Santa is coming, and it turns out I am Santa running a country bed and breakfast. When the family arrives for Christmas it is a four-day event. There is so much to do here and instead of getting the tree in last night, I was busy sucking on a syphon to clean the 75-gallon fish tank. I had no choice, the water was turning black. The tank is full of the outdoor pond rescues – gorgeous but what an enormous amount of work. Living on a farm, there are always circumstances out of your control, not just the weather. Outside in the truck is a snow-covered Christmas tree that needs to be dragged in and decorated. The fun part starts when we try and fit it into the stand. It always need to have the stump re-cut.
I sit here typing and my mind is wandering off to worry about all the things that I need to get done. It reminds me about how I feel when the garden needs to get started and then maintained – it is all in the guilt. What won't I get accomplished this year?
Will it be a white Christmas? If not, then what will we do? I like the outdoor activities. Who do I have to tell that they get to sleep on the blow-up bed that happens to have a slow leak? How do I get all the gifts and meet everyone’s expectations? I do not know how my mother ever made Christmas happen with eight children. I do recall helping her shop for my younger brother and sisters. I made sure to buy them lots of puzzles and books, just what they didn't want.
Christmas for some people is focused on shopping, that is the part I enjoy the least. This is the time for food, family and sharing. I plan out for months what I will cook and then I end up making the same food everyone wants. Tradition comes first. This year I mentioned to my eldest daughter that I was not going to make turkey. I had decided to go ahead and make individually stuffed chicken breasts. This was because I was still recovering from the $65 Thanksgiving turkey that took me three days to make stock out of. I wanted to do something easier this time. Well, she was very disappointed and so I am off to look for a frozen turkey that is on sale. I can't believe the prices – when I see $47 on a sign for a turkey I get sticker shock.
I have started the baking and this year I do promise to make shortbread. Last year I did not get the time as we lingered too close to Christmas Day in Colorado. I did get the coffee cake and rum cake and gingerbread cake on the menu. It is a personal tradition for me that I look through all my cut-out and collected Christmas recipes. I really enjoy looking back at what I thought would be delicious 30 years ago and that list has not changed much. Christmas baking is about taking more time to make more elaborate and hence thoughtful baked goods. I have a long tradition of learning how to bake both from my English godmother Clara and my European housekeeper. I still have the hand-written recipes that were passed down to me. For the European cookies, I had to write them out myself, as she never used traditional baking measurement utensils. My mother used to boast that she had never made a cake. She was not my go-to baking resource. But no one made gravy like her – even though it was ready long after all Christmas dinner was on the table. This goes back pre-microwave and getting hot food for 25 dinner guests was no easy feat. Lesson, as long as the gravy is hot the meat can get warmed up.
The festivities start on Christmas eve – what is on my table? Always shrimp, various cheese, blue, goats, cheddar and a baked Brie. The appetizer platter is served with nuts, breads, olives and my pickles. I also make sausage rolls, hot artichoke and spinach dip. New to the menu thanks to my sous chef Roland, fresh guacamole and our home-canned salsa. I made about 60 jars in the fall and it has become a family favorite. We decorate the tree – well, my eldest does and puts the tree topper on – the ceramic angel in a red dress. My girls love the Shirley Temple drink, any excuse for a maraschino cherry they say. Spiced and mulled cider is on the stove. For me its champagne … with a few cranberries floating at the top. For the men, it is ice-cold beer. We all head to bed after a night in front of the fire and after opening up the one and only mandatory gift – pajamas!!! Some people like to do the ugly Christmas sweater contest – for us it is the PJs. I get to pick them all out!
I haul out the coolers and leave them on the front porch to handle all the beverage overflow. I have had one or two bottles of pop and beer freeze on me. Be careful but take advantage of the cold if you can. I learned last year the hard way that you can’t leave food on the porch. It turns out that the country raccoons wake up for Christmas dinner.
