Suits is Back, So Eat Biscuits

Mike & Harvey as Batman & Robin with complementary suit & tie combos - nice work, costumers!

Suits returns, starting tonight, Wednesday January 27th, for the first of the back 6 episodes of Season 5.  I will once again be recapping the show, but because I don’t get screeners (ha ha, as if),  and because Wednesday nights are when I go dancing (priorities!), my timing pledge will be to get each recap up before the next episode airs.

In the meantime, for those who remember when this blog was mainly about food, I offer a relatively foolproof recipe for flaky buttermilk biscuits, adapted from a Taste of Home recipe published in 2001.  I’ve kept to the same 4 ingredients the recipe calls for, but varied the method slightly in an attempt to achieve maximum flakiness and height.

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These slightly salty – in a  good way – biscuits are best served warm (fresh-baked, or reheated in the oven) , and slathered with cultured butter. And they go as well with savoury foods like eggs and bacon or hearty soups, as with desserty combos like raspberries and whipped cream. Either way, they’d make a fine accompaniment to an episode of Suits.

Southern Buttermilk Biscuits (adapted from Taste of Home)

Ingredients
1/2 cup cold butter, cubed
2 cups self-rising flour*
3/4 cup buttermilk
Melted butter

*As a substitute for each cup of self-rising flour, place 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a measuring cup. Add all-purpose flour to measure 1 cup.

Directions

In a large bowl or food processor, cut butter into flour until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add  buttermilk and pulse just until moistened. Turn onto a lightly floured surface; gather dough together into a mound; knead 3-4 times.  Pat down to a 3/4-in. thickness, so that the dough is about the size of an 8 1/2″ x 11″ piece of paper.

To create layers, fold the two ends of the dough into the middle as you would fold a piece of paper to put it into an envelope. Gently flatten the nowstacked dough again with your hands until it’s about 3/4 inch thick and paper-sized again.

Using a sharp knife (no biscuit cutter necessary), cut the dough into 9 square biscuits. Place in a round greased cake pan with the sides almost touching so that the biscuits have nowhere to go but up, OR place the biscuits on their sides in the cups of a greased muffin tin. Brush with melted butter and  bake at 425° for 11-13 minutes (a few minutes more if using the cake pan method) or until golden brown. Yield: 9 biscuits.

hugs

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Chinese Noodles with Meat Sauce and Fresh Garnishes

The food: Homemade Chinese noodles with Meat Sauce and Fresh Garnishes

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The story:

One of the dishes brought to a meeting of The Oakdale Dinner Club in my novel of the same name is a Chinese dish of noodles with meat sauce, garnished with fresh cucumber sticks. The sight of the dish causes a (somewhat pretentious) character named Tom to proclaim it the basis of some Proustian memories he formed in a Szechwan restaurant in Montreal decades before.

Those Proustian memories are, of course, mine – the first time I had the dish was in Montreal, in the 1980’s, when I was visiting my brother, then a student at McGill University, for the weekend. To me, a lifelong devotee of Cantonese chow mein, this new noodle dish in a bowl was different and delightful. I loved the contrasting tastes, textures and temperatures of the hot, slightly spicy meat sauce, soft noodles, and crisp, cold cucumber.

This past summer, I tried and deemed decent the version of it served at Mother’s Dumplings in Toronto:

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But I preferred the iteration I devised after combining elements from two recipes I found online and a third recipe that comes from a dearly beloved old cookbook called Cooking for Crowds. To which I added shiitake and water chestnuts, because I really like shiitake and water chestnuts.

My version is pictured at the top of the post, and the recipe for it appears below. Also pictured is the recipe as executed by a professional chef this past September, when I collaborated with the lovely organizers of the Kingston WritersFest to put on a festival event called The Kingston Dinner Club, during which I read from The Oakdale Dinner Club and spoke about food in fiction, while the attendees dined on a meal that featured food described in the novel.

