Monday, December 9, 2013
This cornbread is not perfect. It's crumbly, and leaves trails of golden crumbs after each bite, scattered across the plate and, quite possibly, your lap. I wouldn't have it any other way, though. Whatever points it loses in messiness, it makes up for in deliciousness. It's nutty, slightly sweet, and has just enough of a trace of butteriness to make it both hearty and comforting.
It's just what you want next to your bowl of steaming soup, with a dab of melting butter, the exact kind of meal I'm craving these days. Outside, the street is wet and covered in the remains of the first real snow of the season. It's been one of those drab days, where everything appears to be shaded in grey and the sun is just a muted light in the sky, like a lamp with a curtain over it.
I took my roommate's dog to the park, and in less than twenty minutes my feet had turned to ice inside my rubber boots. We ran back to the apartment, where I threw my boots off and began stomping around and cursing (with my usual elegance and grace) as the blood flow slowly returned to my toes. There always comes a day when I realize I cannot wear nice shoes anymore, that the few stylish pieces of footwear I own must go into the closet for hibernation, and out must come the heavy winter boots. It's that very day that I suddenly become aware of what the coming months will entail - the slogging through slush, the inevitable wet feet, the chill that creeps in under your collar as you're walking home at night, the days bookended by dark mornings and pitch black evenings.
Clearly I'm a bucket of joy.
But winter isn't without its merits, one of them being the experience of coming out of the cold and into a warm house, and sitting down to a bowl of soup and crumbly cornbread. It's not much, but sometimes it's the joy of such small moments that bring us the most happiness.
Saturday, November 30, 2013
One night I came home and walked in to find the kitchen table covered in a pile of vegetables and my roommate busily chopping, weighing, and tossing them into a blender. She was, she informed me, making our very own bouillon. Our own bouillon, from scratch. Will the DIY miracles never cease?
Naturally, I supported this endeavour wholeheartedly. Our household is nothing if not foodie-project friendly.
I've never been a huge fan of the instant stock you can buy in the store, but I've also never been a huge fan of making my own stock, because in all honesty, I am a lazy, impatient cook. I always hated the idea of buying vegetables just to stick them in a pot of water, boil the life out of them, and then throw them away. I used to store vegetable scraps in a bag in the freezer, and once it was full I'd boil them along with an onion and a few cloves of garlic to make a simple vegetable stock, but I've long since fallen out of that frugal habit.
This homemade bouillon, however, is straightforward, simple, and convenient. And bonus, you don't have to throw out anything. It's simply fresh vegetables, herbs, and salt blended together. There's no cooking time, and once you've made a batch, you'll have instant stock on hand for months. (We make double batches of the stuff, and our last batch lasted us about a year. No joke.)
This recipe has more of a French flavour profile, but I'd be curious to switch up some of the ingredients for an Asian-inspired stock, with ginger, green onions, bok choy, and even more cilantro. Feel free to play around and come up with your own personalized bouillon recipe - this recipe is quite forgiving, and there are endless possibilities.
Also, winter is upon us, and thus, the season of soup has begun. So make your own bouillon. It's worth it, trust me.
Friday, November 8, 2013
My mother wrote this recipe down in her 4H club when she was just a girl, and she still has the recipe card, after all these years. It's travelled with her from girlhood to now, and for almost as long as I can remember she's been making it for Thanksgiving dessert. (I realize I missed Canadian Thanksgiving, but I suppose this post still makes it in time to be relevant to our southern neighbours. That still counts, right?)
Thanksgiving used to be the giant family gathering of the year. Our cousins would make the six hour drive to our home, often on a Friday night, arriving well after dark. Even as a little girl, I would stay up, eagerly waiting for them to arrive. When they finally staggered through the front door with suitcases and coolers crammed with food (because there can never be enough food, if my aunt has anything to do with it), we'd put the kettle on for tea and stay up a good hour past our bedtimes, catching up on everyone's news.
For us, and just about everyone else I know, the holiday was a family adventure in eating. Each day involved a concentrated group effort to produce as much food for consumption as was humanly possible. Each hour of the day seemed to be commemorated with a new snack or food item. My aunt used to bake entire rounds of brie in pie dough, which would then be sliced and served on crackers. To me, this was the most fucking phenomenal snack in the whole world. I probably ate an entire brie pie every Thanksgiving weekend following its introduction into my Thanksgiving snack lexicon.
