Friday, April 3, 2009

Yearning-For-Spring Risotto

All rain and no sun makes this foodie a nasty grouch. I'm tired of looking at these bare trees. A month ago I was still able to appreciate their stark beauty, but now they just look like they're taunting me. I started this blog in the dead of winter, but now I want to start incorporating some cheerful outdoor shots into my posts! There's only so much inspiration I can get from chilly winds and dull grey skies.

There's also this other thing that's making me grumpy. Usually DH and I like to take one "honeymoon" trip every year - you know, while we can (no kids, yet!). Well, this year we started to think about our annual vacation, and what with this recession raising its ugly head, we've basically decided to go on a "budget" vacation. Ugh. Look, call me high maintenance or whatever, but I used to think that going on vacation meant getting away from it all, including worrying about the budget! Don't get me wrong, I do agree that this year we have to cut back, but that doesn't mean I can't gripe about it, right? I'll do the right thing, but I'll do it kicking and screaming dammit! *Sigh* ... oh don't worry, this is just a phase. It's called "initial resistance" - I'll be a happy camper (it's just a phrase, I will not go camping as my much-needed annual vacation, so please don't suggest it dear readers!) once we decide on a place that really speaks to us. I'm open to suggestions! It just needs to be in the continental US. I have a feeling you're a well-traveled lot, my dear readers, so spill.

To make up for the lack of green outside, I went and brought some for my insides - gorgeous, leafy swiss chard. I came across this good-looking recipe that Brys posted on Cookthink (me likey this site a LOT), and decided that this was a great way to not only use up the chunk of leftover gorgonzola I had in my fridge, but also a delicious way to use this chock-full of nutrients veggie. Swiss chard is an excellent source of vitamins C, E, and K, carotenes, chlorophyll, and fiber. It's also rich in several minerals including potassium, magnesium, iron, and manganese. Then there's vitamin B6, protein, calcium, thiamine, selenium, zinc, niacin, and folic acid ... *whew* - that was a mouthful. I just think it's purrdy.

Risotto With Chard, Gorgonzola & Walnuts
(original recipe on Cookthink; I made some changes)

Serves 2-3


1 cup arborio rice
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 or 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
5 cups vegetable broth
Half a bunch swiss chard, washed, sliced into thin strips
1/2 crumbled gorgonzola (or more, per your taste)
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
Half a lemon, zested
Salt and freshly ground black pepper


1. Set the vegetable stock to boil. When it comes to a boil, turn down the heat so that it's simmering.

2. Toast the chopped walnuts in a tsp of oil, and keep aside.

3. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Saute the onions till transparent, then cook the chopped garlic in there for another minute.

4. Add the rice, and stir about for 1-2 mins, till all the grains are coated with the oil.

5. Pour in a ladle full of the simmering broth, and keep stirring occasionally till the liquid is absorbed by the rice. Do this until the rice starts to soften, 8-10 mins.

6. Stir in the strips of swiss chard, and continue with adding one ladle at a time of the broth, waiting for the liquid to absord between each time, until the rice becomes tender. Another 10 mins.

7. Finally, throw in the toasted walnuts, gorgonzola, salt, pepper and lemon zest. Stir for another 2 mins, then you're done! Best to eat this right away, which shouldn't be too hard.

Verdict: I felt really good about this recipe. Maybe it was all those nutrients coarsing through my clogged veins. Maybe it was simply delicious. It's definitely a keeper, and I'll make it again when chard is in its peak season. There are no real spices in this dish, so you have to make sure your ingredients are flavorful enough to really shine through. The crunch of the walnuts is a really special touch here. Nothing like a successful kitchen experiment to get me out of my funk! Oh, and the fact that DH liked it too (enough to have seconds), well, that's just sweet sweet icing.

The first time I tried out this dish, there was still snow on the ground ... which wasn't that long ago!

I'm sending this in as my second entry to the Weekend Herb Blogging event, hosted this week by Ivy at Kopiaste (go on, venture into some amazing Greek cuisine by visiting this site!).

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Glutton Takes Toronto - Part Trois (3)

I like trilogies. There's something very neat about them. A proper beginning, middle and end, yet each part can stand on its own. Which is why this is the final episode of my Toronto trilogy. I know I know, it doesn't have quite the following as say, Lord Of The Rings, but it's still my best epic yet! (ok, it's my only epic, but you'll indulge me, won't you dear readers?)

