Category: food Page 2 of 3

Lip-Smacking Listening

As I announced with a mix of nerves and excitement back in April, I’ve returned to broadcasting -a big passion of mine, and a world I feel infinitely comfortable and happy in.

Among the many, many interviews I’ve done since then, there are a few that stand out as favorites. I’ll be posting a few of them in the next wee while. Here’s the first. It’s a chat with food journalist and educator Lucy Waverman and was originally aired on Take 5 in mid-May. There are some great recipe tips and tricks here, particularly with regards to yummy, easy method in preparing fresh fish.

Enjoy!

A Year in Lucy’s Kitchen by CateKusti

Freaky-Good Frites

Yesterday’s cooler weather inspired in me a desire to make stew. However, my inspiration changed as the grey skies cleared in the afternoon. After a spate of domestic-y work & long-overdue gardening, I felt like something less…stewy. Also, starting a stew at 7pm is never a good idea. So I decided on steak frites. The steak part -fine, easy-peasy; I had a nice clean BBQ to grill them on, which made things even easier.

The frites? Not so easy. I’d never made them, if you can believe it. Perhaps it’s because I was never a spud person (though living in Ireland, I became one more out of necessity) and indeed, still am not entirely one -but the crisp, hot, carby goodness felt just right to end an afternoon of laundry, cupboard-cleaning and weed-pulling.
The response to my frites-making exploit on Facebook was so positive, I thought I’d share the recipe. I used one posted online as well as my own good common sense. Try it if you have a chance -easy, and yes, very good. This serves two people (or one very-hungry woman, natch).

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 20-25 minutes

You will need:
4-5 medium-sized organic potatoes (Yukon Gold is best)
4-6 cups of ice water
roughly 2.5 to 3 cups canola oil
1 cup olive oil
sea salt
+ a whack of paper towels for blotting

Method:
Scrub potatoes and julienne. You want the shape to be long and skinny (do cut chunkier, a la pub style, if you like ’em that way, but mind they take longer to cook).
As you chop, place the julienned pieces in a big bowl of waiting ice water; mind the edges of the bowl are filled near the top, with plenty of ice (and keep adding cubes as you add the cut potatoes). I used a metal bowl to keep the temperature nice and cool.
Once you’re done chopping and your taters are in the bowl, leave them to soak for 15 minutes. (Make something else, or pour a glass of wine to enjoy whilst admiring your garden handywork…)

At about the 10-minute mark, heat the canola oil in a large, broad pan on the stove; place on medium heat.

After 15 minutes, drain the potatoes from the ice water in a colander. Discard any ice cubes, leaving potatoes in the colander. Give a gentle shake. Spread paper towels out on a flat surface, then spread the potatoes on them. Cover with another paper towel and gently blot.
Turn the heat of the oil up to medium high.
Place half the potatoes in the hot oil. They should sizzle on contact (test with one if you’re not sure). Mind that the oil covers them entirely.

When they’re semi-done (yellow but not golden), remove with a broad slotted spoon or tongs (carefully) & place on fresh, dry paper towels. Gently blot.

Check to see if there’s enough oil for the second batch of potatoes, and add as necessary. Again, you want the oil to cover the potatoes entirely. Repeat as before, removing the potatoes when they start to yellow and placing them on fresh, dry paper towels. Blot carefully.

Add the olive oil to the pan, and turn the heat down to medium. Wait about a minute (so it heats up), then place the first batch of potatoes in; shake the pan. Follow by placing the second batch in with the first, and shake again. The oil should be bubbling merrily, with the potatoes bouncing around inside.

Cook about ten to fifteen minutes, shaking the pan every few minutes or so.

When the potatoes turn that happy golden colour, your frites are ready. Using tongs or a broad slotted spoon, carefully remove them to a dry colander. Sprinkle liberally with sea salt and gently toss with your fingers.

Now… serve with your favorite accompaniment and enjoy.

Appetizer


I had one of the best meals of my life Saturday. But I’m not going to tell you about it.