Meanwhile, there was the almost constant dinner preparation that took over our kitchen for the entire weekend, because there was not one, no, but two Thanksgiving dinners. Saturday night was always the night of the glazed ham, studded with cloves, while Sunday was the night of turkey and presents. Yes, presents, because our Thanksgivings were the best. We all got birthday presents on Thanksgiving Sunday because my mother and her sister had the genius idea of just gifting everyone at once. It was like Christmas, except probably with more food.
After we'd all made it through the turkey feast and were spilling out of our seats, the bags of presents would come out, and shortly thereafter the table would be littered with newspaper (my mother, ever the economical present-wrapper) and all five of us children would be psyched to have new shit, while the adults were more sedate as they digested and drank more wine.
And then, to crown everything off, there would be dessert, because we each of us had by that point redefined the meaning of "full" and "too much." It was almost always this pumpkin parfait, which my mother would present in a clear glass bowl, a layered creation of beautiful deliciousness. As a kid, I thought it was fucking magical.
It's been years since I've spent Thanksgiving weekend with my family, but this past October almost all of us spent it together at my grandpa's camp, enjoying several days of sunshine and cooking in a temperamental oven (a fact that did not deter anyone from cooking even in the slightest). Throughout the years, my family's dedication to cooking feasts has remained as strong as ever.
Some of the traditions have changed. My brother and cousin did not play Goldeneye for the entire weekend, and the group-gifting has fallen out of practice, but on Sunday night my mother brought back the old tradition of pumpkin parfait.
While I couldn't rightly call it magical, it brought back delightful memories and was of course, in and of itself, delicious. I certainly ate my fill and then some. (In the name of tradition, of course.)
Friday, October 18, 2013
In an effort to make better, cheaper, lunches, my friend and coworker Anna and I teamed together to feed ourselves at work with minimal effort and funding. We pooled together ingredients for sandwiches, keeping it as simple and easy as we could, while also not skimping on deliciousness (because it's us, and we do not skimp on goodness, ever).
Our lunches usually involved a combination of cheese, tomatoes, and cucumbers layered on a slice of toast, sometimes topped with a pile of fresh greens. If we were feeling indulgent, we'd add a fried egg on top, but what made our sandwiches truly amazing were what went underneath, either a smearing of fresh pesto or mushroom walnut pate, two very different but no less tasty condiments that elevated what was otherwise an everyday open-faced sandwich to a sublime lunch experience.
It was in fact Anna who made the discovery of the mushroom walnut pate. One day she brought in this innocuous little mason jar with a hand-written label, purchased from Thomas Lavers Cannery in Kensington Market. The pesto also hailed from this little cannery as well, but my feelings about pesto have already been articulated here.
This post is for the mushroom walnut pate that those lunches introduced me to. It was creamy, rich, and earthy, and spread atop toast beneath a few slices of sharp cheese, tomato, and cucumber, it managed to make my lunch memorable and enjoyable, rather than a rushed experience of shovelling food into my mouth as I stared at a computer screen. And so of course I had to set out to make it for myself, in what turned out to be a vast - vast - quantity. (Not that I'm complaining.)
It's almost surprisingly easy to make, with no odd or outlandish ingredients. Really, it's a tribute to your pantry and the ability of food to be both awesome and non-fussy (my favourite kind). I highly recommend it on your next grilled brie and roasted red pepper sandwich, or just with crackers and veggies if you, like me, arrive home tired and can only think of eating crackers and cheese for dinner, because you're an adult now, damn it, and you can eat whatever the hell you want. But at least this way, you can say you're eating classy crackers and cheese. Even if you're wearing your pajamas and lying on the couch with Netflix on. It still counts.
Monday, September 23, 2013
When I was in university, cookies were a near constant in my life. Almost every week, I'd stand over the counter, creaming together butter and sugar to make a batch of cookies. The smell of the freshly baked cookies would eventually draw my roommates out of the woodwork, and I would happily foist as many cookies as I could on them. Throughout the following week, I would carry around a container of those cookies from class to class, sharing them with my classmates and professors (sometimes forcefully).
