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Posts from the ‘Being A Cook’ Category

#IrelandCooksforSyria: Spiced Chicken Shawarma with Creamy Garlic Sauce; Cream & Rosewater Baklava

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Over the past few years, Ireland has been welcoming Syrian refugees to its towns and villages. As a result, there is a good-sized Syrian community now living in Thurles, the nearest town to our farm.

I’m part of a group of Irish Food Bloggers that are posting Syrian recipes today in an effort to introduce you to typical (read: addictively delicious) Syrian cuisine and start a conversation about how we can help welcome refugees into our communities. It doesn’t have to be about fundraising or even necessarily being politically active (though both of those things are great). In my case, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know some Syrian women in Thurles on a more informal level.

Although I was relatively ignorant about Syrian food and culture before writing this post, I did know that most Syrians are practising Sunni Muslims. This means the women wear Hajib when they’re out in public, socialization is largely segregated by sex, and alcohol/pork/non-Halal foods are not consumed – ever. In a small town like Thurles, that can lead to problems when it comes to the weekly shop.

As a result, most Thurles-based Syrian food shopping is done at the Halal shop in Port Laoise or the shops in Tallaght (Dublin) with the last few bits being done in Thurles itself. I was so impressed, when my friend Reham recently had me over to her house, with the size of her refrigerator – it’s a huge, North American-style, stainless steel beauty. I was green with envy.

“We need lots of room because we don’t get to Dublin very often,” she explained. “When we do go, we buy a lot of Halal ingredients and use the fridge/freezer for storage.”

Reham came to Thurles with her husband, son and daughter about two years ago (and she has since welcomed an adorable baby girl!). Her sister came as well, with her own family, but as many Syrian families are quite large the sisters still have siblings, in-laws and parents living in other parts of the world.

Reham and I originally met at a Thurles Women’s Group gathering. I was invited to attend by the local coordinator and didn’t really know what to expect. I ended up staying for hours, having great chats with nearly every woman – Syrian and Irish alike – in the room.

Kids, husbands, the little quirks that come along with moving to Ireland – by the end of the night the ladies and I were laughing like old friends, and Reham promised to make me shawarma – something I used to eat every night in Toronto after cleaning down the restaurant kitchen (the shawarma shop on the way to my apartment was the only restaurant still open at 2am!).

“There is one Halal restaurant (Kebabish) in Thurles,” she said later at her house, in between bites of shawarma and fresh lemon, “but we usually prefer to eat at home.”

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I don’t blame her. Reham could make millions selling her homemade pickles and I would be a daily patron if her family ever decided to open a shawarma shop in Thurles.

… Have I mentioned I LOVE SHAWARMA?

In Toronto you can’t walk 500 metres without seeing a shawarma shop. Not all shawarma are created equal, though – the best ones are filled with juicy, spit-roasted slices of chicken or lamb, a generous smear of garlic cream sauce, fresh tomato and pickles and maybe a dollop of hummus for good measure. You can get them in a pita wrap, or with all the ingredients piled on a plate with fries.

Reham doesn’t have a spit (at least, I didn’t see one in the kitchen), but the chicken was moist and deliciously spiced. She wrapped the chicken and sauce in pita and toasted the whole thing on a grill – burrito-style! We then dipped our shawarma in extra garlic sauce and piled them with fried potatoes and bright red pickled turnip.

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I was so full after the shawarma, but there was a delicious looking baklava for dessert filled with thickened cream and flavoured with rose water – how could I pass that up? I downed two pieces along with my cardamom-infused Arabic coffee.

I’m so glad to have met my Syrian neighbours in Thurles. They are as mad about food as I am, they’re fun to be around and they teach me new things all the time. As a newcomer myself it’s great to spend some time with other non-Irish people every now and then!

I’d encourage anyone interested in getting to know their local Syrian community to research any local men’s/women’s groups that might be involved. You can also contact your local representatives to ask how you can get stuck in.

The Irish Food Bloggers involved in this linky are supporting Amnesty International’s “I Welcome Refugees” campaign. Click on the link to learn more about this great initiative.

In the meantime, you can make this shawarma and baklava. You won’t regret it.

