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This post is also called “Cottages: the enemy of salads everywhere.”

Wayne, Baby T and I went north on Friday: Lunch was a breakfast burrito that I ate on the run (from my local favourite, Espresso Mi Vida) while picking up groceries for the getaway. We were gunning it, to get out of the city before the traffic got too thick.

After a frantic packing session and a good fight, we were on the road on time (only half an hour off-schedule, which is spectacular for Wayne and I, and only possible with fighting). Still, it was well past dark when we finally reached the cottage, so supper was takeout Chinese. I respect you too much to lie: There wasn’t a vegetable in sight in my supper (Combo #4 – heavy on the chicken balls and red sauce). Dessert was Neapolitan ice cream with chocolate sauce. Cottage, dude. That’s what you do there.

After putting the baby to bed and digesting for some time, the men arrived. It was a boys’ weekend, a belated celebration for Wayne’s (and our friend Ric’s) birthday. I was the only female present, and only because I hold the keys to the place.

It was a privileged slot: Those men could cook! One of them, a Belgian, fed us a brunch on Saturday that was three hours in the making: the best crèpes I’ve ever had (one was cinnamony apple and cheddar; the other was BLT with a twist). As I watched the greatness of this brunch unfold, I was too absorbed to even think about making a side salad of any sort to serve with it.

I was in charge of supper (Giadia’s mascarpone pasta and Norm’s classic Italian chicken wings), but fortunately, the Belgian stepped up again, offering to take over the salad course. And he nailed it, with a perfectly balanced maple vinaigrette over a salad of romaine, shallots, slivered apple, almonds, cashews and raisins.

I wish I could have photographed the 12 exiled raisins that Wayne pushed to the edge of his plate like poison insects threatening to contaminate everything. But the camera died the moment after the salad was captured:

I, the Raisin Avenger, was in salad heaven. When dinner was done, the boys leaned back in their chairs while I plunged into the bottom of the salad bowl with the giant wooden tosser to scoop out every last bit. It’s exquisite to be served someone else’s dressing. You get so sick of your own. It’s like your own monkey brain, doing Great Expectations with grocery lists in your head; sometimes you just need a Jesus break from it.

With that in mind, I’ll wrap this, but I encourage you to 1) Make one of your friends swap a jar of homemade dressing with you, to keep you from getting bored of your salads, and 2) come back tomorrow to read about the delicious bowl I’m making tonight with a jar of dressing that Gelstein gave me. It’s built around a Jamie Oliver number called Crunchy Thai Salad, and it’s going to be a delicious kickstart to a redemptive, leafy week.

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Just kidding. It was actually a leftovers salad for lunch today: the chicken, the quinoa, and (yes, somehow tinned-tasting and petrified) green beans from the cafeteria salad bar.  But since no one (how is it possible?) has yet raked me over the coals for yesterday’s Fried Chicken Salad, I figured a little more wise-assery would be tolerated.

The real challenge starts tomorrow, my day off and the beginning of a wild weekend away. There will be chicken wings and Giada’s crazy, creamy mascarpone penne – but I’ll find a way to slot the greens in somehow. I’m out of range tomorrow and Saturday, but I’ll be back here on Sunday with the whole truth.

In the meanwhile: your supper-salad ideas. Keep them coming.

And what a salad it was – “the most unsalady salad we’ve had so far,” as Wayne put it.

This one was inspired by a hilarious and health-conscious co-worker, KR, whose lunches I’ve regularly envied. Every day, she brings with her to the office an interesting vegetable-and-carb and-protein assemblage in a dear little Maoist-style steel lunch box. I had been pining for something nearly as good in the weeks I spent dragging up dreadful salad-bar containers from the cafeteria, from which everything tastes tinned or petrified.

During a lineup meeting last week, KR was sitting to the right of me, finishing up one of these lunches, so I quizzed her on the contents of the box. It was quinoa (healthy protein), kale (superfood), red pepper (antioxidant), and fried chicken (sweet Jesus!), in a lemon vinaigrette. I knew I wanted in on that action!

