Indulgences

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I have an inherent fear of consuming a “whole” something. A whole bag of chips, a whole cake, a whole tub of ice cream, a whole pizza. When I go out grocery shopping, rarely do I ever pick up a snack or sweet treat unless I know that it is going to be shared. The only exception is when they come in small packets or portions that I can label “reasonable”. Reasonably fit to consume, reasonably in my range of caloric intake, reasonably nutritious.

A few days ago I found myself in an unreasonable situation when I decided to make a favourite standby crepe recipe. Did I have anyone to share with? No. Was it within my range of caloric intake? No, given that it served 4 people not 1. Was it nutritious? Sure, if you call white flour, sugar and eggs nutritious.

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I hadn’t made this recipe in a long time, and craved the bittersweet edge of homemade caramel. Moreover, I don’t divulge quite often, so a little slip off the wagon wouldn’t be too bad.

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This crepe recipe is from the banks of the wonderful Alton Brown. It is a tender, delicious crepe that is scented with vanilla.

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/crepes-recipe/index.html

You can find the recipe for caramel anywhere online, because they are all prepared the same way. Heat sugar until it caramelizes (never stir the pot to avoid crystallization) and pour in some heavy cream. Instant caramel.

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Snack of the Day

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Foodcapades in oriental grocery stores are awesome. Growing up, it was a tradition that every Saturday morning we would head out to Dragon Centre to purchase fresh fish and items not found in typical grocery stores. I became a pro at telling good fish from bad; checking the gills of the fish to ensure that they were ruby red, observing their eyes for clarity, and poking them to see if their skin was taut and bounced back.

However my favourite part of the entire expedition was running up and down the candy/snack aisle. There was so much magic and mystery surrounding the items in this aisle, and the only way to dismiss that curiosity was to try everything. I always got some sort of treat during our expeditions whether it be haw flakes, pocky sticks, tamarind balls, shrimp chips, or preserved prunes (I was a kid with a wild palate).

One item that has recently become a household favourite once again are these Bin Bin rice crackers. I used to take these to school with me for recess in elementary school. I rediscovered how addictive these crackers were recently when I found myself replacing my whole grain cereal breakfast with four individual packages of these crackers every morning. Eek…I know. They’re just that good folks!

They have a very subtle flavouring of soy, and are the perfect balance between salty, savoury and sweet. Their texture is in between styrofoam and cardboard, but don’t let that turn you off. They are as addictive as snacks can get, and retailing at about $1.50 a package, a perfect snack in this wavering economic climate.

Can I interest you in a Bin Bin cracker?

In Search Of The Perfect Croissant

There are two types of bread that I adore. One of them is  the croissant, which I was exposed to at a very young age. I share with you an anecdote of how my affinity for this flaky, multi-layered delight began.

Among watching cooking shows when I was a kid, I also liked being on television shows. When I was 7 years old and in grade 2, I called into a local Canadian television studio to be on a show called “Video and Arcade Top 10”. I had no clue how to play videogames, and found myself playing  Kirby  with 3 other (male) competitors. What’s important is not the outcome of the game (I lost), but the events that took place in between episodes and commercial breaks.

In between episodes, all the kids would be escorted to the studio audience where their parents sat. To get the crowd going production assistants would play games with us kids while parents watched on. However, my parents caught me being less interested in the games being played and more interested in the croissant the lady a couple of seats down from me was eating. To make the story short, a couple of minutes later a large bag of croissants was placed in front of me. Although the excitement of being on television was quite thrilling, I believe that it was definitely that bag of croissants that made my day. Heck, I think it made my month!

I have had a lot of bad croissants in my life, and only a handful of good ones. So this fall, when I went to Europe, I realized that my quest for the perfect croissant would be fulfilled. I had, within my itinerary, noted all the boulangeries and patisseries I had wanted to go to during my stay. However, what I quickly came to note was that 90% of the croissants that I ate in Paris were out of this world. They were light, flaky, crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, and had a heart stopping buttery aroma. The buttery strands of perfections not only melted in my mouth, but they melted my heart.

