The things we take home: A belated Father’s Day post

I feel fairly certain that we invented funerals not just to honour the dead, but to keep us busy in the initial aftermath. I spent a busy, whirlwind week in Ottawa after my dad died, waiting for the realization to hit (it never does, you are shocked anew every time you remember). There were errands to run, photos to scan, people to call, and visitors to welcome amid other general planning and organisation. Of course, my mum bore the brunt of this, but I kept busy that week as well. When it came time to pack our bags and return to real life, a life in Toronto where my dad hadn’t been a daily presence, I was reluctant.

In the past ten years, I have become accustomed to coming and going from my parents’ home. Usually, I have been assured that my dad would be right where I left him when next I returned. This time, that would not be the case. My life in Toronto would be more or less the same, but I would never be coming home to my dad again. This time, leaving home (I will always have two homes, the one where my parents are, and the one I’ve built for myself), I had to make do with the few pieces of my dad that I could take with me.

We all know that a person’s life is not defined by their things, but by their experiences and their relationships. This does not mean, however, that they don’t leave behind artifacts, pieces of evidence that document a part of who someone was. And so I’d like to talk about the things I took with me the first time I left my parents’ house knowing that I’d never go back to see my dad. They are, of course, all food related. (This is, after all, a food blog of sorts).

Without fail, my dad would never let us leave to head back to Toronto without some sort of food item. Maybe leftovers from the weekend, very often a container of cretons, homemade or purchased from the Costco in Gatineau, because he knew we both loved it and it was harder to find in Toronto. This time, it was my mom who packed up an insulated bag picking out items from the freezer that undoubtedly were put there by my dad: a freezer bag of maple sage deer sausages, homemade weeks ago. The first batch made with his brand new sausage maker. About three vacuum-sealed packs of salt pork, purchased for all future sausage making, but also good for baked beans, pea soup, and various other French Canadian recipes. And a pack of Montreal smoked meat, possibly purchased for the next smoked meat day at his office, the sort of thing that he liked to organize.

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Now, these items are all consumables. They will not last forever, and one day they will be gone. (Most definitely because I will eat and enjoy them). They are not a lasting piece of my dad’s legacy. Regardless, I can say that right now there are numerous hunks of meat in my freezer that made leaving Ottawa four weeks ago feel a little more ok. I know. It`s weird.

There is one other thing that I brought home with me that day. And I knew very early on after my dad’s death that it was the one thing of his that I needed to take with me. My brother went home with my dad’s last cigar, and inherited his fishing boat. I came home with a cookbook.

 

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Madame Jehane BenoÎt’s Encyclopedia of Canadian Cooking has sat on a shelf in our house for as long as I can remember, and is what can only be described as a cooking bible. The version I have is the English one, though I believe my aunt is in possession of the French copy, once used and annotated by her mother, my grandmother. Jehane BenoÎt, if you don’t already know, is a giant of Canadian cuisine, and our earliest celebrity chef. Something like a Canadian version of Julia Child. You can read more about her here, and also watch her here.

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Now, my dad wasn’t much of a cookbook guy. Or even a recipe guy for that matter. For him, cooking was an art and not a science. A little bit of this, a little bit of that, until it seems right. I take after him and can’t follow a recipe to save my life. I own some beautiful cookbooks that I will peruse for the pictures, or ideas, or a rough ingredient list, but there is a joy in knowing how to create a meal simply by taste, look and feel. Mme Benoît’s cookbook, on the other hand, offers you a recipe or an instruction for anything you could ever possibly think to encounter in the kitchen. From how to boil an egg or create a party menu, to making homemade wine and cooking for 50 people. Though the book and recipes often show their age (far too many recipes for aspics and headcheese) there is always something of value to be found in Madame Benoît’s cookbook.

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For the funeral we chose to put my dad’s ashes in his cigar humidor, next to a sleeve of scotch and cigar box. These items were chosen to honour a man with an undeniable joy de vivre and a knack for enjoying the finer things. An accurate portrait of man ready to retire; to sit back and enjoy the fruits of his labour. For me though, he always was and will be Madame Benoît’s cookbook. Which sat atop a shelf in our kitchen, a sort of patron saint, standing in as a symbol of the cooking skills and knowledge held by my grandmother, passed on to my father, and with any hope, also to me. From this book come inklings of the recipes we’d eventually use for our family’s ragout de pattes et de boulettes, for cretons and baked beans, for numerous cookies, cakes and sweets. Her peanut butter cookie recipe is still my go-to recipe to this day.

