Rat-patootie

I’ve recently mentioned that I’m trying to up my cooking game, yes? I’m making meat pies, stews, soups, pastas, all kinds of crazy shit up in here. This is just a quickie today. Usually I’m ever so blah-blah-blah about all the things I do. But today I just want to share what I’m currently most proud of producing in the kitchen.

This amazing and colourful pile of ratatouille!

There’s eggplant, red bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, red onion, loads of olive oil, garlic, and black pepper all tossed in the roasting pan. It baked until the consistency was heavenly. And then it was garnished with a liberal sprinkling of torn basil.

Before:

raw veggies (gross)

After:

cooked veggies (yummm)

It was fantastic. I’ve never loved eating veggies so much in my entire life. I want to eat this all the damn time. But only if D is around to take care of all the chopping. So much chopping required.

It’s easy and I strongly recommend. I can practically smell the basil now.

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The Edible Smash

D and I are coming up on the 6 month mark now, and I honestly think that we’re totally killing this marriage thing. It’s easy. Everything is exactly the same as it was before. But there’s always room for improvement for the sake of improvement, right? I don’t have all of the answers yet, and I don’t want to go getting ahead of myself, but I think we’ve figured out one of the key secrets. Food.

Really fucking good food. It always comes back to that. When you eat good food, you’re happy. Just make and eat really tasty food, that’s all you have to do.

We got a bunch of incredibly generous and thoughtful wedding gifts from our family and friends. I was obsessed with my registry and I spent a lot of time perusing the online shop for stuff. I was adding, dropping, rearranging, changing colour choices, and finding justifications for why I needed absolutely every single thing The Bay sells on a nightly basis. I watched that registry like a hawk, noticing the slightest change. I loved getting emails every time someone bought something. So of course every new purchase delighted me and spawned newer, more zany daydreams than ever before. All about how I was going to use this newly acquired stuff and the delicious things I’d be making. It was so much fun. The registry was probably my favourite thing about getting married. I still pull it open every now and again to see what’s left and what’s gone on sale. It’s a fabulous obsession.

I need to start a new paragraph and move on though. Otherwise, I’ll talk about the frigging registry all damn day. I love it. There, I think it’s all out now.

Anyways, a lot of our kitchen stuff was due for an upgrade. Our cupboards were mainly filled with hand-me-downs from family. Old, mismatched cutlery. A menagerie of dishes in all kinds of patterns that matched nothing. Stolen dining hall dishes from my student days. Cheap dollar store utensils. The contents of my cupboards an array of prime garage sale and garbage chute candidates. The upgrade was much-needed, but more importantly, it was inspiring. The girl who never cared to cook was suddenly starting to feel it.

Without further adieu, here are some of the best of the best things we’ve cooked up since we got hitched. My top 6 things, to commemorate our 6 month mark.

1. Roasted Red Pepper Pasta

This is a really delicious recipe that I got out of a Michael Smith cookbook. If you don’t know who that is, he’s basically a Canadian version of John Corbett who really knows his way around the kitchen. We roasted this giant pan of red bell peppers and spanish onions for about an hour. Sprinkling in a few key herbs for maximum flavour.

roasted red peppers

Featuring my lovely new Sophie Conran for Portmeirion roasting dish.

Then when the veggies were ready, we popped them into the blender and let it rip.

the blender

Featuring our brand new blender! (This is a blender/food processor combo and it is a dream come true)

This is the sauce for the pasta. It’s a great alternative to tomato based pasta sauce, if you want to switch things up. We served it on a bed of fresh spinach and garnished with some shredded marble cheese for a little extra oomph!

red pepper pasta

Served in my immaculate Gordon Ramsay pasta dishes

2. Asian Chicken Noodle Soup

This was a fun one, and another Michael Smith recipe come to think of it. Super easy, too. We used the leftover chicken from one that we’d roasted the night before. I’m proud to say that we also made our own stock for this soup using the carcass of the aforementioned chicken. Put the leftover chicken in a pot with the stock, add the ingredients that Michael tells you to and dinner is served!

chicken noodles

It’s right at home in my darling Distinctly Home red Rio bowls.