*Thanks to Billy at Rookie Cook for organizing this! Here are links to other #IrelandCooksforSyria blog posts (will add to this as they come):

The Honest Project

Rookie Cook

Colm O’Gorman & here’s Colm’s piece in the Irish Times

Tasty Mediterraneo

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Spiced Chicken Shawarma with Creamy Garlic Sauce 

Ingredients:

For the Chicken:

500g chicken breasts or boneless thighs, sliced into large pieces

2-3 pita wraps

juice of 1/2 lemon

1 tsp each:

ground coriander

ground cumin

all-purpose Syrian spice mix (you can find it in Halal shops)

pinch of cinnamon

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

100g plain Greek yogurt

2 tsp salt

For the Garlic Sauce:

5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

juice of one lemon

1 egg white

2 Tbsp ice water

1 cup rapeseed oil (or canola; sunflower – any mild oil)

good pinch of sea salt

Directions:

  • Marinate your chicken in the spices, garlic, lemon juice and yogurt for at least an hour.
  • Saute or grill your chicken pieces until fully cooked. Open up the pita and spread 1 Tbsp garlic sauce in each. Layer the chicken into the pita and roll up tightly like a burrito.
  • Grill the shawarma wraps until hot all the way through and the outside is slightly toasty. Slice into 2-3 pieces per pita.
  • Serve with French fries, extra garlic sauce, dill pickles, pickled turnip and beetroot, fresh cucumber, fresh carrot, and slices of fresh lemon (you eat the lemon, it’s not for juice!).

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Cream, Rosewater and Pistachio Baklava

Ingredients:

at least 16 sheets phyllo pastry (8 for the bottom and 8 for the top)

melted butter (about 60g/1/4 cup)

250g/1 cup crushed or blitzed pistachios

Rose Water Syrup:

2 tsp rose water

juice of 1/2 lemon

1/4 cup water

1/2 cup honey

Cream Filling:

250ml/1 cup heavy cream

250ml/1 cup whole milk

60g/1/4 cup sugar

3 Tbsp cornstarch

2 tsp vanilla

Directions: .

  • Make the rose water syrup: in a small saucepan, combine the lemon juice, water, rose water and honey. Bring to a boil and boil for 2 minutes (until slightly thickened). Set aside to cool.
  • Make the cream filling: in a saucepan, combine all of the ingredients, stirring until smooth. Slowly bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly, and boil for 2 minutes to fully thicken. Remove from heat, allow to cool slightly, then wrap clingfilm directly onto the surface of the filling (to avoid a skin forming) and chill for 1 hour.
  • Preheat your oven to 180∘C (350∘F)
  • Line the bottom of a small, lightly buttered casserole dish with half the phyllo pastry, brushing each sheet with melted butter before adding the next. On top of this, add the cream filling and spread evenly.
  • Add the remaining phyllo sheets on top of the cream filling, again brushing each sheet with melted butter (including the top sheet). Using a sharp knife, lightly score the top of the baklava with a diamond or square design.
  • Bake the baklava for about 40 minutes (check after 30). The pastry should be golden brown and puffed-up and the diamond or square design on top should be prominent.
  • Sprinkle the top of the hot baklava with the crushed pistachios and then douse the whole thing in syrup (this must be done as soon as it comes out of the oven). Allow to cool before cutting and serving.
  • You will want to eat this within 2 days (the fresher it is, the better it tastes).

Nova Scotian Rum Pie

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I’ve worked under and with a lot of great chefs over the years. I’ve had mentors who were patient and generous with their knowledge and experience.

In Toronto I only ever worked for one restaurant company. I never felt the need to go elsewhere – I was treated well, paid relatively well (what cook is ever paid really well?), and enjoyed insurance and benefits most cooks never get. The best part, though, was the variety of my work and the amazing people I got to hang out with and learn from every day.

I wrote the above paragraph because it needed to be said. A cook is only ever as good as their mentor; I was really lucky to have several great chefs to learn from.

So why do I keep going back to my Grandma as my main culinary inspiration? It seems as I get older and have my own kids, I gain more and more respect for that sweet woman and what she accomplished in her life.

