December 28, 2007

New Generation Sushi

The strip on Bloor St between Bathurst St and Spadina Ave, (downtown Toronto) is well known as being cheap sushi central. Living within close proximity to this strip throughout my university years means that I’ve tried out a whole lot of the sushi joints and after careful sampling, New Generation Sushi, (New Gen to those in the know) has become my one and only. Their phone number is on speed dial and whenever I don’t feel like cooking it’s my go to spot.

I like to try new things so I’m always ordering something new from the menu. Of course, there are some favourites that I can’t help but order again and again like Edamame, Rainbow Maki, (strips of salmon, tuna, tai and avocado) or Canadian Maki, (lobster claw, smoked salmon, asparagus, kewpie and cucumber). A friend of mine however, sticks to the same order everytime; Edamame, Dragon Red Maki, Dragon Green Maki and a California roll. And even though I like to change things up, I haven’t hit upon anything from the menu that I didn’t like. Lately I’ve been craving sashimi but my cravings vary on a weekly basis and no matter what I want I can find it at New Gen. And if I’m dining in, no meal is complete without a little bowl of green tea or red bean ice cream.

A couple years ago a kitchen fire forced New Gen to shut down for a few months. Whereas most closed restaurants would be passed by unnoticed, it was hard to miss the storefront that had been decorated with flowers and cards and well wishes from loyal customers who couldn’t wait for their favourite sushi spot to open again. Upon its relaunch New Gen resumed its spot on the Bloor strip as the sushi place with amazing food and line ups out the door until all hours of the night. And when you get 15% off take out orders, it’s hard not to call ahead when you know you’re going to be walking by on your way home. Is there a support group for Sushi Addicts Anonymous? I think I need help.

December 22, 2007

Daring Bakers Holiday Edition

A yule log is not something I’ve ever eaten before as it was never part of my Christmas as a child but apparently it symbolizes the holidays for a lot of people. I remember hearing somewhere that one company starts making their Yule logs in July in order to have enough ready for Christmas. That makes me question what they’re putting in their Yule log to make it last so long while simultaneously making me cringe and shudder in repulsion. But this isn’t July and the Yule log is this month’s Daring Baker challenge, set out for us by the DB creators themselves, Ivonne and Lis so I was going to make it regardless.

I had decided to make the Yule log on the day after Toronto got its big snowstorm but when I got up I realized I was short a few ingredients so I put on my coat and mitts and trudged out into the snow. After a few steps I realized that besides the blanket of snow that was covering the streets, there was something else that was different. It took me a minute to figure out that the usually bustling city was quiet. There were hardly any cars on the road, (as they were all stuck somewhere) and in contrast to the often congested sidewalks, those too were empty of people, (but filled with snow). So despite a nippy wind licking at my face and my pants becoming wet and soggy with every step, I enjoyed a leisurely walk to the store along oddly quiet city streets. I was then amazed at how quickly I made my way through the too narrow aisles of the grocery store without being jostled and bumped, got to a cashier that didn’t have a line up and was back out in the snow in a matter of minutes. That particular grocery store is often a 20 minute event even if all I want is a few sticks of butter.

When I got back to my apartment, (and still dark kitchen) I was feeling pretty relaxed and looking forward to the challenge. I had read about the other DB’s experience with the Yule log and icing and had hopefully learned how to avoid their mistakes. Oddly enough, it seems like I had. This challenge went relatively smoothly, but maybe it was just the calm mood I was in. The most difficult part of the whole thing was carrying my Yule log over to my Aunt and Uncle’s house for dinner that night as the sidewalks still hadn’t been cleared and the snow was much less friendly in the dark as I struggled with my cake. Of course the walk there is uphill so that didn’t help. But I arrived, was handed a glass of wine and went in to sit by the fire to warm up. We had beef bourguignon for dinner and Yule log for dessert. And I got bonus points for the SuperMario inspired mushrooms. Challenge completed. Now I’m off to brave the sidewalks that are once again being overrun by Slow Walkers, and with only three days left until Christmas, these are particularly crazy Slow Walkers. Good luck to anyone who is not done their shopping, “yule” need it… (Sorry, that was bad.) Be sure to check out the other Yule Logs from the Daring Bakers Blog Roll, (now somewhere in the millions...).

