Friday, February 26, 2010

Halcyon Days

Maybe it comes from watching too much British crime drama on educational television. Maybe I think about my digestive habits a bit too much. Or maybe it's my 10:30pm bedtime (I lied just now, it's more like 10pm) But lately, at the tender age of 32, I've begun to tell stories like an old person; equal parts fond reminiscences and wistfulness at how much things have changed. I find it hard to believe sometimes that when I was a kid, computers had only just entered the fray, in the form of condo-sized boxes available in the school library. IPods? Cell phones? We had a record player and a rotary phone growing up, which I suppose would be considered by some as the technological equivalent to a gramophone and an ear trumpet.

Nostalgia for a 'simpler time' always seemed like the provenance of grandparents. But when I see kids on the bus, or in the mall food courts, and I hear the way a lot of them butcher the English language while regaling their questionable parent-free exploits, I long for the golden days of my youth. The F-Word hadn't made its way into my vocabulary till I was well into my teens. I kissed a boy for the first time when I was 13; prior to that, they were simply names with hearts around them on pages in diaries. And winter, winter was a marvellous time as a kid. My dad would get out the toboggan, an old-fashioned wonder of wood and glue and rope, and the four of us would go to Eglinton Park and fly down the hills as many times as we could climb back up again.

Afterwords we'd tramp home, exhausted and rosy-cheeked, and make hot chocolate and what my Dad christened "Cheese-thingees"; English muffins, halved and topped with cheese and decorated with olives in the design of happy faces. These would go under the broiler and get all melty and salty and my fingers would get greasy as I ate. Never would I have thought at the time that this would become a lovely memory to be pulled out years later for comfort. But it's been snowing, snowing like the Canadian winters of my childhood, with slightly blustering winds and the scrape of shovels clearing sidewalks and a collectively half-pleased/half-despairing Torontonian population nodding greetings to one another.

And with this cold weather, I find myself craving simple, starchy food to warm my insides. Wanting something a bit more substantial than Cheese Thingees, I decided upon a mushroom risotto I saw here, with a hit of lemon and Parmesan. With a dear friend coming over for dinner, I set to work as soon as I got home from work. The dog was not pleased that I'd had to forgo her walk; she made this patently clear by positioning herself in front of the fridge and making Sad Eyes at me. The cat insisted on following me everywhere and rubbing up against my legs. After repeated contact of human foot and beast tail, both were politely asked to leave the kitchen.

I'd never made risotto before, and it was a lot simpler than I thought. It just needed a bit of babysitting and continuous stirring; I'm still coming to terms with the fact that I can't leave anything unattended for even a second on my unevenly heated stove. To round out the meal, my friend put together a gorgeous salad with berries and nuts and blue cheese, and we ate mini cheesecakes I'd made the night before. We talked and laughed and got really, really full and it occured to me that nostalgia is a lovely place to visit once in a while. But the present, ripe with homecooked food, family and friends and an Almost Marriage, can be a pretty sweet place to live.

Here is the recipe for the risotto. Having followed it to the letter, which is very painful for me to do, I would make some changes the next time around. I found the amount of lemon zest called for was undetectable; I would increase the amount to the zest of half a lemon. Or if your palette needs to be hit on the head with a hammer, like mine does, the zest of a whole lemon. And a squeeze of lemon juice added just before serving. Zing! I would also increase the amount of wine from 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup. I love cooking with wine, and found I could barely taste it in the end result. Lastly, I skipped the parsley because I don't like it, and used thyme instead, which I loved!

*Lemon Mushroom Risotto, Gourmet Magazine, via Eat Live Travel Write:

2 2/3 cups boiling-hot water
1/2 oz dried
porcini mushrooms
3 cups chicken broth

1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter

1/2 lb small
cremini mushrooms, quartered 1 small onion, finely chopped
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons
Arborio rice (8 oz)
1/4 cup dry white wine

1 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest

1/4 cup finely grated
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1. Pour 2/3 cup hot water over porcini in a heatproof cup and let stand until softened, about 10 minutes. Lift porcini out of water, squeezing excess liquid back into cup, and rinse well to remove any grit. Coarsely chop porcini. Pour soaking liquid through a paper-towel-lined sieve into a glass measure and reserve.

