Saturday, January 30, 2010

Island of Women

Jeff and I will spend a week on an island made for us.  An island of women.  Countdown is on. 5 days to go.

I don't have anxiety about the boat ride from mainland Mexico.  Not even about the flight.  It's telling people where we're going and pronouncing that Spanish "j" that has me concerned.  Is that neurotic?

(The hotel we're staying at.  It's like a dream.)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Kitchen Confidential

Over the past couple of weeks, my kitchen has taken a turn.  It's become function over form.

There was a time when I kept this room like the others in our tiny home: organized and pretty.  When eating was done, only decorative items remained.  All else was dishwashed and tucked away: neatly, orderly and behind closed doors.  But now that I've been using them, I realize that having things at arm's length just makes life so easy.

Suddenly there are bottles of olive oil hanging about, spoons and whisks and pinch bowls at-the-ready.  Lemons and limes, thyme and empty jars.  Little glass cups holding sprigs of rosemary, dunked in an inch of water.

In our small kitchen, we have a nook amongst the cabinets.  Increasingly, it's becoming a drop-off spot for all manner of culinary accoutrements - silverware I'm too lazy to stow away in velvet slots, saucières, and - get this: there, in that big salad bowl, is a pile of onions, shallots and a few chunks of ginger.  I've lost all control!

But, somehow, I like it.  I don't even mind that my mandolin is tucked between the toaster and the French press.  The convenient management of my most-used pans right on the stovetop and a clove of garlic at my fingertips are two of the high points in any day.

Somehow all the trappings have had a real affect on me lately:  Comfort.  Productivity.  All of it reminds me of my Grandma's house, nicknacks and loaves of bread, pats of butter, and the effects of life in that place.  Signs of harvest (someone's somewhere, however trucked-in) and distractions from the grey, icy coldness of winter.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Somewhere between myleshenryblog and Haw-lin, JJJJound falls firmly on the spectrum of amazing curation of images.  Based out of Montreal, this guy (I assume it's a guy - a masculine aesthetic, certainly) adds to his onslaught of imagery regularly.  The only bit of info offered, a simple footnote and a promise:

The blog posts will have no titles.
The photos will be random.
No text either.
Just great photos.
(BTW, this is going to be your favorite blog.)

200 Words on a Lady

Gaga continues to take the world by storm, appearing this week on Oprah.  The more I think about it, I feel like I've figured out where she fits into music.  Like, pop culturally.

In music, we've seen all kinds of artists. Those who simply entertain (Buddy Holly, Bon Jovi), those who blaze a trail of shock and controversy (Elvis, Madonna) and those who are musicians, who make a statement: stand up for the misfits (Bjork.)

To say Gaga is "today's Madonna", well, that's just not true.

Madonna was never really an outcast. She was the cool girl (self-proclaimed, certainly), the one we idolized, placed high on a pedestal and worshipped. But she was kind of mean to everyone. She was like that bitchy girl in your high school who mesmerized everyone.  We were all blinded by her voodoo-magic, allowed her to make us feel small and wrapped in her power.  She's every charming bully.

Gaga doesn't demand our attention, she simply has it, often against our will.  She captivates and flummoxes.  She's oddly humble; she makes room in our adoration for us to exist.  So, Gaga is Cher. Gaga is Bette Midler. She's Bowie and Elton John, Marilyn Manson, maybe.  Dare I say, she's Kurt Cobain.  She's every quirky music kid who ever existed.  She's nerdy-girl-made-good.  And she's not going anywhere.

(Sub-par photos taken at her concert late last year - Which was amazing!)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Seriously Hot Chocolate

So, after dinner, a great friend came by for a visit - And she didn't come alone: she brought a sack of Mrs. Field's mini cookies.  Gah!

And I always have a pouch of Soma's Mayan Hot Chocolate kicking around, but I never prepare the way you're meant to.  (It's the secret ingredient in my banana bread!)  Pure dark chocolate shavings spiced with ginger, Madagascar vanilla, orange peel and chilis - It bites the back of your throat and makes your head spin.  At their store in Toronto's Distillery District, they serve it as two ounce shots from their fantastic chocolate bar.  At home, one cup of chocolate whisked into half-a-cup of water over medium heat produces the same crazy-decadent liquid chocolate.  

So, I threw it together.  And, understand this: I sold this chocolate so hard.  I told Jeff and Karina that it would be "the greatest taste sensation of their lives".  I was shamefully ceremonious.  With cookies in-hand, we joyfully cheers'd our tiny saucières (two uses in one night!)

