Thursday, September 19, 2013

Stella's is Moving

Stella's Virtual Cafe is moving HERE to a location with better exposure for her sort of establishment. Come on over! 

We'll be reposting some old favourites as well as lots of new recipes and stories about Stella, her family, her friends and customers. 

We hope you enjoy her new digs. She's making improvements every day. 

Rebecca and Emma

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Chocolate Zucchini Snacking Cake

Stella's husband Oliver has returned from Dubai. The new branch of the hotel company he works for has been successfully built and the running of it set into well-ordered motion. Oliver has come back home to work in the hotel's home office, a relatively short commute by train away from the town in which his wife's cafe is situated. Their girls, Zoe and Kendra are ecstatic to have their dad home with them. Stella has done her best all year to balance the demands of the business with the needs of her daughters, but at times she has greatly missed that other supporting adult in the house, the one who can help keep the dramatic Zoe grounded and Kendra from becoming overly sarcastic. Yes, it is very good to have Oliver home for more than a visit.

After work each day, Oliver steps off the train and walks the five blocks home to the apartment above the cafe. He is hungry and rather grateful that since his lovely wife owns a cafe, that there is no shortage of 'little somethings' to get his blood sugar going again after a long day of crunching numbers and managing staff. Brought up on the grain puddings and fig roll cookies of his Egyptian mother's baking, he appreciates sweet but simple treats. Today he climbs up the stairs in the back of the cafe to the apartment's deck above. The door is open and he smells something chocolatey, yet a little spicy coming from within the house.

"Mmmmm...what have you made today my lovelies?" he says to his daughters by way of a greeting.

"Daddy!" shouts Kendra and practically jumps on him with a giant bear hug.

"Chocolate Zucchini Cake," says Zoe from her perch on a kitchen stool, her voice muffled with chewing, She takes another forkful and gracefully puts it into her mouth, closes her eyes and says, "Mmmmmmmm. So good."

"I'll have some of that, please" says Oliver as he puts down his briefcase, takes off his shoes and loosens his tie. "Delicious. Did your mom or one of you girls make this cake?"

"Mom made it for the cafe this morning, but it all got eaten. So, I made some for us after school," says Zoe.

Oliver drops a kiss on the top of Zoe's glossy brown head. "Thanks, love."

Zoe, her mouth again full of cake, looks up with arched eyebrows and big eyes to say something.

"Don't talk with food in your mouth, Zo. It can wait. I'll just get changed and start supper, shall I? Then you can tell me all about it."

"You're the only dad I know who says 'shall.' It's sort of embarrassing," says Kendra, rolling her eyes.

"I'm British, so sue me." says Oliver, winking at his youngest. "I shall say shall if I like little one, so you are just going to have to deal with it."

"I suppose I shall," says Kendra, beginning to laugh in spite of herself.

Yes, it is good to be home. He cuts himself another tiny sliver of cake.


Chocolate Zucchini Snacking Cake - easy to make, moist and delicious with a hint of cinnamon

Butter and flour a 9x13 cake pan. Set oven at 325 degrees farenheit

2 cups grated zucchini
1/2 cup soft butter
1/2 cup vegetable oil (canola or some other mildly flavoured oil)
1 3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (press out any lumps with your fingers)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 Tablespoons cocoa
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Grate zucchini with peel and set aside. Cream butter, oil and sugar until fluffy and light in colour in a large bowl. Beat eggs, milk and vanilla together in a separate bowl. Blend both mixtures together.

Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and cocoa together in another bowl and add to mixture. 

Stir in zucchini. Pour batter into 9x13 inch prepared pan. Sprinkle chocolate chips on top of batter. Bake in centre of oven for 55 minutes. Test cake with a thin knife inserted into the middle of the cake to make sure it is baked through. If a few moist crumbs cling to the knife, it's ready and moist. If the knife comes out with sticky batter on it, give it another five minutes and try again. 

