Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Oh Canada, And A Coconut-Noodle Soup

When I was younger, I went to a private school for a few years. My parents thought I'd have a better education, but I feel that it may have retarded me socially, having had no contact with boys the first four years of my scholastic life. We belonged to the lesser-known "Not Poor But Not Rich" income bracket, which was mystifying and mind-boggling to those of my peers who had everything: maids, nannies, drivers, cooks (but rarely actual parents.)

At one of my birthday parties, held in our lovely, cozy home that had been purchased for a song, gutted and entirely rebuilt by my father and grandfather, one of my little classmates entered the house, looked around with an imperious air and said "But where is the rest of your house?" My parents forever after joked about the location of the 'east wing.'

Besides God and money, the school was incredibly proud of its diversity, and liked celebrating its multiculturalism. One day, we were told we'd be having an "International Cuisine" lunch, where everyone was to bring a food item or dish that was native to their cultural heritage. I was in something of a quandary; like many born and raised Canadians, I was just 'white,' not really any one ethnicity more than another.

Something of a European mongrel, I had more countries in my blood than the United Nations. My father's side of the family had Irish and Scottish ancestry, but that was about 5 or 6 generations ago. And my mother was something of an ethnic mystery to me. Born in Romania to Hungarian parents, she actually grew up in Israel and identified herself as Israeli, until she came to Canada. Then she was a Canadian, and if you asked her about her unusual accent, you'd be treated with a rather cold stare. "I am from here," she would say. "I am Canadian."

For a fourth-grader, this was a bit too complex a cultural minefield to navigate. I was Canadian. But what food is particularly Canadian? Back bacon? Maple syrup? I didn't know.

And so I brought Shredded Wheat cereal. Yes. I did.

Because the wheat was grown in Canada, it said so on the box, and you surely cannot fault a fourth-grader for being so literal. So amidst the samosas and spring rolls and shock-value haggis lay my wax papered packet of Shredded Wheat, totally unpalatable without the softening effect of hot water, the creamy coolness of milk and the sweetening effect of a 1/2 inch of brown sugar on top.

Years later, I am still stymied by what constitutes our national cuisine. I find myself cooking meals that are Mediterranean or Southeast Asian-inspired, but perhaps with my clumsy Canadian touch to them - not too spicy, not too exotic, ever so slightly inauthentic. Like this Vietnamese-style soup I made/modified and have virtually no decent photographs of. I found the recipe in Fine Cooking a few months ago and clipped it out for future use. It was so ridiculously tasty, you must try and make it for yourself.

As far as cultural identity goes, I don't know what to tell you. Maybe it boils down to where you were born. Maybe it's where your parents were born, or their parents before them. But given the lives my mother and father lived across the world from each other during the war; dramatic, colourful, often tragic lives that eventually intersected here, in Toronto, Ontario, where they started their family and found love and great happiness, maybe where you're from is the wrong question.

Maybe it's all about where you end up.

Coconut Noodle Soup, From Fine Cooking Magazine May Issue (?) 2010, adapted by me.

2 14 oz cans coconut milk
1 tbsp red curry paste
6 cups lower-salt chicken broth
3 stalks lemongrass, lightly smashed
8 1/4 inch slices of fresh ginger
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
2 cups oyster mushrooms (you can use any mushrooms; I used oyster and cremini) trimmed and cut into 1/4 inch thick slices
1 cup chopped tomato
1 cup baby corn (optional but delicious)
Vermicelli noodles, soaked in room temperature water for 30-60 minutes in a large pot.
Fresh cilantro

*The original recipe calls for tea-smoked shrimp and instructs you on the whole process; I think you can find it on their website if you're interested.


1. In a 4 quart pot, simmer 1/2 cup coconut milk over medium heat, stirring often till it reduces by half and thickens, about 1-2 minutes. Whisk in the curry paste until dissolved, about 1 minute. Add the remaining coconut milk, chicken broth, lemongrass and ginger. Raise the heat to medium high, bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes.

2. Strain out the lemongrass stalks and ginger pieces. Stir in the lime juice, fish sauce, sugar and a bit of salt. Season to taste. Add the mushrooms, tomato and baby corn, and cook for another 10 minutes, till the mushrooms have softened.

3. To assemble, bring the soaked vermicelli noodles to a boil for a couple of minutes, then drain well. Add noodles to bowls first, then pour soup over top, and garnish with fresh cilantro.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Let's Do Lunch Again And Again, And A Spinach-Blue Cheese-Leek Tart

It's a funny thing, but when you get married or otherwise commit yourself to another human being because of love, you not only commit to their lovable habits, but also the ones that kind of drive you nuts. I've always been wary of being "that" women - you know; the one who screeches at her husband like a fishwife, nagging incessantly about trivial things like socks on the floor, porn watching, not being a mind-reader. So by and large, I don't screech. But there are a few things Husband does that I find confounding and on occasion, incredibly irksome.

1. The fan.

I don't know if he's always needed it, but in order to go to sleep, we have to turn on a big fan because the whooshing noise comforts him. I say 'we.' It's somehow my job to turn it on before climbing into bed because he always goes to bed before me. Sometimes I'll forget on purpose because I like listening to the city as it goes to sleep, but he'll actually wake up and ask if I can turn on the fan. He does this thing where he pretends he's dying and makes his voice all dry and weak and makes me promise to turn it on. He never tires of it.

2. The Encyclo-dictionary.

Oh. My. Lanta. The number of times we debate something, no matter how inane, whether it's the pronunciation of 'archipelago', or the what year Koko, the signing gorilla, was born, and he says to me, eyebrows raised with disbelief "Are you sure?" and then wields that yellow-paged, leather-bound juggernaut of know-it-all-itis at me, just to prove me wrong...

