I have been trying valiantly, lately, to diversify my childrens’ evening meals.
(I’d been meaning to deal with the lack of inspiring cuisine in their diets for ages, but I hadn’t realized that it had reached a crisis point until my daughter had lunch at a friend’s house this week. Afterward, the friend’s mother confided to me that my daughter was the fussiest eater she had ever seen.
Friends, you can imagine the humiliation.)
It’s not that my children don’t eat healthily, but there is admittedly a certain lack of variety in their choices.
And of course, I am complicit: I am not often inspired to shake things up when I know that my attempts are likely to be met with the worst kind of childish scorn.
Still, when a rainy night like this one pulls me to the stove, the joy of cooking can easily make me forget that anyone could possibly not like a dish of early autumnal vegetables, melted slowly over low heat with plenty of butter and garlic and handfuls of herbs from the garden.
A leap of faith is required from all parties, and a side of cheese toast for the kids is a distinct possibility here, but this ratatouille-ish dish will be the main event.
And if I have to eat most of it myself (which is likely), I won’t mind a bit.
Rainy Night Ratatouille (ish)*
This is lacking cheese and tomatoes, so not exactly your traditional ratatouille. But the basic delicious flavours are there, and sometimes, at least with my children, simpler is better.
3-4 tbsp butter
1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 medium red pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground rosemary
a handful of fresh basil, finely chopped
In a large, deep frying pan with a lid, melt butter over medium heat. Add eggplant, zucchini, and red pepper, and cook, stirring, about 10 minutes, or until fragrant but not yet beginning to colour. Add garlic, salt, oregano, and rosemary and stir well. Cover and reduce heat to low.
Cook, covered, 15 minutes, until vegetables are very tender and looking a little soupy. Remove cover from pan, increase heat to medium, and cook a further 5 minutes, until excess liquid evaporates.
Stir in fresh basil and serve.
Serves 2 adults, or about 47 picky children.
*I have to tell you that I cannot wait to try this dish with the best steak ever.
You’ll have to forgive the questionable photo – it was late and there was no light save the horrifying (in this context) task lighting in our kitchen.
But I find myself needing to tell you about this hyperbole-worthy steak.
I used the same method I have employed for cooking steak my entire adult life, but with the crucial basting step taken directly from our friends at momofuku. It’s the basting that takes this steak over the top, so all credit goes to genius David Chang.
Here’s what you need:
2 ribeye steaks, about 375g each and 2″ (or so) thick (and get the best “happy meat,” ie. local, grain-fed etc., that you can afford)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4c unsalted butter
4 fat cloves garlic, cut lengthwise into quarters
Remove steaks from the fridge at least an hour before cooking, if possible.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Set a large cast iron or other very heavy skillet on a burner set to medium-high heat.
Turn on an extractor fan, if you have one, or open a window.
When oven has preheated and pan is very very hot, generously salt and pepper both sides of both steaks. Place steaks in pan and cook, without moving them, for two minutes. Flip steaks and cook another two minutes.
Transfer steaks, in their pan, to the hot oven and cook 2 minutes.
Return pan to stove and immediately reduce heat. Throw butter and garlic in the pan and, holding the pan at a 45-degree angle, baste steaks constantly for two minutes.
Remove steaks to a warm plate to rest until ready to serve, 5-8 minutes. Remove pan from heat, leaving garlic and butter and steak juices right where they are.
(I used the steak resting time to cook some green beans, light some candles, and open some wine, but of course what you do in those 5-8 minutes is up to you.)
Just before serving, pour pan contents over steaks.
Friends, I hope you will forgive the radio silence from this side of the screen.
I had vowed to post not less – and, ideally, more – than once a week, but, oh, the frenzied pace. My husband and I own a business that runs on roughly the same calendar as the school year, so things are especially non-stop just now.
I have been getting up before the mice (I wish at least part of that sentence didn’t have to exist) so I can go for my morning run in the pitch dark and be home before my kids wake up; happily, our morning baking ritual has not suffered much in our panic to shoehorn ourselves into some kind of back-to-school routine, but there are many, many other things with which I have not kept up.
Still, as much as September always kind of knocks me flat, there is a lot of joy to be had around here. We’re all eating pretty well (even the mice), and I have a cupboard full of good wine and a fridge full of good cheese, the result of some impromptu entertaining over the weekend.
