Thursday, February 27, 2014

Old-fashioned Rich Egg Bread

A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone. – Henry David Thoreau

Riches. We all want them. Our society directs us to consume constantly, in a never ending cycle, never being happy. Never reaching "the goal."

If your yeast doesn't proof, you won't
have successful bread.
My profession is part of the problem. I’m a designer. We often help shill the things you really don’t need. We help make the unnecessary feel necessary, at least in many consumers’ minds.

Thoreau lived from 1817 to 1862 and is most famous for his work Walden, which was a collection of reflections on simple living. This was in the first half of the 1800s – not the last half of the 1900s, or the first two decades of this century. It boggles the mind a little when you realize that people saw a problem with how we felt we had to live over 150 years ago.

Over the last year I have taken a page from Thoreau (in a very small sense) and have tried (in a very small way) to simplify my life, or perhaps more correctly, take control of it.

After first rise.
Working for myself was a major step. So was cutting down on monthly expenses by living more efficiently. Our foray last year into vegetable gardening was another. There’s a satisfaction you get from putting hand to soil that can’t be described until you do it.

So is “making” rather than “buying.” Not only does it reduce expenses but it gives a feeling of self-sustenance and sharpens your mind to what is important. Success takes many forms. Being able to afford the latest and greatest is only one concept of it.

Besides our small house in the country, we have a bachelor apartment in the city that my spouse uses for college and I use as a second office for my city clients. It’s small. It doesn’t have much except the necessities. We’re fine with that. The things one thinks they need are not in truth what is necessary.

After second rise in the pan.
Happiness, I believe, comes from fewer things, not more. If you can love someone, and be loved in return, what more is necessary, except for those few things required to keep you alive? He who has the most things at the end of the day does not win.

In fact, the more you have can make you less happy. Picture a dog with four bones. There’s no way he can enjoy all of them simultaneously, so instead of enjoying one, he spends his time guarding all four, constantly afraid another dog will take them.

Food for thought on a Thursday: What can you do without today to make yourself happier? Is it a simpler life, one in closer contact with nature and those you love? Would you sacrifice the hurly burly of your everyday existence for something “less” but far more rewarding?

From the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam:
A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread–and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness–
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!"

I hope my writing helps inspire you to reassess your priorities. For me it has worked. I am in a far better place now than I have been before. I am in control of my life, and responsible for my own happiness.

Bake some bread. Get in touch with a simpler way of life. Find some peace.

A recipe for happiness? Self-sustainability.
Old-fashioned Rich Egg Bread
Prep: 15 min  |  Rises: 3 hrs  |  Bake 35 min
1 cup water, 110°F
2-1/2 tsp yeast
1 tsp sugar
2 large eggs
3 cups flour
1 tsp salt

Proof the yeast in the warm water mixed with the sugar. Once the yeast is creamy (has activated), mix in the eggs. Pour over the flour and salt in a large bowl. Mix well.

Once the flour has been incorporated, turn out onto the counter and knead for 5 minutes. Let rise until doubled, about 2 hours.

After the first rise, remove the dough to the counter again, divide in two and shape each piece into a round ball. Place the balls side by side in a well greased 5x9 bread pan. Proof again until doubled, about 1 to 1.5 hours.

Preheat the oven to 425°F with a pan with a little water in it on the bottom rack. Bake the loaf for 35 minutes, until hollow sounding when tapped on top and nicely browned.

For a soft crust, rub the top with butter.


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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Mushroom Braised Beef Roast

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

I was reminded of that quote yesterday as I attended the funeral for the husband of a friend of mine. It was a very sad affair, as all funerals are, but was made all the more poignant as they would have celebrated only 17 months of marriage on Saturday. He was 50 years old.

My heart was torn at the sight of his wife, and the rest of the family, having to pull together to make sudden arrangements to say that final goodbye to the one they love. The word love is on purpose, not loved. It does not end because someone is no longer here, nor should it.

