It’s The Holidays - Chill Out! [15-Minute Grainy Sausage Apple & Fennel Stuffing]

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If you’re celebrating Thanksgiving today, you’re probably feeling that all too familiar cocktail of nerves, excitement and yes, maybe a little exhaustion. 

Planning for the holidays is tough, often prolonged work. You mull over menu items, figure out dietary restrictions, shop, prep vegetables, appetizers and side dishes, spend a full weekend cooking and then, just like that, it’s over in a matter of bites. And maybe, like me, you sometimes feel a bit guilty that all that time spent stressing out could have been better spent in good company, chilling out, sipping a glass of wine with visiting family and planning a menu that came together extremely quickly, but still deliciously. 

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I make this stuffing almost every year for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. The main ingredients are all plenty flavourful making it less necessary to pump it full of extra spices and ingredients. Using less but making the most of the few things you are using is the easiest and most satisfying way to swap those kitchen hours for chill-time. The stuffing comes together in a hurry and bakes quickly so you can spend your holiday being Thankful instead of exhausted. 

Grainy Sausage Apple & Fennel Stuffing
makes 4 servings

I recommend dicing all the ingredients fairly small so the cooking time is reduced on them. If you have more than 15-20 minutes, feel free to make veg/bread/sausage a bigger dice. 

Recipe can easily be doubled/tripled. 


1 1/2 cups cubed Hillshire Farm Smoked Sausage
2 tbsp olive oil or butter
1/2 large onion, small dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large Gala apple, small dice
1 fennel bulb, small dice
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tbsp fresh Italian parsley, minced
4 cups multigrain bread, cubed
1/2 - 1 cup chicken/veg stock
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 425. 

In a large pan over med-high heat add the sausage, oil/butter, onion, garlic, apple and fennel. Saute until onions are translucent, 2-3 minutes. Add in the parsley and thyme. 

Pour vegetable mixture over the bread cubes and add enough stock to moisten the mixture, about 1/2 cup to start. Stir in the egg. Pour into a greased baking dish and bake for 10-15 minutes or until mixture is golden brown and fennel is cooked through. 

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This is a sponsored post. Hillshire Farm sponsored it and compensated me via a cash payment, gift, or something else of value to write it. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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To Melt. To Thaw. [Portered French Onion Soup with Île-aux-Grues Cheddar]

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This recipe comes at just the right time. When our bodies are craving warmth and solace from the bitter cold. The mercury seems to be on a never ending nose dive into the 30 belows and as it makes it’s decent, our bones stiffen, muscles tighten and groan as we reluctantly emerge from our blanket-covered indentations on the couch. We need to melt, to thaw our winter-permeated bones and come back to life. 


This soup will do just that. Every blistering spoonful, oozing like lava with sharp, buttery cheddar warms the soul from the inside out. I like to eat it when it’s so hot that it will likely leave your tongue slightly burned - a price I’m happy to pay for a soup that battles this unwavering chill. 

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French Onion Soup takes very few ingredients to construct and you’ve likely got most of them on hand right now. At it’s core; stock, onions, bread, cheese. But I’ve pumped it up slightly with a deep, dark, bitter porter. You can buy Trafalgar Cognac Aged Porter at some LCBO but if you can’t find it, substitute for another high quality porter that you enjoy drinking (that’s important!). Use a good quality stock, preferably homemade, and a cheese that’s sharp and melts to a rich, gooey  consistency. 

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Portered French Onion Soup with Île-aux-Grues Cheddar 
serves 4-6, depending on portion size

You can buy
 Île-aux-Grues Cheddar at The Red Apron in Ottawa. If you want to give this another dimension of flavour, a smoked porter would be a lovely addition.

3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
5 large onions, sliced thin into half moons
salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups porter
6 cups high quality beef stock
2 sprigs fresh thyme
8  thick-cut slices of baguette
1 1/2 cups grated aged cheddar 

Let the butter/olive oil heat up in a large dutch oven over medium heat. When sizzling, add the sliced onion. Cook, stirring every few minutes, until onions are deep brown and sweet. Be patient with this step, it should take about 30 minutes to get them a beautiful, rich brown. 

Once the onions have turned to a buttery soft consistency, turn the heat up a notch and add the porter. Cook, scraping the bottom of the pan to get all the little stuck-on bits of onion up, until reduced slightly, 5 minutes. Add the stock and sprigs of thyme, a few pinches of salt and fresh ground pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and let it cook until reduced by about 20%. It should be deep brown, shimmering and taste rich and full. 

Turn your oven on to broil. Ladle soup into oven-safe ramekins or bowls and place 1-2 slices of baguette on top of the soup. Sprinkle bread with a generous (GENEROUS!) amount of cheese. Broil until cheese is bubbling brown and baguette has toasted lightly around the edges. 

Serve HOT. The steamier, the better. But eat carefully - I can’t promise you won’t burn your tongue. 

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Farmers, Chefs & Markets [Heirloom Tomato Tart w Lemon Ricotta & Cornmeal/Thyme Crust]



We rose, slower than usual, from our slumber Sunday morning, sipped our coffees as we rubbed our eyes, and had a small breakfast. We knew saving space in our tummies would pay off as we were in for a treat later in the afternoon. 

