11/10/2014

AS EASY AS PUMPKIN PIE

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favourite holidays, perhaps because it's the only one that's all about the food. No one worries about gifts or fictional holiday mascots at Thanksgiving; instead, we concentrate on the one thing that's most important, Thanksgiving dinner. This leaves a whole weekend to cook and eat as much as you please, plus plenty of time to simply enjoy a few days off during a beautiful season. Now that's a holiday I can get behind!

For me, Thanksgiving has always been about the harvest. Now is the time when the fields and forests are ablaze with colour and the markets are bursting with the best produce the year has to offer. I've always found it quite beautiful to think that in the face of winter's imminent quiet, nature makes a whole lot of noise and throws quite the party. Soon all will wrinkle and die, but that doesn't stop the natural world from enjoying one last spectacular hurrah. At Thanksgiving, this is I'm most grateful for.
{ Ann Taylor Loft shirtdress & necklace, Lucky Brand boots, Kangol hat }

This year, my Thanksgiving will be a quiet one. I'm staying in the city and making dinner just for the two of us. This dress, which I bought last weekend on my quick trip to New York, feels appropriately autumnal for the holiday, don't you think? Instead of cooking a whole turkey, I've gone the route of a breast and drumsticks. Not conventional at all, I know, but it solves the problem of infinite leftovers and allows us a taste of tradition.

One custom I can't bear to sacrifice in the face of our intimate party for two? Pumpkin pie. When I'm home with my family for Thanksgiving, it's the one dish I always, always make. I like it silky smooth and extra spicy with plenty of whipped cream. I know homemade pie can be intimidating, especially if you're making the crust yourself, but I've detailed below some of my most trusted tips for a perfect pie. Happy Thanksgiving, friends!
1. Keep it cold!
Pie dough is infamously finicky but you'll have a much easier time if you make sure to keep everything very, very cold. This includes your ingredients (make sure the butter, flour and water are all chilled in the freezer for at least 30 minutes before using) and the dough itself once it's formed (chill dough overnight before rolling out and chill again, for at least an hour, once it's in the pie plate).
2. Always blind bake!
In my opinion, a golden, flaky pie crust is often better than the filling it holds. But flaky and golden are only possible if your crust is evenly cooked and therefore blind-baked. Blind baking is the process in which you bake the crust before adding the filling. In my mind, it's an essential step. The one thing to keep in mind? You'll need to line your pie dough with parchment paper and weigh it down with pie weights or some old, dried beans (save the beans for future pies) before baking. This will ensure your crust doesn't bubble and bend when met with heat.
3. Let it cool!
Also known as: Allow yourself plenty of time to make this pie. After your crust is blind-baked, allow it to cool completely before adding the filling. And once the pie itself comes out of the oven, allow it to cool completely and then chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours. These steps will ensure your pie has a luscious, smooth consistency: don't skip them!
Sugar and Spice Pumpkin Pie with Brandied-Ginger Cream
adapted from Fine Cooking

for the crust, you will need...
one-half teaspoon table salt
ten tablespoons of unsalted butter cut into 1-inch pieces (cut butter and then chill)
one and one-half cups of all-purpose, unbleached flour
one-third cup of cold water

for the pie filling, you will need...
one fifteen-ounce can of pure pumpkin
two large eggs
one large egg yolk
one cup heavy cream
one and one-half tablespoons of brandy
three-quarters cup of dark brown sugar
one teaspoon ground ginger
one and one-half teaspoons ground cinnamon
one-half teaspoon table salt
one-eighth teaspoon ground nutmeg
one-eighth teaspoon freshly ground pepper
pinch of ground cloves

for the cream, you will need...
one cup heavy cream
one tablespoon maple syrup
one teaspoon ground ginger
one teaspoon brandy

special equipment: pastry blender, 9-inch pie plate, parchment paper, plastic wrap

to make the crust...
Add flour to a large mixing bowl. Tumble in pieces of butter. Using the pastry blender, work the butter into the flour until the butter is left in large crumbs. Add cold water. Using the pastry blender, work the water into the mixture, breaking down the butter even more. Continue cutting the butter into the flour until it is pea-sized. At this point, the mixture will not be a solid ball of dough as you might imagine, but if you pinch the dough with your fingers, it should stay together. If not, add a little more water and mix again.

