Monday, March 30, 2009

An Ode to Jamie

Still away in Vancouver, yet somehow she still finds the time to keep Recipe Mondays going. What a dynamo that Amy is!
If you don't like beets, turn away. This recipe is a continuation of this recipe
Rather, let's call it a prequel. 
It's also kind of a tip of the hat to Jamie Oliver in that it's fast, earthy, honest and delicious. Here's what to do, mate.
Wash a bunch of fresh beets (a bunch is usually 3-4 medium sized) and their greens (aka the beet tops). Cut off the greens, slice and reserve. 
Slice the root end off of the beets and then wrap beets in foil. Put in a preheated 400 F oven for an hour to 1.5 hours or until done. 
Meanwhile, heat a drizzle of olive oil in a cast iron skillet (or other oven-proof pan, meaning no plastic handles to melt, etc.) 
Sear a few bone-in chicken legs and thighs with salt and pepper and Herbs de Provence. Remove seared chicken from skillet and set aside on a plate but keep heat on skillet. Add a knob of butter or more olive oil to skillet, stir in a big chunky chopped carrot and onion, and the sliced beet greens. Add a few glugs of dry white wine, more salt and pepper, and then lay the chicken over top and drizzle about 1/4 cup of good honey over all. 
Pop it in the oven with the still-roasting beets, uncovered, until juices run clear from the chicken -- about 35-40 minutes. 
And what of those beets? Click back up top to use them as the perfect starter.
While we're on the topic of Jamie, let's talk Britain. When I'm not tooting my own horn, I let other people do it for me
P.S. Whoever is the nicest to me has a shot of coming on my free trip to Merry Olde. 

Friday, March 27, 2009

Chocolate again

I know what you're thinking: Doesn't she ever stop talking about chocolate? 
Especially when I'm in Vancouver, as I am right now, and I cross the bridge into North Vancouver, and then I head to a harbourside industrial park and I enter into the slice of heaven that is Thomas Haas Chocolates. 
The tiny shoppe, currently full of chocolate bunnies driving chocolate roadsters and other Easter showpieces, freshly baked almond croissants and sandwiches, elegant desserts and lattes (and don't even get me started about his sublime hot chocolate), is packed all day long. Thomas tells me that repeat customers are at 90%. And that their numbers are up by almost 20%. 
And that's because this, my friends, is what you call an affordable luxury
For example, this photo contains just a sample of what I'll be eating later today.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Eat here

I was fresh off the plane, had jet lag, and wasn't planning on going anywhere fast. But then my friend Shinan emailed me with the subject heading "impromptu", and before I knew it we were having a late night dinner at the Black Hoof on Dundas Street. 
The restaurant was Shinan's suggestion, and was recently rated as one of food critic James Chatto's best new restaurants in Toronto.
As it turns out, I cannot imagine a better way to fight a five-hour time difference than through house made charcuterie, octopus salad, roasted bone marrow and red wine. 
And horse meat. Horse tartare, to be more specific. A first for both of us -- our waitress had twisted our arms so dramatically that we basically had no choice but to order it. She was just so passionate about this new menu item -- making its debut that night -- that we couldn't say no, even though I'm kind of past my food dares phase. 
Okay, save your finger wagging for someone who's listening: The tartare was as delicious as she had billed it: A somehow clean, lean meat, not gamey at all, like the purest, lightest beef you'll ever taste. 
It was the highlight of a great night at a wonderfully crammed boite, full of great food, good gossip and cheer, and owners who seem to really care. 

Monday, March 23, 2009

Fun with leftovers: Pizza bread pudding

This is the story of how I turned triangles into squares. 
It came to me in a dream (some people dream in vivid colour, I dream in food.) I was helping take care of the wee nephew and nieces at the cottage during March Break, and we had enjoyed a very successful "make your own pizza night" the previous eve. There was just one snag: The fresh dough made for a crust that was beyond thick, seemingly rising to the moon as it baked. So there were leftovers. Many leftovers. This troubled me. And then I went to sleep.
And that's when it came to me: Pizza Bread Pudding! The kids seemed indifferent to my grand scheme at first. Suspicious, even. Except for Emily: "I like pizza and I like bread pudding. So, yum," she surmised. That's all I needed to hear. I set to work and came up with this easy recipe.
(serves 6-8)
5-6 slices leftover puffy pizza slices, cut into small cubes
2 cups milk
1/4 cup olive oil
1 egg 
1 egg yolk
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup tomato sauce, warmed (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 
Oil an 8x8 inch baking dish.
In a large bowl, combine cubed pizza, milk, olive oil, eggs, and Parmesan (reserving 1 Tbsp for sprinkling on top). Stir well so that mixture is thick and very moist. It's okay if there's some excess milk pooling at the bottom, it'll get baked in. Pour into greased baking dish, sprinkle with a Tbsp of Parmesan, and bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes to an hour, or until nicely browned on top. Let cool slightly then slice into squares. Top with warm spaghetti sauce if you like.  

Friday, March 20, 2009

Lush life

Can you imagine living here? Amidst 130 acres of emerald green farmland? And just look at that mist: Can you imagine waking up to a creeping mountain mist? Mara Jernigan can. She's the chef who runs a culinary retreat and guesthouse here, at Fairburn Farm in Vancouver Island's Cowichan Valley, where cooking courses run throughout the year -- from "Winter Vegetables" to spring's "The Whole Lamb", but one of these days I'm going to try one of her culinary boot camps (the next ones are May 12 -17 and June 2-6, '09), which I caught a taste of a couple of years back. You do everything from gardening to butchering, pasta making to baking, with the remainder of the time dedicated to visiting local producers (from mushrooming to roasting coffee beans), and then, one would hope, eating. 
Green acres, here I come.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

This just in: Kit Kat Senses

Normally I wouldn't pick up a Kit Kat bar. It's just not my thing. Not enough chocolate, for one, and no peanuts or peanut butter, for two. If I want a milk chocolate fix, I'm all about the Snickers or Reese. And if, perchance, I'm not in a peanuty mood? Then I switch gears and go for plain milk chocolate, as in a Dairy Milk or an Aero bar.
But I digress.
Because today I'm talking about the newish Kit Kat Senses bar -- a slim finger of crispy wafer topped with a creamy hazelnut praline, surrounded by milk chocolate -- because I was sent a sample, and it's not like I'm going to let perfectly good chocolate go to waste. 
The Senses bar is a nice light snack at just 31 grams and 170 calories. I like it, but I don't love it. Some people most definitely will. 
Along with the wee bar came some press material that perked my interest: Did you know that Kit Kats come in all sorts of flavours that play on regional taste differences in dozens of countries? Most are limited edition bars, such as the strawberry, orange, lemon and cinnamon flavoured Kit Kats that hit Canadian shores not so long ago. In Australia you can enjoy Kit Kat Cookie Dough (though I would have called it Kookie dough) and in the UK they've got Kit Kat Tiramisu. 
In Japan, the land of crazy snack food flavours, they've got Kit Kat Kiwifruit and Kit Kat Soy Sauce, but all Kit Kat bars are hugely popular there, due to the candy bar's name and its similarity to the phrase "kitto katsu", which in Japanese translates to: "You will surely win." 

Monday, March 16, 2009

Spicy cheese straws

I thought these up after enjoying some of Harbord Bakery's kick-ass cheese straws, which these, by the way, taste nothing like. Which is a shame because Harbord's rendition probably ranks as one of my top 1o foods in Toronto (their Jewish cheese danishes rank right up there too.) That said, my version is still very good.
As usual, I've made things easy for you: Store bought puff pastry (if you can buy the real butter stuff from a good bakery these will turn out 1000 times tastier), a squirt of anchovy paste and a sprinkling of Parmesan. Then just twist and bake. 
Think of these as homegrown gourmet crackers: They will pump up your soup. They will elevate your status on the dinner party circuit. But they will not remain crunchy for long, so eat them the day you make them.
(makes about 16)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp cold water
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp anchovy paste
1 tsp chili flakes
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 pkg frozen  puff pastry, thawed
1 Tbsp sesame or poppyseeds (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
In a small bowl, mix egg and water together (this is called an egg wash). Set aside. In another small bowl, combine Parmesan, anchovy paste and chili flakes. Work the mixture together with the back of a spoon. Set aside.
On a floured surface (using the 1/4 cup or so of flour mentioned above), roll puff pastry out to a large (approx. 14 x 10 inch) rectangle. Brush with egg wash then cut in half lengthwise. Sprinkle the Parm mixture evenly over one half of the pastry leaving a 1/4 inch border on each edge. Then top the cheese mixture half with the other half of the puff pastry, egg washed-side down. Cut in half widthwise and roll lightly with your rolling pin to seal both sets of sides together. 
Using a knife, slice 1/2-inch strips lengthwise. Then, holding one end of the strip, slowly twist the other side several times. Lay twists on a greased baking sheet, 1-2 inches apart, repeating the process until all the twists are done (you'll have to do two shifts in the oven). Brush lightly with egg wash and sprinkle with (optional) seeds. Bake in preheated 400 F oven for 12 minutes or until golden brown. (Not as difficult as it sounds.)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Just another day in Norway