It now sits in my kitchen. An artifact of meals cooked for and by loved ones, and a symbol of meals and cooking lessons to come. A little piece of my dad in my kitchen, always.

Eenie Meenie Arancini

Last weekend, Matthew’s mum threw us a fantastic engagement party.  My mum came down to Toronto for the weekend, and we had a jam packed weekend filled with burgers, rum and cokes, Mani-pedis, a Jay’s game, a new (super cute) haircut, and ending in a super lovely party, where my mom finally got to meet some of Matthews aunts, uncles, cousins, and most importantly, his Nonna.

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On the Saturday night though, I decided I wanted to cook a nice spring dinner for me, Matthew and my mum.  So, after getting sunburned sitting in the Skydome for 4 hours, we came back to our apartment, cracked open a bottle of wine, and I whipped up a nice little meal for three: to start, some of the season’s first ontario strawberries, marinated with salt, pepper, a generous amount of basil, and some balsamic vinegar, served with a nice ball of fresh burrata, and some toasted sliced baguette. After we wolfed this all down, I took my time preparing a lovely spring vegetable risotto. Based off a recipe from Queen Ina Garten. I omitted the fennel she called for, added some diced artichoke hearts, pancetta, and found some of the prettiest in-season asparagus one could imagine. The recipe says this makes 4 “main course” sized servings, but I feel like it made closer to 10 servings. We had a boat-load leftover. Not a bad thing, I might add. This was served with some simple garlic butter shrimp, sautéed last minute before the risotto was plated. Dessert was a rhubarb clafouti. (Which I was not completely pleased with, so that recipe will need some tinkering).  Then we watched the hockey game (no other option, when my mom is in the house).

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Having such a generous amount of Risotto leftover gave me the opportunity later in the week to try my hand at something I’d never made before: Arancini. That is to say: breaded, fried, cheese-stuffed, balls of risotto. How could I pass up this opportunity!? I could not.

Generally in the kitchen, I try to avoid deep frying, and I try to avoid breading. Breaded items are delicious, but I can’t get over the fact that I have to dirty THREE BOWLS, one for the flour, one for the egg, and one for the breadcrumbs. It’s a messy process! I am, however, comforted by the fact that when I DO bread something, I’m usually not the one cleaning up afterwards (God bless Matthew). So really, I don’t know what’s stopping me. As for frying things, well I guess there are health reasons for that, but also, it makes me nervous! Especially on a gas range. I am always convinced I am one misstep away from setting myself aflame.

And yet, I threw caution to the wind for these little deep-fried balls of cheese and carbs.

The process was surprisingly easy, and I managed not to coat my entire kitchen in flour and breadcrumbs! So here is what you do:

You can make risotto expressly for this purpose, but I think it’s better when it’s been resting in the fridge. So keep this in mind. I had almost 2 cups of extra risotto to work with, so I mostly eye-balled everything. Some recipes call for an egg as a binder, but my leftover risotto seemed thick and gluey enough after sitting in the fridge that I didn’t find I needed it. I added about a half a cup each of grated pecorino cheese and breadcrumbs to the cold risotto, and blended it all well. Then you take about 2 tablespoons worth of it and roll it into a ball. Take a cube of cheese,  about 1.5cm square (mozzarella seems like the obvious choice, but I’m sure you could do whatever good melty cheese is your favourite), and stuff it into your rice ball. Then roll it in your flour (seasoned with salt and pepper, of course), dunk it in an egg/milk mixture, and finally roll it into the breadcrumbs. I like to use the italian seasoned breadcrumbs, cause I am lazy. Lay your breaded arancini onto some parchment paper, one-by-one.

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For the frying, I used peanut-oil because that is what I had on hand. I used a small pot, filled up only 2/3 of the way. I only fried two at a time, since I was using a small pot, but the nice thing about arancini is that the contents are mostly already cooked. It’s mostly about melting the cheese in the center and getting the exterior nice and brown and crispy. So while you could use a thermometre to get the optimal temperature, so long as you heat the oil to a point where the tip of a wooden spoon sizzles generously when you dip it into the pot, you should be good to go. I added two arancini into the pot at a time, and in 5 minutes or less, they were beautiful and brown and lovely looking. Rest them on some paper towel. You could also keep them warm on a baking rack in the oven at a low-temp, but keep an eye on them, because the  cheese could burst out and onto the pan intead of into your belly.

