Pumpkin Chili and Putting one foot in front of the other…

The term is coming to a close, and oh has the time gone by slowly/quickly/wonderfully/painfully. The clock seems to rotate so fast sometimes it feels like I will never be able to get on top of anything, whether it be homework, housework, or those nagging tasks that need to be completed within the month. Other times the tick is ominous, usually when my pockets are full of pencils and I’m standing outside the classroom waiting to right a midterm, humming to myself and rocking from heel to toe to ease my nerves (and look crazier).

This term has, thus far, been the most unique, challenging, but ultimately rewarding stint I have spent at university so far. My increased focus that has come with having a solid, long term goal has shown itself to be worthy, from the marks I’ve received to the sense of purpose I feel. Moving away from home has also given me a “fresh start”, which has been a great opportunity to live the way I have wanted to in the past two years, but never initiated. I am eating the way I want to, exercising more, getting way more sleep, and studying the way I know is most effective. That’s not to say it’s all been a sunshine-y picnic (more than one Mad Men marathons when I had too much work to do, teary midnight melt downs over the string theory of waves, multiple nights of over-indulgence, stomach aches from stress, and 1 1/2 empty jars of nutella), but overall it has included all of the good bits I conjured up in my mind when I thought of attending McGill in the first place.

One of the surprising highlights of my day is actually the commute. I know, sitting on an old school bus with my head getting blasted by cold air from the very poorly designed windows that do not seal, and my feet getting blasted by air so hot I have to cram my knees up on the seat in front of me to avoid first degree burns, does not sound like a very good highlight to have. However, between my brisk 15 minute walk to school, standing in line for the shuttle, and the 45 minutes of being shuttled, I have discovered the power of the podcast. Oh yes, the podcast. More specifically, the CBC radio podcasts. Now, this is not the first time I have listened to CBC, as I have in fact been a CBC junkie for approximately three years, and have woken up to CBC radio as my alarm every weekday since the 7th grade. At my last job, I would explain to all new employees that the CBC is played continuously, and hopefully they like it otherwise, well, that sucks. Now, I listen to The Vinyl Cafe, DNTO, White Coat Black Art, the Age of Persuasion, Wiretap, The Q, and many more on a regular basis. On my way to campus and back, I zip my collar up to cover my mouth, so as to muffle my sometimes startling reactions of laughter or sadness to passerby’s. I relay the best stories and podcasts to Sebastien over dinner, and we discuss similar stories that we had forgotten we had. These podcasts have been an unexpected enrichment in my life, providing a strong grounding experience that has allowed me to put myself in uncountable pairs of shoes.

Recently, I listened to a Definitely Not the Opera (DNTO) podcast about long walks, and how they can lead to life changes. It included the story of a Montreal man that started walking one day, and didn’t stop until he had circled the world 11 years later. This got me thinking about what walks have meant in my own life. When we lived in Victoria, Sebastien and I used to walk up Mt Tolmie from his house, and along Cadboro bay from my house. It was on these walks over the course of a semester that I proposed we move to Montreal, we discussed it, and eventually came to a decision that we would go to McGill. It was walking the West Coast Trail that solidified a group of friends that I know I will now always be able to call on. Walking on Cobble Hill Mountain with my family and friends are the memories that I associate most closely with my sense of what “home” is. Some of my most relaxing, poignant, and joyful times in my life are, somehow, all associated with the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other.

So it has been decided. There are three parks in a relatively close vicinity to our apartment, and it is my goal to got for a minimum of one lengthy walk per week, in addition to walking to and from campus. Yes, through the duration of the winter, no matter what. After those sure-to-be brisk walks, there’s nothing like a warm bowl of soup beside a cup of tea to initiate the thawing process. This recipe is a pumpkin-bean chili, easily modifiable to be vegetarian/vegan and grain-free. I like to do this in my slow-cooker, just because it is so convenient! If you don’t have a slow-cooker however, a large pot on low heat with the occasional stir will do the trick. The longer you cook the chili, the more developed the flavour, but it a pinch you could reduce the cooking time with any trouble. For the beans, I find that pinto beans take quite a long time to cook compared to navy beans and black beans, so I decided to use a can, for fear they would still be hard. You could substitute all the beans for canned varieties, but I believe I’ve mentioned (more than once, haha) how easy it is to cook beans! If you miss soaking them overnight, not a problem either, as long as they haven’t been sitting in your cupboard for 10 years they should cook up no problem. The recipe for the cornbread is coming up next, so hang in there!

