Tag Archives: cooking

Cabbage Night, Colcannon and Creativity

“Did you ever eat Colcannon, made from lovely pickled cream?
With the greens and scallions mingled like a picture in a dream.
Did you ever make a hole on top to hold the melting flake
Of the creamy, flavored butter that your mother used to make?”
(traditional Irish folksong)

There is going to be an awful lot written about Halloween in the next couple of weeks – but I want to tell you folks about a night that rural Nova Scotia folk sometimes refer to as – Cabbage Night.

cabbage

In years ago Cabbage Night was a time for running with the shadows and whooping and yelling and building great bonfires and whispering in the darkness.

And giggling.

Cabbage Night was a night for giggling.

Every year, on the night before Halloween, children on the French Shore of Nova Scotia would stage great raids upon local cabbage fields. Here they would uproot the nastiest and foulest cabbage they could find. They would search through the bracken and ruttle of turned over dirt – hunting for the most frost-bitten and rotten cabbage they could uncover.

I’m not saying it smelled sweet, you understand.

These cabbages would be flung at the doors and walls of local cottages and houses. They would land with heavy satisfying slaps and splatters against the brick and siding of local residents.

And woe to those who were careless enough to open their door to a knick-knacking pack of children – for they would find themselves the unhappy recipient of a deftly rolled rotting cabbage head that would bowl forward just long enough to reach the clean spot in the center of the kitchen floor where it would break down into a nasty fragrant decaying mulch.

Also useful were the long, gnarled stumps left over from where the farmers had cut away the good cabbages. These too could be used as wonderfully groaty projectiles but it was far better to use them as cudgels. Great cabbage stump battles would be waged on the shoreline as two or three or thirty hardy – or perhaps foolhardy – young warriors would wage battle with the cruciferae cudgels.

This is what I love to do with my writing.

I root through old fields and midden heaps and graveyards and landfills of history. I rummage about and find something good and groaty and then I pull it out. An old ghost story, a legend, or just the bare hint of a tale.

Sometimes I unearth entire carcasses, other times it is nothing more than the shadow of a bone.

Whatever it is, I work with it and try to give it life. I add meat and build it up – one piece at a time. We writers must often play Frankenstein and stitch up our cadavers from the bits and pieces we discover along the way. We stitch each chunk of rotting cabbage together with love and care and precision – until we have modeled ourselves a fine fat Cabbage King.

And then we give it life. We let fly our thunderbolts of creativity and give those old bones and rotten meat life – of a sort.

Each of my numerous ghost story collections (Haunted Harbours, Wicked Woods, Halifax Haunts, Maritime Monsters and The Lunenburg Werewolf) are nothing more than a mass of stories based upon the bits of fact, fiction and folklore that I have stitched together. I am a great recycler, taking old yarns and giving them brand new life. I soup them up and update them. I pimp them out.
In the end that is what we writers do. We take our dreams and our memories and we stitch them together with our imagination and a well-placed lightning bolt of creativity and we give our stories life!

Let me leave you with a wee bit of a recipe.

It is considered customary to make yourself a pot of Colcannon on cabbage night. It is a simple and hearty dish made by mashing boiled cabbage with turnips and potatoes. Butter and salt as liberally as you like.

On Halloween a ring and a thimble were often added to the mixture. If your bowlful contained the ring it would signify and upcoming marriage in your future – if you were unlucky enough to find the thimble in your bowl of Colcannon it meant you’d be doomed to a single life.

Here’s the recipe.

I used 4-6 potatoes and one good-sized turnip. About 2-3 pounds. Peel them and chunk them and put them in a pot with enough cold water to cover them by at least an inch or so. Scatter a bit of salt over the spuds and neep. Boil until you can smoosh the potatoes with a blunt fork – maybe 15 or 20 minutes. Drain in a colander.

Chop a fair-sized cabbage while you’re waiting for the spuds to boil. Whistle if you must, but do not attempt to dance. It is bad luck to try and jig while you’re chopping cabbage – especially if you’re using a knife.

