Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cookies

Happy Halloween, everyone!

In honour of this ghoulish occasion, I’ve made something fittingly frightening: 

Upload from October 31, 2011

Oatmeal peanut butter cookies.

SPOOKY!

Ok, so they’re not really. But a quick gander at the ingredients list for these bad boys - butter, peanut butter, sugar, and, yes, more sugar - will make your heart stop and your stomach grumble, and likely not in that order. That, my friends, is scary stuff indeed.

Upload from October 31, 2011

Which makes me think it’s time that I should clarify something: contrary to what recent posts - the soup, the scones, the pie - suggest, I don’t actually advocate a diet of all butter and cream, all the time. In reality, my pantry is built mostly around whole grains and my fridge is filled with fruits, veggies and, since we’re being honest here, a small collection of cheeses. Sure, butter and cream are in there too. But moderation and I? We’re pretty good pals. 

So the decadent stuff that I share with you? More often than not, I share it with others too. Banana bread is toted to the office, biscuits and pancakes are served up at rare family breakfasts, and a little bit of everything makes its way to my sister and brother-in-law’s place, in thanks for them letting me borrow yet another who-knows-what. (This article? This is me.)

Upload from October 31, 2011

And these crispy, chewy rounds of peanutty goodness are no different. Because today, they’ve been promised to a bake sale.*** Which means that I, in good conscience, was only able to try one. The teeniest one. Still warm from the oven. If I hadn’t had my Willpower-Intersecting-with-Obligation costume on (it looks cooler than it sounds), who even knows what would have happened.

So make them, but make sure you’re set up to share, or the scariest thing about your Halloween will be the disappearance of pounds of butter and sugar, seemingly into thin air.

See? SPOOKY
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Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cookies
Inspired by allrecipes.com
Makes approximately 16 3-inch cookies or 24 2-inch cookies

Ingredients
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cups quick oats (the kind that take 3-5 minutes to cook on the stove)

Directions 
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer or a wooden spoon and elbow grease, cream together butter, peanut butter, and brown and white sugar until smooth and fluffly (2-3 minutes with the mixer, more with the spoon). Add egg and vanilla extract and beat until butter mixture is fluffy and smooth again (another minute or two with the mixer, more with the spoon). In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt.

Upload from October 31, 2011

2. Add flour mixture to butter mixture and mix with a wooden spoon until the two mixtures are almost completely combined. Add oats and stir just until oats are evenly distributed through the dough. Cover the bowl and allow dough to chill in the refrigerator for 10 minutes, just to let it firm up a bit.

Upload from October 31, 2011

3. With clean hands, roll dough into balls* and place 2 inches apart on a lined cookie sheet (I used parchment paper, but a Silpat will work too!), flattening just a tiny bit.** Bake for 10-12 minutes or until bottoms are golden and tops are lightly browned. Let cool on the sheet for a minute, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store extras, if there are any, in an airtight container. 

Upload from October 31, 2011

*For medium cookies, roll dough into 1-inch balls; for large cookies, roll dough into 1.5-inch balls. 
**Be warned, the dough is sticky, so this will be a bit messy. If you’re mess-averse, you can form cookies by dropping rounded teaspoonfuls of dough onto your lined cookie sheet, leaving 2 inches between drops. The resulting cookies likely won’t be as round as if you had rolled the dough, but your hands will stay (relatively) clean.
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***As part of their effort to combat campus hunger, the awesome volunteers at the University of Alberta Campus Food Bank are getting in the Halloween spirit today by doling out sweet treats at a bake sale and by trick-or-treating, in costume, for non-perishable food items. If you want in on the action, you can support the CFB by: 

- Dropping by Alumni Walk from 10AM to 4PM today to pick up a tasty bake-sale treat;
- Donating non-perishable items to volunteers that will be Trick-or-TrEATing in the University area this evening;
- Or by visting the Campus Food Bank website to find out how else to get involved.

Want to check out other food banks? Visit the Food Banks Canada website or get googling! 

Mushroom Soup with Red Wine & Cream

As you read this, the country grows divided.

In one camp, the strong gather to discuss tactics for the months-long war that will ensue. With eyes and ears alert, they wait to banish their own, the ones who will betray them with a pale face, a sniffle. They shoot up immunizations and wash their hands a lot. 

In the other camp, a bunch of sweaty people cough and complain about their backs.

It’s flu season.