Pumpkin Chili

1 onion, chopped
1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 c black beans, soaked overnight
1/2 c white navy beans, soaked overnight
1 can of pinto beans, or 3/4 c cooked pinto beans
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can pumpkin puree
2 Tbsp cumin
1 Tbsp chili powder (or 1-2 tsp chipotle chili powder)
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 butternut squash cubed (can substitute acorn squash or omit)

1) Heat a pan on medium heat with a bit of oil. Add the onion, stirring until translucent. Add the beef, and turn heat down to medium-low. Fry until beef is cooked through.
2) Meanwhile, combine all other ingredients in your slow cooker or large pot. When the beef/onion mixture is done cooking, add to other ingredients.
3) For the slow cooker, choose the “low” setting for 8 hours or the “medium” setting for 5-6 hours. If you are using a pot, heating all the ingredient to a simmer, then reduce the stove to low heat. Allow to simmer very gently, stirring occasionally, for 1 1/2-2 hours.
4) To test doneness, try biting into the beans- they should be soft, and not have any discernible “crunch”.
5) Add salt to taste. If you find the chili is a bit too thick for your taste, you can add a little bit of chicken stock to thin it out.
6) Serve with a wedge of cornbread, rice, or simply heaped in a bowl!

Banana Cream Cheese Muffins and Best Friends.

When asked what the most universal language is, I think most people would come up with “food”, “love”, or possibly “music”. For me, food is the language of festival, normalcy, and condolence. Every time anyone near and dear to my family loses someone, I am used to the immediate hustle and bustle of preparing casseroles and cookies to have in hand for the first visit. In this past year a few of my closest friends have had to experience losses, and those have highlighted the difficulty of offering support and condolence from a distance. Because it is usually impossible to turn the comforting thought of homemade food into words worthy of expression, at least for me, I thought I’d offer a recipe to two of my friends I have been close with since elementary and middle school, and who both experienced the loss of a family member in this past year.

Not many people are lucky enough to hang on to their high school friends. Maybe lucky isn’t the right word- plenty of people can’t wait to leave the awkward, transitional teenage years behind, including the people that were there to witness every folly. On the other hand, the people who saw you during that state know the rawest form of you- the half-baked, still experimenting, stumbling, eyes-closed version of you. They understood the wristband phase, and moved past it alongside you. They totally got the near heart attacks that academics inspired, where surely a poor grade would jeopardize your whole future. They broke the rules with you, stood with you, and felt the consequences with you. They remembered your birthday most of the time. They stayed in your car and talked for a long time before walking the 6 feet to their front door, even though they were just going to see you in the morning.

There is a group of girls- we literally still refer to each other as “the girls”- I am lucky enough to maintain a relationship with past high school. Our history goes way back, and includes crying, camping, concerts, comedy, and philosophical conundrums. It has been highlighted with fighting, fits, and feelings hurt. I wouldn’t trade any of our experiences for the world, including the most cringeworthy, the least sensitive, and the ultimately embarrassing.

I mentioned camping above- that we knew how to do. We continue to have sleepovers whenever the opportunity arises, even though our age no longer contains the suffix “teen”. We have spent many a night crammed into a too-small tent, going to sleep freezing and waking up steaming, and in my case, eyes swollen shut from allergies. We did the west coast trail together in grade 12, adding whole new dimension to our shared camping experiences, and contributing to the list of “the best things I’ve ever done” for each of us. When we camped in civilization however, we frequented a member of the group’s house who coincidentally had a mom that woke up super early and baked. Baked fresh muffins. Baked fresh muffins with cream cheese embedded in the centre. I can’t speak for the other members of the group, but whenever I see a recipe or illusion to the combination of cream cheese and muffins, I automatically think of the morning after sleepovers and those wonderfully fresh muffins.

