Archive for January, 2006

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Sunday, January 29th, 2006

For Christmas, Makela was gifted with the latest version of Cranium™. Unfortunately, she was the only one in her family with any desire to actually play the game. Lucky for her, she has nerds for friends (i.e. us) who offered to host a little wine-tasting-and-hors-d’oeuvres affair with Cranium™ on the side.

I had the day off that Friday so happily spent my day cooking away in the kitchen. The night before, I designed a menu of small foods upon which we could graze as we played. I was inspired by an episode of Behind the Bash on Food Network which profiled a ridiculously expensive wedding (the dress alone cost $13,000 USD) where adorable mini-foods were served. I am enamoured of the mini-foods! There were tiny grilled cheese sandwiches for which mini loaves of bread were baked, sliced and then layered with gruyère and individually fried; there were mini-cheeseburgers(!) with specially prepared mini-poppy seed rolls that were baked and dressed with little lettuce, a slice of a cherry tomato, a wee, grilled beef burger and an appropriately draped slice of cheese; and baby pies, complete with latticed-pastry top, which looked like cartoon pies that one could eat in two bites. To say that the labour involved in making this $700USD per person meal was exhausting is an understatement. But I was inspired to make a meal of finger foods!

So, whilst [quite competitively*] playing a couple of rounds of the board game, we grazed our way through
Chickpea, Garlic and Parsley Dip with toasted pita chips,
Crostini with Spiced Crab and Shrimp Salad,

Skewered Marinated Flank Steak,

Blue Cheese, Walnut and Cranberry Crostinis,
Spicy Shrimp Wrapped in Snow Peas,

Sliced Chicken Salad with Chili-Ginger Vinaigrette,
Caramelized Onion Tartlets with Crème Fraîche,

and Cardamom Applesauce with whipped cream. All of these things turned out just as I had envisioned; I will definitely be making them again. Plus, I think my efforts to produce five low-cal dishes out of eight was quite gallant, rather. (At least for my own sake- I knew I was bound to eat way too much so at least I could take a stab at tempering the damage.)

I have since recreated the blue cheese crostinis and the chickpea dip, both of which received excellent reviews at their respective appearances. Their simple recipes make me seem more clever than I am as they are simple enough to recite from memory; they shall maintain permanent residence in my grey-matter database.

We drank some form of white wine (sadly, this detail is lost), La Vieille Ferme, LoTengo, and, so as to improve our board-game-playing-skills, a glass of Maple Whiskey from La Belle Province. Makela and I “improved our skills” a little too much and disastrously lost at Taboo, a phenomenon heretofore UNIMAGINABLE. I demand a [sober] rematch. At which I will serve mini-grilled cheese sandwiches.

* before we started, Andrea had to clarify several rules of play because “some people I play with change the rules as they go”. This would seem strange but I think these are the same people who play Ultimate Frisbee; collectively, they represent a new level of competitiveness.

Meat and ‘Taters

Wednesday, January 25th, 2006

On Tuesday night we roasted a beast, baked some potatoes and steamed a few carrots.

Here’s a nifty thing: we got a Beef Chart! From our butcher, we picked up a free copy of a two-sided poster which explains all the different cuts of beef, the part of the beast that produces each cut, how each type of cut should be cooked (including done-ness temperatures in both Celsius and Fahrenheit), beef trivia, safe practices for handling raw meat, vitamins contained within said raw meat and a picture of a happy, omnivorous family.

Despite this very informative chart and the relatively easy preparation of this meal, we totally fucked it up. (Except the carrots which were much less fucked than the rest.) We started this blog to brag about all the cooking we do but I would be remiss if I did not mention the episodes in which we burn things, sever fingers, eat things that the dog may have already licked, add salt instead of sugar or a tablespoon instead of a teaspoon (this only occurs when the substance being measured is a volcano-hot spice) and continue to prepare foods that have briefly come in contact with the floor. It would cheapen the rest of this site to project an image of consistent perfection (like anyone we know was ever fooled, anyway). What follows is a list of everything we did in a less-than-perfect manner on Tuesday:

1. We opened the good wine before we started cooking; should’ve finished the house wine first and saved the good stuff for the meal.

