A few weeks ago, I surpassed a major landmark on the long, arduous path to being a Grown Up. As a university student and Ontario transplant, I spent my undergraduate years “hosting” my parents and other family members whenever they came to visit me in Halifax. However, “hosting” usually meant getting taken out for nice meals and demanding a trip to the grocery store, where my parents would buy a battery of dried goods to ensure that I made it through exam season without starving. Despite my increasing culinary prowess, actually hosting my family for, like, a meal in the house I shared with three friends was never an option: if you actually made it past the piles of books, clothing and dust bunnies in the hallway to the kitchen, the mountain of pizza boxes and prehistoric produce perched in the fridge was enough to shrink the appetite of any remotely responsible adult.
But this year, I am a recent graduate with just one roommate, and I have complete control over what happens in the kitchen. Which means it is usually, somewhat, clean. And when my father told me he’d be in Halifax for the night early in December, I took the opportunity to invite him over. To my place. And prepare him food. Such an invitation was immediately followed by anxiety over what to make. My parents have always been my mentors in the kitchen, so impressing them is no easy feat.
Ultimately, I settled on something comforting and simple, but that I knew I could do well and prepare with (mostly) local and seasonal ingredients: Beef and Ale Stew, with homemade baguette and a spinach salad. I heeded my dad’s request for seafood by starting with a selection of smoked fish, which I paired with a garlicky spread made from soft quark. I ultimately ran out of time to make dessert, so served the pears I was going to poach raw instead, sprinkled with culinary lavender (more on that to come!) The meal went off without a hitch, despite a delayed flight and my father informing me that smoked haddock is not meant to be served uncooked (oops). But hey, there was plenty of wine! All in all, a good “starter” meal—maybe next time, I will have the nerve to roast an entire animal or, I don’t know, make dessert.
I hope you enjoy the recipes!
Yours in food,
BEEF AND ALE STEW
(barely adapted from the superb Jamie Oliver recipe; all I did was skip the celery, which was not missed, and throw in some rosemary. I used Guinness for this but you could also happily use a Nova Scotian brewed Stout, from Garrison or similar)
2 fresh or dried bay leaves
1 stalk dried or fresh rosemary
500g diced stewing beef
500ml ale, Guinness or stout
2 medium onions
1 tablespoon flour
1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
salt and pepper
Peel and roughly chop the onions • Peel the carrots, slice lengthways and roughly chop • Put a casserole pan on a medium heat • Put all the vegetables and the bay leaves into the pan with 2 lugs of olive oil and fry for 10 minutes • Add your meat and flour • Pour in the ale and tomatoes • Give it a good stir, then season with a teaspoon of sea salt and a few grinds of pepper • Bring to the boil, put the lid on and either simmer slowly on your hob 3 hours • Remove the lid for the final half hour of simmering or cooking • When done, your meat should be tender and delicious • Remember to remove the bay leaves before serving, and taste it to see if it needs a bit more salt and pepper.
Serve stew with dumpling, mashed potatoes, with bread or over rice. Jamie says you can also cook it in a 350 oven after the sauteeing stage is complete – I have never tried such a thing, but trust Jamie to the end.
ONE A DAY BAGUETTE
This is a standby I used that I discovered years ago on Epicurious. It was the first bread recipe I ever made, and is awesome for potlucks or parties – these days, people seem to be wildly impressed when someone bakes bread from scratch. Press some dried rosemary into the loaf right before baking and sprinkle with salt for a nice presentation.
- 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 1/2 cups warm water (105°‐115° F)
- 4 to 4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
In a large bowl sprinkle yeast and sugar over warm water and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. With a wooden spoon stir in 2 cups flour until combined. Stir in salt and 2 cups of remaining flour until mixture forms a stiff dough. On a lightly floured surface knead dough with lightly floured hands 8 minutes, or until smooth and elastic, kneading in enough of remaining 1/2 cup flour to keep dough from sticking. Transfer dough to a lightly oiled deep bowl, turning to coat with oil, and let rise, bowl covered with plastic wrap, until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.
Preheat oven to 400° F.
Punch down dough and form into a long slender loaf about 21 inches long and 3 inches wide. Put loaf diagonally on a lightly greased large or 17- by 14-inch baking sheet and let rise, uncovered, about 30 minutes. (Baguette may be made up to this point 4 hours ahead and chilled.)
Make 3 or 4 diagonal slashes on loaf with a sharp knife and lightly brush top with cool water. Bake loaf in middle of oven 30 minutes, or until golden, and transfer to a rack to cool.
Note: Slice any leftover baguette and throw them in the freezer after the first day – bread will grow stale quickly.
GARLIC & HERB CHEESE SPREAD
1 cup soft cheese (I used Foxhill quark; mascarpone would also suffice)
3-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh mixed herbs, such as thyme, chives or tarragon, or 2 tsp dried
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
salt and pepper, to taste
Mix first 5 ingredients together thoroughly (use a blender or food processor for a smoother consistency). Add salt and pepper to taste. You may want to adjust the flavorings depending on preference- set some garlic aside and add as needed so that it does not become overpoweringly garlicky. Serve spread with crackers and assorted smoked fish, such as haddock and hot or cold smoked salmon, as an appetizer.