Cookies! White choc macs

Fine baking is all about good ingredients and a reliable recipe.  That’s why I turned to one of my baking idols, Bonnie Stern, for this cookie recipe’s foundation.

Desserts, first published in 1988 and revised ten years later, is over 200 pages of sweet perfection. My revised paperback edition is well-loved, covered in stains and filled with dog-eared page after page of handwritten notes.  I found “Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies” on page 108, where I had scribbled “Great!” 20 years ago and made plans to substitute half the chocolate with macadamia nuts.

Mac lovers have a thing for these nuts from Hawaii and you’d think I’d have no trouble finding them on Vancouver Island, just 2,361 miles away…  After two supermarket scans, I had given up all macadamian hope until David pounced on two bags at Country Grocer in Cobble Hill.

Bonnie wrote this recipe after lunching with “Mr. Chocolate Himself” (Bernard Callebaut) making me woeful not to have a chunk of his white stuff in my cupboards. I had to make do with PC white chocolate chips.

Luckily, butter fared better. Freshly purchased from Cow-Op, I had a glorious half-pound of Avalon organic unsalted butter that was whipped into a frenzy by Krystal, driving our cookie operation inside the KitchenAid mixer.

Ten minutes earlier, Krystal had placed two cold eggs from the fridge into a bowl of warm water to gently warm them up to room temp for the bake. I knew Promise Valley’s farm stand eggs were the finest and freshest I could find, their deep orange yolks ready to enrich this already rich mix.

For added flavour and a hint of nutrition, I substituted all-purpose with True Grain’s Sifted Spelt. Whether it’s sprouted, whole or sifted, spelt doesn’t disappoint in chocolate cookies.

This recipe delivers gooey, sugar-loving smiles and zillions (okay, just 50) cookies. If you can, hide some in the freezer — a tactic I’ve employed too often to really call successful any more.

Macadamia White Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup/2 sticks               unsalted butter, softened

1 cup                              brown sugar

½ cup                             granulated sugar

2                                     eggs, room temp

1 ½ tsp                          vanilla extract

1 tsp                              water

2 cups                           whole, sprouted or sifted Spelt

1 tsp                              baking soda

½ tsp                             sea salt

1 cup                             white chocolate chips or shredded

1 cup                             macadamia nuts

Preheat oven to 350 F

In a mixer using the whisk attachment, cream butter, brown and granulated sugar on high for about 2 minutes or until very light. Mix in one egg at a time. Mix in vanilla and water.

In a medium bowl, whisk together spelt, soda and sea salt.

Add flour mixture to creamed butter in mixer using paddle attachment until combined.  Add white chocolate and nuts until just combined.

On a baking sheet lined with parchment, drop cookie mix by the teaspoon and gently roll into balls.

Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Leave on baking sheet for 5 min. before transferring to a cooling rack.

Finding Spot Prawns

It was the Insulation Guy who got me started on the Spot Prawns. He’d just removed his gloves to down a glass of water and was looking around my kitchen, sniffing out my latest exploit, staring at rows of hot and boiled jam jars clicking shut in BerNARdin burps.

“You like to cook?” he asked.

I laughed.

“Lucky living here, then! All the blackberries you could eat in a lifetime. I’ve got a secret spot where there’s so many I can fill the back of my pickup truck in an hour.”

Classic.  Every foodie forager on Vancouver Island seems to have a fabulous tale like this. Insulation guy had barely taken a breath before he started in with more.

“And the Spot Prawns… well geesh, they do a huge run, right over there,” he said, pointing out my kitchen window. “Near Salt Spring. We haul out hundreds during the season.”

“How?” I asked.

“We drop traps and pull ‘em up!”

He licked his lips and rubbed his hands together, savouring the thought.

“It’s like manna from the heavens.”

I didn’t see Insulation Guy again but kept thinking about those prawns. Yes, I braved thorns as big as nails and picked buckets full of blackberries, but we had neither boat nor trap to pull any semblance of seafood from the ocean.