But, it seems, by that point, the chocolate-lava had cooled a bit and had become way too thick.  As we poured (expecting it to be glossy and slightly thicker than chocolate syrup) it slammed in a blob against our teeth.  Oh no.  Back to the drawing board.

You can also whisk this melted chocolate into hot milk, creating a more traditional hot cocoa.  I recovered from my chocolate-mishap by returning with Kahlua-spiked cocoa, topped with fresh whipped cream and three little bowls of incredible raspberry sorbet.

Friday, January 15, 2010

You Gotta Eat

I promised myself I'd slow down on the food posts.  But then I made dinner.  Pan-seared Arctic char with beets and asparagus.  In a beurre blanc sauce.

If I do say so myself, it was a perfect combination of flavours: the asparagus slightly bitter, the beets earthy and sweet, the fish . . . fishy, and the sauce tart and unctuous.  I sliced the beets with my mandolin, ultra-thin, creating a lovely foundation.  And they're a perfect substitute for potatoes - Just starchy enough, but lighter, sweeter, and prettier.  The fish was seared aggressively in olive oil to a lovely brown and the asparagus steamed to its greenest.

But I'm most-excited about the little single-serving ceramic spouted vessels I bought today at Tap Phong (a balls-to-the-wall kitchen supply store in Chinatown.)  Some people are saucier than others, and I love the idea of allowing guests (or my culinary guinea pig, Jeff) to self-administer their jus or amazing beurre blancs.  At 79¢, it's seriously high-impact and adorable.

Beurre Blanc Sauce

In the pan you used to cook, add one small shallot and allow to soften.  Add a cup of white wine and four tablespoons of butter on medium heat.  Add two or three bunches of rosemary, whisk the butter until melted and allow to simmer away lightly.  Add a quarter cup of fresh-squeezed lemon juice and fresh ground pepper.  Remove the rosemary.  Allow to thicken slightly and pour onto fish or into your adorable individual ceramic spouted saucières.  Enjoy.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Hankering for Greenery

It's midwinter.  I feel the need for fresh flowers.  For tonight, this memory will do.  Tomorrow, I will search for tulips.

(March 2009, our old house.)

The Church of Beef

I had a nice day.  I went to St. Lawrence Market, and (being Thursday afternoon) it was very quiet.  Almost like going into a church on an off-day, empty aisles and space to rome and contemplate . . . dinner.

I stocked our fridge and freezer with all sorts of delicious items, at a fraction of grocery-store prices.  Haste makes waste, as they say, so it was lovely to take my time and consider a week's worth of menus rather than join the hordes of rush-hour-dinner-shoppers.

Green beans, carrots, and fingerling potatoes, fresh herbs and a pile of citrus.  Arctic char and pork chops, a lovely beef tenderloin and four adorable mini filet mignons.  Praise the lord.

The wine: Hands-down, one of our all-time-favourites: Ravenswood Zinfandel, this one a 2007. I love American wine.  The best part of our trip to Florida was all the American wine at Target for like half the price that it is here.  I guess because it's technically imported into Canada, and then whacked with a bunch of puritanical Canadian taxes, it's just cheaper when you're "local".

Whatever the case, when we were there in December, we bought 17 bottles of wine one day.  Because we couldn't not.  Beringers and Sterlings, Columbia Crests and this beautiful Zinfandel for, like, no money.  It was amazing.  It's light enough to eat with seafood or white meats, but also lovely with red meat. Sweet and bright, and $17.95 at your local LCBO.  Or at Target for you boozy Americans.

On Natural Light

With a busy weekend of shows ahead, I'm taking today off.  There's nothing quite like a mid-week day off, when most of the city is at work, and you can putter about: no crowds, no hustle, the day all your own.

And there's something about daylight.

This time of year, in this part of the world, the sun rises and falls faster than a Hollywood ingenue.  The days are remarkably short, only a brief moment of light in the morning, when you're least able to appreciate it, coffee not yet coarsing through your veins, before shuttering yourself away at work all day.  And then the commute home, always in the pitch.  Barely a chance to absorb a little Vitamin D, let alone look and enjoy the things that surround.  No time for light bulbs to take a rest.  No time for shadows to crawl across your carpet.

(Did you spot the CN Tower?)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

On the Cheaps

After a series of tasty (and pricey) meals, it was time to have one on a budget.  So, how about Lemon Garlic Chicken.

