November 29, 2013

Kneading, baking, and fire the trickster

"It is in our human spirit to build ovens, behold fire, bake bread, cook food, and provide for ourselves."
-Richard Miscovich

This past summer, my sweetheart and I fulfilled our long-time dream of attending the famous Kneading Conference in Skowhegan, Maine. The previous year, we had heard rave reviews from friends who went and described it as THE ultimate place of convergence for bakers, grain-growers, wood-fired oven connoisseurs, and generally-speaking, lovers of dough. I mean, at what other conference do you get to stuff your face with baked goods fresh out of the oven in just about every workshop you take part in? Pizza, sourdough bread, scones, bagels, baguettes, cookies, acorn-flour pancakes, you name it, it was there, being baked to a level of expertise that the average person rarely witnesses. Needless to say, the conference was one of the highlights of my summer. I tried to capture the spirit of the gathering in this short video. 

At the conference, I spent a lot of my time learning how to build an earth-oven from filmmaker and oven-building guru Stu Silverstein. (My boyfriend was pretty excited to meet the man who directed his all-time most favorite film!) After the conference, I came home and promptly purchased the materials necessary to build my own earth-oven, though the actual building of it will be a project for the new year (and one which you will certainly hear about in a more detailed post!) 

The conference's keynote speaker was Richard Miscovich and since the conference, I have been devouring his book, From The Wood-Fired Oven, which was put out earlier this year by my all-time favourite publisher Chelsea Green

As a friend who was leafing through the book exclaimed, "this book is hard core!" Indeed, this is the ultimate must-have book for anyone interested in wood-fired ovens. The first few chapters begin by explaining in meticulous detail how a wood-fired oven works. It then proceeds to show the huge spectrum of foods one can prepare in these ovens. Most of us are familiar with wood-fired pizzas and breads, but Richard also explains how to use an oven's full range of temperatures, from its peak heat to its slow cool-down. He explains how to make outstanding breads and pizzas, but also foods that use the lower ranges of the oven as it cools, such as braised vegetables, baked beans, beef jerky, dried herbs and infused oils. It is a thrifty economical take on how to use every last morsel of heat generated when we fire up our wood-fired oven. I think it's safe to say that it is the most in-depth book ever written about cooking in a wood-fired oven.

We recently fired up our outdoor brick oven to make some pizzas. Notice our two trusty "guardians of the fire"!

After the pizzas were out of the oven, I had my first attempt at a recipe from Richard's book: his French spice bread (Pain d'Épice), made entirely with rye flour, which, as you may remember from this post and this one, I am quite fond of, especially since my sweetheart grows rye. There was one major hitch though. In true glutton style, I went straight for the recipes in the book, neglecting to properly read Richard's detailed section on "Temperature Monitoring". A rather important oversight when it comes to the powerful world of fire. Oops. 

Well. I don't often show my cooking failures on this blog (though there are many of them), but this one was simply too good not to share. Here it is again, in broad daylight.

As you can see, I managed to carve out the inside of the cake, which was actually pretty moist and delicious. But yes, before I fire up our masonry oven again, I will be well-equipped with an adequate thermometer, most likely an infrared 'point and shoot' and will have reviewed in detail Richard's instructions on monitoring temperature. Stay tuned for a successful version of this recipe! My wood-firing adventures have only just begun. 

November 26, 2013

Easy 10-Minute Cranberry Sauce

Is anyone out there planning to serve store-bought cranberry sauce this Thanksgiving? Because if you are, hold everything and let me attempt to talk you out of this folly. 

Did you know cranberry sauce takes 10 minutes to make and is the easiest thing to do? Ever. The kind of easy where you just dump a bag of cranberries in a saucepan, add sugar and water and simmer for 10 minutes. It's so simple I'm even a little embarrassed to dedicate a whole blogpost to it. But if this means saving even just one human being from another hunk of canned jelly, then I will sleep better this Thanksgiving. 

