Easier than Pie: Shortcake

This shortcake is a bit of a funny creature. And not just because it looks entirely like a pie and nothing at all like the towering strawberry-and-cream confection that I, and probably many of you, think of as shortcake. 


But it seems like it’s impossible to mess this one up. And in the world of baking, where precision and exactness and all sorts of other scary synonyms reign supreme, the fact that such a lovely, delicious thing can be so forgiving is remarkable.

You see, I’ve made this cake-pie twice in the past two weeks: first for a picnic dinner on the beach back in Australia, and second for a belated birthday celebration here in Edmonton. And in Australia, I weighed the ingredients and forgot a few; in Edmonton, I measured and remembered. In Australia, my cake was small, rectangular and filled with cooked apples and blueberries; in Edmonton, it was huge, round and filled with fresh plums and nectarines. And finally, in Australia, we ate it cold, after it sat for a few hours on a cool beach; in Edmonton, we ate it straight from the oven, burning our mouths on the hot fruit. 


And despite my best (accidental) attempts to create two very different and potentially catastrophic desserts, it was consistently a delight. The real winner here is the crust. It’s so simple to put together (rolling, kneading and crack repair = easy, easy and easy) that you can’t imagine it’ll be better than a traditional, finicky pie dough. But it turns out to be this glorious thing, gently rolling over the fruit below, and tasting like a grownup sugar cookie, all buttery and tender in the middle and sweet and crisp at the edges. 


And the fruit is a treat, too. Unlike with most pie-destined fruits, here they’re barely sugared, giving you a filling that serves, unusually, as a tart contrast to a sweet crust.*

In short, we have a shortcake that’s not a cake. A baked good that fails to act appropriately temperamental. A pie that inverts our traditional understanding of both crusts and fillings. It’s madness. And it’s so worth making.

Nectarine & Plum Shortcake
Adapted from www.taste.com.au and a cookbook whose name I have yet to track down
Serves 6-8 people

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg 
1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

4-5 large, ripe nectarines
1-2 ripe plums
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp granulated sugar


1. In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (a mixer or a wooden spoon will work). Add the egg and beat until the mixture is fluffy once more. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. 

2. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix with a wooden spoon until just combined. With your hands, gently knead the dough together until it’s uniformly smooth and holds together (this should only take a minute, and can easily be done in your mixing bowl). Divide the dough into two balls, one using 1/3 of the dough and the other using the remaining 2/3. Flatten each piece into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. 

3. While the dough is resting, slice each piece of fruit into 12 wedges. You should have 4.5-5 cups of fruit in total. Toss the fruit with the sugar and lemon juice and let sit at room temperature. Preheat the oven to 350°F. 

4. Unwrap the larger portion of chilled dough and, using a floured rolling pin, roll it until it’s slightly larger than the base of an 8.5-10-inch springform pan (you want the dough to go up the sides of your pan by about 2cm). Transfer the dough to the base of your pan.** Spread the sugared fruit evenly overtop the base of the dough. Roll the remaining 1/3 of dough into a round the same size as your cake pan, then place it overtop the fruit. Gently press the edges of the dough together to seal. Sprinkle the top of the cake with the remaining tablespoon of sugar.

5. Bake the pie for 30-40 minutes, or until the edges are golden and the top is beginning to brown. Remove from the oven, set on a cooling rack and let cool in the pan for 10 minutes before serving.

* With that in mind, if you choose to substitute other fruit (and my guess is that you can do so with success), choose something with a bit of acidity and keep the added sweetener to a minimum.
** The dough is quite sticky, so I find it’s easiest to roll the dough out directly onto the plastic wrap. From there, you can use the plastic wrap to help you transfer the dough into the cake pan. 

The End of an Australian Adventure (Recipes to Come!)

Friends! I’m sorry for my extensive absence! Australia turned out to be more of a vacation than I’d anticipated, with the vast majority of my time spent adventuring and nearly no time at all spent interneting. 


