Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Book Review: Something to Food About

Been a long time since I have done a cookbook review. There haven't been a lot that has got me excited about food and I am not sure why not. What I am sure about is that even though this isn't a cookbook, it has got me thinking about food again.

This is a book where Questlove interviews ten food people and caps it off with a meal by those Modernist Cuisine people. Why would that be interesting and why was I excited to pick this book up from the library?

Okay, maybe some free form stuff that will eventually connect the dots or not. While I am writing this I have Nardwuar vs Questlove cued up and listening. Now you may know Nuadwar as an intrepid interviewer who asked Rollins about his soup can dick or as the guy that has been embraced by hip hop and rap as he dives into the crates of their past. He asks a few history questions and pays respect to the past and the people he is interviewer. It can be a bit off putting. Let's leave that there for now.

BTW, Questlove is talking about how hip hop artists found out about sampling from the Bill Cosby show. It affected many young rappers at the time.

Okay, next up. Food is the New Rock is a podcast that has the idea that the same way that music used to occupy us (and that whole deep crate diving before the internet) is the way that food and chefs occupy us now. The idea that both music and food are performance. However, you can record and package performances now but you still cannot record and playback food. So, he showed up there for me. Action Bronson is on Food and on Nardwuar as well. There are plenty of crossovers.

My son is watching Fresh Prince of Belair and just heard Questlove talk about the guys who twirled Will Smith in the opening.

If you want to have fun going through history told by another white guy, Ed Piskor, Hip Hop Family Tree. It is another under represented era on the internet and worth looking into.

I have the Modernist Cuisine at Home and Myhrvold is the first interview. The end of the book is the meal they had there. The interviews have a similar set of questions about first foods, racism and sexism, inspiration, aging and changes in approach, and local foods and fads.

Questlove spends a lot of time drawing parallels between his career and music and cooking. At first this seems like self promotion until you realize that he is really into these chefs. He is really into food. I had some of that background given the rest of the stuff but it eventually became clear as you went through it. Of course Jiro Dreams of Sushi is the film and the chef that kicked this all off. In case you didn't know, Anthony Bourdain who writes the intro wrote a graphic novel based on a sushi chef called Get Jiro!

I got two good ideas from this book that I am going to write about at some point and time; pickled strawberries and using movies as a reference point. There is a cool story about a Twin Peaks dinner that Questlove attended with Lynch to Ryan Roadhouse, the chef. Also, found out that Ludo Lefebvre may have started the pop up craze and stuff about Daniel Humm and... it was like listening to a foodie interview by Nardwuar.

I guess my point is that is some ways this is like crate digging with a friend on a Saturday afternoon, making connections and feeling smart by what you know and blown away by stuff you didn't. A great read for Something to Food About. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Strawberry Sandwich

I've been meaning to post this thing about strawberry sandwiches. It seems silly to type out a recipe that is really about strawberries on bread but I got to thinking...

Been reading Something to food about by Questlove and he likens food to performance based music. You only get one chance to experience it. There is no way to record an eating experience in spite of the the Instagram and reviews.  I'll have more to say about that later.

I wonder how much of this leads to more nostalgia about food. In particular, I am thinking about strawberries. While I am writing it long past the wild strawberry season, we have found a way to approximate a seeming berry and sell them year round. A hint that I have made use if time and again has been to add a little orange blossom, sprayed or dropped, into a bowl of strawberries to give them a wildness that is missing.

I used to go picking berries on the side of the road with my grandmother. We hopped out of the car and headed to the edges and picked. Some if the berries were dusty and those were often warm, even in the morning, from the sun. Popping them into the mouth when. Grandma wasn't looking. Heading to the undergrowth where the berries were cooler and juicer or taking an occasional green or white berry for their sourness. There was nothing uniform about these little bites.

When we had git them home, we would be happy if we picked them clean without the stems or we would spend more time cleaning the berries. A small snack would be put in a bowl with sugar spooned over top to sit in the fridge until lunch or snack.