December 18, 2007

Speed Up or Get Out Of the Way

This past weekend Toronto was hit with a snowstorm. Given the fact that I’m from further north where winter storms are a weekly affair, I didn’t consider it that big of a deal. I have no problem with the snow, only with how people deal with it. When it snows in the city there’s nowhere to put it, so it piles up, reduces traffic to one lane and eventually becomes a dirty, slushy mess. The city tries to get rid of the snow but unless you live on a main route you’re pretty much screwed and had better develop some serious shoveling skills if you want to get around. Throwing bags of salt on anything that looks like snow seems to be a popular way of dealing with the problem but it’s not what I recommend. All that does is stain the bottom of my pants and I hate salt stains.

The other thing that drives me crazy is that the sidewalks are always the last thing to be cleared. I walk everywhere so this is a major issue. The sidewalks, even on main roads have been reduced to one walking lane, making it necessary to trudge along single file with nary an opportunity to pass. If I’m leading the line, it’s alright, but if I get stuck behind a slow walker I am not happy. Slow Walkers take on various forms. There’s the “I’m Scared of Snow” Slow Walker who seems to have forgotten how to walk now that there’s snow on the ground and takes nothing but baby steps, much to my annoyance. This time of year there’s the “I’m Carrying 17 Bags of Christmas Presents and Can Barely Move” Slow Walker who is not only walking ridiculously slow but they are also unaware of anyone around them and will quite frequently hit people with their packages without ever knowing it. And let’s not forget the “We’re A Group of Loud, Giggly School Girls” Slow Walkers who take up the entire street, walk so slowly they’re almost in reverse and talk about subjects so trivial that you feel dumber for having heard their conversation. All I want to do is push the Slow Walkers into a snow bank so that I can speed by them, is that wrong? I have yet to do this but really it’s only a matter of time before I snap and start driving a zamboni down Toronto’s sidewalks. If you see me, be sure to wave.

These muffins have nothing to do with the dreaded Slow Walkers but they’re perfect for a mid afternoon snack or when you need some energy before facing slushy sidewalks and the human turtles who are occupying them. And you know what? They’re pretty good for you too!

Bri’s Snacking Muffins (Adapted from Living the G.I. Diet by Rick Gallop)

1 cup whole flake oats

½ cup bran cereal

¼ tsp salt

½ cup boiling water

1 + ½ cup buttermilk

½ cup dried prunes,.chopped

½ cup dried cranberries

1/3 cup sugar

1 egg

¼ cup canola oil

1 ¼ cups whole wheat flour

1 ¼ tsp baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon

Grease or line 12 muffin cups and preheat oven to 375F.

In a bowl, combine oatmeal, bran cereal and salt. Pour over the boiling water and stir to combine. Stir in 1 cup buttermilk, prunes, and cranberries and set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together sugar, egg and oil. Stir into the oatmeal mixture.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking soda and cinnamon. Pour bran mixture along with the other ½ cup buttermilk into the flour mixture and stir until just combined.

Pour into prepared tin and bake for 18-20 minutes or until a tester inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

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December 15, 2007

Dark and Delicious

It’s a good thing this Chocolate Gingerbread is supposed to be dark because given the state of lighting in my kitchen I just have to assume I’m doing things right because I can’t actually see anything to confirm that. When I moved into my new apartment, the kitchen ceiling was covered with little twinkly Christmas lights. Half of them didn’t work and were falling down, the other half made a feeble attempt to shine through their dust coating. There was no overhead kitchen light, just the fire hazard Christmas lights that I turned on using a regular light switch and which didn’t appear to be plugged in anywhere. From day one I started bugging the landlord to take them down and install a normal light because I didn’t like trying to cook in a cave, (did I mention there are no windows in the kitchen either? Except for a frosted one that leads to the bedroom.). He kept saying he’d do it, but it never seemed to happen. Then one day when I was out shopping with a friend, the landlord came by. We had left my friend’s boyfriend at the apartment so that he didn’t have to be subjected to a few mind numbing hours of trekking aimlessly store to store. While we were out Landlord and FBoyfriend dismantled the lights and then Landlord left. When Friend and I returned, FBoyfriend told us the landlord had been by, (or so he assumed, he didn’t actually question the fact that a strange man wanted into my apartment, he just let him in). I went into the kitchen and was thrilled to see that the Christmas lights were gone. That thrill was short lived as I realized I was standing in the dark with no light at all in the kitchen. Furthermore, when I opened up a nearby closet I discovered a heap of filthy Christmas lights staring back at me. I am not impressed.

