Well, this week’s theme for Illustration Friday is breakfast, which feels like a gift. After all, I specialize in food and travel art, so it’s right up my alley. The image I chose to use is a fun piece together of different elements of a classic big breakfast pieced together over a sort of marble texture that I painted. I had a lot of fun making this piece and was especially happy with how some of the shadows and coffee stains turned out around the espresso. Scroll down for the recipe:
Just for fun, here’s a recipe for perfectly roasted baby potatoes that works every time.
Crackling Baby Breakfast Potatoes
1 lb / 0.5 K baby potatoes
2 tbsp / 30 ml olive oil (note: if you’re a baller, duck fat will also add an amazing flavour profile to these potatoes.)
Par boil the potatoes whole in salted water for 7 – 10 minutes, until you can get a fork’s tines into but not through the potatoes. Remove from the water and drain in a colander, sprinkling liberally with salt, so that each potato is thoroughly coated in the colander. Leave to sit for 15 to 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 425F / 225C.
The potato skins should turn whitish with the salt coating and all of the moisture should be wicked out of the flesh. Toss the potatoes in olive oil, using a mixing bowl or salad bowl, then lay flat in a cast iron pan or baking sheet. Bake in oven for 20-25 minutes, stirring halfway through to brown both sides.
The skin should be flaking and crunchy by the time they’re done with a golden brown coating.
Working in a restaurant is hard. The hours are long and life is short. Most cooks start when they’re young. I was fourteen the first time I stepped into the kitchen of a restaurant, at Bijou in Toronto. The afternoon started with hours of prep work, then a spot sweating on the line at the salad/dessert station and running up and down the stairs every time the chef ran out of an ingredient, and after the dinner service was over, and my feet ached and my pits tank, it was assumed I would go and pitch a few extra hours in the dish pit. The only respite was that back in the day, there was an ashtray in the dish pit, so you could smoke while you worked as long as you were agile enough to balance a cigarette on your lip and keep it dry in the splash and spray of the mess.
Every shift started the same, with gallons of squid in ice cold water. If I tried to wear gloves, or warm my hands, the chef would mercilessly taunt me. I remember the shocking feeling of plunging my hand in and feeling the surge of cold in my veins and the gelatinous, writing mass of the sea creatures’ bodies. First, you slip out their ‘spines’, a clear malleable, plastic-like shard, then you pop out the ink ball, which most restaurants worth their salt reserve for a squid ink pasta or to use darkening and thickening a sauce.
Once you’ve cleaned the squid, the next step is to cut off and set aside the tentacles.
Tentacle aside: Easily, my favourite part to eat, the texture and multiple crunches gets me every time, and with the multiplicity of surface areas, they’re a better vessel for dip than a ring. Let your sucker friends think you’re taking one for the team, save them till the end and eat all the tentacles yourself.
Then, carefully so your knife doesn’t slip, slide a very sharp blade across the body in one smooth motion until you’re left with slices the size of a thick rubber band. Make sure not to overcook the calamari, or it will feel like you’re chewing rubber bands.
2 Secrets to Perfect Crispy Homemade Calamari:
Marinate the squid slices in buttermilk overnight in the fridge, or for at least 2-3 hours before dredging and cooking. This tenderizes the meat with the subtle lactic acid, adds depth of flavour, and helps the dredge adhere to the slippery surface of the squid.
Don’t skimp on your oil. Peanut, Canola, and Sunflower oil, in that order, have the highest smoke points, and thus get the hottest and cook the fastest (i.e. crunchiest exterior without overcooked meat). And be patient, wait to add the squid until the oil is hot. Use a thermometer to make sure it is above 450F/230C.
Perfect Crunchy Fried Calamari
8.5 C/ 2 L high-smoke point oil
6 whole squid, cleaned and sliced
2 C/500 ml of Buttermilk, for overnight marinating
1 C/250 ml Flour
1 C/250 ml corn meal
Salt and pepper, to taste
Cover a plate or baking sheet in paper towel or newspaper.
Preheat your oil in a deep pot on the stove, or a deep fryer.
Remove squid from the fridge and strain all excess liquid through a colander. Be patient, this may take a few minutes.
Dredge one large handful of squid at a time, tossing to coat in the combined flour and corn meal, then lightly shaking off excess dredge before you drop the squid into the fryer.
Fry squid rings and tentacles for 2-3 minutes in small batches, so the oil keeps its high temperature and the rings don’t congeal and cook into a clump. Clean out any crumbs or burnt bits as you go to prevent the oil from taking on an acrid, carbon taste.
