Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Blog location and focus change

Since starting this blog I've come to enjoy writing more about the stories surrounding food (and about food with a story) than about local events. I hope that you will continue to follow me at my new blog.

Please continue to follow me at www.cookthestory.wordpress.com

Thank you for reading,

Friday, November 26, 2010

What do Two Canadians and a Brit do on American Thanksgiving?

Walk of course. And walk and walk and walk and then pray that they don't have to eat Big Macs when they finally stop and then wish that they could please please please have a Big Mac. Just one. Please? I don't know what the other Canadians and Brits in Florida were doing but that's exactly what my husband, my son and I did for our very first American Thanksgiving last year. Here's what happened:

We had been planning to spend the morning relaxing in our pajamas. Turns out it's freaking hard to relax with an 18 month old yelling, giggling and stumble-running all over the house. We decided to get some fresh air and go for a walk on the Cross Seminole Trail. We strolled and enjoyed the dappled sunlight, the near chill in the air, and the jolly shouts of Happy Thanksgiving exchanged between all the non-motorized movers. J alternated between being carried, stumbling ahead of us and riding in his cushy stroller while sucking back OJ and snacking on cheerios.

We were having a fantastic bit of outdoor family fun until we realized that we were over an hour's walk from home and we hadn't eaten anything all morning (little J had polished off tons of Os but we adults hadn't stooped to stealing from his stash). We considered turning around and going home but then remembered that Winter Springs Town Center was coming up on the trail. We'd already been walking for an hour so it couldn't be far, right? The only concern: What if none of the restaurants were open when we got there? It was a holiday after all. We decided that McDonalds was bound to be open even if nothing else was. We could keep walking and there would at least be something vaguely resembling food soon. 

Now, I've just checked with Google Maps and it seems that the walk was less than 4 miles and should have taken 1 hour and 10 minutes. Since we'd already walked for an hour, we were correct to expect the Town Center to be right around the corner. It wasn't. We walked for at least another hour before we finally got there.

It is possible that I've misremembered how long it took and Google Maps is correct. We were hungry and tired and our toddler was cranky so it felt like an eternity. But then again, it's not like Google Maps gives travel time estimates for our chosen modes of transport:

Walking while pushing stroller

Walking at baby-speed

Walking while carrying 30 pound weight, such as very large toddler*

*This image actually had the label "Strike" beneath it so I have to assume that these little people are carrying signs, not boxes containing toddlers. But they look like boxes, right? And they could have toddlers in them, couldn't they? Oh, the three icon images, which are for use with google maps but with different meanings than the ones listed above, can be found at http://code.google.com/p/google-maps-icons.

So let's assume that Google Maps is wrong and I'm right: It took us two hours to get to the Winter Springs Town Center parking lot. We were exhausted (if you're thinking, "A two hour walk is nothing. You guys are wusses," you can just shut up since you've obviously never walked anywhere for even 30 minutes with a toddler) but so relieved to have arrived. I was giddily humming "Big Yellow Taxi" and thinking that this parking lot was the closest thing to paradise I'd ever seen. And then we realized that the parking lot was completely empty, as were all the shops and restaurants. Even our worse case scenario did not have a string of cars in the drive-through but was instead silent and empty inside and out.

We sat down on the edge of a water fountain and tiredly discussed our options, as though there were any. We pretty much had to walk another two hours home before we could eat. There wasn't even a vending machine and my husband was so thirsty that he was eying up the water gushing out of the fountain.

We had resigned ourselves to turning around and going home when suddenly the sun shone a little brighter as the clouds parted and a harp strummed (yes, in my memory it is exactly like the first 4 seconds of The Simpson's opening sequence). A man was walking out of a restaurant carrying an A-frame sign that declared "Yes, We're Open!" in green chalk. I think we actually ran across the parking lot to him. I have no idea what he thought of us but he graciously welcomed us, sat us down and brought us water.

 And then we asked for beer and he brought us beer and we loved him. 