Two white bread slices, berries, and some of the juice. That was all.

So with much ado, I present the modern version that my grandmother would not recognise.
Take strawberries, clean and slice. Sprinkle sugar generously with sugar. Add a dash of vanilla and orange blossom water. Set aside, unrefrigerated for at least an hour. (This is called macerate if you want to be fancy).

Take two slices of white bread, add berries. Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Tea Time: Three Rough Takes

Been lazy this summer in terms of writing. Maybe it is the heat but I had promised to do better on the blogs. It isn't as if I haven't been having food adventures but it has been less talking about it.

One of the constants of the summer has been cold tea. I hesitate to call it iced tea because it really is just putting some tea in cold water overnight, straining and then storing. This started as a way of using loose leaf tea that had been sitting for too long in my cupboard. I had some left as I always had some on hand as my former partner is a tea drinker. I kept some on hand. Was it habit, wishful thinking or common courtesy?

I made the tea and then found ways to use it. One of my sons occasionally drinks Nestea, so I made a lemon simple syrup (more on that in a later post), and made him a reasonable facsimile. We have made many more since.
Simple Ice Tea: Take the tea, add simple syrup and lemon juice. All to taste. 
Is this some kind of metaphor? Taking tea for courtesy and possibly longing and make it into something else? Probably not. Probably just a way to use up old tea.

In the last few weeks, my mom has gotten ready for moving. This included handing me a large bag of tea bags that she had bought for my former partner. It is her favourite brand. It has been almost three years since they have seen each other. The tea predates that time. So, after a summer of using up my stash, I am given another stash to deal with.

I have taken to using the cold tea in mixed drinks. This is refreshing.
Simple Tea Drink: Using an old fashioned or highball, depending on the time of day, add 2 oz booze, ice cubes, dash of bitters, simple syrup or one of those water flavourers, and top with tea.
I guess we could go with another pseudo sad story because I am in the mood to add the slight bitterness but calm reflection that tea brings into a post about tea... I had the tea for visitors who never came; not because they were not wanted but because I did not invite them. There were a few tea people early on but I did not keep up.

Now, to put the better light on it, lately, I have been sharing beer instead. It is more of the thing that I like. I have found that I like to share with people. Mostly I go out to events but sometimes I will share a rhubarb beer with someone special or some adventurous ales with others or just my homebrew.
Simple Tea Shandy:  Particularly good with hefeweizen and hoppy brews. Glass, beer + tea to taste. 
It is strange to start my posts with a kind of odd, meandering narrative around tea but it seems that tea brings out the reflection. And it has brought out the person who wishes to share, again.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Restaurant Review: Two Headed Dog

I've been toying with reviewing the bunch of new pubs in the area in one big omnibus blog post. It seems easy to dismiss them as all being the same. It wouldn't be that far off the mark but it may be a bit unfair.

Most of THESE places are Anglo inspired, macro brewery listed and food service sourced foodstuffs. An awkward sentence for an awkward phenomenon. The difference between them being location and variation in decor. Some do a better job on their beer list than others. There are grace notes on the food service food such as different gravies and sauces or a better variety of fry. This is how I assess new pubs in the area, and in general.

I have been to the Two Headed Dog several times. It is close but not the closest. Both Eulalie's around the corner and the Corner House Pub stand between me and there. It is one of the only family pubs on the Gerrard Street India Bazaar as Eulalie's pitches more hip and less stroller. So, location is a plus.

Decor is German Anglo inspired with sports bar accouterments. Set with a garage door out back, there is plenty of light in the booth section where you can be distracted by the happenings outside and the televisions. Not great for date night but good for those nights when the kids want to eat and you are too lazy.  Aside from the back room of booths, there is a more bar like setup towards the front. A decent rail displays standards and a tap lineup.

On the first week, there was only macro brewery imports and standards. On a subsequent visit, I was told that they had a lot of requests for local beer and were working on it. There still only remains a single independent brewer from down the street on the line up, Left Field. It has been a few months. So, a middling grade there.

