Monday, December 27, 2010

A dose of summer after a gluttonous Christmas...

Baby new potatoes, peas, lemon, olive oil, green onions, Italian parsley, mint.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Dinners from the Fridge and Freezer -- Turkey Pot Pie (Day 5)

I know it looks like I skipped some days, but like I mentioned here, I had dinner plans with a friend on Wednesday. On Thursday, I ate the remainder of the split pea soup.

But last night's dinner was straight out of the freezer, boy! And it was gooood.

This is why after Thanksgiving or Christmas, no matter how sick of turkey or ham (or whatever) you may be, it's really important to make something cool out of the leftovers and freeze them in that prepared state. That way, you're not just reheating random bits and bobs that aren't appealing and don't really have a good place to go. You're reheating a dinner. A dinner that's new and enticing and not exactly the same thing you were eating before.

Last October, after I had eaten my fill of roast turkey, stuffing, gravy and mash, I decided to dice the leftover turkey, mix it with leftover gravy, frozen peas, frozen corn and even the last of the leftover stuffing, then transferred that to a freezer-safe pyrex container. Then I dolloped leftover mashed potatoes over top and smeared it cover the top, like a shepherd's pie. Then I slapped the lid on and froze it. You could also sprinkle with cheese.

Potatoes don't actually have a reputation of freezing very well, but I find if there's enough fat in the mix, they do OK in the freezer especially if after reheating in the oven, you throw the whole thing under the broiler to brown for a few minutes. 

Crispiness fixes everything.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Dinners from the Fridge and Freezer -- Split Pea Soup with Smoked Sausage (Day 2)

So have I mentioned that I'm a bit of a soup genius? Because – not to toot my own horn or anything – I sort of am.

OK, maybe not a genius, but it's something I enjoy making and playing around with quite often. And I'm pretty good at it. 

Seriously – enter me into the World Soup Championships (and if there are no such championships, we should change that) and just watch. I might not win, but I would definitely get an honourable mention or something.

Take Tuesday's dinner, for example. I knew I had dried split peas in the cupboard, some kielbasa in the fridge, stock in the freezer and some veggies in the fridge. So this is what I did:

I rinsed 2 cups of split peas through a sieve and then simmered them, along with 4 bay leaves, in 2 L of water for an hour.

Then I added 4 cups of chicken stock, 2 large onions, 3 stalks of celery, 3 carrots (all finely chopped), 4 cloves garlic, minced and 4 red potatoes, cubed. Simmered that for 30 min.

Added 1 tsp. of poultry seasoning (it has all the perfect herbs for pea soup already in it!) and about 12 oz of diced smoked sausage. Simmered until the peas and potatoes were falling apart, about another 30 min.

Removed bay leaves. Seasoned very aggressively with salt (I think I used about a tablespoon for that amount of liquid... soup needs a scary amount of salt to taste good) and freshly ground black pepper. Splashed in about a tablespoon of cider vinegar. 

Aaaand... soup!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Dinners from the Fridge and Freezer -- Day 1

It was while I was trying to cram an accidentally-purchased third bag of peas into my freezer that an idea came to me:

This week, I will not buy any groceries and only cook with what I already have on hand in the fridge or freezer!

Firstly, I'm not really a frozen food person. My freezer is where perfectly good food goes to die. 

But, really, I have loads of prepared food in the freezer, so that alone could/would/should carry me for a month. But rather than just reheat leftovers, I'm going to attempt to bust out my creative skillz with my re-purposed food. Ew, that sounds horrible. Second-hand? Gently-used? I'm going to stop now.

Tonight, I decided to revisit some braised short ribs in tomato sauce that I had leftover from Saturday night. The short ribs, although time-consuming, were dead easy:

  • Brown salted and peppered short ribs in a mixture of olive oil and butter; transfer to plate. 
  • In leftover fat in pan, fry up some mirepoix (diced onion, carrot, celery) until softened. 
  • Deglaze with a 28-oz can of tomatoes (crushed slightly) and 3 cups beef stock. Stir in a small can of tomato paste and minced fresh rosemary.
  • Add ribs and any juices back to pan; bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer until tender, about 2 to 2-1/2 hours. Thicken with a little beurre manié*, if needed.
  • Season with salt, pepper and a sploosh of balsamic. Done. 

