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Posts from the ‘Canada’ Category

Gateaux Basque

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When I was younger and living a different life in the hustle and bustle of Toronto, I was on the opening team for the restaurants that were part of the TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) Bell Lightbox.

This was one of the most difficult (but character building) chef jobs I have ever had. While the main restaurant where I worked was large and could seat many people at one time, the kitchen was quite small. There were lots of us cooks running around all day, so we would continually bump into each other, get into altercations over whose turn it was to mop (or organize the walk-in, or go upstairs to the storeroom for potatoes, or clean the mussels – we argued a lot) and generally drive each other crazy for hours on end.

I should also say that I made a lot of close friends working there. We got through a lot of difficult, busy situations together, hence the character building. I also learned a lot about food and the restaurant industry there.

There was another strange little benefit to working in this particular restaurant. During the international film festival, we would often hear tell, of or even serve the celebrities who were there promoting their films. We never took advantage of these situations. We were well-trained in customer service and always kept our cool.

Except for me, this one time.

Part of me can’t even believe I’m writing this, because to write down the words means I have to relive the story. But, the thing is, I relive this story every time I make a Gateaux Basque, and those delicious little cake/pastries are always on our curriculum for Modern Skills for Modern Chefs, the course I co-tutor at the School of Food.

Anyway, this is one of the most embarrassing experiences of my life. And it involves Gateaux Basque, one of my most favourite desserts of all time.

One day, I arrived at work at around 2:30pm. I was working the night shift, which started at 3pm. As I walked behind the hot line in our open kitchen, where I was working the pasta station, I saw a group walk into the otherwise empty restaurant. This was our quiet time, after lunch and before dinner.

My friend Jesus was their server and sat them directly in front of my station, and that’s when I realized who had just come into our restaurant. It was The Decemberists.

Here’s the thing: I LOVE THE DECEMBERISTS. They might not be as well known as other bands, but just a few months ago they were playing a gig here in Ireland. They are a very famous band in their own right, and their songs are very clever and well-written. I’ve always liked them a lot.

I was never starstruck before this moment. We had a few celebrities in, but I was usually too busy to notice they were even there and most of the time I wouldn’t have been too fussed. This time, I hyperventilated. They were sitting mere feet away from me; about to eat my cooking.

The chef who was on with me looked concerned when he saw me hyperventilating. He thought something was wrong.

“Did someone at that table do something to you?”, he asked, very seriously, when all I could do was point silently at the table. He obviously wasn’t a fan.

When I finally told him who they were, he laughed at me.

“Yeah, OK. I’ve never heard of them.”

Neither had anyone else in the kitchen. Jesus hadn’t either, and he was the only server on at the time. He told me they were a really lovely bunch and I should come over to say hello.

YEAH, OF COURSE I SHOULD, JESUS. TERRIBLE IDEA.

But I gathered my courage, managed to get the chef to agree to send them a few free desserts, and I brought the Gateaux Basque tartlets over to the table with Jesus when they had finished their mains. I wanted them to try these tartlets – crumbly, delicious sablee pastry tarts filled with perfectly luscious creme patissiere – because when I first tried them, they were an absolute revelation.

“Oh, hi,” I awkwardly addressed the table. “I wanted you to try these Gateaux Basque for dessert I’m a really big fan I really love your music I really wanted to make it to your concert last night but my credit card bounced when I tried to purchase tickets my friends went though and they said it was an amazing concert anyway thanks for coming in I hope you liked your food and yeah I hope I get to your next concert OK bye!”

The verbal diarrhea. It was so, so bad. It was so humiliating. The band was staring at me like I had seven heads. Only the drummer was smiling with encouragement and nodding at me, which only made things worse. Those several minutes were among the most awkward and painful of my life.

I walked away, flushed red and feeling so, so uncool.

As the band were getting up to leave, the chef came over to me with a spoonful of liquid.

“Hey, can you try this and check it for seasoning?”

I took the entire spoonful into my mouth before realizing he had given me a spoonful of dirty dish water, as a joke. Just as I spat the liquid out of my mouth and shouted “THAT IS F&*&%$^^ DISGUSTING!”, the band walked by, taking their leave.

The looks on their faces as they left. I’ll never forget it.

I couldn’t listen to The Decemberists for a long time after this incident. I couldn’t eat Gateaux Basque, either. I soon moved on to another restaurant and left TIFF behind, along with the painful memories.

In the last year or two, I’ve kinda gotten over it. I started making Gateaux Basque again, and, more recently, have been teaching the recipe to my students. It truly is a special cake… pastry… thing. And The Decemberists? Maybe I’ll have enough on my credit card to make it to their next Dublin gig. It might still be too soon, though.