Upload from October 24, 2011

And alas, this past week I found myself in Camp #2. A reluctant recruit, I resisted for a day. It’s just a sore throat, I said. I stayed up too late, I said.

But my body thought otherwise and, after a day of business as usual, it shut me down. For 24 barely-broken hours, I slept, dreaming - no, hallucinating - that I personally was a baked good and in need of regular turning. It made me forgo work, fun and real food in favour of multiple sweaters, naps and handfuls of peanuts and grapes. 

Upload from October 24, 2011

And, what do you know, it worked. Aside from a charming cough, I’m pretty much a real person again (or, as my dream on Saturday would have me believe, I’m someone else’s clone). Tomorrow, I think I’ll be ready to cross the floor back to Camp #1. 

As a sign of good will, I’ve made something that both the healthy and the otherwise can appreciate: soup. And not just any soup. Soup made with red wine. And cream. And butter. And fresh herbs. The tastiest mushroom soup around. One of your awesome suggestions from back in the day!

Upload from October 24, 2011

The time to make it is now, when you’re hanging out solo either because you’re sick or everyone else is. Because, in addition to all that good stuff I’ve mentioned, it also contains about two metric tons of onions, which means that you - and any article of clothing within aroma-distance of your kitchen (in my case: everything) - will smell oniony.

But it’s worth it. Because this rich, hearty soup - which reminds me a whole lot of the boeuf bourguingnon of my childhood, but sans beef, of course - is delectable. Worthy of lick-the-bowl status. You may not want to share, but given that it’s flu season, you may not have to. And to that, I say: amen, and wash your hands before you eat. 
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Mushroom Soup with Red Wine & Cream
Adapted from chefmichaelsmith.com
Makes 4-6 servings

Ingredients 
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 lbs button mushrooms*, cleaned, trimmed and thinly sliced 
3 medium onions, peeled and chopped into 1-inch-ish pieces
A big pinch of sea salt
A big pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups hearty** red wine
4 cups vegetable broth (aim for something low on salt; you want to be the one choosing how much salt to add to your soup!)
1 cup heavy (35%) cream
1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary, tarragon or thyme
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup water 

Directions
1. Set a large, wide-bottomed pot over medium-high heat and add butter, onions and mushrooms. Cook onions and mushrooms, stirring often, until mushrooms are beginning to brown. Note that this’ll take a bit of time, as the mushrooms have to lose a lot of moisture before they can then brown (your mixture will look soupy for a while as the mushrooms release water). Once the mushrooms haved browned, add wine, reduce heat to medium-low and bring mixture to a simmer. Simmer, adjusting heat as necessary and stirring often, until wine has reduced to about a third of the quantity you started with. 

Upload from October 24, 20112. Add your stock, cream and herbs to the winey mushrooms and bring soup to a simmer, adjusting the heat as necessary. With a fork, mix together cornstarch and water until smooth, then pour into the simmering soup and stir, bringing the soup back to a simmer. Once the soup has thickened slightly (this takes only a couple minutes), remove from heat*** and serve with a toasted, buttered slice or two of your favourite bread and a bit of that leftover wine. 

Upload from October 24, 2011

Tips!
*I used a combination of white and brown button mushrooms, but you’re more than welcome to swap in snazzier varieties (hearty shiitakes are supposed to be particularly good here!). As for cleaning mushrooms, since they do absorb water your best bet is to clean them with a damp paper towel, but rinsing any dirt off under gently running water willl work too. 
**I used a Shiraz, but a quick Google search tells me that such common varieties as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chianti, Merlot and Zinfandel (not White Zinfandel, which is sweet and pink!) all qualify as “hearty”. 
***If you like your mushroom soups to be a bit thicker, you can pop an immersion blender into the pot and blend, or transfer some or all of the soup (depending on how many mushroom pieces you want to leave whole) to a blender. Take care if you’re using a blender though, as hot liquids can explode when agitated. Your best bet is to work in small batches, leave the lid ajar (do NOT seal it tightly, and DO take out the centre piece of the lid if it’s removable), and start by blending on the lowest speed possible.  

