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All roads lead to Foragers Market….

Or so the story goes, at least in my world where a humble little grocery store went into an abandoned art space on the corner of 8th Avenue and 22nd street in Chelsea and changed my world forever.

Maybe I’m being overly dramatic, but really, this place….my love for it runs deep.

Although it’s only been in the neighborhood for a few years, I can hardly remember a time when I didn’t shop there once (if not twice) a day.

It’s my primary destination for produce, bread, yogurt, heritage pork shops and all manner of fancy cheese. Dram Apothecary bitters, Jacobsen salt, Mina harissa, they’ve got it all. Name the latest chef obsession, and you’re just about guaranteed to find it there. They even sell kombucha on tap. (can you sense my silent tear of gratitude?)

The icing on the cake is that the back seating area morphs into one of the best and most affordably-priced restaurants in the city for weeknight dinners and weekend brunches. Chef Nickolas Martinez trained under Alain Ducasse and Joel Robuchon and sources his ingredients from Foragers’ own farm in Upstate New York. That single tear of gratitude occasionally turns into a stream.

A benefit of having a store like Foragers in the neighborhood is that I’ve gotten to build relationships with some of the food makers themselves. Like microgreen grower Good Water Farms in Long Island, who I’ll talk more about in tomorrow’s post. And Siggi’s, one of the fastest growing yogurt brands in the US. One bite of their skyr (Icelandic strained yogurt) and you’ll never want to eat any other yogurt again.

At least according to yours truly. And my Dad, who ate a spoonful and promptly grabbed the container to inspect every inch of the packaging.

I was visiting Foragers Market in late November when I bumped into Yasaman Vojdani, co-founder of Oat My Goodness Craft Granola.

Yasaman was providing samples for her three lines of granola, and it was pure chance that I stopped to give them a try. I’ve always shied away from buying pre-packaged granola because previous versions have tasted dusty and old. Chewy when they should be crunchy. The flavors, meh. If I want crunchy flavorful granola packed with interesting ingredients, I’ll make it at home.

I politely declined her offer, and was about to move on when Yasaman urged me to try the Sunrise variety – “it has orange, coffee, mango and macadamia nuts”.

Hmmm. That does sound good. And odd flavor combinations are my Achilles heel; I squinted at the packaging, agreed to try it, and the rest is history. I’ve become the unlikeliest of granola promoters but it’s hard for me not to start my day with this kind of food.

It was my passion for their product that led to an organic relationship between the two of us: me, in the role of chief consumer (and photographer), and them as an upstart brand, building a business and taking the artisanal food market by storm. I signed on to develop a portfolio of Oat My Goodness product photography, and have been playing with granola ever since. I’ve baked with it, I’ve layered parfaits, I’ve even roasted fruit to accompany it. The best part? There is more to come. It’s the kind of work that breakfast dreams are made of.

I wanted to share some images from the past few months. I’ve never known the versatility of granola until this year, and it’s my hope that you’ll likewise be encouraged to play around with it as well.

You can find Oat My Goodness craft granola in several states or through their website. They sell it, of course, at Foragers Market, where you’re likely to spot me lurking by the refrigerated case, investigating the latest shipment of farm-fresh eggs.

And if you can’t get your hands on this particular brand of granola, I’ve got a recipe for butter pecan granola that you can use in a pinch.

If you’re interested in finding the recipes for the dishes below, check them out on the Oat My Goodness website. I’ve also copied the recipe for the granola chocolate chunk cookies below. They’re truly the best cookies I’ve ever made. Enjoy!

Sunrise:

Orange, coffee, mango and macadamia nuts

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I’m going to cop to a few facts here. These brownies:

  • with the exception of a few minor tweaks, are an exact replica of the recipe created Gaby Dalkin for her blog What’s Gaby Cooking. Don’t mess with perfection. Unless you’re adding espresso powder and swapping in bittersweet chocolate. 
  • were not meant to be eaten solely after winter sledding activities. Although this would make an optimal time for consumption.
  • are the tastiest baked good you’ve ever laid eyes on. Although if you’re one of those hedonists foolish/brilliant enough to wait 2 hours for a Dominque Ansel original cronut, you may have encountered a baking miracle a ½ notch above this.

Here’s another admission: these aren’t really called Sledding Brownies. Meander over to Gaby’s website looking for “Sledding Brownies” and you’ll get an ominous looking “NO RESULTS FOUND”. SO JUST BE AWARE OF THAT AND READ ON. I WILL ANSWER YOUR QUESTIONS IN DUE TIME. But do visit Gaby’s website for all manner of delicious food. Really, she has everything: gluttonous treats and healthy eats. Check out her roundup of 10 healthy dishes to start 2015 before you get into trouble with the molasses cookies and brown sugar blondies.

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I saw Gaby post these brownies a few months ago, and they’ve been a bee in my bonnet ever since. I hesitate to use that expression since my Dad’s ex girlfriend used it ad nauseum when she referred to a vexing list of nonessential needs. His bathroom needed fluffier towels!  The bedroom walls required a crisper shade of white! The masonry over the fireplace!!! Well, couldn’t you see that it wasn’t wide enough? So, with that…brownies, chocolate cookie layer, Oreo-stuffed. [bzzzz]

My parents were at the lake over Christmas, and every time my Mum comes to visit, she brings two bags of Oreo cookies. These aren’t just ordinary Oreo cookies. They’re Canadian Oreos. Made with different ingredients altogether. The center is creamier, the cookie layers, richer. If you don’t believe me, I urge you to write to Kraft or Mondelēz or whatever they’re calling themselves these days and ask them why the Canadian version is superior.

