Friday, December 30, 2011

Bonne Année, Jehane Benoît!

Christmas has come and gone. December is nearly over. And we’ve calculated that between New York and a couple of stints at Andrew’s parents’, we’ve spent as much of the month away as we have at home.

All that to say I’ve been far from the kitchen and the recipe I’m sharing today dates back to before Christmas. But tourtière, that ubiquitous French Canadian meat pie, is just as appropriate for New Year’s Eve as it is on Christmas.

A note on the recipe : It’s my mum’s, but she derived it from the Québécoise culinary great of the 1960’s and 70’s, Jehane Benoît. She’s relatively unknown to Anglo-Canadians, but her 1963 Encyclopédie de la cuisine canadienne sold a million and a half copies. She was a constant in my mum’s cooking when I was growing up, and my mum’s a helluva good cook, so I owe Jehane a mention.

I’ll leave the piecrust recipe up to you. The best choice is a lard-based crust, but I’ve used a butter crust, which was just fine.

La tourtière aux quatre épices (Four spice meat pie)

5 lbs ground meat (ideally, one third pork, two thirds beef)

1 cup water

1 large onion, diced

1 ½ tablespoon salt

1 tablespoon ground pepper

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon powdered ginger

About 1 cup bread crumps, perhaps more

(Enough pie dough for three 9-inch pies, including top sheets)

Preheat the oven to 400F. In a large, sturdy pot (cast iron, if possible), combine all the ingredients, save for the breadcrumbs. Stirring from time to time, brown the meat on medium-high heat on the stovetop, uncovered. When the meat is cooked through and the ingredients are well combine, turn the heat way down, and start adding the breadcrumbs. This is a gradual thing – you want just enough breadcrumbs to absorb the liquid, but not so much that you end up with a mouthful of dry stuff.

Turn the heat off, and let it cool while you prepare three piecrusts. Fill each crust with a third of the meat mix, and cover with a top crust. If you have a little extra trimming, apply decorative piecrust by dampening it a tad.

Bake for about half an hour, or until your crust is cooked and golden, and the meat is piping hot.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Where do I start about New York?

In Central Park Zoo, four trainers fed four sea lions. The sea lions performed tricks, and then gobbled sardines or kippers or some kind of fish. I was too mesmerized to take photos.

Four days in New York is not enough. We walked, ate, gawked, we rode the subway. We also stopped for cold beers in cozy bars as often as we could manage.

We were lucky to have a list of recommendations from Mika. Every time we stopped for a snack or a pint, we referred to that list, to a map, and then back to that list.

High on the list was Prune. We ate the trip’s last meal there.

I need to go back and eat some more.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What December 1st looks like

Some of what I saw on my walk to work this Thursay, December 1st morning. The croissants are at Clafouti, a lovely café on Queen Street West, right across from Trinity Bellwoods Park, where I had a delicious mushroom and asiago croissant sandwich.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

An unusual soup

Look, it’s unconventional.

I’ll cut straight to the chase. I made a soup last night that involved bacon, curry powder, and a good dose of dry sherry. The fact that I had very little going for me in the fridge is not a factor. This was a pre-meditated, weird and unusual soup. I thought about it long and hard. And I made it anyway.

And it’s brilliant.

I am exaggerating about my level of insanity here. But. BUT. Have you ever come across a recipe that involves curry and bacon. Have you?

Actually, wait a sec. I’m going to look it up:

Nope, nothing. Even this excellent book would never pair the words “bacon” and “curry.”

But I did.

Okay, enough drama. I made a soup, and it should have been weird, but it was very good. That’s it.

Also, it’s not that weird.

What follows is an approximation of what I made. Forgive the vague instructions. This is based on a memory of something that I didn’t think would work—so I kept no notes.

Squash, bacon and curry soup

In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat a small splash of oil (grapeseed will do). Add two rashers of double-smoked bacon (sliced). Fry for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until the bacon starts to colour.

Then add one diced carrot and one sliced leek. Sautee for a few minutes more.

Now add about two teaspoons of good quality curry powder, two cloves of garlic (finely chopped), and one small chili pepper (finely chopped). Turn the heat right up, and cook for a minute or so, stirring constantly.

Now add a good, decent splash of dry sherry, stirring. It will evaporate quickly.

Time to add one butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed. And a 14 oz can of whole tomatoes, along with its juices. And a litre of vegetable broth.

