14 March 2015

Happy Pi Day: Tourtière

150301 Tourtiere 8

Happy π Day!

Given this year is a special pi year (if you don't know, look at the number below and you'll see it), it only made sense to join in this roundly delicious celebration.

How better to celebrate 3.141592653 (et cetera) in the land of math and physics geniuses than with a very Canadian pie? I thought of butter tarts (which are just little pies), flapper pie and bumbleberry pie but I wanted something savoury. To my mind, the quintessential Canadian savoury pie is “tourtière,” the Quebecois meat pie, traditionally eaten over the Christmas-New Year season.

Tourtière falls within the millennia-old tradition of pie-making, with distant ancestors traced to ancient Egypt and Sumeria. The Romans helped spread pie-making throughout their empire, and soldiers returned from the Crusades with Middle Eastern pies.  European explorers, missionaries and colonists continued to spread pie-making traditions throughout the world.

Regional variations mean it’s difficult to declare an “authentic tourtière.” General agreement among Quebeckers seems to end with the point that tourtières are double-crusted savoury pies.  The pies can be: 
  • Made in shallow pie tins or deep cast iron pots
  • Fish pies or meat pies, with or without veg or grains
  • Filled with one or several meats
  • Made with ground or diced meat

So why do I think tourtière is quintessentially Canadian?
  • According to Chef Richard Bergeron, 17th Century France provided the pie's five essential seasonings--allspice, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and pepper.
  • Quebec food journalist Julian Armstrong found British influences in ingredients rolled oats (Scottish) and potatoes (Irish), and form (the deep dish sea-pies from the 18th Century British Navy).
  • It takes advantage of regional ingredients such as pork, game, veal and/or beef; coastal variations can use fish.
  • While purists may decry modern interpretations, some newer recipes use ingredients that indicate the diversity of Canadian tastes such as meatless fillings and chicken or include garlic or soy sauce.

Click here to listen to Bergeron and Armstrong talk tourtières on the CBC. 

This straightforward recipe is very much like the first tourtière I tried -- a rich ground pork pie and lightly spiced.  Served with a dollop of HP sauce, buttery peas and creamy mash, it makes a delicious winter's meal.  And that's not an irrational declaration.

150301 Tourtiere 7
Adapted from a recipe by Julian Armstrong

Yield 1 23cm (9") pie

600g / 1.33lb minced regular pork (see notes)
190ml /0.75c cold water
125ml / 0.5c finely chopped onion (approximately 1/2 a medium onion)
62ml / 0.25c finely chopped celery (approximately 1/2 a rib)
1 bay leaf
0.5tsp / 2.5ml pepper
0.5tsp / 2.5ml dried summer savory (see notes)
0.25tsp / 1.25ml dried rosemary
0.25tsp / 1.25ml nutmeg
0.25tsp / 1.25ml cinnamon
0.25tsp / 1.25ml allspice
Salt, to taste
25g / 60ml / 0.25c rolled oats

Pastry for one 23cm (9") double-crust pie (see notes)

1 beaten egg


In a heavy bottomed pan, combine water with pork and bring to a boil.

Add onion, celery, herbs and spices (except for salt).  Cover and cook over a medium-low flame for about 30 minutes, stirring often.  Add more water, if the mixture begins to dry.

Taste the mixture, and add salt, to taste. Stir in the oats, cover and continue to cook (still stirring often). Remove bay leaf and let the mixture cool.

Preheat oven to 210C/425F

Line the pie tin with pastry.  Evenly spread the filling in the lined tin, brushing the edge with egg. Cover the pie with the top crust, seal the edge.  Trim and crimp.  Cut steam vents, in the usual way, and brush the surface with egg wash.

Bake for 15 minutes. 

Reduce heat to 180C/375F and continue to bake until the crust is golden (approximately 25-35 minutes).

Cool slightly (about 10-15 minutes) before slicing.

