Monthly Archives: January 2011

Cinnamon Rolls for Michelle

This has taken more than a year to write.

Because although I’ve composed this dozens of times in my head, when it came down to actually sitting at the laptop words have completely escaped me.

And, I guess, the timing just wasn’t right.

This is for my friend Michelle.

Me and Michelle

On Dec. 30, 2009, Michelle Lang was in a two-LAV convoy returning to the Canadian Forces base in Kandahar when they hit an IED. She and four soldiers — Garrett Chidley, George Miok, Zachery McCormack and Kirk Taylor — were killed in the blast. Five others were injured.

Three weeks earlier, we were out celebrating my birthday. It was her final weekend before she flew out to Afghanistan for what was expected to be a two-month stint reporting on the conflict in that country for Canwest News. Despite the fact she was less than 72 hours from taking off and had myriad errands to run and things to organize before leaving, she came out for dinner and then drinks, staying out well past bedtime. Friends always came first; that’s just the sort of girl she was.

And she was from the start.

When I moved to Calgary I had arranged for a couple of places to stay in those first few weeks, but there was a four-day gap where I had no plan, hoping to depend on the kindness of another reporter with whom I had a mutual friend. Instead, Michelle stepped in, offering up her couch to me — a virtual stranger — for as much time as I needed. She apologized it wasn’t nicer.

I live in that apartment now. On the night before I was to move in, Michelle stayed up until the early morning to get it into tip-top shape for me because she knew I wasn’t happy about giving up my old place. That’s also the sort of girl she was.

She was a huge supporter of this blog, she wasn’t afraid to scold me over my ever-growing shoe collection or dish out the tough love when it was needed. She offered up praise for a good story or kitchen victory; she listened when things were going sideways; she was my sushi-and-Buffy buddy (take-out and DVDs for a mid-week pick-me-up).

On the day before she left, I called her quickly to say I was going to miss her, to have fun, tell good stories and that I would see her in January. And then I said I would bake whatever she wanted when she was back in Calgary.

“What’s your favourite thing?” I asked.

“Cinnamon rolls,” she replied.

And I promised they would be hers when she returned.

A few weeks after her death, after the repatriation ceremony at CFB Trenton, the funeral in Vancouver and memorial service in Calgary, after the media coverage quieted, I set out to make the cinnamon buns. The fog of grief was still thick and I wanted to do something, some tiny thing, some personal thing, to honour her and follow through on my promise.

I set out to make the cinnamon rolls.

They were a complete failure. As in, the dough didn’t rise at all. Frustrated and angry — at more than just a baking misstep — I threw the hard lump of dough away and broke down. I didn’t attempt them again.

(Yeast-based goods are a downfall for me anyway, hence my love of all things no-knead. Although I did make some no-knead pumpkin cinnamon rolls that were successful, for some reason I feel this neither fulfilled nor broke my promise to make some for Michelle. I guess I figured the fact they were pumpkin made them a different kind of cinnamon bun altogether.)

Leading up to the one-year anniversary of losing Michelle, I started thinking again about those cinnamon rolls and my promise. But I wasn’t ready.  I dug my heels in trying to fight against the approaching day — a futile task.

And when it passed I knew it was time.

Michelle, this one is for you.

Lone bun

xo

gwendolyn

(Immense gratitude for the Pioneer Woman who had a recipe that was easy to work with and delicious. Thank you, I needed that.)

The dough rises

Rolled up

Naked buns

Geometric buns

Geometric buns - close-up

Powdered sugar and lemon zest

Incidentally, these red bowls were a birthday present from Michelle a few years ago. Now, when I pull them out (which I do a lot, since they are awesome ones from Williams-Sonoma), I always think of her.

Glaze

Glazed and ready to go

Pioneer Woman’s Cinnamon Rolls

I have halved this recipe, which still made an insane amount of rolls, as in two 9-inch cake pans’ worth and they were jammed full. This is as I made it, but you can easily double it if you want to feed an army. The glaze/frosting recipe is loosely based on hers, but I changed it quite a bit because I wanted something lemon-y.

  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast
  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon, heaping, baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon, scant, baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup melted butter, plus 2 tablespoons for the pans
  • cinnamon

In a large pot, mix the milk, oil and sugar and heat until scalded, just before boiling. Remove from the heat and let it cool until lukewarm, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Sprinkle over yeast and let sit for a minute. Add in the 4 cups of flour and stir. Cover and let it rise for at least an hour until doubled (or more).

Add the remaining 1/2 cup of flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir together. (I had to knead it a little bit to get all the remaining dry ingredients worked in.)

