Weeknight Farro Salad

This one is for days when you trail the sleeve of your favourite, freshly-washed grey sweater through a bowl of raw chicken marinating in BBQ sauce; for weeks when your laptop suddenly dies, quite unceremoniously, after six years of dutiful service; for moments when you come home from work, cold, soaked and exhausted to find a mound of wet mail in your mail box because the flap stayed open on that one day of record-breaking snowfall.

Simply put, this recipe is for days when you have little to no patience, time, energy, or wherewithal to make something for dinner that surpasses boiling a pot of water, or turning the crank of the can opener. Because, frankly, there are days when the idea of cooking with love makes us sick to our stomach. Yes? Yes.

But you’re an able-bodied, responsible adult. So tortilla chips and a glass of wine for dinner – a third night in a row – feels heinously unjustifiable. You need something that won’t make you feel like the contents of a garbage bag come two hours; something that sustains you, but is fun to eat. I’m here to share a preemptive coup de génie for moments like these (one I borrowed from this post on Molly Wizenberg’s blog Orangette): earlier in the week, when you’ve got a little time on your hands, cook a batch of farro and store it in the fridge. (For the unacquainted: farro is a sturdy, nutty grain that can be eaten hot or cold, often used in recipes instead of barley or freekah or rice. I buy the Bob’s Red Mill because that’s what the Middle Eastern shop down the street stocks. But you can use any kind you like. (p.s before you have a heart-attack, that online price tag linked above – of $49.50 – is for a 25 lb bag).

Now that you’ve got a batch of pre-cooked farro hanging out in the fridge, all that’s left to do is open a can a chickpeas (because, let’s be real – you didn’t soak and cook chickpeas from scratch, did you?), shred some veg and make a quick dressing. This salad is my kitchen-sink salad – meaning I use whatever veg on I have on hand, and treat the farro, chickpeas, feta and the dressing as my anchors. In the spring and summer (when the photos below were taken), I might toss in some red endive, asparagus, or watercress. In the fall and winter, I might opt for carrots, beets, arugula or a bit of raw kale. It’s a game of mix-and-match. Use whatever you like best. The idea is to get some crunch and colour in there, and some veg that with pair up nicely with the spiky dressing and the creamy feta. This is a don’t-overthink-it salad; a work-week salad; a gift to you on the longest of days.

Enjoy.

Farro

Farro Salad with Veg and Chickpeas (makes about 4 cups) – lightly adapted from Molly Wizenberg’s recipe from Orangette

  • 1 cup farro
  • ½ tsp. salt

For the dressing:

  • 2 Tbsp. fish sauce
  • 3 Tbsp. lime juice
  • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 6-8 Tbsp. water, to taste
  • 1 garlic clove, minced or pressed

For the salad*:

  • 1 cup chickpeas, either canned (drained and rinsed) or cooked from dried
  • 1 red Belgian endive leaves (or radicchio, or escarole, or watercress, or arugula)
  • 1 carrot, julienned or cut into strips (or beets)
  • a few blanched asparagus, coarsely chopped (or green beans)
  • 1/2 cup feta, coarsely crumbled (or soft goat’s cheese)
  • handful of chopped parsley

In a medium saucepan, cover the farro with cold water and set it aside to soak for 30 minutes. Then drain the farro, put it back into the saucepan, and add 3 cups of cold water and ½ teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil; then reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook until tender but still a little chewy (40-45 minutes). When it’s ready, drain it, and either use it while it’s warm or transfer it to a storage container for later use. (Cooked farro will keep for a few days in the fridge.)

To make the dressing, combine the fish sauce, lime juice, 1 tablespoons of the brown sugar, 6 tablespoons of the water, the garlic, and chile in a small bowl. Whisk well. Adjust the seasonings to taste. (Covered and chilled, the dressing will keep for 3-4 days.)

To assemble the salad, put the farro in a wide bowl (if the farro is cold, you might want to warm it a bit. Or you might choose to eat it cold, if that’s your jam.) Add the veg and parsley. Top with a generous amount of crumbled feta. Then drizzle over the dressing and toss to combine.

A note on mouth-breathing: if you’re having this salad at lunch at work, or before a date or at any time right before you’re about to mouth-breathe in the company of human being, do them a favour and have a breath mint or toothbrush at the ready. Armoured with all that raw garlic and fish sauce, this dressing is potent (albeit delicious) stuff.

farro

010

A Cake for Non-Bakers

Sometimes there’s the assumption that, because you know how to cook, it naturally follows that you know how to bake; that for the food-obsessed home cook, the realm of savoury and sweet are completely interchangeable.

Please allow me to put that assumption to bed.

Cooking and baking are two different beasts – not mutually exclusive, but not close bedfellows either. Slipping a pot roast in the oven is not the same as, say, slipping a pan of brioche dough into the oven. Not at ALL the same. While I’m a decent home cook, I wouldn’t go as far to call myself a baker. I’ve certainly baked things before – lots of things – but I’ve never really done it with the same confident ease that flows through the veins of seasoned bakers. There are people who whip around the kitchen like they were born with a whisk in one hand and a battered spatula in the other. These people are forces of nature.

In contrast, baking for me usually involves a lot of lip-biting, heavy sighing, cursing and finger-crossing. I’ve had my fair share of lumpy, jiggly, over-baked, under-baked, quivering specimens come out of the oven, which means that each time I step into the kitchen to bake something new, there’s a little bit of PTSD that creeps in. I gnaw at my cuticles. I get cold sweats. I pray a little harder to the gods of sugar and spice and everything nice. Sometimes things work out (almond meringues, whipped to perfection!), sometimes they don’t (cherry clafouti that looks and tastes like punishment!). It’s a game of baking Russian roulette, really. Except that when things start to go downhill (why isn’t the cream setting? why are there knubs in the frosting? why is the centre still uncooked, but the bottom nearly burnt?), I remember that, in my case, there are several bullets in the barrel…not just one.

