Category Archives: Desserts

Rhubarb Custard Torte

Rhubarb Custard Torte
Rhubarb Custard Torte

The rhubarb in my garden is ready for using.  I am fascinated by how fast it grows.  While I freeze a substantial amount for use over the winter, there is nothing like scooting out to the garden to pick some fresh rhubarb just at the time I am making a recipe.

I have my usual, regular recipes that I make every year with rhubarb and generally try one or two new ones.  One of my all-time favorites is Rhubarb Custard Torte.  We’ve been making this recipe in our family for as long as I can remember.  It’s not overly difficult to make but it does take time since there are three stages to it:  1) the shortbread base; 2) the rhubarb custard filling; and 3) the meringue.

The most tricky part is making the rhubarb custard and ensuring it doesn’t scorch while it is cooking and thickening.  To ensure this doesn’t happen, cook it at medium-low temperature and stir it constantly.  A couple of other tips when making this recipe are, first, don’t overbake the base as it will become hard and somewhat tough.  Second, when making the meringue, make sure the egg whites, the bowl, and beater are all cold and add the sugar slowly.

I love the rich, ruby red color of the rhubarb!  Use the brightest red rhubarb you can find as it will give great color to your recipe.

Rhubarb Custard Torte

Shortbread Base:
½ cup butter, softened at room temperature
1 cup flour
Pinch salt
2 tbsp sugar

Cream butter. Mix in flour, salt, and sugar.

Lightly spray cooking oil into 8”x8” pan and press shortbread mixture evenly into pan.

Bake in 325ºF oven for 22-25 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on rack.

Custard Filling:
1¼ cups sugar
3½ tbsp flour
½ cup whole milk, evaporated milk, or blend
3 large egg yolks (reserve whites in refrigerator for the meringue)
2¼ cups chopped rhubarb

In medium-sized saucepan, combine the sugar and flour. Blend in the milk. Whisk in the egg yolks. Over medium-low heat, cook mixture just until hot (not boiling), stirring constantly. Add the rhubarb. Continue to cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly to prevent scorching, until mixture thickens.

Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Then, spread rhubarb custard over cooled shortbread base.

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Meringue:
3 cold egg whites
¼ cup sugar

In chilled bowl of stand mixer, beat the three egg whites on high speed until foamy. Gradually add the ¼ cup white sugar and beat on high speed until soft peaks form.

Spread meringue evenly over rhubarb custard, ensuring custard is completely covered.

Bake for 7-10 minutes, just until meringue starts to brown.

Cool completely before serving.

Yield: 9 servings

Enjoy with a fine cup of coffee or tea.

Gingerbread

 

Gingerbread with Whipped Cream and Brown Sugar Sauce
Gingerbread with Whipped Cream and Brown Sugar Sauce

Do you have certain desserts that you associate with different seasons or times of the year?  Gingerbread is one dessert I tend to associate most with the coldest winter months for some reason.  It’s a plain but tasty dessert any time of the year but it’s a particularly good comfort food in the dead of winter.

Gingerbread is very easy to make and doesn’t take any ingredients that are unusual or difficult to find.  I add a small amount of hot strong coffee to the batter because I find it brings out the strength of the spices.  Adding some applesauce also helps to make the cake moist.

I made this cake in an 8″x8″ cake pan because I was planning to split it into two layers to fill with whipped cream.  If you want to keep it at just one layer, then I recommend baking it in a 9″x9″ pan which will yield a more shallow cake.  Note, however, that the baking time will need to be adjusted as a 9″x9″ cake will take less time to bake.

Gingerbread is best when served warm and drizzled with brown sugar sauce.

Gingerbread

2 c. flour

1½ tsp ginger

1 tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp cloves

⅛ tsp allspice

1 tsp soda

¼ tsp salt

 

½ cup butter

½ cup brown sugar

2 eggs

2 tbsp applesauce

 

⅔ cup molasses

⅔ cup boiling water

2½ tbsp hot strong coffee

Method:

Assemble ingredients.

1-DSC02881

Preheat oven to 350º and position rack in middle of oven.  Line 8”x8” pan with parchment paper with two strips of parchment as shown in photo below.  Make sure you leave enough parchment over the edges of the pan so you can easily use the parchment as a “sling” when it comes time to remove the cake from the pan. Set prepared pan aside.

Whisk together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, soda, and salt.  Set aside.

Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.

Add eggs, one at a time and beat into butter and sugar.  Stir in applesauce on low speed.

Combine the molasses, hot water, and coffee.  Stir to mix well.

Add the sifted dry ingredients to the butter-sugar-egg mixture alternately with the liquid ingredients, starting and ending with dry ingredients (process is three additions of dry ingredients and two of liquid ingredients).  Scrape sides of the bowl as necessary to ensure all ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.

Turn batter into prepared pan.

Bake for about 45-50 minutes until cake tester inserted into center of cake comes out clean or cake springs back when lightly touched in the center.  If edges start to brown too much, loosely place a piece of foil over top of cake.

Let cake rest in pan for at least 10-15 minutes, then remove from pan by lifting the parchment paper sling.  Cut into squares.  Serve warm with a dollop of whipped cream and/or brown sugar sauce.

Note:  A 9”x9” pan may be used instead of an 8”x8” pan.  This will make a more shallow cake.  Adjust baking time accordingly as the 9”x9” pan will likely take less baking time.

Yield:  9 servings

Chocolate Potato Cake

We are familiar with cakes made with vegetables like carrot and zucchini.  However, have you ever heard of potato cake?

We Islanders like our spuds, there is no doubt about it.  Potatoes are a very versatile vegetable and can be prepared and served in many different ways but have you ever heard of having them for dessert?  Well, combine potatoes with chocolate and some light spice seasoning and you have a really tasty cake.

What follows is my creation of a recipe for chocolate potato cake.  This is a fairly dense-textured cake so don’t look for it to have the same “foggy” and fluffy texture of a typical chocolate cake mix out of a box!  Despite the two cups of sugar in the recipe, it is not overly or sickeningly sweet.  The potatoes are cooked and mashed really well before adding them to the cake batter.  It is important that they be lump-free as, otherwise, you will have lumps in the cake batter.  The mashed potatoes should be warm when added to the batter.

You may find two or three of the ingredients different in this cake recipe.  For example, I have added a pinch of cayenne pepper because I find it enhances the depth of the chocolate flavor.  The key, of course, is not to overdo it – if you add too much, there will be excessive “heat” in the cake….just a pinch is all it takes.  The addition of the espresso powder is also another good way to draw out the flavor of the cocoa and lend a mocha flavor to the cake.  I have quite a collection of balsamic vinegars from our local Liquid Gold store here in Charlottetown.  One of them is the dark chocolate balsamic vinegar which is delicious when simmered on the stove, reduced down, and drizzled over ice cream.  If you have never tried a good quality balsamic vinegar reduction in this way, you are missing out on a delectable treat.  I added 1/2 tbsp of this balsamic vinegar to the chocolate cake batter.  This is a chocolate all-the-way cake!