We made this soup way back in the winter and it was just the thing to keep us warm on a particularly frigid March evening.

3. Southwestern Beef Stew Chilli

Another warm and hearty dish that hit the spot on a cold winter eve. The stewing beef was simmered to knee-buckling tenderness and the seasoning was that of a traditional chilli your Ma might make. It was like going home, only without having to actually go home for a decent meal. I also made some biscuits from scratch that were perfect for dipping.

chilli stew

There’s that magnificent Gordon Ramsay dish again.

4. Homestyle Chicken Pot Pie

I revisited puff pastry for this recipe and it worked out better than I could have imagined. I’m getting to be a bit of a puff pastry expert, I think. I cheated and used store-bought, I’ll admit it. But I think I’m almost ready to try making my own from scratch. Again, we just used leftover chicken from a roast the night before and tossed it into a pot with some chicken pot pie staples like carrots and potatoes. When the filling was ready, I portioned it out into two individual Corning-ware mugs and then topped with puff pastry.

chicken pot pies

The adorable his and hers Corning-ware mugs from my mom. Great gift!

Oh, look! It's one of our new Mikasa forks digging into that chicken-y goodness

Oh, look! It’s one of our new Mikasa forks digging into that chicken-y goodness

I got that recipe out of a big book called Pies. Aptly titled, I know. I want to start making pies, I think that’s a good hobby. So far I’ve only done a few meat pies, but it’s been good practice. I’m still preparing myself mentally for dessert pies.

5. Ooey Gooey Cheesy Pizza!

This wouldn’t be a post about my cooking if it didn’t feature a pizza of some sort. I’ve made lots and lots of pizzas, and I’m damn good at it. So this isn’t really a remarkable undertaking for me. It’s just second-nature by now. But it is remarkable for another reason. The magic of the pizza stone. I realize now that I had been living in a fool’s paradise, cooking pizzas on some shitty piece of tin. That was before this marvellous contraption came into my life.

If I could divorce D and marry this Emile Henry pizza stone instead, I would.

If I could divorce D and marry this Emile Henry pizza stone instead, I would.

If you haven’t eaten pizza cooked on one of these magic stones, you cannot truly grasp how life changing it is. The crust is both irresistibly crispy and fluffy all at once. Somehow this stone is able to turn a mere lump of dough into something majestic. I think this is what being immortal must feel like. I’ve been upgraded beyond my wildest dreams. I’m the frigging Pizza High Priestess now.

6. Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

And for some sweetness, you can’t go wrong with cookies. D goes absolutely bonkers for these little beauties. Especially when they’re fresh out of the oven. Double-down on the chocolate chips and you’ll make new friends, guaranteed.

Served with the bottom half of the cake dome that my Nana gave me :)

Served with the bottom half of the cake dome that my Nana gave me 🙂

So in conclusion, we’ve elevated our cooking. We’ve upped the ante. No more microwave, quick and easy solutions. It’s all about investing the time and making something wonderful. Also, the stuff is important too. All of the awesome new kitchen stuff has made me so happy. I love presents, you all know that. But rest assured when I say that the thrill of these gifts hasn’t worn off after opening.

I’m still so excited about everything. Cooking, food, gifts, marriage. It’s all just aces with me.

Uncharted Territory

I like to eat. A lot. To be clear, when I say “a lot” I mean it both ways. I like to eat a lot of food and I like eating as an activity a whole lot. It’s pretty much my favourite thing. Food is happiness. I don’t care if people tell you it’s not good to eat your feelings. I do it all the time and it’s the fucking best. The mere act of crunching down on something tasty and mashing it into oblivion with my vice-like jaws makes me feel like I’m right on the cusp of divinity. Eating rules.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that I like to cook. Traditionally, I’ve preferred to play more of a supporting role in the kitchen. If someone else wants to expend their effort slaving over a hot stove, I’ll gladly scarf down a plate when it’s ready and show my gratitude by providing the praise they sought. I grew up in a big family, my mom always cooked enough to feed an army and she’d had her shit all figured out. She didn’t need me to help. She needed my appreciation. Which I was more than happy to show, by reaching for seconds, and sometimes even thirds. Unless of course she made something totally disgusting, like lasagna or scalloped potatoes. Bleeugf. That’s how disgust sounds, by the way. Bleeugf. Like you’re about to have a hairball on the dining room floor. There was nothing more disappointing than coming home from school famished and finding out that dinner was going to be something you hated. What a waste of a mealtime… But I digress. Cooking just wasn’t my bag.