Of course, the advantage of making your own sauce means you can get fancy with it if you wish, and add all kinds of delightful things like citrus peels and orange juice and spices (a little fresh ginger is nice). But to be honest, I've always preferred the taste of pure, straight-up, as-basic-as-it-gets cranberry sauce. Sweet, tart, simple perfection, the way my grammie used to make it. (I have been known to eat the stuff by the spoonful, when no one is looking).

And if you need extra convincing about all this, I hate to be a downer at such a merry time of year, but most store-bought cans are lined with cancer-causing BPA and Harvard researchers have found that folks who eat one serving of canned food daily over the course of 5 days have more than a tenfold increase of BPA levels in their bodies. Not only that, but most canned cranberry sauces are sweetened with GMO high fructose corn syrup. No thank you, Monsanto and Ocean Spray. 

All in all, my cranberry sauce cost me just over $3.00 to make with 100% certified organic ingredients. A store-bought can may have been slightly cheaper than that, but the few extra cents are well-worth it and here's why: supporting my local organic cranberry growers who have worked so very very hard to convert their farm to a certified organic cranberry farm is what Thanksgiving is all about, giving thanks to those who make it possible to have healthy food on our tables, now and for generations to come.

A very happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Yields about 2 cups of sauce

One 12-oz. bag of cranberries, equivalent of about 3 cups (use organic if you can, here's why)
3/4 cup cane sugar (or maple syrup)
1/2 cup water (you can also use apple juice or orange juice instead) 
1/4 tsp. butter (optional but it helps reduce the foam)

Place all ingredients except the butter in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir together and bring to simmer on medium heat. Cook until the berries have softened and some have popped to release their juice (about 10 minutes). Stir occasionally. If needed, add a bit more water to get the consistency you like. Add 1/4 tsp. butter and stir, this will help reduce the foam. Turn the heat off but leave the saucepan on the burner, allowing the sauce to cool slowly. The sauce will thicken as it cools. Transfer the cooled sauce to a serving dish for immediate use, or to a jar and refrigerate.

*If you prefer a sweeter sauce, use more sugar in this recipe (up to 1 cup in total). Or use less if you like your sauce on the tart side. (I find 1/2 cup of sugar in total is enough for me).

November 24, 2013

Delicata Squash and Sage Biscuits

I recently received my copy of Kinfolk's new cookbook and the ride home from the post office has never felt so long. I swear I could feel the book glowing through the package, beckoning me to rip open that bubble wrap and dive in. 

True to Kinfolk tradition, the book is a sleek and sumptuous visual feast that will transport you into the inviting homes and kitchens of Kinfolk friends and contributors. Every morsel is pure elegance and warmth to savour, page by page. My recipe for these delicata squash and sage biscuits was inspired by Austin and Ashlyn Sailsbury's sweet potato biscuits (page 109). Since delicata squash also goes by the name of sweet potato squash, and that's what I had on hand (we grew tons of them this year), I thought they might make a good substitution for the sweet potatoes in the recipe.

I also added a little chopped fresh sage to give these biscuits a festive flavour, making them a great accompaniment to Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. Or simply a warm bowl of soup.

If you've never had delicata, you must try it. It has a creamy flesh that is surprisingly sweet. And it lends a golden hue to these tender and flaky biscuits. However, if you don't have delicata, don't hesitate to use another variety of sweet winter squash such as buttercup or butternut, they will work just as well.

I hope you'll give these a whirl and enjoy them as much as I did. 

For the recipe, visit my post at PBS Food. Bon appétit!

November 14, 2013

Roasted Squash Crème Brûlée

In Canada, Thanksgiving is already well behind us. In fact, it sort of feels like ages ago, back in that golden glow that was the month of October. But I know you American friends out there are just getting revved up for it, so may this video get you in the spirit of the festivities to come and may it convey my very warmest Thanksgiving wishes to you all.