So far nothing stands out except their location. This leaves the last consideration of food. English pubs mean curry. There are a few of these type of curry pub dishes and strangely, these are the ones that have a "made here" note on the menu. Ah yes, differentiation. It is taken for granted that people realize that most of their food is not made in house and so the difference maker is telling them when it is. These are the better dishes available or at least the ones that stand out from other beer drinking places.

There are three items worth trying that are different than standard fare offered in pubs; Butter Chicken Poutine, Shepherd's Pie and Sri Lankan curry.

That little orange lettering says Made Here.
Season Infused Salt - sounds weirdly like a Food
Network groupie wrote it. 

A sloppy mess of butter chicken sauce with cheese and standard fries. This poutine is nothing like a poutine but it is a messy and joyful mess for the enjoyment of those who like butter chicken. For those of us who feel butter chicken is not quite Indian food, this is at least a starting point for actually enjoying it for what it is; a slightly sweet gravy that marries well with cheese and salty fries.

The Shepherd's Pie. Yup, more like mashed potatoes on fried ground meat and topped with gravy. It brings back memories of boiled chuck, potatoes and onions in a pan gravy that I used to eat as a kid. This is a good thing. Salty and flavourful and different. My dining companion mushed it all together and ate it like that. I would have added ketchup and that would have made it complete. Don't expect cuisine but expect comfort.

On this last Sunday trip, the daily special was wings. I had the Korean BBQ sauced wings. This is more typical of expectations. There is nothing wrong with the food. It is the same as every other place. It is the little bits that make the difference. Is this a place to revel in the little bits and travel for it? No. But it was worth the few extra steps to move away from a far more food service heavy place. If there was a place with better taps...

I guess the short of it is, GET BETTER TAPS.

Anyways, I often feel like writing these reviews is like dining in these places. It is easy to do an up and down, throw a pic, throw some words down on the page and say something meh and move on. Maybe this is why there are so many pubs that don't reach higher; they don't have to. With so many blogs and reviewers out there, there is no need to be better either. No need to describe food that is so much the same that there is nothing remarkable. Go up and read this review again. See what is remarked on by me. It isn't the food but the difference. Just a few bits of difference can mean the world.

Two Headed Dog Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, April 18, 2016

Near Misses #2: Cheeseburger Ramen

My kids are often the driver for food ideas. Sometimes, I am trying to think of something that they will love and other times, it is me trying to make their idea into a reality. It is when I am stretching for something that I can learn something new and make something incredible or it can fall flat.

Here is a flat recipe inspired by seeing a recipe for cheeseburger soup and wondering if ramen would make a good switch up.

The recipe as made was:

Cheeseburger Ramen

1 slice of ham steak
1 lb frozen italian meatballs
2 sliced green onions
1 cup frozen corn

3 rafts (?) instant ramen noodles
4 cups ham broth
2 cups water
1 tbsp ketchup
1 tbsp mustard

Cheese to top

Fry ham and then add liquid. Bring liquid to a boil. Add condiments. Add meatballs and warm through. Add ramen and corn cook until done. The pkg I had said three minutes. Then add onions and pour into bowls. Top with cheese. 

What worked: Overall the flavours and concept were sound. It tasted just a little bit like a cheeseburger. It was good that the corn was there to provide some juicyness.

What didn't: Lack of concentrated beef flavour. Should have used beef stock and swapped the ham out for bacon. The original idea was a bacon cheeseburger but I got lazy on the bacon. 

The condiments were a nice add but needed a stronger foil of some type of spice or robust flavour. The broth was the thing that the kids actively disliked. 

Should have broken the meatballs down into smaller pieces. This was the kids favourite part but once they were gone, there was not much else to hold the soup together. 

What to do different: 

Use beef stock. Add some spices. Use bacon or eliminate ham altogether. Break down the meatballs.

