Cornmeal Cranberry Muffins and some fresh air

Yesterday balmy temperatures and brilliant sunshine beckoned us outdoors before we had a chance to busy ourselves in the normal day-to-day routine, and welcomed us there for most of the morning.

While my ever-expanding girth kept me from romping in the snow as enthusiastically as Noah would have liked, I did manage to create the requisite snowman and thus Noah had a playmate to replace me.
With false contractions seizing my belly every so often, I hauled a lawn chair out of the shed, wedged it’s feet in a snowbank and sank into it to watch Noah play.
The sun shone down on me, warming my skin and lifting my spirits with it’s friendly reminder of spring to come.

We spent the better part of the morning like this until I noticed Noah had been snacking on the snowman’s carrot nose and had gnawed it down to a mere sad-looking stub.

Lunch, anyone?

These cornmeal muffins are a cinch to whip up, but don’t expect a cake-like, sweet treat. They are substantial enough to have for lunch with a bowl of yogurt and some fruit. I imagine you can use any berries you have on hand (blueberry-cornmeal is always popular), but I just had some dried cranberries left over from the holidays and they were just fine, too.

Cranberry Cornmeal Muffins Makes 16 large muffins 3 large eggs
1-2/3 cups vegetable oil
1-2/3 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon lemon zest or orange zest
4-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1-1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1-1/4 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 cups fresh or frozen or dried cranberries Topping
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare muffin tins with cooking spray. Mix together cornmeal, brown sugar and butter for topping. Set aside. In large mixing bowl stir together dry ingredients. In separate bowl mix together wet ingredients. Add wet ingredients to dry mixture and fold together until moistened. Do not overwork.Gently fold berries into batter and fill prepared muffin tins three-quarters full. Sprinkle topping over each muffin and bake 20-25 minutes or until tester comes out clean.

Let me be remembered for my Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

P (pancakes) + M (mother) = 100% Good Mother

Looking for the equation to perfect mothering skills? I’ve added, subtracted and simplified it down to a solution manageable for even the most challenged parent: making pancakes.

Think about it though, doesn’t one of your fondest memories of growing up involve pulling up a chair next to the stove (in my case, a wood burning one) and watching your mother pour batter into silver dollar circles into the waiting cast iron pan? If you never had a mother who made you pancakes, be they crèpes, blinis, flapjacks, drop scones, pannenkoeken, or hotcakes, depending on your background, may I respectfully say that you missed out on a ritual that transcends class and generational borders and offer my sympathies.

It’s a wonder that some thing so seemingly ordinary as pancakes can hold such a stack of pleasure and bring back memories as sweet as the maple syrup that doused them. In our home, just the simple familiar act of cracking eggs and sifting flour speaks of a tranquil morning, un-rushed, no where to head off to, just our family together without a care in the world.

I probably don’t need to mention that Noah absolutely adores pancakes and that was a major factor in my motherhood equation. There is nothing more satisfying than watching your two-year-old load up his fork with not just two or three cut-up pieces of pancake, but five or six before cramming it into his mouth, completely focused on consuming these heavenly pancakes as fast as they come out of the pan.

This recipe is adapted from the cookbook Fabulous Fairholme: Breakfasts and Brunches that is a collection of recipes from the award-winning Fairholme Manor Inn in Victoria, British Columbia. It is by far my favorite pancake; soufflé-like in it’s feather lightness, perfumed by bold citrus zest, and sweet enough to be eaten on it’s own with nothing but a dusting of powdered sugar or dollop of yogurt.

The world would be a much better place if all those troubled people could sit down to a plate of these pancakes on Sunday morning. Forget therapy and shrinks, we need more pancake chefs out there! Do your part and make some one you love some hot pancakes today, ideally your kids, no matter how old they are. They will remember it and thank you for it.

I know mine will.

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

5 eggs, separated
Zest of large lemon or orange
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
1 cup all purpose flour, sifted
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup sugar
Dash of salt

Preheat griddle or skillet on medium heat.

Mix the egg yolks. Sift and mix the dry ingredients and combine with egg yolks, lemon zest, milk and ricotta cheese.

Beat the egg whites until stiff. Gently fold into the egg-ricotta batter.
Lightly oil griddle and pour a pancake-sized amount onto griddle. Cook until bubbles form. Flip and cook other side until golden. Do not flatten after flipping and only flip once.

Serve immediately with garnish of choice. I found maple syrup to be a bit overpowering for the delicate pancakes. Try with crème fraîche, plain yogurt or whipping cream.

“Who Stole My Stollen?”

