8 November 2015

You say tomatillo, I say tomato...

Spiraling quickly toward the end of gardening season, here's a bright late-harvest recipe for before the dutch oven gets dusted off.

Maybe not technically a posole, but a fantastic green tomato fish chowder (garnished with the world's smallest radish).

North Atlantic End-of-Season Posole

adapted from bon appetit October 2015 issue

1-3/4 lbs green tomatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, smashed then minced
1 fresh hot peppers, thinly sliced
all the cilantro that survived the first snowfall (or 1 cup)
2 cod loin fillets*
kernels from 2 cobs of sweet corn**
2 cups seafood stock***
garnish for serving: sliced fresh hot pepper, radish, lime

*yeah, okay, cod loins vary in size, but use enough to serve a decent soup-amount to 4 people... a pound to a pound and a half will do

**blanch very fresh sweet corn in boiling water for 4 minutes then plunge in ice-cold water to stop the cooking process; using a sharp knife, cut the kernels off the cob... or use a heaping cup of frozen corn

***made from fish heads and/or shellfish shells (ours was in the freezer made some time ago, likely from shrimp heads and shells, maybe trout heads or lobster scraps too)

True, we had to substitute nearly every ingredient, but that's just the
cost of living on an island in a cold, harsh climate.
Wash and quarter the green tomatoes, removing the stem and any unsightly spots, bruises, frostbite, etc.  Puree in a food processor or blender and set aside.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat oil over medium.  Cook onion, garlic and hot pepper until soft.

Add half of the green tomato puree and cook until the mixture reaches a good steady boil.  Add cod, corn, and seafood stock.  Bring to a simmer and maintain it to poach the cod until it is cooked through, about 8-10 minutes.

While the cod is cooking, roughly chop the cilantro and add to remaining green tomato.  Puree together.

When the cod is cooked, remove soup from heat and stir the green tomato mixture to incorporate, breaking the cod into chunks.  

Ladle into bowls, garnish with hot pepper slices and radish and squeeze a bit of lime juice over top.  

Serves 6 as a first course or 4 as a light meal.


Whenever we buy a gourmet cooking magazine, we excitedly scan the pages.  Ooooohing and ahhhhing.  Imagining a dinner party.  Looking up ingredients that are probably readily available in major cities but impossible to find on this island in the North Atlantic. Or at least impossible to find all at the same time.  (We fantasize constantly about grocery stores that you can walk into with a list and walk out of with everything ticked off.) 

It's possible there is some sort of psychotic disorder that makes us buy these magazines over and over again.  Taunting ourselves with them.  Salivating over meals we'll never eat.

Then this miraculous thing happened.  Flipping through the October issue of bon appetit, I came across a recipe for green posole with cod and cilantro.  Brilliant, I thought, I can make this.  "Did you see this?" I called out excitedly, "We have cod! We can make this!"

"We don't have tomatillos," Fefe Noir, all sensible-kill-joy about her says, "and where will you find hominy?  What is hominy?"

Pffffffttt... details...

This year's garlic harvest chez The Moose
Curry Experience, curing in Fefe Noir's office.
This is a great recipe for November on Newfoundland's Avalon peninsula, as we are spiraling quickly toward the end of gardening season.  The garlic has been harvested and cured, the cilantro is still hanging on.  Peppers are finally ripe, or ripe-enough at least.  The first snow means we have had to give up on the vague hope that the tomatoes are going to ripen outside, so they have been brought in, green, to be hung to ripen, or stored in dark boxes, or made into jam and salsa and chutney.

I know, green tomatoes are not tomatillos, but they are bright with lemony-acidity which is a great base for a fish soup.  And sure, shallot season is over and I hadn't thought far enough ahead to buy some for storage but red onions are strong and juicy right now... and okay, the cilantro that is hanging on has gone to seed but the feathery green on the flower stalk tastes as much (maybe even more) of cilantro herb as the broad flat mid-summer leaf.  In the end I couldn't find hominy, but we had blanched and frozen a bit of local sweet corn.  Clam juice, too, is clearly for fancy people with fantasy grocery stores, but seafood stock is simple to make.

In the end, I'm pretty sure this is no longer a posole, but it is definitely a really good soup.  

9 August 2015

Berries to Crow About

In which Fefe Noir and caribougrrl confront the terrible summer weather by walking right into it.

The cold wet summer we've been experiencing in Newfoundland seems to have been good for black crowberry (Empetrum nigrum); they are unusually abundant this year.
This summer in Newfoundland has been record-breakingingly-non-existentIn previous years we have experienced Jun-uary and Fog-ust, but neither of these events could prepare us for the horror of Jul-ember.   

The garden is almost a bust.  I have replanted three times.  It has just been too bloody cold for anything to grow.  I don’t blame those bean plants for not wanting to poke their heads out of the soil and into the freezing wind.  Who living in Newfoundland for the month of July did not want to stay lying in bed until this hell ends?

The last few days of July (it had to be warm by then right?), caribougrrl took some time off so we could get some work done on the house.  It was too wet to paint and too windy to be up a ladder.  The weather did not improve.  As the cool temperatures were perfect for a good walk we bravely packed a picnic, grabbed our sweaters and headed out.  “I’ll take the camera just in case,” I said.  I wished later I had also brought mittens.

