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The Last Supper (of 2007 that is)

In the 20 years since I first picked up a saute pan as a way to earn a living, there have been two occasions on which I have not had to work on the night of December 31, the first being 1994 when I was the Pastry Chef at Bishop’s, hence a daytime shift, and the second 1999, as we were closed for the Millennium. And then there was this year, and the first occasion that really felt like a night to enjoy the evening for what it is, an evening marking change, new beginnings, or whatever you want to think of it, but a fine night for a fine meal for certain.

I had the fortunate circumstance of the calendar on my side, having the weekend to decide to cook a nice dinner, and the time to prep, with only a half day to work in the office Monday morning. My wife and I had decided that we should invite some good friends over in an impromptu fashion, and I set about for Sunday to plan the meal. I had just cooked quite a fantastic dinner/class for a birthday dinner for some clients two weeks earlier, and two dishes from that meal stood out as possibilities: a hotpot with seafood, and smoked salmon with potato crepes, both having appeared in various incarnations in my restaurant repertoire, but new versions of which I had been thinking about.

For a main course, I had decided that beef tenderloin with mushroom ragout and potato puree, always a classic for a fine dinner, would be in order, and for dessert, I had some dark chocolate left in the cupboard from Christmas baking, so I figured I’d make a ganache tart of some description. I was sure another course would find me at the market, so set off for the purchase of the fixings.

Front and centre at the produce market were two things extremely complementary, fitting for a fine occasion, and worthy of a course unto their own: white asparagus and Cara Cara oranges. The former has always been a favourite for a celebratory appetizer, served warm with a butter sauce of some description, and the latter a newer variety I had come across, plump, sweet and tart at the same time, and a beautiful rosy pinkish colour not unlike the rio red grapefruit. The season for both is short, so I took it as a sign that that was the missing course. Some nice pears were perched close by, not too ripe, but just right for poaching, and I remembered an open bottle of nondescript white in the fridge at home which may provide a cooking medium and a nice counterpoint to the rich chocolate. I knew I had some blanched almonds in the cupboard, which would prove to accent both the third and final courses, and the menu was pretty well set:

Seared scallop hotpot

Smoked salmon crepes

Steamed white asparagus with Cara Cara oranges

Beef tenderloin with shiitake mushroom ragout

Chocolate ganache tart with poached pears

Once home, I set out my prep list for the next two days: Sunday: Make some demi glace with some beef bones in the freezer, almond pastry crust and ganache tart, poach the pears, hot pot broth, prep the mushrooms, marinate the steaks, and prep the mushrooms, leaving me in good shape for Monday to finish the prep in the afternoon and cook course by course for dinner.

I made the pears and the almond sweet dough, and started thinking about how the pears might be fanned out on top, and got them poaching so they could cool. I roasted the bones and set the pot on the back of the stove to simmer for the afternoon, deciding that since I was making demi, I should at least make a few litres so there would be some in the freezer, always handy for a class or a dinner. The hotpot broth was simmering simultaneously and the kitchen permeated by the flavours in three simmering pots of liquid, each with their own noble purpose: Brown stock, intended for demi glace, rich with roasted bones, herbs, and vegetables; Hotpot broth perfumed with ginger, peppercorn, soy, and chinese spices; and white wine poaching syrup with cinnamon, star anise, ginger, and lemon. What a feast for the nose!

Stage one well underway, I baked off the tart shell fully, lined with parchment and rice for the first 30 minutes, and then the final 5 uncovered to allow the bottom to brown (quite important for a dessert like this, where you want the crust to be quite crispy considering it’s not getting baked any further and there is a moist filling going inside) Whilst in the oven , I pulled put the chocolate and cream for the ganache and began to ponder what the addition of a heavily reduced shot of the poaching liquid would contribute to the filling, as it surrounded the senses. I considered it for a moment and made the decision that as long as it was reduced to the consistency of honey, it would soften the ganache enough without diluting it too much and making it watery. I ladled of a couple of cups from the then cooling pears and boiled it rapidly down, and once it had arrived at a glorious state of golden splendour, set is aside while I scalded the cream for the ganache. Cream into chocolate, a light whisk to melt and emulsify, and then I added the reduced syrup and gave it a taste. “Fantastic!, let’s just hope it sets now”, I thought. Into the tart shell and then the fridge, I set the now cooled to room temperature pears to chill as well, to make the task of slicing them a bit more manageable.