At least, not yet. Between joejob drain, chasing stress(/inspiration), planning, and mad, passionate New York organizing (yes, I’m moving there), not to mention cold feet and a coughing dog (true), the timing just seems wrong to ruminate on the subtle, if no less voluptuous joys of a meal well-digested and thoroughly enjoyed.

I will tell you this: if you’re in Toronto, get your good, hungry self on over to the other side of the Don Valley Parkway (ie The Great Divide), to The Local Company (511 Danforth Avenue). Stay tuned to this space for details on the tasty morsels, delectable nibbles, and gorgeous big bites of what has to be one of the most delicious meals I’ve ever enjoyed. For now, a little lick.

Alongside gorgeous design, The Local Company has a wonderful ambiance that’s partly attributable to the classy surroundings, though kudos must go to the fabulous Suzana Da Camara and her talented musicians; their cover of Sade’s “No Ordinary Love” was every bit as sensuous as my creme brulee, and her superior French-language tunes were completely and utterly… lovely. The servers were equally attentive, knowledgeable, efficient, friendly, and very, very witty, exploding any degree of stuffiness that might’ve been created from such a gorgeous, modern space.

And give me a moment (however brief -for now) to swoon over the chef! I’ve always thought chefs were rock stars, and that’s made clear here. Sault St. Marie native Trevor Middleton is truly dedicated to his craft, approaching it just as much an artist as he does a crusader, teacher, and (true) geographer; affable, honest, and deeply committed to promoting local, sustainable food, lovingly cooked, he told me he wants people coming to The Local Company to get a taste of “Grandma’s” kitchen. Oh yum. What a deliciously posh, passionate, creative Grandma Mr. Middleton is. In true granny fashion, I left happily overstuffed.

Chef is also incredibly kind to guests at The Local Company. Amazing fact: it’s very reasonable. Really. That’s what you get for not being in the trendy part of town. But then, who would want to be? It’s worth the drive, for so many reasons.

In short, I had an orgasm on a plate. But I’m not going to tell you about it -yet. After all, there’s value in food foreplay… right? You’ll have to wait for the gooey details.

Sex on a plate, here we go again.

Damn Good Dinner

Few things inspire me like a person new to the culinary world; it implies both a healthy curiosity and a concern for healthy eating. Anything homemade is always going to beat microwaved Frankenfood. So a recent note from a fellow Twitterati/ journalist felt like a call to inspiration, the way I painter is drawn to canvas or a musician to their instrument. Sharing food ideas and any help is my passion, because I love to cook.

I sent this fellow journalist a response, included a link to my last recipe posted (a hit with busy moms), as well as helpful book suggestions (listed below). I also promised myself I would starting posting recipes more often.

As it happens, I had a very hectic day: two blog posts, several phone calls, emails, a doctor’s appointment, and some running around. I wanted something fairly easy and effort-free, if also homey, flavoursome, and healthy. Ergo, meet my Oven-Roasted Herb-Garlic Chicken Breasts.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 30-40 minutes

You will need:

4 chicken breasts, skin and bone on
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves
1 sprig rosemary
1-2 tsps dried oregano
1/2 lemon
1 tsp sea salt

Pre-heat oven to 425F (use the convection setting if you have it, otherwise set at 450F).

Pour 1 tbsp of the olive oil into a large broad oven dish; you can use a large glass one or a nice square roaster, but keep it shallow, and make sure the breasts fit snugly together.

With clean hands, anoint the fresh chicken breasts with the butter; Nigella Lawson has a wonderful expression (from her basic roast chicken recipe) of spreading the butter around “like a very expensive handcream” -which is apt. Make sure every little bit of the chicken breasts are lubricated. Place in the oven dish, making sure pieces are snug but not busting.

Wash and dry your hands, and then carefully pick the needles from the rosemary sprig. Discard the stalk. Using a very sharp knife, finely chop the needles, and sprinkle them evenly on the tops of the breasts.

Follow this with the oregano (again, use your fingers to sprinkle -much nicer distribution that way). Pour the other tbsp (or so) of olive oil on top.

