Monday, February 29, 2016

How Can I Keep from Singing?


Music moves me.

A year ago, my classical women's choir performed a concert entitled "Lullabies, Love & Light". We performed a few pieces that moved me so much I could barely sing them. I was so happy to have my husband and children in the audience, but when we began the opening strains of "Seal Lullaby" and I looked out at my children, my throat constricted and I was filled to the brim with emotion. I saw the sweet faces of my babies, all four of them, and remembered holding and rocking each one as an infant. They grow so quickly. The room was electric. I got past my tears and then sang with radiant joy. I guess you could say I was filled with lullabies, love and light...

I'm very happy that my choir recorded a CD last year, one which will feature my favourite lullabies and love songs from the season. I'll tell you more about that this summer when we are all done with recording and producing. Great music is meant to be shared. 

So, while I'm sharing, I'm going to share a HUGE excitement that has me giddy!

I'm feeling so incredibly lucky - privileged to no end. 

A little while ago, the director of my women's choir, Jolaine Kerley, mentioned that she had been invited to solo Bevan's Passion Oratorio, Nou Goth Sonne Under Wode, with Dr. Richard Sparks conducting. Jolaine was the soloist for the world premiere of the piece some 11 years ago. This lady is an incredibly talented soprano and a sought-after soloist, so we were all very thrilled for her, but not too surprised.

Where is this prestigious concert?

None other than Carnegie Hall, New York.

So then, the part that took me by surprise - Jolaine invited some of us to consider auditioning or getting involved with another attending choir. Our choir didn't audition, but I jumped at the opportunity. 

I am so thankful that a ripple effect of knowing someone as talented as Jolaine means that I am able to sing in the mixed chorus that will be supporting her solo. 

My friend Amanda is flying from San Francisco to meet me, we're going to take NYC by storm, and then I get to sing in Carnegie Hall! Life is good!

Here's information on the concert, which is next Monday, March 7.

Celebrating over a bottle of Prosecco with my husband.

Monday, February 22, 2016

How to Poach the Perfect Egg

The other day, my darling curly-mopped little 5 year old crawled into my lap and said, "Today, I would like to learn how to poach an egg."

How could I say no to so sweet and simple a request? I swear, this kid melts me into a puddle. They all do, but this one loves cooking so much that she and I frequently find ourselves bonding over a hot and happy stove, or flipping through cookbooks or even peeling the copious amounts of garlic that go into a typical meal here at Wildhaven Hills. 

How to Poach the Perfect Egg

For starters, you really do need fresh eggs. I have a lot to say on this subject. Where do you get your eggs? The ones on the shelf at your average grocery store are nowhere near fresh. Egg farmers have a fairly large window of time to get their eggs to the store, and the store can have them for sale for 3-4 weeks. Some reports I've read state that average eggs in the store are 6 weeks old. USDA considers eggs 'fresh' until they are 45 days old. 

No matter how old they are, they're certainly not as fresh as the eggs at your local farmer's market.

I'm very privileged to be able to use just-laid eggs every day, but if you don't have that luxury, try to support a local farm, or get yourself to a farmer's market. Can't make that happen? Then don't take your carton from the front of the selection at your local grocery store.  The freshest eggs will be in the just-added carton in the back. 

So, you can either ask a staff member to give you the just-brought-in eggs in their cooler, or you can risk looking a little silly, and dig allllll the way to the back to get that freshest carton. Trust me though, it's worth it! 

Fresh eggs are really nothing like old eggs. The whites hold together with a lovely, soft and almost custardy consistency, making a poached egg something elevated beyond your usual over-easy.

But I digress. Here's the nitty gritty on how to poach an egg.
  • Fill a saucepan with water and add a pinch of salt. If you're using older eggs, a quick splash of vinegar helps keep the white together. But just plain water is great with fresh eggs.
  • Bring the water to a simmer. Not a boil - you don't want bubbles that will tear the egg apart. 
  • Crack your egg into a small bowl.
  • Holding the bowl close to the surface, slip it gently into the simmering water. (Again, if you're using older eggs, one trick to keep them together is to swirl the water into a whirlpool, and drop the egg directly into the centre.) If fresh, you can drop multiple eggs into one pot, one at a time.
  • Simmer until the egg is the done-ness you prefer. I like mine right at a super-soft 3 minutes. 
  • To test the egg, lift it out of the water with a slotted spoon and push lightly on the yolk with the back of a spoon (or, if you're me, a clean finger). You'll get the hang of it in no time.
When your egg is done the way you like it, lift it all the way out the water with the slotted spoon and let any excess water drain before serving. Some like to dry them on a paper-towelled surface.

Season or sauce however you wish - your eggs are ready to eat!


Ok, next question - what about a good Hollandaise sauce? I can help you there, too! Eggs Benedict is a family favourite for us. I love my Hollandaise to be super-sunshiney-lemony, but that's not for everyone. If you like a mellower sauce, I can send you in the right direction! Here are two options:

Sunshine Lemon Hollandaise

Like my mother used to make. This makes a small amount, and is very quick to prepare.

  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 2 T fresh lemon juice 
  • 1/3 c butter, melted
  • pinch of salt


Use a small pot of simmering water with a bowl on top (make sure the bowl isn't touching the water), or use a double boiler. 

Place the egg yolks, lemon juice and salt in the bowl - off the heat - and whisk until light. Then place the bowl onto your pot of simmering water, and whisk until the eggs thicken and increase in volume. Remove the bowl from the heat, and drizzle the melted butter in slowly, whisking as you go.

