Thinking Outside the Jar: Strawberry Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream

Disclaimer: I feel like this recipe was obvious to everyone but me. If that’s the case, smile and shake your head at me. If not, read on!

This recipe was born out of necessity (yes!) for a piece of frozen crumbly gluten-free birthday chocolate cake that was screaming for a side kick. The obvious pairing of ice cream wasn’t available and I wasn’t about to make buttercream frosting for one, but this is where whipped cream came in handy.

It’s really, really simple:

1. Cool your whipping cream, your bowl and your beaters then whip it, whip it good.

2. Fold in your jam. Any kind of loose set jam, really. I’ve been eating my Strawberry Vanilla Bean with and on everything and it was perfect with chocolate cake. It has a really soft set and blended perfectly, but avoid the stiff jam/jelly and opt for something that will fold nicely into the cream and help it retain it’s airiness. Start with about 2:1 ratio of cream to jam and if you want more jam, add more, just remember that the more jam you add, the looser the cream will get.

I know it’s obvious, but think of the possibilities! Tomorrow, when our American friends are gobbling up their pumpkin pie, what about a big dollop of Spiced Apple Butter Whipped Cream? Heaven.

Let me know if you give this a try.


Thinking Outside the Jar: Elderberry Cream Hearts

Elderberry Cream Hearts

Now that my daughter is 2.5 we’ve been having such fun with holidays. She has a much greater understanding of the activities and rituals behind holidays and looks forward to them with anticipation. From her books and talks with her friends, she now understands Valentine’s is about cards, candy, hearts and “I love you’s”. Since this is her first year of really experiencing these holidays, I’m feeling compelled to really make the most of it and help make her first introduction to them really special.

After watching the Tedx Manhattan video about the effects of eating processed, food colour rich foods, I’m hesitant to let my daughter enjoy much of the candies that may come her way and so this treat was my attempt at using natural ingredients to create something nutritious and fun.  Debating between rhubarb and elderberry syrup as a base, I opted for the antioxidant rich elderberry syrup, mostly for its dramatic colour. When I canned this syrup, I intended to pour it over pancakes or add it to club soda, but I’ve done neither and my syrup is wasting away in the pantry. I like recipes that give preserves a new life!

Elderberry Cream Hearts

2 cups elderberry syrup

1 cup water

3 packets of powdered Knox gelatin

1/2 cup whipping cream (unwhipped)

1. Dissolve the packages of gelatin in a cup of cold water. Lightly grease a 9×13 pan and set aside.

2. Pour syrup into a small pot and bring to a soft boil. Remove from heat and add gelatin.

3. Pour in whipping cream and stir. Pour into prepared pan and refrigerate until set. Cut into squares or shapes.

** While I’m not 100% convinced elderberry syrup was the right choice, there’s something here and with some tinkering, we could  create something really fantastic. Perhaps my rhubarb syrup with orange zest or a mango juice with orange concentrate might taste good? Or, switching agar flakes instead of gelatin? Since this is my first attempt at making homemade gelatin, I welcome your suggestions and feedback!

End of the Year Spicy Marmalade with Kaffir Lime Leaf

The Makings of Something Great

I can’t think of a better way to cap off 2011 then with a preserve, especially this one. It represents the best of my year, a little spontaneous, a little spicy, definitely sweet and totally ready for celebration. I’m not sure what I’m most excited about, the fact that I managed to make this after a two month preserve-making hiatus, that I made this preserve quickly and while wearing a baby, or that it tastes delicious.

The uncanny clan are visiting with family near Toronto and a trip here always means one of our famous “ethno-grazes”, where we visit several spots in Toronto and load up on ethnic delights and refill our spice cabinet. This past trip meant a stop to Chinatown and returning with a big bag of kaffir lime leaves. While I normally reserve these leaves for my curries, one sniff and I knew I had a preserve in the making. Luckily, there were some lone oranges kicking around my father’s fridge that needed some love and some lovely dried chill peppers meant an interesting preserve could me mine.

It’s a very small batch, totally spur of the moment, but preserves can be that fabulous. While canning means more preparation with cleaning and sterilizing, but mini-batches means you can experiment and have a lot of fun discovering flavours you might like (or not!). I particularly liked this preserve and am looking forward to featuring this preserve over a chèvre and crackers for our New Year’s Eve celebration.

I opted for the largest orange in the fridge and sliced it using my favourite citrus slicing method a la Hitchhiking to Heaven. I tossed in about 1/4 cup of water and then added more orange juice as it softly boiled to prevent scorching, about 1/2 cup of liquid all total. Two small pieces of hot pepper were added and that was enough for a nice kick, but you can start judiciously and add more near the end if it’s not spicy enough. 4 kaffir lime leaves seemed the right amount, so adjust accordingly if you’re making a larger batch.

