickly or it will begin to cook!
  • When the eggs are incorporated, add 1 1/2 cups of flour and knead slightly until you get a soft dough. The mixture should be slightly sticky, but if it’s too sticky to handle add another 1/2 cup of flour until it’s workable.
  • Divide the warm dough into 4 quarters and work with one quarter at a time (the remaining dough should be kept warm under a tea towel until ready to use – once the dough gets cold, it gets very sticky and hard to work with).
  • Set up a baking sheet lined with parchment and generously sprinkled with flour. Set aside.
  • Generously flour your work surface and, by hand, roll the gnocchi dough into long, snake-like strips of dough. Using a pastry scraper or a knife, cut the gnocchi into 1 inch-long pieces. Place the finished gnocchi on the baking sheet.
  • Repeat the process with all of the gnocchi dough. You can cook the gnocchi right away, or save in the fridge for several hours before boiling.
  • To cook the gnocchi, bring a large pot of seasoned water to a rolling boil. Add the gnocchi and wait for it to float to the surface. It’s done! You don’t want to overcook gnocchi or you’ll end up with rubber bullets for dinner.
  • As a general rule, 12 pieces of gnocchi is a good sized serving. This recipe will make about 4-5 servings. Plate the gnocchi and top with the braised lamb and sauce. Garnish with torn basil and/or pecorino cheese.

Summer Berry Cobbler

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When I lived in Toronto, I did my best to have a balanced diet. Patrick and I would grocery shop every Saturday or Sunday and sometimes I’d be able to make it down to the farmer’s market for produce. I worked in very busy restaurant kitchens until just before I got pregnant, and then, with the same restaurant company, moved to the marketing team so I wouldn’t have to lift 20kg bags of flour every day. The move also meant a lot more food writing, an opportunity to learn and grow and much  less snacking during my workday. It was a great experience.

I admit, the constant taste, season, taste, season aspect of being a professional cook had me a bit blobby around the edges. So much cream, butter and, my personal favourite, poutine (the last restaurant where I worked has a duck confit poutine pizza on the menu – so, so wrong and yet, so right). And then, coming home from a long work day, Patrick and I would often opt for a dinner of takeout Thai, pizza, or, on our better days, we’d walk to the Korean restaurant down the road for their amazing kimchi jiggae (I’m telling you, Torontonians, Makkal Chon is the best Korean restaurant in the city).

Makkal Chon, Scarborough, Toronto

Makkal Chon, Scarborough, Toronto

Having moved to Ireland, our diet has gotten exponentially better. A big part of this is the fact that there is no poutine in Waterford (yet… gimme a few years!). Another reason is that I haven’t really met anyone or made any friends, which means eating out is not something we often do. I don’t mind, I know I’ll meet people eventually, and for now the quiet time is nice since in less than two months I’ll be busy with a newborn baby.

The third, and my favourite, reason our diet has gotten better is because it’s IRELAND. We have access to such delicious fruit, vegetables, dairy and meat here. My father-in-law has a deep-freeze full of lamb joints that I am always encouraged to help myself to. When we’re in Tipperary on the weekends, we are frequently gifted with fresh eggs (both chicken and duck). Patrick and I love trying the different artisanal food products – the jams, jellies, compotes, sauces, baked goods and cheeses, all pesticide and preservative-free – that are abundant here.

Even though I’m baking a lot more, it’s not having too much of an adverse affect on our diet. Since I’m not “working” I have plenty of time to grow some of our own food, maintain a sourdough starter and make healthy dinners every night. Patrick often gets a good workout on the farm most weekends and we go walking regularly on nice evenings. So while we may be indulging a bit more than we’re used to, we’re also using better ingredients. It’s a nice balance.

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I wanted to make blueberry grunt last night, but that can wait for my mom to arrive, who will hopefully be sourcing some Nova Scotian wild blueberries for me (fingers crossed!). I had some blueberries and strawberries lying around and decided, instead, to make a cobbler for dessert. A grunt is similar to a cobbler, but the dumplings usually get steamed instead of baked.

This cobbler is a great summer dessert. I sprinkle slivered almonds over the top before baking for a little added crunch and flavour. Cobbler is great on its own, but with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream (or Haagen Daas, whatever you have) it reaches dessert perfection. Serve it warm for complete satisfaction.

