My past with food isn’t as glamorous as I sometimes wish it was. I didn’t learn to mix, knead and roll pasta with my grandmother on Sundays and I wasn’t teetering on my tip toes, nose barely reaching the counter, while my Dad taught me how to break down a chicken, sear it to a golden brown and simmer it in tomatoes and capers, olives and hot peppers. It wasn’t my reality. There are times I feel nostalgic for the stories of those whose family and food lives were wrapped around each other like a sturdy vine, but I forget that I, too, have a past in food, glamorous or not.
The older I get the more I remember the things I did learn about food from my family. They may not be the stories I longed for or the romantic ones some of my friends and peers can tell, but they were the ones that shaped me. My Dad passed along his fearlessness towards all food. Mold? Just cut it off and carry on. Leftovers there for a while? Details, details - just eat it. Expiry dates? A mere suggestion. He joked endlessly about liver and onions, terrifying my sister and I at the thought of having to join him at the table. He ate any cut, any way. If there was something on a menu that he hadn’t heard of before, there was an 80% chance it would arrive in front of him minutes later. At the time I may not have appreciated his ways with food, but theses days I embrace them. He made me a fearless eater, never one to turn anything down, never afraid to try anything at least once. Especially creamy, mayonnaise-filled items like chicken salad, egg salad, any kind of canned meat… I was my fathers daughter and it made me proud to say that I liked what he liked.
Years later, when it was just my mom and I living in her place, I learned how to cook the first meals I made for my friends and first real boyfriend. Meaty spaghetti sauces studded with big hunks of tomato (something that made my sister squirm in disgust), tomato soup jazzed up with a hit of Worcestershire sauce, tabasco and melted cheese slice that I still crave today when I’m under the weather, dreamy whipped mashed potatoes that I can still claim as the best I’ve ever had and still make today, much to Al and my friend’s delight. She taught me that cooking for people made them feel special and showed them how much you cared for them. It was a high I still haven’t come down from despite not getting into cooking until I was about 24. Sunday dinners at her place brought us all together so we could slow down, laugh hysterically and tell our stories from the week. I still relish her cooking and it always makes me feel important and loved when she cooks for us.
My best friend, Amanda, is Lebanese. She comes from the kind of food background that I’ve always longed for. Her mother cooks everything from scratch. When I used to go there, back when I was only just learning to love cooking, I remember seeing hot peppers from her garden drying on the window sill. Amanda explained that she would grind them and use that as seasoning in her dishes. That nearly blew my mind. Do people do that? Don’t spices come from a clear jar with a sage-green lid in the spice aisle? She would feed us labneh, a soft cheese made with strained yogurt (also homemade) and I would sit, bewildered at her dedication to feeding her family ingredients that she pulled from the garden or created from a few humble items in her fridge. Her cooking is a nudge to her past, rich with tradition and memories of Lebanon. I remember Amanda always felt a bit weird about her entirely ethnic lunches (at least to suburban kids who ate french fries or peanut butter sandwiches for lunch), and I would be lying if I said we weren’t all a bit put off by them in the high school cafeteria, but those are the meals I now hope I can feed my kids someday. Meals rich in culture and tradition, meals that have a past and a story to them. Meals and ingredients that I made with my two hands. Ones that I might even be able to say Mary Melhem, your Aunt Amanda’s mom, taught me about when I was just a bratty 10th grader.
All of these stories shaped the way I cook, the way I eat and my relationship with food. Though I longed for more then, I realize now that I couldn’t want for any more. Fearlessness and an open mind, the knowledge that cooking equates to loving and that making a meal for someone is the best way to show them you care, and a dedication to create meals from scratch for my family and share the tradition and stories behind them.
Egg salad always reminds me of my Dad. He liked his creamy and mayonnaise-filled (expired or not) and studded with green olives. I haven’t eaten egg salad in a long time but when I do, I prefer mine a touch healthier and with plenty of flavour from tarragon, pickled celery and hot sauce. I still thought of him as I spread it thick on bread and took a monstrous bite as the salad pushed out the sides like toothpaste.
Healthier Egg Salad with Pickled Celery and Tarragon
makes 4 sandwiches
Though this recipe is mostly mine, I did use Smitten Kitchen's idea of picking the celery. This adds such a welcome kick of sour bite to the salad without having to bite down on a pickle. Unless you're into that sort of thing, in which case - add a few pickles diced really tiny.
Hard boiled egg method courtesy of 101Cookbooks. Follow it to the tee and you’ll have perfect eggs every time.
