26 July 2010

My Darling One: Three years

Three years ago today, my Dearest one died.

I'll always miss him, some days more intensely than others. There are always things that bring my mind to him: Jaws, the Spamalot soundtrack, pennies found on the ground.

It's never easy...but it gets easier...sort of.

Michael and I were very different people in many respects--most of the music I listened to was noise to him, he could easily sleep until noon or 1pm and I feel weird if I'm in bed later than 9...am, and he relaxed by way of LOUD shooty computer games, I prefered quiet, comfy couches and a book, DVD or CD.

One of our wider gulfs was food. He was very specific about what he ate: beef, chicken, pork, cheese, sometimes eggs; potatoes, rice, noodles, bread; peas, carrots, corn, mushrooms, onions; ice cream, grapes, chocolate, cake, pie; most herbs and spices.

Seriously. I think that was it.

In quantity.

My list is several orders of magnitude larger than that...but not necessarily in the same quanitities.

When I thought about today's post, my month's theme of Canadian food, and Michael...one thing came to mind. Banquet burgers.

I'm almost positive every roadhouse, regardless of country, has a burger like this.

It has everything and thensome. It's more than a two-hander--I say half is a two-hander...yup, it's a knife and fork jobby.

Like any burger, there are no hard and fast rules as to how to dress a banquet burger. Pretty much anything goes--any sort of cheese, any sort of bacon, tomatoes, onions, grilled onions, fried mushrooms, any sort of sauce, guacamole, peppers, hot peppers, pickles, olives.

And the burger pictured? Lettuce, cheddar, bacon, fried mushrooms, onions, barbecue sauce and a pickle on the side.

Michael would approve...except for the lettuce.


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20 July 2010

Mmm...Canada: Maple Chipotle Barbecue Sauce

Mmm...Canada. We are so known for our fiercely spiced foods and peppers whose mere mention bring tears to our eyes and droplets of persperation to our brows.


As a nation, I fear we have a reputation for being spice-adverse, the old joke being KFC is too spicy for those of us north of the 49th parallel.

And really, I think it's deserved. It's not been that long since the spice aisle's heat came from packets of powdered cinnamon, black pepper and cayenne and a bottle of Tabasco. Today they still contain cinnamon, black pepper and cayenne, but they also have pods and seeds found in various masalas, shelves varying pepper sauces and aisles that help shoppers explore Latin American, Caribbean, Indian, Vietnamese and other cuisines.

Mmm...Canada, a multicultural society has many benefits and a widened selection of foods and flavours is merely one.

Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce can be elusive in my part of the world, but can usually found in shops with an international clientelle or, if I'm truly lucky, in the mediumscarymegamart a couple of blocks away.

Personally, I love pairing their smokey fire with smokey sweetness, usually in a roasted sweet potato soup. But this being summer, turning on my oven isn't necessarily high on my list of priorities. This being summer, grilling is called for--even if it is via my cast iron stovetop grill pan...and when I grill...I sauce.

To balance the pepper's heat, maple syrup was my obvious choice. Simmered with a bit of mustard and tomato ketchup, as well garlic and shallot, and you get a gorgeous, glossy sauce that's perfect slathered on pork or chicken. Spice-adverse Canadians? Nah, not after this sauce.

Maple Chipotle Barbecue Sauce
Yield 0.5c
1 clove garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
180ml (0.75c) maple syrup
1 chipotle pepper with 1.5 Tbsp adobo sauce
2Tbsp tomato ketchup
2Tbsp dijon mustard
1Tbps apple cider vinegar
1.5 Tbsp soy sauce
black pepper

Sweat garlic and onion in butter until translucent. Add remaining ingredients and simmer over a medium flame until thickened and reduced by about half. Let cool.


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10 July 2010

Mmm...Canada: Maple pecan butter tarts

A quick business trip north of the border brought our dear Glamah of Coco Cooks to my fair land. I knew through years of bloggy (and now more often than not non-bloggy) conversation, she's a kindred kitchen spirit, willing to try pretty much anything at least once.

In real life she didn't disappoint. She sparkles...and not in a contrived Meyeresque way...she's stylish, astute, sharp-tongued and sharp-witted. And here's the kicker...she's even more beautiful in real life than she is in her photos. Yes. Really.

When foodbloggers gather, kitchen-themed gifts are offered (whether we expect them or not). She brought me the most amazing Garrett's Chicago mix popcorn (who knew cheese and caramel would be so addictive). My gift to her? A selection of a Canadian staple: home-made butter tarts: traditional raisin, maple walnut and chocolate.

