An Open Letter to Portugal

10 Mar

Hello Portugal,

When I heard about your seafood and your cobbled streets, I knew we were meant to be.

Lisbon greeted me with stunning architecture and the perfect blend of history and modernity. Porto gave me some of the best picture-postcard views. I stared in awe at your azulejos. I became enchanted by your palaces. I enjoyed your company. You introduced me to your dreamy pastels de nata, port wine, hearty meals of salted codfish, and provided me with charmingly hospitable locals. The more I got to know you, the more I fell in love with you.

Your winding streets, your colourful houses, your way of life. You even make any given alleyway beautiful. Yes, I admit your hills are steep and some streets are narrow but you always rewarded me for my efforts. From street art to river views, there was always something at the end.

I’m sorry I drank too much and ran down your streets chasing a dog I thought was strayed.  I’m sorry I didn’t like the cold of your Februarys.  But I am mostly sorry for only spending 10 nights with you. 

Thank you for becoming my favourite place. I’d say you could have my heart but it would probably be taken literally.

Até breve x

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Cheddar Bay Biscuits {Recipe}

1 Sep

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I recently discovered putting together cheddar, flour, and garlic powder makes for a delicious way to spend a lazy Sunday.

These biscuits, inspired by the cult-classic favourite from Red Lobster, are most definitely going in my permanent recipe file. I’ve tried a few biscuit recipes before and this is my new go-to. It is not for those seeking a light accompaniment to an entree—the amount of butter is, shall we say, festive. But it feels light going down, which now that I think of it, makes the whole experience into somewhat a sadistic test in self-control.

However, as far as ideal biscuits go, this one is perfectly salted, tender-crumbed, and flaky.

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INGREDIENTS

Biscuits:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 1/2 tbsp grated parmesan
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 tbsp chopped chives

Garlic butter :

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat; set aside.

2. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, grated parmesan, garlic powder, salt and, and cayenne pepper.

3. Add cold, cubed butter to dry ingredients with dough cutter or hands until some clumps remain.

4. Add butter milk, and stir using a rubber spatula just until moist. Gently fold in cheese and chives.

5. Using a 1/4-cup measuring cup, scoop the batter evenly onto the prepared baking sheet. Place into oven and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown.

6. For the garlic butter, whisk together butter, parsley and garlic powder in a small bowl. Working one at a time, brush the tops of the biscuits with the butter mixture. Serve immediately.

Adapted from Damn Delicious 

Colette Grand Café: Review

28 Aug

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My introduction to Colette happened in the casual bakery-cafe section of this new Thompson Hotel establishment. Though the restaurant serves a wonderful menu of modern French dishes, having first heard of Colette through an encounter with a delight sample of their double chocolate cookie, I was anticipating another exquisite experience of its French pastries and viennoiserie.

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Visiting Colette Grand Cafe is like suddenly finding yourself in Southern France—inspired by that idyllic region, the dining room also features hints of the countryside with a predominantly yellow, blue and white palette, reclaimed-wood furniture, and a large wooden bookcase in the middle that displays china dishes while also serving as a space partition.

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I enjoyed the fact that the property is loosely divided into a bakery-cafe, a lounge and a formal dining room. The transition between each functional space is seamless and mostly conveyed through the use of subtly shifting decor. While the library-style lounge features beautiful reclaimed-wood tables, inviting wingback armchairs, and kitschy knick-knacks, its formal dining room appears more polished, but also having the same natural wood and soft blue tones carried over.The bakery-cafe is airy, with plenty of seating, barrel vaulted ceilings, and hand-painted tiles. Customers are free to choose from an enticing array of pastries and confectionaries at the counter before choosing a comfy banquette to sink into.

