This is the bread of our un-affliction

For many years, I have expressed a desire to establish a tradition in our household of breaking the Passover fast with a loaf of freshly baked bread. I envisioned it as a simple way to reflect on the reasons  we (or at least I) abstain from bread, grains and other foods on Passover–as a reflection on slavery, oppression and states of human emergency in the past and in the present. While we talk about this during our initial seders, the rest of the holiday’s 8 days are generally spent gorging ourselves on matzoh balls and brisket, or quinoa and frittata, as the case may be. So I had this fantasy that I would bookend the holiday with some more thoughtfulness, marking its end with this conscious transition back to the foods we have avoided. I thought it would be impactful to start with something as simple, but fragrant and delectable, as fresh bread. It would be both a physically and emotionally satisfying way of returning to the land of the leavened. I imagined how wonderful it would feel to have the smell of freshly baked bread permeate the house.

Every year, though, I forget to do this until it’s too late. Until this year, when I finally ponied up. What is strange is that this year had Passover ending (this past Tuesday evening) during one of the busiest weeks, professionally, that I have had all year. It is therefore bizarre that this was suddenly the year I finally made good on my promise and baked up some bread. (Am I the only one who procrastinates through baking?) It was a pleasure, though, to take a few minutes from a day spent largely freaking out on my laptop to experiment with one of my favourite ever bread recipes: this honey-oat bread from the Green Mountain Inn in Stowe, Vermont.

I discovered this bread last summer, when I took a short trip to the Stowe area of Vermont with Graeme and his family. I love Vermont for about a million reasons, and food is very high on that list, especially in the summer when fresh produce is everywhere. Our first night there, we had dinner at the Green Mountain Inn, and it was the bread they gave us before the meal that blew us away. How often does that happen?  Just sweet enough and with the perfect doughy texture, we devoured it until they brought us more. The sweetness is so good with a little bit of butter, it’s not even funny. We asked the waitress what it was, and she told us it was honey-oat bread, which I made a mental note to try and find a recipe for when we got home. I googled it almost immediately upon returning, and was shocked to find that Bon Appetit had once printed the actual recipe for that exact honey-oat bread in their restaurant recipe section. It was either fortuitous, or a sign that it was indeed the best damn bread ever, and we weren’t the only ones to recognize that!

Such a treasured bread seemed like an obvious choice for breaking the fast, and indeed, the two loaves baked up beautifully and elicited happy sights as we dug into them. This is a very easy bread to bake (although I am definitely still perfecting it), and I cannot recommend it enough. In the future, I want to mess around with the recipe and see if I can incorporate some whole wheat flour into it, so that I can make it more of an everyday bread rather than a “treat” bread. But in the meantime, it has been two days since I baked it and there are just a couple of slices of the second loaf left; we just can’t resist the stuff. And also, we really, really missed eating bread.

Losing My Religion

Let’s be clear: I am not the beer nut in the house. I like my beer, but it is one of many alcoholic beverages that I choose between regularly. I also like my gin and tonics, single malt whiskies and the occasional cocktail (that Graeme is surprisingly good at preparing). Pictured above, however, is my second favourite beer in the entire world. (I’ll have to save a discussion of my favourite until the next time I get my grubby little hands on it.) It is a Belgian cherry lambic that I picked up when I was in Boston back in January, because lambics are few and far between in this neck of the woods. A lambic is a beer brewed through spontaneous fermentation, which results in a sour taste that is both deep and refreshing. Often, these beers have fruit in them as the mix of sweet and tart works really well together. I love the idea of fruit beers generally, and will try just about any fruit beer I find on a menu, but more often than not they end up too sweet and lacking depth of flavour. This is where lambics rule. And the above Kriek Boon cherry lambic is my favourite that I have tried. (The only other fruit beer that has inspired this level of passion in me was one that I had at the Vermont Pub and Brewery last summer that was so good I sometimes think I dreamed it; but it was a limited edition beer and so I have to live with the terrible knowledge that I will probably never get the chance to drink it again.)

