Richard Burton’s Favourite Dish

So on friday, I decided to try this lasagna recipe from Peter Berley’s book for Flexitarians. In fact, I decided to embark upon a whole menu – no, 2 menus –  cause they sounded so good and cause I have so much time on my hands.  The lasagna part called for squash, mushrooms, spinach, sage béchamel and gruyère… yeah, yum. It also called for homemade noodles but I was like, “no way! who has time for that?” The rest of it sounded great.

I read the ingredient list and smugly crossed out, “homemade“.  I did not read the instructions, because they went on for several pages and I didn’t have time.

The astute among you will have recognized immediately that this was A BIG MISTAKE.

I got home from grocery shopping and flipped open the book. And was unsure of where to begin. The dicing and roasting of the  4 1/2 pounds of vegetables? The sautéeing of the onions with garlic and herbs? The preparation of the béchamel? The wilting and draining and chopping of the 2 pounds of spinach? Heck, good thing I had noodles in a box!  If I had read the recipe ahead of time, I would have noticed that Berley mentions that almost each step can be done 2 days ahead of time: Clue. There was 30 minutes of roasting, a good 30 minutes of sage-infusion in the boiled milk for the béchamel BEFORE the making of the damn sauce, plus another 40 minutes in the oven, not to mention chopping a 3-pound squash into 1/2 inch cubes… “all this for kids who won’t even eat it”, I glumly posited as I contemplated my tried and true 20-minute liz-on-ya that I had forsaken for the novelty of…squash.

The lasagna, despite my shortcuts with the noodles, béchamel, and several other steps, was delicious and if you have 2 days ahead of you, I would recommend it. It’s earthy and comforting and makes you feel wholesome cause of the squash and spinach. You know, it’s all seasonal and everything. But my friends, if you are like me, you will make a full-blown béchamel lasagna once every 5 years cause it is just too damn much trouble (and it dirties about ninety bowls). Instead, you will keep on hand the following ingredients:

  • Can of crushed tomatoes
  • Pesto (Basil)
  • Cottage cheese
  • Frozen spinach (2 boxes)
  • Ball of mozzarella
  • Oven-ready lasagna noodles
  • Parmesan cheese (real)
  • Lemons
  • Salt n pepa

And you will do the following (vary amounts to fit your pan. These instructions are for a  9 x 13″. Alternately use a loaf pan for 2 or 3, or 8″ square for the family with no leftovers):

  1. The morning of, or the night before, take out 2 packages of spinach from the freezer (2 packages for a big pan) and put it in a colander in the sink to thaw and drain. If you can get those cube ones, they take no time at all to thaw!
  2. When you are ready to cook: In one small-ish bowl, get your 2-year old to mix up some pesto with the crushed tomatoes. For a 9 x13″ pan I would use about 3/4 of the can of tomatoes. She could use it all if she’s feeling saucy, which she probably is. Pesto it to taste (don’t be shy).
  3. In a medium bowl, have your 4-year old mix the spinach with a container of cottage cheese (500g for a big pan of Liz), salt, pepper and the zest of your lemon. Note: that’s 2 bowls. Far from ninety.
  4. Cut the ball of mozzarella into thin slices or grate it. Finely grate a bunch of parmesan or do this directly on to the lasagna when it’s time.
  5. Sauce the bottom of the pan, layer on some noodles, pile on some spinach mixture, some parmesan, some sauce, some more noodles, spinach, parmesan, sauce, …. till you have no more room/sauce/spinach/noodles.
  6. Layer or sprinkle the mozzarella on top and grate on more parmesan.
  7. Bake at 400 F for about 30-40 minutes till it’s bubbly, browning, and you can stick a skewer through the noodles.

Seriously, if you’ve got your spinach thawed, you’ll have liz-on-ya in one hour, from start to finish (Richard would have liked that!). And the thing is: IT’S FUCKING AMAZING.  Yes, once again: less work, better food. I think that’s going to become my mantra.

So easy, toddlers can do it. Those aren’t apples on top.

I keep meaning to take a picture of the finished product but it doesn’t stick around long enough. Just make it, and take your own picture.

Nice to be back. Pin this someone, will ya?

An open letter to Aunt Jemima

Dear Aunt Jemima,

When I was a little girl, you were the cornerstone of my weekend. My father would assume control of the kitchen (and when that happened we knew it was either steak or pancakes) and, with whisk in hand, would add one egg, one cup of milk, and a tablespoon of vegetable oil to a cup of your famous pancake batter – never “just add water” for my old man!

Back then, you offered a buckwheat pancake mix that is no longer available but it was well-loved in our house and I thank you for introducing me to that most wholesome of non-grains. 

Living in Quebec, we always had real maple syrup with our pancakes –  we never got in to your version of pancake syrup; sorry. But the real deal is, well… you can’t compare, and probably shouldn’t use so much caramel colour in an attempt to make your syrup look like maple syrup, cause it’s so misleading. Anyway. Maple syrup: That’s the point of this letter.

