Rhubarb-Tarragon Strudel (Or, How I Went into Labour)

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It wasn’t the plan, but I was reading a food magazine when my contractions started. Here’s the thing. Every pregnant woman has a “birth plan” in her head, even if she won’t admit it. Mine was more like a “birth fantasy”, if you will. A fantasy that, statistically speaking, would NEVER HAPPEN. Kind of like a “winning the lottery” fantasy, the one where you take all your friends to the Maldives for a month before a luxury safari in Tanzania followed by buying your dream home in the south of France. There was a better chance of all of that happening than there was of my birth fantasy coming true: power walking around Quidi Vidi lake on a warm March afternoon to induce labour, breathing and pushing an hour later at the hospital to “Bad Girls” by M.I.A. followed by a surprisingly quick and drug-free childbirth.

I know. I was that pregnant lady. I was even annoying to myself.

The reality. Me on the sofa reading a food magazine and my contractions starting 2 minutes apart. Barking orders at Justin and my mom to “GET MY FLIP FLOPS OUT OF MY GYM BAG AND PUT THEM IN THE HOSPITAL BAG I NEED MY FLIP FLOPS.” Driving to the hospital thinking “WTF who does this without drugs.” Hobbling across the parking lot holding onto Justin while repeating, “I’m definitely getting the epidural.” Not in the door two minutes screaming at the nurses, “get me the epidural” etc. etc. Which, by the way, along with finally getting an ice cream maker, was the best decision of my life.

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I will obviously spare you the rest of the details because this is a food blog, even though women love telling their delivery stories because COME ON how could you not, look at what you just did, sister! But I recently had a go at the recipe I guess you could say induced my labour. I was looking at a picture of this exact strudel when my contractions started, which is kind of cool. And that, my friends is the weirdest sentence I have ever written.

So if any of you happen to be pregnant, I share with you all my best wishes for a quick and painless delivery, complete with all the drugs and pineapple popsicles you can handle (no seriously, get the epidural, if your kid’s head is as big as mine’s is, you’ll need one).

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Rhubarb-Tarragon Strudel (from the April 2016 edition of Food Network Magazine)

For the compote:

2 sprigs tarragon
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 pound rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (I used 4 cups)

For the strudel:

6 oz cream cheese (I used one standard 226g package)
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for topping
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
7 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed
1 1/4 sticks (10 tbsp) unsalted butter, clarified*
2 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
1 tbsp granulated sugar, plus more for topping

*To clarify butter (prevents strudel from getting soggy), melt it over medium-low heat until the milk solids separate and rise to the top, 3 to 5 minutes. Let cool, then skim off the white foam and discard. Spoon the remaining clear butter into a bowl, and discard the solids left at the bottom of the pan.

1. Make the compote: Combine the tarragon sprigs, granulated sugar and 1 3/4 cups water in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil and stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the rhubarb, reduce the heat to low and cook until softened but not falling apart, about 3 minutes. Strain the rhubarb over a bowl, reserving the liquid (keep the rhubarb in the strainer to drain completely while assembling the strudel).

2. Make the strudel: Preheat the oven to 425°F. Pulse the cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, flour and vanilla seeds in a food processor until just combined.

3. Lay out 1 phyllo sheet on a clean dry surface (keep remaining phyllo covered with a slightly damp kitchen towel). Brush lightly with the clarified butter and sprinkle with 1 tsp of chopped tarragon and 1/2 tsp granulated sugar. Layer another sheet of phyllo on top with more butter, tarragon and granulated sugar. Repeat the layering with the remaining phyllo; do not top the final sheet. Cut the stack of phyllo in half crosswise. Reserve the remaining clarified butter (about 1 tbsp).

4. Put each phyllo on a piece of parchment paper that’s slightly larger than the stack. Position the stacks with the long sides facing you. Divide the cream cheese mixture between the stacks, spreading it in a 2-inch-wide strip along the edge closest to you; leave a 1-inch border at the bottom and the sides. Spoon the rhubarb pieces over the cream cheese filling. Starting from the side closest to you, use the parchment to lift the phyllo and roll tightly around the filling to make two logs; arrange seam-side down. Transfer the strudels (on the parchment) to a baking sheet.

5. Brush the strudels with the reserved clarified butter and sprinkle generously with granulated sugar. Bake until golden brown and crisp, 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, bring the reserved rhubarb liquid to a boil in a saucepan. reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until syrupy, about 15 minutes.

6. Let the strudels cool 10 minutes on the baking sheet. Slide the strudels (on the parchment) onto a rack; let cool 45 minutes. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar and drizzle with the rhubarb syrup.

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Here’s what went wrong, because that’s what happens sometimes with recipes (and birth plans ha). I chucked the rhubarb in with the water and sugar before reading the recipe and realizing I had to bring the sugar water to a boil before adding the rhubarb. No biggie, I don’t think it made much of a difference. But I did overcook the rhubarb, it really does only take 3 minutes because it cooks again in the oven. I’m not sure about that whole “don’t top the final phyllo sheet” business…when I tried to spread on the thick cream cheese mixture the top layer started to rip because it was dry. So I’d say top the last layer if you have enough. Which I didn’t, so brushing the completed strudels was done with regular microwave-melted butter because who’s going to clarify another batch when you’ve been at this three hours? I had to read the fourth step about a dozen times before I could work my brain around it. I may have had to google “crosswise” and found this handy dandy article which was very helpful except I was cutting phyllo and not brussels sprouts. And what if my phyllo was turned the other way around around, hmmm? What would happen then, Food Network? It’s safe to say I’ll never work at NASA. Anyway. Cut your phyllo down the long side.

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I need to bake desserts in my awful oven at around 225°F, so it took closer to an hour instead of 20 minutes. Keep that in mind if you have an infuriatingly hot oven like mine, because the bottom of the strudel will darken quickly and the rest will be soggy. And I left off the icing sugar because really, you don’t need it with sugar sprinkled on top and then syrup.

