Risotto and procrastination with currants, orange, and almonds.

Time seems to pass quicker all the time, and before I know it, it’s nearly Thanksgiving again, and hockey’s on TV and I need to have my boots re-heeled and somehow I still haven’t done any of the things I’d planned to by now, and it’s colder so the excuses to not do things get stronger all the time. Why work on that grad school application when I could curl up in my Snuggie with a book? Why finish writing those chapters when I could wander out for hot chocolate, stepping on all the crunchy-looking leaves along the way? Why stay late at work to finish a project when I could go home and make risotto?

Maybe I’m too hard on myself. I have reference letters, and a third of a manuscript together to send in with my MFA application, with a month to go before it’s due. I am writing, and the writing is going well and someday maybe a book will come out of it. And sometimes you just need to decide you can’t stare at a computer screen for even ten more minutes and come home and make risotto.

Maybe I’m too hard on myself, or maybe I’m lying to myself, but either way, it’s important to achieve small things every day so that the big things don’t seem so insurmountable.

The risotto on offer today is one that qualifies for Meatless Monday, but you’ll notice that it’s Tuesday now and there are perfectly pink medallions of pork tenderloin on the plate. Ignore those if you found this via the Meatless Monday website; the risotto is what’s really important here.

Risotto with currants, almonds, and orange

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried currants
  • 2 tsp. orange zest
  • 2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 3 to 4 cups warm chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large pan, caramelize the onion in the olive oil. Start with high heat, and then drop the heat down when the bits of onion turn just the faintest bit golden. Brown the hell out of them, stirring often enough, and let them go as long as you can stand it. The browner the better. I left mine in the pan to brown for forty minutes, until the onion was a shadow of its former self. However, I understand that not everyone dreams all day of coming home to make dinner, so go with your own judgment and preference here.

Bring heat back up to medium-high, and add in your garlic, dried currants, orange zest, rosemary, and rice. Cook for about a minute, until rice has begun to turn opaque. De-glaze the pan with the wine and orange juice. Stir the rice continuously until the liquid is absorbed.

Add one cup of the warm chicken stock, stirring frequently until liquid is mostly absorbed. Repeat with an additional cup of stock, and then repeat again with one to two more cups as needed. Test your rice for tenderness. The idea is to get it to al denté, but if it isn’t there yet, just pour in a little bit more stock, as needed, and let it absorb into the rice.

Your currants will have plumped, and the smell will be intoxicating. Add Parmesan cheese and butter. Taste, adjust seasonings as needed. And then, at long last, add almonds.

You can serve this as a main dish to two people, or as a side dish for four. As always, this is a recipe that’s easily multiplied, so if you want to feed four, just double it.

It’s a rich dish. Sweet and savory, creamy with a bit of crunch, earthy with rosemary and deeply browned onions, but bright with citrus and just a hint of wine. Beautiful with gently braised pork or lamb, or perfect on its own, with crusty bread and a few bites of roasted stone fruit. Peaches are just about done, but plums are gorgeous right now. Apples would be nice as well. And you’ll find that once you’ve tackled dinner, everything else becomes a little easier to manage; maybe I will write a chapter this evening, or a cover letter. And there’s always tomorrow, which is reliable as long as you don’t let it dissolve into the next day, and the ones after that.

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Meatless Monday: Creamy white beans with rosemary for breakfast.

Nick is a sleeper. When he was a kid, he had to be shaken awake for Christmas. His alarm goes off five times before he gets up in the morning, and it is a given that he will be late for anything before 2:00 pm. His body requires a solid fourteen hours of sleep just to function. On a not unrelated note, I usually get about five hours, seven maybe on the weekend, maybe. He’s a tooth-grinder, and he’s got the jimmy legs.

Breakfast used to be a thing I cobbled together out of cold crap from the fridge if I had time, but was most frequently a latte I spilled on myself as I rushed for the bus. I don’t know what Nick ate. But lately, because I’m awake anyway, I’ve been making breakfast in the morning and shoving it under Nick’s face so that he’s fed and awake and able to shower, and now we’re hardly ever late before we’ve even left the house.

You might think beans are a weird thing to serve with breakfast, but trust me on this one. This dish is creamy and rich like a hearty bowl of oatmeal, but it takes less time and also contains garlic and rosemary, which oatmeal does not have going for it. Also, it takes less than five minutes, which makes breakfast something you might actually be able to achieve in the morning. Or maybe I’m the only one who battles her own will and chronic fatigue to accomplish the simplest of tasks before noon? That could well be, come to think of it.

