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Homemade Cranberry Sauce

12 Oct

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Or at least to my fellow Canadians. Yes, we do it a month earlier than our friends in the US.  Maybe it’s because we just can’t wait to get into the cranberry sauce. Our family recipe contains just two ingredients: sugar and cranberries, (and it is very good) but for a change I thought I’d add some orange zest and cinnamon with very pleasing results.

CranberrySauce Mise © 2013 Helena McMurdo

684 g cranberries (about the equivalent of 3,  4 oz bags)

345 grams (1.5 cups) sugar

Zest of 2 oranges and the juice of 1

2 small cinnamon sticks
Wash the cranberries thoroughly and then put them in a large pan along with the other ingredients. Heat on high until the mixture begins to foam and the cranberries have popped open.  That’s it. You are done. In our family we often make this on the day of the meal, (yep we are that organized!) so we just refrigerate it until we need it. Inevitably someone forgets to take it out of the fridge and actually put it on the table….but that’s another story. If you want to can some, to keep for later, keep the mixture warm and pour into scalded jars, then process in a boiling water bath for about 15 minutes if you are at sea level, (20 mins for other climes). This recipe makes two 500ml jars. One for this weekend and one to give away or to save for Christmas.
Happy Thanksgiving!
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Pimientos de Padrón

17 Sep

Os pementos de Padrón, uns pican e outros non – Galician Saying

Translation: Some are hot. Some are not.

I love these. Perhaps I’m biased. They are pretty much considered the national dish from the land of my birth. That’s Galicia – in the northwest of Spain. Notice the quote? Not quite Spanish is it? Yep, that’s Galego. Named for the town of Padrón, most of these tiny peppers are sweet and mild. The odd one is not. It’s hot. Very hot. There may be tears. Consider yourselves warned.

On a recent trip to Galicia, I ate these little beauties almost every day. Next to jamón, they are probably my favourite local thing. At a bar in the spa town of Caldas de Reis, after arriving a little too late for lunch we were offered a lovely plate of these and a massive mountain of bread. A satisfying meal with an element of gambling thrown in. What is not to love? At the time it was early spring, when typically the peppers contain less of the spicy compound capsaicin, and we were hard pressed to find a hot one among the batch we ate. Even though we had no “winners”, they were delicious nonetheless.

Pimientos del Padrón y Pan ©2013 Helena McMurdo

Up until recently, it was hard to find these outside of Spain. Lately I’ve seen them regularly in blog posts from New York and yearn for them wistfully. I chanced upon some in Portland, Oregon a couple of years ago at Toro Bravo. I saw them in Seattle for sale. But I had never seen them in Vancouver.

So imagine my delight when I stumbled across them at the Trout Lake Farmer’s market. The lovely people from Klippers Organics of Cawston BC had a load of them. And I am told, they are the only ones growing them in Canada. Fill me up. I was a pretty happy girl leaving the market with my peppers in tow.

Pimientos de Padrón ©2013 Helena McMurdo

Fry them quickly in olive oil, toss them with some sea salt. Nothing more is required.

Fried Pimientos de Padrón ©2013 Helena McMurdo

Pimientos de Padrón with Maldon ©2013 Helena McMurdo

It’s September or maybe it’s the way they are grown here but I found the majority of these were hot and yes there were some tense moments. But they were good. So good. When can I get more?

Blueberry Apricot Custard Crumble Tarts

11 Aug

So I’m sitting here writing this and there is literally sweat pouring down my temples and I’m wondering who in their right mind would attempt to bake anything on a day such as this. I arose early and was actually glad to see a cloudy sky thinking…ahhh some coolness.  This combined with an unexpected and very welcome gift of local blueberries on Friday night and the presence of a couple of apricots on my counter which in the words of my mother ‘needed eating’ sparked the idea.  Add to this the fact that I knew that way back, in the depths of my freezer,  were two beautiful previously prepped tart shells and we now had the perfect storm of conditions for my baking madness. So the oven was already preheating by the time I realized this was not going to be the cool day I had imagined. Oh well suck it up. I love it when conditions and and ingredients spring up to magically provide a recipe so here’s what I came up with. Blueberry and Apricot Custard Crumble Tarts. A mouthful, you say? Yes it is. And you will like it.

