Cherry Cheesecake is a classic Valentine’s Day dessert. It’s red so it fits the color theme of the day. It’s rich and decadent. And lastly, you can justify the calories as it’s Valentine’s Day which only comes once a year.
I know that fancy flavored cheesecakes like salted caramel chocolate-pecan or pumpkin spice are more popular now, but you can buy those ready-made or order them in a restaurant if you want to try a piece. For real cheesecake I prefer the no-bake variety, from a recipe I inherited from my mother in the eighties – it’s quick, easy and delicious, not to mention rich and creamy. I find many baked cheesecakes tend to be on the dry side. I think the recipe originated on the side of the Philadelphia cream cheese box. My mother often made this as an Easter dessert but one year she bought the onion-flavored cream cheese by mistake, and my SIL took the first bite and said, well this certainly tastes different! Needless to say, the rest of it went in the garbage. For a crowd, she would double the ingredients and make it in a long 9X13 glass pan, so it was quite a waste.
So, let’s travel back to the decade when hair was big, shoulder pads were bigger, music was loud and cholesterol didn’t exist. You can throw this cheesecake together in five minutes, because as an Eighties Chick you have more important things to do, like listen to rock and roll! (Musical interlude – insert your 80’s song of choice here)
One 6oz. round ready-made graham cracker pie crust (unless you prefer to make your own and/or have a heart shaped pan).
1 can (14 oz – 420ml) sweetened condensed milk (Do not confuse with evaporated milk – Canadian cans are 300ml so I had to buy two cans and waste half)
1 package (8 oz – 250g) Philadelphia cream cheese (softened at room temperature)
1/3 cup lemon juice – bottled or fresh (or to taste. When I googled this old recipe there were some complaints about 1/3 cup being too much and making it too runny, some people used 1/4 cup (60ml) or even less, so I started at 30ml and adjusted to taste using about 60ml total, but I think I could have used the 80ml. My lemon juice was a mixture of water, lemon juice and lemon oil. You have to add some lemon juice to cut the sweetness.)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 can (21 oz – 540ml ) cherry pie filling (I like E.D. Smith brand, the Regular one not the or Light and Fruity which has 1/3 less sugar and calories but a tarter taste. I wouldn’t want to calculate the overall calorie count and saturated fat percentage for this dessert as in the 80’s we didn’t worry about those things. A night of dancing would wear that off in no time.)
In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese until light and fluffy.
Beat in sweetened condensed milk.
Add lemon juice and vanilla and stir until well mixed.
Pour filling into crust and chill for 2-3 hours – it will be softer than a baked cheesecake.
Top with cherry pie filling. I often don’t do this until a few hours before serving, to make sure the mixture has set properly. Really the whole thing is better made the day before to allow the flavours to blend.
I made this for a Harvest Tea several years ago pre-pandemic and the Group of Six art ladies really enjoyed it.
There are three kinds of people – those who love Christmas cake, those who hate it and those who just want a piece or two, preferably made by someone else. Count me in the later category. Christmas cake was a staple of the season for decades but is now one of those Dickensian desserts which have fallen out of favor, along with mince pie and plum pudding, with many younger people not being familiar with any of them.
My mother used to make Christmas cake every year – one big round pan and two or three smaller loaf tins, and it all got eaten, but by whom I don’t know. Certainly, none of us kids ate it. My dad was fond of it, as was my grandmother, who also made her own, a single round one. Perhaps some of it was given away? It was always passed around on the same gold glass platter after the big turkey dinner, with a few cookies on the side, as everyone was much too full for a regular dessert. It was something to nibble on with a cup of coffee or tea. I also have a memory of my dad enjoying a slice of it on Christmas Eve with a glass of port, while watching midnight mass or A Christmas Carol, and sometimes I would join him. The port was an old family tradition, as he seldom drank and a bottle would last from year to year. Port, which also heralded from Dickens day, is a type of fortified wine like brandy and strong stuff if you’re not used to it.
Christmas cake is a dark fruit cake often made a couple of weeks before Christmas, and tightly wrapped, to give it a chance to age. A friend adds brandy to hers once a week to keep it moist. My grandmother added cocoa to hers to make it darker. It seems every family had a different recipe. As it keeps well, it was traditionally a popular choice for wedding cake. At peek at my mother’s 1945 cooking bible, The Purity Cookbook, has two recipes for dark fruit cake, one for Wedding Cake calling for 12 eggs and 3 and a ½ cups of flour and 8 assorted sized pans, and one for six loaf pans requiring 10 eggs and 8 cups of flour. My mother’s recipe called for 8 eggs, and made one round bundt cake and 2 or 3 loaf tins.
In mid-December out would come the big turkey roaster, as it was the only thing large enough to mix all the ingredients in. She would usually make it in the evening after supper was done, when I could help if I was home, and my dad would be in charge of adding the rum – “Maybe a bit more” although it’s debatable whether one splash or two would make much difference with so much batter.
Here’s her recipe….sort of….as we last made it five years ago and I wrote the instructions down afterwards in an effort to have something on paper. Like many experienced cooks, her measurements were not exact, but it always turned out good. I believe we froze some of it for the following year, as it freezes well (if you’ve ever found a piece of wedding cake stashed away sometimes the cake lasts longer than the marriage) and gave some away to a snow-shoveling neighbour and a couple of her art friends. It’s always best to ask first if you don’t know what category people are in (see intro) as you don’t want to subject someone to an annual gift of something they have to pretend to like.
