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ABOUT SOUP, ‘A BOWLFUL OF SOULFUL’…A ‘Beautiful Chat’ with Red House Soups’ Carolyn Norberg

Welcome, Dear Friends!

Hmm…It still ‘smells like winter’ with chicken soup (and dumplings) simmering on the stovetop –  there’s something about a pot of soup cooking gently on the stove that makes the house all cozy and heartwarming.  You’re just in time to fill your bowl or cup 🙂  And, as always, the teapot’s on. Today I have a fascinating treat for you – a special interview with Carolyn Norberg of Red House Soups! It’s time to pull up your favourite chair…

‘SOUPER HERO’   First, let’s talk a little ‘About Soup’…What words come to mind when you think of soup? Nourishing.  Restorative.   Nurturing.  Happiness (good soup, that is). Spiritual – think of all those ‘Chicken Soup For The Soul’ books!  And, what does soup mean to you?!

There is a sense of physical satisfaction from a warm bowlful  of soup, as well as an emotional one – wouldn’t you agree?  Soup is especially comforting on a chilly, damp day (like it is here today). Our mothers feed us soup as a gesture of love. Soup feels safe and comforting to us.  Soup is mystical; once thought to have transformative powers – even today soup is still believed to possess ‘healing powers’ and frequently touted as medicinal, acclaimed to cure everything from the common cold to uplifting our moods. People turn to soup when they are feeling ill or depressed.

Soup is social and welcoming.  When we gather people where we live, we sometimes put a boiler of soup on the stove  to ‘warmly’ welcome family and friends, and even strangers, into our homes and to feed them. Soup can be a poor man’s meal or an elegant starter to a dinner for kings – a great example of this is in a previous post “Impress Your Guests with this Wonderful Winter Soup”.

Soup makes for a thoughtful and caring gift for a senior, someone who is ill, or just to let someone know that you are thinking of them. My own mother adores soup – she is near 83 and enjoys soup at least once a day.  Her 77 and 87 year-old sisters frequently bring her their homemade soups. Soup is the ultimate ‘Thinking of You’ gift…

“Only the pure of heart can make good soup.” Beethoven


During the Great Depression, "soup kitchens" fed the unemployed. This particular soup kitchen was sponsored by the Chicago gangster Al Capone. Who knew?!

EMPTY BOWLS During the days of ‘The Great Depression’, soup kitchens seemingly sprung up everywhere. They served, for the most part, only soup and bread – you probably have seen the iconic images (similar to the one at the right) of folks lined up to eat…for many, it was the only meal of the day.

Although the numbers of ‘soup kitchens’ may have declined, they remain throughout our communities in various forms, some distributing groceries and/or serving hot meals on specific days (rather than every day of the week).

There is support for those who ‘fill up their bowls’ at  food-sharing organizations, shelters and soup kitchens.  (Some of you may remember my post about Amazing Apple Cake and Street Reach). One local high school recently started a ‘Soup Club’ and regularly cooks up large pots of soups and delivers them to Street Reach, an amazing organization that helps street-entrenched, at-risk youth. On St. Patrick’s Day, when I was delivering some Apple Cake to Street Reach, they had just received from the students a huge pot of beef stew to serve to its clients.  Bravo!

SOUP IS ‘HOPE’  Soup is sustaining and, perhaps just as importantly, soup is symbolic. Soup gives a sense of relief, a sense of hope…

DID YOU KNOW? In March last year, food banks helped a record 867,948 people across the country (Source:  thestar.com).  According to our local Community Food Sharing Association, there are 32,000 people who live in our province who don’t have enough to eat – 60% of families who access food banks are families with children. At the top of the organization’s grocery shopping guide for those wishing to donate food, is……Yep, you guessed it – SOUP.

Soup is a meal in itself.  Soup is nutritious.  Soup is convenient.  Soup is economical, too.

Canned Soup & Stew
Peanut Butter
Canned Beans
Macaroni & Cheese
Dried Pasta, Noodles & Rice
Pasta Sauce
Canned Meat & Fish
Beans & Legumes
Canned Vegetables & Fruit
Canned/Powdered Milk
Breakfast Cereal
Baking Supplies



A ‘BEAUTIFUL CHAT’ WITH RED HOUSE SOUPS’ CAROLYN NORBERG,  AT HOME IN HER FLATROCK, NEWFOUNDLAND ‘SOUP KITCHEN’…

Whenever I think of Red House Soups, I imagine Carolyn Norberg (company founder, owner and expert soup maker) driving a tiny sporty red convertible, wearing a blousy red cape with a generous hood tied around her shoulders; and lengths of brown wavy hair flowing straight behind her in the wind. The  back seat is piled high-to-the-sky with layers of wicker picnic baskets containing bottles upon bottles of her delicious and restorative homemade soups.  While Carolyn may not be on her way to grandma’s house,  she caters to her customers’ needs the old-fashioned way, and personally delivers her tasty soups – in a modest van – directly to the homes and offices of her thankful and loyal customers.  They look forward to that familiar knock on the door and seeing Carolyn’s smiling face, her arms filled with mason jars of yummy soup ordered on-line through her website!

RED HOUSE SOUPS celebrated its first year of success recently.  Weekly soup menus of several varieties are posted each Monday and customers have until Thursday to make their choices for delivery the following week.  Prices are very reasonable (each mason jar contains three servings) and range from $10 and up per jar.  Soups can keep up to three days in the refrigerator and many varieties can be frozen.  They sell out fast – sometimes within mere hours of posting the new menu – so it’s wise not to delay selecting your soups. Deliveries are made Wednesdays and Thursdays depending on the area in which you live.  Carolyn sometimes makes several hundred jars of soup weekly.  Sign up to receive her fantastic menus at Red House Soups.  Soup varieties have included:

  • Beef and Wild Rice (with squash and turnips)
  • Curried Cream of Carrot
  • Mixed Bean, Squash and Espresso Chili
  • Creamy Chickpea (with Carrots and Rosemary)
  • Lamb Tagine
  • Red Potato Soup (with Feta and Lemon)
  • Cream of Cauliflower, Corn and Cheddar
  • Sausage Minestrone
  • Hot and Sour (with pork, mushrooms and tofu)
  • Old Fashioned Chicken
  • Mulligatawny
  • Asparagus and Spinach with Fresh Basil
  • Cod Chowder
  • Onion (with Garlic Scapes)
  • Coconut and Cashew Stew
  • Malaysian Chicken
  • Moroccan Beef Stew
  • Mexican Red Bean
  • Cranberry, Black Bean and Sausage Chili

While I am refilling you teacup, won’t you pull up your chair to the table as I chat with Carolyn, the creative genius behind this lovely-spirited entrepreneurial endeavour.  Carolyn runs her flavourful and unconventional business out of her home kitchen in the petite scenic community of Flatrock, Newfoundland situated near the famous East Coast Trail. Carolyn’s unique soup operation originated from her desire to have a satisfying career doing something she truly loves balanced with the need for gainful employment.  Thus, Red House Soups was born!

Carolyn's red salt-box styled, two-story near the water's edge where she creates mouth-watering gourmet soups in her fully-equipped commercial kitchen.

SOUP MEMORIES

LINDA:  What is your first ‘soup memory’?

CAROLYN:  My first soup memory is of my grandfather dicing turnips for soup into perfectly even pieces and getting mad at anyone who tried to help.  My grandfather never cooked until he retired from fishing and he quickly acted as if he had been cooking his whole life.  Fresh Meat Soup was his speciality.   From what I recall, it was good.

LINDA:  When did you make your first pot of soup?

CAROLYN:  The first pot of soup I made was a chicken soup for grandmother.   She was dying of cancer.   I decided to make her soup.  She couldn’t really eat it but I know she appreciated it.

LINDA:  Who taught you how to make soup?

CAROLYN:  I taught myself to cook.   I didn’t grow up in a family that cooked much besides traditional dishes.  However, there are stories of my great-grandmother pickling cauliflower with turmeric in rural Newfoundland which was pretty adventurous in her day.

My real passion for cooking began in university.   I had a boyfriend who liked to cook and we learned from each other.  This passion was strengthened when I moved to Flatrock in 1995.   During that time, I stayed with a couple who cooked everything from scratch.   They had a vegetable garden, fished and hunted and picked berries.   The first meal I ate with them was moose burritos, from a moose they had killed and butchered, and they were making their own flour tortillas, and I thought it was exotic.

LINDA:  What’s your favourite homemade soup and the memory tied to it?

CAROLYN:    It’s difficult to pick a favourite.  I love anything with potato.  I also love Avgolémono which is a Greek lemon soup and Cream of Onion.

LINDA:  Do any of your ‘Red House Soups’ creations come from childhood memories?

CAROLYN:  Only  in the sense that they’re the opposite of what I ate growing up.

LINDA:  What does soup mean to you?

CAROLYN:  Love, comfort and sharing.

THE ‘IDEA’ OF SOUP

LINDA:  What was your job before you began ‘Red House Soups’?

CAROLYN:  I was an English Teacher, Computer Programmer and a Writer (Poetry & Short Fiction).  I also worked as a Caterer.

LINDA:  What was the impetus behind ‘Red House Soups’?

CAROLYN:  I had been catering on and off and wanted to take things to the next level.  Plus, I was tired of working for other people.

LINDA:  How did you come to start a soup-delivery business?

CAROLYN:  I knew I wanted to do something original and thought it was best to focus on one thing and do it well.  I’ve always been good at making soup and one day the idea just came.   I googled it and learned that others had been successful doing similar things.  I had actually written business plans for other business concepts – this was the third one and my gut told me it was the right one.   So I applied for funding and my father lent me money to put a commercial kitchen in the back of my house.

LINDA:  Where do your inspirations come from for your soup recipes?

