Hatching, Batching and Burritos

After my ice cream maker, my favourite appliance is my deepfreeze. I honestly don’t know what I did before I had both. Probably threw out a lot more food while fitting into my skinny jeans. While I could maybe get by without ice cream (I just wanted to see what that looked like when I typed it), a deepfreeze is an absolute necessity. Between my dad’s obsessive compulsive berry picking and my boyfriend’s mother’s gift for finding roasts on sale, the basement deepfreeze is so full it makes me feel guilty for ordering in on nights I’m too lazy to cook. I can feel it staring up at me from the basement every time we sit down with a feed of China House. It says things like, “I hope you’re enjoying that dumpling, Willow. Because there’s a whole lot of starving kids in Africa right now who would love to have five half-price prime rib roasts and two dozen baggies of frozen partridgeberries.” Then my fortune cookie will say something like, “Enjoy the bounty of food in your basement before picking up the phone” and the night ends in a flurry of tears and bloating.

Besides riddling you with guilt, deepfreezes are great for batch cooking. Taking one day, opening a bottle of wine, and cooking for nine hours straight might not sound like a party for some, but for me it’s more fun than a barrel of drunk monkeys. A few weeks ago I found myself staying in on a Saturday night to make chicken stock. It dawned on me that maybe this is what it’s like to get old: sacrificing a drunken night out for the sake of having a supply of homemade stock in your deepfreeze. Then I realized that THIS WAS FUN FOR ME and that was ok! And I wasn’t sacrificing a drunken night out, I was having a drunken night in! Getting older means being happy with where you drink. And if that’s at home on your own with a bottle of fifteen dollar of chardonnay, then you are my people and we should make chicken stock together.

Batching is a great way to save time and money and can also be a great way to show the people you love how friggin’ thoughtful and excellent you are. I’m not the best at buying gifts. I’m not a cheap bastard or anything, but when you have to buy a gift for someone (blaaargh Christmas) instead of wanting to buy a gift for them just because, it becomes a chore instead of something that should be joyful. Right? I mean, who really likes Christmas shopping? I like it a little when I have a lot of money (never) and when I don’t leave it until the last minute (never) and I can have lunch and few drinks first (ok that’s kinda fun). But I’m a big believer in making gifts, so I’ve started making people food at Christmas. Making food for people, not people food, you know what I mean. And now, when friends and relatives get pregnant (at an alarming rate I might add, I’m afraid to drink the water), I make food gifts too. Something to put in the freezer that’s easy to heat up so you can concentrate on not breaking the new baby.

If it was up to me, every new mother would be given a government-subsidized baby butler/bouncer for a good solid month. It would be someone maternal yet stern, like Mrs. Hughes from Downton Abbey. No one would get in to see the baby without her permission and she would say things like, “Sorry, everyone’s asleep. And you’re not scheduled until tomorrow, but please feel free to leave the cupcakes.” I think most people struggle with visiting protocol after a friend or family member has a baby. Well. Most people, not all. I’ve never had a youngster, but I’m guessing there are those who burst in the front door demanding an all access pass to the new human, followed by a cup of tea and something to eat. It’s hard to blame people, really. I mean, babies only have that new baby smell for so long, and everyone from your nan to your boss wants a chance to nuzzle that sweet little head at least once. But I always try to remind myself that new mamas need some head nuzzling too, even if those heads haven’t had a chance to shower in a week. So what to do? Where to find that balance between getting to meet the new human and showing your love and appreciation for its owners? According to a couple of friends of mine who’ve had babies, there are two perfect gifts you can give brand new parents.

1. Show up (not unexpectedly) with a large casserole, lasagna, or some other comfort food that can be easily reheated or frozen. Hard carbs and cheese-based dishes are preferred.

2. Put food in fridge, dig out some cleaning supplies (or bring your own), clean one room in the house, and then go home. Even if new human is sleeping and you didn’t get a chance to nuzzle it.

This makes perfect sense to me. You would definitely be loved forever and probably be named an honourary aunt or uncle. I think this would be a great gift for childless friends as well. Imagine if you just wanted some alone time and when you woke up after a nap there was a lasagna in the fridge with a note that said “Enjoy! I love you. Call me when you’re up for a visit and a cup of tea” and then you walked into your bathroom and it was sparkling. It’d be a little creepy, but mostly totally amazing.

