Struan Bread

Bread making is a passion for some, while for others it’s a way to have in-home made bread.  Then there are those that like to enjoy the fruits of someone else’s labour. There are still millions of people who do it simply because they need to feed their families.  I get pleasure from the sight of uniform loaves that have an aesthetic appeal, that smell great and can be enjoyed just as is.  I used to hand knead all my bread, and while doing it would fondly remember the maple bread counter that Dad built Mom when they redid their kitchen in Vancouver about 40 years ago.  It was the perfect height for Mom to knead on.  It was secured on three sides, and made of 2” thick boards.  Although it was a wee bit too high for me at the time, it would be perfect for me now, as I ended up to be the same height as my mom.  We didn’t consider it an essential when planning our kitchen, and now, with the Kitchen Aid, I can cope well without it.  Before the arrival of the Kitchen Aid, I would stand at a broad expanse of the kitchen counter faithfully kneading for 10 minutes, or however long was required, all the time wishing I was just a couple of inches taller.  But the view over our front meadow was always worth it. 

The original version of this recipe is from Peter Reinhart’s Brother Juniper’s Bread Book.  It is a favourite of mine, as it is good on its own, with a smear of butter, toasted, or the start of a great sandwich.

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Toasted Barley “Risotto” with Roasted Cauliflower

One evening, in the mid-seventies, our family had neighbours over for dinner.  Their recent high-school graduate daughter had just returned home from a Katimavik type course.  We were told that she was now a “vegetarian” which sounded a lot like “alien” coming out of my mom’s mouth.  What to serve?  Mom had recently adapted to our father’s new diabetic diet, and now here she had to come up with another special dish.  She created a mushroom barley casserole (using tinned mushrooms) that fit the bill. While we chatted and heard the stories of groups of young people finding their way (I still have visions of everyone in corduroy caftans with wooden bead necklaces), I watched as Mom’s casserole emptied.  Everyone was eating it to the last scrap.  I was so proud of her, how clever!

Nowadays, when cooking for even just a couple of guests, there seems to always be someone who’s intolerant or allergic to certain foods, or on a special diet due to a more severe medical condition.  Mom used to toast the barley in her version of essentially an oven-baked barley risotto.  Here I’ve toasted the barley, and roasted the cauliflower giving the dish a wonderfully earthy flavour, so that once again, every last scrap will get eaten.  I’ve put quote marks around risotto, as there isn’t a “scrap” of rice in it! Continue reading

Beet Soup with Chinese Spices

My first memory of beets was at one of my Aunt Laura’s epic Sunday lunches.  She would serve many different vegetables, along with the Sunday “joint”.  This was what we used to call a large piece of meat with a big bone in it.  It would be cooked on the old oil stove.  There would be pitchers of well-water cooling in the fridge; I’ve never tasted that water’s equal since.  Aunt Laura would send me to the basement to get a jar of beans, beets or whatever.  It was kind of scary, but then it was on a farm, and there were lots of places and things to thrill me.  She would slice the home-canned beets and spiral the slices on a plate.  I think it was there that I learnt that the meat was only one portion of a very full table.  Everything was grown in their garden.  They raised first fresheners (cows that were to calve for the first time) for the neighbouring dairy farm, in exchange for meat and who knows what else.  The drive up to their place was bordered with standard Gravenstein Apple trees.  There was a stone bullpen in the barn with tall walls that I can remember just being able to peek over.  The hay was stored above and we’d use the super narrow & steep cobweb filled stairs to get there.  That was a special place, as it was where the barn cat would have her kittens.  Anyhow, I digress: farms, vegetables and kittens! Continue reading

Pear & Ginger Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce

What is it that makes something a comfort food?  It needs to be something that triggers good memories in your taste buds, and doesn’t take you to strange places flavour-wise.  I think bread pudding is one of the most wonderful desserts ever devised.  It’s such a simple dish, the basic version using day old breads, sugar, milk and eggs.  We can dress it up, like this recipe, as a dessert, or you can make it savoury for breakfast or brunch.  It can easily be made one day, and cooked the next.  It’s actually better for it.  Whether stuffed with raisins & currants or with pears & ginger, I’m pretty sure that it is one of the best comfort foods around.  Although, I always remember picking out the raisins when I was young.  Continue reading