Fresh Figs – Three Ways

f2Fresh Figs – Three Ways

As I have mentioned in previous posts, living in the country certainly has its perks. Locally grown and raised food is easy to get your hands on. It’s easy to feel spoiled. There are certain things, however, that seldom cross your path. 

I was recently on auto pilot in the local grocery store in search for ideas for dinner. It had been a crazy busy weekend and my brain was fried. I was browsing through the produce section waiting for something to jump out at me. The corner of my eye caught it first and I instantly woke up from my haze. I turned towards these drop shaped, dark purple/black/green beauties. I stood, for a second, contemplating not whether I would grab some or not but rather how many. All of them? There were quite a few on display. While carefully placing them in a paper bag I opted for ten. The rest I left for others, most likely equally surprised.

I have to admit, I forgot all about dinner. Back home I happily presented Bruno with the paper bag. His eyes lit up and he devoured one before I had even time to blink. “Nom nom”, his lips smacked and down went the last bite of this perfectly ripe, fresh fig.

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– The savoury fig comes with a dollop of goat cheese/devon cream wrapped in prosciutto. Balsamic vinegar glaze and chopped walnuts adds so many subtle layers while the fig is still in focus. 

– The sweet bite is accompanied by a ball of marzipan, a drizzle of honey and a sprinkle of chili pepper. Finish it off with a mint leaf. 

– Serving fresh figs on your cheese tray is a great classic. You can’t really go wrong. No explanation needed.

A glass of our Sparkling Golden Russet apple cider or Pinot Noir goes beautifully with either one of these fig options!

 

Savoury Figs

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1/4 cup goat cheese

1 tbsp Devon cream

5 fresh figs

5 slices prosciutto

Balsamic vinegar glaze

Chopped walnuts

In a small bowl, mix together goat cheese and cream.

Cut the figs and prosciutto in half, lengthwise.

Place a small dollop of the cheese mixture on top of each fig. Wrap in prosciutto and attach with a skewer. Decorate with a couple of pieces of walnut and a drop (you don’t need much) of glaze. Makes 10 pieces

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Sweet Figs

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5 fresh figs

Marzipan, room temperature

Honey

Chili pepper

Fresh mint leaves

Cut the figs in half, lengthwise. 

Roll small balls (about the size of a large chick pea) of marzipan.

Place marzipan ball on top of the fig, then drizzle with honey.

Sprinkle with chili pepper and decorate with a mint leaf. Makes 10 pieces

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Figs and Cheese

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Simply cut fresh figs in quarters and add to your favourite cheese board. No further instructions needed.

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Dining Room – Crandall House Reno

d8d5My mind is blank. I stare at them but feel nothing. My repressing techniques must work quite well. I’m sifting through renovation photos, trying to find good ones to use for this post. It was only a few years ago we were standing right there, in the middle of chaos. We caused it to look that way. Tearing things apart and ripping things out is an enormous amount of physical work, but it’s still the easy stage. All you have to do is to shut your brain off and go crazy. Like a robot. No real thinking involved. Putting things back together is a whole different story.

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I’ve decided to split the renos up in a few different posts, concentrating on a few areas at a time. Today the dining room is in focus. The original corner cabinet was one of the few things in the house worth keeping. I’m glad, and surprised it survived all the sad renovations this house had to endure over the years. Although the four doors to the cabinet are gone, I still love it. I put comfort in knowing they will be replicated at some point.

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Between the dining room and kitchen was a hallway connecting the two rooms. The hallway had two doors. One leading into a very pastelly and ‘cute’ bathroom (shown briefly in a previous house post) and one door leading to the basement stairs. The door to the basement was moved to a different spot. The hallway and bathroom was turned into a  breakfast room which now connects the kitchen and dining room. 

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Hidden behind drywall and layers 70’s paneling, leftover bits and pieces of the original trim began to emerge. Around one of the side windows we found a beautifully simple, delicate trim with a wood panel in it. This became the inspiration for much of the trim work in the house. We duplicated the trim and panel as close as we could. A big “thank you,” to the person who, decades ago, was too lazy to bother ripping out the last bit of window trim left while ‘updating’ the house. Flooring and baseboards still need to be tackled although I take great comfort knowing this, too, will have its day.