3. The piles.

Piles. Everywhere. Piles of comic books, piles of unopened mail. Piles of clothes. And the very special one we call the 'melted Cameron' pile, because it is quite literally a pile composed of pants, underpants and shirt, stacked Russian nesting doll-style and piled next to his side of the bed, so in the morning, he just needs to put on the shirt and step back into the underpants and pants and poof! He's ready for the day.

But I don't screech. I don't want to be a fishwife, and really, these aren't such big issues. Besides, I'm not perfect. There are things about me that must just drive him mental. Like the Purple Bathrobe which I live in when I'm at home. I know he's sick of seeing it. Or my pea-sized bladder on driving trips. I'm willing to bet that drives him absolutely bonkers.

Wow. You know what? I couldn't think of anything else that I do that annoys him. It was really hard even just coming up with the bathrobe and the bladder. Maybe I'm not as annoying as I think he thinks I can be?

(Or maybe he's just holding it all in.)

Because I do plenty of things that annoy myself. I worry incessantly about dumb things. I read too much celebrity gossip. And I seem to be incapable of making food that doesn't belong on a lunch/brunch menu. Muffins, scones, loaves. Savory tarts and quiches. Pizzas and salads. I'm obsessed. And this meal I made the other day is no exception. I can't help myself.

When I saw these leeks;

And bathed the spinach in a Christmas-light reflected pool in the sink;

And baked a rustic-looking crust that practically begged me to make a blue-cheese custardy filling to go along with the spinach and leeks, resulting in this;

well, I guess I just have to accept that adventure is not what I'm looking for in cooking. And I think I'm okay with that. I may never try to master Julia Child. I probably won't make handmade pasta. There is a very good chance that I'll never get past the brunch/lunch menu.

But as long as I am still dazzled by the humble beauty you'll find in vegetables if you look closely; as long as I am seduced by the fatty magic of cheese and am able to produce food that tastes really good, good enough for me to take a minute to absorb that I made it that way, well, I reckon I'm probably doing things just right.

And if ever I'm in doubt, all I need to do is check the Encyclo-Dictionary.

Spinach-Blue Cheese-Leek Tart (pastry from Everyday Food November 2010 issue)

1 bunch of spinach, well rinsed and squeezed dry

1 leek, split lengthwise, then cut into 1/4 pieces, rinsed well

1/4 cup white wine

2 tbsp olive oil

1/3 cup blue cheese, crumbled

1/3 cup cream (I used half and half, but you can use buttermilk or 2% milk as well)

3 eggs


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Heat olive oil and white wine over medium heat in pan. Add the spinach and wilt it; then add the leeks. Cook till everything is soft and fragrant and the wine has mostly been cooked off. Set aside.

2. In a blender or food processor, combine the blue cheese, cream and eggs and puree till well mixed.

3. Put the veggies in the pre-baked pie crust (see below for recipe) and then pour the cheese mixture over top. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until the middle of the tart is set.


In a food processor, pulse 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour and 1/2 tsp coarse salt to combine. Add 1/2 cup cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces; pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal with a few pea sized pieces of butter remaining. Sprinkle with 2 tbsp ice water, pulse until dough is crumbly but holds together when squeezed. (I had to add two more tbsp of water to achieve this) Form dough into a 1 inch thick circle, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm; 1 hour (or up to 3 days).

When ready to use, thaw to room temperature and roll it out to fit an 8-9 inch pie pan. Pre-bake to prevent sogginess at 350 degrees F for about 20 minutes or till lightly golden. Use a fork to pierce the bottom to create steam holes, and weigh down the crust with beans or pie weights to prevent the crust from puffing up.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Technical Difficulties - Please Stand By

If you're wondering where I am, well, I'm still here. I'm just computerless at the moment, save for the precious minutes I steal on Husband's computer. My piece of crap Dell (never, ever buy a Dell computer) has been slowly dying on me; first the sound went, and now I can't even open Internet Explorer.
Sigh. We're working on it. I'll have a post up in the next few days, so check back! I miss you!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Better Luck Next Time, And A George Hamilton Loaf

Blame my mother-in-law. And my brother-in-law. If it weren't for these two making so much amazing food over the Thanksgiving weekend, I'd have had a new post up by now. If they hadn't sent me home with enough Tupperwared leftovers to feed me for a week, I'd be cooking up a storm.

And with all the pumpkin pie, carrots, sweet potatoes and squash I've eaten lately, I'm think I'm in serious danger of turning into George Hamilton.

(He's this shade of orange because of all the beta carotene he gets, right?

Thanksgiving was lovely, it really was. I enjoyed seeing my family and in-laws, my adorable nieces and nephews, and there was more wonderful food than you could imagine. There is still an entire pumpkin pie sitting in my fridge, and for some reason, I decided this morning to bake a pumpkin loaf. Clearly, I am not in my right mind.

I am attributing my wrong-mindedness to stress. Readers, I am stressed. Like, really, really stressed. I hate my job with a capital HATE. Yesterday was Tuesday, so in accordance with the 'Friendliness To Monika' schedule, I was due for some kind words or at least a bit less hostility than the usual Monday-Wednesday-Thursday variety from Grumpy Co-Worker and Veterinarian.

"Unless..." Husband speculated, "unless because of Monday being a holiday, then Tuesday is the new Monday this week?"

Fark. And don't you know it, he was right. Tuesday was the new Monday, and I came home angry and sobbing.