As I mentioned yesterday, I did all the prep work the night before, which made for a quick supper tonight: The quinoa was ready, the kale had been parboiled, the very thin chicken cutlets (and slices of tofu for Wayne) had been salt-and-peppered, dipped in a couple of beaten, salt-and-peppered eggs, then breaded and tucked in the fridge, between layers of parchment in a Tupperware. And for fun – high on the narcissistic glory of feeling in control of the world because I was making dinner a day ahead – I had placed a few squashed cloves of garlic in a little dish of olive oil.

All that was left tonight was to fry the chicken (which Wayne did while I made my way home from work), sautée the kale for a minute or two in the garlic and oil from yesterday, and put our yummy salad bowls together:

We drizzled leftover Cobb vinaigrette over the quinoa. I only have the one rushed photo because it smelled so good.

And don’t you fight me on salad status. People eat rice salads, and potato salads – why not a grain salad with fried chicken? I consumed half a bunch of kale with it, for god’s sake.

And not to change the subject, but a vegetarian who’ll fry your chicken? (You didn’t think I’d let that one go.) Could there be a better foil.

Tonight: Exquisite Italian Tuna Salad with arugula, marinated purple onion and walnuts, dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Could have eaten two of them. (And a happy Wayne would like to note that tonight’s walnut-and-tuna pairing more than made up for the gag-inducing memory of yesterday’s cheddar-sardine incident.)

The unanticipated upside of having a raw supper salad is that dinnertime was early! With the time I saved not cooking for supper tonight, I’m doing some serious prep for dinner tomorrow: the quinoa is on the stovetop, I’ll be sautéeing kale once this post is up, and the chicken is getting breaded and fried.

Pictures, and the full story, tomorrow.

The icebergy Tupperware satisfied! It satisfied me, at least; Wayne took his salad to work but forgot his dressing in the fridge at home, so he had to resort to plan B: pouring of tin of sardines in hot sauce over his greens. “It all kind of worked. Except, when the cubes of cheddar cheese and sardines mixed, it tasted like rotten fish. Rotten fish salad.” Let’s hear it for Wayne, for putting the challenge in the 30-Day Challenge.

Tomorrow: Arugula and Italian Tuna. On Wednesday, we’ll do something new, and I can’t say it won’t involve fried chicken.

Here we go: It’s 11:08 p.m., and with salad in mind for lunch tomorrow, I have, in the past 12 minutes, whirred up a batch of my favourite Cobb vinaigrette – enough to last Wayne and I for days – washed a head of iceberg (the Kraft dinner of lettuces, but after three weeks of All Sorts and mashed potatoes, we need a gateway drug), put a pot of eggs on to boil, macerated a few thinly sliced purple onions, dug the black olives out of the fridge, and tossed into my Tupperware the ingredient that always makes a salad more seductive when I’m not in the mood for it, the one thing that can stop me from spurning my greens for the glycemic thrill of a great big sexy sangwich, and that is cheese (little cubes of organic white cheddar this time around).

Once Wayne peels the eggs, our lunch salads for tomorrow will be ready to go. If I wasn’t in such a rush to get to bed, I’d take and post pictures of our giant, icebergy Tupperwares and I’d also find a funnier way to set up the story about how Wayne derailed my plans for a supper salad tonight by wooing me with sushi.

We were driving home from my sister’s gig in the freezing early evening, discussing our cold, salady supper plans, when Wayne pitched sushi with surprising resoluteness. The idea of all that salty, chewy rice weakened me in an instant. I resisted with a whine in my voice:  “But they’re counting on me,” I whinged, and, “I promised them,” and, “Who’s  going to bother coming back to read about the challenge if I can’t deliver on Day 1?”

