Mondial de la Bière et Montréal

The Gage Hill Crafts crew decided to take a mini vacation in Montréal last weekend. The primary purpose was to attend the annual beer festival, Mondial de la Bière, held each year, but as usual we found time to do lots of walking and eating. I said “as usual” but this time was different as it was the first time Nancy had been to Montréal. In fact, it was the first time she had left the country since she was a student living in Germany. She got her passport last year in anticipation of our trip to Scotland and Wales later this summer, so why not break it in with a quick jaunt to Canada? Parfait!

After making arrangements for our friend Ryen to take care of our menagerie, we set up out early Thursday morning. The weather for the drive was beautiful, and there was practically no traffic until we arrived in the city. Even so we arrived at our favorite hotel, Hotel Château de L’Argoat, a bit too early to check-in, but since one of the rooms was ready they let us park the car and we stowed the luggage in that room before heading out to explore.

We were all hungry, so lunch was on the agenda, but we weren’t sure where. Montréal, and specifically the Plateau area of the city, is packed with so many different restaurants, so picking can be a challenge. We decided to go in the direction of Le Réservoir even though we suspected they wouldn’t be open yet. Confirming that to be the case, we scoped out some places on St. Laurent Avenue — an area with which we are most familiar — and decided on Jano. Jano had been one of the places our friend Nick had suggested for dinner that night, and since we had opted for a different place, we decided to check it out anyway for lunch. The staff was very nice and helpful, but the menu was a bit heavy on shellfish, of which Sarah is allergic, so it limited our choices. I had the Sandwich au steak de porc Bifana, with frites. Sarah and Nancy split a simple, large, salad and a plate of gigantic sardines.

La Maison du Tibet
La Maison du Tibet

After lunch we still had a bit of time before Le Réservoir would open its doors, so we wandered down rue Deluth to check out some of the shops. We stopped in La Maison du Tibet, a cute little place with a sweet owner. We chatted with her for a bit and Nancy bought a small piece of jewelry. As we walked a little further down the street, we nearly turned around, but decided to go as far as St. Denis. A half a block later I caught a glimpse of yarn out of the corner of my eye and alerted my knitting companions. The store, La Grande Ourse, ended up not being so much a yarn store, but a children’s store. It has all sorts of little handmade toys made of fabric and wood. Nothing from the sweatshops here. We quickly struck up a conversation with the owner, a sweet, older woman. She asked us about our sheep, and about our plant-based natural dyes. We purchased a few small items — including a top for Nick & Jenn’s daughter — and exchanged business cards before departing. We promised the owner we would contact her when we had some samples we could send her.

By now it was definitely time for Le Réservoir, so we stopped in for a pint to cool off. I had their IPA, Sarah had a cream ale, and Nancy cooled of with an iced tea. Whilst sipping our beverages we received a text from Rich & Carol stating they had arrived at the hotel. We told them we would sip slowly and they eventually met up with us, so we had to have another round. We departed shortly after so we could check in to our room, and change for dinner. They planned to explore some more and meet us at the restaurant.

Nick & IAK
Nick & IAK

After freshening up in our rooms, we hopped in the car, and drove toward the Mile End neighborhood. The plan was to meet Nick and his daughter at the restaurant, Nouveau Palais. Unfortunately Jennifer was out of town and wouldn’t be joining us. Traffic was light, but parking in Little Jerusalem was tight. We eventually found a spot, and negotiated the large groups of children playing and riding their bikes on the sidewalk. We were still a few minutes early, and the first to arrive, but the staff showed us to our tables. The place is an old diner, so no pulling up tables to make one large enough for our group of seven. We did; however, have two tables across from one another. Since Rich does such an excellent job of reviewing restaurants, I will simply link to his review and say I agree with him. The dinner was delicious, the service was good, the atmosphere was a little odd. The old diner hasn’t seen an update in decades, and the brown panels, and stuffed animals weren’t all that appealing. But I still very much enjoyed myself, and would go back again.

Cheskie's
Cheskie’s

We were all rather tired by now, and Nick’s daughter was approaching her bedtime, but there was still time to take a quick trip to Cheskie’s. I was full but enjoyed the awesome smells coming from this famous boulangerie. Each time the door opened the smell of chocolate wafted through the warm, dusk, summer air. Nick and his daughter went in for cookies, and Carol joined them for an evening snack. We all parted and we drove back to the hotel. As we were warned there wasn’t a space in the hotel lot behind the building, but after dropping off Sarah and Nancy I found a great spot right in front. The hotel’s evening manager met me at the door and assured me that I was fine there until 9 the next morning. We all planned to get up early for breakfast, so it wouldn’t be an issue.

Le Cheval Blanc
Le Cheval Blanc

We hooked up with Rich and Carol again, this time to go to Le Cheval Blanc, which I had heard of, but hadn’t realised was only a block away from the hotel. As Sarah said this place is the love child of a 1950s diner and a Chinese restaurant with the neon clocks and green faux marble laminate on the walls. As expected with Mondial de la Bière in full swing, the place was noisy and packed, but we were lucky to find a table. The beers were amazing, and in hindsight some of the best I would have all weekend. We only stayed for one round before heading back to the hotel to rest up for the beer festival the next day.

In the morning, as we got ready to meet Rich and Carol to go to a favourite breakfast spot of theirs, my back went out. I don’t know if it was the soft bed or some other reason, but it hadn’t gone out since we helped neighbours clean up after Tropical Storm Irene. Bad timing to say the least, but I was at least glad I had the forethought to bring my back brace. Sarah had to help me with my socks and shoes, but I gritted my teeth and off we went. We met in the lobby and all piled into Nancy’s car. I drove, dropped everyone off in front of the Le Restaurant L’Avenue, and searched for a spot to park. The spaces out front were out of the question due to street sweeping, so I had to drive around the neighborhood. As I got further from the restaurant I started to fear the long walk with my back aching, but luckily I was able to find a space only a block away, and found the others waiting in front. We were some of the first people there, but it because apparent that Rich and Carol were correct to suggest we get there early as the place filled within moments. Our waiter was very nice, and since the menu was exclusively in French, we all helped each other with translations. The place is famous for it’s oeufs Benedict, and I think Rich, Carol and I all selected some variation — mine with smoked salmon. Sarah had scrambled eggs, bacon and potatoes, and Nancy had an amazing dish of pancakes “Américaine” which included granola and Canadian maple syrup. We all enjoyed our meals, and after a trip to the freaky restrooms, we were on our way. Rich has uploaded his Offbeateats review for those of you looking for more detail.

