The good tuna.

I’ll admit, there hasn’t been much cooking around here this week. This year I committed to a lot more writing, and had given myself a deadline for one of several writerly milestones; this week, I met the very first one – the most intimidating one. I feel good about it, but my goodness, am I tired. I’m such an awful procrastinator, I could have mitigated all the turmoil by simply following that schedule I made – but no matter now. As long as it gets done, right?

The last meal I made was Sunday night, for Chelsea (seen beaming and blurry, below). It was a linguine using the good tuna, and I wrote about it at Granville Mazagine’s Secret City blog. Go check it out – I hope you like it!

And I promise, once I get settled back down, things will return to normal. At least until the next milestone; for now, I am relaxing with a little too much caramel ice cream. Thank goodness.

Lobster and sake: So this is February?

I wanted to show you something today, but I decided against it. I have a recipe I am working on, and I thought it was perfect, but the more I nibble, the more I think it could use another round and some new ingredients. So instead, I am going to show you what I did and drank today.

Those daffodils? They appeared in a garden outside one of the buildings on our block. It’s marvelous out, really fantastic, and spring has sprung, more than a month ahead of schedule.

We hopped on our bikes this morning, without our jackets, and we rode around in the sunshine, and ended up at Granville Island, which is a place I love very much, with its markets and fish mongers and wonderful places to buy beer, wine, and sake. It also doubles as a tourist destination, which is something I forgot about today, as it was crazy there, crammed full of Olympics-related festivities.

We bumbled around the market, eating free samples and soaking in sunshine, and happened upon The Lobster Man, where they were barbecuing lobsters, oysters, and other fishy things. We grabbed ourselves some lobster roll, and looked at all the delicious seafood swimming in its tanks.

We stopped in at all the usual places, and then detoured onto Railspur Alley, where there is an artisan sake maker who will let you sip from his whole collection for five dollars. Not small sips either – we were both slightly buzzed as we stumbled around the rest of the island afterward.

The sake is delicious, all of it, and quite worthy of the praise heaped on it by local media. We tried all three standard flavours, as well as the sparkling sake, which was so lovely I’m considering switching it in for regular sparkling wine come New Year’s eve. It was cold, and bright tasting, dry on the tongue but lively and slightly fruity, like sake but also like something else, though I’m not sure what. I wanted to take everything they had home with me, but I was on my bike, and had forgotten a bag.

It was a good day, and while I have no recipe this afternoon, I promise I will have one for you soon. I’ve been hoarding the good tuna, so I’ll have at least a spin on tonnato sauce to share, and maybe a fancypants but inexpensive tuna melt. Maybe. Or maybe something else! When it’s like this out, it’s hard to know where the mood will take us. Wheee!

Things to not be messed with: Sticky toffee pudding, and also me. But mostly the pudding, because I probably won’t fight back but we have to defend the food.

Despite its reputation to the contrary, England is actually home to a tradition of really delicious food. In theory, anyway. In practice? I’m not so sure, but it’s possible that when I was there, the good stuff was priced a tad out of my range. They do good fish and chips, and I can’t get enough mushy peas or potted Stilton.

It was much too long ago that I was there. I think it was 2005, which means I am long overdue for a return. I went with my aunt and uncle, Lynn and George, who continue to spoil me rotten despite my advancing years, and though the delicacies were mostly cheese– or chocolate-based (those fresh little croissants and their warm chocolate dip at the coffee shop beside Harrod’s – I dream about them!) and each very special in their own right, there was one extra special treat that tastes and reminds me of England in all its splendour, and it’s impossible to screw up.




Well, actually, I’m wrong. It’s super easy to screw up, and even the English are doing it. The thing about sticky toffee pudding is that it’s a pudding, not a cake with sauce. Semantics are important, and the difference must be appreciated. I noticed a few years after returning home that sticky toffee pudding had made itself known on this side of the world – there’s even a Haagen-Dazs flavour named for it. I got excited, and tried it everywhere. There are a couple of good spots for it locally, but on the whole, it’s gone the way of most other trendy food items: it got all tarted up, and in the process lost the magic that made it what it was.

Sticky toffee pudding is a gooey, sticky pudding that tastes like toffee. Which sounds obvious, but I’ve seen it complicated, dried out, and not even toffee-flavoured. It’s the kind of thing you’d eat after a big roast dinner with all your relatives or Two Fat Ladies. It’s homey, wholesome, and packed full of sugar. Even Nick liked it, and he’s usually not big on dessert. He suggested that he might want the leftovers for breakfast.

