Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas!

I have written and re-written this post in my head at least 15 times today.  I have had time to write and had lots to write about.  But the vision for this post keeps on coming back – it beckons for shorter and sweeter.

We are humbled and blessed and fortunate and lucky and thankful for all that we have.  Far beyond the material, the food, the drink – we have each other.

Today has been an entire day of feasting, sharing, eating (and it continues).  We are so lucky – the luckiest part of all that we have are the people around us.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays – I hope you all are so fortunate.

11 Days of Feastmas – the big day of cooking

It’s cold and dark outside.  I’ve been up for an hour and will leave the house before 6.00AM.  I hope to be back home by 8.00AM and the first of several dishes will hit the stove by 8.30.  December 24th has become a big day of cooking for me – an awesome and exciting day and one that gives me the chance to cook without being antisocial – after all, the guests have not arrived yet.

There are 3 breads to bake today (and likely another 1-2 to start for tomorrow).  2 pies, these slow-roasted tomatoes (and we learned last night that figs can be halved and touched with cinnamon and mandarin rind and cooked the same way and intend to) and we’re going to get our chestnuts going too.  I plan to dunk the warm chestnuts into brandy after watching a Jamie Oliver Christmas special last night.

It’s an exciting morning – the prospect of coffee and a market that is quiet before the storm enthralls.

And, of course, there is still the matter of the one remaining Christmas Gift that I am short of.  11 Days of Feastmas   the big day of cooking December

Ladies and Gentlemen, have a most wonderful day – check your list twice to make sure you’ve got what you need!  If you don’t have extra celery, carrots and onions to help make stock on the weekend, there’s still time!  We’ll be posting some tips on boxing day on how to make a better, bolder stock.

Happy Holidays to all of our friends, lovers and other strangers (Toronto readers will recognize this odd ending from

What are foods you can’t live without this time of year?

11 Days of Feastmas – All about the coffee

We have learned this the hard way – reduced store hours and increased people with free time going places equals less access to good coffee.

Make sure you have a beautiful selection of coffee – go out of your way, perhaps, to grab something a little special.

11 Days of Feastmas   All about the coffee December Coffee Beverage Recipes [Read more...]

Cheap Tuesday Gourmet – filling your fridge affordably

We announced the start of a new series of posts last week with a promise to launch today.  The full details are here but the premise is simple – creating good, wholesome food at affordable pricing as a means to support and create a dialogue in which we can share how to eat wholesome food at a fraction of a price of fast food alternatives.  The terms gourmet and cheap are relative – the term Tuesday is not.

A recent interview with Thomas Keller (one of the world’s top chefs) revealed his secret to great food as a single equation: great products + technique = great food.  So many recipe books and tips on eating healthy focus on recipes (i.e. technique) but rarely where to find the product affordably.

Chef Keller’s definition of great ingredients likely differ from mine – then again I am not cooking nightly at a 3 Michelin star restaurant.  Local and organic are niceties – fresh and healthy are necessities.

Consider the following sink full of vegetables bought last weekend:

Cheap Tuesday Gourmet   filling your fridge affordably December Cheap Tuesday Gourmet

I forgot to count – the haul amounted to more than 16 peppers, 4 medium-sized broccoli and more than 2 dozen carrots.  Enough vegetables for an entire week for $10 Canadian dollars.  All were fresh – the carrots were almost field sweet.

The downside is that they were imported from the US – alas it is likely that more and more groceries are coming from elsewhere as today is the first official day of winter (and the shortest day of the year).  Compared to the origins of much of the produce appearing at major grocers these days, the US is relatively close (and certainly can be closer than many locations from across our vast country).  Purchasing the same amount at the grocery store could easily have been $25+.

If shopping on a budget, timing can be everything.  We have the luxury of the St Lawrence Farmer`s Market in Toronto which is a year-round market.  The North Market is a temporary market that is in a building just north of the main building and operates only on Saturdays.

There are some farmers (as well as some truly authentic butchers, cheese makers and others) as well as several resellers.  A reseller is someone who buys fruit or vegetables from places such as the food terminal and resells them to the public at large.  I`ve had my frustrations with dedicated resellers in the summer who do not clearly separate their offerings from farmers and are willing to allow consumers to confuse them with farmers.

Many resellers at once-per-week markets do not sell food full-time.  Many do not have storage facilities and know that their produce simply wont last a full week until the next market.  It`s also exhausting to haul all their produce back to storage facilities and many are willing to part with their product at cost (or lower) at the end of the day.  You do not need to barter – simply arrive at the end of the market and look for reduced prices.  The closer to the end, the more likely a reseller will drop their prices.

We do not hound people or barter when we do this – we simply arrive at the right time.  If you are in an urban area, look for a weekly market and find out when it closes – take a peak around and see what is being offered – you may find yourself in for a great find!

13 Days of Feastmas – Leftover Pizza

I love that the Holidays afford me extra time at home, surrounded by friends and family who are willing to eat with a fridge filled with more options than normal.  All of this adds up to inspiration and imagination to build on traditional favourites by cooking leftovers in ways I haven`t before.

Saturday night was an intimate gathering of friends at our house – moose meatballs were part of the fare.  They were paired with a slow cooked tomato sauce that exploded with summer flavor.  Crudite was in the house and we have a drawer of fresh herbs.

13 Days of Feastmas   Leftover Pizza Turkey Flour December Cooking Recipes [Read more...]

11 Days of Feastmas – Apple Pie (and Sewing Buttons)

Erin Bried is one cool cat.  We met her through Twitter and have traded several messages over the past few months as she blogs, tweets and published a great looking book – How to Sew a Button.

