Hello Softpants, My Old Friend

I’ve come to put you on again!  Because it’s winter!  And that means three pretty fantastic things:

1- Getting your softpants out for the season

2- Lots of braising, stewing, and currying

3- And (this one’s for the ladies, or guys who are cyclists, whatever) not having to be so diligent about shaving your legs. Unless your fella’s weird about that stuff in which case massive eye roll and tell him good luck getting someone to cut his toenails in his old age with an attitude like that.

Just to be sure no one took that as enthusiasm, I hate winter. Until I can live in Switzerland and do nothing but drink hot chocolate and take long hot baths after a day on the slopes with Tina Turner, I’m having none of it. It’s gotten so bad I can’t even enjoy a perfectly warm summer’s day. I focus so much on trying to enjoy the heat while it lasts I can’t even enjoy the heat while it’s there. Isn’t that an awful way to live?

I’m sitting here trying to think of good things about winter and the only thing I can come up with is food. Snow days? I guess so. If you’re a kid or a teacher and get to stay home. But then you still need to shovel the car out to get to the liquor store. And as we learned the hard way last weekend, snow days in Newfoundland now mean no power, no heat, no cooking and NO BOOZE. I’ll tell you something, my goddamn 72 hour emergency preparedness kit now contains a hell of a lot more than batteries. Let’s just say Jack Daniel and the pink Energizer bunny are keeping each other company in a box in the basement. Winter walks? Yeah, no. A winter walk around sidewalk-less St. John’s is like hiking to Everest base camp. Except swap the altitude sickness with pickup drivers giving you the finger. Christmas? Ha! Definitely not. What’s so great about the only time of year grocery stores run out of cream cheese and bacon? Absolutely nothing, I say.

That leaves us with one thing. DUMPLINGS.

So, former holiday revellers, here’s a recipe to cheer you now that the joy of Christmas has worn off and we’ve been plunged into the despair of January and February. Followed by March, April, May. Maybe June. Well, that’s depressing now, isn’t it? Time for a safety drill and a visit downstairs to see the bunny and Jack. Or just Jack. SAFETY FIRST.

Rachel Khoo is my new food hero. Anyone who can cook food this good in a kitchen that small looking as fabulous as she does deserves the Nobel Prize for cooking (could we get on that please). Her TV series and cookbook, The Little Paris Kitchen, was introduced to me by my friend Nancy, who thought that Rachel’s little Paris kitchen was like my little red one. With two notable exceptions, of course. Rachel’s flat is in some unbearably chic district of Paris and my house is in a district where pyjama pants are the heights of fashion. Exception two – Rachel cooks in polka dot dresses and I’m lucky to get myself into jeans and a turtleneck on the best of days. I usually look like the people walking around the neighbourhood.

Yes, I said turtleneck. They’re classic, like Chanel dresses, and they keep you warm when you can’t afford to blast the heat in January. Jeez, it’s not like I wear Crocs.

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There’s always been something very intimidating about Beef Bourguignon to me. Mostly, it’s trying to spell the word Bourguignon. It conjures up images of fine wines, cuts of meat I know nothing about, and being yelled at by French people. Let’s face it. If you had to cook a meal in front of Jamie Oliver and you messed up, you’d both have a laugh, crack open a beer, and order a pizza. If you screwed up in front of Guillaume Brahimi, you’d probably be challenged to a duel at dawn with actual swords and shit. Oh, I kid. But that’s how I feel about French food and that’s how much it intimidates me. Which always means my admiration is equal to my intimidation. It’s so simple and beautiful, but unless you nail the simplicity and beauty, you’re done for. At dawn. With swords. That’s why I love Rachel’s cookbook. She strips away all the fear of cooking French food, and isn’t afraid to put her own twist on a classic recipe. She’s not precious about it, she’s fearless and she just does it. The fact that she’s not from France makes the book less intimidating for me, somehow. But what do I know. I wear turtlenecks and drink Jack Daniel’s in my basement. Just try this recipe and get her book if you’re easily scared away like I am.

(This recipe is also a shout out to the sweet kitchen that housed me for five years. It’s one of the last winter meals I made in it before moving in with someone who was willing to make room for me and my turtlenecks. The little red kitchen is now trying yellow on for size, and taking care of a sweet little family. Boyfriend and I are now in paint colour negotiations because this kitchen is like cooking inside a giant armadillo, and The Little Greyish Green Chicken is just not working for me.)

Beef Bourguignon with Baguette Dumplings

(From The Little Paris Kitchen, Penguin, 2012)

900g beef shin or stewing beef, cut into large chunks
2 tbsp plain flour
2 tbsp vegetable oil
150g lardons or cubes of smoked bacon
10 button onions or shallots, peeled
2 cloves of garlic, crushed until flat
1 bay leaf
a bunch of parsley stalks
1 sprig of thyme
1 sprig of rosemary
3 cloves
10 peppercorns, crushed
500ml red wine
300ml water
1 tbsp tomato paste
a pinch of sugar
10 chestnut mushrooms
chopped parsley, to garnish

For the dumplings:

200g stale baguette or other bread (crust included)
250ml milk
a pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper
a handful of chopped parsley
1 egg
1-2 tbsp plain flour
a nub of butter, for frying

Preheat the oven to 150ºC (around 300ºF). Dust each piece of meat with flour. Heat the oil in a large casserole over a high heat and fry the meat in batches until browned. Remove each batch, then fry the lardons, onions, garlic, herbs and spices in the same pan until golden brown. Return the meat to the pan and add the wine, water, tomato paste and sugar. Scrape up the caramelized bits – they will add flavour. Cover, place in the oven and cook for 3 hours or until the meat is tender and almost falling apart.

Cut the baguette into small cubes and place in a bowl. Bring the milk to a boil and pour over. Stir so that the milk is absorbed evenly, then cover and leave for 15 minutes. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper, stir in the chopped parsley and egg, and mix in 1 tablespoon flour. If the mix is too wet (it should be moist and only slightly sticky), add a second spoon of flour. Wet your hands a little to help stop the dough sticking to them, then make 12-14 dumplings (smaller than a golf ball).

About 20 minutes before the stew is ready, add the mushrooms and season with salt to taste. Heat a knob of butter in a large frying pan and fry the dumplings on a medium heat for 5 minutes or until golden brown and crisp, then drain. Garnish the stew with parsley and serve with the dumplings.