One of the best croissants I had during my time in the city was at the world famous ice cream shop Berthillon. They are known to have some of the finest ice creams and are critically acclaimed for their quality of product. In addition to their delectable ice cream sundaes, they serve the most perfect croissant. When tapped one could hear the crack of the croissant as it unveiled the beautiful layered, buttery shards of bread that lay underneath. It was simply divine.

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Another croissant that I happened to pick up while at the train station one morning was at Paul, a boulangerie with locations all across the world. Here I picked up a croissant, and a gourmandise. The gourmandise was made of the same dough as the croissant but was shaped differently and filled with chocolate chips. It made for the perfect breakfast! If only TTC stations were able to fulfill my hunger pangs the same way.

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One of my last boulangerie visits was to the infamous Poilâne. Poilâne is considered an institution in Paris. It is a critically acclaimed bakery, and many restaurants in the city use and serve their bread. The place is so famous that Giada de Laurentiis visited it in an episode of “Tasty Travels” revealing their awe inspiring bread chandelier that they replace every few weeks. They also have an online business that ships out 40 Euro loaves pretty much anywhere across the world. So this place had a lot to live up to when I got there.

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There were a number of things to note about my visit to Poilâne. Firstly, after I placed my order for tarts, croissants, chocolate croissants, and pain au raisin, they rung up a total that was at least 15 Euro more than the total tab…good thing I noticed. Secondly, the girl that was helping me was quite nice but not knowledgeable when it came to the bread and what they were made of. Moreover the fact that she consistently scratched her head and bit her nails made my stomach turn, as she used those same hands to pack my treats. Lastly, and most importantly, those croissants were not the best, as many have claimed them to be.  The croissants were tiny compared to competitors, and they lacked the necessary buttery punch that usual sends me to cloud 9. There is way too much hype surrounding Poilâne.

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Needless to say, with the exception of my Poilâne experience, I was pretty satisfied with my croissant encounters when I packed up and flew back to Toronto. My only plaguing fear was how I was going to fulfill my desire for proper croissants when I got back.

Fortunately for me, through a lot of research, I found a lovely bakery around the Bayview/Eglinton area that was known to make Parisian inspired delights. When I sunk my teeth into a croissant at Rahier, I immediately knew that this was a product I could thrive off of until my next visit to Paris. At $1.50 each, these croissants are worth every penny. They also prepare excellent baguettes, cakes, and tarts that come close to rivalling their French counterparts.

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The next time you are in the Bayview/Eglinton area check out Rahier. You’ll be in for a “treat”.

Fish (Shrimp) Tacos

Name one place in Toronto that serves fish tacos like they do in California, and you’ve found yourself a new best friend. Don’t bother pointing me to Burrito Boys, because they make fish burritos, not tacos. And come on, no matter what sort of meat you put into one of those burritos, they all turn out tasting the same.

While I wait for that miracle to happen, I thought I’d give a go at making these lovely fold-over parcels myself. The ingredients are simple, and you can find most of the help you need from your pantry. I love meals like this, because they are fast and very fulfilling.

1. Marinate 1/2 lb of peeled and deveined shrimp (or any firm white fish)  in 1/4 cup of milk, 1 tsp cayenne, 1 tbsp hot sauce, 1 tbsp dijon, 1 tsp salt for 1 hour in the fridge

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2. Julienne 2 cups of green cabbage, 1/2 a large red onion, and 1/8 cup of coriander

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3. Combine 1/4 cup mayonnaise, 1 tbsp lemon juice, 1tbsp dijon mustard, 1tbsp sugar (or honey), 1 tbsp hot sauce (add more if you like it spicy) and 1/4 tsp salt to make dressing

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4.  Dress slaw and allow to sit

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5. Combine 1/4 cup white flour, 1/8 cup cornmeal, 1 tsp thyme, 1 tsp oregano, 1 tsp paprika, 1 tsp cayenne, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper in a large dish

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6. Dredge marinated shrimp in coating

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7. Deep fry for 2 minutes at 350 degrees Celsius allowing shrimp to turn golden. Drain on paper towel.

