Friday, January 20, 2017

Wiener Winks! Who knew?

School lunches.

They can be a pain, a curse, a drag, the bane of a parent's life! In general, I like to play, prep and cook good food but the moment you do it through the perspective of a kid (picky or not), you just face a whole new world of challenges. That challenge gets bigger when you feel like a zombie at the crack of dawn, looking at the clock and trying to make that food to go on time. If you want your kid to eat it, it has to taste good and travel well. It can't look gross, oxidate, get bruised or leak by the time they eat it. It can't be boring but it can't be too new, or weird or touch other ingredients that would take the crispness away or make things wet. It can't shed crumbs on other items (apparently it's too hard to remove one from a carrot stick) and it shouldn't sweat (the cheese has been challenging). Of course that's all before you add your own requirements: It has to be reasonably healthy, include some variety, be safe to eat after it sat in a warm school for hours and most of all, it has to be affordable to repeat the same old routine 5 days a week, 4 weeks a month, 10 months a year… Multiply that by the number of kids you have to feed... Omg, am I really making 400 lunches a year!?? Okay, minus the holidays, PD days... Maybe 340. I need for someone to correct me on this. Oh and how could I forget the school's own demands: To be nut free and to include a "healthy" non sugary snack for the morning. As a parent, I can live with that one but sometimes all I want to do is slap a PBJ sandwich together and call it a day! 

Whoever beams about enjoying making them everyday is full of it!! That or they just started and are being idealistic newbies that will wake up soon enough. Or they're just not the kind of person I can relate to. Ok I'm being a bit harsh and ranting. I'm just struggling and venting. What I really want to talk about is Wiener Winks! It's where this whole frustration led me. When I looked through an online list of lunch ideas, someone mentioned those two funny words and I heard myself say: "Wiener Whaaat?" Not only I felt and sounded like this guy on the right (he and the movie Jaws gets quoted way too often in this house) but I honestly had to look it up.

I was baffled! I had no idea that such a concept officially existed. I mean I had a wiener in a slice of bread before when running out of buns or when feeling depressed (extra yummy when fried in bacon fat if really depressed). You know, the kind of food that says "I know you're hungry and you don't give a fuck right now but it's okay. Things will turn out. So go ahead, eat me! Tomorrow is another day." In my world (or in the dark side of my mind), hotdogs in a slice of bread say that to me. They said that a lot. Followed by shame. So the fact that it has an official happy sounding name and that it's easy to find on Google really, REALLY surprised me! I got curious then figured the girls would get a kick out of it so yesterday I made some. The twist with mine is that I used cocktail wieners.

Why? Well, when the weather gets cold or after the first snow, we enjoy fires in our wood stove and when the fire mellows down, sometimes we roast marshmallows with the girls. The last time we did, someone mentioned that it would be fun to do the same with hotdogs so I made a mental note of it. Long story short, when I went to the store to buy some, I was looking for regular sized hotdogs but there were cocktail versions on sale. Practical me thought it would be easier and faster to roast in our wood stove and lets face it, mini food is just cute! I knew the girls wouldn't resist. I thought it would be a fun thing to do around the holidays. It seemed like a good idea at the time and I stored two packs in the freezer and kept it secret. Then I totally forgot about it! That's pretty much it.

I must have felt a bit guilty though. You know, for puttering over cheap sandwich bread and cocktail wieners for dinner because as I went through the process, I found myself humming a song from Fred Eaglesmith called White Trash. It's a silly song (the lyrics are here if you're curious). I have nothing against Fred Eaglesmith (or Johnny Cash who gets mentioned in the song). They both tell great stories in songs and ballads and that one just happens to pop in my head whenever I give up on being classy which is more often than I'm willing to admit.

Okay so I'm the girl who never heard of wiener winks before and now that I tried some and show you my take, you realize that this looks nothing like what you expected or saw elsewhere online. I'm just full of it and crazy. I tried to do the classic way but the sneaky little cocktail wieners kept slipping out, it was not fun. Plus I was getting away from why I bought them in the first place. Mini food! I had to change the technique with the bread a bit. I cut each slice in half. I knew it would change the look but nobody cared and I was working with what I had. I also decided to do it in my cast iron pan for better control and as you can see we are out of toothpicks too! Bamboo skewers to the rescue! :)

I should mention that in our house it's rare to find processed sliced cheese which seems to be the standard choice for wiener winks. I'm always surprised at how expensive it is for what you get! The truth is, I wasn't raised on it so it's not something I would usually buy. If we're going to spend on cheese we go for medium or strong cheddar. It's common enough to be found at the pharmacy with eggs and bread on a milk run. We prefer white cheddar but sometimes the only option is orange (what I used in this picture). In this case, I grated the cheese for easy melting. Not a lot is required. About 4-5 good swipes of the brick of cheese on the grater seemed enough for one slice of bread.

