Sunday, April 01, 2012

Adventures in Jelly

It was St. Patrick's Day and I had a vision in green that I was determined to see come to fruition. It was all thanks to one of my favourite foodie shows - that BBC Radio 4 Sunday staple, the Food Programme. If you haven't tuned in, you should give it a try, because you can listen to a lot of their back catalogue on the BBC iPlayer and it's well worth it. Sometimes they do a report on one ingredient or type of food - scotch, say, or arbroath smokies - and sometimes they focus on a broader issue. They had an interesting couple of programs featuring Michael Pollan, for example, controversial foodster who advocates ignoring 'nutritionism' and focusing on eating simply. His mantra is 'Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants;' also, eat basically what your grandmother would recognize as food.

I'm not sure whether Michael Pollan would recognize jello as food - especially not after I took out the packet of lime green powder and shook it into the boiling water - but my grandmother would. Real gelatin obviously has its uses in the functional kitchen, mostly along the lines of preserving meats, but jello as a dessert has been a fun treat for generations. It has the kid-attracting qualities of being brightly coloured, mobile, mixable and sculptable. And ridiculously sweet.

The episode I'd listened to featured jelly (or jello, to North Americans) and the use of food as spectacle through history - magnificent molded jellies topping the sort of banquets that last for days, for example.

The master of this form was Antonin Carême, who was a chef to Napoleon, George IV and Tsar Alexander I. You should read the story of his endeavours, if you aren't familiar with this 'chef to kings and king of chefs' - it starts out when he was abandoned by his parents in 1794 during the French Revolution, and continues through his apprenticeship in a patisserie, his challenge under Talleyrand (the first Prime Minister of France) to create a different menu every day for a year based on seasonal food, and his incredible career as a freelancer in some of Europe's most lavish kitchens. He is best known for creating pièces montées, extraordinary food sculptures depicting natural and architectural designs, created using pastry, spun sugar, jelly and whatever food ingredients suggested themselves. He is known as the first master of haute cuisine. And the inventor of the chef's hat!

I include this pic of him (on the right) because I think it is similar in swagger and knife-wielding to this one of Anthony Bourdain:

A London company who call themselves modern 'jellymongers,' Bompas & Parr, has taken up the Carême gauntlet and modernized the jelly spectacle, making astonishing food-based creations and experiences. They got their start in jellies and have famously made a jelly St.Paul's Cathedral:

Carême was well-known for making architectural pieces, and Bompas and Parr are no different. They've made a jelly Millenium Bridge, a jelly airport and a jelly Buckingham Palace. They do special events, and provide a jelly technician to help you set up!

But their most incredible work involves some very cutting-edge large-scale events: on one project they flooded the roof of Selfridges with emerald green stevia syrup, created crystal islands and provided rowing boats to navigate (tea was served, of course); they've created an Alice in Wonderland feast for 2,000 people; a five-ton chocolate waterfall; a dirt banquet; a concrete cake and flavour-it-yourself chewing gum. They've taken inspiration from Douglas Adams, Lewis Carroll, Roald Dahl and Arthur C. Clarke. They've held a 'Taste-O-Rama' banquet where they screened Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom whilst simultaneously serving the food presented in the banquet in the film (monkey's brains, eyeball soup and the like). Underground. For the upcoming Olympics, they'll be making a forty-foot chocolate climbing wall.

Unbelievable, right? Where does my green-jellied vision fit in to all of this, you might ask? It was a poor vision in comparison, and I seem to remember the jellies of my youth setting up much more easily into amazing molds. All I wanted were some lime-green jelly initials for everyone at a St. Patrick's Day party we were going to. Sadly, they didn't set well (see first photo). They looked good, but when I tipped the mold over, imagining my solid green jellies sliding perfectly onto the plate, they just stayed put. Jelly fail! Flora told me to use more gelatin sheets, and spray the mould beforehand. Good tips! I will try again. But the jelly-letters were at least delicious, and the kids at the party scooped them out of their mold - and into their Sprite! - with aplomb.

Has Bompas & Parr ever done typographical jelly, I wonder?

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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Karen's Amazing Pancakes

My sister-in-law Karen makes the best pancakes. They are soooo healthy and absolutely addictive. I think it's the crunch of the millet that keeps me going back for another. Or maybe the caramel sweetness of the banana-heavy dough. Or the depth of flavour the whole wheat flour provides. Or, this time, the fresh blackberries Erin and I picked yesterday with babe in tow.

