Identifying My Canadian Voice

granola pic20140305_225516_resized

20140506_212918brulee

I began the journey of blogging in February 2013, with the intention of it being an outlet for writing whatever might be on my mind, and in particular to explore my love of poetry. I never intended to write about food, and I also never considered that writing about food could actually fit well with my objective of sharing, without boundaries, from my soul.

I was intrigued by the Canadian Food Experience Project because I do love food and cooking, but also because of its purpose: to identify a Canadian voice for culinary arts and facilitate a clearer perspective on our culture, via food. I’ve always been intrigued by our Canadian “culture” and am drawn to any initiative that unites people and builds relationships.

It seemed to me, at first, that these CFEP challenges and the resultant writing would be misfit with the rest of my blog. It could even alienate readers that follow my blog mainly for the poetry. What I’ve found instead is that it has been simply a different way of exploring who I am at my core. Some of my monthly posts really got at the foundations of who I am as an extension of my family and my heritage, as well as the food I grew up on. This helped me to recognize the crucial influences in my life. Others were focused on my own creativity as I set about inventing recipes from scratch; something I’ve not done much of. I have realized through a year of focus just how much I relish the process of creating interesting food, and it emphasized how much I really love baking.

My Canadian voice, vis-à-vis food, is no different than my voice as it relates to my other writing and take on life in general. So in this last post of the project, I have defined this voice by means of a few self-identified characteristics that this blog and the CFEP have allowed me to reveal.

My Canadian voice is broadminded and exploratory, multi-dimensional and exciting.

My family is from Hungary and I very much identify with this heritage. I like to experiment with new flavours, spices, ingredients and even lifestyles (i.e.: vegan, raw, etc.). I believe the multi-dimensional nature of our country makes it a fascinating place to live. I have always had friends who themselves, or their families, hailed from distant lands – India, Sri Lanka, China, Japan, Israel, and so on and have eaten traditional foods from many parts of the world, right here at home. These opportunities to ‘taste the world’ represent the wonderful compendium of flavours that come together to create a diverse and special ‘food nation’ here in Canada. Together with our country’s First Nations, Canadians are fortunate to have a world of culinary possibilities at our fingertips.

My Canadian voice is colourful, loyal and holistic.

I enjoy delicious food but I also enjoy healthy food. I want to make and eat meals that are not only tempting to the eye and satisfying to the palate, but also make the body healthy and strong. Some of my posts have evidenced my love of fresh and wholesome ingredients, which stimulate the senses and nourish body, mind and soul. If these fresh ingredients can be obtained locally and their purchase supports nearby producers in the process, then the benefits are double. When I support dedicated growers nearby, I can even visit their farms and feel confident about the products I’m eating . In season, I can literally create a rainbow on my dinner plate and connect with a greater good in the process.

My Canadian voice is creative and courageous.

I am not afraid to try new things, inside and outside the kitchen. Without the courage to allow ourselves new experiences, even if failure or pain is an option, we do not grow and learn in the same way. We would be denying ourselves rich opportunities to be better, stronger, fuller people. Cooking is both an art and a science. With copious websites and cookbooks out there, the number of available recipes is boundless. To go beyond and create something unique requires creativity. I’ve pushed myself out of my box in order to start from scratch with spontaneous inspiration and a few key ingredients, to create recipes that put smiles on people’s faces. The writing that goes along with my recipes shows a glimpse of who I am, and I’ve tried to be courageous in sharing transparently, as I do with my poetry.

My Canadian voice is open, honest, caring and relational.

In large part, I cook and bake for others. Sharing my baking with family and friends makes me happy; knowing I have brought them joy. It is key element of relationship-building for me, being a natural nurturer and someone who strives to influence others’ lives positively. In all kinds of relationships, my goal is to always be transparent about my values, feelings and priorities, honest in my communication, compassionate and loving in my actions and present and active in helping the relationship flourish. It is also crucial to admit mistakes in order to open yourself up to learning, and this is the same for cooking as for almost anything in life.

