Thursday, December 20, 2012

Lebkuchen Attempted

Some recipes are a matter of trial and error, and in the cafe business, looks are important. No one knows that better than an experimental baker like Stella. In preparation for holiday time, Stella likes to come up with a few new offerings at her cafe. She gets a great deal of satisfaction out of customers coming in, looking at the baked goods in the glass front case and saying, "That looks really good, can I try one of those?"

This year, Stella was hoping to have a brand new kind of soft baked cookie for her customers, a kind rarely seen outside of Germany or European specialty shops: Lebkucken. After spending several hours poring over the internet, she decided on a recipe from a German food site. She purchased the ingredients and spent an evening preparing a good-sized batch of the spicy iced cookies. She mixed up the dough and put the suggested three tablespoon mounds a few inches apart on parchment paper lined cookie sheets. It was the ugliest dough she'd ever seen. She likened it to something better left to the imagination, but it smelled good, so she kept up her faith in the process.

As the cookies baked she already knew they needed more of the special spice mixture, and she feared they would be bland. Texture wise, the cookies turned out textbook perfect, but they were still not very pretty. Next, she turned her attention to the boiled icing flavoured with orange liqueur, following the directions to the letter. 'Boil the sugar and water for a few minutes..." she muttered to herself as she stirred the mixture. What exactly was 'a few minutes'? Three? Seven? Nine? She decided to err on the side of caution and boil it for three. The icing was meant to be brushed on the cookies when warm, and she knew a nice, glossy icing could rescue the Lebkuchen more than anything. Better make it thin. When the mixture looked right, she took it off the heat and sifted the required amount of confectioners sugar into it. Within seconds the icing was more like fudge than icing. She spread it on the cookies as quickly as possible. The result? Quite possibly the ugliest cookies ever known. This would not do!

In the end, the Lebkucken were very good with tea, when consumed by Stella and her girls, who declared them 'not bad'.
"Oh well, there is always next year, and plenty more recipes on the internet to try", she said to Kendra and Zoe. "But it's getting a bit late for this year."
For the cafe this year, instead of Lebkuchen, they decided to make extra gingerbread cookies, cut out in the shapes of Santas and snowmen, stars and candy canes. (The recipe for those can be found in the previous post.) They, at least, were always reliable.

The above photo is from the official Nuremburg Gingerbread site.  I have a feeling Stella won't rest until her Lebkuchen look just like theirs.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Gingerbread Icebox Cake

"IT'S SNOWING!" Kendra yelled running over to the window.
The customers in the cafe all turned their heads to watch soft flakes of snow settle onto the ground.
"Well I'm not surprised with all the cold weather we've been having lately," Stella said as she turned up the thermostat.
"I'm gonna go build a snowman!" Kendra said running out the door.
Kevin chuckled, "Good luck with that."

Suddenly Zoe came out from behind the counter holding a large cake and belting out Happy Birthday.
"My goodness is that for me?" Stella exclaimed as Zoe placed the cake in front of her.
"Well it is your birthday is it not?"
Stella blew out the candles, cut the cake and Zoe handed it out to everyone sitting in the cafe.
"Wow! This is amazing! What is it?"asked Stella.
"It's a gingerbread cake! Layers of small gingerbread cookies in between whip cream. It's quite tasty if I may say so myself."
"Yes! Yes it is!" Stella laughed taking another bite.
The cake was polished off quickly, delighted customers congratulating Stella on her birthday, and Zoe on her lovely cake.

The door of the cafe suddenly opened and a woman entered wearing tall black pumps adorned with silver spikes, a long black trench coat and faux alligator skin pants. Her hair was dyed so blonde it looked as if she had been sitting in the sun far too long. She walked over to the counter with a click in her step as her heels hit the hardwood.
"A caramel latte. Extra hot but not too hot. Make it soy and make it quick." Texting as she spoke.
 A minute later Stella handed her the hot drink, "Will that be all?"
Taking a sip the lady exclaimed,
"This isn't what I asked for."
"It's a caramel latte just like you asked for. Extra hot but not too hot and made with soy," Stella replied.
"Well I want a new one. Make it quick."
Stella sighed, her patience wearing thin as she handed the lady a new drink.
"Still not as good as Starbucks, but it will have to do," the lady pouted reaching for her wallet.
"Now will that be all?" Stella sighed. Comparing Starbucks to her cafe was like comparing a crow to a chickadee. A nuisance who steals all your food. Or business in this case.
"What's that?" The lady said pointing a perfectly manicured finger to the cake.
"Gingerbread cake, my daughter made it for my birthday. Would you like a piece?"
"Is it dairy free?"
"No I'm afraid its not."
"You're daughter made it did she?"
"Yes, but she's quite a good baker and she,"
"Fine then. Make it quick, I'm a busy gal." interrupted the lady, still looking at her phone.
Stella nervously handed her the cake, praying she wouldn't complain, and secretly that she'd leave soon.
Grabbing the fork and taking a bite the lady smiled,
"Now this is much better than Starbucks. This snow however, is not. I'm sure glad I'm going to Maui this Christmas."
With a click of her heels the lady was gone, and Stella chuckled shaking her head.
"Mom! She liked my cake!" Zoe said, mouth agape.
"Yes. Yes she did."