Dump dough onto a large sheet of plastic wrap. Use the sides of the wrap to press down on the dough and form it into a disk. Wrap and chill for at least two hours but preferably overnight in the fridge. I tend to also put my dough in the freezer for 15 minutes just before working with it.

Once dough is chilled, roll it out on a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin until it is 16 inches in diameter (1/8 inch thick). Transfer to pie plate, pressing lightly to fit. Trim the overhanging dough to 1/2 inch from the edge of the pie plate. Fold the edge under. Crimp the edge as desired. Chill for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 400.

Line chilled dough with parchment and weigh down with pie weights. Bake for 18 minutes. Remove parchment and pie weights and bake, uncovered, for an additional 5 minutes. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

to make the pie...
Preheat oven to 325.

In a large bowl, combine pumpkin, eggs, egg yolk, cream and brandy. Whisk to blend. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, ginger, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, pepper and cloves. Whisk to blend. Add brown sugar-spice mixture to pumpkin and, once again, whisk to blend.

Pour filling into cooled pie crust. Bake until the sides of the pie are set and the center is still a bit bouncy (the pie will continue to cook as it cools), about one hour. Allow to cool completely and chill for at least two hours.

to make the cream and serve...
Just before serving, whip cream with maple syrup and brandy. Serve each slice of pie with a spoonful of cream.

23/09/2014

Women in Clothes Making Soup

I approached this post in a different way than I have any other. I was inspired by a talk I attended last week, promoting the new book Women in Clothes, a compilation of interviews, conversations and thoughts about how women relate to clothes, dressing and style. This is not your typical fashion book. In fact, fashion seems to have little to do with what the editors of Women in Clothes are trying to accomplish. It's a book about the why instead of the what of dressing; the general premise is that what you wear isn't as important as why you wear it.

At the heart of the book is a survey of 83 questions, which you can check out and fill out on the Women in Clothes website. I decided to answer a few of these questions and share some of my more interesting replies. The outfit and recipe in this post are inspired by my answers.
1. WHEN DO YOU FEEL AT YOUR MOST ATTRACTIVE?

WHEN I CONNECT WITH ANOTHER PERSON. HONEST CONVERSATION between two people SUGGESTs MUTUAL ATTRACTION AND INTEREST. 

2. DO YOU NOTICE WOMEN ON THE STREET? IF SO, WHAT SORT OF WOMEN DO YOU TEND TO NOTICE OR ADMIRE?

Most often, I notice women who look Polished but at ease. These individuals look like they put thought and care into dressing, but don't really think or care about they look Once they are dressed. Dressing for these women is not an effortless process but it has a care-free conclusion.

3. WHAT ARE SOME THINGS YOU ADMIRE ABOUT HOW OTHER WOMEN PRESENT THEMSELVES?

I always admire when other women can pull off looks that I cannot.

4. ARE THERE ANY CLOTHING (OR RELATED) ITEMS THAT YOU HAVE IN MULTIPLE? WHY DO YOU THINK YOU KEEP BUYING THIS THING?

Coats and blazers. I have far too many (closets full) and I've realized, in a given year, I barely have time to wear them all. So why do I keep buying them? I think I like what they represent: structure.

5. WHAT ARE SOME RULES ABOUT DRESSING YOU FOLLOW, BUT YOU WOULDN'T NECESSARILY RECOMMEND TO OTHERS?

For some reason, I tend to abide by the rule "Don't wear more than one piece of jewelry at a time." I've never been a jewelry person (i rarely buy jewelry and when i do it's only because I really, really love something) and the idea of wearing more than one piece seems too busy to me. Of course, tons of women pull off wearing multiple pieces and it looks great; it's just not for me. Also, i've never pierced my ears and don't plan to. "No earrings" is another one.