Moose are a fairly regular road hazard in Newfoundland, but having a camera
handy is a much less common occurrence.
On the drive to New Melbourne we came upon two very lovely moose.  (And NO we did not turn them into sausages.)  Miracle of miracles I actually had the camera in the back of the car and with some impressive gymnastic moves grabbed it from the back seat and got the shot. 

For a landmass largely made up of ponds, bogs, and fens, frogs are a strangely
uncommon occurrence in Newfoundland. 
We headed to one of our favourite trails and stopped to check out the frog pond.  (And NO we did not gather frog legs either.)  I have never seen so many frogs.  They must like the cool weather.  Maybe all their predators were so affected by SAD they couldn’t face placing their paws and beaks and snouts into the freezing water. 

As we continued down the trail admiring the truly awesome view of sea and sky and pointing out the occasional whale flip- flop out in the water, caribougrrl bent down and offered me what I presumed was a juniper berry.  “No thanks,” I said.  And then she put one in her mouth and made her this-is-bitter-face and I thought, what did you expect?

Then she asked if I had any bags in my camera case.  What am I going to do with a pound of juniper? How much gravlax does she think we can eat? Why does she keep eating the berries?  I distracted her by pointing out a whale, okay maybe it was a rock, but we didn’t have to spend the next two hours collecting berries.  

Or so I thought.

It wasn’t until we were selecting where to sit on for our picnic and I pointed out some blue poop on a rock and asked, “What do you think that was eating?” that I realized it was not juniper that I had been offered earlier but one of the zillions of black crowberry that were growing all over the place.  I’d been too busy looking for whales to notice these shining jewels literally at our feet. 

Someone else has clearly been eating the black crowberry.
“Are you sure they are edible?”  I asked as caribougrrl proffered me another one.
And it turns out they are.

Someone, somewhere described black crowberry as having an “uninteresting” flavour.  And this caught on: just about any internet site about black crowberry will repeat this description.  The poor maligned crowberry, growing where and when no other berry will go, is consistently called uninteresting.  And yet it is one of the precious garnishes people are willing to pay big bucks for at NOMA.   This berry needs some rethinking and a new reputation.

The black crowberry is interesting, but if you were expecting sweet think again.  This berry is juicy and complex and once cooked it is tasty.  (Not to mention free, local and growing in abundance… food security, my friends!)  So let us praise the black crowberry; it is not uninteresting it is just misunderstood.

How to Find and Identify Black Crowberry (Empetrum nigrum)

Black crowberry is a northern berry, which means if you live in the south you are out of luck unless you are vacationing in the north or you happen across them at high elevations.  It is primarily found in open habitats like coastlines, bogs, heaths, barrens and rocky outcrops.

Black crowberry is a low-growing shrub, characteristically a creeping groundcover.  Crowberry tends to form mats and thus, under foot, it feels springy (for information purposes, that springy-ness is a bit deceptive as it's prickly on any exposed skin if you sit on it for very long).  Stems are densely covered in short, pointy needles that are arranged alternately and whorled on the stalk.  (If that means nothing to you, don't worry... it's the one that hugs the ground but isn't juniper.  Rely on the pictures.)

The berries (technically drupes) are small, black and are semi-glossy but not shiny, each with a prominent dimple on the opposite end from the stem.  Although they can appear clustered, berries are individually attached  to the stem.  Since the berries are dark not wildly charismatic, they can easily go unnoticed if you aren't actually looking for them.

Ripe black crowberry can be picked any time from when they turn black through the next spring.  It seems that quite a lot of people prefer them after a frost because they get sweeter, and some won't even pick them until late winter or early spring.  Frost and the freeze-thaw of winter, however, can make them soft and texturally unappealing, so the summer berries have the advantage of firmness.

The black crowberry (Empetrum nigrum) fruits are very distinctive: small and polished-black with prominent dimples.  The foliage resembles heather but creeps much tighter to the ground.

If you poke around the miracle of internet looking for information on the black crowberry taste, you will find most sites say they are uninteresting raw but improve with cooking... this really needs to be corrected.  The raw berries are extremely interesting to taste (in the summer, at least): startlingly tart and grippy from tannin.  It might be a bit of an acquired taste, but it is certainly not boring.  After cooking, the flavour is less punchy; the taste loses the acidic edge to become sweeter and the tannin mellows but retains a depth.  These berries do not taste like anything else we've eaten anywhere.  Do not put one in your mouth anticipating a blueberry-like flavour, you will end up feeling confused.

The tannin makes them particularly suitable for wine-making.  Extra special bonus points to you if you make the effort to collect enough of these for wine making.  We will applaud while we sit on our front porch sipping the black crowberry wine produced by Auk Island Winery and wonder how the wine can be sold for such a low price considering the labour that goes into collecting the tiny berries...

A Recipe For Black Crowberry Clafoutis

(heavily borrowed from Julia Child's cherry clafoutis recipe)

There is nothing that tastes quite the same as black crowberry.  Cooking sweetens the berries and mellows bitterness, but the tannins retain a depth and complexity of flavour; the clafoutis custard provides a perfect silky support.

Clafoutis a seriously fantastic way to use black crowberry.  Sophisticated enough for dinner party dessert, but with enough eggs, milk and fruit to justify eating it for breakfast.  Full of win.

