Baking Chez Moi – Rhubarb Upside Down Brown Sugar Cake

Slice of rhubarb cake

Rhubarb is one of my favourite spring treats and it seems that there are an infinite number of ways to use it. Savoury, sweet, roasted, baked, stewed – the only difficulty is keeping a steady enough supply to try them all. Inevitably, though, the recipes I come back to are the ones that treat it simply and let it shine.

This cake belongs on that list. I’ll have made it several times before rhubarb season is through. I made it for the first time in April, in the midst of a sort of Caramel-palooza. Caramelizing the topping before putting it in the oven gives it an extra richness, beyond that achieved by sprinkling brown sugar and pats of butter on the bottom of the pan (as nice as that is). And the cake itself would be good with just about any topping.

Slice of rhubarb

I haven’t found time to drop into this group much since we started Baking Chez Moi, but now that French Fridays with Dorie is wrapping up Around My French Table, I suspect you’ll be seeing a bit more of me. I look forward to baking more often with all of you.

You can find the rest of the Tuesdays with Dorie crew’s entries on this recipe here: Rhubarb Upside Down Brown Sugar Cake.

FFWD – Chicken in a Pot: The Garlic and Lemon Version

Chicken in a pot

It never occurred to me in October of 2010 what joining a weekly online cooking group would come to mean to me. I thought that I was setting up a routine to help keep me writing regularly on my new blog, but it’s been so much more.

Along the way, bloggers have come and gone, but there have been connections – no, friendships – built that have persisted through the whole of our journey through this book.

Our community has shared our cooking experiences, but we’ve also come to share our lives, at least a little, with each other. Many of us have met in person. I’ve been lucky enough to meet Cher and Mardi. And I was thrilled to have the opportunity to meet Dorie when she visited Vancouver on her Baking Chez Moi book tour. But even for those far away, our weekly posts have felt like visits more often than stories.

And now, as Trevor pointed out, four years, seven months, and twenty-one days after we began, the group has reached the final recipe. It’s fitting that we saved the cover recipe for last, as we’ve all looked at that image so many times over these years. It seems like a celebration in itself to finally make the dish.

  
It’s a whole chicken braised with garlic, lemon, white wine, herbs, and vegetables. The pot is sealed with a simple bread dough that’s broken dramatically when the chicken is ready to serve. It felt a little like popping a champagne cork on New Year’s Eve – the end of the better part of five years spent cooking together.

My chicken needed a bit more than the hour that was specified in the recipe, but when it was finally done, it was perfect. And there was enough wine left over to toast the group before we settled down to eat. I purposely waited until now to try this dish, but I won’t wait that long again – it made a wonderful meal.

We’re not quite done, yet. There will be a month of celebratory posts as the group wraps up, so I’m (trying) to save my tears.

And here is the link to the very last round up of posts for a French Fridays recipe: Chicken in a Pot: The Garlic and Lemon Version.

Spring Book Reviews – Building Community One Dish at a Time

Cookbooks

I received copies of The Sweetapolita Bakebook and Seven Spoons, courtesy of Appetite by Random House Canada, at book launch celebrations with a group of local bloggers and was under no obligation to review them. All opinions are my own.

It’s easy to think of successful food bloggers as surrounded by the communities they’ve built around their blogs, but it can be a lonely pursuit. That’s why the lovely people at Appetite by Random House Canada have been working with the equally lovely folks at Food Bloggers of Canada to hold book launch celebrations with local bloggers when food bloggers turned cookbook authors visit Vancouver on their book tours.

I was lucky enough to attend two of these gatherings this spring – one with Rosie Alyea of Sweetapolita and another with Tara O’Brady of Seven Spoons.

For those of us that were able to attend the events, it was a chance to meet successful bloggers and cookbook authors we admired, but it was also a chance to connect with local bloggers that we may only have met online. What I hadn’t realized was that the authors themselves were as happy to meet us as we were to meet them.