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The biggest almost-disaster was not realizing how tall my kid is. There were two of us on duty and I still almost lost the nearly-completed phyllo layers from the kitchen table in the five seconds there wasn’t a set of eyes on Jude the Destroyer.

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I won’t lie, this one was a bit of an effort. I haven’t attempted a recipe this herculean since long before baby was born. And it’s not exactly the kind of thing you can throw together while simultaneously trying to keep a toddler from eating things out of the garbage can. But even with all the mistakes, it was beautiful. Definitely the kind of dessert you can afford to mess up a little and call it rustic. I love weird sweet-herby dessert combinations, but cut back on the tarragon if you’re scared, or leave it out completely (but don’t, it’s so lovely and licorice-y). This recipe makes such an obscene amount of strudel we had to give a chunk away, ate it three nights in a row for dessert, and still had some left to put in the freezer. And that worked out too, warmed low and slow in the oven a couple of weeks later. Imagine dying for something sweet some night and thinking there’s nothing in the house and then remembering there’s something in your freezer that’s flaky and made with cream cheese and rhubarb. That moment of realization alone was worth the three hours of strudel construction. With a cup of decaf Tetley before bedtime? Come on. Or similarly, make it a few weeks in advance of some dinner party you’re hosting. You can defrost it before everyone arrives, and they’ll show up with sweet strudel smells wafting out the front door to greet them. Everyone’s impressed with what you’ve just accomplished and no one’s the wiser. Hey, kind of like getting the epidural and not telling anybody afterwards! Either way, you end up with a great dessert/baby.

Happy cooking, badasses.

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Hand Line Cod Curry

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Food, how I’ve missed you. I have a friend with two kids who told me when I was still pregnant that it sure was a good idea I bought an espresso machine because soon coffee and food would be my only joys in life. I thought, jeez, that’s kind of harsh. What about the sweet little bundle of joy I was incubating? It was only after I had a kid that I realized she was the only mom-pal I had who TOLD THE TRUTH. Oh, man. Babies. And wow, was I ever one of those smug non-parents who thought I would actually get stuff done after I had one. It wasn’t like I was having twins, how messy could my house get? I would just clean when the baby napped. I would write when the baby napped! I’d swaddle it in a fuzzy blanket decorated with yellow ducks and it would sleep in a ray of sunshine on the bed in my office for at least three hours at a time while I wrote a blog a week and finished a novel. Sure I’d be a bit tired, but that’s what my brand new espresso machine was for. My baby would watch, fascinated, perched in its bouncy chair on the kitchen table while I basically did everything I did before I had a kid. Except get drunk by myself and stuff, obviously. But I refused to let a baby change my cooking and eating habits.

Hahahahaha, I was such an idiot. I wish all you parents out there had told me how babies actually work. The first two months I only had time to breastfeed, cry, eat one meal a day, or some weird combination of all three. Getting changed out of my bathrobe was kind of a big deal, and a shower happened three times a week if I was lucky. I can’t even wrap my head around how people have twins, I definitely would have had to give one away. I conveniently forgot my house was always messy before I got pregnant, so how I thought that would magically change after a human came out of me is anyone’s guess. Naps for baby meant the two of us in bed, me bum-patting with one hand, head-rubbing with the other, and singing Baby Beluga for an hour so the both of us could get twenty minutes sleep. And if I left that bouncy chair unattended to make a piece of toast this is what happened:

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Also, “it” turned out to be a little boy, even though everyone told us we were having a girl. Except a Turkmenistani lady at the International Food Fair last November who gave me free meatballs when she saw I was pregnant, looked me up and down and told me very seriously I was having a boy. And that espresso machine? I didn’t learn how to use it until the baby was sitting up on his own. But is he ever friggin’ sweet. And after a few months of figuring each other out, he’s a joy in my life, too. After coffee and food. I kid! Of course he’s number one. Number two on days he’s teething. And has ripped a tile off the fireplace when you weren’t looking to soothe his aching gums.

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I can count on one hand and remember in excruciating detail the meals Justin and I ate together in the first three months of Jude’s life, on the rare occasion he slept by himself (not joking, three of them: one Piatto pizza, ribs and potato salad, veg fried rice with sunny side egg on top and hot sauce). I made a cod curry one Sunday evening when he was maybe a month and a half old. He was taking this crazy five-hour nap, one of those baby naps where you can get stuff done (like sleep) except you’re so freaked out the baby’s napping longer than a half hour you’re too afraid to do anything except run up the stairs every ten minutes to make sure he’s still breathing. I finally got it together long enough to get a curry on the go and he woke up as soon as we sat down to eat, of course. But it gave us hope that maybe he’d sleep like that again later that night, or maybe even the next day.

(It took him two more months to sleep more than five hours and I hope there are teenagers reading this who I’m scaring shitless into celibacy.)

Justin had spent some time on Fogo Island a few months earlier shooting a film about hand lining cod (check out the trailer for it, it’s been featured at festivals all over the world, won some awards, it’s so lovely) and came home with a few boxes he’d caught while he was out with the fishermen. It had been flash-frozen, and I generally save frozen cod for tacos or curries, going a bit purist when the fish is fresh and pan-frying it old-school. I made the Fogo cod in a baked Thai curry but I have a feeling it would have pan-fried really well…even though it had been in the freezer for a few months it was up there with the best cod I’d ever eaten.

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This recipe is super quick and easy, very loosey-goosey…definitely not authentic-authentic in the way a good Thai curry should be, with painstakingly gathered fresh ingredients all pound into an honest-to-goodness curry paste. Last I checked it was virtually impossible to do this in St. John’s unless I’m behind the times in which case someone please let me know where I can get fresh lemongrass and the rest of it. But it’ll give you your Thai fix, you can do it in a half hour (pretty convenient, especially if you’re trying to keep a tiny new human alive), and the ingredients are fairly easy to find in these parts.