As we pulled into the parking lot of Brewer Park, the current home of the Ottawa Farmers Market, it was apparent that this was no regular day at the market. The parking lot swelled with cars and chipper market-goers toting bags spilling over with vibrant locally grown produce and fares. We parked, far quicker than we imagined, and set our sites on the white tent that stood taller and more elegantly than all the other vendor booths. This was where we would soon share a meal with locals food-lovers, farmers and chefs alike. This was Ottawa’s 2nd annual Harvest Table. 

Harvest Table is a much-anticipated yearly event, organized by Savour Ottawa, that offers patrons an opportunity to celebrate Ottawa’s ample harvest and culinary artistry by enjoying a meal with the hard working folks who both grow and prepared it. It brought some of the cities finest chefs, hardest working farmers and food-loving residents together under one charmingly decorated roof… err.. tent. 



As we wandered the market waiting for lunch to start, we happened upon the C’est Bon Cooking tour, offered with Cream of the Crop tickets ($75 as opposed to $60 for the lunch alone) and we listened in as Paola St George, tour guide extraordinaire, expertly navigated the market followed closely by a crowd of wide-eyed, eager guests hungry for every bit of information she had to offer… or maybe it was the tantalizing samples they were hungry for. Either way, people were happy. So happy. And it was lovely to see everyone so anxiously gobbling up the full market experience. We listened in for a few minutes as Andy Terauds, owner of Acorn Creek Gardens and vice-president of the market itself, spoke about his farm but trailed off when we spotted Somerford & Halls booth. [Side note: if you’ve not been to check out C’est Bon Cooking, I urge you to click through to the link above. Team building, cooking classes, Byward Market food tours, and so much more!] 

As we made our way to our table, Impromptu Strings setting the mood with their artfully performed classics, we took our seats, scanned the airy, outdoor space and breathed in the whole atmosphere. The tables were charming and simple, centerpieces made up of richly hued flowers and greens mixed with small tomatoes vines and kale, truly making use of every bit of summer’s harvest. Already present at the table was a platter of antipasti ripe with elk sausage, wild vegetables, edible flowers, soft cheeses and a deep purple blueberry ketchup. We passed it around the table as we acquainted ourselves with other diners over Kichessippi Beer’s Natural Blonde & a choice of either Chardonnay or Cab Franc from Casa-Dea Estates Winery. The Cab Franc was lovely; great acidity and a smooth plummy flavour. 



The antipasti platter disappeared as quickly as it came, and we were served course after course of exquisitely executed dishes; Chilled Strawberry Melon Soup with Goat Cheese, Grainy Potato Salad with generous hunks of egg, Harvest Table Farm Salad filled with local veg, Fresh Basil Ravioli with Tomato Sauce (easily my favourite - the ravioli were pan-fried similar to gnocchi and exploded with a warm, delicate basil filling), Roast Beef with Summer BBQ Sauce, Heritage Breed Pork Duo (pulled shoulder and belly), a vibrant Tomato & Zucchini Millefeuille with Goat Feta, Swiss Chard with Heirloom Carrots and Cinnamon Honey, New Fingerling Potatoes with Jalapeno & Onion Confit, and finally, a variety of tantalizing summer pies bubbling over with fresh fruit filling.

I’m not sure how we managed to avoid slipping into a food-induced slumber right there at the table while we digested our pie and applauded the work of restaurants, chefs, farmers & food producers, volunteers, organizers and sponsors for their magnanimous efforts in putting this event together. It was an experience I won’t soon forget. The honour of dining in the presence of those who have toiled endlessly (particularly after a hard, drought-filled summer) to grow and produce our food, and the chefs who work long, often-thankless hours to prepare dinner so we can sit back, relax and enjoy left me feeling an overwhelming amount of gratitude. When the option to attend rolls around next year, I hope you’ll join Savour Ottawa in celebrating our great city’s harvest, farmers and chefs - there are so few events that bring all of these together to truly tell a story of Ottawa’s food and people. 



After such a fantastic meal, I was inspired to create something with the beautiful heirloom tomatoes we grabbed on our way out. This tart is simple to make and so pretty to look at. I almost felt guilty cutting into it… but once I did, my guilt quickly faded away into the buttery layers of crunchy dough and sweet, warm tomatoes. 

 
Heirloom Tomato Tart with Lemon Ricotta & Cornmeal-Thyme Crust
makes 1 10” pie

Cornmeal-Thyme Pate Brisee
adapted from Martha Stewart

2 cups flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves (stems removed) 
1 cup unsalted butter, frozen cut into small pieces
1/4 – 1/2 cup ice water

In the bowl of your food processor, combine the flour, cornmeal, salt and thyme. Pulse the processor until butter pieces are about the size of a pea. Add water in 1 tbsp at a time until the dough starts to hold itself together. It should stick easily when pinched together. Dump the dough out and press together in a loosen ball. Divide in half and place each portion onto a piece of plastic wrap. Wrap each in the plastic and press into a flattened disc. Refrigerate for 1 hour (Make ahead: can be made 1 day ahead and kept in the fridge). 