2. The recipe called for beef tenderloin but we cheaped-out and got inside round. There is nothing wrong with cheaping-out but when faced with roasting it, we had a choice: roast the beast according to the instructions for cooking a tenderloin cut in the recipe for Roast Beef Tenderloin with Wasabi-Garlic Cream [incorrect] or roast the beast according to the instructions on the poster for cooking an inside round cut [correct]. We chose the former.

3. We intended to make cubed potatoes tossed with lemon and scallions. However, instead of cubing the potatoes, we sliced them up with the mandolin just because we have so much fun using it. This shape of potato resists even the best efforts to toss, with lemon and scallions or otherwise.

4. We started cooking the carrots WAY too early. Way too early = kinda mushy.

5. We were forced to bake the potatoes in a kind of gratin with butter and scallions. We did not bake them enough. Some were still raw.

6. The roast emerged from the oven. said to slice against the grain of the meat, so what do we do? Slice with the grain.

7. We plated and ate raw-ish potatoes, kinda-mushy carrots and cooked-to-toughness beef with wasabi-garlic cream. The cream was really good; it distracted us from the fact that we may have been eating leather.

Funnily enough, the leftovers were quite delicious. The potatoes were no longer raw and the meat somehow mellowed (because it rested overnight?). The wine was extraordinary: AlphaZeta, a Valpolicella from the Veneto, just north of Verona. Even leather with wasabi couldn’t crush this velvety red.


Wednesday, January 25th, 2006

Pictured below are the Chipotle Burgers of last week. I had high hopes.

The apathy I direct at these burgers is proportional to the apathy exhibited by Canadians on federal election day. The papers said that nearly 66% of 33 million people voted and it seemed that there was some pride in this number. Um, why? Relatively speaking, it is better than the voter turn-out in the last two elections (2000 & 2004) but can we not do better as citizens of a democratic nation? For crying out loud, some people in the world would give their left arm to be able to vote in a free and fair election. It astonishes me how some people continue to ignore the privilege of being able to voice their opinion. One voice in 33,000,000 is quiet but is still better than no voice at all. I don’t even really know who or what to blame for the lack of interest; the would-be voters? the weather? an imperfect manifestation of a democratic government? evil? Céline Dion? (She is rich. And Quebecoise. She could be a part of a great sovereignist conspiracy to trigger apathy in Canadian voters with her music. The message could be subliminal, in her songs. Think about it.)

Amusingly enough, some people are vehemently dedicated to their apathy. “I don’t care. I don’t want to care. It doesn’t matter and it never will. Also, I love Céline Dion.” I would like to see what would happen if their right to, say, travel freely about the country were taken away. And their right to watch TV. Oooh, ooh, AND, the right to eat meat. Now who needs democracy- huh?! Wanna vote? Psych!

And, another thing- it’s actually insulting to those Canadians who do vote; why should they be forced to carry the burden of being responsible and making decisions for the rest of the population that is too lazy to look out for themselves. Oh sure, The Lazies will accept public medicare or speak freely in public, or accept a Canadian pension, or put money into a tax-sheltered RSP but they are not willing to pay for those privileges with the smallest of fees: getting off of the ass and casting of the vote. Honestly, it is unfair to accept these privileges without having paid; especially when the price is so small. Go ahead and spoil your vote, even, if it means you recognize how lucky you are to live in a place that grants you at least, basic rights and freedoms. Whew, I should stop. Pretty soon, I’ll start sounding like Rush Limbaugh.

The best part is that as I type this, somewhere in Quebec someone is being “sponsored” by the government to research voter apathy.

P.S. I choose to bitch about voter turn-out because if I try to actually discuss the results of the election, it angries-up the blood and I get too upset to type.

