I hope I never lose my sense of wonder. If that makes me naive, then so be it.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

chocolate bacon cake

It's D's birthday today, so yesterday I found myself thinking yesterday that some sort of cake was called for. What to make for him... so I laughingly thought, if only I could make bacon into a cake! I mean, bacon? Of course. It makes everything better. My initial thought was to make a rectangular cake, then use colored strips of fondant melded together to look like a slab of bacon.

Yes, really.
Then I realized, that would be cruel. The next thought: chocolate cake. With bacon. And I'm pretty sure a light bulb appeared over my head. The bittersweet flavour or chocolate should work beautifully with the smoky saltiness of bacon, right? I love sweet/salty combinations.

A little internet searching later and I found that my idea was not so original; other people had made various takes on the concept of chocolate and bacon. But the cakes looked too fluffy for what I had in mind. Instead I turned to a recipe from a lovely book passed along to me by older sister S. On Rue Tatin (by Susan Hermann Loomis) is a great combination of story, food, and recipes, one of which is for a gâteau au chocolat rich in chocolate and dense in texture.

So. I made two cakes, then took more dark chocolate that I melted with hot cream to make a ganache. Ganache is one of those things that is just simple and amazing (aaah French food, you've done it again). Chocolate and cream and butter, to which liqueur or brandy is often added. I added bacon. Of course.

A few slices were cooked, thoroughly drained and blotted, and chopped fine. The ganache was the filling between the layers and the top frosting. Feeling vaguely like the guys on 'Epic Meal Time' I cooked and crumbled more bacon to cover the top. A sprinkling of fleur de mer to gently enhance the saltiness finished it off.

The result? The name had us laughing, the cake looked phenomenal, and the flavours worked as I expected. The drawback: the chocolate was a bit too rich. A sliver would be enough. But in those bites that gave you the mouthful of chocolate, then smooth ganache, and finished with the bacon smokiness at the end, we had 'wow' moments.

We enjoyed supper al fresco, setting up a table and chairs on the lawn in the shade of the trees, popping open bottles of Rieme French sparkling lemonade (picked up on a whim and a new family favourite), Pellegrino, and a nice red wine from Jabulani Vineyards. We feasted on grilled corn on the cob and steak, with some pasta in a pesto I had made from basil in the garden.

The mosquitoes obliged and stayed away, so we could relax and enjoy a lovely meal outdoors. Then the kids got silly so D threw them in the pool.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

daring cooks, july

July! Summer! Heat! And, another challenge: fresh pasta.

Steph from Stephfood was our Daring Cooks' July hostess.  Steph challenged us to make homemade noodles without the help of a motorized pasta machine.  She provided us with recipes for Spätzle and Fresh Egg Pasta as well as a few delicious sauces to pair our noodles with!

I have an Olympia stainless steel hand-crank pasta roller. I don't remember buying it; it was early on in my married life and I was likely in a culinary mood. I've used it fairly often, though I wouldn't say it's a regular item at work in my tiny kitchen. It usually lives up on the shelf by the hand blender, winking at me when I open the cupboard door. When I have time and extra hands to help (the kids love rolling it out!) I do prefer the quick cook time and the taste of fresh, homemade pasta. But I've made broad noodles every time I've used it. So with this challenge, I wanted to try something new and so decided to go with stuffed pasta.

I made the pasta from my usual recipe; 2 eggs, a pinch of salt, 2 t vegetable oil, and 1 1/2 cups of flour. Yup, that's it. It's stirred until it forms a ball, kneaded for about 8 minutes, then rests for 30 minutes in the fridge before getting rolled within an inch of its life on the pasta machine.

For filling I thought on flavours and chose chorizo sausage, goat cheese, and basil. The garden is positively full of it these days and I love its fresh, lemony taste in everything I'm cooking lately. I cut the flat sheets of dough into squares, piled on some filling, put a top piece on, and made it round while sealing the edges with a biscuit cutter. They actually looked pretty good (though A said one, my first attempt, looked "pretty mutated").

