Joyful and downright giddy. That's how friends, colleagues and culinary icons Elizabeth Baird and Rose Murray sounded in a lively conversation I had with them about Canadian cuisine. It's a topic dear to their hearts and one they've researched and written about for decades.
With rÃ©sumÃ©s so long and accomplished, they were most qualified to do so.
In brief, Murray has written for a variety of magazines and newspapers, made many media appearances extolling local foods and taught cooking across the country.
Baird has done similar things, most notably in a 20-year run as the trusted and adored food editor for Canadian Living magazine.
"It's been an incredible experience. Our careers have enabled us to try food in all parts of the country," Murray said.
It also gave them access to see and do amazing things, individually and together, such as salmon fishing off the B.C. coast, harvesting wild rice in Ontario and digging clams in Prince Edward Island.
"We read Anne of Green Gables as we travelled around P.E.I.," Baird said with a laugh, an indication of the fun they had during their trips together.
Baird and Murray have also authored or edited more than 40 cookbooks, such as Baird's Classic Canadian Cooking: Menus for the Seasons, published in 1974, which helped launch her writing career. Murray's last book, A Taste of Canada, published in 2012, was a grand and satisfying exploration of Canadian food.
While working on that book, Murray had another idea on the back burner, one that, like a rich stew, had been gently simmering until she felt it was finally ready to be served to Canadians. Baird teamed up with her to stir the pot.
"About three year ago, Rose told me she had a book proposal germinating in her brain and asked me if I would like to work on it," Baird said. "I, without hesitation, said yes. I enjoy working with other people, sharing ideas - we each brought our strengths to the book."
The result of their efforts is the recently published hardcover tome Canada's Favourite Recipes (Whitecap Books, $40). To create the book, they asked food-passionate friends and colleagues across the land what their favourite recipes were.
"Sometimes, we posed it by email, phone or letter, sometimes over a cup of tea or a glass of wine or often after sharing a meal," Murray and Baird write in the book's introduction.
"We wanted to put together a book of not only tried and true recipes others love and wish to keep and share, but recipes that readers would seek out as typical, good, simple Canadian fare they could easily cook in their own kitchens."
That desire came true, as this 326-page book is rich with ideas for weekday meals, casual weekend get-togethers, dishes for special occasions, fantastic desserts and baked goods, preserves and more.
Some of the book's recipes include Nova Scotia oatcakes, tourtière, braised short-rib supper, double-crust blueberry pie and maple-walnut fudge. The book also showcases Canada's ethnic diversity in recipes such as Bombay mussels, Asian potstickers with chili-soy dipping sauce, and Jamaican jerk chicken. Each recipe has a wonderful introduction and they often make you feel like you're in the home of the person who contributed it.
Baird wrote my favourite for a dish called tarragon-butter-roasted chicken with gravy. In its introduction, she notes that a good roast chicken is like a go-everywhere black dress: indispensable.
Dress it up, dress it down - the variations are endless.
Murray and Baird dedicate this book to cooks across Canada who keep, or who have kept, the flame of home-cooking alive and welcome family and friends to share their best-loved dishes - cooks like Murray's mother, Josephine Varty, and Olive Davis, Baird's mother.
Not surprisingly, when each was asked what their favourite recipe in the book was, Baird and Murray picked one their mothers had passed on to them.
In Baird's case, it was her mom's "Schnitz" pie, a superb and creamier version of Dutch apple pie.
Murray choose Georgian Bay apple crisp, something her mother would whip up and Murray, as a child, would dream about eating on her long walk home from school.
It's that passing on of scrumptious recipes that Murray and Baird hope Canada's Favourite Recipes will encourage. "We hope the vignettes and recipes will inspire you to start asking your parents and grandparents for family dishes and their history," Baird and Murray write in the book.
A very noble and tasty idea, eh?
Eric Akis is the author of the just-published, hardcover book Everyone Can Cook Everything. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.
On page C4, you'll find two tasty dishes from Canada's Favourite Recipes.
The authors say Roasted Squash Soup is a staple of every good restaurant when fall arrives - the dish takes advantage of the sweetness of squash to make a velvety soup. Roasting the squash enhances its natural sugars.
The book's Down East Oatmeal Bread makes two loaves and a happy gang around the toaster.
