Booked!

I think this has been my weirdest week on record, weirder than the time I was 20 and dyed myself and my hair orange at the same time and didn’t realize it. My ears are burning, and it’s not a tanning bed this time.

(If you’re wondering how you can dye yourself with a tanning bed, you can’t really. But you can turn yourself orange with a combination of tanning beds and self tanner, and then you can’t hide your shame.)

Anyway.

It’s like real life is happening in parallel with this other life I like the idea of, this alternate reality where I get to tell people stories and convince them to love kimchi and tuna and maybe even Spam. Of course, regular life is unyielding, and so on top of the euphoria of everything I ever wanted coming to pass, I am still wiping butts and folding laundry and finding mistakes in press releases I wrote or trying to book meetings with researchers at work.

And I know I wrote the book, and I knew that it was being edited and then designed and I understood that it would be printed and then I even had copies in my hands, and it all still felt like I could, I don’t know, get out of it maybe? Like if I panicked, maybe I could, I don’t know, stop the presses? Somehow in my mind it was going to be a real book but also maybe no one would ever know about it and I could escape judgment.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is that none of it felt really, really real until this week, when people who weren’t my immediate family started getting their copies.

And then started making the recipes.

And then, well: I saw it, for real, in a bookstore I go to probably twice per week.

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Aaaaahhhh! There it is!!!

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So, here we go. Stuff’s happening now. I’ve had an interview with Megaphone, and with the Vancouver Sun. My schedule for April is filling up.

I’ll keep you up to date as more dates get booked and interviews or reviews come out. In the meantime, thank you for your support and enthusiasm and for buying copies and telling me how much you like the book! Hardly anyone tells me they like my press releases so this is a kind of gratification I’ve never known.

I am pretty sure that every recipe for pistachio pudding that exists anywhere on the Internet or elsewhere is the direct result of the Kraft marketing department. This recipe is no such thing.

So, as has been well-established around here, I am all about comfort. And lately, I’ve been sick so I sent Nick to the store for something creamy with pistachios and he came back with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup ice cream – nothing like what I wanted exists. So when I was feeling mobile, I went to the Internet to find out how to make pistachio pudding, because I was too lazy to think about it on my own, and would you believe that every single recipe for pistachio pudding that I was able to find is based on three ingredients, namely Jell-O pistachio pudding, canned pineapple chunks, and baby marshmallows? I had never even heard of such a combination, but there it was, all up in my sick-face grill.

And then I was angry. Because the comfort food of my imagining was, in reality, mint-green, chunky, and gross – there was nothing unctuous and soothing about it. And as someone who had been vomiting a lot, there was no going there – I knew ahead of time how that was going to look.

Fortunately for everyone and the Internet, I am feeling much, much better. And, Angry Emily is Motivated Emily and she gets shit done. The result is that I’ve come up with something I think you’ll really, really like. It’s smooth, creamy, nutty, the right amount sweet, and every bit as unctuous as it needs to be. If I was going to serve this to fancy company, I’d divide it cleanly between six ramekins and serve each with a discerning dollop of whipped cream. Otherwise, pour it into a bowl and serve it with a less discerning, more gluttonous fwop! of whipped cream. Do what you need to do.

Pistachio pudding

  • 1/2 cup unsalted whole pistachio nuts
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tbsp. honey
  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup cream
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • Pinch salt

In a pan over medium-high heat, toast pistachio nuts for one to two minutes, until you can smell them. Pour them into a blender or the bowl of a food processor.

Purée with butter and honey. It’s not essential that this form a paste, but get it as close as you can.

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, whisk together cornstarch and sugar. Pour pistachio mixture into the pan, whisk to combine. Pour in milk and cream, and bring to a boil.

Boil for one minute, and remove from heat. Whisk in vanilla and salt.

Pour mixture into a bowl through a mesh sieve. Taste as you go. As if you’ll be able to resist.

Cover the top of the pudding with plastic, and place in the fridge to set, two to three hours. Serve with too much whipped cream.

