Scones. Soup. Codeine. Trifecta?

Pre-baked scones

I’m feeling much better. And Nick came home and was very sympathetic and the kitchen is mostly clean now, so I made soup and scones and everyone is happy and we’re watching Iron Chef and Nick is trying to teach me to take pictures that aren’t blurry but he should know by now that I can’t be taught much of anything as far as technology is concerned. Also, I’ve ingested more codeine than is probably healthy today, so it’s a wonder I’m even upright. Apparently the camera isn’t as simple as he thought. He keeps asking me questions. Why does he keep asking me questions?

Since Sunday tea, I’ve been all loins-aflame for scones. Also, my pots of herbs on the deck are growing wildly – specifically the spearmint and the thyme, which are dominating their respective pots and choking out the other plants. Stay tuned for a recipe for minty English potatoes later this week – for now, I needed to tame the thyme. I chopped up a bit of the parsley for these as well.

Potato and herb scones with cheese

(makes 4 scones … you could double the recipe and make more!)

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 grated cooked potato (I baked mine, but it would work just as well with boiled potato. I would have boiled mine but I had no clean pots.)
  • 1 large clove finely minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tbsp.  chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/4 cup grated cheese (I used pecorino because that’s what I had. Parmesan, or even cheddar, would also be good.)
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp. cold butter
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 egg

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Combine your dry ingredients (including the herbs and cheese) and potato in a mixing bowl. Stir well. Add the butter, working it in with your fingers until it’s fully integrated and the mixture looks like a big bowl of crumbs. Stir in the milk and the egg, and mix only until the dry ingredients are moistened. Form into a ball.

Lightly flour your counter, which is hopefully clean like mine was before I made these, and dump the dough out onto the surface. Knead lightly. Pat the dough into a circle about a half-inch thick and cut into four pieces. I thought the pieces looked ugly, so I rounded the edges and corners.

Place your scones about an inch or so apart on an ungreased baking sheet, top with a bit of grated cheese, and bake for 10 to 12 minutes.

Scones, hot from the oven.It’s the fresh herbs that make these so delightful – because they aren’t baked for all that long, they kept their bright green colour. Which, as it happens, matched the soup. You should serve these hot from the oven and slathered in butter. Dipping is optional.

Spring Green Pea Soup

(Serves two)

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp. fresh ginger, minced
  • Zest and juice of one lime
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 1/2 cups fresh or frozen green peas
  • 1/3 cup fresh chopped basil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

While your scones are baking, throw your ginger, garlic, and lime zest into a pot with a dribble of oil. Whatever kind. It doesn’t matter all that much. As the garlic is turning golden, pour in the coconut milk and the water, and juice the lime right over the pot. Let it come to a boil together, and then reduce the heat to medium. Add your peas and simmer until they’re soft, two or three minutes, then remove from the heat, add the basil, and purée the mixture in a blender or with a hand blender, which is probably one of the greatest kitchen tools ever.

Return the mixture to the heat to keep warm and adjust your seasonings. I found that I wanted a bit more acidity, so I added a splash more lime juice to cut the sweetness of the peas. If I had some jalapeno peppers, I would have added them as well. But it’s two days before payday, and two dollars for peppers is completely out of reach at this point. Poverty like ours is a skill!

I like to serve this (hot, of course) with a soft poached egg in the centre and a light sprinkling of black pepper. Try it. It’s super good that way.

green soupIn a few days, once I’ve had a chance to wander down to the market and see what’s fresh in fruit these days, I’ll give you a recipe for sweet scones – note: You really ought to go out and purchase some turbinado sugar to top them with. Crunch! You’ll see what I mean.

dinner!Nick just shouted at me that my camera sucks and that I’ll just have to learn to take better pictures. I thought that was the case, but he needed an hour’s worth of fiddling plus some time Google-searching to confirm this for me. It’s all very exhausting, this learning and typing and eating. It could be time to shave some T3s over a bowl of ice cream and take a bath.

Conclusion? Soup makes you feel better, scones are delicious, and sedatives are the root of all happiness.

Emily vs. Kitchen

This morning when I woke up I felt like a fist had punched through my mattress and clutched at my spine in a twisting, crippling sort of arthritis death-grip, so I stayed home to work on a project that I don’t need to be in the office for, and I wore pink pajamas and ate painkillers like they were Pez. Which sounds kind of great except for all the hideous pain. The tops of my feet even hurt. And you’d think that I’d be able to waddle over to the kitchen to make myself a healthful, revitalizing soup (because I know how to), but the thing is, my kitchen looks like this:

my disgusting kitchenWhich is depressing as hell. At this point I think it would be easier to just move and buy new everything. And that’s only the view on one side.