Enjoy! You won't even notice the zucchini amid all that chocolatey goodness, but it adds moisture and a nice texture to the cake, as well as some extra vitamins. 

Great for the lunchbox, too

Emma took the photos for this post. While no longer writing for Stella's she is posting fantastic stuff over on her own foodie blog, Emu's Eats. Stella's was happy to get her started in the blogging world and is proud she has launched her own site, which is gaining in popularity by the post! She will continue to take many photos for Stella's, for which we are most grateful. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Birthday Blueberry Cobbler

Stella's regular Friday customer, June, who tends to order the soup of the day, no matter the weather, has a special request. "Stella, dear," she says, her aged but strong right arm leaning on the counter like she means business. "I'm going to be celebrating a milestone birthday this week."

"Are you? Well, isn't that wonderful," says Stella wishing she could ask June which particular milestone this birthday represents. "I hope you will be celebrating appropriately."

"That's where you come in, my dear," says June, her arm still resting on the counter and her head leaning in conspiratorily toward Stella's. "I want to have a little afternoon tea here with Harvey and some of our friends, and I want you to make us something special to have with our tea."

"Something special? Okay, how about a nice vanilla bean layer cake or maybe some tiramisu?"

"No, no, nothing fancy. What I would really like is an old lady dessert, nothing too rich."

"Oh, I see. Hmmm...oh, I know, the blueberries this year are wonderful. I could make you a nice cobbler and serve it with vanilla ice cream. I made one for the girls just the other day, and it was very nice. How does that sound?"

June suddenly jerks up to her full height and claps her hands together. "Fresh blueberry cobbler would be absolutely perfect!"

"Well, we do aim to please," says Stella. "When would you like to have your tea?

"Would this Friday be too soon? That is my actual birthday, and we would like to come in and have some nice sandwiches, too."

"I'm sure that can be arranged. Shall we reserve your usual table? For how many?"

"Yes, that would be wonderful. There should be six of us" says June. "Well, tra-la-la! Isn't that something to look forward to? Yes it is indeed."

Stella glances beyond June to the other waiting customers, then back at June. "Alright, June. We will see you on Friday afternoon then."

June turns around to face the lineup. "I'm sorry everyone, just planning my birthday celebration," she says loudly. "I'll leave quietly now like a polite old lady." She turns and waves to Stella. "Goodbye my dear. You are a gem, an absolute gem."

Stella, not batting an eyelash, looks enquiringly at the next couple, a pair in their twenties who have obviously perfected the look of stylish ennui, as they reach the counter. "Can I help you?"


Fresh Blueberry Cobbler from The Joy of Cooking

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees farenheit. Have ready an unbuttered enameled cast-iron, earthenware, or glass baking pan of about 2-quart (2 litre) capacity and 2 inches deep. (A glass pie pan, a pottery dish such as the one pictured above, or a 12 inch gratin dish will all work well.)

Wash and drain well:
3 pints (six cups) blueberries

Combine and toss with the berries:
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour or two Tbsps cornstarch
1 teaspoon grated lime zest (or a combo of lemon and lime zest)

Spread evenly in the baking dish. Prepare Sour Cream Cobbler Biscuit Dough:

Sour Cream Cobbler Biscuit Dough: 

1 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup whole wheat flour (or whatever combo suits you of whole wheat and all purpose flours, as long as it makes a total of 1 and 1/3 cup)
2 Tbsps sugar
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
5 Tbsps cold butter, cut into small pieces
Toss with the dry ingredients. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add:
1/2 cup sour cream and 1/4 cup milk or cream whisked together.
Mix with a fork only until the dough comes together and can be rolled or patted. Gently knead the dough 5-10 times if needed, turning and pressing any loose pieces into the dough. Dust the top and bottom of the dough with a little flour, then roll or pat the dough with your hands to the shape of the top of the baking dish, between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick. (You can also cut the dough into circles or other shapes and place on top of the berries. The finished product will resemble cobblestones, hence the name cobbler.) If leaving the dough whole, cut three small holes for steam vents. Place the dough on the fruit. Lightly brush the top with 1-2 Tbsps milk and dust with 1 Tbsp sugar. Bake the cobbler until the top is golden brown and the juices have thickened slightly, 45-50 minutes. It is a good idea to place a pan underneath the dish to catch any juices.
Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving. Serve with:
Softly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Nana's Fresh, Almost No-bake Blueberry Pie