But alas for me, my travels came to an end last week. And while my sleep cycle is lost somewhere between Edmonton and eastern Australia, my body and mindset are now firmly back in Canada, which means it’s time to get back to blogging. 

goat-tree.jpgCheck in over the next few weeks, as I’ll be sharing recipes, stories and photos from my travels. Think: sprinkles, spiders, salt lakes, goats, lizards, shortcake, land mullets (puzzled by that one? I was too!) and more.

coorong.jpgThe first post will be up within a week, so be sure to come back soon! 

FoodHappy in Australia!

Hi friends! For the next four weeks, I’ll be in Australia, exploring the southeast coast of the country and eating lots of tasty treats along the way. Today, my traveling companion and I are embarking on a two-week road trip, first stop: the bakery!


I’ll be in and out of internet range over the next couple of days as we make our way to Melbourne down the lefthand side of the road, so it’ll be all quiet on the blog front until the weekend. But keep checking back, as I’ll be sharing stories and photos from our adventures, along with some tasty insights into Australian food I gained in my first week in the country (think: tropical fruits, koala-shaped chocolate bars and rainbow sprinkles atop white bread).


In the mean time, I’ve got a few photos for you from my first day in Australia, which we spent exploring Sydney. 


 Beaches and donuts: a winning combination!


 Hanging out at Manly Beach, and making our way back to the centre of Sydney. Locals commute by boat and stroller. 


Not bad, friends, not bad! See you all again soon!

An Interlude of Apricots

It just occurred to me last night that I’m not nearly ready for my upcoming trip to Australia. And I leave in six days. 

This would be fine, if all I had on my plate was trip preparation. But alas, my to-do list is a little more complicated. Alongside waterproof your shoes, read giant pile of guide books and buy a harmonica (Australia essentials, you know), I’ve got things like finish TOP-SECRET project, build your website already!, sort out a post-Australia life plan, and figure out how to deal with spiders (time permitting)


In short, any time I had allocated to cooking yesterday got eaten by the monster to-do list. In fact, cooking in general is off the table for the next few days. Fortunately, there’s a ton of amazing produce in season now, which means that I’ll be surviving on apricots with a side of peaches, along with the usual microwaved oats, for the next little while.

If, like me, you’re low on time and living in the northern hemisphere, enjoy what the (short) growing season has to offer and indulge in some incredible, unadulterated produce.

Recipes to come soon, I promise! And stay tuned for more on my Australian adventure and that TOP-SECRET project!

An Island Approach to Good, Green Salad

If you pop “I hate salad” into Google, guess how many results you get. 1 million? 10 million? Try 33,600,000. Ouch.

Now, the internet being a rather nebulous place, a good number of those 33 million results probably have nothing to do with hating salad, or even to do with salad in general. But even still. Salad has a lot of enemies. And understandably so. Why put the effort into preparing a laborious, unremarkable side dish in the name of nutrition when you could cook up a tastier veggie in half the time? Like a lot of people, I am a salad snubber. 


But this spring, while I was in Prince Edward Island, I had some great salads. Fresh vegetables so well-composed that PEI should, I think, be considered a culinary destination not just for seafood and potatoes, but also for its salads.  


They weren’t fancy – one was made from a bunch of common garden veggies, and one was made simply from greens and cheese. But they were put together with thought and care, using produce that was in season and seemingly prepared to order, dressed lightly just before serving with homemade vinaigrettes that were flavourful, but not overwhelmingly so.  


I think they’ve figured it out, the folks on PEI. Salads shouldn’t be things we throw together simply to make our meals healthier. When given the same care as any other dish that’s meant to be tasty in its own right, salads can be worth savouring. Choose your veggies (or fruits!) with freshness, flavour and texture in mind, coat them just lightly with a complementary dressing, and add any herbs, cheeses or nuts that’ll help make them shine. Salad complete, deliciousness ensured.


PEI-style Green Salad with Dijon & Maple Syrup Vinaigrette 
Inspired by the salad at this tasty Island cafe
Makes 4 side-servings (it’s best made day of, so scale it back as need be!)