I still bake cookies, but not as often. Perhaps it was the stress of those years - the constant approach of deadlines, the late nights writing papers, the hours spent reading theory that sent me running into the kitchen. It was easy to get trapped in my own crazy headspace, to become lost staring at a computer screen. Baking always helped to calm me down, and it still does. It was a creative break, a way to get me out of whatever argument or article I'd gotten stuck in. It even made me feel a little productive, for while my cursor would blink indefinitely at me and my essay remained complete, in an hour my apartment would smell of butter and caramel, and there would be edible proof of my time spent in the kitchen. And always there was the reward of seeing someone else smile and happily devour something that I had made.
I may not bake cookies as much as I did then, but every now and then I'll sit up and declare to my roommates: "I need to make cookies." (They never object.)
Sometimes I get stuck on what to make, sometimes I spend over an hour flipping through recipe books, searching the web, but I'm almost always drawn back to this recipe.
Several years ago, when these cookies began their evolutionary journey in my kitchen, I learned the secret of browning butter. It was life-changing. Cookie changing, in fact. Browning butter for any recipe is a surefire way to make it better, and you need to try it, if only to make your kitchen smell amazing.
These cookies were my contribution to the latest Toronto Picnicker's expedition to Sorauren Park. I was amazed and pleased by how quickly they disappeared. Prior to the picnic, I'd been panicking over what to make. My inspiration in the kitchen has been waning, as of late, and I've found myself gazing blankly at items in the produce aisle, wishing recipe ideas would strike.
So I made cookies. They're my fail-safe, my not-so-secret weapon, and also happened to be perfectly acceptable picnic fare. After all, it's almost never inappropriate to show up anywhere with a box of cookies.
It was a beautiful day, and we lounged in the shade stuffing our faces with various awesomely delicious things, like Anna's espresso chocolate roasted almonds (which you should make, like, right now). Jasper spent much of the time in hot pursuit of frisbees, footballs, and soccer balls, and the rest of us watched in amusement and sipped on mimosas. It was a most wonderfully cliched summer picnic, and a hot afternoon well spent.
Monday, September 16, 2013
This post is long overdue, considering these pancakes were made in July. (I could have sworn that was just yesterday, but my calendar informs me otherwise.) The last month has felt like a whirl of work, driving, and summer shenanigans, and I seem to have lost myself somewhere in the middle of it all. When I try to sort out the events of the season - work, travel, vacation - they all crowd together in such confusion that I'm left feeling dazed, wondering how the hell I could have let three months fly past me so quickly. It's as if I tripped and fell down a hill, right around May 30th, and tumbled all the way down to September 1st, and it's only now that I'm slowly staggering to my feet again.
So, with the dust of the summer finally settling, I've been thinking back to a quiet moment in July when I woke up at my grandpa's camp and cooked up a batch of pancakes.
It was perhaps odd that I decided to make pancakes that day, my last morning in Thunder Bay. I haven't had the most pancake-positive experiences in life. They were not, in fact, much of a staple of my childhood breakfasts. At least, the pancakes that did feature in my breakfast were not the kinds of pancakes anyone else anywhere in the world was eating.
See, my dad did actually make pancakes with relative frequency, but his recipe was a mystery to all of us (including himself) that usually involved leftover mashed potatoes. They were...odd. To say that they were unpleasant would be false, but they did nothing to endear me to pancakes or to the idea of my father making pancakes for breakfast on a regular basis. For a man who is usually extremely capable in the kitchen, my dad sometimes lets his culinary creations take him in a direction that no one else but he would follow. (I have a name for this direction, and that name is Leftover Crazy Town.) Much like the time he made an amazing shepherd's pie, but then proceeded to create variation after variation of the dish using any and all leftovers lurking in the fridge. He fed us mystery shepherd's pies for months. I don't know if I will ever trust anything buried under mashed potatoes in a casserole dish ever again. (Not to say my own culinary visions are always a success. I did go through an odd period during which I was convinced I could make delicious energy bars out of lentils. I did not succeed.)
It wasn't really until I began living with other people that I began cooking pancakes. They're the kind of thing that aren't much fun to make unless there's a hoard of sleepy people in your house who will happily but groggily wander into the kitchen to keep you company and devour stacks of pancakes. They're the kind of breakfast saved especially for weekends and family get-togethers, or those mornings when you just happen to have the time and you feel like being nice. It wasn't until I came across this recipe, about a year ago, that I gained a true appreciation for pancakes and the making of them. All it took was a lack of leftover mashed potatoes and a fancy griddle.