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I served these little beauties with a quick little broccoli salad inspired by Smitten Kitchen’s “Broccoli rubble”. Quick, roughly chopped broccoli, steamed with some frozen peas, and then tossed in a tiny bit of olive oil, lemon juice, grated pecorino, and a generous amount of salt and freshly ground pepper. Add a nice piece of mustardy oven-poached salmon to your plate, and you’re good to go for dinner!

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Please note: Arancini may or may not also be very good right out of the fridge the next morning for breakfast, but I uh…wouldn’t know firsthand, of course. I’ve just HEARD.

 

Happy Birthday Dad

I hope it’s not too strange or morbid that I am writing this to you, but the truth is I’m not done talking to you. And I’m definitely not done writing for you. So this year for your birthday, I’ve decided to revive this here little blog. Because I know it made you proud. And because I can’t think of anything better to keep your memory alive and kicking than to keep on cooking.

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When I spoke at your funeral last week I said that I would try to honour your memory by finding joy in cooking, even on the busiest of weeknight evenings. I think that this blog is a good way to hold me accountable to that. So, going forward, I hope that at least once a week I can cook with intention. To give myself the opportunity to sit down and really enjoy the fruits of my labour. To pick out ingredients, assemble them, and consume them in a way that makes cooking a choice, and not just a necessity. Because so often it becomes a chore, doesn’t it? It’s too easy to think in terms of protein + veg = dinner. Or to resent any dish or recipe that has me chopping for too long, whisking too much, or dirtying too many dishes. I hope that at least once a week I can throw a record on the turntable, light the flame on my stove and get cracking in a way that makes me feel fuller, less stressed and guilt free.

Which is exactly what I did earlier this week. On Wednesdays I often work from home. I usually don’t change out of my sweatpants and baggy T-shirt. I log-in in the mornings, and when I close my laptop 8 hours later, especially on spring days like these ones, the day still seems to be in its prime. I can throw on some real clothes, throw my hair into a topknot, grab a shopping bag and hit Roncesvalles, still bustling beneath my apartment. This week, I hit up a relatively new shop called Alimentari. A kind of upscale Italian grocery that is less than a 5 minute walk from my apartment. On this particular day, I went straight to the counter and ordered a nice generous slab of their house-made Focaccia. Dad, I gotta tell you. This might be the best bread I’ve ever had in my life. It’s soft and pillowy, with a nice chewy crust. Every bite is rosemary infused, and salted to just the right amount. Despite temptation however, we cannot (or maybe should not) just eat bread for dinner. So onwards I went.

My next stop was our local green grocer. Green grocers might be one of my favourite things about Toronto. You can find them on almost any block in Toronto, and they often also carry fresh flowers. Produce is fresher, better and more local than grocery stores, but cheaper and more generous than you often find at your local farmer’s market. Ours is called Master supermarket. Again, about a five minute walk from our apartment. I picked up a bit of produce for later in the week (hellooo rhubarb cordial), and a bag of arugula, perfectly portioned for a salad for two.

At this point, all I had left to pick up was the real star of the show that night: a fresh bag of mussels. De La Mer, our local fishmonger, always has bags of fresh mussels, by the pound, for usually no more than $8 a pop. Mussels for dinner is a fantastic way to feel very chic and classy and maybe a little French, with minimum time, effort and money.


Dad, I know you already know what to do, but for those culinary PHILISTINES, here’s how to prepare some mussels:

First you dump your mussels into a clean sink, or a large bowl filled with water. Give them a vigorous rinse and a scrub. We don’t want them to be gritty. Now, one by one, we need to de-beard them. Grab a dishcloth or a paper towel, and yank any little hairy bits coming out of the shell. If you come across any open mussels, give them a tap with another mussel and set it down while you continue with the rest. Usually these mussels will close on their own. You then know that they are alive and still good to eat. If they don’t eventually close, chuck ‘em out. Also chuck out any whose shell is broken or cracked. Once all of your mussels are cleaned and de-bearded, give them another rinse.