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On the outside it doesn’t look like she did much. She married my Grandfather at a young age, had seven kids and kept house. But I know the difference. Now that I have kids (and try to keep house) I understand the difficulties she probably encountered…

Except:

  • I don’t have seven kids. I have two.
  • I’ve never HAD to kill a chicken or grow my food. Those things are optional for me.
  • I’m financially better off than she was.
  • I don’t have a crippling autoimmune disease like she did.

I mean, I’m barely keeping it together as it is. The more I think about my Grandma, the more humbled I feel.

Especially considering the amount of time and money I put into becoming a chef. She was an amazing cook and baker. There may not have been much food in the house, but my Grandma kept all her kids fed and happy. She could take a bit of flour and sugar and turn it into something satisfyingly good.

I was watching The Chef’s Table last night on Netflix and was so inspired by the Korean Buddhist monk Jeong Kwan. Her food looks mouth-wateringly delicious, but, as it was stated in the documentary, as a cook she is completely without ego (which is so rare in our food network/social media-driven society). She lives her life simply, grows what she eats and shares what she has. Her food just happens to look like it was cooked and plated in a Michelin Star restaurant.

It reminded me of the way my Grandma would cook (though my Protestant Grandma would probably raise her eyebrows at being compared to a Buddhist; gotta stay honest). She never tried to do anything fancy, but her food always hit the spot, and she put love into everything she made.

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Before I moved to Ireland, my Aunt gifted me a cookbook of old pioneer recipes my Grandma had given to her years before. I look through it often, but not just because of the recipes – the history of my island is written in between the pages. It starts from the oldest Scottish pioneer recipes (think Dandelion Wine and Athol Brose), has a portion of recipes from New Zealand, where a lot of our descendants also ended up and ends with the kind of soul-satisfying desserts, soups and casseroles I grew up eating.

This pie kept jumping out at me. Maybe, at almost 30 weeks pregnant, I’m just really missing booze; who knows? This rum-tinged custard creation satisfies so many cravings on so many levels, and (thankfully) the booze is for flavour and not cognitive impact, so it’s safe for anyone to pig out on.

The recipe may sound daunting if you’re not used to working with gelatin, but stick with it – it’s actually really easy. The amount of gelatin in this recipe will give the rum custard a wobble, but it won’t be 100% set like Jello. More like a slightly alcoholic, ice-cream flavoured panna cotta (and who could resist that?).

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Nova Scotian Rum Pie

Ingredients:

For the Crust:

1 package digestive biscuits (about 500g), crushed (in Canada, we use graham cracker crumbs)

125g/1/2 cup melted butter

For the Filling:

1 Tbsp un-flavoured powdered gelatin

125ml/1/2 cup cold water

375ml/1 1/2 cups whole milk

2 tsp vanilla extract, divided

170g/3/4 cup granulated sugar

Pinch of sea salt

2 eggs, separated (room temperature is best)

4 Tbsp spiced rum

For the Topping:

250ml/1 cup heavy whipping cream

3 Tbsp icing (confectioner’s) sugar

Shaved milk chocolate (OR here in Ireland I used crushed Flake bars), to garnish

Directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 180∘C (350∘F). Combine the crushed biscuits and melted butter. Firmly press the mixture onto the bottom and up the sides of a springform pan (or any high-sided pan with a removable bottom).
  • Bake the crust for 8-10 minutes, until browned. Set aside to cool.
  • In a bowl, add the cold water and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Do not stir. Set aside and allow the gelatin to bloom.
  • Using a hand/stand mixer, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, salt and 1 tsp of vanilla until well combined (pale yellow, sugar dissolved). Add the milk and continue mixing until everything is well-combined.
  • Pour the milk/egg mixture into a saucepan and slowly bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. When the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, pour it through a sieve directly onto the dissolved, bloomed gelatin/water mixture. Whisk to combine.
  • Allow this mixture to cool in the fridge until it begins to set, about an hour (possibly longer). Whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add the rum to the custard/gelatin mix and then gently fold in the egg whites.
  • Pour this mixture onto the biscuit base and refrigerate overnight or until set. Whip the cream with the remaining tsp of vanilla and the icing sugar. Top the set custard with the cream and shaved chocolate.
  • Serves 8-10 rum-loving people (like Nova Scotians! We love our rum). Store in the fridge and eat within two days.

