You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2010.

When we got back from Christmas in Newfoundland – where they tear it up on every one of the Twelve Days of Christmas, from Tip’s Eve to the Epiphany – we were corpulant.

We spent three wonderful weeks in South Branch and it must have been the hangovers, the fresh air and the electrifying conviviality of that town that compelled Wayne and I to eat the way we did. We were unstoppable. We’re talking 7,000 calories a day, mostly whiskey, potato chips, mayonnaise, Nutriwhip, margarine, Cheese-Whiz and gravy. That’s a lot of condiments, and they mostly went on top of bread, potatoes and ice cream.

I ate Wayne’s mum’s killer date squares for my breakfast dessert, her molasses cookies for my lunch dessert, and white ice cream with chocolate shell (remember shell?), over top of a white cake that I iced with my mother’s superlative chocolate-marshmallow frosting for my dinner dessert. On Christmas Day, Aunt Jessie brought over an enormous pan of Orange Creamsicle cake:

We were powerless against it.

When we got home, I looked like Keith Richards from the sugar-and-sodium bloat. It was time to start eating clean again. So I turned to an old standby from a hilarious 1980s diet book called Fit for Life. It’s the Energy Sandwich. The principles of Fit for Life aside (does fruit honestly rot if it travels slowly through your system behind non-fruit foods?), this is a really good sandwich. And my naturopath does second the FFL notion that digestion may improve when you eat your veg with carbs or protein, but not both at the same time. (Try it for a couple of days and you’ll see.)

But the sandwich – it’s foolishly simple:

Avocado, sliced thickly

Sprouts

Thinly sliced tomato [which I skipped this time; can’t stomach them raw if they aren’t ruby-reddishly in season]

Lettuce

Mustard, mayo

Salt and pepper

I made one on toasted rye yesterday. Doesn’t this look good?

Something magical happens when you give slices of perfect, creamy avocado a heavy shake of sea salt and a grind of cracked black pepper. I have declared avocado the new cheese in my life, till spring at least.

No big song and dance tonight, just a look at what we had for supper: January Pasta. It’s a little more Juice for Life than Classic Italian. Biba Caggiano, please turn away.

Things start out on the straight and narrow, mind you, with a big sauce made of fresh whole chopped tomatoes:

plus a pint of grape tomatoes cut in half and one nice big white onion, all of it sautéed in olive oil and a teeny bit of butter. Lots of salt and pepper. No basil. I love this sauce, and my new thing is to cut the acidity with a little bit of maple syrup instead of brown sugar; even Wayne concurs that it’s outta sight. And you get such a satisfyingly orange-coloured sauce from chopped whole tomatoes (rather than that sickening blue-red mess that the canned stuff can look like):

While the sauce was simmering, I set the oven to 375 degrees, then chopped and roasted carrots and kale (tossed with salt and olive oil).

You have to watch the kale, because it crisps up fairly quickly, much more so than the carrots. I removed it when it looked done (slightly burned, actually. It should have come out at 10 minutes or so and been turned over every five minutes. I was nursing the baby in another room, Fairport Convention turned up loud. I forgot the kale existed) and spread the carrots out and let them carry on in there till they were brown and caramelizey.

I kept the veg warm in the oven while my pasta boiled, then piled my bowl higher with veg than with pasta. In post-Newfoundland-binge January days, this is how I roll. Look at this picture of the finished product:

Does that look like the kind of dish that could put 300 pounds on Ciuccio Sentimentino? No way. It’s full of oven-sweetened vegetables and practically makes pasta a virtuous choice. And it doesn’t taste like one.

The pasta itself is organic kamut fettuccine by Artesian Acres:

Don’t get me wrong. The classic Barilla penne in my cupboard would have been so much better, texturally, that I don’t even want to talk about it. But as I said, in Newfoundland we ate like starved, demented pregnant lumberjacks for three solid weeks (more on that tomorrow). So for now, we’re staying away from white refined stuff. And the kamut pasta is decent on the protein (13 grams in 85 grams of pasta).

I served it with a simple green salad tossed with walnuts and an easy lemon-and-oil vinaigrette: juice of half a lemon, salad-spoon tong full of olive oil, lots of salt and pepper. Now that’s a nice Italian girl!