The profiterole creation was a perfect combination of buttery, flaky, and creamy—the oddest balance of purity and decadence. I was impressed with the quality of ingredients used in the cookie sample I received before visiting Colette’s and that’s what primarily drew me to another visit. I was not disappointed with this particular choice and would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a healthy sized dollop of mascarpone cream with his or her afternoon coffee. The chocolate stone, unfortunately, looked and sounded more impressive than it actually tasted. Filled with dark chocolate mousse, milk chocolate whipped cream, cocoa nibs and flourless chocolate cake; I would say this one lacked the complexity and decadence of the profiterole—an unexpectedly one-note dessert that didn’t quite hit the mark for this chocolate-enthusiast. As for Colette’s coffee, I imagined that most bakery visitors would wish to accompany their sweet selections with a coffee or espresso. Which is why I was surprised and disappointed to be served a rather average cup of cappuccino and a rather disagreeable double espresso served without an espresso cup. Continuing the same theme of average, the classic butter croissant was also underwhelming.

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Overall, I liked my experience at Colette’s just enough to believe another visit may be worth while, especially for a full lunch or dinner next time. However, it seems as if it’s decor and atmosphere definitely stole the spotlight from the food.

550 Wellington St. W., 647-348-7000
colettetoronto.com
@colettetoronto
Owner: The Chase Hospitality Group
Chefs: Executive Chef Michael Steh, chef de cuisine Matthew Swift and executive pastry chef Leslie Steh

Meringues at midnight

21 Aug

 

photoAugust 15th marks the annual National Lemon Meringue Day. I usually don’t jump on the bandwagon with these pseudo-holidays but lemon meringue just so happened to be Rey’s favourite desserts and something we’ve both been craving.

I got a late start to the day and didn’t begin until after dinner. Between the dough making, dough chilling, and custard-making, meringue pies take more than several hour to cook.  So although I wanted to make it happen before National Lemon Meringue Pie day was officially over, most of the “meringuing” happened after midnight. Since I was cooking in a man’s kitchen, and therefore without electric beaters, the meringue was the most daunting task. In the end though, meringue happened somehow and I now have a disproportionately strong right arm. I’ve never so badly appreciated simple modern kitchen tools or resented the concept of “medium peaks.” Rey also helped me whisk the egg whites to submission in between games of DoTA. Watching a muscular man beat egg whites to help you bake was one of the most pleasant and oddest things I’ve ever seen.
INGREDIENTS 

Dough 

1 cup + 2 tbsp cake and pastry flour
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3 tbsp cold water
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice or white vinegar
1 egg white, lightly whisked

Lemon Curd Filling

1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 cup water
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp unsalted butter

Meringue 

4 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
3/10 cup sugar
3 tbsp icing sugar, sifted

DIRECTIONS 

Dough

1. Sift the flour, sugar and salt to combine in a bowl or using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cut in the butter by hand with a pastry cutter or on low speed until just small pieces of butter are visible and the mixture as a whole just begins to take on a pale yellow colour (indicating that the butter has been worked in sufficiently).

2. Stir the water and lemon juice together and add this to the dough all at once, mixing until the dough just comes together. Shape the dough into a disc, wrap and chill for at least 2 hours before rolling. Alternatively, the dough can be frozen for up to 3 months and thawed in the fridge before rolling.

3. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface until it is in a circle that is just under ¼ inch thick. Lightly dust a 9” pie plate with flour. Press the dough into the pie plate and trim away any excess dough, pinch the edges to create a fluted pattern and chill for 30 minutes.

4. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line the chilled pie shell with tin foil and fill the foil with dried beans, raw rice or pie weights. Bake the pie shell for 20 minutes, then carefully remove the foil and weights and bake the crust for 8 to 10 minutes more, until the centre of the pie shell is dry-looking and just starts to brown a little. Immediately after removing the pie shell from the oven, brush the hot crust with a little of the whisked egg white. This will create a barrier to keep the crust crispy once filled. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 F.

Lemon Curd Filling 

1. For the filling, whisk the sugar and cornstarch together in a medium saucepot, then whisk in the cold water. Have the other ingredients measured and nearby. Bring the sugar mixture up to a full simmer over medium-high heat, whisking as it cooks, until the mixture is thick and glossy.

2. Pour about a cup of this thickened filling into the egg yolks while whisking, then return this to the pot and whisk just one minute more. Whisk in the lemon juice and cook until the filling just returns to a simmer. Remove the pot from the heat and whisk in the butter then immediately pour the hot filling into the cooled pie shell (the filling will seem very fluid, but it will set up once chilled). Cover the surface of the filling with plastic wrap to keep it hot. Immediately prepare the meringue topping.

3. Whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar on medium speed until foamy, then increase the speed to high and gradually pour in the granulated sugar and icing sugar and continue whipping just until the whites hold a medium peak when the beaters are lifted.

Meringue

1. Remove the plastic wrap from the hot lemon filling, then dollop half of the meringue directly onto the filling (the filling will still be very soft, so work gently). Be sure to spread the meringue so that it completely covers the lemon filling and connects with the outside crust, then use a bamboo skewer or paring knife to swirl the meringue just a touch (this will secure it to the lemon curd). Dollop the remaining meringue onto the pie and use the back of your spatula to lift up the meringue and creates spikes. Bake the pie for about 20 minutes at 325 F, until the meringue is nicely browned. Cool the meringue completely to room temperature before chilling for at least 4 hours.

Recipe adapted from Anna Olson.

Food and Social Identity

21 Apr

From celebrity chefs to specialty stores, the last decade has witnessed an explosion of food consciousness in modern culture. It’s a staple of popular media, resulting in the creation of omnimedia brands like Wolfgang Puck and Bobby Flay; while even inspiring entire networks devoted to around-the-clock programming. The hegemony of food in daily modern life means it’s been the recent subject of discussion and deconstruction from countless angles of serious academia to lighthearted social commentary. Of course food is more than sustenance, but I assert that it is even much more than a cultural, social or political phenomenon. It functions symbolically as a communicative and rhetorical practice by which we interact with others, forge relationships, and most importantly, it is a means through which we deliver rhetorical performances of selfhood in the creation of our social identities.

Clothing, hairstyles, and even zip codes are familiar to us as markers of social identity and self-expression. but food surpasses their non-edible counterparts in symbolic potential partly because it can be literally consumed and absorbed into the physical body. As an ingestible synecdoche of whatever social values and status we wish to embody, it’s distinguishable from an Audemars Piguet on his wrist or the vintage Lanvin on the crook of her arm. In the hyper-modern world of food, what we eat is personal—and in more ways than Savarin probably envisaged when he penned the words, “tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are”

In fact, if sex is the instrument of species-reproduction, then eating is probably the means of self-reproduction. To exist can be boiled down to an activity of daily self-reproduction, and the material resource by which one performs this act is through food, both literally and rhetorically. For example, Recall Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll’s fantastical setting is rife with food objects, from tea cakes and potions to the infamous mock turtle soup. It’s fitting that Alice’s most significant interactions with Wonderland seem to involve acts of eating and dining with its locals. Her journey of transformation is both literal and metaphorical—while the cakes and potions cause her to shrink and grow, the literal consumption of food objects that Wonderland is furnished with occurs simultaneously with Alice’s development as a person and her eventual appropriation of Wonderland’s values of curiosity and absurdity. It seems as if even as early as the Victorian age, those like Carroll have been able to appreciate the rhetorical power of food as a symbol of self-transformation. Fast forward to the present age of the Self, it is no wonder that we have consciously or subconsciously unleashed the latent potential of food as a powerful tool for identity creation and attainment of social status.

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Alice at the Mad Tea Party

So how does food operate as a means by which we create and manage meaning in our lives? Historically, food was a powerful symbol of Britain’s identity as a colonial empire. Imported food like tea and citrus is compelling as a status symbol of Britain’s imperial reach because the evidence could be widely displayed upon virtually every dinner table in the nation, and reproduced every time those items are consumed by Britons. Today in practical terms, all you’d need to do is imagine the deliberation that goes into each time you labour over the question of where to take your date for dinner. What food you choose to place between you and your date is ultimately a decision to communicate to them what you believe they represent and what you can offer as a partner. The food that you share together is an act of simultaneous self-reproduction. What you eat together therefore symbolizes how you desire to grow together as a duo. I personally have difficulty accepting coffee dates while dinner plans will tend to signal to me that a man sees me as serious potential for forging a meaningful relationship together. To me, a dinner table can be read like a text, and what someone chooses to communicate through the text is a reflection of what they expect you to accept into both your literal, physical body, but also your sense of self. To me, anything short of a complete and meaningful meal is an interesting rhetorical signal to me that they value me as something short of a complete and meaningful person.

