30 March, 2009

Pyrohy Addendum

Lest I gave the impression that pyrohy are only for the days when your belly needs something solid to weigh you down, I thought I should share this photo.  This is my mom making pyrohy in Mexico, on Christmas Eve last year.  My pregnant sister insisted that it wasn't Christmas Eve without pyrohy so my mom, despite her desire to read on the beach, indulged her and made a batch.  Notice the empty wine bottle for rolling the dough!

27 March, 2009

The Ultimate Comfort Food

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm a good Ukrainian girl.  If you are from anywhere but Western Canada this elicits a questioning, "So?"  But out here that takes pride to admit. Ukrainians are the butt of many a joke about stupidity, frugality, and general country bumpkiness.  Not to mention the ability to consume alcohol and vast quantities of starchy food. My drinking and eating habits aside, I am proud to say that I thinks I gots me some good book learnin', I certainly know how to spend money, and my farm experiences revolve around being shipped to rural Saskatchewan for a few weeks every summer only or investigating potential greenhouse gas reduction projects in my professional life.

As a Ukrainian I can proudly say that I know how to make borscht, blood sausage, cabbage rolls (holubsti) and pyrohy.  Okay, maybe I'm not proud of making blood sausage  - that stuff is vile! But oh, those pyrohy, or pierogies, to the rest of you.

Pyrohy are a go to food in this house.  No energy to cook? Throw some pyrohy in boiling water and dinner is served.  Meeting the potential (at the time) grandson-in-law? Keep water on a low boil until the moment he walks in the door and cook him pyrohy. Shitty, cold day?  Fill up on pyrohy. Pregnant?  Eat them every day your husband, a.k.a. the Diet Nazi, allows.

Although Hubby is only Ukrainian by marriage, he knows the love you get from a heaped plate filled with dumplings, fried onions, and a ridiculously large scoop of sour cream.  When his father was struggling with cancer years back we took a break from the hospital and joined my family at the church pyrohy supper. Concerned family friends asked us how we and his family were managing.  Between bites he simply replied, "Fuck cancer, I'm going to die of a heart attack!" And then he went back for seconds.

It isn't just the tender dough wrapped around creamy, salty potatoes (usually) that fills your gut with a heavy hug, it is the process of making pyrohy. They are time consuming to make. Repetitive and rather boring, it can be meditative. Or you can invite a whole bunch of friends or family over, chat, sip tea (or rye) to stir, roll, and pinch. Trays of frozen dumplings and a lot of laughs later you may not even need to eat them. Okay, you will need to eat them, but maybe a few less.

If you don't have the time or some interested friends, find a Ukrainian church with a pyrohy supper or a European deli that sells homemade. Do. Not. Ever. Buy a supermarket offering. No matter how much bacon, fried onions, or sour cream you slather on, they will not be good. The dough will be tough and the filling gluey.

This is my mom's recipe for pyrohy dough. Find any church cookbook and you will see a million different ways to make the dough. This one, in my handwritten recipe book, makes no sense on paper. No, you are not making glue. Actually, it is damn confusing when you make it too.  Trust me, like the pyrohy process as a whole, take it gentle and it will all come together into your little pillows of goodness.  

Yesterday I invited Julie over and we made a couple of batches between dog adventures, baby snacks, and interviews. She couldn't stop gushing (at least it seemed that way to me) about the tender dough and got me thinking about all sorts of filling options and even frying them before boiling. Bad, Julie!

Baba's Pyrohy Dough

5 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 egg, room temperature
2 cups recently boiled water

1.  In a large bowl mix together the flour and salt.
2. Combine the oil and the egg, beat together lightly.  Stir in to the flour and salt.  It will not combine well, but keep stirring and working at it until you have a coarse meal, like biscuit dough would be before you added the liquid.
3.  Pour your hot water in to the flour and egg mixture, all at once.  Immediately start stirring. It won't look like it is coming together, but keep stirring it.  Don't beat the crap out of it, but stir for a minute or two and it will come together into a somewhat lumpy, ugly dough. The next three photos show this.  Cover with a damp tea towel or loosely cover with plastic wrap.  Let it rest for at least 15 minutes, if not 30.

