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The Week In Yum April 19-25 Luckee, Squid Ink, Late Night Tamales and My Big Lentil Win!

It was not only Easter weekend, but the birthday weekend for The Kid so there was a whole lot of eating going on.

The first stop on our birthday weekend culinary extravaganza was a visit to Luckee, Susar Lee's brand spanking new Chinese restaurant in the Soho Metropolitan Hotel on Wellington. You know, I don't think that Susar Lee has ever actually served straight up Chinese food in the city before?

The first time I ate at one of his restaurants was a million years ago at Lotus, his first, tiny restaurant located in an old house downtown. It was the late 80's and I was in my early twenties and knew NOTHING about fine dining. I would save up my pennies, make a reservation for 1, get all dressed up and go there alone to enjoy a meal like nothing I had ever tasted. I had my first taste of lamb at Lotus. I dined alone because nobody I knew would spend that kind of money on dinner and although I didn't really understand what I was eating, I knew it was special and it ended up being the game changer for me. Lotus changed the way I looked at food and what it could be.

Fast forward to 2014, a slew of restaurants under his belt, here and abroad, and it would appear he has come back, full circle, to his Hong Kong culinary roots with Luckee, an upmarket dim sum restaurant and bar located in a fancy pants boutique hotel. Although he is executive chef, he has assembled a rock star kitchen crew, even bringing over a master dim sum chef from Hong Kong with decades of experience. This is NOT Rol San on Spadina people.

a complimentary salad of cucumber, tofu skin and wood ear mushroom was so good we were fighting over it

You know, I have been eating down and dirty, cheap dim sum for so long that I had forgotten what a perfectly executed har gow can taste like. I had a Chinese friend who always ordered har gow and sui mai first at a new restaurant because if they can't make those properly, there is no point in going any further and I always keep that advice in the back of my mind. It wasn't until we got home that we realized that we never got our sui mai but if the har gow (shrimp dumplings) are any indication, this might be the best dim sum I have ever had.

 Lobster dumplings, fish dumplings and the har gow were all absolutely perfect. They were light and soft and fresh with a lovely, thin rice dough that melted in your mouth but the highlight, for me, was the shrimp cheung fun. These crazy little rolls of shrimp, wrapped in a super thin layer of something very crispy that I mistook for a fried chinese donut roll and then a final wrap of delicate rice noodle are eaten bathed in a soy based sweet sauce. At most dim sum joints, this dish can be oily and heavy, the rice noodle too thick and chewy - not that this stops me from ordering it every single time, of course, but like I said, you get used to just okay dim sum if you eat it long enough. I dont' know what that layer of crisp was but it sent me over the edge and I think I might have embarrassed myself a little bit so I apologize in advance for my behaviour on my next visit.

The other dish that will keep me up at night was the wok fried green beans. Don't let this pedestrian sounding name fool you, these babies are killer beans, wok fried with preserved olive and beautiful big chunks of red chili that don't knock you out with heat but are full of flavour instead. I am already fantasizing about going there for a late night snack of green beans with a cocktail at the beautiful bar.

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The decor is perfect - it's got a fun, old timey feeling with faded wall murals, old fashioned graphics and  nice industrial touches like the asian looking cement blocks give it a downtown vibe.I have not been at night but in the daytime, it is bright and sunny with equally bright and sunny servers. On the weekend there is cart service with a few items offered but it's not quite the same grabbing your sticky rice off of a cart being pushed around by an attractive young waiter when you are used to being ignored by crusty old ladies who are so convinced that you will not want their chicken feet that they refuse to stop at your table, forcing you to chase them down with your little paper clutched in your hot little hands. It's not that it's not a nice touch, it's just kind of weird.
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You will also have to get over the prices, while we are at it. Our dim sum bill was about 3X what a similar meal would cost at a place like Rol San or Perfect but it was also more than 3X better so I am happy to pay for what I am getting. The tea for two and two pops came to $13 which is about 1/3 of the bill of our entire meal at a cheaper place but, again, it was a huge pot of really good black tea.

sticky rice off of the cart
We are not going to stop going to Perfect for our down and dirty, volume first dim sum but we are certainly going to add Luckee to the rotation for a monthly treat of truly excellent food. I am looking forward to our evening visit so that we can have the Luckee Duck, those green beans and some other items off of the non dim sum menu. The menu, by the way, is not long but it reads like Chef Lee took the greatest hits of Chinese food as we know it but executed each one perfectly.

Luckee on Urbanspoon

Thanksgiving dinner turned into a bit of comedy when we realized, at 8pm on Saturday evening, that the turkey I just took out of the freezer to thaw out was a pre-stuffed PC Normandy butter basted turkey that was to be cooked for a hundred hours from frozen and NOT just a good, old PC Normandy butter basted turkey. I have never cooked a pre stuffed turkey from frozen and although I am sure it is a fine thing to do, we were not willing to conduct that particular experiment on Easter Sunday. This meant a key stone cop like run to Loblaws to pay full price for a fresh turkey that we had to frantically dig for since it seemed like every turkey that was under 18 lbs had been purchased already and I had no desire to pay $60 for a ginormous turkey for the four of us (we had only one dinner guest). In the end, we found a wee 13 lb turkey, dinner was saved, Shack got his precious port gravy and all was right with the world. The real reason I was so keen to make a turkey was my desire to turn the leftovers into turkey tamales, which finally happened mid week.