I love this beer so much that it can apparently alter my ability to think straight. This past weekend, Graeme prepared a really nice simple dinner of moules et frites, which is one of our favourite meals to pull out when we want to eat something a little bit special that isn’t too laborious.  As various smells filled our kitchen–mussels steaming, broth simmering, deep fryer bubbling–I set the table and considered what I should drink with dinner. I looked in the fridge and found that lambic that had been patiently waiting for me for over three months, and dug it out from behind seemingly a million of Graeme’s beers. I declared that it would be the perfect accompaniment to this tasty Belgian-inspired dinner, and placed it lovingly on the table.

Graeme looked at me skeptically and said, “You’re drinking a beer?”

I was immediately annoyed, wondering why he was being such a weirdo about my choice to have a beer with dinner, especially one that so obviously demanded it. Sure, I don’t drink beer with dinner every day like he does, but did he have to be such a snob about it? I assumed he was being a sexist jerk or something, and pouted until we dug into our mussels, at which point I was distracted by the deliciousness of the spread in front of me.

The lambic, of course, was as wonderful as I remembered it. There is such a specific sourness to these beers that I am not sure how to describe it, but it’s just lovely and smooth and makes perfect sense. It reminds me of something pickled like kimchi, which I realize is a totally nutty comparison as they taste nothing alike, but I mean in terms of the strong contrast of flavours that makes both so exciting to eat/drink. (Ok, Graeme just informed me that kimchi is also wild fermented, which means that I am some kind of tasting GENIUS.) I devoured the beer (sharing a little bit with Graeme because I’m nice), and waxed poetic on the virtues of lambics until I annoyed even myself.

A little bit less than twenty four hours later, on Sunday afternoon, it hit me. I turned to Graeme and asked, “Wait a second, did you ask me last night why I was drinking that lambic because it’s Passover?”

“Of course,” he replied, “what did you think I was talking about?”

“I don’t know, I just assumed you were being a jerk.”

Whoops. Indeed, I had unwittingly broken my Passover diet without thinking, and it took me almost a full day to even realize it. I proceeded to argue with Graeme about why he didn’t just come flat-out and tell me that I was breaking Passover, but he claimed he figured I knew what I was doing. I did not. Somehow, while I am very conscious about avoiding beer during these eight days, this particular brew was so special that I…forgot it was beer. I never even considered drinking one of the more common bottles we have sitting in the fridge–of course not! No beer on Passover! But somehow the lambic was so enchanting that I lost my ability to think things through.

So there you go: a beer so good it made me lose my religion. I love you, cherry lambic. Look how pretty you are, all rosy and tantalizing:

(And I love you too, bread, which I get to finally eat again tonight! Hooray!)

On Reclaiming Maligned Ingredients and the Search for a Perfect Roast Chicken

Apologies for having only a chicken carcass to show you as a visual representation of the roast chicken I made the other night; we demolished it before I thought to take a photo. That is a good sign, of course, and so perhaps the most appropriate way to illustrate this post. Read on.

I am a bit embarassed to be talking about roast chicken recipes on here, as roast chicken is quintessentially the kind of dish that should require no recipe. It should be simple, warming, and something that you know how to make just so. There should be no measurements involved.

It is also one of my very favourite foods. Whenever I find myself in one of those “what would you eat for your last meal?” conversations (ok, I am often the one to start them), I usually do a little dance around all of my favourite comfort foods and end up in the same place: roast chicken and mashed potatoes (ok, occasionally it’s fried chicken. But always mashed potatoes.) Sadly, though, despite my devotion to this classic comfort food, I have never mastered making it.

