Guilty as Eaten

The food: Linguini a la olio with fresh black tiger shrimps, broccoli and chili peppers from Pallucci

Note the lemon wedge garnish. I liked that.

Note the lemon wedge garnish: I liked that.

The story:

I’m mad busy with writing endeavours right now, and am simultaneously working on (or pretending to work on) a new novel, a roundup newspaper review of 8 (8!) books, a radio piece, my students’ manuscripts, and this blog.

So when my mother organized a restaurant lunch this week to be attended by me, my two sibs, and her, my first thought was forget it, I’m too busy, and my second thought: hey, if the food’s good I can blog about it, so yeah, let’s do it.

The restaurant my mother chose was Pallucci on Mount Pleasant Road in Toronto. To begin with, we were offered bread:

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The presentation was lovely, but I found the bread a bit ordinary and soft. I would have liked a crisper crust and firmer crumb.

Next came sweet potato frites for the table to share as a starter:

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Also well presented, and good-tasting: crunchy on the edges, soft inside, not greasy. But at $9, the price was a little steep. They were good though, and the drizzle of balsamic vinegar glaze a sophisticated touch.

I ordered the linguini with shrimp, broccoli and red peppers shown at the top of this post. I don’t usually order lunch entrees that cost $21, but I can never resist pasta in stylish Italian restaurants. And the linguine was coated in a fragrant olive oil that made every strand slippery in a luxe way. The shrimp and broccoli were good too, firm and perked up by the red pepper and the hit of lemon juice.

My brother and sister each ordered the Estate pizza with grilled chicken, goat cheese and roasted red peppers.

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Look at that crust! There was the crispness I craved, and when I cadged a small piece from my sister, I warmed to the goat cheese – it was nicely puffy and tartly flavoured. And I’m totally into fresh greens on a pizza. I should have ordered this. It was only $16, too.

Would I go back to Pallucci? For the pizza, yes. And for the linguine and sweet potato frites if someone else were paying, yes! Though when does that ever happen? Kind of never. So now I feel guilty for not doing work while I sat in the restaurant, for spending more for lunch than I like to, and for eating three high calorie starches in one meal.

Guilty but with a good taste in my mouth.

Pallucci on Urbanspoon

Update: Pallucci is currently (as of late June, 2009) offering a special Summerlicious $25 3 course prix fixe menu that includes the linguini with shrimp and broccoli as one of the mains – good food made more affordable.

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My adult children still want after school snacks

The food: Lemony Mint Hummus

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The story:

My two university age sons are home for the summer but won’t start work at their summer day camp counselor jobs for 27 days yet, not that I’m counting.

Between their workouts and lazing about sessions, they like to have an ‘after-school’ snack at 3:30 every day. And because they’re into eating healthy these days, their snack of choice is homemade hummus with vegetables.

The hummus recipe I use came from Silva Basmajian, a prominent Canadian documentary film producer I knew socially 30 years ago and haven’t seen since (hi Silva!). She once brought some delicious homemade hummus to a party I attended, so I asked her for the recipe, wrote it down, and kept the piece of paper all these years:

Ancient artifact hummus recipe, circa 1978

Ancient artifact hummus recipe, circa 1978


I’ve adapted it to suit my own taste and the kids’: I omit the garlic, and I freshen it up with extra lemon juice and some chopped mint leaves. Plus, I now make it in a food processor instead of a blender.

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I only eat it when it’s freshly made, is at room temperature and has an enticing soft texture, but the boys eat it daily from the fridge, which means I get to haul out the food processor to make a fresh batch every few days, lucky me.

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Lemony Mint Hummus (adapted from Silva Basmajian)

1/3 c. tahini
1/4 c. water
19 oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 T. olive oil
juice of 1 lemon (about 1/4 c.)
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. cumin
salt + pepper
handful of washed and dried mint leaves, chopped

Puree all ingredients in food processor.

Sweet and Spicy Pecans

The food: Sweet and Spicy Toasted Pecans

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The story:

My husband E loves nuts, and buys them in bulk from a shop in Montreal he swears by, called Coconut Maison des Noix. The walnut halves he eats with yogurt and fruit for a mid-morning snack, the whole toasted almonds he eats in a small dish for a mid-evening snack, and we toast the pecans in butter, caramelized sugar, cayenne and salt and pepper, for sprinkling on salads.

The first step is throw some sugar and butter in a frying pan.
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Cook at medium-high heat until butter and sugar melt.
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Keep cooking until sugar begins to brown slightly.
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Add as many pecans as fill the pan in a single layer, stir to coat, and add salt, freshly ground black pepper and several shakes of cayenne pepper.

So much for my future as a hand model.

So much for my future as a hand model.

Continue cooking at medium heat, stirring often, and watching carefully to ensure pecans and the sugar butter mixture brown, but don’t burn.

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Things could get smoky at this point, but keep at it until all the nuts are browned, then take the pan off the heat and let cool.

See the smoke?

See the smoke?

