Tag: Food

Product Review: Hungarian Garlic in a Tube

hungarian garlic in a tube 1

There are several very good specialty food shops in Ottawa’s Byward Market, two of which specialize heavily in eastern European food products. While shopping in one of these during my most recent visit to the capital, I came across this garlic paste in a tube from Hungary. I was actually there to purchase tomato puree in a tube (which I found), but I saw this as well and grabbed some to bring home with me…

I am not entirely sure how the ‘Fokhagymakrem’ translates but it is pretty clear that the tube contains a garlic puree. The back of the tube uses the English words ‘Garlic Sauce’ but the ingredient list just indicates garlic, salt, oil, and some preservatives, so this is not a prepared ‘sauce’ in the usual sense of the word… that is to say, with other flavorings being added.

Anyway, when you open the tube, the pungent aroma of garlic is very apparent. When tasted by itself, it does having something of the sharp, sulfurous pungency of freshly minced garlic, but it also has a sweet, slightly cooked taste of roasted garlic at the same time. The other thing, which is immediately apparent, is that there is a LOT of salt added. This may be necessary for preservation purposes but it will really impact how the paste can be used and cooks must be alive to adjusting for the saltiness anywhere that it is added.

I actually like this, saltiness aside, as much as many jarred garlic purees. Jarred products will, of course, oxidize over time and I would say that buying it in the tube will allow you to keep it longer. It doesn’t appear that Amazon Canada carries it, but you can purchase it through Amazon in the US. Mind you, at $13.00 American, it will end up running you about 5 times what I paid for it in Ottawa…

Broccolini with Sesame Miso Dressing

broccolini with sesame miso dressing 1

Today’s simple little recipe is one I derived from a common Japanese way of dressing cold greens (notably spinach). The dressing in question is made by toasting sesame seeds then grinding them to a paste along with a little sugar and mirin, sake and soy sauce. The result is called ‘Spinach Gomae’ (if using Spinach) and, while I like the dressing generally, I also find that it can have a bit of a bitter after taste.

I decided to try something that resulted in the same sweet/sesame flavors, but avoided any bitterness and, accordingly settled on Hummus as a milder (if not very Japanese) base for the dressing. I also incorporated a little light miso for depth, and then included a rich Japanese Sesame oil for the proper sesame punch. For today’s dish, I am using Broccolini rather than spinach to make a nice little appetizer salad…

Ingredients

  • 2 cups pre-blanched Broccolini, trimmed of thick stems;
  • 3 Tbsp. Hummus;
  • 1 tsp. Light (white) Miso;
  • 1 tsp. Lemon Juice;
  • 1 Tbsp. Dark Sesame Oil;
  • 1 tsp. Sugar;
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp. Mirin;
  • Sesame Seeds for garnish.

Assembly is super simple … First, blend together all the ingredients except the Broccolini and sesame seeds and mix to a smooth paste. Allow this to sit for at least 20 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.

When you are ready, add the dressing to the Broccolini and mix. The idea here is not to drench, or drown the greens in the dressing, but rather just add enough to coat the pieces with sauce. Arrange the greens attractively on individual serving plates and sprinkle with sesame seeds for garnish. Serve…

That’s it.

Notable Nosh: Alirang’s Tteokbokki

topokki 1

I ate Tteokbokki for the very first time at Alirang (my favorite Korean Restaurant in Ottawa) just a little bit before Christmas. For some reason, I had never heard of these before even though I eat in Korean restaurants fairly often, and have a pretty decent collection of Korean cookbooks at home. Thankfully, Alirang provided a phonetic rendering for the dish right on the menu and it appears, as they have it, to be pronounced ‘Topokki’.

I any event, Tteokbokki consists of a particular type of rice noodle, which can be served in many different ways. In the Chinese character name for the selection given on the menu (in the inset on the above photograph), it is described as ‘Hán shì chǎo niángāo’, which translates as ‘Korean Style spicy stir-fried steamed-rice cake’. The actual noodle, as it turns out, is a thick, very dense, cylindrical rice flour noodle cut, in this case, into 3cm sections.

Now, the dish I was served at Alirang did not just consist of the noodles in sauce, but also contained a little cabbage (not quite apparent in the picture) but also some triangular pieces of something with an almost omelet like texture that I could not identify. I had to ask what they were and discovered that it was slices of fish cake. When I discovered what it was, the taste suddenly made sense and I have to say that I really liked this addition very much.

