DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS HAS MOVED! PLEASE VISIT THE SHINY NEW HOME OF DDD BY CLICKING HERE.

chiliside

The three of you who were reading my blog last year at this time may recall that I am not a fan of winter.  “What?” the rest of you ask, “and you from Montreal?” 

Well, I’m here to tell you that being born in a certain place doesn’t automatically predispose one kindly toward the weather of said location (nor does it predispose one to winter sports; in other words, no, that’s not a tatoo on my rear, but a lingering bruise from a skating accident back in 1981).  To me, the ideal climate would be temperate, neither too hot nor too cool (I’m thinking between 68 and 80 Fahrenheit, or 20 and 22 Celsius), with sun about 95% of the time (just enough rain to ensure there’s no drought) and terrain surrounded by lush, grassy, fragrant forests with treetops that sway and quietly rustle in the breeze, like Hawaiians doing the hula. Oh, and no bugs.  And no snakes.  Or spiders.  And, what the heck, may as well throw in a yellow brick road, while you’re at it.*

But here we are, too far into November to deny the imminent crystalline entombment, and I must face the fact: it will be winter soon.  And what is there to do?  Generally, when I’m feeling down, my options fall into two categories:  1) food-related; and 2) dog-related.  As I write this, The Girls are sleeping off their early walk with the HH; and so, it seems, the next step is alimentary, my dear.

While baking is always my first instinct in the kitchen, I do enjoy cooking as well.  These days, it’s rare for me to spend any more time than necessary making dinner (read: 20 minutes, tops), but yesterday, I felt the need for the extended, meditative experience of slow cooking. In the morning, I loaded the dutch oven with dried beans and water; and by 7:00 PM, we were feasting on my age-old, many-times-refined, much-tweaked recipe for chili with mixed beans and “ground turkey.” 

chilitop

[Seems I still haven’t quite mastered the focus on my dandy new camera, but you can still make out the meaty-looking crumbles in there, can’t you?]

When I was a kid, I used to think chili acquired its name because it was meant to be eaten in cold weather.  While it’s true that this soup-cum-stew is best served in cool weather, it wasn’t until I began to read up on Indian cuisine that I discovered the name actually referred to a spice blend often used in the mix. Trusty Wikipedia tells me that Chili con Carne is the official dish of Texas; and that particular bowlful, it turns out, is the version made without beans.  Most of us, I’d wager, still think of beans when we think of chili, however. 

I also think of chili as the chameleon of stews: years ago, a friend who’d just returned to Canada from three years in Mexico served me mole, another form of chili; the notion of sharp spices with just an undertone of bitterness seemed immensely appealing (don’t be alarmed at the coffee and chocolate in this version!).  And a recipe once given to me by a former student from India featured simmered, pulled beef and a variety of curry spices with lentils. 

I first cooked chili when I was an impoverished graduate student living in Windsor, Ontario.  The recipe developed over the years, and what was once a fairly basic vegetarian chili has morphed over the years into my own version of the dish.  I include frozen tofu that’s been defrosted and crumbled to resemble ground meat (in fact, the first time I made this for the HH, he assumed the tofu was ground chicken. Perfect for skeptics!). The HH and I also both agree that chili should be more of a stew than a soup, so I simmer mine until almost all the liquid is absorbed and the beans are suspended in a kind of spicy tomato sauce.  If you prefer yours thinner, simply cook a bit less or add a bit more water. 

Eventually, my own additions became so numerous that even my enormous dutch oven was barely adequate to hold the stew, and I had to stop adding ingredients.  As a result, this makes a huge batch, and enough to freeze in single-serve containers that will sustain you through the winter.  While you slurp it up, just imagine that you’re somewhere warm, and green.

Oh, and with all these legumes in here, I thought this would be the perfect submission to My Legume Love Affair, the monthly event started by Susan at The Well Seasoned Cook and this month hosted by Simona at Briciole. 

Chili to Last Through the Winter

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

chilitop2

This chili provides a thick, spicy, filling and very substantial meal. Don’t let the long ingredient list deter you—this recipe makes a big batch that you can freeze for later, and it’s definitely worth the effort!