Note: The salad ingredient quantities are rough estimates, given that the size of your veggies will likely be slightly different from mine. Feel free to adjust the ingredients up or down slightly depending on your tastes. For an easy meal, add an egg – poached, fried or boiled – on a hefty slice of buttered toast. 

Dressing Ingredients
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tsp dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste 

To make the dressing: Dump all of your ingredients into a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Secure the lid and shake the jar until the ingredients have emulsified.  Let the dressing sit at room temperature for a few hours to let the flavours meld. Extra dressing can be stored in the fridge and brought back to room temperature by placing the jar in a cup of warm water for a few minutes. 

Salad Ingredients
1 head of leafy green lettuce
1/2 a red pepper
1 large carrot
1 small zucchini
1 green onion
16 cherry tomatoes (I forgot mine, oops!)
8 small radishes

To make the salad: Prep your veggies no more than an hour before you want to serve your salad. Cut your lettuce into bite-sized pieces, slice the red pepper into thin strips, peel and coarsely grate your carrot, julienne your zucchini into thin, 2-inch strips, thinly slice your green onions, halve your cherry tomatoes and quarter your radishes.

Set aside a bit of each type of veggie, then pop the remaining veggies in a large bowl. Add half the dressing to the bowl and toss the salad well. Give the salad a taste and add more dressing as needed. Top the salad with the reserved veggies and drizzle a bit more dressing overtop. Sprinkle the finished salad with just a pinch of flaky salt. Serve immediately! 

Healthy & Delicious: Three Simple Summer Drinks

For whatever reason, I got it in my head a few days ago that this week would be a great time to share with you guys a recipe for hot, gooey, roasted nuts. This, when the week’s forecast suggests that Edmonton will be all sun and heat, all the time. But no matter! On I forged: The necessary ingredients were procured and mental preparations were made to stand over a hot stove, on a hot day, to produce food meant to be served hot.

Fortunately, rationality prevailed. After spending a day in my breezeless apartment, I abandoned my plan in favour of a cool drink. And another. And another after that. So today, instead of a recipe that’s evidence of my silliness, I have for you three seasonally appropriate cold drinks that will keep you well away from the stove and instead let you stand in front of a fridge or a freezer.  


Like the nuts were intended to, each drink should sate your sweet tooth. Unlike a bowlful of maple syrup-coated pecans, however, each drink is also light, and thus infinitely more well-suited to swimwear season. Which is good news because, if you’re anything like me, the ridiculous ease with which you can put one of these tasty concotions together means you’ll be consuming them frequently. 

The main recipes are alcohol-free, but for those of you looking to spike your creations, fear not: I’ve included a few suggestions on alcohols that might work well for each drink. I haven’t tested any of the grown-up variations myself though, so I can’t guarantee their deliciousness (or potency) either way. Augment at your own delight/peril. 

Now without further ado, three simple, healthy, chilly creations that you’ll actually want to make. 


The idea: Skipping the kettle in favour of steeping tea bags in cold water doesn’t just keep you cool – it’s so much easier and helps to keep tannins (those bitter flavours that show up not long after caffeinated teas are steeped in hot water) at bay. Earl Grey creates the citrusy flavour (and caffeination) of a classic iced tea, while peppermint naturally sweetens the tea and adds a refreshing smoothness. 

The recipe (via my sister): In a large pitcher/jar/container/whatever, combine three Earl Grey tea bags, two peppermint tea bags, and 1.5 litres of cold water. Let chill in the fridge for at least two hours (overnight is fine too!), or until the tea is as strong as you’d like it to be, then discard the bags. Serve your chilly tea over ice, with fresh lemon and fresh mint if you so desire. Makes 1.5 litres. 

For the grown-ups: Top off your iced tea with a splash of your favourite bourbon or gin.


The idea: Raspberries give a refreshingly tart edge to a nostalgia-inducing watermelon slush. Freezing the fruit before it gets blended gives the resulting drink a long-lasting ‘slushy’ texture (when simply refrigerated, by comparison, watermelon tends to separate into layers of pulp and juice). Freezing the fruit also means you don’t need to add ice at any point, which would water down the slush’s flavour.

