27 February 2011

The carbonnade that wasn't: Chicken and Ale Stew

It all started with beer. And beef.

No, this isn't a wayward tale that begins in a pub and finishes with me communing with a herd of Waygu, pouring Methuselahs of Sapporo into their four-chambered gullets...

Although that could be fun...if a brewer or a beef farmer wanted to sponsor me on such a journey, I'm open to discussion...

But I digress.

It's winter, in Canada. Snow blankets the ground and at times a fierce wind chills me to my very core. In my world, it's not salad eating season. I don't want lemonade or iced tea. I don't want sushi. I don't want mellons dripping with honeyed juices.

I want hearty, long-cooked food with earthy and rich flavours. I want beef. I want oniony and mushroomy gravies. I want beef-stuffed oven-baked pastas. I want giant burgers with poutine. I want hot chocolate...and this is the only time of year I really crave...beer. Not just any beer. Stout--deep, rich and heady with chocolaty notes. Oh, it's lovely stuff.

But I'm not much of a drinker--the occasional half pint (yes, I'm the one who orders half a pint while out), but then the rest of my cravings go into food: cakes, stews, breads.

Knowing how well beer and beef play together--beer-braised beef,
steak and Guinness stew, beer-based sauces on barbecued steak--I fixated on Carbonnade à la flamande: a lovely, rich oniony Belgian beef and beer stew. I looked at a few recipes and cobbled together a plan.

I executed that plan.

I wasn't enamoured with the result.

Don't get me wrong--it was good: the beef was tender, the herbs and spices were and the aleish broth was oniony and and sort of rich. It definitely wasn't deep and lush as I'd hoped. But it was good.

When I revisited my plans and did more research into carbonnades, I found my error.

In all my frenetic note-taking, I didn't pay attention to what sort of Beglian beer to use. I should have used a dark brew. I bought a six-pack of whitbier. In other words I bought something better suited for lighter and crisper summertime sipping than a sturdier and darker pint.

Oh well. I looked at my remaining bottles of Hoegaarden. Truthfully, I read my remaining bottles of Hoegaarden. Two words caught my attention: orange and coriander.

Truthfully (again) I didn't pick up those notes when I tasted the ale. Mind you, I also don't pick up the plummy, oaky, peachy or other notes wines are purported to have.

But I digress (again).

I can work with coriander and orange and beer. I can work with those ingredients with chicken and mushrooms. I also happened to have a couple of links of Alsatian sausage in my freezer, from one of of the butchers I usually frequent, and though their peppery-clove spicing would also compliment the other flavours.

Every velvety and meaty mouthful combines sweet and spicy, with just a little bit of latent sourness from the ale and the mustard. The aromas hint at citrus and clove, in all its chickenny and sausagey goodness.

It may not be a carbonnade, but it was warming and made my tummy incredibly happy.

Chicken and Ale Stew with mushrooms and sausage
Yield: approx 2L

For the marinade:
2 cloves garlic, minced
0.25tsp salt
0.5tsp black pepper
1tsp ground coriander, toasted (see notes)
0.25tsp ground cloves
1 sprig, thyme
juice of one orange
500ml (2cups) Belgian pale ale--approx 1.5 bottles (I used Hougaarden)

For the stew:
500g (1lb) bonless, skinless chicken (dark and light meat), cut into bite-sized chunks.
200g (7oz) mildly spiced sausage (I used Alsatian-style sausages), sliced into coins (optional)
butter or oil for frying
1tsp ground coriander, toasted (see notes)
0.25tsp ground cloves
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
4 onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
500ml (2c) chicken or vegetable stock
2 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1Tbsp brown sugar
2-3Tbsp whole grain mustard
4Tbsp soft butter
3Tbsp all-purpose flour
grated zest of one orange
a handful of chopped parsley (optional)
500g (1lb) mushrooms, sliced

Mix the marinade ingredients together and pour over chicken pieces. Let sit while you brown the sausage coins in batches in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Remove the browned meat to a plate. Brown the marinated chicken in the sausage fat (adding additional oil or butter, if needed). Remove the browned chicken pieces to a plate.

Over a medium flame, add the coriander and cloves to the hot fat and fry for about a minute, until the air is perfumed. Add the celery, carrots and onions to the pot and cook until the onions are transluscent. Add the garlic, some salt and pepper and stir for about 30-45 seconds, until the garlic scents the air.

Add the marinating liquid and bring to a boil. Add the sausage, chicken and chicken stock. Stir in the brown sugar and bring it back to a boil. Add thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Lower heat and let simmer for about an hour (or longer, if you wish).

While the stew simmers, sauté mushrooms and set aside.

When the stew is done simmering, make a beurre manié with the flour and butter by kneading them together into a paste. Add a ladle or two of the stew's liquid and stir into the butter-flour paste. Stir this into the stew. Turn up the heat and bring the stew back up to a boil and let boil for a few minutes. Fold the mushrooms, orange zest and chopped parsley (if using) into the stew.

Serve over boiled, buttered potatoes, egg noodles or rice.