Besides replacing the lardons with a few strips of bacon and omitting the cloves, I followed the recipe to a tee and it was dreamy. And easy! And no one showed up at my door to challenge me to a duel. Turns out the meat I thought I knew nothing about was just a pack of stewing beef that I bought at Sobeys on sale. This is great with moose too, especially if you have no idea what cuts your uncle gave you and it’s just sitting in your deepfreeze, waiting to be loved. Braising, man. It’s just the best. The meat goes in the oven and you can forget about it for three hours. But not really, because the smell of this stuff in the house is really something else. The dumplings take no time at all and they’re fine to make right before the stew comes out of the oven. I can’t imagine it would be a big deal to make them earlier and then gently warm them up in the oven or a frying pan before serving. I made a bouquet garni with the parsley stalks, rosemary and thyme…I had to improvise butcher’s twine and use a piece of thread, and that turned out ok. While trying to google “can I use thread instead of butcher’s twine”, I learned that a top search is “can I use Polysporin on my dog” so there’s a fun-on-the-farm fact that only I would manage to come across while making Beef Bourguignon (and yes you can, if it’s not too serious).

Here’s Rachel making the dish in her little Paris kitchen, in case you were looking to make yourself feel terribly unfashionable and very unadorable.

Food won’t fix winter. Food won’t shovel your driveway or pick you up after you’ve slipped on the ice. But eating a bowl of stew and dumplings will make you feel safe and warm when there’s a blizzard outside. And hey, who knows, maybe if we all bring a few pots of stew and a tray of cookies down to city hall for the next council meeting, we can convince the guys to get a few of our sidewalks plowed. If not, we’ll challenge them to duels.

I’ll bring the Polysporin.

You Know You Love a Year End Top Ten List.

Don’t pretend that you haven’t spent at least one day this holiday season without having left the house. Maybe wearing soft pants while perusing the internet, maybe getting a little drunk by yourself and eating too much cheese? Hmmm? And if you haven’t, well I guess the true meaning of the season is lost on you. Me? I’m getting too old to pretend I’m cooler than I am (that happens in your thirties, kittens). And if anyone’s a regular reader (Mom), then you can surmise that I’ve treated myself to more than one day of soft pants and solo drinking. I’m currently on day five and I love it. Christmas is kind of great, friends and family are greater, but the giant black hole between the 26th and 30th is the best of all. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, ding dong ding dong! Family obligations are done until New Year’s, puff pastry is considered a food group, and you can mess up your boyfriend’s Netflix recommendations by watching countless episodes of Drop Dead Diva with few repercussions. I’d take those over gold, frankincense and myrrh any day.

With a paltry five blogs written in 2013, a top ten list is a fantastic way for me to fix how how little I wrote and how much I ate this year. As you can imagine, it was a super difficult list to whittle down. According to the snugness of my pants I really should be compiling a top one hundred, but you get the idea. A few decisions were made easier by the photos I had available. Most decisions were made according to how hard I thumped the table when I tasted something, or how loud I swore. Some food on the list I tried in restaurants, some at home in my own kitchen. The food is all over the map, as are the restaurants I ate in, but everything on the list tugged at my heartstrings. And it’s worth mentioning that I went in chronological order because it was impossible to choose absolute favs.

So once you’re sick of reading about twerking and crack-smoking mayors, put the kettle on, make yourself something hot and boozy, and settle in for a read before your long winter’s nap. You might not come out with any new dance moves, but you’ll be inspired to make something tasty for supper. I promise.

Spaghetti Squash Bruschetta

A pilgrimage to Eataly was the highlight of a trip to New York City this year. A massive food emporium dedicated to all things Italian, with everything from groceries to wine to cookbooks to all things in between. Everything. There are nine restaurants. It’s stupid busy at all times of day, but fascinating to watch monied Manhattanites buy cheeses and olive oils for parties I will never be invited to. Eataly is everything you want to eat and everything you will never be. So profoundly heartbreaking and heartwarming, all at the same time. We ended up the food mall’s veggie restaurant, Le Verdure. It was the only place that had a free table, and we didn’t miss the meat whatsoever. Spaghetti squash, grated Parmesan, balsamic reduction and fresh sage on Italian bread grilled with olive oil. It’s true that Italian food is at its best when the ingredients are simple and fresh. I just…I just can’t.

Creole Fishcakes

The dreamy island of St. Lucia came after NYC. It’s hard to write about that place without shedding a tear for the trip that was, especially when I look out my living room window. The misery of this winter makes St. Lucia seem like some hazy, golden, far off fantasy that never happened. But it did. And these magical fishcakes happened too. At Hurricane Hole in Marigot Bay. A bit like traditional Newfoundland fishcakes, but replace the savoury with chiles and serve with hot sauce instead of Nan’s pickles. Spicy and delicious. Just like St. Lucia.

Mango Cassis Ice Cream Mosaic

This gem of a recipe is great for summer, or even after a heavy midwinter’s meal. I made it for my supper club in March after a feed of jerk chicken and it was that light and cooling kind of thing you want after a spicy meal. Dead simple, and impressive to look at. Pretty and pretty easy, that kind of thing. No need to make homemade ice cream! Unless you’re that person who likes to put out place cards at dinner parties. In that case, go crazy. Just keep in mind that it defeats the purpose of a simple dessert and no one will care anyways, it’s that adorable.

A Very Gouda Breakfast Sandwich

Yes, I made a pun and it’s because I’ve been drinking. You can probably figure this one out all on your own, but just in case you’ve been drinking too:

- Fry an egg, sunny side up.
-While the egg is frying, place some sliced smoked gouda cheese on the egg white bit, being careful not to disturb the yolk.
-Season lightly with salt and pepper, then some finely chopped chives.
-Toast and butter two slices of Nanny’s homemade white bread, no substitutions allowed.
-When the egg is done (don’t overcook it, you want the yolk nice and runny), put between the slices of toast and be gentle, we’re not there yet.
-Cut the sandwich on a diagonal and enjoy the oozing of the warm egg yolk. Dip as you eat.
-This breakfast sandwich is perfect. You won’t even need bacon.
-But it might be nice on the side.
-I’ll leave that up to you.

Jalousie

I made this on a lark one night because I happened to have everything for it. I used a mixture of apples and pears, and left out the raisins because people only have raisins in their cupboards if they have kids, right? I kid. Raisins would be great. And I think they taste better if you call them sultanas, like they do in Kitchen Classics: Pastries and Breads (Murdoch Books, 2007). This flaky not-too-sweet thing is just lovely. For dessert or for breakfast…if you’re feeling particularly brazen first thing in the morning. Nice with a drizzle of creme fraiche, because sometimes I find puff pastry isn’t quite rich enough.

1 oz unsalted butter
1/4 cup soft brown sugar
1 pound or so of apples (around 4) peeled and cubed
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup sultanas
13 oz block of puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, lightly beaten, to glaze.