I recommend baking this cake in a 10″ tube or bundt cake pan.  These pans have a hollow tube in the center of the pan and this allows dense-batter cakes to rise and bake more evenly.  There is also less chance of the cake falling in the middle or the outsides of the cake baking too quickly and drying out before the centre of the cake is baked.

The key to making this cake is not to overbake it.  Start checking it at about the 40-45-minute baking point.  If a cake tester does not come out clean at that point, continue to bake it but check it every 4-5 minutes.  If it overbakes, it will be dry.

Chocolate Potato Cake

2½ cups flour

¼ tsp salt

2¾ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp soda

1 tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp allspice

pinch cayenne

⅔ cup cocoa

¾ cup butter

1 cup white sugar

1 cup brown sugar

3 eggs

1 cup warm mashed potatoes

½ cup milk

1½ tsp espresso powder dissolved in ⅓ cup hot water

2 tbsp Swiss Chocolate Almond Liqueur (or your favorite coffee liqueur)

½ tbsp dark chocolate balsamic vinegar (optional, but good)

1½ tsp vanilla

Method:

Assemble ingredients.

Ingredients for Chocolate Potato Cake
Ingredients for Chocolate Potato Cake

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Line bottom of 10” tube pan with parchment paper.  Grease or spray cooking oil on sides of pan.

Tube Pan Prepared for Chocolate Potato Cake
Tube Pan Prepared for Chocolate Potato Cake

Sift or whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, soda, cinnamon, allspice, cayenne, and cocoa.  Set aside.

In separate bowl, combine the brown and white sugars.

1-1-DSC01494

In bowl of stand mixer, cream the butter and sugars until fluffy (2-3 mins on medium-high speed). 

Add the eggs, one at a time and beat well to incorporate after each addition.  

Add the mashed potatoes and beat on medium-high speed for 1-2 minutes until batter is smooth.

Add the coffee, liqueur, balsamic vinegar, and vanilla to the milk to make 1 cup of liquid.  (Note – if you choose not to add the liqueur and/or balsamic vinegar, replace them with milk so that the liquid measurement equals 1 cup.)

Add the sifted dry ingredients alternately with the liquid ingredients, starting and ending with the flour mixture (process is three additions of dry ingredients to two of liquid), mixing well after each addition. 

Scrape sides of bowl with spatula as necessary to ensure all ingredients are incorporated. 

Scrape Sides of Bowl Frequently
Scrape Sides of Bowl Frequently

Pour batter into prepared tube pan. 

Bake for apx. 40-55 minutes or until cake tester inserted in center of cake comes out clean and the cake springs back to a light touch.  Do not overbake or cake will be dry.

Baked Chocolate Potato Cake
Baked Chocolate Potato Cake

Let cake cool in pan for 10 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. 

Ice with your favorite frosting.

Enjoy!

Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today.  If you enjoyed this post, why not subscribe to my feed by entering your email address in the subscribe box in the upper left-hand sidebar.  That way, you will receive an email notification whenever I add a new posting to this blog.

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Blueberry Grunt

Blueberry Grunt

I don’t know about you but once the Christmas holidays are over, I crave comfort foods.  You know, the foods that are basic, nostalgic, or that you have a sentimental attachment to and that take you down memory lane.  Some might even refer to these dishes as vintage.  Maybe your mom made them for you when you were a child or you remember them from visits to grandma’s house.  I’m talking about foods like macaroni and cheese, baked beans, scalloped potatoes, apple pie or crisp, homemade stews and “boiled dinners“, and baked bread.  Cottage pie, rice pudding, roast chicken dinners, meatloaf with mashed potatoes, and fruit cobblers are other comfort foods commonly enjoyed in North American culture.  There are many other dishes that bring us comfort in the cold Canadian winters so this list is not exhaustive and what constitutes comfort food may vary between cultures and regions of Canada.

These foods, in their traditional content, are by no means gourmet fare nor are they necessarily devoid of calories.  They’re typically plain and simple stick-to-the-ribs kind of fare and they generate feelings of contentment and satisfaction …  you feel warm and cozy when eating the meal.  These kinds of dishes take basic, easy-to-find ingredients and are not usually difficult or complicated to make.  They’re the kinds of foods that, when you walk into a home where they are being prepared, your appetite is immediately whetted and you harken back to early memories of enjoying those foods.  They are hearty classics and endure over time, generation after generation.  Yes, even the old tuna casserole is still considered a comfort food by many!

This month, I am going to focus many of my blog postings on some of my favorite comfort foods.  Today, I am starting with my recipe for Blueberry Grunt.  I don’t know the origin of this dessert or how it got its name but it’s really just a fruit cobbler – a slightly thickened fruit sauce on the bottom topped by a biscuit-like dumpling.  This dessert is often made on the stove top where the dumplings are put in the pot on top of the bubbling blueberry sauce, covered and let simmer for about 15 minutes.  However, my recipe calls for the dessert to be baked in the oven.

Baked Blueberry Grunt

My featured Island product in this recipe are the blueberries.  Each summer, I pack away several bags of these sweet little Island-grown morsels for use in my favorite recipes like this one for Blueberry Grunt.

Blueberry Grunt

4 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen

1/2 cup white sugar

2 tbsp brown sugar

1 tbsp + 1 tsp cornstarch

2 tsp lemon juice

1 1/2 tsp grated lemon rind

1/2 cup water

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/8 tsp cardamon

Topping:

2 cups flour

4 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

2 1/2 tbsp white sugar

1 cup milk

2 1/2 tbsp cold butter

Method:

Preheat oven to 400F.

In a small bowl, mix together the sugars, cornstarch, and spices.  Stir in the grated lemon rind.  Set aside.

In saucepan, combine blueberries and the sugar mixture.  Add the lemon juice and water.  Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer mixture for 5-6 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.  Cut in cold butter until mixture resembles coarse oatmeal.  Add enough milk to make a soft dough mixture that will cling together.

Grease a 1 1/2 or 2-quart baking dish or 8 individual ramekins.  Spoon the blueberry mixture into baking dish(es).

 

Divide the dumpling dough into 8 portions.

Place dumplings over blueberry mixture (close together if baking in one casserole or centered if using individual dishes).

Bake in 400F oven for about 20-25 minutes or until dumplings are done and lightly golden brown on top.

Serve hot with a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream (or both!).

Serves:  8

What are your favorite comfort foods?

Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today.  If you enjoyed this post, why not subscribe to my feed by entering your email address in the subscribe box in the upper left-hand sidebar.  That way, you will receive an email notification whenever I add a new posting to this blog.

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Plum Pudding – A Favorite Christmas Dinner Tradition on Prince Edward Island

I am part of the Canadian Food Experience Project that is underway for 12 months spanning 2013-14.  Each month, food bloggers have an assigned theme to write about and link to their particular region of the country.  The theme for December 2013 is A Canadian Christmas:  A Tradition From Your Region.