This is why every time I roast a chicken, I try a new recipe, in search of the tablespoon of butter here, or the clove of garlic there, that will lead me to glory. I have never made a bad roast chicken, but I have also never made that one that you want for your last meal. To me, this ability to try out new ways of creating such a classic dish is the heart of why I love cookbooks and recipes. They help me experiment, giving me new ideas for how to chase the elusive craving that I can’t quite seem to satisfy. Roast chicken can be prepared in so many different ways, all of them delicious, and it is fun to examine the options. To date, I have probably tried a good dozen roast chicken recipes, the most memorable recent ones being Julia Child’s melt-in-your-mouth bird from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and this awesome one with a million cloves of garlic from Nami-Nami. Both were awesome. But of course there are still more recipes to explore.

This past Friday evening, my dear friend Vero came over for dinner, and I wanted to prepare something simple and easy to throw together that was Passover-friendly. Roast chicken it was. Excited for the opportunity to try a new recipe, as well as a chicken from a new-to-me Quebec farm that I picked up at the butcher’s the other day, I turned to one that I have had my eye on for a while: the “Simple Roast Chicken” from Jennifer McLagan’s Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes.

Let me take the opportunity to mention how much I love this book. I have read, and enjoyed, much of the contemporary canon on “whole foods”, the “slow food movement”, “food ethics”, “nose to tail cooking” and all that jazz. While I am a proponent of everything I’ve put into scare quotes there, I get frustrated by the underlying puritanism of the rhetoric that sometimes comes out of this stuff, especially regarding what is considered “healthful eating”. To me, ethical eating should also be joyful, as pathologizing food and eating, especially food that comes from meat, is disrespectful both to the animals that were killed for my consumption, as well as to myself. What I love about McLagan’s book in particular is that, while she really excellently debunks the demonization of saturated fat and does explain the place of fat in a healthy diet, she also focuses on pleasure. Fat makes food taste good. It does beautiful things to our ingredients and transforms them into food that is filling and flavourful. It helps us to justice to the ingredients that we treasure. The book really solidified a lot of my distaste for the fear of fat found in everyday disucssions of food and cooking; it is part of what has made our food cultures joyless, disconected from our various heritages, and hung up in dysfunctional ideas that confuse nourishment, pleasure, diet, health and morality. Reading Fat, and making sense of my ideas about how I do and don’t want to use it myself, is one of the most important ways I have really pushed my own cooking forward over the past couple of years. McLagan’s book is really liberating; not only has butter become a more regular staple in mine and Graeme’s cooking, but more importantly, we are not apologetic about it anymore. We allow ourselves to admit out loud that we prefer chicken thighs to breasts; that we don’t think the lardons they serve at one of the brunch places we frequent are gross. We get a wink from the butcher when we tell him not to cut the fat of our roasts. Life is good.

That said, I have not tried that many recipes out of the book to date; I have loved it primarily as a really great study of fats, and the recipes are sort of like the (buttercream) icing on the cake! But McLagan’s roast chicken has been calling out to me for some time, because it seemed a perfect combination of unfussy and indulgent. And it did not disappoint. When I first slathered on the 100g of butter that she suggests, I thought the bird would end up greasy and over the top (as I thought it did when I tried the otherwise delicious and extremely buttery Julia Child recipe). But cut with herbs and citrus it was not overly rich at all, it was just juicy, comforting and a perfect relaxed Friday night dinner. We ate it with mashed potatoes (of course!), sauteed broccoli and snowpeas, caramel apples for dessert courtesey of Vero (an unexpectedly original Passover-friendly dessert!) and Graeme’s incredible chicken soup as a starter (which he will be blogging about shortly, under threat of divorce if he does not). We were a very satisfied bunch at the end of the night, and the carcass above was all that remained (which we have since demolished, gobbling up the leftover bits of meat and freezing the bones for stock). I am not sure that I’ve found my perfect roast chicken just yet, but this recipe has me well on the way.

Simple Roast Chicken
Adapted from Jennifer McLagan’s Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes
Serves 4

Ingredients
One 3 lb/1.5 kg chicken
Handful mixed herbs (I used fresh parsley and rosemary)
1 large garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped (I used 3)
7 tblsp/100g unsalted butter, softened
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, cut in half

Preheat the oven to 450F/230C. Pat the chicken dry. Set aside a couple of herb sprigs and chop the rest. Using your hands, mix the butter, chopped herbs and garlic together until blended. Smear the herb butter all over the bird, placing a little inside of it, too.