Set aside batch after batch to drain on the paper towel, making sure to season calamari to your liking, before serving.
Lime Chipotle Aioli
.5C/ 125ml of Mayonnaise (make it at home if you’re fancy and have the time)
2 chipotle peppers in a adobo sauce (I prefer the La Costena cans)
2 tbsp/ 30ml lime juice
1 tsp/ 5ml lime zest
Directions: Put everything in a blender and whip it up real good.
Note: This recipe is total crack, and it works just as well for kids drinking soda, for a bunch of sports fans downing cans of pilsner during the game, or for your classy friends relazing on the patio in the summer, downing glasses of Moscato rose.
Also, if you’re using store bought mayonnaise, the lime chipotle aioli has a super long shelf life in the fridge and can be made and kept in big batches to eat with basically everything that can be used as a vessel for dip.
Note: Scroll straight to the bottom for the full recipe, The Perfect Baking Sheet Pizza Pie.
Friday nights were pizza night in our house when I was growing up. Pizza Night was a family tradition. The week’s menu was always written out in my mother’s longhand and taped on the inside of the kitchen cupboard. I would come home from school and stare longingly at Friday, wondering why it had to be Broccoli Casserole Tuesday, or Spaghetti Arrabiata Thursday. Homemade Nut Burger Monday was excruciating because it meant four more sleeps until Pizza Friday. No amount of ketchup and mustard could replace melted cheese and marinara.
During the years when my parents were both working full-time, we would order from a local chain, Pizza Pizza. There were inevitable fights about what toppings to order. One of my sisters hated mushrooms. “Gross! They smell like Chlorox,” she’d yell.
I always wanted to try the pepperoni. My friends at school wouldn’t eat pizza without the shaved coins of sausage. It was my first brush with the fear of missing out. We were a devoutly vegetarian house.
Our oldest sister was always saying pineapple on pizza was for kids. She was a teenager. She wanted her own pie.
I was the youngest, and after a few years, Pizza Night attendance thinned out. My sisters had boyfriends, parties, suspicious amounts of perfume on their coats and tic-tacs on their breath. Dad went through a phase of working late, every night, including Friday. Only mom and me were left at home for Pizza Night.
I always loved to cook, so Pizza Night became an opportunity for us to experiment in the kitchen. We made pita pizzas. Tortilla pizzas. Microwave pizzas. Grilled cheese pizzas. Focaccia pizzas. Thin crust pizzas. Gluten free pizzas. We even tried cauliflower-crust pizzas. But nothing quite matched the delicious, gooey, crunchy stringy-cheesed magic of delivery, until we found a recipe for homemade baking sheet pan pizza. Because I love you, and I know you’ll put it to good use, I’m going to share the 5 magical secrets of our recipe with you, so you can start your own Pizza Night.
Secret #1: Make your dough as soon as you get home from school, so it can rest for a few hours before you dressed it up and cook it.
Secret #2: Don’t add anything to your tomatoes! No sugar, no herbs, no oil, no garlic, no salt, no nothing. Just simple, canned and pureed plum tomatoes. When you open the can, you will smell Italy at the base of Mount Vesuvio, and you don’t want to mess with that.
Secret #3: Use exactly one ball of mozzarella. No more, no less. Grate it right before you use it, otherwise you’ll snack on the stringy bits and eat a bunch of it before any cheese makes it onto the pizza and melts into gooey goodness.
Secret #4: Shake lots of cornmeal into the bottom of your baking pan before you add the dough. It will give the bottom of your crust that extra crusty crust crunch.
Secret #5: You can peak and stare into the window to your heart’s desire, but don’t open that door of the oven, until you switch your pie from bake to broil at the end. Watch as the cheese bubbles and browns and turns into the perfect homemade pie before your eyes.
The Perfect Baking Sheet Pizza Night Pie
2 cups/500 ml lukewarm water
2 tablespoons/30 ml yeast (2 packets of Fleischmann’s)
4 cups/1 L all-purpose flour (sifted if you’ve got the time)
3 tablespoons/45 ml extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon/5 ml fine sea salt
Dissolve the yeast in water as warm as your hand, but not warmer. You’ll know it’s alive, when it starts bubbling after a few minutes.
On clean flat working surface, make a mountain of flour and salt, then carve out a crater with your hands.
Note: Keep the flour and olive out out, in case you need to add more of either to sticky hands or a sticky counter.