Gateaux Basque

Ingredients:

For the Sablee:

1/2 cup/125g softened butter

1/3 cup/35g powdered sugar

1 large egg yolk

Pinch of salt

1 1/4 cups/160g plain flour

1 Tbsp milk, if needed

For the Creme Patissiere:

5 egg yolks

1 cup/250g granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla

½ cup/60g plain flour

400ml milk

2 Tbsp butter

1 tsp cinnamon

Zest of ½ lemon

½ tsp almond extract

Fresh pitted cherries (optional)

Egg wash

Icing sugar, for dusting (optional)

Directions:

  • Make the sablee: with a mixer, beat the butter and powdered sugar until well-combined. Add the egg yolk and mix. Add the flour and salt. Mix until combined, do not over-mix, you do not want to develop the gluten in the flour.
  • Wrap the sablee in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.
  • Make the creme patissiere:
  • In a bowl, whisk the egg yolk, lemon zest and sugar until light, pale yellow and ribbony.
  • In the meantime, heat the milk, cinnamon, almond extract and vanilla on med-high until it reaches boiling point.
  • Add the flour to the egg and sugar and mix until just combined.
  • Temper the egg mixture with the hot milk by adding a small amount and immediately whisking vigourously. Then, add the rest of the hot milk and mix to combine.
  • Return the mixture to the pot and return to the heat. Whisking constantly, bring the mixture up to a boil until it’s thick and glossy.
  • Add the butter and mix well. Set aside.
  • Roll out or press half of the sablee into the bottom of a tart pan. Add the creme patissiere to the tart, adding the cherries here if you’re using them. Roll out the other half of the sablee and cover the top of the tart pan. *PLEASE NOTE Depending on the size of your tart pan, you may have to double the sablee recipe.
  • Trim the excess pastry and brush the tops of the pastry with egg wash
  • Bake at 190˚C (375F) for about 45 minutes (check after 30 – some ovens are hotter than others).
  • Cool and serve with a dusting of powdered sugar, ice cream, compote or whipped cream.

 

 

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Being a Busy Bee

Oh, I am so busy.

Today, Ireland is in the midst of a snowstorm – a storm that may last well into the weekend. Not a normal occurrence. I only just started teaching the new 11 Week Commis Chef training course at the School of Food in Thomastown, Kilkenny and we’ve already had to cancel classes due to the extreme weather and messy roads.

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In preparation of the course, Dermot and I visited the local Camphill community in Jerpoint – just outside of Thomastown. What a beautiful place. What a wonderful community. Some of the gardeners at Camphill Jerpoint will be helping to maintain our gardens at the school and we are thrilled to be working with them.

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We are also getting regular orders of their seasonal vegetables for our students to work with – and hopefully some shorthorn beef when the time comes. They are such beautiful, gentle animals – I’m all for supporting ethically-raised beef but I know it would be hard for me to do these handsome fellows in! Just another reason I love the Camphill community for providing us with good, homegrown food.

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My recipe for Irish Bennies was recently published by the Food Bloggers of Canada – do check it out if you’re interested in an Irish brunch for Paddy’s Day.

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Speaking of Paddy’s Day (and the Food Bloggers of Canada), I will be sharing the recipe for these Irish Coffee Donuts (with spiced whiskey crème pâtissière and a deep espresso glaze) this March, so keep an eye out for that!

This coming weekend I am so excited to be attending the Parabere Forum in Malmö, Sweden. This is technically a work trip, since I’ll be writing articles about the forum for several publications, but I’m looking forward to meeting a lot of inspirational voices in food and food security. I know my horizons will be broadened. I’m going to learn a lot. And I’m going to be able to spend some time in one of National Geographic’s “Places You Need to Visit in 2018” with my husband and baby. So. Pumped.

And as I’ll be in Malmö for the weekend we will naturally also spend some time in Copenhagen. T’would be rude not to.

To close, here’s a picture of Ciara and her favourite friend.

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Happy March, everyone!

 

Maple Walnut Scones

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People often ask me if I miss living in Canada. I’ve been living in Ireland now for almost five years. I have three great kids, a house we’re fixing up, a big garden (and more gardens planned), a small business and lots of friends and family milling around.

So yeah, it’s safe to say I’m usually too busy to be feeling homesick for Canada. That said, I recently got my kids their Canadian citizenship and, this year being Canada’s 150th birthday (if you’re First Nations, though, I should add that Canada is thousands of years older), I started feeling a bit nostalgic with all the celebrations and activities posted all over my social media streams.

Canada Day is July 1st, so it’s already happened. I didn’t do anything on the day to celebrate. Sometimes I host barbecues, bake a cake and have my friends over for Canada Day, but this year – having just had a baby – I wasn’t really feeling it. Too much, too soon.

