In my world breakfast doesn’t begin until coffee is present and accounted for. More often than not it’s thick, black espresso, lovingly nicknamed “jet fuel” made on the stove top in an old fashioned percolator. If I’m not at home, it’s a coffee shop Americano, but either way I want it to be strong, dark and bold. I don’t add cream or sugar to my coffee, but I do enjoy coffee in sweets like my Coffee and Cream Cake or warm coffee over vanilla bean ice cream for a classic affogato. Bittersweet is a flavor profile I really love. Coffee and cinnamon both fall into this category and I find them quite remarkable together, so these Cinnamon Espresso Oats were a somewhat obvious breakfast hybrid for me. They are simple to prepare – this is barely a recipe – but they make up for it in the complexity of their nuanced flavor. I’ve dressed them up here with some creamy slices of banana and crunchy green pumpkin seeds because I find oats to be at their best when they are part of a textural landscape with a variety of things going on. All alone they can be a bit, well, stodgy, but add a crunchy crisp something or a soft fruit and they get infinitely more exciting.
Category: Winter Recipes
I have read and heard French onion soup referred to recently as a “French bistro classic”, which I presume it is. Having never been to France, I will have to take that description at face value, however, I can easily imagine tucking into a bowl of this steaming hot soup at a small hole-in-the-wall restaurant with crisp white linen napkins somewhere in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. But, I’m a romantic, so such imaginings are easy for me. If you are less of a dreamer, or possibly adverse to onions or the texture of soggy bread, you may not think this soup is for you, but I would urge you to try it. Not only is it a classic, it is so much more complex and interesting than you would expect. By the time the cheese has melted and the bread has absorbed some of the broth and it is placed in front of you, the onions will have sweetened and softened into the butter, the thyme and sherry will have co-mingled and contributed a gentle citrus flavour as well as a sweet low note that strikes a deep chord that hums “savoury”, “special” and “home”.
French Onion Soup
Loosely adapted from Paris in a Basket by Nicolle Aimee Meyer and Amanda Pilar Smith
This recipe, as I have made it here, feeds 8 hungry people as “dinner” and could easily be enough for 12 as a starter.
8 large onions, peeled and sliced thinly (about 12 cups)
8 tablespoons of salted butter
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 shots (ounces) sherry (I used Harvey’s Bristol Cream because it’s the only sherry I had on hand and frankly the only one I’m very familiar with. It worked out deliciously.)
12 cups beef stock
1 lb Gruyere cheese, grated
1 baguette, cut into 16 -1 inch slices
Fresh ground pepper to taste
This recipe calls for individual French Onion Soup tureens so that the traditional bread and cheese can be broiled atop the soup. If you don’t have the specific tureens, use oven proof bowls, or simply serve it from the pot with the cheese sprinkled in and the bread on the side for dipping.
Begin by peeling the onions. Slice them very thinly. Set aside. Dry your eyes.
In a large heavy bottomed pot, over medium heat, melt the 8 tablespoons of butter.
Once it is melted, add a full sprig of fresh thyme.
Add in the onion. It will seem like an impossibly huge amount of onion, but will cook down beautifully.
Cook the onions in the butter with the thyme, stirring frequently for about 35-40 minutes, until they have reduced to about 25% their original volume and have lightly caramelized. If you find that the onions are browning, reduce the heat and stir more often. The onions should not become dark or dry. Aim for an all over golden colour and soft, sweet onion strings. Fish out the thyme stem, it will have lost all its leaves.
Once you have achieved the pale caramel colour and the onions are softened, add 2 shots of sherry and stir well to combine.
Add in the beef stock and increase the heat to medium high until the soup boils, then reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered for 30 minutes, allowing the soup to reduce and concentrate slightly.
While the soup finishes, grate the Gruyere and slice the baguette; set aside. Preheat your soup tureens (if using) in a 200 degree oven for 10 minutes. When you take them out to fill them, switch the oven to broil mode.
Sprinkle the bottom of each bowl with a pinch of the grated Gruyere cheese before you add the soup. Fill each preheated tureen with 1-1/2 cups of soup, ensuring that all 8 get equal onion and broth.
Set the baguette slices on the surface of the soup, cut side up. Depending on the size of your bowls and the circumference of your baguette you may need 1 or 2 slices. Whatever you don’t need in the bowl, you can dunk in the soup later.
Top the bread with cheese, ensuring that each bowl has a generous portion. Place on a baking sheet or in a shallow, wide casserole to transport the bowls to the oven.
Leave the soups under the broiler, watching them carefully, until the cheese is melted and beginning to brown. To serve, sprinkle with thyme leaves from the remaining sprig of time and garnish with fresh ground pepper.