Eventually though, you grow up and fly the coop. And you’ve gotta feed yourself, gotta eat to live. Luckily for me, I found myself a man who loves to cook and doesn’t mind one bit that I’m a total slouch at it. I’m wildly independent and I’ve always charged through life without ever wanting to rely on a man for anything. I’m just crazy like that, I guess. But cooking is really the only way I’ve ever thrown up my hands and let D provide for me. I love eating so much, but don’t really have the drive to make good food for myself. But D does. It’s a great fit, he loves to cook and I’m happy to let him. Who’s it really hurting anyways? He needed to find a way to make me dependent on him for something and I need to eat.

We’ve lived together a few years now and we’ve had a handful of exploits in the kitchen. D does the majority of the cooking, and once in a while I come along and turn something into a pizza. So I do manage to contribute in my own way. And up until recently, I’ve been happy to carry on playing my supporting role. “Mmm, yum! Great job, babe!” I know my lines by heart. But I’m somebody’s wife now. Bit of a game changer that is. I don’t want to be a slouch anymore, I want to step up my game. I see a learning opportunity and I think I’ve finally uncovered some motivation. I want to make my husband happy.

I can do anything, I just have to want to do it. And I think I do now. Plus, I got a whole shitload of new gadgets for the kitchen as wedding gifts. Use it or lose it, right?

Feeling inspired, I decided to try something different for dinner tonight. I wanted to make something really scrumptious that D would love. But I’m not completely ready to fly solo yet, so I still enlisted his help. We’re a good team, and he does love to cook, so I don’t want to take that away from him. As an aside, I’ve decided that I’m going to pursue pies, as a hobby. I want to make lots and lots of pies. And I want to get really fucking good at it. I may as well get two birds stoned at once while I’m at it, right? So I decided to make steak and ale pie for dinner tonight. A chance to hone both my cooking and baking skills at the same time!

We grocery shopped this afternoon, gathering up all of the necessary ingredients, and got to work as soon as we got home. D chopped mushrooms, onion, and garlic.

chopped!

Then we browned the stewing beef, using our fabulous new Le Creuset french oven. A wedding gift from my darling friend, The Ladybird Magpie that I’m forever grateful for.

browning the beef

And before long, we had an intoxicating concoction simmering on the stove top. With a little bit of thyme, Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, beef stock, and some Downtown Brown Ale it all came together in a snap.

le creuset!

D popped out to grab us a few beers to enjoy with dinner, and when he got back to the apartment he told me he could smell our dinner cooking in the hallway and it was starting to drive him insane with hunger pangs! I started to feel really great about this cooking thing. I’ve got this. I can do anything I want, and I can totally kick the shit out of it.

But that feeling didn’t last long… Not once I got started on topping the pie.

The pie dish was way bigger than I remembered, and we didn’t quite make enough filling for it. We made enough filling to get it half full, and I was starting to feel a lot less cocky. But I charged ahead anyways. We’d already come this far, and I wasn’t going to let this stand in my way. I started preparing the crust for the pie. It sagged pathetically inwards. And then when I tried to brush the crust with some egg, I totally fucked up and spilled my cup of egg onto the pie. It was a total egg flood! We tried our best to soak up the spillage, but the results weren’t good. There were little pools of egg all of the top. My beautiful pie sat there staring up at me like some kind of disgusting eggy crater and I flipped out. I just totally lost it.

eggy crater

I got really upset and started shouting angrily at everything around me, naturally. I was so mad at myself, and anger is a knee-jerk reaction kind of thing for me. Stupid, so stupid! Why didn’t you make more filling? Why did you hold the cup of egg on such a precarious angle, you clumsy butterfingered fool? Arrgrrgrhhhhh! Frustration! This whole thing is a total fucking waste. Why don’t you just fling yourself off the balcony and end it now?