So here are a few meals I’ve made for parents-to-be. They’ve been defrosted and approved by my sister and her husband who had their perfect little baby boy in January. Now, in addition to being on freezer duty when I visit, I’m in charge of occasional hand puppet-style entertainment for my nephew. The starfish is already becoming a bit of a diva.

And check out this link for a few more ideas on freezer meals for new parents. It’s a guide for what to make for yourself when you have a baby, but wouldn’t it make more sense if someone made the meals for you? A nice big fat hint to print on baby shower invites maybe.

Easy Bean Burritos*

4 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
2 red onions, chopped
1 head of garlic, cloves finely chopped
2 large tomatoes, chopped
4 tsp chili powder
4 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp crushed red pepped flakes (optional)
Juice from one lime
2 heaping tbsp of sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste
4 tbsp olive oil
16-18 flour tortillas (whole wheat are nice for this recipe)
A whole lotta grated cheddar (I think I used one whole 500g block. Yum. Cheesiness.)

Heat olive oil in a large pot and saute onions and garlic for several minutes, just long enough for the flavour to go through the oil. Add black beans, tomatoes, spices, lime juice, and sour cream. Let cook for 15 minutes or so, until tomatoes have lost their shape and the mixture has thickened slightly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add extra lime juice and red pepper flakes if you like more tang and spice. Or play it safe and leave them if you’re batching for someone else.

Once the mixture has cooled a little, spoon a couple of tablespoons into the centre of a tortilla warp. Be careful not to overstuff…it might seem like a great idea at the time, but they’ll be hard to close and messy when you’re wrapping them up to freeze. Top with some grated cheddar cheese and fold up. Fold the bottom, then two sides, then the top, then put the burrito aside with the folds facing down so nothing spills out when you’re making the others. You’ll get the swing of it after a couple of messy ones. Wrap burritos individually and tightly in cling wrap and freeze in tupperware or large freezer bags. Makes between 16-18 burritos, depending on how much you’re filling them.

*These are delicious and my sister really loved them. However, as a breastfeeding mother, the baby did not. I don’t really need to elaborate as this is a food blog. Maybe these can be for the dads, or moms who are bottle-feeding.

Two more easy-freezey meal ideas while we’re at it. A chicken and dressing bake freezes like a dream, and if you use homemade dressing, you won’t feel so guilty about using a can of mushroom soup (What? Like you’ve never).

And remember how exciting it was to eat TV dinners as a kid? The ones with the fried chicken, corn and buttery mashed potatoes? The ones you ate on Friday nights while watching The Tommy Hunter Show followed by Dallas followed by falling asleep on the couch to the dulcet tones of Barbara Walters and Hugh Downs on 20/20? Just me? I have no idea why I loved those things so much, but I can still remember how surprised I was that mashed potatoes tasted so good even after they’d been frozen. Probably because they weren’t real potatoes and mostly salt and preservatives. But the good news is, real mash freezes just as well. I make mashed potato cakes constantly and you will too when you realize how easy and addictive they are. If you like Yorkshire puddings and you like potatoes, you can’t go wrong. Just press a couple of spoonfuls of your favourite mash into well-greased muffin cups or mini-muffin cups and bake at 375ºF for 20 minutes or so, or until golden brown.

This particular batch was made with butter, sour cream, a head of roasted garlic, salt and pepper, and lemon juice. Lemon juice sounds a little strange, but think of those roasted lemony Greek potatoes that you’ve had, and now think of them in a fluffy baked mashed potato Yorkshire pudding shape. You’re welcome.

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It goes without saying that everything here is best reheated low and slow, especially the chicken bake. You’ll have cooked it before freezing of course, but once it’s time to reheat, you won’t want to burn the dressing before the entire dish is hot, so take it easy and adjust accordingly. Microwaving is always an option, or defrosting in the microwave and then heating in the oven. But oven is always best, and easy if you remember to pop it in on 325ºF an hour or so before serving.

(Safety first! I once saw a hot Pyrex pan shatter into a thousand pieces instantly when placed on a cold sink. I’m assuming the reverse can happen if you place an icy-cold Pyrex in a hot oven, so if you’ve frozen your chicken bake in a glass dish, maybe put it in the oven first and then turn it on, so everything heats up gradually. If the reverse can’t happen, and people who know science are laughing at me, why don’t you go finish your blog about how the movie Gravity could never happen in real life and leave the rest of us alone.)