And every time I walk past it I try not to look because it’s causing me a fair amount of stress, and not just stress because of all the mess, but also because I know that I’m too lazy and unmotivated to do anything about it, which is a testament to my weak character and lack of desire to grow or change. For example, now? It’s lunchtime and I’m eating a bowl of Wacky Mac and blogging about not wanting to fix my kitchen because it’s disgusting and I am powerless against my own laziness. And when Nick gets home, one of two things will happen:

  1. Nick will come home and not do the dishes.
  2. Nick will come home and demand that I help him with the dishes.

And he could say “it’s not me, it’s you,” and I would totally understand, because it IS me, and why am I having a melt-down over dishes? I am glad it’s not 1950 and I have a job that I can use an excuse to be a slacker when it comes to helping out at home. I would be the worst housewife ever. We’re all lucky that there is no wine left in my house, or I’d be hobbling around on THAT crutch too.

This is Wacky Mac. It's wacky because the noodles are all different shapes? Get it? Yeah. I should get back to work.
This is Wacky Mac. It's wacky because the noodles are all different shapes? Get it? Yeah. I should get back to work.

So. I am going to work on this work project until it’s complete. Then, I am going to ingest a cocktail of arthritis meds and painkillers, and then put on some NOFX and get really angry about the mess and hopefully make some meaningful progress, because I have been lusting after a bright green spring pea soup, and tonight is the night and there’s nothing I can do about it until some pots are clean and some counters are clear. Or Nick will get home and I’ll burst into tears and cry about how hopeless our lives are and he’ll just take care of it because he’s nice like that. It could go either way. And then I’ll make and write about the pretty green soup.

Okay. Back to work.

Things that are not okay: Wanting to slather your naked self in frosting and only not doing it because you’re at tea with your mother-in-law who probably wouldn’t care if you did it but might still think less of you even though she might not say anything.

Today I went for tea in Fort Langley. Ordinarily, the suburbs are not really my thing – wide open spaces make me anxious and uncomfortable, and there are minivans and Home Depots everywhere, which is only kind of true, but I get all weird anyway, even though there are two Home Depots within ten minutes of where I live now and I’m not afraid of Home Depot as much as I am the idea of Home Depot and renovations and owning a home and being a grown-up and caring about things like different kinds of hoses or door knobs or wood things or epoxy.

But I really like Fort Langley. It’s a delightful place and not at all scary, and there’s lots of cool stuff there. Like Tracycakes.


White house

I was delighted to find that they had my favourite vanilla bean tea, and each person at the table gets the tea of their choice in a little white teapot so I didn’t even have to share.

Jess, Nick’s sister, arranged the whole tea time, and apparently knew all about this in advance – when we got there, there was no order to be placed. We were there for high tea, so we waited for our teapots, then for the tower of awesomeness. We didn’t wait long.

tower of awesomeThe top tier contained little sandwiches – cucumber, egg salad, and turkey – and sausage rolls. BTW, I received a belated wedding gift today – the meat grinder attachment for my Kitchen Aid stand mixer. My mom says I should get over my preoccupation (obsession) with owning a wiener dog because they’re nervous and they pee everywhere, but I’m all, “Um, hello? Me?” And then I got this meat grinder and I swear the joy caused me to pee a little, which made me nervous, but it turns out I didn’t pee and I was just a little sweaty. Overshare.

Anyway, I’m going to start grinding meat and making sausage, the connection here being that since I mastered pastry, the next logical step is to master sausage rolls. I reworded that last sentence like, eight times, because I COULD NOT type “I want to master sausage” and have you think I wrote that without knowing that it could be misconstrued and then laugh at me.

Oh! The scones! I do so love a good scone. Scones comprised the second tier.

sconeThese scones were fluffy and light and gave me a total England boner. Inappropriate. Cranberry and orange, they were, and served with raspberry preserves, lemon curd, and clotted cream. As soon as my bank balance moves back into the black (Thursday), I’ll be acquiring some cranberries and making a feastload of scones. Stay tuned.

On the bottom tier there were cupcakes and butter tarts and a few things I couldn’t immediately identify but knew were probably mighty tasty. The cupcakes (and other baked goods) were fantastic, since they’re what Tracycakes seems to be known for. I would say that these are better than Cupcakes cupcakes, if only for the frosting. I had a caramel one that was perfectly frosted and drizzled with caramel, with a cake that was soft and moist and soaked with errant drops of golden sugar love.