I believe that my commitment to this project and all that I have written about has exemplified these characteristics of my voice – things I strive for, even if not always successful. It has taught me that no matter what I am writing about, I must relentlessly pursue the identification and communication of who I am at my core and a life that allows me to live it authentically.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
A final note to cap off this year-long project, I’d like to say ‘thank you’ to Valerie for challenging Canadian foodies and chefs to contemplate their food identity. She lives her passion so evidently and has created and collected so much enthusiasm, ingenuity and fellowship amongst us in the process.

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.

quince candycookie dough squares 2

Fresh Inspiration

Spring is here, though in Ottawa it is still cooler than most of us would like it to be. Still, I’m grateful for the sunshine and even the showers that washed away the snow and salt and are bringing us spring flowers. The Byward Market is blooming into its spring/summer look, with farmers beginning to set up their booths. Last week, some delightful fresh herbs could be purchased there.

Spring is a time of brightness, fresh scents and the return of vibrancy. It is a period of renewal, light, life and hope. Springtime lends itself to considering new opportunities and to challenging all that may seem impossible. My move to Ottawa from Vancouver Island occurred around this time nearly four years ago, and I remember how wide I smiled when I saw the beautiful spring bulbs of Parliament Hill. I knew there held some exciting promises for me in my new home; little did I know what the next four years would bring.

This month’s CFEP theme is the Canadian garden. I don’t currently have my own garden, and in fact, I’ve not grown any food plants other than in containers for a few years. I’ve been greatly inspired by family gardens in my life, and I wrote about this in my September post when I reflected on poignant food memories.

As has become habitual for me in this project, I was left considering what I might write about and create, only a couple of days before this post was due. I’m always a bit of a strategic procrastinator: I leave things until late, but not usually because I dread the task or am lazy. On the contrary, I wait until passion and inspiration seize me, and then I run with it.

 
Yesterday, I was reflecting on this month’s theme with a friend, and remarked to him that through this project, I’ve discovered that as much as I truly enjoy cooking, I love baking even more. I really savour the process of creating baked goods for others’ enjoyment. I feel a sort of artistic connection to inventing and designing desserts. I also derive a lot of peace and relaxation from baking in silence; the slow, systematic process of combining ingredients, applying both literal and symbolic warmth to them, and then constructing the final product….Baked Therapy.

 
So, my friend suggested I make lavender shortbread. It was an awesome idea, but I’ve made lavender shortbread and sugar cookies countless times, and lavender isn’t in bloom yet. Nevertheless, his suggestion did stimulate me in the way all good inspiration should: to consider the things I love and derive enjoyment from and to create something beautiful and unique. With his idea as my starting point, I decided that I would in fact use shortbread as my foundation; one of my most favourite treats. I then thought about the container gardening I have done over the last few years, and my primary product: fresh herbs. Finally, I thought excitedly about the approaching summer season and one of nature’s best gifts: fresh berries. All of this, and lots of love, were brought together to make this month’s creation: Mint-Strawberry Shortbread Sandwiches, the esthetics of which were slightly inspired by a timeless French confection: the Macaron.

 
Mint-Strawberry Shortbread Sandwiches

 
Fresh Mint Shortbread Cookies

 
~ 1.5 cups butter, softened
~ 1 cup cornstarch
~ 1 cup icing sugar
~ 2 cups all-purpose flour
~ 1 ½ tablespoons fresh mint, very finely chopped

Mix together dry ingredients. Add softened butter and use wooden spoon or hands to combine until smooth. Place in fridge for 30 minutes if you used your hands and the dough is too soft.

 
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

 
Roll out dough on smooth, floured surface to about ¼ inch thick. Use small round cookie cutter to cut out circles and place on cookie sheet about an inch apart.

 

20140506_204547
Bake for about 13-15 minutes or until edges/bottoms get just golden. Do not overbake. Remove from oven and cool completely.

20140506_212244

 

Strawberry-Mint Filling

(Note: this makes a good quantity of purée, probably about 250ml, which is way more than you need for the recipe. I then freeze it for later use. If you don’t wish to have extra, cut the recipe in half)

 
~ 4 cups fresh strawberries, stems removed and coarsely chopped
~ 2/3 cup white sugar
~ 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
~ 6 fresh mint leaves (or more if you desire)

 

Place strawberries and mint leaves into food processor. Process until very smooth.

