Monday, February 13, 2017

My Week - 2017 - 6

Finally, I am a day late. After six weeks, I finally get to a point where I am a little late. Well, I guess the subject of mediocrity is a good one then?

I have had some excellent food memories; a dinner with my former spouse at Lemon Meringue, and an amazing night at Hoof are two where the food was excellent. There was more to making those nights special and some of my other memories bear that out. A Good Friday searching for rice pudding where it ended up being Kozy Shack, hot hamburger with homemade french fries and my kids' cookies. None of those foods go beyond average nor do they need to. By definition, most of our food is going to be average. What we hope is that our average is higher due to most of our food having something more to them. Soul or love is something that is often brought up as something that is in these moments. Maybe it is hokey but with Valentine's Day around the corner, maybe I will let that pass.

This all came about because I ate at Harvey's. There was a time in my life when Harvey's gave me somewhere cheap to go where I could get fresh vegetables. I had a few vegetarian friends who would just go in and get a bun with a bunch of toppings and veg on them. This week, I went in and had their braised beef. Braising is one of my favourite techniques but this beef seemed as if it was cooked in an industrial process and then added to a flavoured brown gravy mix. It wasn't special and it was below mediocre. I just wonder if at one time I would have accepted that? I don't think so because my dad used to eat home canned beef that tasted similar. He fried onions, popped the top on the canning jar, added the contents. Once they were warmed together, he would serve them with potatoes, normally boiled, and bread. I remember tasting the pickling spices that were added. Bright lemony pepper bursts that I would today know to be coriander seed, hot heat of black pepper and the mellow-sharp bite of onion. This too was mediocre food of a different variety. Ordinary but made with the idea of tasting of something and to put you through times when there was no fresh meat. Too much of today's food is just to fill a gap. Raise your mediocrity to something just a bit more.

- Gillian, a Goose Island brew that I got for a fraction of the price one day at the LCBO when they were launching. I'm not sure how I feel about a $35.00 sticker but I got it for a lot less. An interesting sour beer.
- Stone's Xocoveza. A surprising beer which reads gimmicky but tastes a lot better than that. It is the equivalent of a good Mexican hot chocolate. When they are bad, they are horrid but when they are good, you can't imagine not trying one.
- Finally figured out that drink I was talking about a few weeks ago. It is called The Industry Standard. It looks like diarrhea in the glass but is really a deceptively good sour.
- And my last thing that I thought was interesting was a Vietnamese dragonfruit liqueur that was incredibly vinegary and would probably be better served with a little olive oil and greens.

- A braised beef sandwich and poutine at Harvey's. The less we talk about it, the more likely it will go away.

- Made a peanut sauce using a Thai recipe but immediately changed out ingredients; teriyaki sauce for soy, natural peanut butter for regular peanut butter, smoked maple syrup for brown sugar/palm sugar, and thai chilies for pepper flakes. Added to fried eggplant and fried cabbage

- about what is Valentine's food
- whether I will finally break my food slump
- about this book that I read on cider, but that will be a review this week, hopefully

Sunday, February 5, 2017

My Week - 2017 - 5

I am really regretting the name of this series. It doesn't quite do what I want in terms of creating something interesting. However, it does drive me to at least post once a week. I would be embarrassed to see the number creep by two. So, this is where I am. I had a bunch of bits and pieces planned but I am pre-empting it.

My son didn't make his program for high school and what I had planned seems to pale in comparison to what is happening in his life. He doesn't want to talk about it and wasn't interested in eating. That is a big deal. It is tough to want to help someone through something that they aren't ready to talk about. It is not the time to try and talk through what happened. He is too old to be comforted by a hug, platitudes and a kiss on the sore spot. He would rather sleep and be alone. So, I trudge to the grocery store to try and make some comfort. Nothing homemade, nothing complex. Something that will let him know that I care and that I kinda get it. So, hamburgers, fries and steamed veggies. Mostly mass produced but dependable. Hopefully he will at least eat something and realize that tomorrow will be different and there are some things in this world that don't change much. It may be some small buffer against the feeling that everything is wrong and always changing. The horrible feeling of not being in control. It is not time to point out what could be done differently. Now is the time to just be for a little bit.