I heard while I was there that this place is closing at the end of the summer, which sucks, because the only other location is in Abbotsford. Which means if I don’t go back to Fort Langley before the end of the summer, I will have tasted my last Tracycake this afternoon. I think I would like to take my Mom there, and perhaps the next sunny Sunday I am out that way, I will kidnap her and make her eat cupcakes. This will be a challenge. But I will succeed.

If you’re considering Fort Langley as a destination, it’s worth your time. There are other good things there – The Lamplighter is tremendous and you will need to go there for dinner, and for some interesting fruit wines, The Fort Wine Co. is the place to go. The main road (only road?) through town features a wide variety of shops and restaurants and places to wander, and if you’re all loaded up on cupcakes the town is just the right size for a waddle.

So, the moral of the story is that there is adventure outside of the city, and Home Depot is nothing to be afraid of. And cupcakes = love.

Saucy meat makes romance.

The thing about being flat broke most of the time is you have to plan. And you have to be able to make your own fun, usually on $20 or less.

For Nick, fun is cleaning and purging three garbage bags full of all the awesome clothes I don’t wear but still love and will someday lose enough weight to fit into again. Jerk. My idea of fun is anything but that. So Nick cleaned, and I cried, and then we had dinner, which was fantastic.

By the way, as of this evening, I have called a ban on all sesame oil-soy sauce-delicious-but-played-around-here standbys. I thought I’d done it last night – Other Emily came over to spend the night pre-move to Portland, so I made Jerk chicken and a sweet potato, tomato, and okra curry on rice fried with peas and parsley, and it was delicious and filling and then we had pudding. So, good night, and then I thought tonight I’d really give’r and we’d have something awesome and I’d bake bread, and then Nick turned the afternoon into a suckfest and made me listen to Metric, and the kitchen was disgusting, and we were hungry but too lazy to do dishes, and everything was dirty, so I had to get creative. Kind of. I did the sesame oil soy sauce thing again. But it works, so whatever. This is a variation.

Oh! About planning. We always have a freezer full of things we can use, and a bijillion things we can use for seasoning, marinades, and crap like that. And canned goods, and a few vegetables left over. Today, we had two potatoes, half a yam, and a bag of baby bok choy. And some pork tenderloin. So I barbecued the pork and the bok choy, because everything I could have used to cook either of these inside was dirty.

Grace, who is awesome, and who I’ve mentioned before, said once that anything tastes good when it’s marinated in a bit of soy sauce and ginger: this is correct. I tossed the bok choy in a bit of each, then a bit of sesame oil, and set the veg aside. For the pork, I mixed up:

  • 1 tbsp. dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. mirin
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil
  • 2 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. finely minced fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves finely minced garlic

I rubbed a bit of this onto the pork tenderloin before I threw it on the barbecue, and reserved the rest for later.

Pork on BBQ

I let it cook for about 12 minutes, because this was a small piece of meat, and I turned it once. The bok choy cooked for about seven minutes on the top rack.

Bok choy on BBQThe pork smelled amazing while it cooked.

Grilled meatToward the end of the pork’s cooking, I painted both sides with the rest of the marinade, because Nick was all, “I want saucy meat.” And I was like, “Of course you do, muffin.”

Here’s dinner:

Tasty!After that, we took our $20 and bought two bottles of terrible wine and biked down to Kits beach because Nick said we’d make out on the beach and be all romantic and shit, which is better than eating the rest of a five-pound bag of Mini Eggs on the couch while he watches another three hours of hockey. It was nice. The whole ride there, the air was fragrant with wood smoke and pink flowers, and I kept exclaiming, “seriously, why doesn’t everyone live here? It’s amazing!”And then when we got there, the beach was lovely and empty, except for the couple of geeks with guitars. We totally made out. Nick and I. Not me and the guitar people.

Now we’re back at home, surrounded once again by dishes, and Nick is trying to make me watch a Mastodon music video while I Internet it up and we finish the last of the wine, the one in with the sweet zebra-print label. So, romance is alive and well, kids. Don’t give up hope.

A perfectly lovely flex-Friday breakfast for one.

It’s Friday! And I’m not at work! And Spring Is Here!

Look! Spring! There it is! This is what spring looks like from my balcony.
Look! Spring! There it is! This is what spring looks like from my balcony.

This is all tremendous, and worthy of glorious celebration. And I am alone – Nick is at work, so once again, I can have whatever I want.

For Nick, there is no better breakfast than fried eggs, fried bacon, and fried perogies with onions and sour cream. And a can of cold beer, which he usually has one or two of, because he always saves a couple for morning and for the shower. And that’s all well and good, because all of those things fried are quite delicious. But they are not worthy of my mood today. No.