Sprinkle the area where you’re going to roll out the dough generously with flour. Divide the dough in half and roll it thin into a rough rectangle. Drizzle half the melted butter over the dough and then sprinkle half of the sugar and a generous dose of cinnamon. (I went too easy on it and wish I had used more. Don’t be afraid!) Roll the dough in a neat, tight line and then pinch the seam together to seal it. Slice the rolls into even pieces, about 1-inch wide. (Mine were probably closer to 1 1/2-inches.)

Spread 1 tablespoon of melted butter into a cake or pie pan (she calls for 7-inch pans; I used 9-inch ones) and lay in the rolled dough slices. Let them rise for 20 to 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375.

Bake rolls until light golden brown, about 15 to 18 minutes.

Lemon Glaze

  • 1/2 bag powdered (icing) sugar
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • pinch or two of salt
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter

Mix all the ingredients together. Add more milk if the mixture is too thick or more sugar if it is too runny.

Pour over the rolls when they are still slightly warm.

Warm Lentil Salad

I can barely close my staples cupboard.

Between the lentils, couscous, pasta, and at least five types of rice, the shelves are jammed with an overabundance of ingredients. I’ve squeezed half-eaten packages of rice noodles over near-empty bags of Arborio and sushi rice. I have two types of couscous (regular and Israeli) and two of quinoa (regular and black). And there are at least three bags of lentils: one I bought on impulse because I liked the look of the green disks, mottled like tiny pebbles, a freezer bag of several cups my parents gave me during a visit because I expressed interest in eating more lentils and a third bag I inherited from a friend when she was moving away and was purging her cupboards of all foodstuffs.

The trouble is, I had no idea what to do with them.

Lentil Swirl

One of my New Year’s resolutions — which, I will admit, I’m not really fastidious about, though I like the idea of setting goals, even if I don’t always accomplish them. It’s like how I love to make lists and then check off tasks when I get them done – was to start attacking the staples cupboard in an effort to reduce the volume of ingredients in there.
Lentils, I decided, were to be the first challenge.

I must have read somewhere about warm lentil salads because that was the first thing that come to mind when I decided to tackle this. I have no recollection of when or where I would have stumbled across such a recipe. But I had such a firm idea in my mind of what I was looking for: cooked lentils studded with slightly sautéed carrot, celery and onion and then tossed in a French-style vinaigrette and served up still warm.

Warm Lentil Salad II

Most of the ones I found while searching called for goat cheese, bacon and sausage. I’m certainly not against the idea of adding any of those to a salad. (In fact, I would count those three things among my top favourite foods; certainly they are things that would improve a lot of salads.) But this was about using up what I already have in my kitchen. And the few ingredients in the recipe I finally found on Molly Wizenberg’s blog, Orangette, were all things I had on hand.

It comes together quickly, especially if you time it so you are chopping and then cooking the vegetables while the lentils quietly simmer away with a bay leaf. Drain them and toss into the pan of onions, carrots and celery, then slosh over the vinaigrette and stir. Sprinkle with parsley, some crunchy flaked sea salt and it’s ready.

After patiently photographing the dish in the last few moments of daylight, I took that first bite.

The earthy lentils combined with the slightly softened vegetables and the mustard-spiked dressing, along with the fresh green taste of parsley was perfect. The crunch of sea salt and the small sprinkle of vinegar for added tang put the dish over the top.

I polished off the entire bowl. And then scooped myself another one.

The simplicity of all the flavours came through, but together created a homey dish, perfect for a winter afternoon.
After eating this, I could see getting through the rest of the lentils won’t be a problem.

(Edited to add that I made this again less than a week later. That is how good it is. Go forth, make it. It’s easy and so delicious!)

Lentils

Mirepoix

Mirepoix with thyme

Warm Lentil Salad I

Warm Lentil Salad III

French-Style Warm Lentil Salad
This recipe comes frrom Molly Wizenberg of Orangette, which she had adapted from Epicurious.com. She says it is even better the second day, though I would add the caveat, “if you have any left.”

  • 1 cup (250 mL) French green (also known as “Puy”) lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 3 cups (750 mL) water
  • 1 Turkish bay leaf
  • ½ teaspoon (2 mL) salt, divided
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 5 tablespoons (65 mL) olive oil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons plus ½ tsp (27 mL) red wine vinegar
  • ½ tablespoon (7 mL) Dijon mustard
  • Crunchy sea salt, for serving
  • 2 tablespoons (25 mL) finely chopped Italian parsley, for serving

In a medium saucepan, bring the lentils, water, and bay leaf to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until almost tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in ¼ teaspoon (1 mL) salt, and then simmer, covered, for another 3 to 5 minutes, until tender but not falling apart.

