Tastefull Blog: Blackberry Coffee Cake

blackberryCoffeeCakeBy Marika Varro, The Convenient Chef

Nothing says “summer!” in Powell River like freshly picked, sweet and succulent blackberries!

We have an abundance of these delicious berries and each year we look forward to celebrating the season with the Blackberry Festival street party on Marine Avenue, where one can find blackberries incorporated into many different and delicious savoury or sweet dishes as well as cocktails.

We have three varieties of blackberries in British Columbia: Himalayan, Trailing and Highbush.

They grow on thorny bushes called brambles, and are technically not just one fruit. Each blackberry has many drupelets that are arranged in a circular fashion, similar to a grape bunch. Blackberries belong to the same family as dewberries and raspberries.

They are high in vitamins C,A, E, K and B, minerals like copper, manganese, magnesium, potassium, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, riboflavin, niacin and folic acid.

Their dark colour is a sign of their high antioxidants which protect against aging, inflammation, cancer and other neurological diseases.

Blackberries have a sweet, tart flavour that is very satisfying. They can be enjoyed by themselves (only 62 calories per cup), they can be added to salads or smoothies, or they can be a topping for yogurt. Use them in desserts and savoury sauces. Make them into jellies, jams and wine.

Blackberries will keep for several months in the freezer; just rinse and drain them off and store them in a Ziploc bag.

The plant is extensively used by First Nations people. Young, edible shoots are harvested in the spring, peeled and used in salads.

The root-bark and the leaves are astringent, useful for treating diarrhoea, and for soothing sore throats, mouth ulcers and gum inflammations. Traditionally, using the blackberry fruit and root bark in honey, medicinal cough syrup was made.

We must share these delicious berries with our local bears. Black bears gain weight most rapidly in July and August, and blackberries are their main diet in coastal BC. They can consume 30,000 berries a day. They pick them with their sensitive lips and swallow them whole. The berries enter a two-part stomach, which grinds the pulp off the seed. The seeds pass through unbroken and are thus able to germinate. This is how they spread the seeds throughout their territory, making sure of future supply. After the berries run out and before the salmon spawning, there is little else for them to eat before they enter their dens in October so we see many black bears in our gardens in August and at the beginning of September.

What do you get when you eat blackberries? Bluetooth!


BLACKBERRY COFFEE CAKE RECIPE

Ingredients

  • 1 kg  blackberries
  • 4 Tbsp icing sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
    • Gently toss to coat berries with sugar/cinnamon mixture
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1.5 tsp baking soda
  • ¾ cup soft butter
  • 1 ½ cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 ½ cup sour cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 small lemon rind & juice

For topping

  • 3 Tbsp coarse sugar (I use sugar in the raw)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Steps

  • Sift together flour, baking powder & soda, set aside
  • In a separate bowl, cream butter and sugar
  • Add eggs one at the time and beat well
  • Add sour cream, vanilla, lemon rind & juice and beat well
  • Mix in flour mixture. If using blueberries you can mix them in, but other berries would bleed too much
  • Pour half into a prepared pan (large rectangular) & top it with half the berry mixture
  • Spread evenly; it’s ok if it gets mixed up
  • Pour second half of dough and top with berries
  • Spread berries evenly, slightly pressing into dough
  • Sprinkle with coarse sugar and cinnamon mix
  • Bake 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until done. Do the toothpick test and check the bottom if using a glass dish. Cool on wire rack and serve at room temperature, but cold is pretty good as well.

 

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Tastefull Blog: Zucchini

By Marika Varro, The Convenient Chef

A couple of summers ago, my friend Bea Kent handed me a few zucchinis, saying, “If you have to buy zucchini during the summer in Powell River, then you don’t have enough friends.”

For the beginner gardener, zucchini is one of the easiest vegetables to cultivate; success is guaranteed.  Zucchini can produce so much it can be overwhelming. One good way to control overabundance is to harvest the flowers as well.

