Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Few cookies hold my attention as thoroughly as the classic, chewy-on-the-inside Peanut Butter.  It's my go-to choice at any bakery, the familiar fork-marks somehow deeply comforting.  And while I've made my fair share of cookies, oddly, I've never made these.  

This afternoon I texted Tara and asked for her favourite recipe.  Turns out it's her own.  And it's a good one. The perfect texture, just the right sweet/salty balance, and a little something special: honey.  

I wasn't the kind of kid to go mixing my foods (even garden-variety peanut butter and jelly was risqué in my books) so have never treaded the peanut-butter-and-honey sandwich waters.  But it's a classic-combo for a reason, and was the impetus for Tara's recipe below.  And take it from me: they're delightful.  

Tara O'Brady's Peanut Butter and Honey Cookies
(The following taken directly from Seven Spoons.)
With a crisp edge and a soft interior, these cookies are one step closer on my quest for peanut butter perfection.

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (up to 1/2 teaspoon if you particularly like savoury sweets. Jason's note: I do, thank you.)
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons/1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup chunky peanut butter (Jason's note: I used Extra Smooth, cuz that's how we roll around here.)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed golden or dark brown sugar
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
sea salt, optional, for sprinkling 

Preheat oven to 350°F. Use parchment paper to line several standard baking sheets and set aside.

In a bowl, sift together the flour, salt and baking soda. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer, cream together the butter and peanut butter until light and fluffy. Add the sugars and honey and beat on high for three minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Add the egg and vanilla, then mix on medium speed until well blended.

Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and stir to just combine. Using a 1 1/4" ice cream scoop dish out mounds of dough onto the prepared baking sheet (alternatively, use a generous 2 tablespoons of batter for each cookie), spacing them about 2 inches apart. Place onto baking sheet and freeze the batter for 10-15 minutes to set up and chill thoroughly.

Dip a fork into warm water and use the tines to press the dough balls lightly; you only want to slightly flatten their shape and leave the imprint of the fork. Freshly dip the fork between pressing each cookie. Sprinkle with sea salt, if desired.

Bake in the preheated oven for 16 minutes, rotating the sheets once during baking. Cool on pan for two minutes, then remove to a baking rack to cool completely.

Makes 18 

Monday, March 28, 2011

I like my baked goods like I like my men: Mostly sweet, but a little salty too.  

These are a great balance and the right consistency: crispy at their edges and chewy in the middle.  Lots of butter, buckets of sugar, and a jarring whack of salt make these a favourite.  The original recipe was copy/pasted into a folder on my computer years ago, so I'm not sure where it came from, but it's been modified each time I make them.  I seem to recall they had twice as much baking soda in their first incarnation, which was interesting.  It made them the slightest bit bitter.  If you think you'd like, double-up on that.  

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have 60 cookies to eat.

Sweet 'n Salty Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon salt
2 sticks of butter, softened
1 1/2 cups of packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup of white sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups of chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 325° and line baking sheets with parchment.  Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.

2. Cream the butter and sugars together until fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla.  Add the flour mixture all at once and blend until the dough forms.  Fold in the chocolate chips. 

3. Drop small bits of dough onto the sheet using spoons.  In order to get lots of cookies, I used only a tablespoon of dough for each.  Bake until the edges are golden brown and the centre is barely set.  Call it 12 - 15 minutes.  Let cool slightly on the sheet and transfer to a cooling rack. 

Yield: 5 dozen smallish cookies.

I'm officially obsessed with tulips, and today it's the ruffled-edges of these fiery parrots.  This variety opens further than the others, looking more like one of those stainless steamer baskets your Mom never used.  If you were anything like me, you repurposed the contraption (with its metal petals folding over one another) as a spaceship for your Lego men.  No?  Just me?

Below, a few songs for your listening enjoyment.

Songs for April

  1. The First Days of Spring - Noah and the Whale 
  2. Lay Down in the Tall Grass - Timber Timbre
  3. These Flowers - Martha Wainwright
  4. Now, More Than Ever - Jim Guthrie
  5. Grown Man -  Jessica Lea Mayfield
  6. Come in Please - Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
  7. Pickin' Up the Pieces - Fitz and the Tantrums
  8. One Who Really Loves You - Booker T. and the MG's
  9. Love House - Caribou
10. Love and Let Love - Gossip
11. Almost There - The Album Leaf
12. Close to Paradise - Patrick Watson
13. How Come - Ray LaMontagne
14. When the Night Comes - Dan Auerbach
15. Stem - Hayden

Note: To keep the songs in this order (which you should do!) select all the files in the folder and then drag them into a New Playlist you've created in iTunes.  

