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On a wee hiatus…

6 Jan

Happy New Year, one and all! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season, ate well and spent time with those for whom you care!

I haven’t had much of a chance to post anything recently as our holidays were very eventful: the birth of the wee foodNURDling, Jackson! Born just a few days before Christmas, J and I are totally smitten with our little man but he keeps us very busy. As a result, not much posting has happened on foodNURD. Thanks to our wonderful family and friends, we have at least been eating well! Our families brought Christmas dinner to us (bacon-wrapped water chestnuts, smoked salmon, turkey, stuffing, Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, rice & beans, cranberries, salad and trifle) and friends have come by with tons of food over the last couple of weeks (pizza, Indian food, fish & chips, donuts, Chinese food, bagels, roast beef…), so we are definitely covered on the food front. (And all that time spent in the kitchen before foodNURDling was born has been put to good use: muffins and stew in the freezer have been awfully handy!) Now if we could just catch up on the sleep front…

I will most certainly return to posting as soon as I can. In the meantime, I wish you all nothing but the best and I shall return soon!

The foodNURDling

Drinking for Two

30 Jul

The “before” picture.

There have been a whole lot of changes going on in foodNURDland, not the least of which is the ever-closer arrival of the foodNURDling in December. As someone who loves food – and many, many of the alcoholic beverages under the sun – this has required some alterations in my normal routine. It was not easy to give up some of the foods and drinks I love. Prosciutto, wine, raw fish, tiramisu, beef (steak, at least. I am a firm believer that beef should not be cooked to more medium rare at most, so that’s pretty much out, too) and beer. While I’ve chosen to have a little bit of wine here, some beer there, I’m obviously no longer unwinding after a long day with a glass – or two or three – of cab sauv.

And what’s a wine-loving woman to do when she goes out with friends for dinner and can’t face another ginger ale or glass of water? She asks the bartender to get creative.

The easy option is a virgin mojito. All the bartender has to do is remove the rum et voila: drink. In my experience, though, virgin mojitos are far, far too sweet. J makes a much better version than any I’ve had at a restaurant: it’s nowhere near as sweet. My girlfriend, the Hot Biscuit, doesn’t drink much and her tasty stand-by is a mix of cranberry, orange juice and 7-Up. It’s definitely sweet, but the cranberry juice’s tartness helps.

When I was out at Murphy’s Law over the July long weekend, I asked the waitress what she could recommend that was,  “non-alcoholic but looks like it could get me tanked.” She thought about it for a moment and then suggested a virgin pina colada. Given that pina coladas generally don’t taste like alcohol anyway, this seemed like a pretty solid option though certainly one I’d think of off the top of my head. (Pina coladas = beach resort drink.)

…and after.

The most entertaining drink I’ve had so far? A Shirley Temple, made for me at Salvador Darling. The bartender seemed a little stumped initially, so I suggested she just throw some orange and cranberry juice in a glass. Seconds later, it was like a light bulb went off over her head: “I can make you a Shirley Temple!” Awesome. I haven’t had a Shirley Temple since I was ten. I was asked repeatedly if it tasted like I remembered and it pretty much did: sweet, a little fizzy and…sweet.

The best drink so far? That was created one night while I sat at the bar at The Grove. I was a few minutes early for my reservation, so I hopped up on a stool and presented the bartender with my now-standard request. As usual, there was a moment’s pause while he got over the shock of someone not wanting alcohol and then started processing the quandary. “Well, I’ve been experimenting with ginger lately…do you like ginger?” Oh, I do. “So long as there are no olives involved, I’m in!”

A tall, frosty glass of tastiness arrived in front of me a few minutes later. Filled with ice, mint, ginger, homemade lemonade and a couple of other delicious ingredients, this was pretty much my perfect (non-alcoholic) drink. It was refreshing, not overly sweet, and complex. I’m hoping to be as pleasantly surprised elsewhere as I was that evening but so far, still searching.

Anyone have any suggestions for a great drink or bar?

Rich, Tangy BBQ Sauce

23 Apr

I’ve gotten pretty proficient at making pulled pork and I happen to like mine on the saucy side. I have two default recipes that I tend to use: one has a tomato-based, Mexican-flavoured sauce with onions, garlic, jalapenos and spices; the other is marinated in a spice rub over night and cooked in the slow cooker with a little water and some liquid smoke. Since I’m making the pulled pork myself, I thought I ought to make some BBQ sauce, too! I had molasses in the fridge and figured that’d be a good place to start! This recipe makes more than enough for a 3lb pork shoulder and would also be great on ribs!

