Monday, January 2, 2012

2011's food highlights (and lowlights)


High – Char's New Year's Levée. I look forward to this spread all year.

These photos are actually from this year's party (Levée 2012).
Last year's pics just didn't do it justice.


Low – Charlie Sheen's Winning Recipes.

This needs no explanation.


High – Nigellapalooza, of course.


Low – Worrying about being eaten by a bear in Whistler, and other typical conference-related concerns.

Highs – Vancouver restaurants:

Enjoying impeccable French-inspired (and after-dinner chocolate crocodiles) at Le Crocodile.

Putting the C in sustainable seafood.

Mixing and matching tasting plates at one of Vancouver's more daring addresses.

...and Shawn's first trip to Red Robin (in Victoria).



Low – Canadians say goodbye to Jack Layton with Orange Crush on Parliament Hill.


High – Winning the foursquare mayorships of Kinko Sushi Bar and Pelican Grill.

Low – Losing the foursquare mayorships of Kinko Sushi Bar and Pelican Grill.


High – Paris.

That's right, I totally went to Paris this year. And, while I really missed breakfasts and vegetables (both of which were in short supply), Paris was the site of many of this year's finest food moments.

La Praluline — brioche studded with pink pralines — was breakfast on more than one occasion.

We had dinner at Au Pied de Cochon — a Belle Epoch brasserie in Les Halles that specializes in pig's feet (obviously) and, interestingly, Canadian shellfish.

(Complimentary pig-shaped meringues prove they've got their branding down.)  

We made a cameo at Le Grand Colbert, the Palais Royale restaurant that made a cameo in the movie Something's Gotta Give

Apparently, Paris is known for its couscous restaurants, and Chez Omar,
one of the more famous, was just steps from our apartment in the Marais.

Our only recommendation was Le Polidor, a historic Bistro in the Latin Quarter that I only realized after the fact had been used in Midnight in Paris, one of my favourite movies this year.

We even found a vegetarian restaurant — Le Grenier de Notre Dame. Opened in 1978, it purports to be Paris' oldest vegetarian restaurant. We ate there twice. It was like a little piece of Berkeley in central Paris.

And, If I didn't already know what sparked the French Revolution, I would suspect that this giant chocolate gorilla in the window of Patrick Roger Chocolatier had something to do with it.

More impressive than the Eiffel Tower, if you ask me.
Low – Parisians say goodbye to Steve Jobs with apples at the Mac store in the Louvre.

Yes. There's a Mac store in the Louvre.


High – World Usability Day! Proof that I'll use any excuse to bring cupcakes to work.

Low – Becoming addicted to Punchfork and Pinterest's Food and Drink category to the occasional detriment of my personal productivity.


High – Sabering.You'd think that after a few years of tracking food trends, a person might get jaded. But, no. I am obsessed with trying this.

Low – Realizing that a weekly food blog might not be the best or most sustainable channel for my creative expression. (Okay, I guess we both know that really happened at some point this summer.)

All the best to you and yours in 2012!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

This made my (shark) week

 Look what came in the mail!

And I'm talking about the premiere of Hillbilly Handfishin'. (Though I haven't seen it, besides the countless commercials that aired this weekend, I'm pretty sure I don't like it.)

No what got me excited was this great advocacy kit from Seafood Watch — an awareness program of the Monterey Bay Aquarium — that came in the mail earlier this week. It's a collection of tools to help consumers advocate for ocean-safe seafood.

It goes to show you, in this age of heavy digital marketing, some messages are still best communicated in print.

Actually, there are a lot of times where I would prefer to communicate my feelings with a fillable card like this.

But, if you happen to be looking for a digital sustainable seafood guide they have an app for that too.

If you're interested in preserving the health of our oceans, be sure to check out this important program.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Father's Daughter: a kitchy recipe for Father's Day

In the months leading up to the release of Gwyneth Paltrow's cookbook, My Father's Daughter, I briefly entertained grand notions of cooking and blogging every recipe. But wouldn't you know it? The (well deserved) media blitz that immediately followed the book's publication took care of that for me.

The Kitchn and Serious Eats both tested and reviewed several recipes from MFD, as did many other blogs. Several newspapers also showcased MFD recipes, many of which you can also find online. And, if you're you a big Gwyneth fan like me, you shouldn't miss this great feature in Bon Appetit, complete with its own slideshow. All this to say, I'm pretty sure you can almost piece together your own free copy of My Father's Daughter through the power of Google.