Strangely, these failures haven’t stopped me trying to be a better baker. They’ve actually had the opposite effect – I still bookmark the sweets sections of my cookbooks and turn baking magazines into fringed monsters with Post-Its; I continue to fatten up my Pinterest board with baking ideas that may or may not materialise (I’m looking at you, cannelés…). It’s a habit that’s equal parts romanticism, masochism and obstinance, but it’s part of a larger goal of not letting fear dictate what I make (or don’t make) in the kitchen, even if it means burning a few things in the process.

That said…

…I do have a pretty bad Valentine’s Day track record. So this year I’ve decided to cool it with the overly-complicated, thematic baked goods (it’s a disease; send help). Instead, I’m proposing something for the non-bakers in all of us. Something dead-simple and ultra-delicious that can be thrown together quicker than you can say “I’m so glad I didn’t burn another batch of god*amn cupcakes”.

May I present your new favourite back-pocket recipe, for:

CARROT CAKE WITH CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

You’ve had a version of this cake before, I’m sure. But the one I’ve got here is 100% foolproof, straight from the ever-dependable, Canadian Living Test Kitchen. It’s been one of my mom’s go-to cake recipes for years and it’s always perfect. It isn’t French pâtisserie; it doesn’t require chilling or resting or parbaking or leavening or whipping egg whites into stiff peaks. In other words, it’s a very forgiving cake. Which is a good thing when you’re not preternaturally skilled in the baking department.

I’m certain your Valentine will appreciate the gesture. (Especially because it means they won’t have to eat another batch of punishment cupcakes.)

Happy Love Day to all of you. x

—–

A note on decorating: as it turns out, my cake-decorating skills are about as limited as my baking skills, which explains why the final result looks a little like a confederate flag from a usurped Dutch republic. But, no matter. The important thing is that your cake is delicious. You’re not Martha Stewart and this isn’t a beauty contest. So if your candied orange rosettes look more like something off a cheap sushi platter, it’s no big deal. Own it. Because you did, after all, make a wicked cake. Rosettes or no rosettes.

iced cake

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and Candied Carrots – cake and icing from Canadian Living/candied carrots from Ricardo Cuisine

Makes two (2) 8-inch square cakes (can be layered, or served separately) – serves 12-14

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups grated carrots
  • 1 cup drained crushed canned pineapple
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans

Icing:

  • 1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup icing sugar

Directions:

1) Grease and flour two 8″ square cake pans ; set aside.

2) In large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, salt and nutmeg.

3) In separate bowl, beat together granulated and brown sugars, eggs, oil and vanilla until smooth; pour over flour mixture and stir just until moistened. Stir in carrots, pineapple and pecans. Spread in prepared pan.

4) Bake in centre of 350°F oven for 40 minutes or until cake tester inserted in centre comes out clean. Let cool in pan on rack. (Make-ahead: Cover with plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up to 2 days.)

Icing: In bowl, beat cream cheese with butter until smooth. Beat in vanilla. Beat in icing sugar, one-third at a time, until smooth. Spread over top of cake. (Make-ahead: Cover loosely and refrigerate for up to I day.)

Candied carrots (optional):

  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) orange juice
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) sugar
  • 2 small, thick carrots, thinly sliced lengthwise (on a mandolin or with a vegetable peeler)

In a saucepan, bring the orange juice and sugar to a boil. Add the sliced carrots. Simmer until tender and translucent, about 8 minutes depending on thickness. Let cool completely. Drain. Arrange on cake as desired.

candied carrots

icing cake -1 icing cake - 2 icing cake - 3 cake layers cake slice

Ramen mania

“30 cloves of peeled garlic”

Those words alone should have been enough to dissuade me. Or any normal human being. But instead I found myself on the metro on a Sunday morning, heading to my friend Michael’s, with a backpack reeking of pork braised in thirty – yes, thirty – cloves of garlic, along with a small army of mason jars filled with stock and chicken schmaltz. If I’d been passing through US customs, I would’ve been toast. Those airport beagles would’ve torn me to shreds.

So why travel 40 minutes from home with a backpack stuffed with unidentifiable, pungent edibles that, under different circumstances, would’ve gotten me swiftly escorted to airport security? Ramen, baby. That’s why.

I’ve had ramen on the brain for a few weeks now, and it turns out I’m not the only one: Lucky Peach recently compiled a Guide to the Regional Ramen of Japan. Grub Street and Rachel Khoo both featured stories on the topic last week. And just a few days ago, NOWNESS re-posted its short film, “The Eight Chapters of Ramen“, about NYC ramen chef-extraordinaire, Ivan Orkin. It’s a topic that’s been part of the zeitgeist for a couple of years now, but I get the sense that this year, 2015, will be ramen mania, full steam ahead.

Consider yourselves warned.

In theory, I dig the idea of ramen – the salty broth packed to the gills with umami, the melt-in-your-mouth pork belly, the slippery noodles, the soft-boiled egg, the chopped scallions, the squishy shiitake. The obnoxious part about food trends is that they prove you can have too much of good thing. At some point, they become so pervasive that they start to drive you mental. (Remember last year’s fetishisation of grilled cheese? The countless photos of triple-decker grilled cheese sandwiches oozing all over everyone’s social media stream? The specialty grilled cheese shops that started popping up everywhere, like a rash you couldn’t get rid of? Mac-n-cheese grilled cheese! Poutine grilled cheese! Bacon-double-cheeseburger grilled cheese. Scary times.)

I think it’s fair to say that in North America, ramen is still walking that fine line between novelty and ubiquity, two extremes that often lead us down the disappointing path of sub-par food. I’ve never been to Japan, but I can tell you that my lips have crossed some pretty ho-hum – not to mention obscenely-priced – bowls of ramen in this town, with blah-tasting broth, pork that’s missing, or an egg that’s missing, or some other delicious thing missing that you then have to order on the side, at an extra cost. Gah! Why??