TO VIEW THE COMPLETE RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

[Diet, Dessert and Dogs has moved!  If you’re reading this page, you’ve landed on the old site.  Please visit the new location by clicking here–and don’t forget to update your readers and blogrolls!

As always, thanks for reading.  I look forward to seeing you at the shiny new Diet, Dessert and Dogs!

“Um, Mum, we are coming with you, aren’t we? Because (and sorry to have to tell you this), we actually have more fans than you do on this blog.”]  

 

Somewhere around the first week of December (either that or the 3rd day there’s snow on the ground, whichever comes first), I decide I’ve had enough of winter.  Bah!  Who needs lawns covered in a glistening, pristine blanket of white?  Who needs billowy undulations of snow-covered hills along the roadside?  Who needs that dainty spray of unique, lacy flakes as they gently descend from the heavens?  Not I!   

Despite all its awe-inspiring beauty, winter also brings with it a whole host of evils: treacherous patches of “black ice” concealed beneath a thin veneer of fresh white powder; knee-high snowdrifts that are agony to traverse in my ponderous, barely-warm-enough galoshes; wooly scarves pulled high over the nose (must protect my delicate proboscis from all that cold air whipping around, after all), causing impaired vision as my glasses fog up from the vapour of my heaving breath; and The Ordeal of the Walk, with its multiple layers of clothing, toque pulled low on the forehead, aforementioned scarf, earmuffs, double-layered gloves, and two wacky canines, each hauling on a leash in an attempt to leap and gambol, totally oblivious to the fact that my being upright is only a temporary state in this dreadful weather.  

Right.  For me, winter is hellish.  The only things that make it even barely tolerable are two major comforts: number one, my friend Gemini I’s country “cottage,” (a palatial residence that offers far more amenities and techno-toys than the city abode in which I normally dwell), and number two, comfort food.

Like most people, when I think “comfort foods,” what comes to mind are those dishes that populated my childhood as well as those I currently seek out when feeling blue.  These fall into two basic categories as well:  sweet, and savory.  In addition, my favored comfort foods tend to be both soft and warm.  The squishier, the better.  And if they can be cooked twice as long as the recipe suggests, well, we’ve hit the jackpot.  

Many of the savory dishes I used to eat are no longer welcome in my diet, but they are nonetheless ones that conjure fond memories (and ones my mother used to cook regularly):  salmon patties doused in ketchup; thick and hearty potato soup with corn kernels; baked beans (the canned variety), occasionally gussied up with maple syrup or hotdogs; or overcooked hamburgers alongside mashed potatoes and green beans. 

Of course, the “sweet”category still reigns during the frigid winter months:  slow cooked, (or better yet, baked) oatmeal and raisins (though I now consume the steel-cut variety instead of the instant packets we had back then); warm and gooey chocolate chip cookies; sticky, just-out-of-the-oven, tender and delicate cinnamon rolls; and the Mother of All Comfort Foods: rice pudding. 

ricepud1.jpg When my sisters and I were kids, the rice pudding my mother made most often was a baked version poured raw into a casserole dish and left in the oven for an hour.  What was supposed to end up as a homogenous mixture of custard and grains inevitably turned out as a hardened mass of uncooked rice settled below a thicker layer of eggy custard, which my sisters and I would scrape off without touching the grains. Our preferred rice pudding in those days was the canned variety, an overly sweet concoction of nearly-disintegrated rice in a suspension of various chemical compounds that approximated a pudding-like consistency.  Yum.  

These days, when I think of rice pudding, I aim for something a little more sophisticated; and I  no longer eat polished white rice in any case. So imagine my delight when I discovered a recipe for Brown Basmati Pudding, uniting brown basmati rice, fragrant spices and coconut milk, in Audrey Alsterberg and Wanda Urbanowicz’s ReBar: Modern Food Cook Book.   The perfect combination of urbanity and unpretentious comfort, this pudding seemed the ideal contribution to the Monthly Mingle hosted by Meeta at What’s for Lunch, Honey?.  The theme this month?  Comfort Foods. 

