Archive for April, 2009

Now Is The Season Of Our Discontent

Most of you who read the blog are probably unaware of this, but I work in the automotive industry.  The Everyman used to work in the industry too (that’s how we met, actually) but has since gotten out of it and into the exciting world of plastics (the lucky dog!)

What started as a temp job almost 10 years ago has morphed into (somewhat of) a soul-sucking, stuck-in-a-rut-agitation-inducing career.  I can’t even pretend it’s not a career anymore because I’ve worked for 3 separate automotive companies during that time.  There are a lot of days that I come into work and wonder what one earth I’m doing here, regardless of the fact that I’m good at what I do.  At the end of the day the work is just not fulfilling.  If you’ve read Julie and Julia (which they’re apparently turning into a movie, by the way) you’ll get where I’m coming from.  Some days I feel that this blog is like my personal version of that quest…

During my most recent job hunt (which lasted for approximately 4 months), I applied for plenty of positions that were in my desired field and closer to what I wanted to do with my life.  But as an old friend of mine so succinctly put it, it doesn’t matter if you were a “god” in your field of expertise, when you try to make the switch, more often than not they automatically assume you’re nothing more than a junior coffee bitch in theirs.  Or, to put it more simply, I don’t have enough practical experience in the field I want to be in to command the kind of salary I need to survive.  So, after a handful of rejection letters (because most companies  don’t even bother to contact you to say thank you, but no thank you anymore) I gave up and started applying to jobs in the automotive industry again.  And wouldn’t you know it, mere days after I applied they just had to meet with me right away.

And that’s where I stand now.  If you’ve picked up a newspaper lately (yes, people still read those antiquated things) then you know that my industry is officially in the shitter.  I’m lucky that the company I work for is more of a service provider than a manufacturer, but we still rely on all of those companies that are supposedly going bankrupt to bring us business.  Given the state of things in the North American market, getting out has been sounding more and more like a good idea lately.  Not to mention the toll the lack of a creative outlet takes on my sanity.

A girl’s got to eat, but eating costs money, so what’s a girl to do?  It’s the age old question; is it better to be rich and miserable, or poor and happy?  I know what my heart says, but my bills sing a different tune.

Until next time…

Holy Shnikes!

The word on the street over at Charcuterie Sundays is that Grant and Jen have bought up another property in the area, and they’re bringing The Hoof to the masses!  If you want to read all about it, I suggest you bounce over there and take a look.

From the tone of Grant’s post I can’t tell if he’s serious about the name, but as soon as I read the concept I began salivating profusely.  And here all I thought I had to hope for this summer was being able to get a seat on their patio.  Now I can look forward to a great brunch spot (which if you’ve been reading us, you’ll know I believe has been sorely missing in our area since we moved here).  I guess all I need to worry about now is whether or not I’d be able to get in without being aggravated by large crowds of aging hipsters (a la Saving Grace).  Brunch is supposed to be a fun, leisurely activity, not something you have to queue up for.

I had plans to actually write you a real post tonight, but once I read that news, I had no words.  I’m about the happiest foodie a foodie could be.  But enough rant.  Let’s all bask in the glow of anticipated deliciousness (in the tone of Tiny Tim) God bless us, Grant and Jen! (snerk)

Until next time…

Tasty Tidbits

Garlic + Caramel = Yum!

As I’m sure I’ve probably mentioned before, when the Everyman and I were in Chicago last year I fell in love with a condiment at Mercat Ala Planxa; a roasted garlic dulce du leche.  The tasty treat had been served with a cheese and charcuterie plate that we’d ordered, but after a tiny nibble I had to put it on everything.  And then squeegee the dish with my finger once it was done.

Until now, I’ve been unable to recreate a suitable substitution, but last night all that changed.  It came about in the oddest manner, too.  Whilst at Cheese Boutique hoarding all the ramps on Sunday, I decided to pick up a loaf of their chef-made artisanal bread.  Since I hadn’t made up my mind by the time I got to the cash, I spit out the name of the first loaf my eyes landed on; a hefty, roasted garlic affair.  I’d had no plans for it at the time, but figured it would be good with just about anything.

