Hete Bliksem.

Dutch food is often comfort food, and as such, much of it is boiled to mush and then mashed and occasionally sugared in some way. Mush and sausages features heavily in the Dutch cookbooks I’ve acquired over the past year, and while that approach to cooking is not without its merits, there’s only so much mushy stuff I can pass off as dinner around here.

And so, Hete Bliksem. Typically, this dish is a mash of potatoes and apples with bacon or ham, and sometimes pears or onions, and it’s sometimes served with stroop, a kind of Dutch syrup. There are an infinite number of variations on this, from the very high end to the very simple. My variation falls somewhere in the middle, with an updated approach to the cooking so that the dish will stand alone as well as it would alongside a plate of sausages or roast meats.

It makes thrifty use of bacon fat and stuff you’ve probably already got in your fridge and pantry; I’d like to think the Dutch, or at least the less stubborn among them, would be pleased.

Hete Bliksem

(Makes four servings.)

  • 1/4 lb. bacon, finely chopped
  • 1 lb. crisp, sweet apples, such as Braeburn, Honeycrisp, or Ambrosia, cored and quartered, each quarter then halved again lengthwise, and then halved again cross-wise
  • 1 lb. new or nugget potatoes, scrubbed and cut into quarters
  • 1/2 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup apple cider or unsweetened apple juice
  • 2 tbsp. fancy molasses
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. grainy mustard
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped

Preheat your oven to 375°F.

In a 12-inch cast iron or other oven-transferable pan over medium high heat, cook bacon until it is very crispy and all the fat has rendered, about six minutes. Scoop the bacon from the pan and onto a plate lined with paper towel, and set aside.

You will need about three tablespoons of fat in the pan; if you don’t have another, add up to another tablespoon of fat, either bacon fat or olive oil. Add potatoes and apples to the pan, sprinkle with salt, and toss to coat.

Roast apple and potato mixture for 60 minutes, flipping midway through the cooking process.

About 10 minutes before these are done, add apple juice, molasses, allspice and pepper to a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until reduced by about half  – it should be about the consistency of maple syrup.

Add cider vinegar and mustard, and set aside.

Remove the potato and apple mixture from the oven. Sprinkle with thyme and reserved bacon, then pour apple juice reduction over top, stirring to coat. Serve in the pan, or spooned onto a serving plate, and garnish with chopped scallions.

Hunger Awareness Week: Potato cakes with salmon and kale.

While you might imagine that the food bank is all about canned and boxed non-perishable goods, the reality is that 40 per cent of the food donated is fresh and frozen produce.

In Canada, 80 per cent of food banks provide at least one service above and beyond hampers and meals. In some communities, this can mean gardening programs or community kitchens, where people learn to cook and preserve what they harvest. These programs are empowering and sustainable, and engage young people and communities in the food system. If you’re not able to get to a store and buy food to donate, consider donating cash.

Funds donated to Food Banks Canada go a long way. Food Banks Canada and provincial and regional food banks form partnerships with retailers, local businesses and farmers, and are able to stretch their dollar considerably; the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society reports that every dollar donated is actually worth three dollars, which supports not just community programs, but also the purchase fresh produce and protein sources when they are most needed.

Today’s recipe combines fresh, in-season produce with canned salmon (rich in brain-boosting DHA) for a hearty meal that works as well for breakfast as it does for dinner. This is something you can mix up ahead of time; it’s also easily adapted to the leftovers you have in your fridge. It uses kale, because kale grows like weeds and it’s hardy enough to live in your fridge for a few days while you use up other things.

Potato cakes with salmon and kale

(Makes 4 servings.)

  • 1 lb. red-skinned potatoes
  • 1 tbsp. canola or vegetable oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cups finely chopped fresh kale, stems discarded
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 7.5-oz. (213 mL) can salmon, drained
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. hot sauce, such as Sriracha or Tabasco
  • 1 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • Oil for frying

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

In a large pot of salted water, bring diced red potatoes to a boil (make sure to leave their skins on!) and cook until tender, about 10 minutes.

Heat one tablespoon of oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add onion, and cook until lightly browned, about two minutes. Add kale, and then garlic. Toss to coat kale in oil.

Drain the potatoes, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Pour reserved liquid into the pan with the kale, and cook, stirring frequently until water evaporates and kale has wilted, another minute or so.

Pour kale and potatoes into a large bowl. Mash, then set aside to cool enough to continue, about 15 minutes.

Add salmon in chunks, removing bones. Add mustard, hot sauce, salt and pepper. Add eggs. Mush the whole mixture together until thoroughly combined, then form into eight cakes.