Slowly add the yeasty water and olive oil, pushing the edges of the crater into the well until gets stick and forms a dough ball.
Knead until the dough becomes elastic and gently rises back up when you poke your finger into the ball.
Now, the most important part: Give yourself a break! Wrap the ball up in plastic wrap. Or, you can oil the outside of the ball and place it in a large mixing bowl, then cover the bowl with a damp tea towel
Go and peak every once in a while until the dough has doubled in size (about an hour or so)
1 28 oz can San Marzano plum tomatoes.
Puree the tomatoes in a blender, or with a hand blender in the can, or dice them up and send them through a sieve. Just don’t add a thing.
1 ball mozzarella
Grate the cheese, immediately before use, otherwise, it will slowly disappear in roaming hands and inquiring mouths.
The best part about cooking is being creative. The toppings are up to you, and there’s no limit, from oysters to kiwis, blue cheese to antelope, you can eat anything on a pizza.
Cut your toppings before hand into bite-sized pieces, so they cook evenly.
Preheat oven to 500 degrees, or as hot as it will go.
Dust your baking sheet with gritty cornmeal. This will add megatons of crunch.
Oil your dough ball and roll it out on a floured surface, tossing it up in the air as high as you dare. When it is stretched enough, lay it out over the cornmeal coated baking pan and tapdance a fork’s prongs over the surface of the dough until it is perforated.
Note: Don’t worry, it doesn’t matter if your dough rips. Dough is sticky, so you can just stick it back together.
Put a big splotch of tomato sauce in the middle and draw spirals outward with a big spoon or ladle. It doesn’t matter if it’s even because it will flatten out while cooking.
Now quickly grate and add the cheese before it disappears, then dress your pizza in delicious toppings.
Bake until the edges start to brown (7-9 minutes), without opening oven.
Switch the oven to a high broil. Wait thirty seconds, then carefully move the pizza to the top rack of the oven.
Count to one hundred, keeping watch for smoke.
Remove pizza from the broiler and enjoy The Perfect Baking Sheet Pizza Night Pie.
When I first moved to Mexico, I was broke. Not like, I was only eating tacos and drinking six packs of beer and staying in hostel dorm rooms, I mean literally, I had no money. I was young, in my twenties, and I had saved a few hundred dollars in cash doing odd jobs after winning a scholarship to write a book, which I never finished. I decided to go by train south from Canada to Mexico, mostly because I was going through my first really bad breakup and, also, because I didn’t respect myself enough to care what happened.
My heroes were the poets of the beat generation, Kerouac, Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and their crew. I knew that they had all at various times escaped the realities of America by heading south. I was enamored by the Infrarealists of Mexico City, who roamed the streets of Distrito Federal at night, slept all day, then wrote poems at the cafes every evening. I would do the same. My first stop was El Paso, Texas. I decided not to cross over to Juarez direct from the train station because the lineup of Mexican labourers on day visas returning home was too long. It was nearly sundown, the light low over that famous bridge to Juarez, which was more dangerous and violent than Iraq at the time.
I met some homeless, punk girls from Kentucky, and we had a few beers at a truck stop bar, then went to a parkette across from a Bank of America that was being gutted, post-2008 crash, and drank from the gallon of honeyshine they’d brought from home. Some local meth heads came by to smoke and started a scrap with us after trying to steal a knapsack. I ended up in a rundown flop house, sleeping with my cash rolled up in my fist and my clothes on. If I hadn’t heard about the ‘Couchsurfing‘ website, from a young drifter who’d been crashing on a boat in San Francisco, I have no idea what I would’ve have ended up doing. My first few months in Mexico, I was blessed with free beds and I subsisted entirely on bananas and instant coffee, both of which cost pennies.
The point is, I spent years in Mexico, eventually learning the language, living in a house full of college students and artists it was hard not to become fluent with a little patience. I fell in love, got a job teaching English at a small college, and later, much later, became comfortable enough that I could afford to do the expensive, touristy things that most travelers do everyday on their holidays. It’s hard for me to say if El Balcon de Zocalo is actually as good as I feel, but I love it. It’s a sentimental spot for me. It’s on a rooftop, at the height of excess, it’s full of “rich” people, and foreigners. But it does, without a doubt, have my favourite view of the Cathedral and Zocalo looking through a porthole. And it’s one of those places, where the Chef has clearly decided that every plating has to be equally as beautiful as the environment, which speaks to me as an aesthete. I’m a sucker for beauty, and the food here is beautiful.