Maybe I'm being greedy. Maybe that's the problem. Maybe you can't have it all, at the same time; a wonderful family, some great friends, an awesome husband AND a job that isn't awful? Perhaps the life I'm living right now is balanced - good and bad, happy and crazy-making?

After all, I know there are so many people out there stuck in jobs they hate. And they stay, because they have families to feed, or because there simply aren't any other jobs out there. Or because, worst of all, they don't think they deserve anything better...

So I decided to bake a pumpkin spice loaf. Because when I'm not in my right mind, baking, with all its directions and processes and structure, makes me feel normal and calm.

I opened the tin of pumpkin puree because I am not one of those people who will roast their own pumpkin. I'm just not. And here is what happens every single time I use the can opener, regardless of the what's in the can...

Big, you're descended from desert hunters. How do you not smell that this isn't meat? Stop looking at me like that.

I used my favourite thing ever, Chatsworth honey, made by real Ontarian bees, in place of some of the white sugar that was called for,

I mixed all the wet ingredients,

I added it to the dry ingredients and 50 minutes later, out came a delicious, tender/not dry/m-word loaf that is not overly sweet like cake, but spicy and would be lovely with a drizzle of maple syrup or cinnamon butter.

As I sat in the basement lunchroom at work, eating my slices of pumpkin loaf and happy to be away from the misery upstairs, I decided that I'd reached my wall of endurance and would start looking for a new job. Because I don't have a family to feed just yet. And I do believe there is a better job out there for me.

And best of all, I actually believe that I deserve to be happy.

George Hamilton Loaf, aka Pumpkin Spice Loaf, adapted from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook:

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/4 cup honey
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, beaten


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Sift together the flours, salt, sugar, baking soda and pumpkin pie spice.

2. In separate bowl, whisk the honey, pumpkin puree, veg oil and eggs till combined. Add to the dry ingredients and mix till just combined. Pour into a buttered loaf pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, till tester knife comes out clean.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Kitchen Scraps, And A 'Just Make Me' Broccoli Salad

You know, for all those times I think deep, profoundly interesting things, there are perhaps an equivalent, or maybe even greater number of blanks being fired aimlessly in my think-box.

Like how much I hate our low-flow toilet. No matter how many times I flush the cat droppings down the toilet, one little renegade nugget always bobs back up into the bowl. Every time.

Or like how my bangs are at that stage where I need to make a definitive decision: Do I suffer the agony of growing them out and having hair in my eyes for the next 4 months, or do I cut them short again? Is there too much real estate on my forehead to not have bangs? Are foreheads the new nipple?

Pumpkin curry - is that something?

It sounds like our coat rack is threatening to break away from the wall under the weight of our 17 different kinds of jackets, sweaters, windbreakers and raincoats. The weather has been so all over the place, neither of us know how to dress when we leave the hous..........

Oh. WOW. Did that put
you to sleep too?

I'm sorry. You're totally getting my 'D' material. I'm tired, and it's been a difficult work week, which, if you've been following this blog lately, will elicit the question "When isn't it a difficult work week?" I don't mean to make it sound all bad. There are definite pluses. Like the 7 cats I work around all day; for example, there's Pickle, my attention-starved lunchroom companion, or Diesel, the whopping 32-pounder who thinks he's a dog and looks quite like an ottoman. For a few hours a day, I am almost a cat person.

Or wearing scrubs to work, which leads people on the subway to believe I am someone with medical training, toiling weird hours in the most noble of vocations, when in actual fact, I am but a glorified cockblocker between you and the appointment you
really wanted with your medical professional. (wow. Tired Moni is a bit crude. Apologies.)

But the other night, just before we closed the clinic, I was called upon to perform beyond my basic receptionist skills. A woman came in with her dead cat who'd just been hit by a car. She was beside herself with grief. I'd never seen a dead pet before, and it looked just like it was sleeping. I didn't know what to say; I was so scared of saying the wrong thing. There are so many cliched responses to grief, but they are inoffensive and safe and still show support, so you use them. But somehow, I felt it was worth the risk to be a bit more personal.

So we talked, about our pets, about our husbands, about life. And I feel like in some tiny way, maybe I helped. I didn't make her tragedy less tragic. But considering how pet death is a regular part of my workplace, causing me to have nervous stomach aches every day, I think the risk paid off. Because what resulted wasn't client-receptionist platitudes. It was just two people, a dead cat, and a very human connection.

And the thing is, in that moment when that inner voice that you've been harbouring since childhood is begging you to run fast and far, telling you, a depressive with a terminally ill parent, that you're not fit to deal with any more grief and sadness; it's too much to bear - well, that's when something truly extraordinary happens. That's when you realize that you're not falling apart like you thought you would. You are coping, enduring. And maybe even with a little bit of grace too.

So I haven't much to offer in the way of a challenging meal. This is a simple thing I threw together so as not to waste food sitting in my fridge, and it turned out incredibly delicious. I'd make this over and over again, no joke, and the possibilities for adaptation are endless. So Just Make This, and have a fantastic Thanksgiving weekend, if you're in Canada. I, for one, have a great many things to be thankful for.

And I'll probably think a great deal about them, in between all those aimlessly fired blanks.

Roasted Broccoli-Potato-Sausage Salad With Maple-Chili Vinaigrette:

1 large head of broccoli, cut into smallish florets
3 large potatoes, cubed
3 sausages; I used spicy pork sausage, but you can use any kind, even veggie ones.
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp chili powder


2 tbsp maple syrup (table syrup is just fine)
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp sambal oelek, or other spicy chili sauce


1. Preheat oven to 350-400 degrees F. In a large bowl combine the chopped broccoli and potatoes with the olive oil and chili pepper and put in roasting pan. Roast till soft, about 40 minutes.