All liquids aside, strained, demi reducing, I took a break for the afternoon, and replenished myself with a liquid of my own.

Later that evening, the ganache had set nicely and I sliced the pears an arranged them on top, pressing them ever so gently down in the process. Covered and wrapped, Sunday’s prep was complete.

I returned from the office at about 1 the next afternoon, and after lunch spent a bit of time getting the prep “restaurant ready” so I could quickly assemble each course while having enough time to sit and eat as well. Scallops were cleaned (the little muscle on the side removed, which has the lovely texture of an eraser), Potatoes cooked, some for the crepe batter, some for the puree, batter made, puree as well, transferred to an ovenproof pot with a lid for a rechaud later on, 2 cups of demi measured out, the rest in the freezer, fennel shaved on the mandoline, scallions sliced, asparagus peeled and trimmed, oranges segmented and the juice squeezed out of the remaining flesh for the sabayon, a few baby carrots sliced on a bias to go with the beef, hot pot broth transfered to a pot for reheating, A nice bottle of red from the cellar (a 2001 Pichon Lalande, a gift from a wine dinner a few years earlier), almonds roasted and chopped, crepes cooked and stacked, and the remaining wine syrup reduced for use as a sauce. All was well.

About 7, our guests arrived, and after a preliminary refreshment, we began to eat.

First course:

Hotpot broth at a simmer, I seared the scallops in a small amount of vegetable oil and a very hot pan, and gave them just a kiss of sea salt once flipped. A nest of fennel and scallions in the bottom of the bowl, surrounded by the scallops and the aromatic broth was a great way to start, with a crisp unoaked chardonnay.

Second:

Crepes brushed with creme fraiche and smoked salmon, then cut and rolled into little cones, a few each

Third:

Orange juice and egg yolks whipped into a sabayon, with a bit of butter added to finish, then asparagus dropped into salted water for a quick cook. The combination of hot asparagus and rich but light sauce with fresh oranges and almonds was delicious!

Fourth:

A cast iron pan heated to very hot, and a sear of the tenderloin before a spell in the oven to finish. while the beef cooked and rested, I had 10 minutes to saute the mushrooms, deglaze with sherry and demi, and adjust the seasoning, drop the carrots into the hot water I had used for the asparagus for a quick blanch. Delicious again, by which time we were getting quite full, so decided to take a break before dessert.

The kids had all made plans to go out, and by this time it was 10 or so, so off they went, leaving us to enjoy our dessert afterwards. The tart had set nicely, and proved to be a very nice combination indeed, and a great way to finish the meal.

A bottle of bubbly was popped at midnight, as per tradition, and the end of 2007 and the beginning of 2008 given a rightful toast. A very interesting year to say the least, but all’s well that ends well, and end well it did indeed!

Snow day, Martha, and more

The weekend started out normal enough for this time of year. Being the first of December it was decided that it was the weekend to venture into the realm of “Holiday Baking” We quite often are entertaining a few times over the next few weeks, so it is always easiest to dedicate a day to the production of several sweets and assorted other “building blocks” for future soirĂ©es.

A thorough inspection of the cupboard revealed a need for a full complement of supplies so off we toddled early Saturday to pick up the assortment of various sugars, fats, nuts and candies that would be making their way into the oven. As the month had greeted us with the first snap of winter, the air was crisp and cold, with the threat of snowfall hovering in the west. A good day to bake by any account, and with a little luck the snow would hold off until we could get the tree later in the afternoon. Armed with the usual suspects: molasses, brown, icing, and superfine sugars, butter, cashews, walnuts, baking soda, a fresh bottle of vanilla, I headed to the till. Normally the magazine rack at the Supermarket counter, (as enthralling as it can be to most) doesn’t bear much of a second glance from me, but as it’s December, the latest Martha mag sat perched front and centre, complete with a cute little gingerbread village on the cover. Nice idea, I thought, and since I had already planned to commit to a large batch, figured I’d pilfer the idea if time allowed.

