OMG.

Behold, friends, Toronto’s best focaccia.

At least that’s what the sign outside the bakery said, and who were we, overtired and glassy-eyed with hunger, sitting stuck in traffic in our car in the rain, to argue? We had said goodbye to my mom just that morning and two of the four of us were suffering from miserable end-of-summer colds.

We weren’t going anywhere anyway.

So we pulled over and dashed right in to check it out.

My knowledge of the Toronto focaccia scene is perhaps not the most extensive, but I can say that the good people who baked this bread have done everything right.

There is a reason their establishment is named OMG Baked Goodness; in fact it was all I could do not to devour most of our loaf during the ten-minute drive home.

Instead, I turned it into this vast, indulgently-proportioned sandwich, which is exactly what we (and by “we,” I mean, mostly, me) needed on a dreary, emotional grey day.

OMG Focaccia Sandwich to Feed the Masses

Since we are coming up to a long weekend, I’d like to suggest that this sandwich, or a similar incarnation of it – without the cheese perhaps? – would be just the thing for lunch or a light dinner en plein aire.

1 large round focaccia loaf (preferably OMG’s Herb & Garlic)
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
225g crimini mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
3 tbsp pesto mayonnaise (I made my own: 1 tbsp pesto + 2 tbsp mayo)
8 sundried tomatoes, thinly sliced
6 slices grilled zucchini*
a generous amount of cheese

*I happened to have some leftover grilled zucchini in the fridge, and if I hadn’t had that I’d have used something else – likely prosciutto.

Preheat broiler.

Cut focaccia in half horizontally, to make two rounds.

Melt butter and olive oil in a medium pan set over medium-high heat. Saute mushrooms until golden.

Divide pesto mayonnaise evenly between focaccia halves, and then layer each half with equal amounts of each topping. Place on a large baking sheet and cook under the broiler until cheese has melted. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Cut into wedges, this would easily feed six, or even eight with a side salad.

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you lucky people.

Just wait until you try this sauce.

A couple of months ago, things around here had begun to go so wildly awry that my husband was moved to ask me incredulously, as I struggled to pull a one-inch splinter out of the bottom of my foot using a sewing needle and a pair of tweezers, “how could you possibly have so much bad karma?”

It’s a question to which there is no real suitable answer.

Still, because I take deep solace in food during times of adversity, that period was one in which many great meals were consumed in my house.

And a fair number of them involved this sauce.

It started out its life as a component of what I would loosely define as an Andean-ish potato dish, but I had far more sauce than potatoes on that particular late-spring evening, so it morphed into the kind of catch-all condiment that could improve the (forgive me) karma of just about anything that was thrown its way.

Almost an entire season later, it is still in heavy rotation.


In the photo you see above, I tossed it with some sauteed peppers, but that was just because they were what happened to be laying about. I would highly recommend it with the little local potatoes that my husband keeps bringing home by the basketful, and I can’t even tell you how blissfully it pairs with corn on the cob.

(I have mentioned before, probably at just about this time of year, that I do not find summertime cooking to be especially inspiring: the grill and I don’t have a relationship to speak of, and I am largely fine with that. There are a lot of fun things that happen outdoors at this time of year, but for me, cooking is not one of them. I like my kitchen.

Still, I bet you could slather this sauce on whatever thing you just pulled off the barbeque, and it would redeem even that.)

What can I tell you? It’s just that good.

A Sauce to Redeem (Almost) Anything
adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian

1 egg yolk*
1c whole milk
500g feta cheese, crumbled
1/2c olive oil (not extra virgin)
2 fresh hot yellow or green chilies, de-seeded and de-veined and finely chopped (leave in a few seeds for a spicier sauce)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp flour
* I would consider the egg yolk optional if you are feeding a pregnant woman, young children or anyone whose health may be compromised. If you opt not to use the yolk, increase the flour slightly.

Combine egg yolk, milk, and feta in a blender and blend until smooth. Leave in blender.

Place olive oil in a heavy saute pan set over medium heat. When oil is hot, add chilies, garlic, and turmeric to the pan, and saute, stirring frequently, until softened and slightly golden, about 2 minutes. Add flour to pan and stir well. Reduce heat to low and add feta mixture from blender to the pan. Cook, stirring, until sauce is thick. Using a rubber spatula, pour and scrape sauce back into the blender and blend until smooth.

