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

Saturday, January 7, 2017

My Week - 2017 - 1

I looked over my Resolutions Post from last year, and I will be doing a follow up and realized that one of the bigger resolutions was to write/publish a post at least once a week on average. When I was posting more often, I had more people visiting. Seems reasonable.

But what is more telling, there were more ideas that I followed through on and my thinking about food and drinks was sharper. I am still doing food stuff cause it is part of who I am but it is more lackadaisical and haphazard. This is not a bad thing.

One of the other resolutions last year was to learn the business of writing and opening more avenues for me to post - blogs and microstuff things like instagram, etc. I did start to do some of that and looking back, it seems that I have a clearer idea of what purpose this blog serves for me. It is the central place where I can hang all my thoughts about food and kind of keep it all in one place as I do a microreview for zomato, tweet an off tweet that gets me thinking, or post an article on another medium or blog.

One of my favourite food blogs is Ideas in Food and I have always been impressed by how they can continue to post day in and day out with small ideas that seem to be so well considered and thoughtful. When I do look back over their posts, I realize that there is a little more to them in terms of how they do them. Many times, over a stretch of a week, they will break down a process or idea that they are fiddling with and eventually turn into a technique that is ready for prime time. Not everything is a success but following the process is its own reward. So, I'm going to try to institute, at least weekly for 2017, posting about my foodie week. Sometimes it will be just a bunch of links to stuff that I have eaten or read and other times, it will be more considered or pointing to a future more complete post. Let's see how this goes.

This week:

- a turkey stock (broth technically) from leftovers
- a frittata with asparagus, jack cheese and leftover ham

- at the Keg and was reminded that they can do steak well
- at Radical Road and had their version of Jerk Chicken. It was good and deserves for me to go back

- at Boxcar Social in Leslieville where I had the following that were notable: Jeffersons Bourbon, Breizh Scotch (French! Can you believe it. A value Scotch), and Moonlight Kettle Sour that was rhubarb all the way down.
- at Radical Road, their Yuzu Pale and their Belgian IPA that was on offer. I liked the Yuzu and found that the Belgian IPA was a more balanced IPA that for some reason, I was expecting to be like many of the North American IPAs where it is only Belgian in the yeast. But nope, this was using a mix of new world and old world hops to drink like a more European take on the Belgian IPA with a nod with to the new world by adding an Ella hop which is the Australian version of European hop. I know that sounds like gobbledygook but the short is that tastes like a Belgian wheat beer with tropical juice and a dry finish. So there. Regardless, those two exemplars were enough for me to grab some stuff out of the fridge which will be consumed in the next few weeks.
- at Earl's on King St. during the Canada US hockey game and we probably not speak of this again. Will do a micro review on zomato. It is probably not going to be flattering.

- working on something to do with my extra celery and apples
- on how to get more vegetables in my diet and the kids'
- on how to take lunch more often and still not be bored at work lunch
- about making more mead
- working through a cookbook to just cook through it.
- about a stirring technique that Ryan the bartender talked me through for martinis.

And that is about it for the first week of January. Being off has helped me think about this but the real issue is when I go back to work and life takes over.