All posts by Barbara99

Mother’s Day Afternoon Tea 2013

I love afternoon tea.  It’s such a peaceful, tranquil, and genteel experience.  It’s the perfect way to celebrate Mother’s Day.  Today, I share photos from my Mother’s Day Afternoon Tea.  Enjoy!

On the tea menu:  Cucumber and tomato sandwiches, strawberry custard, shortbread, and rainbow marshmallow square.  Tea Pairing:  New English Teas’ English Afternoon Tea (Coventry, England).

Cucumber and Tomato Sandwiches
Cucumber and Tomato Sandwiches

Cool and refreshing cucumber sandwiches.

Tomato sandwiches on thinly sliced artisan bread.

Smooth and creamy strawberry custard and fresh fruit skewers.

Strawberry Custard
Strawberry Custard

I love these colorful and tasty treats, particularly when served in these petite dishes!

Dainty spritz shortbread and rainbow marshmallow squares satisfy the sweet tooth!

Love the pastel shades which are suitable for springtime tea events.

I love how these colors blend attractively on the plate.

Teatime treats are typically petite and dainty.

Teacups and teapot are Japanese porcelain.

Tableware does not need to all match perfectly for a tea table.  It just needs to blend well and the pieces compliment each other.  Having different patterns creates interest and doesn’t look so matchy-matchy.

These are marvelously-designed delicate cups on pedestals.  They look very grand, stately, and elegant, don’t you think!

Love the filigree trim on the saucers.

This slim-line teapot looks very stately and in command on the tea table.

A mixed bouquet of roses is a great compromise when I can’t decide on one particular color theme!

Although by no means the only floral option, roses tend to be perennial favorites for tea table accents.

This four-tier stand is a great space saver, particularly for small tea tables.

While my favorite plates are white because the food shows up so splendidly on them, I like the floral on these plates for a tea table.

Beautiful roses!

I hope you have enjoyed a glimpse into my Mother’s Day Afternoon Tea.  It was grand fun.

Happy Mother’s Day To All Moms!

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Lobster Cakes

Barbara's Lobster Cakes
Barbara’s Lobster Cakes

The opening of the spring lobster season on Prince Edward Island is always an event.  Fishing boats, laden with lobster traps like those in the photos below, depart wharves around the Island in the very early morning to set their traps, often going several miles out to sea.  This is called “setting day” and it is not uncommon for people in the local fishing communities to head to their local wharves to see the fishing boats off.  Setting day 2013 was yesterday, April 29th.  I didn’t make it to a wharf yesterday or today but I am sharing some photographs I took during fishing season 2012.

Lobster Fishing Boat Loaded for Traps to be Set on “Setting Day”, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI, May 6, 2012

 

Lobster Fishing Boats Loaded for Traps to be Set on “Setting Day”, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI, May 6, 2012

 

Lobster Fishing Boat Loaded for Traps to be Set on “Setting Day”, Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI, May 6, 2012

Several communities also have church services known as the “Blessing of the Fleet” services on the Sunday before setting day.  These are sometimes held inside nearby local churches but, most frequently, they are held on the wharves of the fishing ports.

Today was the first day of the season that fishers could check their set traps and bring in their catches.  The photos below were taken at North Lake Harbour, PEI on June 1, 2012; however, the same scene would be playing out today at many harbours across PEI.

Lobster Fishing Boats Filled With Their Day's Catch Returning to Port at North Lake, PEI [June 1, 2012]
Lobster Fishing Boats Filled With Their Day’s Catch Returning to Port at North Lake, PEI [June 1, 2012]

Lobster Fishing Boats, North Lake, PEI [June 1, 2012]
Lobster Fishing Boats, North Lake, PEI [June 1, 2012]
Unloading the Day's Catch at North Lake Harbour [June 1, 2012]
Unloading the Day’s Catch at North Lake Harbour, PEI [June 1, 2012]
And, here are the “goods”!

"The Prized Cargo" - Fresh PEI Lobster
“The Prized Cargo” – Fresh PEI Lobster!

Boats at rest after their day’s work fetching the catch.

North Lake Harbour, PEI [June 1, 2012]
North Lake Harbour, PEI [June 1, 2012]
And, once they are cooked, look at the fabulous rich color of these freshly caught PEI lobsters!

Cooked Lobsters
Cooked Lobsters

Many Islanders will be dining on fresh lobster for supper this evening.  For many, it is a tradition to have fresh lobster on the first day of the catch.  This is one of the benefits of living on an Island – we have plenty of fresh seafood.  Many (including myself) will argue that lobster from the spring fishery is better than lobster fished later in the summer from waters that have warmed up over the season (even though lobster from the later catch is very good, too).  I don’t know why it is but lobster from the cold Atlantic water always does seem to taste better and I think even has a better texture meat.

I remember the first time I was on a Caribbean cruise many years ago, ordering lobster from the dinner menu.  My taste buds were salivating for what I knew to be lobster taste.  Oh my!  It didn’t taste like lobster at all as I know it.  That’s when I discovered the difference in taste of lobster that comes out of cold water and that out of very warm waters!  I never ordered lobster from a cruise ship menu again.  I wait for the good PEI lobster at home!  The ironic part of this is that I never liked lobster when I was growing up.  In fact, when the family would be chowing down on lobster, my mother always roasted me a chicken!  However, they convinced me to try a bite of it when I was probably about 18 years old and I’ve never looked back and have more than made up for it since!  I love lobster by itself and in just about any other recipe imaginable!

So, tonight, I am dining on Lobster Cakes to celebrate the opening of the 2013 PEI lobster fishery season and am sharing my recipe with you.

Barbara's Lobster Cakes

Barbara’s Lobster Cakes

2 cups warm mashed potatoes (about 2-3 medium-sized potatoes)

1 egg, beaten

1 tbsp tartar sauce

2 oz. grated cheddar cheese

¼ tsp dried dillweed

½ tsp parsley

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

1 small scallion (apx. 1 ½ tbsp)

2 tbsp celery, finely chopped

2 tbsp red pepper, finely chopped

7 – 8 oz. cooked lobster (fresh or frozen), cut into bite-sized chunks

½ – 1 cup bread crumbs

 

Apx. ¾ cup finely ground seasoned bread crumbs for dredging lobster patties

1 – 2 tbsp oil

 

Method:

Place warm mashed potatoes in large bowl.  Add beaten egg and mix well.  Add tartar sauce.

Stir in grated cheddar cheese.

Add dillweed, parsley, and pepper.  Stir in scallions, celery, and red pepper.

Lastly, add the lobster and mix well.  Add just enough of the first amount of bread crumbs so the mixture will hold together and can be formed into patties.

 

Using ¼ cup measuring cup, scoop up mixture and form into round patties.  In shallow bowl, place the seasoned bread crumbs.  Dredge each patty in the bread crumbs until completely covered on all sides.  Place on wax-paper lined baking sheet and chill for 1 hour to allow flavours to blend and for patties to become firm so they won’t break apart when sautéed.

Preheat oven to 375F.

Heat oil in non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  When oil is hot, reduce heat to medium and sauté lobster cakes 2-3 minutes on each side, until golden brown.  Transfer browned cakes to greased baking sheet.  Bake in oven 6-7 minutes to finish the cooking process and allow cakes to become firm so they will hold together.

Serve lobster cakes, 2 per person, hot with citrus aioli or your favorite tartar sauce and a side of green salad.

Lobster Cakes with Citrus Aioli
Lobster Cakes with Citrus Aioli

 

These cakes freeze well, uncooked.  When ready to serve, simply remove cakes from freezer and thaw.  Sauté and bake as described above.

Yield:  Apx. 1 dozen cakes

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Seven-Layer Dinner (aka “Shipwreck Dinner”)

Seven Layer DInner
Seven-Layer Dinner (aka “Shipwreck Dinner”)

Okay, so my recipe is actually eight layers, but who is counting when the meal is as tasty as this one is!

Seven-layer dinner (sometimes called “Shipwreck”) is really little more than a full dinner in a casserole and baked in the oven.  I grew up (as I am sure many of you have) with this vintage meal served on a regular basis.  The seven main ingredients are:  1) onions, 2) meat, 3) potatoes, 4) celery, 5) carrot, 6) peas, and 7) rice.  Sometimes, it’s a six-layer dinner depending on what veggies I have on hand and sometimes it might be eight or nine layers thick.  I like to add parsnip because it adds a level of sweetness.  Sometimes, I will slice turnip very thinly and add it as well.  Frozen corn also works in addition to the frozen peas or instead of.  In that regard, it is almost a potluck dish!

It has probably been named “Shipwreck” because it can be made with pretty much any vegetables you happen to have on hand as well as different kinds of meats, such as ground beef or sausage and it is also an economical way to stretch the meat content.  In many households, it can be made with what is on hand without having to go shopping and it doesn’t take any kind of exotic or hard-to-find ingredients.  This is an old-fashioned hearty meal.  Have you noticed that many of these old “stand-by” meals are becoming popular again?

On a regular basis, I tend to cook with a fair bit of seasonings and spices.  However, this is one dish that I never add anything to it other than salt and pepper and the onion for flavour.

In my home, I grew up with this recipe being made with ground beef (we never used any other kind of meat in it) so, as April closes out as the month on PEI to promote local beef, I am sharing my recipe for this simple comfort food.  The beef I used for this casserole is 100% Island beef and was purchased at KJL Meats, a local butcher shop in Charlottetown, PEI.

This is a great meal to make when you have little time for meal preparation and clean-up because all the veggies, the rice, and the meat cook together in the one casserole so there are no pots and pans to wash (bonus!) other than the dish it bakes in.  And, your kitchen will smell divine when this is baking in the oven!  If there happens to be any leftover, this meal carries over well and, in fact, the flavours seem to become even richer the next day when it is reheated.

Seven-Layer Dinner

1 medium onion

2 medium-sized potatoes, thinly sliced (about 1/8 inch thick)

½ – ¾ pound extra lean ground beef

½ cup celery

1/3 cup parsnips, thinly sliced (about 1/16 inch thick)

1 cup carrots, thinly sliced

½ cup frozen peas

scant ½ cup Minute Rice

1 can tomato soup

1 soup can of water

 

Method:

Assemble ingredients.

Grease 2-quart casserole.  Peel and slice onions to make first layer of casserole.