Add a little milk, if necessary; sauce should be the consistency of heavy cream.

Makes about 2 cups, enough to dress about a pound of cooked baby potatoes and still have plenty left over. Refrigerate leftovers promptly.


austerity.

It’s been a pretty austere winter around here, from every perspective but the foodie one.

We’ve been besieged by¬† just about every flu bug and head cold and general bad feeling that has come our way, and we’ve not left our nest nearly enough.

The result, a lack of sleep and fresh air and an excess of time spent contemplating these four walls, has done nothing to propel me forward into my usual post-new-year’s effort to change my life via diet and exercise.

Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Instead of even considering a routine any more punishing than my current one (the sleepless, scratchy-throated haze that all of you who have had sick small children will recognize), I have been luxuriating in my cookbooks and old issues of Gourmet, baking my (sweat)pants off, and throwing myself with abandon on any dish that involves starch and cheese and the oven.

Like this one, which has become the new lunch-time staple at our house. It’s from Nigella Lawson’s new book, Kitchen: Recipes From the Heart of the Home, and it is so simple and quick and basic that you can do almost anything with it. The recipe that follows is my slightly-tweaked version.

Goat Cheese Pizza (adapted from Nigella Lawson)

100g spelt flour

1c milk

1 egg

75g grated cheddar

50g crumbled goat cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Liberally grease an 8″ round cake tin or pie plate.

Whisk together flour, milk and egg until smooth. Stir in two-thirds of the grated cheddar, and turn batter out into prepared pan. Bake 30-35 minutes, until golden and bubbly. Remove from oven and sprinkle with remaining cheddar and goat cheese.

Return to oven for a further 5-10 minutes, until cheese is melted. Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes or so before cutting into wedges.

This has never served more than the four of us, keeping in mind that two of us eat very little.


excess.


I have a confession to make: I am not really a fan of leftovers.

When confronted with them, I don’t find myself inspired to create marvelous dishes that are greater than the sum of their parts; instead, I think longingly of those food disposal units that would allow me to stuff the uneaten portions of our meals down the drain and grind them into oblivion.

For some reason, I find opening the fridge to the sight of shelvesful of little containers a bit anxiety-provoking, and I would be quite happy if they were to simply disappear without my having to give them a thought (and to be fair, they often do, thanks to my husband, whose appetite is tremendous and somewhat less discerning than mine).

The leftovers problem becomes complicated when I acknowledge that generally, when cooking, I prefer an abundance of ingredients. Because we are only four, and only two of us can really be said to actually consume our meals, the result is that I tend to make quantities of food from which leftovers are inevitable.

So basically, I go to as much trouble to generate leftovers as I do to avoid dealing with them once they’ve been created.

I know, it’s a problem.

But we’re not here (well, not really) to delve too deeply into my complicated relationship with food. We’re here to celebrate the fact that, when I was dispirited by the bits and pieces floating around our fridge one recent rainy day, I decided to make these pancakes for lunch. All four of us gobbled them up, and there wasn’t a leftover to be had.

Corn and Cheese Pancakes

I processed the corn kernels in deference to our baby, but you could just as easily leave them whole and stir them in at the end with the cheese.

1c fresh or frozen corn kernels
2 eggs
1/2c olive oil
2c buttermilk
2 tsp sugar
1c whole wheat flour
1/2c corn meal
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 heaped cup grated cheese (I used cheddar)
a little butter, for the pan

Process corn kernels in the food processor (if frozen, they will make quite a racket). Add eggs, oil, buttermilk and sugar and process until combined.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, corn meal, baking soda, and paprika. Add corn mixture to flour mixture and stir until just combined. Gently fold in cheese.

Heat a large heavy pan on medium-high heat. Melt a little butter in the pan.

Make pancakes in batches, using a quarter-cup measure. Cook each pancake about 3 minutes per side.

My husband and I ate ours with salsa and sour cream, my daughter had hers with maple syrup, and the baby ate his au naturel.

Makes 14.