So at some point I figured, why not make my own ramen? Heck, then I could have the egg AND the pork AND all the other bits. The only problem was that I’d never actually made ramen before, and it seemed like a pretty long, laborious, intimidating process (it’s actually not so bad, but more on that later). For a first attempt, I needed to recruit someone else – a partner in crime, a compadre, a guardian angel – to bolster my confidence and see me through to the end.

Enter Michael – the man who whips up daunting recipes from the Momofuku cookbook like it’s nobody’s business, and who knows exactly where to get hard-to-find Asian cooking loot, like bonito dashi granules and togarashi. He didn’t even flinch when I suggested (with a string of exclamation marks) that we make a 5-part recipe that included 30 peeled cloves of garlic (p.s that’s just for the pork, friends), plus homemade garlic oil and homemade fried garlic powder. Most people would look at me cock-eyed if I’d proposed the same feat to them. You want to make WHAT? You’re going to PEEL all those cloves? Are you batshit crazy? But not Michael. That’s one of the reasons I like him. Not only does he get that level of insanity, he actually partakes in it.

—–

The recipe we used – appropriately named “The Vampire Slayer Ramen-Express” comes from Mandy Lee’s impeccable site, Lady and Pups. She lays everything out, step-by-step, with pretty photos and her signature dry wit. For the full recipe, click here.

Now, before you get going on this one…some words of advice:

  • make components ahead – don’t try to make all of the ramen components in one day. Doing that will want to run from the kitchen and jump off a bridge. Pick a quiet day at home to make the stock (which you can then keep in the fridge or freeze). In this case, I made the stock and braised pork on the Saturday to serve on the Sunday. It was a breeze cause there was no rush – just me, the stock, the pork and a few back-to-back episodes of Broadchurch. On his side of things, my compadre made the garlic oil, garlic powder and soft-boiled eggs ahead of time, so once we got together, all that was left to do was boil the noodles, rewarm the (already soft-boiled) eggs in their shell, heat up the pork, and add the soy milk to the stock before putting it on the stove to simmer.
  • don’t worry about making noodles from scratch – we sure as hell didn’t. The dried ones (not instant!) from the Asian grocery worked out perfectly.
  • simplify your stock – you’re trying to achieve an opaque broth that is neutral-tasting (don’t go sticking a bay leaf in there, friends). Mandy Lee even suggests not adding salt, which is sound advice seeing that it allows you to adjust the seasonings according to whatever recipe you’re making with the leftover stock.
  • don’t skip the pork bones in the stock – just don’t
  • keep an eye on that braised pork – make sure that the braising liquid doesn’t dry up; baste it/turn it from time to time during the cooking process and add more liquids if necessary. I wasn’t paying attention and my braising liquid dried up in the last 20 minutes in the oven, resulting in shrivelled (albeit, tasty) shiitakes and pork that was a little less moist than it should’ve been.
  • if you can’t find a hunk of prosciutto – any dry-cured ham will do for the stock. In this case, my butcher suggested some cured (and cubed) Bayonne ham, and it worked out great.

Now go forth and make ramen, you batshit crazy fools!

ramen prep

stock components

stock after first boil

pork + prep

so many garlics

braising the pork

ramen assembly

sliced pork

ramen noodlesbowls of ramen

bowl of ramen

bowl of ramen + Sapporo

End-of-days Bolognese

A little while ago, I made a promise to myself. Not a resolution, per se, but a promise. I vowed to make the bleakest, most inhospitable months of the year – January, February and March – slightly more bearable by turning my freezer into a well-organised cache of provisions. It sounds very end-of-days, I know. But from where I’m sitting, the weather feels very end-of-days right now. My nostril hairs froze while waiting for the bus to the dentist the other day; if I don’t wear tights under my pants on my commute to work, I lose sensation in my thighs; I drag a space heater around my apartment, moving from kitchen to living room to bedroom, and, on the most frigid of nights, you can sometimes find me nestled up to a hot-water bottle.

It’s unsexy, it’s exhausting, it’s an exercise in endurance and patience, not to mention mental fortitude. This is winter in Quebec. Bienvenue, les amis.

winter in Qc winter gear

Even when you’ve lived through winters like this your whole life, you never quite get used to them (in other words, you never quite get accustomed to the sensation of frozen nostril hairs) (speaking of unsexy). However, you do become a little more saavy, a little more wise, in prepping for the deep freeze. For one, you buy boots. Good boots, with a polar bear on the logo and a guarantee that says “Waterproof, -40°”. You outfit your bed with flannel sheets (the best purchase of the year, hands down). You run errands strategically – mentally plotting out your excursions in advance to minimize the amount of time spent outdoors. You layer your clothing; you pack extra socks; you do things your younger self never thought you’d do. Like wearing those aforementioned tights, under your pants. Or wrapping your head in a hefty piece of cloth that you can barely breathe through, making you not only look like a terrifying urban yeti, but also severely impairing both your peripheral vision and your hearing when navigating those busy city streets.

Making it alive through winter comes with a well-earned sense of accomplishment, as my fellow Quebecers can attest (We didn’t slip on any ice! We didn’t fracture any limbs! We didn’t lose any exposed skin to frostbite! We made it! High five!). This explains why you’ll find us lounging on beer patios as early as mid-March, when the first few warm rays of sunshine pierce through. It’s still cold; we’re still in winter parkas. But we’re that eager for the faintest glow of warmth after winter’s put us through the wringer.

—–

I’ve come to realise that a large part of surviving the deep freeze is, ironically, using your freezer to its fullest potential. Making large batches of food ahead, then freezing them into smaller portions is one of those winter-savvy moves that your older, wizened self has come to appreciate. Which is why you don’t think twice about holing yourself up in the kitchen for a whole weekend, to cook and bake, bag and freeze. Let the rest of them skate around awkwardly in their stilettos on their way to the club this Saturday night. You, my friend, have got a hot date with the Dutch oven.