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Summer Berry Cobbler

Ingredients:

2 pints fresh blueberries

1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and halved

1/4 cup orange juice

3/4 cup icing sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 1/2 cups plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp sea salt

3 Tbsp sugar or honey

1/2 cup cold butter, cubed

3/4 cup milk

1/2 cup slivered almonds

sugar, for sprinkling

milk, for brushing

Directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 375 degrees (190 degrees Celsius, no fan).
  • In a baking dish, arrange the berries so they’re evenly spread out.
  • In a small bowl, mix the icing sugar, orange juice and vanilla. Drizzle over the berries and lightly toss to coat in the glaze.
  • In another bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Rub or cut in the butter until the mixture is coarse and crumbly, with the butter well incorporated.
  • At this point, if you’re using honey instead of sugar, mix it in with the milk. Add the milk to the flour mixture and mix until just incorporated. If the mixture is looking too dry, add a bit more milk to reach the right consistency. It should look wet and sticky but still hold it’s shape, like scone dough.
  • Drop the batter by wooden spoonfuls onto the berry mixture. You can choose to spread the batter to cover the berries entirely, or maintain the shape of scones, leaving some room for the berries to bubble up while baking (I always do this because I find it easier to portion once baked).
  • Brush the tops of the scones with a bit of milk, then sprinkle a bit of sugar on top (brown or white, your choice). Sprinkle the almonds over the tops of the scones.
  • Bake for 30-45 minutes, checking after 30. The scones should be golden brown and crunchy on top and the berries should still be whole with a nice, bubbly sauce.

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Honest2Goodness Market in Dublin

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Two Saturdays ago, I boarded a *very early* train to Dublin Heuston and made my way to the big city. The purpose: to check out the Honest2Goodness Farmer’s Market and catch up with my bestie, Monica, who just moved to Tipperary from Cape Breton (she is such a copycat; I couldn’t be happier).

I’ve heard so much about this market since I moved to Ireland in April. So far, in all honesty, I have been slightly underwhelmed by the markets in Tipperary and Waterford (my usual haunts) and have been looking for a farmer’s market to rival the ones I liked to frequent back in Canada.

The Wolfville Farmer’s Market in Nova Scotia is, in my opinion, the best market in the world. I went to university in Wolfville and every Saturday I’d wake up early, go to the market, grab a coffee, buy my week’s cheese, veg, fruit and bread and have a cold samosa with cilantro chutney for breakfast while chatting with my friends. There would always be live music, kids running around, and dogs on leashes everywhere. The smell of grilled Kielbasa sausages would waft over the many kiosks. Such fond memories.

That was years ago and I hear the market has gotten even better. The Evergreen Brickworks is another great farmer’s market in Toronto. My friend Zack and I would frequent the market for fresh produce and the purest of pure maple syrup, and again it has such a great, festive atmosphere with live music and friendly vendors.

Lovely Cake Pops!

Lovely Cake Pops!

I came to Ireland with high expectations for farmer’s markets. The produce, dairy and artisan food here is much better than in Canada. You can’t beat Irish cheese, or butter. The climate is much more conducive to growing vegetables and, as I may have mentioned before, the fruit here is so sweet and juicy compared to the lackluster fare we have in Canada for most of the year.

All that said, aside from St. George’s Market in Belfast I am ashamed to say I hadn’t loved the Irish farmer’s markets I’ve visited thus far. That changed when I visited the Honest2Goodness Market in Dublin.

Monica and I took a cab from Heuston Station to the market, and I’m so glad we did. We would never have found it on our own! It’s tucked away in an old industrial estate, a bit far from the city centre. Luckily, Honest2Goodness maintains an excellent website with detailed instructions on how to get there.

Upon arriving I took a quick look around and saw that all my market needs would be met. Woot! Fresh baked breads, an olive and cheese stand, a large fresh produce section and some yummy looking prepared foods told me I had found a truly great farmer’s market.

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I shopped around, sampled, chatted with the vendors (all lovely people) and filled my bag with fresh veggies, berries, a basil plant, some preserves and chutneys – even a bottle of Côtes du Rhône, sold by the lovely Brid Carter who runs the market (along with a few others) and who also sources interesting and sustainable wines from around Europe.

Although I won’t be able to go to Dublin every Saturday, it was so much fun to shop, chat and enjoy the beautiful, sunny weather. I’ll be back for sure, next time with Patrick in tow (he can carry more stuff).

Also, if anyone has suggestions for great farmer’s markets in the Tipperary/Waterford regions I’d love to hear about them!

* For more detailed information on Honest2Goodness Market, Edible Ireland wrote a great post a few weeks ago with vendor information.

Victoria Sponge Cake

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Yesterday was Father’s Day, and though I talk to my mom nearly every day, I don’t often get a chance to chat with my busy dad. Here’s a smidgen of our conversation:

Me: “How was your morning?”

