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Hi. Remember us? In case you do, or in case you’ve still got this poor little neglected space on your feed reader, happy new year!

2011 is especially happy and scary and exciting for us because it’s the year that our baby will be born. Yikes! And hooray!

I’m proud of our garden.

Rhubarb enchanted forest:

Horseradish in a pot:

Teeny tiny salad greens:

GARLIC SCAPES!! (Thrilling. For some reason it didn’t occur to me when I put garlic bulbs in last fall that garlic scapes would grow. Great, great, great surprise. And no, I’m not a genius.):

Chamomile (Here seen steeping in milk for chamomile-honey ice cream. What? Yes. It was delicious.):

This picture isn’t pretty, I know. It’s leftovers. This food may have looked nice the night before, but cold and unarranged and in plastic containers it loses something. But! At the top are patates savoyard made with potatoes we pulled out of the earth ourselves that were cooked until crisp and bubbling on top with Dubliner cheese. To the left is a top sirloin roast purchased at Sunterra Market, which was braised in that orangey-red mess you see is at the bottom, cherry tomatoes from our own garden that, after three hours cooking in beef juices then reduced, had the rich, full flavour of fat and a spine of tomato tang that popped with garlic and just a hint of (home-grown!) rosemary. And that white mass you see on the left was once a light cloud of horseradish whipped cream that we made with fresh horseradish purchased at a farm outside the city. It ain’t pretty, but it was almost as lovely the day after as it was the night before.

It seems like there’s been a bit of blogging ennui going around these days. I can identify. I don’t know what’s come over Carlo and me lately, but it’s not just that we can’t muster the enthusiasm to write about our food. Lately we haven’t even been cooking. I’m not exaggerating about this, sadly. Our larder has emptied out bit by bit, and on nights when Carlo is working late, I’ve filled my belly with marshmallow melted onto saltines under the broiler, Nibs candy, or frozen burritos. We’re in a funk.

That’s why this meal, ugly as it is, was a celebration. Things weren’t perfect. The beef braised too long and got a little dry. My feet ached from standing in one place while I sliced and whipped and grated. We set off the smoke alarm. I made Carlo come talk to me when he strayed out of chattering range. We don’t have four matching fancy plates, so we served our guests on mismatched china. I suddenly realized that I didn’t have almond meal as I was making dessert (grape cake!). There was a hockey game on while we ate (first game of the season), and the Oilers lost. But the house was warm after a cold, grey day. We had company. I mixed cocktails, and we had wine. We talked about work and TV shows and our family and the food. I’m starting to remember why I cook.

Speaking of food, please try the horseradish whipped cream. We were all a bit unsure, but my Gourmet cookbook (speaking of which, RIP Gourmet mag) promised an “ethereal” accompaniment to beef or lamb, which sounded lovely, so we tried it. And it was lovely, and I will be making it again.. Made with fresh horseradish, it had a bit of a kick, but I imagine it would be more in-your-face with bottled stuff. It was especially good as a cool, smooth counterpoint to the gutsy, beefy tomatoes we served as the other condiment.

The braised beef was especially simple, though maybe I used too lean of a cut. My favourite part is its simplicity. It was about three pounds, and three hours in the oven at 300 degrees, four cups of fresh tomatoes, half a head of garlic (the cloves peeled and left whole), and a sprig of rosemary was all it took. After it was done cooking, I took the meat out to rest and brought the tomatoes, now swimming in juices from the roast to a very fast boil for about 10 minutes until the sauce reduced to something thick and hearty.

The potatoes were similarly easy. I followed, though not very closely, Julia Child’s recipes for patates savoyard, slicing about four potatoes thin, then layering them with dollops of butter and generous handfuls of Dubliner (I didn’t have Gruyere, which was a lucky accident). To finish I poured about 1 1/2 cups of boiling beef stock over them and popped them in the oven for an hour and a half (at 300 degrees, obviously, to go with the beef). They came out crispy on top with soft layers underneath, rich and cheesy.

Whipped Horseradish Cream

As I said, this is a recipe from The Gourmet Cookbook. The book says that vinegar helps stabilize the volatile oil that gives horseradish its kick. I guess the cider vinegar here does two things, then: it keeps the horseradish pungent and it balances the honey’s sweetness. If I were to change anything, it would be to pull back a bit on the honey, which was almost over-sweet.