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I recently made a lovely lemon tart using a pâte sablée from one of my favourite books Classic Artisan Baking by Julian Day. This has become my new very favourite pastry. It is rich and buttery and almondy and well, it’s just perfect. And it freezes very well so when I had some leftovers I immediately pressed them into two tart shells for future use and popped them in the freezer…where I found them today.

The other gift that allowed this to happen today was a crumble mixture that I also keep on standby in the freezer. I inevitably have too much of it whenever I make it and the first time this happened I froze it. It happened by accident the first time but the results were so good that I admit that now I make it in advance and always have some on stand by. I mean who knows when you could be called upon to provide a crumble at a moment’s notice.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Finally, this dessert makes use of a custard filling which I think is one of the loveliest parts of this dessert. It gives it a kind of bread-puddingy-ness (Yes, of course it’s a word).

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Blueberry Apricot Custard Crumble Tarts

For 4 tarts you will need:

Pastry

4  (4 inch) tart shells lined with your favourite pastry. I used pâte sablée from Classic Artisan Baking.  Before discovering this pastry I had no qualms of buying store-bought pastry (shock-horror!)  from people who were far better at pastry making than I was.  I like a sablée pastry for the almond flour which gives it such a richness.

You will need to follow the directions for your pastry and blind bake it. Usually this involves covering the shells with parchment or foil  and filling with baking beans before baking for about 15-20 minutes. (Depending on your pastry). Remove the beans and parchment and bake for another 5 minutes or so to slightly brown the pastry.  Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

Custard Filling

1 egg

1/4 cup / 6o ml whipping cream

1 TBSP sugar

pinch of cinnamon

dash of vanilla or almond extract

Lightly beat the egg, add the cream and other ingredients, whisk and then set aside until needed.

Crumb Topping 

(makes more than enough to save for later)

1 cup / 227 grams sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 lb / 113 grams cold butter

1/4 cups / 156 grams all-purpose flour

Combine first three ingredients cutting in the butter until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Add the flour and rub together with your fingertips until the mixture has the texture of fine breadcrumbs.  Set aside until ready to use. Freeze what you don’t use to for the crumbles of your future. (Just top your fruit with the mixture and you are good to go).

Fruit Filling

about 1  cup of blueberries

3 apricots, sliced

To assemble:

Once cool, fill the tart shells with a single layer of blueberries, then arrange the apricots on top to your liking. I used 5 apricot slices per tart but you could use more. Then fill in the holes/gaps with more blueberries.  Depending on how sweet your fruit is, you may want to sprinkle some sugar on the fruit at this stage. Taste it and make a call. Now pour the custard mixture over the tarts until the level of custard is just shy of the top of the pastry case. (Stir the custard before pouring as it may have settled). Finally sprinkle some of the crumble mixture on top. Really this part is up to you depending on how much crumble you prefer but I used about 2 TBSP per tart.

Bake at 350 until the crumb topping is golden brown and the custard and fruit juices are bubbling up through the top of the crumb.

Eat and enjoy while mopping the sweat from your brow and thinking how very clever you are!

Inspiration: Peas and Ham

13 Jul

So all this revisiting of my recent trip has given me a craving for some simple Spanish cooking here at home in Vancouver. I was at Granville Island yesterday and spotted some lovely English Peas and thought – peas and ham. And by ham, I mean Serrano. Claro. I can always count on Oyama Sausage Company for some of the good stuff.

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There is something so simple and  satisfying about this dish. Fresh peas are boiled and then tossed with bits of ham in a sauce of nothing more than olive oil, pimentón and garlic. A bit of bread to mop of the smoky, scented oil and a glass of wine and you’ve got something truly delicious.

