Overnight pancakes.

MESS.

For the past two weeks, this household has been in the sick of things, each of us weighed down by an assortment of pains and ailments, from migraines and colds to flus and sinus infections. I wish I could say that I have taken charge of our healing by simmering wholesome and restorative meals rich in love and nutrients. That would have been nice of me.

Last Wednesday the sick was so bad I skipped lunch and napped under my desk for an hour. The next day I took a sick day, and by the weekend I was sure I was going to die. I begged Nick to smother me, and when he wouldn’t I chastised him for not taking advantage of the out I had offered him. I tried to smother myself but the cat thought we were playing a game and ruined it.

By Monday this past week I was certain I had cracked some teeth coughing, so I made a dental appointment. The good news is the teeth are fine; the bad news is my sinuses are pretty angry and infected. The worst news is that my wisdom teeth are pretty much one with my skull now but they have to be removed so it sounds like it’s bone-saw time. That’s the worst time!

2013 has not been off to a good start. And now that I have managed to attain a functional balance of NyQuil, antibiotics and codeine, the baby has finally succumbed and is fevered with a face full of ick.

It’s times like these when I can’t fathom coming down off my prescription and cough syrup high to go to the grocery store. We are out of eggs. And we had a late night. So somewhere between rescuing the little guy from a coughing fit and the two of us passing out in the dark, I whisked together some flour, water, yeast, honey and salt for pancake batter. If all three of us woke up in the morning, we would have pancakes. It would be a kind of reward.

Nighttime batter

 

Morning batter

This recipe makes 6 pancakes, and will serve between two and three people, depending on how hungry you are, or how much bacon your version of Nick decided to make. I like these topped with berries, or with chestnut cream. Because they are more like fried bread than flapjacks, you could take savoury liberties with them – try them with sour cream and apple sauce, or with cottage cheese and thinly sliced scallions, if that pleases you.

As a note – the berries on these were a mix of a pound of frozen strawberries, a tablespoon of cornstarch, a tablespoon of honey, and half a teaspoon of vanilla, simmered until the berries softened and released their juices and the whole thing thickened pleasingly.

Pretty pancakes.

Lazy pancakes

  • 1/2 tsp. dry yeast
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. honey
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 tbsp. vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 tbsp. butter

Whisk ingredients together in a bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and stick it in the fridge overnight.

30 minutes to an hour before you’re ready to cook, take the bowl out of the fridge and let it rest at room temperature. Heat the oil and butter in a large pan over medium-high heat.

Gently spoon your pancakes into the pan, taking care not to stir the batter. Cook until edges appear crispy and bubbles form through each cake, about two minutes. Flip, and cook an additional two minutes, or until golden and puffed.

Serve hot, with a compote of berries, or maple syrup, or sour cream and apple sauce.

Fluffy!

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Sugar sandwiches.

If you read a lot of parenting blogs or websites (and oh, for the love of all the things please don’t), one of the myths you might encounter is the one about how if you do everything right, in your fourth month post-partum the pounds will literally melt off of you and you will suddenly weigh what you did in high school. It’s almost month five, and I did everything according to the literature but noticed this morning that my top is more muffin-like than it ought to be and my chins are more numerous than I remember. So you know what? Screw it. Sugar sandwiches.

By this point it’s well established that most of my happiest memories involve food, so it makes sense that some of my earliest recollections of my grandparents involve treats. My Dad’s mother died when I was very young and I don’t recall very much about her but I do remember sitting at her kitchen table, and the way my skin felt beneath my thin cotton undershirt against the cold vinyl of her kitchen chair, and the way my spoon scritched on the bottom of my bowl of Rice Krispies. I remember scraping brown sugar off the bottom of the bowl, my spoon holding more sugar than cereal, and how much better these Rice Krispies tasted than any I had eaten before.

More than 25 years later there is no more unhealthy breakfast cereal for me than puffed rice, because I can’t have it without adding too many heaping tablespoons of brown sugar – there is more sugar in my Rice Krispies than in five bowls of anyone else’s Cap’n Crunch. There can be no breakfast cereal in my cupboards.