Maple Pecan Cookie Bars

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Today has been a bad day.

It’s not like I didn’t realize it would be a bad day. Ciara’s been cutting her eye teeth for what seems like ages now and has grown fond of 3am, two-hour-long hangouts on the couch. So yeah, when your three-year-old wakes up at 7am and you’ve just managed to get back to sleep you are definitely not starting your day on the right foot.

So we had a slow morning. Luckily I batch-cook pancakes on the weekends so Maeve can have a quick breakfast if need be, but still, by the time I had her, myself and Ciara washed, dressed, breakfasted and out the door it was well past 9am. Maeve was fairly late for playschool.

It had been a frosty night. After dropping Maeve off, Ciara and I went to town (town being Thurles, about 20 minutes away from the farm). On Tuesdays and Thursdays Ciara hangs out with my friend while I make donuts and other goodies to sell at The Green Sheep. On the way in, my car hit a patch of black ice and I was so close to losing control of my car and sliding off into a hedge. I honestly don’t know how I managed to keep the car on the road. Needless to say, I crawled the rest of the way into town.

When I got to The Green Sheep, it was closed because my friend, the owner, thought I had a doctor’s appointment this morning and she had to go to a parent/teacher meeting. I had also thought I had a doctor’s appointment but thankfully called to double-check – it’s actually next week.

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My friend got back from parent/teacher and I managed to make some apple fritters and deep-clean my cooking equipment. Then, someone came into the café and I could hear them say, “Tell Janine to go move her car – the ticket guy is out there!”

Now, before you say anything: I know I should be paying for parking. BUT you get 15 minutes of free parking in Thurles, so I was taking advantage of that (ok, maybe too much advantage).

So I got to my car before the ticket guy gave me a ticket. However; he remembered me from two weeks ago, when he had fined me for having out-of-date car tax. I had just gotten this car a few months ago and with Christmas… well… I knew I was playing with fire. I paid for my tax once he ticketed me, but it was still in the post. He didn’t give me another fine; instead he chewed my ear off.

Combine this with exhaustion from being a parent and the hormones of a crazy pregnant lady and… well, you get the idea of how I’m feeling right now.

I basically want to cry myself to sleep. And then sleep for a really, really long time.

Instead, though, I might make some more of these Maple Pecan Cookie Bars. They’re so easy to put together and taste amazing.

Baking is really therapeutic, isn’t it? You’re in control. Your hands are busy. Your mind is in a zen-like state. This is probably why I liked working in the pastry sections of restaurants so much, even though I’m not really a pastry chef. That section of the restaurant oozes calm while the others get chaotic.

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Anyway, back to these delicious, nutty little morsels. They have a brown sugar cookie base and a maple pecan topping that is soft, chewy and crunchy all at once. The maple flavour really comes through (and I was using the generic maple syrup – even though it claims to be “100% Canadian Pure”, it’s way too inexpensive to be any good).

They were a hit at the café, so I’ll be officially adding them to The Siùcra Shack‘s menu and will put them on rotation at The Green Sheep.

Give them a try; they’re so forgiving. Baking them will make you forget all about your crap day.

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Maple Pecan Cookie Bars

Ingredients:

For the base:

250g/1cup plain flour

110g/2/3 cup brown sugar

110g/1/2 cup butter

For the topping:

1 egg

55g/1/3 cup brown sugar

75ml/1/3 cup maple syrup

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 bag (about 250g or 1 cup) whole pecan halves

Flaky sea salt

Directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 180∘C (350∘F). Line a rectangular baking tray with parchment and set aside.
  • In a bowl, (or in your stand mixer; paddle attachment), cream the brown sugar and butter for the base. Then, add the flour and mix until fully incorporated.
  • Press the cookie dough into the baking tray with your fingers. When the dough is evenly spread out, blind bake for about 15 minutes. Check it at 12 minutes; you don’t want it too dark.
  • Take the baked cookie base out of the oven and cool slightly. In a bowl, mix all of the ingredients for the filling except the sea salt and pecans.
  • Pour the filling over the top of the cookie base. Arrange the pecan halves over the top.
  • Bake the bars, still at 180∘C/350∘F, for another 15 minutes or until it’s just set. If the top seems soft that’s ok. It will set as it cools.
  • Allow the bars to cool completely in the pan. Then, remove the whole thing (parchment and all) and slice into bars or squares.
  • These guys will keep for 5-ish days (they don’t usually make it that long, though)

Tipperary Lamb + New Potato Curry

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Things are going to go a bit crazy in the next few weeks. Someone recently made fun of me and my penchant for list-writing, so I think I’ll go ahead and write this post in list form.