That’s the hardest part. From here on out, it’s smooth sailing! Chop up one shallot, and two large cloves of garlic. Heat a generous pat of butter in a deep pot that will fit all of your mussels. Once it’s sizzling, dump in the shallots and garlic, and sweat them until they are nice and soft. Then take some white wine, just enough so that your mussels can steam in the liquid, maybe a cup? And pour it over the garlic and shallots. Scrape the pan to deglaze any browned bits, and then throw in all the mussels. Cover the pot.


While the mussels are steaming, throw your arugula into a salad bowl. Salt and pepper. Grate some parmesan cheese over the salad. Drizzle with olive oil and your choice of either lemon juice or balsamic vinegar (I went with balsamic). Now you have a nice zippy salad.


Mussels only need to steam for about 5 minutes or so. Lift the lid. If the mussels are all open, they’re done! Bring the pot of mussels directly to the table, serve yourself a little green salad, rip off a piece of that divine focaccia, and dig in. If any mussels haven’t opened, it’s your call. Some say they’re safe to eat, other says they’re no good. I usually play it safe.


Now, I love mussels, I really do. But it would not be inaccurate to say that a nice pot of mussels is, to some extent, just an excuse to dip fresh bread into the buttery, garlicy, white wine broth at the bottom of the pot. This alone is worth living life for.


So, I hope you’d be proud Dad! Its meals like these, where I’ve taken a nice sunny walk to fetch all the ingredients on the lively little street where I live, that remind me to truly appreciate my urban lifestyle. Toronto may be expensive, but there’s not much that makes me happier than a nice walk resulting in a supper of fresh mussels, bread and salad.

Apartment 1A Eats America: Part 1, New York City

Alright guys. I’m just going to brush past the fact that I’ve more or less ABANDONED YOU ALL for…well, an entire year, and get right back into the swing of things.

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As some of you may know, Matthew and I recently took a jaunt over the border and graced America with our presence, and our meaningless Canadian dollar.

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First we hit up New York City, for about 3.5 days, and then we jetted over to Chicago for about 4 days. Let me tell you: that is not enough time for either of those cities. But, alas, we are not MILLIONAIRES, and so our time was limited. We did fit an admirable amount of dining into our trip, however, and I am here to tell you all about it! Today, I present with a summary of our culinary adventures in NYC, and Chicago’s adventures with follow shortly after. (Or a year from now…we’ll see).

Anyway, LET’S GET STARTED THEN.

Our first day in the city, I don’t think we had any notable dining experiences. We got to our hotel in Chinatown and went in search of a CVS for some essentials we hadn’t packed, and then off to find a T-Mobile store so that we could purchase a precious data plan (which I blew through before we even left New York). Eventually after some wandering we found ourselves in Tribeca, which seemed a bit reminiscent of The distillery/Esplanade area in Toronto to me. By this point we were starving and there was nowhere nearby on my list of places to hit up. So we did the good old fashioned “How about this place?”…”No, let’s keep walking”, until we eventually settled for a place whose name I can’t even remember. It was perfectly passable, and at least had a decent beer selection, but otherwise failed to woo me. I determined not to let this happen again. There are only so many meals you can fit into a day, and in a city like New York, TOO MANY FOODS TO TRY. We couldn’t be wasting meals on random places that “look good enough”.

Our second day was more of a success.

We walked into Kat’z Deli on a Sunday morning and it was SWAMPED. We were ushered in and immediately overwhelmed. Clearly time is money in this place and we had about a minute to figure out the menu over the counter before someone was shouting at us for our order.

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I got half a pastrami sandwich and a bowl of chicken noodle soup. Matt got a whole Pastrami sandwich. Next we had to find a table. This was also a challenge. Eventually we found a dirty table that we had to share with two other diners, but it would make do. This place is clearly a tourist attraction, but from what I can gather, New Yorkers still go here too. The pastrami is THAT GOOD. The sandwich fell apart in my hands, which to me, has always been the sign of a delicious sandwich. The meat is SO MOIST and just falls apart. On par with the Main Deli’s smoked meat in Montreal. The pickles are ace. The soup was nothing special in exactly the way you want it to be. Your grandmother could have made it. Overflowing with noodles and big chunks of carrot and white meat. I, of course, took exactly zero pictures of the food. (I hadn’t yet officially made the decision to blog about the trip).

