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?

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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

You’re granola!

When I used to work for a certain outdoor school, we used to play this game – well I never thought of it as a game, until my friend Kimberley told me that she tried to explain “this game” to someone recently. The game is, someone says a word. At this point, they don’t know they just started the game. Like, let’s say they say, while contemplating their snack, “I love bananas”. Then you continue the game by saying, “YOU’RE bananas!”  So it’s like a pun game. But you can keep it going. They can retort with, “I’ll show YOU a banana!” or something similarly witty.

It’s become a popular game in my house and it’s especially ridiculous to do it with someone whose first language is not English. However, if the person who “starts” the game is not familiar with the game, it can make you seem a bit silly.  You know, the guy you hired to build your deck says, “I need a squarehead, not a philips” and you say, “YOU’RE a squarehead! Hahahhahaha!”  I likely do not have to describe to you what happens next, especially if you live in Quebec. Anyway, either he could counter with, “I’ll show YOU a squarehead” – which would be a pretty good one – but more likely than not, he’d look blankly at you and go get his screwdriver his damn self, and then stop letting you help build your deck.

All this to say, I was munching a big bowl of granola just 5 minutes ago and thinking, I love granola! and then retorting to myself that I WAS granola, haha, which is actually funny-ish, because I have been accused of being “granola” once. Or twice.

A little granola in the making? Look at that chunk!

But really, I don’t love ALL granola. I am quite particular. Recently in the nice food store in Gaspé they started carrying this gourmet, “euphoric” granola that cost 15$ a package. Talk about getting your hopes up. Finally one day I indulged myself and bought a bag, to my utter disappointment! Blech! It hurt my jaws and it wasn’t even that tasty and I think it was stale. So I started the hunt for a granola recipe that would make me and my jaws happy. Oh, and that Mr. “Nut Allergy” would be able to eat. (I’ll show YOU a nut allergy!)

So HERE it IS! I have to say I am convinced that this is the best granola ever. So much so that I hesitate even putting the recipe here cause I thought about packaging the stuff and selling it, for 14$ a bag at the nice food store here. But then I remembered that dog hair gets into everything I make in this kitchen so I’d never get approval to sell my stuff in any store.

This recipe is infinitely adaptable to whatever ingredients you do or do not have “training” in your cupboards. There are a few basics and then the rest is up to you. The key is the cooking. You can make it chunky or not depending on how much you stir during baking.

It makes a whack of granola, I keep some out in a nice glass jar and freeze the other half so that it doesn’t get stale.  

Crispy Granola

Adapted? I think so.. From SimpleBites.net

Preheat the oven to 300 F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment OR grease them lightly.

Mix together the following in a saucepan and warm (don’t boil) over medium heat till the sugar is dissolved (you can play with the spices as much as you like):

2/3 cup maple syrup, agave syrup (ew) or honey

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup canola oil or light olive oil

at least 1 tsp EACH cinnamon & ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1/4 tsp EACH grated nutmeg & black pepper

This stuff you will mix together in your biggest bowl:

500 g or 5 cups large-flake oats (i.e. not quick oats or – god forbid – instant!)

2 cups various nuts and/ or seeds. I like a combo of sliced almonds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.

1/2 cup wheat germ, oat bran, bran, whatever.  All or none, doesn’t seem to matter much.

1/2 cup buckwheat flour (or other wholegrain flour) – I think this is one of the secrets to the clumps, so don’t skip.

1/2 cup unsweetened coconut

1/2 cup sesame seeds.

Once it’s all mixed, add the warm liquid to it and mix, mix, mix. 

Spread the mixture evenly on 2 baking sheets and pop them both into the oven. Rotate the pans after 15 minutes and decrease the heat to 275F. Bake for another 15 minutes. Add any dried fruit you want (raisins, cranberries, apple, apricot, FIGS yes figs!) and then turn off the oven and put the baking sheets back in till the oven is cool. This crisps things up nicely.

Now, the stirring: if you like clumpy granola, (I think the word is “clusters”), DON’T STIR during baking! It will be like one giant granola bar and when you undo it into your bowl there will be lovely clumps. (see mini-granola girl above holding clump example) (YOU’RE a clump example!). However, if clusters are not for you, go ahead and stir when you rotate the pans and when you add the dried fruit (I’ll rotate YOUR pans!).

even a 3-year old can put it in a jar.

That’s it! Enjoy on yogurt, ice cream, with milk, on oatmeal, in a baggie, or just sitting in a pretty glass jar on your kitchen table for weeks on end till I come over and re-possess it.