I pretty much just like saying “Wellington.”

I mentioned something the other week about my life exploding. It does that, from time to time, and I’m not sure if it’s an outward explosion as much as it is the disaster in my own head leaking out like biowaste, but the long and the short of it is that I am terrible with money. Just awful. I have bills, but in the past I have moved often and forgotten to reroute my mail or forgot I had certain bills, only to remember them six, eight, ten months later when the shit has not only hit the fan but spattered and slapped me awake at midnight on a work night and when that happens I can’t sleep and start filling out Expressions of Interest online in the hope that I’ll qualify for a move to New Zealand.

I do. Qualify, that is. As a “skilled migrant,” imagine that!

I paid off my last credit card last week. Paid it off in full. The cards are gone, chopped to bits, and that chapter in my financial saga has closed. That chapter, but not the one where I owe the government for that education it funded and now wants me to pay for. It’s an unnerving thing to realize that your moderate success in paying off an aggressive strain of debt is worth only minor celebration, because there’s this other bill that you haven’t been paying attention to, and you don’t know what’s going to come of it.

I have an appointment on Saturday to talk about debt consolidation and being a responsible adult. And, it’s almost midnight, and I can’t help but log in to my account with Immigration New Zealand and look at my in-progress application and sigh. Running away isn’t going to solve anything, is it?

This thing is dogging me in my real life, and the stress of this and work and finding a new apartment is making me quite insufferable. I’m cranky at work. I’m fussy at home. I ruined the polenta yesterday. And I scraped the seeds out of a very hot pepper this evening, using my thumbnail, and every time I habitually pick at my bottom lip, I feel burning and then I tongue it and then my tongue burns too.

It’s at times like these when comfort food is oh-so-necessary. I love meatloaf. I also like the way the word “Wellington” sounds and feels to say. And it’s coldish out now – long sleeves and leggings weather. Sweaters and jeans weather, almost.

You’re probably a million times more responsible than I am, and surely your life never explodes. Hopefully yours doesn’t keep you up at night. But I am certain that at some point this winter, you are going to want to be cuddled, and if your version of Nick is also addicted to oppressively loud and rather gruesome first-person shooter games, you’re going to have to find love in food.

Fortunately, meatloaf wellington will love you right back. And it never charges.

Make the meatloaf the day before you want to make this. It will be a bijillion times better, though make sure it’s at room temperature before you wellington the thing. The meatloaf part of the recipe has been adapted from Fannie Farmer, though I’ve made it so many times that it’s morphed some, and is now an improved version. Not as good for you as Fannie’s, but I don’t think you visit here for your health.

Meatloaf Wellington

  • 2 cups bread crumbs
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1 lb. ground beef (don’t use extra-lean – regular lean will be fine here. For moisture’s sake)
  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 4 slices of bacon

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, combine all of your ingredients except the bacon, and mush together with your hands. You want the ingredients to mix together, but you also want the meat to keep a bit of texture.

Press into a greased loaf pan, and top to cover with the four strips of bacon.


Peek-a-boo!I like to make sure there’s no sticking at the bottom of the pan, so I always cover the bottom with a piece of parchment paper.

Bake for 45 minutes, and then pull out of the oven and let cool in the pan. Set aside, preferably overnight. Once again, it should be at room temperature for the next steps, so if you refrigerate the thing overnight, then take it out an hour or so beforehand to take off the chill.

Wellington part:

  • 1 large onion
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. Dijon or Bavarian mustard
  • 1 large sheet of puff pastry (enough to wrap a meatloaf … if the piece you have isn’t big enough, layer the second piece [there are always two to a package] so that the meatloaf is completely enveloped.)
  • 1 egg, beaten

Slice the onion into very thin strips and caramelize in the butter over medium heat until dark golden. This should take 20 to 30 minutes, and you will periodically need to deglaze the pan with a few tablespoons of water.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out your puff pastry to a size that will suit your meatloaf, and spread with the mustard. When the onions are ready, spread them out over the pastry as well. Be sure to leave plenty of room around the edges for folding and sealing the pastry.

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Place the meatloaf in the centre of the pastry, bacon-side down. Paint the edges of the pastry with a bit of egg, and wrap the pastry around the meatloaf as if you were folding the world’s meatiest present.

