Monthly Archives: December 2011

Recipes for the Holidays

I think that most foodies and cooks will agree that the parts of the holiday season that produce the most enjoyment involve food. We look forward to the elaborate meals, the home-made specialities and appreciate the effort that people put into entertaining family and friends.

There are several treats that always signal Christmas in my family. Two of which I thought that I would share:

Ginger Snaps

Though the name implies that these should be snappy, I also like them when they’re still a tiny bit chewy. You can do either with this recipe depending on how long you bake them.

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

600 g granulated sugar

1 cup molasses

2 Tbsp white vinegar

2 Tbsp water

780 g all purpose flour

2 Tbsp baking soda

4 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ground cloves

1 tsp ground cardamom

In a bowl or mixer, mix together butter and sugar but do not cream them. Too much air in the recipe will cause the cookies to spread too much and they will look like lace cookies.

Add the remaining wet ingredients.

Mix together all of the dry ingredients and then slowly add them to the wet. The mixture will be a little bit dry and may require that you use your hands.

Refrigerate the dough and when ready, roll it into balls and press down with a fork.

Bake at about 350 or 325 in a convection oven until they are slightly brown on the edges. This will take about 6 or 8 minutes depending on your oven.

The ground cardamom is really tasty in this recipe and can be found at most supermarkets but can certainly be omitted if you don’t have it.

Caramel Corn or Poppiecock

This recipe is very easy to make and relatively affordable. I like to make it for Christmas gifts for friends. It can be made as plain caramel corn but that’s boring so I add a melange of nuts. You can use salted or use unsalted and season them yourself. Salted caramel is always delicious.

1 cup butter

½ cup dark corn syrup

2 cups brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp baking soda

Salt to taste

6 litres popped corn

Mix together all the ingredients except for the popped corn in a sauce pot and place on medium heat.

Let the mixture heat until it is nearly at a boil. It will bubble quite a bit and the sugar will dissolve into toffee sauce. Watch it carefully as it will boil over if it gets too hot.

In a large bowl, toss the hot sauce with the popped corn. Try to coat it well but be gentle so that the corn doesn’t break into little pieces.

Pour onto two parchment-lined baking sheets and bake at 325 or 300 if you are using a convection oven.

Toss the corn with a spatula every five minutes or so and bake until the caramel puffs a little bit. It will become slightly lighter in colour as well.

Allow to cool while gently tossing with a spatula. All of this tossing will help to keep the corns loose rather than having one big caramel corn sheet.

Package in Ziploc bags when cool and eat within a week or two. If the corn gets a little soggy it can be freshened up in the oven for a few minutes.

Posted by Andrew


A Night at the Big Tables

Staff Meal will be celebrating family-style eating once again with two giant tables of thirty! This time we will be featuring authentic Eastern European food at the Orange Hall in Old Strathcona. Appetizers will start at 6:30 on Monday, January 16th. Picture an old-fashioned feast in a hall or church; say, somewhere in Romania or Poland. Be prepared for lots of dumplings, sausages, braised meat, crusty bread and perhaps some more offal! Tickets will be $45 each and go on sale December 19th. They will be available through any of the Staff Meal crew so message or email us for details!

Morcilla Blood Sausage

From the moment it was suggested I think we were all excited to include blood sausage on our Spanish menu. It follows our interest in eating nose-to-tail and fits perfectly with providing unique experiences to people who really love food. Most cooks and foodies I have spoken to about blood sausages say they have tried them at some point but their reactions have varied from excitement to vehement distaste. I asked both enthusiasts and critics to recall what they did or did not like about the sausage and concluded that there is definitely a trick to making these things perfectly. I have been lucky enough to have tasted some great blood sausages, the last of which was made by Chef Jeff Van Geest of Tinhorn Creek Winery. His was a French-style version which was served with sautéed apples – a marvellous pairing – which gave me something to aspire to.

Our Morcilla before frying

My research then began with an email to Jeff, and a few other sources, which included a great blog at (  This is an excellent site for charcuterie recipes and very detailed methods. It pointed out the different ways the sausage can be made, but noted why the blogger chose each method and ingredient.  I then called Nicola at Irving’s Pork Farm and asked her about the availability of pig’s blood. She sounded a little surprised but agreed to talk to the inspector and was happy to accommodate. It turns out that a ‘small’ bucket of blood is about 12 litres so we had more than enough.

I should note that Irving’s Pork is organic and hormone-free, which is obviously a superior choice for many reasons, but, in particular, when producing a dish that will showcase the flavour of offal such as liver, sweetbreads, or blood, I believe it is important to use product of the highest quality. The blood we received was far better than we expected. It was incredibly fresh and not at all clotted which is necessary to produce smooth-textured sausages.

