28 January, 2010

My Days and Nights

Like a starving man with irrational and obsessive fantasies about food, I'm losing my mind and killing myself over recipes I can't cook. I'm even dreaming about food and famous foodies.

The other night I went to Pangaea, a restaurant I've only ever heard about through fellow writer, Dana McCauley.  Her husband, Martin Kouprie, owns the place. Now I've never met either of these people in person, but I had a very elaborate dream where Martin took me on a tour of the place and gave me a cooking lesson. So now I am obsessed with trying something we experimented with in the dream - hot chocolate ice cream. We made ice milk, then poured over a cocoa sauce. Cocoa sauce? Not chocolate sauce? It was a dream after all.

Then last night I had a fantastic dream with Matt Armendariz. Nothing either of our husbands have to worry about, so stop right there. If Matt ever opens the bar I dreamt about he will be a very popular man.  Well, popular with everyone but my dad. Inexplicably my grumpy old dad came with me to the movie screening at Matt's bar. The rest of the crowd, full of old friends from university and what my unconscious can only guess are a mess of Matt's friends, enjoyed candy, chocolate, and pastry made by Matt. I can't tell you what movie we watched, but I can still taste the butter and flake of Matt's perfect pastry.

And I thought it was bad spending my days reading magazines and blogs, torturing myself with food I cannot make until I can stand for more than 5 minutes unassisted. Now my nights are haunted by crazy good food and better company that the ladies on The View.

25 January, 2010

When Hubby is in Charge of Cooking

My mom just left after a weekend of cooking, giggles, and laundry. She came down to help us after I blew out both my knees skiing last weekend. Hubby still isn't fully healed after his broken collarbone so taking care of the three of us girls is a bit much on top of working as well. So mom came down, fixed us up with some great dinners, and put some soup and pyrohy in the freezer.

But before she came down Hubby spent the week cooking.  One night I walked him through a leftover change-up, we enjoyed some meals from the freezer and from friends, and one night Hubby made wiener wraps. Hot dogs, plastic cheese, and the packaged dough in a can. He was in heaven, the girls loved them, and even I ate two. But I did eat most of the carrot sticks I convinced Hubby to prepare. I can't wait to cook again.

20 January, 2010

Kijiji Rocks!

Or how The Okanagan Food and Wine Writers' Workshop got Charmian Christie a new stove.

Back in September we had a private tour of the Mission Hill Winery kitchen.  Matt Batey, the executive chef, was out guide in a market tour as part of the agenda of the OFWWW. Aside from picking up our pears and touring the gardens we spent a lot of time standing around their custom built sove.

For more than a few years Hubby and I have been engaged in a fantasy renovation of our kitchen. Unfortunately for me, a new kitchen is far behind windows, a new roof, and a finished basement on the reno list. But in my fantasy world I have an induction cooktop in an eat-in kitchen. So as soon as I saw the gleaming equipment in the Mission Jill kitchen I knew I'd found a small piece of kitchen heaven. Hubby, being an equipment nerd, was suddenly interested in my former abstract concept of an induction cooktop.

Guys being guys and having already bonded over a love for powerful cars, Matt was pleased to demonstrate  to Hubby just how cool induction is - near instant hot and cold with quick temperature responsiveness in addition to safety and cool pots.  Drape Brad Pitt on top of the stove and all my fantasies come true.

A few days later I was prepping for my first BT experience, with a focus on the pears that Matt shared with us. While my cheesecake baked I left the plastic crate of pears on top of the stove. It should be clear that I don't have an induction stove.  Just a plain, old electric range courtesy of an 80s reno on a 50s kitchen. I completely forgot about the vent that comes from the top of the stove.  Eventually, part of the plastic crate melted to the front burner of my stove like a nasty, burnt caramel.

Rather than drive around town looking for a replacement burner for a stove I was close to sledgehammering on many an occasion, Hubby suggested we investigate the possibility of a slide-in induction. Damn, I'd successfully converted the guy and he already had abs! My fantasy come to life.

It all came to a screeching halt at the price tag of $8000, on sale.