6. WHAT IS AN ARCHETYPAL OUTFIT FOR YOU; ONE THAT YOU COULD HAVE HAPPILY WORN AT ANY POINT IN YOUR LIFE? WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT IT?

Jeans, t shirt, blazer, flats. I like this outfit because it feels timeless, not only in terms of fashion history, but also in terms of my own historical relation to fashion. I hated sneakers and hoodies as a child; I would have much preferred to have worn flats and a blazer, though they were hard to find in my size at the time.

7. WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS GETTING DRESSED IN THE MORNING? WHAT ARE YOU CONSIDERING?

In order of most to least importAnt, i consider: the weather, what I'll be doing on a particular day (who I'll be meeting, where I'll be going), my mood, what I've neglected to wear recently.

8. DO YOU HAVE STYLE IN ANY AREAS OF YOUR LIFE ASIDE FROM FASHION?

I definitely have a Cooking Style. My instincts in the kitchen are to make hearty dishes reminiscent of comfort or peasant food, but always with the freshest ingredients I can find. I like to make food that's best tackled on a Sunday, when there's time for it to simmer on the stovetop and nothing is too rushed. When I cook food that isn't of this style, I feel slightly uncomfortable/out of my element, as if I was wearing someone else's clothes.

wearing: limited edition "I See You" t shirt by Judith Henderson, 
Theory blazer, Guess JeansBCBG flats (similar)

There are 75 more questions in the survey and I encourage you to take a look at them. This was quite a revealing process for me and I think it would be for any woman. Though I put a lot of thought into what I wear and how I dress, I had never really considered why I make the style choices I do. I was especially interested by my response to the question of multiples in my closet. I've always known I have a penchant for blazers and coats but I had never deliberated why. It's interesting that the blazer also features in my archetypal outfit. Clearly, I've always craved structure.

The last question is a fun one because I most definitely do have a style of cooking. I like to think that my blog's recipe index is indicative of what this style is, but I also wanted to share with you a recipe that is the perfect expression of how I like to cook. It could only be one thing: French Onion Soup. Does it get any more hearty and comforting? I love the process: slow-cook the onions, develop the flavour of the broth, top with bread and cheese and broil until brown. It's the type of food that demands a glass of wine but could also cure a cold, indulgent and nourishing all at once. I like my soup spicy so I add a big spoonful of dijon mustard to the onions just after they caramelize. Think of it as my personal take on a classic style.
French Onion Soup
makes enough for four generous helpings (plus a little extra)

you will need...
2 pounds of yellow onions, sliced thinly
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
plenty of fresh thyme (6-8 full sprigs)
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
2 teaspoons flour
1 cup of dry white wine (preferably French)
4 cups of beef stock
2 cups water
salt and pepper

baguette, sliced to fit into oven-proof bowls
gruyere, grated (plan to use up to 1/3 cup of grated cheese per bowl)

In a large stock pot, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add onions, thyme and bay leaves and cook, stirring occasionally and adjusting heat as necessary, for 30-35 minutes, or until onions are caramelized and deep amber in colour. Add mustard and stir to combine. Add flour and stir, cooking for 1-2 minutes. Add wine; allow to bubble away for 2-3 minutes. Add stock and water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. I usually make this soup ahead of time so it can have at least an hour or so to sit off the heat, allowing the flavour to deepen (overnight is even better!).

Remove thyme sprigs and bay leaves; discard. Season soup with salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat broiler. Toast sliced baguette on baking sheet until browned. Divide soup between heat-proof bowls on the baking sheet. Top with bread and cheese (use as much as you like). Melt cheese in the oven until brown and bubbling. Serve immediately.

16/09/2014

Autumn, Apples and a Slice of Humble Cake

After summer ends, there always seems to be a brief period in September when we return to school and work but the weather fails to cooperate with our renewed allegiance to busyness. I recall many first days of school spent in sweaty longing, all students wishing for the same thing: that we were either outside enjoying the still-summer weather or inside studying on a cool, crisp autumn day. Well, maybe the latter was just me...

