food & drinks, montreal, travel, vancouver

Tales from Two Cities

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In the past two weeks:

  1. We flew to Vancouver and  attended a wedding at the Fairmont Pacific Rim. Its Lobby Bar is my new favourite hotel bar, possibly second to the Rum House in New York City. I often thought about how Cory Monteith had died in the same building only two weeks before. Outside, just around the corner from the main entrance, a teddy bear and lone flower leaned up against the wall. I wonder how long the hotel will keep them there, if they’re there still and where they go when they’re removed.
  2. The day after the wedding, we woke up at 7:30 to get the first of our hotel’s bike rentals.  H’s front tire caught a tack somewhere between First and Second Beach on Stanley’s westside and our plans to see the city were briefly foiled until we got it fixed. Still, we managed to see much of the park and trekked up and through the Burrard Bridge to brunch in Granville Island at Edible Canada and sake at Artisan Sake Maker. H fell in love with the world music store, here’s our little video of her playing just some of the instruments. I’ve always had good weather on my visits to Vancouver and it almost tricks me into thinking, “yeah, I could live here.”
  3. We flew back to Toronto on WestJet and watched eight episodes of Parks and Recreation during the flight. There were some LOLs, to the chagrin of our aisle-mate.
  4. We finished all of Orange Is The New Black and gasped at the end of the finale.
  5. Two days later, we drove to Montreal with three friends squished in the back seat. Everyone played DJ and we stopped in Kingston to lunch at Pan Chanco, home of my favourite olives. At Maison Publique, all seven of us got the tasting menu and drank some delicious Blue Mountain Pinot Noir and local sparkling cider. I want more. Get the fried smelts, that tartar sauce is out of this freakin’ world.
  6. We then spent the next three days drinking shitty Coors Light and tallboys of Bacardi drinks at Osheaga. The food was marginally better.  I avoided the crowded walk and long wait at the gourmet food trucks  and ate hot dogs covered in mustard. I found out about the St. Hubert stall too late, but it didn’t matter, the snack bar poutine was excellent. Real cheese curds!
  7. By Monday morning, my Sperry Top Siders were toast, covered in mud and totally unsalvageable. It was a sign of a seriously intense weekend of mud, gravel, dancing in the company of 45,000 other people every day. Fantastic weekend of live performances, too many to mention. Now it’s over and it’s back to real life…
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food & drinks, recipes

Fancy Mac & Cheese

Fancy Mac & Cheese

February has been the kind of month that makes me want to only eat chicken pot pie made by someone else, sleep and watch movies all day. I’ve come home on weeknights and found that the last thing I want to do is cook. It hasn’t helped that I’ve been busy and so instead of making something delicious, I’ve resorted to lazy solutions like fast food lunches, mediocre Japanese or Thai delivery and uninspired frozen dinners.

In times like these, I like to make “fancy mac & cheese.” I won’t pretend that this is exciting, inventive cooking. It wasn’t even my idea, but I make it somewhat often because a) I usually have all the ingredients on hand and b) it’s takes boxed mac & cheese up a notch.

I only made it once last month, but I doubled it and it gave me lunch for the rest of the week. Not everyone likes oysters, but I think it would also work with a tin of smoked mussels. The smokiness in the oil is key. It’s basically this recipe I found on Chow Hound with a few extra ingredients. I add a handful of cheese so I don’t sacrifice cheesiness with the additional ingredients. Also, the extra fat makes it reheat nicely if you have leftovers. Just pop it into the microwave with a few drops of water. I find regular Kraft Dinner to be too dry. Get President’s Choice white macaroni and cheese if you can.

Ingredients:

1 tin of smoked oysters w/ oil
1 cup of cooked shrimp, peeled and cut into pieces
1 large onion (or 2 small ones), thinly sliced
1 cup of frozen mixed vegetables, thawed
1 cup of grated white cheddar cheese (optional)
1 box of President’s Choice white macaroni and cheese (Kraft’s just isn’t nearly as good)
3/4 cup of milk

Instructions:

  1. Cook the macaroni, drain and reserve.
  2. In the empty pot, heat only the oil from the smoked oysters tin. Reserve the oysters. Sautée the onions in the oil until they’re soft.
  3. Add the macaroni back into the pot. Add the milk and cheese powder from the box.
  4. Stir in the vegetables and shrimp.
  5. Add the extra grated cheddar cheese and heat until it’s all melted.
  6. Add the oysters when just about read to serve.
  7. Add pepper and salt to taste.
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food & drinks, Toronto

On brunch

Flickr user warein.holgado

Photo by: Flickr user warein.holgado

I don’t like eggs. I don’t eat pork. Because I don’t like eggs and I don’t eat pork, I don’t like breakfast.