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In a medium saucepan combine two cans of coconut milk, 1 heaping tablespoon of your favourite ready-made Thai curry paste, 1 tablespoon of soya sauce, 1-2 tablespoons of fish sauce, half a teaspoon of ground turmeric, the juice of half a lime, and 1 teaspoon of brown sugar. Throw in a stalk of lemongrass and a couple of kaffir lime leaves (if you can’t find, curry will still be nice) and let the whole thing come to a boil, then let simmer for a few minutes. Place 2 (or 3 if you like less sauce with your curry) fresh or thawed cod fillets in a 8×10 Pyrex dish and pour the sauce over top, leaving in the lemongrass and lime leaves. Bake in a preheated 400°F oven for 20 minutes or until fish is opaque and flakes easily. Serve with rice, chopped coriander, and lime wedges.

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Again, this is all to taste and you can play around with the sauce before committing to anything. It might need more or less sugar or fish sauce, or a bit more lime juice depending on personal preference and the brand of curry paste you’re using. Add in another tablespoon of the paste if you want a stronger, spicier curry. I’ve done red, green and yellow, all delicious. Try palm sugar instead of brown if you can get your hands on it (the So Kee Grocery on Duckworth should carry most of these ingredients if you’re in St. John’s, including frozen lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves) and a bit of grated fresh turmeric instead of powdered is always nice, and I’ve heard you can actually get it around here these days.

This curry takes about a half hour, and hilariously, this blog took me over a year to write. But it all evens out in the end. Just like your new baby will when you think you’ll never eat without a tiny human in your arms ever again.

Or sleep. Or read a book. Or drink a full coffee without having to reheat it in the microwave five times throughout the course of a day. But you’ll get there. Eventually. I mean, it only took me fifteen months to finally get out of my maternity jeans. Happy cooking!! xo

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Eat Your Cake Now Because We’re All Screwed

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Well, now. Who saw that coming? Like, who actually, really, honest-to-goodness saw that coming. It’s like, if someone had said to me a few weeks ago, “Hey Willow, Dr. Teeth from The Muppet Show will be president-elect on November 9th”, I would have spit my drink in your face laughing and we all would have had a good hardy-har-har then got a sub on the way home. But then it happened. Except it’s worse.

I don’t want to mention any names because this is a food blog. I loooove shooting my mouth off about politics, but it’s different when you’re drinking with your friends or yelling at the television with your dad. But as soon as you put things online there are sad trolly-types googling stuff and looking to cause trouble and hey, they get hungry too and maybe they’re looking for a curry recipe or something. Well, umm…maybe not a curry recipe. Anyhoo.

(Is president-elect supposed to be capitalized because I’M NOT DOING IT.)

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I’ve been working on a blog for months now, trying to eek out a few sentences in between getting thrown up on and singing Baby Beluga thirty-eight times a day. But then the world woke up to the orange billionaire version of their least favourite drunk uncle being handed the keys to the White House and it seemed a bit trite to post some chirpy blog about being a tired new mom. Suddenly, nothing else mattered except cake. All I wanted to do was drop everything and bake something for no other reason than I craved comfort and chocolate and distraction from disbelief that a man-child with a golden toilet got elected president of the most powerful country on earth.

Okaaaaay, so I like to stress eat. I mean, I love to stress eat. I wish I could transfer that into something a bit healthier like going for a run or journaling or woodworking. But who felt like strapping on a pair of sneakers or breaking out the old power jointer after that shitshow of an election night? After an ugly-cry and a cuddle-chat with my baby about the importance of him being a good feminist, I had to make a cake. I was obsessed with making a cake, and not a quick-fix mix either (with obvious respect and love for the quick fix), but a luxurious, homemade chocolate cake in one of those glass cake stands. So I wouldn’t have to cover it with cling wrap and ruin the icing and it could sit on the counter for a week (hahahaha) with the sun glinting off the glass. And I wanted cream cheese icing. Not an icing traditionally paired with chocolate, but think how good chocolate cheesecake is, so why doesn’t this combination happen more often? I would make this happen, but first I needed to run out and buy some cream cheese. And one of those glass cake stands.

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I wanted this cake stand in my life so bad I broke my “No Mall after October 31st” rule and ended up pulling in early enough I could easily find a parking space, and let me tell you, I was feeling pretty goddamn pleased with myself for being so on top of things. I think I’d even managed to do the dishes before I’d left the house and taken a sho- haha of course I hadn’t taken a shower. Anyways, I wasn’t thinking (I have an 8-month old, rarely happens) and EVERY RETIRED GRANDMOTHER had taken the bus to the mall to go Christmas shopping and every single one of them were in the kitchenware aisle at Winners, practically tossing Le Creuset lids at each other in search of the perfect reindeer oven mitts or whatever, I don’t know. No fancy cake stands there so I popped over to the relative cool and calm of Stokes, the store I avoid like the plague because it’s full of stuff I really want but don’t reeeeally need. Like cake stands! Poof, done, thirty bucks, in and out, later grammas. After stopping at Laura Secord to buy four French mint chocolate bars to calm my nerves, of course.

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When I got home I held my mother-in-law hostage while the baby was napping, in case he woke up and I was mid-cake. I wanted this done and under the dome by suppertime, and if nap time ended early I would have had to drop everything and pay attention to him like he was an 8-month old or something. Babies are sooooooo needy. But because this recipe is so fast and easy, Squirtface slept through cake and cream cheese icing, and more importantly, slept through me having to share licking the beaters or bowl with him. I haven’t quite figured out how that will work when he’s old enough to realize what’s going on. Always baking during nap time? Hiding in the closet with the bowl while he’s loading the dishwasher for me? I’ll get back to you. I suppose I could…share. Jesus. Again, with the needy youngsters.