Le Restaurant L'Avenue Loo
Le Restaurant L’Avenue Loo

Rich and Carol decided to explore on foot, and we made plans to meet them at the beer festival later. Sarah, Nancy, and I climbed back into the car, found a bank to get some cash, and headed back to the hotel just long enough to drop Nancy off and to check Google maps for an idea on how best to get to the Palais des congrès de Montréal where the beer festival was being held. Once we arrived at the bus station, something felt wrong and we spoke with a gentleman in the information booth. He confirmed that the information Google maps had given us was wrong, and that we really didn’t need to take a coach bus a travel a few blocks. He gave us instructions on how to grab the Metro to go the two stops, and we left. It ends up it would have been faster and possibly less walking to have done the entire trip on foot, but by now we were at the Berri-UQAM Metro station, so we boarded a train and got off at the stop adjacent to the Palais des congrès. A quick check of Find Friends, and a text from Carol, and we attempted to meet up with them. Again, we did more walking than should have been necessary and it appeared that all attempts to help my now seriously aching back would be for naught. But we found Rich and Carol, just as the ticket booth opened, and we were some of the first few people to enter Mondial de la Bière.

Mondial de la Bière
Mondial de la Bière

Being first has its advantages, but it was also quite overwhelming. We later decided that choosing which beer to spend one’s first and last tickets on is the most difficult. I won’t go into detail about the many delicious beers we sampled over the next few hours or so. You can follow me on Untappd if you are really interested. Suffice to say we had a great time, I didn’t have a single bad beer, and all the alcohol and walking really seemed to help my back loosen up. Sitting meant it stiffened up again, but the good beers and great company helped me forget. The venue was great. There was an indoor section in the convention hall as well as a garden area outside. The outside area had trees and park benches. It was nice to have options, but we ended up preferring the beers and the atmosphere of the indoor section; and no smokers inside.

When we left, we again parted ways with Rich and Carol as they went on to explore one part of town and us another. Sarah and I walked a great deal, most of it uphill, to return to the Plateau before making our way back to the hotel to rest for a few hours, and shower to wash off the sunscreen.

After brief naps, we reconvened in the lobby with Rich, Carol, and Nancy before walking along rue Orleans to Chinatown. Rich had been eager to try a noodle place called Nu-Do [Rich’s OffBeatEats review], where they make their noodles fresh and in front of you. We were not disappointed. We each got a noodle soup, some kimchi and some dumplings. When we arrived we were all mumbling about the heat wave and the lack of air conditioning, but by the time we finished our spicy meals we barely noticed as we sweated it off. Again we got there just in time as the place filled up quickly with eager diners. After paying our tab, we wandered off thinking we might search for ice cream, but by the time we reach Bld Sherbrooke we said goodnight to Nancy and pointed her in the direction of the hotel before deciding that brownie sundaes at Le Réservoir were in order.

Nudo Noodles Nom
Nudo Noodles Nom

We walked miles again, and my back was screaming at me, but it was worth it. Rich, Carol, and Sarah squatted on a table downstairs while I checked in vain to see if the rooftop had any openings. We ordered two brownie sundaes, made with a sauce that includes their in-house stout, and a round of beers. Being Friday night it was packed and loud as people enjoyed themselves on this hot summer evening. We stuck to one round, before calling it a night, walking the back streets to avoid the hustle and bustle of the crowds making their way out for the evening.

Once back at the hotel, we said goodnight to Rich and Carol and confirmed the time for the morning’s excursion. I quickly got ready for bed and collapsed onto the bed, giving my back a much-needed rest from a long day of standing and walking.

Le Réservoir Panorama
Le Réservoir Panorama

We rose early Saturday morning, packed and made our way down to the lobby to check out. We saw from the window that our car was behind 2 other vehicles and we wanted to give the staff plenty of time to free it so we could get to Lawrence before the line got too long. It ended up we arrived with plenty of time, so we parked and walked across the street to our new favourite dépanneur to buy beer. The staff was very helpful as we check the stock against our notes from the beer festival the day before. We packed up our haul and put it in the car, and then Nancy and I got in line at the restaurant while Rich, Carol, and Sarah walked to Fairmount Bagel around the corner to stock up for the trip home.

A member of the Lawrence staff took everyone in lines name and the number in their party and we were all allowed in en masse shortly after. We asked for coffees (cold brewed and lattes) and two orders of beignes — each order coming with a chocolate, lemon, and custard — while we drooled over the menus. I ended up getting the full English breakfast which came with bacon, a sausage, black pudding, bubble and squeak, eggs and toast, and everything (as always) was delicious! The staff at Lawrence is amazing as they attend to you as a group. Your water glass is never empty, your finished plates never stay long, your coffee cup is filled as soon as it is emptied. And despite always being busy you are never rushed. We savored our coffees after finishing our food, settled our tabs, and made our way to our next stop as we attempted to eat our way out of the city.

Full English at Lawrence
Full English at Lawrence

A stone’s throw from Lawrence is Boulangerie Guillaume, a cute little neighbourhood bakery with a large variety of savory and sweet baked goods. The front of the store is small, but on this warm morning the sliding doors were open allowing us to not only see the selection but smell it. We took turns going inside and came away with bags filled with treats to take home.