I tasted these for the first time years ago in Karen's kitchen. I remember she had made them for her two daughters, who were totally loving them, and one bite in I was demanding the recipe. They're definitely kid friendly – 8-month-old Nova ate a ton of them this morning. I made them tiny – about 1 1/2 – 2 inches in diameter – both for her little hands and because these are very slow cooking pancakes. They're also sticky, with all that banana goodness, so were a bit of a trick to flip in my cast iron pan. A non stick pan might do better here. Karen used dried apricots that first time. Today I substituted blackberries, and I imagine you could try any fresh or dried fruit with success.

Karen's Pancakes
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup milk or soy milk
1 tbsp white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 mashed banana
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup millet
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/8 cup flaxseeds
2/3 cup whole wheat or spelt flour (or a mixture of both)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
dried apricots or fresh berries

1. Mix all wet ingredients, from the oil through the banana.
2. Stir millet and oats into wet ingredients and let sit for 15-30 minutes.
3. Add remaining dry ingredients and dried fruit if using. Mix together gently. If using fresh berries fold in gently once most of flour is incorporated.
4. Using a scoop, drop batter into a pre-heated skillet over medium heat. These work best as small (1 1/2 – 2" diameter) pancakes, as they are slow cooking. Flip when browned on the bottom.

These are so delicious we ate them without syrup or butter, just on their own. And snacked on them cold a few hours later. Mmmmmm. Very happy that there are extras in the fridge for tomorrow's breakfast!

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Weekend of Good Food

Sometimes a weekend starts out with a good meal and just keeps getting better. The weekend of food I'm about to describe was a long weekend – or at least it was in Britain – as it started with a Royal Wedding. Kari, Michelle and I decamped to the Hotel Vancouver at three o'clock in the morning to join in the celebrations. I've never seen the Hotel Vancouver, let alone at three in the morning, but imagine our surprise when we arrived to find it buzzing. Everyone had dressed up for the occasion: the restaurant was all fascinators and fancy tea cups.

Here are Kari and Michelle saluting the nuptials with a spot of tea. There was a hat contest later on in the morning (if you can consider 5:30 late) as Breakfast Television was coming by, and I was interviewed for morning radio! We ate scones, fruit, croissants, muffins and sausages, all in honour of Wills & Kate.

In marked contrast to the silver tea service and dainty sweets, this was the next thing I ate:

It wasn't delicate in any way; it was a porchetta sandwich from the new Gastown spot Meat & Bread. We took Kari out the next morning (or was it technically lunch?) for her birthday. We all chose their signature sandwich: a crusty, olive-oil slathered ciabatta filled with herbed roasted pork, crackling, and a generous amount of fat. It was fantastic. Possibly a little too fatty for my taste (I know! Apparently that's possible!), but opinions differed. I had a great soda, the Fentiman's Dandelion and Burdock, it had a great herby flavour. Not something you encounter everywhere.

More on Meat and Bread in my next post, but here's a shot of the interior, designed by Glasfurd & Walker, a popular firm these days for a certain sort of on-trend restaurant. There was a movie set in the background. Some sort of action/sci-fi film was being shot in Victory Square. My other photo features their impressive collection of knives; loads of bone-handled ones stuck to a magnetic strip. I wonder how many actually make it into the rotation to slice some roast meats?

After our meat and bread feast, we headed to the garden to put some food in the ground. We planted oregano, cilantro, bok choi, greens, peas, beets, leeks, carrots, and took out some rosemary, broccoli, cabbage, chard and kale. A new season was clearly upon us! The onions are growing strong; I replanted a few after thinning them and they take really well. And the smell of onions fresh from the earth is the most amazing thing. We had a few of the baby ones in some pasta and they were fantastic. I think my most favourite garden-grown items are onions and garlic. Here's the newest member of our team, Nova Whetung, helping out with the seed packets:

After gardening it was off to the Three Lions Pub to watch the hockey game. It was a Saturday night, and extra busy because of the hockey, of course, but the Three Lions is a busy neighborhood local at any time. It's a cosy place to have a pint and a chat, and they make the most delicious bangers and mash on top of a massive plate-sized Yorkshire pudding. All smothered in gravy. Wow.

