Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Oh Canada!

After struggling the last few days to find inspiration for another post I suddenly realized I didn't have to look far.  In fact all I had to do was look to my mum, and grandmother, who both happen to be two Canadians alive and well living here in the U.S.  It is because of this very fact that my summers as a kid usually involved a trip to central Canada, where my grandmother and mother grew up and where my great grandfather and grandmother had a farm.  Some of the greatest memories of my childhood were centered around these family trips up to "the farm" as we affectionately called it (I know, how inventive).

One particular summer stands out in my memory.  It involved  the grand idea of all of us renting some horrible RV, loading up the lot of us and driving all the way to Calgary........together, for hours....yeah, not so good.  By the end of the trip I swear we were all ready to kill each other and I think my grandmother had just about enough of being a grandmother by the end of that trip.  I think it was me spilling an entire bowl of potato salad all over the floor that sent her over the edge, or maybe the continual screaming that my twin cousins did (who were about 8 months old at the time) from about Idaho till....well....Calgary, or maybe last but not least my uncle and father rocking out to Phil Collins at the highest decibel.  Ahh, good times, torture can be enjoyable. 

Torture aside, I can still remember the way that part of Canada smells, like fresh cut grass and cows.  I remember the way the crickets sounded in the barn in the evening and how my great grandmother's house always smelled like fresh milk and pie, which I know sounds strange but if you've ever been around freshly pasteurized milk (not homogenized) you'll completely understand where I'm coming from.  It is these memories that make me love Canada, and dearly miss it when I am away.  So it seemed natural to me to use this bit of inspiration to cook a uniquely Canadian dish.

So what was this Canadian dish you might ask?  I decided to try my hand at poutine.  Now for those of you who don't know what this heavenly creation is, it is simply french fries smothered in gravy with cheese awesome is that!  It is your classic drunk food, yes I said it......and you all were thinking it.  I think it was invented to help all that Molson go down much easier.  So with poutine on the brain I first had to conquer the gravy.  Traditionally the gravy used to make poutine is chicken stock based, but a mixture of beef and chicken stock can be used.  I liked this idea since I have always wanted to take a stab at making homemade beef stock and I also think beef stock just has a great richness in flavor.  So, beef stock it was. 
In order to conquer this task I had to get some soup bones, which required a trip to my favorite butcher, and luckily he had some beautiful bones (yes, I mean the soup bones).  So with utter joy I headed home and started the stock, but made one crucial error. 

While the bones were baking I decided to sit and watch a little TV, and "Dirty Jobs" just so happened to be on.  And wouldn't you know it, it just so happened to be an episode where they butcher a very cute dairy cow.  The combination of this horrid show paired with the house smelling like a tannery sent me to a very unhappy place, and I seriously contemplated becoming a vegetarian.....well somewhat seriously.  Nevertheless I was able to put my conscience on the back burner, think happy thoughts about cows in green meadows, totally forget where my soup bones actually came from, and finished up my stock.  And after a little salad, and a prayer for the bones as they went in the trash I whipped up the poutine.

The verdict on mission worth it, even though I was mentally tortured by cow slaughter and the subsequent sight of cooked femur bones, and the best part of the mission had to be my husband's reaction which was "that's it?  With a name like poutine I was expecting more."  But I think the name does it justice. It may be simple, but it is absolutely one of a kind, and worth a big name.  Kind of like my memories of Canada, simple yet the best that there is.


Cook Time: 1 hour (Excluding stock cook time)

Note: The fries for poutine are typically deep fried, but I decided to go a little healthier and roast the potatoes, but if fry away if you prefer!

31lbs russet potatoes cut into wedges
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 cups beef stock (for the stock you can use
homemade or store bought)
2 cups chicken stock
1 yellow onion sliced
2 garlic cloves minced
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
2 cups cheese curds

For homemade beef stock simply take about 3 pounds of soup bones, preferably with some meat still on them, along with about a 1/2 pound of stew meat and bake them in a large pan at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour.  Remove bones and meat from pan and place in a large stockpot.  Add about 2 cups of water to the pan the bones were baked in and scrape up all the browned bits.  Pour the water over the bones in the stock pot and add your flavor enhancers.  I like to use onion, carrots, garlic, parsnips, celery, fresh herbs (thyme, bay leaves, and rosemary) and peppercorns.  Add an additional 8 cups of water and simmer, covered, for about three hours.  You may have to periodically remove scum from the surface of the stock while simmering.  Strain the stock to remove all the veggies and bones and refrigerate.  Skim off all the fat that has solidified on top and discard, and voila!  Yummy stock.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Toss the potatoes in the olive oil.  Add the salt and pepper and toss again.  Pour potatoes onto a rimmed baking sheet and roast the potatoes until crispy, about 35 minutes, occasionally stirring the potatoes so they evenly brown.  While the potatoes are roasting make the gravy.  Start by melting the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. 

Add the onions and garlic and saute until tender and the onions are starting to caramelize, about 5 minutes.  Add the flour, cook for about 2 minutes.  Add the stock, stirring constantly.  Cook the gravy until it is thickened, about 10 minutes.  Salt and pepper to taste.  To serve simply pour gravy over roasted potatoes and top with the cheese curds and parsley.


  1. What a great story! From a kid on, I've always loved road trips. Even semi-disastrous ones. And by the way, poutine has started showing up in the US lately. There's a great bar/restaurant here in Chicago, the Paramount Room, that's been tempting us with it. Reading this, I will have to give it a try next time we're there.

  2. Terry,
    I have to agree, isn't it funny how some of life's fondest memories come from torturous family events? I have actually had poutine more here in the states than in Canada, there is a great food cart scene here in Portland and there is one cart in particular, Potato Champion that serves this delicacy. Love it! I would definately encourage you to try it, you won't regret it! How lucky are you to be in such an amazing food city like Chicago. Would love to go someday. Thanks so much again for reading, I need all the readers I can get! Hope you KEEP reading!