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