We had planned to go directly to the hotel on our way out to drop off Rich and Carol, but decided he just had to get some chocolate to complete the trip, so we stopped at La Vieille Europe, a gourmet shop catering to ex-patriots from Europe it seems. They have an amazing selection of cheeses, wines, chocolates, nuts, coffees, etc. Parking was at a premium, so I dropped everyone off and drove around the block until I found a spot in a 15-minute zone across the street. The place was packed, so it took a while for the group to emerge, but once they did we were on our way. We dropped off Rich and Carol at the hotel, and began to navigate our way out of the city.

Before we had phones with GPS and map apps this was nearly impossible, and Sarah and I recalled our first trip when it literally took us over an hour to find our way to the highways leading out. Apple Maps did a great job of keeping us on course (For those keeping track, Google Maps 0, Apple Maps 1) and we were on our way. There didn’t seem to be much weekend travel traffic, and we were out of the city in a matter of minutes it seemed. The trip home was uneventful. The lines at the border weren’t bad, and we were home in under 3 hours. What an amazing trip, even with my back going out. Sarah and I plan to return again in October for our wedding anniversary.

Eggplant Casserole

While trying to figure out how to use up some vegetables from our weekly CSA basket, we improvised the following, which was inspired by a time-tested eggplant Parmesan recipe and a cheese-less savory tart that mom makes.

Ingredients
1 large eggplant
1 bell pepper, diced
1 medium red onion, sliced thinly
8 medium tomatoes
1 jalapeno
olive oil
1 cup ricotta cheese
3 slices stale bread
3 cloves garlic, grated or pressed
1 egg
1/4 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. dried basil
salt and pepper

Preparations
Preheat your oven to 425F. Slice the eggplant thinly and salt well. Place in a colander to drain. Cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze out the seeds. Lay the tomato halves on a baking sheet or in a glass baking pan and drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with the oregano. Bake for 30 minutes or until the skins begin to brown and the juices caremalize. Place the tomatoes in a food processor, add the jalapeno and puree.

Rinse the eggplant slices to remove the salt and blot dry with paper towels. Arrange slices on baking sheets and brush lightly with olive oil. Bake for 30 minutes, flipping the slices once halfway through.

In a medium skillet, saute the onion and bell pepper in a teaspoon of olive oil over medium-high heat until tender.

Toast the stale bread. In a microwave-safe container, nuke the butter and the garlic for 30 seconds, or until the butter is melted. Brush the garlic butter onto the toast, then tear the bread into pieces. Spread these on a tray and bake them in the oven at 300F until they are dried. Remove, allow to cool a bit and then place in a paper or plastic bag and crush them into breadcrumbs.

In a small bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, basil, egg, and a quarter of a cup of the garlic breadcrumbs.

In a 9″ by 9″ baking pan, layer all of the ingredients as follows: One tablespoon of the tomato sauce spread around the bottom of the pan. One third of the eggplant slices, layered One third of the cheese mixture, dolloped around One quarter of the pepper and onion mixture, sprinkled on One quarter of the remaining tomato sauce, dolloped on Another third of the eggplant a third of the cheese mixture a quarter of the vegetable mixture one quarter of the sauce final third of the eggplant final third of the cheese one quarter of the veggies several dollops of sauce ultimate veggies breadcrumbs Bake covered at 350 for thirty minutes, then uncover and bake for 10 more minutes. Allow to cool for five minutes before slicing.

Moroccan Lamb with Rice

This dish is adapted from several different lamb-with-dried-fruits recipes I’ve found on Food Network. Most of the dishes I came across had a ton of ingredients and so many individual steps that it looked like one would spend an entire day preparing it and dirtying up every food prep implement in the kitchen. Complicated isn’t a way I like to cook, so I created this simpler approach to a classic. The rice with vegetables can be served separately and is completely vegan.

You’ll need an electric slow-cooker or a dutch oven for slowly braising the meat.

For the Lamb
3 lbs. lamb, cubed or small bone-in cuts like chops, trimmed of all fat.
2 cups dried fruits, pitted and chopped. Traditionally apricots and golden raisins are used, but figs, dates and even a handful of prunes or cherries would be tasty.
1/2 cup vegetable or chicken broth
2 medium onions, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 head fresh cilantro
1T honey
1T coriander
1T cumin
2t dried ginger
2t turmeric
1/4 t cinnamon
2t salt
1t freshly ground black pepper

Mix the spices together in a small bowl. Rinse the meat and pat dry, then coat with the spice mixture.

In the bottom of the slow cooker layer the onions and garlic, then the meat, and top with the dried fruits and drizzle the honey. Add the broth, place the lid on tightly, and set on high. Cook for 3 hours before testing the meat for tenderness. (If using a dutch oven layer the ingredients as above and place in a 275F oven.)

After cooking the meat should be very tender and pull apart easily with a fork. A total of 4 hours may be required depending on the size of the cuts used.

Meanwhile make…

Vegetable Rice
1 1/2 cups (dry measure) brown basmati rice
1 cup vegetable broth plus water to cover rice
2 zucchini
1 large or 2 small red bell peppers
2 medium carrots
1 onion
14 oz. can diced tomatoes
14 oz. can garbanzo beans (low sodium preferred)
1T olive oil
2t turmeric
1t cumin
Salt and pepper to taste

In a rice cooker, cook the rice according to the machine directions, substituting the vegetable broth for part of the water required. On the stove, use a small sauce pan with tight-fitting lid, add the rice and broth and then cover with water by 1 inch, cook on low heat until water is absorbed.

While the rice is cooking, wash and dice the onion, zucchini, pepper, and carrot. In a large skillet or shallow enamel brasier, sauté the onion and spices in the oil for a few minutes, then add the zucchini, pepper and carrot. Cook for about 3 minutes until the vegetables begin to cook but are still firm.

Add the tomatoes (with juice). Drain and rinse the garbanzo beans and add them as well. Cook for a few minutes more until some of the excess liquid from the tomatoes evaporates, then turn off the heat and let stand uncovered until the rice is done.

A few minutes before serving, add the cooked rice to the vegetables and toss to combine. Cover with a lid and if the dish has cooled off to much put it on low to reheat for a few minutes.

