Eating With My Hands at Lamesa

23 Oct

Any chance I get, I love to eat my food with my hands. Bacon? I eat with my hands. Scrambled eggs? Piled on toast and eaten with my hands. I have been known to eat gooey, rich chocolate cake with my hands and no one can convince me otherwise that it doesn’t make for a more joyful experience. (You people and your cutlery-for-pizza ways? I do not understand you.) So when I was invited to take part in a kamayan dinner at Lamesa last night, I was genuinely excited. Sitting down at a table draped with banana leaves and eventually adorned with brightly coloured, intensely flavoured food is my idea of a great dinner. Every Sunday, Lamesa is offering this kamayan (translated, means “hand to mouth”) dinner for a very reasonable $40/person that would be great for everyone: a group of friends, a family, a date. Best to make reservations and to know that this is not a fast meal: the idea is to sit with those you care about to share and enjoy a meal together. It’s a Filipino tradition that the owners and chefs want to bring to our awesome city and I think it’s a fabulous addition. It’s a feast for the senses.

Refreshments in hand, our table watched (and drooled) while head chef Rudy Boquilla and chef de cuisine Joash Dy elegantly placed the four different sauces on top of the banana leaves. First was the bagoong caramel, a fermented shrimp paste, followed by a soy garlic puree, sawsawan gel and housemade hot sauce. The sawasan gel was a table fave: thick, sweet and salty, it was made with soy, vinegar and garlic. Every once in a while, I would find another little pocket of it hidden under rice and I’d swipe whatever bite of food I had in my fingers through it. They could bottle and sell this stuff.

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Next to be served was a salad comprised of sour mango, arugula, radish and pretty heirloom carrots paired with mango chutney. This was followed by a sisig lettuce cup: iceberg lettuce piled high with chopped chicken, pork and beef cooked with chili, garlic and onions. Light and crunchy, these were light bites that helped to balance the rich meats that were to come.

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In the middle of the table, chef Dy spread out generous heaps of garlic fried rice topped with crispy garlic bits. On top of the rice, mussels and clams cooked in a broth of coconut milk, ginger and garlic. In between the shellfish, smoked, boneless bangus (marinated milkfish) were artfully placed. The smokiness of the fish and the brininess of the shellfish were making our mouths water. Next to come was the hands-down winner of the night: the crispy chicken adobo wings. This is not to say that the kare kare oxtail (braised in a peanut garlic sauce) wasn’t succulent and beautiful, because it was; but, this chicken was incredible. Maybe the best fried chicken in the city. A grand statement, to be sure, but it has to be tasted to be believed.

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The array: smoked fish, mussels, corn, oxtail, chicken adobo wings, rice, kale chip, pea shoots, lettuce cup and chicken tinola broth.

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Halved calamansi, pickled egg and mango chutney.

 

Not to be left out were the grilled corn, bok choy, kale chips, sweet purple yam cornbread, pickled egg and fresh calamansi that dotted the table. To say this was an epic meal would almost do it a disservice. It was a fun meal. A balanced meal. An “I am so full but can’t stop eating” meal. An “oh my god, did you try this with that??” meal. A meal one does not soon forget. Check out Lamesa at 669 Queen St. W., just west of Bathurst. They will be putting on the kamayan dinners every Sunday night – don’t forget to make reservations!

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Before…

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…after.

 

Mexican-style Salad

30 Sep

In an attempt to make some healthier choices (I’m even back at the gym after a prolonged absence. Helllooooo, muscles I’d forgotten about!), I’ve been ransacking some cookbooks I haven’t opened in a while for inspiration. In the book Get Naked in the Kitchen, there is a pretty great recipe for a Mexican taco salad bowl. I made minor adjustments to the original to suit both my taste and what was in my cupboard. The end result had everything you could want in a healthy meal: it was filling, it was easy, it had lots of flavour, it was balanced, it came together in 25 minutes and it’s 100% adaptable. You can substitute the lemon juice for any vinegar, the brown rice for white or quinoa, the flavouring of the black beans or the black beans for another kind be it white, pinto, black-eyed peas…whatever you like. You could also throw in some tortilla chips for extra crunch. Give it a go!