In other creamy food news, I made this “super easy homemade yogurt” and it was every bit as super easy as it promised it would be. It is amazing. The recipe produces a litre of yogurt (about four cups), and costs a fraction of what you’d pay for the same amount of yogurt in-store. I sweetened mine with honey and flavoured it with vanilla bean, but even plain it would be fantastic. So, go. Get the best dairy products you can, and make your own. It feels amazing to know that what you can make at home is a bijillion times better that what you can buy, and that making your own is cheaper. And the effort is minimal. There’s no reason not to get started right now for your Monday breakfast.

Here’s that meatball recipe.

These are the meatballs that Tracy‘s vegetarian boyfriend ate, like, four of. They’re that good, they convert the herbivores. She asked me for the recipe – “they’re like my nonna’s!” she exclaimed – but I explained that there wasn’t one, you just use a little of this and a bit of that, you know?

And then Nick’s sister asked for the recipe, and Sooin did too, and they wanted to know if it was on this site, and I said no, it wasn’t, because it’s the kind of thing you just make. You need a recipe for these? I asked, and people nodded yes. I thought they were everyone’s meatballs. Apparently they are my meatballs, and they are delicious.

I’m a little bit biased though. I mentioned a little while ago that if you were bent on seducing me (and you hadn’t already fed me too much wine, which is my favourite), meatballs would get you most of the way there. I don’t know what it is about them; meatballs, in all their forms, make me sublimely happy. There are probably hundreds of ball jokes to be pulled from that statement, but I stand by it.

So anyway, some friends came for dinner tonight, and I decided that we would have spaghetti and meatballs, because it is one of my favourite things and I like to share it, and I wanted to write the recipe down at last. Really, I’m pretty sure that they’re everyone’s meatballs. There’s no secret to them. But in case they are special, or different, or if you’re looking to score, here’s the recipe.

The meatballs

  • 1 lb. lean ground beef (not extra-lean – please, not extra-lean)
  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp. (rounded) fat (butter or bacon fat, or olive oil if you want)
  • 1 tbsp. (rounded) tomato paste
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

Preheat your oven to 375°F.

Combine all of your ingredients in a large bowl. Squish it all together with your hands to ensure that crumbs and eggs are thoroughly combined. Don’t worry if the meat looks like it isn’t – it’s better to have the meat sort of separate, so that you can taste pork and beef distinctly. And you must use your hands. There is no other way.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Roll meat mixture into balls roughly an inch and a half in diameter. This recipe makes about two dozen – if you have many more, your balls are too small. (Snicker.) And the reverse is true too. Place balls on baking sheet.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

And here’s where it gets interesting.

If you’re just feeding you and another person, or maybe two smaller, miniature persons, then use a dozen, or fewer, and freeze the rest.

If you’re insane and for some reason always end up feeding tons of people even though you’re poor and hardly anyone ever invites you to their homes for dinner even though you’re very nice and don’t always guzzle the wine or step on the cat, cook them all, but double your sauce recipe and use the two-pound bag of spaghetti.

Because these are deceptively large, I would bet that no one will be able to eat more than three. Four is pushing it.

For sauce, there are lots of options. A sauce I am loving right now is tomato sauce with onion and butter from Deb at Smitten Kitchen. In the summer, I use my special slow-cooked tomato sauce, and it’s very nice then too. Tonight, I made a simple sauce of one onion and three cloves of garlic sweated in olive oil, two 28-ounce cans of crushed tomatoes, simmered for forty minutes, then salt, pepper, and basil stirred in right at the end. Keep it simple with the sauce – these are hearty meatballs, and they will be the star of the dish. Stew the meatballs in the sauce for about twenty minutes before serving; they’ll cut the acidity of the tomatoes, and they’ll warm up nicely all on their own.

There it is. See how easy? So easy. Really inexpensive. No reason not to make them for me. I’ll bring dessert. And wine. And soft slippers, because of the cat.

Things like blue-cheese mousse.

On Saturday, my food had a photo shoot for a magazine it’s going to be in. I wrote the recipes, and am scurrying to finish the last of the article (lame how this is my break?), but I wanted to tell you all about it. It, but mostly the mousse.

I made a few things – bacon-maple popcorn, which was fantastic but it was my big recipe so I can’t tell you about it until later, after the magazine comes out. I’ll post a link then, so you can make it and impress your friends with how very Canadian you can be. I made a little potato tart on puff pastry, and some wonderful little cheesy puff balls. And I made a little bit of mousse, with a little bit of Stilton, a thing I am going to elaborate on a bit later, and dropped it onto endive leaves and topped with slices of apple.