Turn over and rest on a baking sheet lined with parchment, seam-side down. Paint the top and sides of the wellington with the egg, sprinkle with salt, if you like, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the pastry is golden and puffed.


Perfection.Serve with gratin potatoes and garlicky mushrooms and the kind of wine that’s tasty but also affordable. You can think about other things, like New Zealand, tomorrow.


My First Pavlova.

I feel like by titling this “My First Pavlova” I should be able to write about the lovely meringues I made in my Easy Bake Oven or something. I can’t believe I was intimidated by this thing for so long – maybe it was the size thing, or the fact that it requires hours and hours of uninterrupted oven cooling time. I don’t know. You know what? It’s not hard at all, and if you just follow a few simple steps, you can make this in your grown-up oven too.

This whole idea came out of Saveur, and the September 2009 article about New Zealand and pavlovas. Apparently the Australians hijacked the pavlova and claimed it as their own, which is why I have always thought this was an Australian thing. Apparently New Zealand invented and perfected the pavlova, and since Saveur told me this very convincingly and with very lovely pictures, I decided that it was New Zealand’s classic pavlova that would finally allow me to embrace meringue.

I’ve given you the recipe for the pavlova, which in the magazine calls for homemade lemon curd and provides a recipe, but you can find a better recipe for lemon curd at Fine Cooking. Or you can buy it. But, hint? Don’t fold the lemon curd into the whipped cream at the end … it will just glom all over the place and not stand up and the whole thing will look terribly messy. Oops. Oh well.


(From Saveur, September 2009.)

  • 8 egg whites, at room-temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp. white vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, at a low speed, beat the egg whites and the sugar slowly until combined.

Increase speed to medium-high, and beat for about 14 minutes, or until soft peaks form.

Meanwhile, combine cornstarch, vinegar, and vanilla. Once the mixture has hit the 14-minute mark, add the cornstarch mixture and continue beating for an additional five minutes, or until the mixture is very stiff with glossy peaks. You’ll know what I mean when you see it – it’s impossible to miss.

Soft glossy peaks.While all of this is happening, roll out a bit of parchment paper and trace onto it the base of a 9″ cake pan, with a pencil. Turn the parchment paper over, so that the pencil side faces down, and place it on a baking sheet. When the egg white mixture is ready, spread it out with a spatula onto the circle. Use all of your egg white froth – it will be fat and tallish when you’re done.

Spreading ...

Spread.Place in the oven, and immediately reduce the heat to 215°F. Set the timer for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Please do not open the oven door at any point after the pavlova goes in.

After the timer goes, turn off the oven. Once again, do not open the oven door. Let sit in the oven for three to four hours, until the pavlova has cooled. This is important. Humidity is the enemy of a crisp-on-the-outside, marshmallowy-on-the-inside pavlova. It might just deflate and turn to goop if you open the oven door. Be afraid of the oven door.

Crispy crunchy marshmallowy delicious.Once cooled, you can store the meringue in a dry, non-humid place (no refrigerators!) until you need to use it – mine sat for about five hours.


  • 1 cup chilled heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup chilled plain yogurt
  • 2 tbsp. confectioner’s sugar

Beat the cream, yogurt, and sugar until stiff peaks form. Top the cooled pavlova with this.

Top with any fruit you like, and then drizzle with the lemon curd. Serve immediately.

This is what happens when you fold in the lemon curd. Please don't do that. Eek. It still tasted good, but wasn't as pretty as it could have been.
This is what happens when you fold in the lemon curd. Please don't do that. Eek. It still tasted good, but wasn't as pretty as it could have been.

And so, I made a pavlova, and it was easier than I thought it would be. Look what eggs can do! Tremendous. And very, very tasty.

Sliced, delicious.

The most wonderful little baby eggplants, and I suppose that now it’s actually officially fall.

Much as it’s hard not to mourn the end of summer and its wonderful smells and icy cocktails, it’s impossible not to get excited about fall. In fall, I get to wear my sparkle tights and squeeze my fat noggin into cute little hats and, of course, there are boots. Leather boots, ankle boots, polka-dot galoshes – sartorially, you could even call it my favourite season. Give me a breath of foggy air and a smear of red lipstick over aloe sticky and chaffing thighs any day.

And the eggplants.

Cute, little baby eggplants.

Hee hee!

