Yorkshire pudding

Our daughter, The World’s Pickiest Eater™,  consumes almost nothing I make. She will, however, devour Yorkshire pudding. I like it with mustard-crusted roast beef, mashed potatoes, mushy peas and onion gravy. Fresh horseradish, too. But she’ll ask for it with just about anything. And so Yorkshire pudding has become pretty much a staple in our house.

The problem with Yorkshire pudding is that sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Light and fluffy one day, hard and dense (think hockey pucks) the next.

I am pretty skeptical of “no-fail” recipes (I have proven that I can make a mess of just about anything), but this simple method has produced little towers of Yorkshire goodness far more often than any other I have tried.

I can’t recall where I got this recipe so my apologies for the lack of credit!

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Cold-oil fries

Nigella fries

Think long and hard before you make French fries this way. Once you start, there’s no looking back. Trust me.

I was dubious when I saw Nigella Lawson starting potatoes in cold oil (she added whole garlic cloves and herbs near the end and called them Tuscan fries). I could only imagine soggy chips soaked in grease. It looked too good to be true. Normally, when I make fries, I par boil cut-up potatoes for five to seven minutes then let them cool on a rack. Then I deep fry them at a moderately high heat to cook them through. Back to the rack they go while the oil reaches high heat. One more fry until the potatoes are golden brown. This method produces fries that are perfectly soft in the middle yet crispy on the outside. And, because it’s so much work to make fries this way, they are an occasional treat.

Then I made the mistake of trying the cold-oil method.

These are too easy and too good. The same soft interior of the best fries, a beautiful crunchy exterior. A fraction of the work. Now, as I think about making dinner – it doesn’t really matter what I am planning to cook – I think, I’d like fries with that.

Consider yourself warned.

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Roasted broccoli with toasted walnuts and goat cheese

Brocoli with walnuts and goat cheese

“I do not like broccoli. And I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m President of the United States and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli.”
– George H. W. Bush 

All the more for us then. Because combining sweet, caramelized broccoli with a tart lemon dressing, a few toasted walnuts and tangy goat cheese will have you reaching for a second helping. I promise

This, Mr. President,  is not your mother’s broccoli. 

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Joe Beef’s ‘Gentleman steak sauce’

Half a week of temporary bachelorhood has restored Meats to its rightful place before Roots and Leaves. For three whole days fruits and vegetables were relegated to their proper roles – hidden in sauces and condiments – while steaks, chops and roasts have had the run of the kitchen. For three whole days the bananas turned brown on the counter, the leafy greens in the refrigerator drawer were left to their leafy green devices and the word “folate” wasn’t heard once, not even in jest.

When I was a real bachelor, things were a little different: clothes were coordinated by odour rather than colour; the local Pizza Pizza franchisee depended on me to pay his mortgage; and, the Leaning Tower of Beer Bottles that occupied fully one-quarter of my one-room apartment was my idea of art.

These days, I favour a more civilized pick-up-your-dirty-socks kind of bachelorhood (think English Country House rather than Frat House). Knives and forks enjoy full employment, beer is poured into glasses (or mugs if it happens to be breakfast),  the empties neatly stacked out of sight. And, every steak, like the pan-fried beauty pictured above, has its sauce.

(The tomatoes, by the way, are strictly decorative.)

I have nothing against a good old jar of HP Sauce. Lord knows, it was one of the main sources of nutrition during the boiled-mince-and-potatoes days of my childhood. Somehow, though, buying a big bottle of steak sauce – like ordering take-out – seems like a dangerous step backwards for a bachelor. The condiment aisle is a slippery slope down to the frozen food section; a little too much of the sauce and I might find myself in front of the TV, scarfing down Hungry Man Dinners in my underwear.

Best to maintain control and stick to the you-can-only-eat-it-if-you-make-it rule. Otherwise, I might end up reverting to the days when I considered Doritos a major food group.

Thank goodness for the folks at Joe Beef – they understand what a bachelor needs. This recipe for “gentleman” (sic) steak sauce was adapted from The Art of Living According to Joe Beef, which has to be one of the most entertaining cookbooks ever.

Here’s what the “cookbook of sorts” has to say about this addictive condiment: “We champion this generalization: gentlemen eat their beef with steak sauce – the brown type, thick and sharp.”

And, I might add, they take the time to open the curtains every morning, even if it is just going to get dark again in a few hours.

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Granola bars

Well, it’s finally happened: we are eating homemade granola bars. Next, we’ll be “harvesting” neighbourhood squirrels for stew or buying an electric car. But, before the tie-dyed crowd starts weaving daisies into my hair, I want to assure everyone that it was my wife who made these. Not me.

However, I do have to admit that, as far as granola bars go (and I’m sure that, wherever granola bars go, it’s by public transit), these aren’t bad. Chewy and crunchy, not too sweet, not too tart. After having one I almost feel like raising organic chickens in the backyard or reading a Margaret Atwood novel.