Cakes!Working in batches, fry over medium-high heat, about two minutes per side. Place cooked cakes in a pie plate and keep warm in the oven until you’re ready to serve.

Serve cakes with boiled or steamed vegetables or a garden salad, and a glob of mustard for dipping.

Smoked fish cakes.

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I work at a health research institute where I regularly get access to some pretty brilliant people, and often my job is to translate their complicated science-speak into regular-person language. So I’m pretty lucky, as these are pretty high-profile scientists and because of the nature of my work, it’s often up to them to try and help me understand stuff. I tell myself that one day, one of them is going want to inquire about my expertise; until then, I’ll be figuring out just what that is.

One of the researchers I speak to studies human nutrition, specifically children and pregnant and nursing women. She is one of my favourite people to talk to, because she’s just so sensible. Did you know that feeding yourself and your family is nowhere near as complicated as so many articles, blog posts and news segments would have you believe? Just eat food. Choose variety, whenever possible. There no such thing as “super foods.” Fad diets are stupid and potentially harmful. Try to avoid really fatty and really sugary junk. No need to over-think it. Take a multi-vitamin if you think you need to. This is very empowering when you’re bombarded with so much misinformation and pseudo-science. It’s a huge relief when you’re always half-thinking the worst about your picky eater.

We were talking one day about some of her research around omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential fats (which means our bodies don’t make them – we have to get them elsewhere). Omega-3s are important for brain health. The North American diet is not always rich in omega-3s; good sources of omega-3s include anchovies, sardines, herring, and mackerel – things we don’t necessarily eat a lot of. It’s also in salmon, lake trout, and other fatty fish (including fresh tuna), but your best bets are small, oily fish. The good news is that adding more of these to your diet is easy, and they taste good, and they are a lot more sustainable. They’re also cheap.

Side note: Alton Brown lost something like 50 pounds eating his Sardine-Avocado Sandwiches. I’ve tried them – they are delicious – but I am still heavier than I’d like. I wish it was possible to just eat one magic thing that would counteract all the other things I eat with no additional exercise. Come on, science – get on it.

One thing we eat a lot of is fish cakes; it’s a dish that’ll feed the two of us for dinner and then breakfast or lunch the next day; you can also double your batch and freeze them. They reheat pretty well in one of those office-kitchen toaster ovens, though you may want to heat them on a piece of foil or the person who toasts her lunch after you will be a little off-put.

My recipe uses tinned smoked herring, but you can use any smoked fish you like. I just spent my morning smoking the rest of last year’s lake trout, so I’ll be subbing trout for herring for the next little while. Smoked salmon or cod make these pretty fancy; smoked sardines and mackerel work pretty well too.

Smoked Fish Cakes

(Serves 2 to 4 people.)

  • 4 cups mashed potatoes* (approximately two large or three medium Russets)
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tsp. grainy mustard
  • 1 tsp. sambal oelek or other hot sauce
  • 1 180g to 190g tin of smoked fish (drained), or about a cup of chunked smoked fish
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Oil, for frying

*You can use leftover mashed potatoes to make this even easier. Or, if you’re making them fresh, let them cool until you can handle them comfortably with your bare hands.

Put your potatoes, scallions, and garlic into a bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk together your eggs, mustard, sambal/other hot sauce, and a dash each of salt and pepper.

Crumble your fish into the bowl with the potatoes, give them a bit of a mush, then pour the egg mixture over top and mix thoroughly.

Form into six or eight cakes, about three inches in diameter and about an inch thick.

Fry each batch in a pan with about two tablespoons of a neutral oil, such as canola. You will want the pan to be hot when you put these in, so they form a nice crust; they should sizzle when they hit the pan. Cook for about two minutes per side.

Serve with ketchup, more hot sauce, or fancy mustard.

fish cakes

Potato salad.

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It’s officially summer here in Vancouver, and all I wanna do is eat cold food outside on a hot day. I’m looking forward to a pretty much endless feast of watermelon and pink wine from now until October, and I will not be deterred.

Now is not the time for dainty salads or leafy greens.

Now is the time for cold potatoes and mayonnaise and hard boiled eggs and pickles and all those radishes that just exploded in the garden. Potato salad. You can make it ahead, stick it in a container, and tote it to the beach and it never wilts or weeps or sucks to eat. Potato salad is one of the greatest culinary inventions of our time, because it is simultaneously a salad and a vegetable side dish, and nobody dislikes it, and it’s got pickles in it.

