I missed this space, and wanted to get back to it. As a start, a gallery of sorts, of some of my work from the last while. These were for my column with the Globe and Mail; I am thinking I'll start posting outtakes so there's a head's up for new work.
Be back soon with something just for here. See you then.
We are staring down the last week of school and we are all too ready for the holiday.
The other night, at the end of the longest day, I realized how much I'm looking forward to this season. Not just for the days at the pool, the road trips planned, and ice cream cones promised after dinner. There's also the need to feel the exuberance of it somehow. It's a feeling I've had before. And, it feels good to feel it again, as things seemed slightly offset lately. Like when the printing plates don't line up exactly right so whatever you're reading has a shadow aura hovering slightly to one side. You can see what things are supposed to look like, but can't quite trick your eyes into seeing them right.
And so, here's to summer, and to Strawberry Rhubarb Almond Crumble — it has a trick in the crumble that changes the game entirely. It's a recipe to keep for when stone fruits are around. Happy days, pals. Talk again soon.
STRAWBERRY RHUBARB ALMOND CRUMBLE
The first of many Always Good Recipes from Tara O'Brady and Nikole Herriott.
I have no intention of relying on phone photography here, but I am a bit in love with this shot. It wasn't my plan on sharing this recipe either, as snapping the pic was a spontaneous thing, and the recipe was a bit thrown together, in the aim to perfect a birthday wish. But we'll get to that. First, to explain.
My freezer storage is divided into three distinct, but unequal zones. The largest is ingredient storage. It's where I keep nuts and grains, plus seeds and cacao nibs, and things like wheat germ and bran. Flours and shredded coconut. There's fruit from the summer stacked in flat packs, and bananas black-ripe and ready for bread. Ginger root I grate while still rock hard, chiles, and lime leaves. I am rarely without frozen spinach and sweet peas.
The smallest category is full of odds and ends; ice cubes, egg whites, and parmesan rinds. A package of homemade puff pastry, unbaked streusel from when I made too much, discs of pie dough, and bones for stock.
Between the two are the prepared leftovers. There is enough tomato sauce for one pizza, cooked rice, some savoury hand pies, Julia's turkey meatballs, and cakes. A lot of cake. It's not just that the pace of our consumption rarely keeps up with the celebrations around here. It's also one of those rarely-discussed byproducts of recipe testing. The spoils are regularly parcelled for giving away, but a small stash is always kept behind. Right now, my inventory includes the thinnest slice of walnut cake from Divali, a quarter of a vanilla bean cheesecake, bagged muffins, a coffeecake that's a work in progress, and s'mores brownies.
Those brownies though, they're celebratory through and through. Benjamin turned 11 in January. He's all knees and elbows now, and has strong opinions. He's had a thing for s'mores for years, and this birthday wasn't any different. He asked for a repeat of last year, brownies with chocolate ganache and a seven-minute frosting to billow on top. When I've made s'mores cupcakes in the past, the inclusion of graham crackers added essential contrast against all the dense-chocolate-marshmallowyness going on. I like them as rebar in the ganache rather than rubble in the brownie itself. Somehow they make more of an impact that way. Toasting the grahams in the oven crisps them up, the process and effect amped up with a sugar syrup glaze.
I use my own brownie recipe, but as it was included as a preorder inclusive for my book, I made the squares this week with another favourite, from King Arthur Flour. As advertised, their brownies exist ideally between squidge and cake. You can use my recipe, if you have it, or theirs, or your preferred. One thing I'll say though, is resist the urge to use an intensely fudgey one. When combined with the ganache and the meringue frosting, it is a combination that can careen into headache-inducing real quick.
The brownies are over the top. They bring out the childlike and exuberant, and are the antithesis of refined. They are unbridled and unrestrained, and remind me of the happiest days. Don't let the fact that there were leftovers steer you into thinking they went unloved. Sometimes, you want to make the good things last. And, as brownies never fully freeze, a skinny slice on a Monday midmorning with coffee, falls into that category.
For the record, that was exactly what I was planning when I took the photo.
Have a great week, pals. xo
TRIPLE LAYER S'MORES BROWNIES
Makes an 8-inch pan
FOR THE BROWNIE BASE
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons | 55 g dutch process cocoa
- 1/2 teaspoon medium grain kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup | 115 g unsalted butter
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons | 225 g sugar
- 3/4 cup | 95 g all-purpose flour
FOR THE GRAHAM CRUNCH AND GANACHE
- 2 tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 8 graham crackers
- 8 ounces | 225 g bittersweet chocolate, 70% cocoa solids
- 1/4 teaspoon espresso powder, optional
- A good pinch medium grain kosher salt
- 2/3 cup | 160 ml heavy cream
FOR THE MARSHMALLOW FROSTING
- 4 egg whites
- 3/4 cup | 150 g granulated sugar, preferably toasted
- Generous 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
- A good pinch medium grain kosher salt
- Seeds scraped from a vanilla bean, or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Make the brownies. Preheat an oven to 325°F | 165°C.