Upload from October 24, 2011A Note About Boxed Wine
Once limited to shifty boxes of unspecified “red” and “white”, these days it’s easy to find Shirazes, Merlots and the like offered in box-form by the inexpensive-but-drinkable labels that we’re all familiar with. Which is awesome, because boxes are easier to recycle than bottles, keep your wine fresh for weeks, and are much more economical (I’ve found that the standard 3L box, or four bottles-worth, typically runs for the price of three bottles). Plus, since they’re often marketed as an eco-friendly option, some labels even donate a portion of the proceeds to environmental causes; my box of Banrock Station Shiraz is lending a hand to salmon restocking efforts, for example. So next time you’re in need of wine, consider whether a box will work for you. And, in the mean time, check out  the New York Times’ take on boxed wines here and here

Cranberry & Lemon Scones

Growing up, the week following Thanksgiving at my house was always one of culinary creativity. After a few post-weekend plates of the full meal deal, the carrots and turnips would grow thin (simply because we’d cooked less of them - Thanksgiving was no time for a balanced meal) and we’d be left with a zillion pounds of turkey.

So we ate everything turkey: open-faced hot turkey sandwiches served on white bread and doused with molten gravy, turkey and barley soup and, perhaps the most creative, turkey jambalaya.

Upload from October 17, 2011Now that I forgo the fowl on Thanksgiving, my leftovers are limited to vegetable dishes, which still disappear just as fast. So by the end of last week, the last bit of Thanksgiving left in my fridge was a half-bag of fresh cranberries. 

Oh, poor cranberries. I reckon the majority of these beauties end up either as a super-sweet accompaniment to holiday turkey, or dehydrated, bagged and sent to compete with raisins for dried fruit world domination. Now, I admit I do eat dried and sauced cranberries (a true fan, I’ve always elevated cranberry sauce to a dish in its own right, to be eaten sans turkey). But fresh cranberries are capable of so much more! 

Upload from October 17, 2011

Rocking the sweet-and-sour combo, cranberries play nice with sweet things like apples, pears, sugars and spices, and get along just as well with sour things like citrus juices and zests. Plus, they’re packed with a long enough list of nutrients to qualify them for superfruit status, and yet they’re inexpensive, will keep fresh in the fridge or freezer for ages and require just a good rinse and maybe a chop or two to get them started. 

Upload from October 17, 2011

So this year, rather than stashing my cranberries in the freezer until the next holiday meal, I channeled the spirit of Thanksgivings past and got creative. And man, did it pay off. These speedy cranberry and lemon scones are ridicuolously good: sweet, buttery, crunchy on the outside, cloud-like on the inside, and packed with juicy fresh cranberries and bright lemon zest (the heavy cream doesn’t hurt either, but I swapped in some whole wheat flour and fully intend to share them). Plus, they beg not to be kneaded, which means an easier time for everyone. Hurray! 

Upload from October 17, 2011

Whether you give them a try or not, I encourage you to free your leftover cranberries from the shackles of another red sauce and get creative. In need of inspiration? Try your hand at a three-ingredient cranberry sorbet, a simple coffee cake swirled with ribbons of sugared cranberries, homemade cranberry vodka (from the BBC, of all places), or a fall-ready pear and cranberry crisp.  

And if you’ve got a favourite way to serve up your cranberries, give me a shout in the comments section - I’d love to hear what’s on your cranberry radar!
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Cranberry & Lemon Scones
Adapted from Gourmet
Makes 12-16 scones

Bonus: 

Ingredients 
1 1/4 cups fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped*
3 tbsp granulated sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 cup of cream
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I used 1 1/2 cups all-purpose and 1 cup of whole wheat)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt 
6 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into teeny (1cm-ish) cubes
2 tbsp lemon zest (orange would also be tasty!)

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. In a small bowl, mix together chopped cranberries with 3 tbsp sugar. In another small bowl, beat egg and egg yolk together, then mix in cream. In a food processor,** combine flour, 1/2 cup of sugar, baking powder and salt and whizz to combine. Add in butter cubes and lemon zest and pulse just until mixture is coarse, with butter bits roughly the size of peas (I did 20 quick pulses). 

Upload from October 17, 2011

2. Pour flour mixture into a large bowl. Dump in cranberries and stir until they’re evenly distributed through flour mixture. Make a small well in flour mixture and pour in egg-cream mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon just until the flour is moistened. The batter will be clumpy, but resist the urge to knead - treating the dough gently from hereon in will make for tender scones!

Upload from October 17, 20113. Turn half of the dough out onto a well-floured surface and, with floured hands, gently pat into a circle roughly 1-inch high and 5-6 inches across. Cut into six or eight pieces and place 1-inch apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough. Bake scones 15-20 minutes or until tops and bottoms are golden. Remove from oven and transfer immediately to a wire rack to cool. 

