Gentle reader, you may have noticed Oscar Banquet has been on a lengthy hiatus. The reason is there has been a new addition to the family. Baby Cleo was born in March. She is now 3 1/2 months old and in this short time she’s already changed and grown so much. Oscar adores her and is infatuated with licking her, especially the feet.
Cleo recently passed through the needing to be held every single moment stage to actually being quite content to lie in her bassinet in the kitchen while I make dinner. As I’m cooking I tell her exactly what I’m doing and she beams at me. She doesn’t yet understand what I’m saying, she just likes the sound of my voice. How great is that! I love the idea of her growing up in the kitchen surrounded by the smells, sights and sounds of cooking. She will know that food doesn’t only come out of cans or Styrofoam containers. She will know the rituals and pleasures of preparing food. I’m looking forward to training my little sous chef. Another pair of hands to help shell peas, sift flour, and another mouth to taste the sauce.
For J’s birthday today I baked him blueberry bran muffins. The funny thing about this fellow is he doesn’t like sweets of any kind. No pastries, cakes, cookies etc. I suppose this creates a healthy balance for our household. If he did like sweets I would be baking all the time and would probably weigh 500 pounds. J’s only vaguely baked good related weakness is bran muffins. He’s probably tried every bran muffin in the city from places high and low, ranging from Tim Hortons and the sad muffins in the subway station, to Whole Foods, Pusateris and various neighborhood coffee shops. As a result of extensive taste testing we’ve decided the blueberry bran muffins at Whole Foods are our number one favorite.
When we first started dating I would to troll the Internet for recipes and bake a different version of bran muffins every week. None of them came close to the Whole Foods muffins. Eventually I became disheartened and gave up. For J’s birthday this year I decided to give it another go and tried out a simple recipe from Heidi Swanson’s beautiful food blog 101 Cookbooks. The recipe appealed to me because it sounded like the right balance between yummy ingredients and healthfulness, using full fat yogurt (2 cups!), honey, egg, and just 2 tablespoons of brown sugar. While these muffins are not really like the Whole Foods muffins, we were very happy with the way they turned out (I ate 2 in row fresh out of the oven) and would definitely make them again. Read More
This is my favorite pizza. I used to make it all the time, but at some point felt it wasn’t very nutritionally balanced so it faded from my repertoire. But really if you serve it with a salad or sauteed greens the problem is solved. This is a white pizza topped with sliced potatoes, artichoke hearts, Gruyere, red onion and thyme. The ingredients don’t scream height of summer, if this pizza were to have a season it would be a fall/winter, but having just rediscovered it I was anxious to share it with you.
For the artichokes I use marinated artichoke hearts, they’re usually found near the olive section. They require no prep except slicing and give a nice lift to the earthy flavours. Some other toppings you could add to this pizza are Gorgonzola or olives (for a pungent kick) or lightly cooked spinach with the water pressed out (for some green). Read More
Today is Oscar’s 4th birthday. I still remember clear as a bell the first night we brought him home. By pure coincidence that day was also J’s birthday. From the pictures on the rescue’s website Oscar looked tiny so we brought a cardboard box to bring the new puppy home in. He was a lot bigger than we had anticipated. He was 3 1/2 months old and weighed 28 1/2 pounds (he now weighs 57). He was afraid to come upstairs, and was afraid of the kitchen (especially the fridge and a toy wolf mask we had hanging from a shelf). Oscar was an immediate snuggler and we fell in love with him instantly. In the early days he used to sleep in a crate in the living room. But one night when J was up late working, Oscar dragged the blanket out of his crate into the office and slept beside J all night while he worked. That was the last of the crate, and how he wormed his way into our bedroom.
As a special treat for a special day I made Oscar a birthday bento of his favorite snacks.
Pretty wrapping on a present makes even simple tokens extra special. I love wrapping gifts, in fact if J ever has anything to be wrapped I always beg to do it. Visual presentation is key, whether it be nicely plated food, pretty lingerie, or a well dressed gift. It adds a layer of suspense. The Great Lakes paper pictured above is hand printed by local print shop Kid Icarus. The Chanel paper below is from a group gift I received for my birthday years ago. Yes I am one of those people who saves and reuses paper and ribbon. I’ve had this paper tucked away and finally used it to wrap a present to J, a pair of J Crew boxers printed with gun dogs. But you really don’t need fancy gift wrap, simple brown Kraft paper tied with twine or coloured yarn is equally charming.
A la Mode
A scoop of ice cream topping a slice of pie may be excessive, but is totally delicious. It’s quite literally the icing on the cake. My current preferred à la mode flavour is vanilla, although I’m not usually a vanilla fan at all. My usual motto regarding vanilla is: why bother? I’ve just recently discovered Haagen Dazs vanilla bean flavour, which is much nicer than just regular vanilla. The ice cream is flecked with the telltale dark specks of real vanilla beans.
With the extreme heat there hasn’t been a whole lot of cooking going on recently. Yesterday was 111°F. We filled the tub with cool water and sat in it and watched Mad Men on the laptop. The last thing I made was a batch of compost cookies for a friend’s 40th birthday party. Prior to that there were some cold soba noodles, and a few fried egg sandwiches. I’ve really missed cooking and eating home food. I love eating out but can only do it for so long. I like knowing exactly what’s in my food, and outside food is often far more greasy and salty than I like.
Heading back into the kitchen today I decided to make something ultra simple and comforting—spaghetti and a slow cooked tomato sauce. Spaghetti and tomato sauce is one of those things that can go either way—glorious (as done at Terroni), or revolting (Ikea— what was I thinking?). The taste of the sauce depends entirely on the tomatoes used. Look for the best canned ones you can find, San Marzanos preferably. Read More
In the summer when fruit is at its peak it needs little adornment. There’s something about the pairing of blueberries and lavender that is just sublime. I first tasted this combination as an ice cream flavour at Kensington Market Organic Ice Cream, which started out in Kensington Market, moved to Palmerston Street, and is sadly no longer around.
If you can get hold of some wild blueberries try serving them topped with a billowy cloud of lavender whipped cream. Wild blueberries are tiny and flavourful. I find regular blueberries have a bit of a gelatinous texture that I don’t love. Of course lavender whipped cream is also heavenly with many other fruits especially strawberries, peaches, and figs. Read More
Everyone was loving Oscar at the farmers market this week. He howled along with some passing sirens and everyone around us applauded. The cheese people offered him a cheese rind, but I declined on his behalf due to the probability of it causing stinky farts. A new vendor selling gourmet popsicles gave Oscar a dog pop made with carrots and vegetable stock. Oscar had never had a popsicle before, it wasn’t his fault he didn’t know the proper etiquette. He ate half of the wooden stick.
Don’t shy away from these raspberries because they look like albino versions of the standard red ones, they’re actually sweeter. I love their golden colour tinged with the lightest dusting of blush. Raspberries of all colours are best eaten straight away, they mold very easily. I’ve had many a newly bought packet mold overnight in the fridge.
Pretty and Crazy Mushrooms
I love interesting mushrooms. The white button variety are boring and not particularly flavorful. The selection and freshness at farmers markets is unparalleled. I think a good fresh mushroom should feel like a rose petal—alive and somewhere between barely moist and dry. Pictured above are lion’s mane and pink oyster mushrooms. When I get a top notch assortment my mind instantly goes to risotto. Another approach with pretty mushrooms is to simply saute them and serve on the side so they don’t get lost in the mix. Read More