Search This Blog

Some Foodie Highs and Lows

Okay, first for the highs.

Last week I found myself in Chinatown and, as luck would have it, I had locked up my bike right across the street from the Kim Moon Bakery. When I first moved to the city almost 30 years ago, I was introduced to asian food in a huge way. Previously, my only experience with "oriental" food was a plate of chicken balls, fried rice and moo goo guy pan  with fortunes cookies for dessert. Pho Hung on Spadina, King Noodle and moon cakes from Kim Moon Bakery will always stand out in my mind as things that were proof that I wasn't in Kansas anymore.

Now, a million years later, I enjoy introducing my kid to all of these foods and places that make Toronto my favourite eating place in the world. Sadly, he didn't fall in love with pho the way I did and he prefers Japanese food to a big bowl of steaming soup with egg noodles and bbq duck, but one love we do share are double yolk red bean moon cakes from Kim Moon.

These things are sweet but not too sweet, the way inferior moon cakes can be. They are smooth and silky and the pastry is not too thick - I can't tell you anything about the yolks because, being a perfect mother, I let my kid eat those now but he assures me that they are delicious. They do make other things but I can't vouch for them because I only go for the moon cakes. I don't even know if they make them year round because moon cakes are traditionally eaten during to celebrate the mid autumn festival in september. Beware, they are very, very rich and probably really, really fattening and full of things that are terrible for you.

After a summer of not having the man of the house IN the house, we have been enjoying his company for the last week and letting him call the shots. Since the weather is still beautiful we have been spending a lot of time in the convertible, driving, which is his favourite pastime. Well, he loves to drive and mostly, he loves to drive to places where we are going to eat. This past weekend we got in the car and headed towards Niagara Falls but once we go to the Falls we decided to keep going to pop over to Buffalo to visit Elmwood Village. I know that Buffalo probably doesn't come to mind when you are thinking of a nice foodie afternoon, but there is one little pocket of the city that has some really great shops and restaurants. Oh, Buffalo also has Wegman's which we all love but because we got lost we never made it this time. Luckily, I have my wegman's frequent shopper card so we can go any time we like.

We stopped in at D'Avolio to get some fancy oils and vinegars. The prices are really great, they have a huge selection of oils, vinegars, exotic salts etc and The Kid loves to go from vat to vat, tasting all of the oils from around the world. Somehow, he manages to do this and NOT have his intestines go into shock but I don't suggest anyone else try this.

We bought a Tuscan herb oil, a really nutty, delicious walnut oil, another bottle of the 18 yr aged balsamic and a bottle of jalepeno white balsamic. I wanted to get some salts but our server was kind of horrible and I could see that Shack was getting ramped up so we left without my salts.
Another day.
I used the jalepeno balsamic in my Chimichurri Compound Butter and it gave it a really lovely hit of spicy sour goodness.

We also hit up Penzey's for some spices. I love their store and I could spend hours in there, just sniffing and huffing spices like Vietnamese cinnamon and spanish smoked paprika but we were getting hungry so I settled on the smoked paprika, mexican oregano and some mild chill powder and I wish we had a Penzey's in Toronto.

Another must have is the chocolate covered sponge toffee at Watson's for sponge toffee covered in dark chocolate. I have always loved sponge toffee and so does The Kid. It's not the fanciest chocolate shop in the world but this stuff is worth the drive.

Now, this time Shack decided that we would venture off the beaten path for lunch. Some young man who reeked of pot, had a head full of dreads and looked a bit like a bike courier on his way to the Burning Man festival told him we should go to Main St where all the really good restaurants are and gave him some vague directions. We drove and drove and passed nothing but abandoned buildings and burnt out houses and never, ever hit Main St. I would not suggest doing this if you are going to make the drive to Elmwood Village to do some culinary shopping and you should just stick to that nice street and eat at any one of the countless cafes and restaurants. We drove around until it looked like we were downtown - I knew it was downtown because it was basically deserted the way many American cities look during evenings and all weekend. We pulled over and asked a young woman if we were, by any chance, near The Anchor Bar and it seems that not only were we only a couple of blocks away but it was on the elusive Main Street. I was not really in the mood for wings but it IS The Anchor Bar, the home of the Buffalo Wing so it seemed like a good idea at the time.

