kabocha_squash_whole_soup_FeedMeDearly

We’re talking squash again this week. Two weeks in a row, I hope this isn’t a fireable offense. What can I say, I’m passionate about squash. As if last week’s post didn’t convince you…

We stayed in New York this weekend since we had a few activities planned. One of which was the highly-anticipated feedfeed Market Day at the Union Square Greenmarket.

I first linked up with feedfeed on Instagram where they’re building a strong community of like-minded people who love to cook. Their website is growing, and is quickly becoming a go-to source for inspiration on a broad range of topics, from pies and soups to pancakes and smoothies. As the website evolves and becomes more searchable, its curated content will surely rival some of the biggest food websites today. I’m just happy to be a part of it all – as both observer and occasional contributor.

I was finally able to meet the founders of feedfeed – Julie and Dan Resnick – in person this weekend. Their Market Day event at the farmer’s market brought together a number of chefs, nutritionists, stylists and food bloggers and it was fun to chat with everyone about the changing food landscape.

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Social media and social platforms such as feedfeed are no doubt improving the way that food is cooked at home. Restaurant-quality food is making its way into home kitchens as home cooks become more innovative and experimental.

My food has changed immensely since I’ve become part of a community who cooks and then shares the output online. I’ve become more confident, and have started to take risks with my cooking. I’ve become intrigued by unique flavors and textures, influenced in large part by the global accounts that I follow – from home cooks in the Middle East to UK-based naturopaths, and minimalist-minded Scandinavian food stylists. Like a sponge, I’ve soaked it all in, eyes wide open.

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Baked-Minestrone-Soup

Can we talk about soup? Old man winter has overstayed his welcome; the only benefit being that we have carte blanche to continue those stewing, braising and baking activities that have kept us busy all winter.

I’ve seen the restaurants waving their bundles spring vegetables in the air chanting “we have ramps!” My answer: too soon! I’m not ready for ramps, or fiddleheads, or even asparagus. If it’s below freezing, I don’t want to see any of those tender shoots. What good does it do me to devour a lightly dressed spring salad when I’m wearing two sweaters and a pair of mocs?

Back to that soup.  I’ve waxed poetic on this blog about my days as a ski racer, growing up on Canadian slopes from the mountains of BC, to the Laurentians of Quebec. Our home base was Ontario, so we spent the bulk of our time racing in Quebec.

Our trips happened frequently throughout the winter months. In the hours before dawn, we’d load our skis and poles into storage boxes built on top of our vans and start our slow trek East. My preference was to ride in the red van that we fondly referred to as The Big Cheese. It had modern day conveniences, notably a reliable radio station and a functioning heater.

The Big Cheese was named after our head ski coach, a man by the name of Jurg Gfeller, a former skier on the National Swiss Team who’d started our school in tiny Collingwood, Ontario.

Rodney had the chance to meet Jurg last year when for the first time in 20 years, I returned to Collingwood for a friend’s wedding. We stopped by the Ski Academy so that I could show Rodney a little of my roots including the dorm room where I’d ingest late night brownies and the words to every Indigo Girls song.

As luck would have it, Jurg was at the house that day, just as I’d left him 20 years before. Despite a lack of ski conditions (this was October), he was dressed for the season in a snug Descente vest.

He gave me a teasing but hard punch on the shoulder: “Vee gonna get you out on da slopes dis year Jesseeca?”

I was too ashamed to admit that I’d only been on skis a handful of times since I’d quit the sport in 2000.

“That’s the plan” I responded. I then launched into a lengthy description of my present-day nightmares, which are entirely skiing-related. Skis that won’t carve a turn; a pole dropped from the chairlift right before my start, and the most frightening of all: slipping off the chairlift and spending the remainder of the ride clutching the base for dear life.

Rodney shot me a look that suggested that I was barreling out of control into my gray zone of unproductive tangents. I’m working on it. No stranger needs to learn about my insomnia, and Jurg certainly didn’t need to know that my days as a skier under his tutelage contributed to some sort of athletics-related PTSD.