After exchanging gifts in the morning, breakfast preparation begins. For me it's when my labour of love starts. Breakfast is always one of the highlights of the day. As we have all gotten older, we sleep in much later. Hence it is never really breakfast, it is brunch. I make the same breakfast every year – my scrambled eggs are a favourite. Last year I added a second cook to my kitchen and now Roland does the pancakes. I like to buy a ham, marinate it and roast it and use it for breakfast or snacks – croque monsieur over the holidays. There is never any ham left.
While making and serving brunch, I am also cooking the main dinner. I always have two meats, and this year I am considering beef wellington -– but the price of beef makes it out of the question. So it will be the traditional turkey and roast ham. I make six to 10 side dishes because I love the variety and my girls like sides with less fat – so they get steamed fresh vegetables. I have to have my cauliflower and broccoli gratin and wild rice. I make cranberry sauce and serve it in antique molds that my mother bought me when I was about 13 years old.
I always like to set and decorate the table right after cleaning up brunch.
Each year I create a family Christmas card and personalize each one with a message. These cards are placed at each table setting. We must have Christmas crackers at the table that we open before we prepare to eat. We laugh and sit with the silly hats on, reading out the wretched jokes and trying to decide who got the cheapest trinket. I say grace and talk about my blessings. We take our time, sip our wine or water, tell jokes, share memories and feel full. Dessert is optional, but add vanilla scented whipped cream and no one can resist. I recently bought an ice cream maker, and I think I may just make some fresh ice cream. Ice cream makers have been known to put as many pounds on you as that bread maker. Besides, counter space real estate is at a premium – so too is fridge and freezer space. This often limits just how much I can prepare and store. After Christmas space is no problem as I send plenty of bags and plastic containers (buy some to have on hand) full of food. I make a white bean soup with the left over ham and it is a huge hit and a great meal for days afterwards.
I am headed off to try and pick out some gifts for the people I love. I have to scrape the ice off the car, shovel the long long farmhouse drive way and chase the wild turkeys away.
This year, Christmas will be like all the other years – something will get left undone, a present will be forgotten, a gift ordered on line won’t arrive, an unexpected gift will arrive, some one will fall in the snow, or get hit by a snow ball, someone wont get the present they dreamed of, an antique ornament will come crashing down, someone will step on a piece of the ornament, the entire string of lights wont work because one bulb is out. The tree won’t stand straight or it may fall down, we will argue over how many Christmas songs we listen to, red wine will spill on the white tablecloth that was hand made and we all will eat too much and promise to never eat again … and we will have a wonderful Christmas.
See more travels, adventures and recipes at my blog.
I believe it is never too late to start getting ready for Christmas. Why not make a double batch of these delicious cookies and have them at-the-ready in your freezer? When impromptu guests arrive or an unexpected gift is in order, you (and your friends) will be thankful for your very smart thinking.
One of my strategies is to pick up gifts all year round when I see them on sale. The hardest part for me is waiting until Christmas to give them to my family and friends.
I also bake a few things to have around the farm when the very busy season gets started. I like to have cookies in the freezer to pull out in an emergency. I find that most people’s lives get so full of seasonal activities it is hard to find that quiet spot to bake some of your favourite Christmas cookies. Christmas cookies are usually time consuming and that is what makes them so special. Every family has its own tradition.
In my family, Christmas is Cookie time. I have been baking for Christmas for many years and one of my family’s favourite cookies are Classic Shortbread. Who doesn't love shortbread?
When I was a young girl, I was lucky enough to have my British godmother teach me how to make shortbread. Her dough was perfect, Clara never wasted a scrap, and she cut out her cookies meticulously with her special cookie cutter. Clara topped all of her cookies off with pieces of glacéed red and green cherries. I loved the green ones. Christmas is a time when we use ingredients we never use at any other time of year. I can’t recall the last time I saw anyone buy citron or glacéed fruits. No one seems to make plum pudding or Christmas cake anymore.
Yes, I know that one piece of cake has been doing the re-gifting circuit for years.
