Maple – With a Side of Cin

Go big, or go home. I suggest that most activities in life are not worth participating in if you’re not going to give it your all. Hopefully, all that effort pays off in the form of some pleasure, either through the activity itself, its outcomes, or the sense of accomplishment. There’s not much in my life I engage in ‘half-assed’, and this month’s CFEP post is big in size, flavour and meaning, and also generally scores big on the pleasure-meter.

Maple season in Ontario is soon upon us, though the cold temperatures may stall or lessen production this year. Still, the sugar bushes are starting to advertise their annual activities, and I’m still recalling the lovely taste of maple taffy from Winterlude. Having moved to Eastern Ontario almost 4 years ago, I’ve learned a bit about maple syrup production and have been amazed at the complex extraction systems set up by some of the local producers.

When we moved to this area we bought a 120 year old house, which boasted two massive, centuries-old maple trees on the front lawn. Their lovely canopies provided expansive shade in summertime and were the impressive centerpieces of the surrounding flower beds. A couple of years ago, we actually tapped them and extracted some sap. Of course, the amount we obtained in our inexperience was hardly enough to produce much syrup in the end, but it was nonetheless tasty and a cool experiment. Unfortunately, those beautiful, mature trees had to come down the following summer for significant safety reasons and it was a mournful occasion indeed. We were glad we had gotten the opportunity to taste their exquisite delicacy. (As a side note, those trees provided an enormous quantity of firewood with which to heat our home as well as friends’.)

In honour of all the maple syrup producers of Eastern Ontario and Canada, and our fallen trees, I thought it appropriate to use local maple syrup as one of the ingredients in my recipe for this month.

Cinnamon is a very sensual and passionate spice: fiery and intense, but also sweet and comforting. It’s one of my favourite spices for a number of reasons, but ultimately, the scent and taste (and physical sensation, but I digress…) of cinnamon drives me a little wild. I’d proffer that there are few people that dislike cinnamon-sugar or maple syrup, and this month I combined the two with home-made pastry to make an undeniable crowd pleaser: buttery, delectable, sinful, giant maple-glazed cinnamon rolls.

I have to say that I shamelessly licked every last drop of the glaze from the pans before washing them. It is just too good to waste.

Giant Maple-Glazed Cinnamon Rolls

INGREDIENTS

Pastry
• 1 cup warm milk (110 degrees Fahrenheit)
• 2 eggs, room temperature
• 1/3 cup butter, melted
• 4 ½ cups all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon salt
• ½ cup white sugar
• 2 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast

Filling
• 1/3 cup butter (I used salted to give a touch of salty taste to the filling)
• 1 cup brown sugar, packed
• 2 ½ tablespoons cinnamon
• ¾ cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Glaze
• 1 cup pure maple syrup
• ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
• 1 cup packed brown sugar
• ½ cup chopped, toasted walnuts (optional) for topping (do not add when cooking glaze)

INSTRUCTIONS

Add pastry ingredients in order listed into bread machine pan and set to ‘dough’ setting. Machine will mix and raise your dough for you.

If you do not have a bread machine or wish to make your pastry by hand, follow the next 5 steps:
1. Dissolve yeast in warm milk in a large bowl.
2. Mix in sugar, butter, salt and eggs.
3. Add flour and mix well.
4. With flour-dusted hands, knead the dough on floured countertop, forming into a large ball.
5. Place dough into greased bowl, cover with a towel, and allow it to rise in a warm, draft-free location for about 1.5 hours, or until doubled in size.

Meanwhile, make the glaze. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt butter in maple syrup. Once melted, turn off heat and add sugar, stirring until completely dissolved.
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Pour mixture evenly into two 9×13 cake pans.

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After dough has risen, turn it out onto floured surface and allow to rest a further 10 minutes.
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Roll dough out into a large rectangle, until dough is about 1cm thick.

Combine sugar and cinnamon in medium bowl and brush dough with melted butter. Sprinkle cinnamon-sugar liberally over dough. Sprinkle chopped walnuts evenly, if desired

Roll up dough from long side, as tightly as you can. Using a heavy, sharp knife, gently cut into 12-14 rolls, about ¾-1 inch thick. Place rolls in pans, on top of syrup mixture. Allow to rise in a warm, draft-free area for a further 30 minutes.

