Category Archives: Ruminations on the Edible

Food inspired writing

It’s a chocolate chip miracle!

It’s not everyday I gasp aloud in delight (aside from everytime I use my nutmeg grater) but I did squeal a little when I saw these Mini Butterscotch Melts from Presidents Choice.

I mean, I think the delight is self-explanatory, if you haven’t almost peed your pants in excitement as this point, I don’t know how to explain the new heights this will take your cookie baking.

Instead let me show you more pictures—

See, they are smaller than a peanut (though I acknowledge that this peanut appears monstrous).  So the beauty here is, you don’t have to add less chips or call your cookie “chocolate chunk”, it’s still chocolate chip but SUPERCHARGED.  (I also saw a suggestion to add them to banana bread which peaked my interest-or how about throwing them into a trail mix).

I caution you to not open a package before eating breakfast.  You may have a light bulb moment prompting you to put these into a bowl and cover them with milk.   This is a delusion.  Please toast some whole grain bread and melt the chips on top!  It’s just like Nutella but more nutritious.

Here’s what the pack looks like.  I got these in as part of a gift bag when I was invited into the President’s Choice Test Kitchen to try some new holiday products.  It was a bit of Willy Wonka experience (though not the trippy Gene Wilder version of the 70s) and I was fascinated to hear about the product development process.   I’ve always been curious.  More on that coming up.

For now– crave the chips.

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Alsace Riesling is my new Wingman

Lee Restaurant, King St (I stole this picture form their site, yes I did)

Inside Lee: not rainy

Last Tuesday, on a rainy, miserable night in Toronto I pulled my damp trench tight around me and made a dash for Lee on King Street.

Off with the trench and out with my hand to grab a glass of Alsatian Riesling as it passed by.  I was attending a dinner to celebrate the two winning chefs of the Vanguard Culinary Fusion and Wine Pairing Competition (let’s just call it Van-Fu Wi-Pa).  The Van-Fu Wi-Pa was a competition between 9 Toronto chefs to pair dishes with specific wines hailing from the Alsace and Rhone regions of France.  Head judge and host of the evening was Susur Lee in whose kitchen the two winners (Chef Shane Straiko from the Pantages Hotel and Misha Nesterenko from Marben) were preparing their food) while I sipped Riesling wondering why I drove to a wine event.

Before dinner they came out front to accept their accolades.  Both were extremely gratious but looked a little uncomfortable to have to leave the kitchen and speak to a room full of flashing iPhones and chants of “where’s the grub?”. (ok, there was not chanting…. just a disquieting murmur).

Susur's reaction when I told him I write a column just about cheese.

I was fortunate to have some great company at my table- Renée Suen from Toronto Life and David Ort and Suresh Doss from Spotlight Toronto.  We were also joined for part of the meal by Chef Lee and had a fun discussion about good pho (“that place on Ossington that’s not Golden Turtle”), food in general, travel and even a bit of cheese talk.

Misha Nesterenko plating during competition

My fave dish was Misha Nesterenko’s braised short ribs with  horseradish pomme puree, curly kale and butter glazed veggies.  It was paired with a Cotes du Rhone Village Rasteau (M. Chapoutier, 2009).   I took a bite, I took a sip of wine, I ate, I sipped…it was fluid.  A fairly classic dish as Misha had acknowledged at the beginning of the night but it worked.

No need for me to to post my dimly lit iPhone photos, you can taste similar pairings until November 11 at all the participating restaurants (the other 7 were Ultra Supper Club, The Bowery, Le Canard Mort, Veritas, Langdon Hall, TOCA and Ancaster Mill).

As for the my new wingman? Well, his name is actually Pierre Sparr.  We received a gift bag on the way out and in it were two bottles of wine (the above Riesling and a Gigondas). So far the Riesling had me looking like the best hostess ever at a small drop-in dinner I organized.   I reached for it to serve with the cheese board.   Suddenly people were looking me in the eye, telling me I was beautiful, laughing at my jokes…essentially distracting me any way they knew how while reaching into the fridge to get at this wine which I practically had to ration. The wine lover friend came back for more as did my friend who usually only drinks half a glass,  and even people who usually just buy “white” asked for label info. If it’s like the other Pierre Sparr wines at the LCBO it’s probably under $20.