Season the bird well with salt and pepper. Place it in a roasting pan and squeeze the lemon juice over the top. Put the lemon halves in the bird’s cavity with the reserved herb sprigs.

Roast the chicken for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and baste the chicken with its own juices (I usually do this with a brush). Reduce the heat to 375F/190C and continue to roast, basting occasionally, until the thigh juices run clear when pierced with a skewer or the temperature of the thigh registers 165F/73C, 45-55 minutes. Turn off the oven, open the oven door, and leave the chicken in the pan in the oven to rest for at least 15 minutes.

Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and cut into serving pieces. Add any juices from the chicken to the pan, and place the pan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, deglaze the pan, using a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom, then strain through a fine-mesh sieve, and serve the pan sauce with the chicken.

Until next time!

Back on the brew

Most of my beer education happened when I lived in the UK. I had been working an office job in Glasgow and absolutely loathed it, when I decided to move south to join Anna in England.  I ended up finding a job in a pub–I had no experience working in pubs, though I had plenty on the other side of the bar, but me and the landlord bonded over our mutual love of Captain Beefheart during my interview–which ended up being one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. The pay was bad, sure, and my body wasn’t used to being on my feet for eight or ten hours at a time, so I would finish my shifts absolutely physically exhausted, but the job was for the most part genuinely  fun.  I also learned a tremendous amount about beer.  The pub had four hand pumps for cask conditioned (i.e. “real” or the much-derided “warm and flat”) ale–one was reserved for a local bitter, generally Brakspear Bitter and/or Hook Norton’s Old Hooky, then there was an ever-changing selection of ales from all over Britain. These were the beers I fell in love with.  They were fresh and flavourful, yes, but through them I also really understood the amount of variation there could be within the same beer style.  A bitter from one brewery in Oxfordshire wouldn’t be the same as one from a brewery only a few miles away; neither of those would be like one from Yorkshire.  I also learned a lot about beer handling.  Whereas kegs of CO2 carbonated beer are easy to deal with–you connect the valve to the keg, close it, and you’re done–casks need careful attention and handling. It isn’t difficult to understand why pressurised kegs have largely replaced casks.   I learned to respect beer and how to properly appreciate it.

I really missed British beer when we moved back to Canada.  There are plenty of great breweries and brewpubs around–many of which have recently started serving cask-conditioned beer–but nobody does proper British-style ales.  I guess I had been moaning about this for a while when Anna got me a homebrewing kit for my birthday a few years ago.  I could finally make these beer styles at home.  And I did, with various degrees of success.  The great thing about homebrewing is that if you’re careful enough you can make excellent beer at home and you aren’t limited to what is commercially available.  And then I ended up turning a hobby into a paid job.

The problem for me with working in a brewery–though many of my co-workers haven’t had the same problem–is that I didn’t feel particularly inspired to come home after a day or a week of work and do what is effectively my job for pleasure, though without pay, and without the benefit of machines, pumps, or a staffed bottling line.  And while I could have spent money on ways to to lessen this work–buying heat exchangers, kegging systems, and the like–I chose instead to spend money on guitars and amplifiers.  Plus I get more than enough beer to drink from work.  But I’ve started getting a little bit bored with the beer I’ve been drinking, and there were some hops available at work for the homebrewers, so I thought, hey, I actually enjoy brewing (bottling that beer, not so much), so why not brew a smaller amount?  So off I went to the local homebrew store to pick up a 3 gallon carboy, some new plastics, and some grain.  The hops are all American varieties that will lend themselves well to an India Pale Ale, so that’s what I’ll brew.