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There were fond memories too. Yes, the trips were long; 8 hours in a crowded van to get us to Mont Tremblant or Mont Sainte-Anne – with limited stops for food. But when we did stop, if it wasn’t a hit & run at a roadside McDonald’s, it was real food. French food.

Anticipation would build as we neared Montreal. The Pirelli Pneus billboard was my signal, answering that crucial “are we there yet?” question. Finally, I could visualize stretching cramped legs and indulging in some stick-to-your ribs Quebecois cooking.

One of my favorite dishes was, soupe a l’oignon au fromage, French onion soup. Onions slowly-cooked in a hearty beef stock, served in a crock with a thick layer of melted Gruyere cheese. Not to be confused with the gimmicky versions you’ll find in nondescript cafeterias, delis and dives. This stuff was the real deal – real beef bones, authentic French cheese.

I don’t think I’ve had soup that good since.

We were experiencing another cold snap last week, and I was digging around my fridge for inspiration. It was Saturday, and I was on a comfort food mission, but lacking a solid plan.

In one of those scenarios presented on cooking competitions, I faced an odd yet promising bag of mystery ingredients: a package of Sunday bacon, some collard greens, an onion, canned tomatoes, a sack of dried chickpeas. Minestrone? The wheels were turning.

As it was early in the day, I figured I’d put my slow cooker to work so that I could lazily attend to other things, namely lying flat on the couch, coffee in hand, dog curled and wedged into my crotch.

Jack

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olives 076

I’ve been waiting all year for this. My stomach is rumbling, I can’t stop thinking about it. Turkey, dark meat, crunchy wing bones, crispy skin. This is one polarizing meal, separating the meat eaters from the vegetarians, the turkey lovers from the turkey haters, pecan pie fans from the pumpkin pie fanatics. The battles are vicious, I try to stay out of it, so I’ll say yes to just about anything on the Thanksgiving table besides cranberry sauce from a can.

This year I was lucky enough to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving in October. Yes we eat the same foods. No it’s not about the pilgrims. I agree that it’s a little odd to have the exact same holiday with the same food and same name for completely different reasons. However,  according to my research, the first North American Thanksgiving was celebrated in Canada in 1578, 43 years before the pilgrims landed in Plymouth. Just a little pearl of wisdom for your cocktail hour conversations next week.

But regardless of its provenance, most of us will agree that Thanksgiving dinner is one of the tastiest of the year.

For years I used to schedule vacation days on the Tuesday and Wednesday preceding Thanksgiving to give myself a little prep window. I so looked forward to those two days when I could plan, shop, and cook to my heart’s content. Not to mention drink a few too many afternoon glasses of red wine. And in the spirit of full disclosure, a wee bit of sherry, Pedro Ximinez, the kind you can basically eat with a spoon.

But isn’t that what the holidays are about? Inappropriate, guilt-free indulgence?

Since I threw myself into cooking years ago, I’ve become the defacto destination amongst my friends for any Thanksgiving-related questions. What kind of turkey should I buy? Heritage or organic? What size? What stuffing should I make? What can I make ahead?

So I thought I’d break it down and create a mini guide for those of you who want to throw a first class dinner without losing your mind. In fact, if you follow the menu and timeline exactly, it should be a cinch. Just imagine, sleeping in until 10:30AM, making yourself a cappuccino, reading the paper, and finally by 1PM settling in for the real prep work. Nobody is getting up at 5AM on my program, that’s for sure.

Before you click away from this page, thinking that I’m making some kind of psychotic overpromise, let me coax you back. Yes, I agree that cooking Thanksgiving dinner can be a big undertaking, but if you plan ahead, and prepare the whole thing in baby steps, it’s actually easy to pull off.

Back when Gourmet magazine existed (hold on, wiping a tear) they used to illustrate this point with their party menus. Whether it was a Mothers’ day brunch, a Cinco de Mayo party, or even Thanksgiving dinner, they’d suggest a full menu – from the appetizer to the main course, side(s), a dessert, and even a signature cocktail – and  lay out the specific daily steps to get you there. It was so helpful, and so clear that if you spent an hour or two prepping each day, you could make magic happen.

