Author Archives: M-Y

Peach ginger crumble – bento friendly!

 

Fall’s bounty is hitting the markets, and yesterday, I found the most beautiful, and absolutely huge, apples and peaches.

Since I was turning on the oven to roast a chicken, I decided to add a baked dessert to the menu too. Fruit crumble is so easy to make, and baking these in individual servings make them very bento (and portion size) friendly!

Apples and cinnamon are natural together. For the peaches? I decided to experiment by adding ginger. Yum yum! It turned out moist and gooey on the bottom, and slightly crunchy on top, with a touch of sweet ginger heat. I might use ginger again as an alternative to the cinnamon that permeates so much fall and winter baking. Although, I’m not sure how it’ll pair with ice cream (one of my recipe books says that apple crumble must be eaten with vanilla icecream – it’s the law!

In this tray, I made six apple crumbles and six peach crumbles (half recipes of each). The measurements below are for full recipes.

Filling for apple crumble:

4 medium sized apples
½ tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp brown sugar
¼ cup currants (optional)
Filling for peach ginger crumble:

4 medium sized peaches
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 tbsp brown sugar
Topping:

¼ cup butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 cup rolled oats
Line cupcake pan with muffin cups. Large cups are better – makes bigger servings Seriously though, small cups will make the serving minuscule!

Peel and core the fruit, and dice into small pieces. Mix well with the rest of the filling ingredients. Spoon into the muffin cups, about 3/4 of way full.

Melt butter, and stir in the sugar. Mix well with the oats and cinnamon. Spoon over the fruit filling in the muffin cups. Press down firmly, and keep filling until it reaches the top (as it bakes, the crumble sinks a little, so next time I’ll try heaping more topping on top.)

Bake at 375 degrees for 35-40 mins.

Bento tip!
This is my bento the next day (chicken, roast potatos, turnips, parsnips, broccoli, and peach crumble).

And for saving to enjoy later, I froze some of the cups in slight wedge shapes, which can easily be thawed and transferred into bento boxes.

LUMA lounge

This restaurant and lounge is on the second floor of the TIFF lightbox, and one of the recent additions to the Oliver and Bonacini restaurant group.

We were here on a warm Friday night for after work drinks. The window bar was the perfect perch for people watching – a calm and air conditioned oasis overlooking the well trodden entertainment strip on King West.

The lounge is modern and sleek, and open to the main TIFF building on one side, and connected to the main restaurant on the other. The little bound hardback menu did not fail to impart a feeling of relaxed luxury, even if just slightly overpriced. That said, cocktails were exquisitely mixed with premium liquors, balancing delicate flavours and bearing whimsical film themed names. And wine was served at the perfect temperature in the most appropriate stem wear.

Appetizers were delicious – the warmed olives burst with flavour, and the lamb meatballs were delightfully curried morsels. Like the drinks, everything was served with attention to detail.

A great place for a drink. Definitely a treat, but not for the every day.

250 King West

http://www.oliverbonacini.com/Luma.aspx

Barque Smokehouse

Meat lovers, rejoice! After nearly a decade’s barrage of vegan and vegetarian joints in the city, we are seeing a carnivore revolution!

My mouth started watering the instant my nose caught a whiff of the smokehouse. At the door, the hostess took my name and number, and after some back and forth and mix-ups, which made me seriously consider finding dinner elsewhere on the Roncy strip, we were seated at the kitchen bar 40 minutes later.

The ambiance was comfortable country chic, like a glammed up version of a ranch grill for us city folk. The food followed suit: good, but with more focus on presentation and frills than necessary. It felt like we were paying more for the décor and the novelty, rather than good, down-to-earth barbeque.

We were served with complementary Q water, sparkling of course (since we had the choice), and a bucket of popcorn. Tantalizing glimpses of the grill made it difficult to focus on the menu. After much deliberation, we ordered the sampler, which gave us the opportunity to try a bit of everything.

The brisket was amazingly melt-in-your-mouth, moist and succulent. The ribs were richly layered with sauce and fell off the bone. And the chicken… meh. Stick with the big meats. The sides were a good complement to the barbeque, but nothing special. We had the caesar salad and corn cobs. The food was served up neatly on a platter with mini tongs, along with three different sauces and a brush for DIY basting.

A decadent meal calls for dessert, and the pecan pie didn’t fail to deliver. I rolled out of the restaurant with mixed reviews tumbling in my head. The verdict: even with the rude hostess and overpriced menu, I’d go back just for another taste of that brisket! And the Q sparkling wasn’t bad either.

