One of my favourite American politicians, Rudy Giuliani, said this about grandparents: “What children need most are the essentials that grandparents provide in abundance. They give unconditional love, kindness, patience, humour, comfort, lessons in life. And, most importantly, cookies.”
Which reminds me of my Granny Wells. She was a baker. In fact, when I was about eight or nine, she taught me how to make an apple pie. I’ve never been able to bake one as good as hers. But then, nobody ever could, except maybe another bona fide granny.
Grannies hold a special place in our hearts. That’s why, when you’re outdoors, hungry, on an ice cold February day and you see the word “granny” on a sign over a restaurant, you are drawn like a moth to a flame inside.
And so it was that I ventured into a restaurant on Churchill Square with granny in its name, only to come home, write a review, and then discover on the very day my review was to be delivered to The Telegram, that Granny Grunt’s had closed for good, or maybe, bad?
At least my detractors will not be able to accuse me (as a few have in the past) of closing down another local eatery. The general public decides these things, not me. In the case of Granny Grunt’s, it appears the public decided that the establishment did not live up to its granny nomenclature. It can be a tricky business utilizing a charged word like granny in the name of a restaurant.
Meanwhile, thanks to Granny Defunct, my review amounted to nothing more than finger exercise. What to do? I still had a column to fill. Thankfully, a couple of friends solved my problem (unintentionally). Granny-like motivation (ironically) caused them to show up at our house on the evening of my dilemma.
You see, my spouse has been recuperating from surgery. Our friends, Chad and Bill, decided to bring us food and their company so that we might have the burden of a lengthy recovery lifted a little. (By the way, guys, any chance of some light housecleaning? Maybe the laundry? Oh, sorry, I got carried away there.)
But really, it was a lovely gesture to bring us a couple of hampers filled with homemade meals from Belbin’s Dinner’s Ready line. Talk about your granny food, and given in true granny spirit. (Of course, we insisted they stay and dine with us.) Let me tell you about it.
A small chicken satay pizza cut into triangles made an appetizer for us. Chicken dice in a slightly peanut tasting sauce, along with sweet pepper, tomato and red onion, rested on a round pita bread. This was topped with mozzarella cheese. We followed the re-heating directions to the letter and the result was delicious.
A remarkably good Atlantic style seafood chowder impressed all. It was built from a base of excellent fresh fish stock (gold in any kitchen) and contained a bounty of seafood: cod, scallops, salmon and shrimp. Root vegetables (i.e. carrot, leek) were added for extra flavour and texture. Finished off with cream, the Belbin’s chowder was a fine example of how this style of soup should be made.
Those who like their baked beans with a sweet edge will love Belbin’s baked beans. Any granny would endorse them I think. I found the doubling down on sugar (actually, brown sugar, molasses and ketchup) to be a tad too much, but I enjoyed them — to the very final sauce-coated bean, actually.
Roasted pork loin is a risky entrée for a store-cooked product because there’s a higher risk of it turning out a little dry when reheated at home. I am happy to report that if you follow Belbin’s label instructions properly, the result will be everything you hoped for. The thick slice of pork loin, stuffed with apple and partridgeberries, was served with green peas and basmati rice.
Turkey pot pie à la Belbin’s was terrific. (I have a taste for salt, so I added a pinch.) The crust was masterfully made and the filling of turkey, garden vegetables and thickened stock was balanced and flavourful. Is there anything more comforting than a meat pie with pastry crust? Possibly, but this is one classic that will always activate my endorphins.
In my view, shepherd’s pie must be made with ground lamb. Otherwise, it simply is not shepherd’s pie and should be called something else. Belbin’s used ground lamb and the entrée deserved all the praise we gave it. The aroma and taste of the cooked lamb was incredible. It was a perfect dish for sharing.
We capped the evening with the ultimate granny-approved treat — chocolate cake. The rich Belbin’s chocolate ganache cake was superb. Better than any chocolate cake I’ve had in restaurants. Seriously. It was the kind of chocolate cake that, when washed down with a glass of ice-cold milk, cures all ills.
I began this column by talking about grannies. What I’ve really been talking about is human love and kindness. It’s what makes your granny’s casseroles and cookies taste so delicious. Sure, delicious because experience and skill was involved in making them, but also because of who made them and served them to you. Granny, your granny.
Although I know skill helped make Belbin’s dishes taste good, I cannot underestimate the effect of knowing that the food was the thoughtful gift of beloved friends. That knowledge undoubtedly made our gift taste much better. Thanks guys. May you, dear reader, be blessed with such good friends.
Karl Wells is an accredited personal chef, author of “Cooking with One Chef One Critic” and recipient of awards from the national body of the Canadian Culinary Federation and the Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador. Contact him through his website, www.karlwells.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @karl_wells