"Bacon is the candy of meat."

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Family Dinner Continues Apace

Greetings Earthlings! I am pleased to report that my family has not yet starved to death under my care. In fact, I have hit on some dinners that have gotten the much-sought Lucas Two Thumbs Up rating.

The first thing that has happened is that Lucas started art classes at the amazing Arts Umbrella, which offers high-quality visual and performing arts instruction to children from preschool through high school. The school is located on Vancouver's famous Granville Island, which is packed full of art studios, galleries, restaurants, and the amazing Public Market, where I now spend a couple of hours every Friday busting our food budget for the week while Lucas takes his mixed media class. Even with the best of intentions, I can't help but return home with bags stuffed with endless varieties of delicious goodies -- lately I can't resist the pyramids of neatly stacked strawberries and blueberries, the multicolored bunches of kale, and the huge variety of grains, spices, and other nifty ingredients at the Grainry. And I never fail to stop by Oyama Sausage Co., whose massive selection of creative sausages made from local high quality meats has become the center of our Friday dinner. I can't even bring myself to look at their full selection of charcuterie, pate, and cheese, or I might never leave.

Sausages with herbed couscous, stewed zucchini, and fruit plate. 

Yes, Friday night is Sausage Night. Each week, I select three or four varieties (this is hard! they have dozens and dozens, and the selections change daily) and as soon as I get home I pop them into the oven while I put away all the produce and other tasty bits, and put together some simple and quick side dishes (couscous is a favorite). I've started cutting up a little fruit plate for Lucas and Baby Gateau, so at least they get some plant matter into them.

This week we sampled Toulouse pork sausage (mild and perfect for kids), Chicken with Preserved Lemon (a little dry, but tasty), Elk with Huckleberry (gamey in a good way), and Pork with Prune (delicious, but deemed "too fruity" by the kids). Others we've tried have included Duck with Truffle, Smokey Bison (Lucas's favorite), Pork with Red Wine and Herbs (fantastic), and Japanese Chicken (kids raved).

Ham night.
Another gift that kept on giving was the procurement of a spiral-sliced ham from Costco when we ventured across the border to Bellingham, WA. They have most of the stuff we're used to getting at the Vancouver Costco, but some of our favorite American products can only be found if we drive down to Washington State. Fortunately, I now know where to go when I run out of the supply of A-1 Steak Sauce my mother brought me when I whined that what they sell under that label in Canada is a totally different product.

The ham, cooked with a simple maple glaze, served us for umpteen meals. The first night, I served it with mashed sweet potatoes and a green salad, but everyone clamored for "regular" potatoes, so I made that the next night too. The ham showed up in school lunch sandwiches, in cold cut platters at home, and finally its bone and last scraps of meat produced a phenomenal French Canadian Pea Soup with yellow split peas.

My bella chicken.
And my crowning achievement was the Julia Child-inspired roasting of a chicken. I took a midweek trip to Granville Island to obtain a haggis for our cousin's Robert Burns Day party, and while at the butcher purchased a huge chicken. The last time I had tried to roast a chicken was a complete disaster -- it would not cook through, and only later did I realized that both my meat thermometer and the temperature gauge on the oven were busted. I have remedied that with an oven thermometer and a new meat thermometer and all is well.

French chef-type roast chicken is not a set-it-and-forget-it project. You have to baste and turn that bastard every 10-15 minutes, but boy is it worth it. It came out succulent, with a well-seasoned, brown and crisp skin and gorgeous drippings for a gravy. I roasted some potatoes in a dish alongside it and served a bowl of my favorite flash-fried kale with lemon, and it was a truly fine meal. It was big enough to give us a second night of roast chicken, plus its carcass tipped the balance and allowed me to clear out my freezer stash of chicken bits and vegetable trimmings to make the best chicken stock I ever made, following Gabrielle Hamilton's instructions in the Prune cookbook. I'd added a few extra drumsticks to the pot, and the meat from those later went into a batch of chicken tacos, while about the stock is what made that pea soup so rich and delicious.

But the very best part of all about my weekly trips to Granville Island may not be the delectable things coming out of the kitchen. It's that I have a little extra time to myself. After all the shopping is done, I settle myself down in a cafe or, better yet if I'm not driving, a bar and treat myself to something nice. Last week, the lovely bartender at the Liberty Distillery made me their delicious take on an Old Fashioned -- white whiskey with orange gomme syrup, bitters, lemon, and star anise. It was lovely, and I quite relaxed as I sipped it, while admiring the ruby red strawberries and opalescent black kale spilling out of my bags around me. It was a perfect start to the weekend.

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