My parents gave us our kitchen table. Or maybe it's a loan. We've never worked out the details.

Either way, it is a table that's been around since I was a kid. The seat of one of the chairs bears scratches from the dog we had when I was in university. It's been in the home of my parents, my brother, and now my own.

Our table shows its age. The finish is waxy here, worn down there. When the humidity is high, the surface feels tacky. Over the summer, the boys and I were making a birthday card, and there was glitter. Since then, in spite of the newspaper we'd laid out in protection, the tabletop has boasted a random patina of tiny sparkles. I've scrubbed, but the shining scatter remains, a glimmering finish of silver and gold, shot through with turquoise. Subtle at times, and a flashing metallic at the right angle. 

Around here, peanut butter toast is presented with a disco ball backdrop. Granola gets sequins.

Short Rib Minestrone by Tara O'Brady

A week-and-a-half ago, when I shared the news of my book, I was sitting at that table. And, dear readers, you shone with such light. Your response outshone everything. You were the shiniest part of my day. 

That evening, I made my mother's minestrone.  

I should say, traditional or not, Mum's is the version against which I judge all minestrones. Hers has a tomato base, and a bit of beef, then it's bulky with vegetables. When I was growing up, she'd use what was around, maybe corn and peas, always beans and carrots, and different shapes of pasta. What tied it together was oregano. The combination of oregano and tomato, the sweetness of the vegetables and the underlying savoriness of the beef, made it one of my favourite suppers. I'd blanket my bowl with a heap of grated Parmesan and enough black pepper to make me sneeze, and go to town. 

I still love how the cheese slumps into the soup, both creamy and salty, turning into chewy strands.

Short Rib Minestrone by Tara O'Brady

We had it again for dinner on Sunday. I'd craved it since there were no leftovers from that last batch. 

The butcher had short ribs on Saturday. Those became the foundation of my minestrone. Braised simply in a tomato and vegetable broth, the meat goes tender, the fat melting into the cooking liquid. The ribs were left overnight, then turned to soup the next afternoon. A quick base of onions, celery and zucchini was cooked with olive oil, dried oregano and garlic, then in went the braising liquid, broth and carrots. The vegetables were given time, cooked to the point they lost some colour but gained all the richness of the broth; the squash especially, as I wanted nothing of the woolliness often found and its centre. The short ribs followed into that mix, accompanied by two types of beans. After another simmer, everything was done, meeting up with bowls of pasta and greens at the table, vinegar for dripping, deeply green splotches of oregano oil, and the aforementioned cheese. 

Think of that oregano oil as a rough-and-ready cheat's take on an Italian salsa verde. It takes seconds to make, yet the almost aggressive hit of fresh herbs, garlic and chili is what lends moxie to the mellowed, stewy goodness of the soup. It is enthusiastically edgy. And on the topic of the pasta, I like a short, fat variety, think tubetti or macaroni, a kind that has a comforting chew, a sense of substance against the yield of the meat, beans and vegetables. 

Short Rib Minestrone by Tara O'Brady

I like this soup for many reasons, for how it feeds a crowd, and for how it can be stretched even further to feed more; for its changeability and adaptability dependant upon season and circumstance;  how it can use up leftovers, or made from scratch without fuss. I like that it is a soup I've known for as long as I can remember, for as long as we've had our kitchen table, and for the fact I get to introduce it to you.

Thanks again for that. 

SHORT RIB MINESTRONE

While there’s quite a list of ingredients here, and the preparation starts the day ahead, the active time is modest and the effort is blessedly easy on the cook. It’s a case of a lot of things stirred into a pot, twice over. Neither the braising ribs or the simmering soup require babysitting, which is to say, for its length, this recipe fits suits a lazy mood surprisingly well. 

 It is hard to pin down an exact measurement on the vegetable stock, but if you have 1 1/2 quarts to use between the ribs and the soup, that should be enough. Keeping both the pasta and greens separate from the minestrone means that with leftovers the noodles won't get mushy and the greens won't overpower or discolour the broth. Speaking of which, I use vegetable broth instead of beef because Mum's minestrone was very much a vegetable soup with beef, rather than the other way around. 