Ready to cook!

For sauce I made a light mix of tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and a bunch of herbs from the garden: basil (of course!), thyme, oregano, and some chives. Chicken stock and white wine were added, all simmered away while we made the pasta, and a touch of cream was added at the end. Yum. My three food critics (our teenage and pre-teen daughters) all loved the mix of tastes, but we all agreed that the sausage was too defined a texture for the filling. Next time, prosciutto, perhaps?

Finished ravioli with tomato cream sauce
I've been calling this 'ravioli' all along, then realized my pasta terminology might not be right. I did look it up and as long as it's filling between two sheets of pasta, we're good. And that is the plural: a plateful is ravioli, but if you just have one it's a raviolo. There's my word geek moment of the day.

Broad noodles and pesto
As typically works out with my cooking there was more of one part than the other, and we ran out of filling before dough. The rest we cut into my usual broad noodles, boiled them up, and a run out to the garden for a handful of basil leaves (pureed with olive oil and garlic - sadly, no pine nuts!) gave us a nice pesto to toss them with. The fresh taste was perfect for this summer evening.

The one negative? I ate too much. :)

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

and a partridge...

It feels like I should have a partridge here, in a pear tree no less.

A trip to the co-op today to pick up my order and I brought home 16 chicks (white Cornish Rock), 5 ducklings (white Muscovy), and 4 pheasants (ring-necked). The ducks and pheasants are a trial, having never raised them before. The chicks are a regular summer feature here on the farm, one batch already done this year.

They're all settled into their little homes, having been shown the waterers, food sprinkled liberally at their tiny feet, and heating lamps keeping things nice and cozy. But there's something about the ducks and pheasants: they are awfully CUTE. The ducks are yellow and fuzzy, with large dark eyes, little duckbills and teensy webbed feet. The pheasants, dark and striped, are smaller than sparrows and have skinny legs that seem to be a little too long for them yet. They doze standing up, then fall off their stilt-legs and stand up again, blinking.

Here's hoping they get ugly before they reach market weight.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

lazy hazy crazy days

July has pounced out of the bushes, leaving poor June far back in the distance as we race through summer. We spent a wonderful week in the Maritimes, reconnecting with family and reminding our kids that even if they were born inland, they still have the ocean in their blood. We relaxed, played with family, the kids hit the pool, I kayaked, D golfed, and we ate many marine creatures - mussels, shrimp, lobster (oooh, lobster, how I've missed you). We visited a beach with its red-soiled cliffs and sandstone shore, the kids clambering around, skipping stones, and discovering shells and stones in the edge of the calm water. After PEI we had a couple of wonderfully restful days at the cottage, time with D's family, canoeing on the lake and hearing the loons at night.

Our official reason for heading to PEI and the reason for the bonus of my whole family being out east at once was celebrating Dad and Mom's 50th wedding anniversary. The evening we officially marked the event, I looked around the room and thought what an amazing bunch of people this is, and how blessed I am to be a part of it and bring up our three girls in such a rich heritage. With 22 of us under one roof there were lots of laughs, reliving memories and making new ones. In a quiet moment alone on the deck one night I thought about the one who wasn't there with us. Wish he could have been.

We came home to a lawn not gone as rampant as I would have thought, but - oh, the garden! The veggies are ready for eating. And eating. And eating. The Swiss chard has grown, the thick dark leaves a lovely contrast to the bright yellow and red of the stems (and has furnished us with two chard gratins already, with more to come). The kale is lush, the broccoli looks almost ready for eating, the beans will succumb to being steamed with butter for supper tonight. Tomatoes have started setting, the herbs are fragrant, the cucumber vines are wandering around, and the pumpkins simply will not stay in their home, instead wandering about and visiting all the other plants. Corn is growing, carrots coming along, lettuces looking healthy and ready for salads.

Now if only the pool would cooperate and stop being so cloudy.