Corn waffles.

Do you ever feel like someone just reached into your head and squished your brain like a giant stress ball, and that it’s taking forever to regain its shape? I’m all out of smarts. I barfed the last of them onto the table at today’s job interview and now I’m just sitting around, watching remixes of Gangnam Style on YouTube with my mouth hanging open.

The sorry sight of me in my pajamas looking lobotomized in the evening is becoming too common, and is the one drawback to the sudden increase in interviews I’ve had lately. I’m drained. The average hour-long job interview is preceded by at least eight hours of performance anxiety and trying to remember all the stuff I’ve ever done at work while wondering what compelled me to get this stupid haircut that I have no idea how to style.

The interview is then followed by five days of questioning, of wondering “WHY WOULD YOU SAY THAT, WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?!” and doubting all of my life choices. I’ve gone through this eighty-thousand times since April. Was my mother right? Should I have learned a trade? Would I have owned a home by now?

Awkward first Internet dates might be less fraught.

To remedy the constant feeling of mental stupor, I’ve been dragging people into my dining room and forcing them to entertain me in exchange for food. This provides me with opportunities to do something that isn’t worrying, while also allowing Nick and I to interact with people who have verbal skills and whose pants we are not responsible for changing. (On the upside, I’ve been able to relate to the baby on an intellectual level lately. We both watched a Baby Einstein DVD all the way through without blinking today.)

This past week, with corn season underway and my friend Missy’s desire for fried chicken and waffles at an all-time high, we invited both Missy and Greg over for a weeknight dinner party and ate fried meat served on carbs and drizzled with maple syrup and hot sauce until we felt no more feelings but fullness. They talked and we laughed and everyone felt okay about life as we slumped onto the couches afterward.

That sounds weird, doesn’t it? The chicken, waffles, hot sauce, and syrup combo? It does here in Canada, because until recently that combo was only available to us through our TV screens via Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. I promise you that it’s delicious. It works for reasons I am not even sure I can explain.

I mostly wanted to tell you about the waffles though. They have corn in them, and the kernels pop in your mouth as you bite down on them, and they’re sweet. Some people think corn is a vegetable, so a plate of waffles is practically a square meal (regardless of the shape of your waffle iron). Well, maybe not. But they’re quick and you can have them in the time it takes to complain about not knowing what to make for dinner. You’ll be back to watching PSY videos online in no time.

Corn waffles

(Serves three to four.)

  • 2 cobs corn (or 1 cup frozen corn kernels)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 tbsp. maple syrup

Cut the corn from the cob. If you would prefer not to get it all over everywhere, cut the corn into a bowl. Once the kernels are off the cob, scrape the cobs with the knife to get any remaining kernel bits and corn juice into the bowl as well.

Sift the dry ingredients onto the corn kernels. In a separate bowl, whisk together the liquids. Stir the liquids into the dry/corn mixture and stir until no flour lumps remain.

Heat the waffle iron according to your waffle iron’s instructions. Spray the thing down with canola oil, top and bottom.

Pour batter into waffle iron, drop the lid, and cook until waffles have stopped steaming, and are golden and fluffy. Don’t lift the lid during cooking, or else they flatten out and get floppy.

Serve hot from the iron, doused in syrup. Or topped with chicken. Whatever gets you where you need to go.

You CAN have too many giant turnips.

Every year I plant turnips because in late May and early June, I love (LOVE!) turnips. I think about sweet little baby turnips, steamed and tossed with fresh greens and maple vinaigrette, or cool fall evenings with turnips mashed with carrots and so much butter to accompany Bratwurst and grainy mustard. But I never remember to anticipate this.

I am a prolific grower of turnips. Maybe the picture doesn’t do her justice, but this pretty lady’s a D-cup. And she’s not the only one. There are probably 12 or 14 more of these, and I don’t know what to do. I love turnips. I don’t want to not love turnips. And I definitely don’t want to waste turnips, but I suspect very few of my neighbours want to walk out to find enormous turnips on their doorsteps – for some people, one turnip is too many turnips.

