Mushroom risotto: An easy, inexpensive, and thoroughly impressive gourmet meal.

My parents came over for dinner tonight, and I made these beautiful roasted vegetables, which reminded me about the risotto that we ate the last time I made the roasted veggies, a few days before Christmas. Mark and Jess, Nick’s sister and brother-in-law, were here visiting from Winnipeg, and he’s gluten-free. They brought their adorable little baby with them, and then I felt a bit like an asshole afterward because I had my camera out the whole evening and only took pictures of the food.

The thing I like most about risotto is that it’s upscale comfort food. It seems like a pain to make because you have to monitor it and keep it moving in the pan, but that’s not so bad. Though it might not be the best thing to make at a dinner party, if you’ve just got a few people over and it’s casual no one will mind you running off for a half-hour, and people will always join you in the kitchen if they think you’ve been away too long. Often, they will anticipate your needs and open a bottle of wine, and you’ll get to catch up in the quiet of the kitchen. Risotto is not as antisocial as you might think.

For the following recipe, you can use any kind of mushrooms you like. If wild mushrooms are available in your market, feel free to grab an assortment and play around. If all you’ve got are plain white mushrooms, that’s just fine too, and it will be lovely and you’ll be amazed at what mushrooms can do. I’m always amazed at what mushrooms can do.

Mushroom risotto

(Serves about four as a small main course. This is an easy one to multiply or divide, however.)

  • 3 1/2 cups chicken stock, brought to a boil and kept warm on the stove
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 cup minced onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup raw Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 lb. mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/2 cup crumbled, cooked bacon (optional)
  • 1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans (optional)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

In a heavy-bottomed pan, melt the first two tablespoons of butter. Add onions and garlic, and cook for two to three minutes, until onions are translucent. Add rice to pan, stirring for about a minute, or until rice grains turn opaque.

Pour in wine, and scrape the bottom of the pan to ensure nothing has stuck. Cook until wine has been completely absorbed.

Add one cup of the warm chicken stock, stirring frequently until liquid is mostly absorbed. Repeat with an additional cup of stock.

On your third addition of stock, pour the remaining liquid into the rice and cook, stirring frequently, until liquid is absorbed. When you’ve still got just a bit of liquid in the pan, add your mushrooms. Test your rice for tenderness – if it is al denté, you’re awesome and good work. If it isn’t, it’s probably the rice’s fault, so just pour in a little bit more stock, as needed. Keep in mind that the mushrooms are going to sweat and release their own moisture into the mix.

When rice is ready, stir in bacon or nuts, if using, rosemary, nutmeg, butter, and Parmesan. Adjust your seasonings, to taste.

This dish smells amazing, like autumn or a sunny day in winter, and it tastes woodsy and wholesome, like a blanket you eat. It changed Nick’s whole opinion about risotto, which previously wasn’t very high. And it just feels good to eat. No stress, and if you’ve got people over you haven’t seen in awhile, you can talk with your mouth full, because there isn’t a lot of chewing required.

Olive oil orange cookies.

Cookie porn.One of the annoying things about being broke is running out of butter, especially when you want cookies. The day before payday is always incredibly bad for that. I ran out of milk too.

Good thing we never run out of the really important stuff, like wine.

So not only did I need a cookie. I needed a cookie that would go with my wine, and my, oh my, I think we’ve got one.

This recipe is a hybrid of sorts, a little of this and a little of that from Mario and Mark, and a bit of me as well. You should definitely give these a try – not too sweet, with a pronounced POP! of orange, and a nutty olive oil undercurrent. Perfect with wine, or even just on their own. Crunchy outside, chewy inside, and certainly not your everyday cookie. These are immodest, show-off cookies. Don’t be put off by the oil. It may not replace butter in your life, but it will be a nice little change.

Olive oil orange cookies

(Makes about three dozen cookies.)

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tbsp. orange zest
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice (1 navel orange should do you for the recipe, zest and juice)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tsp. brandy (optional)

Preheat your oven to 375°F.

