So on Mother’s Day weekend, I was a horrible child. I was feeling a bit out of sorts, physically, due to some allergy incidents and also the incredibly depressing nature of my job as a research assistant (more on that later – perhaps on another comfort food post). Instead of making a three-course meal for Sunday dinner, my usual Mother’s Day standby, we went to La Grotta and bought the ingredients for a charcuterie platter.

I mentioned this to some of my English friends and got blank looks all around, the same blank looks that occur when I mention “The Moth” or JT LeRoys’ stories of “lot lizards” or “that movie where Gillian Jacobs is a prostitute“. Charcuterie, for those of you who haven’t stuffed yourself with it at Peasant Cookery, is “the art of salting, smoking, brining, or otherwise curing meats, most commonly pork” (as WiseGeek tells me), and refers to “sausages, hams, cold cuts of meats, pates, etc,” (as my New World Dictionary tells me). What neither of them mention is that it is delicious.

The nice trick with higher-end ingredients, such as the sausages and cheeses we bought at La Grotta, or at other places like Stephen and Andrews, is that a little bit can go a long way. For a platter like this, where you have a lot going on, you can get maybe just 100 or 200 grams of a good cheese or pate – the idea is not to gorge, but to graze, and to really savour the taste. I learned this from my Auntie Lanie, and subsequently ended up ordering six different kinds of sausage at La Grotta – one of every kind we wanted to try. It was that kind of lovely, languid, self-indulgent day.

Here was the menu:

  • one sausage each of: bison, lamb and fennel, turkey and sage, chicken and lemon, wine chorizo, and spicy Italian.
  • a small slab of cognac pate
  • smoked cheddar, cubed
  • a wedge of Brie with black truffle
  • ciabatta (although I prefer the foccaccia from DeLuca’s)
  • bread dipper of olive oil and asiago balsamic vinegar
  • homemade crostini
  • marinated beets
  • marinated mushrooms

Back in March when I talked about my birthday, I mentioned sables, and an ideal of simplicity. Trust me, nothing is simpler than barely cooking – we barbecued the sausages and heated up the ciabatta, but everything else was just sliced and plated, served in small white dishes and on wooden cutting boards, and eaten al fresco in our sunny little garden by the pond, with many, many, MANY glasses of red wine.

So in about a week, it’s going to be my convocation – which seems more than a little bit unreal, since it feels like just yesteryear that I was sweating claustrophobically through one of my brother and my cousin’s convocation ceremonies at U of M, and then shaking my head at my other brother when he didn’t tell his friends about his convocation, and two of them showed up in their gym clothes to watch him get his diploma, because they are good sorts. For my own post-convocation shindig, we’re planning on busting out the charcuterie platter again, and adding to that some salad and pasta and roasted pork, for certain people (aka my brothers) who require heavier nourishment.

Mum knows of my fondness for sangria (actually, more accurately, she knows of my fondness for drinking, especially drinking classy bitch things as soon as the clock strikes twelve – and, okay, let’s be honest, sometimes before that), and suggested we have some for Tuesday (although there will also be non-alcoholic drinks, never fear). So after reading some Fine Cooking for tips and tricks, I went and made up two sangria recipes:

Lemon-Raspberry Sangria

  • red wine
  • limoncello
  • raspberries
  • lemon slices
  • apples
  • mint
  • a touch of honey

Orange-Peach Sangria

  • white wine (poss. Riesling)
  • peach schnapps
  • orange juice
  • a touch of tonic water or sparkling wine
  • lemons and orange slices
  • sliced peaches (not canned)

I’ll keep you lovelies posted on how Tuesday turns out! Keeping my fingers crossed for nice weather so we can eat out in the garden again, but really, who am I kidding, I’d drink a pitcher of sangria in a blizzard, if it came down to that.

A few weeks ago, I hosted a cooking lesson at my house for three boys, which was noisy and fun and chaotic and a definite team bonding exercise. I taught them tried and true recipes (most of them already posted here) that I could easily correct if anything went disastrously wrong, and the boys felt a great sense of accomplishment and astonishment that home cooked food (home made salad dressing! home made mac and cheese!) could not only taste good, but that it could also be easy to make. We also started with a ton of white wine and finished with an Oreo ice cream cake from Marble Slab, so I could just be disseminating filthy lies about the quality of any food produced in between. However, there’s no way for you to test that hypothesis, so moving on!