I am sharing with you my family’s favourite Shortbread Cookie
Lots of shortbread recipes are out there and over the years I have tried all of them including a recipe that calls for toasting the flour first. This is the recipe that I love above all others. I use an electric mixer, but if you like you can do this by hand in a bowl. Just make sure that your butter is soft.
Hint # 1
You need FRESH ingredients – there are few ingredients in the recipe so they all need to be fresh.
The real trick is to use the very best pure vanilla that you can find. Make your own – it is easy and far cheaper. I simply combine pure alcohol – I prefer rum or vodka – you can choose one you have on hand. I place 2 fresh vanilla beans in a small jar and cover with alcohol and let it sit for a few days. I shake it when I remember to distribute the vanilla seed. I also store vanilla beans in my sugar jar.
Chilling the cookie dough for 30 minutes makes it easier to roll out.
Roll the cookies more thinly than you think you should or how you have in the past. These cookies are rich and crispy.
You can use whatever cookie cutter you have on hand – a small glass jar worked for me for years. My suggestion is that you do not use a cookie cutter that is complicated with lots of points where the dough can get stuck. Those cutters are for the more workable sugar cookies.
If you are baking these cookies ahead, decorate with chocolate after you bring them out of the freezer.
They store well at room temperature in a tin cookie tin – yes, I insist on that. Nothing else keeps them as crisp. Use good old-fashioned wax paper to line the bottom, to create layers and to fold on top.
Farm House Classic Shortbread Cookies
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Yield: 24 to 36 cookies
1 pound unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (almond is delicious as well)
3 3/4 to 4 cups unbleached all purpose flour (you will require flour for kneading)
1/4 teaspoon salt
White sugar or sanding sugar
4 to 6 ounces of high quality chocolate, finely chopped (semi sweet works best)
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until they are just combined. Add the vanilla.
In a medium bowl, sift together 3 3/4 cups flour and the salt; then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Remove dough from bowl and place onto a surface dusted with flour and shape into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic or wax paper and chill for 30 minutes.
Roll the dough 1/2-inch thick and cut with a 3-by-1-inch finger-shaped cutter. You can use whatever size cookie cutter you have, however, baking time will vary. I use smaller cookie cutters: 1-to-1 1/2-inch fluted square or round cutters.
Place the cookies on a piece of parchment paper on a sheet pan. Pierce each cookie three times with a sharp fork.
Hint: At this stage if you chill the rolled out dough for around 10 minutes, the cookie edges will be sharper after baking. But it is not necessary.
If desired, dust with sugar. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Allow the cookies to cool to room temperature.
This is where you can do whatever you want to the baked classic shortbread cookies.
After the cookies have cooled, I melt some high quality chocolate – it can be white, milk or dark – in the microwave for a few minutes. Watch this closely and stir often. I line a baking rack with parchment paper. I then take a fork, dip it into the chocolate and then run the fork all over the top of the cookie. You can also just dip half the cookie in the melted chocolate.
To melt the chocolate: Place half of the chocolate in a glass bowl and microwave on high power for 30 seconds. Stir with a wooden spoon. Continue to heat and stir in 30-second increments until the chocolate is just melted. Add the remaining chocolate and allow it to sit at room temperature, stirring often, until it's completely smooth. Stir vigorously until the chocolate is smooth and slightly cooled; stirring makes it glossier. This prevents scorching.
Drizzle 1/2 of each cookie with just enough chocolate to coat it.
Watch me on Chopped Canada, Season Two Episode Three.
And, see more of my adventures on my blog BuckysView.com.
I came across this delicious dish while in New Orleans last spring, and I have been making it ever since. My family loves this spicy smoky BBQ shrimp!
This is a very quick and delicious meal. You can serve it as an appetizer, or with rice or noodles for a main dish. I make this shrimp dish with the shells on because it retains so much flavour in the cooking. If you prefer, use peeled and deveined shrimp. Half of the fun is having lots of flavoured butter to dip your French stick in.
