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.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Hot Cross Buns for the Easter Season

Stella is in the grocery store, doing the weekly shopping for herself and the girls. She wishes she were shopping for her husband, Oliver, too, but Oliver is only half way through his year-long assignment in Dubai, helping to open a brand new branch of the hotel company with which he is employed. Oh well, she sighs, she's glad she isn't in Dubai herself - redheads tend to fry in the heat. Stella reaches the breads section of the supermarket and suddenly has a craving for Hot Cross Buns, one of Oliver's favourite treats, which appear only in late winter through Easter. She finds the rack of twelve-packs of buns and picks up a package, reading over the ingredients like she always does. "Hmmmm.." she thinks. "These sure have a lot of preservatives in them, and I'm sure this unpronounceable ingredient can't be good for me." She puts the package back on the rack and moves on.

Later, driving the groceries home, Stella becomes inspired to try her hand at baking Hot Cross Buns from scratch for the cafe. She generally purchases all her sandwich breads and buns from the excellent bakery down the road, but they don't do Hot Cross Buns. She likes a challenge in any case and is happy she thought to purchase some dark raisins and candied orange peel today.

The next morning as she downs her customary double Americano, Stella begins the time consuming but rewarding process of making any yeast bread. Many hours later, the hot cross buns, golden and aromatic with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg are cooling on the racks. She whisks up the icing and crosses each bun. Her girls, Zoe and Kendra burst into the cafe kitchen after school, asking to try one. She lets them split a large one and makes them a steamed milk with vanilla to go with it. The rest, of course, will go to the customers, who have been commenting curiously all day on the wonderful smells floating on the air from the kitchen.

James, the book seller is the first in line. He slices his Hot Cross Bun in half and slathers it with butter - "lactose intolerance be damned" he exclaims, taking a large bite. "Mmmmm...delicious. Haven't had one of these since I was a boy. I never touch the ones in the supermarket; they look like they're made with bad fruit cake leftovers."

Stella laughs and goes back into the kitchen, raising an arm in victory to Savannah. "Success!" she whispers. Then, "We'll need more candied orange peel if I'm going to make more of these. Oh, I do hope James does not regret that butter!"

Hot Cross Buns originated in Medieval England as simple tea rolls, flavoured with dried fruit and spices and crossed with sugar, to commemorate Good Friday. Stella followed this tradition by making them with a simple milk bread dough, although they can be made using enriched doughs for Stollen or Pannetone if you prefer. 

Hot Cross Buns from The Joy of Cooking

Place in a small saucepan with just enough water to cover by 1/2 inch:
     1/2 cup dried currants or raisins
Bring the water to a boil, then drain well. Transfer the currants or raisins to a small bowl and sprinkle with:
     2 tablespoons water
Cover and let soak at least 30 minutes.

Stir together:
     1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
     1/8 teaspoon freshly grated or ground nutmeg
     1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

Prepare milk dough, adding spice mixture above to the bread flour, and adding the drained currants or raisins ( Stella also adds 3 Tablespoons candied orange peel) toward the end of the kneading.

Combine in a large mixing bowl or in the bowl of an heavy-duty mixer and let stand until the yeast is dissolved, about 5 minutes:
     1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
     3 Tablespoons warm water
     1 cup whole or low fat milk, warmed, but not hot
     5 Tablespoons melted butter or margarine
     3 Tablespoons sugar
     1 large egg
     1 teaspoon salt
Mix by hand or on low speed for 1 minute. Gradually stir in:
     2 cups bread flour*
Gradually add until the dough is moist but not sticky:
     1 1/2 to 2 cups all-purpose flour
Knead for about 10 minutes by hand or with the dough hook on low to medium speed until the dough is smooth and elastic. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and turn it over once to coat with oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Punch the dough down, knead briefly, and refrigerate covered for 30 minutes.
Divide the dough equally into 18 pieces, about 1 ounce each. Grease a baking sheet or line with parchment paper. On an unfloured surface, roll the dough pieces into balls and place them 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. For the egg wash, whisk together 1 egg and a pinch of salt, and brush over the tops of the rolls. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Brush the buns again with the egg wash. Bake the buns until the crust is golden brown and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped, about 15 minutes.

While the buns cool, make a glaze by stirring together:
     1/2 cup powdered sugar
     1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice, orange juice, or milk ( Stella used orange)
While rolls are still a bit warm, decorate each one with glaze in the shape of a cross.
Let icing set before serving.


*Bread flour can be made by adding 1 Tablespoon vital wheat gluten to each cup of all purpose flour.

P.S. Stella is tempted to double the spices next time, but the buns truly are good mildly spiced as written in the recipe. Besides, too much cinnamon tends to impact the rising, she's heard from a reliable source.