It made me insufferably gloaty. I ate almost all of it after the shoot. I didn’t feel great afterward. I blame the volume of cheese I consumed, but it could have been the bacon popcorn, or one of the two magnums we drank while all the photos happened. It was probably the Filet-o-Fish I had for lunch when on the run between grocery stores, the bank, and the apartment where I was burning things and Nick was trying to help but just getting in the way.

The photographer, Duran, was very nice and knows the boy I had a crush on in high school who is now a dentist and was kind enough to not say, “You’re weird and covered in crusty bits. I think he’s out of your league and please stop stealing sips of my wine.”

But I digress. The mousse.

I tested this out with a bit of Stilton I had on hand, because Stilton tastes like magic and my aunt told me about a dish at the ill-fated Star Anise restaurant that used to be on 12th and Granville that made a mousse of it. It was like eating cheese clouds off of crunchy boats paddled by apple oars, if you can imagine that.

So why don’t I just get to the recipe then?

Yes. Let’s go.

Stilton mousse on endive

  • 1/4 lb. crumbled Stilton
  • 1/4 lb. cream cheese (at room temperature)
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream, divided
  • 1 tart-fleshed apple, such as Granny Smith
  • 24 Belgian endive leaves (from approximately three endives)

Beat together the Stilton, cream cheese, and one tablespoon of the cream until creamy and smooth.

In a separate bowl, beat the cream until soft peaks form.

Fold the cream into the cheese, a little bit at a time, until fully combined. Taste, and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper, if desired.

Spoon into endive leaves and top with thin slices of apple. Serve cold, and as soon as you can.

Luscious. Wonderful. And there’s more where that came from. Check out the upcoming issue of LOVE. Magazine for details. I’ll post a link when it’s online.

Dinner was fabulous. Wish you were here.

I didn't chop the mushrooms very finely because I'm sort of lazy like that.

At 6:30 pm, the apartment smelled like butter and garlic, and moist earth, as the mushrooms transformed themselves into duxelles. You could smell it down the hall, to the elevator, little whispers of thyme and bay leaf and a lick of white wine on top of everything, and it was like autumn decided on a signature fragrance and released it here, just for us. By 7:00 pm, it smelled like a grand sort of feast, the kind of thing you’d eat in a restaurant if you weren’t poor.

I wasn’t going to tell you about the burgers, because I figured they’d just be burgers like any other burger except with deer, and because I didn’t chop the mushrooms very finely, or even very well, so a lot of them were still in large chunks which means I did duxelles wrong. But they were marvelous, and sometimes things are better when you share them. If you have access to ground deer meat, you should absolutely make these. If you have a brother-in-law who hunts, hug him all the time.

Venison burgers with duxelles and brie

(makes four)

  • 1 lb. ground deer meat
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 small round of brie, about 1/2 cup
  • 1 batch of duxelles, made from 1/2 lb. mushrooms (I used garlic instead of shallots)
  • 4 hamburger buns

In a large bowl, working with your hands, combine the meat, butter, olive oil, garlic, seasoning, and egg yolk. Form into four equal-sized patties, and grill over medium heat, four to five minutes per side.

Spread buns with the condiments of your choosing. I minced some basil into some mayonnaise, and spread that on one half, with a bit of sweet Bavarian mustard on the other side. Maybe don’t use ketchup. It wouldn’t be right.

Divide duxelles between the four buns, placing them on the bottom. During the last minute of cooking, place two slices of brie on the tops of each burger, then remove from heat and place on top of duxelles. Let sit two to three minutes before serving, so that the cheese melts somewhat and the meat rests a bit.

The smell is magnificent. The taste? Oh, wow. It’s a wild sort of taste, big flavours with grassy touches from the cheese and the mild game-flavour in the meat. The basil adds to that, perfumes the whole thing. Drink a big red wine with this, a zinfandel or something like that. It’ll stand up nicely to the whole thing. It’s earthy and homey and wonderful, something you’d imagine eating if you were dating a lumberjack who lived in a log cabin but who also had excellent taste in wine and cheese. Just like that. And wouldn’t that be nice?