Put the pot back on the stove and set over medium-high heat. Melt a good wad of butter, about 5-6 tablespoons, into the pot and add the chopped cabbage. Stir it up some until it begins to wilt. While you’re waiting chop some onions. Try and look like you know what you’re doing – even if someone isn’t watching. Practice pays off. Stir in the chopped onions. This whole part of the process shouldn’t take too long. About two minutes for the cabbage and one minute for the onions.

Keep stirring and whistling. It is a fine aerobic workout.

Pour in a cup of milk. Traditionalists will use cream, but cream gives me heartburn. Reduce the heat to medium. Don’t burn the milk. Dump the spuds and turnip into the mot and mash them up, getting the cabbage and onion all smooshed together. It ought to look like somebody had dropped a Martian into a bowl of curdled puss and hit frappe.

Salt and butter and pepper to your liking. Serve it with meat – bacon or sausages or pork goes great. Fish is fine too, but it’s awfully healthy for wasting on such a wonderful cholesterol-riddle mess as good Colcannon.

Some people will tell you that you can use kale or chard or even mustard or dandelion greens in place of the cabbage. Others will talk of using parsnips instead of turnip.

People say a lot of things, don’t they.

Whatever you make it out off, have something cold to drink it with. I favor a thick knife-and-fork ale – say a Guinness or something local from a micro-brewery. Stock up on your incense while you’re at it. Colcannon can be mighty fumish, afterwards.

Just remember that there is no real recipe for anything – beyond boil it, fry it, bake it or barbecue. Cooking, like any form of creativity has no real rules to it. The main thing is to have fun.

I like to make my own version of Colcannon with purple potatoes and red cabbage and fat turnips and a gi-normous red onion. The resulting purple mulch is both tasty and filling – and I call it Nightcrawler Stew – after the teleporting blue-furred X-Man. A bowl or two of this will keep you warm and giggling the whole winter long.

“Yes you did, so you did, so did he and so did I.
And the more I think about it sure the nearer I’m to cry.
Oh, wasn’t it the happy days when troubles we had not,
And our mothers made Colcannon in the little skillet pot.”

Yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon

If you enjoyed this article you might want to pick up one of my e-books. I’ve got a lot to choose from but REALLY for this time of year there would only be one single e-book that I would TRULY recommend.

This is the KINDLE version. Give it a sniff and see if it smells any different than the KOBO edition.

This is the KINDLE version. Give it a sniff and see if it smells any different than the KOBO edition.

Veggies for Breakfast are a MUST!

All right – so I generally blog about my writing and my latest projects with the occasional BUY-MY-BOOK plea – but today I’m going to blog about breakfast.

For those of you folks who are worried – NO – I am NOT going to turn into a food blogger – although I am a foodie. There are a LOT of great food blogs out there and I don’t intend to pit my feeble culinary skills against the professionals out there.

But I wanted to talk about breakfast.

Remember how your Mom always told you that “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day”?

importance of breakfastWell, she was RIGHT.

Now, let me add something else to this theory.

VEGETABLES are your most important part of your breakfast.

I know that you’ve heard time and again about how important fruit is – but fruit is heaps of fructose – a fast, fast burning sugar. They are like softwood in the fireplace. They burn fast and disappear quickly. I have made it a practice to try and include vegetables in most of my breakfasts and I find that the food energy seems to burn slower and stronger. I try and include at least one fresh vegetable for breakfast every morning – even if it is nothing more than a tomato sandwich.

I know.

I screwed up, didn’t I?

Tomatoes are fruit.

Too bad.

I file that under the same category of thinking that tries to tell me that Pluto isn’t a planet.

Don’t worry Pluto.

I’M not a planet either.

Let me tell you about breakfast today.

You can call this a recipe if you like – but I prefer to think about it as – “This is what I threw in the pan”.

For starters I sliced a couple of strips of bacon into little-bitty bits. I use a pair of scissors for this. My wife always yells at me when I do this, so I get up early before she is looking.

Husbands have got to be crafty.