Serving
Tear the leafy head of the cilantro bunch from the stems, wash thoroughly and spin to dry. Roughly chop the cilantro just before serving the dish.

On a large platter, place the rice to make a bed. Layer the lamb and pour all of the cooked fruit/onion mixture over the top, then sprinkle heavily with the cilantro and serve immediately.

Vegan Chocolate Cake

Adapted from the Moosewood Restaurant

Equipment
9-inch round cake pan
Sauce pan and stainless steel bowl OR microwave-safe dish

Cake
1 ½ cups unbleached white flour
⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup sugar
½ cup organic canola oil
1 cup brewed coffee, cooled
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
Cooking spray or extra canola oil

Chocolate Glaze
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate (Check the label on the package to make sure you’re getting a truly vegan product. Some semi-sweet chocolate contains milk solids.)
1/2 cup chocolate soy milk or vanilla rice milk

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 375º. Spray the cake pan with cooking spray or wipe the inside liberally with oil.
Sift together the flour, cocoa, soda, salt, and sugar into a large mixing bowl and stir until thoroughly combined. In a large measuring cup, measure and mix together the oil, coffee, and vanilla. Pour the liquid ingredients into the baking pan and mix the batter with a fork or a small whisk.

When the batter is smooth, add the vinegar and stir quickly. There will be pale swirls in the batter as the baking soda and vinegar react. Stir just until the vinegar is evenly distributed throughout the batter, then quickly pour into the cake pan and place in the oven.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes and set aside to cool for 15-20 minutes. Turn the cake onto a wire cooling rack and set out to cool another 30 minutes before topping with glaze.

To make the glaze, melt the chocolate in a double boiler, microwave oven. Stir the soy or rice milk into the melted chocolate until smooth. Pour the glaze over the cooled cake and smooth the top with a spoon.
Refrigerate the glazed cake for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Slow-Cooked BBQ Beans

I was inspired to make my own barbecue beans after receiving a gift of Saint Louis BBQ sauce from a former coworker. You can make these vegetarian or carnivorous.

It is important to wait until the beans are completely cooked before adding the BBQ sauce, as the acid in the sauce can halt the cooking process.

Ingredients
2 cups dried pinto beans
1 large ham hock or 2 lamb shanks (optional)
1 medium onion
6 cloves garlic
1 cup (more or less) BBQ sauce
1/2 t. dried mustard (or 1 tsp Dijon)
1 T. maple syrup
1 t. salt, or to taste

Procedure
Rinse the beans thoroughly, put in the slow cooker and cover by 1/2 inch with boiling water, and turn the cooker on HIGH.

Peel and roughly chop the onions and garlic and add to the cooker. Cover with the lid and cook for 1 hour. The beans should start to get plump but will not be cooked yet. Top off with a little hot water if needed, enough to keep the beans just under the surface.

If adding meat, make sure it is completely defrosted first, then trim any excess fat from the outside and place on top of the beans. Cook an additional 3 hours, checking every hour to make sure the beans are still slightly covered with water.

Test the meat – it should be very tender and start to fall off the bone. When the meat is tender, lift it bone and all onto a cutting board and let cool slightly. Separate the lean bits of meat from the bone, fat, sinew etc, and cut into bite-sized pieces. Add the meat pieces back to the cooker.

Add the BBQ sauce, mustard, and maple syrup, stir and let cook for 20 minutes. Taste, adding salt and/or more BBQ to your liking. If the mixture is too thin continue to cook it with the lid off, stirring occasionally, until it reaches the desired consistency.

Easy Vegetarian Cottage Pie

This is a quick and easy dish that captures the essence of the meat-based original. In our home it is often made on the weekend for a few days of quick suppers or portable lunches.

INGREDIENTS
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Large yellow onion (diced)
2 Medium carrots (sliced or diced)
3 Medium crimini mushrooms
2 Cups peas (thawed if frozen)
5 Large russet potatoes cut into large chunks
2 Tablespoons butter
1/4 Cup sour cream
1 Tablespoon dried sage (ground)
1 Teaspoon dried thyme
3 cloves of garlic (whole)
12-ounces Condensed cream of celery soup (we use Pacific Foods organic)
1/4 Cup milk
12-ounce Package of Morningstar “meal starter” crumbles
Salt & Pepper

PROCEDURE

  • Boil water in a large pot and pre-heat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC)
  • Add the olive oil to a large saucepan over medium heat. When the oil is heated add the diced onions and cook for a couple of minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Add the meal starter crumbles to the saucepan and stir them into the mix.
  • Add the carrots and mushrooms and stir the mixture.
  • Once the mixture is heated through add the condensed soup and milk and stir until combined.
  • Add the sage and thyme and turn up heat to a simmer and thicken.
  • While the mixture is cooking, add the cut potatoes and garlic cloves to the boiling water, and cook until potatoes are cooked.
  • Drain the water from the potatoes and mash the potatoes slightly.
  • Add the butter and sour cream to the potatoes and mix or mash until blended.
  • Remove the “meat” and vegetable mixture from the heat and stir in the peas.
  • Spread the mixture into a glass Pyrex dish.
  • Spread the mashed potatoes over top of the “meat” and vegetable mixture until covered.

Place dish in oven and turn heat up to broil setting. Depending on your broiler’s power, leave in oven until potatoes on top are slightly browned, but not burnt!

Remove from oven and enjoy!

Cranberry Relish

My grandfather loved his cranberry jelly in a can; for me that stuff was the one part of Thanksgiving Dinner that was never touched. It wasn’t until I learned to make my own that I understood why this dish is traditional at all. I call this version of “cranberry sauce” a relish because it has discernible chunks of fruit in it. With the addition of some caramelized onions and apricot jelly this could become a lovely cranberry chutney.

Makes 2 pints of cranberry relish.