I have, over the past few years, created many of my own muffin recipes. This is mostly attributed to the fact that I used to have a job that exclusively included baking muffins. Most of the muffins I make again and can’t stop thinking of are NOT I repeat NOT healthy granola-and-nuts muffins. Even my granola-and-nuts muffins lean hard to cakes and pastry. Sure, I have a few carrot, pumpkin, and squash puree based muffins…but honestly, you’re still eating a mini-cake that somehow slid into the breakfast category. And that, for special occasions, is a glorious thing.

This muffin features brown butter, a creation so simple and fantastic, I can’t believe I have yet to incorporate it into all of my baking endeavors. Not only for baking, I may possibly have maybe once served a filet of sole drenched in brown butter sauce to guests. We spent the meal talking about the health benefits of fish, so I thought I’d keep it on the down low what the sauce consisted of. Hey, they said it was the best fish they ever ate! No need to bring in the ingredients. Because brown butter is just butter. That is it. You put butter in a pot, you melt it down over low heat then let it start to foam and turn a beautiful hazel colour. It will smell very similar to hazelnuts and caramel (swoon). Little bits of milk solids in the butter will brown much faster than the liquid, but if you are baking and not concerned with the aesthetics of the sauce, these little crunchy bits add great flavour, so scrape them all out and use them!

This muffin, as I mentioned, also has the famous cream-cheese center. Maybe not that famous actually, unless you are an active member of “the girls” and a regular sleepover participant. It is a simple but splendid addition, just a little spoonful of cream cheese tucked into the batter before baking. It will change your whole experience with muffins, however. You will refer to all other muffins as “center-less muffins”, and may become so fanatical as to eventually move on to calling them “soul-less muffins”. Also, if it’s a Friday night and you’ve got a jones for baking…and you’re down half a bottle of wine since the beginning of the evening…equal parts cream cheese and nutella. Just saying. Combine the cream cheese with the nutella. You will be so glad you did.

Alright, without any further ado, here are the banana cream cheese muffins, dedicated to the girls and filled with wishes of condolences.

Banana Cream Cheese Muffins
As you can see, this muffin contains a lot of “optional”‘s. You can add any number of the optionals in any combination, depending on your pantry/fondness for your waistline. If you choose to add them all, feel free to insert the phrase “pimped-out” in front of the title above.

1/3 c unsalted butter butter
3-4 bananas (old and spotty ones)
1 c brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg, beaten
1/2 tsp salt

3/4 c all purpose flour
3/4 c whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cardamom (optional)
1/4-1/2 c shredded coconut (optional)
2 Tbsp high quality cocoa powder (optional)
1/4 c pecans, chopped (optional)

1 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp oats
2 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp shredded coconut
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Cream cheese for filling

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. First of all, the brown butter. Place the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, and cook it until the colour turns brown and it smells amazing. Make sure you keep an eye on it so it doesn’t go black (that will be unusable), but don’t worry if you think it’s a little on the dark side, it will taste amazing when baked.

2) When the butter has browned, pull it off the heat. Un-peel your overripe bananas and slice them into the butter mixture. It will sizzle and smell even more wonderful. The hot butter will soften the bananas making them easier to mash into little pieces, and the bananas will cool down the butter.

3) When the banana-butter mixture is cool enough that you can put your finger in it without wanting to remove it quickly, add the brown sugar, egg, and salt. Stir well.

4) In a bowl, combine all the dry ingredients. Make a well in the dry ingredients, and add the wet ingredients. Gently fold to combine the wet and the dry, being careful not to over-mix. Once you think the batter is uniformly mixed, stop and mix no more!

5) In a small bowl, combine all the topping ingredients. You don’t have to use melted butter, I just gently work it into a crumb with my fingers.

6) Prepare your muffin tins with paper/silicon liners or grease. Spoon the batter evenly between 6 jumbo muffin cups or 12 medium muffin cups.

