Wednesday, 20 November 2013

A Spot of Tea for 200

The English Countryside themed table at the Glebe House Tour Tea

When my dear friend and neighbour Suzanne asked me to run a Tea Party for 200 people this Fall, my head caught on fire.  But in a good way.  

Suzanne is the talented chair of Ottawa's Annual Glebe House Tour and the Tea Party is held for the participants at the local community centre mid-way through the tour.

My mind raced - what a chance to roll three of my passions into one:  sharing my tea cup and table ware collection, baking for a big crowd and fund raising for a good cause. 

First step was to recruit BFF and partner in decorative crime, Sean. His expertise with staging and keen eye for design is impeccable. 

The English Countryside
We put our heads heads together over the summer and decided to theme each of the 6 tables after a different type of home decor. I developed sweet treats to match each theme, and off we went.

The English Countryside
(Tea Brack Fruit Cake)
Asian Influence
(Matcha and Black Sesame Shortbreads)

The 50s
(Apples, Orange Cream-Filled Ginger Sandwiches)

French Provincial
(Macarons, Meringues, Pâte de Fruits)

The Crazy Cat Lady
(Cat Shaped Sugar Cookies)

The Groovy 70s
(Oreos and Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies)

I created special "House Tour" gingerbread caramels and we sprinkled those here and there for everyone to enjoy. 

Like a community barn raising in days gone by, local businesses donated their time and goods, neighbours were asked for favours and husbands and friends were swept into the fray and put to work. Children painted charming pictures of their homes to decorate the room.  Six delightful young women donned aprons to became "Tea Ladies" and helped with the set-up, serving the tea, and the washing up.  If there's one thing I really miss about my old neighbourhood it's the way everyone pulls together for the greater good.  We couldn't have done it without everyone's help.

The tea went smoothly except for one thing:   we didn't count on how hungry (or curious) our guests were.  Here and there people were spotted table hopping, trying each of the different sweets. Truly flattering but, oh dear - we ran out!   Clearly we must make more next year...

Where would you have liked to sit?
Black Sesame and matcha shortbread cookies at the Asian Influence Table

Little friends and Tea Brack cake in the English Countryside table
The 1950s Table

Orange cream filled ginger sandwich cookies at the 1950s Table
French Provincial Table
Pâte de Fruits and Chocolate Hazelnut Macarons at the French Provincial Table
The Crazy Cat Lady
Oh dear,  I think the Crazy Cat Lady is me!
Groovy Baby!  The 70s Table.  Oreos and chocolate chip cookies, natch!
The 70s Table.  That's my own troll doll that I played with in the 70s

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Changing the Way we Start the Day

I don't know about you but of all the meals I prepare in a day, breakfast is usually the one stuck in a rut.

Same thing, same room, same time.  Yawn!

This morning I changed all that ... Instead of putting our morning fruit in a bowl or a plate, I made brochettes. I cut the fruit into pieces and impaled on sticks and put the brochettes into a vintage vase I had never used, sitting in a cupboard.

It was a small change, brochettes are nothing new.  it was quick to make and nothing elaborate but it was different and it started our day off with a laugh.

Sometimes it's all about taking a moment to rethink what you do all the time and making a small change that can open you up to larger ones.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

A Crown Roast of Frankfurters

My vegetarian version of the Crown Roast of Frankfurters

On one of our cherished "Trailer Trash Days," an all-day flea market and thrift shop extravaganza, BFF Sean and I scored a strange black and white vintage movie magazine from the 1950s. Near the back of its fragile pages was a short recipe section.

"Americans are known far and wide as great consumers of the frankfurter. And for good reason!," the article, "Tasty Tricks with Frankfurters" began.

Well, that got my attention.

One of the recipes was for a Crown Roast of Frankfurters. How could I resist a vintage recipe with frankfurters, especially one where you had to sew them together with a needle and thread?  My "Home Ec" teacher would be so proud.

And what a perfect occasion to have Sean over for dinner and set the table with some of my vintage housewares.
Being a vegetarian, I altered the original recipe a bit, substituting the frankfurters for Yves Jumbo Veggie Dogs.  Inspiration struck when I decided to fill the crown with Mac and Cheese instead of stuffing.  The result was a pleasant surprise:  the strong seasoning in the veggie dogs infused the Mac and Cheese with a wonderful smoky flavour.