Sear the beef on all sides.
His passing should be a clarion call to us all to appreciate and love those we have in our lives, every single day. Do what you can to show it today, not tomorrow, as there may not be one. A sobering thought, that very few of us actually recognize. We all have an immortality complex.

Have you raised you voice harshly to someone you purport to love in the last week, day, hour? Was it over a trifling matter, something so insignificant it was only used as a vent for your bad mood? Did it cut, was it meant to hurt or make someone feel small or bad?

Go apologize. Now. Start to live seeing the big picture. None of us are perfect – not them, not you, and certainly not me. But you love them for a reason – remember that every time you open your mouth.

Be supportive, be helpful, be an ear to listen and shoulder of support.

Reduce the liquid in the pot.
Of course there are serious things in relationships that need to be discussed. Most often they stem from selfishness or rigidity. Communication is key. But do it in a way where you do not denigrate the opinions of those you love; cultivate a cooperative atmosphere where issues can be discussed calmly and solutions found.

There are no winners and losers in a healthy, loving relationship. Love and living together is about give and take. What you decide together will make you stronger than what you decide alone. And those joint decisions will lead to new avenues of choice that you may never have dreamed possible.

Remember that life can be short and brutish, and inherently unfair. Live life like there is no tomorrow, and always treat those you love in a way you would wish to be treated. If you live life like this, if the worst does happen, you will not look back with regrets.

Happy memories, smiles and laughs are far better ways to remember those we love than living with self-recrimination because  of how we acted. We can’t change what happens around us, but we are in total control of how we react to those circumstances. The two saddest words are “what if...”.

Luckily, my friend and her husband lived the words I wrote above. The only regret is they had far too little time together.

What does this have to do with braised beef roast? Nothing. But I’m giving you a recipe anyway. It may be a way to enjoy the company of those you love, and have some of supportive conversations you really should be having, over a lovely meal.

Mushroom Braised Beef Roast
Prep: 10 min  |  Cook: 2 hours  |  Serves 4-6
2 tbsp vegetable oil
3lb boneless beef blade roast
2 tsp cracked black pepper
1 tsp dried garlic
1 tsp salt
300 g crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 cup chardonnay
1 cup cream

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Mix together the pepper, garlic and salt and rub the mixture well into the surface of beef.

Heat half the oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy pot with a well fitting lid. Sear the beef on all sides. Remove to a plate.

Add the remaining oil to the pot. Sauté the mushrooms until they start to colour. Push them to the sides and nestle in the beef. Pour the wine around and bring to a gentle boil. Then reduce the heat to medium low, cover the pot and bake.

If your pot lid doesn’t fit well, cover the top of the pot with heavy aluminum foil and then place your pot lid on top. Fold the hanging foil up over the lid, for a slightly better seal.

Bake the roast for for 1 to 1.5 hours, testing using a meat thermometer at the hour mark for doneness. Interior should read 140 to 150°F for medium.

Remove from the heat. Let sit for 15 minutes, tented with foil to keep warm.

While the roast sits, bring the liquid and mushrooms in the pot to a boil, and let cook until the liquid has reduced down to about 3/4 of a cup. Add the cream and boil until reduced to sauce consistency.

Taste the sauce for salt and adjust if desired. Slice the beef and serve the mushroom sauce on top.


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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Thoughts on Bread & Olive Oil Loaf

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. – Mozart, Requiem Mass in D Minor

There used to be times when occasions of life called for specific foods. We still have vestiges of that today. For example, hot cross buns, turkey and cranberries are often seen as necessities for Easter and Thanksgiving feasts, respectively.

But in “olden times” many other gatherings of families and friends were celebrated and traditionally called for very specific foods to be served. There’s not a lot of people (if any) who now serve Simnel cake on Mothering Sunday (4th Sunday in Lent), or Groaning cake when a woman has been “confined” in the process of giving birth.