FOR THE SHORT RIBS

  • 2 1/2 pounds bone-in short ribs
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 red onion, peeled and quartered through the root end
  • 1 carrot, cut into chunks
  • 1 celery stalk, cut into chunks
  • 3 garlic cloves, bruised but left whole
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or a slosh of red wine
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes
  • Vegetable broth or water, as needed
  • 1 bay leaf, fresh or dried

FOR THE SOUP

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 red onion, medium dice
  • 1 celery stalk, small dice
  • 2 small zucchini, medium dice
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Vegetable broth or water, as needed
  • 2  carrots, medium dice, or left larger if skinny 
  • 2 cups cooked borlotti or cannellini beans
  • Approximately 6 ounces, a few handfuls, yellow wax or green beans, finely sliced

TO FINISH

  • 4 ounces tubetti, cooked al dente (check package instruction), then tossed with a glug of olive oil while hot
  • Baby spinach, Tuscan kale or Swiss chard leaves, in shreds
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Oregano oil (see note)

 

 

METHOD

The day before serving, season the short ribs generously with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours, then remove ribs from the fridge and bring to room temperature. Preheat an oven to 350°F / 175°C. 

Heat the olive oil in a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown the short ribs well on all sides. Transfer to a rimmed plate, then pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from the pot. Reduce the heat to medium.

Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic to the pot, and cook, stirring often, until properly golden and starting to catch in places, around 6 to 8 minutes. Clear the vegetables to the sides of the pot. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, until the paste is caramelized, maybe 2 minutes. Stir vegetables into paste and cook for 1 minute more. Splash in the vinegar to deglaze, scraping and stirring up any sticky bits. Add the short ribs back to the pot, along with any accumulated juices, then the tomatoes and their liquid. Tamp down the tomatoes, giving them a bit of a prod and squish. Pour in enough vegetable broth or water so that the ribs are halfway submerged. Tuck in the bay leaf. Bring the pot to the boil, cover, and pop into the oven.

Cook until the ribs are tender, approximately 2 1/2 hours. Skim the liquid of any impurities, then move ribs to a large bowl. Strain liquid over the meat through a fine-meshed sieve, pushing the vegetables through. Let cool completely to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

About 2 hours before you want to eat, spoon any fat from the surface of the short ribs and cooking liquid. Leave the the pot at room temperature to lose its chill, say around an hour, then remove the short ribs on a rimmed plate. Set aside the liquid.

To make the soup, heat olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onions, celery and zucchini. Season with salt, pepper and oregano, then cook, stirring often, until the vegetables begin to take on colour, maybe 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring the entire time. Strain the short rib liquid into 8-cup measure, add enough stock to bring to 8 cups. Add the liquid and the carrots to the pot. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer. Let the soup bubble for 30 minutes, stirring regularly. Remove the bones from the short ribs, shred and/or chop the meat into irregularly bite-sized pieces and add to the pot, as well as all the beans. Cook until vegetables tender, 15 minutes or thereabouts. Check for seasoning, and add more broth or water if the soup has become too thick.

To serve, spoon a mound of pasta into each bowl, then greens. Ladle on the hot soup. Place the cheese, vinegar and herb oil on the table, letting folks help themselves.

Enough for 6 to 8.   

Note:

  • To make the oregano oil, use a food processor to pulse together 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil with 3 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves, 1 tablespoon flat-leafed parsley, a few pinches dried chili flakes, salt and freshly-ground black pepper, until finely chopped.
  • The ribs can be doubled, though you're going to need a bigger pot. Store those extra for another day, with the all braising veg and some of the cooking liquid. Serve over soft polenta.
  • This can be made leftover meat instead. Simply skip the braising steps and go straight to the soup section, adding tomatoes and a bay leaf to the broth. It can also be vegetarian by following a similar tactic, and doubling the beans (chickpeas are particularly good) instead.  

 

 

 

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::

Here we are, under two-weeks-and-counting until Thanksgiving; my bar none favourite holiday of the year. There's a laundry list of things to do between that day and this, but I've got one thing settled - a secret to stash away in case of emergency on those busy days - and it goes like this: honey and toasted nutmeg ice cream.