Then our friend Dan motored into the Ladysmith marina wearing his trademark grin and aviation sunglasses.  We were off to spend a night at their cottage on DeCourcy, a nearby gulf island where everyone has a generator and a heart-stopping view of the surrounding mountains.

“The tide is low,” yells Dan over the boat’s motor. “So, we’ll just wave at Annabelle and the kids as we pass by the cottage then park the boat around the back.”

Low and high tides, undercurrents and water depths are the common language of any BC boater and Dan loves every drop. Whenever he’s behind the wheel, he’s smiling ear to ear. No matter if the boat thunks and crashes against oncoming surf or the wind slaps like an ice-cold face cloth, he’s blissed.

“My friend John lives over there,” he shouts, pointing to a rocky outcrop barely larger than a hockey rink.

“And this place? Bill built this. Incredible, isn’t it? And all by himself!”

I can barely see the outline of a structure. We are whipping by another stony outcropping. Rocks. Trees. Water. Land of the adventuresome. Dan is a great guide knowing every nook and cranny, not to mention all the locals and their stories. But it’s lost on me. The boat’s motor is loud, and wind is whistling through my ears, until I catch a fragment.

“You pull what?” I ask.

“We pull our prawns right over there. We’re having them for supper!”

I’d heard tell of Spot Prawns in Toronto, decades back, when trendy chefs first jumped on this wild, BC treasure. Once or twice I’d seen them dancing inside live tanks in Chinatown, looking more like insects than fish. But it was on Dan’s boat where I learned the little critters walked into baited traps plunged at least 200 feet below, the rope’s end marked in the choppy waters by a bright buoy.

One hot summer day we went with Dan’s family for an exciting “pull” as son Hogan tugged the cage trap out of the water, grabbing the rope hand over hand, predicting (or boasting) a good haul of “at least 60”.

Hogan guessed it right but took no interest in the gruesome act that followed: On-site head removal. His nine-year-old sister Naomi was a seasoned pro, twisting them off briskly with each snap of her wrist, tossing dislocated craniums into the sea over her right shoulder as her left hand dropped  still squirming, headless prawns into a pail of sea water at her feet.

Dinner was an intoxicating feast of lime and cilantro marinated shell-on prawns, flash-fried for two or three minutes until perfect pink by chef Annabelle in the kitchen her father had designed, every wall another floor-to-ceiling window overlooking DeCourcy’s rocky coast and glistening sea below.

Once Insulation Guy and Dan’s prawn pull had whetted our addiction, David and I began to search for more sources.  We went on a road trip to French Creek Seafood Ltd and gasped at the price of their retail prawns, double the easy $20 cash asked by the First Nations fisherman with a freezer chest in the parking lot. Closer to home, we scoured the commercial fishing docks at Cowichan Bay and came upon a boisterous, beer drinking bunch just finishing a day’s work.

They had nothing to sell, yet were full of empty promises, “Tomorrow. Same time!”

(Nada. We were dumb enough to return.)

Prawn-duped time after time, David and I finally met our culinary saviour. Bugs.

I won’t tell you his first or last name or where he pulls them… or how. After four, newbie years on V.I., we have come to learn some of the island’s food codes.  We abide faithfully, if we want to stay sated.

Once in a while Bugs’ unidentified wife hands me a parcel the size of a basketball, tightly taped  in a sheet of foamy PVC then she winks. These prawns are headless and packed in solid ice, all curly and brown-pink. They take a few hours to thaw in my sink, surrounded by water in a silver bowl.

Photo by Emma Barrett

It’s an easy shelling endeavour when both David and Krystal dig in to help. I suggest leaving tails on but am quickly out voted. The shells are surprisingly prickly, a reminder of their wildness, like blackberries. Each have bright white spots on the first and fifth abdominal segments, according to BCprawns.ca and a translucent red-orange carapace with white stripes on the thorax. And this fun-fact: Every spot prawn starts life as a male and transitions to female in its fourth year- a piece of trivia worth dropping among LGBTQ circles these days.

