Cluster Bombs

January 23rd, 2011

It seems everything these days is being wrapped in bacon. A common hors-d’oeuvre served at restaurants all over the world is a bacon-wrapped prune, or a bacon-wrapped fig, or bacon-wrapped shrimp, or bacon-wrapped scallops. Serve these delicious balls at a dinner party, convinced of its novelty and you’ll hear half your guests tell you they’ve already made the same thing, “except I use pancetta” one guest mentions nonchalantly  (and the table oohs and aahs as if pancetta were some mythical nub plucked from the anus of a long-extinct species of boar). Then someone else says they stuff their dates with goat cheese using an icing tube and then drizzles, overtop the hors d’oeuvres, a tangy sherry reduction. You are instantly made a fool.

Next time, try my variation. I call them Cluster Bombs: Pancetta-wrapped prosciutto, wrapped in bacon. First, scrunch the strips of prosciutto into little balls, then cover the balls with pancetta, and then cover the meat envelopes with a strip of bacon. Pin them together with toothpicks. Bake them in the oven for fifteen to twenty minutes until the bacon is crispy. You will be tempted, with this recipe, to over-complicate them, to add one or more ingredients. But that would be destroying the Cluster Bomb’s spirit. I would consent to a substitution of capicola for prosciutto or perhaps you’re daring enough to do all four layers. Also, you may start with an un-encased lump of chorizo, and then wrap the sausage with all three meats.




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A Salute to the Man on The Box

January 20th, 2011

My friend and I were headed down south looking to play some off-season golf. Our destination: South Carolina. We drove through the night, hoping to get an early start and by the time we reached the little town of Newberry we were greeted by an unfriendly rainstorm. We ducked into a diner for a greasy breakfast and asked the waitress what else besides golf South Carolina had to offer. “Do you like rice?” She said. My friend and I nodded our heads in confusion. “Then you oughta check out the Uncle Ben’s rice museum at the center of town”.

The museum was six floors, containing pictures of Uncle Ben, paintings of the man and his empire, models of his farm and farmhouse, documents signed by Uncle Ben himself. It seemed impossible to see it all in one visit. Sought out by the entrepreneur Forrest Mars for his unrivalled crops, Uncle Ben became the spokesperson for the Mars Company product in 1943. In the twentieth century, black people were often associated with agricultural products, hence Uncle Ben’s now famous quote: “white men can’t cook white rice”.

Uncle Ben was in fact the man who started the tradition of throwing rice at weddings. Although today it is an act of celebration, it started out as an act of malice and hatred. It was his daughters wedding and he did not approve of the groom or the ceremony. The couple rushed to their car while Ben raced towards them chucking his rice pellets and yelling ”The man’s a fool, Loretta. The man’s a damn fool!”"

Do yourself a favor and check out this wonderful museum full of fun facts!

Here is a picture of Uncle Ben at twelve years old, titled Uncle Ben.

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My Lunch with Lamagne

January 16th, 2011

I emailed my old English Professor, asking him if he’d like to meet for coffee. He wrote back, saying that he’d love to and he suggested a place called la Fourchette des Ducs, a cozy little bistro with a reasonable lunch menu. This promised to be an incredible meal with good wine and lively conversation, but because it was Sunday, I coaxed him into meeting at Starbucks instead for another edition of the Sunday Starbucks review! He reluctantly agreed.

By the time I arrived, Professor Lamagne was already seated, halfway through his latte and his scone. I pretended to make a big deal about how I wanted to pay for him. I think he believed me.

I returned to the table with my coffee and muffin, then retrieved my notepad to get started. “So, what’s going on, Matthew?” He asked, “Why did you want to meet?”

“Well, you’re somebody whose opinion I deeply respect. I was hoping you could just answer a few questions.”

“Certainly”, he said.

“Okay, great! Um, how’s the latte?”

“What?”

I proceeded to tell him about this website and my Starbucks reviews every Sunday. I said I thought it’d be fun to get a second opinion. After a little prodding, he finally started giving me some quotable material, using words like “It’s fine”, “It’s just coffee”, or “I guess the scone’s a little dry”. It should be mentioned that he really didn’t look like he was having a good time.