CAROLYN:  Ideas and recipes come from many places.  It helps to be fearless in the kitchen.  What’s the worst thing that can happen?   I also read a lot of cookbooks.   But I never follow a recipe.

LINDA:  Would you say making soup is a creative or even inventive process?

CAROLYN:  Yes, but I don’t think anyone should take themselves too seriously.

LINDA:  How do you decide which soups to offer each week?

CAROLYN:  I try to create a balance.  If I do a Mexican soup one week, I won’t do another Mexican soup for awhile.    I listen to which soups my customers want repeated.  Sometimes it depends on what I’m in the mood to make.  During late summer and fall, I like to choose soups based on what is in season.

LINDA:  Are you ever asked to make large batches of soup as custom orders?

CAROLYN:  Yes, but I don’t usually do it as I’m so busy.

LINDA:  What’s the most unusual ‘soup request’ you’ve ever had?

CAROLYN:  To make a soup using Edamame.  I would love to do it but Edamame is not an ingredient I can get a large amount of.

LINDA:  Which came first: the name ‘Red House Soups’, or the paint colour of your house?

CAROLYN:  The house was red first.

CAROLYN’S ‘SOUP KITCHEN’

LINDA:  Describe your ‘soup kitchen’.

CAROLYN:  I have a separate licensed kitchen in the back of my house.  The kitchen is set up like any other commercial operation – stainless steel and a gas stove.  There are two large refrigerators –one with glass doors to store the soup in.  The kitchen is painted red and yellow to match the company colours.

LINDA:  Do you have any vintage kitchen tools that you love?

CAROLYN:  I love my potato ricer.

LINDA:  Do you prefer to serve your soups in bowls or cups?

CAROLYN:  Depends on the situation.

LINDA:  Do you have a collection of soup tureens or ladles?

CAROLYN:  I actually don’t.  I do have a collection of soup pots, though.

LINDA:  Do people tend to give you soup tureens and/or other soup-related items as gifts?

CAROLYN:  No, actually they don’t.

SUGAR & SPICE & ALL THINGS NICE…WHAT ARE RED HOUSE SOUPS MADE OF?

LINDA:  How do you choose your soup ingredients?

CAROLYN:  I look at what I can get that is fresh and go from there.  Or, I have a soup in mind and I call around until I can find the right supplier for the ingredients.

LINDA:  Do you use only fresh, seasonal produce?

CAROLYN:  I would love to but it isn’t possible.  Late summer and fall is the best time for local produce and, during that time, I try to develop soups that highlight those ingredients.   Last year, we had a special fall harvest menu that featured local produce (squash, beet, and turnip) from three local farmers.  It was a popular menu and we hope to do the same thing this year.

LINDA:  Do you cultivate your own produce?  Or, do you obtain produce from local farmers?

CAROLYN:  I have a very small garden.  I wish I had more time to devote to it.  I do have a local farm in Flatrock that I get some produce from.  Gerhard and Frederique are going to be growing zucchinis and beets for me.  I also give all our vegetable cuttings to them for their sheep.  I get turnips from a farmer in Torbay, and last year I did a squash soup from the Organic Farm in Portugal cove.

LINDA:  Do people contact you about the things they grow in their gardens that they think you might be able to use as ingredients for your soups?

CAROLYN:  Yes, I had a woman who called last year wanting to sell rhubarb.  At the time, I didn’t have a use for it but I think this year I will make a rhubarb soup.

LINDA:  I read that your friend challenged you to develop a soup recipe using the lovage that she had been growing in her garden. Were you able to meet her challenge?

CAROLYN:  Yes, I ended up making a creamy soup with potato, green peas and lovage that was quite lovely.  I will be featuring it again this year.

SOUP SCENTS

LINDA:  Do you enjoy the smell of soup simmering on the stove?

CAROLYN:  Yes, and it’s a good thing—the smell is forever embedded in the walls of my house.

LINDA:  What is your family’s favourite soup? Do they taste-test your recipes?

CAROLYN:  My boyfriend taste-tests and his favourite is Apricot Lentil.  My mother likes Tortilla, my father likes Old Fashioned Chicken, my sister likes Cauliflower, Corn & Cheddar, and my grandmother who is 94 loves them all.

LINDA:  What do you consider to be your best soup recipe?

CAROLYN:  I’m proud of coming up with Apple, Turnip and Brie and Blueberry Beet.  These are soups I developed to highlight local ingredients.

LINDA:  What would you say is the most popular soup(s) among your customers?

CAROLYN:  Everyone seems to have a different favourite.

RED HOUSE SOUPS IS ‘GREEN’

LINDA:  ‘Red House Soups’ are delivered in attractive, glass mason jars that are returnable and refillable.  How do you encourage customers to avail of this option?

CAROLYN:  Pretty much it’s an honour system.  Mostly people are good at returning the jars and they’re encouraged because they’re recycling.  If someone knows they want to keep the jar, then I charge them for it; otherwise they can return it when they order again.

LINDA:  Are there other ways in which Red House Soups is attempting to be ‘Green’?

CAROLYN:  We give our vegetable cuttings to a farmer for his sheep.  We also have our website hosted with a company that offers green web site hosting.

SOUP IS ‘A BEAUTIFUL THING’

LINDA:  The gift of soup is such a ‘beautiful thing’.  Can customers purchase ‘soup gift certificates’ or arrange gifts of soup for delivery?

CAROLYN:  Yes, they can contact me to make arrangements.

LINDA:  How can people contact you at Red House Soups?

CAROLYN:  www.redhousesoups.com / Email: info@redhousesoups.com

LINDA:  Do you have a recipe that you can share with ‘Beautiful Ideas’ friends and readers?

APPLE, TURNIP AND BRIE SOUP

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 2 tablespoons cognac (optional)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6 cups of turnip, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 4 medium apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 6 cups of chicken stock (preferably homemade), add more if needed
  • 2 cups of quality brie, rind removed and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Pinch of sea salt and pepper
Method:
  • Heat oil in a medium-sized pot over medium heat.  Add onions.  Cook for 3-5 minutes.
  • Turn heat to low.  Add apples.  Cook for another 3-5 minutes until onions have softened and apples released their juice.
  • Add garlic, cognac  and thyme.  Cook for another minute or until cognac evaporates.
  • Add the stock, turnip and bay leaf.  Bring to a boil.  Turn down heat and simmer until turnip is softened 20-30 minutes.
  • Turn off heat and remove bay leaf.  Add the cubed brie and purée until smooth (using a hand immersion blender) if possible.
  • If desired, add more stock to achieve preferred consistency.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serving Suggestions:

  • Can be served hot, cold or at room temperature.
  • Or, turn this soup into a dessert:  Pour soup into individual bowls for serving (best at room temperature).  Top each soup with 2 tablespoons of candied pecans, a handful of blueberries and 2 tablespoons of warm maple syrup!!!!

Many thanks to Carolyn for chatting with us about Red House Soups and for providing this glorious soup recipe for everyone to enjoy!  If you try Carolyn’s wonderful recipe, please let us know how it turns out…And I will be ordering more of Carolyn’s soups very soon!!!  You’ll have to order for yourself to find out just how great her soups are.  They make a wonderful gift, too!

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO CBC’S INTERVIEW WITH CAROLYN

YOU COULD WIN A DUO OF CAROLYN’S DELICIOUS SOUPS – PROVIDED YOU LIVE IN RED HOUSE SOUPS’ DELIVERY AREA – SIMPLY BY COMMENTING.  FOR EVERY TIME YOU COMMENT IN JUNE, YOUR NAME WILL BE ADDED TO THE DRAW.

A ‘BEAUTIFUL CHAT’ WITH MARCY GOLDMAN, MASTER BAKER AND COOKBOOK AUTHOR EXTRAORDINAIRE

Marcy Goldman, Master Baker/Pastry Chef and Best-selling Cookbook Author PHOTO CREDIT: Whitecap Books Ltd. / Ryan Szluc, Toronto, Canada

 

A ‘BEAUTIFUL CHAT’ WITH MARCY GOLDMAN, MASTER BAKER AND COOKBOOK AUTHOR EXTRAORDINAIRE

WELCOME, welcome my friends!  The tea is ready!  I am so excited that you have chosen to stop by today of all days.  And, oh, what a beautiful day it is!  I promise that you are truly going to enjoy this visit.  We have a very special guest with us – I cannot wait for you to meet this amazing woman…

MEET MARCY It is my absolute pleasure to introduce to you Marcy Goldman!  Many of you may already know Marcy through her thoughtful and beautiful bestselling cookbooks, her yummy international food columns and her expert and entertaining guest appearances on Martha Stewart Living, Sirius Radio.

Bitten by the ‘baking/writing bug’ at a very young age, Marcy’s interest in such admirable pursuits may well have been considered somewhat unusual at the tender age of 7 when she first dedicated herself to taking over the family kitchen and started her own street newspaper at age 12.  From what I’ve learned about Marcy, she must have been very much in her element, and extraordinarily capable even then, in both disciplines that would become her true calling later in life. It seems as if she was born unto it.  Her devout passion for both “wheat and words” (to borrow a phrase from Marcy’s own ‘lips’) seems to have sustained her well throughout her entire adulthood.

"A Passion for Baking", Marcy Goldman, 2007, Oxmoor House, Inc.

“A PASSION FOR BAKING” Marcy graduated from McGill University with a degree major in English Literature, although she perhaps always knew deep down in her heart of hearts, that what she really wanted was to be a professional baker/pastry chef. In following her dream, she subsequently – and perhaps courageously – enrolled in a three-year professional pastry chef program at Quebec Hotel School (Quebec Hotel School-L’institut Tourisme et d’Hotellerie de Quebec), Montreal.  To become a master pastry chef is not a career for the faint of heart after all. An even temperament, patience, discipline, determination, love for detail, and stamina – lots of stamina – are just some of the characteristics required of a master baker.