This week, I started planning my champagne birthday dinner. A champagne birthday (for anyone not in the know) is when the date of your birthday matches your age – so my champagne birthday is this March 22, when I turn 22. A few months ago, I tossed out the idea of having actual champagne for this and my dad (always keen to encourage my drinking habits, because he is a Good Role Model) eagerly assented to paying premium for genuine French champagne. Specifically, I want pink champagne, because what could be more fun that? Here’s the menu that I came up with to complement the champagne:

  • steamed pork and leek gyoza
  • goma ae (Japanese spinach salad)
  • mushroom risotto
  • roast chicken (from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking)
  • baby carrots and summer squash
  • green tea ice cream and vanilla wafers

A few days ago, I read an article in Fine Cooking about sables that summed up something that I’d forgotten along the way, as I learned how to cook more: simplicity is best. Often, the humblest recipe (in this case, of sables), made with the best possible ingredients and perfected through hundreds of reiterations, beats out the flashy, dramatic, complicated cake (although those are fun too).

So this was the aesthetic I had in mind for this dinner: fresh (spring-like) but elegant, delicately flavoured to set off the champagne (nothing too brash), simple but raised to the highest quality (Martha Stewart and Ina Garten would approve).

And somehow, this got me thinking about feminism.

I have been turning over in my mind a lot in the past year or so the differences between feminism and femininity. Anyone who’s seen me lately in real life knows what my sense of fashion is like – a lot of dresses and skirts, vests and blouses, bright red lipstick and big flowers, ribbons and pearls, old-fashioned things like fans and handkerchiefs and lace scarves, and my favourite pocket watch necklace. It is very feminine (and the complete opposite of how I dressed when I was younger), and in some ways I like the dichotomy between what I look like and how I act, which on some days can be very forceful and brash and strong-willed. One of my definitions of feminism in the modern era is the choice and the freedom to look like a cupcake and still demand and receive respect for the quality of my mind and character.

In her book Bossypants, Tina Fey talked about doing a workshop where adult women were asked to share stories about the moment that they first felt like a woman. For many of them, it was when some asshole hollered at them from cars and almost no one had said something like, “I first realised I was a woman when my parents took me to dinner and congratulated me for the win of my debate team.”

I have been hollered at by assholes from cars, honked and sworn at and leered, and each time it’s left me frustrated because the insult has never had anything to do with me specifically as a human being – just with being female, which is the only fact those assholes in cars care to notice and insult. And I don’t want that moment to be what makes me feel like a woman.

I want to feel like a woman when I am toasted by people that I love on my 22nd birthday, both because it’s my birthday and for getting into the grad school of my choice. I want this memory of my adult life, like that French champagne, to be of the highest quality.

And also like that champagne, I want my adult life to be tinted with plenty of pink.

This post is dedicated to Debbe, for lovingly badgering me to update (again!).

~

To quote 2 Broke Girls, every Wednesday morning I am “literally a five dollar whore”. Well, okay, according to The Oatmeal, not literally. Despite the fact that I know how to make a mean masala chai,  I am addicted to Starbucks’ Chai Tea Lattes (especially when they are heavy on the black pepper), which clock in at about five dollars.

Since I am not made of money (read: since I shamefully spend on my money on books that I feel up at secondhand shops; latest buy is A Chorus of Stones, a fantastischen book), I have a standing date, Wednesday morning, with a few of my friends (the classy bitches of the title), one of whom buys me Starbucks in exchange for food. Since the food has to travel all the way to school and we’re meeting for coffee first thing in the morning, I settled on baked goods as the best option.

This makes me hugely popular with my other friends, especially in American Lit, since it has never occurred to me to make things in small batches. I am going to continue labouring under the delusion that my school chums love me because I have a charming personality and engage in invigorating book-related discussions – not just because I stuff them full of cookies.

How does delusion smell? Sweet. Sweet as this shortbread.

~

Earl Grey Shortbread

Adapted from Eat Me Delicious, which in turn adapted this from Martha Stewart Holiday Cookies 2005. Made about 40.

  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp. finely ground Earl Grey tea leaves (from about 4 tea bags)*
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 c. unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1/2 c. icing  sugar
  • 1 tbsp. finely grated orange or lemon zest

1. In a small bowl, whisk flour, tea, and salt in a small bowl.

2. Put butter, sugar, and orange zest in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in flour mixture until just combined.

3. Divide dough in half. Transfer each half to a piece of parchment paper; shape into rectangular logs. Roll in parchment to 1 1/4 inches in diameter, pressing a ruler along edge of parchment at each turn to narrow the log and force out air. Freeze until firm, about an hour.