I’m not really sure where this recipe originally came from…it’s been in my family for years and it’s still my mom’s go-to. We used to eat it after Sunday dinner right out of the oven with hot custard. An old Hershey cookbook, maybe? Hmmm. If they’re reading this they’ll hopefully be too busy to take legal action because everyone in America will be stress eating so much chocolate Hershey won’t have time to look up from their golden thrones.

Mom’s Deep Dark Chocolate Cake

2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/2 tsp EACH baking soda and baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk (2% or 3.25%)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

Sift dry ingredients together. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla and beat with a mixer on medium speed until mixed well. Add boiling water last, stirring with a large spoon or whisk until mixture is smooth. Batter will be very thin. Bake at 350° in a greased 9×13 pan for 35-40 minutes, or two standard round cake pans for around 30 minutes. Cake tester or toothpick should come out clean when inserted in middle of the cake.

Cream Cheese Icing (from The Complete Magnolia Bakery Cookbook, Simon and Schuster, 2009)

1 8-oz package cream cheese, softened and cut into small pieces
3 tbsp unsalted butter, softened and cut into small pieces
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and beat well. Gradually add the sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating continuously until smooth and creamy. Cover and refrigerate for 2-3 hours, but no longer, to thicken before using.

(This recipe is halved from the original in the book, and it’s more than enough to generously ice the chocolate cake when baked in 2 standard round cake pans)

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If you’ve never baked a cake, homemade or not, this is your recipe. I can’t even begin to describe how moist and delicious it is and besides, there’s no time. I saw Melancholia, I know how the shit ends, can we all just start strapping on our aprons, please. Mom’s always been a bit hush-hush about the recipe, but I’m sure even she would agree these are desperate times and if you have a secret family recipe just put it out there now and everyone can eat really well in our bunkers when drunk uncle starts angry-tweeting about North Korea instead of Alec Baldwin and we all have to go into hiding.

Was I ever pleased with myself when this came out of my notoriously too-hot-for-baking oven perfectly done. I couldn’t wait for it to cool and for the icing to set to get it all dressed up in its winter clothes and set it under its new glass dome-home. I couldn’t keep Nanny that long, bless her heart, so she got sent home with a promise of cake delivery and a visit from Squirtface and his dad on Saturday morning. That’s the day I get to sleep till noon and drink coffee in front of the television, pretending my chronic sleep deprivation is a hangover from a glamorous night out. I even go to bed on Friday night with a full face of makeup to fool myself into believing it on Saturday morning. I’m kidding. I had to throw out all my makeup because it expired. Anyway. Cake.

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Supper was in the oven and Squirt was in bed when I finally got to finish my End of the World Chocolate Cake. I’m no cake decorator, but I slathered on the icing and swirled it around to make it look like a rustic-type creation that I wouldn’t be completely ashamed to put in front of a Martha Stewart-Nigella Lawson type pal who popped in for tea. And you know what? It was gorgeous! Like a marshmallowy, snowy, creamy thing that with the right kind of lighting and set decorating, could maybe grace the cover of a (low-end) food magazine. I was feeling like a Democrat before the polls closed, all ready to pop a bottle of champagne as soon as they called Florida.

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But hang on a second, what’s this? I can’t seem to…the dome won’t…I put the cake on a plate to ice it and now it…

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Son of a bitch.

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The glass dome wouldn’t fit over the plate. No one told me I had to put the cake directly on the stand in order for the dome to fit over it. Florida wasn’t a sure thing, how could I have thought my glass cake stand would be too? It was time to concede my victory and get the goddamn toothpicks and cling wrap.

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Just remember, they can take away our cake stands, but they can’t take away our cake. Or something like that. And count your toothpicks. I panicked when I counted seven after the delivery to my in-laws, knowing without a doubt I had put eight in, but Justin reassured me that was because he’d almost eaten one earlier that afternoon, so we were good.

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Anyways, onwards and upwards. Or sideways. Or ass backwards. Whatever gets you through the next four years. Like a lot of canned goods and batteries in your basement. Until next time!

(Hopefully.)

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Top Ten of 2015

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Oh look, another top ten list. Which should have come a few days before the end of the old year and not three days into the new, so now it’s not terribly relevant (I’m well aware that my other posts don’t necessarily scream relevance, thank you very much). But you know you can’t look away, you know you’re looking for a good excuse to put off going back to real life tomorrow and the most awful day of the year: FIRST MONDAY AFTER HOLIDAYS. Unless you get real excited about Old Christmas Day, everything is done and put away and you’ve already dumped your Christmas tree at Quidi Vidi Lake. Part of me admires people who have their shit together enough to strip and dump the tree on January 1st, and the other part of me is thinking jeeeez, lighten up. Ours stays up till mid-January. Mostly because we’re lazy, but in part because January is generally terrible and the sparkly lights make me happy. So I say, embrace denial! Put on the kettle, put on your softpants and tuck into the leftover Christmas cheese. Poke around on Facebook and laugh at all the New Year’s resolutions your friends won’t keep. It’ll make you feel better about pounding the face of the rest of that wheel of Brie.

Besides the meals I ate at nice restaurants (all my favs came from Chinched Bistro this year because we eat there a lot and it’s the best), this year’s list wasn’t terribly exotic. When I finished compiling, I noticed four chicken recipes. But what the hell, who’s never looking for another quick and easy chicken recipe? No one, that’s who. There was pork, moose, beef, and tons of seafood this year, but to be honest a lot of it came down to what I casually took pictures of, and what struck me as easy and comfort food-ish. All the recipes are real simple, and good ideas to get you through a NL winter. Or they’ll inspire you to actually put on a pair of pants and leave the house and let someone else do the cooking.