Flash-forward to Monday morning, while packing lunches for the Everyman and I.  I slipped a few slices into our bags to accompany a container of homemade spaghetti and meatballs.  Roasted garlic is usually a very complimentary flavor to that, after all.  Well, this bread was so pungent that it permeated every other foodstuff in each of our lunchbags, to the point that I could smell mine on my desk from half a hallway away.  Not good.  On the drive home last night the Everyman commented to me that his apple had even absorbed a garlicky flavor… one he wasn’t so keen on either.

Arriving at home I resigned to tossing the loaf out, or at the very least turning it into rustic croutons, when the urge for something sweet struck me.  Rummaging around in a kitchen drawer I came across peanut butter, honey, jams, etc, but nothing that sounded appealing.  And then… lightbulb flash!  A jar of dulce du leche!  I quickly whacked it open and gave it a spread.  The first bite was like heaven, that familiar, sweet and savoury marriage I’d missed so.  I demolished the slice in no time at all and almost went back for another.  Now this was what I was talking about!  I’m sure at some point I’ll still try to formulate my own recipe for the combined flavor profile of a garlic dulce jam, but for now, this makes an excellent stopgap.  You’re scrintching your nose up right now (I can tell), but don’t knock it ’til you try it, and I seriously suggest that you do.

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Return Of The Ramps (Once Again!)

Close Up Prior To The Oven

Last night the Everyman and I embarked on a new road map to deliciousness.

After pickling ramp stalks on Sunday night, I was left with a gigantic colander full of wild leek leaves, with nary a plan in my head.  Following some careful consideration (for all of about 30 seconds) it occurred to me that a warm spring tart might be in order.  I’d tried to procure a lump of puff pastry whilst at Cheese Boutique, envisioning a wild leek puff pastry adventure, but once they were cleaned and the leaves separated, it seemed to me that I did not have enough to make both.  Difficult decisions had to be made, and the pickled ramps won.  Still left with a rather large bundle of tulip-ish leaves, I started to consider my options.

Tart Filling

A quick taste was all it took to decide that a wilted preparation similar to spinach or kale was all that was required.  The leaves were sautéed in nothing more than butter, coffee olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.  After allowing them to cool a bit, I popped a few vol au vent shells into the oven to puff.  Next, several small lardons of guanciale were finely diced and set aside.  Then a few small rings of pickled red onion were plucked from their mason jar.  Once the pastry was ready, the tops were popped off, the sautéed greens placed on the bottom, followed by guanciale nuggets, red onion slivers and grated parmagiano.  For a brief moment I considered adding some finely chopped preserved lemon peel, but on second thought decided against it.  Back into the oven they went to crispen the shells and slightly toast the cheese.

The tarts were a hit, with the Everyman especially.  Part of that is probably due to his love of puffed, buttery pastry (a la crescent rolls), but at the end of the meal when he commented that wild leeks were awesome, I knew for sure that I’d won him over.  I may mourn the fact that I did not get a chance to get all the ramps I wanted or deserved, but I will always remember this meal for it’s delicious simplicity.  And that will remind me to stock up doubly so in order to make it again next year.
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You Can’t Judge A Book By It’s Cover… Can You?

The warm weather in Toronto right now has put me in a wonderful zen-like mood.  We’re getting to that point when the temperature is in the double digits more often than not.  And that, my friends, means we’re rounding the corner on my favorite time of year…

It first occurred to me that spring must not be far off last week, while tending to the tomato forest growing in our basement.  With the exception of the 3 varieties I planted late (Pink Zapotec, Old German and Blondkopfchen), all my seedlings are about 6 inches tall and straining to get outside.  I’ve been hesitant to put them in the outdoor ground because the fluctuating temperatures could kill them, and then where would Project Sustainability 2009 be?  Now, I’m feeling that by the end of the week I should be ready to dig a few holes in the ground, and (hopefully in the process) attempt to rejuvenate my ailing citrus trees.  But I’ve been dragging my ass again, so I still need to procure some soil before then, because one cannot garden with seeds alone!