My last few days in Toronto were pretty eventful, gastronomically speaking that is. There was the lazy weekend morning, when Mommy dearest made sauteed chicken liver (kaleji) and parathas for brunch. I love the way she makes it, with just the right amount of heat and spices, and sauteed till tender and creamy. Then you wrap a hot, buttery bit of paratha around it and pop it in to your happy mouth. Lick fingers and repeat! This is one of those dishes Mom makes that I have a feeling I won't ever be able to replicate. *sigh* ... another one to add to the already long-enough list.
I also got lucky enough to get one or two sunny days during my trip, so off I went to explore some interesting corners of Toronto. Turns out there are lot more fascinating old buildings in Toronto than just the ones at my old U of T campus. You're thinking I should know this already, since I went to school in that city, but the fact is that when you're a college student, your entire world consists of your home or dorm, your friends' home or dorm, the library and the buildings where you have your classes (and the neighborhood club or bar, but let's keep that between us!). So I fell for Toronto in a whole new way this time around, getting excited about all the things I had never noticed before.
Let me tell you about this one place that really made me jump up and down with glee ... Smoke's Poutinerie, weeeeeeeeeeee! That's right all you non-Canadians; a real, honest-to-goodness poutinerie (pronounced poo-teen-nery). What's a poutinerie, you ask? A place that specializes in making poutine of course! Poutine is an artery-clogging concoction, made of fries, cheese curds and hot gravy (what's not to love?!), that originated in Quebec and has since been embraced by the masses in Toronto. I think even fast food joints there serve poutine. So even though Smoke's offers all kinds fancy versions of poutine, I knew that my first taste of this phenomenon (after many years) would have to be the original, the real deal. The place was packed when I went (on a weekday, during the lunch hour) - I only got standing room. All kinds of people were lining up, right from the young investment bankers to families with kids. And the portions were more than adequate. My order was pretty good, although I wanted the fries to be crispier, but I still highly recommend it because the gravy and cheese curds were exactly what I wanted!

If you're worried about my health at this point (you should be, the other day I had brains, now poutine; somebody stop me!), rest assured that I did walk a LOT in Toronto. After that heavy lunch, I strolled over to this charming little nook of the city called Kensington Market. It's a vibrant, diverse, colorful area, filled with stores selling kooky accessories, vintage clothing, and other quirky goods.
Conveniently, Toronto's Chinatown is located right next to Kensington Market, so I happily made my way there, taking in the fascinating sights and smells.
And thanks to Robyn (who is The Girl Who Ate Everything), I knew exactly where to go for my Chinese bakery fix. Ding Dong Pastries (321 Spadina Ave) is one GREAT bakery. The variety of carb-y goodness, both savory and sweet, was enough to make my eyes light up. Delicate egg custard tarts, plump pineapple buns (tee hee), chicken buns, chestnut buns (surprisingly good), coconut balls (har dee har har) and much more.
I managed to squeeze in one last sight-seeing trip to St. Lawrence Market. It's a covered, very large, very organized farmers' market, filled with fantastic produce, meat, fish, cheese and all kinds of other goodies. Grab something from the many sandwich stands, ethic eateries or bakery kiosks, then walk around taking in the rich food landscape around you.

Lookie here, a Long Island export! North Fork rep-re-SENT!

Mmmmmmmmmm, genuine honeycomb!

Gosh, did I not have anything healthy to eat the whole time I was in Toronto?! Oh wait, there was this one thing ...
Fresh squeezed carrot, orange, apple, blackberry juice ... thanks to my sister-in-law for providing me the only beneficial nutrients I got during that whole week!

So what did we learn from my trials and tribulations in the Great White North (aside from the fact that I eat like a horse)? Well folks, I personally learnt that Toronto is more fun and fascinating than I'd previously given it credit for. Next time, I'll delve a lot deeper. Of course there will be a next time - my parents live there! And to be honest with you, spending fun evenings with them, swapping family stories, playing with Jordan and sharing laughs was the real highlight of my trip.