1. Beer Can Chicken

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No chicken likes to think it will end up this way, but unfortunately for them and happily for us, beer can chicken (or beer butt chicken, but I just can’t because oh, the poor little things) is one of the quickest and tastiest ways to liven up a barbecue, or even a Sunday roast. Try this rub adapted from Jamie Oliver’s beer can chicken recipe in Jamie’s America: 1 tsp ground fennel seeds, 1 tsp ground cumin seeds, 1 tsp smoked paprika, 1 tsp brown sugar, 1 tsp chill powder, 1 tsp salt, and a bit of freshly ground pepper. Mix with 4 tbsp of olive oil and rub mixture all over chicken and inside the cavity. Pour half a can of beer in a roasting pan with a few peeled cloves of garlic and a roughly chopped onion. Carefully place chicken over the half-full beer can and place standing up in the pan. Pour in a glass or two of water, tent the whole thing in foil and roast in a 375° oven (you might need to remove one of the racks for the thing to fit) for about an hour. Take out of oven, remove foil, and roast again for 15-30 minutes more or until the chicken is cooked through and the skin is nice and crispy. Using tongs, put the chicken on its side and remove the beer can. Let the chicken rest on a plate and strain the pan drippings into a saucepan. Thicken with a bit of cornstarch and water if you like, to make a nice gravy. Straining’s not necessary, you can use the drippings straight from the pan, but use it somehow because it’s delicious. I like my beer can chicken with a side of homemade oven fries baked with lemon zest and juice, then sprinkled in chopped parsley or cilantro when they’re out of the oven. The leftovers make the best hot chicken sandwich you will ever eat.

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2. Moroccan Roast Chicken

This is the best roast chicken recipe I’ve ever made. It’s so good it even knocked beer can chicken out of the coveted top spot. I made three of these in November for a bunch of my sister’s friends and their toddlers, and it was a huge hit. Even the toddlers liked it. Easy to cook for a crowd, and babies will eat it. You guys, this one is clearly a no-brainer. The wine cooks off so it’s fine for kids. And pregnant women. Unless you ask some of the crazier pregnancy online forum people who go so far as to suggest not using mouthwash with alcohol in it. It’s like the Virgin Mary is writing all the pregnancy advice or something.

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3. Chinched Pork Belly

“Pork belly with squid and sour cherries on a herbed quinoa, anyone?”

“That’ll never work.”

“SHUT YOUR FACE.”

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4. Chinched Seal Loin! (Yeah, you heard me) 

Seal has a bit of a controversial reputation, to say the least. This is mostly thanks to celebrities who couldn’t point out Newfoundland and Labrador on a map if their Louis Vuitton bags depended on it. We won’t get into that argument here, but it’s safe to say that most NL’ers defend the hunt fiercely even if they’ve never tasted the stuff, just to spite the likes of Pamela Anderson and Paul McCartney. I counted myself in that group until last April when I tasted seal for (shamefully) the very first time at Chinched. It was the loin, braised loin I think, on a bed of vanilla parsnip puree. Jeeeeeeesus in the garden was it ever spectacular. Our server Tim came back to check in, took one look at our faces and said, “I know, right? It’s not your nan’s flipper pie!” Honestly, just one of the most beautiful, tender, flavourful pieces of meat I’ve ever tasted. Cooked with love in the kitchen by a group of chefs who get it. Thankfully, most of the standout chefs in this city are bold and ballsy enough to educate the rest of the world about how great (and sustainable, humanely-hunted, etc, etc, etc) this meat really is.

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5. Partridgeberry Chocolate Chip Muffins

How can a muffin make someone’s top ten list, you may ask? Because I don’t write for The New York Times and I can do what I want. These are super moist and freeze really well and are sort of kind of healthy-ish. Not really, but anything with oatmeal makes me feel like I’m at least putting in a mild effort, and I threw in partridgeberries to uh, get my daily dose of antioxidants. Make a pile of these for the freezer and defrost them low and slow in a 300º oven for ten minutes or so and it’s like they’re freshly baked.

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6. Five-Spice Barbecue Chicken

Again, with the chicken, but this time on the barbecue. I remember this day so fondly because it was the one nice day we ate outside in July after a perfect day of hiking before summer went screwy and turned into November. If you’re using boneless chicken thighs, they will cook in no time on the barbecue. Do flatbreads on the grill too, and serve with Sriracha sour cream and cilantro. The best meal I ate outside all summer. The only meal I ate outside in July.

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7. A Ham Sandwich

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What? You think Michelin-starred chefs go home after service and whip up seared scallops and parsnip purees? No! They make sandwiches. Don’t knock it because there is nothing better than a good ham sandwich. Not the ones you ate when you were a kid, with Miracle Whip and white bread, squashed together in cling wrap. But a really good sandwich on good bread with good ham and toppings and condiments, like how Subway would be if the French had invented it. My doctor’s pretty cool and not prone to North American pregnancy food paranoia, but she did tell me to try and avoid deli meats. So I’ve been good in that department, while not so good in others (cookie dough). Naturally, my biggest pregnancy craving was a deli sandwich, so my mother-in-law baked me a whole ham that I could slice up and stash in the freezer for whenever the craving hit. That night, the long-awaited sandwich happened, in front of the television and a movie, and it was glorious. The sandwich happened again on Boxing Day, with the noted difference that now I have to eat my TV suppers on a bench on the coffee table because I’m too fat to bend over and I’m afraid I’m going to squash the baby while watching episodes of Masterchef Australia.

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8. Chocolate-Studded Dumplings

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Come on, any recipe with the word stud in the title. A really simple dessert from one of those mini Company’s Coming cookbooks my brother-in-law picked up on a whim on a trip to the grocery store when I was visiting Halifax. And don’t even dare roll your eyes and be all food snobbish about this one. Like you wouldn’t die to go to supper at Jean Paré’s house. When you’re in serious need of a baked dessert but too lazy to commit to anything more than ten minutes of prep, ARE THESE EVER THE DUMPLINGS FOR YOU. Best with vanilla ice cream. If you’re pregnant this will make your baby go full-ninja, so mind your lower ribcage.