1-1/4 c. milk (2% or fattier)
2/3 c. raw cane sugar
3 eggs
1/2 tsp orange blossom water*
pinch of sea salt
1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
3 c. black crowberries, cleaned**
icing sugar for dusting

* orange blossom water is very pleasantly perfumey, a nice foil for the tannin... but if you don't have any, feel free to use the 1 tbsp of vanilla extract which Julia Child puts in her cherry clafoutis

** rid of any insect stowaways from your berry bucket, picked free of debris, rinsed, and dried by very gently rolling up in a tea towel

Clockwise from top left: Use a food processor or blender to ensure
a perfectly smooth clafoutis batter.  Bake a thin layer of custard until a skin
forms and sprinkle the berries gently on top to keep them from sinking.
The clafoutis baking dish can be filled the brim.  When cooked, the clafoutis
will be puffed up, browned and firm to the touch in the center.
Pre-heat oven to 350F.  Grease a deep pie dish or tart/flan dish (or any baking dish that can hold about 7 cups) with butter.

Put all ingredients except for the berries and icing sugar into a a food processor*** or blender. Mix until fully blended and smooth.

***did I say food processor? Why yes, I did.  We finally bought one.

Pour a thin layer of batter (about 1/3 cup of the mixture, more or less depending on the shape of your pan) into the bottom of the baking dish and bake for about 8 minutes or until a skin forms.  Remove from oven and distribute the berries lightly on top of the batter layer.

Pour the remaining batter over the berries.  Return to oven and bake an additional 50-60 minutes. It's done when it's puffed up, well browned, and the batter has set through (like custard or quiche).

Let rest to cool slightly (it will fall, that's what happens).  Dust with icing sugar before serving.

26 June 2015

Rhubarb Catch-Up

Summer has been so slow to get going, it seems the only thing growing out in the back yard is rhubarb.  Strangely, it's doing so well we can hardly use it all.  So to catch up, we made ketchup.

Rhubarb ketchup is a thing of great beauty.  It looks good, it tastes good, and it's a great way to use the big old fibrous stalks that you left too long to reasonably use in a pie...

Hot and Sour Rhubarb Ketchup

loosely adapted from Marguerite Patten's ketchup recipes

1-1/2 lb chopped rhubarb stalks
2 sweet white onions, diced
2 c water
1/2 c raw cane sugar + more to taste
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3 thai chili peppers, stemmed and split
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 c spiced vinegar (see below)

Combine the rhubarb, onion, water, sugar, garlic and hot peppers in a large sauce pan.  Bring to a boil.  Stir well to make sure all the sugar is dissolved, then turn down and simmer until the rhubarb and onions are soft.   

Puree the mixture with an immersion blender (or in batches in a regular blender, or run it through a food mill) and return to the stove.  Simmer until reduced to thick sauce.  

Stir in the fish sauce and spiced vinegar.  Taste it; add more sugar if needed or otherwise adjust your seasoning.  Simmer until desired ketchup-thickness.

Transfer to a clean jar or bottle and store in the refrigerator.   Alternatively, you can fill sterile jars with hot ketchup and heat process for 10 minutes, saving the fridge space.

Don't have cheesecloth around to tie those spices up in? Don't
worry.  Infuse the vinegar then strain them out.
Spiced Vinegar

2 c white vinegar (5% acetic acid)
1 tsp fennel seed
1 tsp whole cloves
1 tsp broken-up star anise
1 cinnamon stick

Put everything in a saucepan with a lid.  Heat over medium until it comes to a boil then remove from heat.  Leave, covered, for at least 2 hours to infuse the vinegar.  Strain through a sieve when you are ready to use.


Marguerite Patten died recently, at the age of 99.  I can't help but figure she had something right about cooking and eating to have made that far.  

I didn't know anything about Patten before I met Fefe Noir and her ever-increasing collection of old British cookbooks.  What we have of Patten's (handed down from her mother and carefully protected in resealable bags so that the loose pages don't get lost) only scratches the surface of her bibliography, but they are well used -- as much for technique and inspiration as for actual recipes.  If nothing else, I owe her a great debt of gratitude for giving me permission to make ketchup out of things that aren't tomatoes.*

*I grew up in Heinz country.  Literally in the midst of tomato fields that fed the local factory which produced ketchup from 1910 until it closed in 2014.  I was reared on Heinz ketchup** so the idea that ketchup is made, always, from tomatoes was just woven into me.

**Well, okay, if we bought ketchup, it was Heinz, but mom did make her own ketchup.  From tomatoes.

This is what I love about Marguerite Patten: she is full of solutions.  I tore the kitchen apart looking for cheesecloth to tie all my spices in a bundle for simmering with the rhubarb.  As I was puzzling how I was going to get my spice mix infused through the ketchup I happen to notice that some of Patten's recipes used spiced vinegar, not a spice sachet.  Whoa-ho, then!  What a fantastic solution.  Infuse the vinegar and stir it in later.  Brilliant.

There is no recipe in her book for rhubarb ketchup, and certainly no recipe with thai chilies and star anise.  But she is very reliable about the proportions of fruit to sugar to vinegar.  So when we found ourselves with a glut of rhubarb (the opposite problem to what we faced a couple years ago), the obvious plan of attack was to pull the 500 Recipes: Jams, Pickles, Chutneys off the shelf.