You will need:

About 3 Cups fresh, shelled English peas

100 grams Jamón Serrano cut into little bits (like lardons) (I bought these pre-cut from Oyama Sausage Company which saved me lots of time).

3-4 TBSP Olive Oil or more

2 Garlic Cloves, flattened and blistered with the back of a knife

Approx 1 TBSP Hot Smoked Paprika (Pimentón Picante)

Ok. So now we have to talk about Pimentón. You may or may not know that there are three types of Smoked Paprika from Spain: Dulce (Sweet), Agridulce (Bittersweet) and Picante (Hot). Where I live in Vancouver, I find it is more often the Dulce or Agridulce varieties that are on shelves. Picante can be hard to find but it is my preference in this recipe. In our family, this item is something that tucked into a Christmas stocking, can make someone very happy. So grab it when you see it.

The method is simple.

Boil the shelled peas until they are tender. How long? I have no idea. Keep tasting them until they taste good to you.

In the meantime, heat the olive oil and fry the garlic and ham very gently, just browning the ham. When the ham is done, remove it and let it drain on some paper towel (or not). Keep frying the garlic, pressing on it with a back of a spoon to mush it up. The purpose here is simply to flavour the oil. You will actually remove the garlic when serving. I know it can seem like a lot of oil. It is. But most of it is going to settle to the bottom of the dish and you are going to mop it up with your bread. You’d eat as much when you dip your bread in oil at an Italian restaurant and you wouldn’t even think about it.

Just before the peas are about to be ready, remove the pan with the oil from the heat, remove the garlic and add the pimentón. The pimentón will fry very vast in the hot oil so keep stirring constantly. Quite quickly the oil will cool. At this point, you can set the pan aside. Now the peas will be done. Drain them and combine with the pimentón oil mixture. Easy peasy. Did I just say that? Oh boy.

PeasandHam2 ©2013 Helena McMurdo

So there you have it. I hope you will try this with some fresh local peas. Let me know how it goes. I would love to know.

Galicia: Pulpo do Feira

12 Jul

One of the classic items to eat in Galicia is Pulpo do Feira. Translation: Octopus-“Market Style”. In my grandmother’s local market, the women working the Pulpo tent dip their sticks rhythmically into the huge copper pot, their hands seemingly immune to the scalding water below. Then using scissors, they snip the legs into pieces so quickly it’s amazing that any of them still have fingers. You take your seat in the covered tent and someone plunks down a bottle of wine and a huge loaf of bread and you order your ration. It’s drizzled with olive oil,  and sprinkled with salt and pimentón. Y ya está. (That’s it!) Meaty deliciousness.

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Galicia: Te gusta?

10 Jul

I’m back from a recent trip to Galicia and I wanted to share some of the images I made as well as some of the memories I have from this place. As many of you know, I was born in Spain or more specifically – as my relatives remind me often – in Galicia. Which is different.

When we were kids, we visited in the summers from our home in the North of Canada. The differences were dramatic. In Yellowknife, the Frozen North, the chickens came wrapped in plastic on meat trays in the YK Super A, the local grocery store. In Galicia hens strolled around the yard of my grandparents house and baby chicks were gifts from my Abuelo (grandfather) to me and my two sisters when he came back from the local market. Today in North America we would call it a ‘Farmer’s’ Market. In Galicia, then as now, no one felt the need to specify this obvious detail. We were disappointed to learn that grandma’s chickens laid no more than one egg a day and sometimes not even any. This did not seem to tally with the pictures in our kindergarden schoolbooks of mother hen sitting on a mountain of eggs. Our relatives viewed us as city slickers (clearly not the case as anyone who has been to Yellowknife can attest), but our words and actions revealed that we ignorant of country ways. They  laughed when my sister tried hopelessly to shake a chicken in order to induce an increase in egg production.

Big excitement happened when one of the neighbours would move cows from one field to another yelling; Vaca Ve!  My sisters and I would copy them, grabbing a stick and yelling the refrain, not really understanding the words but getting the message.  Today there are fewer cows in the village. But they still move back and forth in a rhythm that marks the days. Today they wear ear tags and in the words of one of the neighbours, “they have more paperwork than we do”.