Here's Alisha's fish and chips. This dish looks amazing. I shall have to get her to comment!

Sadly the Canucks lost. But luckily they won that series and are on to the next! Meanwhile, though, we went down the street for some late-night congee at the Congee Noodle House on East Broadway to console ourselves.

They made some dumplings that they usually put in soup for me, as I had a huge dumplings craving. And Chris recommended the congee made with ling cod. Lots of people don't see the appeal of congee, and I wouldn't eat huge bowlfuls of it (it's like a savoury rice pudding, so it gets repetitive after a while), but it was surprisingly good. Michelle loved it. Congee Noodle House is a bit basic on atmosphere, but it's a good place to find yourself for a post-drinks snack.

Our next meal was a breakfast at Chris & Alisha's (they very nicely put us up after we collapsed at their place due to video game exhaustion). Alisha made some scrumptious blueberry pancakes – the recipe for which I'll have to get her to post – and Michelle and Chris made bacon and eggs and coffee. Michelle even had a cup, which is a rare event. She didn't have any blueberry pancakes, though, being cooked-fruit averse; a special plain version was made just for her!

The sun was shining, bacon was up; what could be tastier?

We then grabbed some supplies and a few more beers and headed to the 'burbs for that most suburban of foodie get-togethers: a birthday barbecue. Sadly my pictures of this last event are few and far between, but we ate some delicious chicken and roasted veg, some perfectly-cooked steaks, loads of Raisa's famous coleslaw that involves mini-pickles and is compulsively edible, and some cupcakes that I iced with lemon buttercream and sprinkles!

From amongst all this splendour, all I can show you is the following:

My cute godson Konnan addressing a strawberry. It'll have to do!

What a way to end a weekend. Here's to the promise of summer, everyone, and to the many good food weekends in store!

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Warm Mediterranean Potato Salad with Feta-Oregano Dressing

Tonight's dinner was inspired by a favourite recipe of my Mom's + the creamy feta dressing I invented to go with that delicious prawn salad + a glut of potatoes in the fridge.

That last point is due to my new standing order with the NOWBC Co-op, which hooks me up with fresh local organic produce every Wednesday. I am loving the surprise aspect of it. I get excited on Monday mornings, as that's when I get an email from NOWBC listing what I'll be getting for the week. This gives me a couple of days to start thinking about what meals the week's bounty will lead to, as well as decide what will keep from the previous week to pair with the new stuff.

There is just enough repetition to force me to think beyond my usual uses for things, and I'm really enjoying the challenge so far. I turned a big bag of red onions into caramelized onions which then showed up throughout the week in omelettes, in tomato sauce, and on pizzas. I made apple sauce for the first time ever (so good with my morning granola). I tried making a double-baked, stuffed spaghetti squash. Fun.

This week I had lots of potatoes left, and was tired of making both soup and mashed potatoes (which is where most of my potatoes have ended up in previous weeks). I normally don't think of making potato salad until I'm gathering fresh little new potatoes at the farmer's market in early summer. But this warm Mediterranean version works any time of year. My mom used to make one similar to this, which I always loved. Hers had olives, sundried tomatoes, peas, and a balsamic-garlic-oregano dressing. Yum. For tonight's salad I added tender little pieces of sauteed kale (mmm, delicious and what my body needs) and lemon-garlic marinated chicken, and incorporated feta into the dressing.

Warm Mediterranean Potato Salad with Feta-Oregano Dressing
2 chicken breasts

Marinade for chicken:
5 garlic cloves, smashed
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup olive oil
4 sprigs fresh oregano
salt and pepper

5 large potatoes, peeled and cut into large cubes
1 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1/2 cup sliced sundried tomatoes (oil-packed)
1 bunch kale, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil

[quantities to taste]
Olive oil
White wine vinegar
Feta cheese
Dijon mustard
Agave syrup
Fresh oregano
Fresh ground pepper

The combination of being home from work on mat leave and having a little babe around who tends to wreck havoc on our evenings has caused me to get organized about doing as much dinner prep early in the day as I can. So I got the chicken marinating early this morning. It was super flavourful once cooked, so I would recommend having it marinate in the fridge for as much time as you can. Chop the chicken into bite sized pieces and toss with marinade ingredients, then refrigerate.