Our return trip to Cheese Boutique for those ramps yesterday also reminded me that farmer’s market season is almost upon us.  In my opinion, that is definitely one of the best things about this time of year.  I relish the lively interaction with the farmers and discovering new products through their friendly suggestions, (like Oh My Stars cheese from the Trinity Bellwoods market last year) just makes my day.  The market near our home is due to open in 2 weeks, and I can’t hardly wait.  The larger one near my office won’t start until June or so I’m told, so I’m sure I’ll be (rather impatiently) counting the days for that.

Dreaming of market days to come got me thinking about a rather bizarre habit we have in North America.  From childhood on, we’re constantly taught that you should never judge a book by it’s cover.  It’s become somewhat of a cliche, but it still holds true in many aspects of everyday life.  The one area where I don’t think it’s relevant or has a leg to stand on would be food shopping.  The very nature of shopping for edibles practically ensures that you’ll be judging some food by its cover.  With the rare exception of finer purveyors like Cheese Boutique, or one of the “Five Thieves” and some kindly farmers, the vast majority of grocers expect you to purchase your food on faith alone.  And that’s a crying shame.  How many of us never take a chance on something different at the market because we’re unsure if we’ll like it, and would rather not waste the money if we don’t?  Or conversely, how many times have you purchased what appeared to be perfect produce only to bite into something with the texture and flavor of cardboard?  In an era where almost no one knows where their food is coming from and outbreaks of all kinds are popping up with increasing regularity, doesn’t it make sense to go that extra mile to not only know your farmer, but also try to support him (or her)?  It’s much easier to keep people honest and accountable for the things that they grow and sell when you face them every day.  Plus, knowing your farmer has the added benefit of being able to impact what is grown and form a collaborative relationship with them.  Besides, while touch and smell are great supplementary senses to aid in shopping, they shouldn’t be the only methods available, especially when so much commercially produced food is picked and pre-ripened with gases and chemicals instead of allowing natural fruition.  So this year, take a walk on the wild side and stop by your local farmer’s market.  Who knows, you just might like it…

Until next time…

Gypsies, (T)ramps And Thieves…

Mission Tramp Pickle Complete

I’d like to point out that the longer the Everyman and I have been together, the more his predilection for terrible puns is rubbing off on me.  It’s cheesy, I know, but at least it keeps things somewhat interesting around here.

It just so happens that it’s ramp season in Toronto right now.  Tasty, tasty ramps.  If you aren’t familiar with the humble ramp, perhaps you know it as a wild leek.  Whatever you want to call it,  it’s here and it’s delicious.  Now get off your ass and go get some before they’re all gone.  On second thought, don’t.  That way there’ll be even more for me!

Tender Tendrils

We happened to discover them while we were on our way to the cottage yesterday morning to spend some time with the Everyman’s parental units, during a pit stop at the Cheese Boutique to gather lunch provisions.  As soon as we passed through the archway into the store proper, I saw a massive bowl brimming with the slender and vibrant green, white and lavender stalks.  I’d had a short list of items I wanted to suss out for further home experimentation while we were there (hot Italian chillies for ‘nduja among them), but when I saw the ramps I let out a string of curses under my breath.  I knew if I purchased them then, they’d be dead by the time I got home, and I didn’t have the equipment or time necessary to dispatch with them at the cottage.  This meant leaving them behind, all the while knowing that this could be the only time I’d see them this year.