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Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place pans in oven and bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown and syrup is bubbling nicely. Immediately place a cookie sheet upside-down over the top of the pan and using oven mitts, quickly flip the pans over, so the cookie sheet becomes the bottom.

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Place on safe surface for 2 minutes to allow glaze to fall. Remove cake pans, and sprinkle tops of rolls with toasted walnuts if desired.

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Allow to cool only slightly, as these rolls are best eaten fresh and warm. If I were you, I wouldn’t let any of that precious glaze go to waste. It will harden on the pan quickly and become a sticky, gooey mess which, for some of us, makes it even more luscious. If you do choose to allow them to fully cool in order to transport them, the glaze will harden and make it easier to pack. They should be reheated in the oven at your destination for best results.

Enjoy this maple-cinnamon kiss!

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The Canadian Food Experience Project is Valerie Lugonja’s call to Canadian Foodies and Bloggers alike to unite on the 7th day of each month and creatively discover and share Canada’s unique culinary voice. You can read more about this exciting project <a href=”http://www.acanadianfoodie.com/the-canadian-food-experience-project/the-candian-food-experience-project/”>here</a&gt;.

Canadian Food Experiences, Poignant Memories

A late start in the Canadian Food Experience Project meant I didn’t intend to go backwards and complete previous months’ challenges. This was due to two factors: first, a lack of spare time at present and second, a difficulty in thinking of authentic “Canadian” food memories. Then, I read the blog entry of a friend of mine who gave me an entirely different perspective on this challenge. The creative juices started flowing and lo and behold, so did the memories.

I’ve mentioned a few times that I did not grow up in a traditionally Canadian family. Though my paternal grandmother was actually born in Czechoslovakia and my maternal grandfather in Transylvania (Romania), they eventually ended up in Hungary. I consider my whole family Hungarian since Hungary is where they spent most of their lives preceding World War II, Hungarian is the only language aside from English spoken in the family, and Hungarian food formed the foundation of my childhood nourishment. In our own home, my mother was (and still is) a very skilled cook, and experimented with delicious foods from around the globe. Thus, when I read that the June challenge for the CFEP was to write about an authentic Canadian food memory, I turned up nothing at first. Then, as I said, I found new perspective in the idea that as Canadians, we are very much a collection of interesting, multicultural and multiethnic people who found themselves in this wonderful country of Canada. Our identity is largely founded in our weaving together so many heritages and experiences into a beautiful tapestry. My Hungarian heritage and my family traditions have helped to form who I am, so this is undeniably part of my Canadian identity. Moreover, the childhood memories I have of food are inspired by a vast array of culinary treats, techniques and attitudes that were themselves founded in European ideals. These shaped me while I matured, surrounded by the landscape, people and collective culture of Canada.

My early food memoirs are poignant, and it is difficult to chronicle one particular event or circumstance. Accordingly, I will share two collections of experiences that induce a great, emotional response in me.

My paternal grandmother was not the warmest woman; she did not show much physical affection and she could be critical and even harsh at times. This was unquestionably as a result of the thorny life she had experienced before coming to Canada. Where she was extremely gifted was in the art of cooking, and she showed her love for her family through her food. In return, she expected her family to eat multiple helpings of her heavy, rich Hungarian meals, in fine stereotypical form. Every Saturday afternoon, the family would gather around her dining table to enjoy a mid-afternoon three-course meal. There were ten of us in total before my grandfather died, and then more once my cousins starting bringing their girlfriends home to Grandma’s house for approval. If they did not eat enough, they were not fit for the family.

This table was the heart of enthusiastic dining, conversation and debate. I loved being surrounded by my family, though oblivious at that time to the conflictual undercurrents I was yet too young to recognize. My grandmother’s meals were simply mouthwatering, always authentic, and eternally consistent. As well, her dishes were ultimately inimitable because she never used a single recipe. Though I have a few Hungarian dishes in my own repertoire that are pretty delicious, they will never compare to hers, nor will any dish eaten in a restaurant. I even have a few scribbled recipes in my collection that I attempted to record while watching her create in the kitchen. These include ridiculous directions like: “pile a bunch of flour on the countertop and crack three eggs into the center…..” with no measurements to speak of. Somehow, that “recipe” for Beigli (a walnut or poppy seed filled, rolled cake) has turned out, thanks only to my years of observation and tasting.

