Jamie Oliver’s Get-Ahead Gravy

I’m here to present to you a miraculous concept: you can make your gravy for Christmas a few days or even a few weeks ahead of time.  Then all you need to do is heat it up on the big day.  Gravy needs a lot of time to be truly excellent, and time is something you have much less of when you’re setting out a feast for the family.  So why not make it ahead of time?  Jamie Oliver does, and, last year, the Pie and I tried it for the first time, to fantastic results.

First, preheat your oven to about 400°F and get out your big turkey roasting pan.

Get Ahead Gravy

Roughly chop up 2 carrots, 2 celery stalks, and quarter 2 onions. Don’t even worry too much about the onion paper. That stuff will just make the gravy darker. Huck all those in the pan.

Get Ahead Gravy

Add in as well about 5 bay leaves, 5 sage leaves, 2 sprigs of rosemary, and 2 star anise.

Get Ahead Gravy

Then you need some chicken wings, about 8 whole ones. Bash them with a rolling pin or break the bones with the back of a sharp knife to release the marrow. Add those to the pan.

Get Ahead Gravy

Slice up a few rashers of a nice bacon and add that to the mix. Sprinkle everything with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil, and stick it in the oven.

Get Ahead Gravy

Roast for about 1 hour, until the vegetables are tender and the meat is falling off the bone.

Get Ahead Gravy

Put the pan on the stove element on low heat and take a potato masher to the contents. Start squishing and shifting around everything in the pan. It will smell glorious, and the longer you do this the darker your gravy will be.

Get Ahead Gravy

When you get bored with that, sprinkle about 4 tablespoons flour across the mix and stir it in.

Get Ahead Gravy

Then pour about 2 litres of hot water into the mix. Raise the heat to high and bring it to a boil.

Get Ahead Gravy

Turn it down to a simmer and let that go for about 25 minutes. Continue to mash that around with your masher.

Get Ahead Gravy

When it’s ready, scoop everything out into a sieve and push it through to get all the gravy goodness.

Get Ahead Gravy

Let your gravy cool to room temperature, then chuck it into the freezer.

Get Ahead Gravy

When you want to use it, simply defrost it and add it to the other juices from your roasted turkey, like an instant boost!

Get Ahead Gravy

Chinese Chicken and Pork in False Creek and the Awesomeness of the Internet

HAPPY BIRTHDAY JUL!

Chinese in Gastown

Atlas’s dad has a philosophy that we are born with a spirit and a body.  The body is tied to this earth and will return that way when its time is finished, but the spirit can live on in a new body.  And that spirit is always looking for the good in life, the good people, the good experiences, and so it will actively seek out those who it remembers were good in a previous life.  His family and our family, he says, get along so well because our spirits were friends in a previous life.  It’s a lovely sentiment.

As a child in a military household I moved around quite a bit, and I never stayed in any city longer than five years — until I moved to Ottawa, that is.  So every time we moved I felt like I was starting a whole new life, with new friends, and that my old lives were somehow over.  Visiting the west coast this summer was for me a revisiting of an old life, a way of showing my husband the way I used to be (and I’ll have more on that in a later post).

I had a friend in elementary school when I was living in Esquimalt.  Her name was Jordana* and we were friends from when my family was posted out west in grade three, to when her family, also military, was posted away at the beginning of grade five.  When she moved away I thought I would never see her again.  This was of course before Facebook and even email (this was the early nineties) and so the only way to reach each other would have been through letters, and if you’re never going to see a person again, what’s the point in wasting a stamp?

Our grade four class picture, for embarassment’s sake.  Jordana is third from the left in the centre row, and I’m sixth, with my bad-ass Casio watch and my hefty bangs.  This photo is courtesy of the gentleman sitting directly below me in this shot.

I joined Facebook in 2007, twelve years after leaving the west coast and fifteen years after I had last seen Jordana, and we reconnected over the internet.  At this time I was getting ready to move to Newfoundland with the Pie and she was settled in Vancouver, so it was unlikely we were going to run into each other any time soon.  Even so, we communicated back and forth sporadically and learned we had much in common.

Chinese in Gastown

Then my brother decides to get married out west, and Jordana and I figured this was our chance to finally meet up after TWENTY years apart.  She and her partner Daniel live in False Creek, a nice old area next to the water.  On our last night on the mainland, the Pie and took the SkyTrain from Coquitlam to Vancouver and trailed our way over to their place for dinner.