Do you have a creative use for turnips and (or) their greens? I’ve made them into gratins and mashes and gnocchi, but I’m running out of ideas. Help me. HELP ME.

Unrelated aside: if you have a minute, stop by and visit The Thirties Grind, where I’m featured as this week’s first REAL Real Housewife of Vancouver. Melissa’s blog is fantastic – her “Absurd Vancouver Property of the Week” feature regularly makes me laugh-sob and question my unhealthy relationship with this city.

But seriously. Tell me what you do with the turnips.

Picnics and bacon-wrapped garlic scapes.

All of a sudden, two layers of clothes are too many layers of clothes, and my toes are naked and touching the grass, and I’m drinking wine in parks and getting dirty looks from the other mothers for all my drinking wine in parks. Summer finally landed in Vancouver yesterday, so picnic season began in earnest this afternoon.

I have written about the joy of picnics here before but I am getting older and with age has come a tendency to repeat myself, and also to assume that what I say bears repeating. Take yourself on a picnic. Bring a friend, and a bottle of wine, and something to nibble on, and whittle away the afternoon, or just languorously pass your lunch hour (bottle of wine optional in that instance, unless you work from home). All you need is a patch of grass and a bit of bread and cheese.

And garlic scapes, if you can find them. Even better if you can grow them. Wrap them in bacon, and eat them outside.

Bacon-wrapped garlic scapes

  • 24 garlic scapes
  • 8 strips bacon
  • Coarse salt
  • Pepper

Preheat your oven to 425°F. Lightly grease a rimmed baking sheet.

Trim scapes at the bud, leaving eight to 10 inches of the stalk. (I left the buds on some of the shorter scapes, and the flowers inside were a little fluffy, but not unbearable if you’re used to finding cat hair in everything.) Bundle scapes in threes, wrapping each as tightly as possible with the bacon.

Sprinkle each bundle with a few flecks of coarse salt, then with freshly ground pepper.

Bake for 25 minutes, until the bacon is brown and looks crisp. Flip the bundles halfway through. Delicious served hot, but also pretty nice eaten cold, in the shade, on the grass.

 

 

Yellow curry braised beef.

I spent the last half of my teens and the first half of my twenties playing field hockey for the Vancouver Rowing Club, and every Victoria Day long weekend I would dig through the piles of laundry I always left unfolded to find my jersey, skirt, and Dutch-soccer orange knee socks and then head out to the pitch to play in the Vancouver Invitational Tournament. Except for one weekend when it was so hot I spent the afternoons in the beer garden in my sports bra, it rained. In nine of ten years I spent the weekend soaked, my toes wrinkling in my turf shoes, my skin slick with a layer of moisture that never seemed to dry.

I was awful at field hockey. I am too competitive and would get aggressive at all the wrong times, but I never had the skill to back it up. And I don’t run very fast. In the wild, I could be taken down by the oldest, most arthritic bear or mountain lion. Nevertheless, in all the years since I played, I miss it most in the weeks before the May long weekend. And then the weekend arrives, and it rains, and I remember peeling my polyester jersey off my damp, sticky body, and I still miss it. There were always cute Australians to look at, and the beer was cheap and plentiful.

For half the time I played, I was dating one of the goalies on the premier men’s team. When that ended badly (oh so badly!) I had already been subtly trying to trick Nick into spending time with me, and when he finally relented, I found other things to do on the long weekend. I couldn’t go back to hockey, but at that point, I didn’t want to. The possibility of an awkward run-in was enough to keep me from trying to dig up those socks again.

But, you know … Facebook. I am still friends on Facebook with a few of the women I played with, and I see that they’re playing this weekend and I miss it all. I liked playing field hockey, and the interesting characters that comprised the teams I liked to play on. I am starting to wonder if I can have all that, and still avoid the awkward run-ins, and somehow convince Nick to come watch and cheer me on. Maybe not on the May long weekend, of course. It’s always so rainy.