So anyway, I have been thinking about this for ages, and tonight, Auntie Lynn and Uncle George came over to see our new place and meet our new cat and have tea and a baked good. I decided that we would have sticky toffee pudding, with ice cream, and I searched the Interwebs for a suitable recipe.

But there wasn’t one.

Because the Interwebs also seem to think that it should be a cake with sauce. Even Jamie Oliver thinks so.

So I had to do it all myself. Here’s the result: sticky toffee pudding, mixed in its baking dish and baked in its own sauce. It’s rustic, and needs no further fussing to bring it any nearer perfection. Your grandmother would have approved, and I think she’d be more right than Mr. Oliver about this.

Sticky toffee pudding

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar (1/2 cup reserved; please don’t use light brown sugar – it would be all wrong)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 cups chopped dates
  • 4 tbsp. butter, melted
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp. butter

Preheat your oven to 375°F. In a 1 1/2 quart casserole or baking dish (which you don’t have to bother buttering), mix flour, one cup of dark brown sugar, baking powder, salt, and dates. Mix well, so that all ingredients appear to be thoroughly incorporated.

In a measuring cup, whisk together melted butter, milk, and egg. Pour over dry ingredients, and stir until just moistened.

In a separate bowl or measuring cup, mix boiling water, remaining brown sugar, granulated sugar, and additional tablespoon of butter. Pour over the cake-batter-like mixture in the baking dish, but do not stir. Place in the oven as-is, and bake, uncovered, for 45 to 50 minutes, until the sauce bubbles up on the sides and the top resembles a moist cake.

Serve warm, with ice cream.

My aunt confirmed that this is what sticky toffee pudding is supposed to taste like, and my uncle said little but nodded emphatically. I liked it very much – it had the right cakey-pudding to sauce ratio, and tasted exactly how I’d hoped it would. There will definitely need to be another trip to London in my future, but for now, this little recipe will make the meantime more tolerable.

**Also, as far as photo credits, the blurry food ones are mine. The others I swiped from my aunt’s album online.

Things that are delicious: Pork belly.

Right up until the Olympics, every talking head on television and quote in the paper was saying that Vancouver would be nightmarish during the Olympics, and that residents should expect delays and difficulties getting around, and that they should leave their cars at home. The whole city (me included!) bought the hype, and now it’s quite easy to get around everywhere but downtown, where there isn’t much fun to be had on a Wednesday night anyway. So last night, I dragged poor, sick-day Nick out with some friends to the Westender Korean Café on Denman Street, where there is a place that only sells pork belly, and for which we had coupons that bought us 50% more pork belly.

Do you know what a pork hangover feels like? It’s as glamorous as it sounds.

The Westender Korean Café is a place that only sells pork belly, and they bring it to you with those hot-pot grill things that you use to cook it at your table. They bring you daikon pickles, kimchi, this shredded-lettuce salad thing, rice, and lettuce leaves, and you cook your pork belly and either pile it up with the Korean condiments on your rice, or load it into the lettuce leaves to eat like Korean fajitas.

From the outside, it doesn’t really look like anything but a dodgy old diner, which is perhaps why I’d never noticed it before Sooin brought us there about six months ago. On the inside, it’s usually packed full of young Asian ESL students from the various English schools in the city. They play nonstop Korean pop music videos – Sooin informed us that there are no fewer than twenty major girl groups in Korea, and as many boy bands, and that pop-culture is a huge deal there. She helped everyone out by pointing out which girl groups were comprised of girls too young for Nick to be ogling, and which boy-band stars we should pay attention to for dance skills and hotness. She says we can go to Korea and get thousand-dollar nose jobs and form our own group. If they’ll throw in free liposuction, I’m in.

When I say that it’s a pork-belly-only kind of place, I really do mean just that. When you sit down, the waitress will pretty much just bring your table a certain amount of food, which is determined by how many people make up your party. Be sure to also ask her for beer or shoju, which is also pretty cheap, and which you simply must have as an accompaniment to a pork binge.

All that food, and it costs practically nothing. Dinner for five, including four pitchers of beer, and more food than we could eat, was $125, including tax and tip. The only problem was that we were in such high spirits after dinner that we thought the fun ought to continue, so we stumbled down Denman past Robson to an izakaya Paul knew would be open, and then there was sake, and Nick held his head in his hands and waxed poetic about bedtime, and then Steve ordered us mackerel sashimi and a big bowl of edamame, and I was all, “We just ate and I’m too full!” “But we didn’t eat JAPANESE,” Sooin replied, and so we ate even more and drank the best cheap sake ever and now this morning I am not sure if I should bother eating or just go back to bed because I am still so full. I am not even sure I want bacon.