Ingredients
1 pound fresh cranberries
2 medium oranges (choose a juice variety with nice skin)
1 cup water
2 cups port
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp dried ginger
1/2 tsp dried allspice
pinch salt

Procedure
Carefully wash and pick over the cranberries, discarding any that are squishy. In a large sauce pan cook the cranberries in the water and port over medium heat, stirring occasionally. You’ll hear them pop as the skins burst.

Meanwhile, zest and juice the oranges, finely chopping the zest. When the cranberries have started to break down (5-7 minutes) add the zest, juice and other ingredients and stir well. Continue cooking until the liquid has reduced and the pectin from the fruit is released. The mixture will take on a jam-like consistency. Taste for sweetness and seasoning, and adjust as necessary. Serve warm or at room-temperature with turkey.

Hearty Lamb Cobbler

Hearty Lamb CobblerHaving picked up some lamb from Tamarack Tunis on New Year’s Day, I was charged with making a “lamb dish” by the week-end. Waking to snow on Saturday morning, I knew I wanted to make something warm and filling. Something to remind me of those chilly days on our recent trip to England, Wales and Ireland. This recipe was perfect, and the smoked bacon from our neighbours at Back Beyond Farm really helped this dish.

INGREDIENTS

    1 tbsp olive oil
    1/4 lb bacon, thick slice preferable
    1 lb lamb, cubed
    2 medium-sized yellow onions
    5 large carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
    3/4 lb crimini mushrooms, washed and trimmed
    1 1/2 cup peas thawed to room temperature
    4 tbsp all purpose flour
    2-3 bay leaves
    2-3 pinches ground sage
    1 tsp oregano
    1 tsp basil
    1/4 bottle Cabernet Sauvignon, or other red wine
    250 ml beef stock
    1 splash Worcestershire sauce
    1 egg to wash the tops of the cobbler biscuit topping

The Cobbler Top
I used Bisquick and followed their directions for biscuits/dumplings, which calls for 2 1/4 cups Bisquick mix and 2/3 cup milk. Mix together and then kneed 10 times before rolling out on a flour-dusted surface to about 2/3″ thick. I then used a metal measuring cup (I didn’t see any cookie cutters, so I improvised) to cut circular biscuits. Gather the scraps, and roll out to cut more biscuits if necessary. I do this procedure about 20-30 minutes before the dish comes out of the oven (see below).

PREPARATION
Heat oven to 350ºF (~180ºC). In a oven-safe dish heat the oil over medium heat, and sizzle the bacon for 5 minutes until it crisps. Leave the bacon in the dish, and turn up the heat before adding the lamb. Cook the lamb for about 10 minutes until brown. Remove the meats carefully with a slotted spoon and set them aside. Turn the heat up to maximum and add the carrots, onions and mushrooms. Cook for about 5 minutes and then add the flour. Return the meats to the dish and add the herbs. Pour the wine, the beef stock and the Worcestershire sauce into the dish. Lightly season with fresh ground pepper, then cover the dish and place it in the pre-heated oven. Allow to cook undisturbed for about 1.5 hours.

After an hour of the cook time has passed make the biscuit dough as described above. When the dish is done cooking for the 1.5 hours, remove from the oven, add the peas and stir them into the dish. Then lightly place the biscuits discs onto the top of the meat and vegetable mixture. Wash the top of the biscuits with the beaten egg. Return the dish to the oven and allow to cook for an additional 35-45 minutes or until the biscuits are golden brown.

Remove from oven and let sit for 10-15 minutes, which will allow the gravy to thicken. Serve with the remaining Cabernet Sauvignon!

Holiday Stuffing

I used to use store-bought stuffing mix to make my holiday stuffing, and to be frank, it wasn’t bad at all. But after years of something that felt a bit like cheating, I decided to make my own stuffing this year from scratch. The results were amazing and now I know I can’t go back to that package again!

Tools
Large frying pan
Baking dish 9×12″

Ingredients
1 recipe Vermont Maple Cornbread
1 large loaf rustic wheat bread (whole wheat or white)
1 package spicy pork, chicken or faux veggie sausage
1 stick butter, melted (8 tablespoons)
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
3 apples, cut into 1-inch chunks – a sweet & firm variety like Macon or Fuji
3 medium onions, any type, minced
2 tsp. dried sage
2 tsp. dried thyme
1 cup chopped toasted walnuts (optional)

Preparation
Fry the meat sausage in a large skillet until cooked through, then remove from heat and when cooled, peel off the casings and crumble the meat into a bowl and set aside. Drain off some of the excess sausage grease leaving about a tablespoon in the pan.

Saute the onion in the grease (vegetarians use olive oil) with the dried herbs and a small pinch of salt for about 5 minutes. When the onions have started to soften, add the apples and walnuts and cook for another 2 minutes until the apples are just heated but still crisp. Set the pan aside and allow to cool slightly.

Roughly chop half of the wheat bread and place into the baking dish. Crumble in half of the cornbread and add half the onion/apple mixture and sausage and toss this with your hands. In the skillet, add the remaining half of all the ingredients and toss this together as well, then add this to the baking dish. Press down slightly to squeeze everything into the dish.

Drizzle the melted butter and stock over the top. Bake at 375 F in the top of the oven for 45 minutes or until the stuffing is hot and steamy and the top is browned.

Southwestern Stuffed Peppers

Stuffed Peppers with Guacamole ... and Gin & TonicThis is a fairly standard stuffed pepper recipe, but I wanted to write it down with the proportions I used, since I just made this off the top of my head. This goes well with fresh guacamole and a little salad on the side. Serves 2-4.

Ingredients:
2 Poblano peppers (substitute bell peppers if you can’t find Poblanos or prefer a dish without any “heat”)
2/3 cup ground pork sausage*
1 cup cooked rice
3 scallions, white and half of green parts chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, minced (optional)
1 small tomato, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 pinch cinnamon

Instructions:
Break up the sausage into small pieces and place into a non-stick frying pan. Cook over medium-high heat until the meat is browned. Add the chopped vegetables and spices, and cook for 2-3 minutes more. Turn off the heat and add the cooked rice, mixing well to combine. The filling can be stored in the refrigerator for a day or two if you want to make this ahead of time.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.