As you may know, my landlord is not the only person I’ve had some beef with. Nigella Lawson is another person that has caused me rage in my kitchen. I know tons of you love her and have had nothing but success with her recipes, but for some reason I’ve failed more than succeeded when I use a Nigella recipe and I’ve come to the conclusion that the problem lies in the Americanized versions of her cookbooks. Somewhere along the line, proper testing was not done and some of the measurements are just plain wrong. However when I see someone like Kelly-Jane of Cooking the Books cooking her way through Nigella Express with such great results it makes me want to give it another try. This month’s Cooking Club Challenge on the FoodTV Canada blog is Nigella’s Chocolate Gingerbread and I decided it was time to give Nigella another chance, especially since measurements were given in multiple formats. I chose to stick to Nigella’s original recipe, measured in grams instead of cups. I really wish that’s how all baking recipes were written, but alas, as with kitchen lighting, I don’t always get my way.

I have to say though, this Chocolate Gingerbread has me eating my words. It’s fantastic! The only regret I have is that I tried to bake the gingerbread in cute little silicone molds of a tree, bell and star. The molds refused to give up the gingerbread and I broke all of them in trying to get them out. Also, as you can see in the picture, the gingerbread rose a lot more than I thought it would. It was still very tasty, especially with my improvised orange icing drizzled on top, but it would have been prettier if the so-called non-stick molds hadn’t of stuck. Nigella is back in my good graces with this recipe though.

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December 12, 2007

Silky Smooth Soups But No Cuisinart

I mentioned in my last post that it was wonderful to be back in the city if only for the wealth of ingredients that are now at my fingertips. One such ingredient that I picked up on a whim is pomegranate molasses, which immediately inspired me to make a roasted cauliflower soup so that I could drizzle it on top. I’ve never used pomegranate molasses before but once the idea was in my head I had to make it happen, so here it is! I started by cutting up a head of cauliflower, drizzling it with olive oil and sprinkling some salt and cumin on top. I roasted it in the oven at 450F until it began to brown. Then I used my super duper high speed blender to puree the cauliflower with some chicken stock. A couple minutes later I had a silky smooth mixture that I topped with pomegranate molasses and presto, I had soup. I couldn’t live without that blender. It was one of the essential kitchen items that had to come with me when I moved. Unfortunately, some of my other toys didn’t make the move and I’m missing them now. Somehow I managed to forget my microplane zester and I miss it everyday. I’m also missing my jelly roll pan, a spaghetti pot and worst of all, my Cuisinart! Unfortunately, I’ll never get that back. Somehow, (and I still don’t quite understand how that happened) Dad threw it out! Yes, that’s right, a relatively new Cuisinart that I had just purchased less than two years ago and that had been sitting safely in storage, or so I thought. In one of Dad’s “throw out” phases, he tossed it. Instead of throwing out their 30 year old Cuisinart with the broken buttons, he threw out my pristine machine that had been waiting patiently to be used again. Sigh.

I try not to think of my poor baby wasting away on a trash pile somewhere, and so to distract myself, I’ll tell you about another soup- Jamie Oliver’s Pumpkin Soup which I made for the November Cooking Club on FoodTV Canada’s blog. I always make squash soup during the fall and winter months, but rarely from a recipe, I usually just throw in whatever I feel like, so actually sticking to Jamie's recipe was new for me. I'm glad I did though, I really liked the addition of chestnuts! I couldn't find any canned chestnuts so I had to roast my own and to get the sage I had to dig it out from under the snow but it was all good! Of course, I used my blender to whip this soup creamy too, it’s my favourite way to do it.

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December 11, 2007

Does This Look Familiar?

