People write blogs for different reasons. Some to make money, others to promote their business, many want to showcase their photography, and some simply have a story inside of them that needs to get out.
For me, the reason is simple. I use this space as my own personal cookbook. The process of cooking for me is very organic. I’m impulsive in the kitchen. I go with my gut, adding a pinch of this or a dash of that, all the while taking notes and writing down the steps as I go. Most of the time all this note-taking happens right here on the blog, in a new, unpublished post where I type while in the midst of cooking. If, in the end, the food is good, if the people around my table are happy and linger long, cleaning their plates with the last bits of bread, draining the last drops from the bottle of wine, laughing while they hold their full bellies, I’ll save the draft. If not, I just hit “Delete.”
The consequence of this rather haphazard and unmethodical approach to blogging is that my draft folder is perpetually overflowing with unfinished blog posts. Most contain just a single recipe, scattered within a jumble of thoughts on ingredients, substitutions, wine pairings and such. Sometimes I get lucky and there’s a picture there as well, with a story just waiting to be told. But most often it’s just the shell – a good recipe which everyone loved but needs a little TLC. It must be tested again, photographed when the light is just right… and perhaps it should be introduced to a complementary dish or ingredient that will make it whole enough to warrant a place here on the blog. When I last ventured a look in that draft folder there were nearly 100 (!!) unfinished recipes. That’s enough to fill a cookbook! Love must have been in the air that evening because I decided to play the role of “draft folder matchmaker” by going through all these recipes and putting them together.
It occurred to me that writing a blog post is a lot like planning a meal. There are all the different elements – the photos, the words, the recipes – ingredients and dishes that, when centered around the main course, make the post feel complete. If everything turns out well, the combination of all these elements will satisfy everyone who happens to be sitting around the table. Or in this case, reading a blog post.
This is one such meal. A clean-out-the-fridge (or draft folder) blog post , if you will. Made up of dishes that I prepared separately and left to mingle with each other until a lucky few found their soulmates.
Throughout the seasons, I often imagine that my kitchen table is an ever-changing edible still life painting. In the winter there are always apples and pears in big bowls in the centre. There are usually a few bunches of grapes off to one side (my go-to treat when I’ve had enough holiday sweets.) Of course, the back drop is made of any number of gourds, pumpkins and winter squash in all sorts of shapes, sizes and colours. They play so well with the lovely winter light. The truth about squash is, I buy them for the way they look. The bonus is that we get to eat them when they become, dare I say it, less pretty. Acorn and carnival squash are my favourites. They seem so whimsical with their corrugated shells and variegated skin. And if you’re wondering, a carnival squash is simply a more flamboyant cousin of the acorn squash, dressed in beautiful shades of amber, forest green and copper.
As a “draft folder matchmaker,” say I were to take this still life painting and design around it a clean-out-the-draft-folder meal for some dinner guests. What might that look like? I’d start by bringing the gorgeous acorn squash into the spotlight where it belongs. These types of squash are natural vessels for stuffing, and this, in my opinion is the only way to cook them. I would stuff them with apples from one of the bowls and aromatic Italian sausage, then bake them until the flesh is buttery and so tender that you can eat it with a spoon. Hearty and comforting – the perfect starter on cold winter evenings. Next, the star of the show, a sweet and savory pork loin roasted with the grapes from the edge of the painting and a handful of fresh sage from the garden. If you have never roasted grapes before, you should! They break down as they cook and impart a jammy sweetness to the pork, a perfect partner for the rich meat. I would serve this with a thick loaf a country bread, porous enough to sop up all the juices. By this time my guests might be feeling rather full. They might be reaching for the last slices of bread and holding the empty wine bottle over their glasses hoping for a few drops to trickle out. They might be rubbing their bellies and slyly looking for dessert, while wondering if they can possibly eat any more. Dessert needs to be something light, something that can “fit between the cracks,” as my mother would say. And so I’d bring to the table a lovely custard made of milk and honey. And since you can’t eat custard alone, I’d serve it with poached pears. Pears that I took from the second bowl in the still life earlier in the day. Now, normally I poach pears in wine, but today I was going for a lighter version, and made the syrup with sugar, water and lemon juice. It’s amazing how delicious pears are when poached in this ultra-simple syrup. For a hint of spice, I added a vanilla bean and a cinnamon stick. When the pears and the custard come together they are as delicate as the trace of perfume on a silk nightgown or the brush of your lover’s lips on your bare shoulder. And with that thought in mind, I would join my guests at the table and smile as I take a bite of my custard, thinking that a draft folder containing almost 100 recipes isn’t a bad thing at all.