My grandmother’s appreciation for fresh, local ingredients was also immense, as I reflect back now. Though she did not have space for her own garden, my mother would take her every Friday to the enormous local farmer’s market, where she would purchase all her produce for the weekend gathering. She made friends with many of the farmers, who knew her by name. When she got older and weaker, some of them would pull up a chair and she would sit down and chat for a few minutes while my mom ran some of her own errands. Contrary to the unaffectionate demeanor she usually bore, she was actually very sociable with strangers and developed some very strong and lasting friendships.

My sister and I took turns having separate sleepovers at our grandparents’ houses every Saturday night until we were in our mid-teens and started wanting to see our friends instead. I loved that time with all of my grandparents, and during those evenings spent alone with them I was spoiled with attention and food. On no other occasions in my childhood was I so free to eat so many sweets, to snack as often as I liked, to be waited on hand and foot, and even to eat butter with a spoon (no, not peanut butter, creamery butter).

If I really concentrate, I can still taste some of my Grandma’s food, years after her death. She was the true matriarch of the family, and after she moved into a long term care home, the family Saturday dinners ceased. The foundation of my grandmother’s love and the legacy she left behind was almost exclusively centered on food. And even though I initially developed some less healthy eating habits via poor examples of nutrition and self-control, I also recognize some of her positive traits in myself. Though my fundamental personality and desire to openly express love make me very dissimilar to her, I did acquire her passion for making others happy through food. I do in many respects equate happiness and loving relationships with gathering together to enjoy a meal.

This second collection of memories explains my love of fresh, natural ingredients and in particular, local or home-grown vegetables and fruit. My maternal grandfather’s ancestry was founded on food; his parents owned and ran a food production and canning business out of an outbuilding on their property in Hungary. They made dill pickles, vegetable marrow and other prized delicacies in large quantities, selling to local families and commercial businesses alike. He was actually a baker by trade, and so was put to work in this capacity while serving in the Navy. He hated the war so much that he never baked again, so sadly we never saw his skill in action. My Granny was the primary cook in the household despite her detestation of cooking. I’m convinced that the powerful love she had for those she was cooking for pushed her to persevere and learn to prepare tasty meals for us all.

My Grandpa had a passion for gardening. His colourful, fragrant rose bushes were the most beautiful I’ve seen to this day. They lined their driveway and passersby would often stop to admire them. He had a massive back garden, mostly devoted to an impressive collection of food plants. He grew raspberries, red currants and green wine grapes; cherries, pears, apples and plums; carrots, parsnips, potatoes and horseradish; lettuce, scallions and tomatoes; on the list goes. He was so incredibly proud of his annual harvest, and rightly so. His beautiful, colourful garden was organic before organic ever became a buzz-word. Grandpa’s passion was contagious, and at the age of 3 or 4, I was already fascinated. Every Sunday, we would spend the day with my Granny and Grandpa and eat our Sunday dinner there. Grandpa would take my hand and walk me through his vegetable plot, teaching me all about each plant. And every week, I would excitedly ask if the vegetables were ready to pick and eat. For weeks, he would explain to me that they were not yet ready, and that perhaps the following week I could eat some. The next week would come, and I’d be disappointed to hear that the veggies were still not ready to pick. My mother figures this was his way of ensuring I would want to come back, not that there should ever have been any doubt as I was extremely close to my maternal grandparents. Occasionally, I would mischievously grab a tomato and injure a branch, or go for a bunch of carrots. He would scold me and instruct me again on garden etiquette and how to gently remove fruit from the vine. Finally, after much patience, I would get to munch on the fresh fruit and vegetables at each plant’s harvest time. Back then, a whole, fresh scallion dipped in salt was a perfect snack to me, and I can still remember sitting with my little dipping bowl and resulting onion breath. I therefore grew up knowing the amazing taste of produce straight from the source, and the value of such magnificent products of hard work and care. Those gorgeous vegetables would then get incorporated into our many Hungarian family meals, and the flavour of those dishes was heightened by such incomparable freshness.

We have the immense benefit in Canada of being able to safely and freely grow so many varieties of food plants in our backyards, and my hands-on exposure to this at a young age, while bonding with my Grandpa, was an authentic and infinitely memorable Canadian experience.