He also brought us a lunch menu. We ordered and then we feasted.
I can't tell you what we ate but I can tell you that it was delicious. If pressed, at the time I might have admitted that we only thought the food was sooooo good because we were sooooo hungry. But since then we've been back to Hollywood Bistro many times and I can tell you, in a much less biased way, that their stuff is awesome. It's so good that we've made that glorious restaurant part of our American Thanksgiving family tradition by going back along the trail to it again this year. Yup, we did it again. Are we crazy? Not that crazy.

This year we took our bikes!

Stay tuned: In my next post I'll be giving you an actual review of Hollywood Bistro. I was planning to end this post with a review of some recent meals we've had there but after re-living the above, I'm not sure that I'm in an unbiased frame of mind. Right now Hollywood Bistro still feels like paradise to me. In a day or two I should be able to remember that it was not sent from heaven but is just a good restaurant that happened to be there for two Canadians and a Brit on their first American Thanksgiving.

Savor it Seminole!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What are you up to this weekend? We're...


My husband returned from a whirlwind business trip yesterday and is recovering from jet lag. I'm recovering from a week of single-parent duty. This weekend is definitely going to be low-key. On Thursday, we're riding our bikes down the Cross Seminole Trail for lunch at Hollywood Bistro. This is bound to become an American Thanksgiving tradition for us (I'll explain why in my next post).

We're on our own for Thanksgiving dinner this year.

The plan:

1) Sip on some very friendly apple cider by the pool.

2) Listen to some J. D. Crowe and the New South.

3) Drool over some smokey meaty smells wafting off the BBQ (we're making a version of this BBQ smoked pork shoulder, as taught to us by Kevin Bevington at an All Grills and More class).

4) Feast!

I honestly haven't given much thought to the rest of the weekend. I'm tempted to stay in my pyjamas and watch cartoons with J. I'll have to put on regular clothes on Sunday though because we're going to Cristiano's Anniversary Party. The party ($10/pp) features Bob's appetizers and prosecco. We'll be on the patio. Come say hi!

Savor your Thanksgiving Eve Seminole!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

This is just like apple juice but warm and...ummm...BETTER!

As our Thanksgiving dinner guests arrive, we head out to the backyard for pre-dinner snacks and numbingly spiced hot apple cider. The cider stays warm in a crock-pot set on low, thus freeing up the stove. Place a ladle on a plate next to the pot and lay mugs out around it. Guests can serve themselves, giving you time to chat and do any last minute cooking. (If your crock- pot is already in use keeping a side dish warm, pour the cider into a carafe).

There is no alcohol in this cider so it can be served to everyone. Kids like it, especially if you add the extra brown sugar at the end of the recipe. Last year, a little eight-year-old M exclaimed, "This is just like apple juice but warm and...ummm...better!" 

For those guests who like a drink that makes them feel a tad friendlier, we place a bottle of spiced rum, a bottle of brandy and a bottle of whiskey behind the crock pot and let people know that they can pour a splash of something-something into their mug before ladling in the cider.

Everyone-Friendly Spicy Mulled Apple Cider
This recipe makes 14-16 mugs of cider and fits into a 3 quart (2.8 liter) crock-pot.

Pour 16 cups (64 FL OZ / 2 liters) apple juice* into a medium saucepan and place it over medium heat while you add the following:
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 6 large strips of orange zest, removed with a vegetable peeler
  • 3 tbsp whole cloves 
  • ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg**
  • 12-15 whole peppercorns
  • 1-1 inch piece of fresh ginger cut into 5-6 pieces
  • ¾ cup packed brown sugar
Stir until the sugar dissolves. Continue to heat the pot over medium until it is almost at a boil. Lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.

Ladle a bit of the cider into a mug and taste it. You will likely need to add more brown sugar. I usually add 1/4 cup more (packed). If you prefer it to be sweeter, you may need as mush as a full cup.

Ladle the cider through a fine-mesh sieve  into a crock pot set to low or into a carafe.

Savor it Seminole!