3-4 tablespoons grated and peeled fresh horseradish or bottled horseradish
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon honey (go light here)
1 cup whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Stir together 3 tablespoons of horseradish with vinegar and honey in a small bowl

In a larger bowl whip the cream. When it holds soft peaks, gently mix in the horseradish mixture.

Taste cream mixture, then add more horseradish to taste. Put the prepared cream into the fridge for at least an hour so that the flavours can mellow and spread.

Shortly before we left on our vacation we were invited to the house of some new friends for dinner. As they were laying out quite a spread for us (three weeks later we’re STILL talking about it), I thought that the least I could do was make some bread. Now, you’re probably much more evolved than I am, but I get a little nervous whenever I’m cooking for new people. I think that maybe I’ve been deluding myself about my abilities for all these years; I think I’m going to finally be found out as a shouldn’t-cook-ever-again fraud. So there’s that. Also, I was having a busy day and didn’t have time for hours of bread proofing and supervising. Lucky for me, I stumbled on just the right recipe for just the right type of bread — fougasse. Fougasse is one of those breads that balances simplicity and sophistication. I especially like it because it’s so pretty in a bread basket, but the form isn’t for nothing. Its pretzelly spread out form means that it bakes in 15 minutes flat. It’s practical for bringing when you’re a guest because it’s such an easy, pretty, pull-apart bread that’s not going to get in the way of any other food your host might be serving. Fougasse just relaxes in the background looking pretty and acting compliant.

I chose a Richard Bertinet recipe for my first fougasse time for a few reasons, including its simplicity and its speed, and also the fact that I haven’t used this book enough. I’m glad I did. The bread only had one rise, and it was simplicity itself, but it didn’t lack in flavour or colour.

Our bread turned out great, but the evening we spent was even better. We had a great time talking with Kevin and Pam, looking at their garden, enjoying their charming daughters, and, of course, eating their food. It was so nice that I forgot to worry about the bread’s reception. I’m glad I brought the fougasse, though. It was the least we could do.

Fougasse
Adapted from Richard Bertinet’s “Dough.”
One interesting thing about Richard Bertinet is the kneading technique he espouses, which works very well with wet, shaggy, sticky doughs. Also, it’s really fun to do. Here’s a video showing the technique. Ignore the recipe, which is for sweet dough, and just concentrate on the technique. Super-useful.

This recipe makes about 6 fougasses and will take you about two and a half hours if you include resting time for the dough. Not bad, right?

1/4 ounce (1 teaspoon) instant yeast
18 ounces (about 3 3/4 to 3 7/8 cups) bread flour
1/3 ounce (2 teaspoons) fine salt
12 1/2 ounces (13 fl. oz. or approximately 1 1/2 cups) lukewarm water

Combine yeast and flour, then mix in the salt and water. Combine the ingredients using a bread scraper with one hand while turning the bowl with the other hand (see the above video for visuals).

When the dough begins to come together after 2 to 3 minutes, use your scraper to help you turn it out onto the counter for kneading. With Bertinet’s technique there is no need to flour the counter. Again, watch the above video for the kneading technique that will help you turn the wettest dough into a smooth, silky masterpiece. (Can you tell that I’m a convert?)

When the dough is silky and smooth, flour it very lightly and transfer it to an equally lightly floured mixing bowl to proof for about an hour until it has approximately doubled in volume. Remember at some point in this hour to preheat the oven to as hot as you can (my oven goes to 500 F, so that’s what I do).

When you’re ready to form your fougasses, flour the counter generously and gently turn the dough out onto your counter. Don’t deflate it! Flour the top of the dough, cover it with a cloth, and let it rest for another five minutes.

Using a pastry scraper, cut the dough into two large pieces and then cut those pieces into three equal, rectangular pieces. Again, do this gently to avoid deflation.

Taking one piece of dough at a time, use your scraper to make a large cut diagonally across the center of one dough piece. Make smaller diagonal cuts on each side of the middle cut. The secret to a decent final shape is not to overdo it on  the cuts. Too many little holes, and everything will just close up during baking. Instead, don’t be scared to really pull the dough apart and make large holes. Always remember to be gentle, though, and avoid knocking too much air out of the dough.

Transfer your formed fougasse to a floured peel or the back of a baking  to slide it onto a baking stone or another preheated tray in the oven. Quickly close the oven door to minimize heat escape, then reopen it and use a water spritzer to quickly mist the oven before again closing the door. Turn the heat down to 450 F. Bake until the fougasse is golden brown, about 10-15 minutes.

While your first fougasse is baking, start forming the next one.

