Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My father, my kitchen

My father passed away November 14. I am sad, but he has not been the person I grew up with for many years. That's the kind of effect that Alzheimer's and old age had on him: he remembered his family, but not what he did that morning. He could identify photos of old theatre colleagues from the 50s, but hecouldn't recall where he was in pictures I would show him from my childhood.

My dad was the one who taught me about art. He had me act as a prompter in a theatre production (I was 5, and an early reader) . He was the one who was up early on weekends, making pancake letters or chocolate crepes that we would fill with jam & icing sugar, or canned peaches & chocolate sprinkles. He was also famous for whipping up batches of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. In our house, two dozen usually lasted two days. In later years, after we had left home, he would bake them and bring them to a few older ladies in the community to make their day. I also remember meals he cooked that used ingredients I had never heard of before, like jicama root in salad.

He also had a huge impact on what I cook and the way I am in the kitchen.

When we cleaned out his house, I found copies of the first colour edition of "Larousse Gastronomique". I found a boxed set of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking", volumes I and II. I found cookbooks authored by Vincent Price and an edition of Great Tabasco Recipies. I found a Silpat cookie sheet. I found a strange implement for which I have yet to identify its use.

My favorite recipe book is the one that contains all my favorite recipes I photocopied from his cookbooks, and the ones that he sent us. He loved finding new recipes, and nifty kitchen gadgets. I remember him gesticulating wildly as he described his excitement at finding a rasp that could be used to zest lemon at Lee Valley Tools. I remember the emphasis in his voice as he talked about how easy it was to make avocado mousse..." You just take the avocado and the cream and you blend them together LIKE THIS. REALLY, it's SO extraordinarily EASY!"

His legacy will live on in my cooking, I hope: his love of experimentation, of taking a recipe and changing one or two ingredients, of hosting dinner parties with fun appetizers, and globally-inspired entrées.

I'm looking forward to talking to more people about my dad, and hearing their stories.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

chocolate taste test redux

I'm not going to even try and explain why it's been almost four months since my last post. Nor am I going to promise to be more regular with the blog posting. Enjoy!

My family is well aware of my love for chocolate, and they often bring home interesting chocolate bars for sampling. This summer was no exception, as my sister-in-law (SIL) went out and picked up four different chocolate bars for a taste-test one night after dinner (she shares my addiction, so it was no great sacrifice).

The four bars selected:

  • Dark Chocolate with Melon and Quinoa (Desirs - French)
  • Pear Dark (Klaus - French/Swiss)
  • Dark Chocolate with Toffee (Valor - Spanish)
  • Milk Chocolate Banana Cashew Curry (Klaus - French/Swiss)

Here are the brief notes I made during the tasting:

  • Dark Chocolate with Melon & Quinoa: Dark chocolate overpowers any taste of melon. Quinoa adds crunch (and makes us feel healthier while eating it)
  • Pear Dark: The dark chocolate overpowered the taste of pear.
  • Dark Chocolate with Toffee: I didn’t expect much surprise from the standard chocolate/toffee combination (compared to the interesting options that went before it) and I was not disappointed.
  • Banana Cashew Curry: our favourite, thanks to a unique combination of smooth milk chocolate, a fresh taste of banana and subtle hint of curry. We tried to pace ourselves, but this was the first one finished off.

If anyone has any other suggestions for future taste tests, please leave them in the comments!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

I'm so going to see this movie

Meryl Streep, Norah Eprhron and a movie about food. What's not to like?

I can't embed the trailer, so here's the official website.


Monday, March 30, 2009

definitely not your typical battlefield rations

Here’s some interesting work news, which ties beautifully into the theme of this blog.

My job involves writing. A few days ago my colleague and cube mate was talking about needing to put together some two line descriptions on the inspiration and ingredients for each of the canapés that will be served at the next exhibition opening, which is all about camouflage and deception.

The chef is proposing some interesting hors d’oeuvres: salmon lollipops encrusted with black sesame seeds, cheese martinis (garnish becomes main ingredient), mushroom espressos and tequila mango shooters, among other things. I’m not going to give too much away until the actual big day, which won’t be for a few months yet. But the whole team is very excited.

Obviously, I jumped on the opportunity. What self-respecting foodie/writer wouldn’t?

In addition to creating the descriptions, I’m also writing a chef’s statement and sprucing up the actual names we give the canapés. And so, all in the name of research, I can go visit the chef, ask him questions about each of his selections, his preparation methods, tricks of the trade… the list goes on. The chance to interview a professionally-trained chef has been pretty heady. (I don't get out much...)

