Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Breakfast redux

When it comes to breakfast, we all have our habits. Nigella Lawson cleverly wrote that first thing in the morning she would “rather make breakfast than a decision.” She eats the same breakfast every day, as I’m sure most of us do. My parents have been following the same breakfast schedule for years: porridge on weekdays, fried eggs and bacon on Saturdays and waffles on Sunday. There’s a certain comfort I get from knowing that wherever they are, I know what my parents had to eat that morning.

Lately, I've been enjoying soft boiled eggs and buttered toast for the most important meal of the day. I have taken the guesswork out of cooking the eggs by employing my egg-cooker, an ingenious contraption that looks more like a UFO than a kitchen appliance. I like that I am following the same ritual as Nigella, several hours later and with notable exceptions: the Italian eggs and Poîlane toast she demands are not available here. Poor me, unable to fully appreciate the domestic goddess's daily feast. Only in England, it seems, are the nationality of eggs of vital consideration. Said the Queen: “I myself prefer New Zealand eggs for breakfast.” Don’t we all....

I looked up some other notable breakfast quotations. (There aren’t many.) My favourite is from Arnold Schwarzenegger: “My body is like breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I don't think about it, I just have it.” I took moderate offense to Oscar Wilde before wondering what exactly he really meant by “only boring people are brilliant at breakfast.” I also realized that, in this modern life of eating breakfast at my desk, I am perhaps avoiding a potential minefield. After all, according to A P Herbert, “the critical period of matrimony is breakfast-time.”

Other breakfast links:
What’s your breakfast routine?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Spring green

We had a much awaited and highly anticipated arrival this morning. At 7:44AM, after a long and particularly cold winter, spring began! We are overjoyed and look forward to growth and abundance over the next few months. Hurrah!

The weather today is sunny and crisp. It's cold: the thermostat is barely above freezing. But no matter. The sun is high in the sky and there isn't a cloud to be seen. Spring is here.

To celebrate the occasion, I wanted to eat something green and fresh for lunch. It needed to be hot and comforting, since it's still cold out, but crisp and new tasting as well. I had bought a bunch of coriander and some limes at the grocery store the other day, sensing my impending need for something fragrant and green.

I made a puréed pea soup, a soup I make all year long. Today's version, however, I've never tried. It marked the occasion perfectly. The green of the peas is piercing and the coriander and lime complete the verdant triad.

This is a quick soup: five minutes or so to prepare. If you don't have coriander and lime, you could improvise: parsley and lemon, dill and sour cream, basil and some parmiggiano. Anything that adds spring to your soup!

Serves 1

1 cup frozen peas
1 cup water
1 handful of coriander leaves, minced
juice of 1/2 lime
1 tsp oil
salt and cayenne to taste

Put the peas and water into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for several minutes until the peas are cooked. Remove from heat.

Using an immersion blender, purée the peas. (If you don't have an immersion blender, you can pour the soup into a conventional blender.) Add the coriander, lime juice and oil. Season to taste and serve immediately.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

O Mighty Taco, Harbinger of spring!

I’m home from my vacation. Toronto has greeted me with below-zero temperatures and a light dusting of snow. Charming. I’ve been miserable all day and wishing I could be back in vacationland, a.k.a. Scottsdale, AZ, to soak up more sunshine and smell the glorious, jasmine scented air. I’m sure I’ve been a delight to be around since I’ve returned. Poor B, excited to see me, has been heroic while I regale him with remarks of how great Arizona is and how much I hate being back in the Great White North (except for seeing him, I reassure).

It’s amazing how much weather influences how and what we eat. While in Arizona, I craved the tastes of the southwest: corn, refried beans and jalapeños. I bought bunches of cilantro put it on everything. I devoured the grapefruits I could pick off the neighbourhood trees. But mostly, I wanted fish tacos. I both made my own, and sought them on the menu at restaurants. I think I ate one a day.

Here in Canada, we are generally deprived of quality Mexican cuisine. Until a few years ago, my understanding of tacos was that they were those hard shell disasters filled with greasy ground beef, soggy iceberg lettuce and pale tomatoes that would fall apart at first bite. Having gotten the stomach flu after one taco night when I was 10 aided to cement my belief that Mexican food was for people who also liked Cheez Whiz, balogna and ranch dressing. In other words, it was for people who were unaware that it was possible to eat something better.

A couple of years ago, while visiting relatives in Chicago, my cousins took us to their local taqueria. I was delighted to discover that I could purchase a taco in a soft, handmade corn tortilla filled with meats such as pulled pork and roast chicken, and even spicy white fish. These tacos stayed intact while I ate them. They tasted fantastic. I was hooked.

In Toronto, we don’t have 10 varieties of soft corn tortillas in every supermarket. (In Chicago, they sell fresh soft tortilla shells in pharmacies and convenience stores!) Last summer, after another taco-filled Chicago visit, I bought a tortilla press and some masa harina to make my own. This is surprisingly simple to do so long as you have the proper equipment (make sure to line the tortilla press with plastic wrap). I think I will make some this weekend, filled with the leftover chicken I am roasting this afternoon. I’ll pick up some jalapeños and cilantro on my walk. Perhaps I can entice spring to arrive a little early.


Incidentally, for those who despise the taste of cilantro (also called coriander), the perfect omnivore directive applies to training oneself to enjoy this strong and fragrant herb. I don’t know of anything that tastes more green, but it is surely an acquired taste. I urge you to commit yourself to learning to love this distinctive herb. (Remember, it only takes 8-10 tries.) Once you do, you will be glad as there is nothing that tastes like it. It belongs in Mexican salsas as well as east Indian curries and big bowls of Vietnamese pho.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Have you had your eggs today?

Eggs are in the air! Must be a sign of spring, I guess. Just days after sharing my recipe for uova in purgatorio, I have waiting for me in my blog reader this morning recipes for, you guessed it, eggs poached in sauce. This one is from one of my favourite food blogs, I'm Mad and I Eat, and explains how I used to get my tomato-y egg fix: done ramekin style in the oven (the fussy method I now have no patience for most days). She lists several other fellow bloggers’ versions including this one from Buff Chickpea done in a skillet with tons of veggies. Lots of chopping, but it looks great.

I’m heading to warmer climes on Wednesday and in my flurry of pre-vacation preparations, I am appreciative of fast food more than ever. My old favourites are serving me well (Death Row Beans in particular). My standby lunch is tuna with beans and celery, something I've made for years and was reacquainted with in David Rocco's Dolce Vita. I realize that I have neglected to share a recipe I make for myself at least three times a week. Yikes! It goes something like this:
1 4oz. can of tuna packed in olive oil, drained and emptied into a salad bowl (Callipo or Rio Mare brands are good)
1 rib celery, chopped
1/2 c canned beans, drained and rinsed (navy, white kidney or Romano beans work well)
juice from 1/4 lemon
1 glug of good olive oil
chopped parsley and salt and pepper to taste
Put all of these things in your bowl, toss them a bit and dig in. I make this for myself to go as well, throwing everything in a plastic container before leaving the house. It takes about three minutes to make.

P.S. Sorry for the weird title. What can I say? My head is already on vacation....