Gingerbread Icebox Cake -adapted from Martha Stewart

1 recipe Molasses-Gingerbread dough (below)
3 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract.

1. Preheat  oven to 350 degrees. On a generously floured piece of parchment, roll dough quite thinly. Brush off excess flour.
2. Using a 2 3/8 inch flutted cutter, cut out at least 42 cookies. Transfer to parchment-lined baking sheets.
3. Bake cookies for 5 minutes. Remove from oven, and tap them firmly on counter to flatten cookies.
Return to oven, rotating sheets, and bake until cookies are set and edges have darkened, about 5 minutes. Let cool on wire racks.
4. Beat cream, sugar, and vanilla just until stiff peaks form. Arrange 7 cookies in a circle on a cake stand or serving plate (cookies should be touching one another). Place 1 cookie in the center. Carefully spread a layer of whipped cream evenly over the cookies, leaving a bit of a cookie border. Repeat making 5 more layers each of cookies and whipped cream. Refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight before serving. (The cookies will be softened enough to slice through like cake)

Molasses-Gingerbread Dough

2 3/4 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
3/4 cup unsulfured molasses

1. Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt and spices in a medium bowl.
2. Beat butter and sugar with a mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy. Add eggs, and beat well. Add molasses, and reduce speed to low. Gradually add the flour mixture, and beat til just combined.
3. Divide dough into 2 portions and wrap each in plastic. Refrigerate 1 hour.

*Tip: Making the cookies the day before, and assembling cake the day after makes this delicious cake a lot easier!

Written by Emma, photo by Rebecca

Friday, November 9, 2012

Good Borscht!

Today is a brilliant, but cold and windy day. It is a day for hats, gloves and scarves, for pink-cheeked, red-nosed people to come into Stella's Cafe for warmth, good food and companionship. A large pot of Stella's famous Red Russian Borscht is on the stove, simmering away and scented with fresh dill. Stella has loved borscht herself since her father used to take her to the Russian restaurant in her hometown. She remembers the brimming white bowls of hot red vegetarian soup served with a generous slice of homemade bread with lashings of real butter. She has worked on her borscht recipe over the years after begging for and receiving a rather vague written recipe from the Russian restaurant's cook; just a few ingredients, no measurements. A real 'cook from the heart' recipe, 'and you will get it right,' she said.

The borscht is today's special at Stella's, written up on the black board in coloured chalk, the letters embellished with Savannah's Russian inspired flourishes. 'Served with locally baked whole wheat sourdough bread and small house salad.'  "Mmmmm...looks good! I'll have the borscht," says customer after customer. At precisely 1:30 pm the pot is empty and the cafe is full of satisfied, warm customers.

A good day!

Red Russian Borscht

Peel 2 medium sized beets, boil and reserve beets and beet water (if desired). Let cool.

In large pot add:

4 peeled potatoes cut into large chunks
1 liter of pureed canned tomatoes
2 liters of water
1 tsp of salt
1/4 tsp of pepper

Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are soft enough to mash - about 15 minutes


Peel and grate 3-4 large carrots
finely dice 2 onions
finely dice 2 long stalks celery
finely dice 1 green pepper
finely chop 1/2 large cabbage

In a large wok or frying pan, fry in 1/2 lb of butter (there is no place for low-fat dishes in cold weather as far as Stella is concerned) in the following order:  onions, celery, green pepper, large cabbage, carrots, and let cook, covered until all the veggies are tender.

Take the potatoes out with a slotted spoon and mash them with a few large dollops of sour cream.
Grate the cooked beets.
Add the potatoes to the large pot and whisk until the mashed potatoes are incorporated.
Add the grated beets to the cooked veggies in the wok and mix together. Add the veggies to the soup pot and stir gently.

Add a few sprigs of fresh dill, or dried dill weed and more salt and pepper to taste. Let sit for a while before eating if you have the time, in order to let the flavours mingle. If you like your borscht extra pink, add a bit of the reserved beet water.

Makes about 5 liters.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Halloween Cookies!