To help cut the richness, serve with something sharp such as
  • Pickled vegetables (such as jardinière, pickled beets, vinegary coleslaw)
  • Sauce (such as cranberry sauce, HP, chowchow)

  • Regular pork adds a richness to the pie that lean pork lacks.  If you prefer lean pork, by all means use it.
  •  If you can't find summer savory, substitute with winter savory or thyme.
  •  I prefer meat pies with a savoury flakey crust, but a shortcrust would work as well.
  • This recipe should convert easily to handpies or individual pot pies.

I'm a quill for hire!

26 January 2015

Blue Monday: Steak Sandwich and Chips

150124 Steak Sandwich and Chips 1

Depending upon who you talk to (or believe) today is Blue Monday.  It could also have been last Monday, or the Monday before that.  Maybe every Monday in January is Blue Monday.  By that standard, maybe every Monday of the year is a Blue Monday.

How do we know it's Blue Monday?  Because someone quantified it.

Look!  It has a greater than symbol!  Look!  There are uppercase and lowercase letters above *AND* below a line!  Look! There are even brackets and letters to the power of other letters!


It looks mathy and sciencey so it must be true!

Of course just as someone quantified depression to a single day, someone else has published their own study indicating comfort food is a myth.

Why don't these justification-through-quantification types use their (ahem) immense smartitude for good, as opposed playing to sunlight-deprivation and emotional stunting?  Maybe they read 1984 and thought Ingsoc was the key to Utopia.  Maybe they watched Another Brick in the Wall's conveyor belt scene and thought we should all be faceless (and docile) automatons.

It all seems to be about more Sheldon and less Penny.

Kinda makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, doesn't it?

For those of us who have bad days and whose blue days aren't triggered by a convergence of nonsensical numbers gussied up in the name of science, the occasional wallow in happy memory triggers can make things seem better. For some people it's solitude and an aptly-chosen record, for others it's a night with a best friend and a movie with a favourite actor, and for others, it's food.

The lovely thing about comfort food is how individual it is to the person.  While many think of tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich as comforting, not everyone thinks of the same soup recipe (or tin), and the sandwich may be on different breads, different types of cheese, and there may be other things tucked in with the cheese--onions, bacon, avocado.

For me, often the effects of a bad day (not a horrendous day, but one bad enough for me to come home in a funk) can often be numbed by beef and potatoes.

It's on days like these, I want something that doesn't make me think, something that's relatively quick, and something that's easily adaptable to what I have on hand.  Sometimes it's a burger and fries. Other times it's beef fajitas.  Other times it's a steak sandwich.

I feel rather odd about offering a recipe for this as it's something I just pull together, based on what I have, or what I can find.  Here's what I did for the sandwich photographed:

150124 Steak Sandwich and Chips 8Steak Sandwich and Chips

For the sandwich
Sprinkle Schwartz's Montreal Steak Spice on the steak (for about $5, my butcher had a lovely sirloin medallion).  Let sit in the fridge until you're ready to eat.

Sauté  mushrooms and onions with salt, pepper, thyme and a splash of balsamic.

Pat the steak dry with a kitchen paper and fry in a hot pan until it's done to whatever point makes you happy.  Remove from pan and set on a minced garlic clove.  Tent the steak with tin foil and let sit for about 10 minutes.

Cut the mini-baguette in half and set the cut sides in the steak pan, to sop up the fats and juices.  Slather one half with English mustard.

After the steak has rested, slice the steak and arrange on the bottom half of the baguette.  Top with mushroom mixture, and the top half of the bun.

For the Chips
By chips, I mean chunky fries.  Jamie Oliver has a technique that's pretty close to mine, but instead of sprinkling with rosemary after they've cooked, I toss the chips in an oil and steak spice before roasting.

The Sheldons of the world will need precise measurements--weights and volumes, temperatures and times, and will whiteboard an arcane argument pointing out why what I've posted is just wrong.  The Pennys of the world will make (or get) a sandwich (like or unlike this one) and eat it, with or without chips, while listening to New Order.