It was in between plans of roasts and butter rolls that I started to consider a spiced ice cream. Not for the main event, as there's tradition firmly in place for that - intended instead as a ramp up to those times of feast and family. The theory was a sound one, as, in practice, having a pint of frozen ambrosial goodness sets a humming tone of anticipation for what's to follow.

I like it alone, and I'd like it with an apple cake or a slice of pumpkin pie. In the case of the latter I think the two custards, one frozen and one, well, pie - similarly smooth but contrasting in temperature and heft - would be particularly nice on a shared plate. Or if, say, this ice cream was employed to simultaneously spark the warmth and soothe the sour of that plum crumble I talked about before, that would work too.

IMG_59365

Having said that, I don't know if I'd want it in mounded servings. A smallish scoop suits me fine, and a smallish spoon too. There's a reason behind this uncharacteristic moderation; despite the short list of ingredients, this ice cream's taste develops slowly on the palate. It meanders. It slips along on a base of cream, and the combination of honey and nutmeg is carried to a station greater than its beginning.

And on that note, there was a point as I whisked eggs and the cream steeped, that the combined scents of the two mixtures on the counter reminded me, worryingly, of eggnog. Our relationship is tempestuous, that between the Nog and me. It starts out festive and merry but often ends in the overstepping of boundaries and things taken too far.

I'm not ready to rekindle the romance; it is one best saved for the end of the year.

Lucky for me then, that when combined, there's a levelling to the egg and the spice. While the first introduction of this ice cream might be a vague suggestion of yuletide cheer, the actual impression it leaves is altogether different.

Without the boozy undertones of rum or bourbon or brandy, whatever your mix — and I'm not critisicing a boozy undertone, as I am a big fan — but without that alcoholic throatiness, the nutmeg blooms broader; with a tickling heat, yes, and also a higher, flowery, perfumed taste that is in beautiful cooperation with the honey's similar disposition.

(But don't let my particular mood stop the addition of a spirited pour into the mix.)

 So there you are, set for Thanksgiving. And October. And Wednesdays. 

nutmeg honey ice cream

HONEY AND TOASTED NUTMEG ICE CREAM

Adapted from Saveur Issue #134.

I have made this ice cream once with egg yolks alone and again with whole eggs. The batch with whole eggs had a clearer, brighter flavour of honey and spice. As one would expect, the egg yolks afforded a silkier custard, which had its own merit

In the dead of winter, in need of a cold-weather-worthy ice cream and feeling particularly blithe, I might try it with 8 egg yolks for kicks. Go with what works for you.

Ingredients

1 whole nutmeg

1 1/2 cups milk

1 1/2 cups heavy cream (35%), divided

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup liquid honey

6 egg yolks or 4 whole eggs, see head note

1/8 teaspoon salt

Grate 2 teaspoons of nutmeg into a small skillet. Toast the ground nutmeg over medium heat until aromatic, around 2 minutes. Remove to a bowl and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine the milk and 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Add the rest of the (whole) nutmeg to the pot with the milk mixture and bring to a simmer over moderate heat. Remove from heat and allow to steep for 10 minutes. 

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks (or whole eggs, if using) with the sugar, honey and salt. Pouring in a thin, steady stream, whisk in the hot milk mixture into the eggs. Tansfer the mixture back to the pan and cook, stirring, until thickened, 8-10 minutes. Pour custard through a fine-meshed sieve into a clean bowl. Stir in the remaining 1 cup heavy cream and toasted nutmeg; cover custard lightly and chill. 

Churn in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's direction then transfer to an airtight container and freeze until set.

Makes 1 quart.

Notes:

  • The type of honey used will greatly impact the ice cream's flavour. A wildflower honey will be subtle and almost fresh, with the cream coming through, while a more robust buckwheat will be far more prominent.
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mushrooms, and there's toast.

Mushrooms on toast. Mushrooms on toast. Mushrooms on toast! Or, as pictured, mushrooms and toast.

So that didn't work. Nothing I do, no matter how I say it, can make mushrooms on toast sound as though they are all that exciting. But boy, am I excited about them. In fact, they've been all I want to eat these days.

And so, after a too long absence that has me eager to bring you trays of chocolates and sweets, of cakes miles high and swathed in seven-minute frosting, in my way of saying I'm glad to see you, I'm here instead with a plate full of everydayness. But robust everdayness - toasted bread and a tumble of mushrooms, with their tawny edges tanned and glistening.

