I find Thanksgiving one of the hardest times of the year to be away from home — after Christmas, it’s a close second. October in Nova Scotia is beautiful (just in case you need proof!), it’s a long weekend, you’re with family, etc. So, in the absence of a weekend like this, I created my own version on a very rainy Sunday afternoon in London. We were 3 Canadians, a German, a Spaniard, an Argentinian, a Cypriot, and an Australian = a pretty diverse crowd! And, aside from the chicken, the entire thing was VEGAN! Which, I have to say, I am proud of — not because I am vegan but because I am glad I was able to cater for people that often have to say “no”, turn things down, explain, and ask ingredients.

The idea started off by wanting to host a candle-making party. Ha! I am not crafty in the least but I was inspired by this post and thought it would be something fun to try. I bought the wax, wicks, and 8 jars and we spent the first part of the afternoon making them and drinking wine! Special thanks to H. who manned the melting wax! While it wasn’t as an interactive an activity as I’d hoped (it’s essentially one at a time as the wax takes a long time to melt), it was something new and fun to try.

Our candles

Our candles

* * *

MENU

Afternoon snacks
Chips, crackers, dips
Crudites Veggies
Soy sauce-roasted cashews (coming in a future post)
Pumpkin cinnamon buns (vegan)

Mains
Michael Smith’s roast chicken with apples
Roast carrots
Mashed potatoes
Panzanella
Penne with pesto, tomatoes, & rocket (brought by my friend P.)

Dessert
Apple crisp

* * *

All in all this was one of my least-stressful dinner parties so far. I’m getting better at managing time which I think is one of the keys to a successful meal. I made the cinnamon buns the day before as they were the most elaborate and I wanted to get them out of the way. On Sunday afternoon, I heated them up and made the glaze, but that was it. Making the rolls definitely involves a bit of work and in this case a bit of hunting for ingredients (chia seeds). These ones turned out much better than my previous attempt, although I did find them a little on the dry side (some day I will try non-dairy-free ones!).

Ignore the odd-looking ones -- those are the ends.

Ignore the odd-looking ones — those are the ends.

Onto the main. I was extremely impressed with Smith’s chicken recipe and I will definitely be making it again. The apples really add to the flavour and disintegrate to form the perfect jus/gravy. There were 7 of us eating chicken and we had a 2.4 kg bird along with 8 drumsticks, as per the farmer’s recommendation. This was more than enough and H. and I had enough leftovers to make a leftover potato/chicken hash and a chicken soup, along with some stock which is excellent (I used a modified version of Craig Flinn’s recipe).

Panzanella is one of my favourite salads and this one was really good. I prepped all of the ingredients beforehand and combined them just before eating, but next time I’d let it sit much longer — it is really the best when the bread has soaked up the dressing.

Finally, the dessert: I was a bit nervous making the crisp topping using non-dairy butter substitute, but it turned out fine. I prepped the apples and dry ingredients of the topping beforehand, and then melted the “butter” and combined it with the other topping ingredients before spreading onto the apple mixture and baking. You can’t really go wrong with apple crisp and vanilla ice cream (for those that can eat it)!

Just some of the ingredients, post-market

Just some of the ingredients, post-market

IMG_5988

IMG_5990

My plate

My plate

Colourful stock simmering the next day

Colourful stock simmering the next day

I finally tried it. Cauliflower crust pizza has been featured on blogs for months now, and has absolutely taken off. I’ve been intrigued since I very first saw it.

H. was extremely dubious of my endeavour. He loves pizza and takes a lot of pride in making the dough (which he does very well!). But I had been wanting to try this for so long, and one should always try new things in the kitchen.

Making the crust: (See link to recipe below) Grating cauliflower is a lot easier than it sounds. After that’s done, it’s very straightforward to mix the ingredients together. Spreading the “dough” was a bit tricky (as you can see form the photo mine is not very neatly shaped!).

The toppings: We dressed ours a little haphazardly with olive oil (base), rocket, tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, and drizzled balsamic overtop.

The verdict: It was a success! Even H. admitted that it was better than he thought it would be. I really didn’t miss the traditional dough. And, although the recipe is for one pizza, we found it to be not enough. Next time, I would use about 180g of cauliflower and up the ground almonds and other flour (I used plain, not buckwheat) appropriately.

Apologies for the poor quality!

Apologies for the poor quality!

My favourite type of baking is baking for other people. I don’t often eat sweet things, but I love making treats for H. and friends and family, and strangers! A great opportunity came along recently when a local pub/music venue hosted a Macmillan coffee morning. Macmillan is a large UK charity that provides support for people diagnosed with cancer (and their families). Every year they host a massive fundrasier, the coffee morning, which last year raised £20 million! Incredible.

I went a bit crazy and made two types of muffins as well as scones. In hindsight I should have stuck to two.

Chocolate & hazelnut scones
I saw the recipe for the scones in one of Goop’s recent newsletters. They did NOT turn out as expected. I really don’t know what happened because I followed the recipe exactly. What’s going on, Gwyneth? Things started to seem odd when the recipe called for shaping the dough into balls (with an ice cream scoop), and freezing. When I have made scones before, I’ve always cut them out and baked without freezing. Because they were frozen, the scones never really flattened; they stayed rather lumpy throughout baking. In addition, the texture was way off — they were very crumbly and looked and tasted much more like cookies than scones. FORTUNATELY although they looked odd, they tasted very good! What went wrong?! I really have no idea.