2. Meanwhile, bring broth and remaining 2 cups hot water to a simmer. Keep at a bare simmer, covered.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a heavy skillet over moderately high heat until foam subsides, then sauté cremini, stirring, until browned, about 7 minutes. Add porcini and reserved soaking liquid to skillet and boil, stirring, 1 minute. Remove from heat.

4. Cook onion in 1 1/2 tablespoons butter in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Add wine and simmer, stirring constantly, until absorbed.

5. Stir in 1/2 cup simmering broth mixture and cook at a strong simmer, stirring frequently, until broth is absorbed. Continue simmering and adding broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently and letting each addition become absorbed before adding the next, until rice is tender but still al dente and creamy (it should be the consistency of a thick soup), 18 minutes. (There will be leftover broth.)

6. Stir in zest, mushrooms, remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons butter, parmesan, parsley, and pepper to taste. (If necessary, thin risotto with some of remaining broth.) Serve immediately.

*Instructions come directly from Eat Live Travel Write's post. I take no credit for it!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Currying Flavour

I was not an athletically inclined or able child. Ever. I was that kid who faked head and stomach aches in gym class to sit out dodge ball or track and field. Gym teachers were forever frustrated by me and the "Please excuse" notes I'd repeatedly begged my poor mother to write me. I lacked competitiveness. I didn't care about finding my personal best; I just wanted to get by quietly with my personal adequateness. I think the activity that induced the most terror and night-before anxiety had to be the Hurdles sprint. There seemed to be a persistent disconnect between my brain and my 'jump now' impulse. I would run towards the first hurdle and either charge through it as if on a blind stampede, or stop abruptly, like an animal that knows it's going to get hit by the car. No amount of encouragement could compel me to keep trying; I got very little out of re-enacting failure.

The great thing about growing up, the thing adults were forever telling me and I was forever disbelieving, is that at some point, you'd overcome the common miseries of youth. I learned to manage my paralytic shyness, learned to make friends, learned how to go after the things I wanted in life. And now I don't get as dissuaded by failure as I did back then.

Except maybe when it comes to making curries.

I've lost count of how many times I've tried to make a decent curry. I'm not sure what keeps going wrong. It's not that they're inedible, but most of the time, the curries just end up bland. There's spice. There's heat. But there's no intense flavour. I always mistake the flavour for the physical temperature of the curry when I eat it. And then when I try it again the next day, it's still tasteless and I realize I'm stuck with about 4 quarts of it. Which I force myself to eat, joylessly, for the next week.

Last night, though, I was craving spice something fierce. I still had half a jar of curry paste in the fridge from the previous attempt, and I had some cauliflower that needed using.
I decided I'd follow a recipe, and not just any recipe. A Jamie Oliver recipe. Can you go wrong with him? I mean, he comes from a country known for its curries (Disclaimer: other than the originating countries of curry) He uses forgiving language; a 'knob' of this, a 'lashing' of that; easy enough to interpret for measurement-lax people like myself.

With the dog just walked and a dark Belgian beer poured and ready for sipping, I got started. I diced the onions, my eyes stinging and watering so much, I could barely read the cookbook. I chopped the chili and ginger and garlic; I washed and cut the veggies and opened the tins of tomatoes, peas and coconut milk. I heated the butter and oil and cooked everything till it was fragrant and bubbling cheerfully on the stove. With glee, I realized the curry smelled the way I thought curries should and it was the same colour as Jamie's in the book - surely that was a good sign?

