Thursday, April 21, 2016

Queen Elizabeth’s Chocolate Biscuit Cake and the Lyrid Meteor Shower

Today is Queen Elizabeth’s 90th birthday!
She looks fantastic, God bless her!
They’re having quite the celebration in London.
She looks like she’s enjoying the party.

We’ll just have to make do with watching the fun events on the television and reminiscing about when the Queen and Prince Philip visited Winnipeg in 2002 and 2010.

The 2002 visit didn’t go quite as planned.
That water taxi broke down mid-river and had to be towed by another boat which was carrying her security detail.  
Paul and I, along with a few hundred people, were waiting for her on the St. Boniface shore.  Some of the youngsters were in their Folklorama costumes.  
We were being witnesses to History… more or less.  
Since there wasn't any real danger, we just watched and, truth be known, giggled a bit about how the best laid plans often go awry.

The Queen was a good sport about it.  
All she said was "That was interesting," as she was helped from one boat into the other to reach shore.
What a trouper she is!

We were quite thrilled when they decided to return to Winnipeg in 2010.
They didn’t go for another water taxi ride.
Perfectly understandable.

I've always admired Queen Elizabeth.  
She just keeps going and nothing gets her down.  


In honour of her birthday I made a Queen Elizabeth Cake.
The same one I made in 2012 when we celebrated Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee.
It’s a delicious Date and Walnut Cake with a Brown Sugar Coconut Topping.

Over the years I’ve posted a few other royalty inspired recipes:






In keeping with that tradition, I’m posting another royalty-linked recipe today: Chocolate Biscuit Cake. 
Prince William, the second in line to the throne, had requested that the cake, a favourite tea time snack of the Queen’s, be served at his wedding brunch.
It’s nice to know that a favourite recipe of the Queen’s is an easy no-bake cake. 
Hope it becomes a favourite of yours, too!

If you’d like to bake this to celebrate Prince William’s birthday, it is on June 22.
He was born in 1982, so he will be 34 this year.
Yes, time does fly!


Hint:

If you can't find McVitie's brand Rich Tea Biscuits, use a mild butter cookie.

Slide a knife around the inside upper edge of the cake to help the sides come away.

If you don’t plan to serve the cake immediately you can refrigerate it until needed. 

Instead of the confectioners’ sugar you can decorate the top with squiggles of melted milk or white chocolate.

This cake is very rich. Serve it in small slices - you can always have seconds!


                        Chocolate Biscuit Cake

Serves 10-12

Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of an 8-inch round springform pan.
Spray the pan with cooking spray.
Place the parchment paper in the bottom of the pan and spray the bottom again.

With your hands break into 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch pieces 
1 package McVitie's brand Rich Tea Biscuits or Chocolate Digestives (7 - 8.8 ounces)

Place in a heat-proof bowl
1 Cup heavy cream
2 Tablespoons honey
4 Tablespoons butter
Microwave for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, or until bubbling. 
Add 
2 1/2 Cups bittersweet chocolate chips
Stir until melted and smooth.
Fold in
1 teaspoon vanilla
the biscuit pieces
Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan.
Gently tap the pan on the counter to eliminate any air pockets.
Smooth the top with the back of the spoon. 
Refrigerate for 3 hours, or until thoroughly chilled.

About 1/2 hour before removing the cake from the refrigerator, prepare the glaze

Place in a small saucepan
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 Cup heavy cream
Stir over medium heat until the mixture reaches a boil. 
Take the pot off the heat and stir in 
1 Cup bittersweet chocolate chips
Stir until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth.

Take the cake out of the refrigerator.
Remove the cake from the springform pan. 
Invert the cake onto a wire rack.
Remove the cake bottom and the parchment paper.
Place the cake on a platter.
Place strips of waxed paper underneath the cake sides to catch drips.

Pour the glaze evenly over the cake, letting the glaze drip down the sides. 
Smooth with a spatula or butter knife. 
Let the glaze set about 30 minutes before you serve. 
Dust with
Confectioners’ sugar (optional)


About the sky this week…
According to the Farmers Almanac:

This month, the annual Lyrid meteor shower will reach maximum activity between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. local time in the Northern hemisphere on the morning of April 21-22.

The radiant point of this shower is near the bright star Vega in the constellation Lyra the Lyre (or Harp), hence the name “Lyrids.” The source of the meteor shower is the Comet Thatcher. Every year in April, Earth passes through through Thatcher’s dusty tail of comet debris, some particles of which are no larger than a grain of sand. When they hit the Earth’s atmosphere traveling at 110,000 mph, they disintegrate as “fireball” streaks of light that linger for minutes.
The Lyrid meteor shower has the distinction of being among the oldest of known meteor showers with records dating back over 2,500 years.

