It is an established fact that summer is a season that doesn’t lend itself to serious cooking. Far before the heatwave hit London, I’ve been using summer as an excuse to eat out a lot – burgers and pizza and beer to be more precise. And when I do retreat for some time at home, I’ve put what I call the picnic diet into action — hummus and bread and the occasional tomato. Maybe a rotisserie chicken will make an appearance if I’m putting on the ritz*. It has worked out well for me. Junky pub food is the perfect complement to drinks on evenings out, and the picnic diet has shaved my time spent in the kitchen down to an all year low, thus maximising my precious time in the sun.
But all good things must come to an end.
I’m all burgered out. I haven’t even made it to Shake Shack and Five Guys and I’m already over this burger fad (for the time being). My wallet is also over it. And I’ve eaten so much hummus that I can’t look at the stuff anymore.
As a result, I’ve been trying to cook a bit more often these days, and I’ve been making use of one particular blog that I feel a strong desire to share with every beginner cook out there: Food52. My friend introduced me to it some time ago, and basically every recipe I have used off the site has been freaking awesome. The secret? Look no further than THE POWER OF THE CROWD.
One of the benefits of living in Montréal is the quality of bread. Seriously, this is a benefit. If you grew up munching on packaged sliced white bread from one of the big bread companies selling at your local supermarket, the chances are that you may be accustomed to consuming sub par bread. But if you grew up in Montréal, your supermarket is stocked with excellent bread. Not to mention that each neighbourhood is dotted with boulangeries. With the choice of amazing and freshly baked bread, there is no excuse for buying mediocre products.
I recognize that I am a minority in that I grew up eating excellent bread in Canada, outside of Québec. During my early childhood, my mother baked our bread from scratch and without a bread machine. She would make the dough, let it rise, knead it, let it rise, knead again, before popping it in the oven and letting the perfume of the baking dough encompass our tiny apartment. Later, my father sought out quality baked goods and made weekly drop-ins to the Portuguese bakery in our neighbourhood. He would bring home European baked desserts and buns still hot from the oven in a large paper bag. I loved consuming freshly baked bread while it was still warm.
Slice, oiled, and salted baguette can be made into croutons or crunchy toasts.
Now that I live in Montréal, I am spoiled with amazing bread. I drop by my chain supermarket and they stock various baked goods from local bakeries such as Premiere Moisson which, despite being a chain, produces amazing baguettes, ciabattas, focaccias, and other baked goods. But people here mostly purchase baguettes, and you will see many pedestrians, especially before dinner time, walking around with a baguette perched in their sack. Yes, this is like how some people stereotype the French except here you will be lucky if you see someone wearing a striped shirt and beret while holding on to their baguette.
It recently came to my attention that I have been living under a rock. Despite my propensity to cook vegetarian meals and follow celebrity chefs on Twitter, how come I never heard about Yotam Ottolenghi?
The Israeli-born, London-based chef writes a column in the U.K.’s The Guardian, stars in his own cooking and travel show, and runs a restaurant empire with four restaurants in London. And here I am, falsely thinking that I am good with keeping up with current events and know about all the good cookbooks out there. Somehow, I missed the memo about Ottolenghi.
Well it is good thing that it was recently brought to my attention that Ottolenghi’s cookbooks are amazing. And by amazing, I mean that, as someone who still goes out to buy cookbooks and not just to pose as some food snob, every single Ottolenghi recipe that I have tried thus far is a winner. My sister recently brought over her copy of Ottolenghi’s sophomore effort, Plenty, and all four dishes we made were hits. Thankfully I was able to continue making more recipes after being gifted the beautifully photographed cookbook for my own use.
Quinoa and Grilled Sourdough Salad
December is always a crazy time of year, is it not? When I was working full-time I was busy wrapping up projects for the end of year then meeting with family, friends, acquaintances and friends-of-friends for the holiday. As a student I am scrambling with end of term tasks and exams while trying to keep my eyes peeled open and awake. And even now I am meeting up with more people in a week than I sometimes do in a whole month!
Needless to say, my dietary habits are not the healthiest nor regular these days. I try being frugal and eat a packed lunch or wait until I make food at home. Instead, in the past few weeks I indulged more often in purchased coffee because I was desperate for a caffeine pick me up, and paid money for sub par and overly priced sandwiches. Now that it is the weekend and my boyfriend and I can share meals together, I have made the point of preparing some quick and hearty dishes for plus one.
The recipes that follow are definitely far away from ramen noodles and Kraft dinner, and much more suitable for “adult” consumption — adult in that I feel less like a poor student without breaking the bank. They also use many common grocery items found in many Canadian households, and non-perishable products such as jarred olives and capers that you can have handy in your pantry for long periods. Using oven-proof skillets for both recipes cuts down one step and dishes to be washed, but you can also just transfer items from the frying pan to a baking dish. Both can also be made for the same meal since they both cook in the oven to be at 425°F and together uses a whole package of fresh basil so that none goes to waste.
So it is Thanksgiving this upcoming weekend here in Canada, which usually means turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie in many households. My sister and I used to make turkey dinners for the family each year, but now that I am based in la belle province, my Thanksgiving meals have been a much small endeavour. However, I still do have a few people dropping in this weekend so I went ahead and cooked up a Thanksgiving Dinner Lite which, in this case, means roasted chicken and a few sides, including an onion and olive tart.
I got this recipe from New York Times’ Mark Bittman, though I tweaked it to make it a speedier and a bit more colourful than his original version. This tart is so well received I have already made it a couple of times for both dinner parties and civilized eating at home. (Eating home alone for me usually entails cracking open a can of beans and dumping it into a pot of frozen vegetables and Campbell’s soup.) I also like to use a roasted bulb of garlic instead of just using raw, minced garlic for the recipe. Today, I made two tarts, as it is so easy to just double the recipe and give one away. See? Very easy to give thanks.