Since her days at Quebec Hotel School, Marcy hasn’t wasted any time building her career. She has skillfully, mindfully, and clearly successfully, combined her love of writing with her love of baking much to the delight of her many fans worldwide. There is something to be said for finding – and honestly acknowledging – one’s career passion earlier, rather than later, in life.

Marcy appears to have adeptly figured out ‘the recipe for success’ early on and openly embraced it.  She confessed to me, however, that she, in fact, did not have some magical formula – a master plan –  for a fast-track to reaching her professional goals. “The truth is, it was all serendipitous.  I had no idea, no career path at all.  I was thwarted in becoming a writer early on  – nothing to write, no one would hire me, and I got fired from clerical work all the time. The only response was to DO something.  And, so I went to my alter/second skill and love which was baking. But it’s totally luck and obliviousness and a fear of unemployment that had me trip from one thing to another. It’s only in retrospect, or to someone else looking in, that it seems like a master plan.”

Quite simply, what is true is that when a person loves what they do, it shines through in their work.  This is certainly true in Marcy’s case.  And, she has perceptibly managed to graciously embrace her passion authentically, all the while surviving the tentative publishing world and managing her busy family life while raising three active young sons, for the most part, as a single parent.  She is truly one determined and inspiring woman.

Since the day she applied to pastry school, taking a brave new footpath in her career, she has published several bestselling cookbooks:  A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking” (nominated for a Julia Child Cookbook Award), The Best of BetterBaking.com” (as well as The New Best of BetterBaking.com”) and “A Passion for Baking”.

I own copies of Marcy’s latter two publications and they are most certainly outstanding books, spilling over with WOW-ing! mouth-watering recipes and gorgeous glossy photos.  Even if you don’t happen to be a baker girl, you’ll love Marcy’s cookbooks for their sheer beauty and exceptional quality. I’ve spent hours poring over them, loving time alone (just ‘Marcy and me’) on a rainy or snowy afternoon (or sometimes not) ambitiously bookmarking far too many pages… Her newest book, “The Baker’s Four Seasons”, is due out this fall, which is my most favorite time of year to bake. I can hardly wait.

PUTTING FOOD INTO WORDS If you’ve ever picked up copies of Food and Wine or Bon Appétit food and entertaining magazines, or visited them online, you’ll find Marcy there contributing her recipes and culinary wisdom.  As a renowned food journalist, she is a long-time contributor to The New York Times, The Washington PostLos Angeles Times, Cooking Light, Eating Well, Costco Connection, and more…

BLOGGING PIONEER AND VISIONARY Marcy is perhaps considered to be a pioneer and visionary in the blogging world. No matter whether the result of true-to-form vision, or a fortunate first keystroke of serendipity, she is the driving force behind BetterBaking.com, an outrageously popular on-line monthly baking magazine and newsletter launched back in 1997, (before the blogasphere exploded), offering up her fabulous original recipes, “aha” master baking hints and techniques, and answering questions posed by her loyal readers and would-be bakers.  In the early days, BetterBaking.com started out with just a few pages. It has now expanded to house an archive of over 2,500 of Marcy’s original recipes, features useful product reviews, lifestyle articles and even recommendations on music, books and scent. Its readership has grown to well over 20,000 subscribers and visitors to the site number in the millions every year (760,000 per month).

Beautiful things do seem to come in three’s for Marcy:  her sons, her cookbooks and Google has ranked BetterBaking.com among its TOP THREE baking sites – no easy feat and definitely award-worthy!!!

 

Unleash your inner baker with Marcy’s gorgeous bestselling books. Get them at Chapters, Costco, and on-line at Amazon. Probably among her most-famous recipes are ‘Lawsuit Muffins’, ‘Chocolate Eruption Cheesecake’, ‘Famous Carrot Cake’ and ‘Tango Cookies’…Happy Baking Everyone!

PHOTO CREDITS:

  • “A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking – The Tenth Anniversary Edition”, Marcy Goldman, Whitecap Books Ltd, (The updated edition of a kitchen classic, which includes 35 new recipes for favorite holiday dishes.) Nominated for a Julia Child Cookbook Award*.
  • “The New BetterBaking.com”, Marcy Goldman, Whitecap Books Ltd., 2009 (More than 200 classic recipes from the beloved baker’s website)
  • “A Passion for Baking”, Marcy Goldman, 2007 Oxmoor House, Inc. (Bake to celebrate.  Bake to nourish.  Bake for fun. Marcy Goldman, pastry chef and passionate home baker, shares 220 best-ever recipes)

*The Julia Child Cookbook Awards are presented annually by the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP), whose members worldwide represent virtually every culinary profession. IACP is dedicated to promoting the highest level of culinary professionalism.


MARCY AND MARTHA – A SWEET COMBINATION! You will also hear Marcy’s warm voice on the air waves as a regular guest on Martha Stewart Living, Sirius Radio dishing up more of her delicious recipes and expert baking secrets.

MARTHA STEWART LIVING RADIO

 

 

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YOU COULD WIN ‘SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL’ IN THE COMING MONTH!

 

If you’re a frequent ‘Beautiful Ideas’ follower, you probably already know that you have a chance (in some cases more than one) to have your name entered in a draw in the coming month to win ‘Something Beautiful’ (NOTE:  The contest deadline has been extended to April 30th).  I’ve teased you a little these past weeks, withholding the secret as to what you might have an opportunity to win…Well, I’ll keep you in suspense no longer…

Ta-da!  One lucky reader will receive a gift of Marcy’s cookbook duo: “The New Best of BetterBaking.com” and “Passion for Baking” AND, the icing on the cake…Marcy’s gift to a lucky reader:  a subscription to her on-line baking magazine BetterBaking.com

You are truly going to love everything about this exciting gift pack! “It’s a Beautiful Thing!”

CLICK HERE FOR CONTEST DETAILS – “TO THANK YOU”

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IN THE KITCHEN WITH MARCY – A ‘BEAUTIFUL CHAT’ ABOUT BAKING, PASSION AND LIFE…

I am truly honoured that Marcy chose to take time out of her schedule to talk with me about her work and a little about herself.  She is one busy and dedicated woman!  I am still pinching myself that she generously agreed to do this interview.  Despite her celebrity status, Marcy balks at the very notion of being called a ‘celebrity’.  In my conversation with Marcy, she reveals herself to be, in fact, very much a well-grounded ‘everyday person’ who, like the rest of us scullery angels, each morning, pulls on her pant legs one at a time.  The tone and warmth of her words immediately put me at ease…

LINDA: What is your first baking memory?

MARCY: My Betty Crocker bake set perhaps –

LINDA: What was your first job?

MARCY: The Goldman Times, my own newspaper – at 12 years old.

LINDA: You are a graduate of McGill University with a degree in English Literature. Did you have an ‘epiphany moment’ wherein you made the decision to switch your career path to become a professional baker and pastry chef?

MARCY: YES – it was first – to be a writer – but I could not get into the field (usually, one freelances or does copywriting or journalism – I didn’t seem destined for those things at the outset). Then it was – if not writing – what else? I liked baking…and, so I started baking at home to order and then started supplying restaurants.  Then, pregnant with my first son, I realized I had to segue to another way to do what I was doing…And it was an epiphany one day, delivering carrot cakes and reading the Montreal Gazette food section, that I could write about food or baking.

LINDA: When did you know to pursue a career as a professional baker/pastry chef?

MARCY: Probably another pivotal moment – I was about 21 or so, newly married – at home, sick with a huge cold. The first day I felt better after being hold up for 10-14 days, I saw an ad for a free Christmas baking lesson given by Janis Gill, a baking expert and cookbook author. I went to that lesson (in a department store) and knew in an instant – this is what I wanted to, and could, do.

LINDA: Is your love of baking born of nature or more nurture?

MARCY: More nature – and, if nurture, only insofar as in my home/family of origin, it was most often a case of – if you wanted to eat, you made it yourself.  But I was often on my own as a young kid – a bit of a difficult household – and baking seemed like something creative to do.  It was also mystical to me – not (so) easy to ‘get right’ or things to work out. Unlike cooking, which seemed (to me) a no-brainer, baking was very elusive – whether it was pie dough or, heaven forbid, a ‘yeast bread’ – flour seemed like a magical substance, that if you knew what you were doing with it – it could be transformational – (and) certainly impress people with tasty things!

LINDA: Is there anyone who most influenced your career?

Caramel-Chocolate Cookie-Stuffed Sour Cream Cake, "A Passion for Baking", Marcy Goldman, Oxmoor House, 2007

MARCY: Cookbooks and cookbook authors were my ‘friends’ and companions when I was a pre-teen.  I read for ‘company’ and those voices – James Beard, Julia Child – inspired me. Then I became fascinated with the foods in the Time Life cookbook series and wanted to master each cuisine – from souffls from France, to best Southern Fried Chicken from the United States, or Quebec Sugar Pie, or best pizza from Italy.  I began to self-teach, recipe-by-recipe, technique-by-technique.

Because I am a writer myself and huge reader, it was also fiction books that inspired me. I spoke about this recently when I gave a presentation at McGill University about food writing – that even fiction – food descriptions from Steinbeck novels, to “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” (the food of poverty and inventiveness, really), “City Boy” (Herman Wouk’s account in that book of a young boy becoming sick on too many French pastries whilst having a special afternoon out with his father) – just the food writing, even in a fictionalized account, stuck in my mind and sensibility – the importance of food, memory, mood, and spiritual nurturing.

One of my influences was my grandmother who lived with us.  She was blind.  A way to ‘reach her’ or connect was to ‘feed her’, or bake for her.  She was impressed no matter what tasteless, saw-dusty things I made (at first) – very loving – and we shared a special bond from the get-go.