Remove 1 round of dough from the fridge and roll out on a lightly floured surface to approximately 1/4” thick. Press your dough into a 10 x 1 1/2” pie plate. Trim the excess dough off the edges and crimp the edges if you’re into that sort of thing (I totally am, but as you can see, I’m not the best at it as a result of my big clobber mitts - you can just leave the crust as it is…we’ll call it rustic. Shhh!). Place in the fridge to cool for 30 minutes or until you’re ready to start prepping the filling. 



Filling
1lb Heriloom Tomatoes, sliced into rounds
1 tsp coarse salt
3/4 cup high quality ricotta
1 tbsp lemon zest (about 1 large lemon)
1/4 tsp salt
fresh ground pepper

Preheat oven to 350. 
Remove the tart shell from the fridge. Prick all over with a fork and bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. 

While the shell bakes, toss the sliced tomatoes and salt together in a colander. Let it sit in the sink or over a bowl, tossing gently every few minutes. 



In a small bowl, mix the ricotta, lemon zest and salt. Stir well to combine.  

Once pie is removed from the oven, turn heat up to 375. Spread the ricotta on the pre-baked pie shell. Arrange tomatoes around the pie plate in two layers. Give a few generous grinds of pepper and place in the oven until tomatoes are soft and reduced in size, about 40 minutes. If you notice the crust cooking too quickly, just lightly cover the pie with tin foil. 

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A Thyme Tequila [Lemon-Thyme Tequila Spritzer for Taste of Home]



Oh man! It’s Friday! 

You know what that means, right? Time to roll up your sleeves, crush up some ice, and end your busy week with something icy cold and brightly flavoured!

Taste of Home asked if I might be interested in submitting a cocktail recipe for their “Cocktail Friday” feature on the blog. Clearly, we have yet to become too acquainted or they would have know that I would jump at the mere mention of the word cocktail. I am a lady who believes a day is not complete without indulging in a beverage of the alcoholic varaiety. Yes, I have ousted myself as a lush, but I’m sure this isn’t news to you. Avert your judging eyes! 

I spent yesterday working on a Lemon-Thyme Tequila Spritzer that is as refreshing as it is soothing. Bright and citrus-packed with an herbal punch of flavour that first hits your nose and then delicately tickles your taste-buds. 

Follow the link for the recipe and you’ll be thanking me come 6pm tonight when you’re happily sipping on the perfect summer libation! 


 
[ps: bonus points to anyone who gets where I was going with the title of this post. I bet you clever chickadees got it right away!] 

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Eating. Simply. [Cream of Mushroom Soup]



Every so often I need to be reminded. 

That food is to be enjoyed, each bite relished in - not rushed through so I can edit photos and start writing. Meals are to be made because you want them - not because it’s been thismany days since you posted a recipe with thiskind of ingredient. Food is a gift - not a given. This article was my reminder. And a thought-provoking, somewhat shameful one, at that.

Blogging, as many of my peers know, can be a daunting task at times. It’s hard not to get wrapped up in the process of the planning, the cooking, the editing, the writing, the sharing… and somewhere in there the act of the eating gets lost. The simple pleasure of enjoying the meal just for the sake of enjoyment is a task I find myself pushing aside more and more often. To put the fork down and taste, really taste each bite fully - something I never thought I’d have to remind myself to do - is a practice in self-control. 



I’m trying to be better. To be more quiet and thoughtful in the presence of a meal. To appreciate the act of simply eating. And with that said, I’ll let todays simple, earthy mushroom soup speak for itself. 

Cream of Mushroom Soup
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1oz dried wild mushrooms 
3 cups hot water
¼ cup olive oil
3 sprigs of both thyme and sage, tied together
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp red pepper flakes, optional
1 pound button mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed and sliced 
1 pound shiitake mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed and sliced 
1 cup dry white wine
Salt & fresh ground pepper
3 cups organic or homemade beef stock
¼ cup table cream
2 tbsp. butter



Place the dried mushrooms in a bowl and cover them with hot water for 30 minutes until plump. Remove the mushrooms and strain the mushroom water through a coffee filter set in a bowl to remove excess grit. Set mushrooms and soaking liquid aside. 

In a large pot over medium-high heat, add the oil and bundle of herbs. As the oil heats up the herbs will start to infuse it with flavour. After 2 minutes, add the onions. Cook until just starting to brown, 5 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, if using, and cook for another minute. 

Turn the heat up to high and add the sliced mushrooms. Cook for 10 minutes or until they have released all their moisture. They will shrink considerably.  Once browned, add the white wine and cook, scraping up all the browned bits on the bottom of the pot, until reduced completely. Add the rehydrated mushrooms and their liquid, beef stock, a few pinches of salt and pepper and simmer over medium heat for 30 minutes.  Remove the herbs and stir in the cream and butter. Using a blender (or immersion blender), puree until smooth
 and serve with a drizzle of good olive oil, fresh thyme leaves and crusty bread. 

  

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