Heat olive oil in a medium sized pot. Wash and chop kale, and shake out the majority of the water (don't worry about drying it – the moisture on the leaves will allow it to steam a bit as it sautes). Add kale to pot and cover. Stir every few minutes and continue cooking until nice and tender. Remove from heat and set aside.

While the kale is cooking, saute the chicken and boil the potatoes until tender. Combine kale, chicken and potatoes with the chopped olives and sundried tomatoes in a large bowl.

Put all dressing ingredients in a blender and process until smooth and creamy. I haven't listed any quantities here – I always just make dressings to taste, adding a bit of everything, blending, tasting, and then adding more of one or more ingredients to taste (a bit more agave if it isn't sweet enough, more vinegar if it's too sweet, more olive oil if it's too acidic, more mustard if I can't taste the mustard, etc.).

Toss the dressing with the salad to coat, and serve warm.

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Giving Sprouting a Second Chance

With sprouts, I've recently discovered bigger is better. Years ago my sister Tessa gave me a set of perforated plastic lids for making my own sprouts in mason jars. I was excited to get into sprout production, but didn't get very far before giving up. I found that the sprouts were always going bad before I could eat them all, maybe because I didn't find them all that delicious. I was sprouting a mix of small seeds – mustard, alfalfa, etc.

I can't remember what prompted me to take another stab at it this winter. Probably it was seeing those plastic lids taking up in my drawer and never being used. Or maybe Tessa raving to me during one evening phone call about some lentil sprouts she had made. And therein lies the secret: lentils. And mung beans. And chickpeas. Big things that grow into toothy, filling, earthy, delicious sprouts that are so yummy on salads.

If I can stick to my salad-a-day routine, I'll have no problem eating them up while they're fresh! It's such a treat to be able to eat something I've grown myself even on these gray wintery days. Fun to get to watch little green sprouts poke out in advance of our spring garden adventures (what are we going to plant this year?)

The jar lids are probably available in many kitchen stores. You can also get a sprouter which uses stackable trays, so you can make several kinds at once, and in larger quantities. My mom used to have one of these when I was a kid, and my sister prefers this kind. For now I'm happy with the jars, as I like sprouting just a little of each kind of bean, to enjoy over a couple of days.

Here's how to make your own:

  1. Put a few tablespoons of beans into a large jar.
  2. Fill jar with water, swish around to rinse, and fill again. Let beans soak in jar overnight.
  3. In the morning, pour out the water and then refill, swish, and pour it out again.
  4. Each morning and evening, rinse the sprouts as in step 3.
  5. You can begin eating the sprouts around day 2 and continue to day 4, eating them at various stages of sprouting. This ensures they're always fresh and eliminates the need for storing them after sprouting. I've been sprouting small quantities that I can eat up in two or three days.
So far I've tried green lentils, mung beans, and chickpeas and loved them all. I expect you could use any kind of dried bean. I'm taking suggestions for what to try next!

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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

I ate New York

Just like Milton Glaser, I heart New York. I truly do. I'm a convert to its big-city ways, frenetic energy and brash attitude. It's so unlike lovely, laid-back Vancouver, but like our wonderful west-coast city, if you need to find food on the cheap (and believe me, on this trip I certainly did) it's simple.

It all began when my good friend of many years, Jenny-Faye, called me up at the beginning of the year and asked if I wanted to go to New York in the fall to attend (ahem) Comic Con, the annual sci-fi convention. That's right: a giant collection of geeks, most of them likely in costume, swarming around convention tables, chatting about nerdy tv shows, attending panels and playing D&D on every available surface. Did I want to be there?

Apparently I did!

And thus it was, that a crisp, bright October morning found me heading out of the largest hostel in the world (it's in uptown Manhattan) and smack into the middle of a giant parade on Amsterdam Avenue. Which was typical, sort of; I found out that there's always something going on in New York. It doesn't really matter where you go, you're bound to run into something happening.

For our purposes, of course, the 'something' is all the delicious food and food-related events that the city offers. Following Amsterdam southwards, I came across the Mermaid Inn, a fantastic seafood restaurant with three locations throughout the city. I convinced Jenny to accompany me to the one on the Upper West side the following day.

