Live to eat

Socrates said, "Thou shouldst eat to live; not live to eat" while British author Henry Fielding contended that "We must eat to live and live to eat," a diplomatic line if ever one was uttered. 

Unsurprisingly, I was frequently reminded while growing up that I live to eat.

By virtue of this blog, I'd say that fact is self-evident, though I'd like to add that eating to live and living to eat have become one in the same for me. How we've become so Puritanical about food and eating is beyond me.

For a moment, imagine you're sitting at a rustic dining table in Italy overlooking the vineyards, sipping on wine and eating artichokes dipped in Hollandaise sauce. Fathom a bowl of fresh pasta in front of you, tossed in homemade tomato sauce, a block of the good parmesan beside you. Imagine eating a light but satisfying breakfast at a cafe in France, sipping on a mug of pressed coffee, your day ahead of you. Imagine chocolate that tastes so good you can't speak, can't listen, can't do anything but taste -- it's that good. Imagine a weekend so full of laughter, of good food, that you don't mind when Monday rolls around. Imagine doing it again.

While one of my co-workers is busy planning a getaway vacation for next year, I'm preoccupied with plotting my next great meal. Our Lady Peace, with all due respect, was incorrect -- happiness is a fish you can catch, preferably a large wild salmon set to bake in the oven on a cedar plank and coated in real maple syrup.

I trekked to the Dufferin Farmer's Market last Thursday and though was rather underwhelmed, I was mighty impressed by the carrots and onions I bought there. I have to say, there is nothing like a fresh carrot. There is nothing like fresh produce. In its ideal form, it's addictive and delicious and tastes strongly of itself. Some of the carrots were added to a spicy red lentil and cumin soup I whipped up on the fly Sunday evening for this week's series of dinners. Many of them will contribute to a sweet potato and lentil soup planned for next week. Yes, I plan out my meals a week in advance. Some take their work very seriously. Others are very serious about technology. I, dear readers, am very serious about my meals. Priorities, I say!

As we enter the holiday season, food takes front and center stage. At last.

I'm quickly falling in love with smoked paprika, and I've seen roasted cinnamon, oh yes I have. I'm drinking my hot apple cider and my ginger tea, and I'm keeping my eye on LCBO's Spinelli stock to ensure there'll always be a bottle waiting for me. That is to say when I'm not busy gulping down Viewpointe's Cuvée, one of my absolute favourite wines. Ever. Yes, I said it. Ever.

Friday I was was taken for a short tour around the Entertainment District, the first time I've been there late to experience a full downtown catastrophe first-hand. I was taken for a Spanish-style supper -- 10:30pm -- at Grindhouse, a joint that serves up respectable burgers slathered with very lovely chipotle-laced ketchup, made in-house. I have to confess I'm not much for ketchup; I find it far too syrupy-sweet, something I leave to the times I want to bite into a piece of nostalgia. But this ketchup was probably the most impressive thing about the restaurant. And the fact that they carry Boylan's soda pop. If the Ethiopian proverb states that those who eat from the same plate will never betray each other, those who toast to the future, each holding a bottle of Boylans, are sure to have a good meal. Good rootbeer never lies.

Saturday afternoon united a famished young woman (me) with The Burger Bar on Augusta and several great, gorgeous girls from Humber's 2009 Creative Book Publishing programme. It's a diner sort of place. Maybe it's the newspaper-covered tables, or the old photographs, or the pretty servers dressed in vintage garb. Maybe it's that they serve their bourbon sours (with homemade sour mix) in mason jars, and offer up great burgers on the best gluten-free buns I believe this city has to offer. Either way, the place is wickedly charming and perfectly suited to Kensington Market. They even offer a 50/50 fry option -- half conventional fries and half sweet potato fries. For the indecisive among us, or those who want more than anything to have their cake and eat it, too -- *cough* -- it's perfect. It's even more perfect when you pair it with a memorable coffee experience in Kensington Market, vintage shopping, Queen West store-browsing, and a tree-lighting ceremony at Dundas Square, where we almost froze in our boots.

And then, on Sunday, just when you thought two burgers wasn't enough for one week, I went ahead and conjured up a little more magic. Because good things come in threes, non?

A chocolate cake, courtesy of Bob's Red Mill, filled with cocoa nibs, topped with cream cheese icing and garnished with frosted cranberries.

Butternut squash risotto with sage and creole shrimp. I bought the squash at the St. Lawrence North Market a few weeks ago and I'm so glad I did. With the slightest bit of pressure the squash opened, unleashing its fragrance. It was bright orange, the colour of a good carrot.

And a Greek salad with what might be the best (!) salad (!) dressing (!) I've ever had. In my life. Phew. I'm not sure I can handle all of these hefty declarations!

I'll take my life with a side of mashed potatoes, thanks.And in the meantime, I'll be dreaming of chana masala, of Richard Olney's garlic soup, of a sandwich with double smoked bacon and avocado, of buckwheat crepes filled with cooked apples and drizzled with gently sweetened Greek yogurt.

Butternut Squash Risotto with Sage & Creole-Spiced Shrimp


Yields 6 meal-size portions

1/2 large butternut squash
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 celery ribs, very finely chopped
1/2 large onion or 2 cooking onions, finely chopped
1.5 cups Arborio (risotto) rice
1/2 cup dry white wine*
4-5 cups good-quality chicken stock, preferably homemade*
1 tbsp fresh sage, finely chopped, plus more for garnish if desired
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Salt, to taste

For the squash:

Pre-heat oven to 400F. Slice open the squash length-wise and scoop out the seeds (reserve them to toast later!) Drizzle with a little olive oil and roast for 45 minutes - 1 hour, until the flesh is very tender. Set aside. Once cool enough to handle, peel away the skin and break squash into large chunks with your hands or a knife. Puree with a little olive oil in a food processor or blender, and start on your risotto.

For the risotto

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan (ideally a Dutch oven), heat oil and butter over medium-high heat. Add onion and celery and cook until very soft, about 10 minutes. As the celery and onion cook, heat your chicken stock in a separate saucepan over medium heat. This is done so that the chicken stock, when added, doesn't lower the temperature of your rice.

Try not to burn the onion (like I might have.) Add rice and toss to coat with butter/oil. Quickly add wine; it will sizzle. Once it evaporates, begin ladling in the chicken stock one scoop at a time, stirring your rice repeatedly to help with absorption and to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Continue until rice is cooked and/or the stock is gone, about 20-25 minutes. You can tell the rice is finished when it doubles in size and turns bright white, though tasting as you go will help with this; ideally, you want the rice to retain some bite. Add your pureed squash, cheese, and sage. Mix thoroughly to combine. Taste, and salt accordingly.

*I use an inexpensive wine for risotto -- my standby is Colli Albani, which retails for about $8 per 1L bottle. If you don't drink or you don't drink white wine, seek out the smaller bottles. Some are sold in 4-packs, perfect for cooking. You can also opt to skip the wine altogether, though I wouldn't personally recommend it.

Creole Seasoning
Adapted from Kevin at Closet Cooking

(Yields enough to coat about 1lb - 1.5lbs of shrimp)

2.5 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp salt
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp - 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme

Combine all ingredients together.


Toss shrimp with Creole seasoning and let stand (covered in the refrigerator) for 1-3 hours. Add a little oil in a grill pan over medium heat and cook shrimp, about 2 minutes per side, until opaque.


Samantha Angela said...

You had me at Cuvee.
That wine is phenomenal.
I think those who share a bottle of that wine will never betray each other.

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