299 Roncesvalles Ave

Hibiscus Cafe – salads, soups, crepes, and more!

One of our long standing Kensington Market staples, this little café offers an eclectic mix of vegan soups, salads, and crepes, gluten free baked goods, and dairy free ice cream and smoothies. Far from a wacky alternative health food store, it’s actually a cozy eatery churning out delicious light meals that just happen to be healthful. We’ve watched this place get more and more popular over the years, and although we’ve long lost our claim to the coveted window table, we keep going back just for the food .

My favourite is the mixed salad, which comes in a large bowl with generous scoops of their popular quinoa, lentil, green bean, tofu, carrot, sweet potato (and many other) salads – everything but lettuce! The large salads are also topped with a crispy sweet raw cracker (I wish they sold these in boxes!).

Savory buckwheat crepes come with a variety of fillings. The spinach, mushroom, and mozzarella crepe has a tangy pesto that gives an extra zing.

Soups are thick and heavily herbed – perfect to round out a meal, but not enough to stand out on its own.

The sweets are outstanding, and demonstrate creative experimentation and well thought out flavour combinations (a shout-out to our friend Grace!). The cookies made of rice flour are light and crispy – more wafer than doughy (try the green tea cookie). The non-dairy cream is creamy, and packed with flavour (recommend the black sesame or ginger). And the soy smoothies are lightly sweet and frothy (try strawberry).

Word on the street is that Hibiscus also makes their own soy milk and tofu.

One warning – this place is tiny. If you don’t want to wait for a table while literally hovering over other diners, get there earlier than 1pm. Patience is also required, as service is friendly but can be slow. And the ambiance encourages lingering over a cup of fair trade soy latte.

$15-30 for a meal for two.
238 Augusta Ave.

Lobster bisque

Last night, at a local oyster joint, we were tantalized by the lobster platters arriving at out neighbouring tables. So, we ordered one too! At the end of the meal, having teared into the succulent tail and juicy claws, I asked for the remainder to be packed to-go. Today, that left over lobster was turned into a creamy bisque. It was a bit of an experienment, but I was surprised how easy it was. The lobster broth was surprisingly flavourful, salty and sweetly fishy (in a good way:)

1 left over lobster (head, legs, and whatever shells you have)
1/4 cup celery, diced
1/4 cup carrots, diced
1/4 cup onions, diced
1 tomato, diced
3-4 cup boiling water
splash of sherry or white wine
1 cup fish stock (I used 1/2 tsp of powdered dashi mixed in water)
pinch of thyme
1/4 cup heavy cream
cornstarch
chives, chopped for garnish
salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot, cover left over lobster with hot water, and simmer for 2 hours. (If there is any meat left in the lobster, remove and reserve before boiling). Remove the lobster shells from the broth. Strain the broth if necessary to remove all the bits.

In a fresh pot, sautee celery, carrots, and onion until tender. Toss in thyme and sherry or wine. Then immediately add lobster broth and fish stock, and simmer for 30 mins. Blend well with a handblender and mix in reserved lobster meat, cream, salt and pepper. Thicken with cornstarch if necessary.

Serve with a swirl of cream and garnish with chopped chives. Makes about 6 servings.

Christmas Beef Wellington

One of my favorite traditions (adopted from my in-laws) is preparing a Beef Wellington for Christmas dinner. What is more indulgent than tender beef tenderloin, smothered in pate, mushrooms and onions, and wrapped in flaky puff pastry, then served with all the roast dinner trimmings?

This dish is notoriously finicky to make, and the goal is a beef wellington where all the components are perfectly cooked (meat medium-rare, pate heated through but not soggy, and pastry perfectly browned). Luckily, even not-too-perfect beef wellington tastes great – which is awesome for someone practicing for repeated consistency in beef wellington roasting

This year, I opted to try making individual beef wellington servings. This method makes it easier to suit everyone’s taste for beef roast, from very well-done to very rare. It also makes serving and plating much easier. And who would ever complain about the additional pastry to filling ratio?

Ingredients:

– 1 lb of beef tenderloin, cut into 4 medallions about 1 inch thick (AKA 4 slices of filet mignon)

– chunky pork pate

– 4-5 white mushrooms, sliced

– 1/4 onion, diced

– 1 clove garlic, minced

– 1/2 tbsp butter

– thyme, salt, and pepper

– 1 egg (to make an egg wash)

– cooking oil.

– puff pastry (store- bought or home made. I like to use a rough puff pastry recipe, which can be found online)

Season the beef on all sides with salt and pepper. Then sear on all sides in a pan on high heat (only sear about 1/3 way to desired done-ness. For medium-rare, no more than 30 seconds per side. For well-done, about 1 minute per side). Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, saute mushrooms, onions, butter, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper, until everything is cooked through. I like to cook this slowly until the onions caramelize. Set aside to cool.

Lay out sheets of puff pastry, and cut to size (approximately 4 inches x 6 inches). For each beef wellington, place the beef in the center of the pastry, top with a slice of pate, and then a spoonful of the mushroom mixture. Carefully wrap the pastry around the filling, pinching to seal all sides (I usually do a seam a long the top, and then on both sides). Poke 2-3 holes at the top using a toothpick or fork. Then brush eggwash on top.

Bake at 425 F for 20-25 mins (or until the pastry is golden brown on top).

Pictures above and below: individual beef wellingtons served with roasted root vegetables, brussel sprouts, and a red wine gravy.

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Easy-peasy curry (Japanese curry)

The Japanese adaptation of curry is a mild, creamy, and slightly sweet concoction, with chunks of meat and vegetables swimming in a thick gravy. And, surprisingly, Japanese curry typically comes in a box! Another example of a convenience product for the busy home cook.

Most Asian grocery stores now carry boxes of the instant curry sauce. In each box are cubes of concentrated sauce (in essence a thickened roux). Just add water! Since this is a quick, easy and fail-safe meal to make, I always have a box in my cupboard for emergencies. Although the label says it makes 10 servings, I find that half a box (4-6 cubes) of the instant curry mix is plenty for 6-8 servings.

The curry comes in mild, medium, or hot versions, none of which are really spicy. Meat, potato, carrot and onion are the standard ingredients for a Japanese curry. Since I like my green veggies, I often also add broccoli, bell peppers, and peas. These ingredients add a brightness to an otherwise starchy dish.

Ingredients:

1 chicken breast, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 onion, chopped
1 medium potato, peeled and chopped
1 large carrot, peeled chopped
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
2 cups chopped broccoli
1/2 cup frozen peas
3 – 3.5 cups hot water
4 cubes (half box) of curry sauce mix
2 tbsp cooking oil
Heat the oil in a large pan or pot, and brown the chicken pieces. Add onion, potato, carrot, and pepper and stir fry for 1-2 mins. Add the broccoli and peas. Top with hot water, until everything is just covered. Add the curry sauce cubes and stir gently, until the cubes start to melt. Cover and simmer for 10-15 mins, stirring once midway through. Serve over rice.

Panko Fish

Remember when Shake ‘n Bake was the newest thing? Or those Chicken Tonight commercials? Well, frankly this post really has nothing to do with a dancing chicken… it just came to mind semi-randomly…

I’ve been experimenting with Panko (a Japanese bread-crumb like product). The texture is lighter and more airy than its western counterpart. In North America, panko is often used as tempura batter (which is different than real Japanese tempura) to create a flaky, crispy crust. And since I don’t tend to keep bread crumbs in the house, I thought panko would be a more versatile product to have in the cupboard.

Panko is available in most mainstream supermarkets now (at least, here in Toronto). It’s usually in the “ethnic” aisle, next to the noodles. I also see it freqently by the meat and fish section, next to little tubes of wasabi and jars of pickled ginger (suggestive product placement, I suppose:)

Because panko is delicately crisp, and doesn’t require a lot of oil to cook, it’s perfect for this baked fish recipe.

Ingredients:

2 tilapia fillets, cut lengthwise in half
1 cup of panko
1 tsp oregano
1 tbsp parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
1 tbsp vegetable oil
Pre-heat oven to 375 F. In a large flat-bottomed bowl or a plate, mix the panko, oregano, parmesan, salt and pepper. Drizzle the fish fillets with oil and coat all sides. Then cover each fillet in the panko mixture. (I prefer this technique over tossing in a bag, since it helps the panko stick better, while using less oil.) Lay the fillets on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Top with the remaining panko mixture. Bake for 10 mins, flip over, and then for 10 mins more.

This particular night, I served the fish with portuguese style rice and vegetables. I also made a lemon-dill sauce to go with it. A healthy, tasty meal!

Bento transition: For anyone interested, all the food in the picture above (on the plate), was packed into the lower container in the picture below. Exact same food, and exact same portions (About 1/2 cup of rice, 3 oz of fish, 1/2 cup of vegetables. Also in this bento: carrot sticks, pickled diakon and gherkin, 1/4 slice of swiss roll cake, 2 fingers of bosc pear, 2 cubes of cheese)

Sweet Potato Soup with Rosemary

Sweet potato is one of my favourite foods… it’s good grilled, baked, fried, mashed… and in soups!

I would usually make a curried sweet potato soup, but this time, to (un)spice things up, I decided to turn to the “western” side of my spice rack. I reached for the rosemary, because it has a strong flavour, and theoretically a good replacement for curry or nutmeg.

Two bowls of soup and a cheese bagel later, I decided this recipe would be a keeper. The rosemary paired surprisingly well with ginger, and there was just enough flavour of each to gently infuse the soup without being too overwhelming. The rosemary needles also softened as the soup cooked, and the green flakes were very pretty against the orange sweet potato.

Ingredients:

2 large sweet potatos
1 medium potato
1 sweet onion
2 stalk of celery
1 carrot
3-4 cups of broth
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tbsp of rosemary
1 tbsp chopped ginger
1/2 tbsp paprika
2 tbsp cooking oil
salt and pepper
Peel the sweet potatos, potato, and carrot, and chop roughly into 1/2 inch cubes. Also chop the celery and onion.

In a heated soup pot, sautee the carrot, celery and onion until soft. Add the rosemary, ginger, paprika, sweet potatos, and potato and sautee for 3-4 mins (or until you can smell the rosemary). Add the broth and top up with hot water if necessary. The liquid should cover everything with an inch or two to spare. Cover and simmer for 20-30 mins, or until all the ingredients are soft. Take off heat and blend with immersion blender or in batches with a countertop blender. Stir in milk, and salt and pepper to taste. Makes 7-8 servings.

Macau Baked Coconut Chicken Curry Rice

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I’ve been having the craving for days. So today, I took the plunge… into the guilty pleasure of creamy, gooey, savory baked coconut curry chicken rice.

Originating from Macau, one of the most European-influenced Asian cities, the Chinese name for this dish literally translates into “Portuguese curry chicken”. Although frankly, I’m not sure there’s very much that’s Portuguese about it! Instead, it’s a fusion of European and South Asian ingredients, with a Chinese twist.

My first introduction to this electic dish was at a Hong Kong style casual restaurant. The type of place that served ham sandwiches with milky black tea, congee and salty fried donuts, and vermicelli noodle soup with sliced hot dogs. This particular restaurant apparently specialized in the Macau style baked rice. It came piping hot to the table, the sauce bubbling and slightly browned on top, with the heady smell of coconut cream wafting in the air. And the taste… it was sweet and savory and warm and faintly spicy… I wished I could make the casserole dish bottomless.

Surprisingly, I couldn’t find much about this dish online (or Macau foods in general). Most of the coconut curry recipes were Indian or Thai style. This curry is comparatively much milder and sweeter. There’s also surprisingly no curry powder or chillis, instead it relies on the tumeric to provide colour and slight flavour. When I was in Macau, I also noticed that chorizo, or olives, or pineapple may be added ingredients.

Try it, and you’ll see why it’s a guilty pleasure.

Ingredients:

6 cups of fresh cooked white rice
4 chicken thighs or drumsticks (skinless or boneless optional)
1 carrot,chopped in 1 inch peices
1 potato, chopped in 1 inch peices
1 onion, roughly chopped
1/3 cup frozen peas
1 tomato, cut in small wedges
1 tbsp tumeric
1/2 tbsp paprika
1/2 tbsp thyme
1 tsp chopped ginger
1 tbsp chicken boullion powder
1 can coconut milk
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 tsp sugar
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp corn starch
2 tbsp cooking oil
Season and dredge chicken pieces in cornstarch. Heat oil in a large pan or pot over med-high heat. Toss in the carrot, onion, potato, and thyme, and fry for 4-5 mins. Push to the side of the pan (or set aside) while browning the chicken pieces in the same pan.

Stir in the tumeric, paprika, and ginger and cook for 1-2 mins. Then add the coconut milk, boullion, peas, tomato, sugar, and milk. Cover and simmer for 15-20 mins, or until everything is cooked through. Salt and pepper to taste, then check consistency of the sauce (thicken as necessary).

Set oven to broil on high. In individual serving casserole dishes, layer about 1.5 cups of rice and top with about 2 cups of the curry mixture. Broil for 6-8 mins, until the sauce is bubbly and the top is slighly browned. Makes 4 servings.

(I didn’t have an individual serving casserole dish, so this picture is of a two serving portion. Still tasted just as good;)

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