So many memories come flooding back as I write and most do not belong here. Nevertheless, my life has been touched in many ways by the love of my grandparents, in many cases shown to me through food. I am eternally grateful for all that they taught me, including the way that meals inspired by great love touch the heart and soul, as well as nourish the body. Indeed, through their many examples, I learned the invaluable ethic of hard work, and the way in which our effort is evident in the products of our endeavors, be they edible or not.

The following photos are of my Grandpa, Granny, Mom and Uncle Gabe. I could not get my hands on an old photo of my paternal grandmother in time.

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The Canadian Food Experience Project is Valerie Lugonja’s call to Canadian Foodies and Bloggers alike to unite on the 7th day of each month and creatively discover and share Canada’s unique culinary voice. You can read more about this exciting project here.

A Cherished Canadian Meal

Evolution of a Sandwich

Sometimes the best comfort foods are in fact extremely uncomplicated. While I do enjoy complex, interwoven flavours in a meal, I also appreciate minimalism. When I considered September’s Canadian Food Experience Project challenge to write about a cherished Canadian recipe, I had difficulty thinking of one. The reason was not because I don’t have a large repertoire and memory bank full of delicious meals to draw on, but because I couldn’t pinpoint one that was convincingly Canadian. This is in part due to the fact that I did not grow up in a typically Canadian family and so when I think of meals that I have cherished most, my thoughts turn to the traditional Hungarian dinners prepared by my Grandmother.

As I searched the past, I pieced together a few precious memories from my childhood, along with some of my favourite adult foods, to create this month’s CFEP post.

My cherished meal is something quite humble: grilled cheese. Growing up, grilled cheese sandwiches made with good quality, aged cheddar were a lunchtime staple. My mother would cut my sandwiches into little, crustless, bite sized pieces we affectionately called “soldiers”. Continuing to sift through childhood memories, I also recalled my family’s Christmas morning breakfast tradition of peameal bacon sandwiches, one which we maintain to this day.

Though I grew out of crustless soldiers, I never grew out of grilled cheese sandwiches. In fact, when I began a new job 9 months ago and learned of their occasional grilled cheese staff lunches, I knew I was in the right place. And, as I have evolved tastes for mature, flavourful and healthy ingredients over the years, I have found complimentary ingredients to highlight the foundational elements I grew up on.

I am not gifted at writing out the recipes I create, and grilled cheese is something anyone can make. So, since there are really no rules as to how you should make your own grilled cheese sandwich, I’m not sharing recipes, but rather two of my favourite grilled cheese formulations. This post certainly doesn’t showcase my cooking ability, but it draws on cherished memories and unites ingredients in a way that makes both my belly and soul happy.

Here are two perfectly decadent grilled cheese sandwiches that I’ve enjoyed creating and eating. You can really add as much or as little of the ingredients as you like, or get creative and modify as you wish! These are further elevated if you can find all or most of the ingredients locally or homemade and grown.

Note: I always use real butter on the outside (sometimes the inside, too) of my grilled cheese sandwiches. Also, I place my vegetable and meat ingredients between layers of cheese so that the sandwich stays together. It’s also a great excuse to add more cheese.

    Rainy Saturday Afternoon Grilled Cheese Sandwich

• Locally baked artisan sourdough bread, such as Art Is In Boulangerie’s roasted garlic and rosemary sourdough. (http://www.artisinbakery.com/menu/breads)
• Applewood smoked cheddar cheese
• Caramelized onions
• Peameal bacon (cured ham, rolled in cornmeal), thinly sliced and pan-fried. (Note: DO NOT overcook or the meat will become dry. It takes very little time, perhaps 2 minutes per side, to cook thinly sliced peameal bacon through). I admit this part is not so healthy unless you can find a naturally cured and preservative-free version.

    Summertime Backyard Picnic Grilled Cheese Sandwich


• Olive bread (such as ACE Bakery’s)
• Homemade basil pesto
• Havarti cheese (not low fat)
• Tomato, thinly sliced
• Baby spinach

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The above rendition uses roasted garlic sourdough and is accompanied by a trio of greens salad (spinach, chard and kale) with my pesto turned into a vinaigrette.
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The Canadian Food Experience Project is Valerie Lugonja’s call to Canadian Foodies and Bloggers alike to unite on the 7th day of each month and creatively discover and share Canada’s unique culinary voice. You can read more about this exciting project here.