Burritos will take about 40 minutes between 325º and 350º depending on how hot your oven is. Potato cakes a little less at the same temperature. Remember, a fork stuck in the food and then on your tongue will let you know if something’s heated through every time, but don’t leave fork on tongue too long.

I’ve just exhausted everything I know about reheating frozen food. And as a side note, holy shit Hugh Downs is 93 years old. He’s been around longer than TV dinners.

A wee note before signing off. Apologies that these photos are limited and not my best work (she says, like she has “best work”). I packed my nice camera in my suitcase on the way to visit my sister, sat on said suitcase at the airport while waiting for a lift, and broke said camera. Camera has since been repaired and now every time I pick it up it shudders and says, “Please don’t drink all the free booze on Porter Airlines and sit on me.”

Now go cook something and hang out with your mom, your nan, a mom-to-be, a mom-not-to-be, or just some awesome gal who loves you and your food.

Banh Mi Up, Scotty.

 

The mayor says the snow in March was unexpected. The snow in March was unexpected. Let me just write that one more time to see how it looks. The snow. In March. Was. Unexpected. It was unexpected??? That’s like saying Vladimir Putin is one chilled out, cooperative dude who had like, the best Olympics ever with no stray dogs and lots of hot water and curtains in all the hotel rooms. Bless him, I don’t know what Dennis O’Keefe is on, but I would like a truck load of it dumped on my doorstep next winter, along with the metric shit-ton of snow that usually falls. IN MARCH.

I’m sick of writing about comfort food. I’m sick of eating comfort food. Ok, that’ll never be true, but it would be lovely to take off my snowsuit and put on a pair of flip-flops. It would be lovely to ease up on the dumplings and maybe sit outside on the back step in bare feet and have a beer. The Wednesday before Easter was so bittersweet, with its sunshine and heat and everyone sitting outside drinking coffee. And then it turned into February again. One of my favourite spring pastimes in St. John’s is to see how many people refuse to go back into winter mode after that one day of hope. It was -6 on Good Friday and I saw people with no hats on having picnics. I was horrified by all the children I saw on bicycles with unmittened hands, their parents behind them eating ice cream cones. April in this city makes people legitimately crazy.

Spring in St. John’s is glorious or completely shitty, and I like to make food that makes me feel hopeful. Shoulder season food. I want hard and comfy carbs but I want a burst of something fresh that will get me through that last snowstorm. You know, in July. How much of a surprise would that be? Not a very big one this year. I saw The Day After Tomorrow, I know how this shit works. If an abandoned Russian freighter ship floated past my house with Jake Gyllenhaal fighting off a pack of wolves I’d barely look up from my bowl of dumplings.

Banh mi was what I thought of a few weeks ago during that huge snowstorm we had to usher in April. You know, the one where Sheila hid her March brush for a while and then took out her April sledgehammer, that one. The one that made the whole city throw its collective hands in the air and give up. The one where people started donning crampons and ice picks to walk around downtown. There is no better time to play the “Let’s Eat Something That Makes Us Forget Where We Live” game than April in St. John’s. Well, any month that falls between October and May qualifies, really. But it seems like this year in particular, April is the month we need comfort food the most. Personally, I’m still on the soups, stews and curries, and I might be until July to get the cold of this winter out of my bones. And that’s why banh mi – a Vietnamese baguette sandwich – is so perfect for “spring” in Newfoundland. It’s meaty, it’s bread, but it tastes like a vacation. Like eating outdoors at a cafe somewhere warm and sticky.

Weirdly, I ate just as much bread as I did rice when I travelled around southeast Asia. The French were in that neck of the woods for a long time, and while food in places like Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia is still fiercely traditional, they’ve sort of made French baguettes their own. And if I may be so bold…they may even be a little better. Smaller, a little fluffier, crispy but not crunchy. I ate them every morning for breakfast with butter and jam, or with eggs. One time I was sitting in the back of a pick-up truck/taxi in Laos and bought one from a woman selling them to the passengers. It was filled with a mystery pâté and I was terrified of getting dysentery, but more terrified of looking like an asshole in front of the locals. I ate it, I survived, and it was delicious. You will never, ever eat better bread anywhere.

Banh mi are filled with whatever’s on the go. Mostly meat, sometimes eggs, but the ones we see over this way are usually filled with meatballs or satay, and topped with things like pickled carrots, cucumber, coriander, chillies, and daikon – a kind of pickled radish. On storm day I had everything but the daikon, and knowing that was something I couldn’t pop around the corner to get at Needs, I figured I had enough of the other ingredients to get by. I was in the mood to make my own bread and had a recipe for Mexican bolillos that I was wanting to try. Bolillos are mini-baguettes so hey hey I thought, perfect.