And it’s the time of year for soothing things like sweet coconut milky curries, spicy/full-mouth-flavourful and soothing. The right green curry paste is important, and I follow Chez Pim’s recipe for consistent success. I like to make a bunch ahead of time and store it in a jar in the fridge for when I need it, but it’s relatively easy for me to do this – I live in Vancouver, where all of the ingredients are not only plentiful and easy to find, but cheap. That doesn’t mean you can’t make this as well, and I wouldn’t frown at you for buying it. One of the things you should always keep in your fridge is a bit of Thai curry paste – red or green. It’s an easy addition to any weeknight repertoire, and you can buy it in almost any grocery store, in the ethnic food section.

Also, the nice thing about this stuff is that it’s even better the next day, so when you take it to work and reheat it in the office microwave, the smell will make everyone jealous about how awesome your lunch life is.

I’m assuming you’re going to buy the curry paste, because, honestly, life is too short to make it all the time and I linked to Pim’s recipe if you’re keen, but most people have real lives that get in the way of making large batches of this sort of thing. I don’t, of course. But you probably already knew that.

So chop up your eggplants, some ripe bell peppers, and a sweet onion, mince your basil and garlic and ginger, and bask in the smells of somewhere else for a little while. For something so exotic, it sure makes your kitchen smell homey.

Most of the ingredients...

Eggplant green curry

  • 1 tbsp. peanut or canola oil
  • 2 tbsp. minced garlic
  • 2 tbsp. minced ginger
  • 1 tsp. of chili sauce, sriracha, sambal oelek, or Tabasco, or to taste (I always add too much because I likes it)
  • 6 to 8 baby eggplants, quartered, or one large eggplant, cubed
  • 1 large red bell pepper, cut into strips
  • 1 medium sweet onion, such as Walla Walla or Vidalia, cut into strips
  • 1 cup chopped white mushrooms (which I ran out of before I made this … and I missed them)
  • 1 tbsp. green curry paste, or to taste (again, I like it pungent and always use way more)
  • 1 lime, zest and juice
  • 3 cups coconut milk (or two cans, if that’s what you’ve got – no sense in tossing a tiny little bit, right?)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 cup fresh bean sprouts (optional – again, I was out. Boo.)

Heat up the oil in a large pan, and when it’s shimmering-hot, reduce heat to medium-high, and throw in your garlic and ginger, and saute until the garlic and ginger have turned just slightly golden. Add the chilies, onion. and eggplant. Saute until the onions are translucent and the eggplants have browned slightly. Throw in the peppers, curry paste, lime zest and juice, and give it all a minute or two, until the peppers have softened slightly.

The smell is intoxicating, and reminds me of night markets beside the Fraser River and restaurants where you sip lime sodas while you wait in line and glittered tapestry elephants saddled in gold and pink and red.

Add the coconut milk, and simmer for three to five minutes, until the eggplants have soaked up the sweet milkiness and the other vegetables have sufficiently wilted, but not so long that the peppers lose their verve and redness. The eggplants should not cook so long that they are brown and grey and smooshy. A bit of white flesh means that they are still firm. Texture = good. Season to taste – I sometimes add more curry paste at this point. Stir in half of the basil before serving, and pour over rice.

Curry pot.

Sprinkle with remaining basil and bean sprouts. Serve with a sprightly French Gewurtzraminer and slices of fresh lime. Be wearing a sweater, and, like a Thai elephant, maybe a little too much makeup. For a weeknight, anyway.


Earthy toasty mushroomy deliciousness, a thing you should eat with wine while wearing pajamas.

Shroomy.I’ve been very alone this weekend, which is never a bad thing, as Nick has been out of town and it’s been just me during the days. I almost always manage to find someone to entertain me in the evenings, but tonight, with Nick away and a busy weekend behind me, and an even busier work-week ahead, I thought that this would be a good evening to do nothing. Which always involves wine and eating.

Today I found mushrooms at the market and fell instantly in love, as one does. Fat white mushrooms, earthy-looking criminis, a meaty, sturdy shitake, and a few wispy yellow chantrelles. The thing about fancy mushrooms is that you don’t need very many – I spent exactly two dollars and eight cents on all of my mushrooms, more than enough for dinner for one. Actually, two even, because this made more than I thought it would. Most of them were the cheaper white ones – those were the base.