Photography and writing by Rebecca. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Homemade Chai Latte!

"Mom, I am just so tired. School was pretty tough today," Zoe said. She was currently sprawled on one of the cafés' comfy leather chairs reading a magazine.
"Oh?" Stella said as she tidied the stack of books.
"I need some caffeine. You know I have drama tonight right? I think some serious espresso is needed right here," Zoe said as she stood up.
"I think not! But you can have a mug of hot chocolate or some earl grey tea if you like," Stella laughed.
"Can I please have an Americano? Or even just a large cup of coffee? All the other kids have it every morning and they don't even have moms who own coffee shops!" exclaimed Zoe.
"No way. We don't want to stunt your growth now, do we? Besides, all those kids shouldn't be drinking coffee anyway. They have enough energy already let alone needing a cup of most likely awful coffee every morning," Stella replied, "but there is a steaming cup of chai's freshly made, and I can even make it a latté...if you want it that is," Stella offered.
"It's generic, but I guess it will satisfy my extreme present need for caffeine, " sighed Zoe, plunking herself back onto the chair.
"Coming right up!" Stella laughed.

Homemade Chai Latte! -adapted from the book 'Tea Party'
Makes 2 large mugs of chai, or 4 mugs if adding steamed milk

2 cups water
2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped, or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 teaspoons black tea, or 2 teabags of black tea. I used Dilma tea-bags.
1/2 cup honey

Combine water and milk in a large sauce pan and bring to a boil, stirring often.
Reduce heat to low and add all the spices and vanilla.

Cover and let simmer for 12 minutes.
Remove from heat, add black tea, and let steep covered for 2 minutes or more.
Add honey, mix well and then strain.

Serve hot or cold!

Now you may be asking. Chai Latte? At home? Well if, like us, you don't have a Keurig then you can purchase one of these! A handy dandy milk frother!

If you're not sure what it is, it is just like a french press, except for milk. You add hot steaming milk to it and pump away, and it froths the milk right up! We first got one last Christmas from our cousins, but I broke the spout...and let's just say it is out of commission. So I purchased another one for my mom for Christmas this year. It was only $11.00, and works great! 

So add the frothed milk on top of 1/2 cup of your freshly made chai, and top with cinnamon.

You may even want to pair it with a slice of Stella's apple danish. Trust me, it tastes divine.

Writing and photography by Emma!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Stella's Apple Danish

After a certain amount of fuss about appropriate clothing, Stella sees her two girls, Zoe and Kendra off to school. Their boldly patterned umbrellas are the only bright spots in front of the coffee shop's windows on this wet,grey and dismal day. The girls look back and wave and Stella blows them a kiss before returning behind the counter where she is putting generous slices of her apple danish on a tray in the glass case.

Stella sings softly a little tune from Winnie the Pooh: 

The rain, rain, rain came down, down, down
in rushing, rising, rivulets
till the river crept out of its bed,
and crept right into Piglet's

The cafe is empty at the moment, but Stella knows it will soon be full of the loud chatter and clinking of coffee spoons when the group of women from the 8 a.m. exercise class at the neighbourhood gym come in. The women rarely order anything but coffee, and of that, there is plenty. 

Within seconds of these thoughts of hers, Stella is welcoming the exercise group and pouring cup after cup of hot black coffee. The women push three tables together and sit down to gossip and laugh and complain about 'the lazy young people of today.' The last one to order her coffee spies the apple danish in the glass case. 

"Oh...yummy," she says. "I'll have a piece of that with my coffee. I could use some cheering up and that looks like just the thing to indulge in on a day like this." 

Stella puts a piece of the danish on a plate and the woman returns to her chair at the group's table.

"Apple danish? But you'll undo all your hard work this morning. Think of the calories," says one of the more outspoken women. 

The woman with the danish shrugs, and with a forkful of flaky pastry and gently spiced and sweetened apple in her mouth, smiles and says, "I don't care. You count your calories, Margaret, and I'll count mine, thank you very much."

Two more women get up from the table and order a slice of Stella's beautiful apple danish. 

More customers come in out of the rain, and the umbrella stand is soon filled with shiny wet colour.
Stella puts some Brad Meldau on the stereo - When it rains

Stella's Apple Danish   Recipe adapted from one by Stella's good friend Marianne.

1 1/2 cup white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoons salt
1 cup cold butter, lard, or a combination of the two, cubed
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 egg yolk

sliced apple from five or so of your favourite variety. (Stella used Ambrosia apples this time)
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
juice of half a lemon

Blend flour and salt. Cut in butter and/or lard until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. In a glass measuring cup, put one egg yolk and enough milk to make 3/4 cup. Add to flour mixture. Gather the dough together and knead lightly a couple of times on a floured board. Divide the dough in half, roll out, place on a rectangular cookie sheet and sprinkle with the corn starch. Place the sliced apples in a pattern on the pastry and sprinkle with lemon juice all over. Sprinkle with the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.

