Monthly Archives: April 2009

Ramps and Rhubarb

photo46The Beast called me yesterday at work to tell me he was bringing home a guest to dinner. This was great news for two reasons: first, I already knew what I wanted to make: spaghetti with ramps, some caesar salad, and rhubarb crisp for dessert. Ramps are sort of like little baby wild leeks. I saw a recipe for them in Gourmet a while back so when they arrived at my local green grocer–along with fresh rhurbarb–I knew what I had to do. When I told the Beast what I was making he kept saying, “I can’t wait to try ram meat.” And I would say, “no, it’s spaghetti with RAMPS. They’re like wild leeks.” And then he would say, “Yes! Rams are very wild and I bet they’re delicious.”

photo24The second reason this was good news was because the Beast was bringing home Nick Edwards. Nick is a bit tricky to explain, but I’ll give it a shot. Imagine a very young Paul Newman, with a little Robert Redford. Now shake that glorious image up with the comedic timing of Charlie Chaplin and the goofy charm of, oh, let’s say Cary Grant in Bringing up Baby, and the bad-boy heroism of Brad Pitt as Tristan in Legends of the Fall. Every woman I know falls in love with Nick. Everybody else wants to claim him as their own: “I met him first” and “You don’t know him like I do–I know him inside and out.” I fear that if all his adorers were to gather ’round him, we’d tear him apart like crazed maenads hoping to consume his very beautiful being. Of course he belongs to nobody–he’s sort of like thatphoto33 dog in The Littlest Hobo. That said, he and the Beast have forged a friendship over many years that makes my heart swell, and I always feel like a moth drawn to their light when I’m in their company: They paint and sketch together; make beautiful music together; go for weekend retreats to the cottage together; make each other laugh until they cry together; talk about books together; and nap together. It’s enchanting. And it’s extremely gay.

Foodie: (To Nick) Do you mind signing a waiver before dinner? It basically allows me to use anything you say in my blog.

Nick: No way. Not a chance. Unless I get a name. If he gets a funny name, then I want one too, like Chip– that little teacup in Beauty and the Beast.

Foodie: It’s Foodie and the Beast. And no way–you have to be Nick. Do you know how many hits I’ll get just from young girls googling your name?

Nick: Wait a second. You can’t write what I say because I won’t sound smart and then girlsphoto10 will think I’m a dummy. (Nick makes his way to the dining room, which is also the library.)

Beast: Where are you going? I thought we were going to go upstairs and play the wooden flutes we just bought in Little India this afternoon! (See gay comment above.)

Nick: I need to read smart things. And then I can repeat them at dinner for this one over here (pointing to me.)

Once the boys stopped pretending to read Thomas Jefferson’s autobiography they left me alone in the kitchen to get down to business. Dinner prep was easy. I just had to blanch the ramps and then blend them with olive oil, lemon zest and some of the starchy pasta water. I know caesar salad seems a bit gauche, and for the record, it most definitely isn’t Italian (it was made on the fly in Tijuana back in the 20s), but last summer caesar salad had a bit of a renaissance in our home. I’ve made my own caesar salad dressing in the past, but in a pinch I go for Renee’s, and I’ve discovered these really fancy pepper & parmigiano-laced gourmet croutons that really spice things up. The pasta went over well. It tasted like photosSpring-time. Although if I make it again, I’d add way more than the teaspoon of lemon zest the recipe called for, and more parmigiano too.

When it comes to making rhubarb crisp, I’m very particular. I don’t mix rhubarb with strawberries. Ever. Rhubarb is one of the loveliest colours I’ve ever seen and when you add a little sugar, it’s the perfect compromise between sweet and tart. Adding strawberries seems so counter-intuitive. And when it comes to the crisp part, I use lots of butter, brown sugar and just enough flour and oats to bring it all together. No spices, like cloves or cinnamon, either. Rhubarb crisp should remind you of white porches in the summer of 1954 and ought to be served by big-breasted, small-waisted beauties wearing gingham aprons. Or Nigella Lawson. Or maybe Ricky Gervais.

photo1-12-02-16I served mine, predictably, in jogging pants to the boys who’d moved to the couch. And what happened next was the reason I keep the rhubarb crisp simple: the Beast and Nick, or “Chip” began to moan and thrash on the couch in a fit of mouth pleasure bordering on ecstasy. Chip kept nodding yes, yes, yes with his head and used his spoon to point to his dessert plate. The Beast may have even howled. I just smiled at the boys, content in the fact that I’d fed them well without having had to hunt and butcher a wild ram.