The recipe (inspired by my brother-in-law): Freeze 3 heaping cups of 1-inch cubes of watermelon until very firm but not solidly frozen, around 1.5 hours. In a blender or food process, combine the frozen watermelon with 1/4 cup of frozen raspberries and blend until smooth. Serve immediately. Makes roughly 2 cups (enough for one thirsty person). 

For the grown-ups: 
Add a shot of rum or tequila to your concoction as you blend.


The idea: This rich, chocolatey drink sure doesn’t taste like a breakfast food. But because it’s made from good-for-you ingredients like fresh fruit, almond milk and cocoa powder, skipping your morning bowl of hot oats in favour of this more summer-friendly cold drink doesn’t seem like such a bad idea after all. 

The recipe: In a blender or food processor, combine 1 cup of cold unsweetened almond milk (or milk, or soy milk – whatever you’ve got on hand), 1 banana and/or 1/2 cup of frozen cherries, 3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder, and 1 tbsp of maple syrup. Blend until smooth, and serve it up! Makes roughly 1.5 cups (enough for one thirsty person).  

For the grown-ups: Wait until noon, then add a splash of Baileys as you blend.

A (failed) experiment in bread-making: Whole wheat, carrot & spring onion bread

Every couple of years I get the urge to make bread. The kind you knead, let rise, and so on – the whole bready shebang. Which means that every couple of years I accidentally subject the people around me to a terrible meal because, as it turns out, I’m all kinds of bad at making bread. I’ve done under-risen, over-baked, rocklike: most everything but successful. 


The good thing about being bad at something is that, if you ever do want to be good at it, you put more effort into learning. And so, over the years, I’ve read a lot about bread, coming to understand that the success of a loaf is as much about intuition as it is about instruction. With the outcome dependent on humidity, temperature, elevation, the mill of your flour, and so on, a well-written recipe only gets you so far. 

Which is why, this time around, I resolved to be less militant about following a recipe, instead taking my cues from the look and feel of the dough. And it went well. Until I walked away from the rising loaf for a few hours so that I could go to lunch with my family and the loaf deflated a little out of what I assume was a feeling of abandonment. Out of warranted spite, it then stuck to the well-oiled pan upon baking and remained doughy inside despite being in the oven for the longest time recommended by the recipe. 


The top half of the loaf – the part that wasn’t semi-raw – was tasty: tender, buttery and a little sweet from the honey and carrots. If you’re more competent than me, my guess is that it would make for a tasty sandwich loaf, which is what it was intended to be. My family kindly says that it’s not bad re-cooked as toast.  

bread-trio.jpgI’ll give the bread another shot this week in hopes that I can do justice to the well-rated recipe that served as my starting point (advice is more than welcome!). I encourage you to give it a try too, whether you’re a skilled bread maker or not, since the only way to a tasty loaf, outside of luck or spare change, is practice. Just be sure to have backup dinner plans.

Whole Wheat Bread with Carrot & Spring Onions
Makes one 9x5 inch loaf
Adapted from allrecipes.com

Note: If you want to make a standard loaf of bread, feel free to omit the carrot and onions. 

1 cup of warm water (110 degrees Fahrenheit)
1.5 tsp active dry yeast
1 tbsp + 2 tsp honey
1 2/3 cups bread flour
1 tbsp butter, melted
1 tsp salt
1-2 cups whole wheat flour
1 carrot, finely grated
2 spring (green) onions, finely chopped 
1 tsp butter, melted

1. In a large bowl, mix together the water, yeast and honey until most of the yeast has dissolved in the water. Stir in the bread flour until the mixture forms a sticky, uniform ball. Let sit, covered, in a warm spot for 30 minutes or until the dough has expanded and formed bubbles.

2. Mix in 1 tbsp of melted butter and salt, then stir in 2/3 of a cup of the whole wheat flour along with the carrot and onions. On a flat, well-floured surface (or in the bowl, if it’s large), knead the dough until its surface is smooth and just slightly sticky, incorporating more of the remaining 1 1/3 cups of whole wheat flour (or more), as necessary. 