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Swedish Dreams

d6I have a dream…So simple yet so powerful. Dreams are what keep us going, give us hope. Sometimes easy to forget, yet without them there would be no change. We’d be lost. These Swedish cookies have been given this name for a reason. Dröm. Dream. They encourage you, just for a brief moment, to pause and reflect over the meaning of the word before taking your first bite. This is where you realize why this nondescript-looking creation was given such a powerful title. They are white as snow, a crunchy fluffiness difficult to describe. As it vanishes in your mouth you are left with a velvety smooth taste of vanilla. You will most likely close your eyes and let your mind pay full attention to this decadent and short lived dream. I dare you to eat a whole cookie without licking your lips.

d4150g butter

1 1/3 cups sugar

2/3 cup sunflower oil

1 tbsp vanilla extract

1 tsp ammonium bicarbonate

2 cups flour

Preheat oven to 300F.

In a blender, on medium speed, whisk butter and sugar until light and airy, about 2 minutes. Slowly add the oil and vanilla. Sift ammonium bicarbonate and flour into a bowl then slowly, while whisking on medium-low speed add to the butter mixture. Blend well then stop.

Transfer the dough to a floured surface and kneed into a ball. 

Pinch pieces of dough and roll into 1″ size balls. Place, 2″ apart, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake in the middle of the oven for 20-25 min. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool.

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The Thing About Pantries

p3I think the ultimate sign of friendship is when your friends feel comfortable enough to invite themselves over to your home. Whether it’s for a cup of coffee or a couple of days escape from the city. It’s such a beautiful compliment. It shows that they miss you and they want to see you and hang out. Usually the first thing to cross my mind when this happens is “What are we going to eat?” No kidding. It doesn’t have to be complicated and elaborate. I find these somewhat unexpected visits really inspiring. 

I try to always be stocked up on basic ingredients for unexpected visits. Pasta, crushed tomatoes, couscous, lentils and rice which, combined with what’s in the fridge will most likely help me throw something together on short notice. This way there is never a reason, or excuse, not to eat well.

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p14A very unattractive and out of place laundry room here at Crandall House got a second chance when we decided to convert it into a pantry. Although a pantry is a lovely thing to have, it does expose your private eating habits to the world. Anyone who walks into your pantry will know what you eat and what you like to hoard. Trash that you might crave once in a while but wouldn’t want anyone to ever know about is right there, on display. A slight panic used to arise inside of me when someone walked in and poked around our pantry. I knew it would happen. I do it too. I love peaking into pantries when visiting new places. Over time I stopped worrying. We all have our habits and secret cravings. It’s a part of who we are. 

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Butternut Squash and Apple Cider Shots

s2You might think this is very much a fall post. That is true. It would be a perfect fall post. Except it’s not. March has finally arrived and spring is just around the corner. The long winter months are over and we can start looking forward to seeing the the earth come to life again. In anticipation of the new season, with all that it will give us, I find celebrating what has kept us alive throughout fall and winter is a nice gesture. In the olden days root cellars were very popular. Before grocery stores became what they are today and before modern refrigeration, this was the way to survive. Everything that needed to stay cool was put down there. Potatoes and carrots, apples and onions, squash and pumpkins were stored along with preserved vegetables and fruits. Perhaps even a few bottles of wine. I really love the traditional Swedish root cellar. They were outside of the house, dug into the ground and covered with dirt so that they resembled a grassy mound with a small door.  I would love to eventually build a one behind the house. I will tell you more about them in another post. So, this will be one of the last ‘winter posts’ for a while. These butternut squash and apple cider shots are a great amuse bouche or hors d’oeuvre for your next dinner party. I am using The Old Third Golden Russet Apple Cider of course.
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1 butternut squash

1 medium onion

1 tbsp butter

1 tbsp olive oil

6-8 fresh thyme sprigs

fresh ginger, one 1″ piece

4 cloves of garlic

3 cups chicken stock

1 1/2 cup dry apple cider

1/4 tsp nutmeg

salt & pepper

1/2 cup cream

1 package sliced bacon

 

Peel the butternut squash and cut into 1″ pieces, discarding the centre core. Peel and roughly chop the onion and ginger. In a frying pan heat up the butter and olive oil. Sauté the onion and ginger 2-3 minutes, then add the squash and garlic as well as the thyme sprigs. Sauté for another couple of minutes. Add the chicken stock, apple cider and nutmeg. Bring to a boil, then simmer until squash is soft, 20-30 minutes. 