 

Pour purée into medium saucepan and add sugar and lemon juice. Heat over low-medium and simmer until purée becomes darker and thickened, about 30 minutes. Stir frequently to ensure it doesn’t burn on the bottom.

 

Remove from heat and allow to cool completely, either on the counter or in the fridge. May be made a day or two in advance.

20140506_204012

Construction

When cookies and filling are cooled, create sandwiches by placing about a ½-1 teaspoon of filling on top of one cookie and placing another on top. Voilà!

20140506_212600
20140506_213618
I cut out my cookies about 1.5 inches wide, which produced about 40 sandwiches.

The finished cookies have such a beautiful, sweet and summery fragrance. I hope these cookies put a little spring in your step. 🙂

20140506_212918

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;.

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.
20140305_211854_resized

Pour mixture evenly into two 9×13 cake pans.

20140305_212117_resized

After dough has risen, turn it out onto floured surface and allow to rest a further 10 minutes.
20140305_211802_resized

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.

20140305_213551_resized

20140305_213942_resized

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.

20140305_221828_resized

20140305_221935_resized

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.

20140305_222144_resized

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!

20140305_225516_resized

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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;.

A Canadian Love Affair

Well, this month’s CFEP theme is a loaded one, Valerie!

Of course, I spent many moments considering what I might write about with this theme: ‘A Canadian Love Affair’. I found no shortage of inspiration. I thought about foods inspired by love: the love of my mother, the love of my grandmothers, the love I have for my son, the romantic loves I have had in my life. But, I found myself erring on the side of caution, and favouring harmony.

Without cause for stirring any pots, I can safely talk about my Canadian love affair with a place; a place I have written about before. This is a place I’ll always be in love with and will always miss with my heart and soul, so long as I live at a distance (for good or for a time). That place, perhaps predictably now, is Vancouver Island and the Comox Valley in particular. Never have I visited or lived in a place that so touched me to the core and changed who I was in such multidimensional ways.

Indeed, I experienced heartbreak and love there, but it’s not the love of a man and a woman I’m speaking of in this post. I’m communicating the love of nature’s miracles; of glacial peaks, ocean straights, the expanse of pacific coast beaches and year-round temperate weather. I’m speaking of the love of a brief commute along a dyke road with outstanding views few have been fortunate to experience. I’m sharing my fondness of the sincere smiles of friendly people welcoming conversation with a stranger. I’m imparting my love affair with a turn-of-the-century house in what used to be a bustling mining town; a home that exuded the love and relationships of almost a dozen decades of life, boasting hand-made kitchen cabinets made from local lumber, and a back porch with views of the nearby mountains. I’m conveying the beauty of spotting deer resting in residential flower gardens, and getting so close you can almost touch them. And, I’m connecting you to my fondness of living a 4 hour drive from Tofino, one of the most majestic places in Canada that arguably competes on a world stage for beauty.
Cumberland House 3
comox valley
Deer on Road

Having grown up in the Toronto area, I wasn’t much exposed to Native Canadian culture. British Columbia is rich with native culture and on Vancouver Island, this is intensified by a large population of Native Canadians. The Island abounds with Native arts and culture and even food. This culture became even more significant when I married a man who was part Native Canadian and had a son. Although my son is only about 1/16 Native, it’s still a part of who he is (and boy was that wonderfully evident in his appearance when he was born with a head full of thick black hair and gorgeous olive-toned skin).

So, as a tribute to the place that holds my heart in its warm, salty hands, and to the originating cultures of this country, this month I’m making Bannock. And, since fresh bread is one of my absolute favourite foods, this month’s challenge was again both meaningful and pleasing to my taste buds and belly and hopefully yours, too.