Come to think of it, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to wear socks with sandals.

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Twenty-one nice places to eat and drink

When people I only see at Christmas parties lie to me and tell me I’ve lost weight, I usually laugh and say “Don’t worry, I’ll find it again.” Oddly enough, no one said it this season. Looking at this list of just some of places where I ate while travelling in 2011, I’m starting to understand why. Keep in mind, this list does not include restaurants in my home city, not to mention pizza deliveries.

With the exception of two places (a pub with an amazing selection of beer in Washington – I didn’t have the food so I can’t judge – and a restaurant in Istanbul with so-so food but a spectacular view – The picture above of the Blue Mosque was the view from our table), these, in no real order, are places I would not hesitate to eat at again. In fact, I can hardly wait.

The list…

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Golden beet salad

We’re having a little dinner party tonight for some old friends who are moving away and a few others who either want to wish them well or, were simply attracted by the promise of free food. Either way, this is one of the dishes they’re getting  (along with Italian onion soup and a roasted pork loin stuffed with spinach and pancetta) and it’s so good that I wanted to share it right away rather than let it stack up with the dozens of other recipes I keep meaning to post. I promised Italian food but this salad, made with grainy Dijon mustard and maple vinegar, might be a stretch. Maybe if I say it in Italian – insalata di barbabietola – I might get away with it.

Golden beet salad

Serves six

2 pounds golden beets

1 teaspoon grainy mustard

4 tablespoons maple vinegar

1/2 teaspoon sugar (optional)

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus a little more to drizzle over beets before roasting

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat oven to 400 F

Wash beets and trim tops if required. Place each beet on a square of foil wrap large enough to wrap the whole beet. Drizzle olive oil over the beets and seal the foil. Place in the oven for 45 minutes or until you can slide a blade easily into the beet. Remove and set aside to cool. When cool, cut the skin off and dice the beets into quarter inch squares.

Meanwhile, combine mustard, maple vinegar, sugar (if using) and whisk to combine. Add olive oil while whisking. Toss the beets with the dressing and serve at room temperature. Enjoy.

Onion soup

This is another recipe from my new favourite cookbook, Cucina Povera, although it’s so simple you hardly need a recipe at all. All you need are caramelized red onions, beef stock, some day-old bread and cheese. This soup, carabaccia, in Italian (just about everything sounds better in Italian), may be the precursor to the more-famous French onion soup, but feels much lighter because the pecorino isn’t as heavy as Gruyère. It makes an excellent first course or light lunch.

Carabaccia (onion soup)

Adapted from Cucina Povera, by Pamela Sheldon Johns

Serves Four

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 pounds red onions, sliced very thinly

6 cups beef or veal stock

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 thick slices of Italian bread, toasted

2 1/2 cups pecorino cheese, coarsely grated

Set your oven to 400 F.

In a large pot over medium heat add olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the onions and reduce heat to low. Cook the onions for 20-30 minutes until they are caramelized, stirring regularly.

As the onions are cooking heat the beef stock in another pot. When the onions are caramelized, add the stock, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Place a slice of toasted bread in each of four oven-proof soup bowls. Place the bowls on a cookie tray, add the soup and top with 1/4 of the cheese. Place the tray in the oven for 5 minutes and bake until the cheese has browned and formed a crust.

Gnudi

Sometimes the timing works out just right. Like this week, when I suddenly and unexpectedly found myself with lots of time on my hands just as a shipment of 11 new cookbooks arrived from Amazon. Among the 11 was this little gem, Cucina Povera. An absorbing mix of short essays, photographs and 60 plus recipes subtitled, Tuscan Peasant Cooking, it is fast becoming one of my favourite cookbooks. The recipes are simple, elegant and easy to follow. I may just cook them all.

I am not sure how the people featured in the book like being called peasants, but the recipes I have tried so far could fetch a good price at any high-end Italian restaurant I’ve been to. Like this one, for these creamy, delicate spinach and ricotta dumplings – gnudi, served with a simple and fresh-tasting tomato sauce.

If this is food for the poor, the rich don’t know what they’re missing.

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Tomato sauce

This sauce is so simple and so fresh tasting, even when you use canned tomatoes as I do this time of year. Use the best canned tomatoes available, preferably San Marzano. I don’t worry about making the sauce too smooth.

Tomato sauce

Adapted from Cucina Povera, by Pamela Sheldon Alberts

Makes 6 cups

3 tablepsoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small onion, coarsely chopped

2 pounds fresh ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped or, 1 28 ounce can of whole San Marzano tomatoes, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, minced

1 tablespoon fresh basil, minced

Seat salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the olive oil and onions. Sauté until the onions are soft (2-3 minutes). Add garlic and stir. Add tomatoes, parsley and basil. Stir and decrease heat. Simmer for about 20 minutes. Puree in a food processor or, with an immersion blender.

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