I also, until recently, was a single parent to my three sons (I did 14 years solo…or ‘one gal/three guys’ – crazy, special experience.)  I think baking and food – even though it is/was my career – kept the home fires burning in all sorts of ways.  Lots of our best, albeit modest, family times were, and are, centered around food and the kitchen.  Our ‘best pizza-dough wars’ are still ongoing.  But my food testing, product testing, food shoots, the book deadlines – ‘seeing me at work, at home’ – has had its challenges but has also been a connective force.  Bread is anchoring in all sorts of ways. 🙂

LINDA: At what moment were you inspired to write a cookbook?

MARCY: When I realized I could do a longer ‘freelance’ article, (i.e a book) and when I didn’t see the sort of cookbooks out there that I wanted myself – as a reader.  I realized it was time to do something bigger – as intimidating as it was to me – since like all of us, I, too, admired cookbook authors as a reader – I had no idea I was on my way to becoming one myself.

LINDA: I think that we sometimes aren’t really able to comprehend the tedious, labour-intensive task of producing a cookbook. Each of yours are truly ‘works of heart’ and it is evident that much time and work goes into every one in order for you to bring them to us.  What do you enjoy most about the process of creating a beautiful cookbook?

MARCY: I have to say it is not tedious.  It does take time but it is a joy from the minute I think of a new book idea or possibility, to finding an agent or proposing the book to publishers myself, to choosing the recipes I’ve created that will ‘make the book’ (get ‘called up’ as it were to being part of a new recipe collection in a new book), to the recipe testing (with a ton of amazing volunteer testers from all over), to the writing, the copy editing back and forth with my editors, the art and photo shoot, seeing the book design… and, then, one day – a box of books arriving on my door – my ‘new book’…and seeing people enjoy it and write to tell me – Seeing the book in my local Chapters – It is a blessing to get to write a cookbook. Hard work?  Yes.  Labour intensive? Yes.  But you get to contribute something that is lasting, feeds people, brings them and their families joy (and co-workers and friends), and shifts the world a wee, wee bit at a core place. Plus, it combines my two passions:  writing AND baking…

Marcy's newest cookbook will be in bookstores this fall: “The Baker's Four Seasons”, Marcy Goldman, Harper Collins 2011 (cover, Ryan Szluc). Aside from recipes and baking expertise, the book features unique fragrant teas and scented notions for each season.

LINDA: I love how your recipe names roll off the tongue: ‘Blueberry Hill Oatmeal Cookies’, ‘City Bakery Apple-Raspberry Upside Down Cake’, ‘Apricot Sunrise Biscotti’, ‘Mr. Darcy’s Wheat Meal Scones’, ‘Village Baker’s Holiday Cranberry-Orange Bread’ *– I could go on. ‘Lawsuit Muffins’ is such a catchy and curious name.  Is there a cautionary tale behind the name, or maybe even some advice? Don’t feel obligated to answer this question.  I don’t want you to tell any secrets!  LOL

MARCY: This is about two things – maybe three. For one, at my website, I didn’t have many photos – and, so – to engage people (same is true of my freelance features – especially in newspapers – not many photos nor colour), I named things riveting titles so people would be drawn into making fabulous recipes.

Next, I am a born promoter and know a good name is the first hook. But mostly, I am so, so passionate about my recipes, their creation, history, etc. and want people to try them. So, I name them indelible things – titles that capture the imagination.

I sort of know where people ‘live’ in their heads and appetites – and to make a recipe dance off the page and court you to trying it, well, that takes a name that jumps off the page itself. ‘Wholewheat Scones’ is just scones – ‘Mr. Darcy’s Wheat Meal Scones’ captures an era, a romance, a time in history, the ceremony of scones, the glory of whole-wheat…*’Village Baker’s Holiday Bread’, etc…In a few words, you can envision what that bread is like – the sweet treat of it – the holiday feel – the gorgeous elements of cranberries and oranges…Vs; Orange Cranberry Loaf – those titles just ‘sit there’ and seem like same old, same old.  I think of each recipe I create as art  – or almost a portrait – But in the end, I am surprised myself how things like ‘Notting Hill Brownies’ or ‘Lawsuit Muffins’ become legend. It’s amazing to me that my recipes are almost trademarked by title – and reputation. That’s powerful.

LINDA: What items are among the must-haves in your pantry?

MARCY: Flour. Butter. Yeast. Sugar. Vanilla. Salt. Apples. Cinnamon. Lemons.

LINDA: Apples?! 🙂

Brittany Butter Cookies, "A Passion for Baking", Marcy Goldman, 2007 Oxmoor House, Inc.

MARCY: I love so many apple-based recipes – as do so many people.  Apples and cinnamon in pie, strudel, pancakes, muffins – it’s homey and old-fashioned…so yes, apples.

LINDA: What is the one thing that you can’t do without in your kitchen?

MARCY: Music and my rolling pin and restaurant range.

LINDA:  Is there a favorite recipe you most like to make?  That’s probably an impossible question…

MARCY: Whatever recipe I am making at the moment, but other than that…bread or pies. I love the sheer physicality of it, how grounding baking is – you get lost in it – and yet back to yourself.

LINDA: Do you develop and test all your own recipes?

MARCY: Yes.

LINDA: Does your family taste-test your recipes, too?

MARCY: Yes.

LINDA: Have you ever had a failure in the kitchen at an inopportune time?

MARCY: Not really – more so – when I’ve taught baking.

LINDA:  Do you have a favorite restaurant?

MARCY: Not really –

LINDA: Have you ever thought about opening your own restaurant?

MARCY: Yes.

LINDA: I’m sure it would be worth the trip to Montreal! / What is your favorite ‘take-out’ meal?

MARCY: Great pizza ….Portuguese roasted chicken

LINDA: I’ve never tasted Portuguese roasted chicken…  Do you have a recipe for that you could share?! LOL

MARCY: The recipe is on my website, BetterBaking.com.

(NOTE:  Marcy has kindly offered to make her ‘Portugese Roasted Chicken’ recipe free on her website for one month for readers of ‘Beautiful Ideas’  – WATCH FOR DETAILS ON HOW YOU CAN ACCESS IT. Thanks, Marcy! :-))

LINDA: What is your favorite meal?

MARCY: Great bread, great cheese, amazing coffee.

LINDA: We share something in common!  Isn’t that called a ‘ploughman’s’ lunch?  Although ploughman’s might include apple and a pickle, which I love, too…

MARCY: YES – LOVE ploughman’s lunch and I make my own pickled onions. But I love simple, great foods – farmer’s market foods – best corn-on-the-cob – high-flavored, simple/international foods.  It doesn’t have to be fancy.   I think we can make too much of ‘fancy’ food or food as entertainment, and (we) forget the simple things – that it is about breaking bread – that people are not all eating.    There is global hunger we need take to care of  – when you put that alongside some of the excesses of food show TV, I have a hard time witnessing the disparity.

Strawberries and Cream Cookies, "A Passion for Baking", Marcy Goldman, 2007 Oxmoor House, Inc.

LINDA: Where is your hometown?

MARCY: Montreal.

LINDA: Where would be the first place you’d take a visitor to your city? And, why?

MARCY: Jean-Talon Market – because it lives and breathes food, people, and joy.

LINDA: If you would indulge me one last question, please Marcy.  For anyone (especially young students) aspiring to the profession, what part does science and history play in being a master baker?

MARCY: I think everything is richer when you understand all that goes into it. Baking is science, alchemy, art, nurturing, mechanics (hand craftmanship), as well as history in that – when you know where foods come from…or realize the wheat you bake with – hales from bible days and times and people long gone….but the same wheat was ‘blowing in the wind’ then – AND the wild yeast spores – or realize  that the fruit cake we mock is really a new edition of the bread the crusaders took with them (paneforte seems to be a precursor to modern-day fruitcake) – or that baking powder shifted the whole way we bake ever since 1860, or so – you bake in a more cohesive way with a totally different, enriched awareness.

LINDA: Merci beaucoup, Marcy – for being so nice, for the gift of the interview and the subscription to BetterBaking.com for one lucky reader!  Our ‘chat’ was, indeed, beautiful and so enjoyable –  it has been a pure pleasure to get to know you a little better! I wish you everything in life that is good and beautiful!

We’ll be looking forward to your newest cookbook, “The Baker’s Four Seasons”, to be released in Fall 2011.  And, I’m sure everyone will be checking out BetterBaking.com.

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THE GIFT OF A RECIPE FROM MARCY’S KITCHEN

(Excerpted with permission from “A Passion for Baking”, by Marcy Goldman. Published by Oxmoor House, 2007.)

*Village Baker’s Holiday Cranberry-Orange Bread

Village Baker's Holiday Cranberry-Orange Bread, "A Passion for Baking", Marcy Goldman, 2007 Oxmoor House, Inc.

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup warm water (100°F to 110°F)
  • 5 teaspoons rapid-rise yeast
  • 4 to 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup warm milk
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon orange oil or pure orange extract
  • 1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 3/4 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips or regular chocolate chips, minced

Finishing Touches:

  • 1 large egg
  • Pinch each white sugar and salt
  • White sugar, for dusting
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Method:

Generously spray a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick cooking spray.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place pan on it.

In a mixer bowl, hand-whisk water and yeast together and let stand 2 to 3 minutes, to dissolve yeast.  Add 1 cup flour and then add warm milk, butter, egg, egg yolks, salt, sugar, vanilla, orange oil, and most of rest of flour.  Mix ingredients and then, using dough hook, knead on low-speed to make a soft dough, 8 to 10 minutes, adding more flour as required.

Remove dough hook, spray dough with nonstick cooking spray, and place a large clear plastic bag over entire mixer and blow.  Let dough rise 30 to 45 minutes or until almost doubled.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured work surface and gently deflate.  Press dough down into a flattened round and press cranberries and chocolate chips into dough, folding and incorporating as best you can – the shape doesn’t matter at this stage.