Served alongside a refreshing salad of chicken, mango, and avocado in a lime vinaigrette (a recipe I blogged about here), the Chinese noodles with fresh meat sauce and fresh garnishes shone. They tasted good too.

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Chinese Noodles with Meat Sauce and Fresh Garnishes

Serves 4.

Ingredients:

1 lb. fresh Chinese noodles
1 T. sesame oil
1 lb. ground pork
3 T. sherry
1 tsp. sugar
4 T. soy sauce
4 T. hoisin sauce
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1 T. sweet chili sauce
½ cup sliced scallions (white part)
2 T. canola oil
½ cup sliced water chestnuts
1 c. sliced shiitake mushrooms

For garnish:

1 ½ cups fresh bean sprouts
1 ½ cups English cucumber strips (cut into 2 inch long julienne strips)
1 ½ cups fresh baby spinach leaves, cut into julienne strips

optional garnish add-ons or substitutions: 1/2 cup finely chopped scallions (green part), 1 cup thinly sliced radishes, chopped fresh coriander leaves

Method:

1. Mix pork with sherry, sugar, and soy sauce in bowl. Let stand.

2. Cook noodles in boiling water till tender, loosened and separated (a few minutes). Drain in colander, shake to remove moisture, and toss in bowl with sesame oil. Set aside.

3. Sauté white part of scallions with mushrooms in oil until browned. Add pork and stir-fry until loosened, cooked through and most of the liquid has cooked off.

4. Stir in water chestnuts, hoisin sauce and sweet chili sauce and cook for a minute or two to blend.

5. Add noodles to pan and stir fry for 1-2 minutes to heat and mix with sauce.

6. Turn noodles and sauce into bowls. Garnish each serving with some sprouts, cucumber strips, spinach, and other fresh garnishes. Serve warm.

Engorgeous Sweet Potato Vichysoisse

The food: Sweet Potato and Leek Vichysoisse

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The story:

In my novel The Oakdale Dinner Club, the character Mary Ann, who is itching to have an extra-marital affair (for quasi-justifiable, “get hers” reasons, after her husband cheated), brings to a key meeting of the dinner club something another character refers to as “the unfortunately named” Engorgeous Soup. The recipe comes from a (fictional) cheesy cookbook Mary Ann has found called “Cooking for Lovers” – on another occasion, she makes a Chocolate Orgasm cake from the same book – and she hopes the soup will act as an aphrodisiac on her intended affair prospect.

I didn’t describe the soup in detail in the book, but the soup I had in mind when I was writing the passage was a Sweet Potato Vichysoisse that has been in my home repertoire since 1985, when I found the recipe in The Silver Palate Good Times cookbook.

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The vichysoisse is smooth, silky, and rich-tasting, thanks to white wine and lime zest/juice that deepen the flavours of the sweet potatoes, leeks, stock, milk and heavy cream. A bowl of the soup, garnished with frizzled leeks as shown in my photo above, would make a lovely light lunch or supper served alongside a few chunks of toasted focaccia, say.

Sidenote: you can hear me talking about food, affairs and The Oakdale Dinner Club with the CBC Radio One “Host Shelagh Rogers at CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter web page.

Sweet-Potato Vichysoisse*, adapted from The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook (by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins)

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter
4 leeks (white part only), well rinsed, dried and sliced
6 cups chicken stock or canned chicken broth
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
Grated zest and juice of 1 lime
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy or whipping cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Melt the butter in a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Add the leeks and sauté until soft and transparent.
2. Add the stock, wine and sweet potatoes. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.
3. Let cool off the heat about 15 minutes, then stir in lime zest and juice, milk and cream. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Puree the soup in batches in a blender until very smooth.
5. The soup can be served hot or cold, with garnishes of your choice.
6. The recipe says it serves 6, but I find it makes more like 8-10 servings.

*Aphrodisiac qualities not guaranteed.

Cream Cheese Sandwich Loaf: Retro Goodness or Please Make It Go Away?