While your dough is resting you can get your fillings together.  Purists will insist upon mashed potatoes, perhaps with some cottage cheese or maybe cheddar.  Some of us love a good sauerkraut filling (the only ones I would eat as a kid).  The classic filling in this house is cheesy mashed potatoes with a crumble of bacon smack in the middle.  Don't mix it in with the potatoes because the sharp bits of bacon will pierce the dough.  Regardless of your filling choice, make sure it is cool or cold, not hot.  Julie brought over two very yummy fillings - mashed potatoes with cheese and carmelized onions and mashed potatoes with leftover chicken and gravy.

You can also make dessert pyrohy.  My sister-in-law loves them simply filled with saskatoon berries.  Recently I made some with blueberries and ricotta.  And yesterday I used the pear left from Smilosaurus' snack, carmelized them with a bit of butter and a sprinkling of brown sugar mixed with ricotta.  Julie's suggestion was mascarpone, but I had none.  The dessert pyrohy is best served browned in butter with a bit of sugar, like a good blintz should be.  And perhaps some lightly sweetened sour cream on the side.

Let's get to the process of filling that dough now.

First I cut a good hunk from the resting dough, recovering the remainder.  Then roll it out into a log, like we do with playdough.  Make it about an inch around.  Then cut off 1/2 inch chunks. Take those chunks and roll them into balls.  You will have about 1 inch balls.  Of course you can make them any size you want, this is just how I do it.

The next thing you want to do is to roll those balls flat with a rolling pin.  Not too flat or your dumpling won't stay together.  Not too thick or you will have very thick pyrohy and the dough may not cook all the way through.  I would say it's about 1/8 to 3/16 of an inch.

Take a heaping teaspoonful of your filling and place it in the middle of your dough.  Again, not too much, not too little.  After you've made a few you will be able to eyeball the perfect ratio for you.  
Fold over one side to create a semi-circle.  I do this all in my hand, but Julie favoured doing it right on the counter - or with her fancy contraption that made them all too perfect for my liking.

Finally, pinch the sides together.  This is where personal style takes over.  My mom, for example, does a solid pinch all the way around, once.  I do a soft pinch for an initial seal, then a firmer crimp.  It doesn't matter how as long as it is sealed and preferably without a big flange of thin dough.
Et voila!  (I don't know how to say that in Ukrainian).

Unless you live in a large family, or an average Ukrainian family, one batch of dough makes more than one meal or two.  The best way to store pyrohy is frozen.  You need to freeze them individually first.  I lay out tea towels, sprinkle them generously with flour, and place the pyrohy on them as I finish each one.  Freeze, then store in plastic bags, containers, or even ice cream pails in the freezer until ready to use.  Just remember to label them if you made more than one kind! 
Last but not least, you need to cook your pyrohy.  Whether you cook them fresh or frozen., the technique is the same.  Bring a large pot of water to a full boil.  Toss in your pyrohy, not crowding them too much.  Keep at a boil and stir gently every now and then.  The pyrohy are finished when they float at the top.  If they are frozen and particularly thick you might poke them gently to make sure the filling is soft.  Drain.

You can eat them straight this way, generally served with fried onions and sour cream.  A lot of people fry them with the onions to crisp up the outsides.  Growing up we ate them boiled for dinner and the leftovers were fried for breakfast the next day.  What else do you do without a microwave?

I serve mine with some garlic sausage/keilbasa/kubasa.  Other traditional sides/toppings include mushroom gravy, dill sauce, and bacon.  If you want to make the pretense of a healthy meal you might serve salad or peas - to the kids -  with this.  Oh yeah, bring on the heart attack.

25 March, 2009

Passion Fruit Take 2

After the first disaster with passion fruit I wasn't willing to give up on my family.  Dammit, they were going to like these things!   Considering that it was the seeds that turned off both The Monster and Hubby I knew I need to do something with just the juice.  The novelty of cracking the fruits on the counter just wasn't enough to carry them through the visual.  That left out Nigella's famous passion fruit pavlova.  But everything tastes better as ice cream.  Well, except for that weird savoury ice cream they were always making on the original Iron Chef.