7) For the cream cheese: I find 1 tsp for medium muffins is the perfect amount, and about 2 tsp for jumbo muffins. I don’t worry too much about precise measurement though- I cut little pieces of cream cheese off the brick of cream cheese and roll them into balls, combining pieces until I get 1-2 tsp of cream cheese. I then gently press the cream cheese into the muffin, pushing the batter onto it so it is enveloped in the muffin. Repeat until all the muffins have cream cheese centers.

8) Cover the muffins with the topping. Place in the oven, and bake for 30-45 minutes depending on your muffin size and oven character. Check the muffins after 25 minutes by touching the top gently and quickly (no burnt fingers!) to see if its set. If it appears to have set, insert a clean butter knife into the edge (not the cream cheese center) of the muffin and see if it comes out clean. Continue to bake until a clean butter knife (read: not the one you used for the previous test that would now have batter on it) comes out clean.

9) Enjoy!

Granola to Get Going

Full disclosure: I have never liked cereal. Sure, I think I enjoyed the novelty of picking out a cavity-causing sweet cereal for my birthday breakfast, but when I realized I could pick any other breakfast I want, I dropped the cereal without a look behind me (my mom would make these little cinnamon biscuits called Scuffles, but we’ll come back to those another time). Never did the cheerio or rice crispies thing. Never liked milk poured over anything, except bananas and brown sugar for dessert. This remains true to this day. The last time I probably had cereal for breakfast was in elementary school. Granola? I could live without it. That is, until we started making our own. I can sum it up with Sebastien’s face when he came home and could smell it baking. He just smiled and said “Cookies?”

No not, cookies. The fabulous smell of toasting oats, bran, coconut, cranberries, and pecans swathed in cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger. When stirred into yogurt, the well-toasted bran combines to make an almost chocolate-like bitterness, and the cranberries end up with crunchy edges cradling their soft middles. By itself, it’s a perfect snack when you are studying, a little bowl of flavour to keep your brain whirring and your stomach settled. So yes, now I can’t live without this granola, and it makes my breakfast or lunch so easy to prepare.

Fresh ginger is something I believe should be on hand at all times. It is just a gorgeous ingredient, creating a warm, spicy pop that so many dishes are complimented by. It takes plain old fried rice and turns it into a culinary experience. It takes pumpkin loaf and turns it into something special. It takes salad dressing and turns it into fork-licking good. It puts the “g” in great granola. The thing is, you usually buy a pretty sizable ginger-root from the grocery store, but can never use it all up (if you have in one go, high five, sounds like a good week). The flavour starts to deteriorate if it sits in the fridge, and the edges get unpleasantly shriveled. For this reason, the moment I get home from the grocery store, I peel the whole thing, cut it into cubes, and throw it in the freezer. It will stay fresh in the freezer, and it makes it very easy to grate or chop finely while it is frozen. To peel ginger, all you need is a metal spoon. Use the edge to pull at the skin, and as you’ll see, it just slides off. Most recipes call for 1″ pieces, so I tend to cut the whole thing up to roughly that size (I gauge 1″ using the knuckle on my thumb to the tip- test out the size of yours with a ruler, it is super useful for measuring on the fly).

Another thing that goes straight into the freezer is nuts, especially pine nuts and walnuts. I have previously ranted on the price of pine nuts, so when I do treat myself to them, I want to make sure I can use every single one. That means NOT having them go rancid. Nuts go rancid quickly because of their high unsaturated fat content, which get oxidized when stored in light/warmth. Rancid oils will not only eventually taste unbelievably disgusting, they are best to be avoided in the diet because of the radicals that can be produced. For this reason, I always buy whole, unprocessed nuts (the more chopped up they are, the more surface area to go rancid) and never keep them in the cupboard, always at least in the fridge, but usually in the freezer. I have for the most part given up on buying walnuts because they are almost always rancid (its those darn omega 6 fatty acids, which are pro-inflammatory and not great for you anyways) so I will always use pecans in the place of walnuts in the recipe. If you love you some walnuts, when you buy them sample them in the bulk section (you can ask, most stores are cool with this) to make sure they don’t taste rancid. At the very least least give them a sniff, you should be able to tell right away.