The foods you choose to make are entirely up to you. There’s no real magical equation. This time around, I tried a couple of new recipes that I thought would freeze well – a curried red lentil stew with coconut, and a fennel-leek soup with turmeric – but I also stuck to a couple of classic, rib-sticking recipes, like coq au vin, brisket chili, and ragù bolognese. Foods that are familiar, comforting, and that fill the house with the heady, wintery aromatics of butter, onion, red wine and bay leaf. Perfect for those nights when you shuffle home from work, snotty, zonked and cold.

Stay warm, be well, and eat well. x

Ragù Bolognese (makes 4-6 servings) – adapted from Bon Appétit and La Cucina Italiana

*Note on the recipe: this is a reconstructed version of a classic bolognese. You’ll note that there’s no tomato (just a little tomato paste), which might seem weird if you’re used to adding it. But trust me on this one. Bolognese made in modo tradizionale is beyond compare.

    • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
    • a knob of butter
    • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
    • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
    • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
    • 2 carrots, peeled, finely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
    • 2 oz. thinly sliced pancetta, finely chopped (use unsmoked, mild pancetta)
    • 6 oz. ground beef
    • 6 oz. ground veal
    • 3 cups beef stock, divided
    • 3 Tbsp. tomato paste
    • 1 cup whole milk
    • 1/2cup dry red wine
    • 1 bay leaf
    • salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve: swirl warm sauce into cooked egg noodles, fresh or dried (such as pappardelle, tagliatelle or fettuccine) and top with grated parmigiano reggiano bolognese prep

Directions

1) Heat oil and the knob of butter in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add onions, celery, carrots, and garlic. Sauté until soft, but not browned (about 8 minutes).

2) Add the pancetta and allow it to fry a minute or so before adding the beef and veal. Sauté, breaking up with the back of a spoon, until browned (about 15 minutes). Add wine and boil 1 minute, stirring often and scraping up browned bits. Add 2 1/2 cups stock, tomato paste and the bay leaf; stir to blend. Reduce heat to very low and gently simmer, stirring occasionally, until flavours meld, 1 1/2 hours. Season with salt and pepper.

3) Bring milk to a simmer in a small saucepan; gradually add to sauce. Cover sauce with lid slightly ajar and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until milk is absorbed (about 40 minutes). Adding more stock by the ladleful to thin if needed.

Notes:
If you’re freezing the ragù: Allow it to cool completely, then transfer it to freezer-proof containers.
If you’re not freezing the ragù: Allow it to cool completely, cover and keep chilled until ready to use (I use Mason jars). Can be kept for up to 2 days in the fridge.

pasta bolognese with cheese

In times like these

I never thought I’d say it, but I’m glad December’s over. Or, to be even more to the point, I’m glad Christmas is over. It’s really weird seeing those words written down; I’m one of those kooks who starts buying brown kraft paper and earmarking Christmas cookie recipes as early as October. But this year, our family got handed a bit of a raw deal, starting with an emergency hospitalisation that took its toll on everyone – sleepless nights, worry, influenza, laryngitis, day-long headaches, back pain, more worry, endless commutes to the hospital, home and back. (Amid all this, I was in Montreal, then in Kingston, then in Montreal again, baiting and trapping mice in my apartment in between.) Almost every single person in my family was sick at some point, looking and feeling like death warmed over for the better part of three weeks. Having somehow dodged the illness bullet, I tried my best to pick up some of the slack – grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundering. The day-to-day stuff that hangs heavy unless you’re in decent shape. I put together a small Christmas Eve dinner and a New Year’s Eve/Dad’s birthday dinner on the 31st. I made cookie dough. I played Burl Ives. I tried to make Christmas feel like Christmas. But, really, it all just felt discombobulated, lacklustre, weird. Weird having someone you love in the hospital on December 23rd, not knowing if or when they’d get out. Weird seeing your folks run around like chickens with their heads cut off when they should be sitting on the couch, drinking coffee and eating spice cookies. Weird not popping the New Year’s Eve champagne, or making stollen with dad or doing any of the other requisite holiday baking with mom.

Given that everyone was so exhausted that all they could think about was their next nap, it was hard to muster the enthusiasm to make food and eat it. But, perhaps counter-intuitively, I cooked. And cooked. And then cooked some more. Because when everything around me feels chaotic and unhinged, I gravitate towards the kitchen. It gives me a sense of purpose, of focus, a project that can take my mind off things and make me feel constructive – be it slicing onions or rolling dough into symmetrical balls. There’s something meditative about simple tasks in the kitchen like that. Even if no one really had much of an appetite, I felt that keeping something simmering on the stove or baking in the oven was a way to calm the storm and regain a semblance of normalcy, of home, of comfort. It’s my way of trying to be productive and helpful when the people I care about are out of steam; like a lot of people who like to cook, it’s my way of loving.

And so, over Christmas, I kept busy in the kitchen – I made those ginger-molasses cookies, a pot of minestrone, tofu bowls, the vegetarian version of this lasagna, garlic scrambled eggs, two pumpkin pies (which were a disaster, but nevermind), orange zest cranberry sauce, Anthony Bourdain’s porc au lait and hasselback potatoes, a cranberry-ginger upside-down cake, lemon roast chicken and parsnip purée, leek soup and sandwiches, chicken pot pie, tomato jam, and a bunch of salads for when everyone had reached their point of saturation with meat and starch.

With the last couple of days before heading back to work, I’ve been using the post-holiday down time to prep for the weeks to come. (which, looking at that freezing rain hammering down out there, turns out was the right decision.) Part of that prep has been to make stuff that can be tossed in the freezer for busy nights – tomato sauce, eggplant curry, fennel soup – as well as things that are good candidates for work-day snacks.

Which brings me to almond rosemary crisps.

I’ve had them bookmarked for a while now, but having never got a chance to make them, they ended up in my mañana, mañana pile (I suspect you have one too?). But then, a couple of days ago, I dug up the recipe after seeing the pile of dried fruit and nuts – the ones that were meant for holiday baking – languishing on the kitchen counter.