Now, will I make it again? The kids were lacklustre about the whole affair. My eldest did not finish the broth and my youngest only ate half his bowl. They bowl were not sure that they would want another attempt. Unless I am hit by inspiration, I will give it a pass. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Easter Leftovers: Ideas

It is a Sunday morning that is barely holding on in the last days of a season that is barely holding on. Forget the end of hockey or the beginning of baseball because I am seeing the last of the Easter season. A few bones of ham and turkey are simmering for stock to go into the freezer for the return of fall or winter.

I guess it is apt that finding ways to squeeze as much out of leftovers is a good post for a time when winter seems to be squeezing out its last from us. I am not a lover of the big-huge-gigantic-enormous-gut-wrenching-and-busting meals of family holidays. Well, I like to eat them but it is always within a certain range of enjoyment. There are few surprises in the meal and more in the conversations. I prefer the conversational surprises more. This year, however, the ancillary meals, the ones that tide you over between big meals and the ones that happened after made me a little more happy.

I want to share some of the recipes and ideas because I am obviously self absorbed and feel that may take on food is so important...or, maybe I wish that a few of these will help bored eaters everywhere on what to do with those meals that you kinda hafta have.

We used to have a fresh ham and have it all done up with mustard, brown sugar and cloves but nowadays we have a prepared smoked spiral ham. Given the compressed schedule, this was served on store bought croissants with swiss cheese and mustard, or ketchup for the pre-teen crowd. It was a good break from the last few years but we had a whole bunch of croissants and a ham bone leftover.

So, with Easter chocolate in hand, we unwrapped the eggs onto the croissants and placed them in the microwave for a little while and had an instant dessert that we repeated a few times.

Leftover turkey and Christmas' turkey got made into a ramen. This was really good. Very little adjustments had to be made for the turkey. A little of the same herbs and spices that were used in stuffing were added to bump it up and corn for some crunch.

Ham stock was used in an attempt at cheeseburger ramen but I will leave that for another post. It was a partial failure and worth an examination on its own. 

I wrote this post about leftovers and other ways to look at the holiday meals but I realize that in some ways, this attitude stretches the holidays in terms of memories and flavours. It is rare to get together with extended family. Those times are often compressed and stressed with very little time spent talking and reconnecting. Some of these ideas get at a way to do less and get more during the holidays and some of these ideas stretch those holiday feelings. 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Lentil Corn Bean Chili

Making something for an unknown crowd can be nerve wracking. You wonder about spicing and whether the kids will eat it. You always hope that yours is not the only one leftover and a myriad of things that are not any reflection of your cooking and what you choose to make. You want it quick, cheap and flavourful.

This is a mild chili that you can bump up. It takes faintly of cumin but has no real overpowering spices. A lentil soup texture broken up with corn and beans seems like a good dish for a chilly day.

So, here is a vegan recipe made for the 2016 Bowmore "Make It!" Fair...

1 stalk celery, chopped  (reserve celery leaves , no biggie if you don't have any)
2 large carrots, chopped
1 large white onion, diced
tbsp of oil

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp curry powder
1 tbsp chili powder
4 cloves of garlic

3 cups red lentils
2x 540 ml (19 oz) cans black beans
2x 398 ml (14oz) cans cream corn
1 1/2 cup of frozen corn
1.8L of vegetable stock
2 bay leaf
reserved celery leaves (chopped)

1. Take the celery, onion and carrots and soften them over medium heat in a dutch oven or pan that will hold about 4-6 L. Add salt.
2. Add the spice mixture and garlic until it starts to smell. Between 30 seconds and 2 minutes.
3. Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to a boil and then down to a simmer. On my stove this is High and then 2 or Low but appliances will vary. Simmer until lentils are soft (25-30 minutes).

This recipe can be dressed up or dressed down with green onions or sour cream added at the last. Add more spices or whole chile peppers. Hot sauce in your bag which I would do. I do think that cooking is one of those DIY and hacks that anyone can get into.

The fair runs today from 11 am - 3 pm. Come see us with your bowl and spoon.