Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Voyageur Pea Soup

Every February when I was in elementary school we celebrated the Festival du Voyageur. I don't remember much about it except that we wore long embroidered sashes around our waists, made candy from pouring maple syrup onto clean (never yellow) snow and we ate delicious soupe aux pois. Most of the other kids thought the pea soup was gross, it was mushy and khaki green coloured, but I loved it! That was back in the days where I ate little bits of meat in things without too much disgust. Since then I really haven't had pea soup much at all because of the ham in it. So today I decided to make my own version, meat-free.

Voyageur Pea Soup

2 cups green split peas, rinsed
1 medium onion, finely diced
3 stalks celery, finely diced
1 large carrot, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
About 6-7 cups of water or vegetable stock
3 bay leaves
herbes de provence
a dash of spanish smoked paprika
black pepper
olive oil

Pour a little olive oil into the bottom of your soup pot. I hat giving measurements for thing like this because it should just coat the bottom of the pot. Add onions, celery, carrots, and a healthy dash of herbes de provence. Saute these for a few minutes until the onion is soft, then add the garlic. and just a tiny dash of smoked paprika. I love the smoky resonance of smoked paprika, but I don't think it should take over the taste of the soup, it should just linger in the background so you get a hint of smokiness without knowing what it is.
Add the peas, 5 1/2 cups of the stock or water, bay leaves and a grinding of black pepper. If you are using water, add some salt.
Bring to the boil and then turn the heat down to a simmer and continue simmering for about 45 minutes then reduce heat a little more and cover and simmer for another 45 minutes or until the peas are cooked and mushy. During this time, give it a stir every once in a while and add more water or stock if it looks too thick. At this point taste for salt. It may need a little more, but go slowly so you don't over salt.
Remove the bay leaves. If you have an immersion blender stick it right into the soup pot and give it a whizz. Don't puree it, just help it to become partially blended into a thick, textured soup.
Now, find a red sash to tie around your waist and imagine yourself sitting in the snow eating this soup while singing French voyageur songs!

Scones and Tea!

On Friday we had a nice visit with J and I had wanted to make something to go with tea for an afternoon visit. Naturally, scones came to mind. I wanted to make them a bit different, just for a change, so into one batch I put golden raisins, dried apricots and fresh orange zest, and the other batch got sharp aged cheddar and cracked black pepper. After tasting the two I couldn't decide which I preferred they were both pretty yummy! We served them with some of our summer preserves, grape, rhubarb vanilla and spiced apple cider jelly from my Mom's friend (which I intend to make this year, it is so good!).

Scones are the easiest dough to make in my opinion. The golden rule is not to overwork the dough. I use my hands to make scones, I know some people prefer to use the food processor, do it whichever way suits you best.
We had some left over and I will admit (somewhat ashamedly) to eating about 6 throughout the day. I couldn't let them go to waste, and they just don't keep well, so they had to be eaten that day!
Happy baking and even happier eating!

My Scones

2 cups plain flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp fine salt
1/4 cup cold butter
3/4 cup cold milk

Preheat oven to 375 F.
Measure the flour, salt and baking powder into a bowl and give it a whisk to combine. Cut the cold butter into small pieces and drop into the bowl. Working with your fingers, rub the butter into the flour, quickly, until the mixture looks like lumpy sand, you want to keep some bits of butter a bit bigger than others. At this point gradually add your milk while stirring with a wooden spoon. If you have added all the milk and there is still flour in the bowl, add a little bit more. When the dough comes together and there is no flour at the bottom of the bowl, turn it out onto a lightly floured, clean counter and turn it over once or twice. Do not Knead. Shape it into a flat, round disc with your hands and cut into 8 wedges. Place them on a baking sheet lined with a silpat or parchment paper and bake for about 20 minutes or until they are puffy and golden. 
Be creative with this recipe. If you want sweet scones, brush them with milk or cream and sprinkle sugar on top before they go in the oven. You can add lemon or orange zest, raisins, currants, dried cranberries, walnuts, pecans, cheddar cheese, dried herbs, grainy mustard, anything you like really. Add fruit and nuts to flour mixture just before adding the milk, as for things like grainy mustard, mix it into the milk before adding. When I make cheese scones I always sprinkle grated cheese on top of the scones before baking. Have fun with these and be creative!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Crepes Sucrees

This post is a bit overdue, but I wanted to give you my crepe recipe.
On new year's morning I decided crepes would be the best thing to go with my traditional New Year's Morning Mimosa.
Crepes sucrees are one of my favourite meals, if you can call them a meal. Once in a while a lot of sugar is just what I need for dinner. My favourite ways to eat them are either with some melted butter and white sugar or a squeeze of lemon and sugar. Both of these ways can be very messy, so you need a plate to catch the drips. JS loves them with strawberry jam or nutella. They are also delicious with some pear or apple compote. Enjoy them with whatever tickles your fancy!