Whether it’s dressed up octopus tacos, tacos de pulpo, or breakfast, avena y semillas con frutas, or one of their many gorgeous salads, this restaurant aims to make the guest feel luxurious. It serves cocktails on wood blocks, and tacos on marble slates. It’s one of those places that was instagrammable before photo apps were a thing. So, if that’s your thing, and you’re a selfie shark, then you should at least stop by for a light lunch.
On my first visit, I was with a rich friend from Vancouver, whose parents have oil & industry money. He treated me to guacamole peppered with grasshoppers, and overpriced Coronas, while we watch a youth soccer match. I was being spoiled, and I enjoyed it. Since then, I have returned many times over the years, my girlfriend once got violently ill after ordering raw tuna here, but in general, it’s a bad look to order raw fish in a landlocked Southern city.
In a sentence, if you want a nice setup for your photo collection, and you want to be pampered a little, El Balcon de Zocalo is your spot. But skip the fish, there’s two coasts in Mexico, and the city ain’t on either. Unless, you can get a reservation at Contramar.
Prints of all the illustrations on this website are available for purchase, please use the Contact page form to contact me directly for pricing, sizing and shipping information.
On the February days when winter feels the longest at home in Toronto, I often find myself reminiscing for the years when I lived in D.F., the city of eternal spring, Mexico City, the capital, El Monstruo, the largest city in North America, and for many of us, the most beautiful. Then I imagine my perfect day in Mexico City. At sunrise, I’d walk from my flat off of Alvaro Obregon to Plaza Rio de Janiero in Roma Norte and have a cappuccino at the Cafe Toscano.
After the first coffee of the day, I’d walk around Roma for an hour or two, strolling back toward Alvaro Obregon and then on to the Plaza Luis Cabrera to see Javier Marin’s statue and linger around the fountains. I’d eat a pan and maybe grab a second coffee at Cardinal, then read or sketch, relaxing for an hour or two and enjoying the screen time out.
Lunch absolutely has to be at Maximo Bistrot. It’s beautiful, delicious and unmatched anywhere in the city, serving a completely unique take on Mexican inspired French classics by Chef Lalo. It is hands down my favourite restaurant, especially in the day when it’s quieter and the sun is out on the patio. A great place to drink a bottle of dry white, like an Albarino, or to pop a frizzante at noon.
Siesta. Then we take an Uber south to the super wealthy enclave of San Angel for a visit to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s compound. They built separate studio houses, with a tryst inspiring Romeo and Juliet walkway bridge spanning the gap between them, and distinct his and hers red and blue colours. It’s a much quieter and more personal museum than the more famous Casa Azul, where Frida was raised in Coyoacan and her whole family lived (you should visit there as well, but this is what I would do in a day).
Afterward, I’d head back to Roma for a siesta and pick up a few cervezas for a sundown on the rooftop. Because of the earthquakes, there isn’t much of a skyline in Mexico City, but the lack of showy architecture means almost any 3 or 4 story walk up in the city will give you a panoramic view. There’s usually access to rooftops of most residential buildings because everyone air dries their laundry. So if you can find a way up, you will be rewarded for that one fleeting yet magical moment when the sun slips below the haze and sits perched above the hilltops on the horizon.
After you finish your beers, and the light disappears, have a few cocktails at one of the many bars along Alvaro Obregon, and then take the train or an Uber to the Centro Historico. The central part of the city used to be a bit janky, kind of sketchy and barren after dark, but it’s slowly making a comeback since Billionaire Carlos Slim started gobbling up real estate. There’s a ton of good taco spots, but I’d go to my favourite hipster spot, pizza del perro negro, which is the perfect juxtaposition of fresh, uninhibited cooking and stunning, classical architecture in the courtyard of a historic 16th century building at 66 Donceles with a gallery upstairs. There are going to be a lot of mezcals and cervezas throughout the night, and the tacos will inevitably arrive on plastic plates sheathed in cellophane, eaten standing at the corner like the street meat they are, but before a heavy night out, I want something starchy and what better than a pizza pie.
I’m not going to list a bunch of cantinas and bars in Centro, that’s a post of its own. My only advice would be to keep eating all the free food they offer you while ordering drinks, and don’t be afraid to Uber from bar to bar, it’s easy to trip on the five hundred year old cobblestone streets.
Prints of all the illustrations on this website are available for purchase, please use the Contact page form to contact me directly for pricing, sizing and shipping information.