Wednesday, January 19, 2011

MOVED! Check out

My blog has now moved to: so if you're looking for new recipes or what I've been cooking and writing about lately, you're going to have to mosy on over there. No more ridiculous grilled shrimp pictures on the front page, thank goodness!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Melomakorona: Greek Honey-Soaked Cookies

I thought these were going to be easy...

...and it's not that Melomakarona are 'hard' to make, so much as they're time-consuming. You need to shape each one by hand and then place them in batches in hot honey syrup. I figured they'd be like baklava where you pour the syrup over after they're baked, but no, this one involved carefully picking them up one by one and essentially reverse deep-frying (instead of deep-frying in oil, the olive oil cookies are deep-fried in honey syrup...), then removing them with a slotted spoon and sprinkling with walnuts. They are heavenly, but anything with this much oil that falls apart so easily in your honey-drenched mouth (I initially mistyped "honey-frenched" and I think it may also be appropriate) should be epiphanal.

A Greek friend of mine asked his mom to make me a bunch of these as a Christmas present. Best. Present. Ever. Except I'm one person and there was a big Christmas-y container of them that weighed about 10 pounds.

 "They last a few weeks", says my friend, but mine sure didn't. Dinner of melamakorona? I'm not going to say I didn't...I may have rounded it out with a salad or something.

So I had to make them for myself and I had to make a few different kinds as all the refined sugar and regular flour in this recipe would make them off-limits for my mom. So I did a gluten-free, sugar-free version that ended up a little more crumbly (which was fine since they didn't have to be moved once I put them in a container post honey-soak) and one regular batch. The cookies are naturally crumbly and a little gritty from the semolina called for in most recipes, so I figured it would work perfectly with a mix of rice flours, starches, and sorghum flour.

3/4 cup of fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup sunflower oil (or other flavourless oil. All olive oil makes the cookies bitter apparently)
1/4 cup of brandy (I think I used whiskey and it worked fine)

1 cup of sugar
3 cups of all-purpose flour (or gluten-free flour blend)
1 cup of fine-ground semolina (or medium-ground, but not corn flour)
grated peel of 1 orange
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of grated cloves (or ground cloves)

For the Syrup and Topping:
2 cups of water
2 cups of sugar (or sugar substitute)
2 cups of honey (or agave, but use only about 1 - 1 1/2 cups since agave is much sweeter)
1 stick of cinnamon (two doesn't hurt...)
3-4 whole cloves
1 cup finely chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 Fahrenheit (180C.

Stir the baking soda into the orange juice.

Put all the dry ingredients (flour, semolina, sugar, spices, orange peel) in a bowl and mix until blended with a whisk. In the middle, create a well and add the liquid ingredients (oil, brandy, and orange juice).

Knead the dough until it sticks to your hands. It should be wonderfully gooey.

To shape the cookies take a fistful of dough and make it into a log. Press the dough gently with your fingers on one side to flatten slightly. The shape of the cookies can be rounded, oval, or a small log shape. The ones my friend had given me that his Greek mother had made were rounded, so I aimed for that.

Photos from Melomakarona Greek Honey Cookies

Place the cookies well spaced in a cookie sheet (no need to grease the sheet since the cookies have so much oil in them that leeches out anyway), place on the middle rack in the oven and bake until browned (about 15-20 minutes}. A little extra is not the end of the world since they get soaked in syrup and there's no way they'll be tough, but you'll taste a slightly over-cooked flavour. If they're undercooked they may be too crumbly to soak properly. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on baking racks (or plates. Who has a ton of baking racks?).

The cookies need to cool completely before being dipped in the syrup or they'll fall apart, so don't start the syrup until the cookies have cooled.

Put the water, honey, sugar, cinnamon stick, and cloves in a wide pot (like a deep frying pan. The wider it is the fewer batches you'll need to do. It can save a lot of time) and bring to a boil over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes. Turn the heat down to low. As soon as it starts to boil, a foam rises to the top. Scoop this off and throw it out. Remove the cinnamon stick and cloves, or save them to add to the cookie tin after as garnish. Don't eat them.

Put the cookies (as many as will fit on the bottom at a time) into the hot syrup and use a spatula to hold them down completely immersed in the syrup for about a minute, depending on how syrupy you want them to be. Then remove them with a slotted spoon, letting some of the syrup drip, place on a large serving plate in layers (or immediately into a container with a top so you don't have to move them again), sprinkling each layer liberally with the finely chopped walnuts before adding another layer on top.

Melomakarona are not refrigerated. Cover them well with plastic wrap or in tins so they don't dry out, and they'll last for at least a week. The brilliance of not using oil or eggs! You also end up with a ton of leftover soaking syrup...this is the best part. Pour it (only a little at a time) on ice cream or yogurt, or frozen yogurt, or use it in smoothies as a sweetener, or even dip fruit or toast into it. Mmm...cinnamon-infused honey could also just make some baklava and use it all up in one go.