I'm sadly aware that some look burnt here, but they still tasted great! Unfortunately it's the only pictures I have. By the time I made the next batch of golden perfection, I couldn't bother to take more pics. I was busy with real life, eating and serving. Maybe next time.

Apparently I'm a DORK for taking pictures of my half eaten wiener wink but he still loves me!

I can't share a recipe for this but I can describe what I did. I simply spread butter on one side of the bread (whole wheat was all we had and kids didn't mind) then I cut it in half. I flipped the 2 pieces of bread over (it greased the counter a bit but I didn't care). I sprinkled a bit of cheese over the two pieces (about 4 swipes on the grater) and placed a little wiener on each piece of bread before folding them over. I had no toothpicks to keep them together but long bamboo skewers did the trick. I didn't even bother to cut them. I placed two a time in the hot pan (on medium heat). It was an experiment so I wasn't confident to do more on the first try. As they cooked I made more. Once it was golden on one side, I would pull out the bamboo skewers, turn the wiener winks over and stab them again with the skewers just long enough to hold the bread in place till it would get golden and crispy. It didn't take long for them to be ready. It sounds complicated but it really wasn't.

The girls and I enjoyed these. It was tasty and fun! A little goes a long way. I guess they're like a cross between a grilled cheese and a hotdog but we actually found that they tasted like pogos. Is that weird? Especially when dipped in ketchup (because in this house, we might be doing it wrong but we like to dip pogos in ketchup). They both ate 4 and polished their plates with a big glass of milk and half an apple. I was relieved and they were satisfied. 

Now I have a million questions. How many people actually knew this existed? Pigs in a blanket don't count. Is it an American thing or do Canadians eat it too? French Canadians? How does one pack it up to school? Did people really eat that at school often? How does it stay warm without being steamy? Or do kids eat it cold? Would it be safe sitting there for 3-4 hours before consumption? Living in Québec, our schools are overheated for 3/4 of the year so I'm not sure. I need answers because my girls did ask to try them for school lunch. My youngest had pizza day today (a freaking blissful break) but she's not the picky one. Guess what the other one brought to school though? ;) Fingers crossed!!

Have a marvelous, school lunch FREE weekend!! 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Biscotti my way with roasted almonds and chocolate brandy beans

I'm not Italian. I'm from a French mother and a Canadian father and born in Germany where I spent half of my childhood. Of all the foods and treats that got my full attention in life, biscotti was not one of them. I never cared to try them at cafés and never thought I would care to bake any. Yet, somehow, during the Holidays one year, it became a thing and it sort of never stopped. It was around 1997 or 98, after baking up a storm for the holidays. I found myself with a bit of extra time and leftover ingredients before cleaning up and packing to join my boyfriend at his parents' home in Kingston. I flipped through the pages of my big Christmas book, looking for a quick recipe. Maybe something I could take with me as a present to offer. There was this recipe that I always saw but never bothered to try and it seemed to fit the bill in terms of ingredients and time I had. In the book it wasn't even called Biscotti. It was simply called Crispy Almond Cookie (in French). It was also described as an Italian style cookie to enjoy with warm drinks.

I had all that was needed and that was all that mattered. I unfortunately nibbled on almonds as I read and found myself a bit short when I noticed that it asked for 3/4 cup. I was missing a good 1/4 cup. The next decision I made started a tradition that lasted almost 2 decades! I figured that the empty space in the cup could be replaced with dark chocolate brandy beans (chopped up). Chocolate brandy beans are part of an other story but I always have them when the holiday season comes. Always. It should probably be served at room temperature but I find them amazing when cold and hard from the fridge. I love the way the thin dark chocolate shell breaks under the tooth, giving way to the sweet and strong brandy liqueur, slowly warming up the throat and mouth as the flavour lingers. If you're like my husband you will think it sounds cheesy and I agree but it's the truth! :)

