Washington Apple Cake

There are dozens of recipes for “Washington Apple Cake” out there, but this one is special for a couple of reasons. The first is that the recipe for this cake was handed down to me from my Great-Grandmother (whom I believe discovered it in the newspaper). The second is that it contains a lot more (and different) spices than most apple cakes! Most ask for no more than two teaspoons of cinnamon, whereas this recipe calls for two tablespoons, plus a 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg. The cinnamon might seem excessive when you are making the cake (the batter is practically red, and the cake IS red when you take it out of the oven). But the apple/cinnamon/nutmeg combination actually produces a mild cinnamon flavour once it has been baked (I can’t stand things that have heavy-handed flavours, so trust me when I say it’s not spicy!). The cake is perfectly moist and topped with a delectable caramel frosting. A wonderful treat for a chilly fall evening!

Washington Apple Cake

1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 – 2 c. sugar
2 eggs

2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
2 T cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
6 large apples – 3-4 cups diced (peeled)
2 tsp. vanilla

Oven 350 degrees 35 min. (That’s all my great-grandmother wrote, but I would recommend baking until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean, which is about 40 minutes).

Caramel Frosting
1/2 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 T evaporated milk
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

Mix in small saucepan and heat lightly to just melt butter. Mix until sugar dissolves. Add enough confectioners sugar to make consistency right for spreading.

Those are the directions that came with the recipe. You will notice there are no directions provided for the cake – I think my great grandmother expected you to know how to mix a cake! Personally, I always prepare my wet ingredients and dry ingredients seperately and then add the dry ingredients to the wet in my mixer.

I find it really funny that she equates 6 large apples with 3 cups of diced apples! Today’s apples are much, much larger than they were 100 years ago.(it reminds me of recipes from the colonial period, where they tell you to use 1/2 dozen eggs when three would do today – eggs were a lot smaller then!). For this recipe, I used 4 galas, which equaled about four cups when finely diced. Also, I would add that you can safely increase the amount of apples in the cake up to 4-5 cups. If you are using apples from your own orchard, then it will probably take six!

I made this cake for tea last week, and my oldest daughter (who just turned two) had a wonderful time eating cake and drinking tea from real teacups. This was her first tea party, and she clearly felt like quite the little grown-up!

Proust’s Madeleine

As a fan of fine literature and food, I was curious when I first ran across Edmund Levin’s article for Slate “The Way the Cookie Crumbles: How much did Proust know about Madeleines?” 

In Remembrance of Things Past, the narrator tastes some crumbs from the bottom of his teacup and experiences a flood of childhood memories: 
“I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure invaded my senses.”

In his article, Levin argues that Proust pretty much made the whole thing up. A typical madeleine leaves no crumbs he argues, and worse yet, he claims that the crumbs have no taste. 

Like Proust’s child narrator, I’ve loved madeleines since I was a kid. When I was a young girl growing up in Olympia, my mom would take me to Batdorf and Bronson after ballet or violin and I’d always have one of their delicious madeleines (I think I tried the cookies with pretty much every beverage there – but tea was the best). My mom and I would chat about art, music and all manner of delightfully grown-up topics while taking in the aroma of roasting coffee beans and thumbing through independent newspapers. Those are fabulous memories. 

At least I thought they were! 

For a moment after reading Levin’s article, I questioned my childhood experiences. Were Proust and I both crazy? I knew I’d tasted those crumbs, but it had been a while. Surely this food writer must be right, and I wrong. There’s no way he would have made this up…right? 

To see if I could replicate some childhood memories and have a “Proust moment” of my own, I sat down with Julia Child’s recipe from The Way to Cook and the madeleine pan I received for Mother’s day. I figure that if anyone could settle this once and for all, it was Julia. 

Here’s Julia’s recipe (more or less). 