One of Stella's favourite past times is creating delicious food with seasonal ingredients. Creating seasonal food not only keeps the cafe menu interesting for the customers it also keeps cooking from getting monotonous. It is also a well known fact that fruit and veggies taste their best when they are freshly picked from a local farm or garden. Stella is lucky, for she has her employee Kevin sourcing the best local produce and even growing some of it in his own garden plot. This week he has found a source for beautiful plump organic blueberries and has brought in a ten pound box. Stella tries a few and remarks on their firmness and sweet juicy flavour which has a slight tartness - perfect. Suddenly she is transported back in time to her own mother's kitchen. She remembers the first heavenly bite of her mother's first fresh blueberry pie of the season, and decides she must make that pie for the cafe.

An email requesting the recipe is dispatched post-haste to Stella's mother, whom they all call Nana, and she responds within the hour - another lucky break for Stella. Nana is always happy to share a recipe as long as she gets some credit in the cafe. Stella and Savannah make the pies in the afternoon, while Kevin serves the customers, and let them chill in the fridge overnight. The next day Savannah draws an appealing picture on the cafe's chalkboard menu and writes in her well practiced script: 'Nana's Fresh Blueberry Pie: a graham cracker crust topped with a thin layer of lemon-infused whipped cream cheese, heaped with blueberries and topped with a sweet blueberry sauce. Whipped cream is optional. Delectable!'

After the lunch rush is over and most of the highly praised pie is gone, the cafe staff take a break. Stella pulls out a pie she'd been keeping in the back of the fridge, gives them each a generous slice topped with cream, and saves two pieces for her girls, Kendra and Zoe, who are at a summer theater day camp. She makes everyone their favourite drinks and then sits down at the staff table with them. 'You worked hard today. You work hard everyday. Thank you!' Words are then said to the effect that Stella is the best boss in the world, but she quickly brushes those aside. 'Oh, just eat your pie,' she says with a laugh, blushing to the roots of her red hair, 'and don't forget to credit Nana.'

Stella is happy to share her mother's recipe with you. A friend of hers has also made it with wild mountain purple huckleberries and it was even better. Another friend tried it with blackberries and it was also quite wonderful.

Nana's Fresh, Almost No-bake Blueberry Pie

1) Graham cracker crust
Mix together and press into the bottom and sides of a pie dish:

1 and 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (either bought already crushed or made from rolling a rolling pin over enough graham crackers to make the correct amount of crumbs)
3 tsp sugar
1/3 cup melted butter

Bake 10 minutes at 350 degrees Farenheit, and let cool completely

2) Cream cheese layer
4 oz (1/2 cup) softened cream cheese
1 Tbsp lemon juice
Beat together until fluffy, place in a piping bag or frosting bottle with easy flowing tip, and pipe into crust, distributing the mixture evenly on the pie crust

3) Berry sauce
Take 1 cup berries, add 1/3 cup water, and simmer together for three minutes.
Blend 1/2 cup sugar and 2 Tbsps cornstarch and add 3 Tbsps water. Add to cooked berries and thicken to a good sauce-like consistency (not too thin and watery, but not too thick or jelly-like).

Put 3 cups fresh blueberries on whipped cream cheese layer. Cover with an even layer of cooked berry sauce - spread to distribute.

Chill pie for two to three hours or overnight. The sauce will gel around the fresh berries and make it easy to slice. Slice and serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

Enjoy! (We do.)