Zucchini, a summer squash, is low in calories and a good source of potassium and vitamin A, among other nutrients.

The name zucchini is used in Italy, Australia, Canada and the United States, while the name “courgette” is commonly used in France, the Netherlands, Ireland and the United Kingdom. Eaten before mature, they are called baby squash.

The smaller the zucchini the better, for a delicate flavour that requires quick cooking with butter or olive oil and fresh herbs.

The vegetable can be used in many ways: raw, steamed, boiled, grilled, stuffed, baked, barbecued, fried – even cut with a spiralizer to make zucchini noodles for a low-carb alternative. Zucchini can also be baked into bread similar to banana bread or incorporated into a cake mix. Its flowers can be eaten stuffed, deep fried in tempura batter.

Zucchini is used in many countries. In Bulgaria it is fried and served with a dip. In Egypt it is cooked with tomato sauce, garlic and onions. In France it is a key ingredient in ratatouille, a vegetable stew; in Greece, zucchini is usually fried, stewed or stuffed with minced meat, rice, and herbs. In Italy  it is fried, baked, boiled, or deep fried, while in Mexico, the flower is cooked in soups or used as a filling for quesadillas. A popular dish in Turkey is zucchini pancakes made from shredded zucchini, flour, and eggs, lightly fried in olive oil and eaten with yogurt. Flowers are also used in a cold dish, where they are stuffed with a rice mixture containing various spices and nuts.

If your garden is producing more zucchini than you know what to do with, consider eating a few of the zucchini blooms. The bright yellow flowers taste similar to the zucchini and are perfectly safe to eat. Choose blossoms that are just barely fully opened and harvest them in the morning.

What kind of socks do you need to plant zucchini?
Garden hose!

beerzuccfried2

Cheese Stuffed Fried Zucchini Flowers

Cheese Stuffed Zucchini Flowers

Ingredients

  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 12                    zucchini flowers with stems, rinsed
  • 12 cubed         feta, size to fit inside flower (you can use other cheese)
  • 1 cup               seasoned flour
  • 2                      eggs, beaten with salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup               Panko breadcrumbs

 

Steps

  • Pour 3 inches of oil in a heavy pot, heat to 375F
  • Stuff a flower with a cheese
  • Coat with seasoned flour
  • Dip into egg
  • Coat with Panko
  • Fry flowers in hot oil until crisp and golden, about 2 minutes. Don’t overcrowd.
  • Drain on paper towel.

Enjoy!

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

chocolate-zucchini-cake1

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

 

Ingredients

  • ½ cup            soft butter
  • 1 cup               sugar
  • ½ cup            vegetable oil
  • 2                      eggs
  • ½ cup            buttermilk (or mix ½ c milk with 1 tbs lemon juice)
  • 1 tsp                vanilla
  • 21/2 cups      flour
  • 4 tbsp             cocoa powder (Dutch preferably)
  • 1 tsp                baking powder
  • 1 tsp                baking soda
  • 1 tsp                salt
  • 1 tsp                cinnamon
  • ½ tsp             ground cloves
  • 2 cups            grated zucchini, drained
  • 1 cup               chocolate chips

Steps

  • Cream together butter, sugar, oil, eggs, buttermilk and vanilla.
  • Sift and mix dry ingredients, flour, cocoa, baking powder & soda, salt, cinnamon and cloves.
  • Stir dry ingredients into creamy mixture.
  • Fold in zucchini and chocolate chips.
  • Pour into greased bunt or chiffon pan, or two small loaf pans.
  • Bake at 350F for 45-60 minutes, till tester comes out clean.
  • Dust with icing sugar or top with chocolate glaze.

Chocolate glaze

(Makes about 1 1/4 cup)

Ingredients

  • 7 oz                 semisweet chocolate
  • 1 tbsp              butter, unsalted
  • ¾ cup             sugar
  • 1/3 cup           strong coffee

Steps

  • Melt in double boiler over hot, not boiling water chocolate and butter.
  • Cook sugar and coffee to thread stage (230F).
  • Pour syrup in slowly, stirring constantly until mixture coats back of the spoon.
  • Pour the glaze over the cake.