Dinner looked a little pricey, but brunch was very reasonable. It happened to be a Sunday, which of course is Brunchday anyway. We both had the incredibly indulgent challah french toast with sautéed bananas. It was heavenly. We paired it with bacon, because what food is not improved by the addition of bacon? Answer me that.

Mmm, banana french toast.

The aesthetic (and of course, the food) is New England seafood house, and I shall one day return for a full plate of oysters or some Manhattan chowder! But on this trip I really enjoyed gobbling up my french toast with the autumnal morning sun streaming in.

Another of the draws was the design of the restaurant's printed materials (menus, business cards, matchbooks, etc.). I'm a sucker for a good hand-written script. Included in the photos above is the logo for the Russian Tea Room, which Jenny and I passed by that same morning. Far more formal, but it has a similar swashy feeling, I think. One day I shall visit that famed celebrity-haunt (where apparently Madonna was a coat-check girl in 1982) for some high tea and caviar (just $115 with champagne)!

A business card from the downtown location of the Mermaid Inn.

One of my most fervent food wishes whilst in New York was to eat at some of the great delis there and experience a little of the Jewish heritage of the city, to see how it compared to Toronto, where I grew up and ate at my share of great delis. This was a bit of a pilgrimage for me, and boy was it amply rewarded.

I must make a confession, though: I'm not really a big fan of smoked meat sandwiches, brisket, or corned beef. So, although NYC certainly offered plenty of towering sandwiches of meat, I'm afraid I didn't consume any of them. My Zaida used to love them, lean pastrami on rye adorned with plenty of hot mustard, dill pickles and accompanied by a Coke to wash it all down. I tried valiantly to join him and my brother in eating smoked meat sandwiches on one of our visits, but it just confirmed that it was not my thing. So I went back to my usual. But I do love lots of other deli food!

Here are Jenny and I in the Carnegie Deli in midtown Manhattan, so named because of its proximity to Carnegie Hall. This was a great deli, if a bit touristy. A huge place with lots of rooms and lots of character. To start they served pickles from the Pickle Guys on the Lower East side. I think these were the half-sour and full-sour kinds (they also do new, hot, 3/4-sour and other items like pickled peppers and tomatoes. Aaaand, they make killer horseradish. Great for Passover).

Jenny peruses the menu and I choose a bagel with tuna salad at Carnegie Deli.

Lots of famous New Yorkers have eaten there, including Woody Allen and Jerry Seinfeld and David Letterman. And Tyra Banks! Not someone I was expecting to enjoy a deli sandwich. Wonder what she had, and if she smized when it appeared! Jenny had a giant turkey sandwich; it was enormous, I can't emphasize that enough. And if you can see the poster behind me (click and click again) it says: "Not all the skyscrapers in NYC are made of glass and marble." That referred to the massive stacked smoked meat sandwiches they kept bringing out. They all looked ready to topple over. I wonder how much meat goes into them?

The next stop on our deli tour (though not the same day, of course) was Katz's, the best deli in NYC, I think. It was amazing; to me, everything the city is about: bustling, loud, brimming with humour and a great mix of people from all kinds of backgrounds. You can either take a ticket and they mark off what you order on it for payment later (kind of like dim sum, I suppose), or you can be seated for wait-service. But I think the self-service is more in keeping with the spirit of the place.

I was feeling a little under the weather, so I had some Jewish penecillin (matzoh ball or kneidlach soup). It was fantastic and did the job of soothing me admirably. I also shared some latkes with Jenny (though I may have had more than my fair share!) and a black and white cookie (of Seinfeld fame). Katz's was amazing, they have a massive menu as well, and a deli counter (natch) where you can buy sliced meats to bring home. They have great neon signs, one of which reads "Send a salami to your boy in the army," which does a New York sort of way!

I also patronized Russ & Daughters, a long-established deli counter known for its fine selection of fish and caviar, bagels and bialys, and sweets (I had some traditional pruney rugelach). They've been around on Houston St (pronounced 'How-ston,' as a New Yorker told me when I asked the way to 'Hyu-ston' street!) since 1914, but got their unique name after Joel Russ made his three daughters partners in his business in 1933. How cool is that?

My other deli stops were Barney Greengrass's (he's the Sturgeon King, according to his own advertising) where I had an egg salad sandwich and a great waiter (atmosphere: fantastic. Another hangout of Jerry Seinfeld); Yonah Schimmel's Knishery (also on Houston, also about 100 years old) where I had a liver & kasha knish (the best sort, I think: knishes, the potato-based Jewish dumpling, are everywhere in New York); and Zabar's, on the advice of the Moollas, who have loads of NYC knowledge.

