Archive for May, 2009

In Case You Were Wondering

I took the day off today to work on a new venture that I’ll be sharing with all of you soon enough.  Also went out for lunch and to watch the movie Up.

Yes, sometimes foodies need downtime too.  More to come, I promise.

Until next time…

Love (And Gluttony) Can Make You Do Crazy Things

Like Manna From Shannon

Yesterday afternoon the Everyman was assisting me in my ongoing saga of learning how to drive.  Sometimes I think he must have the patience of Job in order to do this without breaking up with me.  I can fully admit I am not the easiest person to work with by any stretch.

Once all the knuckle-biting was over, I harangued him into stopping at The Mercantile on our way home.  Shannon had emailed me several times during the last ten days to advise that various things I’d ordered had arrived.  It’d been a busy week, and was shaping up to be a hectic weekend, so Friday afternoon seemed like the only opportunity.  Plus, they just so happen to be the closest place to get his favourite boutique potato chips…

As my go-to supplier for all things Vosges, I’d implored Shannon the last time I was there to order the one bar that was my most favorite (which seemed to be the only one she didn’t have).  This would be the Barcelona bar, which is a sumptuous combination of milk chocolate (which I normally hate), hickory smoked almonds and grey sea salt.  She was also completely out of the Everyman’s favourite, the Mo’s Bacon, which is exactly what it sounds like; an applewood bacon studded chocolate bar with alderwood smoked sea salt.  It’s a close second for me too, though I find the non-bacon Barcelona has many of the same smoky-sweet nuances of the Mo’s, so maybe that’s why I like them both.  Shannon had assured me she’d contact her supplier, who though notoriously difficult when asked for small orders, would nonetheless eventually come through.  In the interim I also happened to grow to love the Goji bar, and when I walked in last night I was a little disappointed that they had none of those left, either.

But then I saw the wall.  There were cases of bars as far as the eye could see.  Vosges is expensive, especially when it’s being imported from the states into Montreal and then taking a second trip to Toronto, so it wasn’t long before I was clutching $100 worth of chocolate bars in my sweaty, shaking hands.  In case you’re wondering what $100 worth of fancy chocolate looks like, that’s pretty much it.  If I had to guess I’d say that stash will probably last me 2-3 months, as long as I forget about it.  If I remember it’s there, I’d be surprised if it lasts me 2 weeks.  No doubt it’s an expensive habit, but I don’t have many (no $500 shoes in this girl’s closet), so it sort of balances itself out.  I know it’s still ridiculous though, but I just can’t help myself.

Such is the life of a career chocoholic.

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Food As A Form Of Salvation

It seems like everywhere you look lately, food is in the mainstream media.

There are the articles about food crises, like salmonella in your spinach or listeria in your deli meat.  The provenance of our food is increasingly unknown, and it’s amazing how disconnected we are as a society and how few people actually seem to care.

And you can’t forget the stories about food security or impending scarcity, and how we’re all going to hell in a handbasket for enjoying too many hamburgers or copious amounts of factory-farmed meat.  Not to mention the hullabaloo over obesity epidemics caused by the vast quantities of processed crap that most of us have become too accustomed to swallowing, making us akin to force-fed fois gras geese.

Food’s permeated entertainment media too, with movies like No Reservations, Spanglish, Ratatouille, and the soon to be released Julie and Julia using the culinary arts as their captivating backdrop.  Not one to be left out, in recent years reality television’s also jumped on the edible bandwagon with a plethora of shows to satisfy rampant foodies, like Top Chef, Hell’s Kitchen, The Chopping Block and many more (dishonorable mention goes to the crapfest that was The Restaurant – shudder!)

While I love the vast majority of content coming out of the food media menagerie, the segment I’m most keen on (and which coincidentally is growing) is that which is focused on using food as a humanitarian equalizing aid.  There’s a whole new division of people using food to teach, transform and heal, and taking the idea of food as nourishment to it’s altruistic climax.  Jamie Oliver did it when he first started Fifteen, shepherding misguided British youth to a more purposeful existence.  Jeff Henderson took a stab at it too with his rather popular Chef Jeff Project, rehabilitating young drug dealers, gang bangers and other ne’er-do-wells by mentoring them in his catering business.  And on our side of the border, Marc Thuet is currently giving ex-cons a second chance by staffing his newest venture, Conviction with them (results supposedly will air this fall).

This seeming trend is all the more reason why the appearance of this documentary warms my heart.  I empathize with those who don’t have enough; specifically people who are marginalized and made to feel like they have no other options.  That there are kindhearted individuals finding ways to use food to unite, inspire and help those who are less fortunate is truly a godsend.  For those of us who are lucky, food is something we might not think too much about, other than for brief moments leading up to it’s consumption 3 times a day.  For others, what may have once been a cause for concern or anxiety is now becoming a lifeline for making something of themselves and seizing a golden opportunity.  Food always had the power to bring people together, but now it’s on the cusp of  becoming the medium to purport positive life change.  That’s a really amazing thing to witness.

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Briefly, Chiefly

Market Goodies

I’ve been feeling a wee bit aggravated and out of sorts since I fell off the counter last week.

We did manage to hit our local farmer’s market on Tuesday, but hobbling around somewhat killed my enjoyment of the atmosphere (plus it was spitting rain).  The main reason we went was that I promised someone I’d come back this week if they could get me something, and I like to be a woman of my word.  I stopped by to see Seth, my friend from Forbes Wild Foods, because I’d asked him to procure some additional elderflowers for me, and like the gentle soul he is, he did just that.  He also brought me a jug of elderflower syrup that his boss had made and mentioned that when I am sick of playing with my homemade cordial, I am welcome to buy his instead :)   I also picked up a small bag of dried sweet chestnuts, that I have no pressing plans for, other than that I just love chestnuts to begin with.  He told me a funny little anecdote as we were settling up; apparently there was a bit of a friendly scuffle over my bag of elderflowers because it was the last one, and a chef had his eye on them too.  Lucky for me I got first dibs because I’d requested them last week, which just goes to show that it pays to make friends with your local purveyors.

So, while there wasn’t an opportunity to create a market meal this week as I’d planned, (nothing new was available; just more of the same old ramps and asparagus) I’m sure I’ll have fun futzing around with the dried chestnuts.  There’s definitely some elderflower jelly and ice cream in my future, but who knows, there could also be a chestnut pudding or brownie coming too!

Until next time…

There’s A First Time For Everything

A Flaky Slice Of Heaven

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

Browsing through the foodporn-ish content on Foodgawker and Tastespotting last month, I came across submissions from a cadre of bloggers who belonged to The Daring Bakers.  At the time I didn’t think too much of it, but as I delved further into the archives, I began to see a common theme; recurring weekly or monthly challenges.  It turns out that the weekly challenges are hosted by another web group called Tuesdays With Dorie, who concentrate on preparing one recipe a week from Dorie Greenspan’s delectable cookbook.  The Daring Bakers (and Cooks) by contrast choose one recipe per month (per group) and then mass-post the results online on a pre-set date.

I was initially drawn to Tuesdays With Dorie (mostly because their photography was so enticing) but when I tried to register I learned that membership was closed for the time being.  I then investigated The Daring Bakers, and was intrigued by their dual challenge options, featuring both sweet and savoury iterations.  Erring on the side of caution for once in my life, I decided to only register as a baker at first, in order to test out the waters and complexity of their challenges.  Unfortunately, by that time the April challenge had already been announced and was in progress, so I had to wait until May to join in the fun.

On May 1st I logged in to the covert challenge section of their site, and there it was… my very first Daring challenge!  When I initially read the recipe I was a little let down, if only because I’m not an apple strudel fan.  It turns out that the Everyman is though, so I jumped in wholeheartedly and decided to try my hand at it that weekend.  At worst it would be a chance to improve my craptastic pastry skills and leave me with plenty of time for a do-over if I failed, and at best, it meant I’d have dessert for a few days.

Ingredients

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Thymes, Glorious Thymes

It’s getting to be about that time of year when Foodie and the Everyman morphs from a food, restaurant and review blog to an obsessive compulsive gardening rant.  Though I should point out that I’m growing mostly food, so there is a (somewhat tenuous) connection.

I promise this year I will try not to bore you to tears with my garden leanings so much, it’s just that as a neophyte, I like to document what I’m doing so as not to make the same mistakes twice.  And where better to document my successes and failures than on my own tiny soapbox blog?

I visited Urban Harvest last night to finish selecting the rooftop bounty.  The Everyman was quite conniving, knowing that I had somewhere else I had to be a short while later, and also about my penchant for browsing at garden stores for hours.  He practically ensured that it would have to be no more than a quick in and out pitstop by continually following me around (as he often does when he shops with me – I think to annoy me into submission).  During the 7.5 minutes or so that I was allowed to shop, I managed to pick out a dozen lovely Alpine strawberries (which I grew last year and were amazing little cones of flavor).  I also grabbed several peculiarities that I’m looking forward to working with; a lavender thyme and some lemon thyme.  I love thyme on principle, so variations on the theme are always welcome in our home.  I’d hoped for a lavender plant proper, but they were all sold out, so lavender thyme seemed like the next best thing.  I also snapped up another of the Chinese 5 color pepper plants, because they were eye-poppingly pungent and delicious last year and they make a killer chili salt.  The Everyman’s constant vigilance ensured that I did not get stuck in the trap I like to refer to as the tomato conundrum.  Every time we’ve visited Urban Harvest in the past I’ve made bad choices and purchased more than I could possibly grow on our small stretch of rooftop.  This year, thankfully, I think I’ve made it past all of the temptation and that is not going to happen.  I’ll post up some pictures once I’ve fluffed everything into some semblance of beauty.

The Strawbs That Stole My Heart

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The Joy Of Gardening

First Batch Of Tomatoes

I put the first half of the garden in this weekend.

And, as is wont to happen with the best laid plans, I came back the next day to find a portion of my seedlings dug up by some wily rooftop rapscallion.

I also learned that if I want to plant my seedlings in toilet paper rolls again next year, I need to come up with a better method for labelling.

All told I planted close to 60 tomato plants this year, and close to half are unidentifiable because the rolls have turned black and almost completely disintegrated.  So, it looks like this year I might have a tomato mystery garden.  Which is a bit of a bummer because I specifically planted a bunch of new varieties this year, and I probably won’t be able to differentiate them.  I’m sure they’ll still be tasty though.  I’m just hoping that my pink zapotecs were among the ones that survived, because they look like such beautiful specimens.

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‘Nduja: In Pictures

All Done!

These pictures will probably horrify most of the Hebrew population, so view at your own risk.  A few observations on the ‘nduja-making process;

Pig liver is probably the most disgusting thing I’ve ever held in my two hands.  Really, truly foul.

Pig Liver... Feels Really Gross

Also, standing on a chair to tamp meat through a meat grinding attachment on the stand mixer is a really bad idea (I fell off the chair and counter and almost broke my knee in the process.  Sound like fun?)

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The Foodie 13 – Non Fiction Food Writing

It’s about that time again…  Well, actually it’s a little overdue for that time, but I’ve been madly twirling lately, so you’ll have to forgive me for the slight delay.  On deck this week is a dissertation on the 13 non fiction (food-based) stories I can’t live without.  So, without further adieu, on with the show…

I should probably preface this by admitting that I have a monstrous collection of food-based volumes.  I’m a pretty voracious reader and every time I go to Chapters I invariably end up with a stack of food books I had no intention of purchasing when I walked in.  My addiction has gotten so bad that we’ve had to purchase additional bookshelves just to store all my crap.  Given that, I’m sure you can appreciate why I spend a portion of every day wishing that the stupid Amazon Kindle would come to Canada already.  My list is devoted to those particular books that followed me home and found a permanent place in my heart.

1- My Life In France by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme – Julia Child was such an incredible culinary force.  If you’ve ever watched her on TV, then you know she was larger than life (though in real life she was quite Amazonian, too).  This book is her story as told to and through her nephew Alex Prud’homme.  While at times it is sad (there were a few spots that caused me to cry) it’s primarily a jubilant tale of a woman who truly lived and loved life with all that she had wherever that might be.  On top of that, it allows the reader a unique perspective into the creation of her 2 most famous publications (Mastering The Art Of French Cooking Vols. 1 and 2).

2- Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell - Yes, another book that involves Julia Child!  As I’ve mentioned before, I feel a certain kinship with this tale.  The first time I read it, it really spoke to me because I’ve also felt stuck in a dead-end job wasting my god-given talents.  That the spasmodic Julie Powell is a part of the story is almost irrelevant; the moral to be taken away is that sometimes the best way to get out of your rut is to continually challenge yourself.  As is the case with just about any half decent book these days, they’ve made this one into a movie – one I will most likely not see unless it’s on a flight or some other captive audience situation.  Nonetheless, the essence of the tale unites and inspires.

3- The Omnivore’s Dilemma/In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan - I’ve listed both because one is really just an extension of the other.  I consider both to be essential reads for anyone claiming to be concerned about the state of our food supply and the ethical, local, organic sustainable movement.  Captivating, well written and thought provoking, they are proof positive that Michael Pollan should probably be running the US Department of Agriculture and saving us all from ourselves.

4- Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver - I was initially drawn to this book because of it’s beautiful, homespun dust jacket, but once I explored the content within, I was completely and totally entranced.  I credit Barbara Kingsolver and the impact this book had on me with shoving me wholeheartedly into growing my own rooftop garden last year.  This is an amazing tale that represents just how much heart, soul, time and love really need to go into nourishing oneself and your family.  It goes on to show that a little effort and toil is always worthwhile.

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There’s No Place Like Home

Flavored Syrup

Imitation is supposedly the sincerest form of flattery.

I never felt that was the case when I showed up at work only to find another coworker had bought the same purse, belt or other accessory to an outfit that I’d worn the week before.  If anything, it would aggravate me when another person wanted to be just like me.  I sometimes wonder if chefs feel the same way, and I often assume that they do.  So I do feel a little bit of guilt when I take something of theirs and try to make it my own, but not too much…

I’ll admit, on top of creating my own unique dishes, I enjoy going out to restaurants and then recreating (and improvising) their signature dishes at home.  I can credit Grant from The Black Hoof with inspiring me to get back into charcuterie and (I think his name is Jeff) from Czehoski with reigniting my love of mixing cocktails.  Call me greedy, but sometimes I just want to be able to enjoy the thing I want (a drink, cured meat or other) in the comfort of my own home without having to get all dolled up and spending most of my night in a crowded, noisy restaurant.  Sometimes the need to be able to hear oneself thinking outweighs the love of a killer cocktail.

So in honor of that, I give you my take on the infamous Czehoski cocktail.

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A New Kind Of Elder

Delicious Elderflower Slurry

Despite what you might believe, the Everyman is not the only amateur mixologist in our household.  While he mainly focuses on creating finished concoctions, I prefer to dabble in the individual flavor components, syrups, cordials and tinctures that can be used to prepare a bevy of mixed drinks and cocktails.

For quite some time now I’ve been interested in elderflowers and how they can be incorporated into various alcoholic and baking mediums.  After getting my hands on some at last week’s farmer’s market, I found I had more plans than I had supply of flowers (including flower jelly, panna cotta, angel food cake and cordial, to name a few).   Via a weekly newsletter from Chowhound I’d heard about a French elderflower liqueur called St. Germain that I really wanted to try – but, like most things I’d probably enjoy, it’s not currently available in our backwards-ass country.  Since getting my hands on the actual spirits was out of the question (until I go on another trip through the states, that is), the next best thing seemed to prepare myself an elderflower cordial.  It’ll probably be much more versatile and useful because I can mix liquor into it at random and still have a decent base flavor carrier for my other culinary intrigues.

So, while my inner cheapskate railed against me for doing it, I dumped 3/4 of my $18 bag of dried elderflowers into a boiling pot of sugary water.  Before you balk at that price tag, you should know that elderflowers are probably one of the most labor-intensive foods to pick, thus justifying such a hefty price per bag.  After stirring in a small amount of dissolved citric acid to act as a stabilizer, I covered the steaming mixture and let it steep for a long while.  Once done it’ll be strained of slurryish solids and bottled into the dainty glass pop top flasks I’ve been saving when we buy French carbonated lemonade.

I haven’t quite worked out what I’ll do with it yet, but right now I’m imagining a refreshing afternoon beverage of the syrup topped with soda water, or mixed into a vodka lemonade.  There really are endless possibilities for it.  I did note that the small spoonful I tasted was like nothing else I’d ever experienced before, so there’ll be a learning curve with it I’m sure.  Not that it matters though, because I just can’t wait!

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I’m Picking Up My Meaty Assembly, Won’t That Butcher Be So Proud Of Me?

I’ve received word.

The stuff is finally in.

‘Nduja, csabai and smoked turkey, here I come!

Also came across this over at The Sausage Debauchery (love that name!) this morning.  The second bacon sounds so delicious I might have to try playing with some of it, too.  Here’s hoping the butcher’s got a nice slab of uncured belly meat with my name on it!

Until next time…

Panna Cotta Part Deux

Gelatin... I Think It Comes From Feet!

I had my elderflowers, my gelatin, my pint of whipping cream.  I had nothing but time on my hands, ergo I had panna cotta.

My first attempt at homemade panna cotta last week turned out so well that it inspired me to revisit it and make a little more (plus finding those elderflowers really didn’t hurt my chances either).  On top of all that, the below average mid-May temperatures ensured I wouldn’t be spending my time planting out the garden over the weekend, so I was on the lookout for other things to do.  Panna cotta seemed like an agreeable task.

I chose the same basic formula as I’d used previously, but altered it a little to compensate for an ingredient I ran out of (honey).  Once again I stuffed the teaball full of dried plant matter, and when the milk, cream, honey and sugar were warmed and cohesive, I dropped the ball in and let it have a bath.  After 20 minutes there was no visible difference save a few dark speckles from the dried elderflowers, but once I dipped a spoon in for a taste test, I saw how hasty a judgement that had been.  The flavors were at once tart, then sweet and floral, with an endnote I couldn’t quite put my finger on.  If tastes could be a color, this one would be the lightest shade of lilac purple.

Submergence Of Teaball Of Elderflowers

After blooming a few sheets of gelatin, I stirred them into the slightly cooled cream mixture and portioned the cream into a few stainless steel ramekins to set.

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