The humble yam. There isn’t much to say about a yam. It is one of those vegetables that serves it’s utilitarian nutritional purpose but doesn’t exactly cry out for applause. Perhaps it’s the simplicity of yams that compels so many people to mash and whip them within an inch of their lives , adorn them with marshmallows, or turn them into golden souffles. The other option seems to be to boil or steam them and serve them plain. Personally, I’m not a great fan of the yam, so no way is the “right” or “wrong” way to prepare them for me. I do, however, live with some committed yam fiends who like them just about anyway that they can get them. So which way do yams manifest on our plates? More often than not, especially when prepared alongside turkey or chicken, I roast them with maple syrup and ginger. Not wholly unique or original, but as a potential yam convert I appreciate the balance of sweet and spicy, and in general, almost anything is good or better with maple syrup.
It all starts with fresh yams, peeled and chopped.
Then fresh ginger makes its entrance, grated. If you’re clever, do as I say and not as I do and grate the ginger right over the dish you will roast the yams in to collect all the gingery juice that you’ll get from grating it.
Toss the cubed yams in the rest of the ingredients and pop them in the oven. Less than an hour later you’ll be enjoying spicy-sweet, earthy roasted yams …and not a marshmallow in sight!
Roasted Yams with Maple and Ginger
preheat the oven to 375
3 medium yams, peeled and chopped into 1 inch cubes
2 teaspoons olive oil
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Toss yam cubes in maple syrup and oil, sprinkle spices in, mix well to coat.
Roast at 375 for 30-40 mins or until the yams are tender and have begun to caramelize.
Since this will be my first Christmas on Feasts for All Seasons I have been thinking on how to go about sharing holiday foods with you through stories and recipes. It seems that, to be most effective, I need to post things well in advance in case you want to make them and incorporate them into your seasonal repertoire. There are plenty of old family favourites that I will get to as November wraps up and we move into December, but I also wnat to come up with some new flavours of the season and expand my own repertoire.
As I was brainstorming and making lists of must-have recipes to include over the next 5-6 weeks, I tried to consider all kinds of meals, sides, desserts, appetizers, even cocktails. Then I tried to organize those ideas in terms of flavour. The very first Christmas flavour that jumped out to me was marzipan. From there I extrapolated to chocolate and marzipan, from there to a memory of a recipe I will have to dig up from my aunt’s 1960’s edition of The Joy of Cooking which is called ‘Old World Chocolate Spicecake with Citron’. That left me pondering the chocolate, marzipan, spice and citrus combination, all of which, to my tastebuds, are essential flavours of Christmastime. Could it be done? Then my mind wandered to the half loaf of leftover French bread in the bread basket, and ta-da: Chocolate Marzipan Bread Pudding.
Raise your hand if bread pudding makes you nervous? Is it a texture issue? You’re not alone. In the context of bread puddings, most people are fairly divided because of their ‘soggy’ bread texture, my self included. You either love them or … not. I was somewhat converted by a local restaurant’s chocolate banana bread pudding which is rich and enjoyable, but still has that sodden custardy texture. The (often desirable) soft texture is achieved through an eggy custard that sets around and through the bread through the continuous and moist heat of a ban marie. A ban marie is a water bath by which things like custards are baked in a casserole dish that sits in another larger dish filled halfway with hot water. The water surrounding the smaller dish gives it a long warm hug while in the oven and allows the custard to heat gently and thoroughly while contributing moisture to the environment of the oven. After my flavour epiphany, I paused to consider the potentially over-soft center of this otherwise perfect dessert. But what happens if you make a bread pudding without the ban marie? My best guess was that it would be less soft, the top would be crunchier and the inside would remain tender without being a silky mush. I decided to try it. I was please to find that it worked. It had a chewy crust with damp, not wet, warm chocolate and spice beneath. It was everything I dreamed it could be. If you are a die hard soft-center bread pudding fan, make this in a deeper dish and water bath. No matter the texture, it tastes great and has every sweet flavour of Christmas in it.
Chocolate Marzipan Bread Pudding
preheat the oven to 350
4 cups of bread cubes (French bread, crust on)
1/3 of a cup of sugar
1/3 of a cup of cocoa
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 a teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
100g chocolate covered marzipan, chopped into very small bits, about 1 cm x 1 cm
1 cup of milk
zest of 1/2 a small orange
Begin by cutting the bread into small cubes.
Then prepare the custard.
Start with the 4 eggs in a medium sized mixing bowl. Beat the eggs well with a fork to fully incorporate the yolks and whites. Add the sugar and continue to mix thoroughly by hand until the mixture becomes paler and the sugar is dissolved into the egg.
Mix the cinnamon and nutmeg with the cocoa.
Add the spice and cocoa mix to the eggs and mix thoroughly. It may take a few minutes of stirring to fully incorporate the cocoa, which will stubbornly sit atop the liquid. Once the cocoa is mixed in, add the extracts and milk.
Then add the bread cubes to the chocolatey custard, stirring gently, as little as possible to immerse each cube. Try not to break up the bread too much.
As the bread sops up the chocolate custard chop a 100g log of chocolate covered marzipan and mix it in gently.