Suddenly, he seemed to be in a rush to head out. So I shook his hand and we parted ways. Before he reached the door, I called out to him: “Next time we’ll go to la Fourchette!” He didn’t asnwer back.

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The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread

January 13th, 2011

Imagine you’ve been invited to a dinner party, a party too elegant to concern itself with a Facebook event page. The kind of party where an ironic ascot would likely be rejected, but a whole-hearted bow-tie readily embraced. “What can I bring?” You inquire, besides a bottle of wine.

“Maybe a dessert, or a baguette”.

“Oh, I’ve got the best bakery in my neighborhood. I’ll supply the bread”.

On the day of, you inspect the bakery’s freshest samples, warm to the touch, yielding perfectly to your exploratory caresses. It is the sexual experience you hoped selecting French bread would be.

You stuff the bread in your bag along with your wine, confident that it will hold up to the elements, to gravity, to the journey. A couple of metro stops and a short walk later, and you reach the door with what looks like a torpedo someone had ripped open to disarm. Stale, flaked and eroded at its tip, clinging to its stalk like a child’s wiggly tooth.

The hosts don’t even serve your bread and politely pretend to find it at the end of the evening: “oh, I forgot to put out your… baguette. Do you want to take it home?”

You don’t, but you take it anyway.

This painful incident can be avoided with a little creativity. Why not take that old tube from that art class years ago, empty it of its contents and replace them with the fresh baguette. To keep the bread warm, why not wrap it an old table cloth. You could stuff the wrapping with a sprig of your favorite herb to give your bread an added flair. And then watch as the dinner guests all marvel at your ingenuity as you sweep through the party donning your bread quiver like a gastronomic Robin Hood.

Bread quiver

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The Sunday Starbucks Review

January 9th, 2011

It’s week 2 and already I hate doing these reviews. I’m standing in line at the cash, looking at the crap on display and I really just want something substantial, not a fucking pumpkin-drizzled scone.  I order a mint tea for four dollars and thirty five cents and something called a cranberry bliss cake that looks like a hunk of skin disease. What the hell am I doing here?

You know what I like about Second Cup? They have a key for their bathrooms. The lock and key system has worked for centuries. But Starbucks, for some reason, thinks it knows better. According to Starbucks, a buzzer system is the way to go. Who invented this bathroom buzzer system anyway? It doesn’t work. I’m not in some office building. Nobody’s waiting for me inside. First of all, you gotta go up and tell someone else that you’re using the bathroom, like you’re asking permission to piss. Suddenly, I’m a just-out-of-jail Morgan Freeman from Shawshank Redemption, can’t squeeze a drop without say-so . And then, the dude’s gotta buzz me in, announcing to everyone inside that someone’s going to shit or piss in the next room. And to top it all off, while I was in there, the dude buzzed someone else into the men’s washroom: “Uh, someone’s in here” I said, mid-stream. I marched out of the bathroom, ready to ream into the buzzer dude, except there was like three people in line. So I waited in line for like a minute and a half, thinking about what I was gonna say to the guy: “Hey man. What’s the deal sabotaging my stream?” And then I just felt stupid. Shamed and stupid. Thanks Starbucks. See you again next week.

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El Dorado Del Avocado

January 6th, 2011









El Dorado Del Avocado is the perfect summer sandwich. In my experience however, it is best enjoyed in the middle of winter, when one longs for sultrier times. This rustic Andean-inspired chicken sandwich is warm and inviting, and like Mother Nature herself, she is fiery and temperamental. I’ve made this dish a number of times, and it always gets people’s attention. “Matthew” they’d say “tell me, my friend, what inspired this delicious recipe?” And to that I would say, “Why, the Dreamworks animated comedy ‘The Road to El Dorado’ released in 2000, featuring the voices of Kevin Kline and Kenneth Brannagh, and songs by Elton John and Tim Rice. For those who haven’t seen the movie, the city of El Dorado is depicted as a wonderful pseudo-Mesozoic utopian civilization. I offer you the equivalent sandwich-form.

Serves: 1.
Prep time: about a day and a half.