Spot Prawns have 10 pairs of legs, five for swimming and the rest for walking, all of which come in handy when escaping an octopus, one of their biggest predators. Human predators, whether it be recreational harvesters like Bugs or eager eaters like me can eat prawns raw or cooked. Many prawn aficionados insist on cooking in the shell to enjoy a moist and juicy feast. There are dozens of ways to prepare this delicacy but we all agree on one vital standard: the shorter the cooking time, the better.

Photo by Emma Barrett

Which leads me to stir-fries and the wisdom of Cantonese cuisine when it comes to seafood. Think freshly grated ginger, cooking wine, a little garlic and fermented black beans. These babies have a salty bite and depth of flavour that magically enhances each sweet Spot Prawn mouthful. Luckily, Lee Kum Kee in Hong Kong bottles black bean and garlic sauce and it’s easily sourced in most supermarkets. But user beware. Fermented black beans from a bottled garlic sauce or in dried form can overwhelm. Start small. You can always add more afterwards when tasting for seasoning.

Oh, and another thing — Never ever divulge more than the code name of your Spot Prawn supplier on your blog unless you really want to express deep gratitude to Bugs, in a local Vancouver Island kind of way.

madofood.com/…inese-braised-pork-belly/ ‎

Spot Prawns in Black Bean Sauce

The trick to a great stir-fry is to cook the protein and vegetables separately, combining both at the finale with lots of built-in sauce.  BC Spot Prawns or shrimp are juicy and firm when quickly flash-cooked but toughen and dry out with every crucial minute of over-cooking.  Serve this over steamed rice or rice noodles. It also works as an Asian baozi filling.  Serves 4.

2 tbsp  neutral oil, (ie canola, sunflower, safflower)

2 yellow onions, cut into 1/8ths

3 sweet bell peppers, green, yellow, red, tri-colour, cut into 2-inch chunks

1 tbsp neutral oil

2 lbs Spot Prawns or shrimp, shelled

3  garlic, finely grated or pressed

1 inch pc fresh ginger, finely grated

2 spring onions, cut into 2-inch chunks

1/4 cup sherry

1 tbsp black bean and garlic sauce OR ¼ cup fermented dried beans

1 tsp soy sauce

1/2 cup stock or water

¼ cup chopped fresh coriander

Heat oil in a large wok over high heat, add onions and peppers and stir-fry at high for 3-5 min or until seared and tender.  Transfer to a plate and reserve.

Using the same wok over high heat add oil, garlic and ginger. Stir fry for 30-60 seconds, add spot prawns, cooking until just done. Use spatula to create a well in the wok, add sherry, black beans or sauce, soy and stock or water.  Stir 30 seconds, incorporate spot prawns and reserved vegetables. 

Serve immediately, garnished with chopped coriander.

Kale Winter salad

Kale winter salad


Whenever I find leftover cooked vegetables in my fridge, I like to incorporate them into a salad. Squash pairs beautifully with baby kale and apple gives this crunch. Toasting the pecans and seeds makes it even better!

6 cups baby kale
1 cup chopped apple
1 cup roast squash (acorn, butternut or kabocha), broken into bite-size pieces
¼ cup dried cranberries

Dressing
¼ cup olive oil
1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
1 tsp honey
½ tsp lemon juice
½ tsp Dijon mustard
Salt
Freshly ground pepper

2 tbsp pecans
2 tbsp sunflower seeds
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds

In a large salad bowl, toss kale, apple, squash and dried cranberries.

In a small jar, combine dressing ingredients, close with lid, shake to emulsify and taste for seasoning.

Pour over kale and sprinkle over with pecans and seeds.

