29 April 2010

The best Mexican restaurant in town

Last Saturday J & I had some old friends and their kids over for dinner - we hadn't seem them in ages and I was excited to have some adventurous eaters over so I could cook with some gusto. So I'd planned the meal for ages and was excited to once again dive into the Rick Bayliss-inspired Mexican.

A few weeks ago I made some tamales that were okay but I used the wrong corn masa so despite not really wanting to have another bag of ground corn in the cupboard, I did bite the bullet and buy the right one for tamales - it has a coarser grain - which made all the difference. I made green chile chicken tamales. Now I don't want to toot my horn, but they were fantastic!! We ate the whole lot of them (save one tiny little one that made it as a lunch snack the next day).

The filling was really easy. I whipped up some tomatillo salsa (a can of tomatillos, one roasted jalepeno, few cloves of garlic, half a white onion, big handful of cilantro all wazzed up in the blender). Then put it all in a pot, added about a tablespoon of masa harina and thickened up the sauce a bit and then just mixed it with some shredded cooked chicken.

The corn husks were boiled for a few minutes and then left to sit soaking in the water for about an hour. I just followed the instructions on the tamale masa package for making the dough.

Now I don't have any type of steamer so I jerry-rigged this one last time that is essentially a big colander set in the top of our biggest pot and then filled with tamales, covered it up with leftover corn husks and the lid and steamed it all for about an hour and a half. Presto, delicioso. Time consuming, for sure, but I sure do like seeing all the little soldiers standing up ready to be counted in the steamer.

The other main dish I made was one of the first Mexican dishes I found: braised short ribs with poblano peppers, tomatoes, and herbs. Ordinarily this would take forever to braise in the oven but I used the fabulous and fast pressure cooker and the whole thing cooked in 15 minutes.

I can't say enough about the pressure cooker's efficiency. Let it cool for a few minutes and you have fall-off-the bone meat and saucy deliciousness ready to be wrapped in a tortilla!! The poblanos give it an extra taste dimension that's less spicy than chiles but also just a bit more fortified than bell peppers.

The meal was rounded out with a few salsas: quick tomato-chipotle that had quite a bit of bite, classic semi-pickled onions and cilantro, and a crunchy tomatillo avocado salsa that was just a slightly different take on the beautiful avocado than the regular guacamole. Refried beans and rice rounded out the offerings.

I would like to report that our guests said the tamales were some of the best they've ever had. The kids were gung ho and got stuck into everything and a great time was had by all.

26 April 2010

Schnitzel the size of a dinner plate

The quest for schnitzel is low-grade but continuous. We've found a couple of okay places but nothing great. The other day when scooting around town I noticed this place on Bloor Street that I vaguely remember going to when I was a kid. So on Sunday J and I went to give Country Style Hungarian Restaurant a go. It is old school!!
 I also love the pierogies and there were some on the menu served up with Hungarian sausage so we had to have a try. They could have had a tad more potato and cheese filling but came with tremendous amounts of delicious and crispy fried onions with a smokey little sausage on top and some sour cream on the side! Lovely and not for those on a low-fat diet.
 Then the star of the show, the schnitzel. I ordered the regular and J ordered the chicken. They were deep fried and we got them with dumplings. We also got a small salad to start and I had the sweet and also vinegary thinly sliced cucumber salad and J had the coleslaw, which was not of the creamy variety and she said was quite delicious. Anywho . . . HUGE and DEEP FRIED. Wow. Pretty good right out of the fryer but really heavy duty. Underneath there somewhere are the edges of the plate, which are barely holding in the dumplings.

Did not eat it all (and it was not good warmed up the next day) in order to leave space for the dessert: Hungarian pancakes or palacsinta. You can have them with all manner of fillings but I opted for the walnut/sugar combo.

Absolutely delicious but really just a bit too much after all of this. Good thing J is carbo loading for her run coming up this weekend. Me . . . well just loading on the carbs with this meal anyway.

Service was really friendly. What I also enjoyed was that in addition to salt and pepper, there's a shaker of paprika on the table! It's cash only though and while not expensive, not overly cheap. The main courses run about $17.

Country Style on Urbanspoon

24 April 2010

I made a pretty salad

J had been saying that she wanted to have some roasted beets, so I was happy to oblige. Give me some inkling of a plan and I'm on it in the kitchen these days. She'd been away on business and hadn't had a home cooked meal in ages. So after a day of battling with an errant computer on the work front, I was happy to come home to kitchen and excercise some creativity. So I put together this lovely roasted beet salad.