This May long weekend has been fairly quiet, and it has been raining steadily since yesterday. So today has been a day for laundry and long hours spent braising meat in fragrant coconut milk and warm spices, and for remembering fondly how it feels to be so damp from the vantage point of my warm apartment, in my pajama pants fresh out of the dryer.

Yellow curry braised beef

  • 2 tbsp. coconut oil (or vegetable oil)
  • 3 to 4 lbs. cubed beef brisket or boneless chuck (sometimes sold as stew meat) – short ribs would also work well here
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 tbsp. minced ginger
  • 2 tbsp. minced fresh lemongrass
  • 2 tbsp. minced fresh cilantro stems (leaves reserved)
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, minced (to minimize the spice, you can remove the seeds and the membranes before chopping)
  • 2 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 3 tbsp. fish sauce
  • 3 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 2 14 oz./398 ml cans coconut milk
  • Zest and juice of one lime
  • 3 to 4 kaffir lime leaves (optional)*
  • 2 red Thai bird chilies (optional)
  • 1 lb. cubed sweet potato
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, chopped

Preheat your oven to 325°F.

In a pot you can use on the stove and in the oven, melt coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add beef pieces, and season with salt. Brown beef deeply on all sides, about three minutes. You want to get good colour on the beef, but you don’t want to burn it. When beef is browned, remove it and set it aside.

To the same pot, add onion, ginger, lemongrass, cilantro stems, garlic, and jalapeño peppers. Sauté until fragrant, two to three minutes. Add turmeric, cumin, coriander, black pepper, cardamom, and cinnamon, and cook another two to three minutes, until the bottom of the pan looks dry.

Add sugar, fish sauce, coconut milk, and lime. If you have kaffir lime leaves and Thai chilies, add these to the pot as well – I leave my chilies whole. Add beef back to the pot, with any meat juices that have collected in the meantime – there’s good stuff in there. Cover, and put on the middle rack of your preheated oven. Braise for 3 to 3 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.

In the last 45 minutes of cooking, add your sweet potatoes to the pot, and re-cover.

Remove the pot from the oven, uncover it, and return it to the stove over medium heat. Add bell peppers, cooking an additional 10 minutes until peppers are tender and the sauce has reduced slightly. Serve over rice, with a sprinkling of fresh cilantro.

*You can buy kaffir lime leaves at most Asian markets. They are very inexpensive, so if you end up with a lot of them, stick them in a baggie and store them in the freezer – they’ll keep a few months if well sealed, and you can use them to liven up curries of all kinds.

Nasi goreng.

For the past six months, with one of us being off work and on parental leave, after the rent and car insurance come out there isn’t much left for the first two weeks of the month. I spent what little was leftover on clothes to wear to job interviews and a cute outfit for the baby, and why can’t I stop buying cute outfits for the baby? He’s like a damp, squirmy doll. One that never stops eating. The kid lives for food – convulses for it, even – so maybe the outfits are a kind of reward for fitting in with the rest of us around here?

Anyway, we’re in for a week or two of pantry meals.

One that we eat frequently during times like these is nasi goreng, a spicy Dutch/Indonesian fried rice dish I learned about the first time I went to meet Nick’s family. There’s a Dutch breakfast restaurant near us that serves nasi goreng wrapped in a pannekoek. The Dutch are into it.

It was Nick’s and his sister’s birthday when he first brought me over, and he’d requested nasi goreng with beef for their special birthday meal. I wasn’t eating red meat at that point, so his mom made me a separate meal (Relationship tip: start out high-maintenance, especially with your in-laws!). I was grateful – “nasi,” as they called it, looked semi-unappealing due to the unusual and disgusting (to me) addition of fried bananas.

Nasi goreng is one of Nick’s favourite dishes, so fortunately I would encounter it again later after I had re-embraced red meat and understood that bananas aren’t mandatory. Side note: I am living proof that there is someone for everyone, even if he probably did something awful in a past life to deserve this. He doesn’t like bananas either.