"I'm going to be the most gorgeous knight in all the land, and I will go save my princess from candy overload!" laughed Zoe as she placed her hand over her forehead, went down on her knees and expelled a dramatic sigh.
"Well when I'm a zombie I'm going to come and eat your face off and your princess will never like you!" Kendra exclaimed with a mouth full of cookie.
"Okay that's it, out you go. Do something useful for a change instead of eating all my cookies," Stella said as she pushed the girls out the door. She was adorned with a tall witch hat and green cape, and looked as if she was about to cast a spell on them.
Nearby Kevin laughed into his coffee, spilling it, as he overlooked the scene. 
"Seriously I have no idea where they went. I made an entire batch this morning, iced and all, then poof! They disappeared! Now I have to make another whole batch before tomorrow." Stella said as she passed Kevin throwing her arms up,"and scones, squares and biscuits!"
Kevin then proceeded to spill more coffee onto his newspaper, as Kendra peeked inside the door while munching on a very tasty looking cookie.

The BEST Sugar Cookies

1 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter- softened
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

In a large bowl beat sugar and butter together till light and fluffy. Add in eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla.
In a separate bowl whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.
Add flour mixture to butter mixture till well incorporated.

Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Flouring surface and rolling pin, roll out dough out till it is 1/8 of an inch thick

Cut out, place on a baking tray covered in parchment and bake for 6-8 minutes till edges are a very light golden brown.
Cool and decorate!

Royal Icing: for decorating!

1 egg white
1 cup icing sugar
2-3 drops lemon juice

Using a whisk, whisk ingredients together till they form a spreadable icing. If it's too thin, add more icing sugar. If too thick, add more lemon juice.

Put desired colours in icing, and decorate!

How to Make Spider Web Cookies:
Cover a circular cookie in white icing. Create a large dot with a circle around it making the cookie look like a target. Starting from the middle, using a toothpick or skewer, drag it through the icing to the edge of the cookie. You will see it as it drags, it moves the black icing along creating the spider web effect. Repeat all the way around the cookie.

Writing and photography by Emma

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Nana's Cinnamon Coffee Cake

Stella's mother, whom they all call 'Nana', is visiting for a few weeks. She shares Stella's passion for feeding one and all, but she has her little quirks which often add spice to her conversation.

While she mixes up her family-famous Cinnamon Coffee Cake in the kitchen she says to her grand-daughters, "Now girls, you can have a piece, but you have to earn it. While this cake is baking, your mom can watch it and we can take a walk to the park. You girls can get some exercise on the swings and what-not while I people watch.This town has so many interesting weirdos and they amuse me."

Zoe thinks Nana is forgetting that she is fifteen and a little old for playground equipment, but she deems it wise not to say anything about that for the time being. She likes hearing Nana's observations and assessments of the world too much to risk irritating her. She also likes her delicious, moist Coffee Cake with its cinnamon-crunch layers and is looking forward to having some with a cup of tea after their outing. Zoe looks at Stella and Stella looks back at her with a slight lift of her eyebrow and just a hint of a grin.

"Enjoy yourselves, girls, and Mother..."

"Yes, dear" says Nana with a slight look of challenge in her eyes.

"Go easy on the citizens. Many of them are my customers."

"I'm never uncharitable, Estelle, only truthful," says Nana, winking at the girls.

She decides she'll join Nana and the girls for tea and cake, too. Stella looks up at the calendar, reminding herself of the date of Nana's flight back home. She'll need Kevin and Savannah in that morning so she can drive Nana to the airport.

Cinnamon Coffee Cake

Mix in a small bowl and set aside:
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
2 Tablespoons crushed nuts of your choice

Beat together 1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
beat in two eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla

mix together:
1 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
a pinch of salt

mix 1 teaspoon baking soda into a cup of sour cream in a bowl or 2 cup measure (the sour cream will begin to foam and rise with the baking soda) - sometimes Nana uses full fat yogurt instead of the sour cream, or a combination of both.

Add the flour mixture alternately with the sour cream to the wet butter/sugar mixture. Mix just until blended.

Pour half the batter into greased and floured nine inch baking pan
Sprinkle with half the cinnamon mixture

Bake at 350 degrees Farenheit for 30 to 40 minutes.

Delicious served slightly warm.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Carrot Ginger Soup with Zucchini Cheddar Bread

 The first week of September has been hot, like August. Stella's customers aren't sure whether to order hot coffee or iced coffee. Everyone knows this weather cannot last, and are reluctant to let the summer go, but the calendar says fall is just around the corner, and beyond that, winter. The school kids are eager to wear their new school clothes but fuzzy sweaters, crisp blue jeans, and the latest boot styles will have to wait a bit longer in the closets around town. Stella's daughters, Zoe and Kendra are still wearing their summer dresses, shorts and skirts to school, along with their friends and classmates.

Stella knows from experience that even though the weather says 'salads and cold sandwiches', the human subconscious, especially in Canada, begins to turn naturally to comfort food as soon as the routines of fall resume. Although the thermometer outside will climb to 30 degrees this afternoon, many of her customers, particularly the elderly couple who come for lunch most Fridays, will be after soup with a side of warm bread.

So, this morning, Stella is making a pot of her famous Carrot Ginger Soup. Today's special will be the soup with a generous slice of Zucchini Cheddar bread. When it is time for her break, however, she'll be having a salad.