 Add the remaining dough and fold over to make a nice edge all around. Poke with a fork a few times.

Bake at 375 degrees F for 35 minutes.
Let cool completely.

Drizzle with icing made of 1/2 cup icing sugar, 1/8 teaspoon of vanilla extract and 1-2 Tablespoons of water or lemon juice, whichever you prefer.

Cut, serve and enjoy!

Writing and photography by Rebecca

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Carrot Muffins or Much Ado About Nothing

At 6:40 am Stella is unlocking the door to her café. She rubs one hand on her jeans while the other turns up the thermostat. It's a chilly February morning, but the fog encompassing the street outside shows hopeful signs of a sunny day. Stella is quite happy, because yesterday evening she made a giant batch of carrot muffins, which meant she got to sleep in. Also her husband is home from his work in Dubai for an entire month because business is slow at the hotels this time of year and he was granted leave to come home.
Stella frowns as her nose picks up quite a sour smell.
"What ever could that be?" She says to herself. Following the horrid smell, she finds herself right in front of the milk fridge. Opening it, the smell causes her to jump back. Grabbing a tea towel, she covers her nose and opens it again. The light of the fridge is out and all the milk has gone sour.
"Darn it all," Stella exclaims. (she actually may have said something else, but we won't dwell on that.)
She glances at the clock. 6:45. By now she should have started the coffee for her early birds coming at 7:00.
"Good mor...what is that awful smell!?" Kevin chokes as he enters the café.
"The milks gone sour, and we only have 15 minutes till opening!" Stella huffs.
"Now go! Get some milk! 1%, 2% cream and soy would be nice as well!" She yells, chucking her wallet at Kevin. He grabs the wallet that had ricocheted off the roof and knocked over the empty milk canisters, sending them flying onto the floor with a crash. Stella hears his car start and starts pulling out the milk and dumping it out into the sink. She glances at the clock again, 6:50. Racing over to the coffee machines, she madly grinds the beans and starts them up. Grabbing a can of air freshener from the washroom, she runs around spraying it until the sour smell has been replaced with 'morning dew'.
"Got the milk!" Kevin yells running through the door, arms full of dairy products.
"Put them in the back fridge." Stella says as she puts the knocked over milk canisters back on the side table.
"Five minutes!" says Kevin as he throws milk into the fridge.
After filling the canisters with fresh milk, spraying another stream of air freshener for good measure the coffee machine pours out its last bit of coffee and the clock reads 7:00 am.
"Well that was fun! Hey look it's James, just in time." Kevin exclaims wiping his forehead, looking out the window at their earliest customer crossing the street.
Stella frowns at Kevin, "WAIT! THE MUFFINS!" She races around the corner and taking the lid off the plate of beautiful muffins, she places them on the counter with a bang.
"You too look young and lively today," James says entering the café and commenting on their pink cheeks and overall frazzled appearance.
"Oooh! Those muffins look delicious! I'll have one of those please."
"Would you care for some coffee?" Stella asked.
"Oh yes please, but no milk. I'm now lactose intolerant."

Carrot Muffins from The Joy of Cooking

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground allspice
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups packed finely grated carrots
1/4 cup orange juice
5 tablespoons warm melted unsalted butter or vegetable oil if you are like James
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans-optional
1/2 cup golden raisins-optional

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a standard 12-muffin pan or line with paper cups.
Whisk together dry ingredients in a small bowl. (first 8 ingredients)
In large bowl whisk together eggs and sugar. Stir in carrots and let sit for 10 minutes
Stir in orange juice, butter, walnuts and raisins.
Add the flour mixture and fold until just moistened. Do not over-mix; the batter should not be smooth.
Divide batter among muffin cups.
Bake until toothpick inserted comes out clean, 15-18 minutes. 
Let cool in pan for a few minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.
Enjoy! Or if you aren't like James, let cool and spread on some cream cheese icing.

Cream Cheese Icing  by Emma

2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup cream cheese
bit of milk
bit of vanilla
1 cup icing sugar

Mix together butter and cream cheese until smooth.
Add half the icing sugar and then a bit of milk/vanilla.
Add the rest of the icing sugar and more milk/vanilla if needed.
Spread on the muffins and enjoy!
They are more like cupcakes now, but I like to call them muffcakes...or cuffins...

Writing and photography by Emma

Friday, January 25, 2013

Red Lentil Soup - For Warmth!

