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Valentine’s Day falls on a Saturday this year, so why not pass on getting sucked into the commercial hype of it all and show your love with a unique breakfast treat.

This looks great just out of the oven and tastes even better. I adapted this slightly from a recipe given to me by Mary Wallgren, from the Idaho branch of my mom’s family.

You will need a blender and also a cast iron skillet. If you don’t have the skillet, perhaps you should? Next thing you know you will be making frittatas and oven-fried chicken.

If you are really frugal, pick up a grotty cast skillet at Value Village and recondition it. There are instruction for this process on-line. It is a bit of a dirty job.

INGREDIENTS

Filling:

2 apples, peeled,cored, sliced
2 T brown sugar
2 T butter or margerine
1 tsp lemon juice (optional)
1/2 tsp cinnamon, or to taste

Batter:

3 eggs
3/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 T granulated sugar
1/2 tsp orange peel zest (optional)
3/4 cup milk

3 T butter or margerine
confectioner’s sugar for dusting

METHOD

In a bowl, stir together apples, cinnamon, brown sugar and lemon juice until apples are coated.

Melt 2 T butter or margerine in a regular skillet on the stove top, add apples and saute until apples are tender – at least 5 minutes. Turn off heat and set this skillet aside for now.

Place your 11 inch cast iron skillet into cold oven, and set to 400 degrees.

Now, into blender put your three eggs, and blend really well.
Reduce blender to low speed. Add flour, salt, granulated sugar and orange zest.
Then slowly add milk.
Stop blender and scrape down sides to ensure all flour is being combined.
Blend again for one minute.

Carefully remove cast skillet from oven using two oven mitts.
Place on cold stove top and add 3 T butter or margerine, moving it around with a spatula until melted but not browned. Carefully add batter from blender, then distribute cinnamon sugar apples on top and return to oven using two oven mitts. Bake 25 minutes, until edges are puffed and brown. Test centre with finger to ensure fully cooked.

Dust with icing sugar, cut into wedges and serve with maple syrup.
Caution: Don’t forget and touch the pan. Hot!

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Makes 5 dozen: These are going to my son and his room mates at UVIC

Makes 5 dozen: These are going to my son and his room mates at UVIC

What makes a good Valentines Day recipe to show your love to those special people in your life?

That depends on where you are in life. If you are in your 20s you probably want something beautiful and decadent to impress your partner (See the Food of Love 2012.) In you’re in your 70’s it might involve prunes (See Plum Clafouti.)

I have one son at university and another about to go. This year the Food of Love demands something delicious but easy; involving inexpensive ingredients and producing a big batch. This is for all the students out there.

If, like my son, you are on a budget, buy an inexpensive brand of peanut butter when it is on sale, get your chocolate and butterscotch chips and your oatmeal from the bulk section, and buy a box of margarine squares to keep in your freezer. These are pre-measured half cups perfect for baking and also sub in when you run short of regular tub margarine.

INGREDIENTS
1 cup margarine (2 sticks or squares, softened)
1 cup peanut butter
2 cups brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1.5 cups flour
1.5 cups quick oats
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup chocolate chips
.5 cups butterscotch chips

METHOD
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Combine softened margarine, peanut butter, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla in a large mixing bowl.
Beat until very light and fluffy. Fluffier!

Combine flour, oats and baking soda in a smaller bowl, stir to mix.
Add into creamed ingredients and mix well.
Add in chocolate and butterscotch chips; stir.

Scoop dough into golf size balls on greased or parchment lined baking sheets.
Bake 10 minutes. If not browning slightly, give them 2 more minutes.
Cool on rack. Turn off the oven, Hon!

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Ready for a taste of summer? This is it. The natural sugars caramelize to give this easy sauce a sweet, straight-from-the-garden taste.

You’ll need 18 or so Roma tomatoes, your favourite fresh chili pepper (I had a jalapeno – too mild!), a large cooking onion, several cloves of garlic, salt and pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar and that last splash of red wine you were just eying. Or the first splash from a new bottle if you prefer…

Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise and place cut side up in a single layer in a large spray-oiled casserole. Toss in a half dozen peeled whole garlic cloves and a chili or two. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and that big onion, chopped. Drizzle generously with olive oil, and less generously with balsamic vinegar. Pop it in the oven at 275- 300 degrees uncovered and let it all roast for at least an hour and two is better.