2. While the veggies are roasting, cook up your sausages. Make the dressing too, just combine all the ingredients in a small mason jar and shake well till combined (or just use a fork to whisk)

3. When veggies are ready, place in a serving bowl with the cooked sausage, cut into 1/2 inch pieces, and cool for about 10 minutes. Add the vinaigrette and stir to coat everything. Serve immediately with some lovely, grainy bread and butter!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

I Will Never Wear Hemp Pants, And Accidentally Ethical Salmon Cakes

I never thought I would be the sort of person to purchase a $7 tin of salmon. I've walked past these tins before in the grocery store and as I'd reach past them to get to my $1.09 mercury-laden, Thailand-produced, environmentally cruel tuna, I would think to myself "What kind of sucker buys this stuff?"

And now I am one of them.

My sister has been swearing up and down that this brand of canned fish is really worth the extra money. And I, now working and having some coins in my pocket, was itching to make some salmon cakes and decided to quell my curiosity. So I went to the bulk food/health store at the end of my street to buy a tin.

My choice of store was deliberate. Because the place I could most readily buy this type of salmon, a local, independent, family-owned grocery store, is one of my least favourite places to shop. I am sure I am a terrible person because of this. This grocery store places an emphasis on local produce, on environmentally sustainable food, on organic and fair trade and free range. And yet, I can't stand shopping there because of a specific type of shopper they attract. I call them the Middle Class Eco-Worriers.

These are people who splash their political beliefs all over their bodies. They wear their bike helmets in the store as they shop, so that you can be sure they didn't drive there; their carbon footprint is immaculate. They debate the superior health merits of alpaca milk versus common goats milk with the other parents in the Alternative Milks aisle; 'If you read the nutritional analysis, it's practically cow's milk!' they exclaim. Their kids wear garments made from reconstituted plastic bags woven under equitable circumstances by women in developing nations. They have bumper stickers on their hybrid vehicles that read "My other car is a bike", or "We support war resisters."

My bumper sticker, if we had a car that didn't blow up on the highway for the third time this past weekend, would read "Does my fat ass make my fat ass look fat in these jeans?"

Of course, I am exaggerating; these are truly decent people. They love their families and the environment and have figured out how to take up activism in their daily lives. But there is something smug, something unattainable about this kind of lifestyle, like only people with money can make a truly significant dent on the environmental crisis. What about people like me, who can't afford solar panels or free-range eggs? Who shop at Wal-Mart in those glasses with the fake nose and mustache attached, so no one will recognize me and look down on me?

So I went to the bulk/health food store instead, so I wouldn't have to deal with my Apathy guilt. And I bought my $7 tin of salmon, not because it was environmentally sustainable but because my sister said it tasted really great. I took it home, gave a little bit of the juice in the can to my cat, and put the salmon in a bowl. I flaked it, added some breadcrumbs, green onion and cayenne pepper;

Then I cracked an egg into the bowl, added a few generous dashes of sambal oelek sauce and mushed everything together with my hands, forming a few patties;

Which I then fried in some oil and listened to them sizzle and pop until golden brown;

And I ate them up so fast, I totally forgot to take pictures of the finished product. I couldn't help myself. They were so amazing; really spicy, with that lovely smoked flavour peaking through; crisp and hot. I truly outdid myself.

And I attempted to make peace with myself and my way of life. Maybe my version of activism is a bit more muted, more personal. I try to focus more on being a good person to the people who are immediately in my life; family, friends, clients at my work, the old lady on the bus who needs a seat. I'll donate $50 to the latest tsunami or hurricane relief effort, even though I feel like it's a drop in a bucket with a very large hole. And I'll keep buying the occasional $7 tin of salmon, if it means those salmon got to enjoy their short-lived freedom before making their way to the smokehouse.

And I'll hope that for now, it is enough.

Accidentally Ethical Salmon Cakes:

1 can salmon, preferably smoked, flaked
2 green onions, finely chopped
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (more or less, to your taste)
2-3 large dashes of sambal oelek sauce
1 egg


1. In medium size bowl, combine the flaked salmon, green onions, breadcrumbs, cayenne pepper, sambal oelek sauce and egg. Mash together with hands to form patties.

2. Heat oil over medium-high temperature; fry patties till golden brown on both sides; about 7-10 minutes total. Drain on paper towels if you like and serve immediately!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Just Make Me: A 'You Only Like Me On Fridays' Baked Pasta

Welcome to the newest feature of Fresh Cut Cook. It's called "Just Make Me", which is a more succinct and cleverer (does misspelling 'clever' invalidate its meaning?) way of saying "My Shizzle Was Lay-zizzle And Didn't Feel Like Taking Pictures While Preparing This Awesome Meal." It may make an appearance on the blog once every week or two, because I won't lie to you; there are times when I feel like cooking minus the song and dance that comes with food blogging.

In this feature, you will find a yummy recipe without me yammering on about things, like how it's so peculiar that one of my co-workers only seems to like me on Tuesdays and Fridays, while being openly hostile the rest of the week.

(That IS peculiar, right? I mean, I know I can't be everyone's cup of tea, but I've never really worked with anyone who has so openly disliked/been enervated by/eye rolled me before, so this is new and bumpy terrain.)