And that’s January Pasta. Lots of chopping on the carrots and all those damn tomatoes. Wayne says to do it in the Cuisinart next time. I certainly prefer my dear little serrated Global knife when it’s a lazy Saturday and the baby is marathon-napping and a Roches album is playing and I never want the songs and the chopping and the moment to end. You can taste that in a dish. But, my brothers and sisters, you can taste the ire of a rushed woman, too. Chances are, I’ll give Wayne’s method a spin.

We had a quinoa accident many years ago, and it damaged me for a long time to come. It was the early nineties and my mother, who has a sure hand in the kitchen, was trying to show some kindness to me at the tail end of what she calls my “Hell Years” by cooking me a non-meat-centred dish. (I was capriciously vegetarian.)

Leaning against the counter in front of the sunny backyard-facing window in the house I grew up in, she said, with her cheerful armor on: “Look what I found, Francetoast. A recipe for keen-wah. Doesn’t that sound interesting?”

I supposed it did. And nothing had ever failed before in my mother’s kitchen that I could remember. Still, it was the Hell Years. I felt generous in my kindness when I answered, “Sure. Kind of.”

But oh, the quinoa. It was bitter as earwax, and so very fishy. The recipe called for tuna, and the tuna imbued every speck of the bitter, bitter quinoa with its aluminum fishiness. It was awful, and I’m sure I didn’t spend too much time worrying about phrasing that diplomatically to my poor mother. For it was the tail end of the Hell Years, and I was a spectacular bitch.

To make it up to that beloved woman, I am going to cook her lunch asap, featuring the really, really good recipe that follows. It came to me via the lovely Katarina, who found it in Weekday Wonders by Rose Reisman, and has delivered me squarely into the arms of quinoa – finally.

It’s full of veg (and even a little fruit), it’s refreshing and slightly sweet, and it took me all of 15 minutes to make. You should have it for supper tonight or as a make-ahead lunch for tomorrow. (I served it with leftover chicken from Eduarda’s, and sautéed shrimp for Wayne the pescatarian.)

But before you move on to the recipe, a quick note on quinoa. It truly does have a bitter, waxy coating that prevents the birds from devouring it. So before you cook with it, soak it in a bowl of water for five minutes.

Then swish it around, rubbing the quinoa to release the coating, then rinse it well.

But don’t let this prevent you from trying this dish. The soaking is simple and it works: The dish wasn’t bitter in the slightest and had great mouth feel, somewhere between couscous and barley.

Last (and sound the trumpet blast for this one): Quinoa is not a grain! Not a grain. I couldn’t believe it either. It’s a seed. It contains calcium and iron, and (I’m sure you’ve heard this before) is the only plant food that contains all the amino acids, making it a complete protein and therefore a total boon for non-meat-eaters like the illustrious Wayne.

Here you go:

Quinoa with fennel, red pepper, and apricots in an orange dressing

For the salad:
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained (I used white, because it’s what I had on hand. Apparently the red variety is slightly chewier)
1 cup diced fennel (there were out of it, so I substituted celery. I resent the way fennel sometimes overbears in a mixed dish like this, anyway.)
1 cup diced red pepper
1 cup diced snow peas
1/2 cup diced dried apricots
1/4 cup dried cranberries or dried cherries or raisins (I used cranberries – yawn – but if you’ve read my other posts, you know I did this out of gargantuan love for my main squeeze, the raisin hater. Raisins would have been excellent here.)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

For the dressing:
2 tbsp raspberry vinegar (I used white-wine vinegar)
2 tbsp orange juice concentrate, thawed (I used PC mango-orange juice)
1 tbsp liquid honey (I only had creamy clover honey, so I used maple syrup)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp minced garlic

To make salad: Soak the quinoa in a bowl of water for five minutes.

Rub hands over the quinoa to loosen the bitter coating. Then rinse under fresh water.

In a saucepan, bring stock to a boil. Add quinoa; reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, covered, for 15 minutes or until tender and liquid is absorbed. Transfer to a bowl. Cool.

While quinoa is cooking, chop the remaining salad ingredients.

Then stir into cooled quinoa.

To make dressing: In a small bowl [I always use a mason jar so that you can screw the lid on and shake it up], whisk together dressing ingredients.

Pour over quinoa mixture; toss to coat.

Wayne and I ate almost all of it, we loved it that much. Next time, I’ll double it.
If you have a fantastic quinoa recipe of your own, lay it on me. I’m ready for more. Looking back, I probably didn’t deserve quinoa all those years ago. I’m glad it was patient.