Then I chopped a good-sized onion – because you can’t cook ANYTHING without an onion.

Not even chocolate pudding.

🙂

Then I chopped a stalk of celery and chopped the last leftover zucchini from last night – (see my last blog entry for some REAL recipes) – and I set them all to frying on a medium heat.

I know that the bacon ISN’T really healthy – so you can always substitute a good vegetable oil like olive oil or canola.

I have been meaning to try avocado oil – which I hear is good for frying – but that will have to remain in the THERE-WASN’T-ANY-AVOCADO-OIL-IN-THE-GROCERY-STORE file.

Then, once those veggies were beginning to golden up I broke a chunk of that leftover roast cauliflower from last night – (again, see my last blog entry) – and I shook on a little salt and a lot of pepper.

Then I shoveled those veggies onto two plates and dropped a chunk of butter into the pan and broke a couple of eggs and fried two eggs and set each egg onto the plate.

That was breakfast today.

Remember – when you’re cooking – forget about recipes. Take a bit of this and a bit of that and either fry it or roast it or bake it or boil it – and you are cooking. Recipes are for sissies.

Yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon

Two Autumn Recipes

Today I put together a supper of Roasted Cauliflower and Zucchini Linguini.

I thought I’d take a moment and give you folks the recipes.

ROASTED CAULIFLOWER

I set the oven to 400 and cut the leaves and stem off of a medium-sized head of cauliflower. Then I put together a marinade of a cup and a bit of plain Greek yogurt with a bit of lime juice and some garlic and a tablespoon of olive oil and some pepper and salt.

I drenched the cauliflower in the marinade.

That’s the fun part. Nothing better than smearing goop on a big old garden vegetable.

Then, when the oven went BEEP I parked the cauliflower onto the middle of a greased baking sheet and let it sit in the oven for about 40 minutes.

When the oven timer went BEEP again I took the baking sheet out and let it cool for about 10 minutes before quartering the cauliflower into wedges.

Meanwhile – while that was cooking – I got myself a julienne peeler and peeled the zucchini. I kept on peeling until I got to the core of the zuchinni, were the seeds are. By then I had a heap of noodle-like strips of zuchinni.

Then I sliced up a red onion and threw them into a hot pan of olive oil and butter. I threw in some raw shrimp (de-veined and de-shelled) and sliced up the zucchini middles and threw them in too. I stirred them and let them sizzle for a few short minutes and then threw in the zuchinni noodles and dumped in the remainder of the cauliflower marinade to make a sort of sauce. At the end of it I added a heaping handful of cherry tomatoes. I wanted snap peas, but the grocery store didn’t have any.

Remember – cooking is nothing more than creativity served up hot – so if any of these ingredients don’t suit you – alter the recipe. Use peppers or a pesto sauce or pork or chicken instead of the shrimp.

Lastly, open a beer and grab a fork and plate it up and dig in.

I should have taken a picture but I was too darned hungry.

Yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon

Warm Sweater Soup

How many of you folks have a favorite warm sweater?

I know I have.

warm sweater 001You like that?

I do. I bought it many years ago from a little South American lady who sold them from her pitch at the local Halifax Busker Festival. It was late in the summer and the evening weather had turned cold but folks were still gathered around my own pitch asking for palm readings and I wanted to stay a little later so that I could pay my rent – so I bought this sweater to keep warm.

“Mamacita,” I said to her, holding up the sweater. “Por favor.”

Okay, so I learned all of my Spanish from old John Wayne movies – but she got the drift and I gave her my money and I worked until the light had fled and I still have that sweater today.

I like that sweater.

I’ve got other sweaters that I like but I am not going to show to you. I’ve got a ratty old fisherman’s knit sweater that is great for wearing over a shirt when it’s cold; and I’ve got a Mr. Roger’s cardigan that I wear around the house; and I’ve got a couple others that should have been thrown out years ago but I won’t do it on account of I know something about those sweaters that a picture would never tell you.

Those sweaters are MAGIC!

So is a good chowder.

