Harissa – North African Ketchup?

Always have harissa on hand. That’s my new mantra, borrowed from David Tanis.

Harissa is a north African (Tunisian/Moroccan to be precise) chilli sauce. Doesn’t sound too impressive, but try some and you will become an acolyte. Talk about versatile. It’s great for just dipping crusty bread into, is delicious on barbecued prawns, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if, like ketchup, it goes great with chips – that’s french-fries in the colonies. You can get it in tubes and cans, but it really pays to make your own. This version is a little different, and is made with olive oil.

A David Tanis recipe, makes about a cup’s worth.

1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
3 tablespoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne
2 cloves garlic – ground to a paste with a little salt
1 cup olive oil (Use good olive oil, it pays off)
A few drops of red wine vinegar

Toast the seeds in a dry pan until they become fragrant. Grind with a mortar and pestle, or in a spice grinder – we have a coffee grinder that we use exclusively for spices. It’s very easy to clean, just run a handful of white rice through it after you’ve ground the spices.
Add the paprika, cayenne, garlic and a pinch of salt. Stir in the olive oil and vinegar. Taste and adjust as necessary – we found ours needed a dash more salt and a few more drops of vinegar.

Enjoy! It will keep in the fridge for at least a couple of weeks.

Heart of the Artichoke by David Tanis

What can I say? We love his first book, and this new one is equally satisfying. It’s filled with recipes and anecdotes that add depth and humour. Tanis’ recipes are relatively simple, and really let the food shine through. His flavours derive from the freshness of the ingredients, explaining why the book is divided into seasons.

Christmas Menu and Recipes 2010

We love to have a big Christmas feast, one last umph of productivity before a chill holiday. This was probably the fourth one.  Many these recipes were first timers, including two from the Real Cajun cookbook by Donald Link, owner of Cochon’s in New Orleans.

Friends contributed some real treats.  Steve brought a lovely smoked salmon, fish being one of his specialties.  Leigh Ellen made some sweet and salty emmantaler tarts drizzled with honey.  Ted brought a lovely squash pie.

Lots of food, lots of drinks, lots of fun.  Thanks everyone!

Anchovies and Piquillo Peppers

I always like to look to Mark Bittman for simple but tasty recipes.  He has done several 101 Simple . . . columns which are always good for inspiration.  His 101 Simple Appetizers is especially useful since I am always looking for new amuse bouche ideas.

For this dish just roll white anchovies in piquillo peppers and stick a toothpick through them.  The strong flavor of the white anchovies and pickled peppers hold meld together into a sweet salty spicy taste even anchovy haters might enjoy. Just the thing to tickle your tastebuds.

Raised Pork Pie

This recipe is from Meat by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.  This was my second time making a raised pork pie and I did find the hot crust pastry to be an easy success.  One thing I learned from my previous attempt is to make the jelly the day before since it will take an amazingly long time to cool down.  The Alton Brown method of sticking a large plastic bag full of ice cubes and leaving it until they all melted helped reduces the cooling down time and has the added benefit of fat sticking to the bag for easy removal.

Initially a Riedel 8″ springform pan was used but it had to be increased to a 9″ so he must use a deep pan for his version.  A 1″ round cookie cutter was placed in the middle to make the insertation of jelly easy and lets you see when the jelly has set.

I found the odd bits of pig needed at B&W Meat Mart.

Even people intially weary of eating cold bits of pork incased in gelatin loved it and I am sure when meat pies catch on amongst American tastes they will be vastly popular. It is also great for a picnic.

Get the recipe here.

Roasted Chestnut Soup

Another Mark Bittman recipe.  We wanted a change from our standard Gruyere Pumpkin soup, delicious though it is.  Bittman is correct about fresh chestnuts not needing anything to prop them up.  Important to note here that chestnuts are more perishable than your usual nut.  Put them in a breathable container with a damp towel in the fridge and don’t buy them too early.  There aren’t many ingredients to this dish so homemade chicken stock is essential to success.  I recommend a good quality butter such as Kerrygold over the olive oil.  Get the recipe here.

Smoked Turkey Stuffed with Boudin

This recipe is from Real Cajun by Donald Link.  A great recipe which deserves its own page as Sprydle has demonstrated here.

Chinese Spiced Christmas Goose

This is the second year I’ve done this dish and although I love the flavour I’ve had a repeated problem of the honey burning on the skin before my goose is cooked.  It does flake right off but it detracts from the beauty of your bird.  I would skip the glaze next time.  Gordon Ramsay’s Christmas Goose

We ordered our goose from the fabulous Pete’s Fine Meats and it was the meatiest goose we’ve had yet.

