You may have noticed the snazzy button on the left. I'm honoured to be nominated for a Best Food Blog Award from Saveur Magazine, in the category of Best Cooking Blog. If you'd like to vote, please click the links, or that award badge on the sidebar. The polls closed April 9th., and congratulations to the winners! Thank you for any and all support. xo

 

The world may not need another banana bread recipe, but banana bread is what I'd offer if you were to come over for coffee today. It has roasted bananas, oats, a whole bunch of seeds and nuts, and then a streusel-ish top. And chocolate. There's chocolate in there. Hopefully you'd be up for a slice.

choco-oat-nut roasted banana bread | tara o'brady

I took Home Economics in grade seven. We sewed stuffed animals, learned to iron, and baked a coffee cake that was my first introduction to a New York-style crumb. At the end of each day, we’d do the dishes. The teacher taught us to fill a sink with hot, soapy water at the start of class in anticipation; as we dirtied dishes, in they’d go, so when it was time for clean up, they were already soaking. Knives were the exception. Knives went on the counter, set to one side. "The last thing you want," she'd say, "is to plunge your hand in a sink full of water and find a blade."

For a long time, I was afraid of the knife in the dishwater. The biggest risks in my life were those that happened too fast to for me to consider them first. I didn't jump in, or leap, or leave things to fate. 

In light of all that, it may seem uncharacteristic of me to encourage you to take this recipe and run with it. Seriously. Take note of the basics and go, go, go from there. I've talked about (almost) this one before, in UPPERCASE a few years ago, and it's close to an old standby. As with most breads of its size and ilk there is a basic ratio of (around) 2 cups flour to 3 or 4 bananas to 2 eggs. Fats, from butter to coconut oil to olive oil, will vary, but not by much. 1/3 cup is fairly average. Stay in those parameters, and the possibilities open from there; swap the nuts, add candied ginger or dried fruit. It will be different each time, and almost assuredly very good. 

choco-oat-nut roasted banana bread | tara o'brady

This specific combination came about because of William. He wanted us to make banana bread, and I agreed. As any child in his position would do, Will then proceeded to take best advantage, suggesting we incorporate his favourite things into the loaf. Walnuts, sure. Maple syrup, you betcha. (His grandfather is in the thick of sugaring season.) Cinnamon, alrighty. And because he is five-almost-six years old, chocolate chips. That loaf was gone in a flash. 

A few days later, with a craving for more bread and without any ripe bananas around, I baked barely-ripe fruit to replicate that deep, caramel sweetness of almost-past-their-prime specimens. Once allover black and smelling like butterscotch, I mashed them in the bowl with the sugars, oil (olive, as I was going for a peppery, green sharpness), brown sugar, maple syrup, and eggs. Though it is better form to whisk the dry ingredients before adding to the wet, I was trying to save on bowls for cleanup, so unceremoniously dumped the flours et al on top—it's worth doing the same. When looking for bananas in the freezer I had come across the last spoonfuls of various seeds stashed in there, thought to use them up. 

Sour cream followed for even more sharpness and extra moisture, then chocolate, and nuts. My choice of chocolate is regular bar-style, chopped. I like how chunks push and melt into the batter, so there are pockets of richness in the crumb, but you could stick with William and go for chips. They stay in their discreet kiss shapes, firm and vaguely resistant to the tooth. 

Since I still had seeds to use, streusel solved the problem. The laziest streusel, really. Simply some more oats, flour, seeds, and spice, dampened with olive oil. One last banana arranged on top, and we were off.

choco-oat-nut roasted banana bread | tara o'brady

The bread was not what was expected. I had envisioned it would be more like a dessert, but it was restrained. Cake-ish, but still bread. Moderately sweet, tender, stodgy in that way that we know and love about banana breads. While, yes, it is packed crust to crust with all manner of good things, there's not enough of one specific thing to pull attention. The streusel comes closest, baking up scraggly and cracked, but it adds more chew than crunch. The walnuts and oats contribute similarly, and the overall impression is a surprisingly wholesome, a bit woollen, and gentle.

It's a reliable loaf. I am convinced it would get you through Home Ec, and whatever were to follow.

 

 CHOCO-OAT-NUT ROASTED BANANA BREAD

 A note on pans. My original recipe upon which this Frankensteinian version is based fills a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. I think this one would squeeze into that size, with an increase in baking time and you'd probably have to tent it with foil towards the end, too. The trouble is, with all the extras added, I'm not absolutely certain that it would emerge with an impressive crown rather than ooze all over the oven. If you give it a go, please report back with your findings.

To that end, and as the last thing I want to do is lead you astray, the directions below reflect the pan I used this time, a long, narrow one, or the alternate option of a tube pan. When using the latter, start checking for doneness at the 50-minute mark. 