Nothing says “sit down and tuck in” more than a well made chowder. A well made chowder tells you that you have found your way home – or at the very least to a place that smells like home.

Chowder keeps you warm. It adds a little much-needed winter insulation. Don’t talk to me about cholesterol and fatty build-up. Heck, most of your brain is made out of fatty build-up – or at least that’s what I keep telling myself.

(let’s file that last bit of nutritional information under “L” for Little-White-Lie, shall we?)

Let me tell you how to make chowder.

(had to stop and run down to stir the pot – I’ll tell you a little about that later)

First off, good chowder starts with a few scraps of bacon.

And an onion, of course. You can’t cook anything worth gnawing on without invoking an onion somewhere along the way.

(File that under “L”, as well. You can make chocolate pudding without onions, of course – but it won’t taste as good)

It doesn’t have to be fancy bacon. Just cheap and chewy bacon, something that will sizzle down and give you just enough “guilty” taste to make up for ALL of that veggie goodness that is going in next.

I like to chop my veggies first – so that I don’t have to fuss when I am cooking. I am allergic to fuss – most sensible people are.

It makes a few more bowls to clean afterwards – but heck, that’s what the good Lord created dishwashers for.

So I chop an onion. Then I slice some carrots thin. I slice a couple of zucchini – green zucchini today. I often prefer yellow zucchini on account of the appearance. It doesn’t taste any better – in my opinion – but appearance counts for an awful lot in a proper soup. You want something that slaps you in the eyes and says – in its best Tommy Lee Jones voice –  “Hey – EAT ME! EAT ME!”

I would have used a yellow zucchini in this particular chowder – but the only ones that the grocery store had were so old and withered that they looked suspiciously like something that might have been lopped off of a 973 year old Venusian celibate monk.

I also add a bag of potatoes. I’m using baby potatoes today – because they make a GORGEOUS soup – but any kind of potato will do.

I usually put celery in as well – but I forgot to buy it.

Bad shopper. Bad, bad shopper.

No biscuit for you today.

I sometimes put garlic in – on account of garlic is good for you and tastes “guilty” even though it isn’t – but I forgot that today and it’s too late to go back and add it – so pretend that I told you garlic and never mind pointing over my shoulder mentioning that I forgot to add it.

So then I find me the biggest soup pot I own. I throw it on the stove – gently, on account of the stove top is made out of glass – and then I heat that sucker up. While it is heating I take the bacon and I chop it into the pot. Don’t be neat, don’t be delicate – just chop it up like you were making a handful of drunken confetti out of your last three grocery lists.

Throw the onions in next – and the potatoes – followed by the carrots. Stir like your arm was possessed by an over-zealous swizzle stick.

Then I add me some chicken broth and keep stirring. I add the zucchini and a tin of yellow corn – on account of I love the taste of corn in ANYTHING.

Even chocolate pudding.

After the chicken broth I add a helping of milk – until it looks mostly full. Then I stir it a little bit more and then pepper it like I was trying to scare out a devil.

Today I added a whole bagful of mixed veggies – on account of they were cheaper than buying fresh veggies – which are hard to come buy this far north at this time of the year.

Besides – you can NEVER have enough veggies. They’re good for you and they taste good.

There are many different kinds of chowders you could make with this basic recipe. Fry in some chicken chunks in the beginning and you’ve got chicken chowder. Open up some clams and you’ve got clam chowder. Throw in some fish and it is fish chowder. Ham or garlic sausage or even wieners are ALL fair game.

This is simple basic cooking.

Cooking is an improvisation and a compromise and an art with very few rules to follow. This is peasant-work and trailer trash thinking – rural ergonomics by any other name.

So I don’t have much more of a recipe to offer you. Take a look at your refrigerator or what ever is on sale at the grocery store and put it into a pot. Let it simmer for as you want. Because I added milk I am conscientious about stirring – on account of milk will burn and stick to the bottom – no matter how low the temperature is. But me having to run downstairs every half hour or so to stir isn’t any kind of real hardship.

This is what my pot looks like today.