I thought I knew what the most traditional Christmas food on Prince Edward Island would be.  In fact, when I saw what the December theme for the project was, I was sure I knew what this blog posting would be about.  However, for fun, I decided to use social media to ask Islanders what one food has to be on their tables over the holidays in order for it to be Christmas.  Sure, there were responses that mentioned fruitcake, Scotch cookies, seafood chowder, and meat pies and several other seasonal treats.  However, there was one food item that was repeatedly showing up and that is the traditional plum pudding.  Now, my informal survey is, by no means, scientific at all.  However, it gave a reasonably good indicator that was sufficient for me.  So, this posting is about plum pudding, the traditional Christmas dinner dessert in many Island households.

Plum Pudding
Plum Pudding

Plum Pudding Trivia and Symbolism

Plum pudding seems to have its origins in England and has been a popular food for centuries.  In preparation for this story, I did some research and discovered some interesting information about the Christmas pudding, or simply “pud”, as it is sometimes called.  How much of this is truth or superstition or folklore, I don’t know, but I found it interesting nonetheless.

The making of the pudding was apparently often made on what was referred to as “Stir-up Sunday” which would occur 4-5 weeks prior to Christmas, timed to coincide with Advent.  This allowed time for the flavors in the pudding to blend and mature in time for Christmas.  One theory was to have 13 ingredients in the pudding to represent Christ and the 12 disciples. It was also customary for each member of the family to give a stir to the batter and make a wish while doing so on the premise that the wish would then come true.  Each person was to stir the batter from East to West to commemorate the three Wise Men who traveled in this direction to find the Christ child lying in a manger.  It seems that it was common to mix some tiny charms, coins, tokens, or favors into the pudding batter.  Each of those was said to have some significance to the person who discovered them in his or her piece of pudding.  For example, these might have included a ring (signifying marriage prospect), an anchor (safe harbour), mini horseshoe (luck), a coin (wealth), or a thimble (thriftness).

The pudding was often decorated with a sprig of holly, believed to symbolize the crown of thorns worn by Jesus when he was crucified.  The holly was also believed to have healing powers and would bring good luck. When the pudding was served to the table, it was often soused with liquor and set aflame and this was to signify the passion of Christ.  Who knew that plum pudding had all this symbolism!

Enduring Popularity

While many Islanders make their own plum puddings, there are several opportunities on PEI to buy them.  I checked around with some Island bakeries to see if they produced plum puddings and many do.

However, to find out just how popular the puddings are, year after year, with Islanders, I consulted with Pat Robinson of Charlottetown.  For the past 12 years, Pat has been producing plum puddings in her home kitchen for sale in aid of charity and support to non-profit organizations.  In 2012, Pat made over 500 puddings. From the pudding sale proceeds, Pat donated $4,000 to the Community Legal Information Association, $1,500 to the PEI Humane Society, and $250 to an Island family in need.

Pat believes that plum puddings have remained so popular because they are nostalgic.  They are typically only served at Christmas so that makes them a special once-a-year treat.  The aroma of the steamed pudding triggers warm memories of a traditional way of life and, for many, brings back fond memories of their childhood and of mothers, grandmothers, or aunts making the family plum pudding at Christmas. If you would like more information or to place an order for one of Pat’s plum puddings and support local charities at the same time, call her at (902)566-4388, or email her at plumpudding@eastlink.ca.

Plum pudding has been the traditional Christmas dinner dessert in my family and, in my younger years, it was my grandmother’s role to make the pudding along with the brown sugar sauce to serve over the “pud”.

Ingredients

There are no plums in plum pudding!  Supposedly, several centuries ago, raisins (a primary ingredient in the pudding) were considered as plums.  Combinations of raisins may also be used – I use Lexia (big sticky raisins) and sultanas.  Currents are also a common ingredient and I do add them to my pudding.

Lexia (sticky) Raisins
Lexia (sticky) Raisins

While some cooks use only sultana raisins in their pudding, a variety of dried or candied/glazed fruits may also be added.  I use mixed peel (lemon, orange, and citron) in my pudding.

Mixed Peel
Mixed Peel

The raisins and fruit are bound together by eggs, flour, breadcrumbs, and suet (raw beef fat).  Suet is often available frozen.  However, my preference is fresh product and I am lucky enough to live near a great butcher shop at the Riverview Country Market so I was able to pick up some suet there.

Suet
Suet

A combination of sweet spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, and cloves are common in the pudding and give it its flavour. I also add mace and cardamom. Sugar and molasses are the typical sweeteners used.  How much molasses is used will also determine the color of the final product.  Some puddings are almost jet-black in color while others, like mine, are more of a medium brown color.  I also add a small amount of strawberry jam for both flavor and moistness.

My Island Bistro Kitchen's Plum Pudding
My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Plum Pudding

Not all plum puddings contain alcohol but it is a common ingredient with either spirits or stout being the most typical used.  Citrus juices may be used instead of alcohol, if desired.  The alcohol is believed to increase the shelf life of the pudding.  The featured Island product I use in my plum pudding is Strait Rum produced by Myriad View Artisan Distillery in Rollo Bay, PEI.

Strait Rum from Myriad View Artisan Distillery, Rollo Bay, PEI
Strait Rum from Myriad View Artisan Distillery, Rollo Bay, PEI

The batter for a plum pudding will be almost like a fruit cake consistency.

Mold

Special molds of decorative shapes are available for plum puddings.

Steamed Pudding Mold
Steamed Pudding Mold

You do not need a special mold, though.  A metal bowl or clean tin cans can be used. If you are not presenting the full pudding at the table, the tin cans are an ideal alternative as they make the pudding easy to slice.

Tin Cans Serve as Pudding Molds
Tin Cans Serve as Pudding Molds

However, if you are looking for presentation, a specialized mold will give an attractive shape.

Some still make the pudding in a cloth sack.  I know one cook who simply lays out a large square of a heavy cotton fabric on the counter, sprinkles the cloth with flour, then pours the batter onto the center of the cloth.  Leaving some head room for the pudding to expand, she gathers up the cloth and ties it tightly with string, then places it on a rack in a huge pot of boiling water.  Amazingly, the pudding batter does not leak out nor does water seep into the batter during the boiling process and make the pudding overly wet or soggy.

Steaming/Boiling

Plum pudding can be either steamed or boiled.  Both involve a hot water bath.  This keeps the pudding moist.

If using a mold, cover it with its cover or, if using a metal bowl or tin can, cover with a double layer of tin foil and secure it with string tied around the top of the container.

Place a wire rack on the bottom of a large pot.

Rack in pot
Rack in pot

Place the pudding mold on the wire rack and add boiling water to reach the level of about ½ to ⅔ the way up the side of the pudding mold or tin. Bring the water back to a full boil, then immediately reduce the heat to a gentle boil. It is important that the water boil gently during the cooking/steaming process, not be a rolling boil.  The pudding will generally take 3-4 hours to cook, depending on the size of mold you are using.  The pudding is done when a cake tester or skewer inserted into the center of the pudding comes out clean.  Plum puddings are meant to be very moist, not dry consistency.  Be sure to let the pudding cool to room temperature in the mold before removing it.

