Category Archives: Eric

Lunchtime Crunchtime

 

Mustard Sardines on Toast with Persimmons

Mustard Sardines on Toast with Persimmons

There’s been this strange economizing thing that’s come over me in the past few weeks – since my return from London, I suspect. I actually have found that the mantra my mate Marie used, “Credit crunch – packed lunch!” seems to have gotten stuck into my conciousness and the result is that rather than popping out for something to eat at lunchtime, I’ve been scouring my cupboards in the morning.

Trying to discover what strange and odd bits and pieces I can cobble together into something resembling a meal has become a bit of a daily habit. This particular day, cold yet sunny, I’d just had my organic box delivery with persimmons but I’d not had the opportunity to do much else with the rest of the lot. Leftover heels of bread from my weekly bake (another credit-crunch-worthy endeavour – keeps better and tastes far superior to any regular old plastic bagged loaf) with a tin of bargain-priced sardines in a mustard sauce. Quick toast of the bread, remove the spines from the fish, a quick mash on toast with a sprinkle of salt and pepper and lunch is had.

Quick note on the sardines… I never NEVER in my life suspected that I might be one of those people who actually willingly eat these little guys. I’d hated the thought of eating them – to me they were simply a treat for the cat! Until I moved overseas and my friend showed me the error of my ways. Remove the spines if you must, as I do, and the texture is simply lovely. Light and without any of the suspected fishy smell or overtly sea-like undertones. Its actually quite mild, a bit like tuna in that respect. If you’re a lady, you may decide that crunching the bones is a good source of calcium but I cannot in any good conscience recommend it. Oh, and a good Gourmet magazine to read is always a welcome companion.

Be careful what you wish for…

I really should heed my own advice so readily given to others; had I done so I might have made things a little easier for myself. The problem is this: I’ve become a food writing snob. Yes, I know, I’m a bit of a snob on my best days, This, however, is different.

In one of my very first food writing classes we were asked to categorize what we felt was good food writing. And when we’d bantered enough the professor finally clued us in to what is the difference between food writing excellence and food blabbing. Food blabbing, she said, focusses around the “me”; “I did this…” or “We went there…” without any kind of point or purpose. Conversely, Food Writing is GREAT WRITING with food merely the subject. If the writing is poor, the editing shoddy and the subject outdated – why bother wasting time to read it?

Wow.

I suddenly started to look to what makes food writing so interesting and good and what makes a bad piece REALLY bad. And I’ve realized that most of the writers that I enjoy reading (particularly with food as a subject) are GREAT WRITERS. Never mind what they write about – the subject has become irrelevant to me in many regards. Primarily, I’m interested in the writing. Gourmet, Food Arts, Everyday Food, MSL, Saveur – all excellent examples of outstanding food writing. Bon Appetit? Rachel Ray Everyday? No so much. Of course, this is all a matter of opinion but there are standards – clearly defined and logical standards that can be used to determine the quality of the writing.

Having said that, I’ve been asked recently how I feel about certain other food blogs out there. More and more bloggers are brokering book deals, others have published a book already and others are asked to participate in various magazine roundup type articles, sample products etc. Sometimes the quality is there but for the most part, frankly, I can’t be bothered now reading what they have to say. Its self-indulgent blathering – not food writing. Muffin Top is not only meeting these standards of excellent writing, educational and timely in delivery but for the most part exceeds my own grasp of language and structure and certainly, interest.

I hold myself, now, to the same standard. If I cannot say something newsworthy, educational or at least damn well written – I won’t say it at all. I’ve raised the bar for myself and I only hope that I can leap over it.

A return to sorted

There’s a great big huge gap since I last posted and I’m just now realizing how much I’ve missed it. Thanks to Christine and Connie’s insistance that I make a larger effort to share where I am and where I’ve been, I’ve been seriously considering what it is I have to say. I’ve discovered that its a lot, actually. There’s a lot to say about who I am now, what I’ve been through and how much my view of food, blogging and “food blogging” has changed.

