Food Connections and Cake [Brown Butter Blue Plum Skillet Cake]

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I tend to talk quite a bit about the connections we make through food. The people we meet while attending events, the conversations had over meals, the friends from around the world that feel like you’ve known forever when really, you’ve yet to meet. I know some fellow bloggers will agree that  the connections we’ve made through twitter, email, facebook or whatever medium you use can sometimes feel stronger and more connected than some “real-life” relationships. 

imageI have quite a few of these connections to speak of, people I’ve met at conferences and chatted with endlessly online, but there are a few in particular I hold close to my heart. Lindsay Anderson, known to some as Linds Eats, is one of those special people. We met, funnily enough, through a job we were both vying for.  When the city of Richmond, BC was hiring a food blogger to live there and visit/write about a new restaurant each day for 365 days, I jumped (of course). Lindsay and I made it to the Top 3 and were flown to BC for our interviews (well, Lindsay lives in Vancouver so she mostly just hopped on the skytrain). Our respective groups of friends/supporters proclaimed us enemies as they prepared for us to head out for one of the biggest interviews we’d been faced with. I worried that the intensity of competition would sour our ability to enjoy the dinner that was planned for us all to attend (and of course, my anxiety was at an all time high… as usual). To make a long story short, we connected almost instantly over our twisted senses of humour, love of all things food, and loud, boisterous laughs. Though we came from much different backgrounds, had varied relationships with food, and lived on opposites sides of the country, it was obvious that our similarities were far greater than our differences. We’ve kept in touch over the last year and a half, offering support to each other when needed, drooling over our keyboards when one or the other posts something delicious, congratulating each other on small successes or sharing a laugh over something we’ve seen online. 

When Lindsay broke the news that she and her 
longtime friend Dana VanVeller would be travelling across Canada for their new (ambitious!) endeavour, Feast On; An Edible Road Trip, and would be stopping in Ottawa on their way through Ontario, my gut stirred with excitement knowing I’d get to see her again soon. 

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Lindsay and Dana have been here since Saturday and are now headed on to the next leg of their journey in Montreal. I was lucky enough to get to see them twice during their time here; Sunday morning we greeted each other over big hugs and popped into the dank but completely charming and always-delicious Ottawa favourite The Manx for some brunch, followed by a trip to the Ottawa Farmers Market where the gals were introduced to two of my favourites, Michael and Pascale. We strolled through the market, Lindsay and Dana snapping photos and taking it all in, me buying up everything I could. We came back to my place and made some Za’atar Pretzels together; Lindsay explained that she worked in a pretzel shop in England while living there and showed us the proper technique to roll one… I didn’t catch on very quickly. 

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When all the sights had been seen and we hugged goodbye, I felt so happy and honoured to have been able to show them the city that I love so intensely and the food and people that make it so special to me. It was a whirlwind trip but sometimes those are the best kind of visit as they force you to really milk each moment before it’s gone. It was such a treat to see and re-connected with Lindsay (in REAL life) and finally meet Dana after talking through keys for the last 6 months. 

While we were at the market, I had picked up some blue plums from Warners Farm with the intention of making a trifle, but this cake was what came out and I’m actually pretty thrilled that it took that turn. We all need a 30-minute cake in our repertoire, right? I’m glad you agree. 

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Brown Butter Blue Plum Skillet Cake
adapted from Serious Eats
serves 6-8

I tried to get a little fancy with the plum placement. As usual, I regretted trying to be fancy immediately  Just toss them in all willy-nilly. You’ll be able to get more in there, thus balancing the sweet/sour and it just looks prettier when you let it be messy. Lesson learned. 

  • 5 tbsp (1/4 cup + 1tbsp) unsalted butter
    2/3 cup buttermilk
    2 large eggs, room temperature
    2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

    1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
    1 1/2 tsp baking powder
    pinch cinnamon
    pinch cardamom, optional
    4 small, ripe blue plums, seed discarded + thinly sliced into wedges
    2 tsp coarse sugar like turbinado (or granulated sugar if you can’t find coarse)

Preheat oven to 350 and place oven rack in the middle. 