I decided it was a good night for a hearty, comforting meal of mushrooms on toast, which doesn’t sound like much. Indeed, it isn’t, and that’s the beauty of it. It’s simple and filling, garlicky, buttery, and autumnal, a thing you might imagine eating after a fox hunt or something similarly British. Top with a couple of soft-poached eggs and serve with a heady, oaky white wine. It’s exactly what you should eat on a foggy, misty night when it’s cool out. Or, better yet, when there’s a Julia Child retrospective airing on PBS.

I’m going to tell you how to make enough to top four slices of French bread, but you can adapt this as you like, to suit more or less, or to make it an appetizer or a side dish. Multiply, divide – math it up. It’s an easy one, and not fussy.

Mushrooms on toast

  • 4 thick slices of French bread, toasted
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 slice of bacon, cut into pieces about a quarter-inch wide
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 1/2 cups mushrooms, cleaned with a damp cloth and then chopped, whatever kind you like
  • 1/2 tsp. thyme, dried or fresh
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup oaky white wine, such as chardonnay
  • 2 tbsp. creme fraiche or sour cream
  • 2 tbsp. finely grated cheese, such as comte, gruyere, or an aged cheddar
  • Salt, to taste
  • 2 eggs, poached (optional)

Since you’ve opened the wine, pour yourself a glass.

Set the oven to broil.

Melt the butter in a pan on the stove, and toss in your bacon. Let cook until the bacon is browned and crisp, two to three minutes. Add the garlic, mushrooms, thyme, nutmeg, and pepper, and fry until mushrooms have softened, another three minutes.

Oh! Inhale! So fragrant.Pour in the wine, coating the bottom of the pan, and scrape up any browned bits. Stir in the creme fraiche or sour cream. Pour over toasted bread, and grate your cheese over top.

Broil for three or four minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and the edges of the bread are golden brown. If you love eggs like I love eggs, feel free to top the thing with soft, runny-y0lk eggs. But you don’t have to. This is lovely, LOVELY, all on its own.

Here it is without the eggs:

No egg ...

Here it is with the eggs:

.... eggs.And now, I am a happy little badger, and very full. And Julia has just come on, so I have to go. Back soon, and I’m looking forward to waxing poetic about peanut butter, maybe tomorrow.

Bon appétit!

No recipe here, just a quick note in which I prop up other people.

I was going to bake tonight but my life exploded and it didn’t work out. It happens, but I’ve purchased lottery tickets.


I went to a book launch today for Yarn Bombing, a super-rad book about knit graffiti by Mandy Moore and Leanne Prain (who I work with, but she’s not my boss so this kind of thing doesn’t even score me suck-up points). It’s beyond cool. Beyond awesome, even. Check it out.

Also …

My friend Kat Arnett launched her new healthy living site this week. It’s called fatGIRLskinny, and will make you love things that don’t even contain butter. Kat’s story is awesome, and her site is all kinds of pretty and interesting. She’s trying to convert me. I’m trying to convert her. We’re at an impasse. Someday, I’m hoping we’ll wrestle in a kiddie pool filled with warm beurre blanc.

So, that’s all, really. I hope to be back this weekend with a bit of peanut-butter-jelly-time, which you will surely be delighted to find out about. In the meantime, thanks for reading, and keep checking in!



And now for something completely different. Also? Pork Wellington.

Okay. So. I had an idea today, and bear with me, because this is the first time I’ve ever done this and also I was drunk. Which sounds like an excuse for crime or being in porn. No one’s ever invited me to participate in either.

And I now hate my own cartoonish square face. And my voice.

I taped myself assembling a pork wellington inspired by Laura Calder and something similar she made with beef. I think I also saw Alton Brown make something similar once. Also, the only time I’ve ever been on rolling film I’ve been inebriated, which obviously means I was awesome it wasn’t – and continues to not be – my fault. For whatever. Excuses. Excuses. Excuses.

Anyway, if you hate my face or if my awkwardness makes you horribly uncomfortable or if you can’t hear a word of what I said in the video, let me know, and I’ll either do better next time or hang my head in shame and never cook again.

The recipe and instructions are after the video, just in case.

(I have to preemptively apologize for everything in case you think I take myself seriously, and thus think I’m some sort of douchebag. Neither is the case, I promise. Unless you think I’m a douchebag for using “thus” in a sentence. For that, I have no defense.)