Wash the Poblano peppers and slice each in half from top to bottom. Carefully cut out the stem and pinch out the white ribs inside. Roll up four pieces of aluminum foil and form into rings. Place rings in a 9-inch square baking dish (or larger). Divide the filling into four equal portions and fill each pepper half. Place each filled pepper on one of the rings in the baking dish (this keeps them from tipping over during baking). Pour a little water in the bottom of the baking dish and cover the entire dish with aluminum foil. Bake for 30 – 40 minutes, until the peppers are slightly tender and the filling is heated through.

*I used free-range, Certified Naturally Grown pork purchased directly from Walter Jeffries and his family at Sugar Mountain Farm. If you are using a pre-cooked sausage, cook the vegetables in a little olive oil first, then add the sausage and the rice together with the heat turned off. Vegetarians can substitute their favorite faux-meat product for the pork sausage.

Pesto Pasta with Peas

This alliterative recipe is a quick, easy summertime favorite. Serves 4 as a main dish or 8 as a side dish.

Ingredients:
1 lb dried pasta, any shape
2 cups fresh English peas, shelled and blanched
1/3 cup fresh basil pesto (adjust to taste)
1 small in-season tomato or a small handful of cherry or grape tomatoes, chopped (optional – omit if fresh tomatoes are not available)
grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions:
In a large pot cook pasta according to package directions until al dente. Do not overcook! While pasta is cooking, in a small bowl combine pesto with two tablespoons of boiling water to thin the sauce out just a bit.

When pasta is done, drain thoroughly (do NOT rinse) and replace in cooking pot. Add pesto, peas, and chopped tomatoes, and toss well so that all of the noodles are completely coated with pesto. Serve with a sprinkle of fresh grated Parmesan on top.

Pumpkin Pie – from scratch

I’ve never really loved pumpkin pie until I started experimenting with a recipe from the “Recipe Cottage,” which a co-worker shared with me. After some tweaking, I found that I really enjoyed the creamy texture and strong pumpkin flavor of this pie. The added bonus is that this version does not call for extra butter, cream cheese, or heavy cream, unlike other pumpkin pie recipes I’ve read.

Ingredients
1 medium pie pumpkin, enough to yield 2 cups cooked, drained pumpkin
2 egg yolks + 1 whole egg
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cups of whole milk
one pinch of salt
1 Tablespoon maple syrup
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
9-inch pie pan filled with your favorite crust
(I use an all-butter frozen pie shell but you can make one from scratch if you prefer.)

Preparation
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut the pumpkins in half and scoop out seeds and slimy stuff. Place them cut-side down on a baking sheet (preferably one with a lip to catch liquid) and roast in the middle of the oven for one hour. Remove and let cool slightly.

Meanwhile, blind-bake the pie shell according to the recipe or package directions. Set the shell aside to cool, and turn the oven up to 425 degrees F.

When the pumpkin is cool enough to handle, peel off the rind and discard. Take a handful of pumpkin at a time and squeeze it hard to get as much liquid out as possible. Place the drained pumpkin in a food processor or blender and process until smooth, stirring as necessary. Add a small amount of the milk from the recipe to get things moving in the processor if the pumpkin is too dry.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and then add the sugar, maple syrup, salt and spices. Mix until the sugar has dissolved. Be sure the pumpkin is cooled to room temperature before measuring two cups and adding that to the egg/sugar mixture (to avoid cooking the eggs). Mix well. Next, add 3/4 cup of milk and mix. If it looks like there will be more room in your pie shell, or the filling is too thick, add a little more milk and mix again.

Pour the pie filling into the pre-baked pie shell and bake at 425 degrees F for 10 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 375 and bake for another 30 minutes, or until the custard is firm and the crust has darkened. Cool and serve with home-made whipped cream or ice cream.

Enchilada Sauce

Worth the trouble!

Get a couple of bags of dried chilies at your coop or supermarket. Poblanos, Anaheims, and some of the tiny hot ones are good. The little red chillies are HOT, so be careful. A few go a long way. Remove the stems and seeds. You don’t have to get all of the seeds out. Reconstitute the chilies in warm water until they are soft. About 30 minutes or a little longer usually works. Put the chillies and a little of the soaking water in a blender or food processor and process until smooth.

The rest of the ingredients can be added to taste. Cook some minced onion and/or garlic in a little oil, add some flour to make a roux. Cook until smooth and bubbly. Pour in the blended chillies. Add some salt, cumin, and a tiny bit of cinnamon. Simmer until the sauce is the consistency you like, adding more of the soaking water if necessary.

This will keep in a sealed jar in the fridge for at least a week.

Potato Leek Soup

This is a veggie variation on a favorite soup of ours, and another excuse to make cornbread to go with it. Inspired by Jamie Oliver. Serves 4-6.

Ingredients
4 medium red potatoes (about 1 lb), washed and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 cups vegetable broth (low sodium or salt-free)
4 small leeks (small ones are more tender)
1 14 oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. dry thyme
2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Preparation
To prepare the leeks, cut off the green leaves and about half of the pale green stalk. Keeping the root bottom intact, slice the leek in half from the trimmed end. Open the stalk and rinse thoroughly under running water to remove sand. Then finely slice the leek, discarding the root cap at the bottom.

In a soup pot, saute the leeks in olive oil over medium heat until tender (about 8 minutes). Then add the thyme, pepper, vegetable broth, and potatoes. Simmer until the potatoes are completely cooked, about 15-20 minutes. Add the chickpeas when the potatoes are soft.

Next, decide what consistency of soup you want. You can serve it as-is for a chunky soup, or puree half of it using a puree wand or food processor, or do what I do which is puree all of it for a smoother, thicker consistency. When you are satisfied with the texture, stir in the Parmesan cheese and serve immediately.

The Wonderous Pound Cake

The Wonderous Pound CakeThis is a recipe that my mother got from a little old lady at a church bake sale one year. It’s so good that it instantly became the birthday cake in our household; Rick requests it every year.