By the time we had made our way home and started thinking about the baking projects, the snow had started to fall, making the decision for us that the tree would have to wait until tomorrow at the earliest. I settled into my planned activities for the day: Biscotti, Shortbread, Gingerbread, Oatmeal Coconut cookies, Cashew caramels, and a batch of Danish pastry for the freezer. One by one I made the doughs in order of priority: first the gingerbread as it had to rest overnight, Scottish shortbread (my friend Harry Greenwood’s recipe, of course) was next, as it needed at least a half day of a chill before baking, followed by the danish pastry process (about a 2 hour investment, off and on with all the turns) Squeezed out the biscotti dough in between folds of danish and set the dough to chill on the porch, put the caramels on between the next fold, third fold made the oatmeal cookie dough, then baked the biscotti, removed them to cool for slicing and the second bake, and finally got the oatmeal cookies in the oven by about 3. Around 4 I had 80 oatmeal cookies and 80 biscotti out of the oven and cooling, managed to poke a pork roast in for dinner and at long last had a chance to have a biscotti and a cup of coffee.

The snow had abated for the day, and although there was more scheduled to fall overnight, we figure to let Sunday’s schedule determine itself. After dinner I baked the shortbread, and inspected the caramels, which were delicious but a tad too soft, so were wrapped and put in the fridge destined to be dipped in chocolate at a later date. With the bulk of the baking done, I figured that a good night’s rest was in order, and should have time to tinker with the gingerbread the next day.

Overnight, a few more inches fell, not a great deal, but enough that the neighbourhood was covered with a thorough blanket. We went out for a morning walk, up the hill by the elementary school, and as we approached could hear an eerily interesting mix of sounds. The giggle of a dozen kids on sleds could be heard over the sonic backdrop of a piper, the bagpipes cutting though the morning air. With the snow and the big trees it was easy to imagine being a world away from Suburbia.

Once home and warmed up, I grabbed my graph paper and began calculating the size of the gingerbread cookies to make a decent sized circle, and made a few quick templates. I had decided that I would make the cookies and then ice them onto a platter to use as a serving dish over the holidays. The dough was perfect for rolling after its overnight rest, and I used the first pressing to make the people and trees for consumption. I figured the re-rolled dough, which is usually a bit tough, would be preferable for making the town, anyway. Once I had two trays each of people and trees, it was apparent that there would be enough left over for a couple of dozen buildings, so I decided I would make enough that I could take one to work to decorate the office.

I decorated the houses once cool, and set them aside for the icing to harden. The assembly was actually quite painless once I cut out a cardboard template with the correct angles on it, and the results I’m glad to report are really lovely. If anyone’s feeling industrious or snowed in this weekend, 12 cookies measuring 2 1/2 by 4 inches make a 10 inch circle (it’s actually a 12 sided polygon if you want to get picky, but you get the drift) Happy Baking!

Let Us Give Thanks….

Growing up Catholic always meant a fair amount of pageantry over a holiday or season with any kind of a message or virtuous overtone. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, and as Thanksgiving passes (even though my days of acceptance of organized religion in any form are long behind me) I always look at it as a time to reflect on the good fortune that we have here, and share that celebration with those close to us. Seeing as we had just celebrated birthdays a few weeks ago with the family, we decided that this year (still reeling from the reality of actual weekends off, and a long weekend to boot) we would have some good friends over for dinner Thanksgiving weekend.

The menu ingredients were quite predictable: turkey, cranberry, pumpkin, etc.
Some things are meant to be honoured with tradition, and the palette from which to cook Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner are among the most sacred. I have a long standing agreement with my wife: Christmas dinner will involve a strict menu of: A whole roasted stuffed turkey, mashed potatoes, mashed carrots and parsnips, brussel sprouts, cranberry sauce and gravy. Nothing More. Nothing Less. Thanksgiving on the other hand, there is some latitude allowed in the preparation of said sacred foodstuffs. A few years back, I had brought home some turkey confit and a brined turkey breast from the restaurant for a quick dinner for just the four of us. My son, the younger, declared turkey confit to be the finest food on the planet and henceforth a necessity whenever possible.