White beans with rosemary

  • 1 tbsp. good olive oil
  • 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 anchovy fillet, minced
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp. dijon mustard
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 1 19 oz. can white beans, such as cannelini or navy beans
  • 1 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

In a pan over medium-high heat, sauté celery, garlic, anchovy, rosemary, mustard, and nutmeg for about a minute, until celery is bright green and garlic is fragrant. Add beans, stir, then add cream and Parmesan. Sauté another minute, adjust seasonings to taste, and serve hot, with toast. I top mine with a poached egg.

This’ll serve two people breakfast, or one person twice. It’s filling enough to get you through the morning, and it’s decadent enough to pass for a fancy side dish at dinnertime if you want. And it smells the apartment up beautifully in a way fried eggs and bacon never could.

A Clambush at Desolation Sound.

On Friday, Grace, Laraine, Paul, Nick, and I hopped a couple of ferries and headed to Powell River for what shall henceforth and forever be known as The Ultimate Seafood Feast. Grace planned the whole thing (and included handouts), and it was lovely.

We stayed about 30 minutes out of Powell River, near Desolation Sound. There was nothing desolate about it, and not a sound except for a woodpecker and a few chirpy little red squirrels in the trees.

The point of the trip was clam-digging, though a secondary benefit was certainly relaxation. I read MFK Fisher’s Serve it Forth, Paul made sashimi of the sockeye he had caught the night before we left, and we played Scrabble and drank cocktails and cheap beer and were very civilized out there in our cabin in the woods. Nick had five naps. We were there two nights.

On Saturday morning, our eyes still glued mostly shut after our first feast night and its requisite debauchery, we wandered out to the shore to dig for clams at low tide.

It was all very thrilling. Every so often, Grace would squeal and announce that “I found the biggest one!” or skip over with a particularly lovely clam and declare that it would become earrings, a garland, or a fridge magnet stuck with googly eyes. Paul and Nick wandered off to pick mussels and oysters, and soon we had an embarrassment of edible riches.

When we got home, we all took naps, and then considered the oysters.

And then we had naps again.

And when we woke up, Laraine and I read in the living room while Nick and Paul played a game and Grace poured wine and did dishes and then when we told her not to she said “But I’m having fun!” so we let her have the kitchen.

We let the clams soak in salted water for a few hours so that they’d release any grit they might be holding onto, and Paul de-bearded some mussels. I don’t think I have ever had better clams than we had that evening – Grace made her Dad’s recipe. She poured a bit of sake, a few chopped scallions, and some garlic into the pan and steamed the clams until they burst open. They were perfect, and needed no salt. The mussels were steamed in beer and cream with fennel, and were also very elegant.

We ate dinner huddled around the stove, with Grace steaming batch after batch of clams, each of us forking bites out of the pan and dipping Laraine’s homemade sourdough into the broth. From now on, this is the only way I will serve shellfish for company.

It was so delicious, and we ate throughout the evening, into the night. And at the end of it, we sipped sparkling wine and made fun of Nick and then had cheesecake and then warmed dates stuffed with Roquefort, and there has never been anything better in the whole history of the world.

It was so hard to leave! Fortunately, we were each able to bring a few cooked clams home, so we’ll be able to enjoy a feast more each. How fresh and wonderful it all was! And how impossible to forget!

Coconut chicken corn chowder, and some pictures that do not do it justice.

I have talked about food and its importance as a tool of expressing love and home, but I would be remiss if I forgot to mention in all that idyll that while I most certainly cook because it is the way in which I convey my awkward affection, I also do it because I want you to like me.

Food is my way of bribing you to ignore the film of flour and cat hair that covers most of my apartment floor, or the weird jumble of things that might come out of my mouth when I mean to say something else but am tired and have had no caffeine today but three glasses of wine already. It’s how I welcome new friends, and how I hope to keep their attention, thus preventing it from wandering to the less-than-savoury elements of my home’s decor.

And recently, though less recently than he will admit (and my badgering has been relentless, so he put up an admirable fight), Paul has found himself a girlfriend, whom he has kept secret from us, as if he doesn’t know full well that I like to know all the things. And when I finally shouted about it in a crowded restaurant this week, begging “Why, Paul? WHY?!” he broke down and offered to bring her to meet us. Mostly to meet me.

I promised that we’d have chicken and corn chowder and that I’d wear real pants, not something in Spongebob-covered flannel. I want her to like me. When you want someone to like you, the best way is to create a feeling of warmth, and more often than not that should involve coconut milk. Cheese is also very good for buying anyone’s affection, but in this case I served it in a side dish (I should give you the biscuit recipe sometime), which still counts.