So was I meant to be Greek? Well some Greek friends (and friends of friends) came to the 3rd Annual Volk/Watson Christmas Extravaganza and actually said, "They're better than my mother's," and I nearly died. His mother would cry if he told her that. I know what that means in a Greek family. High praise indeed.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Zabaione? Zabaglione? Either Way, Prosecco, Sugar, Egg Yolks, and Learning Italian

Though this is more commonly made with Marsala wine, and may actually have originally been made with beer, the light, bubbly sweetness of prosecco is absolutely perfect with the sweet egg yolk, frothed dessert. It's the cousin of the French sabayon a sweet or savoury sauce, but in this case, the Italians did it first and better. I also chose the prosecco because the first time I had this dish it was with champagne and the Chef who served it to me and my mother (two lactose-intolerant women overjoyed to be eating dessert at a gorgeous restaurant) told me he had learned it without a recipe from a Chef who said, "You do this, you add this now, then you do this..." etc. and that seemed like such a natural way to cook that I was inspired to recreate the dessert.

The recipe is actually very adaptable; sugar content can vary, alcohol can vary, and cooking time is really just as long as it needs. There are people who hate recipes like that, but there's something very endearing and very Italian about them.

Speaking of Italian, the one thing that stumped me was why when I look up Italian recipes for the dessert the name is "zabaione" and when I look up English recipes it's "zabaglione"? If anyone can let me know, I'd appreciate it. The recipe I used said it could have come from one of several military generals of royalty with names that all sort of sound like "ee'-oh'-neh'" but then it admits that the recipe is probably a lot older than any of those war stories. The Italians were probably eating sweetened, alcoholic egg yolks long before Captain Baglioni or Giovanni de Baylon had anything to do with it. What did men know about Italian desserts in the 16th Century anyway?

I had 12 egg yolks leftover from the angel food cake, but you can do a smaller version of this recipe if you wish by just dividing all the ingredients appropriately. The long mixing is boring, but I had a willing friend who took the whisking reigns. It was a bonus that we could speak Italian together while he waited patiently for the custard to thicken. His Italian is much better than mine, and having just returned from Rome, the whole process was quaintly beautiful.

Zabaione al Prosecco
12 egg yolks
1/2 cup Prosecco (it doesn't have to be a great Prosecco. Anything will do. Any other sparkling wine will also do. If it's very sweet, just add less sugar below)
1 cup sugar

Seriously, three ingredients. You can do this.

1. Separate the egg whites from the egg yolks and reserve the whites for another purpose*
2. Bring a pot of water to almost a simmer. It should never actually boil, but always be in the verge. Use a pot that a heatproof bowl can sit on top of safely (you're making a double-boiler).
3. Put the yolks and sugar in a heatproof bowl and beat it with an electric whisk or beater until the eggs are thick, creamy, and almost white.
4. Add the Prosecco a teaspoon at a time, beating constantly and once all the Prosecco is added, put the bowl on top of the pot and whisk or blend for 15-20 minutes, until the cream is expanded, luscious and thick.
5. Serve immediately, or remove the bowl from the heat and keep beating until the custard cools completely. If you stop beating too early, the alcohol will separate. With the Prosecco in it it's better to eat it right away and make the most of the bubbles!

*Ideally you use them first if you need to whip them, as they're not going to get any fluffier by leaving them in your fridge. You can leave for up to two days in there if you, say, want to make an egg-white omelet with them. you can also freeze them, and the same goes for leftover egg yolks in other recipes. Once you try this recipe, though, you won't have any trouble using up leftover yolks. Take that, mayonnaise.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Finally! Angel Food Cake with Maple-Honey Dessert Wine Apricots and Honey Ice Wine Figs

Basically the whole concept of the 3rd Annual Volk/Watson Christmas Extravaganza started because I wanted to make Angel's Food Cake. To me, that's more than reason enough to have a party. The fact that it was Christmas came second.

I've made this recipe before, and it's stunning. This time the cake didn't rise as much, but only I had had the original, and knew what it could have been like. I also did a few variations, decorated the top with a mixture of apricots and figs in the various dessert wines, and garnished with my home-made ginger confit.

As long as you bring the egg whites to room temperature before you beat them and make sure you don't get a speck of egg yolk in the whites, you're golden. There's no butter, which usually means there will be no flavour, but the toasted almonds give a warmth to the cake, and somehow the texture is dense enough to not feel like you're eating air. The real miracle (pardon the pun) takes place when you add the incredibly sweetened fruit sauces that turn the cake itself from soft and a little chewy to almond the intense texture of a pound cake. Who needs Hell when you have Heaven?