*You may prefer to use apple cider rather than regular apple juice. If you do so, be extra careful not to bring the cider to a boil and do not leave it at high heat for very long. I've had apple ciders separate (have a curdled-type texture rise to the top of the pot) on more than one occasion. This never seems to happen with regular apple juice. Just in case though, I don't ever bring the apple juice up to a boil.

**This nutmeg grinder from Williams Sonoma is one of my favorite kitchen tools. It stores whole nutmeg seeds in the top. One seed is kept in the bottom where it is grated when you turn the handle of the device (the nutmeg dust floats downwards into whatever you're cooking). I found it a little hard to get used to at first but now I use nutmeg in dishes more often because the tool is so convenient: Just grab it and start grinding immediately. No need to wash anything afterward either. It's also more kid-friendly than a traditional grinder. My little J likes to turn the handle to see the little shavings fall out of the bottom and, of course, all over the counter.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving Stories

We moved from Canada to Florida nearly two years ago. Last year around this time I wrote the piece found below. The phrase “It IS Thanksgiving Here” is in response to an episode of the podcast Cast On. Cast On is meant to be listened to while knitting (or crocheting or spinning). But this particular episode, called ‘Thanksgiving Special: A Snow Day,’ is not related to the fiber arts. It is instead about a particular day in the life of the show's host, Brenda Dayne. She's an American woman living in Wales who has not celebrated Thanksgiving in years. The reason is, as she says, “It’s not Thanksgiving here and Thanksgiving is not something that can be faked.” With nobody else celebrating, it doesn’t really feel like a holiday, until one day when it suddenly does. It’s a lovely broadcast. I think of it often.

It IS Thanksgiving Here

In the summer of 2001 my husband (then boyfriend) and I moved from Winnipeg to Toronto where I was to begin graduate school. It was a difficult and busy time for us. Once autumn arrived, we realized that our heavy workloads would not allow us to travel to Winnipeg for Canadian Thanksgiving (held on the second weekend of October). We decided to let the holiday go by unnoticed. Unnoticed until the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend when I was overcome with sudden and intense homesickness. I NEEDED to have a Thanksgiving dinner. I NEEDED to have a turkey. We went shopping and left the grocery store with a frozen turkey large enough to feed twenty people (the selection of turkeys remaining in the store had not been great). I defrosted it in the bathtub over night and then cooked it in our tiny kitchen along with all the side dishes that make me feel connected to home. 

I would love to say that we invited everyone we knew and had an amazing dinner surrounded by friends drinking too much wine. But, we didn’t really know anybody in Toronto. We had spent the day cooking a feast for two.

We sat down to a quiet but pleasant dinner. We were happy with our efforts until it came time to deal with the leftovers. We packaged everything up into an insane number of ziplock bags for the freezer. Two months later when we were beyond sick of turkey pot pies, turkey à la king and turkey pad thai, we vowed to never make the same mistake again. 

The following summer we moved out of our apartment and bought an old house on the Danforth (this song and video by the Barenaked Ladies reminds me of that time in our lives and, oddly enough, brings tears to my eyes especially from the bridge at 2 mins 22 sec to the end). We invited everyone we knew to our new home for Thanksgiving that year. Most of the people that we invited had family nearby with whom to spend the holiday. We were left with a small but hearty group of friends whose family lived a long plane-ride away as well as with those few international students who came from countries where “Thanksgiving” is a foreign term. Dinner was great, everyone had a fabulous time, my homesickness was relieved and we were left with very few leftovers. Success!

We held our Toronto Thanksgiving dinner for 7 years, inviting everyone we knew, and slowly over time ended up with a large group of friends sitting down to feast on turkey and pumpkin pie in mid-October. The group of people each year was different depending on who couldn’t travel home for the weekend. The only people who showed up to all of our dinners were K and M, international students from Japan who we now miss sorely. We miss them because we have just had our first non-Canadian Canadian Thanksgiving. This event was held in our new home in Seminole County, Florida. We moved here with our 9 month old son this January for my husband’s dream job. As is our tradition, come October we invited everyone we knew to come over and share our Thanksgiving dinner. Unlike our dinner in Canada where we would invite everyone and get a small-ish group of attendees who didn’t have other plans, this year we had an amazing turn out; almost everyone we invited accepted. Why did they all come? There’s not really a bunch of competing dinner invitations for the second weekend in October in Florida because it’s not a holiday here. I was astonished but ecstatic to be hosting such a large dinner - 45 people (counting children).

