Bouillabaisse & Buche – Merry Christmas!

24 Dec

IMG_0576For many, the pinnacle of Christmas eating centres around the traditional turkey dinner of Christmas Day. In recent years for me, the highlight is a different traditional meal on Christmas Eve.

Growing up in Newfoundland, mom always prepared fish for Christmas Eve; often the traditional NL dish of fish and brewis. It’s a mixture of salt cod, soaked over night and slowly brought to boiling, with hard bread (also known as hard tack or ship’s biscuit) also soaked and heated through. The whole thing is topped with “scruncheons”, small pieces of pork fat fried up. I hated it. To me there was nothing more bland to the sight, nothing more plain to the palette.

Ah! How the times change!

What I turned up my nose at as a child I know crave as an adult. I suppose it has something to do with nostalgia and IMG_0578availability – it’s a little harder to procure salt cod in Ottawa (although one year I proudly informed my mother that I spent $5 on bus fare to get downtown to Aubrey’d Butcher for a $1.65 piece of pork fat) get and it’s not a meal I get to eat every day.

I was therefore surprised and delighted a few years back to find salt cod – whole, split and salted fish (from Iceland) – available at the Pelican Fishery. A few Christmases ago when dad was visiting, he taught me how to prepare fish and brewis. I couldn’t help thinking that this was knowledge that had been passed down much the same way through my family over centuries. I know proudly serve fish on Christmas eve at my table too.

It’s not always fish and brewis though. Some years I make another traditional Newfoundland dish – cod au gratin. This is cod baked in a white sauce with cheese and bread crumbs on top; quite lovely! This year’s menu is the greatest departure yet – bouillabaisse! I’ve never figured out if it’s a soup or a stew but it is said it’s not “real” bouillabaisse unless there is at least 9 different kinds of seafood in it. Thanks to the good folks who set me up with all I need from the Whalesbone Sustainable Retail Oyster & Fish Store, I will be “keeping it real” and one of the 9 will be a lovely Ling cod fish (not from the Atlantic where cod is still largely unavailable).

The ghost of bouillabaisse past - a photo of my first attempt but we'll be looking to replicate these results this Christmas Eve

The ghost of bouillabaisse past – a photo of my first attempt but we’ll be looking to replicate these results this Christmas Eve

This year we’ll also be helping to keep someone else’s food traditions alive. My culinary conspirator, Barb, as a birthday during the Christmas season (Happy Birthday Barbie!!). She revealed to me a few months ago that when she was a child growing up on the Prairies, she asked her mother for a buche de noel (that’s yule log cake for you anglos!) for her birthday cake every year. Since Barb’s mom still lives far away on the Prairies, she asked me if I would make her one this year. I was touched and honoured at the request and happily agreed. It will be dessert at our Christmas Eve supper this year.

So tonight as we prepare to welcome Christmas we bring together the memories and traditions of two families. And as we raise our glasses and enjoy the feast – of bouillabaisse and buche – I’m sure we’ll create some new ones too!

Whatever you are serving tonight, made it be generously seasoned with the love and company of family and friends – Merry Christmas!

 

 

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Three Cheers for Eggnog!

17 Dec

IMG_0546I find there are two types of people in the world – those who love eggnog and those who hate eggnog. I myself am in the first camp. To the Haters, I would like to boldly suggest that perhaps you haven’t been exposed to REAL eggnog before. If you’ve only ever had the glop in the carton from the grocery store, then I can’t blame you for hating it. But if you’ve never tried real, honest to goodness, made from scratch, eggnog, well my friend, you just haven’t lived!

Real eggnog is a light, sweet frothy dream of creamy goodness where hints of rum and nutmeg dance “gangnam” style along  the palette! If you don’t believe me, then as an act of Christmas charity, I offer up my own favourite eggnog recipe below. Try it – you’ll like it! Leave out the rum for those who do not wish to imbibe; and don’t be too heavy handed with the nutmeg.

Most importantly, don’t take risks with eggs! Always use the freshest eggs available and for heaven’t sake don’t leave it out at room temperature unless you want to give your guests a raging case of food poisoning! Serve it from the fridge – Christmas is no time to be gettin’ fancy with punch bowls or moose-shaped cups.

For those of you who are less inclined to whip up a batch, I highly recommend the eggnog available now at Farm Boy. It is my one exception to the grocery-store-cartoned-glop rule mentioned above. It is neither glop, nor is it in a container – it’s in a glass bottle as all good dairy should be. It is without a doubt the closest to freshly made eggnog as I have every tasted and I by bottles myself when I’m feeling too lazy to whip eggs. In fact, I defy you to tell the difference if you’re visiting my place this Christmas – and I’ll bet you can’t have just one cup either!