Galicia Village Textures © 2013 Helena McMurdo

When we were kids, my grandparents ran a little bar come shop and their little corner of the world seemed a bustling place with neighbours dropping by to have a drink, a slice of jamón or to buy some basic essential like shampoo or the famous black soap from LaToja.

We found it all so very amusing, helping to serve the drinks and being paid in chocolate and Chupa Chups. Much of our time was spent being poked by neighbours and relatives who spoke freely with their pronouncements as to which of us was the fattest, skinniest, best looking, tallest, most intelligent etc. “The food must be very bad in Canada. The children are so skinny” The bar is  no more but the neighbours still have a lot to say. Now they tell me I am fatter but in a good way. “Estás bien ahora.”

On of the first spanish phrases I remember learning was ‘Te gusta?‘” Do you like it? Someone was always offering food. (What is a local custom became even more impressive presumably because of our perceived state of malnutrition.) Most of the things being offered to eat were too simply too scary for our young and picky palates to consider. Squid? Octopus? No thank you. “No me gusta”. We seemed happy to exist on a diet of Fanta de Naranja, Maria Biscuits and Cola Cao with the odd tortilla francesa (omelette) thrown in. But I do remember always liking jamón and chorizo.

Today, I’m making up for my prior fussiness. In fact, there seems to be little that I don’t like. This is simple food; Green Beans with Garlic and Smoked Paprika, Kale with chorizo and a perfect farm fresh egg, a slice of empanada made in the local panadería. Octopus is boiled and sprinkled with salt and paprika and served with boiled potatoes.

Food in Galicia_©2013 Helena McMurdo

The cooking is not complicated. The ingredients are what make it. And nature provides. Y si me gusta!

BC Spot Prawns with Garlic Cream Sauce

16 May

It’s officially my favourite time of the year. Spot Prawn season. It’s short usually lasting around 60 days but this year it will be even shorter. So it’s a get-em while you can scenario. I don’t usually do much with them. Fry em up on a hot pan and I’m done. They are naturally sweet and a feast in themselves.

For a change I thought why not try them in an actual recipe so I prepared a pasta with the little beauties. It’s pretty rich but sometimes that’s a good thing right?

BC Spot Prawns © 2013 Helena McMurdo

BC Spot Prawns with Garlic Cream Sauce

Ingredients:

12 BC Spot Prawns

250 grams Linguine

20 grams butter

2 garlic cloves, pressed

60 ml white wine

125 ml cream

pinch of cayenne

salt & pepper

1 egg yolk

1. Prepare the prawns by dropping them in boiling water for 60 seconds. Take out immediately and plunge into an ice bath to stop the cooking process.

2. Peel the prawns, remove the heads and set aside the tail meat on ice or in the refrigerator.

3. Prepare the pasta according to package directions (mine was 11 minute cooking time). About halfway through cooking time begin your sauce.

4. Melt the butter in the pan and fry the garlic, add the wine and reduce to half the quantity.

5. Add the cream and thicken. Season with salt and pepper and the cayenne.

6.  Add a tiny bit of the cream mixture to the egg and beat so that it does not become scrambled.Pour the remaining cream mixture into the egg yolk beating vigorously.

7. Return cream mixture to the pan, add the spot prawns and warm through (a minute should do it).

8. Drain your pasta and add to the pan. Coat the pasta with the sauce and serve.

What’s your favourite way to prepare  spot prawns?

St. Patrick’s Day. Why not say it with cheese?

17 Mar

Well, here we are again. It’s St. Patrick’s Day. And while all of America is going mad, dying their beers and their rivers green, my thoughts are as usual…what to eat? And this year I have to admit, I have no grand plans. Sure I’ll have a sneaky pint of Guinness later, but this year, I’ve been pretty lame and have no big Irish meal planned. In fact, what I’d really like is a bag of Taytos and a Galaxy Bar.