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Remove from oven and cool slightly. Transfer to deep bowl and use an immersion blender to combine – but not too much, as you want it to have some texture. Add a bit of that red wine to deepen the flavours. Heat 10 minutes, adjust seasonings to suit and serve over your favourite pasta.

roasted pasta sauce

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The Cottager is technically Irish, so with St. Patrick’s Day falling on the weekend, it seemed a good time to invite the neighbours in. Everyone brought something, and it was a fine meal with lots of laughs on the side.

We started with a cheese plate featuring marbled Guinness cheese. Very pretty and mild. Andy made soda bread, which arrived warm. I made a dip with corned beef, dill and cream cheese.

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Next up was two types of barbecued sausages, served along with brown onion gravy, green salad, and colcannon, a traditional potato dish with cabbage and bacon mashed right in.

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Then there were two great cakes. I made Nigella Lawson’s dense Chocolate Guinness cake – I’d make it again, but I would try it in a tube or bunt pan another time as it sunk a bit in the middle. It has a cream cheese icing that makes the cake resemble a glass of Guinness.

My neighbour, Margaret, made a fabulous Bailey’s cake that apparently starts with a yellow cake mix but took it to another level. When I get the recipe I’ll post it.

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A while back a couple of Anglophile friends and I hatched a plan – over several bottles of wine – to spend a weekend at the cottage watching Downton Abbey and cooking and eating classic English dishes.

We met on the ferry last Thursday evening and by 8 we were all settled in to watch the first few episodes.

Gillian is the cook – and the only true Brit amongst us – and therefore was the majordomo of the weekend. Connie and I were there to assist, support – o yes, and eat!

Next day we started the morning off with Bacon Sarnies (breakfast sandwiches made with thick cut English bacon.)  Then we headed into town for supplies – fabrics for Gillian, a fragrant daphne and bird suet for me and food, wine and beer for all.

Lunch was watercress soup, scotch eggs from the British butcher, and freshly dressed greens.

Freshly made watercress soup - the first I ever tried.

Scotch egg and greens

For dinner there was English Bangers and Mash with onion gravy.

Bangers and mash with onion gravy

And in between, if you can believe it, we had a Devonshire Cream tea, complete with strawberry scones, home made black-berry jam and strong Yorkshire tea.

Scones with blackberry jam and Devonshire cream

Your math is not off. We were compelled to eat four meals in one day in order to sample just a few of the things on our list. The Welsh rarebit, Victoria sponge and beef and potato pie never even made it out of the gate.  Thank God there is a second season of Downton Abbey!

We also managed to squeeze in a walk on the beach, craft up some lovely wind chimes using old teapots and plated cutlery, play some card games and drink an impressive amount of wine.

Gillian will be posting her recipes for bangers and mash and watercress soup on her blog “What’s for Dinner” over the next few days. It is a great resource for quick and delicious dinner ideas. I made her foccacia just last night and loved it.

Nice windchimes Crumpets! Thanks for a great weekend.

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The Food of Love 2012: Vanilla Slice

If you’ve been following my blog for awhile you know that once a year I choose one amazing dessert with which to demonstrate my love and affection for family and friends. These aren’t fancy recipes, but boy do they schmeck!  If you tried  Chocolate Fudgies (2008),  Coconut Glazed Oatmeal Cake (2009) and Swedish Waffles  (2011)  then you will know that the Food of Love is always worth making.

This year I’ve chosen a recipe that I got from my dad’s mother, Grace.  It is a family favourite and a great dessert to take to a potluck since it can easily provide 18 servings or more.   Don’t be dissuaded by the simple and seemingly bland ingredients: This is one of those recipes that produces something much more than the sum of its parts.  It tastes very much like a mille-feuille pastry, which you might also know as a ‘Napolean.’  Tempted?

Be sure to use a cooked pudding mix and note that the amount of milk added is less than the regular pudding instructions –  so the filling is custardy.  This dessert is best if made at least 8 hours ahead of serving and stored in the fridge.