It should be no surprise that I liked this recipe given my affinity for cognac in cakes and ice cream, so why not in a savoury dish? After seeing the recipe in my favourite Steamy Kitchen I knew I had to make it as part of the Jumbo & Jaden Project. Malaysian Coconut Butter Prawns, (with cognac!) is already a proven hit as it’s a recipe that Jaden chose to make on one of her, (now becoming numerous) TV appearances. If you want some more assurance that this is a fabulous recipe, Jaden adapted her version from none other than the super blog Rasa Malaysia, that’s two heavy weights backing this dish so you’ve gotta love it. Once again though, this is a recipe that I made before the move as I’m no longer fortunate enough to have a liquor cabinet that contains such wonders as Cognac, (heck, I don’t even have a liquor cabinet period) and I’m still clearing out my archive. Hopefully I’ll make something wonderful here soon… and then I’ll eat Mr. Noodle for the next week to balance out my grocery bill.

I had such high hopes for my new place that I think I was destined for disaster from the very beginning. When I initially moved in I couldn’t believe the state of the apartment and that someone had actually been living in such filth. I piled up my belongings into the middle of the living room so that they would touch as little as possible and for the next three days I scrubbed and vacuumed and inhaled way too much chemical cleaner in an attempt to disinfect everything. Slowly, and with a lot of elbow grease, I think it’s finally coming together and becoming something that I can live in. If only I could get the initial images of how it looked out of my head… Apartment woes aside, being back in the city means I have access to a wealth of ingredients that are probably never going to be attainable at my previous residence. Like pomegranate molasses! The mere fact that I see ingredients like that on store shelves here is inspiring. I saw it and for some reason immediately decided I needed to buy it in order to make a roasted cauliflower soup with a drizzle of pomegranate molasses on top. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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December 10, 2007

If Only These Rubies Were Real

Finally! I have internet access again, though not without a struggle. As per usual, I was given a three hour window during which a technician may or may not appear, (I used to work for a USA based ISP and became all too familiar with their practice of making people wait for a tech who never showed up) luckily though, the technician did appear. He proceeded to plug the modem into the wall and drop a box of cables on my floor, he didn’t even ask about plugging said modem into my computer. Then he asked me if I ever dated guys that were shorter than me, (he was probably about 5’6 to my 6’2) if I liked drinking and dancing and told me a story about how his ex-girlfriend used to worry that he would get girls phone numbers when he installed their internet. It’s times like those that the only appropriate response seems to be that my very jealous, ex-con, gun packing, short tempered, enormous athlete of a boyfriend will be home soon.

He then told me everything should be working. I asked him to wait while I plugged in my computer to make sure it was online. He said he’d be in his truck, testing the signal strength and that I could come get him if it didn’t work. I plugged everything in and instead of the google page popping up immediately like it should, I got the dreaded ‘unable to connect’ message. I marched outside to the technician’s truck and told him it wasn’t working. He replied that the signal strength was good and that everything was fine on his end so it should be working. He suggested I run the installation cd that was dropped somewhere on my living room floor. Like I said, I used to work for an evil internet company, (who was anything but internet-tastic) and I was well aware that this is a standard line given by a dufus who doesn’t know how to do his job. There is no installation cd, the only thing on my floor was a cd that would help me set up my new email account, or download usb drivers, provided I was already online, which I wasn’t. I told him so too and watched him squirm for a while before letting him go, because I was quite certain at this point that I knew more than he did about the issue at hand and that I could figure it out myself. Which I did, eventually. So that was an incredibly long way of saying I finally have internet again, no thanks to useless technicians.

Now onto the food. You’d think for my first real post in my new place that I should write about something more spectacular than a salad. Well, the truth is, I made this before I left and it was in my bank of unposted recipes. I haven’t done a lot of cooking yet, (although I made some 100% whole wheat bread which you’ll hear about soon) and that’s mainly because I haven’t developed a well stocked pantry yet. I lack the huge base I used to have so that I could make anything I wanted. I’m also back on a student food budget. That’s right, student. Come January I’m back in the classroom and my money will be disappearing to buy textbooks and pay for tuition. If my life sponsor is hiding out there somewhere, now would be a good time to step in…

But I digress, I think I should post pictures of pomegranates every day because it requires so little effort on my part to make them look good. Pomegranate seeds are like rubies; bright and shiny, almost too pretty too eat, I wish I could wear them. I actually used to wear them, though not on purpose, those little suckers stain, but not if you know the trick to deseeding them. Simply fill a bowl with water, slice your pomegranate in half, submerge it in water and use your fingers to pry the rest of the pomegranate apart. The pith will float to the top and can be easily skimmed off while the seeds sink to the bottom and can be strained out.