Upload from October 17, 2011*I’d recommend placing just a few cranberries on your cutting board at a time and carefully slicing them in half (you can do a few at once). If you try to chop the full quantity of whole cranberries at once, you’ll have a zillion berries rolling all over the place. 
**You can skip the food processor and do this by hand if you want. Just place the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a bowl and whisk together, before adding the zest and butter. Break the butter up into the flour using a pastry cutter, a fork or your fingertips until the mixture is coarse and the butter is the size of small peas. 
 

Sweet Potato Pie with Spiced Whipped Cream!

This past weekend, I celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving. And there was a lot to be thankful for: a fantastic year with family and friends, a weekend of beautiful weather, and sweet potatoes. Yes indeed: sweet potatoes!  

Upload from October 11, 2011

You see, I spent the better part of my evenings last week meeting up with friends over meals. Grocery stores were off my radar. And woe for that, because when it comes to that Thanksgiving staple, the canned pumpkin often used in pumpkin pie, it seems that when you snooze, you lose. 

So when I made it to the grocery store on Saturday, later than expected due to a spontaneous adventure on Edmonton’s High Level Bridge Street Car, unsurprisingly, the pumpkin was gone. So I went elsewhere: no luck. I called around. Again, no dice. 

Upload from October 11, 2011

And so, I turned to sweet potatoes. Infinitely easier to find than canned pumpkin (as in, they’re everywhere!) and super-simple to prepare, sweet potatoes produce a pie that’s almost identical in flavour to the classic pumpkin. Success!

I toted the pie along on Sunday as my Canadian contribution to a truly global Thanksgiving (think mashed potatoes and cranberries alongside pasta primavera, stuffed mushrooms and Chinese dumplings). Served with spiced whipped cream and shared with friends, it was a happy end to a very happy meal. 

Upload from October 11, 2011

Moral of the story? Don’t leave things to the last minute. But if you do, there are always sweet potatoes.

I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving!
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Sweet Potato Pie
Adapted from epicurious.com
Makes 1 9-inch pie

Ingredients
1.25 lbs sweet potatoes (I used one giant sweet potato)
1/4 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup whole milk
3 eggs
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1 9-inch unbaked pie shell (this recipe is my go-to for pie crust!)

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut potatoes in half if large (as in, if you’re just using one) and prick with a fork. Place in a baking dish skin-side down and bake for 75 minutes or until very tender. Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature. Scoop flesh out into a large bowl and mash with a fork until smooth. Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees farenheit. 

Upload from October 11, 20112.  In a small saucepan, melt butter. Add sugar and stir until combined. Add sugar mixture, eggs and milk to mashed sweet potatoes and whisk until smooth. Add flour, vanilla, cinnamon, nutgmet and salt and whisk again until smooth. 

Upload from October 11, 20113. Pour filling into an unbaked pie shell* and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 40 minutes or until the centre of the pie is just set (it shouldn’t be wobbly). Remove from oven and let cool on a rack. Serve with spiced whipped cream (recipe below)!  

Upload from October 11, 2011*Next time, I’ll likely bake the pie shell for 10-15 minutes in the 400 degree oven, just to give the pastry a bit of extra time to crisp up. If you go this route too, make sure you prick a few holes in the bottom of the pie crust with a fork to give the hot air generated in the oven room to escape (otherwise you’ll end up with a wonky-shaped crust). To be on the extra-safe side, you can also line the raw shell with tinfoil and fill it with pie weights or raw rice before baking. The weight of the weights/rice will help keep the shell in place during the pre-bake. 
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Spiced Whipped Cream
Makes about 2 cups of whipped cream

Ingredients
1 cup whipping (35%) cream
2 tbsp icing (confectioner’s) sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground ginger

Directions
In a medium bowl, whip cream on high with an electric mixer (or whisk, if you’re braver and stronger than I) until fluffy, but not yet holding soft peaks. Add sugar, cinnamon and ginger and mix again until fully incorporated and cream is holding soft peaks. And that’s it!  

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Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes

Ok team, let’s start this one off with some fun facts!

Pounds of potatoes produced on Prince Edward Island per year: about 2.5 billion. 2,500,000,000! No big deal.
Number of days I spent on PEI this summer: 16. 
Number of tasty tuber-based recipes I shared with you while there: Zero, zip, zilch. 

Upload from October 03, 2011

Now, you could run some fancy computer models to try to decipher what all of that means, but I think you just know: I dropped the ball. 