The food:
Cream Cheese Sandwich Loaf AKA Frosted Ribbon Loaf AKA Run for your Life

Party Sandwich Loaf, as per Betty Crocker

Party Sandwich Loaf, as per Betty Crocker

The story:

In a scene from my new novel The Oakdale Dinner Club, Alice, one of the main characters, attends a wedding shower – in 1992 – of her best friend Mary Ann. Mary Ann is a traditionalist who has asked her mother, an accomplished cook, to prepare ancient-fashioned wedding shower fare, including a Cream Cheese Sandwich Loaf, which, for the uninitiated, is one name for a loaf of bread that has been sliced horizontally; stuffed with layers of things that don’t go together well, like deviled ham, shrimp salad and egg salad; ‘frosted’ with cream cheese; and decorated like some kind of bizarro savoury cake.

When I wrote the scene, the cream cheese sandwich loaf I described was based on one I had sampled, probably in the 70’s, and that looked, in my mind, something like the pic above, courtesy of Betty Crocker – click here for a defies-belief recipe.

What the sandwich loaf in the story was not meant to resemble was this monstrosity, produced in my very own kitchen, in an act of food preparation that convinced me I am not and will never be the cook Mary Ann’s mother Sarah is in The Oakdale Dinner Club.

Cream Cheese Sandwich Loaf as per the Hungry Novelist

Cream Cheese Sandwich Loaf as per the No-Longer-So-Hungry Novelist

Look at that thing! Between the squished layers of bread (I used a higher fibre white loaf from Cobs Bakery which could not stand up to my Hulk Smash slicing attempts, through no apparent fault of its own), there is a layer of tuna salad and frisée lettuce, a layer of egg salad, and a layer of cream cheese and cucumber because I started thinking about tea sandwiches but should I have used watercress? I don’t know. And those are pecans and gherkin pickles on top of the cream cheese frosting, because why not. (Also, why.)

How did it taste, you ask? Yes, I ate a slice – I wasn’t about to throw the perfectly good ingredients away. And it tasted okay, if okay means it was too bready, too cream-cheesy, and its components would have been better served up as a scoop each of tuna salad and egg salad on a bed of lettuce with maybe a slice of buttered whole wheat bread alongside.

Like Alice in the novel, I found this dish a mite too exotic. But it makes for a good punch line. Both here and as item #5 in this very funny Buzzfeed list of 21 Truly Upsetting Vintage Recipes.

Gorgeous Grilled Cheese Inspired by Chef the film

The food:

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The story:

My new food-centric novel The Oakdale Dinner Club is now available, where books and ebooks are sold!

As part of my half-baked fun-filled campaign to promote it, I’m Writer-in-Residence this month at Open Book Toronto where there is an almost embarrassing amount of content on me: an interview that lists 12 things most people don’t know about me (or do they?), some book recommendations, and several blog posts about my writing life.

At the end of my launch week, I went to see the movie Chef, and was so taken by the food-porn-to-the-max grilled cheese sandwich made by the chef character in the movie for his 10-year-old son that I tried to recreate it in my kitchen the next day, with very tasty (if fattening) results that I blogged about over at Open Book Toronto.

After the end credits of the film, a short sequence shows famed L.A. chef Roy Choi, who was a producer and food consultant on the movie, instructing actor/writer/director Jon Favreau on how to make the grilled cheese sandwich. Or so I’m told, because I did not know this before I went to see the movie and didn’t stay in the theatre past the end credits! This, even though, I put in a past-the-end-credits type teaser, for fun, at the end of The Oakdale Dinner Club!

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Fevered internet sleuthing – one review mentioned which cheeses were used in the film sandwich, and that olive oil was a factor in the pan, random best grilled cheese recipes elsewhere suggested grating the cheeses for faster melting – led to my very own recipe for how to make a gorgeous grilled cheese sandwich in the manner of Chef the film, a movie I highly recommend if you like food, eating, and feel-good movies about food and eating.