When the rice was ready and the veggies tender, I scooped up a huge bowl for myself and topped it with some plain yogurt. And the verdict? Ding Dong! It was absolutely divine! All the elements of a good curry, real flavour and depth and heat, were present! I'd done it! I'd jumped my culinary hurdle! I forced myself to eat it slowly and forgave myself all those years of assuming failure, because maybe, just maybe, it had led me to my new-found tenacity in the kitchen. Perhaps I'd stumbled upon an alternate trajectory to success: I'd simply tired of hopelessness, and the only direction left to take was 'up'.

Here's my adaptation of Jamie Oliver's curry recipe from 'The Food Revolution':

1 fresh red chili, finely chopped
2 smallish onions, chopped
1 thumb sized piece of ginger, finely chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp butter
2 glugs of oil (I used olive oil, but he calls for canola or vegetable oil)
1/2 jar of curry paste (I used Patak's Mild Curry Paste)
1 head of cauliflower, cut into medium sized florets
2 medium sweet potatoes, cut into cubes, about 1"
1 14 oz can of coconut milk
1 14 oz can of diced tomatoes
1/2 can of peas, rinsed well

1. Prep and chop all vegetables, open all tins, then heat up the tbsp of butter and the two glugs of olive oil over medium heat in a large pot or frying pan.

2. Once the oil-butter mix is heated, add the chili, onions, garlic and ginger and cook till softened and almost translucent, about 10 minutes, stirring often.

3. Add the curry paste to the onion mixture and stir till incorporated. Add the vegetables and stir to coat them with the paste-onion mixture - do this quickly, if you can, so the paste doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot. Once coated, add the tomatoes and coconut milk and about 1/2 cup of water and stir till combined.

4. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 30-40 minutes. Now's a good time to make some basmati or jasmine rice; follow package instructions. Once the veggies are tender and the sauce has thickened a bit, take the pot off the heat and allow to cool for about 5 minutes. Serve on a mountain of rice with a squeeze of lemon and topped with plain yogurt and fresh cilantro, if you like. Then eat and enjoy!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Breakfast For Dinner

Every now and then, I play that game with myself - if I had to live off of one type of food, what would it be? And a lot of the time, I think it would be brunch food. Eggs, pancakes, waffles, fruit salad with yogurt and granola on top; these are the things my tastebuds never tire of. I can qualify this with several reasons, the most compelling being that some of my happiest childhood memories are from my family's Sunday brunches. Sometimes, we'd make the waffles from scratch and top them with homemade jam. Other times, we'd just heat up a Sarah Lee coffee cake, the one with the walnuts on top, and we'd sit for hours talking and laughing, and my mother would tell us stories of her life in Haifa and Washington before any of us populated it. I think we all knew on some level that what we had - this happy family unit who enjoyed spending time together - was rare and precious, and we took a deliberate pride and care in preserving our tradition for as long as we could.

If I'm eating brunch, chances are I'll have spent a lovely, lazy morning in bed, reading the paper or watching Coronation Street, staying in pajamas and loving the fact that I don't have to be anywhere or do anything. Fresh coffee flows freely in my giant mug; great books beckon me. I'm on my own schedule. Brunch is this tiny thing I can do to make myself feel like I'm living at just the right pace. Which is hard when you're not independently wealthy or altogether emotionally balanced. Yet.

The funny thing is, I hate actually going out for brunch. Having been a waitress for several years and serving the brunch crowd, I can honestly say that brunch always seemed to have a pretty contrary effect on a lot of the people I waited on. It seemed to make them care a bit too much about the consistency of their eggs or the authenticity of their "fresh" orange juice; somehow, they forgot to enjoy themselves or remember this was a decadent treat. Mind you, I was a terrible waitress, so maybe that had something to do with it. Still, I prefer to brunch with Almost Husband at home, where we can unabashedly cook our scrambled eggs to the point of almost criminal dryness, and we can proudly make our mimosas more champagne than juice. (And the juice might just come from concentrate.)