Hot and sour rhubarb ketchup is fancy, but it's not snobby.  Served here with  grilled cheese made with sprouted grain sourdough bread from Rocket Bakery and smoked cheddar cheese from Five Brothers Artisan Cheese purchased at Admiral's Market.  Er, okay, maybe a little bit snobby...

Oh and by the way, you really want to make this ketchup.  Working on the recipe I knew we hit it when, tasting a batch, I immediately thought, "this would go really well with cava!".  Which means it would go really well with champagne... and there's your excuse to have champagne with your french fries.  The good news is that although you can serve it to your snobby friends, it's not really a snobby ketchup: also goes well with burgers and beer.   

11 June 2015

Why They Call it Fishing...

In which caribougrrl remembers how to cast a line, practices her birding skills, and is reminded why it's called fishing (not called catching).

It looks like a good spot to fish, right?  Or does it not? 

5:00 AM: I finally relent to the pacing and whining dogs and get up to feed them.  Every morning, starting at about 4:15, the dogs start to worry that I will forget to give them breakfast. This is a completely normal start to my day, every day.  But today is fishing day.  And it is pouring with rain.  POURING.  I know, technically, that you can go fishing in the rain.  I think, perhaps, it might even be the best weather for fishing.  Did I mention POURING with rain?  I feed the dogs, double check all my gear.  Wonder if I have enough snacks.  

5:20 AM: It is still pouring with rain, so I go back to bed.

6:15 AM: Fefe Noir wakes me up to tell me it stopped raining.  I admit this news feels a little disappointing.

A re-enactment of the thoughtful gesture of leaving coffee
in a thermos so it will still be hot when Fefe Noir finally
wakes up.  The cats do not take artistic direction well and
refused to participate in the staging.  Sam showed slightly
more compliance but insisted on ennui rather than
blissful sleep.
6:35 AM: Standing in the hallway in my rubber boots, I realize that in the event I actually catch a fish, I want something to stun it with before bleeding it.  I rifle through the toolbox.  I realize that in the event I actually catch a fish, I might also want grippy gloves to hold on to it.

6:45 AM: At the local gas station, I buy a couple of cheap pairs of rubberized gloves.  I resolve my snack issue by buying a chocolate bar: dark, with nuts, so I can imagine it counts as a healthy breakfast.

7:05 AM:  I am back at the house because I discover I left without making coffee.  What?

7:15 AM: I leave a thermos of coffee and a mug on the bedside table next to a snoring Fefe Noir.  One of the dogs and at least one cat have stolen the warm spot I left.

7:20 AM: While I drive, I consider the options in my tackle box and make a plan.  I remind myself about the things I tend to forget when casting, like pinning the line down before releasing the spool.  Um, like releasing the spool, at that.  I am in good mental form, visualizing the entire process. 

7:25 AM:  I turn down Fisherman’s Road and think this is a sign.  Then I think it is in fact, literally, a sign.  I no longer know what to make of it.

When caribougrrl turns the car onto Fisherman's Road, she takes it as a sign.
7:45 AM:  As I approach my selected fishing spot, I review in my mind all the advice I have gotten: stay away from beaver ponds, find a beaver pond, work the pools in a river, trout go after the egg-like lures in the spring, worms are best, minnows are best.  Suddenly I stop in my tracks and think, “Where is my fishing rod?”

8:05 AM: I do not find the fishing rod in the car.

8:15 AM: I find the fishing rod leaning against the wall by the front door, right where I left it so that I wouldn’t forget it.  Not a creature is stirring.  Not one.  No one seems to notice I have left the house and come back.  All I can hear is snoring.

caribougrrl decided to try her luck in the streams because
even though it's June, it's so early in the season, the alder
catkins are still out and the leaves are only starting to unfurl.
8:25 AM:  Heading from the car with fishing rod in-hand and a strong sense of deja-vu, I pick out the Oh Canada song of a white throated sparrow.  On the way to the fishing hole, I am amazed by the deafening level of bird song. 

(I am more amazed that no matter how many birders I’ve spent time with and how many hundreds of collective hours they’ve spent trying to teach me stuff, I am terrible at bird identification.  White throated sparrow and black capped chickadee are the only ones I feel confident about by ear.  And I’m not convinced I would know the sparrow by sight.)

8:45 AM:  I debate between a float and a sinker to go with my hook and fake egg.  On the one hand, the egg is supposed to float.  On the other hand, I am worrying about whether the float has enough weight to allow me to cast.  I decide on a small sinker but two glo-eggs.  The stupid squishy looking fake fish eggs are really difficult to jam on the hook and they smell weirdly like diesel fuel.  I cannot imagine how this might be attractive, but then again, I am not a trout.  In the end, I only put one on because I can’t face doing it twice.

8:55 AM:  I struggle to dredge up the muscle memory I need for casting.  Every few attempts, nothing happens, the line doesn’t leave.  In between the times I forget to release the spool, I spend a lot of time untangling.  Eventually I find my rhythm.