Let dough rest 15 minutes and then cut into 12 portions.  Shape each into a ball and arrange on one level in prepared pan. Whisk egg and pinch each of white sugar and salt.  Brush dough with egg wash and dust with sugar.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until puffy and almost doubled, about 45 to 60 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Bake bread until nicely browned, about 40 to 50 minutes.

Let cool and serve warm or at room temperature.  If making this as a gift, leave it in the pan.  Dust with confectioners’ sugar, wrap in cellophane, and tie with ribbon.

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That was so much fun, wasn’t it?!   And, what a sweet treat for us all! Where has the time gone?! If you know someone who loves to bake at home, who works as a baker, or is contemplating a career as professional baker/chef, be sure to share with them this interview comprising Marcy’s thoughtful introspection and valuable insights. I hope you will let me know your thoughts on this post, especially if you acquire any of Marcy’s cookbooks, subscribe to ‘The Magazine for Bakers’ at BetterBaking.com, or try the recipe.  I look forward to your visiting again soon…

Wishing you all a beautiful day,

Linda 🙂

 

‘A’ Is For AMAZING Apple Cake!

I just could not resist introducing you to this 'Canadian Santa' (love his Canada goose friend) in his beautiful apple-red coat - Yes, of course, he is just one of the many crafted by my talented friend Jean...He looks so handsome on the kitchen counter next to my ceramic baking cannisters. I do promise to tell you all about how she creates these beautiful 'gift givers' in a future post...

Chunky slices of 'Apple Spice Cake' are piled high on a plate. Soon these will be packaged for Street Reach - a community outreach organization that cares for "street-entrenched" youth. On two nights a week, highly skilled Street Reach 'Walkers' carry backpacks and distribute snacks, condoms, resource information, etc.

Salutations, Dear Friends!

Ooh! You are just in time for a steaming ‘cuppa’ of Twinings Lady Grey and a piece of  fresh-from-the-oven “Mile-High Apple Pie Spice Cake”.

Promised in the post “FEBRUARY IS FOR APPLE” – and as some of you have been hinting not-so-subtly 🙂 for the recipe – Voila!  I am delighted to be sharing it with you here.  My new friend and blog follower Tammy made this cake recently – her dad was smacking his lips! You can see her testimonial under the ‘COMMENTS’ section of that same post.

CINNAMON-APPLE OVEN POTPOURRI…Today is a big baking day!  The sweet-and-spicy scent of apples and cinnamon has been wafting from my kitchen since early morning, permeating the entire house.  It is the best potpourri on the planet.   And, I’m up to my nose in flour making five of these beauties – Yes, 5!  ‘The proof-is-in the-pudding’ photos are below, albeit one cake is still baking in the oven…

Apples will make your cake moist and delicious...I even add apples to my fruitcake!

I am so thankful to have this recipe for so many reasons – one of which may surprise you… I’ll reveal it whilst we sip our tea (by the way, there’s fresh coffee brewing, too – you cannot beat the apple cake and coffee combination). 🙂

This grand cake recipe originally came to me by way of my co-worker Glen who one day very generously brought this delicious cake to our office as a sweet treat – it did not last long. Glen’s wife, Mary, kindly baked it for us all and subsequently shared her recipe with me – Thanks, Glen and Mary!  I have been making this wonderful cake many, many times over ever since…

FUNDRAISER TEAS AND BAKESALES I made eight of these lovely apple cakes not so long ago as the finish (served up with whipped cream) to an office Halloween fundraising luncheon.  The cake turned out to be a popular menu item!  At the time, our company had committed to ‘adopting’ a couple of families from the local Women’s Centre for Christmas (we like to call it ‘Operation Santa Cause’), and the luncheon was part of our plan in getting a head start on the fundraising in order to bring ‘our families’ a very special, and certainly less stressful, holiday season.

I almost always go to my ‘Apple Spice Cake’ recipe for fundraiser teas, bakesales, even flea markets.  Since presentation and convenience go a long way at these events, I layer generously thick slices atop one another in oversized, old-fashioned clear-glass jars with glass lids.  I have my tongs handy to remove each delectable slice from the jars, slip them into parchment bags/squares and they’re good to go…If you have a coffee station set up nearby (or even an ice cream table with someone serving up scoops of vanilla ice cream) you have a sure-fire way to raise funds. People’s mouths water when they see it and it always sells out. Not only does ‘Apple Spice Cake’ taste scrumptiously good – that homey comforting kind of good –  it makes a large volume (serves 10-14) and slices like a dream…

Thanks to the Red Cross through the use of their van for the past 5 years, Street Reach was able to dispense basic care kits, hot beverages and snacks - acting as an all-important link between at-risk youth on the street and community support services.

‘LOVIN’ FROM THE OVEN’ AND STREET REACH On this day, I am a wearing my ‘Serious Baker’ apron…baking to feed clients of Street Reach – a community outreach organization whose programs aim to help our vulnerable youth (generally between the ages of 15 and 29) who live a harsh life on the streets.  When I bake this tasty cake for Street Reach* clients, I like to serve it up in thick wedges and place each chunky slice in its own zip-lock sandwich bag, keeping it fresh and making it easier for volunteers to distribute to individuals.

Four beautiful cakes plus one in the oven makes five!

STREET REACH WALKERS Since its inception over six years ago, Street Reach’s specially trained volunteers strap on backpacks* and walk the streets of our downtown core, distributing to our street youth *convenient snacks, personal care items, condoms, and resource cards plus more.

AS THE DOORS OF THE RED CROSS VAN CLOSE, THE DOORS OF A NEW DROP-IN CENTRE OPEN Over the past five years, you may have seen a Red Cross van parked on downtown streets Tuesday and Thursday nights and wondered about its purpose – Street Reach’s highly-skilled volunteers were (and still are*) distributing hot beverages/soup, snacks and baked goods 🙂 – their primary purpose is to connect clients with the appropriate resources and support services to help meet their complex needs in assisting them to get them off the streets and back on their feet as well-functioning members of society.

A bowlful of juicy Nova Scotia Macs await their noble fate...

*As STREET REACH comes into its sixth year, however, they no longer use the Red Cross Van (it was a tremendous asset). They have recently opened a new location in the downtown – a convenient drop-in centre.

The new site offers comfortable, warm, dry surroundings for youth – no more standing around outside in the cold – as well as for the volunteers who are continuing to offer valuable outreach services that include the provision of basic care items, a needle exchange program, condoms, referrals and resource cards.  In addition to more drop-in times, partnering with other support services is also possible through the new centre.

In the meantime, volunteer ‘Street Reach Walkers’ keep walking.  They continue to go out two nights a week seeking out “street-entrenched” youth, hooking them up with the resources that can help them get off the streets.

Street Reach comes under the auspices of the Community Youth Network who offer a number of complex, comprehensive and wide-ranging street youth-targeted programs, including job training and employment opportunities.

‘Thank You’ to everyone involved with Street Reach and the Community Youth Network for the admirable work that you do every day on behalf of our at-risk youth.

“Today, give a stranger one of your smiles.  It might be the only sunshine he sees all day.”

~ Quoted in P.S. I Love You, compiled by H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Putting together the apple cake treats...

NOT A PIECE OF CAKE! It’s hard to imagine life on the streets, isn’t it? Just because we may not always see it front of our eyes doesn’t mean the problem doesn’t exist, and we shouldn’t ignore it – the issues are very real and belong to all of us.  And, as you might (or not) think, the issues are not all drug related  Some youth may be escaping intolerable situations at home, preferring a life on the street to home life. Complex issues including addictions, lack of affordable housing, sexual exploitation and the sex trade, poverty, justice, health and more….face a population that is least likely to access services due to any number of complex barriers.  Street Reach expertly provides a channel to connect our most vulnerable and at-risk youth to programs that can help them. And, there are those who also come to Street Reach for friendship and to see a friendly face…


'Apple Spice Cake 'slices like a dream and is perfect for everything from family gatherings and potlucks to fundraiser teas and bakesales...

WHAT CAN I DO? We’ve probably all questioned at one time or another…“What can I do – I’m only one person?” Even, as individuals, there is surely something that each of us can do to help make a difference – just take a moment or two to really think about it…

IT ALL STARTED WITH AN ‘APPLE SEED’ OF AN IDEA…Some years back, while getting dressed for work one morning, I was listening to our local CBC Radio Morning Show.  The show’s host was interviewing a lovely, kind woman who had been “knitting up a storm” to help the homeless.  She was asked how it all started…

WHAT A SHAME She explained that her husband had seen a CBC Television news item wherein a Street Reach spokesperson had relayed a story about a man who had approached their ‘street van’ one night and asked only for a cap to keep his head warm – it was a cold night and regrettably there was none to give him. The woman’s husband remarked later that evening at the dinner table that it was a shame there wasn’t a cap to give the poor man.  That’s when the thought hit her, “I can knit!” (Apparently, she is quite an expert knitter).  “I’m going to start knitting winter caps – as many as I can!”  She commented to the radio host that she would feel so proud to see someone wearing one of her ‘trademark’ caps with the knowledge that she had helped someone who needed it. And, so, the woman began to knit, and knit, and knit…When word got out, the idea soon caught on like a house on fire – friends, neighbours, as well as strangers,  joined in.  They took up the cause and banded ‘knitted together’.  Within a short period of time, the woman was able to present to Street Reach over 100 beautifully hand-knitted caps and pairs of gloves!  She was only one person but – with the help of the many kind souls whom she inspired – she was able to accomplish much!  People generally want to help, they need only to know how.  Don’t hesitate to ask any charitable organization or community group what is needed, and you may be inspired as to what you can do…

A bountiful table is best shared...