Whisk together your dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, whisk together your wet ingredients. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredient mix, and stir to form a sticky, very shiny dough. Again, don’t be put off – it looks greasy. But the cookies, for some reason, won’t be.

Shiny dough.Roll the dough into balls about an inch in diameter, and plonk onto a cookie sheet. Bake about an inch apart, on the middle rack, for 12 to 15 minutes, or until lightly browned, slightly golden. Inhale deeply as these bake, and behold the fragrant wonders. This stuff smells AMAZING.

Cool on racks, but feel free to eat piping hot. Once cool, store in an airtight container. If they last that long. I ate, like ten cookies. I’m not even embarrassed, because olive oil is apparently good for you.

Okay, I’m kind of embarrassed, because it’s nearly midnight and I have to work tomorrow but instead of going to bed even though I’m tired, I’m drinking wine and eating cookies. For the win? I guess we’ll see tomorrow?

Maximum noms.

Rustic pear tart: A thing you can make without a pie plate.

We’re doing our best to save money, and one of our great ideas was that we would make our own wine. Rather fortuitously, at the same time we had the idea, my parents’ friends, John and Loretta, were cleaning out their basement and purging all the stuff they call Crap. Awesome score for us, and now we have almost 30 bottles of “wine.” I put it in quotations because it’s not good.

But it’s not bad.

Nick and his little helper prep the bottles.
Nick and his little helper wash the bottles.
The dress code for bottling night was brown shirts and hats.
The dress code for bottling night was brown shirts and hats.

We went to Nick’s sister’s and brother-in-law’s place last night to bottle our wine – they live in a house with a basement, so we made our wine there – and I brought pie. You know what’s weird? I don’t own a pie plate. I can’t really explain the oversight, but in the interest of saving money, which we have to do, I’m not going to buy one. You can make pie without a pie plate, and it looks rustic and homey, like you’re better than pie plates, like you’re crazy and clever and do what you want. And I think that comes out in the end result, as the pie is tasty and badass.

Rustic pear tart

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup cold butter, cubed
  • 5 tbsp. ice water
  • 1 lb. firm-fleshed pears, whatever you’ve got (four or five large)
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split

Make your dough. Combine flour and salt, and drop each cube of butter in, squishing them between your fingers. The end result before you add the water should be a crumby mixture with larger chunks, some as large as kidney beans or peas. Stir in water, a bit at a time, to form the dough – you may not need all of the water … you want the dough to be just moist enough to hold together. Press into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until pears are done.

In a large pot, dissolve sugar in water and brandy. Drop in vanilla bean, and bring to a light boil. This is inspired by David Lebowitz’s recipe for poached pears, and is, in fact, very similar.

Stir in the pears, and bring back to a boil, boiling gently for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and cool in the pot, 30 minutes.

Pears!Roll out dough on a floured surface until about 1/4-inch thick. Roll the flat dough around the rolling pin, and then unroll onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet.

Lay the pear slices in a circle in the middle of the dough stacking up to two inches high, leaving about an inch and a half border – you’ll want to be able to fold the dough over the pears all rustic-like.

SDC12123Fold the dough over the pears. Optionally, you can paint the edges of the crust with a little egg and water – that’ll make it golden and lovely. But I’m lazy and forgot. Bake in a 375°F oven for 40 minutes.

Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.


Pie, sliced.

Earthy toasty mushroomy deliciousness, a thing you should eat with wine while wearing pajamas.

Shroomy.I’ve been very alone this weekend, which is never a bad thing, as Nick has been out of town and it’s been just me during the days. I almost always manage to find someone to entertain me in the evenings, but tonight, with Nick away and a busy weekend behind me, and an even busier work-week ahead, I thought that this would be a good evening to do nothing. Which always involves wine and eating.

Today I found mushrooms at the market and fell instantly in love, as one does. Fat white mushrooms, earthy-looking criminis, a meaty, sturdy shitake, and a few wispy yellow chantrelles. The thing about fancy mushrooms is that you don’t need very many – I spent exactly two dollars and eight cents on all of my mushrooms, more than enough for dinner for one. Actually, two even, because this made more than I thought it would. Most of them were the cheaper white ones – those were the base.