But thanks to inspiration from Emeril Lagasse via my Everyday Food magazine, I decided to heal yet another rotten work week with baked pasta, Monika-style. Which means way more cheese than is called for. So, without further ado, Just Make This. It is everything you want from baked pasta; salty, cheesy and filling, punctuated by these lovely, juicy bursts of tomato, and a more subtle basil flavour. I promise to entertain the socks off of you with my usual full-length musings on life when I return from our third, (3rd!!!!) attempt to get Heidi The Jetta to haul us to Sauble Beach without going Kaboom! on the highway.

'You Only Like Me On Fridays' Baked Pasta, inspired by baked pastas everywhere...

2 - 2 1/2 cups penne or other small shaped pasta, prepared according to package instructions
1 can evaporated milk (12 ounces)
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups crumbled goat cheese
3/4 cups crumbled feta cheese
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2-1 tsp red pepper flakes
fresh ground pepper, to your taste
1/2 cup fresh basil, coarsely chopped
1 tomato, chopped
1 1/2 cups spinach


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cook pasta according to package directions. While you're waiting for it to boil, combine the evaporated milk (no less than 2% milk fat; don't bother with the no-fat stuff) with the eggs, both cheeses, oregano, red pepper flakes, fresh ground pepper, fresh basil, tomato and spinach in a large bowl.

2. Add pasta to the bowl and mix everything till well combined. Pour into a 8 - 9 inch square pan or equivalent round baking dish, and bake for about 25 minutes or until the pasta looks 'set' in the middle and is golden brown on top. Let cool about 5 minutes, then serve!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Word Nerdery, And Peach-Cardamom Loaf

You know, for a positive, optimistic person, I certainly have a long list of things I don't like. Bananas (texture issues.) Kevin Costner (wooden acting abilities.) Bus rides during rush hour (overwhelming people musk, rudeness, confined spaces.) Also: seafood, irony, jodhpurs, elevators, indigestion, Mel Gibson, crowds, multi-tasking and eggplants.

In addition to things I don't like, I have a fairly strong aversion to particular words. It seems that the arrangement of certain letters creates unpleasant sounds or associations in my mind, and I am embarrassed to say them. Pantaloons. Bloomers. The word 'wiener' used in earnest; also, frankfurter. Panties. Macaroni. Pumping. Pumpernickel.

But the ultimate offender?


The fact that this word is used so often when describing baked goods troubles me deeply. Because there is NO alternative. In a world virtually clogged with choice, there is no other option for describing moistness. Believe me, I've tried. But saying a muffin is tender, juicy, damp-in-a-good-way, wet-ish, soft, undry, uncrumbly just doesn't work.

So I don't really have a good adjective for the texture of this Peach Cardamom loaf. Because despite all the luscious peaches involved, it fell somewhere in between the 'M' word and dry. I adapted the recipe from Whole Living magazine, and all I can surmise is that there was simply not enough fat or liquid in the batter. Where else could I have gone wrong?

I started off here:

Then did this:

Then I got down to business, mixed the dry ingredients with the wet, and ended up with this:

Which then went here:

And ended up like this:

It all looks so promising, no? And yet...decidedly not as juicy/undry/tender as I'd anticipated. But lest you get the wrong impression, I've eaten almost the entire thing. I sneak slivers while I'm waiting for my toast to pop, or cut large hunks off for lunch. I've eaten it plain and with butter. I've eaten it warm and cold. And the fact remains that this loaf is actually good and totally worth perfecting.

Let's just say it's still a word in progress.

Peach-Cardamom Loaf, adapted from Whole Living Magazine, September 2010:

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
6 tbsp butter (use 1/2 cup! Trust me)
6 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup honey (next time I'll use a 1/2 cup and cut down on the brown sugar.)
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup applesauce
4-5 ripe peaches, cut into smallish cubes


1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9 inch loaf pan. In medium bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients.

2. Using an electric mixer, beat together the butter and brown sugar till fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the honey and beat till combined. Add eggs, 1 at a time, and the vanilla extract and beat till incorporated.

3. With the mixer on low, add half the flour mixture and beat till just combined. Beat in the applesauce and remaining flour mixture till just combined. Fold in the cubed peaches and transfer the batter to the loaf pan. Bake till testing knife comes out clean, approximately 50-60 minutes, depending on your oven. Transfer to wire rack and let cool completely. Then slice and serve.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The 'Middle Child" Of Meals, And Scallion-Spicy Cheese Scones

I'm sure there are people out there who love lunch. Who can't wait for that internal noonday bell to ring, the one that signals hunger and a break in the day, so they can crack open their Tupperwared leftovers, their brown paper bagged sandwiches, their styrofoamed take-out soup with plastic packages of crackers. They'll find a spot on a parkette bench and gossip with co-workers, gripe about bosses or discuss their favourite television shows. They'll laugh when a gust of wind blows away their napkins, and giggle when a firetruck drives by, unhurried and open for admiration and one of these lunch lovers will inevitably say "What IS it with firemen?" and everyone will nod and talk about the sex appeal of danger and men in uniforms. It IS a funny thing about firemen, isn't it! I mean, even though the heroic men who come to save your life will likely look something like this...(and I mean absolutely NO disrespect to these fine gentlemen)

...we somehow persist in thinking they'll look rather more like this...

Though I truly hope I never find out which is more accurate.

Breakfast, I adore you. You're the easiest one to get right, health wise. Dinner, you're my social meal, the one I share with family and friends and eat with childlike abandon. But lunch, you are utilitarian and lonely. Your primary function is shutting up my hunger in an insufficient amount of time. You're often accompanied with indigestion from eating too fast, or sleepiness from eating too much, or utter boredom, if you're on day 3 of leftovers and, like me, have only an attention starved cat named Pickle to keep you company in the staff lunchroom.