God only knows what will happen when I open the Gigondas.  I’m hoping Genie.

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What sandwich should I bring to “Occupy Wall Street”?

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My New Tailgating Lifestyle

So many glistening condiments!

Tailgate Party, here I come.  According to Wikipedia, I don’t even have to like sports to hang out in a parking lot with a portable slow cooker.  SEE HERE.  Nor do I have to own a vehicle with a tailgate.  I just have to consume alcohol and grilled food in a social setting.  DONE.  As for the parking lot…  If I get a parking permit I can drink beer and eat chicken wings in my car, parked right outside my house.  And the bonus? No  need for a port-a-potty as a  real bathroom is just steps away (if you consider a 1970’s lavender toilet and sink a real bathroom).

I found this TAILGATE magazine at Wal-Mart (issued by Better Homes and Gardens).   Right away I thought, if “Grab a chip! Nine ways to Dip!” doesn’t fit into my new vegetarian-ish lifestyle, then I don’t know what does. (Count ’em!  1. Spinach-dill 2. Roasted pepper hummus 3. Corn and black bean chutney guacamole 4. tomatillo salsa 5. Spinach-Articoke-Blue cheese and bacon (all vegetarians still eat bacon) 6. Mexican seven layer 7. Chocolate Fruit Dip and 8. something called Amaretto fluff…..hopefully there’s  not a kitten involved)

OK, OK,  #9 is a Cheeseburger dip, but if you’ve got 8 veggies dips, who’s going to notice?

Don't deny this cuteness

Once you see what’s inside this magazine may never need to by another cookbook:

**Recipe for Root Beer Float Cake

**Recipe for a White Chili made with chicken, sour cream and whipping cream (you can use 10% if you’re cutting back on fat)

**Recipe for Grilled Paella w/ sausage

**A “Timings and Temperatures” chart that covers beef, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey, fish and seafood (it’s colourful and you can tear it out!)

**And calorie and sodium reduction tips like, “pack your bun with only half the massive amount of Texas Beef Brisket that you usually do”

**Best of All– A taste-test of 16 hot sauces purchased at hotsaucedepot.com  (it’s almost enough to have discovered a Hot Sauce Depot)

So laugh and feel superior as you eat your salmon hand-roll, but just know that you’re not having nearly as good a time as the gal eating the Ragin’ Cajun Wings while sipping a Bloody Mary in the back of her Subaru.  (Also,  I know you’re drooling over the magazine cover, not the nori wrap on your sushi.)

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What do Swedish Fish think about?

Swedish fish are hard to gage.  Are they happy?  Sad?  Dead inside?

Despite their neutral expressions Swedish fish do have their opinions on things.  Especially the arts.   Here are some ice breakers.

MOVIES:

TELEVISION (big surprise….)

MUSICALS:

PHILOSOPHY: (huge Nietzsche fans)

Or for the really intellectual peeps (this is inside information)

See, now you don’t have to be so nervous striking up a conversation.

Unless you’re Plato.

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Bacon Jam: The Edible Hairball You Don’t Want to Miss

You see what I'm saying?

BaJeaven.  Also known as Bacon Jam Heaven and actually better than heaven.  Used in a sentence, ” Man I was in BaJeaven after that gluteal massage.”

I dropped the hairball on Bacon Jam (aka Skillet Original Bacon Spread).   I am way behind the sizzle that has hit the Toronto bacon scene.

The Toronto Star and The Globe have written about it.   All the Best Fine Foods (read Jane Rodmell’s blog entry for some Bajeaven ideas) had the inspired idea to host a bacon jam-a-thon…with three Toronto chefs creating recipes using this scoopable bacon.  They included Claudio Aprile (Origin and Colbourne Lane), Chris McDonald of Cava/Xococava, and Nick auf der Mauer of Porchetta and Co.

And Nick Auf Der Mar achieved BaJeaven by adding excess to indulgence in a bacon jam, porchetta and crackling panini (seriously CRACKLING + BACON JAM–no one has tabulated how many people died from happiness yet..)