  • To toast spices, simply put them in a dry frying pan and place over a medium heat. Stir occasionally until the oils release their scent.
  • If you don't have mild sausage, you can totally omit it or use a smaller quantity of chopped, bacon--say four rashers--or ham (100-150g).


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20 February 2011

Vanilla Pudding

Like a mighty oak, I have been felled.

Okay...I'm not that tall...

Like a just-just-as-mighty jasmine shrub, I've toppled over.

Something--and I'm not sure what--wheedled its way by my immune system and left me flat on my back for a couple of days, unable to keep anything down.


I'll be kind and save you from reading a detailed diary of my biological functions, but suffice it to say, I am not amused with this constant nausea and ongoing tummy ache. And the fatigue. Extreme fatigue.

I doze on the couch, the PVR a babbling companion. I suppose under normal sickday circumstances this wouldn't be too bad...but this isn't normal sickday circumstances. On a normal sickday a machine filled with Julia Child, Jamie Oliver, Diary of A Foodie and other foodish shows would be small bit of joy in a snuffly world.

But when the mere thought of food makes one moan with disgust and trigger a deep breathing campaign to quell heaves, my normal escape become torture.

Augh, again.

All that said, I have learned that my gag reflex is a bit nonsensical and rather choosey as to what sets it off.

The following had me reaching for the remote:
  • A bowl of mushrooms
  • Watching Jacques Pepin remove braised endives from a pan
  • When that new Glee character (the one with the huge mouth) declared no one was more rock'n'roll than Justin Bieber

Yet the following had no impact on my queasiness:

  • Watching a sheep have its throat slit and its blood collected by a Navajo elder
  • A ship tossed on choppy seas
  • Stephen Fry helping scientists study sea lion poo
The Bieber thing I get. But mushrooms?

Needless to say, my tummy has been quite tricky as of late. For the first couple of days all I could really have was tea, ginger ale, rice and pudding.

Easy to make and easy to eat. I fully admit to going for instant pudding the first night: two minutes with a hand mixer and I had several "meals."

Once I was feeling better (but still not really up to eating anything too solid) I eschewed the packet mix and made my own pudding. It's simply a custard, with extra thickening power thanks to cornflour (cornstarch). It doesn't take that long to make, but unlike a packet mix, it does need about an hour to set in the fridge.

Vanilla Pudding
Yield: approx 250ml/1c

3Tbsp sugar
1.5Tbps cornflour (cornstarch)
a pinch of salt
250ml (1c) milk
1 egg yolk
0.5tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
1tsp butter

Mix the sugar, cornstarch and salt and combine with milk. Scald the milk while whisking continually--the mixture will thicken quite a bit because of the cornstarch. Take off the heat and let cool for a couple of minutes.

Temper the yolk by slowly dribbling the slightly cooled milk mixture into yolk, whisking all the while. Slowing increase the milk's stream until all of it is mixed with the yolk.

Rinse and towel dry the pot you scalded the milk in and pour the custard in to the pot. Return to the hob and over lowish heat, whisk until the mixture boils. Mix in the butter and vanilla.

Seive out the scrambled eggy bits (if you wish) and pour into bowls (covered with pressed-down clingfilm, again, if you wish), and refrigerate until set.

I'm a quill for hire!

13 February 2011

Happy Valentine's Day!: Red Velvet Marbled Cupcakes

Hearts and flowers. Hearts and flowers. Hearts and flowers.


I've never been a fan of Valentines Day. Yes, I wrote and made gaudily frilly, and later bought gaudily frilly cards for my school chums (and in return, I received equally gaudily frilly cards). When there's a man in my life, we mark the day with food, cards and whatever else we feel.

But really, I could do without the day. I've said it before: if you're in a relationship, I think you should spend every day letting the other person know how much you love and like them and how much they mean to you. Nothing cloying--just small things--a cup of tea, a backrub, mending a button, keeping the chocolate within reach and not on the top shelf...not because you "have" to but because you *want* to.

I worked in card and gift stores while I was in school, so as you can imagine, my relative indifference towards the day fully moved over to eyerolling fatigue of pink and red, shiny papers and doilies, hearts and flowers. The number of last minute, panic (and guilt)-strickened faces who queued at the till on the 13th and 14th of February was...incredible. Often they were there out of a sense of duty (she expects it), sometimes to dig themselves out of a hole (will this be good enough) and every once in a while because they were told to (my coworker "reminded" me...).

Don't get me wrong. There were people who planned sometimes weeks in advance and spent 20 minutes weighing the heartfeltness of each message in each card. Some of them were last minute shoppers, but many of them weren't.

I am alone, again, and chances are I'll be at home, watching a DVD, or vacuuming. Heck, I may, in a moment of curiosity, log on to LavaLife to see how much things have changed (or not) since I was on a couple of years ago.

Does this bother me? Not really.

Would I like to have a Mr. Wonderful land on my doorstep and want to discuss the Romantic poets or perhaps the political situation in the Middle East or even the CRTC and its decisions over media ownership and UBB over tea and cakes...well...of course I would. I'm not stupid.