While the lentils simmer, warm 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery, garlic, thyme, and 1/8 teaspoon (0.5 mL) salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are just softened, about 7 to 9 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette. In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons (25 mL) vinegar, mustard, and remaining 1/8 teaspoon (0.5 mL) salt. Add the remaining 4 tablespoons (50 mL) olive oil, and whisk to emulsify.

When the lentils are ready, drain them in a colander or sieve, and discard the bay leaf. Dump them into the skillet with the vegetables, and add the vinaigrette. Cook over low heat, stirring gently, until heated through. Stir in the remaining ½ tsp (2 mL) vinegar, and serve warm, with crunchy salt and parsley for sprinkling.
Makes 4 side-dish servings

This originally ran in the Calgary Herald. For more recipes, check out the Herald’s online food section.

Beef Bulgogi

I had never tried Korean food before I moved to Calgary.

There had been Thai and Vietnamese, Japanese and Chinese, of course. But in all my opportunities to eat Asian food, there had been no kimchee or bulgogi.

Beef Bulgogi II

And then a group of friends formed an ad hoc supper club where we would all go out for dinner on Thursday nights, typically for ethnic foods.

We dined on Indian and pho and then, finally, a Korean place where I had my first taste of beef bulgogi.

I didn’t know what to expect, but was in beef heaven by the time I took that first bite. The marinated short rib meat was almost as soft as butter, flavoured with ginger, garlic, soy and sesame. I wedged it into crisp, cold lettuce leaves and savoured each bite. (Or as much as I could, as it was so fantastic it was hard to remember to eat slowly.)

I went back a couple of months later and there was only one thing on the menu I wanted.

Later, I stumbled on a recipe in my oft-thumbed Everyday Food cookbook (Clarkson Potter, March 2007) for a version of beef bulgogi. Instead of the more traditional Korean short ribs, it called for thinly sliced rib-eye and it required no ingredients more exotic than sesame and chili oils and some staples found in most kitchens: brown sugar, soy, ginger, garlic.

Craving the taste again of that distinct mix of salty soy, garlic and the hint of sweet from the brown sugar, I thought it was worth a try.

The book now cracks open to that page, left slightly spattered by being set too close to the fry pan when cooking — the sign of a successful recipe.

At home, the first time I tried this out, I couldn’t be bothered with the lettuce wraps; it seemed too fussy for eating in front of the TV. So, I just put a couple of scoops of it on cooked rice and ate it with chopsticks. The rice soaked up the extra sauce, making for a very satisfying and flavourful meal. (And the leftovers were a nice lunch at work the next day.)

But I also like the idea of rolling up the beef and onions and peppers in soft butter lettuce, so this time around I did exactly that.

Beef Bulgogi I

The leaves of butter lettuce (or Boston lettuce, as it is also known) are tender and pliable, making them a perfect container for the bulgogi mixture. The thin leaves also don’t interfere with the flavours and softness of the meat.

Either way, it’s a delicious and fast way to taste Korea.

And one I’ll come back to again and again.

Beef Bulgogi III

Beef Bulgogi

This recipe from Everyday Food calls for hot chili sesame oil, which I have never found in my grocery store travels. Instead, I use half sesame oil and half chili oil. In a pinch, you can use all sesame oil and a dash of red pepper flakes.

  • 1½lbs (750g) rib-eye steak, trimmed of excess fat
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) soy sauce
  • 1½ tsp (7 mL) sesame oil
  • 1½ tsp (7 mL) chili oil
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) dark brown sugar
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) finely grated, peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 medium red onions, halved and cut lengthwise into 1-inch (2.5-cm) wedges
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed, sliced into ½-inch (1-cm) strips
  • 4 tsp (20 mL) vegetable oil, divided
  • 1 small head Boston (also known as butter) lettuce

Freeze the beef for 20 minutes; transfer to a clean work surface. Slice diagonally (across the grain) into 1/8-inch (3-mm) thick strips.

In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, sesame and chili oils, brown sugar, garlic and ginger. Place the onions and peppers in a small bowl; toss with half the soy marinade. Toss the steak in the remaining marinade; let stand for 15 minutes

Heat 2 tsp (10 mL) of the vegetable oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and peppers; cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Wipe the skillet clean with a paper towel.

Heat the remaining 2 tsp (10 mL) vegetable oil over high heat. Cook half the meat, turning often, until browned, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Cook the remaining meat. Return the first batch and any accumulated juices to the pan; add the onion mixture. Cook, tossing, until heated through, about 1 minute.

To serve, roll up the beef mixture in lettuce leaves.

Serves 4.

This first ran in the Calgary Herald. For more recipes and food stories, check out www.CalgaryHerald.com/life.