Halibut Cheek Curry made with Cow-Op Love

Every day, we count our blessings to be living here in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island. This is a food zone and an agricultural oasis. Our neighbours have farm stands, cows amble in nearby pastures, tractors slow down Herd Road traffic and grapes course through vineyards framed by mountains and mist.  Bounty-filled farmers’ markets can be found all over the valley  but during these pandemic times, lines are endlessly long due to Covid protocol.

Luckily for those of little patience, we can shop online at the wondrous Cow-Op where an incredible catalogue of local items, from kale to duck liver paté to garlic seed bulbs are posted for purchase.

Due to the immediate freshness of these orders, local vendors update the site weekly with prepared, frozen or just-harvested items which go live on the site every Thursday until midnight Monday.  Orders can be picked-up in Duncan and Victoria, or delivered.

Once we’d picked up our first order, David and I were hooked. Thursday trips to Hope Farm in Duncan were a charm. The farm is littered with ramshackle chicken yards and coops, mountainous rows of kale and Brussels sprouts and a large, empty, funky old barn where we pick up our order.

In June, we walked off with a box spilling over with luscious heads of green butter and red oak lettuce from Lenora Bee Apiary and Farm, bags of freshly milled rye, Einkorn and Neepawa flours from True Grain and small bundles of chèvre and Tomme de Vallée from Haltwhistle Cheese Company.  After sourcing my order from freezers and refrigerators scattered through the cavernous barn, a Cow-Op staff pointed to a tray of heirloom tomato starts on the ground nearby.  “Take me home” said the sign and I walked away with a slightly forlorn, but not forsaken Mountain Merit  heirloom tomato seedling that is still producing on my back porch.

While Thursday afternoon Cow-Op pickups have become the highlight of this foodie’s week, I don’t always remember to put in my order by the previous Monday night deadline.

Last week I not only remembered but found food goddesses by my side as I gently defrosted a package of frozen Halibut Cheeks from Drift Meat and Seafood.

I had curry on the brain. It started with stained fingers after grating fresh turmeric then ginger. Fragrant wafts of onion and garlic filled the kitchen, heightened by whole cumin and fennel seeds thrown into the mix.  I found two ripe Mountain Merit tomatoes and another opportunity for my tomatillos that are growing like a rash through my beds right now.

Even though I’ve de-husked a hundred this fall, each and every tomatillo makes me smile.  Once their papery wrapping is off, these little green orbs have a sticky coating that adheres like glue until rinsed off. Tomatillos taste like unripe, green tomatoes with a twist of lime, perfect for these soft halibut parcels infused with the flavours of the Cowichan Valley. Thank you Cow-Op for bringing it all to the table.

Halibut Cheek Curry

Inspired by my purchase of frozen halibut cheeks at the Cowichan Green Co-op, this curry is also perfect for tilapia, sole, spot prawns, shrimp or scallops. The trick to great seafood is to cook it ever so lightly until just done.

2 tbsp coconut oil

2 tsp whole cumin seeds

2 tsp whole fennel seeds

¼ tsp cayenne

1 large onion, chopped

1 tsp ground turmeric or 2-inches fresh, finely grated

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 inch fresh ginger, finely grated

2 medium tomatoes, chopped

4 tomatillos, chopped

2 fingerling or small potatoes, chopped

1 cup water

4 halibut cheeks, aprox

1 tsp salt

Freshly ground pepper

¼-1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Heat oil in a large saute pan at medium high.  Add cumin, fennel and cayenne, cook 1 min. Add onion, turmeric, garlic and ginger and continue cooking until the onions soften.  Add tomatoes, tomatillos, potatoes and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil then gently simmer, covered for 10-15 min or until potatoes are tender.  Add more water if the sauce seems dry.  Add fish and gently simmer/poach covered until just cooked, about 3-5 min. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Garnish with chopped, fresh cilantro.

All the babka in my life

Babka and I go way back, starting with my Jewish husband. He loved a good, dry cake. Both Don and his father Frank were of that persuasion.  Cake was best when it was dry,  crumbly like desert sands and bought at a deli bakery, of course.