Who doesn’t want a hot dog and some potato salad? Nobody, that’s who.

This is a pretty straightforward potato salad, the version my mom and everyone else’s mom and grandma makes. It makes a big bowl, enough to serve eight or so as a side dish, and it’s even better the second day. Make sure you make it while the potatoes are still a bit warm; there is a lot of sauce, and when the potatoes are warm they suck the dressing into them as they cool.

I make this with homemade mayonnaise because I’m too cheap to buy it in a jar considering how much we go through, so if you’re using store-bought mayo you may find you need to adjust the salt or acidity a bit to taste; keep in mind though that the dressing should be a bit saltier and a bit more acidic than you’d normally prefer as those flavours will tone down once the dressing is on the salad and it’s served cold. Please, please do not use Miracle Whip for this. I will know somehow that you’ve done it and feel really sad.

Potato Salad

  • 3 lb. white or red waxy potatoes (not Russets), cubed and boiled until tender and cooled slightly
  • 6 scallions, white and light green part only, sliced
  • 4 to 6 radishes, sliced
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped dill pickles
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 tbsp. dill pickle brine
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. yellow curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • Salt, to taste
  • Fresh dill, chopped

In a large bowl, combine potatoes, scallions, radishes, celery, eggs, and pickle bits. Set aside.

In another bowl, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, pickle brine, lemon juice and zest, mustard, sugar, curry powder, paprika, pepper, cayenne pepper, and dill. Whisk together. Taste, adjusting salt and acidity as needed.

Pour the dressing over the potato mixture and toss to coat. I use my hands to gently mix the dressing into the potatoes – you should too. Clean hands are the best kitchen tool there is.

Top with a sprinkle of additional dill, and some more radishes and green onion, if desired. Chill, and serve cold.

Something to Read: India, Ireland

sleeping

For some of us, it’s been a rough week. On Thursday, the little nugget started running warm and flu-like, and by Friday’s earliest hours, he was in full-blown fever mode, seizing and feverish and feeling pretty awful. We spent Saturday trying to convince his little belly to keep fluids down, and only now is Toddler back to normal.

We also had one particular hour-long Thomas (the really annoying train) movie going pretty much on repeat, which occupied my computer for most of those three days; we’ve now memorized a whole bunch of really annoying songs about hard work and helping out so we also didn’t get anything done.

So, with today, I’m now three books behind. Maybe goals are for people with free time? Maybe I’d be better to set small, reasonable goals, like “I will fold the laundry after taking it out of the dryer” or “I will open all the mail, even the scary envelopes?” Maybe I should get on with it and tell you about the books.

Let’s get international.

30days

The first book is one that I wanted desperately but that was kind of expensive so I had to wait and wait and wait and insist repeatedly that it would be a valuable resource and the best Christmas present ever. I just shouted down the hall at Nick to ask which occasion the book was and he said “It was definitely Christmas because it was too expensive – I wouldn’t spend that much on your birthday” which I guess means we’ve left the honeymoon phase.

I feel like all my books are either “kind of expensive but worth it” or “super cheap and amazing.” Anyway.

India

India Cookbook, by Pushpesh Pant, an Indian food writer and critic, is 815 pages and 1000 recipes, and “the definitive collection of recipes from all over India.” I cherish it the way other people cherish heirlooms or members of their extended family. This book is serious, and detailed, and gorgeous, and according the the cover, “the only book on Indian food you’ll ever need.” On this, I concur.

The book is thorough, and many of the recipes are long and involved, but the results have always been delicious and well worth the time and effort. There are recipes for spice mixtures and pastes, which you can make in large batches and use whenever you need them – this has been quite handy, though I’ll admit I’m moving into bigger and bigger Mason jars for storage and my cupboards are starting to look a little ridiculous.

Every recipe includes the Indian name of the dish, the English translation, the region of the recipe’s origin, and preparation and cooking time, and the number of servings, either in pieces or weight. The instructions are very detailed, and if, perhaps, you don’t have a coal fire over which to roast your lotus root, for example, alternative steps are included.

There are dishes from all over India, so there’s so much more than just the most popular stuff on the take-away menu. One thing I love about this book is that anytime I have a bunch of a vegetable I’m bored with just killing its last days in my crisper, I’ll refer to this book and find something new and exciting to do with cabbage or cauliflower or chickpeas (every vegetable, it seems, is given its place in the sun). India’s seemingly endless number of vegetarian dishes means that this book is a fabulous addition to the herbivore’s kitchen; often, the recipes also happen to be vegan-friendly, no adaptations necessary.