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Lightly grease a baking tray and line with parchment paper. Melt the butter and sugar in a frying pan. Add the apple, lemon zest and juice. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the apples are cooked and the mixture is thick and syrupy. Stir in the nutmeg, cinnamon and sultanas. Cool completely. Cut the block of puff pastry in half. On a lightly floured surface roll out one half of the pastry to an 18 x 24 cm rectangle. Spread the fruit mixture onto the pastry, leaving a 2.5 cm border. Brush the edges lightly with a beaten egg. Roll the second half of the pastry on a lightly floured surface to a 18 x 25 cm rectangle. Using a sharp knife, cut slashes in the pastry across its width, leaving a 2 cm border around the edge. The slashes should be open slightly and look like a venetian blind (jalousie in French). Place over the fruit and press the edges together. Trim away any extra pastry. Knock up the puff pastry (I’m not even joking this is what it says in the book, meaning brush the sides upwards) with a knife to ensure rising during cooking. Brush the top with the beaten egg. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until puffed and golden.

Enjoy this dessert that means jealousy, and also venetian blind. The latter takes the sexiness out of it a bit, I know. But it’s really good. And just to be clear, jealously is not. Unless directed towards Gwyneth Paltrow, in which case it’s perfectly healthy and encouraged.

Jujeh Kabab

As discussed in last blog. The most joyous chicken I’ve ever eaten. Tastes like somewhere hot where no one has to shovel.

Slow-Cooked Fiery Lamb

I can’t decide if Gordon Ramsay terrifies me, or if I’d like to have him over for supper. If I had to serve him one of his own dishes, it would be this one. Some minor preparations and then three hours in the oven. I can’t think of anything easier to cook in winter if you like lamb. It’s spicy, it’s comforting, it melts in your mouth. Serve it over roasted garlic mashed potatoes.

(Adapted from Gordon’s Home Cooking, Hachette Book Group, 2012)

4 lamb shanks
Olive oil
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 onion, peeled and thickly sliced
2 bay leaves
One 750 ml bottle red wine
2 cups chicken stock
Small handful of mint leaves, to garnish

For the marinade:

1-2 green chiles, seeded and sliced, to taste (I used a tsp of dried crushed red peppers)
1-2 red chiles, seeded and sliced, to taste
2 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 cinnamon sticks, snapped in half (I used a tsp of ground cinnamon)
3 garlic cloves, peeled, roughly chopped, and crushed
Olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

First, prepare the marinade. Mix together the chiles (use only one of each if you don’t like hot dishes), smoked paprika, oregano, cumin seeds, cinnamon sticks, garlic, 1 tbsp olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Rub mixture into the lamb so that it is well flavoured. You can cook the lamb right away, but it’s best left to marinate for a few hours, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 325°F. Heat a large enamelled cast iron dutch oven (or any kind of big sturdy pot that can be used on or in the oven) on the stovetop and add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Brown the lamb until coloured on all sides, about 6 minutes. Set the browned lamb aside (you can leave in if your pot is big enough) and add the carrots, onion, and bay leaves to the pot. Brown for a minute or two. Add the red wine to deglaze the pot, and be sure to scrap up the bits from the bottom. Put the lamb shanks back in the pot, bring the wine to a boil and let it reduce to about half, about 7 or 8 minutes. Add the chicken stock, bring to a boil again, and then transfer, uncovered, to the preheated oven. You can occasionally baste the shanks and turn them over during cooking time if you’re afraid of them drying out. Cook for three hours until the meat is tender and the sauce is reduced. Serve the shanks with mashed potatoes, spooning the reduced sauce over everything. Garnish with mint leaves.

It’s important not to cover the lamb. Gordon says if you cover lamb in the oven it will turn grey. Not pretty. Listen to Gordon.

This dish is ridiculous. For the people in your life who think they don’t like lamb.

Duck Confit Poutine with Foie Gras Gravy

Nyk’s Bistro Pub in Montreal. The meal I would eat if it was my last. I don’t need to talk about this anymore. Look at the picture. I would take this to be my lawful wedded poutine.

Corner Brook Pho

I know, it’s weird, those words don’t really go together. And before you get all hey, whoa, watch it St. John’s: A – I’m from Labrador and have every right in the world to complain about lack of EVERYTHING. B – I lived in Corner Brook for four years and I love it, it’s a great place. But wow, it needs some new restaurants.

Now they’re getting some! New Found Sushi opened there a while back to rave reviews. And the reviews have been even ravier for Pho Viet Nam, an authentic Vietnamese hole in the wall that will change the way you think about the town that has “the best view from any McDonald’s in Canada”. This is some serious, serious, shit. It’s a funny thing, eating food from Southeast Asia once you’ve been there. You’re constantly waiting to get that hit that will take you back. This is the best food I’ve had outside its own home. The best spring rolls (fresh and crispy-fried) I’ve eaten anywhere, and the most beautiful noodles I’ve ever had the pleasure of putting my face in. Run like a well-oiled machine by one lovely, no-nonsense Vietnamese woman and one very sweet waitress, this was the most exciting meal I’ve ever eaten on the west coast.

Moose Steaks with Onion Gravy and Potato Pancakes

I’ve been on this huge moose kick lately that’s a little out of control. I’m obsessed with replacing the beef in my life with something that was allowed to frolic in the woods and eat trees. We had these frozen steaks given to us a few weeks ago…I braised the first lot in a curry because the idea of cooking a moose steak terrified me. I’d heard too many tales about tough meat to think I could nail it. But these steaks were really something. No idea what cut of the moose they were, but they were lean and thin and only needed a minute sear on each side. So tender we didn’t even use our knives, just forks. Made a red wine and onion gravy from the pan juices while the steaks rested. We had them with some leftover Sunday dressing and potato pancakes from leftover mash. These pancake things were perfect and you know, I was excited because I totally need a new way to get potatoes into my diet. Jesus.

So here’s to a fun and food filled 2014! And a resolution to make this list even more difficult to compile next year.

One is so not the Loneliest Number

There’s a pretty annoying myth out there that it’s no fun to cook for yourself. I’ve heard a lot of people say, “Cooking for one is lonely, it makes me so sad.” To which I reply, “What’s no fun about drinking three oversized glasses of wine, cooking your favourite food, and watching as many episodes of Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta as you want with no one around to judge you?” Sounds like a pretty goddamn good night in to me.

Mastering the art of cooking for one is similar to mastering the art of dining out alone. Except that cooking at home allows you the comfort of soft pants and your choice of music (the first person to start that chain of restaurants will become richer than Bill Gates). You just need to embrace the solitude and not give any shits. According to some you have to be a bit more on your toes when you dine out alone, you have to be a bit more savvy about it. That’s what a lot of today’s women’s magazines will tell you. It will all be ok if you work really hard to look like you’re someone important (you are). Take a book, take a magazine, take a journal, wear a sparkly scarf and that lipstick you only break out for special occasions. That all helps I guess, but it’s kind of shitty that no one ever gives this advice to men. When I see a woman dining out alone, I don’t think, “Aww, she has no one to have lunch with.” I think, “Deadly, she doesn’t have to share her fries.”