Last night, I had the house to myself and felt the familiar hankering for some late breakfast food. I'd been craving this black bean dip I saw on Dishing Up Delights and decided to pair it with sweet potato pancakes, which would effectively "breakfast up" my dinner. I found a good recipe for them here, poured myself a glass of wine and got started. The whole thing was fantastically simple to put together and amidst the familiar smell of the pancakes turning golden in a hot pan, I was hit with a wave of nostalgia for my sweet childhood Sundays. Food is constantly delighting me with discoveries, the most powerful being that it is not merely fuel for activity, but a social glue of sorts, a way of connecting to people. Food can have a delicate grip on the past; days that can't necessarily be relived, but can be cajoled back to remembrance by the simple act of cooking.

Here's a take on breakfast for dinner. I omitted the cilantro and green onion because I didn't have any. I also dressed it with some plain yogurt and shredded white cheddar. Next time, I'm going to try some chopped avocado with it.

Black Bean Dip, via Dishing Up Delights:

1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 chipotles in adobo

1/4 teaspoon adobo sauce
(I think I used about a tablespoon; I love the heat!)
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 clove garlic, grated

2 small tomatoes, seeds and pulped scooped out and diced, one reserved for topping

Juice of 1/2 lime (I used a whole lime!)

2 green onions, whites and light green parts sliced, green tops reserved

2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

1. In food processor, pulse together the black beans, chipotles, salt and garlic till well mixed.

2. Add one of the tomatoes and the lime juice, green onions and cilantro if using, and pulse till just combined.

3. Top it with grated cheese, the remaining tomato and any other additions you like!

Sweet Potato Pancakes, via Taria at

1 large sweet potato, peeled and cooked till soft, then mashed or pureed.
1 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
3 1/3 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups of milk; more if needed
2 tbsp butter, melted

1. Prepare the sweet potato. I chopped the pieces pretty small so they boiled in about 10-12 minutes.

2. In a medium sized bowl, combine all the dry ingredients.

3. In a separate bowl, mash the sweet potato puree with the vanilla, eggs, milk and melted butter. Pour into the dry ingredients and stir till just combined; add more milk if needed.

4. Over low-medium heat (again, it's my freakishly hot stove!) pour batter and cook till bubbles dot the surface of the pancake. Flip and allow to turn golden. Keep them warm in the oven, or serve immediately!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Sad Bowl

A little while ago, Almost Husband and I were watching television when a commercial came on that caught our eye. KFC came out with a line of meals called "KFC Famous Bowls". In these bowls, they've managed to cram potatoes, chicken, cheese, gravy and who knows what else, into one bowl, in an attempt to get all their favourite flavours in one convenient format. They've solved so many problems for consumers! No more having to select a piece of chicken individually - how can you choose with all those pieces in that big bucket? Mind boggling! And fries - do they need their own container? Not anymore! Pffft. It's practically an environmental initiative, what with all the packaging they're saving on...

"Oh my god," Almost Husband said, "It's so...sad. Those are totally sad bowls." We mused on it for a while. It's like KFC designed a line of meals specifically for sad people. Sad people who can't be bothered to separate their food groups on a plate. Sad people who are one step away from putting their meals in a blender and drinking it with a straw because really, they're just eating to stay alive - there's no joy involved. KFC has enabled these people to purchase a meal that is basically the final step before the body's digestive process, saving them valuable time to presumably do more important things, like file their taxes, or trim their cats' nails. We scratched our heads.

The funny thing is there is something kind of awesome about this. Yes! I'm not joking! There are days when you don't want to bother with food, you just want to shut up the hunger with something quick. KFC is actually pretty brilliant, if you think about it, for appealing to people who are so hungry, they have no shame about what they'll put in their guts. Almost Husband has actually devised a 'Sad Bowl' of his own, consisting of rice, corn and sausage, or sometimes cut-up bits of hamburger. He mixes them all in a big bowl and that's that. And once in a while, I do it too.

Tonight, as I was walking home, I thought about making my own sad bowl, which is similar to Almost Husband's. I was tired, my stomach was bothering me, and I wasn't really in the mood to fancy it up in the kitchen. But I had some spinach and a leftover bit of blue cheese, and slowly, something started to come together in my head, and my stomach agreed to it. And with the exception of peeling the butternut squash, which kept slipping out of my hands into the sink and scaring the bejesus out of my dog, I loved every minute of it. Especially the eating part.

