Here on the farm, fall is a busy time of year and my pantry seems to get neglected. I am so busy harvesting and preserving that I sometimes find that when I go to bake that I’m missing a staple ingredient. For instance butter or eggs or maybe I just have one egg. It is at times like this when I miss having chickens! When I find myself in that situation I like to have a couple of recipes in my repertoire that allow me to produce a delicious, quick and easy cake without having to run out and buy something or not bake at all. When winter hits it is not always possible to get out of the driveway. I find that I tend to be more “pantry prepared” when the threat of being snowed-in looms.
I came upon this recipe in the Farm Journal's Choice Chocolate Recipes cookbook decades ago when I was a mother with three young children and I had very little time on my hands. I often found myself without eggs or butter. Back then I loved this recipe because it solved my missing egg problem and it came together in a matter of minutes — hence solving my lack of time issue.
This secret of this chocolate cake is that it substitutes vinegar and baking soda for eggs. The combination of vinegar and baking soda mimics the leavening ability of egg. Baking soda reacts with the acid in vinegar to bubble up and introduce air, making the cake fluffy. I imagine that the origin of this cake is that it is an old fashioned cake born from the necessities of farmstead life. This recipe is handy because it is inexpensive and quick to make. It is always fun to see how people react when they are told there are no eggs in such a moist cake.
Today, more and more people are searching for tasty vegan baking recipes.
When I first started making this recipe I had not even heard of the term vegan, so I fell in love with this cake on its own merits. Nowadays we all know vegans and it is rewarding to be able to bake something that you know people will enjoy, vegans and non-vegans alike. This is how I revisited this delicious chocolate cake. Recently, my youngest daughter, herself a vegan, asked me if I had any "good" vegan cake recipes. This recipe certainly fits the bill, as it has no animal products. The original recipe does call for butter, however in this recipe I use a neutral vegetable oil instead. Using oil instead of butter or shortening eliminates a step — melting and cooling the butter. It is also cheaper. The result is a very moist cake that stays moist. This cake is actually fairly low-fat as well compared to other chocolate cake recipes.
From a baking point of view, there are so many things to like about this chocolate cake recipe. It calls for cocoa and that eliminates the step of having to melt and cool the chocolate. This step is often challenging, as you always have to be careful the chocolate doesn’t scorch. I also find that using cocoa in baking gives a chocolate cake or cupcakes a very deep flavor, which I really enjoy. This is a perfect recipe for a beginner baker as it is fail-proof.
With my daughter at my side as the taste tester we experimented with this recipe. In fact I made 4 cakes in one afternoon. I substituted coffee for the water, I added some orange zest, and I added chocolate chips. I also added some well-drained grated zucchini. (If you add zucchini it takes longer to bake) The results were all very good.
Serving Suggestion:If you like you can serve with fresh fruit yogurt, whipped cream or ice cream.
Chef's Tip: This recipe can be halved and baked in a 9-inch square or round cake tin.
Farmhouse Vegan Chocolate Cake
Yields 10 servings
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 40-50 minutes
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups white sugar
1/3 cup cocoa, sifted
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons white distilled vinegar or cider vinegar
1/2 cup neutral vegetable oil
2 cups water, coffee or cola
1 tablespoon pure vanilla
1/4 cup icing sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour the cake tin.
Sift all the dry ingredients: flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt into a large bowl.
Add the wet ingredients: vinegar, oil, water, and vanilla into the bowl and mix well.
Pour batter into a greased 13x9 inch pan or a well-greased Bundt pan.
Bake at 350 F for 40-50 minutes (time will vary depending on what size cake tin you use) or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a rack. Dust with icing sugar and serve.
I developed this recipe to use the surplus of cherry tomatoes from my garden. This is a very loose recipe – you can cut the tomatoes in half but I don't bother. You can remove the seeds from the tomatoes and peppers if you like. I leave the cherry tomatoes whole and throw in a few plum tomatoes or peppers if they are ripe because I always cook with economy in mind. I will throw a stray or orphaned vegetable or fruit into something that I am preparing. Waste not Want not. Cooking with that philosophy brings me great satisfaction.
Some recipes for tomatoes call for the addition of sugar to round out the acidity. I use a few teaspoons of tomato paste instead. The tomato paste intensifies the flavour and adds sweetness and texture all at the same time. So if you are making for example, bruschetta with tomatoes that are under ripe- use a few teaspoons to concentrate the flavour.
Consider this recipe as intense tomato essence. Roasting concentrates the flavours. You can use these roasted tomatoes on anything you like-the possibilities are endless.
