Thursday, December 31, 2009

The top 25 things I ate this year

This is by no means a definitive list, but merely a tip of the hat to some of the great things that people cooked for me (or I cooked myself), all leading to my favourite food memories of the year. Here they are, in no particular order.

1. The 'za at Diana’s Gourmet Pizzeria. And she just came out with a pizza cookbook.

2. I think this recipe helped score me the book deal for my culinary work of fiction (watch for it in spring 2011.) My editor loves kale. (Hi Jane!)

3. S’mores over a pit fire on an ancient beachhead as we watched polar bears snoozing along the shores of Hudson Bay. (Thought the locale probably had more to do with this winning taste sensation than the s'mores themselves.)

4. Jeff Crump’s Picasso-like composed salad at an event put on by the good people at the Good Food Revolution.

5. The Indian feast I made with the lovely Swaran and Rimple Sumer at their Vancouver home.

6. Sure, they’re all about grilled pickled elk tongue and fried headcheese, but the chocolate pudding at Murray Street restaurant was the best I’ve ever had. (The only thing missing was a delectable pudding scum.)

7. Can't forget the Dou Su cod, a Formosa Island specialty, at Vogue Chinese Cuisine in Richmond, B.C.: Steamed cod encased in a thick crust of soybeans that have been deep-fried and ground so that they resemble sand and taste like the delicious crap stuck to the bottom of a frying pan.

8. An oyster Po’ Boy at Grand Central Oyster Bar. Love the subterranean room. And the old school service. Loved the oysters. Love New York.

9. Eating champagne macarons at Luxemburgerli in Zurich made me feel like Marie Antoinette.

10. The delicious passed hors d’oeuvres at my al fresco birthday party at Ezra’s Pound – and the Dufflet Chocolate Banana Fudge birthday cake to complete the fete.

11. Crisp and flavourful duck fat frites at Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak in Scottsdale are served with three dipping sauces. But the best part? They’re free.

12. I’m not usually a quiche fan, but I was meeting the gang for brunch at Coquine, didn’t want an omelet, so ordered what turned out to be the most ethereal example of mushroom quiche, ever.

13. The perfect example of poutine, in Quebec City

14. Crisp duck salad at Nota Bene.

15. I am addicted to Tom Thai’s cooking. That’s all there is to it. Case closed.

16. I want to live at the Oyster Bar at Shaw’s Crab House in Chicago.

17. My beginner’s luck foray into the mysterious world of smoked brisket.

18. Even better was the word on every deli lover’s lips this year: Caplansky’s. Sure, most go on about the smoked meat, but don’t forget about the chopped liver. (What is it, chopped liver? Heh.)

19. Ceci!

20. Union’s juicy, fatty, honest, earthy, cote de boeuf and Swiss chard.

21. From-the-water sweet king crab legs in Norway.

22. Our Lobsterlicous meal at Scaramouche was so good we’ll be going back for seconds in January.

23. Just about everything I ate in Mexico City, but especially here.

24. Sticky French Toast with Candied Rice Krispies.

25. And let’s not forget: A classic is always timely.

Happy continued cooking, and eating, and here’s to a great 2010 for one and all.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Sweet Potato Spaetzle

The night I made these chewy German noodles I served them with roast leg of lamb and the meal was a knockout. Das schmeckt! But then the next day I fried the leftovers in a pan with a bit of browned butter and Parmesan until they got a little crispy and they were even better. I’m thinking that the next time I make them I may even toss them with roasted brussels sprouts and some toasted pecans.

Because the thing about these spaetzle is that they’re as versatile as a circle scarf.

Sweet Potato Spaetzle

(serves 6-8)


2 large sweet potatoes, peeled

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp salt

¾ cup water

1 tbsp olive oil

½ tsp grated nutmeg

½ tsp dried sage

5 cups flour

1 tsp salt

½ tsp fresh ground black pepper

5 eggs

1 tbsp oil


Peel the sweet potatoes, cut into large pieces and put in a pot of cold water. Bring to a boil, add 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp sugar then lower temperature to medium and continue simmering for 20 minutes or until sweet potatoes are soft. Drain in colander, let them cool then mash in a bowl.