To boil the pudding in a bag, the process is similar.  A rack is placed on the bottom of a large pot of boiling water.  The pudding bag is set on the rack.  After the pudding is placed on the rack, the water is brought back to a rolling boil, then the temperature is immediately reduced to allow the water to boil gently.  The pudding is done when it is firm to the touch, usually after 2-3 hours, depending on the size of the pudding.  The bag is removed from the hot water bath, the pudding removed from the cloth sack, and transferred to an ovenproof pan.  The pudding can then be placed in a warm oven, set on a very low temperature, for about 5 minutes to dry off any excess moisture remaining on the pudding.

Storing

Wrap the cooled pudding tightly in plastic wrap and store in a sealed plastic bag.  The pudding will keep for about 3 weeks in the refrigerator or may be frozen for longer storage.

Re-heating

The pudding may be put back into its pudding mold and reheated for 1-2 hours in a hot water bath at the time of serving.  However, the easier way today is to simply microwave the pudding for just a few minutes until it is heated.  While you can heat the entire pudding in the microwave, it is quicker to cut the pudding into slices for reheating.

Serving

There are many different sauces/toppings served with plum pudding – brown sugar sauce, spiced cream, ice cream, or even a dollop of yogurt or whipped cream.  However, in our home, the tradition is to serve the pudding with a basic brown sugar sauce.

Plum Pudding Served with Buttered Rum Brown Sugar Sauce
Plum Pudding Served with Buttered Rum Brown Sugar Sauce

To give the sauce a little “kick”, I sometimes add a dash of rum to deepen the flavor.  This, of course, is completely optional.  The liquor can be omitted; however, to maintain the same consistency, simply increase the amount of water equal to the amount of liquor called for in the recipe.

For many Islanders, they will finish off their Christmas dinner with plum pudding served with whatever topping is traditional in their household.

I am sharing my recipe for plum pudding with a brown sugar sauce, lightly flavored with rum distilled right here on PEI.

Is plum pudding one of your Christmas traditions?  Does it bring back memories for you?  What do you serve with the plum pudding?

My Island Bistro Kitchen’s Plum Pudding

Ingredients:

1 cup sticky raisins (Lexia)

1 cup sultana raisins

1 cup currants

⅔ cup mixed peel (lemon/orange/citron)

½ cup rum

 

1 cup flour

¾ tsp baking soda

¾ tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

⅛ tsp mace

⅛ tsp nutmeg

⅛ tsp allspice

¼ tsp ginger

⅛ tsp cardamom

dash cloves

1 cup fine breadcrumbs

 

1 cup suet

¾ cup brown sugar

2 eggs

⅓ cup molasses

¼ cup strawberry jam

½ cup milk

 

Method:

Assemble ingredients.

Plum Pudding Ingredients
Plum Pudding Ingredients

Grease or spray 8-cup (2-quart) pudding mold with cooking oil.

Pudding Mold
Pudding Mold

In bowl, combine raisins and mixed peel.  Add the rum.  Stir.  Set aside while preparing other ingredients.

In separate bowl, combine flour, soda, baking powder, and salt.

Add spices.

Add breadcrumbs.  Stir well to combine.

Stir the raisin and mixed peel mixture into the dry ingredients.

In another bowl, combine the suet, molasses, brown sugar, milk, jam, and eggs.  Mix well.

Pour the wet ingredient mixture into the flour and raisin mixture.  Stir to combine.

Spoon mixture into prepared mold, filling mold about ¾ full.  Cover.

In large stock pot, place a wire rack.  Place filled mold on rack.  Pour boiling water into stock pot, filling to about ½ to ⅔ the way up the side of the mold.  Bring water back to a boil and immediately reduce heat to a low boil over low heat to steam the pudding.  Cook for about 3 hours or until cake tester inserted into the center of the pudding comes out clean.  Make sure the water level stays at the ½ – ⅔ mark throughout the cooking process, adding more water as needed.

Remove pudding mold from the hot water bath and cool on a wire rack for a couple of hours.  Remove cover.

 

Invert pudding mold over a wire rack to remove pudding.

Wrap pudding in plastic wrap or in foil and place in a sealed bag.  The pudding will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks or it may be frozen for longer storage.

To reheat, either place the pudding back in its mold and heat in a hot water bath for 1-2 hours or, more simply, slice pudding and place slices on plate then microwave approximately 30-45 seconds per slice.  Serve with desired sauce.

Yield:  Apx. 12 servings

 

Buttered Rum Brown Sugar Sauce

 

¼ cup flour

1 cup brown sugar

¼ tsp salt

2 cup water

2 tsp vanilla

¼ cup rum (optional)

¼ cup melted butter

In large microwave-safe bowl, mix flour, sugar, and salt together.  Add remaining ingredients.  Stir to mix well.  Microwave on high for 3-4 minutes until thickened, stirring after each minute.  Serve hot over plum pudding.

Buttered Rum Brown Sugar Sauce
Buttered Rum Brown Sugar Sauce

Yield:  Apx. 10-12 servings

 

 

Happy Holidays!

As we (participants in the Canadian Food Experience Project) share our collective stories across the vastness of our Canadian landscape through our regional food experiences, we hope to bring global clarity to our Canadian culinary identity through the cadence of our concerted Canadian voice.

Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today.  If you enjoyed this post, why not subscribe to my feed by entering your email address in the subscribe box in the upper left-hand sidebar.  That way, you will receive an email notification whenever I add a new posting to this blog.

Be sure to visit my Facebook page at My Island Bistro KitchenYou may also wish to follow me on twitter @PEIBistro, on Pinterest at “Island Bistro Kitchen”, and on Instagram at “PEIBistro”.

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.

War Cake – A Part of Wartime Culinary History

Remembrance Day Service at the cenotaph in front of Province House, Charlottetown, PEI, Canada [11 November 2012]
Every year on November 11th we pause to remember the sacrifices and achievements of those who valiantly and selflessly served our country in times of war and conflict, and in peacekeeping missions around the world.  We remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice – their lives for their country so future generations could have a better, more secure life.  We think about their achievements and the role they played in forming Canada’s nationhood.  We thank them for the peace, freedom, and human rights we enjoy in Canada today.

Those of us who have been fortunate enough never to have known or experienced war have opportunities to demonstrate our respect and gratitude for, and remembrance of, these acts of bravery and sacrifice.  For example, we wear a poppy on the left breast, close to the heart to signify remembrance of the lives lost.  

Poppy

Thousands of people across the country will attend Remembrance Day ceremonies in their local communities where they will respectfully observe a moment’s silence at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month to mark the time the Armistice was signed to end WWI.  Wreaths will be laid in commemoration.

Remembrance Day Wreath

One of the most well-known poems about war was written in May, 1915, by Lt. Col. John McCrae, a Canadian Medical Officer in WWI.  While stationed near Ypres, Belgium, where some of the most horrific and bloodiest fighting of WWI occurred, he was motivated to write about the death he saw around him and of the prolific red poppies growing amidst the devastation of war in the Flanders area of western Belgium.  His poem, “In Flanders Fields” has become synonymous with Remembrance Day in Canada and Lt. Col. McCrae is often credited with being the catalyst that led to the poppy being identified as the symbol of remembrance of the blood shed by soldiers who were casualties of battle.