VANILLA SLICE  – Makes one 9 x 13 inch dessert – approx 18 servings

INGREDIENTS        

Graham Cracker Squares  – 2  sleeves (approx 40)

Jello Cooked Vanilla Pudding/Pie Filling  – 1 large package  (170 grams)

Milk – 2 and 1/4 cups

Whipping Cream – 2 cups

GLAZE

Icing sugar – 2 cups

Vanilla – 1 and 1/2 tsp

Hot tap water – 3-4 Tbsp

Unsweetened dark chocolate – 1 ounce

METHOD

START by mixing up your custard. In a microwave proof bowl combine the pudding mix and milk – noting that this is a reduced amount from what is called for on the box. Cook on high, for one to two minutes at a time, for about 6 minutes total, whisking frequently.  Once thickened, set aside to cool.

Now line an ungrease 9 x 13 inch pan with a fitted layer of whole graham crackers. Imagine you are a tiler, and score, snap and fit them as necessary to neatly cover the bottom of your pan. Once the pudding is room temperature, carefully spread it over the graham crackers until they are evenly covered – unlike in my picture . . .

Spread cooked and cooled vanilla pudding over graham crackers

Next, whip the cream, adding no sugar, vanilla – nothing.  Spread this evenly over the pudding layer with the back of a spatula.

Next, add a second layer of fitted graham crackers squares, pressing down gently where necessary to get the surface as level as possible.

Cover the cooked pudding with plain whipped cream and another layer of graham crackers

Mix the glaze ingredients with a whisk until completely smooth and not too runny.  Pour over top of graham crackers and spread evenly using the back of a spoon and a bit of patience.

Last step is to melt the chocolate and drizzle in lines, which can be ‘combed’ for effect or just spiraled lazily about.

Cover with a tight layer of saran and refrigerate minimum 8 hours or overnight.  Serve and be adored!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Easy Tricky Cherry Almond Shortbread

You know one. You might be one:  A person who just doesn’t get the whole shortbread thing. 

I walk a fine line there myself.

I love my mom’s: she pipes it into charming wreathes with a cookie press I am far too uncoordinated to master (or too lazy to try?) I know a few others who produce a tasty cookie,  But many shortbread recipes leave me cold. Too dry, not sweet enough – sorry, I am picky.

This is my family’s favourite shortbread recipe. Brown-sugar sweet, and with bits of marashino cherry adding moisture and interest. The recipe is dead easy and a little tricky all at the same time.  Intrigued? 

The tricky bit comes in getting the cherries distributed in the dough without turning your dough pink. Then, you have to pack the dough into saran-wrapped cylinders to chill in the fridge, again without de-juicing the cherries. After that, its just slice and bake. 

Chopped frozen cherries get mixed in last.

Having a Kitchen Aid mixer helps a lot. I used to make this by hand and could never get the dough sufficiently well-mixed. My strategy this year was to drain and chop my cherries, then freeze them in a single layer on a sheet of parchment.

They came straight out of the freezer and into the mixer with the toasted nuts. With Saran wrap sheets waiting, those cherries were mixed in, wrapped up and into the fridge in moments, with very little pink leakage. 

INGREDIENTS
 1 cup butter, softened

1 cup brown sugar

2 cups flour

1/2 cup marashino cherries, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup blanched silvered almonds, lightly toasted and cooled.

METHOD

Cream butter in mixer. Add sugar gradually, then flour gradually.

A drop of almond extract would be optional at this point.

Fling in the toasted nuts and chopped (frozen) marashinos.

Remove half of dough to a sheet of saran, form into a fairly uniform log, pressing quite tightly, then roll up in the food wrap. On a hard surface and using hands, roll log dough back and forth a few times to make it as round as possible and compact the dough a little more. Then pop it in the fridge overnight or for up to a week. Repeat with other half of dough. 

When chilled, unwrap and slice with sharp knife into quarter-inch slices and place on parchment lined tray.

Bake 12- 15 minutes at only 325 degrees and high in oven. Remove from oven when edges have begun to brown. Cool on sheet for a few minutes before removing to wire rack.  Makes 4 dozen.

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