The final product was, after all, divine, and very grown-up.  With a smooth, creamy base cradling tender yet solid grains of rice, mingled with plump, juicy raisins, the pudding was warmed throughout by the subtle interweaving of cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger. Rich, sweet, soothing–warm or cold, this rice pudding is the perfect antidote to winter. In fact, it almost makes the ice and snow bearable.  

Almost.

Brown Basmati Pudding with Coconut, Cardamom and Ginger (from ReBar Modern Food Cook Book)

ricepud2.jpg

Although I followed the recipe fairly closely, I did substitute ground spices for the cardamom and cinnamon, because I like my spices cooked right into my pudding.  I used 1/8-1/4 tsp. cardamom and about 2 tsp. cinnamon.

TO VIEW THIS RECIPE, PLEASE VISIT THIS PAGE ON THE NEW DIET, DESSERT AND DOGS, BY CLICKING HERE.

Silence, Snow, and Sweets

December 16, 2007

Two suburban blocks sure can make a difference.  I swear, we moved north–two blocks north–and suddenly, we’re living in the arctic.   

snowdoor2.jpg

This never seemed to happen at the old house: the snow is swirling madly about my window, displaced drifts gusting in a constantly shifting veil of wayward flakes. It looks like some crazy subterranean god just sneezed, big time.  Down on the ground, the drifts by the driveway have virtually enveloped my car entirely, and the street itself is obliterated.  I can make out the ambiguous shape of a neighbour’s pickup truck, snow plow at the helm, rhythmically rocking frontwards and back as he attempts to clear his own driveway.  Why bother?

I’ve not seen so much snow since I was a little girl, when it settled up to our shoulders and my sister and I spent hours digging out forts and spelunking through the intricate tunnel systems that evolved in our front yard.  (Well, given that my shoulders were a little closer to the ground in those days, I suppose it’s possible that today’s is actually more snow).  My mom would squeeze us into our snowsuits (mine was a briliant hunter green, I recall), hoods up and scarves wrapped tight across face and forehead so only a slit for eyes remained. 

She must have known we’d quickly wrench the scarves from our mouths, impatient to get going and uncomfortble with the frost that formed into crystals, almost instantly, where our breath had been. So as an added precaution, she’d smear Vaseline over our cheeks to prevent chapping or frostbite. This allowed us to stay out for hours, protected from the harsh elements and their effects on our tender faces. (It worked great, too; if only I were still willing to exit the house with a mug covered in greasy, glossy petrolatum, I could have perfectly smooth, not-in-the-least-bit-dry, skin over the winter months). 

snow2.jpg In a way, I’m not sorry the city is blanketed, even though it’s virtually immobilized and you can be sure that nothing at our house will take place outside these brick walls today.  (Now, the last time our city saw so much snow was probably in 1999, when we were hit with a similar massive storm, and the mayor called in the army to dig us out from under it . And, as I recall, for which he was relentlessly mocked by mayors in other, equally snowy, cities across North America).

For me, the insulation of snow creates a calm and quiet workspace (the perfect surroundings in which to post my Holidailies entry).  Thank goodness I don’t have to be anywhere else today.  What I do have to do is bake, bake, bake, something I’ve been missing since I started my marking marathon last week.  

The past few days have brought a few orders from regular customers trickling in, and I’ve been itching to do some of my own baking as well–new recipes to try out, experiments to endeavor, old standards to mix up so my HH can have his favorite Orange-Pistachio Scones or Lemon Bundt Cake over the holidays.

So, with the backdrop of tender, fluffy flakes settling on the windowsills; with Stravinsky’s Firebird filling the air (we’re supposed to hear it live, courtesy of the Kirov Orchestra, tomorrow evening–IF the roads are cleared by then); and with The Girls settled in front of our new fireplace (“We don’t care that it’s fake gas, Mum, it’s still pretty and warm!”), I’m off to the kitchen to fulfill orders and whatever other confections my heart desires. 

Hope you’re all warm and toasty today.

windowsnow.jpg