Saturday, December 31, 2011

Let's talk hangovers... is new year's eve, afterall.

I'm sure most folks out there have plans involving a large amount of alcohol consumption, or driving home those consuming a large amount of alcohol (which, to note, is called "well-planned"). But did you folks think about the morning after?

Im not here to preach--ok, i m preaching a bit, but mostly about planning to have a safe ride home--a "think before you drink" wouldnt-you-like-to-be-able-to-wake-up-and-enjoy-the-first-day-of-the-new-year-or-at-least-stomach-breakfast idea...but i am here to talk about the breakfast:

The hangover cure. I dont have a recipe. Alot of people do, citing the heal all benefits of a raw egg floating in tomato juice (downing what you would rather be throwing up???), or greasy, breakfast sausage heavy egg hashes smothered in ketchup or hot sauce and butter drenched toast to soak it all up (eating what resembles and therefore likely will feel quite at home with the contents of your stomach). Such self doctor-ers are much more experienced drinkers than i; personally, i hate the thought/feeling of losing control so much that i rarely break a buzz despite my love of all things booze. Im a bit of an alcoholic (forgive the term) contradiction: a wino at heart who craves handcrafted beers, or a guinness for dinner in the winter, who doesnt chase a shot of tequila with lime because she loves the taste, who cant play scrabble without a whiskey, no ice, whose recent interest in classic and inventive cocktails has expanded her "liquor cabinet" (empty wine boxes restocked..., classy) twice over, who prefers her espresso with a shot of grappa in cold weather, who makes her own amaretto and limoncello, yet i have been drunk less thank the number of drinks it takes for me to get so (3-5 depending...). Despite this, i know very well what i want the morning after: carbs--particularly those drenched in sugar.

I've never been much of a savory breakfast person to begin with, and the very smell of bacon makes me queezy, but when i can barely lift my spinning head to down some thickly strong coffee, i take my usual sweet breakfast to the extreme (extreme for me at least--no icecream on my toast or anything; even a poptart is too much...). Think french toast with apricot jam and maple syrup or cornflakes (my guilty pleasure breakfast cereal) with enough sugar/honey that they may as well be frosted flakes (that made sweet cereal love to golden grahams...). But the best hangover breakfast i ever had on one of the 3-5 occasions that i needed one were pancakes at the Bread Co. in Kelowna.

There was nothing particularly special about this stack. Just your run of the mill buttermilk cakes, Sure they were light and fluffy, familiar and comforting--just your run-of-the-mill buttermilk cakes. Except that these were covered in granulated sugar. Granulated. Not dusted with icing sugar like pancakes of childhoods past ("snow" we used to call it, and it was strictly reserved for french toast in my mas kitchen). This may not seem as epic to some as it was for me; perhaps you, like my French girlfriend whose mom was adjusting to pancakes versus crepes upon immigrating to Canada, have always eaten your pancakes dusted with gritty white sugar. I had never seen it before. Perhaps still a bit drunk, i could hardly contain my excitement over it. I dipped sugar covered bites in the mini syrup boat so that syrup would not dissolve the crunch i was getting such a kick out of. Yes, i dipped sugar covered chunks of carbs into more sugar, and felt increasingly better. I sat up straighter, the sun came out, i vowed to eat my pancakes with granulated sugar everytime i was hungover (though earlier i had vowed never to drink again).

So aside from rallying up a safe ride home, in preparation for the New Year, why dont you whip up some pancake batter for tomorrow morning, and bust out the syrup and the gritty white sugar. And some bacon, if you insist.

Happy new year

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Blown out of the water

i love working at the fish shop. Crazy, im considered by my current coworkers for reasons less simple as most of your reactions, im supposing: smell. Its true, there is a fishy waft behind me as i walk through my own home at the end of the day (straight to the shower), and i keep fish shop clothes seperate from every day outfits, but its hardly a worry. I mean, when i am there, i dont smell me anyways. I smell all the fish, of course, who are supposed to smell. And then, after said shower, I eat them.