  1. My daughter is going to preschool on the first of September. My daughter. Is school aged. I could have sworn we just brought her back from the hospital. I could have sworn I wasn’t old enough to have a child in school. But there you go. Next week, my baby will be taking her first step toward complete and utter independence from Mama. I’m not sure how I feel about that.
  2. My other baby is going to be minded by someone other than me for a few hours a day while Maeve is in school. I’m not sure how this is going to go either, but I’m happy enough knowing she’s being cared for by a good friend and I will literally be across the street the entire time.
  3. I’m starting a business. I have no capital, no “starting a business” experience and no idea how this is going to go. I’m giving it a shot. I’m giving it a year. If it works, great. If not, I’ll be content in the knowledge that I started off small enough to (hopefully) not lose that much money.
  4. “Janine! You’re starting a business?! What business?”, I hear you asking. Well, readers, maybe I’ll be ready to speak more about it next week or the week after, but since I’m still waiting on a few things I will keep a lid on the details for now.

So yeah. Things are happening. Scary, exciting, crazy things. I hope you tag along with me for the journey.

A good curry always calms me down at the end of the day – especially lamb curry made with delicious Tipperary lamb from Lacey’s Butchers in Thurles and new Irish potatoes. I threw in some spinach to make it look healthier, but honestly – it’s not a bad dish. It’s made with really great ingredients, a little olive oil and lots of spicy TLC (and salt). A bit of basmati rice, a dollop of natural yogurt and a sprinkling of fresh coriander bring it to proper meal status.

Tipperary Lamb + New Potato Curry

Ingredients: 

1 lamb shoulder, deboned and cut into large-ish chunks

500g new potatoes, cut in half or thirds (make them the same size as the lamb chunks)

1 really big onion, or two smaller ones

3 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped

1 Tbsp fresh ginger, finely chopped

1 bunch fresh spinach, washed and coarsely chopped

1 tbsp tomato paste

2 tsp garam masala

1 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1 L (4 cups) hot beef stock

Salt, to taste

Juice of one lemon

Natural yogurt and Fresh Coriander, for serving

Directions:

  • Heat a large dutch oven or any heavy-bottomed, large pot on the stovetop on high. It needs to be smoking hot before you start cooking.
  • When it’s well heated, add 2 Tbsp olive oil, then add the chopped onion. Cook the onion for 5 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid burning. Then add the lamb to brown.
  • When the lamb is browned, add the garlic, ginger and spices. Cook an additional 2-3 minutes, until fragrant (don’t get scared if the bottom of your pot is starting to look brown – that’s all flavour).
  • Add the tomato paste and mix thoroughly through the other ingredients, cooking an additional minute. Then add the hot beef stock. Bring to a boil.
  • Turn the heat down so the curry is at a simmer. Cook until the lamb is slightly tender and the sauce has reduced by half (about an hour), then add the potatoes. (If you need to add more stock at this point, go ahead. Even some hot water is fine if you think the sauce is too thick).
  • Continue to simmer until the potatoes are fork tender, the lamb is completely tender and the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Add the fresh spinach and stir through until wilted.
  • Season to taste using the salt and lemon juice. I like lots of acidity, but some don’t. Just go with your gut.
  • Serve over hot rice or warmed flatbreads, a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkling of fresh coriander.

PS: I wasn’t asked to write nice things about Lacey’s Butchers in Thurles. I just really like their stuff. They don’t even know I’m writing this, or that I made this delicious curry with their gorgeous lamb.

 

Seared Digby Scallops & Citrus Roasted Fiddleheads

 

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I’m past the halfway point of my time home in Cape Breton, and on this chilly, rainy morning I’m feeling particularly sleep deprived, cranky and sore.