So we’ve been away and busy. That’s life. We’re back now and I’ve got a few things up my sleeve for upcoming posts (#1– we made mustard! It was great and easy!), so please forgive us the absence. Just because we’ve been gone doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing at all, though. I’ve managed to eke out my monthly booze columns for Vue Weekly. You can check out my not-always-expert examination of and cocktail recipes for Fernet Branca (yum!), Pisco, Goldschlager (yuck), shochu (love it), grappa (firewater, but tasty) and Poire William(delicious, delicious pear) over at the Vue site. I also did a feature for the Hot Summer Guide where I got some local bartenders’ input on summer drinks. You can check it out here. Unfortunately, I took pictures of all the drinks and the one they featured on the site looks pretty but tastes… well, just don’t make that recipe. Try any of the others; they’re all great, but “The Bender” is, um… not.

Also, we went to a great meetup yesterday with some other Edmonton bloggers and cooks. It was fun, though very cold. Carlo pointed out that it’s pretty sad when you’re discussing wind chill at the end of June. Such is life. Also, we didn’t bring our camera (delinquent bloggers that we are), so we have no evidence of the event to show. We had a great time talking with Court and Brooke, Sharon, Mack, Chris, Kevin, Maki, Grace, and Béné and Christian (who don’t have a blog yet but absolutely should. Can’t wait to see that!). If you’d like to get a better rundown, check out Sharon or Chris’s blogs. We’re lucky to be in contact with such a great group of people! I can’t wait until meetup #3. If you’re Edmontonian and would like to come to the next one, keep an eye on the wiki.

So we’ve been busy. Really busy. Busy as in I can’t remember the last three months of my life busy. Busy as in I can’t really remember when I last cooked or what I might have made.

Actually, I’m not sure that I remember how to cook, to be honest. We didn’t eat too poorly during the last few months. Carlo cooked some good stuff, but we relied heavily on our stuffed-to-capacity freezer. I also used the blender a lot. If it wasn’t in the freezer or I couldn’t whiz it together in the blender, we didn’t have it. Wooden spoons, spatulas, pots and pans languished in their drawers while I whirred fruits and nut butters together with milk. I’ve had a LOT of smoothies.

No, this isn’t high-style eating. My mouth is bored, I admit it. But a nice smoothie makes up for a lot of ills. The following is very, very nice.

Blueberry-Vanilla Almond Butter Smoothie

I like this smoothie because I don’t have to add any sugar to sweeten it. The blueberries taste bright and light, and the almond butter is discernable but not overpowering. I suppose you could use milk instead of vanilla soymilk, but then you’d probably need to add some extra sugar.

1 cup frozen blueberries
1-2 tablespoons almond butter
1 cup vanilla soymilk

Blend. Drink. Go to work. Repeat.

Hello, everyone. It’s been a while. So long, in fact, that people are volunteering to write things for this blog just because they’re so sick of not seeing any new content. Below is a blog entry graciously written by my accident-prone brother Lars. He and his wife just got an amazing accident-dog, who needs to be walked for three hours a day to keep him from making trouble in the house. Since I have no good photos of the food Lars wrote about, I would like to present Lars and Amy’s dog Teddy, who was not allowed in the kitchen while we were cooking:

My name is Lars, and I have a bad habit of getting myself into all sorts of painful situations.  Amazingly, up until very recently, I have never broken a bone in my body.

I have fallen down the stairs (just learning to walk), used paint thinner as a mouthwash (learned to walk – found garage), been hit in the head with a golf club (elementary school), gotten smacked with a skateboard to the nose (don’t ask how – junior high) and the list goes on.  Hell, I was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck.

For a time, I seemed to avoid my accidents. Went to Montreal for university, no accidents*. Got married, bought a home, a car, and some cats. No accidents.  Then, after years of pain-free living, I cut off the tip of my left index finger and barely escaped with all the rest of the fingers on that hand while working with a piece of hardwood flooring for my home (and since I technically sawed through the finger, I maintain that does not count as a “broken” bone). Eventually it healed up, I stayed away from table-saws for awhile, promised my wife I would NEVER do it again, and fell back into regular life.  That was a year and a half ago. The only real change was my ability to pretend to stick my finger really deep into my nose without actually sticking my finger in my nose.   Yippee.

Hanne and Carlo have been excessively busy lately, so when I called them up in early April to plan an evening of cooking and eating, Hanne suggested making a few large scale meals that we could freeze in small portions for easy convenience food while she is stuck working 18 hour days.  Great idea!

