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.
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.
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
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)
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.