I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to include my work at the Globe and Mail. So, going forward, I’ll post a photo each time the story publishes, rather than these roundups. But, to catch up, here’s the last little while.

Over in the Events section, I’ll be adding some of those upcoming happenings that might be of interest. Hopefully having everything in one place will be of use. Stay tuned for those later today.

Hooray for the weekend.

Black and Orange Puddings

Black and Orange Puddings

These puddings are my attempt to redeem the combination of coffee and pumpkin, and I do believe them successful. More pudding cup than elegant custard, they are light, with an ebullient touch of spice to keep things interesting.

Dal Makhani

Dal Makhani

When my grandfather passed, my mum and I travelled to India to attend one of the ceremonies to mark the occasion. In the evening, we gathered with his friends and our family at a nearby restaurant for a reception. It was there that I first tried Dal Makhani, an extravagant bowl of lentils, ghee, and cream, potently spiced. When we returned to Canada, mum asked my great-uncle for the recipe, as she knew he had it somewhere. It was a favourite of his, and of his brother, my grandfather. I wrote this article with grandpa in mind, but on the day it was published in print, that dear uncle joined my grandfather. So, it’s now a tribute to him as well.

Pear Tahini Cake

Pear Tahini Cake

This is a cake that’s better after it’s sat on the counter for a day. That sounds a strange endorsement, but I adore how in that time the texture of the cake changes completely; it settles into itself, becoming a comfortingly soft slice for after school or any time.

Plum Hand Pies

Plum Hand Pies

JoAnne is often the nexus around which various clusters of friends revolve. She seemingly knows everyone, is keen to routinely open her doors to a collection of us around her table. These pies came out of one of such visits. That day, I’d made a puckery cherry version, but going home I was nagged by the idea of stone fruit and almond. Thus, plum hand pies with frangipane were born. Fancied up with some favourite sprinkles and coated pepitas, they were all I wanted, and more.

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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. 

Rum Ginger Sticky Toffee Cake | Tara O'Brady

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.

I want to make these for the lads before the winter break is over. And I'm bookmarking this cake

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

METHOD

Please refer to my column in The Globe and Mail. 

 

 

 

 

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This afternoon's plan was to share a recipe, as I've got one waiting in the wings, but that isn't happening. What is happening is me on the couch, with my laptop, phone, various remote controls, an ice pack and a hot water bottle (and unfortunately without those doughnuts up top, which were from another day.) I wish I could say I did something exciting to warrant an injury, but I can't. Instead, it's simply that I've gone and tweaked something in my back, and so here we are. 

As a positive, my couch session affords the opportunity to tell you a little about what I've been cooking and eating lately, aside from doughnuts, and the recipes that I've got bookmarked for next.

Indian Baked Beans | Tara O'Brady for the Globe and Mail

 We started October with the Indian Baked Beans I wrote about in the Globe and Mail. They are a mashup of chole (channa) masala and traditional baked beans. Besides on toast, I like them tucked in naan with a slice of grilled halloumi. Or, I top a bowlful with a pile of bitter greens (frisée is especially good), a squeeze of lime or lemon, fruity olive oil, and some flaky salt. 

I went on a falafel kick after that, wholly inspired by the recipes in the book Honey & Co: Food from the Middle East by Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer (Little, Brown and Company, 2015). There are three recipes in the book; Jerusalem-style (for Itamar), Haifa-style (for Sarit), and Yemeni (for the family roots). I made the Haifa-style, also known as the one for purists, as it is a rather robust fritter full of cumin and coriander. Paired with a lemon-sharp tahini dressing, they were ideal. Bon Appétit featured the falafel in their last issue, along with two more — kuri squash and red pepper. I'm looking to have go a the squash, and I'm pretty into the spiced tahini from the same issue, as well as the feta and spring onion bouikos from the book. (Sara put her trademark spin on the falafel and created a baked variation.)

Over the weekend I made Martha Rose Shulman's Mexican Black Beans. Following Molly's advice, I soaked the beans longer than I usually would — a full 24 hours instead of overnight. I followed the recipe, with the addition of a minced chipotle in adobo at the start, and then half a fresh jalapeño (left whole) when the cilantro went in. I'd planned on following John Thorne's low and slow oven method for cooking the beans that Molly described, but due to an oversight in timing, I needed the oven for other things. So, I split the difference and cooked the beans on the stovetop, with the heat on low and only the faintest of burbles. They were done in about 3 hours, and while they were good that first day, I cannot tell you how much better they were the second. So, if you can, plan ahead and let them cool completely before stashing them in the fridge for a rest. Even once reheated, the broth from the beans was velvety, deeply flavoured and not at all murky, and the beans themselves still held together. Sean and I had them for lunch yesterday, with brown rice, avocados, pickled things, and sprouts.  