4. Preheat oven to 350F. Cut logs into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Space 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment.

5. Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until edges are golden, about 20 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks. Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 5 days.

Notes

So I’ve gotten to the point where my notes for a recipe have outstripped the recipe in length. My deep thoughts and most sacred ponderings, let me share them with you.

The adapted recipe says to use a spice grinder or blender for the Earl Grey, but I used a mortar and pestle, because I’m a classy bitch. Also my spice grinder crapped out. Next time I think I’ll experiment with different loose teas (innuendo unintentional, but appreciated).

Because I was silly and did foolish things like homework instead of proper prep, my butter wasn’t sufficiently softened and the dough didn’t come together nicely at first. I just fixed that up by adding a tablespoon or two of melted butter. Laziness, it works.

I put “20 minutes” on there, but yadda yadda, bake times changed according to ovens and how thick you slice your cookies, etc. I ended up baking them for closer to half an hour, until the cookies were completely  golden, because nothing sucks more than  pale, pasty underbaked shortbread that doesn’t go all crumbly and buttery in your mouth. As always, I suggest taste testing, but here I strongly suggest taste testing both the least-baked and most-baked of your cookies, just to get an idea of where they are. Seriously, taste testing is like my favourite part of cooking.

Also, next time I might double up on the citrus zest, because the lemon was magical. The sea salt was my alteration to this recipe, because why use salt when you could use sea salt? It’s a Good Thing. I like to think Martha would approve.

All in all, this is a nice little variation on a good, solid shortbread recipe, which is a must if you’re a shameless litnerd like I am and really want some good biscuits to accompany a novel and a mug of tea. And it smells awesome when it’s baking.  You try to not hug someone who smells like cookies. Go ahead, try it.

This is part two of a recipe. See: Mocha Chocolate Chip Cookies.

To quote Tracy Jordan from 30 Rock: “I love this cake so much, I want to take it behind a middle school and get it pregnant!”

To continue my Christmas story: during that same holiday, my whole family and my friend Christine were over at my aunt’s for dinner. Auntie Jane served this cake, and it was a life-altering experience. Sadly, our family friend Pros accidentally, with her accursed elbow, knocked some of the cake onto the floor.  Christine and I were horrified and a little hysterical over this tragedy. Pros might’ve told us to calm down and stop crying.

However, my aunt’s floor was super duper clean, since she had just washed it before we got there. So we picked up the floor cake, and ate it anyway.

It was delicious.

Mocha Chocolate Icebox Cake (aka Floor Cake)

This is adapted from an Ina Garten found in Barefoot Contessa: How Easy is That? (Answer: Not very!) I kid. If you’ve already got the cookies, this recipe is more a matter of assembly and than actual cooking.

  • 2 c. whipping cream
  • 16 oz. block of cream cheese, cubed and softened at room temperature
  • ½ c. sugar
  • ¼ c. Kahlua liqueur
  • 1 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder, like Pernigotti
  • 1 tsp. instant espresso powder OR 4 tsp. instant coffee granules
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • Mocha Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • Shaved semisweet chocolate, for garnish

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the whipping cream until stiff peaks form. Set aside in the fridge.

Still with the electric mixer beat together the cream cheese, sugar, Kahlua, cocoa powder, espresso powder/instant coffee, and vanilla in another bowl, until the mixture is smooth and no lumps remain. Fold in the whipping cream, at very low speed.

To assemble the cake, arrange chocolate cookies flat in an 8-inch springform pan, covering the bottom as much as possible. (Ina Garten says that she breaks up some cookies to fill in the spaces.) Spread a fifth of the mocha whipped cream evenly over the cookies. Place another layer of cookies on top, lying flat and touching, followed by another fifth of the cream. Continue layering cookies and cream until there are 5 layers of each, ending with a layer of cream. Smooth the top, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

Run a small, sharp knife around the outside of the cake and carefully remove the sides of the pan. If you are using block chocolate for the garnish,u se a vegetable peeler to create chocolate shavings. (Ina says, “If you heat the block of chocolate in a microwave for 20 seconds, you will get larger shavings.”) Sprinkle the top with the chocolate. Cut in wedges, and serve cold.

On Whipping Cream

When you whip cream, make sure that everything is cold: the kitchen, the mixing bowl, and the beaters, or else it won’t form stiff peaks. I recommend chilling the mixing bowl and beaters in a freezer for a few hours, or overnight, before whipping.