The next day I broke my promise to my wife, and got my hand caught up in a gear on a machine at work, and found myself once again in the emergency room for severe damage to my left hand.  For the first time I broke a bone, in the tip of my middle finger.  I also lost a chunk of the ring finger.  My wife is not impressed.

The best part about food is that it tastes good even if your hand is mangled. So we decided to go forward with our mega meal project.  I am not going to claim any credit for deciding what was going to be made, as painkillers can make the brain a little fuzzy.  It was settled we would make split pea soup, cook-from-frozen chicken pot pie, and freezer cookies.  You can’t get better homey food than that!

Although I helped grill up some burgers for sustenance while Hanne, Carlo, and my wife, Amy, worked, I also won’t take credit for any of the cooking, except maybe calming Hanne’s nerves while she was dealing with the pastry for the pie – she has a silly habit of getting very worked up and worried about the food she is making, convincing herself that it will not turn out (I think it’s actually a complex plan to make the food taste even better when it comes out perfect every time).  True to our tradition, we ended up cooking past midnight, and Hanne and Carlo had to finish everything up early the next morning.  We ended up leaving with more than 40 servings of food.

The pies were engineered to be baked from frozen**, and they came out better than I ever imagined.  Hanne threw a bunch of smoked paprika into the pastry, which added a wonderful undertone to the melt-in-your-mouth crust.  I have never eaten a better chicken pot pie.  Delicious!

For the soup, we knew it would be improper to make split pea soup without using a whole ham bone.  We bought a ham that was way too big but ended up with plenty of leftover meat that we saved for sandwiches and such.  Talk about leftovers! The best part about split pea soup is how little of it you need to feel completely full and satisfied.

If any of you happen to find yourselves short 2.5 fingers and want some easy, delicious food, here is my prescription for the best ever cook from frozen food chicken pot pie and split pea soup:

-Find other people who love to cook

-Convince them to make food for you

-Reheat delicious food when hungry

*the big sister in me would like to note that while in Montreal Lars did develop a mysteriously swollen and painful big toe (weird, right) that no doctor could figure out or fix. That wasn’t an accident, really, but I just want to underline the fact that this stuff follows him around.

**the secret to these pot pies was the filling, which was a bit soupier than you’d make it if you were baking it straight away. The extra moisture allowed for the longer cooking time necessary. If you’re trying this at home, please note that the pastry wasn’t cooked in advance either. Total cooking time was about 1.5 hours from frozen at 400 degrees. We kept the pies covered with foil for the first half of the cooking time and then uncovered them to brown the pastry on top.

Look, a well-stocked freezer! Pot pies on the left, chicken stock on the right. You can't see the pea soup, but that's okay because the picture's ugly anyway.

We had a dinner party last Saturday. Can you still call it a dinner party if you make plans for dinner with your brother and sister-in-law and then, at the last minute, spring four more people on them? I say yes.

A few years ago when we were living in Montreal, we and all the people we knew were severely financially challenged. My brother and I started cooking together on Monday nights (hey, we were in university; Monday nights were no different from Saturdays back then). Each weekly evening meal got progressively more elaborate and more well-attended by roommates, friends, and, in the end, strangers. This was cool, except for the fact that we were making three or four courses for a room-full of 15 people without any advance prep. None. Seriously, we’d meet at around 5:00 and then go shopping and THEN start cooking. This meant that every Monday was a late night. I remember one Monday in particular when my brother, a pastry genius, had decided to make pie (started AFTER dinner) — he had the pies out of the oven and cooling by about 2:00 am, at which point he had people begging, really begging, for him to just please, please, please cut them a slice. He stood firm, insisting that they wait until the pies had cooled. It’s a testament to his baking that we all waited.

This meal on Saturday had a similar feel,complete with dessert at midnight, for which everyone waited because hey! home-made ice cream! My brother and his wife and Carlo and his brother and I scrambled around the kitchen and took far longer than probably necessary to turn out meatball sliders, a spinach salad, and roasted potatoes. We ate dinner at 10:00 pm.

We were behind last Saturday, and I’m still behind now. No one needs our meatball sliders only a few days after Deb posted hers! Oh well.

One of my favourite things about this meal is that we decided to place the meatballs on a serving platter (a marble slab) in the middle of the table rather than dishing them up for people. It allowed everyone to take exactly what they wanted without being embarrassed about how much they were eating (hey, they were very good sliders), and it gave a nice family meal atmosphere. And thanks AGAIN to my talented brother-in-law Tony for the photos and the roast potatoes.