Total Time: 20 Minutes
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon Old Bay or creole seasoning
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon dried red chili flakes
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1/4 pound butter, at room temperature
- 3 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 pound extra large or jumbo shrimp (21 to 25 count), with peel, or peeled and deveined
- 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 cup white wine
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
- 3 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
- Lemon wedges
Mix the paprika, Old Bay Seasoning, salt, pepper and chili flakes together in a large bowl. Toss the shrimp in the dry rub mixture and coat evenly. (You can add more chili flakes if you like your shrimp spicy hot!)
In a large skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil and then the butter. Add the minced garlic and the shrimp. Make sure the shrimp are spread out so that they cook evenly. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes on one side.
Add the Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and white wine. Then flip each shrimp and cook on the other side, stirring frequently for another 3 to 4 minutes until they just turn pink. Do not overcook.
Remove from heat. Arrange in a dish or a platter, and scatter the chopped parsley and thinly sliced green onions over the top. Serve with quartered lemons and French bread for dipping.
Serve with cold beer – a Stella Artois or a crisp Chardonnay such as Kendall Jackson Vintners Reserve.
Bonne Année Happy New Year
To read more about my New Orleans Adventure visit my blog at Bucky's View.
View my New Orleans video on YouTube.
The American Thanksgiving celebration is around the corner and everyone is looking forward to this special meal. Thanksgiving is a very meaningful holiday for me as I give thanks for my harvest, my friends and my family. Being able to celebrate on the farm with a full table and a full heart is a blessing.
I celebrated Thanksgiving over a month ago in Canada. Happily, right now I am in Colorado so I get to celebrate twice.
This year I have been invited to dinner where deep fried turkey is on the menu. I have never tasted turkey cooked this way and I am looking forward to it. One word for any of you who are planning to deep-fry your bird: Please take all the safety precautions and make sure your bird is fresh or completely defrosted. Water and oil do not mix.
After all the dishes, sweat tears and laughter of our Thanksgiving Feast, we all felt as stuffed as the turkey. Yes, I am one of those old-fashioned cooks who insists the best tasting stuffing has to cook in the belly of the beast. I have tried cooking it separately but it never tastes the same.
The night after Thanksgiving we were pooped and ate the leftover wild rice while watching the weather update. Wild rice is a traditional holiday side dish that we never go without. It was my father's favourite. One hint – not all wild rice is the same, and I am noticing that it is often sold in broken pieces and does not cook up properly. Find a brand you can trust and stick with it. I am lucky enough to have an Indian reserve that sells its rice and it is not too far from my farm. I can also watch the cranberry harvest and buy fresh cranberries locally. By the way, as for the forecast, more snow in the forecast.
The day after Thanksgiving, my fridge was full of the remains of the day – I had my Marsala marinated ham joint, roast turkey with herb and lemon stuffing, my famous holiday mashed potatoes, roasted mushrooms, gravy, stock, peas, and cauliflower cheese gratin, and, oh yes, a spinach herbed goat cheese dip.
Everyone knows that each year brings the same dilemma. What to make with this mish mash of leftover food? The chef in me lies in bed and dreams about what to make with the food in my fridge. I truly enjoy planning and plotting to convert my leftovers into something magical – I believe that food is a gift and it should never be wasted.
Here is a peek into the mind of a chef. I ask my self, "Turkey potpie with a crown of puff pastry or turkey shepherds pie?" I could make turkey soup or navy bean and ham soup. Every cuisine has a casserole dish, and this year I thought about trying something new, cassoulet. Cassoulet is a classic French dish, just like Turkey Pot Pie it is a classic with many regional variations.
Cassoulet is a rich, slow-cooked casserole originating in the south of France, containing meat, pork skin and white beans. The dish is named after its traditional cooking vessel, the cassole, a deep, round, earthenware pot with slanting sides. I thought about coming up with an updated version. However I did not have duck or goose fat about or the sausages. My goal is to use what I have on hand, not to run out and shop!
I am a clear fan of traditional peasant food or comfort for the depth of flavour and variations that you come across from region to region. There are legends and rules in haute cuisine that determine how certain dishes should be made. In many regions, the preparation of certain dishes are sacrosanct and cannot be altered. The same is true over the age-old debate about who makes the best barbeque. Regional pride exists, that is for sure.