Stuffed Acorn Squash with Apples and Sausage
3 medium size acorn squash
2 TBSP olive oil
3/4 pound sweet Italian sausage (bulk or removed from the casings)
1 large shallot, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 large, firm apples (Gala, Honeycrisp) peeled, cored and chopped
3 TBSP chopped, fresh sage
2 TBSP dark brown sugar, divided
3 TBSP butter, divided
Salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 375 F (175 C). Wash the squash and cut each one in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds. Rub the squash with olive oil both inside and out. Place on a baking sheet, cut side up. If one of the halves doesn’t sit level, cut a thin slice from the opposite side to create a flat base. Cover with foil and roast the squash for 30 minutes, or until just tender.
While the squash are roasting, make the filling. Heat 1 tablespoon on butter in a large skillet, add the sausage and cook, breaking it up as you go, until brown and cooked through. Add the apples, shallot and garlic and continue to cook for another 5 – 6 minutes. Remove the filling from the heat.
Allow the squash to cool until it can be handled. Using a spoon, scoop out the flesh of the squash, leaving a shell that is about 1/4 of an inch thick. Roughly chop the squash flesh and add to the sausage mixture. Stir in 1 tablespoon of brown sugar, the chopped sage and salt and pepper, to taste.
Fill the squash halves with the stuffing and place back on the baking sheet. Sprinkle the remaining 1 TBSP brown sugar over tops and dot with the remaining butter. Bake, uncovered, until the tops are brown and crusty – about 20 minutes.
Roasted Pork with Grapes
3 pound center cut pork loin roast
2 tsp olive oil
1/4 tsp whole white peppercorns
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp fennel seed
1/2 tsp dry rosemary
1 tsp sea salt
3 – 4 bunches of large, black, seedless grapes
3 cloves of garlic, skin on
1 bay leaf
4-5 sage leaves
1/4 cup red wine
1 TBSP butter
Using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, coarsely grind the peppercorns, fennel, garlic powder, rosemary and salt.
Rinse the pork and pat dry. Place the pork in a glass marinating dish and sprinkle the spice rub over all sides, rubbing it into the meat. Cover and refrigerate for 4 – 5 hours. Remove the pork from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before cooking.
Preheat the oven to 325 F (165 C). Heat 1 tsp. olive oil in a large, oven-safe skillet. Sear the pork on all sides in the oil.
While the pork is browning place the grapes, garlic cloves, sage, bay leaf in a bowl and toss with the remaining 1 teaspoon of oil.
When the pork is brown on all sides, place the grape mixture in the pan around the meat. Transfer to the oven and cook for 50 – 60 minutes. Until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 150 F (around 66 C).
Remove the pork and grapes to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm. Place the pan back on the stove top over medium heat. Pour in the wine and bring to a boil, scraping the bottom of the pan. Squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skins and into the sauce. Simmer until reduced by half. Remove from the heat and add the butter, stirring until melted.
Slice the pork and pour over the sauce. Serve with the grapes.
Milk and Honey Custard with Poached Pears
for the pears:
3 smallish, firm pears, Bartlett or Seckel work well
3 cups water
1 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla pod, sliced lengthwise and scraped (reserve the other half for the custard)
1 cinnamon stick
1 TBSP fresh lemon juice
Mix the water and sugar together in a medium sauce pan and bring to a simmer. Drop in the cinnamon stick and the vanilla beans and pod.
Meanwhile, peel the pears and cut in half lengthwise. Remove the cores with a melon-baller or small spoon. Carefully place the pears into the simmering water and sugar. Cook for 10 – 15 minutes, depending on the size and firmness of the pears. When the pears are tender, but not falling apart, remove them with a slotted spoon and place in a heat-safe bowl.
Raise the heat to high and boil the poaching liquid until reduced by half. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Use a sieve to strain the liquid over the pears in the bowl. Let cool, then refrigerate until cold.
for the custard:
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt
4 cups whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean (reserved from the pears)
4 egg eggs
1/2 cup honey
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 TBSP butter
Separate the eggs, placing the yolks in a heat-proof bowl and reserving the whites for another use.
Place the cornstarch and salt in a medium saucepan. Slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the beans. Add them to the pot, along with the pod. Whisk in the cold milk until thoroughly combined and there are no lumps. Add the honey. Place the pot over medium heat and stir constantly, scraping the bottom of the pan, until the mixture comes to a simmer. Allow the mixture to bubble for 30 seconds, then remove from the heat. Temper the egg yolks by very slowly adding a bit of the hot milk mixture to the bowl with the yolks. Whisk constantly while adding the hot liquid until you have added about one cup. Whisk this egg yolk mixture back into the pot and set it over medium heat again. When the custard bubbles, let it cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla and butter. Divide the custard evenly among six dessert bowls and refrigerate until cold. The mixture will thicken as it cools.
Serve each bowl of custard with a poached pear drizzled with a bit of the poaching liquid.