FOR THE BREAD

  • Butter for greasing the pan
  • 4 bananas, ripe but firm
  • 1/2 cup (65 g) walnut pieces
  • 1/2 cup (105 g) dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup (125 ml) pure maple syrup, grade B is my preference, but I'll take whatever dad has boiled
  • 1/3 cup (80 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup (95 g) all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup (105 g) whole-wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup (50 g) rolled oats
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons mixed seeds (I used sunflower, hemp hearts and sesame)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon medium-grained kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) sour cream or thick, plain yogurt (not nonfat)
  • 4 ounces (115 g) bittersweet chocolate, chopped

FOR THE TOPPING

  • 1 tablespoon rolled oats
  • 2 tablespoons mixed seeds
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons flour (all-purpose or whole wheat)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil (plus extra if needed)
  • 1 banana, ripe but firm

METHOD

Preheat an oven to 350°/175°C with a rack in the lower third. Grease a 14-by-4.5-inch loaf pan with butter. Line with parchment paper, with long sides overhanging. Butter the parchment. Alternatively, butter and flour a standard tube pan, knocking out excess.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, then place the 4 bananas, whole and unpeeled, on top. Bake until the skin is deeply roasted on both sides, but not split, 20 to 30 minutes. Flip once during baking, and add the walnuts to the tray for the last 10 minutes of roasting (if t here's a lot of liquid from the bananas, give the nuts their own tray). Remove the bananas to a bowl to collect their juices. Chop the walnuts and set aside.

Once the bananas have cooled a little, remove the peels and leave the fruit in the bowl. Mash to a pulp with the brown sugar. Beat in the maple syrup, olive oil, followed by the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each. Stir in the vanilla. Sprinkle the flours, oats, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ginger on top of the wet ingredients. Fold to almost combine, then spoon in the sour cream. Give a few more turns, then gently incorporate the chocolate and walnuts. Scape the batter into the prepared pan. 

In a small bowl, stir together the oats, seeds, flour, cinnamon, and olive oil until it clumps. Honestly, I do this with my fingers, and scrunch it together. Peel and slice the banana into thirds lengthwise. Scatter the streusel over the batter, then arrange the banana on top. Bake in the preheated oven until the bread is golden and puffed, and a cake tester inserted in the centre comes out clean of batter (chocolate doesn't count), 60 to 70 minutes. Cool on a wire rack 10 minutes, then use the parchment to lift the loaf onto the rack to cool completely. 

Makes 1 loaf.

 

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Finally, another piece of news! I will be speaking at Food Bloggers of Canada's conference this fall. I will be partnered with Robert McCullough, Vice President, Random House of Canada and publisher at Appetite by Random House, and the Canadian publisher of my book. The event will be in Vancouver, BC on October 17-19th. Details are on their site, and I'll be sure to share more particulars as they're finalized. Hope to see you there!

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In my family, the equivalent to "when I was young, I walked to school through three feet of snow .. uphill — both ways!" is the distance it used to take to buy cilantro (though we call it dhanya).

If you've ever cooked Indian food, you know how essential this herb is, and when my parents first moved to our small city in the very late 1970s, they had to drive 45 minutes to a larger city to buy it. Not from a supermarket, but from an Indian grocery that was long and narrow, with four rows of shelves forming two aisles, stacked to the ceiling. There my parents would get on burlap sacks of rice and bags of atta (a type of flour) that came up to my childhood-height waist, vegetables like okra and bitter gourd, spices and dried lentils of all colours. Sometimes they'd come home with samosas, a plastic-wrapped tray of neon jalebi or a mixed box of halwa, luddu, gulab jamun and other sweets.

Kimchi Tofu Mandu | Tara O'Brady

These dumplings, kimchi-and-tofu filled mandu, aren't Indian, instead Korean (the kimchi might have been a giveaway), but I was reminded of those grocery trips when I was shopping for ingredients at one of the Asian markets in town. (The chain groceries here are now much more comprehensive, but I still go to the smaller shops when I can.) 

Kimchi Tofu Mandu | Tara O'Brady

My husband taught English in Korea, and the foods he misses most are barbecue, "special toast" (Gaeran toast) and vegetarian mandu. The latter two refer specifically to those made by a woman who ran a stall on his block. The toast was her unique combination of cabbage, cheese, egg and ketchup, sandwiched between bread and fried in butter, and while I've tried to pin down an approximation, I've never come close. The mandu was special, too. Many mandu will have ground pork or beef, often with mung bean sprouts and kimchi. This lady made hers with bean thread noodles, no kimchi, and were served crisp, dunked into a fiery soy-based sauce.

Since I've failed with the toast, I thought I would take a different tack for the dumplings; aiming instead for mandu that were similar, but different enough to save from comparison.

In went kimchi. (I love kimchi.)