Sorry there's not photo for that part, but you see... this is an afterthought. Just stay with me.

Originally I'd enjoyed these short ribs over smashed potatoes. Enjoyed is probably an understatement, actually. But after two meals of short ribs and potatoes, I was ready for something new. 

So tonight, as night 1 of Dinners from the Fridge and Freezer (in my best "Pigs in Space" voice), I took the leftover saucy ribs, added a package of frozen spinach and reheated until bubbly. I then tossed this mixture with hot cooked kamut penne. 

Why kamut penne, you ask? Because I had some that had been sitting in my cupboard for about 7 months and in the spirit of "use it up", decided to... well, you know.

Also, there was shaved Parm.

Behold! Kamut penne with short rib sugo, spinach and Parmigiano Reggiano. Sounds all restaurant-y doesn't it?

So good! Seriously! I shocked myself! Exclamation point!

Stay tuned for (hopefully) more fridge and freezer fun. Please note that Wednesday night, I'm having dinner out with a friend and will not be eating from my F&F. Don't judge.

*Beurre manié is a mixture of equal parts softened butter and all-purpose flour that can be added to sauces and stews near the end of the cooking process. Sort of like a roux for forgetful people. Not that I'm forgetful, but I'm just sayin'. Just add a little knob of the mixture to the hot sauce and stir until smooth. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes to cook out the raw floury taste and fully thicken the sauce.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Photoless ratatouille

I keep forgetting to take photos when I cook! I know photos aren't required on this thing, but it really does bring the food to life when you do. Whatevs -- you're getting a photoless post. Learn to love it.

Ratatouille. Ah ratatouille! I'm pretty sure the first time I tried you was at my friend Lisa's Bat Mitzvah. I know it was at some sort of Mitzvah and since Lisa's birthday is at the end of September, a stew of late summer veggies being on the menu would make complete sense. Either way, you were very delicious. I was very very lucky to have a successful version of you on my first time around. Especially now that I know how very gross you can be.

I won't get into the details of why ratatouille can be so bad, but you can probably figure it out, especially if you've had the misfortune of eating overcooked zucchini. Which most people have. Which is why most people claim to not really like zucchini.

I, personally, adore zucchini. I think it's fab. It's one of the veggies I aim my fork at first, when approaching a grilled vegetable platter. There's something about both its texture and its ability to soak up flavour. Good good stuff.

You can do ratatouille on top of the stove, or baked. I do it both ways, but do enjoy the convenience of baked, since you can just bung it in the oven and forget about it while you prepare the rest of the meal.

Here's how I make a baked ratatouille:

In a saucepan, fry 1/2 lb of diced pancetta in a little olive oil, over medium heat, stirring often, until crispy. (Ok, there was obviously no pancetta in the Bat Mitzvah version, so this step is clearly optional, but highly delicious.) Drain and set aside.

In the fat rendered from the pancetta (or olive oil), fry one large sliced onion and about 8 cloves of thinly sliced garlic over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Add 3 tbsp of tomato paste and 1 tsp of anchovy paste (hello secret ingredient!); cook and stir until the tomato paste starts to stick to the bottom of the pan and take on some colour, about 3 minutes.

Add about 3 cups of chopped (peeled, if desired) fresh tomatoes. Return the pancetta to the pan and simmer until a sauce forms, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle in some dried herbes de Provence and season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Meanwhile, slice one small head of fennel into paper-thin slices. Slice 2 red peppers and 3 not-too-large zucchini into 1/4-inch slices.

Pour the tomato onion sauce into a large (3 L) casserole dish and spread to cover the bottom. Nestle the fennel, zucchini and pepper slices, overlapping each other, into the casserole. Season the top generously with salt and pepper -- all those water-filled veggies will need it.