Before overnight rise.
Here’s another one I just found out about today: funeral (arval) bread – once common in the north of England. As is now apparent by my quote and this post today, the health of my friend’s husband did not improve and the family has the sad task of saying goodbye for the last time in a few days. Our collective hearts ache for them.

There appears to be a few variations of this “bread.” Some say it was like a cake with raisins and cinnamon, others more like a biscuit. But they all were associated with the celebration of a life well lived, and the transition of inheritance – and responsibility. 

Arval was the inheritance feast of the Norse. You can see a clear influence by the Viking invaders/settlers (northern England).

This bread was distributed to the gathered mourners before the funeral procession. Apparently it was provided not just as sustenance at the wake, but mourners were given it to take home, and I believe at times it was also distributed to the poor.

An arval dinner and bread were intended (according to an old source) to “exculpate the heir and those entitled to the possessions of the deceased from fines and mulcts to the Lord of the Manor, and from all accusations of having used violence; so that the persons then convened might avouch that the person died fairly and without any personal injury.”

That’s a lot of significance in a round of bread. What foods in our culture now carry such weight?

We still have wakes and “celebrations of life” but nothing so circumscribed and definitive.

This recipe is not avral bread – not by a long shot – but it made me think, and learn, and appreciate anew.

I hope you try to make this. Baking bread is a demonstration of love, and isn’t that part of the ideas associated with funeral bread?

Olive Oil Bread
Prep: overnight  |  Second rise: 2 hrs  |  Bake: 35 min
3 cups unbleached flour
1-1/2 cups water
1/4 cup olive oil
2-1/2 tsp yeast
1-1/2 tsp salt

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl and beat with a spoon for 2 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel and let rise overnight (or 8 hours). 

In the morning, (sort of) knead the bread on a lightly floured surface (it will be very sticky) and place in a well oiled 5” x 9” loaf pan. Oil your hands and press the dough out so it is even in the pan.

Let rise until the dough reaches the top of the pan (about 2 hours). Preheat the oven to 425°F. While the oven heats, hydrate it with a shallow pan on the bottom rack with 1/2 cup of water in it.

Bake the loaf for 35 minutes, until browned and hollow sounding when tapped on the top. Remove from the pan and let cool on a rack.


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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Broiled Lamb Chops, Old School

The truth is you don't know what is going to happen tomorrow. Life is a crazy ride, and nothing is guaranteed. – Eminem

I’m quoting Eminem. The world is about to end. Actually, I post that quote thinking of friends of mine, one of whom is going through an extremely difficult health crisis. A few weeks ago everything was fine. Now...wham.

You just never know. Life can really deal you a shitty hand of cards some times. As I said to a friend yesterday, sometimes it seems God is a child with a twisted outlook on life. If you believe in such.

This couple had found true happiness together, and love each other beyond words. They've only been married for about a year. And now this. It makes you think, and wonder. I wish there was something I could do, but there isn’t. All the love in the world isn't enough.

So I’m not really in the mood for writing, truth be told. But I haven’t posted for a while, and it is therapeutic. It helps one arrange one's thoughts.

How I link the top half of my post with a recipe has yet to spill from my mind. I guess if anything it’s because this is what I made for my spouse on Valentine’s Day. I love him, like my friend loves her husband. I don’t know what I would be going through if our circumstances were swapped.

To me, this recipe is full of love. My friends never had difficulty showing and appreciating their love for each other. If there’s any lesson at all in this crap it is this: 

Never let a chance go by to show those you love how you feel. Actions – not words. Anyone can say words. Live it.

This meal started a week before Valentine’s Day when I was at Costco. If you like volume, that’s the place to go. Their meat most certainly isn’t anywhere near “local,” but I don’t think their butchers are trained to cut anything thinner than one inch. That makes for great “on the barbie” purchases.

Broiled lamb is a favourite of mine, and really quite simple. If you serve with a couple veggies you’re good for a meal. But cooking of said lamb chops can be a bit tricky, especially if you want them so the pink is “just gone” inside.

