Father’s Day Dinner at Amaya

The food: upscale Indian

The story:

This past Sunday, Father’s Day, E and I went for a kid-less (they were out playing basketball) dinner at the Bayview Avenue location of Amaya Express, the most casual iteration of the Amaya empire, a Toronto mini-chain of upscale/gourmet Indian restaurants. We later found out that two separate groups of friends and relatives had gone that same night to the original and most formal version of Amaya, Amaya the Indian Room up the road, for their Father’s Day dinners, but we prefer the walk-in, uncrowded, no reservations style of Amaya Express.

We went for the $39.95 Dinner for Two, which began with the Daily Chef’s Appetizer, that day being 3 pakoras (way too spicy for me) and 1 milder, creamier onion bhaji (next time I’ll order those only):

Next came our three chosen mains – masala lime lamb (smoky and shredded):

coastal prawn curry in coconut chilli masala (my favourite for the complex yet mellow flavours of the sauce):

and good old aloo gobi (again, a little too hot for my clearly spice-sensitive palate):

But, in keeping with my slavish devotion to breads of all kinds, I really liked the pillowy, buttery naan:

As is our wont, we were in and out of the restaurant in 45 minutes, and we had enough of the mains leftover to feed us both the next night at home, especially after I added some cooked shrimp to the prawn curry sauce. And E, the father in our party, liked it all.

Amaya Express on Urbanspoon

You can dance if you want to

The food: upside down nectarine pecan cake

The story:

Lately, I’ve been listening to the Glee version of the Men Without Hats tune Safety Dance, and wanting to be part of a dance flash mob like the one that danced to the song on Glee.

So when I passed some nice-looking nectarines today, on my way into a grocery store to buy some candy fruit slices, I decided on the spot – perhaps influenced by the “You can dance if you want to” exhortation playing on repeat in my head – to make an upside down nectarine cake. Because I wanted to.

The nice-looking nectarines:

And the fruit slice candies: (What? I bought them, too.)

The recipe I used for the cake – a favorite of my husband E – was adapted from a recipe for Cherry-Nectarine Upside-Down Cake that appeared in Cooking Light magazine in 1998 and has been reproduced all over the internets since. The ground pecans give the cake a nutty texture that complements the creaminess of the buttermilk and the sweetness of the fruit, and imparts a European flavour and sensibility, besides.

The original recipe calls for arranging the nectarine slices spoke-like in the bottom of the cake pan, but I couldn’t be bothered to do that when a haphazard scattering of the slices looks just as tasty to my eye:

And I figure if I can dance if I want to, I can place nectarine slices any way I please, too.

Nectarine-Pecan Upside-Down Cake (adapted from Cooking Light magazine, 1998)

2 cups thinly sliced nectarines (from 2 medium sized nectarines)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons pecans OR almonds, toasted and ground
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
2/3 cup low-fat buttermilk

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cut a circle of parchment paper to fit bottom of 9 inch round cake pan and place inside pan. Spray paper and sides of pan with cooking spray.
3. Spread nectarine slices over paper in a single layer, some overlaps permitted.
4. Combine flour, ground nuts, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Stir to mix.
5. Cream butter in electric mixer, add sugar, mix until combined, then add egg and vanilla, beat well.
6. Add flour mixture to creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk, ending with flour mixture. Beat well after each addition.
7. Pour batter over fruit.
8. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until a fork inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on rack.
9. Invert onto plate, peel off parchment paper and admire abstract design of nectarines.
10. Serve with plain yogurt sweetened with maple syrup or honey, or with vanilla yogurt.

Perfect Home Office Lunch: Summer Edition

The food: simple sandwiches

The story:

I’ve been battling writer’s block lately, though in my case, a more descriptive term for the condition might be writer’s lethargy, coupled with an extreme case of writer’s distractability, which reminds me – there’s something I need to look up online right now.

Baking (I like to have a supply of home-made cheese straws in the freezer at all or most times) is a frequent excuse to step away from the computer, and so are the time-sucking activities – grocery shopping, food prep, cooking, and cleaning up – that comprise the making of dinner, especially now that my sons are home for the summer.

Lunches chez moi, however, I try to keep simple, in order to minimize time away from my desk. And most days, all I need for a satisfying midday meal is some baby arugula, watercress or fresh radish slices, sprinkled with fleur de sel and maybe some fresh ground pepper, sandwiched between a few pieces of fresh artisanal bread spread with cultured butter (I’d use European butter if I could buy it in Canada). Time required to make these lunches: 5 minutes. Time required to eat them: 10 minutes.

When I get restless after lunch, which usually happens about 10 minutes after I’ve sat back down in front of my monitor, there’s a mid-afternoon sherbet-limonata float to look forward to, easily assembled with raspberry and orange sherbet, some sparkling lemonade and a few fresh berries, and delightfully refreshing on a hot summer day.

The Toronto writer Emily Schultz told me that during a period when she needed incentives to keep writing, she gave her husband some of her own money, and had him dole it out to her in instalments whenever she’d produced a set amount of words in a day. As my own incentive, I suppose I could only allow myself a limonata float when I’ve produced, say, 500 words. Better still, I could have my writer’s lethargy and eat/drink floats too.