Tastefull Blog: Savour Spring Salmonberries

By Marika Varro

Salmonberry, a member of the rose family and a close relative of raspberries, is native to the West Coast of North America. Rich in vitamins C and K as well as manganese, the reddish-orange berries can be eaten raw or made into jams, jellies or wine and are often frozen for later use. They are highly perishable and have a very short shelf life. The young shoots can be eaten raw or cooked like asparagus and the leaves can be used as tea.
Salmonberry (not a true berry) was an important food source for the Tla’amin people. Its name is believed to have derived from the fact that Native Americans ate this fruit with salmon and salmon roe.
“Salmonberry has a long history in my nation’s diet,” says Erik Blaney, a member of the Tla’amin Nation.“The people gathered the ripe berries, made them into cakes and dried them for later use with salmon. The salmon was smoked and dried, placed in woven bas- kets of cedar bark and stored underground in a food cache. To eat, the salmonberry cake was re-hydrated with herring oil or bear fat, the salmon was heated in a pit lined with skunk-cabbage leaves and the salmon was then dipped into the re-hydrated salmonberry. In the spring, the young shoots were eaten, and still are. As a treat, children dip the fresh shoots into sugar and it is called pa’aje (pa adga). The new shoots taste like asparagus or fiddleheads.”
The fruits, leaves and flowers provide food for many animals like bears and hummingbirds.

Not just a food, Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) has many medicinal uses, too. Its leaves can be used as a poultice for dressing burns while its bark can make a poultice to ease toothaches and cure open wounds. Its roots can be mashed and boiled to treat stomach problems and ease labour pains.

 

Salmonberry Crumble
Serve with ice-cream or whipping cream.

  • 4 cups fresh salmonberries (they are seedy, which will add a crunchytexture to this dessert)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • Mix above ingredients and pour into a prepared 9×9 baking pan.
  • Topping
  • ½ cup butter
  • ½ cup oatmeal
  • ½ cup flour
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ cup nuts (almonds, pecans or walnuts)

Place in food processor and pulse until crumbly. Sprinkle over berry mixture and bake in pre-heated 350F oven for 45 minutes, until the top is golden.

Tastefull Blog: Asparagus “Tips”

convenientchef_asparagus

By Marika Varro, The Convenient Chef

If someone were to ask you what spring means to you, you might say, “the first sight of hummingbirds” or, “seeing certain flowers like daffodils”, or maybe “the sound of tree frogs.”

Well, spring to me is when asparagus shows up in my supermarket, usually locally grown and well-priced. This nutrient dense-food has the taste of“spring” to me.

Debbie Shapter and Richard Gilbert, owners of the Blacktail Farm on Texada Island, are looking forward to this year’s asparagus crop which they planted four years ago. The plants thrive on their chickens’  naturalfertilizer.

“The asparagus is a member of the lily family. The spears grow from a crown that is planted about a foot deep in soft, sandy, soils. The spears are not harvested for three years to allow the crown to develop a  strong root system,” says Debbie.

Temperature determines the time between harvests. Earlier in the season, pickings may be every four or five days whereas as the weather gets warmer, asparagus may have to be picked every 24 hours. The season can last up to eight weeks and a properly cared for planting will produce for about 15 years.

In Europe white asparagus is more common than the green asparagus we find in Canada but is occasionally available in our supermarkets. It is white because it has been deprived of the sun that would turn it green. That lack of sunshine has a definite effect on taste: white asparagus has a sweet, nutty flavour and a less “grassy” taste.

To prepare this springtime treat, trim the ends, by snapping the butts at their natural breaking points and wash in warm water. Stand asparagus upright in about an inch of water in a glass placed into your fridge. Fresh asparagus keeps for two or three days.

