Tag: Food

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….

Broccolini Salad

Broccolini Salad 1

When I introduced Broccolini to you in a ‘Foodstuffs’ post a couple of winters ago, I didn’t use it in a recipe immediately, but I did show you how to go about blanching it for subsequent use in other dishes.

Some weeks back, I was blanching a fairly large amount with a view to making a few different things and I had a little bit leftover that I put to use in the simple salad you see pictured above. It is a bit of an amalgam of a few different salads I have seen but, in the main, it is Greek in spirit and very easy to put together. Read on for the recipe….  Continue reading “Broccolini Salad”

Notable Nosh: Grilled Haloumi

PFW Grilled Haloumi

This past year, I made three trips to Ottawa but, unfortunately, only one was strictly a pleasure trip, and it was the only one where I had much in the way of culinary adventures. I have posted quite a few times about dishes I had on the trip already but I saved the best for last. The dish of Grilled Haloumi that you see pictured above was a ‘small plate’ offering I had at Play Food and Wine near the end of my visit and it really ‘stole the show’…

I have been meaning to get around to doing a blog post about Haloumi for some time now but, for those who are unfamiliar, it is a cheese from Cyprus that is made from both sheep and goat milk (cow’s milk is also included sometimes, I gather). It is mild in taste, but the feature that really makes it appealing for me is that it has a very high melting point and can thus be grilled or fried in all sorts of interesting ways.

The version I had on my trip was described on the menu as being ‘Grilled Haloumi with Celeriac, Date Puree, Pomegranate and Hazelnut Oil’. You cannot see the Celeriac in the picture, but it was pickled. The Pomegranate seeds added a nice visual touch but I found the texture a bit jarring and the taste, as was the case with the Celeriac, was okay, but didn’t really add to the overall quality of dish.

The cheese however was excellent … When you bite into Halloumi, especially after being fried or grilled, it has a terrific texture. It is a bit like a cross between really firm tofu and Paneer, except it is even chewier and seems to ‘squeak’ when you bite into it. Here, the grilling was done very well and the charring added a terrific dimension to the mild flavor of the cheese itself.

I am not sure about the Hazelnut oil supposedly used here. Grilled Haloumi usually has a bit of a nutty taste, I find, and that was the case here. Beyond that, I am not sure what effect the oil was supposed to have had. My notes are actually silent on the point so the best I can say is that, while it clearly didn’t negatively impact the dish, it also didn’t have enough effect to be memorable either.

The Date Puree was a very good addition and I thought that sweet fruitiness was a great counterpoint to the savory tastes.  I actually have some Haloumi in my fridge waiting to be used and I will likely try something inspired by this lovely dish. I will keep the fruit puree idea (although something I have on hand rather than fig) but I am going to find something to replace the Pomegranate Seeds and Celeriac that is better suited.

Product Review: Aurora Brand™ Giardiniera

Aurora Giardiniera 1

Giardiniera is an Italian mixed pickle that I have been long been meaning to try making for myself, but which, alas, remains one of the many projects still on my to-do-someday list. The version you see here is a product of the United States made available in Canada by Aurora Importing and Distributing. This company lists quite a wide range of products on their Website, and I have often purchased their Anchovy Paste in a tube.

The basic Giardiniera consists of a melange of cut vegetables that are first brined and then pickled in a seasoned oil and vinegar mix. Sometimes the vegetables are cut quite large and the result is consumed as ‘bite-size’ pickles, and in other cases, as here, the pieces are quite fine and the product is more of a relish used as a condiment on things like sandwiches, or burgers, and so forth.

Olive tends to the olive oil of choice but, here, soybean oil is used. The mix contains sweet peppers, carrots, cauliflower, celery and gherkins (which is a pretty common sort of blend), but hot peppers are included in many versions. The ingredients merely list ‘spices’ for the seasoning, but it does add (a bit ominously) ‘MAY CONTAIN: Mustard’.