And that, dear friends, was the beginning of the end, because now I can’t stop stuffing my face with them.

Four days into January and they’ve quickly become my favourite thing of 2015. They’re earthy and salty and sweet, and the currants sort of caramelise in the oven, becoming a nice and chewy counterpart to the cracker’s crunch. They’re wispy and delicate and have a Scandinavian vibe about them, in that elegant, (but rustic), delicious (but healthy) kind of way. They’re super simple, but really, really good. And with cheese? Omagad.

I encourage you to make them. No, I implore you to make them. Now. And all through 2015.

—–

On a final note: when it’s all said and done, I do realise how lucky we were to have those short bursts of time together as a family. I’m grateful for playing Tombola on Christmas Eve with grandma, for Frandi’s German mulled wine, for mom’s perfect Christmas tree, for the Scott and Bailey marathon with my ragazzo, for being able to stay in pyjamas all day, for Christmas morning waffles, and for Uncle Pete and Aunt Barb’s incredible turkey dinner. None of us might’ve been in the best shape, but we still managed to pull it together. Sometimes the shake up helps you realise how lucky you actually are.

Thanks for checking in, dear readers. I am, as always, grateful to have you in my life. Here’s to high-jacked Christmases, recovery, love, family, friends and, last but not least, food. Happy 2015 to you and yours. x

Baked crackers - detail

By the way – if you’re worried that making crackers is fussy work, it’s really not. The process is pretty straightforward – combine the wet and dry ingredients, pour into a baking tin, bake, chill, slice, bake again. The end result makes you wonder why you’ve never made crackers before. (and why the heck you’ve spent so much money on Raincoast Crisps.)

Almond Rosemary Crisps (makes about 60) – adapted from Fig and Honey

  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1/8 cup brown sugar
  • 1/8 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup currants, soaked in warm water till softened and drained
  • 1/4 cup raw almonds, halved
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/8 cup whole flax seeds
  • 1 tbsp rosemary, chopped

Additional notes:
– the recipe can easily we doubled or tripled (which might be a good idea. They disappear at the speed of light)
– feel free to switch it up: sesame seeds and anise seeds are good alternatives to the flax seeds; raisins are a good replacement for the currants

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 2 mini-loaf tins with a light oil (sunflower, grapeseed or coconut oil)

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Make a well in the centre and add in the almond milk, brown sugar and honey. Fold through until all the flour is incorporated into the liquid. Next add in all of the fruit, nuts, seeds and rosemary and fold until just evenly distributed. Pour batter into the mini-loaf tins and place in the oven.

Loaf batter

Bake for about 25 minutes until the tops are golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean.

Par-baked loaf

Transfer to a cooling rack. Once cooled, transfer loaves to the freezer and leave for about 1 hour.

After the loaves have chilled, preheat the oven to 275°F. Remove the loaves from the freezer and slice as thinly as possible, with a sharp chef’s knife (works better than a serrated knife).

Par-baked crackers

Place the slices in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for a further 25-30 minutes until crisp and golden brown, flipping over once halfway.

Baked crackers

Once cooled, the crackers can be stored in an airtight tin. They can be eaten as-is, but pair up really well with cheese – anything from sharp cheddar to Gruyère to chèvre and beyond.

Crackers with cheese

Farewell nights

What do you do the night before New Year’s Eve, a mere few hours before your man catches his flight for a two-month contract across the country? You settle into the evening with a pair of gin gimlets, some Peter, Paul & Mary and a bowl of feel-good food. (plus a few choice scenes from The Canyons for good measure.)

Hope you’re spending this New Year’s Day with the people you love and the things that make you happiest. See you back here soon, dear readers.

xx

Tofu Bowl Prep Tofu Bowls

Coconut Tofu Bowls (serves 2, plus leftovers) – adapted from Sprouted Kitchen

  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 12 oz. package firm tofu, drained
  • 2 tsp. red chili paste (such as sambal oelek)
  • 1 Tbsp. lime juice
  • 2 tsp. rice wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh grated ginger
  • 3 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1 Tbsp. coconut oil
  • 2 Tbsp. sesame oil
  • 2 cups broccoli, florets and stems sliced thin
  • 2 large carrots, julienned
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 3/4 cup coconut milk
  • 2 Tbsp. soy sauce, to taste
  • sesame seeds, for garnish
  • 1 avocado, for garnish

Directions
Rinse the rice and cook it (Saveur’s method is my favourite). While the rice is cooking, cut the tofu into cubes and set it on a clean dish towel to drain. In a large bowl, combine sesame oil, chile paste, lime juice, vinegar, ginger, garlic, pinch of salt and stir to mix. Add the tofu and stir everything to coat. Set aside to marinate for 20-30 minutes.

Warm the coconut oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Use a large spoon to scoop out the tofu – leaving some of the marinade behind – and toss into the hot pan, sautéing for about 5 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove tofu from the pan and set aside. Add the remaining marinade to the pan, then add the broccoli and carrot until the broccoli gets a little crisp around the edges; add the coconut milk and cook until bubbling. Stir in the greens onions, cilantro, tofu and toss to combine.

Serve each bowl with a scoop of brown rice, a sprinkling of sesame seeds and a few avocado slices.

Brisket Chili of the Gods

Is there something that you’ve made over and over again, only to one day realise that there was a far superior version hanging out there, waiting on the sidelines to be discovered? Allow me to introduce you to brisket chili. If you’re not already familiar with this stuff, I’m telling you – it will change your life. Or, at the very least, will change the way you make chili.