My fishmonger boss is incredibly passionate about all things from the sea. With his English accent he exclaims about freshness, sustainability, the sheer luckiness of having such a variety of gorgeous fish to choose from. He is also incredibly generous, sending me home on my first day four years ago with a rare John Dory, simply because he was excited for me to try it (passionate, as i said); he took the only other one (generous, right?); recently he handed me a requested tuna belly at no charge because he wished more people were interested in the belly he so enjoys eating sashimi style. Oysters two valentines days ago, for the sake of love; a lobster for Christmas eve dinner (holiday bonus?). It seems he feeds off my passion, eager to share his love of seafood; and i feed off his seafood, trying whatever he throws my way, whatever comes fresh and new and exciting into the shop. Tonight, that was monkfish.

We have had monkfish in before, but i had yet to try it, for, i confess, i was a bit of an arctic char addict, and nothing could distract me from it. And i tried to distract most all salmon seeking customers with it, trying to guilt trip them about seasonality and fresh versus frozen and just generally disgruntled by the general publics inability to step out of there comfort zone salmon/halibut fish-box (truly, it is my greatest pet peeve working there: the beeline to the Sockeye and Spring, frozen at sea and barely holding a sheen while other glistening, fresh, fish beckon. And then they have the nerve to complain that it is "fresh"--well, guess what? Thats cause it isnt. Its frozen! Come back in the summer folks, enjoy it while it is in its glorious run...sorry, it really annoys me...). The winters i have worked selling fish, i would ask everyone who tried to feed their family salmon if they had tried Char, followed by my sales pitch, hardly hearing their response. Despite less than successful efforts, i will now begin the same approach with monkfish in mind, because tonight, it blew my mind.

Christmas eve found me craving a fish stew, but i was too excited about the seven fish dinner of Sicilian tradition to change my plans; so i have been craving it ever since. Yesteday was the planned dinner date, until i got wind that we would be getting monkfish in today. I postponed, simply because most of the recipes i had come across listed (sometimes insisted) upon monkfish as the partner to shellfish. It was worth the wait. My goodness it was worth it.

I started by slowly creating a broth out of my garlic, onions, bay leafs, fennel seeds, chilis, and saffron, simmering in my home canned tomatoes, white wine, and bottled clam nectar (im afraid of whole clams since i horrible day lived after eating a bad one...). In went the monkish and some other seafoody additions to poach gently. Into an oversized coffee mug with a chunk of baguette, to the computer where i stopped what i was reading and began writing this because a spooned up peice of monkfish, i repeat, blew my mind.

It was so tender, it practically dissolved into tiny flakes in my mouth. It was magically sweet, as if defying the slightly spicy broth. It was not as i expected it to be. Once dubbed "poor mans lobster" (before it became common and therefore just as expensive as the comparable crustacean), i thought it would be large, dense bites of fish, firm and dare i say, i bit bland. Not at all. Quite the opposite. In fact, i dont know who termed it that, but i know it is worth every penny that any ol'lobster is. If you have not tried it, and you should be so lucky that your fishmonger has it, have it wrapped up for dinner. I promise you will not miss that salmon/halibut...

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Sincerely, the grinch

A list, not of wishes to St. Nic, but of things i actually like about Christmas:

1) The excuse to make a variatable 10 cookie jars worth of my favorite baking...and to consume them all in less than a month

2) The excuse to refine and expand my cocktail knowledge

3) Sparkling wine

4) Cocktails made with sparkling wine

5) Once a year movies like "Love Actually," "The Family Stone," and "Home Alone."

6) Seeing my sister (and the rest of my family whom i have no excuse for not seeing the entire year round for living in the same city let alone province...)

7) A traditional Sicilian feast

"Feast of the seven fishes;" how Christmas eve is spent on the Italian island. Consciously Catholic, there is no meat eaten the night before Christmas, rather a banquet of pesce from antipasto, through ensalada and primi pastas, to the roasted whole entree. I can think of no greater meal to get through--i mean, celebrate-- this holiday.

