Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Baked Potato Soup (Guest Post by Louise Barker)

My last blog post was in dedication to my friend, Erica Stark. I posted a link to that blog on Facebook, and as a result, one of Erica's old friends from university, Louise Barker, reached out to me. I was so excited to make a new connection through Erica, especially of someone who shares a love of food. We had a nice conversation over email and we talked about Erica, recipes, cooking, and a way to honour her memory. I decided to ask Louise if she would consider guest blogging for me. She said yes! Without further delay, here is her recipe (also in honour of Erica).

I met Erica in August 1991, in Room 409, Woodstock Hall Residence, McMaster University.  Erica was assigned to be my first year roommate – in fact she was one of my two roommates (’91 was a busy year at McMaster and they overbooked students and rooms).  Consequently, Erica, Jen and I were packed into what they referred to as the “submarine” room, there was only one on each floor.  This unique room was not your typical square dorm room but almost a galley.  If we had a friend visit (and often our friend Kristen was that visitor) the width of the four of us in a row, exceeded the width of the room.  Connecting from one side of the room to the other was strictly limited to one person at a time.  Needless to say, this was a situation that like most assigned roommate situations, at the end of the school year, you either didn’t like each other, tolerated through till the end or got along famously and made yourself a new great friend.  My experience was the latter!

Over the next 24 years of our friendship there were boyfriends, jobs, marriages, houses, decorating, family stories, renovating, travels, lots of red wine, babies (well, Erica had those), too many laughs to count, sharing difficult times and sad news. 

But during all those times, there was always food.  Our general habit was taking turns hosting dinner at our respective homes.  I always admired Erica’s culinary skills and how the dining experience at her house was like eating at a fine restaurant.  Erica always had the full meal experience (appetizers, salad, entrĂ©e, dessert, liquors).  I used to leave thinking to myself, “oh, mini pizzas are a great appetizer”, or “oh, limoncello is changing my life”!.  Throughout the years, it seems the LCBO Food and Drink was a main source of the recipes we tried and we enjoyed many fantastic meals.  The baked potato soup is one such recipe.

Last January (2014), Erica came to visit me in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  Erica was my first guest and I had been living in Halifax for only four months and we had lots to catch up on and only four days of time.  My objective was to ensure that all that time was quality time, so I got things like meals prepared as much as possible in advance.  That first night, after picking her up from the airport I had the baked potato soup ready for dinner.  The meal was a success in my book, as it gave us more time to sit and talk, but Erica also really enjoyed the soup.  Upon returning to Toronto, she requested the recipe and let me know that she was making it for the family and it was a success in the Stark home as well.

So this soup, for many reasons, will always remind me of my friend Erica, the last meal that I cooked for her, and a wonderful weekend together.  A weekend that epitomized that the depth and quality of a friendship transcends how often you email, talk or the proximity of where you live.  So 24 years later, I remember, I smile, I get inspired, I cry and always, I miss my wonderful, beautiful friend.

Baked Potato Soup Adapted from a recipe in the LCBO’s Food & Drink Magazine (Winter 2009)

This is a fun recipe as it allows an opportunity for your guests to make it their own and add any or all toppings that they choose, just like a baked potato!


½ cup chopped smoked bacon
1 cup chopped leeks (white and light green part only)
3 cups peeled, cubed potatoes
½ tsp each salt and pepper
1 cup dry white wine
3 cups chicken broth


Sour cream
Spring onions
Shredded old cheddar cheese
Crumbled blue cheese


In a large heavy saucepan, cook bacon over medium-high heat, stirring often, until crispy, about 6 minutes.  

      Using a slotted spoon, remove bacon and reserve for garnish.  Drain all but 1 tbsp of the fat from the pan.  Add leeks and cook until softened.

      Then add potatoes (perfect cubes are not necessary), salt and pepper, scraping any bits from the bottom of the pan.  

      Pour in wine and cook until reduced by half; pour in chicken broth and reduce heat to maintain a simmer until potatoes are very tender, about 15 minutes. Let cool slightly.

      Using a blender or a hand blender, puree soup until creamy and smooth. 

      Serve in warm soup bowls and add any or all of the toppings you want (see options).


Serves 4-6

Editor's Note: Erica's friends and family are working together to create an 'In Memoriam' cookbook that will be filled with Erica's favourite recipes, artwork from her kids and her kids' friends, photos, and much more. 