Tools
10-inch tube pan or bundt cake pan
large and small rubber or silicone spatulas
electric mixer

Cake Ingredients
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
2 & 3/4 cups sugar
6 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
8 oz sour cream
food coloring (optional)

Note: I like to use food coloring to make contrasting cake and frosting colors, for festive appeal. This is optional of course.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, mix the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the vanilla and one egg; mix. Scrape the bowl well. Continue to add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition. Now add half the flour mixture to this egg/butter mixture and fold together with a spatula, then mix. Add half the sour cream and mix; then add the other half of the flour mixture and a few drops of food coloring (if you are using any) and mix again. Finally, add the rest of the sour cream and mix until the cake batter is smooth.

Very Important: Butter the inside of your cake pan, and don’t be shy about the butter – use a lot and get every centimeter, including the center tube part. Next, put a handfull of flour into the buttered pan, and tilt the pan around slowly so that the flour can spread out and stick to the butter layer. Hold your pan over the sink or a trash can and tilt the pan in different directions to be sure you get all the surfaces coated. Gently tap out the excess flour.

Pour the cake batter into your prepared cake pan, making sure it is evenly distributed. Bake for 70 minutes, turning once to ensure even baking. To test the cake for doneness, insert a wooden skewer or chopstick into the cake and remove immediately. If the skewer comes out clean, your cake is done. If it comes out sticky, your cake needs a few more minutes in the oven. When the cake is done, set it out to cool for at least 30 minutes.

To release the cake from the pan, run a very thin chopstick or long thin knife between the cake and the pan. Make sure you go all the way to the bottom of the cake pan when you do this, and be gentle. Next, place a dinner plate upside down over the cake pan. Turn the cake pan and plate over. Your cake should release from the pan and fall onto the plate. If not, try a few gentle smacks on the bottom of the cake pan to release your cake. If this doesn’t work, turn the cake back over and let it cool a little longer. Being too rough can cause the cake to break and only part of the cake to fall out, so you have to have some patience and practice with this. If you buttered and floured your pan, the cake should pop out without too much trouble. The cake will come out bottom-side up. Place a second plate on top of the cake and flip it back over to get it right side up (this is safer than just lifting it with your hands, as it keeps the weight distributed).

OK, now that you have your cake you need some frosting!

Frosting Ingredients
4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick) butter, softened
8 oz. Philladelphia Cream Cheese at room temperature (yes, I am brand-specific on this one)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
16 oz. (one box) of 10X powdered sugar
food coloring (optional)

In a large bowl, cream the butter and the cream cheese. Add the vanilla and start adding the sugar a little at a time. You want to whip a lot of air into the frosting to make it light and also increase the volume so that there is enough to cover the entire cake. Keep whipping and adding the sugar a little at a time. Add a few drops of food coloring if you like. After all of the sugar (the entire box) has been added, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the frosting for about half an hour. It needs to be semi-firm before you spread it on the cake.

A quick word about frosting the cake: there’s no right or wrong way, but the method I have found to be easiest is to put blobs of frosting on the top of the cake, then work the frosting around and down with a small spatula to get it to stick to the cake surface. Then it is a matter of smoothing or texturing. Work at a steady pace and don’t worry if your cake doesn’t look like something out of a magazine. It will taste great! Remember, the longer the frosting sits out the softer it will get, eventually melting off the cake. So work steadily and don’t fuss with it too much. Put the frosted cake back into the fridge and take it out only when you are ready to serve it. Enjoy!

Winter Cookies

Also known as Russian Tea Cakes or Mexican Wedding Cookies, these wonderful cookies are great any time of the year. I like to include them in my holiday assortment for a little variety. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Ingredients
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
16 oz. confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 & 1/4 cups white flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup pecans chopped or broken into small pieces

Preparation
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine butter, 1/2 cup of the sugar, and vanilla. In a small bowl, combine flour, salt, and nuts. Work in flour mixture until dough holds together. Using your hands, shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place on un-greased baking sheet and bake 10-12 minutes or until set but not brown.

After removing them from the oven, allow the cookies to cool for about 15 minutes. While they are still warm (but not too hot!) roll the cookies in confectioner’s sugar. The sugar should stick and coat the cookies but not melt. If the sugar melts, let the cookies cool longer and try again. After the first coat of sugar is applied, wait until the cookies are completely cool and roll them in confectioner’s sugar a second time. To package these for gifts I like to put 6 of them in a small plastic sandwich bag and add an extra teaspoon of powdered sugar to the bag.

Bean Sprout Pancakes

I love savory pancakes, and these are a great Korean version. They are tasty served hot or at room temperature. Serves 6. [Inspired by: Flavors of Korea by Deborah Coultrip-Davis and Young Sook Ramsay.]

Spicy Dipping Sauce
3 Tbsp Gochujang*
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1/2 cup water
Whisk ingredients together.

Mild Dipping Sauce
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp white or rice vinegar
1/2 cup water
Whisk ingredients together.

Pancake Ingredients
12 oz. fresh mung or soy bean sprouts
1 bunch (approximately 7) scallions
2 Tbsp Gochujang
1 egg
3/4 cup rice flour
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1-2 cups water
vegetable oil for cooking

*Gochujang (pronounced: go-chew-jang) is a seasoning paste commonly used in Korean cuisine. It is made from fermented rice and Korean hot pepper powder, and has an earthy and mildly spicy flavor. You can purchase it in any Korean market, and many other Asian markets (ask for it by name if the products for sale do not have English writing on them). If you can not find Gochujang, you can substitute brown miso paste mixed with a little bit of Cayenne pepper powder, but I recommend searching for a Korean market. If you live near a large city it should be easy to find one and it’s a fun adventure to see all the different items that you can’t get at a regular supermarket. Plus, the produce is usually high quality and very inexpensive.