So what else is in this salad? Candied almonds, baby spinach, goat cheese and a balsamic dressing. Pretty and tasty.

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December 07, 2007

Maybe I'm Just A Sore Loser...

*** Still no internet, maybe Monday. On the upside, my camera is back.

Every year around this time, the magazine rack is packed with holiday cookie recipes and cookie contest winners. I always wonder what it takes to win one of these contests so after flipping through the pages of the November issue of Chatelaine, I decided to make one of their award winning treats to see for myself what all the fuss was about. I chose to make Date, Nut and Cherry Squares and although they turned out quite well, (and disappeared in remarkable time) I’m not sure that they’re the best square there is. They have a rather unusual step for a square and that’s to roll, (as well as squares can be rolled…) them in granulated sugar after they’ve been baked. I only did this for a couple of the squares as I found them to be plenty sweet and less messy without the additional sugar. I must say though, the squares certainly looked prettier when they were rolled in sugar. And either way you slice it, (or roll it), my tasters demolished the bars in no time and requested the recipe so I suppose that makes them worthy of winning awards. Maybe I’m just jealous that I didn’t win any awards…

Date, Nut and Cherry Squares (From Chatelaine cookie contest winner Mary Anna King, November 2007)

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup melted butter
1 3/4 cups lightly packed brown sugar
4 eggs
2 cups chopped pitted dates
1 cup walnut or pecan pieces
1/2 cup chopped red or green glace cherries
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Preheat over to 350F. Spray a 9x13 baking dish with oil. In a small bowl, stir flour with baking powder.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter with sugar for 2 min. Then beat in eggs, one at a time, scraping side of bowl between additions. Using medium speed, gradually beat in flour mixture until evenly mixed. Using a wooden spoon, gradually stir in dates, nuts and cherries until evenly distributed. Scrape into prepared baking dish, then smooth top.
Bake in centre of oven until top is light folder, 40-45 minutes. Place on a wire rack and cool 15 minutes, then cut into 24 squares.
Place granulated sugar in a medium bowl. Roll squares in sugar to lightly coat. Then cool completely on wire rack. If making ahead, store in an airtight container in a cool place up to 1 week or freeze up to 2 months.

December 04, 2007

The Big Easy

***Still no internet connection, I forgot to pack my camera and my place is a disaster. But here's a post about chicken that I made before I left.

I love to try new things so when the folks at Char-Broil asked if I wanted to test out their oil-less turkey fryer, The Big Easy, I responded with an enthusiastic YES! Within a week of our email exchange a very large box arrived on my doorstep. Opening it up, I realized that some assembly was required, but with the help of my power drill and the instruction booklet, it came together in a snap. Once I had it put together I didn’t want to wait any longer to use it so I set about preparing a little chicken. I bathed the chicken in a soy sauce marinade for a few hours before stuffing lemon slices under the skin and rubbing some spices on top. Not even the falling snow could keep me from trying out The Big Easy, (although this meant standing in the cold as using the infrared fryer requires a propane tank and is therefore an outdoor activity). In less time than it would usually take to roast a chicken in the oven, it was done.

And the results? Crispy, crackly skin concealed an unbelievably moist chicken. I was pleasantly surprised by the results. It was one of the juiciest chickens I’ve had in a long time and was simple to do. All I had to do was check the thermometer and remove the basket when the chicken reached the appropriate temperature, let it rest for a few minutes and slice away. With the leftover chicken I made a chicken salad sandwich on fresh Italian bread for lunch the next day and it was just as delicious. I’m looking forward to trying out a turkey next time and playing around with spice rubs. The Big Easy has currently taken up residence next to my smoker and BBQ and is a welcome addition to my toy collection.