Serve with pasta warm or in a pasta salad
Serve with baguette as a spread
Puree and add to mayonnaise as a sauce
Serve heated on a baguette with Parmesan, Feta or goat's cheese.
Serve at room temperature as a roasted tomato salad.
Use as topping for pizza or chicken Parmesan
Use in a grilled cheese sandwich
Use in a baked macaroni gratin
Add to sautéed shrimp or use on top of fish
Use on top of grilled chicken
Use inside stews or soups
You can make a small batch as you are roasting something else for dinner perhaps. Or you can prepare a large batch and preserve them in packages to use later. I suggest freezing any leftovers to use in the winter for a taste of sunshine.
Knowing when they are ready is checking on the tomatoes as they roast and stirring them for even cooking. This recipe would also work in a slow cooker.
If you want a drier product you can vary the cooking method by baking the tomatoes at 225 F for 4 hours. I am too impatient for that but the results are delicious.
Oven Roasted Tomatoes
12 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise, cores and seeds removed, or 2 pounds cherry tomatoes
6 tablespoons fruity olive oil
6 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
2 teaspoons sugar, optional
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 jalapeño peppers cut in half, optional
Sprigs of fresh herbs: basil, thyme and rosemary
Preheat oven to 450 F.
Arrange tomatoes in a single layer on sheet pan or in cast-iron skillet. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle garlic, sugar, salt and black pepper over tomatoes. Add jalapeño peppers if you choose.
Roast for 15 minutes, stir mixture then decrease temperature to 350 and continue roasting for another 20 minutes, or until tomatoes begin to caramelize.
Remove from oven and add fresh herbs such as basil, thyme or rosemary. Adjust seasoning. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Click here for Part 1.
It is a fact of farm life that bad things can happen. This year a bad thing did happen – my crops were the victims of blight. This season we built raised beds and brought in fresh soil and worked so hard to plant the tomato and leek crops, and they failed.
In the past, critters had decimated the crops so this year we put up electric fences to keep the animals out; I even put up an owl scare device to ward off potential raiders. I realized that animals are not afraid of plastic owls as I watched a mother wild turkey and her eight poults dusting themselves in my potato patch. That solved the mystery of why the onions and russets were sitting on top of the sun-burned soil.
I was going to get a night camera to catch what was going on but decided I would need too many of them. I decided to take my chances and pray for the best. You never stop learning about what really goes on.
It’s a smelly and messy job tearing out all those plants, but yesterday I started the task. I realized that if we did not take what we could immediately, nothing would be left. We had to harvest unripe fruit. I was full of sadness, anger and loss as I looked at the fruit rotting on the dying vines. I pulled the brown tomato plants out with a vengeance wanting to get rid of them, as the sight of a dying harvest was so unsettling. It was a constant reminder of our failure.
Blood, sweat and tears had not helped at all. We salvaged what little we could on that scorching first day of September. I felt closer to all the other farmers who have had similar fates. I understood what it means to have crop insurance. It is too bad that insurance is not available for small operations like mine. As an organic farmer I have decided not to use pesticides. My crops grew so well and then in a day or two the die-off started and spread like wildfire. My daughter Isabel said the beefsteaks looked like tumours, and she was right. The fruit took on hideous shapes and rotted from the inside out. At the same time my leeks began to rot. On the bright side my peppers did very well, but they were not the main crop.
Over and over again we asked ourselves, how? Why? What had we done wrong? We went through all the possibilities: too much rain, too little rain, bad soil, bad plants, planting too close together, not planting deeply enough, a black thumb, not fertilizing or maybe just the hands of God. There is no answer. I have to live with that. That is the gamble I took when I first bought this farm and plunged into the farming life.
I will admit that I do not feel like planting again. A bit of my spirit is broken. I started off the season with so much hope and hard work. Good intentions count for nothing. I did not just lose thousands of dollars in growing, but also I now have nothing to sell at my farm stand.
The chef in me, of course, saw the bright side and realized that I would not have days of canning in a hot kitchen. I also decided that because I had so few tomatoes I would make roasted tomatoes. These are great to have in the freezer in the winter to bring that fresh taste of summer into hearty soups, stews, casseroles and pasta dishes.
This year it is a different kind of tomato time and instead of being busy picking, sorting and processing these gorgeous fruits, I am tearing out rotting plants. However, it still seems as if I eat tomatoes three times a day! I insist on eating all the tomatoes we managed to save. I am grateful for what we did manage to rescue.
Click here for Part 2, my recipe for Roasted Tomatoes.
Where has summer gone? The golden rod is in full bloom, swaying in my meadow as if in a dance with the Queen Anne’s lace. The crickets are busy chirring and the birds are stopping to fuel up on their way South. The baby raccoons and groundhogs are all grown up and fending for themselves.