At Katz’ they give you a ticket when you enter the door and warn DON’T LOSE THE TICKET OR ELSE. You eat your meal, and pay on your way out when you present your ticket to the cashier. Even if someone else orders for you and you don’t use your ticket, you GOTTA return yours, or there is A PRICE TO PAY (literally, apparently). By some good grace of god, I managed not to lose mine.

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We emerged from Katz’ chaos into a relatively calm New York morning. We then proceeded to basically walk for like 6 hours straight.

We found ourselves in the vicinity of Times Square which we pointedly avoided in order to grab a meal at Becco, which was recommended to us, and immediately made it onto our list because ALL YOU CAN EAT PASTA. This restaurant is owned by Lidia Bastianich and her son. For $24 you get an antipasto and then three daily kinds of ALL YOU CAN EAT PASTA. However, you may be surprised to find that it is difficult to eat all that much pasta. Apparently pasta is like, heavy or something? When we were there, there was an artichoke ravioli in a cream sauce, fettuccine with lamb ragu and a simple penne in marinara. Surprisingly, the penne in marinara turned out to be my favourite. The sauce was sweet and tangy and fresh tasting, and just the right amount of chunky, and each table gets their own generous bowl of parmesan. The antipasto was also quite tasty, with a variety of pickled veggies, some mortadella, calamari and a wee bocconcini. This was probably one of the best deals we found while we were in NYC. It was good, homey pasta in a bustling atmosphere. It didn’t blow me away, but it was good and fresh. Again. I got no photos. (WHAT IS EVEN THE POINT THEN, JULIE!?).

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Before dinner at Becco, we found ourselves in the area with some time to kill. One of Matt`s coworkers, who used to live in New York, had recommended a bar that was nearby, so we decided to check that out, and have a few drinks before dinner. (A piece of advice: beers before all you can eat pasta is not the wisest choice!). As we were so close to Times Square, I must admit, I didn’t have super high hopes for this bar. I was expecting something large, possibly catering to tourists, loud, and rowdy. What we found when we walked into Beer Culture, was in fact quite the opposite. It was small, dim and cozy, with maybe 5-10 other people there. The walls were lined with beer fridges, filled with bottles and cans of various American craft beers. You made your selection, brought your beer to the bartender and he opened and poured it for you. The first thing I tried was Coney Island Brewing Co.’s Hard Root Beer. You guys. It tastes JUST LIKE REGULAR ROOT BEER. AND THIS IS NOT A BAD THING. It’s 5.8% ABV and I COULDN’T EVEN TELL. This is dangerous stuff, you guys. It was delicious. I was expecting something more beer-y, but it was, quite literally, rootbeer.

Then I had this Headless Heron Barrel Aged Pumpkin Ale from Central Waters, a Wisconsin based brewery, which they had on tap, and DAMN. THIS WAS DIVINE. It was deep, and dark, and spicy, and essentially tasted like an alcoholic molasses cake straight outta the oven. 10/10 would drink again. Matt had two beers as well, I don’t remember what they were, but he’s on a sour kick, so probably something very tart!

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The next morning, for breakfast, we headed to one of the places I was most anticipating: the Russ and Daughter’s cafe. I`d heard so much about this place before coming to New York, that I knew I wanted to check it out. Their deli has been open since 1914 and it’s still family owned. At some point they opened this cafe location, and you guys, it`s beautiful. I appreciate attention to design in a restaurant and this place doesn’t disappoint. (Just look at those marble chevron floor tiles!). Happily, the food also did not disappoint. I got potato latkes, eggs, and smoked salmon, and Matthew and I shared a potato knish with mustard, and I wiggled delightedly in my seat the entire time I ate. I was very sad once the meal was over, and I wish I could have gone here many more times in order to truly exhaust their menu choices, but other restaurants called my name!

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That day we headed to Williamsberg and explored brooklyn for a bit. Checked out a restaurant that was on my list that, ultimately ended up being relatively forgettable.

The next morning for breakfast, we decided to check out a corner diner on the edge of Chinatown that we’d walked by every morning so far, called the Cup and Saucer. This tiny little place has counter service and a few seats along the window, super friendly service, and it was everything we wanted from a breakfast. Cheap and good. They also had a case of mighty fine looking donuts that I didn’t end up trying, but might be worth looking into if we ever find ourselves there again.

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This was our last full day in New York and there was STILL SO MUCH TO EAT. I was determined to get my hands on a great Chocolate Babka, as well as some other jewish favourites such as rugelach, and hamentaschen, and the iconic Black and white cookie!

