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I came to know Luisa Weiss as you may have, through her site, The Wednesday Chef. I wish I could say what post was the first I devoured, or the recipe that was our introduction, but I can't. She's one of those people who seems as though they were always around. I do remember thinking her perspective was unique; born in Berlin to Italian and American parents, she was a woman who had studied in Europe and the United States, who loved food and now worked in cookbook publishing. She lived in New York. She seemed as sharp as she was kind, with a cracking streak of sarcasm and a real vulnerability. I thought her a little glamorous.

What sold me though was Luisa's impressive talent; she's got a knack for both words and recipes. She can line up a phrase in such a way that it comes across as both succinct and artful. She's a genius at sussing out good recipes, and specific and honest when it comes to analyzing the bad ones.

As Luisa continued to write, her circumstances changed and her skill evolved; the recipes were the way she talked about everything else in her world. Her highs and lows were shared over baked beans and Greek salads and pommes de terre boulangère.

Now, she has a book that covers all that more. And it is a Los Angeles Times bestseller.

When Sean and I packed up the boys for a late August jaunt to Montréal, Luisa's was the only book I tucked in my bag. It made for perfect travel reading, especially as we were going back to the city where I was born, and where Sean and I have spent so much time, starting from when we were dating. As Luisa recounted the journey she's had thus far, one divided into countries and continents, it made me consider my own.

I'll not spoil where her words leave off, but she sets us in an idyllic point of beginning and end. It is a moment filled with an appreciation for how we are in the constant collection of layers to our lives, how we are always building up these stories, memories, of people and places, adding and taking away from the patina of experience. She considers the complex, messy choices we make in the pursuit of growth and happiness, and shows a heartening faith in forward progress.

I thought a lot about my parents on that trip, how it must have been for them, as they started out in a new country. I conjured younger versions of Mum and Dad in shops and restaurants, I tried to find places that felt familiar from my childhood, and I wanted to stand on the steps of the church where they married. I wondered what it must have been like to make the choices they did.

One evening after dinner, Sean and I walked with our sons through Parc La Fontaine. The light was gold and gleaming, and the shadows long on the grass. We ambled along the winding paths and listened to someone playing violin. I held Benjamin's hand, and Sean carried William on his shoulders until we reached Sherbrooke street. At that point, facing south, you're at the edge of the plateau, with its width to your back and the mountain rising from there. The road falls away at your feet, rolling down towards the port and waters at the city's southern border. There was something in that moment that felt like potential. I imagined us living there. If I squinted hard enough, I thought I could see the boys running up the stairs of one of the skinny Victorian houses that line the park, I could hear the jingle of keys in my pocket, and I felt for a moment we could be home.

(Dear friends and family: we're not moving anytime soon.)

Luisa's meatballs

I just finished My Berlin Kitchen for the second time, proving that the book doesn't require travel. I read it one afternoon, as I sat securely tucked on our couch, and Luisa's sentiments still rang pure and true. The next day, I made these meatballs for the third (fourth?) time, with her conjured company in the kitchen.

These meatballs aren't in the book, — there is however, a recipe she includes for meatballs in chipotle sauce that should be mentioned, and one for a classic ragù that is the closest I've ever come to the Platonic ideal. Luisa actually wrote about these meatballs right before My Berlin Kitchen was published, as mother to a newborn son.

They serve as a poignant epilogue to Luisa's story. She's already on her next chapter, and it's nothing short of wonderful to see her on her way.

LUISA'S MEATBALLS FOR NEW MOTHERS

Recipe rewritten from Luisa Weiss. I find it as easy to make a large batch as it is a small one, so I often double the recipe, which guarantees that I'll have some to stash away in the freezer. See below for notes on that.

What do I like to eat meatballs with? Luisa says she likes hers with polenta or rice, and I'm in complete agreement with both of those recommendations. To add one of my own, I suggest you toast a slice of really crusty bread, then rub the cut side of a garlic clove over its surface. Tear a nice, milky ball of buffalo mozzarella and smush that into the bread. Ladle on some meatballs and sauce, snip over some fresh basil and a few chili flakes.