My alternate suggestion was to buy a basic electric stove - regardless, it was going to be superior to what we had - and use it until the kitchen reno came to fruition.  At that point we could sell it on Kijiji. Hubby's brilliant idea was to go straight to the web ourselves. Two days and $150 later we had a three year old range, as opposed to a 30 year old one.  Oh the options - cookies that didn't burn, properly cooked roasts, and self cleaning!

How did this get Charmian a new stove? A few weeks back she posted about her broken oven and the long wait for a reno to buy a new one. I shared our story with her and for less than she paid for her ice cream maker she too has a new to her oven.

And what was the first meal I made in my new oven? Well, we had a proliferation of Okanagan tomatoes, so we slow roasted them.

While I consider slow roasted tomatoes akin to candy, right now I could sure use the cupcakes Charmian made in my honour. I'm currently laid up, literally, with two wrecked knees from a ski accident.  A freakish, lame ski accident.  Oh, how cupcakes would make my day better.  Then again, scotch, ice cream, and chocolate would also do that.

13 January, 2010

Soup Kind of Days

Nothing particularly bad has happened in our little house lately - unless you count completely forgetting to give my mother-in-law her Christmas present. Thankfully she's forgiven us and we've promised her a CSA membership. And just in time because she offered us a weekend sans kids for skiing and relaxing as our Christmas present. Hubby and I are escaping to Banff this weekend while Grandma and her girls have some serious bonding time.

Sadly, she won't be serving soup. Well, she can grab some but good luck trying to get the girls to eat it. No Borscht, no Chicken Noodle, not even Mama's Tomato Soup. I have no idea what their issue is with soup. From 9 months on they've insisted on feeding themselves and even The Monster hasn't mastered her knife or spoon skills. That might be it, but heaven forbid you try to feed them!

Soup is my go-to meal for a bad day, for providing a meal to a sad friend or new mom, for bread day from Aviv, and for the days that I feel fat or cold. Maybe because toddlers and preschoolers don't have days like those that's why they don't like soup.

Tomato, Bacon, and Blue Soup
Makes 7-8 cups

4 slices bacon (not maple flavoured)
1 small onion
1 garlic clove
2 28 ounce cans whole tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
2 cups water or stock
1 bay leaf
3 ounces blue cheese
1/4 cup heavy cream or whole milk

1. Chop bacon cross-wise. Saute in pan on medium-high heat until just starting to crisp up. Remove 2 tablespoons cooked bacon and reserve for garnish. Pour off almost all the grease left in the pan.
2. While bacon is cooking finely chop onion and garlic. When bacon is cooked add the onion and garlic to the pan. Saute until the onions are soft.
3. Add tomatoes with liquid. Stir in water or stock and bay leaf. Turn heat down to medium and simmer for 20-30 minutes.
4. Puree with an immersion blender, food processor, or in a blender. Be careful when blending hot liquids.
5. Stir in blue cheese and cream/milk. Season well.
6. Garnish with reserved bacon and crumbled blue cheese, if desired.

09 January, 2010


A line of dancers - men dressed in red pants and white, puffy sleeved shirts and women in embroidered velvet vests with flowers and ribbons in their hair - stand in a semi-circle.  With one hand on theirs hips the other stretches to the side, beckoning your eye to a gap in the line. From that gap emerge two women holding nothing but salt and an elaborately braided bread in their hands.  In contrast to the energy of the dance that proceeded them these women exude calm and warmth. They present the salt and the bread to the audience in a gesture of welcome and the performance continues.

If you've never been to a Ukrainian dance performance this must seem odd. For us Ukrainians though, the welcome gesture of bread and salt is ingrained.  By nature Ukrainians are generous and love to introduce a party. Performers have merely taken the tradition that is well known in any farm town or village and adapted it for their audiences.

The bread in question is called Kolach.  Traditionally it consists of three wreathes of dough, braided intricately and stacked.  Centered in the middle of the wreathes would be a candle and the bread would be offered with salt for the home. Kolach is also one of the twelve traditional dishes of Ukrainian Christmas Eve.