Adaptations (Mutations?)

This is the “poor man’s” version because of three (possible) substitutions: Mascarpone, Pernigotti Cocoa, and Tate’s Bake Shop chocolate chip cookies.

One. Mascarpone

Mascarpone is an Italian triple-cream cheese that is delicious, and can be used for things both savoury and sweet. You can find it any Superstore, but it is more expensive (and a bit of an acquired taste) – hence the sub here of cream cheese. Which is delicious anyhow.

Two. Pernigotti Cocoa    

Pernigotti Cocoa is the shit, as in, awesome. However, it too is pricey, as well as difficult to find. You can get it by mail order through Williams-Sonoma, or, like my aunt and mom, you can bully people who live in Toronto into visiting one of their four (four!) Williams-Sonoma stores and buying it for you. There are also Williams-Sonoma stores in Vancouver and Calgary.  If you have the money and the means, snatch Pernigotti up. If you’re a poor undergrad like me, use ordinary unsweetened cocoa, like Fry’s.

Three. Tate’s Bake Shop Chocolate Chip Cookies

Tate’s Bake Shop is a baked goods shop located in Southampton, NY. Since I am nowhere near Southampton, NY, and would rather make the cookies than order them online, I used the Fine Cooking recipe for Mocha Chocolate Chip Cookies. Really, any thin, crisp chocolate cookie will do.

This recipe is dedicated to Debbe, who badgered me to update. 😀

Warning: This recipe is completely weather-inappropriate, due to the current heat wave, unless you treat yourself to an ice bath while the cookies bake or (like me!) wake up at  six thirty in  the morning to bake while it’s still sort of cool.

Last Christmas, my (magnificent!) Auntie Jane made cookie boxes for all of the cousins. My mom provided the boxes from her work and helped to find pictures, while my cousin AD put together these fun and elegant little info cards like the kind in a box of chocolates that tell you what exactly you’re stuffing down your throat. For the boys, there were eight different kinds of cookies, and for me there was (shockingly!) six different kinds of cookies – all of them without eggs, nuts, or coconuts, including this recipe here. For a kid whose allergies make most baking off limits, this was a party in my mouth.

I, of course, savoured my box of treasures. My brothers, of course, fell upon their boxes like ravening wolves, despite the daily feasts of the Christmas holidays. One night, we were watching movies, and my brother Mark was mourning his empty box.  Out of the goodness of my heart, I offered to share some of mine. He politely refused.  I returned my cookie box to its secret hiding place and never made this offer ever again.

These cookies are the cake layers of the Mocha Icebox Chocolate Cake (recipe forthcoming!).

Mocha Chocolate Chip Cookies

This is adapted from The Best of Fine Cooking: Cookies, which is full of glorious recipes I am dying to try like Potato Chip Cookies,  Chocolate Dipped Espresso Shortbread, and Lemon-Lime Butter Wafers, all guaranteed to contribute to that layer of blubber you’ll need come winter.

  •  1 c. unbleached white flour
  • 1 c. whole wheat flour
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • ¾ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. table salt
  • 1 + 1/4 c. unsalted butter, softened
  • ¼ c. instant coffee granules, crushed
  • 1 c. icing sugar
  • ½ c. packed light brown sugar
  • 1 ½ c. semisweet chocolate chips
  • About ¼ granulated sugar for dipping

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350 F. Line a cooling rack with paper towels.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl with a hand mixer), beat the butter and coffee on medium speed until well combined. Add the icing sugar and brown sugar and beat until combined. Stir in the flour mixture about ½ c. at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Put the granulated sugar in a small, shallow bowl. Scoop out about 1 tbsp. dough and flatten it slightly into a disk. Dip one side into the granulated sugar and then set the disk, sugar side up, on an ungreased baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough, spacing the disks about 2 inches apart. Bake until the edges start to darken, 12 to 14 minutes. (Begin checking after 12 minutes, but don’t be tempted to remove them too soon.)

Let the cookies cool for 1 to 2 minutes on the baking sheets. Transfer them to the paper-towel-lined racks to cool completely. Bake the rest of the dough the same way.

Fine Cooking On Measuring Flour

“Weighing is the best way to measure flour, which is why we give a weight first in our recipes. If you must measure by volume (cups), always tour a little and then spoon it into the cup before leveling with the flat side of a knife. Scooping the cup directly into the flour compacts it, and you’ll get too much. (It’s also inconsistent.) The same applies for confectioner’s (icing) sugar.

