20 May 2015

Smokes Like a Fish, Drinks Like a Chimney

There is something of a poetic northern-ness in a sauce made with smoked fish and vodka. Skål! 

Rose pasta sauce with smoked fish on homemade pasta.  Other than vodka, without the trimmings, is there a better way to get through the end of pantry and freezer season?

Smoked Fish Vodka Sauce with Fettuccine

2 tbsp olive oil
Use a vodka with some flavour in it, none of that invisible
stuff you bought in your teens early 20s.

10 cloves garlic, smashed (or less if you are afraid of garlic, but this really isn't overly garlicky)
2 dried red chili peppers
6 plum tomatoes, peeled and diced
4 tbsp vodka
1/4 lb of smoked char (or substitute with smoked salmon or trout), torn or crumbled into small bits
4 tbsp heavy cream
1 tbsp butter

a three-egg batch of hand-made pasta, cut in fettuccine (or wider) size

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium.  Add smashed garlic and chilies.  Cook, stirring, until the garlic is softened.  Increase heat to med-high and add chopped tomatoes.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to med-low.  Stir occasionally until reduced by about a third.  Add vodka, and continue to let the sauce reduce.

Don't worry about precise chopping or mincing of
ingredients, not only will it all cook down to mush, but
you're going to blend it up anyway.
Put a big pot of water on for your pasta. (If it boils before you are ready for it, turn it down to a simmer until you are ready.)

When the tomatoes are mostly broken down and the sauce looks thick, remove from heat.  Allow to cool enough to puree in a blender.  If you are fastidious, wipe your pan clean and pour sauce back into it through a sieve.  If you can tolerate a more rustic sauce, just return the blended sauce to your skillet.
Bring back to a slow boil after adding the smoked fish, then
reduce the heat and stir in the cream and butter.  Once the
butter is melted and it's all nice and evenly combined the
sauce is ready.

Re-heat the sauce over medium. When it starts bubbling, stir in the smoked char. Cook the pasta now.  When the sauce to returns to a consistent bubble, reduce heat to low and stir in the cream and butter.  When the butter is melted and the cream is combined remove from heat.  This should happen about the same time your pasta is cooked.  Stir a wee bit of the pasta water into the sauce for good measure.  Drain the pasta and serve with sauce.

Makes 4 large or 6 moderate servings.


I like this sauce for poetic reasons as well as gustatory ones.  Although it's roots are admittedly in penne alla vodka, it's a great pasta for northern latitudes: smoked fish and vodka.  This is not a light meal, but it's not so heavy it will put you into a coma either. Good comfort food for the distressingly cold evenings we're still experiencing here.  In May.

You can almost smell the smoked char through the computer screen, can't you?  To serve, garnish with chive (admittedly, chive is, in fact, growing already) and some old hard Italian cheese like Sovrano.

We emerged from a few weeks of fog into a stretch of sunshine, so at least we're starting to build stores of vitamin D again.  Back to fog for a few days, but sun promised in the long-range forecast.  It's all a bit maddening even when the sun is shining because it looks like summer... as long as you are looking at the sky and the sea, and not at the brown hills and the leafless trees.  Yet, ridiculously, I may need to mow the lawn tomorrow for crabgrass control, but none of the desirables are out yet.*  Definitely still pantry, freezer and booze season.

*Okay, that's not technically true. The garlic is coming up nicely and just this morning our rhubarb started to leaf out.  Early flowers like snowdrops, crocus and alpine primrose are out.  But seriously, it's mid-May already.

Make hay and all that.  We'll still head out into that brilliant light, completely under-dressed for what turns out to be a very frigid coastal hike.  We'll blame the icebergs for this instead of poor planning, but we all know the ocean will be cold for months still and the chilly onshore breeze will be welcome in July.  We'll go out to garden, and be too hot with the sun on our backs, stripping down to t-shirts... until we stop moving anyway and need to pile sweaters and gloves back on.  We'll wear our sandals, even though our toes are frozen, because for two full hours one afternoon sometime last week it was warm enough to get them out and now, dammit, it's sandal season.  We'll sit out on the porch wrapped in blankets because we want to have just one beer outside.