For a laugh, take a few minutes and google “how to dine out alone.” You’ll find a few good points, but mostly you’ll realize how many people should be banned from saying things on the interwebs:

“I pull out a small notebook and pen. It’s less absorbing/distracting than an electronic device. And, it sends out a subtle but oddly effective signal: This may be a journalist at work.” Advice from a travel writer. Nice idea to have in your back pocket. Sometimes I like to pretend I’m a food critic, or that I’m Matt Preston from Masterchef Australia but without the cravat.

“When the waiter comes by and asks how everything is, tell them fine and ask for the check even if you are not finished eating. This way you won’t have to prolong the time you sit at the table alone.” Advice from Wikihow. Step number 6. Out of 9. Guys, COME ON.

“Try to avoid really busy sitdown restaurants. Both out of courtesy for the restaurant to not take up a whole table with your sorry ass, but also to avoid the embarrassment of having to stand around and wait for your sad, sad table for one.” Advice from a crazy lady in Nashville who I really hope doesn’t have a daughter but if she does I bet the kid’s been on Toddlers and Tiaras.

“It’s only eating. Who cares. And sometimes when you’re dining out alone people give you free booze.” Advice from me. And yes that’s happened and it was a half a litre of white wine and woo-hoo!

(Coincidentally I’m writing this from an airport, where you have no choice but to eat alone. And while we’re chatting about airports, as a citizen of the world I feel it’s my duty to inform everyone that I’ve recently discovered the joys of travelling with post-it notes. Sticking one over the motion sensor of an automatic flush toilet is a fun and fabulous way to make airport washrooms less terrorizing. Plus, you can leave fun notes for people like, “Have a nice day!”, “Have a great flight!”, or my personal favourite, “This is a post-it so the toilet doesn’t flush on your bum xo.”)

Lucky lucky me, I discovered the joys of cooking and drinking by myself years ago while I was living in South Korea. For the first time in my life I had my own apartment. It was a little studio, not much bigger than your average hotel room. I adored it. I walked around in my underwear and showered with the door open so I could listen to music. I would get off work around 9 o’clock, come home and pour myself a glass of wine and start cooking. I didn’t have an oven so it was usually a curry or my mangled attempt at something Korean. By the time supper was ready I’d feel very pleasant after a glass of white on an empty stomach. I ate cross-legged on my bed, watching whatever English TV was on that night. I loved it, and it stuck. When I ended up back in Canada and bought my house, cooking for one wasn’t a burden, it was an absolute joy. I thought nothing of making a roast chicken dinner and eating leftovers every day for a week. Making a big fat lasagna wasn’t a problem with lots of tupperware and a deepfreeze. And because my kitchen was so small people got to sit on it at parties. The deepfreeze, not the lasagna.

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(Ah yes, if anyone is passing judgement on my solo drinking in Korea, that’s cool. My students called me a troll because I had arm freckles and I was frequently mistaken for a Russian prostitute by cab drivers, so you know, I never let my pride get between me and a bottle of Black Tower. I’ve since developed better coping mechanisms, and better taste in wine. Sort of. Little Penguin?)

I was away for work again this past summer, and at one point found myself with two days off and the house to myself. I lived in a little place called Dunfield, where the nearest store was a 45 minute walk away. I was carless, bikeless. I was less mobile than the five year olds in town who all have dirt bikes. Hey, whoa, it’s ok, I mean they’re not supervised but they wear helmets. Safety first! Anyways, by some weird alignment of the stars I had all the ingredients for an Iranian chicken recipe that I had found on Saveur. I quartered the recipe, thinking I’d have enough for one meal and leftovers the next day. I ate everything in two sittings in a matter of minutes.

According to Wikipedia (hopefully they’re not loaded like their pals over at Wikihow), jujeh kabab is one of the most popular dishes in Persia. To be honest, it’s ludicrous that it’s not all the rage here, because this chicken is so good you will make weird sounds when you eat it. Nevermind how it will make your backyard smell…like an exotic marketplace somewhere hot and sandy. North Americans are pretty smug about how much they love to barbecue, but I’d venture to say we could still learn an awful lot about how the rest of the world does it. I’m not knocking hot dogs and beer, but this is the recipe to try if you’re game for something a little different. On my Dunfield solo weekend there was no propane in my roommate’s barbecue (meaning there was and I didn’t know how to light it) so I roasted everything in the oven, with no skewers and it was still amazing. I’ve since made it on a proper outdoor grill for a bunch of pals and it was unanimously agreed: best chicken ever. Here’s the just-perfect-for-one recipe that I fiddled with, and the link to the original recipe that will feed a few pals, or feed your fridge so you can eat it all week. Or in two days.

Jujeh Kabab for One

1/4 cup plain yogurt (not low fat)
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp orange zest
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp saffron
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 shallots, finely chopped
3 skinless, boneless chicken thighs (bone in/skin on pretty good too)
Handful of cherry tomatoes
Ground sumac and extra lime to garnish

Mix first 11 ingredients together. Poke a few holes in the chicken with a fork and add to the marinade. Marinate in the fridge for 5 hours, or overnight if possible. Place chicken and cherry tomatoes on a foil lined pan and roast in a preheated 400°F oven until chicken is cooked through and tomatoes are slightly charred. Sprinkle with sumac and fresh lime juice. Serve with rice and flatbread.

Check out the original Saveur recipe here for the full-on experience.

A dead easy dish to impress yourself or a bunch of guests at a barbecue. I made a batch of rice with mine and some homemade flatbread. Which also sounds impressive but is easier to make than the chicken. I love Anna Olson’s recipe, but I’d used the last of my yogurt for the marinade. I poked around online and cobbled together this simple flatbread recipe with no yeast, no yogurt, just the basics. A little bit like bannock in a frying pan, but with a kick:

Sift together 1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tsp baking powder, one pinch of baking soda, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1 tsp of cumin seeds. Cut in 1 and 1/2 tbsp butter. Gradually add 1/2 cup ice water and mix with hands until a dough is formed. Break off dough into 4 pieces and roll each piece into a thinnish oval shape. Heat a little butter or oil in a pan and fry each piece one at a time until golden brown and lovely on each side.

You can make a bunch of these if you’re cooking for a crowd and put them aside. They’re just as good gently reheated in the oven as they are straight out of the pan. They freeze like a dream too, so you can do a bunch and keep them in the freezer for curries and spicy stews and stuff.

No “I’m at home and I can eat what I want” experience is complete without something sweet. I halved Nigel Slater’s chocolate brownie recipe, partly because I didn’t have enough chocolate, but mostly because I knew I’d eat the whole pan in one sitting. The best brownie recipe I’ve tried, and fun to make with different flavours of good quality dark chocolate. I had some Lindt “intense orange” in the fridge and the results were quite intense, and quite orange.