Carrot Ginger Soup - adapted from The Moosewood Cookbook 
serves 4-5

Bring to a boil:

2 lbs total of  a mixture of mostly carrots with either sweet potato or butternut squash, peeled and chopped
4 cups stock (or hot water with vegetable broth cubes added)
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1-2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped

Cover and simmer 12-15 minutes. Let cool a bit.

Saute in 3-4 Tbps. butter (or coconut oil) with a little salt, until onions are clear and tender:

1 cup chopped onion
1-2 cloves crushed garlic
1/3 cup chopped cashews or almonds
1 Tbsp grated ginger root - added just before the onions are finished cooking

Puree everything together in a blender until smooth, in batches if necessary. Return the puree to the pot and whisk in one of the following:

1/4 cup of either: coconut milk, yogurt and a tsp honey, or milk

Reheat soup gently, stirring often

Zucchini Cheddar Bread - from Joy of Cooking 

Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan.
Whisk together thoroughly in a large bowl:
     3 cups all purpose flour (or half and half whole wheat like we have done here)
     4 teaspoons baking powder
     1 teaspoon salt
     1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Add and toss to separate and coat with flour:
     1 cup coarsely shredded zucchini 
     3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
     3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley 
     1 tablespoon snipped fresh dill, or 2 tablespoons dried
Whisk together in another bowl:
     2 large eggs
     1 cup buttermilk
     4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) warm melted unsalted butter or vegetable oil
Add to the flour mixture and mix with a few light strokes just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Do not overmix; the batter should not be smooth. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 55 to 60 minutes. Let cool in pan on a rack for 5-10 minutes before unmolding to cool completely on the rack.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Back to school Blondies

The end of summer is near, and today, the clouds are rolling in. Stella looks at the clock: 1:00 pm. In the summer months, baking in the heat of the afternoon was done only when necessary, but now as the weather is quickly turning more autumnal, a fresh warm batch of baking can be seen with increasing regularity on the counter after lunch.

School is starting up in a few days for Stella's girls, and they have, if the truth be told, very mixed feelings about returning to the school routine. "Mommy," Kendra had asked wistfully this morning, "remember, how you always make us Walnut Blondies in the fall?" Stella decides to make a batch of the rich, buttery squares covered in a thin layer of white chocolate and sprinkled with walnuts, in an effort to cheer everyone up, including those parents and children that come in for a break from back-to-school shopping. Saying goodbye to the carefree, happy days of summer seems bittersweet, but as ever, the march of the seasons waits for no one.

Stella thinks about what soups to offer for tomorrow's menu. Soup, always her biggest seller, is the best way to warm a day with a fall nip in the air. She decides Carrot Ginger soup, and Corn Chowder will fit the bill with the freshest in-season ingredients. Stay tuned!

Walnut Blondies  - adapted by Emma from The Hawthorn Series 'simply delicious slices'
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup of brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 cup chopped almonds (or pecans)

150 grams white chocolate, chopped (I used 200 grams for a thicker layer of chocolate)
1/4 cup cream (or milk)
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease a 8 x 8 inch pan and line it with parchment paper, leaving the paper hanging over the sides.

2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Cream the sugars, butter and vanilla in a bowl until light and fluffy. ( an electric mixer works best) Gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition. Fold in the flour with a large metal spoon and gently stir in the walnuts. Spread the mixture into the tin.

3. Bake for 30 minutes till golden and a skewer inserted comes out clean. Leave the tin for 10 minutes, then cool on a wire rack.

4. To make the icing, place the chocolate and cream in a small bowl over a sauce pan of simmering water. Stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from heat, cool slightly then spread over the cooled blondies. Sprinkle with walnuts and you're done!

Writing by Emma and Rebecca, photos by Emma. Happy Labour Day Weekend, friends!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Garden Harvest Pasta Salad

The harvest has reached its peak in Kevin's garden, and he has been sharing his bounty with his friends and neighbours. Stella always gets first pick of the crop, however, after Kevin himself, so this morning, he brings in purple beans, vidalia onions, some early cherry tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, chives, basil, Italian parsley, romaine lettuces and nasturtium flowers at her request. Stella has her trademark pasta salad in mind for today's lunch special, and will serve it on a bed of romaine lettuce with a triangle of delicious chewy foccacia bread created by the wonderful baker down the road.

One of her regular lunch customers, James the bookseller next door, pokes his head in the door. "What's for lunch today, Stella?" he asks, sniffing the air for some hint of what is cooking in the kitchen. When she answers him, he asks, "With or without sausage?"

"Optional!" Stella calls out from the kitchen.

"Then, with!" he calls back. "See you at noon, then."