Lost in the upper-middle class fantasy of health consciousness and clean-eating, we are perhaps unable or unwilling to recognize the subtler reasons why we stand behind things like organic food movements and restaurants that inexplicably demand the most ancient and un-hybridized grains for a simple dish. These are perhaps better viewed as performances that help us actualize modern, desirable values of individuality and counter-culture.

But I digress, my point isn’t really to assert what exactly food symbolizes for us as social individuals—that would require an enormous amount of spilt ink. There’s a lot to think and talk about when it comes to food; the possibilities for food to affect self-transformation is potentially limitless. And since food is so intimately tied to production of self-identity, it is perhaps a personal experience of introspection that is worth at least some consideration. Chew on that thought the next time you eat.

 

Chicken and Biscuits

8 Jan

Chicken and Biscuits

All good things must come to an end, and so it was that our whirlwind season of feasts and gluttonous repasts was over. Yet we resist and fought bravely to the end, carrying into January our still-vivid dreams of rich gravies and sauces—not to mention a newly cultivated appreciation for post-meal naps. But even so, ringing in the New Year always produces that mysterious effect of switching on a heart-achingly enthusiastic resolve to actualize long neglected goals or to just start afresh. For me, I revived the ever perennial resolve to adopt a lifestyle of well-being and fitness; yet good food and taste, those cannot be sacrificed. So this was going to take a bit of creativity. I knew the key was to begin by making small compromises that won’t make you fall off the bandwagon by mid February.

My newfound commitment would  be tested on a particularly cold Monday, the eve before the so-called polar vortex would assail London and when  a particularly daunting evening of legal research loomed. Sure, my first impulse was to order-in greasy Chinese—nothing better than mysteriously non-perishable, battered goodness.

But good choices were made that day. I steered myself towards my well-stocked fridge and tasked myself with putting together something that’s going to be satisfying for my conscience and my stomach.

It starts with a chicken broth—so purifying after the onslaught of flavours from last month which, by the fifth holiday dinner, seemed to run into each other. Fortunately, a typical post-holiday send-off from my family usually includes a jar of chicken or beef broth. So my broth of choice is familiar yet full of taste and goodness, so simple yet still complex. I have chicken thighs in the freezer, and lots of it. So I brown them a little and add them to the broth to make a hearty soup. I like  soups a little on the denser side, toeing into stew territory—so I added a little flour to my aromatics, browning in butter, to make a roux. Then in goes some white wine (the drier the better) and the best chicken stock you can find. Top it off with a few sprigs of thyme and bay leaves.

While all that was getting to know each other in my soup pot, I felt butter biscuits were in order, just to indulge a tiny bit. They turned out really flaky and buttery and complemented the chicken really well. Take a bite between spoonfuls of soup or dunk them in the broth. I’m almost reminded of a really good chicken pot pie.

INGREDIENTS

CHICKEN SOUP

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1½ lb lb. skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 medium carrots (about 1 lb.), peeled, cut into 2” pieces
  • 1 small celery root (about 12 oz.), peeled, cut into ½” pieces
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups peas
  • 1 leek, white and pale-green parts only, chopped
  • ¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves

BISCUITS

  • 2¼ cups all-purpose flour plus more for work surface
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • ¾ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½” cubes
  • ¾ cup buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
  • 1 large egg, beaten to blend

CHICKEN SOUP

Preheat oven to 400°. Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Cook skin side down until, 8–10 minutes; transfer to a plate.

Carefully drain all but 2 Tbsp. fat from pot. Add carrots, celery root, onion, peas, and leek; stir frequently until softened and beginning to brown, 8–10 minutes.

Add butter; stir until melted. Add flour and stir constantly until well blended, about 2 minutes. Add wine and ½ cup water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until liquid is reduced by half, 5–8 minutes.

Add chicken, broth, thyme, rosemary, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Simmer until chicken is fork-tender, 35–40 minutes.