Add the layer of sliced potatoes and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Add the layer of ground beef.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Add celery, parsnips, carrots, and frozen peas.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

page 1

Sprinkle ingredients with rice.  Cover casserole ingredients with can of tomato soup.  Pour one soup can of water over top of ingredients (or, if you wish, you can mix the soup and water together and pour as one over the casserole ingredients).

Cover and bake at 350F for 1 ½ – 2 hours until vegetables are tender.

Serves 4-6

It is hard to plate this meal attractively but its taste more than makes up for its lack of presentation!

Suggested Serving:  Serve with homemade mustard pickles and whole grain artisan bread.

Pin Me To Pinterest!

Seven Layer Dinner (aka Shipwreck Dinner)
Seven Layer Dinner (aka Shipwreck Dinner)

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PEI Burger Love 2013

"The Canadian Legend" Burger from the Lucy Maud Dining Room at the Culinary Institute of Canada, Charlottetown, PEI
“The Canadian Legend” Burger from the Lucy Maud Dining Room at the Culinary Institute of Canada, Charlottetown, PEI

For the third consecutive year, April has represented Burger Love on Prince Edward Island.  Yes, that’s right, love of beef burgers!  This year, 31 restaurants across the Island paid a $600 entry fee to cover advertising and promotion costs to participate in the month-long celebration of Island beef.  PEI Burger Love has certainly created a hype and brought patrons to a number of Island restaurants to sample the array of gourmet beef burgers that chefs have created specially for the event.  Make no mistake about it, these are not your average hamburgers.  These are gourmet burgers that require a hefty appetite to do them justice.

Partnerships Forged to Support Initiative

PEI Burger Love, created by Fresh Media, is carried out in partnership with Prince Edward Island Cattle Producers, PEI Department of Agriculture and Forestry, PEI Flavours, PEI Potato Board, and the PEI Restaurant Association.  The formation of this collaborative group has brought heightened awareness to PEI’s beef industry.

PEI Burger Love Grows in Popularity

In its inaugural year in 2011, a total of 14 Island restaurants participated with 5500 burgers being served in the month of April.  Last year, 22 restaurants signed on and, collectively, sold over 16,000 burgers in just one month.  I suspect, by the time, the event ends on April 30th, the number of beef burgers consumed on PEI in the month of April, 2013, will have surpassed 2012 figures.

For the month of April, one would be hard-pressed to go anywhere on the Island without hearing some talk about PEI Burger Love.  In workplaces, on the street, and just about anywhere, one could hear Islanders enthusiastically talking about and describing the burgers they had already tried and the ones still on their list.  Social media has been used extensively in this awareness campaign and burgers have suddenly become the hottest and most photographed subjects around!  Servers would bring burgers to the tables and, all of a sudden, cameras and cell phones appeared and started clicking!  Photographs of burgers have been everywhere, including on twitter and on Facebook.  This year, for the first time, PEI Burger Love engaged nine individuals, one of whom was me, to use blogging as a platform to further advertise the Burger Love campaign.

Overall, I believe Islanders have embraced this campaign and have had a lot of fun with it.   It has not been uncommon throughout the month to see groups of as many as 20 heading to the local restaurants at any day at noon to try out the burgers.  Even local businesses got in on the action.  Staff of Century 21 Colonial Realty in Charlottetown, for example, select one restaurant a week, call ahead with their burger order, and then their entire team of real estate agents show up en masse with a video camera in tow.  Joel Ives says they have been doing this since Burger Love began and find it’s a fun activity for their team while supporting local at the same time.  Says Joel, “Our business is about being local – local homes, local businesses, and being in the community.  We do our best to support local initiatives.  When PEI Burger Love came out, we thought we could have some fun with it by going as a group to eat lunch together, have some laughs, and make some fun videos.  Since all of our agents are busy doing their own thing, it is great that we can book off one lunch a week during the [Burger Love] campaign to get together.”  You can check out the Century 21 fun videos here to see how one local business has embraced PEI Burger Love.

Diners are engaged in Burger Love fever too as they head to local dining establishments to order up the creative burgers.  They can rate the burgers they eat by voting online for their favorite and win great prizes in the process as well as help crown the most popular burger in the 2013 Burger Love campaign.

Timing is Everything

April is traditionally a slower month for local restaurants because the tourist season hasn’t yet started but, this year, participating restaurants are hopping busy as burger lovers converge on their establishments to sample the many burger options.  Linda Dickie, Food and Beverage Director at Mavor’s Restaurant in the Confederation Centre of the Arts, says they chose to participate in PEI Burger Love because they like to support local whenever possible and it brings awareness to the restaurant.  According to Linda, Mavors sold 1700 burgers in the first couple of weeks of the campaign with the highest single day servings of 210 burgers!

Chef James Oja, who owns and operates The Big Orange Lunchbox restaurant in downtown Charlottetown, is a first-time participant in PEI Burger Love.  He says the annual PEI Burger Love campaign “generates a busy month giving restaurants that participate a little warm-up for summer”.   Chef Oja claims Island beef is the best beef in Atlantic Canada and that his “supplier, Bluefield Natural Products, provides superior beef that is richer in iron, antioxidants, flavour, and texture”.

Just How Many Burgers Can You Eat?

As I mentioned earlier, I was one of nine guest bloggers for PEI Burger Love this year and my assignment was to sample four of the burgers and blog about them.  Now, I thought four burgers was a lot to consume in a little over a week.  However, Connor Jay set himself the challenge to eat all 31 burgers….and he did… in just 14 days!  Averaging two a day plus three on two different days, he proudly says there was one day that he ate two of these huge burgers within two hours!  Asked why he decided to set out to eat all 31 burgers, Connor says he thought “it would be something fun to do and would be a great way to experience the Island“.  He says he “loves the PEI Burger Love campaign and thought eating all 31 [burgers] would be a great opportunity to get other friends involved in it and that it would inspire them to go grab a burg“.  I am also aware of a workplace where employees would order a couple of burgers from each of 3-4 restaurants for lunch each Friday in April, bring them back to their workplace, and cut them into quarters so that co-workers could have the opportunity to sample as many of the burgers as possible.

What’s in a Gourmet PEI Burger Love Burger?

Other than the requirement to use 100% Island beef in the burgers, chefs had unfettered licence to dress the burgers with whatever toppings they wanted and to prepare and present them as creatively as they wished.  Suffice it to say that Island chefs rose to the challenge and created some mighty fine culinary creations with unique flavour combinations.

The meat in the burgers generally ranged in size from 6 oz to 9 oz and was prepared in different ways – some burgers were charred over an open flame while others were grilled or sautéed. Toppings ranged from candied bacon (yes, oh là là!) to nachos and salsa, coleslaw, bacon jam, Jalapeno peppers, various renditions of aioli, Portobello mushrooms, guacamole, and onions encased in wontons or presented as beer-battered onion rings, and just about anything else you could imagine going into these tall burgers.  Then, there were the many variations of buns encasing all this goodness.  One burger even had two grilled cheese sandwiches holding it in place instead of a traditional bun!  And, of course, each restaurant creatively named their burger.  Here are photographs of the four burgers I was assigned to sample as part of my blog assignment:

From the Gahan House in Charlottetown, PEI, comes the “Not’cha Burger” that features Tortilla chips, salsa, spicy cheese dip, and Jalapeno mayo to accessorize the beef burger.

"Not'cha Burger", Gahan House, Charlottetown, PEI
“Not’cha Burger”, Gahan House, Charlottetown, PEI

The “Canadian Legend Burger” was created by the Lucy Maud Dining Room, a teaching restaurant in the Culinary Institute of Canada.  It features a gouda-stuffed burger accessorized with smoked tomato aioli, confit cherry tomato, bacon jam, candied bacon, and the best onion rings I have ever tasted.

The "Canadian Legend Burger" at the Lucy Maud Dining Room of the Culinary Institute of Canada, Charlottetown, PEI
The “Canadian Legend Burger” at the Lucy Maud Dining Room of the Culinary Institute of Canada, Charlottetown, PEI

The Prince William Dining Room of the Loyalist Inn in Summerside, PEI, presented the “Big Kuhuna Burger” that featured smoked bacon, banana peppers, a grilled pineapple ring, and guacamole.

The "Big Kahuna Burger" from the Prince William Dining Room of the Loyalist Inn, Summerside, PEI
The “Big Kahuna Burger” from the Prince William Dining Room of the Loyalist Inn, Summerside, PEI

The Old Triangle in downtown Charlottetown created the “Mr. Miyagi Burger” that included Hoisin BBQ sauce, Asian slaw, and caramelized onion wontons.

The "Mr. Miyagi Burger" from The Old Triangle in Charlottetown, PEI
The “Mr. Miyagi Burger” from The Old Triangle in Charlottetown, PEI

As you can see, these are huge, well accessorized burgers!  If I had one suggestion for organizers for future PEI Burger Love campaigns it would be to consider also offering smaller versions (perhaps even slider size) for those who don’t have large appetites but yet who want to try out the burgers.

The gourmet burgers, on average, are in the $12-$14 range (burger only).

PEI Burger Love Surpasses Expectations

The Prince Edward Island Cattle Producers Association reports being pleased with the  campaign.  The Association gets great exposure for its industry and, as representative Rinnie Bradley says, they “are a small industry compared to dairy or potatoes so it has been difficult to get our message out to the general public that we are important to the Island’s economy.  From truckers, to feed mills, vets, farm machine shops, to processing facilities and meat shops, the beef industry contributes significantly to our economy directly and indirectly.”  Bradley says “PEI Burger Love 2013 has surpassed our expectations to date.  We are very pleased that so many restaurants have signed on and that several new participants decided to include Island beef on their menus.  We hope Islanders and visitors alike will get out and enjoy the amazing burgers, and seek out Island beef for their meals at home.”

So, Islanders, only 6 days left to get out and try some of these gourmet burgers before PEI Burger Love 2013 ends.  This is a great way to show support for the local beef industry as well as the many Island restaurants which have chosen to participate in this campaign to promote Island beef.  There is a burger out there for everyone’s taste!