I broke down for a minute there, guys. I’m not proud of it.

But D was able to talk me down from the ledge eventually. He always does. He told me to stop putting so much pressure on myself on my very first try. It’s just dinner, it’s not such a big deal. And he was right. But I have such a nasty tendency to do that. I put so much pressure on myself and I have totally unrealistic expectations of greatness. I’m no master chef, I’ve only just started on my culinary journey. There’s going to be mistakes, lots. And I have to roll with it, I can’t lose my head and start raving like a lunatic when something goes wrong. He’s a smart guy, that husband of mine. I definitely don’t give him the satisfaction of hearing that as often as he should. But he was totally right. It might not come out of the oven perfect, so what? At least I tried.

We put the pie into the oven and resigned ourselves to hoping for the best.

When it was done, and it was time to see the finished product, I was pleasantly surprised.

finished product!

I learned something very important today: puff pastry is a fucking miracle of nature! The pastry worked double duty and made up for the lack of filling. It puffed up way more than I expected and totally saved the day. Hallelujah!

the serving

It was 3 hours in the making, and took us mere minutes to wolf down. And my very first attempt at a steak and ale pie was goddamn delicious, if I do say so myself.

It was a trying experience at times and it ate up my entire afternoon making this thing, but overall I feel good about it. I’m not discouraged. I almost was for a minute there, but D helped me bounce back. I wouldn’t say that cooking is fun, not at this point in time, but it is an adventure. And I like adventures, so I think I’m willing to stay the course and see where it will take me. Yeah, I’m not one for giving up. I’d like to see where this can go.

More Adventures in Pizza

If you’ve been here for a while now then you know about my insatiable hunkering for pizza. I just love it so fucking much.

And I will also mention that since that post about my Top 5 Pizzaiolo slices, I have gotten free pizza there twice. TWICE! Once because the delivery boy recognized me (not for blogging, just for excessive pizza eating) and said that I could be the “Customer of the Day” therefore, my slice was free. I don’t even know if they have a customer of the day program. I suspect maybe he was just liking what he saw. I did actually wash my hair that day, so it’s plausible. One time I got a bunch of extra pickles for free at Harvey’s because the dork behind the counter was digging my sweet Star Wars t-shirt. Well, and maybe the rack underneath it too. But whatever, free pickles right? The other time I got a free slice from ‘aiolo was just last week when the manager was trying out some new cheeses on the pizza and asked if I wanted to try it out. Heck yeah I do. I’ll never say no to pizza, especially not when it’s free. So, that little piece of artistry has paid out handsomely in pizza karma.

free pizza

FREE PIZZA!

D and I used to buy shitty frozen pizzas from the grocery store all the time. Mostly when we lived in the ‘burbs and mostly so that there was pizza on-hand for when I got drunk late at night and all the pizza shops were closed. Doing that probably saved us a couple of break-ups. But with great pizza right around the corner, we don’t have to worry about that anymore. We haven’t had to resort to shitty frozen pizzas in a long time, and our life together is all the better for it. That also makes the little pizza monster that lives in my belly pretty goddamn happy. Now whenever we want to make pizza at home we just buy the dough and do it ourselves. It can be an ambitious undertaking, but it’s usually always worth it.

DIY Pizza

DIY Pizza

Homemade pizza is always that much more satisfying because you did it yourself. We went to a most delicious homemade pizza party at my cousin’s place a couple of weeks ago. It was more of a gourmet pizza experience. We used chorizo instead of pepperoni and I actually put some frigging vegetables on my pizza for a change. Something I’m normally opposed to, but I thought in the interest of acting a mature adult for a change I’d give it a try. I’m delighted to report that I’m hooked on sun-dried tomatoes now. I didn’t take any pictures though, because I didn’t want to seem weird or impolite. What’s the photo/food etiquette these days anyway? As long as it’s not “see-food” it’s okay? I’m not sure on this. Plus, I was enjoying the food too much to stop and take pictures of it. But trust me when I say that it was some of the best I’ve had in a long time. Crunchy, thin crust. Oo baby, that’s the stuff.