Cranberry-Ginger Granola

3 c oats
1/4 c bran
1/2c-3/4 c chopped nuts (my favourite is a combo of almonds and pecans)
1/2 c dried cranberries
1/2 c coconut, unsweetened (large flake is the best in here)
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/3 c honey
1/4 c oil (melted coconut, butter, or grapeseed oil is what I usually use)
1-2 tsp fresh ginger, grated or chopped very finely

1) Preheat oven to 3500 degrees F. Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl.

2) Combine all wet ingredients and fresh ginger in a small bowl or a measuring cup.
3) Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir well to combine.
4) Spread the granola mixture onto a baking sheet. If your baking sheets are older or aren’t non-stick, line the sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner.
5) Bake the granola mixture for 20-30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Make sure you stir the granola at the edges into the middle, because that tends to be where the most browning happens.
6) When the granola is nice and toasting (it will smell fantastic), pull it out of the oven and let it cool on the baking sheet.
7) Store in an air tight container. Enjoy!

Every Student Should Know How to…make pizza!

Just in case it hasn’t been totally clear, I like to keep things under control. Yes, I have 24 different colour pens to work with. Yes, I have a filing system for all my school work, past and present. Yes, I update my agenda ~3 times a day. I grind my coffee the night before, follow the weather network, get anxiety if I think I’m going to be late, and have a pretty good idea what I am going to be doing for the next few years.

Does this mean I am tidy? As all my family members and past/present co-inhabiters know, that is not the case. I have been a self-described disaster for most of my life. I try to set standards, usually too high, that I am going to just continually tidy throughout the day, and never have to do mass cleans. This usually dissolves 2-5 days after the resolution, and I go back to dedicating a several hour block of time on the weekend to laundry, folding, sweeping, dusting (allergies!), sorting, bathroom cleaning, collecting of tea cups, clearing of backpacks, and picking up my stacks of scrap paper and clothes. Cleaning-self sometimes thinks normal-self is purposefully living in the most irresponsible manner it can because of a young-rebellious streak. In reality that is not the case- I just don’t notice mess for the most part! I swear, it goes totally unnoticed for days at a time. I know that if I don’t wipe up the table after cooking nothing is going to happen to it- it will not magically disappear and I will just have to clear it up later. I know that if I throw all my scrap paper and other recycling under my desk, nobody is going to move it and I will probably get my feet stuck to it every few seconds, but I still do it. Last week I emptied the laundry bin of our clean laundry to start filling it with the rest of the dirty stuff…and it stayed on the ground, literally inches from the bed and covering most of the floor, for four days. Sebastien and I just quietly lived around it, until one evening I looked around and realized what a disaster it was. Apparently it also ended up being used as an alternative blanket…

When I notice the mess, look out. I notice every single mess. Usually Sunday mornings, the one time of the week I really relax with a cup of coffee and take some time to put my feet up and flip through cookbooks, I can suddenly see every speck of dust and item out of place. I then go into full-flurry mode and get everything clean. The windows sills dusted, the tub scrubbed, all the food removed from the shelves to scrub the shelves, the fridge cleaned out, leftovers frozen or purposed, floor swept, clothes folded. Everything out of place become my enemy, and it must be conquered.

From this all-to-often experience of sudden consciousness of mess comes a valuable lesson. And yes, it can be applied to food. Food waste is a big problem. Throwing away perfectly good food that could have been turned into energy and utilized for its nutrients hurts me. It makes me grumpy. It makes me feel as spoiled as the food I’m tossing. Not everyone has the luxury to dispose of food they actively went out and purchased. It is also, plain and simple, a waste of my money. Every time I buy an item for $11, I think to myself “That took me an hour to earn at a summer job”. One hour of work went into purchasing this. Try thinking of your food that way, and it will go a long way to discouraging you from wasting it!

