I hope I never lose my sense of wonder. If that makes me naive, then so be it.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011


Every Christmas growing up, we had it. Thanksgivings too, I think. My first time roasting a turkey as a newlywed, I called my mom to ask for it. Every Christmas and Thanksgiving, I have made it. Without fail, if I'm making a turkey dinner, it is there. 

Mom's turkey stuffing. Potato, seasoned bread, onion, and savoury - so much savoury! Likely my favourite part of the meal, I would make far more than could go into the bird. We'd fill it up, roast it, then combine the turkey-ified stuffing with the rest to stretch it farther. Of the leftovers stuffing was the dish I most diligently tried to squirrel away in a forgotten corner of the fridge so that I could sneak it out, Gollum-like, and make it mine, all mine. Problem was, the rest of the family felt the same way. So good! We all love it.

(side note: I partially credit Mom's stuffing with starting me on a road of cooking without recipes. When I asked her how she made it, all the ingredients were "about this much" in handfuls. So - thanks, mom!)

This year I saw a recipe that I want to try. It's got apple, sage, rosemary, sausage, cranberry - and looks delicious. But really, it's not as simple as simply adding another side dish. This is stuffing. The part of the meal that overshadows the turkey for some of us. There's only one cavity in that bird, and only one thing can go in it.

I am realizing as I type this that I don't know where Mom got the recipe and I may indeed be going farther back into the family history with my heresy. Oh dear.

I confessed to D that I was thinking about this new recipe, and he gasped (okay, a little theatrically for humorous effect, but gasp he did). Then demanded a road test. So tonight I'll try the new recipe with a roasted chicken and we'll see.

If it works though, I am seriously considering roasting two smaller turkeys to still have the old standby.

Monday, 14 November 2011

daring cooks, november

I enjoy tea. Black, green, oolong, chai - a cup is such a nice break or a pick-me-up during the day. This month, though, I got to expand my use of tea and cook with it.

Sarah from Simply Cooked was our November Daring Cooks’ hostess and she challenged us to create something truly unique in both taste and technique! We learned how to cook using tea with recipes from Tea Cookbook by Tonia George and The New Tea Book by Sara Perry.

I really wasn't sure how to do this one on my own, so followed one of the recipes given: Beef Braised in Rooibos Tea with Sweet Potatoes. Stew is always good, right? Even if it uses (a) tea, and (b) a tea I have never heard of. The stew began with the flour-coated beef browning in my cast iron pot, then the aromatics: onion and celery cooked a bit to soften before adding tomato paste and garlic. Sounds pretty normal for stew to me, but instead of adding beef stock, a litre of rooibos tea was added. 

Rooibos tea
 Rooibos tea is from South Africa (and I'll assume dear friend EMP will recognize it!), and is a lovely red leaf that in turn made a reddish tea when steeped. The tea itself was one I will try again for sipping, but this lot went into the pot. 

Then the other seasonings: ginger, orange peel, and cinnamon sticks. All simmered for a couple of hours making the house smell amazing, and then sweet potatoes were added to finish cooking. A bit of fresh cilantro, and there it was.

Finished stew
Delicious!When I make sweet potatoes, my go-to is usually the southern cooking version, done with egg and butter and brown sugar and (to my kids' delight) topped with more sugar or marshmallows. But this time, the potatoes simply absorbed the flavor of the tea-citrus broth and showcased their own sweetness. The mix of spice was delicious! All of us thoroughly enjoyed it.

Russian Earl Grey tea
I decided to wrap up the meal with the tea theme so made Earl Grey lemon shortbread cookies. Buttery, lemony rounds were prettily flecked with the tea leaves, and made for a nice finish. I used Russian Earl Grey, a more citrusy version of the classic tea.

All in all, the meal was delicious, and I have been thinking of other tea-food combinations. The shortbreads will become a part of our Christmas baking, and I will definitely try that stew again. Thanks, DK hosts!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

when life gives you evaporated milk

I've been craving donairs. They were the late-night study food in university, shaved seasoned meat coated with  garlicky sauce in a pita. A real Maritime thing. Not being there, I looked up a recipe that I'm trying tonight - the meat is made and cooling - but realized this morning that the sauce called for canned evaporated milk. Of course, none was to be found on the kitchen shelf. 

No problem! I thought. I am adventurous! I will make some.

My darling Le Creuset saucier was called into action (yes, it weighs more than a pan that size should. But it is happy and red and makes me feel like a real cook when I use it), and I started simmering milk. All was going well until I was explaining to the girls why I was cooking milk, and A, who was helping by putting groceries away, poked a can around the corner of the cellar door. "You mean this?" Oh. I did have some, after all.

