26 November, 2008

The Emotional Eater

The perfect brownie can make anyone feel better. I've been feeling the need to eat a lot of brownies lately. Not that I need more things brown in my life, what with the mud flat currently surrounding the house. And the mud piles in the backyard and the muddy paw prints and footprints littered over the hardwood... But these brownies really do make you feel better.

They are dense yet still a bit cakey. They are fudgy but not heavy. They are a hug in a square crumbly package. With a glass of milk at lunchtime or a stiff scotch at bedtime they fill you with love. Sure I have a great Hubby and the girls can do that too, but the perfect brownie is just for me.

It's hard to not feel better when you start with chocolate and butter. Seriously, not much gets better than that, on their own or melted together in fantastic richness. I need to make them without the Monster around or else she takes them both and messes up my measurements.

Okay, maybe it's not just her who snitches tastes along the way... Somehow it is naughty when I dip my finger to lick the chocolate, and just messy and fun when the Monster does it.

When all is said and done and the oven brings out the chocolate scent the hugs begin. It is almost painful to wait for them to bake and cool. Warm brownies are more fudgy, but I prefer them cool and dense. A good brownie can make you feel comforted and warm, a bad one leaves you cold and cranky.

About 13 years ago I worked at a health food store with a bakery in it. Beyond the granola and ultra-healthy food, we specialized in items for people with restricted diets. At one point that summer the chef and I took on a mission to create a healthy brownie. We tried multiple substitutions like carob for chocolate, fake eggs, brown rice syrup, and more. None of them worked. This was before some good gluten free recipes were readily available. Eventually we decided that we would go back to basics and make a recipe with real food - butter, eggs, chocolate, brown sugar, and unbleached flour. This was before the slow food movement or Michael Pollan. You know what? They were amazing brownies! Sadly I lost the recipe in the post-university moves.

After experimenting with many recipes I finally found The One. It never fails me, it's fast, has only a few ingredients, and results in a perfect brownie. The recipe comes from a cookbook I picked up on a trip to New York. Broke and spending an afternoon with a quilting friend in Brooklyn I picked up The Brooklyn Cookbook. Really just a hardcover community cookbook, the book is filled with personal anecdotes and recipes from locals. The perfect brownie comes from this book.

What makes a bad brownie? To me that means anything that is not chocolate related inside. No nuts for me, I hate the sudden change in texture when you bite into a brownie with nuts. I don't like glaze or icing because it changes the mouthfeel. On a cupcake yes, but not on a brownie. I've added chocolate chips, even mint ones, and raspberries before, but it's not my favourite. Just a plain, simple brownie, thank-you.

The Perfect Brownie

(adapted from The Brooklyn Cookbook)

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 eggs
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup flour

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease an 8 inch square baking pan.
2. Melt the chocolate and butter together in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water. When melted set aside and let the mixture cool.
3. Beat the eggs with the salt until foamy. Gradually add the sugar and vanilla, beating until the mixture is creamy. Quickly stir in the cooled chocolate mixture, then the flour. If you are going to add anything like chocolate chips or nuts (!) this is the time to do it.
4. Pour into the greased baking pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the center is set but still a bit giggley. Cool before cutting.

24 November, 2008

Sushi Night - Taste Adventure

It was a surf and turf weekend. After a crazy week with the renos and lots of mess the family - meaning me - was in no mood for cooking. Out for steaks one night and then Hubby and I decided we needed sushi. Time for The Monster's first sushi.

We chose to go to Kinjo, a sushi bar in an old Tim Horton's. We've been there before, and been quite happy. On the plus side, it's close. It isn't the best sushi we've ever had, but it's good. And after our adventure on Saturday we'll be back.

The gregarious owner, Peter, greeted us with a carved orange and melons for the Monster, a forced (by knife) declaration of love from Hubby to me, a couple of boxes of Pocky candy for the table, and a free treat of four pieces of sushi rolls, a Japanese amuse bouche. It was quite the welcome and good start to the night.