I’m sorry. I should never talk like that. Of course I want bacon. But maybe this morning, I’ll wrap it around a vegetable.

Here’s that meatball recipe.

These are the meatballs that Tracy‘s vegetarian boyfriend ate, like, four of. They’re that good, they convert the herbivores. She asked me for the recipe – “they’re like my nonna’s!” she exclaimed – but I explained that there wasn’t one, you just use a little of this and a bit of that, you know?

And then Nick’s sister asked for the recipe, and Sooin did too, and they wanted to know if it was on this site, and I said no, it wasn’t, because it’s the kind of thing you just make. You need a recipe for these? I asked, and people nodded yes. I thought they were everyone’s meatballs. Apparently they are my meatballs, and they are delicious.

I’m a little bit biased though. I mentioned a little while ago that if you were bent on seducing me (and you hadn’t already fed me too much wine, which is my favourite), meatballs would get you most of the way there. I don’t know what it is about them; meatballs, in all their forms, make me sublimely happy. There are probably hundreds of ball jokes to be pulled from that statement, but I stand by it.

So anyway, some friends came for dinner tonight, and I decided that we would have spaghetti and meatballs, because it is one of my favourite things and I like to share it, and I wanted to write the recipe down at last. Really, I’m pretty sure that they’re everyone’s meatballs. There’s no secret to them. But in case they are special, or different, or if you’re looking to score, here’s the recipe.

The meatballs

  • 1 lb. lean ground beef (not extra-lean – please, not extra-lean)
  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp. (rounded) fat (butter or bacon fat, or olive oil if you want)
  • 1 tbsp. (rounded) tomato paste
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

Preheat your oven to 375°F.

Combine all of your ingredients in a large bowl. Squish it all together with your hands to ensure that crumbs and eggs are thoroughly combined. Don’t worry if the meat looks like it isn’t – it’s better to have the meat sort of separate, so that you can taste pork and beef distinctly. And you must use your hands. There is no other way.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Roll meat mixture into balls roughly an inch and a half in diameter. This recipe makes about two dozen – if you have many more, your balls are too small. (Snicker.) And the reverse is true too. Place balls on baking sheet.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

And here’s where it gets interesting.

If you’re just feeding you and another person, or maybe two smaller, miniature persons, then use a dozen, or fewer, and freeze the rest.

If you’re insane and for some reason always end up feeding tons of people even though you’re poor and hardly anyone ever invites you to their homes for dinner even though you’re very nice and don’t always guzzle the wine or step on the cat, cook them all, but double your sauce recipe and use the two-pound bag of spaghetti.

Because these are deceptively large, I would bet that no one will be able to eat more than three. Four is pushing it.

For sauce, there are lots of options. A sauce I am loving right now is tomato sauce with onion and butter from Deb at Smitten Kitchen. In the summer, I use my special slow-cooked tomato sauce, and it’s very nice then too. Tonight, I made a simple sauce of one onion and three cloves of garlic sweated in olive oil, two 28-ounce cans of crushed tomatoes, simmered for forty minutes, then salt, pepper, and basil stirred in right at the end. Keep it simple with the sauce – these are hearty meatballs, and they will be the star of the dish. Stew the meatballs in the sauce for about twenty minutes before serving; they’ll cut the acidity of the tomatoes, and they’ll warm up nicely all on their own.

There it is. See how easy? So easy. Really inexpensive. No reason not to make them for me. I’ll bring dessert. And wine. And soft slippers, because of the cat.

A little bit of lemon on a weeknight.

I’ll be honest, this one doesn’t come from me. However, it has lived in my head for so long that I’m not sure where it comes from, though more than likely it comes from Fannie Farmer. You probably make something very similar, and if you don’t, your mom or grandmother probably did. Because it’s delicious, I think it bears repeating.

I made Alana’s ricotta again today – I’ve been making it a lot, and have found multiple uses for both the curds and the whey. I’ve been making it with those two-litre containers of homogenized milk, which has meant I’ve had at least a pound of ricotta and quite a lot of whey leftover for somewhere around $2.38, which is easily more than a pound of ricotta costs. And you know, the thing about whey? It subs in very nicely for buttermilk.

I’ve used it today, in my lemon buttermilk pudding cake, and it’s very nice. If you don’t have whey or buttermilk, you can use regular milk, and it will just be lemon pudding cake, which is plenty delicious and probably where the whole thing started.