POSTCRIPT (May 8, 2013):

The statistics are in for the 2013 Burger Love Campaign.  A total of 46,204 beef burgers were sold in 31 participating restaurants during the month-long event in April.  This translates into 21,917 pounds of beef consumed during this time period.  Sales for the burgers during the month of April are estimated at $580,008.62.  Voters selected “The Smokin’ Fox” from Phinley’s Diner in Stratford, just across the bridge from Charlottetown, PEI, as their “Most Loved Burger 2013”.

Not bad, PEI, not bad at all!

April Cookie of the Month: Lemon Spritz Shortbread Cookies

Lemon Spritz Shortbread Cookies
Lemon Spritz Shortbread Cookies

Spritz cookies are dainty-shaped cookies that are crisp and buttery.  They are made by pushing soft cookie dough through a cookie press which is a cylinder fitted with a decorative disk that has patterned holes through which the dough is “squirted” or pressed into shapes.  Typically, cookie presses come with many different decorative disks – mine has probably 20 or more.

These cookies are popular at Christmas, special occasions, and are very suitable for afternoon teas as they can be made in so many different shapes and colors and can be further embellished with icing, colored sugar, miniature gumdrops, or dragées.

My recipe for Lemon Spritz Cookies is buttery rich and delicate.  I like the flavour burst of lemon juice and zest in these petite cookies.

This recipe does best when the dough is chilled for 24 hours to allow the egg yolk to get fully incorporated and absorbed into the other ingredients.  Unlike most liquids, such as water or milk, for example, eggs take a lot more time to become incorporated into the dry ingredients.  When the dough comes out of the refrigerator, it will be too hard to push through the cookie press so let the dough sit at room temperature for about an hour or so until it becomes pliable enough that it can be formed into a roll that can be inserted into the cookie press cylinder.  You’ll notice this recipe has no baking powder or soda.  This is because that would cause the cookies to raise which, in turn, would result in them losing their shape and design that makes them spritz cookies.

Lemon Spritz Cookies

1 cup butter, softened

½ cup icing sugar

½ cup cornstarch

1 egg yolk

½ tsp lemon juice

½ tsp vanilla

¼ tsp almond flavouring

1 tsp finely grated lemon zest

1 2/3 cup flour

smidgeon salt

pinch cardamom

 

Method:

Assemble ingredients.

Cream butter and icing sugar.

Blend in cornstarch.

Add egg yolk, lemon juice, vanilla, almond flavouring, and lemon zest.

page 2 -Egg yolk, lemon juice, vanilla

Add the flour, salt, and cardamom to creamed mixture, stirring until well combined.

Cover dough tightly with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for 24 hours.

Remove dough from refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for apx. 1 hour.  Form dough into a roll that will fit inside the cookie press cylinder.  Insert dough roll into the cookie press.

Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.  Follow manufacturer’s directions for your cookie press to form the cookies into decorative shapes.  Decorate with colored sugar, if desired.  Bake at 400F for 7-8 minutes.  Watch the cookies closely as their high butter content and small size means they will burn easily and quickly.  Let cookies cool on baking sheets for 2-3 minutes then transfer them to wire racks to finish cooling.

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Savory Cottage Pie

My Island Bistro Kitchen's Cottage Pie
My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Cottage Pie

I first had Cottage Pie (although I didn’t know that’s what it was) many years ago as a small child at Camp Segunakadeck (Seggie) on the south shore of PEI.  I came home from summer camp raving about this yummy dish and trying to describe it to my mother.  As a seven or eight-year old, my descriptions of culinary delights would not have been enough for even a seasoned professional chef to be able to concoct some resemblance of the meal.  The description would have went something like this…there was hamburg and ‘stuff’ on the bottom and mashed potatoes on the top and it was made in a large pan.  Many years later when I would recall my camping experience, I was always reminded of this dish which I have since come to realize was likely a version of Shepherd’s or Cottage Pie, most likely the latter.

In the years since, I have tried many recipes for Shepherd’s Pie or Cottage Pie but none were very flavourful and I was never satisfied with the result.  One thing I learned not so long ago is that, while both have a cover of mashed potatoes on top of the meat, there is a difference between the two:  Shepherd’s Pie is made with ground (or minced) lamb and Cottage Pie is made with ground (or minced) beef, more commonly known as hamburg.  So, while many of us use the generic name “Shepherd’s Pie” when referring to this dish, if we are using ground beef, then it’s really Cottage Pie we are making.  The great thing about Cottage Pie is that you can add any veggies you like (or eliminate any you don’t) or you can make it primarily with meat and very few vegetables.

The recipe I have created for my tomato-based Cottage Pie contains a lengthy list of ingredients and, I will forewarn, it does take a bit of time to make.  However, the end result is worth the effort and this comfort food freezes well (unbaked) so it’s a great dish to have on hand in the freezer for busy nights when everyone arrives home hungry for dinner and no one has the energy to make a fulsome meal from scratch.  Serve the Cottage Pie with string beans, asparagus, or a green salad.

Cottage Pie

Ingredients:

1 tbsp olive oil

1 lb extra-lean ground beef

 

1 tbsp. olive oil

½ cup chopped onion

½ cup diced carrots

2 tbsp diced parsnip

½ cup chopped celery

¼ cup chopped green pepper

2 garlic cloves, minced

2-3 oz. button mushrooms, sliced

2 tbsp flour

2 ½ tbsp tomato paste

½ cup tomato sauce

1 tbsp ketchup

1 cup canned diced tomatoes, with juice

½ cup tomato soup

¼ cup red wine

½ tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

1 cup beef broth

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

2 tsp. molasses

1 tbsp. brown sugar

1 tsp dried Italian seasoning

1 bay leaf

Pinch coriander

Pinch ginger

Pinch cinnamon

½ cup frozen peas

½ cup frozen corn

 

Potato Topping:

2 lbs potatoes

½ cup milk

1 egg yolk

Sea salt

Ground pepper

3 tbsp soft butter

Pinch nutmeg

¼ cup grated cheese of choice

 

Paprika

 

Directions:

Assemble ingredients.

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in large frypan.  Brown meat over medium-low heat.  Drain off any excess fat.  Set aside.

In large saucepan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil.  Sauté onion, carrot, parsnip, celery, green pepper, and garlic for 3-4 minutes over medium-low heat.  Add mushrooms.  Sauté for 2-3 minutes.

Sprinkle flour over the mixture and stir in tomato paste, tomato sauce, and ketchup.  Cook 1-2 minutes.

Add canned tomatoes, tomato soup, red wine, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, beef broth, salt, pepper, molasses, and brown sugar.  Bring to a boil.  Immediately reduce heat to medium-low.

Add cooked ground beef and spices.  Cook 3-4 minutes until mixture is heated.

Add frozen corn and peas and cook 2-3 minutes longer.  Remove from heat.

Potato Topping

Cook potatoes.  Drain.  Mash.  Transfer mashed potatoes to bowl of stand mixer and whip for apx. 2 minutes on high speed with milk, egg yolk, salt, pepper, butter, nutmeg, and grated cheese (I used Parmigiano Reggiano).

Preheat oven to 350F.

To assemble:

Spray casserole dish or individual ramekins with cooking spray.

Remove and discard bayleaf and spoon meat mixture into dishes, filling each a scant ¾ full.  Top with spoonfuls of whipped potatoes to the top of the casserole or ramekins.  With knife, gently spread potatoes so meat mixture is entirely covered.  Using tines of a fork, create a decorative pattern on the potato topping. Sprinkle with paprika.

Bake, uncovered, 30-40 minutes, until topping starts to brown.  Remove from oven and let stand 8-10 minutes.  Serve with steamed green beans, asparagus, or a green salad.

Makes 8-9 servings

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Cottage Pie
Savory Cottage Pie

Honey Garlic Spareribs

Garlic Spareribs served with Turnip Casserole and Baked Potato
Honey Garlic Spareribs served with Turnip Casserole and Baked Potato

Today, I am sharing my favorite recipe for Honey Garlic Spareribs.  This is a recipe that has been used by my family for many years.  Sometimes we serve the ribs with rice and other times with baked potato and a side vegetable.

This evening, I served the ribs with turnip casserole and a variation of a traditional baked potato.  I used baker potatoes and sliced them not quite all the way through into thin slices.  I then drizzled Liquid Gold’s Organic Tuscan Herb Infused Olive Oil over them and added some herbs and garlic powder along with small dobs of butter in between some of the slices.  I placed the potatoes in tin foil loosely gathered up around them and baked them in the oven.

When preparing the ribs for roasting, I suggest lining the roaster with heavy-duty tin foil as this sauce thickens and makes it difficult to clean the roaster.  I forgot to do that this time and washing the roaster was not a fun task.  When making the sauce, heat it only until it reaches the boiling point.  Don’t worry about thickening it on the stove as it will thicken further after it has been poured over the ribs and cooked in the oven.

Honey Garlic Spare Ribs

2 lbs. spareribs, cut into small pieces

2/3 cup brown sugar

¼ tsp dry mustard

1 ½ tbsp cornstarch

2/3 cup water

¼ cup apple juice

2 ½ tbsp honey

2 ½ tbsp soya sauce

2 garlic cloves, minced

¼ cup onion, finely minced

Step-by-Step Method:

Preheat oven to 375F.

Cut the ribs into pieces, slicing in between each rib.

 

Place ribs in greased roaster.

Cover and roast for ½ hour.  Remove from oven and drain fat from roaster.

To make the sauce, combine the remaining ingredients in saucepan.  Heat over medium-high heat just until mixture comes to a boil, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat.

Pour the hot sauce over the ribs.

 

Cover and roast for 1 hour at 375F.

Serves 2-3 (allowing 2-3 ribs per serving).

 

 

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Easter Afternoon Tea

By now, you have probably concluded that I like afternoon teas!  So, today, I share photos from my Easter Tea.

Let’s begin with a stylized salad served in a hollowed-out cucumber cup.

And, of course, the most logical tea sandwiches for Easter would be made with egg salad and garnished with carrot sticks.

The little Easter eggs scattered on the table are actually little wooden eggs I hand-painted some years ago when I was doing a lot of decorative painting.

I love the bright, cheerful colors of Easter but what would Easter be without something chocolate!

The bright yellow tulips are from the Vanco Tulip Farm in Mt. Albion, PEI.

Love these little chocolate nests filled with tiny miniature Easter eggs!  The fudge brownies were pretty awesome, too!