9:25 AM: I become aware of the black flies lined up under the rim of my hat and along my collar.  I decide the eggs aren’t doing it.  I inspect the tackle box and consider the big white grubs but switch to a wiggly thing with glitter on it.

caribougrrl brought a sampling of tackle with her; since she doesn't really
know what she is doing, she just brought the bright and shiny things... 

9:50 AM:  As much as I am enjoying casting and reeling, casting and reeling, casting and reeling, I have not actually seen any fish.  I have not even seen any signs of fish.  No jumping, no unexplained ripples on the surface of the pool… other than an ancient faded empty Vienna Sausage tin, I have not even seen any signs that anyone else has maybe ever stood here trying to catch fish. 

9:55 AM:  I am itchy where a black fly dug a hole in my finger, right on a knuckle.  The swelling is making it difficult to bend the finger.  I curse at the cloud of black flies surrounding my head even though I know this particular bite is from a couple days ago.

9:57 AM: I decide that probably the trout are already out of the streams and back in the ponds.  I know this decision, though it feels full of authority, is based on nothing but unjustified conviction.  I have no idea what I’m doing.

Or maybe the leafing out of the alder means the trout -- clearly
not in this stream -- are already in the ponds?  Maybe?
10:00 AM: As I am packing up my gear, I stick my apple into my pocket so it is handy for the walk.  I decide to head to the far side of the beaked hazel grove.  If I remember correctly, there’s a pond there that looks like a spot where people go to fish.  I recognize the only reason I think people fish there is that the trail leading to it is an ATV track.

10:05 AM: I dig the chocolate out of my pack and eat it.

10:20 AM: As I’m walking I see that the ferns in this area are still young enough to pick as fiddleheads.  We don’t have fiddleheads proper here in Newfoundland but Peter Scott assures us that these other not-quite-fiddlehead ferns are edible.  I know from experience, however, that by edible he does not mean palatable.  I keep walking.  I suddenly hear a racket… no, a volley of noise.  Tattatatatatatatatat tattattattat.  Like gun shots, but not quite… maybe a nail gun? Or a toy gun?  It’s relentless and getting louder.  I find myself surrounded by yellow warblers, darting around madly with no apparent purpose. 

(Let’s be honest. These might well not have been actual yellow warblers… they could have been any one of the “Confusing Yellow Warblers” in the Peterson guide.  Or maybe even some other sort of small yellow woodsy bird.  Not even a woodsy bird necessarily, it’s more like scrub land.  The only thing I am certain of is that these were not american goldfinch.)

10:25 AM:  Standing where I expect to find the trail that winds itself down to the pond, I am surprised to find a construction trailer.  And a leveled-out bit of land.  When did that happen?  I worry about the beaked hazel but I can’t tell for sure if it’s in or out of the construction footprint. Not really keen on the idea of meandering blindly toward an unseen pond, hoping to cross the trail somewhere past the development, I decide the trout are probably still in the river.  I mean, it’s been a slow spring, and still pretty cold out.

There used to be a trail here, one that wound it's way down the hill toward
a lovely pond.  Probably brimming with trout.

10:35 AM: Working my way back to the car, I stop and flick my line out into a few more river pools.  Nothing.  Well, I snag a couple of rocks and thus have a couple of milliseconds of mild excitement, but no fish.

10:50 AM:  I have not needed my gloves.  I suppose I have not needed my rod either, but there’s no way of knowing without it.

20 May 2015

Smokes Like a Fish, Drinks Like a Chimney

There is something of a poetic northern-ness in a sauce made with smoked fish and vodka. Skål! 

Rose pasta sauce with smoked fish on homemade pasta.  Other than vodka, without the trimmings, is there a better way to get through the end of pantry and freezer season?

Smoked Fish Vodka Sauce with Fettuccine

2 tbsp olive oil
Use a vodka with some flavour in it, none of that invisible
stuff you bought in your teens early 20s.

10 cloves garlic, smashed (or less if you are afraid of garlic, but this really isn't overly garlicky)
2 dried red chili peppers
6 plum tomatoes, peeled and diced
4 tbsp vodka
1/4 lb of smoked char (or substitute with smoked salmon or trout), torn or crumbled into small bits
4 tbsp heavy cream
1 tbsp butter

a three-egg batch of hand-made pasta, cut in fettuccine (or wider) size

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium.  Add smashed garlic and chilies.  Cook, stirring, until the garlic is softened.  Increase heat to med-high and add chopped tomatoes.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to med-low.  Stir occasionally until reduced by about a third.  Add vodka, and continue to let the sauce reduce.

Don't worry about precise chopping or mincing of
ingredients, not only will it all cook down to mush, but
you're going to blend it up anyway.
Put a big pot of water on for your pasta. (If it boils before you are ready for it, turn it down to a simmer until you are ready.)

When the tomatoes are mostly broken down and the sauce looks thick, remove from heat.  Allow to cool enough to puree in a blender.  If you are fastidious, wipe your pan clean and pour sauce back into it through a sieve.  If you can tolerate a more rustic sauce, just return the blended sauce to your skillet.
Bring back to a slow boil after adding the smoked fish, then
reduce the heat and stir in the cream and butter.  Once the
butter is melted and it's all nice and evenly combined the
sauce is ready.