For the babka, we went to Breads Bakery near Union square. Rumoured to have some of best Babka in Manhattan. Apparently they make babkas at least three times a day! They also had Nutella babkas, but we went traditional for our first time. We didn’t even eat the Babka until the next day, when we were in Chicago, but NOT A SINGLE DAY HAS PASSED SINCE THEN WHERE I DIDN’T THINK ABOUT THAT BABKA. You guys. BABKA. I’m now obsessed with making my own babka. I NEED TO. This babka, apparently, was too good to even take pictures of. Because I have none. Babkas are beautiful though.

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My hunt for the rugelach, hamentaschen and black and white cookies brought me back to Russ and Daughters, but this time, we went to the original deli location. One side is the fish counter and other savoury items, and the other side is all baked items and candies and sodas. I got a few of everything I came in search of. I think the hamentaschen were my favourite, and may be the inspiration for some of my Christmas baking this year. The Black and white cookie was breakfast on our early morning flight to Chicago the next morning. A+.

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As our last day in New York came to a close, we went on one final food related hunt. Before we left, we needed pizza. NEEDED. My understanding is that “best pizza” can be somewhat of a contentious topic in NYC, and that very few people agree on one place. My first choice was Di Fara pizza, in Brooklyn, whose reputation is lauded by many. However, as it turns out, they are closed on Monday and Tuesday, the only days I’d set aside for pizza-eating. So, unfortunately, it evaded me and I had to search elsewhere. This brought us to Joe’s Pizza in Greenwhich Village. A small place with standing room only. We got there just in time, the second we ordered a crowd came in the door behind us. We each got a piece of cheese pizza, and pepperoni, the classics. But then we made a mistake. We headed back to our hotel room in Chinatown before chowing down. We were POOPED, there was nowhere inside Joe’s to eat, and…I had to pee. So, by the time we dug in, it wasn’t as hot and gooey as it ideally should have been. And that’s how I know it’s good pizza, because it was STILL DELICIOUS. I mean, when ISN’T pizza delicious, really though? I preferred the pepperoni to the cheese. I folded in half to eat it, and it was in fact, even better that way.

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Before I wrap this up, there is one other item I want to talk about. And that item is Cel-ray Soda.

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This is a celery soda. Apparently it is fairly hard to find outside of NYC, but fairly commonplace in many NYC delis and restaurants. Apparently it’s best paired with salty meats, such as a pastrami Sandwich. I had mine with the Pizza we got. I do not like celery. I was not expecting to like this.  BUT I DID. It basically tastes like celery salt, in a soda. It’s sweet too. But somehow it works! I would buy and drink these if they were available in Toronto. I really don’t know how to describe this…kind of like a sweet, tomato-less, fizzy caesar? I dunno, but I like it!

There’s a lot of things we didn’t get around to. Our hotel was IN Chinatown and we didn’t have ONE single meal there, despite our best efforts. (Our plan was always to have a late night meal in Chinatown, but we consistently fell asleep too early). We never tried out any street meat of soft pretzels, or anything from one of the Halal food carts that are everywhere. Next time I’d love also love to go out for cocktails, which we never did! But there is no denying that we ate well, and plenty.

A theme which continued over the next couple of days in Chicago…

Baby’s First Turkey

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Until this Thanksgiving, I’d never cooked my own turkey before. This is mostly because my dad makes a pretty mean turkey, and when I was away at school, there weren’t generally enough meat-eaters around to warrant an entire turkey. But this year, Matthew’s family asked if I wanted to cook the turkey for their thanksgiving dinner. There’s no time to cook your first turkey like a giant dinner with almost 20 people. No pressure!

Anyway, I accepted the offer, and began my research. There are many ways to cook a turkey and much dispute as to the best way. As for me, I like turkey, but I don’t love turkey. I’ll pass on white meat any day. It’s always too dry for my taste. Even a perfectly cooked bird is just okay for me. So, I think this made me the perfect person to cook a turkey. I am, er, discerning when it comes to turkey.

In the end, I decided on a few things to ensure a juicy bird.

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I figured if you want a good bird, you have to go to the source. So I ordered a turkey from Rowe farms. Fresh, free range and grain fed. And I paid a pretty penny for it too. I’m not entirely sure if it was worth the money, or if I’d spend the same amount on a turkey again in the future. It’d be interesting to do a side-by-side taste test with a grocery store turkey prepared the exact same way.