Meanwhile, fry the bacon crisp, either in a heavy skillet, or on a baking sheet in a 450F oven. Let the bacon cool then crumble it together into small pieces. Put aside. 

Remove the soup from heat and let cool slightly. Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth. Stir in the cream and season with salt and pepper. Pour into shot glasses just before serving.Decorate with the crumbled bacon. Makes 24-30 shots or 6 appetizer size servings. 

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Mise en Place

mise6Countless were the times when I was wrapping up a dish and I’d take one last look at the recipe. Staring back at me was that one ingredient I failed to prepare. Julienned carrots, finely diced fennel or blanched pearl onions. Suddenly I was balancing between dropping that one item or, delaying the completion of the dish in order to correct my oversight. Countless were also the times I was in the middle of cooking when realizing that a vital ingredient to the dish I was making was nowhere to be found. I was certain I had had it at home. These scenarios might not always be crucial or end up a culinary disaster, however, they’re no fun.

mise4I have watched cooking shows on TV for as long as I can remember. One thing that used to annoy me was how everything was always prepared ahead of time. All the ingredients were there, within arms reach. The vegetables were chopped and diced and placed on plates. Dry ingredients pre-measured and added into cute little bowls. How tidy. How ‘mise en place’. I remember thinking it was so ridiculous. I mean, who cooks like that? Slowly but surely I became accustomed to the idea. It’s clearly done to save time and to make sure not to miss any ingredients. One day I thought, let’s try this method and see how well it works. And so I did. I brought all the ingredients out on the counter. I prepared all the vegetables and herbs according to the recipe. I chopped, sliced, diced and minced. I put everything in bowls and on plates. I measured and I weighed. Then I started cooking. 

mise1If you haven’t yet, you really should try it. Not only does it eliminate the chance of missing an ingredient, but it also slims the chance of forgetting to prepare that one ingredient, should it require julienning, dicing, or blanching. At the same time it encourages you to read through the recipe before starting, something you should always be doing no matter what you are planning on making.

Today, years later, the ‘mise’ is my best friend. There will be a few extra bowls and plates to wash up when finished, but it certainly makes cooking so much easier and much more enjoyable. 

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Rustic Oven Baked Pancake

rp8Brunch. I love that word. For me it’s tied with fun times with friends on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Almost festive. This Swedish oven baked pancake is a wonderful option next time you have friends staying for the weekend. Traditionally chunks of bacon are added to the batter before baking, although I prefer it without. The reason being has nothing to do with taste or flavour. Serving it plain gives you the opportunity to consume it savoury or sweet. A side of fried bacon or sausages drizzled with maple syrup is a mouth watering salty option. Whipped cream and strawberry or blueberry jam with a dusting of icing sugar is ideal for the sweet tooth. It’s easy to make and its moon landscape surface is sure to make a longer lasting impression than the more common flat pancake.

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3 cups milk

1 1/3 cups flour

5 eggs

pinch of salt and sugar.

Butter

Pre-heat the oven to 425F.

In a large bowl, sift the flour into the milk and whisk together until a smooth mixture forms. 

Add the eggs, salt and sugar and keep whisking until well blended.

Pour into a buttered 11”X17” baking tray and bake in the middle of the oven for about 30 minutes or until browned and bubbles have formed. Serve immediately. Serves 6.

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Dream Squares

dr4 Drömtårta, or Dream Cake is a real classic at the Swedish coffee table. Did you know that traditionally, Fika, the Swedish word for coffee with dip, includes seven different kinds of cookies? More about that in another post. Drömtårta is often made sure to make an appearance as one of the seven. This was one of my favourites growing up. Traditionally it is served in a rolled-up version, just like the Budapest Roll in an earlier post, then cut into 1″ pieces. Today I decided to turn it into bite size squares for a change. A very decadent, hint of vanilla filling, wrapped in a fluffy subtle chocolate cake. It is as good with a glass of milk as with a nice hot cup of java. Your choice. This recipe calls for all purpose flour but feel free to substitute it with potato flour for a gluten-free version. It works just as well.

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Cake:

4 eggs

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup all purpose flour

2 tbsp cacao

1 tsp baking powder

Filling:

100g butter, room temperature

2/3 cup icing sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 egg

Preheat oven to 480F.

With a blender, whisk eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Sift flour, cacao and baking powder into a bowl then slowly, while whisking on medium-low speed add to the egg mixture. Blend well but make sure not to over beat the batter. 