I cook my asparagus with a little water, olive oil and salt in a
skillet. Cook until the water evaporates, then brown slightly
with the remaining oil. Season with pepper.
I have a couple rules about lamb chops. First is to never buy them if they’re less than 1” thick (that’s crazy talk); the second is to broil them on the second level down from the broiler rack. That way they slowly cook through without burning to crap on top.

Selecting lamb chops is another “art.” If possible choose loin chops, like I purchased at Costco. They’re the “V” shaped ones with kind of a t-bone in them. I paid $18 for eight. That’s what I used to pay for that much 20 years ago at the butcher.

Also good are rib and sirloin chops. Other chops you will probably have to tenderize in some way.

I marinated my chops for 2 days before cooking. This was not a necessity, but because I was travelling in to Halifax for work it ended up being the most convenient. You don’t have to marinate loin chops at all. A simple rub of chopped garlic, rosemary, cracked black pepper and salt is just fine.

If you’re looking for a nice, easy recipe to demonstrate love to someone you care about, this is one to keep. Mind you, every meal should be a demonstration of love to your family.

Lamb Chops with Rosemary and Garlic
Cooking time: 20-24 min
This was it for a great meal: buttery potatoes, asparagus
and perfectly grilled lamb.
8 lamb loin chops, around 1 to 1.5” thick
5 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tsp dried rosemary
1 to 2 tsp cracked black pepper
1.5 tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil*
1 tbsp soy sauce*

Combine all the ingredients except for the meat in a small bowl. Place the chops in a sealable bag or in a dish. Pour the marinade over the op and rub onto the surface of the meat. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours, turning at least once.

Remove the chops from the marinade and preheat the broiler element in your oven. Place the hops on a broiling rack and move the top rack in the oven to the second closet to the element. Not the closest.

Place the chops in the oven. They should be about 5 or 6 inches from the heat. Broil for 10-12 minutes on one side; turn and then repeat for the other. Internal temperature should be about 140°F. 

If you wish, move the oven rack up close and broil for about a minute to brown the top. The plus side of broiling a bit away from the element is the chops cook through before burning. The negative is they don’t brown dramatically.

If using a barbecue, cook over direct flame for about 6-7 minutes, and then move the chops away from direct flame for an additional 3-4. Same internal temperature.

I always find asparagus and fluffy mashed potatoes go well with lam chops, but it’s entirely up to you.

*If not marinating, you can omit the oil and soy. Just combine the other ingredients and rub onto the surface of the meat before broiling or grilling.


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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Bistro French Onion Soup hits the spot in winter

When one is too old for love, one finds great comfort in good dinners. – Zora Neale Hurston 

Bistro Onion Soup. Welcome, my friend, it's a nasty day outside...

That's a bit of a silly quote. Surely no one is too old to give and receive love. I suppose, if I couldn't experience love, dinner would be in the running as a substitute. This is, at the end of the day, a recipe that I just love. There's something about it that is hard to define – a delicious "deepness" that is wholly satisfying – especially during sleet/snow days like today in Nova Scotia. Comfort x food = happiness.

Low 'n slow to caramelize onions.
I’ve been making this from memory for over 20 years. I have no idea where the recipe may have originated. Some cookbook now buried in a box in my basement, I would imagine...

This is a really good "meatless" soup, but it does use beef stock. The cheese substitutes for meat a little, as does the bread, so it's filling and delicious.

The way to make a delicious soup of any kind – meatless or not – is to introduce lots of flavour. There are tricks.

Caramelizing the onions is the first way. Caramelizing their sugars adds depth of flavour. But just like caramelizing sugar for a dessert, you don’t want to burn it. So caramelize on medium heat, slowly.

All ready for toast and cheese.
Next up is cooking a little flour with the onions until it takes on a bit of a nutty taste, like the start of a roux. This can be done in a short time (2-3 minutes), and really makes a difference. This adds body to the broth as well.