1/4 cup (2 stalks) celery, diced
1/2 cup pickle brine (from dill pickles, sweet gherkins, pickled jalapenos)
6 hard boiled eggs, method follows
2 tbsp plain Greek yogurt
1 tbsp fresh tarragon, minced
1 tbsp Tabasco sauce (or favourite hot sauce)
1 tsp dijon
1 tbsp caper berries (2 tbsp if you really like them)
1/2 tsp salt
plenty of fresh ground pepper to taste
sliced whole wheat bread
romaine, kale or greens of your choice
Place the diced celery in a pickle brine of your choice. I used jalapeno because I wanted that spicy kick. Let it sit in the brine for at least 45 minutes up to overnight.
Have a bowl of ice water ready. Place your eggs in a pot and cover by 1-2” with cold water. Bring to a gentle boil, turn off the heat, cover and let them sit for exactly 7 minutes. Plunge into the ice water and let cool for at least 3 minutes to stop the cooking process.
Peel the eggs, place in a big bowl with the celery, greek yogurt, tarragon, Tabasco, dijon, capers lots of pepper and salt. Mash everything together, paying most attention to the eggs, until you’re left with a well combined, coarse textured salad. Taste and adjust to your liking. Spread a nice, thick layer onto bread and top with greens of your choice. Place the second slice of bread on top and take a big, messy bite.
Was your childhood ripe with tradition and history in food or did you have a past similar to mine?
It’s Monday and I’m playing hooky.
Alright, you got me. I’m not playing hooky. I’m not brave enough to do things like that. In actuality, my office access card seems to be on the fritz so I was told I could just go home. Isn’t that wonderful?
Lucky for me, I seem to have gotten a day off on the one gloriously sunny day of the week. Knowing that, I decided to take my time strolling home. Lazily sipped a latte, stopped in a few shops, and finally ended in my mecca, the grocery store.
Grocery shopping in the morning is much different than grocery shopping after work or in the evening. Shoppers, though few, are noticeably more pleasant, having not yet had to deal with the many stresses of daily routine. No one is waiting impatiently for you to get out of their way or racing to be the first one through the small passage way out of the produce aisles. It’s just lovely.
I picked up some asparagus with the intention of having it grilled with our steaks tonight, but when I noticed the almost sagging leaves of tarragon wasting away in the crisper, I decided I’d better use them before it was too late. Asparagus and tarragon are a lovely combination, one you should rush try if you haven’t already. The fresh, sweet asparagus and the bold anise-like tarragon bring out the best in each other. Roasting the asparagus delivers a lovely nutty kick to the pair. Add in some toasty almonds, garlic and Parmesan and you’ve got a creamy, earthy little pesto that is great with pasta or on fish or poultry. Because it was lunch and I was looking for a quick snack, I tossed some in with spaghetti for a creamy, light bite.
Spaghetti with Roasted Asparagus-Tarragon Pesto
If you don’t have spaghetti, your favourite pasta will do just fine!
1 lb spaghetti
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed of tough ends
Salt and pepper
1 clove garlic
2-3 tbsp fresh tarragon
handful almonds, toasted
1/2-3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Preheat oven to 350.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta until al dente according to package instructions. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water and strain.
While pasta is cooking, add asparagus spears to a roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Roast until spears are bright green but still have a little bite, about 6-7 minutes. Remove from oven and add to a blender, bullet or food processor. Throw in the garlic, tarragon, almonds (reserving a few to garnish), a pinch or two of salt and a good glug of olive oil. Give it a few whizzes until a you’ve achieved a smooth paste, adding more olive oil if necessary. Taste for seasoning and adjust to your liking.
Put pasta back in a big pot over medium heat and add half the pasta water, 1/2 cup of the pesto and the parmesan cheese. Toss to combine. If it’s a little too sticky, add more pasta water to loosen.
Serve with a drizzle of good olive oil, some chopped almonds, a grind or two of pepper and extra Parmesan.
It’s 1996. I’m 10 years old. I’m sitting in the family room of the house I grew up in, watching the newly released music video for Sheryl Crow’s If It Makes You Happy. My older sister is sitting beside me while my parents rhyme off rules for the first time they leave us home alone. And we’re eating Swanson’s Frozen Chicken Pot Pies.
I will always associate chicken pot pie with feelings of nervousness (the monsters were still living under the bed at that time), excitement, and Sheryl Crow. Always.
As a result of many frozen chicken pot pies as a little person (I know. So hard done by. Someone call Child Services.) I never had any interest in trying them as an adult, much less taking the time to make them at home. Silly me. What was I thinking? Everything tastes better when it’s homemade. Except maybe beer or wine. I’ll let the pros do that for me.