So, that brings us to the menu for the Thanksgiving dinner, Chez Green:

Turkey confit: of course

Brined roasted turkey breast: ditto

Mashed potatoes, parsnips and carrots, brussel sprouts: easy accompaniments

Stuffing (made in a casserole dish, but traditional ingredients) and gravy: must haves

Dessert: pumpkin pie (alright, this is sounding like a traditional dinner, but at least we’re having the confit!!!)

For something to start, I figured I would make something to nibble on, and settled on making a wheel of brie baked in pastry with cranberry chutney. Great sliced and smeared on fresh baguette.

The turkey was in the fridge the day before, as the process of confit and brining is a 2 day affair, so I set out to transform the humble bird into a duo of exquisite proportions. Legs off and deboned, I ran out to the garden for a sachet of herbs, and along with some coarse salt and pepper set the legs on their way marinating overnight in a colander. This allows the leg to cure slightly, draw out some moisture, and seasons it well. (The colander is placed inside a second bowl which catches any liquid that comes out.) That accomplished, I prepared the brine, and once cooled thoroughly, place the turkey breast in a large bag and poured the brine over, sealed it well, and placed it in the refrigerator. The bones were roasted and a stock prepared for the following day’s stuffing and gravy.

Morning of the dinner, a trip to market for the vegetables, and stage two of confit. Now the process of confit involves large amounts of fat, animal or otherwise as a cooking medium, so it’s important to understand the reasoning behind the process. In years gone by, before refrigeration, preservation of meat for the winter was a real necessity. When a pig was killed, a multistage process was a group undertaking to maximize the investment for the family’s food source. Fresh pork was made in to sausage, some meant for immediate consumption, some to be hung, smoked, and dried for later. Legs were salted and dried for hams, belly cured for bacon, and fat rendered for lard. The lard was then used for both cooking and storing of cooked meats for the winter (hence the term larder to mean a pantry) Confit was one of these processes that used it for both. Meat salted ovenight, then gently poached in its own fat is exceptionally tender and flavourful, and once the cooking process complete, could be packed away in an earthenware crock, the cooking fat poured over to create a sealed environment free of oxygen for preservation, and set in a cold place for several months for storage. in the winter, the confit would be reheated, removed from the fat, and eaten. History lesson aside, confit has become one of those traditional dishes that defies description. The simplicity of the process is easily understood, but easily done incorrectly, as it requires a low flame and a watchful cook to maintain the temperature at a gentle simmer, and a steady hand to remove it from the pan when cooked, as it’s quite tender. Done well, it’s a thing of beauty.

I placed my 2 litres of lard into a largish pot, and brought it up to just over the boiling point. (225 F) The legs were submerged gently, flame adjusted to medium low for now, and once the temperature had re-established its boiling point, dropped down to quite low. The whole idea is to maintain the cooking temperature at boiling (212 F / 100 C) for 2 hours, allowing the meat to slowly poach. Project well under way, I prepared the cranberry chutney, and easy one pot affair, and set it aside to cool. I made pastry, enough for both my pie and the brie, and set both batches aside to rest. I took a few minutes to peel vegetables and prepared a bit of trim fro the gravy, and set out to figure out how to authentically recreate stuffing outside of the bird.

I prepared my mix as I usually would and figured I had to account for two things in the cooking process: indirect heat, the effect of being insulated inside the bird and not get too crispy around the edges; and the moisture added to the cooking process from the turkey cooking around it. The first part was easily solved: a double layer of parchment inside a large ceramic casserole dish to protect it, and the second by a regular basting with a ladle of turkey stock as it cooked, every 15 minutes for an hour.

Stuffing and vegetables well in hand, I rolled out the pastry, lined the pie plate for the pumpkin and blind baked it, and prepared the brie. Very simple, just a large round of pastry, a wheel of brie or camembert inside, a thick layer of chutney, and then the pastry folded over to encase it all. I set it in the fridge for half an hour to chill, quickly made the pie filling (yes you can use good quality canned pumpkin), and brought the breast out of the brine.

