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There’s something to be said about tradition.

For one, I never thought my family recipes would share a common thread with friends in Texas, over 2000 miles away from where I’m from in Canada. Turns out at least one person here knows what Yorkshire Pudding is and how to serve it. That is to say, with a proper roast beef and brown gravy made from pan drippings.

I treated my friends to a Canadian dinner, including Yorkshire, roast beef with carrots and mushrooms, corn on the cob, a fresh cucumber salad, rye caraway bread, and rhubarb crisp with vanilla ice cream for dessert! Sadly I didn’t take dish-by-dish photos, my guests were not the food blogger sort and probably would have looked at me funny, plus it kind of detracts from the ambiance of dinner (I can sympathize with some chefs who do not allow photos to be taken in their restaurants).
However, having the kids run around doesn’t affect dinner parties AT ALL. (Insert sarcastic grin here)

I did snag a couple photos, the table setting and dessert.

Rye caraway bread midnitechef.com

rhubarb crisp midnitechef.com

Rhubarb grew like weeds at my childhood home, a small farm outside of Westlock, AB. Tradition to me means meat and veggie dinners, growing enough produce to last several months into the harsh winter, canning tomatoes, baking bread, taking cookies to the wheat fields and flagging down my father for their delivery, stealing sips of his coffee from a thermos, Indian Summers, skating on the frozen dugout, and the absolute quiet of my soul knowing I was in a safe place with my family. It’s amazing what a few traditional recipes can conjure up inside of you. New traditions will be added and some of the old will be amended to fit this fast-paced modern life. But sometimes you have to take the time to do things right and pass along that knowledge and love. I’ve always wanted to cook for people, do I have the heart of a chef? Or a Grandmother who stuffs you to the brim with her traditional dishes and treats, with an extra serving for the road in case you didn’t get your fill (and you never did)?

I wish this dinner was shared with my family, tucked away in a quiet farm-house in the middle of nowhere. Instead, I opened my home and heart to friends who are becoming a part of the family. And I stuffed them to the brim. They were as happy to eat my food as I was to host them. It certainly won’t be the last time.

Rhubarb Crisp

This dessert is one that can be made by sight/feel/smell and doesn’t need much measuring, I’ll give you a guide:

In a baking dish mix the following:

  • 3 stalks fresh rhubarb, trimmed of all leaves, diced
  • 1 Green Apple, peeled and diced
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, recommend freshly ground for Savory Spice Shop
  • 1 teaspoon tapioca starch
  • 1 cup sugar

In a separate bowl combine:

  • 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cup rolled oats
  • 2 – 4 tablespoons butter cut into cubes, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon agave nectar

The oats should be distributed well with the other ingredients, it may be a bit clumpy and that’s perfect. It will bake on top like granola chunks.

Sprinkle the oat topping over the rhubarb and apple filling. Do not press flat. Bake at 350 F for at least 45 minutes or until the top is golden and crispy with the filling bubbling around the edge.

The crisp is best served the day you bake it as the oats absorb the juices of the rhubarb quite quickly. I recommend letting it cool to room temperature, maybe 90 degrees, then serving it with vanilla ice cream.

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A taste of home

I was in the store and spotted a year’s supply of Breton crackers!  I have fond memories of my grandmother’s house (and then nursing home) that involve Breton wheat crackers, cheese, a pot of tea and the warmest soul that was Granny K.  I almost broke down in tears when I saw this…

Breton_crackers_midnitechef

I moved on without picking up a box, I might go back just for those crackers.  If you come over anytime soon, you will probably be forced to eat them with me!

My Mom is in town for spring break and she brought me some chips.

texas ketchup dill pickle chips

I still don’t understand why there are no Ketchup or Dill Pickle chips in Texas.  There was the one time I found some at HEB but they were gone the next trip to the store.  So I have my family bootlegging chips for me!  My Dad brought me a 12 pack of Big Rock beer years ago, which was my favorite brewery in Calgary, Alberta. If you visit Calgary see about getting a brewery tour there, I happened to be there at the right moment and hitched a tour with a group from Shell.  It was awesome (the free beer at the end that is…)

Chips are not exactly part of my healthier eating plans for 2013, but you have to indulge to keep life interesting.

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Now that you have a freezer full of home-made pierogies, I’ll tell you about eating them.

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Bring a pot of water, about 6 cups, to a rolling boil.  Slice half of a yellow or red onion and fry in a skillet.  Drop in four to six frozen pierogies at a time into the boiling water.  Once the pierogies float to the surface of the water they are cooked.  Remove with a slotted spoon and fry a little on both sides with the onion, add a smidge of butter and salt to the pan.

Serve with a side of sour cream or ranch dressing.  Bacon pieces are optional but highly recommended.  These are also a great companion to ham or sauerkraut.

The last batch I made about a year ago was shared with a friend, being Texan they ate the pierogies with salsa.  Huh?  Salsa?!?  I’m not going to do such a sacrilegious thing, but they raved about it afterwards and wanted more.  I never made more for them.  Not out of spite for them ruining perfectly good perogies with salsa, no that’s not it.  Pierogies are seasonal to me.  They are heavy and warm, like someone’s arm wrapped around you when they fall asleep, they’re hard to get off.  Only the pierogies stick to your ribs and thighs instead of your shoulders.

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Making my own food is so satisfying.  I can control the quality of the basic ingredients that form a dish.  These pierogies were made with organic unbleached flour, real cheddar cheese (not that processed crap), red onions, organic potatoes, and chives from the front garden.  Back in junior high when I first learned the ways of the pierogi, we lived on a farm and grew a large portion of our own food.  If I could get the cement-like dirt in my yard to loosen up I could grow the potatoes and onions needed for this recipe.  All that I would need is a cheese purveyor and charcuterie for bacon.