Take your garlic cloves and peel, then half them. Place the flat part of your knife on top of them, and give a few good pounds, so you’re crushing the cut cloves (you may need to do this in stages, doing a few garlic pieces at a time -which is perfectly fine). You’ll find nice flat pieces of fragrant crushed garlic to scatter on top of the chicken breasts.

Take the half a lemon, cut it again in half, and slice into very thin pieces; scatter on top of the breasts. Sprinkle the sea salt on top (again, use your fingers) and drape a piece of tin foil on top, then pop the dish into your hot oven.

(You can use this time to throw a salad together, if you wish; a basic cucumber/tomato/mixed greens is good with a light dressing. I also happened to have some roasted potatoes already made, so I popped those into an earthenware dish, gave a glug of oil, a grind of pepper, and threw into the same oven for the chicken’s last 10 minutes.)

After 15 minutes, remove the chicken, and take off the foil. Things will be sizzling and fizzling, so mind you don’t stand too close or poke your nose in to inhale the fragrant, herb-garlic aroma.

Using a baster or a spoon, spread all those lovely chickeny/buttery/olive oily juices over the breasts a few times, then whack back in the oven for another 10 minutes or so with the foil off.

Poke a breast (pun unintentional) with a sharp knife after the ten minutes is up; the meat should feel solid, and the juices run clear. Take the chicken out (again, mind the sizzle), baste one more time, and whack back in for 5 to 7 minutes.

For a nice burnished top, turn the broiler on medium-high heat and leave the chicken breasts in (without moving the oven rack) for about 3 or 4 minutes after this (keep watch). The lemon slices and crushed garlic might be singed and blackened at their edges; this is perfectly fine.

Remove and… voila. Enjoy. Serve with salad and, if you like, starch of your choice.

Oh, and those book suggestions: I recommend these for both newcomers and seasoned home cooks, for the breadth of their ideas, accomplishment of their respective authors, and overall ease. They are:

To this I would only add one other book: How To Eat, (Random House, 1998) by Nigella Lawson, which provided inspiration for this recipe in the first place.

All of these titles are perffect for the cook who’s harried, hurried, and not entirely familiar with the culinary arts. Bon appetit!

Sex On A Plate

Jennifer Iannolo really loves food.

The Culinary Media Network‘s co-founder isn’t just a lady who enjoys a good glass of wine and a steak; she’s also an informed, thoughtful food activist who clearly sees the cultural relationships that exist between food and life, or more specifically, food and sex. The New York-based Iannolo, an author, broadcaster, consultant and fiercely ambitious entrepreneur, is about to launch Sex On A Plate, an event that will leave attendees drooling in body and soul. What began as a simple observation on food turned into a bigger passion that many relate to. I mean really, food? sex? What’s not to like?

More than just a suggestive moniker, Iannolo connects various sensual experiences -sights, sounds, smells, touches, textures, tastes -with wider ideas around what good food is, and how its preparation, sharing, and enjoyment is a powerful agent for change, both inside and out.

What I love so much about this fierce, fabulous foodie is that she can so clearly understand, appreciate, and promote the sensual aspects of good food and its enjoyment, along with its connection to wider culture and women’s body images. Sex, like fat, is mainly in the brain, and it’s only through the senses that we come to truly embrace ourselves and our relationship with food with unbridled joy. Iannolo chanels that joy, and serves it up -luscious, succulent, sexy.

Where did the idea for “sex on a plate” come from?

I’ve been fortunate to spend much of my career working with the culinary greats, including chefs like Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, Guy Savoy and Eric Ripert. The more time I spent observing them, getting past the “who” to find the “what,” the more I began to see that a sensual quality permeated their food. Each of them had his own unique philosophy, but the root of it was far deeper than merely feeding people -it was about making love to their senses. When eating their dishes, I began to have those food moments that would take me to another place, with nuances of flavor and texture I didn’t realize were possible.

After experiencing food in that way, I wondered where to go from there. What do you do with yourself after Alain Ducasse has prepared a special meal for you at the chef’s table? Rather than head in the hopeless direction of the food snob, I decided to go back to the roots — to the ingredients themselves: the perfect fig, the ultimate tomato. It became a quest for my senses.