Bannock is a simple flatbread, which I’ve discovered is actually found in varieties across the world. The type of bannock I was interested in learning more about was Native Canadian bannock. It was customarily cooked over an open fire, and still is in some cases today. Although some recipes do call for oven baking, most modern ones I came across ask for deep frying. Some of my readings indicated that cornmeal was one of the main flours originally used, but today’s recipes typically employ all-purpose flour. There are many variations and recipes out there, savory and sweet. I turned to my sister-in-law Jocelyn, and asked for her recipe, tried and true. My technique was a little different than hers, but it turned out simply delicious. And, although I opted to stray from my often influential Hungarian roots for this month’s post, there exists a very similar Hungarian food called Lángos, so making this bread had me reminiscing about my childhood foods once more.

Native Canadian Bannock (Fried)

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1.5-2 cups cold water
Raisins or currants, if desired. (I opted to keep mine savory – if you’d like a sweeter bread, add 1-2 tsp sugar with the dry ingredients as well)
Vegetable oil appropriate for deep frying

Directions

Combine dry ingredients well in a large bowl. Whisk in water slowly, to make a pasty batter. You can add enough water to be reminiscent of thick pancake batter if you’re looking for larger, flatbread-like results. Or, add less water for more of a fritter-type preparation.

Heat about an inch of oil in a frying pan until a small amount of batter dropped into pan begins to bubble vigorously. Drop batter by tablespoonful (or larger if desired) into the hot oil, and fry until golden on both sides, about 4-5 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.

Can be eaten as an accompaniment to soup or stew, as a snack with jam and crème fraiche, or on its own!

Note: Like most deep-fried breads, these really do not keep fresh long, so they should be eaten right away and preferably warm.

Many different recipes can be found online, with origination in different Native communities.

Enjoy!

Two preparations:

You could make these flatter and larger
20140204_101041

20140204_102032

fritter-style
download_20140207_163910
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
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.

Slowing Down, Easing Up – Resolutions

The last few months have been made up of trying times, and plenty of change. I’ve described before that I tend to like my life busy. But, as we all know, when busyness is combined with complication and difficulty, this can result in overwhelm. In addition, while I welcome change in my life, it can mean carrying more around on my little shoulders for a period of time. And although one of the purposes of the changes in my life is to finally do something good and right for me, I’m yet again booking too much into my already busy schedule. So much to experience, so few hours in the day!

As I’ve moved into a new chapter in my life and also start a new year, I don’t have the typical New Year’s resolution to lose weight or get fit. I’m pretty fit and eat healthily, and will continue to work hard at taking care of myself physically. Instead, my resolution is to slow down, take time for more recreation, respite and tranquility.

For the CFEP post this month, my plan was to cook something ‘slow’; something that takes hours to cook, and something rich and decadent. But alas, I very ironically found no time this month. So, instead, I’m posting a recipe for a simple creation that takes little time to make: a dessert that requires no baking. Instead of spending hours in the kitchen (something I do love), this month I’ve spent a short while enjoying the process of making something decadent, yet simple, and which mimics one of my favourite things – raw cookie dough! Ah, sweet indulgence, with little effort.

If you sneak raw cookie dough or even prefer it to your baked results, you’ll love this recipe too. Enjoy! I know these won’t last long around my house!

Cookie Dough Squares

Ingredients

•1/2 cup butter, softened
•3/4 cup brown sugar (not packed)
•1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
•2 cups all-purpose flour
•14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
•2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Directions

1.Line a square baking pan with parchment paper so it hangs over the edges of the pan in order to lift the squares out of the pan when ready.

2.In a large bowl, using electric mixer, whip the butter and brown sugar together until fluffy. Mix in the vanilla extract.

3.Add half the flour and mix until just combined. Mix in sweetened condensed milk. Add remaining flour and mix until incorporated.

4.Fold in 1.5 cups chocolate chips. Scrape dough into prepared pan and press mixture evenly into pan using silicone spatula. Dough will be very sticky.

cookie dough bars

5.Refrigerate overnight until firm.

6.Melt remaining ½ cup chocolate chips and drizzle over bars. Refrigerate until set. Cut into 16-20 squares. Serve while firm.

Store in airtight container in cool room or fridge. Allow to warm slightly before serving but not too much or they will be to soft and sticky (unless you like to lick your fingers, in which case, go for it!).

cookie dough squares 2
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
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.