Erin is on a mission – to have us remember, learn and share the advice of our Grandmothers.  Her book ties 100 different how-to articles based on the work of real Grandmothers and modern experts.  There is advice on folding fitted sheets, mending clothing and, of course, cooking.

Erin has inspired me to try our first pie for Christmas – apple pie is in the plans (to be paired with our infused vodka and Christmas Cheddar). She has put a great video together to help people learn.  I really like the advice that “all pie is good pie.”  Let’s turn it over to our expert to learn from her:

11 Days of Feastmas – The coming of Cheeses

Last night was one of the biggest night of my year.  I got to visit with Byron (whom Dana jokes is my cheese boyfriend) and we planned the cheese trays for the holiday season – if you missed the tips on buying holiday cheese you can see why I do this here.

Buying cheese for the holidays is about an hours worth of work – sometimes longer.  I find a quiet night to head to the St Lawrence Market and time the visit for the day when most of the Holiday shipment arrives – I need a quiet night so that I can get some quality time with my cheese man.

The conversation is two way and we brainstorm, trade ideas, stories and laughter.  We start with what’s rare, then we go to seasonal and we follow it by planning pairings with food and the many preserves we have made specifically to be matched with cheese.  It’s an awesome tour of the world according to lactose!

It is important that you trust your cheese dude – and that you like him.  I have known Byron for 4 years – he know Dana and my parents.  I have met one of his kids and know the stories of his family.  I genuinely care about him and am excited to see him and love our time together.  If you don’t have a cheese dude you know by name I highly recommend you consider this as a resolution for the New Year.  11 Days of Feastmas – The coming of Cheeses December

So what did we pick?  Here is a preview (pictures will be added after Christmas as we unwrap them):

Vacherin Mont D’Or (we raved on it here).  It is lord of the smelly.  This cheese comes in a wooden box and is essentially hermetically sealed.  Once open you remove a top skin off it to reveal the cheese which is pretty much a liquid.  You put the entire thing in the oven and pass it around with bread.  We are going to cover ours in wine this year before warming.  When I got there he was already out of this once a year cheese – he had 3 pieces stowed away for 3 customers and we were one of them.  If you want a similar (and unbelievably stinky experience), try Epoisses.

Fourme D’Ambert.  A classic French blue cheese that is made from cows milk (more info here).  It is one of France’s oldest cheeses and is protected by the AOC (Appellation d’origine controlle) which, similar to champagne, prohibits imitators from knocking it off.  Although many websites seem to list this as being 50% fat, the one I purchased is 24%.  I have already punched holes in it and filled it with a 10 year old Tawny port (as you may recall we were planning to do this with Stilton).

11 Days of Feastmas – The coming of Cheeses December

Stilton Colston Bass. This is a seasonal cheese – once a year is when it shows up.  We decided to marinate the blue cheese and try this as-is because of its rarity.  We will eat the blue cheese and this as a pairing with a glass of the port on the side.

Black Truffle Moliterno.  A pecorino cheese is created and aged in Sardinia (Italy) before it is drilled with holes that are filled with black truffle paste.  It’s a decadent and divine taste – we carefully select one with lots of truffle.

Christmas Cheddar.  English White Cheddar that is made once per year.  It will last for months in the fridge if we don’t eat it all.  This will be paired with pickled garlic and some of our sweeter preserves.  If you’ve only had commercial cheddar from large factories, you don’t know how awesome this great cheese can be.

Petit Basque.  Aged for two months this French cheese arrived on the cheese scene 12 years ago. It is similar to Spanish Manchego though milder.  This is to be paired with a 25-year old vinegar (such as the DiNigris here).

Chaource Lincet (AOC).  A gift from our cheese man.  This is all about the jams we will serve it with – and fresh slices of pear.

There will be a few more standards sneaking into the fridge in the next week – brie, chevre and beemster for pairing with preserves.  The list above with be the heart of the feast that we will pick on for days over the Holidays (all of it will sit on the counter for 2-4 hours before consuming) and will be a highlight of the season for us.  By the time January 4th rolls around we will not want to see cheese for a while and we will partake in a last, desperate attempt at consuming all of it and will eat the most unbelievable macaroni and cheese of the year.

11 Days of Feastmas – Chestnuts roasting…

I had the thrill of traveling France and Italy over the Holidays in the early part of this decade.  I spent almost a month exploring this part of Europe (my first time “overseas”) and eating my way through the old world.

I started the trip in Firenze (Florence) and remember the first night I spent there vividly.  Small market streets had ceilings of white lights draped between buildings guiding our way through wet winter streets.  Many were dressed like they were forging through the bitter arctic – I remember feeling warm as the temperature was well over freezing.  Perspective is a funny thing. [Read more...]

11 Days of Feastmas – Raising the BAR on stuffing

Turkey is a traditional feast for us on the Holidays.  One of my favourite parts of the meal is the stuffing – ours is a combination of bread that we cube and dry for a few days, sausage meat and a few other tasties.  It could be a meal in its own right.

My first tip for stuffing is yet another low-effort and wait task.  By the time our family descends on our home banquet they will be sharing food that we have easily prepared in weeks and months leading up to the meal.  All of this preparation actually excites me as I go – it does not feel like a chore. [Read more...]

11 Days of Feastmas – Marinating Cheese

This is a last minute addition to the Holiday feasts – a new friend at work shared a holiday tradition he holds dear with me yesterday and it simply sounded so good that we had to give it a whirl.

  • Get yourself a piece of Stilton cheese
  • Poke holes in it with a skewer.  Do not poke all the way through.
  • Pour port onto the surface until it is absorbed.  Continue to do so until the cheese will take no more (he says he puts up to 2 ounces in a fairly typical piece).  You are not trying to have the cheese swimming in port – you are trying to drown it from the inside.
  • Place in fridge and wait a week. [Read more...]