After that it’s really up to good quality ingredients – good beef stock, fresh herbs, and nice, flavourful cheese. And don’t forget the bread but any "country" style loaf will do. Traditionally it's a crusty French baguette. I used my homemade whey bread. It was an excellent choice too. Nice and "sturdy."

This is a really great way to drive away the winter storm blahs, and you really don't have to have a lot of ingredients in the pantry. The only thing you may have to venture out for is the cheese.

Bistro-style French Onion Soup
Fresh from under the broiler, and piping hot.
Prep: 10 min  |  Cook: 30 min  |  6 servings
1/2 cup butter
8 medium onions (good sized medium)
5 garlic cloves
1/4 cup flour
5 cups good beef broth
1/2 cup sherry
2 tsp Dijon mustard (optional)
1-1/2 tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped (1-1/2 tsp dried)
1 tsp cracked black pepper
salt to taste
1 French baguette, sliced and toasted*
2-1/2 cups gruyere cheese, grated (or Swiss)

Heat 1/4 cup of the butter in a Dutch oven or other oven-safe pot.

Slice the onions, thin but not too thin, and add to the pot. Then chop and add the garlic. Sauté the onions and garlic over medium heat, stirring often. Sauté until they begin to caramelize (turn golden), but are not burnt. While the onions caramelize, toast the baguette slices and set aside.

Add the second 1/4 cup of butter to the pot. After it is melted, sprinkle the onions with 1/4 cup of flour. Mix together well and let the onions cook for a further 2-3 minutes until the flour starts to colour slightly.

Add the beef broth, sherry, Dijon (if using), tarragon and black pepper. Let the soup come to a boil and then simmer for 5 minutes. Make sure to scrape any brown bits from the bottom of the pot as it simmers.

Taste the soup for salt. You may not need any depending on the saltiness of your stock. Adjust the pepper and tarragon at this time as well, if desired. Keep the soup hot.

Grate the cheese and set aside. Layer enough toasted baguette to cover the surface of the soup. Sprinkle the toast with 1/2 of the cheese. Add another layer of toast and finally the remaining cheese. If desired, sprinkle the top with a little pepper.

Broil the soup until the cheese bubbles. Serve immediately.

* You need to have enough toast slices to cover the top of the soup in two layers.


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Friday, February 14, 2014

Honey Ciabatta Loaf

Never miss an opportunity to show the one you love how you feel. Don't just say it. Live it. 
This isn't a quote, but it is the best advice you can ever be given.

Happy Valentine’s Day 2014! Don’t wash away in the rain.

At least it’s not snowing a blizzard, which is supposed to come on Tuesday - maybe. I suppose, what should we expect in the middle of February? At least today you can make it to the grocery store to buy all the fixings for a wonderful romantic dinner with the one you love.

But don’t buy bread. If you mix this before you go out the door for work, you can deal with it when you get home. You’ll then have a beautiful loaf to serve with your dinner, candles and good bottle of red wine. You are having a good bottle of red wine, yes?

Before first rise; after six hours.

A loaf of homemade bread can elevate even the simplest of meals to something memorable. There really is something about home baked bread that says “I love you.”

This loaf has a crisp crust and moist, airy interior. Hole-y, but not too hole-y, so butter won’t drip down your arm.

I made this a few days ago, and I can vouch for its delicious flavour when still warm, as well as used for toast in the morning. It makes great toast. It would make a great sandwich, too. So if you’re a little afraid a whole loaf won’t get used, put those fears to rest.

It will be gone before you realize it, much like Valentine’s Day. So make the most of it. Show that special someone how very special they are - however that may be.

Honey Ciabatta Loaf
Prep: 5 min  |  Rise 6-8 hrs  |  Bake 35 min
3 cups unbleached flour
2 cups water, 110°F
1/4 cup honey
2-1/2 tsp yeast
2 tsp salt

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl. Beat with a spoon for about 3 minutes to mix well.