First things first, though.  I need a decent selection of music to brew to.  The theme of this beer is apparently DOOM, so here is Winter’s Into Darkness LP, St. Vitus’ Mournful Cries LP, and the self-titled Black Sabbath LP. In reality, this was about enough music to bring me to the start of the boil so there ended up being a little bit of Judas Priest (British Steel) and a few spins of the St. Vitus record.  Will the beer be infused with tremendous riffs?  I hope so.
DOOM

The first stage in brewing is the mash.  This is basically a thick porridge of crushed malted barley and water held at a given temperature for a length of time.  The mash is important because this is where the starches in the grain are converted to fermentable sugars, and the mash temperature determines the final character of the beer.  I wanted to mash at 149F–a fairly low mash temperature–to make the beer more fermentable because I’d like my IPA to be fairly dry.

Mash

The next stage is lautering, which is basically extracting the sweet liquid from the grains.  Here I have a plastic bucket drilled out and fitted with a spigot and lined with a mesh net that is draining into my brew pot. The purpose here is twofold: first, you want to rinse the grains with hot (170F) water to stop the enzymatic conversion of the grains, and you also want to get as much of the barley-sweetened liquid in your brew pot as is possible. I probably should have a length of plastic hose attached to the end of the spigot to reduce aeration…maybe next time.

Lautering

The next stage is the boil.  Here I am weighing out the hops for it.  I have Summit, Amarillo, and Centennial hop pellets that I’ll use in the kettle, and a bag of Centennial leaf hops that I’ll use later for dry hopping the beer.  I put them in the picture because they look pretty.  These hops have a very typical “American” flavour, which is to say piney and citrusy.  They’ll be perfect with an American-style IPA.

Hops

Here’s the boil.  Unlike with, say, wine, the entire volume of beer needs to be boiled.  You can get around this if you’re using malt extracts instead of whole grains–you’ll still need to do a boil, but it can be topped up with water after the fact–and one of the reasons I decided to do a three gallon batch is that it’s possible to do it on a stovetop.  Boiling five or six gallons of beer requires a pretty big pot, which may or may not be convenient to use in your kitchen.  The boil is where you add the hops.  If you add them earlier in the boil, you’ll extract more bitterness from them; later will extract more aroma from them.  I put in Summit near the start and about half way through the boil because it has the highest alpha acids (i.e. bittering potential) of the hops I’m using, then added Centennial and Amarillo later, and then again, just as the boil finished to make the beer as aromatic as possible. Once the boil is finished, the beer needs to be cooled as quickly as possible to prevent bacterial infection.

The boil
My first and only real hiccup of the day was after I’d started the boil and realised that I didn’t have anything to sanitise the carboy I’m fermenting the beer in.  Sanitation is the single most important aspect of brewing.  If your equipment isn’t sanitary, you’re going to have horrible tasting beer.  This isn’t such a big deal before the boil, where simply cleanliness is enough, but once the beer is cooled, things have to be sanitary.  I ran to the store to buy a bottle of bleach.  Small amounts of bleach diluted in water is a cheap and effective sanitiser.  I found that the easiest way to do this was to put my carboy in the shower with a funnel attached to it, pour some bleach into it, and then let the shower fill it, and let it sit for a minimum of half an hour.  And then it is of course thoroughly rinsed.
Carboy

As I said above, it’s important that the beer is cooled right away to prevent infection, but also to get the beer down to a temperature when you can pitch it with yeast without killing the yeast.  The temperature you pitch the yeast at will influence the flavor of the finished beer.  Warmer temperatures means that there will be more yeasty, estery flavours in the beer; there will be fewer with a lower pitching/fermentation temperature.  There are plenty of ways to chill the beer and homebrewers have devised all sorts of ways to efficiently do this, but because I’m keeping it simple, I immersed the pot in a cold bath.  It took about 45 minutes to cool it down to 71F, I then  transferred the beer from the pot to a six gallon carboy and pitched the yeast.  Here’s how it looks.  There’s a lot of residue from the hops at the bottom of the fermenter, and I tried to avoid this, but it shouldn’t have too much of an effect on the beer.  I will probably have less final volume than I wanted.  Something to work on for next time.