I’ve also pulled up all kinds of videos and recipes on trompe l’oeil food. It's always nice to be able to indulge a personal interest on company time...

As work assignments go, this is a pretty good one!

PS I finally (after almost 3 months) figured out how to make my Twitter feed appear on my blog without that annoying sign-in box. My days of feeling technically inclined are numbered, I can tell.

Friday, March 06, 2009

oh, coffee

My bus to work lets me off in front of a Starbucks every morning.

This in itself may not sound like an incredible pronouncement, but let's go back and look at this sentence more carefully.

a) I now have a job, people. Back at work, Monday to Friday, 8 am to 4 pm. After 18 months of hanging out at home with the kids, I'm back in the hustle and bustle of the rat race...but with a small difference. I've moved out of the private sector and into something that makes people who know me say I'm in the perfect job for who I am.

b) Even though I stare down the doors of the Starbucks down every morning, I don't (always) step in. This is a big deal because I love my lattés. I've always been a coffee-with-my-milk kind of girl. And Starbucks has always been my destination of choice to fill my need.

I owe my change of heart to one person--my own personal barista, my husband. He's the type of man who, every once in a while, will pick up a new hobby and proceed to learn everything about it until he masters it. He did it with kick boxing, he did it with stock investing, and now, he's taken up coffee. In the same way that many people appreciate fine wines, he's joined the ranks of the coffee geeks, and I couldn't be more proud.

He's the one who gets up every morning and carefully grinds the beans for the daily espresso. He's also the one who waits patiently for the pressure to build so that he can steam the milk. Then he personalizes it just for me with little bit of vanilla syrup and a dash of cinnamon. How can I resist?

I've also discovered if I walk just one block further to where I catch my second bus, I walk right past the doors of the locally-owned Bridgehead coffee shop. Although the baked goods selection is not as appealing as Starbucks (ahem, hint, hint), the lattés have less of that push-button taste to them , and the milk is always poured with a lovely little leaf pattern on top (which I don't have a picture of, yet). I always try and support the local company, when I can.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

perfect party pastitio

A long time ago, in the same land I am in now, I used to participate in a food blogging challenge - Presto Pasta Nights, originated by Ruth Daniels of Once Upon a Feast.

My first submission to PPN (#60) was a Garlic, Sweet Potato and Spinach lasagna. I still count it as one of my best-ever creations - succulently rich slices of sweet potato layered with spinach, noodles, zucchini and a flavourful mix of ricotta and basil pesto. Though I'm still not sure why I chose to put a layer of zucchini slices on the bottom.

Bring the first (and only) roundup that I regularly participated in, Presto Pasta Nights holds a special place for me. This week marks a momentous milestone for PPN - the 100th Roundup (WAY TO GO RUTH!).
So even though I have not been very good at blogging lately, I decided to make the effort to type more than 140 characters (Twitter=my new blog ;-)) and submit a recipe and photos for gorgeously delicious pastitio that I will definitely make again.

A few weeks ago an old friend from across the pond e-mailed me to let me know he was flying into town for work. This kind of thing does not happen very often, so it called for something a little fancier than usual. Knowing this, and taking into account the chaos and craziness that ensues with our two boys at a restaurant, no matter HOW WELL behaved they are, I opted to offer a home-cooked meal, with all the confidence that subscriptions to Bon Appétit and Gourmet bring.

The pastitio from the December issue had me at bechamel. Plus, I'm a sucker for anything with ground lamb in it. Yes, I know that some people quake at the thought of roux and whisking, but I was craving the creaminess. And yes, lining up each individual piece of penne made it a little finickier to prepare than a standard lasagna, but who knows when I'll ever have this kind of time again? Get past those two things, and the rest of the preparation is a cinch. I made some modifications based on personal tastes, but essentially stuck to the recipe.

And like the first lasagna I submitted to PPN, it was good, no wait - really good.
A perfect party pastitio worthy of a celebration of any milestone or special occasion. Or for no particular reason at all.

Congratulations on your 100th roundup Ruth!

Greek Pastitio
(shamelessly borrowed from the December 2008 issue of Gourmet)
I halved the original recipe for the meat sauce. When I make this again, I would definitely add more meat and tomatoes. I used dried thyme instead of fresh thyme, simply because that is what I had on hand. In my opinion though, fresh is always better.