Though simple, they are far from plain and even farther from boring. From Jamie at Home, by Jamie Oliver, the mushrooms are meaty, substantial and all-around good stuff. 

I made them the first time to share for a November lunch. The next day, I had them again for a solitary late-morning breakfast, free in my singularity to shamelessly drag my toast across the skillet in which the mushrooms had cooked, lest I miss an ounce of their liquor that was left behind. 

That first time we ate them as is, piled on slices of grilled bread, and for the second time I perched a poached egg just so. Another time there were irregular chunks of creamy buffalo mozzarella cozied up on the plate.

Never you mind all of that though, to begin I think it best to go with this dish in its purest - straight up, nothing to get in the way of what we have going on here.

What that exactly is, is mushrooms with attitude. The first succulent bite had me sit up straighter and pull my chair an inch closer to the table.

november lunches

Where I think the draw lies in this dish is in how the the mushrooms are cooked - everything's added in stages to gain the greatest advantage of their qualities. Into a pour of olive oil alone goes the mushrooms, then the garlic, chili and thyme. As they cook, their moisture is released, the aromatics open up and perfume the steam as it puffs from the pan. The liquid condenses soon enough and then it's time to feed in a knob or two of butter, which glosses all, adding richness and roundness. A few drops of lemon, then the transformative ingredient - water - to end. Yes, water.

It's the lynchpin to this whole business of mushrooms on toast, I'm telling you.

That splash of water bubbles up, picking up all the stickiness around the skillet and turning into a surprisingly creamy, absolutely rich gravy. You'll fight for your share. Pick a craggy bread with enough bumps and pockets to catch that sauce and collect it into luscious pools. That's the best way to go.

Since we're chums and catching up, I'll mention that today's toast, the one I'm crummy with right now, is with aged cheddar and chili pepper jam. That one we'll save for another chat. For now, get on those mushrooms.

JAMIE OLIVER'S ULTIMATE MUSHROOM BRUSCHETTA

From the book Jamie at Home (Hyperion, 2008).

Recipe here.

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Wednesday; before and after.

A Year of Mornings and simply breakfast.

I am an avid fan of both of these works. While there is, admittedly, something slightly voyeuristic about the intimate glimpses of the every day, what is truly charming is the quiet beauty in them. These unstructured vignettes of domesticity are peaceful, restrained, and somehow elegant all at once.

Inspired by their efforts, I am starting a little project. Outside of my regular columns, for a week I will post a photo (maybe more) of compositions that spontaneously come together; moments as I come upon them, meals as we serve them. No styling, all in a standard format, minimal (if any) post production. No fidgeting or fussing.

It is a bit of whimsy on my part, but I hope you enjoy the peek nonetheless.

Maria and Stephanie's current project; a year of evenings, is already well underway.


A warm nibble for the cooler days ahead; spiced pumpkin scones. Photos courtesy of Deep Media.

“Don't you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils ..."

Sometimes I think I would really like to go back to school.

I could say that it was because I wanted to be surrounded by knowledge, or that I long for the daily exchange of ideas or that I crave an opportunity to stretch my mental boundaries. But, while all of that is well and good, I must be honest.

The thing that would most excite me about back-to-school would most likely be the stationery.

My love of lists is old news, I know. But it is a continuing, relentless habit. What you might not realize though is that the quirk is even deeper-rooted than the itemized collection of things to do; in fact, lists only scratch the surface of my fondness for writing things down, getting organized, and the supplies associated with both.

The whir of a label maker makes me happy. I have spread sheets detailing gifts given for holidays over the last five years. I was recently miffed to find out that Ikea had discontinued the glass jars I like for pantry storage. I have been known to colour code paper clips to best suit the subject matter they clamp. Seriously. And yes, I got made fun of for that one.

As you can well imagine, my level of commitment to eccentricity has led me down many an aisle of a stationery store. And so then you can imagine, I have bought enough stationery to be particular in my purchases. Rollerball, not ball point pens please. A mechanical pencil with no more than a 0.5 millimetre lead, thank you.

