What are we doing for lunch today?

"Come on guys, it's Friday. Let's go to Upstairs" - T. Koop

Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Time to get back on the crispy beef train!

I decided to make some coleslaw since I still had half a head of cabbage left from the borscht. This is more of a sour coleslaw than a creamy slaw. Started by shredding the cabbage
I want to say that I julienned this Granny Smith apple, but actually I just chopped it.
I made a dressing with (left to right) about two tablespoons of sugar, two tablespoons of mayo, about three tablespoons of Dijon, two tablespoons of Sherry vinegar, and about half a cup of olive oil.
I tossed the cabbage and apple in the dressing and added some black pepper, cayenne pepper, and parsley.
Pretty tasty with some Popeye's chicken.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Recipe: Borscht - Gourmet Style

If you're looking for an authentic Russian borscht, well this ain't it. This is a Hong Kong style borscht with the red colour coming from tomato paste instead of beets. The recipe comes from a book by Gigi Wong (Wong Sook Yi), a HK actress who has a few cookbooks out. Unfortunately, I haven't figured out how to get the zing that's in the borscht at the House of Gourmet. Usually, I use an ox-tail for this soup, but this time I tried using a couple of beef shanks, with so-so results.

Here are the ingredients:
1 whole ox tail or 2 beef shanks
1 onion, cut into strips
1 tomato, chunked
2 potatoes, peeled and chunked
1 carrot, peeled and chunked
2 celery stalks, chunked
1/2 of a white or red cabbage, cut into strips
2 bay leaves
small can of tomato paste
couple cloves of garlic
salt, pepper, paprika, cayenne, and other spices to taste

I had all the vegetables cut up the previous day because I had time. This was a good idea except in the case of the potatoes, which got a little brown. I guess a little lemon juice would have fixed that.

I start by scalding the shanks or tail, basically by cooking them in boiling water for about 5 minutes. This gets rid of the little bits and pieces that are stuck to the meat and bone. Also, if you don't do this, you get a brown froth at the top of the soup which needs to be taken away later - I think it's just the blood from the meat and marrow.

In the stock pot where I cook the soup, I sautee the onions and tomato in some olive oil and garlic, for about 5 minutes until the onions get translucent.
Then I add the rest of the veggies, the beef, and about 20 cups of water, and turn the heat up high to boil. Once it's boiling nicely, I cover and turn the heat down to about medium.

I let it go at this high simmer for about three hours. At this point, it smells a lot like the beef and veggie soup at Hello (Miss) Saigon. But we're making borscht, so I hit it up with a can of tomato paste to give it some colour and tanginess.
After adding the tomato paste, I let it simmer for another hour or so before adding some spices to taste. Anyway, here it is:

Tasty! I have to say that the shanks don't give as much depth of flavour to the soup as an ox-tail would. The benefit to the shanks is that the meat is a lot more plentiful and easier to get to. However, the lack of oomph led me to hit this up with a little bit of hot sauce (sriracha!) to fill out the flavour.

By the way, Sriracha is Thai? I always thought it was Vietnamese.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Recipe: Salmon Pasta

This is the usual salmon pasta I make. It's a bit creamy and usually turns out quite well.

The first step is to sautee some of the stuff that will go in the sauce. You can mix it up but I like to put some bacon or proscuitto and basil. In olive oil of course


Once that's done I pour in a little milk, turn it up high so the milk boils:

I use frozen salmon, I thaw it out a bit in the microwave and that lets me slice it really thin, so have that ready:

Then I just add the salmon to the boiling milk, and once it changes colour it's done:

I prefer to put it on long noodles like linguine and I add a bit of grated parmesan.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Valentine's Day Special

Ah, February 14th, my favorite day. Nothing like relaxing with some tasty burritos from Taco Bell, cheap-ass brews and mad bitches on myspace.com :

First up, a Spicy Chicken Burrito -- and of course I insist on spicing it up with my own Mexican hot sauce -- only the best will do!

Next up; Beef and Potato Burrito :

A bean burrito rounded out the power trio.