Okay, back to the low count of almonds, I needed about 7 to compensate. I froze them while I gathered my ingredients (it makes the chopping easier and less messy) and added them to the recipe. I'm not sure how the Grand Marnier joined in (I was probably running out of vanilla or almond extract) but the idea stayed. It's amazing with the orange zest and I'm not even a big fan of zest. Whenever I whip the wet ingredients my nose gets excited. Brandy, orange, almonds, vanilla, melted butter, sugar and eggs... To me it just smells like sweet Christmas in a cookie! I followed the biscotti recipe with the few minor changes and couldn't believe how easy it was. I kept checking to make sure I didn't miss a step. I brought those with me to my in-laws, not expecting much but the biscotti were a big hit. It was requested again so I made more and shared more and now even my own mother (the master of German butter cookies) expects them every year.

It became something we all look forward to when December comes. For years the smell became part of a tradition. My boyfriend became my husband and as Christmas got close, we would prep and create and get ready for the big day. I would bake biscotti and he would create sculptures out of polymer clay that he would also have to bake before painting. They were specific smells in the house that would set the mood. It would join the smells of the Christmas tree and it would mingle with Christmas music and excitement as we got busy for the Holidays. It's associated to great memories shared with my oldest daughter and now my youngest.

Below is a series of pictures that show step by step, how it's done every year. If you don't have the patience to look at them, too bad. The pictures are pretty and I went through a lot of trouble to stop, clean my hands and snap them with each step. I'm joking. Just scroll all the way down for the recipe. I really hope you try them and enjoy them as much as we do.

I'm interrupting this pretty picture show to explain that things are about to get frustratingly sticky at this point. This is the part where I might gradually add 1/4 cup of flour to the mix if things are not cooperating. I will also generously cover the counter with flour. Heavily. Don't be shy, flour that counter! A lot! See this below? Not enough.

I also use a genius contraption that my mother came up with. Rubber spatulas are nice but when it comes to greedily scrape a bowl clean to the last sticky drop, I use a plastic lid from a big yogourt or ice cream container. It's amazing! Just cut the edge off with scissors and make sure you get a good sized circle to hold in your hand. It bends super well, and picks everything up! It evens scrapes my wooden spoons extra clean. I dip it in flour and make short, fast scraping movements as I gather the mass of dough with it. Everything comes out in a ball as I scrape it out of the bowl. When it gets too old, throw it in the recycle. Easy. Now back to work!

The book doesn't mention this but it's worth getting some parchment paper to line your cookie sheet. Seriously. Things won't stick and it's easier to clean after. I appreciate this when I have 4-6 batches to bake. Also another tip that works for me is that I mark on the paper the length of the log required (in this case 12 inches) before I place it on the sheet. It helps me keep the same length with each batch I bake.

Once the dough has been shaped, brushed with egg wash and slipped in the oven, the waiting game begins. With my oven it's 20-25 minutes to start till it gets firm and golden. Then it needs to rest 10 minutes at least to cool off and firm up before slicing. Some people will disagree with that and claim the opposite. The slicing made me curse many times through the years. Especially because they were presents. It would squish the delicate logs and push down the almonds, driving me nuts along the way and ruining the end result and mood. Turns out a very sharp knife is required. Mine has sharp teeth that could cut through frozen food, bone and can. Yep. Dull knife will make this pointless so get yourself a sharp one. This slicing gets done guillotine style. I don't saw my way through them. I find that if you do, you'll wreck the almonds and fragile dough.

Place the sliced biscotti like in the picture with enough space in between to cook a bit more and brown. Another 20-25 minutes of waiting. Usually by this point, the smell will tell you if they're ready. You might have to check early if you want to keep them golden but we like them on the brown side. They just taste better!

I'm sharing those 2 pics to show how efficient a sharp knife can be when it comes to cut slices that are chock-full with almonds and chocolate. The truth is, I can't resist the juicy colours of those cutting boards! :) Sadly, I lost the red one (the pic is from last year) but my guy surprised me with this bright yellow one below which is even better and more stable with it's rubber ends.

What it looks like after the first 20 minutes of baking.

What it looks like after the 2nd baking.

The size will vary between batches. I sometimes get short ones and sometimes very nice long ones. Some are cut 3/4 inch wide, we prefer a generous 1/2 inch.

Approved by the youngest who had to taste one or two or three or four...