Spoonable meals are what I'm continuing for November. Yotam Ottolenghi's roasted pumpkin soup with harissa and crisp chickpeas looks rather enticing (scroll down once though the link), and the yam and peanut stew from Gena Hamshaw's new book Food52 Vegan (Ten Speed Press, 2105), is unreservedly great. And oh, if you're on Gena's site, her nut milk creamer is one to try. When I'm looking for extra soothing delivered via  mug, I make the Golden Milk from my own book and bulk up the liquid with some of her creamer.

And last but not least, the first cookbook my friends Nikole Herriott and Michael Graydon photographed is now out — the highly-anticipated Gjelina: Cooking from Venice, California by LA-based chef and restaurant owner Travis Lett (Chronicle Books, 2015). The photographs look as remarkable as would be expected from those two and I can't wait to get stuck in to the recipes. Congratulations, guys.

The kettle just clicked off, so I should go attend to that. Talk soon soon. xo

 

 

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This photo was part of a series shot in January, the last time I baked cupcakes from Martha Stewart.

I have three (main) places I keep cookbooks.

There are those stored in the bookshelves that line our den (also where I keep my magazine back issues). I consider these the reference books, those that I turn to for a specific inspiration or if I am looking for a particular recipe. The top shelves are reserved for my most treasured-tomes, the coffee table styled works from authors I admire; they sit alongside the dog-eared, aged copies of cookbooks from my childhood and before.

The second is our dining room table, much to the chagrin of my dear husband. Our dining room is often the resting place of books in transit, those making their way from the kitchen back up to the den. I would be lying if I told you that books do not sometimes take up an extended residence on that table, or if I denied my errant desire to line that room with bookshelves as well.

The third cookbook habitat is our kitchen itself. Behind the closed doors of a built-in cabinet live those books I use most often. These are the books I feel lost without, the ones that best reflect the way I cook and the way we eat. The selection rotates now and again, with titles being promoted and demoted, but there are certain regulars that never lose their place.

I am not yet sure as to where Martha Stewart's Cupcakes will land up, but I'm aiming to find out. With William's first birthday next week (so big!) and celebrations planned, I will be turning to Ms. Stewart for cupcakery inspiration.

And here's the best part - you, my dear friends, will be able to partake in the fun. Below are links to the recipes from the book which are currently available online, so you can get out your muffin tins, cupcake liners and get to baking. But wait, there's more! Random House Canada has generously provided the booty for a contest to celebrate the book's launch. What's there to win? Hold on to your hats:

Grand prize: A copy of Martha Stewart's Cupcakesand a copy of Martha Stewart's Cookies (one to be awarded)

Secondary prize: A copy of Martha Stewart's Cupcakes (two to be awarded)

To enter, simply comment at the end of this post; maybe we can chat about our favourite cookbooks or cupcakes or cupcake memory - you decide. But leave your comment by midnight Wednesday, June 10, 2009 (EST), and please include both your email address if not signed in, and a note of your desire to enter (this way, non entrants can still join the chat). If you do not want to sign in, nor do you want to publish your email, please comment then email me at tara [at] sevenspoons [dot] net, with the name you used to comment.

The winner will be selected by at random, and announced the next day. One note, due to distribution regulations, this contest is only open to residents of Canada. My apologies to international readers (this might be a good time to ask your Canadian friends to do you a favour).

Good luck!

Psst. It got mentioned in the comments, so I'll add a note - here's my review o fMartha Stewart's Cookies from way back.

Recipes from the book:

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Tiramisu Cupcakes

Mrs. Kostyra's Spice Cupcakes

German Chocolate Cupcakes

Snickerdoodle Cupcakes

Black Forest Cupcakes

Triple-Citrus Mini Pound Cakes

Lemon Meringue Cupcakes

Candied Hazelnut Cupcakes

Flourless Chocolate Cupcakes

(Photo courtesy Irene Powell)

"Want to go to the cottage?"

One phrase, six words, and the ability to transport the listener to a whole other reality. Come summertime, there is no sweeter sound to my ears than the promise of a leisurely weekend of food, friends and family, and the opportunity to let concerns of the every day fall away.

While the fall may almost be upon us in the Northern Hemisphere, there still is a part of me that is thinking about the summer sun and afternoons on a deck somewhere. Inspiration for the menu would not be hard, with Marty's World Famous Cookbook (Whitecap Books, 2008) nearby. This cookbook offers up the sort of crowd-pleasing fare that is made for a long weekend of relaxation. And it is not surprising, considering the fact that the author, Marty Curtis, owns and operates the highly-popular Marty's World Famous Café in Bracebridge (located in the Muskoka Lakes region of Ontario, a popular cottage destination).