That kimchi, hot and nose-pricklingly perfect as it is, tinges everything else in my chosen filling — the aforementioned bean noodles, some enoki, crumbled tofu curd, green onion and garlic —- an unfortunate pink hue.

I'll be the first to say it, the filling doesn't look like much in the bowl. Give it a chance.These mandu are entirely about texture, not looks, plus the stuffing gets folded up and crimped in a cover, anyway.

Kimchi Tofu Mandu | Tara O'Brady

Steamed or boiled, the dumpling wrapper has a bland, rubbery chew that gives way to an unexpected lightness within. The slick crunch of the kimchi and aromatic sting of the onion is mitigated by the spongy nubs of mushroom, while the tofu, wrung out of its moisture and mashed, is mild and balancing. The vermicelli is smooth and delicate, and the sesame oil adds a subtle, thrumming richness that runs through everything else. When fried, the contrast between exterior and interior is even more apparent.

The Asian market I went to the other day was just opening; one of the ladies who runs the shop was still pulling off the newspapers they use to cover the refrigerator cases at night. Below the dumpling wrappers there were trays of quail eggs, which were too cute to pass by. What's more, the combination of salt and chili and yolk isn't one to pass up either.

What I did pass up was a small rectangular tin, in between the boxes of Pocky and bottles of Kewpie mayo, shining blue and brass in an intricate pattern and the impressive label of Gourmet Powder. At the register I found out it was MSG. Still, I'm tempted to make another trip to pick it up, for the packaging alone.

After all, it's only 10 minutes away.

 

KIMCHI TOFU MANDU (Korean dumplings)

My own recipe. Vegan, though the eggs to serve are certainly not. Easily adapted for those who prefer gluten-free, in which case please see link below for homemade wrappers.

FOR THE DUMPLINGS (makes about 65)

  • 12 1/2 ounces / 350 g firm tofu
  • 8 ounces / 225 g cabbage kimchi
  • 3 1/2 ounces / 100 g bean thread noodles, prepared as per package
  • 3 1/2 ounces / 100 g enoki mushrooms, trimmed and blanched for 30 seconds
  • A small bunch green onions, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 pound round dumpling wrappers, conventional or gluten-free (link to recipe)

TO SERVE (enough for approximately 32, serving 4 to 6)

  • 1/4 cup / 60 ml tamari or soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon natural cane or golden brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
  • A good pinch gochugaru (Korean hot pepper flakes), optional
  • Pea shoots
  • Soft-boiled eggs, optional

METHOD

Pat the tofu dry. If it still feels wet, wrap in a clean, lint-free tea towel and place a cutting board on top to press out water. Let stand for a few minutes. In a large bowl, mash the tofu with the back of a fork. Squeeze excess liquid from kimchi, chop finely, and add to the bowl. Do the same with the noodles and mushrooms, and stir into the tofu kimchi mixture, along with the green onions, garlic, sesame oil and tamari. Taste for seasoning, adding more oil or tamari as needed; the mixture should be quite dry. If you have time, cover and refrigerate for an hour or so to let the flavours develop.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly dust with cornstarch. Lay a few dumpling wrappers out on a work surface, and cover the rest with a damp, lint-free tea towel to keep from drying. Place about a teaspoon of filling in the centre of each of the arranged wrappers, then use fingers or a brush dampen the edges with a bit of water. I find it easiest to lay each filled (but open) wrapper across my palm, forming the dumpling between my hands, that might not be the case for everyone. In hand or on the counter, fold each dumpling in half, pushing out all the air and pressing the edges together to seal. Wet the corners and bend inwards to bring them together, overlapping slightly. Pinch gently to secure. Place on the prepared sheet and cover with another piece of parchment. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling. 

If not cooking right away, freeze the mandu on the baking sheet, making sure to leave some room in between. Once firm, transfer to an airtight container for storage. 

To cook, steam, boil in water or broth to make soup, sauté, shallow fry, or fry/steam for potstickers. (For specifics on potsticker technique, Heidi has instructions.) Since there is no raw meat involved, the filling simply needs to be warmed through and the wrappers cooked and tender, which should take only a few minutes.

When ready to serve make a sauce by combing tamari, water, rice vinegar, sugar, sesame oil, sesame seeds and gochugaru in a bowl. Arrange cooked mandu on a serving plate, surrounded by pea shoots or other greens, and eggs, if using. Drizzle with some of the sauce and divide the rest among smalls bowls for dipping. 

 

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A completely unrelated p.s. — Nikole wrote about a ice cream cake I made for a story we did with Michael for Kinfolk magazine last year. If you're interested in the mint-and-vanilla details, be sure to check it out. 

 

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For my kitchen ruler I use my grandmother's knitting gauge. It's skinny, long, and made of metal, and fits snugly in the drawer  under the counter where I do most of my baking. Because of it, I can tell you that these atta biscuits are precisely 1-by-1 1/2-inch rectangles, and its sharp edge was used to keep all the corners straight.