Biscotti with roasted almonds and chocolate brandy beans

Heavily adapted from Le Livre de Noël - Coup de Pouce

1 3/4 cup flour (might need an extra 1/4 cup)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 to 3/4 whole almonds (with skins and toasted in pan or in oven)
1/4 cup chocolate brandy beans (stored in freezer to make chopping easier)
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted (for this recipe I use salted butter)
2 tsp pure vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract
2 tsp Cointreau or Grand Marnier (not necessary but man, it's worth it)
1 1/2 tsp grated orange zest (it's the equivalent of 1 orange. I use a rasp for this)
1 egg (for egg wash)

Crank oven to 350˚. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. You can draw guide lines to help you guess how long the logs will be (in this case, 12 inches). Roast your almonds. It's quicker and easier for me to do in a pan set on medium high. I can keep a better eye on them while I shake the pan around. Shake the pan until the almonds are fragrant and toasted. You might have to lower the heat to medium. Or you can put them in your 350˚ oven, on a cookie sheet and check every few minutes till satisfied. Careful, they burn fast. Let them cool in a cold plate while gathering the rest of the ingredients.

In a big bowl, mix flour and baking powder. Add your almonds. In an other bowl, whisk eggs with sugar, melted butter, vanilla, almond extract, orange zest and if you have it Cointreau or Grand Marnier. Chop the chocolate brandy beans into 5-6 pieces each and add them to the wet mixture. You can use the chocolate brandy beans at room temperature if you forgot to freeze them but with the years I found that keeping them in the freezer makes the syrup thicker and the chocolate more brittle. I personally find that it breaks into better rough pieces. It's up to you. Whisk one more time till all is well amalgamated.

Scrape the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and mix till it becomes a supple sticky mass. With a rubber spatula or with the help of that smart plastic container lid I mentioned above (see the pics), scrape away onto a very well floured counter. It's sticky so make sure there is plenty of flour. Flour your hands too. With your hands, shape the dough into a smooth ball. Cut in half. Take each half and gently roll into a log of about 12 inches. You can adjust the length by smoothing it out on the cookie sheet with the help of the marks you made on your parchment paper. If not, you can use a ruler as a guide. Overall it's not important, it just helps to keep the size consistent when baking many.

Beat your egg to make an egg wash and brush the logs with it. Bake in a 350˚ oven for 20-25 minutes. The extra 5 minutes depend on your oven. I often have to add that extra time to get the logs golden. Remove the logs from the oven and let them cool. The original recipe suggests 5 minutes but I struggled too often with the cutting when it was too warm and soft. I find that 10-15 minutes is ideal (if time allows). When ready cut in 1/2 inch slices. You need a very sharp knife to cut through the almonds  without breaking the dough. A sharp serrated knife works for me. I keep the point of the blade on the cutting board and cut down guillotine style with each slice. Once in a while the blade gets sticky and it can affect the cutting so it's good to wipe the blade clean halfway through to get nice clean cuts. Put the slices back on the baking sheet with a bit of space in between to let them cook and brown a bit more. Bake for 20-25 minutes more. Your house will smell amazing.

Let them cool on a rack. I always get 36 slices but we always eat the short ends. When ready to store, gently shake off the crumbs of each slices and layer in a big hermetic cookie tin with pretty paper in between to keep the layers neat and from getting messy. Hey, I said it was going to be my way. It's the extra special touches that makes this extra pleasant. Especially if it's a gift.  It's up to you. :) The biscotti will keep well for a few weeks. The flavours also seem to improve with the days. Hope you get to try them. We really enjoy them but it's always better if we can share with others! Happy baking!

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

The random kind of post that started on Facebook but it's too long so it ends up here

Super random but here goes. 

Last night, like many other nights in the last couple of weeks, I was stressed with a million thoughts that were affecting me. One of them was the surreal tension with the US elections. I'm French Canadian so this actually surprised me but like so many people around the world, I was appalled and baffled by what our southern neighbours were facing. That aside, I was grumpy, facing some hard PMS and making a mountain out of everything. Adding to the challenge was to fly solo for the evening with the girls. My husband is in a band and he was off to practice. I managed to feed them early, dealt with their much over due bath and knotty/ naughty hair, followed by the bedtime routine. They've been known to be real little devils at the end of a long day but they were so sweet so that was good. We did have good laughing moments but it was late, I still had to feed myself (one of those backward nights) and the real nag, I felt like I had to clean up our pigsty of a house, knowing that a nurse was coming to our house early in the morning the next day. She was going to take some urine and blood samples for our new insurance while we would try to look functional on an empty stomach. It also meant a full morning routine with no coffee!! That part scared me.