“If your recipe calls for sifting, be sure to sift at the right time. ‘One cup flour, sifted’ means you should sift after measuring; ‘one cup sifted flour’ means you should sift before.”

Fine Cooking on Softened Butter

“Softened butter is called for in most cookie recipes, as well as in some cakes and pastries. Softened butter is best for baking when it’s still somewhat cool. It should be pliable but not too soft. This is the temperature at which sugar crystal cut into the butter most effectively, creating the maximum amount of air pockets to lighten your batter. Too cold and firm and the sugar won’t cut into the butter easily enough; too warm and the sugar will simply dissolve into the butter.

“If you have an instant read-thermometer, you can check for the ideal temperature: 65 F to 67 F, a little cooler than room temperature. Or, you can press your finger into the butter to test it. It’s perfect when your finger makes an indentation but you can’t go all the way through the butter. Also, if you can bend your stick of butter without it snapping or mashing, it’s at the right temperature.”

Notes: My cousin AD said that hers cookies didn’t spread when she made them the first time, but I used softened butter that had been left out on the counter overnight, so mine did, indeed, spread (that’s what she said).

These cookies are a little too “grown up” for my taste – the coffee taste is very strong, and they are not that sweet, since they use brown sugar. However, they are excellent when used to make ice cream sandwiches with vanilla ice cream, and they are godly in the cake mentioned above.

One very short recipe, a few longer stories…

My family went camping at Clear Lake for the Canada Day long weekend, and what a joyous weekend it was, cursing at songbirds that only know one tune and sing it for six thirteen hours straight, getting lost on the way back from the showers and wandering around for an hour, staying up til one playing cutthroat Scrabble (it gets bloody in my family), complaining about the noisy group  of Filipinos nearby, with their kids’ games and wilderness karaoke, who took up thirteen sites! Thirteen! In our area alone! At one point, I went into the washroom to find that someone had set up a rice cooker filled with mung beans. You cannot get more pinoy than that.

We’ve been going out to Clear Lake for the long weekend for 23 years, and we take our traditions very seriously – i.e., visiting the ice cream shoppe McTavishes’, buying onion rings across from the beach, watching my dad and uncle get sillier and sillier with every tequila shot, getting up at seven in the morning chiefly for the delicious cinnamon buns over at the restaurant The White House, visiting my favourite funky, art-filled coffee shop and secondhand bookstore Poor Michael’s… It is no accident that most of these traditions revolve around food. That tells you quite a bit about my family.

One of the most time-honoured traditions is stopping by the Mickey D’s on the way to camp. One of my brother Mark’s great revelations was last year, when he and my brother Martin finished their food, was that they were grown ups with jobs, and if they were still hungry, they could just order more food.

Sadly, though, after devouring half my Angus Burger and fries, I got that specific queasiness that I usually associate with being hung over, but which I now realise is probably just from eating fast food which I usually crave when I’m hung over. My cousin AD suggested I get a salad, like she did. “Salad at McDonald’s!” I cried, affronted. “What is the point!?”  She then pointed out that also ordered fries, and all was forgiven.

AD is the salad queen in our family. Many, many years ago, pretty much the only thing she could really make – make, not cook – was salads. Thank goodness such hard times have passed, and now AD makes all manner of delicious things, like Asian glazed salmon, apple cheese croissants, Italian bread dip, and homemade cocoa. This also means, however, that her time of exclusive salad making has passed, meaning that the task of making this dressing tonight fell upon yours truly.

Poppy Seed Salad Dressing

  • 1 med. onion
  • 1 c. honey
  • ½ c. wine vinegar
  • 1/3 c. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. prepared mustard
  • 1 tbsp. + 2 tsp. poppy seeds
  • 2 ½ c. vegetable oil.

In a food processor, grate the onion, then add all the ingredients except for the vegetable oil. Pulse so that everything blends together and then slowly add vegetable oil, half a cup at a time, pulsing until it is all blended together.

If using a blender, grate the onion beforehand, and then follow the directions as above.

About Onions and Weeping

The best advice I can give about cutting onions has nothing to do with freezing onions, running them under tap water, wearing swimming goggles, or lighting a candle near cut onions. The best advice I can give is get a food processor. Really.

Notes: As you can see from the quantities, this makes a very large, family-sized batch of salad dressing, so I suggest reducing this if you’re making it for yourself. However, it keeps well, and you will definitely be wanting thirds and fourths, and possibly to lick the food processor afterwards.    