In an electric mixer with the dough paddle attachment on low speed, combine the mashed sweet potatoes with water and 1 tbsp oil, then add the flour, one cup at a time, plus salt and pepper. Once flour is mixed in, add the eggs one at a time, then once all in, knead in the mixer for 10 minutes, then refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Put a pot of salted boiling water on to boil. If you don’t have a spaetzle press (I don’t), use a spoon and your finger and drop in ropey pieces of spaetzle. When the noodles float to the surface, they’re done. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a bowl and toss with a bit of olive oil.

(I adapted this from the recipe for Olaf Mertens' beet spaetzle in “Olaf’s Kitchen")

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Top 13 things I learned this year

Let me clarify. These are the top food trends I wrote about this year. A couple are definite head-scratchers one is more interesting than it is tasty, but most are downright delicious.

Simply hit the links and enjoy.

1. More than just chocolate-covered bacon: Meat as dessert.

2. A proud personal moment: The Utne reader blogged about my story on the Predatory Foodie. Me! In Utne!

3. Is eco-friendly farmed salmon too good to be true? I looked behind the label and was more confused than a virgin on prom night.

4. This story is about all the places that let us mix crap we like into our food (a.k.a. bespoke desserts), specifically, a new cookie shop called Sweet Flour Bake Shop.

5. Chick-friendly wine labels are the equivalent of breaking a fingernail. (It ain’t pretty.)

6. The food in Iceland is both disturbing and disturbingly delicious.

7. Toronto has great food too.

8. Meanwhile, the best food in Vancouver may just be in the suburbs.

9. A secret charcuterie web site.

10. Hummus: Now, more than ever.

11. Turkey for the holidays? That’s so 2008. Try this instead.

12. Recessionary times call for recessionary dining.

13. If there’s an apocalypse and some of us survive, we’ll be okay. Because cooking outside is so damned tasty.

Monday, December 21, 2009

You know you want them

One bowl, one spoon, a cookie sheet and an oven. Then all that’s needed is good upper body strength and the will to make warm, delicious cookies.

Over the years I’ve tried them all, from soft and chewy to hard and tooth-cracky. Stuffed, cut, rolled or dropped. Long, straight, curly, fuzzy, snaggy, shaggy, ratty, matty; oily, greasy, fleecy, shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen. Knotted, polka-dotted. Twisted, beaded, braided. Powdered, flowered, and confettied, bangled, tangled, spangled, and spaghettied!

Oh, wait. Those are the lyrics to Hair.

Anyway, even through baking dozens and dozens of cookies, 95% of the time they were chocolate chip. Because that’s what people want (except for at Christmastime when it’s suddenly anything but chocolate chip. Not sure why.)

This is the most famous chocolate cookie recipe around and I’ve got no business changing it, so I didn’t. But it does call for a cup of nuts, which I ditched when I made them, and I cut back on the salt too, because that’s how I roll.

But here’s the original recipe. And by original, I mean original. Ruth Wakefield, the owner of the Tollhouse Inn, created the recipe for chocolate chip cookies in the 1930s. And in my estimation, it’s still the best chocolate chip cookie recipe out there. No matter what the New York Times says.

Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks, 1/2 pound) butter, softened

3/4 cup granulated [white] sugar

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 eggs

2 cups (1 package) NESTLE TOLL HOUSE Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels

1 cup chopped nuts

COMBINE flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla in large mixer bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition; gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and nuts. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

BAKE in preheated 375-degree [Fahrenheit] oven for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Let stand for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

This just in: Secret Santa Alert!

I wrote about the new Sexy Gourmet Food Inc. in my Dish column a while back: This winning line of spice blends, created by a group of Toronto-based friends, is like the Mrs. Dash for the hot pants set. The set of spice blends, in essence, take the guesswork out of mimicking various cultures’ indigenous spicing and include Italian, Indian, and 5 Spice, among others. They’re all mixed together with some flakey crystal salt, making for a nice finishing touch -- or a handy slap on the ass for your wintry braised dishes.

The burgeoning company seems to be doing well. So much so that now they’ve come up with some sweet-as-sugar packaging for their latest line, called Sexy Sweets. These chocolate covered Pretzel Nuggitz (sic), hit all the crunchy, salty and chocolate notes in four bite-sized flavours that are mixed together in the box: Crantastic Dark Chocolate, Tastee Toffee Dark Chocolate, Smarty Pants Milk Chocolate and Prisma-Dreamz White Chocolate.

And while I’m not sure what some of those words mean, I can tell you that these wee boxes would fit perfectly into a Christmas stocking, and that they retail for about $10.99 for the small size.

Psst: Also great for Chanukah.

Monday, December 14, 2009

More easy meat

Since my landmark brisket stew recipe was so popular (I received 20-plus emails from successful brisket stew cooks) and since weather like this calls for ribs like these, here's another easy beef dish.

You’ll love these oven-roasted ribs. Which is to say, you’ll love them if the gob-smacking aroma wafting through the house for two-plus hours doesn’t kill you before you can eat them.

Miami Ribs

(serves 6)


2 tbsp vegetable oil

3 lbs thick cut beef short ribs (a.k.a. Miami ribs)

½ cup brown sugar

½ cup soy sauce

½ cup water

1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp mustard powder

3 garlic cloves, minced

fresh cracked black pepper


Preheat over to 350 degrees.

In a large frying pan, heat oil, then brown ribs on both sides. Transfer to a large foil-lined baking dish.

In a bowl, combine remaining ingredients, stir until sugar dissolves, then pour over ribs and move them around until evenly coated.

Cover pan with foil and cook for 2 hours. Remove cover and cook for about 20 minutes more, or until browned and tender.

I like to serve them with some sort of starch (rice, potatoes) and quickly steamed spinach.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bagels and Cream Cheese in Paradise

There’s no denying that with the holiday decorations up, latkes in the frying pan, local parks being flooded for skating rinks, and Leon’s circa 1989 “Ho Ho Hold the Payments” commercials back for their annual rotation, winter is in the air.

And to many Canadians, nothing says winter more than Florida. So, as a bit of a departure from the norm here at the National Nosh, I present one of my favourite stories that I’ve written. (Is it gross to say that? Am I allowed to admit that?)

Herewith, a taste of the good life in Fort Lauderdale.

The Early Bird Gets the Flanken

By Amy Rosen, enRoute magazine

“I don’t know…the coffee makes me jittery.”

“Put water in it.”

“I don’t know…”

“Try it. Just put water in it.”

“Why doesn’t she try the decaf?”

“I don’t like it.”

“Then try the water.”

Overheard at Flakowitz in Boynton Beach, Florida.

They’re popular and they’re cheap. So why are Early Bird Specials only frequented by retirees of a certain age? Isn’t this something we should all take advantage of now instead of waiting a few decades? This is my thinking as I enter Pomperdale New York Style Deli in Fort Lauderdale.

I’ve officially begun my research into Early Birds – cut-rate dinners served between 3:30 p.m. and 5:45 p.m. – by eating a crack-of-dawn breakfast. Located in a strip mall, Pomperdale is a seemingly members-only deli with low ceilings and wood panelling. Its tightly packed tables are occupied almost exclusively by Jewish blue hairs eating lightly toasted sesame bagels. These are my people, and this is our de facto Promised Land. I am confident they will help me in my Early Bird quest.

We take our seats and wait a few moments for menus to be delivered. “Oy, so cute!” shouts one to the rest. “They thought someone was going to serve them!” Five minutes in, and the Pomperdale clan has already labelled me adorable. “It’s a crazy kind of place here,” explains another. “You order upfront, pour your own coffee, wrap up your leftovers and pay when you leave.”

I do make several attempts to pour my own coffee, but a number of the Pomperdalians insist on doing this for me – and this, even before I’ve wooed them with my prowess at canasta. Everyone here knows everyone: It’s like Cheers for the geriatric set, albeit with no booze and a lot more Yiddish. Most Early Birds, they tell me, include a starter, main course, cold beverage (they ding you extra for coffee) and dessert – a huge amount of food for about US$12.95. “And you can take home whatever you don’t finish,” someone proudly announces.

As I dig into scrambled eggs with Nova lox and onions that are a bisl cold and salty, and served on a paper plate with a plastic fork – not that I’m complaining mind you – one woman suddenly pokes me and shouts, “They have the best chicken soup here! Oh my God, out of this world!” But there’s a trick, she explains, now employing a whisper that is somehow louder than her speaking voice. “You order the matzo ball separately. That way, there’s no displacement of the soup!” I love this woman. When I ask her opinion on the best Early Birds in South Florida, the entire Pomperdale clan launches into a sort of vaudevillian act:

“J. Alexander’s, Houston’s, Sage…"

“Do you like Italian? Bongusto is delicious.”

“But they’re closed on Mondays.”

“Charley’s Crab near Oakland Park…”

“Do you like fish? 15th Street Fisheries is very nice – a little expensive, but excellent service.”

Later in the day, I head to 15th Street Fisheries, a legendary Early Bird eatery where they offer Sunset Dinners on the Waterfront between 5 p.m. and 5:45 p.m. Located at the Lauderdale Marina, it has a waterside setting that’s flawless, but the room has seen better days – say, back in the early 1980s. Still, for those who frequent Early Birds, the deal is more important than the decor or the food. Just like golf, schmaltz and shopping, it’s a way of life.

At $18.95, the Pomperdalians were right that the 15th Street Fisheries’ Early Bird is pricier than most. But it gets you, among other things, the Fisheries salad: iceberg lettuce tossed with sliced strawberries, slivered almonds, crumbled bacon and baby shrimp, all coated in a sweet creamy dressing that proves that the grossest sounding combinations are often the tastiest. Other high notes include an inspired intermezzo of ginger-orange sorbet and “bread girl” Meagan’s sunflower-wheat and jalapeno-cheddar offering. After dinner, at 5:57 p.m., a woman with a towering blond bouffant and a yellow sweater with sequined panda bears brushes her teeth in the bathroom. She swooshes and spits, then turns to me. “They really give you a nice piece of fish here.”

Another day, I visit Flakowitz, a deli and bakery in Boynton Beach with 70-year-old “bread boys.” It’s a home away from home for Jewish snowbirds who make sure they’re seated by 4:30 p.m. for the Early Bird, which entitles them to precisely $1 off the main course.

We order chicken soup (matzo ball on the side, please), cabbage rolls and blintzes. Dinner arrives exactly two minutes later and the bill, a minute after that. Don’t get me wrong. This abrupt service isn’t insulting; that’s just the way it’s done here. Why wait when you could be eating? Why linger when you could be playing shuffleboard?

The soup – the colour of a young hen – is wonderful, and the matzo ball, properly yielding. The cheese blintzes have a crispy exterior with a warm, vanilla-scented filling. The cabbage rolls are sweet and sour, just like my boobie used to make. All told, it’s the real deal.

I have to admit that the food tastes pretty good. Still, despite the deals, I think for now I’m willing to pay the extra buck to finish off the workday before heading to dinner. But a few decades from now – God willing – I can imagine myself here, kibitzing with pals. Like the woman a few tables away, resting her foot on a chair. Although she appears to be in agony, but all accounts she’s prone to histrionics.

“Oooh, oooooh,” Mary groans.

“What’s the matter with you?” Sol asks, with fake concern.

“Oohhh, I started limping yesterday.”

“Well, you’re limping better today.”

I should only be so lucky.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Vietnamese caramelized salmon

For the past two years I’ve been writing features for a Chatelaine magazine series called Cooking in Canada, whereby I visit families from different ethnicities across the country and learn about their journey to Canada while we shop for food and then cook up a storm. So far I’ve done Mexican Mennonites in Norfolk County, Lebanese in Ottawa, Vietnamese in Montreal, Indian in Vancouver, and next up is the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan in Golden Lake (though obviously, they were here first.)

The Quebec-based story called "Missing Saigon" included the simplest and most delicious recipes of the bunch. Makes sense, seeing as my subject, Lilly Nguyen, is a new cookbook author. While chatting over lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant in Chinatown where we had been collecting our ingredients, Lilly casually said something that totally choked me up.

In explaining Canada’s open arms policy to the Boat People in the 1970s, Lilly said of her then-new home, the city of Montreal with its now 27,000-strong Vietnamese community, that word quickly spread about how welcoming Canada was, and thousands of Vietnamese followed: “I know some friends who were adopted by Quebecers, and others who were taken in by friends and neighbours," she says. "They just said, ‘we’re going to help you.’”

I wish the Canada of today were a little more like it was back then.

This traditional Vietnamese dish, which Lilly put her own Can-con spin on with the salmon and maple syrup, was first printed in Chatelaine magazine. I’ve made it many times and it’s awesome. Just watch for bones in the salmon steaks.

Lilly’s Vietnamese caramel and pepper fish (Ca Kho tieu)

Prep 5 min Refrigerate 30 min Cook 30 min Makes 2 servings

2 salmon steaks, at least 1 in (2.5 cm) thick

2 tbsp (30 mL) granulated sugar

4 tsp (20 mL) maple syrup

1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) water

1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) vegetable or olive oil

1 tbsp (15 mL) fish sauce

3/4 tsp (4 mL) hot red pepper flakes

1 garlic clove, minced

1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) cracked black pepper

1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) fried shallots

2 tbsp (30 mL) chopped cilantro

1 green onion, thinly sliced

1. Pat salmon dry with paper towels. Place fish on a plate or in a dish. Evenly sprinkle with 1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) sugar. Turn fish and sprinkle with another 1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) sugar. Refrigerate, uncovered, at least 30 min.

2. When ready to cook, stir remaining tbsp (15 mL) sugar with maple syrup and water in a large frying pan (not non-stick) set over medium-high heat. As soon as it starts to bubble, stir in oil, fish sauce, pepper flakes and garlic. Reduce heat to medium. Add coated salmon. Sprinkle half of pepper over fish. Turn fish, then sprinkle with remaining pepper. Reduce heat to low. Simmer, uncovered and turning fish halfway through and stirring sauce often, until caramelized, 25 to 30 min.

3. Remove to warm plates and sprinkle with fried shallots, cilantro and green onion. Delicious with rice. (Actually, the rice is a must.)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Fun but insane

This massive box wrapped in festive holiday paper and weighing in at a solid 30 pounds was delivered to my door December 1st. Inside, I found 25 individually gift-wrapped products, all of which are sprung from the pages of the latest President’s Choice Insider's Report. Each is labeled 1 through 25, like a giant advent grocery box.

It’s a gutsy move, sending out this unsolicited box that’s meant to hang around for the better part of a month. After all, downtown homes and lofts aren’t exactly known for their generous, box-storing floor plans.

But this is my first time having an advent anything, so I want to do it right. I’m assuming nothing is perishable (no shrimp rings, I hope), and I also know I’ll be doing a major drop-off at the food bank on the 25th.

But I am keeping prezzie #1, PC Mulled Apple naturally flavoured sparkling soda (just $1 a bottle), because it’s new and I have a cold and it looks refreshing, plus I don’t think the food bank would accept a 2L bottle of carbonated refreshment because it could explode. And then Christmas would be ruined!

I’m also keeping gift #2, which is a cake server, because it’s not food.

But I swear, today’s product, #3, will be the last thing I keep, a box of their new chocolate truffles dusted in cocoa powder, imported from France.

Because I never give away free chocolate.