If you like Indian food, and want to learn more about it (and there is so much to learn), India Cookbook is worth the investment (it’s about $50 if you buy it online).

As it would otherwise be simply impossible to choose which recipe to share, I’ll give you the last one I made.

Parathas are dough patties stuffed with delicious stuff, which is essential to every culture’s cuisine, it seems. They are like pupusas, kind of – that’s my first point of comparison, so hopefully that makes sense to you. Basically, they are the best and you can make a ton of them and freeze them and then take them to work in your lunch bag and all your coworkers will be so jealous.

I simmered the potatoes for this recipe in coconut milk, because I wanted to slip some potatoes into Toddler and coconut milk is a sure-thing with him. You don’t have to do that – the recipe is perfect as it is.

Aloo ka Paratha

(Shallow-fried spicy potato stuffed bread; makes 4 or 5.)

Origin: Punjab/Delhi/Awadh
Preparation time: 1 hour
Cooking time: 30 minutes

  • 4 cups plus 3 tablespoons whole wheat flour, plus extra for dusting
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3/4 cup ghee (if you don’t have ghee, clarified butter will work but it’s not the same; vegetable oil will work in a pinch)

Filling:

  • 2 medium potatoes (9 oz.), unpeeled
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped ginger
  • 6 green chilies, de-seeded and chopped
  • 1 large spring cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dried pomegranate seeds (I didn’t have these; I used 2 teaspoons of amchoor powder; a squish of lemon will do in a pinch)
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • Salt

Boil the potatoes whole for 20 minutes, or until soft. Drain, then cool. Peel off the skins, return the flesh to the pan, and then mash. Move the potatoes to a bowl, then add the ginger, chilies, coriander, pomegranate seeds, and chili powder. Mix, taste, season with salt, and then set aside.

Sift the flour and salt into another bowl. Mix in enough warm water to make a soft dough, about one and a half to two cups.

Knead the dough for about five minutes, then divide the dough into 8 to 10 equal portions and roll it into balls. Using a rolling pin (on a floured surface), flatten each ball to a disk about six inches in diameter.

Spread about a quarter (or a fifth, if you’re working with ten rounds) of the mixture on one disk, then top with the other and seal around the sides. Roll gently with a rolling pin until the rounds are sealed and have spread out to about seven inches in diameter.

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. Place a paratha in the pan, cook for 20 seconds, then turn over and cook for an additional 20 seconds. Repeat with each paratha.

Add the ghee to the pan, then fry each paratha until golden brown on both sides. Serve with mango pickle and yogurt. I also like them with ketchup, but I am ashamed of this.


The next book I want to tell you about is one that fits into the “super cheap and amazing” category, but was also the result of being in the right place at the right time.

The place was a bookstore that was closing; the time was just before the book won a James Beard award (Best International Cookbook, 2010) and came out with a new cover. The book is The Country Cooking of Ireland, and it’s by Colman Andrews, one of the guys who founded Saveur Magazine.

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Most people probably don’t think of Ireland as being a great place to grab something to eat, but in fact Ireland is basically a nation of comfort food and good beer. It’s full of good farmland and, since it’s an island, it’s in close proximity to all the best fish and shellfish. It’s not just potatoes, though they are well-represented among the 225 recipes contained in the book (which I don’t think is a bad thing – potatoes are the best, obviously). Among the recipes are stories of Ireland – the history, the people, the cookbooks; it’s as informative as it is lovely, with pictures that make you gaze out your own window and sigh, longingly.

I’ve made quite a few of the recipes in the book, for everything from Irish Stew to Donegal Pie, a cheap and easy dish made of potatoes, chives, hard-boiled eggs, bacon and shortcrust pastry. The food is hearty and warming, and makes sensible and interesting use of affordable ingredients.

One of the recipes I am fond of is the Battered Sausages, which, according to the book (and my stomach) are “admittedly dietarily excessive and nutritionally incorrect.” I’m trying to understand how that’s not a selling feature.

“A staple at gas-station food counters all over Ireland, battered sausages are usually grim and greasy. If made correctly though, they can be a real treat.”

Battered Sausages

(Serves 4.)

  • 2 packets active dry yeast
  • 1 1/4 cups stout, preferably Guinness
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • Oil, for frying
  • 12 small breakfast sausages (not the maple kind)

Whisk together the yeast and the beer. In another bowl, sift together 2 1/4 cups of the flour and the salt. Stir the yeast mixture into the flour mixture, mixing well. Let stand at room temperature for an hour.