Stella brings a large pot of water to the boil. She adds a tablespoon of salt and adds two 750 gram packages of cheese-filled fresh tortellini pasta.  She brings it to the boil again and then lowers the heat to a gentle boil, stirring all the time. She cooks the pasta until it is firm yet tender, about six minutes, then drains the pot into an extra large colander. She gently shakes the colander up and down to make sure all the water is drained from the pasta and then pours it all back into the empty pot. She mixes in a few heaping tablespoons of pesto Genovese* to coat the pasta while it cools and to keep it from sticking together. After letting it cool a little more, she pours the pasta into a large bowl to cool completely.

Assistant cook Savannah washes all the veggies thoroughly, and then cuts the purple beans into bite sized pieces. She halves the cherry tomatoes, dices the cucumber and vidalia onion, and chops the basil and parsley, and cuts the bunch of chives into short pieces with scissors. She grates a few carrots and after plunging the romaine leaves into a deep sink of cold water, she tears them into smaller pieces and puts them in the salad spinner to dry. She tells Stella that she thinks some slightly bitter endive would be a nice addition, but Kevin hasn't brought any today. Stella says the nasturtium flowers will add a peppery kick instead.

While Savannah is preparing the veggies, Stella makes the Creamy Garlic salad dressing. When all the salad ingredients are prepared, Stella mixes everything except the nasturtium flowers and the romaine lettuce together. After putting aside a bowl full for younger daughter Kendra who does not like salad dressing and will be coming down to eat her lunch shortly, she adds the dressing, tastes the mixture and deems it worthy of the lunch crowd. She'll dice some locally made farmers sausage and offer it as an optional addition and some added protein.

At 12:00 sharp, Savannah is slicing the foccacia bread into triangles when James walks in looking quite cheerful. Despite the warm late summer day, he is in his trademark woolen vest and shirtsleeves. A little gaunt looking and on the deeper end of his fifties, James sits at his favourite table by the bay window. When Stella brings him his salad (with some diced sausage added) on a bed of romaine leaves and garnished with a couple of bright and cheery nasturtiums, James eyes it with satisfaction. "You're looking sprightly this morning, James," she says.

"I finally sold that set of Haig-Brown first editions," he says, with something resembling a grin. Then he tells Stella that he will be finishing his meal with a piece of blueberry pie and a pot of Earl Grey tea with a small jug of cream on the side. He tells her he deserves the pie today, especially, as it is his birthday. Stella wonders where she put those candles...

Stella makes this salad for her family often, and she'd like to share the recipe with you in case you ever want to make it, too. The recipe is quite loose, but then, that's what makes it great. It's never the same salad twice.

Garden Harvest Pasta Salad

1 pkg fresh filled pasta of your choice

*A good tablespoon of fresh or jarred pesto (recipe found here)

assorted garden fresh veggies, a few tablespoons each of various herbs, and edible flowers for garnish; amounts depend on preference and availability. Broccoli florets, fresh peas and sweet bell peppers are all great, too.

a link of good quality farmers sausage (optional)

one small head Romaine lettuce or mixed salad greens

Creamy Garlic Dressing to taste (at least half a cup, though - you'll want to taste it!) Recipe follows.

Method: as written above

Creamy Garlic Dressing (adapted from Moosewood Cooks at Home)

3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
3/4 cup mixed vegetable and olive oils (I do about half and half) ( 177 ml)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar (59 ml)
1 Tbsp (15 ml) chopped fresh basil ( or 1 tsp dried)
1 tsp salt (5 ml)
1 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese (15 ml)
1/2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper  (2 ml)
1/2 cup milk (118 ml) - any variety will do from skim to creamy

Put the garlic, oil, vinegar, basil, salt, Parmesan, and pepper into a blender and whirl for a couple of seconds. With the blender still running, slowly add the milk, whirling until the dressing is thick and smooth. Covered and refrigerated, this dressing will keep for a week.

This salad tastes best the day it's made, but it will keep for another day quite well if necessary.

Friday, August 10, 2012

A Summer Spritzer

Stella turns up the air conditioner as she wipes the sweat off her forehead. She watches the heat waves rising up off the pavement outside the cafe. A yellow Volkswagen Bug zooms by with ribbons flowing off the back and a big Just Married sign plastered on the rear window. Stella smiles as she remembers her wedding. She then frowns remembering her husband had just flown back to Dubai after a brief visit. The family had spent their 6-day holiday in a small cabin by the ocean. Collecting sea shells on the beach, roasting s'mores over a campfire and falling asleep to the soothing sound of waves breaking on the shore. But Stella has work to do, and her husband is badly needed in the busy holiday months.

The summer heat hits its afternoon peak as the final lunch dishes are cleared off vacant tables.
Customers give a sigh of relief as they step into the cool cafe. Air conditioning is expensive, but much appreciated. They order iced coffees, Italian sodas and a Stella Summer special, Homemade Spritzers. These iced drinks cool and refresh the entire body as they are eagerly gulped down.

The sound of ice tinkling on tall drinking glasses is heard throughout the rest of the afternoon.