Anyway, I just wanted to tell someone about it. When you share a meal with boys intent on watching hockey, you don’t get to wax ecstatic about stuff like you would if you were eating with anyone else. Though I noticed that when the game was over, they were hardly heartbroken that the Canucks had lost. I’d like to think it had something to do with the meal.

Perfect.

I got crabs from Paul.

Plaid.Saturday was a good day. Crisp, a little chilly because the west coast has decided it’s not summer anymore and now periodically sneezes cold air to remind us that this is Canada and we ought to be wearing jackets. Well, not that cold, but it was a tad nippy at the water, which is where we were. Paul decided to teach us about crabbing. Dungeness crabbing.

Crabbing involves cages and beer. And, to look at my companions, it also seems to involve plaid.

Baited.

Tossed.

Perhaps not enough plaid, as I didn’t get the memo on the dress code, which could explain why we didn’t catch all that much. I DID wear my crabbing socks, though it wasn’t a solid enough effort, apparently.

Hotness.

We caught starfish.

Murky ... can you make out what this is?

Prickly.

And I kept getting excited, because it looked like we were catching the kinds of things we could most certainly cook immediately and eat. I even helped.

Crabbing makes me look fat.

I am squealing with anticipation and glee in the background.

This one didn't measure up.

But every time we caught something, we’d have to throw it back, because of Paul’s “ethics” and the stupid “law.” So we tossed a lot of otherwise edible critters back into the sea, and we waited, and drank beer, and Nick whined about the cold because he’s a bit of a pansy delicate.

Ultimately, we had to quit on Saturday because there was a karaoke dance party I needed ample time to sparkle my cleavage for, and also it got a little windy and we all had to pee.

And then the rest of the weekend happened, and then I promised you I’d tell you all about soup and liar with my pants on fire that I am, that didn’t happen. Because today, Paul went crabbing. And he caught three. And then, not an hour later, he appeared at our front door with a bucket of crabs and a chilled bottle of wine.

Which is infinitely more fun to talk about than soup.

And ordinarily, the first crab or lobster of a given season is to be prepared in its purest form, and that is boiled in salt water and served hot with melted butter. You can get creative with future crabs, of course – I like to wok-fry them in 1/4 cup butter, 2 tablespoons of sriracha or chili-garlic sauce, three cloves of minced garlic, and a handful of chopped scallions. If you’d prefer not to cut into them live, you can pre-boil them, ten to fifteen minutes depending on the size, and then bake them at 500F for eight to ten minutes until everything is sizzling and smells good. Paul likes them steamed in white wine, also with butter. The possibilities are buttery and almost endless.

Paul, avec Crab.

Legs + Butter + My Mouth, please.

Dunk!

Happy unsexy badger.

And we ate and ate and ate and I ate all the parts no one else wanted and we were stuffed, and it was wonderful. I doubt I’ve ever eaten a fresher crab, and I am a contented badger now, at almost 1:00 am as a result. Right now? I’m boiling shells down for stock and making bagels, which is unrelated but also quite exciting. It may not just be soup to tell you about this week, after all. I can’t wait, I can’t wait, I can’t wait!!!

Ribs: Because meat sure is tasty!

This week at the market, they had ribs on special, in small quantities – just enough for dinner for two. Also this week, my Food & Wine magazine came, and the theme was barbecue. It seemed like Nick’s planets had aligned, and because sometimes I do nice things for him, I figured I’d get the ribs and make the meat. Because I am terrible at remembering anything, I ended up kind of combining and reinventing two recipes from this edition despite having the wrong kind of meat (the recipe calls for baby back ribs … I had a pork loin rib rack). So I will give you my version the Food & Wine recipe, because, quite honestly, my variations were awesome and I am awesome and meat is awesome and everything about these ribs is spectacular.