It's a bit time consuming but pretty easy overall.

Roasted beet salad with walnuts and watercress
3 small beets (or 1-2 larger ones)
yellow pepper
handful of walnuts
goat cheese/feta

Preheat the oven to 425. Peel the beets and if they are big, cut them in half. Season beets, wrap them in foil and add a splosh of oil and a bit of water (which helps them steam and makes them less oily than if you use only oil). I put them in a baking dish because there is always some sticky red beet juice that escapes and the oven cleanup from that is not pretty.  Cook for about 45 min to an hour until they are tender.  (I tend to roast extra and then have for another salad or some other recipe over the next few days.)

In the last few minutes the beets are in the oven, toast the walnuts. Watch them though because it only takes about 3-5 minutes or they'll burn and be bitter. I coated mine with a bit of honey once I took them out of the oven. It's faster and easier than making proper candied walnuts and adds that hint of sweetness.

Once the beets are cooked, slice them into wedges and let them cool.

Clean some watercress (get rid of most of the thick stems which are not so delicious) and place it on the plate. Add some colour by alternating the beets with tomatoes and peppers. In this case, I used some crumbled feta we had on hand but soft goat cheese is really the best mixing its sharpness with the sweetness of the beets. Sprinkle the walnuts over the top of it all.

Now I'm very hit and miss with the dressings - could be that I just make it up and hope for the best most of the time but here, I didn't want it to detract so actually got the oil and vinegar mix right! And, importantly again, to balance the sweetness, it had shallots which bring that necessary onion flavour to the mix.

Shallot vinaigrette
1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil (use the good stuff, it's the dressing)
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 small shallot minced
1 pinch sugar
1 pinch salt
1 pinch ground black pepper
1 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp water.

I put it all in a small jar and shake it up so you get a good emulsified mix. If you can make it at least an hour in advance of eating then the shallots have time to impart their flavour more to the dressing.

We had it with some linguine and bolognese sauce (which fulfilled my chili intake for the day with just a little hint of heat) and used up some of the herbs from the window herb garden, which always gives a little sense of extra joy!

20 April 2010

Scootin' to Koreatown

I couldn't resist the weather outside and had to head out on the scooter tonight. J is away, the house has just been cleaned and I didn't want to dirty up the kitchen. And when scooting, it always helps to have a destination and it being dinner time I thought I'd try one of the restaurants in Koreatown to have some bibimbap. So I headed off to Buk Chang Dong Soon To Fu at the corner of Bloor and Clinton (which may become my favourite corner in the city as Tacos El Asador is across the road).

First it came with many sides, which I think were soy beans of some nature, daikon, sprout and carrot salad, kimchee, miso soup, and hot sauce/paste (pic taken with my new BlackBerry that has, well the capacity to take photos, how revolutionary!).

The bibimbap was delicious. Used the whole load of hot sauce in there. It was not oily at all and the vegetables were all delicious. The hot stone bowl was very hot and crisped up the rice fantastically. It was a lot of goodness in a bowl.

That and a coke for $9. Or you can go crazy and have a beer there for $3.02! Good deal and good eats. Service is fast and pleasant. And chilis acquired for the day!

Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu on Urbanspoon

19 April 2010

Butter chilies . . . I've never heard of them

G again at the keypad . . .

Tonight, and some other nights for inexplicable reasons, I felt the need to make a selection of veg curries for dinner. Unlike making a meat curry, I feel you can't just have one kind so if it's going to be veg, there's gotta be a selection. So it ends up being a bit of a madhouse in the kitchen and not always a roaring success.  The least successful part of this evening was the mushroom/pea/potato curry. I used pre-prepared curry powder and well it just ain't that good and there was not any thickness to the sauce. Sprinkled with some raita it was alright but I think I'm going to give the mushroom curries a pass from now on as I can't seem to get it right.

Second I made some butter paneer. I will admit it was pre-packaged sauce here too (I did make it all in a hour after getting home late!) and it was pretty good. The sauce was Mother's brand in a foil packet if you happen upon it. I bought it at Ambal Trading on Parliament St., where I get most of my south Asian goodies, including the roti/paratha and fresh paneer. There's also a fresh fish market in the back but I've not ever tried anything from there as I'm not so bold on the fish front.

But in my daily chili quest, I had to do something with the latest chili find I made last week at Ambal: butter chilies. Feast your eyes on these white babies.

And so tonight's effort was a red lentil dal that came out pretty terrific in the end. Here's my recipe - and it makes about 4 servings.

