Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christmas in a Pie Shell

This recipe was a fridge-clearing miracle. Make a basic pie-crust and pre-bake it to 70% doneness. You want the base to include sautéed,  finely diced:  onions, carrots, celery, garlic, mushrooms, dried-thyme, etc. Add the leftover meat of your choice (brisket, Italian sausage, Christmas-turkey, etc.) and thicken the whole mixture with a roux. There should be enough to fill 2/3 of the pie. Let this cool and stiffen while you make the next layer. Otherwise, pouring the hot mixture into a recently cooked shell will make for a soggy pie. For a topping, use leftover mashed-potatoes... but as we did not have these, I just made a speedy sweet-potato mash with butter and a dash of maple. Fill the remaining 1/3 of the pie and put a little more on to get  the "rounded" look. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 30 minutes more. If you're not dead tired and over-partied at this point, you may consider making a gratin or cheesy topping for the pie. A few parsley-sprigs wouldn't hurt your detox-mission either. Serve wedges of this dish with seasonal greens.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve Dinner

Claire MatlockChristmas Eve in our house is an extravagant event where extended relatives come over to eat, drink and compete to win the annual talent show. While cooking for a crowd is often a cause for stress amongst party hosts, it's important to remember that everyone will enjoy the gathering more if the cook is calm and not isolated to solitary confinement in the kitchen. Obviously, I love cooking, and having been deprived of such pleasures for the past few months of university, I was more than glad to roll up my sleeves and pipe some sweetened ricotta into canolli shells. On top of this, Christmas Eve is a time when my parents generously omit any ingredient-budget, making the night truly one of indulgence. Bonus was the spanking new kitchen in my parent's new condo. Although I knew our old suburban kitchen like the back of my hand, this new set-up is beautiful and features far better appliances. Anticipating the search for every spoon and spice in the new drawers and cupboards meant not biting off more than I could chew, as is a common mistake for food-enthusiasts this time of year.

If you like to keep things simple, there are a ton of ways to "cut corners" and make your taste-buds fly without doing the dirty work. (Buy the canolli shells pre-made from a good Italian grocer, buy gourmet crackers and bread instead of baking them, spike any pre-made ingredients with citrus zest to "wake-up" the flavour, etc). On top of this, 60% of this meal was made the day before Christmas Eve, really taking the pressure off the night of the party. For dishes like the brisket, the overnight treatment helped to tenderize the meat and let the sauce soak in, while letting the fat congeal in the refrigerator for easy removal in the morning. In fact, I was able to Crossfit for 2 hours at noon - testament to the "make it all the day before" theory. This is the 3rd year I've tackled Christmas dinner and it gets easier every year. Above all, I've learned to keep it simple. Pick two of three intricate dishes you want to make and let the rest be old-faithfuls or no-brainers. Everyone will be too busy looking at your show-stopper carrot pineapple cake with cream cheese frosting to notice that you just threw some smoked salmon on a cracker with some tangy sauce and dill sprigs.

Without further adieu, the 2012 Christmas Eve menu:

Appetizers: Cheesy spinach dip served gooey hot with crackers and bread for dipping, smoked salmon on rye with dill and lime cream, goat cheese "truffles" rolled in pistachios, apricots or grapes

Mains: Lucy Waverman's Brisket with meat purchased from Charles' Meats at the farmer's market, roast potatoes with thyme and rosemary, pear and yam soup, wild-mushroom puffed-pastry pies, favourite meatballs, greens with maple vinaigrette dressing

Desserts: Pineaple carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, Italian cannoli, sticky toffee date cake, fruit platter with persimmons and pomegranates, mom's cookie tower


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Eve Prep

Batter mixing... mushroom dicing...soup-making...meat roasting....pastry rollin'...

Christmas-Eve dinner is underway!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Student Snack

Layer: Peanut butter, excellent bacon (different than mediocre bacon, in that it's excellent), bananas and strawberry jam between bread toasted in bacon fat. Drink with whatever is left in the bottle. Dedicated to my lovely roommate.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

10 Min-estrone

Play on words. Fancy. Alright. Down to business. Firstly, ignore grammar. Olive oil, fry carrots, celery and onions, add tomatoes and broth, add pasta, swiss-chard and beans to that order, done.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Roast Duck, Jerusalem Artichoke Gratin, Kale Toss and Pomegranate Salad

 If you're willing to sacrifice yield for flavour, duck is a fantastic alternative to the usual roasting bird. I flavoured Harold the duck (okay, didn't actually name him...) with orange, anise, rosemary  cloves and other winter-y spices. Make sure to save the drippings for other dishes where a spoon of a high smoking-point fat is of use. I coated the salad's spelt bread croutons in duck fat and spices and toasted them on a baking sheet. Also, don't let excess duck skin go to waste when you can roast it and slice it for a topping where bacon would be used.

The Jerusalem artichoke gratin was split with half potatoes to lend the starchy softens that pairs so well with a creamy sauce and cheesy topping. The kale was done up with caramelized onions and re-hydrated dried cranberries to combat the leaf's bitterness. The salad was a mix of lettuce, pea-sprouts, pomegranate seeds, apples and spinach. I dressed it with a maple vinaigrette  given the season. Most of the ingredients for this dinner were acquired from the local farmer's market...a treat to buy local after having eaten generic school food for a few months.



Saturday, December 15, 2012

Saucy Pork Shoulder with Mashed Potatoes and Savoy Cabbage

Pork shoulder is a fantastic cut of meat to transform this time of year. It's fantastically cheap to buy and will take care of itself in a crockpot or dutch oven if you get it started in morning. I threw a 1.5 lb chunk in a slow-cooker around noon with a cup of apple cider, cloves, cardamom, brown sugar, salt, and a little molasses. By 6pm it shredded beautifully and separated from it's own, self-basting fat with the twirl of a fork. Reduce the sauce in a pan until it's glossy and thick and throw in the chunks of meat. Let it sit a few minutes to absorb and then serve over a mashed winter starch (potatoes, celeriac, turnip, rutabaga  carrots, etc) and a winter-y green like savoy. The melt-in-your-mouth threads of meat oozed sauce when bitten into.
The men of the family loved this one.  

Friday, December 14, 2012

Home for the Holidays

Having completed the first semester of military university, I arrived home for the holidays to the picture you see on the right. Italian Christmas baking is always an ordeal in our family. Mom made her usual, revered chocolate chip cookies, but also filbert biscotti drizzled in chocolate, damn-good sugar cookies and shortbread. On my personal list will be some twists on the old classics. Half the fun of Christmas baking is the flipping through of magazines and cookbooks, drooling over the elaborate recipes too intricate or expensive to attempt the remainder of the year. Tis' the season for pine nuts, puffed-pastry, minced-meat, rosemary and orange, dark chocolate (80% + !), etc. Stay tuned...