So because I had a craving for it this year, (that store bought stuff is dreadful – see song) I decided to attempt a small loaf tin, using the recipe for my Date and Nut Loaf as a starter, (see link), as it is basically a foolproof recipe. I made a rare visit to the Bulk Barn store for the mixed dried fruit as the packages available in the grocery store were almost expired and had papayas (?) in it instead of dried pineapple. I hate those bulk food places – the germs – everyone handling the same utensils – but I sanitized before and after, and tried to avoid the green pieces in the mixed fruit bin as those were the ones I always used to pick out of the cake. I also bought currants there, as what would I do with a whole bag of currents, although I put some raisins in too. (NB: the pioneers never had access to raisins/dried grapes, hence the preponderance of currents in those old recipes.) Total cost about $6, although it could have used a bit more fruit.
Here are the ingredients.
I mixed 2 tablespoons of butter, ¾ cup of sugar, one egg, one teaspoon of vanilla. Added ¾ cup of water to the currant/mixed fruit mixture, (but you could substitute milk or OJ) and a splash of rum – (15ml/1/2 ounce) and added 1 ¾ cups of flour (the kind with baking soda and salt already in it). Plus a smidgen of spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice. The only thing I forgot was the dates, as I didn’t have any, but in retrospect the stewed dates/water mixture would have made it a darker color, as it turned out much too pale, not fruit-cake color at all. I added the walnuts after I had prepared a cute little mini-loaf for a friend who reminded me how much she loves fruit cake but is allergic to walnuts. Baked at 350 for about an hour.
It came out more like a tea bread than a traditional Christmas Cake.
It tasted okay – a bit sweeter than I liked but next time I would definitely add the dates for color, plus more spices, more fruit, less flour and cut back on the sugar a bit. Overall, for a true Christmas cake it needs more work but I would make this again as is for a nice treat with Christmas morning coffee. Maybe this will be the start of a new Christmas tradition!
In the meantime a neighbour gifted me a chunk of her more traditional cake, which satisfied my craving.
And now for the silly song – Miss Fogarty’s Christmas Cake – by the Irish Rovers. This was part of the song set of a play I saw last September and was very funny with the animated actions of the actors and Miss Fogarty of course. It’s by the Irish Rovers and the lyrics sum up what Christmas Cake haters think about Christmas cake! Hope you enjoy it!
Miss Fogarty’s Christmas Cake – lyrics
As I sat in my window last evening A letter was brought round to me A little gilt-edged invitation sayin’ “Gilhooley come over to tea” Each Christmas the Fogarties sent it So I went just for old friendships sake And the first thing they gave me to tackle Was a slice of Miss Fogarty’s cake
Chorus: And there were plums and prunes and cherries There were citrons and raisins and cinnamon too There was nuts and cloves and berries And a crust that was nailed on with glue There were caraway seeds in abundance Sure if I’d work up a fine stomach ache That would kill a man twice after eating a slice Of Miss Fogarty’s Christmas cake.
Miss Mulligan wanted to try it But really it wasn’t no use For we worked on it over an hour But a piece of it wouldn’t come loose Till Halley came in with the hatchet And Murphy came in with the saw But Miss Fogarty’s cake had the power For to paralyze any man’s jaws
Miss Fogarty proud as a peacock Kept smiling and talking away Till she tripped over Flanagans brogans And spilt the potcheen in her tea Aye Gilhooley she says you’re not eatin Try a little bit more of me cake “Oh no Mrs Fogarty” said I Any more and me stomach would break
Maloney was sick with the colic O’Donnell a pain in his head McNulty lay down on the sofa And he swore that he wished he was dead Miss Bailey went into hysterics And there she did wriggle and shake And all of us swore we were poisoned From eating Miss Fogarty’s cake
Chorus: And there were plums and prunes and cherries There were citrons and raisins and cinnamon too There was nuts and cloves and berries And a crust that was nailed on with glue There were caraway seeds in abundance Sure if I’d work up a fine stomach ache That would kill a man twice after eating a slice Of Miss Fogarty’s Christmas cake
Yes it would kill a man twice after eating a slice Of Miss Fogarty’s Christmas cake
Butter tarts are a uniquely Canadian dessert. Like other iconic Canadian foods such as maple syrup and poutine, they originated in 17th Century Quebec, where the wives of early French settlers made use of the available ingredients of maple syrup and dried fruit to whip up a treat to make life in the wilderness a little more bearable. Their experimentation led to the evolution of the modern butter tart, although most recipes today do not call for maple syrup.
This decadently sweet tart consists of a filling of butter, sugar, syrup and egg, baked until the filling is semi-solid, ie nice and gooey. Raisins or nuts are added, with the raisin debate being a whole other topic, along with the degree of consistency, runny or firm. Butter tarts tend differ from other sugar-based pies such as pecan pie in that they have a runnier filling – no cornstarch or flour required.
Other than those basic ingredients, there are as many variations as there are family recipes, many dating back to the pioneer days. Butter tarts were all the rage in the early 1900’s, appearing in many cookbooks and have since become an ingrained part of Canadian cuisine. There are several butter tart festivals held every year, including one in Midland which sells over 50,000 tarts, with the contest portion attracting bakers from all over to vie for the Best Butter Tart title. Like a rib-fest for dessert lovers you can walk around and sample to your heart’s content.
My inspiration for this post came from a trip to the bakery which used to sell my favorite version (past tense intended). Their pastry is good, but I had noticed the filling kept getting skimpier and skimpier, and the last batch, which was pre-ordered and boxed before being paid for, were basically just pastry shells with a thin scraping of filling , and at $10 for 6 tarts they were certainly no bargain. My second favorite source, a local coffee shop, sells tarts with plenty of filling but their pastry is thick and hard as a rock. Maybe those two could marry and produce the ideal butter tart progeny, or….maybe I could make my own, for a lot less money too!
