Cinnamon breakfast bread.

Amazing what one’s draft folder sometimes contains! I went to clean it out today because I start a lot of things and never finish and I don’t need reminders that I am flaky and noncommittal, and discovered that I went to all the trouble of typing out the recipe for my lazy breakfast bread, and then discovered that all the blurry pictures were saved to a folder on my desktop. So, it’s like the post wrote itself, really, and I am just relaying it to you now, after the fact.

But I’ll tell you about the bread anyway, because this is the kind of thing you can make for brunch when you forget until that morning that you had invited people to your apartment for brunch and you have nothing but canned tomatoes and a bag of frozen peas to feed them. The bread only requires one rise, and is essentially cinnamon buns in loaf form. By using fresh-made cornmeal mush, you get the advantage of heat in the dough, which speeds up the yeast proofing and dough rising, and it also lends a nice texture. You could also use cream of wheat or oat bran – whatever fine-textured hot cereal you have on hand will do.

This not a bread with a lot of complex, yeasty nuances, but that’s not the point. The cinnamon and sugar are the point, and when you’re short on time or just don’t feel like waiting, this is a good go-to loaf. You can fill it with things other than cinnamon and sugar if you prefer – cheese and bacon are always favourites, and sundried tomatoes and herbs are also nice. You could use raisins, but I hate raisins, so I’ll never be able to tell you whether that variation is good or not, but other dried fruits (with butter!) might be interesting. Play with it. And if you have time, give it a little bit longer to rise – it’ll puff up more, giving you more loaf to enjoy later.

Cinnamon breakfast bread

Bread:

  • 1/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 1 package yeast (2 1/4 tsp.)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading

Filling:

  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon

In a small pan, cook cornmeal in 1/2 cup of water. When water has been full absorbed by cornmeal, stir in milk, butter, sugar, and yeast. Let stand five minutes.

Measure flour into a bowl and pour warm corn/yeast mixture over top. Mix well, and then turn out onto a floured surface to knead. Knead 10 times. Cover and let rest, 10 minutes.

Grease a 9″x5″ loaf pan with butter. Set aside. Roll dough out until it is 9″ wide and about 13″ long. Spread with butter, leaving an inch on the outside on all sides. Sprinkle with evenly with brown sugar, pressing down on sugar with your hands to flatten it. Sprinkle with cinnamon.

Roll width-wise, tucking the edges of the dough in as you go. You should end up with a log that will fit quite nicely into your pan.

Cover with plastic and let rise, 30 to 60 minutes.

Bake at 375°F for 20 to 25 minutes.

Let cool for five minutes in the pan, and then turn out onto a wire rack. Slice and serve warm, with butter. What you’ll end up with is a delicious cinnamon-bun-type loaf that, if you’re lucky and there’s leftovers, makes a fantastic French toast for breakfast the following day.

There. That was easy! And with the little effort I put into this one, I feel that the next thing should be a little premeditated, a bit more effort.

Oh! And thank you to Linda for her kind words on her blog! I feel like I should respond with a list of my own favourite food sites, so I will do so later this week. I will do that, and maybe something with radishes, because they are so in season and so lovely right now. So, stay tuned. Something good will happen here, I promise.

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A delicious thing to do with sardines.

Kitten and I are alone this weekend, as Nick is off to a rainy lake four hours away to fish for trout/drink on a boat. And so I will stay in this rainy city, with tinned fish and my pajama pants, and drink on my couch. At least tonight. Though this work-week was only three days, they were three busy, non-stop days that required focus and effort – neither are strengths of mine.

So I’m staying in, alone. And instead of cooking, I’ve opted instead to “assemble” a meal, and have put together a grazing platter that should carry me through the evening, if I am able to stay awake. The centre of the meal is a thing with sardines, and it’s based on this anchovy thing I really like called anchoïade.

Anchoïade is a French thing, and at its most basic, it’s a potent mix of anchovies, olive oil, lemon, and garlic. It’s delicious, but I can’t quite justify a large dish of the stuff because anchovies are not a particularly sustainable ingredient these days. Good news though, sardines are. They’re plentiful, and they’re from close-by – there’s a cannery in California in Monterey and when I eat them I think of John Steinbeck because I love that book and because I literally hemorrhage bliss when an item of food tickles my book fancy, if you know what I mean.

I hope you enjoy this little adaptation. It’s for Linda, who asked for a sardine recipe; she’s expecting a baby, and sardines are all kinds of good for moms-to-be. Wander over to her place and say hello!