Bake, uncovered, in a 375 F oven until the sauce bubbles up around the vegetables and the fennel is tender-crisp, about 45 to 50 minutes. Let stand for 5 or 10 minutes (always a good idea with any casserole... just to let things settle). Sprinkle with chopped fresh basil or drizzle with a bit of homemade pesto before serving.

I served this ratatouille with smashed red potatoes and pan-fried chicken scallopini, but it's substantial enough to be a meal, even without the chicken. Mashed potatoes are a perfect side, since they soak up all the lovely vegetable juices.

And here's the part where I'd show you a lovely photo that you'd all make yum-yum noises at.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Temporarily out of service

Hi friends. 'Memba me?

I've been tremendously busy working on an important project and I have to admit... I've gotten a bit lost in it. I'll update as soon as I stop running around like a headless chicken. Which I hope will be relatively soon. Dang it, I miss doing this! I won't promise a post-splosion, but I definitely want to get back to bloggerizing.

And you'll be the first to know when I do.

In other news, my coffee grinder broke, so check out how I ground my coffee beans on Sunday morning:

Is that hardcore, or what? I felt like an ancient Mayan.

Oh and it took forever, so a new coffee grinder is priority one.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The perfect antidote to a fatty trip to New York?

Ripe Ontario tomatoes, grainy mustard, salt and pepper on a freshly baked bagel.

Last brunch in Brooklyn... and some thoughts about trends

You're probably thinking, "Why another brunch? What happened to dinner in between?" Well, the truth is, later that day we went to browse the market:

Try one!

Try another one!

Yum, yum, yum and yum.

... then we went to see Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings in Prospect Park and never really ate a proper dinner, so we just ordered pizza when we got in:

And can I just take a moment to linger here? ... 

I would just like to have a little sidebar, actually. And it's not to do with the pizza, which was amazing, by the way. But I do have to say that it feels sort of sacrilegious to be critical of anything to do with New York food. Well, New York anything, really. You know... it being the Mecca of cool and all.

I mean, let's be honest. As a good friend of ours said over dinner last night, seeing an emerging trend in Toronto is always accompanied by a sick feeling that the trend only exists because someone went to New York three years ago and brought it back with them. I expect fried chicken – which was on every single menu, everywhere – will be overtaking Toronto in two to three years. But, that's a whole nother issue, so don't get me started.

New York is looked at as this untouchable place where you're lucky to even be allowed to go there so just consider yourself blessed, shut up and take all the 'tude we dish out... and get the hell out quickly so we can turn your table over... and by the way, your shoes are sooooo two years ago... and aren't you a bit old and fat to be in here? ... and where exactly ARE your skinny jeans? ... and I can't believe you've never heard of macanudo. A feeling I left almost every restaurant with, by the way – mainly from the servers. None of whom, I'm willing to bet, were actually from New York. But hey. That's hipster-ville for you. I'm fine with that part. Par for the course.

But it does feel a bit strange and ballsy (especially for a mild-mannered Canadian) to point out that a trend isn't really working. I'm going to try not to make blanket statements, because we were only there for three and a half days and only went to a handful of places. But I was still left with... a feeling.

Don't get me wrong. Every single thing we ate during our stay was delicious. It was all prepared with lots of thought, care and love. You could tell. The quality was incredible. Nothing was mediocre. 


Everything we ate was absolutely deadly rich. To the point where you'd feel your throat start to close up after a few bites. Everything was just soaked in fat. Which usually, I'm all for! Typically, I'm all about adding ridic amounts of fat. I'm the first one to put butter on something. I could butter a cupcake. But it was just... out of place and frankly, unbalanced. Take our brunch at Roberta's for example.
Soft scrambled eggs, hen of the woods mushrooms and Taleggio with "grilled" bread (which apparently means toast buttered ON BOTH SIDES)

Roasted potatoes with the saltiest, richest pork hash known to man

Buttermilk biscuit with honey butter and would you please look at the amount of honey butter? Just look at it. And most of it is hiding under the "lid" of the biscuit. I assure you – it was enough to choke an ox.