My mother made butter tarts when I was growing up but they were usually reserved for the fall of the year when she was deep into pie-baking and made use of the left-over pastry. A batch or two often graced our Thanksgiving table along with the apple and pumpkin pies. So I got out her old recipe, which was vague in the way that my mothers recipes often are, (she was never one of those cooks who measured) and we proceeded to experiment.
They turned out as we remembered them, not overly sweet, with the multiple eggs making for a firmer consistency, but I thought they needed more sugar. I didn’t have my glasses on, but if I had read my own notation, it very clearly stated that! As for the bake 10-15-20 minutes, her oven is temperamental so I left them in longer in an attempt to get the crust brown and the filling got too firm….but the end result was a perfectly good butter tart.
The recipe made twenty tarts, and try pawning off tarts during a pandemic when we’re now back in our smaller social bubbles and they are encouraging people not to congregate for Thanksgiving (which is next weekend here in Canada).
Moving on in my search for the Great Canadian Butter Tart, I wasted much time googling and then referenced back to my old farmhouse cooking bible, the Purity Cookbook, first published 1911, and there was the recipe for the best butter tarts ever!
Unlike the previous recipe this one called for corn syrup. I used the dark corn syrup for color. It had been so long since I bought corn syrup I didn’t even know it also came in a colorless format. I omitted the salt and lemon juice as I like a sweeter tart.
I added a bit more sugar to taste, and a bit more butter as there was some left in the bottom of the dish. (I am my mother’s daughter after all.) I pre-baked the store pastry shells for 5-10min, as I was using her oven and then added the raisins. (no need to presoak the raisins).
Those of you who might die if you ate a raisin (which is but a wrinkled grape) can use nuts or nothing if you prefer. The pioneer women used currants.
I baked them for exactly twenty minutes and they came out with the perfect degree of runniness. The pastry was a bit browner than I would have liked, but flaky and good for a no-name store brand. If using my oven, I may not have pre-baked the shells and would just have left them in for 20-25 minutes. Live and learn is the lesson for an inexperienced cook like me, with a perfectionist streak.
All in all, both my mother and I gave them a ten – and thought they were the best butter tarts we’d ever eaten – simply perfect in taste and texture. They were even good after a few days, although I stored them in the fridge and heated them for ten seconds in the microwave. The recipe made twelve, enough for a sweet treat with a mug of hot tea every night while watching the evening news. Most days you need that to carry on.
Keep calm and Butter Tart On – maybe a slogan for next years festival?
The expression “life is a bowl of cherries” translates to life is wonderful or things are going very well. For the sake of simplicity, let’s change this slightly to “life is a bowl of peaches” so I have something to write about this week and can experience first hand how truly wonderful this new block editor is supposed to be.
This months recipe is a peach galette. Galette (from the Norman word gale, meaning “flat cake”) is a term used in French cuisine to designate various types of flat round or free-form crusty cakes, with a combination of sweet or savory fillings. A fruit galette is a French tart made with one flat piece of pastry that is wrapped around a fruit filling. Being free-form it’s easier than pie and for those of us not adept at making rich flaky pastry, a store bought pie shell is perfectly acceptable. The aim is to make it look rustic, like something you would serve under the shade of a tree in Provence.
As my favorite vendor is no longer at the Farmer’s Market, I made the trip to their farm to pick up a box of peaches for making jam. I’d ordered ahead and specified over-ripe seconds as I had already sanitized the jars in the dishwasher that morning. As in years past, the seconds were a bargain at $10 for a big box of peaches.
Except….I’d already paid for them and the clerk had put them in the trunk of the car before I realized they were small, cold and nowhere near being ripe. Where were their usual big juicy peaches? I might have gone back in to inquire but the storefront was crowded and there was absolutely no attempt at social distancing. (How much effort would it take to mark the floor with tape and only let so many people inside, especially with the higher COVID numbers in some of these agri-food areas?) So I grumbled and left and five days later they were starting to spoil and get soft and spotty on the outside while the insides were still not quite ripe, but cut up they were, and two batches of freezer jam produced, with extra sugar to make up for the lack of juicy peachy flavor. It hasn’t exactly been a stellar year for most fruit here, with everything behind due to the cold late spring and snow in May.
After making the jam I still had 24 peaches left so a small peach crisp was created and then some peach trifle, both with good results and more sugar (but no pictures as I forgot before they were consumed), and then the “piece de resistance”, the famous French galette, and there were still a few left over for eating. It was the box that kept on giving…..even if it wasn’t a vintage year.
Now the head chef (moi) was not above borrowing a recipe from another source, said source being the Lifestyle section of the local paper, so here’s the recipe.
The filling called for 5 peaches cut in half, pit removed and sliced, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 2 tbsp flour, and 1/2 tsp cinnamon and ground ginger. I doubled the sugar but it still could have used more. I left out the ginger as it had expired in the last decade. I made this at my mother’s and her spice rack is suspect and her oven temperamental, but she enjoyed peeling the peaches as it reminded her of life on the farm and canning every summer.
The Tenderflake deep dish pie crust I bought, did not look any too deep to me, as by the time the fruit was piled in the middle,
there was not much pastry left for crimping the border.
The pastry is folded over the fruit, aiming as I mentioned, for the rustic, not too perfect look.