Lightly grease an 8-inch square baking tin, then line with a piece of parchment paper with a 1-inch overhang. Press the paper into the pan and then remove. Line the pan with another piece of parchment paper, then place the first piece, buttered side up, across. Set aside.
Crack the eggs into a bowl. Sift in the cocoa, baking powder, espresso powder, and salt. Add the vanilla. Beat for four minutes on medium speed (you can do this while melting the butter in the next step).
Place the remaining butter in a medium saucepan. Pour in the sugar. Heat over medium low, stirring, until the butter is melted. Continue to cook until the mixture is hot but not bubbling, maybe 1 minute more. It should go shinier as it heats.
Stir the hot butter and sugar mixture into the beaten eggs until smooth. Sift the flour over top and mix it in.
Spread the batter into the baking dish, nudging it to the edges as needed. Bake until the top begins to crack, 32 to 35 minutes or so. Cool on a wire rack.
While that bakes, make the graham crunch and ganache. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. In a small, heavy bottomed saucepan, dissolve the sugar into the water. Bring to a boil over medium heat then simmer for 5 minutes. Brush both sides of the graham crackers with the syrup then arrange on the prepared baking sheet (there will be syrup left over. Save it as a sweetener for coffee, oatmeal, or fruit). Bake the crackers until toasted, 8 to 10 minutes, flipping once. Set aside to cool then snap into pieces, some small, some large bite-sized.
Tumble the chopped chocolate, espresso powder, and salt in a large heatproof bowl. Heat the cream in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Once steaming, pour the cream over the chocolate and let stand 5 minutes, undisturbed. After the time is up, stir until smooth, starting at the centre of the bowl and working outwards. Fold in the graham crunch. Pour the rubbled ganache over the brownies and spread to an even layer. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until set.
Finally, make the frosting. In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir together the egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar, and salt. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, making sure that the bowl has some clearance. Heat, stirring attentively and scraping down the sides of the bowl periodically with a silicone spatula, until the mixture reaches 175°F | 80°C on a candy thermometer, about 8 minutes. Transfer the whites to the stand mixer with the wire whisk attached. Beat, starting slow and increasing the speed steadily, until the mixer is on full. Whip until the stiff, glossy peaks form, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the vanilla.
Retrieve the brownies from the fridge. Spoon the frosting onto the ganache layer. Use an offset spatula or the back of a spoon to swoop and swirl it to your liking. Toast the frosting with a culinary torch or under a hot broiler—watching it all the while. Let cool and set, then use the cross of parchment to lift the brownies from the pan, then slice and serve. Extras can be refrigerated in their pan, loosely covered with cling film, for 2 days. Or, frozen until firm and then transferred to an airtight container for freezer storage up to a month.
- I also really like Jenny Rosenstrach's brownies from her book How to Celebrate Everyting: Recipes and Rituals for Birthdays, Holidays, Family Dinners, and Every Day In Between (Ballantine, 2016). You'll find them on page 95. They are one of me most-perfectly textured brownies I've ever had. They are slightly thinner than my brownies, which is why I went for the King Arthur for those looking to replicate the look of the photo.
Growing up, whenever my mother made her dandelion-hued chickpea curry with puris, there was a ceremony of thorough hand washing after. My parents kept a nail brush in the upstairs bathroom drawer and, while I may be remembering my grandfather’s, I remember it as the style with an open, flattened oval as its handle. I could shape my fist around it for a firmer grip. Its short, stubby white bristles pricked the pads of my fingers sharply but made gratifying progress of scrubbing away the turmeric stains from beneath my nails.
Nowadays, the turmeric in my pantry has a note tucked in its jar. It's from my dad, who has particularly distinctive handwriting that's narrow and tall. He used to write against a ruler to keep his lines neat as he filled out the collection of forms required of a ship's captain at each port. Even still, his penmanship looks as though it's curved against a straight edge.
The note simply says "turmeric from your grandfather's house." In the nearish future, Grandpa's house will no longer be ours, so my stash feels particularly precious. I've been metering it in meticulous portions, trying to make it last as long as possible.
Week before last, Tejal Rao wrote about her grandmother and the position of turmeric in her household. Then last week, somewhat of an offshoot from the conversation she started and in response to the recent treatment of turmeric as innovation, I had a piece in The Globe and Mail about traditions becoming trend, and the uncomfortable realties that can arise in the process.