I decided it was a good night for a hearty, comforting meal of mushrooms on toast, which doesn’t sound like much. Indeed, it isn’t, and that’s the beauty of it. It’s simple and filling, garlicky, buttery, and autumnal, a thing you might imagine eating after a fox hunt or something similarly British. Top with a couple of soft-poached eggs and serve with a heady, oaky white wine. It’s exactly what you should eat on a foggy, misty night when it’s cool out. Or, better yet, when there’s a Julia Child retrospective airing on PBS.

I’m going to tell you how to make enough to top four slices of French bread, but you can adapt this as you like, to suit more or less, or to make it an appetizer or a side dish. Multiply, divide – math it up. It’s an easy one, and not fussy.

Mushrooms on toast

  • 4 thick slices of French bread, toasted
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 slice of bacon, cut into pieces about a quarter-inch wide
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 1/2 cups mushrooms, cleaned with a damp cloth and then chopped, whatever kind you like
  • 1/2 tsp. thyme, dried or fresh
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup oaky white wine, such as chardonnay
  • 2 tbsp. creme fraiche or sour cream
  • 2 tbsp. finely grated cheese, such as comte, gruyere, or an aged cheddar
  • Salt, to taste
  • 2 eggs, poached (optional)

Since you’ve opened the wine, pour yourself a glass.

Set the oven to broil.

Melt the butter in a pan on the stove, and toss in your bacon. Let cook until the bacon is browned and crisp, two to three minutes. Add the garlic, mushrooms, thyme, nutmeg, and pepper, and fry until mushrooms have softened, another three minutes.

Oh! Inhale! So fragrant.Pour in the wine, coating the bottom of the pan, and scrape up any browned bits. Stir in the creme fraiche or sour cream. Pour over toasted bread, and grate your cheese over top.

Broil for three or four minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and the edges of the bread are golden brown. If you love eggs like I love eggs, feel free to top the thing with soft, runny-y0lk eggs. But you don’t have to. This is lovely, LOVELY, all on its own.

Here it is without the eggs:

No egg ...

Here it is with the eggs:

.... eggs.And now, I am a happy little badger, and very full. And Julia has just come on, so I have to go. Back soon, and I’m looking forward to waxing poetic about peanut butter, maybe tomorrow.

Bon appétit!

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.


Lemon sugar cookies.

Strange thing, how your hands in a bit of dough can soothe you.

After midnight, it was clear that I would not be sleeping. I uploaded all of my travel photos – Disneyland with my mom, but only 12 photos, since we spent most of the time walking and eating and eating and eating and my hands were mostly busy dispensing cash and transporting foodstuffs into my face … more on all of that later – and blog-stalked all my favourite imaginary people, who are all probably real but I can’t see them in real life, and then realized that Nick was asleep and I had no one to talk to and it’s dark and I was bored. And I’m an eater, more than anything else, so to busy myself: Cookies.

Nothing strange about how butter and sugar make everything better. A little lemon and good vanilla don’t hurt either. I tried to make these with a mixer, but it’s very quiet here, so I had to quit. I used my hands instead. Very rustic.

First, measure out half a cup of butter. Don’t use margarine. Margarine never made anything better, ever. Half a cup. It should be room temperature, which, if you’re like me and leave your groceries on the kitchen floor overnight because you’re forgetful, will be normal. The butter is only cold when Nick assists.

Whisk the butter. If it doesn’t whisk, you can cream it with an electric mixer, but work quickly, because it’s noisy and maybe you don’t want everyone in the building to know that you’ve got no will-power. Is it will-power or willpower? Whatever, I can make up words if I want to because it’s late and that’s how I roll.