It’s still cold and snowy (and then rainy. and then snowy…) in Ottawa and feels like it’s going to be this way for a while longer before we see any signs that Mother Nature wants to ease up. It seems to be wearing thin on a lot of the city and everyone is dealing with the winter-will-never-end cold/flu/allergies as a result. Allan and I are included in this sorry bunch, unfortunately. Not sleeping well, constantly congested and sneezy/sniffly, coughy. All those fun things!
I don’t care if you’re Tony Little (you know? Tony Little. The Gazelle guy. Jeez!) or you body is a temple or if you’re trying to lose 10lbs before your 20 year high school reunion… when you’re sick, you need comfort food. End of story. If you deprive yourself of that God given right, I bet you anything you will be sick for longer. It’s a proven fact… (…probably?).
These little pot pies are not necessarily something you want to make on a weeknight, but rather, on a day when you have some time to strap on your apron, turn on some Billie Holiday, and really enjoy the process. Had I not been going away this weekend, I might have followed my own advice. Instead, I rushed to get them done on a Tuesday. I maintain that it’s all for you guys. It makes me feel better.
As I’ve mentioned before, I am not the greatest with dough or dough-related recipes. I have a heavy hand and a tendency to think recipe quantities are merely ‘suggestions’ which is not true when it comes to baking or dough. Being precise in your measurements is extremely vital for doughs to turn out flaky and tender. That being said, I followed this one exactly and it turned out a perfect crust. The best I’ve ever made. (horn = tooted). As for the pie filling, it’s creamy, rich and packed with chicken, vegetables, mustard and tarragon. Don’t miss out on this one, folks. It’s a home run. And will slap the sickness right our of your body. And if you’re not sick, it might just slap you right in the face. Saucy little pies!
Mustard-Tarragon Chicken Pot Pie
Adapted from The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook
2 sticks unsalted butter (try to use a goodish butter here)
2 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
3-6 Tbsp ice water
Cut up the butter into very small pieces and place in the refrigerator or freezer while you work with the other ingredients.
Place the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter pieces and pulse until mixture forms coarse small crumbs, about 10 – 15 seconds. Add 3 Tbsp ice water to the mixture and pulse until dough comes together a bit and holds together when you pinch the dough between your fingers.
Pour the dough out onto a cutting board and shape into a ball without over working the dough. Divide into 2 pieces and shape each into a flat round disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour.
2 large (3-4 small) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup heavy cream
4 carrots, peeled and medium diced
1 zucchini, medium diced
5 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 large yellow onion, chopped
5 Tbsp flour
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup cognac
2-3 tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped
2-3 tbsp Dijon mustard (I use 3, but I like it mustardy)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp water
Preheat the oven to 350. Place the chicken in a baking dish in a single layer. Pour the cream over the chicken and bake for 25-40 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken breasts.
Remove the chicken from the cream, reserving the cream for the sauce. Once the chicken has cooled, cut it into 1 inch pieces.
Boil a medium pot of water and add the carrots. Cook until almost fork tender, 7 minutes. They will finish cooking in the oven with the pies.
Melt the butter in a wide sauté pan, add the onions and cook until translucent. Sprinkle in the flour, stir and cook 5 minutes, but do not brown. Slowly add the broth to the onion mixture, whisking until the sauce smooths out and thickens. Add the cream, cognac, tarragon, and mustard. Taste and season appropriately with salt and pepper.
Add the chicken, zuchini, and carrots to this sauce and mix gently. Pour mixture into a 2 quart casserole, soufflé dish, or large ramekins for individual pot pies.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Roll out the pastry dough so you have a circle of dough large enough to go over the edges of your bowl. (I made them fit IN the ramekins and they shrunk, so bigger is better if you like flaky dough.) Press down the pastry edges, folding them as necessary. Beat together the egg and water and brush over the top of the pastry to give a nice glossy finish to the crust. Cut a few steam vents in the pastry and bake for 25 minutes until golden brown.
If you’re looking for a wine to pair with this, I have just the one for you. Claire, who is the endlessly talented wine blogger over at Foodieprints, suggested I try a Chardonnay (very specifically, anAu Bon Climat chardonnay, though I was unable to find it so settled for a Menage a Trois variety) to cut through the vinegar in the mustard and help bring out the cream and tarragon. I have never really been too saavy when it comes to pairing wines, and don’t often have ‘the perfect match’. But this… this was something. This wine, which I likely would not drink on it’s own, was the wine for the pot pies. It made every bite feel complete, balancing all the flavours and elevating them to a new level. If you haven’t visited FoodiePrints before, I urge you to do so. If not for the well composed, informative and witty posts from Don and Jenn, then for the seemingly infinite wine wisdom of Claire.