Initially I was going to brine the turkey for optimum juiciness. But after doing some research, I decided to try a dry-brine, or salt rub. This involves rubbing the turkey with salt, and herbs if you want, a few days ahead of time, and letting it sit and season. Apparently the salt draws out the juices and then redistributes them throughout the turkey, along with the flavours from the seasoning, while a regular brine just infuses the bird with water giving it kind of an artificial juiciness. I threw some sage, thyme and rosemary into the food processor and combined the herbs with the salt. I did this thursday evening, and took it out sunday morning. Then I rubbed it under the skin with an herb butter: garlic, sage and thyme.

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Unfortunately, this is also the point at which I forgot to continue taking pictures, because I was in a bit of frenzy getting ready. SORRY SUCKERS.

My next decision, concerning cooking method, was one I debated about until the last minute. But in the end I decided to go for it: I cooked the bird breast side down for the first hour. I also, for the first 35 minutes or so, cooked it at a higher temperature, about 425 degrees, then lowered it to 325. Then I flipped it over for the rest of the cooking time and basted it every once in while from there on out.

However, I didn’t plan for my giant 23 pound turkey to cook in a mere two and a half hours! But my digital thermometer did not lie, and after checking it several time in several places, that bird was cooked b 2:30 in the afternoon, and we weren’t due to be going over to his grandparent’s place for another 2 hours! So I wrapped the turkey in some tin foil, and covered it back in the roasting pan, and it stayed reasonably warm until it was time to eat!

Of course, you can’t have turkey without gravy. Now, while I may not be turkey’s #1 fan, I may very well be gravy’s. I love gravy. Because I am a healthy person. IT’S MEAT JUICE AND BUTTER.

My dad tipped me off to Jamie Oliver’s Get-ahead gravy recipe. I followed this recipe fairly closely, except that in addition to chicken wings, I used the neck and giblets from the turkey, and I was maybe a little generous with the red wine. I had Matthew help me strain it, but after it was strained once, we put all the mush into the some cheesecloth and really squeezed all we could out of it.

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I also found it didn’t thicken up as much as I wanted it to following Jamie’s method of only adding flour to the pan of roasted meat and veggies, so I also made a beurre manié (mix of flour and butter into a paste) and whisked it into the graving during the finishing step, after you’ve added your roast turkey juices. I was really happy with how this gravy turned out, and I definitely recommend adding the cranberry jelly. It’s the perfect finish.

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I also made stuffing to go with my turkey. Though I guess technically it was dressing, since I cooked it separately from the turkey. But I’m not going to write about it, because while it turned out fine, it wasn’t really anything that exciting, and in fact, I messed it up and had to do a little damage repair.

Rest assured, despite the lack of pictures, it was beautiful thing, this turkey. It may have been the juiciest white meat I’ve had yet! I was pretty happy with it, and would make it using this method again, for sure. And, the best part is that Matthew’s Nonno declared my turkey a success part way through the meal, AND once again after the meal was over. So I guess I’m allowed to stick around!

East Coast Night: Donairs and Garlic Fingers

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About a month ago, Matt and I went on a trip to the maritimes. Our good friends Kait and Graham were getting married, and we decided to take the opportunity to make a trip out of it. I went to university in New Brunswick so it wasn’t my first trip out east, but we rented a car and I have a bit more disposable income these days, so it was the first time I really had the chance to see the sights and enjoy anything other than Sackville.

Kait got married in Hopewell Cape, and from there we got to see the Hopewell Rocks and Cape Enrage, and I took Matt through Sackville and showed him the little blue house I used to live in with 4 other girls and 3 cats. From there we hit up Cape Breton Island, and did the Cabot Trail, then on to Halifax to visit friends, Lydia and Jenna, with a day trip to Peggy’s Cove, Mahone Bay, and Lunenburg.

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It was a fantastic trip, and I really didn’t want it to end.

BUT. This is not a travel blog. I’d have to do a lot more travelling for it to be that. It’s a food blog. So I thought I’d better do a little east coast themed post. I wanted to try my hand at cooking something that we ate during on our trip, and I can’t just be buying lobster willy-nilly here in Toronto. So donairs and garlic fingers it was.

