Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Goat Soup

My classic Canadian Thanksgiving weekend got a little atypical towards the end. We ate turkey, took nice fall walks, fit in a couple of horseback rides, spent time with family...the usual. But then on Monday, after a lunch of turkey leftovers and one slice each of my mom's apple and pumpkin pies, I picked up a recently butchered goat from my cousins' house, and hauled it home to debone.

Not your typical Thanksgiving activity—deboning a goat.

Why was I deboning a goat, you ask?

Well, it's something of a long story, but I'll try to keep it short. I am on the Steering Committee for Slow Food International's Saskatoon convivium (check us out on Facebook). We work to raise awareness about good, clean and fair food, and often do so by coming together to enjoy good food.

So we put on events, and we are lucky enough to be hosting Michele Genest, author of The Boreal Feast for a reading, presentation and stand-up small plates dinner at my house, cooked by convivium leader (and wonderful mentor) dee Hobsbawn-Smith and myself. And one of the recipes we're making is Goat Sausage with Juniper and Blueberries.

So there we were, spending our Thanksgiving afternoon cutting the meat off a fresh goat carcass.


Have I mentioned my unusual fascination with cutting up meat? Many of my ancestors were butchers; I am always surprised by how happy I am while in the midst of slicing through raw meat and bone.

In the end, we had 15 lbs. of goat meet, which was half again as much as we needed for the dinner. We'll have extra sausage to give to the people who raised the goat, as well as for ourselves. We also have more than 15 lbs. of goat bones. There is much stock to be made.

I had no idea how goat stock or goat soup would taste, but I went for it anyway. I roasted some of the bones for about an hour at 400F and then added them to sautéed carrots, onions, celery, a whole head of garlic, fresh rosemary and thyme, peppercorns, parsley, covered the whole thing with water and simmered the stock overnight.

I had in mind a chickpea and goat soup I tasted on a day tour to Tangiers many years ago, so I cooked some chickpeas, cut the goat meat off the bones, and opted for Moroccan flavours for the soup.

I've decided to give away the remaining goat bones to other people who would benefit from good bone broth, because I now have 7L of goat broth in my freezer, after I made a healthy batch of soup.

If you ever find yourself with a pile of goat bones, or goat stock, try this soup. It was surprisingly delicious. My husband gave it two thumbs up; D ate a whole bowl of it; but, G found it wanting. You can't please everyone all the time. I think he was just thinking ahead to the leftover pumpkin pie for dessert.

Goat soup with oven roasted tomatoes and Moroccan flavours

1 T. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/2 t. cinnamon
1 t. cumin
1 t. coriander
1/2 t. turmeric
2 c. chopped, cooked goat meat (from making the stock)
2 c. cooked or canned chickpeas
1 c. roasted tomatoes or canned tomatoes
4-6 c. goat stock
1 red pepper, chopped
1 c. chopped spinach
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a soup pot. Sauté onion, carrots, celery and garlic for a couple of minutes. Stir in spices and sauté another minute, or until the spices are fragrant. Add the goat meat, chickpeas, tomatoes and stock and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, to allow flavours to blend. Add red pepper and spinach and cook five minutes more. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Friday, October 3, 2014

My New Way to Preserve Produce: Make Soup!

For those of us who grew up on farms, watching our mothers and grandmothers put up the garden produce, we know what we're supposed to do. I helped my mom pick and process bushels of fresh peas, beans, and corn (blanched and frozen in little bags), cabbage (krauted, then processed in a boiling water bath), cucumbers (pickled in vinegar), beets (pickled or made into a borscht concentrate with a collection of other garden veggies and frozen), and tomatoes (canned in a variety of ways).

I've been spending the last few years reconciling my own approach to gardening and preserving food with the one I grew up with. For one, I don't have a 5,000 square foot garden. I also have had no luck with peas (one of the best yields in my mom's garden), and I have never had the space to grow many root veggies. Plus, my mom's (now smaller) garden still offers up enough beets and potatoes for us to enjoy.

I've also discovered the joys of lactic acid fermentation, so I am loathe to pickle anything in vinegar. Instead I've been experimenting with salt brining various veggie combinations, and I don't process anything in boiling water. This activity is limited somewhat by refrigerator space, as they have to be kept in cold storage.

I took on the canning of my mom's tomatoes last year because she and my dad were traveling during canning season. I found it labour intensive, hot and messy, and while I like the results, I prefer my own method of slow roasting tomatoes and throwing them in the freezer.