Hubby and I decided to simply order what we liked and let The Monster taste as we went. We've also learned in our restaurant ramblings with her to make sure there is at least one thing on the table we know she will eat. Usually that's bread and butter or some snacks we brought from home. At the sushi bar that is edamame.

She devoured her fruit, attempted to use chopsticks (giving up and spearing fruit with toothpicks instead like they were chopsticks), ate a whole lot of edamame, and opened wide for the sashimi we fed her off our chopsticks. She happily ate her tuna, salmon, snapper, tuna belly, and even tobiko. In fact, the tobiko was quite fascinating to her. After her first bite she swallowed and then had a little shiver, like it went down a bit wrong. We thought we were done with that but she asked for more. About the only thing she wouldn't touch were any kind of rolls. That wasn't surprising to us because she has never been a fan of rice.
Did I mention that she liked wasabi?

This isn't a restaurant review, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention the service at Kinjo. The kids were welcomed warmly. In fact, one thing that struck us was just how many children were there. All the kids are welcomed with a carved orange and the Peter told us that they'd served at least 30 oranges that night. It made us, as a young family, very comfortable. Sushi bars can have a lot of reverence and formality associated with their hospitality, making you feel welcome but hushed. Not Kinjo. Kids are encouraged and entertained. It keeps the parents happy (and coming back) and the kids a bit more adventurous.

Kinjo Sushi 403-255-8998

20 November, 2008

Backseat Adventure - Glamorgan Bakery

When you return to the memory of tastes it is easy to be disappointed. Too often the memory is linked heavily to the event or the circumstances of the taste. The brioche aren’t as rich as they seemed when they were a luxury in your days with a limited student budget. The meringue cookies you cherished on your bakery visits are more sweet than blandly crisp, more cloying than any adult should enjoy. Then there are the dinners, marked by romance, birthdays, or trips that can never be replicated. But sometimes, just sometimes, something is as good as you remember.

My brother-in-law, B, and I had this discussion over the weekend. A birthday present for my mother-in-law brought Hubby’s family to Banff for a weekend of eating and laughing at the children, with some swims and a hike thrown in. With a need to get my girls out of the house I decided to take them to Glamorgan Bakery, to stock up on B’s favourite cheese buns for the weekend.
Glamorgan Bakery is a Calgary institution. Since 1977 the owners have been churning out buttery goodness to Southwest Calgary. Hubby’s family grew up a relatively short bike ride away and took advantage of that quite regularly. It wasn’t until B and his then girl-friend and now my preggo-sister-in-law came to visit us shortly after we moved that I was properly introduced.

All I can remember B talking about was the cheese bun. How it was filled with cheese and butter to such an extent that the bread dough involved seemed superfluous. For a man who practically survives on any variety of cheese on bread – pizza, grilled cheese, melted cheese on bread dipped in ketchup – the Glamorgan Bakery cheese bun was his idea of perfection.
Then came the sugar cookies. We came for the cheese buns and we will return again and again for the sugar cookies. He says that he remembers eating them as a child, although I find that hard to believe because my mother-in-law is a fantastic baker. But then, fueled by a childhood memory, he went back to bakery and tried the sugar cookies, . Shockingly, they were better than he even remembered.

The Monster was enthralled by the selection of the bakery -colorful cupcakes, the overwhelming scent of butter and chocolate, and too much selection in the cookie department. I went straight to the counter for the cheese buns and she went straight to the sugar cookies. More precisely, the brightly coloured dinosaur cookies. How can you say no to a happy 2 year old? She got her cookie, promptly sat down on the floor, and took a bite. And then another and another. Two men were enjoying their coffee at the tiny counter for that purpose, oblivious to the joy of a sugar fueled toddler at their feet.
The dinosaur cookie was bigger than the Monster could handle so sadly I had to help her finish it. Let me rephrase that, I thought the cookie was too big and too good so I forced her to share it with me. Seriously, these are the best sugar cookies I’ve ever had. Not so much cookie as sweet butter that someone like Ferran Adria or Heston Blumenthal decided to serve in a crispy form. So I went back yesterday and bought more. Some for me and some for a girlfriend who was hosting us for tea in the afternoon as Little Miss Sunshine and I escaped the mess at home. By the time I got to her house the butter had stained the brown paper bag they came in and one cookie was missing. Good thing I bought more for dessert.