And two gorgeous steaks that didn’t get eaten last night as planned, which I intend to cook a la momofuku. A little gluttonous for a Monday night, perhaps, but it’s raining, and my husband is coming home a little earlier than usual. So why not celebrate?
There will still be plenty to do tomorrow.
I could get used to this weather.
I love the cool breeze coming through the window, the need for a duvet at night, and pulling out a beloved old cashmere cardigan to walk my daughter to school in the mornings.
I love that this feels like the beginning of autumn, which is my favourite season for a number of reasons, not least of which is the sense of redemption and renewal I feel at this time of year. When the sky is this particular shade of blue, the one that I see looking out my kitchen window right this minute, I feel like I can do anything.
And I am especially excited to get my running shoes on and hit the road.
Although my plan to literally run my ass off this summer was derailed by extreme heat, too many parties and far too much wine, the temperatures in our city these days have lent themselves quite nicely to exercising outdoors. In weather like this, I feel like I could run and run and run.
Not that I am doing that, exactly.
Among other things, I am working on a recipe for homemade poutine.
And watching these girls, whom I find inspiring on so many levels, over and over and over:
And just this morning, while my daughter was at school I could have been running, I made this cake with my son. It was our first time baking just the two of us, and it was delightful. It felt like the two of us could do anything together.
It felt like the beginning of something wonderful and new.
Pear and Gingerbread Cake for New Beginnings
adapted from Gourmet magazine
Thank heavens for my back-issues of Gourmet, which are endlessly inspiring. Although I should warn you, this came from the “Quick Kitchen” section, and grating enough fresh ginger to get a quarter of a cup is anything but quick. I’m just saying.
1 1/2c whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
dash of ground nutmeg
1/2c unsalted butter
1/2c packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/4c grated peeled ginger root
2 medium pears
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour an 8-inch square baking pan.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg. Melt butter and water together over low heat.
Using an electric mixer, beat together brown sugar and molasses. Add eggs one at a time, beating well between additions. Beat in flour mixture at low speed until just combined. Stir in vanilla and ginger.
Pour batter into prepared pan. Peel pears if desired (I didn’t) and cut into small pieces. Scatter over batter.
Bake in centre of the oven until a tester inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean, about 40-45 minutes.
Cool slightly before turning out onto a rack to cool some more.
May be served warm, with whipped cream, or cold, in the early morning, with a hot cup of coffee.
Behold, friends, Toronto’s best focaccia.
At least that’s what the sign outside the bakery said, and who were we, overtired and glassy-eyed with hunger, sitting stuck in traffic in our car in the rain, to argue? We had said goodbye to my mom just that morning and two of the four of us were suffering from miserable end-of-summer colds.
We weren’t going anywhere anyway.
So we pulled over and dashed right in to check it out.
My knowledge of the Toronto focaccia scene is perhaps not the most extensive, but I can say that the good people who baked this bread have done everything right.
There is a reason their establishment is named OMG Baked Goodness; in fact it was all I could do not to devour most of our loaf during the ten-minute drive home.
Instead, I turned it into this vast, indulgently-proportioned sandwich, which is exactly what we (and by “we,” I mean, mostly, me) needed on a dreary, emotional grey day.
OMG Focaccia Sandwich to Feed the Masses
Since we are coming up to a long weekend, I’d like to suggest that this sandwich, or a similar incarnation of it – without the cheese perhaps? – would be just the thing for lunch or a light dinner en plein aire.
1 large round focaccia loaf (preferably OMG’s Herb & Garlic)
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
225g crimini mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
3 tbsp pesto mayonnaise (I made my own: 1 tbsp pesto + 2 tbsp mayo)
8 sundried tomatoes, thinly sliced
6 slices grilled zucchini*
a generous amount of cheese
*I happened to have some leftover grilled zucchini in the fridge, and if I hadn’t had that I’d have used something else – likely prosciutto.
Cut focaccia in half horizontally, to make two rounds.
Melt butter and olive oil in a medium pan set over medium-high heat. Saute mushrooms until golden.
Divide pesto mayonnaise evenly between focaccia halves, and then layer each half with equal amounts of each topping. Place on a large baking sheet and cook under the broiler until cheese has melted. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Cut into wedges, this would easily feed six, or even eight with a side salad.