MEATBALL SLIDERS, SiS LATESTYLE
Recipe from Bonnie Stern’sFriday Night Dinners

My brother and his wife made these, and as far as I know they made no real changes from the original recipe except that they reserved half the meat and grilled it to serve with guacamole instead of tomato sauce. This recipe should make 20 sliders.

TOMATO SAUCE

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 finely chopped cloves of garlic
pinch of hot pepper flakes
1 (28 ounce) can of plum tomatoes, chopped up, with their juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

MEATBALLS

1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground chicken
2 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
20 dinner rolls

1. For the tomato sauce, heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and hot pepper flakes, cooking them for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the onions are slightly transparent and soft.
2. Add the tomatoes to the onion mixture and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes (until the sauce thickens slightly).
3. Add salt, pepper, and basil, then puree the sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings.

4. To prepare the meatballs, combine beef and chicken in a large bowl. Add the eggs, Worcestershire, breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper. Make balls with about 3 tablespoons of the mixture. Flatten the balls slightly so that they cook through easily.
5. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high. Brown the meatballs on both sides (it should take a couple minutes on each side), working in batches.
6. Once the meatballs are browned, add them to the sauce and cook for 10 to 15 minutes. You can pull out a meatball and cut into it to make sure it’s cooked through.
7. Cut rolls in half and place a meatball with extra sauce inside each bun.

Here we are at the end of another month and posting another Daring Bakers Challenge. It’s the first time that I haven’t procrastinated on doing the challenge, but I’d never let that stop me from posting late. It’s still February 28 for a couple more hours, though, so here you go!

The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE’s blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef.
We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

We served this cake as dessert at a semi-impromptu dinner party we hosted last weekend (more on that tomorrow). While we’re on the theme of lateness, I will admit to you that we served this cake at midnight (gulp) because I didn’t start making it until after dinner. It did, however, come together very quickly, and it’s totally possible to throw this together at the last minute.

I used Green and Black’s Maya Gold chocolate for the cake, pairing it with a David Lebovitz-recipe coffee ice cream. The ice cream was fantastic (it’s Carlo’s favourite). The cake tasted like– well, it had 4 and a half chocolate bars in it. It tasted like chocolate. Carlo and I found the cake to be a bit too heavy and rich for our tastes, but then we’re not big cake fans, period. Our guests went back for seconds, though, so I think that means it was a success!

Thanks to Tony for taking the cake photo. Considering that it was taken at midnight (=NO LIGHT), I think it looks pretty great.

If you’d like the recipe, check out Wendy or Dharm’s blogs (links above).

I’ve been so busy lately that I haven’t even had time to get my usual winter blahs. Maybe they’re still coming, but I don’t know. I don’t know much of anything anymore, not having any time to stop and think.

But there. Complaining over. After all, I’m at home today on a beautiful sunny afternoon, trying to enjoy sitting around. One of the side effects I’ve noticed of being super-busy is monkey mind. It’s a Buddhist term that I learned from reading Nathalie Goldberg, who used it to talk about that restlessness of mind that makes it difficult to slow down, concentrate, and write. Well, in case you can’t tell by the previous awkward sentences, I am having difficulty with that writing part. But beyond that I’ve gotten so used to running around that I’m having a hard time staying put at home and just appreciating my leisure time. I keep looking around for something to clean, something to panic about, something to put on my to-do list. When I find something, I do it halfway and then get distracted by another thing that I really should be doing instead.

I thought I’d pin myself down at home for a while by focusing on  monkey bread. This is a long overdue recipe preparation, as it’s from a blog I was paired with a long time ago for a taste & create event: The Vegetarian Hausfrau. She writes twice a week from Germany, and her site offers many wonderful, healthful recipes,  so of course when I was browsing through it, I got fixated on something unhealthy. Monkey bread has sweet dough, slathered in butter and heavily layered with sugar and cinnamon. Just what I need to calm (or, um, sedate) my monkey mind.

This is a lovely old-fashioned recipe that’s easy to assemble. The only time-consuming part is the rolling of little dough balls, which must then be dunked in melted butter then coated in a sugar/cinnamon mixture. It’s like mini cinnamon rolls when it’s baked. And it’s so good that my monkey hands couldn’t resist pulling pieces out to put in my monkey mouth before I even finished photographing. Take that, monkey mind! Thanks to The Vegetarian Hausfrau for a great recipe!

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