I know, a lot of you love breakfast. You probably love breakfast so much you would (and do) eat it for lunch and dinner. I’m envious of your ability to eat eggs. Lately, I have made an effort to cook and like them, but I still can’t stomach them in great amounts. It takes effort to get through a hard boiled egg. Even a plate of eggs Benedict takes mental preparation.

I wouldn’t put so much effort into enjoying eggs if it was not for Sunday brunch. As The New York Times pointed out in 2005, “brunch is practically a competitive sport in Toronto.” This is still true. Despite hangovers, below freezing temperatures and lineups my friends will still trek (uphill, both ways) for a good plate of hollandaise sauce atop poached eggs.

Why does Toronto go crazy over brunch compared to other cities? I’m not sure, but I understand why the meal is often put on a pedestal. I am in love with the idea of Sunday brunch with friends. For me, it’s not about the food. Brunch is the bridge between the weekend’s indulgences and the work week’s responsibilities. It’s remembering last night while you still have its smell in your hair. It’s one last hurrah before groceries, laundry and Monday morning.

The meal is like a celebration, says Toronto chef Teo Paul. He admits his mixed feelings toward the 2-in-1 meal. As a chef, it’s a pain in the ass because brunch-goers are so fragile and yet demanding at the same time.

I appreciate it, but I have to do it a little differently. I read about a guy in New York who does the same brunch every weekend: a giant terrine of eggs stuffed with smoked salmon and whatever else, on a table piled with croissants. That’s good thinking. My kind of brunch is standing around a big barrel table eating oysters and charcuterie and drinking good, cheap wine with friends and old drunk French guys drinking wine out of silver ladles. That’s a celebration. I know I’m not in Paris, but I’d like to try to bring something new to Toronto, something different.

Most of my friends would say brunch doesn’t need anything different. But as someone who doesn’t like eggs, I’m cheering Teo on. I have no problem with eating oysters or drinking wine.

Question: Forget eggs and bacon. What would you like your Sunday brunch to consist of?

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food & drinks, Toronto

Sunday night dinner: garlicy roast chicken

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I spent Saturday night trudging through snow banks with holes in my shitty boots. Despite the snowfall, Toronto didn’t stay home and there were lines for bars where there is usually tumbleweed. After 45 minutes in a line to nowhere, me moved our our sour, frozen faces to Free Times Cafe. If it was not for the piping hot latkes, their accompanying cinnamon-y apple sauce and Creemore beer on tap, Saturday night would have been a bust.

After all the hoopla, I slept in. I rarely sleep past 10, but winter has convinced me that hibernation is the only way to survive it. When my bladder finally forced me out of bed, I found H on the couch wide awake, toast eaten, coffee drank and already up for three hours. Shame made me stay up but I promised myself an entire day inside and never left the building.

Instead, I’ve been surprisingly productive in the kitchen. I made a fresh pot of coffee which I drank with a sprinkling of cinnamon and a homemade egg salad sandwich. Then, I made Orangette’s white bean hummus. I painstakingly used a hand blender in place of a food processor, which I don’t recommend. It’s messy and not nearly as effective.

The grand finale to the day of domesticity was the Sunday night dinner of garlic roasted chicken. I served it with crispy fingerling potatoes and baked baby carrots. I had never put anything in a brine before, but the chicken recipe changed that and my life. I don’t want to go back and I can’t recommend it enough.

Tonight’s dinner was based on this 40 clove chicken recipe. I intended to roast an entire chicken but the grocery store didn’t have any more whole, free range antibiotic-free chickens left. Instead, I bought a couple of breasts and five drumsticks. In place of  white peppercorns, I tossed in a teaspoon of black pepper. When it came time to roast the chicken, I slid garlic, thyme, parsley and butter underneath the skin of the breasts and drumsticks. The result was a deliciously moist and flavourful chicken. I suppose I should have taken out the bare sprig of thyme before I snapped the picture, but you’ll have to excuse me. My food photography isn’t very good but I’m working on it.

If you have suggestions for another recipe that involves a brine, please send it along.

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