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Gorgeous Grilled Cheese in the Manner of Chef the Film

Ingredients:
– 2 not too thick, not too thin slices of good quality, airy white bread, such as sourdough or ciabatta
– 1/2 cup to 1 cup – depending where you fit on the risk aversion/thrill-seeking continuum – of grated cheese, made up of 1 part Parmigiano Reggiano, 1 part extra old cheddar (white or orange) and 2 parts Swiss Gruyere
– generous amount of unsalted butter
– a drizzle of olive oil for the frying pan

Method:

– Butter generously one side of each slice of bread
– Heat small amount of olive oil in frying pan until hot and swirled over surface of pan
– Place one slice bread, buttered side down, in pan, turn heat down to medium
– Pile up grated cheeses on bread, as much as you can handle
– Place second slice of bread on top of cheese, buttered side up
– Cook over medium heat for about 3-4 minutes or until bottom slice is golden
– Flip sandwich over and cook until other side is golden
– Press down on the sandwich with a spatula if you wish to compress it a little
– If cheese is not melted when both sides of bread are golden, turn heat down to low and cover frying pan, let cook for another few minutes until cheese is melted to your satisfaction but top and bottom are still crunchy
– Slide sandwich out of pan onto cutting board and cut with big, sharp, impressive-looking chef’s knife
– Slide two halves of sandwich onto plate and arrange one on top of the other at an angle (see photo) to look more arty, appetizing and well, gorgeous
– If you’re me, gild this lily with a little sea salt sprinkled over top
– Eat while still hot, with or without your condiment of choice (chutney, ketchup)

Goodbye Twelve, Hello Thirteen: The Hungry Novelist’s Year’s Bests

Best Restaurant Meal I Ate That I Didn’t Blog About: mixed salads at Joan’s on Third in Los Angeles

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My pics don’t do the food justice – that might be why I didn’t post about how much I loved the sophisticated comfort food and the airy, casual ambience at Joan’s on Third in L.A. Among the delicious salads I tried as part of two different Salad Trio plates (only $12 for a heaping plateful) were a wonderful roasted potato salad with blue cheese dressing, a tarragon chicken salad, and a pretty and fresh shrimp salad with grapes and celery. I’m psyched to go back for more.

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And hey, Ellen Pompeo (of Grey’s Anatomy fame) was eating at a communal table at Joan’s on one of the days I was there.

Best 2012 Restaurant Breakfast: the poached eggs with fennel pollen Hollandaise at Little Dom’s in L.A.

Poached Eggs at Little Dom's

Poached Eggs at Little Dom’s

Little Dom’s is another Los Angeles restaurant I’m eager to return to, for the breakfast eggs and potatoes, because I might see frequent customers Emily Van Camp and Josh Bowman (of Revenge fame) there, and for the delicious little olive oil cake I bought (and did not photograph) from the Little Dom’s deli after brunch. I ate that cake in two bites, without sharing it with my husband E, who is still sulking, I mean talking, about this, a year later. Now we have to go back, so I can buy us each two little cakes.

Best Toronto Restaurant Trend: The Ramen Invasion

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It doesn’t even matter where this particular bowl of ramen is from (okay, it’s from Kinton Ramen, on Baldwin Street). The plethora of new authentic ramen restaurants that have arrived in town means there’s a very good and possibly great bowl of ramen available downtown at almost all times. Hell, keep that spicy broth away from me, and I’m even liking Kenzo Ramen these days. And Ramen Raijin. With, lucky me, several more new spots still left to try.

Best Frugal Gourmet Fare: The aperitivo buffet at Taverna del Campiello Remer in Venice, Italy

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Amazing all you can eat risotto. For free. Read about it here.

Best 20th Century Recipe That Still Tasted Damn Good in 2012 : Chicken Chasseur

Chicken Chasseur Hungry Novelist Style

Chicken Chasseur Hungry Novelist Style

Because sometimes I actually cook.