Green Tea Cranberry Spritzer - Makes 4
Bring 1/3 cup water and 1/3 cup sugar to a boil in a saucepan.
Cook, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Let cool completely
Steep 4 green tea bags in 2 cups boiling water for 2 minutes.
Remove bags. Let cool completely.
Divide tea, 1/2 cup chilled unsweetened cranberry juice, and the simple syrup among 4 ice-filled glasses.
Top with 3 cups chilled seltzer (club soda works great too)

Recipe Credit: Martha Stewart Living Magazine, April 2011 Edition

Writing and photography by Emma.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Pan Bagnat for a Picnic

Yesterday, Stella received a call from a cycling club. Twelve of their members are embarking on a day tour today and have requested pan bagnat 'to go' for their trip. The club will begin their tour in the city where they live, a two hour cycle west, and will  be stopping by en masse to pick up their order before cycling another hour to their lunch stop. Assembling pan bagnat for twelve hungry cyclists gives Stella an idea. Why not add enough ingredients for two more loaves, and then after the shop is closed, she and her two daughters, Zoe and Kendra, as well as employees Kevin and Savannah, if they want to come too, can take a picnic to the beach. It will be a welcome surprise for Zoe, fifteen and Kendra, twelve, who must entertain themselves this afternoon while Stella works downstairs - their theatre camp doesn't start until next week, and their dad won't be home on leave from his year managing the start up of a new hotel in Dubai until the week after that.

This morning, Stella has enlisted her daughters to help with the pan bagnat, which begins with the making of a  good sized batch of freshly made pesto. Zoe is well on her way to becoming a good cook under the watchful eye of her mother, so she can manage the pesto, but she is a bit scatterbrained at times so Kendra is there to make sure she doesn't forget any ingredients. Kevin makes the trip to the local produce market for the freshest ingredients possible, and to the absolute gem of a bakery for the wonderfully aromatic, slightly springy, golden crusted French baguettes. Savannah attends to the customers, while Stella herself pops out of the kitchen to greet them and share a quick word now and again.

Pan bagnat is French for 'bathed bread'. Layers of thinly sliced vegetables, cheeses and other ingredients are layered inside baguettes and then the whole thing is wrapped tightly and pressed under a heavy weight for a few hours. As the pan bagnat is pressed, the flavours of the ingredients saturate the inside of the loaves with briny and delicious flavours, like a 'portable Salade Nicoise.'* By the time the cycling club arrives, the pan bagnat will have been marinating for two hours. Stella wonders how the club is going to transport the long and relatively heavy loaves, but the club's organizer has assured her they have that concern covered.

At 11:30 a.m., twelve neon clad cyclists roll up to Stella's. Looking like a swarm of some sort of tall insect with their bug-eyed sunglasses and ventilated oddly shaped aerodynamic helmets, they prop their bikes against the building and a few of them stand watch over their gear while a few others enter the shop.

"We're here for the pan bagnat,' says their fearless leader, grinning and removing his sunglasses to reveal white patches where the glasses have protected his eyes from the tanning effects of the sun.

Stella and Kevin bring out the six, twenty-four inch loaves, which are promptly paid for. They watch as the loaves are placed next to ice packs and under a large cooler presumably filled with energy bars, fruit and Gatorade, in a covered child carrier - sans child - pulled behind one of the bikes. Stella and Kevin smile at each other as if to say, "Aha! Now we know." The cyclists mount their bikes once more, and waving, set off.

*Recipe for Pan Bagnat from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home

1 baguettte or other long thin French bread
1 garlic clove, pressed
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tomato, thinly sliced
1 cucumber, thinly sliced
1/2 red Vadalia (purple) onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup pitted and sliced Calamata or other ripe black olives
salt and ground black pepper to taste

Optional Ingredients
4 ounces sliced mild provolone or other cheese
2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
1 green or red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/4 cup capers, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup roasted red peppers, thinly sliced
anchovies to taste
1 cup artichoke hearts, sliced into quarters
1/2 cup pesto- recipe below
herbs, such as basil, marjoram, thyme, oregano

Slice the bread in half lengthwise, nearly all the way through. Open the loaf and spread the garlic on one of the cut sides. Drizzle the olive oil on both sides (and spread with pesto as desired). Layer the tomato, cucumber, onion, olives, and any optional ingredients on one half of the bread. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Close the loaf and wrap it tightly with plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Weight the full length of the Pan Bagnat with a heavy book (or with a baking tray topped with bricks, a 25 pound weight, a toddler, or whatever you can find) for 1-3 hours.
Unwrap, slice and serve!

Pesto Genovese - makes 2 cups                

3 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup pine nuts or chopped almonds
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and ground black pepper to taste

Whirl all the ingredients, except the oil, in a food processor or blender. When everything is well chopped, add the oil in a thin stream to form a smooth paste. If you are using a blender, it is necessary to prechop the herbs and nuts by hand.