The recipe that follows is the sort of thing you’d serve if you were inviting someone new in, because it’s warm and comforting with its familiar elements, and because it’s also not what they’d expect when you tell them over the phone that you’re serving them chicken and corn chowder. Also, the name of the dish is a spectacular piece of alliteration, so bonus points for that.

Coconut chicken corn chowder

(Serves four.)

  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 2 tbsp. minced shallot
  • 4 to 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. dried lemongrass, crumbled
  • 3 cups fresh or frozen corn, divided
  • 2 cups diced sweet potatoes
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 14 oz. can coconut milk
  • 2 cups diced cooked (preferably leftover) chicken
  • 1 lime, zest and juice
  • 1 tbsp. fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp. sriracha (or to taste)
  • 1 large red bell pepper, diced
  • 3 tbsp. chopped fresh basil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat oil in the bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed pot set over medium-high heat. Add ginger, shallot, garlic, and lemongrass and sauté quickly, until golden. Add sweet potatoes and one cup of corn. Add stock. Scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to scrape off any browned bits. Add coconut milk. And then chicken.

Add fish sauce, lime zest and juice, and sriracha.

Bring to a gentle boil, then turn heat down a couple of notches, so that the pot returns to a simmer. Simmer for ten to 15 minutes, until sweet potatoes are fork-tender.

Add remaining corn and the red pepper. Simmer for five minutes. Then stir in most of the basil, except for a little bit which you will sprinkle over top of it all at the end for colour.

Taste. Adjust seasonings as needed. Inhale. Feel wonderful. Serve hot, with baking powder biscuits.

Take better pictures than this. And then turn your attention to Paul’s new girlfriend, who happens to be quite lovely (and also likes cats), and make a mental note to remind him in the car on the way to Powell River this weekend that he ought to remember from now on that you will continue to like to know all the things.

I hope she likes us.

Stuffing ball soup.

If you’re Canadian, it’s nearly Thanksgiving – it’s less than a month away! And I’ve been quite enjoying the soothing fall flavours that have started to take over the kitchen. Roasted tomatoes, fresh-from-the-ground carrots, and big fat pink, purple, and golden beets – all good things, and are you also getting so impatient for pumpkins?

Nick’s been on the cusp of a cold, and I’ve been avoiding it as best I can, and while eating soup can soothe those icky, snotty early cold feelings, the cooking of soup creates an ambiance of comfort, and I don’t know about you but just the smell of chicken stock and veggies burbling away makes me feel so much better, almost right away. Homemade chicken stock is even better – I don’t know what it is, but the rasp in my voice disappears as rich, meaty steam fills the air.

Add dumplings? You’ve got the perfect autumn lunch or dinner, with all the tastes of Thanksgiving  in a bowl. Stuffing balls, which are not unlike matzoh balls (though if you are a matzoh ball purist, then they are so unlike matzoh balls), are light and fluffy, and taste of sage, savoury, garlic, and thyme. Too much butter is involved, which is always good. You can’t have too much butter, I don’t care what Jenny Craig says about it.

Stuffing ball soup

  • 2 cups fresh bread crumbs (about 8 oz. of day-old bread, blended or food-processed until only crumbs remain)
  • 1/4 cup finely minced celery
  • 2 tbsp. finely minced onion
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp. minced fresh parsley plus 3 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley, divided
  • 1 tsp. dried savoury
  • 1 tsp. dried sage
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup melted butter (muah ha ha!)
  • 8 to 10 cups chicken stock (good quality is important – best results obtained if you make your own)
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice

Optional:

  • 2 cups diced root vegetables

In a large bowl, combine bread crumbs, celery, onion, garlic, one tablespoon of parsley, savoury, sage, thyme, pepper, and salt. Do not use dry bread crumbs; they are a different animal. Use fresh, if you have to leave a few thick slices of bread out overnight to get stale.

In a separate bowl, beat eggs extremely thoroughly. Whisk in melted butter, then pour over crumb mixture. Mix thoroughly, then cover with plastic and place in the fridge for about 45 minutes.

Roll mixture into balls about an inch in diameter. Keep in mind that the bigger you roll them, the more enormous they will get once cooked – they triple in size as they cook. The recipe makes about 20 balls. At this point, if you are going to use less stock and make less soup, you can freeze rolled stuffing balls. If you’re going to do that, stick them on a baking sheet lined with parchment and freeze until solid, then drop into a plastic bag for later use.

If you’re making the full batch, use lots of stock, to which you will add the lemon juice. Bring it to a gentle simmer over medium-high heat, then drop in veggies, if using. Turn heat to medium, then drop stuffing balls into the pot. Cover with a lid, and let cook for 15 minutes.