These days I'm into food served in bowls.  There's something inherently comforting about a curved vessel, no square edges, its boundaries smooth and easy.  I enjoy few things more than a bowl of cereal.  A bowl of fruit is always nice.  And I certainly wouldn't pass on a great big bowl of ice cream.  The point in the meal where you tip the dish at an angle (perhaps a bit gauche, but not on a cold Sunday night at home) is the best part, scooping the final bits out of that perfect roundness.

Tonight found me trying something new.  I've made lots of soups, from purées and those with heavy cream, right through to the chunkiest of stews.  But I've never made a stew like this, rich with red wine and hearty hunks of bison.  This one isn't dissimilar to the ragù I made the other day, though with the addition of thyme and potatoes feels decidedly more Irish than Italian.  Stews like this don't photograph well, so forgive me, I left some out.  But this sort of thing isn't about the way it looks, but rather the way it smells and wraps itself around you like a giant cableknit sweater.  You'll just have to trust me, or, better yet: make it yourself.

Bison Stew 

Olive oil
1½ lbs bison stewing meat, cut into one inch cubes
3 medium carrots, chopped
4 medium potatoes, chopped
3 ribs of celery
12 red pearl onions, peeled (Or just chop up a regular-sized onion.  I wanted these little guys to stay intact and be a tactile component of the stew rather than all minced-up.)
1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger
6 cloves of garlic
5 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups red wine
2 cups beef stock
10 sprigs of fresh thyme

(It should be noted, when making meals like this, measurements are pretty loose, particularly liquids.)

At medium-high, heat oil in a heavy pot.  Dredge your bison in flour and sautée until golden on all sides.  Set aside.  In the same pot, heat more oil and sautée your garlic, ginger, and vegetables for 10 minutes, or-so.  Add the meat back to the pot, stir in the tomato paste, douse it all in a couple cups of red wine, beef stock and toss in the fresh thyme.  Bring it to a quick and short boil (5 minutes) to burn off a bit of the booze, and then lower the heat and allow it to simmer away for 90 minutes, or until the meat is good and tender.  

(Full disclosure: This blog was originally titled Bison Stew with Polenta.  I was attempting it for the first time, but it turned out horribly.  Gummy and gag-inducing, more like a soggy kitchen sponge.  I'm not sure where I went wrong, but it was a disappointment.  A stew is nice and all, but I really wanted to accessorize it.  So instead we ate an entire baguette.  If you have any tips for foolproof polenta, please share in the comments!)

Friday, March 25, 2011

How about some music?  Something with a kick drum.  A beat to stomp down the street to, some oohs-and-aaahs to lift your spirits or propel you toward sunnier days.  Because, if you're anything like me lately, you could certainly use it.  Toronto was hit with (one last?) blast of winter this week, perhaps the worst snow storm we had downtown all winter.  Demoralizing, to put it mildly.

Though the temperature still lingers below freezing, the sun is out, and it's time to take what we can get.  So hit the pavement, go for a walk, bask in the cool brightness of today and listen to something with a juicy backup vocal or a swirling glockenspiel.  Let's take back our mood, come on get happy!

(Plenty of fresh tulips don't hurt, either.)

Songs for March(ing)

  1. Nobody Gets Me But You - Spoon
  2. Rumour Has It - Adele
  3. Blue Skies Again - Jessica Lea Mayfield
  4. Winds of Change - Fitz and the Tantrums
  5. Big Burned Hand - Iron and Wine
  6. Do You Need Someone - Beth Ditto
  7. The Emperor's New Clothes - Sinead O'Connor
  8. I'm an Animal - Neko Case
  9. Oceans and Streams - The Black Keys
10. Love out of Lust - Lykke Li
11. Got Nuffin' - Spoon
12. Glad Man Singing - Iron and Wine
13. The Girl You Lost to Cocaine - Sia
14. Blue Skies - Noah and the Whale


Thursday, March 24, 2011

So clearly my blog is in one of its food phases.  I haven't been doing much of note, aside from cooking a few meals and consuming too much bad TV.  But 'tis the season, I suppose.  So, if you don't mind, here's just another food-entry.

Today I poked about the internet in search of the how-to's on ragù.  Few restaurant-meals have lingered longer in my memory than big round pasta tossed with shredded meat and thick, flavourful red sauce.  I thought it might be time to try my hand at one of my own.  And so, like I do when I cook this kind of peasant food stuff, I Google it and figure out the procedural parts (cooking times and temperatures, the basics) and then just start throwing things in a pot.  