1 cup red lentils
3 cups water
3 dried butter chilies, chopped finely
1 small onion chopped finely
1 1/2 tbsp chopped ginger
3 tbsp oil
2 cloves chopped garlic
1 tsp tumeric
1 tsp cumin whole
3 tsp garam masala
1 1/2 tsp salt

Put the lentils and water on to boil for about 20 minutes. In the meantime, prepare all the other ingredients.

Add oil to a small frying pan and once hot add the onions and sautee for about 5 or 6 minutes. Add cumin and chilies and fry for a minute or so. Then add the garlic, ginger, garam masala and tumeric and fry for a few more minutes. You should have a nice soft, oily spice mixture.

Once the lentils are soft and cooked, turn off the heat, stir in the onion and spice mixture and add salt to taste.  Let is sit for a few minutes for all the flavours to get jiggy with each other and then serve and enjoy.

18 April 2010

Wine & chocolate & extraordinary women

G here again . . . feeling the need to share on the nibblies front.

Last week I was invited by a law firm to it's "5th annual extraordinary women's wine and chocolate extravaganza." I'm supposing it's because I'm so extraordinary that I made it on to the invite list . . . hmm.

Anywho, walked in the door and was met with a glass of champagne with a little raspberry in the bottom and really, that's the way to start off any event. In fact, I think each workday should begin in that fashion and it would all just be so much more pleasant.

The chocolates on offer were from Stubbe Chocolates and choclatier Daniel Stubbe was on hand to chat about his creations. There were six chocolates paired with wines. Now I will say that I tried all the chocolates but not all the wines, although I did give a couple a go.

First up (and I did not take any photos) and because I may have mentioned that I'm on a chili binge, I had the rasampatti chili with bittersweet chocolate. This was a ganache filled offering made with a not-too-hot Indian chili that gave a sweet first taste then gradually left you with a bit of the chili heat. It was paired with Ricossa Moscato D'Asti, a sweet dessert wine that really added a depth and roundness to the chocolate. I had a few tastes of this one! It was my favourite. Daniel said he had spent quite a lot of time using different chilis to get one that worked with this and that it's always a bit of a challenge using chilis which get spicier as the days go by. This was still fairly mild as he said they'd only been made a few days before.

Secondly I tried the solid pink peppercorns on dark semisweet chocolate, which was also delicious. It was paired with the Muskoka Lakes Windery Red Maple, a dessert wine made with cranberries and maple syrup. Again a nice sweet wine against the spicy chocolate. Liked this one as well. The chocolatier again said he'd experimented with different types of peppercorns and finds the pink ones to be the best for the chocolate as it is more delicate than black or white.

The most unusual one I tried was the hard lemongrass in bittersweet chocolate, which actually had a really refreshing taste to it, just as you would imagine lemongrass would. Nice and light. The third and last of the hard chocolates was a wild fennel in semisweet chocolate, which was not too licorice-tasting and really quite pleasant.

There were two other ganache-filled options: Tanzania dark chocolate, which was a straight-up deliciously deep chocolate and balsamic vinegar in dark chocolate, a taste sensation. The trick to the balsamic filling is using a vinegar that's about 5 years old, nothing to dense or fancy, apparently. You need to have a bit of the tartness and if you use well-aged balsamic it's too sweet and often too viscous.

All in all a really fun evening chatting about chocolate and ingredients. And we got a little box of treats to take home.

17 April 2010

Kitty Litter for the Kitties.

The lovely folks at Matchstick asked me if I wanted to try a new cat litter product, Purina Maxx Scoop, that is made for the toots' who live in small spaces.  Free litter?  Bring it!

I got a big box of goodies, a Cozy Corner Cat Litter Box, a Purr-fect Paws Litter Mat, a new Rubbermaid scoop, and some cat treats in addition to the coupons for the litter.

Problem 1, finding the litter.  Had to go to a Walmart in the burbs to get it and it took some time.  Not driving a lot, it's hard to just "pick-up" cat litter!  Plus, the cat litter box was broken when it arrived, but workable.

Nevertheless, we found the litter last weekend and have been using it for about a week now.  First impressions:

Litter box, useless.  It's huge but not a lot of cat-sitting-on-the-butt space, and with how shallow it is, our cats have managed to get litter EVERYWHERE.  It's all over the house.  And Beanie likes to eat that mat, so I have found little brown pieces everywhere.  Sigh.  Beanie eats everything.  She's a mess.

