Along the Grapevine


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Snow Kachang

We are just now getting our first real blizzard of the season. It has been snowing all day, and tomorrow we may just be snowed in. This is what it looked like yesterday when we went for a walk on the lake.

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And this is what it looked like today in the early hours of the blizzard.

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So what do we do when we are getting snowed in? We make snow kachangs.

Actually, I’ve never made one before, but decided to give it a try for the second part of Angie’s Fiesta Friday first anniversary celebration where we have been invited to bring a main course or dessert.

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This recipe is based on a favourite sweet dish of mine that I used to enjoy in Singapore called Ice Kachang, usually spelt kacang. It was a while before I had built up enough curiosity to try it, but once I did I thought it the best way to cool down when on the town, and something that I would have to recreate when back home in Canada. It has taken me a long time.

When I first saw it, I was not impressed. All I could see was a tall pyramid of shaved ice, with 3 or 4 garish coloured syrups poured over it. I’m pretty sure the green colour was made from pandan, but have no idea what the others were. When I finally ordered one, I found that this pyramid covered a delicious mixture of adzuki beans, sweet corn, little cubes of agar agar or jelly and a very sweet brown sugar syrup. Sometimes other things like tapioca or coconut milk were added making a kind of sweet pudding salad. Of all the pictures I have found on line, none resembles what I had in Singapore. The original recipe is Malaysian, and seems to have a lot of the pudding on top of the ice shavings. Other pictures show all the ingredients including the ice mixed together. I am sticking with the pyramid shape and only syrup on top.

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For my recipe I used snow, of course. It takes quite a bit of the white stuff, and I failed to make a really tall pyramid. But as I assembled it outside to give me time to get pictures, my fingers were becoming numb with the cold and harvesting any more snow was out of the question.

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I intended to use adzuki beans, but was unable to find any, so settled for small kidney beans. I figured with the syrup everything would be sweet enough anyway, and I was right. Besides beans I used sweet corn, cubes from the pealed leaves of my aloe vera plant, and our own maple syrup.

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Once these ingredients are assembled in any proportion you like, just pile on the snow. The syrup I used to drizzle on top was some wild grape syrup I had lingering in my fridge, but any sweet syrup will do, preferably one made of fruit or berries, or pandan if you are lucky enough to have any.

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The result, which we did bring indoors to eat, was every bit as good as the Singaporean version but with a distinctive Canadian touch. This is a recipe you can make your own with whatever local ingredients you have, and ice shavings if you don’t have clean snow available.

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Thanks to Angie at The Novice Gardener as well as this week’s co-hosts, Nancy at Feasting with Friends and Selma at Selma’s Table for managing this event, and to everyone else, enjoy the party!


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Maple Chestnut Nog (Vegan)

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This is the time of year when we really can make the most of the maple syrup we made in the spring. Not much of it gets used during the summer months, so I find I still have a good reserve to experiment with. Of course, there are always the tried and true recipes, but using it as a sweetener for much more than baking and pancakes/waffles has become one of my favourite challenges during the winter months.

So for this first Fiesta Friday of 2015, I am bringing a vegan version of egg nog to drink a toast to all my friends at this event – especially to the ever gracious hostess, Angie @thenovicegardener  and her two co-hosts this week. Mr Fitz @CookingwithMrFitz and Kaila @GF Life 24/7.

I often choose to pair maple with walnuts – an easy match for so many recipes. For a change, I used chestnuts. They are rich and creamy, and I believe the sweetest of all the nuts. They are no longer grown in this area, and it is difficult to find really good ones, but I made use of what I was able to find. A vegan milk, such as almond, a hint of spice, maple syrup and possibly a splash of dark rum make this a wonderful alternative to the traditional drink.

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If you don’t have fresh chestnuts available, you might find tinned chestnut puree in specialty shops, or use unsalted cashews in their place.

If using fresh chestnuts, you will need to roast them first. Simply score a cross with the end of a sharp knife through the shell on the flat side. Roast them in the oven at 350 for about 45 minutes, until the nut feels soft when pierced with a knife. Allow to cool and peel off the outer shell. Pour boiling water over the nuts and leave for a couple of minutes. Cool under cold water, and the papery layer under the shell should slip off easily. Then chop and measure.

For this recipe, I used 3/4 a cup of chestnuts, hot water to cover, 2 cups of almond milk, two Tbsp maple syrup and 2 Tbsp of dark rum. This last ingredient can be omitted, in which case you might want a bit more syrup to taste.

Once chestnut mixture has cooled, put everything in the blender and process until it is completely smooth. Chill and pour in glasses. Sprinkle a little nutmeg on top.

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Pickled Crabapples

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In my scrounging around for any crabapples I can find this season, I got a few of these very young, green ones. I have recently learned that young fruit has the advantage of having smaller seeds and don’t need much preparation, other than cooking.

