The Year of the Kitchen

Usually this is my forum to share about foods and products I am excited about.  I confess though that I have been rather quiet this past year. This is why…

You may have heard that last year was the Chinese year of the rooster but for me and my family, 2017 was the year of the kitchen.  We have lived in our century home for over 25 years. In spite of raising a relatively large brood of children… five, in case you were wondering….our 8 by 10 foot kitchen was adequate during most of those years. For larger baking or canning projects I always appropriated the dining room table.

But children grow up. They bring home friends, spouses and then grandchildren. Suddenly, that adequate kitchen feels too snug for two generations of cooks sharing the space during family gatherings. Kitchen cabinets take a beating over 25 years of use. It was finally time to get to work and realize some dreams.

We are a family of avid do-it-yourself-ers. My neighbours are never surprised to see me up on a roof or creating something with my table saw on the front driveway. Yes, you read correctly. My table saw. My husband, John, prefers his circular saw.  So there never was any doubt that this would be a do-it-yourself kitchen…or that the “yourself” would be me with the exception of plumbing and electrical. I gladly deferred those elements of the reconstruction to more able persons.

To be honest, the year of the kitchen actually started August of 2016 but before I get ahead of myself let me give you a tour of the “before.”

 

 

The kitchen was a solid fortress of double brick walls that once formed what was most likely a workshop addition on the back of a tradesman’s two story house.   The early inhabitants of our street were the families of men who worked at the nearby steel plant that was torn down a decade ago. Back in the 1990’s we added a family room and the exterior brick walls were absorbed into the house. The windows came out but the old sill remained as a shelf in the pass through. The entrance way became a hall; the coat closet, a pantry. The plan was to remove the bricks under that window sill to floor level so we could push the cabinets out and enlarge the  kitchen’s square footage. I also planned to remove multiple layers of wall coverings to expose the brick of the original back of the house.

IMG_6948Before I was ready to install new cabinets, over 400 bricks were removed.  There are always surprises when you take apart an old house. The original builder, a bricklayer by the name of Roach, constructed the house in 1916 using reclaimed bricks half of which were handmade. On walls that were to be covered, Roach used less than perfect bricks and his mortar was left rough.  His fine craftsmanship was evident on the walls that once formed the back of the house, however, the mortar had become crumbly over time.  So I learned how to repoint mortar and rebuild a brick wall.  Plaster board covered a tongue and groove wood ceiling. Two old stove pipe holes were revealed.

 

One of those holes went through a joist which had to be reinforced once all the wood boards came off the ceiling.  As I removed layers of history, I got a glimpse of the people who had inhabited the house over the years.

This process took months because frequently I only had a few hours each week to invest into the project. During the busy Christmas season here at The European Pantry all work went on hold.  Finally a year after I started demolition, it was time for the new kitchen to take shape.

 

The kitchen isn’t complete yet. There is a dishwasher to come and it still needs some finishing touches, however, you can check our update in a more recent post: Bring Home the Colour Now that it is mostly done I can shift my focus to cooking for enjoyment again…and sharing tips and new ideas with you!European Pantry cooking

However, this project has taught me a lot of what makes a good kitchen…ideas I  will be happy to pass on to anyone who is starting their own “year of the kitchen.”

Big Sample Days

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Join us for one of our BIG SAMPLE DAYS Saturday, December 12, 2015.

IMG_5036Come taste some great holiday entertaining ideas & a variety of cheeses.IMG_5037

Scotts Lemon Curd & Campbell’s Shortbreads are a great “made in England”  taste combination. Or try Bella Casara ricotta cheese spread on an IMG_5035oat biscuit made by Nairn’s of Scotland topped off with one of our special preserves. Nairn’s Oat Crackers also make a great base for strong cheeses served at wine and cheese gatherings.IMG_5034

 

 

 

 

We have EXCEPTIONAL entertaining ideas here at The European Pantry! We also still have chocolate letters!

Coffee Time!

IMG_4751There’s a chill wind blowing outside. Time to pull out a mug and fill it with your favourite coffee! I am a latte girl myself so dipping biscotti might be a bit of sweet over kill…but I love the scene in “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” where Judi Dench explains the perfect technique of dunking one’s biscuit in a hot drink. You need to dip just long enough to soften your cookie but not so long that the cookie falls into the drink. My good friend Jane in Somerset told me of the morning she didn’t pull her digestive out of her coffee quick enough and it sank as a sodden lump to the bottom of her cup.  Her husband offered to switch cups….That’s love!

But I am enjoying my favourite joe in a new birthday mug and theseIMG_4746 great biscotti are a perfect bit of sweet to dip in and out in just that perfect “Exotic Marigold” way. Did The European Pantry really need to add another cookie to our current selection of over 30? Yes, Tuscan biscotti are too good to pass up. These Cantuccini Almond cookies made by Dolciaria Gadeschi in Corte De’ Frati near Milan, Italy are perfect dunkers.IMG_4747 Loaded with almonds and just the right about of sweetness to dip in your espresso IMG_4755and pull out at that right moment to enjoy. Thankfully we don’t have to go to Italy to get them…they are here for us to enjoy in Welland!