And then there are are the few vegetables that are too plentiful for me to eat fresh or find a way to ferment. This year, that includes zucchini, corn (not that I grew it, but I did get carried away at the market gardens), and chard.

With the cold weather coming, I picked all my chard at once, and then wondered what to do with it. My mom blanched and froze it, which I loved. My kids have yet to warm up to cooked leafy greens, and while I did blanch some last year, it is still in my freezer. This year, I decided to make soup. I found a couple of freezable recipes that can be used as is or added to, and which call for a ton of veggies. My kids love soup, and will eat things they normally avoid, like lentils and chard, when it is served in a broth.

Every one of those containers in the freezer is a quick and easy meal, and a (hopefully) effective way of getting my kids to eat their veggies.

My two favourites (there are tons more--I just Googled 'corn chowder for freezing' and 'chard soup for freezing' and these came up:
Sweet Corn Chowder, c/o Keeza's Freezer Meals
Lentil Swiss Chard Soup, c/o Flavia's Flavors

The lentil chard soup is perfect as is; the sweet corn chowder has all kinds of potential. It is vegan and packed with veggies when it comes out of the freezer, but when you add a bit of ham, cheese or cream, it is elevated to absolute heaven. I could imagine adding some seafood or bacon, along with cheese and cream, for an absolutely decadent soup. And it can change every time. Kind of like my mom's borscht recipe...

Monday, August 25, 2014

Swiss Buttercream Frosting: what you need to know


From the time I tasted my first French pastry (not yet in France, sadly, but at Notte's Bon Ton Pastry shop in Vancouver), I have been a buttercream snob. All those cupcake shops that claim to have buttercream icing, and then pile on that pancreatic crisis of icing sugar and shortening, drive me crazy.

So when I make cupcakes, I make REAL buttercream. But I sometimes only make cupcakes once a year, at my kids' birthday party, so in between I forget some of the finer points.

While I was grateful to Martha Stewart for her cupcake ideas, and for the Swiss Meringue Buttercream recipe that I use most often, after successive years of absolute panic while making this buttercream, I take issue with her recipe instructions.

I have friends who fear buttercream, because it seems hard. With the right equipment, namely a stand mixer with a lot of horsepower, it is practically fool-proof. But I manage to forget that from year to year.

On my first foray into Swiss Meringue Buttercream, I was nine months pregnant, it was D's second birthday, and I was determined to make these cute little lion cupcakes from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes. He's a Leo, you see. My sister was helping me prepare the cupcakes, and her job was to cut mini-marshmallows in half with scissors, to make the lions' muzzles. Absurdly, she had so much fun with it, she constantly asks if I want her to cut up marshmallows whenever she visits.

I had made the buttercream a couple of days earlier, so decided to freeze it, which Martha Stewart says is just fine. You just 'bring to room temperature and beat with paddle attachment on low speed until smooth again, about 5 minutes.' 

Here's the trick with Swiss Meringue Buttercream. It may take WAY longer than five minutes to become smooth again, and before it becomes smooth, it breaks down into a horrifically curdled mess, and if you don't remember the trick with Swiss Meringue Buttercream, you will become convinced that it is ruined and you have to start again. 

I sent my sister to the store to buy another pound of butter, wondering how I would ever pull off making another batch of frosting AND decorating the cupcakes before guests arrived. As she left, she said, "Just leave it running and walk away. I'll get your butter, but it's going to be okay!" And you know what? It was. It just starts to magically come together and what used to look like watery cottage cheese now looks like beautiful, silky, perfect frosting. But that experience took a year or two off my life.

And guess what? It happened again this year. Except this time, it was the first round of mixing the frosting that took forever to come together. It looked remarkably like cottage cheese, and it mixed for at least 20 minutes without changing. I actually texted my sister, who lives 1800 km away: "Swiss meringue buttercream stresses me out every time. Can you run to Extra Foods and get me another pound of butter?" She replied, "Just keep mixing! It will be fine. BREATHE! ;)" And then a few minutes later, "Do you need me to cut marshmallows?"

I did walk away, and it did come together. But seriously, Martha. Five minutes? I think it's important to let anyone who is trying Swiss Meringue Buttercream for the first time know that it can take 10 times that. Don't give up. I have never had to throw away a batch. It has always turned out perfect. Eventually. Thanks again, sis!

Birthday Theme: Balls!