Sleep deprived because my five month old suddenly doesn’t sleep anymore. Or nap. Cranky because she looks at me, all red-eyed and wild-haired, and giggles. Like she’s being funny. She is not being funny. Sore because I started the Couch to 5k app three weeks ago, solidly finished three days of the app and then became completely lame. My knee gave out – a combination, I think, of wearing my mother’s running shoes (I left mine in Ireland) and having a wonky hip to begin with.

So basically, I’ve been hobbling around like a zombie the past few weeks with a clingy baby attached to my boob.

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I’m so torn between missing Ireland – my husband, my house, my friends, my life – and being happy in the place where I grew up. I get sad seeing my garden growing at home in Ireland, but at the same time I’m so happy having my children spend time with their Canadian family. I’m missing the great weather right now in Ireland because I know we could have spent some wonderful time together this past long weekend, my husband and kids and I, but I’m thrilled my daughter gets to splash around at the beach and take walks by the river and have campfires with her cousins – such Canadian rites of passage.

Over the years, it pains me to say, Cape Breton has become less home and Tipperary has become more home. Moving there is one of the best things I’ve ever done.

That said, Tipperary has crap seafood. Get with the program, guys.

I have been literally stuffing my face since I returned home. All of my favourites – Tom’s Pizza (those garlic fingers!), the epic sandwiches at The Herring Choker and The Dancing Goat, and way more to come (like The Bite House! And Charlene’s Bayside!). It’s been the seafood though – the sweet mussels, fried haddock, chunky chowders and fresh-caught lobster – that has me waxing all nostalgic these days.

The other night, we had Digby scallops (Digby is a lovely town on the mainland) with an East Coast specialty – fiddleheads! Fiddleheads, for those not in the know, are a type of fern that has not yet unfurled. So, it’s all curled up and vibrantly green, and looks like the end of a fiddle. Hence the name.

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Fiddleheads are all kinds of delicious. Possibly toxic if you’re foraging and don’t know what you’re doing, but a delightful treat for those in the know. We’re in the thick of fiddlehead season, and you can even find them at the grocery stores right now (I have two small children and no time to forage, ok?).

Whether store-bought or foraged, you’ll want to make sure they’re thoroughly washed before you cook them. Soak them in water and vinegar as soon as you get them (if you forage, leave as much stem as possible). Rinse them, running your finger through the curled bit, no less than three times.

Safety folk will tell you to cook fiddleheads more than once. I don’t know how necessary that is if you’ve cleaned them well, but it never hurts to blanch them in boiling, salted water before finishing off in a hot pan or oven for a few minutes if you’re feeling nervous. This sounds like so much work, but they really are tasty little morsels and you can do so much with them once they’re cleaned.

Soup, risotto, roasted, stir-fried – my general rule of thumb is to treat the fiddlehead like asparagus. I love having them with poached egg and hollandaise. They’re great with seafood, which is why we had them with scallops the other night. A quick beurre blanc and we had ourselves about as fancy a dinner as you can find in Cape Breton.

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Seared Digby Scallops & Citrus Roasted Fiddleheads

12 large scallops, patted dry with a bit of paper towel

1 large bunch of fresh fiddleheads (about 600g), cleaned

1/2 lemon, juiced

salt and pepper

1 Tbsp cold butter, cut into small pieces

2 Tbsp olive oil

For the beurre blanc:

60ml/1/4 cup dry white wine

60m/14 cup white wine vinegar

250g/1 cup cold butter, cut into cubes

1 shallot, finely chopped

salt, to taste

Directions:

  • Once your fiddleheads have been thoroughly cleaned, trim the ends and place in a pot of boiling, salted water for 3 minutes. Immediately shock the fiddleheads in ice water to stop the cooking process. Strain and lay out on a baking tray lined with parchment paper.
  • Drizzle the fiddleheads with salt, pepper, lemon juice and olive oil. Preheat the oven to 400∘F (200∘C) and set the tray aside.
  • Make the beurre blanc: in a clean saucepan, add the shallot, vinegar and wine and boil on high until the liquid is reduced by half. Strain out the shallot and return the liquid to a medium heat. Whisking constantly, add the cubed butter a little bit at a time until it’s all incorporated. You should have a slightly thick, glossy sauce. Season with salt and keep warm, stirring occasionally until you’re ready to use.
  • Place the seasoned fiddleheads in the preheated oven. Roast for 5-8 minutes.
  • Make the scallops: heat a cast iron or stainless steel pan on high. Pat the scallops dry with paper towel, then liberally season with salt and pepper. When the pan is smoking hot, add some olive oil and sear the scallops on one side for 40 seconds (the shouldn’t stick – if they are sticking, they aren’t ready to turn so just wait a few seconds and try again). Turn the scallops and add the little cubes of butter to the pan. Baste the scallops with the browned butter as the other side cooks for about 30 more seconds.
  • Remove the fiddleheads from the oven, transfer the scallops to a warm plate and serve with the hot beurre blanc.

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Maple Planked Salmon with Maple Dijon Glaze

 

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In a culinary world full of deconstructions, elaborate plating, shocking flavour combinations and specially-foraged ingredients we sometimes lose sight of the simple pleasures of eating. A set table, friends and family, a smoking barbecue – great food done simply.

Maple syrup and salmon may not sound like a winning flavour combination to some, but it is a pairing that has withstood the test of time and always, ALWAYS impresses even the pickiest eater – especially if you’re cooking the salmon on a plank.

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Planking salmon is one of my favourite ways to cook the fish. You can buy maple or cedar planks in most grocery stores in Canada, or if you have access to a lumber yard you could have someone cut you some. Cooking the salmon on a plank adds a distinctive flavour and light smokiness, but since you’re cooking the fish indirectly it also remains moist and flaky. Topped with a great glaze, a well-planked filet of salmon is tough to beat on a beautiful summery evening.

And we have been having some lovely evenings lately. 

I was disappointed with the weather when we first arrived in Canada – mostly due to the gorgeous weather that exploded in Ireland as soon as we left! Even though I spent the majority of my life in Cape Breton, I couldn’t believe the leaves weren’t out on the trees (as they were in Ireland) and the daffodils weren’t in bloom (they were long finished in Ireland) when we arrived in early May.

We’re still waiting for the leaves, but it won’t be long now. We’ve also caught some trout, gone on walks and played in the sunshine with family and friends in the two + weeks since we arrived. This salmon, which we enjoyed last night with a dear family friend, was icing on the cake.

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So you want to try planking your own salmon? Here’s the method I follow every time I plank (that sentence sounds so healthy, doesn’t it? If only.):

  1. SOAK – you need to soak your planks for at least 1.5 hours before cooking with them.
  2. TRIM – I buy an entire side of local salmon from the fish guy (who comes to the nearby village of Baddeck on Wednesdays to sell seafood out of his trailer).
  3. CURE – I lightly cure the salmon for 30-45 minutes before cooking. Just sprinkle the trimmed side of salmon with even layers of salt and sugar (I don’t measure, but a few tablespoons of each should be enough). Leave it for 30-45 minutes and you’ll see how much excess water is drawn from the fish. It makes for a more succulent filet, but you don’t have to cure your salmon if you don’t want.
  4. PORTION – A full side of salmon should provide around six generous filets. I sliced the side in half, then portioned each half into three.
  5. RINSE – If you didn’t cure your salmon, don’t worry about this step. If you did, you’ll want to rinse the excess salt/sugar from the salmon with fresh, cold water.
  6. DRY – Pat each filet dry with some paper towel.
  7. PLANK – Transfer your salmon filets to the plank(s).
  8. GLAZE – Brush some of your chosen glaze on the uncooked fish.
  9. GRILL + GLAZE – The final step! Place the planked salmon on the barbecue grill (you can also do this in the oven – but it’s not as nice), close the lid and allow the salmon to cook slowly on medium for about 15-20 minutes (keep an eye – it will take a bit of time for the planks to heat the salmon, but it won’t be longer than 20 minutes). Intermittently, you can add more glaze as the heat and smoke does its work.

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This sounds like a lot of work, but like any great meal, if you’re prepared and organized it will come together so, so easily. Serve with wild rice or roasted potatoes and sauteed greens (some nice wine won’t go amiss, either).