Now, my mom is pretty boss. So are her two sisters, my aunts. They are my inspirations in the kitchen, my cooking sensei. They may look like really cute, cuddly, smiling, well-dressed Filipino ladies who love gardening, traveling, sensible shoes, silk scarves,  David’s Tea, brunches, the Four Tenors, and fresh fruit. DO NOT BE FOOLED.

They are fierce cooking beasts. They command dinner parties with the skill of history’s greatest generals. The finest machines in the world cannot compete with their sense of how much sea salt to add to a pot of beef barley soup. They could gut you with a chef’s knife without spilling a drop on their house dresses, and they would laugh the whole time (I know. Terrifying). The bunnies who dare trespass on our herb and vegetable garden are never seen again. Once, for a Christmas catering gig, my Auntie Jane made me spend six hours carving carrot flowers. Really. I cannot make this shit up.

Why do I mention all this? The stars have aligned so that I have a throat infection and my kitchen is being demolished at the same time. Consequently, my parents shooed me out of the house so that I don’t cough up a lung because of the dust, so I’ve been living at my aunt’s for the past week. And the leftovers are glorious. As are all the other meals.

Last week, I mostly gotaway with looking piteously unwell and working on a school project, but as soon as I stopped chugging Buckley’s every four hours, my aunt put me to work.

Vanilla & Ginger Roasted Plums

This recipe is from The Best of Fine Cooking 2006: 101 Quick & Delicious Recipes. My cousin AD’s review of FN: “Ah, Fine Cooking. Responsible for so many meals. And my hips.” The headnote of the recipe says to make sure not to overcook the plums, or they’ll apart.

  • 6 ripe but firm black or red plums
  • unsalted butter for the baking dish
  • 3 – 4 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. grated lemon zest
  • 1 tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tbs. rum, preferably dark
  • 1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. grated ginger
  • pinch kosher salt
  • vanilla ice cream for serving

A Quick Lesson on How to Pit Plums

If you know how to pit plums, then skip ahead. If you are like me and learned how pit plums this morning, producing some comically ugly plum chunks, then read on!

With a sharp knife, find the seam dividing the plum in half, and cut along this line. You’ll have to rotate  the plum to do this. Go over the plum with the knife twice, making sure your cuts are clean. Then gently twist the plum halves apart – the pit should come away with of the halves. Cut that plum half in half again, and gently twist apart. If the pit is still stuck, carve it out with a small paring knife. Then cut each plum quarter in half.

~

Cut the plums in half, discard the pits, and sliced the halved plums into four wedges each.

Heat the oven to 425 F. Generously butter an 8×11 baking dish (or just one large enough to hold the plums in a single layer).

In a mixing bowl, toss the plums with 3 tbsp. of the sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, rum, vanilla, ginger and salt. Toss well. Taste one of the plum wedges; if it’s still tart, sprinkle int he remaining 1 tbsp. sugar.

Pour into the baking dish and roast, gently stirring occasionally, until the plums are tender and juicy, 10 to 20 minutes. Don’t overcook them.

Let the plums cool for at least 4 minutes or up to hour before serving. Serve the plums hot or warm with vanilla ice cream and spoon juices over the top.

Notes: I had to skip the rum, since I could not the find Appleton Estate – it was a sad day indeed. I really do plan to make this one day with rum. Also, I accidentally added too much lemon juice, so I ended up adding in more sugar.

All the flavourings are very subtle, and meant to highlight the plumminess of the plum. The lemon zest and vanilla give this dish a beautiful smell, but I think next time I’ll try adding more grated ginger, which I love. (Then again, that might be my messed up taste buds speaking, since I am still stuffed up.)

I enjoyed this, especially since it’s a pretty dish, with a rosy sauce. I think I’d like to try putting this in a shortcake sometime, maybe with the rum in the whipping cream. Yum.

How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?

– Charles de Gaulle

Oh, de Gaulle. You will live on in my memory not for ending the Algerian War of Independence, but for the above quote.

Anyway, today, two cheesy good pastas! Ash posted about the first recipe in her blog, so go read it here: Gourmet Mac and Cheese. She also posted about the second one too, but I changed the directions, so I’m re-posting it here.