The finished product was not pretty, the filling having bled a bit around the edges, and gotten rather burnt in spots while trying to brown the pastry, having to be scraped off by a kitchen knife before any photo-ops ensued. Plus the lighting in her kitchen is not good at all, not flattering to anyone, least of all a French galette. It did however taste better with some French vanilla ice cream.
It was by no means a Michelin five star job, but the best I can say is I tried and the end result was certainly rustic. Maybe next time with apples? The same can be said for the block editor. It’s certainly doable – but do I want to do it? I think I’d rather stay with the classic.
(This is the first post I’ve drafted in block and I seem to be using a hybrid of block and classic, with things popping out at me and the draft itself shifting from right to left to center for no discernible reason. If it was closer to Halloween I’d swear it was haunted.)
During a particularly trying time in my life, a summer filled with stress and drama, I bought myself a lemon tree.
They were half price by late July, so I also bought one for my mother. I had read in Oprah magazine that was the thing to do to cheer yourself up, a reminder of the old saying – when life hands you lemons make lemonade. (Oprah was always keen on the visual stuff). Of course, the photo in the magazine showed a smiling model beside a waist-high plant covered with big lovely lemons. Being optimistic, I expected that’s what I would be getting eventually, with some TLC.
I might also have been inspired by one of those posts which circulate from time to time on Facebook, a real estate ad depicting an abandoned Italian castle you could buy for cheap (it might even have been free) if you were willing to spent millions restoring it – an enormous stone monastery-like building which came with it’s own lemon grove. It was the lemon grove which appealed to me – I already owned a building which required extensive renovations.
I’ve never seen a lemon grove, but it must be lovely. I’ve passed orange groves on my way to Disneyland as a child, but never paid much attention. We don’t grow lemons here in Canada, our winters are way too cold to grow any kind of tropical fruit outside of a greenhouse. While my southern readers might be amused at my nativity, I had high expectations of being able to pick my own fruit. I envisioned making lemon cake from scratch using my own homegrown lemons.
My plant did smell heavenly – I placed it outside in a sunny spot, and made sure it got watered and fed regularly, and it rewarded me with fragrant flowers right on schedule. By fall when the nights started to get cooler, I brought it into the garage, and went they got downright chilly, it was brought into the house and placed in a sunny spot by the big front window. With such a prime view it should have been happy. By then it was covered with small green dots, which grew to the size of big green olives which then shriveled and dropped off one by one. My mothers did the same, so I know, it wasn’t anything personal, it just wasn’t able to adapt to the change in conditions. (It’s not like I expected a bumper crop or anything, but could not one or two of them have reached lemon-hood?)
Ah well, the best laid plans sometimes go awry, but I could just as easily buy shriveled-up lemons from the grocery store in the dead of winter if I needed to. If you’re looking for a moral/life lesson instead of food, this has definitely been the year for way laid plans and being adaptable to change, but if you are looking for recipes, I don’t have any to share this week because although I’ve tried multiple lemon recipes, with mixed results, nothing was worth bragging about.
Just-okay blueberry lemon loaf
I could never seem to get the right proportion of lemony flavor no matter how much zest I used, so I don’t bother experimenting anymore as I found an excellent Lemon-Curd Cake at the grocery store which can’t be beat. (sometimes the easy way out is the best….)
It has lemon curd in the middle so it’s in the frozen dessert section, which is a bonus as it keeps well and you can just slice off as much as you want, for company or not. Sometimes I add more lemon curd on top for an extra dollop of lemony goodness.
However, while lazing on the swing recently, reading the June issue of Victoria magazine,
Such a pretty cover….
I noticed a culinary feature on lemon and lavender,
And the lemon and lavender scones looked very tempting. Plus I just bought some creamed honey at the Farmer’s Market. They also sold a lemon-flavored creamed honey which I may get on my next trip.
Lemon and lavender scones drizzled with creamed honey
And then there was this lemon tart – although decorating it with dried roses and sprigs of lavender does seem a bit over the top, my August garden yields plenty of both.
Lemon tart decorated with lavender sprigs and dried roses….
So many lemony-good recipes, so much time to experiment this summer, so yes, my own lemon grove would definitely come in handy. Best to pick up a couple of lottery tickets when I go to the store to get some lemons….
PS. My apologies for the somewhat deceiving title, see the Victoria magazine website for a recipe for lavender-lemonade. (link)
What to write about when you’re home alone, especially when your secret stash of chocolate has run out? Like many bloggers I get most of my blogging ideas from my daily activities, but since my calendar is now as clear as the newly recovered Venice canals, such planned activities as the apple blossom orchard tour, the Jane Austen tea party or the visit to the Van goth exhibit are all off the table for the unforeseeable future. But we all have to eat…..and chocolate has an excellent reputation for cheering people up.
I was moaning about the Easter Bunny not visiting my house this weekend, so a chocoholic friend send me a recipe for a microwave chocolate pudding just like mom used to make. This makes one large portion, or two small ones. You can repeat for how ever many family members you are stranded with on your COVID life raft. The best thing is you probably already have all the ingredients in your kitchen, so no need to risk your life by going to the grocery store, although I did add cornstarch to my list – does cornstarch have an expiry date?
Mix together 2 tbsp cocoa powder, 1 tbsp cornstarch, 3 tbsp sugar, either granulated or icing sugar, and add 3/4 cup of milk. I used regular sugar. Whisk until well blended.
Microwave, COVERED, 90 seconds on high. Remove, whisk again, microwave another 90 seconds. Add 1/4 tsp vanilla after cooking. Best served warm, but refrigerate if not eating right away.