I believe that many dishes resulted from a cook’s way to assemble an assortment of leftovers to create a robust dish. Every cook faces leftovers – my mother always said that I had the power to perform the "miracle of the five loaves and two fish." With 10 of us at the table, there were never very many leftovers. As a chef I had to become very creative when using leftovers.
At the end of the busy holiday, I decide to rely on a family favourite, Classic Turkey Potpie. I love this comfort food and it is one of the best ways I know to make great use of the leftover turkey, stock and gravy. Many cooks have a recipe for this dish; mine is based on French cooking techniques. Many of you actually use the French sauce method but you call it a white sauce. It is the basis for the gravy in biscuits with sausage and gravy. Cheese sauce, or "mornay" in French, is often used in mac and cheese. It is also used in Cajun cooking where a roux is the base of the sauce.
I waste nothing so I use the turkey fat skimmed from the stock for the base of my blonde roux that will combine with the stock to make up my velouté. If there is leftover gravy, which rarely happens, I add it to the velouté to intensify the flavour.
I was a chef at the Arcadian Court in Toronto and their turkey potpie was famous. We used to order the potpie, as my mother was so busy taking care of 10 that she ran out of kitchen time. What I recall the most is that this potpie had very basic ingredients and huge chunks of meat, some peas and lots of sauce. The recipe was top secret, but I got a few peeks at how it was made. The Arcadian Court used whole, parboiled parisienne potatoes or small potato balls.
I think my version is even better, adapted to modern tastes. It is all about converting those intimidating leftovers into a meal that tastes brand new.
CHEF ELIZABETH’S CLASSIC TURKEY POT PIE
Remember – Always season your food to your taste. Add any combination of fresh herbs in the intensity that suits your palate. Cooking is about breaking the rules; baking is a different story.
I only use puff pastry on the top of the pot pie; you can do a traditional two-crust pie if you prefer. Sometimes when I have leftover mashed potatoes I use them as a quick topping for a "Turkey Shepherd's" pie. I prefer the flavour of a very basic turkey pie, but feel free to add vegetables of your choice. Incorporate any vegetable leftovers that seem fresh enough to withstand being cooked again. For instance, sauteéd mushrooms, corn or green beans. If you have extra stock, you can intensify the flavour of the dish by parboiling the carrots and the potatoes in the stock. The deeper the flavour of the stock, the richer the flavour of the pie. Add any leftover gravy if you like.
This is a dish that transforms your leftovers into a delicious comforting dish.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes
Total time: 55 minutes
1 box frozen pure butter puff pastry or your favourite pie crust recipe
Do ahead: Thaw puff pastry and then roll out on a lightly floured surface into a 1/4-inch thick square or rectangular, larger than the dimensions of your baking dish (or dishes) by about 3 inches on each side. Transfer to a baking sheet, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
At this point you will cut the dough, leaving an extra amount to hang over the dish. To do this, remove chilled dough from the refrigerator and place on a cutting board. Place your intended baking dish directly onto the dough, with the opening side down. With a sharp knife, cut around the dish so that you have an even 3 inches around the dish on all edges. Return the dough to the baking sheet, wrap tightly with plastic, and chill for an additional hour.
1/3 cup turkey fat or butter
1/3 finely cup finely chopped onion
1/3 cup finely chopped celery
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 3/4 cups chicken broth (I use my homemade stock)
1/2 cup whole milk or cream infused with 2 bay leaves and 3 sprigs thyme
1/2 tablespoon fresh thyme or marjoram, or to taste
2 1/2 cups cooked turkey, in large cubes or shreds
1 cups rinsed frozen green peas
1/2 cup parboiled carrots
1 cup of cubed and parboiled russet potatoes
1 egg beaten
2 tablespoons water, milk or cream
1. Heat oven to 400 F. Prepare a deep-dish casserole by lightly buttering the bottom and sides.
2. In 2-quart saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion and celery; cook 3 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until tender. Stir in flour, salt and pepper until well blended. Gradually stir in broth and infused milk, cooking and stirring until bubbly and thickened. Let cook for 5 more minutes. Add thyme and adjust seasonings at this point.