But wait, then I thought, what’s the fallback food of the picnic planner? Yes I could gladly live on cheese and crackers for the next millennium. Perhaps it’s not the first thing you think of when you think of Ireland, but be assured Ireland has cheeses every bit as lovely as those in France, Spain or anywhere else.

Being very much a friend of cheese, where else could I turn but Vancouver’s fabulous Les Amis du Fromage. I happily left the shop yesterday with two fine cheeses. Hailing from County Tipperary, Cashel Blue has all the tanginess of a blue cheese but I find it more creamy and rich. Buttery, even.  Coolea, from Cork is a new one to me. It’s a semi-hard cheese, almost like a gouda, but to me it seems nuttier, almost like a Comté.

Irish Farmhouse Cheeses_© 2013 Helena McMurdo-2Irish Farmhouse Cheese and Whisky_© 2013 Helena McMurdo-2

And this being St. Patrick’s Day, it only seems right to top it off with a small glass of whisky.  Here’s wishing that the luck of the Irish follows you all year long! And to all my friends back in Ireland, a very special good wish for you.

Chic Pique-Nique: Le Dîner en Blanc

31 Aug

Last night I attended an event that I’ve been looking forward to for weeks. To say that Dîner en Blanc was this picnic planner’s dream come true would not be an understatement. Dreamy secret location. Check. Elegantly dressed people. Check. French Food and Wine. Picnic Baskets! Check.

Dîner en Blanc Place Setting © 2012 Helena McMurdo

Founded in Paris 22 years ago, Dîner en Blanc happens one night a year. Friends gather together to eat and drink an elegant picnic, all dressed in white in a secret location revealed just hours before the event itself.

The undertaking was not without commitment. In addition to their white outfits, and their picnic, participants bring their own white tables and chairs plus their own proper dishes and glassware. (Proper in this case means china and real glass.)

In Vancouver guests also had the option to buy a prepared dinner from non-other than Top Chef Chef Dale McKay. Now I’m not saying I’m a Top Chef but I was not about to refuse a challenge. The official Dîner en Blanc list of things to bring, read as follows : “A picnic basket comprised of quality menu items and a china dinner service including proper stemware and flatware.” Oh yes. GAME ON!

Three weeks ago, we began to plan. Super G communed with his inner prop master and sprung into action. He found brilliant white chairs at Ikea. A very clever pop-up table at Canadian Tire. We raided my mother’s cupboard for white plates and linen. I dug out a beautiful restaurant-style white tablecloth I have never had occasion to use. And of course we started to put together our outfits and the small details involved.

Dîner en Blanc Decor. Photography © 2012Helena McMurdo

I started thinking about the menu. It had to be French, it had to be practical for transport and plating. In the spirit of the event, and in keeping with my own picnicking philosophy – only elegant and practical containers.  A fabulous buttery Quiche Lorraine – what could be more quintessentially picnicky? For dessert I wanted to be a bit more daring. I came upon the idea of crème caramel – so French – and I decided to do them in small Weck Jars so that I could seal the containers after making them and transport them easily, doing the renversement on the plate at the dinner for the final pièce de résistance. (These are the things that make me happy!)

Dîner en Blanc Food Prep. Photography ©2012Helena McMurdo

Cooking was much more fun than shopping and after trying on what seemed to be every white piece of white clothing in the Lower Mainland, almost going snow blind from the experience, I finally settled on my outfit. Now back to the food.

Paté was a must and so a trip to Oyama Sausages was in order where decided on a  smooth and creamy Paté de Cognac and a more rustic Paté de Campagne. We also picked up an amazing Saucisson Sec. Trés bon.

Finally the finishing table touches, the flowers, glassware, and a few tiny chocolates for ápres dîner and of course the baguette were assembled. The task of packing began. It was important to be self-sufficient and compact in our kit as we would be arriving to the picnic (as per the rules) en masse and by public transit carrying everything with us.