But I can’t say Canada hasn’t been on my mind lately. So while I don’t miss living in Canada, there are a few things about Canada (or just Cape Breton, really) I miss in general:

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  1. Lobster season: May to July in Cape Breton. Lobsters everywhere you look. Lobster boil dinners at every small community hall. Lobsters being sold right from the boat. I love lobster, and I really miss eating it when it’s at its best. That also goes for mussels, scallops, haddock, salmon, chowder… and the list goes on. I know Ireland is surrounded by ocean, but there isn’t great seafood in landlocked Tipperary!
  2. The beach: Cape Breton has so many gorgeous beaches. By July the water is warm enough to swim, the sand is golden and fine-textured and the beaches are relatively isolated. I love Irish beaches, but find the water is usually a bit too cold and most beaches a bit too crowded.
  3. The restaurants: I love lobster and seafood. I love the places that prepare these foods as well. The Rusty Anchor in Pleasant Bay (where I once had some decadent lobster poutine with a cold beer; one of my most favourite meals), The Dancing Goat in Margaree, The Herring Choker in Nyanza, Charlene’s Bayside in Whycocomagh, The Bite House in Big Baddeck – all of these places make amazing Cape Breton food and deserve all of the accolades. I miss these places.
  4. My friends and family: Obvs. I love and miss my *very large* extended family. Aunties, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephew, brothers – I miss them all.
  5. The weather: in summer, it’s warm enough to swim in the river and in the ocean almost every day. On the East Coast, though, it’s not as hot as it would be elsewhere in Canada. We have the ocean to keep the temperature moderate (like, 35°C and under). A great deal warmer and sunnier than an Irish summer, but still comfortable (I don’t miss black flies and mosquitos, though).10631983_387625851388458_1137852623_n
  6. Wild Blueberries and good Maple Syrup: I miss these things very much. The fruit in Ireland is lovely, but the blueberries here don’t compare to the blueberries in Cape Breton.
  7. Canadian beer and wine: in Nova Scotia there is a wine appellation called Tidal Bay. It’s located close to where I went to university. The wine is gorgeous. Once, a sparkling wine called (Benjamin Bridge) Nova 7 beat out actual, expensive champagne at a tasting I attented in Toronto. It’s that good. The beer in Ireland is great, so I don’t miss Canadian beer that much; just certain kinds.
  8. Homestyle baking: I know I do a lot of Cape Breton-style baking here in Ireland, but I miss other people’s baking. Namely from the cafes I mentioned previously, my aunties and older people from around my community.

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Speaking of homestyle baking, I especially love East Coast scones. Large, triangular, sweet with a crunchy sugar or glazed topping, scones in Cape Breton are indulgent – often made for sharing – and perfect with a cup of strong tea.

I whipped up these maple walnut scones with another nostalgic food in mind – ice cream! I love the ice cream at home. It’s not soft serve like a 99 here in Ireland, it’s hard and comes in a million and a half flavours; one of my favourites being maple walnut.

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No need for butter and jam on these scones. The glaze is thick enough to ensure the right amount of sweetness in each bite, and the walnuts are toasted in the oven and then soaked in maple syrup. Perhaps most importantly, the flavour is nostalgic enough to get me through to my next visit home.

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Maple Walnut Scones

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups/375g Plain Flour

1 Tbsp baking powder

1 tsp sea salt

1/4 cup/60g light brown sugar

1/2 cup/125g cold butter, cubed

1 large egg

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup/250ml cold buttermilk

For the glaze:

2 cups/500g Icing Sugar

1 tsp vanilla or maple extract

3 Tbsp good quality maple syrup

Splash of heavy cream

Toasted walnuts, soaked in maple syrup

Directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 200°C (400°F). Line one or two baking sheets with parchment and set aside.
  • In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, brown sugar and cold, cubed butter.
  • Using a pastry cutter or your fingers, cut/rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Make a well in the centre of the butter/dry ingredient mixture.
  • In a large measuring cup, measure out the buttermilk, then add the egg and vanilla. Mix to combine.
  • Add the wet ingredients to the well in the middle of the dry ingredients. Using a wooden spoon or just using your hands (your best pastry tool!) mix the wet into the dry until just combined (mixture should be on the wet side – if it’s dry and crumbly add more buttermilk!).
  • On a lightly floured surface, turn the dough out and knead lightly for one minute. Form into a ball and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
  • Using more flour for dusting and a rolling pin, roll the dough out into a thick rectangle (you want to get 8-10 scones out of this dough at most). At least 1.5 inches thick.
  • Cut the rectangle into 8-10 smaller rectangles or triangles. Transfer to the prepared baking sheets. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the tops with milk and sprinkle a bit of sugar over each scone.
  • Bake the scones for 20-ish minutes. Let cool slightly on a rack.
  • Make the glaze: in a mixing bowl, combine the icing sugar, maple syrup, maple extract (or vanilla) and about a tablespoon of heavy cream. You want the glaze to be thick, but still be able to drizzle it over the scones. If the glaze is too thick for your liking, loosen it up with a bit more cream.
  • Dunk the tops of each scone in the glaze, or spoon the glaze over each scone allowing the excess to drip down the sides. Top with toasted maple walnuts. Allow glaze to set slightly before eating (if you can wait that long).
  • The scones will keep no longer than two days, so make sure you eat them right away!