As I was mulling over such things (in early 2004), I took a recreational cooking class to determine whether I wanted to cook, write or both. We were making roasted strawberries with zabaglione one night, and as I watched the custard being poured over the strawberries, I was somewhat overcome by the sight, and blurted out: “That, right there, is sex on a plate.” It set the tone for my manifesto On Food And Sensuality several weeks later, and the rest has unfolded from there.

How do you think the ideas behind Sex on a Plate fits with the foodie scene, especially online?

I’m still finding that out. I’ve got an amazing team of people working with me to plan Sex on a Plate as a series of events around the country, and we are deep in planning for Napa at the moment. There are about seven cities that have approached us to do the event, so we will take it where the food lovers will welcome it. We had planned a launch here in NYC for Valentine’s Day, but there was so much else competing for dollars and attention on that day, we decided it was best to postpone that for a quieter time, if there is such a thing in NYC.

Online, the concept seems to swing a number of ways (pardon the pun). It straddles a number of topics (I’m killing myself here), from sex to sensual indulgence to food. It started one day when I threw a #sexonaplate hash tag in a Twitter update, and it’s become a fun meme, with people posting Twitpics of fabulous desserts, perfect grilled cheese sandwiches, or whatever it is that turns their senses on. It’s one of the things I love about the idea: each of us experiences “sex on a plate” differently, so I get a kick out of seeing what it means to people.

In terms of blogging, I’ve started doing guests posts and content sharing with a couple of sex blogs, and have really ramped up my discussions on sensuality on my own blog as it relates to everything we eat, and the way in which we approach food. I love that people are engaging and talking about this, because I find that food lovers really get it, and those just discovering food want to. This makes my soul happy.

For the events themselves, how will you go about planning the menus?

This is where the events get most interesting, because in each city, I’m leaving that piece up to the chefs. I want to know what excites their senses, and I’m challenging them to wow us with those dishes and flavor combinations they might not get to put on the regular menu. They tend to get excited like kids at Christmas when I say that.

Who are the events for?

The events are for anyone who wants to have an indulgent, sensual food experience. I mean that not in the sense of overly heavy foods, but a food experience that focuses on how each taste indulges the senses through flavor, color, texture and smell. Even touch.

More importantly, I’ve decided that in each city where we do an event, a portion of the proceeds will go to the local food bank. It seems fair to balance the scales that while we’re indulging ourselves on the finest of food, that people struggling for basic survival are also taken care of. This makes my soul even happier.

How much of a subtext is there of women accepting our bodies? This feels like a theme in your “food philosophy”-ism.

Can I get a “Hell, yes?” The first line of my manifesto, On Food And Sensuality, is from Federico Fellini: “Never trust a woman who doesn’t like to eat. She’s probably lousy in bed.” Sensual appreciation extends to everything, from head to toe, inside and out, from farm to plate.

I do believe we should take good care of ourselves, and eat foods that are good for us; but in my mind, this means less about broccoli vs chocolate than it does chemicals vs no chemicals. We need to eat a little bit of everything to be satisfied as humans — we were built with the capability to enjoy pleasure, so why on earth should we deny ourselves? And I’m sorry to break it to the ladies, but Fellini’s right. I’m carrying a little extra padding, and I have yet to experience that as a hindrance for either attraction or action.

The wonderful thing about human beings is that they self-select. Be who you are, and those who like you will find you, whether it’s for friendship or romance. If you have a big butt, the men who like that will find you. Trust me. And this delights me on all fronts, because I don’t want to dine with men or women who live on lettuce and tofu. No fun.

What’s the ultimate “sex on a plate” dish for you?

Macaroni and cheese made with fusilli, mascarpone cheese, duck confit, foie gras mousse and truffle shavings. Oh my, yes.

All photography by Kelly Cline, except for head shot of Jennifer Iannolo, by Renata DeAngelis.

Let The Light In

Romantic, insightful, deeply felt, and lovingly performed -what else can I say about the Toronto production of Light In The Piazza? Oh yeah: it inspired me to cook a slat of rigatoni al forno the following day. Bene? You bet.