On the drive back home from the cottage this afternoon I managed to flex my feminine wiles and coerce the Everyman into stopping at the Cheese Boutique again.  I made sure to call ahead beforehand and confirm that ramps were left, and when we arrived, I was not disappointed.  It took me all of 5 seconds to make up my mind and buy up all the ramps they had left on display, which only amounted to about 420 grams; a bit of a luxury at $13 for the bag, but definitely an affordable one.  On the drive home I mentally plotted what I planned to do with my newfound spring bounty.  The primary goal was a jar of pickled ramps to be used for garnishing various meaty dishes, but the secondary agenda would be a sautéed ramp, bacon and parmagiano tart nestled in a puff pastry shell.

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Exclusivity

There seems to be no shortage of fringe dining events and clubs in Toronto lately.

In many cases, the exclusivity of it all really equates to expense.  By that I mean that most of these private dining parties and secret events aren’t really all that exclusive, you just need to be willing to pay (sometimes through the teeth) for them.  From secret supper clubs, to private dining, to charitable events and associations, when it comes down to it, it’s all about money; even when the people preparing and participating in it aren’t.

For example, from what I’ve been hearing lately, the only private dinner club that actually is somewhat exclusive is the supper club that Karen Viva-Haynes of Viva Tastings puts on twice a month.  It’s called 6* (Degrees) Underground and basically in order to score an invite, you have to know someone who knows someone yadda yadda yadda who knows either Karen or Anne from Viva Tastings.  After reading more about it on their own website, I wonder whether having met Karen in her store while shopping there would count.  In the future I just might try to test that theory, since before they decamped from their College St storefront, I did enjoy shopping there.

On the other hand, there’s also Charlie Burger that’s being marketed as an anti-restaurant.  Basically once you sign up on their website they’ll forward you a questionnaire about your opinions on food-related things, and then they vet your answers.  The funny thing about it is that I’ve never heard tell of anyone not being accepted into the fold.  It’s possible that the whole selection process is a gimmick, but the very nature of the events ensures they are semi-exclusive.  We’re not talking about massive banquets serving hundreds of people here, rather 20-30 diners breaking bread in a small, intimate setting.  Since I signed up in February I’ve been invited to 2 events, but have been unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts.  From what I heard of the March event, there were only about 30 seats available but they received over 250 RSVPs (as it’s a first come, first serve operation).  Here’s hoping that the third time’s the charm…

Being a longtime advocate for the pleasures and benefits of slow food in my own quiet way, I finally looked into membership in their Toronto Consortium.  I’ll admit that my decision to sign up was spurred on more by a banner ad for their Do It Slow Banchetto that’s happening next weekend at U of T, than anything else, as I tend to walk to the beat of my own drum.  I don’t really feel I need to be part of an organization to believe in something or practice it in my own way (you too, organized religion), but in this case I think the membership donation not only supports a good cause, but gives me access to attend exclusive dinners like this one.  And it turns out that because the Everyman and I are under 30, our couple membership is almost half the price of the standard one… I guess they’re trying to encourage a new generation of slow food activists to take up the cause, and you can count on me, brother!  If there are still tickets left, I’d be really interested in attending this one next week, even though they run $125/head ($150 without membership).  Past posts over at Charcuterie Sundays have made reference to the fact that The Black Hoof crew are preparing some special charcuterie offerings for the event, too.  Plus Cowbell will be there, and we all know how much the Everyman and I heart them.

And lastly, there’s also the somewhat exclusive nature of events like Outstanding In The Field or soon, Eigensinn Farm.  For Outstanding In The Field, this will be their first dinner in Ontario, but from what I gather it’s expected to host upwards of 200 guests.  So really, it’s more like an open air banquet, and the exclusivity is dependent more on people’s willingness to travel overnight in the middle of the week for interesting food, I think.  The Everyman and I will be there with bells on because Mark Cutrara happens to be cooking for the Ontario installment.  And Eigensinn Farm is supposedly drastically cutting back on the number of dinners they’ll hold a month, in order to focus on their new, low(er)scale venture Haisai.  The place was already exclusive enough what with only taking reservations for 12 diners a night, but now that they’re scaling back to hold only a few nights a month, the waiting lists will probably be astronomical.  At times like this I’m very grateful and happy that the Everyman and I got out there last year (again, best Christmas present ever!).  But it sounds like it will probably be a long time (if ever) before we manage to get out there again.