Another trip to More Than Mangos yielded some of the same orange passion fruit and the little purple ones.  Crack 'em open and the orange ones have pale pulp and the purple ones have orange pulp.  Go figure.

We had family in town over the weekend and my 6 year old nephew came in the kitchen to help me make this ice cream. He gleefully smashed the passion fruit, nearly gagged when he saw the insides, and bravely tried a small slurp of the seedy pulp. He admitted that it tasted good, but politely declined any more. Oh, and he was happy to devour a bowl of the ice cream before they left for the night, not so generously sharing with his parents.

A little research and some searching through my own recipe archives and I arrived at a recipe that I thought would work.  I made it once, and then again.  Yeah, it's good.  In case the above photo didn't tip you off, this is no plain passion fruit sorbet.  This is rich, subtly sweet ice cream with bits of meringue in it, passion fruit pavlova ice cream.  The ice cream has the subtle flavour of the passion fruit, with a hint of vanilla.  But it is thick and creamy, reminding you of the whipped cream.  And the bits of meringue introduce a softer texture that disappears as the ice cream melts on your tongue.  Just writing about it now is making me very happy that there is a bit left in the freezer for a before bed snack, if I can keep The Monster successfully diverted with cookies and bed-jumping.

In fact, putting meringues in ice cream is an ingenious idea.  You use the egg yolks for the ice cream's custard base and make the meringues with the egg whites.  No waste, and some extra meringues for nibbling on while your custard chills.

I used a recipe that I found on Orangette.  Hers calls for the addition of cocoa nibs.  While good, I would leave those out for this recipe.  I used my leftover three egg whites, spooned out about 12 good sized clouds, and baked them while I made my custard.  Once cooled completely I froze them.  The texture doesn't change tremendously, but it does help when breaking them into small pieces to put in the ice cream.  Try to be conscious of the colour of your meringues.  It doesn't really matter, but the subtle contrast in the finished ice cream is a nice touch.  Plus, it helps when you are feeding the baby who can't eat egg whites the ice cream and you can see the meringues.

Passion Fruit Pavlova Ice Cream

1 Tbsp cornstarch
3/4 cup white sugar
3 egg whites at room temperature
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
pinch of salt

1.  Preheat the oven to 275 degrees C.  Line a large cookie sheet with Silpat or parchment.
2.  Mix the cornstarch and the sugar together.  Set aside.
3. Whip the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt together in a heavy duty mixer.  Beat until bubbles are small and uniform and soft peaks are starting to form, a couple of minutes.
4.  Gradually add the sugar and cornstarch, a little bit at a time.  Continue whipping until stiff peaks form and the mixture is very glossy.
5.  Spoon the egg whites into circles about 2-3 inches wide on a cookie sheet.  You should have enough for about 12-14 individual meringues.  Push down each meringue in the centre with the back of a tablespoon.
6.  Bake for 20-30 minutes.  Rotate your pan and watch that the meringues don't take on too much colour.  If they are turning golden turn down your oven temperature.  Finished meringues should be crisp and dry.  Cool completely on the pan before turning out on to a wire rack.
7.  Place half the meringues in the freezer for at least 4 hours before using.  Enjoy the rest as sweet treats.

Ice Cream
4-8 passion fruits - you need about 1/2 cup juice
2 cups half and half cream
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup milk
1 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 inch piece of vanilla bean, split, but not scraped
3 egg yolks
Splash of vodka, rum, or passion fruit liquor

1.  In a heavy saucepan whisk together the creams, milk, sugar, and salt.  Over medium heat bring to a simmer.  Toss in the vanilla bean while heating.
2.  Whisk the egg yolks.  Add about a cup of cream to the yolks, whisking vigorously.  Then stir the egg mixture into the cream.  Continue to cook, whisking continuously, until the custard is thick and coats the back of a spoon.
3.  Strain the custard into a clean bowl.  Place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or over night.
4.  Take your passion fruits and find the closest child with a bit of strength or energy.  Get the kid to smack the passion fruit on the counter in order to crack it open.  Scoop the pulp into a wire mesh strainer and stir with a tablespoon to force the liquid through the strainer.  Chill 1/2 cup juice until you are ready to freeze the ice cream.
5.  When the custard is cold, make ice cream according to your appliance's directions.  When the ice cream is done, just before you turn off the machine, add the passion fruit juice and the splash of liquor.  
6.  While the ice cream is churning chop your frozen meringues.  They will still be somewhat soft, so be gentle.  Resist the urge to tear them apart because you will merely squish them down.
7.  Pour your ice cream in to a plastic container for freezing.  Fold in the chopped meringue. Cover with plastic wrap and the container's cover.  Freeze for a minimum of a two hours before serving.