Authors

Rosie Alyea told us that the ten bloggers in that room were the greater part of all the bloggers she’d ever met and that it was a pleasure to meet people who were as excited as she was about baking and writing about it.

Tara O’Brady has been food blogging almost as long as it’s been possible to do so and has set the standard for the quality of writing in the genre. Even so, she was happy to connect with others who are building community and exploring their own foodways online.

The events were an opportunity to share food from the books, conversation, and a little bubbly together. The publishers, authors, and bloggers alike are passionate about food and cooking, so there was a lot to talk about.

As much as online community-building creates enriching and vibrant engagement, meeting in person feels like a solidification of those connections. Thanks again to the folks at Appetite for providing us with that opportunity.

And now that I’ve had some time to explore each of these cookbooks, I can share my thoughts about them with you:

The Sweetapolita Bakebook

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I’ve been baking since my age was in single digits, but the things I made (at least until I joined French Fridays with Dorie) were homey and old fashioned. I loved going through vintage cookbooks and making cookies, squares, and cakes for my friends and family, but I didn’t think I was capable of bakery-style confections.

I’m still not there, but if any cookbook can help me with that, it’s this one. Rosie Alyea’s recipes are foolproof and her instructions are detailed and precise. They are also fanciful, as it says on the cover. From chalkboard cookies to perfectly charming chocolate robots filled with Pop Rocks to an elegantly tiered cake decorated with a watercolour finish, the book is filled with desserts you’d never imagine you could make at home.

I started small, pairing Rosie’s Simple & Splendid Chocolate Cake with her Glossy Fudge Frosting and filling it with salted caramel ganache. As you can see, I didn’t do it justice. I was a little short on icing sugar. But, I’m going to be baking from this book for years to come – birthdays, anniversaries, or just about any excuse for a party that I can find. I think my decorating will improve over time.

What doesn’t need improvement is the flavour and texture of the cake and the richness of the frosting. The same could be said of the Rainbows & Sprinkles Cake Rosie served at the book launch celebration I attended. The cake uses her Super White Cake recipe and is iced with Swiss Meringue Buttercream, but transforms both with vibrant gel paste food colouring.

It’s a feat she performs over and over again in the book, taking her basic cake recipes and coming up with beautiful variations using the fillings, frostings, and techniques she includes in the book, along with an array of sprinkles, edible papers, and garnishes that she makes herself or sources at baking supply stores. Once you’ve worked your way through all the recipes in the book, you’ll be confident enough to bring your own flights of fancy to life.

Seven Spoons

Blueberry Cake

Everyday cooking sounds a little uninspiring and it certainly can be, if it’s left up to an unadventurous or inexperienced cook. But in the hands of Tara O’Brady, it’s a sumptuous exploration of everything the markets have to offer.

Tara’s blog began not long after taking charge of her own kitchen and trying to incorporate the foodways of her family with that of her partner (now husband), Sean. Hers included the south and north Indian foods her parents grew up with, along with dishes from many other cuisines that her food-loving family explored. His were dishes with Irish and English roots, the kind that filled mid-Century community cookbooks, like the butter tarts that inspired the Walnut Cherry Oat Butter Tart Pie Tara served at her book launch celebration.

Seven Spoons represents their own foodway, the one that they’ll pass on to their children. It includes dishes from each of their heritages, along with ones adapted from the flavours that excite cooks today.

There are dishes for every meal and a selection of staples to spur your own creativity in the kitchen. The flavours come from Indian and British Isles classics, but also from the Middle East, Continental Europe, Latin America, and Asia. The ingredients will take you out of the standard supermarket and to the farmers’ market and international grocery stores, reflecting the cosmopolitan food scene today and its emphasis on eating widely and in season.

For new cooks, it’s a good place to start the explorations that will lead to the creation of their own foodways, while experienced cooks will appreciate the depth of flavour and variety of the recipes.