They make really good smoked char up in Nain, Labrador.
The only real proper evidence of spring is that trout season opened on the weekend.  And although I swear the best fish for this recipe is smoked char from the Torngat Fish Producers Co-op of northern Labrador I suppose some of your home-smoked trout** would work too.

**If you want to send us some of that home-smoked trout, we'd be happy to try it out for you before you make it... you know, just in case I'm wrong...

13 May 2015

How to Make Pasta

This is an excellent kitchen basic to have in your repertoire... and an easy way to impress pretty much anyone.

Being able to make a basic pasta from scratch will serve you well in life.

Basic Egg Pasta, Hand-Made by You

Make a well in the flour for your eggs, salt and oil.
I've written the recipe on a per-egg basis because that's how I remember it. Also, it's easy to make as much or as little as you want.  As a point of reference, 3 eggs yield about 1 lb of fresh pasta (4 large or 6 small-ish servings).

for each egg:
100 g flour*
pinch of salt
1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Beat the wet ingredients together lightly.

*Use italian 00 flour if you have it but don't feel like you need it.  I normally use a mix of about half all-purpose and half durum semolina.  You can also use a mix of all-purpose with whole wheat or spelt flour.  Or just all-purpose.

Gradually work the flour into the egg mixture, scraping your
work surface as necessary.
Pile the flour up on your work surface** and make a well in the center of it. Fill the well with your eggs, salt and oil.  Using a fork, beat the egg mixture lightly, then begin to to gradually incorporate the flour into the egg mixture until it's too thick for stirring.  Work the remaining flour in with your hands.

**I use a large plastic serving tray, which is easier to clean than the counter and helps reduce the amount of flour which ends up on the floor, which is subsequently vacuumed up by Miss Bella the english springer hoover dog, which then results in great snorting and sneezing.  Somehow the discomfort of snorting and sneezing has never dissuaded her from spending the entire time I'm making pasta squished between my shins and the lower cupboard just in case some flour manages to fall.
When you get to this stage, your fork is no longer any good to
you.  Start kneading to finish incorporating the flours.

Knead the dough until smooth.  This will take about 9 minutes.  In the first couple of minutes, the dough will become evenly combined, then it will seize up.  You haven't done it wrong: knead through the stiffness, I promise it will relax and become pliable.

Cover the dough and let it rest for at least 25 minutes. This is a good time to make some sauce.
The dough is ready when you have kneaded the flours in,
kneaded until it seized, kneaded through the stiffness, and
ended up with a smooth, soft dough.  Let it rest before rolling.

If you are using a pasta roller, divide the dough into pieces about the size of an extra large egg.  Flatten and dust with flour to prevent sticking in the roller.  Run the dough through on the largest setting, fold over and run through again (dusting exterior with flour as needed) until it comes through smoothly.  Run through the same setting once more. Reduce roller setting by two sizes and run the dough through twice, dusting with flour if needed. 

Divide the dough into sections for rolling.
Continue to reduce roller size by two until desired thickness.  When rolling is completed, dust the pasta sheet generously with flour and set aside, covering if necessary to prevent drying out. Repeat with each section.

(If you are rolling by hand, divide the dough into manageable sized pieces for the size of your work surface and roll to desired thickness.)
Keep the dough well-floured to prevent sticking.

If the cutter that came from your pasta maker isn't broken because none of your cats knocked it onto the floor, use it to cut the desired width. 

If you don't have a working cutter, roll the well-floured sheets of pasta up and cut the desired width with a sharp knife.


This pasta freezes well, so you can make a large batch and freeze what you don't need.  Make sure it's well-floured to keep it from sticking together, but cook it directly from frozen (don't thaw) to avoid having damp flour glue the nicely separated pasta together.

When you are ready to cook, add pasta to a large pot of vigorously boiling water, stirring as you add to help keep things separated.  Fresh pasta will be cooked in 1-3 minutes (test as you go, it's done when it is firm and tastes fully cooked), depending on how thick and how wide it's cut.  From frozen it will take 2-4 minutes.