2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 c. sugar
1 c. flour + 1 T for preparing pans
5 oz. butter
pinch of salt
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 t. vanilla

Now, while I fiddle with Julia’s ingredients a bit (she calls for “drops of lemon juice and vanilla” – whatever that means), I stick to her preparation guide fairly religiously: 

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  • Measure 1/4 c. eggs into bowl. Beat in sugar and flour. Blend and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Madelines 015


  • Melt butter in saucepan. Bring to a boil and let brown slightly (it should be a lovely caramel colour). Place 1 1/2 T. in a bowl and set aside (very important!)
  • Stir the rest of the butter over ice until cool but still liquid
  • Blend the cooled butter with the reserved 1/4 c. of the eggs into the butter with the salt, lemon juice, rind and vanillaMadelines 019
  • Mix remaining butter (1T) with the 1T of flour you have reserved, and use the mixture to prepare the madeleine pans. 
  • Divide batter into 24 lumps of 1 T each (okay, so I don’t follow this part so religiously – measuring 1 T for each madeleine should do the trick)Madelines 010
  • Bake 13-15 minutes or until browned around the edges and a teensy bit on top!Madelines 005

I love this recipe. I put a fair bit of lemon juice in my madeleines. I like them that way – they smell positively divine when they come out of the oven! And Julia’s trick of mixing the melted butter with the flour and using the mix to prep the pans is pure genius – there’s never so much as a speck of batter left clinging to the pan. All you need to do afterwards is rinse the pans with warm water. Don’t use any detergent – it’s unnecessary, and can harm the seasoning of the pan. Also, don’t buy a nonstick madeleine pan! It’s a terrible waste – not only are most nonstick pans junk, but even the expensive ones won’t allow your madeleines to brown properly.

These delightful cookies are pure poetry, and will leave delightfully perfumed crumbs in the bottom of your teacup after dunking. Feel free to use your spoon to capture a few, a la Proust, when no-one’s looking!

Now to the controversy. Levin extrapolates several things about Proust’s madeleines from the text, all of which seem silly to me. Most importantly, he argues that Proust’s madeleine would have needed to be very dry, in order produce such a quantity of crumbs. Now, this is plain nonsense. Has this guy ever dunked a donut? 

I could go on… but for now, I think I’ll just enjoy my madeleines. 

Julia Child’s Beurre Blanc

For the past few months, I’ve been a little more obsessed than usual about cooking. It started when my husband and I went to go see Julie and Julia a little while before the baby was born. We both loved the movie, and it inspired me to be a little more adventurous in the kitchen.

I’ve always loved to cook, but I’ve historically been rather timid when it comes to sauces. I tended to make a very good, but very safe, bechamel (and its variations) over and over again. This has changed! I have discovered that sauces are really quite simple, and so I’ve been charting new territory (for me) in the sauce department.

As part of my culinary inspiration, I’ve been reading Julia Child’s My Life in France (even better than the movie!). If that book doesn’t make you want to cook (or at least eat) really well, nothing will!

Sauce Beurre Blanc
1/4 cup white-wine vinegar
1/4 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth ( I used a Sauvignon Blanc)
1 tablespoon finely minced shallots or scallions
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
8 to 12 ounces [1 to 1 1/2 cups, or 2 to 3 sticks]
chilled best-quality unsalted butter, cut into 16 or 24 pieces

1. Begin by boiling the liquids.
2. Add the shallots and salt and pepper to taste.
3. Continue to simmer on a low heat until most of the liquid has evaporated.
4. Remove from heat.
5. Add butter to this mixture a piece or two at a time, taking time after each addition to whisk the mixture vigorously until the butter has been completely absorbed into the sauce before adding more butter.

The secret to getting sauces right is having all of the ingredients prepared ahead of time! Now when I cook I try to always have everything chopped and portioned ahead of time in little containers – it makes a world of difference!

Now, beurre blanc is amazing with fish, and I had two sea bass fillets that had been sitting in the freezer for weeks. You see, I can count on one hand the number of times that I ate fish at home as a child, and I’ve always been afraid of it. It always seemed like it would be immensely complicated.

Sea Bass Fillets with Mushrooms- Inspired by Julia, but with some revisions.
2 teaspoons butter
2 Tablespoons minced shallot
2 fillets of fish
salt and white pepper
juice of 1/2 fresh lemon (Julia wants you to use 2/3 cup white wine and 1/3 cup fish stock)
1 c thinly sliced crimini mushrooms (I just think they look better on the fish than white mushrooms).

1. Set pan over medium heat and add butter.
2. Sprinkle shallots and cook slowly to soften without colouring.
3. Remove from heat
4. Season fillets on both sides with salt and pepper.
5. Lay in pan skin side down (where skin used to be – the skin should be removed)
6. Pour in lemon juice (should be enough to cover fish 1/2 way).
7. Lay sliced mushrooms over the fillets.
8. Put parchment paper over the pan.
9. Put on lid and bring liquid to a simmer and hold for 5 minutes. Make sure fish is cooked throughout. Serve topped with the beurre blanc.