Chocolate-Studded Dumplings

Cocoa Sauce:

1 3/4 cups water
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 tbsp cocoa
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt

Dumplings:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 tbsp granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
2 tbsp cooking oil (I used canola)

For the sauce, combine all 8 ingredients in a small saucepan. Heat and stir on medium until boiling. Pour into ungreased 3-quart (3L) casserole dish. For the dumplings, combine first 5 ingredients in medium bowl. Add milk and cooking oil. Stir until soft dough forms. Drop by tablespoonfuls into cocoa sauce. Bake, uncovered, in a preheated 350° oven for about 30 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in centre of dumpling comes out clean. Serve warm (with ice cream!)

Reheats nicely in oven the next day, if you manage to save leftovers…

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9. Chicken Marbella

Don’t let the idea of prunes and chicken throw you, because this recipe is dead easy and PERFECT. Chop them finely enough and no one will know anyways. Like I did, and then after supper I yelled at Justin, “Ahahaha you just ate pruuuuuuuuunes!!!” As this is a food blog and not a pregnancy blog, we do not need to discuss why I had prunes in the house.

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10. Olive Oil and Red Grape Cake

This sounds weird, and it is, but in a lovely sort of way. I made this for our 5th Annual Lamb’s Eve on December 30th. This year’s theme was French, and my friend Celine is from France and came for supper and she approved, so, let’s be real here, I didn’t really care what anyone else thought. Like a pound cake, but lighter, and the olive oil didn’t make it savoury so much as earthy or something? Serve with this recipe for vanilla bean ice cream, or splash out on a nice store-bought one.

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(I’m cheating a little here, but I don’t have a picture so I think I can get away with it. Here’s a little shout-out to the very last thing I ate in 2015, and I’m not talking about the three Tums I had before bedtime. We did the tasting menu at Chinched on New Year’s Eve and every course was amazing, but the last one was hands down the best thing I ate all year, and one of the best desserts I’ve ever eaten. Warm chocolate cake with caramel ice cream and a salted coconut macaroon. Sweet Mother. I took one bite and it was so good it made me sad, if that makes sense. Sad that every bite was closer to the last one. My one wish for the new year, after world peace and Donald Trump not becoming president, is that they put this on their regular menu for all of eternity.)

So chickens, here’s to good times in 2016. Wishing you full and happy bellies for the new year! But not full enough that you need a feeding bench like me.    xo

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That Jerk Can Stuff It. And So Can November.

Or as I like to call it, The Shoulder Season Black Hole of Despair. November is awful. Unless it’s the month you move to your beach house in Costa Rica for seven months (in which case, do you need a personal chef and also I do windows), it’s generally like some terrible punishment from the gods for too many summer cocktails or frolicking in too many piles of golden leaves in October. Frolicking is hard in November. Or I should say outdoor frolicking is hard. November has always been my month for indoor frolicking. Last year, I unapologetically hibernated the entire month and it was glorious. See, you can do that when you’re an actor who’s between contracts (that’s code for “unemployed sixty-five percent of the year”). At one point I didn’t leave the house for five days, and when I did it was to walk down the hill to meet some friends for lunch. An hour and a half later I was back home and back in my softpants, licking Nutella lollipops from tablespoons. It was the best week of my life.

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Anyways, hi there, I wrote a blog after seven months. And so far this November is turning out a little differently. I’m totally knocked up and word on the street is you’re supposed to get out and exercise and not stay in the house drinking wine and eating steak tartare all day. So there’s my usual fall routine out the goddamn window. I kid, I kid, I’m happy to do all of the above (uh, not do, I mean) as long as the baby grows into a dentist who will look after me in my pensionless old age (oh god what have I done). So this fall is all about not drinking, but it is about eating and enjoying the food I’m actually “allowed” to have. That means braising and cooking the shit out of everything, which kinda comes with fall anyway. I admit to questioning the wisdom of not eating raw cookie dough (I also freely admit to breaking that pregnancy rule numerous times), but let me tell you something, maternity pants ARE FUCKING AMAZING.

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Jerk chicken! I love it, I make a lot of it. I’m pretty sure my recipe would be considered mediocre in any part of the Caribbean, but it got me through the coldest July on record in St. John’s. Even on those days it was almost too cold to barbecue. It’s so weird even to write that…a day too cold to barbecue in July. On my birthday this year I had to wear slippers and turn the space heater on in the kitchen while I was baking my birthday cake (What? Like I would trust anyone else to do it). This was after my morning run, when I passed kids in the Bannerman Park outdoor pool, swimming in six degree weather while the poor lifeguard was on deck wrapped up in a blanket and wearing a toque. Why do we live here.

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This recipe for jerk chicken stuffed flatbread is a mishmash of a bunch of my favourites. It’s inspired by a Jamie Oliver stuffed Egyptian flatbread using leftover chicken or lamb with spices like za’atar, sumac, cumin and paprika. I’ve been making it obsessively since I discovered it in my copy of Jamie’s America, using homemade flatbread instead of the authentic Egyptian store-bought stuff (not to be found here as far as I know). No rules with this one, really. I usually have a stash of flatbread dough in the freezer that comes in handy when there’s meat in the fridge that needs to be used. On this particular five-degree summer day there was leftover jerk chicken, so things got a little bit Caribbean-Middle Eastern-fusiony. With a glass of French rosé to drink on the side to completely mess with my head. I was cold and slippered in my kitchen, space heaters on bust, obviously thinking of warm sandy places and picnics in parks, blissfully unaware that soon I wouldn’t even be able to drink to keep warm.

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If you have enough leftover jerk chicken to fill a cereal bowl, you’ll have enough to make one giant flatbread. Shred the chicken, add one egg, and some extra fresh thyme and chillies if you like. Season with salt and pepper (because the edge will be taken off the already-seasoned meat when you add the egg) and combine. If you’re using this flatbread recipe (always my go-to, dead easy), break the dough into four portions and set aside two, putting the other two dough balls in the fridge or freezer for later. Flour and roll the two pieces out into a circle that’s not quite as big around as the frying pan you’ll be using to cook them. Place the filling on one, carefully spreading it out with an inch or more to spare. Don’t overstuff, or bring filling too close to the edge or your flatbreads will leak when you roll them together, or come apart when you flip them in the pan.