Fill a buttered casserole (deep if you want to use a water bath* for a creamy pudding, shallower if you want lots of chewy-crisp surface area and don’t plan to bake it with a water bath). Bake for 25 mins at 350. Once it’s done, grate the zest of 1/2 a small orange over the top for a complimentary whisper of citrus. A snowy sprinkling of powdered sugar will give it the final seasonal touch. A drizzle of cream or a pillowy mound of whipped cream wouldn’t be bad either. Or a pool of egg nog. Or icecream. Or have it as is. Bon appetit!
* If you go for a deep casserole and water bath, boil the kettle while you assemble the pudding. Once it’s ready for the oven, set the pudding (in it’s buttered casserole) into a larger dish or roasting pan and set in the oven. Don’t try to fill it on the counter and carry it to the oven. Carefully pour the whole kettle’s worth of water into the larger pan filling it halfway up the bread pudding dish. Bake for 25 mins as described. Remove carefully from the oven. Please don’t scald yourself, I would feel terrible if you did.
Maybe it’s my rural roots, but despite living in the city, fall is all about harvest for me. There is something so inherently comforting about the abundance and the coziness of being indoors as the weather cools, and enjoying the crispness of the air, the fog, the smell of fires burning, when you are out and about. I love the change of colours, how the sunlight thins and the shadows grow long. I love the wind and the fine line that nature walks between bounty and barren.
From a kitchen’s perspective, every season has it’s bounty. Winter means citrus and spice and the familiar flavours and scents of the holidays. Spring is fresh and crisp with early lettuces, and the brief window for beautiful things like asparagus. Summer brings fruit en mass, and the smoky, stickiness of all things grilled. But it’s autumn, for me, that brings the best things; the heartier fare of root vegetables, squashes, soups, and the flavours of the woodier herbs like rosemary and sage.
Thanksgiving is a celebration of harvest and abundance and giving thanks for all that we have. The beauty of a Thanksgiving meal is that it keeps on giving and can easily be transformed into multiple meals for a good portion of the following week. Hot and cold turkey sandwiches, savoury turkey pie, turkey curries, potato pancakes from the leftover mash, the list goes on and on. My personal favourite, and a real winner in our house is turkey soup. It’s an effortless meal, that just like the original bird, makes multiple meals. It’s a way to stretch that bounty (and your dollar) and create less waste of what is arguably, one of the best meals for this time of year. Every time you make it, it will be a bit different depending on what you have available and what you or your family like.
During our extended family’s Thanksgiving this year my uncle Rick was telling me how he was counting on taking home the turkey carcass for soup and how he remembered my mother simmering the turkey bones overnight for a good 24 hours. He laughed and said he only gives them 3 or 4 hours and wasn’t sure there was much of a difference. It was a comical anecdote because I also recall how long the house was full of foggy windows and the smell of simmering turkey. Personally, I usually give it about 6 hours.
I grew up with turkey soup containing rice. Other families might opt for dumplings, or noodles or matzo balls. Maybe you are interested in just the broth, or maybe you want to thicken it and call it stew. It’s up to you. Whatever you do, it all begins the same way; making stock. Here’s how I do it:
No matter how long you have, or how long you think it takes, begin with a turkey carcass, with all of the meat picked off. You can pick the meat after it’s done its work in the stock pot, but I prefer not to. Save any meat you have and set aside. I like to leave all the herbs, any skin, etc. that the turkey originally roasted with in there because it’s all flavour.
Cover the carcass with cold water (how much you use depends on the size of your pot.)
a couple bay leaves
2 sprigs of each rosemary, thyme and sage
2 heads of garlic, halved crosswise, skins on
Get the water up to a boil and immediately turn down to low. Allow the carcass to simmer for a few hours with the lid on. Then turn off the heat and allow the stock to cool slightly (about an hour) so it isn’t murderously hot when you strain it. It won’t be pretty, but all that liquid is delicious.
Once the temperature is lower, pour the stock through a colander into a large, clean pot. Discard the carcass and other solids unless you still have meat to yield from it. Some bits of herbs, bits of garlic skins, etc will slip through. You’ll also notice a thin layer of fat on the surface. If you are going rustic, just fish out the herbs, etc. and use a large shallow spoon to skim the majority of the fat. If you are a purist, rinse your colander and original stock pot, and line the colander with cheesecloth. Pour the stock back through and all those “impurities” will be caught, as well as most of the surface fat. Whether I use one method or the other depends entirely on how much effort I want to put into it and whether or not I have any cheesecloth on hand. It’s your soup, you choose.
Taste your stock. If it seems “weak”, simmer it for awhile longer so it can reduce and concentrate its flavours.
At this point you can continue making soup or refrigerate or freeze your stock for another purpose.
If you are making soup add:
the turkey meat (white and dark) shredded into bite sized pieces
any vegetables you have on hand (I used squash, carrot and celery this time)
any additional herbs, like parsley, you might want to add
salt and pepper to taste
Reheat to cook the vegetables gently, just below a boil. If you want to add rice, do so. About 1/2 a cup will do unless you have made an enormous amount of stock. Likewise, a handful of noodles would be great too.
Serve hot and expect people to go back for seconds.