To start, I went searching for a nice hunk of veal shoulder, but Whole Foods didn't have any.  The butcher suggested a one pound piece of beef chuck, which would stew away and soften-up much like a shoulder.  And I wasn't arguing with $7.00 a pound.  And we're off!

Beef Ragù with Maccheroni Rigatini
Serves 2: Heartily

1 pound of cheap meat, your choice
Flour, for dredging
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1 stalk of celery, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
A couple Scotch bonnets, depending how hot you like things
1 cup red wine
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
One large can of peeled tomatoes, coarsely chopped, reserve the liquid
1 cup beef stock
1 cup water
Enough pasta for two gluttonous servings
And fresh-grated parmesan.

In a large stock pot, heat olive oil.  Dredge your meat-of-choice in flour and brown on all sides.  Remove the meat and set aside, heat more oil and sautée your vegetables until softened.  Add the wine and vinegar and bring the whole mess to a boil, reducing by half and thickening to a syrupy consistency.  Return the meat to the pot, add the broth and water, the tomatoes and their liquid.  Let this rumble away at a low temperature for a couple of hours, until the meat is very tender.

Remove the beef again and set aside.  Press the liquid through a fine sieve, separating the wine-soaked mirepoix, drawing as much liquid as you can from it.  Rinse your pot and return the silky, smooth liquid to the heat.  Bring to a boil, reduce by half, again thickening.  The sauce will become like a super-rich gravy-tomato sauce hybrid, just the right viscosity, thick enough to coat the pasta, but thin enough that it doesn't feel heavy.  After 8 or 10 minutes, dump the beef (which you've shredded using forks) back into the sauce and incorporate.  Toss with al dente pasta (of your choice, though the maccheroni rigatini we had was perfect) and serve.

And, in the interest of full disclosure, we had seconds.  Dirty-bowl, unphotogenic, sloppy seconds.  We smeared bread on our plates and didn't even break for wine.  We ate and ate and ate.  

A NOTE ON THE WINE Tilia, a 2009 Argentinean Malbec.  Fruity and rich.  $12.95, LCBO.  Yum.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sometimes all you need is a visit to the farmer's market.  

In this part of the world, after Christmas lights are packed into boxes in January, we recede into a sea of grey and brown, wet cement and dead grass, for weeks on end.  It's fairly depressing, for sure, and not until the clocks spring forward do we shake the dust off and remember there's life beyond winter.  

And so today there were carrots.  In orange and yellow and ruby red.  Bright green at their ends with rich, dark soil packed into their creases.  Smelling of another season, transporting me out of these final days of drab.

Doused in olive oil, fresh chopped rosemary, and Maldon salt.  Oh . . . What?  You don't know about Maldon salt?  Well, let me tell you.  

A cherished friend slipped it to me like a paper-wrapped package in wartime Europe, some kind of contraband.  Passed on like a family secret.  Pinched between fingers, it has such texture, so tactile.   And each time you touch it, you recall the gift itself and the excitement with which it was presented.  Like I said: cherished.

It's sea salt in big, thin flakes, instead of snow-melting chunks.  And while it's nice to cook with, it's even better at the finish, when it melts atop food, seasoning perfectly without crunching between teeth.  And it's a perfect counter to the roasted sweetness of these carrots.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Tomorrow is a big day: I'm having all four wisdom teeth removed.  This should've been done 10-or-more years ago, but, alas, I'm kind of an idiot like that.

I'm anxious about the surgery, never having been put under before.  I've never actually been much of a "patient" of any kind, not as much as a need for stitches.  I suppose I was a particularly cautious boy, never participating in activities which could be considered dangerous.  I wasn't one to jump or skip or even ride a bike, for fear of scuffing my knees.  

So it's with quite a bit of apprehension that I will lay down my head tonight.    

This afternoon we hit the grocery store to pad the pantry with yogurt and popsicles and other such chewless foods.  I thought it might be a good day to stockpile some chili, too, easily reheated and mashed between gums for the days ahead.

Mine includes onions and garlic, ground turkey, strained tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, a whack of spices (cumin, chili powder, Mexican spices, cayenne pepper and, naturally, a slew of beans.  Red and white kidney, chick peas, black and lima beans.  I also toss a healthy cup-or-so of dark chocolate (this time a peppery Lindt.)  The chocolate adds a mildly-sweet richness and works to thicken the chili, too.  A good grate of translucent parmesan, and dinner's on.