Best New (to me) Burger and Food Truck: the burger and fries from Miho Gastrotruck in Carlsbad, California

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My first exposure to a California style food truck was at Miho Gastrotruck, a Farm to Table operation that uses artisanal ingredients to produce a great tasting juicy burger and impeccable fries on the road. Worth going out of the way for when in the San Diego area.

And finally, because I’m not just hungry, I’m a novelist:

Best Thrillers I Read in 2012: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and Alys Always by Harriet Lane

My current novel-in-progess is a psychological thriller, so I read several novels in that genre this year as part of my research. I disliked some, was meh on others, and liked a small number, of which the best, to my taste, were these two.

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The much-lauded and buzzed-about Gone Girl, about a woman who goes missing, and the suspicions cast on her husband, gets pretty crazy and twisty in its last third, but I found it to be engrossing, well plotted, paced and written, and very memorable.

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Alys Always, about a young newspaper subeditor (of a books section!) who happens upon a fatal car accident one night on a dark country road, is a quieter sort of thriller, with fewer extremes and no violence, but I loved its slow build, mounting suspense and unreliable narrator. It reminded me, in good ways, of another past favourite: Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal.

Comfort Chicken Chasseur (and it’s gluten-free)

The food: Chicken Chasseur

Chicken Chasseur Hungry Novelist Style

The story:

Fall has arrived (begone, overly hot, overly long summer!), and while I dislike the cold weather as much as the next person – no, wait. I like cold weather. Or rather, I like cool sunny days of the autumnal variety. I like turning off the a/c and NOT turning on the furnace. I like putting the hot water bottle into play at bedtime. I like jumping back into the local literary scene at Toronto’s Word on the Street festival at the end of September.

Guest speakers Luba Lesychyn and Emily Niedoba at one of the talks I hosted at the WOTS Scribendi Wordshop Marquee featuring the Humber School of Writers

And I like bringing back to the regular home cooking rotation fall/winter comfort food dishes like Chicken Chasseur (poulet chasseur, more properly, but I work from the Joy of Cooking recipe I’ve used for years, the one that is amusingly and Americanishly titled “Hunter’s Chicken, Chicken Cacciatore or Chasseur”: take your pick.)

The recipe suggests serving the chicken, which is cooked in a wine-scented, mushroomy, tomato-rich sauce – over boiled spaghetti (wtf?). But in a nod to my multicultural origins (and cooking influences) I serve it over Japanese white rice, and top it with challah croutons for gluten-eaters and rice bread croutons for the gluten-free among us.

Gluten-Free Chicken Chasseur Hungry Novelist Style
(adapted from The Joy of Cooking)

Rinse and dry with paper towels:
4 half chicken breasts, bone-in

Dredge with:
3-4 T. cornstarch

Saute till golden brown in a large saucepan in:
3-4 T. olive oil
With:
2-3 shallots, peeled and minced

Mix and add to the pan:
1 small can tomato paste (about 1/2 cup)
1 c. dry white wine
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 and 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 bay leaf, 1/2 tsp. thyme, 1/2 tsp. marjoram
2 Tbsp. brandy or cognac

Simmer mixture, covered, for 45 minutes to an hour until chicken is tender and sauce has thickened nicely. Keep an eye on it to ensure it doesn’t burn. If too thick, thin with a little more chicken stock or wine.

Meanwhile, saute 2 c. sliced mushrooms in olive oil until browned and tender.

Make steamed rice.

Make croutons by frying 1 slice per serving of bread (of your choice) in 1 Tbsp. olive oil until browned and fragrant. Fry gluten-free bread slices in a separate pan from gluten-full bread, obvi. Cut fried bread into crouton-sized pieces.

When chicken is tender, remove breasts from sauce, cut meat from bone and into bite-size pieces/shreds, discard bones, and return chicken pieces to sauce. Stir in sauteed mushrooms and keep mixture warm.

To serve, place a mound of cooked steamed rice on a plate, top with 4-6 croutons, and pour a ladleful of chicken and mushrooms in sauce over top of both.

Serves 4-6.