WHEN YOU DO GOOD, YOU FEEL GOOD…And, so, that precious woman’s story inspired me and got me thinking, “What could I do to help in some small way?!  Surely, there must be something…”  The more I thought about it, I realized maybe there is something after all – like the woman who could knit – “I could bake!” I began to prepare what I like to call “Comfort Breads”- blueberry, partridgeberry, apple, and gingerbreads….People love and appreciate a home-baked treat….And, why not the clients of Street Reach? ( I was thrilled right down to my toes when the goodies were well received  and volunteers began to ask for the recipe.)

SOCK IT TO ME, SOCK IT TO ME, SOCK IT TO ME…The ‘Comfort Breads‘ proved to be such a hit, that again it got me thinking…People are on their feet a lot when they live on the street… And, it wasn’t too long before the ‘Sock Drive’ was born!  With the help of my many kind and generous co-workers (office staff, bus drivers, maintenance crew, bus mechanics and board members) – over 100 +  pairs (I soon lost count) of brand new, beautiful socks were donated to Street Reach at a time when they were, indeed, needed!

When I recently walked through the door of Street Reach’s new Drop-In Centre with my arms full of ‘Comfort Breads’, Angie Decker, the Street Reach Program Co-Coordinator – although at first, she could not recall my name -immediately recognized my face and happily exclaimed, “The Sock Lady!” We shared a laugh and it made my day!  These are not heroic acts by any stretch of the imagination, but every time we do something – anything, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant – to help our communities, everyone benefits and we help ourselves, too. (Bringing a little joy to someone else is a very motivating factor in volunteerism…)

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VOLUNTEER WEEK CHALLENGE – Volunteer Week is April 10th -16th.

Using this blog as a medium, I am challenging each of you – my ‘Beautiful Ideas Readers’ – to “DO GOOD.  FEEL GOOD.

Why not initiate a ‘Sock Drive’ (beautiful, brand new socks) amongst your family, friends, and neighbours; or at your place of work, school, or church; or your dance troop, card group, tea circle – wherever people gather! A ‘Sock Drive’ is something that doesn’t take a lot of work and doesn’t cost a lot – Most people can easily pick up an extra pair of socks to donate while they’re out running errands.

Or, organize a ‘Basic Care Drive’ – Provide your team a list of toiletries they could choose to donate and assemble ‘Basic Care Kits’, using large plastic zip-lock bags.  Items to include per kit:  toothpaste, toothbrush, soap bar, shampoo, razor, shaving cream, feminine products, comb/hair brush and, of course, socks…Consider encouraging people to use their ‘Shoppers Optimum Points’ to purchase some of these items.

There is something that each of us can do.  All you have to do is ask! If your choice is to help Street Reach, you can contact them to find out what their greatest needs are and how you can help.  Call them at 754-0536.

And, when you do collect your socks and/or toiletries and deliver them to Street Reach, by all means, please tell them ‘The Sock Lady’ sent you – Wouldn’t it be fun to learn just how many pairs of socks were generated through this ‘Beautiful post’ ???!!! ___________________________________________________________

A 'loaded' apple tree overhangs the roadside in the tiny oceanside community of Bay Bulls, Newfoundland...

NOW, WHERE WERE WE?!

‘Apple Spice Cake’ is one of my favourite ‘go-to’ recipes as it’s a substantial, moist, flavourful cake and so easy to make – a one-bowl mix and there’s no need to even take out the electric mixer!   Just get yourself a cutting board, large mixing bowl (plus a smaller one for the apples) and a wooden spoon.  Bake it in a well-greased tube pan or a large bundt pan (I use PAM baking spray).  Loaf pans will work, too, but you’ll likely have to adjust the oven temperature and watch the loaves carefully.

It’s the perfect cake, too, for a pot-luck or get-together, and one that brings lots of compliments! I guarantee if you like apples and cinnamon, you will looove ‘Mile-High Apple Spice Cake’!

Nothing compares to the taste of an apple picked fresh from the tree...except maybe 'Apple Spice Cake'!

WE ARE HERE TO ADD WHAT WE CAN TO LIFE, NOT GET WHAT WE CAN FROM IT   William Olser

 

6 juicy MacIntosh apples per recipe makes for a deliciously moist cake...

MILE-HIGH APPLE PIE SPICE CAKE RECIPE

INGREDIENTS:

  • 6  apples, peeled and cubed (MacIntosh are good)
  • 2 + teaspoons cinnamon (or to taste, I tend to use 3 teaspoons)
  • 5 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 extra-large eggs
  • 1/4 cup orange juice (freshly squeezed without pulp is best)
  • 3 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla (or seeds scraped from 2 vanilla pods,* see the ‘how-to’ post below)
  • 1 teaspoon salt

*DISCOVER THE WONDROUS VANILLA BEAN

METHOD:

  • Combine cinnamon and 5 tablespoons sugar, sprinkle apples with mixture and set aside.
  • Mix all remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl and beat with a wooden spoon (do not use the mixer) until batter is smooth.   NOTE:  The batter will be thick.
  • Pour half the batter into a well-greased tube or bundt pan.
  • Arrange half the apple mixture over top of the batter.
  • Pour the remaining batter into pan, spread to the edges, and top with the remaining apples.
  • Bake in preheated oven at 350°Farenheit for approximately 1 hour (NOTE:  In my (slow) oven it takes 1  1/2 hours, so the baking times may vary depending on your oven*), or until a toothpick/cake tester comes out clean.
  • Allow the cake to sit in the pan for 10 minutes and then turn it out of the pan to let cool on a cake rack.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

A COUPLE OF BAKING TIPS:

Although it had been awhile since I first brought this cake to Street Reach, Angie Decker, Street Reach’s Program Co-Coordinator remarked that she had made my recipe, but that her cake did not turn out as good as the ones that I had made. I’ve been thinking about this since she mentioned it, and I’ve come up with a few hints that may make a difference:

  • Prepare your apples (peel and cube) last.  Six apples per one cake recipe is a lot, and while the apples sit in the bowl, they are releasing their juices.  So, after you toss them in the mixture of cinnamon and sugar, be sure to drain them first before adding them to the batter.  Do not add their juices – if you do add the juices along with the apples, it may make the cake too moist and it will likely take forever to bake.
  • * Having said that, my (new) oven is not the same temperature as my old oven (which I considered to be very accurate and reliable) and I have found it necessary at times to adjust the baking time for some recipes.  Although the ‘Apple Spice Cake Recipe’ calls for 1 hour of baking time – or until toothpick inserted comes out clean – in my own oven, the baking time is more like 1 hour and 25-30 minutes…


Slices like a dream, generous chunks of apple spice cake...
‘Apple Spice Cake’ serves 10-14 hungry people, depending how generously you slice it…

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APPLE SPICE CAKE SERVING SUGGESTIONS:

  • Serve this delicious cake just as it is warm and fresh from the oven!  Serve warm with a scoop of very-vanilla ice cream with just a sift of cinnamon over top, if desired.
  • Or, let rest at room temperature and sift confectioners’ (icing) sugar over top before serving.
  • NOTE:  ‘Apple Spice Cake’ also keeps well for several days at room temperature, and it freezes well, too.
  • For an extra touch of special, reheat each slice in the microwave for 20-25 seconds and serve warm with a dollop of whipped cream.
  • Or, FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO MUST HAVING ICING, top with mounds of Cream Cheese frosting (even though you’ll be covering those lovely bits of apple on top) – However you slice it, it will surely be delish!

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CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/2 cup of butter (1 stick), room temperature
  • 8 oz of cream cheese (1 package), room temperature
  • 2 – 3 cups of powdered (confectioners’) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla

METHOD:

With an electric mixer on medium speed, mix the butter and cream cheese together until smooth. Add the vanilla and mix. Slowly add the powdered sugar, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure even mixing. Keep adding powdered sugar until desired sweetness and thickness is achieved. Spread over top of cake with a small spatula.

Chunky wedges of 'Apple Spice Cake' go down nicely with ice-cold fresh milk and makes a great after-school treat!

YUMMY IN THE TUMMY!!!  I CROWN YOU ‘THE APPLE CAKE DIVA’

Well, my lovelies, I hope you delight in this apple cake. Doesn’t the smell of apples and cinnamon take you back to your mother and grandmother’s kitchens…

WHY NOT BAKE IT UP AS A ‘SWEET GIFT’ FOR A SENIOR (EVEN AT A SENIORS’ HOME, STAFF WILL LOVE IT, TOO). OR, BRING IT AS A GIFT TO ANYONE WHO COULD USE A LITTLE ‘APPLE CHEER’ IN THEIR DAY. 🙂

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Join the conversation and leave a comment.  I love hearing your thoughts and ideas.  Especially when you make a recipe that you’ve seen at ‘Beautiful Ideas’, I love knowing how it turned out!

And, be sure to let us know what you’re doing for Volunteer Week – you just might inspire someone else…Ya never know!

Men's 'Basic Care Kit': soap, deoderant, shaving cream, razor, toothpaste, toothbrush, shampoo, and maybe socks...

I look forward to your returning for another visit – although the cake will be long gone by then, so you had probably better bake your own and maybe one for a friend who could use a little ‘spice’ in their life, too :-)…  See you soon!

Wishing you a beautiful day,

Linda

Impress Your Guests With This Wonderful Winter Soup!

Our kitchen sideboard (a reclaimed dresser) hosts a grouping of festive treasures, many of which are found antiques, and include a modern soup tureen, perfect for serving my favourite soup for entertaining.

Glorious Day, All!

Thanks for visiting!  The tea kettle’s on….

I have to admit, my lovelies, that it is a tad exciting to be entering the blogosphere.  In this third blog post, I decided to just jump in with both feet and share with you my recipe for a fab soup that’ll knock your socks off!   I recently served this delish dish to my friends and co-workers and it earned rave reviews with everyone clamouring for the recipe, so here goes…

Nothing says “WELCOME” quite like a great tasting, toe-warming winter soup.  This one is perfect – either as a starter to an elegant celebratory dinner, or the ‘star’ of a home-from-the-pond meal!