In my own family, my gluten free and vegan partner quickly marked off several recipes, including the Trail Mix Snack Bars and the Green Beans with Mustard Seeds. I was intrigued by the Rhubarb Rose Gin Gimlet and Halloumi in Chermoula. My mother commented that it’s almost the right time to try the Pickled Strawberry Preserves, then opened the book up to the recipe for Blueberry Poppy Seed Snacking Cake and asked if I’d make it for them to take on the trip they’d planned for the weekend.

I was happy to oblige, though I had to omit the poppy seeds (I put in a bit of ginger, instead). It turned out beautifully and the quarter of a cake I kept for myself disappeared quickly – I just couldn’t keep myself from snacking on it. The rest was eaten just as quickly, by all reports.

I’m glad the binding on this book is sturdily stitched, as it’s going to undergo a lot of wear and tear, stains and creases. I’ll be working my way through its recipes over and over again.

Come back next Thursday for a book that combines the homespun goodness of preserves with the pizazz of the cocktail hour.

French Food Revolution Friday with Dorie 2015

frd logo with strap

This week, the French Fridays with Dorie crew is participating in Food Revolution Day, led by Mardi of eat. live. travel. write.

Our assignment this time around is to share something we’ve learned from Dorie Greenspan during our more than four years working through Around My French Table. It’s a theme nicely in keeping with Food Revolution Day’s emphasis on food education.

As Mardi explained:

Friday May 15th 2015 is the fourth annual Food Revolution Day – a day of global action created by Jamie Oliver and the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation to engage and inspire people of all ages to learn about food and how to cook it.

This year, Food Revolution Day is a global campaign to put compulsory food education back on the school curriculum. Jamie passionately believes that by educating children about food and cooking in a fun and engaging way, we can equip them with the basic skills they need to lead healthier, happier lives, for themselves and their future families. Dorie agrees – last year when I was chatting with her about food education, she said: “I would love to see a generation that can cook and wants to cook for themselves and others. The world would be a better place.”

It’s difficult to choose a recipe or technique that stands out from our experiences over the course of the group, only because we’ve learned so much.

We’ve tackled elegant French desserts that turned out to be easy, thanks to Dorie’s talent for instructions: Floating Islands.

We’ve learned that all you need for complex flavours and a hearty meal are a sturdy pot and a plump chicken: Roast Chicken for Les Paresseux.

We’ve used the simplest methods to create satisfying suppers: Salmon and Tomatoes en Papillote.

We’ve got foolproof doughs almost by heart, allowing us to elevate everything from breakfast to cocktail fare: Gerard’s Mustard Tart.

We’ve overcome our skepticism of unfamiliar flavour combinations and found new favourites: Orange & Olive Salad.

We’ve filled our pantries with many more spices, herbs, condiments, and other ingredients than we’d imagined possible: Chopped Liver with quatre épices.

But most of all, we’ve expanded our cooking and eating horizons, as though we were a class of students led by Dorie’s steady hand. Many of our participants were already confident in the kitchen, while others were gaining confidence as we progressed, but there has always been something to learn from Dorie and from each other.

This is at the heart of healthy, happy eating – exploring new techniques and flavours, while building a foundation of everyday skills that can be applied to whatever you might find in the pantry or the markets. We’ve eaten richly and well along the way, but also with the kind of variety and substance that healthy bodies require.

The dish I’ve made this week is emblematic of a lot of what’s been wonderful about working through Around My French Table. It’s a classic French dish; full of nutritious ingredients; as elegant as you’d like it to be; and easily made affordable or luxe, as required. Dorie’s instructions ensure you’ll make the most of the ingredients and it’s another of the book’s many reminders that even the simplest of meals can be full of flavour.

Salade Niçoise

Nicoise Salad

The beauty of a composed salad is that you can alter it to suit all diners’ needs. In this case, I made a plateful with tuna, egg, and anchovies for me, then left them off for Kevin. There are many lessons in this recipe for young cooks, too. Hard-boiling eggs, blanching green beans, making vinagrette – but especially taking a look at what you’ve got in the refrigerator and pantry, then making a satisfying meal from it.