Zest one lemon into the bowl. Squeeze the juice out into there as well, and then pour a half a cup of white sugar into the mix. Add a teaspoon and a half of good vanilla. The Barefoot Contessa is always talking about “good vanilla,” and I’m not entirely sure what that means. Around here, it’s vanilla from Mexico. Real vanilla, the kind that actually tastes like vanilla when you dab a little drop onto the middle of your tongue. Artificial vanilla extract is the kind of thing you use if you have to bake with margarine, and life is too short to eat weird chemicals unless you’re eating Cheetos or maybe drinking Cherry Coke. I don’t know if Ina Garten would qualify it as good vanilla, but the smell when anything’s baking around here reminds me of bakeries at 7:00 am, all warm and sweet, the kind of aroma that trickles into your nose and tricks your stomach into thinking you’re hungry.

Whisk again, blending everything together. Crack an egg into the bowl, and continue to whisk. Once you’ve got everything thoroughly combined, shake the whisk off and toss it into the sink. If you miss and it lands on the floor, shooting dough hunks everywhere, whatever. Maybe you’ll get mice or something and they’ll run across the floor right when a potential buyer visits to view the place, which your landlord has listed for sale and he’s very nice so you feel conflicted about thinking unkind things especially as the apartment is his and he can do whatever he wants with it, and they’ll be so grossed out that they won’t buy it and you’ll get to stay here forever. You can get an exterminator once it’s official that you’re staying. You can’t whisk dough, and dough is what happens next.

Measure out your flour, a cup and a half, and dump it into the bowl. Measure a quarter-teaspoon of baking soda and a half-teaspoon of salt and add both on top of the flour, and stir with your finger, or perhaps a wooden spoon, until the mix begins to form a ball. Knead it lightly with your hands. Press the soft dough between your fingers, watching as it crests your knuckles and absorbs your hands, like Play Doh, and be sure to taste it, which I also did with Play Doh and doesn’t that explain a lot.

Roll it into a log, about an inch and a half thick. Maybe two inches. The width of a piece of plastic wrap minus an inch on either side. That’s what you want. Roll it up like that, wrap it tightly in the plastic, and throw it into the fridge. If you doubled the batch for sharing, make two logs of equal size.

RollTurn on your oven, heating it to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Pour yourself a glass of wine. Maybe watch the last of America’s Got Talent and wonder why the guys who did the Power Rangers dance got roundly dissed by the judges when CLEARLY they were awesome and what does David Hasselhoff know anyway? Not enough to do up his shirt and cover his sparkly dog tag, which should be a secret, especially if it’s been designed for Walmart by Hannah Montana, which it probably was, so maybe I expect too much.

After 30 minutes, at least, you can take the log(s) out of the fridge. At this point, unwrap the dough. If you’d like, you can sprinkle the sides with sugar. I did. “No added sugar?” Not around here.

Using a sharp knife, slice the log into pieces approximately a half-inch thick. You should end up with twelve slices. If you have more, that’s okay. If you have less, that’s okay too, and it’s okay if you’re not good at math because they have apps now for your iPhone that’ll do it for you. There are also still calculators, which is nice.

Roll, cut.

Midnight cookies.Bake for ten to twelve minutes, unless you cut these thinner – then cook for six to eight minutes, or unless you cut them thicker, and then give them up to 15 minutes, until the sides and tops are golden and everywhere around you smells like good vanilla. Give them five to ten minutes to cool enough that they won’t burn you when you stuff that first one into your mouth.

The best thing about these cookies is that they pair excellently with a nice Riesling, preferably a French one, from Alsace. Something with a delicate hint of citrus, just enough to make the lemon sparkle. You could drink cold milk with these as well. I guess. You don’t drink wine and eat cookies at midnight on a Tuesday all by yourself? You’re missing out.

Cookies!And it’s now after one o’clock, which means I have to be up in too few hours. Fortunately, there are cookies for breakfast, and if I’m responsible, maybe a little wine?

Here’s the roundup of ingredients and their measures, for good measure. In case you were paying as much attention to the details reading as I was to the writing …

Lemon Sugar Cookies

(Makes one dozen)

  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Bake at 375°F, for ten to 12 minutes.

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.

You know when your week has sucked and it’s Wednesday and you smell and you don’t feel like trying hard over dinner? Make pizza. Everyone will think you like them way more than you actually do.