If he gave me some notice, I'd probably make these red velvet marbled cupcakes for that tea. It combines two of my most reliable recipes in a rather striking, if not patriotic, way. Swirls of red and white, perhaps topped with cream cheese or coconut icing.

It's a bit finicky. The red velvet cake pure chemistry with fizzing reactions. The batters' densities and heavinesses couldn't be more different: light an moussey red velvet with a heavier buttermilk. Regardless, it works and they rise together beautifully.

Red Velvet Marbled Cupcakes
Yield 12


for the white batter
65g (0.5c) cake flour
0.5tsp baking powder
0.25tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
55g (0.25c) butter
1Tbsp flavourless oil
65g (0.33c) sugar
1 egg
0.5tsp vanilla
2Tbsp buttermilk

for the red batter:
65g (0.5c) cake flour
0.5tsp baking powder
0.5Tbsp cocoa powder
pinch of salt
60ml (0.25c) buttermilk
1Tbsp red food colouring
25g (2Tbsp) butter, softened
65g (0.33c) brown sugar
1dspn (2tsp) flavourless oil
1 egg
0.25tsp bicarbonate of soda
0.25tsp red wine vinegar

Preheat oven to 375F/190C and line a 12-bowl muffin tin with paper wrappers.

Start with the white batter:

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light, fluffy and almost pearlescent. Mix in the eggs one at at a time (or as best as you can).

Incorporate half the flour into the batter, scrape down the sides and then continue with the rest of the flour. Mix in the buttermilk.

Divide between the papered bowls.

Now for the red batter:

Sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt.

Mix together buttermilk and food colouring until it is a rather vile but even shade of puce.

Beat butter for a few minutes until creamy. Add brown sugar and cream well. Mix in oil and beat in egg.

Alternate mixing in flour mixture with buttermilk mixture (dry-wet-dry), scraping down the bowl's sides between additions.

Mix together the bicarb and vinegar into a fizzy, volcanic solution and work it quickly into the batter. At this point, the batter will be almost mousse-like in consistently.

Working quickly to so as to not lose the lift, divide between the papered muffin bowls and swirl the two batters together. Bake for 20 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.


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06 February 2011

Roasted Carrot and Parsnip Soup with Coriander

If necessity is the mother of invention then, leftover food is the mother of...well...different food.

It's winter and I cocoon in the warmth of my home. Enough food to feed a hockey team rolls out of my kitchen: Beelzebub's maw offers breads, casseroles, roast chicken, baked chops and lots and lots of roast veggies every few days.

It all gets eaten, sometimes frozen for a rainy day. Leftovers get played with--sometimes successfully, sometimes not. This is a successfull dalliance.

The other week my own poor planning left me without any exra meat or potatoes, but an overabundance of oven roasted carrots and parsnips.

I stared at them for a while. I'm sure a roast carrot and parsnip quesadilla could have done the trick, but I wasn't enthused. I could have baked some chicken legs or perhaps fried a quick steak, but for whatever reason neither of those options seemed satisfying either.

Falling snow and a quick wind put me in the mind for a hearty soup. The vegetables were roasted with warming spices of cardamom, coriander and cumin and the idea of turning them into a burnished gold soup was exactly what was called for.

As with most soups, I think this is really a non-recipe recipe: create a flavour base, add liquid, add the veggies boil and purée. Add more liquid, if needed.

My only tip I (and it's really not my tip, as I've seen it mentioned in chef interviews and recipes) is to add a bit of carrot juice after puréeing, to add a bit of brightness to the taste as well as colour.

Roasted Carrot and Parsnip Soup with Coriander
Yield approx 1.5l (6 cups)

flavourless oil
0.5tsp black mustard seeds
0.5tsp ground coriander seeds
0.5tsp ground tumeric
0.5tsp cinnamon
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2.5cm (1") piece of ginger, minced

300g (2c) roasted carrots and parsnips
(4c) hot vegetable stock, plus more, if needed
2tsp vinegar or lemon juice
375ml (2.5c) carrot juice (optional)
salt and pepper (to taste)

Garnish (optional)
sour cream
coriander leaves (cilantro), minced

Heat mustard seeds in oil over medium heat until the seeds begin to crackle and pop. Tip in coriander, tumeric and cinnamon and fry for about a minute. Add the onions (and more oil, if necessary) and fry for about a minute and then add the garlic and ginger. Continue to cook until the onions are translucent and limp. Add carrots and parsnips, stiring until everything is well coated. Pour in stock and vinegar and stir. Lid the pot and let blurble away for about 15 minutes or until the vegetables are heated through and yield to a wooden spoon. Take off the heat and let cool for about 10 minutes (or longer, if you wish).

Purée the soup in a food processor, immersion blender or a jug-style blender until it’s as smooth as you prefer.

Return the soup to the stove and simmer over medium heat. Add extra stock and carrot juice (if using) and stir. Balance flavours to taste.

Serve hot with optional dollop of sour cream and chopped coriander leaf stirred into each bowl.


I'm a quill for hire!