3. Stir in turkey and vegetables. Remove from heat. Spoon turkey mixture into prepared casserole dish or crust-lined pan.
4. Finish the Puff Pastry: Blend the egg and water for the egg wash. Remove dough from refrigerator and brush surface evenly with egg wash. Invert dough and place directly over the casserole, pressing lightly to seal overhanging crust to the side of the dish. Brush top surface of dough with egg wash. With a large round pastry tip or other small round object, cut a small circle in the centre of the pastry, removing the pastry circle. This allows the steam to vent. You can use leftover pastry to create decorative cutouts for the crust.
5. Transfer dish to a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment (to catch any boil-over!). Bake for 10 minutes then cover loosely with aluminum foil to prevent crust from burning, and continue baking for about 25 minutes more, or until filling is bubbling and crust is golden. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Serve this with some of your cranberry sauce on the side, a mixed green salad with lemon-herb vinaigrette and a crisp glass of Joel Gott or Hess Chardonnay.
Who doesn't love a hot biscuit right out of the oven? Here on the farm, biscuits are a staple and always a huge hit. This is a great recipe to have on hand as the weather gets cooler. We are working outside getting the winter bird feeders set up, trying to catch the rest of the fish from the pond to bring indoors into the warm great room. We are also putting the garden to bed, chopping wood and kindling, and winterizing the machines. I love making a batch of these biscuits to serve with chili, stews, soups or pasta.
Herbed Buttermilk and Cheddar Cheese Biscuits
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 to 15 minutes
Total Time: 20 to 25 minutes
There are hundreds of biscuit recipes. Every family has itsfavorite version. Here is one of my favorite savoury biscuit recipes. This is a recipe for biscuits that taste like the ones served at Red Lobster. Everyone loves them, and you can now buy the mix if you want that shortcut. You can prepare these delicious biscuits very quickly to serve with a hot soup, pasta, stew or chili.
For the Biscuits:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 to 2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning or Cajun Spices, optional
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 3/4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
For the Topping:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Preheat oven to 450 F. Place baking shelf in the middle of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat and then set aside.
For the biscuits: In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients; flour, sugar, baking powder, garlic powder and salt, and Cayenne pepper, Old Bay Seasoning or Cajun Spice if using these optional ingredients.
In another large bowl, whisk together buttermilk and butter. Pour mixture over dry ingredients and stir using a rubber spatula just until moist. Gently fold in cheese.
Using a 1/4-cup measuring cup or ice cream scoop, place the batter evenly onto the prepared baking sheet. Place into oven and bake for between 10 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Watch carefully to make sure they do not burn. While still warm and on the baking sheet brush the topping over the biscuits.
For the topping: Whisk together butter, parsley, chives and garlic powder in a small bowl.
Fall is in full swing, and a late-autumn snow storm reminds me of what a fleeting season autumn really is … it only lasts a short time here in the crisp, Ontario country air. Before you know it, the brilliant trees are bare and the leaves make a glowing carpet of red, gold and orange on the forest floor. After a busy summer and early fall canning and preserving grape jelly from my vines, hundreds of mason jars of heirloom tomato compote, spicy dilly beans, caramelized plum jam, peach barbecue sauce, hundreds of pounds of blueberries, basil puree, drying herbs including coriander seeds, I thought I never wanted to see another canning pot or mason jar again. I had canning and preserving fatigue!
However, just when I thought I could not face another mason jar or piece of fruit, I had the incredible good fortune to discover an abandoned apple orchard at the back of the farm property. I gathered a crew, and we set out on a few visits to harvest the jewels that hung like Christmas bulbs from the tree: The yellow variety ware so large that the branches drooped under their weight.