Erica loved to listen to music while cooking with her friends, so included in the book will be some of her favourite music suggestions from her university days (as suggested by Louise), as well as some recipes for (adult) beverages to accompany your next dance party. 

Stay tuned to this blog or to the Richler Recipes Facebook page for more information on this cookbook, the proceeds of which will be donated to a worthy charity, in honour of Erica Stark.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Lemon Squares (adapted from Alice Medrich's recipe)

This blog post is in honour of my friend, Erica Stark. 

Erica left our world far too soon; she had things to do, plans to make, trips to take, sons and a husband to love. She left behind those sons, that husband, an extended family including her parents - all grieving their sudden and completely unexpected loss, and still in disbelief three months later. 

She also left behind a large circle of devastated friends. She left behind a community, still surprised by her daily absence in the school yard, still looking for her at meetings and events. This community was strong when she was here, and has strangely become stronger since that fateful day. This strength is one of the gifts Erica left for us.

Erica loved to cook and bake for her family and friends, and sometimes even for strangers. Another gift that she left for us was a collection of recipes she shared with various friends and members of the community. In the weeks after her death, people shared stories of Erica and more often than not, the story was centred around food, or involved someone loving a recipe that had been shared by Erica.

I posted an Erica Stark recipe many moons ago, it was for her Lemon Loaf, a favourite in her home and now in ours as well (http://richlerrecipes.blogspot.com/2013/02/favourite-lemon-loaf.html). This recipe for Lemon Squares is not an Erica recipe, but I know she would have loved it because it is lemon and we shared a fondness for a good, tart, and fresh dessert. It's for this reason that I dedicate this post to her.

I miss you, Erica. Bye for now.

Ingredients (my edits are in brackets)

Yield: 16 squares
Note that these are in no way healthy! ~170 calories and close to 7g of fat each if you follow Alice's measurements. Slightly less if you use mine.

8 tbsp butter
1/4 granulated sugar (I used 1/8 cup - Erica and I both liked to cut back on sugar in recipes as much as possible)
3/4 tsp vanilla extract (always use real vanilla)
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup + 2 tbsp sugar (I used 2/3 cup)
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest (I used the grated rind of two lemons, which is more than 1 1/2 tsp)
1/2 cup strained fresh lemon juice (about two lemons)
2-3 tbsp powdered sugar, for dusting


Melt the butter in the microwave or in a pan on the stove. Remove from the heat and mix the sugar into the butter. Then add the vanilla and salt and stir again. Add the flour and mix until just incorporated. The mixture will appear crumbly in the bowl.

Line an 8" x 8" baking pan with either parchment paper or aluminum foil. Press the crust mixture into the pan evenly.

Bake at 350 F for 25-30 minutes, until the edges are golden brown.

While the crust is baking, prepare the filling.

Stir the flour and sugar together in your mixing bowl (I used my Kitchen Aid but you can also do this by hand).

Add the eggs and mix together on medium speed for about a minute.

Add the lemon zest and juice and mix again.

When the crust is ready, pull out the rack without removing the pan from the oven (I actually took mine out of the oven so I could take a photo - and they turned out just fine). Pour the lemon mix into the pan.

Turn the oven temperature down to 300 F and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the centre is not jiggly anymore (this was 20 minutes in my oven).

Once completely cooled, lift the foil or parchment to release the large square from the oven and peel the foil/paper away from the edges.

Cut into 16 squares.

Put some powdered sugar into a strainer and dust on top of the squares.

These squares will keep in the fridge for 3 days. After three days they will still taste good but the crust will be a bit soggy. You will have to re-dust with powdered sugar before serving as the sugar will melt into the lemon in the fridge.

Perfect with a cup of tea. Enjoy!

Note: I believe it would be possible to make this recipe gluten-free if you were to replace the all-purpose flour with a gluten free flour mix.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Pain de Campagne Poilane (Really Delicious Bread)

I make bread all the time. We have two favourites currently - challah (either braided or not, always with sesame seeds), and a Danish rye bread (no yeast!) that is super easy and just delicious. (http://richlerrecipes.blogspot.ca/2013/06/meretes-danish-rye-bread-from-susan.html). The other day we were having family over for brunch and I decided to make something new - a crusty and rich "blue ribbon" winning bread served hot out of the oven with shakshuka. Yummy. But that is not this recipe.