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Abstinence Is An Anti-Social Virtue…

I am bitter.  In the general direction of the City of Toronto, actually.

My dissatisfaction stems from the fact that for years I’ve yearned for the city to allow more than just vapid, pre-cooked hotdogs to be sold by street carts.  For the last 10 years I worked downtown, impatiently waiting for this day, but also satiated by a close proximity to the St Lawrence Market and its bounty of edibles.  Now that the city has finally gotten their collective shit together and the varied food carts are almost upon us, I’m stuck in the ‘burbs, in what I quaintly refer to my ‘burb dwelling friends as Miserysauga.

I’ll admit, at my previous job I was spoiled for choice.  From 2002 to 2008 I was a hop, skip and a jump from the St Lawrence Market and took advantage of it almost every day.  There was never a need to brown-bag it with such amazingly fresh and delicious chow at my fingertips.  Then my office relocated slightly west, squarely in the middle of the theatre district.  Again, there was a dizzying array of culinary options, but most required you to have a sit down lunch.  I mourned the loss of the market, but sniffed out a few gems, Ravi Soups, Le Gourmand and Craft Burger among them.  Then in November of 2008 I accepted a new job, right in the heart of Mississauga.  Not to sound like a snob, but there is a dearth of quality food around my new office.  It’s spitting distance from Square One, but one cannot exist on shopping alone, thus I’ve been saving my pennies by brown-bagging it every day.  The worst thing about brown-bagging it is that it robs me of the opportunity to socialize with my peers, because everyone just gets sucked into eating food at their desks, alone.

This article from NOW Magazine delves into the chief problem with food courts.  It’s written with Toronto in mind, but I’d say the article is just as fitting for Mississauga, if not more so.  In Toronto I found that most of the food courts in the downtown core had at least one or two original, notable places to nosh.  A few that specifically spring to mind are Fast Fresh Foods in Commerce Court or across the hall from that, Petit Four Bakery by the people who brought us Far Niente.  At Spadina and Adelaide (as well as several other locations) there’s a Lettuce Eatery, which while on it’s way to becoming a small chain empire, still provides the opportunity to eat well and healthfully.  These vendors taught us that food need not be greasy, pre-made or bad for you, and provided a somewhat healthier alternative to all of the processed, preservative injected crap that’s normally found in food courts everywhere.  Some days it feels like penance to be so isolated that the only access to good food I have is my own.  The Everyman works in Brampton now and has it no better, so most days he gets a Foodie bagged lunch too.  It becomes exhausting at times to constantly prepare enough food to bring for well-balanced meals, and there are days that I wish I had access to somewhere that I could go and have a tasty meal in the area.  Am I just spoiled, or is there really not enough good food in Mississauga?  I welcome your thoughts, comments and recommendations and would love for someone to prove me wrong.

Until next time…

Restless

I’ve been feeling a little antsy lately.

I’m not sure if it’s the weather, the impending gardening season, or my job, but I’ve felt extremely off and ill-at-ease these past few weeks.  I’ve been throwing myself into a vast number of food projects, probably more than I ever have before, even.  I’m starting to wonder if perhaps my day job is not allowing me enough of an outlet to express my creativity, and this is just it spilling over elsewhere.

It’s gotten to the point now that I don’t even finish one thing before starting off on another tangent.  Though I should clarify, I don’t have a bunch of half-finished projects on the go, I’m just juggling multiple priorities.  In that regard I’m starting to think I’d fit the archetype of a restaurant chef quite well; I’m always bored doing the same thing over and over again and constantly feel like I have to challenge myself.

I often cocoon myself in these new projects too, testing out food theories and soaking everything up like a bizarre, human sponge.  Some days I wake up and have this feeling that if I don’t keep myself engaged in something, I’m going to lose my mind.  Or, (not to put too fine a point on it or sound like an army recruitment campaign) I find myself wondering if I’m doing all I could do, being all I could be; not just letting my passion go to waste.  Over the years I’ve tried to nurture it and continue to educate myself as best I can, but the older I get, the more I feel I’m getting further away from the original plan; to move back West and go back to culinary school.

At times like this I find myself looking back at the person who inspired that passion and love of cooking in me.  She was my boyfriend-at-the-time’s stepmom, and quite possibly the kookiest person I’d ever met in my life (up until that point that is, though once I met her younger sister, it was clear that she was kookier still).  Though my mother and father certainly factored into shaping the person I’d become, neither of them expressed their love of food and cooking with such vibrancy (not even my mom who was a professional chef).  If anything, my mother’s attitudes and mannerisms in the kitchen were more of a deterrent to me; she always seemed so sterile and antiseptic in her cooking.  No, it was Karin who taught me that there were no rules in the kitchen if I didn’t want there to be.  She encouraged me to follow my own path, (whatever that might be) as long as it made me happy.  And at 17 years old, she was the first grown-up I’d met who regularly made breakfast for dinner, something that was not really all that strange, just rather alien to me at the time (among dozens of other things she did that seemed odd).  In fact, just the other night when faced with the question of what to eat, I thought of her and decided that it had to be pancakes… covered with lemon curd and strawberry jam, of course (because you have to let some of your own personality shine through in your cooking too).

Karin was adventurous and fearless in the kitchen, and chief among her many quirks, she always put sriracha on everything… from pancakes, to steak, from cottage cheese to pasta, that rooster sauce got a lot of mileage in her kitchen.  Come to think of it, that’s probably where I picked up my old sriracha habit that I wrote about recently.  Plus, she always projected confidence in the kitchen; no matter whether she had a clue what she was doing or not, she made you think that she was in complete control of every situation.  Over the years it was that confidence and self-assuredness that I’ve attempted to emulate.  Even when I don’t know where I’m going or don’t know what I’m doing with my life, I carry with me the many lessons that Karin taught me… least of which was that it’s ok to eat ginormous quantities of chocolate whenever you need it, because a woman can carry the weight of the world on her shoulders, and sometimes, even she needs a little propping up.  Though she faded out of my life rather quickly (as is wont to happen with the stepmoms of ex-boyfriends) she left an indelible mark on my personality, and I hope that somehow, somewhere she knows how grateful I am for all of her guidance and support.  I just hope someday I can find a way to quiet my restlessness and make her proud.

Until next time…

You Say Po-tay-toe, I Say Po-tah-toe, You Say ‘Nduja, I Say Wha???

Several weeks ago, while Foodgawk-ing, I came across a picture of something that looked awfully delicious, but I was unsure of its provenance.  Based on the color, I assumed it was a form of spicy tomato tapenade.  You can see for yourself here.  At the time I didn’t bother to investigate the matter further, other than favoriting the item and figuring I’d come back to it some other day.

Then, earlier this week the Chowhound San Francisco Digest newsletter (because I like to know what’s happening in food all over the world) made mention of this stuff again, and provided additional details.  Whereas before all I had was a name (‘nduja), now I had a rough idea of the components that made up this luscious-looking spread, and I was intrigued…

It turns out that ‘nduja is a regional Calabrian salami of sorts, that is prepared with large amounts of pork, fat and spicy Italian hot peppers.  It is sold in one of two forms, either smoked in animal casing, or jarred and “raw”.  My curiosity piqued, I knew that this was something I had to try for myself, not to mention that it sounded like something that’d be right up the Everyman’s alley (and I do so love lavishing him with things that are right up his alley, the lucky duck).  However, tracking down an authentic recipe is more challenging than it sounds.  As with much of Italy’s regional delicacies, not much is know about n’duja outside of a very small area surrounding Calabria.  Not one to be foiled, I pressed on with my search, eventually uncovering a vague suggestion of what is required for the potential meaty deliciousness.

Some sources say that the mixture is nothing more than ground pork, ground fat and Calabrian peppers, while others refer to pig’s liver as well.  Pig’s liver could technically be considered a form of fat, but the bigger challenge will be the hot peppers.  The specific varieties of peppers are integral to the flavor of this raw meat paste, but no recommendations was made about suitable substitutes.  I have a small list of Italian peppers I’ll be on the lookout for, in the hopes of recreating my own ‘nduja soon.  If I manage to scrape something together, I’ll post my own recipe, too.  I may need to reach out to someone from the Toronto foodscape who’s more knowledgeable on the subject than I.  I think the hardest thing about the whole process will be keeping my hands off it, as I’ve read that it’s meant to cure anywhere from a few months to a year before serving.  Since it’s supposed to be eaten raw (though it’ll be cured, I guess) I think I’ll need to smoke it in order to feel comfortable eating it, but I don’t have a real smoker yet.  Perhaps, once the time comes, I will though.  Lots to think about!

Until next time…

National Grilled Cheese Month, You Say?

Sweavoury Sammy

News has been flying all over the interwebs lately that April is National Grilled Cheese Month.

By all over, I mean on foodie blogs, Tastespotting, Photograzing, Foodgawker et al.

It was first brought to my attention via a post round-up over at Taste T.O. - one that this blog coincidentally happened to be mentioned in…

Over at Closet Cooking, blogger Kevin opined on his combination of grilled cheese with a newly prepared mango cardamom jam.  More than anything, the comments left on his blog were what surprised me.  People seemed astounded to consider the marriage of the two, but I posit this; do you not enjoy Brie-like cheeses with tangy fruit compote, or a figgy jam with a platter of cheese and crackers?  The evolution of grilled cheese to include some form of fruit is pretty natural, and one I would consider borderline mundane.  It’s a pretty close relative to bagels with cream (cheese) and jam, after all.

His post did call to mind a peculiar habit I used to have of slathering my cheeseburger buns with strawberry jam, though.  I’ve often been one for somewhat off the wall flavour combinations; as a child I eschewed ketchup and preferred to dip my french fries in the chocolate shake.  When I moved out on my own, it wasn’t uncommon to find me slurping up a cone of ice cream doused with sriracha before bed or chowing down on a pork and peanut butter sandwich for breakfast.  After our lunch at Mercat Ala Planxa last year, I’m constantly dreaming about garlic dulce du leche every time I eat charcuterie, and the list could go on and on.

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Memories Of Panama (Or Foodie’s Version Of A Top Scallop!)

Starting Point

With the Everyman out of town this week, deciding what to make for dinner has become slightly more entertaining for me.

Last night for instance, I knew I had to make scallops… it’d been ages since I had some, and it’s one of those things I’ve been craving lately.  I even formulated a haphazard plan to glaze them with some of my infamous lemon pickle (jam), but I still needed some form of vegetable or starch to round out the meal.  After all, one cannot live off protein alone, despite what the Atkinites think!

Enter the one bright culinary memory among the bleak dining options available on our trip to Panama… something I’ve coined the brocotato mash.  The food on our trip had been pretty much a wash, which I’ve come to understand is pretty standard when it comes to all inclusive resort fare.  But the one night we went to the resort’s Italian themed restaurant, there was an amazing jerk-seasoned pork loin, with a funky, fluffy broccoli potato mash.  I won’t even get in to the oddity of serving jerk anything at an Italian restaurant, but the mash was outstanding.

During the time since that trip, I’ve recreated the mash at home several times.  It’s always been delicious, but never exactly as I remembered it.  Last night it occurred to me that it would make an excellent accompaniment to my seared lemon scallops, so off I went, pots and pans a-clattering.  Once the mash was finished cooking, I thought about echoing the lemon flavor, and threw in a cube of my lemon artichoke pesto.  One bite and it was confirmed, this was good stuff.  The recipe follows…

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Limitations (In Other Words, Don’t Limit Me!)

This evening the Everyman embarks on his first real business trip, (to Hartford, of all places) and will be gone for the majority of the week.  It’ll probably be the longest we’ve been apart since we began courting in 2005.  That may seem strange to some, but what can I say… I’m a captivating lady!

One of the things I’m looking forward to while he’s away is the opportunity to indulge in foods and flavors that he never wants (or likes) to try (not to mention the week-long moratorium on sports and video games).  Things like sushi, seafood, fish, pate, eggs, mushrooms, nuts (he’s allergic) and most anything Asian are normally off limits in our house.  Even though I do all of the cooking, I’m gracious enough not to force food on him that I know he won’t like or might kill him (unlike my parents, who had the you’ll eat what we give you mentality).  At home today there are shrimp and scallops, black bean sauce, miso paste and udon just calling my name.  I can’t wait to go home and get crazy in the kitchen with them.  Unfortunately, one of the things I want most, I’m no longer allowed to have…

Growing up in White Rock, my dad and I used to go crabbing off the pier at night.  We’d bring home the night’s catch, clean it and have a fine feast at around 2 in the morning.  There’s almost nothing I loved better or remember more fondly from childhood than those midnight jaunts, both from a culinary and bonding standpoint.  Then, about 10 years ago things changed while I was at a farewell dinner for an old friend, happily cracking a giant mound of king crab legs.  That night my throat swelled up so badly that I couldn’t even breathe and had to be taken to the hospital.  At the time, the ER nurse just gave me a needle and didn’t mention anything of consequence, so I didn’t put 2 and 2 together to realize I’d developed an allergy.  After several more incidents involving crab cakes, (which thankfully were less severe) I realized what the issue was and haven’t touched crab since.  When the Everyman and I were in Panama in ’07, I’d ordered a lobster dinner (incidentally what they brought me wasn’t lobster, but wasn’t crab either) and I had a reaction to that too.  The same thing happened after a Valentine’s dinner at Mistura last year, with a butter poached lobster tail risotto.  The writing was officially on the wall; I could no longer enjoy 2 of my favorite kinds of seafood.  Boooooo!!!

Luckily for me, I can still eat scallops, prawns and shrimp, and never bothered to develop a taste for mussels, oysters or clams.  Occasionally I miss crab claws or cakes (being more partial to them than lobster) but then I usually remember my mother in law, who developed a wheat allergy late in life.  I can’t imagine what it must be like to not be able to eat real bread.  The only thing that gets me down is the thought that when I finally manage to get to The Big Easy, I might not be able to try my first crayfish.  In reality, I’ll probably just suck down a pile and deal with the Epi-pen instead… you know, I just don’t like things limiting me.

Another thing I’ll be working on this week is what I refer to as the new project folder.  Between reading, writing and browsing the internet lately, my mind’s come up with combinations of flavors I want to try that I usually scribble down furiously in my journal before they evaporate away.  I have a few different items I’m planning to test (more on that in a later post), in addition to possibly taking another stab at the bacon jam, now that I think I’ve worked out the trick to it.  And I’ve already gone halfway through my chocolate covered guanciale toffee, but barely touched the nude version.  It’s become quite apparent that I’ll have to break out the handy dandy chocolate melter again soon to gussy that stuff up.

Tonight I think I’ll combine some scallops with my lemon pickle (which is really more of a jam at this point) and see what kind of result that illicits.  I’ll also be working on a write-up of our latest visit to Cowbell (just this past weekend), and my take on another Toronto blogger’s post on things to do with grilled cheese.

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