Pork Wellington

  • 1 cup oaked chardonnay
  • 1 tsp. butter
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 package puff pastry, rolled out (one square, or one sheet if you buy it in rolls)
  • 6 pieces thinly sliced prosciutto
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. dried sage
  • 1 pork tenderloin, sliced down the centre
  • 1/2 cup toasted chopped hazelnuts
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 400°F.

In a small saucepan, simmer cranberries in chardonnay and butter until plump, six to eight minutes. Set aside.

Roll out puff pastry on a floured surface until it’s large enough to completely wrap your pork tenderloin. Drizzle with olive oil (a step I forgot in the video), and then lay out your prosciutto. Sprinkle with herbs.

Place pork tenderloin in the centre. Spread apart, and spoon the winy cranberries into the opening. Add the hazelnuts, press to pack, and then sprinkle with salt and pepper, as much or as little as you’d like.

Paint edges of pastry with beaten egg, and fold over pork. Pat to ensure the thing is sealed, and then place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. I told you you should bake it until it’s 140 degrees, but, in all honesty, I don’t care about the rules and I baked it until it was about 135°F in the centre of the meat. It’s better that way. You won’t die of swine flu or whatever people think happens when your pork tenderloin is a tiny bit pink in the middle.

Let this sit for a few minutes before serving. I made a simple gravy out of some beef stock, a touch of wine, some garlic, rosemary, salt, pepper, cornstarch (to thicken), and mushrooms, and served it all with potatoes. We ate healthily yesterday, so I figure this meal makes up for it. Very simple, earthy, and an excellent start to fall.


I guess it’s fall now, the crock pot is out. Or, “A recipe for hearty baked beans.”

The musical fruit!

The other day I told you about the coronation grape granita I made for company, and how wonderful that was. Well, lately whenever we’ve got guests, Nick insists that we have ribs so before the granita, we had several racks of pork ribs, a batch of cornbread with blackberries that I was kind of disappointed in, and baked beans. Which I was not disappointed in, because they were awesome. It wasn’t just me who thought so, either, which is the mark of a good recipe. I suppose.

I made these in a crock pot earlier in the day and then set them aside because I wasn’t doing much in the morning – I let them cool and then reheated them in a much more attractive pot, which I served them in. And while from first step to final step actually took somewhere in the neighbourhood of 22 full hours, they weren’t actually much work. You don’t have to do much – it’s all waiting. And it costs, like, nothing to make. All you need is a crock pot – but if you don’t have one, you can make these in the oven – bake covered at 250°F for 8 hours, remove the lid and cook for an additional 30 minutes. I haven’t tried it that way, but it sounds legit.

Baked beans

  • 1 lb. dried small white beans, such as navy or pea beans (actually, dried black beans of about the same size would probably also be awesome)
  • 1 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1/2 lb. bacon
  • 1 cup beer (whatever you’re using for the ribs, or else something in an amber or cream ale would be nice)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 5.5 oz. can of tomato paste
  • 2 tsp. dry mustard
  • 2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper

Worth its weight in beans!Pour dried beans into a 9″x13″ glass baking dish, and cover with water, to about 1/2 an inch over the tops of the beans. Soak for eight hours, or overnight.

When you’re ready to start, boil the beans in six cups of water, with the salt. Simmer for 30 minutes, uncovered, and then remove from heat and let sit, still uncovered, for 90 minutes.

Fry up your bacon and your onions, until the onions are golden and translucent and your bacon is brown and crisp. Deglaze the pan with the beer, scraping up any delicious flavour bits from the bottom of the pan. Pour over the beans, then add the sugar, molasses, tomato paste, cinnamon, mustard, cayenne pepper, and black pepper. Mixish.

Mix thoroughly, and then pour the whole thing into your crock pot. Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours, or, like I did, on high for 5 to 7 hours. I ended up cooking mine about six, but I think it depends on your crock pot. My mom once made baked beans in a brand new crock pot using the low and slow method overnight, which was how she always did it, and woke to find that the pot had cremated the beans overnight, leaving a black, crusty mess behind. I like the 5 to 7 hour plan, because if you do it when you’re awake, you can monitor the beans’ progress. Taste and check your seasoning. They’ll be smokey delicious.