23 March, 2009

Never Turn Your Back in the Kitchen

Winter storms attacked us again.  Sneaking in from behind they walloped us good yesterday.  It wasn't much of a day for venturing out, although we did that - there is something to be said for the snowsuit overtop of PJs.  Rather, it was a day for the oven.  And really, it was a day for the couch, but unless you want to watch this all day you have to get up and encourage the kids to jump on the beds.  

With a pile of carrots and parsnips in the house stew was on the menu.  Passion fruit ice cream too, but that will come another day.  The Monster and I set about peeling veg while Hubby tried to rest on the couch.  Oh, did I mention that all four of us have colds right now?  So we get all our veg peeled and chopped and I set to browning the beef.  After a quick deglaze of the pan with orange juice (my favourite thing to use when making stew) I turned around to grab all my veg.  As you can see from the above photo I had cause to pause.  We have a 'no hands on the cutting board' rule in the house, but apparently that doesn't apply to rubber duckies.

There are so many reasons to cook with your kids, giggles notwithstanding.

20 March, 2009

Backseat Adventure - Family Day in Banff

It's been a few weeks since we took a day off and headed a little West to Banff.  But we were talking about brunch and Hubby informed me that he would forgo any brunch in the city to drive to Banff for brunch.  All I have to say is "Be careful what you wish for..."

It was a strong desire for a change of scenery and the promise of a soak in the Hot Springs that took us to Banff.  We will head to the mountains to hike or bike, but we don't usually go in to Banff.  To be honest, we avoid it.  Do you remember that scene at the end of The Truman Show, where they hit the edge of the set?  That's what I feel like when I go in to the Banff townsite.  A wonderfully idyllic setting that seems too pretty to be real.  Really, just a mall with a fantastic ceiling.    This particular day we just wanted brunch, candy, and a soak.  Call it the urban adventure to the Rockies.

We paid our national park entrance fee, parked on one of the empty spots off Banff Avenue, and wandered, nose to the ground, for some eggs benedict.  Then talk about some fantastic friggin' luck.  We cut down a side street to check out a bakery.  Hmm, it smelled good but there were no eggs on the menu.  Hubby needs his eggs.  But just down the road we happened upon The Bison Mountain Restaurant and Lounge.  The downstairs is under renovation, but the restaurant was open.  They happily accommodated our stroller and put us in a quiet spot near the kitchen - not to hide us, but so we could see all the action from the open kitchen.  Then the brunch glory began.

Sure, they had a kids menu, but it seemed too safe, too boring, too predictable.  But the french toast sounded yummy, and it came with bacon.  Everything is right in the world if The Monster has bacon.  And some eggs benny that sounded too pretty to be real.  But oh, was it all so real.  Broek Acres Back Bacon with carmelized onions (or maple onion compote, as they called ).  And I had duck confit with fresh cheese curds on my benny.  Hands down, they were both the best eggs benny we've ever had.  And Hubby knows his eggs benny.  Hence the desire to drive there anytime.

The Monster's french toast came stuffed with smoked gouda and bacon, covered in a blueberry sauce and garnished with an apple slaw.  When the waitress brought the plates out she was looking for the third adult at our table.  "Oh no," we told her, "that's for her."  In the end she ate half of the actual toast, most of the blueberries, all of the cheese and bacon, and she split the apples with her sister.  