It was great...except the hot apple cider out by the pool fell flat since everyone preferred to be within air-conditioned walls drinking something more refreshing. And…well… nobody else really felt or acted like it was a holiday; it was just a fun dinner out for them. I wondered whether we should bother keeping this tradition alive. I just didn’t feel that usual sense of celebration. After that dinner was over and everyone had left, I realized what was wrong. I realized, “It’s NOT Thanksgiving here”.

And now it's November.

 Everywhere I go people say, “oh, if I don’t see you, have a lovely Thanksgiving!” Each time I respond politely and then I sarcastically think to myself, “oh, NOW it’s Thanksgiving here.” I wonder if I will ever be able to enjoy this holiday that is not my own. More importantly, I hope that my son will feel that this day, shared by the whole country, is also for him. My current sarcastic disposition aside, I do think that we will come to love this holiday. My faith comes from my husband’s response to Thanksgiving. Note that he is from a land where “Thanksgiving” is a foreign word: He’s British. His first Thanksgiving was a Canadian Thanksgiving spent with my family in Winnipeg. His second was that lonely holiday which required so many ziplock bags. Despite his limited Thanksgiving experience, he is the one who insisted that we hold a Canadian Thanksgiving dinner this year in Florida and he is the one who was adamant that it include hot apple cider in 90 degree humid heat. To confirm my suspicion that this American holiday could one day be our own, I recall that in mid-October of this year I received an email from my Japanese friend M saying that she misses us and our annual dinner, even though her own background had never involved an autumnal turkey feast. And so, on the fourth Thursday of November, which was previously meaningless to me, I will begin to claim this holiday for myself by putting on my big warm Llika sweater from Jane Ellison’s Mirasol Collection Book Three (this is the sweater that I have named the 'Too-Hot-For-Florida-Sweater') and I will sit by the pool gazing at palm trees and drinking hot apple cider knowing that, even if it doesn’t feel like it to me yet...

...it IS Thanksgiving here.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's recipe: Everyone-Friendly Mulled Apple Cider.

Savor it Seminole!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Baby it's Warm Outside: Roast Pork and Canadian-Floridian Braised Cabbage

There are lyrics from a famous song in this post. Can you spot them?

While my friends and family back in Canada look out the window at that storm, I'm sitting in balmy warmth remembering childhood holidays filled with waves upon a tropical shore. The white blanketed images that I've seen posted on Facebook (it's up to your knees out there!) make me want to cook something warm and comforting while listening to the fireplace roar. But in this Central Florida November heat, do I really want to be near a fire, or even worse, slaving away in a hot kitchen? The answer is no.

This roast pork recipe is exactly what I'll need for a comfy but simple Sunday dinner tomorrow. It's hearty but is brightened by the oranges from my backyard tree, now heavy with fruit. The ingredients are prepped and then cooked in one roasting pan in the oven, thus reducing the amount of time I'll have to spend in a hot kitchen.

Do steps #1 and #2 the night before, the morning of, or just before cooking the roast.

1) Combine these ingredients in a small bowl:
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 ½ tsp fennel seeds, crushed (I use a mortar and pestle but you can use a clean coffee grinder or place the seeds on a cutting board and use the side of a large knife to break them up)
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh sage (8-10 leaves) or 1 tbsp dried if necessary
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley (a nice handful of leaves chopped up will give about 2 tbsp)
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • several grinds of black pepper
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
2) Place a 3-4 lb pork roast (either a boneless loin, bone in loin or a rib roast) on a plate and smooth the above mixture onto all sides. If you're pre-doing this step, cover it in plastic wrap and put it into the fridge until 20 minutes before you're ready to pre-heat the oven and get dinner going.