Wish me luck tomorrow. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Jeff is a lot of things, not the least of which, magnetic.  I'm sure he would never describe himself as such, but he is.  He's confident and tall and laughs big.  He doesn't clown for attention (like I might be known to do) but, instead, just receives it. He's the social lynchpin in the circle, the kind of guy people want to know.  

But when I told him about Ask Jeff, he scoffed, waving it off like I'd suggested he might be good at resolving foreign conflict. "People don't care about me!" he asserted. Now, don't read this as some kind of deep-seated self-esteem issue, but rather more evidence of his total lack of blogosphere comprehension.  Whether he likes it or not, people feel like they know us to varying degrees, and might be curious to know more.  When the questions started coming, he got nervous.  "Oh god!  How the hell am I supposed to answer that?!"  There's more than one reason he doesn't have a blog of his own: he's not big on this kind of communication.  But he did it!  He answered them all!  Enjoy.

Oh, actually, I'll answer the first question, from the shit-disturbing Ryan Marshall of Pacing the Panic Room.  He asks, "How many times a day do you say to Jason: 'OMG, I can't believe you just said that!'"  Almost never.  He's used to me and the crazy things I say.  8 years-in, it's more of a silent eye roll.

Kathleen asks: "How do you feel about the blog in general?  And what's your biggest pet peeve about Jason?"  Jeff: I have a horrible memory, so I love that our life is being documented.  My biggest pet peeve?  That he's constantly on the computer. And my favourite thing about Jason is that he's on the computer constantly, which means he's not bugging me or talking too much. 

Longtime reader, Jory, asks: "What's it like living with your own personal paparazzo?  Do you get veto privileges?"  Jeff: Again, it's great to have our lives covered, but annoying when he wants to get the perfect shot.  I've gotten used to it, but he knows when I make a series of stupid faces, I'm done being photographed.   (JASON'S NOTE: I have hundreds of terrible photos of him which may see the light of day.  He'll regret it then. As for veto privileges: I self-veto.  Frankly, I would never post a bad photo of anyone on my blog.  I have a facade to keep up, afterall, and everyone in my life is handsome and beautiful.  Handsome and beautiful!)

Anna: "Do you read all Jason's entries?" Jeff: I do read them all, eventually.  I'm a skimmer. (JASON'S NOTE: Thankfully this wasn't the first I'd heard this.  Though I do notice his attention lingers a little longer when there's mention of him. Typical.)

Stephanie: If Jason were gone for a month, what would you miss most?  Both practically, and on a more personal level." Jeff: Dinner.  And I'd miss him sleeping in the bed.  Because I can't really sleep when he's not there.  So that's sort of practical and  (what I think you're looking for) cheesy."   (JASON'S NOTE: And selfish!)

My dear friend Kris Knight: "What's your favourite of all Jason's lesbian music?"  Jeff: This is my favourite question!  And I've thought long and hard about it, because there are so many to choose from.  I'd have to say Aimee Mann.  (JASON CLARIFIES THE QUESTION BECAUSE HE KNOWS HOW MUCH AIMEE MAN ENRAGES JEFF SO HE MUST BE CONFUSED) Oh wait.  You mean who do I actually like??  I thought you meant who I hated.  Oh shit, I don't know.  I hate it all so much!   . . . . . . I'm changing the question.  Which lesbian music do I hate the most:  Aimee Mann.

Annika: "Which cities/countries/continents would you like to visit?   And also, what makes a good relationship last long? Jeff: Bali.  Australia.  All of South America. Every country.  Wait, are they countries down there?  Jason: Yes! Jesus! I'm writing that you said that.  You are so dumb. Jeff: "Fiji. Singapore.  Laos.  Is Laos in Taiwan?  Wait.  Before I go anywhere, I'd like to study geography.  Oh and Berlin!  (JASON'S NOTE: He didn't know that Annika is from Berlin!  Happy accident.)  And the relationship part?  Finding the grey areas.  Compromise.

Beth: "How long does it take you to grow in your beard?" Jeff: 10 days?  I dunno.  I've had the scruff a couple of years now. My niece calls them my hairy cheeks.  Little does she know . . .

Lauren: "What would you say are the biggest personality differences between you and Jason?  And what's your favourite dessert?" Jeff: To quote RuPaul, Jason's 'really an introvert masquerading as an extrovert.' While I'm just an extrovert. Dessert? I don't really like dessert, but Jason's BBQ peaches are my favourite. (JASON'S NOTE: Awwww.  Recipe here.)