This makes one large portion but was very rich so I split it into two ramekins.
If you want to double the recipe, then microwave the whole thing for an additional 90 seconds, or just make a separate batch. Adjust the cooking time for the size of your microwave – 90 seconds for an 800W microwave, for 1000W microwave try 75 seconds at a time.
Adjust the amounts of sugar and cocoa to your liking, depending on your brand. My initial recipe called for 3 tablespoons of cocoa, but it was way too chocolatey, so I decreased it to 2 tablespoons, and even that was more than sufficient with my fancy French cocoa. I might try a bit less next time. I also used a LEVEL or calibrated tablespoon measuring device to measure the dry ingredients (something I seldom do), so I would know for the future what proportions worked best. Whisk well or you will have lumps of cocoa in the final product.
The COVID Easter Bunny
As my friend, who has surely forgotten my lack of cooking expertise, did not specify re covered and as I’m always one to admit to my cooking disasters, my first attempt, using a large cereal bowl covered by a paper towel resulted in the pudding spilling all over the sides onto the microwave plate, requiring much swearing and many paper towels to clean up, so make sure you use a large enough ie a quart size bowl. (I made this same mistake the first time I made microwave strawberry jam so I should have known better). The next time I used a Corning-ware casserole dish with a glass lid and put the cover on slightly ajar – no mess.
Yummy, quick and so easy, especially on the days you’re craving chocolate, plus unlike a box of chocolates, there are no left-overs to tempt you later.
PS. I much prefer butterscotch pudding but the brand I bought for years, which required heating on the stove and was the staple of many a Sunday night supper, was discontinued long ago, so I tried to make this same recipe with butterscotch ice cream topping and light brown sugar but didn’t get the measurements quite right – it looked and tasted like a very sweet very pale caramel glue. Oh well, lots of time to experiment these days. Must remember to add Easter Bunnies to my next “mission impossible” list – they’ll be on sale too! Happy Easter, or Passover, or just have a good weekend!
PS. I’m only doing a grocery store run every three weeks now. If we run out of something, we just improvise or do without, mostly the fresh produce, milk etc. I really stock up but I’m also buying for my mother who still lives in her own house at 94, and I am grateful she decided she wasn’t ready to move yet as many of our COVID deaths have been in nursing/retirement homes. My mother grew up during the (1930’s) Great Depression and WW2 remembers people being out of work and getting ration coupons for sugar, meat etc. Her family always had enough food to eat, but she had classmates who did not. So although we may be frustrated with the current situation, we’re all safe in our own homes with food on the table. A small dose of perspective…..
“Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without!” – a Depression era saying.
Chocolate and strawberries are traditional Valentine’s Day desserts, so here’s an easy strawberry trifle to make if you are craving something light, fruity and not too sweet – and it’s much better than my low-fat chocolate brownie disaster. As an added plus, it’s not so much made as assembled, requiring only three ingredients, cake, instant custard and strawberries.
Grocery store strawberries are not so good this time of year in Canada, so I mixed them with some strawberry freezer jam from last summer. (Click here for blog link). As I use No Sugar Pectin in my freezer jam, it’s more of a strawberry puree than a sweet jam, but you can also mush up the strawberries and add sugar to taste.
For the cake you can use those mini golden cakes from the grocery store or angel food cake, but I had some leftover cake which had been in the freezer for awhile but when thawed it was just as fresh as the day I made it.
The last time I made this dessert I used French vanilla pudding cups, but this time I decided to use the more traditional custard. I bought a package of instant custard from The British Shop, a brand recommended by the owner as I figured the British must know their custards (she also told me last year the shop spent $20,000 on import fees).
Just add 360ml of BOILING Water and stir for a minute and Voila – a nice and creamy custard. (Next time I might add a teaspoon of Vanilla extract as it was fairly bland).
As I’ve just spent a fairly productive week cleaning out the basement storage areas and reorganizing things, including some old family heirlooms and crystal, I decided to use my grandmother’s parfait glasses.
I never met my grandmother as my dad’s parents both died before I was born, but I’ve often wondered what her life was like. She married in 1919 and as an older mom had her kids at 37, 40 and 41 and died fairly young at age 65, after breaking a hip. So it’s possible these glasses are a hundred years old – maybe they were part of her wedding trousseau? My mother said they were in the old farmhouse when she got married in 1952. Or they may even have been from my great grandmother Ellen farther back in 1900, part of a collection of crystal from the Edwardian age, of which I have several pieces. I remember my mother using the matching glasses at family dinners along with her good china, but they are so thin and delicate they require hand-washing. There are only seven parfait glasses left, plus two with small handles which look like they might be hot toddy glasses. Anyway, I felt they deserved an outing sometime this century!
I crumbled the cake in the bottom, then layered the strawberries and custard, then cake again (I could have used more cake), custard and more strawberries on top. You can also garnish with whipped cream and a strawberry, but I ran out of room.
The parfait glasses seem tiny, so I suspect portion sizes were smaller back in the days of Downton Abbey. The same with plates – compare this new red Rachel Ray plate to the older pink plate from the thrift shop.
The same with supersized restaurant plates. While it’s customary to want to fill your plate, maybe that isn’t such a good idea anymore?
This makes a nice light dessert after a big meal. There’s something to be said for moderation and family tradition, and strawberries in the middle of winter!
Happy Valentine’s Day!