Seasonal cookie shapes of pink bunnies and lambs also found their way on to the Easter tea table along with melting moments sandwiched together with bright-colored buttercream icing.

I am always looking for creative uses for my teacup collection.  Here, I have used them to serve brightly-colored Easter cupcakes.

Dainty little Scotch cookies decorated for the Easter season.

Decorating seasonal cookies is one of my passions – can you tell?

 Fun and whimsical!  Certain conversation pieces, for sure!

I realized, too late, that I had forgotten to take a close-up of my Easter teapot on the tea table.  Fortunately, I had another photograph of it so here is photo of my “Little Lamb Teapot”.

And, when it’s all put together, this is what it looked like.

I hope you have enjoyed these photos of my Easter Tea.  Thank you for visiting my blog today.  I hope you are enjoying this Easter season.

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                                                                                                                                                 Barbara

Blood Orange and Rhubarb Sauce for Halibut Steaks

Blood Orange and Rhubarb Sauce over Halibut Steak served with Herb-Roasted Potatoes and Steamed Root Vegetables
Blood Orange and Rhubarb Sauce over Halibut Steak served with Herb-Roasted Miniature Potatoes and Steamed Root Vegetables

Every Spring, I freeze bags and bags of rhubarb for recipes to be made through the remainder of the year.  I am always looking for new ways to serve this versatile vegetable.  Living on an island on the East Coast of Canada, fish is readily available.  Sometimes, I like to eat the fish plain, just pan-seared or oven-baked but, other times, I like it dressed up a bit.  Rhubarb and citrus make a nice combination and citrus sauces go well with seafood so my creation includes both rhubarb and citrus fruit.

It will be another couple of months before we have fresh rhubarb from our garden so I thought it was time to use up some of the remaining frozen rhubarb (or maybe I just needed to have a Spring food because our Winter is getting very tiresome with 2 major snow storms within 3 days this past week).  So, today, I am going to share with you a sauce that I created especially for white fish.  You can use any kind of white fish with this sauce – my choice was the halibut steak because it had enough thickness to it that it would hold together to plate well for presentation and not break into pieces.

I will tell you, though, that this sauce has a number of steps so it is probably not suitable for weeknights for most of us as it is does take some time to make.  It dresses up fish so would certainly be suitable for a special weekend dinner or for company.  I love the rich red-colored sauce as a contrast to the white fish.  I hope you enjoy.

Blood Orange and Rhubarb Sauce for Halibut Steaks

(created by Barbara of My Island Bistro Kitchen)

1 cup rhubarb, fresh or frozen

2 tbsp sugar

¼ cup water

 

Juice of 2 blood oranges (about 2/3 cup juice)

 

1 tbsp butter

1 shallot, finely minced (about ¼ cup)

1 clove garlic, finely minced

1 tbsp. Liquid Gold Pomegranate Quince balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp. Pomegranate molasses

2 tsp. liquid chicken bouillon concentrate mixed in ½ cup hot water

1 1/2 tsp. blood orange zest

¼ tsp. sage

¼ tsp. ginger

1 ½ – 2 tsp. cornstarch mixed in 1 tbsp. cold water to make thickening paste

Method:

In saucepan, place the rhubarb, sugar, and ¼ cup water.  Cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, until rhubarb has softened.  Push the rhubarb through a sieve to release the juice.  You should have about 1/3 cup of rhubarb juice.  Discard rhubarb pulp.  Set juice aside.

Making the Rhubarb Juice

Meanwhile, grate 1 1/2 tsp zest from one blood orange.  Squeeze juice from 2 medium-sized blood oranges and strain through sieve to remove any pith and stones.  In small saucepan, over medium-low heat, reduce the orange juice to about half.  You should have about 1/3 cup of juice after this process.

Preparing the Blood Orange Juice

In clean saucepan, melt the butter and sauté the shallot and minced garlic for 3-4 minutes until shallot is translucent.

Sauté Shallots and Garlic

Add the rhubarb and orange juices, Pomegranate Quince balsamic vinegar, pomegranate molasses, chicken stock, orange zest, sage, and ginger.  Bring to a boil over medium-low heat.

Remove from heat and strain through fine sieve into clean saucepan to remove any pieces of garlic and onion.  This will make a clean, smooth sauce.  Return mixture to low heat.

Mix cornstarch with water to make a paste.  Add about 1 tbsp of the hot liquid from the sauce to temper the paste so it will not go lumpy when added to the hot mixture.  Add to saucepan mixture and stir or whisk until thickened to consistency desired.

Makes enough sauce for 3-4 servings.

To serve:

Pan-sear or oven-bake halibut steaks till fish flakes easily.  Plate the fish and pour 1-2 tbsp sauce over each steak.  Garnish with chopped pistachio nuts, if desired, and blood orange slices.

I served the fish with a medley of yellow, red, and blue herb-roasted miniature potatoes, steamed carrots and turnip, and paired this meal with Beringer’s Chardonnay (CA).

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St. Patrick’s Day Afternoon Tea

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone!  Today, I am sharing photos from my St. Patrick’s Day Afternoon Tea.

St. Patrick's Day Afternoon Tea Setting
St. Patrick’s Day Afternoon Tea Setting

I love this little square tablecloth and matching napkins.  I bought them some years ago at the Blarney Castle on a visit to Ireland.  It has been a tradition since to display this cloth on St. Patrick’s Day and it always evokes great memories of my visit to the Emerald Isle.

Of course, it’s also a time for me to bring out my small collection of Irish-themed dishes.

The tea offering from the teapot was English Afternoon Tea.

My choice of tea table flowers centered around the colors in the Irish flag – the green mums and Bells of Ireland, the orange roses, and the white tulips which, of course, came from our local PEI tulip growers – Vanco Tulip Farm in Mt. Albion, PEI.

I love these Canadian “loonie” chocolate coins!

On the tea tray menu – Currant scones with homemade raspberry jam, chocolate cupcakes (flavored with a bit of Irish stout, filled with whiskey-flavored chocolate ganache, and frosted with Bailey’s Irish Cream-flavoured icing), and chocolate drop cookies.  The cookies are my March 2013 Cookie of the Month.

These scones are delicately rich!

And, my seedless raspberry jam only makes them that much more delectable!

And, of course, there would have to be a green beverage on the table.

The scones may have been good but the cupcakes were the “icing on the cake”, so to speak!

I like the white and milk chocolate swirled chips in these chocolate drop cookies.

 

The green color always makes for a bright, colorful, and cheery table!

I hope you have enjoyed a glimpse into my version of an afternoon tea to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.   I’ll leave you with this Irish blessing:

May you always have walls for the winds,
a roof for the rain, tea beside the fire,
laughter to cheer you, those you love near you,
and all your heart might desire.

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Boiled Ham Dinner – Old-fashioned Comfort Food!

Boiled Ham DInner
Boiled Ham Dinner

This old-fashioned boiled ham dinner is a meal that is so familiar to me that it never occurred to me that some don’t even know what a “boiled dinner” is.  So, today, I am going to demystify and explain the “boiled dinner” as I know it.

There are any number of meats that can be used to constitute a boiled dinner.  I grew up with a boiled dinner made with either a cut of  beef or a smoked pork picnic shoulder (ham) (bone-in).  My mother taught school and this was often a Saturday meal with enough cooked for leftovers for a weeknight meal early the next week as well as meat for sandwiches for school lunches.  Saturday would be a busy day with housework, laundry, and shopping so this was a simple, easy, and tasty meal to prepare.  The meat is put in a big pot on the stove and cooked slowly in lots of water for probably a couple of hours and then root vegetables are added and cooked in the broth – no thickening.  These veggies would typically include parsnips, turnip, carrots, and potatoes.  As those of you who follow my blog will observe, I tend to cook with a fair bit of seasoning.  A boiled dinner, however, is the exception; I use absolutely no seasonings whatsoever, not even onion.  I let the natural flavour of the meat do all the seasoning. With all the vegetables cooked in the same pot in a flavorful broth, this makes a nutritious and wholesome meal.  And, there is nothing like the tantalizing scent of a boiled ham dinner simmering on the stove!

Earlier today, I had a discussion with some friends and acquaintances about their versions of a boiled dinner.  I learned that, depending on the region of the country you may come from, different meats are used as well as different vegetables.  For example, someone from the south shore of Nova Scotia makes her boiled dinner with corned beef to which she adds turnips, cabbage, and potatoes.  Another, in addition to the usual root veggies, adds onion and cabbage in her boiled ham dinner and finishes the cooking process by placing the mixture in the oven for about a half hour.  Yet another tells me her version of a boiled dinner is either pork and fiddleheads or pork and sauerkraut.  Essentially, then, we can conclude that a boiled dinner is a cut of meat of some sort, cooked in water to make a broth, to which a variety of vegetables (as many or as few as you like) can be added in the later stages of cooking.  It’s dinner in one pot!

I am not so fond of a boiled beef dinner.  My favorite is the boiled ham dinner, as we refer to it.  The important thing about the meat is that it should have a bone in it to add to the flavour and it should be cooked slowly.  The slow cooking process makes the meat very tender.  Some may fully cook the ham and then remove it and cook the vegetables separately in the broth afterwards.  I cook the meat and veggies altogether because that’s what my mother and hers before her did.  The leftover ham can be served cold with salads or scalloped potatoes and it also makes really tasty sandwiches.

So, here is my method for making an old-fashioned traditional boiled ham dinner:

The ingredients are simple:  a smoked pork picnic shoulder (ham) and root vegetables of choice.

Ingredients for a Boiled Ham Dinner
Ingredients for a Boiled Ham Dinner

Place the ham in a large stock pot and add water to cover the meat.

Boil the ham slowly and gently for 2 – 2 1/2 hours (depending on its size) then add the vegetables, starting with those that take longest to cook – e.g., parsnips.  Continue to simmer the meal for about 20-30 minutes then add chunks of cut-up turnip.  Cook for about another half-hour.

Add the carrots and continue the cooking process for another 20 minutes or so.

Finally add the potatoes – if they large, halve them.  Cook just until the potatoes are fork tender – about 15-20 minutes.  Be careful not to overcook the potatoes as they will break up and become mushy.

Remove the ham from the pot and transfer to a large plate or platter.  Remove the netting (if any) on the ham.  Slice.