I wanted pancakes. Correction: I wanted pancake. Singular. And I wanted to sit on my deck and drink a cup of tea and look at the flowers and bask in the glow of the sunshine. So, Dutch Baby-style, I put the pancake in a ramekin and threw it in the oven. I sliced a few strawberries, drizzled the last of the cream over top, and sprinkled them lightly with sugar.



So what do you need for a perfectly lovely breakfast for one? Oh, easy.

You need:

  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 425°F. Lightly grease a single ramekin with butter. Put it in the oven while the oven heats – about five minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, milk, egg, sugar, and vanilla. Pull your ramekin out of the oven, and pour in your batter. You may find that the ramekin sits better in the oven if you put it on a small cookie sheet. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes.

While your apartment is filling with the smell of pancakey goodness, slice as many strawberries as you have or as you’d like, add a dribble of cream, and sprinkle the top lightly with sugar. Boil a pot of water for tea. Though, a cold, sparkly glass of prosecco would also be delightful. Note to self. For next time.

When it comes out of the oven, your pancake-Dutch Baby-thing will be puffy and fantastic. And if you greased your ramekin properly, it will just slide out. I got too excited and missed some spots, apparently, so it clung to the sides a bit. Oh well. It still tasted good – crispy on the outside, soft and fluffy and wondrous on the inside.

Serve on a plate with maple syrup or golden corn syrup, and all your delicious strawberries on the side.

Now? Oh, big day. I’m going to put on a sundress, and maybe some tights as it’s a little nippy out yet, and then, because it’s Vancouver and I live on a bike route, I’m going to ride my bike and have an adventure or something. SPRING!

No, seriously. JOY.
No, seriously. JOY.

Puttanesca: Scandal Pasta for a Night Alone

Sometimes I like an evening to sit around in my underpants eating my favourite things and sipping the kind of wine that Nick can’t drink because he’s never learned to sip and big red wines give him headaches. And he doesn’t like olives or capers and I don’t think he’s ever tasted an anchovy, and the obvious question is “why did you marry him?” but the truth is this whole ’til death thing was kind of revenge for both of us. So sometimes he’s away for the evening and that’s when I make spaghetti alla puttanesca, that delicious brothel favourite that goes tremendously well with a fruity (yet manly) malbec, both of which are infinitely better when consumed on the couch while wearing your favourite underwears and a shirt you don’t mind splattering sauce on, because it’s messy. And that’s sexy. Try to imagine me thinner and dripping with spicy, briny pasta sauce. Instead of bloated and wearing Nick’s elephant-eating-a-guy beige T-shirt. I’ve never been cool. Or alluring.

Italian hookers smell like garlic and olives and strong cheese. I'm hoping to adopt one.
Italian hookers smell like garlic and olives and strong cheese. I'm hoping to adopt one.

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

(About enough for two. Serve with delicious crusty bread.)

Don’t worry about the measurements for this. You should be impassioned and a little sweaty while you make this. And you should be wearing red lipstick.

  • 1/2 lb. spaghetti (note: that’s a 1/2 lb. pre-cooked. I have no idea how much it weighs when it’s cooked.)
  • A splash of good olive oil – maybe a tablespoon, maybe two
  • 1 tsp. dried red chili flakes
  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped (don’t get all anal-retentive about the mincing – it doesn’t matter here. Chunks are fine.)
  • 10 to 12 kalamata olives, pitted and roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp. small to medium-sized capers
  • 2 anchovies, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon zest
  • 5 or 6 canned plum tomatoes, diced
  • A splash of wine – whatever you’re drinking will probably do; red is better
  • A heaping tablespoon or so of chopped fresh parsley
  • Grated pecorino cheese to top (if you don’t have it, regular old parmesan will work fine too)

Boil a big enough pot of salted water to cook your pasta. Measure out enough for two servings – 1/2 lb. should do. When it’s boiling, put noodles in pot.

Heat the olive oil in a pan. When it’s hot, toss in your chilies, your garlic, your olives, and your capers.


Let them cook for a minute or so together, then toss in your lemon zest, your tomatoes, and your anchovies. Toss these in the pan together until your pasta is just about al denté, or about six minutes. When it’s just about ready, drain off your pasta and throw it into the pan. Add the wine, and toss to coat the pasta with the sauce. Give the pasta two to three minutes to finish cooking and absorb all those sumptuous flavours.

Just before you remove it from the heat, throw the parsley in there, toss again. Get a smug, self-satisfied look on your face at how good this smells.

Plate it, on one or two plates, or plate half and put the other half in a container for your lunch tomorrow. I guess you could even divide this in four and serve it as a side dish. But this pasta is kind of a big deal, so I wouldn’t let something stupid like chicken relegate this to the side.