12 November, 2008

Was It Really Worth It?

Some things are just more trouble than they're worth. I now put homemade ketchup in that category, along with transplanting houseplants you already hate, arguing with a toddler over green socks versus white ones, and trying to keep the dog hair off the new couch. Is it better than your bottle of Heinz? Hell yeah, but it still isn't worth the expense or the effort.

I blame you, Jamie Oliver. You and your ridiculous enthusiasm for gardening, food, and making sure people eat well. I blame you, Safeway, for having Jamie at Home on sale in the book bin. I blame you, Calgary weather, for making sure I had loads of tomatoes ripening in stages on my kitchen counter in September and defeating my efforts to make a large batch of tomatoe sauce. I even blame the Monster - just a tiny bit - for having the common desire of any toddler to dip everything in ketchup. In that case, I blame you, Hubby, for fueling that desire in her by never growing up yourself.

Ultimately, however, I have to blame Michael Pollan. He and the Slow Food folks are encouraging me to reduce the amount of processed foods coming into the house. We go through a lot of ketchup and I thought I was being a good mom/wife by introducing another homemade staple.

The recipe* itself was time-consuming, but not difficult. The toughest part was reading through the Jamie Oliver style of recipe writing. And there were a ridiculous number of ingredients! Who knew?

So I spent an afternoon chopping, simmering, reducing, and pureeing. The house smelled wonderful. Two pounds of tomatoes and I got little more than 1 bottle of ketchup. Then the Monster decided that she liked mustard better. Seriously, every time I tried to serve it to her she cried for mustard instead.

Now the ketchup sits in the fridge. This is good stuff. I can't wait to try it on Hubby's famous hamburgers. For now, and post root canal, I will savour it on some scrambly eggs. But next time I'm just making tomatoe sauce.

*Let me know if you want the recipe and don't have the book. I followed it exactly so I won't repeat it here.

06 November, 2008

Taste Adventure - Bok Choy

There are sleep regressions well documented for babies and toddlers (and we know all about them lately), but are there eating regressions?

The Monster's voracious appetite was called into question lately. A few bites of her dinner and then on to playing with her placemat or milk. A couple of rounds of Itsy Bitsy Spider and The Alphabet Song and she declared herself done with dinner. While this makes for a loud and entertaining dinnertime, it frustrated us because a half hour later she asked for a snack. She wasn't proclaiming the food bad, just that she was done eating. What were we to do?

It turns out that feeding her is the thing to do; actually putting the food on fork and directing it to her mouth. Happily she lets herself be fed bite after bite of food she seemingly didn't want. This from a girl that downright refused to be spoon fed once her fingers discovered how to pick up food and shove it in her mouth.

In the past week we shared dinners of spicy Tex Mex beans and avocados, moose chili, and stir fry. She ate more meat than she's eaten in a month with us feeding her. And she very happily ate the rice and baby bok choy from the stir fry the other night. She's never happily eaten rice before.

The baby bok choy was a taste adventure for her and a cooking adventure for me. It's been years since I made it, stir fry taking a backseat in my repertoire for some reason. It was a weekly staple in my univerisity and early co-habitating days. On Sunday I couldn't resist the bright green and white crisps, knowing they would taste fantastic with a load of garlic and ginger. There was some leftover pork tenderloin to add and a few carrots and peppers to round out the dish.