The temperature has been hovering around the freezing mark, but the sky is holding at a wispy blue, bringing walkers out of their houses to enjoy the crisp air and the sunshine at mid day. After a good long walk, Harvey and June come into Stella's for a hot bowl of soup and some warm conversation with their friends. Meeting for lunch at Stella's has become a bit of a Friday routine for them all, and a pleasant one at that. 

On the menu today is a vegetarian soup, which appeals to June today, so she orders the large bowl, rather than the cup, with a side of fresh whole grain bread. "I could use a bowl of hot good hot soup," she says loudly, to no one in particular. "These bones are cold as well as old." 

Harvey is not fond of lentils, and orders something else. June admits that lentils are an acquired taste, and not for everyone. The couple sits down with their friends, Ellie and Surinder to wait for their lunch to arrive.

After a few spoonfuls of the soup, June calls out,"Very good, Stella!" 

Stella pops her head round the counter and says, "Well, thank you, June, but Savannah must take all the credit for the soup today." 

"Very good, Savannah, then," calls June, waving her spoon like she's conducting an orchestra.

Savannah smiles with satisfaction and begins serving the waiting customers. The lunch hour is upon them and it looks like a busy one today. 

Red Lentil Soup -from Moosewood Cooks at Home

serves 4-6

1 1/2 cups red lentils
6 cups water
3 bay leaves
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 slices fresh ginger root, each about the size of a quarter

2 medium carrots (1 cup grated)
1 cup canned tomatoes, or 1 medium fresh tomato, chopped (undrained)
1 small red or green bell pepper (1/2 cup finely chopped)

1 1/2 cups chopped onions
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
pinch of cayenne
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
salt and ground black pepper to taste

Sort and rinse the lentils. Put them into a soup pot with the water, bay leaves, garlic, and ginger. Cover and place on high heat. (Watch carefully so it doesn't boil over!)
Prepare the carrots, tomatoes, and bell peppers, and add them to the pot. Bring to a boil, stir, reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes, until the lentils are tender.
While the veggies simmer, saute the onions on medium heat in the olive oil in a heavy skillet for about 10 minutes or until browned. Add the cumin, coriander, and cayenne, and saute for another minute, stirring to prevent sticking. Remove from the heat. When the lentils are tender, remove the bay leaves, and ginger from the soup pot. Stir in the sauteed onions and the lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to taste.

*writing and photo by Rebecca

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The BEST Bran Muffins!

"So girls, what would you like for breakfast? I see you still have far too much chocolate under the tree..." Stella said. It was early Saturday morning, and Stella's Cafe was closed for a much needed week of resting and post Christmas re-grouping. Stella knew it was time to take the tree down when the ornaments were jumping off of their own accord.
"No way mom, I'm sick of chocolate...and food in general. I don't want to eat anything for a long time." Zoe replied. She was currently sprawled across the sofa in a position mimicking that of a sloth hanging from a branch.
"Well I'M not sick of chocolate," Kendra said jumping onto Zoe, "I could eat chocolate FOREVER!"
"No you couldn't Kendra, and you won't," Stella said entering the living room, "and you have to eat, Zoe. Your life depends on it! How about pancakes with blueberry sauce?"
"Nope too sweet,"Zoe said.
"French toast?"
"Too 'toasty'," Kendra replied.
"Too rich." sighed Zoe.
"Well, I don't know what you are going to eat, but I'm going to make some yummy bran muffins for myself." Stella said leaving the room.
"Sounds tasty!"
"But you hate bran muffins! You tell me so every time I make them!"
"They actually sound like they'd be good today...simple you know?"
" muffins simple...well alright, I'll double the batch then. I think we all could do with some good ol' fashioned simple cooking in our lives at the moment!" Stella exclaimed as she walked into the kitchen.
"But Mom, can you make chocolate bran muffins?" asked Kendra.

The BEST Bran Muffins

1 cup wheat bran
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup chopped nuts
2 eggs
2 tbsp oil
1/2 cup molasses (or honey)
3/4 cup applesauce
1 cup milk

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F, and grease a muffin tin with butter (or line with paper muffin liners).
2. Mix together bran, flour, baking powder and baking soda in a large bowl. Mix in nuts and raisins.
3 .In a separate smaller bowl beat eggs. Add oil, molasses and applesauce and mix thoroughly. Add milk and stir till mixture is all one colour.
4.Add wet to dry ingredients and mix until just moistened.
5. Spoon into muffin tins, (I find a 1/4 cup measure is the perfect amount of batter) and bake 15 to 20 minutes.

Enjoy these amazing, moist and tender muffins! (Best served hot with butter. Stella likes them with some cheddar cheese, too)

Post and photography by Emma