Later that night I got a craving for black bread and swiss cheese, and to top it off the 24 Hr IGA was closed for the first time since X-mas, so I had to Assbike it to Dominion. I found the bread; but I wasn't about to pay Peruvian nosecandy prices for Emmental so I settled on some Taramosalata -- that's Greek for caviar in some creamy shit.

Preddy good snack.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Recipe: Kale and Potato Soup

I'm on a leafy-greens kick these days, and I'm also on a soup kick, so I decided to try to make some Caldo Verde on the weekend. Usually caldo verde is flavoured with some chorizo sausage, but I couldn't find any at the supermarket on a moment's notice, plus I kind of put the whole thing together on the fly, so I think I'll just refer to it as Kale and Potato soup instead. It certainly doesn't look like the stuff in the picture (which I stole from some restaurant's menu).

I started by dicing up a large sweet onion and putting the stock pot on medium heat. I sauteed up the onion with some olive oil and minced garlic for about 5 minutes, until they got translucent. In the meanwhile, I peeled and cubed 2 medium-sized baking potatoes. Once the onions were done, I dumped the potatoes in and mushed them around for a couple minutes. Then I added about 8 cups of water, turned the heat up to high start the water boiling, then turned the heat down to low, covering and simmering.

In lieu of the chorizo, I had two hot italian sausages which I started frying up at this point. In the meanwhile, I started washing and preparing a couple big bunches of kale (with some help). I ripped the leaves off the stems and cut them into thin slices, and chopped the thinner stems into small chunks, discarding thick stems. By the time this was all done, the potatoes were pretty mushy so I threw the kale stems in.

About 5 minutes after I threw the kale stems in, the sausages were about done so I cut them into about 5mm thick slices. I took an immersion blender and pureed the potatoes and kale, then threw in the sausage slices for about 3 minutes. Then I threw in the kale leaves and let them simmer for another 7 or 8 minutes. Finally, I threw in some chopped parsley to give it some fragrance, and added some salt and pepper to taste.

The soup turned out pretty well. The kale gives a nice crunchiness to the soup, and it tastes very fresh and green too. Next time, I'll mix in a bit of chicken stock for a bit more flavour in the soup itself, 'cause I ended up having to add a decent amount of salt. Also, I don't think the hot italians were a great substitute for the chorizo. If I can't find chorizo in the future, I think I'll try a dry sausage like pepperoni.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Jin Cheng Bakery

We planned to go to House of Gourmet for lunch, but a detour to the bank brought us to the Dundas outlet of Jin Cheng Bakery, a suburban Taiwanese bakery chain. I've been many times to Jin Cheng bakeries in North York and Markham (at Metro Square, or "Little Taipei", Steeles just west of Warden), so seeing this initially didn't faze me. However, we caught sight of a sign advertising lunch specials, which you can't get at the suburban outlets. So we checked it out.
They have a bunch of lunch specials ranging from pork chop to rice-wine chicken to Taiwanese-style meatballs. It's served cafeteria-style, with your choice of three sides, plus soup and rice. You get all this for $5.75 all in.

Amit got this pork roll along with some spicy tofu, turnip, and green bean sides, as well as a shredded pork bun with flaky top. Looked good.
I had Taiwanese-spiced chicken with curry, spicy tofu, and some kind of savoury melon as sides. The chicken, which they call "popcorn chicken" has pepper and spices, but it's not hot. It came fresh from the kitchen though, and it was very good. The curry is almost like a Japanese-style curry - not too spicy but pretty flavourful. The tofu was mildly spicy with a lot of garlic flavour. The tofu flavour really came through, which was nice. The melon was good too. On the rice they put some sauce from a pork and egg stew, which was actaully kind of nice because you could taste the egg flavour. Overall, pretty tasty and a good change of pace from the other places. I'd definitely go again.

Sushi Island and Real Jerk

Saturday I went for what was supposed to be a belated Chinese New Year's eatabration. The theme for the night was supposed to be dirrtay -- so first stop was the Queenshead (at Bathurst + Queen). It's a dingy pit that is supposedly the closest thing in Toronto to an East Village dive. Along with beers we had a rib + wing plate $9.95 incl. fries. Not that good, but an okay snack if you share it.