I don't want to call the anchor bar a definitive low, it was just the low of this particular trip. Now, it wasn't a bad chicken wing, but it certainly wasn't even close to the best chicken wing I have ever had, the blue cheese dip seemed to be very low on the blue cheese and it all left me with a bit of a dodgy tummy. I can name ten places in Toronto, off the top of my head, that make much better wings.
I won't even tell you what Shack ordered because whoever goes to The Anchor Bar and deviates from wings deserves whatever he gets and it's not the fault of the restaurant that they are forced to offer other horrible things that are not wings just to make people happy.

Except for my disappointing lunch, it was a really great day and I do like going to Elmwood in Buffalo to stock up on some of my favourite things just don't start thinking you are just going to leave that street and drive around and find another super fabulous little neighbourhood. Drive straight to Elmwood, stay on Elmwood and then, when you have had your fill, drive straight home.

Caramelized Vidalia Onion Marmalade

The other day I bought a 3 lb bag of vidalia onions even though I had no idea what I was going to do with them. In the summer, we usually cook them on the grill, wrapped in foil with some olive oil and balsamic. Since Shack worked every day for the entire summer, we didn't bbq at all so I didn't eat any vidalias and got so exited when I saw them that I couldn't just leave them there in the store. I knew there had to be a way of turning them into some sort of jam and so I went on an internet search for a recipe that would fit the bill. I found some really great sounding chutneys and jams but this one, from The Funky Kitchen, was the closest to the recipe I had clunking around in my head. I made some changes and some additions and I am happy to say that the resulting marmalade is exactly what I was hoping for. It will be great on roasted meat, in paninis, on crackers with blue cheese or on pizza and crostini. It's sweet and a bit spicy and full of delicious rosemary flavour.

Vidalia Rosemary Marmalade
adapted from Lucious Caramelized Onion Marmalade

3 slices of bacon
2 tbls olive oil
3 lbs of vidalia onions, peeled and slice thin
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
20 grinds of black pepper
1 bay leaf
the needles from a couple of stalks of rosemary
1 1/2 cup white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup red wine (I used a cab merlot)
1/2 cup rosemary wine syrup (you can just add 1 1/2 cups red wine if you don't have the syrup)
3/4 cup balsamic vinegar

In a large pan or heavy pot over medium heat, cook the bacon until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crispy. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside (or eat it immediately like I did). Add the olive oil, the onions and salt to the pan, mix well and cover.

Let the onions steam until they have given off their water. At that point, remove the lid, add the black pepper, rosemary and the bay leave and start the caramelization process. Don't let them burn while this is happening so that means don't go too far from them. They need to be stirred frequently and babysat until they get all nice and golden and melty. Only then do you add the wine , the sugars and the balsamic vinegar. Now that you have added all of that sugar to the pan, you can't leave it. Keep stirring and babysitting it until it reduces down to a jammy consistency. It's done when you can drag a wooden spoon across the bottom and it leaves a channel that only slowly starts to fill back in. You have to be really patient though because it really takes quite a long time to reduce the jam down but it is really worth it.

Peach Ginger Jam

I have not had one minute to cook anything for the last couple of weeks between working at the Toronto Film Festival, school starting up and life in general. Today, I was gifted with a glorious day off mid festival and so I after yoga, i set off to the grocery store to gets supplies for dinner and found some lovely, Ontario peaches and knew I had to make a little batch of jam with them.

I had been planning to do a plum jam with cinnamon and crystallized ginger but didn't get around to it so I made some peach jam with the ginger instead. I knew I didn't want to bother with pectin and because it was such a small batch, I wouldn't bother with a water bath either. I would keep a jar and give the other jar to The Neighbours. After searching around, I found this recipe for Peach Vanilla Jam on Seasons and Suppers and decided to use it with a couple of tweaks. This recipe only makes a couple medium sized jars or one larger one but I like the idea of making a jar to eat instead of always making a big production out of it.

