I spent the weekend hibernating in a book-writing cave located in Montréal, disguised as a hotel. (The cave was disguised, not me. And the cave metaphor, perfect in every way, belongs to Molly, not me.) I packed a lot of pens. And three notebooks. We took the train; I spent those travel hours proofreading all the pages of my book up to this point.

Fairmount Bagels + catching up | Tara O'Brady

It was a hefty stack of papers, 100-some-odd recipes, four years in the making, and countless in thought. Upon arriving in Montréal, I set up camp in the hotel and stayed put, save for some very good meals. Sean kept me caffeinated and supplied a box of these dreamy mint chocolates — thin rounds, dark and shining, mint-through-and-through, rather than the sort with the filling. I just ate the last of those chocolates, and for that, I am very sad.

I've long considered writing about this whole book process, the technical nitty-gritty and some of the more messy aspects. (Fear! Frustration! Caves. Reward! Drama.)  I've been composing it in my head, and in one of those notebooks. If the subject is something of interest to you, please let me know.

I've also wanted write about Montréal, properly. I tried before, but I know I've only scratched the surface of all I could say and I haven't done the city justice. Plus, I've got a list of the places I love that I'd be happy to share. Do give a nudge if you'd want to see that, too.

A propos of nothing, I'd really like this sandwich for lunch tomorrow. I'd say today, but inspired by one of this weekend's meals and a recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, I made a batch of roasted carrot hummus about 10 minutes ago, then jacked it up with Aleppo pepper. I'm only waiting for lunchtime to bundle it up in a collard green with pickled beets and avocado. I have a container of sorghum and another of lentils, cooked and ready, and one will join in. I could add tabbouleh, and make tzatziki or Angela's creamy lemon dill dressing, or tuck in sliced cucumbers. Or I could skip the tabbouleh and steam rapini and blitz a quick salsa verde. We'll see. I've not gotten that far yet.

Asparagus + Pea Soup with Crisp Beans | Tara O'Brady

In other news, I can finally explain the image on top of my (way-too-late-to-the-game) Facebook page. The photograph is part of a set shot for UPPERCASE magazine; an asparagus and pea soup, mild and musky and sweet, topped off with crisped beans with lemon and shallot. I'd eat that soup plain quite happily, and those beans on toast or crackers, so it's two recipes in one, but in combination is when things really get going. The soup is in Issue #21, which will be on stands any day now. 

On the topic of green, these eggs, with wild greens. Come on now.

(And on the topic of the Facebook page, I'm planning on using it as a place for work outside this site site, plus book and event news, as there are some on the horizon. I'll give a head's up here, but full details there, in the hopes of keeping it all in one neat and tidy place.)

So, that's me on this end. I wish I had a proper recipe ready, but it was not in the cards. That said, it feels nice to have checked in, and caught up. Hope all's well and talk again soon.

Here's to you, pals. I'm going to go see about lunch.

 

Posted
Authortara
Categoriesbook
17 CommentsPost a comment

These Chocolate Almond Toffee Bars look innocent enough, but are two bites of true, gooey indulgence. Photos courtesy of Irene Powell.

Even though one may not mean to become caught up in things, sometimes it is unavoidable. Such was my case recently, as a (thankfully-mild) strain of the chicken pox made its way through our little ones, forcing our household into a state of quarantine and oatmeal baths for two weeks. This was followed closely by an infection that had Mummy curled up on the couch, slippers on and blanket pulled up tight, for another few days. Suddenly almost a month has gone by, and it seems all in a blur.

Now we are about ankle-deep in holiday preparations; events with family and friends are already scheduled, decorations are already being considered, and menu ideas are already floating around in my head. Where did this autumn go? It feels like Halloween was just yesterday.

Lucky for us, I had the book In the Kitchen with Anna: New ways with the Classics standing by at the ready. In it, chef Anna Olson offers up meals and menus that have a nostalgic appeal; a bit retro, a bit kitch sometimes, but always tasty. This is feel-good eating at its best, and just the sort of food one craves when life gets a bit hectic.

While the book does include entertaining-worthy recipes like unctuous Mushroom Potato Brie Tarts and an impressive Garlic Roasted Turkey Crown with Chardonnay Pan Sauce, it is the modern classics like the Contemporary Cobb Salad, Ultimate Cheese Fondue and Baja Fish Tacos, that are, in my mind, the real draw.

Through the craziness over the last few weeks, I found myself turning to this book numerous times for inspiration. And rarely did it disappoint.