Surprisingly, the main ingredient in this rich and creamy creation is the humble potato. It’s easy on the purse, simple to make and looks beautiful in the bowl – an absolute keeper!  After you’ve tasted it, you’ll want to add it to your own recipe file.





 

Potato Soup – 1 recipe makes 8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 medium red onions, finely chopped (I use red because they’re sweeter)
  • 1/4 cup celery, diced
  • 4 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 cups red potatoes, peeled and finely diced (Yukon gold are nice, too)
  • 1 cup baby carrots, finely diced (again the ‘babies’ are sweeter and save you the peeling step)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups blend cream (1 dairy container)

Method:

Melt the butter in a large soup pot.  Add the onions and celery and cook  just until tender.    Note: Be careful not to brown the veggies; cook only until transparent.  Stir in the chicken broth.  Add the potatoes, carrots, bay leaf and salt and pepper. Bring to boiling for one minute, then reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.  Stir occasionally.  Remove bay leaf, then remove the soup from the pot and purée hot soup in a blender or food processor.  After the soup is puréed, return it to the cooking pot.  Add the blend cream just before serving and heat only to serving temperature.  DO NOT BOIL OR SOUP WILL CURDLE.  Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary.

Your soup making will be much easier with this handy-dandy tool - the immersion blender!

Simply insert it directly into your soup pot to purée the veggies; it'll save you having to remove them from the pot, transferring them to a blender to purée and returning them to the pot afterwards!!!

Note: The ‘purée step’ is tedious but it is well worth the time.  I recently found an ‘immersion blender’ at my local ‘Dominion’ supermarket in their housewares section. Simply plug it in and purée the vegetables in the broth directly in the pot – no fussing.  The immersion blender essentially acts similarly to an electric mixer and Voila!  If you can find this handy gadget, it’s certainly worth the investment (I paid under $20 for mine) and it has become a pure pleasure to make this recipe – sooo easy!


Serving Hints

This soup is a hit every time I serve it.  I often double the recipe for larger gatherings (16-20 servings).  I also make the extra so I can freeze half of  the recipe for future use.  I sometimes ladle this soup into handsome ivory-coloured cups to make it go even further, as a starter for a celebratory brunch – it’s that versatile.


A crisp slice of bacon; pan-seared, deep-sea scallop; or steamed jumbo shrimp can make over an ordinary bowl of Potato Soup into something fantastic!

Garnish each serving with a crisp bacon slice, whole or crumbled.  Or, for a more sophisticated affair, steam jumbo shrimp or sear scallops minutes before serving and add 1-2 per bowl.

Either is wonderful! The possibilities for this soup are as endless as your imagination…I usually fry the bacon the day before my gathering – to avoid  bacon perfume permeating the air on the day of my event – wrap the cooked bacon in foil and store in the refrigerator overnight until ready to use. About a half hour before serving, I warm the bacon in the foil in a low oven to serve atop the soup.

Earlier this week, for the first time, I added a pan-seared jumbo scallop and crumbled bacon over the top as well.  Oh, my!  How scrumptiously delicious!  I know I’m being redundant but this is sooo goood, really!  Read on for some helpful hints on how to perfectly sear scallops without overcooking them, which is often too easy to do.

I am, admittedly, a textile fiend. When I find a fabric remnant that I love - like this richly printed tapestry - I often hem the edges and use it as a tablecloth. The gorgeous brown, taupe, rose and black colours in this particular one make for a sophisticated backdrop to the ivory dinnerware, so cozy on a winter's eve...

This soup is an elegant cream colour and I most always serve it in creamy white dishware;  hence it is very luscious in appearance, as well as on the lips!  It is especially pretty at Christmastime with a white, silver and/or gold holiday tablescape.  It looks beautiful, too, in my pink transferware cups that I discovered years ago at a roadside tag sale while vacationing in Nova Scotia!  Some Christmases later, my good friend Jean gifted me a coordinating soup tureen that her neighbour had placed in her garage sale!!!  I absolutely love it and display it year round atop a kitchen cupboard.

My treasured soup tureen gifted to me by my good friend Jean. To make this delicious soup go further for a brunch or buffet, I serve it in sweet, pink transferware cups. Not only does it look pretty, it's a great conversation starter!

Freezing

I wouldn’t recommend keeping this soup too long in the freezer.  After thawing and reheating on the stovetop (NEVER IN THE MICROWAVE), it may be a little lumpy and you may need to use your handy ’emulsifier’ to purée the soup again before serving to achieve that beautiful, velvety-smooth look.


The Gift of Soup!

This soup makes a thoughtful and cheerful ‘love gift’; especially for a senior, or for someone ‘under the weather’ or going through an illness. Directions:  Ladle the soup into a 1 litre glass mason jar.  Cover the top of the jar with about a 4″ to 4 1/2″ circular piece of pretty paper or fabric, and secure it to the lid with a narrow elastic band.  Tie a ribbon directly over the band to conceal it, just to make it look prettier.   Remember presentation is key; and we eat with our eyes, too!  How something looks is instrumental in creating ‘the total experience’.   Don’t forget to attach a tag that identifies the soup and provides the heating instructions for the recipient. Write  on the tag that the soup should only be warmed to serving and NOT boiled or curdling will occur. It is also important to note that it will only keep for up to 2 days in the fridge.

(KEEP TUNED INTO MY BLOG FOR PICS AND MORE STUFF ABOUT SOUP IN DAYS TO COME)


HOW TO PAN-SEAR SCALLOPS

Scallops, in my opinion, are perhaps the most magnificent garnish for Potato Soup.  Follow these four steps, and greatly improve your chances of achieving a perfectly seared scallop with the pretty golden crust!  Hubby and I recently went to dinner at Atlantica Restaurant in Portugal Cove  (I’ll tell you about that lovely experience another time).  Our waiter (also a chef) kindly offered me some great tips on how to properly sear scallops without turning them into tiny hockey pucks!

  1. Rinse scallops and drain well.   Using a paper towel, pat them as dry as possible; season to taste with sea salt.
  2. Using a thin pan, rather than a regular frying pan (I use my crepe pan), heat to high and add about 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter and vegetable oil to the pan.  The pan should be almost smoking before adding the scallops.
  3. Gently place each scallop in the pan; listen for that sizzle.  Be careful not to have the scallops touching and not to overcrowd the pan.  Too many scallops crowded in the pan will create more liquid and make it more difficult to sear them properly.
  4. NOTE:  This is a very important step.  Once the scallops are in the pan, DO NOT MOVE THEM.  Resist the urge to do so.  Leave them for about 2 minutes (it will depend on the size of the scallop and the amount of liquid in the pan) without moving them. Once that gorgeous crust has formed on the bottom (you can lift the scallop to check this), flip the scallops and sear them on the opposite side for just 1 minute longer.  If the scallops appear translucent (look at their sides), remove the scallops from the pan immediately.  They will continue cooking out of the pan for a few more seconds.  If the scallop springs back to the touch, they’re perfectly done.  If they are stiff to the touch, it’s too late as they’re already overcooked.

Don't hesitate to serve this beautiful soup on a special occasion! Oh, and be prepared to give the recipe...

I guarantee your guests will sing your praises when you serve this soup, and nearly always ask for the recipe.  It is my pleasure to share this recipe along with my ‘soup secrets’ with you.  See ya next time.  I’ll be expecting you…

ENJOY!

Warmly yours,

Linda




Discover the Wondrous Vanilla Bean!

Glorious Day, Everyone!

I’m back and I’m so happy to see that you are, too!  It shouldn’t be too long before the tea’s brewed…

Vanilla bean, vanilla bean – Have you ever seen a vanilla bean?!  For years, I poured over recipes that call for the seeds scraped from this odd-looking pod.  Until recently, I’d never seen one for myself!  Did you know that vanilla is one of the world’s most expensive spices because it is so labour intensive to grow?  The vanilla bean is actually the fruit of the vanilla orchid, grown in tropical climates.  Nearly three-fourths of the world’s supply of vanilla beans comes from Madagascar.  Baking can be very educational, indeed, n’est ce pas?

Vanilla Bean Pods

Some months ago, a thoughtful friend and co-worker, whose daughter and husband were moving away, kindly gifted me  the contents of their pantry (I believe the husband is a chef).   She thought I might be able to use  some of its more ‘exotic’ contents which included vanilla bean pods.  I used the opportunity to try out some of the  recipes I’d been hoarding.  How grateful I was!  Thank you, Terry!  I recently invited her to lunch along with several other friends and served this next sweet treat.

I am elated to share with you my new-found recipe for ‘Blueberry Vanilla Bean Cake’.   It was tucked away deep inside a kitchen drawer and, for the life of me, I can’t remember where it came from.   Many versions of blueberry cake are commonly made in this part of the world, but this particular recipe calls for a not-so-common ingredient that ramps it up a few notches and makes it just heavenly, which is why I must certainly have kept it.  WOW  results can be achieved with the vanilla bean and the aroma…Oh, my!   On its own, this delectable cake can be served with afternoon tea. Dress it up a little on the plate and you can serve it as a fancy dinner dessert.  The first time I made this cake, I made four (yes, 4) batches and froze the loaves. I just knew it was going to be great.  Am I ever glad that I did that!