I can also tell you that atta biscuits take no more than 30 minutes from start to cookies, with no need to set out ingredients in advance, or cream any butter, and that they are immensely dunkable, making them the optimal sidebar to teatime.

attabis4.jpg

Atta biscuits, if you've not heard of them, as I'd not heard of them until my mother enlightened me about two months ago, are dryish whole wheat cookies that are sold roadside in India. They are flat and crunchy through and through, and mum says they're a favourite with truck drivers. 

I'm without any point of reference or sentimentality for atta biscuits beyond what she told me, but I think I understand them. They're good travelling food, and whenever we visited India when I was a kid, we'd travel a lot. We'd pack sandwiches made with tinned pâté for journeys by train, which I'd eat sitting up on the top bunk of the sleeper car. The soft, whipped texture of the spread would meld into the squidge of the bread, and both stuck to the back of my front teeth. I liked those sleeper cars, with their royal blue cushions and pale turquoise walls, and the way the train rocked as you slept. I even liked the clicking whirr of the ceiling fan. When we'd pull into stations Dad would buy dosas wrapped in banana leaves through the car's window.

At the hotel high in the Nilgiri Hills where we stayed on my last trip, the stone floors were always cold in morning, even though it was June or maybe even July by that point. My mother taught me to wrap a wool shawl around both my shoulders, tucking the inside edge behind my back before draping the other edge over top and around, thus keeping me tightly swaddled against the chill. For breakfast we'd order sweet milky tea and buttered toast, and I'd dip the latter into the former. 

Atta biscuits fit in with all of that. A simple snack made by stirring together basic pantry staples, in lean quantity. The biscuits aren't really rich, nor too sweet. They're not so austere as to feel a punishment, but not so decadent as to seem an extravagance, either. I've eaten two while writing this.

They are crumbly, quietly everyday cookies. A batch makes a modest amount – a single tray that feeds four nicely with a handful left over for later. They don't require any special equipment, even the knitting gauge isn't necessary, and you can get them together while the kettle boils. 

attabis6.jpg

I'm certain that these cookies are not entirely authentic, since they are not as snappily crisp as they should be, but they've got an appeal that deserves its own attention. They taste in between shredded wheat cereal and a digestive biscuit, like a scone on a diet, maybe. They remind me of Stephanie's oatcakes that Molly wrote about, and they could be used in pretty much the same ways. (That said, these are puffier at their middles and might not sandwich as so well, and it's best to flip them upside-down for topping.)

I've not had the chance to get my mother over here to try this incarnation of the recipe we've been working on, but I'll be sure to relay her thoughts. There's also word that there's a shop not far from here that sells packaged atta biscuits, so there's some taste testing ahead. Maybe the dough should be rolled thinner, so they don't swell so much. Such a change will either mean more cookies or revised measurements. 

For now, I'll leave you with these, as they are. Safe travels.

OUR ATTA BISCUITS

A collaboration between my mum and me. A coarse cane sugar is nice here; it flecks the baked cookies with sparkles and adds crunch.

Makes 24 small cookies.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup atta, see note
  • 2  tablespoons natural cane sugar, be a little generous
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup milk, or thereabouts

Method

Preheat an oven to 425°F (220°C) with a rack in the upper third. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together the atta, sugar, baking powder and salt. Using a pastry cutter, two blunt knives or your fingertips, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it's a fairly even meal — you don't want any large flakes of butter remaining. With a fork, stir in just enough milk for the dough start to come away from the sides of the bowl. Gently press the dough into a cohesive ball, then turn it out onto a clean work surface. Roll the dough out to a 6-by-8-inch rectangle, then cut it into 24 1-by-1 1/2-inch pieces. Use the tines of a fork to press marks into each. Transfer the biscuits to the baking sheet, with at least 1/4-inch in between. Bake in the preheated oven until the biscuits are puffed and golden, around 15 minutes. 

Remove the cookies from pan to a baking rack for at least 5 minutes before eating. The biscuits will crisp as they sit. Fully-cooled biscuits can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for a few days.

Note:

  • Atta is a semi-hard whole wheat flour, that's finely ground. If you don't have access to atta, regular whole wheat flour can be sifted and used instead, keeping any bits of bran behind.
attabis5.jpg

P.S. Many thanks to the kind folks at Babble for including me on their 2013 list of the top food blogs written by mothers, generously including me in the top 10 overall and as first in the category of photography. It is an honour to be in such company.

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earlier

It is difficult to come up with something original to say about Heidi Swanson, when she's such an original herself. It's even harder when everyone else is talking about her, and her fantastic new book, Super Natural Every Day, as they should be.

Nonetheless I'll add my voice to the chorus of deserved cheers and say, "wow Heidi, well done."

