Wednesday, October 30

Innkeeper Pudding

"Do you eat like this all the time?" It's a question we often hear from guests. It might come as they work their way through a satisfying breakfast or as we present them with a plated dessert at the end of a dinner. 

Breakfast is "the second B" as we say in the Bed & Breakfast world, and it should be something special for our guests that they wouldn't normally make for themselves at home. That's how I feel about all the meals we serve which is why, I suppose, our guests pose the question.

The answer, in short, is no. As much as I enjoy cooking and baking, I can't do a company-worthy meal every day for just the two of us. When it comes to feeding Jim and I, it often comes down to this: what's quick, what do I have on hand, and what in the fridge needs to be used up pronto?

That's where this recipe comes in. I had leftover pears and plums from breakfasts earlier in the week that were getting soft. Jim and I had worked up appetites while out cutting firewood, and it was getting late in the day (and chilly, too!) so I needed something quick, craved something sweet, and wanted to have the oven on to heat up the kitchen.

I remembered a dessert my mom made when I was a kid. It was called cottage pudding and had a layer of fruit baked below a moist cake batter. There's also a similar dish, sometimes called pudding cake or poor man's pudding, which has a sugar-and-water topping that somehow migrates to the bottom of the pan and creates its own sauce as it bakes.

I whipped up my own conglomerated version of these dishes while dinner cooked and it was ready for us by the time we were ready for dessert. The result was exactly what we needed. It doesn't look like an impressive dish and has none of our usual flare--just scoop out piles of tender cake and saucy fruit into shallow bowls--but it's unbelievably satisfying after a good day of work. 

It's not a dessert you'll be served if you eat here. It's too homey. It's a family dish, not a company one; an innkeeper dish, not a guest one. But you can make it for yourself at home and if you care to take my advice--and I speak from experience--it's best enjoyed while cuddled up in the comfort of your fuzziest pajamas.

Innkeeper Pudding
aka Self-saucing Fruit-bottom Cottage Pudding Cake
Makes 6 servings

The term pudding is used here in the British fashion, where it means dessert; not the North American usage which refers to a stirred custard or pastry cream. Whatever you call it, this is simple comfort food. It mixes together quickly with everyday staples but adapts easily to whatever ingredients need to go. I think of it as "farmhouse cooking", though perhaps I should call it "innkeeper cooking" since I'm not actually a farmer.

For the fruit, I used a mixture of poached pears, sliced plums and a handful of raspberries. The plums had been tossed with a pinch of sugar two days earlier and had been sitting in the fridge ever since, leaving them nice and juicy. I included the plum juice along with a spoonful of poaching liquid from the pears.

3 cups soft fruit with their juices (see Note)
1 egg
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted, plus more for the dish
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk (or regular milk that's on the turn or soured with a splash of vinegar)
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour (replace 1/3 with whole wheat flour if you like)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup brown or golden yellow sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 350°C. Butter a deep 8-10 cup capacity casserole dish (mine is about 8.5" diameter and 3.5" deep). Place fruit and any juices in the bottom of the dish.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the egg and granulated sugar. Whisk in melted butter, vanilla extract and salt. Whisk in buttermilk. Sift flour, baking powder and baking soda over batter. Stir with the whisk until combined. Scrape batter over fruit and spread evenly.

Mix brown or golden yellow sugar with cornstarch and sprinkle over batter. Gently pour boiling water over top. Do not stir.

Place casserole dish on a rimmed cookie sheet in case of boil-over. Bake until cake is golden brown and springs back when pressed, or when a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs attached, about 45-50 minutes.

Cool on a rack for at least 15 minutes. Serve warm, spooned into shallow bowls. Dust with powdered sugar or top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream if you like.

For the fruit, use naturally soft fruit or firmer fruits which have been cooked just until tender. You can use just one type or a mix of two or three.

Suitable fruits include poached or canned pears; apples sauteed in a bit of butter and brown sugar; ripe plums, peaches, nectarines and mangos. Canned or frozen peaches and mangos will work and are convenient in the winter months. Include up to 1 cup of berries such as raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, or chopped cranberries. Roasted rhubarb, on its own or with apples or strawberries would also be good.

For fresh fruit: Peel (if necessary) and chop the fruit over a bowl to catch any juices. If dry, toss the chopped fruit with a teaspoon of sugar and let sit, stirring occasionally, for half an hour to release the juices.

For poached or canned fruit: Don't shake the poaching liquid off the fruit; chop over a bowl to catch some of the liquid or drizzle a spoonful over the chopped fruit.

For frozen fruit: Defrost stone fruits, tree fruits, and large berries such as strawberries, blackberries and cranberries. Include a couple spoonfuls of juice from the thawed fruit. Leave blueberries and other small berries frozen.

Monday, October 14

October Flowers

One thing I love about June -- yes I said June -- is the wave of pink and purple lupines that bloom in proliferation in meadows and roadside ditches. These tall spires herald the arrival of summer and the onset of hot sunny days. Which is why I was surprised to see one blooming in October!

I guess that's what happens when we have unexpected t-shirt weather when we should normally be digging our wooly sweaters out from the back of the closet. Nonetheless, the purple flowers of the lupine made for a lovely contrast against the brilliant red maple leaves in the background.

All is not wonky in the "autumn flowers" department. This pumpkin-coloured bloom in our deck planter does a fine job of representing the season!

Friday, October 4

Centennial Ridges Trail, Algonquin Park

Jim and I recently celebrated our wedding anniversary with a hike on the Centennial Ridges Trail in Algonquin Park. Although we've been to the park countless times, neither of us have hiked this one before. It's one of the longest day-use trail in Algonquin, and while the length has never deterred us, we don't often have a spare six hours (the recommended time to allocate for the hike) to spend at once. We made time this time and were so glad we did!

The park guide describes the trail as 10.4 km long, however we've had guests tell us their GPS's and pedometers put it closer to 13 km in length. Either way, it's a challenging hike not so much for the distance but for the many ups and downs as the trail visits multiple cliff-top lookouts. According to the guide booklet, "At the highest point you will be 170 metres (560 feet) above the parking lot but, because the trail has several major rises and descents, the total vertical distance you will have to climb during your outing is approximately 360 metres (1,200 feet)".

We passed a number of small lakes and ponds along the lower sections of trail.

It took us just under four hours to complete the loop, including stops for photos and food. Don't forget to bring food -- you'll work up an appetite! Also bring water, of course, as well as the appropriate clothing for the time of year including sturdy hiking shoes/boots. Go prepared for the weather and prepared to work up a sweat and you'll be rewarded, as we were, with spectacular views and breathtaking vistas.

This was the first time we ever looked DOWN on a flying hawk!

The colours in late September were stunning.

Seeing far and wide.

An old beaver lodge in a meadow that used to be a pond.

Almost to the top of this cliff (more to come!).

Whitefish Lake near the end of the trail.

Perched on the edge.