“In Flanders Fields”

On this Remembrance Day, I am going to focus my food blog feature story on war cake, a wartime dessert that is still made and served in several Island households today.

War Cake

As a small child I well remember my grandmother making war cake and this was long after WWII had ended.  I loved her war cake!  It is such a simple raisin-spice cake that is characterized by the absence of eggs and milk — ingredients that would have been scarce during wartime.  This cake is sometimes referred to as “boiled raisin cake” because raisins form the main content and the majority of the ingredients are boiled, then cooled, before they are mixed with flour and baking soda and then baked in the oven.  Because of food shortages during war time, many foods were rationed. 

Ration Books, Cards, and Stickers

Born of necessity, homemakers during wartime became resourceful, frugal, adaptable, and creative in order to feed their families.  Cooking tended to be very basic.  Women were known to have saved their ration stickers so they could buy the raisins and sugar that the war cake recipe called for – thus war cake would have been a very prized commodity. 

War cake was made for consumption on the home front but many also made the cakes in tin cans and packed them in socks, mittens, and underwear they were shipping overseas for their loved ones serving in the war.  Imagine the excitement when a soldier would have received this package from home and discovered a mother’s or sister’s war cake inside!  Amazingly, with the slow mail and ship service during WWI and WWII, there is evidence these cakes were received as the soldiers would refer to them in their letters home, letters that would have looked much like the July 7, 1914, letter in the photograph below.

Letter from a soldier written from “Somewhere in France” on July 7, 1914.  In the letter, the soldier encloses two pansies as “souvenirs from France”, one flower each for the young lady he was writing to and her mother.  Over 98 years later, the pressed pansies have still retained their color and are intact.

 

Old War Cake Recipes

In my research for this story, I examined many recipes for war cake and found similarities amongst them all.  Some were very sketchy in terms of amount of ingredients to be put in the batter and many were almost totally devoid of any directions. While the amounts of the ingredients may vary slightly, all of the recipes I reviewed were essentially the same in ingredient content. All called for big, sticky raisins (you may know these as “Lexia” raisins), a variety of spices of the cook’s choice, either brown or white sugar or a combination of both, shortening or lard, boiling water, flour, and soda.  One thing I noted was the significant amount of sugar that the recipes called for – i.e., two cups per cake.  Sugar was one item that was commonly rationed during wartime and a cake taking two cups of sugar would certainly have been considered a luxurious dessert, I am sure.  Flavour may vary from cake to cake based on spices used in the batter.  The choice of spices varies but typically consisted of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, as a minimum, with ginger frequently appearing in recipes.  I added mace and cardamom to my cake  to give it a bit more flavour (recipe follows at end).

Ingredients for War Cake

 

I am told these cakes were often made with lard (as opposed to butter) for a couple of reasons.  First, lard has a longer shelf life than butter would have had and, for cakes being sent overseas to the soldiers, it would have been a long journey for the cakes to reach Europe so shelf life of the cakes was an important factor.  Second, butter was often scarce during wartime because there were no big herds of cattle on local farms so butter would have been used sparingly, even for those living on farms and churning their own.  Lard, on the other hand, would have been much more readily available, particularly on farms.  I found a couple of recipes that indicated either butter or shortening could be used in the recipe; however, butter was called for in a much lesser quantity than the shortening, if the latter was used instead.  For example, I found one recipe that called for 2 tablespoons of butter or 1 cup of shortening which demonstrates how judiciously butter would have been used, if at all.

While its ingredients are simple, war cake takes some time to make.  All of the ingredients, except the flour and soda, are boiled on the stove for 5 minutes.   Then it is important to let the boiled raisin mixture cool to room temperature as the mixture will thicken naturally on its own as it cools.   This will normally take 4-5 hours.  If the flour and soda are added into a mixture that is too hot, the result is likely to be a gummy cake.  When the raisin mixture is cooled, the flour and soda are stirred in and the mixture turned into the baking pan.  My grandmother made her war cake in a loaf pan; however, traditionally, war cake seems to have been made in some kind of a round pan – usually a tube pan or, in the case of overseas shipping during war time, in tin cans.  War cake is a very dense cake which makes it sometimes difficult to get the center of the cake baked without drying out the outside edges.  It is also a heavier type cake which makes it somewhat prone to falling in the center.  A tube (or Bundt pan, if you have one) removes the baking uncertainty and helps the cake to bake more evenly.  

War Cake Baked in a Bundt Pan

 

War cakes take, on average, about an hour to bake.  The old recipes I reviewed didn’t even mention baking the cake let alone at what temperature (in fact, one recipe simply said “to thicken” but didn’t elaborate on what thickening agent was to be used!).  These recipes predate our modern electronic ovens!  While some suggest baking the cake at 350F, I thought that might be a bit high so I baked my war cake at 335F for one hour.  Because there are no eggs or milk in the cake for moistness, it is very easy to overbake the cake and end up with a dry product.  Hence, it is important to time the baking carefully and to use a cake tester starting at about the 45-minute point.  If the cake starts to darken on the top or edges too quickly, simply place a piece of tin foil loosely over the top.  Adding a small pan of water to the lower shelf in the oven while baking the cake will also help to keep the cake moist. 

Including a Small Pan of Hot Water on the Bottom Shelf of the Oven Helps to Keep the Cake Moist During Baking

Because of the texture of the cake, it may seem soft on the top and not baked; however, if a cake tester comes out of the cake clean, it’s time to remove it from the oven before it dries out.

War cake is a “stick to the ribs” substantial, hearty kind of cake.  It goes particularly well with a nice cup of tea. 

War Cake and Tea

In keeping with the traditional way war cake was served, I have photographed the cake plain, just as it would have been eaten during wartime. 

Sliced War Cake

War cake was not traditionally iced.  However, it would be lovely served with a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla or maple ice cream.  It could also be dressed with a brown sugar sauce or, to make a plain cake really decadent, why not serve all three – ice cream, brown sugar sauce, and whipped cream! 

War Cake on a Tea Table

 

War Cake

Regardless where you are in the world, if you have any wartime memories (either your own or those passed down to you from your ancestors) of war cake made for consumption on the home front or to send to the soldiers fighting the war, I would love to hear about them.   War cake is a part of wartime culinary history.

Here are some photographs of the Remembrance Day Ceremony at the cenotaph in downtown Charlottetown, PEI, this morning.

Remembrance Day in Charlottetown, PEI [11 November 2012]
 

Lest We Forget

 

Hon. Robert W.J. Ghiz, Premier of the Province of Prince Edward Island lays a wreath on behalf of the people of the Island at the Remembrance Day Service in Charlottetown, PEI [11 November 2012]
 

Small Child Watches as a Veteran lays a Wreath at the Remembrance Day Service in Charlottetown, PEI ]11 November 2012]

 

Remembrance Day 2012

 

Veterans Laying Wreaths at Remembrance Day Service in Charlottetown, PEI [11 November 2012]
 

At the Charlottetown Cenotaph – Remembrance Day 2012

 

Flag Flies at Half-Mast on Remembrance Day, Charlottetown, PEI [11 November 2012]
 

I am sharing this posting on Rose Chintz Cottage’s Tea Time Tuesday.