Crock pot beans,

As I said, you can totally take these and cool them off, and then reheat them before serving, and they’ll be fine. Delicious, even. You may want to cook them a bit over low heat to reduce the sauce, if it’s runny.

Serve, to all kinds of acclaim. I heard they might even be better than the ribs. Maybe. Says Nick, who only wants to eat beans and meat for the rest of his life. Enjoy!


Coronation grape granita: How to say “I love you, Me.”

I was going to make this for other people. And I did – I shared. It was dessert, and it was lovely. But the next time I make this, I am taking the phone off the hook and not going online and sending Nick away and eating the entire batch myself, because this is what love tastes like. It’s robust and rich, and reminds me of something you might eat to cool off in Napa, where the air smells like fruit must and sea salt and redwoods and everywhere you go you hear the rustle of leaves and the pop of red wine corks pulling free. It’s like that: winy, concentrated purple bliss, with hints of caramel and just the right amount of puckery bittersweetness. Make it, the grapes are ripe now. It’s time, and I’d hate for you to regret not having this.

Coronation grape granita

(Serves six to eight.)

  • 1 1/2 lbs. Coronation grapes
  • Juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tbsp.)
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups water

Pluck 1 1/2 pounds of coronation grapes from their stems, and plop them into a pot on the stove. Add sugar, lemon, and water, and simmer over medium-high heat until the grapes are soft and the liquid is purple and dark.


Remove from heat, and mash with a potato masher. Squeeze through a fine-mesh sieve into a 9″x13″ glass baking sheet, and put into the freezer.You're hot ...

Every hour for the first three hours after that, pull the juice out of the freezer and scrape with a fork to move the ice crystals around, which keeps them from becoming a solid mass. After that, just pop in every once in awhile to be sure that all is well, scraping as needed.

... then you're cold.

Remove from the freezer about ten minutes before serving, and scrape with a spoon into serving dishes. Serve as is, or with whipped cream. Swoon.


Did I just tell you about dessert first? I guess I did. Come back soon – I have lots to tell you, all about baked beans and ribs and cornbread with blackberries and wonderful things like that.


*Note: I originally called the grapes “concord” because until this morning when I read the package, I thought that’s what they were called. No. They’re coronation grapes, and they’re marvellous. But you can make this with concord grapes if that’s what you’ve got. Cheers.

Lemon sugar cookies.

Strange thing, how your hands in a bit of dough can soothe you.

After midnight, it was clear that I would not be sleeping. I uploaded all of my travel photos – Disneyland with my mom, but only 12 photos, since we spent most of the time walking and eating and eating and eating and my hands were mostly busy dispensing cash and transporting foodstuffs into my face … more on all of that later – and blog-stalked all my favourite imaginary people, who are all probably real but I can’t see them in real life, and then realized that Nick was asleep and I had no one to talk to and it’s dark and I was bored. And I’m an eater, more than anything else, so to busy myself: Cookies.

Nothing strange about how butter and sugar make everything better. A little lemon and good vanilla don’t hurt either. I tried to make these with a mixer, but it’s very quiet here, so I had to quit. I used my hands instead. Very rustic.

First, measure out half a cup of butter. Don’t use margarine. Margarine never made anything better, ever. Half a cup. It should be room temperature, which, if you’re like me and leave your groceries on the kitchen floor overnight because you’re forgetful, will be normal. The butter is only cold when Nick assists.

Whisk the butter. If it doesn’t whisk, you can cream it with an electric mixer, but work quickly, because it’s noisy and maybe you don’t want everyone in the building to know that you’ve got no will-power. Is it will-power or willpower? Whatever, I can make up words if I want to because it’s late and that’s how I roll.

Zest one lemon into the bowl. Squeeze the juice out into there as well, and then pour a half a cup of white sugar into the mix. Add a teaspoon and a half of good vanilla. The Barefoot Contessa is always talking about “good vanilla,” and I’m not entirely sure what that means. Around here, it’s vanilla from Mexico. Real vanilla, the kind that actually tastes like vanilla when you dab a little drop onto the middle of your tongue. Artificial vanilla extract is the kind of thing you use if you have to bake with margarine, and life is too short to eat weird chemicals unless you’re eating Cheetos or maybe drinking Cherry Coke. I don’t know if Ina Garten would qualify it as good vanilla, but the smell when anything’s baking around here reminds me of bakeries at 7:00 am, all warm and sweet, the kind of aroma that trickles into your nose and tricks your stomach into thinking you’re hungry.