This pudding cake is part of a long family tradition of pudding cakes, which includes stewed fruit and dumplings and my grandpa’s Radio Pudding. It’s magic, because it starts off as a very runny batter, which transforms into a pudding with a delicate sponge cake top once baked. Sound familiar? It’s the perfect dessert for company on a weeknight, its purpose this evening, because it’s easy, and uses just a handful of ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry and fridge. You can substitute limes, or oranges, if that’s what you have, and it will be different but also lovely. I bet it would look very pretty if you made it with blood oranges.

Lemon buttermilk pudding cake

  • 1 cup granulated sugar (1/4 cup reserved)
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice (fresh-squeezed is best)
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk (or whey, or regular old milk)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter or grease a 1 1/2 quart casserole or baking dish, such as a soufflé dish or that Corningware dish that looks like a giant ramekin, or a 8-inch square baking pan. (Keep in mind that the deeper your baking pan, the runnier your result. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, but deeper means more to have to set up, you know?)

Combine three-quarters of the sugar, flour, and lemon zest in a mixing bowl, and whisk well. Add the melted butter, lemon juice, and egg yolks, and whisk to form a batter. Slowly add in buttermilk (or whatehaveyou), whisking as you go.

In a separate bowl, whisk remaining sugar with the egg whites until the egg whites form soft peaks. You want them to be sturdy but malleable – if you overdo it, they get to a point where you can almost “chunk” pieces off. It won’t be the end of the world if that happens, but try not to get to there.

Fold egg whites into sugar-flour-buttermilk mixture. Pour into your prepared dish.

Place the dish into a larger baking pan, and fill the outside pan with water until the water comes to halfway up the side of the dish.

Place carefully into the oven, and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the top is cake-like and lightly browned. Cool for at least 30 minutes before diving in.

Serve warm, with whipped cream. Possibly be transported back to your grandmother’s messy kitchen table, as many years ago as that was. This tastes like lemon slice, lemon meringue pie (sans meringue), and all those treats most of us rarely make anymore.

Thank-you cookies.

I wanted to do something nice for Judy, our building manager, who has been all kinds of nice to us and gave us a reference so we could get the kitten. She also came by and told me everything I needed to do to bond with the kitten and make her comfortable, and lent us some equipment and litter to get started, as we were confused about the process and didn’t think to buy things like a litter box before we brought her home. We’re smart.

Cookies are always nice. Everyone likes cookies.

I was going to make her peanut butter cookies because I thought that way there would be tons and then I could keep some, but I’m pretty sure I have no idea as to whether or not Judy has a peanut allergy, and while chances are probably slim, it would still be a shitty thank-you move to poison someone, even accidentally. Judy doesn’t have that coming to her. From me, anyway.

So, these are almond butter cookies, with a little smear of jam on top.

Almond butter cookies

(Makes about two dozen)

  • 1/2 butter
  • 1/2 cup almond butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup jam

Preheat oven to 375°F.

In a large bowl, cream together butter, almond butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and the one egg. Beat these until the mixture is fluffy and the ingredients have lightened in colour.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir these into wet ingredients, until dry ingredients are just moistened and a dough is formed.

Roll cookie dough into one-inch balls, and place on a lined or greased cookie sheet. I ran out of parchment paper, so I used tin foil, and it worked just fine. Press your thumb into the centre of each cookie to form a hole big enough to contain a drop of jam.

Spoon jam into cookie holes, about one-quarter teaspoon into each.

Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, until lightly golden but still slightly soft. You want these to be chewy. You really do. Let them cool on the pan for a minute or two when they’re fresh from the oven, then remove to a wire rack to finish cooling. Then eat with tea, or package up with a thank-you card to give to someone who was nice to you.

Oh! I suppose it was Valentine’s Day!

Me oh my, I totally forgot. You see, this weekend, I fell madly in love.

Her name is Molly Waffles, and she is the reason I didn’t do anything on Valentine’s Day. I was going to make something nice for Nick, something meaty, maybe for breakfast. Nick had done something special for me – a beautiful bouquet of orange gerbera daisies and roses, and reservations at my very favourite restaurant, and we dressed up and even got a bottle of wine with dinner. It was lovely and I loved it and then we came home and played with the cat. I will tell you more about dinner later, in detail, with pictures, but right now, I am going to subject you to two to three more photos of my kitten, followed by a promise that this week, since I’m holidays, I’ll give you a couple of really fantastic recipes that you will love almost as much as you already love my kitten.

Okay, I’ll stop now. But Happy Valentine’s Day. From me, and Nick, and the adorable Molly Waffles. This will most likely be the last time I write a post on this food blog with only pictures of my cat.

This week, expect my best meatballs, a dessert or two, and maybe a cookie. Good things! Back soon. I have a kitten to cuddle.