Melt 4 tbsp of butter in a hot skillet over medium heat and continue to cook, swirling occasionally, until it starts to foam. Remove the pan from the heat and continue to swirl as the butter finished browning (5-7 minutes), it should smell nutty but not burnt. 

Whisk in the buttermilk, eggs and vanilla extract. Pour the buttermilk/brown butter mixture into the dry ingredients and stir only until batter is smooth. Don’t overmix. 

Grease skillet with remaining 1 tbsp butter and pour batter in. Top with sliced plums and bake until golden around the edges or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25-30 minutes. 

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A Lack of Thought [Almond Mint Arugula Falafel with Lemony Avocado Buttermilk Dressing]

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I keep coming here with the intention to write a big long spiel about stuff and things and life… and then I get here and just stare at the page, pick at my cuticles, sigh heavily, and walk away. 

I’m not sure if it’s a result of a busy few weeks or if I’m actually just getting really boring. I’m hoping it’s the former, because my cuticles are pretty ravaged. The thing about writers block is that it doesn’t just go away… at least not in my case. I tend to just write through it despite not having all that much to say. This isn’t always beneficial when you have readers who expect a certain caliber of writing… so I apologize in advance for the lack of intelligent thoughts, but I promise that block or no block, I’ll always share recipes that make up my shortcomings. 

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So, like, you know… here are some falafel. They are really good. So good that I ate about 6 of them in one sitting, popping them into my mouth like they were grapes. The creamy, citrus-spiked buttermilk and avocado dressing, which has all the texture of a decadent dressing but is relatively healthy if you’re not afraid of good fat, was perfect with the earthy, herbed falafel. I dunked them into the dressing and enjoyed them as simply as that. But you can absolutely stuff them into a pita or a lettuce wrapped filled with your favourite produce, herbs and sauces. 

So make a batch this weekend. And have an intelligent conversation on my behalf, because I will probably be fumbling over my words for a few more days. 

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Almond Mint & Arugula Falafel with Lemony Avocado Buttermilk
recipe adapted from Green Kitchen Stories
makes 1 dozen falafel


1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
2 cups loosely packed arugula leaves
1 cup toasted almonds
2 cups canned chickpeas
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ small red onion, diced
pinch red pepper flakes, optional
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin
1 tbsp flour (whole wheat works!)
1 tsp baking powder
Creamy Buttermilk-Avocado Dressing, recipe follows
Lemon wedges, to serve

Place the herbs and almonds in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until herbs and chopped and almonds are almost ground, a little texture is good. 

Add the chickpeas, garlic, red onion, red pepper flakes, olive oil, cumin, flour and baking powder to the bowl and blend until well combined. It’s ok to have some texture and chunks of herbs/chickpeas/onion etc. No need to be TOO picky. 

Preheat oven to 350. 
Roll about 1 1/2 tbsp scoops into an oval shaped ball and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cook for 15 minutes, turning every 5 minutes so they brown evenly on all sides. 

Serve on their own with the dressing, or stuff into pita or lettuce wraps with tomatoes, extra herbs, dressing and extra avocado. Serve with extra lemon wedges on the side. 

Creamy Buttermilk-Avocado Dressing
1/2 avocado
1-2 tbsp lemon juice, depending on taste
1/4-1/3 cup buttermilk
 salt and pepper to taste

Add all ingredients to food processor and blend until smooth. Add a bit of water (or more buttermilk) to thin, if needed. Taste and add more salt or lemon, if needed. 

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No Cake, Please. [Salted Rasberry Buttermilk Cake]

 

I don’t like cake.

So there. I said it. Just like that. I hope we can still be friends despite this obvious character flaw. It’s just one of those things I don’t care for. Perhaps too many boxed Betty Crocker birthday cakes at birthday parties growing up, or maybe I’m just extremely bizarre. Either way, if it’s in the room and offered to me, I will turn it down 9 times out of 10. And that one time I will reluctantly accept a slice, is likely because I feel like a terrible guest turning down cake (Who doesn’t like cake? Are you watching your weight? Oh, just have one little piece!).

