Sunday, February 28

Can your inner child come out and play?

There's nothing like a winter getaway to tease the inner child out of normally responsible, respectable adults. The grown-up world of jobs, deadlines and 'to do' lists can leave little time for simple, uncomplicated 'play'. Not so here!

I love seeing our guests shed the weight of the real world and just have fun in the snow. When a chorus of giggles and laughter, of hoots and hollers, rings out across a snowy field, we can't help but smile along. Such unfettered, of-the-moment happiness is wonderfully contagious.

When was the last time you went tobogganing, built a snowman, frolicked in the snow? If it was when you were a kid, then you are long overdue to come out and play!

Quote for a winter day:
Winter, a lingering season, is a time to gather golden moments, embark upon a sentimental journey, and enjoy every idle hour.
~John Boswell

Sunday, February 21

Mon Petit Chou

In highschool french class, I learned mon petit chou is a term of endearment in France which literally translates to "my little cabbage". Having never been particularly dear to a frenchman, I don't know if that is true, but it certainly sounds more appealing than any other title I could come up with for today's recipe.

I suspect if I had titled this "Brussels Sprouts", or even "Really Good Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Pine Nuts", some readers just wouldn't get past those poor, maligned vegetables with bad PR. 

Many people profess to dislike brussels sprouts (in fact, so many that I rarely offer them to guests). But often the problem is not with the vegetables, but with the way they are cooked. These dense little orbs of tightly furled leaves are often prepared whole. By the time the centres of the sprouts are nicely tender, the outer layers of leaves are over-cooked and mushy. Not appetizing.

The answer is to slice (or "shred") the sprouts so they cook quickly and evenly. It's also a great way to incorporate other tasty additions. If you're not a fan of Brussels sprouts, hold off judgement until you try them like this. You might hear some terms of endearment from your dinner mates if you do!

Mes Petites Choux
(Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Pine Nuts)

Makes 4 side dish servings.

These adorable vegetables really do look like miniature cabbages. Their nutty, earthy taste is highlighted by the savoury additions in this recipe.
  • 2 oz pancetta or other italian-style bacon, cut in 1/4" dice (about 1/4 cup)*
  • olive oil
  • 2 medium shallots, halved and sliced crosswise
  • 1 1/2 lbs Brussels sprouts, trimmed, cut in half through the stem, then sliced lengthwise into 1/8-1/4" slices
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth*
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the diced pancetta in a glug of olive oil, stirring frequently, until the fat has been rendered and the pancetta is browned, about 5 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the shallots and sliced Brussels sprouts. Season lightly with salt and pepper and stir to coat with the fat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sprouts start to soften and brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the pine nuts and cook for another minute or two for the nuts to take on some colour, stirring to prevent burning.

Stir in the broth. Cover the pan with the lid slightly ajar and reduce the heat to medium. Cook until the sprouts are just tender, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the lid, increase the heat to medium-high and continue cooking, stirring often, until the liquid is evaporated and the sprouts are tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot.

* For a vegetarian version, omit pancetta and use butter or more olive oil to start the sprouts. Replace the chicken broth with vegetable broth, white wine, orange juice or water.

Tuesday, February 2

Neighbours drop by

If you enjoyed meeting our neighbours when I wrote about our critter-sitting experience last fall, you'll be happy to know they are well-equipped for winter.

We've had some very cold days and I wondered how the animals manage when the mercury falls below -20°C. I had the opportunity to find out when Mocha and Buddy, along with their people Zoe and Tegan, stopped by while out for a walk on a recent sunny winter afternoon.

Apparently they do just fine in the cold weather! Zoe tells us that Mocha regularly busts out of her barn to savour the fresh winter air. Both Mocha and Buddy have grown warm, thick winter coats. Buddy is so shaggy he looks almost like a shetland pony. Mocha, too, is sporting extra fuzz. It's a very different style from her sleek summer do.

We should all be so lucky to have such toasty winter coats. Then again, Tegan looks pretty well bundled up, too!