Like it was for countless others, Heidi's site, 101 Cookbooks, was one of the first food blogs I read. Her photographs were what caught my attention - the simple, honest styling, the softness of light - but it was her that kept me reading. And cooking. There's a laundry list of recipes from 101 Cookbooks that are part of my family's routine. Like the images she captures, the food Heidi creates is beautifully direct. There isn't a lot of extraneous fuss for the sake of fanciness; if she suggests an ingredient or method, you can be well-assured there's good reason behind it.

It is this thoughtful approach to cooking that is so appealing about Heidi; it's as obvious in her meals as it is in the words she chooses to describe them. Her tone is gentle and welcoming, convivial while instructive. 

Super Natural Every Day carries on as the elegant extension of Heidi's site, and follows up her highly-acclaimed book Super Natural Cooking. For those unfamiliar with Heidi's food philosophy, she promotes a vegetarian, whole-foods kitchen, with a detailed emphasis on unrefined sweeteners, whole grains, and conscientious choices of fats. That said, Heidi isn't one to sermonize; she lives her life, cooks her food and tells you about it. It's accessible, easy cooking that is delicious first and foremost, full stop, without asterisk or side note - the fact that it's good for you is an added bonus.

The book is an obviously personal one. Heidi shares favourite recipes from her repertoire alongside evocative photographs of her day to day. There's an intimacy to her voice that brings you into her kitchen, and her notes on each dish show an unmistakable familiarity that only comes from a heartfelt enthusiasm. Heidi moves easily between influences - there's dukkah, harissa and gribiche in here, tinto de verano and macaroon tarts. The flavours are varied and celebrated, like the well-worn bits and pieces of a treasured scrapbook, and her recipes are testaments to her affection for them.

One dish that I think serves as great example to Heidi's style is her Little Quinoa Patties. A seemingly humble collection of ingredients, quinoa, eggs, and breadcrumbs, are punctuated by fresh onion, chives, garlic and a grating of cheese. Pan-fried until crusted and golden the cakes get unexpectedly gutsy; the exterior deeply caramelizes, especially where the onion catches, and turn aromatically nutty. The interior is soft and bouncy, with the curlicues (Heidi's word) of quinoa still sweet and mild. She suggests them hot or cold as a snack. We ate ours with poached eggs and broccoli sprouts on a rain-sodden afternoon. 

After the plates were scraped clean and the kettle was put up for tea, someone said to me "I would eat that every day."

You couldn't hope for higher praise. I'll say it again, Heidi, well done.

(p.s. and happy birthday today, too!)

*******

I've been having to sit on my hands to keep from telling you all about UPPERCASE Issue #9 - it's the food issue! That's right, page upon beautiful page full of stories on all aspects of food and garden. It's going to be good.

In the Kitchen column I'll be talking about honey, offering up a recipe for Butter Roasted Walnuts with Thyme Infused Honey and chitchatting about honey varietals.

On top of that, I'm terribly excited to tell you that I was also granted the opportunity to talk with Heidi Swanson, Carrie and Andrew Purcell and Aran Goyoaga to discuss food photography and styling. In the interviews we explore their varied approaches and perspectives when it comes to photographing food; their answers are both educational and inspiring. I can't wait for you to see it and I can't thank them enough for taking part.

UPPERCASE #9 will be out in the coming weeks. It's available here online, or check the magazine's website for your local stockist.

*******

Late breaking, and just added, the folks at Saveur magazine were exceptionally nice in asking a few questions as part of their "Sites We Love" series. I'm in better company than I could dream, and thank them for their kindness. If you'd like to see the interview, it's now live.

puddled

LITTLE QUINOA PATTIES

From the book Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson (Ten Speed Press, 2011).

Anytime I have leftover cooked quinoa, I make these little patties. They are good hot or cold and are well suited to fighting afternoon hunger pangs. It's a bit of a stretch, but they could be described as a (very) distant cousin of arancini, Italy's beloved deep-fried risotto balls. In contrast, these are pan-fried in a touch of oil, and smushed flat in the pan to get as much surface browning as possible. I'm including my basic version, but often times I'll add a handful of very finely chopped this-or-that: broccoli, asparagus, or cauliflower, depending on the season. They're great on their own, slathered with ripe avocado or drizzled with hot sauce. - HS

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 1/2 cups / 12 oz / 340 g cooked quinoa, at room temperature
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
  • 1/3 cup / .5 oz / 15 g finely chopped fresh chives
  • 1 yellow or white onion, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup / .5 oz / 15 g freshly grated Parmesan or Gruyère cheese
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup / 3.5 oz / 100 g whole grain bread crumbs, plus more if needed
  • Water, if needed
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil or clarified butter

METHOD

Combine the quinoa, eggs, and salt in a medium bowl. Stir in the chives, onion, cheese, and garlic. Add the bread crumbs, stir, and let sit for a few minutes sot that the crumbs can absorb some of the moisture. At this point, you should have a mixture you can easily form in to twelve 1-inch / 2.5 cm thick patties. I err on the very moist side because it makes for a  not-overly-dry patty, but you can add a mroe bread crumbs, a bit at a time, to firm up the mixture, if need be. Conversely, a bit more beaten egg or water can be used to moisten the mixture.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-pow heat, add 6 patties, if they'll fit with some room between each, cover, and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, until the bottoms are deeply browned. Carefully flip the patties with a spatula and cook the second sides for 7 minutes, or until golden. Remove from the skillet and cool on a wire rack while you cook the remaining patties.

