Friday Favourites - Family Recipe Book

Way back when, in the months leading up to our wedding, I was blessed to have friends and family throw me many bridal showers. It was a lot of fun and amazing to feel so much love. One of the showers was food/cooking themed. We had a cooking class by a great local chef, drank wine and laughed, and they all shared with me a booklet of favourites recipes.

My recipe book is simple. Handwritten recipes on seemingly old fashioned recipe cards. Each one tucked into it's own slot in a photo album. No graphic design, no fear of getting things dirty. Handwriting to treasure (and decipher) and favourite recipes from their family or secrets that no one would share before then. Still, when I ask my Mom or my Mother In Law for a recipe they give it to me on a card to insert. Or I tuck their hand written notes into a sleeve.

When I'm bored with my own cooking, looking for a little extra comfort from the kitchen, or a memory overcomes my tastebuds, this is the book I pull from the shelf. I have almost 100 cookbooks, but this is my go to resource.

This morning I pulled it out to make cupcakes. Grandma Arkison's Wacky Cake was waiting for me. I should know this recipe by heart, and probably do, but I love to see my sister-in-law's writing and smile at the thought that this was a secret family recipe. (It's not, it is a standard, Depression era recipe.) And that day, at my bridal shower, I was let into the family when this recipe passed over to me.

Do you have a family recipe book?

Friday Favourites - The London Fog

I LOVE tea. Really love tea. Especially Earl Grey.

My tea ritual starts before I go to bed. I make sure the tea pot is rinsed out and the kettle full. That way all I have to do is hit the button on my electric kettle as soon as I get out of bed. While the kettle boils I usually check Instagram for the overnight feed and try not to munch on any cookies that might be leftover from the previous day's baking. When my tea is ready I settle in to catch up on the world and start my day's work on the computer. If I have writing to do I like to jump right in. Otherwise I sip and browse the world from my laptop.

All of this, implies that I am getting a quiet, lonely start to the morning. If I sleep in or have to get up and do things with the kids right away I do not make my tea. I love the ritual almost more than the caffeine so I wait. And if that moment never comes I do the next best thing at some point in the afternoon - I make a London Fog.

I discovered London Fogs years ago at some random coffee shop. Seeing as I don't drink coffee I am always aware of my other options. When the barista suggested a London Fog after I hesitated on the default hot chocolate, I nearly turned him down. But then he used the words vanilla and Earl Grey in the same sentence. And done.

That being said, I don't often order them when I'm out. The vast majority of places - chain or independent - make a London Fog with vanilla syrup. This results in a drink that is too sweet for my liking. Instead, I save my London Fogs for afternoons spent stitching or painting with the kids. For the random moments I get alone in the winter sun. For my leftover Earl Grey (sacrilege, I know).

Cheryl's London Fog

Equal parts Earl Grey and Milk
Vanilla Extract

Heat together the tea and milk. If you are using fresh tea, brew it like you want to drink it and combine with hot - never cold - milk. (I do not have a microwave, so I simply heat mine on the stovetop.)

For every cup you make add a teaspoon of vanilla extract and a teaspoon of honey.

Sip and Enjoy.

Friday Favourites - Za'atar

Like all kids, mine love crackers. And crackers are expensive and filled with salt and preservatives. So, I picked up a book on making your own crackers. One recipe looked very promising but it called for this strange ingredient called Za'atar. Turns out Za'atar is a spice mix.

The most incredible spice mix ever to exist in the world of spice mixes.

Seriously, it is. It makes Herbs du Provence or any Italian seasoning look and taste like sand. Aromatic in the way that a Turkish spice bazaar must smell - exotic and slightly familiar and nearly overwhelming with pleasure.

Since its arrival in our house it has become my savoury Franks Red Hot - I put that *&$# on everything. Scrambled eggs, roasted veggies, tomato sauce, baked chicken, cheese balls, popcorn, in a grain salad, and yes, crackers and bread. If you've never had it you need to try it. Trust me.

I buy mine through Silk Road Spice Merchant, but you can also make your own blend.

Sunday Dinners

It's a Brisket kind of day. Well, to me, most Sundays in the winter are Brisket kind of days. Dinner that I can put in the oven and forget about. We can go sledding, curl up with a book, or even get some quilting in and I have to do nothing but boil and mash potatoes close to dinner time. Then, when we sit down to eat, it feels like I put a good effort in because we have this rich, comforting dinner.

For those of you who may not know, A Month of Sundays includes recipes for a full Sunday dinner. It was really important to me to have the recipes in the book. For one, food is an important aspect of my life. I love to cook, I put myself through school, in part, by cooking, and working as a food writer is how my books came to be. Food and writing about food is just a fundamental part of me.

Secondly, I strongly believe in the power of the family meal. Sitting down together, whether it is over something as simple as bread and cheese or as big as the Sunday dinner is one of the best ways to be as a family. In our house dinners are loud, messy, and sometimes frustrating, but it is the moment when we all take a breath and just be. And we do that together. The girls open up about their day, The Garbage Truck opens his mouth and shovels it all in, my Husband and I decompress a little together. Whether it is wine or milk, we drink in the company and the conversations.

Finally, food, good food, is just damn good. And taking the time to make good food is always worth it. Even if it means a little less quilting time on the weekends.

Our dining room table sees all our dinners. It is where I wrote both books, where I quilted everything until this past year. It is even where all three of our kids spent the first six months of their lives sleeping. My life really is ruled from the Dining Room Empire.

I nearly put a Brisket recipe in the book. This is the one I make often, the one my family asks for. And if they don't ask for it there is often a little involuntary jump and clapping of hands when they realize what we're having. Usually after the smell hits them when they come in the door. It is dead easy. Brisket is a cut of meat that needs to be braised - cooked long and low in liquids. At the end of the afternoon it is fall apart tender and full of flavour. If you have any sauce left after dinner use it for Monday leftovers on pasta, meat optional.

Maple Cider Brisket
Serves 4-6 (depending on appetite)

1 large onion
1tbsp bacon drippings or oil
5 cloves garlic
2 1/2 - 3 pounds beef brisket
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1/4 cup tomato sauce or 1 large tomato chopped
1 cup apple cider
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 water or broth
1 tbsp dijon mustard

Cut the onion in half then slice into strips. Heat the bacon drippings or oil in a large oven proof pan with a tight fitting lid, like a braiser or a dutch oven. (If you don't have a pan that fits the bill, use what you have and transfer everything to a baking dish that you can cover with foil.) Cook the onions for 5-6 minutes until soft and slightly golden.

While the onions are cooking finely chop 3 cloves of garlic. Thinly slice the remaining two cloves. Cut slits all over the brisket and poke the garlic slices into them. Season the brisket well with salt and pepper. Set the brisket aside for the time being.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

When the onions are soft, stir in the chopped garlic, oregano, and thyme. Cook for 1 minute. Add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil.

Add the brisket to the sauce. Cover with the lid of  the pan and place in the oven. Braise for 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to 275 degrees F and continue to braise for 4 hours.

Let the meat rest 15 minutes before slicing. Serve with the sauce.

This is the last post for entering the giveaways which will come next week. Think books, fabric, and treats. 

Tell us your favourite dinner conversation topics.