Chinese in Gastown
Their view of False Creek.

And you know, it was instant chemistry between the four of us (which, if you have ever tried to make friends as a couple, you know is a hard thing to accomplish).  Jordana and I talked our faces off for about four hours straight, while the quieter gentlemen exchanged views on computers and other manly endeavours.  We took a walk along the seawall after dinner, and Jordana and I both took a ton of pictures. Obviously.

Chinese in Gastown

And the food, cooked by Daniel, was excellent (yes, I’m finally getting to the recipe, sorry).  We had an amazingly tender chicken and a barbecued pork dish with the most incredible dipping sauces.  While Daniel’s not super keen to share his recipes, Jordana was very persuasive and so I now have them in my hot little hands.  And while Cait and Jul were here (and since they brought most of the spices from Ottawa for us), we decided to try it out.

For the Chicken:

First you start with a whole chicken, about 1.6kg or 3 1/2lb.  Take off all the fat that you can see and wipe down the inside with a paper towel, or two, to remove any goop in there.  Gross, but worth it, trust me.

Chinese Pork and Chicken

Then find yourself a pot large enough to fit a bunch of liquid and a submerged chicken. Into that pot, chuck 1.5L (6 cups) water, 250mL (1 cup) soy sauce, 250mL (1 cup) shaohsing wine (also known as shaoxing), 150g (2/3 cup) light brown sugar, 1 large knob of ginger, peeled and sliced, 3 cloves garlic, sliced, 4 heads of star anise, 2 sticks cinnamon, and 3 pieces dried mandarin peel.

Yeah, that’s a hefty load of ingredients.  Cait and Jul brought the more far-out stuff with them from Ottawa, as I can’t get it here.  Anyway, bring all those ingredients in the pot to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer all that spicy goodness for about 20 minutes.

Chinese Pork and Chicken

Then you can submerge the chicken, breast side down, in the pot and raise the heat again to bring it to a boil.  Then turn it down again and simmer for another 20 minutes.

Flip the chicken over and allow it to simmer for a further 3 minutes, then pop a lid on the pot and remove it from the heat.  Let the chicken cool in the stock.

Chinese Pork and Chicken

When the stock is cooled you can take the chicken out.  If you plan to use the stock later (which you really should), then you need to strain it, bring it to a boil again, and then cool it and chuck it in the refrigerator.

As for the chicken, well it’s now up to you to do what you want with it. You can chop it up in a salad, or slice it thickly and re-form it on a plate (which is what we’re going to do).  You can also fry it in peanut oil and serve with salt and pepper and lemon juice.  It goes well with cilantro and the dipping sauce we’re going to make in a minute.

Chinese Pork and Chicken

For the Pork:

This recipe calls for pork neck, which I can’t find here.  I know it’s a poor substitute, because the consistency is all different, but I’m going to use a pork shoulder here.  I’m sorry.  If you can’t get a neck, try to find something with a bit of fat on it, if you can.

Chinese Pork and Chicken

First you want to mix up your marinade.  Take 4 tablespoons fermented bean curd, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 5 tablespoons shaohsing wine, 3 tablespoons yellow bean sauce, 4 tablespoons hoisin sauce, 4 tablespoons fine sugar, and 3 garlic cloves, minced.  Stir that into a frenzy.

Chinese Pork and Chicken

Cait described the Yellow Bean Sauce as looking like “someone threw up in a bottle.” Seems about right.

Chinese Pork and Chicken

I was more grossed out by the fermented bean curd though.

Chinese Pork and Chicken

Cut the pork into 4cm (~2″) strips and pour the marinade over the meat.  Leave that for about 2 hours.

Chinese Pork and Chicken

Chinese Pork and Chicken

Preheat your oven to 240°C (this is 464°F, so I would err on the side of caution and go with 450°F).

Fill a baking dish with water and fit a wire rack over top.  The ones with the folding legs are handy here, as you can use more water, and then it will keep the pork moist. Put the pork onto the rack and cook for 30 minutes.

Chinese Pork and Chicken

Remove the pork from the oven and heat up 6 tablespoons honey.  Brush that over the pork and leave it to cool.

Chinese Pork and Chicken

For Sprinkling:

Slice up some fresh cilantro to sprinkle over everything.  As well, mince up some ginger and mix it with some black rice vinegar and leave that to sit for an hour or so — it goes fantastically with the chicken.