I figured that if I could just focus on the bathroom and kitchen, it was going to be okay. I was mentally preparing myself to 1- Not make a big deal out of the state of our space. You know, to be "cool" about it. Some people are good at this. I'm not one of them but I'm trying and 2- To just focus on the overall look and the big chunks. In short, like Pulp Fiction's Mr Wolf would do. Sadly I couldn't find the energy to care or start. I'm "all or nothing" which can be dangerous. It can either give amazing results or quickly make me climb the walls and shut down if I let myself go there. So what did I do? Nothing. I made a tasty soup, read online about the US elections, that was scary so I read my sci-fi book instead and watched a TV show whit my guy when he returned home. I believe it's called procrastinating! Now I'm really good at that! In my case, it felt more like a test. Lately, I really don't have my shit together. I'm aware that there might be a depression lurking around the corner. The old me would have panicked and let this tip the scale in a messy way. The new (older/wiser me? Yeah, let's go with that), is very aware of that and shuts me up when I start to fret. Instead, I try to breathe in and just do what I can. It's hard. A daily exercise. I often can't even managed that but this time I did. I barely tidied the place. I was curious to find out how that would turn out with a stranger coming in our house. You know what? Nothing bad happened. The next morning, I did a quick basic tidy up after the girls went to school, husband emptied and reloaded the dishwasher and I took a shower. Good enough. I was happy to refuse to climb walls. I still wished for coffee though. 

The nurse turned out to be a good 30 minutes late (poor woman got lost). I'm not a morning person either and being on standby can be challenging when you're not allowed to eat, drink coffee or pee till all the samples are taken and done. I was worried I would be on edge but I talked myself out of it, played a record and somehow managed to stay in good spirits. Remember, no coffee! Not only I surprised myself but my mood was good. Things went well. In fact, the nurse struggled more than I did. She forgot some important tools and had to run to the pharmacy and spend a lot of extra cash just to get our blood pressure. Eventually, I got to fill myself with coffee which somehow tasted really good, even better than usual AND my blood pressure was excellent! :) Phew! Yay! We should have celebrated! 

So that was a small victory. I gave myself a pat on the back. I was happy for not freaking out over nothing and to just trust the moment instead of letting it ruin my day. Part of the stress is described below. It makes me feel a bit silly to even share it here but it felt real at the time and heck it's my blog, I can write what I want right?

I can't believe I let this affect me more than it should but it looks like the elections scared me a lot more than I was willing to admit. I had to stay off social media quite a bit. 2016 is not over but it has been hard for that and it's too bad because great things happened. Overall I felt like it was crawling with armchair warriors. Loud mouths too. More than usual. Everybody is an expert. I read what some had to share but in the end I had to unfollow many. I didn't block them. I never unfriend someone even if we disagree. I rather keep them around as a reminder that there is more than one way to look at things but there were some people who were just lamenting too much. Making it personal, making it about them over and over and over again. I guess I'm just as guilty here but hey it's my blog. Nobody reads it anyway. 

So I skipped a lot of posts in the last few months. In the end I wanted objective information and facts. Nothing less, nothing more. My nerves were fragile. I read what I could from official sources and stayed off Facebook (tried to). During the night and by dawn, I had nasty dreams about bugs, carnivorous plants, wastelands, invasions and what looked like walking dead people (which is almost normal in my case) but what freaked me out is that Trump was there too! He just wouldn't go away! I had a sick feeling that he would win (or maybe it was a "what if" question) but it was too ludicrous to think about. All the intellectuals and political experts were saying to take a deep breath anyway, to wait, to see that it was nothing more than melodramatic people panicking over nothing. They made good points and in the end it was not in my control and not my country. I don't like to say this but Trump repulses me in a way that Jabba the Hut repulsed Princess Leia. I can't hear him speak or look at his face without feeling revolted. When there is a post about him and god knows there are too many, I skip it. Not because I don't care but because I have a visceral reaction that leaves me stressed for the next few hours. Great trigger for fucking depression! So many people are pushing that trigger lately. How could this man be so powerful? How could he still be in the game? I've seen his ugly face since the 80s and it must be a sign that this world is a sick one if some people think it's a good idea to put him in power. It's mind blowing. It's an affront to humanity. To simple decency! I need a glass of water and a shower. Screw this. I need a glass of wine and a deep bath!