Full Plate of Christmas

Since I joined the Canadian Food Experience Project, writing about Canadian food traditions and memories, I have consistently followed a theme: bringing my Hungarian heritage into my Canadian identity. And, since food has played such an integral and meaningful part of my life and one which has been literally and figuratively fed by this heritage, it has seemed so natural all along. And so, this month, as we prepare for Christmas, the traditional food I bring to the forefront is once again a Hungarian dish.

Being from a family that is Hungarian on both sides, I was fortunate enough to enjoy this amazingly tasty food basically twice a week during my entire childhood. But, as I have alluded to before, my paternal grandmother was the true culinary matriarch. My CFEP posts have been as much a tribute to her as they have been to the foods themselves.

My parents divorced when I was 13, and since that time we have had two annual Christmas celebrations. In some ways, this has proven to be a bonus, including two Christmas dinners. Christmas Eve dinner is reserved for the celebration of my Dad’s family, and this meal was cooked by my Grandma until she was too ill to live in her home. Since she passed away, my aunt took over the meal. And, the traditional Christmas Eve meal includes copious quantities of delicious Hungarian foods. And, anyone who knows Hungarian (or most Eastern European) menus, knows that they often include dishes made with cabbage of various types. So, since cabbage is a vegetable that is grown in Ontario and available fresh and local until December, it seemed an opportune time to showcase such a dish.

I love cabbage, raw or cooked. I ate A LOT of cabbage as a kid in many forms, and quite often it was prepared by first being grated. I remember the smell of the kitchen as my maternal grandmother grated green cabbage for the Sunday meal and I always got the best treat to munch on – the raw heart of the cabbage, so sweet, sprinkled with salt. I find dishes that include cabbage to be very comforting and warming. As I sit here writing by the fire with a belly full of Hungarian food, I feel full.

I could have chosen a number of cabbage dishes to make for this month’s challenge, and I did go back and forth a few times, but ended up settling on one that could be used as a main course, or a side dish. For most Canadians, the richness and heaviness of this dish would definitely constitute a main course, but in my family, it forms only one element of the Christmas meal. This dish is called Székely Káposta, a stew made with tender pork and wine sauerkraut, and of course lots of Hungarian paprika. Káposta means cabbage and the Székely are a subgroup of Hungarians who possibly originated as the people of King Attila the Hun. (If you enjoy Eastern European history and wish to read more about this, you can visit this well-referenced Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Sz%C3%A9kely_people)

And so, I once again pay homage to my Grandma, which leaves me recalling abundant memories with a warm heart. I have such gratitude for the years we had with her and the incredible, complex meals she so tirelessly prepared for those she loved. I can only hope those I love enjoy my food even half as much.

Székely Káposta (Hungarian Pork and Sauerkraut Stew)

Ingredients

• 1, 1L jar wine sauerkraut
• 2-3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil (or lard, if you really want to go authentic)
• One extra large (or two medium) yellow onion, chopped
• 3 heaping tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika (do not buy grocery store paprika – you need to
purchase the good stuff at a European delicatessen, like Szeged brand)
• 2 lbs. pork tenderloin, cubed
• ¾ cup water
• 1 cup full-fat sour cream
• 1-2 tsp salt

Directions

Empty sauerkraut from jar into a strainer and rinse lightly. Set aside to drain excess water.
Heat oil over medium-low heat in medium dutch oven.

Add onion and sautée gently until fully browned and soft, about 5-7 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon paprika as the onions are cooking and stir frequently to ensure paprika doesn’t burn.

Add pork, water and another tablespoon of paprika. Stir well and cover, stewing over low heat, about 7-8 minutes until pork is just cooked.

Stir in remaining paprika, the sauerkraut and sour cream. Combine well, place lid on, and cook over low heat for about an hour, stirring occasionally. As with any stew, the longer you cook over low heat, the more flavour is infused. Salt to taste.

Serve immediately or place in oven to keep warm and the flavours will continue to intensify. Add a dollup (or more!) of sour cream to each serving, if desired.