My neglect might have been excusable had I not known of PEI’s potatoey prominence - this tiny island province is responsible for over a quarter of Canada’s annual potato production - but nearly all of my relatives are there. My mom was born there. Our family dog was named Spud. I pretty much bleed potato starch. I have no excuse. 

So I’m here to make things right by making something with potatoes. And with Thanksgiving on the horizon, I figure they had better be mashed. 

Upload from October 03, 2011

Packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber-like starches, potatoes are nuggets of nutrition. To drown their goodness with loads of butter and cream? Well, there’s a time and a place, no doubt, but when pumpkin pie is also on the menu, to do such a thing would be just silly. So I’m passing along a recipe for mashed potatoes that skips the heavy stuff in favour of the lighter, but still creamy, buttermilk. 

Upload from October 03, 2011

The result: super-smooth, nicely-bitey mashed potatoes that remain worthy of half your Thanksgiving dinner plate but are much more second-slice-of-pie permitting. Which, I guess, means I now need to make some pie. 
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Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes
Adapted from Epicurious
Makes 4 small servings (double it if you’re cooking for 4 mashed potato fiends!)

Ingredients
1.25 lbs thin-skinned potatoes (like Yukon Gold or Russet), peeled (optional) and cut into 1-inch cubes
1.5 tsp salt
0.5 - 0.75 cups buttermilk, warmed*
1 - 2 tbsp unsalted butter
fresh ground pepper
fresh chives, chopped

Directions
Put potatoes and 1 tsp salt in a medium pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Drain water from the pot, then return the pot to the stove and cook the potatoes over low for 5 minutes, stirring occassionally, to cook off a bit of the water that remains in the potatoes. Remove from heat and mash with a potato masher or fork. Add 1/2 cup of warm buttermilk and stir with a wooden spoon until potatoes are creamy, adding an additional 1/4 cup of buttermilk if you want a smoother consistency. Stir in butter, pepper, and remaining 1/2 tsp of salt, and top with chives and a bit of extra butter if you so desire! 

Upload from October 03, 2011*First, a higher fat-content buttermilk (3% or so) will make for richer, less tangy potatoes. Second, when warming the buttermilk, take care not to heat it until it’s hot, or it will separate. A quick (30-40 second) spin in your microwave, with a few stops to stir the buttermilk along the way, should do it.

Simple or Snazzy: Baked Apples, Two Ways

Well team, now that there are nearly as many leaves down on the ground as there are up in the trees, I feel like I can legitimately start talking about fall food. And today, I’m sharing one of my childhood cool-weather favourites: baked apples.

Upload from September 27, 2011

The idea is simple: a crisp, tart apple is stuffed with a mixture of sugar, butter, cinnamon and other tasty things, and baked until the fruit is tender and infused with molten, bubbling, buttery, delicious goo

They’re also simple to throw together and relatively (relatively) healthy, though they’d never seem it to a kid. Which may be the reason my parents made them so often for my sister and me. 

Upload from September 27, 2011

But then again, they always served them to us with a big scoop of ice cream, so maybe it wasn’t the healthy thing after all. Maybe it was to keep the two of us, impressive arguers in our youth, quiet for just a little longer. Which seems like a stretch, I know, but these are my clever parents, inventors of our once-favourite road trip activity, the “Who Can Be The Quietest? Game”. I kid you not.  

Upload from September 27, 2011

Childhood mysteries aside, baked apples are super-tasty - you should give them a try! I’m passing along two recipes: one for the classic butter, brown sugar and cinnamon baked apples I ate as a kid, and another for a filling variation (packed with orange zest, nutmeg, pecans and more!) that I’d eat anytime. But don’t be afraid to get creative and invent some delicious, silence-inducing apples of your own. Happy baking! 
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Simple - Classic! - Baked Apples
Inspired by allrecipes.com (which, according to my mom, is identical to the way my grandmother used to make them - neat, no?)
Makes 4 baked apples 

Ingredients
4 Granny Smith apples
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp cold butter
2 tsp ground cinnamon

Directions
Preheat oven to 350°F. Make a well in the centre of the apple by scooping out the core, but leaving about a 1/2-inch intact at the bottom of the apple (so the filling doesn’t leak out).* In a small bowl, mix together sugar, butter and cinnamon until crumbly. Divide sugar mixture equally between apples, pressing mixture into the wells until they’re full. Place apples in a baking dish and bake for 30-35 minutes or until they reach desired tenderness. Let cool for a few minutes before serving (with ice cream!). 

