Category Archives: Special Topics

Advent

A candle on an Advent wreathDecember 1 is the first day of what I call “secular advent,” which counts the twenty five days until Christmas.

The Catholic Church, however, doesn’t subsribe to such logical measurements of time. (Easter, for instance, is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox…) As such Catholic advent starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, which was a few days ago.

Growing up, we counted the days till Christmas both ways. For secular advent there was a fabric “calendar” with twenty five pockets and a chocolate in each, and for advent proper there was candle-lighting. There was a wreath on the kitchen table that had four candles: three purple and one pink. Starting on the fourth … Continue reading.

The War

When I was little, to me there were two essential facts about my grandparents: they lived on a farm, and they fought in “the war,” that is, WWII. Even though they never spoke to me about the war, it was central to my understanding of who they were. Possibly it was more important to my understanding of them then it was to their own. I’m sure that Grandpa thought of himself as a husband, father, grandfather, deacon, and train-enthusiast before a soldier. Yet, there was a collection of old service photographs on top of the piano, unmoved, for decades. The shrine-like placement of the pictures told me that those years affected my grandparents profoundly, and that there was some sadness … Continue reading.

Thanksgiving Leftovers

I try to cook such that we are not inundated and overwhelmed by Thanksgiving leftovers.  I like to have a few turkey sandwiches with cranberry sauce on the days immediately after the feast, but beyond that I grow weary of leftovers.  Following are some go-to preparations to use up Thanksgiving leftovers.

Turkey and Wild Rice Soup

Leftover turkey and wild rice soupToday I used the rest of my turkey giblets, as well as some other Thanksgiving leftovers.

I simmered the turkey neck, heart, and bones with onion, carrots, celery, thyme, white wine, and water to make stock. The neck gave a lot of body to the stock. A lot. When I chilled some extra stock it solidified to a thick pudding. To the rest of … Continue reading.

Foraging Fruit in and around Edmonton

A few of the many wild edibles that are in season in and around Edmonton in early fall:

Highbush Cranberries

Highbush cranberries are traditionally picked after the first frost, when they are said to be sweetest. I don’t know if the freezing temperature itself does something to sweeten the fruit, or if it’s simply that waiting until the first frost gives the fruit the longest possible time to ripen and sweeten.

Cool, cloudy summers like the one we’ve just had yield berries with more acid and less sugar. Even so, the berries will still be good, so go pick a handful to save for Thanksgiving dinner.

Highbush cranberries in the Edmonton river valley

Chokecherries

Cornucopic clusters of chokecherries hang along the trails of the river valley this … Continue reading.

Dried Chili Peppers

Dried chili peppersWe didn’t eat spicy food when I was growing up.  Not at all.

I didn’t learn to appreciate spicy food until I was in my early twenties, and it was at an Italian restaurant, of all places.  I patronized Mercato in Calgary throughout high school, then later I had the opportunity to work in their kitchen.  They make food from all over Italy, but the owners are Calabrian, and there’s always a few pastas on the menu made by infusing olive oil with garlic and hot chili flakes.  I remember the first time that I realized how effective a little heat can be.  It wakes up your mouth, and it elongates the sensation of the dish, as your mouth is … Continue reading.

Lacto-Fermented Pickles

Cucumbers

Naturally fermented dill picklesI come from a land of “refrigerator pickles”: cucumbers steeped in syrupy vinegar and spices, and stored in the fridge through the fall. There is another type of pickle called a lacto-fermented pickle.  The idea of producing an acidic pickle with only brine was a revelation.

The procedure couldn’t be simpler. Make a brine of one cup salt in one gallon of water. Cover your chosen vegetables in the chilled brine (most vegetables want to float, so you’ll have to find a way to keep them submerged) and leave for a week at a cool room temperature. This is the only tricky part: the solution must stay below 23°C to prevent the proliferation of harmful bacteria. I don’t have … Continue reading.

Potato Dumplings in Broth

This post is about simple potatoes dumplings, served in an interesting potato broth.

Conversations about potato dishes usually focus on texture (the ideal French fry has a crisp exterior and fluffy interior, the ideal mashed potatoes are smooth but not gummy…) I love this broth because it makes you think about how potatoes taste. Potato skins are used to infuse a vegetable broth with potato flavour, without any of the thick starchiness we associate with potato soups.

Let’s start with the dumplings. The key to pillow-like potato dumplings is to have very little moisture in the potatoes. This way the milled potatoes will require less flour to form a dough, and there will be accordingly less gluten in the finished … Continue reading.

Rumpot

The first layer of the rumpotRumtopf, literally “rum pot”, is a traditional German fruit preserve. As each type of fruit comes into season, it is macerated with sugar, placed in the pot, then covered with rum. Traditional rumtopfen are earthenware pots with heavy lids, but any wide-mouthed, non-reactive vessel can be used.

I use about one part sugar to two parts fruit, by weight, for each addition.

Once the last layer of fruit is added, the mixture steeps for a few months, and is traditionally eaten around Christmas.

The mixture goes through some profound transformations during aging. It loses the striking vibrancy seen above and turns a uniform burgundy. The liquor loses its clarity and becomes murky, with an exceptionally rich mouthfeel, verging on … Continue reading.

Austrian Dinner

But you know what the funniest thing about Europe is? It’s the little differences. I mean, they got the same shit over there that we got here, but it’s just there it’s a little different.

-Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction

 

I am part of a culinary exchange between NAIT and a school in Semmering, Austria. This past month I hosted an Austrian student named Dominik, whom a lucky few met at Valerie’s psychedelic taste-tripping party.

On Dominik’s last full day in Canada, we coerced him and two of his Austrian colleagues, Mike and Lena, to cook us a classic Austrian dinner.

First Course: Frittatensuppe – Pancake Soup

Domink requested that we make a good beef stock for the … Continue reading.

Lamb’s Quarters

If you think that it’s weird to eat dandelion, or you find the bitter flavour unpalatable, you should try eating another common weed: lamb’s quarters.  It is the perfect gateway weed, very approachable, with a texture and flavour quite similar to spinach.  Lamb’s quarters are popping up everywhere, and now is the best time to pick them, when the plants have only a few leaves, for the following reasons:

  • The young leaves are the most tender.
  • The young leaves taste the best. Older leaves are a little more bland, with a wood flavour.
  • Picking the leaves prevents the plant from going to seed. Once the plant goes to seed, it stops producing leaves, and it doesn’t taste as good.  
Continue reading.