This particular product is very well brined and the first impression of is a definite, but not unpleasant saltiness. The vinegar is used fairly lightly, and the original taste of the vegetables is still ‘somewhat’ apparent, but what I found curious is that there is actually a rather sharp bite here that suggests hot peppers were used, if only sparingly. Perhaps this is the mustard they warned as about…

Anyway, I quite liked this and, after the initial taste test, I used it as a jazzy condiment on a vegetarian pizza, and also on a series of sandwiches. The one sort of ‘failing’ here is that the colors are a bit muted and not as vibrant as would more likely be the case in a homemade, short pickle version. In less than two weeks from the date of writing this, I shall be in Ottawa and may well try a different brand or two from one of the excellent Italian food shops there…. I will report 😊

Notable Nosh: The Luxe ‘Surf and Turf Burger’

Luxe Surrf and Turf Burger 1

I first reviewed Ottawa’s Luxe Bistro nearly 7 years ago and I have eaten quite a few times since. One item on their menu that caught my eye some time ago was a special burger with a patty topped with lobster meat. I had forgotten about it until I stopped in to sample some oysters on my Christmas vacation and I ended up giving it a try.

Actually, Luxe also does a ‘Lobster Poutine’ that features shoestring frites with Béarnaise sauce, cheese curds and chunks of sautéed lobster that also sounded interesting but I asked my server about both dishes and she said that, while she loved the poutine, it was a very substantial, and very rich dish… She actually shivered in a decadently delighted sort of way and said … it’s all butter! Anyway, I took that to mean it would mean an evening of dyspepsia for me if I tried to take it in on top of the Chianti I had already sampled and so I plumped for the famous ‘Surf and Turf’ Burger, only to find that it was pretty damn rich itself …

Well, the picture doesn’t do it justice, but to describe it … it is basically a beef burger, where the beef patty is slathered with bacon jam, generous amounts of chunked lobster meat are added, and the whole is drizzled with a rich, creamy Béarnaise sauce. Shredded lettuce and a thick slice of tomato are also added, but I took the last off as the assembly was already a little top heavy and looked like it would easy start shooting stuff out here and there with each bite as it was.

Well, to cut to the chase, as it were, this was probably the richest burger I have ever had and, sad to say, I couldn’t finish it. Had it been just the beef and the lobster, with perhaps just a smidgen of the sauce, I might have managed it all, but, as it was, it was all just a bit much of a muchness. One thing that really made it all a bit overpowering was that the bun (a sweet brioche type, perhaps) was grilled after being slathered with butter. I am not keen on this at the best of times but just a plain toasting over the grill would have been fine. The bacon jam was tasty in and of itself, and lent a nice smoky touch, but it was just another layer of richness that you probably don’t need with the lobster and béarnaise.

I don’t want to sound overly critical here … this is actually a pretty decent, if gimmicky idea … and, on a different occasion, I might have scarfed it down whole and enjoyed it immensely. Still, those thinking to give it a try should be aware of its utterly decadent nature … on this occasion, the sheer richness of this burger defeated me.

A Port ‘Demi-Glace’

Port Demi-Glace 1

A ‘Demi-Glace’ is a very rich sauce that is itself used as a base for other sauces in traditional classic French cuisine. At one time, it would be expected to be one of the essential skills for a chef to master but it seems to be far less commonly employed than was once the case. Indeed, back in the day, when I had quite a few jobs in the food service industry, I can recall only one chef actually making his own. A few kitchens used commercially prepared concentrates in lieu of the real thing, and the rest seemed unconscious of its existence.

Part of the reason for the decline in usage is, I am sure, that the traditional preparation is so dauntingly complex as to be intimidating, and actually requires such time and expense to make it impractical for the home cook. The basic form is the result of blending reduced brown stock with an Espagnole Sauce (which is itself based on brown sauce), and then further reducing it to a thick ‘half-glaze’. The result can then be used as the basis for many classic French sauces such as Bordelaise, or Sauce Robert, or else added to stews or ad hoc sauces for a major flavor infusion.

Anyway, the ponderous and complicated process of Escoffier’s day is now frequently supplanted by methods that dispense with the traditional Espagnole sauce and either thicken the basic stock with a light starch, or else rely entirely on reduction to concentrate and thicken. Today’s post is an experiment I tried in my own kitchen using the latter process, and which produced a pretty decent result …. Continue reading “A Port ‘Demi-Glace’”