It is Christmas time again on the farm and despite an enormous first snow, the land is bare and what a blessing. I have had extra time to rescue the fish from the frozen pond, time to fix the barn door and to put up the Christmas lights.
Every year I promise to start things earlier, buy the bags and wrapping, organize my cookie cutters, decide on what Christmas treats I am going to make, hold the open house. There are so many details that I now keep a book to keep track of all the Christmas meals, gifts and plans.
My eldest daughter called me last week and we decided that this year we wanted to do something different. So this week I have been calling up Nordic ski places but they doubt that there will be enough snow by Christmas. Here by the lake you learn to expect snow, and lots of it, anytime.
Christmas is that special time of the year when we all tend to bake and cook our traditional favourites. This is a firm rule in my house — the list is long about what has to be on the three day Christmas weekend menu. Christmas is not the time to change the menu too radically. It is about tradition. When I eliminate one of the dishes, one that no one eats like the peas, there is uproar. I tend to introduce new items on Christmas Eve.
I also like to bake a few new goodies to keep me experimenting. This year I am going to make chocolate almond toffee and chocolate cherry mice for table treats. I just may make a trifle, which I have not done in years. Maybe mincemeat tarts — another holiday treat long forgotten.
My baking plans are always ambitious and that continues right up to Christmas morning when I bake the traditional Christmas Morning Coffeecake.
Today, I wanted to bake a plain delicious cookie whose flavour is based on just a few items. Make sure you use fresh butter and pure vanilla or almond extract. Quality makes all the difference in a simple cookie. I felt like pulling out a cherished old favourite. These butter cookies are very simple; they are Grandmother’s Best Butter Cookies. Ironically, my grandmother never baked. Well, at least not for her 46 grandchildren. However, the nanny to her 11 children, Clara, who later became my godmother, was an excellent baker.
Here is Clara's recipe. This is a very simple recipe using only a few ingredients that you will have in your pantry. You can easily make it with a deep bowl and a wooden spoon — just as I did for this article. Sometimes it is very comforting to go back to the way I baked as a child.
• MAKE SURE YOUR BUTTER IS VERY SOFT
• USE PURE VANILLA OR ALMOND EXTRACT
• DO NOT OVER MIX THE DOUGH AFTER THE FLOUR IS ADDED
• CHILL THE DOUGH — BUT NOT UNTIL IT IS TOO STIFF TO ROLL.
• ROLL THE COOKIE DOUGH OUT EVENLY TO PROMOTE EVEN BAKING
GRANDMOTHER’S BEST BUTTER COOKIES
8 Tablespoons (1/4 pound) salted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
2 cups all purpose flour
Icing sugar for dusting
In a medium bowl, or using a hand mixer on medium speed to beat together butter until pale and fluffy, 2–3 minutes.
Slowly add the sugar and continue to cream until all the sugar is absorbed. Add the egg yolks one at a time and beat until smooth. Add flour and mix on low speed until just combined. Do not over mix.
Transfer dough to a work surface and form into 2 balls and press into 2 disks. Wrap disks separately in plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, 1 hour.
Heat oven to 350 F.
Take one of the chilled dough disks and Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface; using a rolling pin, roll out to 1/4 inch thickness.
Using a 1-1/2 inch round or fluted cookie cutter, cut out rounds and transfer to parchment paper-lined baking sheets, spacing them 1 inch apart; repeat with remaining dough.
Bake the cookies rotating the baking sheets top to bottom and front to back halfway through cooking, until cookies are set but not browned, 8–10 minutes. Let cool before serving.
Dust with sifted icing sugar.
Store the cookies in between layers of wax paper in a cookie tin.
I have had this recipe for decades and I am planning to include it in my upcoming ebook. I am not sure about the origin of the name, perhaps it refers to all the fruits, nuts and coconut looking like a "mess" a tornado left behind. This cake is also known as Fruit Cocktail Cake. This is a magical cake that is easy to make with most types of tinned fruit. When I was growing up, our pantry was filled with tinned goods. If you happen to have maraschino cherries in your pantry add some extra to the batter. We all know there are never enough cherries in that fruit cocktail mix. I recall fighting for those precious red cherries. There were eight of us and there were never eight cherries in one tin.
There are nuts in the cake and also nuts and coconut as a topping if you choose to use them. The cake is delicious without them. Nuts have become so expensive, I sometime substitute a chopped up fruit and nut granola bar. If you can't eat nuts you can substitute crushed cornflakes or bran buds for texture.
This Texas Tornado Cake is delicious and I guarantee this will become a family favorite. There is no fat in the cake — it is in the sauce. The recipe for sauce creates more sauce than you may think you need but the cake will absorb it. If you find that you have some left over serve it on the side if you like. This is a very moist cake, add the coconut and nuts if you like or omit it. The cake tastes even better the next day as the sauce penetrates into it.
Texas Tornado Cake is a perfect potluck dessert and for the upcoming holidays.
Texas Tornado Cake
Prep time: 10 minutes
Baking time: 40 minutes
1-1/2 cups white sugar
1 14-oz. can fruit cocktail with juice or about 2 cups
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup milk, or cream
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla or 2 tablespoons of rum
1 cup flaked coconut
1/2 cup chopped nuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease and flour a 9 x 13 inch pan or a Bundt pan.
To make Cake:
In a large bowl combine sugar, eggs and fruit cocktail with the syrup.
In another bowl, sift together the flour, salt and soda and then add to fruit mixture.
In a small bowl, combine brown sugar and chopped nuts.
Pour mixture into prepared pan and sprinkle the sugar-nut mixture over the cake batter.
Bake at 350 F for 45 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
As the cake is cooling make the Sauce:
Heat sugar, milk and butter (if using coconut add at this point) in saucepan and bring to a boil.
Let the sauce simmer and reduce for about 5 minutes.
Remove from heat and add vanilla or rum and chopped nuts.
Pour over hot cake. Serve warm with whipped cream or frozen vanilla yogurt.
This cake will keep for several days at room temperature or refrigerated.
For more about my farm life and travels read my blog Bucky's View.
Fall is pumpkin time and pumpkin is very versatile to cook with. It can be found in both savory and sweet dishes. Everyone is familiar with traditional pumpkin pie but I have found a different way to celebrate pumpkin. This is a really easy, fast and scrumptious pumpkin muffin recipe. The muffins are delicious plain with that sprinkling of brown sugar but I add chopped pecans and blueberries to my muffins for more texture and flavor. This recipe is adapted from a book called Muffin Mania.
Rose's Country Pumpkin Muffins
Yields 18-24 muffins
Cook time: 20-25 Minutes
• 4 large eggs at room temperature
• 2 cups white sugar
• 1-1/3 cups neutral vegetable oil
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla
• 1-3/4 cups pumpkin (small can)
• 3 cups all purpose flour
• 1 tablespoon cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
• 2 teaspoon baking powder
• 2 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 2 cups raisins or dried cranberries or blueberries
• 1 cup of chopped nuts (optional)
• 1/3 cup sieved light brown sugar or more if needed
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees
2. Grease and flour the muffin tin.
3. Beat eggs lightly. Add sugar, oil, vanilla and pumpkin and combine thoroughly.
4. Sift the dry ingredients together and Add to the wet ingredients and mix until smooth.
5. Stir in raisins, cranberries and nuts, if using.
6. If you are adding blueberries, fold them in gently at this point.
7. Fill greased muffin cups 2/3 full and sprinkle tops with sieved brown sugar.
8. Bake 375 F for 20-25 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a rack.
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.