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8. Heat tortillas in a dry pan until warm and toasted on both sides

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9. Fold tortilla in half and fill with sliced shrimp and slaw. Serve with sour cream and a wedge of lime on the side.

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Enjoy!

Turkey, Stuffing, Gravy, Oh My!

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If there is one thing that is a must for me, it’s a lovely holiday meal. It doesn’t matter how busy one is with their career, work, or running around with the kids, when the holidays roll around, it’s time to put a proper meal on the table.

Turkey is as traditional as it gets when it comes to Thanksgiving and Christmas, although Roast Hams, and Legs of Lamb are often substituted. I love working with turkey, but can’t stand purchasing a whole one. Can you imagine all the turkey that would be left over? All those turkey sandwiches, soups, stews, salads, quesadillas?  I can’t force feed turkey to myself for weeks on end, and I don’t recommend you do either. My simple solution is to purchase turkey breast.

Many of you will argue that you prefer dark meat, and I don’t blame you. It is a lot more flavourful. However, I come from the school of thought that if prepared properly, a slice of turkey breast can be as juicy, tender, and succulent. At the end of the day, it’s all about technique. Nonetheless, if you’re a stickler for dark meat, turkey drumsticks are sold on their lonesome as well.

Butter basted turkey is boring to me. I mean, you’re going through all this effort to put a memorable meal on the table, you might as well go the extra mile. I season my turkey with a variety of herbs, olive oil, and seasonings and marinate it over night so that the flavours permeate the meat.

I roast the turkey in a pan with seasonal vegetables. This year I opted for sweet potatoes. They caramelize in the oven while your bird cooks, and soak up the juices and fat let out by the turkey. As sides, I prepare mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and a lovely gravy flavoured by the turkey juices collected in the pan after baking. Please, please, please…if cranberries are in season, do take the 5 minutes necessary to make fresh cranberry sauce. There is nothing like it.  The sweet and sour tang of fresh cranberry sauce trumps tinned cranberry sauce any day, and your efforts will be validated by the smiles of satisfaction around the table.

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Easter is around the corner, and it’s almost time for that holiday meal. Time to pull out those roasting pans once again!

I Challenge You to a Duel

Vietnamese cuisine is one of my favourites. As such, over the years I’ve tried to recreate it at home. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t eat certain things at Vietnamese restaurants anymore, because I like my home made version better.

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So I challenge you to a Bun Thit Nuong (Cold Vermicelli Salad with Grilled Pork) challenge. The video will explain 🙂

Smoke’s Poutinerie

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I was intrigued a few weeks ago when I found out that a restaurant dedicated to serving poutine and poutine only had opened up on Adelaide. I am not embarrassed to admit that my first exposure to poutine was at KFC several years ago. Don’t even think of giving me the eyebrow, because I know that you know how amazingly heavenly that thick, greasy gravy is.

Of course I was intrigued by the idea, and after watching a spot they did on one of those daytime shows on CBC, I thought I’d head down.

The location is in the entertainment district at University and Adelaide, and literally hovers over the after-club munchies capital of the world, Burrito Boys.

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The space is decorated in a retro-modern diner theme, hosting only a handful of tables and some bar like sitting areas. Smoke’s boasts 4 types of gravy, and topping combinations that remind me of my experience at Pink’s Hot Dog Stand in Los Angeles.

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I ordered the pulled pork poutine and was overwhelmed by the quantity of spuds that was placed before me. Kudos to Smoke’s for successfully preparing pulled pork that was succulent and tender.  I found the fries to be slightly too greasy, and their vegetarian gravy to be to sweet. The cheese curds that they use took quite some time to melt. However take-out customers will be able to experience cheesy strands of melted goodness before they reach their office desks, as the cheese has time to heat through.

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Would I go back? At this point no. Smoke’s has only been around for 3 months, they still have some kinks that they need to work out in their recipe. Top my KFC poutine with their pulled pork, and we’re in business!