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Place the other rolled-out flatbread on top and seal around the edges. Gently, very gently, roll the two together. Your goal isn’t to flatten everything, just to get it all to stick together a little for easier flippage. Heat some butter in a frying pan and cook the flatbread slowly over a medium heat until golden brown on each side and when you’re pretty sure the egg mixture in the middle is cooked through.

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These are good on their own, with a salad, with rice, and whatever dipping sauce turns your crank. I’m a big fan of a green harissa on the side, or just plain yogurt will do. Yogurt is good mixed with harissa as a dip, the homemade or the store-bought stuff. Try the flatbread on the barbecue sometime too, just make sure you brush both sides well with olive oil so it doesn’t stick to the grill. We had leftover leg of lamb in the fridge one random week in June, which will tell you the state of affairs in town this past summer. It was so cold I braised a goddamn leg of lamb in the oven for four hours and still had to turn the heat on in the kitchen.

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I mixed the stuffing with an egg and the Jamie Oliver za’atar-sumac-cumin-paprika mix. One teaspoon of each or so, with some salt and pepper (mind your salt of you’re using store-bought za’atar, sometimes it’s already seasoned). It all depends on how much meat you have, and play around with any spice mix you like. Middle Eastern, Jamaican, Mexican, whatever mood you’re in. Unless you’re feeding vegetarians or gluten-frees, you can’t go wrong with spicy meat stuffed in dough and cooked in butter or on the barbecue. You definitely won’t go wrong on a cold day in November, or if you’re feeding a pregnant lady.

Unless you only make one, that is.

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Gluten-Free Nutella-Berry Pancake Stack

This is almost good for you! Well not really, but sort of? Blaaah who cares. Not that I think eating gluten-free is an automatic ticket to good health like we’ve been led to believe by people wearing hot pants and living in California. But you know, it’s nice to shake things up a little bit without flour. I kind of look at gluten-free eating like I look at tofu. Here it’s “oh my god tofu I love it and I have to eat it because I’m a vegetarian.” In Korea, everyone eats it because…it’s tofu and it’s part of a regular diet, whether you eat meat or not. I think eating gluten-free can be a part of everyone’s food routine and we don’t need to make a big deal about it. Unless of course you’re celiac in which case you do need to make a big deal about it no matter how many naysayers roll their eyes at you. We’re all so food-judgey. Don’t even pretend you haven’t rolled your eyes at a vegan who won’t eat honey because the bees make it. I certainly did, until I asked a vegan, “So like, what the hell is up with that.” And they told me bees regurgitate it (eeewww). I said, “holy shit, really?” and decided at that moment to respect vegan eating habits while continuing to eat bee spit on my toast in the morning.

Yes, these two-ingredient pancakes are gluten-free but let’s just calm down and call them pancakes, shall we? These have been all over the internet for ages, and here I am putting my two cents’ worth in and some Nutella and raspberries on top of that. Raspberries are heaven and the perfect berry to go with chocolate, sorry strawberries. As for Nutella….well, me and Nutella go way back. Though not as early as you’d expect. Weirdly, you could get it where I grew up in Labrador, but here’s the thing: my sisters and I had no idea it even existed. Robin came home from a sleepover at a friend’s house one morning, and in ten-year-old speak said the equivalent of “Holy fuck I just ate spreadable chocolate on bread at Sarah’s house FOR BREAKFAST. It’s called Nutella.” I remember my eyes growing wide and “Oh god Mom can we get some,” coming out in a strangled whisper. Mom said no because she’s a genius and knew that if her kids started eating chocolate for breakfast (especially this one) it would be game over. I would never have been that European poster child for Nutella. I would never have had a thin layer of it on a piece of artisan sourdough, kissed my Maman on the cheek and grabbed my soccer ball to go frolic in flowery meadows. I would have stayed inside and eaten Nutella lollipops by the tablespoon in front of the television until I developed juvenile diabetes. As an adult I try to subscribe to the “everything in moderation” diet. While it’s true I’ve eaten hashbrown casserole more times in my life than Swiss chard (and that would be zero times I’ve tried Swiss chard) I’m trying to get better with the moderation thing as my body hurls itself toward middle age. Which I hear is like, 67 now right? Thankfully, almost thirty more years before I have to get super serious. Onwards! To the pancakes!

You need two eggs and one banana. That’s it. The trick is to put everything in a blender and whiz it together until smooth. The blender is kind of key here because once everything is whizzed up and full of air it will give the illusion of real live pancake batter. You can mash if you like, but your pancakes won’t really be pancakes so much as scrambled eggs with mushy banana. The two-ingredient rule stops here if you like. I like to add cinnamon, and you can toss in a teaspoon of sugar if you’re going to eat the pancakes plain. If you’re going the Nutella-raspberry route, or smothering everything in maple syrup, it’s not (entirely) necessary.

Heat a bit of oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Not extra virgin olive oil – that’s too heavy and will make your pancakes taste like salad. The oil needs to be light. Coconut is fun, and it’ll make everything a bit more tropical-tasting. Never a bad thing, especially around these parts. When the oil is hot (not smoking), ladle a small amount of the batter into the pan, or pour it directly from the blender. Don’t make them big like crepes, because the batter is a little delicate and they can be hard to flip. Be gentle, be patient, and when they’re dark golden brown, turn them over. Preferably with a cookie spatula if you have one. They’re small and easy to manoeuvre and will make getting under the half-cooked pancake much easier.

Two eggs and a banana make a surprising number of pancakes, so it’s probably best to make them all in the one go and keep them warm in a low oven until you’re ready to assemble. From here it’s all freestyle pancake stacking. Piled as high as you like, with as many berries and Nutella as the stack can handle. I used frozen raspberries that I’d thawed beforehand, so don’t worry if you can’t get your hands on the fresh ones. Buying frozen when berries are out of season is always your best bet anyways. Melting the Nutella a little bit first in the microwave will help with drizzling.