So, you know…we should all just relax and cherish those quiet moments we occasionally get to cook and eat by ourselves. Or if your quiet moments come with a glass of whisky and the Latino Hip Hop playlist on Songza then maybe we should be best friends. Unless you’re that no-fun lady from Nashville, in which case my sorry ass will be watching yours on TLC while eating Persian barbecue and a pan of brownies.

Fire Curry for a Road Trip

So my mom’s family is from this kind of ridiculously beautiful place. It’s a marvel that no one’s run in and blocked out the sun with condos and parking garages (I’m looking at you St. John’s). We’re lucky in Newfoundland that the coastline and weather are just unforgiving enough to leave a lot of it untouched. We all scoff and roll our eyes when we see those “Best of” lists in magazines and newspapers. “Best Beaches in Newfoundland” or “Best Views in Newfoundland”. Well, maybe I’m the only one that scoffs and rolls because this is an impossible task. It’s actually impossible. I’ve seen nooks and crannies of this island that might never make it to a top ten list, but I like that. I like that no one knows about them and they’ll never have wooden boardwalks built over them. I like that actors will never have to move there in the summertime and dress up in old timey clothes and whore their craft to pay the bills (she weeps, summer job, thirty-seven years old).

Before packing up my life yet again and heading off for work, the fella and I headed off on a little a road trip to visit Mom and Nan. We had about five days to play with which wasn’t too bad. Although Nan’s cabin is more the kind of place you want to take a pile of groceries, a pile of books, a case of wine and just hole yourself up for a month or so. I’ve stayed there for weeks on end to turn off my brain, usually in fall after summer stock ends. I read, eat, run, ponder. Drink wine to quash the panic of being unemployed. I usually come out the other end a better person, a little heavier from too much food and wine and not nearly enough running. I also come out the other end still unemployed. Stay tuned for my self-help blog. Anyways, it’s in my top five places to be on earth and I take friends there whenever I can. My sister and I lucked into a piece of land not far from Nan’s cabin a few years back. A big beautiful grassy field where I will hopefully end up as that crazy old lady on the cliff who cooks weird food and yells at passing children. That’s the only thing I look forward to about old age. That and getting discounts at Shoppers Drug Mart.

In typical fashion for late May in Newfoundland, it rained nearly the whole time we were there. But there was booze and food and a wood stove so that equals a pretty deadly vacation in my world. Mom dropped by one evening with four gorgeous lobsters for us. On top of waiting on the wharf that day for two hours to get them fresh, she had cooked them for us, and then stayed to shell them. She knew if I tried it we’d be making a trip to the emergency room and cleaning lobster juice off the ceiling. My mother is a crustacean ninja and she shelled two of them in about a minute and a half. A big beautiful bowl of fresh lobster meat and I didn’t have to do a thing. We had leftover risotto in the fridge so to prove to her I wasn’t completely useless she stayed for supper and I made lobster risotto cakes.

We did get one day. It was like that day they show in all the tourism adds, when everything is extra blue and sparkling. Warm, just a few clouds, and a light breeze. Perfect. It’s days like this I’m in a panic to get out the door in case everything falls to pieces in the form of fog, hurricane winds, or a late spring snowstorm. We hiked up to the head to take in the view and talk to the cows. It was all pastoral and lovely. I have nothing witty to say here. But I did just use the word pastoral for the first time in my life, which is hilarious in itself.

Back to the cabin then, and we gathered up supplies to take to the beach. Before we left town we grabbed whatever was in the fridge with the loose plan of making a curry at some point. I hadn’t lit anything on fire for almost a year and was practically getting the shakes. Mom came down from the house with a big pot we could use…it looked less than suitable for placing naked on a fire but she shrugged her shoulders and said, “What odds.” We carted all the supplies down over the hill to the beach and started collecting wood. It was early in beach fire season and there was plenty, but I was a little worried about lighting the fire after all the rain. I can usually rock it with one match, but when people are watching, I get freaked out. Plus I get flashbacks to the first time I tried to light a fire on a hike by myself. It was too windy and I didn’t have enough kindling, so I did what any sane person would do and I sat down in the woods and cried. Then I marched home like a giant bag of spite and fried my wieners in a frying pan. Luckily, this time it was so warm and bright the wood had had enough time to dry out and I managed to get her done. With one match. And no tears. A remarkable accomplishment for someone who’s in her late thirties, still can’t do her own taxes, and had to look up the word esoteric last week because she wasn’t quite sure what it meant.

Fire curry!! Film this Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism. I’ll need Alan Doyle, Allan Hawco, and a pile of those freckly-faced youngsters from the Viking commercial, thanks. Fire curry has no rules, really. Just light a fire, find a spot where you can nestle the pot, and go to. Sometimes it helps to let the fire die down a bit so the pot can go in the coals and you can cook over a nice even heat. But cavemen and women never had nice even heat (or did they?) and were probably pretty impatient, so you know, heave the pot in and see what happens. I’ve yet to invest in a really good cooking pot that can be used over fires (shameful) but just borrow one from your mom. If she’s as easy going as mine, zero problem.

Pre-chop some onions, garlic and potatoes before you leave the house, if you can. A bit of oil in the pan, and fry up the garlic and onions. Follow this with the potatoes, a bit of turmeric and season everything with a bit of salt and pepper. Soya sauce or fish sauce will do as well, if you’re brave enough to cart fish sauce around with you on a hike. A big heaping tablespoon of red curry paste (or any curry paste will do). Let that all fry up for a bit then add some water and a bouillon cube (or you know, if you wanna cart homemade stock around, you’re pretty great). Add a can of coconut milk, or that coconut milk powder that you can find sometimes that is so great for hiking and camping. Throw in a couple of handfuls of red lentils (I had some that I had grabbed from the house at the last minute). Let everything boil up for a good fifteen or twenty minutes, until the potatoes are tender and the lentils are done. Cilantro would be nice to toss in if you have any.  We didn’t, but there was a bit of fresh tarragon in our supplies, so why not, right? It’s green and licoricey and whatever man, I’m so esoteric. I don’t think that’s right.

We sat on the beach and ate the fire curry with a loaf of Nan’s homemade bread and cans of beer. It turned out to be a really nice spicy potato lentil stew. It was so tasty we carted the leftovers back across the island. Along with the remaining two lobsters in a cooler. We dropped them off in Mount Pearl as a surprise for Justin’s mother, and by the time we were downtown and home she called to say they were gone. She’d shelled them and eaten them over the sink, just like that. What is it with moms and their innate ability to shell lobsters in record time? Is it something that kicks in only after you’ve had a kid? That and the ability to fold fitted sheets? I think it’s safe to say both our moms would kick ass if they were on Survivor. Hopefully I’d be the one they kept around for the cooking.