Say the word “Christmas” and the word “tradition” is usually not far behind, especially where food is concerned. Around the holiday season, families tend to lean heavily on customs passed down from generation to generation and you will find most are reluctant to change. My mother-in-law has made blueberry pancakes on Christmas morning for the last 22 years and when the 25th rolls around in just a few weeks, she’ll be serving them to her grandson for the first time. (Thank goodness Noah adores pancakes!)Without even noticing, over the last six years that I have been married, I have slipped into a pattern of holiday baking. While some may label these food habits as my own traditions beginning to emerge for my sweet little family, I see them more as a rut I have fallen into.
There is usually a traditional English trifle, dozens of dark chocolate truffles, Russian Tea Cakes and Gingerbread men for nibbling, shortbread in abundance, and plenty of mincemeat tarts. There is nothing wrong with any of those, but here I am almost 30, asking myself:”Why am I only making fruitcake now? Why have I never baked a traditional German Stollen or an Italian Panettone? How come I’ve never attempted a steamed Christmas pudding?”
Heck, I haven’t even perfected a Buche de Noel. Shame on me.
Why? Because I’m too busy making my standard fare every holiday season to experiment with something new.Now, this is quite the ‘Ah ha!’ moment for me, because every other month of the year I am all about trying new things, so what’s been happening around the 25th of December? I am not big on traditions and never have been. I like surprises, spontaneity and change. Most people can’t get over the fact that we don’t have a Christmas tree (GASP!!), but that is just one of the Christmas traditions my hubby and I balk at. (OK, it mostly stems from my tree-hugging/save-the-planet upbringing, but don’t get me started going down that road…and Santa Claus? Pul-leeze. )
I realize I am on thin ice here so I will lighten up and tell you where I am going with all of this! Starting with my first attempt at Tourtiere last December, and continuing with fruitcake this year, I am starting to branch out with my Christmas cooking and baking and avoid the tendency to always make the same things. It’s just something I have to do. I am not belittling your traditions, your family recipes or your blueberry pancakes; I deeply respect all of those dear-to-your-heart patterns, but in my kitchen I have to mix things up a little! And so I present my Christmas Stollen! Now I have never even eaten Stollen, not to mention made it, but it sounded to good not to try, and so we welcomed a little bit of Germany came into our home as a result. Stollen is a yeast-based fruitcake, full of fruit and nuts, flavored with spices and rum like a classic fruitcake, but more like a challah or a brioche in texture. I didn’t know where to start looking for a recipe, (no German relations here, unfortunately) so I used my trusty Joy of Cooking. I always find bread baking deeply satisfying and this stollen did not disappoint. It was SO good, we couldn’t stop eating it.Although I had enjoyed the better part of a loaf with my afternoon tea, when I toasted up a slab for my husband in the evening, I couldn’t resist nabbing some off his plate when he wasn’t looking. That prompted the “Hey, who stole my stollen?” quote from above, a line Danny was quite tickled with and giggled over for the rest of the night.So does this mean Christmas Around the World for Under the High Chair? I don’t know yet, we’ll have to wait and see. It would make me proud if my kids grew up not expecting a certain line-up of dishes around the holidays, but rather were open to other cultural favorites like Paella, Cougnou, Nougat glacé, or Tamales.
If you’re in the mood to try something new, this stollen is a great place to start. Just don’t turn your back on it–it may disappear!Christmas Stollen(Adapted from The Joy of Cooking)
Have all ingredients at room temperature. 6-8 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon yeast
1 ½ cups milk, scalded and cooled to 110F
¼ cup dried cherries
¾ cup golden raisins
¾ cup currants
1 ½ cup almonds, chopped
½ cup chopped candied citrus peel
¾ cup sugar
1 ½ cups butter, plus extra for brushing loaves
3 eggs
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons rum In a large bowl, combine warm milk and yeast. Allow to sit 10 minutes until yeast is dissolved. Add 1 cup of the sifted flour and mix to form a sponge. Let sit in a warm place until doubled. Meanwhile, combine cherries, raisins, almonds and citrus peel. Sprinkle a little of the sifted flour over and combine. Set aside. When sponge has sufficiently rested, place butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat well. Beat in sugar and blend until light and creamy. Add eggs one at a time, followed by the salt, lemon rind and rum. Mix well.
Mix in the fruit and nuts. Add all the sponge and the remaining flour. Knead the dough until smooth and elastic, adding more flour if too sticky.
Cover dough with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk. To shape dough, toss it onto a floured board and divide in two. Pat dough into a rough oval and fold over one third of the dough lengthwise onto the other two thirds. Repeat with remaining dough. Place on baking sheet -one loaf per sheet- and brush with butter. Allow to rise again until almost doubled in bulk. Preheat oven to 350F. Bake loaves for about 40 minutes until they are a dark golden brown.

