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Posts from the ‘Cape Breton’ Category

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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Fluffy Buttermilk Biscuits

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Things are slowing down around here, and just in time, too.

  • The calves are pretty much all born. The eldest are already weaned!
  • The cows are out in the field, loving life (if you’re a cow and you have a choice between luscious, green grass or silage, you choose the grass every time).
  • The weather is brighter. It was chilly this past week, but for the most part Ireland has thawed out from the bitter winter. My garden is growing, we just got our house power-washed (a preemptive move as the house is getting a lovely new coat of paint very soon) and landscaping plans are in motion. We’re hoping for a warm summer with lots of BBQ’s!
  • I’m slowing things down with my small business, The Siúcra Shack. Spending more time with my kids, getting the house cleaned and organized and baking for fun. Just for now!

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This is all because I am totally ready to pop. 38 weeks of pregnancy have flown by, and while I’m thankful for a complication-free pregnancy (and hoping for a complication-free delivery), I am so very ready to not be pregnant anymore.

I’m not being insensitive. I love my babies. I know we’re #soblessed. But three babies in less than four years is a lot for anyone to handle (except for all those women with more kids than me, or moms of multiples, or moms of multiples with other small kids – I’m in awe of those ladies). So, while we are very, very happy, I am also looking forward to a cold beer, getting my body back (in some form), and never being pregnant ever again once we welcome #3 in a few short weeks.

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Did someone say biscuits?

So no cold beer for me just yet, but I have been milking these last weeks of pregnancy for all they’re worth. Entire tubs of ice cream? Yes. Massive bowls of creamy pasta? Absolutely.

An entire pan of these flaky, fluffy buttermilk biscuits?

Um… well… Patrick, Ciara and my father-in-law helped devour these, but I’m pretty sure I ate most of them.

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They were just so good, you see. Especially with a generous schmear of Tipperary butter and a large dollop of strawberry jam. While still warm.

Actually, I made another pan this morning. I forced myself to give half away, but if Patrick is late coming back from work I can’t promise the remaining biscuits will still be here for his tea.

Since I’ve revisited the way I actually make biscuits, I thought I would share this recipe today. I’ve been making biscuits for a long time. I mean… I have no idea what age I was when I made my first pan of biscuits. I’m from Cape Breton. We literally eat these every day. I never thought I could improve on the recipe I already had in my head, but this “stand mixer/fold” method is getting a lot of online traction so I thought I’d give it a try.

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Fold that dough in half!

I can tell you, I won’t be going back to rubbing in the butter with my fingers and rolling out once with a rolling pin. You get better flakes, height, texture and an overall fluffier biscuit with this method!

*For the Irish reading (and anyone else who wouldn’t consider this a biscuit), this is more of a scone for you, I know. BUT it’s not as sweet. You can eat these biscuits with savoury or sweet accompaniments. I like biscuits with fish chowder, casseroles. made into breakfast sandwiches and with baked beans as well as with the traditional jam/butter combo!

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Fluffy Buttermilk Biscuits

Ingredients:

4 cups/500g (weight) plain flour

2 Tbsp baking powder

1 tsp sea salt

1/4 cup/60g sugar

1/2 cup/110g cold, cubed butter

1 1/2 cups/400ml cold buttermilk

Directions: 

  • Preheat your oven to 200∘C (400∘F) and line a large baking pan with parchment. Set aside.
  • In your stand mixer, add all dry ingredients and, using the paddle attachment, mix to incorporate.
  • Add the cold, cubed butter to the dry ingredients and, continuing to use the paddle attachment, mix on med-low for 5-8 minutes, until the butter is mostly incorporated into the dry mixture (some chunks of butter are ok, but most of it should be mixed into the flour).
  • Add the buttermilk and mix just until everything comes together.
  • On a lightly floured surface, dump the dough out of the mixing bowl. Using your hands and a pastry cutter, start to shape the dough. Fold it in half, flatten out, then fold again and flatten out.
  • Cut out the biscuits and place them on the baking sheet. You can shape/fold the remaining dough and do a second cut, but I would discard the leftover dough after the second cut.
  • Bake 15-20 minutes, or until the tops and bottoms are browned and the bicsuits have risen.
  • Eat the same day, if possible. Even better, eat them hot out of the oven. With tea. And butter and jam.
  • Makes about 14 medium sized biscuits.

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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.

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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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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Grammie’s Baked Chocolate Pudding

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I’ve been in Canada for a little over a week now. The jetlag is gone, the sun is shining (though the temperature is nothing like the balmy weather the Irish are enjoying) and I’m busy catching up with family and friends I haven’t seen since 2014. If my husband were here with me, things would be perfect. He’s not, though, so things are just very good.

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We’ve been spending a lot of time outdoors since the sun’s been shining. There’s a large pond behind my parents’ house and Maeve likes going down there to see if there are any frogs (though she doesn’t like to get too close to the water for fear of falling in). We’ve been looking under big rocks and logs for bugs, wiggly worms and the many cute little salamanders who call the backyard their home.

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Last weekend was Canadian Mother’s Day (we celebrate in March in Ireland) and as we spent the day spoiling all the moms and mom-types in our lives, I couldn’t help think about my sweet Grandma, who lived with me and my family until she passed away over 15 years ago.

Aside from my mother, who taught me that you can work full time, be a great mom, have a social life and be involved in your community, my Grandma was the most important woman in my life. She suffered from MS and was confined to a wheelchair, but that didn’t hold her back. She was a sweet, strong, soft-spoken woman.

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She was also a great baker.

This Baked Chocolate Pudding is one of my favourite “Grammie” desserts. Served hot with fresh cream or ice cream, it’s pure bliss. Velvety chocolate sauce with soft, rich cakey bits – what’s not to like? If you’re having people over for dinner, you can put it in the oven just before you’re ready to sit down to eat. It will be molten hot – the perfect vessel for something cold and creamy dolloped over top.

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*My plan was to lose as much baby weight as possible while home for the next 1.5 months. I realize now this probably isn’t going to happen. Stay tuned for more delicious Cape Breton adventures!

Grammie’s Baked Chocolate Pudding

Ingredients:

For the cake:

1 cup/250g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup/60g good quality cocoa

1/2 cup/125g granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup/125ml buttermilk

1/4 cup/60ml strong coffee

2 Tbsp/30g melted butter

For the sauce:

3/4 cup/200g light brown sugar

1/4 cup/60g good quality cocoa

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp sea salt

1 cup/250ml boiling water

1 cup hot strong coffee

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 350∘F (180∘C).
  • Sift all of the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. Stir the hot coffee and melted butter together. Add the buttermilk/vanilla to the dry ingredients, then the coffee/butter mixture. Mix the batter until everything is *just* combined (don’t overmix). Pour the batter into an ungreased pie dish or small casserole dish and spread evenly on the pan.
  • Mix the hot coffee, boiling water and vanilla and set aside. Mix the cocoa and brown sugar and sprinkle evenly over the top of the batter. Pour the hot water/coffee mixture evenly over top.
  • Place the pie/casserole dish on a sheet pan (in case it overflows) and bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes.
  • Allow to cool 10-15 minutes, then serve hot with ice cream or whipped cream.

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