Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Beach Wanderings

Spent Sunday morning with one of my sons wandering the beach. Part of the draw was going along the sand and looking at the art that dotted the Beach. Another motivation that drives the walks is always food.

My son looks at the walks as a way to get to a restaurant. Even though we could walk straight there, the excuse of the excursion makes some time for us to talk about what is going on in his life from Magic to grade school. When taking a break and just strolling, it is easier to wonder while you wander.

On this trip, there were a few things that caught my eye. Found a community garden with raised beds. We stopped for a few minutes while sand left shoes. So many questions about this type of gardening. I know that this type of gardening can never replace agriculture but the gesture of growing something still pleases me.

And then a few minutes later, we stopped at Athen's Pastries right by the beach. I had forgotten this was there. It was a washroom break with coffee. The coffee was lacking but the custard pie served on plastic with plastic was real good. My son loved the bottom which was tough but filled with sugar and caramelized. It was a nice break in the closest bathroom with a sweet dessert. There were savoury pies and honey balls too. This would be a good respite on hot days too.

Then we finally got to the restaurant. It was the Breakwall which purports to be a smokehouse. He had a burger with pulled pork and I had a brisket sandwich washed down with a Leffe Brune. Nothing was spectacular but it was enough to make my son want to come back and try something else. On the plate when I asked for the seasonal veggies, broccolini showed up. Curious. I have just started seeing these bitter greens show up regularly. For a while, it was mesclun mix, then kale and greens. I think we are finally seeing a more varied selection of bitter vegetables show up. I wouldn't be surprised to see the full breadth of chinese bitter greens begin to reach restaurant plates.

I am showing the food highlights, small snaps taken quickly while we conversed and played coin hockey while waiting for our meal or waiting for someone to empty their shoes of sand. I am food obsessed but it shouldn't be a reason to ignore your companions or be the sole discussion. Though, sometimes, it is the destination or way stations along the path. While my son was looking at the restaurant as an excuse to wander, I was looking at the trip as an excuse to spend some time with him. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

How to Read a Recipe: Carrot Ginger Soup

This is one of those recipes that I learned in university. It was quick, cheap, easy and could be made in a pinch on a hot plate in residence as long as you had access to a blender. My understanding is that there were a few people making margeri... smoothies in some of the rooms. On an unrelated note, it was National Margarita Day on February 22.

The basic recipe is so easy, boil carrots in a liquid and add spices and blend. There. No real reason to read the rest of this post except if you are no longer an university student. Below is a variation I made a couple of weeks ago and you can see how it has changed.

Carrot Ginger Soup

1 lb carrots, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 cups beer
2 tbsp minced ginger
2 tbsp miso
2 tbsp of butter (or more)

1. Take carrots and garlic and roast them in a 400 degree oven until knife tender. Check at about the 15 minute mark and check them every now and again until they are on the softer side. Remember you are boiling them later so no need to be ultra precise. 
2. In the meantime, you can do each of these steps in a row and spend the next half an hour or so watching a Netflix episode of some cooking show or you could cook the onions in butter at low heat until they caramelize. That's when they get all sticky and sweet and um, caramel-y.
3. Add miso and ginger and cook every so slightly. For a bigger ginger pop, use powdered ginger and add it a little later in the process.
4. Now, if the timing worked out, add onion mixture and roasted carrot stuff (technical term) into a pot that can hold all those and the beer.
5. Add beer, and water, if needed, and bring to a boil and turn it down a few notches, an anti-Emeril if you will. Simmer for those who know those jargon laden culinary terms. Cook until carrots are beginning to fall apart.
6. Blend into desired texture. Add water to thin it out, if you like it thinner.

Seriously, that is all. Nothing to it. I could have written less steps but then it feels like less of a recipe.

Umami Bomb: There is a lot that can be done to boost flavours in the soup. Roasting the vegetables and coating them with miso or tomato paste. Also, just frying some tomato paste with the spices to reduce it a little. If you want to add "meatiness", one star anise is good. Such a slight licorice flavour without overpowering everything else going on.

Spice it Up; Harissa. Carrots love harissa. It is a pepper blend that is pretty freaking awesome. It has caraway which is another natural pairing for carrots along. Other spices that pair well are coriander, cumin and nutmeg. Just a little will change what is happening. Moroccan warm spices.

Change the Liquid: Change up the liquid. I used beer above. Wit or white beer with coriander will work. Add flavourful stock, especially beef stock works well. Remember pot roasts? Almost always cooked with carrots. There is a reason why. Oh, and if you want to boost the carroty goodness, try adding carrot juice.

Sides and Toppings: So remember up there when I talked about harissa? It makes an awesome topping. If you want, add some sour cream and harissa and you are starting to get fancy. I like to add pickled carrots to make the rest of the soup pop because I always like some acid to make veggies taste great. Pesto also works well. Check out what sauces you have in your fridge and try it. I haven't added chili sauce but why not? A few chickpeas or lentils on top add a little protein and some texture.

Refinements: Oh wow. You can get really cheffy with this. Use a food mill to get it silky smooth. Add a bit of butter at the end to make it glossy. Cream. Lemon. Thai ingredients.

I guess my point is that simple recipes can be used as a jumping off point. Since you are using such a humble, by which it is normally read as cheap, you may be able to afford to experiment unlike when you were in university. I guess some of us may have experimented but not with anything that cost money...