So, horrible segue but change is also happening in food in Toronto. We have already heard about many closings in the past while of institutions. Add Dangerous Dan's to the list. At the corner of Broadview and Queen, it is being pushed by gentrification. Rents went up by 80% and they don't think they can continue to make a go of it. So, it will be closing at the end of May.

Big House Pizza is dropping a new menu starting on Monday. Minor changes to the menu with a few added pizzas and a meat sauce. I'm thinking, perversely, of ordering some of their veggie pizzas with this meat sauce.
- A great beer by a Cobden brewery, Whitewater Brewing, called Whistling Paddler. They also got called out for their sexist marketing by Ben in Ben's Beer Blog. Worth a read. And I remember tweeting about their can a while back.
- Some odd oolong tea that I had to add milk to. It is sweet and not sure how I feel about it. However, bulk barn had a sale and I can be a sucker for flavours I have not had before. Give this one a pseudopass. I think it will find its way into a dessert of mine.

- Neal Brothers has a take on Masala potato chips called Vij's Delhi-licious. Having had a few of these type of chips lately, my son likes this one the best.

- Doctored white miso soup with some togarisa. I use that shit on top of most of my soups. So good.

- Do we really need a coffee and tea festival?
- How much does locally roasted matter if the beans are sourced like everyone else's? Is it just to give some roastery jobs or is there some other value?
- The connection between emotions and appetite; sometimes I stress eat and other times, I cannot stomach any food.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

My Week - 2017 - 4

Two weeks in a row where it almost feels like I have given up on food during a time when I would traditionally be more into it. January has been a month of beginnings and endings. It has been a mild month that is starting to get bitter and cold. These are the times when I normally hunker down and begin making soups, stews and other stuff for loved ones to keep the closeness as much as possible; a salve against the feeling of the winter half over.

This year, I invited some guests to celebrate Chinese New Year. It was a departure from the familiar past of planning a huge menu and making everything from scratch. I gave myself only a week to prepare for three guests. Made only a few dishes and used prepared dumplings for the rest.

It was uncomfortable for me and I made a bit of an ass of over apologizing for the quality of dumplings. Something interesting happened though, I had a good time. After the first few comments and the result was that unearned compliments were solicited, I gave up worrying. There is only so much that you can hear someone complimenting frozen dumplings that taste just okay. I mean feeling insecure is one thing but no one ripped my taste buds out of my mouth.

I imagine that the feeling was something similar to the one guest who leaving my house called me by someone else's name, only to text later with an apology. That is what January was for me.

There is a story that I remember hearing and I always think about it when I think about grace. A new boyfriend goes to dinner to meet his girlfriend's parents. It is clear that he is not of the same class. He is making an effort in his appearance. At the end of the meal, a small finger bowl with lemon is presented. He promptly drinks the warm lemonade. The mother without missing a beat also drinks hers.

Sometimes the etiquette and niceties of the table and eating food get in the way of enjoying the meal and the company.

- pepperoni grilled cheese
- Son-in-law eggs

- Nothing memorable

- Toronto sake, smooth and silky with the dumplings
- My dunkel weizen. Decent. Not my favourite but a solid beer that went well with the dumplings.

- Chocolate and sour? Do they go together?
- about posting about NOMA and its impact on homecooks
- eggplant and peanut butter together
- Naga pickle from Bangladesh
- Meyer lemons showing up again
- what exotic fruit to get my son

Sunday, January 22, 2017

My Week - 2017 - 3

So, my fear has come to pass. This is the first week in the new year where I didn't feel particularly interested in food. It happens to everyone, not just the people who aren't interested in food. It is not that I didn't continue on and try new things or cook something but rather that I am not thrilled by anything in particular.