We all had great fun trying to decide what variety they were. We were unable to come up with a consensus. What I do know is that they were insect free … yes, they had blemished skin, but the insides were pristine. Too many people expect perfect fruit and vegetables and refuse to buy any that are bruised or imperfect. As a small-scale organic farmer, I know that in its natural growing condition each piece has its own personality, appearance and taste. There is no generic perfect apple and, as a chef and farmer, I am glad. The red apples' flesh was a gorgeous pink hue. I was very excited about cooking with the apples to see if they would hold up to the heat.
I must have been facing more than 100 pounds of wild yellow and red apples. What to do with all of them? I immediately baked an apple crisp pie with a pure butter crust. It was sensational. I recall that as a child, when eating apple pie you expected to be offered a piece of sharp cheddar or have it served a la mode. Now, instead of ice cream, there is frozen yoghurt, marscapone or creme fraiche. I also prepared Glazed Chunky Apple Pecan Cake, and chunky applesauce with local apple cider made by friends.
As I write this, I have apple butter cooking in the slow cooker. I plan to batch cook this, label and freeze it to use in barbecue sauces and baked goods. Intensely flavored apple butter can be used anywhere jams and jellies are used.
Apples are an Ontarian way of life … I grew up eating them and I took my children to pick them. We used to visit Chudleigh’s regularly until it became impossible even to find a place to park the car. We then started visiting Long Lane Orchards … a much quieter alternative where I could bring the children to pick and where my son and I could trout fish. Sadly, this year I found out they had closed their doors. Another casualty.
My father would bake apples with raisins and walnuts and drizzle them with his beloved maple syrup … he seemed to have found a way to get maple syrup into everything he cooked. Farmers would visit our neighborhood selling bushels to the bustling households. On the street I grew up on, almost every family had six to eight children. We would place the bushels in the cold cellar … but they never lasted very long. There were 10 of us, and they were a delicious after-school snack. I used to be horrified when my childhood best friend sprinkled the apples with salt.
I was lucky enough to have a European housekeeper who made the most delicious apple fritters dusted with cinnamon and lots of sugar … one of the best treats to come home to. After that iconic 2-mile walk back from school that we all seem to remember, I would open the huge front door and I could smell delicious. She also taught me how to make homemade strudel with dough gently dragged over a cloth-draped table. Do you recall when you would hate it when someone handed you an apple instead of candy on Halloween? Or that rumor, never eat them because they had razor blades in them? What would a Halloween party be without bobbing for apples?
I would like to toast the mighty apple, and next time I see a scout selling apples, I will wear the apple badge with pride and walk away with at least six! They always had the crispest and juiciest Macs. What was William Tell’s target? It was the apple. Which child did not offer up an apple as a gift to their teacher? Every parent told us that an apple a day would keep the doctor away. We have lost many varieties of apples and those growers who are trying to preserve ancient varieties face an uphill struggle.
One of my complaints is that many of the apples for sale are old and woody and lack the crisp tart flavor that I so enjoy. Here in Midland, you can find farm fresh apples such as Winesaps, Spys, Idared, Crispins, Cortlands, Empire, Spy and my favorite Honeycrisp, to name a few. I would suggest you try a new variety just for the fun of it. Many farmers offer free samples of their fruits.
Debate rages about whether it was a forbidden fruit or in fact an apple, which was the term for all fruit and nuts until the 17th century, that tempted Eve.
I can understand why the ancient Celts considered apples the fruit of the gods and why the unicorn lived under an apple tree. The unicorn was wise. Discovering that apple orchard in the wild was magical.
So if you’ve missed your chance to go and pick some apples at a local farm … you can still find large varieties at indoor local farmers' markets. Snack on a few to decide what you like best and, to keep warm, I suggest you sip on some warm mulled cider.
Here is a recipe for a Chunky Apple Cake. It keeps well if it lasts that long! Use your favourite apple variety.
Glazed Chunky Apple Pecan Cake
Yields 8 to 10 servings.