Doughnuts & Coffee: Wish You Were Here

Sourdough Cinnamon Doughnuts with a Latte

As a young girl growing up in the wild, northern, Yukon Territories, I didn’t know the whole history behind the term ‘sourdough’ and how it traced back to the Klondike Gold Rush, but I did know that I loved sourdough bread and baking. Those days, one of the biggest treats we could be allowed to make were sourdough doughnuts—just the combination of sugar and fat was enough to make my mother cringe and make me jump up and down with anticipation.I recently dug up that old recipe from an even older cookbook that my mother started when she got married, and decided to give it a shot. Boy was I glad I did! There is only a slight ‘sour’ taste, but enough to give these delicious treats a uniqueness you certainly won’t find at Dunkin.
These doughnuts contain both yeast (in the sourdough starter) and baking powder, so they are right in the middle of a cake doughnut and a yeast. Even if you have a strong preference for one or the other, either way, you will love these.
Not that it should be a problem, but they are best eaten the day they are made. I can’t tell you how many of these I ate while I was photographing them…I’m embarrassed. Sure it was a trip down memory lane, but it was a really loooong trip–and I’m not that old yet!As I looked at the platter of doughnuts, I had to resist to urge to run out of the house, down the street, bang on all my neighbors doors and say “You HAVE to taste these!”
What a shame, there was no one at home to share them with. And let me tell you, warm from the pan, coated in vanilla sugar, you should have been here. Fortunately, a friend dropped in later with her two little girls and we enjoyed them with some spiced chai.
These tiny doughnut holes are perfect for little fingers….

Fresh from the oil

Dressed up with vanilla sugar

Sourdough Starter

2 cups flour
2 cups lukewarm water
1 tablespoon yeast

Mix well in a large bowl. Cover and let sit overnight in a warm place.

Sourdough Cinnamon Doughnuts

½ cup sourdough
2 Tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sour milkPrepare a wok or deep fryer for frying. Prepare a tray with paper towel for draining doughnuts. Heat oil to 360 degrees.
Sift dry ingredients together. Mix remaining ingredients together and add to dry. Bring dough together gently with you hands. Sprinkle some flour onto a work surface and turn dough on to it. Knead it gently about 3 times to help bring the dough together. Roll out to a thickness of 2 centimeters and cut with a doughnut cutter.Fry until golden brown. Test the first one for doneness by breaking it in two and checking if the middle is doughy. Drain on paper town. Toss with vanilla sugar or cinnamon sugar to coat.Enjoy!

DIY: Madeleines for Easter Brunch

“Sunday was only invented so that one could brunch.” Jill Dupleix

I am not one of those people who can go without breakfast; it is a very necessary part of my day and one that I enjoy whether it may be a mere bowl of meusli or the very personal breakfast in bed. Brunch is even better:an excuse to take breakfast to a whole new level, which I am more than happy to do! Open all the homemade jam in the house, chill a bottle of champagne, wait outside the bakery for the freshest baguettes possible, track down the sweetest strawberries and whip loads and loads of cream. Whatever you do, don’t get stuck in a rut of sweetbreads, fruit salad and scrambled eggs. The possibilities are vast and these madeleines are a fabulous way to start any morning, especially Easter Sunday.
My love affair with madeleines began as most of my food obsessions did: at Toque! Here, one of the finest pastry chefs in Montreal introduced me to these dainty shell-shaped, lemon flavored cakes and I was smitten from the very first one I popped into my mouth. I remember he made them bite-size, using the smallest molds I had ever seen, and when they came out of the oven and he inverted the pan upside down on the cooling racks, I used to hover around, just hoping that one of those enticing little beauties would make their way into my mouth and brighten up my day. I was hooked!
Keep reading for the recipe and a few more brunch ideas…

Citrus salad with thyme is a pretty and simple alternative to a standard fruit salad. Just peel and slice a variety of citrus fruit (blood oranges look amazing), arrange on a plate and drizzle with some orange blossom water or fresh OJ. Sprinkle some fresh herbs such as thyme, basil or mint on top and serve at room temperature.
Bacon and Eggs: Soft-boiled egg on a crispy potato galette with fried lardons and apple butter

Perfect with a wedge of toast

I’ve never found any in stores or bakeries that have ever come close to those Toque! madeleines, but I have found a recipe that is worth while making. Actually, they are surprisingly easy to make yourself, but do require the special oval shaped molds with ribbed indentations know as Madeleine pans. I borrowed my pans, but I can see a trip to the baking supply store coming up pretty soon! I think I’ll have to get the mini molds for old-times sake. Lemon Almond Madeleines
(adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook) ½ cup unsalted butter, plus more for pans
¾ cup all-purpose flur, plus more for pans
½ cup finely ground almonds
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
¼ teaspoon almond extract
3 large eggs
½ teaspoon salt In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Set aside to cool. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours and sugar; set aside. Add the lemon zest and the extract to the cooled butters; stir to combine. In a large bowl, combine the eggs with the salt and whisk until frothy. Whisk in reserved flur mixture to combine. With whisk, fold in butter mixture. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours or overnight. Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter 2 12-mold Madeleine pans, and dust with flour, tapping out excess. Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitter with a ½ inch plain round tip. Pipe the batter into the prepared pans, filling each mold about halfway. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until the edges of the cakes are golden brown, 12-14 minutes. Immediately invert madeleines onto a wire rack to cool. Madeleines should be served the same day they are baked.