Foodie: ** Beast: **

How to Hostess

photo9I love entertaining, but I’m small-time.  My guest list usually includes two people, sometimes three, and never exceeds four.  That makes six guests including the Beast and me, which is perfect because I have six plates.  The truth is, I don’t think I can cook for more than six.  Everything gets so complicated, and I don’t have very big pots.   That’s why when the Beast and I were invited to my friend Alex Girl’s birthday party I was ecstatic because if there’s anybody that knows how to hostess, it’s Alex Girl and her formidable mother, Tracy, who owns and operates Pan Bagna Catering.  Here’s why they’re big time:  first, these two truly love everything about food; second, before you get a chance to say, “thank you for inviting me,” there’s a cold cocktail in your hand; and third, before you get a chance to say, “thank for this amazing looking cocktail,” they’re telling you to eat something from the inevitable gorgeous spread of antipasti that’s been laid out.  And then there’s still a dinner and wine to come, and all that good conversation.  It’s exhausting, but oh-so-worth-it.

This was the Beast’s first time at Alex and Tracey’s place.  I cleaned him up real good-like and he picked out his outfit all on his own.  He even tucked in his shirt.

Beast:  I need a belt.  

Foodie:  (As a joke) What about the woman’s Christian Dior vintage number I picked up?  

Beast: Yes please. (The Beast fastens it on easily.  It doesn’t fit me unless I wear it really high up.)

Foodie:  How can this fit you?  It’s so small.  You know what?  Fuck this belt.  And fuck Dior too.  

Beast:  This is an amazing outfit.

photo14As predicted, drinks were in our hands before a thank-you escaped our mouths. Once all of the (very attractive) guests showed up, it didn’t take long before we were chit-chatting up a storm and eating burrata cheese, grilled bread, and deep-fried calamari with an anchovy aioli.  Tracey manned the frier and replenished the piles of squid before they even thought about disappearing.  Not being of a religious nature, this is my favourite kind of congregating: in a kitchen with charming people, eating and drinking delicious things.  

Stuffed with calamari (I ate an unsightly amount), I snuck outside for my first and last cigarette of the night (this statement might be false.)  And that’s when I saw a spectacle like none I’ve never been privy to before:  seven glorious two-inch thick rib eye steaks grilling atop an open flame.  

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Foodie:  (Back inside) Did you see what’s on the grill?

Beast:  Why yes I did.

Foodie:  I’m shocked at your composure.  

Beast:  What did you expect?

Foodie:  Savagery I guess, like you naked in the bushes gnawing on meat.

Beast:  Please, I’m wearing Dior and my Jack Purcells.  

The perfectly cooked rib eyes were thinly sliced and served on top of wild baby arugola with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.  The whole thing was topped with shavings of parmigiano reggiano.  Everybody cleaned their plates.  Several wine bottles dotted the table.  I’m embarrassed to guess how many bottles the 14 of us consumed but I bet it’s pretty close to 14.  Dessert was gorgeous profiterols covered in dark chocolate.  Even sweeter was a game of sorts that a colleague of Alex Girl’s suggested:  we all tell each other our favourite thing about the birthday girl.  Her closest friends, including her mom, delivered responses both beautiful and heart-felt.  It was truly lovely.  

Whenever I leave Alex and Tracey’s, I feel very happy, uncomfortably full, and very drunk.  Because I live just a few blocks away, I walk home and always think the same thought:  I’m going to start entertaining on that level.  I can do it! I just need a deep-fryer, matching stemware, a better haircut, and….oh fuck it.  

For the record, my favourite thing about Alex Girl–and Tracey too–is that they love to entertain and do it with such extraordinary grace and good humour.