Pesto Provencal - makes 1 cup

1 cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
1/4 cup coarsely chopped scallions
1/3 cup pine nuts or chopped almonds
1/4 cup vegetable oil
salt and ground pepper to taste

method as for Pesto Genovese

Writing and photos by Rebecca

Friday, July 20, 2012

Biscotti for the Band

Stella is up extra early this morning, as a long hot summer day awaits her. Beating the heat is her number one priority as she bustles around the kitchen, windows wide open letting in the cool morning breeze. Her skirt billows as she dances from one side of the kitchen to the other, collecting tools and ingredients while listening to some Bill Evans.

Biscotti is on her mind as she picks up the flour, sugar and baking powder from the cupboard. A whisk, stir and a bake (or two) later, warm Almond Orange Biscotti is sitting on the counter. She places a few onto a plate to keep for the musicians who will be setting up later in the day in the corner of her shop for that evening's performance. Live music is a trademark of Stella's. She invites only the best musicians and they never turn her down if they can help it. Besides, she pays well, and you aren't a true local performer till you've played a set at Stella's.

No passers by can resist grabbing a cup of tea and settling down in one of Stella's well worn chairs to enjoy an evening of music.

Orange Almond Biscotti
This delicious recipe can be found here! Thanks for reading!

Writing, Baking and Photography by Emma :)
Ingredients and Editing provided by Rebecca

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Summer Treat - Raspberry Oat Bars

Summer has arrived at long last. The rainy days of June seem a long forgotten thing and the customers of Stella's are ready for long cool drinks and fruit filled treats. On this Thursday morning in particular, Kevin, who tends a double plot in the local community garden, has brought in a pail full of fresh, plump raspberries.

Kevin presents Stella with the raspberries and she presents him with an agreeable sum in return. She says, "It's hard to put a price on fresh raspberries, will that do?" Kevin nods, filing the bills away for later when he will buy some of that good liquid food for his five varieties of tomatoes presently soaking up the sun and this morning's watering.

After consulting her cookbooks for inspiration Stella and assistant Savannah invent a recipe which will bring out the sweet and slightly tangy flavour of the fresh berries. The aroma of the baking Raspberry Oat Bars fills the air of the small kitchen with the scents of summer. Stella's is ready for another day of refueling customers with cooling drinks and energizing food.

Here is the recipe in case you would like to bake these delicious bars in your own kitchen.

Raspberry Oat Bars

1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cup fresh raspberries
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp flour

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease one 8 inch square pan, and line with parchment paper to cover the bottom and sides of the pan.

2.Combine sugar, flour, baking soda, salt cinnamon and rolled oats. Rub the butter into the oat mixture using your hands or a pastry blender to form a crumbly mixture. Press 2 cups of the mixture to the bottom of the prepared pan.

3. Using a fork, squash raspberries, 1/4 cup granulated sugar and teaspoon of flour together in a small bowl. Drain out the excess liquid, leaving a little to keep the mixture moist.

4. Spread the raspberry mixture on top but not quite to the edge of the pressed oat layer.

5. Sprinkle rest of oat mixture on top and lightly press to compact.

5. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes till lightly browned. Let cool, lift out with parchment paper, cut into squares.


Written today by Rebecca, original recipe by Emma

Monday, July 2, 2012

Rainy Day Special - Chocolate Scones

It's a dismal morning outside Stella's today. Customers place brightly coloured umbrellas in the bucket and hang soaking coats on hooks as they walk in. The rain comes down in sheets, lit up as cars drive by outside. The customers sit around tables with steaming drinks between their hands, warming their fingers. Stella knows no smoothies or Iced Americanos will be sold today.

Stella likes her cafĂ© to be a place where people can come and enjoy its happy comforting spirit, and today it seems nobody is in that spirit. She saw this coming, so that is why she woke up extra early to whip up a batch of her famous chocolate walnut fudge scones. She smiles as she places the scones onto the counter. Sam, one of the regulars, looks up as the scones' delightful aroma hits his nose. He smiles as he walks up to the counter to purchase one. The smell is infectious, and soon almost everybody is biting into a lovely scone. The earlier dampened mood is lifted and Stella beams as she hits the play button on the stereo.

Stella would like to share the recipe so you too can enjoy them! She has a secret though. The recipe is actually from an old edition of 'Canadian Living Magazine' but she doesn't feel it's necessary to tell anybody...

 Scones: (makes 12)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp each baking soda and salt
1/2 cup cold butter, cubed
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts (or almonds)

Fudge Icing:
1 cup icing sugar
2 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla 

*Line a large rimless baking sheet with parchment paper or dust with flour; set aside.

*In large bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut in butter till mixture resembles coarse crumbs. In small bowl, whisk together buttermilk, egg and vanilla; add to flour mixture. Sprinkle with walnuts; stir with fork to make soft dough.