It’s one of the most nutritionally balanced vegetables there are: high in folic acid and a good source of potassium, vitamins A, B6, C, fiber and thiamin. It has no fat, no cholesterol, is low in sodium and tastes great!

Cream of Asparagus Soup

4-6 servings

  • 3 lbs asparagus spears
  • 3 cups chicken stock or water
  • 2 large leeks, cleaned and chopped (white and light green part) )
  • 2 cups hot milk
  • 2 tsp dill
  • 1 medium onion finally chopped
  • ½ tsp tarragon
  • 2 tbsp butter Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed

– Wash and trim asparagus. Cut off the tips and set aside. Coarsely slice

remaining stalk.

– Melt butter in a medium size skillet. Add leeks, onion, potatoes and

asparagus stalk. Sauté for about 15-20 minutes over medium heat, stirring

frequently.

– Add stock or water, stir and heat to boil, and then turn down to simmer.

Cook until potatoes are soft.

– Puree the soup with the milk and season with the herbs and salt and

pepper.

–  Blanch and chill asparagus tips (see above) cut into small pieces and add to

soup just before serving as a garnish.

Tastefull Blog: Little Shrimp, Jumbo Taste

shrimp_convenientChef

As published in the Jan 2016 issue of Powell River Living Magazine.

What is the difference between a shrimp and a prawn?

The answer depends on where you live. On the West Coast, large shrimp are mostly known as prawns, and the name shrimp is usually reserved for the small cooked and peeled variety.

The exception for that is the sidestripe shrimp, which can also be found fresh here in Powell River.

On the East Coast, shrimp is the common name for all types and sizes. The British call all shrimp-like creatures prawns. The name persists in most British

Commonwealth nations, including India and South Africa.

Shrimp/prawns are crustaceans. They have ten legs like crabs and lobsters, and a shell covering the head and body. Shrimp/prawns live in a variety of habitats ranging from coral reefs to sandy bottoms, but the species that are consumed as food usually live on muddy bottoms and feed on detritus, small plants and animals.

Fresh shrimp

Here in Powell River we are lucky to be able to harvest or purchase fresh prawns and sidestripe shrimp. Shrimp are among the most widely available and most widely used seafood, but most seafood suppliers do not bother with fresh shrimp due to their higher cost and perishability. So take a moment to appreciate the bounty of the Salish Sea, if you’re getting truly fresh shrimp.

Whole raw shrimp/prawns should be stored on ice; their heads tend to blacken after about 48 hours.  Head-off fresh raw shrimp/prawns have a shelf life of about 5-7 days on ice as do truly fresh-cooked shrimp.

Thawing frozen shrimp

Shrimp are best thawed overnight in the  refrigerator. Place the frozen shrimp in a colander set inside a large bowl. The shrimp should not sit in their own juices as they thaw.

There is a quick method if you are in a hurry. Place the shrimp in a colander and run water over the frozen shrimp. Avoid letting thawed shrimp sit in water for a long time; they may become waterlogged.

Cooking and preparing shrimp

The most common error in preparing shrimp is to over cook them. Shrimp should be boiled in well salted water. Small to medium shrimp should be boiled 3 to 5 minutes and large 6 to 8 minutes.

Shrimp can also be broiled, baked, stir-fried,  sautéed, deep-fried or barbecued but; whatever the cooking method is avoid overcooking!

