Bribe Santa and warm your little bones with Mexican hot chocolate.

There was fog this morning, and I almost thought it was snowing. It was dense in parts, but clear in others, and maybe it wasn’t fog as much as it was the fluff of a low-slung cloud, but for the whole rest of the day I felt a chill in my bones. Especially the little ones in my feet, to where the heat of the office never seems to creep.

Tonight was the first night in a long stretch of nights where there wasn’t talk of holiday logistics, empty bank accounts, frustrating jobs, or family pressure. No leaving the apartment, nothing frantic. This evening, with a stack of toys and two rolls of paper to bring together, I ate this for dinner, and there was frothy chocolate and I felt warmth and cheer, as far down as the tiniest bones in the tips of my toes.

Please make this right now.

Mexican hot chocolate

For each big mug of hot chocolate, you will need:

  • 2 oz. dark chocolate (70% cocoa), chopped
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. Mexican chili powder (or to taste)
  • 1.5 oz. Kahlua (or coffee liqueur)

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt dark chocolate into the milk, whisking as you do so that the chocolate doesn’t burn on the bottom of the pan. Once the chocolate is melted, stir in the vanilla, cinnamon, and chile powder, then whisk continuously until the mixture comes to just a boil. It’s got to be frothy, with a dense layer of bubbles on top.

Measure Kahlua into your mug, and then pour the hot chocolate mixture in. Stir to combine, and then drink right away. You can top it with whipped cream or marshmallows if you like, or on its own, with a side of sugar cookies for dunking.

This is rich stuff, and can work all on its own as dessert. It’s sweet, but not too sweet, and layered with spicy, robust flavours – dark chocolate, coffee, vanilla, and spice. It’s robust. It’s infinitely better than any seasonal hot chocolate that you’ll find at Starbucks or its ilk. And it goes well with the smell of wrapping paper, cookies, and tree.

Three more sleeps (that’s it!) and Santa’ll be here! I’ll bet if you leave a mug of this out for him, he’ll leave you something equally special. It’s caffeinated, so if you make yourself a mug too, maybe you’ll even stay up late enough to greet him?

Happy holidays!

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When it’s rainy and windy and there are boxes everywhere and if you live in Vancouver, go to The Three Lions Café.

It was Nick’s birthday, and we are in the throes of moving. I got him this. There are boxes everywhere, and I am not buying much in the way of groceries until we get to our new place. So for Nick’s birthday, we went to that most glorious of gastropubs, The Three Lions Café. It is a place where we are regulars, and where I always leave utterly satisfied, completely at peace, mumbling adverbs and rubbing my belly. The beer list is eclectic and always delightful, and the waitresses are personable and funny and always recommend something I’ll like. Kayla is my favourite, although she wasn’t there Wednesday night. There are at least two bartenders that I am aware of, and both are extra attractive, but not in that aloof, self-important Vancouver way that actually isn’t very attractive at all. Everyone is really, really nice.

And the food.

The food.

They’ve switched over to a fall menu, with sumptuous game meats, rich curries and stews, and warm, bright tastes in addition to their regular menu items, which are classics no matter where you’re from. We usually order fish and chips, or bangers and mash. But this time, I ordered the rabbit.

The rabbit ragoût. Though they called it ragu, which is also acceptable.

That was some tasty Thumper.

It was perfection. Delicately spiced, though bursting with black pepper and earthiness – those mushrooms. The bartender, who was also our waiter, Victor, recommended it and he was absolutely right. Just look at it.

The photo doesn’t do it justice, but I don’t believe that there’s a camera out there that would. The spinach – so creamy. The capers – so crispy. And I would quit my job and leave my husband for those mushrooms. We would run away together and be so happy.

Sometimes a meal is so good it’s just worth sharing, and I wanted to share it with you.

Even if there wasn’t a bite left over for anyone to try.

If you’re in Vancouver, check out The Three Lions. You will certainly love it like I love it, I’m sure of it. But don’t go too often – I would cry if I ever had to wait in line. It’s that kind of delicious. And, the way I think about it, it’s mine.

The Three Lions Café | 1 East Broadway | Vancouver, BC V5T 1V4 | (604) 569-2233

And now for something completely different. Also? Pork Wellington.