For quite a while now, I have been planning a post on balls as a theme for Finger Food Fridays. Before I got to that, however, I was inspired to take it to another level. Balls as a theme for my boys' double birthday party (their birthdays are six days apart).

It is super fun to blurt, "Balls!" when someone asks what is for supper. Turns out it is also fun to blurt, "Balls!" when people ask me what I'm making for my kids' birthday party. Birthdays at my house are family affairs. No 'drop off your kids and I'll feed them hot dogs and cake and candy and send them home jacked on sugar' here. I try to keep the sugar levels low, and I try to make the food something the adults will want to stay for.

This does, however, tend to drive up the numbers of people at the party. This year I tried valiantly to keep it under 30, about 16 kids and 14 adults. Still over the top, I know, but also a reduction from the numbers of the last two years.

I try to make birthday party food that accepts the reality of kids at birthday parties. There are so many more exciting things to do at a party than eat, so unless you make the food small and portable, they likely will not eat anything until the cake comes out. 

Balls seemed like a good solution. I already knew it was a hit with my kids, and I have made meals of balls on many a Finger Food Friday. What kinds of balls? Well, meatballs, rice balls, cheese balls, falafel, quinoa pilaf rolled into balls, Brussels sprouts, cherry tomatoes, bocconcini…and the list goes on.

G with a cheek full of some kind of ball on a Finger Food Friday.

I was also dealing with a few allergies among my guests—wheat, eggs and dairy to be exact. I couldn't make everything allergy-friendly, but I did what I could.

So the birthday party menu went like this:
Quinoa porcupines (these were a huge hit with the party, and I'm glad to report I made extra and froze them. They will come in handy when school starts. For the tomato sauce, I made a basic marinara sauce from canned tomatoes) (about four dozen)
Herb-coated mini cheese balls (about four dozen)
Sesame rice balls (four dozen)
Falafel, purchased at the Saskatoon Farmers' Market (40) and cucumber yogurt sauce
Caprese salad of mini bocconcini cheese, grape tomatoes and fresh basil, tossed in a splash of Rozendal vinegar and Spanish olive oil
Grapes, cherries, and watermelon and cantaloupe balls
Whole wheat slider buns (the thought was that you could just skip the buns, or you could have a mini meatball sandwich, throw a cheese ball on top of that meatball, or you could go for a falafel on a bun for a veggie option)

And what does one make for a cake at a ball themed party? Cake pops did come to mind, but I was already chafing at the thought of having to roll all the balls listed above. And my week was packed too full to consider learn the entirely new skill of making cake pops.

What I am really good at is making cake and buttercream icing (with one small caveat which I will mention in my next post). And my sons had already fixed on the precedent that if they had to share a birthday party, at least that meant there would be chocolate cupcakes AND a vanilla slab cake. So how to decorate?

Well, God bless Martha Stewart (I don't often say that, but this time I do). In her Cupcakes cookbook, she had some sporty cupcake ideas, including these Slam Dunk Cupcakes. I realized I could make the slab cake into a basketball court, and voila! I had my ball-themed cake.

I even remembered to take a picture. Until next year.

So yeah, not exactly like Martha's version, but also not exactly a Pinterest Fail.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Belated Summer Meal Plan

Here in Saskatchewan, summer has been painfully slow to arrive. Now that we have hit July, it seems to have committed to being here, at least in between rainstorms. This week was the first time I started feeling the need to cook summery things, but considering this summer may be particularly fleeting, there is also a sense urgency about it.

It feels more like summer now that I have stocked my fridge with rosé wine, Stiegl Radler, and ginger beer. And now for the food...

My summer favourites have been popping into my head at intervals. I've already made a few. Last night was Crispy-skinned trout and salsa verde rice, posted in an earlier blog. I also made a trip to the Farmers' Market today, and paid an ungodly price for new potatoes, among other things. And this urge, combined with my list of Farmers' Market produce has inspired my menu plan this week.