Ready to Hit the Heat

I made my own simple combo– Grilled cheese (caraway rye) with Cheese Boutique’s Vintage 7- Year Old Clothbound Cheddar, bacon jam and some arugula from the garden.

The salad in the BG is for display purposes only.

The arugula, which tasted BaJeavenly as part of the combo also made me feel like I had some health inserted into the grilled cheese.  Just throwing a bone out to the arteries.  BaJeaven is not always their favourite place.  Losers.

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Holy Crap! You need to Vote on this crucial matter.

I just learned how to post a poll.  If this one goes well I’m moving onto “What is the meaning of life?”

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My tomato bowl runneth over

My bounty

I have four tomato plants in my backyard.  I used to plant six but that just caused grief.  They got big, they intertwined, they bent over in despair.  I was too overwhelmed to help them.  Those tomato “cages” are not easy to put around a 4 foot plant with a tomatoes growing on it.  (I suppose putting it on when it was a small seedling would be easier).

I always plant cherry tomatoes and this year I had two of the small round yellow tomato plants (upper left), one of the small green kind (upper right) and one of the lumpy yellow ones (bottom).

I wish with all my heart I remembered the names of the tomatoes–especially the lumpy yellow one as it they are so sweet I can barely stop eating them, even half-ripe.  I knew the names when I bought them and did not write them done.  “I will remember these names,” I thought, which is about the same as waking up in the middle of the night and thinking, “I will remember this dream”.

Four plants has provided a good crop for us.  We’ve been enjoying tomato salads all August and now with the branches full of ever ripening bounty I have been making tomato sauce.

not pretty but pretty darn yummy*

So here’s what I do when I get a bowl full (about 4-5 cups?).  I get out a large pan, sauté a finely chopped onion in olive oil and mash in some fresh garlic once the onion has softened.  Then I pour in the tomatoes and let simmer them until they pop, soften and release all their juicy insides.  I continue simmering  until the sauce thickens a bit and just season with a bit of sea salt.  THAT IS IT.

I always buy good pasta for these late summer meals and in this case I topped with whole milk ricotta which cut the acidity of the sauce and makes it even better.

I realized fast that I am much too lazy to blanche and peel cherry tomatoes but it actually doesn’t matter.  The sauce still tastes amazing.  It is such a perfect example of using simple, good ingredients.  And some mysteriously fertile soil at the side of our garage.  Our Macedonian neighbors are so jealous.

Tomatoes = Sauce

I am cooking up another batch today.  And thinking of my friend who started out the gardening season with a ridiculous amount of seedlings–300?  He’ll be laughing if it’s a long winter (but stressed right now as he spends the wee hours bidding on stockpots through ebay ).   And I think he’s much more likely than I to not make sauce with tomato skins in it.  Life it tougher for the perfectionists.  But if you’re really fussed you can strain the sauce through a colander which will catch most of the skin I suppose. Or just don’t eat at my house.

*that is my son’s hand ( in the photo)  stealing my food.  We had a talk, don’t worry.

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Fee Fi Fo Foie

Guilt or no guilt?

If you ever want to elevate your picnic try try bringing some foie gras mousse.  This also applies events like bad movie night, a root canal or 3am at Sick Kids with your wheezing child.  I would add doing your taxes to the list, but if you’ve had the discipline to start your taxes you are certainly not going to continue knowing there’s foie gras mousse around.

This particular jar came from La Ferme Basque is Baie-St-Paul where we stopped during our Charlevoix vacation (read about it in the Globe) in August.  The woman who runs the operation is from the Basque region of France and makes the foie gras in a traditional way.  Even her lilting and soothing french accent could not make “force feeding” sound completely benign…. but it helped.

I suppose had I had serious moral dilemma with the whole thing I wouldn’t be showing you a half-eaten jar.  But, at least on a smaller scale using more traditional methods the whole thing sounded more humane.  And tasted so good on a baguette.

Near the end of their lives, for four weeks the geese are force-fed corn to fatten their livers (the traditional process is known as gavage).  Apparently geese are very social and like to be together (…birds of a feather is so true…) so unlike large industrial producers La Ferme Basque keeps the geese in groups, not seperate cages, so they are less stressed.

let's put a far-away face to these geese

Industrial Geese in individual cages:

Goose 1: Hey, did you just have a tube filled with liquid corn and corn syrup shoved down your throat?