I will share my little problem with you here - I used two different candy thermometers yesterday because i was so sure it was ready and it wasn't even at 200F yet. The second thermometer had it reach 220F when the first one was still hovering around 218F and even then, I know it was done way before that. My jam was delicious but way too firm. GET A DECENT DIGITAL READ THERMOMETER IF YOU ARE GOING TO MAKE JAM.
I ordered one online right after I finished this batch.

Peach Vanilla Jam with Crystalized Ginger
adapted from Peach Vanilla Jam

2 lbs of fresh peaches, peeled and chopped (you will get about 2 cups)
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 vanilla bean, scraped
2 tbls finely chopped crystalized ginger
2 tbls lemon juice
pinch salt
1 tsp butter

prep your jars. Since I wasn't processing them, I just threw the two jars i was using into a big pot of boiling water and turned it off and let them sit until I was ready for them.

To get your peaches ready, bring a pot of water to the boil, throw in the peaches and simmer them for a couple of minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon and throw them in a ice water bath or run them under very cold tap water. This will make it possible to just slip the skins off of them. I don't stress out if the odd bit of skin stays on. Then you chop them up into chunks over the bowl so you don't waste any good juices.
Mix the peaches with the sugars, the lemon juice and the vanilla bean and all the stuff you scraped out of it, the lemon juice, salt and butter and then put that into a heavy pot or an enamelled cast iron pot like a le creuset pot (you just wipe that thing clean after and it conducts the heat so evenly that it makes it perfect for jam making).

clip your candy thermometer to the side of your pot (or use a digital thermometer and keep checking it until it reaches 220F). You know there are a million ways to test your jam but it's so much easier to just keep letting it simmer until it reaches 220F so if you want to make jam, get a good thermometer.

Bring it to a boil over med high heat, stirring pretty constantly and then turn it down to med or med low and let it simmer nicely until it reaches 220F. I have never had it reach this gel point in the amount of time that recipes tells me it will happen because it depends on so many factors like humidity, temperature, where you sit regarding sea level. This recipe said ten minutes but it was longer than that. You can also use the cold plate method if you feel more comfortable with that.

When it's finally at gel point, remove your jars from the pot of hot water and ladle the jam into the hot jars. Wipe the rim with a clean, damp cloth to make sure there is no jam on it and put your lid on. At this point, you will have to store it in the fridge after it cools to room temp. You could also put it into freezer containers and freeze it or you could process it in a water bath if wanted to.

Peach, Fig and Raspberry Crisp with Cardamom

I didn't have enough of any one fruit to do any fruit dedicated dessert so I turned to the kitchen sink of desserts again, the crisp. Since I am still all about Indian food after my Big Fat Hindu Wedding weekend, I knew that whatever I did, I would be adding cardamom to it. I needed something to serve after our dinner of Chorizo Sloppy Joes that wouldn't be terribly heavy or overly sweet.

I can't tell you how much I am loving my Alton Brown crumble topping that I have been keeping in the fridge. Even if you only have a cup of fruit, you can turn it into a yummy crumble on a whim and have yourself a little sweet treat in the middle of the afternoon and nobody will ever even have to know.

Peach, Fig and Raspberry Crisp with Cardamom

2 ripe peaches (i didn't bother to skin them) chopped
6 green figs, chopped
about 1 cup of fresh raspberries
juice from half a lemon
the seeds from about 6 cardamom pods, crushed
about 2 tbls brown sugar
about 1/4 cup of crumble topping goes IN the fruit mixture
about 1.5 cups of crumble topping for the top of the crisp

crumble topping:

1 cup flour
2/3 cups sugar
1 cup mixed, chopped nuts ( I did a third each pecans, walnuts and almonds)
1 3/4 cup crushed graham crackers
1/3 cup chopped crystalized ginger
1 stick cold butter, cut into chunks

To make the topping, mix all the dry ingredients together and then work the cold butter in with your hands or a pastry cutter until its all crumbly and pebbly. This will keep in the fridge to use on more crisps, crumbles and something Alton calls a grunt. Whatever.