Now, the noodles were probably the densest, chewiest noodles I have ever had and I can see how they could become addictive, and probably a comfort food for those who grow up with them. I would like to see if I can buy them separately for home use sometime so I can experiment with them a little.

Oh… as for the sauce, this was pretty much nothing more than a slightly diluted Gochujang, or Korean Fermented Chili-Soybean Paste. It was extremely fiery and, I have to admit, nearly did me in. Still, on the whole, I really liked this offering and would like to try some other versions in the future.

Dim Sum: Ginger Beef Dumplings

PI Ginger Beef Dumpling

I had these particular dumplings at the Palais Imperial in Ottawa a while ago. They weren’t spectacular exactly, but they do get a mention for being a bit unexpected.

The full name from the Chinese characters on the menu (see the inset in the above picture), read Ginger Scallion Beef Dumplings, which amplifies the English name by also specifying the scallion that is included, not as part of the filling, but as a steaming ‘companion’ along with the thick shreds of ginger. What is a bit odd is that the final character in the name is (jiǎo) which typically refers to a dumpling with a flour wrapper. Here, a bean curd skin, also known as ‘tofu skin’ is used to enclose the filling. This product, which is purchased in dried sheets and then reconstituted, is often used to make steamed rolls in dim sum houses, but only occasionally to make dumplings in this shape.

Anyway, the filling here was decent if unremarkable (lightly seasoned and well textured), but the choice of wrapper really made for a different experience. Tofu skins, when steamed, don’t have the same al dente resistance as wheat doughs and it has almost a ‘papery’ mouthfeel when you first bit in to it. That may not sound especially appetizing, but, in fact, it is quite a nice texture and makes a pleasant change in a series of dumpling courses. I enjoyed these…

Product Review: Tube Mustards

Tube Mustards 1

While I was shopping in Ottawa on my last visit, I went to find some of the Tomato Puree that comes in a tube as we cannot get it up here in the frozen North. I found some (a couple of different brands, actually), but I also picked up the tubes of mustard you see pictured above.

I remember having these in the house when I was a kid. Indeed, even one of the brands was familiar, and, though I really didn’t have any pressing mustard ‘needs’, as it were, I decided to grab all the sorts I saw with a view to doing a bit of comparing and contrasting… Continue reading “Product Review: Tube Mustards”

Notable Nosh- Shafali Style Lamb Vindaloo

Shafali Lamb Vindaloo 1

For about three or four successive visits to Ottawa, I had Lamb Vindaloo on my bucket list of dishes to sampled, but, as sometimes happens, the best laid plans get set aside for one reason another and it was only at my last visit just before this past Christmas that I got to indulge. On this occasion I went to Café Shafali because I have eaten there before and enjoyed it, and because it is only about three blocks from the hotel where I always stay when I am in town…

Anyway … When I was a kid, my father told me that a ‘Vindaloo’ was the hottest of the Indian curries. Of course, whether or not that is ever true obviously depends on how much chili heat a given chef adds to a given dish, but it does seem that, in the main, they tend to one of the hotter dishes on the menu in Indian restaurants. At Shafali, they advertise it on their menu like this:

shafali lamb vindaloo 2

The four little flame thingies beside the title specify the heat level and, at Shafali, the Lamb Vindaloo is the only dish to rate four flames. I should perhaps have been put on my guard by the fact that in addition to the graphic warning, they also describe the dish as containing ‘loads of chilies’…In truth, though, I often find that the way a restaurant describes ‘heat’ is often a bit arbitrary and I went ahead and ordered the dish lulled into a false sense of confidence …

Now, Vindaloo fans will know that the dish has Portuguese roots and originally involved meat marinated in garlic and wine. In later Indian, and Anglo-Indian renditions, the wine got replaced with vinegar and chilies got added in ever increasing amounts. At Shafali, they actually go back, historically speaking, and use red wine to marinate their lamb, but they certainly follow more modern traditions with the sheer amount of chili they use.

