You’d think that cooking is the last thing pastry chef Anna Olson feels like doing on her day off, but then you’d be wrong. The amiable host of Fresh with Anna Olson (Food Network) likes nothing better than to roll up her sleeves and play around in the kitchen, filling the house with the scent of fresh apple crisp, or a fragrant cassoulet. Food is an enduring passion for the award-winning cookbook author and never more so than when she’s off the clock and spending time with friends and family.
In between her many cooking and hosting duties, Anna Olson sat down with Chatelaine.com to sketch out her perfect Saturday.
Even in the winter, my perfect Saturday starts the same way, but perhaps I get up a little later. In the summer, I tend to get up with the sun and I’m naturally up at 6 a.m. In the winter, it’s more like 7 or 7:30 a.m. But I don’t look to Saturdays as my sleep-in day. I like that quiet morning time because there’s not going to be emails or phone calls. It’s just me, my coffee and the newspaper. On Saturday, I like reading the paper from start to finish. It’s a luxury to just take the time.
The next stop — and this stays the same all year round — is a trip to our local farmers’ market to stock up. Making that stop and seeing familiar faces at the market is part of what makes it a Saturday. Here in Welland, [Olson lives in Welland, Ontario] we’ve got a year-round market, and while the pickings aren’t the same in the winter as they are in July it just means it’s a shorter trip. They’ve got the meats, cheeses and breads to choose from, plus the produce. In the winter, we’re picking up the Polish meats, the sausages and the double smoked bacon. The produce tends to be stored items — potatoes, apples, and cabbage. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, my cooking mantra is always what ‘grows together goes together’ so I’ll cook up smoky bacon or sausage with sauerkraut or cabbage. I love doing choucroute. It’s an Alsatian French dish where you take different cuts of pork products and you stew it with sauerkraut and wine. That’s our definition of fast food and it just smells amazing.
It’s kind of a ritual that after we go to the farmers’ market, my husband and I go to the Welland Café for breakfast where you run into everyone you saw at the market because everyone has the same plan. They make the best huevos rancheros – oh, they are so good. They use really good quality corn tortillas. I’m not sure if they make them there. It’s a Mexican family that runs the place, and they buy market-fresh eggs from Lyle the egg guy [at the market]. They have black beans and homemade salsa verde and hot sauce, then a little cheese and sour cream. That sort of eats up the whole morning on Saturday!
I think a perfect day off needs room for spontaneity. If you over-plan the whole thing then you’ve lost the joy of a day off. This time of year, there are a lot of events going on in the area, so I might pop down to a winery and do a tasting, but I usually don’t venture out too far. I’m a hibernator and I’m fine with that. The couch might just fly away on its own so you have to keep it weighted down. I have a beagle, Oscar, who is 15 years old, and he’s definitely my helper. He stays on that couch full-time to make sure it doesn’t fly away.
Quite often when we do go to the market, my husband and I will often overbuy so we will come home and immediately start calling friends to see who will come over for dinner! We like to have early dinners with friends in the winter because it gets so dark so early. We’ll spend the afternoon just tooling around the kitchen – cooking, baking, and making the house smell good. We’ll throw on a football game and just cook until our friends come over for dinner around five o’clock. We’re cooperative cooks, my husband and I. We each have our strengths. Without even having to say it, we both know what we’re going to do.
For dinner, we keep things casual: a simple stew with some homemade biscuits. Or we just go for a roast. Prime rib roast doesn’t have to be for fancy occasions. If you get a small one that’s cut four or five inches thick, that’s plenty for a few people. Dessert, we go for the chocolate! I’d do a flourless-style French chocolate torte. You just melt chocolate, whip egg yolks and sugar together, pour in the chocolate, whip whites separately, fold it in—boom— in the pan. Our friends are chocoholics so if we know they’re coming over we skip the fruit crisp and go for the chocolate. We don’t do a multi-course thing. We might even do a tapas or hors d’oeuvre-style meal.
When you do an early dinner it means everyone gets home early, so afterwards you can throw in a movie and still have an evening to yourself to unwind. We’ve been doing a fair bit of documentary watching lately. Now that we’ve got Netflix, we’re catching up on TV shows. I love some of the BBC’s programming. One of the shows we got hooked on is called Whites, we were falling over laughing watching it. It’s about a restaurant set in the English countryside. The executive chef is trying to get his first Michelin star but he’s been looked over a few times. It’s just so brilliantly written, well-timed and smart in that British style. We watched all six episodes back-to-back.
I tend to be a hot bath person at night, especially in the winter just to warm up. So I’ll do the hot-bath-scented-candle thing and then head to bed and read. I watched the BBC series Wallander this year and it got me interested in the books so I’d read one of those. I’ve already read three. Henning Mankell is the author of the series. I need to read a bit before bed to slow down and fall asleep. It can take awhile to finish a book that way, but that’s fine with me.