Preheat the oven to 375F
To assemble the crisp, mix the fruits with the lemon juice, brown sugar and cardamom in a bowl, mix in about 1/4 cup of the crumble topping and then put all of that into baking vessel. It's pretty loosey goosey regarding size of vessel because, frankly, you just need one that fits the volume of fruit you are using and you should follow my recipe loosely. If you want to make one that is a bit smaller, use a bit less fruit and maybe cut down a tad on the sugar and crumble topping that you mix it with the fruit. To make a bit more, you probably don't need to increase anything. It's also nice to make little, individual crisps like I did with my cherries.

Now throw some of the crumble topping over the fruit. Again, I suggested 1 1/2 cups but it's also up to you. Do you like tons of topping? Use more. If you like it really rich, you might even want to cut in a bit more cold butter. You can't screw this thing up.

Bake it for about 35 to 45 minutes until you can see that the juices are bubbling up through the topping around the edges and the topping itself is nicely browned.
Let it sit out at room temp for at least 15 minutes before eating it or you will burn your tongue but it still needs to be warm so that the ice cream you serve with it will get all melty and leave a nice soupy, creamy mess at the very end to slurp up with a spoon.

Tomato, Tomahto - An Honourary Italian for A Day

I can remember helping out our Italian neighbours put up their tomatoes when I was really young in exchange for a couple of jars of sauce. I am pretty sure I didn't do much but I remember wishing my own mangia cake family had these sorts of traditions where all the women would gather together and spend the day working and laughing and doing something together that would benefit everyone at the end of the day.

Now, at least 40 years later, I found myself in a garage with Nona, Signora (the next door neighbour), my friend Lydia and her daughter Patricia (she has been my son's classmate since he was 5). My son helped Lydia's kids wash the neighbour's tomatoes and he helped with some of the heavy lifting but it was clear that this was woman's work and they were sent off to play.

I couldn't wait to dive in and felt kind of guilty that my job started out as the person who scrapes the tomato pulp off of the extraction tube thing on the food mill. That was until I realized that I was actually developing blisters after a couple of hours of scraping non stop. Luckily, I got to switch with Patricia for a while and take over the scooping of the tomatoes from the huge tubs into the bowl of the food mill and squishing it all down with the reamer. Of course, I developed different aliments but they were new and exiting ailments!

The other three had started par boiling and processing their 11 bushels of tomatoes at 5am so by the time I arrived at 10am, they had already started cooking one giant vat of sauce. We didn't finish with the food mill until about 3pm, when we finally did my own three bushels.

I didn't understand much of their banter but I could certainly tell when I was doing something right and when I was doing something wrong. You don't need to speak Italian to know when Nona is not happy with your stirring technique or the way you are manning the scraper. I just kept saying the handful of Italian phrases that I know in my head so I would feel like I was joining in as I scraped, stirred, reamed, hauled, lifted and hosed down tomato juiced vessels. I cannot tell you how enamoured I was of their giant pots, their canoe paddle sized wooden spoon and other over sized pee wee herman like cooking utensils!

Nona's water pitcher held the exact amount needed to fill a large jar
It's not complicated work but it's very hard, messy, labour intensive work and it's certainly a job that is made easier by the size of helping hands that pitch in. It felt like it was 45C in that garage but that didn't seem to phase Nona as she sat right beside a bubbling cauldron of sauce and dipped her pitcher in over and over, her arm reaching deeper into the steaming pot as the level dropped lower with each jar filled.

At the end of the day we had done 13 bushels of tomatoes and  I left with 42 big jars of Nona's famous sauce. The sauce was nice but not as nice as when I was given the ultimate compliment when Nona patted my arm and said "you work hard, you good worker"

I just know there has to be something that can be done with all of this skin/seed stuff

Featured Post

Lobster Fondue Mac with Crispy Bacon and A Giveaway from duBreton

I don't trust people who don't love bacon. Even my friends who don't eat meat will admit that the smell of frying bacon is ...