My memories of lunch as a kid are equally fraught with dissatisfaction. In junior school, I didn't have any friends, so I would eat in the institution-mint coloured bathroom on the ground floor and pretend to read if anyone came in, like I'd made a measured choice to be there. High school, I fared a bit better socially, but lunch had little to do with food, and me and my friends would sit in Tea Masters sipping bottomless hot drinks and eating Rice Krispie Squares well past the 'end of lunch' bell ringing. And as an adult, working primarily in retail jobs, well, you didn't get much of a lunch break, often eating bites between serving customers and swallowing larger portions of hunger-induced rage towards people for interrupting you.

So clearly, my lunch memories have little to do with the act of preparing and enjoying a noonday meal. Now that I'm working again, I'm struggling anew to figure out what to make for this troublesome meal. The other week, Husband and I had been at No Frills, where, despite my list and best intentions, I always end of being seduced by sale prices and buy things I don't need. There was a special on bricks of cheese for $2.99.
$2.99 cheese! So I bought a hunk of Jalapeno Monterey Jack. But I didn't really know what to do with it after the initial 5 uninventive cheese sandwiches I made. So I found a good recipe for savory scones, courtesy of Canadian Living, and decided to make a bunch and freeze them, so I could take scones to work for lunch.

I combined the dry ingredients in my trusty metal bowl:

I grated a bunch of Jalapeno Monterey Jack cheese. Hahaha! Look at my giant hands! (hopefully, that will distract viewers from how near my boobs are to my elbows. Way to go, unsupportive undergarment.)

Then, like the recipe renegade I am, I chopped up WAY more scallions than were called for. Whoops!

Everyone jumped in the pool of flour and mingled:

A shaggy dough was formed when the wet ingredients were added, and I had that mild panic I always get when my fingers get sticky. I don't know, is that an actual phobia? I washed the sticky off and formed the dough, cutting it into these pale, triangular beauties:

And about 20 minutes later, I had the perfect, golden, salty, creamy, spicy, flaky accompaniment to eat in the staff lunchroom alongside my daily apple and fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt.

With a side of Pickle.

Scallion-Spicy Cheese Scones, adapted slightly from Canadian Living:

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 cup cold butter,cubed
1 cup shredded Jalapeno Moneterey Jack Cheese (smoked cheddar would be lovely too!)
1/2 cup scallions, finely chopped
1 egg
1 cup milk (I'm a 2% gal)


1. Preheat oven to 350-400 degrees F, depending on your oven. Combine the flours, salt and cayenne in a large mixing bowl and stir till well combined. Add the cubed butter, and using your fingers, rub the butter into the flour mixture till it resembles pea sized crumbles. I love that part. Conversely, you can freeze the butter ahead of time and grate it on a cheese grater, saving yourself a lot of bother. Add the grated cheese and scallions and stir to combine.

2. In a measuring cup, lightly beat the egg, then add the milk. Pour into the dry ingredients and stir with a fork to make a ragged dough. With lightly floured hands, press dough into a ball.

3. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly, about 10 times. Don't overwork the dough if you can help it. Roll it out into a rough circular shape about 1/2 inch thick, and cut into 8 pieces. Place on a lightly floured baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes, till golden brown around the edges. Let cool slightly, then eat!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

When The Universe Speaks In Riddles, And Good Luck, Godspeed Pizza

It all started on Friday night. Husband had come by my work to pick me up and the plan was that we were going to drive up to Sauble Beach for a much needed break. Husband had worked about eleventeen hundred hours of overtime and I was recovering from a week of working on my own at the front desk, hopelessly untrained and at the mercy of nervous pet owners. With my new job, our work schedules are now completely opposite. He comes home right when I'm leaving and by the time I get home, he's ready to go to bed. To say it's an adjustment is an understatement.

Fast forward to an hour outside of Toronto, a bit north of Vaughn which, as a non-driver, means nothing to me, but perhaps you know where that is. It felt like the middle of nowhere, except that there was a pit stop with a Tim Hortons to our right, which meant something to me because Tim Hortons is kind of like an Inukshuk for city people who feel entirely lost in the highway limbo that lies between city and cottage country; a gentle, doughnutty reassurance that we are indeed somewhere man has been before.

It was about here that it happened.
Husband: What's that noise? Is that the engine?

What noise? (while being totally aware of the weird knocking noise that has suddenly come from our vehicle)

That one. There. Oh no. Shit. (clutter, sputter, knock, knock, whirrrrrrrr. Ka-CHUNK!) Okay. There goes the transmission. It's blown! Double-you The Eff!

We lurched violently forward as Heidi the Jetta shut down. With a deftness only a seasoned video gamer could demonstrate, Husband navigated the now-defunct Heidi over to the right shoulder of the highway and we absorbed in silence what had happened. It didn't take long though, because we already knew our weekend at Sauble Beach was done for. Eventually, the tow truck came, and we even managed a few laughs when my dear, sweet father came to pick us up in the backroads of sketchy Rexdale and joked about us having to wear bullet proof vests in case of shootings, which is probably all kinds of politically incorrect, but oh well.

We tried our best to salvage our weekend. But by Sunday, it was not to be. I, in full possession of a raging case of PMS, couldn't shake the feeling that the universe didn't want me to be happy. Husband and I went on a walk to get some candy at the bulk store, and just as I was starting to come out of my dark mood, just as I was noticing the sun-dappled trees and the delicate breeze and the honeybees, a cat ran out into the street in front of us and got hit by a car.