 

War Cake

By Barbara99 Published: November 11, 2012

  • Yield: 1 cake (12-14 Servings)
  • Prep: 5 hrs 0 min
  • Cook: 60 mins
  • Ready In: 6 hrs 0 min

A traditional old-fashioned war cake

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Ingredients for War CakeAssemble ingredients.
  2. Boiling Raisins, Spices, Sugar, Shortening and Water for War CakeInto a large saucepan, place the shortening, brown sugar, raisins, salt, spices, and boiling water. Over medium-high heat, bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and boil mixture for five minutes. Remove from heat and set saucepan on cooling rack. Let mixture cool to room temperature (4-5 hours), stirring occasionally.
  3. Adding the Dry Ingredients and Mixing the CakeIn bowl, whisk the flour and baking soda together. Set aside.
  4. Baking the War CakeWhen raisin mixture has cooled completely, add the flour and baking soda. Stir until dry ingredients have been completely mixed into the raisin mixture.
  5. War CakeSpoon mixture into greased pan. Add a small pan of hot water to lower shelf in oven for moisture while cake is baking. Bake cake on middle rack in 335F preheated oven. If cake starts to brown on the top too quickly, loosely place a piece of tin foil on top of cake. Bake apx. 1 hour but begin to test cake for doneness, using a cake tester, at the 45-minute point as cake can dry out very quickly.
  6. Slice of War CakeRemove cake from oven and place pan on cooling rack for 10 minutes then remove from pan. Allow cake to cool completely before cutting.

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Lavender – The Trendy New Culinary Herb

Okay, so I must admit the thought of baking and cooking with something I have always considered a perfume can be a bit daunting but with lavender being the trendy new culinary herb, I thought why not be a bit venturesome.  But can I use just any lavender for culinary purposes?  To find out, I paid a visit to The Five Sisters of Lavender Lane – aptly named because there are five sisters involved with the growing, harvesting, and production of the lavender products.

The Five Sisters of Lavender Lane, Kelly’s Cross, PEI, Canada
Lavender Farm in Kelly’s Cross, PEI

Through the scenic rolling hills of Kelly’s Cross in rural PEI, on the Island’s South side, I find PEI’s only lavender farm.  In 1999, Carol Cook bought the farm and, in 2001, planted her first 100 lavender plants to see how they would ‘weather the winter’ on the Island.  They did well and, today, there are over an estimated 3000 plants of two varieties (Hidcote and Munstead) grown on the farm.

Rows of Heavenly-scented Lavender at the lavender farm of The Five Sisters of Lavender Lane, Kelly’s Cross, PE

Carol tells me that starting lavender from seed is not necessarily a guarantee of success.  Instead, her preference is to start new plants by propagating from cuttings.  This is where a long stem of lavender attached to the mother plant is buried under some soil and left to grow its own roots.  The following year it can be cut from the mother plant and, voila, a new lavender plant is started.  Another option is to take a cutting from a plant, cut it on an angle, dip it in a root boost starter product, and place it in a sandy soil mixture to take root.

Most of us know lavender as a perfume and potpourri product.  However, lavender is actually an herb of the mint family and certain varieties of it are known as culinary herbs.  These are primarily the Hidcote and Munstead varieties.  Lavender is often considered to be similar to thyme, rosemary, and sage and it can, in fact, be substituted for rosemary in many recipes.  If you have ever cooked with Herbes de Provence, chances are you have already tasted lavender since it is a common ingredient in this herb mix along with the typical mixture of thyme, rosemary, and savory.

Lavender is one of the more aromatic herbs and some say it bears citrus notes or even a hint of pine.  The lavender buds (the stage just before the plants blossom into full open flower) possess a higher oil content and have the most intense taste.  They tend to have a stronger, minty flavour and, when used in cooking or baking will be more pungent and have “more bite” to them.  When crushed or ground, the lavender buds have a sweeter, milder flavour.  While the leaves, stems, buds, and flowers can all be used for culinary purposes, the flower buds are said to give the most flavour.

Lavender Buds on the left; Lavender Flowers on the right

In PEI, harvesting of lavender occurs in mid-July.  When at their bud stage, the beautiful purple/mauve buds are removed from their tall spikes, washed, and spread on screens to dry.  They are then ready to be used in various products.  It is possible to get a second, smaller harvest from the same plants late in August or early September.  The photographs below were taken at the lavender farm on July 10, 2012, the day before they began harvesting.  I can only imagine the wonderful scent there must have been during the harvesting process!

The Day Before the Harvesting of the Lavender at The Five Sisters of Lavender Lane

The Five Sisters of Lavender Lane only sell their culinary lavender in the small gift shop at their farm in Kelly’s Cross and it is not uncommon for local chefs to stop by to pick up their supply for their restaurants.  If you are cooking with lavender, just make sure that it is the culinary variety you are using and that it has been grown organically, pesticide-free.  Besides the culinary lavender, the farm also produces and sells a number of other lavender products onsite including perfumed products.  This year, they are currently experimenting with the production of lavender extract which can be used in culinary products in the same way that vanilla, almond, or lemon extract is used.

Lavender is a strong herb so my advice is less is more and to exercise caution in the amount you use in a recipe.  If you use too much, it will not be a pleasant taste because it may seem like you are eating soap or that you used perfume in the dish.  I find a lot of recipes call for 1-2 tablespoons of lavender and that is way too excessive in any recipe for my taste.  When trying a recipe with lavender, I start with a very modest amount and, if I find it is not enough, I will slightly increase the amount the next time I make the recipe until I get it to the point that it pleases my palette.  Like any herb, you want it to accent the dish, not predominate and overpower it.   Rule of thumb is that, if you are using dried lavender, use one-half what you would use fresh.  Because it is not very pleasant to bite into a whole lavender bud, the herb is often ground in a spice grinder or coffee grinder.  It is very important to carefully read a recipe that calls for lavender to determine when the amount of the herb the recipe calls for gets measured – i.e., is it before or after the lavender is ground or crushed. If the recipe calls, for example, for 1 tsp. lavender buds finely ground, first measure the whole buds as the teaspoon measure and then grind them as, otherwise, the flavour will be too strong if you were to use 1 tsp finely ground lavender in the recipe.

Lavender is now the trendy herb not only in baked goods like cookies, scones, and sweet breads but in ice cream, in vinaigrettes, in rice, on chicken and lamb, in jams, jellies, and honey, and in drinks such as herbal teas and lemonade.  I have done a lot of experimenting with cooking and baking with lavender this summer and I am lucky because I live not far from the lavender farm where I can get my supply of quality culinary lavender.  Not long ago, I prepared an evening tea featuring lavender – a Lavender Blueberry Banana Bread, lavender scones with homemade lemon curd, and Swedish Teacakes filled with the curd.

