11. Back for More

It has been a while, hasn't it?

The Plate Cleaner returns! When I started this newsletter I never planned for it to be published at regular intervals like weekly or bimonthly, although it kind of settled into that approximate rhythm naturally. But I also never planned to have more than a month between issues.

So what changed? The first ten issues were all written between the end of November and the middle of March, when I only had five total days of work. Writing TPC was a very needed way to keep at least a little busy. But since the middle of March, happily, I’ve been working steadily on the kind of projects that stick in your brain even after quitting time. Hurrah for that! It does mean that I will need to be more disciplined about carving out some time to write for you more regularly.

Thinking about and writing this newsletter helps a lot with maintaining my sanity these days so, given the state of Ontario these days, I should definitely do more of it.

So here goes!

What I’m Consuming…

No main story for this issue, just a wrap-up of what I should have been writing about during the past 4 weeks.

  • First, an update on the last issue: it’s still too cold for most plants to be outside yet, but the seeds that I had just planted have sprouted and are full-blown seedlings.

    A seedling tray full of small plants under a grow light. One of the cels has a piece of tape that has "Mystery!" written on it.
    The plant tagged “Mystery!” is a seed that must have been left behind from last year and decided to germinate this year instead. It was in a dish with some tomato seeds, but it’s definitely not a tomato.

    In a few weeks I’ll start the process of hardening them off, taking them out into the sunlight during the daytime and bringing them in to the warmth of the house at night in order to acclimatise them to life without heat mats and grow lights. In the meantime, they live in the basement. Somehow the foil you see taped to the front of the shelves has managed to keep the cats away, but I feel like that can last forever.

  • If you care about pasta/have a pulse, give a listen to Mission ImPASTAble, the 5-part miniseries within The Sporkful podcast in which host Dan Pashman attempts to create an entirely new and optimized pasta shape. Terrific listening with tons of fascinating details. I don’t want to spoil the ending for you, so that’s all I will say about it.

    I started listening to The Sporkful just after it started. At the time it was Pashman and co-creator Mark Garrison mostly arguing about whose approach to something like making an egg sandwich was better. It was fun to listen to for a while, but the format got pretty stale to me pretty fast and I stopped listening.

    When I started listening again last summer—they posted an episode examining the Bon Appetit fiasco—I downloaded a few other episodes and was amazed at how the format had changed. It’s now hosted solely by Pashman, although there are other contributors, and it delves thoughtfully into much deeper issues related to food, while still being very fun. It has become a regular listen for me and one that I look forward to in an unconflicted way, unlike episodes of David Chang’s Recipe Club.

  • Speaking of pasta, this article about the founder of Annie’s Mac and Cheese has some fun twists and turns along the way. (It’s entirely possible that you have already read this, as it isn’t super-new. One of the pitfalls of not publishing more frequently.) Not having kids and not living in North America when Annie’s first started gaining popularity, I had never actually tried it. So for the purposes of whatever kind of writing this is, I bought some last week and made it.

    Being a lifelong Kraft Dinner eater, I was pretty certain it would remain my go-to. But Annie’s was really good! I think the shell shape is terrific for, as Dan Pashman would say, “sauceability”. The cups trap far more sauce than KD’s tubes. Flavour-wise, I couldn’t taste a huge difference from KD, but maybe side-by-side I would. Will it replace KD on the handful of occasions I eat macaroni and cheese each year? It’s very possible.

  • Here’s a good reason why reading recipes not only in advance but also closely is important:

    Realizing that a recipe calls for 5 cups of leeks (Sorry, that part got cropped out.), 7 cups of stock, and only 1 teaspoon of salt before you start making this soup should make you think twice about trusting it at all. The soup, leek and potato, turned out well after lots of remediation (including additional salt) to make up for a lack of umami.

    The soup was supposed to be for Soup Swap, but with the banning of outdoor public gatherings (because clearly it’s distanced outdoor activity and not transmission in inadequately protected “essential” workplaces that are driving Ontario’s third wave.), we decided to call it off this week. I had already bought all the leeks, potatoes, and chicken bones I needed, so I made it anyway. Lunches for this week are sorted.

  • Thursday, for whatever reason, is our grocery day. We’ve been trying to eat fish once a week and cooking it the day we get it seems like the best plan, so Thursday has become fish day. For the past three weeks, I haven’t felt like chasing down new recipes and, between rushing out to pick up groceries and also geting work done, dinner on Thursdays has been a time crunch lately. So we’ve had the same thing (with slight variations) each week: Kenji Lopez-Alt’s salmon teriyaki bowls with avocado and cucumber.

    The combination of ingredients is terrific and Kenji’s technique for pan-frying the salmon is the gold standard, although I prefer to coat the fish with the sauce in the pan, rather than pouring it over right before serving. (Undercook the salmon if you’re doing so because the fish will spend more time in the pan with the sauce.)

    I also do a little more to the other toppings. Instead of plain sliced cucumbers I will often use Shizuo Tsuji’s vinegared cucumber. Or I’ll make what I call “kappa maki salad,” incorporating all the flavours of a cucumber roll—shoyu, wasabi, sesame, vinegar—into a dressing for salted, sliced cucumber. In this version, you can also see that there’s some sliced daikon that was left over from pickled carrot and daikon, as well as some spinach goma-ae to use up the last of a massive 3-lb bag of spinach. All it needs is a few bites of Japanese pickles on the side.

  • It was my birthday last week, which meant dinner from Edulis, of course. Last year was a numerically significant birthday for me and the plan was to buy out the restaurant for Sunday lunch (It’s only 27 seats) and have friends and family celebrate with us. That, of course, didn’t happen, but Michael and Tobey, the owners, told us that it’s still written on the dry erase board in the kitchen because that was right around when everything ground to a halt. Because they are lovely people, they added some lovely extras to dinner that night. You can see it all here. (Click on the “Edulis Bday” highlight below my profile photo.)

What’s On The Menu…

  • The plan for Monday was to have sausages for dinner, but the sausages I thought were in the freezer were gone. Fortunately, Sanagan’s is very near where Beth and I were getting our first vaccination jabs. Picking up replacement sausages, I noticed they had Dennis’ horseradish, which I’ve been told is the best but that I hadn’t been able to find yet. So steak is the plan for tonight. First one in a while and I can’t wait.

    Like most meat I buy, I try to salt it as far in advance as I can and, if crisp skin or a crust is important, leave it uncovered in the fridge for a bit. The skewers on the sheet plan are keeping the steak off the pan and giving the bottom some exposure to the air as well.

    I’ve never made Lyonnaise potatoes before, but I think I might make it as a side. Jonathan Mardukas says it goes beautifully with steak.

  • Birthday books included Sonoko Sakai’s Japanese Home Cooking from Beth and Edward Lee’s Buttermilk Graffiti from my dad. Can’t wait to dive into both.

  • At some point, cabbage rolls. I made some last week and once again wasn’t completely satisfied with how they turned out. If anyone has an old family recipe that they’d like to share, please send it my way!