Not All Dairy Products can be Microwaved

Tuesday, January 17th, 2006

The photo is flattering—really. If it weren’t for the hunger and effort of preparation, the appearance of Chicken Biryani would have turned my stomach. However, this was one of the most flavourful and interesting dishes we have ever made. The recipe is from an episode of America’s Test Kitchen, which we saw the weekend before. It seemed interesting enough that I braved my no-cooked-raisins rule. Wikipedia tells me that currants aren’t raisins, so I won’t be dropping that rule anytime soon.

Under all that rice and yogurt is a chicken thigh, the best part of the chicken. The rice was par-boiled in a spice stock of cardamom pods, fennel seeds, fresh ginger and cinnamon. In the end, those flavours became a pleasant, sweet earthiness, rather than a typical spiciness. The browned chicken, caramelized onions with jalapeno, rice, fresh cilantro and fresh mint were layered in a pot to finish cooking. When topped with the yogurt sauce, it was absolutely divine. We’ll be making this one again soon. I would make it for guests if I were more willing to share.

Store the rice and chicken separately from the yogurt sauce should you have any leftovers. This was not obvious to me after three glasses of wine. Jan had the unfortunate experience of eating microwaved yogurt sauce for lunch one day.

Corners of My Mind

Tuesday, January 17th, 2006

A couple of years ago, I visited the Tuscany of my dreams.

I have a theory; I believe that a destination –city, beach, country – is whatever one makes of it. For example, one will encounter the same number of people who, when visiting Venice, would call it smelly, over-crowded, touristy, expensive and confusing, as people who would remember it as enchanting, quaint, historic and delicious. What makes these two people see the exact same place and time so differently? I think it might be attitude. Where one person looks at the canals and sees the garbage in the water and a construction barge floating next to the ugly scaffolding spread over a bridge which is supporting the weight of a steady stream of sweaty tourists eating bad ice cream, another person might look and notice the surprisingly fluid motions of someone unloading heavy tiles from a precariously balanced barge, the bright flowers in a window box near the bridge, the sun shining brightly off the water, the tourists laughing and the church bells in the background. I know, because I’ve been both people. After the traveling I’ve done, I’ve learned to recognize my dispiritedness and then force myself to mentally stop, find something beautiful and focus on the romanticism that a place has to offer. It is with this conscious romanticism that I visited Tuscany.

Ever since Frances Mayes wrote Under The Tuscan Sun, I’ve been devouring and re-devouring her books. That she is an exceptional writer of prose is clear, but the way she chooses to describe things seems familiar to me; hey, I know that attitude– it’s my romanticism! I suppose one could surmise that it is easy to find things that are beautiful in Italy, with all the art and architecture and food and people, but I think it’s more than that. I think her descriptions, and later, my real-life experiences, were rooted in the idea of mandatory enjoyment.

At any rate, this “mandatory enjoyment” has made for some lovely memories of places I’ve been. Every time I eat white beans, I recall that the word “Tuscan” means bean-eater and then I remember a particularly pretty day I spent in Cortona, Tuscany. I visited Cortona because, of course, that is the town near which Frances Mayes lives and I couldn’t resist trying to sleuth out some of the places she describes in the book. (Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to try to find her house but that will be for another day. I continue to collect clues from her books.) It turned out that it required very little effort on my part to see the beauty in that town. It was hot when I was there; I walked up and down steep streets, into cool, shaded alleys and through parks on the edge of the hill town with breath-taking views of the surrounding countryside. This was the first place I had been where I heard cicadas chirping. The sun baked everything and somehow seemed to make the air thicker so that echoes in the town square didn’t seem sharp but rather muted. I had lunch on a stone balcony at a trattoria overlooking the piazza; light pasta with tomato sauce, sausages and fresh raw vegetables and a jug of red wine. It was all so charming and so much like the Cortona that I had imagined that I stretched that lunch out for hours, lingering over my meal, watching the people move about below, ordering an espresso, breathing and listening and trying to embed a memory for each of my senses. When it was time to go (to drive off to Venice, in fact) I was strolling instead of walking. I could’ve very happily stayed there for weeks and not done much more than I had that afternoon. And then I telephoned Ingrid and woke her up to describe how unimaginably perfect Cortona is.

