There are nights that call for big pans of cheesy baked pasta, plunked on the table with a stack of plates and a big salad for everyone to dig into. Pasta is classic Sunday supper fare, but also works on rainy Wednesdays, when the week is dragging on and you need a meal that will wrap you up like a warm blanket. This Wednesday I knew pasta was in order, and so rummaged through my various drawers and cupboards of boxes and bags in order to use up some of the shapes that have been lying in wait for far too long. I came up with a box of manicotti – something I’m quite sure I haven’t made in a decade. There was ricotta in the fridge, and bacon, and that decided it. Bacon + onions + kale (just a bit) + ricotta. And good tomatoes. When you’re stuffing things, anything goes. When time spent in the kitchen is therapeutic, and the weekend offers upContinue reading
It’s okay, I think, to adopt other families’ culinary traditions when it suits you. Having not grown up with a Ukrainian baba, and having married into a Ukrainian family that ironically doesn’t cook (!!!), I’m perfectly happy to learn the art of perogy making with a friend who learned from her own baba Nettie, who was the type to turn out thousands of them with her crew for a church supper or fundraiser in Saskatchewan (someone needs to bring back the perogy supper, I think) or just to fill the freezer to feed her family from week to week. I love the idea of gathering a few of my favourite people in the kitchen to mass-produce handmade perogies while catching up on what’s going on with who, and having a bunch of almost-made dinners – and from scratch, by hand, yet – to show for it.
You can use just about anything to fill a perogy – most often it’s mashed potatoes with cheese and/or crumbled bacon and/or caramelized onions and/or sauerkraut, in no particular ratio or order – but I’ve stuffed mine with leftover roast chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy (just yes) and sweetened saskatoons and the last of the pulled beef short ribs. They don’t all have to be the same (perogy roulette is fun!) and because each one is self-contained, there’s no reason to care about following a particular formula. With perogies, it’s all about the dough.
A rainy weekend + a freezer too full to accommodate any more rhubarb can only mean one thing: pie. I picked up a copy of The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book (from the Brooklyn pie shop of the same name) at the Calgary Reads book sale – I showed some restraint, I think, and only came home with ten books – from this one, I want to make every single pie. It was only a matter of time anyway, with all this rhubarb, so I thought I’d get the first pie out of the way before the strawberries showed up. (Or the raspberries – I love a raspberry-rhubarb pie.)
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I’ve had it in mind to make a batch of Parker House rolls for some time, and a rainy long weekend (with temperatures dipping to 2 degrees) plus two boys out at a superhero movie provided exactly the right opportunity to turn on the oven, poke around the house while dough rose on the countertop, then bake and eat half a pan of sweet, buttery-warm rolls with butter and jam in the company of only myself – and Netflix.
It was so rainy on Sunday morning, it felt like dusk. On mornings when I don’t have to be anywhere, I love being able to turn out some dough that I know won’t be ready to eat for awhile – not until we’re good and hungry – just in time for second (or third) coffee.
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Warning: it’s going to be all rhubarb, all the time around here for awhile while we eat our way through the first couple armloads. This week I’ve eaten them stewed, in Eton Mess, in scones and a crisp – I’m a firm believer in rhubarb for breakfast, and its ability to get along well with all fruits, from mangoes to blackberries, makes it the ideal candidate for an easy crisp, into which you can toss whatever fruit you happen to have or need to use up because it’s starting to go wrinkly.
Also it uses up armloads of rhubarb.
When we were kids, dessert wasn’t part of our weeknight routine – my parents tried to pass off fruit as dessert, the same MacIntosh apples we’d get in our lunches if you can believe it – but on nights when my dad went squirrely hunting through kitchen cupboards for something chocolate, she’d whisk up a pot of pudding on the stovetop.
Cocoa-sugar-cornstarch-milk makes a simple pudding of the sort you can get in a box (only better), but I’ve come across a few formulas that call for pouring warmed milk over chopped chocolate in a blender, then whizzing it up to melt the chocolate and incorporate just enough air to give it a sort of mousselike consistency. As a kid, I obsessed over chocolate mousse – it was chocolate in its purest form, I thought, with its airy-smooth mouthfeel, knowing it was an emulsification of two of my favourite things – chocolate and cream. I can’t recall the last time I made chocolate mousse – it seems like such an eighties thing now – but tonight when I needed to share some dessert therapy and wanted to minimize oven time, I gave it a go. It worked beautifully – even plain, without chocolate curls or whipped cream garnish – because who has cream and the gumption to whip it unless there’s pie involved?
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People often ask if W is a picky eater. He must be so adventurous! they say, but he’s not, really. Although he went straight from boob to barbecue ribs and one of his first meals was Pad Thai, he regressed and went from loving black bean soup to hating it, and thinking all vegetables were pure evil – such a cliché, I know. He somehow knew at two to be ecstatic at the sight of a pizza box, and wanted anything that came in a colourful package. We had one dinnertime standoff that involved grape tomatoes and both M and W sitting at the table for (what seemed like) hours before it ended with tears and a whole lot of dramatic gagging. (To this day raw tomatoes are the one thing he gets a free pass on.)
The thing about kids is that they’re a lot like grownups. They may have more sensitive palates and a more limited idea of what they like and what they don’t, but they’re all selective in their own ways. W balks at mashed potatoes (the most benign food ever) but adores pesto. He loves saucy pasta but likes his salmon plain. He’d eat shrimp for dinner every night if I let him. He loves sweets, but always says no to pie.
(I know! – if the photo evidence wasn’t so strong I’d wonder if he was switched at the hospital.)
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When it’s summer, or spring enough that the rhubarb has begun to poke through, there should be rhubarb scones on weekend mornings, but perhaps more importantly, on Monday mornings. When the sun is out at six and the birds start their noisy rave an hour earlier, my favourite thing to do (second to sleep, of course) is go downstairs, open the kitchen windows (the storms are off!) put on the coffee and turn on the oven, and bake some scones. It’s the perfect blank canvas, really – a carbohydrate pedestal on which to present whatever happens to be in season. Tart things are the best, I think – they provide a good contrast to the sweet dough. It’s especially nice when those tart things are free.
The problem/great thing about fresh corn tortillas is when you buy a pound of them, they last all week (or so). They freeze well, but once thawed I inevitably wind up using them as many ways as possible before wrapping and returning the whittled-down stack to the freezer.
Ceviche probably sounds like something you’d order in a restaurant, or on a beach in Mexico, but not something you’re likely to whip up at home. However. If I told you it required only chopping of seafood and marinating it in citrus, might you change your mind? There’s no need to turn on the oven or grill – the acidity of the lemon and lime juice alters the proteins in the seafood, cooking it without heat. You can actually see it change from not opaque to opaque – it’s very cool.