I’ve noticed everyone makes their batch of tamales for the year (or few months) during the winter holiday season.  In Canada, it’s cold at least 80% of the year, so there is some leeway in the definition of “winter season”, nonetheless it’s a good time to gather and make homemade food to last through to spring.  My tamale is the pierogi.  If only I had a bigger freezer!

Traditional pierogies, at least in my family, were filled with potato and cheese.  There are all sorts of variations from blueberry, to cottage cheese, to mushroom.  Not a huge fan of the sweet blueberry version.  A perogie in my mind is savoury.  And bacon.  Lots of bacon involved.

Here is how I made my pierogies.

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1. Gather your ingredients and equipment:

  • 6 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 6 tablespoons oil
  • leftover mashed potato
  • sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • cooked bacon and onion, fine dice
  • fresh chives
  • round cookie cutter
  • pierogi press (kitchen toy, not essential but it makes pretty pierogies)
  • rolling-pin
  • tray covered in parchment or wax paper that fits in the freezer horizontally (check to be sure you have space!)
  • pastry mat or floured work surface
  • small dish of water

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2.  Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl.  Mix the water, eggs, oil in another bowl.

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3.  Pour the egg mixture in the flour.

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4. Stir until almost all the flour is absorbed, add more water a teaspoon at a time to reach a uniform dough.  Little hands can help, too!

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5.  Knead the dough for a couple of minutes.

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6.  Let the dough rest covered by the bowl or plastic wrap on the counter for at least 20 minutes.  Meanwhile mix the filling.  I prefer to have the “goodies” in one bowl (bacon, onion, half the cheese, and chives) and the potato in the other with half the cheese.  Make sure the potatoes are cold otherwise the cheese will melt and that doesn’t make for good pierogies.

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7.  Take a baseball-sized portion of the dough and roll out on the floured mat/countertop until it’s very thin.

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8.  Cut rounds of dough.

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9.  Place the dough on the pierogi press, stretch the edges if needed.

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10.  Fill the center with a bit of the bacon mixture and top off with potato.  There should be about a rounded teaspoon of filling total.  Watch out for pokey bacon pieces that pierce the belly of the pierogi!

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11.  Dip a finger in the water.

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12.  Rub the water around half the perimeter of the dough.

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13.  Squish…

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14.  There’s your pierogi!

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15.  Place the pierogies on the sheet pan and freeze.  Once frozen (20 minutes) transfer to freezer bags.  Use within 3 months for best results.  Repeat until you run out of filling or dough or patience.

Alright, that’s the hard part.  The easy part is cooking and enjoying all your hard work.  Bring a pot of water to a boil.  Drop your frozen pierogies in the water (not too many, don’t crowd the hot tub) and boil until they float to the top.  I give them an extra 30-45 seconds then remove with a slotted spoon.  If you want the full experience of the Canadian Perogie, fry those suckers in butter and top with bacon and caramelized onions, with a spoonful of sour cream.  Yeah baby. Effin heart attack on a plate!  I suggest serving 2 or 3 pierogies per person the first time you make this.  Let them develop the thirst for butter-coated potato cheddar pierogies before telling them how many are in the freezer.  More for you in the meantime, eh?

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On Friday, we packed up all of our Canadian gear and took it to the elementary school for the International Festival.  The cafeteria was the hosting space for the event.  The kids played in the middle of the room as I set up my table.  There was a hockey puck and stick (of course), pictures from trips there, books from my Dad, coins (just found out the penny will be discontinued by the Canadian Mint!), maps, and some goodies.

The stars of the display were Mom’s Butter Tarts.  I tried to make something like Grandma used to with a maple twist, it was alright but not like Grandma’s fudge candy.  I’ll have to make that next year.

To make these tarts quickly I used a pre-made pie crust and managed to get about a dozen mini tarts from each crust.  Reroll scraps into small disks.

Lightly butter each cup even if it’s non-stick.  Gently press the crust into each mini cup of the tin.

Fill the shell half way with the filling (recipe follows).  You can also include a few raisins in each tart if you like.  This batch uses plain filling.

Bake until the crust is golden and the filling puffs.  The filling should be set and spring back easily when touched.

Butter tart Filling

  • 2 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • pinch of salt
  • (1 cup raisins, optional)

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Bluebonnets and Nachos remind me that I’m not in Canada anymore.

We are steadily approaching the nine-year mark of my immigration to Texas.  Ironically, my first day on the job was Canada Day.  Everyone back home was enjoying the warmth of the elusive summer season while I sorted out paperwork for HR.  One of my colleagues was from my neck of the planet and told me that there are others in town, other ex-pats, and there would still be a celebration that evening.  The CIA (Canadians In Austin) throw parties at pubs who will have them.  There’s a lot of red, white, and Labatt’s Blue at these shindigs.  One time they had imported cheese curd and prepared poutine as part of a special CIA menu, I had two orders and reveled in their cheesy gravy glory.

Personally, it’s a lot of work to duplicate most of the holidays except Thanksgiving.  Turkey dinner with several festive side dishes is welcome any time at my house!  I’ve kept up Thanksgiving in October, when it should be held, every year and don’t plan on stopping.

Fields of purple clover and golden canola have been replaced by bluebonnets and whatever those other weeds wildflowers are.  Poutine, one of my favorite mini-meals to keep you going during -20ºC weather, has been replaced with corn tortilla chips covered in cheese and mashed avocado (a.k.a guacamole) on the side.

The upside to warmer days (and nights) in Texas is the ability to grow more variety in your garden, and longer growing seasons.  I plucked fresh cilantro and chives for the nachos straight from the yard.  A few extra bugs are acceptable instead of shoveling snow, too.

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