I take this same approach with Thanksgiving and do as much as I can in advance. I don’t like to be slaving over a hot stove when guests arrive. So the majority of the cooking is done before anyone walks through our front door. I want to be able to join my friends and family for cocktail hour, not watch them from the sidelines.

The great thing about Thanksgiving dinner is that most of the ingredients and dishes can be pulled together ahead of time. In some cases, waaaay ahead of time. Like homemade turkey stock. If you need a great recipe, try this one from Bon Appetit magazine. It makes a huge difference in the outcome of your dishes – just stash it in the freezer and thaw it early Thanksgiving week. It’ll be ready for you to use in all of your side dishes; the star of your homemade gravy.

The menu I’ve pulled together is my go-to meal on Thanksgiving, made from the recipes that I trust and have made time and again. This meal has been 10+ years in the making, and let me tell you, I’ve done my research. I used to hole up every weekend in October with a stack of cooking magazines at my feet and just start ripping, stuffing the recipes into a giant green binder. This was the party planning equivalent of dial-up modems now that we have Pinterest (I’ll cop to now having a Thanksgiving board, feel free to follow it for more great recipes). But I used to love the process nonetheless.

It wasn’t easy to narrow my set of dishes down to the final list, but the easiest and tastiest won out: the chestnut and sausage stuffing that’s appeared on our table every year since 2001; the cranberry sauce with zinfandel (how many kids really go for cranberry sauce anyway?); the creamed spinach and parsnips that bring guests to their knees. I’ve had people ask “what is this?” as though parsnips are some kind of wonderfood from Mars. Most important, I’ve included a DRY-BRINED bird. Because 1. every bird should be brined, and 2. nobody wants to take up valuable fridge space with 20-lb floating raw turkey. And I’ve included the newest addition to the menu, the truly auto-pilot sweet potato, coconut & smoked paprika soup, so easy, it basically cooks itself.

ThePerfectThanksgiving_FeedMeDearly

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Fall cooking

I’m equally sad and excited when Fall rolls around. Fortunately I love to cook, which keeps the cold weather blues at bay. I love summer, our weekend trips to the lake complete with an endless supply of popsicles and watersports.

But something about turning on the stove and simmering soups, stocks, and stews for hours on end is so comforting. I love the smell of Fall cooking. The earthy vegetables, the slow-roasted meats. It’s a smell that permeates your house, and makes it feel like home.

It’s a completely different kind of cooking from the meals I tend to make in the summer. And especially this summer – I was on a huge raw kick – tomato salads of every kind (see my tomato concern from this week’s Wordless Wednesday post), diced fruit with honey and mint, and raw vegetables marinated in olive oil, vinegar and herbs.

But I’m ready to re-embrace my stove.

People tend to gripe about Fall cooking. They say it’s less healthy, full of butter and bacon. And it takes time. Which is often true.

But it doesn’t have to be. Especially the part about it taking time – I’ll keep my rich Fall dishes, thank you very much. There are over 200 days until I wear a bikini again, and I’m fine with putting a little meat on my bones.

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Black bean soup with fennel sausage side

If I were to free associate for a minute on the topic of black beans, soup probably wouldn’t be the first thing to come to mind.  For some reason, my husband’s stories of growing up in California pop up first,  where lunch was usually a burrito chock full of chicken and black beans.  He or some other unfortunate soul would inadvertently cap a tooth with one and spend the rest of the day ambling around with a tooth that appeared to be decaying, or worse, missing.

Food wedged in teeth aside, black beans have tremendous health benefits, with a magical protein/fiber combination unrivaled by most food groups.  I’m into eating magic, but I’m also a big fan of eating things that taste good and are healthy to boot.  So we eat a lot of black beans around here, especially black bean soup.

I’d grown a bit tired of the usual suspects as heavenly as they are- black bean soup with bacon, sherry and a touch of cream, a Mexican-style soup chock full of cumin and topped with a heavy spray of cilantro.  But with a big bag of fennel pork sausage in the fridge, limited time, and a sense of adventure, I decided to throw my usual repertoire a curveball.  In particular, I needed something comforting and hearty to welcome home R from a 2-day business trip where presumably he sustained himself on Starbucks and airplane peanuts.

Black bean soup with fennel sausage top

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