All that being said, there are types of cake that I do enjoy. They are not the vanilla drenched, gritty and sickeningly sweet iced cakes of my childhood, no no, they are the simple everyday cakes, rustic in appearance, unglazed, un-iced and often thrown together in a matter of minutes. Those are the cakes I could get busy with. A slice of cake you could just as easily have for breakfast or an afternoon snack as you could for dessert, without feeling guilty, that is. One that is instantly made better by a leisurely dip in a cup of Earl Grey. And the type of cake that is there, waiting for you unassumingly at the end of a long and grueling day. That is the sort of cake I pine for. And if I’m pinning for it, I have a feeling you might be too. Afterall, I can’t be the only loon in the world who has a distaste for the rich and sugary.



I spotted this recipe on 101cookbooks, a blog which I have unapologetically professed my love for many times before, and knew right away that it would quickly move to the top of my list of unfussy favourites. The cake itself isn’t very sweet, but a generous sprinkling of turbinado sugar and big icy looking salt crystals makes up for what the cake lacks in sweetness. A few raspberries, strewn about haphazardly, a little bit of lemon and tangy buttermilk, and you’ve got yourself a cake that will save your buns when you forgot you were supposed to bring dessert to your In-Law’s Sunday dinner. Or perhaps when you just need a little something to dip in your tea Sunday morning. Either way, I have no doubt it will make it’s way into your recipe collection the same way it did mine.



Salted Raspberry Buttermilk Cake
adapted from 101Cookbooks

As Heidi suggests, when you’re melting the butter, feel free to keep cooking it until it’s a deep golden brown. This brown butter will give the cake a completely different taste. Deeper and nuttier.

Heidi suggests using whole wheat pastry flour, but I didn’t have any on hand so I made some changes. If you can find it, feel free to use that instead.

Lastly, if raspberries aren’t available, use whatever berry you have on hand.


1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups pastry flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
zest of 2 lemons
1/2-1 cup of raspberries (depending on pan circumference)
3 tbsp large grain raw or turbinado sugar
1 tsp large grain flaky finishing salt

Grease and flour an 11-inch tart/quiche pan (I used a smaller and wasn’t able to get as many raspberries on it) or a 9x13-inch rectangular baking dish.

Preheat oven to 400.

In a large bowl, add the flour, baking power, brown sugar and salt. Whisk just to combine.



In a smaller bowl, whisk the eggs, buttermilk, melted butter and lemon zest. Pour over the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Try not to over mix the batter.



Pour batter into prepared pan and spread from the centre outwards until evenly distributed. Give each raspberry a little squeeze before placing on top of the cake (helps the juices meld with the sugar…and looks prettier!). When you’re done arranging the raspberries, sprinkle the top of the cake evenly with both the large grain sugar and salt.



Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Pay careful attention to cooking time if you’re using the rectangle baking dish.

Serve all by itself, with a dollop of whipped cream or alongside a cup of tea.

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Sunday Night Dinners [Blowtorch Prime Rib, Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes]



Let’s talk about something ridiculous, shall we? I have 30+ cookbooks [a seemingly small collection to some]. Some I’ve spent $10 on and some I’ve spent $100 on. I look at them often, flip through them regularly, gaze at them lovingly while they lay, unfulfilled, on the shelf. But I rarely cook from them. I haven’t given them the life they deserve, and I think it’s about time I self-intervened and changed my ways so they can live out their lives (or more likely, mine) the way they were intended.

I’m sure at least one or two of you are guilty of this. Buying books, bringing it home just dying to open it, flipping through it 40 times in a week, and then retiring it to a shelf, to be seen once a year when you’re looking for some inspiration. Please! Tell me I’m not the only one!



I decided a few weeks back I was going to go through my cookbooks, starting with two in particular, and fold off some pages that I wanted to try. The two books, which I would highly highly recommend, are Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rogers and Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller. Both are beautifully written books, with inspiring photos and recipes that are easily attainable by the home cook. Of course, there are some recipes that are quite daunting. Some with ingredients I haven’t heard of, or ones that are extremely specific and that the recipe relies on for success, but a good many of them are not. Some require a little forward thinking in order to prepare all aspects (like a jar of preserved lemons or pickled watermelon rinds) but are fairly simple and straightforward other than that. I am really anxious to try some of the creative dishes in both books, Chicken Braised with Figs, Honey and Vinegar [Zuni] and Salt Crusted Striped Bass [ad hoc], to name a couple.