A little, just a little, walk was required after all that goodness.  Where else to go in Banff when you aren't there to shop?  The candy store, of course!  World famous, Welch's Candy Shop has been an institution for anyone who has ever made their way to the mountains more than once.  As a kid we always went there, even if we were only skiing for a day.  No trip was complete without my brother's wine gums, my sister's jaw breakers, my mom's almond bark, and my macaroons.  As I got older I always managed to sneak a couple of Flakes in the bag too.

The selection might be a bit overwhelming for the neophyte.  Just don't get overcome by the selection of imported treats and various cliche Canadiana candy.  Save your eyes for the large bulk display.  No, it isn't all homemade on site, but that isn't the point.  Just the visit, the sugar smell, and the white paper bag of your treat of choice are what it's all about.

Finally, the day would not have been complete without a visit to the Banff Upper Hot Springs.  Yes, it's touristy and generally crowded.  But if you get there before 4, when the ski hills haven't cleared yet, then it's just you, some Canmore locals, and all the Japanese tourists.  And in the winter you can still enjoy the view before darkness settles in.  It sure as hell isn't going to burn off any of the calories from brunch and your candy, but it feels so good on work weary bones.

Hmm, what's Hubby doing this Sunday?

17 March, 2009

Taste Adventure - Deer

The home of my brother- and sister-in-law is situated in country residential East of Edmonton. Their house is set back from a rural road and surrounded by trees.  Moose will bed down on their front lawn and there is a new deer track every morning.  What a perfect location for a family of hunters.

At our last visit we watched a snacking deer as the sun set.  The Monster was actually quite afraid of the deer, hiding behind her uncle as he tried to point out the doe in the trees.  She constantly repeated, "I'm afraid of the deer."  Hmm, maybe it had something to do with the head of a buck on the living room wall?

Regardless, I was a little nervous as to how she would react when I pulled out a gifted deer roast from the freezer.  Would the memory be so strong and she would be afraid to eat?  Would she get upset at eating an animal, albeit a different animal, she just saw?  

The roast was simply labelled "deer roast".  Hmm, I had no idea what cut it was.  That makes a difference in how you cook a roast.  Animals with lots of connective tissue require a slow, low roast to ensure a tender piece of meat.  At the other end of the spectrum, a cut like a tenderloin needs high heat and to be cooked for only a short time.  What to do, what to do? God love the internet.  Most hunting related sites suggested marinating the roast in buttermilk or milk, overnight.  Well, that wasn't an option.  I was making it for dinner that night.  What I did find is that unless it was a tenderloin that most methods included a liquid of sorts.  So I went with an old fashioned pot roast.

Smashed garlic, a rough chopped onion, and a pile of carrots went into the La Creuset beside the well seasoned and browned roast.  I poured in a bottle of beer and stuck it in the oven for an hour at 350 degrees.  In the end, it was a bit long, with the roast cooked all the way through. But oh, was it ever tender.  You could definitely tell it was game and not beef, but it had tremendous, rich flavour.  I served it with some homemade horseradish cream that my dad makes every year.

It turns out I didn't need to be nervous about whether The Monster would like it or not.  Her plate is always put down first.  By the time I turned around and put down plates for Hubby and I she'd already powered through half of what I gave her.  "Good bacon, Mama," she informed me.  And this past weekend she told her uncle that she was no longer afraid of the deer.

The deer roast was also a good introduction to red meat for The Smilosaurus.  Cut in tiny little chunks she ate more than The Monster.  And since that night she's been a meat fiend.  Steak dinner out one night, ribs, even chicken tagine.  Our little carnivore.  And it all started with the deer our family provided.  Now that's local. 

15 March, 2009

What Do I Do With All These Radishes?

It can be pretty tough, but ridiculously rewarding to eat local whenever and wherever you can. But where do you start? Where can you buy? Who makes the stuff? And hey, what do I do with all the radishes I find in July?

There is a great event coming up for Calgary and area folks called Local 101. From the farmer to the chef to the shopper, come and learn more about what it takes to eat local. More importantly, come and learn more about the opportunities we have for fantastic products grown and produced in our own backyard. You'll meet farmers, writers, and a lot of cooks who live and breathe and eat local.

