Useful Weeds

Last year my mom planted dill in her garden (mammoth dill, I believe). She’d hoped for a reasonable yield, but the plants grew up tall and spindly and woody, and they dried out rather early in the season, much to her disappointment. This was especially surprising because last year was a really wet year, so it’s nigh on impossible that they weren’t watered enough. At the end of autumn, she ripped the desiccated stalks out of her garden and thought nothing more of it until this spring.

It appears that the dill self-seeded. Apparently, although it didn’t like the nicely fertilized and weeded soil of her garden, it really likes the cracks between her paving stone and between said stones and her garden border. Go figure. Dill is growing there, well, like a weed.

This seems to be a trend at Mom and Dad’s house. Ten years ago or so, a clump of chives started growing between the paving stones near the back yard — but never in the actual garden. This was especially surprising because Mom never planted any chives at all. Who knows where the seeds came from; dropped by a bird, perhaps? At first, Mom pulled the chives out like she would any other weed, but they always came back. She mowed them regularly when she did her lawn, but that didn’t cause much of a dent in their growth. Yet the chives didn’t spread to her garden or her lawn. They have self-propagated a bit along the paving stones closer to the fence, though, as you can see in the above photo. Eventually, Mom just gave up and started harvesting the chives for her own cooking; it’s a free crop that she doesn’t have to plant every year. Thing 1 and Thing 2 love those chives and grab a handful whenever we visit in the summer, leading to many car rides where the whole car reeks of onions.

I have a feeling this is what’s going to happen with the dill. This weed is a bit more aggressive than the chives, so Mom will weed it out of the garden so it doesn’t choke out her tomatoes (which she plans to plant next week). But the dill growing in the cracks can stay and supply her — and me — with all the dill we could possibly use over the summer. I actually harvested a few handfuls yesterday to make into bread machine dill bread. I needed to test out my new-to-me bread machine at any rate. The machine is smaller than my previous one, making 2lb loaves instead of 3lb, but it works a treat so I can’t exactly complain, seeing as it was free.

I think I need to make some kind of salmon dish with a creamy dill sauce, to take advantage of the herb being so nice and young and tender. Maybe next week.

Maple Walnut Pouding Chômeur

Last night I had an urge to make pouding chômeur (“poor man’s pudding”), which is a kind of upside-down maple syrup cake that is baked with its own sauce. I wanted to use some of the lovely dark maple syrup that I picked up from McCannell Craftwork at Russell Flea over the weekend. Sadly, a copy of Anita Stewart’s Canada (2008) wasn’t immediately available at the library, and I haven’t yet bought a copy (although it’s down to $15.00 online so I really should), so I didn’t have access to the first recipe that I used and liked so much. Instead, I grabbed a few cookbooks with their own versions of a pouding chômeur recipe from the library, and then I went home to pick my favourite.

I thought that I had all of the ingredients at home, but it turns out that some of them had spoiled, so I had to improvise a little bit. I ended up combining the recipes from two different books. The final cake ended up being a little bit drier and with a sauce that wasn’t quite as runny as I’d been hoping. It was pretty darned good anyway.

Unfortunately, I found that the walnuts really overpowered the maple flavour, much to my dismay. Although it was a tasty dish all in all, I was really looking forward to that creamy maple syrup sauce dominating. I think I’ll stick to a more simple pouding chômeur recipe next time, whether it be from Anita Stewart’s Canada or another source.

Na na na na na na na na Bat Pie!

Tonight I’m off to another friend’s birthday celebration, and I think it’s safe for me to write about his gift since so far as I can tell he doesn’t read my blog. At least, he seemed genuinely surprised when I asked him if he’d like a pie for his birthday and, if so, what kind is his favourite. He did say that fruit pies, especially strawberry-raspberry-blueberry or strawberry-rhubarb were his top-ranked. However, rhubarb is almost impossible to get this time of year (although knowing this now, I’ll freeze some in advance next year when it comes in season). And red fruits just didn’t seem dark enough for what I had in mind.

You see, my friend is a huge Batman fan, and I wanted to make him something appropriate to his fandom. After all, as LEGO Batman says, Batman “only works in black, and sometimes very, very dark grey” — although I’d go so far as to say that Adam West’s cowl was a deep purple or blue, depending on the lighting. Since I didn’t want to add food colouring to the filling, so I went with blackberry-blueberry. As usual, I used the Purity Pastry recipe from page 73 of The All-New Purity Cook Book (Elizabeth Driver, 2001). As my father and his mother before him taught me, I made the crust using lard instead of vegetable shortening, which I’ve always been told makes the crust flakier. The filling was 3 1/2 cups of blackberries, 2 1/2 cups of blueberries, 1 cup of sugar, 3 Tbsp corn starch, and 1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice.