I entertained various bunches of  ‘lunching ladies’ on three occasions last week alone.  This ‘Blueberry Vanilla Bean Cake’ recipe inspired me to do that!   For those of you who know me well, I’m recovering from breast cancer and had a new-found burst of energy (which I had been lacking for a long time), and so I invited several groups of friends and co-workers for lunch over the course of a few days and had a wonderful time catching up with everyone.  It was so convenient to just pull this wonderful cake out of the freezer, thaw and serve it up warm with ice cream and a blueberry liqueur sauce – a gorgeous vision!  I was absolutely delighted to be able to serve it as a dessert each time and, let me tell you, it did not disappoint.  The hugest compliment came from my good friend Rita who owns and operates a beautiful bed and breakfast (I’ll tell you all about her amazing Inn in a future blog,).    I invited her lovely friend and chef, Lois, along, too, and they enjoyed it so much they asked if they could serve this cake at the Inn!   Can you believe that?!  Their standards are high at the Inn; and, for me, it was the ultimate compliment.  I’m still giddy!  Lol

Get excited to make this devine cake that can be served so many beautiful ways.  It not only tastes sublime; with a little imagination, it can look oh-so-stunning on the plate!  You’ll quickly earn the reputation as “Blueberry Cake Diva”!  Read on and I’ll tell you about all the different ways you can serve this amazing, yet so simple-to-make, cake.  Let’s make it together!

Blueberry Vanilla Bean Loaf

Blueberry Vanilla Bean Loaf goes great with a glass of ice- cold milk, too!

Not Your Mother’s Recipe – BerryVanilla Bean Loaf

"Vanilla Bean Cake Ingredients"

Not your mother’s recipe: Fresh blueberries, buttermilk, cream cheese and seeds scraped from vanilla bean pods make for a WOW! combination in this oh-so-special berry cake recipe, setting it apart from more traditional blueberry cake recipes

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 vanilla beans
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 extra large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Vanilla sanding sugar, optional
  • 1 1/2 cups berries

Method:

In a large bowl, combine butter, cream cheese and sugar with an electric mixture until fluffy. Blend in the eggs one at a time until the mixture is creamy and smooth. Blend in the seeds scraped from the vanilla bean pods and lightly mix.  In a separate medium-sized bowl, add in all of the remaining ingredients except the buttermilk. Using a fork, combine these dry ingredients together then pour into the butter and cream cheese mixture.

"Vanilla bean cake batter"

The batter will be dough-like in appearance; be careful not to overmix

Combine the two mixtures using a wooden mixing spoon – Do not use an electric mixture for this step. Add in the buttermilk and mix until the dough becomes thick but be careful not to overmix! Gently fold in berries and pour into a greased 9 x 5 loaf pan.  Sprinkle sanding sugar over the top of the batter (this step is optional).  Bake for approximately 1 hour at 350 degrees Farenheit.   Test for doneness by inserting a knife or a toothpick  into the middle of the loaf; if it comes out clean, the cake is done. Let cool for about 20 minutes, invert pan and remove the loaf.  Note:  Your loaf pan will likely be full to the brim, so you may first have to loosen the loaf  around the sides of the pan using a butter knife first before removing it from the pan.

Substitutions:  Fresh strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, or a glorious combination thereof!  I would also use fresh cherries when in season; simply pit them and slice in half.

I ran short on blueberries when making several loaves at once and substituted a combination of fresh blueberries and strawberries and, and for good measure, even threw in a few  cranberries!   The result was colourful and wonderful!  I guess you could call this version “Bumbleberry Vanilla Bean Loaf”!

"Bumbleberry" version

Colorful and wonderful with a combo of fresh blueberries, strawberries and cranberries – ‘Bumbleberry Vanilla Bean Cake’    YUMMEEEEE!

Presentation Tips:

Sanding Sugar – Sprinkle sanding sugar over top of your batter once it’s in the pan and just before your loaf goes into the oven.  Sanding sugar is coarser than granulated sugar and will add a noticeable sparkle to the crust of the loaf.  *Make it even more fabulous by using vanilla sanding sugar.

Have I peaked your curiosity? Keep reading and I’ll tell you how you can make your own vanilla sanding sugar for use in baking, and also as a gift to sweeten beverages and fruits.

Ice cream and Blueberries in Peach Schnapps – A gynormous scoop of very vanilla ice cream over top of a generous slice of Blueberry Vanilla Bean Cake is divine.  Note:  Try using a mashed potato scoop for the ice cream for an extravagant look to this dessert.  I’ve even used a melon scoop and piled several cutesy tiny scoops of ice cream over top.  Drizzle berries and liquer over top and down the sides of the ice cream onto cake.  Heavenly, just heavenly, m’dears…

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups fresh, plump blueberries (or combination of fresh blackberries, blueberries and cherries, when in season)
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup of peach schnapps (if using cherries, trying using cherry brandy instead)
  • 1/4 tsp pure vanilla, optional

Method:

In a small saucepan over low heat (or, better yet, in the top of a double boiler), heat the berries in liquer just until warm enough for serving.  BE CAREFUL NOT TO BOIL.

Packaged vanilla beans from COSTCO

Packaged vanilla beans from COSTCO

Where can I buy vanilla beans locally? I discovered ‘Rodelle’ Vanilla Beans that came all the way from Madagascar at my local COSTCO.  Each package contains 2 glass cylinders that hold 5 beans each for a total of 10 beans and costs about $17.

How do I scrape the seeds from a vanilla bean? I followed the instructions as per the back of the Kirkland package on the left.Lay the bean flat on a cutting board.  With a small,

"Vanilla bean seeds"

Lay the pod flat and use a small, sharp knife to split it open and scrape out the seeds

sharp knife cut the bean lengthwise splitting it open down the middle.  Open the bean and use the backside of the knife to scrape the seeds out of the pod.  I found, however, that using the back of  a small butter knife for this step to be more efficient in extracting the seeds from the pod.


BLUE NOTES: Our beautiful province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada is known for its delicious  and abundant wild blueberries.  They are exported to other parts when they are in season.  Blueberry picking is a popular way for many of us ‘Newfoundlanders and Labradorians’  to spend a weekend afternoon in the fall on the barrens, picking these amazingly tasty berries to use in everything from  jams and chutneys to muffins and breads, all matter of desserts and homemade wine.   It can be back-breaking work to pick a mere gallon of these gorgeous gems but it’s well worth the fresh air, exercise, amazing scenery and certainly the pure satisfaction of picking something absolutely fresh from the land with which to cook up something wonderful for family and friends.

This time of year, though, somewhat ‘fresh’ cultivated blueberries are available at our local COSTCO and supermarkets where they are imported from warmer climates.   You’ll find these are much larger and plumper than those that grow naturally here in the wild.  While they may very well be lovelier looking, I find they’re not quite as tasty as those fresh off the barrens.  Really, if you travelled in a truck for a week, how fresh would you be?   They are still very good, though.  Basically, the fresher the berry, the tastier your cake will be. The addition of the magical vanilla bean more than makes up for ‘cheating’ in this recipe by using the store-bought, cultivated berries.

Ideally fresh blueberries are always better, no matter if they are fresh off the barrens or from the store.  If you have to use frozen berries, semi-frozen are easier to use and might not break open as easily.  Fresh blueberries are fragile so take extra care to  gently fold them into your batter.  If you beat them too much, they are apt to burst open and release their juices into your batter and cause it to turn a greenish-blue colour.  It won’t affect the taste, but the loaf won’t look as pretty.  Personally, I think the green colour resembles mold – sort of – and since we eat with our eyes, too, I avoid this by using only fresh berries whenever possible.  This cake is sooo tasty, why go to the extra trouble of scraping vanilla seeds out of their pods and then ruining the look of your cake by using frozen berries that have burst open and turned your batter green?!

I know that you’ll simply love this cake.  Scraping the vanilla seeds may seem like a lot of work at first, but once you get the hang of it, it will only take but an instant and soon you’ll start substituting vanilla seeds for artificial vanilla in many of your recipes.  I hope you will treasure this recipe and return to it again and again  for many years to come.

Linda

SUGAR LOVE

February 14th is just around the corner.  Vanilla Sugar makes a beautiful ‘Love Gift’ but you had better begin preparing it now. Place an entire vanilla pod in your sugar jar and let it keep for a week or more.  Ooh-la- la!  What an enticing aroma!  Simply add it to your hot chocolate, coffee or tea for a posh cuppa.  For a glamorous gift for a special friend, auntie or grandma, spoon your vanilla sugar into a gorgeous  glass jar and wrap in a swath of organza or cello for quite the memorable gift!  Tie on a petite shiny sugar spoon for extra glam.  Be sure and tag the jar, identifying its contents (see below).  While you’re at it, why not include a ready-made Blueberry Vanilla Bean Cake and a copy of the recipe for inspiration.  The very lucky recipient will absolutely fall in love with you all over again!!!

Vanilla Sugar Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 2-4 cups of granulated sugar (for beverages and fruits) or sanding sugar (to use in baking)
  • 1-2 vanilla bean pods, split in half lengthwise and crosswise

Method:

Place about 1/3 of the sugar into a jar or canister with a tight-fitting lid.  Add  a layer of vanilla bean pod pieces.   Repeat the process, layering the sugar and vanilla bean, ending with sugar on top.  Pack down lightly before adding each layer. Shake the jar every other day for a week or more to allow the flavours to blend.  NOTE:  The sugar may pick up some colouring from the bean, which is normal.

Gift Tag (suggested wording): Substitute vanilla sugar anytime a recipe calls for granulated sugar for a more flavourful outcome.  Use in cookies and cakes; coffee, teas or hot chocolate; and over cereal or fresh fruit.  Enjoy my sweet!

Teeny lifelike feathered birds and shimmery glass pinecones adorn a table-top tree that still sits in a corner of my kitchen where I am continuing to enjoy a little bling on these wintry days.

*Baking Powder

Did you know that baking powder can spoil?   Am I the only person who did not know that?!  Be sure to use ‘active’ baking powder in your recipes to avoid them falling flat and foiling your best efforts. Check the ‘best before date’ on the bottom of the can; and when in doubt, throw it out.  It’s recommended that baking powder be replaced on your  pantry shelf after one year.

Stay tuned my beauties for more recipes to use up those vanilla bean pods in your cupboard…

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