Heat about six inches of oil in a heavy-bottomed pot, such as a cast-iron or enameled cast-iron Dutch oven. Heat to 350°F.

Toss the sausages with the remaining flour, then dip into the batter. Deep-fry the sausages, a few at a time, for about eight minutes each. Drain the sausages on a wire rack over a pie plate until you’re finished frying; serve hot. Then take a nap.

Something to Read: Steingarten Double-Header

30days

My plan was to write every single day in April, but yesterday I came up short. It was Birthday Eve, and I just sort of melted into the couch with a bowl of pho and season four of Parks & Rec. It had been a long week; my boss has been away, so I’ve been using this bit of down-time to cross a million little things off my to-do list. I have been sweatily productive, even on painkillers. It wears a person out, you know?

So, anyway, though I had every intention of remaining committed to this arbitrary goal I’ve set for myself, I vegged out instead and am probably better for it.

Fortunately, I have two books to tell you about today! Two books I read in one weekend, back when I had no small person demanding a lot of my time and attention. I read the first book (The Man Who Ate Everything), and liked it so much I went out and bought the sequel (It Must’ve Been Something I Ate) and finished it the next day.

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Jeffrey Steingarten, the author of both, is a writer and a curmudgeon. He has been a columnist for Vogue since 1989, and frequently appears as a judge on Iron Chef. He is obsessive, and so funny that even years after I first read the books, when I flip through them again I find myself in tears, laughing until I can barely breathe.

From The Man Who Ate Everything:

“For weeks I had been preoccupied with horses. Every time I saw a horse dragging tourists across the snow in Central Park, or standing under a policeman on the cobblestones of SoHo, I began to salivate. In truth, it was the fat of the horses, the fat around their kidneys, that excited me.” (Page 401.)

“Someday soon, I was sure, I would cook my own French fries in the fat of a horse. When and how this would be accomplished were questions that made the future seem alive with prospects and possibilities.” (Page 402.)

From It Must’ve Been Something I Ate:

“As soon as I arrive at the Chinos’, a 20-minute drive north of San Diego plus ten minutes to the east, I nearly always enter their farm stand through a door on the left, say hello to everybody on duty, and start eating. First I eat half a basket of the best strawberries in America, the smallish, irregular, incredibly sweet and perfumed Mara des bois, developed in France with a heady foretaste of the European wild strawberry. Nobody has them but the Chinos. Then I eat half a basket of the other best strawberries in America, the tiny conical Alpine variety, in your choice of red or white, hard to distinguish in aroma from the French fraises des bois. Also only at the Chinos’. As long as I pretend to take notes, nobody gawks at my behaviour.” (Page 206.)

Each chapter is its own essay, and each is darkly humourous and self-deprecating and rich with the kind of in-depth information you can only get from someone truly committed to unraveling the science and mystery of a particular dish. You get the history, you get the chemistry, you get the details of Steingarten’s step-by-step process of achieving whatever culinary goal he’s set out to achieve (and eat). The prose is spectacular, and the recipes work. In my mind, there is no other potato gratin recipe than Steingarten’s Gratin Dauphinois, from It Must’ve Been Something I Ate.

Gratin Dauphinoise

  • 1/2 cup of butter
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 large garlic clove, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp. white pepper
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 lbs thinly-sliced potatoes (use a mandolin if you have one; if not, cut 1/8″ slices by hand)
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Using a good dollop of the butter, grease the inside of a 9″x13″ baking dish on all sides. If you have an enamelled cast iron baking dish (I don’t), that’s ideal; if not, glass or ceramic will do. Preheat oven to 425°F.

In a pan on your stove, bring the milk, salt, pepper, garlic clove, and nutmeg to a boil. Remove from heat and turn off the element.

Line your pan with potatoes. You will overlap each slice of potato a third of the way down each slice that comes before it. When you complete the first layer of potatoes, follow a similar process with the second row, this time overlapping entire rows a third of the way over the first row. Repeat with subsequent rows until potatoes are neatly layered. If none of that made sense and you’re sitting here thinking “uh, what?” then just layer the potatoes neatly and do your best. Steingarten’s instructions are detailed, but I am comfortable half-assing these things.

Put your pot of milk and spices back on the stove – bring it to a boil once more. When it’s come to a boil, pull the clove of garlic out, and pour the mixture over the potatoes. Bake, covered with a lid or aluminum foil, for 15 minutes.

Bring the cream to a boil. Remove from heat, and turn off element.

