Beaujolais Nouveau: Salut to our American neighbours

Tomorrow is American Thanksgiving, and the snowstorms in the northeast pose a serious threat to holiday travellers this year. If you are one of the thousands who will not make it out of the garage this holiday, may I propose a small gathering of neighbours (or neighbors, for the American readers) to resurrect that 1980s tradition: Beaujolais Nouveau?

No-one is more rigid about the rules, when it comes to vintages, than the French. But even they could not miss the marketing opportunity presented by the release of the new Beaujolais on the third Thursday of November, exactly one week before American Thanksgiving. So this week, if a turkey is not in your horoscope, why not raise a glass of Nouveau to absent relatives.

Pictured here, from left to right, are:

  • Beaujolais Villages Nouveau (J. Drouhin)
  • Mommessin Beaujolais Nouveau
  • Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau (G. Duboeuf)
  • JP Chenet Beaujolais Nouveau

The candidates Nouveau lowres

My personal favourite was the Mommesin, but most seemed to prefer the last one they sampled, which says something – not sure what, exactly. And can I confess that it really doesn’t matter to anyone if Beaujolais Nouveau is not really as good as regular Beaujolais? The point is that it’s a great opportunity to get together with friends, over delicious food and (let’s call it) novel wine.

I am thankful for friends like Paul and Mel, who opened their home to us for the 2013 taste-testing. I regret not taking a picture of their beautiful leek and potato soup and boeuf bourgignon, but hope that my panorama of the spread below will inspire you to think beyond the turkey this holiday. What are you thankful for?

Nouveau banner lowres

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Homemade pasta: the no-machine method

Take heed, university student: if you have flour and eggs at your house, you have pasta.  And if you have olive oil and garlic as well, you have dinner. The amounts described below are approximate. As a rule of thumb, you need about 200 g (1 cup) of flour for 2 eggs. That makes enough pasta for two people.

Ingredients

  • 200 g (1 cup) all-purpose flour – if you live in a neighbourhood with Italian goods, choose ’00’ flour
  • 2 large eggs (If your eggs are small, you can add a teaspoon of tomato paste to each small egg. The result is red pasta)
  • fresh garlic and extra virgin olive oil (optional)

DSC00001

1. Make a mound of flour in the centre of your clean working space.

2. Make a well in the centre of the flour, and break two eggs into the well.

3. Use a fork to break the yolks and stir the eggs, gradually incorporating the flour into the mixture, a bit at a time.

4. Once most of the flour has been incorporated into the eggs, knead the dough until it begins to have a glossy appearance.

5. After kneading, leave your dough covered with a dishtowel for at least 30 minutes. Kneading caused the gluten in the dough to tighten up, and now you are letting it relax. This is an essential step. While waiting for the dough to relax, start thinking of what sauce you will put on it later. A very simple solution is to sauté some garlic at low heat in olive oil (gently – garlic burns easily), and stir it into your cooked noodles later. If you have some parmesan, get grating.

6. Cut the dough into two pieces. You are going to be rolling out one piece at a time, so keep the other piece covered, so it doesn’t dry out. Each of the pieces of dough serves one person.

7. Roll each piece out as thinly as you can, with a rolling pin or empty wine bottle. It helps to roll from the middle outwards.

8. Once rolled out, use a knife to slice noodles into ribbons. Try to keep all of your noodles approximately the same thickness, so that they will cook at the same rate.

9. Repeat rolling and cutting for the remaining piece of dough. If you don’t feel like rolling the rest of the dough, you can keep it in a plastic bag in the freezer for another day. Remember that the dough will need time to thaw and relax before rolling later. If you want to keep rolling, but don’t want that many noodles today, you can hang the extra noodles to dry over the back of a chair overnight. The shapes and sizes of pasta noodles each have their own name. If yours look like this, you made fettucine.

Pasta

Here, I cut all of my remnants of dough into random shapes, which are called stracci:

Stracci

10. Set a pot of water to boil. Once boiling, drop in your noodles and leave the lid off. Check your noodles for doneness every two minutes. Noodles are done when they are “al dente“, meaning that they are soft, but are still firm to the bite. Fresh noodles cook very quickly so be careful!

11. Strain noodles and stir in some sautéed garlic and oil (this is called aglio e olio in Italy). Add some grated parmesan or parsley, if you have some – if not, no worries. You are done!

P.S. If anyone tells you that there is no protein in your dinner, just tell them you had an egg. It’s true.

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Risotto is easy

It always surprises me when I hear people say that risotto takes a long time to make, or that it is fussy. I credit Jamie Oliver for introducing me to real Italian risotto, and I have riffed on his recipes ever since. I admit that my first attempts took me a while to make. However, now that I have made my own pared-down versions dozens of times, I can make risotto in 25 minutes, from chopping board to table. The trick is to prep your vegetables between stirs, while the rice is bubbling. Here’s my quick Mushroom Risotto, with a note about adding meat for the carnivores:

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 litre (4 cups) broth (your choice)
  • 2 cups of assorted mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 spring onions, chopped
  • 30 g (1 ounce) of parmesan, grated
  • salt and pepper
  • optional: bits of leftover roast chicken or smoked meat

broth

1. Start a litre of broth simmering gently at the back of your stove. I use a good quality organic vegetable broth from concentrate. It is your choice, depending on what flavours you want to throw in at the end.

Rice with wine

2. In a separate saucepan, sauté arborio rice in a glug of olive oil at medium high heat. A cup of rice will do for four people. Once the rice is coated in the hot oil, pour in a cup of white wine – it will let off plenty of steam and smells divine.

broth2

3. Stir while the rice absorbs the wine, then pour a ladleful of broth into the pot. Give it a stir from time to time, while you sauté some mushrooms in a separate pan. I used shitake, button, oyster, porcini and nameko, but use whatever you have available.

4. When each ladleful of broth is almost completely absorbed, you can add another and continue stirring. Meanwhile, save time by chopping some spring onions and grating some parmesan between stirs. We will use these later.

5. Once you have stirred in the final ladleful of broth, and have given the rice a chance to absorb most of it, you are ready to add your main flavourings. In this case, we are using sautéed mushrooms and spring onions. Throw them into the rice and give them a stir. At this stage, you could add to this risotto by throwing in leftover diced roast chicken or smoked meat, if that is your thing. Take your risotto off the heat while it has a loose and glossy consistency.

6. Stir in the grated parmesan and adjust your seasoning. Done in 25 minutes!

Mushroom risotto8

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Cook for the Cure

This year, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation will hold its “Cook for the Cure” Event on Dec. 7th, 2013, featuring top chefs Lynn Crawford, Tyler Florence, Chuck Hughes, Mark McEwan, Corbin Tomaszeski and Vikram Vij. The major sponsor is KitchenAid.

To raise funds and friends for her team, Chef Lynn Crawford held a cocktail event this past Thursday at her Toronto restaurant, Ruby Watchco. She invited guest speaker, Bonnie Stanfield, whose daughter, Holly, lost her battle with breast cancer at age 34. Bonnie spoke bravely about how her life has been changed by the disease and by the work of CBCF to support research, patients and families.

Bonnie and Lynn full size

Lynn generously provided wine and beautiful hors d’oeuvres, including the devilled eggs with watercress, and chicken liver parfait with confit of beets, pictured here. I enjoyed a glass of excellent Meritage.

Hors d'oeuvres fullsize

I have put my support behind Chef Lynn: she is not only a great person but also the only female chef in the competition. You can support Team Crawford’s fundraising for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, and learn more about Cook for the Cure, by visiting the official website here: Support Cook for the Cure.

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