Summer Libations: Rhubarb Cordial and a Cocktail

This one required some patience. But the wait was well worth it.


Back in June rhubarb started showing up on fruit stands. This is how you know it’s now the best time of the year (further confirmed a bit later when peaches start showing up too). However, I’m always bewildered at how much I end up paying for rhubarb in the city, when I know it primarily as a weed that won’t stop growing, housed in backyards, where it comes back bigger and bigger every year. But I don’t have a backyard, so I suck it up and pay $6 for a bunch of rhubarb stalks.

Now, in previous years I’ve gone for the obvious: strawberry + rhubarb (pie, compote, syrup, etc.), but I’ve recently come to realize that, while strawberries and rhubarb are certainly a winning pair, it never really allows rhubarb to truly shine. It’s so tart and bright and a tiny bit herbal, that it really deserves it’s chance in the spotlight.

When I stumbled upon this rhubarb cordial recipe from Food52, I was immediately smitten. The recipe calls for steeping the rhubarb in vodka, but I couldn’t help but think of how nicely a gin and rhubarb cocktail goes down. It seemed to me that the aromatics of gin would really perk up that rhubarb flavour and, rather than masking it or overpowering it, the gin would complement it, and play to its strengths. So I decided to use gin. I think I made the right decision. Other thank swapping gin for the vodka, I used an entire quart of Bombay Sapphire. Nothing too fancy. I used the full cup of sugar, and I’m glad that I did.


You’ll notice that the major downside to this process is the entire month that you then have to wait, before you can enjoy the fruits of your labour. (To be honest, there is not much labour involved at all). Once the month-long wait was up, I strained the fruit out of the gin using a fine meshed sieve, and to really make sure I didn’t waste a single drop, I then squeezed the fruit with a clean kitchen towel (cheesecloth would also work great).

I was super pleased with the final result. This cordial is bright and and just sweet enough to enjoy on it’s own in a glass with some ice. And it tastes like pure unadulterated rhubarb. You could also enjoy it with some soda water or tonic, but I really the best way to drink it is straight. You’ll find that some sediment eventually settles at the bottom of the bottle, and if you give it a quick shake before pouring some out, the flavour will be much better.
Now, I understand that sometimes we want to wow our guests with a cocktail. As delicious as this cordial is on its own, sometimes you want to bust out the shaker and the fancy glasses, and really impress people. Or just impress yourself.


I poked around online for some tasty cocktail I could make using this rhubarb cordial, but in the end I already had an idea in mind, so I cobbled together what I have decided to call a rhubarb-ginger sour.  Here’s a very rough recipe, for two cocktails:

-5 oz Rhubarb Cordial

-Juice of 1 small lemon

-1 thumb-sized lump of ginger root, peeled and sliced into coins

-1 oz fresh eqq white

In a cocktail shaker, combine the first 3 ingredients. Use a muddler to muddle the ginger. Add a generous amount of ice, and the egg white. Cover the shaker and shake it vigorously for one minute. Pour the strained cocktail into a cocktail glass of your choice (I favour a nice coupe, personally. It feels fancy!), garnish with some bitters (I went with lime) and some candied ginger, if you’re feeling fancy. Enjoy!

Ramp Pesto and a Steak Salad

Well, after a month of hodge-podge meals, way too much eating out, and less-than-healthy choices, I decided that it was time to get back on track. It’s officially July, so that means it’s time to really lean-in to summer produce! But after a month of stuffing myself with anything my heart desired, I had to ease myself into it first. A good way to do this is to make a beautiful salad, but then to “enhance it” with a hearty slab of medium-rare red meat. Also cheese. 


Upon visiting my corner green-grocer, I saw that garlic scapes, otherwise known as Ramps, are now available! (Also, sour cherries!! But that’s another post for another time). I grabbed a bunch of scapes and decided to whip up a batch of pesto with them! I used about 8 or 9 scapes, diced them up smallish, stuck them in my mini food processor along with about a half a cup of olive oil, a nice generous mound of grated parm, a handful of ripped up parsley and a decent handful of toasted slivered almonds. Also, lemon juice to taste. Whizz it all together until it’s nice and creamy. DONE. Easy peasy and you don’t even have to heat up the stove or oven.