Now, if our trip had fallen anywhere between November and April, this menu would have thrilled me. But during a heat wave in August with the added temperature of the subway rising up out of the concrete like the fires of hell? No. Just... no.

This pork fat/bacon/butter/cream trend is great and everything. And almost every part of me is all "yay!!" In fact, when I first arrived, I was all "yay!!" Any growing evidence of real unrefined food on this continent is very promising. But the time of year and seasonality is arguably THE most important thing to consider when developing a menu. And after a couple of meals of heart-stopping richness, I started to actually feel sick at the thought of eating. Me!

Where is the balance? It feels like the fat-and-meat-friendly trend is outweighing what should be just common sense. Where's the produce?? In the middle of August! I just went to a market just loaded with amazing produce and hardly any of it was anywhere to be found. And when it was to be found, it was to be found in the wrong places and in piddly portions. 

Truthfully, all our other meals in Brooklyn were over-rich and lacking in freshness/coolness, too. Maybe it was the places we were choosing to eat, but it felt like this was going on everywhere. Practically the only fruit and veg at Roberta's was on a pizza, smothered in cheese. And bibb lettuce soaked in dressing and laden with Gorgonzola and walnuts doesn't count. A spot of grilled pear salad with a fried duck egg and mortadella sandwich doesn't count, either. There was one mushroom in my eggs. One. There was about a pound and a half of Taleggio, though.

Come on Roberta's. Come on Brooklyn! You have so much going for you. Passion, youth, a huge market of people, just waiting to try what you have to offer. Keep up the real food and the care for quality. But it doesn't have to be heirloom and grown on your rooftop to make it on the menu. Go buy some vegetables and use them. Stop trying too hard and being overly concerned with trends and start thinking about the fact that it's 8 zillion degrees outside and if I eat one more teaspoon of bacon fat, I'm going to hurl.

I think I need to go back during the winter and eat my words. Hopefully they won't have moved on to fresh salsas and baby lettuces as "the big trend".

Thank you all so much for indulging me in such a long, drawn-out review of my stay in NY. I enjoyed every second of it. Even the near-death of my gall bladder from all the fat. I'm ready to move on now. I promise.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Brunch at No. 7

Can I just say that I love appetizers? Not that I really need much in the way of appetizing. I'm usually pretty game to eat. At any time. Really, ever. But still. The idea of eating something that gets you ready for more eating? Yes. And at breakfast? Even yesser. 

Not quite hungry enough for breakfast? Oh here, eat this:

Blueberry-buttermilk doughnuts with citrus glaze

OK, before you say anything, I know this is not a flattering photo. A bit turdy, right? But believe me when I say, this was one of the most delicious things that I've ever eaten that resembled a turd. And I've eaten a lot of things that resembled turds.

Now that my tum was ready for more food, thanks to the appetizer doughnuts, I thought I'd try a little of this:

Moo shoo scrambled eggs with snow peas
First of all, it's rare that anyone gets scrambled eggs right, these days. Well done, No. 7. They were creamy and soft and perfect. Nestled in a crepe with some Asian-flavoured veg and a little house-made prune sauce? Even better. I would eat this again, in a heartbeat.

My friend M and I did sharesies with the moo shoo and this:

House Made Naan with fried tofu, scrambled eggs and cannelini beans
Very very good. And I'm not a tofu person. But the yogurt was the perfect tangy companion to the spices, the savoury beans and the creamy eggs.

The boyfriend had this:

Waffle with smashed berries and malted ginger streusel
The separating of everything into little ramekins was a little strange, but perfect if you're five and don't like things touching. My guy isn't five, but he did put a blueberry in each waffle pocket, which was (as M. was quick to point out) the same thing that the little girl at the next table did.

Great minds think alike.

The streusel part absolutely killed. I could have eaten a truckload of those sweet little cookie nugs.

Oh, can I also say that I love to drink with breakfast?

Lemon Lavender Spritzer

Appetizers and breakfast cocktails... the way of the future.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Brooklyn, NY: Meal 1

OK, my long weekend in Brooklyn was awesome. My boyfriend and I were there visiting an old friend who moved there several years ago. She's moving back to Canada, soon. So, not only was it appealing to see her cute little face in person again, it was also a bonus to get some cheap New York hook-ups while I still had the opportunity.