This little vignette was close to my heart because it features my dear friends at Waldegrave Farm, who have become like family in the past months. It also features an exquisite song by Grassmarket which I instantly fell in love with. That angelic voice and the words of the song so beautifully capture the feeling of fall and Thanksgiving. I am very grateful that they allowed me to use it in this video.

As for the brûlée, well, it's just a very fun recipe to make if you want to vary things up a little for Thanksgiving dessert. You may have noticed that when it comes to cooking, I really like baking things inside of things. Well this recipe is a continuation on that theme. I had initially been twirling around the idea of a pumpkin pie crème brûlée and then I had a vision of little baby squash halves filled with the stuff. Yah. 

I've always preferred the taste of squash rather than pumpkin for pies and desserts, so that's what I opted for. (Any winter squash will do though the rich sweet varieties like buttercup work best). The little guys turned out to be quite easy to make and my uncle even showed me how to use his chef's torch to caramelize and burn the sugar. Although the other time I made them, (on Thanksgiving dinner #2, because yes, I had 2 incredible Thanksviging feasts this year, lucky me!) I didn't have the torch and simply used the oven broiler. It was not as impeccably brulée-ed, but still did the trick. It's pretty darn delightful when you see them all lined up, looking cozy and festive. The recipe can be found on my post on PBS Food. Bon appétit!

November 07, 2013

Teff Porridge with Pecans, Dates, and Apples

As the weather starts to dip and chilly November mornings make it harder and harder to get out of a warm, cozy bed, I like to get reacquainted with my old friend, porridge. A friend I have neglected through the summer months, but a friend who is always there to return to, each fall. A good pal that porridge.

And these days, I can't get enough of this porridge, made with the tiniest grain you've ever laid eyes upon. And I'm not just saying that. It actually is the smallest grain in the world! Have you been introduced yet? Dear reader, meet teff. Teff can be a bit shy, being so tiny and all. But if you make the first move and extend a hand, you will be greatly rewarded.

My dear friend Val from Open Kitchen introduced me to this porridge. It's a great way to start the day because teff is packed with protein, calcium, and iron. And as a bonus, it's even gluten-free. 

I generally simply follow the porridge recipe found on the back of the Bob'sRed Mill teff package, adding whichever nuts and fruit I have on hand. But this hearty apple date pecan teff porridge is my latest variation on Bob's recipe. It's deliciously nutty, sweet, creamy, and filling. You can find teff in most health food stores or you can order it online

Get my recipe here on PBS Food.

November 02, 2013

Pumpkin Apple Baked Beans

I know you're all probably sick of pumpkin-everything recipes by now. But will you indulge me in one last pumpkin-hurrah? Pretty please? It's worth it, I promise. 

And this one is a wonderful way to use up any pumpkin flesh left-over from carving your Halloween pumpkins.

I've been re-inspired by bean recipes lately because of a wonderful new cookbook by Kathy Hester, The Great Vegan Bean Book, which is packed with tips, and inspiring recipes, some of which take beans to a whole new level. Like the black bean fudgesicles, the triple lentil soup with wheat berries, and the coconut pecan blondies (using white beans)... to name a few. Can't wait to try these all.

I had heard of making apple cider baked beans before and always wanted to try it out. I decided that adding pumpkin to the recipe might give it an added seasonal flavor kick. I was not mistaken with this one. You can use sweet or hard cider, but so far, I've just made them with sweet apple cider. And the combo of cider, chopped pumpkin and apple, topped with a generous hunk of butter gives these baked beans a wonderfully warm and sweet autumnal flavor. When I took the photos, I thought the beans were ready to eat, but then I decided to give them another hour on the stovetop and that's when the magic really happened. They thickened right up and the flavors completely melded together. I thought I would have lots for leftovers the next day but they got gobbled up all in one meal!

Enjoy this one! Get the recipe by clicking here.