Orange upside-down cake.

It was plum season when I wrote about upside-down cakes, and I mentioned then that you would want to try making upside-down cakes with oranges in the wintertime. I love being right – and with oranges baked in caramel, how could you go wrong?

On an unrelated note, the lighting in my apartment continues to be terrible, despite my best efforts, so even with my shiny new camera the photos are turning out yellow. If this is something you can solve for me with a simple explanation (Fuji FinePix JX250, in the hands of an unskilled clicker), I will love you forever AND be your best friend.

Anyway.

When I got home from work I was too tired to do anything about feeding myself, so I slumped onto the couch with a can of room-temperature PBR and watched RapCity while Nick made merely adequate grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner. For an hour or two I was resigned to an evening of staring blankly at the TV with my mouth hanging open.

Then Nick went out to play boardgames with his boyfriends, and I felt repentant for my earlier uselessness but also disinterested in washing dishes or bending over to collect his socks from the floor, so I made a cake.

This is a variation on October’s upside-down cake, as I’ve decided that cornmeal is what I am in the mood for. You could make it with the other cake if you want, but the yellow of this version is nice, and the citrus in the batter brightens it up enough that you’ll almost forget you haven’t seen sunlight in a month. It’s just about healthy, with its corny base and orangey top, and something about it tells me it will be as satisfying reheated for breakfast tomorrow morning as it was fresh from the oven tonight.

Orange upside-down cake

Top:

  • 3 to 4 small navel oranges or blood oranges (or a combination)
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 3/4 brown sugar
  • Pinch salt

Cake:

  • Zest of one orange
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • 2/3 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp. honey
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 egg

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Using a knife, peel your oranges. Cut slightly on the diagonal, running the blade along the flesh of the orange, being careful not to leave any of the bitter white pith behind. Slice oranges horizontally to about 1/4″ thick. Test to be sure they fit into the bottom of a 9″ cast iron pan; they should fit comfortably with only nominal overlapping. Set aside.

In a bowl, combine orange and lemon zests, cornmeal, flour, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together lemon juice, melted butter, honey, milk, and the egg.

Place the 9″ cast iron pan over medium high heat, melt butter and sugar together until bubbling. Turn the heat off, and carefully add orange slices, placing them evenly across the bottom of the pan.

Whisk wet ingredients into dry ingredients, and pour into pan on top of the butter-sugar-orange mixture.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until top is golden, edges appear crisp, and caramel has bubbled through in places.

Let stand five minutes, then carefully turn out onto a serving plate. Let cool for 15 minutes before serving.

PS – Lisa over at Sweet as Sugar Cookies asked me to share this at her linky party. Since I like parties and adjectives that end in “y,” I said yes. Go check out her line-up of awesome desserts!

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Lentils with bacon.

Nick is a pretty, pretty boy, with bright blue eyes and dimples, and he’s tall and I met him in poetry class in 2006. He was literate and a looker, and that’s all I thought I needed. We started dating in 2007, and shortly thereafter I learned that he fished. And then I learned that he hunted. We were engaged almost immediately, and I’m still surprised I wasn’t the one who asked.

For the past couple of years, we’ve had our freezer stocked with wild local venison, and I can’t think of a bigger thing to brag about. Last year Nathan, my brother-in-law, brought the deer home and we got a portion – a few pounds of ground meat and some backstrap. This year, he and Nick got the deer together a little north of Princeton, BC, and so we have half a deer to call our own, portioned into roasts, chops, stew meat, and ground, and it is some of the most flavourful meat I’ve ever had. Once you try the meat of an animal that’s lived a happy life and that’s been fed its natural diet, there’s no going back to that cruelly treated but cheaper feedlot stuff. This is beautiful meat, dark and lean, wild-tasting but not gamey. If it’s possible, I am more into Nick now that he’s bringing home wild game than I was when our teacher was comparing him to John Thompson and Ezra Pound. The good meat more than makes up for Nick’s faults, which I would later discover include teeth-grinding, wrong-part-of-the-toothpaste-squeezing, and drinking the last of anything I might have wanted in the fridge, among other things.

I’ve deviated a fair bit from what I wanted to tell you, and I hope you’re not disappointed that the thing I sat down to write about here was lentils. I made a venison sirloin tip roast tonight, and it was flawless, cooked perfectly and seasoned with black pepper and rosemary, but to be honest I didn’t write the recipe down and now I’ve forgotten it. I was intent on telling you about the lentils, which Nick groaned about when I suggested them, but which he later helped himself to seconds of, and even though I planned for there to be four servings of the stuff, there ended up only being two.