Alternatively, the quinoa mixture keeps nicely in the refrigerator for a few days; you can cook the patties to order, if you prefer.

Makes 12 little patties.

A note from Tara:

  • If it's your thing, I added about a 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes to the uncooked quinoa mixture. I think some fresh chili would work too. 
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These scones, these knobby specimens far removed from any thought of dainty, came to be through the generosity of an aunt by way of my parents. It started with their cranberries.

My folks had returned home from a recent trip and, not ones to come back empty handed, I was handed a bag of dried cranberries. They'd been to British Columbia, they'd seen my aunt and uncle, who, I'm told, have these local cranberries with their breakfast most mornings. The berries were large and not particularly dry; less like raisins and more like large, flattened rounds, slightly cupped. The first comparison that came to mind was a berry version of orecchiette, the concave pasta with a fingertip-sized indent, but imagine them bright crimson and  made of fruit. These were were plump and full of juice, and as they were only barely sweetened, the tart, lip twisting sharpness of the cranberry remained. 

I ate a handful on the spot. Benjamin did too. 

IMG_18632

Then Mum and I got talking and we settled on making scones. Scones aren't new. Scones aren't innovative. Or trendy. Scones are a soft spot for me though, and my Dad and Mum too. Scones are herehere and here already. And so, if I start nattering on about scones, you'll most likely know what I'm going to say because we've talked scones before - about their tender substance, the intricacies of their crumb - but there's a familiar sense of ease in that, in those known phrases and anticipated tastes. 

I will say, at their most rustic as these are, scones involve straightforward skills and little more. Bring together your flours; a mix of flours here to bring a subtle interest, but nothing too challenging for a Sunday morning. Cut butter into that flour with knives or fingertips, then add the buttermilk with the most indolent of stirring - lumps are fine, and long as the flour is pretty much dampened and beginning to clump together. Bring in the cranberries and nuts with a few turns of the spoon.

If even that level of industry feels monumental, and I don't blame you as this is the route I took, use a stand mixer instead. On its lowest setting the mixer will gently distribute the butter and incorporate the buttermilk; freeing you to sip your coffee leisurely, with no greater task than occasional peek into the bowl to make sure things are progressing nicely.

Either way, the ramshackle dough gets tipped out onto a board, kneaded briefly and patted together into rough and tumble disks. Slice the rounds into triangles and they're ready to bake.

For those looking for extra credit, stir together a spoonful of sugar with the same amount of fresh lemon juice and, there, you've made a syrupy glaze to brush atop the par-baked scones. In the oven, this scant gilding will go from sticky to glistening, seeping in some cracks but mostly giving the scone's surface a crystalline makeover. It's an edge of sugared tang before the nutty, mellow wheaten sweetness of the crumb beneath. It's not necessary, but it's a nice bit of fuss.

this one was mine

I made these the morning after our visit with Mum and Dad, in the sober quietness of the cool, blue hours before light touches the windowsill. That muted glow cast by the day's beginning felt the natural companion to a scone that was homey, reassuring. 

A feeling not unlike a good conversation with those you missed, after a time apart.

*******

There's a pair of links to share today. First, a heartfelt thank you to Babble.com for selecting this site as one of their Top 100 Mom Food Blogs for 2011. It is an honour to be in such company.

And my friend Jess wrote this poignant post on her site, Sweet Amandine. It's a special one. She's got a restrained honesty as she figures out "what feels right" for right now. I thought I'd point you in her direction as I think it's not one to miss.

A happy day to you all.

******* 

MIXED FLOUR SCONES WITH CRANBERRIES AND ALMONDS

Our dried cranberries were markedly less sweet than the raisin-like ones sold in many grocery stores. Using the latter style might warrant reducing the granulated sugar to a 1/3 cup. With inspiration from the Buttermilk Scones from Susan Fenniger and Mary Sue Milliken.