Somehow Chinatown plans got kiboshed and we went for Sushi Island. SI was PACKED even though weekend prices were in effect. We waited maybe 30 mins for a seat. Making reservations is a good idea if you plan to hit it up on a weekend.

We went for the Tier II menu (everything except nigiri + sashimi), and we made the most of it. Unlike a lot of the sushi places, there is a huge selection of tasty and innovative rolls, so even if you stick to the Tier I Menu (rolls only) you can have a great meal, and in fact some of the best things we had were the rolls (and I'm usually not that big on the rolls).

In the pic you can see the Dragon roll which has avocado on outside and on of the black rice rolls. We also had the crunch roll, rainbow roll (which has fish on the outside like sushi), black diamond, canadian firecracker and others I'm forgetting. From the menu I also tried the fried soft shell crab, grilled eel, grilled squid, beef enoki rolls, octopus salad.

I polished it with a green tea ice cream pancake. It's a thin crepe folded around some green tea ice cream and dressed up a bit. The bill was $105 for 4 including drinks.

Service was insanely fast, especially considering the waitress never wrote down a thing and quality and taste was as good as I've had at way pricier sushi joints. Judging from the demand it's inevitable that either 1) prices will go up or 2) value will go down; if not both. So hit this up while it's still HOTT.

Sunday I was riding around in the city and wanted to hit up a cheap late lunch, and I realized I was close to the Real Jerk. Not only does tha place stand out, but the Real Jerk is well known for sweeping the Eye/Now/Sun polls for the Best Caribbean Restaurant for more than a decade, so I went for it.

Once inside I saw that a cheap item like a roti was $6, and you had to add $4 to make it a "meal" (ie. with rice & peas and coleslaw). Meals were $8-12+, so I bit the bullet and ordered a goat curry ($9).

It was all decent, but nothing special compared to other Caribbean places. The portionwasn't that big, and the rice & peas was good but typical -- so I don't see what the big deal is. I also had a dumpling and a half-pint of ale while waiting. This all would've been fine, but the total was $16.06, or $19 all said and done.

Talk about a hose ...

Considering I had one of the best and most satisfying meals of my life the night before for about $30; this wasn't thrilling. Caribbean places are a bit low on the value -- so maybe this is to be expected -- but there's a Jerk place near my hood on bloor which I should check on which advertises a $4 meal.

Real Jerk is across the street from this place :

Which I might try out next time I'm eating in the area.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Suburban Chinese Food

Many people think that Chinatown is the best place to get authentic Chinese food, with Lee Garden representing the pinnacle of the cuisine. This may have been the case a hundred or even twenty years ago, but in the past few decades ethnic Chinese have moved out to the suburbs - Scarborough, Richmond Hill, and Markham in particular. (This phenomenon isn't restricted to Chinese. For example, it turns out that the best Italian food in the city isn't in Little Italy, but in Woodbine.) In the meantime, (west) Chinatown seems more like Vietnamese town nowadays. While Spadina and Dundas are not completely devoid of decent Chinese food - Asian Legend, New Sky, and Swatow come to mind - the spring rolls and black bean sauce can get a bit overwhelming, even if you manage to avoid General Tso. So in this post I'll introduce a couple of restaurants that I've been to in the past couple of weeks, one which has a permanent spot on the rotation, and one which I just walked into after dropping off my badminton racquet to get strung.