There are six secrets behind every truly kickass minestrone and I am about to divulge them.

Step one: If you’re a nice Italian girl, go watch your mother make it and do exactly what she does. If you aren’t, proceed to step two.

Step two: Get yourself a copy of Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by the formidable Marcella Hazan. For god’s sake – even the nice Italian girls in my nice Italian family with their own mothers who cook Italian like nobody’s business have a copy of Marcella on their shelves. She will boss you around with her withering tone, and that is part of the thrill of cooking with Hazan. For, after all, you’re in the company of a master. And if you submit to her bossings, whatever she has you cook will turn out fantastic, every time. My minestrone is tightly based on hers.

Step three: As a rule, sautée everything that goes into your minestrone. Everything, dammit! It brings out the sweetness and richness of every vegetable. It makes your soup fabulously edible at every single stage. What I mean is, even when I only have the onion and the carrot in my pot, all sticky and golden and waiting for the next seven ingredients, I always pause and think, “That right there is good enough to pull out of the pot right this second and serve as a side dish. It’s already delicious! And it’s not even soup yet” (as below).

My mother sometimes skips the olive oil, but I figure if you’re going to eat a giant bowl of veg for supper, you need the olive oil, so it’ll hold you till the next meal.

Step four: Salt and pepper everything, liberally, at every stage. You have no idea how good this makes it.

Step five: Use decent stock. I’m not saying you have to make your own, but since you’re doing ablutions for the sins of modern living at the stove there with all that fine whole food, try and find a brand that isn’t full of MSG. My heart belongs to Harvest Sun, which is organic, yeast-free, heavy on lovage (the most romantic-sounding herb in Christendom) and rich for a powdered bouillon.

Step six: This is the clincher, and I can’t believe I’m ruining all of my mystique in one swoop by letting it out of the bag like this: Buy a little piece of parmigiano reggiano and keep it in your cheese drawer, and whenever you make this soup, cut off a hunk of the rind and drop it into the mix while it’s cooking. It’ll infuse your pot with a salty depth that veg just cannot muster on its own (at least not the veg that goes into this soup). It thickens your broth a little too, and the flavour will unite mightily with the sprinkling of parm that you’ll shake on top of your own bowl when the soup is ready to be eaten.

There you have it. And now that you know the secrets behind the mothersoup, the mastersoup, the mighty minestrone, you will no longer be impressed when you eat it at my house.

Here’s my recipe. (I’m stripping myself to the bone now. Nothing left.) Make it on a Sunday, double it if you want, freeze lots of it. It’s the nicest thing to pull out on a night when you’re rushed, served with a good old-fashioned tuna melt, or a tuna salad, Italian-style, with purple onion on arugula – or with pizza. (A soup very similar to this one was served alongside pizza every Friday evening during my teenage years. Too many bad boyfriends got in on that soup!)

But anyway:

The Mothersoup (an almost-Hazan minestrone)

Six cups stock (chicken or veg, from bouillon or homemade)

extra-virgin olive oil (enough to heavily coat the bottom of your pot. Marcella says to use half a cup, but that seems crazy)

1 tbsp butter (Marcella says 3. But come on.)

1 cup onion

1 cup carrot

1 cup celery (Include the leaves and stick your head in the pot while they’re cooking. They are fragrant. In fact, every time I buy celery, I chop and freeze the leaves for this purpose. It comes so good.)

4 or 5 zucchini

2 cups potato

One can Romano beans

A hunk of crust from a wedge of parmigiano-reggiano

One can whole tomatoes, with their juices

Salt and pepper

Thyme

Start by making your stock and chopping all of your veg. I always send everything through the Cuisinart; it makes super-fast work of the chopping and makes nice thin slices of every vegetable. (There’s something vulgar about chunky vegetables in minestrone. Does a bowl of vegetable soup have to look like a bowl full of vegetables? If you’re going to spend the time transforming produce into something out-of-this-worldly, do a number on that roughage. Let it know who has the complex nervous system around here.)

Now for the cooking: Start with a big soup pot turned up to a lively heat. Heat your olive oil, then add the butter. Then you start adding the vegetables one at a time, in this order, cooking each for 3 to 5 minutes before adding the next, and salt-and-peppering at every stage: onion, carrot, celery, zucchini, potatoes. Do your stirring with a wooden spoon.