Right, up to speed… I’ve been enrolled in the part-time culinary training program at George Brown College here in Toronto since September last year. I’ve also managed to move from my old design agency to a new one – with a massive boost in both responsibility and payscale along the way. Its been a challenge to try and manage these substantial life changes – not to mention some family issues, squeezing in a holiday to Mexico, several trips to L.A., Quebec City and San Francisco (where Christine and I finally – FINALLY – met in real life!). The one thing that has remained somewhat constant is that I’ve missed writing but felt as though I had nothing of any consequence to say – nothing of substance to contribute. I certainly kept in touch with my fellow MuffinToppers and other blogs of interest for their continued excellent reportage of things both small and grand but there was no passion left in my heart to even attempt to bring my literary skills into focus.

Things have changed. I’ve finally got something to say! About things grand and small, attitudes and beliefs, tastes and samples. At college I’ve gotten through Food Theory – Basic, Food Theory – Advanced, Nutrition and Communications for Hospitality and I find myself now taking a slight detour for the summer. My new course, Food Writing Level 1 isn’t part of my chef training program but rather a landmark “Food and the Media” certificate program (don’t worry, I’ll fill you in on this one soon enough… Keep your tongs in your crock, we’ll get to that). How ironic that the thing that brought me back to writing is… writing!

I guess this is something that every writer discovers at some point or another: if all else fails to get to writing; write something. Anything. By getting my literary mojo on for class and the required writing assignments, I’ve become interested in my voice again. I really do have something to say and finally, I’m not afraid to say it. By turns, I can and will most likely be controversial, aggressive, sweet, inquisitive, compassionate, fearless and benevolent. What I can no longer afford to be is quiet. A return of sorts to myself is where I am – and what comes next might be fun. Stay tuned for the ride.

S’Mac!

The past weekend in New York was a whirlwind of planes, taxis, walking for umpteen hours and finally crashing out in a low-star hotel in Soho. My partner and I, along with a very good friend, took a little weekend trip to celebrate my upcoming birthday (which is actually today, for those who wish to know 🙂

None of this would have been worthwhile without some kind of goal – a purpose, a mission, a raison d’etre – and mine was to EAT. This was to be the first of, hopefully, many pilgrimages to NYC – the gastronomic capital of the East Coast (with San Francisco being the West Coast equivalent, natch).

Our first refueling stop in the East Village (after trolling through the San Gennaro festival in Little Italy – more on that later) was S’MAC – run by Sarita Ekya and her husband Caesar. Sarita, an expat Canadian, opened the macaroni and cheese destination earlier this year to a rainy opening night – and crowds that ran around the block. The day we were there Sarita and her staff treated us to excellent service, amazingly friendly smiles and the time that is not normally taken by proprietors to share the experience with their patrons.

All for good reason! At S’MAC you can order one of about 20 different macaroni and cheese dishes ranging from Cajun to All-American to Indian styled; if you don’t find one to your liking? Make your own! Order from one of three sizes ranging from Nosh (a hearty serving for one) to Major Munch to Mongo (family sized, surely).

My friend Caterina had the Cajun with andouille sausage, peppers, cheese and a great topping of breadcrumbs (for, really, what is mac and cheese without breadcrumbs?) My partner made his own with parsley and bacon whilst I went for the rosemary/andouille sausage combo.

Not only is the dish amazingly tasty but served in a portion sized cast iron skillet that helps keep the entire dish warm till you’re finished is just too cute for words.

The space itself is creative, orange and yellow splashes enliven the exposed brick and the tiny open kitchen lets you see right to the heart of the operation. No reheating only going on here; sauce, noodles and fillings are combined a la minute and topped (or not, your choice) before being hit with the heat of the salamander to crisp up the topping.

With our bellies full of amazing mac and cheese and a beautifully warm welcome from Sarita (and a promise to stay in touch), we headed out into the warm New York autumn, fueled for what ended up being a marathon 200 block trek uptown and back. More on that to come (along with my dinner at Babbo!)

Plus ca change…

I can’t really help myself with the French titles, what with having heard a massive amount of French over the past little while (which is what happens when your partner, his family and most of his friends are French Canadian). What the title really refers to is the same saying in English, “the more things change, the more they stay the same…” What I’ve noted this evening, however, has both to do with food and lifestyle. The more things changed, well in this case – they’ve changed.