Let the mixture softly boil until the orange slices turn to mush when you squish them between your fingers, or eat a slice and when its softened to your liking, add your sugar (I added to taste).


To try this yourself:

Spicy Marmalade with Kaffir Lime Leaf

Yields: 1 cup

1 large orange, cleaned and scrubbed, quartered with the middle pith removed and thinly sliced

4 kaffir lime leaves

1 inch piece of dried hot pepper

1/3 cup sugar

1 cup water/orange juice (approx.)

1. Combine orange slices, hot pepper and kaffir lime leaves and water/juice and bring to a low simmer, cover and stir occasionally, about 40 minutes.

2. Put a dish in the freezer to test for gel point.

3. When you’re happy with the softness of your citrus, add sugar and increase heat to medium-high and continue cooking until the set point is reached. Remove hot pepper and lime leaves. Enjoy!

Seasons Greetings

It’s been such an exciting year for us at uncanny preserves! Another happy and successful summer at the Sackville Farmer’s Market and the sheer joy of  participating in a community pillar. The Farmer’s Market really is the heart of Sackville on a Saturday morning and you must budget at least an extra 30 minutes to catch up with all the friends you’ll meet there. I appreciate the kindness and generosity of the friends, customers and vendors at the Market.

I also give thanks for the wonderful online community that has shared their passion for preserving with me. The creativity continues to inspire and challenge me to keep trying new things. I can’t wait to see what 2012 brings!

It was also a banner year for our family as we welcomed our son last month. While life has yet to find a groove and rhythm, I wouldn’t change it for the world and am relieved that when life feels chaotic, our pantry is stocked with delicious, homemade and lovingly crafted preserves to keep our meals interesting.

From our family to yours, we wish you the best of the season and many blessings in the coming year.

Preserving Tradition: Part II

Guyanese Fruit Cake

I’m very excited to follow-up on this post from mid-September about a family tradition of a rich and dense Guyanese fruitcake. I decided to up the baking time by a couple weeks in case baby makes a timely appearance and I was just so excited to see how this cake would work out. While the cake recipe comes from Canadian Living I was able to nab the original recipe, which was really helpful as it turns out there is not one but two different kinds of icing!

According to the recipe, various dried fruits are pulsed in the food processor and soaked in rum for almost 2 months, stirred daily and continuously topped with rum. Life got in the way and the mixture was lucky to be stirred once a week, but I always ensured it was covered in rum.

Here is the entire recipe, mostly from Canadian Living with some family adaptations to the icing.

1 3/4 cup raisins

1 3/4 cup currants

1 1/2 cup prunes

1/2 cup candied mixed peel

2 1/2 cups rum

1 3/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 cup butter

3 eggs

1/2 tsp almond extract (I used my homemade cherry pit liqueur a la What Julia Ate)

2 cups all purpose flour (I made mine Gluten Free using this flour blend mixture from Land O’ Lakes)

1/2 cup chopped almonds

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp each ground cinnamon, ground cloves and nutmeg

Pinch of salt

1/2 cup chopped red glace cherries

Roll/Tube of Marzipan

3 cups icing sugar

1/4 cup water

1/8 tsp almond extract

1. In a food processor, pulse dried fruit together until it forms a thick paste. Move to a deep bowl and stir in 2 cups of rum. Cover and let sit for up to 2 months. Stir occasionally and add more rum to keep the fruit mixture covered. This step was covered in this blog post.

2. In a heavy saucepan, combine 1/2 cup of brown sugar and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Do not add water. Stir frequently and let it come to a boil for 1 minute. While it’s considered the “burnt sugar” step, I stirred frequently and moved quickly so it wouldn’t have an acrid, burnt flavour. Once it’s boiled, move fast and pour it into your dried fruit/booze mixture. It’ll harden quite quickly, which is alright. Stir to break up chunks.

Getting there…

Next, boil for 1 minute and move quickly to pour into dried fruit mixture.

3. Mix flour, baking powder, spices and chopped almonds together. Set aside.

4. In a deep mixing bowl, combine the butter and remaining brown sugar until creamy. Add eggs in one at a time, stirring well after each addition. Add in extract.

Eggy, Buttery, Sugary Mixture

4. Carefully stir in half of your dried mixture, stirring until well incorporated before adding more flour mixture.

Nearly There.