I screamed. It happened in slow motion. I could hear the sound of Cat making contact with Car. I covered my eyes and my legs turned to jelly. Miraculously, the cat sprung up and ran off, one of its 9 lives clearly used up, but the other 8 just waiting to get back to the catfight that had been taking place several moments earlier. My dark mood returned, full force. Somewhere between Heidi the Jetta, Reckless Cat and Hormone Fluctuation, I gave up on a relaxing weekend.

Husband had been making jokes earlier about being able to read braille on my forehead because of the rather alarming smattering of pimples that had settled on my face. I mused that if these had been freckles rather than pimples, I would be adorable. I was reminded of that old 'beauty trick' I used to see in Seventeen magazine:

"Got a pimple? Why not try dotting it with some brown eye pencil and turning it into a beauty spot?"


The beautiful girl demonstrating this tip always seemed to have her fake pimple right above her lip, to the side, like Marilyn Monroe, or Cindy Crawford. It looked sexy. So I decided to give it a try.

Hmm. I'm not sold on it.

Some days are like this. Some days can't be saved no matter how hard you try to see the silver lining. Some days, you'll come home from working at a job you're not sure you like, and you'll be so glad to see your dog and cat, your furniture, your purple bathrobe. You'll also be so glad that you had the presence of mind to make pizza dough the night before, so now, all you have to do is a tiny bit of prep with these; some chopping and slicing and grating...

And then you get to release some pent-up frustration by punching the dough:

Satisfying. Then you'll spread it out on a baking sheet dusted with cornmeal that, in a certain light, looks like stars thrown across a night sky (like the ones we should have seen in Sauble Beach) and brush some olive oil on top. A gentle dusting of red pepper flakes and fresh ground pepper, and the lightest toss of coarse grain salt is all you need for the base:

Finally, you layer the grated, unnervingly orange cheese, apple slices, tomatoes and several basil leaves and you pop it in the oven for half an hour during which time you'll imbibe a beer or glass of wine...

And when it comes out, golden crusted and perfectly delicious, perhaps the best you've ever made, and you have a week's worth of Coronation Street waiting for you on the computer, then and only then will you realize that despite Heidi the Jetta, Reckless Cat and Hormone Fluctuations, there is still sweetness in this life. A dog and cat who gravitate towards me like I'm their North Star wherever I am; a family that will come and help me, no matter how old I am or how far away I may be; a Husband who puts toothpaste on my toothbrush for me each and every night - this is who and what I live for.

Okay, Universe. Message received, loud and clear.

Good Luck And Godspeed Pizza:

Basic Pizza Dough, from Martha Stewart's 'Fresh Flavour Fast '(and the BEST dough I've ever eaten)

1 1/2 cups warm water (115 degrees F)
2 packets active dry yeast (or 4 1/2 tsp, if using the jar)
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for brushing
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt
4 cups all purpose flour (I used half whole-wheat)
a pinch each of dried basil, oregano and rosemary (my addition!)


1. Place warm water in large bowl; sprinkle with yeast. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Brush another large bowl with oil.

2. Whisk sugar, oil, salt and dried herbs into yeast mixture, then stir flour with a wooden spoon until a sticky dough forms. Transfer to oiled bowl, brush top with olive oil and cover with plastic wrap; let stand in a warm spot till dough doubles in size, about 1 hour.

3. Turn dough onto a well-floured surface. With floured hands, knead until smooth, about 15 seconds and divide into two equal balls. If only using one, freeze the other; it keeps up to 3 months in the freezer, just let it thaw overnight in the fridge in an oiled bowl when ready to use.

Pizza toppings:

1 cup grated old cheddar
1/2 large apple, sliced thinly into half-crescents
a handful of fresh basil leaves, coarsely torn
2 small tomatoes, thinly sliced


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Sprinkle a baking sheet with cornmeal. Spread the dough onto the sheet in a long, oval shape. Rub some olive oil onto the top of the dough and sprinkle with red pepper flakes, fresh ground pepper, and some coarse salt, if you have it.

2. Sprinkle the cheddar evenly over the dough. Add the slices of apple and tomato; top with the torn basil leaves. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until cheese is all melted and crust is golden brown. Let sit for 5 minutes, then serve!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

It's As Plain As Toast, And A Brown Bread Recipe

Every time I go over to my dad's house, I end up rummaging around the cookbook shelf. My mother came to Canada in the 1970's a relative non-cook. So when she married my father, she purchased a bunch of cookbooks to help her learn some basic recipes and pad out a repertoire of good, humble, hearty dishes. These books mean so much to me now because in those batter-splattered, stuck-together, yellowing pages, she made measurement conversions and left comments about recipes she tried and recipes that failed. Exclamation points seemed to work on a system much like Michelin Stars; to receive three exclamation points meant it was a cracker of a recipe that would likely be repeated.

My mother favoured the simple and tasty. She enjoyed good food but was not prone to trends or showiness. All those aspic jellies and fancy appetizers like vol au vents were never to make an appearance at our table, and those recipe pages in the books go unmarked, unstained, ignored. She did make a mean meatloaf that resembled a ham and cheese jelly roll, and a life-changing filet mignon with a mushroom-sherry cream sauce. And on a recent pillage, I uncovered her hand-written cheesecake recipe; the cake that ushered in new years, birthdays, graduations, just-becauses. The cake that served as both dessert and breakfast the morning after. I will one day make that cheesecake. Anyways, that last pillage also yielded me this;

A 1973 copy of the classic 'Beard On Bread.' I was so excited to find this! Have I mentioned that it is one of my goals in life to be able to make decent homemade bread? However, I do take issue with the name of this book. I realize that 'Beard' is James Beard's last name. And I'm aware of the almost delicious wordplay of the title. But may I just say that every time I look at the title, all that comes up is a rather unfortunate visualization of a beard hanging out on a loaf of bread? And the alternates I came up with don't help much: 'Beard Bears Bread', 'Beard Bakes Bread', 'Beard's Bread' - all of them make me think, quite literally, of an improbably animate beard involved in the complex process of bread making.

But the recipe I selected, entitled 'Myrtle Allen's Brown Bread' is actually the easiest, best-tasting loaf I've ever made. A precursor to the now famous 'No Knead' bread that made the rounds on all the food blogs, this loaf requires minimal handling and only 1 rising period, and can be likened to the delicate tartness and density of a rye bread.

You start off by dissolving the yeast in warm water and molasses and let it get puffy. I was not all that fond of the creepy face that looked up at me. That was not in the recipe book.

The other neat thing about this recipe is that you warm up the flour in the oven before hand. I have no idea what this does, but I'm sure it's entirely scientific and therefore well above my understanding. So after it comes out of the oven, you combine the flour with the creepy yeast face and gently form a shaggy dough:

Why yes, that IS a springform pan instead of a loaf pan! I didn't have a big enough loaf pan so I improvised. And then I let it sit longer than Myrtle recommended. Way longer. About 12 hours longer. Because I'd read somewhere that the rising time is what imparts the flavour, and I was determined not to make another pretty, tasteless loaf. And may I just say that baking a loaf right before going to bed is the best possible smell to go to sleep to? And also the best thing to wake up to, because in the morning, breakfast is a foregone conclusion:

Plain, simple, humble toast with peanut butter and honey. Served with fresh coffee, a great book and a quiet morning stretched out in front of me. Heaven. And can I just tell you that I did something I've been wanting to do for a while now? I disabled my StatCounter. I decided that while it totally excited me to see where all my readers come from and how long they were visiting my blog, I didn't actually need to know. It started altering the magic of food blogging for me, because when I started this blog, I said what probably every blogger says: "If only 1 person reads this, I'll be happy." So I'd like to get back to that principle; that I'm doing this for the love of it, for good food, for my handful of dear readers and for myself. And that's enough for me.

Myrtle Allen's Brown Bread, from 'Beard On Bread' (Recipe Rating: !!!)

3 3/4 cups whole wheat flour, preferably stone ground (nope, didn't have that, used regular)
1 1/2 packages active dry yeast (about 2 1/2 tsp yeast if you have a jar instead of packages)
2 cups warm water, 100 - 115 degrees F. approximately
2 tbsp molasses
1 tbsp salt (I'm going to try using a bit less next time)


1. Put the whole wheat flour in a large mixing bowl and put in a warm oven (set as low as possible) Both the flour and the bowl should be warm when you make the bread.

2. Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of warm water and blend in the molasses. Let proof. Add another 1/2 cup of water. Combine the flour, yeast mixture, and salt. Add enough warm water to make a wet, sticky dough (about 1 cup or more, according to the flour.)

3. Pour directly into a buttered 9x5x3 inch bread tin. Cover and set in a warm spot, allowing the bread to rise by 1/3 its original size. Preheat the oven and bake at 450 degrees F for 50 minutes, or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Remove from the pan and leave on the rack in the turned-off oven for 20 more minutes to give a crustier finish.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Good News! And A Carrot Salad With Honey-Masala Dressing

Guess who has a new job! Yes friends, I am now working at an animal hospital and am still getting used to being at work when I've been unemployed for a rather long spell. Consequently, I'm pretty tired these days as I'm adjusting to my new schedule. So this is going to be a very no-frills post, simply a recipe, but I'm already mentally composing my next post, so I'll have a story for you in a couple of days.

You know, every two weeks, almost without fail, I get a bag of carrots with my Good Food Box. And I always have the best of intentions to use them up, but the fact is, there's only so much I'm inspired to do with carrots. Frankly, I'm sick of them. So out of sheer necessity, to rid my fridge of the three bags of gently aging carrots that have amassed on the veg shelf, I decided to make this salad.

I chopped up a bunch of carrots and look! They naturally composed themselves like this on the cutting board! As if I would waste precious time doing this myself. Please.

Then I roasted the bejeesus out of them with some chopped up potatoes. Yes, I dared to turn on the oven in this stifling humidity. Then I let them cool in a bowl with some green onions and lemon zest.

I whizzed up a dressing inspired by a President's Choice hummus I'd had with masala and honey in it, and poured it over the salad.

And can I just say Ding Dong?!! This salad has been feeding me for two days now, and it's so humbly delicious, ringing with a fragrantly sweet flavour and is surprisingly filling. I've been crumbling a bit of goat cheese on it and as a result, carrots have bought themselves a bit more time and love in my heart.

Carrot Salad With Honey-Masala Dressing:

A bunch of carrots, maybe about 3-4 large ones, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3 regular sized potatoes, cut into smallish cubes
2 green onions, finely chopped
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tbsp honey
1 tsp garam masala
Salt and pepper to taste


1. Preheat oven to 350-400 degrees F. Toss the carrots and potatoes with generous splash of olive oil, salt and pepper and pour into a roasting pan. Roast for about 40 minutes, or until you can't stand the heat in your kitchen anymore because there's a heat wave outside. Take veggies out, pour into a large serving bowl. Add the green onions and lemon zest and allow to come to room temperature before dressing.

2. Assemble the dressing by whisking together the lemon juice, olive oil, honey and garam masala. Adjust ingredients to your taste and add salt and pepper if you like. Pour over cooled veggies and serve, topped with crumbled goat cheese.