Notice how I write "traditional raisin?" Well...them's fighting words up here. The pro-raisin and the anti-raisin tribes have been hurling insults at one another for a while, each claiming their version superior to the other. I'm with Team Raisin.

That is...I would be with Team Raisin if I could eat them. I can't--I find them migraine-inducingly sweet. But, according to various afficionados around here, I make a mighty fine butter tart. So fine, in fact, I've been known to use them instead of currency: it's amazing how many extra hands are lent when butter tarts are mentioned in passing.

A basic butter tart is a rich shortcrust pastry shell filled with a (raisined) thick buttery-sweet filling, akin to what swathes pecans in pecan pie. There are many types of fillings available--nuts, fruit, peanut butter...They are incredibly easy to make--like other tarts, you can just buy frozen pastry shells if you need to, but really...pastry-making skills are easy enough to acquire...

The filling is forgiving, just keep in mind to not fill each shell more than half, for fear of that sticky, buttery sweetness overflowing its pastry bounds. You can make them in tartlette tins, but all the homemade ones I've been offered and the ones I've bought from local Mennonites have been formed in muffin tins, which I think add to their allure.

Maple Pecan Butter tarts
Adapted From Edna Staebler's Butter Tart Recipe in Food That Really Schmecks
Yield 12

For the pastry:

350g (2.5c) ap flour
125g (0.5c) cold butter (frozen, preferred)
a few tablespoons


For the filling
250g (2.25c) brown sugar
60ml (0.25c) maple syrup
30g (2Tbsp) butter, melted
1 beaten egg
1.5 Tbsp water
a pinch of salt
100g (1c) pecan pieces

Grate butter into the flour and with the tips of your fingers, rub the mixutre until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add enough cream to moisten the mixture so it forms a cohesive dough. Form a disc and refrigerate for about 20 minutes.

While the dough is cooling, beat together all the filling ingredients, except the nuts, and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 220C/450F.

Roll the pastry to about 0.3-0.5cm (aprox 1/8"-1/4") thickness. Scry circles large enough to fit the bowls of a 12-bowl muffin tin. Divide the nuts between the bowls and cover with enough

filling to reach the half-full level of each tart. Don't go much beyond this as the filling will expand and overflow. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the shells are baked and the filling is set.



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05 July 2010

Mmm...Canada: Roasted Fiddleheads

When I was six years old I took violin lessons. My teacher's name was "Mr. T" (shortened because his surname was long and hard to pronounce...I easily relate). He was old. Like 30 or maybe 35. He had a Tom Selleck-like mustache and the whole 1970s groovy thing happening...or at least he tried to.

Violin just wasn't my thing. I couldn't get the fingering right and even at that young age I knew drawing a bow across my instrument's strings made sounds akin to squalking turkey buzzard stepping on a set of bagpipes than an A, D or even G#.

I was awful. My fingers hurt. My ears hurt. I couldn't hold the neck correctly. My fingering was never right. I always got a tummy ache on lesson day. After a few months of this, my Dear Little Cardamummy let me quit and returned my instrument. I never saw Mr. T again.

It wasn't the end of my music education--I went on to play several other instruments (badly): piano, flute, harp and voice. At some point I'll pick up the piano again...and I have a hankering to learn the cello.

A couple of decades later, when I heard of a Maritime delicacy called "fiddleheads" my mind immediately went to Mr. T and that poor violin. Luckly, I've had better luck with the vegetables than the instrument.

Fiddleheads are the tightly curled tips of the ostrich or cinnamon fern, and is a spring delight. The violin-scroll like vegetable tastes like a cross between asparagus and broccoli.

They fall within the "not quite death defying" food family. In the 1990s there were several food poisoning cases where fiddleheads were involved.Even though the exact cause wasn't identified, it's believed that the ferns have a toxin which is killed with heat. Health Canada recommends the curled greens be thoroughly washed in several changes of cold water and boiled for 15 minutes or steamed for 10-12 minutes.

I've had them boiled and steamed, each time served with a melting pat of butter and a bit of salt and pepper. My favourite way of having fiddleheads, like asparagus, is to roast them in the oven with olive oil, salt and pepper and serve them drizzled with balsamic vinegar and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.

I pity the fool who doesn't try fiddleheads.

Roasted fiddleheads with balsamic vinegar and parmesan

Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Parmesan cheese, grated

Set the oven to 190C/375F. Lightly oil a baking tray.

Toss the fiddleheads in a bit of oil and scatter them on the prepared tray. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for about 20-30 minutes or until done

Tumble onto a serving dish and drizzle with balsamic vinegar and sprinkle with parmesan.



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