It also goes great with the squash soup. The authors write that this bread, moist with oats, yielding just a little tang of molasses, highlights culinary vestiges of Nova Scotia's Scottish heritage and Caribbean connection. They add that this is the kind of bread recipe with which even beginners can be successful.
For full instructions,
ROASTED SQUASH SOUP
Makes 8 to 10 servings
This recipe is from Canada's Favourite Recipes. When fall arrives, the authors write, we are delighted to see that every good restaurant takes advantage of the sweetness of squash to make a velvety soup. Roasting the squash enhances its natural sugars.
1 butternut squash (about 2 3/4 lb.)
4 oz. (125 g) pancetta, coarsely chopped
2 onions, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 Tbsp chopped fresh sage (or
1 1/2 tsp crumbled dried)
1/4 tsp hot pepper flakes
6 cups chicken broth
? salt and freshly ground black pepper
? sour cream
1 large ripe tomato, diced 8 to 10 sage leaves, fresh or dried (optional)
Cut the squash in half, remove the seeds and roast, cut-side down and covered with foil, in a greased or parchment paper-lined baking pan in a 400 F oven until tender, about 45 minutes.
When cool enough to handle, scrape the flesh from the rind.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, cook the pancetta over medium heat until crisp, about five minutes.
With a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain. Refrigerate.
In the pan drippings, over medium-low heat, cook the onions, garlic, sage and hot pepper flakes until the onions are very soft, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the roasted squash, broth, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer, stirring often, for 20 minutes for flavours to blend.
PurÃ©e in a blender (holding down the lid) in batches or with an immersion blender until smooth.
(Make-ahead option: Cool, cover and refrigerate for up to three days.)
Return to a clean saucepan and gently reheat. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Serve in heated bowls, garnishing each serving with a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkle of diced tomato and pancetta and a sage leaf (if using). Pancetta, an Italian bacon that is salt-cured but not smoked, is now available in the deli counters of most supermarkets.
DOWN EAST OATMEAL BREAD
Makes two loaves and a happy gang around the toaster
This recipe is from Canada's Favourite Recipes and goes great with the squash soup above. The authors write that this bread, moist with oats, yielding just a little tang of molasses, highlights culinary vestiges of Nova Scotia's Scottish heritage and Caribbean connection. They also add this is the kind of bread recipe with which even beginners have success.
1/3 cup packed brown sugar, divided
1/2 cup lukewarm water
4 tsp active dry yeast
1 cup quick cooking rolled oats (not instant)
1 1/4 cups boiling water
1/3 cup butter, cubed
2 Tbsp fancy molasses
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 cup whole wheat flour
4 cups all-purpose flour (approx.)
1 large egg
1/4 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
In a large liquid measuring cup, stir 1 tsp of the sugar into the water. Sprinkle the yeast over top; stir and let stand until foamy and increased in volume, about 10 minutes. Stir again.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the 1 cup rolled oats and boiling water. Add the remaining sugar and the butter, molasses and salt; stir occasionally until smooth and the butter has melted. Let cool to warm room temperature; whisk in the two eggs, then the yeast mixture.
With a mixer or a wooden spoon, beat in the whole-wheat flour and half the all-purpose flour. Stir in enough of the remaining flour to form a soft, slightly sticky dough. Scrape onto a work surface well sprinkled with some of the flour.
Knead, incorporating flour as needed until the dough is smooth and springy but still slightly soft, about eight minutes.
Place the dough in a clean greased bowl, turning to grease all over. Cover and let rise in a warm spot until doubled in bulk, about an hour. Grease two 8-x-4inch (1.5 L) loaf pans. Gently flatten the dough; divide in half. On a lightly floured surface, gently pull the dough into 11x8-inch rectangles. Starting at one narrow end, roll the dough up into a cylinder; pinch the ends and along the bottom to seal. Fit into the prepared pans. Cover the loaves and let rise in a warm spot until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.
Beat the 1 egg until frothy. Without pressing, brush over the loaves; sprinkle the loaves with the 1/4 cup rolled oats. Bake in the centre of a preheated 375 F oven until the loaves sound hollow when lightly tapped on the bottom, about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the pans and let cool on racks. (Make-ahead option: Wrap in plastic wrap, place in an airtight container and freeze for up to one month.)
Eric Akis is the author of the just-published, hardcover book Everyone Can Cook Everything.
His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.
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