If it gets too hot, the butter will separate. Don't despair! Place the bowl into a dish with cold water, and whisk until the butter re-incorporates.


Here's another hollandaise option that is more complex, velvety and delicious:

Chef Michael Smith's Hollandaise Sauce

from his website, here.
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 2 T white wine
  • 1 T Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup butter, melted
  • the juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 3-4 drops of your favourite hot sauce
Use the same double-boiler method as above.

In the bowl off the heat, whisk together the egg yolks, white wine, mustard, lemon juice, and hot sauce until light and frothy. Place the bowl over the barely simmering water and continue whisking until the mixture thickens and more than doubles in volume, about 4 or 5 minutes. Remove the bowl from the heat and whisk for a few more moments to cool.

Since you’ll need both hands for this next part, ask an assistant to hold the bowl steady. If you’re flying solo, you can secure the bowl with a damp tea towel wrapped around the base. With one hand, slowly drizzle in the melted butter in a steady stream while whisking continuously with the other hand. The sauce will thicken as the butter emulsifies with the egg. Once all the butter has been slowly incorporated, slowly whisk in the lemon juice.

Keep the Hollandaise sauce warm for a few minutes by covering the bowl and placing it over the pot of warm water, leaving the heat turned off beneath the water. 


My little lady loved learning how to poach eggs herself for the very first time. We served them on toasted English muffins with the hollandaise, salt and pepper and a little shaved parmesan.  


Eggs Benedict
There's nothing like a beautiful Benedict, along with a bit of shaved parmesan...

Monday, February 1, 2016

Delicious Steak & Egg Salad



We've been eating a lot of salads lately. Maybe that doesn't make much sense, with the inflation rate up 3% right now, and produce up 16%.

Gosh, am I ever eager for the growing months. Our little makeshift greenhouse has been a huge help, but even so, I can't keep it going all year round.

Honestly, we are looking into an indoor greenhouse for the winter months. Even a table of salad greens in the basement would help. And it would be healthier, by far. I just can't wait for my garden....

A few years ago Jim built me a box by the garage, where I could keep some herbs, tomatoes, and some lettuce, along with a few flowers, of course. There was more down at the garden, but it was very handy to be able to just step outside to grab the finishing touches for a meal.


Then three years ago, we were away in September, and the last of the things there either froze or bolted. But the next spring I was so excited when lettuce shot up like a green carpet, filling the box well before anything else had gotten green. I was eating fresh, garden greens

much earlier than I ever had before, and it was all by letting nature take its course.

So in the big garden last fall, we didn't pull the last of the lettuces, kale, spinach, chard, rocket, etc. We let what was left all go to seed, and left it where it stood. I am eagerly anticipating that fresh greenery in a few months.

For now, though, it's the grocery store for us.

I'll share a bunch of my favourite salad recipes when they're in season... but for now, just a few of the ones we've made recently. These ones are supper salads with steak in them - and I know meat prices are up, too, but we just bought half a beef from my parents' organic farm. (Bulk pricing is the way to go!)

Steak n Egg Salad



This salad can be served warmed - just toss the spinach into the pan with the vegetables for a few moments to wilt and warm - or cold. Or, do what I did this time, and serve the warmed vegetable medley, the hot steak and the hot egg on top of the crisp, just-dressed spinach.




Ingredients:

  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 1 steak - I used sirloin - brought to room temperature
  • 1 purple onion, sliced 
  • 1 1/2 c sliced mushrooms
  • orange & yellow peppers
  • 8-10 cups spinach
  • an egg per person
  • 2 tsps butter
  • salt and pepper
  • garlic powder


Dressing:
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • 1 T dijon mustard, 
  • 1 T white wine vinegar
  • 2 clove garlic, minced
  • 3T olive oil
  • salt and pepper
Make the dressing and toss desired amount with your spinach. The rest won't take long!

Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet on medium high heat. Blot the room temperature steak with a paper towel to remove excess moisture, and season liberally with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Drop a tsp of butter in the pan and as soon as it melts, put in the steak. Sear the steak in the hot oil for 3 minutes on one side - DON'T move it or poke it or cut it, or you'll lose the moisture and won't get a nice sear. Then another 2 minutes on the other side for rare, 3 for medium. Remove it to a plate and tent with a piece of tinfoil - this will help the juices redistribute through the meat and make it juicy and tender. Remember, don't cut into it - you'll lose all that juiciness!

Next, add the onion to the pan and sauté until translucent. Add the mushrooms and continue to cook until they release their liquid. Then add the peppers and cook until tender-crisp.

Meanwhile, slow-fry the eggs. Melt the butter over LOW heat, gently add the eggs and let them gently fry. You shouldn't hear a pop or sizzle, and you shouldn't get much - if any - browning on the underside of the white. Cook until the white is set, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. This is the proper French way to fry an egg, and you should definitely try it. (The French way includes drizzling hot butter on top of the white at the end, to help it set.)

Slice your steak across the grain, then assemble the salad. You can layer it all as pictured above, or toss it together as below and add your fried eggs to each plate as you serve the salad. 



Variations: Use some fajita seasonings on the steak, like cayenne, cumin and coriander, and add some salsa or hot sauce for serving. 

You can also change the dressing by replacing the olive oil with the slightly cooked-down drippings from the pan after the steak is seared and the vegetables are sautéed. Delicious!