Works well as a main dish on its own, or with potatoes or rice. Or, may be a side dish to accompany a dozen other foods like in my family! This is very truly comfort food which warms from the inside-out.

SZKELY~1
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
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.

Preserving Sweet Autumn

Quince

Over the weekend, my kitchen was filled with an intensely gorgeous floral, fruity aroma. This was because, on my countertop, sat a bowl of quince apples waiting to be played with.

The quince is a curious specimen of apple; it looks as if it is having a bit of an identity crisis. I think quince look a bit like a cross between an apple, a pear and a bit of lime. They can be purchased during a very small window in the fall, but they are not necessarily easy to find. They are indeed grown here in Ontario, but you may only be able to find them in higher end markets and in small quantities. Apple trees, and therefore quince trees, are members of the rose family. This, in part, explains the floral bouquet the fruit emitted in my house. Despite the sweet scent they emit when raw, they are not ideal for eating this way; they are quite hard, tart and astringent. With all this, they are not a common crop and thus are also fairly pricey.

In my childhood, quince apples were the foundation of a once-annual treat, prepared by my paternal grandmother. Although years have passed since I last consumed quince candy, I can taste it clearly with my imagination. This treat forms the basis of my post for this month; another Hungarian delicacy that brings back many memories from my Canadian childhood, and moreover uses local produce. Hungarians usually call this delicacy birsalma sajt which translates to “quince cheese”. My guess is that it’s the thick, jelly-like consistency of the candy that gives it this name. It is similar to the Spanish treat membrillo.

When I thought about this month’s preserving challenge, I was again a bit stumped. Other than dehydrating, I have not done much typical preserving. I love eating preserves, particularly savory ones, but haven’t tried my hand at it yet. I wasn’t much inspired by the idea of making jam or jelly, but I knew I wanted to make something inspired by autumn; something sweet, rich and fresh tasting. I also felt I should carry on the theme of including inspiration from my childhood and heritage. The idea of quince candy jumped to my mind and I considered carefully whether I could indeed call this a preserve. It is not dehydrated, frozen or jarred. Preserving is, by definition, a process of extending the life of a food, and quince candy does keep for about 6 months in an airtight container, or longer in the fridge. In addition, the Canadian tradition of preserving assumedly was born of the concept of sustaining ourselves during long, cold winters. This candy provides a delicious treat to warm the soul on a cold winter’s day, though I have great doubts about whether this candy will actually remain uneaten for more than a few days.

For those of you who do enjoy preserving jams and jellies, quince apples are a winner because they are naturally high in pectin. Also, the finished product boasts an esthetically gorgeous amber colour.

As a child, we ate the quince candy as a dessert treat, however it pairs nicely with strong cheese as an amuse-bouche or even as part of a main course alongside roasted meat.

Quince Candy

Ingredients
• 12 quince apples, washed, cored and roughly chopped
• 1/4 cup water
• 1/4 cup lemon juice
• Sugar (several cups, quantity varies as per below)

In a medium saucepan, combine quince, water and lemon juice. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to very low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until it takes the appearance of grainy applesauce.

Now, you should pour the purée through a sieve or food mill to get a smooth sauce. I did things a little differently because I have a Vitamix, a very powerful blender. I blended the sauce, skin and all, as I felt I could enhance the flavour of the purée while keeping it smooth.

Quince puree

Pour the purée back into the saucepan and for every cup of strained purée, add 1 cup sugar and mix together. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, for 2 hours or until very thick and amber in colour. A spoon drawn through the puree should leave a firm track.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and pour the hot purée into the pan. Cover with another piece of parchment paper and use your hands or a spatula on top to even out. Leave covered and let cool completely. Invert the pan onto a flat surface and remove the parchment paper.

Cut the candy into small squares or use cookie cutters to cut out shapes. It is so sweet the pieces are best cut quite small. Transfer the pieces to a clean piece of parchment paper and allow to dry for up to 3 days. Turn the pieces regularly until no longer sticky. Sprinkle with granulated sugar if desired and place in candy papers or muffin cups. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to 6 months or refrigerate if desired. The candy tastes quite nice chilled as well.

quince candy

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
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.