Follow the recipe I already posted but use your dessert wine of choice. I did two sauce options: one with a maple honey dessert wine that tastes like you're drinking alcohol-laden maple syrup (aka heaven - this also tied into the theme) combined with dried apricots, and one relatively lighter version with a simple honey ice wine and three kinds of dried figs. Yes there are three kinds of dried figs.

Notes on the dried fruit:
1. You can find unsulphured apricots and regular apricots (sulphured). The unsulphured kind are darker and generally moister and more flavourful. They're also a touch more expensive but well worth it.
2. For the figs I used a mix of Turkish, Black Mission, and Calimyrna (so called because they come from "Cali'fornia). They were also my favourite fresh fig of the season, having tried these light green ones, the dark California mission figs, and the Turkish). The figs are probably sulphured, however...If you can find organic ones, by all means buy them, but they will not be cheap.

I skipped the amaretto drizzle on the cake since I actually think it takes away from the aesthetics on the cake (you can compare above). I also wanted to keep dairy out of the party as much as possible (even though the yogurt probably wouldn't have bothered anyone) and I wanted to make the dish as kid-friendly as possible by reducing the amount of uncooked booze...I, of course, served extra of the dried fruit liquor sauces on the side, and those who were not put off by what looked like slime-y goop could take heaps and heaps of intensely sugar-y nectar...

If you do make the drizzle, just use whichever liquor (amaretto, dessert wine, etc.) that you used in the dried fruit sauce. Die of happiness...and go to heaven, of course, where you'll be given more of this angelic dessert.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Buying Natural Wines and Champagnes in Newfoundland

It IS possible to find a decent selection of natural wines in Newfoundland!

The second time I went to the liquor store (time # 2 of 2) this Christmas, it was to buy the wine for the 3rd Annual Volk/Watson Christmas Extravaganza. It was so much fun! I wasn't sure if I was going to buy a few of the same wines or buy a bunch of different ones, but I wanted them to all be natural (organic and then some, to put it simply, but listen to this to find out more). I knew no one at the liquor store was going to know what a natural wine was, and the best-case scenario would be that I'd just be pointed to the organic ones (that often aren't natural, and the natural ones are often not labeled organic, which they also are. Complicated, I know). So I looked at every wine-making region and read the back of bottles, and recognized some names. Here's what I came up with:

Joseph Drouhin's Morgon, Pinot Noir, and Saint-Véran, and a Bouchard Père et Fils' Pinot Noir.
I had also planned to serve two Quebec white table wines since they're supposed to be used for musical parties ("La Musicale" from Quebec honey farm and honeywine-makers Les Trois Acres) but they were left in the fridge by accident and are awaiting a new musical party at which to be opened.

On a piece of cardboard next to the bar at the party, I wrote:

          About the wines:
The whites and reds are natural wines; they are produced organically, hand-harvested, and have no extra yeasts, enzymes, sulfites or other chemicals added. Many come from the same producer but are made with different varieties of grapes. By not adding any of these extras ingredients, natural wines are supposed to allow you to taste the "terroir" - the land and true flavour of the wine - since nothing is chemically-masking it.

The Honey Maple Dessert Wine and the Honey Ice Wine from Miel Nature are examples of what Quebec does best. They're a little sip of heaven. I also used them in the cinnamon apricots and figs for the angel food cake, so the cake and wine should go well together.
I couldn't tell anything about the champagnes at the liquor store, so I just bought an affordable prosecco for the zabaione and stuck with wines I trusted for the party. The prosecco was perfect for the Italian custard-like dessert.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Buying Rum in Newfoundland

I got carded buying rum for fruitcake...

For the 3rd Annual Volk/Watson Christmas Extravaganza I got really excited about going to the liquor store. I get excited about going to the liquor store anyway, since I'm more of an occasional drinker who splurges a little on nicer things than a regular "pick up a bottle of plonker"-er, so a liquor store trip is a special occasion and generally leads to something delicious. Kind of like how some women feel about shoe shopping...

Anyway, I've only bought alcohol twice over the course of my entire time back on the rock, and both times were pretty unforgettable. The first time I was sent by my mother to buy rum for my dad for his Christmas pudding. Newfoundland has a lot of rum! All that rum-running from the Caribbean really came in handy for making rum popular here, and it stuck post-prohibition. There were all the standards including Bacardi and Appleton's but apparently the most popular rum in Newfoundland is Lamb's despite the fact that it's from Ontario (though the Black Sheep Spiced Rum comes from Quebec for some reason) and there are a lot of local options. Or at least more traditional ones from the Caribbean. Probably Lamb's white is specifically the most poopular, but I needed dark rum for the pudding, so I had a hard decision to make.