you see delicious, golden brown turkey and I was just seeing future tamales

Along came Monday and The Kid's birthday, proper. He wanted risotto so I gave him this beautiful squid ink risotto with clams, mussels and squid tentacles. This was his first introduction to squid ink anything and since he loves all food that is kind of out of the ordinary, it was the perfect dish. It takes so little to make him happy and I am thrilled to report that even Shack, my picky non squid loving toddler, loved it. He said that he couldn't taste any squid in the rice at all. He looked surprised despite the fact that I had assured him a hundred times that squid ink really only adds a briny saltiness and beautiful colour to a dish.

as tasty as it is pretty

poor kid just wanted to eat his birthday meal but his father insisted on photographing it for me

again, notice the evil eye of death that I am getting when I am not the one preventing him from eating

Of course, the only thing better than risotto is the arancini that happens the next day. The thing that was different this week was the fact that I put on my big girl panties and deep fried them. I didn't pan fry them or bake them, I DEEP FRIED THEM. In enough oil to submerge them. For reals. Nobody died. In fact, everyone was joyous and merry because they were ridiculously delicious. The recipe for these little babies will up monday but I think we liked the arancini even better than the risotto.

Deep fried. In my kitchen. The house still stands.

Finally, at long last, we get to Wednesday which I had designated as tamale day. I had lovingly scraped all of the fat off of my turkey stock and put it aside for the masa, I had delicious turkey stock waiting (I have started doing the stock overnight in a crockpot after making turkey which is genius and it is embarrassing to me that I didn't figure this out years ago), I had pre made a filling of turkey with ancho chili and had cojita cheese on hand. On Tuesday, Shack drove me downtown to Perola to get a giant bag of corn husks so I was 100% ready to spend a leisurely afternoon making tamales. No rush.

The only thing I had to do first was to pop into both campuses of Avalon Montessori, our magical unicorn school, to snap some photos of the little kids doing their  hop a thon to raise money for The Muscular Dystrophy Association. I really only needed two minutes per school because the casa kids at each campus only hop for 2 minutes. Including the drive between schools and time to account for the fact the corralling a bunch of preschoolers never really goes smoothly, and I should be done in about an hour - hour and a half, tops.

Everything was going swimmingly until I got ready to go to the park with the second class and I was asked if I could hang out with them for their recess after they hop since a couple teachers were out sick and they were severely short handed. Of course I can do that. Once I was out there, I was asked if I could come back in and help with lunch and the next thing I knew, I was listening to little readers and getting in trouble for organizing a sing a long of hits from Frozen and it was 2:30pm!

The hop a thon that disrupted my tamales but preschoolers hopping? Come ON, how cute are they??

Like a crazy person, I started a quick soak of the black beans at 3pm because , why would I just use canned like any other sane person in this case? The corn husks had to soak for an hour or so anyway, so I might as well soak some beans at the same time. Then I realized that there were two hours to kill and I hadn't had my walk (I try to walk at least four or five km a day because I am getting old and it's good for me) and so I might as well take a walk now while the beans and husks soak. By the time I got home from my walk, it was getting kind of late so I started gathering my supplies for the tamales.

If you haven't made tamales, can I ask that when you do (and you should) that you try not to make them alone but if you must, try to make them when you are not rushed and in danger of losing light in your dimly lit dining room where you are going to assemble them? In the end, they turned out really well and I am very happy with them but let's just say that dinner was not ready until almost 9pm and I was not looking very fresh by the time I threw a bowl of delicious black bean soup and a couple of tamales at my kid just in time for bed.
turkey tamales that seemed like a good idea at the time
Thursday Shack wanted to go out and grab a bite because he would be working very late on Friday and wanted to just go and hang out with us. We weren't sure where to go so we walked down to Queen St and I popped into Pippin's Tea to see what was going on with their little party they were throwing to thank the members of the Community Cash Mob. The Cash Mob is a new initiative to promote local businesses and to push the idea of shopping/eating locally to my resistent Beach neighbours. Pippins was serving teatinis and it was pretty packed with people so I was just thinking I would come back later when I felt a tug on my arm, only to turn around and see my buddy and city councillor, Mary Margaret McMahon at my side. It was too crowded and loud to chat so we went outside and Shack and I decided to kidnap MM and her trusty right hand man and sidekick, Laurie and whisked them off to My Place for a cocktail and a snack and to catch up.

the tree and people hugging city councillor who is about to be our second term councillor here in Ward 32 
I was pretty sure that I would have nothing more to add because Friday was looking like a pretty nothing day. Shack left for work and wouldn't be home until late and I was just going to make leftover black bean soup and tamales for The Kid. I was busy doing a bunch of nothing when I checked me email, only to discover.........

My cauliflower wings three ways won the grand prize in the Canadian Lentils recipe contest! Holy Carp! Some of you might recall that last year, my classic dal recipe came in second place in their Love My Lentils recipe contest. I was disappointed only because the first place winner got to fly to Saskatchewan and spend a day with Chef Michael Smith but I certainly put my $500 Amazon gift certificate to good use. I thought that I might have a shot winning in one of the categories but had pretty much written off the chance of winning the grand prize - always a bridesmaid and all that jazz. I am absolutely gobsmacked and thrilled that these tasty little babies brought home the big prize.


Oh, I almost forgot, I am doing my first cooking demo at the Musgrave Loblaws on June 5! Come heckle me!

Pin of the week: I have a matcha week coming up and this is my inspiration

Facebook share of the week: I am ahead of the trend!

Instagram of the week: just so pretty and simple

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