The pancakes were eaten in a stack, with a pat of butter melting on top. Dad would meticulously cut a wedge out of his stack and push the perfectly aligned, triangular layers of pancake through the syrup, sopping up a bit of melted butter along the way. To this day, when my dad makes me pancakes on Sundays (with your pancake mix) that’s how I eat them, too.

But Aunt Jemima, I have a problem. You see, maple syrup is so good on pancakes. It’s so good that naturally, one tries it on lots of different things to see if it will be good on that, too. And when one needs to sweeten things, one feels generally better about using maple syrup, produced right here in Gaspesie, and made of sap, than one does about using sugar that comes from some unsustainable plantation paying slave wages 10,000 km away.

So maple syrup finds its way onto daily oatmeal. And into batches of granola. Into chili, even! Into the cornbread that goes with the chili. It finds itself stirred into the plain yogurt that is purchased because normal yogurt is way too sweet, on top of the granola that is already sweetened with maple syrup. And before you know it, a family of 4 has consumed 3 gallons (that’s 12 litres here in Canada) in 9 months.

However, when I dropped 150$ for maple syrup, way back in May, I really, really thought that it would last longer than this. “It’s an investment!” I told myself as I wrote the cheque.

So as we emptied yet another can of syrup, Ben and I decided to limit our maple syrup consumption to weekends only. 

Aunt Jemima, you can see were this becomes a problem. Especially since I finally caved and bought a waffle iron, with grandiose plans to make and freeze giant batches of super healthy, multi-grainy-seedy waffles so that they’d be toaster-ready for weekday mornings!

The reason I’m writing to you, dear Aunt Jemima, is that you had the foresight to create an alternative to maple syrup. Albeit, a poor alternative… but that’s where I’m taking this. I look to you and your kerchief for inspiration.

And here it is. 

A far cry from box pancakes! A waffle so naturally sweet and tasty, it doesn’t need syrup! A carrot-apple waffle, with, in this case a dollop of crème fraîche (cause we had some, and, well – enough said) and a little sprinkling of vanilla sugar and sliced almonds – for presentation purposes only.

You could go the carrot-cake route all the way here and whip up a little bit of cream-cheese icing which is also excellent on these waffles but the nice thing about these is that they are kind of like muffins disguised as waffles, so you don’t really need to put anything on them at all!

My other idea was to make an apple-fig compote for these and other waffles, and also for oatmeal. But then I realized that 12 litres of maple syrup in 9 months for 4 people translates roughly into the equivalent 3/4 of a tablespoon of sugar per person, per day – and all of a sudden, that doesn’t seem worth all the effort of finding alternatives! So, dear Aunt Jemima, I’ll see you the next time I’m at home with my dear ol’ dad, and we’ll be sure to pour lots of maple syrup all over our stacks of perfectly round, perfectly delicious, pancakes from a box. Till then, yours in syrup,   Holly xoxo

Apple-Carrot Waffles

Adapted unabashedly from smittenkitchen.com

1 cup spelt flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon poppy seeds + 1 tablespoon sliced almonds or other nuts

1 large egg
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup finely grated carrots

1 cup grated, peeled apple

Use the food processor if you have a grating disk – the big holes for the apple, the small holes for the carrot, to ensure it cooks properly.

Mix up the wet ingredients separately from the dry, then add the wet to the dry, adding the carrots and apple to the whole mix and mixing just to combine. 

Go for a longer cook on your waffle iron or make them as pancakes if you prefer!

They freeze well, too – if you let them cool first, just stick a layer of wax paper between the already – frozen-on-a-cookie-sheet waffles, and pop a stack into a plastic bag. Eggo, eat your heart out!

ready for the freezer

I do remember the fall.

Well. Time flies when you work your buns off.

This is me (yellow jacket) on a typical fall work day... I'm not complaining, OK? Although I don't usually enjoy making faces at the camera. I'll complain about that.

I gave myself a break today, and stayed home. One of my goals was to write, but here it is 4:56 pm, the arrival of the family is imminent, and I’ve just managed to get a cup of tea brewed and cued up some nice music. Floor washed, dinner made, pear butter bubbling… wait.

Pear butter?

We’re at pear butter already? Again?

What about all the garden posts I was so excited to do? Zucchini recipes, kale recipes, beans, peas, carrots, broccoli, spinach, beets?

2 of the 11 carrots that didn't get stolen by ants

Well the thing is – the garden’s over. There are some tenacious beans taking shelter under some plastic, and a couple of pumpkins that keep getting bigger but won’t turn orange, and of course, good ol’ kale that’ll just keep going till I rip it out of the ground by its stalk, but apart from that… well, see, it’s fall. Again. My thoughts are turning to cozy, belly-filling pots of beans and fiery curries and chilis.  The light zucchini sautés of August are being pushed aside for…the stuff I wrote about last year.