The book features many of the café's specialties; included are the recipes for their chicken stock and house bread, with notes brewing the perfect cup of coffee. If pressed to find an adjective for this book and its author, I would have to say "likeable." The food is casual, the sort that inspires guests to roll up their sleeves, put their elbows on the table and dive in. Few of the recipes would be considered daunting or demanding of the home cook and the writing is conversational and welcoming.

Curtis' enthusiasm for his food is evident in the anecdotes and tips that are scattered heavily through the pages, often accompanied by evocative location photographs by Allen Dew. The subjects are far-ranging, reminiscent of the wandering conversations of a long weekend. He covers everything from the importance of mental preparedness in the kitchen to the parable of stone soup to how to improve at fishing.

By his own admission, Curtis believes it is best to "go big" - serving up generous 14" pies, jumbo pastries, and showcasing bold flavours at every turn. It is apparent that Mr. Curtis is a man of specific tastes, with an evident love of citrus and aromatic spices. Most notable though is Curtis' preference for the mix of salty and sweet; the combination appears in many recipes with varying success.

To that end, this book seems stranded in a middle ground of being simply nice. The indulgent breakfast and desserts were standouts, but I found many of the main dishes fell short of expectations.

The enormous Lemon, Blueberry and Cream Cheese muffins were tender and moist. With a good deal of sharp lemon to balance the richness of the cheese, these showcased the blueberries quite well; most likely the perfect breakfast for any fan of cheesecake. Eggs Benedict are made even more unctuous through the addition of brie - blitzed momentarily under the broiler, the cheese melts lusciously over the eggs and asparagus. Once napped with Hollondaise, the dish was good but overly-rich to my palate. To that end, I chose to add a splash more acid and a tablespoon of hot water to thin the sauce. Lovers of indulgence might not feel the need to make such alterations.

Marty's Best Brownies were another winner. The rich batter bakes up dense and fudgy, with a deeply crackled top. Walnuts, freshly-roasted and sprinkled with kosher salt, are a tasty addition. The nuts are buttery but with saline crunch that adds punctuation to the sweetness of the dessert.

I would be remiss to review this book without mentioning Marty's World Famous Buttertarts. They are an evident passion; gracing the cover in their golden glory, garnering 16 pages of photographs, notes and recipes within. Not only are they one of the main draws to the café, but they also seem to be the embodiment of Curtis' food philosophy - they are unapologetically large, sweet with warm spices and featuring a hit of citrus. Although I have never been to Mr. Curtis' shop, I had to try these at home. The lard-based pastry (which is also used for sweet and savoury pies) came together quickly, was easy to work with and produced wonderfully-flaky results. While everyone loved the pastry, the buttertarts as a whole received mixed reviews. Some found the filling unlike their opinion of the archetypal treat and so were disappointed, while others found these to be a welcome departure from heavier versions.

I think buttertarts, like the perfect apple pie, are deeply rooted in personal preference and so the idea of tacking down a universally-loved ultimate recipe is virtually impossible.

From the Fishin' Muskoka section, the BBQ Wine and Herb Salmon was succulent and moist, however the highly-flavoured marinade (while delicious) verged upon overpowering the the fish iteself. The same could be said of the Candied BBQ Asparagus from Barbecue Classics. The tangy-sweet sauce contains both sugar and balsamic vinegar; a tasty combination but one that overshadows the asparagus flavour. As one tester put it, "this is really good, but it isn't about the asparagus."

The Barbecue Classics section is also home to the intriguing idea of Buttertart Burgers. A mix of meats retained moisture and texture, but the seasoning (including Curtis' Buttertart BBQ Rub) was one that took the savoury and sweet combination a step too far. Disappointing as that was, it was further troublesome that the Buttertart BBQ Rub, and its related barbecue sauce, is required in a number of recipes in this chapter - after the experience of the burgers, these other dishes were unappealing.

With well-shot food photography by Douglas Bradshaw, a number of solid dishes and featuring contributions from Martio Batali, Michael Smith and Ted Reader, Marty's World Famous Cookbook is as easy-to-like as its author. Straightforward and not particularly challenging, the book is suited to easygoing weekend cooking - or whenever you want to have a bit of a vacation in your own kitchen.

Recipes from Marty's World Famous Cookbook

Fluffiest omelettes ever

World famous bean salad (scroll down to end of article)

The ultimate Canadian back bacon sandwich

The original big sandwich

Pancakes

Lemon, blueberry and cream cheese muffins

Eggs Benedict with melted brie and asparagus