PS. For those of you who are mad for plaid like I am, the plaid charger plates are from Michael’s craft store, after Christmas sale – $1.50 each vs regular $8. (600 words)
Last week’s Books and Brownies blog left me craving something chocolatey and as Valentine’s Day is fast approaching I decided to make brownies. I’m not one to say no to convenience food if it tastes good, being perfectly content to bow to the expertise of Betty Crocker, but my favorite mix had turned out dry the last few times I made it. I used to take brownies to work for birthdays and my brownies had always been a hit, the secret ingredient being butter not oil – I was raised on a dairy farm where butter ruled. It was always a treat getting off the school bus if my mother had made a big pan of brownies, chewy, no icing but walnuts in them, usually still warm from the oven, but even back in the sixties she used a mix. After a family member was diagnosed with gallbladder problems, I switched to a low fat mix which eliminated the added oil/butter, but then it too was discontinued.
What’s up Betty Crocker?
After wasting more time than I care to admit pouring over low-fat recipes in cookbooks, online and on that food vortex otherwise known as Pinterest, I discovered that both applesauce and strained prunes can be substituted for some of the fat in a recipe. I settled on one that called for strained prunes, the baby food kind was okay it said. So I set out for the grocery store which apparently doesn’t even sell baby food anymore as everyone makes their own. Luckily, the drugstore had an organic line in plastic pouches – they might want to revisit those old glass jars which can be recycled in all kinds of ways. A pouch held 125ml, exactly theamount I needed, but when I opened it, it tasted so awful, that I decided to use a different recipe with applesauce instead. The reviews were all good, except for one dissenter, who said don’t bother, waste of ingredients. Here’s the recipe for Rich and Chewy Low Fat Brownies.
½ cup cocoa
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ¾ cup white sugar
2 egg whites
¾ cup applesauce unsweetened
Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl using a hand mixer. Add egg whites, applesauce and vanilla.
Mix all other ingredients in a separate smaller bowl and add to the wet ingredients in the large bowl. Do NOT overmix!
Spray 8×8 dish with PAM and bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Yields 16 brownies.
The lumpy texture was a bit strange, not sure if that was from the applesauce or my failure to read the recipe as I dumped the sugar in with the dry ingredients by mistake. They baked up alright, a bit denser than my regular brownie mix but the appearance was good, soft in the centre, slightly crusty at the edges and on top.
The Verdict: Well they were certainly rich and chewy, but were they good?
Never having made brownies from scratch before I had nothing to compare them to but they seemed tasteless, kind of like eating cardboard. Guilty as charged IMO. The rest of the jury was polite but noncommittal, preferring the slightly safer remark, “They’re okay, but they don’t taste like your regular brownies.” Several people thought they were cake.
I did cut back on the sugar by half a cup to 1 1/4 cups as some of the reviewers had suggested as it seemed like a lot of sugar for a small 8X8 pan. My chocolate powder was the very expensive French imported stuff which possibly made it too rich. They didn’t seem sweet at all, even smothered in my regular 2 inches of Canada’s favorite icing (see label).
They did look pretty on my pink plates though.
But food is to eat! I hate it when you’re in a fancy restaurant and you order something outrageously expensive off the dessert trolley because it looks good, and it turns out to be disappointing. Of course not everyone is a fussy foodie like I am (except that lone dissenter), but I would not have served these to company. They were mediocre at best – if I’m going to indulge in a brownie I want it to be great.
Were they even as healthy as promised? Here’s the nutrition label:
Serving Size: 1 (812) g
Servings Per Recipe: 1
AMT. PER SERVING% DAILY VALUE
Calories from Fat 16 g 11 %
Total Fat 1.8 g 2 %
Saturated Fat 0.9 g 4 %
Cholesterol 3.8 mg 1 %
Sodium 118.6 mg 4 %
Total Carbohydrate 31.9 g 10 %
Dietary Fiber 0.8 g 3 %
Sugars 21.9 g 87 %
Protein 1.8 g
Add in the nutrition label from the icing:
Add up the 1.8g of fat from the brownie, but you would be lucky to get 16 brownies out of a small pan like that so let’s round that up to 4g, with the 5g of fat from the 2 tablespoons of icing (again a stretch), and you have about 9g.
Now compare that to Betty Crocker’s new product, Fudge Brownie in a Mug with fudge topping:
You add some water and nuke it in the microwave for one minute. One pouch with fudge topping also gives you 9 g of fat, and about the same number of calories as the low fat recipe, but better taste, in fact it was so rich tasting I could only eat half of it. Is there such a thing as too chocolatey? I know death by double chocolate is all the rage but I much prefer regular milk chocolate over the often bitter darker stuff. Plus unless you’re baking for a family who ever eats just one brownie? The mug box has built-in portion control – not sure how they came up with 3 portions, why not 2 or 4, but maybe the extra one is to stash away for an emergency on days you need chocolate. So why not let Betty do all the work? Now it’s back to the pastry board for a better Valentine’s Day dessert…stay tuned. (950 words)
A few weeks ago I attended a harvest-fest supper prepared entirely from locally sourced food. Such meals have become commonplace the last few years due to the popularity of the 100 miles, fields to forks, organic food movement. At $40 a ticket, it wasn’t cheap, but this annual event helps promote the local farmer’s market and also gives the community college culinary students some practical experience in food preparation and presentation. (for the book review which inspired this post – see Part One: The Literary Salon – Eating Local).
I’ve now become someone I said I never would be – one of those people who takes photos of their meal while eating and posts them online. May I be excused for the less than stellar quality of the photos, as I was so hungry that I sometimes forgot and took a few bites, plus I was trying my best to be discreet with the cell phone, although I suspect from the odd looks I received that some of my table mates thought I was a reporter for the local paper.