This year, it seems the weather gods finally got the memo. Almost overnight, a welcome change occurred in my corner of the world: time for layered sweaters and plenty of cozy cooking, fall harvests and thoughts of winter stores. I'm embracing it all and don't plan on looking back. Autumn, I'm glad you're here.


I can very clearly remember the first time I realised autumn was my season. I was nine years old and had reached a point in my development when I considered books to be the best company. Though I had plenty of friends, I had come to find that fictional characters were much more interesting than any of my actual, in-the-flesh companions. Sad, perhaps, but very true.

After school, I loved to sit in my backyard, a blanket wrapped around me, and read until it got dark. One day in September, my grandmother approached. "I love the way the air changes this time of year," she remarked. "So crisp and cool. So refreshing!" I nodded eagerly in agreement. I liked that too, I realised. I liked that I needed a blanket to sit outside. I liked that the evenings grew dark a little earlier every day. I liked that summer was over and something new had started. And so began my love affair with fall.

During my recent visit to Nova Scotia, I took full advantage of the seasonal change. Long walks revealed subtle tweaks in the landscape from day to day—a yellowed field here, curled, fallen leaves there—and though we kept up our summer ritual of a glass of wine outside in the late afternoon, we had to chase the sun, dragging our chairs behind us, as it moved to the back of the garden earlier and earlier. The best part? I treated my family to a bit of fall baking: a hearty cake recipe worthy of the season.
Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley, where my family lives, is famous for its apples. September is harvest time and the first pickings pop up in the markets in every colour, size and variety just as the season hits its stride. Gravenstein apples are grown widely in the area and they're the perfect fruit for cooking and baking. Firm and crisp (there's that word again), they hold their own when met with heat.

This Gravenstein Apple Cake is a real beauty. It's quite a big cake—tall and full of flavour—but it lacks the pretension we associate with other show stoppers. No layers or intricate buttercream here! Instead, cinnamon, pecans, shredded coconut, grated apple and the unexpected addition of orange juice make for a moist crumb with some spicy warmth. And why not gild the lily? A spoonful of buttermilk sauce keeps things perfectly gooey.

I should mention that this recipe strikes me as being quite old fashioned. It was written by the late Nova Scotian food writer Marie Nightingale and the proportions of sugar and oil, as you will see, are quite generous, reminiscent of how cakes were made twenty years ago, but not unwelcome. Go with it. It works! Also, for those who aren't familiar with the term "unpared" (I wasn't), it means unpeeled. When you grate the apples for the cake, leave the peel on.
Gravenstein Apple Cake with Buttermilk Sauce
adapted from here
makes one large bundt cake

for the cake, you will need...
three cups of all-purpose (unbleached) flour
one teaspoon of baking soda
one teaspoon ground cinnamon
two cups of granulated sugar
three eggs
one and one-quarter cups of canola oil
one teaspoon vanilla
one-quarter cup orange juice
two cups grated, unpared Garvenstein apples (three to four apples should do it)
one cup chopped pecans
one cup flaked coconut

for the buttermilk sauce, you will need...
one cup granulated sugar
one-half cup unsalted butter
one half teaspoon baking soda
one-half cup buttermilk (make your own!)

Generously grease and flour a large bundt pan. Preheat oven to 325.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda and cinnamon and whisk to sift. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine sugar, eggs, canola oil, vanilla and orange juice. Beat with an electric mixer on medium-low speed until well blended. Stir in flour mixture until combined.

By hand, fold in apple, pecans and coconut, making sure everything is evenly distributed. Spoon batter (it's thick!) into prepared pan and bake in preheated oven for 1 hour and 15-25 minutes, or until cake top springs back when lightly pressed with fingertip. Cool in pan on wire rack for 15 minutes and then remove cake from pan, flipping out onto cake plate. Serve cake warm with buttermilk sauce (below).

To make the sauce, combine sugar, butter, baking soda and buttermilk in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from heat.

Serve each slice of cake with a generous drizzle of sauce and a bit of maple syrup-sweetened whipped cream.