Now, you can use this pesto as you would any other pesto, on pasta or veggies, but I decided to smear some of it all over a beautiful flank steak. I also made a quick marinade of olive oil, white wine vinegar, soya sauce and Dijon mustard, and placed my pesto-smeared flank steak in that mixture to marinade for a solid 8 hours. (If you’re short on time, at least an hour will do, and up to 24 hours is ok).


Next up, I gave some vine tomatoes the ol’ slow and low treatment. Cut them in half and put them onto a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. You can also throw some aromatics on there as well, like a few unpeeled cloves of garlic, or some time sprigs. Set the oven to 225 and let the tomatoes roast for about 3 hours. What you end up with is basically the equivalent of tomato-candy. Little jewels of tomato-concentrate.

While these are roasting and the beef is marinading, thinly slice a shallot or two. Put them in a bowl, sprinkle them with sugar and immerse the sliced shallots with wine vinegar (red or white, either will do). These will be your pickled shallots for the salad.


Make a quick dressing, using olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, honey, red wine vinegar (I like to use the vinegar that my shallots are pickling in. Waste not want not!) and Dijon. 

Once everything is roasted, pickled and marinaded, you’re ready to start assembling your salad. Take your flank steak out of the fridge, let it come to room temperature. In a bowl, mix together a generous pile of arugula and baby spinach. Dress the greens lightly with dressing you just made. Take your platter of choice (for a pretty salad, of course) and pile your greens onto then platter. Sprinkle the shallots (drained of vinegar) over the salad. Disperse the roasted tomatoes overtop as well. If there’s any oil left from roasting drizzle that over as well (it’s full of flavor!). 

Now, any good salad needs cheese. This is a fact of the world.  Because of all the other strong, garlicky, tangy, salty flavours already going on in this salad, I chose to go with bocconcini. I wanted the little balls, but the grocery store was out, so I got the slices instead, which made for a lovely presentation anyway. Put the cheese onto the salad. Make it look pretty if you want.


Ok. Now we’re going to cook our flank steak. If you have a grill, use that! If you, like me, do not have access to the joys of al fresco cooking, the next best option is broiling. Turn on your broiler (set it to high, if it has fancy-pants settings). Wipe the marinade off your flank steak, and the pesto. The broiler is high heat, and if there is too much pesto left behind…it could cause a minor kitchen fire. Maybe. Apparently. I WOULDN’T KNOW FROM EXPERIENCE OR ANYTHING.

Place the steak on a metal pan. Stick it closely under the broiler. I did four minutes for each side (with a brief intermission to put out the “alleged fire”). You could go up to about six minutes per side, if you want a more well-done steak (but honestly 4 minutes was perfect). Once it’s done, let it rest for 10-15 minutes.


Then slice ‘er up! Make sure you slice against the grain, to optimize tenderness. Top your beauty of a salad with these beautiful steak slices, and garnish the steak with a generous dollop of pesto.


I had some cauliflower burning a hole in my fridge (that’s a thing, right?),  so I decided to cut it into “steaks” and roast it (simple olive oil, salt and pepper treatment) at 450 for about 20 minutes, flipping it halfway through. It was an impulse decision, but it ended up being a really great complement to the steak salad. A+, would cook again.


And there you have it! The kind of salad that maybe eases you back into healthy eating. Filled with fresh produce, but with no absence of meat, cheese and fats (the holy trinity?). The first of many such salads this summer, I’m sure.

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.

sausages

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.

 

mme benoit

 

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.

mme benoit 2

 

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

IMG_1872IMG_1890IMG_1939

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).

IMG_1877

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.

IMG_1962IMG_1967

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.

IMG_1968

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!

IMG_1974

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.

dad soup

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.

IMG_20151017_182957

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.

IMG_20151019_110036

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.

IMG_20151018_121638 IMG_20151018_121417 IMG_20151018_121412

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.

IMG_20151018_121448

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!?).

IMG_20151018_164913

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!

IMG_20151019_114204

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!

IMG_20151019_111144

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.

IMG_20151020_105010

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.

12194192_10103748617218122_1825117321_o

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+.

IMG_20151020_192304

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.

IMG_20151020_190738

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

IMG_20151020_222142

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

IMG_2253

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.

IMG_2252

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.

IMG_2255IMG_2258

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.

IMG_2284 IMG_2287

IMG_2293IMG_2295


IMG_2298

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.

IMG_2300

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!