RECIPE

Spicy Thai Prawn Stir-fry

(Serves 6)

  • 3 red chilies (cut into thin strips)
  • 3 cloves garlic (cut into thin strips)
  • ½ -inch piece peeled fresh ginger (cut into thin strips)
  • 2 tbsp peanut oil
  • 6 green onions (green part only, chopped diagonally in ¼-inch pieces)
  • 1-1½ lbs prawns (shelled, leaving tails intact)
  • 2 cups bean sprouts
  • 1 cup snow peas
  • 2 cups broccoli florets cut into small pieces
  • ½ green pepper, sliced
  • ½ red pepper, sliced
  • 1 large carrot, thinly sliced
  • 12 mushrooms (cut into 4)
  • 8-12 cherry tomatoes
  • 1 small zucchini, sliced
  • green onions (white part, cut into 1-inch pieces)
  • (Vegetables can be added or substituted to personal preference.)
  • 2 tbsp Thai fish sauce or soy sauce
  • 1½ tbsp white vinegar
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar

Heat oil in wok, stir-fry chilies & ginger for 2 minutes, add garlic & green onions, fry together until lightly brown & crisp. Remove from wok, drain and set aside.

Re-heat oil in wok, add prawns & stir-fry for 2 minutes.

Remove from wok & set aside.

Re-heat oil, add vegetables, stir-fry until vegetables are just tender.

Add combined sauce, and prawns, stir fry until prawns are cooked. (Don’t over cook prawns)

Sprinkle with the crisp chili, garlic, ginger & green onion mixture.

Serve with Jasmine rice or chilled on a bed of greens.

Garnish with cilantro.

 

Tastefull Blog: Chocolate; Food of the Gods.

Cocoa Beans

Cocoa Beans

As published in the Feb 2016 issue of Powell River Living Magazine.

Ah, chocolate; delicious, decadent, delectable and soothing. So where did this delight come from?

The history of chocolate

The origins of chocolate go back at least 4000 years, which derived from the evergreen. Theobroma (means ‘food of the gods’) cacao tree,. The plant is believed originated in the Amazon or Orinoco basins in South America. The Aztecs attributed its creation to their god Quetzalcoatl who as the legend goes descended from heaven on a beam of a morning star carrying a cacao tree stolen from paradise.

The Aztecs valued the cacao bean so much that they used it as currency. They also used the cacao beans to prepare a thick, unsweetened drink, laced with ground chilies called chocolatl ; a liquid so prestigious that it was served in golden goblets.

The Aztecs created what we now know as chocolate by fermenting, drying and roasting the beans and then grinding the kernels to produce cocoa mass, chocolate liquor.

Although Christopher Columbus was the first to come across the beans around 1502, Herman Cortez is credited with introducing them to the Western World a little over 40 years later. Cortez was fascinated with the Aztecs bitter spicy beverage; however, he was more impressed by the fact that the beans were used as currency. He established in the name of Spain a cacao plantation, where “money” could be cultivated.

When he returned to Spain, he took some of the wonderful beans back to his king.

He had a suspicion that if the Aztecs bitter beverage were blended with cane sugar, it would be more agreeable to European tastes. He was right and the drink became quite the delicacy. The Spaniards mixed the beans with pepper, sugar, vanilla, nutmeg, clove, allspice and cinnamon, became the drink of nobility – a secret Spain managed to keep from the rest of the world for almost 100 years.

When the French get hold of it, they immediately acclaimed it as a marvelous aphrodisiac and by adding heavy taxes on it, further enhanced its status as a drink for the rich.

In the 17th and 18th century England, the drink became so popular that many chocolate houses opened up competing against the traditional English pub.

From cacao bean to chocolate

The cacao tree, which ranges from 15-20 feet high, is planted in moist, tropical climates. There are three varieties of the cacao tree Criollo, Forastero and Trinitarios; each grown different part of the world.

The ripened pods shaped like small footballs; in the color of red, orange or gold. They are allowed to ferment in their own heat while developing their flavor and characteristics. When the fermented beans turn to a rich brown color they are ready for drying. After drying they are shipped to chocolate factories all over the world.

Like coffee, it develops its color and the fullness of its flavor when it’s roasted. The degree of care given to the roasting has considerable influence on the quality of the end product; either cocoa powder or chocolate.

The roasted and husked beans, called “nibs” then pass through a grinder and the heat generated by this process causes the cocoa butter to melt and form a fine paste called “chocolate liquor” which gets molded into cakes. At this point some of the cakes go through hydraulic press which removes most of the cocoa butter and become cocoa.

To some of the cakes more cocoa butter added and become bitter chocolate we know as cooking or baking chocolate.

Cocoa butter is a very a remarkable fat, it will keep for years without becoming rancid. There are many pharmaceutical demands for it. Because of this high demand, in inferior chocolate the cocoa butter is replaced by other fat.

The best sweet chocolate is made by combining the melted bitter cake with 35% cocoa butter, fine sugar, sometimes vanilla and milk – depending on the type of chocolate desired. So read your label. The list of ingredients should be short like: Chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, sugar, lecithin (emulsifier) and vanilla.

White Chocolate

White chocolate was first introduced in Switzerland after World War I. It is more expensive than dark because it contains more of the expensive cocoa butter. It offers a subtle hint of chocolaty taste, but it isn’t a true chocolate because doesn’t contain the chocolate liquor. To purchase white chocolate you’ll have to look for Belgium made like Callebaut.

The North American white chocolate contains no chocolate or cocoa butter at all but is prepared from vegetable fats, coloring and flavors.

 Cocoa powder

Cocoa is pulverized from the dry cocoa cakes which after processing still contain 10% fat for regular cocoa and up to 24%. The Dutch type is the heaviest in fat content.

 RECIPES

 Chocolate Zucchini Cake

  • ½ cup  soft butter
  • 1 cup   sugar
  • ½ cup  vegetable oil
  • 2   eggs
  • ½ cup   buttermilk (or mix ½ c milk with 1tbs lemon juice)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 21/2 cups flour
  • 4 tbsp cocoa powder (Dutch preferably)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp  salt
  • 1 tsp  cinnamon
  • ½ tsp powered cloves
  • 2 cups grated zucchini, drained
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

Procedure

  • Cream together butter, sugar, oil, eggs, buttermilk and vanilla.
  • Sift and mix dry ingredients, flour, cocoa, baking powder & soda, salt, cinnamon and cloves.
  • Stir dry ingredients into creamy mixture.
  • Fold in zucchini and chocolate chips.
  • Pour into greased bunt or chiffon pan, or two small loaf pans.
  • Bake at 350F for 45-60 minutes, till tester comes out clean.
  • Dust with icing sugar or top with chocolate glaze.

Chocolate glaze

(Makes about 1 1/4 cup)

  • 7 oz  semisweet chocolate
  • 1 tbsp  butter, unsalted
  • ¾ cup  sugar
  • 1/3 cup    strong coffee

Procedure

  • Melt in dbl boiler over hot, not boiling water chocolate and butter.
  • Cook sugar and coffee to thread stage (230F).
  • Pour syrup in slowly, stirring constantly until mixture coats back of the spoon.
  • Pour the glaze over the cake.

 

Chocolate/Cranberry Biscotti

(Makes 24 biscotti)

  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 3 tbsp orange juice
  • ¼ cup butter, soft
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¾ cup chocolate chips

Procedure

  • Combine cranberries and orange juice in small pot and heat over med heat until softened.
  • Cream butter, sugar and eggs in a large bowl, add cranberry mixture and stir.
  • Add remaining ingredients except chocolate chips, and mix well.
  • Mix chocolate chips in. Dough will be stiff.
  • Turn out onto lightly flowered surface and kneed xix times.
  • Shape into two 16” (40cm) long, 11/4” diameter (3cm) log and place on greased baking sheet.
  • Bake in 350F oven for 30 minutes.
  • Cool on wire rack for 10-15 minutes.
  • Reduce oven temperature to 275F.
  • Cut rolls diagonally into ½” slices.
  • Arrange on same baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes.
  • Turn slices over and turn off oven.
  • Let stand in oven for 30 minutes until crisp.

Dip this into your hot chocolate or coffee for a real treat.