My Mom’s Dad had as much to teach me. His penchant for sweets remains unrivaled by anyone I’ve ever met. Around my grandparents’ house there were always dozens of boxes of chocolate, some stashed in his usual spots – the kitchen, the living room, other parts of the living room, every container or drawer on his side of the bedroom – and some stored in the freezer for when his reserves ran low. At the end of every visit he would send me home with a sandwich bag full of the better flavours – hedgehogs, caramels, and never the gross orange cremes.

It was watching my grandfather that I learned about sugar sandwiches.

To make a sugar sandwich, you need good whole-grain bread (the whole-grainier, the better), non-fancy peanut butter, and brown sugar. After admitting on Twitter that I really don’t like natural peanut butter, I was comforted to discover that most people have strong feelings about, or at least have considered, what makes good peanut butter, and most of the time one remains loyal to the peanut butter of her childhood. And while natural peanut butter makes a good ingredient in other things, in sugar sandwiches we do not mess around. Use the kind of peanut butter you are faithful to.

You must smear a tasty amount of peanut butter evenly upon one entire side of each of two pieces of bread. Then add the sugar to one of the pieces of bread, spreading evenly over the peanut butter, even to the edges of the slice. How much sugar you use depends on you, but I have the kind of weak character that compels me to unapologetically don footed pajamas for company, so I use a little more than a rounded tablespoon.

At that point, you can slap your bread together and shove the whole thing in your mouth, or you can get a little bit fancy. You can add a few flecks of fleur de sel which will make your sandwich quite lovely if your peanut butter isn’t salty. You can jump back in time and toast each slice before peanut-buttering them up. You can shove the whole deal in a panini press, or you can put the sandwich under the broiler. I like the last option, because the effect of a crunchy exterior giving way to a soft interior is a sensation I enjoy. Warm, a sugar sandwich tastes very similar to fresh peanut butter cookies but it only takes two minutes to make.

Eat your sugar sandwich on the couch, with your feet jammed between the cushions and your legs covered by a blanket. You may want to have a book handy. A glass of milk or a cup of tea will complement the sandwich nicely. Linger long over your snack, drink, and book, and then indulge in a nap afterward. Calorie-counters and diabetics will take issue with this luxury, but the important thing is that Grandpa would heartily approve.

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.


Roasted tomato pizza.

We’re getting to the best time of the year now. The tomatoes that were so bright and lovely a few weeks ago are now mottled and sweet, and they beg to be roasted low and slow or stewed down for sauces, and since the air outside has cooled a bit I have no reason not to but oblige them. On Alana’s advice, I roasted a whole bunch of field tomatoes last week and stuck them in the freezer, but I still had a few romas, a hankering for bread and cheese, and a resurgence of old lady disease in my limbs, hands, back, and left big toe that made me not want to put in a lot of labour.

This post is mostly pictures, because I made my focaccia bread for the crust (all the ingredients up to the flour, plus salt – the recipe will make two pizzas if you’d prefer not to make one gigantic one), made pesto for the sauce, and roasted tomatoes for hours and hours to put on top. And then cheese. It’s also short because we made a trip to the garden … let’s just say this is a two-post night. (I know. I’m excited too.)

The aroma in the apartment was amazing, and a valid argument for always working from home. Tomatoes develop a sweeter taste as they roast down, but they smell almost meaty, with a lusty musk that is distinctive to this exact moment in the tomato season. Capture it while you can.

You can see how the light changed as the hours past while the pizza slowly came together. The focaccia crust isn’t the sort of thing you’d make on a weeknight ordinarily, but if you’re in no rush it’s perfect for homemade pizza.

There’s a lot to be said for homemade pizza, whether you dawdle over homemade, buy the dough from your favourite take-away place, or just get frozen dough from the grocery store. The advantage to using dough over a premade crust (other than not having to eat something that pretty much tastes like cardboard and has weird speckles of what you kind of recognize as “cheese” all over the thing) is that you get the smell of baking bread, which is the best thing about pizza, aside from all the cheese. Use whatever cheese you like, but (and this will seem completely out of character) I prefer low-fat mozzarella, because it’s stringier and I like my pizza cheese stringy.