Shave as much cheese as you like onto the top of the pasta, and serve as is, with a side of bread.

Plated puttanesca awesomeness.

I didn’t tell you to add salt or pepper, because the sauce itself is very salty with all the olives, capers, and anchovies, and the chilies add the right amount of heat, but if you’re into salt-licks and you just can’t live without pepper, add either or both in at the end of cooking.

For dessert, I’m considering a modest bowl of strawberries with a dribble of cream and a delicate sprinkling of berry sugar. I don’t know why people worry about dying alone – if you can cook, it hardly matters, because you can continuously delight yourself, and you never have to wear pants and you can drink the whole bottle of wine if you want to. And no one ever gets all disappointed in you for staining their shirt and leaving dishes everywhere and spending ten dollars on a jar of olives that you’ll eat over the course of a single episode of Iron Chef, which some people think is weird and kind of a waste of ten dollars.

I like Nick. I don’t know why he likes me.

Food porn.
Slightly blurry food porn.

Phoning it in with Focaccia Bread.

Sometimes I have a very hard time sleeping. My nephew told my mom that there is always stuff going on in his head because he has four brains, and I understand the feeling, though I don’t think I’ve got four brains, just one that’s hyperactive and not doing much of anything but keeping me up.

I usually just pour myself a giant glass of milk and eat something soothing, like homemade bread toast or this pint of strawberries, and read a book, but I’m reading a very good book and it’s so good that I don’t want to finish it right now because then it will be over. I’m not ready for that. So I’m kind of phoning this one in, sharing an old recipe, and hoping that the plicketing of my keyboard will lull me to sleep.

Focaccia bread, my stand-by for something easy and impressive that you can make with stuff you already have. File this one under cheap and easy.
Focaccia bread, my stand-by for something easy and impressive that you can make with stuff you already have. File this one under cheap and easy.

Focaccia Bread

  • 1 (1/2-pound) Yukon Gold potato, peeled and quartered
  • 1 cup cooled (but still warm) potato water
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (or one packet)
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 1/4 cups flour, divided (1/4 cup will be used to kneed)
  • 1/4 cup herbs de provence (don’t have it? I’ve used any old dried spice – basil is nice, as is rosemary)
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon sea salt, divided (1/4 tsp. to be sprinkled on bread before baking)
  • 1/2 pound roma tomatoes, thinly sliced crosswise, or as many small tomatoes as you think look good on top
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped (but not minced)
  • 1/2 cup mozzarella or parmesan cheese
  • Two basil leaves, chopped

I never use a mixer for this – I do everything by hand, and I promise, it’s neither strenuous nor is it exhausting. Or I wouldn’t do it. But you can use a mixer, or anything you like.

Generously cover potato with salted water in a small pot and simmer, uncovered, until just tender, 10 or so minutes. Drain water into a measuring cup. Cool potatoes slightly, then mash until smooth.

Add sugar to potato water. Sprinkle yeast over mixture and let stand until foamy, about five minutes. (If mixture doesn’t foam, start over with new yeast. I have really crappy yeast at the moment, so I let it stand longer – if it doesn’t start working within ten minutes, swear out loud, dump the whole thing, and either start over or cry and then go to the store and buy new yeast. You’re only allowed to cry if you’ve invested in a full jar though. I make a lot of bread so I buy it by the jar, and that’s a lot of little organisms to have failed, so crying is okay.)

Measure out four cups of flour and dump into a bowl. Add 1/4 cup herbs de provence, and one tablespoon of salt. Add the mashed potatoes and oil, then pour in your yeast mixture. Mix it all together until the dough is very soft and sticky, then drop the dough onto a floured surface to begin the awesome task of kneading. This is my favourite part of bread-making, and is particularly delightful with this bread because of the herbs, which smell like warm sunny countries that I haven’t been to.

As usual, you’ll want to knead this until the dough is quite elastic, about eight to ten minutes.

Scrape dough into a lightly oiled large bowl and cover bowl with oiled plastic wrap. I always oil my stock pot, and the lid, and put it in there with the lid on for this. Let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Generously oil a cookie sheet.

Punch down dough (do not knead) and transfer to baking pan, then gently stretch to cover as much of bottom as possible (dough may not fit exactly).

Cover dough with oiled plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, 1 to 1 1/2hours.

Preheat oven to 425°F in lower third part of oven (near the bottom, but not the whole way).

Soak tomatoes for ten minutes in balsamic vinegar, then arrange tomatoes on focaccia (do not overlap), then sprinkle with basil, cheese, chunks of garlic, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon sea salt and drizzle with remaining 1/4 cup oil.