At the outset, I knew that if Nick said the ribs were “good,” I was going to murder him with a basting brush. IN THE HEART. For a creative writing major, he should have better adjectives, and lately, all the validation I get is, “it’s good.” Spent twelve hours to create a single loaf of bread? “It’s good.” Wriggled into a tight red dress that makes my boobs look like aggressive, smooth-skinned grapefruits? Barely looking up, “You look good.” WAS THE STAR TREK MOVIE NOT AMAZING AND HOLY CRAP WAS SULU HOT? “Yeah, I thought it was good.” Good. It’s his only word, and it’s driving me insane. And then I storm off and he’s all, “what do you want from me?!” And he should know better and probably should have been gay because it would have been easier, and maybe I should have been too. But I think the thing is, I shouldn’t bother with any of that stuff if I want a little attention. Slow-cooked meat is the way to go, and he’d better use an adjective that is adequate to describe the effort and the taste sensation. “Life-changing” would work, as would “epic,” “revelatory,” or “better than anything I’ve ever tasted in my life and this is why I married you, not just so that I’d have access to your grapefruit stash” which isn’t an adjective, more like hope that he will magically change and actually start uttering what I want to hear, at last.

Tomorrow I’ll go back to ignoring him and making what I like. And in case you’re all, “you constantly use the word ‘awesome’ like a half-assed coordinating conjunction so who are you to complain about Nick’s overuse of ‘good?'” And to that I say, I also overuse “fantastic,” “lovely,” and “ass,” so even if I am repetitive, at least I’ve got variety. I’m like dining off the KFC menu for seven days in a row – you think it’s all the same but there are actually subtleties that breed uniqueness with every experience. SUBTLETIES.

But, I digress.

Bourbon and Apple Pork Loin Rib Rack

  • 1 3 lb. pork loin rib rack

Rub:

  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3 cloves garlic, grated with a microplane or other fine grater
  • 4 tsp. chili powder
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. celery seed
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. white pepper

Cooking liquid:

  • 1 tbsp. of the spice rub (above)
  • 1/4 cup apple cider (although, I used this, and it was excellent. I used this in place of cider in this and the barbecue sauce. If you can find an apple beer, use it)
  • 1/4 cup Wild Turkey (or bourbon of some other variety)
  • 1/4 cup apple jelly, melted
  • 1/4 cup honey

Early in the morning, but preferably the night before, apply the spice rub to the meat and let it get all tasty. Keep it in the fridge while this is happening. Take it out about an hour before it goes into the oven.

Preheat oven to 250°F. Place the spicy meat (uncovered) on a baking sheet, and bake for 2 1/2 hours.Raw meat with rubRemove the meat from the oven and place on a large sheet of aluminum foil. Drizzle the liquid mixture over top, and seal the meat in its juice. Put it on the pan and back into the oven, and bake for another hour.

During this time, you’ll want to make your barbecue sauce. I guess you can use store-bought, but you’ve got the cider/beer and the bourbon anyway, and homemade is way better.

Barbecue Sauce:

  • 1 cup bourbon
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup apple cider
  • 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 cloves finely minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Mix up the ingredients in a bowl. Save for when you toss that meat on the grill.

Barbecue sauceWhen the meat comes out of the oven, throw it onto the barbecue over medium heat. Cook for another 15 to 20 minutes, basting with the sauce.

Meat on grillSide dishes? I thought you’d never ask.

Toss some chopped vegetables in some olive oil with a little kosher salt and black pepper, and put them on the top rack – ten minutes should suffice. Oh! And do some corn! Same amount of time.

Vegetables in olive oil

Corn and butter with herbs

Pull back the corn husks (but don’t pull them off), and butter the corn with a bit of herb butter. I had some fresh lemon thyme from the pots on my deck, so I used that. Re-wrap the corn in its husks and set it on the top rack as well, 10 minutes.

Veggies on grill

Mmmm ... corn!

When the meat is done, pull it off the grill and let it rest, preferably for ten minutes. Serve with the vegetables (unpeel peel the corn).

Meal!So, Nick was all, “this is really good,” and at first I was content to take “really” as an improvement. But then he read the first part of this blog and was like, “it doesn’t taste like scabs!” So, we’re probably going to get a divorce. Oh! This whole meal went really well with this apple wine we bought last weekend. It would also be lovely with ice cold apple cider, or that apple white beer. But not with apple juice. NO.

And another thing? It’s time to clean the deck:

My gross feetSo, um. Friday! Also, sorry about this one. I started drinking at 2:00.

Porcupines.