Cover with plastic wrap and a tea towel, place out of direct draughts, and let rise for at least six hours. The dough will more than double in size and be very “wiggly.” It will look like you will never be able to work it. This is normal.

Oil a 9” x 9” x 2” square baking pan. “Pour” the dough out onto a floured surface. Using a dough scraper, fold it over onto itself several times. Use only enough flour to keep it from sticking. It will start to retain a bit of shape.

Plop the dough (yes, plop) into the prepared pan. Using oiled hands, level it out in the pan as best as you can. Let rise again until the dough comes to the top of the pan. This may take 1 to 1.5 hours.

Preheat the oven to 425°F.* Bake the risen loaf in the oven for 35 minutes until it is nicely browned and sounds hollow when tapped on top.

Let cool slightly, remove from the pan and place on a rack to finish cooling.

* For some additional loft, place a pan of water in the oven while it is heating. Remove it just before baking.


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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

French Sausage Soup with Lentils

Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut. – Ernest Hemingway

We are renting an apartment in Dartmouth. A furnished apartment. Anyone who has ever done that know’s where I’m going with this. It’s always lacking something you feel is a necessity in the kitchen.

The necessity that I miss most? A cast iron Dutch oven – that most useful of kitchen pots. It’s important to have a dish that gos from stovetop to oven without a second thought. Since it’s a necessity, I went looking for one.

What I didn’t want to do is duplicate a pot I have already at the house. I know too well what problems that can cause from my experience of combining two complete households when we moved to the country.

So I went looking, and I found what I was looking for. I bought a Spanish cazulea with a cover – partly because I was too cheap to buy a cast iron Dutch oven. It was $19.99 at Winners. The Dutch ovens started at $39 and went up from there.

Sautéing on the stovetop.
A cazuela is a glazed clay dish which, when soaked in water, can be used to go from stove top to oven. It can also be used over direct flame on a barbecue. I was a little leery the first time I used it. It was so pretty I didn’t want to crack it open on top of the burner...

Have you ever used clay pots? Think about it. Before our wonderful metal pots were in common use ancient peoples had to use something to cook in. Guess what? It was clay!

You do have to soak new clay pots in water before using them the first time, but they are an amazing material that are great for browning things on top of the stove as well as for slow cooking in the oven. They make succulent, tender meats. Just like a Dutch oven, at half the cost!

For longevity and performance a clay pot needs to absorb water before it is introduced to heat. The thicker the clay, the longer it needs to soak. Thick pots should be soaked for at least a couple hours, thinner ones can get away with a half hour.

You don’t need to soak it in water before every use. A process called ‘seasoning’ takes place every time the clay is used which means the more the piece is used the tougher it becomes.

I have gained a great deal of respect for clay since I have begun to use it. I probably will look for another dish or two to add to the collection!

SAo what did I make? Armed with my new covered cazula, I made soup – excellent soup with the French garlic sausage I posted two days ago. I promised you the recipe. I wasn’t drunk when I said it, but I take Hemingway’s advice to heart. I keep my promises.

Ready for the first stage in the oven.
French Sausage Soup with Lentils
Prep: 15 min  |  Cook: 1 hour  |  Serves 4    
200g thick smoked bacon, diced
1 lg onion, diced
1 lg carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
19 oz can diced tomatoes, with juice
1 cup dried green lentils
2 cups vegetable stock
1 lb French Garlic Sausage, sliced
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
Salt and cracked black pepper, to taste

Soak top and bottom of a medium clay cooker in water for 15 to 30 minutes, if it's a new dish like mine was. Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Slowly heat the clay pot bottom over medium heat by turning up the heat from low, to medium low to medium. Don’t stick it on the burner at high heat...just to be safe.

Add the diced bacon, onion, carrot and celery. Sauté until the bacon starts to exude fat and the onions become translucent.