Eating local is fundamental to the grocery purchases in our house, and to the lessons we aim to teach the girls. Somedays I feel like I'm snotty and giving off a major superiority vibe when I talk to other moms about this fact. And other days I feel like everyone I know does this, so what's the big deal? The truth is, there are more people in my circle who shop at the big box grocery stores and Costco than shop at the farmer's market. There are more people I know who complain about the white, expensive strawberries available in March than wonder whether they should even be eating strawberries in the waning days of winter.

So I've invited a few friends and we're heading out to Local 101. They've all heard me from my pulpit, I hope some good farmers will inspire them to get a little dirty and see what our Prairie sun offers.

11 March, 2009

Make Your Own Baby Food - Part 2

Take a deep breath and ignore the upcoming mess.  The Smilosaurus refuses to eat baby food anymore.  This, of course, comes only days after I filled a few ice cube trays with pork, beans, broccoli, carrots, peppers, and squash.  It must have been the peas.  Now she insists on feeding herself.  The only exceptions are yoghurt and cottage cheese, and those can't be shovelled in fast enough.

There comes a point when all babies should refuse baby food.  It's often a hard adjustment for us parents.  Will they get enough to eat?  Have I chopped those beans small enough?  Does she have to be so messy?  Many a friend will keep trying to feed the purees and mashes to make sure that the kid is getting enough to eat.  But remember this, by the time they insist on finger foods they usually don't need to eat as much.  And they do get more in their mouth than you think they do.  That is, until they learn to feed the dogs hovering below the high chair.

What started it all for The Smilosaurus was a roasted carrot. I roasted a chicken for the rest of us. Because I love the carrots roasted with meat I threw a bunch in the pan. It seems she loves them too. Soon it became more about what she could get her hands on, literally, and what we were eating. You should have seen her with medium rare steak tonight. I swear she ate half of mine.

It is rather tempting at this point to let them survive on bananas and peas.  This phase of baby food can be more time consuming than the purees.  Only because of the incessant chopping required.  You are your baby's sous chef, dicing and prepping every day.  The one saving grace is that this is also the time when you can start introducing spices, oil, butter, and other condiments.  Knowing that can make your life a lot easier.

At this point you have two choices: reserve a bit of what you are making to steam and chop for your little one.  This only takes a few extra minutes of prep, and maybe another pan/dish if you want to cook it separately.  Or, you can simply take what you've cooked - prior to salting it - and cut it into small pieces.  Okay, you can do it after seasoning it too... but I am notorious for undersalting, according to Hubby.

No recipe, no technique.  This is about the transition from purees to people food.  You've been getting rougher textures already, right?  You've been offering things like bananas, peas, and blueberries to encourage her pincer grasp, right? No? Then start with these.  In fact, I start with these within a month or two of starting solids.  The longer you stay on smooth purees, the harder it will be to move to finger foods.

The next thing to help with the transition is to make sure you are sitting down to eat with your baby.  Too often we feed the baby first, make our dinner, then feed ourselves.  Sure, your dinner will get a little cold or it will feel like you are eating ungodly early, but it is important to sit down as a family and eat.  Your baby will see you eating your food and their natural curiosity will draw them to your food.  Not to mention the extra benefits your family gains when sitting down together.

Don't let a lack of teeth stop you from introducing chewy and rough textures.  My little one has her two bottom front teeth, and that's it.  And tonight she ate about 4 ounces of medium rare steak.  And raw peppers, chopped a little smaller, some steamed green beans, sweet potato, and watermelon chunks.  That was just dinner.

So grab a good knife and chop away.  Some foods will require cooking - like beans, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, and even zucchini.  But you can get away with raw peppers, peas, and most fruits.  I would steer clear of hard apples or most raw veg at this point.  Meats and beans are fine, but cut them a bit smaller than you do the soft foods.   Most importantly, don't leave your baby alone when you eat.  This isn't the time to grab a shower or put in a load of laundry.  Finally, here is some good advice in the unlikely but horrible event that you do encounter choking.

Hubby loves this photo of our little one.  He says it reminds him of a combination of The Incredible Hulk and Shrek- if they ate maple baked beans and avocados.

06 March, 2009

Comfort Food - Bread

Start 'em young, that's what I say.