In general, this was a very nicely prepared dish. The generous chunks of boneless lamb were not cooked so long that they fell apart (often the case in Indian curries), and it was ‘al dente’ for western palates. It didn’t have the sharp tang from vinegar as is usually the case, but It was slightly sweet, and the taste of both ginger and garlic were briefly apparent before the chilies asserted themselves forcefully.

I have to say here, that it is an unfortunate truth that I am not a spring chicken anymore and over the years, I find that really hot dishes are a bit beyond me. I am lucky that I don’t suffer the intestinal distress that some people experience after a spicy meal, but, sadly, a mouthfeel of fire now inhibits, rather than enhances my enjoyment of a meal and I it takes the occasional sharp lesson like the Shafali Vindaloo to remind me I just can’t do this anymore…I am thinking, after this episode, that I should like to try doing a much milder Vindaloo at home sometime soon, and try and strike a more Portuguese weighted balance, with good wine and ‘loads of garlic’, rather than mouth-numbing quantities of chili… a report will follow!

Notable Nosh: ‘Mandoo’ (Korean Dumplings)

Mandoo

I eat at Korean restaurants about once or maybe twice a year. I have rarely had dumplings during a Korean meal and, quite honestly, don’t particularly associate dumplings with Koran cuisine at all; Mostly, I think, because they most often appear on the menu under the name ‘pot-stickers’ or the Japanese name ‘Gyoza’. A lot of Korean restaurants will include Chinese, Japanese, or Thai items on the menu, and the dumplings I have seen in these places are generally the fried ‘Guo Tie’ or ‘Wor Tip’ variety that are commonly called pot-stickers, and it is never suggested that they are a Korean ‘thing’ at all…

At Alirang, a tiny, but excellent Korean restaurant in downtown Ottawa, they had dumplings described on the menu as ‘Mandoo’  (Korean Dumplings) … I have seen the name Mandoo in cookery books before, or in its more common variant ‘Mandu’, and the Wikipedia entry for the term suggests that the word refers to a wide variety of native Korean dumplings. In truth, I don’t think this is the case as the word clearly descends from the same root as ‘Manti’ (central Asian dumplings) and ‘Mantou’ (Chinese steamed buns) … In the inset in the above picture, I have shown the menu entry, which includes Chinese characters for the name. These solve the issue a little as they translate as ‘Korean style fried dumplings’ and suggest more a Korean twist on a standard Chinese classic rather than a purely Korean delicacy.

Anyway, whatever the origin, these were pretty decent , except that the wrapper dough was a bit thick for this type of dumpling and would be more appropriate for boiled or even steamed. The Chinese characters specify ‘jiānjiǎo’ which actually means ‘pan-fried’, but these ones were clearly deep-fried and quite oily, although I don’t mean this as a criticism as these were, as I say, pretty darned decent. The filling was ground pork and cabbage that didn’t seem to be seasoned with anything except a little salt, but the simplicity of this worked very well and the overall effect was very flavorful. They may not be truly a traditional Korean delicacy … but who cares 😊

Product Review: Walker’s™ Wasabi Ginger Crisps

Wasabi Chips

A while ago, I was following a spirited exchange on one of the internet forums I follow in which Americans and Britons were hotly debating the merits of their respective gustatory traditions. One thing that came up many times, and which even got grudging agreement by the Americans, was that Britain has a far greater range of interesting of potato chip flavors than elsewhere. From my childhood days, way back in the mists of time, I really only recall ‘Salt and Vinegar’ chips (or ‘crisps’ as they are known in Britain) but things seem to have blossomed considerably since then…

Now, we can’t buy any English potato crisps where I live, but the package you see above was sent to a friend of mine by family living down in (I believe) Toronto. I knew it was an English Brand immediately (it says ‘crisps’ on the front of the package, after all) and the Walker’s™  brand name was even faintly familiar to me. I had a look online and was surprised to see some of the flavors they carry: They do a ‘Prawn Cocktail’, which sounds like it could be good; one in ‘Worcestershire Sauce’ flavor, which sounds interesting, at least; and then there is also one (and I swear this is true), which is flavored as ‘Brussels Sprout’. I’ll not comment on the last save to say that I probably won’t die unfulfilled if I never get to try them…