Sardinoïade

  • 1/2 cup whole almonds (skins on), toasted
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tin sardines packed in olive oil (smoked, if possible)
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. grainy dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • 1/4 cup good olive oil

Okay. You can do this two ways.

The easy, smooth-textured way to do this is to grind almonds and garlic in a food processor, then add remaining ingredients (add the oil from the sardines too, don’t forget!) and pulse until the mixture achieves the texture you prefer. I like this way for parties and things where you can just put it out without having to explain too much about it. It will resemble pate, and it will work as either a spread or a dip.

The other way, which is also easy but has more steps, is to chop the almonds as finely as possible (or as you like), mince the garlic, and mix them both together. Dump the tin of sardines into the mix, oil included, and mash it all up together until it’s a texture you like. Stir in remaining ingredients until well combined. This is better as a spread. It’s much less attractive, but just as, if not MORE tasty.

Scoop either variation into a ramekin, and drizzle the top with good oil. Serve either on a plate with pickles, slices of hard-boiled eggs, and slices of baguette. You must also have wine or sparkling water. Pajamas optional, but always implied.

If you have any left over the next day, it’s nice to thin it out with a bit more olive oil and toss pasta with it, topped with fresh herbs and grated Parmesan cheese.

Enjoy!

Good olive oil, run-on sentences, and bread soup.

I have long felt hard done by for the lack of a large Italian grandmother in my life. My grandmothers have all been quite fantastic, of course, but we’re so Canadian that one not-too-distant relative was mentioned briefly in a Farley Mowat book, which I am pretty sure is the Canadian equivalent of boasting ancestors arriving on the Mayflower. Which is not to say that Canadian is a milquetoast heritage – it’s got more than its share of culinary ooh-la-la, and not just what Americans call Canadian Bacon (which is actually just ham). But what it doesn’t have is olive oil.

You know where does have fantastic olive oil, though? San Francisco. So maybe an Italian grandmother is not entirely what I need – maybe I need an American BFF instead.

Years ago I discovered the good olive oil, and it comes from a shop in the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero. It’s made from organically grown California olives, and I would do some very morally questionable things to have access to a lifetime’s supply. Unfortunately, they don’t ship to Canada. It’s like being in love with someone who doesn’t return your calls.

So when we went back recently, I had but two orders of business: get myself to City Lights Bookstore which is the kind of place I nearly fall down weeping at the entrance to which means that I chose the right major in spite of the long-term earning potential I sacrificed; and, get to the Ferry Building for the good olive oil. I misjudged the distance from Fisherman’s Warf to our oily destination, causing my party of five to have to hike nearly thirty minutes in bad footwear, but it was totally worth it. For me.

What I love about the good olive oil – Stonehouse Olive Oil, if you’re too lazy or captivated by my elegant prose to click the link above – is that it tastes how I imagine fresh olive oil in Italy would. They sell each batch the same year it’s harvested, so it’s as fresh as you can get without actually sticking your face under the olive press.

Oh, San Francisco – what scandalous, depraved, excellent things I would do to be able to live with you forever.

Anyway, I got the oil, and I’m hoarding it. Except I used some tonight, a good amount of it for someone who is unsure when they’ll be back to the States to get more. We had soup – an enormous pot of it, because it’s the week before payday and we’re just back from vacation and OMG-broke, like, so much so that I jammed the vending machine at work with foreign money this morning trying to get an orange juice. I make big pots of soup when I’d prefer to stretch a meal into three to avoid starvation, and this, made of pantry staples, will take us handsomely through lunch and all the way to dinner tomorrow. For regular households, that means eight to ten servings. It’s easily adapted to smaller feedlots, however, so fiddle with it until it’s to your liking.

Bread Soup

(Serves 8 to 10.)

  • 1/4 cup good olive oil (I don’t believe I ever specify extra-virgin, but it’s what I mean by good olive oil)
  • 5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 lb. stale bread, cubed and toasted (about four thick slices)
  • 2 28 oz. cans whole tomatoes, plus juice
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 19 oz. can cannelini or white kidney beans
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley (flat-leaf is better, but the curly stuff is okay if that’s all you can get)
  • 1 tbsp. lemon zest
  • As much pepper as you feel you need

In a large pot over medium-high heat, warm olive oil. When olive oil is hot, add garlic, and sauté until fragrant and lightly golden, about two minutes.

Meanwhile, whizz bread cubes in a food processor or blender until you end up with coarse crumbs. You don’t want to grind the bread too finely, or you will end up with a soup with boring texture, and no one wants that.