When cooled, store nuts in an airtight container in fridge and use on salads, in sandwiches or eat as a decadent snack. My favourite rationale salad to eat these pecans with is one made with baby spinach and arugula leaves, crumbled ‘fig spread’ goat cheese and a drizzle of lemon oil.
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It’s shown here as a main course salad for one, but once you’ve got the sweet and spicy toasted pecans on hand, the salad makes an impressive looking (and tasting) dish that can be quickly assembled for guests.

P.S. In this blog entry, I tried to emulate food blogger extraordinaire Pioneer Woman though without her awesome photography (and lighting) skills. For fun.

Lemons in the morning, lemons in the evening, lemon at suppertime

The food:

Fresh fettucine with roasted chicken and broccoli rabe

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The story:

I like lemon juice and zest in just about everything, savoury or sweet. I added lemon zest to the blueberry pie in my last post below, it’s an integral ingredient in the hummus I make every two days for my sons to snack on, and I love it with pasta, as in this recipe for Fresh Fettucine with Roasted Chicken and Broccoli Rabe (and lemon!) from known lemon booster Giada Laurentiis, featured in her book Giada’s Family Dinners.

I whipped this up the other night as a way to use some leftover roast chicken, indulge in my favourite fresh (and inexpensive!) pasta from Pusateri’s, an upscale gourmet shop in Toronto, and to get my evening fix of lemon. The recipe takes a little more time and trouble than you might expect after reading it (washing and trimming the rapini/broccoli rabe is a bit of a chore) but the result is a big dish of lemony comfort food.

Two mid-sized bowlfuls of washed and chopped rapini cook down dramatically to complement but not overwhelm 3/4 of a pound of fresh pasta as shown above.

Two mid-sized bowlfuls of washed and chopped rapini cook down dramatically to complement but not overwhelm a half pound of fresh pasta as shown above.

Goodbye To Blueberry Pie, Hello Blueberry Mess

The food: Blueberry (Mess) Pie

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The story:

The 2009 Tony Award nominations were announced recently, which made me think about all things Broadway, and how my favourite musical has to be Gypsy. I grew up listening to Ethel Merman belt out the songs on the original cast recording and I’ve seen the show several times on Broadway over the years. I’ve seen the Mama Rose role played by Tyne Daly, Linda Lavin, Bernadette Peters, and most recently and brilliantly, in my view, by Patti Lupone. Watch her bring the house down performing Everything’s Coming Up Roses at the 2008 Tony Awards here:

In honour of Gypsy and the song Some People (and because I had some blueberries in the freezer), I decided to make a blueberry pie by adapting an easy and delicious raspberry pie recipe my sister’s friend Tiffany gave me several years ago, a recipe that’s a part of my regular repertoire.

I thawed the berries, then mixed in sugar, a little flour and some lemon zest.

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Next, I poured the mixture into a Loblaws No Name brand frozen pie crust shell – I know, I was skeptical too, at first, when my sister and Tiffany recommended that variety to me, but for sweet pies especially, I find the No Name brand has an appealing shortbreadish texture. After filling the bottom crust, I cut half of the the top crust into some comically inept-looking lattice strips, laid them down over top the berries, and bunged the pie in the oven.

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It came out looking pretty good, I thought.

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But when I cut it open, there was lots of blueberry juice, as in too much, as in blueberry soup. I had to spoon out about ½ c. of liquid from the pie plate before I could cut the slice shown above, put it on a plate and pretend it wasn’t totally oozy.

The thing was, though, that when I ate a soggy, juicy slice pile of pie dolloped with some vanilla yogurt, the combination, juice and all, tasted way better than when I suctioned off the liquid and tried a drier piece. So goodbye to blueberry pie, hello blueberry mess.

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Blueberry (Mess) Pie

1 1 lb./600 gram bag of frozen blueberries (such as the Europe’s Best brand)
1 c. sugar
4. Tbsp flour
Zest of 1 lemon
2 8” Pie Crust Shells, made fresh, or frozen

1. Thaw blueberries in bowl. When almost thawed, preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. For a drier pie, drain off juice from thawed berries into a smaller bowl and use as sauce for the finished pie later. For a juicier pie, keep juice with berries. Either way, when berries are thawed, add sugar, flour and lemon zest to them. Stir briefly to incorporate ingredients.
2. Pour berry mixture into prepared bottom crust.
3. Lay top crust on cutting board. Cut half of it into ½ inch wide strips. (Reserve remaining half for another use.) Lay cut strips across berry mixture in facsimile of lattice pattern. Press end of strips into fluted edge of bottom pie shell.
4. Put pie, on cookie sheet covered in parchment paper, in middle rack of oven. Reduce oven heat to 350 degrees.
5. Bake about 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown at edges and filling looks slightly thickened.
6. Let cool before cutting open.
7. Scoop “pieces” of pie and juice onto plate. Top with vanilla yogurt. Drizzle yogurt with reserved juice from step 2 if you did that in step 2.
8. Sing like Ethel Merman. Or Patti Lupone, if you can.

Let them eat lettuce

The food: Chicken club in lettuce leaves/Proper Chicken Caesar Salad

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The story:

My two sons are home for the summer from university, and have me jumping through hoops buying and preparing meals that suit their respective special diets and my own need to eat only tasty food.