Chinese Pork and Chicken

Serve the whole thing with some scented rice and some steamed greens.  We fried up some baby bok choy as an accompaniment over jasmine rice.

Chinese Pork and Chicken

Chinese Pork and Chicken

*Jordana is a blogger herself, and a much busier person than I am.  She writes about fashion here and here, and about travel here.  She even has her own online clothing store.  Check her out if you’re interested!

The Un-Cola

The Un-Cola

I saw this recipe on Freshly Pressed this past summer and was inspired by Krista and Jess to make this recipe from the New York Times (thanks ladies!).

My brother Ando has always been a fan of carbonated beverages.  Specifically the cola variety.  The more caffeine the better (he used to be a bit of a night owl).  Sodas aren’t that great for the teeth, of course,  as they contain a lot of sugar.  The colas especially so.  Ando’s tip for strong dentition: drink sodas only in conjunction with food, and use a straw.  When I saw this recipe, I thought he’d like it.  It’s made of all natural ingredients and contains significantly less sugar than your average can of Coke (which has 39g of sugar in it, the same as 10 sugar cubes).

The Un-Cola

These sorts of natural syrups are a sign that we are trying to return to simpler times, and the creators of this recipe, Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain, are doing just that (so you can go visit them Ando and tell me how the recipes compare — it’s just over the bridge after all).

So this is his DIY Christmas gift from his little sister (SURPRISE!), which, together with all the other presents for the Manhattan Crew, I am trying to get completed and mailed out before the end of the month — how’s that for organization?

The recipe itself is pretty straightforward, but does require a certain attention to detail.  I also had to do some serious sleuthing around St. John’s to find all the appropriate ingredients, though if that means puttering around Food for Thought and Fat Nanny’s for an hour or two then I really don’t mind.

The Un-Cola

You’ll need to grate the zest from 2 medium oranges, 1 large lime, and 1 large lemon.  I doubled my batch so that the Pie and I would have some to try, and then made up an extra set of dry ingredients so that Ando can cook himself up a refill.  Each batch makes about 3 cups syrup.

The Un-Cola

So I grated a lot of citrus.  I’m going to save it and make a fabulous beverage soon.

The Un-Cola

For the extra dry ingredients, I used a zester, which gets the peel without the bitter pith.

The Un-Cola

Then I heated my oven to 150°F and spread the peel on a baking sheet to dry.

The Un-Cola

It probably cooked for about an hour while I was doing all that other stuff.

The Un-Cola

Take some whole nutmeg and a fine rasp and grate yourself about 1/8 teaspoon of that stuff.  Mmm, smells so good.

The Un-Cola

Crush one section of one star anise pod with a spoon.

The Un-Cola

Cut a vanilla pod so you have a 1 1/2″ section (that’s almost 4cm for you metric folk).  Use a knife to split that section in half lengthwise.

The Un-Cola

You’ll also need 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon dried lavender flowers, 2 teaspoons minced ginger, and 1/4 teaspoon citric acid.  You can get citric acid at stores that sell canning supplies, or try specialty or health food stores.

In a heavy pot over medium heat, bring all those ingredients to a simmer in 2 cups water.  Reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for about 20 minutes.

The Un-Cola

In a large bowl, mix together 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar and 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar.

The Un-Cola

Plop a colander or strainer on top of that and line it with a double layer of cheesecloth.

The Un-Cola

Pour the contents of the hot pot over the cheesecloth and gather the ends of the cloth together so that all the solids are in a nice little package.  Use a spoon to squeeze out all the liquid from the package against the side of the pot.

The Un-Cola

Stir the syrup occasionally until the sugar dissolves, about 10 minutes.  Transfer to a container and keep it in the refrigerator.

The Un-Cola

In order for this to last the trip over the sea and land and a river to Manhattan (from one island to another) I decided to can it.  You can see my tips on canning with a stove top canner here.

The Un-Cola

To drink, pour 1 part syrup over ice and mix with 4 parts seltzer or soda water.  It tastes FANTASTIC.  Not like a commercial soda, but one where you can taste all the flavours that went into it.  AMAZING.

The Un-Cola

And here is the little container with the dried peel and all the other dried ingredients (minus the sugar) that Ando will need to make his own batch.

The Un-Cola