Still; in honour of Father's Day, I thought I would belatedly add my own recipe review from this superb book.

It was a challenge looking for a recipe that had not yet been profiled, but I did find one, and I think it's particularly fitting for this day.

You see, the cultural education I received from my chef-father was not limited to food and entertaining. He made sure I was exposed to all the arts, and that happened to include, among many other things, the best of 1970s television.

That's how I know Gwyneth's mom, Blythe Danner, a very talented stage and screen actress who did a lot of high-quality television in the seventies. She even has the the distinction of staring in what is widely regarded as the best Columbo episode of all time. (What discussion of 70's television would be complete without Columbo?*)

According to MFD, Danner used to prepare the following recipe whenever people stopped by for lunch. It was created by screenwriter and lyricist Lenny Gershe. Hence the name.



1/4 cup brine-cured olives, roughly chopped
4 scallions, finely sliced
2/3 packed grated cheddar
1 tsp curry poweer
a few dashes Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp Vegenaise

2 English muffins


Combine all ingredients and spread on 2 halved and toasted English muffins. Broil for about 1 min.

I can't not love a recipe that combines cheddar and mayo; something I've been advocating since the early days of this blog.

Of the recipe Gwyneth notes "If you don't like the salty pungency of brine cured black olives, you can  make this a bit milder by using what Lenny Gershe traditionally used — a small can of semi-flavourless black olives. A little kitsch never hurt anyone."

You're right, Gwyneth, it never did.

Happy Father's Day to all the cheesy dads out there.

 *I have all 7 seasons of the original series if anyone wants to borrow.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Nigellapalooza 2011

Still recovering from the royal wedding? Yeah, me neither.

Weeks of hype and media hysteria and what are we left with? A Facebook page dedicated to Princess Beatrice's hat and Ellie Goulding's cover of "Your song"?*

What's worse, the wedding risked overshadowing another major event that was taking place around the same time. Another excessive, self-indulgent, anti-climactic, (vaguely) British affair that would mess with my sleep patterns.

I'm talking about Nigellapallooza. A night when I, Char and another friend (whom I will not name as she values her Internet privacy a little more than the rest of us do) got together to prepare 10 (we made 9) recipes from Nigella Lawson's latest book Kitchen: Recipes from the heart of the home.

Thankfully I took pictures to commemorate the occasion.

*Okay, I actually love both those things.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Mac for All Seasons

In Canada, maple syrup is one of the most recognizable signs of the coming spring.
(The sap buckets that hang from maple trees signal to us that it will soon be safe to leave the igloo.)

For me this dish represents the return of inspiration and the best of what spring and summer will bring. (Yes, this is how I talk about mac and cheese sometimes.)

With as much saturated fat as anything on the menu at Au Pied de Cochon's sugar shack, it won't exactly help you get ready for swimsuit season, but I promise it will take the chill out of the last bit of winter. 



For bread crumbs:
2 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups fresh (or 1 cup dry [untoasted]) bread crumbs

For macaroni:
3–5 tbsp chopped chipotle chiles in adobo
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 lb (450 g) macaroni
2 cups (1 large brick) maple cheddar (like Black River), grated*


Preheat oven to 350°.

Make bread crumbs: Heat oil in a skillet over moderate heat, then cook garlic and bread crumbs, stirring, until crumbs are golden. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

Meanwhile cook macaroni until just tender (about 6 min). Drain and transfer to a large shallow casserole dish.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat, then add flour and cook, whisking, 1 min. Gradually whisk in milk and cream, and simmer, whisking occasionally, 3 min. Stir in cheese until it has been incorporated.

Add the sauce and peppers to the macaroni and stir to combine. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and bake for 30 min, or until bubbly.

*If you can't find maple cheddar, that's too bad. You can use sharp white cheddar in its place and add 1–2 tbsp of maple syrup to the cheese sauce as it is cooking.

My inspiration came from a chipotle macaroni and cheese recipe I found on Epicurious that I felt needed something extra and, of course, from those crazy people who like to put maple syrup on their macaroni and cheese.




Sunday, February 6, 2011

My pick for Superbowl XLV

Look! Packers colours. Go cheese!