Whisk again, blending everything together. Crack an egg into the bowl, and continue to whisk. Once you’ve got everything thoroughly combined, shake the whisk off and toss it into the sink. If you miss and it lands on the floor, shooting dough hunks everywhere, whatever. Maybe you’ll get mice or something and they’ll run across the floor right when a potential buyer visits to view the place, which your landlord has listed for sale and he’s very nice so you feel conflicted about thinking unkind things especially as the apartment is his and he can do whatever he wants with it, and they’ll be so grossed out that they won’t buy it and you’ll get to stay here forever. You can get an exterminator once it’s official that you’re staying. You can’t whisk dough, and dough is what happens next.

Measure out your flour, a cup and a half, and dump it into the bowl. Measure a quarter-teaspoon of baking soda and a half-teaspoon of salt and add both on top of the flour, and stir with your finger, or perhaps a wooden spoon, until the mix begins to form a ball. Knead it lightly with your hands. Press the soft dough between your fingers, watching as it crests your knuckles and absorbs your hands, like Play Doh, and be sure to taste it, which I also did with Play Doh and doesn’t that explain a lot.

Roll it into a log, about an inch and a half thick. Maybe two inches. The width of a piece of plastic wrap minus an inch on either side. That’s what you want. Roll it up like that, wrap it tightly in the plastic, and throw it into the fridge. If you doubled the batch for sharing, make two logs of equal size.

RollTurn on your oven, heating it to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Pour yourself a glass of wine. Maybe watch the last of America’s Got Talent and wonder why the guys who did the Power Rangers dance got roundly dissed by the judges when CLEARLY they were awesome and what does David Hasselhoff know anyway? Not enough to do up his shirt and cover his sparkly dog tag, which should be a secret, especially if it’s been designed for Walmart by Hannah Montana, which it probably was, so maybe I expect too much.

After 30 minutes, at least, you can take the log(s) out of the fridge. At this point, unwrap the dough. If you’d like, you can sprinkle the sides with sugar. I did. “No added sugar?” Not around here.

Using a sharp knife, slice the log into pieces approximately a half-inch thick. You should end up with twelve slices. If you have more, that’s okay. If you have less, that’s okay too, and it’s okay if you’re not good at math because they have apps now for your iPhone that’ll do it for you. There are also still calculators, which is nice.

Roll, cut.

Midnight cookies.Bake for ten to twelve minutes, unless you cut these thinner – then cook for six to eight minutes, or unless you cut them thicker, and then give them up to 15 minutes, until the sides and tops are golden and everywhere around you smells like good vanilla. Give them five to ten minutes to cool enough that they won’t burn you when you stuff that first one into your mouth.

The best thing about these cookies is that they pair excellently with a nice Riesling, preferably a French one, from Alsace. Something with a delicate hint of citrus, just enough to make the lemon sparkle. You could drink cold milk with these as well. I guess. You don’t drink wine and eat cookies at midnight on a Tuesday all by yourself? You’re missing out.

Cookies!And it’s now after one o’clock, which means I have to be up in too few hours. Fortunately, there are cookies for breakfast, and if I’m responsible, maybe a little wine?

Here’s the roundup of ingredients and their measures, for good measure. In case you were paying as much attention to the details reading as I was to the writing …

Lemon Sugar Cookies

(Makes one dozen)

  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Bake at 375°F, for ten to 12 minutes.

Strawberries. Vanilla beans. Burning. And I am not allowed to can anymore.

So, this week I was going to tell you all about bountiful harvests and glorious home-cooking, but everything kind of went to hell and I’m going to be out of town for a few days and I decided that there was no point in cooking and The Three Lions Café on Broadway at Ontario makes a fantastic order of bangers and mash and Kayla, the waitress there, is pretty much my favourite server ever and since everything I was doing at home this week made me tired or marred me, I decided to quit and let someone else do the cooking. And the pouring, of course, which is why I feel infinitely better. That, and Kayla’s impression of a dying giraffe. Awesome.

But, anyway.