Serve hot, garnished with remaining parsley. And if you’re sort of sickish, eat two or three big bowls of the stuff, curled up on the couch, perhaps with your version of Nick, who has perhaps been secretly excited about the finale of America’s Got Talent, even though he won’t say it out loud.


Quick “tandoori” halibut.

Tonight we were supposed to go to the Fringe Festival and get culture and hold hands and maybe have a drink on a patio under a heat lamp and get all gross and romantic, but somehow instead when I came home Nick was just going down for a nap and then hours and hours passed and a show about cheerleaders came on and now he’s watching Silence of the Lambs, even though I am not the kind of person who can hear that sort of thing without internalizing it and making nightmares of it for weeks to come. My favourite movie is “What about Bob?” for good reason.

I am going to make him sleep outside the door of our apartment tonight, and possibly for the next several nights to protect the cat and I from having our faces eaten by cannibals.

And I wasn’t going to post tonight, but then I threw together the easiest fish in the world, and it was so delicious and flavourful and red, and on the side we had the carrots and beets and beet greens we picked out of the garden the other day, and I wanted to tell you about it. It was a fresh, fast meal, and really quite perfect for if we were going to Fringe, because it took almost no time.

I like to keep a stash of really bold spice blends on hand for occasions such as these, when you want a lot of flavour but don’t have a ton of time. I like Indian spices best, because they are warm and fragrant and often quite colourful. You should be able to buy tandoori masala in the Indian section of your local grocer. Failing that, you can pick it up at a specialty store, or buy it in paste form, which is also quite handy.

Here’s what to do.

Quick tandoori halibut

  • 2 pieces of halibut, about 3/4-inch thick and 1/2-lb. each
  • 2 tbsp. plain, full fat yogurt
  • 4 tsp. tandoori masala
  • 1.2 tsp. salt
  • Fresh ground pepper

Place halibut in a plastic bag with yogurt and tandoori masala. Squish it around until the spice has mixed into the yogurt and has coated the fish. Put the bag in the fridge. Go about your day.

Before cooking, preheat your oven to 400°F. Place halibut on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle with salt, and as much pepper as you feel like. I always feel like way too much pepper.

Bake on the middle rack for 10 minutes, until just cooked through – you should see the fish just beginning to “flake,” where the grain of the fish starts to separate just a bit. If it’s a little thicker, give it a bit longer, but not much.

Also, the carrots look weird because I roasted them with yogurt as well; they were very tasty, but not beautiful. I tossed them in a mixture of yogurt, lemon juice, olive oil, garam masala, and salt before roasting them at 400°F for 40 minutes. Skinnier carrots will take less time, fatter carrots: longer.

Here’s a picture of the Nick and the cat, in happier times and before I was legitimately considering stabbing him. Remember him fondly. He had a good run.

Garden report: Just imagine excited shrieking and jumping up and down.

This has just been one of those weeks, already, and I know I say that a lot but the contest last weekend made it so my sleep patterns are all wonky and since I have to do regular-person things now, like get up and feed the cat and go to work, it’s meant becoming really tired and regressing arthritically, which I am hoping I’ll be able to quell with tonight’s powerfully good sleep.

The contest and general chaos of our lives has also meant it’s been awhile since we were at the garden. You know what? I think gardening somewhere other than where you live is maybe the best way to do it, because every time you go it’s a surprise. A thrilling one, because every time we go now we’re pulling food out of the ground and taking it home, and today’s delights included carrots, a few beets, and my first two lemon cucumbers, which I am as proud of as if they were spiky little children.

Now, I know the carrot doesn’t look like much, and they all sort of look like that, but the thing is we didn’t follow the directions on the back of the seed packets because we were all, “WHATEVER! We know better. Pour them all into this short row here! Yay we’re gardening!” So a lot of our stuff is stunted due to growing around, under, or on top of its neighbours. Nick thinned the carrots out, and I did the same with the beets, so we’re going to let the remaining veggies go a little longer and see if they do better now that they’re not so crowded.

The cucumbers are the things I’m most excited about. They taste just like regular cucumbers, which is to their advantage, but they look really cool. I am currently eating them sprinkled with coarse salt and they are everything I hoped they would be.

I think my favourite thing about this summer has been this garden, and the joy will just keep on going now that we’ve planted root vegetables and celery that promise to mature sometime this winter.

I think I’ll ease off these run-downs on the progress of our muddy plot for awhile, as even Nick gets tired of my enthusiasm sometimes. But as we get more and more things, I’ll be sure to tell you all about what we’ve done with them. There will be exclamation points. And maybe some sentences in all-caps.