Good 2: Yes.  Can I sleep beside you?

Goose 1:  Impossible.

Small Farm Raised Geese kept in groups:

Goose 1: Hey, did you just have a tube filled with corn kernels shoved down your throat?

Goose 2: Yes. Can I sleep beside you?

Goose 3:  Get in line.

Apparently the main reason some geese die because they are overfed.  Errrr…OVER over-fed.  On this smaller scale there are two or three people who do the feeding twice a  day.  In traditional “gavage” the same feeders always work with the same geese and they keep a hand at the base of the neck and can tell when it is dangerous to give more food.  It varies from goose to goose  (I know my limit with gummi bears  is 3/4 of a lbs).  In industrial production each goose gets the same amount of corn-liquid no matter what their size.

I also did not know that there were specific breeds of geese which were naturally better at digesting.  So obviously better for forced gluttony.   All in all, the geese are treated humanely (aside from the tube in the throat) and then shipped off to be slaughtered and turned into luxury food.

See–it’s hard to be totally on board when everything you write has to be followed with “aside from the tube in the throat”.

Example:

The goose had a great day at the CNE followed by some light tapas and Salsa dancing (aside from the tube in the throat).

or

The goose loved going on joyrides in the tractor and dancing under the light of a silvery moon (aside from the tube in the throat).

I just don’t know.

Decide for yourself—  read this excellent posting about the controversy and the guilt of loving foie from the Guardian UK.

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Check My Pulse

I have vacation belly.  The syndrome where you start with great intentions of healthful eating while on holiday (“maybe I’ll have half a freezie every other day”) and quickly surrender to all-out gluttony.  It starts with, “Well, I can’t get these duck rillettes in Ontario so of course I should have them for breakfast on a warm croissant” and ends tragically with, “Where else can I eat licorice Nibs and McNuggets for lunch if not in Quebec?”

Which leads me to the amazingly delicious lentil and celeriac salad I made the day we returned from holiday.  Nutrition guilt led me to this pulse-based dish (also I had meant to make it the week before we left for holiday and the poor celeriac was losing all life sitting in the fridge).   Plus I’ve been dying to try some of the recipes in my new cookbook, “Plenty“. It’s the second from Yotam Ottolenghi, based on recipes from his UK restaurant and this book is all veggie.  (Which we need more of in this household.)

Without further ado, I introduce “Celeriac and Lentil Salad with Hazelnuts and Mint”.  Here is the original recipe from Ottoleghi’s Guardian column.

Celeriac: a rather knobby looking coconut exterior

You begin with about a 1.5 pd celeriac aka celery root (I forgot to take the picture BEFORE peeling, sorry).  And slice into 3/4 inch pieces.

Then you pop these into boiling water for 8-10 minutes until softened. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile you gather your lentils, some thyme and a couple bay leaves, add 3 cups water and bring to a boil.

just add goldfish

You are supposed to use Puy lentils (which stay nice and firm when cooked) but I could not find them at the bulk store and so used what I had aka “lentils in the plastic container” (which I think may have been the French lentils anyway).  Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer until the lentils are cooked but still have bite to them (15 minutes or so).

Just to make sure the oven is not feeling left out, preheat to 275 F and toast 1/3 cup hazelnuts.  Skin on.  Cool and roughly chop.  Set aside.

Chop up some fresh mint.  Easiest to roll the leaves into a “cigar shape” and chiffonade.

Drain your lentils and while they are still hot (so that they absorb flavour) add olive oil, hazelnut oil (could not get this so substituted walnut oil), good red wine vinegar and a generous amount of salt.  Plus some fresh pepper.  Mix gently.  Add the celeriac and hazelnuts and serve warm….

…or room temperature.  Just hold off adding the hazelnuts and mint til just before serving and adjust seasoning.  You will probably need a bit more vinegar.

Lusciously healthy, this would make the best brown bag lunch ever.  With chicken McNuggets and Nibs.

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