Serves 2.

Ingredients

3-4 c greens (I used baby arugula)
2 tb olive oil + 2ts for beans
1 tb lemon juice
1 c brown rice, cooked
1 can black beans, drained and thoroughly rinsed
1 garlic clove, diced
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 ts cumin
1 ts chili powder
splash of water
1/2 sweet pepper, chopped
1 avocado
Salt & pepper
handful of cilantro, chopped

Directions

1. Cook the rice according to directions.
2. In the meantime, heat the 2ts of olive oil in a pan to a medium heat. Add in the garlic and onion and sauté until the onions are translucent, about five minutes.
3. Add in the beans, cumin, chili powder. Toss in salt & pepper to taste. Stir together and then add a couple of splashes of water to the pan. Turn up the heat and cook another 5-10 minutes until the water evaporates.
4. Slice the avocado in half. Remove the pit and cut the flesh into cubes. Season with salt, pepper & lemon or lime juice.
5. Toss greens and red pepper in a bowl with the remaining olive oil and lemon juice. Split evenly on two dishes, making a well in the middle.
6. Plate rice in the well among the greens and then top with beans, avocado, cilantro and hot sauce if you so choose.

How I Learned to Love the Garden

27 Aug

I have always appreciated food though, admittedly, I have learned to appreciate it on new levels in the last ten years. I’ve certainly always enjoyed eating and reaping the rewards of others’ hard work; now, I understand just how much work goes into getting that food to my hungry mouth.  It’s not like I wasn’t exposed to food production as a child: my dad maintained a wonderful garden in our backyard that had carrots, beets, tomatoes, peas, beans, chives, rhubarb, cucumber and whatever else he felt like planting (like the year he tried corn. I kept hoping for ghost baseball players to appear. Sadly, neither the corn nor the ghosts deigned to show). We also had cherry, pear and apricot trees along with a raspberry bush and grapevines. Homegrown fruits and veggies we did not lack. We also had a walnut tree but in the 20+ years we lived in our house, no one ate a single, solitary walnut. We’d find them on the ground with six tiny, squirrel bites taken out of them. Tree rats are the worst. What I lacked was the interest in cultivating them. My parents would send me into the yard to pick whatever was ripe at the time and I’d inevitably come back with about 50% of what needed to be picked. What can I say? I was more interested in something SUPER IMPORTANT like whether or not Zack and Kelly‘s eternal love would be torn asunder by the evil Jeff.

Fast forward to 2007. I am now living in an apartment with J and ruing the lack of outdoor space to grow my own food. We would buy basil plants that would, inevitably, wither and die in record time. We did see some success planting mint in my dad’s garden. So much success, in fact, that the mint spread over the next few months and by the following summer, was rather intrusively making its way into the rest of the garden. That was bolstering, though. “I can actually grow things,” I remarked as my dad looked on, happy I’d taken an interest in gardening but dismayed by the herb that was now embedded in the chives and beans and peas and…

Jump to 2012. J and I are house hunting. We come across a house with a slightly wild but charming front yard and an absolutely lovely backyard with lush, red cherry tomatoes. “This has potential,” I think to myself excitedly. The sight of those gorgeous tomatoes has stirred something inside me and I can imagine spending quiet afternoons planting and weeding and watering and enjoying the fruits of my labour. The day we took possession of the house, I went straight to the yard and plucked one of the tomatoes from the vine and popped it in my mouth. “That’s it. I’m growing everything I can back here.”

Next spring, my dad arrived at the house with tomato seed packets and a container with soil pods to get them started. I took a surprising amount of delight planting the little seeds and watching them grow into full blown…seedlings. My dad planted them in one of the gardens and I tended to those things like I tended to foodNURDling. By August we had fresh, plump cherry, Early Girl and beefsteak tomatoes.

Wee tomatoes.

Wee tomatoes.