An Evening Lavender Tea
Roasted Beet Salad

On Sunday evening I made an entire meal with lavender as the focus.  For the salad course, I started with a roasted beet and goat cheese salad on garden greens.  To roast the beets, I coated them with olive oil then sprinkled some fresh thyme, lemon verbena, basil, dried lavender buds, and a bit of minced garlic on them.  I wrapped the beets in tin foil and roasted them at 400C for about 1 hour, till they were fork tender.  I then sliced the beets and laid them on a bed of lettuce freshly picked from our garden, added some orange sections, and tossed some goat cheese and pecans on the top.  I made a simple citrus-based vinaigrette to drizzle over the salad.  The beets had a nice roasted flavour to them, not strong in any herb flavour, which is the taste I was aiming for.

Lavender Chicken Breasts in Champagne Sauce served with fresh green and yellow string beans and blue, red, and white fingerlings

For the main course, I chose a recipe from Sharon Shipley’s “The Lavender Cookbook” for Lavender Chicken Breasts in Champagne Sauce.  This was delicious.  The chicken breasts were marinated in lemon juice, thyme, and ground lavender buds then cooked in a skillet with a wonderful mushroom and champagne sauce.

 

 

 

For dessert, I wrapped my homemade Lavender-Honey-Vanilla Ice Cream in a dessert crepe and drizzled it with raspberry coulis made with fresh PEI raspberries picked near Hunter River.  The ice cream, my feature recipe for this posting, is also good with a hot fudge sauce or drizzled with a good quality chocolate or raspberry balsamic vinegar that has been reduced to syrup stage.

Lavender-Honey-Vanilla Ice Cream in Crepe, drizzled in Raspberry Coulis

 

The lavender farm at the Five Sisters of Lavender Lane is located at 1433 Route 246 in Kelly’s Cross, PEI.  Check out their website at http://www.fivesistersoflavenderlane.com/ or call them at 902-658-2203.

Lavender-Honey-Vanilla Ice Cream

By Barbara99 Published: August 9, 2012

  • Yield: Apx. 1 quart

Lavender-infused homemade ice cream

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Ice Cream IngredientsIn double boiler, over medium heat, heat the whipping cream, half-and-half, milk, honey, sugar, lavender, and vanilla beans and pod. Stir occasionally and heat mixture until small bubbles start to appear around edge of mixture, about 10-12 minutes.
  2. Adding Lavender to CustardRemove from heat, cover, and let steep for 30 minutes to allow the lavender flavour to infuse the warm milk mixture.
  3. Making the Ice Cream CustardStrain mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a clean bowl. Discard remains in sieve and return strained mixture to a clean double boiler and heat to the scalding point, stirring to prevent the mixture from curdling or sticking to the bottom of the pot.
  4. Churning the Ice CreamIn a medium-sized bowl, whisk egg yolks and salt together. Whisk in vanilla. Add ¾ cup of the hot milk mixture to the eggs and whisk to blend. Pour this mixture into the custard in the double boiler. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture thickens to consistency that it will coat the back of a wooden spoon. Do not boil. Be patient as this takes time.
  5. Homemade Lavender Ice Cream Served on a Brownie and Drizzled with Raspberry CoulisStrain mixture through sieve into a clean bowl. Cool completely then chill, covered, in refrigerator for at least 3 hours or more (can be chilled up to 24 hours). Freeze custard in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions. Transfer ice cream to an airtight container and place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the ice cream. Cover and place in freezer for at least 4-6 hours to harden completely.

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St. Patrick’s Day Dinner – 2012

Irish Coffee

So, St. Patrick’s Day 2012 has come and gone.  A belated Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you all.   We are all a wee bit Irish on March 17th, aren’t we – either Irish by heritage or Irish at heart!

My St. Patrick’s Day Menu this year consisted of Prince Edward Island Blue Mussels steamed in Guinness, herbs, and vegetables and served with Cows Creamery Sea-Salted butter, melted; Spirited Irish Stew served with Irish Soda Bread; Irish Cream Cheesecake; and Irish Coffee as an after-dinner drink in front of a cozy fireplace.

PEI Blue Mussels Steamed in Guinness

PEI cultivates great mussels.  Local supermarkets sell them bulk by the pound which is good because I am the only one in the household that likes them.  The key to steaming mussels is to use very little liquid and steam them just until their shells open.  If you use too much liquid, it will dilute the flavour of the mussels and they will have a very bland taste.  I have steamed these shellfish in water, beer, and in wine in the past.  However, the Guinness I used yesterday, along with the vegetables and herbs, made the mussels a very rich and delightful treat.  The mussels were infused with the Guinness and herbs but not so much that the seafood taste of these tasty morsels was lost.

So, for one serving, this is what I used:

2 Tbsp carrots, very finely chopped

2 Tbsp celery, very finely chopped

2 Tbsp. onion, finely chopped

½ tsp garlic purée

½ tsp. dried dillweed

1 – 1 ½ Tbsp butter

Melt butter in saucepan and sauté ingredients 2-3 minutes, then add:

1 cup Guinness

Bring to a boil

Add 9-10 oz. PEI mussels (about 15).

Cover pot.  Reduce heat to medium.  Steam approximately 3-5 minutes or until shells are open.  Using slotted spoon, remove mussels from liquid and transfer to plate, discarding any unopened shells.  Serve with melted butter.

PEI Blue Mussels Steamed in Guinness

 Irish Stew

Spirited Irish Stew

According to legend, traditional Irish Stew was made with cheap cuts of mutton or lamb and basic root vegetables like carrots, potatoes, onions, and turnips. Years ago, these would have been ingredients that were, no doubt, simply what would have been available in Ireland where sheep were raised for their wool and for food and, before the potato famine, potatoes were a primary Irish crop.

Over the years, Irish Stew recipes have changed according to the locale and what was available in the cook’s local area.  For example, beef is often used in North America today instead of lamb in Irish Stew and other ingredients are added to make a more flavourful, hearty stew as opposed to a broth-like dish.  Purists might argue that these changes result in a new stew recipe altogether and is something entirely different than the original Irish Stew.  Regardless what it is called, I like my version of a Spirited Irish Stew.  It has a nice rich, robust flavour and a splendid reddish-brown color that comes from the addition of tomato paste.  Using Guinness and red wine helps to tenderize the meat and also adds to the flavour of the stew.  I don’t add huge amounts of either as the intent is not to “drown” the natural flavours of the beef and veggies but rather to blend and enhance flavours.  The nice thing about Irish Stew (once you have all the veggies cut up) is that it is an all-encompassing meal with all the vegetables in one dish (no worries about getting different pots of vegetables all cooked at the same time and a real bonus of only having one pot to wash).  It really needs nothing more than a slice of warm Irish Soda Bread, fresh from the oven and slathered with butter and perhaps some homemade mustard pickles on the side.

I like to slow-cook this stew in the oven at 325ºF for a couple of hours as opposed to cooking it on the cooktop.  I find oven-cooking allows the flavours to slowly blend and the stew to become nice and thick.  Recipe follows at end of this blog posting.