But he was already pulling into a slushy parking spot on Bloor Street, muttering about how sushi is really actually a “salad” made of fish and rice with soy-sauce dressing. While I do plan to stretch the definition of Salad this month, I promise I will never go that far.

So, let tomorrow be Day 1. Stock your fridge with romaine and leaf and arugula and anything else vegetal that appeals to you, raw or cooked. There will be quinoa. There will be beans involved, and goat cheese, and roast chicken, and ravigote dressing, and something kooky called Insalata Mexicana. There will be many exciting new recipes to try, though some days we’ll have to repeat old favourites (let’s be reasonable here), and some days it’ll be whatever’s in the fridge.

After all, we aren’t perfect salad people. How could we be? All the world’s molasses bread is stacked against us. But there’s always the fear of scurvy to keep us on track – and, at least this month, we’ll have each other. So please post your own favourite salad instructions here; we will need them. I hereby promise a really delicious prize for the best one.

If you’ve been wondering what’s for supper for the past three months, join the club. When I went back to work in October, I fell off the train and landed in a hole full of chocolate chips, bottomless toast, and frozen pizza.

Now I’m freshly back from Christmas in Newfoundland, where the majority of my non-meat intake was composed of white mashed potato, fried fish

Gene’s off-the-charts molasses bread,

Cool Whip,  All Sorts, and toutons, little pieces of pan-fried bread dough. White flour, chewy on the outside, covered in maple syrup. Out of control:

Naturally, the scales are tipping, and here we are, entering the year of the lithesome rabbit. And so I propose a challenge – a 30-day challenge: a meal salad a day for 30 days. And we start…well, not tonight. It’s Wayne’s birthday and we’re going out for Chinese, the most salad-less cuisine I can think of.

But no – positive attitude. Let’s do start today. Let’s make a big jar of salad dressing right now. (I offer up the satisfyingly large-yield and perfect-every-time Cobb dressing I’ve written about before.) Lunch or dinner can be a standard bowl of leaf lettuce with tuna, olives and onions. Then we’ll meet back here Sunday morning and a make a plan for the week. Who’s with me?

Why was I always so afraid of cabbage rolls? Specifically, of cabbage-rolling. They always seemed fussy and complicated and too totally un-Italian for me to master. It turns out all I needed was one partner (my mother-in-law, Gene), three glasses of wine apiece, and her zingy recipe, brought to us by way of South Branch, Newfoundland.

Here’s what you need:

1 large cabbage [we used Savoy]

For the sauce:

28-oz. can of tomatoes
10-oz. can of tomato soup
1/2 cup of ketchup [deal with it!]
1/4 cup of vinegar
1 chopped onion
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp brown sugar [we skipped it, on account of the ketchup]
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
a few drops of Tabasco [or more, depending on your taste]
1 tbsp sweet relish

For the filling:

1 lb. ground beef
1 egg
1 cup minute rice [we used 1 cup of raw brown basmati and cooked it first. The cooked yield was about 2 cups]

Here’s what you do:

1. Put your rice on (unless you’re a crazy maniac with minute rice in your cupboard).

2. Simmer all of the sauce ingredients for 20 minutes.

3. Core your cabbage, separate the leaves, then steam them till they’re soft and pliable, about 10 minutes.

(If you find the individual leaves too hot for your delicate paws, run them under cool water. We didn’t bother – hands of steel.)

4. When the rice is done, mix it, the egg and some salt and pepper with the ground beef.

5. Let the rolling begin! On a clean work surface (we used a broad wooden chopping board), take a cabbage leaf and lay it down. If the vein is thick, whittle it down with a sharp knife.

Roll a bit of the meat mixture in your palm into a little log shape (we used about two heaping tablespoons per roll, but you can make them bigger or smaller, depending on the size of your cabbage leaves and your own personal sense of drama).

Fold it like a burrito. The bottom covers the log, then fold the sides in, then roll the whole thing up.