Usually when meteor showers occur so close to a full Moon (April’s Pink Moon will be astronomically full on the 22nd)  they can be “drowned out” by the Moon’s glare. However, this Moon may not be as bright, so look to the northeast in the late evening and you might catch a few!

On April 22 enjoy the full moon, if you can.
April is known for its showers and ever-warming temperatures, but it is also known as a month when spring flowers begin to show up. Herb moss pink, or wild ground phlox, is one of the earliest widespread flowers of the spring. As the name infers, the flowers are pink in colour, thus the name for April’s full moon.

This pink moon has also been called: the Full Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon, and among coastal tribes, the Full Fish Moon, because this was the time that the shad swam upstream to spawn.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Anna Sultana’s Smothered Potatoes, Maltese Style / Patata Fgata


I recently posted the recipe for Ma’s Roasted Lemon Potatoes, Greek Style.
I mentioned that this recipe is a little different from Ma’s recipe for Roasted Potatoes, Maltese Style.

Well, as with any Maltese recipe, Ma had more than one way to roast potatoes.
And, of course, Ma had other potato recipes, such as this.
Another of her favourites was Patata Fgata.
We called it Smothered Potatoes.
It was our little joke - the onions smothered the potatoes.
Well, we thought it was a funny idea.
Anyway…


Patata Fgata is a very simple recipe that gives you potatoes with a unique texture.
The potatoes are boiled, sort of, and baked, sort of.
Whatever… they are very good prepared this way.

We also enjoyed it when Ma served Patata Fgata with her Lemon Chicken.
And I hope you do, too.


Hints:

If the potatoes are large, cut them into 6 or more pieces. 
You want the pieces to be roughly the same size, about 2 inches square.

If you’re using oregano, about 2 teaspoons should be enough. 

If you would like to bake the potatoes while you are cooking a roast, no problem.
Be sure to use an oven proof pot - no plastic handles or knobs.
After you have brought the water to a boil, place the covered pot in the oven.
After cooking for 20 minutes, check the potatoes.
If they’re not done, and the water is gone, add a bit more water and continue cooking.


                        Smothered Potatoes, Maltese Style

Serves 4 to 6

Wash very well
2 pounds potatoes 
Without peeling them, quarter the potatoes.
Place the potato pieces in a large pot. 

Slice
2 large onions
Place the onion slices in the same pot, making a layer over the potatoes.

Sprinkle over the vegetables
1 Tablespoon dried herbs (parsley, chervil, marjoram, basil, thyme, rosemary or mint) 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Add
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 bay leaves
1 Tablespoon white wine
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 Cup water

Cover and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. 
The water will evaporate.
Check that the potatoes are done.
If they’re not, and the water is gone, add a bit more water and continue cooking.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Anna Sultana’s Roasted Lemon Potatoes and Rice, Greek Style


A few days ago I posted the recipe for Ma’s Greek Spinach & Cheese Quiche.
I mentioned that, if you’d like to have a meal without doubling up on the quiche, you could serve it with a salad.

Got an email… where’s the starch?
Okay… here’s the starch.

When we find a Greek restaurant or place in a food court, they usually serve spanakopita with a salad, rice and roasted lemon potatoes.

The roasted lemon potatoes are a little different from Ma’s Roasted Potatoes, which she usually served with her Lemon Chicken.

Somehow word got around so that the Greeks and Maltese learned that lemon was a great way to add flavour to a dinner.
Hope you enjoy a lemon flavoured dinner, too.


Hint:

Sometimes they also add peas to the rice.
Sometimes they don’t.
Suit yourself.


                        Roasted Lemon Potatoes, Greek Style

In a small bowl combine
1 Tablespoon salt
2 Tablespoons chicken bouillon granules
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 Tablespoon dried oregano

Peel and cut into wedges
6 large russet potatoes
Put them in a 9 x 13 inch pan
Drizzle over the potatoes
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Pre-heat the oven to 350ยบ F

Sprinkle the spice mixture over the potatoes.
Mix until all of the potatoes have been seasoned.

Pour over the potatoes
1 1/4 Cups water
1/3 Cup lemon juice
Bake for 30 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and stir around the potatoes so that the darker potato edges are turned under.
Bake for another 30 to 45 minutes.


                        Rice, Greek Style

Place in a medium pot
1 Cup uncooked long grain rice
2 1/4 Cups water
1 Tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons chicken bouillon granules
1/2 teaspoon dried mint
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Bring to a boil. 
Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 12-15 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed.