My bread-making skills (if they can be called that) began in my teens.  Simply out of experimentation I tried a few loaves.  I think my mom was still happier buying the grocery store brands.  But in my last year of university I took a job at an organic vegetation cafe and bakery.  A family run business, I did no more than serve food and maybe marinate some tofu, while the mom, dad, and son did all the cooking and baking.  Then the son wanted to go on vacation.  Despite having to start work by 5 am I was stoked to get in the kitchen and play with the starters.  It took a few weeks, but soon enough there was no difference between my bread and the experts.

But in the 13 years that have passed I've only randomly made bread.  Instead, I will spend some time and not an insignificant amount of money on finding local bakeries and good bread.  And good bread products.  I could live on bread alone, provided I had some sweet butter, jam, and a croissant or two thrown in.  The Monster is the same way.  For a few months there she quite literally survived on bread and fruit.  Yes, Atkins is a four letter word in this house.

With winter hanging on for dear life I decided I needed to make some bread.  The ritual of kneading and the smell of yeast are a comfort on a bright and cold afternoon.  The buns and loaves are a welcome addition to the dinners of stew and soups that keep our bellies full and warm.

As expected, The Monster was happy to join me in the kitchen.  Dumping flour, stirring the wet ingredients, and cracking an egg are always eagerly approached.  What I underestimated was how much she would enjoy kneading.  She dove right in and attacked the dough.  Surprisingly, she was pretty good.  Despite her constant attempts to shake her bum to Coldplay and Paul Simon, she doesn't quite have rhythm yet.  But she did have a good grasp of the rhythm of kneading.  I would fold and turn, she would knead.  We had our pass back and forth going strong.  

Sadly, she wouldn't eat the buns when they were cooked.  Next time I'll play music while we knead.

03 March, 2009

Comfort Food - Cake

Because beer doesn't qualify as food (although it has qualified as dinner before) it cannot truly be considered a comfort food.  Besides, that would be a bit scary.  But beer in cake?  Definitely dinner and dessert, and a midnight snack or two, all in one tasty, brown, sweet, and crumbly package.

During one of our recent emergency room visits I flipped through the March issue of Chatelaine?  Does anyone else feel sadly old reading a magazine they remember their mom reading, while you snuck looks to make yourself feel older?  And can you believe there was a current issue of a magazine in a hospital waiting room?  I digress.

Not so surreptitiously I ripped out the page before we left.  Something about beer and cake together seemed ridiculously indulgent.  Other than cupcakes here and there and a birthday cake or two (and it's usually wacky cake) I never bake cakes.  We just don't have enough company to justify all that goodness in the house for me to eat over the next two days, to the neglect of any other food.

There was no occasion other than family dinner to make the cake.  With one sad looking Trad in the house I broke it open - resisting the urge at 10 am to take a sip - and got to baking.  It was an easy cake to make, as most are.  Really just a dense and crumbly cake, using beer instead of milk or another liquid.  Honestly, I was a little worried that it wasn't coming together well as the batter was quite dry.  And maybe it isn't supposed to be?  But it resulted in a wonderful cake.

Shockingly, I also followed the recipe and used the remainder of the beer for the icing.  It is a basic whipped buttercream.  I know most people find buttercream to sweet, but I recommend it in this instance.  There is a good ratio of cake to icing, unlike many a famous purchased cupcake, and the sweetness of the icing is balanced out by the crumb of the cake.

And, in case you were wondering, you don't really taste the beer.  Trad is not a mild tasting beer, but it isn't a strong stout like a Guinness (which is what was called for in the initial recipe).  There was just a hint of bitterness to the cake, and not enough that The Monster or Hubby went, "Hey, what's in this?"  We all just happily ate our cake, patted our tummies, and laughed through another loud and crazy meal time.  A kitchen antidote for a long and stressful day.