This revolution must certainly start there.

You can find links to the rest of the French Fridays crew’s thoughts on Food Revolution Day and all we’ve learned from Dorie, here: Food Revolution Day. And you can find the rest of the Doristas’ posts on Salade Niçoise, here.

Spring Book Reviews – Vanilla Table

Custard

I received an electronic copy of Vanilla Table, for review from Natasha MacAller’s publicist. Nevertheless, all opinions in the following post are my own. 

The single subject cookbook is a trend that’s becoming as important as cookbooks focused on a single cuisine. Whether the focus is a dish or an ingredient, a meal or a piece of equipment, home cooks are seeking out cookbooks that will allow them to dig deeper than the generalist cookbooks they started with.

Natasha MacAller’s Vanilla Table is a perfect example of why this trend is taking off. Vanilla is an ingredient most cooks take for granted, adding it to their sweets and baked goods to enhance the flavours that are the real stars of their dishes. As MacAller says in her introduction to the cookbook: “Vanilla is often used to describe something that is just ordinary, nothing special, no extras — however, vanilla is anything but plain.”

MacAller sets out to make vanilla not just the focus of many of the dishes in the book, but also to provide the tools for home cooks to use vanilla, in all its forms, more creatively and daringly. There’s a short “Vanilla 101″ at the beginning of the book that guides the reader through the four varieties of vanilla and their characteristics, then discusses the forms of vanilla that are sold, from pods to powder. At the end of the book, she devotes a whole chapter to staple concoctions that are used in recipes throughout the book, but could serve as a jumping off point for your own ideas. The Vanilla Candied Bacon Bits alone could keep me busy finding savoury and sweet uses for them.

The chapters of the book read like the sections of a restaurant menu and the recipes lean toward haute cuisine. Though there are a few homey recipes, this book is perfect for planning dinner party menus. The recipes in the book are MacAller’s own, along with a selection of recipes from well-known chefs and bakers around the world, including Rose Levy Beranbaum, David Lebovitz, Yotam Ottolenghi, and Nancy Silverton.

MacAller herself became a chef after a career as a professional dancer, learning that she loved working with food when she began catering in her dance companies’ off seasons. She became known as The Dancing Chef and her recipes reflect a cosmopolitan and global perspective on food.

What I especially like about this cookbook is the way that its recipes make use of flavour combinations and layering. It’s something that’s often missing from cookbooks and is especially suitable for bringing a sense of fine dining to the home dining room.

The book also introduces a cornucopia of ingredients and a wealth of techniques, making the most of vanilla while tempting the reader to stretch their palates and practices. Huckleberry gastrique, lychee lime relish, fennel vanilla sausage, homemade labneh – the parts and flourishes of these recipes are as interesting as the whole.

Though the recipes and instructions might be challenging for more inexperienced cooks, this book has more than enough to teach cooks who are comfortable in the kitchen and want to extend their skills. I’d recommend it especially to cooks who like to entertain on an elegant scale.

I’m looking forward to working through the sweets and baked goods chapters, but I thought a good test of the book would be to choose recipes from the savoury section. There are classic vanilla pairings like lobster or dishes set off by a fruity sauce, but there are also some surprising combinations.

I was intrigued by the idea of garlic and vanilla, so I’m sharing MacAller’s recipe for a starter that combines the mellow savoury flavour of caramelized garlic with cheeses and a vanilla-infused custard. It’s a sneaky dish, with a strong vanilla aroma that initially reads as dessert. When you taste it, the garlic, ricotta and Parmesan are at the forefront of its flavour, but then the nutmeg and vanilla come through. It’s complex and delicious, a good starter for an adventurous meal or a classically French one. I served it plain, but I suspect it would be even more interesting with a garnish of green pea pesto (from her recipe for Heirloom Tomato Bisque, which pairs tomato and vanilla to good effect).