Upload from September 27, 2011

 *I did this by cutting around the core - but not all the way through the apple - and then using the handle of a spoon to scoop the majority of the core out. 
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Snazzy Baked Apple Filling Variation
Note: to make snazzy, spicey baked apples, all you’ve got to do is substitute in the filling recipe below for the filling used in the recipe above. All the other steps - the coring, baking time, etc. - are the same! 
Inspired by allrecipes.com
Makes 4 baked apples

Ingredients
4 Granny Smith apples
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp orange zest
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup finely chopped pecans

Directions
In a small bowl, mix together sugar, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg and zest until crumbly. Stir in raisins and pecans until evenly distributed through mixture. Use in place of sugar-butter-cinnamon mixture in the recipe above. 

Upload from September 27, 2011

Farewell PEI, Hello Cake!

For the last four days of my holiday on PEI, I was joined by my friend and frequent PEI travel buddy, Dayna

With the bit of time we had to adventure, Dayna and I (with a good dose of driving on the part of my parents) knocked off the usual touristy items from our PEI To-Do List, frequenting beaches and antique shops, taking scenic drives with the windows down and Paul Simon’s Concert in the Park on high, visiting extended family, checking out the farmers’ market, and dropping in on the distillery for a bit of cane sugar molasses moonshine.

Upload from September 23, 2011But, as is often the case when Dayna and I get together, we spent the better part of our time on the Island doing things that are a little more, er, off the beaten path. This time around, we found ourselves:

- In historic (and super-quaint) Victoria-by-the-sea, stopping in at Island Chocolates for an iced tea and staying to hang with the locals and hold photos of Elton John’s face in front of our own while we sang (very poorly) a promotional jingle -  the shop was holding a contest to win tickets to Elton’s upcoming concert - set to the tune of “Your Song”;
- On the side of a road at a location I cannot name (Rule #1 of mushroom picking!), battling mosquitoes for golden chanterelle mushrooms. This time, the mosquitoes came out on top;


Upload from September 23, 2011

- In someone’s front yard, checking out PEI’s biggest tree (officially);
- At the parish hall, eating biscuits and listening to bluegrass with Island elders; and,
- At the Cheese Lady’s shop, buying wheels of gouda and accidentally angering the sheep (the latter was all me, sorry sheep!). 

Upload from September 23, 2011

Another common occurrence when Dayna and I get together is that we take control of the kitchen. After three days of the “all butter, all the time” approach to eating (make that 15 days for me), we were feeling vegetable deficient. So we raided the garden and Dayna put together an amazing feast of orange-glazed carrots, potatoes with oregano and lemon, beets with fennel fronds, and stewed cherry tomatoes. 

And, for good measure, we grabbed a monster carrot (so big we needed less than one) and baked a super-decadent carrot cake, which we served in giant hunks and enjoyed with abandon, after dinner and again for breakfast the next day. 

Upload from September 23, 2011

Now that we’re home, Dayna and I will have to slowly reintroduce vegetables to our diet (don’t want to shock the system, you know). And since my dad sent us home with five pounds of vegetables each, including some of those monster carrots, I figured that making another carrot cake was probably a good way to start. (Please feel free to question my judgment, because I sure am.) 

Upload from September 23, 2011

Tender, moist, packed with all sorts of tasty additions - pecans, raisins, pineapple and cinnamon - and topped off with cream cheese icing, this is one happy cake. Perfect, I’d say, for at least pretending to get a healthy start to the new season; happy first day of fall, everyone! 
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Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing
Adatped from allrecipes.com
Makes two 8-inch cakes, perfect for stacking!* 

Ingredients
Cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1¾ cups white sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
2 cups grated carrots
1 cup pecans, finely chopped
1 cup raisins
1 cup crushed pineapple, juices drained

Cream Cheese Icing
1½ cups cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup butter, at room temperature
3½-4 cups icing sugar, sifted**

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 8-inch pans (circles or squares - both work just fine!). In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar, vegetable oil and eggs. In another medium bowl, mix together carrots, pecans, raisins, and pineapple. 

Upload from September 23, 20112. Add sugar mixture to flour mixture and stir until dry ingredients are almost fully moistened. Add carrot mixture and fold until dry ingredients are no longer visible and carrots, etc. are evenly distributed through batter. Divide batter evenly between your two prepared pans and bake for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool cakes on a wire rack for 10 minutes then turn out of pans and allow to cool completely. Centers of cakes may sink a little - you’ve been warned! 

