Unless you’re a cook, I’m not sure if you will appreciate what I’m about to tell you. I’m not sure if you’ll understand that gravity of my next statement, unless you have spend countless years working every evening and weekend of my entire adult life, but I, Claire Lassam, don’t work on weekends any more.
To non cooks let me tell you this- for the first time in our 6 year relationship, my boyfriend and I have the same days off.
It is amazing.
I am not exaggerating when I tell you it’s a small miracle.
I am so very very happy about it.
Jordan on the other hand, is working all the blooming time these days, and about once a week he’s taking the ferry over to Victoria. So I thought I should meet him on the island and we should escape for a couple days. Actually I’m thinking we should do this all the time.
Oh man I love Vancouver Island. I really really really do.
The people are so nice, the weather is so much better, the scenery is totally comparable to where I currently live.
I just love it.
While we were away I made this little breakfast. Nothing fussy- just some toast and asparagus and ricotta with an egg on top, but it’s rich and comforting and so simple to make. And it was just about the perfect thing to eat while sipping hot tea, reading a book, and just generally being very calm, very relaxed, and very happy.
People always ask me what my favourite thing is to bake. I tell them I’m a baker and it’s the first question. And here’s the thing of it; I never know what to say.
There are things that I don’t love baking- macarons for instance, which are delicious and wonderful, are also the bane of my existance. Puff pastry, with it’s tedious rolling and folding would fall into that category, but favourites? They’re harder to come by.
But recently I’ve decided. They’re something friends always ask me to make, and then continue to talk about long after the last one has been scarfed up, and they’re something I genuinely really enjoy making.
Guys, I’m willing to put it down into the internet, a place where things are never deleted. I make great biscuits, and I love making them.
The simple act of cutting in the butter, folding in the buttermilk, pressing out the dough with my finger tips. They are my favourite. I love them.
Which is a good thing, because man oh man, have I made a lot of biscuits lately. I’d say about 300 last week alone.
See I work for a Southern restaurant which opened up last week as a pop up fried chicken shack. And what is fried chicken without biscuits? Not much apparently, because those things were flying out of the kitchen. It was all biscuits all the time.
So with the scrappy bits that were left over and a bit to tough to serve, I rolled them out , sprinkled them with cinnamon and brown sugar and rolled them up. They’re like the cookies my mom used to make with left over pie dough, except much, much, bigger and fluffier.
And seriously, those things were delicious. Like, proper, all kinds of wonderful, I will sell these one day when I open a bakery, delicious.
They were one part biscuit, one part cinnamon bun, and all parts fantastic. So there you go.
Biscuits, they are my favourite, whether for dinner, or for breakfast, or for shoving in your face when they’re covered in cinnamon and sugar and still hot from the oven.
Here’s the thing of it, guys just don’t like Valentines Day. I have never heard a man sound excited about buying flowers that are suddenly double the price two weeks into February. I have never been told that a male friend is really excited to take their girl out for dinner, or to a show, and I think that’s mostly because men really don’t like being told what to do. So they don’t like being told they have to be romantic. They’re stubborn like that.
Here’s the other thing, all girls like Valentines. Even the tomboy-est of ladies wants a day of the year where the door is opened for her, and roses are sitting out on the table when she gets home. It’s a silly day, but it’s also wonderful. It’s a day of romance, and it’s a day for pink. And I will make no claims pretending to be above it.
It’s just fun.
But what isn’t fun is how expensive it is to go out on Valentines, how much more restaurants charge for things, and how busy it is. Which is why, when I’m not working, Jordan and I make dinner in on Valentines. And this year, I’m proposing pancakes.
I love breakfast for dinner. It is my absolute favourite. It is simple, and not fussy, but it feels special. It feels indulgent, and it feels a little bad for you, and if you have pancakes for dinner, you’ve already had your sweets and you don’t need dessert!
It’s extra festive if you cut out some hearts from pretty paper and sew them onto string, and tie that string onto a couple of skewers so that you have heart bundting on your pancakes. But you don’t have to.
These pancakes are incredibly good, they are the lightest fluffiest pancakes I have ever encountered, and they are best when they are smothered with this raspberry-rose sauce. Just please don’t go and buy the raspberries that are imported from Argentina (unless you live in Argentina, in which I’m super jealous) I used some lovely frozen local ones and they are all kinds of delicious.
Now is the time of year I start to miss summer fruit. In the fall there are quinces and apples to get me through, and then the fun of Christmas takes over and I can get excited about mashed potatoes, but by mid January I am sick of it. I want red berries.
It was glee, pure, unadulterated glee that took over me when, at my local market, I noticed some local raspberries in the freezer.
Apparently this dive-y rundown market that I frequent for their unbelievable deals on pecans just froze all of the berries that they didn’t sell this summer. Firstly, this makes perfect sense. Secondly, how did I only just see them?
Oh lord. My week has been made.
We had some friends over recently, and as Jordan and I were flipping through cookbooks deciding what to make, he made several pointed comments about a brioche tart in the Ottolenghi book.. So I, being that lovely charming girlfriend that I am, (self proclaimed at least) decided to make it.
This is the most perfect breakfast. We ate it for dessert, and it was great, but for serious friends, eat this for breakfast. Next time you have people over for brunch, put this out on the table. I promise, they will be friends for life. The whole thing is somewhere between a coffee cake, a tart, and yet so much better. So very much better.
Sometimes in Vancouver it rains. Some might say that most of the time it rains but I’m feeling optimistic so I’m going to say sometimes.
