Food Musings

A Winnipeg blog about the joy of preparing food for loved ones and the shared joy that travel & dining brings to life.

Christmas Morning 2011

January9

Here I am still writing about Christmas festivities, when it is already half way into January.  This is my last Christmas blog post before I start recounting our fabulous food adventure in Isla Mujeres.

Since most of the family were leaving for Mexico very early Christmas morning, we actually faked the morning and celebrated on the 24th.  The kids all decided to sleep overnight and even though we could have slept them in comfortable spaces, the youngest one organized that they would watch “A Christmas Story” and then all bunk in together in the downstairs family room.   

It really did feel like Christmas morning to have them all assemble to open their stockings and exchange our gifts.  We drank champagne and orange juice and listened to Florence +the Machine (as it is our tradition to immediately put on music that was gifted that morning). 

I thought that I was really clever by assembling brunch the night before.  I made the “wife-saver” that I renamed “domestic-partner saver” and had posted the recipe for in a previous blog entry, a cranberry cheese ball was contributed and I dug up this recipe for “Land of Nod” (I didn’t name that one!) Cinnamon Buns.  I’m included it here:

20 frozen dough balls (I made a batch of dough in the bread machine, then formed into balls and froze)

1 c brown sugar

1/4 cup vanilla instant pudding (I omitted)

1-2 T cinnamon

3/4 c raisins (optional)

1/4-12 c melted butter (I used a 1/2 c to replace the moisture lost by omitting the pudding)

In the evening: Grease a 10″ bundt pan and add the frozen roll,s.  Sprinkle with brown sugar, pudding powder, cinnamon and raisins.  Pour melted butter over all.  Cover with a clean damp cloth and then leave on the counter at room temperature.

In the morning, bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.  Let sit for 5 minutes and then turn over on a serving plate.

We put leftovers away for part of the family to enjoy again on the real Christmas morning and I wrapped up the squares of “domestic partner” saver and we ate in the early morning hours at the airport on our way south.

Kath’s quote: “There is a vast difference between the savage and the civilised man, but it is never apparent to their wives until after breakfast.” Helen Rowland (1876-1950) ‘A Guide to Men’

 

Christmas Eve 2011

January6

I remember a Christmas eve vividly from decades ago.  We were allowed the special privilege of opening a gift early and I spotted a small rectangular box that I was certain was my long-awaited Barbie doll.  What I opened was my first bottle of cologne which was lovely of course but I was SO disappointed.  And then I remembered that Santa hadn’t come-no wonder Barbie wasn’t waiting for me under the tree! And in truth, she wasn’t there the next morning either as Santa thought that I would prefer the red-headed Midge doll.  I will admit here that I was disappointed again, but as is my attitude in life- “a gift is a gift” and I mustered up a way to be delighted by the gesture.  Besides, Midge did look a little bit like Ann Margaret in Bye Bye Birdie……

My Mom and Dad always did the best they could with six kids and one modest income.  Many items were hand-knit and hand-sewn but Santa always came through.  What I do remember perfectly is the indulgence and abundance of food.  My Mom would spend an entire day making potato and Velveeta perogies (she is convinced that Velveeta is better than cheddar), another day holopchi (with lots of sauteed onions, bacon and ground meat in the rice mixture), another day for egg rolls (over-stuffed with bean sprouts, celery, carrots and chicken), another day for her home-made buns and still another for her butter tarts.  Dad was assigned with going to shop at his friends’ who made the best kielbasa in Winnipeg.  But this practice had to cease because no one would sit near us at Christmas eve service later that evening.

On the day of the dinner Mom would make a huge batch of breaded chicken legs and thighs (she can’t understand why anyone would prefer white meat) or a batch of slow cooked ribs or more recently a prime rib roast.  The prime rib is always assigned to Brother #1 who is an expert in ensuring that the middle is served medium rare.  And there always has to be two meat choises, just in case, God forbid, she missed the mark with the first offering.  She prefers turkey but knows that everyone else in the family will dine on turkey the next day for Christmas dinner.

