A Page (or two) from Dorie Greenspan’s Book

The food: a French-ish dinner

The story:

My husband E – in the hope of inspiring me to cook something new and delicious for dinner – likes to bring home from the library new cookbooks that are getting good press and buzz, which is how I ended up recently perusing the pages of Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table.

When it comes to French food, I could happily eat frites several times a week, their calories be damned, and in fact, I’ve used an appreciation for frites – as well as an avoidance of them – as a means of characterization in my fiction, with the heroic/sympathetic characters being the ones who eat frites, of course.

Frites aside though, French cuisine isn’t my favorite, so it was with a certain ennui that I turned the pages of Greenspan’s book, only to happen upon gorgeous photos of two dishes that caught my eye and whetted my appetite: one for a salad of strawberries, cherry tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella, the other for a fish dish called almond flounder.

The salad – which seemed to me more Italian in tone than French, but never mind – was easily assembled of sliced strawberries, halved grape tomatoes, chunks of buffalo mozzarella, and some chopped basil, and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I had heard of strawberries being dressed with balsamic vinegar before but never tried it, and found the sweet-tart combination to be refreshing and delightful, especially when combined with the soft, creamy cheese.

Greenspan’s recipe for almond flounder is also simple, made by coating fish filets – actual whitefish, in my case, because I was loath to pay $30 for a pound of fresh flounder – with egg yolk and a mixture of ground almonds and flour (the recommended ratio being 1/3 cup of almonds to 1 tablespoon of flour), then frying them in browned butter and topping them with sliced almonds and chopped parsley.

I found the result a little bland (guess I should have sprung for the flounder) but served on a plate (shown at the top of the post) with some roasted carrots and potatoes, buttered green vegs, and a mâche/cherry tomato garnish, the fish made for a fine, old-fashioned dinner – a welcome novelty around my usually non-French table.

Old School Butterscotch Brownies

The food: butterscotch brownies

The story:

Though I haven’t – yet! – written a truly food-centric novel, good food is featured in all my fiction. In Looks Perfect, the love interest of the main character owns a gourmet food shop. In Old Flames, a careerist character is shown to have gone perilously off track when she bakes an apple pie, from scratch (!). In The Glenwood Treasure, the love interest of the main character (uh-oh, already repeating myself, or shall I say, establishing my trademark themes – yeah, that sounds much better) is a would-be pastry chef. In The Restoration of Emily, the son of the main character has celiac disease and must follow a gluten-free diet. In my soon-to-be-published And Everything Nice, a climactic scene takes place over dinner in a high-end restaurant. And I even worked food into “A Taste of Honey”, the story I contributed to the Toronto Noir anthology.

More recently, when I was working on a YA story about two multiracial teens in contemporary Toronto, it amused me to use food as subtextual symbol: one character drinks chocolate milk, the other lattes, and I brought them together as a couple when one invites the other over for butterscotch brownies.

After writing about butterscotch brownies – a chewy, sweet treat that I think of as a comfort food from my youth – I was compelled to make some, according to the recipe I’ve always used, from the 1964 edition of The Joy of Cooking, reprinted below. They’re easily made – in a saucepan, with no electric mixer required! – and though quite thin and light in volume, easy to love, too.

Butterscotch Brownies from The Joy of Cooking, 1964 edition

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt in a saucepan: 1/4 cup butter
Stir into it until dissolved: 1 cup brown sugar
Cool these ingredients slightly. Beat in well: 1 egg, 1 tsp. vanilla
Sift, then measure: 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Resift it with: 1 tsp. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. salt
Stir these ingredients into the butter mixture.
Add: 1/2 to 1 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts)
Pour batter into a greased 9 x 9-inch pan.
Bake for about 20-25 minutes. Cut into bars when cool.

Bests of 2010

The story:

Some time last month this blog surpassed the 100,000 views mark, which may be a small potatoes number for some of the big-time food bloggers, but strikes me as astonishing and worth celebrating.

In honour of passing that milestone, and with a nod to the year that just passed, here’s a roundup of some of the best things I consumed in 2010, at home and away (drumroll, please):

Best Nourishing Meal to Cook Up on a Cold Winter’s Day:
Roasted Vegetables with Boeuf Bourguignon Sauce a la Julia Child

A passel of roasted vegetables with a dark, winey, beefy sauce (and some actual beef) makes this a truly satisfying winter dish. There’s a pot of it simmering in my oven right now, as I write this, for my dinner tonight.

Best New York Restaurant Meal That Makes Me Want to Go Back At The Earliest Opportunity: Breakfast at Locanda Verde

Fresh ricotta with truffle honey and orange toast at Locanda Verde

The fresh ricotta with truffled honey was amazing, and so was everything else we ate there.

Best Home Repertoire Recipe: Buttery Cheese Straws

These savoury cheese straws, heated up, make a perfect late night snack. And now I have to make some this week.

Best Rich, Extravagant Dessert: the molten chocolate cake at Perry Street

This dessert provides the kind of rich, chocolate taste bomb that makes me dream up a wide variety of excuses to eat it.

Best Simple but Sophisticated Dinner Party/Potluck Dish To Impress Your Friends With: sesame-encrusted salmon

A good summer dish, but it goes over well in other seasons too.

Best Restaurant Meal Where I Least Expected It : this one was a tie between pizza at La Madia in downtown Chicago :

where I ate an excellent Neapolitan pizza in a hip, happening restaurant, and a burger at Rok Brger in Fort Lauderdale:

that made me want to try more of the gourmet burgers available in Toronto in the hopes of finding one as good.

Best New Year’s Not Really A Resolution:

I look forward to eating some more great food in 2011.