Bake until center is firm, and top and underside is golden (lift to check), 20 to 25 minutes.

Loosen focaccia from pan with a spatula and slide onto a rack to cool slightly. Cut into pieces and serve warm or at room temperature.

Well, now … that didn’t work. I’m still awake, and nowI am getting all food-lusty for bread. Nick is snoring away in the other room, and I’m all stimulated. Probably the strawberries, which may have been a bad idea – too much fruit = the scoots. And now I’m oversharing. Make the bread. People will love you and think you’re the best, and then you can be all, “I am! That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you!” Ugh. Maybe I do have four brains. Four parrot brains that don’t really do anything but annoy me at bedtime. Good night.

Vegetabletarian? We serve your kind here.

Wow. Been a real keener with this blog stuff lately. Been cooking a lot too, motivated in large part by this non-pink camera and my desire to learn how to take non-blurry pictures. Also, would be okay with someone coming over to take pictures for me. So I invited Chris Gerber, Nick’s friend with the good camera, over to eat. I like Chris Gerber.

A lot of kids aren’t eating meat these days. Weird, right? Some of them came over for dinner tonight. I’ve found that the challenge with vegetarian cooking is that people don’t really “get” vegetables. They get meat though. Meat is the main course, and that’s that. So vegetables are kind of an afterthought – just dump some hollandaise sauce on them, and they’ll be good to go. Much as I love a good litre of hollandaise, one cannot coat everything they eat in egg yolk butter sauce. Bad idea. Pretty sure that’d kill you.

The challenge tonight was to approach vegetables in a way that allowed vegetables to behave like a main course without everyone feeling like the vegetables were either imitating meat or that the whole dish was suffering for the lack of meat. For someone that keeps a jar of bacon fat in the fridge and dreams of the many uses for schmaltz, this is no small thing. But not impossible. No. Not impossible.

The solution? A little pea and asparagus risotto with bulgur and a rustic onion and fennel tart, adapted (and improved upon) from this month’s issue of Food & Wine magazine. Also, a side salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado, and basil, all drizzled with delicious olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I got the basil from the plant on my balcony. It was real good.

It’s quite late and I don’t actually have a recipe for the risotto … it’s all in my head and I don’t feel like trying to remember it now. I am going to try and remember it later, and tell it to you again – I may have to re-do it and take notes throughout the process so I can report back. If you know risotto, it’s made the usual way, only with vegetable stock and peas and asparagus thrown in. I added the bulgur for nuttiness, and because I have a freaking ton of it, because I was on a total bulgur kick a few months back. So you get the onion-fennel tart thing, and some lovely pictures, a few of which were provided by the talented and artistic Chris Gerber. The crappy blurry ones are from me.

Rustic Onion and Fennel Tart

(Adapted from Food & Wine Magazine)


  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, frozen
  • 5 tbsp. ice water


  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • 1 large sweet onion
  • 1 bulb fennel
  • 6 thyme sprigs
  • 2 tbsp. sour cream of crème fraîche
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp. milk

To make the dough, measure the flour and salt into a bowl. Using a cheese grater, grate the frozen butter into the bowl, and toss together lightly. Using a fork or a finger, pour the water gradually into the mix. You want the dough to form a ball, and to be relatively firm. You may not need all of the water. When a dough-ball is formed, wrap it in a sheet of plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge.

Start cutting the onion – thin slices. Do the same thing with the fennel bulb. Thin. Get your butter melting in a pan. Once melted, dump your onions and fennel into the pan, with four of the sprigs of thyme, and sprinkle lightly with salt. Start the pan on high, cooking until softened, eight to ten minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until onions are golden and caramelized. The recipe says 20 minutes, but it lies. It’ll take half and hour. Once the onion-fennel combo is complete, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the sour cream/crème fraîche, and season with whatever salt and pepper you feel it needs.

Preheat the oven to 375°F, and butter a cookie sheet.

Grab your dough ball out of the fridge. Lightly flour your rolling surface. Make sure it’s clean. Dough doesn’t hide the crusties you let harden on your countertop. Pat the dough ball down, and roll the thing out. Once it’s thin and rolled, fold it back into a ball-like shape, and start again. You want the flour and the butter to be all inter-mingled and stuff so that when you bake it, the pastry gets all flaky and luscious, not hard like shingles. When it’s all rolled out, move it over to your buttered cookie sheet.