3. Place the ball of dough in a large, well-oiled bowl and let it rise in a warm place, covered, until it has doubled in size (expect this to take between 1-2.5 hours, depending on how warm your house is). Gently squish down the dough with your hands until it has deflated, then place it in a well-oiled 9x5-inch pan. Let rise until the dough has risen an inch above the edge of the pan.

4. Preheat your oven to 350 degress Fahrenheit. Bake your bread for 30-45 minutes, or until the bread sounds hollow inside when you tap the base of the loaf (you’ll have to remove it from the pan to do this – be careful, as it’ll be hot!). When the bread is good to go, transfer it to a wire rack, brush the top with 1 tsp of butter (if you so desire), and let it cool completely.


Mulligatawny: A family recipe, of sorts

In my mind, a family recipe is a specific sort of thing. It’s passed down to you by a family member, someone older than you by at least one generation (and preferably two). It’s ungoogleable in its uniqueness, either of ingredients or the way in which they’re combined. Most importantly, it has sentimental significance beyond the fact that it belongs to your family. It’s the stuff of holidays, or regular days that become significant in their own right. 

A curry recipe adapted from a cookbook published in 2002 – Madhur Jaffrey’s Foolproof Indian Cooking – doesn’t seem like it would fit the bill, especially for a caucasian kid with no known ties to India. But for me, almost everything about this soup reminds me of family. 


When my Dad brought the cookbook home – the purchase inspired by a few particularly tasty lunch outings in our city’s “Little India” with his coworkers – it was my family’s first introduction to Indian-style cooking. Taken by the brightly coloured photos and what were, at the time, ingredients foreign to me, it was the first cookbook I read cover-to-cover. But it was my sister, who was just venturing outside her cooking comfort zone of instant noodles and rice, who first tested it out. She made the recipe for this soup, adapting the original chicken-heavy version so that I, a new vegetarian, could eat it too. 

The salty spiciness of that first batch was addictive. I remember we finished the whole pot in one sitting. Over the decade that’s followed that first batch, the soup has featured as a starting course for an overly ambitious Indian birthday dinner for my dad, and as a potluck contribution many times. It’s been scaled up and never down, enjoyed on lazy days and frozen for busy nights ahead. It was the first things my sister attempted to make after giving birth – a recipe so well known to her that it was certain to turn out, despite the baby on her hip. It was one of the first thing I made after her baby arrived too, after her batch ended up burning to the bottom of the pan (she encourages you to stir the soup while it simmers, especially if you’ve quadrupled the recipe).  


The soup has evolved over time to include more ginger and garlic and, when we’re so inclined, twice the spices called for. Oddly, neither of us have memorized the recipe, but it’s been made so many times that the instructions are jotted on pieces of paper and stored in inboxes. Which is fortunate for both of us, since the recipe really is ungoogleable. 

I’m not sure why I haven’t shared the recipe before. It entirely fits the FoodHappy requirements of being simple, healthy and super tasty. But in a sentimental way (since I’m well down that road by now), it’s nice to be sharing it here, from Prince Edward Island, where my sister and I are visiting my parents. It may take another generation for the soup to qualify as a proper family recipe. But when we all sat down to dinner earlier this week, to familiar soup and the usual family antics (an extra dash of salt from my dad, a sigh of exasperation from me), it sure felt like home. 

Vegetarian Mulligatawny (Lentil Soup)
Adapted liberally from Madhur Jaffrey’s Foolproof Indian Cooking, and sourced from an email from my sister
Serves 6-8 

2 tbsp oil (canola or olive)
5 tsp ginger, grated
5 tsp garlic, minced
3 tsp curry powder
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp cayenne or two dried, hot chiles
2 cups of red lentils, rinsed until the rinsing water runs clear
8 cups of water or low-sodium vegetable stock
1.5-2 tsp salt 
Fresh cilantro (optional)
Fresh lemon (optional)


Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the ginger and garlic and fry for 15 seconds. Add the curry powder, cumin, coriander and cayenne/chile and fry for an additional 30 seconds.