The point is, I’m so happy to have had the experience of that day and so pleased when something triggers my memory of it. Like the beans in this White Bean, Potato and Arugula Soup (a recipe from Kansas City, Missouri, no less).

The soup was nothing to write home about but it was worth having made it for the delicious little glimpse into my past.

More Envy

Tuesday, January 17th, 2006

Again, my colleagues were envious of my lunch. Ha ha! It is so sweet to flaunt a really, really, ridiculously good-looking lunch. The flip side of that is when we don’t have leftovers and I am forced to join them in their canned soup sorrow. Those are sad times; what are office trolls to do when they don’t even have a lunch to envy?

Yesterday, it was Pork Stew with Fennel and Butternut Squash. If it isn’t already obvious, we are hooked on the squash. It snowed on the weekend so I think that makes a stew taste even better, let alone this one with the perceived buttery flavour, thanks to the squash. Wow, this was tasty: slowly braised pork pieces, tender-yet-crispy fennel, a sublime reduction of stock with onions, garlic, pancetta and wine all sauced over some egg noodles… those poor trolls didn’t stand a chance! I love the compliments whilst standing in line for the microwave.

I think the only thing that would’ve made this better is if the pork had braised a little slower so as to make it more tender. It was good as-was but could’ve been even better if it had been falling-apart-at-the-touch-of-a-fork tender. Though I wouldn’t sacrifice the toothiness of the veggies because there is nothing sadder than limp and tasteless veg where stew is concerned.

With this, we had a bottle of Folinari Cabernet Sauvignon; we had to open a fresh bottle, you understand, because it was required in the stew. And we had to finish it because it was Sunday and it had snowed and it was just too delicious not to.

Curry is Yummy

Tuesday, January 17th, 2006

I eat this as I write. Once again, we cooked an extra large portion of dinner so as to have leftovers for lunch the next day and right now my co-workers are jealous. Ha! People on the other side of my cubicle (a.k.a. Wrap-around Demoralizer 3000) are asking the air around them “Who brought the yummy food?” And then I brag about the fancy-schmancy Curried Lamb with Potatoes and Mint Yogurt Sauce that I brought. “What did you bring for lunch? Oh, soup? In a can? Gee, yeah, that’s too bad. Mine sure is delicious!”

We’re kind of on an Indian food kick of late. I had a craving in December and haven’t been able to shake it. We even had some tasty Indian comfort food at the Granville Island market and yet my palate remains unsatiated. Thus, we have this curry which doesn’t even have curry in it! I understand that there as many versions of curry out there as there are people who cook Indian food from scratch. We got our version from America’s Test Kitchen and it was quite a decent mélange of cinnamon, cloves, turmeric, cardamom, cumin, coriander, garlic, ginger, etc. but much less spicy than I prefer. Even with the halved jalapeno simmered with the lamb, it still fell short of my expectation of heat. But really, I don’t care so much because it tastes marvelous with its mingling of a thousand flavours. Plus, I love lamb; though Marc had a devil of a time removing all the silverskin.

Surprisingly, this meal would seem incomplete without the sauce. I never would’ve thought that a cool, little dollop of flavoured yogurt could make such a significant difference. Last night, I had initially ladled a very small spoonful onto my serving but had to revisit the yogurt because it was so good. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, because sauce in all other forms plays such an important part in aggrandizing foods (i.e. hollandaise, bordelaise, wasabi) but, I mean, it’s just yogurt. Who knew?

A Vegimatarian Favourite

Sunday, January 8th, 2006

At least a year ago I made this lasagna for a dinner with Marcia & Geoff. Meat was not invited to dinner but we didn’t notice because of this fantastic version of lasagna with butternut squash and mushrooms. I would argue that it is the portobellos which make the meal effectively “meaty” enough to masquerade as hearty. Of course, the generous amount of ricotta involved doesn’t hurt. And fresh Parmesano Reggiano.

Anyway, we come back to it again every few months because it looks and tastes so pretty and lasts for days as leftovers. With a tart salad on the side, it’s one of my favourite weekend lunches. Plus, now that we have a mandolin, it is so much fun to slice up the squash. How did we ever live without one?