The other thing about making your own pizza is that you get to put whatever you like on it, and you don’t have to feel crushing disappointment when Domino’s puts green peppers on anyway even after you told them how much you hate them. So, you get the satisfaction of the smell of bread baking, as much cheese as you want, whatever toppings you want, and nobody cries because there are green peppers.

And if tomatoes aren’t your thing, you should try this in October with butternut squash, rosemary, roasted garlic, and Gruyere. Holy crap, it will change your life. Try it and get back to me.

Cinnamon breakfast bread.

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

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

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

Cinnamon breakfast bread

Bread:

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

Filling:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bake at 375°F for 20 to 25 minutes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bread Soup

(Serves 8 to 10.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicken and spinach calzones.

We make and eat a lot of pizza around here – it’s my go-to meal when a bunch of people show up and are hungry. Last summer I discovered my new favourite easy crust, and there’s been no going back – I make it all the time. I change it from time to time – whole wheat flour, a little bit of buckwheat flour every so often, or spelt even. I let it rise a little for a thicker pizza, which is how I like it, or roll it out flat for a thinner crust. Or, sometimes, I add a little bit of semolina flour, give it 30 minutes in a warm kitchen, cut it into eight pieces, roll each piece out until it’s barely as thin as a pie crust, and stuff it with sauce and cheese.

Calzones are a treat, and they’re awesome for lunches at work or school – they’re pizza pops, but with none of that chemical stuff that’ll probably kill you. Cheese, a little sauce, some veggies and meat if you want – and you can stick them in the freezer and reheat them as you need them, in the microwave or toaster oven, whatever you’ve got. And if you’re using an easy crust, they’re the kind of thing you can serve on a weeknight, or even to company, with a little bit of salad and not much else.

If you use leftover chicken, even better! Less effort, so you have more time for drinking beer and inhaling the smell of baking pizza. Which is infinitely better than ordering delivery, even though delivery is easier. Some things are just worth a little bit more time, and people will like you more if you serve them calzones over take out schlock. Some of us need all the help we can get in that regard.

Chicken and spinach calzones

(Makes 8.)

Dough (inspired by a recipe from everybody likes sandwiches):

  • 1 package yeast (or 2 1/4 tsp.)
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup semolina flour (if you don’t have this, it’s not crucial; just use regular flour, or sub whole-wheat, if you want)
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. salt

Filling

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cups shredded cooked chicken
  • 2 cups packed fresh spinach, roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • Salt, to taste
  • 2 cups grated mozzarella cheese

In a large bowl, combine yeast, honey, and water, and let stand until foamy, about five minutes. Add flour, semolina flour, oil, and salt and stir to combine. Turn out onto a floured surface, knead ten times, and then place in a greased bowl and cover with greased plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm place for 30 to 40 minutes.

Use semolina if you can, because it’s extra nice in this kind of crust. It’s a coarser flour, and it produces an excellent crispiness that you’ll want in your calzones. Regular old all-purpose will work fine if that’s what you’ve got, but semolina is a nice touch. A little goes a long way too – spend the two dollars, and you’ll have a bag that will last you a long time, and you can add it to homemade pastas and breads and all kinds of things.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat onions in olive oil until shimmering. Add garlic, stir and saute for another minute, and then add crushed tomatoes. Reduce heat to medium, then add chicken, spinach, lemon zest, garlic, and basil. Taste, adjust salt as needed, and set aside.

Cut dough into four equal pieces, and then cut each piece in half. Roll each piece out until it is no more than 1/8-inch thick – it should be as round as possible, about the size of a small plate.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Spoon filling onto dough, dividing the amount as equally as possible between all eight rounds. Place the filling slightly above the centre of the dough, so that when you fold the short side of the dough over top of the filling, you still have an inch or so of dough on the other side. Place 1/4-cup of cheese on top of each scoop of filling, and fold dough over.

Press dough down gently to seal, and then fold the remaining dough over the crease to seal. You’ll end up with a sort of scalloped pattern, as you fold each bit of dough over the last. (See below.)

Place gently on a baking sheet lined with parchment or sprinkled with cornmeal. I bake these four to a sheet, with at least an inch between them, as they’ll puff up a bit and get bigger.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve hot.

If you’re not going to serve them all right away, you can cool the rest on a wire rack, and then wrap up and freeze. Reheat as needed.