Ingredients:
Peruvian Cornbread (see below for instructions)
Cooked marinated chicken (see below for instructions)
Spicy Lime mayonnaise (see below for instructions)
Onion
Yellow Pepper
Jalapeno Havarti
Avocado
Sprouts
Cayenne
Lime juice and its zest
Salt and Pepper

The first step is baking the bread, a traditional Peruvian cornbread. Ideally, make the bread the day before you plan on having the sandwich, or take off work and make it the morning of.

Bread Ingredients:
1 ½ cups boiling water
1 cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons butter (softened)
1 egg yolk
½ cup milk
½ cup cottage cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ cup whole-kernel corn
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 small onion (chopped)
1 cup flour
2 egg whites

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Stir up the cornmeal into some boiling water until it’s smooth. Then blend in the egg yolk. Then, except for the egg whites, stir in the remaining ingredients. Then beat in the egg whites just until soft peaks form then fold into the batter. Pour the batter into greased 2-quart casserole dish. Bake until knife inserted near the center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes.

Next step is marinating the chicken.

Marinade Ingredients:
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup lime
1 tsp zest of lime
tbsp red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon of Cayenne
Salt
Pepper

Put all this stuff in a bag or a casserole dish for at least 2 hours. Overnight is best. Turn the chicken over a couple of times. Season the chicken and cook on the grill. Then set aside.

Almost there. Before assembling the sandwich, we need to make the mayonnaise. You can use store bought mayonnaise, but I like to make it from scratch, this way everything is fresh and there are no preservatives.

Mayonnaise Ingredients:
1 whole egg
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. dry mustard
2 tbsp. of lime juice
1/2 cup of olive oil
Red Pepper flakes
Lime zest

Break the egg into a blender, then add mustard and salt. Beat with 2 or 3 tablespoons of oil until it starts to thicken, then add a few more drops of oil. As mixture begins to thicken add oil in larger quantities, but not too quickly. Then beat in the lime juice. Once properly mixed, add in a pinch of lime zest and red pepper flakes.

Chop the onion and yellow pepper into slices. Then sautee them in a pan. Dust them with cayenne pepper. Add salt and pepper to taste.

To build the sandwich, spread the mayonnaise on both sides of the bread. Cut the chicken into slices and add to the first piece of bread. Then top with sautéed vegetables. Add the jalapeno havarti. Then cut the avocado into substantial slices and layer them over the cheese. Then for a little crunch, add the sprouts and finally place the second piece of bread over top.

Bacon would not be out of place in such a sandwich.

Enjoy!

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The Sunday Starbucks Review

January 1st, 2011

It’s around five o’clock in the afternoon and the place is packed. The clientele strains to be heard, competing with the inimitable Judy Garland warbling over the sound system. Already, I’m not keen on sticking around. The only available table is all the way in the corner, between the two shitters and the emergency exit. That’s when my companion informs me of the term “coffee shits”. I hadn’t heard the expression, but with my iPhone in hand, the online urban dictionary provided us with the definition: “After drinking coffee and eating tons of carbs, you take a fiery, steamy, burning hot shit with a fudge-like consistency”. How cozy for us!

I order a tall cappuccino and an Espresso Brownie. I watched the barista mechanically preparing my beverage while simultaneously carrying on a conversation with another customer. The feat would have impressed me had the cappuccino met my modest standards. Where’s the love, Starbucks employee?

On a positive note, the establishment had wisely decided to take down the horrendous paintings that typically adorn its coffee-coloured walls. The unused nails and chipped plaster are infinitely more compelling. Also, the Espresso Brownie was truly exquisite. Most other coffee shop brownies could be mistaken for the chalky remnants of the Berlin Wall, but Starbucks surprised me this time. Cafe Depot take note: Starbucks Espresso Brownies take the cake!

I waited until I got home before taking my coffee shit, which, in my opinion, is the polite thing to do.

I’m giving this uneven visit two stars out of five. 2/5. Shape up Starbucks.