The end of the summer was a little fast-paced. I went back to work and immediately started and finished 4 of the 5 courses that I have in my workload this semester. I was on the water 4 to 7 days a week. In there somewhere was Frida’s birthday party which required quick thinking on the cake (which almost got axed from the program due to time constraints but I thought that would make for a pretty shitty birthday party)

Girls discover beans

What a birthday party would be without swings and a garden, I have yet to discover.

To hang on to the last vestiges of summer, we booked a little chalet in Coin du Banc and hung out on the beach far away from our kitchen, laundry room, lawnmower and yes, garden.

And by the time I got done with all that, well, it was October 2nd, and I found myself cooking down 8 pounds of pears and hankerin’ for beans.

All of a sudden, it was fall.

I did manage to squeak out some pickled beans but I have to wait for 3 weeks before I can tell you if they are any good. The bean production was out of control. I’m really happy about the late planting of Ice Haricot beans I got from Les Jardins de L’Écoumène  – these beans feature “Small cloves lime green to the exquisite flavor are sought in the gourmet kitchen. The plants that reach 40 cm high should be visited regularly if you want to get an extended harvest. This bean is perfect for short seasons seasons”  (I love translations). But really – I got a shitload of beans, and I think I planted them in August. They are halfway between green and yellow and have a really delicate flavour. The kids went nuts over them.

Golden and Chioggia beets from the gah-den

And I’m pulling up my last beets now, and would like to share with you my all-time favourite way to cook beets and their greens together. This recipe comes from Peter Berley’s Modern Vegetarian Kitchen which was the first book I bought when I decided to learn how to cook for real. It’s a great resource despite the sometimes snobby and lengthy ingredient lists. While his instructions verge at times on the ridiculous (e.g., one should stir in a clockwise direction in the northern hemisphere because that’s the natural way that things, like your risotto, like to go around), it’s clear he loves food and feeding people, and his emphasis on seasonal eating works so well with a garden-sourced menu or for those of you with access to farmers’ markets or CSAs.  The recipes are always delicious and there are tons of instructions for making stuff like biga, sourdough, and seitan, and even just for how to chop vegetables. It leans heavily toward the vegan rather than the meat-eating-lapsed-vegetarian, but nonetheless,  my copy is dog-eared and sauce-splattered and this is one page that gets used a lot (possibly due to its short, accessible ingredient list). The result is tender, sweet beets that melt in your mouth and invariably cause people to stop and look at what they’re eating and say, “these are BEETS? Are there more?”.

(On a side note, Berley has since come out with another book that seems to have been written just for me: The Flexitarian Table: Inspired, Flexible Meals for Vegetarians, Meat Lovers, and Everyone In Between. This one’s going on my christmas list. Oh, and remind me to tell you about the Osso Bucco that was my downfall.)

Balsamic Glazed n Braised Beets and Greens

Adapted from Peter Berley’s recipe, from The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen

1 medium red onion, cut into wedges or crescents

4-5 fresh beets (more if you’re using smaller beets, enough to cover the bottom of your pan in a snug layer) with tops*, roots trimmed, and cut into wedges,

Beet greens,  chopped*.

3 tbsp balsamic vinegar

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

2 sprigs fresh thyme, stems removed

Coarse sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

*if you can’t get beets with the tops still on (PIPPA: DON”T USE CANNED BEETS), you could probably substitute other greens such as collards, chard, mustard greens, or, OK, twist my arm: kale – but I wouldn’t use spinach, I don’t think it’s tough enough for this job.

1. In a heavy pan that has a cover, arrange the beet slices and onion so that they fit snugly on the bottom of the pan. Add the vinegar, oil, thyme, and 1/2 tsp salt. Toss and then pour enough water over top to just cover the vegetables, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or so, until the beets are nearly tender, but not quite.

2. Raise the heat and boil, uncovered, until the liquid has reduced to a syrup and the beets are fork-tender.

3. Add the beet greens, reduce the heat again, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes.

4. Uncover and turn the greens over so they mix with the beets. Add pepper and salt to taste. Simmer for 2 minutes more and serve.

Yum.

You can tell by the wind
By fresh cut wood
All stacked to dry
That autumn’s here
And it makes you sad
About the crummy
Summer we had

With pine trees creaking
And ravens screeching
Just like the story my grandma tells
About when a bird
Hits your window
And someone you know
Is about to die

Autumn’s here
It’s ok if you want to cry

Find a sweater
And you’ll be better
Until the kindling is tinder dry
We can be quiet
As we walk down
To see the graveyard
Where they are now
I wonder how
They brought their piano
To haldane hill
From old berlin
Be hard to keep it
Well in tune
With winters like the one
That’s coming soon
Auntumn’s here
It’s time to cry now

I think that ghosts like
The cooler weather
When leaves turn colour
They get together
And walk along
These old back roads
Where no one lives
And no one goes
With all their hopes set
On the railway
That never came
So no one stayed
I guess that autumn
Gets you remembering
And the smallest things
Just make you cry.

Autumn’s here.

  –Hawksley Workman, Autumn’s Here