My work takes me to all sorts of places where I get to do a lot of incredible things, and going on a so-called King Crab Safari in the frozen Barents Sea last week has got to be one of my all-time favourites. I'm not going to give too much away because I'm writing a story about it for enRoute, but I will explain the photo: I'm the one in the bright orange survival suit, crawling onto the ice. And those smaller crustaceans in the picture? Their name is lunch. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

This just in: The Pizzapartment

I remembered reading about this gizmo when I returned home last night with a few tasty slices of leftover wild mushroom pizza from Pizzeria Libretto. The Pizzapartment would have come in handy. Says the press release: "A leftover pizza box can take up tons of room in the refrigerator. Now there's a fun and functional new way to store the remaining slices. The two-slice Pizzapartment conveniently holds the leftover pizza. It's microwave, dishwasher, and freezer safe as well. Now you don't have to deal with the big box in the refrigerator or slices that are sticking together."
Certainly, taking the leftovers from the pizza box, fanning them out on a dinner plate and covering them with plastic wrap will also get the job done. But then it wouldn't be called the Pizzapartment

In other news, I'm off to Norway this evening on a Northern Lights barge cruise through the fjords. I might post a couple of times while I'm gone, but probably not. In the meantime I'm giving you homework. I'd like you to take a minute and post some comments (don't email me because I'm already fairly certain my inbox will be filled and bouncing by day 3) about what you'd like to see more of on The National Nosh. 
Do you like restaurant reviews, product reviews, daily snacks and odd foodie news bits? Do Recipe Mondays make your day? Is there something you'd like to know how to make? Suggestions are encouraged. And comment anonymously if you're shy. 
Help me help you.
And have a great 10 days!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Potato & pea prozac

First, there's the obviously winning colour combination. Then, there's the textural contrast of pert pops against creamy earthy smoothness. Both do well with a bit of salt and butter, and they're a magical side dish duo, complimenting everything from grilled ribeyes to chicken piccata. 
I usually buy the small bags of young frozen peas -- they seem sweeter than the big bags. And as for those mashed taters, I'm not inventing the wheel. This is a basic recipe for those of you who have never made mashed potatoes before but would like to try, and a cheesy twist to keep things interesting for those who have. 
I don't play favourites here.
(serves 4)
6 large Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
3/4 cup sharp cheddar, grated
1/4 cup warm milk
salt and pepper to taste
Place prepped potatoes in a medium sized pot full of cold water. Make sure the water completely covers the potatoes. Bring to a boil, lower heat to medium-low and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until a fork glides through them. Drain in a colander, and then put them back in the pot and mash with a wooden spoon or potato masher if you have one. Stir in butter until it melts, than add the cheese, milk, salt and pepper. Give it a big stir and have a taste. Adjust seasoning if need be, then heat on low for 2 minutes. Serve with hot peas.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Eat here

It may have been the perfect Saturday night -- Paul Blart: Mall Cop, followed by a late night snack at Chipotle. I kid; the movie was a 6/10 at best. (But honestly, what were we expecting?)
It was my soft tacos that made the night. 
For our American friends, Chipotle is nothing new. But for me, this smarter than your average bear Mexican grille is brand new to Toronto, and puts other fast food spots to shame. Taco Bell might as well sit in a corner wearing a dunce cap for the next decade as far as I'm concerned. 
Here's why: Chipotle's menu is simple, and because of that the staff moves like a minor league baseball team. They've got the skills, the energy, and they're in it to win it. 
Next, the price. Everything costs $7.50. Done.
Finally, the menu: Your choices are Burrito, Fajita Burrito, Burrito Bowl, Tacos or Salad. That's it. These may be filled with your choice of naturally raised meats like marinated grilled chicken, just as flavourful grilled steak, pork that's been seared then braised, braised shredded beef, and the vegetarian, which believe you me is no afterthought. 
Then they load them up with fresh toppings, including a selection of house-made salsas, guac, sharp cheese and pert lettuce, and then you can either continue along on your merry way, or take a seat and dig into your 5-napkin dinner. I'd suggest the latter. 
Hey, I just realized something. Even mediocre movies have a silver lining.