A few delightful things occurred today.

It was hot again still at work, and it sucked, but finally the powers relented and admitted that they also felt that it sucked, so now we’re allowed to go home at 3:00 pm until air conditioning arrives, and this is fantastic news. Soon, I will not smell like a foot a mere two hours after my morning shower. I hosted a brainstorming session this morning, pouring sweat and smelling like low-tide scattered with a city’s worth of fusty sneakers.

The good things:

  • I was home early
  • I did some dishes
  • I harvested my first tomato
  • I made pizza dough

Which is not something I usually like to do on weeknights, because my recipe for pizza dough is a three-hour process, not including cook-time, and that simply won’t do on a Wednesday. But one of my favourite local bloggers posted a recipe for the easiest pizza dough in the world on Monday, and I found it last night, and it changed everything.

And I harvested my first tomato from the plant on my deck.

My first tomato!!!So it went without saying that I would have to make pizza tonight. There is simply no point in buying take-out or delivery pizza in the City of Vancouver, because it is all a total waste of time. Ghetto slice is only good for the kind of indigestion and scoots that makes you stay home from work the next day, and the good stuff costs more than pizza is actually worth, which is okay sometimes, but only if there are drink specials, and we enjoyed too many of those last night.

Once you have the crust down, you can top the thing with anything you’d like. I topped mine with a sauce of olive oil, sea salt, finely minced garlic, and black pepper, and then piled on my tomato, some lamb salami, basil leaves, asparagus, mozzarella, and the last of the parmesan, which was not enough for anything but turned out to be just enough for pizza. And you must make the crust. It takes no time at all. I can’t think of a reason not to. I’ll bet you can’t either.

“The easiest pizza dough in the world,” courtesy of everybody likes sandwiches

(Serves four. Or two with leftovers.)

  • 3 tsp. yeast (I used fast-rising, but she mentions in the comment section that she used the regular kind. I liked the fluffy/crunchy effect of the fast-rising stuff, so go ahead and use that.)
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • 2 1/2 cups flour (I used 2 cups of all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup of spelt flour. Fibre, you know.)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped (optional … I didn’t have rosemary)
  • A sprinkling of cornmeal

Put your yeast in a bowl, pour the water into it, and add the honey. Let it sit until the thing gets frothy, about five minutes. Add your flour, salt, olive oil, and herbs if you’ve got ’em. Stir until the mixture forms a dough, dump out onto a floured surface, and knead quickly, just to make sure everything’s mixed together, and then put it back into the bowl and cover to let rest, 10 to 20 minutes.

Sprinkle cornmeal on a baking sheet, and move your dough onto the sheet, stretching and pressing the cornmeal in. You don’t want any loose cornmeal or it will burn and smoke and then your fire alarm will go off and you’ll get even more noise complaints.


Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Top with toppings, any kind you like. That’s the thing about homemade pizza – you always like it, because it’s always got stuff you like on it.

Uncooked.Bake on the middle rack for 20 to 25 minutes, until crust is golden and cheese is bubbly and browned.

Pizza.Serve hot on the patio with a cheap/tasty bottle of prosecco. Attempt conversation, but don’t be disappointed if the heat makes it impossible. It’s not like you can’t talk to each other in the wintertime. The way I see it, the food will be there long after you give him the heart attack that gets him. Or her. Or them? So love the food. Everybody likes sandwiches? Everybody likes pizza too.

Pizza. Prosecco. Pretty.

Ceviche: Impressive for date night and not very many dollars. Which still somehow doesn’t nullify the other expenses, but oh well. I don’t know why we’re broke either.

On Friday night, I decided it was time for a date. And I thought that a good way to have a date and not spend too much money was to cook food at home.