Re-heat the sauce over medium. When it starts bubbling, stir in the smoked char. Cook the pasta now.  When the sauce to returns to a consistent bubble, reduce heat to low and stir in the cream and butter.  When the butter is melted and the cream is combined remove from heat.  This should happen about the same time your pasta is cooked.  Stir a wee bit of the pasta water into the sauce for good measure.  Drain the pasta and serve with sauce.

Makes 4 large or 6 moderate servings.


I like this sauce for poetic reasons as well as gustatory ones.  Although it's roots are admittedly in penne alla vodka, it's a great pasta for northern latitudes: smoked fish and vodka.  This is not a light meal, but it's not so heavy it will put you into a coma either. Good comfort food for the distressingly cold evenings we're still experiencing here.  In May.

You can almost smell the smoked char through the computer screen, can't you?  To serve, garnish with chive (admittedly, chive is, in fact, growing already) and some old hard Italian cheese like Sovrano.

We emerged from a few weeks of fog into a stretch of sunshine, so at least we're starting to build stores of vitamin D again.  Back to fog for a few days, but sun promised in the long-range forecast.  It's all a bit maddening even when the sun is shining because it looks like summer... as long as you are looking at the sky and the sea, and not at the brown hills and the leafless trees.  Yet, ridiculously, I may need to mow the lawn tomorrow for crabgrass control, but none of the desirables are out yet.*  Definitely still pantry, freezer and booze season.

*Okay, that's not technically true. The garlic is coming up nicely and just this morning our rhubarb started to leaf out.  Early flowers like snowdrops, crocus and alpine primrose are out.  But seriously, it's mid-May already.

Make hay and all that.  We'll still head out into that brilliant light, completely under-dressed for what turns out to be a very frigid coastal hike.  We'll blame the icebergs for this instead of poor planning, but we all know the ocean will be cold for months still and the chilly onshore breeze will be welcome in July.  We'll go out to garden, and be too hot with the sun on our backs, stripping down to t-shirts... until we stop moving anyway and need to pile sweaters and gloves back on.  We'll wear our sandals, even though our toes are frozen, because for two full hours one afternoon sometime last week it was warm enough to get them out and now, dammit, it's sandal season.  We'll sit out on the porch wrapped in blankets because we want to have just one beer outside.

They make really good smoked char up in Nain, Labrador.
The only real proper evidence of spring is that trout season opened on the weekend.  And although I swear the best fish for this recipe is smoked char from the Torngat Fish Producers Co-op of northern Labrador I suppose some of your home-smoked trout** would work too.

**If you want to send us some of that home-smoked trout, we'd be happy to try it out for you before you make it... you know, just in case I'm wrong...

13 May 2015

How to Make Pasta

This is an excellent kitchen basic to have in your repertoire... and an easy way to impress pretty much anyone.

Being able to make a basic pasta from scratch will serve you well in life.

Basic Egg Pasta, Hand-Made by You

Make a well in the flour for your eggs, salt and oil.
I've written the recipe on a per-egg basis because that's how I remember it. Also, it's easy to make as much or as little as you want.  As a point of reference, 3 eggs yield about 1 lb of fresh pasta (4 large or 6 small-ish servings).

for each egg:
100 g flour*
pinch of salt
1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Beat the wet ingredients together lightly.

*Use italian 00 flour if you have it but don't feel like you need it.  I normally use a mix of about half all-purpose and half durum semolina.  You can also use a mix of all-purpose with whole wheat or spelt flour.  Or just all-purpose.

Gradually work the flour into the egg mixture, scraping your
work surface as necessary.
Pile the flour up on your work surface** and make a well in the center of it. Fill the well with your eggs, salt and oil.  Using a fork, beat the egg mixture lightly, then begin to to gradually incorporate the flour into the egg mixture until it's too thick for stirring.  Work the remaining flour in with your hands.

**I use a large plastic serving tray, which is easier to clean than the counter and helps reduce the amount of flour which ends up on the floor, which is subsequently vacuumed up by Miss Bella the english springer hoover dog, which then results in great snorting and sneezing.  Somehow the discomfort of snorting and sneezing has never dissuaded her from spending the entire time I'm making pasta squished between my shins and the lower cupboard just in case some flour manages to fall.
When you get to this stage, your fork is no longer any good to
you.  Start kneading to finish incorporating the flours.

Knead the dough until smooth.  This will take about 9 minutes.  In the first couple of minutes, the dough will become evenly combined, then it will seize up.  You haven't done it wrong: knead through the stiffness, I promise it will relax and become pliable.

Cover the dough and let it rest for at least 25 minutes. This is a good time to make some sauce.
The dough is ready when you have kneaded the flours in,
kneaded until it seized, kneaded through the stiffness, and
ended up with a smooth, soft dough.  Let it rest before rolling.

If you are using a pasta roller, divide the dough into pieces about the size of an extra large egg.  Flatten and dust with flour to prevent sticking in the roller.  Run the dough through on the largest setting, fold over and run through again (dusting exterior with flour as needed) until it comes through smoothly.  Run through the same setting once more. Reduce roller setting by two sizes and run the dough through twice, dusting with flour if needed. 

Divide the dough into sections for rolling.
Continue to reduce roller size by two until desired thickness.  When rolling is completed, dust the pasta sheet generously with flour and set aside, covering if necessary to prevent drying out. Repeat with each section.