I feel good about this. Food is not an obsessive preoccupation that overtakes my ability to take joy elsewhere. Sometimes we lose sight of that in this more food focused world where we have at least one channel and umpteen magazines and whole sections of papers and, and, and... In North America, you can go into a grocery store and see hundreds of options for breakfast cereal but only a few types of apples. It goes to show that there is an imbalance in eating unprocessed food compared to packaged and processed. That means that sometimes preparing food is a chore.

I bought meat as a main ingredient this week as I had my kids most of the time. For them, if it isn't pizza or ramen, then meat and pasta have to be the focus. It isn't really true but it is the quickest way to supper on a school night. I did feel remorse at buying packages of pork chops and ground beef at the grocery store. I wished that I had gone to the local butcher but money is still sometimes an objection to me. This is an ongoing dialogue in my life and I will work through it on a case be case basis. So, this week, even shopping became a chore.

But being with the kids this week made me realize that sometimes chores are necessary. One of my kids has that lesson down while the other struggles in the ego state of teenhood. Examples teach. So, I cook, I shop and I wash the dishes. I ask for help and accept it when I get it.

...And I write my blog as a new commitment to doing chores as well.

Anyway, here is last week's list.

- chia pudding, take 2 as I tried using those coffee additive things. Turns out they are sweet, really sweet.
- Manwich stuffed pasta
- stock to be used with a pork chop supper with couscous (made potatoes instead)

- chocolate mints from Christmas (Reindeer Poop) and milk chocolate Pop Rocks
- at a really good taco place that I really should review, Tacos del Carmen. They make their own salsa from imported peppers.

- a take on a lime rickey using a really cool method for getting more from your citrus fruits. I used this trick in the summer and now starting to use it again for now.
- added the simple lime syrup from above into some wheat beer with good results

- making a cyser (half cider/half mead with adding some hops for dry hopped flavour)
- about stuffed peppers a lot lately

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Sometimes too much is... too much

I've been trying to think of a way to add more vegetables into the diets of a teen and a preteen. This used to be easy as both my kids loved veggies. I think they still do but with age comes wisdom and my eldest has become less enamoured while my youngest still does. So, I keep on keeping on with trying to find a balance between clean plates and healthy food.

This recipe isn't a good compromise but it was an attempt at stretching the ideas of what can happen within certain idioms. A plate cleaner is Manwich. So, I made Manwich one day but added sweet potato and carrots. They were visible but cut up and added tomato sauce because tomato is a vegetable (or is that a fruit). Yes, the sodium counter is through the roof. The first night we served it on a bun but I had an aha moment of serving it in pasta shells and adding a little more tomato sauce. 

So, I proceeded to do that. It is still high in sodium and there is less carbohydrates but it is still meet intensive and the plates got clean. I found it too much. As in there were too many flavours too much. My kids seemed to enjoy them. 

I think the next step is to remove the Manwich and replace the filling with a better meat to veggie ratio and use non canned sauce. Make it a bit simpler. Make it a bit healthier. I have taken away the skepticism of the stuffed pasta meal that I have been trying to make and replaced it with a "That's okay from the eldest." and a "Thanks a lot, daddy" from the youngest. This means that I can sell the other idea.

Sometimes, you have to go to the too much in order to get buy in for a simpler and more delicious and nutritious meal. And now my eldest was curious enough to wonder how you make it. Maybe it will spark his interest enough to get him to try making it himself. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

One Smart Trick ... :Martini

Gin Martini using a Red Vermouth

I love me some booze forward cocktails and one of my favourites is a gin martini. I almost feel like regurgitating all those cool factoids and stories that are easily found with the google-fu. Ideas of bruising, mixing, and dryness are all over the internet tubes. Examples include: Churchill opened the vermouth bottle, bowed to France and drank the gin. Julie Child put a lot of vermouth with a touch of gin. And the Vesper... that's James Bond's martini.