 I'm a quill for hire!

15 January 2015

Happy Birthday Edna: Banana Cake

150109 Edna Staebler Banana Cake 2

Happy birthday to my friend, Edna Staebler. This Canadian culinary gem would have been 109 years young today. She was a marvel and a talented woman who wrote about life, but is best known for bringing Waterloo County fare to the world.  I've written about her several times, including  here, here and here.

Even though 1 January marks the new calendar year, 15 January starts my culinary year: The holidays' excesses have lulled, the fridge is now rid of overcomplicated and overzhuzhed memories.  Overreaching and overhyped wannabe food personalities are hushed.  
It's time to return to what sustains me for the other 350 days of the year--delicious yet simple foods, born of tradition, seasonality and curiosity.

This January sees a surfeit of bananas in my house--more freckled yellow fruit than I care to mention are in bowls and on my countertop, thanks to my parents.  Don't ask.  Things like this just happen.

While banana'd treats are a temporary staple--banana smoothies, and peanut butter, banana and honey sandwiches--I still feel up to my knees in bananas.  I could take Josephine Baker's lead and make a fashion statement, but I don't. 

Edna offers several delicious-looking banana baking options, but this simple banana cake from her first book, Food That Really Schmecks, caught my eye.  As with all of her recipes, this one is easy, tasty and came together quickly.  I've made some minor changes: instead of shortening, I used butter with a splash of oil, and I substituted sour cream and milk for sour milk. 

The end result is a tender-crumbed, old-fashioned cake, devoid of propensity but filled with comfort and flavour.

This cake can be made in a rectangular pan or in two round tins, sandwiching a slathering of whipped cream and sliced bananas between layers.  Edna recommends a penuche icing--which I'm sure would be scrumptious--but I think unadorned is best.

150109 Edna Staebler Banana Cake 1
Banana Cake
Edna Staebler - Food That Really Schmecks (adapted)

Yield: One 33x23x5cm (13"x9"x2") cake

110g/125ml/0.5c softened butter
1Tbsp/15ml flavourless oil
300g/375ml/1.5c sugar
1tsp/5ml salt
2 large eggs
325g/560ml/2.25c all purpose flour
1tsp/5ml baking powder
0.75tsp/3.75ml bicarbonate of soda
2Tbsp/30ml sour cream 
2Tbsp/30ml milk
260g/250ml/1c mashed overripe bananas (2-3 large bananas)
65g/125ml/0.5c walnut or pecan crumbs


Preheat oven to 180C/350F (moderate/Gas Mark 4)

Prepare a 33cmx23cmx5cm (13"x9"x2") pan by either lining it with crumpled greaseproof paper or by greasing and flouring.

Sift together the flour and leavening agents. Set aside.

Mix together the sour cream, milk and mashed bananas. Set aside

Cream together the butter, oil, salt and sugar. Scrape down the bowl and add eggs one at a time, beating well between editions. Scrape down the bowl again.

Add the flour and banana mixtures in the usual way (dry-wet-dry-wet-dry), scraping down after incorporating each banana mixture. 

Fold in the nuts and give the batter a good stir to ensure no flour clumps are hiding. The batter should be light and thick but moussy texture.

Pour into the prepared pan, level the batter and smooth the top. Tap on the counter once or twice to release any large air bubbles.

Bake for 40-45 minutes. The cake should be golden brown, the top springs back when lightly touched, and the cake pulls away from the sides. An inserted bamboo skewer should come out cleanly.

Slather with the icing of your choice (cream cheese, penuche, chocolate, vanilla, peanut butter), dust with icing sugar or leave as-is.


  • The baking time listed is for the rectangular cake pan.  If baking in two 20cm/8" or 23cm/9" pans, bake for 25-35 minutes


I'm a quill for hire!