I think it’s safe to say that most of us in the upper parts of the Northern Hemisphere learned that chili con carne was made with minced beef, red kidney beans, tomatoes, some veg (usually onion, carrot, celery, bell pepper) and spices (Mexican chili powder – which likely isn’t Mexican at all – and cumin), topped with grated cheddar cheese. But I want you to wipe all of it from your memory. Throw it away. You don’t need it anymore. You don’t need chili with little nubs of overcooked minced meat bobbing around in a non-descript bath of tomatoey vegetables. Because now you have brisket chili – lovely, smoky, spicy, silky brisket chili – and by Jove, there is no turning back. Beef brisket

Brisket Chili (serves 6) – adapted from Jamie Oliver

Note: the chili needs to simmer for a good 4-4.5 hours, so make sure to plan accordingly.

  • 1.5 kg beef brisket
  • 250g grams cooked Romano beans (or 1 x 19oz can)
  • 1 large cinnamon stick
  • 1 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 Tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1 heaped Tbsp dried oregano
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • 2 red peppers
  • 2 yellow peppers
  • 1 x 28oz can chopped tomatoes
  • about 1/2 L beef stock
  • 2-3 red chipotle chiles in adobo, chopped
  • 1-2 chile peppers (jalapeño or habañero), de-seeded and chopped
  • 2 red onions, finely sliced
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • coarse salt and black pepper
  • olive oil
  • Red wine vinegar
  • ½ bunch coriander, chopped
  • Soft tortillas, Greek-style yoghurt, avocado* and/or green salad, to serve

*you can also make a quick guacamole to serve on top, by mashing up a couple of ripe avocados, and adding some finely grated red onion, the juice of a lime and some chopped coriander, along with a pinch of salt. **the chili freezes really well, so don’t bother cutting down the recipe if you’re less than 6 people. Make a whole batch and freeze the rest.

Directions:

Place the beef on a board and score one side. Combine the cumin, paprika and oregano and rub into the cuts in the beef. Season well with coarse salt and black pepper, drizzle over a little olive oil and brown the brisket well in a large pot or Dutch oven over a high heat.

021 Brisket with spicesOnce the outside is browned, remove the brisket from the pot and set aside. There should still be some residual oils at the bottom of the pot, which you’ll use to sautée the onion, etc, so keep it. But discard any bits of seasoning that looks like it’ll burn if cooked further (I use a slotted spoon to fish them out).

Reduce the heat to medium high and add the onion and garlic, sautéeing them in the leftover pan fats until translucent. Place the bay leaves, cinnamon stick, red and yellow peppers, tomatoes, beef stock, beans and tomato paste into the pot and bring to the boil. Then add the chiles and the brisket to the pot; cover and leave to simmer for 4–4½ hours.

Gently pull the beef apart using 2 forks. Remove the bay leaves and cinnamon stick; add a little vinegar to brighten up the flavour, add the coriander and adjust the seasoning. Serve with avocado (or guacamole), tortillas, yoghurt and/or a green salad.

Brisket chili Brisket chili with avocado

Chocolate Cake for Cheat Days

I’ve always had a strained relationship with self-imposed dietary restrictions. I’m not the girl who’s likely to order the salad without a side, or the guest who’ll forgo the birthday cake. That said, I do think how and what each of us eats is a deeply personal choice. (It should go without saying that having that choice is a veritable luxury, considering how many people don’t have a choice when it comes to how and what they eat. But that’s another topic all together.) Ultimately, I don’t think there is a right way, or a wrong way of eating. Culture, upbringing, ethics, genetics, economics and personal preferences will in large part dictate our predilections for certain foods. The things I choose might not be the same as you, but as far as I’m concerned, that is A-ok.

Except, it seems, if you happen to be my boyfriend. And it’s pie season.

Roughly a month ago, the man in my life announced that he was adopting a diet – one based on a set of principles derived from this book. It’s essentially a high-protein, slow-carb regimen, where gluten is eliminated and sugars are kept to a bare minimum, replaced in large part by vegetables, meat, eggs, lentils and beans. Any grains (bread, flour, pasta, rice, corn, quinoa, farro, oats), fruit, alcohol, dairy, juice, sugars, and vegetables with a high glycemic index (potatoes, squash, beets, turnips) are not invited to the kitchen table. There’s certainly a lot more to it, but that’s the gist.

For someone who spends a lot of her free time reading, researching and talking about food, this announcement aroused the kind of visceral reaction you might expect.

10367607_10152767445700351_5293473938993278157_n

Despite the fact that this wasn’t something he was imposing on me, it still put me in a bit of a tailspin. What will we eat? How will we eat? Will our meals be separate? What if I want to put a drizzle of honey in the salad dressing? And so on and so forth. Something that had always represented sustenance, creativity, sharing and fun was suddenly reduced to its most basic parts – fuel and abstention, caloric intake and glycemic rates, “good” foods and “bad” foods. Given that I’ve never dreamed of using “food” and “metabolic absorption rate” in the same sentence, it was clear there was an immediate philosophical disconnect between me and this diet, something that manifested itself in quiet resistance from the sidelines as he measured his beans and popped his potassium pills. While I tried to see things in perspective and mitigate my apprehensions, it quickly came to my attention that I was, in fact, a card-carrying member of the Diet Debbie Downer Society, a shitty place to be when you want to be supportive of your partner who, for his part, is just trying to do something positive.

That was four weeks ago. From where I stand now, I can tell you this: it’s been an eye-opening process, one that, you’ll be happy to know, has been devoid of any of the catastrophic repercussions I’d initially imagined. It’s made me reflect on dietary choices and values, and the interconnectedness of the two. It’s forced me to confront and take stock of my own prejudices and approaches to food, and – perhaps not surprisingly – it’s also solidified some of my core beliefs. While I’m still working out some of the kinks – balancing my own beliefs and being supportive of his – I’ve begun to see things in a different light. I’m proud of his efforts and for taking on a challenge he believes in. We might not always be on the same page when it comes to this diet, but we’ve reached a rhythm.

To maintain our respective sanities, part of that rhythm includes something called CHEAT DAY, the one day a week when the diet is put on pause and he gets to eat whatever the hell he wants – the bread, the cheese, the sugar, the beer…any and all of it. He, very wisely, designated Saturday as “cheat day”, which means, amongst other things, Saturday can be chocolate cake day. Dense, boosy, debaucherous, chocolate cake day.