But the litter itself is fantastic!!!  Really tops.  It doesn't smell like litter, even though the litter itself has a sweet smell, and the price is right compared to the expensive stuff we buy at the pet store.  I don't know if the tracking is because of the size of the litter, but I really suspect it's because they take a runner out of the box, and it's just everywhere.  So, we're going back to their Ye Olde Box.

Honestly, though, the litter seems good.  A week in and while I've been out of town and the cleaning has been less diligent, there's no litter smell.  So yeah for Purina Maxx Scoop coupons.  Email me or leave a comment if you want a coupon, I have three to give away!  (First come first winners in this one.)

Thanks Matchstick and Purina!

12 April 2010

Goat chops alla diavolla

Again, J is away so it's time to break into the goat that is still in the freezer from the farm. This time it's chops. I'd not opened the packages so was not sure what to expect but I think they were loin chops. Anywho, was going to do some Indian-style but that required hours of marinating and a lot of ingredients and I was in the mood for quick. So I adapted an Italian lamb chop recipe I found online and it was pretty good and had a bit of a kick to it as well, so that fit the bill for my current need to eat chilis every day (and I don't mean the restaurant chain!)

So here it is:

If you have one, toss the chops onto the bbq, if you don't then settle for the frying or grill pan like I did. Cook them to your liking.

The sauce is simple. A few cloves of garlic sauteed in olive oil with some hot pepper flakes. Now I was only making one serving and used two cloves of garlic, which wasn't enough, so use as much as you need for your liking of the garlic and pepper flakes. Once the garlic gets a bit brown, splash some white wine in there. Chop up a good handful of parsley and once the wine has burned off all the alcohol and evaporated a bit, toss in the parsley just so it gets covered in the hot-garlicky oil and gets the flavours. You don't really want the parsley to cook.

Once the chops are done, put the parsley sauce over the chops. I served it with some steamed asparagus. Add a bit of fresh lemon juice to the whole thing and serve. The entire preparation of the dish took maybe 20 minutes.

And while goat may not appeal to most people, it is really delicious. The flavour is less strong than lamb but with a bit more oomph than beef. It is also much less greasy, and lower cholesterol than lamb. I can't account for comparison with pork chops . . .  Try 'em if you find 'em, you never know.

04 April 2010

Origin Restaurant -- Toronto.

Last night, a group of us strolled down the street to Origin Restaurant, the new place from Claudio Aprile (of Colborne Lane).  I didn't take photos.  It was a social outing with good friends and I didn't want to mar it by snapping shots, BUT, the food was so amazing, I had to share it anyway...

The menu is divided into different parts with starters, a raw bar, a mozarella bar, hot dishes, and desserts.  I think I am missing something, but whatever.  We ordered a lot of food over the course of the 3 hours we were there... starting with a drink called a Ploughman's Cocktail or something similar.  This was very weird.  I've been reading a lot about savory cocktails and when one presented itself on the menu (featuring hickory bitters, crisp pancetta and mustard) I knew I had to try it.  And now that I've tried it, I can safely say I probably won't be trying it again... it tasted like Easter ham juice.  Mmmm.  It just SOUNDS good, doesn't it?

But from there it was all out of the ballpark. 

I can't say that I remember everything we ate, but there was an amazing beat and cheese salad, crostini with buffalo moz and preserved lemons, potatas bravas, devilled eggs, all followed by the most amazing black cod, chinois duck, manchego rice with poached egg and chorizo, and chili beef with black bean.  It's a small plates kind of place, so there was lots of sharing going on (though with one of us with a nut allergy, another celebrating passover, and two vegetarians, we had a lot of rules at our table)... which just meant more for me. 

The food was out of this world.  Everything is very straightforward, very reasonably spiced and full of flavour.  The chinois duck was tender and spicy, the manchego rice was an amazing risotto with a delicious creamy poached egg mixed in (I could eat a whole one of this all by myself), and the black cod was melt in your mouth tender and just absolutely amazing.  I really enjoyed everything so much, I can't wait to go back!  (Mom, maybe we'll go here when you visit???????)

Dessert was a delicious saffron sorbet with manchego cheesecake and marinated berries.  Sometimes, you just have to let it go and rock on with the deliciousness of it all.  I can't think of the last time I enjoyed a meal out quite so much... Claudio is a freaking genius and I am so glad we went to his 'simple' restaurant to enjoy his food!  It isn't crazily expensive, though it certainly isn't cheap.  We probably over ordered (though I couldn't have eaten more of some things) but it was worth every single penny!!!

You must go, so go go go!


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