Picnic Set for Dîner en Blanc. © 2012 Helena McMurdo

Super G slung the pop-up table over his shoulder and carried the two chairs and I rigged up a little trolley for my basket. I had a smaller bag for breakables which I carried with me and finally a small hand-held basket with the flowers. It was time to dress up and get out there!

We had been told to be at the Main Street Skytrain Station at 6pm. We arrived and promptly saw a few other people in white. Gradually a larger group assembled. We met our table leader and checked in. It was all very organized and efficient. We were given drinks tickets for our purchased wine so we could collect it quickly when we arrived at the dinner location.  There was a bit of waiting around but the sun was shining and none minded. It was a pleasure to simply soak up the scene.

Waiting for Dîner en Blanc. ©2012 Helena McMurdo

With our leader heading the posse, we all hopped on the sky train to our mystery location. At this point we knew only that we’d be going to the Burrard Skytrain Station in the heart of downtown Vancouver but we still did now know our final destination. It was quite a laugh to see the looks on peoples faces as the hundred or so of us piled onto the train, all in white and with all our accessories.On the way to Vancouver Dîner en Blanc. © 2012 Helena McMurdo

From the Burrard Station we set off on foot and found our groups number growing as other groups from other areas converged on this point. It gradually became clear where we were headed, the home of the Olympic Torch, Jack Poole Plaza at the Vancouver Convention Centre. At the edge of downtown, on the water, it has a spectacular view of the North Shore mountains – a simply stunning, iconic location.

Without delay we found our designated spot, all organized and directed by our table leader Evelyn, and promptly set up our tables. Everywhere people were doing the same and it was wonderful to see the creativity in table settings and outfits alike.

Dîner en Blanc Vancouver. © 2012

To the sweet and beautiful music of Josh aka that-guy-who-sings-La-Vie-en-Rose-at-Granville-Island we dined, shared each other’s food and watched the sun go down.

Dîner en Blanc Celebration. Photography ©2012Helena McMurdo

The entire menu went down a treat and to my great happiness the crème caramel turned out of its dish perfectly.

By this time it was dark, and time for sparklers! We were each handed a sparkler and at 9:35, 1200 people lit them together creating a beautiful glowing mass which signalled the kick off of the dancing. Les Noces Gitanes from Paris, played a sort of new type of Gypsy Kings thing with the odd riff on Ukranian dancing music. It was great! The party had just begun.

Vancouver Dîner En Blanc Night. ©2012Helena McMurdo

Spaghetti with Pesto & Roasted Garden Tomatoes

23 Aug

Here we are in August and gradually I’ve been harvesting tomatoes. This is my first year as an urban gardener and I have three tomato pots, two red cherry varieties and an heirloom, yellow pear. I guess my expectations were that I’d have a huge harvest and I’d literally be canning for months to use them all. Not that I’m disappointed. I’ve been picking them off in ones and twos for the most part but recently I was able to harvest one entire limb of a plant. I’m sure to seasoned gardeners this is not a big deal, but for me, it felt like a huge windfall.

Tomatoes ©2012 HelenaMcMurdo

But what to do with this bounty? Suddenly the pressure was on and now I felt that whatever these tomatoes went into had to be special, something I’d never done before, something amazing, because I’d grown these babies with my own hands. Today hunger and lack of groceries overtook me and so the tomatoes became the focus of my lunch. Something simple replaced something monumental.

So I roasted the tomatoes in a hot oven for a few minutes until they got tender and then tossed them into some pasta which I’d coated with some pesto from this year’s basil plants. I freeze the pesto in ice cube trays so I have a small portion ready to use when I need it.

Tomato & Pesto Pasta ©2012 HelenaMcMurdo

Simple, delicious and quick. And the tomatoes tasted so much the better knowing they came from my balcony. Next year who knows what will happen, but today, despite expectations, I was pretty happy with the delicious dish that found me. Although I may have some explaining to do on the home front when himself arrives home and finds I’ve eaten them all.

Tomato & Pesto Pasta ©2012 HelenaMcMurdo

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