INGREDIENTS

For the scones

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour or oat flour, see note
  • ¼ cup flaxseed meal
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • Finely grated zest from one lemon
  • ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small dice
  • 1 cup dried sweetened cranberries, see headnote
  • 3/4 cup flaked almonds, toasted and then chopped
  • 1 cup well-shaken buttermilk, plus more if needed

For glaze (optional)

  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

METHOD

To make the glaze, stir together the sugar and lemon juice in a small bowl. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Use parchment paper to line a standard baking sheet and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, combine the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and lemon zest. On the machine's lowest setting, cut in the chilled butter until the mixture resembles course meal. The butter should be in small pieces approximately the size of peas. Mix in the cranberries and almonds. 

With the machine still on low, slowly pour the buttermilk into the flour and butter mixture in a thin stream, stirring until just combined. Use only as much buttermilk as needed to bring the dough together - don’t worry if you don’t use it all, or if you need to add a tablespoon or more. Small bits of butter should still be visible, but almost all the flour should be incorporated. 

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Working quickly, gently knead the dough, folding and pressing gently until it just holds together. Divide the dough into two, and shape each ball of dough into a 6-inch round about 1-inch thick. Cut each round into six wedges, and place on the prepared baking sheet. 

Bake scones in the preheated oven for about 12 minutes, then carefully pull them out and brush the top of each lightly with the glaze, if using. Return the scones to the oven and continue to bake until the the tops are lightly golden and the cut sides look flaky and dry, around 5-8 minutes more. When fully cooked, the scones should feel light for their size and sound almost hollow when tapped underneath. 

Cool on a wire rack for at least 5 minutes. Best served warm the day they are made, but can be toasted or rewarmed in a low oven. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Makes 12 medium scones.

Notes:

  • In lieu of whole wheat flour, toasted oat flour also works quite well. To make your own, spread 3/4 cup of rolled oats on a baking sheet and bake in a 375°F oven until lightly golden, stirring occassionaly, around 7 minutes. Allow to cool, then grind in a food processor into fine meal.
  • I would like to try these using whole wheat pastry flour and 1/2 cup of butter. I'll be sure to report back.
  • This recipe can, of course, be done by hand using a pastry cutter or a pair of knives and a spoon. I've also had great success using a food processor for scones; the method for both is here.
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Canadian Thanksgiving was two weeks ago. It landed perfectly, squarely, on the start of a week that was particularly fine. On that day, my father carved the roast bird, my brother made a mushroom gravy for which I immediately begged the recipe, the house was full, and despite some autumn coughs nagging little ones, it felt a grand affair.

It felt like a herald. It felt like my favourite holiday of the year, which it is.

The next day, in that funny routine of the morning after, I puttered about the kitchen considering a bout of dietetic austerity to balance out the (glorious) feast of the night before. 

Fueling these virtuous ideas in my tired mind were immodest handfuls of candied pecans. It wasn't even nine o'clock in the morning and I was crunching my way through a jar in the pantry like a crazed chipmunk. Temperance has never been one of my strong points.

The nuts had been a late entry onto our celebratory menu. On a last-minute run to the market I'd decided additional provisions were required for guests to crunchily munch while we tasked ourselves with the preparation of the main event. I settled on pecan halves without a set inspiration; an unspecific thought of roasting and salting was about as far as I'd gone.

It was the abundance of herbs on the counter and a long-standing addiction that took the pecans further than that initial route - all the way to New York city, into a wardrobe of sugar and rosemary with the addition of thyme, and enough cayenne for some downtown sparkle. As an ensemble the combination hints at boskiness against an urban sensibility - a woolen dress paired with a bright red lip.

Now my first go I should tell you, as seems habit with me, was not a unmitigated success. The seasoning was bang on but I'd rushed the baking - the coating was ever so slightly sticky. Thank goodness for my family, kind souls they are, nobody complained. 

Being ever the fusspot I felt that stickiness had to be addressed. After the plates were cleared and the house had emptied, the remaining nuts went back onto a sheet pan and into the oven. Five more minutes tacked on to the baking. This time, once cooled, they snapped.

That's the trick for early autumn. The coat you wear won't be down or duffle, and the same is true for pecans on Thanksgiving. Their dressing was thin, a sheer, shining wrap, that caught, pleating and folding around the craggy profile of the nuts. Tailor-made garb for an October evening. 

Or an October morning as well, if we're keeping track.

ROSEMARY AND THYME CANDIED PECANS

With inspiration from the spiced nuts served at the Union Square Café in New York City. It will look as though there too much glaze as the nuts go in the oven - don't fret. As they bake the syrup will thicken and gather around the pecans. By the time they're done pan will be almost dry.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons demerara sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon finely minced fresh thyme
  • 3/4 teaspoon finely minced fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • Scant 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon, optional
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 pound pecan halves
  • Fleur de sel or other sea salt, to finish (optional)

METHOD

Preheat an oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Line a standard half sheet pan with parchment paper.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter with the maple syrup and Demerara. Once melted, remove from the heat and stir in the herbs, spices and salt. 

