Top Ten of 2014

I’m a sucker for a fresh start. I enjoy a good New Year’s Eve, and like most, I try taking a deep breath and starting again. When I mess up I’ll give it another go at Chinese New Year. Another deep breath on April Fool’s Day to fool myself into starting my resolutions in the spring, then solstice, fall, any given Monday, first day of December to get a jump on things before New Year’s Eve, aaaand here we are, full circle. So chickens, if 2014 didn’t turn out quite as you expected, now’s your chance for a fresh start. In the meantime, to contribute a little something to your procrastination, here’s another annoying top ten list to peruse while you’re poking around online. Instead of starting War and Peace like you said you would on day one of your new life. After all, there’s always Monday.

Tiramisu Ice Cream

I still wonder why I waited so long to get an ice cream maker. I think deep down I knew it would ruin me for life. I think I knew once I took the plunge I would never again feel the same about ice cream that comes from Sobeys. Don’t get me wrong, there have been (and probably will be) plenty of occasions when all I want to do is stay home on a Friday night and pound the face off a tub of heavenly hash. I’m only human, after all. But have you ever really paid attention to what’s in store-bought ice cream? Especially the low-fat stuff? What are modified milk ingredients exactly? Why is it called polysorbate 80? I definitely wouldn’t be able to spell carrageenen if I was competing in a spelling bee, so I probably shouldn’t eat it. Here’s what’s in real homemade ice cream: milk, eggs, sugar, cream, vanilla. With the obvious embellishments for your preferred flavour. If you’re still not convinced full fat homemade ice cream is the way to go, just look at the weird watery puddle that’s left when your store-bought ice cream or frozen yogurt melts against a hot piece of pie. Pie deserves real ice cream and goddammit, so do you.

Check out this recipe for Tiramisu (holy shit, I know!!) ice cream from the gorgeous Playful Cooking. It’s super simple, and when you casually say to your guests. “Whatever, I made homemade tiramisu ice cream for dessert it’s no big deal,” they will lose their minds. I’m sometimes a little fussy about coffee in things that aren’t hot mugs, so when I made this I omitted the coffee and sprinkled some espresso powder and a teaspoon of vanilla-infused rum on top of each individual serving. The second time, I added a tablespoon of the rum and half a teaspoon of espresso powder to the mix before freezing the ice cream. Either which way, it’s a beautiful recipe, and extra special if you make homemade ladyfinger biscuits to go alongside.

Middle Eastern Roast Chicken

The most decadent roast chicken I made all year, and that’s saying something. There are a few different elements but it’s dead easy and so completely worth the effort and please, please try it. I omitted the rosemary and didn’t miss it. And wow, that green harissa is really something. As always, this flatbread recipe. What a deadly way to mess with people’s heads when you invite them over for Sunday Roast.

Hot and Sticky Roast Quail

If I could have lunch with one food personality, it would be Nigel Slater. Preferably sitting at a wrought iron table in an English back garden surrounded by low-hanging trees. With two really nice bottles of very cold white wine. He is just the loveliest. I recently read his book Toast, and fell a little bit more in love with him. If you cook and you don’t have The Kitchen Diaries, you’re missing out on a very tasty time.

Sometimes I’m intimidated by meat that’s not chicken. Hell, sometimes I’m intimidated by chicken. I used Nigel’s recipe the very first time I cooked quail, and it stripped away all intimidation. So don’t be scared, and don’t be precious about it just because quail is something you associate with fancy restaurants. They’re like mini-chickens that don’t take near as much cooking time (and quail is supposed to be a little pink when you cook it, so raw chicken paranoia is significantly reduced). They’re notoriously difficult to debone, so just use your fingers and be careful of the little bones. The Tragically Hip were actually singing about quail, not chicken.

Set aside 4 oven-ready quail. Mix 4 cloves minced garlic, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, the juice of half a lemon, 2 tablespoons light soya sauce, half a teaspoon salt, 4 teaspoons grainy mustard. Toss quail in the mixture, using hands to ensure everything is coated well. Let everything marinate for an hour or so if you have time, but cooking straight away works too. Roast in a 425ºF oven in a pan that’s big enough the quail don’t touch. Cook the quail for twenty to twenty-five minutes.

(Adapted from Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries, HarperCollins 2005)

Spiced Lamb Chops

I get a little pang sometimes when I eat lamb but it’s my favourite and I can’t stop so I deal with the guilt. Usually by marinating, roasting, and then eating it. We bought a French rack of lamb for a treat one night and I had no idea what I was doing, but this is what happened. I’m glad I wrote it down because it turned out to be salty, spicy, tangy, tender meat that you could tear off the bone with your fingers and it tasted like street food from somewhere warm.

Marinate in fridge for 4 hours or so – a slightly scored French rack of lamb rubbed with this spice rub/paste:  1 teaspoon ground coriander, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons olive oil, 2 cloves finely minced garlic, juice from half a lime. Let lamb come to room temperature. Sear on all sides in a hot pan and then roast in a 400ºF oven for 12 to 18 minutes. Let the meat rest for 5 minutes, and carefully carve individual chops. Really nice with saffron rice and sprinkled with sumac.