Or, if putting pen to paper seems like an arduous task, enlist your favorite Canadian friend/relative/Parliament Member to send you a box and conduct a taste test in the privacy of your own home.

That’s what we did. Double blind. Rodney + the kids acted as the official judging panel to ensure accuracy and more important, eat the leftovers. The Canadian Oreos won by a landslide.

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Baked-Minestrone-Soup

Can we talk about soup? Old man winter has overstayed his welcome; the only benefit being that we have carte blanche to continue those stewing, braising and baking activities that have kept us busy all winter.

I’ve seen the restaurants waving their bundles spring vegetables in the air chanting “we have ramps!” My answer: too soon! I’m not ready for ramps, or fiddleheads, or even asparagus. If it’s below freezing, I don’t want to see any of those tender shoots. What good does it do me to devour a lightly dressed spring salad when I’m wearing two sweaters and a pair of mocs?

Back to that soup.  I’ve waxed poetic on this blog about my days as a ski racer, growing up on Canadian slopes from the mountains of BC, to the Laurentians of Quebec. Our home base was Ontario, so we spent the bulk of our time racing in Quebec.

Our trips happened frequently throughout the winter months. In the hours before dawn, we’d load our skis and poles into storage boxes built on top of our vans and start our slow trek East. My preference was to ride in the red van that we fondly referred to as The Big Cheese. It had modern day conveniences, notably a reliable radio station and a functioning heater.

The Big Cheese was named after our head ski coach, a man by the name of Jurg Gfeller, a former skier on the National Swiss Team who’d started our school in tiny Collingwood, Ontario.

Rodney had the chance to meet Jurg last year when for the first time in 20 years, I returned to Collingwood for a friend’s wedding. We stopped by the Ski Academy so that I could show Rodney a little of my roots including the dorm room where I’d ingest late night brownies and the words to every Indigo Girls song.

As luck would have it, Jurg was at the house that day, just as I’d left him 20 years before. Despite a lack of ski conditions (this was October), he was dressed for the season in a snug Descente vest.

He gave me a teasing but hard punch on the shoulder: “Vee gonna get you out on da slopes dis year Jesseeca?”

I was too ashamed to admit that I’d only been on skis a handful of times since I’d quit the sport in 2000.

“That’s the plan” I responded. I then launched into a lengthy description of my present-day nightmares, which are entirely skiing-related. Skis that won’t carve a turn; a pole dropped from the chairlift right before my start, and the most frightening of all: slipping off the chairlift and spending the remainder of the ride clutching the base for dear life.

Rodney shot me a look that suggested that I was barreling out of control into my gray zone of unproductive tangents. I’m working on it. No stranger needs to learn about my insomnia, and Jurg certainly didn’t need to know that my days as a skier under his tutelage contributed to some sort of athletics-related PTSD.

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There were fond memories too. Yes, the trips were long; 8 hours in a crowded van to get us to Mont Tremblant or Mont Sainte-Anne – with limited stops for food. But when we did stop, if it wasn’t a hit & run at a roadside McDonald’s, it was real food. French food.

Anticipation would build as we neared Montreal. The Pirelli Pneus billboard was my signal, answering that crucial “are we there yet?” question. Finally, I could visualize stretching cramped legs and indulging in some stick-to-your ribs Quebecois cooking.

One of my favorite dishes was, soupe a l’oignon au fromage, French onion soup. Onions slowly-cooked in a hearty beef stock, served in a crock with a thick layer of melted Gruyere cheese. Not to be confused with the gimmicky versions you’ll find in nondescript cafeterias, delis and dives. This stuff was the real deal – real beef bones, authentic French cheese.

I don’t think I’ve had soup that good since.

We were experiencing another cold snap last week, and I was digging around my fridge for inspiration. It was Saturday, and I was on a comfort food mission, but lacking a solid plan.

In one of those scenarios presented on cooking competitions, I faced an odd yet promising bag of mystery ingredients: a package of Sunday bacon, some collard greens, an onion, canned tomatoes, a sack of dried chickpeas. Minestrone? The wheels were turning.

As it was early in the day, I figured I’d put my slow cooker to work so that I could lazily attend to other things, namely lying flat on the couch, coffee in hand, dog curled and wedged into my crotch.

Jack

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buckeyes-landscapeLauren showed me a pen right before Valentine’s day. “Look mom, it says ‘Buckeyes’”.

Once I got past my initial panic that she was turning into a college basketball fan, I asked her where she’d gotten the pen. Apparently it was a gift from school. Some caring soul had brought Buckeyes into the classroom, and while her classmates snacked on treats, she and the two other nut-free kids sat in a corner and played with their new pens.

Fortunately she wasn’t traumatized, but she seemed to be genuinely curious about these mystery cookies that she’ll never be able to sample.

“Girl, I’ll make you a nut free Buckeye” I said as I started to dig around online for a similar recipe without peanut butter.

The problem is that she’s also allergic to Sunbutter, the sunflower seed butter that most recipes use as a substitute.

I was just about to call it a day, when I came across a recipe from The Spatularette that used Biscoff spread, a cookie-based butter, in place of the peanut butter.

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I hadn’t heard of cookie butter until recently. But all of a sudden it was an in product, causing near-stampedes at Trader Joe’s over the holidays.

With this country’s fixation on all things cookie dough, I’d jumped to the erroneous conclusion that it was some kind of peanut butter studded with cookie dough. Sounds horrible and gag-inducing, but I wouldn’t put it past some people. If you need further proof, I give you the cookie dough martini.

So I’d turned a blind eye to cookie butter. I hadn’t given it a second thought until confronted with the Buckeye challenge.

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