Preparation
Heat a pot of water to boiling. Rinse the sprouts and add them to the boiling water and cover immediately (use a light-weight lid so steam can escape, and turn down the heat to prevent spill-over). Boil the sprouts for 2 minutes, then drain and shock in a bowl of cold water, and drain again.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg and add one cup of the water and the two flours. Mix well. This mixture should be thin like pancake batter. Add more water if necessary. Rinse the scallions and trim off the top 2 inches of the green parts and the roots, then slice finely. Add the scallions and Gochujang to the batter and mix well. Finally, add the cooked sprouts and mix until coated with the batter.

Heat 2 teaspoons vegetable oil in a large skillet for several minutes until the pan is hot. Use a 1/3 cup measuring scoop to ladle out the pancake mix. As soon as you place a scoop of batter in the pan, use the back of a wooden spoon to spread the mix out and flatten. Cook for 3-4 minutes or until the edges are brown and begin to crisp, then flip the pancake and cook for about 2 minutes more. If your pan is large enough you can cook two or even three pancakes at once. When all pancakes are cooked, stack them in piles of 2 or 3 on a cutting board and chop them into pieces approximately 1-inch square. This makes them easier to handle with chopsticks. Serve with the dipping sauces.

Wilted Cucumber Salad

This Korean side-dish is cool and crisp, a great accompaniment to any spicy meal. The recipe may seem complicated, but the steps are quite easy and this dish can be prepared with little effort while you are making the main part of the meal. Serves 4-6.

Ingredients
5-6 small pickling cucumbers, OR 3 large
1/3 cup kosher or sea salt (NOT iodized table salt)
3 Tbsp. white vinegar
2 Tbsp. sugar
a pinch of dried chili flakes for garnish (preferably the mild Korean pepper found in Asian markets)

Preparation
Wash the cucumbers thoroughly to remove any wax on the skin. If using the large cucumbers, slice them lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Slice the cucumbers into paper-thin wafers. (A slicing mandolin makes the work faster, but always remember to use the guard as the blades on these are very sharp and dangerous.)
Fill a large bowl with filtered water and add the salt. Stir to dissolve, then add the cucumbers. Let sit for 2 hours, or until the cucumbers are wilted and flexible.

To remove the excess salt from the cucumbers, rinse them in a colander and then rinse out the bowl. Refill the bowl with fresh water and add the cucumbers to the unsalted water. Let stand for about 15 minutes. The excess salt will migrate into the water and leave the cucumbers unsalted. Taste one to make sure the salty flavor is gone. When the cucumbers are ready, pour them in a colander and rinse one more time, then rinse out your bowl again.

Next, grab a handful of the wilted cucumbers slices and squeeze out the extra water. Don’t be afraid to squeeze hard! Remove as much water as you can and put the cucumber ball into the bowl. Continue in this way until you have wrung out all of your cucumbers. Add the vinegar, sugar and chili flakes to the bowl, then stir well to dissolve the sugar. Taste and adjust the ratio of tart to sweet to your liking. Transfer to a serving dish; cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. This dish may be made ahead of time as it keeps well in the fridge for several days.

Black Bean Soup

Normally I am not a box-of-this, can-of-that type of cook, but sometimes you hit upon a shortcut that is truly tasty and healthy. I hope you enjoy this as much and Rick and I have. Serves 4-6.

Ingredients
1 box Fantastic Foods “Instant Black Bean” mix
[This is essentially refried beans that have been dehydrated. It comes with some spices already mixed in, so you can use it for dip, as a veggie filling for tostadas, etc. I found it in my local health-food oriented grocery store but some major chains are starting to carry the Fantastic Foods line now.]

1 medium onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
4-5 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped
3 scallions, thinly sliced (white parts and about 5 inches of green parts)
1 14oz. can diced tomatos (fire-roasted preferred)
1 Tbsp. chile powder
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
4-6 cups hot water

Optional Toppings
sour cream
salsa (smoked jalapeno is a nice match)
chopped cilantro
sliced scallions
your favorite hot sauce

Preparation
In a soup pot, saute the onions, garlic and carrot in the oil until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, scallions, chile powder and ground cumin, and cook for another minute. Next, pour in 4 cups of hot water, toss in the bay leaves, and sprinkle in the box of bean mix. Stir thoroughly so that the beans get completely rehydrated in the water (no clumps).

It will take about 8 minutes for the beans to soak up the water and start to thicken the soup. If it starts getting too thick, add a little more water. Taste the soup and add some salt if you wish. Continue cooking for at least 15 minutes over low heat, to give the flavors a chance to combine. Wait until just before serving before you add the cilantro; you don’t want to overcook the fresh herbs. Serve with any of the optional toppings and fresh cornbread.

Steamed Kale with Balsamic Vinegar

This easy side dish is a great way to hike up the nutrient content of any meal without adding extra calories. You can also substitute other hearty greens such as collards, spinach, bok choi, or chard. Serves 4-6.

Ingredients
2 large bunches kale (or other greens)
1 large white onion, medium dice
2-3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Preparation
Wash the kale thoroughly, removing all of the sand. Then tear out the central thick stem from each leaf and discard (this woody stem does not soften when cooked). Tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces and pile them into a deep 14-16 inch, heavy-bottomed frying pan. Heat over medium-low heat and add a couple tablespoons of water to steam the greens. Sprinkle the onion on the top of the pile of greens to weigh them down. Cover the pan and cook on a low heat for 5 minutes.

Check the greens and if they have wilted enough, toss the greens with the onion (you may have to cover the greens again and cook for a few minutes until the pile has shrunk enough to allow you to stir). Continue to gently sauté the greens and onion for several minutes and add a little salt and pepper to taste. Pick out a leaf and taste to see if it is tender enough. When the kale is tender, remove the pan from the heat and sprinkle the vinegar over the kale, then toss and taste again, adding more vinegar if you wish. DO NOT put the pan back on the heat as this will cook the vinegar and make it taste bitter.

NOTE
If using collard greens, remove the center stem as noted above. For spinach, bok choi, and chard just chop the stem into one inch pieces and cook with the leaves.