Now, I am all for healthy eating. I’ve converted to salads, we eat brown and red rice instead of white rice, every scrap of bread or pasta in the house is a piece of  whole wheat whole grain multigrain flax-studded bran-filled healthsomeness.  My mom regularly buys out the entire produce area of Superstore, and I drink gallons of water and herbal teas (always with the vague hope that whatever’s in my cup will magically convert to alcohol when I’m not looking, which hasn’t happened yet, but hope springs eternal!).

But sometimes, especially on those days when you just want to crawl back into bed and die, you just need some fucking comfort food. Enter ridiculously unhealthy/delicioulsy cheesy pastas!

On those days, it’s best if you already have this in the freezer, so you can just take it out, heat it up, stick a fork in it, and then retreat to the warm cocoon of your blankets.

Chicken Cheese Lasagna

  • 2 tbsp. butter or margarine
  • 1  med. onion chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, diced
  • 1 c. sliced mushrooms
  • 2 c. chopped spinach (packed)
  • 2-3 c. roasted chicken, cubed
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 c. milk
  • 2 c. chicken broth
  • 2 c. shredded mozzarella + (½ c. for topping)
  • 1 tsp. basil
  • 1/2  tsp. oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 9 noodles
  • 1 container of ricotta cheese (400-500 g)
  • olive oil

Heat margarine in 2 qt saucepan over low heat until melted. Add garlic, onions, and mushrooms, then chicken.

Stir in flour and salt. Stir in 1/2 c. chicken broth until mixture thickens. Keep adding remaining broth slowly, and then milk. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly.

Stir in mozzarella, basil, and oregano. Taste, and add salt and pepper as necessary. Cook over low heat stirring constantly until cheese is melted so that it makes a thick sauce. Let it sit for a while, to continue thickening.

Meanwhile, boil, drain, and set aside the pasta noodles.

Make three repeating layers of pasta, ricotta, and sauce, then top with the rest of the mozzarella.

Cook uncovered in 350°F degree for 20-30 minutes until the cheese is golden-brown and bubbly. Let stand 10-15 minutes before cutting (to firm up a bit), or serve the next day. Makes 12 servings.

Notes:  Whoo, lots of notes for this one!The amount of mushrooms and spinach is negotiable. You can have all mushrooms, all spinach, both, whatever. I used fresh spinach this time, but frozen is quicker – that is, if  you remember to thaw it in time. I usually use Costco’s roasted chicken (sooooo juicy) but Superstore’s is good too.

Also, I have these super awesome baking dishes that fit a single row of lasagna, so I tend to bake one right away, and freeze the other two row for later. In that case, I brush the container with a little olive oil so that the noodles don’t stick.

Every time you make a recipe, it’s different. Here’s a quick breakdown of the differences between the recipe as it is and how I cooked it a few days ago:

+ Instead of all mozarella, about 3/4 cheddar to 1/4 mozzarella

+ Oyster mushrooms  instead of the usual button mushrooms

+ Shallots instead of onions

+ White wine to deglaze pan (from cooking shallots)

Needless to say, it was tasty as hell.

“I believe I once considerably scandalized her by declaring that clear soup was a more important factor in life than a clear conscience.” 

– Saki

Clear soups are delicious. Clear consciences are boring, and inedible. Case closed.

My Dinner for Breakfast Saga, guest starring Ashley, continues. Sadly, she is going back to Ottawa, so I will have to  find other hopefuls to clean out my fridge.

Onto the food. Now, I love caramlized onions. I love melty cheese toast. And I love wine. Put all these things together in one ovenproof bowl, and I will fall upon that bowl like  a ravening wolf. A wolf that likes Shiraz. Cue entrance: French Onion Soup, that hapless, sexy, innocent baby lamb of the soup family.

This recipe is from Earth to Table by Jeff Crump and Bettina Schormann, aka the Soup Gods. Every time I talk to people about how much we love French Onion Soup, we complain about how it is always oversalted in restaurants. When I make them try ths soup, they rejoice over its lack of oversaltiness and consequently, their tears of joy  oversalt the soup anyhow. True story.

French Onion Soup

At the restaurant we have the luxury of being able to make our soups with wonderfully thick, rich stocks. This may be difficult to achieve at home so we suggest the addition of a little flour to help with the thickening process. If there is one item our regular guests will never let us take off the menu, this is it. The recipe can easily be halved for a smaller party.