For meat sauce:

1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 pounds ground lamb
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes in juice
2 teaspoons dried thyme
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
For béchamel sauce:

3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups whole milk
3/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 cup grated kefalotyri cheese
3 large egg yolks
For pasta:

2 pounds rotini
1 3/4 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs (recipe says white, I used whole grain)
1/4 cup grated kefalotyri cheese

Meat sauce:
Cook onions in oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until softened, about 7 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Increase heat to high, then stir in lamb and cook, stirring occasionally and breaking up any lumps with a fork, until meat starts to brown, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, drain tomatoes, reserve juice, and chop.

Pour off excess fat from skillet, then stir in tomatoes with their juice, thyme, spices, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Simmer over low heat, partially covered, until some liquid has evaporated but sauce is still moist, about 40 minutes. Discard thyme.

Make béchamel while meat sauce simmers:
Melt butter in a heavy medium pot over medium heat. Whisk in flour, then cook roux, whisking frequently, until pale golden, about 6 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat milk in a heavy medium saucepan until just about to boil. Add milk to roux in a stream, whisking constantly until very smooth. Bring sauce to a boil over medium heat, whisking, then cook, whisking, 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in nutmeg, cheese, and 1 tablespoon salt.
Lightly beat yolks in a bowl. Gradually whisk in 1 cup béchamel, then whisk yolk mixture into remaining béchamel in saucepan. Cover with a round of buttered wax paper (buttered side down).
Cook pasta and assemble pastitsio:
Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in middle. Cook penne in a pasta pot of boiling salted water (3 tablespoons salt for 6 quarts water) until al dente.
Drain pasta, then transfer to a large bowl and stir in 1 cup béchamel.

Arrange one third of pasta lengthwise in 1 layer in a large (17-by 11-inch) baking pan (about 2 inches deep). Because I halved the recipe, I used a 9-by-13-inch pan.

Add half of meat sauce to baking pan, spreading evenly over pasta.

Make another layer of pasta and top with remaining meat sauce, then arrange remaining pasta on top.

Spread remaining béchamel evenly over top layer of pasta.

Stir together bread crumbs and cheese and sprinkle evenly over top of pastitsio.

Bake until crumbs are golden brown and sauce is bubbling, about 45 minutes.

Monday, January 26, 2009

the great sweet potato latke experiment

the first batch of golden-brown potato latke goodness
Cravings for the potato nests from my childhood intersected with the gift of a subscription of Gourmet for Christmas.

I made my first batch using baking potatoes and a recipe from the December issue over the Christmas holidays while BIL and GIL were here. The results were mouthwatering, but the photo doesn't do them justice.

Last week I freeformed a latke combination of sweet potato and zucchini, seasoned with cumin. I'm a big fan of the flavour of sweet potatoes, and I always look for an excuse to use them.

sweet pototo batch waiting to be fried golden-brown

Although they tasted wonderful, they didn't crisp up and stay together as well as my first batch. It may have been because I let them sit too long in the colander, or it may have been because sweet potatoes are just not as starchy as baking potatoes. I'd definitely make these again, however. Kids and adults alike gobbled them up.

The final product

Sweet Potato and Zucchini Latkes
adapted from two recipes in the December 2008 Gourmet


1 medium onion
4 sweet potatoes
1 large zucchini
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 tsp cumin
2 tsp salt
dash of pepper
About 1 cup vegetable oil for frying


1. Peel onions and cut lengthwise to fit into the feed tube of a food processor. Use medium shredding disk to grate. Transfer to a large bowl (do not clean processor).
2. Peel potatoes and put in a bowl of cold water. Cut potatoes lengthwise to fit feed tube, then grate and add to onions.
3. Peel zucchini and cut lengthwise to fit feed tube. Grate and add to onions and potatoes.
4. Toss with lemon juice, then with flour, breadcrumbs, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Add eggs and stir to coat. Transfer to a colander set over a bowl (potatoes will release juices). Do not let it sit for too long (First time I made the recipe, it sat for 15-30 minutes, second time was much longer)
5. Preheat oven to 200°F if you want to keep the latkes warm as you make the batches.
6. Pour enough oil for 1/4 inch depth and heat to 360°F in a heavy skillet over medium heat. The temperature is important to prevent latkes from browning too fast (and turning black)
7. Using a 1/4-cup measure, scoop 3 to 4 mounds of potato mixture into skillet. Flatten with a fork to form 3 1/2-to 4-inch pancakes. (Scoop, drop, then flatten to prevent issues with hot oil)
8. Cook until golden brown, 2 1/2 to 3 minutes per side. (this is not a step you should walk away from). Transfer to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet and keep warm in oven while making more latkes.