If you’re going to make these as your side dish, maybe make a salad as well, so there’s enough to go around. These lentils are spicy, warming, a little tart, and taste of bacon, so don’t underestimate their appeal.

Lentils with bacon

(Serves four as a side-dish.)

  • 4 strips bacon, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. red chili pepper flakes
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 19 oz. can lentils
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt (or to taste)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

In a large pan over medium-high heat, cook bacon until crisp. Remove bacon to a plate lined with paper towel, and drain all but one tablespoon of fat from the pan.

Add olive oil to pan.

Add onions to pan, and fry until translucent. Add chili flakes, garlic, and lemon zest, and cook until fragrant, about a minute. Add lentils, and then squish lemon juice over top. Add salt, and cook until lentils are warmed through and beginning to brown, about two minutes. Taste, adjust seasonings, and then add bacon back to the pan. Add parsley, and cook until leaves have brightened, 30 seconds to a minute, and then serve.

These are excellent alongside roasted meat, but they’d also be pretty fabulous on their own with some buttered crusty bread, or with some roasted winter vegetables for a mostly wholesome weeknight meal. The recipe is easily doubled, but if you do double it, taste as you go before doubling the lemon; the zest and juice of two lemons might be a lot more than you’ll need.

 

Thank you very much.

Hello!

Before we get too far away from last Saturday (and the end of the voting for Best Canadian Food Blog), I just wanted to take a moment and say thank you.

Thank you for voting for this blog, and for sharing it on Facebook or Twitter or via email, and for asking your friends to share it and vote. And thank you for your comments and emails – such kind words, and it’s awesome to feel this sense of warmth and community around food and writing and the occasional cat photo. It was nice to have the blog nominated, but it’s even nicer to know that there are wonderful people like you somewhere who’ll take a few moments here and there to spend a little time with me.

I accidentally hacked a bit of my thumb off on Sunday morning, but it’s healing up quickly and I should have a new recipe for you soon. In the meantime, I look forward to continuing to write here, and to whatever the future might bring.

Love,

Emily

Salmon and mushroom casserole, or “Salmon Balls.”

One of the first dinners I ever made came from one of my mom’s Company’s Coming cookbooks – I don’t know if you can get those books in the states, but at one time everyone’s Canadian mother had them; I remember a row of them in the pantry cupboard, each book’s plastic spiral-bind a different colour. The recipe was for “Salmon Balls,” which I’ll admit does not sound tremendously appetizing. But it was, as it was little more than rice, canned salmon, and Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup. It was salty, creamy, and very comforting – perfect for one of these Canadian Januarys.

Of course, some things have changed, and around here we’re not really big on canned soups or heavily processed foods in general. I believe very strongly that if something’s going to be bad for you, it should be bad for you for the right reasons. This is why there are things like triple-creme brie, bacon, and bourbon. Besides, this version isn’t really bad for you, if you don’t eat it all the time. The ingredients are pronounceable, and you can easily substitute the things you aren’t sure of. Where I used a cup of sour cream, you could just as easily use yogurt; where I used white rice, you could use brown and adjust the cooking time. I’ve also crammed a few extra veggies in, so bonus points for that.

Also, this easily uses up a plateful of leftover fish, which earns you double bonus points.

But since it’s January and the whole city’s covered in a thick slurp of beige slush, there’s little reason not to go ahead and use the sour cream and white rice. Maybe you also have a hole in the sole of your boot and your work pants didn’t make it into the laundry this week and your hair just hates this weather – there are so many reasons to indulge right now, and who’d blame you?

Salmon and mushroom casserole

(Serves four to six.)

Salmon:

  • 1 lb. cooked salmon, chilled, bones removed
  • 1/2 cup uncooked long-grain white rice
  • 1/2 cup finely grated carrot
  • Half of one onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup minced celery
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

Mushroom cream sauce:

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • Half of one onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 lb. mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 tsp. dried savory
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • Salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, combine salmon, rice, carrot, onion, celery, parsley, lemon zest and juice, eggs, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Mush the whole thing together with your hands until thoroughly combined. Form into balls about an inch and a half in diameter (you should end up with 14 to 16), and set aside.