Add a good pinch of fleur de sel. Bring to a boil, then a simmer.

Simmer for a good half hour, until all the vegetables are very tender. Puree with a hand blender until very smooth. Add a can of coconut milk. Stir, and serve in bowls with a large handful of chopped fresh cilantro.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A dark, spicy cookie

There’s a real cold weather feel to these cookies. They’re dark, spicy, and rich, but also slightly dry, like biscotti. Just the kind of thing you’d want to dunk into hot chocolate after a cold skating session. Recently, my friend Nadia (who keeps this lovely blog) asked me about cookies to bake for Christmas. These are the first that came to mind.

The recipe has been in my tattered Duo-Tang for as long as I’ve been stuffing recipes into it. My aunt Hélène told me about them. She calls them heart attack cookies—presumably for the sheer shock of realizing how much cocoa they contain.

I’ve tweaked them slightly to make them even spicier, but feel free to omit the cayenne. The back pepper, coffee, and cinnamon are a necessity. Remember you’ll also need to refrigerate the dough for at least a few hours before baking.

Heart attack cookies

¾ cups unsalted butter, softened

1 cup white sugar

1 large egg

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon baking soda

¾ cup good quality cocoa powder

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon finely ground coffee

½ teaspoon cinnamon

a pinch or two cayenne pepper

In a large bowl, mix the butter and sugar with an electric beater, until creamy. Add the egg and vanilla, and beat until fluffy.

In a separate bowl, combine all the other ingredients. Mix well, and tip into the butter mixture. Mix the dough with a spoon, until there are no lumps of flour and the texture is uniform.

Next, you’ll need to form a log with the dough. I find it easiest to gather the dough with my hands, and dump in directly onto a large sheet of wax paper. Form the log with your hands—it should be about two inches in diameter. Sprinkle it with a bit of white sugar, wrap it well in the wax paper, and refrigerate for a few hours, or overnight.

Pre-heat the oven to 375 F. Unwrap the log, and slice it into pucks (about half an inch thick). Bake for 12 minutes on a greased cookie sheet. Remove, and cool on a rack.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Cat In A Box

I don’t remember getting a case of Duggan’s No. 9 IPA, but I found the box at the very back of the closet. As soon as I took it out, the cat claimed it.

It’s been a week, and she still spends her sleeping (and sit-and-stare) hours in it.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Cookie Imitation is the Best Form of Flattery

On Thursday, I stopped into Dark Horse Espresso Bar on Queen West, and two things happened; first I ran into the lovely Derek Easton, of Easton’s in Toronto’s Kensington Market, and then I ate the best oatmeal cookie out there.

This post is about the cookie, but I should mention that Derek told me about the dry chorizo the venison sausages that he now has in the shop. He convinced me, and now both types of sausages are at my house.

But the cookie! It’s an oatmeal, pistachio, and fig cookie, which I’ve replicated, more or less. Happily, I share with you my version of the cookie.

Oatmeal, Pistachio and Fig Cookies
Makes about two dozen cookies

1 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup salted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar, packed
¼ cup granulated white sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons Bourbon (or vanilla)
¼ cup water
2 ¾ cups rolled oats (not quick oats)
¾ (100g) cup pistachios, roasted at 300F for ten minutes, and coarsely chopped
10 dried figs ( about 100 g), with the “twig” removed, and chopped into raisin-sized chunks.

Pre-heat the oven to 375F.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In a larger, bowl, combine the butter and the sugar. Blend with an electric mixer for a minute. Add the egg and Bourbon. Continue mixing until the mixture is light and fluffy.

Add the flour mixture into the butter mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon, and alternating with the water. Stir in the oats, nuts and fruit.

On a greased cookie sheet, drop well-rounded teaspoons, flattening each cookie with the back of the spoon. Bake for ten minutes. Cool on a rack.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Process

Sometimes, the outcome is not what you’d hoped for but the novelty of having ever tried in the first place redeems the experience.

Apparently Teddy Roosevelt, on his first buffalo hunt in the Dakotas’ Badlands (a trip that, by the way, partly fueled his devotion to national parks), lived for the process. After days in the blistering sun, little to drink, rain soaked camping blankets, nothing but dry biscuits to eat, and not a single successful shot, Roosevelt enthusiastically proclaimed, “By Godfrey, but this is fun!”