Garlic and ricotta custard

Caramelized Garlic & Ricotta Custard Cups

Serves 6

  • 1 garlic head (recipe needs 6 caramelized cloves)
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) oil
  • 1 tsp butter, to grease cups
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 1 Tbsp (15 mL) apple sauce (or ¼ apple, peeled and grated)
  • ½ cup (120 mL) whipping cream
  • 1 cup (240 mL) milk
  • ½ tsp superfine sugar
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • ¼ tsp white pepper
  • 3 large eggs
  • ½ cup (90 g) ricotta
  • ¼ cup (20 g) Parmesan, finely grated
  • a pinch of ground nutmeg

Caramelized Garlic

Preheat oven to 350 F/180 C.

Cut top off garlic head to expose cloves. Peel away just the outer layer of the garlic bulb skin, leaving the skins of the individual cloves. Wrap loosely in foil and drizzle over the oil. Pinch the foil closed at the top, place in a baking pan and cook in oven 30–35 minutes until squishy, caramelized and golden brown.

Custard Cups

Butter 6 small (4 fl oz/120 ml) custard cups. Set inside a baking dish large enough to hold the cups.

Cut the vanilla pod in half but don’t split and scrape it, to keep the custard ivory colored. Squeeze 6 caramelized garlic cloves into a saucepan and add apple sauce, vanilla pod, cream, milk, sugar, salt and pepper. Bring just to a simmer, turn off heat and cool about 20 minutes.

Turn the oven to 325 F/160 C.

In a large jug, whisk the eggs well, then add ricotta. Place a sieve over the jug and strain the milk mixture into the eggs, pressing the garlic through with the back of a spoon. Discard the vanilla pod or rinse, dry and save for another use. Add Parmesan, salt, pepper, a pinch of nutmeg and whisk together.

Pour custard into cups. Lift pan into the oven, then fill with very hot water to come halfway up the outside of the cups. Bake for 20 minutes until custard has browned and set but is still jiggly in the center.

Serve warm as is or top with a spoonful of green pea pesto.

Vanilla Table shows just how complex and varied its titular ingredient can be, while proving that limiting cookbooks to a single subject doesn’t limit the scope and breadth of its recipes.

Come back Thursday, May 21st for a discussion of two books I was excited to celebrate.

One Last Kick at the Plan

CAtables

Tonight, the Citizens’ Assembly on the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan had its last community roundtable. The subject of discussion was the draft sub-area recommendations, on specific parts of the community like Cedar Cove, Nanaimo, and Broadway and Commercial.

I arrived shortly before seven and the line up of participants was nearly out the door, while inside, most of the tables were almost full. I managed to get a seat at one of the Britannia-Woodland discussion tables, then during the second round, sat at a Commercial Drive discussion table. People were still arriving as the discussion started and as with all of the meetings I’ve attended so far, there were enough participants to fill at least a half dozen more tables. As it was, people found space where they could, or sat two-deep for some of the more contentious discussions.

CAlineup

As always, I was impressed by the knowledge and commitment of the Assembly members and the community members who came to the meeting. There were fruitful discussions and agreement on many issues, though there will never be consensus on others.

Here are a few of the highlights from the summaries at the end of the night:

  • More creative use of industrial lands is needed.
  • Nanaimo Street needs to be developed, but in a way that respects current residential uses.
  • Affordable housing is the crucial issue for the Britannia-Woodland sub-area.
  • Cedar Cove needs to be better integrated into the neighbourhood, with transit and Commercial Drive-like spaces for small business.
  • Commercial Drive needs to be kept affordable for independent, small-scale businesses. Ideas like allowing businesses to make use of laneways might be part of the solution.
  • Public space needs to be truly public, rather that the private-public space seen in places like Yaletown, that’s not truly accessible to citizens.
  • Co-operative housing and other affordable housing need to be protected and promoted, so that we can retain a mixed income community.