Upload from September 23, 2011

3. Once cakes are cool, beat together cream cheese and butter. Add powdered sugar, starting with the lesser amount, and mix until smooth. Add additional sugar, if necessary, to obtain desired sweetness and consistency.

Upload from September 23, 20114. To ice the cake: place one layer, bottom-up in the centre of a plate. Slide a few strips of wax paper under the cake to catch any icing that may drip along the way (this’ll ensure you’re left with a tidy-looking plate at the end of the icing process). Place one slightly-heaping 1/2 cup of icing on top of cake and spread to the edges of the top with a knife or offset spatula. Place next layer on top, bottom-side up. Place another slightly-heaping 1/2 cup of icing on top of cake and spread to the edges. Spread remaining icing around edges and top of cake until cake is evenly covered in icing. Remove wax paper strips and serve. 

Upload from September 23, 2011*You can also make a 9x13-inch sheet cake, if you’re not big on doubling up. 
**I only used 3 cups of icing sugar this time around, and the resulting icing was tasty but pretty runny (so much so that I had to pop the cake in the freezer to prevent the icing from succumbing to gravity). I suspect that an icing made with 3.5-4 cups of icing sugar would be much more manageable, and still super-tasty! 

Technical Difficulties, Oh Nooo!

Bad news, team: my computer’s on the fritz!     

Upload from September 19, 2011

And while the computer doctor has temporarily mended the problem while we wait for replacement parts to arrive, I’ve been warned that my poor computer’s screws could come loose at any moment and he could slip into a state of permanent trackpad depression. In which case, my computer will be useless until those parts come in (which, phew, will be a mere 1-3 days).  

Upload from September 19, 2011

So, for fear that my computer will die at any second, I’m passing along this speedy message along with a few full-sized photos I took in PEI.   

Upload from September 19, 2011

But not to worry: I’ve got the next full-length post in the works (with lots of photos, stories, and an extra-tasty recipe) and will be posting as soon as my computer’s health permits. So tune in on Friday (at the latest!), when my computer is guaranteed to be A-OK once more, for yet another carbohydrate-heavy recipe from PEI

Island Detours (Plus a Family Recipe!)

On paper, my parents’ place - my home base on my holiday - is in Little Pond, PEI. In reality, it’s in the middle of nowhere. And it’s lovely. 

Upload from September 12, 2011But after you finish leafing through that book everyone’s reading and get back from your daily stroll down the beach in search of shore glass, well, you’ve got to get in the car if you’re going to do anything else with your day.  

Which is kind of awesome, actually, because on PEI, there’s always something interesting just down the road ready to distract you (and your ever-patient parents) from your intended destination:

Upload from September 12, 2011Wharves lined with lobster boats and trap shacks;
Heritage dirt roads that offer the promise of another handful of amazing wild mushrooms (no luck yet, but we’re trying!);
A roadside diner where the pulled pork is, I’m told, worthy of my first meal if ever I give up on the vegetarian thing;
A little market overflowing with seasonal veggies, island ice cream and, if you’re lucky, a corn maze;
And family. Lots and lots of family.

Upload from September 12, 2011

When nearly all of your relatives live on PEI (and the exceptions are out here on vacation), you’re bound to be within stopping-in-for-tea distance of someone’s place at all times. 

Last Wednesday, when we dropped in on my aunt Lorraine and uncle Paul on our way into Charlottetown, we were greeted with a fresh batch of my aunt’s famous cheese biscuits (still warm from the oven!), and instructions from my uncle to “pound ‘em into ya”. And, being the super-generous person that she is, Lorraine not only let us eat every last one of her biscuits (guys, they’re really good), but she then shared the recipe with me and - hurray! - with you too!   

Upload from September 12, 2011They’re beyond light and flakey and super-simple to pull together. Just, um, try to remember to add the cheese, ok? See that photo of me kneading up there? See that bowl of forgotten cheese? Cheese biscuits, Stephanie, cheese biscuits.
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Aunt Lorraine’s Cheese Biscuits
Adapted from my lovely aunt Lorraine
Makes ~a dozen biscuits

Ingredients
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
¼ cup vegetable shortening
¾ - 1 cup grated old cheddar cheese*
¾ cup milk

Directions 
1. Preheat oven to 400°F.  