These particular pancakes were made to say goodbye, the last sweet thing I could offer before stepping back on a plane. I left behind plates smeared with syrup and pancake crumbs and carried home with me the smell of woodsmoke and fresher air, the scent of the place lingering about me like the fading impression of a tight embrace. Hopefully these pancakes left behind as fond an impression as the one I carried back with me.
Sunday, August 11, 2013
Last month I flew north to Thunder Bay to spend a week at my grandpa's camp with my family. It's been something of an annual migration for my family - the end of July inevitably finds the majority of us gathered at my grandpa's for his birthday, an occasion he does his best to dismiss with scowls and a wave of his hand. "It's just another day!" he insists, every time.
The day I landed it was beautiful, bright, and windy. Stepping out of the airport was almost a physical shock; only hours ago I'd been in Toronto where the heat wave (or as I like to call it, The Time of Sweating) had just ended, and I had only barely managed to get used to the constant humidity. All of a sudden I had goosebumps and felt the need to shiver - it was a balmy 22°C outside and I was thinking I should have packed thermal underwear. My suitcase was filled with shorts and summer dresses, with one pair of jeans I'd packed at the last second. I started to think that my wardrobe had been a complete miscalculation. A quick glance at the week's forecast only seemed to confirm my fears: rain, every day.
I shrugged it off. I'd been on enough frigid camping trips in my childhood to survive one week of rain. Surely I was tough enough for that.
We drove into camp that night, for once the first to arrive. My aunt and uncle, to whom the tasks of opening and closing up the camp usually fall, would be driving in a few days later. For the time being it was just me, my mother, and grandpa.
The place felt lonely. I was so used to walking into the small cabin already in a state of minor chaos, its tiny pantry bursting with my aunt's spices and other staples, while the fridge bulged dangerously, each request for a beer its own obstacle course through the fridge's contents. The coffee table would be piled high with magazines and cookbooks, one of my cousins would almost always being playing a game of cribbage, and if grandpa was there, he'd either be chopping down or burning things.
When my mother and I walked in, it was eerily empty. The counters were clear, and the shelves were almost bare save for an assortment of wide-brimmed hats and an old rock collection. The bedrooms were empty and there were no dish towels but plenty of beach towels. The kettle had been stuffed with tissues to keep it free of mice seeking a warm nesting place, their droppings scattered about, the only visitors the place had seen since my aunt had closed up shop in October.
We spent the evening sweeping and cleaning, making up the bedrooms, injecting life back into the place. By sunset my grandpa had a fire going in the wood stove and we were reclining on the couches, noses in our books. I baked a batch of peanut butter cookies (grandpa's favourite) which were unfortunately somewhat burnt on the bottoms, a fact my grandpa delighted to point out to me several times, even as he ate his third cookie.
The next day was the only other day of blue sky and sun I would see for the rest of the week. Keetah and I ventured down the road for a jaunt, and I returned hot and sweaty, ready for a jump in the lake. As evening settled in, so did the rain, and it stayed with us for the rest of the week. My morning dips in the lake went from refreshing to numbing, and each morning we lit a fire in the wood stove to help ease the chill out of the camp.
When my aunt and uncle arrived, they brought the frenetic energy the place had been missing. Box after box, laden with kitchen supplies, pantry staples, and food, kept arriving, until eventually, the camp was once again the way I remembered it: bursting at the seams, stuffed to maximum capacity with food, booze, books, and games.
Perhaps strangely, I felt more at ease amidst the crowdedness. The usual feasting began, and another batch of cookies became necessary (at least from mine and my grandpa's perspective). And, of course, there were calls for pie, which I apparently established as a new tradition last year.
And so, my last day at camp was spent with my hands in flour and butter, pitting cherries, and rolling out dough. It emerged from the oven a glorious golden brown, and the cherries had acquired the sweet taste of almonds, faintly like the flavour of maraschino cherries. In a matter of minutes, it was sliced, served, and devoured, the best kind of compliment I could have gotten. For a few moments, everyone sat (fairly) quietly, enjoying their slice of pie.
My grandpa claims that his birthday is "just another day", but it's a day that invariably pulls us together from our little corners of the world, even if only for the brief pleasure of sharing a birthday cake, or in some cases, a birthday pie.