So here I was with hot milk on the stove. What to do? Crème anglaise. I've wanted to try it for a while, and the transition was easy: some sugar stirred into the hot milk, six egg yolks beaten with more sugar until they were light and "lightly ribboned into the bowl". It looked ribbonish, so I think I got that right. The yolks were tempered (add some of the hot stuff to bring up the temperature gradually, so when they're incorporated into the hot milk they don't turn into scrambled eggs) then added to the milk, and all cooked to the right consistency. A splash of vanilla, and there it was. And it tastes AMAZING. Close-your-eyes-when-you-taste-it good. Sweet, not in a cloying way, but a gentle, simple sweetness that comes of having four simple ingredients.

Sometimes being wrong is annoying. Other times, it leads to sweet serendipity - in life, not just in cooking.

The crème wants something lovely to go with, so I'm making a not-too-sweet chocolate cake (but it would be so good with fresh berries, with tarte tatin, with baked meringue... the list goes on). Even if the donairs don't come quite up to my Maritimer standards, I know dessert will be good.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

end of summer part 2

 Ducks. Now there's something we'll do again. They entertained as they grew, making us laugh as they swam in their little pool or walked around shaking their tails. It's some sort of reflex thing they seem to do, and made me smile every time. They like to hang around in groups and even when they did get out of their pen (as when they realized that they could fly), they just sort of wandered around until we opened the door to let them back in. Two got much larger so we figured they were the drakes. I learned after ordering them, though, that the slaughterhouse we take the chickens to doesn't process ducks.

"Oh? Why not?" I asked. "Well," the lady there informed me, "water birds have different feathers. They have an under layer that our plucking machines won't remove. The places that process them wax them."

Waxing ducks.

Of course the thing that immediately sprung to mind was ducks sitting at a spa, having their legs waxed. But as I read up on it, they literally dip the carcass in paraffin wax, let it harden, and off come the feathers. Oh, the things I learn.

No worries, I thought. We'll find a place that does them. The one I did find, however, was an hour's drive away. Two hours in the truck for five ducks didn't seem like good economics. And so, we decided (or maybe just I did? I can't recall. Maybe D just nodded at my latest silly idea) that we would do it ourselves.

I won't give details, as this is not in any way a how-to blog, except to say that their end was quick and humane (though the twitching is unpleasant), plucking is a terribly tedious business, and maybe waxing would have been a good idea after all. D, with his experience of field dressing after hunting, did the removal of the insides, and we quickly chilled the birds. The two large ones were 7 and 8 pounds finished, too big for the freezer bags - so I quartered them and made stock from them, while the other three went in the freezer whole at about 5 pounds each.

The next day we had one of the breast halves, cooked to sear the outside, rare on the inside, and with a glaze of pan juices, white wine, balsamic vinegar, and honey. And - oh. my. Amazing. 

I also realized, as we ate it, that I had a different appreciation for what I was eating. We had raised, killed,  processed, and cooked this meat. I didn't order it at a restaurant, didn't pick it up off the shelf. I don't say it in a holier-than-thou way, I just realized that having been involved in every step of the process, I felt different about the food I was enjoying. Sentimental? Maybe. But it's how I felt. I think I appreciated it more than I had before.

end of summer part 1

Our farm summer is over: the garden done, all the meat birds gone in various ways, the cows returned to their home farm. 

 Some kale and chard remain to be eaten, but it was a nice summer with the garden. Not the greatest for tomato yields, but what we got was delicious. 

 We raised and took two batches of meat birds to the slaughterhouse, putting 32 roasters into our freezer. In a way the chicks have become pretty normal for us, though the arrival of the new little ones is always cause for squeals from the girls. A dozen new layers joined us this year, bringing the total to 13 along with Mini-Me, the sole remainder of our last bunch. She doesn't lay any more but has attained pet status. 

This summer's experiment was pheasants and ducks. To sum it up, ducks were adorable and pheasants were pretty but flighty. But of course we always have to look at the success of the venture, i.e., how did they taste, and were they worth the effort? 

The pheasants were gorgeous as their feathers came in. The colours! Greens, rusty red. brown speckles, and even iridescent purples when the light hit them right. Stunning. And as they strutted around their run, they really did look lovely. That was before they escaped, were recaptured, and escaped again. So, I have no idea how they tasted. Likely not worth the effort, though in a couple years I may be crazy enough to try again.