Light In The Piazza started out life as a novella by Elizabeth Spencer. It became a weepie 1962 film starring Olivia de Havilland, Yvette Mimieux, George Hamilton and Rossano Brazzi. The musical version premiered in 2005 at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre in Lincoln Center, where it ran for over a year and received a boatload of awards: two Outer Critics Awards, five Drama Desks, and six Tonys. Not too shabby.

However, I approached the musical with some caution, mindful of the fact that I have a marked distaste for the maudlin. I figured, a story involving disability, love, and parental (dis)approval can’t end well, nor can it provide insight into matters of the heart -or culture. Turns out my fears were utterly unfounded. Toronto’s Acting Up Stage Company has done a wonderful job of rendering Adam Guettel’s work (book by Craig Lucas) with simple, quiet elegance, while keeping the necessary passion firmly in place.

The two main characters are the Clara (Jacquelyn French), a 26-year-old with the mental capacity of a child, and her hyper-protective mother, Margaret Johnson (Patty Jamieson), who are American tourists abroad. They’re not the tackily-dressed, loudly-garbed, photo-snapping types, either. Director Robert McQueen has kept the original time period in place, with classy vintage costuming reflecting a more retrained time. Margaret and her daughter’s upper class outfits (designed by Alex Amini) -dresses, hats, scarves, all in muted, soft colour -nicely contrast with the Italian natives’ vivid, stylish costuming, but, importantly, neither the garb nor the overall direction ever reduces anyone to a stereotype.

Seeing the production avoid easy stereotyping was a relief, because despite Corriere Canadese being one of the show’s sponsors, I still feared a tacky Luigi (the moustachioed chef from The Simpsons) caricature. But I needn’t have worried; McQueen draws out some wonderful performances, using Guettel’s intrinsically knowing score as a guide. Several scenes and numbers delivered or sung entirely in Italian, with the pitch and intensity of each mirrored in movement and delivery. Florence -presented less Frances Mayes-esque and more E.M. Forster-ish (at least contextually) -is where the mother-daughter pair meet Fabrizio (Jeff Lillico), who is immediately drawn to Clara. Lillico, so memorable in productions at both Soulpepper and Stratford, is wonderful as the smitten young man who barely understands his own passions and yet knowingly understands (and accepts) Clara. Stage veteran Juan Choiran is wonderfully charming as his father, Signor Naccarelli. The scenes between he and the beguiling Jamieson, whether awkwardly exchanging pleasantries or sharing a short, tender kiss, are very poignant, revealing the piece’s subtext about missed opportunities and new ones. French and Lillico also share a lovely chemistry that is at once passionate and gentle; their silent exchanged glances and carefully-considered silences reveal two actors who deeply understand the awkward, wild wonder of young love.

Equally as impressive is Guettel’s score, masterfully lead by Jonathan Monro. While one might expect loud, treacly declamations of love-you-forever-ness, we instead get insightful psychological sketches. The music takes elements of other modern musical contemporaries (notably Sondheim) to weave a sonorous, elegant tapestry of sounds that is beautifully rendered by the quintet, who are kept in the half-light behind a white scrim that is set in labyrinthine slats across the wide stage of the Berkeley Street Theatre. This elegant, economical design (by set and lighting designer Phillip Silver) is a perfect canvas on which to paint the story of mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, men and women, parents and children. The Light In The Piazza is about so much more than the obvious “love overcomes all” superficiality its premise might imply; it’s about love, to be sure, but it’s also about opening yourself to possibility, even (especially) when it’s risky. I heard a line in a rap tune recently, that “you maximize potential when you take risks” and though this is the furthest thing you could get from rap, the message -and magic -remain the same. Step into the light, the piazza whispers, come into the light. You might be surprised what you see -and who sees you.

The Light In The Piazza runs through February 21st at the Berkeley Street Theatre.
Photographs by Joanna McDermott.

Woman. Hungry.

As I tucked into my quickly-thrown-together past earlier tonight, the thought occurred that it was perhaps a bit late to be digging into such a rich dish. 10:30pm? Yikes.

“Have to hit the gym tomorrow,” I thought, with more than a hint of anxiety.

While I am a big promoter (and lover) of physical activity, I can’t deny that a larger thought overtook the guilt-tinged one: damn it, I’m hungry. I had a long, stressful day, it’s cold out, and damn, I was really hungry. Women are often, I feel, given the nth degree of guilt when it comes to our relationship with food. It’s as if we’re only meant to eat salad, fruit, and tuna, and never revel in the hugely enjoyable delight that comes with gastronomy. “Stay thin!” every media image shouts, “body fat is disgusting!” It’s as if I have choose: a great body, or fulfilling my appetite. How unfair.

Thus, it follows that a large part of my attraction to Nigella Lawson is her turning away from this guilt over all things food-related, and freely, sensuously celebrating indulgence in the acts of cooking and eating. I still sometimes think that, despite my truly admiring her bringing in a decidedly European approach, we’re too far too youth-and-skinny obsessed (especially in North America) to truly heed her message. She isn’t arguing for gluttony -but nor is she arguing for poe-faced self-denial. She’s arguing for rich, luscious womanhood, something I’m still not sure North America can wrap its size-0-youth-obsessed heads around.

And so it was that I found myself greedily spooning in mouthfuls of gorgeous, creamy, vegetable-laden pasta lastnight, amidst watching documentaries, writing future blogs, and organizing a myriad of projects. It hit the spot. I offer this handy stir-together recipe for all busy, harried women -and men -who want a good, nourishing meal after a long day. Pour yourself a glass of wine while you’re at it. Eat, and enjoy.

You’ll need:

roughly a handful of pasta (or two, if you want leftovers)
salt
olive oil
Noilly Prat (or other good white vermouth)
1/2 cup broccoli (baby is best)
1/2 red pepper
1/2 tomato (or 1 plum tomato)
1/4 red chili
a handful of spinach leaves
1/2 cup tomato sauce (passata, jarred, or creamy are all fine)
roughly 4 tbsp fresh-grated parmesan

Salt and boil water. Add pasta, stir, add more salt (I use coarse-cut sea salt, but use whatever you like).

As the pasta cooks, prep the vegetables. I’ve listed broccoli, red pepper, spinach, and chili, but you can also use carrot, zuccini, onion -whatever you have on-hand, but keep it varied, colourful, and flavourful.

Peel broccoli stems and discard the peels. Cut peeled stems on the diagonal in medium strips; judge florets accordingly. You want them to be bite-sized. Set aside. Roughly chop red pepper (again, keep pieces bite-sized -medium-ish, in other words). Set aside. Chop tomato and set aside. Wash and roughly dry spinach leaves. Remove stems. Chop roughly and set aside. Carefully slice chili pepper (it’s a good idea to wear gloves); if you don’t like things too spicy, discard the seeds. Set aside, making sure the chopped chilis don’t touch anything else.

Drain pasta once it’s cooked; 8-10 minutes should do the trick, depending on what type you use -I like penne or large shells for things involving sauces, but if you only have spaghetti or some other ribbon-like pasta, then leave out the tomato-based sauce (and indeed, chopped tomato) and go with butter and garlic instead.

Using the same pot you cooked the pasta in, heat up the olive oil. You’ll need just enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Turn down the heat to medium. Add chopped broccoli, and stir around to coat. Add a splash of Noilly Prat and clamp the lid on to steam lightly for 3-5 minutes. When broccoli is a bright green, add the red pepper and stir. The mixture might still be liquid -that’s okay. Add the chopped tomato and stir around. Clamp on the lid and allow to bubble merrily for about 2-3 minutes. Add the chilies and stir; let cook for about a minute.

Shake off excess water from the pasta and throw in, along with any tomato-based sauce you may be using. Stir. Add chopped spinach. Stir stir stir. The spinach might seem overwhelming for the pasta, but as it is heated with the rest of the mixture, it will quickly wilt down, leaving gorgeous green ribbons winding their way through the pot.

Gently grate the parmesan straight in. Stir gently and turn off the heat. I’ve given a measurement of 4 tbsp, but certainly, use as much (or as little) as you wish. You want the cheese essentially to draw things together. Grate more on top (if you wish) once it’s in your plate, in a mound of gorgeous tomato-y lusciousness.