Frig, I just love it so much! Sometimes I try to make other things be pizza too. Like those delicious pizza grilled cheese sandwiches that I learned how to make because of my nana. Or like my latest and greatest pizza concoction: pizza bagels. And not those runty little bullshits that you buy in the freezer section at the grocery store, un uh.

I’m talking delicious honey ‘n’ oat bagels toasted an immaculate golden brown. With a generous slathering of garlic butter and assorted pizza toppings for the sake of the taste buds.

Oh bagel, you came and you saved me

Oh bagel, you came and you saved me

And these are great because you can do as many as you want, however you want them. Which is perfect for me and D because we never want the same toppings, as evidenced by the green pepper/mushroom segregation above.

Mushrooms lurking under all that cheese!

Mushrooms lurking under all that cheese!

The pizza bagels were a smashing success. We’ll probably stick with them for a while before I move on to discover bold new pizza frontiers. Maybe it’ll be pizza croissantwiches. Or pizza baguette. Mmmm, pizza waffles! Yeah, there’s potential there…

I suppose that’s all the recent pizza news I have for you today. I have to go change my shirt now as an unsightly drool stain is forming. Until next time my demented darlings.

My Cool Nana

I’ve got a cool Nana.

One of the things that makes her so cool is her youthfulness. She’s got that joie de vivre in spades.

She gets her hair did regularly, and always has perfectly polished toes. She wears stylish outfits because she’s in the know. She’s got a beautiful, charming laugh that matches that knowing twinkle in her eye. When she hugs you, you’ll feel better, even if there isn’t anything bothering you. Because she loves you unconditionally and that’s all that’s ever really mattered. She’s funny and sassy, quick-witted and astute. She’s got a keen sense of humour and knows how to use it, much to everyone’s delight. Nana’s so with it, she even reads my blog! Encouraging, generous, compassionate, and wise. I could just keep saying adjectives all day… But simply put, she’s a cool fucking Nana; she’s the best.

my cool Nana

my cool Nana

When I was a puny little girl I always looked forward to the days when we’d all pile into the car and head over to Nana’s house. Going for the day was great, but a sleepover was even better. She had a big house out in the sticks, and a great big backyard with a rickety old swing set that we loved. Squeaky and rusting from the years of gleeful appreciation. And there was a sweet sandbox that housed all of our most inventive sand creations. We didn’t build castles, we built legends. If it was rainy, we’d spend the day inside. There was a pool table in the finished basement that we ran tag based games around. It was also a superb foundation for blanket forts! And there were trunks upon trunks of glorious toys down in the basement. The arsenal of toys within the many trunks had been amassed over the decades and were kept on hand for when her rambunctious grandkids came to visit. It was perfect.

Whenever I’m told to picture my happy place I picture myself, eight years old, on a visit to Nana’s house…

Top priority for Nana was keeping us fed the whole time we were there. And that suited me just fine. Nana loved to feed people, and I loved to eat! The time spent at her house, whether it was a couple of hours in the afternoon or a whole weekend sleepover, was an eating marathon. You’d get there, give Nana a hug, then tell her you were STARVING. At least, that was the first play I’d always run. And she’d happily agree that you were a skinny little thing and had better get some cookies into you quick.

There was a perpetually full jar of cookies on the kitchen counter, just waiting there for you. In the cupboards you would find a surplus of chips, crackers, candies, fruit snacks, and other such sundries that would have fed us through a nuclear crisis. The big old freezer in the garage was loaded with ice cream and popsicles. There would be trays of sandwiches made up for lunch. Tuna salad, egg salad, salmon salad, chicken salad. Anything that could be mashed into salad form for sandwiches was there. And an array of deli meats too. Bologna, turkey, ham, salami, etc. The whole gang was there! The sandwiches would be cut into fours, diagonally of course. To this day, I still eat my sandwiches that way. They must be cut into fours, diagonally, like Nana would do.