*With lightly floured hands, press dough into ball. On floured surface, knead gently 10 times. Pat into 10-x7-inch (25 x 18cm) rectangle; trim edges to straighten. Cut into 6 squares; and cut each diagonally in half. Place on prepared pan. Bake in centre of 400°F oven until tops are firm to the touch, 18-20 minutes. Transfer to rack; let cool.

*In small bowl, whisk sugar with cocoa. Add milk and vanilla; whisk until smooth, adding up to 1 tsp more milk if necessary to make spreadable. Spread over scones; let stand until set, about 1 hour.

Written by Emma

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Welcome to Stella's

Stella rises in the dark pre-dawn, goes downstairs from her cozy apartment above the shop and mixes up muffins and scones in the small, gleaming kitchen. She brews herself a single shot Americano (espresso and hot water) and sits down to read the newspaper while she waits for the baking to be done; Stella likes to be up on the topics of the day, and several of her regular customers have come to expect some kind of opinion from her. At 6:45 she grinds the coffee beans and presses the start button for the strong, medium-roasted brews preferred by her 7:00 a.m. regulars. She sets out the thermal urns of cream and milk on the glass-topped antique dresser, refills the sugar boxes and makes sure the counters and tabletops are spotless. At exactly 7:00 she unlocks the door and turns on the front lights to invite the early risers in, greeting each one by name - if she knows it.

Artwork and photographs - no mass produced commercial coffee kitsch here - hang on the walls of Stella's. Instead of local radio, she plays CD's carefully chosen for their background quality, so they are mainly collections of quiet jazz and folk, and some classical guitar and piano. Stella's has a small raised area surrounded by windows with a view of the street, usually set with two small tables for two, and where, once a week she stays open late and invites a musician to give a concert. Stella's is not a big shop, and is one of three businesses occupying a building old enough to have twelve foot ceilings and deep-silled windows. The tables are close together and there is only one area with deep armchairs gathered around a small table set out with newspapers, good quality magazines, and a few large books purchased from the second hand bookshop next door and with titles like Great Russian Architecture - interesting to look at but too heavy and big to 'borrow.' Stella's is a cozy place and the locals seem to like it.

Two employees, Savannah and Kevin come in at 9 a.m. to help Stella prepare for the lunch rush - her soups and grilled sandwiches are legend. In the afternoons Stella offers a selection of cakes made by a local home bakery - banana, carrot, deep chocolate - and besides coffee there is a selection of teas, including African Honeybush, a favourite of hers and of several of her female customers. At 4:00 p.m. Stella bids farewell to the last of her clientele, flips the open sign to closed, and locks the door while she and her employees debrief in a friendly way about the day's customers. With Savannah and Kevin's help she cleans the coffee machines, the counters, floors and the kitchen surfaces. Finally, Stella lets her employees out and closes the shop, climbs the stairs to her apartment, lets out a sigh of satisfaction and puts her feet up.


A word from Rebecca: Stella's is sort of a distilled version of all the coffee shops I have frequented over the last 40 years, from the lunch counter at Woolworth's with it's chrome and vinyl stools where I sat drinking juice with my mother, to the Snowdrift Cafe in Kimberley, British Columbia where I took my little boys for hot chocolate and the huge, delicious, soft oatmeal cookies (made by the cafe owners' Italian mother) with the Grappa soaked raisin pressed into the middle.

I have always loved coffee shops. When I was 20 I had a job at Stanley Baker's cafe in my hometown. When I met my husband while attending UBC in Vancouver, we frequented several: The Bread Garden and Benny's Bagels in the Kitsilano area where he lived at the time, Cheesecake etc. downtown, and various authentic Italian places in the East side where I lived with my sister and her husband. When my husband and I moved to Eastern British Columbia I looked for and soon found a place in Cranbrook with good coffee, company and conversation.

When my husband was transferred to Courtenay on Vancouver Island I frequented a place no longer in business called Edible Island, with organic everything and salads paid for by weight. My husband and I tried to raise our four children well enough so they could at least behave decently in a coffee shop. So far, both our grown-up boys have trained as baristas, so that says something about that.

Where I live now I generally gather once a week to sort out the problems of the world (and to laugh at ourselves in our attempt) with a group of local characters at a converted century old house with a garden and a fish pond by the outdoor patio. The coffee here is not the best, but the selection of teas is excellent and served in large, thin white cups and saucers, and the lemon scones are good...but not quite as good as Stella's.

I have often fantasized about owning a coffee shop, but for practical reasons as well as financial ones, I never have. Stella's Virtual Cafe is an idea which occurred to me one day when I was making dinner. I talked it over with my daughter, Emma, who came on board immediately, so now we are open for business! We plan to provide recipes for you to try in your own 'cafe', share amusing stories about our fictional clientele, and just give our readers a warm and welcoming place to visit. We hope you enjoy Stella's and become one of her cherished regulars!


Rebecca and Emma