During this bizarre year of COVID constraints, home cooks have had to develop adaptive culinary behaviours to increase our success in the kitchen. Sometimes key ingredients for a recipe simply weren’t available, so we acquired new competencies. We became masters of substitution. Old tricks our mothers taught us came back to the fore, like souring milk with a teaspoon of vinegar if we didn’t have buttermilk, or using yogurt instead.
We started designing meals around what we could find, choosing recipes that had a certain amount of flex, that could bend to the occasion if the cupboard was bare of oregano, but rich in pasture sage, or if the bacon was finished, but there was still some moose sausage left. Sensitive to our plight, online cooks and bloggers accommodated us, offering bendy dishes that could support all kinds of changes and substitutions. One such gift came over the transom from the New York Times in mid-February; a recipe by Dorie Greenspan for cake salé, a savoury bread served in France at the cocktail hour to accompany the aperitif.
Savoury Quick Bread, or Cake Salé
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan
4 ounces Feta cheese, coarsely crumbled
½ cup dried apricots, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
¼ cup low bush cranberries
⅓ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp dried pasture sage (substitute ½ tbsp dried rosemary or thyme)
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp Kosher salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 large eggs, at room temperature
⅓ cup milk, at room temperature
⅓ cup olive oil
1 tbsp birch syrup
1 tbsp orange zest
Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350F. Butter a 9x5-inch loaf pan.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper. In another bowl, mix the dried fruit and herbs, and keep the cranberries and cheese at hand.
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs until frothy, then whisk in the milk, oil, birch syrup and orange zest.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir until just about blended. Add the dried fruit and herbs, stir once or twice, then add the feta and cranberries and combine everything with a few swift strokes.
Scrape the dough into the pan with a spatula, pressing the dough into the corners. Smooth out the top by patting it with a wet hand. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until the top is golden, the cake has started to pull away from the sides of the pan, and a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
Unmould the cake onto a rack, turn it right side up and let it cool to room temperature. To serve, cut the loaf into thick slices, and cut the slices into smaller lengths. Have some tapenade and some ricotta or goat cheese on the side, and try out all the combinations. The loaf will keep for several days, wrapped well, and it’s great toasted on the second or third day.
You can do just about anything with this bread, as long as you don’t fool around with the basic proportions. Substitute olives or sundried tomatoes for the dried fruit, throw in bits of chorizo or ham, or use any herbs and cheese you have on hand (grate the harder cheeses like Parmesan). Once you start exploring you’ll find recipes that substitute butter for oil, or even mayonnaise. See? You can do anything with this bread.
I first experimented with the version here, adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s, to pair with Free Pour Jenny’s “Be My Clementine” Valentine’s Day cocktail. Jenn was inspired by the Clementines, Mineola and blood oranges suddenly abundant in the supermarket. I thought it would be fun to echo those bright citrus flavours in a savoury treat.
That’s where the tapenade with orange juice and dried cranberries came from too—olive tapenade is another highly flexible appetizer, with different versions tumbling out of Provence, Sicily and Northern California. Tapenade often calls for capers and anchovies, yes, but sometimes raisins or currants instead, or even walnuts, or orange instead of lemon juice.
Olive and Dried Cranberry Tapenade
Olives with pits retain their flavour better than pitted, but do use pitted if you want to save time. I find chopping the olives by hand results in a pleasing chunky texture, but again, if you want to save time, put all the ingredients in a food processer and pulse until combined, stopping before the tapenade is smooth.
1½ cups Kalamata olives, un-pitted, or 1 cup pitted (feel free to use big green olives, or a combination of black and green)
¼ cup dried cranberries
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
¼ cup olive oil
½ tsp fennel seeds, crushed in a mortar and pestle
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
So go ahead and experiment. The safety net is roomy and, besides, you’ve got all these new competencies now, might as well use them. If you want to try these offerings with one of Free Pour Jenny’s orangey cocktails, check her recipes below (Feb 24 issue of WUY). Report back! What did you think?
Michele Genest is a Whitehorse-based chef and writer. She is also somewhat of a gardener. Michele has also written two books “The Boreal Feast - A Culinary Journey Through The North” and “The Boreal Gourmet - Adventures In Northern Cooking.”
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