1 1/2 cups peanut, safflower or canola oil
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla
3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon each of ground cardamom, cloves and nutmeg (optional)
3 1/4 cups peeled, coarsely chunked Granny Smith or Spy apples
1 1/4 cup pecans or walnuts, coarsely chopped and lightly toasted
1/2 cup of dried cranberries or raisins (optional)
3 tablespoons Calvados, Brandy, Spiced Rum or Pure Vanilla
Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan; set aside.
Iin large bowl (you can use a stand mixer if you like), beat together oil and sugars until thick, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each edition. Add the vanilla.
In a separate large bowl, sift together dry ingredients. Add to oil mixture until well blended.
Toss apples, pecans and dried cranberries in 1 tablespoon flour to lightly coat. This prevents the nuts and dried fruit from sinking to the bottom. Then stir fruit and nuts into batter along with Calvados until pieces are evenly distributed throughout the batter. Try not to over mix.
Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake 1 hour and 15 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack. After 10 minutes, remove the cake from the Bundt pan and allow cake to cool completely.
If you are planning on using the glaze, here is a hint: Use a wooden skewer to poke holes in the cake so that the glaze can penetrate deep into the interior of the cake. This step is totally optional.
Pour glaze over the cooled cake while the glaze is still warm. If you like, you can slice the cake and pour the glaze over the individual slices. If the glaze thickens, gently reheat and then glaze.
Serve the cake with frozen yoghurt or whipped cream. This is also great as a coffee cake. Feel free to switch up the fruit – use pears or plums if you prefer.
Apple Cider Glaze
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
6 tablespoons white sugar
3 tablespoons Calvados or Rum, Vanilla (any liquor you prefer)
6 tablespoons sweet cider or tart fruit juice
3 tablespoons heavy cream
Over medium low heat, melt the butter in a small saucepan and stir in both sugars. Cook until sugar is dissolved, about 4 minutes. Add remaining ingredients, stir, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat slightly and cook for 4 minutes, or until thick.
Here is a great link to give you all the facts on apples.
Here on the farm, I often have overnight guests and I always make a big breakfast or brunch to start the day. These perfect pancakes served with my homemade fruit compote and jams are always on the menu. My family loves them. The fruit in the compote changes as the seasons change.
Recipes seem to be becoming so complicated and sometimes I reach for an easy one. It is great to have a really quick pancake recipe on hand. I am sharing a family favorite with you. It produces delicious, perfect pancakes every time. This recipe is so simple and it is made with items you already have in your pantry. Once you make these fluffy flavorful pancakes I doubt you will use a mix ever again.
Perfect Farmhouse Pancakes
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 10 to 15 minutes
Servings: 10 to 12 medium pancakes
NOTE: This recipe can easily be doubled.
1 cup of buttermilk or 3/4 cup milk and 2 tablespoons white vinegar or lemon juice
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten lightly
3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
Cooking spray or butter for cooking
1. Preheat oven to 200 F to keep the pancakes warm as you cook them.
2. If you are not using buttermilk, combine milk with vinegar or lemon juice in a measuring cup or small bowl. Set aside for 5 minutes to "sour."
3. In a medium bowl, combine and whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
4. In a small mixing bowl, whisk the egg and the melted butter into the buttermilk or "soured" milk. Pour the flour mixture into the wet ingredients and whisk until lumps are gone. Do not over mix.
5. Heat a large skillet over medium heat, and coat with butter or cooking spray. For each pancake, ladle 2 to 3 tablespoons of the batter onto the skillet. Do not overcrowd the pan; you should be able to fit three pancakes into the pan. Continue to cook the pancakes until bubbles appear on the surface. This will take 1 to 2 minutes.
(This is the moment when you can add berries, chocolate chips, dried fruit if you choose.) Flip with a spatula, and cook until browned on the other side.
6. Transfer to a baking sheet and cover loosely with aluminum foil, and keep warm in the preheated oven. Continue with more oil and remaining batter.
Serve warm with desired toppings. I serve with fresh fruit and homemade compote made with seasonal fruits. Here is a hint – I use some of my homemade preserves to thicken the compote and to add the sweetness.