Simon is doing a low carb thing between his varsity basketball seasons, and is currently eating all his protein wrapped in Romaine lettuce leaves instead of with bread or pasta or rice. Michael has celiac disease and has his own supply of gluten-free starches to choose from, but he’s been trying out the lettuce leaf routine too. This week, we’ve gone through 3 heads of Romaine lettuce per day! Problem is, neither guy likes the small, pale inner leaves of the lettuce.

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Faced with a growing pile of those inner leaves, I decided to use them to make myself a version of Jamie Oliver’s Proper Caesar Salad, a recipe that calls for lettuce, bacon, chicken roasted with rosemary over homemade croutons, and a dressing of olive oil and lemon juice, jazzed up with anchovies, garlic and crème fraiche.

Since I was roasting chicken and frying bacon anyway, I made extra of both for the boys to use in a chicken club lettuce leaf creation, which they both said they preferred over the Caesar salad.

Should a chicken club include cheese? Simon says yes.

Should a chicken club include cheese? Simon says yes.

I wasn’t about to forego homemade croutons browned in chicken fat drippings, but I didn’t want to contaminate Michael’s portion of the chicken with bread crumbs, so contrary to Jamie Oliver’s instructions, I cooked the chicken first and removed it from the roasting dish when it was done. P1010353
Building on the rosemary theme, I then sliced up some Ace Bakery rosemary focaccia, and baked the croutons in the chicken fat still left in the roasting dish.
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The boys loaded up their lettuce leaves with chicken, bacon, cheese, and mayo. For my salad dressing, I omitted the garlic (it disagrees with me) from Jamie Oliver’s recipe, kept the mashed anchovies, substituted yogurt for crème fraiche, and tipped the olive oil/lemon juice ratio in favour of the lemon juice. The result was good enough to drink, but instead I poured it over a plate dotted with an extravagant number of croutons, as well as some chicken, bacon, lettuce and extra grated Parmigiano Reggiano, and lapped it all up.

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Jamie Oliver’s Proper Caesar Salad, Adapted

4 chicken breasts
4 thick slices rosemary focaccia bread, cubed
4 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves picked and chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
8 slices bacon
4 anchovy fillets in oil, drained and chopped fine
5-6 T. grated Parmesan (Reggiano)
3-4 T. plain yogurt (1/2 of a 175 gr. container)
Juice of 1 lemon
Extra virgin olive oil
2 or 3 heads romaine lettuce, outer leaves used to feed dieting young men

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Pour 2 T. olive oil in roasting dish, add chopped rosemary. Turn chicken breasts in oil and rosemary, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in oven for 45-50 minutes.
3. Remove chicken to plate to cool.
4. Add focaccia bread cubes to drippings in pan. Add 1 T. more olive oil if necessary. Turn bread cubes to coat. Roast in oven, turning once or twice, for 15-20 minutes or until golden.
5. Wash and spin dry lettuce leaves.
6. Fry bacon, drain, and chop into bitesize pieces.
6. Remove chicken from bone, and shred or cut into bitesize pieces.
7. Make dressing: mash chopped anchovies in bowl with a spoon (or mix all ingredients in small chopper/food processor), add lemon juice, olive oil to taste (3- 4 T.), yogurt, 2 T. grated Parmesan. Mix.
8. Tear up lettuce leaves, arrange on plate. Scatter chicken, bacon, croutons, grated Parmesan cheese on top and drizzle with dressing.

Serves 4.

Writers Eat Well, Temporarily Forget to be Bitter

The food: Honey lime fruit salad

The late afternoon light make it look more savoury than sweet but it was sweet!

The late afternoon light makes it look savoury, but it was sweet

The story:

I went to a dinner party last weekend at the home of my friend Antanas Sileika, writer, artistic director and bon vivant. When I asked him what I could bring, he said fruit salad. Not to be confused with a fruit platter. And not with apples or oranges, please. (Hmpf. As if.)

A passel of Canadian novelists would be coming – all teaching colleagues from the Humber School for Writers, + dates/spouses, 12 in total. I knew what fresh fruits I would use – berries and pineapple, mainly, with some honeydew melon to add colour – but the more I thought about the term “fruit salad” the more I realized I didn’t really know what it was. Worried that a mysterious (to me) substance like sugar syrup might be required, I looked up some fruit salad recipes and came across a Martha Stewart one that called for a dressing of lime juice, honey and fresh mint. That combo sounded sophisticated and tasty, so that’s what I used.

Antanas and his wife Snaige made a splendid dinner that began with vegetable antipasti, including a fennel salad with pine nuts

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proceeded to a lamb sausage cassoulet

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and duck in an orange sauce

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and ended with crème caramel and chocolate cake, plus my fruit salad. All served with appropriate wines, of course.

At my end of the table, topics of conversation included health and illness, successes and failures, dreams and nightmares, parents and children, teachers and students. Oh yes, and food blogs.

Did the convivial company and lovely food purge us of bitterness and sweeten our dispositions? Not permanently – we’re talking about a bunch of published writers here, come on. But I had a good taste in my mouth all the way home.