This recipe is the one that I passed by on my way to the other recipe. This recipe is the one I read, with great interest, and then decided I was too lazy to attempt (this bread takes three days to make). Then myself spoke to myself and said, "Of course you have to try the recipe", and here we are.

One of the things that caught my eye when I read this recipe was the fact that it is from Poilane in Paris. Poilane is one of the best bakeries in Paris and this is their feted peasant loaf (theirs is 2 kg in size and is in the form of a cluster of grapes). The bread contains both whole wheat and white flours, has just the right level of saltiness, and a beautiful golden brown crust. And it takes three days to make. For real.

I am here to tell you that it is worth three days. It's not like it's three full days of work anyway - the first two days are mostly spent watching the yeasty mixture bubble, rise, and then fall, again, and again, and again. Then on day three the fun starts - it comes in the form of kneading, rising, rising, shaping, and finally baking. Last, but most certainly not least, you get to eat it.

If I were you I'd take a look at your calendar and pencil this one in.

This is Pain de Campagne Poilane from Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads (awesome book and a great resource: http://www.amazon.ca/Bernard-Claytons-Complete-Book-Breads/dp/0743287096)



1 cup fine or stone ground whole wheat flour (I used regular whole wheat flour)
1 tbsp nonfat dry milk
2 packages dry yeast 
1 cup hot water (120-130 degrees F)


2 cups hot water (120-130 degrees F)
3 cups bread or all-purpose flour (I used all-purpose)


1 tbsp salt 
3 cups bread or all-purpose flour (I used all-purpose)


(Note: Clayton provides the method for a food processor as well as by hand and using a mixer. I am going to provide the directions I followed.)


Measure the flour, non-fat dry milk, and the yeast into a medium-sized bowl. Stir in the hot water (it will look like a batter). Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and leave for 24 hours at room temperature.

For a description of what will happen over the first 24 hours, see above.


After 24 hours, this is what the starter looked like when I removed the plastic wrap:

At this point I switched the mixture to a larger bowl (glass salad bowl). 

Pour the hot water into the starter:

Then stir in the white flour:

The batter will be thick, as in the photo below.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave for another 24 hours, or at least overnight (I waited 24 hours).


This is what the sponge will look like after the second 24 hour period:

Stir the mixture. Then add the salt and stir again. Add the white flour, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring after each addition, by hand or by mixer. If it gets to hard to stir, you can opt to use your hands to mix it together instead. (I stirred the additions by hand). This will take up to 20 minutes depending on which method you choose. 


Once the flour was added, I tossed the whole thing into the mixer with the dough hook for the kneading. I added at least another two cups of all-purpose flour on top of what the recipe called for, once it was in the mixer. The amount you will need to add will depend on the humidity. Knead for approximately ten minutes. 


Grease a large bowl with oil or spray with cooking spray. Pop the dough into the bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Leave at room temperature. The first rising should last 1 1/2 hours, until the dough has doubled in size (at least).

At this point my Mom took over (for the rising, rising, shaping, and baking) because I had to go to work! What this means is I don't have her photos, but if you are reading this blog tonight, rest assured I will add her photos tomorrow.


After 1 1/2 hours, punch down the dough and plop it out of the bowl onto a floured work surface. Divide into four balls of dough (my Mom made five smaller loaves, you could also make one gigantic loaf, or whatever you want). The dough is soft so it may fall if you don't use bread pans (we used bread pans). Cover with wax paper and leave at room temperature for two hours (until the loaves triple in size (at least).


Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. About 20 minutes before you're ready to bake the loaves, place a boiler pan on the bottom rack of the oven to warm up. This next part could get dangerous - about five minutes before you're ready to bake, take one cup of hot water and pour it into the hot broiler pan (be careful, will ya?!?).

Before you put the loaves in the oven, brush the tops with water and make cuts in the tops (like an x, see photo below). These cuts allow the bread to expand further in the hot oven.

Let the loaves bake for 20 minutes and then change their positions for the rest of the baking time (15-20 minutes). The total cooking time is 35-40 minutes. The water in the broiler pan underneath should evaporate in this amount of time. Clayton suggests using less water next time if it hasn't evaporated by then. The crust should be golden on all sides and if you tap the bread, it should sound hollow. If the bottom crusts are not golden brown, you can turn the loaves over in their pans and bake them for another 10 minutes. 

Allow the loaves to cool completely on wire racks.