At first I thought I might make the top crust with a large cutout so that it looked like the Bat Signal, but a friend had linked to a recipe for Rustic Cast Iron Skillet Peach Pie on social media, and I really liked how they’d made their top crust. I thought that cookie-cutter cutouts would look a bit like a cloud of bats against a night sky, which is an image used repeatedly in Batman media. Of course, the fruit filling isn’t totally flat and the bats warped a bit during baking, so they look their most bat-like from directly above. It’s a really simple technique and can be achieved using any shape of cookie cutter, although I have a feeling that the simpler the shape, the more recognizable it will be when cooked. I do have a feeling that I’ll be using this technique in the future to customize my pies. If you don’t like making crust from scratch, I see no reason why it wouldn’t work equally well with store-bought dough.

A Piece of Pie

Recently, my husband and I were playing Borderlands 2 online with another couple who are good friends of ours. At one point I had to take a brief AFK break to take a pie out of the oven, causing our friends to jokingly lament that they didn’t have pie too. At that time, their birthdays were swiftly approaching, so I promised them that I’d make them pies for their birthday. Well, their joint birthday celebration (their birthdays are only a couple of days apart) was this past Friday, so on Thursday night I had to make their pies.

I decided to make two totally different kinds of pies, and I started with a lemon meringue. I used the crust recipe from page 73 of The All-New Purity Cook Book (Elizabeth Driver, 2001), the filling from page 687 of the Joy of Cooking (Rombauer & Becker, 2006 edition), and Soft Meringue Topping #1 on page 798 of the Joy of Cooking. I’ll confess right now that I had never made lemon meringue pie before, even though I quite like it. I’d only tried a meringue once before and that failed spectacularly. I don’t know what I did, but no matter how hard I whipped it, the meringue never formed peaks at all, it just stayed runny. I was really worried that it wouldn’t turn out right.


Photo by Karen Turnbull.

In the end, I’m quite proud of my first lemon meringue pie, even though I singed the topping a bit. I have got to remember that my oven heats unevenly and that I need to check on my baked goods more often. I mean, I set a timer for the minimum time recommended and then checked it with five minutes to go, and it was still a rather dark brown (I was aiming for a toasted gold). If I’d left it in five minutes longer, it would have been burnt. Luckily, the colour was only on the surface, and my friends said it tasted just fine. They served it up to their gaming group when playing D&D on Sunday night, and everyone liked it, even one person who generally doesn’t like lemon meringue. I’m wondering if that’s because I used fresh lemons and lemon zest when I made the filling from scratch, instead of using canned filling.

For the second pie I went with a fruit-filled pie, which something I’ve done successfully a million times before, just in case. I mean, given the disaster with the bitter pumpkin pie at Christmas, experience doesn’t always mean mistake-free. But I’m fairly confident that it will taste fine (especially since you can honestly completely omit sugar in most fruit pies and it’ll still be palatable). For kicks, I rolled the top crust using a laser-engraved rolling pin that I received as a gift a while back. It features the hazard symbols for poison, ionizing radiation, high voltage, and biological hazards. Something tickles me about using this on food.

What with a fruit pie crust never baking flat, it’s hard to see the design, but it is there. I also vented the crust using a 8-Piece Pie Divider for the first time, which was a gift from another friend. It is honestly the weirdest-looking gadget in my kitchen, but it works quite well. The recipe for apple-strawberry pie that I used can actually be found on the back of its packaging box — although I did use the same Purity Pastry crust for both pies, since it’s just easier to whip up one big batch instead of multiple small ones. I used leftovers of that crust, along with some extra fruit from the fridge, to make the fruit tarts that night as well.

Honestly, I’m kind of hoping that this baking-as-a-birthday-gift idea becomes a regular thing. As my friends and I get older, I find it harder to shop for presents, since I know the things that they really want is way out of my budget, and we all have more clutter than we really need. But food is a necessity of life. And just maybe on our birthdays we deserve to be able to elevate a basic need to something a little more special.

Valentine’s Day Sweets

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, which for me meant that the day before was spent in the kitchen baking. Okay, well, not the whole day; some of my time was spent in the kitchen dealing with a leaking dishwasher. That slowed things down immensely. Luckily, the issue was a slightly-clogged drain pipe and dirt in the door seal that kept it from being watertight, and a good cleaning of the machine fixed the leak. If your dishwasher is going to leak, a fix without having to purchase expensive parts is best, really. Also, there wasn’t enough water that came out to cause much damage. The basement ceiling is a drop ceiling and the walls and floor are only half-finished, so there’s not much there for the water to damage anyway.

When I did get to bake, the first thing I tried was a double-batch of White Layer Cake found on page 110 of Essential Cooking Basics: The New Cook by Mary Berry & Marlena Spieler (1997). I used crab apple jelly that I’d made back in the fall as filling. This recipe was very nicely illustrated and easy to follow. It yielded lovely cupcakes that had a crumbly, buttery texture, which were similar to a good cornmeal muffin on top but with a softer middle. The recipe does call for self-rising flour, which I’ve come to realize is a really common ingredient in British recipes, but isn’t something the average cook would have in the pantry around here. Heck, not all grocery stores carry it. Fortunately, it’s easy enough to make with all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt: directions here.