In a large pan over medium-high heat, add oil and onions and cook until onions are translucent, three to five minutes. Add garlic, mushrooms, savory, Worcestershire sauce, pepper, and cayenne, and cook until mushrooms have sweat and no liquid remains in the bottom of the pan, about another five minutes. Add flour, stir to coat, and then add milk and sour cream. Cook until liquid comes to a gentle boil. Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed.

Ladle a small amount of the cream sauce into the bottom of a 1.5- to 2-quart casserole dish. Line the bottom with a layer of balled salmon, then ladle half of the remaining sauce over top. Place remaining salmon balls over top, and then top with remaining sauce.

Cover, and bake for one hour. If you’re using a casserole dish that doesn’t have a bit of an edge to it, place the dish on top of a cookie sheet before putting it in the oven, as the sauce will bubble up around the sides.

Serve over rice, with a sprinkling of fresh parsley.

Also, if you haven’t voted and my relentless (if self-conscious) badgering hasn’t turned you off this blog completely, please visit the Canadian Food Blog Awards voting page and select Well fed, flat broke. Voting will close this Saturday, January 15. After that, I’m pretty sure we’ll go back to business as usual.

Which, you know, means a lot of photos of my cat, which are completely out of context for a food blog.

Peas and carrots.

Remember those bags of frozen peas, corn, and carrots, where each bit of vegetable was the same size and roughly the same hue? Do they still exist? We had them a lot in the early 90s – it seems everyone did – and the watery corn tasted just like the watery carrots which were the same texture as the peas, and it was weird. To this day I’m not really sure how I feel about corn. Still, I always have a huge bag of frozen peas on hand. Mostly because I am clumsy and bump into things a fair bit, and because I am an arthritic old lady and a bag of peas is better and cheaper than an ice pack. It’s also easier to justify a big bowl of fluffy, buttered white rice if you throw a handful of peas into the pot right at the end. And peas and carrots – well, you know how they go together.

Carrots are just like candy right now, brightly coloured and sugar-sweet. There are bunches in every shade of red, orange, and yellow – I’ve been buying them up and hording them for snacktime, but they are magic cooked in a bit of butter and tossed with coarse salt, black pepper, and fresh herbs. Go get some for yourself, and turn them into a simple side. You’ll find this dish is a huge improvement on that childhood dinner staple, with no frozen niblets to yuck it up.

Peas and carrots

(Serves four as a side.)

  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped carrots, 1/4-inch thick (the smaller ones sold by the bunch are best)
  • 2 cups frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tsp. crumbled dried mint
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

In a medium frying pan, heat butter and oil over medium-high until butter melts and begins to bubble. Add carrots, and cook until just soft, stirring frequently, six to eight minutes. Add peas and cook for an additional five minutes. Peas should be soft but still bright.

Add parsley and mint, and salt and pepper. Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed.

Fried potatoes. Mostly.

Pan-frying is the second best thing you can do to potatoes, so it’s frustrating to get all worked up and excited about them only to discover that the cook has done it all wrong – and it happens more than you’d think.

Frying potatoes is so easy, but like anything worth fussing over, there are steps one must take to do it properly. There’s this place near where I lived when I first moved to the city that does a $2.95 breakfast that will cure any ill you’ve managed to bring on yourself, but nostalgia has me remembering it better than it was. You get fried potatoes with the breakfast, and I remember dousing them in ketchup and being so happy to shovel them into my mouth with a breakfast beer and a pair of runny eggs.

But you see, there’s the first problem. Good fried potatoes don’t need ketchup. Ketchup is the saving grace of sub-par food; if something’s really good, it doesn’t need it.

To properly fry potatoes, you have to take the French fry approach and cook them twice. In the morning, chop your potatoes to a uniform size. I like to be able to eat mine in two bites, for reasons that are complicated but which I cannot tell you about without coming across unstable in the worst case, or anal-retentive in the least.

The little yellow new potatoes are best, but little red ones will work too. If all you’ve got are russets you can still make fried potatoes, but they aren’t going to be as lovely. A slightly waxy potato will hold together more nicely in the pot and in the pan.