Toss together an escarole salad, and nestle a handful of leaves beside the meatballs on the plate.

Then grab a knife and fork and go at it. This deconstructed meatball sandwich makes for a rustic bit of business; with the bread both soft and crunchy, and then the mozzarella will be cool in some bites and melted in others, and the sharpness of the escarole stands out against the richness of the meat. Most likely at some point there will be sauce dribbling down your chin, which I consider undeniable proof of a good meal.

  • For the meatballs
  • 2 slices of white bread, crusts cut off
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • Fresh nutmeg
  • 1 bunch of parsley, minced

For the sauce

  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 28-ounce can tomatoes, whole, chopped or crushed
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Tear the bread into a bowl and soak the pieces with the milk. Allow to sit for a few minutes. Using your hands, squeeze out the bread and add it to a large bowl, along with the ground beef, ground pork, eggs, salt and pepper, maybe 30 grates of nutmeg, and the minced parsley.

Again using your hands, gently mix the all the ingredients together until they're a smooth, uniform mass. Cover the bowl and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

An hour or so before you want to eat, make the sauce. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, brown the garlic in the olive oil over medium heat. Pour in your tomatoes, give everything a stir and a good pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer the sauce for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the sauce is cooked, taste and adjust the seasoning.

To cook the meatballs, gently roll the meat mixture into smallish balls and line them up on a plate or baking sheet. (Luisa likes her meatballs about 2-inches in diameter, I like mine a bit smaller — see note below.) When all your meatballs are ready, carefully drop them in the warm sauce.

Cover the pot with a lid and leave it to simmer. Resist any compulsions to stir the pot; but, as Luisa says, if you're concerned you can shake the pot a little. After 25 minutes, the meatballs will be ready to eat, or you can allow the pot to cool completely then freeze everything for another day.

Notes on doubling the recipe:

  • Before forming the meatballs, pinch off a small amount and quickly fry up a little patty to check seasoning. It's an especially good thing to do when making large batches.
  • When the butcher has some on hand, I'll often add some ground veal to the mix.
  • If there are too many meatballs to fit into your pot of sauce, you cook the remaining meatballs seperately. I preheat the broiler to high, then pop in a baking sheet of meatballs about 3-4 inches from the heat. My smaller meatballs (1 heaped tablespoon of mix per ball) take around 8 minutes to get well-browned on the outside and cooked through. I allow the meatballs to cool, then freeze them on the sheet, transferring them to a sealable container for storage once frozen.
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Hello my dears, will you do me a favour? Preheat your oven to 400°F. While you're at it, start slicing some leeks while we catch up.

I was feeling pretty good about my preparedness for the coming holiday season this whole year-end business, that is, I was until a friend sweetly pointed out that as of today, there were a mere six days left until our merriment begins. How'd that happen?

Their math must be wrong. Let's see, 24-18 equals ... oh.

Shoot. No such luck. We're almost at the count-the-days-on-one-hand stage, people.

Before I go on, how are those leeks coming? All sliced? Take a second and put a skillet on to heat with a knob of butter in there. When that's melted, toss in your leeks and stir them around so that everybody's friendly.

Where was I? Yes, there's a lot going on. I'm particularly giddy to report that Menu for Hope is off to a rip-roaring start. We've just hit the $20,000 mark, with fingers crossed that the momentum continues through the second half of the campaign.

And we've got some happenings that should help in the momentum department, first off let me extend my thanks and welcome to the kind folks at EAT Magazine, who have donated another raffle item to our efforts. "Taste of British Columbia" brings together a variety of offerings from producers from this gorgeous province, including Untamed Feast’s delicious dried wild mushroom products (Forest Blend), locally grown roasted hazelnuts from Butler Hazelnut Farm, Vista d’Oro Farm’s Turkish Fig with Walnut Wine, a ½ lb. bag of Mile 0 Roasters Niagara Blend, Gathering Place’s Organic Rooibos Tea, and two chocolate bars from organicfair. To bid on their item, enter code CA12, when donating.