Discard herb sprigs and bay leaves. Transfer chicken to a plate. Let cool slightly; shred meat, discarding skin and bones.

Return shredded chicken to soup. Season with salt and pepper

BISCUITS

Whisk flour, salt, and baking powder in a large bowl. Add butter. Using your fingertips, blend until pea-size lumps form. Add buttermilk, sour cream and chives.

Using a fork, mix until just combined. Gather mixture into a ball and knead in bowl just until a shaggy dough forms, 3 or 4 times.

Transfer dough to a floured work surface and pat into a ¾”- to 1”-thick round. Cut out rounds with a 2” biscuit cutter or small glass. Gather dough and repeat patting and cutting. Transfer to a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet; brush with egg.

Bake biscuits until golden brown, 25–30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Revised from recipe via Bon Appetit

Review: La Carnita

28 May

Hello this is Calvin! Megan is forcing me to write about our dinner at La Carnita. Instead of asking me nicely to write about our food adventures she just issues vague threats to me every few hours or so, which, I dunno, seems to working thus far so good for her I guess. Prior to La Carnita we were at High Park looking at cherry blossoms through our phones/camera lens, which turned out to be pretty meh since you really are just crowding around a bunch of pink trees with a bunch of other asians. I’d wager you’d get more out of it if you had a picnic there, or a ball to throw around, or something other than just going there to take photos of the cherry blossoms, because you’ll soon realize that they all look…the same. Anyway, we got hungry and headed to La Carnita despite much protestation from both of us because we are lazy and the restaurant was far (and we took the subway down so we didn’t have a car), so much so that we called Arthur (who was in Markham) and asked him to have dinner with us in order to manipulate him into driving us to our destination. Before we could reach him though, we somehow ended up on the subway and were already well on our way to our dinner. Arthur came down anyway.

La Carnita, like a lot of restaurants (for whatever reason) do not have signage out front that explicitly state the name of the establishment, which can make it a pain to locate them sometimes. Luckily, the exterior of La Carnita is all black, with a white Day of the Dead skull on the side of the awnings; the placemat at the front spells out the word GRINGO in bold white type. Pretty sure we were in the right place.

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I was a little bit disappointed when the hostess greeted us in English instead of Spanish to go along with the whole theme. Not that I understand any Spanish of course, but panic and confusion and desperate glances at your friends and awkward smiles are part of the fun when trying new things. We were seated near the back and very quickly settled ourselves and started to comb through the menu.

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The menu is anchored by a healthy selection of tacos (which the waiter recommended 2-4 for each person), complimented by a variety of starters and desserts. We ordered the Mexican Street Corn and Rice & Corn Frituras for starters, and since there were 3 of us, we ordered one of each taco (there are 6, excluding that of the daily special). The starters came and they were all well and good, although the corn was probably a bit overpriced at $8 for 2 pieces. The frituras were like Mexican takoyakis, only stuffed with brown rice and corn instead of octopus.

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Our half dozen tacos arrived shortly after. The server explained to us which each one was, but we weren’t really listening, because you know, hungry. We all picked one and went to town, and about 10 minutes later, no more tacos. And still hungry. So we ordered another half dozen, skipping on the ones that were just alright and doubled up on the ones we fancied. We also got the daily special taco, which had mixed mushrooms in it.

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Of the ones that we all tried (I think we all didn’t try at least one of them), our favourites were the Tostada de Ceviche and In Cod We Trust, but all of them are worth a shot. The tacos are not that big (and are priced accordingly, with most of them under $5), so you can definitely get away with ordering all of them without looking like a taco monster.

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We finished off with some churros and the bill came to just north of $100 for 3 people; if you order drinks then it’d be more, but the pricing is pretty reasonable. By the time we left the restaurant it was cold out and we were glad for Arthur’s companionship but mostly for the transportation that it came with. We sang loudly and poorly to Taylor Swift songs while he tried to get us back to Finch Station as quickly as possible. Overall, it was a good dining experience and we’d definitely come back, but only if Arthur drives us straight there. And maybe could take us shopping or something before that.

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