Root beer cookies.

I think I told you I’m writing a book. Aren’t we all? By “writing a book,” of course I mean spending four hours tonight on Facebook, Twitter, MyLifeIsAverage, and everyone-else-in-the-world’s blog. Four hours is probably not even an exaggeration.

As there’s no point in going outside for the next two to three weeks, and since this whole book-writing thing is much less fun than anything ever, today’s off-the-couch distraction was cookies. Root beer cookies, actually, because there was a little bit of a bottle of the stuff left in the back of my fridge and I get super neurotic about throwing anything out. Which explains why I have so many mostly empty jars taking space in my little fridge (at least eight of the jars are condiments that I felt compelled to purchase because they were so weird I couldn’t just leave them there to not be bought).

Most root beer cookie recipes I’ve come across call for root beer extract, which apparently is as easy to find as regular old vanilla, but I’d never heard of it, and, frankly, I can’t be bothered to go looking – why use root beer extract when a root beer reduction works just fine?

Well, maybe it would make the cookies more root-beery. But I like what I came up with here – it’s like sugar cookies high-fived vanilla, and the result is a chewy, sugary delight. A whiff of root beer, and that’s all you really need. If you wanted root beer hyperbole, you’d just drink the stuff, wouldn’t you? Yes. That’s what I thought. So here you go: my root beer cookie recipe. I hope you like it.

Root beer cookies

(About 30 cookies)

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 to 2 cups root beer, simmered until reduced to 1/2 cup (30 minutes to one hour), and cooled
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar (for rolling)

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Gradually pour in root beer reduction, then each egg individually, beating continuously until just after the last egg has been added. Stir in vanilla extract.

Sift together flour, salt, and baking soda. Pour into the wet ingredient mixture, stirring to combine until dry ingredients are just moistened.

Roll dough between your hands to form a ball the size of a golf ball. Roll the balls in the sugar, and place on a cookie sheet, about an inch and a half apart. Press each ball down with a fork.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes, to desired doneness, or until golden around the edges. I like mine just shy of underdone, so that they’re still chewy, but I know other people like theirs finished. Serve warm, with cold milk, or store in a sealed container for about a week, if they last that long.

Tomorrow’s distraction? Cookie eating. I win two nights in a row!

Leek and bacon barlotto.

I’m. So. Tired.

We went to Las Vegas this past weekend, for the very first time, and it was wonderful. We ate nothing but meat and drank nothing but beer and Bloody Marys for three days, and though our bodies are suffering, our minds are at peace, the stress of our daily lives forgotten as we pissed away our American dollars and gorged ourselves at the meat buffets.

The hard part is getting back to our lives as usual. Early bedtimes and dinners with vegetables are the order of the week. Tonight was grain night, and half of a one-dollar bag of barley formed the basis for dinner.

The following recipe makes enough for four to six as a side dish, or two to three as a main. It will double very easily. We ate it as a main, topped with a poached egg, and there was a bit left over. It’s a hearty alternative to risotto, as barley is a whole grain rich in both soluble and insoluble fibre, which means that it’s a great way to recover from a vacation in which you ate nothing good for you.

Leek and bacon barlotto

  • 2 to 3 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped leek (one medium leek, white and light-green part only, cut into sixths lengthwise and chopped)
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • 2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 3 to 4 cups warmed chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, sauté bacon until crisp. About one minute before the bacon is ready, add the leeks, and sauté until glistening. Remove from heat and drain onto a plate lined with paper towel.

Drain the bacon fat, but don’t wipe the pan. Add olive oil. Return the pan to the stove, set to medium-high heat, and pour in barley. Stir fry barley and garlic until golden and toasted, about two minutes. The barley will smell toasty and will turn white before it browns slightly. Stir in the wine, and reduce to medium heat.

Once wine is absorbed, pour in one cup of stock. Stir frequently until stock is absorbed. Repeat two to three more times, over thirty to forty-five minutes, until barley has puffed and softened; you will want the texture to resemble al denté rice, slightly chewy but pleasing to the bite.

Once almost all of the liquid is absorbed, add bacon and leeks back to the pan, and cook with the barley. You’ll want the liquid to have almost completely disappeared. Once this happens, remove from heat.

Stir in butter and Parmesan cheese. Season to taste.

Serve with crusty bread, with more fresh-grated Parmesan cheese, possibly topped with a poached egg.

This is salty, cheesy, nutty, and thoroughly delicious, with just the right amount of chew and softness to make it the perfect comfort food to follow a weekend of gluttony, or just a hard, long week.