Sunday, January 8th, 2006

Presently, I am 30. My birthday recently passed. Resistance was futile.

Despite my mild dismay at having entered my fourth decade, I had a most excellent celebration. Actually, there were several installments of the birthday celebration but this entry documents only the first: my birthday dinner at Blue Water Café.

After New Year’s Day, we flew to Vancouver to eat. There are other things we did while there – walk around Stanley Park and Canada Place,

… window shop along Robson, coffee at innumerable and ubiquitous Starbucks – but the primary reason for the expedition was to eat good food. Therefore, I can’t not mention at least one other meal we had while there that, though unrelated to things birthday, was excellent.

I tried a few years ago to get into Bin 941, a tapas “parlour” on Davie, but it’s such a wee, little boîte that I was never able to get in the door, much less a table. Of course, that only increases the desire to go: it must be great if it is always so crowded. So this time, our plan to meet Marc’s friend Eva there in the early evening met with success.

We didn’t get a table but at least we got in the door and were able to grab three seats at the bar. Between us, we shared: Cinnamon chili rubbed Texas Flank Steak – maple syrup chipotle glaze, black pepper pommes frites, East West Crab Cakes – burnt orange chipotle sauce, charred baby bok choy, cucumber salsa, tobiko, Hand cut Yukon gold mountain pepper pommes frites and Mussels steamed with Garlic butter – roma tomato, herbs, white wine. Sadly, I can’t recall the wine I had but I think it might have been the Catena Zapata, a Malbec from Argentina. Regardless, it was all divine and well worth sitting at the bar next to the door.

After dinner, Eva drove us to one of her favourite dessert bars, True Confections on West Broadway. For 10 o’clock on the first Tuesday after New Year’s, it was surprisingly busy. Though they are known for their cakes, I couldn’t resist having a piece of what turned out to be a killer Three Berry Pie.

But I digress. The actual birthday was celebrated at Blue Water Café in Yaletown. Marc picked out this place from several places short-listed on a restaurant site on the Interweb. We planned to go early in the evening so as to take advantage of their prix fixe menu, which would’ve been 3 courses for about $35.00. However, after arriving and reviewing the menu and (huge) wine list, everything looked way too good to miss. “Screw it, we’ll order what we want”.

And WHAT A MEAL: we started with a couple of glasses of Champagne accompanied by two sweet Kusshi and two Deep Bay Chef’s Creek fresh raw oysters. Then, for me, an appetizer of Duck Prosciutto on an Organic Beet and frisée salad with truffle-sherry vinaigrette, and for Marc, Baked Galliano Island Swimming Scallops with tomato-lemon fondue, capers and parsley. For an entrée, I had BC Sablefish baked in sake & miso, topped with bonito flakes and served on octopus ravioli with xeres and Okanagan cherry sauce, and Marc had the Seared Ostrich. Between us, we had a bottle of white from Spain and Marc had to test a couple of glasses of red before deciding on a glass to go with his meal. Finally, we shared three cheeses for dessert- chèvre noir, some Clos de St. Ambrose from Québec, and some Fourme D’Ambert, a mild blue from France.

All in all, it was an outstanding meal– exactly the present I wanted. I can’t imagine a better way to have spent my birthday with my favourite partner in gluttony.


Sunday, January 8th, 2006

Oh, the life of a well-fed, attention-laden, spoiled, little puppy.

Sam was lucky enough to get a taste of Mom’s turkey as it “accidentally” flipped off the cutting board onto the floor. Correction: no piece of turkey actually made it as far as the floor. Even when hindered by the wearing of the loathe-ed Santa hat and Christmas bow, Sam is able to detect and devour any and all turkey-dinner-related items. He would’ve eaten a napkin had it inadvertently fluttered to the floor. As it was, we were lucky that nobody lost any fingers.

Because we are newly enamoured of the macro function on the camera, we have gotten carried away with the close-ups. This would be Mom & Dad’s Xmas dinner table:

There would be more pictures of the food and a populated dinner table but for the gin.