There are several ingredients encompassing several food groups here, and there is a bowl involved, but it's not a sad bowl. It's an "I'm glad I took the time to make this" sort of thing, where sweet and salty and creamy and tangy converge with utter satisfaction. A fresh slice of grainy bread with some butter would make great bedfellows with this. I will certainly be making this again!

This is my recipe, inspired/adapted by one I found here. Feel free to make you own changes. As I usually cook for myself due to Almost Husband's dietary preferences, I try to make smaller amounts that will feed one person with some leftovers. I used half a butternut squash and froze the rest for future use.

Butternut Squash, Pear and Wilted Spinach Salad:

1/2 a butternut squash, peeled, seeded and halved, then cut into smallish cubes (about 1")
2 pears, cubed (I kept the skin on; do as you wish)
1 apple, peeled, cored and cubed
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 bunch of spinach
2 chicken sausages
1/3 cup blue cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
1 tbsp olive oil
juice of 1 lemon (more or less to your taste)
salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350
°F. Prepare the squash, pears and apple and mix with the olive oil and maple syrup. Put in roasting pan and keep an eye on it; you want the fruit and squash to still retain some of their firmness. Mine took about 30 minutes, but my stove runs a bit hotter than normal stoves.

2. In medium pan, wilt the spinach over medium-high heat, which takes about 3-5 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside, pressing with dishcloth to remove as much excess water as you can.

3. In the same pan, put in your sausages and fry till well cooked and golden. Mine took about 20 minutes or so. I tried to do it at the same time as the roasting for quicker preparation. Cut into small pieces and set aside.

4. To make the dressing, mash the blue cheese and ricotta with the lemon juice and olive oil till it becomes a smooth paste.

5. Combine the squash, pears and apple with the spinach and sausage. Top with the dressing and serve.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Spinach and Fated Pie

Hmm. Is something amiss here? Did I do something wrong? Because my first experience with phyllo pastry was remarkably...easy. There was no pulling of my hair in frustration, no wringing of the fists, no stream of curses that would blanche a soldier. There was me. Phyllo pastry. And a lot of butter.

I'd done some research on the miracles and tribulations of using this dough and I felt ready. I had all the ingredients necessary to piece together an interpretation of Spanakopita. I had the requisite bravery needed work with those delicate, pale sheets. I marvelled at how a heaping mountain of spinach could shrink into a tiny pile of deep, dark green when wilted in a hot pan. I delighted in the vividness of the lemon zest abutting the lightly perfumed dill. I couldn't believe how everything was coming together with so much ease.

And when it came time to unwrap and layer the phyllo, well, it separated with minimal tearing. I lavished the layers with the butter and olive oil mixture, poured in the filling and put the pan in the oven with a light heart. As I sat and waited for it to turn golden brown, I thought about timing and how maybe this culinary experience, with all its steps and possible complications,
came down to the right things happening at just the right time. Much like one of the most pivotal events of my life did; finding love.

Almost Husband and I met in high school, back when I was 17. It was in "Society: Challenge And Change" class that we first clapped eyes on each other. He was a punk, resplendent with a mohawk, pants made almost entirely of holes and patches to cover said holes and a defiant attitude. I was a somewhat pimpled, shy loner, damaged from the torment of junior high. I wore 20-hole Doc Martins that were too big for me; they were cool back in the day, so I ignored the fact that I looked like Ronald McDonald.

He mentioned to a mutual friend that he thought I was cute. I set about, in my clumsy, innocent way, to wooing him. Slowly, slowly, we gravitated towards each other, and in a few short months, he asked me to be his girlfriend. And thus, I embarked on my first love affair. And, as it would turn out, the only love affair of any consequence, beauty or gravity.