Zuchinni Chowder 001That’s dinner for the next few days – maybe even a week. I’ve got a meatloaf in the fridge that will likewise serve as supper for the next few days.

Now – if you enjoyed that impromptu cooking lesson why don’t you leave me a comment – or else share this blog entry on your Facebook page or your Twitter feed – on account of I want to share this with as many people as possible.

You REALLY like it – well you can always run over to Kindle or Kobo and buy one of my e-books just to say thanks.

OR – you can just take that recipe and cook up your own chowder and tell everybody else how you read about the recipe on this crazy bearded writer’s blog.

OH – and why was I talking about sweaters?

Well, mostly because coming home to this chowder on a cold winter’s day always makes me feel about as happy as my favorite warm sweater.

So mix yourself up a big old pot full of Warm Sweater Soup.

yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon

Today’s recipe was brought to you by my novella of redneck noir – HAMMURABI ROAD.

Available in Kindle and Kobo and Apple iTunes and Nook in e-book format.

Also available in paperback format from Amazon and Createspace.

Hammurabi Road expanded view

Rottini and Sausage – Steve Vernon’s Cooking Made Easy

A couple of weeks ago somebody referred to me online as a “snow shoveling god”.

Let me make this perfectly clear. I am NO snow shoveling god. Rather, I am a fifty-five year old gent with a work ethic that runs bone-deep.

However, you CAN call me a kitchen god if you want to.

Why?

Why not?

I don’t cook fancy. I don’t cook pretty.

I just cook.

Cooking is about as easy as cold beer going down on a hot summer day.

Basically there are maybe three or four different ways you can cook something. You can fry it. You can boil it. You can bake it.

No matter what sort of gourmet restaurant you step into – no matter HOW blue the plate may be and no matter what price tag is dangling off of those vittles odds are that they were fried, boiled or baked.

It just isn’t as hard as some folks like to pretend.

I came home tonight and Belinda had a wonderful fry pan full of supper hash. There were leftover potatoes and leftover sausages and an onion and some carrots.

A side of ketchup and a bottle of beer and I was a happy camper.

“Okay,” she asked me. “What do you figure we ought to have tomorrow night?”

“Leave that me,” I said. “I have a plan.”

I looked in the fridge. We had another leftover sausage – one of those big fat smokey sausages with chunks of cheddar thrown in to the meat so that you can tell yourself that this stuff is healthy on account of cheese is made of milk and EVERYONE knows that milk is healthy – isn’t it?

I’m not talking fancy, you understand.

I looked through the pasta cupboard and found a box of rainbow rottini.

You know that stuff that is red and green and white? They make it with spinach powder and tomato powder added to the pasta so that you can ONCE AGAIN pretend that it’s healthy – on account of it’s got vegetables in it.

I found a half a yellow pepper and I pulled a big fat red onion out of the onion bucket. I boiled some water and threw the pasta in to boil. Then I threw a fry pan the size of Cincinatti onto the burner and chopped up the onion and pepper and sausage while the fry pan got hot.

It is important to remember that some of the sausage was NOT sliced evenly – so I had that throw those uneven chunks into my mouth and chew manfully. Then I moaned a little, like I had fallen into a waterbed full of stupefied cheerleaders.

A man has got to do what a man has got to do.

Then I spilled a little olive oil into the hot fry pan and threw the onion and pepper and sausage into the oil. Stirred like an occasional lunatic while keeping half an eye on the pasta, making sure that it did not boil over.

Occasionally I applied my lips to a happily opened bottle of beer.

When the pasta was ready I dumped it into a colander and then dumped the pasta back into the pot. I tipped the nicely sauted peppers and onions and sausage into the pasta.

For those of you who don’t know – saute is a five dollar word for “fried”.

Then I dumped in a package of Velveeta cooking cheese – garlic and herb flavor. I could have just as easily have added some butter and garlic powder – or shredded some cheese and added a little milk and stirred – but the Velveeta was in the fridge – which made it handy.

The whole thing took about as time and brain power as it took to write this blog entry.

Repeat after me folks – cooking isn’t hard.