Autumnal Inspiration

Fall seems like the time that everyone starts cooking and baking again. Maybe it’s the cool nights that just beg for the oven to be turned on.  Or perhaps walking through all the wonderful produce at your local farmers market, like the Welland Farmers Market next door to our store, makes you want to want to roll up your sleeves and put something up for the cold winter nights. If you are really fortunate like me, you will have a tree laden with ripe fruit that is wishes to be glorified in some special recipe.

I am enjoying an amazing apple harvest this year. Last year with its late spring frost, I got a total of 2 apples on our tree. This year the tree is loaded with apples.  I estimate at least double its usual output of 1 bushel.  We have already been enjoying apple sauce and crumble from the my cullings. Anything that has flaws, has been pecked by a bird or has fallen is ending up in a pot or a tin. We have a wonderful cold storage so the more perfect specimens will keep well into the new year.  Provided that I don’t have any unwelcome little B&B guests. I have already dispatched 4 of them.  Eying my wealth of apples I did a walk around on my day off to find out where these pesky little creatures were getting in. I found some loose mortar and stone around one basement window. I have never outgrown my childhood enjoyment of playing with mud so I spent a pleasant hour repairing those spots with some mortar. The way back into the house is past the apple tree.  I couldn’t help myself…before I knew it I was stuffing apples into the bib and pockets of my overalls….enough for a large strudel and some apple cake.

I must admit I cheated a bit on the strudel by using phyllo pastry we sell in our store. But I was quite proud of my results…albeit a Dutch-Canadian woman’s interpretation of a Hungarian specialty…and posted pictures IMG_4742on the Hungarian food Facebook page I am a member of.  That led to a long discussion about the origin of strudel…it made its way to Austria via Hungary who were bequeathed the mysteries of strudel dough making by invading Ottoman Turks.  I waIMG_4743s also treated to many wonderful hints about making strudel dough so I can go the whole way next time and start totally from scratch. With all those apples I shall sometime soon since I have never been one to walk away from a challenge. The one thing no one offered was a recipe for the dough.  I found one on line…click here if you want to discover the mysteries of homemade dough yourself  …Otherwise you can cheat like I did and buy phyllo.

Strudel isn’t the only fall treat that has been intriguing me.  A few weeks back a customer asked me to get some nice aged provolone because she would be preserving stuffed cherry peppers. Most Provolone you will find in stores is mild, soft andIMG_4745 reminiscent of Mozzarella. I found her a wonderful Provolone Torpido Auricchio aged about a year. It is made by an Italian family in Wisconsin. I think the mild Provolone in the cooler is probably is feeling very mediocre right now…although I told it that it still makes a wonderful pizza or grilled cheese. Of course,my curiosity was tweaked and I had to find out how she was making these stuffed peppers… here is the recipe I found:  Marinated Stuffed Cherry Peppers.

Then if all this wasn’t exciting enough, I had another customer come in to buy Gorgonzola for…wow…Pumpkin Ravioli with Gorgonzola sauce. This recipe uses wonton wrappers to make the ravioli.  I think my customer makes hers totally from scratch but, hey, if we can cheat with ready made phyllo pastry, we can cheat with wonton wrappers. When the smells waft from your kitchen window, your neighbours won’t know any better!

Ripe Flavour

IMG_4176Ripe, luscious fruit. Summer at its best! This morning I discovered my strawberries need to be eaten today. So I pulled out my favourite flavouring for strawberries and peaches: DeRuijter “Gestampte Muisjes” IMG_4182 This powdered sugar with a touch of ground anise accents the fruit’s natural flavour and brings out the juices. I just sliced my fruit, sprinkled a bit of this flavoured sugar, stirred, covered and put it in the fridge for dessert tonight.

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Simple. Delicious. Or dress it up by serving on angel food cake and adding whipped cream.

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Sheep in the Brambles

zacharie-cloutierZacharie Cloutier is the ancestor of probably more Quebecois Canadians than any other man.  He and his wife Xainte immigrated from the Perche province, France in 1634.  They founded one of the foremost families in Quebec. By 1800, the Cloutier descendants numbered close to 11,000.Today it might be impossible to count them but they include Marie-ChantalIMG_2836 Houde (pictured on right) one of the principals of Fromagerie Nouvelle France. Their sheep’s milk firm pressed cheese is named for this forefather. Fromagerie Nouvelle France is part of a growing number of farm cheese producers.