These days, my sweet Daddy is gone and Mom is not able to host any more or manage all these tasks in her kitchen.  Brother #3 and his “saint” of a wife (she hates it when we call her that) have been the hosts for the last number of years.  But Mom is still the co-ordinator of some items and she makes her lists and her phone calls and assigns who will find the best Baba-made perogies and how they must be served with sauteed onions and bacon.  Each item is carefully considered and takes hours in the planning.  So even though Mom is 85 this year and my own kids are grown, my Mom is still gifting us with the indulgences of our childhood-not in things per se, but in demonstrating the abundance of her affection for all 35 of us with food made with love.

 Kath’s quote: “In my experience, clever food is not appreciated at Christmas. It makes the little ones cry and the old ones nervous.”-Jane Grigson

There was an emptiness in our hearts this Christmas; a void left by the absence of my beloved Brother #2.  Tom you always made Christmas a time to honour the traditions of our family and we had to find a way to gather strength and carry on those traditions without you.  You were missed terribly, especially by Mom.

Pony Corral-Pembina Hwy.

January5

Where do 35 people go out for brunch with 1 day’s notice in Winnipeg?  When D’s family assembles for a brief weekend each Christmas, the time is short and very precious.  One of our traditions is gathering for one last meal together before heading back onto the highways for the road trips to Minneapolis and Dauphin or to the airport for the flights to Toronto and Calgary. 

This year, Christmas kind of snuck up on us and although we were pretty organized for the festivities themselves, we didn’t plan for the morning after.  Then we remembered how easily the Pony Corral had accommodated us the year before and took a chance.  Well not only did they have space for us at short notice, it was in a separate area of the 2nd floor balcony with our own fireplace, coat rack and TV screen to check the NFL scores. 

The challenge of pleasing such a diverse group of diners at a reasonable price is a huge one but the Pony Corral’s extensive menu covers off everybody’s tastes.  I choose a chicken souvlaki pita and D an omelete.

Others ordered sandwich melts and burgers.

Bigger appetites, tucked into steak and eggs.

But I was most impressed with the selection on the kid’s menu.  This foot long was well priced and just what the younger set had in mind.  The food kept them interested until we started a round of “telephone”.  The game starts when one person whispers a message into the next person’s ear and you pass it along to see how accurate the end message is delivered.  The first couple  of rounds were very accurate and then the youngest member of the family started to mix things up with his take on how the messages should go.  Hilarity ensued.

A restaurant can’t be all things to all tastes but the Pony Corral comes pretty darn close.

 Pony Corrall on Urbanspoon

Kath’s quote: “It matters not how simple the food — a chop, steak or a plain boiled or roast joint, but let it be of good quality and properly cooked, and everyone who partakes of it will enjoy it.”-Alexis Soyer 19th century French chef

Recipe for Life by Nicky Pellegrino

January4

I have just returned from a 9 day winter vacation where I did a whole lot of nothing except drink and eat (more about that later), collect shells on the beach and read in the hammock strung across our balcony.  Interpret this as: bliss. 

I try to rotate my reading selections between non-fiction, what I refer to as “literature” and finally- fascinating fiction.  The fascination part changes according to whim.  Ever since my travels to Italy I have been on a kick of novels set in Italy but they must also have to do with food.  On this trip I read “Delicious” by Nicky Pellegrino which I will write about in the future.  Just before we left I read her “Recipe for Life”.  Those of you who know me well, will understand that her books are the perfect blend of many of my loves:  Italy, strong women, cooking, eating and the exploration of food as a means of expressing love.    

Her books are not available at the Winnipeg library so I actually had to buy a number of them.  Usually I rave about a book and then cannot pass it along because of my library addiction.  I won’t tell you a whole lot more about it; this excerpt will give you a sense :

“She smiled and went over to the sideboard where she retrieved a tattered old handwritten recipe book.  Its pages were frayed and falling out the ink faded and smudged in places, but she held it as though it were something very precious.