Eggnog

6 large eggs

3/4 cups of sugar

3/8 teaspoon salt

6 cups homogenized or 2% milk

1.5 Tbsp vanilla

Rum  or rum flavouring and nutmeg to taste

Beat the eggs in an extra large bowl until light. Continue beating while adding sugar and salt gradually. Continue beating until sugar is dissolved. Add milk, vanilla and rum/nutmeg is using. Stir until well mixed. May be refrigerated up to 24 hours before serving but best made just before! Run through blender to foam before serving.

 

 

 

The Tacky Christmas Brunch

11 Dec

waterskiingwestiesWe don’t always realize how food and drink are the magnets that tends to draw us all together at Christmas time; think of office cocktail parties, church bake sales and neighbourhood potlucks. One of my favourites is our friend’s “Tacky Christmas Brunch” party.

This proud tradition is a gathering of friends for a potluck brunch accompanied by a tacky gift exchange where we foist junk from our homes on to each other. For the past 5 years, it has also been a competition to see who can find and wear the tackiest Christmas sweaters. There have been some great contenders over the years. I was sure Hubby would win last year when he fashioned himself a poncho out of a velour Christmas themed blanket for Giant Tiger (you know the type – with the puppy in the stocking wearing a bow and a santa hat). Believe it or not, he did not even come close to winning; such is the caliber of the competition.

Last year an executive decision was made to give this year’s party a bit of a re-boot. As we enviously eyed friend’s kids in their cute little “onesie” pajamas (with feet built in!) it suddenly occurred to us – of course! It’s a BRUNCH! We should all wear tacky Christmas PAJAMAS!

At least that’s what I thought we agreed to last year but SOME of us didn’t get the memo and found ourselves standing at the door in our flannel lingerie as the neighbours looked on curiously while the door was answered by people wearing SWEATERS! Luckily there was some solidarity as about half the other guests wore PJ’s so Hubby and I didn’t look like complete idiots.

That is to say, at least one of us didn’t look like a complete idiot. The other however, wore a giant adult size “onesie” complete with hood in an attract navy blue fleece with white stags printed all over it (Giant Tiger strikes again!). Frankly it was less tacky and more creepy at about the level of “pedophile”. I’m pleased (?) to say that Hubby won the prize for tackiest attire (they didn’t even vote, everyone unanimously agreed) which this year was a 2013 calendar of water-skiing westies. In previous years the prize has been a “Goats in Trees” calendar or “Extraordinary Chickens” so I count myself lucky (that is a genuine reaction on my face in the accompanying photo by the way, I didn’t even know I was in the shot).

Amongst all the tacky shenanigans there was food involved. I count myself quite lucky to have friends who are clever in the kitchen. In fact, brunches are a great time to experiment with something new and different. Amongst my favourites are Sandra’s Orange Pecan French Toast. If I saw it coming out of the pan quite right, it’s baked upside down so you get this lovely sticky toffee cinnamon bun thing going on. Another personal fav is Lisa’s Brunch Pizza. It’s a lovely golden crispy hash-brown “crust” heaped with lots of peppers, cheese, scrambled eggs and bacon or ham. Every mouthful has all my favourite breakfast things in each bite!

Afterwards, with bellies full of good, hot food, everyone kicks back with a mug of tea or coffee (this year the pajama wearers felt particularly smug about our expandable elastic waistbands) to enjoy the warmth of each other’s friendship and company before going out in the cold for the drive home and there is nothing, my friends, tacky about that!

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the Foodies on Your Christmas List

7 Dec
What foodies favs will be hung in your stocking with care?

What foodies favs will be hung in your stocking with care?

Hello readers! there are only 18 more shopping days until Christmas (stop throwing things! You’ll break the screen!). Are you still shopping for a foodie friend? Wanna find something unique to give your loved ones? Eager to avoid the mall? Have I got a solution for you – the upcoming Westboro Holiday Food Fair!

This coming Sunday (December 9) some of the best local food producers in Ottawa will be offering their wares at the Westboro Masonic Hall (located at 430 Churchill Avenue). Frankly, it sounds to me like a stocking-stuffer paradise – you can get teas, coffee, chocolate, honey, jams and chutneys (at least that’s what I’d like my stocking to be stuffed with)

A couple of my local favs are scheduled to be there. In particular, head directly to Pascale’s All Natural Ice Cream and buy whatever she is selling because it’s all good. Around this time of year she is known to make eggnog ice cream and knock-your-socks-off bouche de noel (that’s yule log cake for you anglophones).