Pour your cooled onion-fennel mixture onto your pastry. You want there to be about an inch and a half border around the mixture, because you’ll be folding the edges of the tart in, making it look all rustic and homemade, which is totally in right now. It looks like you tried hard that way, even though this was super easy and monkeys could do it.

Lay the remaining two sprigs of thyme over top your crust, and brush with your egg-milk mixture.

Your pre-baked tart should look like this:

Pre-baked tart.Bake for 40 minutes. I thought I had a really good picture of the tart, but I get really distracted really easily, so I guess I forgot to take it. Your finished tart will look like the thing at the top right of this photo:Tart with other food.The other stuff there is the risotto and the salad, which were also good. At least, I thought they were good. The thing about these food blogs is that it’s kind of my word against anyone else’s. But, to be fair, no one gagged or was all, “Ew, WTF? Why are you feeding me poison?” So, awesome show. Great job. IT ALL TASTED GOOD.

There was also dessert. I made mango upside-down cake, but it got a little botched when I tried to take it out of the pan. Solution? Cover that shit in caramel sauce. Caramel hides flaws. And helps the broken parts of cake get stuck back together.

Cake!Oh! I used my last vanilla bean in the whipped cream. Well, not my last, but the last in that open container. Glad that story line is now all wrapped up.

I’ve included some of Chris Gerber’s actual attractive images below. He didn’t give me all the photos he took, which leads me to believe that the others were way too good to share, so instead he’s taken them home to paint them for me in watercolours, so that I can get all Cook’s Illustrated on this blog.

Chris Gerber interprets salad.
Chris Gerber interprets salad.
Chris Gerber takes sexier pictures of dessert than most people could.
Chris Gerber takes sexier pictures of dessert than most people could.
Chris Gerber photographs yesterday's shrimp recipe. My penmanship is really nice, so I take half-credit fot the artistry of this one.
Chris Gerber photographs yesterday's shrimp recipe. My penmanship is really nice, so I take half-credit fot the artistry of this one.

Conclusion? Vegetables are tasty. People should eat more of them. Unfortunately, they do not possess the sedative-qualities of large hunks of meat, so it’s 1:04 am and I am still wide-awake. Thankfully, there was wine left over. Good night.

Cooking without Borders

Panna cotta in potAs it turns out, I’m quite a terrible photographer. I’m pretty sure with the pink camera, all my pictures would have been number-one Annie Liebowitz-esque, but it’s probably best not to dwell on that for too long. I made a lot to eat last night, and I tried to take pictures that would show how much fun it all was to make and how sumptuous it all was to eat, but everything turned out kind of blurry and sad. Apparently I have the shaky hands. Excellent for whisking, terrible for photo snapping.

Above? That’s a pot of milk and sugar and gelatin and vanilla bean, simmering until the sugar and gelatin was melted. We had panna cotta last night, because strawberries were on special and I had to use two more vanilla beans up before they dry out, standing in their lidless container. I used one, so anticipate one more vanilla bean recipe before too long. I’m starting with dessert this time, because panna cotta is among my favourite things to eat, and because I’m sure once you try it, it’ll be one of your favourite things too.

The recipe is adapted from The Williams-Sonoma Cookbook, an invaluable resource as I’ve come to find.

Panna Cotta

  • Butter (for greasing six ramekins)
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 2 packages, or four teaspoons, unflavoured powdered gelatin
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream (whipping cream)

Lightly grease six ramekins with butter. Set the cups on a small baking sheet.

Pour one third, or 1/2 cup of the milk into a small pot. Sprinkle the gelatin over top, and let sit for about three minutes. This is about where I stopped reading the recipe, and also where I began to do everything wrong … but it didn’t matter, because it turned out well anyway.

The deal is you’re supposed to add the rest of the milk and the sugar and heat it until the sugar and gelatin is dissolved, then take the pot off the stove and stir in the cream and vanilla. I added the cream as well, and the vanilla bean, which I’ve found needs a good whisking to make it less frog’s-eggs-goopy and stuck together. The recipe says that the panna cotta needs at least six hours to set, and that’s if the recipe is followed, so I got a little worried. When everything that needed to dissolve dissolved, I poured the mixture into six ramekins. I filled the baking sheet between the ramekins with ice cubes, and then added about a cup of ice-cold water, to speed up the cooling-down process.

Panna cotta, pre-set, in ramekinsIt worked, and the whole thing set in under four hours. Awesome. If I’d read through the rest of the recipe, which I usually think I’m too cool for, I would have found a very helpful hint about releasing these from their ramekins … apparently if you remove these from the fridge once set, you can place these on a towel warmed with hot water for up to two hours – this should loosen the bottoms and make them easier to get out. I didn’t have any trouble though – I ran a knife around the outsides and tipped them onto a plate. It worked just fine.