“This belonged to my mother,” she explained, turning the pages so I wouldn’t have to touch the book.  “She was an amazing cook and collected recipes all of her life”.  Many of the dishes we make come from here, others we’ve come across ourselves or concocted over the years,  Every day I learn something new about food.  That’s why I love it.”…

“Food is so important.  In my family its how we speak to each other, express gratitude, show we care, sometimes even say we are sorry.  Good food must be made with love.  You can taste if it’s not.”

“Even restaurant food?”

“Of especially that”.

Cooking with love was a new idea to me but there was certainly nothing stressful about working in the the kitchen of the trattoria.  Once customers began to arrive, Raffaella moved to the front of the house, showing them to their seats and taking orders.  I ferried food to the tables, cleared away dirty dishes and filled tall glasses with ice cream or tiramisu for dessert.  In the kitchen, Ciro seemed in control.  He worked with quiet concentration, occaisionally asking me to plate up a dish for him, making himself understood with the pointing and clicking of fingers.

Out in the dining room and on the terrace beyond it, customers were eating.  This was not refined picking over plates with knives and forks we saw at Teatro.  No one came here to be seen or to socialise.  They were solely for the food and they enjoyed it, bending their heads over the dishes, slurping hungrily, wiping up every last slick of oily juice with crusty bread. 

Once everyone had eaten and left, we stacked the dirty dishes and Ciro put out food for us.  The fish, as they had promised was all finished, so instead we had my herb ravioli drizzled in a sauce of crushed walnuts and dressed with shards of pecorino cheese.  There was a little of the octopus to taste , some of the chicken stew, a bowl of steamed greens dressed with lemon and olive oil and some crusty bread.

We ate it out on the terrace with a glass of white wine that tasted like apples and Rafaella told me about their lives.”

Can’t you just smell the smells of garlic and onions and feel the evening breeze on your face?  Can’t you hear the waves lapping in the distance and taste the crispness of the wine?  Ah, I love books that sweep me away.

Kath’s quote: “It is good food and not fine words that keeps me alive.”
Moliere

Sweet Potatoes-Sweet!

December23

Last night my kindergarten teacher called me for my candied yam recipe.  So I got to thinking, if I am recognized for one dish, it would likely be my sweet potatoes.  This recipe was given to me by D’s Mom and heralds back to their American roots where you never had Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter for that matter without this satisfying dish.  I can’t imagine a bite of roasted ham without a slice of sweet potato on my fork.  The absolute perfect combination of sweet, salty and savoury that you will ever taste.

The basic proceedure is simple.  Cut and par-boil the spuds until their skins are visibly seperating from the vegetable.  Drain, cool and peel. 

The skins literally “pop” off at this point.  Cut into smaller pieces-this will vary depending upon the age of your guests and the other textures of your menu.  Loosely arrange in a shallow baking dish and add just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan.  Now dab with dots of butter and sprinkle with brown sugar.  Both of the latter are also according to your preference.  Now cover in foil and bake until the potatoes are fork tender.  How long depends upon what else is in the oven.

I have made a variety of toppings over the years including baby marshmallows when the kids were young.  More recently the most requested version is a crust of more butter, brown sugar and chopped pecans.  These get added to the last half hour of baking time.  But this year I am honouring the Frenchman and another family member who is nut allergic, and topping them with pure maple syrup.  I intend to drizzle it on just before we serve.  D made these recently for a Christmas dinner that he catered and they were a huge hit.  And the leftovers (if there are any) can be pureed for a post-Christmas soup!

This will be my last post before the holidays.  I am indebted to you my readers and encouragers.  I want to particularily thank Lori, Laura, Michael, Sisters #2 & 3, my Mom, all my kids and my precious D.  You make my life an adventure-in tasting and in love.

To my big brother Tom who will not be with us this Christmas…I love you so and miss you every day.  Go easy on the shrimp at that banquet table in heaven.

Muah!

Kath’s quote:  “Said Aristotle unto Plato,
‘Have another sweet potato?’
Said Plato unto Aristotle,
‘Thank you, I prefer the bottle.’”-
Owen Wister

Huh?

 

 

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