I spent $25 on two pieces of cheese and 100 grams of Norwegian smoked lamb salami. Kind of embarrassed.
I spent $25 on two pieces of cheese and 100 grams of Norwegian smoked lamb salami. Kind of embarrassed.
The lady at The Lobster Man didn't think it was funny when I shouted "ALLEZ CUISINE!" right as she dumped Larry the Lobster into the boiling pot. I thought it was HILARIOUS.
The lady at The Lobster Man didn't think it was funny when I shouted "ALLEZ CUISINE!" right as she dumped Larry the Lobster into the pot of boiling water. I thought it was HILARIOUS.

But it was an opportunity for us me to look nice and behave and not fight and play nice with each other which means not calling each other terrible curse words that usually people reserve for genitals. BTW fights? I read the Bloggess this week and it hit close to home. But anyway, we had a date night, and I planned six courses. But we were too full after the lobster roll to eat the last course, so we only had five. No dessert.

And I’ve decided that since I’ve babbled on a lot this week, I’d make this post mostly pictures with a recipe for scallop ceviche, which was the prettiest part of the meal. The recipe is tiny, but you can double it if you have a date with more than just one person.

The lobster is NOT moving really fast. The photo is blurry.
The lobster is NOT moving really fast. The photo is blurry.
This is one of my favourite pink wines.
This is one of my favourite pink wines.
This was very good. Next time you have access to figs, cut a slice into the top of one, stuff in some blue cheese, and wrap the whole thing in a slice of serrano or prosciutto. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 10 minutes. You'll probably want to ensure that these little figs are on every cheese plate you serve from now on.
This was very good. Next time you have access to figs, cut a slice into the top of one, stuff in some blue cheese, and wrap the whole thing in a slice of serrano or prosciutto. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 10 minutes. You'll probably want to ensure that these little figs are on every cheese plate you serve from now on.
Scallop ceviche on a beet "carpaccio." See recipe, below.
Scallop ceviche on a beet "carpaccio." See recipe, below.
Asparagus in garlic butter, topped with an egg poached in dry white wine, and shaved parmesan.
Asparagus in garlic butter, topped with an egg poached in dry white wine, and shaved Parmesan.
Chilled zucchini and basil soup.
Chilled zucchini and basil soup.
We had to wait a bit to eat the lobster roll, which is why this one looks darker than the others. Because it had gotten dark out. And after this, neither of us had any more room for food. But this was delicious, with cucumber and avocado and watercress, and lots of lemon.
We had to wait a bit to eat the lobster roll, which is why this one looks darker than the others. Because it had gotten dark out. And after this, neither of us had any more room for food. But this was delicious, with cucumber and avocado and watercress, and lots of lemon on a grilled garlic-buttered bun.

Scallop Ceviche

  • 2 limes (juiced, with the zest from one)
  • 1 small navel orange
  • 1/4 lb scallops, preferably the little ones
  • 1/4 long English cucumber, cubed
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil (reserve 1 tbsp. for drizzling)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. red chili flakes (to top)

Juice limes and 1/2 of the orange. Marinate the scallops in the juice for 5 to 7 minutes. Toss with cucumber, chopped basil, and spices. Serve over thinly sliced roasted and cooled beets. Pour juices over and drizzle with oil and top with pepper flakes before serving.

Make this, but if it’s a date, don’t let the other person/people drink more than a single bottle of wine, and certainly don’t let them drink beer while waiting for the date to start, or else you’ll find yourself all alone at 11:00 pm while he/she (they) sleeps on the couch, with only the sound of snoring and Kenny vs. Spenny in the background. Which is less than romantic. Fail? Half fail? Hard to say. I slept soundly, full to the brim.

Clams in porter and cream: If there’s a better title, I can’t think of it.

Friday, in the middle of the day, I had to supplement the wine with a Diet Coke because I was just having too much fun. I kneaded enthusiastically. I needed a nap. Of course that meant that I overcooked the bread – I forgot the buzzer and woke to wondering how much longer was left on the loaf, only to find that instead of golden it was a dark – though edible – brown. Also, because sometimes when I’m shopping I’m drunk filled with tremendous enthusiasm for the next feast, I accidentally grabbed the whole wheat flour that acts and sort of tastes like white flour (the word “SALE!” is like onomatopoeia to me – I see it and I think of a joyful noise and it compels me) – the colour is odd, but Grace was kind and said the finished loaf looked “artisanal,” which I can’t actually define but I think means “crusty and way too high in fibre.”