Add the tomatoes and their liquid, the lentils and stock. Add some salt and pepper, cover and bring to a boil. Then cover and place the pot in the preheated oven. Bake for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, remove the pot and add the sausage and red wine vinegar. Stir well, cover and bake for an additional 30 minutes. If it looks like the soup will dry out, add more stock or water.There’s not a lot of broth when the recipe’s done.

Once the lentils are tender, taste for salt and pepper, adjust if necessary and serve with a crusty country loaf.


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Monday, February 10, 2014

French Garlic Sausage with Pistachios

If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary. – Jim Rohn

I find inspiration in the most unlikely places. Often in recipes that call for an ingredient I can’t get my hands on.

That was the case with this recipe. I was looking at cassoulet recipes and one called for “French Garlic Sausage.” I had never heard of it, and garlic always sends me scurrying to find out more. I love garlic.

There are a few recipes for it, but the most intriguing was one that had chopped pistachios in the mix. Yup, nuts in a sausage. They looked great. Not one to back down from a challenge I bought pistachios the next time I was at a grocery. They are not cheap.

To mitigate the wallet shock buy them at a bulk food store. And resist the urge to get the red ones. They’re dyed. Buy unsalted, shelled green.

Very few ingredients go into these, but they're
packed with flavour.
I usually grind my own pork, but this time I opted for the far easier pre-ground. It was on sale... Lucky I did because I discovered an “issue” in the stuffing process. It had to do with the nuts.

When you use a sausage stuffer the meat passes through the grinder (without the grinder plate) and past a small plastic spacer before it goes through the stuffing tube.

As I tried to stuff I noticed the meat wasn’t coming out very quickly. When I investigated I found the nuts were getting clogged up. So I had to stuff all the sausage into the casings by hand, through the tube, with my finger.

A time setback, but I’ll know better next time.

This sausage has to cure for 3 days. Because it has sodium nitrite the finished product is also pink, kind of like a hot dog. The consistency also reminded me of that a little. It was very smooth.

I made these sausage for a French Lentil Soup. The recipe will follow this one in a couple days.

If you’re looking for a bit of an interesting sausage for the barbecue, or have cassoulet on your radar, give this one a try. They won’t disappoint!

This is the whole 1 kg after simmering for an hour.
French Garlic Sausage
Prep: 30 min + 3 days curing  |  Yield: about 4’ sausage
1 kg ground pork (2.2 lbs)
1/2 cup whole shelled pistachios
1/4 cup brandy
1/4 cup water
3 large garlic cloves, minced (about 1-1/2 to 2 tbsp)
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp sodium nitrite
1/2 tsp salt
pork sausage casing (about 4-5 feet long)

Pulse the whole peppercorns and garlic until garlic is ground. Add the pistachios and pulse until broken into medium sized pieces. 

Do not grind fine or the nuts will start to go into a paste. The peppercorns will still be fairly whole as well.

Add this mixture to the pork in a bowl. Then add the coriander, cracked black pepper, brandy, water, sodium nitrite and salt.

Mix with your hands until well combined. The meat should be quite smooth. Let rest for 15 minutes. Then stuff into sausage casings and twist into links. Make 8 if using for barbecuing, or fewer if slicing for in a dish like cassoulet. You can even leave it just one big coil.

Let cure in the refrigerator for 3 days.* After 3 days, bring water to a simmer in a covered pan large enough to accommodate the sausages in one layer.

Add the sausages, bring back to a simmer, cover and let cook for one hour. Remove and refrigerate until ready to use.

You can also freeze either uncooked or cooked.

*If barbecuing, you can omit the simmering step and put directly on the grill until browned and cooked through.


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Friday, February 7, 2014

You've got one week until Valentines' Day. How about chocolate?

Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead. – Oscar Wilde

This post is originally from two years ago, but since it's one week until Valentine's Day, I though you might like to have it for reference.