We’d eat, then play. That was what you did at Nana’s house. Eat. Play. Eat. Play. Eat. Play. Eat. Play. Then eat some more!

Nana was funny. She played with us, and goofed around a little herself. She’d clean us up when our adventures got messy. Then she’d encourage us to go have another one. She’d feed us whether or not our tummies rumbled. She taught us lots of jokes and games. And we learned lots of endearing colloquialisms from her too. Saying kitschy things like “Jesus H. Murphy”, “piss ‘n’ vinegar”, and “shakes of a lamb’s tail” she was a regular old poet to us. There wasn’t a problem in sight that Nana couldn’t solve. Nothing too big or too sticky that she couldn’t handle.

…what I wouldn’t give to go back in time and have one more childhood visit at Nana’s house.

I’d long ago forgotten one of my most cherished of Nana’s culinary delights, though. It just slipped through the cracks of my mind, evading recollection for many years. It pains me to have forgotten this at all, but I guess that’s just how it goes sometimes, when you’re growing up. You’re always pushing and being pushed forward. Forsaking the childishness of your past for pursuits more befitting your current age. But I still felt bad about forgetting.

My sister and I were talking, I’m not sure how it came up, but she mentioned Nana’s Pizza Sandwich. I was a little puzzled at first, brows furrowed, straining to grasp onto the memory. Then it hit me. It was if someone had reached into my head, grabbed the two halves of my brain, wrenched them apart, and blew all of the cobwebs out with a formidable gust of wind. Nana’s Pizza Sandwich.

OF COURSE I REMEMBER IT! I LOVE THAT SANDWICH!!!

We were picky eaters. Not Mar so much, she was more open. But Erika and I were, without a doubt, picky little bastards. I spent most of my childhood turning my nose up at the shit on my plate that I didn’t understand. It’s gotten better over time, it usually does. But there are some things that shall never grace my plate again. Things like broccoli, Kraft Singles or Cheez Whiz, lasagna, and scalloped potatoes. Shit like that, you know, things reasonably deserving of my ire. Because of our picky eating habits, Nana invented this slam-dunk sandwich. Sure to please even the pickiest of eaters. She knew that we were fiends for pizza, so this would be an easy victory.

And it was. We wolfed our pizza sandwiches down like mongrels. Then asked for seconds!

She used a sandwich maker. An old, electric sandwich maker. You could hear a faint buzz when it was plugged in, starting to heat up. The most minute humming as it awakened. It filled the kitchen with a strangely delicious aroma. The smell of sandwiches past. Once it was nice and hot, the sandwiches would be popped into place, and the lid would close. You could hear them sizzling immediately, the blackened cooking plates pressing their magic into the bread.

Oh yeah, I remembered it all so clearly now.

A couple of weeks after we’d had that conversation I got an email from Mar, with an online coupon for a similar type of sandwich maker. I immediately printed it, and headed over to the Kitchen Stuff Plus store in my hood after work. With my coupon, I only paid 10 bucks! Even if my sandwiches turned out to be the biggest pieces of shit ever, it was worth it. For 10 bucks? You got yourself a deal!

I rushed home, beyond excited to test this bad boy out.

worth every penny

worth every penny

Basically, you’re just making a standard grilled cheese sandwich with a couple of slight variations. On the inside of the bread, I swipe some pizza sauce, add the slices of cheese, and then some pepperoni.

Nana's Pizza Sandwich in the making

Nana’s Pizza Sandwich in the making

Then you put it in the sandwich maker and let the magic happen. There’s no temperature setting. Just a red light and a green light. You put it in there and wait. Check occasionally to make sure you’re on track, and then take it out when you feel that it has been cooked through to your liking. I like mine just a little bit golden. Crispy, but not burnt.

The wait was agonizing. I was anticipating greatness, trying to recreate something so beloved from my childhood. And I was happy with the end result when I saw it sitting there on the plate, ready to eat.

hot off the $10 grill

hot off the $10 grill

gooey middle

gooey middle

But I was a little nervous, taking that first bite. I bit down gingerly, exploratory. For all intents and purposes the texture was exactly the same. It tasted good. But it wasn’t quite the same as the ones Nana used to make. It was delicious, albeit empty.