Now, Julia’s recipe (which is for sole) calls for fish stock and 2/3 cup wine, rather than the lemon juice. I’m sure she’s rolling in her grave, but I didn’t happen to have any fish stock lying around, and I wasn’t about to use another 2/3 cup wine in the fish. Moreover, as I mentioned earlier, this was the first time I’ve cooked fish, and I’ve never had ANY fish that I really liked, so I thought the lemon juice might make it less fishy.

Well, I will stand by my own recipe for two reasons: firstly, I LOVED it. Amazing! If I do say so myself. I have no more fear of cooking fish! Secondly, even though I used the juice of 1/2 lemon, the fish did not have an overpowering lemon flavour. At all.

Now, I’m a lousy food blogger, because I have no pictures. It looked so good, and we ate it immediately. Well, almost immediately – I had my dear husband stand in the kitchen and stir the sauce for about 20 minutes while I fed the baby and put her to sleep! So, you’ll have to use your imaginations, or better yet, make your own beurre blanc!

Oh, one more thing: this is a really rich sauce. I’m not sure how Julia managed to tuck into 1/2 cup of butter at a sitting, but we had a couple of tablespoons of sauce each and I ended up feeling just a wee bit ill. A cup of tea took care of that, but I’m going to have to work on my butter tolerance, as it appears I’m a bit of a lightweight in the beurre department.

Bon Appetit!

Paella Recipe

Paella is one of my favourite things to make for people. It’s extremely simple but is a great crowd pleaser. This recipe feeds four starving people, or 6 normal people. I have fed 15 people with it before, but it was a bit of a stretch! Of course, Paella works best if you have a Paella pan, but don’t worry at all if you don’t have one. They are really cheap though, and the traditional ones are made of steel, so they heat up really quickly and help speed up the cooking process.

Here’s my “12 step” Paella Recipe

3c. chicken stock–maybe a bit less
1 tsp./1 gram saffron
1/4 c. olive oil or so
chicken, if desired, raw shrimp/prawns, mussels and fresh sausage. Spanish chorizo is best of course, but if you don’t have “spanish sausage” italian sausage works beautifully.
1 fresh red pepper
4 cloves garlic
green beans(obviously not necessary! I was out when I made the Paella pictured above).
1 onion
1 tomato
1 and 1/2 cups medium grain rice (it’s really important that you use medium grain–otherwise the recipe won’t turn out quite right).

1. Toast the saffron a bit on the stove and grind it into powder with the back of a spoon. Add the powder to the chicken stock.
2. Heat pan and add oil
3. Saute shrimp, sausage and other meats (but not the mussells! We’ll do that later).
4. Saute onion and garlic until onion turns clear.
5. Add tomato to onion and season w/salt
6. Cook tomato and onion mixture until it darkens slightly
7. Add rice and stir for a minute or so until rice loses opaqueness
8. Pour in 3 cups chicken stock. Stir or shake pan so that the rice covers the bottom evenly.
9. When liquid boils, arrange the mussels in the pan, submerging them as much as possible. Add sliced red pepper and green beans on top. Don’t stir the rice from now on!
10. Cook on m. high, rotating the pan so that the mixture cooks evenly (8-10 minutes).
11. Reduce heat to medium low, cook for 10 more minutes.
12. After ten minutes, arrange the shrimp and sausage on top of the rice and cover with foil and cook for five minutes.

Some of the rice will stick to the bottom of the pan. This is a GOOD thing. It tastes amazing when the saffron rice carmelizes–I absolutely love this part!

Oatmeal, Porridge, Stir-about…

It’s certainly getting cold these days! I woke up this morning and just HAD to have porridge. Nothing warms the soul quite like a nice bowl of hot porridge!

When I was a kid we had it practically every day for breakfast. I wasn’t too fond of it because my mom always put raisins in it. But if you like them, knock yourself out!

I like the following recipe. A friend of mine introduced me to the idea of putting milk in my porridge while cooking it. It makes it sort of like rice pudding, only better!
Oliver Twist would definitely have wanted some more of this!

Anyway, here goes:

The Perfect Porridge

1 c. rolled oats (or steel cut oats, if you have loads of time)
1 c. milk
2 c. water
salt to taste

Top it off with real maple syrup for a real treat!

Enjoy! We had it for breakfast this morning and I had it for lunch as well!