Next Friday will be a day full of celebrations as diverse as the couples celebrating it. Some will be going out to dinner (make reservations now!!!), or to a movie, or both. Some of you will also be pulling out all the stops in creating a magnificent feast for the one you love. Most likely some stage of the day will involve chocolate.

A Mayan clay figurine (unknown attribution)
Chocolate through history
Chocolate, from the cacao tree, was unknown in the Old World until Europeans "discovered" Central America in the 1400s.

The cacao tree was worshipped by the Mayan who believed it to be of divine origin. In their language, cacao meant "god food." 

This adoration of cacao continued through to the Aztecs as well. 

Our word "cocoa" is a corruption of the Mayan name.

Chocolate as an aphrodisiac
Chocolate has been used as an aphrodisiac since the time of the Mayans. Emperors would drink cacao mixed with chilli during religious rituals and to increase their fertility and sex drive. Chocolate and chilli is an amazing combination. French courtesans used to feed chocolate to their lovers hoping for the same effect. The ritual of giving chocolate to loved ones continues to this day, in hopes of the same result... sort of.

Chocolate is good for you
Pure dark chocolate is full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.  Antioxidant-rich food effects include increased blood circulation, reduced cholesterol levels, and lowered risks of stroke and heart attack. The magnesium, iron, and vitamin B found in chocolate can also help in preventing other illnesses. 

So maybe the Mayans were onto something. You do have to be healthy to "carouse" properly. At the same time, all things in moderation...

If you're looking for a good dose of chocolate for Valentine's Day, your search is over. How about a rich chocolate cake, complete with pink clove glaze? If it sounds decadent it's because it is.  Yes, I hear you saying "it's only a cake", but it has hints of coffee in the batter and the clove glaze really sends it over the top.

This cake is a snap to make. It is in the oven in 20 minutes – maximum. The glaze takes all of 5 minutes to mix together. If you have the time just before Valentine's Day give it a try. You'' fall in love" with the result.

The batter in the sugar/cocoa dusted pan.
Chocolate Bundt Cake with Pink Clove Drizzle
Prep: 15 min  |  Cook: 45 min to 1 hour
1 tbsp cocoa mixed with 1 tbsp white sugar
2 cups sugar
1-3/4 cup white flour
3/4 cups cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 cup milk
1 cup plain yogurt
1 tbsp instant coffee
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 eggs
This is what is meant by the cake pulling away from the
edge of the pan. It's a sign the cake is done, or nearly done.
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350°F. 

Grease a bundt or other tube pan with butter and dust the inside with the cocoa sugar mixture. Shake out any excess and set aside.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a bowl. Set aside.

Combine the milk, yogurt, instant coffee, melted butter, and vanilla in a mixing bowl. Mix on low. Add the eggs one at a time and beat for 2 minutes. Then add the sugar 1/2 cup at a time and beat well after each addition.

Then slowly add in the remaining dry ingredients. Once combined, turn the mixer to medium and beat the batter for a further 5 minutes.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and a cake needle inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate.
Depending on the pan you use, your time will vary. Start testing for doneness at 45 minutes just to be safe. If using layer pans, start testing at 30 minutes. (The pan I used took 1 hour 5 minutes.)

Allow the cake to partially cool on a wire rack before glazing. While cooling, make the icing and drizzle it on top of the cake. If you glaze it hot the drizzle will just run off.

Pink Clove Drizzle
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tbsp white corn syrup
1/2 tsp ground clove
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
water and food colouring

Combine the first four ingredients in a bowl. Start with 1 tablespoon of water and continue adding a little at a time until you reach the consistency you want, then tint with red food colouring. Only add a drop or two of the food dye at a time and beat well to judge the final colour.


If you like this post retweet it using the link at top right, or share using any of the links below. Feel free to comment. I'll always try to respond. If you like this post, feel free to share it. All I ask is that you credit me and share a link back to the original.