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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)

Upside-Down Strawberry Rhubarb Cake

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I’m back home. In Ireland, I mean. It’s funny, I call Cape Breton “home” and Ireland “home”, but when I talk about Cape Breton being home it’s meant to be past tense. As in, it used to be home and will always and forever more be referred to as home. But, as wonderful as Cape Breton was, and Vancouver, and Victoria, it is so, so good to be back in Tipperary.

In my own house.

With my little family.

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Babies at pasture here in Tipperary

And it’s summer. My garden is growing. There are baby animals everywhere (and thanks to my cat, baby animal corpses everywhere, but we won’t go there right now) and, even though it’s often grey and rainy, it’s sometimes warm and sunny. Already much better than last summer, which was mostly cold, windy and rainy.

I’ve been home a little less than a month and I’m already super busy. Making plans, going to playdates, taking little day trips here and there, visiting, baking. The bit I’m most excited about is the plan-making, but I’m not ready to say anything more about it at the moment – just stay tuned!

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Home in Cape Breton

Also, once again, this little blog has been long-listed for two Littlewood’s Ireland Blog Awards, which is really, really lovely! I’m also up for a Huawei Snapy Instagram Award! If you feel so inclined, you can check out my entry (and possibly give it a vote) here.

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So yes; I’m super busy. But don’t worry, I always have my two darling children to keep my ego in check. Whether it’s by peeing on the floor (daily) or simply staying up all night long, my kids continually remind me who’s truly in charge of my life (or I guess you could say: what’s truly important in life). I wouldn’t have it any other way, really.

When I came home, my garden was so overgrown with weeds it looked more like a jungle. It took four solid evenings of weed-pulling and seed planting, but my hard work is paying off. Napa Cabbage (for autumn kimchi making!), sprouting broccoli, cauliflower, squash, pumpkin, courgette – you name it, it’s been planted and is currently sprouting. I was late getting a few things planted, but the growing season is longer here than it is in Canada so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a good harvest.

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Two things that were ready when I got home were our strawberries and rhubarb. I’ve never grown strawberries before, but this year Maeve asked if she could plant them. Our old farmhouse is surrounded by very old, black cauldrons (I think they were used for laundry or something back in the day) so we found the biggest one and planted the strawberries there. We left tiny seedlings and came home to a huge, vine-laden bunch of plants just dripping with beautiful berries.

This is a great summer cake to make with whatever fresh fruit or berries you have on hand. I made it with our gorgeous strawberries (of course) and fresh rhubarb, but it would be great with blueberries (with some maple syrup and lemon), peaches, plums or cherries. The cake base is a super-moist hot milk cake recipe that I use all the time – it never, ever fails me.

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Strawberry Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

Ingredients:

For the cake:

1 cup/250g granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup/250g AP/plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup/125ml scalded milk

3 Tbsp butter (melted into the hot milk)

For the topping:

1 punnet strawberries – hulled and cut in half

3-4 stalks rhubarb, chopped

1/2 cup/125g brown sugar

1/4 cup/60g butter

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 350∘F (190∘C, no fan). Grease a round springform pan and place the pan on a lined cookie sheet (in case it leaks) set aside.
  • In a small saucepan, combine the butter and brown sugar for the topping. Bring to a boil and remove from heat.Pour the mixture into the bottom of the pan and arrange the strawberries and rhubarb over the top. Set the pan aside again and make the cake batter.
  • To make the cake: whisk the eggs, vanilla and sugar until pale yellow in colour and nearly doubled in volume (this is known as the ribbon stage – the mixture should drip off the whisk in ribbons).
  • Add the flour, baking powder and salt to the mixture and stir until just combined. Add the hot milk all at once and, again, stir until just combined and there aren’t any lumps in the batter.
  • Gently pour the cake batter over the strawberries and rhubarb in the springform pan.
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes (if you have an extra-hot oven start checking your cake at 25 minutes). A skewer inserted in the centre of the cake should come out clean.
  • When the cake is ready, allow to set in the pan for 15-20 minutes, then run a knife around the edges and gently remove from the pan. Flip the cake onto a plate and gently lift the bottom of the springform pan. Voila! You should have a perfect upside-down cake.

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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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