Chocolate Beer Cake
(adapted from Chatelaine, March 2009)

1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup lightly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup beer

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degree F.  Spray two 8 inch round cake pans.
2. Sift flour with cocoa, baking powder, soda, salt into a bowl.  Stir to mix.
3.  Using an electric mixer beat the butter and sugar for a few minutes until fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in vanilla.
4.  Stir about 1/3 of the dry ingredients into the butter mixture, add half of the beer.  Repeat the additions, ending with flour.  Stir until evenly mixed.  Pour batter into prepared pans.
5.  Bake in centre of oven for 25-28 minutes.  Cool in pans on rack for 10 minutes, then turn out to cool completely.

Chocolate Beer Icing
3 cups icing sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup beer (or milk)
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

1.  Sift icing sugar with cocoa.
2.  In separate bowl beat butter until creamy.  Gradually beat in half the icing sugar.  Mixture will be dry.  Slowly add beer, vanilla and salt.  Add the remaining icing sugar.  Beat until well combined.

To ice the cake, slice off any bump from the top of the cake, making a flat top.  Place one cake on a plate or cake stand.  Spread a third of the icing on the cake.  Place remaining cake on top and gently press down.  Spread another third of the icing on top.  Then spread the remaining third of the icing on the sides of the cake.

Enjoy - with a glass of milk or maybe a scotch.  Oddly, a glass of beer doesn't seem to go well with a slice of this cake.

02 March, 2009

Comfort Food

It has been an emotional couple of weeks with hospital visits, loneliness, stress, sad anniversaries, and new babies.  Time to step back for reassessment, loads of snuggles, and some comfort food.  Food is more than sustenance and I want it to make me feel better in a trying time.  Truth be told I would be happy with a dinner of nachos and guacamole, a beer, and loads of chocolate for dessert.  But even I know that is bad for my ass.

Recently, I read something about emotional eating that completely changed my viewpoint on brownies, pierogies, and juicy burgers.  Sadly, I can't exactly remember where I read it, so you will have to make do with my own paraphrasing: sure, I eat emotionally, but what fun would life be if I didn't?  It isn't about turning to food to make us feel better, it is about food contributing to the emotional health of our souls.  It is about friends sharing cake and wine, cooking with your kids, feeding your tired and hungry husband at the end of a long week, or letting a piece of dark chocolate melt on your tongue while you watch some bad reality TV. Does the food make you feel better?  The Oprah moment for me was realizing that it isn't the food that makes you feel better, it is the experience that makes you feel better.  Food is integral to the overall experience.

We all have different foods we turn to when needing that hug; the same dishes we serve when friends come over or the old recipe that we know will put a smile on our face at Sunday dinner.  Typically these foods are gooey, warm, sweet or salty, and generally fill our tummy with the equivalent of a bear hug from your favourite uncle.  They might also be the foods that bring back memories of your mom treating you when you were sick or your grandmother's expression of love.  Think Mac and Cheese, brownies, and the aforementioned nachos and guacamole.

This week I am going to go through some of my favourite comfort foods.  Some are just the right thing for lingering winter days.  Some are the right thing for indulgence and midnight snacks when no one is sleeping in the house.  Some are just right for passing on traditions.

Today I must write about chili.  Meaty, spicy, slightly sweet, and filled with beans, corns, and just a touch of chocolate.  Well, that was what it turned out like this week.  I swear I've never made two batches of chili the same.  I must admit, other than cooking the beans from dried I was supremely lazy this time around.  I grabbed some moose or elk (it wasn't labelled) that my brother-in-law gave us.  I also grabbed the chili sauce my dad makes a few times a year. Essentially it lands somewhere between a salsa and a tomato sauce.  Brown the meat, toss it with the chili sauce, cooked or canned beans, and some frozen corn kernels.  I also usually throw in some extra chili powder and an ounce or two of bittersweet chocolate.  Bake it for an hour or so on low heat.

The way to properly serve chili is another point of debate in our house.  Hubby likes it over rice.  Personally, I would rather have cornbread or a cheesy bread.  But we both agree on shredded cheese on top.  We actually also both agree on avocado too, but sadly Hubby can't eat it.  Both the girls enjoyed it too.  Well, Smilosaurus only had the beans, avocado, and cheese, but she was in heaven!

What about you?  What do you turn to at the end of a rough week - aside from a case of Traditional Ale or a stiff scotch?

Here are some more favourite chili recipes: