Archive for November, 2009

Fashioning A Silk Purse From A Sow’s Ear

A Little Slice Of Heaven

There’s almost nothing I dislike more than waste.

Having a CSA share every summer means that I’ve learned to get pretty creative with its contents so that they don’t end up going into the trash.

But, now that summer has taken it’s final bow, we’ve gone back to receiving what our organic grocer Bob from Clean Food Connection calls a “vegpak” in every order, which basically amounts to a box full of fruits and veggies that his staff will pack up for me, based on my likes/dislikes/preferences.  So, while everything we receive is always something we’ll enjoy, sometimes it means we end up with produce that we weren’t necessarily expecting.

And sometimes that produce will sit around my kitchen almost until the brink of decay.  Which is exactly how I ended up having 6 overripe bosc pears sitting on my counter with no immediate plans for them yesterday.

At first glance, it seemed like an ideal opportunity to make a pear crisp, but once I started to peel the pears, I realized that there was no way they’d be firm enough to stand up to that.  Which is how I ended up making a puree.  And once I had that puree, it was only a mental hop, skip and a jump to deciding that a pear-based quick bread was the way to go.  Fortifying my general quick bread recipe with the addition of oats and a pinch of camphorous cardamom put the finishing touches on the bread.

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Gimme Da Loot, Gimme Da Loot

All The Stuff That's Fit To Eat

I’ll be honest.

As much as I love handmade, lovingly prepared artisanal products, I generally opt out of the giant twice-a-year One Of A Kind Show And Sale, for a variety of reasons.

1) The shows can get really cramped and uncomfortable and I despise that slow, laboured crawl that it takes to navigate them

2) People can get really rude and pushy over this kind of original stuff

3) I find a lot of what’s on offer to be prohibitively expensive

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Making A Case For Vegetables

How To Cook Everything Vegetarian

I’ve long been a fan of Mark Bittman’s gregariously engaging style and presentation.

Anyone who has watched more than a few minutes of his vast library of podcasts knows that the man is a serious ham (oh the irony!).

At times I’ve found myself transfixed, watching entire episodes on preparations of foods that I don’t even like, just because he’s so darned entertaining and fun.

I’ve owned How To Cook Everything for years, and though I don’t often cook whole recipes from it (in general because I don’t like the limitations that a recipe puts on my creative intentions) it sits right there on the easy-to-reach shelf alongside The Joy (Of Cooking) and various other handy encyclopedic references, like my 27 volume Time Life Cooking set from the 70′s.  I own a few other Bittman tomes too, like Food Matters, Quick And Easy Recipes From The NY Times, and I’m sure there’s another one or two in there somewhere, but I’ll be damned if I could tell you which ones, which I suppose points out how often I use them.

And after what seemed like a ridiculously long time, I finally managed to get a copy of How To Cook Everything Vegetarian recently.  Ever since I read Food Matters, I’ve been meaning to pick up a copy, but every time I went to one of my local book shops, it’s always the one book in his massive repertoire that’s consistently absent.  For a bit I began to wonder whether that was because it was so incredibly popular that nobody could keep it in stock, or because it was so unpopular nobody wanted it.

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Penny For Your Thoughts

Occasionally, PR people have taken to contacting me when they have things they would like reviewed.

In some instances, they’ve invited me to free dinners, or asked me to cover things like Conviction Kitchen, or even the launch of a new chef cookbook.

Recently I even had the wonderful people representing Pom Wonderful send me an envelope of coupons in order to sample their new line of juices.

Just the other day a representative for a company called Pop Chips asked if she could send me a few samples bags to try.  The irony here, which I made her well aware of at the time is that I don’t typically enjoy salty snacks all that much.  However, she was fairly confident that her product would be the one to change my mind, so she sent them anyway.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that I will occasionally be giving my 2 cents on products; but only if I like them.  Things that I don’t care for are never going to see the light of day here, which is why you’ve never seen me covering the opening of the latest chain restaurant like so many other Toronto bloggers (also because I would rather throw up than eat at a chain restaurant, but that goes without saying).

I know there are a lot of people who think that the PR business is this big, dirty machine, and in some ways, I suppose it does come off as a little sleazy.  Let me reconcile that by saying that I have never been the kind of person who is swayed by anyone else’s opinion.  It’s great if someone has an opinion (and everybody does) but it’s not going to make up my mind for me about anything, in the same way that other people might look to restaurant, movie or product reviews.  That being said, my opinions should never be the deciding factor in making your own decisions, either, because just because I like something doesn’t mean that you will.  If anything, I hope that if I find something that’s worth sharing, it will do nothing more than to highlight its existence, which will allow you to draw your own conclusions.

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I Came, I Saw, I Drank A Boatload: The Gourmet Food And Wine Expo 2009

To The Victor Go The Spoils

Over the weekend, the Everyman and I visited the annual Gourmet Food & Wine Expo here in Toronto.

This year I was fortunate enough to have free admission courtesy of my editor Sheryl, so all that stood between us and deliciousness were those pesky strips of sample tickets.

And even though every year we leave the Expo lamenting how there is way more booze than food, every year without fail we also go in with many more sample tickets than we’ll possibly need.  This year, we went in with 100 tickets between the 2 of us, which I could tell was probably too much, but we were both looking forward to hitting up the fancy wine room and trying a few expensive wines like we did last year.

I’d also wanted to see Grant’s presentation on the Food Network Stage which happened to be the first of the day, so we ended up getting there just as the show opened.  The unfortunate thing about arriving so early is that most booths aren’t quite ready for service yet, and since we’d decided not to have breakfast beforehand, we were absolutely famished and starving for options.

In order to push back the lightheadedness, we stopped at the first booth that was open, which in this case happened to be Sassafraz.  The Everyman helped himself to a pulled meat mini sandwich, while I grabbed what they were hyping as the world’s best brownie.  The sandwich was decently textured, but super bland without a generous helping of the various condiments that were available.  The brownie was tasty too, but much too sweet to be considered the best of the best.

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The Self-Correcting, Sliding Scale Of Deliciousness

Imposter

Taste is a funny thing.

Have you ever noticed how you loved a certain premade food until you tried its homemade counterpart?

I find this happens to me all the time.  So much so that I sometimes make a concerted effort not to eat something in its homemade form that I already love just so I can continue to enjoy it.  The best examples I can draw on for this would be chocolate bars.  Even though I don’t eat much in the way of mass-market chocolate anymore, I still enjoy the occasional 3 Musketeers or Crunchie, and have no intention of learning how to make the various components by hand (purely for the sake of time and my lack of it) thus the reason I shy away from most handmade candy bars and choose to focus more on pure chocolate instead.

Certain simpler tastes from childhood, like Kraft Dinner (which I rarely, if ever consume anymore, preferring Annie’s Homegrown if we’re talking packaged) or a yellow can of Habitant pea soup no longer satisfy for no reason other than that any homemade version is leaps and bounds better.  In that regard, I often choose to go without until I’m in the mood to prepare something, rather than settle for an inferior product that’s not going to cut it.

Most recently I had this “aha” moment with a Jos Louis.  Ever since I was a child, Jos Louis’ were the sweet of choice when I happened to be granted a special treat.  And again, though I don’t eat them as often as back then, I still occasionally nibble them (usually when I’m sick and in need of childlike comforting).  The only difference was this time after one bite of the chocolate-coated cakey pastry, I’d lost that lovin’ feeling.  You see, the week prior I’d made homemade whoopie pies for the first time, and having that fantastic taste memory so near to the top of my consciousness made the store-bought cake pale in comparison.

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Lookin’ For Some Hot Stuff (Baby) This Evening, I Need Some Hot Stuff (Baby) Tonight

Eye-searing Paste

I’ve always loved hot sauce.

Chilies

From the way I used to rain Tabasco down on just about everything I cooked, to my bizarre desire for sriracha on ice cream, it’s clear that hot sauce holds a warm place in my heart.

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A Panoply Of Provisions

Pizza Rossa Alla Romana

I’ve done quite a bit of experimental baking over the last few months; in particular veering out of my comfort zone of Local Breads to include other books and bread-making recipes.

I’ve enjoyed myself, maybe even learned a few things, but most of all this task cemented the fact that baking is my zen.  Nowhere do I feel more peaceful or at ease than when I’m standing at the counter massaging a mass of spongy dough.  Time to start evaluating a career change?  Perhaps so, but only time will tell… though I recently read about GBC offering an artisanal bread certificate program…

At any rate, I thought I’d share a short pictorial with all of you on some of the highs and lows of my personal baking quest since September;

Pane Casareccio Di Genzano

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Chillin’ With The Royals

La Vache

Yesterday, after surprisingly little prodding, I managed to successfully coerce the Everyman into joining me for an afternoon at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.

As far as I can recall I don’t think I’ve ever visited “The Royal” before, but if I did, it was probably during some grade school field trip or something nearly 20 years ago.  I can vividly recount visits to the Winnipeg version of The Royal, if for no other reason than the presence of Bonhomme (du neige).  Bonhomme is the mascot of the Quebec winter carnival, but there’s a surprisingly large French population in Winnipeg, so for some reason he makes an appearance there, too.  The toboggan slaloms were pretty awesome as well, which unfortunately isn’t something we’d ever see in Ontario, I imagine.

Poulet, Poulet We Are Not Vegetarians, Poulet, Poulet

Up until a few weeks ago I really had no yearning to go to the Ontario Royal.  But, when I met my editor Sheryl at Pantry for lunch a few weeks ago (aside from having an utterly scrumptious mushroom and oxtail tart) she made an off-the-cuff remark that made me wonder how much of a foodie destination The Royal might be.

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Confessions Of A Corporate Drone

Pasta, Wine And Cheese - The Dinner Of Champions

Work has been brutally kicking my ass lately, which is one of several reasons why I haven’t been updating as often as I’d like to.

It’s literally been so busy that it hurts; to the point that I’ve found it’s exacerbating an ulcer I’ve had on and off for nearly 10 years.  For the past few months I’ve been working on a huge project that takes up all of my time (and then some) and I live the project, eat the project and sleep the project.  It’s kind of exhausting.  Every couple of days I’ll be at my office and some coworker or other will tell me how I look like shit lately.  Well, duh!  Of course I do!!  I’m running myself ragged and not sleeping because of how worried I am over whether it will all get done.  And the funniest thing about it is I’m not even working as a project manager anymore, so I’m really not accountable for the success of what we’re doing, but I just can’t turn it off, per se.

Of course, after a tough day at the office the last thing I want to do is stand around and cook for an extended period of time, but since the Everyman doesn’t really cook, that doesn’t leave too many options, otherwise.  Especially when I’m trying not to do takeout or delivery more than once or twice a month.

So, what’s a mentally drained peon to do?  Come home and whip up a sriracha-laced, crumb-topped, roux-thickened cup ‘o mac and cheese, of course.

And, it wouldn’t be complete without a sweet, refreshing glass of Gerwurtztraminer on the side, either.

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Alone Time Does Not Have To Be Lonely Time

A few months ago, I found myself stuck in to Deborah Madison’s What We Eat When We Eat Alone.

The content of the book is pretty self-explanatory and provides hours of entertainment when combined with the illustrations done by Madison’s husband.

It came as no surprise that even the most sophisticated people have quiet, private quirks that they share with nobody else; such as standing over the sink eating frito pie, as one woman in the book was known to do.  Coincidentally, it was also the first time I came across the sheer oddity that is a frito pie, and I’m still not quite sure how I feel about it.