Sometimes in Canada it gets bloody freezing. That doesn’t happen much in Vancity, but it has this deep humid chill that gets into your bones. It’s a wet cold that creeps into your shoes, and blows down your neck, and sneaks behind your ears.
Sometimes around here you wake up and think “I can’t possibly go outside, it is to cold, what can do to justify just not leaving the house.”
Sometimes, you need to stop feeling guilty and just make Finnish Cardamon Bread.
You need to have your whole house smell like rising bread, and you need to feel that comforting squish of yeasted dough between your fingers, and you need to sprinkle cardamon on it, which seems at first a wee bit crazy, but very quickly becomes the best idea you’ve had all day.
Sometimes you just need to let it rain, you need to make a strong cup of tea, and you need to eat Finnish cardamon bread.
And you need to be happy.
It’s the time of year where my apartment starts filling up with canned goods. I swear it’s by osmosis, I couldn’t possibly spend this many hours, this often, making preserves and yet there they are, slowly taking over cupboards and shelves, the pickles(!), the peppers(!), the peaches(!). It gets out of control.
This is the sort of thing that drives someone a bit batty at times, but in the winter when all is dark, this is a glorious glorious thing, one that should not to be scoffed at.
However, it is also the time of year where scrap bits of jams begin to accumulate. The parts that don’t quite fill a jar, so get pushed into old jars and thrown in the fridge where I begin to forget about them. I do, I’ll confess to that.
So lately I’ve been trying to use up these scrappy bits, sandwich them with cookies, spread them on the morning toast, or today, bake them into scones.
My favourite way is to put them into birds nest cookies, you know, the coconut ones with the raspberry jelly in the middle. But today I didn’t feel like cookies, I felt like breakfast, and while there is definitely overlap there, birds nest cookies lie firmly on the side of unhealthy inappropriate breakfast choices. So instead, I made coconut scones and put a big blob of jam in there. It’s like having someone put jam on your scone for you, and it’s also like eating a cookie for breakfast. By which I mean, it’s the best thing ever. And you should probably make these. Stat.
Anyone who knows me knows that I love meat. I have worked at butcher shops, I have an inordinate love of game meats, and God knows I love bacon. But a lesser known fact is that I was a vegetarian for 8 years growing up. I gave up a proscuitto-free life a long long time ago, with some serious pushing and prodding by a chef I worked for, but on the condition that I would only eat meat I could feel ethical about. Free-range, organic whenever possible, and way less meat then the American dream.
The lovely man that I live with is a very accomodating sort, he puts up with me, which does say quite a bit, but he puts his foot down on a few matters, that the floor gets swept every night, that windows should be open while we sleep, and there should always be meat with dinner. Now, I’m all for keeping the floor clean, and I have an extra quilt at the foot of my bed to stay warm but we definitely disagree on the meat issue.
So we’ve started compromising by using a little bit of meat. It’s unusual for us to eat a whole chicken breast, or 8oz of steak each, but it’s common to find some bacon in a pasta, or some local prawns in curries, or in this case, a few slices of proscuitto.
It’s not much, it isn’t. But it is enough to make him feel like he’s getting some meat in a meal, and it’s small enough to make me feel ethical about the whole thing.
And that doesn’t touch on taste, which is big and important here. There are few things better in life than figs and prosciutto. But on top of crispy bread with ricotta? We is very close to perfection.
It was Jazz Festival in Vancouver last week, a weekend where every venue puts on shows ranging from Mexican folk music to old proper quartets and everyone in between shows up, and while admittedly most of the more senior people in this play at expensive sold out shows, slews of people play at the outdoor stages. Every year a couple friends of ours who live near one of these outdoor venues throw a big party and we eat too much breakfast and then spend the day in the beer garden and listen to great music. It is one of my favourite days of the year.
And this year was no exception, the only difference was that after several drinks I decided that everyone should come over to brunch the next day which was, shall we say, a questionable decision.
I love having people over for brunch, as one friend put it “it’s breakfast you don’t have to wake up early for” and I would like to add it’s breakfast you can drink champagne with and not feel guilty. So I hauled my butt out of bed and made quiche.
I think people get scared of quiche, the pastry the baking, but really, you eat it at room temperature, so while you have to get up a little earlier to put it together, it means you don’t have to cook at all when people arrive, which is a trade off I’m more than happy to give. This is also a very special quiche recipe, one that is smoother than smooth and not overwhelmingly eggy.
I served this with heaps of roasted potatoes and a big salad, and I think everyone was very happy, even me, once I had a glass of bubbly in my hands!
A few years back when I was running the kitchen of a small brunch restaurant my sister sent me a recipe for carrot pancakes. Basically you add grated carrots, cinnamon and walnuts to your basic buttermilk pancake recipe and dollop cream cheese icing on top. I am a big fan of nearly anything with cream cheese icing on top, and I am wild about most things that teeter the line between dessert and breakfast. But the restaurant had 6 burners and a flat-top griddle that could barely support making french toast, much less adding pancakes to the mix, so I put the idea into the massive index of things I plan on making one day but mostly I forgot about it.
But this weekend I made a carrot cake and much to much cream cheese icing. I did however, have plans for a girlfriend to come by for brunch, and carrots in hand we made carrot cake pancakes.
Now I feel the need to explain this to you; it isn’t actually just fried carrot cake. I promise. It walks the line sure, but with 2 tablespoons of added sugar and spelt flour it’s hardly worse than the average pancake. It has 3/4 pound of carrots in it! And yes, the icing might not be the best but it’s no worse than maple syrup. Honest.
So without further ado, here are carrot pancakes, I reccomend eating them often.