Add bread crumbs to the oil, and stir to coat. Immediately begin squishing tomatoes into the mix, adding juice quickly and scraping the bottom of the pot to ensure nothing burns to it. Add the wine. Stir again. Add the broth.

Reduce heat to medium, and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes.

After a half-hour, add beans, cheese, parsley, lemon zest, and pepper. Simmer an additional five minutes, until parsley has wilted and the whole thing smells magnificent.

If it’s a dark and stormy night and the water runs down the window so fast your cat can’t keep up with the drops, serve piping hot, with a swirl of your favourite olive oil, a lemon wedge, and a fat hunk of crusty fresh bread. And wine. Red wine. If it’s not, this is pretty nice chilled, like a hearty gazpacho, but serve with a charming white wine, a Pinot Grigio or a Sauvignon Blanc instead.

It’s delicious on the first round, like a bread and bean stew, but even better the second day. The hallmark of a quality meal, if you ask me and my imaginary Italian grandmother.

Food is love, and I know that leggings aren’t really pants.

We’ve been away this week, in San Francisco and Las Vegas, and I am going to tell you all about it a little bit later. In particular, I will tell you about good olive oil, and a twist on anchoïade with sardines that will be perfect for eating on crostini with summer’s pitchers of sangria and large bowls of olives. Not today.

I made a soup today from recipe that I learned watching a cooking show in my hotel room in San Francisco, when everyone else was asleep and I was too tired to shower or put on pants just yet (little do you know that by pants, I mean leggings, which are nothing like pants except for the leg tubes you thrust your feet through). At that point, my stomach still mostly agreed with me, though after a day of bad airport burgers (the waitress told me afterward that the secret was microwaving) and plenty of happy hour libations, things were due to turn.

And I get why my grandma used to say “travel is broadening.” I love America, and I read all the time about how good the food is there. But for some reason, when I’m there, my diet consists almost exclusively of bread, cheese, seafood, meat, and beer. Heavy on the meat and beer, and man, if you could deep-fry beer I think I’d give up because that would itself be manna. Occasionally a tomato-based cocktail for nourishment, and more often than necessary a corn-dog or doughnut. Maybe it’s because vacations are a time to eat what you don’t get at home, or maybe nothing with lentils ever calls to me louder than anything with tartar sauce.

In any case, whenever I come home from a trip, a wholesome meal is the first thing I want. It comes before unpacking, just after sprawling on the floor for scratches behind ears and haunches, hers, and scratchy kitten kisses on the paws, mine. As I was chopping the carrots and testing the wine for freshness, it occurred to me that it is as much the food of the meal as it is the ritual that I take comfort in. Food is love, and not just in that “I eat to feel love” kind of way, which is supposed to be a sign of sadness or disordered eating. Personally, I think there’s nothing wrong with eating to feel the love of a piece of cold roast chicken from the refrigerator after midnight, or of a soft coddled egg for dinner on a Saturday night you’ve chosen to spend alone, or of the kind of chocolate you absolutely would not share – there is love in those things, for sure.

But food is also love in a different (and depending upon how you look at it, healthier) way, one that ties you to the idea of a place, a feeling of home. I believe that no matter where I am, if I can cut a ripe tomato, a piece of soft cheese, and a hunk of crusty bread, I am home. No, correction. In part. I believe that no matter where I am, if there are tomatoes and soft cheeses and bread and someone you like to share it all with, that is home. The looking forward to sharing a rather basic part of your existence with another person, in something so intimate as eating, is as rewarding as the melting of the flesh of that tomato into the chewy centre of the bread inside your mouth. I think that is why I like dinner parties – some of my best fun happens around a table of like-minded eaters, and the wine needs to be plentiful and only pretty much palatable to tie it all together.

We gather around food. At the end of a day in which I decide four times to spend my next paycheque on airfare and bugger off, it is reassuring to know that when I come home, and to my senses (ish), there will be a pot and a few ingredients and a knife, and a rather nice-looking other person to fantasize about San Francisco or London or Berlin or Seoul with. At the end of today, we ate an easy soup over steamed cabbage, the bowl rung with a little bit of good olive oil, shared a glass of less-than-palatable red wine, and talked to each other.