Okay. So. I had an idea today, and bear with me, because this is the first time I’ve ever done this and also I was drunk. Which sounds like an excuse for crime or being in porn. No one’s ever invited me to participate in either.

And I now hate my own cartoonish square face. And my voice.

I taped myself assembling a pork wellington inspired by Laura Calder and something similar she made with beef. I think I also saw Alton Brown make something similar once. Also, the only time I’ve ever been on rolling film I’ve been inebriated, which obviously means I was awesome it wasn’t – and continues to not be – my fault. For whatever. Excuses. Excuses. Excuses.

Anyway, if you hate my face or if my awkwardness makes you horribly uncomfortable or if you can’t hear a word of what I said in the video, let me know, and I’ll either do better next time or hang my head in shame and never cook again.

The recipe and instructions are after the video, just in case.

(I have to preemptively apologize for everything in case you think I take myself seriously, and thus think I’m some sort of douchebag. Neither is the case, I promise. Unless you think I’m a douchebag for using “thus” in a sentence. For that, I have no defense.)

Pork Wellington

  • 1 cup oaked chardonnay
  • 1 tsp. butter
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 package puff pastry, rolled out (one square, or one sheet if you buy it in rolls)
  • 6 pieces thinly sliced prosciutto
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. dried sage
  • 1 pork tenderloin, sliced down the centre
  • 1/2 cup toasted chopped hazelnuts
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 400°F.

In a small saucepan, simmer cranberries in chardonnay and butter until plump, six to eight minutes. Set aside.

Roll out puff pastry on a floured surface until it’s large enough to completely wrap your pork tenderloin. Drizzle with olive oil (a step I forgot in the video), and then lay out your prosciutto. Sprinkle with herbs.

Place pork tenderloin in the centre. Spread apart, and spoon the winy cranberries into the opening. Add the hazelnuts, press to pack, and then sprinkle with salt and pepper, as much or as little as you’d like.

Paint edges of pastry with beaten egg, and fold over pork. Pat to ensure the thing is sealed, and then place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. I told you you should bake it until it’s 140 degrees, but, in all honesty, I don’t care about the rules and I baked it until it was about 135°F in the centre of the meat. It’s better that way. You won’t die of swine flu or whatever people think happens when your pork tenderloin is a tiny bit pink in the middle.

Let this sit for a few minutes before serving. I made a simple gravy out of some beef stock, a touch of wine, some garlic, rosemary, salt, pepper, cornstarch (to thicken), and mushrooms, and served it all with potatoes. We ate healthily yesterday, so I figure this meal makes up for it. Very simple, earthy, and an excellent start to fall.

Porkstravaganza.

Drunken Spaghetti.

Too arthritic and whiny to invest all that much time in cooking, I wanted something flavourful and soothing that I could make and eat in under 20 minutes. I wanted to watch Good Eats, and then Iron Chef, and then Star Trek in my pajamas, and not have to move once the food was done. Solution? Drunken spaghetti. Flavourful, fast, and quite a lovely garnet colour. A pleasure for all the senses, the lazy sense included.

Different. Easy.This recipe grew out of David Rocco’s recipe of the same name. Only this one involves more wine, and is much improved by boiling the noodles in a portion of the wine. Use a cheap but drinkable wine, one you’re not hugely fond of but would drink if you had to. The effect you’re going for here is a winy taste, but the heat is going to kill a lot of what makes the wine distinctive. That’s the idea. Save the good wine for pairing with this dish.

You could use a dry white wine if you wanted to, or if that’s what you had left over. I bet that would be quite nice as well, with asparagus.

Drunken Spaghetti

(Serves four to six. Adapted from David Rocco)

  • 1 lb. spaghetti
  • 3 cups of red wine (1 cup reserved)
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 anchovy fillets, chopped (you can omit these if you’d prefer it be vegetarian)
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp. chopped capers
  • 2 tbsp. chili flakes
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Bring two cups of the wine and six cups of water to a boil in a large pasta pot. Add the spaghetti, and cook for seven to eight minutes. You want this to be al dente, and you are going to finish it in the frying pan so don’t worry if it’s got a bit of bite to it.