And that’s how I felt about my new pasta machine.

Don’t get me wrong, Yotam Ottolenghi’s instructions for Saffron tagliatelle with spiced butter (from his book, Plenty), are very good. The fragrant butter sauce is exciting, and the turmeric-stained pasta dough is flawless. It’s just that I’ve never used a pasta machine. And I’m afraid that in the end, the resulting meal was more like Spaetzle (a slightly gummy, sticky German squirt noodle), and less like a delicate tagliatelle.

Perhaps one day, when I’ve perfected the art of cranking out my own pasta, I will share some version of the recipe. But for now, here are some photos of The Process.

All photographs by Andrew Budziak

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A hot lemon soup to cure you

The flu renders me useless. For instance, when I made this soup on Wednesday, there wasn’t much hope I’d get a better photo.

It went as follows: Make soup. Take a shitty picture. Whimper miserably. And sink into the couch with this hot, nourishing lemon and butter noodle soup.

Of course, this is best made with homemade chicken broth, if you have it. But if you’re the one fighting the flu, seriously, don’t bother. For God’s sake, don’t make chicken stock form scratch if you’re sick. Keep it easy, that’s the whole point of this recipe.

Lemon and butter noodle soup

Adapted from a recipe in Tessa Kiros’ “Apples for Jam”

Serves 3

1 litre chicken broth

The juice of half a lemon

1 oz butter

3-4 oz spaghetti, broken up into 1 centimetre pieces

Grated Parmesan cheese

Black pepper

A sprinkling of dried mint leaves

Bring the broth, lemon juice and butter to boil in a pan, and lower to a gentle simmer. Let the flavours marry, simmering for 5 minutes or so. Add the noodles, bringing the soup up to a more enthusiastic simmer, but not a roaring boil, by any means. Cook the noodles about as long as the package instructs, minus 30 seconds or so, since they will continue to cook after the soup is served. Add pepper to taste.

Ladle the soup into bowls, sprinkle with the cheese and the mint, and serve.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Making bread, part two

We flew back from Manitoba last month with a suitcase that weighed 98 pounds. It was full of frozen lamb, canned vegetables from the farm, and … a Black & Decker bread maker.

My mum bought it for us at the second hand store in Steinbach, Manitoba, which is run by the Mennonite Central Committee. It cost her twenty dollars. It came with a handwritten recipe, an add-on from the MCC volunteer who kindly tested the bread machine before putting on the shelf.

Now, I’ve written about another bread I’ve been making – a Nigel Slater loaf – and of course proper homemade bread is beautiful and therapeutic in its kneading, punching, and rising. I’ll keep that recipe close too. But machine bread is a snap to make. And it’s also a good recipe to have up your sleeve.

Since I brought this baby home, I’ve been baking all my one loaves, tweaking that recipe ever so slightly each time. More than a month and a dozen loaves later, I can tell you, confidently, that I’ve got the recipe I like.

Automatic Bread

This, of course, is only the kind of recipe that works if you have a bread maker. And if you have a bread maker, you know that the recipe “instructions” are unbelievably simple: 1) put the ingredients, in the order listed, in the baking pan; 2) insert the pan into the machine; 3) turn the machine on, according to the manufacturer’s instructions; 4) go away. This recipe is perfect for the machine’s 2 lb setting.

1 ¼ cup water

4 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp sugar

1 heaping tsp salt

2 cups white flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/3 cup mix of interesting dry bits (seeds/chopped nuts/cornmeal/wheat germ/steel cut oats, etc)

1 tsp traditional yeast

Friday, September 9, 2011

Evidence of September

Fall is here, or approaching anyway. I know this because of the vegetables I picked up at the Metro Square farmer’s market on Thursday.

Well, everything but the lemons and limes. I'll admit that.

And I know it's September because the sun looks like this, at 7 o’clock.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Delinquently yours,

These last few weeks, I've been taking photos instead of cooking. Though, arguably, these are photos of food, aren’t they?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Late July

We spent the weekend at the farm again, where I lazily watched my mum make the year’s first pickles. We had grilled venison for supper, and then went for a walk at sunset. As we watched the sun dip into fields, my mum recalled something she’d read from an Albertan landscape artist, something to the effect of: “Out here, the sky is the landscape.” I think the same goes for parts of Manitoba.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Fresh Peas Go Pop

Photo: Andrew Budziak

It’s true, they do. When they’re just right—when the pod is firm, but the peas are small enough to leave room for an air pocket—they make a great little popping sound.