Like most relationships, ours was tested. By youth, by inexperience, by bad timing and bad decisions. We were mercurial. We broke up. We made up. Then we broke up some more. Over the years, we often found ourselves crossing paths again and felt that gravitational pull once more, twice more, but after the initial elation of our reunions, the timing soured like curdled milk and somehow, we couldn't make "us" work.

Fast forward to three years ago, maybe a bit longer. A dream, a dream of such lucidity woke me one morning with such a sense of longing and nostalgia for him that I knew I had to look for him. I Googled him. I found him. I contacted him. We made plans to meet. And from the moment I saw him, I was filled with the certainty that this time, the stars had aligned, the moon was in the right position, the heavens and fates were all smiling down upon us. The timing, at last, was perfect.

And it still is. We're getting married this May.

So here, my friends, is my take on Spanakopita. I promise that if you prepare your workspace, and don't handle the dough with ham-fists, you'll have no trouble with this recipe. I don't make any claims of authenticity for traditional Greek dishes, I just took the combination of spinach and feta and went from there. I found the lemon really adds a lovely note to the dish. I was so incredibly pleased with how gorgeous the whole thing tasted; I'll be making this over and over!

Spinach And Feta Pie:

1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large bunch of spinach
1 onion, finely chopped
1 large clove of garlic (more, if you like)
1/2 cup of finely chopped fresh dill
zest of one lemon
juice of half a lemon
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 - 3/4 cup of feta cheese, crumbled (I went for 3/4 cup; there's never too much cheese for me!)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 box of phyllo dough
1/3 cup melted butter with 1 tbsp olive oil added

1. Preheat oven to
350 °F. In a large pan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp butter. Add onion and garlic and cook on medium heat till soft and lightly browned. Remove from pan and add to large mixing bowl.

2. Add spinach to still-hot pan and allow to wilt; approximately 3-4 minutes. Pour into sieve and press out as much water as you can (I also pressed it in a dishcloth) Once drained, chop it finely and add to the mixing bowl.

3. Add the dill, lemon zest, lemon juice, ricotta and feta to the mix and stir till well combined. Add enough salt and pepper to your liking and then add the beaten egg. Put it in fridge till you're ready to use it.

4. Set aside a space to work with the phyllo. Have a buttered baking pan (I used a 8" x 8" one) and two damp dishcloths ready and waiting. Melt the butter and add the olive oil; have pastry brush on hand. Take the thawed roll, cut it in half (I had a 5"- 6" wide roll) unroll and place between the cloths.

5. Peeling one sheet at a time, place them gently in the baking pan, one on the right side, one on the left side, to cover the bottom and brush with the butter/olive oil mixture. (Make sure to keep re-covering the phyllo sheets between the damp cloths; this will save you so much hassle!) Keep layering till you've accumulated 6 or 7 buttered layers. There will be phyllo hanging over the edges of the pan; don't trim these, they'll fold neatly to cover the entire top of the filling.

6. Place filling on top of the buttered layers and fold overhang to cover. Butter the top and stick in the oven for 25-30 minutes; keep checking on it to make sure it doesn't burn. Allow to cool, cut it and enjoy!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Labour Of Love

Oh hello. Did I blind you? Have you recovered from the ugliness of this picture of my dinner the other night? I know. It's a bit of a leap, asking you to consider making this based on your first impression, which is undoubtedly a little...unfavourable?

Would it help if I told you it was really, really good? If I used adjectives like 'earthy' and 'fragrant' and 'flavourful', would that persuade you a little? It's all good stuff in there. It's just that I wasn't able to capture the inner beauty of this meal in a photograph.

My landlord lives downstairs from us; he loves to cook. I come home from work everyday and the smells wafting from his door entice and inspire me and make my mouth water as I try to deduce what he's making. He and I have discussed the art of cooking on several occasions, and the one thing he said that has really stuck with me is that if you're preparing a meal, you must feel good about it and do it with love. My first response to that was an internal eye-roll; cook with love? What? How do you even quantify that? How much love is enough? Will the love tell me when the meat is ready? Will the love tell me whether the soup needs more cumin?