Ingredients

1/2 c  molasses
1 1/2 c brewed coffee
1/2 c Dijon mustard
2/3 c ketchup
1/4 c soy sauce
2 tb Worcestershire
2 tb hot sauce
2 tb brown sugar, if necessary

Directions

1. Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
2. Allow the sauce to simmer for 30 minutes, reducing by about half. You may want to help the mustard dissolve in the sauce by pushing the small clumps that may form up against the sides of the pan.
3. Taste and season as necessary. Add more hot sauce if you like it hotter, the brown sugar if you like it sweeter, etc.

Those Less-Than-Perfect Moments in the Kitchen

11 Jan

Anyone who has spent any amount of time in the kitchen has had those moments: the ones that, in hindsight, were entirely preventable if you’d just taken the time to think before you acted. (Mom told you so!) These episodes could be anything from the mundane to extraordinary. Maybe you forgot to check to see if you had all your ingredients before you started or maybe you leaned over your gas stove a little too far and found yourself quite literally hot under the collar.

My top three “What was I thinking?!” moments are, in order:

3. Many moons ago when all I made was spaghetti and sauce out of the jar, I put a large pot of water on the stove to boil. I got out my spaghetti, put it on the counter, then went to answer my ringing, cordless phone. It turned out to be an old high school friend to whom I had not spoken in quite some time. I put the lid on the pot, left the kitchen and went to my room…where I remained for the duration of the call, a good hour or more. As I hung up, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d forgotten something, something important. I then registered a faint burning smell. “What could that be?” I asked myself. “Oh, SH*T!” I swore as I leapt from my chair, threw the door open and tore into the kitchen. I ripped the lid off the pot to find it entirely empty and incredibly hot but surprisingly unscathed.  The only damage done was to the sticker that I’d forgotten to remove from the lid. I had that pot for many years after the Great Evaporation Incident  and every time I looked at the lid, I was reminded of the importance of staying focused on the job at hand.

2. Not terribly long ago, I decided I was going to make my Asian pasta recipe. (Two pasta-related SNAFUs? Maybe I should look into this trend a little further.)  This requires you to use two burners: one to quickly sauté the vegetables and another to boil the water for the pasta. While all this is happening, you mix up the peanut butter-based sauce and have it ready to go when you incorporate the hot ingredients. I have made this particular recipe a zillion times and could probably do it with my eyes closed. Or so I thought anyway. We have a series of blue plastic mixing bowls that have always served us well. Everything from soup to salad to baking mixes to chips have gone into these bowls. I always use the smallest one to make this sauce as it’s the perfect size: just big enough for me to be able to whisk the sauce so that it’s completely smooth.

Anyway, my pasta was done so I turned off the burner, removed the pot, drained the pasta and then combined the veggies and pasta on the front burner. I reached for my sauce, used the spatula to get it out, and then put the plastic bowl down on the burner I’d been using to boil the water. No more than 20 seconds later, I realized my mistake and removed the bowl. It didn’t look like it had any major damage, which was a relief (I once melted the bottom of a measuring cup, so it was hardly unheard of).  What insane synapses fired next will forever be a mystery to me. I then touched the bottom of the bowl to see if it was hot.

It was.

I spun, tossed the bowl into the sink and doused my finger under a steady stream of cold water. I stared at my finger in sheer amazement. Of course the bowl was going to be hot. It was plastic. It sat on a burner for a reasonable length of time.  Not my most bright and shining moment. In my head, I thanked my mother-in-law for recommending we keep the Ozonol in the kitchen as I dabbed it on my throbbing finger.

On the bright side, the meal was delicious.

1. This one happened just last week and inspired this blog post.

My mom bought J a fantastic new wok to replace the cheap-o one we’d been using.  I hadn’t used it yet but came across a recipe for stir-fried beef that specifically required a wok and for the heat to be turned up to the maximum level. I’ve always been a bit afraid of getting pan really, really hot but it’s the best way to get a good sear on the meat.

I’d planned to serve the meat and accompanying vegetables on a bed of rice noodles. I got my water going and simultaneously got the oil in the wok literally smoking hot. In went the beef where it was left to develop a crust for a couple of minutes. Next, I tossed the rice noodles into the now-boiling water.

Now, I know enough to not use a metal spoon or spatula on my wok, so I had my trusty wooden spoon on hand when I thought, “Hmm. I should I should stir those noodles.” So I stuck my wooden spoon (oh, I think I’m so clever to have thought of this) into the pasta water, swirled the noodles around and then thought, “Oh, time to flip the beef over!”

In case any of you have forgotten your high school chemistry, water + searing hot oil = hundreds of teeny oil splashes on your person. Had I just stopped and thought about it for a fraction of a second, I’m fairly confident that it would have occurred to me that I was about to make one of the dumber, more painful mistakes I could make and would thus have avoided it.

To my chemistry teacher, Ms. Epstein, if by chance you happen to be reading this, you taught me better than that. I swear.

So those are my top three “WTF was I thinking??!” moments in the kitchen. I’d love to hear yours!

Hangover Faves

12 Nov

It’s Sunday morning at 11am. You are torn between lying in bed all day or lying on the couch all day. Your head hurts, your mouth is dry, you’re pretty sure you can hear your liver say, “you’ve gotta be kidding me, dude. What were you thinking?” That’s right: you are undeniably hungover. After popping some painkillers to quell the raging jackhammering in your brain, it eventually occurs to you that food might be a good idea, despite some protest from your stomach. “Be quiet, Stomach. This is for the best, I promise.” You stumble out to the living room and ponder that age old question: what will make you stop feeling so hideous?

Most people’s options seem to fall into two groups: greasy or spicy.  Both groups swear by their choices and I’ve tried both. The eggs/bacon combo is something I like on a morning when I’m feeling good, NOT when I’m hungover. Inevitably, I feel much, much worse. Far from giving me the energy to get through the day, this combo makes me want to crawl back into bed and hope the world forgets about me til I feel better. I would much rather go for the spicy option, very popular in Latin America. (Menudo, anyone?)  A spicy soup or noodle dish is delicious just about anytime as far as I’m concerned; however, when my stomach is sensitive anyway, I’m steering clear.

Personally, my favourite post-imbibing meal is plain toast with a salt-and-peppered avocado. The toast absorbs some of the alcohol left in your system and the avocado is substantial enough that you’re full without that gross, “ohmigod what did I just do?” feeling. Satisfying without being heavy, this little meal is a great option for anyone who can’t fathom the thought of having the greasy or spicy breakfast options. Accompanied by a very large glass of water and a couple of coffees, this always sets me right. I may not move off the couch the rest of the day, but at least that’s due to lethargy and not extreme pain.

What about you? Drop me a note and let me know what you reach for after a night of (over) indulgence!

How Much Could I *Possibly* Eat at the Delicious Food Show?

24 Oct

So, it wasn’t the Toronto Underground Market that I checked out this Saturday, but the Delicious Food Show which I won tickets to back in September.  Since I’d been to TUM last month, I figured it would be okay to miss one in favour of something a little different. While it didn’t have that same, fun, camaraderie-inducing spirit, it was still an interesting show that featured a lot of higher end food and products.

Our first stop was to Cosmo’s Smoked Meats Ltd., who’s fantastic array of meat and cheese was staggering – and attracted quite a crowd. After sampling several yummy kielbasas and various cheeses, we walked away with a rich 4-year old cheddar and a 3-pack of hot sausages. Can’t wait to dive into those tout de suite!

Giant brick of cheese & sausages? Yes, please!

Continuing on our meanderings, we came across the fine folks who were giving out sumptuous veal meatballs stuffed with chevre. Oh, my. Next to them was the vendor we affectionately referred to as, “the goat cheese lady.” She had several kinds of cheese to sample, but we couldn’t say no to the triple cream goat’s milk brie. Served in a little condiment cup, this cheese was the epitome of luxury. Soft, creamy, just slightly tangy, it’s a good thing they didn’t have more – and that there was an impressive barrier between me and the rest of that cheese. I would  have done bad things to get more.

Rounding the corner, we found a Rodney’s outpost! There is a special place in my heart for Rodney’s oysters as they were the first I ever had. We bought half a dozen to split between the two of us and happily slurped up the briny treats. The sweet seafood sauce was particularly good on them (I’m not a big Tobasco fan) and we were very happy to see Marie Sharp’s hot sauce on the table. Not only is it our favourite brand of hot sauce on the planet, it’s from Belize! (My husband’s family is from Belize and we just took our first trip there together last year. We loved it so much that we’re returning this winter.)

Marie Sharp's Hot Sauce

Oysters downed, we tried a few other hot sauce booths but weren’t terrifically blown away by any. Then, lo and behold, we found the Marie Sharp’s booth! We already have several at home, but they were featuring some new flavours that were on the sweeter side…and then the insanely hot side. We chatted with the lovely folks for a while and, naturally, the lady who imports the sauce knows my husband’s family. Small country, small world. (Awesome hot sauce.)