But back to the lists. My incessant scribbles need a home, and this brings me to my greatest love of school supplies - notebooks. Oh, how I adore a brand-new notebook. Whether tiny or fat, simple in its decoration or elaborate, a notebook smacks of promise and new beginnings. Some notebooks seem to make ideas flow easier; inspiring one to sit down and put thoughts to paper.

Throughout our house, our car and in my purse, you will find notebooks. Teeny tiny scratch pads for quick reminders are tucked in the junk drawer in the kitchen. On the desk is a thin, spiral bound notepad of my father's, containing a story about a squirrel I wrote in elementary school. A collection of journals line a shelf in the den, their contents spanning years of our lives. Innumerable recipes and food thoughts are jotted down on scraps of paper and tucked into random books and magazines, or take up books of their own.

It was in one of these (many) notebooks that I came upon a recipe for Spiced Pumpkin Scones and, as a bonus, a mystery. Reading it over, I realized that I had absolutely no recognition of the words whatsoever. Though in my handwriting, with notes and substitutions in the margin, I have absolutely no remembrance of where the recipe came from, or when I heard of it.

Mysterious provenance aside, I was charmed by prospect of lightly-spiced scones; perfect for the cooler weather forecast for the weekend. They were quick work through the use of a stand mixer. Butter is blended into dry ingredients, then liquids are added to that. Dump everything out onto a work surface, knead lightly, and you're done. All that is left is to cut the dough into the desired size and bake.

A scant 15 minutes later a tray full of proudly-puffed scones are yours to be enjoyed. The addition of cake flour helps to keep them tender, while the pumpkin purée adds moisture and pleasing saffron yellowness. Lovely on their own, even better with a smear of butter and a cup of tea. Simply delicious.

Wherever this recipe came from, I am so glad I had someplace to write it down.

Some of my favourite stationery sources are:
Russel + Hazel, See Jane Work, Etsy, and of course the classic, Moleskine.

Spontaneous moments often end up overshadowing the most stylized effort. While enjoying these little bites outside, the cooling rack was momentarily placed amongst the stones. I was so taken by the texture of the crumbly, crackled scones against the gravel, I felt compelled to include the image here.

Spiced pumpkin scones
Of unknown origin, but so tasty that I am tempted to claim them as my own.

Ingredients
2 cups cake flour
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground clove
1 cup (1/2 pound, 2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, diced
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup canned pumpkin purée (unsweetened)
2/3 cup 18% (table, coffee) cream, chilled
1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons of milk or cream, for egg wash
Granulated or sanding sugar, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Use parchment paper to line a standard baking sheet and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, combine the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. On the machine's lowest setting, cut in the chilled butter until the mixture resembles course meal. The butter should be in small pieces approximately the size of peas.

Lightly whisk together the eggs, pumpkin purée and cream. With the machine running still on low (or stir), pour the liquids slowly into the flour and butter mixture, stirring until just combined. Small bits of butter should still be visible, but almost all the flour should be incorporated.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Working quickly, gently knead the dough, folding and pressing gently until fairly smooth. Divide the dough into four, and shape each ball of dough into a 4" round about 3/4"-1" thick. Cut each round into six wedges, and place on the prepared baking sheet. Once finished, brush each scone with the egg wash and sprinkle with granulated or sanding sugar.

Bake in preheated oven for about 15 minutes, or until the the tops are lightly golden and the cut sides look flaky and dry. When fully cooked, they should feel light for their size and sound almost hollow when tapped underneath. Cool on a wire rack for at least 5 minutes. Best served warm.

Makes 24 medium scones.

Notes:

• 1 tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice can be substituted for the individual spices.
• The scones can be frozen before baking. After cutting them out, place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze uncovered. Once firm to the touch, remove to an airtight container or a freezer bag and store. To bake, take the scones from the freezer and preheat the oven. Wait 10 extra minutes after your oven has reached temperature, then egg wash and sugar the scones. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until cooked through.
• These can be made without the aid of a stand mixer. Use a pastry cutter or two knives to cut the butter into the flour, then stir in the wet ingredients. Do not over mix, stir until just blended. From here, the method remains the same.
• If your kitchen is very warm, chill the cut scones for 15 minutes before baking for best results.