Not yet beer

The beer is happily bubbling away at the moment, but it will be about a month before I can drink it.  Check back for updates!

On Adventurousness and Galantine de Canard

Growing up in a house full of Polish and Russian food meant a lot of proteins cooked in jelly. My grandparents’ old world gefilte fish is served surrounded by jelly, and one of my mom’s most raved about delicacies is a Polish dish consisting of boiled chicken suspended in jelly. I could never bring myself to touch any of these wobbling creations. While I pride myself on generally being an adventurous eater, savoury jellies are still terrifying to me.

As always, though, I am coming to realize that you miss out on a lot when you irrationally reject a type of food. The first time that I discovered that a jellied meat dish could actually be delicious was at Montreal’s beloved POP! a couple of years ago, where we were served an excellent charcuterie plate that included the dreaded… head cheese. Yes, that perennial Eastern European favourite that was often in my parents’ fridge growing up, and that I made a face about any time it was trotted out. (Pun intended.) I am ashamed that it took a fancy restaurant to convince me of the possibilities of what is effectively a peasant dish, especially one that I grew up around. But this head cheese in particular was generous on the meat front and not too jelly-ish, making it a great entry level aspic for a wuss like me. I shocked myself by loving it, and going back for seconds and thirds.

It has been a couple of years since my aspic revelation, though, and despite having my eyes opened, I have hardly sought out these delicacies. Actually, my terrible confession is that until recently, I kind of didn’t get pates, terrines, aspics and the like; most of them just tasted like mushy fat to me. However, as Graeme has gotten into making his own charcuterie, and as I’ve learned more about traditional cuisines and cooking methods, I have really come to love these approaches to cooking and eating meat. It helps to have recently tried some truly fantastic versions of them; I realized that it wasn’t that I didn’t like pate, for example, it was just that there is a lot of mediocre, bland pate out there. The recent trendiness of charcuterie has been awesome in terms of offering a lot of cool stuff to try; between that and watching Graeme’s efforts at home, I have started to appreciate the diversity and possibilities of these techniques. It has especially been a pleasure to learn about a kind of cooking that brings me so close to Quebecois cuisine and the incredible work done by local producers. There was this transcendent duck terrine that I gorged myself on at Brasserie t! last summer, not to mention Graeme’s amazing first effort at a pate de campagne, which we served as an appetizer last Thanksgiving, made according to Michael Ruhlman‘s recipe in his incredibly informative book, Charcuterie.

But while the past couple of years have had me do a total 180 on the charcuterie front, I still was not sold on aspics. Until yesterday afternoon, when I browsed the Fromagerie Atwater, thinking that it would be nice to pick up a little something indulgent to eat with some matzah (augh) for dinner. I emerged with some lovely manchego cheese on special, and the above galantine de canard, made by Le Canard Goulu, a farm and artisan charcuterie company based in Saint-Apollinaire that specializes in duck products. I did not know what a galantine was, I just thought it looked intriguing.

It was only after I tasted it, that I googled “galantine” and discovered that it is, indeed, an aspic, specifically one in which the meat is stuffed with forcemeat, and then spiced/garnished and jellied.  I am very pleased that I only looked this up afterward, to give me time to truly taste it without allowing myself to be prejudiced about what I was eating. Because it was RIDICULOUSLY delicious. The jelly was subtle, and didn’t take too much of my attention, and the galantine tasted like duck. That’s it, it just tasted like the duckiest duck that ever ducked, which is precisely what I love about this kind of  food. It was unpretentious and very lightly seasoned, and possibly one of the most simple tasting bits of charcuterie that I have tried in recent years. I finished off over a third of the container in one sitting. I have to say that my newfound love of charcuterie has left me with very conservative tastes; all of the wacky flavour combinations that folks are producing are fun and all, but at the end of the day, these techniques are about bringing out the best from otherwise difficult to work with parts of an animal, and the absolutely tastiest thing you can do with a duck is not to make it taste like candied orange and lemongrass or whatever, but to make it taste like DUCK. That was what made this galantine so delicious, and yes, the jellied bit of it absolutely contributed to the overall ducky experience of it. I get it now, you guys. I get it.