Here’s the recipe for my favourite maple glaze:

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Maple Dijon Glaze for Planked Salmon

Ingredients:

1/3 cup/80ml good quality, medium or dark maple syrup

1/4 cup/60g Dijon mustard

1/2 Tbsp each: finely chopped fresh chives, parsley, dill, oregano

Salt and Pepper, to taste

Directions:

  • In a small bowl, mix the maple syrup, dijon and fresh herbs.
  • Season with salt and pepper.
  • Add some glaze to the uncooked salmon, then add more while the salmon cooks.

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Crossogue Preserves Brandied Mincemeat Oat Squares

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Happy Holidays everyone!

I’m sitting on my new (reclining) couch, still in PJ’s and bathrobe at 10pm (yeah… didn’t bother getting dressed today), my two-year-old is softly singing “Let It Go” in bed along with her new Elsa doll (who also sings – who got her that?!). I love these few days after Christmas and before New Years – there’s nothing to do. Literally!

I don’t have cakes to bake for anyone.

I don’t have any articles to write.

I don’t have a physical job to go to.

With the copious amount of food and snacks in the house, I don’t feel compelled to cook dinner.

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Basically, I can put my feet up for a little while and just relax. Even Maeve seems to be extra chilled out these days, making things like going to bed and getting up in the morning much easier on all of us (8:30am wake-ups are A-OK in my books!).

Of course, this will only last a few days. By New Years Eve I’ll be cooking another massive spread and it will be all hustle and bustle again. But until then I’ll just recline on my new couch, stick my 9-month pregnant belly out and enjoy some quality relaxation time.

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I wanted to share a new recipe with you today – and yes, it’s holiday related – even though Christmas has come and gone. But I’m sure I’m not the only one with lots of leftover mincemeat from making too few pies this year!

Come December in Ireland, mince pies are everywhere. In every bakery, every grocery store, every small shop. They just take over. If you enjoy mince pies, this is a good thing. I’ve never been a fan. Not until I tried Crossogue Preserves‘ Brandied Mincemeat.

Not only is it delicious, it’s made locally in small batches. To me, that’s just quality assurance. Small batches? That means it’s hard to mess up. And I have never had a jam, marmalade or mincemeat from Crossogue Preserves that hasn’t tasted just perfect.

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If you’re ever looking for Crossogue Preserves headquarters, GOOD LUCK. They make their preserves in Ballycahill, Tipperary – a few minutes’ drive outside of Thurles, but still very, very hard to find if you don’t know the area extremely well. And I don’t. I’m still learning. But I got there eventually, and the 5 kilo bucket of mincemeat was so, so worth the struggle.

Because these mincemeat squares are pretty divine. And addictive. And did I mention they’re a great alternative to your average mince pie?

I basically used my old fashioned date square recipe and swapped Crossogue’s Brandied Mincemeat for my usual date filling, making an already easy recipe even easier. 

So even though the season for mince pie is basically over, why don’t we take these few easygoing days between Christmas and New Years to enjoy some crumbly, buttery, brown-sugary squares with a hot cup of tea (or if you’re not pregnant like me, some boozy eggnog!).

Go on. Enjoy your life. Have an extra-boozy drink with me in mind (just a few more days til I can indulge, hopefully!).

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Crossogue Preserves Brandied Mincemeat Oat Squares

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups rolled oats

1 1/2 cups plain flour

1 cup cold butter, cubed

1 cup light brown sugar

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 cups Crossogue (or homemade) Brandied Mincemeat

Directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 350° (180°C, no fan) and line a rectangular baking dish with parchment paper. Set aside.
  • In a bowl, mix the oats, flour, brown sugar, salt and baking soda. Add the cubed butter and rub into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs.
  • Take half the mixture and press it firmly into the bottom of the lined baking dish. Evenly spread the mincemeat over and then sprinkle the remaining half of the flour mixture on top (keep the topping crumbly).
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes. The top won’t look overly browned, but it will be done.
  • Allow to cool completely (I left mine to cool overnight) before gently removing from the baking dish and cutting into squares.
  • Makes 12-16 squares depending on the size baking dish you use. Keep them in an airtight container for up to a week (but they won’t last that long).

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