There are no actual unappealing parts to this dish, which I would come to learn (bananas aside). It’s salty and spicy and meaty, and there is so much garlic in it (I use nine cloves, but you can use less if garlic isn’t its own food group at your house). It’s especially good after Christmas or Easter dinner when you end up with a lot of leftover ham – a little diced ham goes a long way in this. If you have a lot of leftover chicken, dice that up instead of the ground meat. Add shrimp if you’ve got it. Make it vegetarian with smoked tofu and a few handfuls of frozen peas.

This is best if you have a lot of leftover rice, but more often than not I end up making rice fresh due to my having forgotten to plan ahead. We use brown rice, but you can use whatever you want – three to four cups of cooked rice is about what you’ll need. And if you don’t have the ingredients I have listed below, substitute freely – soy sauce and sugar for the ketjap manis, sriracha for the sambal oelek.

Nasi goreng

(Serves four to six as a main course.)

  • 2 cups long-grain brown rice
  • 3 cups vegetable stock
  • 3 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 6 to 9 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1 shallot, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp. sambal oelek*
  • 2 tbsp. ketjap manis (sweet Indonesian soy sauce) **
  • 2 tbsp. fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp. sesame oil
  • 2 tsp. lime juice
  • 3/4 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • 2 cups grated carrot
  • 1 cup finely sliced cabbage, packed
  • Salt and pepper

Accompaniments

  • One fried egg per serving
  • Cilantro, for garnish
  • Chopped scallions
  • Additional sambal oelek

In a medium heavy-bottomed pan with a tight-fitting lid, over medium-high heat, bring rice and vegetable stock to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 45 to 50 minutes. Set aside and allow to cool completely, which will take between two and four hours.

In a large pan over medium-high heat, sauté garlic in oil until it is golden and crispy but not burned (two to three minutes – any longer and it will become too bitter). Remove garlic from pan with a slotted spoon, and drain garlic on a plate lined with paper towel. Set aside.

In a blender or food processor, purée the shallot with the sambal oelek, ketjap manis, fish sauce, sesame oil, lime juice, and cumin. Set aside.

Add ground beef to the now garlic-infused cooking oil in your hot pan. Continue cooking over medium-high heat until meat has browned and is cooked through. Add cooked rice, shredded carrot, and cabbage. Pour shallot mixture over pan contents and stir to coat. Cook an additional three to five minutes.

Stir the crispy garlic into the rice. Taste, adjusting seasonings with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot, topped with a sprinkle of cilantro, some scallions, and an egg fried over-easy, so that the yolk is still runny. Nick always adds more sambal oelek, and then apologizes as he douses the whole thing in Maggi sauce.

*I find sambal oelek hotter than our usual hot sauces, so tread lightly if you’re spice-sensitive. If you don’t have sambal oelek, Chinese chili garlic paste will work, and so will Sriracha (which goes with everything).

**If you don’t have or can’t find ketjap manis (also called kecap manis), use two tablespoons soy sauce with one tablespoon brown sugar. You can find ketjap manis as Asian grocers or Southeast Asian specialty markets – I got a huge bottle for  less than three dollars at Thuan Phat Supermarket on Broadway and Prince Edward in Vancouver (though I hadn’t had much luck finding it at T&T). You can also find it online.

Mushroom and butter bean ragù

By mid-morning, there was chaos. The baby has been sick and only seems able to comfort himself by wailing, though he will pause briefly for food – but only briefly.

The cat needs her nails done but won’t sit still for it, and if she’s not hanging off the seat of my pants by her claws she’s attempting to bury her wet food under the mat in the hall or scratch holes into the garbage bag that’s waiting to go out to the bin. When I finally got the baby down for a nap I came out to find the cat licking my sandwich.

“You’re all a bunch of jerks!” I yelled at no one in particular, and foraged a lunch of stale Bugles and a glass of white wine that may have been sitting out on the coffee table since last night. I glared at the cat but she has made it clear that apologizing to me is beneath her.