3) Preheat the oven to 350F.

4) Into a large roasting pan combine the following:
  • a 3-4 lb red cabbage, cored and then thinly sliced
  • 1 medium sweet onion, thinly sliced
  • the segments from 4 small-medium oranges (here's how to segment an orange)
  • ¼ cup orange juice (you will get more than enough juice dripping off the oranges into a bowl as you segment, especially if you give any remaining parts of the orange a good squeeze before discarding)
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
  • ½ tsp salt
  • several grinds of black pepper
  • 1tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 5 ounces Canadian Back Bacon, sliced into thin strips
5) Transfer the pork roast from the plate onto the bed of cabbage, skin side up. Roast until a meat thermometer inserted in thickest part of roast (not touching bone) is at 155F (it will rise to 160F upon standing afterward), approximately 25-30 minutes per pound of roast. Stir the cabbage mixture once or twice throughout the cooking time. Other than that, there's nothing to do until the roast is ready!

6) Why not put some records on while I pour some wine?

7) Remove the roast to a carving board to rest for at least 10 minutes. Put the roaster of cabbage back into the oven to stay warm. Serve slices of roast topped with the orange-braised cabbage.

I like to serve this fragrant white rice alongside the pork and cabbage:

To each cup of uncooked rice add ¼ tsp salt, 2tsp butter, 1 cinnamon stick and 1 bay leaf. Then cook the rice according to the directions on the package or follow instructions found here. I would use the Conventional Oven Method (remember to use boiling water) in this case because the oven is at 350F for the roast already. Once you take the rice out of the oven, keep it covered and it will stay warm for quite awhile.

Please let me know what you think of this recipe. Well, only let me know if you like it. If you don't like it, what's the sense in hurtin' my pride? 

Savor it Seminole!

P.S. The lyrics sprinkled throughout this post are from Baby it's Cold Outside. Can you find them all? I'll post a list of the lyrics that I used in a few days. A truly wonderful version of the song can be found here. Interesting details about the song are given in the first few seconds of the video.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Grilled Honey Golds

Recently I told you about these fantastic little potatoes. Now I have a great little recipe for them:

serves 5-6
Preheat your BBQ to around 350F and prepare for indirect grilling.

Thread 24oz. of Honey Gold potatoes (that's one bag full) onto metal skewers (either skinny round ones or flat ones, don't use wooden ones - I tried and they broke due to the force needed to get through the potato). I was able to get 5-6 potatoes per skewer. This will depend on the length of your skewers.

Place the skewered potatoes onto a large pan or plate and drizzle with 2 tbsp olive oil. Turn the skewers over (and maybe give the potatoes themselves a little rub) so that all of the potato surface is coated lightly in oil.

Combine the following ingredients in a small bowl:
  • 2 tsp dried thyme leaves
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp ground sea salt (or any medium ground salt, coarse will just fall off and fine will be too potent)
  • several good grinds of black pepper (and then add a few more grinds)
Sprinkle half of the above seasoning mix over the potatoes. Turn the skewers over and then sprinkle the other half of the seasoning mix. If a lot of the seasoning ended up on the plate, use your fingers and rub the overflow onto the potatoes.

Transfer the skewers from the plate directly onto the grill of your BBQ, putting them over indirect heat. Grill for about 30 minutes, turning the potatoes over once halfway through. They're done when the skins have browned slightly and you can easily pierce through a potato with a fork.

Got leftovers? I made a batch of Grilled Honey Golds for me and my husband last week and we definitely did! Those leftovers turned into the best little hash browns ever. Here's how: I refrigerated the leftover potatoes over night. The next morning I slid them off their skewers and onto a cutting board. Using the back of an ice cream scoop, I gently smooshed each potato into an uneven disc (uneven because it is impossible to smoosh them evenly). I preheated my non-stick skillet and popped the potatoes right on there, frying them until the underside was a bit crunchy before flipping and doing the other side. Did they ever taste great alongside some salsa and scrambled eggs!

Savor it Seminole!