The baby pileated woodpecker was caught begging for food yesterday from its parent, even though he is just as large as they are.
The nights are getting cooler and maple leaves are finding their way to the green carpet all over the farm. Harvest time is beginning and my days are about to get busier.
Yes, it is that time of year again when my garden is bursting with zucchini. I turn my back for a moment and the zucchini have doubled in size. I find myself looking for new homes for this versatile vegetable. One hint: Always call and ask first if your friends or neighbours want to take in your zucchini. Sometimes they can take up an entire shelf in the fridge.
Of course it is best to try and pick them while they are still young, but it never seems to happen that way. No matter what, I always end up with a few the sizes of dirigibles. Growing zucchini is wonderful for children; the plants are the size of the plants that appear in the landscape of "Jurassic Park."
As a chef I love to find different ways to prepare this vegetable. To me it is the tofu of the vegetable world.
Here are a few suggestions. Let me know what you like to do with your surplus zucchini crop.
Deep fried zucchini served with a blue cheese or chipotle dip
Grated raw into a salad or on top of salad fixings
Baked zucchini coins with parmesan or pecorino
Stuffed baked zucchini – this can be vegetarian
Marinated with balsamic and grilled zucchini
Zucchini pancakes and fritters or waffles
Stir fried Asian zucchini or tempura battered
Zucchini fries coated with panko or cornmeal
Zucchini coins with sun dried tomatoes and goats cheese appetizers
Zucchini ribbon salad with vinaigrette and herbs
Grated or diced and tossed into pasta
Use zucchini in omelettes or quiches
On top of pizzas or as the base for a pizza
Zucchini and spinach soup
The one dish that zucchini fails at for me was pickles. They became soggy.
The best part about zucchini is that it can be used in baked goods such a muffins or bread pudding and now we come to Zucchini Bread.
Every year I make this delicious fast and easy zucchini bread. You can pull it together in minutes with ingredients that you have on hand. This loaf freezes beautifully and I make two so there is one in the freezer for company. If you have too much zucchini on hand, just grate it and freeze it for later use. I add blueberries, nuts or frozen cranberries to the batter if I have them on hand. I also put some granola on top after it has been in the oven for about 15 minutes.
TIP: If you find that zucchini is watery, gently press out the excess fluid.
I love this zucchini bread because it is moist and not too sweet.
Farmhouse Zucchini Bread
1 cup white sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice, optional
2 cups grated zucchini, yellow or green
2 large eggs at room temperature, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
1/2 cup orange juice (and I add some zest as well)
1/4 cup neutral vegetable oil
1/2 cup toasted chopped nuts, optional
1 cup of cranberries or blueberries, optional
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease 9-by-5-inch loaf pan; set aside.
In large bowl, mix together sugar, flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and pumpkin pie spice.
Stir in grated zucchini, beaten eggs, vanilla, orange juice and oil. Add nuts and/or berries.
Mix well until flour has disappeared. Pour into prepared pan.
Bake for about 1 hour, until toothpick inserted in loaf comes out clean.
Tip out of pan and cool on rack. Enjoy while warm, and this bread toasts beautifully the next day.
Summer is in full swing and it is wonderful to have a show-off cake in your repertoire. My Classic Black Forest Cake always gets rave reviews and is a stunning summer time dessert. Something magical happens after the combination of cream, cherries, chocolate and Kirsch, a cherry based liqueur. The cake recipe is so simple and makes a delicious and moist cake. The real time-consuming element is the assembly.
I know it may seem complicated, but you can use a cake mix if you are pressed for time. If you are not good with a piping bag, you can just spoon little piles on top of the cake – or eliminate the rosettes altogether. I would not use a canned whipping cream dispenser as the cream melts so quickly.
European cakes often call for simple syrup, which is simply water and sugar combined in equal amounts, brought to the boil to dissolve the sugar, and then cooled. Leftover syrup is perfect for mixed drinks (I was once a bartender and this is one of their tricks) and in fruit salads.
Kirsch may be hard to find – you can substitute another liqueur if you like or omit it altogether if you do not like alcohol in your cakes. By the way, Kirsch is that secret ingredient in Swiss Cheese Fondue.
Chef Elizabeth's Classic Black Forest Cake
2 1/3 cups lukewarm water
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs at room temperature, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 1/3 cups white sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder, sifted
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 to 1/2 cup Kirsch liqueur, optional
See notes above.