Crepes Sucrees

2 cups (or 250g) flour
500 ml milk
3 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp white sugar
2 tbsp melted butter
as for flavouring your batter, you can leave it as is, or add any of the following alone, or in combination. I personally usually put in some orange flower water and vanilla.
2 tsp orange flower water
1 tsp vanilla
grated lemon zest 
a glug or rum
extra butter or canola oil for greasing the pan

Put flour, sugar and salt in a bowl and give them a whisk together. Add about half your milk, whisking it in as you go.
Beat the eggs together in another bowl then add them to your flour and milk mixture along with the melted (but not hot) butter. Whisk this all together and slowly add the rest of the milk. When the batter is done it should e the consistency of heavy cream. 
Let the batter sit for about 20 minutes.
Now, if you are using a crepe pan, that's great. If not, use a non-stick frying pan. Heat your pan at about medium heat. Get a little bit of oil or melted butter on a folded up piece of paper towel and wipe this onto the pan.
With a soup ladle, pour a bit of batter onto the pan to check your heat. The batter should have time to move around the pan before it sets, but it should set fairly quickly. You need to use two hands for this, one hand to ladle and the other to twirl the pan, like I'm doing in the picture. After about 2 minutes it should be time to flip your crepe. You can do this the French way, by tossing it into the air (which you must try at least once, even if it ends up on the floor!), or by lifting an edge with a butter knife or a spatula and flipping it with your fingers. Leave it for another minute or 2 on the second side until it looks golden and beautiful, then slide it onto a waiting plate. The first crepe is for the cook, because it's not usually the prettiest. If your batter seems to thick or too thin, add a bit of milk or a bit of flour until it seems right to you. 
Finally you are ready for the assembly line. I always have a cloth handy for drips, my paper towel for greasing the pan between crepes and a plate for the finished products.
This might seem complicated, but I promise you it isn't! It just takes a bit of kitchen organization and the result is infinitely worthwhile! 
Bon appetit et bonne annee!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Snow Day!

I have a confession to make and I am rather ashamed of it. I am going to come clean and get it out in the open. I am a bouillon cube user.

I know that vegetable stock is one of the easiest and cheapest things to make, and that it is 100 times better than cubes. I have made stock in the past and I realize that it is so much tastier. I know that cubes are probably full of artificial fats, flavourings, colours, and the dreaded MSG, but somehow I just never get around to making it....until today!

I have been planning it all week, and today is the day. I want to simmer it slowly for a few hours, which requires me to be home and it couldn't have been a better day for hanging around the house. It snowed so much last night and it just seems the perfect day to make something slow and savoury which will fill the house with aromatic loveliness.

So here is my veggie stock recipe. Keep in mind that this shouldn't be followed with scientific precision. Adjust the amounts and even the ingredients to suit your taste. I stay away from anything too strong like cabbage, asparagus or peppers, but feel free to throw in some leeks, shallots, parsley or other herbs. I make my stock with skins on most of the vegetables, so using organic produce here is the best way to go.

My Veggie Stock (not from a cube)

2 onions, skins on (unless they're muddy), chopped into quarters

3 carrots, washed but unpeeled, cut into thirds

3 celery stalks, rinsed, cut into thirds, plus the pale green leaves from inside the heart

Fronds from one bulb of fennel

4 cloves of garlic, skins on, slightly crushed

1 piece of ginger, peeled, about the size of a ping pong ball

5 fragrant bay leaves (please smell them before you throw them in, do they have a smell? If they've been sitting in your cupboard since the 80's they most likely do not. Get rid of them and buy yourself some more from a quality spice store.)

7 peppercorns (because I like the number 7, adjust to your taste)

1 good branch of rosemary

a few branches of dried thyme (I always dry mine from my summer garden and use it on the branch which contains a lot of flavour)

1 scant tbsp coarse sea salt (or less, it's better to adjust salt at the end of cooking, adding too much at the beginning can spell disaster)

Put all of the ingredients in a large pot, mine holds about 4 litres I think. Cover the vegetables with water so they have a nice amount to swim around in. Bring to a boil, once boiling reduce the heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Enjoy the smell! When you feel it's finished simmering have a taste and adjust the salt if you need to.
Cool the stock in the pot. Strain out the vegetables through a mesh sieve into a bowl and discard them. Transfer the stock to containers and refrigerate for a few days or freeze for a few months.

Use this liquid gold in soups, stews, pilafs, risottos, or anywhere you would use a bouillon cube and enjoy the difference.