About the sky this week…
According to the Farmers Almanac:

On April 7 there’ll be a new moon.

On, April 8, about 45 minutes after the Sun sets, look very low near the western horizon. If the sky is very clear, you should be afforded a view of a delicately thin waxing crescent Moon, just about 1½ days past new phase. To the lower right of the thin lunar sliver will be the planet Mercury.

This little planet nearest to the sun is almost always confined to the day, when it cannot be seen. So it has to be looked for during its twilight appearances, but these are briefer, generally occurring during the brightest time of twilight and the brightest and lowest part of the twilight sky. Thus relatively few people have set eyes on it; there is even a rumor that Copernicus, living in misty northern Poland never saw it.

You simply must know when and where to look, and find a clear horizon. An excellent window of opportunity opens on Monday, April 4th and will remain open through perhaps April 25th. During this time Mercury will stand almost straight above where the Sun has set. Initially, Mercury shines nearly as bright as Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, but thereafter it gradually fades in brightness.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Anna Sultana’s Greek Spinach & Cheese Quiche


Of course everyone in Winnipeg is cheering for our local celebrity, Nia Vardalos, who wrote and starred in the movie!
Vardalos also wrote and starred in the 2002 film, My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
If you loved that film - and just about everybody did - you’ll love her new movie.

Winnipeg is the sort of town where, if you’ve just met someone, within five minutes of conversation you’re sure to mention someone you both know.
All you have to do is volunteer, or get out the house, and you’ll meet someone who knows someone, who knows someone you both know.
Really, it always happens.

Back in 2012 I posted about when my folks had visited us in 1993.
It was August and Folklorama was in full swing, so we took them to enjoy the show and food at the Greek pavilion in St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church.
I’d still swear that Nia Vardalos was one of the performers that night.
So, anyone who went to the Greek pavilion back then could say they’ve seen Nia and, through Folklorama, they’re one degree of separation from Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson.
Ah, Winnipeg… land of the stars!


When we visit the Greek pavilion, and whenever we find a Greek restaurant or place in a food court, I love to get spanakopita.
It is a bit of a job to make as the filling is wrapped in phyllo dough or puff pastry.
To make phyllo nice and crispy you have to smear butter or olive oil over the layers.
I try to keep it to a monthly treat.
The pastry wasn’t a dietary problem when I was younger.
Now… problem.

Okay, let’s think this through…
Adjustments in everything must be made as one gets older.
And adjustments sometimes have to be made to recipes.

In a way spanakopita is like the Maltese recipe Timpana, a macaroni casserole with an layer of puff pastry on top.
For those who are cutting back on carbs there’s a variation which doesn't have the pastry, Imqarrun il-forn.

The basic goodness of spanakopita comes from its filling of spinach and feta cheese.
Okay, focus on the good: spinach and feta cheese, preferable low fat cheese.
It can be done without the pastry.


Hints:

If you’d like to have a meal without doubling up on the quiche, serve with a salad.
All you need to turn a tomato salad into a Greek salad is to add sliced cucumber, a bit of red onion and a few kalamata olives, then dress it with olive oil.
You could top it with some crumbled feta cheese.
A glass of ouzo would be nice, too.

Want to avoid the eggs and dairy?
You can also make a vegan version of quiche, which is usually eaten during the Great Lent and other religious fasts.
It is made with spinach, onions or green onions, and green herbs like dill, parsley or celery, olive oil and a little wheat flour.
The mixture is then oven-baked until crisp. 
You can also use tofu instead of cheese.

This can also be made with less spinach, just top off the vegetable part with leeks, chard and / or sorrel.

These substitutions would also work in a spanakopita.


                        Greek Spinach & Cheese Quiche


Thaw in a bowl
600 grams frozen chopped spinach
Squeeze and drain off the liquid and set the spinach aside. 

Crumble into a measuring cup 
Feta cheese
You need to have 4 Cups of crumbled cheese.
Set  aside.

Preheat oven to 350° F

Place in an 8 inch square pan
2 Tablespoons butter or margarine
Place the pan in the oven to melt the butter, about 2 minutes.
Remove the pan and swirl the butter around to cover the pan’s bottom and sides.
Set aside.

While the pan is in the oven, place in a large mixer bowl  
3 large eggs
Beat until mixed.
Add
1 Cup flour
1 Cup milk
1 teaspoon baking powder 
Beat until blended.
Stir in
the drained spinach
the crumbled feta cheese
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 Tablespoon dried minced onion (or 2 teaspoons onion powder)
Stir until blended. 
Pour the mixture into the prepared pan.
Bake 35 minutes. 
Remove pan from the oven and let stand 15 minutes.
Cut into squares and serve.