In a large frying pan, heat the oil, and add the anchovies, garlic, capers, and chili flakes. Sauté while the pasta cooks, five to seven minutes.

Once the pasta is about ready, drain it, and add your noodles to the frying pan. Pour in the remaining cup of wine, cooking until the wine has reduced and the spaghetti is done, another two to three minutes. Taste as you go to make sure you get the noodly doneness that you prefer.

Toss with parsley and cheese, and serve hot, with a dry, delicious red wine.Purple?

This is quite a good thing to make when you’re tired from too long a day. It’s easy, and you don’t need to do a lot to make it flavourful – it pretty much flavours itself. Literally. The wine does a fantastic job, and the salty bits and the cheese and the fresh parsley all add quite a lot without costing you much in the way of effort. From the time you set the pot on the stove to boil, it’s twenty minutes to cook, plate, and slip blissfully into your ass groove on the couch. Flavour aside, sometimes that’s the most important thing about a recipe.

Nice salt & pepper shakers.

Mapo doufu, because it finally cooled off enough for comfort food.

Although to say it’s “cooled off” is incorrect, as I still sweat like a fiend all the time, but that could just be a liver thing. It’s probably the heat. But there were clouds today, and a touch of breeze, so it felt like a day for mapo doufu, a thing I quite enjoy, and which I could have just ordered if I’d wandered down to Peaceful Restaurant on Broadway, but I was lazy, and this meal for three cost me less than ten dollars. And it would have fed four. But we were hungry.

And I wanted to make something with the beautiful green onions I bought.

Onion porn.

And Tracy, who I haven’t seen in a million years (hyperbole) told me she was coming over tonight, so I thought it would be a good idea to make white-people chow mein (it’s a real thing – you get it in restaurants that specialize in “Chinese and Canadian food” and I think it’s in the section on the menu under the chicken fingers and the chili dogs – you also get it at the Kam Wah Wonton House in Langley which is where my parents order from and it’s awesome and the guy there knows that I like an Orange Crush with my order, every single time, even if it’s been a over a year since my last visit. I like it there. But this isn’t about chow mein.) and mapo doufu, which is just a fancy way to say “salty spicy tofu with meat” which is one of my favourite paradoxes, and a paradox is a juxtaposition of two things that at first don’t seem to make sense together, but upon closer examination, they so do. Vegetarians are confused about tofu, and they make it boring – I like it fried in bacon fat, or like we had it tonight – fried with salty things and meat. Not a grain of brown rice in sight. (Even though I actually really like brown rice. Not tempeh though. So you can’t call me a hippie.)

Mapo doufu

  • 1 (14 to 17 oz.) package medium-firm tofu, rinsed and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 3 tbsp. peanut or vegetable oil
  • 5 oz. ground pork, or just about a cup’s worth
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 1/2 tbsp. black bean sauce
  • 1 tsp. fish sauce
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil
  • 2 tsp. sambal oelek (or chili-garlic sauce, or Tabasco, or sriracha)
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 2 tsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch
  • 4 tsp. water
  • 1 cup chopped scallions (green onions)
  • 1 tsp. ground white (or black, I guess) pepper

In a large pan or a wok, heat the oil until it shimmers. Stir-fry the pork until it’s no longer pink, then add the garlic, bean sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, and hot sauce, then stir-fry for about a minute. Stir in stock, soy sauce, sugar, tofu, and a pinch of salt. Simmer for about five minutes, occasionally stirring, tasting and adjusting seasoning as needed.

Mix the cornstarch and the water together until the mixture is milky and has no chunks.

Stir cornstarch mixture into stir-fry and simmer, gently stirring  for one minute. Stir in scallions and cook for another minute, before removing from heat. Serve sprinkled with white pepper. Unless you only have black pepper, then use that. And I’ve heard lots of people don’t like white pepper as much as they do black pepper, but Julia Child preferred white pepper, and as she was kind of a big deal and I actually do like the taste, we just go with that a lot of the time around here.

Serve with rice, or with tasty chow mein. I stuffed my chow mein full of vegetables so that there was some nutritional value to the meal. We do that some of the time around here.

Dinnerific.

You can't see the vegetables so well because they are all under the noodles. For realsies.
You can't see the vegetables so well because they are all under the noodles. For realsies.