Rottini and Sausage 003

yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon

Winter Casserole – Steve’s Dead-Easy Cooking

All right – so you’ve blown all of your grocery money on eggnog and stocking stuffers and you’re wondering just what you can do about supper tonight – WONDER NO LONGER!

Let me share with you my recipe for Winter Casserole.

It’s dead easy.

First off, grab yourself a big old roasting pan.

You know – something like this!

roaster-pan[1]

You can also use a casserole dish or a big old pot or ANYTHING that will hold a lot of yummy crunchy vegetable goodness and is oven-ready.

I usually start with a couple of onions – because EVERYTHING that is worth cooking usually starts with a couple of big fat onions. Then I grab a cabbage and a bag of carrots. You can also throw in a turnip or some squash or some sweet potato if you’d like. Whatever you’ve got in the fridge – or, if you don’t own a fridge whatever you can pick up at the local grocery store. Think cheap and filling.

Chop it up and layer it into the casserole dish.

Note – I also like to chop up a big fat chunk of smoked sausage – preferably the gooey kind with cheese in the middle – but this dish can easily be made as a vegetarian dish without the sausage.

Once you’ve got it all layered into the roasting pan – (and by layered I mean grab a handful of onion and drop it into the pan. Then a handle of cabbage and a handful of potato and a handful of sausage and keep on handfulling until the pan begins to brim up) then dump in a big box of stock – (I use chicken but vegetable stock is just as yummy and lower in calories) – and shake on some pepper and then slide the pan into the oven.

How hot should the oven be?

That depends on how long you want to cook it.

I usually wind up setting the oven to 350 and let it cook for an hour and a half – but you can also set it at about 200 and let it sit and simmer in the oven for a few hours. Remember – this is nothing but vegetables and (maybe) smoked sausage and stock – ALL ready to eat. So the cooking is just to help blend the flavors.

Cover the pan. Go and watch a movie or read a book or stand by the kitchen window and look serene.

Your family comes home in an hour or two and the entire house is going to smell so heavenly I bet you they set the table with out even being asked. You don’t have a table – hell, they’ll build you one out of two-by-fours and chewing gum.

Serve it with a good chewy beer and grin knowingly when they asked you how long it took to get ready.

yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon

Author Style Cooking…

It’s been a hectic morning.

I got up early and made a man’s breakfast for my wife. She’s a dance and fitness instructor and Saturdays are particularly busy.

I chopped up a fat old onion and a couple of leftover potatoes and fried them up nice and crispy. Meanwhile, I grated some cheese into cracked four eggs.

Scooped the potatoes and onions out of the pan.

Drop some bread into the toaster.

Run upstairs with a good cup of coffee and set it on her bedside just as the alarm goes off.

Run downstairs and throw the eggs and cheese into the pan.

Good eating.

Then, after I got home from the groceries I cut up some chicken and sizzled it with a little olive oil, garlic and butter in the bottom of my largest pot. Then I chopped a couple of good red potatoes, a yellow zucchini, an onion, and threw them in on top of the browning chicken. Then I dumped in a bag of baby carrots – which are usually just regular carrots whittled down – and drained a can of chick peas and chucked them. Dumped two cartons of broth on top. Sometimes I like to make my own broth but I was in a hurry today.

Lastly, I let the whole mess sit and simmer – maybe until dinner, maybe until supper – at the lowest possible temperature. I can smell it up here while I type and MAN – it sure smells good.

I call it peasant soup.

I wrote the recipe while I was grocery shopping.

I cook this again it will most likely be different.

But still taste good.

 

Do you see how easy that all sounds – because it is. Hacked up chicken, hacked up vegetables and simmer in a pot. Cooking isn’t all that hard. Take what you have and throw it in a pot.

Writing a blog entry is just that easy as well.

I take what I have and I throw it in a pot.

Right after this I have to get back to working on a manuscript for a YA novel. I’m about 36000 words into what should wind up at about 50000.

How am I doing it?

I’m slicing up what I’ve got…

…and throwing it into a pot to simmer.

yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon