Friday, February 20, 2015

The Week in Yum - Lentils, Sous Vide, Recipe for Change

So, it's done. Another year, another batch of exciting lentil recipes for the contest over at Canadian Lentils. This year I deep fried them, I roasted them, I turned them into caramel and praline in my attempts to not hide the lentils, but to whip them into submission, force them to break out of their little lentil rut and celebrate them.  All in all, I am pretty exited about all three recipes and encourage you guys to try them out and see how delicious a lentil can be.


Za'atar Scallop on Beet and Lentil Puree in the appetizer category

Caramel K Corn is quite possibly one the tastiest things I have ever concocted and is my "freestyle" entry

So, because it was a jam packed week, I think we will just do a photo roundup:

The week was off to a great start with a Saturday afternoon trip to the Yonge St Galleria for some Korean supplies and, of course, lunch! I still prefer the store at Don Mills and York Mills but this one will do. Shack got a bulgogi rice bowl from Hwanggane Food and I grabbed a bowl of bubbling kimchi stew from the other stall, Wow Korean Restaurant.                                                                                                                                   

There is a third food stall that serves Chinese looking dishes but I am not going all the way to Yonge and Steeles to eat Chinese food from a food court kiosk in a Korean grocery store, you know what I mean?

After the high of Saturday's Korean feast, we sunk to a new low with road dinner at Harvey's. I eat one, maybe two burgers a year and I am already regretting that I allowed one of those burgers to come from Harvey's instead of The Burger Priest or The Wren or something. I apologize to myself.

Monday was family day here in Ontario but it was also the day for our virtual baby shower for fellow blogger, Jan from Family Bites. What in the hell is a virtual shower, you may be askin? It's what happens when a group of bloggers are scattered across the country but would still love to celebrate an occasion so we all make something that we would actually show up with if we could, in fact, gather in someone's living room and celebrate together.

In order to add some counter balance to the delicious, sweet offerings of the other ladies, I decided that I had to do something savoury. My contribution was a virtual platter of these savoury canapes - blue cheese, spicy beets, smoked salmon and toasted za'atar pistachios IS my double chocolate flourless cake with ganache.

I'm sorry but I am about to go on a sous vide tirade so hold on to your hats because this is going to be a perfect cooked, encased in food grade plastic ride. I spent the entire first day doing onsen tomago (fancy pants Japanese term for eggs soft poached in their shell) so that I could figure out the exact temp and time. No more kitchen juggling with thermometers, crock pots, boiling water and ice cubes. God, I love a great gadget.

I finally mastered the falafel. Okay, it's not mastered mastered and I am now going to start perfecting it but, using the recipe in the cookbook Jerusalem, I made a batch of wonderful falafel. No more dicking around with cooked and/or canned chickpeas, trying to bake them to make them healthy. These are made from soaked but uncooked chick peas, passed a couple of times through the meat grinder and DEEP FRIED.
Yes, you heard me. I DEEP FRIED. Nobody died. The house still stands. Go me!

I ended the week with another What's For Dinner cooking demo at Loblaws. Despite the fact that it was -6889F outside, 9 committed women braved the extreme cold and showed up to enjoy a little cooking lesson and left with two new recipes to try out at home.

Happenings and Food Stuff Coming up:

You may have noticed that, once again, I ignored Valentine's Day. Honestly, almost every other food blogger and online food site certainly picks up the slack for me so nobody needs one more recipe for heart shaped chocolate cakes. When The Kid was in elementary school I liked to make it more about him and I always baked treats for school but now that he is no longer a wee tot, making me macaroni VD crafts, I have no use for it and will most likely continue to ignore it. Every day with Shack is Valentine's Day.

Recipe for Change

 It's not too late to score a ticket for this annual gastronomic party in support of Food Share and their innovative school food programs by clicking here and getting off of your fat wallet. Food Share works with communities to not only provide healthy breakfasts and lunches for Toronto children but provides food education, deals with issues of food security, teaches them about growing and preparing fresh food and gives older children kitchen experience - from beekeeping to community gardens and everything in between.

As always, there will be delicious food offerings from 30 Toronto chefs from all walks of the food industry. If that's not enough, 4 wineries and 2 craft beer breweries will help you to forget how damned freezing it is out there.

The event is going down this Thursday from 6pm to 9pm at the St Lawrence Market North Building and I, for one, will be there, eating all of the things (check out this year's menu here ). Silent auctions with prizes like a new GE stove and a trip to Montreal are also on the evening's agenda and it gives a rare opportunity to mingle and chat with all of the chefs while you try some amazing food. Last year I was impressed with the lack of big line ups so that I was truly able to try everything I wanted to taste, which is not always the case with these types of food events.

a photo from last year's event taken right before I scarfed back a couple of these sweet potato gnocchi with wild boar ragu from Le Select Bistro

If you go, look for me - I will be the chick in the black glasses, juggling two glasses of wine and a plate piled with Lamesa's Sisig Lumpia while I attempt to take pictures with my iphone but I won't be able to say much, due to a mouthful of Santo Pecado's Stuffed Pork Loin.

Read my post from last year to learn more about Food Share

Yum Cha: I may not like Valentine's Day but I loooooove Dim Sum so I can get behind Yum Cha , a celebration of dim sum happening this Saturday at 585 Dundas St E from 11am to 4pm. Click that link and get your tickets!

In the Land of Sea and Honey Dinner: On Tuesday, Fat Girl Food Squad in conjunction with Render, a group of feminist food peeps are putting on a four course meal with wine pairings to celebrate women in the kitchen with Chef Charlotte Langley. Tickets are $65 and click here to buy 'em.

Pin of the week: My next big recipe re working inspiration

Instagram of the week: He Needs Food's feed will make you eat your own foot

Facebook share of the week:

Post by The Yum Yum Factor.

Tweet of the week: 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Beluga Za'atar Scallops on Beet and Lentil Puree

I love the way the crispy black beluga lentils mimic caviar 

This is it. This is my final entry for the Lentil Recipe Revelations Challenge and I think it's a doozer. I had made some of this beluga lentil za'atar at the beginning of my recipe development phase and although I wasn't sure what I was going to do with it, I knew they would make an appearance. They are perfect when you want to add a bit of crunch to something and the addition of the za'atar turns the lentils into an actual condiment. I have been sprinkling them on food and eating them straight out of the container for weeks now while I munch and I think. I munch and I think. What to do with these brilliant little black pearls?

I found a beet dip in the cookbook, Jerusalem and fell madly in love with it, making variations of it all the time. How you can not fall in love with anything this delicious that is also so bright and colourful? For this appetizer, I used less yogurt so that it is thicker- more of a proper puree. There is a more pronounced beet flavour and the colour is really intense ( it showed up a few days ago for these canapes  and it is one of my obsessions right now). I am so happy that while the colour really sets off these beautiful, black, shiny beluga lentils, the flavours work beautifully together.

This is the food equivalent of wearing bright pink shoes with your little black dress 
To serve this appetizer, make sure the beet puree is at room temperature and that the lentil puree is either room temperature or a little bit warm. It doesn't need to be hot but nothing on the plate should be cold either.

Everyone needs a real showstopper in their bag of tricks and nothing is better than a showstopper that is actually so much easier to make than it looks. You can make every element of this dish before hand and just sear the scallops and assemble the finished dish just before serving. As always, muss up your hair, dampen your brow and bash some pans around in the kitchen. Nobody has to know that something this pretty can also be this simple to throw together as well. WINNING!

Beluga Za'atar Scallops on Beet and Lentil Puree

Crispy Beluga Za'atar

1/2 cup beluga lentils
vegetable oil for deep frying
2 tbls za'atar

soak the beluga lentils in water for an hour. Drain them well and let them dry on a sheet of paper towel or a clean tea towel while for at least an hour - you want them completely dry.

Heat up some vegetable oil in a small pot (about 1" deep will do) until a lentil sizzles on contact when you drop it in. Drop in your lentils and deep fry them for about 1 minute, remove them with a fine slotted spoon and spread them out on another paper towel. Sprinkle them with za'atar while they are still hot and toss them around. Let cool and put aside. You can make them a week or so in advance and store them in an airtight container.

Beet Puree

1/2 lb of beets (about 3 medium sized beets)
1 clove garlic
1 small thai chili, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 cup plain greek yogurt
1 tbls maple syrup
1 tbls olive oil
1 tbls za'atar

cut the beets into quarters, wrap them securely in foil and roast in a 425F oven for an hour. Remove from the oven, let them sit for a few minutes in the foil and then peel them by running them under cold water while you rub the skin off with your fingers. Set aside (can be made a day or two in advance)

Chop the beets and put them in a food processor along with the garlic, chili and yogurt and puree until smooth. Remove to a bowl and stir in the maple syrup, olive oil and za'atar and set aside. You can make it a couple of days in advance but make sure to bring it to room temperature before making the final dish.

Beluga Lentil Puree

1 cup dried beluga lentils
1 1/3 cup of chicken broth
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp squid ink (optional but it really makes it blacker and prettier)
kosher salt to taste

Put the lentils in a pot with 1 cup of chicken stock and then top up with water until they are covered by at least an inch. Bring to a boil and simmer lightly for 30 minutes. Check from time to time and add a bit of water if they look like they are drying out.

After they are done, drain them, throw them in the food processor with the last 1/3 cup chicken broth, squid ink, cumin, coriander and a pinch of kosher salt and whiz until smooth. Taste and adjust salt if needed. Set aside

8 scallops
kosher salt and fresh black pepper
extra virgin olive oil

To assemble:

Make sure the beet puree is at room temperature and the lentil puree should be at room temperature or just a bit warm.

On each plate, smear a bottom layer of beet puree, then add a dollop of lentil puree in the centre of the beets on each plate.

Heat a frying pan over med high heat until it's very hot. Melt at least a tbls of butter in the pan. Salt and pepper the scallops.

When the pan is very hot (test with a drop of water - it should sizzle immediately) drop in the scallops and sear them for 1 1/2 minute, turn them over and sear on the second side for another 1 1/2 minute.

Remove the scallops with tongs and put two on each plate. Drizzle a little bit of extra virgin olive oil over each scallop - maybe a tsp or so each plate. Make a little mound of the crispy beluga za'atar on top of each scallop and then sprinkle extra around each plate.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Beet and Blue Cheese Canapes

 There is a Family Bites Baby on the way!
Jan, from Family Bites is having a boy - her third, so here's a little something blue for the festivities.

As a group of bloggers, we are scattered across the country so the reality of throwing a proper baby shower where we all sit in a circle on wooden, folding chairs, drink too much white wine and wrap the expectant mommy up in toilet paper are slim to none but that can't stop us from throwing a virtual shower, can it?

When I looked over the list of treats that the other 16 bloggers were making, I realized that it was almost entirely a sugar fest and although I understand that most people would be thrilled with nothing but desserts, I am the weirdo who doesn't really have a big sweet tooth. Where other people go nuts over chocolate, I get all fired up about tiny, crustless tuna sandwiches on white bread and Aunt June's famous devilled eggs. It's not a shower until there is a fancy, little savoury something something on bread so if I am attending this virtual shindig, I'm bringing sammies.

Last week, I did a Crispy Pork Fondue Sandwich using some Tre Stelle Gruyere and Emmental but my next project was to use some cheese from Castello in a recipe as well. In the spirit of killing two birds with one stone, I realized that a virtual baby boy shower was the perfect opportunity to make something using a Castello Blue Cheese. On the off chance, it is a girl (hey, it could happen), the lovely, deep purple beets have that colour theme covered, so however this baby thing plays out, I am covered. I use the Castello crumbled Danish for my blue cheese dip all the time but for this recipe, the Extra Creamy Danish Blue was a better choice for the butter needed for these canapes. It's higher fat content means it blends like a dream, it's smooth and the blue cheese flavour is quite mellow. Despite being a tiny bit spicy, the beet puree is still naturally sweet and the blue cheese butter really creates a beautiful counter balance. Plop a clump of smoked salmon on there and BAM! I think that is where I am supposed to drop the mike. It's like the yin to the beet's yang - it's Harry to the beet's Sally - it's it's spanx to the beet's Oprah, if you will. The only thing that is still up in the air is whether these are little open faced sandwiches or canapes?

So, congrats Jan and all the best to you and your husband,  your two boys and the wee one who will be here any minute!

I was comped my cheese and asked to so something with it if I liked it so I did. I loved it, my opinion is my own. You know the drill.

Beet and Blue Cheese Canapes

you need to use one of those firm, dark german style pumpernickel or rye breads that are sliced very thin but stand up to use as the base

Beet Puree:
*this puree is basically the beet dip from the cookbook, Jerusalem

300g roasted beets, peeled and chopped
1 clove garlic, grated or minced
1/2 small thai chili, seeded and chopped (or to taste)
1/4 cup greek yogurt
1 tbls za'atar
1 tbls maple syrup
1 1/2 tbls extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp kosher

Blue Cheese Butter:

6 tbls soft, salted butter
125 g Castello Extra Creamy Danish Blue Cheese
approx 2 tbls chopped italian parsely


1/4 cup toasted pistachios
1 tbls za'atar
1 tsp maldon salt if you have it, kosher if you don't

appprox 150g smoked salmon

400g package of rye or pumpernickel bread (I used Kasseler Sunfibre Artisan Whole Grain Bread)

another couple of tbls of za'aatar for garnish

You can make the blue cheese butter and the beet puree a day ahead if you like and keep in the fridge but you must bring both back to room temperature before making the canapes.

For the beet puree, put the beets in a food processor with the garlic, the chili and the greek yogurt and process until you have a smooth puree. Scrape it out into a bowl and stir in the za'atar, maple syrup, olive oil and maldon salt and set aside.

To make the blue cheese butter, blend the butter, the blue cheese and the parsely together until smooth - I used my mini food processor but, with some elbow grease, you can do it by hand as long as both ingredients are very soft. Set aside (if you made it in advance, make sure to remove it from the fridge and let it come to room temperature so that it's soft and spreadable)

Put the toasted pistachios in a food processor and whiz until the nuts are finely ground. Pour them out into a small bowl and stir in the za'atar and the maldon salt and, when ready to go, put the nuts into a shallow bowl big enough to dip the bread into.

Cut each slice of bread into quarters.

Take the salmon out of the fridge and slice it into small strips.

To assemble:

Spread some of the blue cheese butter on one side of the bread triangles as well as spreading it on the crusty edge of the triangle so it can act as glue for the pistachios. Dip the bread into the nuts, buttered crust edge down, to coat.

When you have done all of the bread like this, add a spoonful of beet puree on each slice and spread it evenly over the top. Top each with a bit of salmon, arrange on a platter and sprinkle a bit more za'atar over all of the them.

Check out the rest of the spread from :

Mardi from eat. live. travel. write made blueberry cheesecake macarons
Julie from Dinner with Julie made lemon tart
Heather from The Tasty Gardener made Cream Puffs with Caramel Cream and Chocolate Pretzel Top
Isabelle from Crumb: A Food Blog made Blackberry Meringue Bars
Jennifer from Seasons and Suppers made Baby Blueberry Beignets
Christina from Strawberries For Supper made Chocolate Madeleines
Aimée from Simple Bites made Roasted Turnip Hummus
Jenny from The Brunette Baker made Wild Blueberry Buttermilk Muffins
Liliana from My Cookbook Addiction made mini-cupcakes
Carole from The Yum Yum Factor made Beet and Blue Cheese Canapes
Charmian from The Messy Baker made Piglet Muffins
Amy from Family Feedbag made Marmalade Cake
Brittany from My Daily Randomness made Caramel + Pumpkin Parfait
Meg from Sweet Twist of Blogging made Carrot Apple Loaf
Louisa from Living Lou made Maple Walnut Cookies
Libby from Libby Roach Photography made Butter Baked Good’s Peanut Butter Sandwich cookie

Robyn from Planet Byn made Milk & Cookies Shooters

Sunday, February 15, 2015

My Newest Weapon in the Kitchen - My FoodSaver Vacuum Sealer and 5 Things I Love About It

mine didn't come with the extra roll or the jar sealer but yours will

Oh Food Saver, sucker of the evil air that causes my food to get freezer burn and go stale, how do I love thee?

I have been coveting some sort of vacuum system for years but my fear of adding another large appliance to my teeny kitchen coupled with so many different systems on the market has meant that I just never actually commit to buying one. Instead, I convinced myself that my home made method of sucking air out of a tiny corner of unzipped ziplock bag with a straw was sufficient, even if it meant have to swallow tiny particles of cookie dust, soup and raw bacon fumes.

My current obsession with getting a sous vide immersion device has put the food vaccum system back on the front burner and lo and behold, the universe heard my whining and an email landed in my inbox asking me if I would be interested in trying out a Food Saver 2-in-1 Vacuum Sealing System.

Why, HELL YES! Yes I would love to try out a FoodSaver!

So, this model costs $219.99 and comes with:

1 11"x10" FoodSaver roll (closed on the sides so you can make custom sized bags)
5 1 quart FoodSaver bags
5 gallon sized FoodSaver zipper bags
1 FoodSaver Bottle Stopper
1 FoodSaver Lunch and Leftover Container
1 FoodSaver 11'x16" Expandable roll
1 FoodSaver Regular Jar Sealer

I spent the first day sucking the air out of everything that wasn't nailed down. The next day, I bought more of the vacuum zip lock bags so that I could store things like cookies and frozen berries without having to worry about freezer burn anymore. You put the food in the zip closure bag, you use the hand held vacuum over the indicated circle on the bag, you hit the accessories button, it sucks the air out and you put the bag in the freezer or the cupboard, depending on what you have put in the bag, of course.


Then, the next time you open the bag to remove something, you zip it shut and use the hand held vacuum to suck the air back out again. Stale food and freezer burn be gone! I will save at least $5 a month in discarded moldy cheddar alone.
Win #1
no more stale cookies, moldy cheese or flat red wine

The next day, we tried our hand at cutting a custom bag and marinating a chunk of flank steak in the bag. It is really easy to cut the plastic on the roll and it's also really easy to seal it up. You just insert the bag into the bottom slot and the machine will catch it, suck it in, seal it and when the seal is complete, spit it back out. Easy peasy.

When you are sealing up a big that is full of liquid, you have to be careful and just vacuum it until the liquid starts to creep up towards the open end of the bag. The instructions suggests that when freezing soups and stews and other saucy foods that you should freeze it until it's pretty solid in a container and then seal it up in a bag to avoid this problem.

To seal up a bag that contains liquid, like our marinated meat, you can use the Pulse Vac button to control the sucking - kind of like pulsing with a food processor. We left the meat in the fridge overnight and grilled it the next day for dinner and it worked like a charm but we still prefer to be able to marinate without making a bag. That meant buying the marinating container so I ordered one of those online. Since I was ordering that anyway, I addedMORE ziplock bags and the regular mason jar attachment (the jar sealer didn't come with mine so I bought one). As far as cutting custom bags off of the roll, it's really easy to do and a great way to freeze meat and seafood, baked goods etc
Win #2

I tried the mason jar attachment and the first of my jars sealed beautifully but the second didn't. I am going to assume that the second jar might have had a small chip in the rim or something because it was the only jar that wouldn't seal. The other two jars of soup sealed up easily so I froze my soup right in the jars. I also used it to seal up all of my dry goods that I have stored in glass mason jars.
with small reservations due to one jar refusing to seal.
Win #3

We used the bottle sealer on a half empty bottle of red wine and I will absolutely buy a couple more of those. I do have a wine sealer sucker thing that you pump but this is much easier to use.
Win #4

my miso ribs marinating just minutes before I threw them in the crock pot

The last thing we tried was the marinating container. Instead of marinating my ribs in the fridge overnight and taking up valuable real estate in there, I used the marinating container in the morning and then cooked them like I always do. It's a 2.25 quart container, so it's perfect for us but it might not be big enough for larger families. You could absolutely marinate your food in a couple of batches though because it's a quick process, taking minutes instead of hours. The machine will make noise while it does it's thing for 30 seconds and then it rests for a few minutes, you get the loud sucking noise for 30 seconds, then quiet for a few minutes for three cycles.
This one was a big win for me for a few reasons:

 $19.99 for this - it feels really sturdy and doubles as a storage container as well

I don't like to waste the plastic bags so if I am not storing or freezing something, I would much prefer to have a reusable container like this to cut down on waste.

It is so much cleaner than marinating in plastic bags. I just poured some marinade in the container, added my ribs, tossed the ribs around in the marinade, pouring more on top and after, I took the ribs out, scraped the excess back into the container and then washed the container out. When I try to do all of the out of a plastic bag, I get marinade everywhere.


The end result was the same as it is if I marinate the meat overnight so I don't have to remember to get everything together before I go to bed. I am getting old and I fall asleep people. I love that I can do it in the morning (if I am slow cooking) or as part of my dinner prep on the day.

click here to check out my first recipe using the quick marinator


I love this thing so much that I have rearranged my tiny counter to make room for it so that I can leave it out for easy access and I have been using it at least once or twice a day.
the handheld vacuum comes apart so you can insert it into the various lid attachments as well as on the zip lock bags

It's easy to figure out, easy to use, I really like the handheld vacuum. The only con to it is that it is loud. When it's actively vacuuming, it makes a racket but it's short lived and worth it.

So, in conclusion, even though I was given this product for free in order to try it out and review it, I would absolutely buy one if I was forced to give it back and I happily ordered and paid for the extra accessories and bags. One of the claims the company makes is that this system will save you up to $2700 a year and at first I kind of smirked at that lofty claim but I actually think I believe it now. I am sold.

 For someone like me, who loves to cook in big batches and freeze small, one serving sized portions for The Kid's lunches and who, until now, avoids saving money by buying meat, etc in bulk because I am afraid the food will go off before I get around to using all of it, this is a godsend. I am actually almost embarrassed that I didn't already own one of these things.

Oh, oh, oh I almost forgot the coolest thing of all! If you are potato chip people, and we are potato chip people, you can seal up your half eaten chip bags if they are the classic, mylar type bags! Not only are we chip people, but SOMEONE in this house likes to leave half eaten bags of chips lying around with the mouths wide open so that by the time I find them in the morning, they are stale and need to be thrown out, but, not anymore.

Just don't vacuum your chips bags or you will crush up all of your chips! 

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Week in Yum Feb 6 - 12 La Cubana leads into Maha's All The Live Long Day

look at how green that falafel is ..... beautiful

Last week I was all about La Cubana, visiting twice in a ten day period which is a pretty big deal for me. I don't venture out the far reaches of the west end just to eat all that often, especially considering that my second visit was on an especially frigid day by transit.

La Cubana

Chorizo Empanada

So, how did this past week start? With a THIRD visit to La Cubana with friends on Sunday night for dinner. My previous two visits were both for lunch for this was my first dinner visit. Although it was great to have some nice wine with my meal, my only complaint is that it is really, really bright and retains that diner feeling which is not always what I want in the evening. During the day, it is bright and cheery and full of sunlight if you sit at the front but there is a bit of a cafeteria feel to it after dark. Now, all that said, the food is so great that I will give it a pass (although I would be more apt to go for dinner if they dimmed the overheads a bit and added a bit of mood lighting).

We shared pretty much all of the small plates on the menu and loved everything. The cod fritters were crispy on the outside, tender and full of creamy potato on the inside. I didn't taste much conch in the conch fritters but they were delicious nonetheless and we ordered more of the Habanero Squid and the Guava BBQ Shortribs. Our server was lovely (she didn't make me feel like a toddler for knocking my glass of red wine over whilst trying to take a photo of those fritters down there) , the food was wonderful, everything is priced so well that you can feel good about ordering one of everything if you go with a bunch of friends. This is not a romantic date night spot unless you like to take the person you are wooing to eat in the caf before calculus. It is one of my favourite, new lunch spots in the city and I have yet to taste anything that did not amuse and delight.

Conch Fritters

I spent most of the week cooking. The previous week saw me concocting a Lentil Praline for this ice cream as my dessert entry for the Lentil Revolutions Recipe Contest and it is really good. This past week, I finally perfected my recipe for Caramel K Corn and entered in the Freestyle category. The "K" is a nod to the addition of a good amount of gochujang, the wonderful, spicy, Korean fermented bean paste that I like to add to all kinds of things.

I think that this caramel corn might be the tastiest thing I have made in a very long time. After the entire batch was almost finished, my favourite part were the dregs at the bottom of the bowl - that is where all of the tiny, crunchy, caramel coated lentils were loitering, with just a few bits of popcorn. I almost want to make another batch with less popcorn and more lentils to see what if I can replicate the magic at the bottom of the empty bag.

Oh Em Gee

More cooking, more recipe tinkering using some cheese I scored courtesy of Tre Stelle resulted in this, a crispy pork sandwiched napped in a nippy cheesy fondue sauce with salsa verde


I have a friend who really likes to try out new foods and when I found out that she had never had much Middle Eastern food, apart from falafels, I knew where I was taking her for our mid week lunch date - Maha's Fine Egyptian Cuisine on Greenwood , just north of Gerrard. I have tried to go a couple of times but it's always so packed that I can't get a table. This week we went a little later, at 1pm and snagged one of the few empty tables in the tiny restaurant. After some amount of agonizing, we settled on the Cairo Platter for me and The Max for my friend. The Max ($8) is like a falafel sandwich on steroids - charred balady bread stuffed with foole, falafel, slices of boiled egg, sweet onion and tehina sauce and it's as messy to eat as it is beautiful to behold.

I, on the other hand, was not so sure about what to choose because I wanted to taste everything. I use Maha's recipe for foole, a hearty stew of fava beans, and knew I had to check out the real deal to see how close I was coming to her dish so that had to happen. I wanted to try the falafel, all of the dips, the beets, the chicken......

In the end, I went for the Cairo Classic ($12) because it sounded like the breakfast I ate every morning in Jordan and I have been jonsing lately. A giant portion of foole, topped with a sliced boiled egg and their homemade feta, a very large, crispy, delicious falafel plopped down in the centre and and tons of butter, charred balady bread.

It was very similar to what I ate in Jordan but different at the same time. When we were in Aqaba, the food was very influenced by the cuisine of nearby Egypt and I was told that much of the kitchen staff in the restaurants there were, in fact, Egyptian. Instead of za'aatar, Maha's has the equally addictive dokka, a mixture of toasted sesame seeds, nuts and spices and an amazing preserved lemony hot sauce that I not only covered my eggs in but took home with me, where I have proceeded to enjoy on everything. In Jordan, the foole comes with all sorts of little bowls and bottles of things you can add to your foole but the foole, itself, is the same.

We started off the festivities with a Honey Cardamom Latte

Okay, the very next day, I had to work with two of my favourite women from 7am until 10:30 am so what else do you do when your work day ends before lunch? You take them to Maha's for brunch!
This meant that I visited the same restaurant TWICE in under 24 hours. I am not sure if that makes me fabulous or pathetic but I don't care.

Because I returned with back up, it meant we could order tons of food. As it turns out, one of my companions, Ivy Lam, is the wife of Craig Wong from Patois. Craig's former sous chef is the best friend of Maha's daughter's boyfriend and now works at Maha's. Patois and Maha's are both featured on almost every "best brunch in TO" list going AND, if that wasn't coincidental enough, both women share a vet! The world is a very small place.

So, because there was three of us and we were very, very hungry, we ordered the chef's appetizer platter ($17) and a second, off menu platter that contained more falafel (you can never have too many falafels) , Maha's version of Shashuka and Batsurma scramble.

The app platter hit all of the top favourites:
hummas, babaganoush, olives, stewed eggplant, roasted beets, more dokka with olive oil, feta and lots of bread to whet our appetites and then the second platter provided the eggy filler that left me stuffed but not uncomfortably so. In fact, I didn't eat anything for the rest of the day and when The Kid came into my room at 11pm to ask me if there was anything for dinner as I was just about to nod off, I still didn't feel hungry and told him to go and make some peanut butter toast and I would take care of him in the morning.

It's not that I don't enjoy fine dining but my true loves are the restaurants like this where the food is cooked with love and served by people who are truly invested in my experience. Sometimes, those two things happen at the same time in a restaurant but most of the time, it's the small, family run places like Maha's where you see mom, daughter and son working side by side, wanting to share their passion with you. Thankfully, this place is 7 minute streetcar ride and a nice walk once the weather is nicer (which also means I can eat more).

Pin of the week: Shameless pin whoring of my lentil caramel corn lol

Instagram of the week: There are two more days left for The Wren's Burger Week!

Facebook share of the week:

Post by The Yum Yum Factor.

Tweet of the week: 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Crispy Pork Fondue Sandwich with Salsa Verde

One of the perks of this gig is that I often get the opportunity to try out all kind of products and  I make it a point to only accept things I already like or am already interested in trying. When I was asked to do something with some Tre Stelle cheese I wasn't about to turn that down, especially with a brand like Tre Stelle, that is a Canadian staple and a product line I already use all the time. Their extra smooth ricotta is almost always in my fridge. I guess I could just eat some and tell you what I think about it but that's not really how I roll, is it?

Ever since enjoying my annual bowl of French Onion Soup from La Papillion after their Souper Bowl fundraiser, I have been craving more ooey, gooey Swiss cheese. As always, there are constantly disjointed ideas festering around in my brain that don't always make sense for ages until that magic moment where it all comes together, usually at the most inconvenient times. This time, I was lying in bed, just about to fall asleep when it hit me:

"I love that fondue sauce on the beef patty at Patois. I wonder how he makes that? You know, a cheese sauce that tastes like a Swiss fondue would also be great on a porchetta sandwich. That would be awesome, I'll just ...zzzzzzz"

And so it starts. Although I make a tasty porchetta sandwich didn't really want to deal with making porchetta - ain't nobody got time for that - but some nice, crispy medallions of pork would do nicely. Okay, pork is figured out. Now, how am I going to tackle the fondue sauce part? It can't be too runny or it will be a hot mess to eat, so just making actual fondue isn't going to work but I really want to taste the nip and tang of the mixture of Gruyere and Emmental and the nice acidic hit of white wine. What to do?

I picked up a bunch of Tre Stelle Gruyere and Emmental and got to work, tried a few different things and this is what I ended up with. Instead of heavy cream, I used evaporated milk which is always my secret weapon when I want thick, creaminess without all the fat. It has just enough white wine in it to give it more fondue like flavour and it's just thick enough that it works as a sauce (it would be fabulous on a burger too. You're welcome.)  The fondue can be held in the fridge and then reheated slowly over a double boiler if you make it ahead of time or want to use up the leftovers for something else.  It does get a tiny bit grainy as it cools but that is actually kind of works for this sandwich, as weird as that sounds. Because the sauce is so rich, I felt like the sandwich needed something bright and acidic with a bit of heat as a counterbalance so I made my usual salsa verde but upped the vinegar and added some jalapeno.

Both cheeses had great, both had good, nutty flavour, they melted beautifully and made for a nice, smooth sauce and the price is right. Tre Stelle has been around for longer than most of us have been alive so there is always a comfort in that kind of brand recognition and I think most of us reach for it without even thinking about it.

Obviously, I received vouchers for my cheese but, as always, I cannot be bought and my opinions are my own. 

Crispy Pork Fondue Sandwich with Salsa Verde

makes 8 sandwiches

2 large pork tenderloins
1/3 cup AP flour
1 tsp kosher salt
fresh black pepper
a glug of olive oil

Fondue Sauce:
1 cup evaporated milk
1/4 cup white wine (I like a pinot grigio)
150g Tre Stelle Gruyere
150g  Tre Stelle Emmental
1 tbls cornstarch
2 tsp grainy mustard (or dijon if you don't want the little seeds)

Salsa Verde:
1/2 cup rough chop italian parsley
1 tbls minced red onion or shallot
1/2 seeded, finely chopped jalapeno pepper (or to taste)
2 tbls white balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
100 ml extra virgin olive oil

For sandwich:
crusty buns, arugula

First make the salsa verde by putting all the ingredients into a food processor and whiz until you have a nice emulsion and set aside.

Next, slice the tenderloin into about 1/2" slices.
Put a sheet of plastic wrap on a cutting board and, one by one, flatten each slice of pork. Place a medallion of pork on 1/3 of the plastic wrap, fold the other side over and bash it until it's quite thin. You can use rolling pin or even a heavy skillet if you don't have a meat pounder. When all of the medallions are pounded out and mounded up on a plate, salt and pepper them and set aside.

Next make the fondue sauce by putting the evaporated milk and the wine in a saucepan over medium heat and start heating it up. Put the shredded cheese in a bowl, sprinkle in the cornstarch and toss until the cheese is evenly coated (i put a lid on my bowl and give it a good shake). Now, add the rest of the fondue ingredients, along with the cheese, and melt, stirring constantly, until you have a smooth cheese sauce.
Turn the heat to very low and cover.

To cook the pork, heat a frying pan over med high and heat up the olive oil. Put the flour, salt and pepper into a shallow bowl and start dredging the pork on one side only. Fry the pork, flour side down, until there is only a tiny bit of pink showing on the top and then flip it for a few seconds and remove to a plate.

Okay, time to make the sandwiches.

Heat up a grill pan, cut the buns in half and start toasting them, cut side down. If you don't have a grill pan, just toast them under the broiler, cut side up, until nicely browned.

Turn the heat up to med low under the fondue sauce and reheat it, stirring constantly with a spatula or wooden spoon.

Put the bottom of a bun down on a plate, pile a few slices of pork on top, cover that with some fondue sauce, add a handful of arugula and finish by drizzling the salsa verde all over the whole thing, add the top of the bun and grab some napkins because this one is messy. If you want GET CRAZY PANTS serve each sandwich with a little bowl of extra, hot fondue sauce to dip it in to.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Red Miso Slow Cooked BBQ Ribs

As the proud owner of a new FoodSaver vacuum sealer (my review will be up soon), I have spent the last week playing around with it and sucking the air out of everything in my path. I had used the zip lock bags, the jar sealer, sealed up potato chip bags, and made a custom bag to marinate some flank steak in as well as using another one to freeze some soup. The only thing left to do with it was to take the quick marinator out for a spin and, as luck would have it, my door on my mini freezer in my basement was left ajar overnight and so a rack of pork side ribs was almost completely thawed out and I had to use them asap.

That decision was made for me, ribs it would be.

I was fancying some sort of miso flavoured meat so I whipped up this marinade, threw the meat and the marinade in the marinator container and let the machine work it's magic. I would usually leave these ribs in the fridge overnight but, to be honest, my fridge is almost always packed and I hate having to move everything around to make room for a big rack of ribs so the idea of getting the same results in under 15 minutes right before they go in the crockpot was very appealing. Remembering to marinate meat the night before is also not really my strong suit and, to be honest, lately I am just happy if I can stay awake long enough to do anything productive between supper time and bedtime.

I am thrilled to report that I couldn't tell the difference between ribs that marinate overnight and these ribs. If you don't have one of these machines, you will just have to suck it up, move all of your junk around to make room for them and do it the night before.

The BBQ sauce was a last minute concoction and is full of flavour, has enough sugar to caramelize beautifully and the gochujang gives it just the slightest hint of heat.

Red Miso Slow BBQCooked Ribs

    serves 4

1 kg pork side ribs

1/3 cup red miso
1/4 cup mirin
1/4 cup sake
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tbls freshly grated ginger (or jarred ginger puree)

BBQ Sauce:
3 tbls red miso
3 tbls gochujang
2 tbls brown rice syrup (or honey or corn syrup)
1 large clove garlic, chopped
1 scallion, chopped
1 tbls sesame seeds
1 tbls sesame oil
1 tbls rice vinegar
2 tbls water

chopped scallion and toasted sesame seeds for serving.

Give your ribs a rinse and dry them off with a paper towel.

Mix all of your marinade ingredients together - use a blender or food processor if you like - I use my magic bullet.

Marinate the ribs overnight in the fridge
I used my FoodSaver Quick Marinating attachment in the morning before I put the meat in the crock pot. If you use the FoodSaver, cut your ribs into chunks that will fit in your container (mine was cut into three pieces), pour the marinade over it and let the FoodSaver work it's magic in a few minutes time.

When it's time to cook them, remove the ribs from the marinade and, with your hand, remove the excess marinade and set the ribs on their edge, meaty side against the walls of the crockpot like this:

Cook on low for 8 hours and walk away.

BBQ sauce

You can make the BBQ sauce up to a couple of days ahead of time. Just put all of the ingredients into a mini food processor if you have one and whiz until smooth. Again, the magic bullet is also perfect for these small batch purees. If you had it in the fridge, take it out at least an hour ahead of time to let it come to room temperature.

Preheat the broiler and position the rack on the second rung down from the top.

When the ribs are done, carefully remove from the crock pot and put them on a parchment lined baking tray (you can also use a baking rack that you sit on top of the parchment lined baking tray if you like). They will be very well done, so they might fall apart a bit.  Brush the ribs with the BBQ sauce and broil until the sauce bubbles up. Brush on another layer of BBQ sauce and repeat another time or two until you get a nice, caramelized coating of sauce.

Serve with chopped scallion and toasted sesame seeds scattered over the top.


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