But when I thought about it a bit longer, my skepticism faded and I recognized the value of his advice. Often, when I set to cooking, it's at the end of a long day. I'm rushed, I'm hungry, I feel like the day is getting away from me. Consequently, I don't enjoy the chopping and dicing and seasoning and sauteing as much as I could. All the motions are there, but where's the love? Where's that feeling that I'm involved in something really cool? Maybe if I just slowed down and really opened myself to the experience, my food might turn out better and wouldn't have that slight aftertaste of 'frantic'.

So the other night, I set to doing just that; allowing the love to join me in the kitchen. I had a bunch of mushrooms that were on their way to the compost in another day or so, and I decided to throw a few things together that I knew I liked; canned diced tomatoes, onions, garlic; a simple sort of tomato sauce that I wanted to bake some white fish in. I poured a glass of wine, turned on some classical music and took a deep breath. I forgot about the long day I'd had and completely surrendered myself to the magic of food. As my ingredients came together and bubbled in the pot, I felt it; that love my landlord had been talking about. It wasn't some mystical element that told me what to put in the dish. It was the thing that put me in the moment, that engaged me with tastes, smells and ideas and made me trust what I was doing.

So here, without further ado, is the ugliest, tastiest thing I've made in a long time. I made the sauce the day before, but you could certainly make this all in one day. It would be much quicker to use fresh fish, but all I had was frozen which increased the baking time a lot!

Simple Tomato Sauce With White Fish:

1 tbsp butter
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
1 big clove of garlic, finely diced
1 package of white mushrooms, chopped
1/2 cup red wine
1 28 oz can of diced tomatoes (mine were lightly seasoned with oregano and basil; you could add some if you like)
salt and pepper to taste
1 large frozen or 2 fresh fillets of cod, haddock, sole or monkfish

1. Preheat oven to 350
° F

2. In a large pot, heat up the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and garlic and cook till onions are soft and translucent, about 7-10 minutes.

3. Add in the mushrooms and red wine and allow to come to a boil. Cook for about 5-10 minutes, or till really fragrant and some of the wine has been cooked off.

4.Turning the heat down a little, add the tomatoes and simmer for about 30-40 minutes; the sauce should thicken a bit as some of the liquid boils off.

5. Put a layer of the sauce in a baking pan/oven-safe pot/dutch oven and then add the fish. Put the remaining sauce on top of the fillets and cover.

6. As I'd mentioned, I used frozen fish, which took about 45-50 minutes to bake. Next time, I'll use fresh fish, which, by my estimation, should take about 20 minutes; make sure to check on it and when the fish flakes easily with a fork, it should be cooked through.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


I won't lie. I don't usually bake my own chocolate chip cookies. I buy them at the grocery store. The truth is, when I bake, I'm almost always disappointed with the outcome. I lack the scientific precision with which to guarantee positive results. I don't really commit to the baking process because I'm too busy enjoying it. The measuring is haphazard because I'm distracted by the smoothness of the flour, or the beauty of the salt crystals as they catch some of the natural light that streams into my kitchen. The stirring is over-zealous because I want every last chocolate chip to burrow itself deep within the dough. The baking is uneven because I just can't help myself from peeking in at the cookie sheet.

But as I've mentioned before, I'm trying to mend my ways. I'm avoiding shortcuts and I'm trying to learn how to fail with grace rather than not try at all. Life has not been very easy lately. There have been upsets and illnesses and circumstances beyond my control that have chipped away at my usually positive outlook. I've noticed the conspicuous absence of wonder and delight at the small things that used to cheer me. The startling colours of dusk; the sweet spot of my dog's head where I always kiss her, right between her eyes, with the faintest hint of my fruity lipgloss lingering. A song that hits just the right note of my mood; the rise and fall of Almost Husband's breathing as he sleeps, my own personal lullaby.

This is why I started a blog; not because the world needs one more blogger recycling and adapting recipes, but to keep track of the smallest of accomplishments. A recipe created or followed, a tangible result of my efforts to infuse my life with more colour, more flavour, more wonder.

So today, several hours before our friends come over for cheese and wine and conversation, I decided to make some chocolate chip cookies from scratch, despite a trip to the grocery store with its packages of perfectly respectable cookies luring me. I went to Smitten Kitchen for a recipe and decided to go with this one. The end result was a soft, chewy and brazenly chocolatey cookie that begs for an accompanying glass of milk and a quiet moment to wash it down with.

The recipe calls for unsalted butter. I only noticed that after I'd already made them with salted butter and noticed the slightly salty tang. I kind of enjoyed it, to be honest. It's up to you.

Smitten Kitchen's Crispy Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies:

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tbsp vanilla
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 325
° F and grease a cookie sheet
2. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
3. Combine the melted butter, brown and white sugars and mix till creamy.
4. Mix in the vanilla, egg and egg yolk till smooth. Add the dry ingredients and beat in till just combined.
5. Mix in the chocolate chips by hand. Scoop out a tablespoon of dough onto cookie sheet and bake in middle rack for approximately 7-10 minutes, or until golden and browning on the edges. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack or plate before transferring them to an airtight container, if they make it that far.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Cold Comfort Soup

There are days when I come home and I'm bone tired. I can't imagine walking the dog or vacuuming or being any sort of company for Almost Husband. I can't imagine what I'll make for dinner, so I end up opening a tin of Zoodles and watching bad television in my bathrobe and calling it a night.

Days like these make me feel like I've swallowed a bit of winter; a touch of gloominess settles in my stomach.
I open the door, wade through the needs of my dog and cat and ignore the tumbleweeds of pet fur that roll on by. Almost Husband understands my need for solitude when he sees me heading for the kitchen with that sort of weary, purposeful look on my face.

Cooking is something of a salvation when I feel like this. My cookbooks offer me a means to a fresh start, even at the end of a punishing day; concentrating on a task that involves creativity and my senses' hearty participation. My fridge reveals vegetables from my CSA box that require attention sooner rather than later. Parsnips. I've never had a parsnip before and now I have a whole bagful. I rely heavily on roasting vegetables, but today, I need to try something new; tastes I've never put together before. A quick scan of Jamie Oliver's Ministry Of Food, and I've found what I'm looking for: Parsnip And Ginger Soup.

The chopping of the vegetables, with all the gorgeous gradations of green in the celery and the lovely cream colour of the parsnips instantly soothes me. The smells of the ginger and garlic and onion intermingle and fill the kitchen with spicy warmth. As I wait for the broth to boil, I start imagining my weekend; perhaps we'll go see a movie, and I'll finally sit down and solder that jewellery I started before we moved. And then it hits me...Mood? What mood? Was I in a bad mood?

The soup is heavenly; a marriage of unusual flavours that renders me comforted and satisfied. I feel like a bit of the winter in me has melted. Cooking. It's a bit of magic, isn't it?

Jamie Oliver's Parsnip and Ginger Soup:

2 carrots
2 stalks of celery
2 medium sized onions
1 3/4 g parsnips (I only had a 1lb bag, so that's what I used. Still delicious)
a thumb sized piece of fresh ginger root
2 cloves of garlic
olive oil
1.8 L chicken stock, preferably organic
sea salt and fresh ground pepper
4 sprigs of fresh coriander (I skipped this)

1. Peel and roughly chop the carrots, parsnips, celery, onion, garlic and ginger.
2. In medium saucepan, bring chicken stock to a boil.
3. In large stock pot, add two lashings of olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped veggies and allow to cook for about 10-15 minutes, till onions are translucent.
4. Add boiling stock to cooked veggies and allow to come to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 15-20 minutes, or until veggies are easily pierced with a fork.
5. Using an immersion blender, or whatever system of pureeing works for you, pulse the soup till smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste and garnish with the coriander leaves if you like.