5. Stir in dried fruit/burnt sugar mixture and chopped glace cherries.

6. In a double parchment paper lined, 9″ springform pan, pour your fruitcake and smooth top. My pan was non-stick, so I only lined the bottom of the pan, but if need be, line the entire cake pan with parchment paper. Nothing would be worse than waiting this long and working this hard to have your cake stuck to your pan! Bake at 300 degrees for 3 hours, covering with tin foil in the last hour if your cake is getting brown too quickly.

Ready for the Oven.

7. The cake is ready when it begins to pull away from the sides and a toothpick comes out clean. Leave it to rest about 10 minutes before poking holes in the cake with a skewer and brushing more rum on the cake. Leave the cake to rest in the springform pan for a full 24 hours.

8. After the cake is rested and removed from pan, top the cake with a layer of marzipan. I cheated and bought some premade marzipan that was rolled on the top.

Marzipan Layer.

9. Fill the sink with hot water, spoon 3 cups of icing sugar into a pot and gently rest in the hot water. The heat will help cook off the flavour of the cornstarch (or so says my family recipe!). Stir in 1/4 cup warm water and a splash of almond extract. Stir until smooth and while it’s still warm, spoon over the top of the cake, not worrying whether some glaze falls on the side of the cake.

10. Cover the top with parchment paper and then tin foil. The cake can be stored at room temperature for 3 months in an air-tight container, or freezes really well.

Ice Ice Baby

So there you have it! It’s a fair amount of work, but the results are impressive and the taste is incredible. Plus, the bulk of my Christmas baking is now complete.

Preserving Tradition

As a perpetual graduate student, I’ve had plenty of years to reflect, study and ponder new ideas and one area I often return to is the role of narratives in our lives. Narratives help define who we are and how we translate that to others. In times of tragedy, in times of joy and in the mundane day-to-day activities, our stories help root us to a particular time and place. These narrative traditions often come up with family and friends, when we  gather to recount tales, share our hopes and envision our futures.

Family traditions around food is just one way that narrative gets told, even if no story accompanies the meal. A simple dish, rooted in tradition and history conveys a story and helps remind us of our origins. A dish of pasta, a bowl of chowder or  fresh-baked bread are just examples of food that are imbued with memory and are so powerful that the initial aromas are enough to transport you to a certain time and place and hold memories of people who share in those traditions.

One such tradition in my family, that I fear is at risk of getting lost, is my Aunt’s fruit cake. I have no idea how she makes it and I’ve yet to receive the recipe, but I’ve found something similar and I’m determined not to let this tradition fade away. Fruit cake is controversial in that you either love it, or you hate it. Frankly, what’s not to love? It has dried fruit, lots of booze, a thick layer of icing and is so rich you can only eat a small slice. It’s the epitome of the holidays – excess, indulgence and richness. Growing up, I remember receiving fruit cakes almost every year and while my brother and I would let out a collective groan, when I was preparing for my wedding, this cake was the first thing that came to mind.

While I was married only 8 years ago, handing out wrapped pieces of fruit cake was definitely a dying tradition and yet, sharing that family tradition with my guests felt important and I was thrilled my Aunt spent months preparing, baking and wrapping slivers for our guests. Suddenly, it felt important to share those family traditions with others. Since then, I don’t recall ever having her fruit cake and I missed the dark, dense cake. Each year, I vow to make it and stumble upon a recipe way too late, forgetting how long the cake needs to steep and develop flavours.

But not this year. This year, I’m on it. This year, I’m getting started on keeping up the tradition and learning more about how my aunt got this recipe. It’s not your typical fruit cake, in fact, it’s a Guyanese fruit cake. My grandmother, born in then British Guyana, brought several Caribbean inspired recipes with her when she moved to Canada and I grew up on the tradition of Pepperpots, Goat Curry and Oxtail Stew. Guyanese fruit cake was no exception, except that was one thing our family never made, leaving it to my Aunt to supply us with our Christmas treat. I’m excited to let the story develop and upholding the cake tradition, sharing it with my own children and telling them the story of their Great-Aunt’s enduring kindness, how their Great-Grandmother bravely followed her heart and voyaged to Canada and how their own Mama was taught as a child that food has the power to convey love, compassion and community.

Here’s part one of Guyanese Fruit Cake that begins its initial process of hanging out in a boozy bath for the next couple months. I’m following this recipe, exactly. It comes from Canadian Living, that had a special on fruit cakes in the December 2009 issue and is called Rheanna’s Gramma’s Guide Cake.

Dried Fruit Goodness

Dried Fruit Puree, Ready for a Booze Bath

Like preserves that need time for flavours to develop and mellow, this dried fruit and rum mixture will need until mid-November for the best possible flavour. I hope by that point, the next member of the family will be here to partake in the family tradition. I hope to teach him/her about their family and the roots that hold them in a community of love and adventure.