The pie shell came out of the oven, in went the brie for 45 minutes, allowing the shell to cool somewhat, at which point I filled it and placed the pumpkin pie into the oven alongside the brie. The brie came out 15 minutes later or so, and figuring I had half an hour before the pumpkin pie would be ready and the oven free, I checked the confit. Nice and tender, I gently lifted it out and placed it on a rack to drain of excess fat and cool enough to handle. I set is aside, rubbed the breast down with olive oil and salt and pepper, and placed it on a rack in the roasting pan, ready to replace the pie in the oven. The last of my major chores finished, I removed skin, bone, and tendon from the confit and shredded it, placing the tender meat into a casserole dish. I strained the leftover fat for another future batch (to be stored in the fridge), taking care to set the last little bit aside, which is a small amount of very intensely reduced turkey juice, (it looks like caramel), and put that separately into the fridge in a small bowl. It sets very quickly, allowing you to skim the fat off the top and put the turkey essence into the confit for when it is reheated. (trust me on this, it’s magic)

Confident all I had to do was cook a few veggies, the rest of the evening turned to the real essence of the day: How fortunate for us that we have a beautiful environment, clean air and water, a standard of living and quality of life second to none, and people to share it with. No matter how many things go on in the course of one year, how many changes one goes through in a lifetime, when you stop and take a moment to look at the big picture, life in Canada’s pretty darn good.

Tradition!

For many of us, the ultimate Sunday Dinner had to always be roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Not that it happened every week, but when it did, it always meant a really satisfying meal. My Mother in law’s birthday is this week, so we decided to have the family over for Sunday Dinner. What else to make for the older generation but roast beef, and if you want to really see a group of septuagenarians get excited, roast a prime rib! A birthday cake was also in order, so I settled on making a chocolate cake of some sort, and figured I’d give it some thought.

We toddled off to market, picked up a few carrots and parsnips (my wife’s favourite easy vegetable, mashed together), settled on mashed potatoes (what else?) , and picked up a hefty 13 pound rib of beef at the butcher. Back to the house, and a serious cake project was underway. I had prepared the layers the night before, so that they would be easy to handle, and cut them crosswise into two. I whipped up some cream with cocoa and icing sugar, and layered it in between, placing the cake back into the fridge to cool. (It’s important to note, that for a nice even top, invert the layers so that the piece on top is the base of one of the layers, with nice flat surface to work on.)

Preparing a cake to be glazed with ganache involves some serious engineering and sculpture, so I prepared the ganache with 70% dark chocolate (being very careful not to stir it too much for fear of making it volatile and seizing it) and an equal amount of cream, setting it aside once melted and mixed well. I removed a third for my base coats, so that I could spread it on without getting crumb into the rest of it. A trim of the filled layers to provide straight, even edges, and I took a small palette knife, and spread a thin layer of chocolate all over the cake, to create a seal. Back into the fridge to set.

Once firm, another thin coat, this time trying to even out any irregularities in the sides. Fridge again.

Half an hour later, another thin coat, and this time it’s looking quite nicely shaped, and should provide a nice smooth base for coating. After being cooled and the remaining ganache heated up again over hot water, I was ready to glaze. I carefully transferred the cake to a wire rack over a pan lined with parchment, to allow the excess to drip off the edge rather than pool at the base. The remaining ganache was poured over and with a minimal amount of coaxing from my spatula, allowed to gently flow over the top and down the sides.

This is where the preparation comes in to play. The chilled structure underneath allows the ganache to cool and coat evenly as it flows, creating a picture perfect top coat that will remain shiny and smooth once set.I lifted the rack off of the tray, put it onto another, and set it in the fridge. The excess ganache was scooped up and placed in a piping bag with a small star tip to decorate the edges once the cake was moved onto its platter, and set aside to cool until the consistency of soft butter.