Add in the lentils, water and salt and bring to a boil over high heat. When boiling, reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, until the lentils are super-tender, 30-40 minutes (they should no longer be recognizeable as lentils). Season with the juice of half a lemon and a big handful of chopped cilantro, if you so please!


Update from the Island & An Interview with Moleskine

Friends! I’m sorry for the quiet on the blog front this week. It’s been busy times here in Prince Edward Island, where I’m staying for a month to visit my family and work on a photo project (more details on that one soon!). Despite my best intentions to share recipes from my adventures on ‘the Island’, as it’s affectionately known here, I’m a few days behind. Soon, though, I’ll have tasty morsels to send your way, I promise! 

pei-trio.jpgIn the mean time, if you’re in the market for travel photos and recipes, you can check out the e-version of the photo book I made using photos and recipes I collected in Italy last summer. The book, along with a short interview with dorky me, is currently featured on the Moleskine Facebook page and blog. If you’re a FoodHappy regular, the recipes will be old news (stuff like caprese salad, bruschetta, Roman mac and cheese, and cinnamon and almond biscotti), but you will find loads of nifty Italy photos that didn’t make the blog. 


And with that, I’m off to get ready for a day of travel with the family and (hopefully) snap a few shots to share with you! 

Dairy-free Chocolate Mousse

I’ll start by being upfront. A chocolate mousse recipe that simply skips the dairy, this is not. Where a traditional mousse recipe calls for eggs and chocolate, for whisking and melting, this calls for fruit, cocoa powder and a food processor. So if you’re after something traditional in either ingredients or techniques, I’ll soon be leading you astray. But if you’re looking for something that offers up the smoothness and chill of mousse without relying on cream, chocolate or complex techniques, then good news: we’re well on the road to success!


The method is simple: avocados, bananas, cocoa powder and a handful of other ingredients are blended until smooth, then chilled until delicious. It was introduced to me by my sister and brother-in-law, who came across it while searching for new dessert options after pregnancy forced my sister to take a temporary hiatus from chocolate and dairy. And though the initial results tasted like they might be better served with dinner, they continued to experiment, tweaking the ingredients with dessert in mind.  


So is it tasty? Quite simply, yes. The texture isn’t as airy as a traditional mousse, but it’s impressively rich and creamy nonetheless. And the flavours are so balanced that even friends with trained palettes couldn’t pick out the individual ingredients, aside from the cocoa. 


Though we have a long history in North America of trying to coax decadence out of good-for-you ingredients (think: decades of zucchini cake and of hiding vegetables in meat loafs), I figured that this dessert was still too far out there to have mass appeal. But this past week, my brother-in-law made it for my parents, regular dessert eaters who have plenty of experience with the classic chocolate mousse my sister would make as a teenager. And both of them – my mom, the chocolate fanatic, and my dad, the self-stated eschewer of fruit – asked for seconds. And then asked that we make it again.


Dairy-Free Chocolate Mousse
Makes 5-6 half-cup servings (and doubles easily)
Recipe courtesy of Rob

2 ripe avocados, cut into quarters (pits and peels removed)
1/2 a ripe banana
1/3 cup cocoa powder
3 tbsp coconut milk
3 tbsp maple syrup
1 pinch of cinnamon
1 pinch of salt


In the bowl of a large food processor, blend avocados until smooth. 

Toss in all of the remaining ingredients and blend again until smooth, scraping down the sides of the processor bowl with a spatula partway through. 

Give the mousse a taste, adjusting with more cocoa powder, coconut milk or maple syrup, a 1/2 tbsp at a time, to suit your taste. Make sure to blend after each addition. 

Transfer the mousse to a bowl and refrigerate, covered, until chilly. Give it a good stir and dish it out, topping with diced strawberries, cacao nibs, or anything else you deem tasty. 

I’d say you’re best to consume the mousse within 2-3 days of making it, but I can’t be sure – it’s never lasted that long around here!