Serves 8

  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 lbs medium yellow onions (about 5), thinly sliced
  • 2 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 8 cups beef stock
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 cups cubed baguette, toasted
  • 41⁄2 cups shredded Gruyère cheese (about 1 lb)
  • 2 tsp minced fresh thyme
  1. In a large, heavy pot, heat butter and oil over medium-low heat. Add onions, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent, about 20 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high and add sugar and salt; sauté, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pot, until onions are softened and a deep, rich brown, about 15 minutes. Deglaze with beef broth if necessary. *This step took me twice as long because I used frozen onions, to prevent tears. Mistake. Man up and take the weeping. Trust me.
  2. Reduce heat to medium, sprinkle with flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes. Gradually whisk in 2 cups of the stock, then add the remaining stock and wine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer for about 30 minutes to blend the flavors. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, if necessary.
  3. Preheat oven to 425ºF. Divide baguette cubes among 8 individual ovenproof bowls. Fill bowls with onion soup and sprinkle each with a thick layer of cheese. Set bowls on a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake until cheese is browned, about 8 minutes. Garnish with thyme.

Notes: Because I am not made of money, I use mozzarella instead of Gruyere. Also, I make a habit of tasting the soup as I go along, and eventually I ended up adding more and more beef broth (more than the 8 cups, at least), until the wine flavour was no longer overpowering, but blended into the soup. This means that I ended up closer to 10-11 servings. Since there is no way I can eat that much onion soup at one time (alas!) I ended up freezing ththe soup and serving it later, to others who also are in pursuit of a non-salty onion soup.

How to do that: in plastic containers or in ovenproof bowls, ladle in onion soup, and freeze. Freeze grated mozzarella cheese and baguette slices. To serve, set your oven to broil. Heat up the soup for 5-6 minutes, and, then afterwards, heat up the baguette slices (1 or 2) for 30 seconds. If you froze the soup in plastic tupperware, transfer it to an ovenproof bowl. Float the baguette slices in the soup, cover with cheese, and then broil in the oven for 5-6 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and golden brown.

I really liked having a stash of French Onion Soup in the freezer, for whenever guests were over, or I had a craving for comfort food, or… umm, well, pretty much any occasion calls for French Onion Soup.

I have to warn you, this soup has some pretty powerful side effects. It’ll make you melt into a puddle of deliciousness and swear off of Tim Horton’s French Onion Soup, possibly for good. Also, it might inspire a few marriage proposals (I’m at 4? 5, by now? It’s difficult to keep track).

… My salad days,

When I was green in judgment, cold in blood,

To say as I said then!

– Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra

One day, along with Ezra Pound Cake, I need to make a Cleopatra Salad. It would be like Caesar Salad, but sexier! It would be bathed in a milk dressing! Anyway. Nerdgasm done with.

On Friday’s Dinner for Breakfast, I made one of my favourite salads, a mandarin romaine salad which is from The Best of the Best, of The Best of Bridge Series. For yesterday’s Dinner for Breakfast, I made a strawberry goat cheese salad from Kitchen to Table (although, as I pointed out to Ashley, my version turned out prettier than theirs).

Mandarin Romaine Salad

  • romaine lettuce, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • mandarin segments (you can buy these canned)

Dressing

  • ¼ c. red wine vinegar
  • ½ c. vegetable oil
  • ¼ c. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ small red onion, chopped or 1 small shallot, minced
  • 1 tbsp. dry mustard
  • 2 tbsp. water

Mix the dressing ingredients together using a blender or food processor.

For Friday, I used some leftover garlic croutons and bacon bits, but you can really just have it with the romaine and mandarins. Simplicity is beautiful.

Strawberry Goat Cheese Salad

  • strawberries, diced
  • mixed greens
  • goat cheese, crumbled
  • toasted slivered almonds (optional)

Dressing

  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ½ tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp. raspberry vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. brown sugar
  • ¼ c. vegetable oil

Like in the above recipe, just mix together in a food processor or blender.

Notes: For the raspberry vinegar, I used PC’s Raspberry Red Wine Vinegar. I wanted my dressing a touch sweeter, so I added a little bit of blue agave syrup.

Mmmm, salad. For years, I thought I hated salads. Then I learned that I just hated salads that didn’t have yummy fruit or awesome home made dressings. Then my hate was cured, and my body, crying out for vegetables, rejoiced.

Also, my salad love could be not be supported without my trusty immersion hand blender. I love that hand blender – you can use it for dressings, soups, sauces, gravies, smoothies, milkshakes… I’ve even seen it used to froth milk, though I haven’t tried this myself yet. Hand blenders. They smooth things out so I can be lazy. I love ’em.