Farmer’s Market Mini-Donuts

There is nothing on earth like an old-fashioned cinnamon sugar donut. For me, they’re right up there with the perfect piece of pie. But you know what? They’re really hard to find. Think about the last time you saw a cinnamon sugar donut. Unless you’re making them yourself, it’s probably been a while. I would even forgive Tim Hortons its shitty coffee if it had a proper donut (no hard feelings Tim, and thank you for helping me stay awake on long road trips). The St. John’s Farmer’s Market is shut down for the season, but when it opens again in the spring we all should go every weekend to support it because it’s one of the best things to do in the city. And there is a stall with a lovely man and woman who make fresh donuts. Fresh as in you can watch the little clouds of batter pop out of a machine and slide into a river of hot oil, bobbing along until they’re gently flipped over to finish frying and then tossed in whatever toppings you like. How could something so beautiful be bad? Sometimes, they put a few extra in the bag for you. Or maybe the woman was alarmed by how my eyes glazed over while I was watching the donut show and wanted me out of there fast. Maybe she’d never had a 38-year-old woman ask to be adopted into their happy little donut family, I dunno.

Portuguese Chicken and Potato Balls

I love Portugal. I can’t say that as someone who’s traveled the country extensively, only as someone who spent three days there one November. Portugal has the bluest sky I have ever seen, the best coffee, food, wine, and people. It’s the kind of place I’d like to plunk myself down, in a little apartment with a patio overlooking a nice street where I would drink wine and cook good food for a month or two. I want to learn more about Portuguese food and eat more of it, because everything I’ve tried makes me feel happy, like I’m already on that patio with a couple of glasses of wine in me. On a quick trip to Toronto last February, Didi and I stayed with two of our favourite friends, Renee and Dana. They live in Little Portugal, and for lunch Renee ran out and grabbed a Portuguese roast chicken with rice and potato balls. I’m the first person to admit that Toronto took a long time to grow on me, but I kind of get it now, and I love that every neighbourhood is its own little town. St. John’s is getting better and better when it comes to food, but I really envy my Toronto pals their ability to run out and grab whatever they feel like eating that day. And why the hell did it take so long for me to find out potato balls existed?

Slow-Roast Persian Lamb

Again, with the lamb. A shoulder this time, braised in some spices and pomegranate molasses. I like how lamb can be a formal affair or one of those things you can pick apart with your fingers and eat between flatbread. I think that’s how most of the world eats it anyway. And if they don’t, they should. This recipe is super easy and the meat comes out tender and tangy, and maybe like something you’ve never tasted. We had it with homemade flatbread, rolled out in the shape of round tortillas so it was almost like eating a lamb taco. Two sauces; a yogurt-cumin-cucumber and that green harissa I’m obsessed with, but I put a bunch of mint in it to go along with the spinach and cilantro. Really, really good. With beer, on a Sunday afternoon in front of the television.

French Macarons

One of the scariest (and most delicious) things in the world, finally scratched off my baking bucket list, mostly thanks to my friend Joanne of Paradise Cakery. Macarons aren’t rocket science, but they are baking science. Don’t make them when it’s raining out, do it with a friend, and be prepared to eat the mistakes that will happen until you finally figure it out. Turns out they’re not so scary after all.

Banh Mi

These are so delicious. And really no big deal to put together unless you want to make your own buns. All the stuffings are fairly simple, so just go buy some baguettes if you want a quick fix. Carby, comforty, and spicy. A good recipe to add to your “How to Make it Through a Winter in Town” collection.

The Clemontini 

(I know, isn’t that a great name? What’s most impressive is it only took two of these to think of it.)

And finally, not counting as food, but counting as something I would like to bathe in, a martini recipe that we may have inadvertently invented. Or inadvertently adapted. Either way those last two sentences would be hard to say after 4 or 5. It’s a martini we made just a few nights ago that’s inspired by a drink I had my first time at Raymonds. What? If you paid $200 bucks to get dehydrated at an Eagles concert, don’t even look at me sideways. Anyway, that whole glorious night is a little fuzzy, but there was one standout drink that was something like fresh lemon juice, rosemary simple syrup, apple vodka? Or maybe it was plain vodka, whatever. A few nights ago I wanted a fancy boozy cocktail and the hazy Raymonds memory returned to me. After I wept, I googled around and found lots of recipes for lemon rosemary martinis, but Justin suggested using some of the clementines in the fridge. Or as I like to call them, “the only reason I don’t get scurvy at Christmas time.” I mean, who eats an apple or broccoli between December 25th and January 1st? It’s clementines or booze/chocolate/cheese and if you’re eating kale this time of year, we probably can’t ever be friends. And if you think I’m the only one staving off scurvy with booze, you are very much mistaken.

Put all this in a martini shaker with ice. Enough for two.

1 1/2 oz freshly squeezed clementine juice
1 1/2 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 oz rosemary simple syrup
1 oz vodka
1 oz green apple vodka

(For rosemary simple syrup: over medium-high heat bring to a boil 1 cup water, 1 cup granulated sugar, and 4 springs of fresh rosemary. Simmer for a minute or so until sugar is completely dissolved. Let cool and strain through a fine mesh sieve, discarding rosemary. Keeps in fridge for a month. Like it’ll last that long. Double the batch if you’re expecting company.)

A little plastic citrus juicer will do wonders, and an electric citrus juicer will make quick work of a pretty tedious job. Not a juicer juicer, more like the one you see above. And hey hey, constant exposure to citrus will burn your hands in the same way lime juice cooks seafood in a ceviche. Gross. So, even a cheap plastic juicer might be a wise investment, especially when you end up loving these things and you want freshly squeezed juice on hand all the time. They’re kind of pretty dressed up with sugared rosemary springs, or a slice of clementine. This is a nice sweet-tart-booze mix, but up the booze by an ounce if you like. If you only have plain vodka, up the simple syrup by a half-ounce. Have some fun experimenting, it’s not like you’ll throw out any failures.

Happy eating in 2015! I’ll see you at Chinese New Year for deep breathing and another fresh start.  xo

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