JANUARY’S SOUP . . . FRENCH ONION . . . SO VERY, VERY FRENCH!

THE BEAUTIFUL EYE

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It is my habit to create little  traditions to mark an important occasion or celebrate a new season.  I like to make the unpleasantly  cold days of January the month I serve FRENCH ONION SOUP.

The prices of vegetables are soaring sky high so the savvy cook looks to locally grown vegetables for the dinner table.  FRENCH ONION SOUP is a classic.    The ingredients are readily available.  The soup is easy to make.     Using chicken stock allows the sweet flavour of the onions to sing.   Gussied  up with rich, deeply flavoured  Gruyere cheese it warms the cockles of your heart and impresses guests and family alike.

We had a bumper crop of onions this past summer.  The bins in the cold room are filled with these golden darling and I have been using them lavishly.  Winter on the West Coast can be damp,  bone-chilling cold.  This is the soup I like simmering away  filling the kitchen with its gorgeous earthy flavour.  Then there’s delicious moment when your spoon breaks the cheesy crust and you sip your way into soup heaven.

Be prepared to shed a few mascara streaked tears when you are slicing the onions but it is definitely worth it.  The following recipe for FRENCH ONION SOUP  LES HALLES STYLE is so very, very French.  You’ll love it.

BLUE PLATE SPECIAL . . . MEATLOAF … classic comfort food!

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Of all the reassuring comfort food  there is nothing better than a perfectly executed, divinely crusty- brown meatloaf.     Served with a generous pitcher of rich gravy  and mounds of creamy mashed potatoes it takes comfort food to dazzling new heights.

In cooking as in most things in life the simple dishes  done well  we appreciate,  enjoy  and remember.  We are bombarded by  magazines, newspapers,  cooking shows and books touting” the latest shout” in food.  Recipes that require endless shopping trips searching for exotic ingredients.  We’re exhausted before we even begin to prepare the meal.

Serve this generous meatloaf  proudly to family and friends.  It is a treasure that garners raves and second helpings.   The combination of ground meat and pork, and sauteing the vegetables gives this meat loaf  its rich, depth of flavour.  Don’t be tempted to skip the sauteing  step.

This old favorite is even better the next day.     Meatloaf cold makes great sandwiches.

Join me in  MRS BUTTERFINGERS kitchen for this classic meat loaf recipe.

WALNUT-BREADCRUMB PASTA WITH A SOFT EGG …. What to make for supper when the pantry is bare

WALNUT-BREADCRUMB PASTA WITH A SOFT EGG

The perfectly cooked soft egg  coats the pasta and adds rich flavour to this rustic dish.  You can whip this wonderfully  different pasta dish up in maybe twenty minutes.  Best part you probably have the ingredients in your pantry.  This recipe is so delicious, so addictive you are going to want to prepare this once a week.  Served with a tossed green salad and you have dinner faster than take-out.     I promise you, you wont be disappointed.

4 large eggs

A piece of French bread baguette, torn into small pieces or 2 ounces of panko or any kind of bread crumbs.  ( a generous half cup will do )

1/4  cup walnuts

3 tbsp olive oil

4 fat garlic cloves, minced

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground  pepper

8 ounces linguine – fresh or dried

1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley, either curly or flat leaf

2 tbsp finely chopped fresh chives

1/2 cup (1 1/2 ounces) crumbled goat cheese

Cook the eggs for just 4 minutes and be sure to run cold water over them.  Drain and gently peel.

Place bread in food processor and process until finely ground.  If you are using bread crumbs just add the crumbs and the walnuts and pulse until finely ground.  It’s ok if you still see larger bits of walnuts.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add olive oil (all 3 tbs)to the pan, and swirl to coat.  Add garlic, and sauté for 30 seconds, STIRRING CONSTANTLY.  Add breadcrumb mixture, salt and pepper to pan; sauté for 5 minutes or until toasted, stirring frequently.  The crumbs brown quickly so don’t neglect your pan.