For those of you who don’t know, the key ingredient to both donairs and garlic fingers is donair sauce. A distinct and garlicky sauce made from sweetened condensed milk and vinegar. People seem to love it or hate it, but either way, you can’t have Garlic fingers out east without it.

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To make the donair meat, I found this recipe over on allrecipes, and it was pretty good. They key is to slam the ground beef repeatedly into a metal bowl or pot, to kind of meld it together. This makes it so the beef is sliceable rather than a crumbly meatloaf texture. It’s also fun.

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Once the beef is sliced, wrap into a pita, chuck in some lettuce, diced tomatoes, onions and, of course, donair sauce. Some people also like to add cheese.

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Some recipes for donair sauce tell you to use evaporated milk and add sugar, and others suggest just going straight for sweetened condensed milk, and skipping the sugar. I opted for the latter. So one can of sweetened condensed milk and then garlic powder and vinegar to taste really. Around 4 tablespoons, but whatever.

Garlic fingers are ridiculously easy. Pizza dough, garlic butter, mozzarella cheese. This isn’t garlic bread though, it’s garlic fingers. So you have to cut them into finger shapes. Makes ’em easy to dip into the sauce.IMG_2226

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I ended up with a ridiculous amount of food after making all of this though. I used to the leftover donair meat to make an impromptu poor man’s bulgogi.

I’m back! With tomato sauce!

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Oh dear. Well, it appears that I’ve neglected this little blog. Summer has come and gone without an update, and I feel terrible about it! I won’t bore you all with my feeble excuses, except to say:

1)It appears that there are THINGS TO DO in the summertime. And blogging ended up lower on the list than I’d hoped. I did, however, get a fair bit of cooking done, some of which was even successful! Since I last posted I had a greatly successful wine and meat and cheese party. I made my first ceviche, this fantastic pork roast, a pretty good first-time paella, mozzarella cheese, panzanella, a cherry pie and who knows what else. So don’t worry. I ate well this summer.

2)I GOT A NEW CAMERA! I think part of the reason I didn’t bother posting throughout the summer was the photo situation. I like cooking and I like writing, but I’ve yet to catch the photography bug. This was due, in part, to having to choose between my sub-par camera phone, and Matthew’s monster of a DSLR. So, in order to remedy this, I bought a new camera! Something small and easy to use, but that produces high quality photos. So we bought a nifty Canon EOS M, and I’ve already been quite pleased with the results.

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So. Onwards to the tomato sauce. This year, I was lucky enough to be included in Matt’s family’s annual tomato canning. We did 4 bushels total, two for ourselves and two for Matt’s parents. We ended up with just about 90 one litre jars of tomato sauce. Not too shabby!

Now, from what I can tell, every single Italian family has their own way of doing the tomatoes, and Matt’s family has tried a few different methods over the years, before settling on this one, which results in a tomato sauce in its purest form. Just tomatoes, maybe with a few sprigs of basil or oregano added, resulting in a sauce that tastes incredibly fresh whenever you open pop open a jar.

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First, the tomatoes are layed out to ripen for about a week, or maybe even more. Then they’re washed, and everyone pitches in to chop all the tomatoes roughly into pieces that can easily be fed through the machine. The photo above shows the bushels of tomatoes chopped and draining in their baskets, to avoid a sauce that is too runny.

Then the tomatoes are fed into the machine. As far as I can tell, these machines are literally just referred to as “tomato machines” or “tomato milling machines”. Matt’s family has one with a big ole engine, to expedite the process a bit.

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Once all the tomatoes are transformed into this luxurious sauce, it goes straight into the jars, fresh and uncooked, lightly seasoned with salt, and fresh herbs if you wish.

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Then we put every single jar into a giant barrel, set atop a propane burner, filled with water, and bring it to a boil for about 30 minutes. I think. We were eating a delicious lunch of Matt’s Nonna’s homemade pizza, alongside coldcuts, olives, and cheese around this time, so I may have been distracted.

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And then you end up with the final product! Fantastic, of course, course for pasta sauces of all kinds, I like to add garlic and onions, and dried herbs, and cook it down for about a half hour for a quick week night sauce. I also throw in some red wine or balsamic vinegar, depending on what I have on hand, to add a little richness and depth of flavour, especially if I’m making a meatless sauce. I also use this sauce as is, or with some dried oregano as a fantastic pizza sauce.

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