This washed rind cheese is semi-cooked. Ripened from 4-6 months the paste has a buttery caramel flavour with the rich tones associated with a sheep’s milk cheese. It is best paired with a moderately full bodied red wine with strong dark berry undertones but balanced with mild acidity. Try Cattail Creek Cabernet Merlot. The black raspberry, cassis and Damson plum aromas of this wine will evoke summery days picking IMG_4166blackberries in wind blown brambles. Its refined tannins and spicy vanilla finish will balance well with Zacharie Cloutier’s richness. Serve with some toasted pecans and crusty white bread. As you nibble note the distinct zigzag design on the outside rind of the cheese.IMG_4165

Mont Jacob weds Niagara

IMG_2659Every Saturday we offer several cheeses for our customers to taste.  This week you can sample Mont Jacob from Fromagerie Blackburn in Quebec.  The Blackburn family began farming in Jonquière in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region of Quebec about 80 years and four generations ago. More recently they began making cheese including the award winning Mont Jacob.

IMG_4135 Being a washed rind cheese, the aroma is strong and the rind of any such cheese is an acquired taste. Cut into the cheese and you will discover the paste’s rich buttery flavour. The finish is soft with no bitter edge.

The recommended pairing for Mont Jacob is a dry white wine.  Here in Niagara we suggest Creekside Sauvignon Blanc. A glass of this wine’s white grapefruit, granny smith apple flavours and light tropical notes of pineapple and star fruit will be an excellent foil to the richness of the cheese. Try it and tell us what you think!

Wild Twist of Taste

IMG_3986Thanks to some birds years ago, our garden has a patch of wild raspberries. We also let mint grow wild among the other plants.

IMG_3990Being able to just go into the yard and forage for fresh produce is an inexpensive luxury at this time of year. Mint and blackberries might not seem like a logical pairing but the freshness of the mint coupled with the heady tartness of the berries is a winning combination. IMG_3994  We binge on french vanilla ice cream and berries during these short weeks as long as the berries last.  Tonight I sprinkled the ice cream with small nips of mint.  I think my guy thought it strange to find green leaf flecks in his frozen dessert but there weren’t any complaints.

IMG_3999 The berry season will soon be past but we can enjoy this flavour pairing during the rest of the year. A drizzle of Hungarian Piroska fruit syrup and some store bought mint will bring the summer sun at any time of year.SAM_1970

Jewels of Summer

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Berries are the jewels of summer!  I was leaving work the other day and realized…after I had locked the door and didn’t want to go back inside…that my currants in the back yard were ripe. So my hat came off to make a handy bowl conjuring up memories of impromptu berry picking when I was a child.

The tartness of many berries make them an excellent addition to sweeter desserts. Strands of currants will beautifully garnish a cake. On one such creation I also added a few mint leaves which pleasantly surprised  us by giving the frosting hints of mint.  All it needed then was a bit of dark chocolate….

When it’s hot, who wants to bake so this time I used my berries to make a trifle. Custard, some left over pound cake,  whipped cream or frozen whipped topping plus the berries…and you have a quick attractive dessert.  If I haven’t baked pound cake I will use one of Kuchenmeister pound cakes that we sell here at the Pantry. They are available in a number of flavours; each can add something special to your dessert

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When I make custard, I only heat up about half the required milk.  Some is reserved for mixing the custard powder but I leave more on the side to whisk in once the pudding starts to thicken.  I also whisk in some 10% coffee cream for a richer flavour. It preps faster this way and I can control the thickness of the pudding by adding milk until it is just right.

The instructions for Koopman’s Custard mix are very easy to follow. Two cups of milk  will give you about 4 servings.  To that I add 2-3 slices of the pound cake and about a cup or more of whipped cream.  All you need is about a half cup of berries.  Any type will do. If they are sweeter you can increase the amount but it is better not to over do it with particularly tart berries.

Start assembling your dessert before the custard has time to cool and set. After spooning in a bit of custard on the bottom a clear bowl or into 4 tall glasses crumble some pound cake in pieces. (The larger your dessert, the larger the pieces of cake can be. Otherwise an inch square is about right.) Spoon a bit of custard on top of the pieces of cake. Then drop your berries into the custard. Dollop some whipped cream then repeat your layers again starting with another layer of pound cake. Garnish with extra berries on top.  You can serve it immediately or chill it first.

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Feta Fun

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We have fun trying different tastes here at the European Pantry. Today, we offered customers a chance to compare two different ways of using feta.  We started with “kajmak” style feta. This is a smooth creamy feta that is very amenable to making spreads with. First, we added pesto for an antipasto option. We served this on whole wheat Paris toasts but this spread can hold its own on any savoury cracker that brings its own flavour to the table, too. Next, we mixed wild lingonberries to the feta. The tart berries compliment the salty tones of the feta but offer a totally different taste experience than the pesto option. We served this with Nairn’s roughly milled Scottish oat crackers. But it would be great on a bagel!  Of course, you don’t need to add anything to feta which is a versatile cheese with so many uses…you can find both the creamy “kajmak” style or a Balkan style crumbly feta here at the European Pantry.

IMG_3900“KEEPER OF THE KEYS” HINT: Your jar of pesto will keep in your fridge longer it you scrape the pesto down off the sides with a spoon and then pour a thin layer of olive oil to cover. The olive oil will congeal in the fridge and seal off the pesto.  The oil will also take on the pesto flavour and can be used to season a salad or can be brushed on bread.  Just remember to add more oil as you use some.