A yummy breakfast stack of gluten-free goodness. Or just plain goodness. Also delicious drizzled in bee spit, if you’re not in a chocolate sort of mood. Happy Spring!!

The First of the Spring Chickens

I can’t believe I’m about to write this…but…winter hasn’t been that bad?? “EASY FOR YOU TO SAY!” scream all the Haligonians and our pals on the west coast of the island who got pummelled Day After Tomorrow style. To that I will say, our hearts are with you! And goddamn, we’ve been there so I’m relishing the well-deserved break. It’s amazing how cheerful it is to walk around in sub-zero temps when you can do it on a sidewalk and not in the middle of the road. A BIG thank you to St. John’s city council for getting some of your collective shit together! And now for the love and honour can we please talk about your demolition policy? I won’t be bringing you a plate of cookies for that stunt. Anyway, I also finally broke down and bought a winter jacket that covers my bum. Between that and a Christmas vacation spent in softpants while inventing martinis, I have solved winter.

So, with high hopes and crossed fingers, I’m going to come out and say it. We’ve seen the worst of it. In the likely event of a savage storm in April, spring is still in the air and not even Sheila’s Brush can stop it. A storm in April is laced with a bit more hope than a storm in December, am I right? (I could be wrong. St. John’s could be a mess right now, I’m not even there. I’m on tour and writing this from a hotel room in Marystown, pantlessly drinking pinot grigio and watching a marathon of 19 Kids and Counting. Before you judge me, let me explain that there’s a dart tournament happening at the hotel so I’m not responsible for my actions. It’s either put on cheap aftershave and drink Coors Light in the hallway, or barricade myself in my room. And come ON, Jessa’s getting married and she’s NEVER EVEN BEEN KISSED so this is kind of a big deal. As a side-side note, if the Duggars watched We Need to Talk About Kevin like I just did on Netflix, I’m pretty sure their show would have been called One Kid and We Are Fucking DONE.)

However, comfort food season? Nowhere near over! It’s no secret to anyone that I love a roast chicken. A roast chicken dinner on a Sunday is the number one reason I could never be a vegetarian. Word on the street is that a whole roast cauliflower is now a thing for a veggie Sunday roast. Which is excellent! And a great idea for a meat-eater on a weekday! But, with nothing but the utmost respect for my vegetarian and vegan pals, I would probably have Ted Cruz and his dad over for tea and cakes before I’d bake a cauliflower for my Sunday Roast.

(Ok, ok, all jokes aside, this looks kinda good.)

This recipe is my offering for St. John’s Winter-Spring. Depending on the mood of the weather gods, this shoulder season can last anywhere from March to June. If we’re lucky, winter-spring will be over by April, just in time to start cooking chickens on the barbecue while drinking beers on the back deck. In the meantime, this recipe still falls in the category of comfort food, but will seriously make your house smell like a place where no shovelling is required. Winter-spring. Sprinter? Wring? Yeah, the last one seems more fitting.

Moroccan Roast Chicken with Harissa Potatoes

Preheat oven to 375˚F.

Combine the following spices with 4 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil: 1 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp ground coriander, 1 tsp sweet paprika, 1/2 tsp chilli flakes, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp salt. Rub this mixture all over a whole chicken, including the inner cavity. Stuff with a handful of fresh mint leaves and 4 or 5 preserved lemons. Place in a roasting pan with 4 whole peeled cloves of garlic and 1 roughly chopped onion. Fill roasting pan with 1 cup water and half a bottle of white wine, taking care not to pour over the chicken, and just in the side of the pan. Cover and cook chicken for one hour. Remove from oven, baste, and return to oven uncovered for another half hour until chicken is cooked through and skin is crispy, adding more water to the pan for the last half hour if juices are evaporating too quickly. When chicken is done, move to a plate and let rest. Mash the onions and garlic in the bottom of the roaster with a fork or potato masher and bring to a boil with the drippings over the stove to make a sauce. Strain through a fine mesh sieve if you like, but that’s optional.

For the potatoes: Clean a 2-pound bag of baby red potatoes and cut them in half. Toss potatoes with 1 tbsp harissa, 1 tbsp sesame seeds, 3 tbsp olive oil, and the juice of half a lemon. Season with salt and pepper. Bake in the oven with the chicken for the last half hour. Give them a good toss and return to oven for another 15 minutes while chicken is resting. Sprinkle with more lemon juice to taste before serving.

You’ve probably never put fresh mint in a chicken before, and neither did I until I found a bunch in my fridge that needed to be used and did it on a whim. It works! You’ll only get the slightest hint of it, but it goes beautifully with the salty citrus from the preserved lemons and the Moroccan(ish) spices. I’m not even sure if this recipe qualifies as Moroccan; more than a few would argue that cooking a chicken in wine for an hour before roasting it isn’t right at all (you could just use water if you like, hahaha). But just do it for the sauce. Sweet mother, the sauce.

If you can’t find preserved lemons, don’t sweat it. Regular will do just fine. Here’s a neat Jamie Oliver trick: parboil a large lemon or a couple of smaller ones for five minutes and then prick them a few times with a knife before stuffing them in the cavity. It’s like a hot lemon juice flavour bomb for your chicken. This may be my kitchen safety paranoia soaring to new heights, but be careful when handling the hot lemon. I hold it with a pair of tongs and prick the lemon at a bit of a distance. I can’t think of anything worse than boiling lemon juice in my eye. Well, maybe Stephen Harper winning the next election. I would take hot lemon juice in the cornea before I’d see that happen. I’m looking at you, Alberta. With my one good eye.

Serve up the chicken and potatoes with the sauce and a sprinkling of cilantro if you like. Very easy, very good.

Kind of like the summer we’re all hoping for.