Foodie:     ***1/2

Beast:       ***1/2

My First Ham

My brother thinks ham looks too much like human flesh to comfortably consume it so my parents never made it at home. I indulged in traditional glazed hams only at extended family functions. I remember my Uncle Ron preparing grandiose Easter spreads with scalloped potatoes, peas, and the side of all sides: cabbage salad. Wait. Let me explain: this cabbage salad, a recipe of my grandma Adeline’s, is so simple that you’d most likely wonder what the point was, until you pair a little of it alongside a forkful of other things on your plate and then an inner calm rushes over you and everything makes sense in your life, albeit, only for the duration of the meal. The problem is, this cabbage salad is cocaine-like in its allure: you finish your plate but you want more so you get another spoonful, but then you need more meat and potatoes to achieve that flavour combination you got high on earlier. It’s a vicious cycle that usually ends with me taking off my pants, and watching Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility on the couch while I drift in and out of consciousness.

photo2-10-01-446This Easter I decided to do my own dinner –including all the accoutrements–for the Beast and me. I spent an embarrassing amount of time researching my glaze for the Rowe Farms bone-in 1/4 cut ham thing I bought. In the end, I pulled a jar of my homemade apricot jam out of my pantry, added a splash of bourbon, a little maple syrup, fresh thyme, a squirt of dijon, salt and pepper, and crossed my fingers. I must admit photo8that my older, wiser brother is bang on; delicious as it is, ham looks like human. Emotionally, I had a difficult time removing the skin. And I also felt resentful because everybody says, “oh ham is so easy to make. Only a real idiot could mess it up so don’t worry.” But nobody has the courage to tell you about peeling off a layer of dermis that still has fucking whisker things attached to it. That’s messed up.

photo-10-01-445I had much more fun using my mandolin for scalloped potatoes. I decided to use a simple recipe I found in a Canadian Living cookbook that simply called for butter, cream, salt and pepper. My mom always adds thinly sliced onion as well, so I did too. The peas were easy. I dazzled them up with a little fresh mint and olive oil. That left dessert. Only the cover of Goumet would do for the Beast–and for his older brophoto53ther and lovely fiance, who I invited over last minute when I realized I wasn’t really making a meal just for two, even if one of us is a savage. It was a port-glazed strawberry torte with a mascarpone filling, and it came out looking exactly like the photo in the magazine.

Everything was going off without a glitch so I decided to open up a bottle of Dolcetto d’Alba before the Beast got home from work and our guests arrived. I was feeling so pleased with myself having just spent a perfect Sundphoto73ay in my kitchen cooking and baking. And then it hit me: cabbage salad! How could I have neglected this detail? I scooted to the corner store for an Ontario green cabbage, whipped up the dressing of mayonnaise, white vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper, and dinner was saved–fitting for Easter, no?

Our meal was completed by the old-fashioned white dinner rolls that our guests brought which I heated photo62up in the oven. Personally, I thought it to be one of the best meals I’ve ever prepared. Everything came out to the table looking like it was prop-dressing: the ham was glazed to perfection and the scalloped potatoes got all brown and crispy; But it wasn’t just the food that made my first Easter dinphoto32ner a success: our guests far outshone anything on the table, including that bottle of Côtes de Rhône I”d been saving for an occasion as lovely as this.

Foodie: ***1/2 Beast: ***


photo44



California Conversion

Foodie (on the phone with the Beast):  We have to start going out to restaurants.  I need better material other than the mediocre meals I’ve been making and take-away food.  We still haven’t been to Nota Bene.  Or what about the Spice Room?

Beast:  What if I just bring home California veal sandwiches?  

Foodie: Perfect!  I’ll rent a movie.  How about “Doubt”?

Beast:  Okay.

This was a shocking reaction, and I’m not talking about the jump from Splendido to California Sandwiches (it’s the weather I think:  all I want to do after work is eat comfort food by the fire in my jogging suit watching television.)  I’m talking about the Beast agreeing to see “Doubt”.  Usually I have to watch classic films, like Twilight, or Quantum of Solace, on my own time and spend “quality time” with the Beast watching films that don’t star Jason Bourne and don’t have an indie rock soundtrack.  Even though Doubt was nominated for a few Oscars, I’d suspected it would still fall under the Beast’s too-cool-for-Hollywood radar.  

Back to dinner:  I’ve never been enamoured with California sandwiches the way the Beast is, or for photo2
that matter, the way every man is:  every time I’ve lined up at the original downtown Claremont Street location, it’s like I’m in the middle of a calendar photo shoot because I’m surrounded by construction workers, police officers, and fire fighters. I think this sort of food (breaded and deep-fried meat slathered in tomato sauce with optional cheese, grilled onions, mushrooms and peppers, and served on a ridiculously large Italian-style roll) appeals to a primal sensibility.