Six weeks ago I joined the Learn to Run clinic at the local Running Room, partly to get back into shape. It was not a great idea because I don’t enjoy running – what’s the point unless you’re being chased? It means rushing out of the house on Monday evenings after Nick gets home from work, and we end up eating dinner late while having to juggle laundry and any mess left over from the weekend. I usually dread it but tonight I couldn’t wait to go. These past few days I have come to understand why someone might go out for a pack of cigarettes and just not come back.

So, you know. There are highs and lows. And sometimes there is enough time in the day to linger over the stove, and some days dinner comes together in a few hasty minutes after the kid goes down for the night. Tonight was one of those hasty nights, and I’m calling the result a ragù even though it contains no meat and did not simmer for very long at all – I loaded it up with the kind of things that make it feel like it simmered long (oaky wine, soy sauce, mushrooms, Parmesan cheese), but it was only 15 minutes, while the pasta cooked. I don’t think anyone’s going to argue with me today.

If you can’t find canned butter beans, use one cup fresh or frozen lima beans or any other canned white bean.

Mushroom and butter bean ragù

(Serves 4.)

  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 lb. mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup oaked white wine, such as Chardonnay
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 14 oz./398 mL can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 lemon, zest and juice
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 14 oz./398 mL butter beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 lb. fettucine

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, sauté shallot, carrot, celery, and garlic in olive oil over medium-high heat until vegetables have begun to sweat. Add rosemary, red pepper flakes, smoked paprika, black pepper, and mushrooms, and cook until mushrooms have released their moisture, about two minutes.

Add wine and bay leaf, scraping the bottom of the pot to ensure no bits have stuck to the bottom. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer until liquid has reduced by half, one to two minutes.

Add tomatoes, lemon zest and juice, Parmesan cheese, and soy sauce. Simmer another five minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add fettucine, and cook according to package directions – five to seven minutes – until al denté (or cooked to taste).

Add butter beans to the ragù, and continue to simmer until fetuccine is cooked. Drain pasta, and add to the ragù. Stir well. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed. Add parsley, and serve.

Sweet potato and pear barlotto.

Around here, risotto is a favoured comfort food. I like its toothsome porridginess (can that be a thing? Or is that redundant? Can porridge be toothsome?), and the way it lends itself to infinite variations. Nick likes carbs and wine and cheese. Who doesn’t, really?

It’s been cold lately, and we’re tired. We’re in need of comfort, especially after spending so much time comforting this ten-pound pork chop at the expense of uninterrupted sleep and personal hygiene.

Too often we seek solace in take-out. So while I crave risotto, it would be wise to make a healthier choice in light of the tempura and pulled pork and fast-food cheeseburgers we’ve consumed this past week. Pearl barley stands in nicely for arborio rice, and loaded with veggies this barlotto makes a meal that’s equal parts soothing and nutrient-rich. Make it as a main course for Meatless Monday, or serve it as a hearty, autumnal side dish with roasted pork or chicken.

Sweet potato and pear barlotto

  • 1 lb. sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 1 lb. firm-fleshed pears, diced
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley, plus additional for garnish

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Toss sweet potato and pears in oil, and sprinkle with half of one teaspoon each salt and pepper. Pour mixture into a 9″x13″ baking pan, and roast 35 to 40 minutes until golden, turning mixture halfway through cooking.

Heat stock in a pot over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, then reduce to low.

Heat two tablespoons butter and one tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add shallot, carrot, celery, and garlic, and sauté for one minute. Add pepper, rosemary, and thyme. Add barley, stirring to coat in butter and oil, then add bay leaf and wine. Stir frequently until liquid dissipates.

Add stock one cup at a time until absorbed, about 30 minutes, stirring regularly.

Add cheese, then taste. If you use store-bought stock, you likely won’t need to add salt. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Stir in an additional tablespoon of butter, then toss with fresh parsley. Serve immediately, with additional parsley for garnish.

Rabbit cacciatore.