There are lots of new raffle items being added every day; be sure to keep checking the worldwide listing for the most up-to-date information.

Speaking of donations, we've got a brand spankin' new donation form for you; it lists all raffle items available worldwide, with a simple widget alongside that tallies your bids. To see it in all it's point-n-click glory, click here.

Oh! Back to the leeks. How are they doing? Are they all loopy and lithe yet? No? Okay, we've got a few more minutes to go.

More news. Remember way back in June when I said I'd be in the summer issue of UPPERCASE magazine? Well, Janine was kind enough to extend the invitation for me to write for them again. I'll be in the Winter issue, out in January 2010, talking about Maple Walnut Caramel. It's the recipe that started my recent walnut fixation.

While we're on the subject of UPPERCASE, a first look at the cover for the issue was recently available for subscribers to their newsletter. I'm sort of in love with it. I think you will be too.

The leeks should be looking about there by now - give them a poke with your spoon. They should be soft and sweet, still green and brightly fragrant. Good stuff, we're ready to go.

Now this is probably only exciting to me, but I've finally settled on what I'm making for the savoury portion of our Christmas breakfast. As you might have surmised, those scrummy leeks play a big part in the deliciousness to come this December 25th's a.m.

I have been looking for a partner to the Breakfast Bread from Donna Hay from years ago. A steadfast presence our menu that's focaccia in feel, but with a biscuit method for the base. A thick, spongy dough lays beneath a Christmassy landscape of wilted spinach and oven-dried tomatoes, with a crowning snowdrift of Gruyère to cover all. This is a bread that I start thinking about in the fall, when the last of the tomatoes are coming off the vine and I'm drying and preserving them in oil in eager anticipation of their winter debut.

Whatever arrives alongside that bread has to be a humdinger of a dish.

Enter the wonderful Lusia Weiss, with exactly what I was looking for. The Baked Eggs in Cream she introduced last week are, as she says, adorable. And boy are they tasty.

From the softly-set egg that is lush and dreamy, to the supple leeks hiding underneath the whiteness, it's ridiculously easy to get all swoony about this recipe. What's even more brilliant for my needs is that I can cook the leeks the night before, so they're ready and waiting come Christmas morn; crack an egg and spoon over some cream, in to the oven they go. En masse, everyone's taken care of.

If I'm being honest, the presentation of the individual ramekins was of specific appeal. Not only does this recipe allow you to cook for many with minimal fuss, it also allows for some greedy indulgence. A fleet of these little darlings on the table looks abundant and generous, but to each is own means that nobody has to share.

With all the support we've had for Menu for Hope, a moment of mine-all-mine gluttony can certainly be overlooked. You've all earned it.

CAMINO'S EGGS BAKED IN CREAM

A multiplied rendition of Camino's original, via The Wednesday Chef. Luisa's advises cooking the leeks longer than in the original recipe, and I am not one to argue. A cluster of oil-packed dried tomatoes nudged up against the yolk added an appreciated acidity.

INGREDIENTS

  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 4 leeks, cleaned and the white and light green parts sliced thinly
  • Salt
  • 2 sprigs thyme, leaves roughly chopped
  • 2 sprigs parsley, leaves roughly chopped
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half or coffee cream
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Grilled or toasted bread slices to serve

METHOD

With a rack set in the middle, preheat oven to 400°F (200°C).

In a small sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the leeks, along with a splash of water and a pinch of salt. Cook until the leeks are tender, around 10 minutes. Stir in the herbs. Divide the herbed leeks among four small dishes or ramekins, flattening the vegetables out slightly to make a nest for the eggs.

Crack one egg in the middle of each dish. Add enough cream to just over the white, then season with salt and the freshly-ground black pepper. Set the dishes on a baking sheet and bake in the oven until the white is set, between 8 to 12 minutes. Serve immediately, with the grilled bread.

Serves 4. Or really 2, as you'll want seconds. Trust.