Blueberry cleaning tip: before making the pie, measure four cups of berries. Place them in a sink filled with a few inches of cold water. Pick up handfuls of berries and discard any rotten ones, pick off the stems and place berries in a colander to drain.

Writing by Rebecca, Photography by Emma

Friday, May 31, 2013

Broccoli Egg-Lemon Soup or The New Age Greek

There are customers who, no matter the weather, will always want soup for lunch. Stella has a repertoire of soups which she rotates through. She cannot please everyone every day, but she can usually please enough people to make it worthwhile to change up the menu on a regular basis.

Today, on this mildly wet day, Stella and her crew are making a tangy, delicious spring soup, which several of her customers look forward to for their lunch. Served with a sandwich or salad, or simply a savoury scone, Stella's Broccoli Egg Lemon soup is a creative take on the traditional Greek soup, avgolemono, which translated means, simply, 'egg lemon'. It can be a little tricky to make, but when someone has been making it as long as Stella has, the method becomes second nature. She makes the soup early in the day because it tastes better after it has sat and the flavours have mingled for a few hours.

Customers begin arriving in the cafe before noon and when they see the 'soup of the day' on the chalk board they do not hesitate to place their orders. They do not want to miss out. The aroma of garlic, lemon and miso gently drifts from the kitchen into the nasal passages of the hungry group awaiting service at the counter.

Inevitably, however, one customer is heard saying to her friend, "What is with all these New Age soups? Why doesn't anyone serve plain chicken noodle soup anymore?"

If you like the sound of this soup, you can make it at home.

Broccoli Egg-Lemon Soup adapted from Moosewood Cooks at Home

servers 4, generously

2 cups finely chopped onions
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 Tablespoons olive oil
4 cups finely chopped broccoli florets (stems can also be peeled and finely chopped)
1 Tablespoon minced fresh dill (or 1 teaspoon dried dill)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 cups vegetable stock, or 1 bouillion cube dissolved in 4 cups of water

2 large eggs
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (or to taste)
1 cup cooked orzo or rice (optional)
1 tablespoon light miso or soy sauce of your choice (optional)

In a soup pot, saute the onions and garlic in the oil for about five minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add the broccoli, dill, salt, and black pepper; and saute for several minutes, until the broccoli turns bright green. Add three cups of stock and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the vegetables are tender. Remove the soup from the heat entirely.

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs and 1/4 cup of the lemon juice. Whisk in the remaining cup of stock, then add about a cup of the hot soup broth. Gradually pour the egg mixture into the soup pot while stirring the soup. Stir in the orzo or rice, if using. If using the miso, dilute with a little soup in a bowl and then add to the soup pot. If using soy sauce, just stir it right in. Gently reheat the soup, but don't let it boil at all or it may curdle. Add more salt to taste. (Although the miso or soy sauce adds sodium already.)

Broccoli Egg-Lemon soup can be served immediately, but it tastes even better gently reheated after sitting awhile on the very lowest of heat settings. Reheating the soup involves watching the pot very carefully and stirring often to prevent curdling and separating, although the soup is still edible if this happens.Stella would just never serve it that way.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Roasted Beet and Spinach Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette

The town where Stella hangs her shingle is popular with tourists. It has an inviting main street full of small independently owned shops, restaurants and offices. Bicycle racks and lamp posts hung with huge baskets of  spring flowers appear intermittently along the brick paving, along with benches for sitting in the sun. 

Stella has just enough pavement in front of her cafe to place three small black latticework tables with three chairs each. A retractable awning provides much needed summertime shade...but we aren't quite there yet. It is early May.