 

Emboldened by my success, I started to hatch plans for summer 2014. I planted beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, green, red and jalapeno peppers, basil, lemon thyme, rosemary and mint. When each ripened, I happily picked ALL of the fruits and vegetables and gave each to the foodNURDling. As he happily gobbled down cucumber and tomato slices, I called my mom:

“Mom! A thing I grew is eating a thing I grew!” I almost wanted to cry.

It was A Moment for me. Growing food for me and my family. This is how I learned to love my garden.

Homemade Granola

2 Jul

File this under “why didn’t I do it sooner?” I’ve had it in my head that I’d like to make my own granola for ages but somehow never got around to it. Finally, timing and motivation collided and in less than an hour with almost zero effort on my part I had aromatic, crunchy, salty, rich, sweet, filling, semi-healthy granola! (Yes, it’s high in fat but they are beneficial fats and if you’re in need of a snack, this stuff is better for you than junk food.)

There is no right or wrong way to make granola as it’s pretty much the most adaptable recipe of which you could conceive. There are some basic ratios but your ingredients can change with every tasty batch. If you want large clusters, don’t stir the granola while it bakes; for small pieces that work well as a topping for yogurt, give the whole batch a good stir every 15 minutes. Or, do what I did and stir half to get the best of both worlds. If you intend to add dried fruit – and I recommend you do – make sure you stir it in at the end when the granola has cooled. Otherwise, the baking process will dry them out further and you’ll get a pretty unpleasant texture. Same goes for chocolate chips: add ’em in at the end or you’ll get melted chocolate.

Makes…a lot, which is good because it won’t stick around long.

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Ingredients

3 c old fashioned oats (not the quick-cooking kind)
1 1/2 c chopped nuts (a mix of walnuts, peanuts, almonds, cashews, pine nuts, pecans, pistachios, etc.)
1 1/2 c coconut shavings or flakes
1/2 c maple syrup
1/4 c coconut or olive oil
1/4 c sesame seeds
1/4 c sunflower seeds
1/4 c flax seed
2 tb brown sugar
1 1/2 ts salt
1/2 ts cinnamon
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1 c dried fruit (cherries, raisins, cranberries, bananas, apricots, blueberries, mango, pineapple, etc.)
1 handful chocolate chips, optional but delicious

Directions

1. Preheat your oven to 300F.  Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Stir together everything except the dried fruit and chocolate chips until thoroughly combined.
3. Spread the whole thing out on the baking sheet and bake for 40-45 minutes. Stir every 15 minutes for small pieces; don’t stir at all for large clusters; or stir some for a mix of both.
4. Allow to cool and then add dried fruit and chocolate.
5. Store in an airtight container and it’ll last for a solid two weeks if you don’t eat it all before then.

Maple Oatmeal Muffins

2 Jun

It’s Friday night, 9pm. I have just finished off a quick dinner after putting the foodNURDling to bed and gardening for a bit. Thoughts turn to the weekend and what I’m going to eat for breakfast. Out of bagels, not in the mood for slow-cooked oatmeal and wanting something more substantial than cereal, I hit upon muffins. I hadn’t tried out a new muffin recipe in a while and wasn’t really enthused at the idea of cheese muffins (though they are pretty fabulous, if I do say so myself). I scoured the interwebs for inspiration and found it: maple oatmeal muffins. The recipe is pretty basic and lends itself to creativity: you could add chopped pecans or walnuts, chocolate chips, flax seed for a health boost or, as a friend suggested, crumbled bacon. That last option is one I will be exploring in the near future, no doubt.

Makes 12.

Ingredients

1 c rolled/quick-cooking oats
1/2 c milk
1 c flour
2 ts baking powder
1/4 ts salt
1/2 ts cinnamon
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 c butter, melted
3/4 c maple syrup

Directions

1. Preheat your oven to 400F and pop liners into your muffin tin (or butter/spray each cup).
2. In a medium bowl, mix the oats & milk. Let stand 5 minutes. Meanwhile,  stir together the flour, baking powder, salt & cinnamon in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle.
3. Add the egg, butter & syrup to the oat-milk mixture. Combine thoroughly and then add to the dry mixture. Stir until JUST combined.
3a. if you’re going to add walnuts, pecans, bacon or chocolate chips add a 1/2c at this stage and then top with the remaining 1/2c.
4. Spoon into the muffin tins. Pop the tray into the oven and bake for 15-18 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