Goose Fat Roasted Potatoes

This recipe is a combination of techniques learned due to an obsession with perfect roast potatoes.  Horribly unhealthy I’m sure but it’s a once a year treat and no matter how many you make there are never enough to go around.

Peel potatoes and cut into triangular slices about two inches across thickest bit.  Place in a bowl of cold water and change out water until it is no longer cloudy.  Put in a large pot of boiling water for 4 minutes.  Drain well.  Put back in hot pot (this will get them nice and dry so they roast properly).  Place lid on pot and shake vigorously so the potatoes are a little broken at the edge.  Place in a pan of very hot goose fat you have taken from the roasting goose.  Check often.  Make sure the potatoes are not sticking to the bottom of the roasting dish but wait until they are golden brown before turning. When golden brown take out of oven.  Remove potatoes from pan and place on paper towels to soak up excess grease and salt immediately.

If you want your potatoes to be even more potatoey place peeled potato skins in a soup sock and add to boiling pot.  This also works for mashed potatoes.

Sister State Green Bean Casserole

This another recipe from Real Cajun by Donald Link.  The simpler version assembled from canned green beans, cream of mushroom soup, and French’s French Fried Onions in the can are ubiquitos in the southeast Texas-Louisiana region.  Do yourself a favor and try this delicious uptown version.   Get the recipe.

Roasted Parsnips

David Tanis describes the flavor of parsnips as “a heady cross between butternut squash and chestnuts.” He is right and this his technique.  Quarter parsnips and cut out the hard core.  Make them simply roasted with olive oil, sea salt, and fresh ground pepper until lightly browned, about 45 minutes.  If you have a sweet tooth you could instead toss them with equal parts maple syrup and vegetable oil, which I’ve done in the past and people do love.  Either way your guests will ask you what that heavenly vegetable is.

Cranberry Sauce

A cheaty recipe I came across a few years ago.

1 cup cranberries

1 cup sugar

1 cup orange juice

Combine ingredients.  Bring to boil on stovetop.  Simmer until cranberries burst.

Sage and Onion Stuffing

Delicious traditional British dish (although this version is not to be found in Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management).  Use good bread crumbs and stock.  Can be prepped right up until baking day before. Here it is.

Squash Pie with Graham Cracker Crust

A great recipe from the clever Alton Brown.  Ted substituted acorn squash for the baking pumpkin.  The crust is fabulous.  He also whipped some cream with a bit of Calvados to top it off.

Christmas Pudding

Paul’s Christmas Pudding website taught me so much about making a great Christmas pudding.  This was my third attempt and the most successful.  My favorite “Why didn’t I think of that?” tip is to use a trivet.  This prevented uneven cooking and cracking. Thank you, Paul!

Not finding true suet I used the Atora light shredded vegetable suet which worked fine.  Paul strongly advises against this, but apparently when you do find an American butcher to give you a special order of suet it will contain bits of meat which aren’t desirable in pudding.

Yes, it is a heavy dish to end a big meal but it’s delicious.  And I can’t resist a dessert you light on fire.

Hard Sauce

To go with the pudding.  You need some butter and sugar to cut the richness.

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar

1/4 cup Cognac or brandy (I like to use Cointreau)

Beat butter on high until fluffy.  Lower speed and add confectioners’ sugar. When the sugar is incorporated, set the speed back to high. Slowly add the brandy 1 and beat until combined.  Transfer the sauce to a bowl, cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Beer of the Evening Anchor Christmas 2006

Ray generously shared this vintage with us.  Unfortunately Anchor doesn’t make their beer spiced as strongly as they used to which makes for better drinking the year it’s released but disappointing for those of us who like to age and compare the vintages.   Flavors of clove, ginger, and pine have held up nicely in this brew.

Spicy Benny

Homemade Ginger Beer and Benedictine

Okay so first you have to make the ginger beer, but it’s easy to do and delicious and what you get at the store doesn’t even come close.  You’ll want to always have it on hand.  Just follow these instructions here.  Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall teaches us something once again.  Caster sugar is sold in the US as superfine sugar.  DeFalco’s recommends champagne yeast.  And all you need to know about ginger beer culture is explained by Five Go Mad in Dorset.

8 ounces homemade ginger beer

1.5 ounces Benedictine

Splash of bitters

Serve over ice in a rocks glass.


Tastes just like it sounds.  Very Christmasy.

3 ounces Bailey’s

3 ounces Domaine de Canton

Shake with ice and strain into martini glass.

Book – A Platter of Figs – David Tanis

Blimey, just blimey. Buy this book.
I think we’ve made more than half of the dishes here, either as written, or adapted for the sake of my arteries – every dish has been excellent. The flavours Tanis produced in his cuisine are exquisite – he can make even the most mundane ingredient shine.