Pardon My French

My first honest-to-goodness lavish eating experience was in France when I was sixteen. I had never been overseas before, and it was one of those chaperoned jobbies where I spent a week on a bus with a bunch of American teenagers and then we all separated to spend three weeks with a host family. I hit the jackpot with my placement; a lovely upper middle class family in Toulon on the Mediterranean with a pool and a sailboat. They were so quintessentially Southern France I thought they would kick me out of their house as soon as they saw how fast I sunburned. They oozed glamour out of their pores. They took me on sailing trips and gave me French Champagne on my seventeenth birthday. Everyone smoked and looked like movie stars when they did it. The older sister, Delphine was nineteen and generally wanted nothing to do with me, but sometimes she’d drive me around in her jeep so she could practice her English. She looked like Brigitte Bardot and I was in love with her. Not in a sexually confused way, more like a I-want-to-be-you-so-bad-I-could-die sort of way. The parents, Guy and Martine, let me and my other host sister Charlotte have pool parties when they went to work. They’d leave the liquor cabinet open and a bunch of Charlotte’s pals would come over. Everyone was tanned and beautiful and would greet each other with kisses on the cheeks then go topless while I sat poolside in my Northern Reflections t-shirt and burned with Catholic shame.

So I didn’t quite learn to loosen up that summer, but I did have a lot of formative food experiences. I was shocked to learn how good ripe peaches were, and that the juice did in fact run down your arm when you bit into one. I ate more fresh fruit and vegetables in those three weeks than I ate in one year back home in Labrador. One night Martine and Guy had a fancy dinner party and my job was to peel the avocados. I had never seen one in my life and couldn’t believe no one had ever told me there was an oily vegetable (fruit?) that you could put a knife through like butter. Besides the one day it rained, we ate supper outside every single evening.

Everyone has thought of running off to France to live at one point or another and I’m no exception. It comes up often when I play the “When I Win an Obnoxious Amount of Money” game. I’ll have a big beautiful house on the Mediterranean with a yard full of cypress trees and all the fresh peaches I can eat. In reality, the last time I was in France I was backpacking and booked a bunk at the “Aloha Hostel” (that should have been my first warning) in Paris. I didn’t see a pillow on my bed and when I went to the front desk to inquire I was yelled at with an emphatic “WEE DUN’T ‘AVE PEELOWS”. It’s a good thing there were fresh baguettes and stupidly good coffee for breakfast, otherwise I might have walked away with a bad impression of Parisians.

The whole embarrassing point to this story (more embarrassing than the Northern Reflections t-shirt…it was fuchsia) is that Newfoundland is so close to France it’s almost silly. So close all these years and I only made it to St. Pierre this past summer while I was on tour. Our day off happened to be in Fortune and we were a short drive from the ferry terminal. Let me tell you, this little trip to France was a well-needed mini vacation after a hellish couple of days on the road. My birthday had been two days earlier and the celebrations included a five hour drive from Grand Falls to the Burin Peninsula, getting drunk by myself at a dinner theatre, and staying at a moldy B&B being run by a couple more suited to running a prison camp. They hated each other, they hated us, and they were drunk. Well so was I when I got locked out in the cold that night, but it was my birthday and I was allowed. Hi Nan.

A cold and grey day on the ferry, but not so bad. I was just glad to be out of the moldy house where people yelled at us. The minute we docked the fog cleared, the sun came out, and it was like some little French cheruby angels flew a banner across the sky that read, “Welcome! We’re sorry about your shitty birthday. We will make it today, non?” Oui! Bonne Fête to moi! I was functioning on three hours sleep but I kicked it into high gear. Dumped my bag at the Hotel Robert, grabbed my camera and took to the streets. Three months on the road in rural Newfoundland and all I wanted was a coffee that didn’t come from a gas station. Two espressos, one ham and cheese baguette and a chocolate croissant later and I started walking. Glad to be in the sun, out of the country, and full of the best food I’d eaten in months. I hung out by the lighthouse for a while and then backtracked to poke around in town a bit. I even found my own little red poulet…

I made myself a promise when I went through customs that I wouldn’t be afraid to use my French. Turns out I’m pretty fearless when it comes to ordering food and even a language barrier won’t get in my way. I’d probably haul Mandarin out of my ass if I had to. A lot of folks speak English at the tourist spots, but I always tried to beat them to the punch and start in French, telling myself it might be a while before I could practice again. I managed to order a tarte au citron and a café noisette at Les Délices de Joséphine without passing out. And what the what, café noisette? How have I never known about you? Kids probably get one on their first day of Kindergarten in France and I had never tried one? I have a food blog? Jesus. Sometimes I embarrass myself. I definitely embarrassed myself by pretending to read a French Elle magazine and only looking at the pictures.

A belated birthday supper that night at Saveur des Isles with Didi and Darryl. Course after decadent course of what I can only explain as the exact polar opposite of every hot turkey sandwich I had eaten on tour. A prosciutto and melon salad with fried chèvre to start, lamb with pommes frites and two mousses for dessert. Or would it be two mousse for dessert, like two moose? I argued with Darryl about whether the frites were done in duck fat and if they were, I mean how hard would it be to get duck fat in Newfoundland? Why did St. Pierre and Miquelon get to have all this great food and I had to wait until Thursdays in Cow Head to buy a banana? I’ll tell you why. Because the French don’t eff around, that’s why. If they wouldn’t let Marie Antoinette have her cake and eat it too, they’re not going to let living on a tiny island 3800 kilometres from the Motherland change the way they eat.

I think giving five year olds café noisettes might just be a step in the right direction.

Brushing up for Sheila

For who, you say? Which Sheila? Is she coming to dinner? Will she bring a nice bottle of Merlot? No, but she will dash all hopes of approaching spring with an apocalyptic dumping of snow never before seen by mankind. Or at least never seen since this time last year. We’re talking Sheila’s Brush, of course; a Newfoundland legend that predicts one final storm hitting around St. Paddy’s Day, as Sheila brushes away winter and ushers in spring. We know what Sheila does, and we know she’s related or connected to St. Patrick, but no one seems to know if she’s his mother, sister, wife, mistress, or housekeeper. Jesus, the poor woman. I’d dump snow on everyone too. She must have been in an awful mood in the summer of 1987 when she snowed on us at girl guide camp that afternoon they made us dig ditches. I can’t remember what bothered me more, that it was snowing in August or that we were digging ditches. Either way, I think I prayed real hard to Sheila that night to send more snow so I wouldn’t have to spend one more night in a freezing cold tent with these bitches who made fun of me for being homesick (and not being able to poop in an outhouse). She didn’t answer my prayers, but I did pee in my pants. Luckily Kendra and the two Leslies were fast asleep.