Zabar's is just great. It is a deli, but it serves a broad demographic. I saw ahi tuna sliders there, for example, nestling alongside babkas and other more traditional deli food. In Manhattan, Jewish food belongs to the whole city, not just its Jewish population, which is fantastic. I saw halal food vans selling knishes in NYC! That's fantastic. Anyway, Zabar's is a sort of supermarket/deli, which has an amazing selection of cheeeeses! See the bottom left picture below:

Some of the hits and misses of NYC: burgers and cupcakes?

You can also see Barney Greengrass's great sign there, and Zabar's bread department. It is a busy place, as you might imagine, and well worth a visit to stock up if you are trying to avoid eating at restaurants every night, as I was on this trip. The hostel I was staying at had a massive kitchen with many workstations, so it made sense to buy some food in and store it in one of their fridges or cupboards. I found if I labelled all my bags, no one took anything. It was a great system. I got some good bread and cheese from Zabar's for picnic lunches.

There were a few misses in terms of food selection, as I was in NYC for ten days, and in that time, inevitably not every meal will be a winner: the pretzel I had, ubiquitous streetfood, was bland and dry (and huge); the concept of Burgers and Cupcakes I decided to steer clear of; Ozu was a nice-looking place, but their noodles were horrible, and if there's one thing a Vancouverite will not stand for, it's bad noodles! Jenny dragged me to a futuristic restaurant near Times Square called Mars 2112, and it was ... unbelievable. You must check out their website. But then I had chosen basically every food place so far, so poor Jenny was due. And I did get a great picture of her with a guy in an alien suit.

We had some run-of-the-mill pizza; I know NYC is also famous for great pizza, but I didn't look for it, so I must make sure to next time. Supermarkets were great to look through, as Americans often have unusual products, including Smucker's 'Goober' Peanut Butter and Jelly. I really should have held up the grape flavour. Ugh. Alternating stripes of highly-processed 'peanut butter' and 'jelly' in one jar. Is that really food? Another fail was my one foray into the world of streetdogs; again I'm sure there are some great stands somewhere that sell a tasty 'dirty-water dog,' but my choice was random and unpleasant.

But a great hit was Five Guys, a fantastic burger place on the way to the convention centre. I stopped in for some food by following Travel Food Rule Number One: "Are there a lot of locals in the place? Is it hopping? If so, you can't go far wrong." And it was amazing. One of the most memorable burgers ever. All the elements just came together perfectly. Aaaand, I've just found out that there's one in Park Royal in North Van! Huzzah! We must make a pilgrimage; trust me, guys, their burgers are worth it. They have signs up which let you know which farms your potatoes and beef are coming from. Very cool. So when are we going?

Our best stumble-across, by far, was a food market at Madison Square, right by the Flatiron building. We came across lots of stalls, including one from a Brooklyn business that I'd been wanting to visit: Pies 'n' Thighs. The thighs refer to the chicken, I assume, rather than your own thighs once you partake of their amazingly delicious deep-fried chicken sandwiches served on a biscuit AND SMOTHERED IN HONEY BUTTER.

This is the best food ever. I cannot adequately describe its incredibleness. If that's even a word. If it is, it applies here! I finished the sandwich off with a slice of chocolate peanut butter pie (my first ever) – they rotate pie flavours, and it was hard to choose, let me tell you, with maple bourbon pecan and key lime on the menu – and a cup of hot apple cider from another stall, which was very warming in the autumn. Forgive me for bringing design back into this discussion, but the Pies 'n' Thighs menu was another winner here, friendly and just a little hipsterish (they are based in Williamsburg, hipster central, apparently):

Pies 'n' Thighs latest menu.

Pies 'n' Thighs has been noticed by Martha Stewart lately, so I'm sure they're doing well. They also cater! Do you think they'll cater to the west coast? I'm sure those hipsters would appreciate a road trip!

I include a picture of me at the Met(ropolitan Opera) holding a glass of champagne, which I foolishly lined up for during the intermission (I saw Rigoletto, it was a fantastic experience). Guess how much it cost? I shall answer at the end of this post. It was pink champagne, if that makes any difference!