Yesterday Nick and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary. Kind of. I made a nice dinner, and then we zoned out in front of a bunch of cooking shows on the PVR. This year has kind of been a wash, celebration-wise; we haven’t celebrated any of our milestones properly. Nick turned 30 on Friday and we didn’t have plans, and I was all-day morning-sick on my birthday in April. We’re thinking of putting off Christmas until January. It’s been a busy year.

Fortunately I am a bit of a hoarder, and I figured we’d be all out of energy right around now. I have stocked the freezer, fridge, and pantry with everything we’ll need to eat reasonably satisfying and healthy meals until my employment insurance kicks in, so I was able to put together a luscious rabbit cacciatore while the baby dozed and the cat napped.

Rabbit is a very lean meat and a great alternative to the usual chicken or pork. It’s also a sustainable alternative, as rabbits are small, plentiful, reproduce quickly, and do not have the same impact on the environment as larger or more industrially farmed meats. If you can’t find rabbit at your local market, ask your butcher.

I adapted this recipe from Simply Recipes, adding pancetta, more veggies, a spot of wine, and some different herbs and spices, and it was just fancy enough for an anniversary dinner, but easy enough to put together between feedings and phone calls and commercial breaks.

If you don’t have bunnies in your freezer, you could substitute six to eight chicken thighs for the rabbit pieces. Serve over pasta, polenta, or rice.

Rabbit Cacciatore

(Serves six to eight; adapted from Simply Recipes)

  • 2 heads garlic plus 3 cloves
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 2- to 3-pound rabbit, cut into six or eight pieces
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 lb. pancetta, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 ribs celery, diced
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 1 tbsp. capers, chopped
  • 1 tsp. red chili flakes
  • 1 tsp. dried rosemary
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 large red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/4 lb. mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 cup red wine, such as Cabernet-Sauvignon
  • 3 cups chopped tomatoes (or 1 28-oz can diced tomatoes including juice)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Chopped parsley

Roast two cloves of garlic in an oven preheated to 350°F for 30 to 45 minutes until golden and tender.

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Pour rabbit pieces, flour, and about a teaspoon each salt and pepper into a sturdy plastic bag. Hold or seal the top of the bag, and shake to coat rabbit.

Brown rabbit pieces in olive oil, then remove to a plate. Set aside.

Brown pancetta in same pan. Add onion, three chopped cloves of garlic, celery, and carrot, and cook for three minutes.

Add capers, chili flakes, rosemary, oregano, and thyme. Stir to coat pancetta and veggies, then add bell pepper and mushrooms. Cook an additional two minutes. Add wine and scrape browned bits off the bottom of the pan, then reduce heat to medium. Add tomatoes and roasted garlic and bay leaves. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed.

Add rabbit, pushing the pieces into the pot so that they are submerged. Cover, reduce to medium-low, and cook for 35 minutes, until rabbit is cooked and tender. Remove lid and simmer an additional 10 minutes to reduce sauce. Sprinkle with parsley before serving.

Pepper pot.

A friend and I once took a Caribbean cooking class through the Vancouver School Board’s Continuing Education program. I had taken other classes through the same program and they were all taught by professional chefs and I learned some fabulous things, including recipes I still use on a regular basis, so I thought the Caribbean class would be equally useful.

When we got to the first class, the instructor was wearing a lot of red lipstick, some of it on her lips, and a T-shirt printed with a picture of her face. She was no longer allowed to sell her herbs and spices in class – the school board forbade it – so if you wanted to come out to her car after class, she’d sell you spices in Zip-Loc bags. I can imagine how it would look, buying a baggy of dried thyme from the trunk of someone’s car in a south Vancouver high school parking lot, but I guess that’s how she supplemented her income; she would mention her spices two to three times, every time.

She also ran a catering company and would deliver your Christmas turkey or Hanukkah feast, and taught she taught basic cookery to children (I was once handed a recipe for a spaghetti dessert involving raisins, cottage cheese, and cinnamon – I think it was supposed to be Noodle Kugel, but it missed the mark … a bit). The course was four classes long and basically one giant commercial. And the food was terrible.