I topped these with a warm sauce of strawberries and blood orange juice, whipped cream, and sliced fresh strawberries.

Panna Cotta with StrawberriesThere were other things to eat last night, things like gomae, pork fried rice, firecracker shrimp tossed with avocados and cucumbers, edamame, sushi, and chicken wings marinaded in a delicious Sooin-inspired marinade. I couldn’t find a recipe that pleased me for the shrimp, so I made one up – I wrote it down as it developed.

Firecracker Shrimp with Avocado and Cucumber

  • 1 tbsp. butter, melted
  • 1 tsp. fresh finely minced ginger
  • 3 cloves finely minced garlic
  • 4 tsp. honey
  • 1 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil
  • 1 lime, zested and juiced (half juice reserved)
  • 1 tsp. sambal oelek or hot sauce
  • 70 to 90 uncooked, peeled, and deveined shrimp
  • 1 avocado
  • 1/2 long English cucumber
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh scallions

Firecracker shrimp marinadeMix butter, ginger, garlic, honey, soy sauce, sesame oil, lime zest and juice of one half of the lime, and sambal oelek (or hot sauce). Add shrimp, and skewer – we ended up needing five skewers for these. If you’re using bamboo skewers, make sure to soak them in water for an hour or so before using.

Shrimp on skewersI threw these on the top rack of the barbecue on a sheet of tin foil and cooked them until they turned pink, turning them once to be sure they were cooked on both sides. It didn’t take long … eight minutes? That sounds about right.

When they come off the barbecue, toss them with the avocado and cucumber, the rest of the lime juice, and the cilantro and scallions.

Firecracker Shrimp with Avocado and CucumberI took some fairly inadequate pictures of the rest of the feast … I’ve included them here with captions!

Asparagus for sushi: On the grill.
Asparagus for sushi: On the grill.
Barbecued chicken for sushi. Weird? Yeah, I know. Nick really likes it.
Barbecued chicken for sushi. Weird? Yeah, I know. Nick really likes it.
Cheelful sushi! Loose and kind of crappy-looking sushi rolls on my favourite platter ever.
Cheelful sushi! Loose and kind of crappy-looking sushi rolls on my favourite platter ever.
Gomae up front, edamame in the back. Which sounds kind of ... awesome, like a terrible sexy euphemism.
Gomae up front, edamame in the back. Which sounds kind of … awesome, like a terrible sexy euphemism.
A blurry photo of some saucy wings.
A blurry photo of some saucy wings.
Pork fried rice, and evidence that it may be time for a new wooden spoon.
Pork fried rice, and evidence that it may be time for a new wooden spoon.
The Help: Nick loves dinner parties. LOVES THEM. See how happy he is?
The Help: Nick loves dinner parties. LOVES THEM. See how happy he is?

Broke and full. Success!

It’s the day before payday, which is always bleak. Well, bleak in that we can’t indulge our usual gluttonous passions – no beer, no wine, all out of eggs, and a dwindling supply of vegetables on hand. The fridge is sparse at the moment. But it’s after nine, and I’ve got bread in the oven for tomorrow’s meager breakfast before our bank balances nudge ever so slightly into the positive. And we’re full, most of a pot of soup gone, all of yesterday’s meatload depleted.

Nick said it was the best soup I’d ever made, which put me in a bit of a pout, because I like to think that my specialty, my sumptuous sweet potato and coconut soup with lemongrass and red curry spices, is far better, more interesting, more favourable. Tonight’s soup was hobo soup, essentially. A head of cauliflower that’s been tucked in the back of the fridge for three weeks, maybe a month. An onion, some garlic. The remainders of two cartons of chicken stock, about three cups. The rest of the non-sour milk, maybe a cup and a half. A small round of that delicious Boursin cheese. Salt. Pepper. Cayenne. And that’s that, simmered until the cauliflower softened, then blended with my awesome new hand blender.

Ever notice that a meal of just soup is kind of sad, no matter how good the soup? Me too. I had just enough butter left on hand for a half-batch of baking powder biscuits. Once they came out of the oven, I sliced them, and stuffed them with the remaining meatload  from yesterday, with a sprinkling of cheese.  We are fat and sassy. We are full and content, Star Trek TNG on TV, a loaf of soda bread in the oven smelling our space up real nice.

Tomorrow, I will buy groceries for the next few days, bake brownies for Nick’s bake sale (he’s not 7 … he’s 27), and life will return to normal. We will have beer again, and possibly wine. But for now, we’ve enjoyed a lovely evening. Am pleased. Tra-la-la!