I found various styles of the Spanish blood sausage Morcilla when looking for a recipe. Some were 100% blood, others were a mix of blood and pork (both Jeff and recommended between 30-40% pork), some contained rice, or raisins, some had only paprika, others had clove and cinnamon and all contained sautéed onions. Most of the recipes and discussions I found were for the version made in Burgos which is in the north of Spain. It is almost always served hot and is used in tapas, stews, stuffings or served on Spanish rice. For a little more info, try:

This also looks awesome and I am going to feed it to the Staff Meal crew:

So, the recipe I created from the various sources went like this:

750 g pork shoulder

About 1.5 litres pig’s blood

125ml sherry

2 chopped onions, sautéed slowly until caramelized

20 grams kosher salt

4 grams insta-cure #1 (can be found at Butcher’s and Packer’s near Northlands)

15 grams sweet paprika

2 tsp ground clove

1 tbsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground allspice

2 tsp black pepper

Optional: 1 cup sherry-soaked raisins and 1 cup cooked rice

First, sanitize all equipment and make sure that all of the ingredients are quite cold. When preparing sausages, this step is important for several reasons. One reason is that it is easier to grind cold meat, another is that cold meats will bind better and therefore yield a smoother, moister texture. As well, because you are handling the meat quite a lot and it will be going through several machines, it is important to keep it cold and sanitary to prevent bacteria from contaminating and multiplying in it.

Next, put the blood through a sieve to remove the clots. We were lucky enough to have very fresh blood but I have read that some people needed to put the blood through a blender and then a sieve to remove large lumps. Using blood with clots will not yield the smooth textured sausage which we were looking for.

Next, cube the pork and grind it through a small die. This may require you to grind first through a coarse die and then a fine die, depending on your grinder. This is also much easier when the pork is very cold. You may find it helpful to put the pork in the freezer for about 20 minutes while you’re getting everything ready.

Add your ground meat and sherry to the bowl of a mixer with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed for about one minute or until the meat is slightly sticky. This step is what helps to emulsify the sausage and bind the meat with the blood.

Now add the remaining ingredients with about half of the blood. I advise that you mix slowly and try not to make a mess; the blood looks awful when it is all over the kitchen. Once mixed thoroughly, add the remaining blood until the mixture looks about the consistency of pancake batter. You can also add the spices a little at a time and make tasters if you want to make them to suit your tastes.

Throw the mixture in the fridge while you clean up and get the sausage casings and stuffer ready. At the same time, put two large, shallow pots of water on the stove and bring to a very low simmer (about 180F). It is very important that the sausages be poached at a low temperature in order for the sausages to stay smooth when they’re cooked.

I won’t go into great detail about how to use a sausage stuffer or prepare casings here since there are plenty of good resources out there (try. Also, if you’re tackling blood sausages, this probably isn’t your first sausage-making experience). What differs with these sausages, as opposed to typical sausages, is that the mixture is very liquidy so you’ll want to tie them between links with twine rather than just twisting them. As well, hog casings are preferable for these sausages; do not try using collagen casings as these sausages cannot be peeled later. To stuff them more easily, soak them overnight in the fridge and then in warmer water just before stuffing. I poached the stuffed sausages about 5 links at a time while preparing the next set of links. Cook them until they are firm to the touch or, if you wish, you can take their internal temperature, which should read 160F.  Stuffing these proved rather tedious and definitely goes faster and is more fun with two people.

Once finished, the Morcilla will be firm and turn a pleasant purple-brown colour. They can be smoked, or as we are doing at our event, cut and fried with apples and served with parsnip puree, a salad of parsley, as well as a glass of Madeira or sherry.

The complete dish from the Spanish dinner at Culina Mill Creek.

Posted by Andrew

Preserved Lemon Peel

I love the concentrated flavour and aroma of preserved lemons. Pictures will do this ingredient no justice but I will attempt to describe its contribution to our cooking. We started preserving the lemons with the intention of using them in the paella. When the lemons are finished they are salty and sweet with an intensely fragrant spiced lemon scent. At our Spanish dinner, we sliced the peel thinly and used it in our paella and used some of the left-over syrup to season our roasted rainbow trout.

The recipe is very simple, it only takes a few weeks to make.

First, peel the lemons, leaving a generous amount of pith on the peel.

Make a mixture of 50% kosher or coarse salt combined with 50% granulated sugar, enough to cover the lemon peels in an appropriate-sized jar. I like to also add some cracked allspice, some fennel seeds and a whole dried chilli or two.

Place alternating layers of peel and the salt-sugar mixture in the jar. Then squeeze the juice out of the peeled lemons into the jars as well. The mixture will form a syrup and may not completely cover the peels. Not to worry! If they are not completely covered just turn the jar over every few days and the peels will be just fine.

Cover and allow to cure for up to 2 weeks at room temperature or 3-4 weeks in the fridge.

When ready to use, trim some of the pith off of the peel using a sharp knife as it may be a little bit bitter.

Posted by Andrew