The deli in West Palm Beach sold Don’s ultimate babka. We would stand in early bird lineups at 5 p.m. with my in-laws, demoralized to be part of what we jokingly referred to as “the blue rinse hour” for dinner.  

My mother-in-law Ethel wasn’t a cake eater.  Diabetic, she approached eating with cautious deliberation.  

“I like it bland,” she often said.    

Needless to say, food didn’t play a pivotal role in the Nausbaum family as it might in many other Jewish households. Celebrations were also kept minimal. Ethel used to mail Don a modest birthday check or a boxed shirt from Target.  One year she uncharacteristically asked her adult son what he would like to receive for his birthday and Don didn’t miss a beat.

“I want a babka from your deli, Ma.  It’s too good to be true.”

“What? A babka. That’s ridiculous, Don.”

“Ma, I want a babka. I want a babka from your deli. Fed Ex it to me.” 

I’m not sure what bothered Ethel more, the price of an overnight courier from West Palm Beach to Toronto or her son’s unbridled decadence. But she caved.  He was her only son (and a charmer, to boot).   

“How was the babka? Did it arrive?  Did you like it?” she asked on his birthday.  

“Did I like it?” he scoffed, “Ma, this babka is unfriggin’ believable. I’m going to get another slice right now and eat it while we talk long distance.”  

“Don’t. I can’t stand listening to you eat and talk at the same time.”

“But it’s my birthday!”

Don chuckled,  his mouth crammed full of babka. The crumbly streusel topping sprinkled all over his goatee. He’d already given up on a knife and was ripping the cinnamon-scented, cakey interior apart, moaning in appreciation and smacking his lips loudly.  

“You like it too much,” Ethel said. She was disgusted.  “I’ll never ever Fed Ex you a babka again!” 

She kept to her word and Don’s babka delivery landed squarely in my lap. But I was a Canadian goy who knew nothing about babka baking. Sure, I had done a little food research, happily trailing alongside Don to  Jewish delis in Florida, Long Island and the Lower East Side of Manhattan but not once had I set eyes on a Toronto babka until Don brought home a specimen from the Harbord Bakery. 

He ate one slice, winced, then threw the remainder out.

“It’s up to you, Mado,” he sighed.

Earlier in our marriage, I’d attempted chicken liver spread and was defeated.  Before that, it was the world’s oily-est latkes. Now I had to bake some dry, tasteless coffee cake?  I turned to one of the first cookbooks dedicated to Jewish baking and made a listless facsimile. 

“Inedible” said Don after the first bite.

So babka became a family joke.  A reverie about Ethel and  a guffaw over the Seinfelt segment where Constanza sweats bullets tugging a stolen babka into his apartment window with a rope and pulley.

Then, as beloved things often do, babka came back. Don passed away and left a big piece of babka in his son’s pulsing heart. It helped, too, that Nick’s stepsister Emma is a gourmet sleuth. She found (not a Sahara version) but a sinfully sweet and gooey chocolate babka at Toronto’s Pusateri’s bakery. Somehow she knew that Nick would want that for his birthday. In no time at all, babka was forefront on our mother-son baking list and Rosha Shanna 2020  seemed an apt moment to create Don’s cake.  

When Nick and I bake, I always learn something.  I start off as Mom Expert and he quietly models a better alternative. Like parchment paper. Babka demands it and I was eager to try cookbook author Mairlyn Smith’s technique: Cut a large swath, run it under water, scrunch it up, wring it dry and fit it into the pan. Yes, this technique moulds around the insides of a loaf pan but Nick’s idea was better – cut vertical and horizontal panels to fit the pans. Not only does  it look more professional, but if you allow for a few inches of overhang, you’ve got handles to lift out your cake effortlessly.     