(If you are rolling by hand, divide the dough into manageable sized pieces for the size of your work surface and roll to desired thickness.)
Keep the dough well-floured to prevent sticking.

If the cutter that came from your pasta maker isn't broken because none of your cats knocked it onto the floor, use it to cut the desired width. 

If you don't have a working cutter, roll the well-floured sheets of pasta up and cut the desired width with a sharp knife.


This pasta freezes well, so you can make a large batch and freeze what you don't need.  Make sure it's well-floured to keep it from sticking together, but cook it directly from frozen (don't thaw) to avoid having damp flour glue the nicely separated pasta together.

When you are ready to cook, add pasta to a large pot of vigorously boiling water, stirring as you add to help keep things separated.  Fresh pasta will be cooked in 1-3 minutes (test as you go, it's done when it is firm and tastes fully cooked), depending on how thick and how wide it's cut.  From frozen it will take 2-4 minutes.

Roll the pasta sheets up into coils and use a very sharp knife to cut to desired width.  You can use this recipe for stuffed pasta and lasagna too, but follow recipe directions for cutting.


I do not have an Italian grandmother who taught me to make pasta, but I do have all the Italian grandmothers of the miracle of the internet.  Plus a few years of trial and error.  This recipe is a result of that, and for me, delivers the most consistently good results and disappointingly few dinner party leftovers.

Pasta making is a good skill to have.  No matter how good the pasta you buy in the store is, it's never as satisfying and never as impressive as the pasta you make by hand.  The pasta roller spends about as much time on the counter as the tortilla press, and it would be very difficult to decide between them which would be my desert island pick.***

***Okay, you are correct, the obvious answer is to take a rolling pin, but that's not much fun as a thought experiment, is it?

12 April 2015

I Like Moose Buns and I Cannot Lie

You don't have to braise all the indecipherable cuts of moose from the freezer.  Get your steamers ready, folks.

Steamed moose buns are a great bit of Canadian-Asian fusion to help us through the terrible Newfoundland season of winter-spring (@littleredchicken #StealingYourBonMots).  Great lunch or appetizer.  Even breakfast, why not?

Fefe's Steamed Moose Buns

inspired by The Woks of Life; dough adapted from AmyBites

This is a two day project.  Or an all day project.  Whichever way, it is time consuming. HOWEVER, you will end up making a massive supply of buns for your freezer.  The effort you put in up front will pay itself back in gold when you are wandering around the kitchen complaining that there's no food, only ingredients... but then you remember the moose buns.  In almost no time at all you'll be having the best lunch in town.

for the filling

The cat is generally less concerned about what cut this is.
1-1/2 lbs moose* (to yield a little more than 1-1/4 lbs after cleaning)
1-1/2 tbsp + 1 tbsp lard 
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp five spice powder
5-8 carrots (8 ordinary ones; Fefe only used 5 because two were "honking great things"), grated
6 spring onions, finely sliced
2 fresh chilies**, finely diced
1 tbsp soy sauce
4 tbsp mirin
If you live in a place where hot peppers are unpredictably
available, buy them when you can find them and toss any
you can't use right away into the freezer.  From frozen, you
can grate them into hot pepper snow with a microplane (or
just chop like you would fresh and carry on).
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp white vinegar (if you haven't run out of rice vinegar like we did, use that!)

*if you don't have moose, you can substitute venison, goat or beef for a similar flavour, but then you have to call them Mock-Moose Buns...

**or BETTER, use frozen ones and grate them into hot chili snow with a microplane (we learned this trick from Jamie Oliver, it's brilliant)

for the dough

1-1/3 c milk
1/2 c butter
1/2 c sugar
2 tbsp water
3 tsp active dry yeast
2 eggs, beaten
6 c all-purpose flour

To make the filling, cut the moose away from the bone***, and clean it really well, removing all the gristle and as much fat as possible.  Mince by chopping really finely then blasting with a food processor or if you have such a thing as a meat grinder, go ahead and use it.  (If you have pre-ground meat, that's okay too.)

***DO NOT THROW AWAY THE BONES.  Use these to make some beautiful soup stock.

Clean the moose very well, chop finely and then blitz with
your food processor.  Or, if you are so lucky as to have a
meat grinder, use it.
Heat 1-1/2 tbsp lard in a skillet.  Brown the moose with the and five spice powder, then remove to a large heatproof bowl and set aside.  Add another 1 tbsp lard to the pan and saute the carrots, onion, and chilies until soft.  Add the carrot mixture to the moose and stir together with the remaining filling ingredients.
Make the filling a day ahead if you can.  If you have to make
it the same day, let it cool as much as possible before filling.

The colder the filling is, the easier it is to work with.  So if you can make it a day ahead and refrigerate overnight, do that.  Otherwise, cool it as well as possible.

To make the dough, heat the milk and butter together in a saucepan until the butter is melted.  Set aside.  Mix the yeast with water and let sit to soften, about 5 minutes.  When this 5 minutes is up, combine the milk mixture, yeast mixture, sugar and egg.

Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl (or the the bowl of a full sized food processor), reserving about a 1/4 cup in case you don't need it.  Slowly pour in the milk mixture, stirring constantly (or pulsing the food processor) until the dough comes together in a big sticky ball.  It should be sticky, but look like a ball... if it's shaggy, add more flour as needed.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes.  Put the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and let rise in a warm place for about an hour.