All it takes to avoid wasting food is to be conscious of what is in your fridge and cupboard. If you are stuck in a rut of throwing out food every week, you might want to take extra efforts and sit down every week after your grocery shop and write down everything you have that needs to be used up that week. Modify the list as you go, putting leftovers from meals on the list and a note of how long they will be good for (approximately). That way, before you even touch the handle, you know what is in there, available to you as an ingredient, and what needs to be used up or frozen soon. After a while, you will get used to monitoring your fridge and can save yourself the time of making a list.

One of the problems I find is that at the end of week, I have little odds and ends cluttering my fridge, but not enough to make individual meals. I also am short on “main meal” items, because it has been seven days since I entered a grocery store. This is the perfect trigger to pizza night for me! Half a green pepper, part of a red onion, a little bit of leftover meat…perfect pizza toppings. I always have flour, yeast, oil, and sugar so pizza is always close at hand! Making your own pizza is so simple, and SO much cheaper than buying frozen pizza. It is rare that I stand behind a uni student in the grocery line and don’t see a frozen pizza in their cart, and I just want to hand them a card with a dough recipe on it and put away that expensive trans-fat ridden pizza back in the freezer department.

Also, as you know, pizza topping can come from anywhere. Leftover curry? Use it instead of tomato sauce, and spoon the vegetables over top. Add some red onion and crumbled cheese. Leftover enchilada sauce? Make a tex-mex pizza, with corn, green peppers, leftover chicken, and green onions. Leftover baked potato? Chop up and put on with pesto, green onion, red onion, and bacon bits. Spoon leftover sour cream over. I also like to keep a little bit of pepperoni, Sebastien’s favourite, in the freezer, cut very thinly so it’s always a back up topping if the fridge truly is bare.

I have posted a pizza crust recipe here: http://easypi.blogspot.com/2010/09/placating-pizza.html
The other crust I posted is fantastically fast, but I’ve recently acquired a taste for a new crust because a) I never have semolina b) this one is whole wheat. It is a pretty standard recipe, and great to have in the repertoire. I got this from a friend who may have taken it from a cookbook, so hopefully I’m not copying anyone, but it does have a bit of my own touch in it! And that is… roasted garlic. You know those amazing little garlic knots that you sometimes get at italian restaurants? This pizza dough is like that, but there’s it has pizza toppings on it. Of course it’s totally optional, but if you have some garlic around, and you have a couple extra minutes to roast it, I would definitely recommend it! Be conscious that pizza dough needs 1 1/2 hours to rise, so mix up the dough when you get back from school/work and it’ll be just in time for dinner.

Roasted Garlic Whole Wheat Pizza Crust
Again, the roasted garlic is totally optional, but of course a fantastic addition! This recipe makes four medium sized pizzas, but the dough freezes great so if there is less of you cut the dough into quarters, then freeze as many portions as you’d like. To defrost, take out of the fridge at least 3 hours before you plan on making pizza. I take it out in the morning when I know we’re having pizza!

1/4 c warm water
1 Tbsp active yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 1/2 c warm water
2 tbsp olive oil
3 c whole wheat flour
1-2 c all purpose flour (you can use all whole wheat, the texture will be slightly chewier however)
2 tsp sea salt or kosher salt (if you have regular table salt, reduce to 1 1/2 tsp)
1/2 head garlic, roasted **, optional
2 tsp oregano, optional

1) Place the active yeast in the 1/4 c of warm water with the sugar. Allow to sit for 5-10 minutes. Make sure your yeast is foaming- if it isn’t your yeast might be dead, which can happen if the water was too hot or your yeast was too old. Try again with a new batch if the first one does not foam. If it still doesn’t work, looks like you’ll have to buy new yeast.*

2) While the yeast is foaming, combine the flour(s), salt, and oregano (if using) in a large bowl. At first, only add 1 c of all purpose flour (or whole wheat if using all whole wheat), but keep some on hand to add if the dough feels too sticky.

3) Once the yeast is nice and foamy, add the rest of the water and the olive oil, stirring to combine.

4) Slowly pour the liquid mixture into the flour and use a fork to gently mix.