And that’s the thing. The talking. The sharing of ritual, of basic needs such as eating and company, and of more complicated needs like dirty jokes, witty banter, and tipsiness. Of getting to know a friend, a roommate, a life partner or a meantime someone a little bit better – the closeness of sitting an elbow’s length apart, just talking. Food is love, and not in that sick-squicky Hallmark way that makes you throw up just a little at the back of your throat. It is because food, most especially food that you create for yourself and another person, creates a feeling of home. I want you to eat – and I made this for you – because I like you.

So, come over. And if you’re too far away or are allergic to cats or uncomfortable with awkward sexual advances, invite someone to your place. You don’t have to make anything fancy – far better if you don’t, actually. The effort, your display of caring, will be more than enough. And you will feast marvelously, because at that point, it’s impossible not to.

Which reminds me. Food is love, and Nick is asleep, but there is a cat here who has been on me or between my feet since I arrived home eleven or so hours ago. It could be time for a cuddly moment of kippered herring, a fresh toy dipped in catnip, and a round of sedatives those of us who would rather not drink any more of this wine.

A little trip requires a lot of cleaning and I prefer baking so I made cookies and the apartment is still gross. But carrots! Cookies! Carrot cookies!

Tremendous news – we’re going on vacation! A short one, but it counts because there are planes involved (several … which is only glamourous if I don’t tell you that we have layovers … on a trip from Vancouver to San Francisco) and because we are staying in hotel rooms and not tents. I all-caps HATE tents. At the first sight of springtime sun, Nick gets all goobery-eyed at the idea of driving to the middle of nowhere and sleeping in a tent we borrow from one of our sets of parents, and subsisting on hot dogs and box-wine while sitting in busted folding chairs for four days. Which? I’ll pass on, thanksverymuch. The last time we went camping we ended up parked beside the highway and Nick fell asleep under a van in nothing but his underpants and running shoes, and at that point I didn’t even care if he got eaten by bears. We weren’t married yet, so I didn’t have a lot invested in his NOT being eaten by wildlife, and that weekend he had it coming.

But the important thing is not that Nick and I are charmingly, recklessly dysfunctional, or that since it’s my blog I can make him look like the irresponsible one and you have only my word to go on. No. The important thing is that we (me, Nick, and Paul) are going to San Francisco. And also Las Vegas. Because my friend Theresa is flying in from Australia with her boyfriend, and we’re going to have the most fun ever.

And I’ve digressed again, because this isn’t a post to brag to you about my exciting, margarita-filled journey or my tumultuous, margarita-filled marriage. I’m really here to talk to you about cookies, because I thought it would probably be wise to clean out the fridge before we go, and I always get so distracted doing that. Out came the carrots and a lime, and I thought about how nice cardamom would be with all of that, and before I knew it, the butter was unwrapped and the oven was preheating and I’d forgotten why I’d opened the fridge door in the first place.

So these are carrot cookies, but because I was procrastinating, they’re different from your typical carrot cookies. The carrots are not grated as if you were making carrot cake; they’re puréed. The cookies are soft, so fluffy – like little cookie cakes, or sweet tiny scones. I’m going to eat twelve of them with tea for breakfast. There are no awful raisins crammed in, and the spices aren’t autumnal either. Not a whiff of cinnamon in the batch. And forget about cloves! These are carrot cookies for the bunny rabbits – all spring and POP! and there is no way I’m sweeping the kitchen floor tonight.

Carrot cookies

(Makes about 24 cookies.)

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter (at room temperature)
  • 1 lb. carrots, cooked and puréed (you should end up with 1 cup of purée)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 tsp. lime zest
  • 1 tsp. lime juice
  • 1 tsp. cardamom
  • 1/2 cup sugar, for rolling

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

Cream together sugar and butter until fluffy. Add carrot, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and mix well. Beat in eggs, vanilla, lime zest, lime juice, and cardamon.

Stir flour mixture into carrot mixture and beat until thoroughly combined. What you will end up with will look like a thick cake batter and a very moist and sticky cookie dough. Place in fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Roll chilled dough into one-inch balls, dropping and rolling each ball in sugar. Place each ball on a buttered cookie sheet, about an inch apart, and press with the tines of a fork. Repeat, 12 to 24 times.

Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, until puffed and lightly browned. I’d say golden, but these are already orange. I wish I could show you how orange.

Eat as many as you can hot from the oven. Or, cool on a wire rack, and store in a sealed container.

Creamy, springy trout chowder.

I know. You’re probably looking at that photo thinking, “wow, she’s pretty lucky,” or “he’s probably the best she could do.” Some days, I’m not sure which is right. Or maybe you’re new here and this is your introduction, and you’re thinking that you’ve made a horrible mistake in clicking whatever link brought you here.