Sometimes it came down to the simple fact that people indulged in foods that their spouses didn’t like while on their own, but more often than not an overwhelming number expressed (in one way or another) their feelings about the comparative value of cooking for only yourself.  Admittedly, when the Everyman was away on a business trip a few months ago, not only did my meals become stripped down and simpler, but most (if not all) of them included fish, shellfish or sushi because they are all things that he doesn’t like.  In that regard, I get it.

But what I don’t understand is the propensity for people to feel that their own nourishment is not “worth it” and there were a whole slew of stories in the book to that effect.  Before the Everyman and I lived together, I lived on my own for quite a few years, but living solo was never a good enough excuse not to cook for myself.  At the time I had a lot of friends who also lived alone and instead of cooking, they spent a great deal of time and money on takeaways or Subway sandwiches.

Why is it that the number of guests coming to the dinner table makes us more likely to cook?  Logistically speaking, you’d think that it would be easier and less effort to cook for 2 than it is for 6, but for whatever reason, many are more inclined to let someone else do the work when those dinner numbers dwindle.  In a sense it says to me that we almost don’t feel that our alone selves are worthy of the care that we lavish on others.  On the other hand, it’s possible that many of us have lost the connection to knowing how to cook, too.  My own mother in law has confessed to me that she’ll often invite others over for dinner just so that she feels more obliged to cook than when it’s just the 2 of them.  In her case, she finds that she cooks much less since her children have left home.  Conversely, I much prefer cooking for the Everyman and I than cooking for company because I find the more plates that are added to the table increases my stress level about the meal.  But, different strokes for different folks, I guess.

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Culinary Repurposing Is The Name Of The Game

Dinner #1

I’ve never really been a big fan of leftovers.

I’m not sure why that is, but during my formative pre-divorce years, I don’t recall my family ever really eating them.  However, I remember surprisingly little from that period of my life.

Once I started living with my Dad though, leftovers became more frequent, but were usually transformed into something unrecognizable from the original meal.  Extra roasted chicken would morph into chicken a la king.  Oodles of spaghetti sauce became the basis for some seriously sloppy joes.  An abundance of mashed potatoes could either be combined to create fishcakes or the crust for a personal nemesis (shepherd’s pie).  Even though he had a penchant for scorching food and would probably be the first to admit that he wasn’t a very good cook, my Dad always managed to put enough creative energy into feeding us to ensure that nothing was ever wasted, yet our tastebuds wouldn’t be bored.

And yet somehow, over the years I’ve still only occasionally bothered to reinvent my leftovers into new meals.  More often than not I only cook enough for the Everyman and I, or when I’m cooking something slightly larger (like soups, beans or lasagnas) I just freeze the rest until I feel like eating it again.  It doesn’t really help that I don’t care for the taste of meat once it’s cooled (particularly poultry) which is a quirk I cannot explain but developed when I was a small child.  As best I can describe it, the food tastes like “fridge” to me after it’s cold and has always held little to no appeal for revisiting afterwards.  Inevitably, it just ends up hanging out at the back of the fridge until I remember to throw it out.

But obviously that’s wasteful, not to mention incredibly stupid.

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The Foodie 13 – 13 Things You Didn’t Know About This Foodie

Beet-or and Fun-ion

I know, I know, I know.

It’s been like forever and a day since I last posted a Foodie 13.  The funny thing about it is I actually have one that’s completely written that I’d prepared back in August for while we were on vacation, but I just haven’t felt like publishing it since then.

Between work, Taste T.O. and various other ongoing stuff, I haven’t really had much of a chance to devote to this medium.  I heartily apologize.

Since I’ve been running this website for nearly 2 years now, I suppose it’s about time that I tell you all a little more about who I am and what makes me tick.

So, without further adieu, let’s take this opportunity to get a better acquainted, shall we?

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