I have pledged my allegiance to steel-cut oats, but I tried Olson's version using the rolled variety when I found my cupboard was bare of the former. Surprisingly light due to the addition of oat bran, the oatmeal was delicious. So good in fact, that when mornings dawned cold and grey, I reached for this breakfast again and again.

The Rockwell Bake, a savoury bread pudding that combines all the flavours of Thanksgiving dinner, was hearty and soul-satisfying. Anna's Pot Roast was fairly-standard comfort fare, brightened through a second addition of vegetables towards the end of cooking. While good, however, what stole the show that night was the recommended accompaniment of Fluffy Dumplings. True to their title, these dumplings were pillowy-light, and an ideal way to sop up the roast's beer-soused gravy.

For those visiting the Niagara Region, Olson's two specialty food shops sell dishes from In the Kitchen with Anna as some of their prepared foods. It is a wonderful opportunity to taste some of the food before purchasing the book and also a testament to Olson's confidence in standing behind these recipes - a true mark of quality.

It was at her St. David's, Ontario, location that we were able to try the Beef, Caramelized Onion and Smoked Cheddar on Foccacia sandwich. Hot off of the panini press, the exterior was shatteringly crisp, giving way to melt-in-your-mouth slices of beef, accented by sweet onions, a slathering of grainy mustard and subtly-smoked cheese.

Since Olson is famous for her desserts, far be it from me to ignore that chapter. The Lemon Cheesecake Mousse tarts had an beautifully light texture with the perfect sharp citrus note. They managed to be delicate but luscious, all at once. Dangerously-easy to make are the Chocolate Almond Toffee Bars (photographed above, please see recipe below); to call these rich would be a gross understatement. A sturdy crust of oats and graham is scattered with both toffee and chocolate, then almonds, and finally a blanketing of sweet condensed milk. This modest effort results in a bar cookie that is tender in its belly, but slightly burnished and crisp above. Ridiculously addicting stuff.

Only one recipe fell short of expectation; the Artichoke Asiago Squares. The appetizer, somewhat akin to crustless quiche, is billed to taste like the popular dip of the same name and readers are urged "if there is no other recipe you make from this book, please make it this one." With such an introduction, these were a definite must-try. But while the squares are good, none of my tasters thought them great. The consensus was that they were best served warm, but even then the texture was not a favourite and some found the asiago could have been more pronounced. I would not call this a failure, but I would say that there are stronger dishes in the book.

The book itself is bright and colourful. The food looks fresh, shot simply, but beautifully, by Ryan Szulc. Minimally styled by Olson, the images are homey and inviting, with little fuss marring our look at the the food.

I particularly enjoyed how the recipes were laid out. Accompanying each was not only general notes included in the header, but also a three-part footnote outlining the taste, technique and tale of that particular dish. This additional information included more in-depth information about the ingredients or preparation, and also were a peek into the personality of Olson herself; the chatty, convivial tone was charming to read.

From the every day to almost every celebration, for lazy weekends and when the weekdays are flying by, In the Kitchen with Anna: New Way with the Classics includes recipes that are excellent additions to any cook's repertoire. Showing us easy, accessible cooking with touches that make each dish feel special, Olson makes a lovely kitchen companion.

CHOCOLATE ALMOND TOFFEE BARS

This recipe is one of my most requested, so I'm happy to include it in this book. — Anna Olson

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 cups (375 ml) rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/4 tsp (1 ml) fine salt
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup (250 ml) Skor toffee bits
  • 1 cup (250 ml) chocolate chips
  • 1 cup (250 ml) sliced almonds
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease and line an 8-inch (2 L) square pan with parchment paper so that the paper hangs over the sides of the pan.

Stir the oats, graham crumbs and salt in a bowl to combine, then stir in the melted butter. Press the crumbly oat mixture into the prepared pan. Sprinkle Skor bits evenly on top, followed by chocolate chips and sliced almonds. Pour condensed milk evenly over pan (it will sink in as it bakes) and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the edges are bubbling. Cool to room temperature in the pan, then chill for at least 4 hours before slicing into bars.

Store toffee bars in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Makes one 8"x8" pan.

Taste

This is decadence in a pan. The sinful combination of chocolate, toffee and almonds enveloped in condensed milk that caramelizes as it bakes is irresistible. At least these have oats in them to redeem themselves, just a little bit.

Technique

This is a simple recipe to execute—you gather the ingredients and layer them, basically. The challenge is in waiting for them after they've finished baking!