Because the game kicks off at 6:30 for those of us in the east, for practically sake, I wanted to suggest combining your game-day snacks with dinner. The two come together very nicely in this Nacho Macaroni and Cheese recipe from Bon Appétit. (I ommitted the cilantro.)

Enjoy the game!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A fabulous 30th in the Big Apple

This says it all. (From Le Bernardin's Christmas card.)
I celebrated in style not too long ago in a very Christmasy New York. It was an amazing time spent with friends in a city just far enough away from home. I visited the home of Batali, stayed with The Donald, and hung out at the best people-watching spot I've ever been. I pretty much lived like Gwyneth for 3 days. (Except for those few requisite hours I spent with Shawn at the Olive Garden in Times Square.)  

Our hotel opened onto this block of Spring St. On the right is Aquagrill, an amazing seafood place with offerings at variety of price-points (despite its $$$ rating), and on the left, the great grassroots New York food charity God's Love We Deliver

I felt very close to Mario in the 50,000–square-foot Italian foods warehouse that is Eataly.
I always hate being guilted into going to top of 30 Rock until I see the pictures.

I think about going back at least a few times a week.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Great Big Birthday Cake!

Kristen reminded me recently that I'd promised a post about The Biggest Cake I've Ever Made. Which, I realize, as far as big cakes go, is not actually that large, but it still presented its own challenges to this enthusiastic but still definitely amateur baker.

It was a 50th birthday cake for a friend at work. The birthday girl's favourite cake is apparently butterscotch, which is fine if you don't mind using a cake mix (spoiler alert: I mind), or if you're under the (mistaken) impression that these have anything to do with actual butterscotch:
The internet is absolutely chock-a-block with "recipes" for "homemade" "butterscotch" "cakes" made from white or yellow cake mixes with butterscotch pudding mixes added to the mix (pleh!). But if you're looking for actual butterscotch, that can actually be a hard flavour to define. I mean, everyone knows butterscotch when they taste it, but when was the last time you actually tasted real butterscotch? I've had really great caramel, which is very close, but not quite the same.

Thankfully, the internets also have some good sources for food information, and pastry chef Shuna Fish Lydon at her Eggbeater blog breaks it down for us. As I understand it, there are 2 major differences between caramel and butterscotch: caramel starts with white sugar, which is cooked with butter to a lovely golden colour ("caramelized") before the addition of cream to thicken it; butterscotch starts with butter, which is browned, and then you add brown sugar and boil it till it looks like lava before adding cream to thicken. Minor differences in ingredients and technique, but there's a definite difference in the end product too. Martha Stewart turned out to be the only source for a butterscotch cake recipe I could find that did not include the aforementioned (pleh!) mixes. In addition to the usual cake and frosting components, this recipe includes a delicious butterscotch sauce that is brushed on the top of the bottom layer, both top and bottom of the middle layer, and the bottom of the top layer.

When I finally had a recipe, my next issue was size: Michelle's cake would have to serve at least 75 people, and I've never made a cake that big before. Every reference I found indicated that the cutting guides you can find (usually for wedding cakes) anticipate only a very tiny slice per person, since wedding guests have presumably filled up on rubber-chicken-and-host-bar wedding feasts, leaving not much room for cake. This cake was meant to be the only food offered at a mid-afternoon shindig (aka office oink-fest), and so I was concerned about quantity. I told Michelle's colleagues to order a Costco cake to make sure there'd be enough to go around, and got out my largest baking pan and my calculator.

Martha's recipe makes a 3-layer 8 inch round cake that purports to serve 12 to 14 people. I decided to do a 3-layer 11x15 rectangular cake, so I tripled the recipe — baking the entire batch of batter in one pan, times 3. That turns out to be a lot of ingredients, including 6 pounds of butter, 4 pounds of cream cheese, a dozen eggs, and over a litre of whipping cream.
Oh yeah, that's what I'm talkin' about!
I told Michelle's colleagues about how much butter and cream I had bought and they quite sensibly cancelled the Costco cake without telling me.

Aside from the pan size and tripling the overall volume, I followed Martha's recipe exactly, and let me tell you… this is a REALLY GOOD cake — deliciously moist, the sweetness of the brown sugar in the butterscotch tempered by the cream cheese in the frosting, but with that extra hit of butterscotch sauce at the edges of each layer - it was a real treat.