Monday

Burnt eggplant with tahini (from Ottolenghi's Plenty, but reprinted here thanks to Veggies and Gin)
Marinated lamb chunks (I have these weird cuts of bone-in stewing lamb from the last time I got a whole lamb, but I've discovered they make great finger food if you marinate them in herbs and lemon juice and roast or grill them)
New potatoes with dill

Tuesday

Marinated buffalo mozzarella with tomatoes
Grilled Italian sausage
Cucumber salad (recipe to be determined, although Ottolenghi's Cucumber salad with garlic and ginger, but another of my favourites is Sweet and Sour Cucumbers with Fresh Dill)

Wednesday (one of my must-have summer combos)

Grilled pork chops with garlic lime sauce
Black bean and tomato quinoa
Watermelon with feta

Thursday and Friday I am off on our annual Wild/Wise Womyn's Trail Ride. I have offered to make Spatchcock chicken, partly for the chance to experience everyone cracking off-colour jokes about the name. It will be a challenge, as we cook over an open fire, and it will take some balancing of heat to cook the chicken without burning it. I'll report back later, hopefully with pictures. I also need to provide a marinated vegetable salad and another salad to go with the chicken. I haven't quite decided on that one, but am leaning toward cider-glazed carrot and quinoa salad. Have I mentioned I love Bon Appetit??

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Weed Salad

Sometimes working with who you are rather than who other people expect you to be or say you 'should' be makes life easier. Actually, I think it will always make life easier to go that route.

Today, my practice in working with who I am has to do with my garden. I only grow things that I can eat, for starters, but I also am really only interested in planting and harvesting. The in between growing part is not my thing. Not so keen on weeding or hilling potatoes, or thinning the rows—unless I can eat the fruits of my labour.

Which brings me to weed salad. It turns out most of the weeds in my garden are edible, and not only edible, but delicious and nutritious. Dandelion, chickweed, lamb's quarters, pigweed, are all edible. So I have been making a practice of having weed salads for supper. And in the process, my garden gets weeded, since once I'm there, picking my salad greens, I am likely to pull up any weeds that are close to going to seed, or any that are choking out the plants I purposely planted.

So I could feel guilty about not weeding (which I am never going to make room in my busy schedule to do, since there are a 1,000 things I'd rather be doing), or I could eat the weeds. A delicious solution!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

My Favourite BlendTec Recipes

In the past month or so, I have learned more reasons to love the BlendTec blender I received for Christmas. I've been appreciating the silky smoothies, and my kids (and I) were delighted to discover a vegan chocolate frosty recipe that can double as fudgesicles, and which is the only way that I can get G to eat avocado.

I was also recently saddened to discover I was at the bottom of my favourite Green & Black's hot chocolate mix until I realized that in the list of ingredients they tell you the percentages of dark chocolate and cocoa powder, and there is only one other ingredient: raw cane sugar. Using my powers of deduction, I worked out a recipe, and ground up 4 oz Trader Joe's 72% dark chocolate, 7/8 cups Dutch process cocoa powder and 1 1/2 cups of raw coconut sugar in my trusty blender, et voila! I had made my very own rich and delicious hot chocolate mix! I'll never spend $10 on a jar of Green & Black's again, unless of course I am tragically separated from my BlendTec.

Then there was the 10-day cleanse that I managed to squeeze in between Easter and a trip to the Okanagan Food & Wine Writers' workshop in Kelowna (more on that later, but for now, I will say, a) I don't recommend coming off a cleanse by attending a Food & Wine Writers' workshop, and b) I've found my people!). My BlendTec made it much easier to cope with the prospect of eating only liquids for three of the 10 days. My liquids included butternut squash soup (with the onion 'sautéed' in water instead of oil) and avocado soup, some of which I froze, and brought along post-cleanse to a dinner party, topped a roasted corn pico de gallo made with some of my frozen salsa from last tomato season, with roasted corn, lime juice, fresh cilantro and finely chopped cucumber added. This is much more than a health food.

But probably my most favourite discovery was homemade vegetable broth powder. Sorry OXO, sorry Knorr, I am forever lost to you (well, I was already lost to them, but I do appreciate the convenience of a soup stock powder now that I've discovered a homemade version). Late at night when I was feeling sorry for myself for not being able to eat 'real' food, and also feeling extra cold because this particular spring cleanse took place during one of the coldest spring in living memory, I relished drinking a cup of this salty, steaming, nourishing soup. But that's not all…I have also discovered it works amazingly well as a seasoning salt. I have many more experiments to conduct with it, but so far I have added it to breading for fish, as well as a topping for popcorn (along with duck fat. Yes. You read that right).

This stuff is amazing! So delicious, so easy to make, and so many potential uses. You may not need a BlendTec in order to make some of these recipes, but if you're looking for a new blender, you may want to consider it. And no, they're not paying me for my endorsement.