Cook pasta according to package directions.  Add pasta to the breadcrumb mixture; toss to combine.  Sprinkle with parsley and chives; toss to combine.

Divide pasta mixture evenly among  between two warmed shallow bowls, and top each serving with l or 2 eggs and generous pieces of cheese.  Serve immediately.

This serves 2 rather hungry individuals. But in a pinch you could stretch it to 4 people.6

HOW TO EAT AN EGG

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M.F.K. Fisher’s book HOW TO COOK A WOLF pays homage to the philosophy of taking simple ingredients and transforming them into culinary splendor.  There is nothing simpler, and nothing  more delicate and delicious than a perfectly cooked soft-boiled egg, accompanied by mouillettes, slender slivers of toasted, buttered bread.

First you must buy the your eggs.  In Paris when you shop for eggs they  ask, “what are you using them for ? “.  ” If you’re baking these  eggs, a  couple of days old would be perfect.  Soft boiled eggs?  Then only these will do, barely a day old.  Tres Bien.”

We are so fortunate living in the country.  Our eggs come from Home Farm down the road.   Early in the morning I walk down to Home Farm and pick up a dozen or more of eggs.  Those days the luncheon menu is  always soft-boiled eggs.  Eggs that are literally hours old are  delicate and  exquisite.  The flavour is just a whisper of egg and the whites are tender beyond belief.  Simple pleasures indeed.

This is how you cook a soft boiled egg.  Gently put your very fresh eggs into a saucepan and cover with cold water.   Use just enough water to cover your eggs.   Add a pinch of salt and a drop or two of vinegar to the water.  Bring the eggs to a boil, uncovered.   Remove the saucepan  from the heat, cover, and time for three minutes.  Four minutes if you want your eggs to be a less  runny.   Drain off the hot water and run cold water over the eggs for a few minutes.  This stops the cooking.   If you follow these instructions to the letter you will ALWAYS have perfect soft-boiled eggs.

Remove the egg from the water and place it in an egg cup.  Put the wider part of the egg facing up because there is a little pocket of air at that end which makes it easier to cut into.

To prepare the mouilettes, toast slabs of country bread, or heat a baguette.  When toasted, cut into spears about 4 to 6 inches long.  Butter the mouilettes.  Use salted butter.

Using a spoon, tap around a small circle on top of the egg to break the shell.  Lift off the cap to reveal the delicate golden yolk.  Using mouilettes, dip into the egg yolk and enjoy!  Finish off remainder of egg with a spoon if necessary.

I HEARD THE BELLS . . . IT’S CHRISTMAS DAY

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I awoke to the glorious sounds of the church bells   They rang out from our little village across the tranquil  frost covered fields.   They pealed a welcome to this most wondrous of days.   In the early morning light we walked to the warm barn and wished the cows a Merry Christmas.    It was the perfect way to start our day.

Over night the temperature had dropped  and we were gifted with a dazzling landscape of frosted trees and  diamond  glittering grass.    Pristine snow covered the distant mountains.  The sky an intense sapphire blue. Christmas morning on the farm was perfect.     Dear, dear BEL’OCCHIO friends  I wish for you and all you love a very happy Christmas and all that is good in the coming year.

CHRISTMAS CROWNS FROM THE WORKSHOP OF WONDER AND MAGIC

A special order was delivered to The Workshop of Wonder and Magic.   It was requested they create four crowns to be worn on Christmas day.  Crowns to be worn  at the dinner table.  Four crowns to replace flimsy paper crowns that tore and ripped.  Paper crowns that fell into gravy and mashed potatoes.    Paper crowns that horror of horrors might even catch  fire from the table candles.

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Two of the  paper crowns were to be encrusted with pearls and jewels and topped with peacock feathers.  Beautiful Crowns for princesses and queens to wear at dinner.

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Each jewel applied to the crowns carried wishes for all things happy and wonderful.  As the crowns were finished they were weighed to be certain they carried just the right amount of  happy and wonderful.