Coincidentally, I came across a recipe for pickled young crabapples by the Forager Chef whose recipes are always excellent, so I followed his recipe which you can find here. I made it according to his instructions, except that as I had no orange zest I used sumac water in place of that and the water called for. I also only had enough apples for half the recipe which made two jars. If you read his post, you will see that he serves these crabapples with a very elegant pork dish garnished with purslane. If you don’t eat pork, these little pickled apples are tasty enough to be eaten on their own, and as he points out you can use the stem as a little handle.

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Easter Stollen and Maple Hemp Marzipan

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Christmas stollen – ‘cuit’

I usually make stollen for Christmas, and did this past year, but the result was a little ‘cuit’, which in French does not sound so bad, but I thought might be seen as burned by English speakers. So I made another batch, and this one will be for Easter, and to share with everyone at the Novice Gardener’s Fiesta Friday this week. I will also give some my ideas for marzipan alternatives.

For my spring stollen, I made a slightly less rich version than the Christmas one by omitting the liquor in which I usually soak the raisins and currants. I did not use the usual dried fruits, but used instead some dried crab apples which give this stollen a distinctive and local flavour and colour.

I have tried many versions of this recipe, and finally settled on one which has the flavour and texture I wanted. Some are too light and brioche-like, most are too sweet. If there are no ground nuts in the recipe, it is impossible to achieve the density that I wanted. A generous amount of butter is also important. This recipe uses mostly the sweetness of the fruit, but if you want it sweeter, just add more honey.

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There is no need to be intimidated by making a yeast bread. Just let it rise until lots of air bubbles appear in the dough when you check the interior. In this cool weather, it can take a few hours. I allow it to rise at least three times, and if I am busy, I stir down the first mixture (the sponge without rising inhibitors like fat and salt) until I am ready to use it. I think this extra time maybe improves it, and certainly doesn’t hurt it. As for kneading, I just to it until I don’t feel like doing it any more. As long as it is holding together, it works. Also, amounts of flour vary depending on the type of flour, the size of eggs, etc. Just keep adding flour when you knead it until it is not sticky and not able to absorb any more. Therefore note that the second addition of flour in this recipe is approximate. Just add a little at a time until it feels right.

Stollen

1 cup warm milk (I used almond)

2 heaping Tbsp honey

3 tsp yeast granules

1. Dissolve the honey and yeast, and allow to sit about 10 minutes, or until the yeast is all bubbly.

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup currants

1/4 cup water, juice, brandy or rum

2. Pour the liquid over the dried fruit and allow to stand at least 1/2 hour. If you can do this earlier, even the day before, that is even better, especially if you are using liquor.

1 cup of flour

3. Add the flour to the yeast mixture and stir well. Let sit until it becomes bubbly. This is the sponge method, and at this point you can just stir it down. let rise and repeat until you are ready for the next stage.

1/2 cup dried fruit (I used crab apples)

1/2 cup ground almonds

1/2 cup nuts (I used hazelnuts)

1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled

1/2 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 tsp mace

1/2 tsp vanilla

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 tsp salt

4 cups of flour (approximately). I used red fife, which, along with the unblanched almonds, gives it a darkish colour.

4. Mix all the ingredients one by one into the sponge, ending with the flour which should be added about 1 cup at a time. When all the liquid is absorbed, turn it out onto a floured surface and continue adding flour while kneading until it is no longer sticky. Continue to knead for a few more minutes, until the dough is nice and elastic.

5. Grease the ball of dough with a little oil, place in a bowl in a warm place and cover with a tea towel. The warmer the place, the faster it will rise. This stage can take from one hour to several hours. It will not quite double, because of the weight of the fruit and nuts, but it will be very spongy when you check the interior.

6. Punch it down and knead a few more times, making sure to get rid of all the air bubbles. If you want  a plain loaf, shape it into 2 loaves and place on a parchment lined cookie sheet an cover with a towel to rise again. This stage will be much faster, will not double but reach about 50% again of its original size. If you want a traditional stollen, divide the dough in two and roll each into a rectangle of about 12 inches x 6 inches. Place a strip of marzipan down the middle, fold one side over the marzipan and then the other side over that. Seal the edges so it doesn’t open when baked.

7. When the loaves plumpen up, place them in a 325 degrees F oven for 1 hour, or until the entire loaf is golden and sounds hollow when tapped.

8. Brush a little butter on the hot loaves. Allow to cool and then sprinkle some powdered sugar on top if you want.

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To make marzipan, mix some blanched almonds in the food processor until they start to become a paste. Add enough honey to hold the paste together when processed a few seconds longer and a few drops of almond essence. Form into a ball and cover until ready to use.