 But on the way home to visit my mom last week, I had a California sandwich epiphany.  There’s an outpost on the Queensway that serves up the same delicious stuff to the Mississauga and Etobicoke crowd.   While my veal sandwich looked just like the ones I’d had downtown, its taste was superior.  I was eating it like such a savage that I feared the Beast would think me unsightly.  But then I saw the same tomato sauce dripping from the side of his mouth and down his wrists and heard the same moans of satisfaction.  This brings us up to last night, on the couch, watching Doubt and eating our dinner:

Foodie:  The California sandwiches we got on the Queensway were saucier than these ones don’t you think? 

Beast:  Way saucier.  You can’t keep writing about how we eat at places along the Queensway though.  People will think that’s all we do.  We just rent cars and drive along the Queensway looking for fast food.

photo11Foodie:  Oh shit!  Thanks for reminding me!  I need to photograph this.  Hold still.

Beast:  I don’t want my face on your blog!

Foodie:  Stop fussing!  I just want an action shot of your paws lifting your dinner to your mouth.

Beast:  Are you going to finish that (eyeing the remains of my sandwich)?

Foodie:  Maybe.  But there’s no way you’re going to finish your two sandwiches plus this little bit of sandwich.  You’re going to make yourself sick.

Beast:  We’ll see.  Have you converted to California sandwiches yet?  That should be your blog title.  Get it?  We’re watching Doubt, and converting?  It’s good, no?

The movie was good, but it was sort of like watching a play starring famous people on a really shitty 18″ Panasonic television.  The sandwiches were better.  And best was this afternoon when the Beast sent me a link to a BBC article reporting that chimpanzees exchange meat for sex.  Thanks to evolution, I got a veal sandwich and he didn’t have to do the fucking dishes.

Foodie     **

Beast       ***

Fake Cassoulet

The Beast invited a friend over last night.  This was no play date though–they had music to make: the two of them have been commissioned to create an original score for a dance piece.  While they tinkered upstairs with bells, guitars and keyboards, I made a vegetarian cassoulet from a recipe I found yesterday on Gourmet.com.    I love real cassoulet, which is essentially the French version of our pork and beans.  Usually I have to be extremely drunk to eat the good stuff though because of the all that goose and duck confit (re:  unexplainable feather phobia).  So this vegetarian version sounded quite good.  All I had to do was grill up some sausages on the side, take that half-drunk bottle of Chianti Classico Reserva out of  the fridge so it would be an appropriate temperature in time for dinner, and I’d come off looking like a real good common-law fake wife in front of the Beast’s buddy.  

The recipe called for a bread crumb crust.  I happened to have half a loaf of that Epi multigrain bread that I’ve mentioned before (it’s well worth the $5.50 it costs at my local cheese shop).  I just cut it into bits, blitzed them in my food processor and baked it along with some fresh parsley, salt, pepper, garlic & olive oil.  The cassoulet itself was very simple to make, and it doesn’t take an engineer to grill sausages.  Dinner was ready in no time.

The best part was calling the Beast and his buddy down to eat.

Foodie:  (from the bottom of the stairs in an extremely feminine voice)  Oh boys, dinner’s on the table.

photo1It felt so sensually domestic, even though I was wearing a dirty jogging suit.  And even though the cassoulet was inauthentic by French standards, the Beast and I  may have fooled our dinner guest into thinking that we eat in the dining room every weeknight with real linen.  

Beast:  This looks like a penis on a plate.

Foodie:  Excuse me?

Beast:  It’s really good though.  

After dinner, the boys continued to play with their instruments while I watched America’s Next Top Model.  I drifted off though (re: too much Chianti) and had a dream starring Beppi Crosariol, the Globe and Mail’s wine writer. Nothing salacious to speak of happened, unless you call me dressed in a fuscia-coloured unitard trying to impress him in a blind Barolo tasting lewd. In reality, I actually did try to impress Beppi about a year ago at a Biodynamic wine tasting. I was covering the piece as a freelancer, and was asking John Williams of Napa’s Frog’s Leap a few questions when I noticed that Beppi was right behind me listening in. Then I got nervous because it’s not like I’m a real-life journalist with real-life questions.  I think I tried to make really cool sounding observations, like, “your wine is so smooth man.  You can so taste the terroir.  How do you do it?”

Anyway, this has nothing to do with the meal.  Although in my dream I looked like a sausage in that unitard,  and I did serve sausages for dinner.  So who’s laughing now?  Booyaka.

Foodie:     **1/2

Beast        ***