When the veg looks good enough to pull out of the pot and eat as is, add your stock, the tomatoes with their juices, a final grind of pepper, a heavy sprinkling of thyme, rolling it between your fingers to release its oils, and the hunk of parm rind. Squash the tomatoes with your potato masher or against the back of a fork. (You could also do this before you add them; I don’t know why I don’t.)

Give everything a big stir, see to it that your soup has come to a bubble, then lower the heat and let it simmer.

Next, clean up and read a magazine for a while, while your tidy kitchen fills with the smell of all this. You can let it cook for half an hour – or two hours, if you have the time. The longer all the elements have to marry, the better. Last: Drain the can of beans, stir them in and cook the soup for another 20 minutes or so.

Serve with a sprinkling of grated parm on top.

And tell me how it goes.

I’m sorry – that was cruel. Here’s the recipe:

Sexy, lightning-fast Asian coleslaw

Shredded cabbage (I used the pre-shredded kind – so quick. And I measure the way my  Nonna used to: a small handful per lady, a big handful per man. Then I add two more big handfuls because I eat like a man-lady and cabbage is good for you.)

A blob of mayonnaise

A teaspoon or so of mirin (rice vinegar. Use apple cider if you don’t have mirin)

A tablespoon or so of sesame oil (for a while, I was using sesame oil with chile in it. It was all they had at the Frills, but it gave the slaw a fiesty little kick, and we loved it)

Half a teaspoon or so of soy sauce (I use Bragg – unfermented, left over from my cleansing days)

Mix the mayo, mirin, sesame oil and soy in the bottom of a bowl big enough to hold all the coleslaw.Throw your pre-shredded cabbage into the bowl and toss. Taste and correct for salt with more soy, if you like. Then revel in the fact that this is frigging delicious, took you all of three minutes, and is cruciferous to boot.

At this point, I divide the slaw into two bowls and toss one of them with raisins. That bowl is for me. I worship raisins and will eat them in anything. Anything! (Though they’re especially good with cabbage.) The un-raisined half is for my amour.

Let’s call him Wayne.

Wayne hates raisins in everything. Everything! He isn’t alone. There is actually a war among my closest “friends,” who divide fiercely into two camps: raisin haters and raisin avengers. One of them had the gall to sneak into the den at my last dinner party and leave me a typed message in my Underwood that read: “Fuck raisins.” She better watch her back.

But over to you: What should we eat this with? It’s really good with takeout rotisserie chicken from Eduarda’s on Dundas. What else?

Why, hello. This is my blog. It’s the last thing the world needs: another blasted food blog.

But tell me: Do you know what you’re having for supper?

If you don’t, the pressure, come four o’clock in the afternoon, very likely makes you feel like you’re going to buckle and collapse, cracking your head on the floor like a coconut – and you will pick up the two halves and shout into them, “What the frick am I gonna eat tonight?!”

There will be no answer. The exertion will only make you hungrier.

Supper ought to be the best part of the day – work done, feet stuffed in fur slippers, the face of your contented amour inches away, just across the table  – but it is savage in its sheer relentlessness. It is never going to stop rearing up with its great, ravenous jaws. And I don’t want to be left howling on the forest floor. I want to strike back with enthusiasm! There is no other choice.

And that’s how I landed here.

Supper came panting a few weeks ago, and I had half an idea – a fantastic Asian coleslaw I like to make that honestly takes two minutes to prepare and turns boring old smelly cabbage into something sexy. So I sent the recipe around to my pals, in hope that they would try it and love it, and also in hope that they would write me back and tell me what to serve with it.

And as I typed, I could see myself becoming addicted. I could see myself wanting to include in that same email the recipe for the pumpkin-and-chickpea soup I’d tried in October. And the recipe for my mother Norma’s classic banana-bran chocolate-chip muffins. (Everybody needs to eat those.)

And there it was.

Rather than bombard my poor, hungry, busy girlfriends with emails, I figured I should place these thoughts in a blog and hope that whenever they, or anyone else, had a hankering to unleash something new and fast and wicked on their kitchen, they’d come here and find it. Or whenever they had delicious instructions for me, they’d do the same.

Long and short:  I have delicious instructions. I know you do too. Gimme a mouthful.

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Words of Wayne

Look at what Wayne discovered on his breakfast plate (medium: banana string). It's the Playboy Banana. I ask you, Dr. Freud: How does he find this stuff? If he could have, he would have put it in his cherished Food Oddities mug, along with the treble-clef pretzel and the Bill Clinton potato chip.

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