The event was held outdoors at a local farmers market, which is basically just a large slab of cement with a roof overhead but open to the elements on all sides. The first year it was held in late September and they had to bring in space heaters and put up screens to keep the wind out. After a whole week of rain, we were hoping for a warm sunny day and thankfully the weather gods smiled on us. It was actually a bit too hot, we didn’t need any of those layers I threw in the car. This was the third year for the event and the date is picked to coincide with the harvest moon, which was mid-Sept this year, and what a stunning moon it was on Friday the 13th.
Harvest Moon courtesy of the Weather Network.
The doors opened at 5 pm with a cash bar and some music playing on the sound system, as there was a band later for dancing.
They had decorated with cornstalks and large pots of mums and bales of hay around the base of the roof pillars, a festive fall touch.
The presentation was well done for an outdoor event. The tables were laid with white linens and china with a red accent color in the napkins and chairs.
They even had matching party favors, as each place setting held a red candy apple with a tag promoting the October play at the local theatre, a cute idea.
There were twelve settings per table,
which was a bit too cramped in my opinion, as the meal was served family style and there was no place to set the bowls down while trying to take a portion, and those bowls were big and heavy. It was awkward.
Ten at a table might have been better, or buffet style. They really didn’t have enough servers for our table either, maybe someone had called in sick? 300 tickets were sold, and there was a big lineup of people waiting to get in when the doors opened.
The hungry mob…
I was lucky and got my tickets on a cancellation the month before, otherwise I might have been one of those scarecrows in the park across the street.
The food tents were off on the side, facing away from us, so we were not able to see any of the fast-paced cooking action like on Master Chef. The ticket price was initially only $30, but they upped it to $35 last year and $40 this year. (I imagine next year it will be $45 – as just like in an auction the price increases to what the market will bear). All of the food prepared came from the weekly farmers market, or was sourced locally within a 100 mile radius, including the beverages.
The Happy Hour
Two local craft breweries and two Ontario wineries were represented, with Pelee Island Winery just squeaking in at a 95 mile radius. It was hot, so the beer was flowing as you can see from the tabletop pictures. Unfortunately, we had a few extra guests at the table, attracted by the brew.
The wasps descended for happy hour, stayed for the the appetizer and then suddenly departed, just as the sun was setting behind the buildings. It must have been their bedtime, or perhaps they were off to another venue (see more on the Merry Band of Wasps in last week’s blog). We sat at a table with a group of people who all knew each other, and the row across from me had to eat with the sun in their eyes. Next time we’ll know which tables get the best shade. It was so annoying that I went to the car and brought back a sunhat. I came prepared for all weather.
Now you might be wondering – why is she dragging this out, lets get to the food. I’m cleverly but somewhat cruelly procrastinating so you can imagine the whole experience of sitting and smelling the irresistible aroma of food cooking for over an hour, while constantly swatting at wasps and shielding your eyes from the setting sun, with absolutely no hope of any dinner conversation due to the din of the crowd.
Finally, the opening speeches – two political figures were there, our provincial member of parliament and our federal parliament member, (we’re having an election this fall, they need to see and be seen) and as well as introducing all the VIP’s the MC thanked the exhaustive list of sponsors. They announced they had Epi-Pens on hand if anyone got stung – medical preparedness is always appreciated. Eventually grace was said, and a proper grace it was too, fit for a Harvestfest meal, not that Bless us Our Lord standard we used to mumble when we were kids.
900 words in and not even a sign of a bread crumb…Ah, here it comes.
The butter was properly chilled, although not in those little foil packets that you sometimes get in fancy restaurants, although it didn’t stay cool long. The buns from a local bakery were good – soft and doughy. It’s a new bakery in town so I’ll have to check it out. The bread rated an A but I was starving by then so stale crackers would have rated an A.
Finally, the menu.
The Garden Fresh Mixed Greens Salad with Berries and house-made Balsamic Dressing – was delightfully fresh, however the dressing was a bit too plain and vinegary. I always think this type of berry salad goes nice with a raspberry vinaigrette such as the bottled house blend I buy from a local restaurant, but then it has spoiled me for all others. There wasn’t any soup offered this year, although other years they had a choice of homemade potato or tomato. I love soup, even in summer, so I was disappointed, but still A for the appetizer.
The Main Course
A few minutes of silence while we dig in before critiquing…
Roast Pork Loin stuffed with Apples, Spinach, Caramelized Onions and Goat Cheese.
It’s difficult for me to judge this as I’m not a big fan of pork loin. I can eat it but I’d certainly never order it in a restaurant. The traditional apple pairing was okay and I know caramelized onions are trendy, but I didn’t think they added anything special to the dish. I couldn’t see much spinach, or taste the goat cheese so they must have been subtle touches. It was served on an enormous heavy platter and although it was pre-sliced there was nowhere to set the platter down while you wrestled a piece onto your plate, so I ended up with more than I wanted. My consensus, just okay, although everyone else liked it, and the guy beside me took seconds. That’s the thing with family style, they did replenish if you wanted more. There was a short delay before they brought the rest of the meal so they were definitely struggling with the serving.
Tender Chicken Breast with a Bacon Portabello Cream Sauce.
Good old chicken, no matter how you dress it up, it’s the staple of catered meals everywhere. It was tender as promised and the Portabello cream sauce was excellent, although I couldn’t taste the bacon. (A plus).
