I met Lindsay almost 10 years, during one of my very first days of university. Not only did we share a name, but we quickly discovered a mutual love of both eating and talking about food. I wouldn’t be surprised if our first conversation went something like this:
“My name is Lindsay.”
“I love baked goods.”
“Let’s be best friends.”
Linds and I lived together during second year, ended up getting into the same exchange program in third year, travelled together around Europe, and lived together again when we returned. During those years, our friends gave up on trying to give us nicknames, and eventually just referred to us as The Lindsays. They’d tease that someday we’d end up as a couple of fat old ladies, still eating cookies together and discussing the merits of a perfect brownie. And really, what would be wrong with that?
Lindsay now lives in Calgary, but this week made it out for a visit. It was so great to see her; we talked about jobs, the future, our friends, how much we miss living in the same city, and of course, the cookies we’d eaten recently. She heard allll about the peanut butter chocolate ganache sandwiches from Sweet Spot, and I’ve promised her one the next time she’s back.
Of course, no Lindsay visit would be complete without some good food, so I took her for a meal in Richmond. We decided to go for izakaya on Alexandra Road, and ended up at Soul Robata and Izakaya, a few doors down from Cattle Cafe. It definitely had a quieter vibe than the other izakayas I’ve been to (Guu especially), and while that may make it less ‘authentic,’ it was a nice place to catch up. We had the sashimi salad ($9.95), cheesy crab roll ($5.95), seafood okonomyaki ($12.95), and kinoko yaki udon ($9.95). We also ordered the king oyster mushrooms from the robata menu, but only at the end of the meal did we realize they never came. Linds and I split a large Asahi lager ($8.50), which cut some of the greasier foods nicely.
The meal was good, though some dishes were definitely better than others. The tuna in the sashimi salad was very fresh, and the dressing was glorious.
The cheesy crab roll tasted like deep-fried mozza sticks, but with artificial crab. No culinary genius at work here, just crunchy, chewy, cheesy chompers. They were actually really tasty, especially with the beer.
While the okonomyaki was decent, I think I prefer versions without seafood. The chopped squid legs were a little tough, and took away from the crunchy texture of the pancake.
The best dish of the night was the kinoko yaki udon, which had fried udon noodles with mushrooms and beef. The noodles were perfectly cooked, the savoury sauce they were mixed with was creamy, the mushrooms were earthy, and the beef was thinly-sliced and tender. On a cold day, I would go back just for this; it was a richly-flavoured, comforting dish.
The big question is, would Lindsay add it to her Top Five Favourite All-Time Foods? You see, when Lindsay’s telling me about something she ate and really wants to communicate just how good it was, she lists it in her Top Five Favourite Foods of All Time. Within this top five, dishes fall in and out of favour, but there are three steadfast items: pie, cornbread, and cookies. Of course, they can’t just be any old versions of these foods – they must be superior in size and quality, and in the case of cookies, preferably contain peanut butter.
In tribute to Lindsay, I decided to find an outrageously good-sounding cornbread recipe, bake it, and share it with you. Unfortunately, Linds is no longer in town to enjoy it, but I’m hoping these pictures will lure her westward, and back into our never-ending cookie conversations once again.
The best-sounding version I came across was on Smitten Kitchen, an excellent source of best-I’ve-ever-had recipes. This one is more cake-like, not the traditional, sugar-less skillet cornbread of the south. It has goat cheese mixed right in and caramelized onions on top, though I used a caramelized onion jam instead. I halved the recipe, and got one small cake pan + 2 muffins out of it, which is plenty if you’re making it for 3 or 4 people. Was it the best cornbread I’ve ever had? It was darn close, and the aroma! Oh my goodness, the aroma. It alone was enough to bring a cornbread-loving friend back from Calgary.
Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Cornbread, Dedicated to Lindsay K.
1 cup (6 ounces) coarse cornmeal (also packaged as “polenta”) but regular old cornmeal will also work.
2 cups (16 ounces) buttermilk
1 to 2 tablespoons oil, butter or a combination thereof
1 cup onion in a 3/4-inch dice (I think you could also go up to 2 cups, if you’re really into the caramelized onion thing)
1 3/4 cups (8 ounces) unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons (.75 ounce) baking powder
1/4 teaspoon (.05 ounce) baking soda
1 teaspoon (.25 ounce) salt
6 ounce log of goat cheese, at room temperature for a good while, so it’s very soft
2 tablespoons (1.5 ounces) honey
1/4 cup (2 ounces) granulated sugar
3 large (5 ounces) eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter, melted
2 1/2 cups (16 ounces) fresh or frozen corn kernels (I didn’t use these)
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) bacon fat, vegetable oil or butter
The night before baking the cornbread, soak the cornmeal in the buttermilk. Cover and leave at room temperature overnight. [Though this step is optional, you might appreciate it if you use coarse cornmeal or if you often find cornbread on the gritty side.] If you don’t do this in advance, mix them in before you start the next step (which is what I did).
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
The next day, prepare the onions. Heat a large saute pan to medium and coat the bottom with 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil, butter or a combination thereof. Add the onions and cook them until they’re well-caramelized with browned edges. Season with salt and set aside. (I skipped this step, and used a caramelized onion jam).
Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the goat cheese until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time and scraping down the bowl between each. (It may look a little curdly at this point, don’t worry. It all comes back together in the oven.) Add the melted butter, honey, sugar and cornmeal/buttermilk mixture and mix until smooth. Add the flour mixture and stir until combined and then gently stir in the corn kernels, mixing them until the ingredients are evenly distributed.
Place two tablespoons of bacon fat, vegetable oil or butter in a 10 inch round cake pan (you can also use a cast-iron skillet, 9 by 13-inch baking pan or a 12-inch square pan). Place the pan in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes, until the fat gets very hot. With good pot holders, remove the pan and tilt it to grease the corners and sides. Pour in the batter, spreading it evenly and sprinkle the caramelized onion evenly over the top.
Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the cornbread is firm and springing (the baking time will depend on the size and type of pan) and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Allow the bread to cool in the pan for at least 15 minutes before slicing it into squares or wedges. Serve immediately.
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