Using a slotted spoon, remove vegetables and plate meal with slices of ham.  If desired, spoon some of the broth over the vegetables.  Homemade mustard pickles are a nice accompaniment to this meal.

DSC_0545

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Boiled Ham Dinner
Boiled Ham Dinner

 

March 2013 Cookie of the Month: Double Chocolate Chip Drop Cookies

Chocolate Drop Cookies Made with Stout
Double Chocolate Chip Drop Cookies Made with Stout

Well, for my Cookie of the Month for March, I tried to find out if there is a cookie recipe that traces its origins to Ireland or, alternatively, a cookie that is particularly popular on the Emerald Isle.  However, I had no luck in tracking down any (maybe it was lack of Irish luck!).  If any of you know of a traditional Irish cookie, please do share the information.

I decided to create a special recipe and give it a distinctly Irish flavour using stout in honour of St. Patrick’s Day on March 17th.  As you know, whenever possible, I like to feature Island products in my cooking and baking.  PEI does have one brewing company that produces stout – The Island Brewing Company produces Gahan Sydney Street Stout.  However, it is apparently a limited edition and is not available in local liquor stores year-round — at least I couldn’t track down any.  So, instead, I opted to use Montreal-brewed St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout because it boasts hints of espresso and chocolate.  I knew I was going to be making a chocolate cookie with a hint of coffee flavour so a stout with both chocolate and coffee flavour could only enhance the cookie’s taste.  Like any ingredient, moderation is the trick.  My goal was to flavour the cookie with the stout and bring out the chocolate flavour – I wasn’t aiming for a beer-tasting cookie.  Therefore, I used only 1 1/2 tablespoons of stout as part of the liquid ingredients.

For the chocolate, I chose to use semi-sweet squares of chocolate because I find their flavour a bit more intense than powdered cocoa.  Using some brewed coffee gives these cookies a distinct mocha flavour.  For interest, color, and texture, I used swirled milk and white chocolate chips.

This dough does well when it is chilled and allowed to “rest” for 24 hours after mixing and before baking the cookies.  The purpose of letting the dough “rest” is to allow the liquid ingredients, including the egg, to get fully incorporated and absorbed into the other ingredients.  The “resting” period makes for a drier and firmer cookie dough and this controls its spread while baking so you don’t end up with a really flat cookie.

The chilled dough, though, will be really hard making it next to impossible to use a cookie scoop (I know as I have already gone through two of them!) to form the cookies into shapes for baking.  Cookie scoops are great to make uniform-sized and shaped cookies; however, dropping the cookies by teaspoons on to the baking sheet also works well.

I like the drop cookies to be soft and somewhat chewy and, of course, the key to that texture is to slightly underbake the cookies – bake these no more than 10-12 minutes at 350F and let them cool on the baking sheet for 2-3 minutes before moving them to a wire rack to finish cooling.

My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Double Chocolate Chip Drop Cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/4 cup shortening, softened

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup white sugar

1 egg

2 tbsp. cold brewed coffee

1 1/2 tbsp stout

2 tbsp milk

1 tsp vanilla

2 1/2 squares of semi-sweet chocolate, melted

2 cups flour

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 cup chocolate chips

Method:

Assemble ingredients.

Cream butter and shortening.

Add brown and white sugars.  Beat until light and fluffy.  Add egg and beat until blended.

 In separate bowl, or large measuring cup, mix coffee, stout, milk, and vanilla.  Stir to combine.  Add to mixture.  Mix well.

Add melted chocolate and mix to blend.

Combine dry ingredients.  Add to mixture and stir just until flour is incorporated.

 

Stir in chocolate chips.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate dough for 24 hours.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  Drop by spoonfuls onto baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches between the cookies.  Bake at 350F oven for 10-12 minutes.  Let cookies cool on baking sheet for 2-3 minutes then transfer them to a wire rack to finish cooling.

 

 

 

 

 

These make a fine treat for St. Patrick’s Day (but are just as good any time of the year!)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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Double Chocolate Chip Drop Cookies
Double Chocolate Chip Drop Cookies

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Ham, Cheese, & Tomato Panini

Ham, Cheese, & Tomato Panini
Ham, Cheese, & Tomato Panini

There are so many ways to serve a sandwich other than just throwing two pieces of bread and some filling together.  One of my favorite ways to serve sandwiches is to make them into panini.  I bought a Bella panini grill a couple of years ago and I have certainly gotten use out of it.

Panini is nothing more than bread or rolls, some kind of spread, and a filling which usually involves some variety of deli meat and cheese.  Often, a vegetable such as tomato is added as well.  The sandwich is then heated in a sandwich press or panini grill where it is pressed flat and toasted.

If you are lucky enough to be near a bakery or a supermarket that makes a variety of breads and rolls, you are likely to find ones suitable for use in panini grills. Rolls identified simply as panini rolls or Ciabiata, Focaccia, or baguettes are all suitable for use in these types of sandwiches. Here in Charlottetown, the Atlantic Superstore has a good variety of rolls that they sell individually.  You can, of course, use any plain bread you wish but the sandwich will be more interesting if made with some type of artisan bread or rolls.

Today, I am going to share with you how I make a Ham, Cheese, & Tomato Panini.

First, I have chosen puffy oval-shaped rolls that were simply labelled “Panini  Rolls” at the Superstore and I split them in half, horizontally.

Panini Rolls
Panini Rolls

I sliced tomato rather thinly and sprinkled it with about 1/2 tsp. Cranberry Pear White Balsamic Vinegar from the Liquid Gold store here in Charlottetown.  If you have been following my blog, you will recall the feature story I did last summer on this store and their fabulous balsamic vinegars and olive oils.  I then sprinkled the tomatoes with some fresh ground pepper and sea salt and set them aside while I prepared the rest of the sandwich.

Marinating Tomatoes in Cranberry-Pear Balsamic Vinegar
Marinating Tomatoes in Cranberry-Pear Balsamic Vinegar

To make the mayonnaise spread, I combined 1 tbsp maple syrup with 1 1/2 tbsp mayonnaise, 1 tsp. Dijon mustard, and a pinch each of basil and chives.  I then added 1 green onion, thinly sliced.

Mixing Mayonnaise Spread
Mixing Mayonnaise Spread

Using a good quality extra virgin olive oil (I used Liquid Gold’s Arbosana), I brushed olive oil over all the outside edges of the rolls.  This is one of the occasions where you want to use the very best quality olive oil you can find because the taste really does come through.

Brushing the rolls with olive oil
Brushing the rolls with olive oil

I flipped the rolls over and spread the mayonnaise on each of the interior sides of the rolls.  On one side of the roll, I started building the sandwich, starting first with a good quality Black Forest deli ham that was sliced very thin.

I then added the marinated tomatoes

Adding the marinated tomatoes
Adding the marinated tomatoes

and another slice of ham

and, finally, added the grated cheese.

Adding grated cheese
Adding grated cheese

You can use any of your favorite cheeses in this sandwich – I happened to have some Italiano mixture (mozzarella, asiago, smoked provolone, and parmesan) in the fridge so that’s what I used.

I then put the top part of the roll on the sandwich and transferred it to the heated panini grill.

I pressed and held down the top of the panini grill for about 20 seconds or so.

Panini Grill
Panini Grill

I grilled the sandwich on the medium setting for probably about 4-5 minutes, essentially just long enough for the sandwich to be heated, the cheese melted, and the roll to have a nice crisp crust.  Since each brand of grill will differ slightly, you will want to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for grilling panini and do some testing with your particular grill.

I sliced the panini diagonally and served it with carrot and celery sticks.

Ham, Cheese, & Tomato Panini

1 medium-sized tomato

1/2 tsp. Liquid Gold Cranberry Pear White Balsamic Vinegar

Fresh ground pepper and sea salt

1 tbsp maple syrup

1 1/2 tbsp mayonnaise

1 tsp Dijon mustard

pinch dried basil

pinch dried chives

1 small green onion, thinly sliced (white and light green parts only)

2 oz. deli-style Black Forest ham, thinly sliced

1 oz. grated Italian blend cheese

2 panini rolls of choice

1 – 1 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Directions:

Slice tomato thinly.  Drizzle with 1/2 tsp. Cranberry Pear White Balsamic Vinegar, freshly ground pepper, and sea salt.  Set aside to marinate as you prepare remainder of ingredients.

In small bowl, combine the maple syrup, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, herbs, and green onion.  Mix well.

Split panini roll in half, horizontally.  Brush virgin olive oil on all outside edges of roll. Flip rolls over and spread mayonnaise mixture on both interior sides of roll.  Lay slice of ham on one side of roll.  Add the marinated tomatoes.  Add second layer of ham.  Sprinkle with grated cheese.  Place top of roll over layers of sandwich.  Transfer to heated panini maker and grill according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Makes 2 panini.

 

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Belgian Waffles with Strawberries and Chocolate Syrup

Well, it’s been another stormy day here on Prince Edward Island.  Don’t know why but I have a tendency to want to make Belgian waffles on storm days.  Maybe it’s because I have the time, or maybe it’s that I know I’d have the ingredients and don’t need to shop in order to make the recipe – don’t know.  Anyway, today was the day to make waffles.

 

Belgian Waffle with Fresh Strawberries, Whipped Cream, and Chocolate Sauce
Belgian Dessert Waffle with Fresh Strawberries, Whipped Cream, and Chocolate Sauce

The first time I had Belgian waffles was in Ogunquit, Maine, a long time ago.  We used to vacation there and we found a wonderful little café that opened only for breakfast and their specialty was the Belgian waffle served with huge, fresh Maine blueberries.  Naturally, a Belgian waffle maker had to be purchased so we could make them at home!

Waffles are very versatile.  They can be a breakfast food, eaten at brunch, lunch, for dessert or even as a main course for dinner, depending on the topping.  There is nothing like creamed chicken atop a puffy Belgian waffle for good old-fashioned comfort food!

Imported strawberries have been available in local supermarkets and at a good price the past couple of weeks.  Despite their travel time to get to us, their quality and flavour have been quite good.  I had a large container of them that I knew wouldn’t keep much longer.  I also had a craving for a rich chocolate sauce this afternoon.  So, why not take a lowly basic waffle and dress it up for a tasty lunch.  For this presentation, I made a smaller waffle (using about 1/2 cup of batter).