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Two of the crowns  were to be fashioned in the colour scarlet and majestic  with many diamonds.    These were noble crowns.   Crowns for princes and kings.   Crowns to be cherished.  Worn for one festive evening then safely tucked away for another year.

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Magic is to be shared.  To create your own crowns of great magnificence draw a profile or check the internet for patterns.  Journey to your favorite craft or dollar store and gather a stash of stick- on jewels.  Put on your favorite carols.  Pour yourself a glass of wine or a cup of tea and have a glorious time making your own crowns for Christmas dinner.

 

STORIES RETOLD . . . OSWALD, GENTLEMAN RABBIT AND THE WINTER SOLSTICE

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There are stories told over and over again.    Every year on December 21st, the shortest day of the year,  the tale of Oswald,  gentleman rabbit, is recounted to young rabbits the world over.  Their button noses quiver and their ears wiggle in anticipation as they listen to this magic story.

Oswald, gentleman rabbit, stamped the snow off his rather generous feet.  Brushed the ice crystals from his whiskers.   Shook the snow off his coat.  Almost everything was in place for the grand party.  Rabbits far and wide would soon arrive at the burrow to celebrate the winter solstice.

He reached deep into the large pocket of his magic coat and began to pull out evergreen trees.    The fragrant smell of cedar and fir, spruce and pine filled the room.  The tree roots were wrapped in burlap tied round with holly and ivy vines.  Every year he filled his dining room with the trees of Christmas.  Trees of every size circled the room.  Touched the ceiling.  Sparkling and glittering with diamonds of snow.  An indoor forest to celebrate the winter solstice.

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Again he reached  into the pocket of his magic coat.  Oswald drew out hamper after hamper marked F & M – Fortnum and Mason.  Purveyors of the finest delicacies in London.

Tonight the rabbit guests would dine on magnificent vegetable patés,  Terrines of leeks and spinach,  Carrot and ginger puddings and salads of delicate butter lettuce and dandelion greens.   There would be plenty ginger beer, elderberry wine and raspberry cordial to celebrate this the longest night of the year.

Rabbits are rather fond of nibbling on tasty bits of this and that.  There were mounds of ruby-red radishes and emerald-green asparagus, golden persimmons and scarlet pomegranates.

Rabbits have a very sweet tooth, and Oswald was ending the Solstice feast  with the very finest sweet treasures from his favorite shop in Paris.  From pale green boxes he filled crystal bowls with the very best from Ladurée.  Chocolate truffles and tiny lemon tarts,  raspberry macarons and St-Honoré cakes promised a decadently delicious ending to the banquet of the year.

When all the plates were empty and the last little crumb of pastry was nibbled away the room became quiet.   The happy well fed rabbits settled back on their golden chairs in anticipation of what was to follow.

From the top most branch of the tallest tree in the room came a glorious sound.   A single bird singing.     A lark ascending.  The tiny bird sang of peace,  compassion and understanding.   One by one from the surrounding trees more birds joined in song.    A song  swooping, soaring, climbing higher and higher until the very earth around the burrow vibrated with their singing.

Midnight.  The candles spent  and sputtered.   The empty room filled only with happy memories of the departed rabbit guests.  Oswald donned  his magic coat.   Gathered into its large pocket the forest of trees,  and left the burrow to travel the dark, cold night.  He would plant these trees on struggling  clear-cut  hills.  On sparse,  unyielding ground. On barren boulevards where trees struggled to survive  the killing breath of city pollution.

The Solstice night was ending when he  returned to his burrow.  Oswald’s  gift to the world was so simple, so unassuming when dawn broke  those who lived above the burrow passed by the newly planted trees.  Unaware.   Blind to their presence.  Thinking  they had always been there.  Taking for granted trees so necessary for their living, breathing planet.

Rabbits have the stewardship of all growing things,  an enormous responsibility  in a world where some  deny  and disbelieve what is  happening to our changing planet.  Perhaps you don’t believe in fairy tales.  Than tell me this.    How do you know  the group of  young people planting trees on clear cut hill  are not rabbits wearing magic coats?