I am Kung Fu Panda. Never seen it? Well, you should. But in case you haven’t, the main thing is that he’s a legendary dragon ninja stuck in the body of a super awesome roly-poly Jack Black panda bear. And his ninja skills only come out when lured by the promise of food. Got dumplings? I will kick. That. Hill’s. ASS. No dumplings? Screw you, I’m sleeping in.

And so Bike to Work Week comes to an end. That this event coincided with the start of boot camp was unfortunate – I went from sedentary to super-active, biking a total of 150 kilometers (just over 93 miles) and doing no fewer than 400 crunches this week. Know what I learned? Exercise is for chumps. Eating is the best thing ever, followed very closely by sitting. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

My reward? After weeks of waiting for the arrival of the day of my glorious reservation at Les Faux Bourgeois, my deep desire for fattening, fancypants (but inexpensive, because as you know, I am flat broke) French food will finally be sated tonight. For a review that’s not (inevitably) tainted with a string of OMG!s, check out Sherman’s Food Adventures. If you’re content to wait until tomorrow, I’ll tell you all about it in my extra-special way.

At the moment, I’m working up a bit of anxiety over taking pictures of my food – usually I hate doing that, because I like to pretend I’m cool and in restaurants all the servers and the other people know of you is the groomed and polished version of yourself you present for the two hours you’re there, and I like to think that they’ve all given me the once-over “Wow, there’s a snazzy gal,” so I can dine comfortably without the sticky awkwardness that usually follows me around. But I want to tell you everything about the food. So the battle continues: Be cool and enjoy the food? Or dork out and photograph everything and then wax ecstatic on the Internet about duck confit and tarte flambée Alsacienne? Why am I pretending I’ve ever been able to pass for cool? Fine. Expect some blurry photos of French bistro fare tomorrow.

In the meantime, I am compelled to share with you a recipe for porcupine meatballs, because it rained several days this week during my gruelling ride home, and because when meatballs roll into my mind, it’s quite impossible to roll them back out without indulging. So on Wednesday night, damp and shivering, I arrived home to prepare myself a large pot of comfort food with little nutritional value.

Porcupine Meatballs

Meatballs:

  • 1 1/2 lbs. lean ground beef
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 1/2 cup uncooked long-grain or basmati rice
  • 1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs
  • 3 cloves finely minced garlic
  • 2 tsp. oil (I used bacon fat. You can too! Or butter? You can do whatever you like.)
  • 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. black pepper

Sauce:

  • 3 cups tomato sauce (I used canned crushed tomatoes because I like them best)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat that oven of yours to 350°F.

In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients for your meatballs. Once everything’s in the bowl, mash it all together using your hands. There is no better way to ensure that the mixture is combined thoroughly without overmixing and destroying the texture. If you’re squeamish, you could wear gloves, I guess. HANDS.

Mix the sauce ingredients together in a separate bowl. You don’t have to use your hands for that.

Form the mixture into balls about an inch and a half in diameter. Place the balls in an ungreased casserole dish (preferably one you can cover with a lid). When the bottom of the pan is covered in balls (hee hee), pour about a third of the sauce over top. Keep balling and saucing until the pan is full.

Cover, and bake for 45 minutes. When the buzzer goes, take the lid off and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes.

Hot meat in pot

If I were feeling kindly disposed to my housemate, I might have grated some cheese over top and slid it back into the oven for another few minutes. But my cheese grater is dirty. So I didn’t. Serve on rice.

porcupines!

Anyway, the time has come for me to tame my bangs, put on a dress, and go for French food. It has been too long in the coming!

Old-Fashioned White Bread from Sponge and Homemade Butter.

What were YOU doing at 1:00 this morning?

I was in my bathrobe, sitting on the kitchen floor and having big ideas. I couldn’t sleep. It was Sooin’s bachelorette party last night, and as I’ve been a tad under the weather and it was a forty-five-minute drive away, I decided to only go the dinner part, and to not drink. I drank about fifteen Diet Cokes, and then got home and tried to go to sleep. No luck – I was abuzz. Then I decided that I would make a bread sponge in anticipation of a luscious loaf of sourdough in the morning. But it doesn’t work that way. A sourdough starter takes three days, and if I was thinking clearly, I would have realized that sooner. So I made a regular bread sponge, because I made butter and don’t care to wait three days to eat it, and resolved to start a sponge for sourdough at 1:00 some other morning.