1 jar (500 ml) pitted sour cherries, drained and soaked in Kirsch
2 to 3 cups heavy cream
2 packets (9 grams each, about 2 teaspoons) Dr. Oetker Vanilla Sugar
2 packets (10 grams each, about 2 teaspoons) Dr. Oetker Whip It (whipping cream stabilizer)
1 teaspoon Kirsch
3 to 4 ounces grated semi-sweet chocolate
8 macerated sour cherries
1. Heat oven to 325 F. Grease and flour two 9-inch pans, or use parchment paper liners; set aside. If you like, you can use 4 pans, but I slice my cake once it has cooled after baking to create layers.
To prepare cake:
2. In large bowl or mixer, place water, oil, eggs, vanilla, sugar and cocoa powder. Beat on low speed, or by hand, for about 2 minutes, or until batter is well-blended.
3. Sift together flour, baking soda and salt, and then add to cocoa mixture. Beat for additional 2 minutes, scraping sides of bowl. NOTE: This batter is very thin.
4. Divide into pans and bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.
5. While cakes bake, prepare Simple Syrup; set aside.
To prepare filling:
6. Drain cherries (reserve juice to add to simple syrup if you like) and soak cherries in some Kirsch.
7. Once cooled, cut each cake in half. If you made just 2 layers, sprinkle with Simple Syrup and/or Kirsch. (I do both. You may have to level off the cakes at this stage or they will not stack easily.)
8. Whip heavy cream and add vanilla sugar and stabilizer as cream thickens, if desired (it does help), and flavour with some Kirsch, if desired.
To assemble cake:
9. Assemble cake by spreading some whipped cream on top of 1 layer of cake and distributing cherries evenly on top, then repeat process.
To decorate cake:
10. Grate chocolate and sprinkle on sides and top of layered cake.
11. Pipe 8 rosettes of whipped cream and top each rosette with 1 Kirsch marinated cherry.
Summer is around the corner and everyone loves to have a delicious fruit muffin recipe in his or her repertoire. Here is a recipe that works well with all sorts of seasonal fruit. These blueberry muffins are absolutely delicious. The extra step of stewing some of the berries is well worth the trouble. These muffins are more like a coffee cake with its crumb/streusel topping. I am a huge fan of streamlined baking recipes that do not call for creaming the butter and sugar. This muffin recipe is fairly low in fat, and yet it stays moist. Many muffins dry out very quickly. I published a cake recipe last summer that called for the cooked fruit method, and it really does adds flavour, texture and moisture. (This recipe has been adapted from Cook's America's Test Kitchen.)
I pick my blueberries each summer at a local farm called Patch of Blue in Penetanguishene, Ontario. I use frozen berries all year round, and I love having them in my freezer to make these muffins, compote for my desserts and pancakes, to add to my morning cereal, to add to crisps, and to use in smoothies.
One of the great benefits of country living is that I am near several pick-your-own farms. I have always loved picking my own fruit and vegetables with my children, and we still do it every summer and fall. I have already picked local fiddleheads and my asparagus. I recall picking strawberries and apples when my eldest daughter was just a baby, and she waited patiently in the baby carrier. Picking peas was more difficult because I had to keep bending down, and she would almost fall out of the carrier. The chef in me is happy when I stand in the heat and stare at a sea of berry bushes begging to be picked.
This summer I strongly suggest you pick your own fruit and/or vegetables and that includes blueberries, or buy local organic – you will be happy you did. Picking your own saves you lots of money, and you will see how much hard work it is. Picking your own brings you great satisfaction, and it also helps to release your inner harvester – after all, we are hunter-gatherers. The best part is that you will have loads of berries all winter at a fraction of the cost. Blueberries that are frozen are just as good in baking as fresh ones. One piece of advice would be to pick what you think you can eat or put up for the year. It is best not to pick more than you need because then it becomes wasted energy and food. Last night I made sauce (ragu) with the tomatoes that I canned last fall, and it tasted as fresh as if the tomatoes were freshly picked. I hope everyone enjoys nature's bounty this summer.
When you go to pick your own remember: Bring lots of water, a hat and wear sunscreen.
Best Blueberry Muffins
Yields 12 muffins.
For Crumb Topping:
1 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 cups (about 10 ounces) fresh or frozen blueberries, picked over and divided into two amounts of 1 cup each
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon white sugar, divided
2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/3 cup neutral flavored oil
1 cup buttermilk or soured milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1. To make the crumb topping: In a bowl, whisk together flour, brown sugar, salt and cinnamon. Pour in melted butter and toss mix until large crumbs form.
2. To make the muffins: Adjust oven rack to the upper-middle position and preheat oven to 400 F. Spray standard muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray or line with large parchment paper liners; set aside.