Secure it with a toothpick and tuck it into whatever giant vessel you are going to cook them in. (We used a big black Darth Vader-esque roaster, but you could also use a Pyrex with a lid, or one topped with foil.)

Continue until every darling little roll is tucked into your cooking vessel.

6. Pour the sauce on the rolls

and pop them in the oven, covered, for about an hour and a half, depending on how big you made your rolls. You want your meat cooked through and your cabbage leaves soft enough to be appealing.

And now, the tips that made this cabbage-roll extravaganza infinitely more manageable:

1. We doubled our recipe. Next time, we’d even triple it. One you’re rolling, it’s easy as anything, so you might as well get a fabulously large yield out of it and freeze quite a few.

2. Make your sauce ahead. Boil your rice ahead. You can even steam your cabbage ahead. All this makes the assembly quick and painless.

3. Keep the vegetarian in your life happy: We substituted half the beef for veggie ground round, though you could just as easily use rice and lentils. (All of our rolls went into the same roaster; we placed double toothpicks in the non-meat ones, so as not to defile our resident vegetarian. You’re welcome, Wayne.)

4. Did we mention the wine? For optimal results, drink at least two glasses per cook, and “make sure the glasses are spaced evenly throughout the cooking session,” says Gene. “Bottle may be finished once rolls are placed in oven.”

Friday. Day 5 of our beloved 12-day detox.

Our annual neighbourhood fair opened tonight, and I had to drag the sulkiest Wayne you’ve ever seen up to the street where all the action is. “You usually love this thing,” I told him. What was he so miserable about?

“It’s basically an eating fair,” he complained. An eating fair where everything was totally off-cleanse.

He was kind of right. We walked (more quickly than usual) past the folding tables covered in warmer trays filled with sticky-sweet barbecue, flour-wrapped spring rolls and their requisite sugary sauces, fajitas and rotis stuffed into floury wrappers. Then there were the cinnamon buns the size of my head. It was useless.

We did buy some barbecued corn on the cob that tasted so sweet I accused them of dipping it in sugar water. (They hadn’t.) And some hippie-tastic “pizza” from the raw-food restaurant (palace of the cleansers) made with a sprouted buckwheat crust (no flour!) and cashew “cheese.”

On the way home, I excitedly suggested we share a so-called Power Ball from the organic café on our corner, a healthy little meatball-sized cookie-substitute made for the Enchanted Broccoli Forest set, that contains sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, agave and carob chips. Dwayne took one bite and curled his lip down. “This is off-cleanse,” he said and handed it to me without looking at me. He was disappointed. “It’s like a chocolate bar, basically.” No sugar, no chocolate, no caramel, no nougat, no wafer, no hydrogenated wonderful anything, yet it was a “chocolate bar” – had we come that far?

I took a bite and loved it. I wanted to eat it forever; but he was right. The carob chips probably weren’t unsweetened. And there were rogue craisins in there that weren’t on the ingredient list. He glanced over to see what I’d do next. I inhaled it with the urgency and pleasure of an addict.

When I got home, I took my dejection into the kitchen, looking for something sweet. I wanted dessert. I wanted it super-badly. I swore at the goddamn strawberries. Does this look like dessert to you:

But I have to tell you, after five unsweetened days, these berries delivered! They made me swoon like a dessert-bereft castaway. I retracted my bad swears fully.

Still, it isn’t always a juicy berry that you want when you’re surrounded by the cinammon-bun eaters out there. So tomorrow I’m making my own frigging Power Balls. Stay tuned for reactions from Wayne, and a recipe.

Wayne and I are cleansers. We’ve been doing it twice a year for almost a decade. In recent years, we recruited a group of friends to come cleanse along with us. It’s fun. I send around nerdy, galvanizing motivational emails and we swap recipes and meal ideas to keep us on track – but it isn’t hard to stay focused. You start to feel so damn good by Day 5 or 6 that the thought of a whoopie pie – or even a grilled cheese sandwich with ketchup – seems sickly.