First up is Congee Wong, a restaurant of pretty high standing amongst the people I know here (one guy complained about the grease, but he's just being a Vancouver food snob). It's what's commonly known as a "Congee, Rice Noodle, Noodle, Rice" place (jook fun mein fan) - basically the equivalent of a burger joint or diner maybe. There are several Congee Wong's around the GTA and its environs; we went to the one at Finch and Leslie. We ordered 5 dishes for three of us (clockwise starting from the left):Thai fried rice, Singapore-style Fried Turnip Cake (Sing Chow Chow Lo Bak Goh), Shredded pork Lo Mein (Jah Jeung Lo Mein), Bamboo Fungus and White Fungus Congee (Jook Shun Shuet Yee Jook), and Spicy Squid (Jew Yim Seen Yau). It was way too much food, but the price was right: about $28 before taxes for what ended up being two meals.
The one dish which we almost always get when we go to Congee Wong is the Fried Turnip Cake, especially when we're introducing the place to someone. The turnip cake is cubed and stir fried with egg, shrimp, pork, and some spicy sauce. It's addictive - when Karen's mom ate it, the next day she suggested that we go back for more (we didn't). Naturally, the congee is pretty good here. Bamboo "fungus" is actually the soft interior of a bamboo shoot. It's kind of spongy with a nice crunchy texture. The white fungus is a thin springy mushroom. This congee is pretty light tasting - skip it and go for the pork and preserved egg if you want something more substantial. Thai fried rice is one of these undefined dishes which varies by restaurant. This version was lightly curried with some chicken and chili flakes. Kind of like a fried rice version of Singapore style vermicelli. The lo mein was quite tasty. The sauce is kind of sweet and the pork is almost stewed. It's a standard dish Lo mein is basically the noodles from wonton noodle soup cooked and then taken out of the soup. The fried squid was greasy, salty, and good. Of course, this meal was a grease bomb, but that was expected. We still left very happy.

There's a plaza at the Southeast corner of Hwy 7 and Woodbine called First Markham Place which is lined full of Chinese restaurants. Recently we decided to try a Shanghainese restaurant there called Ding Tai Fung (wonder if it's related to the Din Tai Fung we went to in HK?). We ordered two baskets of soup-filled dumplings, Shanghainese fried noodles, two noodle soup dishes, some spicy tendon, and a roll of fried bread. Here's everything but the noodle soups (I guess you can figure out what's what):
We also had hot and sour noodle soup
and peanut sauce noodle soup (tam tam mein).
We started with the spicy beef tendon and the fried bread. The tendon was cut into little bite-sized pieces and was covered in chili oil and some cilantro. Pretty addictive, but it could have used a bit more spice. The fried bread (ngun see guen) was not the best I've had - it was a bit too greasy. It comes with sweetened, condensed milk for dipping. We had one order of normal soup-filled pork dumplings, and one order of soup-filled crab and pork dumplings. The dumplings were really good, with nice thin skin and lots of liquid. I liked the cheaper normal dumplings than the crab dumplings. With the latter, I felt like the crab kind of overwhelmed everything else about the dumpling. But the others liked it, and I didn't mind. Maybe my tastes run more to the cheap. The noodle dishes, on the other hand, were kind of mediocre. There was nothing wrong with the Shanghainese fried noodles, but they didn't blow my mind either. Shanghainese fried noodles consists of thick noodles which are stir fried with some pork and cabbage. The hot and sour soup was quite tasty, with depth of flavour not usually found in the Chinatown places. As an aside, hot and sour soup is actually a Sichuanese (I think) dish which made its way north to the capitals over the years. Shanghainese places often serve it because to Cantonese people, it's all Northern. In any case, it seems more "right" to be having hot and sour soup here than at a Cantonese restaurant. Anyway, the noodles didn't live up to the standard set by the soup. They were limp and lacked chewiness. The same noodles plagued the peanut noodle soup, but in that case, the soup wasn't up to snuff either. It lacked spice and tasted more like peanut butter mixed with water - kind of boring. I guess the story is to stick to the dumplings and tendon at this place.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Hong Kong Days 14 and 15 - BBQ, Hokkaido, Mangosteen, and Sandwich

Day 14 - We hit up an upscale BBQ place called Canteen in the expat-rich IFC mall in Central. I'm amazed it took us that long to get to a pork-on type place, but I'm glad we made it. The prices weren't that cheap (after all, it's in a ritzy mall) but it was good. High quality meat with decent-sized portions. Each plate was about $5-6 Canadian.

I had a combo of BBQ duck and a soya-sauce chicken. The duck was very good, nice flavour and crispy skin. The chicken was kind of normal, which is alright with me since I like soya-sauce chicken. I liked the huge ball of ginger-green onion (geung chung) that went with the chicken.

Karen had a 3-meat special with BBQ pork (yummm...), roasted chicken (not much different than the soya-sauce chicken, maybe a bit sweeter on the outside), and red sausage (which wasn't too great - tasted artificial and weird), along with half a salted duck egg. Just a warning: when one encounters half a salted duck egg on a plate, one should not assume, as Karen did, that the egg has been shelled. Unless, of course, a mouthful of shell is your idea of a good time.