Hallelujah.

cake slice

Chocolate Bourbon Cake (makes one 9×5-inch loaf + smaller one) – adapted from Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess

Note: the recipe here uses dark chocolate instead of cocoa powder, creating a cake that is moist and dense at the centre, gently petering out to a lighter crumb on the outside. It might not be the prettiest confection on the block, but it’s a good back-pocket recipe to have in your repertoire. It’s rich, but not heavy; sweet, but not overly so. The coffee and booze hum along nicely in the background – barely perceptible, but still there, taking things from PG to PG-13. The cake is great on its own (and a perfect companion to tea or coffee), but would also be nice with a glaze or frosting, should you feel so inclined.

Ingredients
1 cup soft unsalted butter
1 2/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt (such as Maldon or Fleur de sel)
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted using a bain marie
2 tablespoons bourbon
1 cup freshly brewed coffee

cake ingredients

Directions

Note: The key to that lovely, fudgey interior is baking time – take care not to overbake.

1) Preheat the oven at 375°F. Line a 9×5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper (no need to cut it to make it fit – the excess paper can spill over the sides). Do the same thing with a smaller loaf pan (or butter a muffin tin).

2) Cream the butter and sugar with electric hand-held mixer (a wooden spoon works too).

3) Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
Add the eggs and vanilla to the butter-sugar mixture and beat until combined.
Next, fold in the melted and slightly cooled chocolate, taking care to blend well but being careful not to overbeat. Add the bourbon and mix to combine.

4) Next, gently add the flour mixture alternately spoon by spoon with the coffee until you have a smooth and fairly liquid batter.

cake batter

5) Pour into the lined loaf pan, being sure to leave about an inch from the rim, so that the batter doesn’t overflow as it bakes. Pour the excess into the smaller prepared pan. Bake 30 minutes. (at this point, the smaller pan can be removed). Turn the oven down to 325 degrees and continue to cook for another 10-15 minutes. The cake will still be a bit moist inside, so an inserted cake tester or skewer won’t come out completely clean. Allow to cool completely before turning it out onto a cooling rack. (The texture gets even better if the cake has had a day to rest.)

cake slice cut

Pizza Party

It feels weird typing the word party, seeing as I’ve spent the better part of the last five days wrapped in a comforter giving myself sinus massages (as sexy as it sounds) and mouth-breathing my way through a string of bad nights’ sleep. It smells of menthol throat lozenges and tiger balm, and the windows have steamed up from all the bathing, de-congesting and water-boiling going on. It’s a real mess over here. And let me tell you – just in case there was any doubt – there’s

no

party

in sight.

On the up side, I got to have popcorn for dinner last night. And between my migrations from the bed to the couch and back, I’ve made a considerable dent in that book my brother gave me, alongside a handful of Toast of London episodes. The perks of being sick are slim, but if popcorn for dinner and a moustached Matt Berry are included in the deal, I’ll certainly take them.

But let’s go back to the title of this post, which makes zero sense unless I provide some sort of explanation. You see, prior to feeling like total hell, I’d planned on sharing couple of pizza recipes with you. I’d like to make good on that plan. Because I like you. And I think you would agree that having more pizza in your life can’t possibly be a bad thing.

The three you see below were made for a small pizza party we threw for my mom on her birthday. Contrary to our regular family get-togethers, where, without fail, we end up soiling every pot and pan in the cupboard, I wanted to aim for something simple and pared-down. In other words, with minimal use of kitchen tools and with tasks that I could easily delegate to my close of kin (except mom – she shouldn’t have to lift a finger on her birthday, unless she’s lifting her pinky to sip a martini).

Below you’ll find two pizza recipes – one veggie, one not. While both use onions, their flavours are worlds apart – in one recipe they’re caramelised beforehand and in the other, they’re thrown on raw. The recipe for the crust is not included because, to preserve my sanity, I bought the dough. (if you live in Quebec, Au pain doré sells good quality dough in little, round, frozen portions.) Since there are very few players involved in these pies, I must emphasise – as your resident food snob – that the quality of the ingredients is paramount. If you’re at the store, hovering over the cheese counter and hesitating between Parmigiano-Reggiano and a cheaper knock-off, allow me to be the voice of reason to shake you out of your stupor: QUIT BEING A DOLT AND BUY THE GOOD STUFF. When it comes to Parmesan, it’s just not worth screwing around. Besides, it’s not that much more expensive when you think about it. And a thin dusting of the good stuff will make all the difference in terms of flavour. Your pizza will return the favour by being drop-dead delicious.

One thing before you scroll down to the recipes: they might seem long and daunting, but they really aren’t. I promise. There’s a good dose of slicing, chopping and grating involved, but nothing that your assigned delegates (an unsuspecting brother or sister-in-law) can’t handle. Supply them with a glass of wine ahead of time and they’ll most certainly oblige. Also – the caramelised onions and tomato sauce can be made in advance, so keep that in mind.

Ok, now go channel your inner pizzaiolo and start spinning out some pizza pies, lovely readers. (and repeat after me: Parmigiano-ReggianoParmigiano-ReggianoParmigiano-Reggiano…)

mise en place pizza pizza + salad

Prepping pizza dough: if you’re using frozen dough, it will generally need about 8 hours to defrost/rise. It’s not a big deal, just remember to pull the dough out of the freezer ahead of time to let it thaw and rise. To ensure a crisp crust all the way through, my mom’s trick is to par-bake the dough. Here are the steps:

1) Preheat the oven to 400°F and lightly oil & flour a circular, 14″ pizza tray.

2) Lift up the dough and work it a little around your fists. No need to work the dough as ferociously as these guys, just enough to form a small, flat disc.

3) Put the disc of dough at the centre of the baking tray and work it outwards, until it reaches the edges. Try to make the edges a little thicker than the centre.