Back to the dream. In it, he stood there on the right side of my mind's big screen. His back was facing me and he was hunched over a bit but he kept looking back over his shoulder towards me with that smug look on his face. Everything passed him was blurry. What's even more disturbing is that his face would start to change. He started to look more and more like Alec Baldwin!! WHY!? I hate him too! Not as much but enough. I now realize that I must have seen him online but it's not taking away the creepy factor. Was he trying to 'poorly' improve his looks to fool me? What was my brain telling me? Somehow turning into Baldwin made it worse. I woke up super stressed but had to face my day which I thought was going to be a train wreck anyway. My husband was stressed too (with the insurance tests and all) so I didn't say anything. I hated myself for bottling it in but it was not the time and we had to move fast. 

Somehow I pushed through the morning routine which like I mentioned above, turned out to be okay. So I made it. With the dread and all and then moved on. All I had to worry about was dinner, kids and homework. Not bad but than I started to think about our southern neighbours. They don't have the same luxury right now. I don't want to be in their shoes. I'm crossing my fingers for them and sending big hugs. They have to face this B.S. I hope that they have enough faith in themselves to know that they can go through this. If not, well it will be a discouraging series of event but maybe a learning curve? Like when someone learns what they can from a disease to find a cure... I'm tired. They must be tired. The whole world is watching. They need to be strong and be able to move on. I need a hug or two. They need some too. XOXO

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Soul fixing soup


I've been away for so long... I'm still kicking though. I'm still eating too! :) I don't know where I'm going with this blog but in the meantime here is a comforting soul-fixing soup to try.

Okay, it won't really fix your soul. That's silly but it will fill you up when you're down and if you have a cold or feeling hungry with little to nothing in the fridge to eat, this will feel good and satisfying. It's more broth than soup with a few extra goodies like egg, Parmesan and garlic added to it. It's like Stracciatella but it's whisked instead of stirred. I used to eat a German-ish version of this (minus the cheese). It's too bastardized for me to call it anything but yummy. :)

The truth is, it's post Halloween here. I swear I don't steal chocolate from the kids but we do have a big bowl left that is full of cheap candy. I'm not really a sweet tooth but somehow I found myself eating about 12 bite size BabyRuth chocolate bars! Maybe more... I don't want to know. Yeah, not my best moment. I figured I should eat something smart to help me forget. It also had to be quick! I had 30 minutes before picking up the girls from school. I needed fuel! I was feeling off and tired and the poison I just binged on wasn't going to make things better. I needed a magic potion. Soup!

The good news is that last week, I made lots of vegetable broth so I had something to tinker with. I also had some canned beef broth to finish and little leftovers of this and that with big flavours. This is barely a recipe. Just good things put together. It only serves one. Just double it up or make more if you have to share. So here is what I used.

1 cup beef broth

1 cup vegetable broth

1 small handful of thin pasta like vermicelli, capellini or spaghettini, in pieces (small pasta works too)

2 garlic cloves, sliced thin or chopped

2 teaspoons tomato paste, pizza or pasta sauce (I used a small leftover of tasty tomato bread soup)

Olive oil to taste (it's probably a good tablespoon but I just drizzle)

1 large egg

Parmesan, grated (a good 1/4 cup)

Black pepper from grinder

Salt (I use Kosher salt and I'm hooked)

Cilantro or parsley finely chopped (I often have a small leftover kept in the freezer for such use).

In a small pot pour in your cups of broth. If it's all vegetable or all beef or chicken, that is fine too. Bring to a boil. Throw in your pasta and cook till it's close to ready (check the package's instructions). Add your garlic a couple of minutes before the pasta is done with a generous drizzle of olive oil. You can do this step first but if you forget like I do, it will make no big difference. I do it for taste. Speaking of taste, stir in your tomato paste or sauce if you have it. Stir it in and taste, if you want more, add more! While the pasta, broth and garlic simmer, quickly whisk your egg and grated Parmesan in what will be your bowl till it forms a runny paste. Grind some pepper, add a few good pinches of salt. Whisk that in and while still gently whisking, add your broth, pasta and garlic concoction. The hot broth will instantly cook the egg. It will be slightly thickened thanks to the starch of the pasta and the egg, Parmesan mixture.

At this point it's ready to eat but you can add finely chopped parsley or cilantro if you have it. It's a way for me to finish small leftovers that I keep in the freezer. I've been known to experiment with what's on hand. In this particular bowl, I added some lime juice and Sriracha with the cilantro. The Parmesan still worked but I have done without cheese many times. 