5) Once all the liquid has been added, gather the dough into a ball and turn out onto a lightly floured (with all-purpose flour) counter. Knead the dough by pushing it away from you, then folding the furthest edge over. If you’ve never kneaded dough before, I’ve posted a youtube link at the bottom of the page ***. Keep 1 c of flour on hand, and sprinkle a bit on the dough if you find it is too sticky. Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes until it is very smooth and elastic (from all the developed gluten you’ve been working on!). (Before and After photos below)

6) If you want to add the roasted garlic, I add it into the dough at the end of kneading. Simply mash the garlic into a paste with the back of a fork, then fold into the dough. Knead for an extra few minutes to really mix the garlic throughout. If it is “streaked” throughout the dough, that is okay too, it makes for great little garlic pockets!

7) Form the kneaded dough into a ball, and rub with some olive oil. Set in a bowl with a moist tea towel over it, in a warm place (I usually put it under a lamp that’s on). Let it rise for 1 1/2 hours, or until doubled in size.

8) Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

9) Split the risen pizza dough into four segments (or two for two large crust pizzas). On a lightly oiled surface, roll out the dough with a rolling pin (or, if you don’t have one, a wine bottle). Flip the crust to roll out both sides several time. If the dough tears, simply push the two sides back together, flip it, and roll it out again. Don’t worry too much about getting a perfect circle.
10) Choose your toppings. You know what to do for this one. Make sure you remember to cover with cheese in the end. To get a crispier bottom, without a pizza stone, I place a cookie sheet upside down in a preheated oven. I let the cookie sheet get quite hot, then carefully slide my pizza onto it AFTER I’ve dressed it up with all the toppings. If this sounds like a scary feat, skip the preheating and put the pizza on the cookie sheet BEFORE putting the toppings on.

11) Bake until cheese is bubbling and the bottom of the pizza is firm and browned (take a peek by lifting an edge with a spatula). Should take about 20-30 minutes.

*Yeast Storage: Yeast is a unicellular little fellow, who needs to be alive in order to make your dough rise. Yeast should always be stored in the fridge, but if you are not using it on a regular basis, storing the yeast in the freezer is a trick to prolonging the life of your yeast.
**Roasted Garlic: This is a very easy way to tame the flavour of garlic, and a nice technique to learn. Soon you’ll be throwing roasted garlic in every imaginable sauce and spreading it on toast if you aren’t already! First, preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Take a whole head of garlic and pull all the outer layers or skin off, just using your hands, so you simply have the very inner layers of skin on the cloves (don’t worry if you miss a bit). Now, cut off the very top of the head of garlic, just a half-inch or so, exposing the individual cloves (this will make it easy to remove). Get a generous sized piece of tin foil and put the head on top. Drizzle it with a touch of olive oil, and wrap up the whole situation. Throw it in the oven for 30-35 minutes, testing by pressing the cloves and making sure they are soft.
*** Dough Kneading: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9KX4KFBj5w&feature=related

Happy Thanksgiving, Canada!

This year was my first thanksgiving away from home, so I compensated by having two full thanksgiving feasts this year, both in Ottawa! One was with Sebastien’s family friends, who had a large dinner that doubled as a 60th wedding anniversary party for the grandparents. We had a lovely time and ate incredible amounts of stuffing, yams, turkey, cranberry sauce, gravy, and dessert, which included chocolate mocha cake, pumpkin cheese cake, nutella cookies (provided by me!), and pumpkin pie.

The second meal was with two of my closest girlfriends from high school. It was an intimate affair, with a chicken instead of a turkey. Not only was it a chicken, we cooked it on a beer can, which made it very moist and appropriately college-y. We had beer in wine glasses, took a nail painting break, and became too full to eat dessert. It was all very lovely!

I hope wherever you are, you gave thanks this year and celebrated the wonderful holiday that is accessible from every religion (or lack there of), and all about enjoying food and company in tandem. What is better than that, after all? Love sent out to my family on the west coast, very thankful to have all you guys even though I didn’t get to see you for this years holiday!