Irish Soda Bread

Irish Soda Bread

Irish Soda Bread is a quick bread in which baking soda, and often baking powder, are used as the leavening agents as opposed to yeast.  My research revealed that ingredients for a basic Irish Soda Bread would include flour (often both all-purpose and whole wheat), baking soda, baking powder, salt, buttermilk, and molasses.  More elaborate breads might include raisins, currants, or nuts.  I also learned that it was not uncommon for the soda bread to be cooked on a griddle although I am not sure how the bread would have gotten baked all the way through without first getting burned on the bottom!

Soda bread dough is not kneaded like yeast breads and, in fact, it is recommended that the dough not be handled any more than is necessary for the dough to stick together.  In this respect, it is somewhat like tea biscuit dough except that it is a heavier, denser texture.

Irish Soda Bread Dough

Some recipes suggest that Irish Soda Bread should be baked in a pan or casserole dish for a softer crust or, for a more crispy hide, baked on a parchment-lined baking sheet which is how I baked mine.

Irish Soda Bread Ready for the Oven

The Irish Soda Bread recipe I used comes from Tea Time Magazine.  I found the bread was a good accompaniment for the Irish Stew but it is a dense, heavy bread and one that is probably best eaten fresh, warm from the oven, and on the day it is made.

Irish Soda Bread

 Irish Cream Cheesecake

I figured if I was going Irish on this St. Patrick’s Day, I might as well go all out and make a cheesecake that had Irish Cream Liquor in it.  I have often relied on recipes from Company’s Coming Cookbooks because I find them quite reliable, not containing ingredients I either wouldn’t have in my pantry or be able to readily source locally, and the directions are presented in a clear, easy-to-understand format.  That’s why I turned to Company’s Coming for the recipe for the Irish Cream Cheesecake.  I didn’t want a large cheesecake so I halved the recipe and used a 7” springform pan.

Irish Cream Cheesecake

I could not have been more pleased with the result.  The cheesecake had a lovely smooth texture, not over-powered by the Irish Cream Liquor but yet with a pleasing taste.  I served it simply with a dob of whipped cream, a drizzle of rich chocolate syrup, and a chocolate.  A superb and fitting finish to my St. Patrick’s Day meal!

Slice of Irish Cream Cheesecake Drizzled with Chocolate Sauce

My Island Bistro Kitchen's Spirited Irish Stew

By Barbara99 Published: March 18, 2012

  • Yield: (5-7 Servings)
  • Prep: 30 mins
  • Cook: 2 hrs 0 min
  • Ready In: 2 hrs 30 mins

A rich hearty stew with beef, a variety of vegetables, and flavoured with Guinness and red wine

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Ingredients for Spirited Irish StewAssemble ingredients.
  2. Vegetables for Spirited Irish StewChop stew meat and vegetables into bite-size pieces
  3. Browning Meat for Spirited Irish StewBrown meat in 1 - 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil.
  4. Place vegetables and meat in roaster.
  5. Spirited Irish Stew Ready for the OvenIn large bowl, combine sugar, herbs, garlic, tomato paste, beef consommé, Worcestershire Sauce, red wine, Guinness, and water. Whisk in flour until smooth. Pour over vegetables in roaster. With large spoon, stir mixture to combine. Add bayleaf.
  6. Spirited Irish Stew - CookedCover roaster and place in pre-heated 325F oven. Cook for approximately 2 hours or until vegetables are fork-tender when tested.
  7. Spirited Irish StewServe with Irish Soda Bread, rolls, or French Bread.

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Sticky Date Pudding with Toffee Sauce

It’s a cold day (-12C) in Prince Edward Island today.  The après-Christmas period always leaves me still craving comfort foods that have spices.

One of my favorite wintertime desserts is Sticky Date Pudding, the recipe for which, locally, is often associated with the prestigious Dalvay-by-the-Sea Hotel located just inside the National Park in Dalvay, on Prince Edward Island’s North Shore.

 

Dalvay-by-the-Sea Hotel, Dalvay, Prince Edward Island

The iconic Dalvay estate was built as a private summer seaside residence in 1895 for Alexander MacDonald, a wealthy businessman and one-time president of the Standard Oil Company.  The estate was reportedly named after MacDonald’s boyhood home in Scotland.  Dalvay was later sold to the government and private entrepreneurs now operate the hotel and restaurant seasonally.  It has been operated as a hotel since 1959.

The exterior of this hotel was also portrayed as the “White Sands Hotel” in the famous  “Road to Avonlea” TV series a number of years ago.  In the summer of 2011, the Dalvay-by-the-Sea Hotel grounds were the setting for a large event during the visit of Prince William and Catherine Middleton to PEI.

Those who have dined at the hotel’s restaurant will, no doubt, know about the Dalvay’s signature dessert – Sticky Date Pudding with Toffee Sauce.  There are many recipes to be found, each claiming to be the Dalvay-by-the-Sea Sticky Date Pudding recipe.  The one I use is the one that the hotel provided to our local CBC supper hour news show on PEI —  “Compass” —  in their “Summer Eats – Signature Dishes” segment in August 2006

Now, Dalvay did not invent the pudding.  Rather, it is believed that its origins can be traced back to England somewhere around the early 1900s when, reportedly, a landlady of a local inn invented it for sale in her pub.  Regardless the inventor I, for one, am truly grateful for this cozy comfort food.  I don’t know why but I always tend to associate this dessert as a wintertime food; however, the Dalvay-by-the-Sea Hotel only operates during the summer season so that’s when it is served there.  The moral of the story is that Sticky Date Pudding is good any time of the year!

The interesting thing about Sticky Date Pudding is that its ingredients are simple and basic and don’t take any hard-to-find or expensive ingredients or those that most of us cooks would be unlikely to have as staples in our cupboards.  As its name suggests, dates are the primary ingredient in the pudding.  The only spice on the ingredient list is ground ginger and you can alter the amount to suit your own personal taste.  I don’t use a full tablespoon of ginger, as the recipe calls for, when I make the pudding.   It’s an easy dessert to make and the method of preparation is not difficult.

What keeps this pudding nice and moist is that it is baked in a hot water bath in the oven.  The warmth and constant steady heat of the hot water against the baking pan containing the ingredients acts as an insulator for the pudding and prevents it from baking too quickly and drying out, cracking on the top, or burning on the bottom.  Combined with the steam generated in the oven from the water, this provides just the right environment for the pudding to bake nicely and evenly.

Sticky Date Pudding Batter

 

While the recipe calls for the pudding to be baked in one pan, I often divide the batter into small ramekins and place them in a pan of hot water for baking.  Puddings made in the small round dishes look especially nice for presentation when turned out onto a dessert plate and drizzled with the Toffee Sauce.

Baked Sticky Date Pudding

 

 

 

 

 

Serve the pudding warm and, if you wish, add a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of your favourite vanilla ice cream.  This pudding freezes well and is a staple in my freezer every winter.  To reheat, I simply thaw the pudding and heat for a few seconds in the microwave and make a batch of the Toffee Sauce.  Enjoy!

Sticky Date Pudding Served with Toffee Sauce