On Instagram I mentioned the turmeric tea I've been making—its milk and water base is sweet but not candied. It is buzzy with ginger, warmed by cinnamon and a miserly dispensation of pepper, and rounded out with soothing cardamom. Turmeric dyes everything day-glo golden, and adds an earthy astringency. Black tea provides fragrance and structure. As some of you expressed an interest in it, here it is.
Since Sean prefers coffee in the morning and I want wring the most possible flavour out of the whole spices, I make a provocatively strong concentrate in a biggish batch, then reheat servings as needed. I froth some milk for its cap, but whisked or blended milk would work just as well. Or, just pour in plain hot milk, without the addition of bubbles.
I like the tea best with condensed milk, a fondness I'm sure I picked up from my grandmother, who at boarding school would sip on cans of the stuff in secret. It gives weight to the tea that I find especially soothing. I have mine at the hottest temperature I can stand, taking breaths around each sip. Somehow the practice seems vaguely ceremonial in a way that makes me feel as though I'm taking good care.
FROTHY TURMERIC TEA
FOR THE CONCENTRATE
- 1 cup | 240 ml water
- 1/4 cup | 60 ml sweetened condensed milk
- A 2-inch piece of ginger, see note
- 6 to 8 green cardamom pods, split
- 2 cinnamon sticks, each broken in half
- 4 black peppercorns
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric, or a 1 1/2-inch piece fresh, peeled and grated
- 2 cups | 480 ml milk of choice
- 1 to 2 teaspoons ghee or coconut oil, optional
- 0.5 oz | 15 g black tea or 4 black tea bags
FOR EACH DRINK
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup | 80 to 120 ml milk of choice, steamed and frothed
- Ground pistachios for dusting
In a heavy saucepan, stir together the water, condensed milk, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, an turmeric. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often. Lower the heat, and simmer for 5 minutes. Pour the milk into the syrup, and spoon in the ghee. Bring to a boil again, and then knock back the heat to a simmer for another 3 minutes. Pop in the tea, and let bubble for 3 to 5 minutes, depending on how strong you like your tea. Strain the concentrate through a fine meshed sieve—I find it neatest to do so into a wide jug or large liquid measuring cup with a pouring spout—and press on the solids in the basket to extract as much liquid as possible. If using the concentrate later, decant it to a jar for storage. Refrigerate until needed.
For each drink, pour one quarter hot concentrate into each cup. Top with the steaming, frothed milk, and the ground pistachios. Serve immediately.
- I use almond milk for the concentrate, and then cow's milk for finishing as I'm terribly bad at establishing a foam on the former (though I've not yet those blends aimed at stretching). I realize that makes three milks in one recipe, so use what you like. If you want to omit the condensed milk, use 1/4 cup cane sugar in its place, adding the sugar with the water to start, or honey or maple syrup instead.
- If making the concentrate in advance, skip the ghee as it will separate from the brew when chilled. Stir it into the reheated concentrate right before serving.
- Grating the ginger will produce a much more assertive cuppa. To tone it down, slice or chop the root instead.
I will be the first to say that I'm a terrible food blogger. Maybe it's because I started this site before the phrase was a thing—way back then, it wasn't a profession, but rather a hobby that few understood.
Then writing here became more than a hobby, it became not a journal but a way to talk from this corner of the world to points all over. Posts, to me, were like letters.
But right now, with people murdered as they worshipped in Québec, the litany of egregious acts and lies from the current administration in the United States, and the continuing refugee crisis, I don't have a lot of words. All I have is that Sarah wrote a book I've been meaning to write about for months, and the incomprehensible state of things doesn't the diminish recognition she deserves.
The book is full of sweetness and comfort, and it is a lovely thing. xo
TO READ: Throwing Parties During the Apocalypse, by Tim at Lottie + Doof.
SARAH KIEFFER'S CHOCOLATE SUGAR COOKIES
"I often find myself craving a piece of chocolate in the afternoons, s it goes rather with the cup of hot coffee that is also a necessity in my daily life. Most days a little sure of bittersweet will do, but other times something more extravagant is essential. I found these chocolate sugar cookies to do the trick; they are soft and delicious without being overly rich and sweet."
— From The Vanilla Bean Baking Book: Recipes for Irresistible Everyday Favourites and Reinvented Classics by Sarah Kieffer. (Penguin Books, 2016)
Makes around 12 cookies
- 1¾ cups | 250 g all-purpose flour
- ½ cup | 50 g natural cocoa powder or a combination cocoa powder
- ¾ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup | 225 g unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1¾ cups | 350 sugar (plus 1 cup | 200g for rolling)
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
Adjust an oven rack to the middle position. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter on medium until smooth. Add the 1¾ cups sugar and beat on medium until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and beat on medium until combined. Add the flour mixture and beat on low until just combined.