Tale

My head pastry chef at Olson Foods + Bakery, Andrea, brought this recipe to my attention. She is an excellent baker, and we go way back. She started with me as a high school co-op student, while I was just picking up professional baking myself on the job, so we learned together. That was about 15 years ago, and after her stint at cooking school and gaining other work experience, I'm thrilled that we are working together again after all these years.

Additional recipes from

In the Kitchen with Anna: New ways with the Classics

Huevos Rancheros

Pot Roast with Dumplings

Luncheon Sandwich Torte

Permission to print recipe and cover image courtesy Whitecap Books.

And once again, time has flown.

What seemed like the timid start to spring became a full-blown explosion with crocuses raising their delicate heads, forsythia adding its generous golden bloom to gardens and buds appearing on our lilac bushes out back. It has been a busy few weeks, filled with some family celebrations, some further preparations, and of course food.

Some of the things that have caught my eye and tempted our tastebuds recently:

• Cookies (below). For a recently birthday celebration, the honoree was given a batch of his favourite chocolate chip cookies. I have come to realize that these are now so ingrained in our family's palate that no other recipe will do.

• Pies (above). I was in the kitchen with pastry as I continued my search for the perfect pie crust. Still not there yet, but the testers are enjoying their job.

Heidi's Lazy Day Peanut Noodle Salad. An absolutely beautiful looking recipe, and one that tastes just as great. Pointed out to me by a dear friend, it will surely become a staple in our house - a great canvas for variation as well.

Heston Blumenthal's naan. I saw an episode of In Search of Perfection where Mr. Blumenthal made his version on Chicken Tikka Masala (it seems basically butter chicken but I have never had Chicken Tikka); he also included a recipe for homemade tandoor naan. While I did not attempt his MacGyver-worthy cooking rig, I used his recipe to prepare some rather impressive homemade flatbread. I simply heated a cast iron skillet under a hot broiler for about 20 minutes, then used that for my cooking surface. After two minutes or so we were rewarded with beautifully-browned naan, slightly crispy and with an open and airy interior. Gorgeous. My only complaint over the recipe is that it is never clearly stated how early one should remove the dough from the fridge before using; I do believe that mine needed to further warm up before use, but a hungry family took precedent over such concern.

• Trifle cake. Another birthday celebration warranted a truly special dessert created in honour of a truly special person. I combined four recipes from four sources to end up with a cake that offered the best a trifle had to offer; layers of Martha Stewarts's yellow cake sandwiched a variation on François Payard's pastry cream, homemade blackberry compote and a cream filling from Cook's Illustrated. The whole thing was then covered with a combination of the cream filling and a classic white buttercream for some added stability. The flavours were exactly what I was looking for, but now I need an excuse to make it again so I can perfect the proportions.

• Blackberries. Speaking of these beauties, we have just welcomed a few blackberry bushes to our yard. I am looking forward to a summer filled with desserts like this.

• Golden pepper jelly from Kurtz Orchards. I have been asked about my pregnancy cravings, and this has been one of them. Slathered on crusty homemade bread with slices of extra-old cheddar, it is like your classic combination of cheese and chutney - but with the volume turned up. I have also been craving one of these, but as smoked salmon is not recommended during pregnancy I will have to wait to satiate that particular want.

• Brunches. For all the possible mealtime invitation opportunities, brunch is my favourite to include friends and family. Though a relatively easy meal to prepare, there is something about a good brunch that feels particularly indulgent and immeasurably special. I have been eyeing either one of these beauties to add to my entertaining arsenal.

So that is just a look at a few of the things is happening around here, I hope that these last few weeks have been just as inspiring on your end.

Note: I feel I should sheepishly admit that the photos included here were never intended for publication, but were just some shots I had taken recently. Keeping a toddler's greedy little fingers out of frame prevented me from taking my usual time with them.

Posted
Authortara
7 CommentsPost a comment

Whew. When I was first approached by Jennifer to host this month’s Sugar High Friday, I approached it with nervous optimism. Everyone’s had that feeling, that illogical fear of “what would happen if I threw a party, and nobody came?”

Thank goodness for food bloggers. I did not expect, and could not have hoped for, a more enthusiastic and supportive group of contributors to this month’s event. From the dramatic to the sublime, these desserts celebrating the shades of white run the spectrum. 45 entries from around the world, are all delicious variations on the theme. What a party!

Again, my gratitude to those who participated, and those of you who have come by to see the results of our little event. Cheers to Jennifer, once again of the Domestic Goddess, who will be the host of next month’s SHF installment. It will be a confectionery celebration of Canada’s 140th birthday on July 1st - look out for the announcement and details on her site.

And with that, on to the desserts; click the photos to link to the author's site ...