Anyway, I was a bit skeptical about the ‘Wasabi Ginger’ flavor but it turned out to be pretty good. Some other wasabi flavored snacks I have tried (Wasabi Nori, and Wasabi Peas) have been a bit heavy-handed with the wasabi and the result is… well, unsubtle, to say the least. Here, both the ginger and the wasabi are very light additions. Indeed, the ginger is so subtle that you probably would miss it if not watching for it … it only appears as a slightly sweet hint of the root when you first bit into a crisp, and fades as the wasabi taste rises. Even here, though, the wasabi is just an enhancement of the potato crisp flavor, and not a mouth searing mask for every other taste. It really was well done, in my opinion…

Notable Nosh: Shafali Style Onion Bhaji

Shafali Onion Bhaji 1

I first visited and reviewed Ottawa’s Shafali Restaurant almost 7 years ago. On that occasion, I sampled the Onion Bhaji from their appetizer menu and rated them very highly. They were, on that occasion, made largely the same way as all the others I had ever eaten thus far ( including those I made myself), which is to say, thin strips of onion dipped in a seasoned batter and deep-fried. Just recently though, I stopped in to Shafali again, and ordered their Onion Bhaji a second time, only to find that they were prepared in a way I have not had them before …

The menu (which may read the same was it did on my first visit), describes the as ‘Onion balls bound with lightly spiced and fragrant chickpea flour batter and served with house tamarind mango chutney’, but if you compare the above picture with the one from my 2012 review (follow the above link), you can see that they are not the same. The seasoning in both cases was about the same as best as I can recall, and here included  turmeric, coriander, pepper and fennel seed among other spices, but it was the nature of the of the ‘batter’, though,  that was very different.

In most versions I have ever had (or made) the batter is quite thin and thus you get a result that is a bit like the crispy Japanese Kakiage style Tempura. Here it had a much ‘doughier’ texture. I am not sure, but I rather think that, having immersed the chopped onion to the batter (more minced than shredded, in this case), more Besan flour was added to produce a drier, possibly kneadable result. Accordingly, the final texture is still a bit crispy on the outside, but much spongier and chewier at the center.

I don’t think I would say that I liked this way better than the way I have usually had Bhajis, but it was still pretty good and I should like to experiment with the basic idea in some of my own creations.

Notable Nosh: Dunn’s Famous Smoked Meat Sandwich

Dunn's Smoked Meat 1

Many years ago, before I started writing this blog, I made something of a culinary pilgrimage to the justly famous Schwartz’s Deli in Montreal for one of their celebrated Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwiches, a specialty which is very much he spiritual cousin of the sort of Pastrami on Rye you find in traditional Hebrew Delicatessens in New York.

Now, for years, I have been frequenting Dunn’s Famous Deli at its location on Dalhousie Street in Ottawa. It is located just two blocks from the hotel I usually stay in and they do a great breakfast special, so I usually will visit at least once on any given trip to the capital. They also, however, do a Smoked Meat Sandwich special that they advertise as being ‘World Famous’. I always took this claim with a grain of salt, and was thus far not tempted, but then I learned that Dunn’s got their start in Montreal way back in 1927, and, apparently, was something as a rival to Schwartz’s. Accordingly, I decided to put their sandwich to the test…

As you can see, the platter, which comes with a ‘bottomless’ soft drink, and sells for only $16.99, is pretty substantial, and includes, in addition to the well stacked sandwich, hand cut fries, coleslaw and a pickle. The pickle is, well… a pickle, but the coleslaw (a simple, vinegar dressed type) is pretty decent. The fries are very thick and cooked the way you get them in an English Fish and Chip shop, that is to say, not especially crispy. This won’t appeal to all but I like them this way and they were just fine with nothing but salt and vinegar.

Now the sandwich… It really was worth the visit. I am not a big fan of rye, but it us essential here and the Dunn’s variety is very nice and the meat stack high enough to be filling but still easy to eat. For those not familiar, Montreal style smoked meat is, like Pastrami, a cured beef that is spiced and hot smoked. The smoking, however, is quite light and you don’t tend to get a heavy smokiness like you do with, say, southern BBQ. What you do get, at least in Dunn’s product, is a lovely aromatic flavor of freshly cracked black pepper and coriander seed. The cut is less fatty than I recall the Schwartz’s as being, but it still managed to be nicely juicy. All in all, it was a very nice sandwich and, though it must be at least 10 years to my visit to Schwartz’s, I think this was better….