Our friend and host had a BBQ pork and roast pork combo. Dunno how the roast pork tasted, but it looked good. I'd get that next time just to try...5 years from now or whatever.
At night we went for dinner at a Japanese restaurant featuring cuisine from the island of Hokkaido, the northern big island of Japan. We had bacon-wrapped tomatoes (a nice but greasy appetizer that you could probably make at home), a nice grilled steak, grilled mackerel (I fuzzed the picture, unfortunately), and two types of tofu: a cold soft tofu (very smooth and tasty) and a tofu steak with cheese and meat sauce, almost like tofu lasagna - nice too, and maybe something to try at home.

We also tried the Hokkaido version of crab congee:
This crab was easier to get at than the crab at the place in Macau, because the shell was thin. But I didn't dig the meat that much as it was somewhat mushy. Also, the congee is, as you can see, a different style with more discernable grains of rice in a broth. It was a bit too salty for my tastes.

We got this sausage because Karen thought it looked ... interesting. It was almost like a European sausage, topped of with a grainy mustard!

We also had a roll of sushi, which was pretty normal. What was cool, though, was the wasabi:
Check out the granularity - this is REAL wasabi grated from an actual horseradish root! A lot stronger and more aromatic than the paste we get in Canada.

Day 15 - our last day in HK. We had a breakfast of oranges and mangosteen. The latter is a fruit that we can't usually get good examples of in Canada. It's a fragrant fruit which is supposed to be eaten after you eat durian, because durian is "hot" (yeet hei) and mangosteen is "cold" (leung) and they balance each other out.

For lunch, we went back to Pacific Place mall, before heading to the airport, to get some Triple O's and this roast beef and brie sandwich:
Not half bad - could have used some more meat though. I like the beef+brie concept.

So that's it, all the food I ate in Hong Kong.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Black History for Five Bucks, plus Burrito Boyz

We went for a 5-buck lunch - for Black History month - at Hart House today. I'll let you check out the menu for yourself:
Here it is:
I think I got a larger-than-average piece of fried chicken. Even so, I was hungry again a few hours later. Overall, the items were pretty good, but somehow they just weren't filling enough. Not enough starch, perhaps. I was looking forward to some collard greens and cheese like they had last year, but unfortunately they didn't come back for an encore.

In the meanwhile, Karen had lunch at Burrito Boyz today. This joint at Peter and Adelaide has been getting some decent reviews and attention recently. Don't know how much different it is from Big Fat Burrito on Augusta. Apparently they offer three (meaty) choices of burrito: steak, chicken, and halibut. Karen had the steak:
Her co-worker had halibut:
I'll let Karen have her say:

The small-sized burrito I got was about 6" long, but packed full of meat. You can choose from your typical lettuce, tomatoes, onions, jalapeno peppers, etc., and the burritos are available with hot sauce, sour cream, and burrito sauce. Guacamole, however, is an extra $0.50

The burrito was very tasty with lots of meat from end to end. The steak was pretty moist, and the flour wrap itself was thin and crusty, but the moistness of the steak by no means soaked through the wrap to make it soft. Ten minutes later, after I walked back to the office, the burrito was still in excellent shape; warm, juicy, and crusty.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Biryani and Da Best Pilipino Bakery

Tried a couple new places today. The first was Exotic Tandoori, a little Pakistani hole in the wall on Charles St just west of Yonge. They have some assorted curries sitting buffet-style in some heaters around the restaurant, but I was there for the biryani.
The biryani is just some spiced rice with a chicken drumstick hidden underneath. They have three levels of spice - regular, medium, and hot. I had a regular which was in fact somewhat spicy, but I think I'd go for the medium next time. I think they just have varying amounts of chili flakes. It didn't come with any raita-like sauce but I picked up a little yogurt from the grocery store, which helped when the rice started getting to be a bit much. Anyway, the guy who brought us, a international student from Calcutta, told me that this was, on the grand scale, a slightly below-average biryani. So what was the big deal? It was $2.50! Not a bad cheap eat.