Spoon in. Drink wine. Repeat.

And most of all: no guilt. You’re hungry. Period.

Visions of Sugar Plums

Yes, it’s Christmas Eve, and you probably won’t be slaving in your kitchen reading this. But think of this recipe as good reference for the future -or even Orthodox Christmas, coming up in early January.

Personally, I’ve always loved dried fruits: their pungent sweetness and gooey, ever-so dessicated texture I find intoxicating. And they’re healthy too. So once I came across a recipe that integrated them with other ingredients (nuts and booze, huzzah!), and transformed the lot into a bake-free, semi-healthy holiday option, my tastebuds started leaping.

The recipe below is based on Lucy Waverman’s entirely excellent recipe for sugar plums that appeared in an old issue of Food and Drink magazine. I experimented a little bit and found this combination, with dried cranberries and green cherries, gives just the right amount of sweetness; the colours also add a cheerful Christmas touch. The recipe makes enough for roughly 24 small sugar plums, or 18 medium-sized ones. I like to keep mine toytown-small (to borrow Nigella‘s adorable phrase) -it makes popping them into one’s mouth so entirely satisfying, and after a huge holiday meal, the last thing you want is a cumbersome, vulgar-sized treat. These are also insanely easy; they don’t require any baking, and are great for getting other, non-cooking types involved. The plums are also good for those who are wheat or sugar-sensitive. Oh, and they’re totally delicious. Enjoy.

You will need:

  • 1/4 (50 mL) halved pecans, toasted*
  • 8 dried figs
  • 8 dried dates
  • roughly 1/4 cup (50 mL) dried cranberries (you want about a handful)
  • roughly 1/4 cup (50 mL) dried green cherries
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) grated lemon rind
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) cherry brandy
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) runny honey
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • roughly 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut

* To toast pecans, pre-heat oven to 400F; spread pecans on a baking sheet, making sure they aren’t overlapping. When the oven is hot, throw the sheet in the oven for about 5 minutes -they’ll be giving off a luscious deep scent by then, so you know they’ll be done. Keep an eye out so they don’t burn! Remove promptly and shake the sheet around; leave them until you’re ready to use them.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Roughly chop the dates; place in a food processor with the sharp blade already on.
Cut the tough little nubs off the figs (their tops, that is), roughly chop them, then throw them in the processor too, along with the cranberries, cherries, and toasted pecans.

Blitz the processor on and off, so that you get a fine, crumb-like texture. The cherries and cranberries will be big green and red flecks. Add the grated lemon rind, cherry brandy, honey and cinnamon. Turn the processor on. It’ll take a bit of time to mix everything down to a paste and properly integrate the honey throughout the mixture. You’ll know it’s ready, however, when the mixture starts to come away from the edges of the bowl.

When mixed, scoop out a lusciously sticky portion using a teaspoon (or other small measuring tool). With wet hands, roll into a tiny little ball and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Continue, wetting hands and teaspoon (or whatever you’re using -I have a small bowl of water handy), forming little balls.

When you have 24 (or so), get started on coating them with the coconut.

Wash your hands and then spread the coconut in a decent layer across a large plate or other flat, lipped surface. Carefully roll sugar plums, one by one, in the coconut, and place back on the parchment.

Leave them to sit on the baking sheet about 10 minutes, just to make sure the coconut sets. Mind putting them away -they’re delicious little morsels, but they are also very delicate. Then again, isn’t every good thing at Christmas in need of a little TLC? I think that squarely includes all the talented people cooking Christmas dinner tomorrow…

From my home to yours, much joy, peace, and deep gratitude. I wish all of you a wonderful, wonderfully delicious holiday season, full of love, laughter, wine and song.