It amounts to the idea that either straight gin or vodka is a cocktail or some variation on the proper ratio of vermouth to the white liquor. I don't think that I can add much to that conversation. I love me some booze and there are many variations that make me happy, satisfied or tipsy. Sometimes even all three at once.

I haven't gotten to the problem with my home mixing yet that was solved by a conversation with Ryan, a bartender at The Clocktower and occasional barista at Boxcar Social, but I will.

Firstly, my own idiosyncratic ideal of a decent martini, are really two different approaches. Either a generous amount of vermouth with a little bit of gin or a more modern 6:1 ratio or less. At home, I accomplish this with ice. Ice everywhere; glass, shaker, and bottle. I end up shaking it slow because I want to get it cold but not dilute it too much. If I stir it, invariably, it comes off as three separate boozes with a sometimes harsh edge or some watery, vaguely piney and juniper thing. The only way I have made it work is to shake to integrate it. Sometimes there is a slight harshness but it is imminently drinkable. People like my martinis.

So I lamented this flaw of getting the edge on my home martini and Ryan suggested a simple trick. The first issue was identifying the problem. The problem was that the dilution was either too much or too little when I tried to stir it and shaking kind of muddies the flavours of some gins. Supposedly, the perfect amount of stirs is forty or about 30 seconds. The point is to get the right temperature and the required amount of water into the drink.

Ryan suggested mixing the vermouth and bitters in for about five or ten stirs first, pour it off into the glass and then put the spirit in and stir it for the remainder of time/stirs. So far, this approach has worked incredibly well. I have tried it with both variations of martini listed above and proceeded to try it with another cocktail or two that was vermouth based. Speaking of vermouth, it is important and I am thinking about messing around with making my own but that is another topic. I'll leave you with that thought and two cocktail ideas.

Using the technique above, I tried two off the cuff ideas.

2 oz Crown Royal Harvest Rye
1 oz Lionello Vermouth
2 dashes Dillon's Ginger Bitters
Grated lime peel

Tasted Christmas-y.

The second was more vermouth heavy. I had a little bit of sour cherry juice from another experiment so I wanted to do something with that. Yeah, I know you should shake anything with citrus juice but this was just a little bit to make the cherry taste come to life. I could have added the smallest amount of citric acid to accomplish the same thing.

1 Tbsp sour cherry juice
2 oz Vermouth
1 oz Wiser's Dry Hopped
Squirt of lemon juice
2 dashes Dillons DSB

Sunday, January 15, 2017

My Week - 2017 - 2

This week was the kind of week where intentions outstripped ability. I wanted to post about a trick for a better martini and maybe I will get to that today. I started taking my lunch to work and it worked a little bit but many days I supplemented.

I did track my expenses for the week. Coffee budget is down, restaurant budget up. As I try to get back into contact with my friends after a quiet December, I realize that maybe I need to find a better way than heading out to a restaurant. There is a germ of a post there but this is where I stop.

I am already having second thoughts about this weekly thing but I will keep them to myself for one more week as I sort through them. Anyway, here is the weekly breakdown.

- Ham w. Lentils  from leftovers
- a relish using the celery and apple that were getting old together in the fridge.
- a pantry challenge using rice, lentils, frozen spinach, frozen pureed squash. Made an Indian spiced rice and lentil meal that will last for a few weeks.
- made cherry pie filling with sour cherries.
- chia pudding (chia seeds in chocolate milk for 40 minutes)
- Udon noodle soup with chicken using the last of the turkey stock

- had these mango bites from Bangladesh that a woman from work gave me. She just returned from a trip and they were really good.

- a few martinis using Ryan the bartender's method. It works!

- about a stirring technique that Ryan the bartender talked me through for martinis.
- about making just the filling without the cherries for my sister.
- cardamom, coffee and dates (in a square, in a loaf?)
- the lack of queer beer events