Boil your potatoes in salted water until fork-tender. Drain, do not rinse, and then lay them out on a plate or baking sheet. Leave them on the counter or kitchen table for a few hours, preferably all day. You want them to dry out a bit. The second problem with a lot of fried potatoes is that they’re plopped into a hot pan still wet. Moisture is the enemy of frying. I like to boil my potatoes in the morning, go about my day, and then come back around dinner time; the edges get rough and dry, which is perfect for a hot pan – you won’t find yourself splattered with smoldering grease.

And you’ll need duck fat. Or bacon fat. Butter or olive oil or whatever oil you have will work fine too, but if you have duck fat, this is its best application. Use a fat you like the flavour of. And use a lot of it – a tablespoon of fat per person should do it, but use your best judgment. For four servings of potatoes, I used three tablespoons. I might have used more if I wasn’t being stingy with my duck fat reserves.

You’ll also need time. Heat the fat until melted and hot over medium heat in a large pan. Add your potatoes, and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, turning occasionally. Cooking these over medium heat for a long time will mean that your potatoes will crisp up and turn golden and lovely. Don’t rush this. Add salt and pepper, and if you’re feeling fancy, lemon zest or fresh herbs are also nice.

If you’re attempting to seduce someone with roast chicken, these potatoes will seal the deal. And they’re infinitely variable, so long as you pre-cook, dry, and cook low and slow.

There’s room for creativity. Dress them with vinaigrette and scallions for a warm potato salad, or cut into wedges before boiling to make jojo fries. If you’re all by yourself, make just a few and squish a bit of fresh lemon juice over top and eat them in front of the TV with a dollop of mayonnaise for dipping. But no ketchup. You won’t need ketchup for these.

Unrelated to potatoes, my friend Tracy has been actively campaigning on my behalf, as this blog was nominated in a couple of categories in the Canadian Food Blog Awards. I find the attention both extremely flattering and slightly embarrassing, as to be honest I am more comfortable being in trouble than being recognized – at least when I’m in trouble I know for certain I’ve done something to deserve it. One of the conditions of Tracy doing my dirty work is that I am supposed to be more active and shameless with my self-promotion. I’ve mentioned that you can vote for Well fed, flat broke in the People’s Choice category a few times in recent posts, but never so blatantly as this.

http://www.beerandbuttertarts.com/cfba/nominations/voting-form/I realized after a whole bunch of people on Facebook made profile pictures of this that I look like the hungry version of Simon’s Cat. Also, I think the tiny URL is dead. Please don’t let any of that stop you from voting. Also, when you’re done, go look at the list of other blogs nominated in a range of edible, drinkable categories – they’re all Canadian and really very good. At this point if we were chatting in person, I’d lower my head and try to scurry out of the conversation or make an awkwardly “hilarious” joke to distract us both so we could move on. Imagine that happening right about here.

Winter in the garden.

We’ve neglected our garden over the past couple of months, as snow fell in November and it rains a lot here and it’s dark when we get home from work so there’s never an opportune time to check in with it and see how things are going, and if anything there is still growing. We planted some turnips and kholrabi just as summer was ending, which according to the seed packets ought to have been ready for harvest three months ago, but our chances to go back were few and far between.

Also, I wanted to plant garlic, which takes nine months to grow.

Odd to see it now, after so many months, looking so spindly and decayed. Approaching our little plot, I was certain that everything would be dead by now.

For the most part, our plot is full of weeds and rot. But on closer inspection, that wasn’t all there was.

Our little turnips, which we’d given up on, had grown to the size of golf balls, pink and purple and white. We thought we hadn’t planted them deep enough – we hadn’t – and assumed when we last visited that they probably wouldn’t grow. Because we took a whole lot of chard out of there at the same time, we elected to leave them in place on the off chance that they’d survive a little longer – I planned to go back for them and harvest the greens.

A few carrots survived the cold and the snow and the rain and the rot – I pulled them out from beside the kholrabi, which didn’t make it.

I thought about turning them into something on the stove or in the oven, but the joy of eating something so red and earthy practically fresh from the ground (I brought them home and washed them first) in January was too good to pass up. I ate a few of them whole, still wet from the tap. It was like Christmas, but without the bloat.

We pulled some weeds and cleared a spot for the garlic, and we might have actually dug deep enough for it to grow properly.

Then we planted a row of individual cloves of the stuff. A worm showed up to say hello.

And then Nick buried them all, and we skipped home gleefully. Well, at least I did.

So there you go. The soil is soft, and the garden is still alive, and there are happy little worms there prepping the ground for us for spring. And in the meantime? This.