When Sunday came, I wanted to do something that challenged me a little. I really want to try and get better at the things that make me uncomfortable in the kitchen. Beef makes me a little weary. I don’t know why, but I am intimidated by it. Steaks, tenderloin, roasts… they make me sweat. I think it’s because I know how well my boyfriend, his dad, my dad, my mom…everyone makes them. I love (would-likely-ask-for-on-death-row kinda love) beef. It’s a treat for me since I rarely make it. I’d like to enjoy it more often, and I’d like to feel comfortable making it. So I gathered my courage, channelled Chef Keller, and bought a really nice hunk of meat from the best butcher shop in the west end of town, Pete & Gus. Which also happens to be the first place I was employed.

And how could I not notice a recipe titled “Blowtorch Prime Rib”? Blowtorch? Prime rib?
Sold.



Because I’ve had a less than perfect past with barbeques and fire (I’m lucky to still have my eyebrows/eyelashes. Real lucky), I asked Mr Goudalife if he could be my knight in shining armour and blowtorch my roast for me. Naturally, he agreed. Just to explain, the purpose of the blowtorch is to start the fat rendering process so you can cook the meat at a low temperature and still achieve a layer of crispy, brown fat on the outside.



It was the most successful piece of meat I’ve cooked. Crispy on the outside but perfectly medium rare (maybe a little closer to rare, which is how I like it), moist and flavourful inside. And with only salt and pepper to season it, the flavour of the beef really shined through. We served it with horseradish cream sauce [Ad Hoc]creamy buttermilk mashed potatoes [Zuni Cafe Cookbook] and some low fat yogurt creamed spinach that I’ll share with you just as soon as I play with it a bit more.

I’ve typed this out exactly the way it was written in the book. If you do want to try it out, I suggest you follow it to the letter before making any changes. It’s perfect how it is. You got that? Good. Let’s set some beef on fire.

Note: Please please please be careful when making this. Blowtorches are not a laughing matter and can be extremely dangerous. Read instructions, and be smart. And be ready for some of the fat to flame up a bit.

Blowtorch Prime Rib

recipe from Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller

One 2-bone center-cut rib roast (about 4½ pounds), trimmed of excess fat
Kosher salt
Coarsely ground black pepper
Gray salt or coarse sea salt
Horseradish Cream (recipe follows)

Position an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 275°F.
Put the roast on a roasting rack in a roasting pan. Hold a blowtorch about 1 inch from the roast and turn to lightly brown the fat on all sides; the idea is to start the fat rendering and to torch the meat just until the surface begins to turn gray. Season the roast generously with salt and pepper.





Transfer to the oven, with the meat toward the back of the oven, and cook until the roast registers 128°F in the center. The total cooking time will be about 2 hours, but begin to check the temperature after 1½ hours. Remove from the oven and let rest in a warm spot for at least 30 minutes for medium-rare.



To carve, cut the meat away from the bones. Separate the bones and put them on a serving platter. Cut the roast in half through the center, turn each piece cut side down, and slice straight down into slices that are about ½ inch thick. Arrange the meat on the platter and sprinkle with gray salt and pepper.



Serve with the horseradish cream on the side.

Horseradish Cream Recipe
From Ad Hoc at Home
makes about 1 cup

½ cup very cold heavy cream
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
About ¼ cup drained prepared horseradish
½ teaspoon fleur de sel, or to taste
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

Put the heavy cream and vinegar in a medium bowl and whisk until the cream holds a soft shape. Whisk in the horseradish, salt, and pepper.
Refrigerate in a covered container for up to 1 week.



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Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes

1 1/4 lbs peeled potatoes, cut into 1 1/2” chunks

salt
2 tbsp. milk
2 tbsp. heavy cream
2 tbsp. buttermilk
3 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted Instructions

Place the potato chunks in a medium saucepan and add cold water, covering the potatoes by an inch or so. Add the salt and stir. Bring to a boil and cook uncovered until the potatoes are very tender, 8 to 15 minutes.


Drain the potatoes and mash them. Add the milk and whip. Add the cream, whip, add the buttermilk and whip and finally add the melted butter and whip until light and fluffy. Adjust the seasoning adding salt as necessary.


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