Last weekend I went up to my best friend Melanie’s cottage in Ontario’s Muskoka area. I was looking forward to swimming, canoeing, sitting on the dock — all of the things I love to do up north. Instead, I was hit with a bad flu, plus it rained most of the weekend. Fittingly, I found a huge stack of really old Martha Stewart magazines that we flipped through, possibly inspiring the theme of the weekend, since we spent most of the time indoors being domestic. This would not normally be my first choice of things to do, but we had the best time. Mellie was such a great host — entertaining me all weekend with her unstoppable energy, a plethora of indoor activities and fantastic cooking.
We found a great bread-making story in this old fall issue of Martha Stewart from 1995, which inspired these beautiful French rolls that Melanie made (above). We ate them with fresh farm butter and chicken soup, of course! She used this recipe (see below) from Breads: At the Academy (1993 Cole Group) from the California Culinary Academy.
(makes 18 rolls)
1 package active dry yeast
2 cups warm (105-115°F) water
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp salt
5-1/2 to 6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Step 1: Sprinkle yeast over 1/4 cup of the warm water in large bowl of electric mixer. Add sugar. Let stand until yeast is soft (about 5 minutes).
Step 2: Stir in remaining 1-3/4 cups water and salt. Add 4 cups of the flour. Mix to blend then beat at medium speed until smooth and elastic (about 5 minutes).
Step 3: Gradually beat in about 1 cup more flour to make a soft dough.
Step 4: Turn dough out onto a board or pastry cloth floured with some of the remaining 1/2-1 cup flour. Knead until dough is springy and small bubbles form just under surface (10-15 minutes), adding just enough more flour to prevent dough from being sticky.
Step 5: Turn dough in a greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel; let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk (about 1 hour).
Step 6: Punch dough down; knead dough lightly into a ball. Cover with inverted bowl and let rest for 10 minutes.
Step 7: Divide dough into 18 equal portions. Knead and roll each into a ball, then use the palms of both hands to roll from either side to taper and elongate the ends (each roll should be about 5” long and 2” wide at centre).
Step 8: Place shaped rolls well apart on greased baking sheets. Let rise until puffy but not quite doubled (15-20 minutes).
Step 9: Preheat oven to 450°F. Using a razor blade, slash each roll down centre about 1/2” deep, almost from end to end.
Step 10: Bake for 25-30 minutes or until brown. Spray the top of the rolls with water after the first 3 minutes of baking and again after the second 3 minutes.
As well as being a chef and the owner of Season 2 Taste catering, Melanie is a master knitter in her spare time. Having just sent the October 2010 issue off to the printer, I was inspired by our Weekend Decorating story on felt — watch for it on stands September 7 — where we show a pattern for wool felt bowls that are boiled down from knitted versions. Melanie is always eager to get out the yarn and needles, so we spent an afternoon experimenting with our own knitted bowls. Here they are pre-felting. Hers is the vibrant red, mine of course is the light grey.
And this is her boiled, felted version that turned out perfectly. Next time we are going to double the pattern and go big!
To nurse me back to health, Melanie kept feeding me great food made from organic produce. We took a trip to the local farm and stocked up. Here’s Mel with the farm-owner Deb picking vegetables in the fields.
We loaded up on baskets of huge zucchinis, summer squash, mini potatoes, cucumber, purple and green beans and an assortment of fresh herbs. Everything was amazingly fresh and delicious, and when we got home Mel whipped up this amazing quinoa salad (below).
(serves 4 as a side dish)
1/2 cup white or natural quinoa
1/2 cup red quinoa
2 cups water
1 tsp salt
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Handful of chopped fresh basil, mint and parsley (or any combo of the 3)
1/2 a large sweet or Vidalia onion, finely diced
1 large tomato, finely diced or 1/2 pint cherry or grape tomatoes sliced in halves
1/2 English cucumber, diced
1/2 a jalapeño pepper (seeds removed), diced very fine (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Step 1: Combine white and red quinoa, water and salt in a pot and bring to a boil. Turn heat to low and simmer until all the water is absorbed (about 15-20 minutes). Cool when done.
Step 2: Once the quinoa is cool, add the remaining ingredients.
Step 3: Serve topped with crumbled feta or chickpeas.
At the end of the day, we walked down the road leading to the cottage to pick blackberries (above and below). They were growing in the brambles everywhere — so gorgeous! We rang our bear bells incessantly to make sure we had the blackberry bushes to ourselves.
When we got back, Melanie whipped up a big batch of blackberry jam that she called “Noir”. She gave me some to take home — my jars are labeled “Black and Blue” as a nod to my being sick.
I did manage to take the canoe out and go for a swim just before we left, but as it turned out, a weekend of laying low with cooking and crafts was just what the doctor ordered. I was totally inspired by Mel’s passion for cooking and came home with a few new recipes — I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!