Dad: “Great; I caught six huge trout for tomorrow’s dinner. Your mom and I invited Aunt Joan and Jacqueline over. They love fresh trout.”

That quote says a lot about my dad. He takes care of people and is pretty salt-of-the-earth in his outlook. Here are some more of his wonderful attributes:

  1. He loves to farm (though he doesn’t do it anymore).
  2. He loves to fish.
  3. He loves to make furniture and build houses from scratch.
  4. His perfect evening includes a BBQ, cigar and glass of rye out on the deck.
  5. He loves British comedies.
  6. He is so, so kind in every way. Once he brought home a wild turtle he saw being hit by a car on the highway. We put it in the pond behind our house. I think I was 16 at the time.
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Photo by Brad Sampson Photography

I have inherited most of these interests and attributes from my dad (except for the furniture/house building). He used to take my brothers and I for long walks through the highlands, where our grandparents grew up. He taught us the names of the trees, the different types of birds and our family history among many other things. As a result, the three of us have a huge appreciation for nature and are very proud of where we come from.

And those trout he caught? I can guarantee, at tonight’s dinner, no one will be cooking the fish but dad. He doesn’t get in the kitchen very often (he’s a BBQ man) but my dad is a pretty stellar cook. In his opinion, trout needs nothing more than some dredging, seasoning and frying. His eggy-battered haddock is one of my favourite ways to eat fish, and every Christmas he makes his special seafood chowder with crumbled bacon on top.

Like my dad, I have a real lack of appreciation for sparkly, frou-frou dining experiences. I can dig fine dining, but there has to be some substance there for me to really appreciate it. Pretentious dining experiences bore me to tears. In my opinion, nothing beats a glass of wine and some BBQ or fried fish at home with my family. Most chefs will agree with me.

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Hence this Victoria Sponge Cake. It’s not really a Canadian thing, but I see them everywhere in Ireland. Very simply, a Victoria Sponge consists of two sponge cake layers sandwiched with jam, cream or fruit or a combination of the three. It gets coated with a dusting of icing sugar. It’s beautiful in its simplicity and has become one of my favourite cakes.

Of course, though, I had to “redneck” my version up a bit. I used brown sugar instead of white. Why? Because it tastes better. You would think it would result in a heavier sponge, but if you whip it into submission with the eggs the result is *even better* than it would be with white sugar. It’s adds a bit of moisture to the cake and a lot of caramelized flavour.

Secondly, I didn’t make a true sponge cake. I made a hot milk-almost sponge-cake. It’s my Aunt Flora’s recipe. The hot milk gives the cake a lovely, malted flavour.

I did whip some cream, but luckily tasted it before using. It had gone sour before it’s “best before” date! I ended up filling the cake with Big Red Kitchen’s delicious Pear & Vanilla Jam. A Victoria Sponge will generally use strawberry or raspberry jam as the filling, but the pear went so, so well with the brown sugar almost-sponge.

I’m sorry I missed out on Father’s Day with my dad, but this is definitely a cake I’ll be making for him when he comes to Ireland in September. Uncomplicated, well textured and full of flavour – it’s the kind of food he (and I) like the most. He’ll have to supply the rye, though – we’re in whiskey country.

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Janine’s Victoria “Sponge” Cake

Ingredients:

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1 cup brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup all purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp sea salt

3 Tbsp butter

1/2 cup milk

1/4 cup The Big Red Kitchen’s Pear & Vanilla Jam

icing sugar, for dusting

Directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees (180 degrees Celsius, no fan). Butter and flour two sandwich cake pans (or two regular cake pans).
  • Using a stand mixer or hand mixer with the whisk attachment, whisk the eggs, vanilla and brown sugar on high for at least 5 minutes. You want the eggs and sugar to get to the ribbon stage, where the volume has doubled, the mixture has paled in colour considerably and when you lift the whisk the batter falls down in a ribbon-like manner.
  • In the meantime, heat the milk and butter in a small saucepan until it boils. Set aside.
  • When the eggs/sugar have reached the right consistency, sift in the flour and baking powder. Add the salt and mix until just incorporated into the eggs/sugar.
  • Add the hot milk and butter and whisk on high for 30 seconds.
  • Divide the batter between the two pans. Bake for approximately 15-20 minutes, checking at 15. The top of the cake should be golden brown and will bounce back when touched.
  • Let the cakes cool for 15 minutes before removing from the pans. Place one sponge upside-down on a cake plate and spread the jam over the top. Add the second sponge, right side up, on top. Dust the top with icing sugar and serve immediately (it won’t last more than two days; it’s too yummy).