Probably because I was hoping too hard. Hoping for a taste of yesterday. Hoping to resuscitate a feeling, long since dead.

Am I crazy? What did I think was going to happen? That I’d take a bite of this sandwich and somehow travel through space and time back to Nana’s house? Back to eight years old? Come on Smash, you didn’t really think…?

Yes. That’s exactly what I’d been thinking. In a secret corner of my dorky little brain, right before I sunk my teeth in, I’d entertained those thoughts. But I guess there’s a little more to time travel than a $10 sandwich grill and some pepperoni. For 10 bucks though, it was worth a shot.

At least I’ve still got my cool Nana, and our memories. I know she remembers those days gone by, just as fondly as I do.

Something Different

D and I both come from suburban backgrounds. Quaint places.

The kind of places where people leave their doors unlocked. Where modest homes with lovingly manicured lawns line the streets. Where the two and three kid families reign supreme. Where hot dogs, birthday cake, chicken pox, bicycles, inflatable pools filled with icy cold water in the summertime, swing sets in the backyard, friendly neighbours, and sidewalk chalk are absolute certainties in your life.

Our meals were square. At least, that’s what the parents always said. “Mmm, now that’s a good square meal,” they’d say as they plopped an overflowing plate in front of you. It was always heaping. A heaping plate of pot roast with mashed potatoes, and carrots/peas/green beans/corn/broccoli/brussel sprouts/cauliflower. That was how it worked. You got a meat, some sort of potato side, and a vegetable side. Usually some bread ‘n’ butter too. Gotta make sure you’ve got the four food groups all present and accounted for. Then maybe you’d have dessert. Something mom had baked that day, possibly.

It’s the classic suburban formula for a good square meal.

Our parents didn’t deviate from it often. If they did, a pizza was delivered. Or if you wanted something really different, you’d order Chinese food. Sushi was something that wealthy weirdoes in movies ate. Nobody had ever heard of tapas before. There was no differentiation between Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, or Japanese. That stuff fell under the all-encompasing “Chinese” umbrella. Mexican consisted of Old El Paso taco kits. And Indian? What are you even talking about?

2% milk, red meat, white bread, and potatoes. Those were the staples in every suburban grocery cart. Terms like “organic”, “gluten free”, “locally sourced”, and “free range” weren’t part of the vocabulary back then. We weren’t so aware of our food or conscious of our consumption. We just ate. And we ate what we knew.

In my school days eating was hedonistic. The four food groups had been reduced to a mere two: pizza and beer. We were 18, we didn’t care. We thought we were invincible. Immune to the pitfalls of a predominately carb based diet. The summer sojourn at home eating my ma’s square meals was like a stint in rehab. Shocking myself back to health with proteins and vegetables.

When it came time to grow up, move out, and start cooking for ourselves we were awakened unto a world of possibilities beyond pot roast and mashed potatoes. It was daunting at first. The landscape had changed. Suddenly, there was a lot more choice at the grocery store. We didn’t have to stick to the square meal blueprint of our childhood. And we wouldn’t program the number for the local pizza joint into the speed dial. We were gonna have to learn to feed ourselves. Honest to goodness adult meals.

D does most of the cooking. He’s good at it, and he likes it. I like dreaming up cool things for us to eat. But when it comes to the kitchen I’d much rather draft the plans and watch someone else bring my ideas to fruition. And then of course, savour the success.

Some of our recent successes include:

Butter Chicken

Indian is the shit. Straight up, I dare you to eat some butter chicken and not fall madly in love. A creamy, dreamy tomato based sauce and some spicy basmati rice. We’ll usually make some samosas to go with as well. It’s a killer combination, and it’s easy to make. Or so D says. Sweet + Heat = Greatness. Indian food is very fragrant though. Not only in taste, but in ambience. Your apartment will have a distinctly Indian smell for the remainder of the night. Of spices and curry galore!