When the potatoes come out of the oven, bring the cream to a boil once again. Pour the boiled cream over the potatoes, and dot the whole thing on the top with the remaining butter.

Bake, uncovered, for 20-25 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

I did promise a second recipe! I was tempted to phone it in and just re-share the Choucroute garnie à l’Alsacienne I posted here now several years ago …  but I did miss writing yesterday and really ought to do better. So, here’s a pretty excellent recipe for Bagna Caôda, a hot dip you should make right now and eat with a lot of bread and raw white mushrooms. It’s from The Man Who Ate Everything, page 266. It calls for Barolo, which is expensive; use a decent Shiraz. I like the Cono Sur Shiraz which costs $10. (I’m too poor to cook with really good wine.)

Cesare’s Favorite Bagna Caôda

  • 1 cup Barolo (or Shiraz)
  • 1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled and sliced
  • 1 1/2 oz. (8 to 10) anchovy fillets
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tbsp. butter

In a small saucepan, bring the wine to a boil over medium high heat. Add garlic, reduce heat to medium, and simmer for two minutes. Add anchovies and olive oil, and simmer for another two minutes. Add butter, and reduce heat to medium low, simmering gently for about 45 minutes, or until the anchovies dissolve.

If you are making this in advance, don’t refrigerate it. Just reheat when you’re ready. Serve as a dip for raw vegetables. Don’t mind your breath.

Cottage pie.

The makings.

A shepherd’s pie is supposed to be filled with lamb, which makes sense, but we’re working on a freezer full of meat Nick hunted and for probably legal reasons, he didn’t hunt a single sheep. So, let’s call this cottage pie, because I think that’s what you call a dish of meat topped with potatoes when the meat isn’t lamb. Here it’s filled with moose or venison, depending on what’s at the top of the pile in the deep freeze.

We are eating a lot of comfort food these days, as the weather has called for it and our lungs and noses have suggested it might be time for cold season and there are Christmas trees in store windows now. I don’t know where most of my days go, but the seasons are short and the years are passing so much more quickly than they used to. So occasionally, on evening I don’t have any plans, I’ll invite a friend or two over, and we’ll share a semi-responsible bit of wine and listen to whatever playlist I’m currently obsessing over and eat big plates of something hearty. Comfort food for comfortable evenings. The stuff elastic waistbands were invented for.

Before and after.

Pro tip: If you measure out the wine before you start cooking, you will be sure to have enough for both you and the recipe.

Also, I cannot emphasize enough how much you need a food mill. Ask for one for Christmas! It is the best tool for perfectly fluffy, lump-free mashed potatoes; I used one for the potato and rutabaga topping and there was nary a lump to be found in my mash. They also stir and spread more nicely if they’ve been milled. I am not tall enough to food-mill on my counter, so I sit on the floor to do it.

Sitting on the floor, milling some turnips and potatoes.

Cottage Pie

(Serves 8)

Topping:

  • 4 lbs. starchy potatoes such as Russets, peeled and diced
  • 2 lb. rutabaga, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • Salt to taste

Filling:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 lbs. lean ground beef
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups dry red wine
  • 2 1/2 cups beef stock
  • 2 cups frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt to taste

Preheat your oven to 375°. Lightly grease a 9″x13″ baking dish.

Put cubed potatoes and rutabaga into a large pot of salted water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Once it’s boiling, drop the heat to medium-high and continue to cook.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add onion, celery and carrots, and cook for two to three minutes, until the veggies have brightened in colour. Add garlic, cook another minute, then add your meat, breaking it into pieces with your hands as you drop it into the pan. Stir, cooking until meat has browned. Add rosemary, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, and pepper. Stir. Add flour, and stir again until all the white disappears into the mix. Add wine, scraping the bottom of the pan with your spoon, and cook another minute or two. Add stock, and simmer until the sauce has thickened and reduced just slightly. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed. Add peas and parsley. Stir. Remove from heat.

Pour your meat mixture into your prepared 9″x13″ baking dish.

Once your potatoes and turnips are cooked – they should pierce easily with a knife once they are done – then drain. Put pack into the pot and mash, or process them in your food mill. Add butter, stir to combine, then add eggs. Stir quickly. Taste, adjusting seasonings to your taste.

Dollop the potato mixture over the meat. Spread to coat the pan evenly, ensuring your potato mix reaches the edges whenever possible. Drag a fork over the topping.

Bake for about 25 minutes, until golden and the meat bubbles around the sides. Serve with salad, red wine, and country bread.

Cottage pie.