The Relish The Flavour taco truck and the Flatbread Pizza Company are also scheduled although tacos and pizza make really lousy stocking stuffers so I’d recommend you just eat them there on the spot.

There are a few names on the list that I don’t recognize that I’d really like to check out including vanilla from a company called Really Horrible Enterprises. With a name like that, it’s got to be good.

Nobody needs another light-up tie or Christmas theme socks. Food is love so why not share some love this Christmas!

See you at the fair!

Where to Find It:

Westboro Holiday Food Market

Sunday, December 9, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Westboro Masonic Hall  at 430 Churchill Ave.

http://osfa.ca

Free admission and parking

24 Days of Tea

2 Dec

Advent calendars – not immediately thought of as a valuable food source. However do you remember when you were a kid and some family member presented you with a cardboard advent calendar in late November? You know the ones I’m talking about; with the plastic tray behind it and the cheap chocolate in the shape of a Christmas character hidden behind each door? You’d wolf it down so fast you probably didn’t even taste it (which might have been a good thing), briefly contemplated how much you’d be yelled at if you skipped ahead a few days and then despair that you’d have to wait a whole 24 hours before you could have another one.

Those were the days when it seemed like Christmas would NEVER get here. I don’t know why parents ever thought that tiny, daily piece of chocolate would be enough to hold back the frenzy of excitement. It did seem to keep things to a dull roar in the early days of December but as the inexorable march towards the Big Day went on, it seemed to lose it’s grip (not that we didn’t still wolf down that chocolate).

Last Year's "24 Days of Tea" from David's Tea

Last Year’s “24 Days of Tea” from David’s Tea

A few years ago, Hubby and his best buddy at work started buying each other those same plastic chocolate advent calendars from their childhood of yore. The effect was not just nostalgic. What has transpired over the years is a competition of sorts – to see who can get the advent calendars first. Those calendars don’t just remind them of their childhoods, but rather, they bring them right back to it as they battle like little boys to “one up” the other.

Last year I re-discovered the magic of advent calendars with one that couldn’t be more perfect for my tastes if I designed it myself. In mid-November David’s Tea offers the “24 Days of Tea” package. In truth, they don’t call it an “advent calendar” but the effect is pretty much the same. The package opens like a story book and behind each labelled window lies a different sample of tea in a little clock-maker’s tin. Hubby and I really enjoy the unique flavour combinations available at David’s so we really enjoyed the chance to sample 24 different kinds – from hot buttered rum black tea to chocolate rocket mate. It’s just as fun as I remember to open a window each day and wonder what will be behind it and at the end – we have this lovely collection to enjoy with our guests.

If you want one, you should check each of the two locations in Ottawa but be forewarned – you may be too late. I was informed that I had just bought the last one at the Bank Street location a few weeks back but they were anticipating getting more in. They sell out fast. If you’re out of luck this year, there is always next. Go on down to David’s anyway, they have lots of nice gift items and you can at least get yourself some chocolate teas to sip on the days leading up to Christmas.

Where to Find It:

David’s Tea (Ottawa)

339 Richmond Road

798 Bank Street

The Curious Case of Canard en Croute

30 Nov

Amy Adams serves up Canard en Croute in the movie “Julie and Julia”. She would not have been smiling that much if she’d really prepared it herself.

This whole thing was Barb’s idea. Those of you who have read past posts will know the past trouble I’ve gotten myself in to with duck fat (“The Curious Case of the Duck Fat in the Night” posted September 13, 2012). So when Barb called and said “let’s make canard (duck) en croute!” I could only imagine the sort of trouble I could get myself in to with a whole duck.

Before we go forward – a little necessary background is in order. Barb and I are culinary partners in crime. We like to get together in each other’s kitchens and attempt particularly challenging recipes (there is safety in numbers).

The canard en croute recipe we decided to tackle on this particular occasion came right out of the pages of Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and began with a series of text messages that went something like this:

B: “Going 2 Saslov’s 4 duck – buy already de-boned?”

C: “Yes – definitely buy pre-de-boned”

B: “$$?”

C: “Probably”

B: “Got duck! This MoFo* is heavy”

C: “I guess bones R still in it?”

B: “Yes – frozen too”

C: “How big?”

B:“10 pounds”

C: “R U sure you didn’t accidentally buy turkey? How many R we feeding?”

B: “Recipe says 6-12!”

C: “Jesus H. Tap-Dancing Christ!”