Roll the pasta sheets up into coils and use a very sharp knife to cut to desired width.  You can use this recipe for stuffed pasta and lasagna too, but follow recipe directions for cutting.


I do not have an Italian grandmother who taught me to make pasta, but I do have all the Italian grandmothers of the miracle of the internet.  Plus a few years of trial and error.  This recipe is a result of that, and for me, delivers the most consistently good results and disappointingly few dinner party leftovers.

Pasta making is a good skill to have.  No matter how good the pasta you buy in the store is, it's never as satisfying and never as impressive as the pasta you make by hand.  The pasta roller spends about as much time on the counter as the tortilla press, and it would be very difficult to decide between them which would be my desert island pick.***

***Okay, you are correct, the obvious answer is to take a rolling pin, but that's not much fun as a thought experiment, is it?

12 April 2015

I Like Moose Buns and I Cannot Lie

You don't have to braise all the indecipherable cuts of moose from the freezer.  Get your steamers ready, folks.

Steamed moose buns are a great bit of Canadian-Asian fusion to help us through the terrible Newfoundland season of winter-spring (@littleredchicken #StealingYourBonMots).  Great lunch or appetizer.  Even breakfast, why not?

Fefe's Steamed Moose Buns

inspired by The Woks of Life; dough adapted from AmyBites

This is a two day project.  Or an all day project.  Whichever way, it is time consuming. HOWEVER, you will end up making a massive supply of buns for your freezer.  The effort you put in up front will pay itself back in gold when you are wandering around the kitchen complaining that there's no food, only ingredients... but then you remember the moose buns.  In almost no time at all you'll be having the best lunch in town.

for the filling

The cat is generally less concerned about what cut this is.
1-1/2 lbs moose* (to yield a little more than 1-1/4 lbs after cleaning)
1-1/2 tbsp + 1 tbsp lard 
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp five spice powder
5-8 carrots (8 ordinary ones; Fefe only used 5 because two were "honking great things"), grated
6 spring onions, finely sliced
2 fresh chilies**, finely diced
1 tbsp soy sauce
4 tbsp mirin
If you live in a place where hot peppers are unpredictably
available, buy them when you can find them and toss any
you can't use right away into the freezer.  From frozen, you
can grate them into hot pepper snow with a microplane (or
just chop like you would fresh and carry on).
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp white vinegar (if you haven't run out of rice vinegar like we did, use that!)

*if you don't have moose, you can substitute venison, goat or beef for a similar flavour, but then you have to call them Mock-Moose Buns...

**or BETTER, use frozen ones and grate them into hot chili snow with a microplane (we learned this trick from Jamie Oliver, it's brilliant)

for the dough

1-1/3 c milk
1/2 c butter
1/2 c sugar
2 tbsp water
3 tsp active dry yeast
2 eggs, beaten
6 c all-purpose flour

To make the filling, cut the moose away from the bone***, and clean it really well, removing all the gristle and as much fat as possible.  Mince by chopping really finely then blasting with a food processor or if you have such a thing as a meat grinder, go ahead and use it.  (If you have pre-ground meat, that's okay too.)

***DO NOT THROW AWAY THE BONES.  Use these to make some beautiful soup stock.

Clean the moose very well, chop finely and then blitz with
your food processor.  Or, if you are so lucky as to have a
meat grinder, use it.
Heat 1-1/2 tbsp lard in a skillet.  Brown the moose with the and five spice powder, then remove to a large heatproof bowl and set aside.  Add another 1 tbsp lard to the pan and saute the carrots, onion, and chilies until soft.  Add the carrot mixture to the moose and stir together with the remaining filling ingredients.
Make the filling a day ahead if you can.  If you have to make
it the same day, let it cool as much as possible before filling.

The colder the filling is, the easier it is to work with.  So if you can make it a day ahead and refrigerate overnight, do that.  Otherwise, cool it as well as possible.

To make the dough, heat the milk and butter together in a saucepan until the butter is melted.  Set aside.  Mix the yeast with water and let sit to soften, about 5 minutes.  When this 5 minutes is up, combine the milk mixture, yeast mixture, sugar and egg.

Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl (or the the bowl of a full sized food processor), reserving about a 1/4 cup in case you don't need it.  Slowly pour in the milk mixture, stirring constantly (or pulsing the food processor) until the dough comes together in a big sticky ball.  It should be sticky, but look like a ball... if it's shaggy, add more flour as needed.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes.  Put the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and let rise in a warm place for about an hour.

After the dough is risen, punch down and divide into quarters.  Work with one quarter at a time.  You have a lot of buns to make, this will help it be less overwhelming...

To stuff the moose buns, line 4 baking sheets with parchment (or some combination of baking sheets, serving trays and plates****).   Punch down the dough and divide into quarters.  Working with one quarter at a time (keeping the remaining dough covered), break dough into 12 fairly even pieces about the size of ping pong balls (so, a total of 48 buns by the time you are done with it).  Form each section into a ball, then roll into a circle about 1/4" thick.

****You will want freeze any uncooked buns for another day, so consider freezer safe-ness when choosing these.  Freeze them like you would berries or meatballs, in a single layer until frozen then transfer to a freezer bag or other airtight container. 

The trick is to get the right amount of moose filling.  Too
much and it will squish out the top; too little and you will
feel deprived.
Spoon some moose filling (about a tbsp) into the center of the dough. It's a matter of getting a feel for the ratio of filling to bun.  You want as much delicious moose stuffing as possible without risking not being able to close the dough up.  If you have the time and interest, you can spend a great deal of it looking at the miracle of the internet to find beautiful, intricate and traditional ways of folding up and sealing the bun.  Fefe simply draws up the edges and smooshes***** them together at the top.  Let the filled buns rest for 20-30 minutes before cooking or freezing.

*****That's the technical term, just ask her.

To cook the moose buns, prepare your steamer if necessary.  We make our stainless steel steaming basket non-stick by lining it with vented parchment.  Take a piece of parchment paper big enough to cover the bottom and sides of the steamer and cut it into a snowflake.  Bring a couple of inches of water in the bottom of your steaming pan to a boil, reduce heat to moderate the vigor of the boil but keep it high enough to have a good constant steam.

If you don't have a non-stick steamer, you can make it non-stick by lining it with a parchment paper snowflake.  This is a good job for the kids.

Gently place the buns in your steamer, leaving some space in between to allow for expansion.  Put the steamer over the boiling water, stick a tight-fitting lid on it, and cook for 12 minutes (15 minutes if cooking from frozen). The buns are done when the dough is expanded and soft but firm enough they don't hold a finger indentation.

Serve with sriracha or other garlicky hot sauce for dipping.


I started writing this blog post before Fefe finished making the moose buns.  She spent several minutes telling me how clever she was mixing half-batches of the dough in our teensy tiny mini-chopper that we pretend is as good as a full sized food processor.  I just heard her swear.  It seems the motor may be blown out.

What Fefe Noir did (left) was break the mini-chopper.  What worked better on the following recipe test (right), was to go old-school and use a bit of elbow grease.


Food supplies in grocery stores have been a bit unpredictable lately because it's been a hard year for ice... sea ice delays ferries and grocery shelves become empty.  Strangely, not just empty of exotic off-season foods like tomatoes and broccoli but also of ordinary things we can actually raise on this island, like pork and beef.  Meat has to come in from away because the big chain grocery stores won't carry meat that isn't inspected and graded and the only federally licensed slaughterhouse in Newfoundland and Labrador is for chicken.  I will admit to not fully understanding the problem, except to know that it's obvious something is broken.  I am not convinced that federally registered abattoirs is the answer; centralization increases the scale of contamination risk, drives up prices for the producer which can be a disincentive to raise livestock, and it can create a very troublesome gap between husbandry and slaughter.  Clearly, we need better support for agriculture in this province, from policy and from consumers in order to gain a scale of production that could reduce our dependence on that very unreliable chain of transportation.

But I digress.