4) Place the pizza tray in the oven and bake the dough until golden, flipping once halfway through (10 mins total).

Fontina, Fennel and Onion Pizza – makes ones 14” pie

– about 1 lb pizza dough, thawed if frozen
– 1/2 bulb of fennel, finely sliced (reserve some of the fronds for garnish)
– 4 oz. fontina cheese, grated (about 1/2 cup)
– about 1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (I like to use a microplane)
– good quality olive oil (i.e the best you can afford)
– balsamic vinegar to serve (optional)

For the caramelised onions:
– 1 medium yellow onion, finely sliced
– 1 red onion, finely sliced
– knob of butter
– splash of olive oil
– pinch of sugar
– pinch of salt
– splash of vermouth (optional)

To make the onions (this can be done up to 2 days ahead): set a large pan on medium-high heat. Add the butter and oil. Once the butter gets nice and foamy, add the onions and stir to coat. Sweat the onions; once they start to become soft and transluscent (about 2 minutes), turn down the heat to medium, add the pinch of sugar and salt. Stir and allow to caramelise slowly, stirring occasionally (about 20-30 minutes). Once the onions are dark and caramelised, add a splash of vermouth and allow the liquid to evaporate completely. Store at room temperature if serving soon after, or store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days (p.s this stuff is great on pasta, crostini, in sandwiches, on eggs…so go nuts with the leftovers.)

Making the pizza:

Spread a layer of the caramelised onions on the pre-baked pizza crust (which is still on its baking tray); add the parmesan, fennel and fontina; drizzle with a little bit of olive oil. Bake in a 400°F oven for about 20 minutes, or until the cheese is golden and bubbling. Remove from the oven and finish with a thin drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Garnish with reserved fennel fronds and serve.

Escarole Bacon Pizza – makes ones 14” pie

– about 1 lb pizza dough, thawed if frozen
– 3/4 cup-1 cup homemade tomato sauce (click here a quick one)
– 1 red onion, finely sliced
– 1 clove garlic, pressed or finely chopped
– 3 cups escarole, roughly chopped
– 6 slices bacon, cooked until just crisp and roughly chopped
– about 1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (I like to use a microplane)
– good quality olive oil (i.e the best you can afford)

Making the pizza:

Spread a layer of the tomato sauce on the pre-baked crust (which is still on its baking tray) and half of the parmesan; add the garlic, red onion slices, bacon, escarole and the other half of the parmesan; drizzle with a little bit of olive oil. Bake in a 400°F oven for about 20 minutes, or until the escarole has wilted and the cheese is toasty. Serve straight away.

Humble Bones

They sat there in the baking pan, as naked as they came. A geometrical mass of bone and flesh; a macabre still life in white and pink, waiting to be given new life.

002It may not be obvious at first glance, but what rests in that pan is the beginning of something beautiful. It marks the first step of a slow transformation – an alchemy, really – that starts with an ingredient so basic, understated, stripped down, that you can barely believe it will become much of anything at all.

Bones. They are the very definition of unpretentious, no-frills food and a cornerstone of cooking traditions the world over. As mundane as they seem, they are the key to making the richest, most flavourful stock, used in everything from French onion soup to Vietnamese phở to Japanese tonkotsu. While traditions vary, the method is essentially the same across the board: roast, season, simmer. In this version of beef stock, the bones are roasted bare in a hot oven, then some aromatics are added and the pan returns to the oven until the whole lot is dark & caramelised. It all then goes into a stockpot, is covered with water and left to simmer for an afternoon.

That’s. It.

What emerges is a densely-coloured, heady, mineral-rich broth, ready to cure what ails you.

Next time you visit the butcher, ask for a few bones to be added to your order. They might even give them to you for free (one of the many perks of being on a first-name basis with your butcher). With that, you’ll have the makings of a delicious, fortifying stock to warm you through the colder months ahead.

Basic Beef Stock (makes about 4 cups) – adapted from Bon Appétit

  • 5 pounds veal and/or beef marrow bones*
  • 4 peeled carrots
  • 4 celery stalks
  • 2 halved peeled onions
  • 1 halved head of garlic
  • ½ bunch flat-leaf parsley
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ¼ teaspoon black peppercorns
  • cold water

Optional: to achieve a darker colour, you can brush the bones with a bit of tomato paste right before putting them in the oven to roast.

(If you’re asking yourself what the heck is the difference between broth and stock?, you’re not alone. I didn’t really know the answer until I stumbled upon this run-down by Nourished Kitchen, which, in addition to explaining the difference between the two, discusses bone broth, a close cousin of stock, but requiring a longer, 24-hour simmer.)

Directions

Preheat oven to 450°. Roast marrow bones (have your butcher saw them into pieces) in a roasting pan, turning occasionally, until browned, about 30 minutes. Chop carrots and celery into large, 3” pieces; add to pan along with onions and garlic. Roast, turning occasionally, until vegetables are brown, 25–30 minutes.

roasted bones

024Transfer to a large stockpot; add cold water to cover. Pour off fat from pan, add ½ cup water, and stir, scraping up browned bits; add liquid to pot along with parsley, thyme, bay leaves, and black peppercorns. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 4 hours, occasionally skimming foam and fat from surface and adding water as needed.

Strain. Let cool and then transfer to a glass bowl or Mason jars. Cover and chill for up to 3 days. Use as a base for soups, stews, sauces and gravies.

Note 1: Once the stock has been chilled, any remaining fat will have risen to the top and solidified, forming a protective layer against bacteria while the stock is in the refrigerator. If you plan to freeze the stock, simply remove and discard the fat and pour the liquid into a freezer-proof container. Frozen stock will keep for about 3-4 months.

Note 2: there are different schools of thought about salting stock. Some sources will say to salt the bones before roasting, or once everything’s covered in water. Other sources will recommend not salting the stock at all, due to the fact that the stock’s natural salinity will increase as it reduces. In this case, you can add the unsalted stock to any soup, stew or sauce and adjust the saltiness accordingly.

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