So while my mom was buying groceries I wandered into the rum section of the attached liquor store to check out the offerings from home and abroad:

Central America:
Mount Gay (Barbados)
El Dorado (Guyana)
Havana Club (Cuba),
English Harbour (Antigua)
Goslings Black Seal (Bermuda)
Sangster's (Jamaica)
Ray and Nephew (Jamaica),
Ron Zacapa 23 (Guatemala)

Mac Na Mara (Scotland - blended scotch)

Cruzan (US)
Ron Matusalem (US)
Sailor Jerry (US)


Governor General Light (Quebec)
Ron Carioca (Quebec)
Captain Morgon (Moslty Quebec, some US)

Malibu (Ontario)

Smuggler's Cove (Newfoundland)
Cabot Tower (NL)
Lemon Hart (NL)
Iceberg (NL)
Newfoundlander's White (NL)
Old Sam (NL)
Ragged Rock (NL), and of course,
Screech rum (Newfoundland)

That makes for a lot of options for fruit cake...I didn't want something particularly good since it wasn't going to be drank anyway, but I didn't want junk, and I didn't want anything from the rest of Canada or the US, since if I was going to buy North American it was going to be from Newfoundland. In the end I chose a bottle of Cabot Tower (mostly because it was local and you could get the smaller bottles) and took it to the cash.

I haven't been ID-ed in a good while. In Quebec if you're taller than the counter in a bar you're legal. Even in a liquor store you rarely get carded once you hit my age. I didn't even have my ID on me. I'd even said to my mom when she sent me off in search of rum (like a good little Newfoundland girl) that I might get carded, but her look of "Yeah, right..."-skepticism kind of embarrassed me into trying anyway.

The woman at the cash gave me one look and asked for ID. I sighed. It was pretty embarrassing to have to say that my mother would be right there to buy it in a minute. You're not allowed to buy alcohol for minors either, but clearly this was fine with the woman who was having a bit of an internal laugh. You could kind of see it on the sides of her mouth. Ah, positions of power. They're supposed to card if you look under 25. My mom just laughed at me when I told her. So I spent 20 minutes choosing the right rum not to drink and I still get carded the one time I don't have my ID. It figured. Murphy's law. There are an awful lot of Murphys in Newfoundland, it's true.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

"Real" Sundried Tomato and Artichoke Dip (aka "St. John's Ran Out of Canned Artichokes and Philadelphia Cream Cheese")

This was the non-vegan, non-"raw" version of my preferred sundried tomato spread. It has lots of cream cheese, and is actually slow-cooked to a slightly molten state, unifying the flavours better than a stove or simple arm strength, I think. Maybe just my arm strength, though.

I tricked everyone. Normally I'm tricking people with making dishes "raw" that seem creamy and dairy-filled, but this case was a little different. It's not actually an artichoke dip...St. John's ran out of canned artichokes. Absolutely ridiculous, I know, but there you have it. I went to possibly the biggest grocery store in the city and there were none. So I bought bamboo shoots instead. They're bland, they're not too salty, and I figured the texture would work fine. Besides, I don't know a single Newfoundlander who would be able to call me on it being a bamboo shoot. The best they could do is call it "not an artichoke". So when people said "great artichoke dip!" to my dip labeled "sundried tomato cream cheese spread" I just said "thanks". Not that Newfoundlanders can't tell the difference, just that most wouldn't know what bamboo shoots are or taste like. So I got away with it.

I made a double recipe. It makes a ton. It's also a very labour-intensive slow-cooker recipe because you actually need to stir it. Thanks, ma.

2 cans bamboo shoots, chopped
2 packages cream cheese (the whole point of the dish was to use cream cheese because of the Philadelphia cream cheese commercials that have that angel woman eating the stuff (because the party was called "Heavenly Hosts" it had to be Phili). Except St. John's ran out of Phili too. So I used no name brand...again, no one called me on it)
1 cup sour cream
3/4 cup mayo (I had the best intentions to use a home-made mayo but I hadn't made the angel food cake yet so I didn't have any yolks sitting around and I was not about to leave any whites sitting around getting potentially less able to expand, thus causing a sunken cake. So I used bottled. Again, no one complained)
1/2 cup parmesan cheese (didn't use the real stuff here either. I'm a horrible cook. You should use the real stuff. Anyone could make this dip better than I did)
1/2 cup chopped, drained oil-packed sundried tomatoes. Finally! Something I did right!
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 cup chopped green onions (for garnish)

All you do is add everything except the green onions to the slow-cooker and stir.
Turn the slow-cooker to low and cook for just 2 hours. Stir twice during the cooking time and when it's done sprinkle with the green onions. It's kind of cool to serve this out of the slow-cooker, but it's also kind of cool to turn it into a snake. It's supposed to be served warm, kind of like a cream cheese fondue, but come on! A snake! How cool is that?