My final great foodie visit was to Eataly, the new Italian food complex created by Mario Batali along with partners Lidia and Joe Bastianich. It is a massive place, filled with markets (vegetables, fish, cheeses, meats, wines, pastas, sweets and coffee), twelve restaurants (from high-end Manzo to the very casual Caffe Lavaza or Gelateria), and hundreds of people. There are classes to take (language, cooking, wine-tasting, etc), demonstrations and all sorts of events and high-profile guests, all to promote Italian food and cooking. It's all absolutely amazing, as you can probably imagine.

I'm including this map of the site; it doesn't really convey how huge Eataly is, but you can see all the different departments. It's like the Macy's of food! I explored most of them, whilst Jenny gave up after a bit, as it was pretty crazy in there. I got some prosciutto, some salami, some dolce gorgonzola (really good, not too much bite), some ciabatta, some Italian lemonade and some dolci (chocolate truffles) and joined Jenny for a picnic lunch outside. This was one of those times that I wished I properly enjoyed coffee, as they had a beautiful coffee bar there, and it smelled delightful.

Whew! That's the majority of my foodventures in NYC. When you're eating cheaply, it's a great city. Almost every sort of food culture is well-represented. In New York I ate Swedish food, Jewish food, Italian food, southern soul food, New England food, German food, Japanese food, and a lot of foods that, though they originated elsewhere, have become a part of New York's identity.I feel like I got a broad overview of the city, but NYC is a foodie town, and there are thousands of restaurants, great and small, there. One day I hope to eat at Per Se or the Gramercy Tavern or Babbo, but for now I'm perfectly happy with my cheap eats! One last picture of a reflected New York, and thanks for persevering with me through this massive post!

P.S. My pink champagne at the Met was $17 for the glass. What do you think? Too much? :D

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

What am I loving this winter? Surprise, it's salads!

Although my mom served salad with dinner nearly every night while I was growing up, I never got into a really good salad routine myself. Of course in summer I can't help making salads, but they're more often for lunch than dinner, and still not necessarily an every day thing. When there's an abundance of fresh yummy stuff, or when I'm feeling a veggie deficiency, I'll opt for salad. We make lots of salads on our Wednesday dinner nights too – us girls are good at making sure there's a healthy component to each meal we put together. But still, when it comes to the other nights of the week, I'll usually make some kind of one-pot thing that includes veggies, and skip the side salad. And in winter, well, salads just aren't cold weather comfort food, right?

I'm changing my mind about that. This winter I have an extra interest in keeping healthy, since what I eat is still the only thing nourishing my little babe for now. That, paired with a renewed dedication to eating local and natural foods (after reading Deborah Eden Tull's The Natural Kitchen, one of the best gifts I got this Christmas and a book I recommend hugely) has led me to keep more veggies in my fridge, and try new things with them. And to my surprise, I've discovered that I LOVE winter salads.

Kale, beets, carrots, spinach, radicchio, and apples – all possible to find locally grown here throughout the winter – have become my staples, and with these I'm finding I can produce a delicious salad every day without much trouble.

Here are a few of my favourite combinations:

  • Thinly sliced raw kale with raw carrots and beets cut into matchsticks, leftover cooked quinoa, and toasted pumpkin seeds on top (pictured above)
  • Spinach and radicchio with apple slices (would be good with nuts added as well)
  • Spinach with grated carrots and beets
  • Spinach with grated carrots, feta, and pumpkin seeds
  • Thinly sliced raw kale with grated carrots, sliced boiled egg, and pumpkin seeds

I'm a bit lazy when it comes to the dressings – I've just been making big batches of my standard vinaigrette (olive oil, white wine vinegar – or a combination of lemon juice and white wine vinegar – lots of mustard, a bit of agave syrup or maple syrup, and salt and pepper) and using it for everything, which I think is yummy but you could definitely experiment more.

There's a lot of repetition in there, so you can see how having a few of these awesome winter veggies on hand in the fridge can keep me happy for days. These salads manage to feel hearty and satisfying enough for winter – the substantial texture of the kale, beets, and the richness of radicchio combined with apple, the toasty crunch of pumpkin seeds... It's magic! And now that I've discovered this, I get to feel that fresh healthy goodness that comes from salad eating, all year round.

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