On our way home tonight, I decided to check out Da Best Pilipino Bakery, a, you guessed it, Filipino bakery I found out about on torontoist. It's a tiny little storefront on Bathurst just north of St. Clair. We ended up getting three bags of goodies, which totaled $3.50.

First up was the ensaymada, a soft brioche-ish bread covered with a sugary butter. This is the small roll - the big roll (at $2.50, a buck-fifty Vietnamese sub more expensive) has some cheese on top as well. It's pretty addictive stuff.

We also bought a bag of Hopia Ube, 4 for $2. The bread is a harder than the ensaymada bread, and the ube (purple yam) filling is sweet and thick. This was pretty tasty but not that addictive - you wouldn't eat all 4 at once.
Finally, we got one of these star-shaped buns which was sugared and buttered on top like the ensaymada, but with a much heavier bread. Alright, but I'd rather eat the ensaymada.
Overall, the baked goods were tasty enough, although they didn't quite measure up to the ones I've had at Goldilocks bakery in Vancouver - I thought the breads might not have been the freshest, which I suspect might be due to low turnover of the huge amount of stock they have. They do have a lot of other breads which aren't topped with sugary goodness - I'll have to try those next time.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Hong Kong Day 13 - Lamma Island and Yak Cheese

Went to Lamma island and walked from one ferry pier, at Sok Kwu Wan, to another, at Yung Shue Wan. We snacked on some Garden wafers for brunch, so we were pretty hungry by the end of the 3.5 hour walk. Unfortunately, we couldn't reach these bananas (I guess they're not exactly ripe, either)
so we stopped by a roadside stand for some tofu dessert (hey, that picture is probably from the same stand!). Despite the general feeling of sketchiness of eating from roadside stalls, I think it was actually pretty clean. Apparently tofu goes bad really easily if it's not clean, so you'd be able to tell whether there was anything wrong with the tofu. So the only thing to worry about would be the cleanliness of the utensils, but those were all disposable - at least I remember that the spoon was. Anyway, the tofu dessert (tofu-fa) was really refreshing and good.

We just missed the ferry back to Hong Kong island, so we killed an hour by going for afternoon tea at one of the many little cafes in Yung Shue Wan. Many of the eateries in that village are opened by expats, although this one wasn't. I think a lot of expats get tired of the crowds in Hong Kong and escape out to the outlying islands for fresher air and a more laid-back lifestyle. In any case, I suppose an expat-run restaurant mightn't have sold these fish sticks and (admittedly pretty good) wedge fries as fish and chips:
Oh well, it was pretty cheap.

At dinner, we went to the Soho area to a Nepalese restaurant. I guess Nepalese food is pretty similar to some Indian cuisine. The food at this restaurant was quite flavourful, but maybe not as strong as the Indian restaurants I've been to. We had a chicken dish (believe it was called Royal Chicken - check the menu) similar to chicken korma - the yellow dish on the left, it was a mild curry with a nutty almond taste. Probably my favourite of the curries. The two red dishes were a lamb dish (khasi-ko bhutuwa?) and a fish dish (macha raja janakpuri?), both only somewhat spicy but still quite nice. I did end up drinking a lot of water despite the lack of heat, but maybe there was a lot of salt in the food as well. Anyway, we also had a vegetable dish (something with asparagus), some saffron rice, and garlic naan.
The drinks are also worth mentioning. There are two interesting teas on the menu: Himalayan Ilam tea and Royal Nepalese tea, both, strangely enough, described by the server as "just normal tea." Well, the Himalayan Ilam tea was pretty normal - similar to a Chinese tea. The Royal Nepalese, on the other hand, was quite different. This milk tea (evaporated milk or maybe a heavy cream) had many different spices infused in, including several strands of saffron floating on top. It was somewhat like a chai tea at an Indian restaurant, except the spices were less aromatic and sweet, and more sharp and spicy.

We had two desserts: a homemade yogurt, the remnants of which you can see on the top left corner of the picture, and some yak cheese. The yogurt was very sweet and aromatic. Not bad. The cheese was alright, somewhat sharp like an older provolone. However, there was a bitter/metallic aftertaste that I didn't dig all that much. I wonder if the cheese has been sitting in their fridge for ages.