As I discovered, a single batch only yields about a dozen cupcakes, and I wanted to make 48 (half for Thing 1’s Guide troupe, and half for Thing 2’s Sparks troupe). By the time I’d figured this out, I’d run out of a few ingredients; this recipe takes a lot of eggs. I was getting a bit pressed for time, so I dug out a package each of IKEA Muffinsmix Choklad and Muffinsmix Citron (just-add-water chocolate and lemon cake mix, respectively). Thing 1 got the IKEA cupcakes and Thing 2 got the Mary Berry ones, and I honestly think that Thing 2 got the better end of the deal by a long shot.

Next came the treats for the treats for the girls’ homeroom classes at school. I’d planned on making orange sugar cookies for which I’d found a vintage Bake King recipe sheet tucked into an old cookbook, but those required the dough to be chilled and I had simply run out of time. I fell back on a recipe that I’d used successfully in the past for Fudgy Pumpkin Coffee Brownies (minus the coffee, since the intended audience was children). This recipe can be found on page 222 of Purely Pumpkin by Allison Day (2016). Once again, I substituted whole wheat flour for einkorn or light spelt flour, and even with this change, the brownies turned out great. This recipe invariably yields moist, rich brownies with just the right level of sweetness. As a bonus, I got to use up some of the Halloween pumpkin puree that’s still in my freezer. And none of the brownies came back home, so I figure that at least some of the kids (and/or the teachers) liked them.

Personal Pizza

I’ve been craving pizza lately, which is pretty much a no-no because of the issues that my digestive tract has with dairy. However, to my everlasting joy, I’ve discovered that I can eat lactose-free cheese so long as I don’t go overboard, since cheese is also quite greasy, especially when melted. Since none of the pizzerias around here carry lactose-free cheese as an option, I thought that a “make your own pizza” evening was in order.

It didn’t look spectacular because I put the toppings under the cheese, but it tasted great! I started with the dough from the Two-Cheese Pizza recipe on page 170 of Betty Crocker’s Best Bread Machine Cookbook (1999). This made enough for one 12″ pizza or four 4″ or so thin-crust-ish pizzas. (Next time I do this, I’m doubling the recipe.) You can’t actually cook pizzas in the bread machine, so I rolled out the dough into individual crusts and everyone topped their own. I used Healthy Veggie Tomato Sauce that I had in the freezer as the sauce, although I did simmer it a little to reduce it a little bit. I topped my pizza with ground beef and crumbled bacon, along with a few cremini mushroom slices. The rest of the family had theirs with more traditional mozzarella, but since cheddar was the only kind I could get lactose-free, I went with that.

I’ve tried Jamie Oliver’s Quick Family Pizza in the past, and although the kids liked it, one of the things I discovered about myself is that I’m not a big fan of the taste of self-rising flour. I think it’s just a little too salty for me. At any rate, I like the yeast dough a great deal more, and it’s just as easy as the quick bread version if I use the bread machine. So I think I’ll stick with this kind of dough for future pizza iterations.

Toad in the Hole

I’ve been wanting to try to make toad in the hole for ages. I have vague memories of my Nan serving it, or at least something similar, although I couldn’t remember the name… I Googled “pigs in a blanket” and “bubble and squeak” before I finally figured out what the name was of the dish that I remembered. Basically, toad in the hole is sausages baked in Yorkshire pudding batter — with regional and temporal variations, of course. Although the photos I’ve found online use thick sausages for the most part, I distinctly remember the version from my childhood containing smaller breakfast sausages, so that’s what I was determined to make.

The first time I tried it, I wasn’t very happy with the results. I used the Yorkshire pudding recipe from the Joy of Cooking (page 637, 2006 edition, Rombauer & Becker), which was recommended by my father. I doubled the recipe and doubled the size of the pan, which I thought would work just fine, but the sausages were just too small to compensate for all that batter. Also, although the edges of the casserole rose and puffed up quite nicely, it didn’t cook evenly through the center, leaving it a stodgy mess. I mean, the texture was firm enough to be edible, but it wasn’t very appetizing.

I tried to learn from my mistakes the second time around. This time I whipped up only a single batch of the batter, which greatly improved the ratio of batter to meat, at least for sausages this small. I cooked it all in a pan that was half the size, which allowed it to rise more thoroughly. Also, I used a metal pan instead of a glass one, which I find in general allows for a crispier edge to baked dishes.

I was really happy with how it turned out. The pudding rose beautifully, so fluffy in the middle that in many spots it was completely hollow. The crust was nice and crisp without being hard. The sausages were perfectly done. Now, if only I’d remembered to grease the pan, since to serve it I almost had to destroy it. You’d think I’d know better by now.

I served my toad in the hole with a side Ceasar salad and some sliced avocado, which my Nan would never have done (she’d have paired it with boiled or baked veggies). But I thought we needed some fresh greens with a main dish that doesn’t contain a single vegetable. The family ate it all up and asked me to make it again soon, which tells me that it was a success.