3. In small saucepan, bring 1 cup blueberries and 1 tablespoon sugar to simmer over medium heat. Cook gently while crushing berries with potato masher or whisk, and stir frequently, until berries have broken down and mixture is thickened and reduced to 1/4 cup, about 6 minutes. Transfer to small bowl and stir the berry mixture until it cools to room temperature, 10 to 15 minutes. To speed up the process, place the mixture in the fridge. (You can do this ahead if you like or even substitute thinned down jam.)
4. In large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In medium bowl, whisk together reaming sugar and eggs until thick and homogeneous, about 45 seconds. Slowly whisk in butter and oil until combined. Whisk in buttermilk, vanilla and almond extract. Using a rubber spatula, fold egg mixture and remaining blueberries into flour mixture until just moistened. (The batter will be very lumpy, be careful not to over-mix.)
5.Divide half of the batter equally among prepared muffin cups. The cups should be about half full. Spoon 1 teaspoon cooked berry mixture into center of each mound of batter. Using a skewer or the handle of a spoon, gently swirl berry filling into batter to evenly distribute the mixture. Cover the berry mixture with the rest of the batter. Sprinkle the crumb topping evenly over muffins, pressing the crumb mixture gently into the batter so that it sticks to the batter.
6. Bake until muffin tops are golden and just firm, 15 to 20 minutes, rotating muffin tin from front to back halfway through baking time.
7. Place the cooked muffins on a wire rack and let the muffins cool for 5 minutes, then remove them from the muffin tin to finish cooling. If you use parchment paper, which prevents sticking, this job will be much easier. (They are delicious while still warm, try spreading some butter over the muffins.)
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Mitzi's German Goulash is a family heirloom recipe that is the essence of simplicity and rusticity. You can make it with just three ingredients: stewing beef, onions and seasonings.
You will never believe how just a few ingredients can turn into such a hearty flavorful dish. This goulash is perfect comfort food on those chilly spring nights. There are many variations of goulash and, in certain areas of Europe, it is considered a soup if it is served with bread. You can add potatoes or celery or carrots, but I like how intense the flavor is with fewer ingredients. That is the magic of the recipe. When Mitzi first served this goulash for me a few years ago, it was love at first bite.
This is the simplest recipe you will ever make, and, trust me, it is delicious. No need to brown the meat or the onions. This would make a great slow-cooker recipe – just increase the cooking time to 6 to 8 hours on low depending on the slow cooker. There is no need to use any oil.
Some people like to buy a whole cut of meat and break it down themselves for stewing meat. This way you are sure of what you are buying. What you buy at the grocery store is of the large variety of bits and pieces from various cuts or scraps. Often the pieces in the “stewing meat” packages are very uneven. If you buy your ow,n you can cut it into equal sized pieces that will cook evenly.
Cuts of meat vary across North America. Some of the suggested cuts are chuck, top chuck, rump roast top round, or outside round. You are looking for lean cuts that have collagen in them that break down through slow cooking to make the meat so tender.
Choose well-marbled meat for the best results. For deep flavour you need the fat to break down and add moisture over a long cooking time. If the meat is too lean, the goulash will be dry and tough.
Do not cut the pieces too small or they will dissolve in the goulash.
Make sure your pan has a heavy bottom and a tight fitting lid because this is what causes the steam and creates the juices for the sauce.
I use sweet onions, but you can use regular cooking onions. If you like, you can cut back on the onion.
You do not need to add wine if you do not want; the result is delicious just the same.
Make sure your paprika is fresh. Feel free to use smoked paprika if you prefer.
I serve this with fresh homemade bread or over egg noodles or mashed potatoes.
This recipe keeps well in the fridge for two or three days, and in the freezer for up to a month. Remember to label and date your leftovers.
Mitzi’s German Goulash
2 pounds well-marbled stewing beef cut into even-sized pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 pounds onions, sliced (I use the sweet variety)
2 or 3 medium carrots, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (optional)
1 to 2 teaspoons paprika
Cut the beef into even sized pieces for even cooking; season with salt and pepper.
Place the meat and the onions in a medium heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or sauce pan with a tight fitting lid, and place lid on top.
Bring to a gentle boil and let simmer for 2 to 3 hours, stirring often to prevent scorching. Check to see if enough liquid is being generated by the steam. If not, add water or wine.
If desired, you can add carrots during the last 45 minutes of cooking.
Thirty minutes before the goulash is done, add paprika.
Serving Recommendations: I serve this with cayenne pepper on the side and fresh homemade bread or over egg noodles.
Beverage Recommendation: Cabernet or Merlot or a Cold glass of German Beer