So we now had a duck – complete with bones; all frozen solid. Ever wonder how long it takes to thaw a duck? Try 3 days! Luckily Barb got it early enough and on the appointed day, we were surveying our intended victim on my countertop.

It was at this point, confronted with the stark reality of a naked carcass, that Barb started getting cold feet. “Maybe we should call Jamie; ask him to come over and help us?” suggested Barb hopefully. I stared at her with a dumb-founded. “Jamie is a surgeon!” I answered incredulously, “what’s Jamie going to do? Remove it’s gall bladder??”

“Yeah, but he knows more about anatomy than we do” tried Barb gamely. “On people!” I replied, “not poultry!” and with that I pushed her aside, determinedly picked up the knife and took a running leap at the duck.

I made a clean cut along the spine (Jamie would have been proud) and loosened the skin on either side to make my way in. What proceeded from that point on was kinda like that scene from the movie “Jaws” when they’ve caught the wrong shark and they’re slitting it open and hauling the contents out on to the dock. Fortunately, I didn’t find any license plates or dead kids but I DID find the giblets which can be quite tasty.

I ran in to difficulty once it came time to break the joints on the leg and wing but luckily Barb stepped in. She broke those joints so deftly that duck would have confessed to any crime. I had no idea she had hands with the pure crushing power of a car compactor.

From that point on it became a tag team effort – one of us would go at it furiously, knives flashing and then step back to let the other body-slam that bird. At the end of a solid hour of work, we had ourselves a de-boned duck. If you were wondering why I didn’t include a photo in this post, it’s because a de-boned duck looks pretty much like a bird that’s been turned inside out. Once we sliced out the breast and thigh meat, all we were left with was a lovely duck-skin suit.

The rest of the recipe was a cinch – we marinated the diced duck meat in a little brandy, made a pate of ground pork and veal, threw all the meat together in a loaf and encased it in the duck skin; sewed it up and surrounded it in pastry. To give credit where it’s due, Barb’s Hubby was the one who sewed up the skin, a project he undertook with such zest, I had to drag him away before he could start adding a little decorative embroidery (maybe Jamie the Surgeon could use an assistant in the operating room?)

Finally after 7 (count them – SEVEN) hours of labour, we presented the duck en croute at the table. Barb and I concluded that it was pretty much not worth the effort of repeating again but the real reward was our pride of accomplishment. We felt as though we’d truly “arrived” and besides, it adds to our street cred (when I told a local butcher about it afterwards, he unhesitatingly asked me if I wanted a job). From now on though, I think I’ll just stick with duck fat!

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*Short for a naughty word I’m too lady-like to print but not so lady-like enough to avoid using in real life.

Christmas is Coming, the Goose is Getting Fat!

23 Nov

Hello friendly blog-readers!

You probably thought I’d died or something; it’s been that long since I last posted. I am, in fact, alive and well. I haven’t posted in a while because my life exploded (in a good way) and I’m still cleaning up the splatter zone. There’s another explosion called “Christmas” coming up and since that’s bound to be just as messy, I figured why not jump back in here before it’s time to clean up again.

Those of you who know me personally know that I’ve never been a huge fan of Christmas (some have theorized it’s because my heart is three sizes too small. I insist it’s because my shoes are too tight. Really, any excuse to buy more shoes will do, but I digress…). In recent years however, I’ve come to see it in a new light. Hubby and I have slowly acquired a taste for Christmas traditions that harken back to the Victorian era. Perhaps it’s because we live in a late Victorian house, perhaps it’s because we like the “back-to-basics” approach or perhaps it’s our stomachs that have led us in this direction.

You see, back in the day, food featured as an important part of Christmas. Some of the earliest Victorian era Christmas cards feature not images of Santa Claus and presents but rather, of families gathered around the table feating. This makes perfect sense – in the darkest, coldest part of the year you should go nuts and eat just so you can get through it, physically and mentally. I am personally determined to see this proud tradition survive!

In years past we’ve both made and acquired some fabulous food to help us celebrate our holiday. I would no sooner abandon you to your own foodie devices at this time of year then I would to abstain from food all together! So over the next few weeks leading up to the Big Day, I’ll give you a glimpse into what’s happening in our kitchen, where in Ottawa to find the foods that conjure up those magical Christmas childhood memories and share a few ideas of where to find gifts and stocking stuffers for the foodies on your list.

Stay tuned – in the next few days I’ll describe in more detail my latest culinary adventure in which I de-boned a duck! Thankfully, no pictures were taken of that whole experience (talk about splatter zones!)

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