One very simple thing I should have done differently was to take the cake layers out of the freezer earlier on the day I frosted it. It took a long time for them to defrost, and it doesn't do the texture of the cake any favours if it's kind of damp from the cold while you're slathering the frosting on. The fact it was still so cold also made it a bit harder for the cake to accept the butterscotch sauce, I think.

I baked the cake about a week in advance, freezing each layer separately the night it was baked, and then assembled and frosted it the night before the party. If I had it to do over again, I'd look for a way to make the brown sugar cream cheese frosting a little stiffer — I worried (unnecessarily, it turned out — phew!) that the weight of the soft icing would just make it slide off the sides of the cake into an unholy mess. But if Michelle's birthday had been in July... it would've been awful. Another thing I'd do is check my math (especially the geometry part) a little more carefully… I tripled the entire recipe, not just the cake batter, and so wound up with lots and lots (at least 3 quarts?) of leftover frosting. It's been in my freezer for about 2 months now & seems destined for cinnamon rolls (and probably another, smaller butterscotch cake). And I hadn't read the frosting part of the recipe carefully enough, so that was a pretty late night, waiting for the butterscotch part of the cream cheese frosting to cool (in an ice water bath and the fridge, but still, it's boiling hot butter and sugar!) before I could beat in the cream cheese. More time to chill might have left me with a stiffer icing.

The layers were a bit tricky to handle, especially once the middle and top layers had one side coated in butterscotch sauce, that then had to be flipped over onto the frosting covering the layer beneath. I have a couple of cookie sheets with only 1 raised edge, which came in very handy as gigantic spatulas, helping me move and flip the butterscotchy layers. The cake, once it all came together, was a behemoth — it stuck out over the top of the cake box by over an inch, so I had to jury-rig a system to hold the lid up with chopsticks, wooden skewers, tape & plastic wrap. And thank goodness I'd told the girls right up front I'd need a ride to work that day… I could hardly carry this thing (on a cake board, in a box, and then on top of my biggest cookie sheet for support) out to Jackie's van — this is definitely not a bus cake!

Other than the masses of frosting in my freezer though, there wasn't really anything that went wrong. The cake was a big hit, but there was a little left over for the next afternoon. Most importantly of all, the birthday girl enjoyed it! I would definitely bake this cake again, also definitely on a much smaller scale.

So my final advice to someone attempting a very large cake would be:
Start well in advance so you don't feel rushed the day of or night before serving.
If you've baked the cake layers ahead and frozen them, they'll take a long time to defrost because they're so large
— give them extra time, because it makes a difference to the texture of the finished cake.
You probably won't need to triple the frosting, so save yourself a little money and maybe a lot of hassle and do one batch at a time.
A large cake box is shallower than the smaller ones, and will probably only hold a 2-layer cake, so if it's going to be transported somewhere, it's best to work that out in advance.
– Have fun: everyone's going to love it!


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hello 2011!


(The book drops in March, but I already have it on preorder.) what I'm most looking forward to this year. You can make fun if you want, but I will be cooking up a storm with Gwyneth in 2011.

I can't wait! I hope you'll join me for another year...

Monday, December 27, 2010

Every time an old person dies it is as if a library has burnt down.
— African proverb

I first heard this quote used in relation to Alzheimer disease a few weeks ago, and it has stuck with me since. It captures one aspect of the disease — certain priceless history, lost forever. But unfortunately Alzheimer's is so much worse than that. I've come to realize this as I've watched my grandmother live with it for the past few years.

But rather than dwell on sad thoughts this holiday season, I preserved a tiny part of what is left of a library of recipes, both classic and contemporary, in cookbook form to give as gifts to family members. And, I am not alone in this — lots of cooks are being remembered through their recipes. (For once a New York Times trend I can get behind.)

I loved the idea of making a cookbook of my grandmother's handwritten recipes from the minute I thought of it, and luckily I found software that made the process incredibly simple. 

The book was made with my scanner (of course) and the Blurb Bookify™ online bookmaking tool — the best and most affordable system I've used. (And that means a lot coming from a publishing geek who has put together more than her share of photobooks over the years.) I haven't found another product with the level of functionality or user-friendly interface that Blurb offers, and the print quality of the finished books is excellent.

Let me know what you think of the book, and if you decide to make one of your own.