The chow mein was just a bag of those fresh Chinese noodles you get in the salad section of the supermarket, mixed with garlic, carrots, celery, those gorgeous green onions, a bit of chicken stock, some soy sauce, and a touch of sesame oil, and then tossed with bean sprouts, which are not poisoned with listeria at the moment. It’s easy, and fast, and not so much authentic. But it sure is good. Serve both with a bottle or two of cheap but sumptuous white wine. It’s probably the best way ever to start off a work week once your vacation is over.

And it is over. Sigh. Tomorrow I will tell you all about the gazpacho with which I bade the time farewell.

Sometimes you just want to drink wine, eat pudding, and watch YouTube videos of wiener dogs getting their cute on, and I’d like to think that there isn’t anything wrong with that.

Today was Friday, and it was pretty much the worst Friday ever. Nick got yelled at by crazies all day at work, and I wore pants to the office and nearly died of heat stroke. When I left, it was over 30 degrees Celsius, which in America or Imperial or whatever is in the high 80s, which is inhospitable and makes me regret wearing a bra and then I can’t concentrate and all I can think about is cold beer and getting the hell out of there as soon as possible. A very nice old man on a ladder visited today and installed these solar blinds that are supposed to reflect the heat out, but he might as well have covered the windows in tin foil, for all the good it did, and I’m beginning to think my entire department is the butt of a cruel, cruel joke. It’s hot. And the wall of my pen is right up against the vent, so cold air blows up, up, and away, but never on me. I considered tears. Except that I think they’d come out as steam and that would be terrifying and they already think I’m dumb there.

So I got home and Nick and I were both in terrible moods and he’d finished the beer and I was mad so we decided that we’d go eat a ridiculous amount of meat, because that makes everyone feel better, and they had PBRs on special, so we ate and drank for super cheap, and it was magical. I wore a dress. And we were still hot and uncomfortable, so we got Slurpees and energy drinks on the way home, and Nick bought some beer and a bottle of wine, and then when we got back to our apartment, we discovered that there were goings-on going on, and everyone was going down to the beach to set stuff on fire and be jovial. And then a series of complications arose, and it became clear that I would be bound to the overheating indoors while Nick went to the beach for fun and socializing.

Complication #1: Tomorrow we’re going to my parents’ for a barbecue and I am bringing a salad because I make this caprese salad with roasted beets that’s spectacular, but you have to roast the beets well in advance so they’re cool and easy to work with, so the night before is ideal. We didn’t know about the beach until 10:30 pm, which was right after I put the beets in the oven.

Complication #2: I ate too much meat at Memphis Blues. A certain amount of discomfort ensued.

Complication #3:

Nick – “Everyone’s going to the beach. Wanna ride down?”

Me – “Who’s everyone?”

Nick – “People, you know – everyone.”

Me – “Do I like them all?”

Nick – “Well, I said everyone’s going to be there.”

Me – “Who don’t I like?”

Nick – “You know.”

Me – “Oh. That sucky girl who makes me angry and who I vehemently dislike in the nicest possible way?”

Nick – “You’d have to behave.”

Me – “I have to roast some beets.”

And so I am spending the night in. Which turned out to be a good thing, because I was in the mood for pudding, and I’m the only one here who likes pudding. So I roasted some beets, made some pudding, watched an hour’s worth of wiener dog videos on YouTube, and then set in to catch up on all my favourite blogs. And also to watch this, repeatedly:

But the main thing here is the pudding. It’s a recipe from Gourmet’s February 2009 issue, and I’ve made it several times now, and it always turns out perfect. It’s pretty much a hug you can eat, and it’s as easy to make as that Jello stuff, and takes the same amount of time, but it’s in a realm of its own for taste. It kind of reminds me of when I was a kid and we’d get toast with butter and brown sugar on it – like that, but creamy and rich, and you eat it with a spoon.

Gourmet Magazine Butterscotch Pudding.

Butterscotch Pudding

(makes enough to fill four regular-size ramekins)

  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp. butter, cut into bits (they say to use unsalted butter, but they would be wrong)
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the brown sugar and cornstarch. Then, whisk in the milk and cream. When I’m making this for just me, I halve the recipe, and use a single cup of light cream (or coffee cream, or Creamo), because why not?

Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking frequently, and then boil, whisking constantly, for one minute. Remove from the heat, and whisk in the butter and vanilla. Pour out into ramekins, cover with plastic, and then refrigerate until cooled, 60 to 90 minutes. Don’t chill for more than three hours, however, because it will begin to take on a weird, starchy texture. I made this in February, and cooled it on the patio because my fridge was full, and then when I brought it back in it had developed a skin and the cornstarch was very prominent – an undesirable flaw in any pudding.

When I halve the recipe, it makes enough for two ramekins. Which is perfect, because there’s no way you could eat just one serving of this stuff – I’ve already eaten my two, and now I am regretting my decision to not make the full amount. And I feel much better about life, and the fan is going in front of the open window where I’m sitting around in a clean pair of Nick’s underwear, so I’m starting to cool off. Pudding will do that for you. It’s a cure-all, like cough syrup and vodka, but you can serve it to children while their parents are watching.

Pudding!

And so the weekend begins, and I look forward to posting the fascinating details of my upcoming raspberry-picking expedition on Sunday. In the meantime, I’ve got some beets that need prodding and a bottle of wine in the chiller that’s begging for my touch. Cheers!

A meatball held together by melted cheese is structurally unsound. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t all kinds of delicious.

Perhaps by now you’ve noticed a theme: I really like meatballs. And pancakes. In fact, if you were trying to seduce me, a meatball pancake would probably earn you more credit than flowers, which are lovely but inedible for the most part.

It was finally sunny and hot again today, so I thought, “I could totally barbecue meatballs!” And technically, you can. But then I was like, “I could make cheesy meatballs covered in barbecue sauce and put them on skewers!” Which didn’t seem like it would fail at first. Science and I are aware of each other, but we’ve never moved beyond first names. Apparently, as mentioned up there in the title, a meatball filled with molten cheddar is tasty, but not inclined to hold up to flipping or skewering.

I’m going to give you the recipe, and then I’m going to tell you to paint barbecue sauce on them and bake them in the oven. I always forget about the last thing I cremated on the grill, and then when I go to cook something outside, there are fires and I have to use the scrapey brush and Nick gets mad at me for being sloppy and lazy, and doesn’t agree that his repetitiveness could also be annoying.

First, blend yourself a cocktail. You know what’s tasty with alcohol? Strawberries and rhubarb, sweetened as much or as little as you like.

I stewed some rhubarb and strawberries on Wednesday and threw about four cups' worth into the freezer for baked goods, and it turned out that the concoction worked marvellously when used for fruity blender drinks. Success!
I stewed some rhubarb and strawberries on Wednesday and threw about four cups' worth into the freezer for baked goods, and it turned out that the concoction worked marvellously when used for fruity blender drinks. Success!

Then, do this:

Cheesy Barbecue Meatballs

(Makes 12 to 14 meatballs)

  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tbsp. barbecue sauce (plus additional sauce for painting over the meatballs)
  • 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. dried red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper

Preheat oven to 350°F.

I pretty much always tell you to do the same thing here. Mix everything in a bowl using your hands. Perhaps I will attempt to be less repetitive in coming weeks, eating something other than meatballs. You can stuff other things with cheese, after all.

Roll into twelve to fourteen balls, about golf-ball size.

Meatballs.Paint with barbecue sauce. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

Now, I put mine on skewers:

Ball piercing.Which allowed them to get good and charred. If you like the idea of this, throw them on the grill for a few minutes to get all flame-kissed.

I really thought the skewers would work. But I was enjoying my cocktail, as one does, and so called Nick to come help me flip them. (By which I mean, I called Nick to do it for me.) And he broke them. They looked like this:

It's also all his fault that this photo is blurry.
It's also all his fault that this photo is blurry.

Just bake them. They will maintain their structural integrity that way, and you will maintain your cool. And you will have a lot more time to sip your drink on the patio in the sunshine.

Tomorrow I am going to go cherry picking, and so there will be something new and interesting to tell you about. I promise to show you something amazing that you’ve never seen before. Unless I totally let you down. Because I’ve never done that before. Happy Friday!