Fortunately, today’s recipe is pretty sound. And it was fished for by the above-implicated weekend fisherman, which means it was local and sustainable and all those keywords that people and I love to toss around. So today, I have for you a recipe for trout chowder, and it is all the things you want from a chowder. Fresh. Moderately healthy, if fattening. Local. Contains bacon. Good stuff.

Trout chowder

(Serves six.)

  • 1/4 lb. bacon, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 1 lb. new potatoes, boiled and cooled, and then cut into bite-size chunks
  • 3 stalks celery, halved lengthwise and chopped
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 lb. trout, chopped
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

In a large (three or four quart) pot over medium-high heat, crisp up bacon. When bacon is glistening and crispy, add potatoes, stirring to coat, and fry for about three minutes, or until lightly golden. Add celery, garlic, and lemon zest. Sprinkle flour over top of ingredients in pot, and stir once again to coat.

Pour milk into the pot, and reduce to medium heat. Bring mixture to a boil, and once thickened, add pepper, cayenne pepper, and nutmeg. Stir in trout and frozen peas, and cook for five to seven minutes, until trout is cooked through and mixture has returned to a boil.

Stir in lemon juice, followed by the cream. Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed.

Serve hot, with bread (or corn bread!), and cold, delicious beer. This is the kind of meal that will remind your spouse, special someone, roommate, or friend that you are so much better than the best they could do, and they will appreciate you profusely. If that person has had their tongue in a fish’s mouth recently, you do not have to appreciate him back.

Homemade salted caramels.

There’s this tiny shop just off Main Street, on 21st Avenue, called Chocolaterie de la Nouvelle France, and they make fleur de sel caramels that I could spend my last dollars on without regret. They’re like sugar butter. Fortunately, I am becoming slightly wiser as I age – I realized that you can make caramels at home! And we always have butter, sugar, and cream here (I don’t know why we’re putting so much weight on either), so to make a batch of caramels required no special shopping trip.

Making caramel is about the easiest thing ever. It doesn’t seem like it, because molten sugar can be a bit daunting, and a candy thermometer is not everyone’s favourite kitchen tool. But a few ingredients and a little bit of science/magic, and it’s amazing what heat can do.

I don’t have fleur de del, but it doesn’t really matter. A little bit of sea salt in the caramel and some smoked salt for finishing, and these are every bit as delightful as something you could go and buy. If you don’t have smoked salt, use kosher salt, or some other coarse, delicious finishing salt.

Homemade caramel candy

  • 1 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup (1/4 lb.) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup golden syrup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tsp. coarse salt

In a medium saucepan, bring cream, butter, and salt to a gentle boil. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Set aside.

In a large (three or four quart), heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat, combine sugar, golden syrup, and water. You can use corn syrup if that’s what you’ve got, but there’s a little rumor going around that high-fructose corn syrup is bad for you. Of course, butter and sugar and cream are not.

Allow sugar to melt before stirring. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon, watching the sugar closely to ensure that it doesn’t burn. Nothing is a bigger culinary piss-off than getting excited about candy and then burning it. I let mine cook until it reached a red-amber hue. If you go darker than that, the caramel will take on a smokey, slightly burnt taste, which can be sort of good, but more often than not just tastes like you overcooked the sugar.

When your sugar is bubbly and red-amber, pour in the cream mixture. Don’t freak out. This is going to swell and bubble and threaten to maim you, but it probably won’t. If it didn’t maim me, you’re probably safe – I don’t do anything carefully.

Reduce heat to medium, and clip in your candy thermometer. Stir occasionally. You want the caramel to reach between 245°F and 250°F, which should take between ten and 15 minutes. Don’t rush it.

Pour caramel into a 9″x9″ baking dish that’s been buttered and lined with parchment, which you should have also lightly buttered, for good measure. Tip: when lining the bottom of the pan, cut the parchment too long, so that you end up with pieces sticking up on either side; these will act as handles when you go to take your caramel out of the pan – much easier. Let cool for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, sprinkle salt over top of the caramel. Let rest for two hours.

Cut into one-inch squares with a sharp knife dipped in cold water. You should end up with about 50 caramels. You lucky duck.

You can proceed to wrap each one with parchment or wax paper, or put each one into those little candy cups that look like mini cupcake wrappers. I’m sure they have a name, and I bet you can Google it.

Serve. To others, to mom (happy Mother’s Day!), or just to yourself. Enjoy!