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The Incurable Hobbyist Nine: The Way To Anyone's Heart Is...

Posted by Christine / February 27, 2012

27022012-cooking.JPG The Incurable Hobbyist is a highly subjective monthly series that examines various hobbies and the areas of the city that offer means to facilitate their practice. The goal is to inspire curious readers to develop hobbies they'll grow to love dearly, filling their hearts with the singular joy that comes with learning something special, something new.

Can you remember the very best meal you've eaten? I'm talking right down to the specifics. Who the cook was, the food, the place, and the time. Heck, let's not forget the senses. The texture, the presentation, the aroma, and even the slightest nuances of the taste.

I do. I remember it all.

I was 19 and bright-eyed in Italy with my dearest friend -a soulmate really. We stayed for a time in a little hilly town called Ripi with an elderly couple who were friends with her family.

The woman, she spent all morning creating the pasta dough and later laboriously cranked out and separated the noodles. I could smell the flour in the air mingled with the pollen-touched buzzing heat of the outdoors, which came in through the windows.

In the meantime, she patiently boiled down a pot of tomato and meat sauce while occasionally adding this and that to it. It was virtually a day-long affair.

As is the custom in this region, we ate dinner late, around eight or nine o'clock. Having only had an espresso in the morning, nibbles of biscotti, and a light soup for lunch, I was wolf-like and ravenous.

A pipping-hot plate of linguini pasta was set in front of me and the moist strands slithered around my fork as I twirled a generous bite into my mouth.

The pasta itself had that fresh flour-rich taste to it, almost like a baguette. It had a firm sort of texture, which made me chew and taste a little longer that what's natural. The juicy sauce was sweet overall, yet ever-present beneath this was the slightly bitter taste of greeny organic olive oil and garlic. Succulent meat cooked to perfect tenderness added a nice bit of rustic heartiness to the meal. Other subtle flavors danced in and out of recognition, these were: burning specks of pepper, sea-watery salt, and a multitude of herbs my palette was too immature to properly identify. I'll say this however, some of these herbs were warm and blossoming while others were mild and breezy -a burst of seasons. Oh you know, taste somehow lends itself to rather romantic language.

A good meal is a powerful thing, it can not only stimulate the senses, but it can energize the body, breathing new life into one's day. This, and the simple fact that, as humans we must eat, cooking becomes the optimal thing to commit a certain amount of practice to. In short, a rumbling belly is as good a motive as any to pursue a new hobby.

If you're fortunate enough to come from a long line of cooks, there may be a few culinary family secrets to be discovered. However, these recipes are likely committed to memory, so grab a hold of grandma and cook up a storm with her, taking notes along the way.

An alternate choice is to go to your local Chapters or Indigo and purchase a cookbook.

I ordered two such books from a Beyond the Rack sale. They are: 500 Main Courses edited by Jenni Fleetwood and The Ultimate Book of Vegan Cooking written by Tony and Yvonne Bishop-Weston. Both of these are good beginner choices. Main courses are arguably the best place to start as they represent the bulk of one's meal or the meal in its entirety. A cookbook of vegetarian or vegan recipes is also worthwhile, especially if you are cooking as a means to a healthier diet. This can narrow one's focus onto the foods groups they are likely not consuming enough of: fruits and vegetables. I'll elucidate this point by saying, as someone working a 9-5, it's much easier to grab a slice of pizza on the way home than say, a salad.

It's also important to adequately equip your kitchen for the task at hand. Beginners can get away with a couple of non-stick pans, pots, a wok, strainer, cutting board, and casseroles. I've also found good use for the knife block and carving set I purchased from Malibu Creations. One should have an adequate collection of forks, knives, spoons, whisks, can openers, etc. Finally, especially if you use pans as much as I do, a flexible, non-metal spatula is a must. This item will become your sword. Choose it wisely.

Good kitchenware may be purchased at a variety of places, such as: Kitchen Equipped, Quincaillerie Dante and Norten Equipements de Cuisine Inc.

You can always sign up for cooking classes for a more hands-on approach! There are several places around the city that offer these.

Ateliers & Saveurs boasts "a new generation of cooking courses". They host an array of classes, focusing on wine, sushi, gourmet food, bar-tending and more. These courses commonly last an hour and are in the area of $20-$75 a session.

La Guilde Culinaire is another excellent choice. According to their website, "Dedicated to the art of cooking, we not only offer the very best culinary equipment and literature in our boutique, but we'll also show you how the pros do it in our classes and through our perfect dinners. Our expert chefs will share their passion as well as their crucial tips and skills, which will greatly enhance all your recipes." They offer classes in an exceptional array of categories, such as: bouchees, fusion, health, exotic, traditional, dessert and gourmet.

Academie Culinaire is yet another option. They host a range of classes, like: tapas, Italian classics, Mexican cuisine, Chinese cuisine, beers, trattoria, desserts and more. The vary in length, some are three hours, others are seven. A three-hour course will be around $95, while the more thorough seven-hour classes will be in the neighborhood of $205.

Finally, I leave you with a real treat: my dear friend and co-worker Andrew's much-coveted butter chicken recipe. True story: when he brought this into the office, everyone within a ten-foot radius demanded a copy of the recipe. It's that good.

Andrew's Butter Chicken


2 tbsp. butter
350 kg chicken breast
1 cup basmati rice
500ml 15% and/or 35% cooking cream
1.5 tbsp. hot curry paste (Patak's is good)
1 tbsp. tomato paste
2 tbsp. cherry sauce
1 diced tomato
2/3 cup diced onion
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. masala

Prepare the rice in a separate pot.

Cut the chicken into little morsels.

Slap the butter into a big pan and cook at mid/low heat.

Place the chicken into the pan with butter.

Once the chicken is cooked to a white/beige color, add the onions, tomato and any additional veggies of your choosing.

Add the curry paste to the pan and dissolve. Stir as needed.

Lower heat and add the cream and tomato paste. 35% cream makes a nice thick sauce, though it can sit heavy and 15% is a bit too thin, combining the two can create the optimal thickness.

Add the cherry sauce to cheer it up, ketchup may also be used.

Add the cumin, masala and even chili powder to one's liking.

Place the desired portion of sauce and chicken onto a bed of rice.

The recipe's author recommends naan bread as a fun side to this meal. Thinly coat a pan with vegetable oil, bring to medium heat, and cook the bread a minute on each side.


So said the maestro:

"Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals in one's life."

-Anthony Bourdain

Photograph by yours truly



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