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I was never a fan of creamy Caesar salads, and I suspect my disdain was grounded in encounters with mediocre-at-best bottled versions. For longer than I can remember, the boy and I have been quite happy making our own vinaigrettey rendition and I think we would’ve happily continued to do so had it not been for Sunday. Which was the boy’s first day off since starting  his month long stint in Halifax (at the HSOW) as Hoffmann in Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann (an opera featuring drunkenness, death, evil geniuses and love. Shameless plug Sidenote: his performance dates are August 6 (7:30PM) and August 13 (2PM). Concept: Victorian steampunk. The show’s going to be awesome.)
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Barbeques were a thing while I was growing up – like a Big-Deal-Rarely-Occurring kind of thing that happened once or twice a year (and usually only once). Usually in the company of others, copious amounts of food were cooked and consumed: wings, steak, pork chops, sausages, fish, corn, other veggies. These were always delicious, but grilling was exclusively a summertime activity and there was none of this business of tossing-a-steak-on-the-BBQ-for-dinner. For the longest time, I was under the impression that everyone had a BBQ as clean as ours. My learning curve with the BBQ I’m sure will be reminiscent of my journey with the humble potato (e.g. mind being blown with shepherd’s pie). I’ve always loved grilled goodies, but admittedly have left grilling to the men. Thanks to the boy and tonight’s happenings, the tides are shifting.

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After a recent visit to The Only on King, we walked away both satisfied (as always) and tipped off: conversing with our server about truffles, he brought to our attention the existence of truffle salt sold by Savvy Chef. In fact, his wife always carries a little jar of it in her purse so she is prepared at all times. Boring diner eggs? Not an emergency if you can season them clandestinely, thank you very much.

While we were at the Western Fair market to purchase our own jar, conversation with the vendor somehow turned to alliums as the boy showed off a beautiful Spanish onion.

Boy: “We’re making onion rings!”
Vendor: “Are you guys chefs?” (note: this isn’t the first time we’ve been asked this.)
Boy: “Nah – we’re making them just because.”
Vendor, nodding: “Ah. That’s the good life.

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We tend to do as much one-stop-shopping as possible around the holiday season. Inevitably, this means many December hours at Chapters and/or Indigo, which often comes with some degree of self-indulgence. Especially if it’s justified: I simply could not put down Marcus Samuelsson‘s Aquavit, on clearance for ten dollars (!).

Within the first skim-through of the newest addition to our collection, I’d decided that the no-frills gravlax would be my first recipe to test. During the last couple of months, however, we hadn’t actively sought Big Pieces of Good Looking Salmon. Also, grocery visits as of late have been, well, late: there’s nothing left at the fish counter when 9PM rolls around. Imagine my delight when, last weekend, the boy waved me over to the fish section at United (the new 27,000 sq ft Asian grocery store in London). And there she was. Good Looking (and smelling) Salmon.  Gravlax, here we come!

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Eggnog scares people. I guess I’m lucky: it doesn’t have a bad reputation with me because I’d never had the stuff (store bought or otherwise) until this weekend. I’m sure years of consumption-out-of-politeness can be scarring: it’s the subpar fruitcake phenomenon! I wanted to a) try the stuff properly and b) see what the fuss was all about – I didn’t understand how anyone could dislike anything that is simply a liquidly custard.

Friends came over for a night of festivities in party dresses and suits. Of course, there was plenty of food – all homemade (down to the pastry and bread): mini quiches with caramelized onions & mushrooms, chicken wings (the boy’s special butter/hot-sauce concoction), a veggie tray & bread sticks with caramelized onion yogurt dip & chipotle hummus, (more) bread with rabbit rillettes (absolutely delicious stuff – we made it with pork belly) & baked brie with quince preserves (the boy came home with a barrel of quinces one day), and gingersnaps (loosely based on this but with more spices including star anise; it was great fun to try out my newest kitchen toy: a granite mortar & pestle). Of course there was homebrew (something similar to a Chimay Rouge), and my eggnog.

Ah! Eggnog. The very idea was not enthusiastically received.

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I was in cooking mode since my first cup of coffee last Friday; it was grand. In fact, I went to bed the night before with purple hands. Beets!

The beauty of Montreal was having semi-regular dinner parties. Pretty much two of my favourite things in the world combined: good company and good food. In any case, between the boy’s multiple church gigs and us being stuck on duty [i.e., functionally handcuffed to our apartment], I figured the best way to enjoy the long weekend was snag friends who did not have family turkey/chocolate egg hunt/etc obligations elsewhere. I was unreasonably gleeful at the number of friends who were also in town and wanting to partake in yummy eats. All of the food that was brought and shared was wonderful: cheese & crackers! pierogis! homemade oreo cookies! a salad of greens! zucchini bread! banana muffins! We even had a traditional Polish Easter cake (I believe it’s called “mazurek”) all the way from Milton.

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It’s been a while since store bought pasta sauce has entered my stomach. Why bother with the overly sweet stuff on the supermarket shelves, when you can make it at home, to taste?

Our cupboard is always home to at least one or two large cans of whole tomatoes, which are easily sauce-able. And though I’m an advocate of fresh produce, a tomato sauce from the canned goodies surpasses the ‘real’ deal when examining their respective price/quality ratios.

The secret is that there is no secret. No ‘recipe’, either, but I always start out with:

one large can of whole tomatoes (of the 28oz variety)
about 4-5 cloves of garlic
one goodly sized onion
canola or olive oil, depending on what my hand reaches first

Our trusty wok has been my cooking instrument of choice, as its large capacity easily handles the sauce. To start, I brown the garlic and onions with the hot oil: these two tasties have been chopped, depending on my mood, anywhere from a fine mince, to a chunky dice. Once the onions are verging on translucency, I dump the contents of the can into the hot wok, and usually spice it with a combination of basil, oregano, thyme, and black pepper. At this point, I’ll usually start attacking the tomatoes with a wooden spatula to poke them into the right size – leaving chunks can be rather tasty, too, especially if I’ve opted for the coarsely chopped onions. This step can actually be done whenever, really. After a stir or two, I turn the stove to a medium-ish setting, so that the tomatoes are left to simmer (watch out for a very red splattered kitchen when boiling tomatoes on high).

And then, it’s just a matter of patience!

I usually stir the concoction every once in a while, and about 30-40 minutes later, most of the watery substance will be gone. A little bit of sugar will be added to balance the acidity of the tomatoes. On various occasions of sauce or stock making, I’ve made the mistake of adding too much salt, too early on, forgetting about the reduction of volume that is to occur – so I usually stick to adding salt near the end.

Simple? Yes! Multipurpose? Also, yes!
This stuff works wonders on pizza, too.