Still, her customers are reaching toward the sun like eager blossoms, their faces open to the air craving warmth and the myriad scents and flavours of spring, so Stella puts a special seasonal salad on the menu today: Roasted Beet and Spinach Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette.  She invented the salad, quite by accident one day when using up leftovers in her upstairs fridge, and proclaimed it, 'just the thing for spring'. The slight bitterness of the spinach marries well with the tangy sweetness of the beets coated in the citrus dressing. The chopped veggies add crunch and texture as well as additional flavour.

While Savannah writes the day's specials on the blackboard in her curvaceous handwriting, complete with little coloured chalk drawings of beets, oranges and lemons, Kevin puts some Jaques Loussier on the stereo. The cafe team is ready for the lunch rush.

Here is Stella's recipe for this light and delicious salad, which of course, you may change and add to in any way you like. Use the recipe as a springboard (pun fully intended) to your own fresh and delicious creation. Roasted beets retain their juices and are full of concentrated flavour, but if you are short on time, you can peel, dice and cook them in water on the stove top.

Beets with Triple Citrus Vinaigrette (serves 4)

10-12 small beets

Set the oven to 450 degrees F. Scrub the beets and wrap them first in parchment paper and then in aluminum foil. Roast them in the oven until tender, at least 40 minutes for very small beets and up to an hour and a half for larger ones. When the beets are fork-tender, open the package and let them cool, peel them (this should be fairly easy when they are warm, but it will be a little messy. Beet juice rinses off the fingers well unless it comes in contact with lemon juice). Dice the beets and toss with 1/2 cup (125 ml) of the following vinaigrette:

Triple Citrus Vinaigrette

1 Tbsp.     smooth Dijon mustard
3/4 cup      lemon, lime and orange juice combined in any way you like. Stella often uses orange and lemon.      
1/4 cup     olive oil
1-2 Tbsp   honey
1 Tbsp      fresh chives
1 Tbsp      fresh thyme

Whisk together the mustard, citrus juices, and salt. Slowly add the oil, whisking to form an emulsion. Add the honey and herbs, using the larger amount of honey if needed to balance the flavours. Store in fridge for up to one week.

To assemble the salad, spoon the beets onto a bed of baby spinach, and your choice of veggies, making an individual salad plate for each person. Stella used sweet orange peppers, Long English cucumber, white mushrooms and celery for a variety of textures and flavours in her salad. Drizzle the veggies with some more of the vinaigrette.

Writing and photo by Rebecca

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Old Fashioned Banana Cake

It's that time of year again, where the flowers are blooming, spring is coming and business is slow. Just because life has died down at the café doesn't mean she's not open for business.
Stella's is not always the bustling exciting place as it seems, but there will always be baking!
Today on her counter there is a delicious banana cake she hopes you'll love as much as her.

Old Fashioned Banana Cake-adapted from Whitewater Cooks at Home

This entire recipe (including the icing) can be doubled to make a beautiful layer cake perfect for a party!

1/2 cup butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 large bananas, mashed
1/2 cup whole milk
2 tsp vinegar
1/4 cup warm water
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
Grease and line the bottom of one 9 by 9 inch pan with parchment paper
In a large mixing bowl, combine butter and sugar, beating until light and fluffy.
Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add mashed bananas and beat the batter until combined.
Combine the milk and vinegar in a medium sized bowl or large measuring cup. Add warm water and vnilla. Stir in baking soda. The mixture will fix up a bit. Set aside.
Mix together flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. Add to the batter in three additions, alternating with the milk mixture in two, mixing gently between each addition until just blended.
Fold in the walnuts and pour the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake for about 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.
Cool for 20 minutes before removing from the pan.

Deliciously Delectable Icing that Makes this Cake so Delicious!
1/2 cup butter
1 cup icing sugar
1 tbsp boiling water
1 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup toasted coconut

Cream butter and icing sugar until light and fluffy.
Add boiling water and beat well.
Beat in the milk and vanilla and whip for about 2 minutes until icing is light and fluffy.
Spread the icing on the cake and garnish with the toasted coconut!


Writing and photography by Emma.