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Slow-Cooked Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal

30 Apr

Of my non-essential kitchen tools, my slow cooker is the one I use the most. (Maybe I should take it off the non-essential list.)  I love it because it can be used to make so many dishes from breakfast right through to dessert. Currently, it’s mostly being used for overnight oatmeal. I’ve tried out a few variations but my favourite is a version of apple cinnamon oatmeal that smells incredible in the morning when you get up. I am in no way a morning person so anything I can do to make those groggy moments a little easier is good for me. Just throw the ingredients in the night before et voilà: healthy, filling, warm breakfast that requires little more than scooping it into a bowl….although you can’t go wrong adding a little bit of quality maple syrup to your oatmeal in the morning. Just sayin’.

I make a double batch so we have enough for several meals. I highly recommend doing this. It’ll keep in the fridge for a few days and you can always freeze it. (If you do decide to make the larger batch, I recommend adding a little bit more than double the cinnamon.) The recipe below is based on one over at The Yummy Life.

Ingredients

3 apples, peeled & cubed
1.5c milk
1.5c water
1c uncooked steel cut oats
2 tb brown sugar or maple syrup
2 tb butter, cut into small pieces
1 ts cinnamon
1 tb ground flax seed, optional
1/2 ts salt

Directions

1. Coat the inside of your slow cooker with cooking spray. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD. You will need a drill to remove the cooked on oats if you don’t coat the slow cooker.  Trust me.
2. Add in all the ingredients and stir.
3. Set the slow cooker to to low and cook for 7-8 hours. (If doubling, give it an extra hour.)
4. In the morning, inhale the goodness that awaits you. Scoop some into a bowl, add a little milk, and you’re good to go. You could opt to add more maple syrup, brown sugar, walnuts, raisins or anything else your little heart desires.

The Indispensables

27 Mar

Anyone who spends time in a kitchen can tell you there are a few things they use to cook that they can’t live without.  It might be a particular pan or a Silpat or even cooking range. For me, it’s my chef knife, my Dutch oven & my trusty wooden spatula.

Getting my chef knife was a big deal to me. As I wrote in A Bit About A foodNURD, I was afraid of knives when I first started cooking. I would insist on using, essentially, a steak knife to do all the prep work. Years later, I have graduated to the Big Girl Knife and I love it. It gives me a sense of confidence in the kitchen: I can wield this thing and get the work done. (It also reminds me not to get too big for my britches with its sharpness. I have a scar on my left index finger from the time I was carelessly, quickly chopping rosemary with it. Whoops. It served as a good reminder and I haven’t sliced myself since.) It’s so important to get a knife you like: it will make your time in the kitchen simpler and more enjoyable.  I encourage you to do some research and see what might work for you!

My weapon of choice.

Finger frenemy.

The Dutch oven was a present to myself before the foodNURDling arrived. I’d wanted one for some time: I had a slow cooker (which nearly made this list, but lost out to the oven) and I had pans I could get hot enough to get a good sear, but not the all-in-one glory of the Dutch oven. Soups, stews, sauces, chilis…you name it, it goes in here. (Though, for the sake of transparency, J is the resident chili maker and it is goooooooooooooooooooood.) It is a solid beast – I have the 8L – of enameled cast iron which allows me to make large batches of all sorts of things from Mexican pot roast tacos to chicken cacciatore to Thai red curry mussels. It holds heat beautifully (watch out for the hot handles! Ouch!) and it ain’t bad to look at either.

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She’s so pretty.

Finally, there is the trusty, ancient wooden spatula. I’ve had it forever and it shows. Useful in almost every dish cooked in the kitchen from scrambling feta-laden eggs to flipping roasted potatoes, it is the all-purpose, unsung,  unsexy but entirely necessary tool. It’s the workhorse. It’s starting to wear down from use but I won’t give up on it until it becomes a dangerous nub. We have other, similar spatulas but I prefer this one.

So what about you? What are your prized kitchen gizmos and gadgets?

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