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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.