The cake under control, it was by now mid afternoon and time to think about the main course. I grabbed the required elements for a nice rub: a head of garlic, grainy Dijon, coarse salt, olive oil, pepper, and herbs from the garden. Out came the mortar and pestle, and into it placed the peeled garlic and a generous pinch of salt. I mashed it up a bit to break down the garlic into a coarse pulp, added a twist of pepper and the chopped herbs (thyme and rosemary), and a knob of grainy mustard the size of an egg. Again with the mortar and pestle, baptizing it with a generous dose of olive oil, until a reasonably fine paste had been achieved.

The rib was rubbed, place on a rack in a roasting pan and the oven prepared: 375 in the convection, (400 without) just for an hour to get nice colour, at which time the temp would be dropped by 50 degrees to allow a nice gentle roast for the remaining hour or so. I fixed the batter for the Yorkshires: the tried and true hotel banquet recipe; equal parts by weight flour, egg, milk. 250 grams of each yields a dozen, so I made enough for 24. (In volume measure it works out to 1 2/3 cups flour, 1 cup milk, and 4 eggs per, plus a nice pinch of salt)

That taken care of, I peeled the vegetables and potatoes, placed them in pots ready to go and did a bit of prep for the gravy. Whenever I cook a large roast or bird, I set a small pot aside for the carrot (and in this case parsnip) peelings, onion and garlic trim, bits of herb stems and celery tops, etc, and have that simmering on the back of the stove. If there are the odd bits of trim, even better, as the resulting quick stock provides a nice amount of flavour for making the gravy from the drippings. I tend to dice up a half an onion, a couple of stalks celery, and the ends of the carrots, parsnips, etc and transfer those to either around the roast without crowding it causing it to stem, or into an oven proof saute pan for a nice roast. Once the roast comes out of the oven, the rack is lifted, the vegetable if not already in there are added to the drippings and the whole mess is placed on a medium high burner (still in the roasting pan, of course) and caramelized gently. Enough flour is added to make a roux, usually 1/3-1/2 cup per litre of stock, and once a golden brown, the liquid can be added. I always start with a deglaze with wine, there’s usually something open by this point for dinner, so a splash into the pan. (the exception to the rule being if you’ve opened an ’82 Mouton for dinner, in which case open something else for the gravy) Strain out the quick stock you’ve made, and add it, bit by bit, stirring constantly until it’s well incorporated. I usually will just let it simmer gently in the roasting pan for a few minutes, to make sure I’ve adequately removed all bits of flavour from the bottom, before transferring it to a sauce pan over low for a simmer until the roast has rested completely. Just before serving, adjust the seasoning and strain.

Oven bumped up to 425, it’s time to get the puddings on the roll. My beaten and weathered muffin tins, who are being saved for this noble purpose, are placed on a baking sheet, the prescribed amount of oil added to each (2 Tbsp or so, about 1/8 inch) and the whole sheet placed in the hot oven fro 10 minutes. Yorkshire puddings rise by the action of the egg-rich batter hitting the hot oil, so this is VERY important. Once hot, a ladle of batter into each tin cup, back in the oven on upper rack, and door closed for 12-20 minutes, until puffed and golden. To prevent them from collapsing, it is important to reduce the oven temperature after 20 minutes (to 300), and prop the door ajar a few inches to allow excess steam to escape and the puddings to dry out. !5 minutes later, ready to go!!

A quick mash of potatoes and veg, roast carved and puddings transferred to a platter, the deafening silence of the family, punctuated by the occasional ping of cutlery vs plate registered success. Two helpings apiece, it took great strength to finish the slice of cake presented, but a valiant effort was made by all. And that’s what it’s all about: TRADITION.

Busy weekend, easy dinner

This weekend was quite busy, so Sunday dinner became a bit of an afterthought. Saturday I was out all day helping my friend and former sous chef Jeff van Geest cater a wedding for some dear friends of ours, Gary and Naty King from Hazelmere Organic Farms, whose eldest daughter (one of a set of twins, I might add) was getting married, with the reception being held at the family farm. I had gone out the day before for some advance preparation, and most of the food was being prepared and brought in from the restaurant, but an early day was still in order to prepare for the 180 guests. Jeff and I were out early, getting things organized, doing some of the final details, and conversing on the logistics of the afternoon. There was over 50 lb of bison that had been marinated and sent down from Fort St. John, 4 large spring salmon, and 50 chickens, which had been quartered. deboned, and marinated in an apricot five spice barbecue sauce that Jeff had made. 180 pounds of charcoal, 2 large barbecues, plus 2 gas grills were at the ready, so all was looking fine.