I must be in a Ukrainian kind of mood this week with borscht and now this. But when our new neighbours moved in on Friday my first thoughts went to baking bread.  It should be noted that The Monster thought we should bring them cookies and Hubby settled on wine. Rather telling, don't you think? So I baked bread yesterday and we delivered a warm loaf, along with the cookies the girls and I made.

The recipe is one I pulled out of the family's go-to Ukrainian cookbook - The Alvena Homecoming Cookbook. In case you aren't from Saskatchewan, Alvena is a dot on the side of the road that is literally made up of three streets and a hundred farms.  And it happens to be my mom's hometown. The cookbook is 30 years old, published with a collection of recipes for the 75th anniversary of the Province. It includes such clear directions as "Knead well and let rise," as the first instruction and "Bake the same temperature as you do your own bread." I think I need to try the recipe again before I share a modern version.

In the meantime, I'm toasting our new neighbours - a couple under the age of 40 is still a novelty on our street - with my own Kolach.

04 January, 2010

Death By Food - Not Quite

The first time I invited Hubby over for Christmas Eve dinner he fully expected to die from food poisoning of the Ukrainian variety. That is, too much starchy, heavy food that includes grains that were either sickly sweet or mushy. And don't get me started on the pickled fish or sauerkraut and peas.  Death by Food, that's what Hubby called it.

Then he ate the meal, all 12 courses.  Ate would be an understatement.  Devoured is more like it. And he lived to tell the tale. Rather, he lived to tell me that I was crazy and that Christmas Eve dinner was a fantastically delicious meal.

Christmas Eve dinner always starts with Borscht - that classic red beet soup. The next few dishes are, well, something I can't stand (Kutia and Kasha), but the borscht always made me happy.  Except when we ate my Baba's soup and she put peas in it. In honour of Ukrainian Christmas on the 6th I wanted to share this recipe.

This recipe does not include peas.  Thank goodness for that.  Borscht is essentially a beet based vegetable soup.  You can add in other veggies, but I stick to adding beets and a few carrots to onions, celery, and garlic. A browse through any Ukrainian church cookbook will turn up a variety of recipes claiming to be Russian style or Dukhobor style.  I can't speak to them, but potatoes do not belong in borscht as far as my family is concerned. My Baba also often made hers with a ham bone, but to this is easily kept vegetarian by keeping the bone out.

Then there is the issue of exactly how to prepare your beets.  Pre-cooked versus raw in the soup? Chopped, grated, shredded, or sliced? I've settled on roasting, then peeling my beets. And I am firmly in the camp of slicing my beets into matchsticks. It provides a bit of toothiness to the soup, but not as much as you would get if you diced the beets. Yes, it takes longer, but it is a perfect Sunday morning activity with a three year old and a butter knife by your side.

Borscht (Just like my Baba's, minus the peas)
(8-10 cups)

3 pounds beets (6-8 medium)
1 medium onion
2 celery ribs
1 tbsp vegetable oil
4 medium carrots
8 cloves garlic, minced.
19 ounce can diced tomatoes
6 cups water/stock
ham bone (optional)
leaves from one bunch celery
1 tbsp chopped fresh dill

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Trim ends from beets, toss with a little bit of vegetable oil, salt, and pepper.  Roast in oven for 1 and 1/2 hours. Let cool completely.
2. Peel the beets. Julienne into 1/8 inch sticks, about 1-1.5 inches long. Do the same to the carrots. Set aside.
3. Finely dice the onion and celery ribs.  Saute with vegetable oil until soft.  Add in garlic and saute an additional 30 seconds. Stir in beets, carrots, tomatoes and their juice, and 6 cups water.  If using the ham bone add it now. Let simmer over low heat for about 2 hours, covered.
4. Turn off the heat, stir in the celery leaves and dill. Season well with salt and pepper. You can serve it immediately, but borscht benefits from sitting a day or two.
5.  To serve, garnish with a dollop of sour cream or creme fraiche.  Alternatively, drizzle with some heavy cream.