A weekend with my friend is always just obscenely fun, no matter what city we're in. She's in food, too (went to Cordon Bleu in Ottawa and has worked at some swank places in NY, mostly in pastry), so if there's anyone who I can nerd-out with, as far as food goes, then she's in my top two, for sure.*

Throw a little New York and a little August into the mix and you get one sweaty, fatty, fun-filled, wine-soaked food frenzy. My poor boyfriend. He just sort of rode out the weekend in a state of stunned silence. I think, based on his body language, that he enjoyed himself, but you can never really be sure with men. Whatever.

We arrived in the late afternoon on Friday and after cramming a deeeelicious Penn Station Auntie Anne soft pretzel into my maw – during which time I spilled yellow mustard all over my suitcase – we took the subway to my friend's apartment.

Once we got there and realized the intensity of the heat that we were about to be living in over the next 3 days, we decided to crack open a couple of bottles of pear cider and spend some time relaxing and talking about what we were going to do for basically every meal of the weekend. I can't remember what brand the pear cider was, but yum. We also ate these things, which were completely awesome:

I also feel like they were healthy because of the seaweed. Yes, let's go with healthy. I need to figure out where I can buy these things. My friend ordered a bunch from Fresh Direct and I rammed my suitcase full of them before we left.

We finally decided to go to a local resto called Marlow and Sons for dinner that night. A quirky little restaurant featuring a tiny menu with lots of words like "local", "heirloom" on it.

Our server told us about the specials and after a brief misunderstanding that I'm pretty sure was caused by a mixture of her American accent, our Canadian ears and a loud, under-lit restaurant where reading lips was nearly impossible, we decided not to order the thing that sounded like "macanudo".

Instead, we got a few different apps and a few different mains.

As is the case with so many restaurants, these days, they completely blew their wad with the apps. The main courses were nice, but nothing outstanding. The dessert was a little disappointing. I think if I ever go there again, I'll just get appetizers.

These shells once contained delicious oysters, but we ate them before I remembered to take a photo. You get the idea.

Amaaaazing salad of mixed beans, crusty croutons, heirloom tomatoes, basil and an anchovy vinaigrette. Could have licked the plate.
This may look like chocolate ice cream, but it was actually chicken liver paté. Fantastic, although their bread to paté ratio was a bit off. Thankfully Macanudo Lady brought us more bread so we didn't have to eat the rest of the paté with a spoon.

 Fried corn. It was swimming in this incredible butter sauce. Again, came dangerously close to licking the plate. I decided on swiping everything else at the table through the sauce before eating it, which was a really good idea. Terrible photo. Like I said, it was dimly lit in there and my friend was really on me about my obnoxious flash photography. Understandably. I hate those people, too.

I think this might have been sea bass. I can't exactly remember because I was pretty drunk on a combination of wine and butter at this point in the evening. It was lovely, but nothing extraordinary.

Berry shortcake with lemon verbena ice cream. Meh. I mean it was OK, but, again, the ratios were all off. Do you see enough berries there? Because I don't. For something called "berry shortcake" with local berries, I was expecting some serious hot berry-on-berry action. Something that really showcases the local seasonal fruit, rather than a big dry biscuit. The ice cream was nice, but there was waaaaay too much of it. But it tasted better than I expected. The lemon verbena was very subtle and not at all citronella candle-ey. 

There's more to come from my fun weekend, so sit tight. Next up: No. 7's brunch!

*Strangely, the other friend in my top two also went to Cordon Bleu. I have a couple of theories about why Cordon Bleu produces fun food companions, the main reason being this: there's something about going to a fancy French chef school that eradicates any hesitation about eating copious amounts of delicious fatty food. Neither of these chicks is a sissy about fat or food. There is no "dressing on the side." There is no "hold the mayo." In fact, we usually end up eating everything on our plates and then start looking at the menu again to see if there's anything we missed. They're hardcore. They love it as much as I do. And I love them.