Line a 11″x17″ baking sheet with parchment paper then pour batter. 

Bake in the middle of the oven for about 5 min, or until cake is set.

On a rack, place another sheet of parchment paper, sprinkle with sugar and flip the cake on top of the sugared paper. Carefully peel off the parchment paper from the cake. Let cool.

Meanwhile, whisk together the ingredients for the filling. Spread evenly over the cooled cake. Cut the cake in half, crosswise, then flip on side over the other – filling agains filling. Cut into bite size squares. Dust with icing sugar just before serving.

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Vegetarian Lasagna

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bestvegetarianlasagna3A few nights ago we had some friends over for dinner. One of the guests was a vegetarian and the other ones loves meat.  It was a pretty cold and chilly night, so I thought lasagna would be lovely. To please everyone around the table I decided to split things up. Instead of your traditional meat lasagna, I made this vegetarian version filled with mushrooms, spinach, ginger and nutmeg. For the meat lovers I slow cooked a beautiful prime rib in red wine, beef stock, a couple of chopped onions and carrots along with a few bay leaves. The lasagna itself however, is filling enough and is perfect as a meal on its own.

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Filling:

1 tbsp butter

2 tbsp truffle oil

One medium size fennel

Fresh ginger, about a 2″ piece

4 cloves of garlic

15 sage leaves

200g shiitake mushrooms 

200g crimini mushrooms

4 baby bok choy

350g fresh spinach

1/2 cup vegetable broth

1-2 tsp sambal oelek (hot chili paste)

pinch of tarragon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

Salt & Pepper

Béchamel Sauce:

3 tbsp butter

3 tbsp flour

3 cups milk

White pepper

Salt

3 tomatoes, thinly sliced

1 1/2 cups grated gruyère cheese

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Thinly slice the fennel and finely chop the ginger, garlic, sage leaves and mushrooms. Roughly chop the book choy. In a large cast iron pot, heat up the truffle oil until hot but not burning. Turn the heat down slightly and add the fennel and ginger. Sauté for a couple of minutes before adding the garlic sage and mushrooms. Sauté for another couple of minutes, stirring occasionally. Add bok choy to the pot along with the spinach and the rest of the ingredients. Make sure everything is well combined, and let it simmer until the liquid is almost gone. Turn the heat off and let cool.

Béchamel:

Melt the butter over medium heat in a medium sized sauce pan. When melted, lower the temperature and start adding the flour. Whisk constantly to prevent lumps from forming. Cook the butter/flour for a couple of minutes, whisking non stop. Add the milk, a little bit at a time. Keep stirring! Raise the temperature back to medium. As the sauce thickens add more milk. The sauce is ready when coating the back of a spoon. Season with salt & pepper.

In a large oven proof dish, start putting the lasagna together. Coat the bottom of the dish with the béchamel, cover with sheets of pasta and sprinkle some of the vegetable filling on top. Drizzle béchamel over filling. Repeat layers twice. Place the sliced tomatoes on top of the third vegetable layer before putting down one last layer of pasta. Sprinkle the cheese. Cover with the rest of the béchamel sauce. 

Bake in the middle of the oven for 45-60 min, or until golden brown and pasta is soft.

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Sweet Hot Buttered Rum

hr6I’m not a huge fan of winter. I love the snow. Hate the cold. There are many ways to stay warm. I might have tried them all. Sipping on beautifully fragrant tea with a spoonful of local honey while wrapped in a fluffy blanket is a favourite. This drink is another option for one of those cold winter days. It takes a while to make so start it early in the day. The scents from the pot will linger through the house and tease you with what is to come. As the suns last rays disappear over the horizon and darkness sets it’s time. Fill up your favourite mug with this sweet hot buttered rum, grab your book and cocoon yourself in the blanket. It will warm you up for sure!

hr18 cups water

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/4 cup butter

1 pinch salt

2 cinnamon sticks

10-15 whole cloves

2 cups rum
Whipped Cream
Ground Nutmeg

Put all the ingredients except Rum, whipped cream and nutmeg in a large pot. Stir well. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat. Cover and let simmer on very low heat for 3-4 hours. Top up with more water if need to.

Pour into cups or mugs. Add Rum (about 1/4 cup/serving). Top with whipped cream and a dash of nutmeg.

Leftover base liquid (without the Rum and cream) will keep in the fridge for a few days. Take out and re-heat as needed.

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