And with what does one follow up oysters and hot sauce samples? Why, Belgian waffles of course! For my money, the Belgian waffle from The Wafflebar was the best thing I ate all night. Hot and fluffy on the inside and a little bit crispy on the outside, this thing was pure evil in the best way possible. Drizzled with caramel AND chocolate sauce and topped off with a dollop of whipped cream, the hubby and I were no doubt a site to see eating these things while attempting not to look like three-year olds. Whether or not that mission was accomplished, the waffles were wonderful and I highly recommend that you seek these fine wafflemakers out.

We also stopped by The Nutty Chocolatier and I sampled the red velvet fudge. I gather this is a new addition to their already large array of products and I suspect it will be very, very successful. I may just pop down to the one in the Beaches and buy out their entire supply.

“Okay…I think we’ve had enough samples,” I said. “Yeah, maybe you’re right.” That was the conversation we had four minutes before happening upon Hank Daddy’s BBQ booth. Oh, hello. While we opted not to have the pulled pork parfait – though there was temptation -we did get the pulled pork sandwich and a smoked sausage with sauteed onions and mustard. You know you’re getting a good sausage in a bun when it snaps when you bite into it. Really, really good.

“Okay, now we’re REALLY done. Let’s go wash our hands and head out.” Oh, but wait! Bunner’s bakery is giving away free cupcakes? Well, let’s not be silly. We definitely need one of those. I generally find vegan and gluten-free products pretty lacking in..um…everything, but I must say that these cupcakes were pretty damn good. We both had the red velvet and chocolate variety and not a crumb was left.

I was impressed by the variety of products – food and otherwise – that were available at the Delicious Food Show. I don’t know that Liberty Grand needed to have such a clubby presence, though. The music wasn’t bad but I often found that it was in competition with other vendors and it felt a little…out of place to me. Overall, though, I’m glad I went and tried just about every food under the sun.

Recipe Recount

14 Oct

I came across a list of “food resolutions” while flipping through a notebook during a meeting (don’t judge – I was mostly paying attention). I had a look at the list and, amazingly, I’ve actually checked off a lot of them!

I wanted to learn to make mussels – I made two kinds! There was definitely some trepidation on my part as it had been ingrained inot me that it is not hard to poison someone accidentally by serving them bad shellfish. So I made sure that I tossed any mussels I thought might, maybe, potentially be open. I scrubbed them til they shone, then inspected every cooked mussel to ensure they had opened fully after cooking. I had been reassured by a friend who’d made them many times that making mussels was easy and inexpensive (not to mention the delicious results) and she was 100% right.

So, mussels: check. Next up: a new fish dish each month. I haven’t been keeping close track of this, but I did learn a cod dish and several new tilapia and salmon dishes.  Of all of these, I think the salmon baked in foil with a tomato and shallot dressing was my favourite. It had a slew of bright flavours that complimented the rich salmon – and it was absurdly easy to make.  Great for a dinner party and would be especially good for impressing the in-laws.

Getting off the seafood track, I wanted to learn to make quinoa. I had tried before and it came out….crunchy and kind off-tasting. Then along came a girlfriend who made this  fabulous quinoa dish. One bite and I was hooked, knowing I’d have to make it myself. And I did. Two days later. I’m still tooling around with other recipes as this grain needs more spicing and flavouring than something like rice. If you use a teaspoon of salt for rice, you’d probably want about twice that for quinoa.

Last on this resolution list is barbeque sauce. I made one that I loved about a month ago and will undoubtedly take another few runs at it to perfect it. I saw one posted yesterday, however, that looks so good it’s been bumped to the top of my list. Peach jalapeno barbeque sauce? Ummm, yes please.

I’m also baking more than I have before, as evidenced by the cookie and whoopie pie recipes that have shown up here lately…and by the tightening of my pants.  I’ve still got to tackle lamb (figuratively, of course…) and am always looking for great vegetarian recipes. I spent a lovely afternoon with an even lovelier friend drinking wine and ransacking her vegetarian cookbook collection. I found all sorts of goodies that the hubby and I will test out on our Meatless Mondays.

So what remains on this list? For one, brisket. I love using my slow cooker and brisket would cook beautifully in it. Anyone out there have a great brisket recipe that I need to try?

I’m also interested in family recipes. I’ve got my mom’s famous dessert in my little blue book ready to make (though I’m sure I’ll never be able to make it exactly like she does)  and my mother-in-law’s chocolate chip cookie recipe.  What I’m most excited about, though, is a good friend’s offer to show me how to make his Serbian mother and grandmother’s recipes for chicken paprikash and perogies. Drool.

If you’ve got anything you think I should make, please let me know! I’ll add it to the ever-expanding list!

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