It’s a liver detox, and I’ll spare you the religion – but the items we abstain from for these 12 days are flour, dairy, tropical fruit, anything fermented (vinegar, soy sauce, tempeh, black tea), anything high in naturally occurring molds (grapes, dried fruit – beloved raisins included), yeast, refined sugars, and alcohol.

Today is Day 4 for Wayne and me. General irritation: Let’s say 5 out of 10. The overall feeling like something tar-like (and perhaps chocolate-flavoured) is bubbling up from deep within my organs and out through my skin: 7 out of 10. Interest in cooking: a whopping 9, folks. One of the best by-products of a clean-living program like this is it really gets you back into the kitchen no matter how deep the food rut you’ve fallen into, no matter how many veggie dogs lay heaped around you down there.

And so, after a summer of Pho Huang takeout and corner-store snack runs and jam on everything, me and the whole foods are back. On Tuesday, Wayne cooked us an incredibly delicious, simple curry from 50 Great Curries of India. (Highly recommended.) I’d forgotten how majestically cleanse-worthy Indian food is in general, and that it is actually possible to make passable curries if you have a solid cookbook on hand.

The funnest part of all of this, though, is eating so much bloody fruit. The fridge is full of berries, and the baby is in ecstasy, getting fed unlimited quantities of blueberries at all hours.

Any cleanser will tell you the amazing thing that happens to fruit after you’ve spent a few days cutting out all the other sugar from your life: Fruit starts to taste sweeter than sugar itself. It starts to taste like fruit must have tasted to a whacked-out Ken Kesey, covered in fluorescent paint and standing under a strobe light. A single red strawberry will blow your mind, man! Seriously. Or as my sister (on Day 6 of her first cleanse right now) said about a sad old mushy pear in her fridge: “It tastes like pie.”

But I promised no religion, so I’ll leave you instead with the Indian recipe we loved a couple of nights ago, the one that Camellia Panjabi calls “the first lesson in making a curry.”

But wait. Why the Screw-You-Gwyneth Cleanse? When I told my dear friend Gelstein that I was cleansing, she came over with a printout of Gwyneth Paltrow’s cleanse meal-plan that appeared on the actress’s website, Goop. A sweetheart, that Gelstein, but I was shocked – absolutely shocked – to hear how the reed-like Hollywood set cleanses: a snack is coconut water. Dinner is cucumber soup. Lunch is carrot sticks and radishes with carrot dressing on top. Hence the cheekbones.

One thing that always makes me proud (zealous?) about my own cleanse program is that you can eat as much as you want, from most of the food groups that most of the world subsists on. Oh yes, there is rice. Meat, even, if you’re up for it. And enough almond butter to totally destroy your Oscar moment. But imagine how my crank-o-meter would rank if carrot sticks were for supper; what is the long-term good of that? So I say screw you, Gwyneth Paltrow, and your weight-loss gimmick, defiling the good name of better cleanses everywhere.

Irritation makes me hungry.

To the curry:

8 0z. of mixed diced vegetables

4 tbsp oil
1 large onion, very finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4-inch square piece of fresh ginger, chopped
3/4 tsp coriander
pinch of turmeric
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp garam masala
1 tsp paprika
2 tomatoes, chopped
salt
chopped coriander leaves to garnish

1. Heat oil in a heavy pan. Add the onions and sauté over medium heat for 20 to 25 minutes, or until deep brown. Add the garlic and ginger and fry for 1 minute. Add the coriander; stir for another full minute, then add the turmeric, cumin, garam masala and paprika and sauté for 30 seconds. Add 200 ml of water and cook for 10 minutes. Put in tomatoes and cook for a further 5 minutes.

2. Now the curry sauce is ready. Add salt to taste. Put in vegetables. (You can substitute 1 lb of chicken; 10 oz. lamb; or 8 oz. of fish.) Add 400 ml of water and cook until done. (Wayne was in a hurry and used less water.)

Makes enough for 2.

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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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