Aaaaaaaaaaand now I might just have to raid the fridge and polish off another third of that tempting little jar.

[Edited to add: this jar was d-o-n-e within 24 hours. Yup.]

On Surviving Passover and Kitchen Sink Frittata

Passover is hitting me especially hard this year. While Graeme and I enjoyed a luxurious and delicious seder at my parents’ house on Monday evening by Tuesday morning, I was already craving all the delicious carbohydrates that I had only just begun depriving myself of. This was not helped by the fact that that very first Passover morning brought me the newest issue of Bon Appetit in the mail, which seemed intent on personally taunting me with this cover:

source

Really, Bon Appetit? Really? How could you do this to me? I felt so betrayed.

Unleavened dramatics aside, each year I find that the trickiest thing about Passover is trying not to OD on various combos of heavy meat and potatoes (as well as the excessive doses of Passover cakes and cookies that my mother inevitably sends me home from her seder with). While I love me some meat and potatoes, 8 days of only that will get to even me. Last year, the discovery that quinoa is, miraculously, kosher for Passover is what saved us. This year, we are trying to be more mindful about balancing light with heavy meals in general, with some quinoa, mussels, and salad-y goodness complementing all of the brisket, chopped liver, tongue and gefilte fish.

Which brings us to frittata, which is a meal that Graeme and I seem to consistently pull out every time we are feeling overwhelmed by recent rich and heavy eating. It is our go-to “we’ve had guests in town and been out to eat every night for 2 weeks” meal, our “we just came back from New York where we ate fried chicken and tacos every day” meal, and now, our “Passover is seriously getting to me” meal. Graeme whipped some up for lunch today, using whatever we had sitting in the fridge, which is another thing that we love about frittata–it is awesome for using up random foods that don’t have much time left in this world.

In a great twist of irony, the stuff we had to use up in our fridge was… meat and potatoes. Or more specifically, ham and new potatoes. Yes, I forgo chametz, but love my cloven hooves. It is a Passover tradition in our household. There is no recipe necessary for such a simple concoction as frittata. Graeme started by boiling the new potatoes, and sauteing some shallots, celery and ham on medium heat in our small cast iron pan. He then added the potatoes and some goat cheese, and then stirred in half a dozen beaten eggs and seasoned it all. He finished cooking the mixture in a 400F oven for about 15 minutes. We ate it with salad greens, strawberries and a honey/balsamic vinaigrette.

It was nice to eat something hearty but still relatively light, even if it was meat and potatoes. I did not feel like someone had dropped lead into my stomach. My digestive system was thankful for the break, so that it could prepare itself to get back in the game tomorrow night: roast chicken night.

Happy Pesach!

On Meal Planning, Making Use of Neglected Cookbooks and Red Rice and Quinoa Salad

It is embarrassing that it took Graeme and I this long to do start doing something so sensible. Recently, due to Graeme being effectively useless at home due to his third month of night shifts, and my busy work schedule, we finally committed to meal planning. For real. With a whiteboard and everything. Why didn’t we do this sooner? Dinnertime used to consist of two tired folks looking at each other accusingly, each hoping that the other would volunteer to throw something together that would be more than just pasta with tomato sauce. (Although  let me be clear: I love pasta with tomato sauce.) The hungrier we got, the less likely we were to think of anything we could or would be willing to cook. Not a good scene. And so, we are now both nerdy devotees to the awesomeness of planning our dinners out for the week.