Place two drumsticks and two chicken thighs in a bowl and squeeze the juice of three lemons (including the rind) atop.  Add a diced shallot, a tablespoon of fresh minced ginger, ten cloves of garlic, finely chopped, and two tablespoons of fresh thyme.  Freshly ground salt and pepper.  Toss to coat and dump the whole mess into a baking pan.  Bake for 35 - 45 minutes, basting regularly, until the chicken is nicely browned and cooked-through.  I served with yellow string beans and mashed purple potatoes chock-full of chives and fresh dill.

The wine: 2008 Pinot Grigio, Ogio.  As good as its price: $8.85.  But crisp and cold and suitable.  I guess.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Honey-Glazed Salmon

On medium-high heat, place a salt-and-peppered fillet of salmon (portioned for two) skin-side down in a tablespoon of olive oil.  Cook for a few minutes, get that skin crisped right up.  Give it a flip and crust-up the other side.  It should be sizzling away pretty well.  When both sides are good and browned, pull it from the heat and leave on a cutting board, under foil.

Back to the pan: Sauté two shallots, two cloves of garlic and a teaspoon of fresh ginger, just for a minute or two.  Add half-cup of white wine, two tablespoons of honey, and a tablespoon of soya sauce to the pan and deglaze, letting it simmer for a few minutes.  The sauce is sweet, with a bite.  Allow to reduce by half, pour over the salmon and serve with stuff you love.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Love Me Tender

I'm not sure when These Roving Eyes became These Roving Tastebuds, but here we are.

I had the day off, so spent it like a housewife in mid-town: reusable shopping bags in one hand, my wallet in the other, I poked around the neighbourhood in search of dinner.

I visited a wonderful butcher just around the corner (Cumbrae's, 481 Church Street) and bought an adorable one pound tenderloin of beef, gorgeous and grass-fed.  Then I popped by Pusateri's Fruit Market (497 Church Street) - a great shop where the owners stock the shelves - and snagged a basketful of vegetables: beets and leeks, heirloom carrots and fresh dill.  Purple potatoes and white asparagus.  There's something very satisfying about this urban harvest.  Like our ancestors before us, we hunt and gather, but in decidely less hands-on way.

Let's talk beef tenderloin.  Vegetarians, avert your eyes.

I'd never made one until tonight, and at $27 a pound, I was understandably nervous.  But, fear not, it's easy and seriously high-impact.

1) Buy something worth eating.  
2) Heat an oven-friendly pan on medium-high heat and add a dash of olive oil.  Generously coat the meat with fresh-cracked peppercorns and sea-salt and sear on all sides until browned nicely.  This process is surprisingly quick.  Put the whole pan in a 425° oven for 10 minutes.
3) Add three diced shallots to the pan and continue until an internal thermometer reads 135° or so.  (Medium-rare.)
4) Remove the tenderloin from the pan and tent beneath foil while you prepare the reduction.
5) On medium heat, add half a cup of red wine (something worth drinking!) and deglaze the pan with a wooden spoon, removing all the charred bits.  Add half a cup of beef broth and let simmer/reduce for a few minutes.  Add 2 teaspoons of grainy mustard, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard and 2 tablespoons of butter.  Continue to let reduce and simmer.  Carve the beef into half-inch slices and serve with the sauce and whatever else.  I did oven-roasted Parisienne potatoes and steamed heirloom carrots.

The wine: A 2005 Chateau de Lafaurie-Monbadon.  A rich and fruity Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend out of Bordeaux.  The LCBO site mentions its pencil lead notes, and it's true!  With its other more woody flavours, it's almost like chewing on a No. 2 pencil.  In a good way.  $15.00.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sunday Night Pig Out

The other day I told you I'm from a long line of potato-lovers.  To be more specific, I'm from a real, true meat-and-potato family.  Our dinner plates could almost always be divided in perfect thirds: meat, potato, vegetable.  Meatloaf, boiled, canned corn.  Roast beef, mashed, Green Giant medley.  Fish sticks, McCain fries . . . uh . . . that one mighta skipped the veg.

What can I say, we were a very typical middle class, suburban family.

So perhaps it's hard-wired, but a plate in thirds is comforting, particularly on a Sunday night.  We had two hulking pork chops in the freezer begging to be doused in olive oil infused with fresh chopped rosemary.  I pan-seared on medium-high heat for two minutes, flipped for one more, and then finished them off for eight minutes in a 400° oven.  Served with steamed green beans and basic-mashed, it was a perfect, cozy meal.

Wine: Villa Maria, a sharp, fruity Sauvignon Blanc out of New Zealand - It's comparable to your Kim Crawfords and your Oyster Bays and other mid-priced off-the-racks, but cheaper.  $15.95 is a great value for something that tastes much more expensive.  I could drink it all day.