And so i did--after all, this was no North American thanksgiving that i themed Italian, but their custom i gratefully celebrated here.

And how we celebrated. Working at the fish shop over the holidays helped in attaining 7 fishes--tuna tummy (a raw salad with salted capers) and a boiled lobster (the meat added to a spicy Fra Diavolo sauce for linguine) were "perks of the job" and much appreciated--the pasta made the menu for me. There were cocktails made from Fernet Branca and, yep, sparkling wine, because, hey, its Christmas. And then there were cookies, plenty of cookies, because, hey, its Christmas.

And because, hey, its Christmas, its time for traditions--this fishy feast is now mine, because, hey, it makes me actually enjoy this holiday.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Perfect for dipping

Im surprised to this day that Bonnie (the owner of the Round Street Cafe in Lethbridge and home of the best ginger molasses cookies both i and my ma have had before) gave me the recipe for said cookies. Just like that. No questions, just a list of ingredients. She must have known they would never be the same as those had in her heritage building coffee shop no matter how many times i baked them (which is only three--every Christmas since recieving the recipe). That they would never be as chewy and sweetly gingery as the winter my ma and i shared one (Bonnie makes them a size worthy of $1.25) on a break from Christmas shopping, ordering mugs of mint tea to dip . That tradition was started there too, and i dont think i could enjoy a gingersnap without wishing for a cuppa mint (i would still enjoy the cookie, i love cookies. but i d be wishing for the tea...). The ones i made tonight sure needed it.

The dough seemed very soft, so i baked some testers to see if i should chance adding a bit more flour. When they had completely cooled on the rack (id made and ate dinner, and wasted some time on the internet in the meantime) i decided i wanted them warm, and besides, they seemed a tad underbaked; so back on the tray and back into the oven they went. When i pulled them out for the second time, they were more than a tad over-baked--not yet burnt, but now falling into the ginger"snap" category. Enter mint tea. They were completely salvageble, with a bit of a bite from added candied ginger that Bonnie doesnt use. And though this year again they were not even close to the first one, five years ago, the mint and ginger, and Bonnies generosity, the memory of her peaceful little place, it rings in the Christmas season for me.

Happy holiday baking, everyone.

Thanksgiving! (again)

Given my last post, you would think i would have had an Italian inspired Thanksgiving. Let me tell you, it was a great exercise in restraint not to break out my saffron and olives and go full on Sicilian. But not this time.

Though i did not go full on American as i had planned to. There was no corn pudding, no oyster or andouille sausage stuffing, no cornbread, or baked yams (had there been yams at all, there would have been no pecans, and certainly no marshmallows, sorry...), there wasnt even turkey (greater sorry). So what was so "American" about my American thanksgiving? It wasnt Sicilian, i suppose.

Well, there were brussels sprouts with roasted garlic, a silky parsnip puree laced with malt vinegar (aha, a play on an idea i got from an American restaurant where the chips in their fish and chips are parsnip and they come with a malt vinegar aioli--a stellar combination), an un-stuffed stuffing of wild rice and quinoa with wild mushrooms, heirloom beans (the shelled kind, up in Canada here, string and pole beans are all done for the season) braised and saucy with wintry herbs, the last of my greens with a meyer lemon dressing. And pie. There was, of course, pumpkin pie.

And with this pie (in a hazelnut crust), came what i think may be my "pumpkin pie spice." I dont use a traditional blend when i m making pumpkin, anything, really. There was saffron in the one i made for my Italian Canadian Thanksgiving, and i ve roasted the squash with bay leaves to amp up the savoriness when making a bread or scone. This addition though, may be hard to deter from. I even made an excuse to use it again, roasting the last of my pumpkins to turn into butter, just to grind up this spice mix: mostly cinnamon, but generous with ginger and cardamom, a hint of clove, and, the newcomer, anise. I love the smoky licorice flavour this gives, even more stunning against the hazelnuts. I only wished there had been a slice for a traditional day-after breakfast.