A beautiful babka means whirls of marbled dough, twisting and turning before your hungry eyes. To achieve this, challah dough is rolled out into a rectangle and spread with a yummy interior of melted butter, dark chocolate and a LOT of freshly ground cinnamon. You roll it up as tightly as possible, take a deep breath and do the unthinkable: cleanly cut this pliable, warm, puffy roll of dough in half, lengthwise. I was certain a serrated knife would do the trick but no sooner did I execute this cut then it caught, pulled and messed up the chocolate spread’s definition. 

Nick used a metal bench scraper and cut it in three clean swoops. Do like Nick does and let this babka become someone you love’s birthday cake, too.

THREE CHOCOLATE CINNAMON BABKAS

A batch baker by trade, I won’t develop a recipe for less than 2 loaves. This one comes with a  bonus babka! Not dry at all, these glossy beauties are made moist by a special ending in which you lavishly baste with a sweet, wet syrup as soon as they come out of the oven — an unthinkable flourish to Don and his father Frank. Makes 3 loaves.

Challah Dough

2 1/4 cups   milk, warmed in microwave (at high, 1 min)

1 TBS   instant yeast

3   eggs

5 TBS   vegetable oil

4 TBS   honey

1 TBS   vanilla extract (we used a vanilla bean, sliced it lengthwise and scraped the seeds in)

8 cups/ 2 lbs 6 oz   organic unbleached bread flour

.6 oz   salt

Put warmed milk, yeast, eggs, oil, honey and vanilla in mixing bowl and blend with whisk attachment until frothy.

Add flour and salt into mixing bowl and knead with dough hook for 8 min. or until the dough pulls away from the bowl and creates a smooth ball. This is a sticky, enriched dough.  If it pools around the bottom of the bowl it may need extra tablespoons of flour during the last two minutes of the mix to ensure the dough pulls away from the bowl.

Place in a large plastic, oiled tub or covered bowl and let it rise until doubled at room temp, aprox 2 ½ hrs. (Or simply refrigerate immediately and leave to rise overnight or up to 48 hrs)

Babka filling

4 1/2 ounces (130 grams)     dark chocolate, Callebaut, 55%

1/2 cup (120 grams) one stick        unsalted butter, cold is fine

Put in a glass bowl and heat in microwave (1 – 1 1/2 min.)

1/2 cup (50 grams)       icing sugar

1/4 cup (30 grams)       ground cinnamon

Add to melted chocolate.

Line loaf pans with parchment, like Nick does.

Divide dough into 3 pieces.

Roll one piece out on a well-floured counter to about a 10-inch width (the side closest to you) and as long in length (away from you) as you can when rolling it thin, likely 10 to 12 inches.

Spread one-third of chocolate mixture evenly over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border all around. Brush the end farthest away from you with water. Roll the dough up with the filling into a long, tight cigar. Seal the dampened end onto the log.

Cut the log in half lengthwise with a metal bench scraper, like Nick does.  Lay one piece over the other, cut sides up, at the mid-line, creating an “X” then gently twist the ends. Gently place the twist into a loaf pan, doubling it over itself if necessary. Repeat 2 more times. Cover all the pans with oiled plastic or a towel. Let rise until doubled, about one hour.

Heat oven to 375°F 30 minutes before the bake. Beat an egg in a small bowl. Baste babkas with egg just before baking. Place loaves in the middle of the oven and bake 30 minutes. 

While babkas are baking, make syrup,

1/3 cup water
6 tablespoons (75 grams) granulated sugar

Heat in microwave

As soon as the babkas leave the oven, brush with syrup. Use it all up, as this creates a glossy, moist finish.  Let cool about halfway in pans, then transfer to a cooling rack.

 

 

 

Asian Cucumber Salad

Easy Asian cucumber salad

English cucumbers are long and thin, wrapped in plastic and greenhouse grown, versus the pudgy, thick-skinned field-grown cucumbers.

1                      English cucumber, sliced thinly

2 tbsp              seasoned rice vinegar

1 tsp                sugar

1 tsp                sesame oil

Pinch               hot pepper flakes

¼ cup               chopped fresh coriander

Salt                  to taste

In a medium bowl combine all ingredients and serve.