Give Us This Day

Since my little outage incident last week, I’ve resolved to step away from the screen more often -and make room for the things that are important to me. Many friends know that as well as being an arts maven, I’m also a foodie, and indeed, I have devoted several blogs to recipes and the joys of cooking -and eating. In all the years I’ve worked from home, I’ve come to regard proximity to my kitchen as something necessary to my regular work-a-day routine. Whenever I can’t seem to find the words or have a mental block around approaching or shaping a feature, I go down to my kitchen and make something. It helps to clarify, to calm, to soothe and to inspire.

I took a cooking day last week, purposely walking away from email checking and online activity for the sake of spending quality time around culinary texture, shape, temperature and taste. I made bread, I roasted a chicken; all felt right with the world. Making my own bread is one of the true, deep pleasures in life; the process of mixing, of kneading, of proofing, re-kneading, of seeing how the dough responds, a living thing, to pokes and prods and gentle massage, and then witnessing its eventual evolution from dusty, dissolute ingredients to pure, cohesive … thing… is miraculous. No wonder bread figures so prominently in some of the most important cultural stories -whether they be biblical, historical, or otherwise. The process, including the eating, is simply magical. My personal favourite of late is an oatmeal molasses bread, taken from the beautiful book From Earth To Table, by Jeff Crump and Bettina Schormann. I interviewed them both recently for a feature, and found the same abiding love of food -but more than that, a respect for journey, process, discovery.

Going forwards in my freelance journalism journey has yielded so many discoveries, and continues to. I suppose the best I can do is be patient and allow those lessons to present themselves. Walking away from the computer to bake -and then coming back to share the fruits of my labours (and then going back again) -feels like a good process, and a kind of balance I can live with.

Curious, Heavenly George


Molecular gastronomy, as a rule, doesn’t generally interest me. I’d love to go to El Bulli, yes, more for the experience of going, and engaging with food in a way that marries it in a very high-concept, some would argue unusual way, with the artistic aesthetic. I think the main reason it doesn’t interest me is that I can’t possibly replicate most of those kinds of recipes -fancy, fussy, daring -in my own kitchen. But then, why would I want to? Shouldn’t food -some food -be a kind of experience? Should it not possess a kind of inimitable special-ness? Is that not what makes certain restaurants so unique? Some of the best art should, after all, be removed. Just as I can’t replicate certain unusual dishes, nor can I write a symphony in the manner of Mozart, or paint a Picasso. And I don’t want to. I am happy to leave some things to experts.

These considerations were in the front of my mind coming away from an evening at George, a gorgeous, Zagat-rated restaurant in downtown Toronto. Having been invited by a friend who is a member at the adjoining (and quite frankly, awesomely inspiring) Verity Club, I was curious about the mix of old and new world cuisine that George seemed so renowned for. It may not be molecular gastronomy in the true sense, but it mixed flavours, textures, colours and shades in ways I hadn’t experienced -at least orally -before.

In lieu of the main menu, my companion and I opted for the 5-course tasting menu, each of us receiving one delectable -and different – treat after another. One of the appetizers was a salad and seafood affair, another wafer-thin layers of tender, flavoursome sirloin nestled in delicate tasty nests of fois gras. A lovely palate-cleanser of saffron-ginger sorbet acted as an intermission between the wondrously delicious arias. Main consisted of gorgeous, rich entrecotes of beef, cooked in that gentle, knowing way that produces blushing-pink pink that melted on the tongue. Dessert was a selection of goodies made from Meyer lemons (which my companion enjoyed thoroughly) and chili-chocolate cake (mine -and I confess to wanting another piece ever since), followed by a selection of cheese and fruit, simply, elegantly presented.

Lorenzo Loseto and his expert kitchen team lovingly create beautiful dishes that possess a kind of old-meets-new aesthetic; they marry old-world hearty flavours with new-world experimentation, adding in generous portions of clean, artistic presentation that is never fussy but rather, presents food as paintings, complete with colours, textures, shape and shadow, on the blank, smooth palette of white porcelain.

A meal at George was, easily, one of the most memorable experiences of my life, and I rate it as a true culinary destination for both visitors and inhabitants of Toronto. Comforting home-cooking it’s not -but nor should it be. Unique, special artistic… delicious. I think my culinary colour range just grew -and for that, I can only be deeply grateful.

Page 2 of 3

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén