Monday, March 30, 2009

Goii Buhng – February 10, 2009

*Warning: I wrote this in many different (read: conflicting) tenses because I couldn’t decide if I wanted to write it up like a recipe or like a story. If you are a stickler for grammar, like I usually am, you might want to skip the text and ogle the food porn. I’m just too lazy and too hungry to edit right now.*

Goii buhng, translated literally from Teochew as “chicken rice,” is something quick and easy I like to make when I’m lazy. When I first introduced this dish to Jimmy, he was blown away by the combination of flavours. There’s spicy ginger, cooling scallions, sweet corn and peas, nutty sesame oil, salty oyster sauce, garlicky garlic oil, and uh, chicken-y shreds of chicken. Whew, I really ran out of adjectives there.

Anyway, most of these flavours are familiar in Chinese cuisine, but it’s really the combination and harmony of all the ingredients that makes this dish so delicious.

I’m not sure if this dish is a hijacked version of Hainanese chicken rice. There are some similarities, but there are enough differences to lead me to believe that they’re two separate dishes.

I started by boiling some chicken thighs in salted water for a couple of hours. I used it as a base for a soup. I then took out the chicken and shredded it, discarding the skin and returning the bones to the pot. Set aside.

While the chicken was boiling, I started making the fried garlic oil. I took half a head of garlic and minced it as finely as my patience would allow. The trick to making awesome fried garlic oil is to have the garlic in minced as evenly as possible. Large chunks of garlic won’t fry properly and will be soggy and gross. I heated up a pan with vegetable oil, and tossed in the garlic. You have to make sure that the pan isn’t too hot, or you will end up with burnt garlic oil. If you do burn it, start over. The burnt taste will ruin your dinner. It’s ready when it’s uniformly golden and wonderfully fragrant. Set aside.

I made a pot of rice. I’ve gotten pretty good at estimating how long each step takes, so I often multitask and have lots of things on-the-go. In our little rice cooker, steamed rice takes about half an hour. I like hot, fluffy rice with this, but you can certainly use some leftover rice, too.

I then started to make the ginger-scallion sauce. I minced a one-inch knob of ginger as finely as possible, and chopped up some green onions. In another pan, I heated up some oil. Once it got hot, I tossed in the ginger and green onions with a sprinkle of salt. This isn’t nearly as finicky as the fried garlic oil, so you can fry it on high heat if you like. It’s ready once you can smell the ginger. I added a teaspoon of sesame oil after removing from the heat because the smell makes my mouth water uncontrollably. Set aside.

In the soup pot, I boiled some frozen peas and corn. It cooks in less than five minutes. Set aside.

I took some oyster sauce from the fridge.

Assembling the dish itself is easy. Here’s where I branch off from how we ate it at home. My parents would give us a plate of rice, and let us put as much or as little of everything on our plate. I liked to mix it all up together so that I could eat every component in every bite. My parents, namely my mum, told me that was garbage food, and that pigs are fed that way. I reluctantly ate everything separately, in alternate bites. At the end of the meal, when I was too full to finish off the plate, I would mix it all up anyways. My parents didn’t care much since it was rarely more than a few bites left.

Without parents around, I get to eat it my way. Muahahahaha! What’s worse is that Jimmy only knows how to eat it my way, since I’m the one who introduced the dish to him. I’m a terrible influence, I know.

I put a little bit of everything in my bowl of rice...

...and mixed it all up!

It looks like crap, but trust me when I say that it’s delicious. Spicy, salty, hearty, and refreshing. Ahhhhhhhh.... Goii buhng is comfort food to the max!

Wordle Fun!

I was just creeping some food blogs and came across this little app called Wordle from Are You Gonna Eat That. It's pretty neat!

This is ours:

Wordle: Tea for Two

I May Have Killed the Cybershot....

*Edit: The flash works sometimes now... strange. It's now more temperamental than it was before! It still gives me a reason to shop for a new camera. I might even pick one up this weekend, with Christine's help!*

My flash has stopped working on the Cybershot. I don't know if I'm happy or sad. Maybe a little bit of both, since this camera has refused to die for four years. Now I get a new camera, so that's a bonus!

Ooooooh, camera shopping!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Korean for Breakfast... Burrr-ning! – February 8, 2009

Jimmy and I have been eating at a little place called Mr. Dumpling every two weeks since the new year. I’m not sure what it is, but although I first sampled Korean food in my second year of university aaaaaaaaaaaages ago, something about the food tastes like home. With burning added.

Anyway, I forgot to take pictures while we were eating, so these are pictures of the leftovers. It’s suggested that you NOT eat super spicy dduk for breakfast. I almost died while I was eating it and again about 15 minutes afterwards.

This stuff looks mean.

It’s wonderful stuff, though. Basically, it consists of onions, green onions, sliced fish cake, and dduk (rice noodle logs) simmered in angry red pepper sauce (gochujang). Wow, it’s like the awesome-est thing I’ve ever eaten! I guess I say that a lot, but really, this stuff is addictive!

It’s spicy and chewy and salty and soft and it makes my mouth burn for at least an hour afterwards. I’m a pretty big coward when it comes to spicy foods, and I craaaaaaaave this dish.

So I ate it up for breakfast and paid dearly for it with major heartburn and indigestion. But man, it was so worth it.

~ * ~

Mr. Dumpling *Cash only!*
424 Princess Street
Kingston, ON
(613) 531-9264

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Glutinous Rice Ball Dessert – February 6, 2009

Since we were too full after eating Chinese New Year dinner, we decided to postpone making this dessert. Unfortunately, my cousin couldn’t come over that night, so Jimmy ate her share.

Jimmy and I call them mochi balls, though we both know that they really aren’t. Mochi is made by pounding glutinous rice over and over again. This dessert, tangyuan, simply uses glutinous rice flour and water to create the little dumplings.

Basically, you mix enough water into the flour for it to stick together and roll into a ball. Then you break off little bits, a little larger than the size of your thumb nail, and roll them into balls. Plop these little buggers into a pot of boiling water, and scoop them out when they’ve floated to the surface.

The liquid the balls are sitting in is made of simple syrup—one part water and one part sugar. In my family, we like to add some slices of ginger while the syrup is simmering.

You can eat it cold or hot. Both ways are delicious!

Chinese New Year in Kingston – January 26, 2009

*This is what a REAL Chinese New Year spread looks like.*

In my rush to catch up on my posts, I realized suddenly that I forgot about this set of photos.

Starting clockwise from top-left: fried chow mein, chopped green onions and cilantro for garnishing, sliced garlic and soy sauce for dipping dumplings, fried rice, broccoli-carrot-baby corn stir fry, bottle of oyster sauce, boiled dumplings, pan-fried dumplings, straw mushrooms-baby corn-celery stir fry, and bottle of soy sauce.

~ * ~

Chow Mein

1 package chow mein noodles
2 tbsp vegetable oil
½ medium onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tbsp oyster sauce

I boiled a package of chow mein noodles until it was tender. I drained it and set it aside. In a large pan, heat up the vegetable oil on medium. Toss in the garlic and onion, and fry until it starts becoming fragrant. Then add in the drained noodles and constantly mix it around for five minutes on high heat. Continue to fry the noodles until some parts get toasted and brown. Add the oyster sauce and stir vigorously. Garnish with chopped cilantro and green onions.

The chow mein is pretty simple to make, and yet, I still managed to mess it up. The limited size of the stove (three small burners and only one large one) made it difficult to multitask the way I can on a full-sized stove. I cooked the noodles for far too long, and they became a soggy, sticky mess when I tried to fry it. I’ll have to do them in much smaller batches next time. Also, you’re actually supposed to fry it with chopped garlic chives and bean sprouts, but I forgot to buy them when I went grocery shopping that weekend.

~ * ~


Chopped cilantro and green onions is one of my favourite garnishes because that’s what we use at home when we celebrate occasions like Chinese New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival. Once I add those garnishes, the food makes me a little less homesick.

~ * ~

Garlic and Soy Sauce Dip

Jimmy grew up eating dumplings—actually, most things, now that I think about it—with soy sauce and chopped garlic. It might be a Taiwanese thing, but I guess I won’t know for sure until I go there.

~ * ~

Fried Rice

I can’t remember what I put in it. I believe I just tossed together whatever I had on hand. From the picture, it looks like corn, peas, eggs, and ground pork.

~ * ~

Broccoli Stir Fry

2 tsp vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large carrot, sliced diagonally
1 head broccoli, chopped into bite-sized pieces
¼ cup baby corn (about half a can), drained and split in half
2 tbsp reserved baby corn water
1 tbsp oyster sauce
Salt to taste

Heat up the oil, and fry the garlic until fragrant. Toss in the carrots, and fry for at least three minutes, until tender. Add the broccoli and baby corn. Fry until they start seeping out water. Add the baby corn water and oyster sauce. Continue to stir fry until all of the vegetables are tender. Salt it to taste, and garnish.

This dish was okay. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad. It needed some sort of punch to it. I think it may have been because I forgot to add chicken. Sadly, the chicken sat in the fridge until the next day.

~ * ~

Boiled and Fried Dumplings

No recipe for these, since they didn’t turn out as planned at all. I accidentally used a bottle of pepper-salt instead of just pepper. The pepper-salt also had other spices in it, so it changed the flavour completely. They were far too salty, and had a weird clove-like smell. We ate them all anyways.

We boiled the dumplings first, and then pan-fried them. Despite the weird taste, there was only a small container left over.

~ * ~

Straw Mushroom and Baby Corn Stir Fry

2 tsp vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup sliced onions
1 can straw mushrooms, drained
2 stalks celery, sliced (about ¼ cup)
¼ cup baby corn (about half a can), drained and split in half
2 tbsp reserved baby corn water
1 tbsp oyster sauce
Salt to taste

Heat up the oil, and fry the garlic until fragrant. Toss in the onions. Once the onions start to brown, add the vegetables. Fry until they start seeping out water. Add the baby corn water and oyster sauce. Salt it to taste, and garnish.

I wasn’t too crazy about this dish either. I really should have sliced the mushrooms in half, but I forgot. This tasted much better the next day, after re-heating it on the stove.

~ * ~

We also had some daikon and napa cabbage soup. I’m not going to bother with a recipe, since I just tossed stuff in.

Chicken legs or thighs, bone in and skin on
Daikon, chopped
Carrots, chopped
Fried shrimp balls, cut in half
Fish balls, cut in half
Dried shrimp
Dried daikon

I started the soup the night before, so that I could skim off any excess fat after taking it out of the fridge. In my rush, I forgot to skim it all off before I tossed the vegetables and the rest of the ingredients into the soup. Crap. That’s why you see a whoooooooooooole lotta oil on the soup. We kinda forgot about the soup until halfway through the meal, so Jimmy was the only one who really ate it.

This was actually my first attempt at trying to make it like my grandmother, and it actually tasted right! I was so proud, but too full to eat it that night. I ate it the next day with a heaping bowl of steamed rice, and it felt like home.

~ * ~

After all of this food, we were all too full to make glutinous rice balls for dessert. We made it a few days later, so I’ll make a separate post.

Next year, I’m definitely going to prep all of the vegetables and stuff in advance. It gets far too hectic trying to cook three things at once, while cutting up vegetables for another dish. It was nice that I had my cousin come over to help cook. I only wish I had more family over and a much bigger kitchen!

Improvements Ahead!

I recently got Photoshop Elements 7.0, so my pictures will finally have some sort of editing. It won't make up for my crappy cameras (ROKR, Cybershot), but at least I can fake some nice pictures. Muahahahaha!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Craving Pizza!

I'm so glad the week is over. I didn't have the greatest week so I'm looking forward to taking it easy this weekend. Earlier this week, I've been craving pizza that's been cooked in a wood burning oven. I blame Serious Eats - Slice to be more specific! To tell you the truth, as of this moment, I have never had pizza cooked in that way. I've always wanted to, but to my knowledge, there was never a pizzeria in Ottawa that did that. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

(Edit: Apparently, there's been a place serving Neapolitan-style pizzas in Ottawa for about 5 years now. It's called Forno Antico. Read up on what the guys at Pizza Ottawa think here. Thanks for the info Jim, at Pizza Ottawa)

I've done a bit of researching, online of course, and came up with a handful of places (here in Toronto) that I want to visit. Libretto, Terroni and Trio (in Toronto) are three establishments that were mentioned multiple times as the best places serving these works of art (I'm referring to pizza pies, if you skimmed through this post). My goal is to go to one of these places within the next few months and see if I can handle the "real" pizza pies, as opposed to the thicker Ottawa-style pizzas that are loaded with toppings and cheese - Lorenzo's and Gabriel Pizza (both found in Ottawa). The thin crust pizzas, cooked in less than 3 minutes in a wood-burning oven, with a couple of burnt spots on the crust, of places like Libretto look so different from what I've been raised up on. [Update: I've experienced the beautiful pizzas at Libretto!]

The pizzas I'm used to have thicker crusts and bottoms. They have a thicker sauce with yummy herbs, and there's usually a thick layer of cheese - only good when it's really hot (so it's gooey). Here's the original picture of a pizza I shared with a couple of friends when we went to Gabriel's Pizza before a hockey game (with the added water mark). One of the better pizza places in Ottawa, cause it tasted a lot like Lorenzo's. Hahaa! This is a typical pizza from Ottawa.

This is the picture after a bit of tweaking in photoshop. This looks so much better on my laptop. Damn jpegs and their lossiness (as my Theory teacher would say). No yellow colour cast to it... this is the pizza's "true tone" as another of my teachers would say. Heh. =P 

Looking back at most of the pictures we've posted on the blog has bothered me. There's always something wrong with it. Too dark, too bright, blurry, colour cast, etc. Bah!

It's too bad the Joe's Pizza by the Coliseum (on Carling) changed their pizza dough. The last time I ordered delivery, I swear, the dough they use tasted and looked like the pizza shells you get at the grocery stores. The pizza was perfectly round and didn't look like their typical homemade pizza dough. I called them to let them know that I was disappointed and that the look and taste of the dough was uncannily like the pizza shells you can buy. They claimed that they still make their dough. And you know what? I remember ordering delivery from the Lorenzo's pizza (beside Joe's), and I swear Lorenzo had used the same flat dough. Not very happy.

Hmm.. I wonder if I can buy a jar of Joe's Pizza pizza sauce, cause their sauce is amazing... one reason is because we used to order pizza from there all the time when we were younger and because the elementary school used to get their pizza from there (on pizza days). Mmmkay, enough with that little blurb.

If you have any other places that serve awesome pizzas, please let me know. But I warn you that I won't take suggestions like Pizza Pizza (gross!), Pizza Hut (grease-tastic!) and other larger pizza chains, very seriously.

I'll leave you with a shot I did for my commercial catalogue class. The theme was technology. A lot of people shot their iPods.. kinda boring, but whatever.. (I don't own one, so maybe that's why I'm not into iPods)... The idea behind my shot is that it's a red carpet movie night. You've invited friends over, you have drinks in the fridge, prepared some snacks (maybe even ordered pizza) and, of course, you have a couple of bags of popcorn ready. Whatcha think?

~ Christine

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Pho 88

(It's 2 am and I think I'm still recovering from my food coma. Please forgive the stretched water marks. I wanted to change it up a bit and I felt like stretching them vertically, okay? Mmkay.)

I went to Chinatown with my Chinatown sidekick, Ben, again. But this time, we were out celebrating his election victory for the vice president of Campus Life (North Campus)! Congratulations, once again, Ben! ^___^.

Being the awesome friend I was, I gave him the choice of going to any place for dinner. He chose Pho 88 on Spadina, since our last visit to that place was before the Christmas break. Ben was missing the spring rolls there. I think my mom's spring rolls are the best and I'm sure you'd all think so too, if you were able to try some. Mmm.... Anyway, here are the spring rolls made by Pho 88. I had a small piece and didn't enjoy it that much. I left that part to Ben.
He ordered the pork spring rolls (the one without the shrimp), the vermicelli salad bowl-thing with (more) spring rolls and the pork skewers. It was so funny watching him enjoy the spring rolls. He was excited as I usually am when a plate of my noodles is put in front of me. =)
'V' for victory? Yes... Go Humber!

I ordered the small bowl of pho that had rare beef, well-done beef, and tendons. I wanted to try tendons for some reason, as the last time I had tendons was when my aunt made the red Vietnamese stew-thing that kind of tastes sweet. Yeah, I'll have to ask my aunt what it was called. If I remember correctly, it's something like Gou Nam? Well, that's how we say it. Me thinks I butchered the spelling. Ha! 

So yes, there's my bowl. They gave me two small pieces of tendons. Kinda shitty, but hey, I tried the smaller piece and didn't like it so much, so I guess it wasn't that bad after all. The small piece that I tried was soft and gummy, which was good, but the flavour was kind of off to me. It threw me off a bit, so I left the other piece in the bowl.

We also had ordered a plate of sweet and sour pork to share - Ben's idea. It wasn't very good. Nothing can compare to the sizzling plate we get at the House of Gourmet place. Not only was the pork the battered and deep fried stuff, but they gave us "more sweet and sour than pork", Ben commented. From the pieces of "pork" you can see in the picture below, I think there were another 3 hiding under the green peppers, carrots, onions and sauce.
Ben had the strawberry and banana milkshake to drink while I got the Vietnamese coffee with ice and condensed milk.
Here it is all mixed up. 
Oh, yeah, I forgot to mix the warm/hot coffee with the condensed milk before I added the ice. I hate whenever I forget. Do you guys ever do that? I ended up with a couple of cold, crunchy clumps of condensed milk. Yumm-oh (Rachel Ray style)! The drink itself, though, had a weird taste to it. I kept thinking like lighter fluid, but I know that's really  exaggerating it. It had a slight taste of that really sweet taste. Like... maybe windshield washing fluid (not that I have ever tried it)? Dunno. All I'm saying is that there was something in my iced coffee that shouldn't have been in there.

Another thing that was weird. They were playing Linkin Park songs and punk rock songs (can't remember the band's name) in the restaurant. If you've seen how they decorated this place, you would think they would stick to Vietnamese songs or something. Maybe it's a Friday night thing? It just felt like the choice of music clashed with the decor and the vibe I was getting from the restaurant - that they're trying to serve the sophisticated and successful people in Toronto.

There was another thing that was off - our glasses of ice water tasted like they added a bit of lime juice. Weird, because there was no evidence of any limes in the drink and you would think that they would just put a slice of lime in the water, like some other places do, instead of squirting lime juice. Maybe they just didn't wash their pitchers or glasses properly? I have no clue. I took one sip, stopped, thought about how it go in there, and then asked for the bill. 

What an off night. The bill came to $40 again with tip. It was on the expensive side of things, as I expected, but it's all good. Cheers Ben!


Pho 88
270 Spadina Ave
Toronto, ON

Friday, March 13, 2009

More Noodles and Ham, Cheese & Mayo Buns

So continuing on from my last post, I'm going to be talking about the awesome ham, cheese and mayo buns and my noodles.

Let's start with the ham, cheese and mayo buns since we went to a bakery before the House of Gourmet restaurant.

I don't know when I started to have a liking to these kinds of buns. We used to always go to a Chinese bakery, back when I used to go to Chinese school on Saturday mornings, pick up some buns and then go home. My favourite ones used to be the BBQ pork buns, but I've recently (the past couple of years) had them too many times. That's when I started to try and get into the curry buns, hot dog buns, bacon-green onion-mayo buns, and the ham-cheese-mayo buns.

The combination of the saltiness of the ham, the tang of the mayo and the sweetness of the bread all combine into a very satisfying snack. The cheese just adds that other dimension to it, cause who doesn't like baked cheese? Think lasagna, pizza, casseroles, etc. *Drool*
So we ran to the bakery and picked up some buns, then ran to pick up some banh mi and then ran across the street to the House of Gourmet place for our noodles, stewed beef noodle soup and sizzling plate - the usual. Hahaa!

The bowl of noodle soup came first. My friend and I noticed that they give us as much soup as usual. It was sad, cause I'm starting to like the broth they use, which is funny because the first couple of times I tried it, I thought the broth was nasty. I'm also starting to like the freshly made egg noodles, as I've always been a fan of rice noodles.
Back to the bowl of noodle soup. The chunks of meat we so tender and almost melted in my mouth. The flavours of the simmering liquid that the meat was in reminded me of home, when my mom would make stewed pork with eggs (not sure what the english name of the dish is...).
My Hong Kong styled cold milk tea came soon after.

This combo itself can be a meal for two. I'm not sure if you can see how large that glass. It actually makes the bowl look smaller than it actually is. So just think of a medium sized bowl (the ones they use for pho) and then think about how large the glass of the milk tea has to be to look like this. For anyone who knows me, that glass of milk tea is pretty much doubled since I water down most things.

My friend and I started to dig into the bowl of noodle soup when the sizzling plate and the plate of my noodles came. I don't like when everything comes all at once, cause then everything gets cold so much quicker and you can't enjoy the food as much. That's just my opinion.
We asked for extra sauce on both plates, but it seemed that they put less noodles in my noodles so then the sauce to noodle ratio is more. I didn't really care this time, just because it's a lot of food for the two of us. But if I was with a larger group of friends/family, I definitely would've complained. I hate when restaurants try to rip you off. I asked for extra sauce, not more sauce, less noodles!
Just playing around with the depth of field. The sizzling plate is in focus in this shot (below).

My noodles were in focused in this shot.

The plate of sizzling beef was good. There was enough sauce this time, since my friend ate most of the noodle soup while I killed my noodles. Nothing special.

The bill, including tip, came to a total of $40. Pretty expensive if you think about it, but I have to remind you that there was enough food to feed 4 people. Just think about that. Plus, we had enough leftovers for another meal.



House of Gourmet on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Banh Mi

First off, the pictures in Lucy's post (previous to this one) still make my eyes bleed. I should take them off. It's offensive. I'm offended and so should you. Heh.

It pretty much started with reading Fiesty Foodie's post about Banh Mi (Vietnamese subs) a couple of nights ago.
Since we have quite a number of relatives here in Toronto, we used to visit almost every other month when we were all younger (over 5 years ago). We'd always make trips down here during the summer and we'd always stock up on groceries (crabs, mangos, lychee and/or logan fruit, etc.). One thing my mom would always buy was banh mi. She would buy over 20 sandwiches, since they were selling them for something like 10 subs for only $5. She actually bought over 50 once! Luckily, she was buying some for my other relatives back in Ottawa. Since we'd have so many subs leftover after the road trip, we'd throw them in the freezer and have a supply of banh mi until school started up again. You can imagine how many times we ate them during the summer. Too many! It's scarred me, but not for life.

The last time I had banh mi was probably sometime in September, when my aunt randomly bought some from a Chinese supermarket. Before that, I think it was over 3 years ago. Yeah, I told you I was scarred. And what's worse, our family used to always joke around that anytime we'd go to Toronto, all we'd eat are the subs. *Shudder* I never thought it was funny. It was a cruel, cruel joke. Anytime we'd come to Toronto I'd always want a taste of my noodles, either at the Gourmet House of blah, blah, blah or in the First Markham Place food court - not banh mi. *Shudder* I digress.

So I read the article and couldn't help but stare at the pictures of the subs. For some reason, my stomach dropped and my saliva started flooding. Too much information? Meh.
After class on Wednesday, my friend and I quickly went to Chinatown, picked up some banh mi and some ham, cheese and mayo buns, then had my noodles and the sizzling plate (more on this in the next post) for dinner, then quickly went back home.

I had one of the subs last night after my electronic commercial catalogue shoot. It was very good. The mystery meat, pate (aka more mystery meat), butter, slaw and cilantro brought back memories. Great memories of my carefree summers. I'm so glad those were the memories that popped up, as opposed to the other memories of eating banh mi almost every other day... *Shudder* Okay, no more. You get the point.

I definitely enjoyed my sub last night and will enjoy my sub later today. The next-next banh mi I'll be eating will be in a couple of months - if I crave it again. Who knows, the next-next-next one I eat might be in another year. Heh.


322 Spadina Ave.
Toronto, ON

Windmills Café: Dim but Delicious – January 31, 2009

I briefly considered skipping over this set of pictures because of the crappy quality. I am not a good photographer, by any means. When tourists ask me to take their picture, I always wonder if they’ll end up with a shot of my finger, or if I’ve accidentally cut someone out. It seems like all of the compositional skills went to Christine. Couple that with my arsenal of below-standard cameras (see note on the left-hand side), and you’ve got yourself some incredibly grainy shots of... actually, I can barely make out what I photographed! It was incredibly dark in the restaurant, which I think is my only complaint.

But I figured I don’t ever remember to take pictures when I’m dining out, so I might as well post these pics and write a short blurb. Anyway, ignore this post if your eyes are prone to bleeding after being assaulted by bad pictures.

Jimmy and I have been ignoring non-Asian restaurants because they are just too expensive. I can either choose a $28 steak dinner for one person, or spend $28 IN TOTAL for an appetizer, three entrées, drinks, tax, and tips (I am referring to Little Saigon’s dirt cheap menu, by the way) which fills two people. Although we went to the Keg a month before, my taste buds were dying for something not based on soy, oyster, or fish sauce. We decided on Windmills Café.

Every time we visit Windmills, we order their mussels. One night two or three years ago, we had their house mussels (double-smoked bacon in a white wine broth), and I just about swooned. So far, we’ve enjoyed every version they’ve made. This time around, we ordered one that we’ve ordered before—mussels with chorizo. I think it’s called the Portuguese. The dish is packed with flavour and spices from the chorizo, and I’m so happy they bring it out with a basket of bread. We ended up asking for another basket of bread to soak up the mollusc juice. Incidentally, we inhaled this appetizer before I remembered to bust out my camera phone, so no pics. Oops.

Jimmy wasn’t feeling particularly hungry that night, which is shocking, for anyone who knows him, so he ordered the charcuterie plate. It had some tangy cured duck breast, buttery prosciutto, spicy salami, fragrant pâté, and gamey venison sausage. The plate also came with slices of baguette and some tasty little olives. Jimmy didn’t like the duck breast because it looked raw to him. I happily devoured the little slices of slippery meat. He did love everything else. He mentioned that they were all salty (duh, it’s CURED) which means instant win in his books. Any other day, I would have stolen his plate for myself, but lucky for him, my food arrived an instant after his.

I ordered the salmon with some sort of glaze (apricot?). It came with sautéed vegetables and basmati rice. I remember the dish struck a delicate balance between salty, sweet, and tangy. The salmon was perfectly cooked, more fluffy than flaky. I loved the just-barely-cooked vegetable sticks. They were tender on the outside and crunchy through the middle. I know one was carrot, but I’m at a complete loss as to what the other vegetables were. One of the white ones tasted... earthy. Like celery root, but less celery. Similar to fennel, but minus the anise flavour.

Anyway, I loved the dish. It was a dish that demonstrated the skill of the chef who came up with it. The flavours complemented each other in every forkful. Often in a dish that contains so many flavours and textures, some parts begin to blend together. Here, the salmon was perfectly salty, the rice perfectly fluffy and fragrant, the vegetables perfectly crunchy and buttery, and the glaze perfectly sticky, sweet, and tangy. I found a dish that appealed to my taste buds as well as my appreciation for creativity. For the moment, it’s my FAVOURITE fusion dish. Definitely a must-try.

For dessert, we ordered the crème brûlée. (Yes, this is already half-eaten.) It’s one of my favourite desserts to order and also happens to be the one for which I have the highest standards. I prefer a room-temperature custard with a crispy, and not crunchy, topping. The custard had obviously been in the fridge (cold ramekins) before they blowtorched the sugar, so it lost a few points with me. However, the top half of the custard was warm from the aforementioned blowtorch, making me very happy. The topping wasn’t quite crispy, but it wasn’t crunchy either. It was... crinchy. Too thick to be crispy, too thin to be crunchy—I think my made-up word does it the most justice. The specks of vanilla were enough to make Jimmy happy.

Our bill with tax and generous tip came to $66, which I didn’t mind forking over. The menu tends to run on the pricey side, so we normally save Windmills for a special occasion. I suggest going for brunch or lunch, if you don’t mind waiting for a table. The dishes give you more bang for your buck, and the lighting is much better. Being able to see what you’re eating is always a good thing.


~ * ~

Windmills Café
184 Princess Street
Kingston, ON
(613) 544-3948

Monday, March 09, 2009

Cold Weather Calls for Comfy Food – January 9, 2009

*Yay, I’m finally in 2009! Methinks procrastinating this long is a bad idea because I’ve forgotten what I put in the shepherd’s pie. Will that stop me from posting a recipe? Of course not!

In the middle of a particularly cold winter storm, I was not looking forward to trekking out for groceries. I don’t live far from a grocery store, but in - 20 degree weather, I’d sooner take a fork to my eye. It’s just too damn cold.

Jimmy was working that night, so I knew he’d want something easy to eat after work. I considered making instant noodles, but dismissed the idea. Instant noodles are a terrible start to the weekend. I needed something I could pull together from what I already had in the kitchen, but wasn’t a horrible dinner. I normally have ground beef in the freezer because I buy the huge club packs when it goes on sale. Divide it into two-cup portions, freeze individually, and you’ve got ground beef for months. I also have quite the selection of frozen vegetables: peas, corn, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, you name it. The potatoes were leftover from the bag I bought when I made clam chowder. The ingredients lit the way to shepherd’s pie.

I grew up eating shepherd’s pie, and it was easily one of my favourite things to eat in the winter. I think my mum made this often because it’s so easy. Start cooking the meat mixture while you boil water for potatoes and frozen corn. Once the potatoes are done, season and mash. Spoon the meat into loaf pans or larger baking pan. Add a layer of corn, followed by a generous heaping of mashed potatoes. (Here’s the difference between pâté chinois and shepherd’s pie. In shepherd’s pie, the corn is mixed with the meat, but in pâté chinois, the corn is layered. My mum’s shepherd’s pie is actually a pâté chinois, but we always called it shepherd’s pie.) Smooth and sprinkle the top with paprika. Cover with tin foil. Since all of the ingredients are fully cooked, you just need to reheat it in the oven. Remove tin foil for the last 15 minutes to brown the top. Better yet, broil that sucker until the mashed potatoes form a skin. Let cool for at least 10 minutes, cut, and serve with gravy or ketchup.

I don’t know how my mum does it, but hers always tasted the same. I’ve made shepherd’s pie a few times now, and it always turns out differently. The following recipe is a mash-up of what I actually used and what I remember my mum used. Had I posted this sooner, I could have written a more accurate recipe, but then blogging would be too easy, lol.

Meat Mixture:

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 package lean ground beef (about a pound?)
3 tsp salt
1 tsp ground pepper
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp ground cumin
½ cup beer or red wine
1 ½ cups stock (chicken, beef, or vegetable are all acceptable)
4 dried bay leaves
1 cup frozen corn
4 slices of bread, diced

1. Heat up a large pot with vegetable oil. When you can feel heat with your hand just above the pot, toss in the onions and the garlic. Turn heat down to medium, and sautée until onions are translucent.
2. Crank heat up back to high and brown the beef in the same pot. Don’t be afraid of the fat that renders from the beef. Pour off some of the fat into a bowl, and set aside.
3. Add herbs, cumin, salt, and pepper. Cook until fragrant. There should be plenty of brown scum accumulating at the bottom of your pot.
4. Stand back and pour the beer (or red wine) into the pot. Stir like you mean it, scraping the bottom of the pot.
5. Once most of the beer (or wine) has evaporated, add the stock, bay leaves, and frozen corn. Bring to a boil, and then turn the heat down to medium-low. Start preparing your potatoes.
6. Reduce the mixture until there is about an inch of liquid left above the meat mixture. Then, and ONLY then, stir in the bread. If you do this step too soon, you’ll end up with grey mush.
7. Check for taste. The meat must be flavourful, or the shepherd’s pie will be blaaaaaaaaand.
8. Turn off the heat, and continue to stir the mixture until all of the liquid has been absorbed.

Potato Mixture:

5 cups potatoes, diced
1 tsp salt
Reserved fat from meat mixture
½ cup milk
Paprika, for sprinkling

1. While the meat is simmering, begin peeling and dicing potatoes
2. Bring a large pot of salted water (about a tablespoon of salt) to boil.
3. Cook the potatoes until fork tender. You can overcook the potatoes, but do NOT undercook them. Your mash will turn out crunchy and unappetizing. Turn off the heat.
4. Drain the potatoes, and return them to the pot.
5. Mash the potatoes with abandon, adding the salt, reserved fat, and milk. The potatoes should be fluffy and creamy at the same time.


1. Spoon the meat into the bottom of two or three loaf pans, or a large rectangular baking pan.
2. Heap on the potatoes, smoothing as you go.
3. Sprinkle the paprika over the potatoes, and cover the pan with tin foil.
4. Put into a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes.
5. Here, you have two options.
a. Remove the foil, and return to the oven for another 10 minutes; or
b. Remove the foil, and broil for 5 minutes.
6. Take it out of the oven and let it sit for at least 10 minutes before cutting.
7. Cut up into squares, scoop into bowls (it’s easier to eat it that way), and serve with ketchup or gravy.

I always preferred my shepherd’s pie with ketchup and not gravy. It was just something we always did when we ate it at home. Admittedly, the first time I ate someone a shepherd's pie not made by my mum was in first-year university. They served it at the caf with a ladleful of gravy, and I was appalled. I asked for a plate without gravy and got my own ketchup.

When I gave Jimmy the option of accompanying sauce, he balked at the mention of ketchup, so I made a simple gravy. Using meat mixture pot (just after spooning it all out), I sautéed half a medium onion (sliced) in a tablespoon of butter. Once the onions got fragrant, I added a tablespoon of flour. I sprinkled some salt and pepper, and poured a little less than a cup stock while whisking as fast as my little arm could whisk. Adjust the seasoning to taste, and add a teaspoon or so of dark soy sauce (for colour). This only took five minutes to bring together, and I think it tastes better than packaged gravy.

The huge pan of shepherd’s pie was far too much for two people to eat late at night, so I put the pan in the fridge. I find it’s one of those dishes that taste better the next day. The potato firms up and the entire thing is easier to cut and scoop out. It tastes great after reheating, too.

I like it for the fact that it’s easy to put together, especially if you’ve made some of the components in advance. Because of the wait times in between reducing the mixture and cooking the potatoes, I’m able to multitask and get some other chores done. I can start a load of laundry before I cook, put it into the dryer just after the potatoes are done, and pick it all up just after I take it out of the oven. In the meantime, I usually do some dishes and clean up the mess I made in the kitchen. Having good food and a clean house on a cold day is so much more comforting than instant noodles.



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