After cocktails and before the main course, I served Iceberg lettuce wedges with a choice of home made blue cheese or Ranch dressing.  To serve with the Roast, I prepared mixed vegetables cleverly disguised to look like vintage sides that would have come from a can:  diced Carrots Vichy mixed with fresh garden peas and sautéed sweet corn with green beans.

Strange, I know, but loads of fun and truly delicious.  I must try the other recipes too!

The original recipe

Vegetarian Crown Roast of Frankfurters

The original, non-vegetarian recipe called for wrapping bacon around the frankfurters to give it some structural integrity. I skipped this but next time I make it I'll substitute leeks for bacon.  The instructions for the leeks are included below.

Serves 6
40 minutes 350 F/180 C

6" spring form pan
Darning needle and about 1.5m of kitchen string

20 jumbo veggie dogs or enough to fill the perimeter of a 6" spring form pan
2 long leeks, green part removed

For the mac and cheese
2 1/4 cups elbow macaroni
3 cups whole milk
3 tablespoons  unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt, pepper
2 teaspoons prepared dijon mustard
3 cups (6oz) shredded aged cheddar
1 cups (3oz) shredded aged Gouda
1 cups  (3oz) shredded medium Gouda

1 cup soft white bread crumbs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
few pinches of salt

Prepare the Crown
1.  Cut a length of foil long enough to form a collar to fit around the inside of the spring form pan with a few inches to spare. Don't trim the top of the foil, it should come up above the rim of the pan.  Remove it from the pan and lightly coat one side with oil or butter. Set aside.

Sewing the frankfurters together
2. Lay the hot dogs side by side and sew them together at about 1- 1 1/2" from the top and bottom.  Be sure to leave about 3" of string at the end of each section. Form them into a cylinder inside the spring form pan.  They should fit snugly so if you need another hot dog to achieve that, add it to the chain. Tie the ends of the strings together to secure it.  Trim the ends of the string.

3. Slice the white and light green part of the leeks in half lengthwise and poach in salted water for 1-2 minutes, drain, cool, and separate the stalks so you have many individual ribbons.   Create lengths of string by tying the ends of the leeks together so they're long enough to wrap around the Crown.  Tie the leeks around the frankfurters at the top, bottom and middle.  Make pretty bow if you like.  Secure them in place with a few toothpicks here and there.

Wrap the outside and top of the crown with the foil and place it in the spring form pan.  Make sure you cover the tips of the hot dogs with foil - this will prevent them from drying out in the oven.  
Prepare the Mac and Cheese
1.  Cook the macaroni in salted water until barely tender, drain in a colander and rinse with cold running water. Drain and set aside.

2.  Melt the 3 tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a large saucepan. Add the flour and stir until it bubbles but not brown.  Slowly stir in the milk and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and stir in the salt, pepper, cheese and mustard. Taste and adjust seasoning.

1.  Fill the crown with the mac and cheese.

Bake for 40 minutes at 350F (180C)

Lift the spring form pan from the side of the crown roast and slide it onto a serving plate.  Remove the foil.  Remove the toothpicks you used to secure the leeks.  

You can spoon your vegetable sides around the base of the Crown Roast to make a pretty presentation.

Vegetable masquerade:  fresh garden peas with Vichy Carrots, fresh sautéed sweet corn with green beans
Iceberg wedges with Blue Cheese or Ranch dressing

Friday, 8 November 2013

Inspired by Charlie Trotter

"I have always considered vegetable cookery the most interesting part of cuisine. ... It is sincerely one of the most sensual joys of my life," wrote Charlie Trotter in his introduction to his 1996 book, "Cooking with Vegetables."

I remember pulling the book from the shelf and leafing through it in the "Special Cookery" section of my local Chapters Bookstore and becoming so excited by it that I think I may have skipped to the cash to buy it.  It cost $70 in 1996 -  quite a lot of money for me at the time but all these years later, I still have it.  It was worth every hard-earned penny.