No matter – the little biscuits for the strawberries turned out perfectly, so all was not lost. Small victories. But then Grace brought lemon slice in cake form, so we ate the peppered berries and honeyed cream that way, and it was even better. I ate the biscuits and the leftover berries and drank the leftover wine for breakfast. I wrote about them here.

Almost all of my photos from the evening turned out blurry. Fortunately, Grace also brought a tripod and her good camera. And I am now in possession of a few glamour shots of the meal, so it’s time now to tell you all about it.

Brownish caramelized onion and fennel bread.
Brownish caramelized onion and fennel bread.
Green and white asparagus baked in olive oil with garlic.
Green and white asparagus baked in olive oil with garlic.
Grace's pretty salad. Fresh greens, and dressing she made herself: Roasted red peppers, garlic, olive oil, happy thoughts.
Grace's pretty salad. Fresh greens, and dressing she made herself: Roasted red peppers, garlic, olive oil, happy thoughts.

I couldn’t tell which of us was trying to seduce the other, except that we’re both very sloppy drunks and then two bottles in, James called and offered to bring us wine, and Paul called and asked what we were doing and then came over with some beer and an empty bottle of ketchup so nothing life-changing really happened. Nothing life-changing except for this:

Clams have feelings too? I don't think they do.
Clams have feelings too? I don't think they do.
Another angle, because they were just so damn sexy.
Another angle, because they were just so damn sexy.

And it’s possible that I’m exaggerating and tooting my own horn here. But I don’t think so. What do you need to make this happen in your kitchen? Not much. Not much at all.

Ingredient pile, with wine. These next two pictures come from my camera, which explains their wobbly suckiness. We'll conclude with Grace.
Ingredient pile, with wine. These next two pictures come from my camera, which explains their wobbly suckiness. We'll conclude with Grace.

Clams in porter and cream

(Serves four, unless one of you is me or Grace)

  • 4 lbs. clams
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium-sized onion
  • 1 medium-sized bulb of fennel
  • 3 cloves chopped garlic
  • 1/2 cup beef stock (you can use chicken if you want)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 cup porter or other dark beer
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup chopped mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

Before you do anything, make sure your clams are clean. Soak them in a bath of cold-to-lukewarm water, 4 cups water to 1/3 cup salt. Your clams will spit out any sand they’ve got kicking around inside their shells – you may need to repeat this process two to three times to be sure you’ve got it all. Nothing’s grosser than a mouthful of sea dirt.

My pretties.
My pretties.

When they’re good and clean and you’re ready to get on with it, heat the oil in a large pot, and caramelize your onions, garlic, and fennel, deglazing the pan as needed with the beef stock. Add the salt and pepper.

When everything’s golden and smells good, add the beer, the cream, stir it all up, then add the clams. Steam these with the lid on until the beautiful little guys open, ten to fifteen minutes. Possibly longer, if they’re stubborn. Which can totally happen. Shake the pan frequently to ensure that all the clams touch the heat and the liquid.

Before serving, add in the mushrooms, stir to coat and cook lightly, and then dump the whole thing into a big bowl. Garnish with the parsley. This is excellent over pasta, or just as is, with lots and lots of bread. Drink lots of dry white or pink wine. Sigh repeatedly over your contented fullness.

And then eat this:

Lemon slice topped with peppered strawberries and whipped cream with honey.
Lemon slice topped with peppered strawberries and whipped cream with honey.

The whole meal had a soothing, sedative effect on the both of us, and we never made it out to karaoke, as planned. Come to think of it, many of the meals I’ve shared with Grace have done more to lull than energize: Perhaps our diets are too rich? Maybe we gorge ourselves too much? Maybe there’s more to life than eating and possibly we could eat less and venture out into the world a bit more, because it is Friday after all and we have to consider our youth? Maybe, but I doubt it. It’s probably just the wine.