Sponge

SDC10245It’s a good idea to save a knob of your last batch of dough to add to your bread sponge. I keep a little ball of it wrapped in plastic in my freezer, so that it can be pulled out and dropped into a frothy batch of sponge and allowed to ferment and grow yeasty, yielding a richer, crustier, OMG-so-much-better loaf of bread. You don’t need much – a bit of dough about the size of a golf ball is plenty.

What is a bread sponge, you ask? Well. It’s very simple. It’s a portion of the ingredients you’re going to use to make your bread, just thrown into a bowl a few hours or a day or two in advance. Science happens in the bowl, and you end up with a loaf that’s soft and chewy on the inside, with a crusty exterior that just begs to be torn into with teeth. Also, because the yeast gets its little selves in there a bit earlier, the mix ferments a bit and develops a much better flavour. You can really just whisk everything together in a bowl and then go to bed. Eight to twelve hours later, you just put the rest of your ingredients together and proceed as usual.

Sponge:

  • 2 cups warmed milk
  • 1 teaspoon yeast
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 little dough ball

Whisk together the milk, yeast, and flour in a large bowl. If you have a ball of dough, defrost it quickly and drop it in as well. Cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel, and let sit at room temperature for 8 to 12 hours.

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When I woke up this morning it was sunny for the first time in a week, so I was super-impatient, so the sponge only got about eight hours to get good, but it still smelled yeasty and sour, like the perfect start to a homemade loaf. I started in immediately, because I wanted to go out to play.

Here’s the bread recipe. For the butter, go here. Follow her steps exactly. These two in combination will give you an earth-shattering foodgasm, and you’ll be all, “Thanks, Emily. I’ve always liked you.” No really. Make the butter. It won’t save you any money, but the taste (and gloating about how you made your own butter) will be totally worth it. I’ve got big plans to use it on a barbecued ear of corn tonight. BIG PLANS.

Another recipe for white bread, but this one’s different, okay?

  • bread sponge (see above)
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 3 tsp. yeast
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 2 tbsp. melted butter (plus extra for greasing your bowl and your loaf pans)
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • 4 cups flour, plus extra for kneading

Combine the yeast and the water. When yeast gets foamy, add it to your sponge. Add the sugar, butter, and salt as well, and stir to combine. Add your flour and stir until mixed, and then dump the lot onto a floured surface to begin kneading. As always, please knead for eight to ten minutes. If you have athletic, powerful arms, it may take less time – you want the dough to become elastic – but I have flabby “looks good in sweaters” arms, so I knead for the full amount of time. Muscles are for chumps, right?

Transfer your dough to a large bowl that has been buttered lightly on all sides. Do round things have sides? I guess if you don’t know, they might as well. Cover with plastic and a kitchen towel, and allow to rise in a warm room until doubled in bulk. About an hour, hour-and-a-half. You know the drill.

dough in bowl, risingOnce your dough is big and smells good, dump it out onto that floured surface again (add new flour), and cut it in half. Form the dough into two loaf-pan-sized rectangles. Place your dough into your pre-buttered loaf pans, cover again with plastic and a kitchen towel, and allow to rise again, about an hour/hour-and-a-half, until the dough has risen an inch or so above the tops of the pans.

dough in pans

Preheat the oven to 375°F. I brushed the tops of my loaves with some melted butter and sprinkled them both with Kosher salt, but this is optional. Put your loaves into your oven once it’s raring to go, and bake the loaves for 35 to 40 minutes.

Cool these on wire racks. I find that bread tastes better once it’s cooled and then reheated (toasted), because there’s a complexity of flavour that develops once the bread does it’s sciencey thing on the racks.

BREAD!I sure hope you made the butter.

Butter, homemadeButter your homemade bread with the homemade butter. Revel.

Homemade bread with homemade butter.I realize now that I promised Heather the key to easy spaghetti carbonara, and am now about a week late in following through. I don’t have any bacon at the moment, and I just made butter, so the next pasta I make will probably involve this butter and the beautiful leaves of sage that are flourishing on my deck, but that’s not to say it isn’t coming. Give me a week. Then I’ll tell you everything. I promise.

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

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

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

Sign

White house

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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