My lovely friend Tara of Seven Spoons: "Tell us something about Jason you think we'd be surprised to hear.  Also, what's your biggest indulgence/pet vanity?  Number three: Is there a city/town/country you've always wanted to live?  What's your favourite host gift to give/receive?  Do you think flowers and wine are passé?  Oh! And one more: Are there trends in fashion you wish would just die already?"  Jeff: Actually, his blog is a pretty good representation.  But he eats a lot more shit than he lets on.  He's not nearly as fancy as he appears. He hates animals - Is that surprising?  My biggest indulgence?  Vacations. Wine.  Dinners out.  I've always wanted to live in New York.  Host gifts: I think that you can't go and buy a bottle of wine unless you know what you're talking about.  Don't buy people Wolfblass, for example.  Get something nicer with a bit of a story.  And no grocery store flowers.  I don't know much about fashion.  But anything Eurotrash freaks me out.  (JASON'S NOTE: I have a lot of opinions on fashion trends.  Mainly: Tights are not pants.)

SP wonders: "What brought you two together? How'd you meet?  What helps keep you together?" Jeff: We met online, actually.  On a site that pre-dates Facebook.  What keeps us together?  Probably wine and psychotherapy.   (JASON'S NOTE: Agreed.)

Rick: "What's it like having such a fabulous friend in Nick?  He seems so charming and nice!"  (JASON'S NOTE: Ha! Nice try, Hooman.)

Melinda: "Do you ever cook for Jason?  What kind of work do you do?" Jeff: I'm the BBQ'er.  So I'm off-duty most of the winter.  I do the same thing as Jason, at a different venue.  We both manage concert halls.  (JASON'S NOTE: Jeff has become an expert meat-master.  Steaks are always a perfect medium-rare.)

Samantha: "What's the best advice Jason's given you?" Jeff: To shave my head. To grow a beard.  Everything I wear. Smooth peanut butter spreads better than crunchy?  Oh, I don't know!  (JASON'S NOTE: We're both racking our brains about advice we've given each other.  At this point it's hard to figure out where original thoughts begin and our collective thoughts end.  8 years means a whole lot of talking about stuff, working through stuff, figuring stuff out.  Together.

(This is a behind-the-scenes photo that lead to this shot you've seen before. August 2003.)

Christine: "Does your food ever get cold waiting for Jason to photograph his latest creation?  What's your all-time favourite travel destination?" Jeff: No, he takes pictures of his own plate.  We, really, haven't been to that many places.  But Cuba ranks pretty high.  It was our first trip together, and it's a pretty incredible place.  Sorry Americans!

Buddy boy Tim Robison at That's Just It Photo: "What 5 things would you need if you were stranded on a deserted island (Don't worry, Jason is there with you.)  Jeff: Matches, so I can have fire.  A water purification system . . .   Jason: Hey! That's not how this game works!  You can't just prepare yourself for it.  Jeff: Oh.  Okay.  Then I don't know!  If I can't take everything I want, I'd just go with nothing!  Corona.  With lime.  Presumably this hell hole is tropical.  (JASON'S NOTE: He's nothing if not practical.)

Tommy: "How would you describe your personal style (or would you even describe it?) Also, what band/artist do you hate (Mine is NIckelback.) Jeff: My personal style?  I dunno, I don't know those words.  I hate Weezer because Rivers Cuomo was an asshole.  I don't like Rufus Wainwright because he slurps when he sings.  And Aimee Mann (of course) sounds like a dying cat.  (JASON'S NOTE: He's preppy.  And he met a lot of major rockstars when he worked at another venue.  He had to pick up strippers for Kid Rock once.  That's a fun story for dinner parties.)

EDIT: Ack!  Mina!  We didn't mean to skip your question!  It took some convincing, for sure.

Thanks for your questions everybody.  This was fun!  Hope you enjoyed it as much as Jeff didn't.

There's a new kid on the block: Instagram.  Heard of it?  It's like Twitter for visual learners.  You take a photo, maybe you add a filter, perhaps a bit of commentary, and you post.  You have followers and you follow others.  Your pictures and those of the people you like feed onto your iPhone.  You can "like" each other's photos and comment on them.  Pretty basic stuff. 

Here's the thing: it's neat.  The hacky filters are silly, but it's no secret you're using them, and there's no shame in doing so. And they do make garden-variety iPhone photos look better, or at least more interesting.  Where Twitter allows you to say what you might not blog full-length on, Instagram does for images or places you visit or the hot dog you eat on the street. For the times you want to show a single picture of something beautiful or ridiculous, rather than get out your camera and do a whole thing about it.  And the app takes the pressure off, putting the focus on content and composition, rather than quality.

I'm not sure how I'm selling it here, but I'm into it.  So get the free app and follow me: theserovingeyes.