After the dough is risen, punch down and divide into quarters.  Work with one quarter at a time.  You have a lot of buns to make, this will help it be less overwhelming...

To stuff the moose buns, line 4 baking sheets with parchment (or some combination of baking sheets, serving trays and plates****).   Punch down the dough and divide into quarters.  Working with one quarter at a time (keeping the remaining dough covered), break dough into 12 fairly even pieces about the size of ping pong balls (so, a total of 48 buns by the time you are done with it).  Form each section into a ball, then roll into a circle about 1/4" thick.

****You will want freeze any uncooked buns for another day, so consider freezer safe-ness when choosing these.  Freeze them like you would berries or meatballs, in a single layer until frozen then transfer to a freezer bag or other airtight container. 

The trick is to get the right amount of moose filling.  Too
much and it will squish out the top; too little and you will
feel deprived.
Spoon some moose filling (about a tbsp) into the center of the dough. It's a matter of getting a feel for the ratio of filling to bun.  You want as much delicious moose stuffing as possible without risking not being able to close the dough up.  If you have the time and interest, you can spend a great deal of it looking at the miracle of the internet to find beautiful, intricate and traditional ways of folding up and sealing the bun.  Fefe simply draws up the edges and smooshes***** them together at the top.  Let the filled buns rest for 20-30 minutes before cooking or freezing.

*****That's the technical term, just ask her.

To cook the moose buns, prepare your steamer if necessary.  We make our stainless steel steaming basket non-stick by lining it with vented parchment.  Take a piece of parchment paper big enough to cover the bottom and sides of the steamer and cut it into a snowflake.  Bring a couple of inches of water in the bottom of your steaming pan to a boil, reduce heat to moderate the vigor of the boil but keep it high enough to have a good constant steam.

If you don't have a non-stick steamer, you can make it non-stick by lining it with a parchment paper snowflake.  This is a good job for the kids.

Gently place the buns in your steamer, leaving some space in between to allow for expansion.  Put the steamer over the boiling water, stick a tight-fitting lid on it, and cook for 12 minutes (15 minutes if cooking from frozen). The buns are done when the dough is expanded and soft but firm enough they don't hold a finger indentation.

Serve with sriracha or other garlicky hot sauce for dipping.


I started writing this blog post before Fefe finished making the moose buns.  She spent several minutes telling me how clever she was mixing half-batches of the dough in our teensy tiny mini-chopper that we pretend is as good as a full sized food processor.  I just heard her swear.  It seems the motor may be blown out.

What Fefe Noir did (left) was break the mini-chopper.  What worked better on the following recipe test (right), was to go old-school and use a bit of elbow grease.


Food supplies in grocery stores have been a bit unpredictable lately because it's been a hard year for ice... sea ice delays ferries and grocery shelves become empty.  Strangely, not just empty of exotic off-season foods like tomatoes and broccoli but also of ordinary things we can actually raise on this island, like pork and beef.  Meat has to come in from away because the big chain grocery stores won't carry meat that isn't inspected and graded and the only federally licensed slaughterhouse in Newfoundland and Labrador is for chicken.  I will admit to not fully understanding the problem, except to know that it's obvious something is broken.  I am not convinced that federally registered abattoirs is the answer; centralization increases the scale of contamination risk, drives up prices for the producer which can be a disincentive to raise livestock, and it can create a very troublesome gap between husbandry and slaughter.  Clearly, we need better support for agriculture in this province, from policy and from consumers in order to gain a scale of production that could reduce our dependence on that very unreliable chain of transportation.

But I digress.

Forget the beef, pork and Australian lamb marooned in the ice on the Cabot Strait.  The lack of meat on store shelves is only part of what has many of us digging to the bottom of our freezers and thawing out bits of ignored meat.  Like the goat we forgot we had, or that packet of moose that keeps getting put back after staring at it long enough to realize you haven't got the foggiest idea what part of the moose that was.  It's also nearing the end of winter.  We ate the easy stuff already.

This recipe makes a lot of steamed buns, but just freeze the
excess.  They cook from frozen in just 15 minutes when
you need a quick meal.
I know I say this every time we cook moose, but we have a lot of indecipherable cuts in the freezer. It seemed unlikely that the cast-off moose would include t-bone.  On the other hand, I hate to underestimate the generosity our friends and neighbours.  But probably blade roast cut like a steak?  With a slice of round? What do you call the picnic shoulder on a moose?

Here's some good news: you don't have to braise every uncertainty from the freezer. It's a good rule for unknown cuts, but you can also guarantee tenderness by mincing it.  And if you make something really delicious, you won't have to worry about maybe wasting a good steak.

These buns are a good project for April (or whatever time of year represents the dregs of winter where you live).  You won't really have time to make them once you start your outdoor-season projects, and you won't have to find something to fill an entire day or two consecutive afternoons once the weather improves.  Make them on a day when you are feeling stir crazy.  Cook them from frozen on days when it's taken you twice as long as expected to get home from work due to a late-season ice storm. Or when you are feeling listless from depression caused by the never-ending winter.

Serve the steamed moose buns with sriracha sauce, or other lovely garlicky hot sauce.  Mmmmmm....