Sheila rears her head and brush in mysterious ways. She’s not likely to hit Newfoundland in August, but I can recall snowy afternoons walking home from rehearsal in Cow Head as late as May. Five years ago she swept in exactly on time, slamming St. John’s on St. Paddy’s Day. A cup of tea in the afternoon at Didi’s turned into a boozy sleepover when I realized the storm hit before I could make it home. I was only a twenty minute walk away, but my dad had called in hysterics, telling me to stay put or I might “lose my breath” on the way home. He also told me as a child that I’d get scurvy if I didn’t eat my potato skins. I stayed at Di’s to keep him happy, and Dad was right…the streets were buried. I’m not sure about breathing, but walking and driving were impossible. We made it across the street to Halliday’s to grab supplies to make nachos and chocolate chip cookies. We played scrabble and drank beer and were kind of grateful to be holed up for the night. Sheila seemed pretty pleased with herself and was gone before morning, leaving the city to dig itself out and fight over parking spots. Didi’s mom Helga was visiting from the Northern Peninsula (where the heartiest Newfoundland winters happen) and even she was impressed with the size of the snowbanks.

We all like to cling to the hope that when Sheila comes on or around St. Paddy’s day, that’s it, we’re good! Winter’s over! Put away the snow blower, break out the barbecue, put on some shorts and take off your socks. St. John’s: going sockless and pantless in April is not cool. Everyone thinks you’re an idiot, except all the other people drinking with you on the patio at the Sundance. Put your clothes back on and layer accordingly until July.

Whether winter’s done in March or June is completely up to herself, and while you can’t do much about warming up the outside, you can warm up your insides plenty. Here’s a quick and easy soup that will do the job, especially if you’re feeling a cold coming on. I’m a bit old fashioned when it comes to medicating myself. I make it a personal mission to try and fight an illness naturally before I reach for the Neocitran (I love love, it makes me so warm and sleepy). Sometimes I fail when that voice in my head says “put down the echinacea hippie and have some of that warm lemon drink” but I’m trying harder with every flu. One night a few months ago I was feeling a cold coming on before a trip out of town and I was desperate to jump on it before it took hold. I opened my baking/medication cupboard (yeah, so?) and there was a ziploc bag full of Life brand cherry-flavoured sleepy time fun medicine packets. I resisted and poked around in my fridge; I was feeling a Thai style curry soup, but I had no lime and no cilantro. What I did have was some fresh mint and a few lemons. And after a couple of bowls of soup, what I didn’t feel the next morning was a cold coming on.

Not many exact ingredients or measurements here, but give this a go the next time you’re trying to fight a cold. Finely chop one onion and as much garlic, ginger and chillies as you can handle (I used about 6 cloves of garlic oh yeeeeah, a one inch piece of ginger and one small red Fresno) and saute in a little olive oil in a medium sized pot. Add some baby red potatoes cut in half. Season with soya sauce and some turmeric and a heaping tablespoon of red curry paste or a little less, depending on your heat tolerance. Give everything a stir, then top up with chicken or veg broth and a little coconut milk. Simmer until the potatoes are tender, then add the juice from one lemon (half a lemon if you like, but I like the huge hit of citrus, especially when I’m sick). Spoon into bowls and sprinkle with chopped fresh mint (If you can’t find fresh mint that day at the grocery store, cilantro and lemon balm are pretty good substitutions). Serve with a small bowl of basmati rice.

This soup is pretty intense, so unless your kids are super adventurous they might not go for it. As for yourself, don’t be afraid of all the garlic and chillies…garlic is so good for fighting a cold, and if you’re not used to chillies, be brave! Now is the best time to start working on your spice tolerance. The rice helps lessen the heat a little, or if you’re completely hopeless, leave out the chilli. I joke, you’re not completely hopeless. Never pay attention to someone who keeps her meds and baking chocolate in the same kitchen cupboard. Anyways, this soup works. The spicy, salty, citrusy combination is really something, especially when the fresh mint hits the hot soup and everything gets all lovely and aromatic. I’ve made this a few times in the past few months, even when I’m not sick and want something to warm up my belly when it’s miserable out.

When it’s cold, salad doesn’t cut it. It’s difficult to eat seasonally in Newfoundland, but there’s always soup and there’s always stew. I love going the traditional route using good moose, beef or chicken, but doing something a bit more exotic in winter and experimenting with different flavours and spices is what prevents me from having a seasonal nervous breakdown. I crank the heat, buy a case of beer from somewhere hot and far away, put on Balkan Beat Box, and make something that’s bursting with something other than salt and pepper. Surprisingly not that hard in St. John’s if you don’t mind making your way to a few shops in search of the perfect spices. A couple of months ago I was poking around on the Ottolenghi website (my latest obsession and newest cookbook, sweet mother, just beautiful) and found a recipe for shakshuka. His is done with ground beef and roasted eggplant and between Food for Thought and Belbin’s, I was able to find sumac and preserved lemons. If you can’t find an ingredient at either of those spots, it generally can’t be found in town and if either of them ever shut down I’m leaving the province.

Pair this one with a dead easy recipe for Middle Eastern style flatbread and you’re good to go. Anna Olson’s recipe uses baking powder so you don’t have to fuss around with yeast. And you can make a pile of them ahead of time and heat them up in the oven when your shakshuka or curry is ready. I didn’t have any coriander seeds banging around, but they were super tasty with cumin seeds. Both the shashuka and the flatbread reheated beautifully the next day over a tray of tea candles in the oven when the power went out for fourteen hours. Hopefully Sheila won’t brush us that hard in the next few weeks.

So keep the halter tops and sandals away a little while longer. Think of Sheila’s Brush as another small blessing and use her as an excuse to break out your cold meds and softpants. It could be worse, you could be digging ditches at girl guide camp. Enjoy your shakshuka!

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Track Pants

Everywhere you go! Although folks on my street prefer animal print pajama pants. And it’s more like a year-round event. I don’t think it’s fair for one’s property assessment to go up eighty percent when eighty percent of one’s neighbourhood still think it’s ok to wear nightwear in public. But now let’s talk about when it’s perfectly acceptable to wear pj bottoms in public. That would be never. Except if your house is burning down and you’re standing distraught on a sidewalk holding a cat. In private? All the time. Unless you have a nice beat-in pair of jeans that are so comfy it’s like you’re not even wearing jeans. Yeah I know, I can’t fit into mine anymore either. Especially after this particular Christmas season, sweet baby Jesus and all the saints. And even though tour’s been over for quite a few months now, I’m really enjoying blaming the seven months I spent on the road this year. I now have a fear of sitting in cars, French fries (ha ha not really), gas stations, and changing my clothes in parish halls. Throw that together with seven months of being away from my kitchen and you have a recipe for an excellent, comfortable disaster. All I want to do is stay home, wear soft pants and cook. In the past five months, I’ve cooked more than I ever have in my life. I’ve perfected lava cakes, made my first risotto, my first prime rib roast, learned to sear lamb chops, and become obsessed with French food and buttermilk pancakes with raspberries. Coincidentally, I’ve also discovered the joys of leggings.

