09/11/2014

On the New November

November 1st always used to be a beacon on my calendar. Not only did it mean that the dreaded Halloween was finally past (every year it reminds me why I hate it so), but it also meant I could finally embrace what was coming: Christmas. At long last, I could poise the needle on my ancient Frank Sinatra holiday record and dust off my gingerbread man cookie cutter. Sound crazy? I was not alone. I know many who consider the beginning of November to be the beginning of all things holiday.

But a few years ago, I suffered an unthinkable affliction: holiday burnout. After a month of baking and carolling and Christmas movie watching, we realised we had strung all of our twinkling holiday lights but we were also completely strung out. December rolled around and we had had our fill far too soon. We don't let that happen any more.
Now, we wait. Now, we hold our breath and count the days until the month it's actually appropriate to count the days. You know: advent and all.

But that doesn't mean we can't warm up to the idea of the holidays. Little inklings here and there are perfectly acceptable. For instance, I like to spend my November window shopping. As in other big cities, the department stores in Montreal go all out this time of year: festive, over-the-top displays best enjoyed in a warm coat* on the first day it snows.

And, though whipping up holiday classics is out of the question, incorporating nostalgic flavours into your cooking and baking is completely innocent. A little ginger here. A little molasses there. A spicy hint of what's to come.

November can be awfully drab. I think that's why I always sought to spruce it up with the spirit of what comes next. But there's no point in trying to make it something it's not. I say: enjoy the quiet and the calm before all the craziness begins. The new way to do November.

* DKNY coat, Isabella Sinclair striped buttondown, Guess jeans, Lucky Brand boots, Anthropologie sunglasses.
Molasses Bread
This sweet loaf, flavoured with dark ale, is more breakfast than dessert. Serve with strong coffee and a generous swipe of soft butter.

recipe makes 1 loaf

you will need...
1 1/2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup molasses
1/2 cup scotch ale (brown ale)

Preheat oven to 375. Grease and flour loaf pan.

Melt butter and heat beer together in a small saucepan. Set aside and allow to cool slightly.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, spices and salt. In a large bowl, beat egg, butter, beer and molasses to combine. Add flour to molasses mixture and beat until smooth. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick tester comes out clean.

Allow to cool in pan on a wire rack. Loaf will keep for up to 4 days if well wrapped.


22/10/2014

On Nesting

I've been in dedicated nesting mode these last couple of weeks: never straying too far from home and keeping house in little ways, prep for the long winter. Can you blame me? Something about this time of year. We've had more more grey, dark days than light and sunny ones and there's something quite spooky about the way the world turns black and orange all at once (that's about as excited for halloween as you'll ever find me). It calls for turning on the heat for the first time, the air all scratchy with burnt dust, and pulling out our thickest sweaters. I've spent a lot of time on chilly walks but they always lead me to the same place: that mountainous blanket heap I don't seem able to resist, a good book or album thrown in the mix to keep me company, and a warming mugful of this or that. Cozy at its best.
How do you like to nest? Do you dream up hearty menus for the months to come? Or write a to-watch list for all those evenings you know you'll spend inside, the world too inky-black to venture out? I aim to strike a chord that is part productive and part not in my nesting. I'll freeze soups or clean out my closet, but only in between watching films and flipping through magazines. It feels decadent but also very, very right. I think I was born to nest.

One thing I've noticed? "I'm nesting" isn't a valid excuse for skipping out on anything. Shocker, I know. You can't cancel plans to don pyjamas at eight o'clock (but oh, how I wish you could) and you can't reschedule a meeting just because you had hoped to make hot toddies (you even the bought the brandy, too bad for you).
When you do get a night to yourself though, you should make this Warm Roots Salad. Nesting food, in its essence, sticks to your ribs, fills up your torso, warms you, actually, from the inside out. That doesn't mean it has to be heavy though. Forget braised short ribs and chicken pot pie (at least for today). Sometimes the most comforting foods are also the most nourishing.

On blustery nights, when ingredient seeking is out of the question, I like to gather whatever root vegetables I have on hand and roast them up good in a hot oven. They become a warm, bistro-inspired salad when served with green lentils and roasted kale and tossed with a satisfying vinaigrette that's tangy, salty and sweet all at once. Second helpings are inevitable. Don't fight it.

Warm Roots Salad
Serves four as a main course or more as a starter

for the salad...
3 large beets, peeled and cut into half-inch wedges
2 carrots, peeled and sliced into half-inch coins
2 parsnips, peeling and sliced into quarter-inch coins
1/2 of a red onion, thinly sliced
4 cups of kale, chopped into bite sized pieces
de puy lentils enough for four (1 1/2 cups should do it)
olive oil
salt and pepper

for the vinaigrette...
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
more salt, more pepper (to taste)

Preheat oven to 425.

Divide beets between two sheets of aluminum foil. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and wrap up tightly. Transfer to a baking sheet.

Combine carrots, parsnips and onion on a second baking sheet (unwrapped). Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Transfer both trays of vegetables to preheated oven and roast for 30 minutes, stirring the carrots/parsnips/onion half way through. After 30 minutes, add the kale to the carrot pan and roast for 5 more minutes. Remove all veg from oven and open up the beet packets to allow to cool slightly.

While vegetables are roasting, prepare lentils according to package instructions. For me, I usually work from a ratio of 1:3 for lentils and water. Combine in a saucepan and simmer for 30 minutes. Drain any water that's left in the pot.

While vegetables are cooling, make vinaigrette: combine all ingredients and whisk to emulsify.

Serve the vegetables atop the lentils and drizzle with vinaigrette. Toss to combine.
In this issue...
Heard: Burn Your Fire for No Witness by Angel Olsen
Read: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Worn: Ann Taylor sweater, Zara skirt, H&M hat (now only available in black), knee-high socks (similar), suede oxfords (similar), Calvin Klein bag

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.