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Dominic’s “Rabeet” Stew

December 30th, 2010

Every year, around Christmas time, my girlfriend and I make a trip out to see her grandparents at their farm. Dominic, her grandfather, moved here from Italy with his wife in the early nineteen sixties. A skilled farmer and a compulsive hoarder, at nearly ninety years old, Dominic still toils everyday from sunup until sundown. Shortly after his granddaughter and I arrived, he brought us to see his fattened livestock. “I make rabeet tonight”, he said, gesturing to one of his fattened prisoners, “It’s time to kill rabeet”.

I couldn’t hide my excitement. My girlfriend returned to the house, disgusted by my riotous laughter and my unbridled fist-pumping. This would be my first real animal slaughter. Sure, my roommates and I have killed a few mice scurrying through our apartment, but those were shameful killings. And besides Kyle did most of the dirty work.  

Dominic and I crouched through the hobbled door to his shanty rabbit-prison. Inside, it was nearly pitch dark. The only light peered in from between the uneven wooden slats that made up the prison’s walls. The obese creature lay keeled in the corner, enshrouded amidst the muddy snow at its feet. Its breathing was slow and forced from its imposed gluttony. Dominic drew nearer. The rabbit looked up, certainly recognizing Dominic as the man that brings it its food, and perhaps recognizing that this was not just another feeding. It motioned to hop away, but its instincts were impeded swiftly by its panic or its girth. If it made a sound, I cannot recall. What lingers is the confused image of bloodied snow-white fur enmeshed into the surrounding snow.

That night, I stood beside Dominic, watching as he prepared a hearty stew from our glorious bounty. Served with spinach and a tall glass of his homemade wine. I can’t say I liked any of it. It was all pretty gross.     

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The Perfect Font for Your Place Cards

December 26th, 2010

Christmas Dinner at the Gagnons this year was the biggest in years. We had 14 guests in total, which can get pretty confusing when its time to sit down and find your place. Place cards resolve all of that confusion and add a touch of elegance to your dinner table. I made these sophisticated place cards for our table. They took about forty-five minutes for each card. That’s more than ten hours of work. But I think it was worth it.

This font is called Chopin Script. Other lovely fonts for your place cards include Baroque Script, Henry Morgan Hand, Scriptina, Champagne script, Petticoat Script, Drawbridge Script, Powdered Wig Script, Frilly Lace, Benjamin Franklin Hand, Medieval Times Script, Portcullis Script and Controcavacione.

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Sanbusak’s Pie

December 23rd, 2010

I can remember coming home from school as a kid on those blustery winter afternoons, bundled inside my snowsuit, the drawstrings to my jacket’s hood tautly drawn, making it look like an anus was struggling to poop out my face.
“What’s for dinner, Mommy?” I’d ask with an optimism I can scarcely remember. 
“Why It’s your favorite food in the whole world. Shepherd’s pie!”
No Mom, you idiot. That’s not my favorite food. My favorite food is shit that tastes good.

Shepherd’s pie was a dish borne out of poverty and urgency. They say necessity is the mother of invention, but that doesn’t make for a tasty dish. Creativity, idleness and luxury is the mother of good-tasting food.

Here’s my take on the Shepherd’s pie. It’s a Shepherd’s pie samosa.

Ingredients:
Pastry:
1 1/4 cup plain flour
1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup water

Filling:
1/2 lb. Ground lamb
1 Potato finely diced
1 medium onion cut into small dice
1 Carrot finely diced
I/4 cup of frozen Corn
1/4 cup of frozen Peas
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 
2 tablespoons oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
100 ml of beef stock
Salt and Pepper to taste

For the filling: Brown the meat and then set it aside. Then heat oil in the frying pan, stir in the onion and garlic and fry until soft. Add the vegetables, seasoning, worcestershire sauce, and stir well until coated. Add the stock, Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

For the pastry: Sift the flour, add the salt, baking powder, and work in the butter. Add in half the water and mix to make a soft dough. Kneed the dough until it is soft and pliable. Add more water as needed. Roll out the dough to about a 1/4 inch and cut out in circles. Moisten the edges with water; put the filling in the center and fold into a triangular prism.

Heat oil to 350 and cook the samosas until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

Serve with a homemade peppercorn ketchup.




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