Forget the beef, pork and Australian lamb marooned in the ice on the Cabot Strait.  The lack of meat on store shelves is only part of what has many of us digging to the bottom of our freezers and thawing out bits of ignored meat.  Like the goat we forgot we had, or that packet of moose that keeps getting put back after staring at it long enough to realize you haven't got the foggiest idea what part of the moose that was.  It's also nearing the end of winter.  We ate the easy stuff already.

This recipe makes a lot of steamed buns, but just freeze the
excess.  They cook from frozen in just 15 minutes when
you need a quick meal.
I know I say this every time we cook moose, but we have a lot of indecipherable cuts in the freezer. It seemed unlikely that the cast-off moose would include t-bone.  On the other hand, I hate to underestimate the generosity our friends and neighbours.  But probably blade roast cut like a steak?  With a slice of round? What do you call the picnic shoulder on a moose?

Here's some good news: you don't have to braise every uncertainty from the freezer. It's a good rule for unknown cuts, but you can also guarantee tenderness by mincing it.  And if you make something really delicious, you won't have to worry about maybe wasting a good steak.

These buns are a good project for April (or whatever time of year represents the dregs of winter where you live).  You won't really have time to make them once you start your outdoor-season projects, and you won't have to find something to fill an entire day or two consecutive afternoons once the weather improves.  Make them on a day when you are feeling stir crazy.  Cook them from frozen on days when it's taken you twice as long as expected to get home from work due to a late-season ice storm. Or when you are feeling listless from depression caused by the never-ending winter.

Serve the steamed moose buns with sriracha sauce, or other lovely garlicky hot sauce.  Mmmmmm.... 

13 February 2015

Freezer and Pantry Valentine: Part 3. The Pudding

Make an impressive three course meal for two on Valentine's Day using ingredients you already have. For the pudding, make hot and gooey apple-chocolate bread pudding. (I told you it was impressive.)

Opposites attract, so avoid arguing over fruit or chocolate and have both.  After all, it IS Valentine's.

Apple-Chocolate Bread Pudding for Two

a hunk of stale bread (french stick is good but anything will do), cut into chunks 
1 apple, peeled and chopped (or maybe some frozen berries, or perhaps a handful of raisins or other dried fruit) 
1 egg (non negotiable, sorry vegans)
1/2 cup milk (or cream, or mmmmm maybe chocolate milk.....) 
3 tbsp sugar, I used white, but use what you have, or honey or maple syrup.....
knob of butter, cut into small pieces
a handful of chocolate chips (or chopped chocolate or, I don't know, mini marshmallows...)

MAKE AHEADYou probably don't want to be running around like a crazy person feeling harassed and frustrated on Valentine's Day.  So get this ready before you pop your main in the oven, you could assemble it hours ahead, more time for the egginess to soak into the breadiness. Pop it the oven as soon as the quail comes out and impress your love with a heartwarming dessert.
Chances are good you've got all the ingredients already.  The
uneaten end of a loaf of bread, that apple which inexplicably
no one is eating, chocolate chips lost way in the back of the
freezer... eggs, milk butter, sugar.  Okay, maybe you don't
have the exact items, but you've got something that will work.

Your oven will be nicely preheated to 350F from cooking your quail.

Butter two individual ramekins.

Stuff the ramekins full with bread mixed with the apple, and chocolate - save a wee bit of the chocolate to sprinkle on the top.  Really jam it those ramekins.

Whisk together your egg, milk and sugar.  Slowly pour the egg mixture over the bread giving it time to soak in, you may want to encourage this by pressing the bread down a bit.  

Top with a few teensy bits of butter and reserved chocolate.

Place the ramekins on a shallow pan and bake uncovered for 30 minutes, or until the custard is set and the top is golden brown.  Let cool a few minutes before serving, to avoid comically blowing on each other through the first half of the dessert course.


'bou likes fruity desserts and I don't believe something counts as dessert unless it contains chocolate, whipped cream or meringue.  With this pudding, I look like I'm being considerate of caribougrrl while giving myself a little chocolate valentine.

caribougrrl is always complaining (under the guise of teasing) about the British obsession with making dessert out of stale bread, but I think she's starting to get used to them.  And for godsakes, I put an APPLE in it.  

But don't kid yourself, the next time she's away I'm going to make this with chocolate milk and mini marshmallows.  Just don't tell her...