Butter Chicken and Basmati Rice

Butter Chicken and Basmati Rice

Pierogi & Calabrese Salami

Credit for this meal goes directly to my girl Joce-Force. We feasted like kings on these one night at her place, and I’ve been hooked ever since. You see, most people serve them with bacon. But Joce had a stroke of pure brilliance when she paired them with the Calabrese salami. The pierogies have a nice crisp outside and a tender potato center. That Calabrese gets so crispy. Just a few minutes in the frying pan and it is perfection. It’s got some kick to it though. Again, it’s that magical combination of subtlety and heat. And if you really want get nuts with flavour all up in your tastebuds, dip a bite of it in tzatziki. I insist, you simply haven’t lived until you’ve tried it!

Pierogi!

Pierogi!

Asian Five Spice Stir Fry

This is something we’ve had to experiment with a lot. I’m very picky when it comes to rice. Unless it has that exact right flavour I’m looking for, then I don’t feel compelled to eat a lot of it. But, after many trials and tribulations, I think D has nailed it. I don’t know what goes into it, but I sure as hell dig it. The only thing I know for certain is that D started putting Worcestershire sauce into the rice. And it seems to have been the crucial ingredient when it comes to pleasing my palate. We’ll also cheat a bit and make some frozen spring rolls, for the crunch. But I decree frozen spring rolls perfectly acceptable in my kitchen. Also, please note that my portion is entirely devoid of broccoli. That’s very important. No Broccoli, you shall not pass!

Stir Fridays

Stir Fridays

I have one specialty in our kitchen. One thing that I can make that will knock D’s socks off. But we don’t eat it very often. That’s because it is a major indulgence. When you just want to carb the fuck out, come see me. I’ll make sure you’re taken care of.

Smash’s Gut-Busting Calzones & Cheesy Breadsticks

You can’t even get through the title of that dish without clutching your stomach can you? Well, just wait ’til you see the pictures!

Calzone, Smash's way

Calzone, Smash’s way

Carb overloading

Carb overloading

And, I’ll even share my secrets with you lucky readers. One time only!

I get some dough, and let it rise. Then I roll it out to an acceptable thickness for pizza. I generously sauce one side of the dough, and then load it up. With pepperonis and cheeeeeeese! And usually some mushrooms and green peppers for D. We use turkey pepperonis, and they are delicious. They’re nice and thin, so they warm through quickly in the oven. Once it’s been stuffed, you fold over the other side of the dough and pinch it shut with your fingertips. Pinch, pinch, pinch! You’ve gotta pinch it firmly shut so it doesn’t bust and gush all over the tray when it’s baking.

Right before they go in the oven, I brush them with garlic butter. The butter is heated to a fluid consistency. It absorbs nicely into the dough and spreads easier that way. Set the oven to 400 and bake for as longs you like. If you like them crispy, keep them in for a solid 20-25 minutes. If you like them a little more soft like we do, 10-15 minutes should suffice.

And while the calzones are baking, I take the leftover dough and twist it into breadsticks. I twist out the dough, then douse the pieces lovingly in the leftover garlic butter. Shredded cheese is then sprinkled on top. These bad boys only take about 5 minutes or so. And they are worth it.

Better than crazy bread

Better than crazy bread

Cheesy heaven

Cheesy heaven

And the trick is, to save some of the sauce you used inside the calzones. Dipping these breadsticks in the savoury tomato sauce is a rare delight.

I’ve successfully weened myself off of pizza pops, but when I’m feeling just a touch nostalgic I’ll make my grown-up version of them instead. My supernova-sized, overstuffed calzones. That hits the fucking spot, man.

We’ve come a long way from our little sheltered homes in the suburbs. Grown up some. From square meals and ramen noodles in the dorm to delectable dinners crafted by our very own hands. There’s no Pot Roast Tuesdays at our place. Our meal planning hinges on my many whims and our passion for experimentation. Not to disparage our backgrounds, or our respective parents’ cooking. I do still love me some meat and potatoes with a tall glass of 2% milk. But more often than not, I’m seduced by variety. Enchanted by change. That’s always the way isn’t it? After much monotony people like to get them some strange. Do something different.

And trust me, strange has never tasted so good.