No consensus was reached on the development at Venables and Commercial and there was also a concern that though there has been broad consensus at all public meetings on a height restriction of four storeys, the proposals that are presented to the public keep integrating greater height limits.

There was broad support, with some objections, to the plan for bike lanes along Commercial/Salsbury, along with wider sidewalks from 1st to Broadway. The active transportation plan for Commercial seems like it’s going to become a reality.

There’s a divide of opinion on how to protect and expand affordable housing in the neighbourhood. Some believe that density created through condo development and tower construction will achieve that, though the results elsewhere in the City show the opposite effect. Others (including me) believe that density achieved through infill, smaller development, and more distributed density will help protect existing affordable housing stock, while allowing more to be built. Creative approaches to preserving existing buildings, while allowing redevelopment are seen as crucial by many of us.

Those are just a few of the points made tonight. And there’s still a little time to comment on the draft before the Assembly’s last meeting on May 9th. You can email them at assembly@grandview-woodland.ca and you can download a copy of the draft here.

I don’t hold out much hope that the City will respect the recommendations of the Assembly or the neighbourhood at large. But I still don’t think this process has been a waste of time. The Assembly has done an admirable job of recording the views of the neighbourhood and sifting through all the information that’s been given to them.

Most importantly, the overwhelming interest in the process shows just how active our neighbourhood will be in challenging the City if it should present us with something that doesn’t reflect the concerns and ideas that this community has voiced.

Got Craft? Spring Edition 2015

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Craft fairs have come a long way since I was a little girl. Back then, there were tables full of simple knitted toques, sugar-stiffened lace figurines, beadwork, and Phentex slippers. Everything felt homespun and full of a grandmother’s love, but it wasn’t exactly the right place to find stylish gifts or exciting home decor.

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These days, craft fairs are where you look for the newest trends in the making, across a number of disciplines. You’re much more likely to find a unique, on trend item at a craft fair than you are in a department or chain store.

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In Vancouver, Got Craft? was a pioneer of this new style of craft fair. I’ve got them to thank for a number of my favourite pieces of jewellery, home decor items, and well-received gifts. And they’ve helped to establish a healthy network of craft fairs and shows throughout the year here, supporting a diverse array of makers and crafters.

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Today I visited the first day of the spring edition of Got Craft? and was happy to find lots of new things to get excited about, along with some that have been favourites for a while. And once you finish shopping, you can take in one of workshops led by local favourites like A Spool of Thread.

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They’re back at it tomorrow and here are some of my personal highlights:

  • Anonum Design, one of a number of vendors that repurpose materials that would otherwise be headed for the landfill. They turn rubber printing blankets into an array of colourful, useful goods.
  • Craft’ed‘s whimsical cards, magnets, and bookmarks.
  • Cabin + Cub‘s wooden accessories. (I came home with a bicycle crest pin for my partner, who was delighted.)
  • The Green Flamingo Design‘s dapper ties and pocket squares, for any gender.
  • Graveley and Sons‘ syrups and infusions

I could go on, but you can check out full list of vendors instead.

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You needn’t worry about getting hungry, either. The area around the Maritime Labour Centre may be light industrial, but there are treasures around every corner. You’re only a block away from Parallel 49 Brewing, and there are plenty of tasting rooms, restaurants, and coffee shops within blocks. You can find a list of many of them at the East Village BIA website.

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But, you don’t have to wander far to find something tasty – there are food trucks parked right outside and treats from the likes of Livia Sweets and The Lemon Square in the foyer.

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And if you can’t make it this weekend, the folks at Got Craft? are also behind Strathcona’s London Fields Shoppe, or you can head over to Tiny Finery in Hastings-Sunrise for a similar commitment to the best of local makers.

3There won’t be another edition of Got Craft? until the the end of the year, but thanks to them and the other entrepreneurs that support Vancouver’s vibrant craft scene, the city is full of markets and shops that will keep you busy until then.

I was given free admission to Got Craft?, but received no other consideration. All opinions in this post are my own.