Stout hot chocolate.

We put up the tree a week or so ago, and the cat is just thrilled. It was cute at first, the way she’d clamber up the middle and make a nest of her own legs and tail in the branches. We didn’t put ornaments on at first, because we thought that we could get her used to the tree so she’d ignore it, but it turns out she intends to do no such thing.

Irritating as she is about the tree, the cat has had a calming effect on our holiday season. This will be our third Christmas married to each other, and so far it has not been marked with the usual bickering, moping, or scrambling to get everything done once we’ve decided we can save the fighting for February because we’re bored then anyway. It’s still early, but I’m optimistic. We’ve committed to fewer events this year, and we’re not spending so many evenings and weekends running around. We’re spending our time eating comfort food and entertaining friends and petting the cat, and it’s working out pretty well so far.

And with the exception of the dinner I ruined tonight, which was not salvageable and which I and subsequently pouted about for an hour and a half, this evening was fairly relaxing. We watched a holiday movie, and I made hot chocolate.

I love hot chocolate, but don’t make it very often – it’s a treat, and the last time I made it was this time last year. Tonight’s batch was made with stout,  just enough melted dark chocolate, a bit of milk, and cream to fill the whole thing out. It was rich and dark like coffee, and its effect verged on sedation. Nick was in bed by 9:45, suddenly overcome by feelings of warm snuggliness and a desperate need for his pillow.

The recipe will make enough for two to four people, depending on how big your mugs are. It’s rich, so you will not need a lot. It’s not too sweet, but pleasantly  bitter with that dark chocolate and beer. We drank it as dessert after Nick finally made grilled cheese sandwiches to make up for dinner.

Stout hot chocolate

  • 1 1/2 cups stout or your favourite dark beer, at room temperature
  • 4 oz. chopped dark chocolate
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Put chocolate into a saucepan over medium-high heat, and pour over stout, whisking briskly to knock out any bubbles and to ensure the chocolate melts without burning. When chocolate appears to have melted, add milk. Stir occasionally until the whole thing comes just to a simmer – you don’t want it to boil, but it doesn’t hurt to have it come close.

Taste. Depending on the beer you use, you may find this a touch too bitter. If that’s the case, add a tablespoon of granulated sugar (or to taste).

Whisk in cream and vanilla. Serve in mugs, with a dollop of whipped cream if you’re feeling saucy (or sulky).

Kimchi pancake.

Sometimes Monday is extraordinarily trying, and not for any other reason than that it’s the day after a very busy weekend. It means that getting out of bed is the least of the day’s troubles, and that by the time the work day is over I have little to no interest in doing anything but putting on pajamas and watching back-to-back episodes of Good Eats and whining to Nick about the punishing nature of employment in general.And so, for this Meatless Monday, I offer you the laziest recipe in the history of ever: a pancake that requires no baking powder, no prep work, and no talent. It requires club soda, which might seem sort of annoying if you don’t already have it on hand, but you’ll thank me, because it only takes a half a cup, which means the rest goes into a glass with vodka and lemon, and then isn’t your day instantly so much better? Sometimes I think a day should begin with vodka. I would be so much more awesome at life if I started the day with a cocktail.

If you don’t have kimchi (why do you not have kimchi?!), you can buy it in the refrigerated section of your local market, Asian market, or even Whole Foods. It’s a condiment with a relatively quick expiration date, but it’s versatile, and you can use it in everything from pancakes to soup to rice. Go get some. You’re welcome in advance.

Kimchi pancake

(Serves two as dinner.)

  • 3 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 cups cabbage kimchi, chopped
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup club soda

In a large bowl, place kimchi, eggs, flour, sesame oil, and salt. Stir together until thoroughly combined.

Add soda, and fold in gently. You want to keep as many bubbles as you can here, because bubbles make this light.

Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. If you’re smarter than I am (which is highly probable), you won’t get lazy and decide to cook just one large pancake, struggling with the inevitable question of how the hell to flip; divide the batter in four, and cook as individual, smaller pancakes. Give them about three minutes per side, cooking until golden and crispy, especially around the edges.

Chop pancakes into bite-size or chop-stickable pieces.

Serve hot, with a sauce of one tablespoon soy sauce, one tablespoon mirin, and one teaspoon of minced fresh ginger. Salad on the side makes it a whole meal, but this is great as lunch, or as an appetizer for a party, now that the partying season is in full swing. If you’re feeling festive, serve with hot sake.

Shrimp and grits.

Most of the time, Nick goes along with whatever I plan to make as long as we have meat every so often and there’s cheese in the fridge. It’s a convenient arrangement for both of us, because he eats what he is given and mostly likes it, and I get to make whatever I feel like and if I don’t feel like making anything at all he picks up the take-out.

We never really dated, because we were in a program at UBC where we were together for pretty much all of our classes and we spent a lot of our between- and after-class time together as well, and before I knew it, he had moved in. Literally. He was just there all the time, and then at last he brought his stuff and started paying rent. I would feed him, and he would clean my apartment while I was at work. It was the best arrangement ever as far as I was concerned, and a boost to my ego that he liked everything, every single meal I served him. After a while I began to suspect that he was full of it.

And then one day I made him macaroni and cheese and thought it would be great with kirsch mixed into the sauce, like in fondue, so I added half a cup.

It was a year before he’d try homemade macaroni and cheese again.

Now we pretty much eat what I feel like eating, because when left in charge Nick does not make choices that support a well-balanced diet. But on occasion he’ll get an idea in his head and depending where we are in the two-week stretch between paydays it can become significant, and he will mention every time I’m chopping up whatever we’re having for dinner that he’d really like venison burgers or mushroom Shepherd’s Pie or calzones. Most recently, the idea in his head has been shrimp and grits, though I haven’t a clue where it came from.

Shrimp and grits takes approximately 10 minutes to make, start to finish, if your shrimp are ready to go. It’s a very good weeknight meal – spicy, satisfying, and brightly coloured – and because it’s served in a bowl it makes the perfect dish for eating on the couch while watching holiday movies or reruns of The Office. You will know the dish is successful by the grunts of pleasure at the other end of the couch.

Shrimp and grits

(Serves four.)

Shrimp:

  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 stalk celery, quartered lengthwise and chopped
  • 1 small red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 1/2 lbs. peeled, de-veined uncooked shrimp
  • Handful of fresh parsley, chopped

Grits:

  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup coarse corn grits (also sold as polenta)
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 cup shredded aged Cheddar

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter with olive oil and add onion, celery, bell and jalapeño peppers, and garlic, and lemon zest. Sauté until veggies begin to sweat, then add paprika, chili powder, and cumin.

Meanwhile, bring chicken stock to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, then slowly whisk in corn grits. Cook until thick, about five minutes, stirring regularly to prevent the grits from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

As grits thicken, add the shrimp to the pan, then the lemon juice. Depending on the size of your shrimp, you will have one to three minutes before they’re cooked; move them about the pan fairly quickly, and remove from heat when they turn pink and opaque. Add parsley.

Meanwhile, add butter and cheese to the grits and stir until smooth.

Serve shrimp mixture over grits in a bowl.