But I’m sure you know this already. Maybe you too spent time on the porch as a kid, shelling peas for supper. Hardly a chore, really, especially when you’re sneaking them into your mouth by the handful. They’re so sweet.

Photo: Andrew Budziak

This summer, I get to shell peas again. Andrew and I are in Winnipeg, but on the weekends, we go to the farm, where my mum’s garden is gorgeous, and full of promise. It’s also full of beets, summer squash, and carrots. And until last weekend, it was full of peas. But we took care of that.

Photo: Andrew Budziak

I made these peas-on-toast a few nights ago. It’s great as a part of one of those light, I-don’t-really-want-to-eat nights, with a small pile of scrambled eggs. It’s not much of a recipe, more of a splash of this, and a knob of that. And if you have a food processor, it will be even faster than my fork-smashing method.

AND: This sounds crazy. It certainly did when I described my sandwich to my colleagues the next day. But as leftovers, they make a great sandwich, with good crusty bread and smoky cheese.

Fork-smashed peas-on-toast

Makes four large toasts

2 cups of fresh shelled green peas

2 tablespoons salted butter

a good splash of white wine

a crusty baguette

1 large garlic clove, halved

1 or 2 tablespoons of olive oil

In a large sauté pan, heat the butter to melt, on medium heat. When it is completely melted, add the peas, and toss to coat. Turn the heat up just a tad, so that the wine will get a good sizzle when it hits the pan. Add the wine, and adjust the heat so that the peas cook gently, and the alcohol evaporates. Well, mostly, anyway. What you want is cooked peas that are still bright green, but soft enough to mash. This should take somewhere between 5 – 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, turn the broiler on in your oven, and set the grill about five inches from the element. Cut you bread; once right across, for two halves. Then cut each through the middle of their lengths. Think: two 6 inch subs. These will be your four toasts. Next, brush the olive oil on the cut side of each toast. Place them on a baking pan, cut side up, and place under the broiler until just toasted. Turn over, and toast the underside.

When the bread is toasted, rub the garlic on the oiled side of the bread. Set aside. Your peas should ready. If they have a lot of liquid, drain them. Then, with a fork, give them a good smushing—they need to be spreadable peas, not the kind of peas that keep rolling off your toast. Finally, spread the peas on the cut side of the toast, piled high. A sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan would be nice, too.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

New policy: Keep your bread recipe handy

I made these loaves months ago, and I’ve been wanting to post this picture for just as long. It's a simple white bread recipe by Nigel Slater, in Appetite. Because my cookbooks are in the Toronto apartment, I can’t refer back to them today to remember just how the recipe goes. That seems a shame. Perhaps a new policy is in order; always keep a good bread recipe handy.

What I can tell you is that Nigel Slater loves good toast. And this bread makes the best toast. A good thick layer of butter, and a veil-thin spread of jelly elevate it to, possibly, my favourite comfort food.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The things that matter

We arrived in Winnipeg yesterday. For me, it means moving home for the summer. We’ll be here for two months—just long enough for Manitoba to sink in, and to get good use of the best of Manitoba’s farms and gardens.

We’re living in a small sublet apartment, in Wolseley. It’s a place where, when it rains, you can stroll on the sidewalk without getting wet. The thickness of the elm canopy protects you. There seems to be a bakery at every corner.

I only packed one cookbook, in an effort to pare down. The Flavour Thesaurus is not a recipe book, but an idea generator. It treats ingredients like they belong on a colour wheel. For each entry—from figs, to capers, to chicken—it has a long list of pairings.

For instance:

Dill. Why not dill and beef? Dill and avocado? You’ve heard of dill and potatoes, of course. But did you think it might work with turmeric and chilies, as an Indian dish?

Of course, The Flavour Thesaurus is more eloquent than I'm being here, but you get the idea. Its purpose is to inspire and guide, not to instruct.

And that is the kind of summer I’m ready for. A pared-down, inspired summer. A summer where the few essentials—close friends and family, a single cookbook, and a few things in the fridge—are the source of inspiration in my cooking.

As for those few items in the fridge, here are some of them. The bare essentials, according to, well, me. Happy summer, and expect to hear more from me.