What I did get out of the class, aside from a Certificate of Attendance and a desire for my own face on a T-shirt, was an introduction to some of the basic flavour combinations that comprise Caribbean cooking. What follows is a version of Caribbean Pepper Pot, which I was introduced to in that class, but which has evolved into something less complicated but infinitely more complex.

It is mildly sweet, as spicy as you want it, and full of autumn veggies, which makes it a cozy dinner that’s lovely this time of year. I hope you’ll try it. And no need to follow me out to my car afterward.

Pepper pot

(Serves six to eight)

  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 8 chicken thighs, bone in, skin removed
  • 1 medium onion, halved lengthwise and sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. dark brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 1/2 lbs. yams or sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into one-inch pieces
  • 2 cups diced fresh tomatoes
  • 1 to 2 scotch bonnet or habañero peppers, pierced (unless you like it really hot, then chop the peppers finely … but be careful)
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 14 oz. can coconut milk
  • 1 lime, zest and juice
  • 1/2 lb. okra, chopped into one-inch pieces
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped kale, packed
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or other large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Add chicken thighs and brown each side. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add onions and garlic to the pan, scraping up any chicken bits from the bottom. Add bay leaves, brown sugar, thyme, allspice, and cinnamon. Cook until fragrant.

Add tomatoes, sweet potatoes or yams, scotch bonnet or habañero pepper(s), chicken stock, coconut milk, and lime zest and juice. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce heat to medium, and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add okra, red pepper, and kale and simmer for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, until okra is soft. Stir in cilantro. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed. Remove pepper and bay leaves. Serve with rice.

Roasted tomato and garlic soup

Tomato soup is one of those things on the list of “Oh, I thought I didn’t like that,” which has gotten shorter and shorter as I’ve gotten older.

For years I despised tomato soup, because I thought it all tasted like Campbell’s Cream of Tomato, which always tasted tinny on my tongue and then itched in my throat going down.

My Dad liked it though, and our little cat at the time, Truffles, would lap it furiously out of her bowl the instant the bowl was put on the floor (she would coat the wall in orange splatter, unable to wait until it cooled even slightly to dive in), so we always had cans of it in the pantry. I preferred Cream of Mushroom, but I was in the minority.

You don’t need beautiful tomatoes for this; the ruddy, ugly, sort of soft or bruised ones are fine. The secret to good tomato soup is to roast the tomatoes first. Though around here that isn’t such a secret – a friend at work pointed out that roasting is my go-to technique for just about every ingredient. It sounds like I might be a bit predictable. But anyway. Roast the tomatoes. And the garlic. Use too much garlic. This is the future, and we’re okay with that now.

Roasted tomato and garlic soup

(Serves six)

  • 5 medium field tomatoes (2 1/2 to 3 pounds)
  • 3 heads of garlic plus three cloves, peeled
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, packed

Lightly grease a 9×13 pan. Preheat your oven to 300°F.

Quarter tomatoes, and line up in the pan. Scatter the peeled cloves from three heads of garlic over top. Drizzle olive oil over the contents of the pan, and sprinkle about a teaspoon of coarse salt over as well. Roast for 90 minutes to two hours, until tomatoes have withered and garlic is deeply golden. (This step you can do in advance; I like to roast a lot of tomatoes and garlic and stick them in freezer bags for easy weeknight dinners during the winter.)

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat two tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add three remaining cloves of garlic. Sauté onion until translucent, then add pepper, pepper flakes, and oregano, stirring to coat. Add tomatoes and garlic to the pot, scraping any solids that remain in the pan into the pot. Stir.

Add stock, and reduce heat to medium. Simmer 10 to 15 minutes, until later garlic cloves have softened. Purée using an immersion blender. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed, then add basil and parsley and purée again. Add water to thin to desired consistency, if needed.

Serve drizzled with olive oil.