Place the remaining 1 cup sugar in a medium bowl. Stir in cardamom, if desired.
Form the cookies into 3-ounce | 85 g balls (a scant ⅓ cup each). Roll each ball in the sugar and place 6 cookies on each prepared sheet pan. Bake one sheet at a time 11 to 14 minutes, until the edges have set and the centers are puffed and starting to crackle.
Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack and let the cookies cool completely on the pan.
This morning I went to an Italian market in town to buy jars. There, the jars are for sauce and soups, but each year around this time I snatch empty ones for eggnog. I never liked eggnog much until I started making it; this one has rum and bourbon, and gets aged for 10 days before we start sipping. It is a work in progress— I've never even typed up the recipe, but it feels like it'll always be a part of our holidays.
I started writing on November 30th, but never got far. I've spent the last half hour trying to remember where I was planning to go from that paragraph, and what I'd hoped to say, but I can't reconstruct the memory. Maybe it's still as good as a start as any, because I'm happy to be here and talking again.
The bulk of that eggnog went to the annual holiday party Nikole hosts at the Herriott Grace studio. I held some back for our household supply, but went through it faster than expected and December 15, the fridge was dry. We made another batch, the halls were decked, and the holidays were as bright as we could make them.
There was a rice pudding I forgot to serve one night that was eaten in the morning as porridge, dusted aromatically with Ceylon cinnamon. I made gingerbread dough and the boys decorated cutout snowflakes on Christmas Eve. (On the topic, do you have a favourite gingerbread cookie recipe? I wasn't thrilled with the one we used.) The trifle on Christmas Day was one of the best in recent memory, its surface regal in gossamer silver leaf. Instead of the usual sponge, the base was an egg-rich coconut cake. It was heavy with vanilla and woolly with shredded coconut, and it held its own against the black raspberry filling, custard, and cream.
Through the days, and those meals, all the things I've wanted to mention have been rattling around my brain. So, we've got ground to cover.
I've been revising favourite essays of the year and finding new ones by working my way through this list: Longreads best of 2016.
Speaking of Herriott Grace, Sean and I have a pair of these little earthenware cups for our household nog—they are matte and feel like velvet in the hand. At the party we served it in these beauties, and they were equally perfect.
George Michael rehearsing for the Freddie Mercury tribute concert . (Yes, that's David Bowie watching from one side.)
Back in September, I started another column with The Globe and Mail. I am still in the Life section every month, and now in the Style section too, as part of Kitchen Cabinet. It a feature in rotation with three other cooks—they're proper chefs, actually, and I'm chuffed to be the odd one out. That cake up top was for my December column, and it was inspired by both sticky toffee pudding (a cake I enduringly associate with winter) and the Dark and Stormy cocktail (a drink I'm happy to have in hand any time of year). The cake is vaguely stodgy, freckled with waxy nubs of walnut, the leathery chew of dates, and fiery flecks of candied ginger. You soak the cake with some toffee syrup while it's still hot, then save the rest to offer at the table. I think it's a cake that will take us to spring.
A friend was looking for vegetarian recipes and one I recommended was Heidi's Green Lentil Soup with Curried Brown Butter. It's terribly good.
Ashley wrote about the Everyday Yellow Dal from Seven Spoons; I've often said that dal and rice, finished with a pat of ghee, flaky salt, and finely minced onion, is my never-fail comfort food. Ashley's words, capturing the fortifying effect of gathering at the table, are its ideal partner.
And finally, if you haven't seen it already, this piece by Molly isn't to be missed.
May this new year bring you such happiness. xo
RUM AND GINGER TOFFEE CAKE
FOR THE CAKE
Butter for pan
- 3/4 cup | 180 ml water
- 1/4 cup | 60 ml dark rum
- 1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
- Zest of half an orange, finely grated
- Zest of a lime, finely grated
- 12 ounces | 340 g pitted dates, Medjools preferred
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 ounces | 60 g walnuts, toasted and cooled
- 2 1/4 cups | 290 g all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Scant 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 cup | 215 g dark brown sugar
- 3/4 cup | 170 g unsalted butter, soft
- 4 eggs
- 1/4 cup (50 g) finely diced candied ginger
FOR THE SAUCE
- 1/2 cup | 115 g unsalted butter, cubed
- 1 1/4 cup | 260 g dark brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
- 1 tablespoon black treacle or molasses, optional
- 2 tablespoons dark rum
- 1/2 cup | 120 ml heavy cream
- Seeds scraped from half a vanilla bean, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Please refer to my column in The Globe and Mail.