Don’t be scared by the homemade baguettes, the “homemade” sausage, the pickled carrots. Everything here is easy to make and will be completely worth it in the end. As far as Vietnamese flavours go, these recipes are pretty basic and not necessarily one hundred percent authentic. But the sausages and baguettes freeze like a dream and the pickled carrots take two minutes to make, so think about it. You can have banh mi supplies on hand all the time. Suitable for any season, and maybe if you’re lucky you might be able to eat one outside in a month or three.

Bolillos

3 1/4 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
1 pkg active dry yeast
1 tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups warm water (120° to 130°F)
Cornmeal
1 egg white
1 tbsp milk or water

(I activated my yeast first in 1/4 cup warm water and a tsp of sugar. Proceeded as normal with recipe but reduced the 1 tbsp sugar to 1 tsp.)

In a large bowl combine 1 1/2 cups of the flour, the yeast, sugar, and salt. Add the warm water and beat with an electric mixer on low to medium speed for 30 seconds, scraping sides of the bowl. Beat on high for 3 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately stiff dough that is smooth and elastic (6 to 8 minutes total). Shape dough into a ball. Place in a lightly greased bowl, turning once to grease surface of dough. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double in size (about 1 hour).

Punch down dough; turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide dough into six portions and shape each portion into a 6-inch-long loaf. Pull and twist ends slightly. Lightly grease 2 baking sheets; sprinkle with cornmeal. Transfer dough portions to baking sheets. Use a sharp knife to make a 1/4-inch-deep cut lengthwise downy the centre of each roll. In a small bowl combine egg white and milk. Brush some of the egg white mixture over tops and sides of dough portions. Cover and let rise until nearly double in size (20 to 45 minutes).

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375°F. Bake rolls for 15 minutes. Brush again with some of the egg white mixture. Bake about 10 minutes more or until golden brown. Remove rolls from baking sheets. Cool on wire racks. Makes 6 rolls.

(From Better Homes and Gardens Mexican issue, March 2014)

Homemade Sausage

450g ground pork
2 tsp fennel seeds
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 chili flakes (optional)

Pound your fennel seeds with a mortar and pestle or zing to a powder in a spice grinder. Stir all ingredients in a bowl. Divide into 2 portions. Roll each portion into a log about 7 inches long. Wrap tightly with wax or parchment paper, followed by some cling wrap. Twist the ends and secure with twist ties. Freeze at least 2 hours or up to 3 months. To use, remove from freezer and let stand for 20 minutes. Use a serrated knife and cut into 1/4 inch rounds. Pan-fry in 1 tsp of olive oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat, a few minutes on each side until the rounds are golden crispy and cooked through.

Pickled Carrots

Stir 2 cups shredded carrots with 3 tbsp rice vinegar, 1 tbsp vegetable oil, 1 tbsp sesame oil, 1 tsp sugar, and 1 clove of minced garlic. Season to taste with salt.

(Both recipes from the Chatelaine Special Edition Magazine: Dinner in 30)

To serve the banh mi, spread the buns with mayonnaise (and Sriracha sauce for an extra kick if you like). Top with sausage rounds, pickled carrot, sliced cucumber and chopped coriander. Serve with a wedge of lime.

My bolillos were hilarious and way too pointy, but were perfectly crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. And also, huge. A half one of these would have been fine for a meal, but it was stormy and I was feeling entitled. I bet bolillos are perfect for pulled pork sandwiches too. And let me tell you something about these sausage things, they will change your life. Imagine a pile of them in the freezer, ready for subs, pasta, breakfast rounds. So many spice combination possibilities, and ground turkey or chicken might be nice too if you’re in the mood to lighten things up a little. Just be sure not to thaw the sausages too much and cut them as soon as they have a bit of give. That way, they’ll keep their shape nicely in the pan. You’ll need more meat if you plan on using all six buns; one sausage roll fried into rounds filled two buns perfectly. I’d suggest making extra sausage meat to keep in the freezer, and extra buns too. Once you realize how easy these are to make, you’ll want the ingredients on hand so you can eat them all week like I did.

See, now you’re prepared for another few weeks of misery until flip-flop season begins. Or you’ll have something to feed the Russian ship-wolves during that snowstorm in July. Whichever comes first.

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.