Yukon Gold and Sweet Potato Pave with Parmesan Cheese
I had to google to see what a Pavé was – “A flat piece of food, usually meat, cheese or bread. Pavé is French for a “cobblestone.” When used in a food context, it refers to a square or rectangular flat piece of food or dish. I guess this qualifies as it was a layered dish of potatoes cut into triangle wedges for easy serving.
It’s always a dilemma how to serve potatoes in a manner which keeps them warm but not gluey, and it was certainly a cut above a few potato puffs. It was tasty, although I didn’t notice the Parmesan cheese, but then I can’t taste the difference between Yukon Gold potatoes and regular old spuds either. As I’m Irish and never met a potato I didn’t like, I’ll give it an A, but you really can’t get too excited about potatoes.
The roasted squash was one of my favorite dishes, so flavorful. You never know with squash, it can be good or it can be bland and watery. The cauliflower and carrots were tasty too. Both were plain, not doctored up with anything, so the flavor came through – they stood on their own, a testament to good soil. (A plus).
The meat portions were generous – it was certainly a lot of food, and checking around, a fair bit of wastage, as people who had stuffed two rolls in (you know who you are), could not finish their meal. I was full but not overly so, because wisely I had saved room for my favorite part.
I had been craving a piece of cherry pie and had heard so much about The Famous Pie Lady.
Although the crust was good and the filling plentiful, I‘m not sure how you can make a cherry pie without sugar? There should be a law against it. It was so sour I couldn’t eat more than a few bites. As there was lots of pie leftover, I decided to try another kind when I went to refill our coffee cups, hoping no one would notice – plus it would be a shame to waste the leftover pie when things were wrapping up. There were lots of choices.
This time I grabbed a slice of apple pie. Um….interesting – apple pie with no sugar, plenty of fruit and cinnamon though. The apples mid-Sept are hardly ripe enough for pies yet, but apparently sugar is now the new evil. Maybe I’m spoiled, having grown up on a farm where homemade apple pie was a fall staple, and many people today just don’t know what good pie is. But the guy beside me was disappointed in his pie too – pecan. I didn’t ask why. Should I try the lemon meringue – no, that would be piggy, so I gave up, secure in the knowledge I had a backup plan stashed in the car. The pie was the disappointment of the evening. (C plus)
Plan B – B for Backup Dessert
Luckily I had stopped at the town’s grocery store before the event and bought a cherry pie from their in-store bakery. I’ve had it before and it’s a perfect balance of sweet and tart, and I consoled myself with the thought that if I was still craving a piece later I would cut into it, instead of freezing it like I had intended. Certainly the pie was a let-down especially for a dessert diva like me.
After Dinner Speeches
The M.C. introduced and thanked all the chefs and cooks (who came out of hiding in the side tents), raffled off an auction prize (a catered dinner for six which went for a bid of $410), thanked absolutely everyone again from the bowl makers to the man in the moon,
sorry for the tree in the way…
and then introduced the band.
The band was the house band from the local summer theatre which was currently showcasing a country music production, so they kicked off with Sold – The Grundy Valley Auction song, which is good in a cheesy way, as a cheese course is always nice after a meal. Then Bad Moon Rising (CCR) because it was by then, (see above). Then Old Time Rock and Roll – Bob Seger (okay), then they started to deteriorate into Billy Joel and two other songs I did not recognize, but then I am not up on the current stuff. The band gets an A, as they were trying for a little bit country, and a little bit rock and roll. The crowd was mostly an older one, the baby boomer set, and there were people up dancing as lots of beer had been imbibed by then. I always admire couples who are first on the dance floor, especially when it’s at the front with everyone watching. Let’s give the dancers, an A too, just like Dancing With the Stars.
Overall, it was a good meal, except for the pork and the pie, but those were influenced by my personal preferences and expectations. I had been expecting a turkey and beef dish, (as per the first year), not two white meats, plus a lot of people can’t or don’t eat pork, even though pulled pork is all the rage. Was it worth the price? Maybe. The fifty dollar per ticket meal at the swing dance last year was better, with a portion going to charity, but even it went up to $75 this year. I guess food prices are increasing overall. Did they make a profit or just cover their costs? I don’t know enough about the catering business to say. Thirty dollars, as per the first year, might have been a more reasonable price, especially in small town Ontario, considering this was not a charity event, and I expect most of the cost of the decorations, party rentals and band would have been covered or subsidized by the sponsors.
The Backup Meal
I had been craving a roast beef dinner, which I got the following week when I took my mother to the monthly seniors lunch at the same retirement home I mentioned in my Woodstock Revisited post. We had a garden fresh salad with ranch dressing, a nice tender slice of roast beer, mashed potatoes with a tasty gravy, diced turnips and a decent piece of apple pie – all for $10. The portions weren’t huge as it was for seniors, but it was enough, and they do a nice turkey dinner too, although the rest of the meals can be hit and miss. That’s the thing with restaurant reviews – a good meal may surprise you anywhere! (Hey, I wonder if I could get paid for this?)
Thus ends my short career as a restaurant reviewer. I did have a piece of that bakery cherry pie the next night, warm with vanilla ice cream, but I froze the rest. The apple in the candy apple was so sour I couldn’t eat it, but I took a few bites for nostalgia’s sake, as I’m sure it’s been fifty years since I had one the last time I went trick or treating.
It might be fun to host your own Harvest Moon Supper sometime, there’s another one coming up October 13, and the apples will be riper by then too. I think I would prefer caramel apples for the party favors, and maybe some butternut squash soup for a starter. I also saw an advertisement for a Full Moon Boat Party cruise with a band on board, which I’ll file away for next year. I’m sure they’ll be playing Neil Young’s classic – Harvest Moon.