Toss the pecans with the butter mixture in a large bowl, making sure to coat well. Spread nuts in a single layer on the prepared pan.

Bake in the preheated oven, turning occasionally, until the nuts are glazed and shiny with a deep golden colour, around 12 to 15 minutes. Upon removing from the oven, sprinkle lightly with fleur de sel if using and stir again.

Cool completely, then store in an airtight container.

Makes 1 pound.  

*******

Thanks to Sheri for inviting me to be a part of the "On This Fall Day" series over at The Stir. I am so happy to be part. You can read my entry here if you'd like!

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twirled

At 10:54 or so on Wednesday night, I started thinking about crackers. The thought was so engrossing, the interest so strong, that it took no more than three seconds after the notion entered my mind for me to say to the friend with whom I was chatting "I would really like some crackers."

I am a riveting conversationalist.

There were no crackers in the pantry, so to satisfy my desire would mean productivity on my part. Good sense and laziness thankfully won the day, and I managed to leave the kitchen neat and tidy that night.

In a stunning display of restraint, I held off until the morning. And thus, at 7:15 a.m. on Thursday a bowl of dough, dusted in flour and proofing quietly, rising and puffing proudly, resided on our counter. By noon, there would be Garlic Herb Bread Twists.

Please don't look at me like a crazy person, I know full well that a stick of bread may not be a cracker, per se, but they met our requirements with ease. I wasn't aiming for a crackers-and-cheese cracker, not a shingle demoted to the role of vehicle for something else. I wanted salt, crunch, a snack on its own that required no further accessory.

These fit the bill.

All they take is pizza dough, bought or homemade, laminated with parmesan, rosemary and thyme, salt and pepper. Cut and twirled into curling lengths, they receive a brush of garlic oil before they're into the oven. A second anointing as they come out of the heat, in my version the oil is cut with honey, and then a toss through a mix of Parmesan and parsley. Thoroughly coated, utterly habit-forming, they're good to go.

I like the ones with some relative heft - their crust has a pleasing substance, and through the middle the crumb is spongy and dense for a satisfying chew. However, Sean prefers those stretched thin and allowed to crisp, so their crunch is not only at the edge but remains right on though. The one for him are the ones down below, gnarled and uneven, thoroughly golden and pleasurably snappy.

Eight hours is what it took from impulse to the making of these cracker-ish sticks, three hours from start to munching, and less than an afternoon for them to be gone. A pretty neat little timeline I'd say. In the name of efficiency, however, I think next time I won't bother waiting and set about making them right the very minute the craving strikes.

And strike it will, to be sure. Patience may be a virtue, but snacks are a necessity.

tips

GARLIC AND HERB BREAD STICKS

From Gourmet Magazine, July 2009. Since I have made changes to the ingredients and method, I've rewritten the recipe for ease. To bring further depth to the garlic oil, the garlic is steeped in warm oil to rid it of any harsh bite. I've also added a pour of honey, to round out and soften the piquancy of the cheese and garlic.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (2 ounces), divided
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 lb pizza dough, (or use store-bought)
  • A generous teaspoon honey
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

METHOD

Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C), with racks in the upper and lower thirds. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, and set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together rosemary, thyme, 1/4 cup cheese, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

In a small saucepan, stir together the olive oil and garlic. Place the pan over medium heat, and warm gently until the garlic starts to become fragrant. Do not cook the garlic or let it sizzle. Remove from the heat, stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and set aside to cool.

Divide the dough in half, covering one portion with a tea towel (not terry cloth). On a lightly-floured work surface and with a floured pin, roll out second portion to a rough rectangle measuring 15- by 10-inches.

Sprinkle half the herb mixture over the lower (crosswise) half of the dough. Fold the dough towards you, bringing the two top corners to the bottom, sealing in the herbs. Roll gently to bring the envelope of dough to a 10- by 8-inch rectangle. Using a knife or pizza wheel, cut the dough lengthways into 9 strips, each less than 1-inch in width. Twist each strip, turning from both ends, and place on one of the prepared baking sheets, each strip about 1 inch apart. Brush the strips with garlic oil, using 1 tablespoon divided amongst the 9. Set aside.

Repeat process, rolling out the reserved dough, sprinkling with the remaining herbs and cheese mixture, rolling again, cutting and shaping. Arrange these strips on the other baking sheet, and brush them with 1 tablespoon of oil divided between them. Set aside for 5 minutes.

Bake the twists in the preheated oven, rotating pans and switching positions halfway through, until golden brown and crisp. This should take between 20-25 minutes.

While the breadsticks bake, stir the honey into the remaining garlic oil. Sprinkle the remaining 3/4 cup cheese on a shallow baking pan along with the parsley.

When the breadsticks are done and still hot, brush lightly with the oil and honey. Immediately roll them in the cheese and parsley, until well coated. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 18.

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