Remember a couple of days ago when I was all, “DIY revolution!” and “Canning is cool and fun!” and it seemed like I was finally getting into a Gen. Y-groove, with all the frugality and doing-it-myselfness? Well, fuck that shit, if I may put it delicately. Last night I burned my face off. And it sucked. And I cried a little on the kitchen floor, face to the cool laminate, and then realized that I burned myself for what amounted to three cups of strawberry vanilla bean preserves. Beyond fantastic (the preserves), for the record, but it’s hard to look past the fact that my right eye is basically a giant scab. A face scab. SUPER sexy. I’m sure in two weeks when I’m less deformed I’ll call this a battle scar, but for now, I hate everything. Except my strawberries. I’m not mad at them … just … disappointed. I was really hoping they would amount to more.

This is the burn, fresh. I wanted to show you it fresh because it's kind of gross now, all brown and scabby, like a crusty birth mark.
This is the burn, fresh. I wanted to show you it fresh because it's kind of gross now, all brown and scabby, like a crusty birth mark, but puckered and shiny.

At this point, I can’t help but think that I sure sound like a whiner. Time to switch gears, perhaps, and tell you all about the strawberries and the vanilla beans?

Sure thing.

And here you go.

About a month and a half ago, I stumbled across  I Have a Knife and a recipe for Homemade Strawberry Vanilla Bean Preserves. Good stuff, this, and I was saddened to have only seconds before completed a batch of my own strawberries, sans vanilla bean. Well. There’s a market in Surrey near my parents’ house that sells exceptionally fresh produce, and they just so happened to have a few local strawberries left. I bought some, intending to make something out of them, and then forgot about them. Until last night. I’m going away this weekend and didn’t want to see them die – I needed to do something with them. And I have vanilla beans.

I halved Knife’s recipe, as I only had about four cups of berries, but I’ll give you the full thing. The full recipe should make about six cups of jam. I’ve tweaked this some, so I’m including those adjustments here.

Strawberry Vanilla Bean Preserves

  • 8 cups strawberries, hulled, rinsed, and sliced
  • 4 cups white sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
  • 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

I keep linking to Epicurious’ Procedure for Shorter Time Processing, but that’s because I like it and it works. Prepare the jars in this way.

In a large non-reactive or stainless steel pot, mix together strawberries, sugar, vanilla bean, and vinegar. Mash with a potato masher, and cook over high heat. You’re going to want to bring these to a boil, and keep them boiling aggressively until they reach 220°F on a candy thermometer, which is the temperature at which the jam will gel. It should take between twenty and forty minutes depending on the size of your pot and the depth of the berries in the pot.

Remove the beans, and pour the mixture into your prepared jars. Do not allow a large dollop of boiling water to assault your face as you remove the jars from their own aggressive pot of water, or you will feel a tremendous amount of pain, and you will say the kind of swears that even truckers will hesitate over, lest they seem uncouth. And then you will sob on your floor for a few minutes, and your version of Nick will be all, “You’re not allowed to can anymore.” Because he doesn’t care a whack about revolution, DIY or otherwise.

Process as per Epicurious’ instructions.

And you know how I know they’re awesome? When I stumbled home this evening, I found myself a tad ravenous, as one gets, and the only thing that could fill the void was dessert. And it’s too late to make pudding, so I am, as I write, spooning fresh strawberry vanilla bean jam into my mouth from the jar, and it is divine. I imagine that it will age well, given a few weeks or months, and then I will like it even more. Too bad I only have two jars.

Dark red.Also, don’t be wary about the vinegar. I promise you, you’ll like it. Vanilla can add a cloying sort of taste when added to stuff that’s already on the sweet side, and the vinegar is a nice counterbalance to that. You’re not actually going to taste vinegar, or even sour. The vinegar will add a bit of depth, umami, if you will, and will do little more than linger in the background, preventing the sweetness from taking off and/or seeming fluffy and excessive. It grounds it. It’s almost smokey, but it’s so subtle that anyone who doesn’t know it’s an ingredient will never know it’s there. I’ve never lied to you before.

And don’t give up on canning. I won’t. I’m just going to buy a much smaller pot and tongs that don’t slip and drop hot glass bombs that injure my face with their fallout. In the meantime, America? I’m coming back. And Trader Joe’s? Please have your shelves stocked. Back in a few days!