At first, I found Chef Trotter's recipes intimidating, complicated, and daunting for a home cook like me:

Baby Carrot Terrine with Shiitake Mushroom Salad,
Carrot Juice Reduction, Dill Oil, and 
50 Year-Old Balsamic Vinegar

Warm Tamarind Soup with Meyer Lemon 
and Satsuma Mandarin Sorbet 
Feijoa Chips
Oven Roasted Rosemary Plums with 
Friar Plum Sauce
Black Sesame Seed Brittle Ice Cream
Baby Carrot Terrine with Shiitake Mushroom Salad,
Carrot Juice Reduction, Dill Oil, and 50 Year-Old Balsamic Vinegar
But when I leaf through his book now, almost 20 years later, his recipes no longer intimidate me.  Instead, they motivate and inspire me to bring my cooking up a notch.  Perhaps it's because I have many more years of cooking experience under my belt and these days, I can find, and better afford, many of the more unusual ingredients he calls for in his recipes.

I've often read that most people buy cookbooks not to cook from but to dream by.  Chef Trotter's books were that for me, and still are. But more importantly, his book crystallized something I've always held in my mind and heart, that vegetarian cuisine could be a sophisticated, edible form of art.

It was revolutionary at the time.  In 1996, vegetarians didn't have much choice when it came to dining. We were mostly an afterthought or worse, an inconvenience.  The best some chefs could do was steamed vegetables with rice or Fettuccine Alfredo, take it or leave it. I often just left it.

And here was Chef Trotter's book with detailed recipes, poetic descriptions, beautifully presented food, and suggested wine pairings. Remarkable.

Not only was Chef Trotter a gifted chef, he was passionate about buying food locally from farmers, foragers and even children from Cabrini-Green, a controversial and now defunct Chicago Housing Project. This was long before "buy local" went mainstream like it is today.  

Chef Charlie Trotter died this week of a ruptured brain aneurysm.  So sad.

Who knows what other inspirations he had in store for us.

Friday, 1 November 2013

The Octopus


For all of its perceived sophistication, the Côte d'Azur has some remarkably peasant-like activities going on here and there. You'll spot them if you're paying attention and you know where to look. 

For instance, one of our neighbours keeps a hen house with an annoying rooster that crows throughout the day starting at around 5AM.  We have yet to locate the little bugger.

Further inland, you'll still spot villagers with baskets heading into the woods to forage for wild mushrooms and  most mornings in the early Fall, I hear the "pop, pop, pop" of hunters shooting at wild boar in the hills surrounding us.  

These modest pastimes are quite a contrast to those which generally speaking, occupy the moneyed set in nearby Monaco. They can be found swirling around the Casino Square foraging for trinkets at Chanel or Graff depending on their budgets.

Every now and then, we have little encounters that keep it all real and today we had one such encounter.

Hubby and I often hike in Italy from the mountains down to the sea on what we call "The Cactus Walk," so called because the middle part of the walk takes us along a narrow gravel path through a series of sprawling commercial greenhouses filled with little cacti. Before we discovered The Cactus Walk, I'd always wondered where all those little cacti came from!
After passing through the greenhouses, we continue along a creaky, narrow, metal footpath clinging to one side of a steep valley.  When we're not clutching on to the guardrail for dear life and carefully watching where we're stepping, we sometimes pause and take a moment to marvel at how the valley has been gradually overtaken by morning glories over the past few years.
A marker for The Way of St James

Next, we cross a little bridge over some railway tracks and connect with The Way of St James, a Christian Pilgrimage route dating back to the mid 11th century. Eventually, the path descends closer to the sea where there are rocks to climb on with pretty tide pools.  Further along is a charming little beach. Today was a holiday in Italy and France so the beach was busy with families and couples sunning themselves and paddling around in the calm water. 

On the path beside the beach, we spotted a bare-footed man walking a few paces in front of us toting something on a stick.  His grey hair, tanned skin and proximity to the beach reminded me of one of Robert Capa photos of Picasso on the Côte d'Azur .  When we got closer we realized he had an octopus.

We stopped for a chat. 

The man was Italian but luckily we were able to communicate with each other in French.

Dinner captured
He told us that catching octopus was quite easy. He stood in the shallow water near the rocks on the sea shore, dipped in his hooked stick and scooped out dinner. 

He'd been catching fish this way for 40 years but lately he's noticed how few fish there were. Octopus, he said, were still an easy catch.

When I asked him how he was going to prepare it, he said he'd ripen the octopus for a day or so to tenderize it and then serve it with potatoes and large Spanish beans.

If he wanted rosemary to season his dish, there was a big patch of it growing wild further along the path.  I'd grabbed branches of it just to take a sniff now and then. 

Personally, I'd rather spend my time on the beach fishing like he does rather than a trip to Chanel any day.