I realized tonight that a year has gone by since perhaps one of the best summers of my life. I spent it out socializing with a terrific group of guys – all of us single, happy, free, unencumbered. We partied till the wee hours – drinking, dancing, carousing, eating, playing, flirting – until we collapsed back in our respective homes until the arrival of another weekend.

Boy, things have changed.

I spent the day running from shopping to coffee to more shopping to home to send the boyfriend off on his merry working way so I could get down to the business at hand. Making jam. Peach jam. One plain, one with ginger. Making gougeres to test a recipe for Christine. Filling them with smoked salmon and capers for a midnight snack. Freezing the rest to make for company as appetizers. Prepping ingredients for tomorrow’s dinner – Japanese curry rice. Taking pictures of coffee and my Italian ingredient centre of my kitchen. Listening to music blaring from iTunes in a somewhat disturbingly psychic awareness of my mood, playing Tori Amos when needed and Madonna (“Push”, from Confessions) just after Christine emailed to say, “Enough with the Tori!” 🙂

Yep, I’ve hit my Carlsberg years. I’d rather stay in on a Saturday night cooking cheese puffs and skimming foam off jam and drinking Illy espresso than quaffing cheap pitchers of beer and getting annoyed by the silly drag queens who insist that blue is a good colour for eyeshadow. The venue has changed, the company has gone its separate ways – but I’m still having a good time in my own little way; the best summer I’ve ever had in so many ways. Plus ca change…

RCE Book Club: Updates!!

For everyone who is wondering how the bookclub is coming (and its far enough down the list that its gonna drop off soon), here is a link to who is doing what, which recipes have yet to be spoken for – and best of all, the shortlist for September’s selection!

The Complete Keller


And now, the unveiling of the Holy Grail of cookbooks: The Complete Keller.


BOTH volumes, The French Laundry Cookbook and Bouchon, in one slipcovered case. Packed for easy consumption. Pre-orders are available at HUGE discounts from the retail price. Guess what I’m asking my very understanding boyfriend for my birthday? 😉

Gourmet Covers Under the Lens

Thanks to my new e-friend, Lucas, I had a great little read of this article on Slate on the state of food styling and photography of Gourmet magazine. Now, Gourmet is one of my favourite foodie magazines, both for the articles and the recipes. It has not always been the case, in fact there was a period where I refused to buy it – primarily because the food stopped looking nice, the recipes were far too “out there” for me, and frankly I thought that the quality of the magazine was just not up to par.

Times (and styles) change. In the past few months I’ve taken to reading it again and have become a huge fan of this magazine (but the fact the Ruth Reichl is the Editor-in-chief of Gourmet didn’t have any bearing, really, on our selection of her book for the ReadEatCook bookclub) once more. As someone who works in the food/styling/photography/packaging industry, I have had the opportunity to work with some incredibly talented photographers, stylists and designers and whilst I’m not a designer myself, one cannot help but start to develop a bit of a design sensiblity.

Sara Dickerman, the author of the Slate piece, I think has a pretty good eye for design and a great method for demonstrating the current state of the foodstyling world through the microcosm of the Gourmet cover tablescape. While I wholeheartedly agree with her assessment of the style progression of the covers, I differ from her in that I really quite like the darker, moodier, more somber appeal of the style. I guess I’ve gotten a bit over the shallow focus, light washed low angle shots of the late 90’s and early 00’s and I’m ready for something a little more dramatic; something more sophisticated. This isn’t to say that it isn’t hard to get those shots just right – I guess I’m just looking for something a bit more, well, realistic. Not everyone lives in a lightdrenched house in East Hampton. Some of us live in little apartments and condos and are rapidly wanting to see something that more reflects our lives. Aspirational design is one thing, but realistic portrayals can also move product.

For a more interesting view of what’s happening, I’d rather turn to Australian Gourmet Traveller and Sainsbury’s Magazine. They’re both taking that light drenched look and gussying it up a bit so it looks a little less like Bauhaus food and more like something that we could all really be living with. There’s variety and visual interest in each story and sometimes in each shot. This is food the way I make it – sometimes I’m at home, sometimes at a friend’s place, often at my parents – and you use what you have. That’s the reality of today’s entertaining, isn’t it?