Or use the maple walnut marzipan recipe from my previous post.

When I posted the recipe for walnut marzipan, some readers pointed out they cannot eat nuts, so I also tried a seed and maple syrup paste. I chose hemp hearts because of their superior nutritional qualities and nutty flavour.

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Apart from the strange green colour, I consider it a real success, and will use it for my future stollens, be they for Christmas, Easter, cuit or not. However, I since discovered that hemp hearts are difficult to find in the U.S., so for those who can’t eat nuts and live in the U.S., I will continue to experiment with other seeds such as sunflower and pumpkin. This is the only part of the recipe that is nutless since the stollen is full of nuts. But I thought it was a good opportunity to introduce the idea of nutless marzipan.

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For a nut-free marzipan, here is my hemp hearts and maple syrup mixture. Just blend maple syrup with the hemp hearts in a food processor until it is the right consistency.

This same mixture can be thinned a little by adding more maple syrup to be used as an icing or cake filling. I covered an unsugared stollen with it. I like the idea of making an icing without using any refined sugar.

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Maple Walnut Cookies for Fiesta Friday #10

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This week I have the honour of co-hosting  the Novice Gardener’s 10th Fiesta Friday  along with Julianna of Foodie On Board. This means that I will be an official rep of the party and will mingle with all the guests. For those of you who are not familiar with this weekly event, it is an opportunity for bloggers to come together at a virtual party and bring their recipes, crafts or fun ideas to share with each other. In the ten weeks since it began, I have made new friends in the blogging world, discovered some great ideas and recipes, and  just generally enjoyed the up-beat atmosphere of this get-together. For those of you who are blogging and have not yet participated, you are cordially invited to join in the fun. Besides meeting a dynamic group of bloggers, you will benefit from a considerable increase in exposure and number of views, something every blogger can appreciate. The guidelines here will explain how easy it is to participate. My thanks to Angie, The Novice Gardener, for her inimitable hospitality. Pay her a visit and you’ll see what I mean.

For this Fiesta Friday, I bring recipes with my own home-made, home-grown maple syrup. I have just boiled down our fourth batch of maple syrup from our two sugar maple trees in the front garden. Who knew that all this delicious sweetness was there just for the taking? Each batch takes about two hours of cooking on our propane burner outdoors, and another hour or so on a gentle heat indoors to get it to the right heat (219 degrees F. if you have a thermometer). I’m not using a thermometer, and just guessing when it is ready, but so far the batches have been quite consistent.

Each batch gets a little darker, and eventually the sap will begin to be coloured when it runs, which means it’s time to stop. That will be a bit of a relief in itself – there will be other things to forage by then. Meanwhile, I have a good supply of syrup to do some experimenting in the kitchen, and this week  I came up with a couple of cookie recipes.

The first was inspired by a recipe for walnut cookies I made last week from Fae’s Twist and Tango’s Naw Ruz roundup. With the extra liquid from the syrup, I had to add some sort of flour, so chose buckwheat because I love the flavour and texture of it when baking.

Maple Walnut Cookies

4 egg yolks

3/4 cup maple syrup

2 cups ground walnuts

1 cup buckwheat flour

Beat the egg yolks in a bowl. Add the maple syrup, walnuts and flour and stir to combine. Spoon onto a baking sheet, press down flat with the back of a wet spoon and decorate with walnut pieces. Bake at 350 F for about 20 minutes.

These are chewy, and not very sweet, although sweet enough that the taste of maple comes through.

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Then I had four egg whites to use, so I went for a sort of macaron style cookie, which I wanted to sweeten with a maple walnut marzipan filling. I made the recipe from Buckwheat for your health which was the inspiration for this dish for New Year, and as a macaroon, it turned out beautifully following the recipe to the letter. However this time, with 4 egg whites, I had to do some difficult math. The result was not as elegant as the original recipe, but am posting it anyway, because it was considered a delicious cookie even if it was not exactly as I intended. And you can always follow the original recipe if you want something more resembling a macaron. I was particularly pleased with the filling, and will no doubt find many more ways to incorporate it into desserts and baking.

Maple Walnut Sandwich 

4 egg whites

1 cup buckwheat flour

1 cup icing sugar

Beat the egg whites until stiff. Combine the flour and sugar. Gently fold in the egg whites. Spoon onto a baking sheet, and flatten with the back of a wet spoon, as this batter does not spread out much.

Bake at 300 F for 10 minutes. When cool, sandwich two together with some maple walnut marzipan between them.

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To make the marzipan, simply grind some walnuts very fine in a food processor, until at least part of them becomes pasty. Add maple syrup while still processing until you reach the consistency of thick honey. How much syrup you add will depend on how sweet and how soft you want it. However you do it, it is delicious. I think even better than fresh home-made marzipan.

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