The Monster ate one pepper and carrot, then declared herself done. Uh uh, little one, you need to eat more than that. So, after she serenaded us, Hubby started loading up the fork. Bite by bite she ate it all, even declaring the slightly spicy stir fry yummy. Did she know she was eating anything new? I doubt it, but I'm happy she ate it.

My only question is this, how long do we have to keep feeding her? Little Miss Sunshine started solids this week so I don't want to spoon feed two kids.

02 November, 2008

Old and New

Gasp! I gave away 3 bins of magazines this week. That's 10 years of Gourmet, Food and Wine, Cooking Light, Bon Appetit, and Martha Stewart. I must be crazy. Or a little under the gun to get the basement cleaned out so we can develop it. And I have to thank my sister-in-law and mother-in-law for really giving me the ass-kicking needed to do it.

These magazines represent my first forays and my development as a foodie. I can still remember reading my very first issue of Gourmet, April 1994. I was finishing my second year of undergrad in Halifax. My part-time job was with a caterer - cooking and selling food in a fancy mall food court. I picked up the mag at The Daily Grind and walked to the Public Gardens. Settled on a bench near one of the ponds I opened that magazine and took my first steps into fancy food, dreamy travels, and inspirational writing and photography. I started to revise my educational plans, thinking about cooking school after undergrad. Most importantly, they helped me learn to taste and to really cook.

I'd grown up watching the Frugal Gourmet, Wok with Chan, and Biba's Italian Kitchen on Saturday afternoons - in between Wide World of Sports and napping. With my Ukrainian roots food, homemade rich food, was central to our daily lives. But I was a picky eater, and showed no interest in being in the kitchen other than to bake cookies. Something changed with that first issue. I devoured more and cooked as much as my limited student budget and roommates would allow. I started going to the farmers market on Saturdays, bringing home what fit in my backpack because the walk was too long for more. Food became a means to pleasure, not just a means to an end.

Reading the magazines has been a ritualistic pleasure in and of itself. A lazy Saturday afternoon meant getting through one or two issues, cover to cover, no skipping ahead. Sundays in the summer found Hubby and I curled up on the thrift store couch on the porch of the blue house, beers at our side, and magazines in hand. Road trips, unless they took us through mountain passes, found me reading out interesting (at least to me) foodbits to Hubby while he drove.

Hubby has been bugging me for years - basically all the years we've been together - to cull the herd. The first place we lived together came with roommates. My magazines were proudly displayed on a large bookshelf in the dining room. When I felt like something new or something I recalled seeing I would pull issue after issue off the shelves and sip tea at the dining room table, enjoying my search. One roommate even made a joke of it, sitting down with boyfriend to observe me - like Lorne Greene and National Geographic - when I was searching for a particular pancake recipe.

The move to Calgary five years ago left my magazines languishing in bins in the basement. There was simply no room for them in our little bungalow. I found that I hardly ever went to them, turning to the computer instead for recipes and additional inspiration. The new magazines are still here, still taking me to the kitchen and feeding my soul when I have a moment. There are no luxurious afternoons of reading anymore. Rather, I sneak a few pages in here and there, often when the Monster and I are eating meals when Hubby is out of town. She now wants to read recipes with with me.

As I went through the bins and sorted the magazines for the lucky recipient I found myself reminiscing about a particular roadtrip to a wedding on the West Coast where I read the September 2002 Gourmet. Or the Bon Appetit about the Mediterranean Islands that I read and reread on our honeymoon in Cuba. Or the conversation with an oyster shucker over Hubby's 27th birthday dinner in Toronto, about whether we thought Ruth Reichl was doing a good job with Gourmet (yes!).

These magazines are my history. My history as a foodie. My history as an adult, really. It was hard to give them away. But I have look forward, find some new inspiration. I did that even while I was saying goodbye, enjoying a recipe I found from a new friend and resource, and the lucky recipient.

Here's to the next ten years! And some good storage in the new basement.