On the other hand, both muffins turned out perfectly…

Honey & apple muffins
This first one honey and apple caught my eye because it has coffee and whisky looked easy, and in fact it was very straightforward and produced a great muffin! I halved the amount of sugar which was for the best because with the honey it was already sweet enough. I’d definitely make these again.

Spinach, bacon, & cheddar muffins
I decided to do a savoury muffin at the last minute: I had all of the ingredients on hand and thought these ones, from one of my favourite magazines, delicious, looked intriguing. They are slightly more work than the sweet muffins because of the added steps of cooking the bacon and blanching the spinach, but worth it. These are my ideal breakfast or lunch muffin.

This frenzy produced enough to donate roughly 2/3 of the goods and save the rest for us. I brought a few leftovers to a meeting at the university and one of the senior academics in my department proclaimed that I was an “excellent baker”! I don’t know about that, but although it was slightly stressful at times, I’m glad I could contribute a small share to such a worthy cause.

Sept. cooking 051 Some of the ingredients!

Sept. cooking 054 *These are only a few — I didn’t manage to snap a pic of everything together, unfortunately!

Finally: a happy Thanksgiving weekend to all Canadians! I am cooking for 8 tomorrow, so stay tuned for a report on that! Fingers crossed.

(aka aubergine & courgette in the UK)

True to form, H. & I were hit with the back-to-school cold a couple of weeks ago. H. got it first and I made it 5 days before I caught it as well. I made this when we were both feeling pretty low and craving something spicy and comforting (the garlic, ginger, & turmeric were definitely welcome). When I saw this post on My Darling Lemon Thyme, it was perfect. I’d had a package of millet sitting around in the cupboard since the early summer, but never used it. This was my first time cooking and eating millet and I am definitely hooked — it has more flavour than couscous and quinoa and is quite nutty-tasting.

I made a couple of adjustments to the recipe. Instead of whole tomatoes, I used canned, draining some of the liquid so the mixture wouldn’t be too wet. I also added in a couple of small zucchinis and half a red pepper that I had lying around. All in all, this was an excellent meal, perfect for a warming fall weeknight dish as the days close in on us! I would really encourage you to try millet if you haven’t before — it is on its way to becoming a staple in our household.

 

Millet

Millet

Sept. cooking 045

Does it scare anyone else out that it’s October today? Ok, good. I’m choosing to interpret it positively with this quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald: “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”

:)

These photos.

Island in the sun kitchen = very cool.

What is Canadian food? Love this.

◌ I really like this article on The Saltry restaurant in Alaska.

Anthony Bourdain on travel is GREAT.

What we should be reading, according to Tolstoy.

◌ Irresistable fall recipes from Half Baked Harvest.

◌ I’ve seen a couple of excellent films this month: Twenty Feet From Stardom (doc) and The Grand Seduction!

What’s your favourite thing about autumn?

Obama’s coffee preferences are top secret!

◌ To kick off the new month, what’s in season in October.

Confession time: one of the highlights of my month was touring the Coronation Street set with my mum & sister!

Confession time: one of the highlights of my month was touring the Coronation Street set with my mum & sister!

Ahhh, pot stickers. There are some foods that should be left to restaurants, and these might be one of them. But I was intrigued by the recipe, like a challenge, and since I was going to be near Chinatown anyway, figured I would pick up the gyoza wrappers and give them a try.

We used 500g of mince — for two, this makes quite a bit. I ended up only making around 20 pot stickers; the rest we rolled into meatballs which we fried and had for leftovers the next day.

While the dumplings were quite time consuming, the entire process was quicker than I thought. The meat mixture comes together quite quickly and of course filling and folding the wrappers takes up the most time. Be careful not to overstuff — tempting, to save time! — but the wrappers are delicate and they’ll end up breaking. I found the wrappers a little finicky but no more so than other dumpling-esque things such as shrimp raviolispring rolls, or pork parcels.

I was slightly dubious of the recommended (two-ingredient) dipping sauce — soy sauce and vinegar? But it worked amazingly, and the pot stickers were definitely tasty (aside from being a touch too salty for my tastes).

In the end though, I probably won’t make these again. They didn’t taste restaurant-quality and while I have been known to happily spend many labourious hours in the kitchen, some things are worth that effort and some not.

Sept. cooking 036

Sept. cooking 039

I’m playing catch up with my posts — I didn’t envision writing about jam this late into September, but alas that’s what has happened.

Jam making has been a tradition in my family for a long time — my grandmother made it for as long as I can remember, and now my aunt is following suit. I have always wanted to make it, but city living + lack of equipment and resources (more the latter) has held me back until now. I confess that I am a complete canning novice. Prior to the jam I’d never done it before, although especially within the past 1-2 years it’s definitely something I’ve become more interested in.