Here is the basic waffle recipe I used:

Waffle Ingredients
Waffle Ingredients

Belgian Waffles

1 cup flour

1/2 tbsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

pinch salt

1 cup milk

1/2 tsp vanilla

2 medium-sized eggs, separated

2 tbsp melted butter

 

Separate the eggs.  Beat the egg whites stiff.  Set aside. 

In separate bowl, mix the egg yolks and all remaining ingredients.

With electric mixer, beat until well-blended.

Gently fold the egg whites into the flour and milk mixture.  Fold just until they are incorporated.  This will yield a light, fluffy waffle.

Heat waffle maker and cook waffles according to manufacturer’s directions, using about 3/4 cup – 1 cup of batter per waffle or about a 1/2 cup for a smaller dessert-sized waffle. I didn’t quite use enough batter to get completely to the edges in the waffle below 🙂 

To serve, add sliced fruit, a dollop of whipped cream, and drizzle with your favorite syrup.  Dust with confectioner’s sugar.

Yield: 3-4 waffles

To make a more hearty waffle, use between 3/4 – 1 cup of batter.

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Valentine’s Day Breakfast in Bed

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!  Be sure to use the occasion to show special appreciation for those you love.  One of the most ultimate ways to pamper a loved one on any day (and not just on Valentine’s) is by preparing and serving him or her breakfast in bed.

Valentine's Day Breakfast in Bed Tray
Valentine’s Day Breakfast in Bed Tray

This is a very simple breakfast menu I have selected for the bed tray:  Freshly squeezed orange juice, fresh fruit cup sprinkled with coconut, heart-shaped Irish Cream French Toast with pure Canadian maple syrup, and a wee pot of tea. (Recipe for the French Toast follows at end of posting)

There is nothing like fresh-squeezed orange juice to start the day!   The little juice jug was a find at a thrift shop.  Bed trays have limited space so I’m always on the look-out for items that will be suitable for this purpose.  I have opted to make the event special by serving the juice in a stemmed glass.

 

I have selected fruit with different colors and textures and dressed the fruit cup with some coconut and orange zest.  The glass pedestal dessert dish is perfect for serving fresh fruit because it allows the colors of the fruit to show through giving color to the tray.

I sprinkled the French toast with confectioner’s sugar and added a dollop or two of whipped cream.   My heart-shaped cookie cutter didn’t have as deep a cut in the center as I would have liked; consequently, the heart-shape isn’t as prominent or doesn’t show up as well in the photographs.   I added the fan-cut strawberry to give both color and flavour.

What dresses up the food is the presentation.  Yes, it’s all about the presentation!  I covered the tray with a couple of my best quality white napkins and folded the third, using a “blingy” napkin ring as napkin jewelry.  Out came the wee Sadler teapot I found in a second-hand shop last summer.  From my teacup collection, I selected one that is predominantly pink since my color theme for this bed tray is pink and red.

Every bed tray should be adorned with a small bouquet of fresh flowers.  I thoroughly enjoy having access to Island greenhouse-grown tulips over the winter.  I drove out to Vanco Farms in Mount Albion to specifically select these pink and red tulips, knowing they would be perfect on this tray!  I think the pink and red make a stunning color combination!

And, of course, adding a lovely card and a gift will make a special someone’s Valentine’s Day just a tad more special!

 

My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Irish Cream French Toast

2 eggs

3 tbsp milk

2 tsp Irish Cream Liqueur (follow link at bottom of posting for my recipe for homemade Irish Cream Liqueur)

1/2 tbsp orange juice

1/4 tsp vanilla

1/4 tsp cinnamon

pinch cardamom

1/2 tsp freshly grated orange rind

With whisk, beat eggs lightly.  Add remainder of ingredients in order given.  Whisk to combine.  Pour mixture into a flat pan or pie plate.  Dip each bread slice into the mixture, turning to coat both sides.

Melt 1 tsp. butter in skillet.  Transfer dipped bread to hot skillet.  Over medium heat, fry bread till browned.  Flip bread to brown other side.  Transfer to serving plate.  Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar and add a dollop of whipped cream, if desired.  Serve warm with maple syrup.


Click on this link for my recipe for homemade Irish Cream Liqueur.

 

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Pancakes for Shrove Tuesday

Today is Shrove Tuesday, often commonly referred to as “Pancake Day” or “Pancake Tuesday”.  Shrove Tuesday always falls on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday which signifies the beginning of Lent, a 40-day period leading to Easter in the Christian calendar.  In some denominations, Lent is a period of abstaining from certain things, which may include rich food indulgences such as meals made with butter, eggs, and fat, for the 40-days of Lent.  So, legend has it that the day before Lent was the last day to indulge and also to feast on the foods that would not carry over and last until after Lent – foods like butter, eggs, and milk.  Or, perhaps it was considered best to get the items used up before Ash Wednesday lest they become temptations during Lent, a period of fasting!  Supposedly, if they mixed together some butter, eggs, fat, milk, flour, and some sort of leavening and put that in a pan on the stove, it produced pancakes!

On PEI, there are always lots of pancake breakfasts or suppers on or around Pancake Day.  Some use them as fundraisers and others, well, it’s just part of tradition.  One way or another, many Islanders will have, or serve, pancakes for a meal today, either for breakfast or for supper.

This year, with Easter being early, Pancake Day happens to fall just before Valentine’s Day.  So, I’ve opted to dress the pancakes up by serving them with strawberries shaped into hearts along with some fresh blueberries.

And, of course, you know, I’m going to have some gorgeous Island-grown greenhouse red tulips from Vanco Farms (Mount Albion, PEI) on the table somewhere!

Pancakes are a simple food, not taking any ingredients unlikely to be found in most cupboards.  There are many variations to the basic pancake recipe; blueberries, chocolate chips, apple, and just about anything can be added to the pancake batter.  Butter and maple syrup are the most common toppings although blueberry, strawberry, chocolate, or other favorite sauces can also be used.

I tend to like the plain pancakes with butter and maple syrup and a light dusting of confectioner’s sugar and some fresh fruit on the side.

And, of course, I am using pure, all-natural Canadian maple syrup!

Pancakes are always good comfort food!

Some recipes will result in flat pancakes, almost crepe-like just as my grandmother used to make, while pancakes from other recipes will rise and be quite thick.  My recipe produces nice, puffy pancakes.

Today, I made just a half recipe of the pancakes as my recipe halves as easily as it doubles.   Here is the full recipe:

Basic Pancakes

1 egg, beaten

1 1/4 cups milk

2 1/2 tbsp cooking oil

1/4 tsp vanilla

1 1/4 cups flour

1 tbsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

2 1/2 tbsp sugar

Whisk egg.  Add milk, oil, and vanilla.  Whisk to mix.

Add remaining ingredients in order listed.  Whisk until dry ingredients are incorporated.  Let mixture stand for 5-7 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt about 1/2 tbsp butter in skillet.  Using 1/3 cup measure, pour mixture into round shapes in skillet – I don’t worry about getting the pancakes perfectly round shapes.  When pancakes are puffed up, edges start to appear dry, and bubbles appear on tops of pancakes, turn the pancakes to brown their other side.

Serve hot with butter and/or desired sauce.

Makes 9-10 medium-sized pancakes.

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Pancakes
Homemade Pancakes

February 2013 Cookie of the Month – Sugar Cookies

Sugar Cookies
Sugar Cookies

My choice of Cookie of the Month for February 2013 is the old-fashioned sugar cookie.  These are one of the plainest cookies yet they have endured throughout time and are often counted amongst the favorites in many families.  These cookies are aptly named given the amount of sugar in them in proportion to the amounts of other ingredients.  Despite the amount of sugar in most sugar cookie recipes, they are not really an overly sweet or rich cookie. 

Growing up on PEI, sugar and molasses cookies were a standard staple in many Island homes.  My grandmothers always had them on hand yet their cookies varied significantly because, of course, they used different recipes and probably some different ingredients or proportions.  One grandmother always made round cookies while the other always cut her cookies into squares.  One made soft cookies while the other made cookies that were quite hard.

I remember visiting one grandmother and, as soon as I’d get in the door, I’d always ask for cookies to which the response was ‘you don’t have to ask, just go and help yourself’.  I’d trot into her pantry and there were always two large cookie tins on the counter – one for molasses cookies and the other for sugar cookies.  I’d return to the kitchen to find Gramma, with a big, happy smile on her face, having taken up her position in her Boston rocker beside the stove, waiting for me to occupy the companion rocker and have a visit.  I’d rock away munching on the cookies — a sugar in one hand and a molasses cookie in the other — and we’d chat about this and that and nothing in particular.  I think it made her day to have me pop in for a visit and to see little fingers fishing cookies out of the tins!  I never remember visiting that there weren’t cookies in those tins!  Gramma really was a cookie-type grandmother!  Great memories!

 

Sugar Cookies and Hot Cocoa
Sugar Cookies and Hot Cocoa

Both molasses and sugar cookies were considered wholesome and substantial cookies that didn’t take ingredients homemakers would not be likely to have in their pantries.  So, they were quite an economical cookie to make.  No matter the recipe, sugar cookies have common ingredients – some kind of fat (butter, shortening, or lard), sugar (white or brown or a combination), eggs, flour, leavening agent (baking soda, cream of tartar, and/or baking powder), vanilla, and often a small quantity of milk.  Sugar cookies can be rolled and cut into desired shapes or they can be drop cookies, depending on the recipe used.

The recipe I use is for rolled sugar cookies.  They are neither soft nor hard.  The  batter is quite dense.  These cookies hold their shape well.  I chill the dough for a couple of hours before rolling it out and then chill the cut cookies on the baking sheet for 10-15 minutes before baking them.  This helps to contain their shape and keep them from spreading.  I add just small amounts of two spices – cardamom and nutmeg —  not enough to change them from sugar to spice cookies but sufficient to give the flavour a bit of complexity for the taste buds.  I also add the seeds from one-half of a vanilla bean as well as 1 tsp pure vanilla.  I like the flavour from the vanilla bean seeds and I especially like the little black specks in the appearance of the cookie.  My recipe calls for butter but some will use half shortening and half butter.  Butter, of course, will make a richer cookie.

The key to baking cookies that will determine if they are soft or hard is the baking time.  For softer, more chewy cookies, remove them from the oven when they are ever-so-slightly undercooked.