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Glutton Takes Toronto - Part Deux (2)

Let's play a game. It's more of a question that I've heard Anthony Bourdain ask many times on his show, and that's "What would be your last death row meal?". It was also the theme for one of this season's Top Chef challenges. Foodies loooooooove pondering this question (we're somewhat morbid that way), and also finding out what other people come up with. Of course, if you're NOT a foodie, you might prefer to go when you're in the throes of passion (yes, I've read a LOT of romance novels, especially the kind that use cheesy phrases like "throes of passion"), but if you see it from my perspective, having the perfect last meal can definitely be an act of passion.

This trip to Toronto was enlightening in many ways, and one of them was because I found my perfect last meal. Oh sweet mama, did I ever!

If I'm about to meet my Maker, then I want to go on a full and satisfied stomach (I'll need the energy, especially when He starts reading aloud from "Muneeba: The College Years"). And I've decided that there's only one thing I want as my very last meal. *Drum roll* ... Brains. Yup, there, I said it. Brains. Not just any brains, but Brain Masala, preferably from Lahore Tikka House in Toronto, accompanied by their Garlic Naan. As a death row meal, it's the only time I'd be able to gorge on brains without restraint. Because, as we all know, brains are nothing more than pure cholesterol, and going crazy on them in reality is tantamount to shaving at least a year off your life (which you could counteract by a solid month on the treadmill, but let's face it, this is MY life we're talking about).

Why is Lahore Tikka House selling Obama t-shirts?! Who would buy them? Maybe if you wanted to take home a t-shirt infused with the smell of onions and spices.

I didn't eat the whole plate of Brain Masala myself - but I could have. The only thing that stopped me was that I wanted to get home to DH alive, and also that my parents who were there with me would have fought me for their fair share. Yeah, it was THAT good.

There's the falooda, a dessert drink popular in Pakistan and India, made with milk, ice, rose-water, basil seeds, vermicelli, ice-cream and a few other nummies.

I've been scouring NYC for a place that offers Brain Masala, but to no avail. The last time I had Brain Masala was at least 7 years ago in Pakistan, so when my Dad said that this restaurant in Toronto has the best Brain Masala he's ever tasted, I was literally out the door and on my way before he could finish his sentence! Lahore Tikka House, as you can see from the images, is a bit of a conundrum. At the moment, it's a glorified dhaba (shack), complete with plastic chairs, rickety tables, unflattering lighting, false ceilings decorated with colorful scarves, and a genuine rickshaw from the motherland. They are building a much nicer place right next door, so the restaurant may have a new & improved home by this summer. BUT, the place has been under construction for the last four years, so you never know. Right now the bathroom is the only thing that's complete and looks really fancy (but it's also attached to the dhaba, which makes the experience a little surreal). The service is respectable, if a little spotty. It's the food though, the AMAZING food that will hook you so hard, that you won't really care for the rest of package. Creamy, spicy, melt-on-your-tongue Brain Masala, fresh buttery naan, tender kababs, and sweet milky falooda to end the meal .... *speechless and salivating*.

It's really hard to move on to other foods after that, but I persevered. I went to Kalendar on College Street, on what may have been the coldest, windiest day of the season! Fortunately the food was pretty good - but hard to categorize, since it had a bit of Caribbean in there, some Italian, some Canadian ... so let's just call it "fusion". That night we feasted on their nannettes (oven baked naan bread with all kinds of toppings) and scrolls (roti-like crepes stuffed with some great combinations of ingredients), but their salads on the menu looked pretty good too.

A good friend took me to JJ (Japanese-Thai cuisine) in Mississauga, and I really enjoyed the food and ambience there. We ordered quite a spread that night (the staff must've had a good laugh at our expense), but we did do a decent job of polishing off most of it. The only thing that didn't work out was the beef sashimi, which wasn't bad, just tasteless. The sushi was fantastic though, and I really enjoyed the Thai selections. Their fried calamari was one of the best I've had, and the duck curry with lychees and jackfruit was interesting and deeeeeeeelish.

I got the chance to hang out with another old friend of mine on this trip, and was delighted to meet her kitties! Check out this little beauty; her name is Bibi.
Isn't she gorgeous?! A real princess - all prim & proper. Wish my camera could capture her blue eyes. On my way home from my friend's place, I wondered if Bibi would go for my little guy, Jordan. But then I walked into my house and saw him like this ...
... erm, maybe not.