There are two ways to make jam (as far as I am aware of anyway) — the old-fashioned way of boiling berries and sugar, or with pectin. We did the latter (and used Certo — even if you’re familiar with it, please check out the website, which looks like it came from 1998!). Essentially, the jam has to gel and stabilize, and the pectin does this without the necessity of boiling for hours. I confess that, usually, taking shortcuts is not really something that appeals to me in the kitchen. However, this is the way my grandmother did it, and it’s quick and easy so I am on board! :)

Here’s how to make it. Note that this is just the basic formula — you’ll need to follow the instructions as to measurements depending on how much you want to make. We used 8 cups of berries which made 14 jars.

  1. Prepare all equipment first by disinfecting the jars & lids (we put the jars in the oven and boiled the lids).
  2. Crush the berries lightly and place in a pan with the sugar.
  3. Heat gently, stirring occasionally until the sugar has dissolved.
  4. Then bring the pot to a full rolling boil and boil rapidly for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Remove from the heat and stir in the Certo. Skim off any foam, if necessary.
  6. Ladle the jam into jars immediately — close the lids but don’t screw them on too tightly immediately as it still has to set (we did this the next day).

jam berries Raspberries stewing!

jam jars Jars disinfected & ready to go

jam finished Finished jam :)

gordo sleeping Someone wasn’t very interested in jam-making.

It’s been quite a while since I made this — over a month. H. and I had just arrived in Sandy Cove, from Newfoundland, and (yes) happened to have a couple of old bananas we needed to use up. (One of them may have even made the journey from NL to NS ;) ). I decided to make this bread thinking that I would take most of it to a dinner party we’d been invited to that night.

Truth be told, I was not too happy with it. The loaf came out quite dry and crumbly and I am not sure why. :/ No one else complained, but it just didn’t do it for me. I like my banana breads quite moist, and this one lacked that. I think I should have added a bit more buttermilk at the end. The taste was fine — the cocoa makes a nice addition, although if I am going to have chocolate in banana breads I think I prefer it in chunks. However this loaf didn’t beat Tessa Kiros’ version, which is still the best banana bread I’ve had/made.

cocoa banana bread

Longtime readers and those that know me well will know that I am not really a cocktail person. Given the choice I generally much prefer the simplicity of a glass of wine, a G&T, whisky with a bit of water, or even a beer, over a cocktail. But every once in a while a cocktail just appeals. I love how they are so celebratory and feel like something special, and on this night we had lots to celebrate — family, friends, summer, the Cove, local food (and berries), the list goes on…

I made these with my aunt and they were delicious (a little too good, because they end up tasting a bit like juice).

Blackberry (vodka) martinis
Makes 1
These measurements are approximate — feel free to adjust to your own preferences!
1 shot vodka
15 mls/ 1/2 oz lime cordial
60 mls/2 oz blackberry juice*

Combine all ingredients together in a cocktail shaker, shake, and top with a blackberry!

*To make the blackberry juice using fresh berries, strain them overnight with something heavy on top. Don’t mash them as it will make the juice cloudy.

NS part 2 1127

NS part 2 1137

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about family — likely because I’ve spent every day with them for the past five weeks, and my mum, who came back over to the UK with me, just left us today. My time with my family tends to be in short and intense bursts. I live thousands of miles away from my mum’s side, who I was closest to growing up, and although most of my dad’s side are in the UK, I’m only usually able to see them a couple of times a year.

Sandy Cove seems a world away now that we’re back in crazy London, but H. and I were lucky to spend a full two weeks there in August. For most of the time we were in the village, there was lots of family, both extended and immediate, around. And what better to do together than EAT! On this particular evening there were 7 of us: my father, grandfather, aunt, uncle, sister, H., and myself. I wanted to keep it very casual so we decided on a BBQ and several salads.

Snacks
Goat cheese dip and hummus with crackers

Main
BBQ meat
Garden salad (like, from a real garden!)
Roasted potato salad with pecan & mustard vinaigrette
Peanut slaw

Dessert
Raspberry pie (homemade, but not by me, I confess)

Now the commentary
The goat cheese dip was fairly underwhelming. Not bad, but didn’t wow by any means. Too bad. I’ve preached before about House & Home’s website but I might have to revise my statement a bit!

Onto the salads… it’s so funny to me that I am writing about cabbage and potato salad, neither of which I ate until I made this meal for years! I have never liked cabbage – I’d eat it if it was put in front of me, generally, but I’d never buy it or order it on a menu. I’ve also never liked traditional coleslaw which always seems to be doused in (too much) mayo. This is also the reason that I’ve stayed away from most potato salads. Mayo just does not appeal.

I am happy to report that I’m becoming a convert to cabbage and will not paint every potato salad with the same brush from now on.  The peanut slaw from the Bite House was just the thing I needed. I made it with cabbage from my uncle’s garden and it was lovely — the vinegar, peanuts, and (swoon) cilantro combine together perfectly. The same goes for the potato salad, which I modified to mustard-pecan due to an allergy. Everyone really enjoyed the salad and particularly the fact that the potatoes were roasted. I don’t think I’ll go back to just plain boiled!

If you do decide to prepare either, I would let them sit for as long as possible before serving. :)

peanut slaw

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