12 February 2015

Freezer and Pantry Valentine: Part 2. The Main

Make an impressive three course meal for two for Valentine's Day using ingredients you already have.  For the main, make individual coq au vin.  (I told you it was impressive.)

Go ahead and be dramatic.  Serve tiny whole quail cooked in a rich red wine sauce.  The best part: surprisingly easy and mouthwateringly delicious. 

Quail au Vin for Two

2 quail
2 slices of bacon, chopped (or use pancetta or lardons or back fat)
1 carrot, finely diced
1 stick of celery, finely diced
1 shallot, finely diced (or a small onion, or part of a larger onion)
1 bay leaf
2 stems of thyme
a glass or so of red wine* 

*Preferably a burgundy or pinot noir or similar (we used Nova Scotia's Jost Vineyards Leon Millot), or use whatever you opened recently and did not finish... ha ha ha, right, okay, buy a red wine you don't mind losing a glass from but that you like enough to serve on Valentine's day.  

MAKE AHEADYou probably don't want to be running around like a crazy person feeling harassed and frustrated on Valentine's Day.  So in the morning, make this recipe up to the point of placing the vegetable mixture and browned quail in their pots.  When you are ready to cook, all you have to do is take them out of the fridge, top up with wine and stick them in the oven.  Less time in the kitchen is more time to spend with your sweetheart.

Make sure the quails are well-cleaned; it's not uncommon to find a pin feather or two that require plucking.  Scrub with coarse salt and wipe off with a damp paper towel, leaving some of the salt for seasoning.

Pre-heat oven to 350F.

Put bacon in a cold skillet and heat over medium.  Render the fat and cook the bacon to golden brown but not crispy.  Remove bacon from pan and set aside.

Brown the quail in the bacon fat until golden on all sides.  Remove from  pan and set aside.
Put the mirepoix and bacon in the bottom of the dish, tuck the
whole quail in, top up with wine and it's ready to go.

Saute the carrot, celery, shallot and bay leaf in the remaining bacon fat (if there's not enough, add more from your jar of bacon fat... if for some insane reason you don't save bacon fat, use olive oil).  When the vegetables begin to soften, deglaze the pan with a splash of wine (use the more traditional brandy for deglazing, if you have some... we used ours up at New Year's and haven't replaced it yet).

Remove the bay leaf.  Mix the veg and bacon together and divide into two 1-cup lidded ovenproof pots or ramekins. Divide the thyme between dishes, using some under the quail and some on top.  Tuck a quail tightly into each pot and fill to almost full with red wine.  Cover with lids (or aluminium foil) and place on a baking tray in case of overflow.

Bake covered for 25 minutes.  Remove cover and bake for 15 minutes.  If they look dry (this is fairly unlikely, but check anyway), add a bit more wine.

Serve with a simple salad and some crusty bread.  Or just the salad.  Or whatever side you can make with what's on hand.

Quail au vin for a candlelit dinner... swoon....


Okay, okay.  You might not have quail lying around in your freezer.  Grouse or partridge will do if you have it (though you will only need one, quartered so it can be squished in the pot - so really, quail is best for visual impact).  Maybe you don't have neighbours who raise or hunt quail.  Maybe you missed the after Christmas sale of "fancy" poultry at your local grocer.  No worries.  You can buy 6 frozen quail** for $10-12, which sounds expensive but is 3 romantic dinners for two, or 6 self-validating and empowering meals for one.

**They need to thaw at least somewhat before separating, but since you will be thoroughly cooking quail eventually, go ahead and re-freeze the partially thawed quail.  Or, if you have your tea-smoker operating for cod, smoke the leftover quails before freezing (or refrigerating to use in the next few days).

This is not Julia's coq au vin, I know, but don't worry about it.  This is not about perfecting a classic french dish, it's about romance.  Don't underestimate the power of being a bit dramatic; serving a whole bird in a pot of rich wine sauce is pretty dramatic.  Also, most importantly, quail au vin is delicious.  Which is why you only make one per person; if you make more, you will eat too many and that will spoil your dessert.