* If you want to make the cakes in advance they freeze very well. Bulk up the deliciousness by whipping fresh cream and including it in the sandwich, along with fresh fruit or berries.

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Cape Breton Oatcakes

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I made a few batches of my favourite Cape Breton Oatcakes yesterday in preparation for the coming week’s silage-making at the farm (I also made about a million other things and am not even close to being finished). I took a few shots of the oatcakes with my phone and was a little surprised when my Scottish friend commented on one of the photos.

He asked, “What’s the difference between a Cape Breton Oatcake and a regular Scottish Oatcake?”

I had no idea.

It’s funny how you take things for granted growing up. For me, growing up in one of the most beautiful places in the world, we would get loads of tourists each summer. They would often chat with me at whatever shop (or bar, or B&B, or resort) I was working in that summer and would always say the same thing.

“You are so lucky to get to live here all the time.”

I thought they were crazy at first. It’s not easy being from Cape Breton or living there year-round. The summer is beautiful, yes, but that’s when all the tourists come as well. It’s not often that a Cape Bretoner gets to enjoy the summer in the same way a tourist would, because we constantly work to make enough to last through the bleak winter months.

And those bleak winter months! From November til May you never know when the snow will start or melt. Living where my family did, we would sometimes be completely snowed in by the drifts. On occasion, our dirt road would flood when the snow started to melt and my dad would have to carry me piggy-back across the slush and into a car waiting on the other side to get to school (the last time I had to do that I was 15, poor dad).

So you might be able to understand why I thought the tourists were crazy when they made those remarks. Oatcakes were another source of contention for me. Many tourists had never had them before, or even heard of them. Many raved about them. Bakeries in my home town sold them by the dozens to tourists returning to wherever home was. I just didn’t get it.

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In my teenage opinion, there were way better options out there than plain old oatcakes.

Looking back, I realize how annoying I probably was as a teenager. And those tourists were right. Cape Breton is a wonderful place and oatcakes are the bomb.

Back to the conversation with my Scottish friend. I asked him to send me a good recipe for Scottish Oatcakes so I could compare them to Cape Breton Oatcakes. As it turns out, and many of you may already know this (but bear with me), Scottish Oatcakes have no added sugar and are mostly used in a savoury context. Cape Breton Oatcakes, as you’ll see in the recipe below, often call for both brown and white sugar in addition to the other ingredients.

In Cape Breton, we eat oatcakes with butter and have them with tea. Sometimes you might spread a little jam on them. In Baddeck at The High Wheeler Cafe, they make an oatcake sandwich cookie with a peanut butter filling. Then, they dip half the cookie in melted chocolate. Highly addictive. My friend told me they like to have Scottish oatcakes with haggis, stovies, mince or with cheese. Very interesting!

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One of my favourite chefs in Toronto is Geoff Hopgood, chef and owner of Hopgood’s Foodliner. He’s originally from Nova Scotia and his restaurant is first-rate. The food is so well executed, with definite elements of fine dining, but the atmosphere and menu are so very “down home”. I love his warm crab dip served with triscuits. His version of a Halifax donair is my favourite in Toronto. And, the first time I ate there, I had smoked mackerel with pickled shallots and crème fraîche on an oatcake. It blew my mind, because I could never consider an oatcake as anything but sweet.

Now I know better, and I won’t be taking oatcakes for granted ever again.

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Cape Breton Oatcakes

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups rolled oats (or porridge oats)

1 1/2 cups plain flour

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 tsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)

1 cup cold butter, cubed

3-4 Tbsp milk

Directions: 

  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees (200 degrees Celsius, no fan). Line a baking sheet with parchment.
  • In a large bowl, combine the oats, flour, sugars and baking soda. Add the cold butter and rub it in until the mixture is crumbly and the butter is well incorporated.
  • Add 3 Tbsp of milk and mix. If the mixture doesn’t come together easily, add the other Tbsp of milk. Shape dough into a ball.
  • On a well floured surface (the dough will be slightly sticky so really go for it with the flour – it won’t affect the outcome, I promise). Roll out the dough to about 1/2 inch thickness. Cut dough into squares with a palette knife, or use a large round cookie cutter to cut the oatcakes.
  • Carefully place the cut oatcakes onto the baking sheet (I use a palette knife to help with this as the dough can be delicate).
  • Bake the oatcakes for about 15 minutes. Check after 10. They should be golden brown on top and, when cooled, should be crunchy, not chewy.
  • Serve with hot tea, clotted cream, sweet butter, jams, cheeses or anything else that tickles your fancy. Store in an airtight container to retain the crunch-factor.

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