Anyway, the worst part about this little tale is that the highly acclaimed March 2006 issue featuring Montreal is actually sold out from the Gourmet back issues department (I checked this afternoon). Its selling at over $41 currently on eBay and I don’t have a copy. Stilted and overly propped the cover may be, but I still want a copy. 😦

The ReadEatCook Cookbook Club and Testing Academy!

Okay, I’ve been giving this a bit of a think and I’d really like to test this out with readers of this and my other food blogs – I’m starting The ReadCookEat Cookbook Book Club and Testing Academy – and you’re invited! The premise is this – we select one cookbook (or other foodie book) a month, each choose a different (or the same, doesnt’ really matter) recipe to make from it, photograph the results, discuss whether or not we thought it was worth the time/effort/expense and then share our results.

I’m not going to limit this to cookbooks but if there is any special equipment that helps prepare the dishes in question that can be part of our discussion. Perhaps if the book isn’t a cookbook but more a foodie type book we can suggest some recipes that are inspired by whatever we’re reading. I’m hoping that over time we’ll come up with a compendium of reviewed books so that readers will know what’s worth buying, what’s not worth the hype and what to completely avoid at all costs. I’d be completely open to suggestions for the month of August to start so either comment away or email me with what you think!

Books for Cooks

I will admit it freely and openly to anyone who comes into my home. My name is Eric and I am an addict. A cookbook addict. I have been for about 15 years now at least and probably will be for the rest of my days. I’ve been hoarding my treasures for years now, through many apartments, an overseas move and now my recent co-habitation status change where I moved in with my partner into his little downtown Toronto condominium.

I think the start came with my discovery at 16 of what was once a favourite haunt in Toronto, Lichtman’s Books on Queen West (now a Roots clothing store, I believe). They specialized in selling off remainders and as a result I could pick up amazing deals on all sorts of books – including hardcover cookbooks that didn’t sell that well on the first go-round. I think the first one I nabbed was the Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook and boy did it ever grab my eager young foodie attention.

The description of such things as duck confit and organic vegetables (I didn’t know from either – but the idea of duck cooked in its own fat when I’d tasted neither duck nor its fat – and we’d always grown veggies organically at home; it was called horse poop manure from down the street) captured my imagination like nothing else. No more “Choose Your Own Adventure” books for me – I was going to get me some cookbook religion. The concept of spending a few days preparing a dish that then could be left for a few months before being rescued from its vat of fat and crisped up before being plated with flageolets (huh? what the heck are those I wondered) and some nice pork sauccison was just more than I think my little uninitiated brain could handle. Thus, the addiction was born. I needed my fix and would do anything to get it.

From there I brought home some Moosewood cookbooks, then started asking for cookbooks for birthday and Christmas. Before I knew it, I had Martha Stewart, Julia Child, Joy of Cooking, Becoming a Chef; all sitting so nice and cleanly in their proper places in my bookcase – all hiding my dirty little secret. You see, as much as I’d loved the idea of cooking, I had not really cooked more than one dish out of each book – if even that many.

Fast forward to my year long sojourn to Australia and my 30th birthday. What books did I buy when I was overseas? (besides The DaVinci Code?) Bill Granger, Kylie Kwong, Donna Hay, Jamie Oliver and so many food magazines I simply couldn’t bring them all back with me. What did I ask my parents to bring with them when they came to visit? Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and Michael Ruhlman’s The Making of a Chef.

By this time, I’d done some culinary training at a local college and was now planning on making my career in the food industry upon my return to Toronto. Such was not my luck as I ended up back in marketing, but I still continued to purchase with even more vigour all the food essay collections and recipe books and even a large size artist’s sketchbook to create my own “kitchen diary”. I guess, in a way, I’m creating my own cookbook- my own history of great recipes, even greater disasters – and the meals enjoyed along the way.

But as in all things its time, I think, to come full circle; in this time of summer thunderstorms and rainy days as will sometimes hit Toronto, to the Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook before my next purchase takes hold of me (Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin). And yes, I’ve now learned that organic means more than horse poop manure for fertilizer and that duck confit is one of the pinnacles of human culinary achievement.