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Helping with my smooth transition to soft pants are a whole host of recipes I tried this past fall, but I was too busy eating to write about any of them. So let’s have a look at what delights did me in this past Christmas, shall we? Cupcakes were involved, naturally. Cupcakes of the mini variety. Psychologically they’re fabulous, as four of them kind of equal one. Women’s Health magazine would probably tell you to forgo the cupcakes this holiday season and head to the veggie tray. That way you can eat a pound of baby carrots (minus the ranch dip), drink half a glass of red wine, and waltz out the door completely guilt-free. My Christmas bash this year fell on December 21st. If the Mayan Apocalypse was going to hit, I wanted to go out in a blaze of pink cupcakes and not a pile of vegetables.

Last year we went with a massive pile of mini red velvet, so this time I wanted to try something different. Chocolate was my first choice but at the last minute I decided to go with yellow cupcakes. I got it in my head to use pink buttercream and there was something about the pink and yellow together that made me happy. Not necessarily Christmasy, but still pretty and festive. I’ve tried this recipe a few times now and with a cup of sour cream and 6 eggs, they’re a no-brainer for end of the world parties. Or kids’ birthday parties according to George Geary in his big beautiful The Complete Baking Cookbook.

Yellow Cupcakes

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
4 egg yolks
1 cup sour cream
2 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350ºF. In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside. In a mixer bowl fitted with paddle attachment (I used a handmixer), cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and egg yolks, one at a time, beating well between each addition. Beat in sour cream and vanilla on low speed. Using a wooden spoon, gradually stir in flour mixture just until blended. Scoop batter evenly into prepared muffin tins. Bake in preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into centre comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool in tin on a wire rack for 10 minutes before transferring to rack to cool completely.

(I used mini muffin tins, greased well and baked for about ten minutes. Keep a good eye on them, the minis don’t take very long.)

From The Complete Baking Cookbook (Robert Rose, 2007)

Vanilla Buttercream

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
6-8 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 tsp vanilla extract

Place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add 4 cups of sugar and then the milk and vanilla. On the medium speed of an electric mixer, beat until smooth and creamy, about 3-5 minutes. Gradually add the remaining sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition (about 2 minutes), until the icing is thick enough to be of good spreading consistency. You may not need to add all of the sugar. If desired, add a few drops of food colouring and mix thoroughly. Use and store the icing at room temperature because icing will set if chilled. icing can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

The Complete Magnolia Bakery Cookbook (Simon and Schuster, 2009)

George wasn’t joking about kids going mental for these things. The wee ones who came to the Hobbit House festivities early with their parents were cracked for them. Oddly enough most of the youngsters wanted to eat them like muffins, plain with no icing. I thought this was the weirdest phenomenon ever, and it made me start worrying that maybe the Mayans were right after all. Lena however, had zero problem with the icing and was fascinated by the pomegranate seeds I decided to sprinkle on the minis for a bit of sparkle. I told her that that they were like eating little pink jewels, but that she should definitely not try eating other jewellery. She deseeded a whole pomegranate for me (one of my most hated tasks) and I’m hoping she visits soon because there’s one more in my fridge that will probably sit there until August.

This recipe will make two dozen regular cupcakes, or over sixty minis. Sixty-seven little bites of festive goodness to be exact. With a few drops of food colouring in the icing to match your mood or the season; cheesy Chanel pink was how I was rolling that day. I’d say go with the minis for a big party. If everyone shows a little restraint, you might even have some left for the carollers who show up at midnight.

The day after Boxing day and a pile of leftovers in the fridge. Justin’s parents were leaving for Florida and we got every single scrap of food left after Christmas dinner. We’ve all smiled and nodded and said “Sure, I’ll take some turkey.” It’s that silent agreement that ensures that as the host, you aren’t stuck with the shame of throwing out perfectly good food. Sure, that’s your guest’s job! Not me, no sir, not this year. I was armed with the knowledge that can only come from watching Christmas special marathons on the Food Network. When Justin’s mom asked how much I wanted I said, “I’ll take all of it.” I wasn’t scared. And neither were my soft pants. There isn’t a Newfoundland mom or nan out there who doesn’t cook for an army when they cook a turkey dinner. I’m eternally grateful for the bounty that is food in the Western world, but you can only reheat or make hash so many times before stuff gets real boring real fast. I think if you poke around a little online and take the time to get creative, leftovers can make some of the best meals going. And if you ask me, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are a pretty lucky bunch. Ever make breakfast hash browns out of leftover potatoes from a Jiggs dinner? You will now! Just think about it. Perfectly salty, tender potatoes, drizzled in olive oil, seasoned with (only a touch) of salt and pepper, and baked until they’re all roasty and crispy and golden brown. The perfect breakfast potato. I felt bad for the rest of the world when I ate those.

And here’s a little tidbit that’ll make eggs a lot more fun. Rachel Khoo’s Oeufs en Cocotte. You can make them with whatever’s in the fridge, but check out the recipe for specifics. I used creme fraiche and tarragon and threw whatever herbs were left in some mayo for hash brown dipping. Made breadsticks out of a leftover whole wheat baguette. Poof! Breakfast at three in the afternoon; good with orange juice or beer.

Don’t put those pants on yet, kids. There’s bound to be a couple of turkey dinners in your future this year; maybe Easter, maybe sooner. When this happens and when the leftovers need a home, grab every scrap that you can and take a look at this Jamie Oliver recipe for turkey and sweet leek pie. You won’t groan and roll your eyes the next time your mom pushes you out the door with her biggest tupperware container. You’ll tell her to fill it to the brim. She might think you’re doing drugs, but you will end up with a new appreciation for turkey, I promise.

Mind your salt with this one because you can bet that turkey dinner is a bit of a saltier affair here than in the UK. Same goes for the broth in the recipe, especially if you use pot liquor like I did…wow. No thyme, used tarragon. No creme fraiche, used sour cream. And of course couldn’t nail down chestnuts or sage so I just used pre-rolled puff pastry (President’s Choice brand from Dominion works wonders) for the topping. You’ll figure it out and you’ll eat it every day until the entire pie is gone. It lasted us until the day before New Year’s Eve and then I didn’t know what to do with myself. So I put on pajama pants and made a leg of lamb.

It sure was great to make that resolution on January 1st. It was even better to break it on January 2nd. The best thing of all? Putting on some soft pants and deciding to wait until Chinese New Year.

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