So there it is, lip-smacking good and ready to eat. Grab a spoon!

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Happy Epiphany!

It's the 6th of January. For those who don't know, it's a Christian feast day. So Happy Epiphany! :)

Some like to jump in a river, we prefer to eat cake! :) More precisely, something called: Galette des rois (kings cake). It's better than cake though with it's buttery, flaky, golden pastry and frangipane filling. Frangipane is a mild and sweet almond flavoured paste that is usually made with butter, eggs, sugar and ground almonds. It's good! It is definitely something I'm looking forward to. The kids look forward to the little ceramic trinket that is hidden inside. The person who gets the trinket in their slice, gets to be king (or Queen) and wear the crown! It's a tradition that is practiced by religious, not very religious and non practicing people. Well, French people. I can't speak for the rest of the world but I know others do it too with subtle differences. For us (usually), my mother comes for a visit around this time and buy the special treat in one of the special shops she finds on her way. We also get some bubbly. She couldn't make this week so I was willing to go without. It's not a Quebecer tradition so you won't find this in a grocery store or any bakery. A French person would easily have to learn to go without or bake their own (which is doable but not as simple as it looks).

That's when Marc surprised me! He took a chance and visited a little French deli down the main street that we rarely visit (mainly because it's out of our way). He thought that if a shop was going to sell some galette des rois, this would be it. He was right! They sell them! Yay! I have to be thankful that in this day and age, we can be spoiled with special shops who specialize in foods we usually wouldn't have access to. Time for me to encourage them and visit more often! ;) We don't have any bubbly or a fancy dinner to entertain us with (plain buttered noodles and a green salad is on the menu) but I will gladly take this with the girls to celebrate the closure of Christmas holidays. After today, we officially take the tree down. I'm ready!!

We mainly do the French tradition but I will always remember being around the age of 6 or 8 and dressing up as one of the Kings with my brother when we lived in Germany. I mainly remember the dressing up part and the crafty crowns. Oh how I loved those. 

I'm going to shamelessly quote Wikipedia for further explaining since I'm running out of time... I only copied the French and German traditions. Those are the ones I can relate to but the rest of the countries mentioned in the "National and local customs" on this link are all interesting to read. If you find it boring, skip it but I find other people's cultures fascinating. I like all the differences and similarities.

"In France people share one of two types of king cake. In the northern half of France and Belgium the cake is called a galette des Rois, and is a round, flat, and golden cake made with flake pastry and often filled with frangipane, fruit, or chocolate. In the south, in Provence, and in the south-west, a crown-shaped cake or brioche filled with fruit called a gâteau des Rois is eaten. Both types of cake contain a charm, usually a porcelain or plastic figurine, called a fève (bean in French).[70]
The cake is cut by the youngest (and therefore most innocent) person at the table to assure that the recipient of the bean is random. The person who gets the piece of cake with the trinket becomes "king" or "queen" and wears a paper crown provided with the cake. This person has a choice between offering a beverage to everyone around the table (usually a sparkling wine or champagne), or volunteering to host the next king cake at their home. This can extend the festivities through all of January!]"
"In the German-speaking lands, groups of young people called Sternsinger (star singers) travel from door to door. They are dressed as the three Wise Men, plus the leader carrying a star, usually of painted wood attached to a broom handle. Often these groups are four girls, or two boys and two girls for the benefit of singing their songs in four-part harmony, not necessarily three wise men at all. German Lutherans often note in a lighthearted fashion that the Bible never specifies that the Weisen (Magi) were men, or that there were three. The star singers will be offered treats at the homes they visit, but they also solicit donations for worthy causes, such as efforts to end hunger in Africa, organized jointly by the Catholic and Evangelical-Lutheran churches.[72] As a sign of gratitude, the young people then perform the traditional house blessing, by marking the year over the doorway with chalk. In Roman Catholic communities this may be a serious spiritual event with the priest present even today, but among Protestants it is more a tradition, and a part of the German notion of Gemütlichkeit. Usually on the Sunday following Epiphany, these donations are brought into churches. Here all of the children who have gone out as star singers, once again in their costumes, form a procession of sometimes dozens of wise men and stars. The German Chancellor and Parliament also receive a visit from the star singers at Epiphany."

Regardless, Happy Epiphany! Happy New Year! It's a wrap.