2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. With a pastry blender (or a fork, or your fingers), cut shortening into flour mixture until mixture is coarse and crumbly (the shortening bits should be about the size of peas). Stir in grated cheese until it’s evenly distributed through flour mixture. Slowly add milk, stirring with a fork, until dough is moist and pulling away from the side of the bowl. 

Upload from September 12, 2011

3. Dump dough out onto a lightly-floured surface and knead just until it comes together (no more than 20 times!), shaping in into a rectangle ¾- to 1-inch high. Cut into rounds with a biscuit/cookie cutter or small glass dipped in flour, placing raw biscuits on an ungreased cookie sheet. Gently reform remaining dough and repeat until you’ve used up all your dough. Bake biscuits for 14-16 minutes or until bottoms and tops are lightly brown. Eat as soon as you can! 

Upload from September 12, 2011*I forgot the cheese the first time around, and they were still super-tasty. We ate them with butter, homemade raspberry jam, and gusto!
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Thanks goes to my sister and brother-in-law, Lauren and Rob, for taking the action shots of me making biscuits! 

Food Adventures on PEI (Plus a Recipe)!

The island adventures continue, and this time they’re all about food! 

Upload from October 28, 2011

At my parents’ place, the adventure comes not in the act of finding food - the garden is only a few steps from the house - but rather in what it is that you find. See, in addition to growing teeny tomatoes and pounds of PEI potatoes, the garden is home to behemoth pink beets (face-sized, truly) and Franken-carrots (frightening and delicious!).  

Upload from October 28, 2011

Off “the property”, we pulled up brightly-coloured chairs to lunch on amazing salads, sandwiches and coffees at the super-cute Leonhard’s Cafe & Restaurant, and used the break between my cousin’s wedding ceremony and reception to visit the PEI institution, Cows Ice Cream, for scoops of Wowie Cowie and Mooey Gooey.

Upload from October 28, 2011

Our edible adventures have taken us further afield, to farms and forests. On Friday, we headed to Wheatley’s, where we tied 2-litre buckets around our waists and headed out into the fields to battle mosquitoes for blackberries, blueberries and raspberries. Tasty times were had by all, mosquitoes included.

On Saturday, while I stayed home to read, my more clever traveling companions popped into the Charlottetown farmers’ market, and indulged in the fish & chips and beer sampler at PEI’s brewery, the Gahan House, before heading out to the woods to forage for a PEI delicacy: the golden-hued, umbrella-like chanterelle mushroom. Chanterelles are super-tasty, but so finicky to grow that you rarely see them in stores and those in the know are keen to keep their source a secret. But, thanks to a tip-off from an aunt, persistence on the part of my dad and brother-in-law and a willingness to risk death by poisonous mushrooms, we feasted on chanterelles sauteed in butter all weekend long. 

Upload from September 06, 2011

Oh, and I finally cooked! Dipping into the pounds of blueberries we brought home from the U-Pick, I made a few batches of blueberry pancakes. Super-fluffly, scented with cinnamon and vanilla, and packed with juicy blueberries that happily exploded with the heat, they were a hit with the adventuring team, so I’m passing the recipe along to you too! I know blueberries are on the way out for the season, so feel free to substitute in whatever you have on hand - chocolate chips and diced bananas are next on my list - and adjust the spices accordingly. 

And tune in later this week, when I may finally get around to doing something with those apples and tomatoes. 
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Whole Wheat Blueberry Pancakes
Inspired by allrecipes.com
Makes ~12 3-inch pancakes

Ingredients
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tbsp baking powder
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1 egg
2 tsp vegetable oil or melted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup fresh blueberries*

Directions

1. In a large bowl, whisk together all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, baking powder, sugar, cinnamon and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together milk, egg, oil/butter, and vanilla. Make a small well in the flour mixture and pour wet mixture into well. Stir with a wooden spoon until dry ingredients are almost fully incorporated into wet. Add blueberries and fold until berries are evenly distributed through batter.

Upload from September 06, 20112. Heat a small pat of butter (a tsp or two) in a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Spoon batter into pan, using about 1/4 cup for each pancake. Cook pancakes until their edges are dry and their tops are covered in bubbles, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook 1-2 minutes more, or until pancake bottoms are golden. Repeat with remaining batter, storing cooked pancakes on a baking sheet in a 200°F oven to keep warm. 

Upload from September 06, 2011*You can use a frozen blueberries in place of fresh, though they’ll likely dye your pancakes green. Not a big deal by any means - just a heads up!