We love it for various reasons. The obvious one that most people cite is that actually knowing what we intend to cook makes for easier, and more affordable, grocery shopping. We waste less. We go out to eat when there is somewhere we actually want to go and eat–not just out of boredom. But there are other awesome side effects: it is genuinely a pleasure to sit together and chat about what we want to cook–usually we flip through cookbooks/magazines on a weekend morning and daydream what we’re in the mood for, which has become a really treasured part of the week. Taking that morning to think through our food plans also gives us space to stay creative and make sure our food is more balanced. For example, since we’ve actually been planning things out, we have been eating meat for dinner far less often (maybe twice a week?). Meat is an easy thing to fall back on when you’re hungry and drawing a blank (especially in winter, and boy did this year’s winter last forever!), but planning allows us to stick to our food ethics a little bit better. This is probably the first winter in a long time that I did not OD on meat. Taking that time to think also encourages us to try new recipes that we’ve had our eyes on, but would inevitably forget when at the supermarket or at dinnertime. We’re turning to cookbooks that had been collecting dust on our shelves, rediscovering them. So I feel like we’ve been cooking up lots of new recipes, and finding ourselves in far fewer cranky food ruts since we started doing this. I also find myself being far less lazy about weeknight cooking these days, as knowing exactly what the plan is makes the process seem less daunting when I’m tired after a long day. It’s awesome.

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One such cookbook that had previously been collecting dust, but which we have recently rediscovered, it the absolutely gorgeous Ottolenghi cookbook. I bought this book a couple of years ago, remembering that when we lived in England, we used to love the weekly recipes that Yotam Ottolenghi publishes in the Guardian. Through no fault of its own, though, the book has been sorely under-utilized in our household. Until recently, Graeme and I have turned to it mostly for the amazing baking recipes (the tea cakes in particular are beautiful and delicious!). But I am happy that I’ve branched out as all of the veggie-heavy, hearty, Mediterranean-inspired fare is right up my alley. I am pretty desperate to pick up his new cookbook, Plenty.

Below is our most recent Ottolenghi success–a delicious red rice and quinoa salad that was both nutritious and comforting given the continued winter-esque weather. The mix of textures, given the combination of quinoa, rice, pistachios, dried apricots, etc., is what really makes it special, and not just another “good for you” but dull main course salad. We ate it with a spinach salad on the side, and loved it as leftovers as well. I think it would make an especially awesome potluck dish.

Camargue Red Rice and Quinoa with Orange and Pistachios
Adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
Serves 4 [giants. We had tonnes!]

Ingredients
[Note: these are mostly done in weight. I was too lazy to weigh stuff, so I mostly winged it. It was still great.]
60g shelled pistachio nuts
200g quinoa
200g Camargue red rice [note: I just used the red rice I had, no idea what kind it was]
1 medium onion, sliced
150ml olive oil
grated zest and juice of one orange
2 tsp lemon juice
1 garlic clove, crushed
4 spring onions, thinly sliced
100g dried apricots, roughly chopped
40g rocket [arugula in North American speak–I left this out as I was planning on serving a spinach salad on the side anyway]
salt and black pepper

Preheat the over to 170C [350F]. Spread the pistachios out on a baking tray and toast for 8 minutes, until lightly coloured. Remove from the oven, allow to cool slightly and then chop roughly. [I totally left these whole!] Set aside.

Fill 2 saucepans with salted water and bring to a boil. Simmer the quinoa in one for 12-14 minutes and the rice in the other for 20 minutes. Both should be tender but still have a bite. Drain in a sieve and spread out the 2 grains separately on flat trays to hasten the cooling down. [I totally cooked the rice and quinoa how I usually do, by putting in the right proportions of water so they absorb them all. And I didn’t bother cooling anything.]

While the grains are cooking, saute the white onion in 4 tbsp of olive oil for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. Leave to cool completely. [Also did not cool these.]

In a large mixing bowl combine the rice, quinoa, cooked onion and the remaining oil. Add all the rest of the ingredients, then taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve at room temperature. [By the time this got to the table, it wasn’t hot anymore, but still fairly warm, and I thought it was great that way! There is an awesome mix of textures and colours in this dish that I found really satisfying.]