So, on this blustery and stormy day when PEI is getting pummeled with a good old-fashioned “Nor-easter” snow storm, and the Island is virtually shut down, I introduce you to my old-fashioned sugar cookies.

 

Old-fashioned Sugar Cookies

1 cup butter (no substitutes), softened at room temperature

1 cup white sugar

2 large eggs

1/4 cup milk

1 tsp. vanilla

seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar

1 tsp. soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. cardamom

1/8 tsp. nutmeg

 

Preheat oven to 375F

Using the tip of a sharp knife, split open the vanilla bean lengthwise.  Using the edge of the knife blade , scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean.  Set aside.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs and beat well.  Add milk, vanilla, and vanilla bean seeds.  Beat just until combined.

In separate bowl, combine and stir flour, cream of tartar, soda, salt, cardamon, and nutmeg.  Add to liquid ingredients and stir just until flour mixture is combined with liquid ingredients.

Chill dough for 1-2 hours.

On floured surface, gather dough together and roll out dough to a scant 1/4″ thickness.  Cut into desired shapes.

Decorate with raisins and/or sprinkle of sugar, if desired.

Place on parchment-lined baking sheets about 1 1/2″ apart.  Chill cookies in refrigerator for 10-15 minutes.  Remove and bake for 8-10 minutes.  Immediately transfer cookies to wire racks to cool.

Makes about 3 dozen – 2 5/8″ cookies.  Yield will vary depending on size of cookie cutters used.

Store cookies in an airtight container and keep at room temperature or store in freezer.

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Sugar Cookies
Sugar Cookies

Tulip Tablescape and a Visit to Vanco Tulip Farm

It’s time again for me to share another tablesetting with you.  This time I was preparing for a casual dinner party for six and I was featuring Island-grown tulips in my centerpiece.  I wanted to keep the tablesetting very simple and streamlined, unpretentious, and understated.   But first, let’s go on a field trip to Vanco Farms to get the tulips and find out about their tulip-growing operation.

Last week was the coldest week yet on Prince Edward Island this year.  On Tuesday mid-afternoon, when I headed east out of Charlottetown, across the Hillsborough Bridge, I glanced at the computer screen on my dashboard and it was reading an outside temperature of a balmy -14C (without windchill factor which some days was down around the -30C to -34C range).  As I drove along, I thought this was an interesting day to be heading to a tulip garden, a huge one at that.

I have often stopped by Vanco Farms in Mount Albion, about a 15-minute drive outside of Charlottetown, to pick up some of their fabulous tulips at their onsite retail outlet.  While sometimes I do purchase the tulips at a local supermarket, there is something about buying product right at source – the freshness is unbeatable.  Last winter, I was rarely without their tulips throughout the house and, particularly, on my dining table.  I had contacted Vanco Farms last spring about doing this story in connection with a tablescape but it was near the end of their season and they suggested I wait till January when their greenhouse operation would be in full swing. 

As is the case with several stories, particularly ones where growing food or flowers are involved, the story evolves over several months so I can capture the various steps in the process.  So, let’s pick up the story way back on May 10, 2012, when, in preparation for this feature, I photographed a huge field of Vanco tulips in full bloom in Pownal, PEI. 

FIeld of Tulips, Pownal, PEI
FIeld of Tulips, Pownal, PEI

This was a field of tulips that were about to be cut down so that all the plants’ energy would be generated towards their bulbs that grow and multiply underground and not directed into the pretty blooms.  How heartwrenching to see a tractor and cutter mowing down all these colourful petals; however, it is for long-term gain.  The bulbs that are large enough will go for bulb sales or will make their way into the greenhouse to be grown for cut flowers over the winter.  The smaller bulbs will be replanted in the fall and will be given the time to mature and grow into the more desirable large bulbs.  Large bulbs will produce the larger, more premium blooms with stronger stems.

 Aren’t these fabulous colors!

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So, fast-forward to January 22, 2013, when I visited the Vanco greenhouses and production facility.  I was met by Bas Arendse who toured me through their tulip-growing operation.  Seriously, on a cold January day, there is nothing more uplifting than to stroll through warm, bright greenhouses with thousands of tulips at various growth stages through to bloom.

 

Tulips in Vanco Farms Greenhouse, Mount Albion, PEI - 15 January 2013
Tulips in Vanco Farms Greenhouse, Mount Albion, PEI – 15 January 2013

Vanco Farms began growing tulips in 2002 with a modest experimental crop of less than one acre.  That venture has grown exponentially and, today, they grow some 3 million bulbs covering 40 acres – can you imagine and picture 40 acres covered in fabulous colorful tulip blooms!  I asked Bas what made Vanco Farms decide to start growing tulips on PEI (they are the only commercial tulip grower on the Island).  He tells me he grew up in Holland on a tulip farm that is still run by his father and sister and, when he moved to PEI, it was natural for him to grow tulips.  Yes, I think it would be fair to say that tulip-growing runs through Bas’ veins and he has it down to a science.  Thus, growing tulips is second nature for Bas.  He says about 50% of their bulbs still come from Holland while the other 50% come from their own fields in PEI.

So, basically, here is the process.  The bulbs are planted in the fields in the fall so they have a chance to root before our harsh, cold winter arrives.  In the spring, once the tulips come into full bloom, the petals are all cut off the plants.  The bulbs stay in the ground for about 6 more weeks when they are then harvested.  The bulbs are dried and separated with the smaller ones destined for field growth the following fall and the large ones set aside for greenhouse growing over the winter. 

The larger bulbs are planted in these trays in October-November and are kept in cold storage to recreate winter-like conditions for the bulbs – in other words, to trick the bulbs into acting as though it is winter. 

Tulips in Cold Storage
Tulips in Cold Storage

These are then moved into the greenhouse where the warmth will trick the bulbs into acting as though it is spring and time to grow.  This process, known as tulip-forcing, means the tulips will be ready for market in about 21-28 days.  Keeping a steady schedule of when these bulbs are taken out of cold storage at staggering times ensures there is always an abundance of tulips ready for market throughout the winter and early spring months.

Tulips at Various Growth Stages in Vanco Greenhouse
Tulips at Various Growth Stages in Vanco Greenhouse

When the tulips are ready for cutting, they are picked and loaded into these carts.

The tulips are then processed by this machine that cuts the bulbs from the stems.  These bulbs will go into storage and be planted again next fall. 

 

An assembly line of workers gather the tulips into bunches and place them on the conveyer belt.

The conveyer belt takes the tulips through the machine that wraps elastic around them to hold them in place.

 

At the end of the conveyer belt, a worker takes each bundle of tulips and slips it into a plastic sleeve. 

The tulips are then placed in these crates which sit in water for about 30 minutes to allow the thirsty stems to soak up a drink.

From there, the drained crates of tulips move into a cool storage room where the bundles of tulips are packed in boxes ready for shipping.

 

While Vanco Farms does produce some tulip bulbs for sale, that accounts for only about 10% of their business with the remaining 90% coming from the sale of cut tulips that are grown in their greenhouses.  In terms of best sellers, Bas says the most popular colors of tulips are yellow, orange, white, and pink followed by red and purple.  I like them all!

I asked Bas what the biggest challenge is to growing tulips in PEI.  He says our typically cold spring weather can pose an issue, particularly if there is a heavy frost.  This can cause the stems to go hollow and the bulbs to not grow.

Tulip-farming at Vanco Farms is a year-round operation despite our relatively short growing season on the Island.  January to May is their busiest time because it is when the greenhouse is in full production and so it is cutting season.  During this time, they will employ between 15-25 people and have three delivery trucks on the road in eastern Canada and the New England area of the United States.  The rest of the year is devoted to field work and processing tulip bulbs.

Vanco tulips are available at many places on the Island including the retail outlet at the farm in Mount Albion, major supermarkets, most flower shops, the Saturday Farmers Market in Charlottetown, and Riverview Country Market in the east end of the City.  They also export a large portion of their greenhouse-grown tulips from January to May.  In fact, their delivery trucks transport shipments of fresh tulips to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Quebec twice a week and to Boston once a week.

It’s always a highlight of my winter when I discover Vanco tulips are on the market!  Their colourful blooms always inject a bit of bright color into those dark, dreary winter days.

I like tulips for dining table floral arrangements.  Not only do they have beautiful simplistic blooms on long elegant stems with wonderful greenery but they are also not heavily scented which means they don’t compete with food scents.  There are any number of ways to arrange tulips for the dining table.  Here I have selected Vanco’s Snow Lady white tulips and I simply arranged 20 of them in a fluted vase for this casually-elegant tablesetting because I was looking for something very simplistic and not fussy.  I chose white because it blends in with winter and also because it matches anything.  In this particular setting, I used a white tablecloth and napkins and my china pattern which is largely white.  I like how the white blooms just seem to pop from the greenery!  The wine glasses I chose to use are very simplistic and are actually somewhat tulip-shaped themselves.  I opted to go with a plain, flat napkin fold because I didn’t want anything to detract from the tulips – I wanted them to be the focal point of the table.  I also chose just a couple of small crystal votives, again so there would be nothing to compete with the floral centerpiece.

Vanco Farm's Snow Lady Tulips
Vanco Farm’s Snow Lady Tulips

 

 

Florist Bernadette Praught of Bernadette’s Flowers in Stratford, PEI, has high praise for Vanco tulips.  She says being able to go directly to their greenhouses about 10 minutes from her flower shop and pick up freshly-cut tulips means she is getting the freshest flowers possible for her customers.  Bernadette says tulips are thirsty flowers and do best if arranged directly in water as opposed to in oasis arrangements.  Tulips can be used in combination with other flowers and made into more elaborate arrangements.   Bernadette says tulips pair well with roses and with a variety of greenery and Baby’s Breath.  So, tulips are a very versatile flower.   You can go with something very simple as I have done here or you can really dress them up.

For more information on Vanco tulips, visit their website.  Vanco Farms Ltd. is located at 9311 TransCanada Highway, Route 1 in Mount Albion, PEI.  The next time you are buying a bouquet of tulips, be sure to look at the sleeve label….you just never know, they might be ones that were quality-grown right here on Prince Edward Island!

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January 2013 Cookie of the Month – Shortbread

Today, I begin my new 2013 monthly series on my food blog.  Once a month, I will be posting a recipe and photographs of a favourite cookie. 