Around noon, the mother of the bride came into the kitchen with some troubling news: the pastry chef who had made the wedding cake had run out of time and had not prepared a special cake for the bride, who has wheat and dairy allergies. “Maybe he’s joking?” I asked, but was reassured that it was no jest. “Ok, what do you have? Chocolate, nuts, dried fruit, eggs? Bring me some of everything and we’ll make it happen,” I assured. I figured to make a collapsed chocolate souffle of sorts, making a batter with chocolate, eggs, and sugar, and then adding a large quantity of ground nuts to keep it from rising too much and making a nice dense torte. Dried fruit would make a nice compote for a sauce, and all order would be restored. The ingredients arrived from the barn, 70% organic chocolate, a dozen eggs, a pound of organic hazelnuts, and a cup of dried cherries. A springform pan was rustled up, lightly oiled with some hazelnut oil, and set to rest. The nuts went into the oven for a light roasting to remove their skins, once done they were transferred to the freezer to cool quickly. I put hot water in a large pot,and brought it up to a boil, turned it off, and chopped the chocolate into a bowl to set on top. The eggs were separated, yolks in one bowl with some sugar, whites in another for the Kitchen Aid. Yolks whisked to ribbon stage, I added the melted chocolate, whipped the whites and folded them in. The hazelnuts, now cooled were quickly rubbed and skins removed, processed into a coarse meal in the food processor, and after I grabbed a half cup for an impromptu crust, the rest folded into the batter. Into the oven at 375, check it in 35 minutes, I thought, and then popped together the compote quickly with a simple syrup, some spices, and the cherries.

Balance restored to the Force, we returned our thoughts to dinner, and carried on with the afternoon. The fire was stoked, bison and chicken grilled and cared for lovingly, salmon was baked with a delicious hazelnut basil pesto, a few nice salads and vegetables from the farm, and the rest of the evening went off without a hitch. The bride was happy and none the wiser about the cake mishap, and we settled in to enjoy the festivities once it was all over, which bring us to Sunday.

Still feeling somewhat groggy from the previous night’s festivities, Sunday’s meal preparations became a quick and easy decision: A simple grilled steak and baked potato with some green beans for dinner, and a beef stew to prepare for Monday, so we could eat quickly after our son’s football game. A quick survey of the fridge: lots of carrots and sweet onions from the market still, needed some celery and other vegetables for the stew; steak, potatoes, and mushrooms needed for dinner. A quick trip to the produce store and butcher yielded the necessary provisions, and I set about for a quick and easy afternoon prep session. A couple of pounds of beef stew, seasoned nicely, floured and seared to a nice brown; the onion, celery, carrot, and turnip sauteed until just a touch of colour was present; and then a can of diced tomatoes, a bit of stock and herbs, and left to simmer for the afternoon. No recipes necessary for the steak: a serious rubdown with steak spice, coarse salt, and olive oil, a quick flash in the grill pan and into a hot oven to finish alongside the baked potatoes; a splash of olive oil into a couple of pans to saute a thinly sliced Walla Walla onion and some mushrooms to accompany (cooked separately to appease our resident mushroom hater) and the beans trimmed and plunged in boiling water. A satisfying repast, devoured quietly, and nothing left over. Success in its simplest form. The clan fed, stew turned off for tomorrow, to be joined by some bread or quick biscuits, and Dad was off to see legendary guitar god Steve Vai play at the Commodore.

Around midnight, I returned, both thoroughly inspired and amazed by the 3 hours of unrelenting instrumental heroics of the entire ensemble, I placed the cooled stew in the fridge to be enjoyed tomorrow, and toddled off to bed.

(special thanks to Simon Blackwell for not only his expert help, but with the fine pictures as well)