Shortbread "Petticoat Tails"
Shortbread “Petticoat Tails”

To start, I will share my recipe for shortbread.  There are so many recipes and versions of shortbread.  This perfectly plain, delicate cookie attributes its origin to Scotland so it is fitting that I should choose this cookie for my inaugural “Cookie of the Month” series given that today is Robert Burns Day.  Robbie Burns is often referred to as Scotland’s national poet and many of Scottish ancestry, including those on PEI, celebrate his birthday on January 25th.  It’s a time to bring out the tartan apparel and, at least on PEI, there are Scottish concerts and dinners in honour of the poet.

Sometimes called Scotch cookies, these sweets have always been a Christmas tradition in my family.  Cut into petite squares or decorative dainty shapes and finished with a small dob of icing and a smidgeon of a red cherry or a silver dragée, Scotch cookies have been found on many a sweet tray over the holidays for years.  I think they may have traditionally been associated with Christmas because they were considered a luxury treat with their butter and sugar content.  Today, I make them various times throughout the year in different shapes and sizes.  In fact, they are almost always a staple on hand in my freezer.

Shortbread is relatively easy to make and does not take a lot of ingredients or ones not likely to be found in most kitchens.  Recipe ingredients do vary, however.  You will find that, in addition to some kind of fat, sugar, and flour, some shortbread recipes call for the addition of cornstarch, confectioner’s or brown sugar, salt, egg yolk, and/or vanilla.  Other recipes call for a 50/50 mix of butter and shortening.  I have even seen some recipes list cream of tartar and/or baking soda as ingredients.  Shortbread purists, however, are likely to argue that, technically, there are only supposed to be three ingredients in traditional shortbread – 1 part sugar, 2 parts butter, and 3 parts flour and no leavening agent or other flavourings. 

My recipe does follow the 1-2-3 parts rule for sugar, butter, and flour.  For example, start with ½ cup of sugar, double it to determine how much butter is needed (1 cup) and double the amount of butter to arrive at how much flour is required (2 cups) and you essentially have a recipe for shortbread.  Everything about quality shortbread focuses on high quality ingredients so that you get that melt-in-your-mouth sensation with just one bite into a shortbread cookie.  I use pure creamery butter and, today, my featured Island product is Wiltshire butter produced in North Wiltshire, PEI.  For shortbread, I find it is important that the butter be at room temperature so it will cream easily.  Do not soften the butter in the microwave as it breaks it down too quickly and it becomes liquefied which may alter the texture of the dough.  My recipe calls for brown sugar so the cookies made from this recipe will be a little darker in color than if white sugar or confectioner’s sugar is used.  I do add an egg yolk because I find it helps to bind the ingredients together and gives the shortbread a nice texture.  I also add a pinch of salt and sometimes – but not always — some vanilla.  If using vanilla, make sure it is pure and not artificially flavoured.   

What determines the quality of a good shortbread is how “short” it is.  When you bite into a shortbread, the cookie should crumble easily and you should be able to taste the butter flavour as the cookie slowly melts in your mouth.  You won’t get that if you use a mixture of butter and shortening or all margarine, for example. 

I like the dough in this recipe – it holds together well, does not take a lot of kneading to incorporate all the ingredients and prepare it for rolling, rolls out without cracking or breaking apart, and almost has a satin-like feel to it.  Shortbread dough should only be minimally kneaded – just enough for it to stick together and allow it to be rolled out for cutting.  Some recipes indicate the dough should be chilled before rolling and the cookies, once cut into their shapes, should be put in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes to set before baking so that they won’t spread out of shape during the baking process.  With the dough in my recipe, I don’t find chilling either the dough or the unbaked cookies is necessary because, with no leavening agent, they will not spread out of shape.  That factor makes shortbread the ideal choice when maintaining a consistent and uniform shape of cookies is important.  If, however, for some reason you find the dough is too soft to work with then, by all means, chill it for several minutes as this will not harm the product.  

I don’t like super-thick shortbread so I roll the dough to a scant ¼” thickness.  Of course, I always use parchment paper for cookie baking and the cookies should be baked in a slow (300F) oven so they don’t burn.  With the high butter content, baking them in a hot oven will run the risk of them burning or turning too dark in color.  Today, I have divided the dough, making part of the recipe into shortbread fingers using a traditional rectangular-shaped shortbread cookie cutter 1” wide by 3” long.  For the remainder of the dough, I rolled it into about a 7” circle and, using the tip of a sharp knife, scored the dough into 8 wedges.  Don’t cut all the way through; just score it lightly on the cookie top.  You can use the tines of a fork to press lightly the outside edge of the circle and also to prick the surface of the dough into a decorative pattern.  Once the shortbread is removed from the oven, immediately cut all the way through the score marks and separate the wedges which are often called “petticoat tails”.   

My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Favourite Shortbread

1 cup butter (no substitutes)

½ cup brown sugar

1 egg yolk

1 tsp vanilla (optional)

2 cups flour

Pinch salt (optional)

 

Preheat oven to 300F.

Ingredients for Shortbread
Ingredients for Shortbread

In bowl of stand mixer, beat the butter on high speed until light and fluffy (2-3 minutes).  Add the sugar and beat until smooth, scraping the bowl as necessary.  Add the egg yolk and vanilla.  Beat until incorporated.  With mixer on slow speed, stir in the flour and salt just until mixed.

 

Turn dough onto lightly-floured surface.  Gently knead dough just until it holds together.  Do not over-knead.  Shape dough into a round mound.  Roll to approximately ¼” thickness.  Cut into desired shapes. 

 

Place cookies about 1” apart on parchment-lined baking sheet.  Bake 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cookies rest on baking sheet for 2-3 minutes then transfer to wire rack to cool.  Makes approximately 30 cookies (1” x 3” rectangles)

If desired, dough may be rolled into small 6” or 7” circles and scored with the tip of a sharp knife into wedges.  When cookies are removed from the oven, immediately cut through scored lines to separate the wedges.

Making Shortbread "Petticoat Tails"
Making Shortbread “Petticoat Tails”

 

These cookies will keep for about a week in an airtight container at room temperature.  They also freeze well.

 

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Pork Loin Roast with Pomegranate, Red Wine, and Black Garlic Sauce

Pork Loin Roast with Pomegranate, Red Wine, and Black Garlic Sauce served with Potato Croquettes and Roasted Root Vegetables
Pork Loin Roast with Pomegranate, Red Wine, and Black Garlic Sauce served with Potato Croquettes and Roasted Root Vegetables

I am still experimenting with black garlic in recipes.  If you have been following my postings, you will recall my January 12, 2013, entry using black garlic in a sauce over sea scallops.  My latest culinary escapade finds it is a suitable flavouring for sauces for meat as well.  Below you will find the recipe I created for a pomegranate, red wine, and black garlic sauce to accompany a marinated pork loin roast.  It serves 2-3.

As I described in my January 12th posting on black garlic, don’t expect any traditional garlic flavour from this fermented version which is very sweet and tastes more like a fig or a prune than it does garlic.  I like pomegranate molasses but it can sometimes be hard to find as many of the traditional supermarkets in my area don’t tend to carry it.  However, if you can locate a grocer who sells Middle Eastern food in your area, you are most likely able to find the molasses there.  The marinade itself is very traditional but the sauce I have created for drizzling over the roast pork loin slices is a somewhat sweet sauce with a rich burgundy color which, of course, comes from the combination of the pomegranate molasses, red wine, and black garlic.  It makes a fine pairing, both in taste and visually, with the roast pork.

3/4 lb pork loin roast

Marinade

2 tbsp soya sauce

1 clove garlic, minced

1 1/2 tbsp brown sugar

1 tbsp olive oil

1/8 tsp ginger

1/2 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 tsp shallot, finely minced

salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients and place in dish.  Place roast in marinade and turn once to coat.  Cover and place in refrigerator for 3-4 hours, turning occasionally to baste.

Preheat oven to 425F.  Place roast on rack in small roaster.  Roast, uncovered, for 15 minutes.  Reduce temperature to 325F and continue to roast, covered, until internal temperature of roast registers 150-160F on meat thermometer.  Remove from oven and let stand, covered for 10-15 minutes before slicing and serving with Pomegranate, Red Wine, and Black Garlic Sauce (recipe below).

Marinade Ingredients
Mixing the soya sauce, oil, white wine vinegar, and garlic for the marinade

 

Marinade Ingredients
Adding brown sugar, ginger, salt, pepper, and shallots to the marinade

 

Marinating the Pork Roast
Marinating the Pork Roast and Preparing it for Roasting

 

Pomegranate, Red Wine, and Black Garlic Sauce

1 tsp butter

1 tbsp shallots, finely minced

2 cloves black garlic, sliced or fork-mashed

1 1/2 tbsp pomegranate molasses

1/4 cup chicken stock

1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup red wine

1 tbsp brown sugar

1/16 tsp cardamon

1 tbsp orange juice

1 tsp cornstarch

Melt butter in saucepan.  Add shallots and sauté for 2-3 minutes.  Add black garlic.  Stir and sauté for apx. 30 seconds.

Add pomegranate molasses, chicken stock, balsamic vinegar, red wine, brown sugar, and cardamon.  Stir over medium heat just until mixture reaches boiling point.  Reduce heat to low.

Mix cornstarch into orange juice.  Add some of the hot mixture to the orange juice and cornstarch mixture to temper it.  Add the mixture to the pot.  Stir over medium-low heat until thickened.

Slice roast into 1/4″ thick slices and plate.  Drizzle warm sauce over pork.

Making the Pomegranate, Red Wine, and Black Garlic Sauce
Making the Pomegranate, Red Wine, and Black Garlic Sauce

 

Making the Sauce for the Pork Roast
Making the Sauce for the Pork Roast

 

Sliced Pork Loin Roast Served with Pomegranate, Red Wine, and Black Garlic Sauce
Sliced Pork Loin Roast Served with Pomegranate, Red Wine, and Black Garlic Sauce

 

I served the pork loin roast with potato croquettes and roasted root vegetables which were lightly tossed with a maple syrup and balsamic vinegar dressing.

Marinated Pork Loin Roast with Pomegranate, Red Wine, and Black Garlic Sauce
Marinated Pork Loin Roast with Pomegranate, Red Wine, and Black Garlic Sauce

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