Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Ramen Showdown - Toronto Vs San Francisco

From top left, clockwise: Kinton, The Ramen Underground, Sansotei, Suzu Noodles

Within the past couple years, there's been an influx of great Japanese restaurants in Toronto. From okonomiyaki, to izakaya and ramen, Toronto has become a great city for lovers of Japan's cuisine. Although I have to admit that I wasn't wooed by some of the local ramen I had 2 years ago (bowls that looked picture perfect, but ultimately lacked in flavour), recently, Kinton and Sansotei have won my heart.

But how does TO ramen compare to San Francisco, a food city with an established Japanese community? On a recent trip to SF, I was determined to find out. According to some notable local foodies, Suzu Noodle House and The Ramen Underground are two of the best under-the-radar spots in town. Without hesitation, I visited both these restaurants and happily slurped up my bowls of noodles and broth. But ultimately, how did they compare to our TO fare? To keep things objective, I'd chomped and slurped with the following criteria in mind:

The Noodles:

Good ramen noodles should should be fresh and toothsome. Although I found Suzu's noodles to be a bit more al dente than expected, both cities had all-around great noodles. It's too close to call, so this one is a tie.

The Add-Ins:

All four restaurants serve well cooked and seasoned meats, and all but Ramen Underground had a nicely cooked egg; hard boiled, but not over cooked to the point which the yolk becomes flaky. At Ramen Underground, the bowls can be customized with a number of protein and veggies (such, corn, kimchi to name a few), and at Suzu the karaage fried chicken gives it the ultimate comfort factor. For this reason, San Fran wins by a hair in this category.

The Broth:

The broth is considered by many to be the heart and soul of this dish. Whereas the meat, veggies, and noodles can be prepared relatively quickly, the broth requires hours to cook and stew, in order for the flavour to develop. Although the broths at Ramen Underground and Suzu Noodles were quite tasty, there's a noticeable depth and richness of the broths at Sansoitei and Kinton, that have you craning your neck back to tilt the bowl and enjoy every last drop. Without a doubt in my mind, TO has the best ramen broth.

So although SF ramen was delicious, it's just missing that extra bit of care and soul that TO Ramen possesses. Let's be honest folks, it's all about the broth, because the love is in the liquid.

Happy eats,

- LC

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Weekend Cooking - Potato and Mushroom Kugel

I'm a very fidgety person,and a lover of multi-tasking. When I tell you that I'm going to have a chilled-out weekend that involves marathoning House of Cards, what I'm actually telling you is "I'll be doing a bunch of mindless chopping and peeling, while House of Cards is on in the background."

So yes, when there's a bad weather day and some good TV or movies to be watched, chances are I'll be cooking something large and long in prep time. Also given that I'm trying to save-up for an upcoming trip, I decided to make something budget friendly: potato and mushroom kugel.

Although this is far from a traditional kugel, it holds-up well and will provide you with a hearty meal for a whole week, plus some leftovers for the freezer.


Ingredients (adapted from Food and Drink Mag, Spring '14):
  • 3 lbs of yukon gold potatoes, julienned on a mandolin with peels on
  • 1 lb of cremini mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 3 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp dried tarragon 
  • 7 eggs, beaten
  1. Julienne the potatoes, and set aside in two large bowls, filled with cold water. (Yup - this step is going to take you a while!
  2. Preheat oven to 350F.
  3. Clean and finely chop the mushrooms, then add to an oiled frying pan, and medium-high heat. Cook for 6 minutes, and stir periodically until any moisture has evaporated.Add the garlic, lemon juice, and tarragon, and cook for another minute. Remove from heat, and set aside.
  4. Drain the potatoes in water, and in a separate bowl, beat the eggs well. Once beaten, place half the potato mixture in your largest baking pan (grease first), and toss with half the egg mixture. 
  5. Add all of the cooked mushrooms on top of the eggy potatoes in the pan.
  6. In a bowl,toss together the remaining egg and potato, then spread out in the pan as a final layer.  
  7. Bake for 1 + 10minutes. When the top is crispy and the egg at the bottom is cooked through, it's done.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Bits & Bites - March in the Kitchen

Finally mastered kale chips! Turns out that the secret is using baby kale.
My at-home healthy caffeine fix - americano with almond milk and coconut oil.
So darn good ... I went though this entire bottle in a week.
Oven-dried oranges, for a bit of DIY decor.

One of my go-to recipes for banana and zucchini muffins.

Bits & Bites - March in the City

My new favourite cocktail mix - Orange Juice, Muscato, and Vodka.

The best brunch I've had in midtown, at Lil' Baci

Making pancakes at a community event for Not Far From the Tree.
Lunch at my favourite vegan restaurant, Hibiscus Cafe

I seriously <3 these magnets.
Delicious (and strong) Plum wine at Don Don Izakaya.

Hoppeta-Yaki (Potato and Bonito flake deliciousness) at Don Don Izakaya
Topped tofu for one of my vegetarian pals, at Don Don Izakaya
Grilled stringray fins at Don Don Izakaya.
Who knew that Chatime Bubbletea had the cutest donuts?
The ultimate comfort food: Tonkotsu Ramen at Sansotei Ramen.

I have a weird love of all things octopus, so I'm smitten with these candle holders. 
Spotted this while grocery shopping .... I don't even know what to think :S

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Sugar-Free Spread: Kiwi Jam

We all have that "health thing" we need to work on, and mine is avoiding that sweet, sweet devil named sugar. One complaint you'll never hear from me is "this tastes too sweet." In fact, as a child, I used to eat spoonfuls of sugar straight out of the sugar jar. Wow ... the fact that I've had very few cavities in my lifetime is kind of a miracle!

When it comes to jam, I find that my store-bought options are either full of sugar or artificial sweeteners, which don't quite agree with me. Since kiwi is pretty sweet on it's own, and is supposed to taste a little tangy, it was the perfect subject for my sugarless experiment.

A couple things to note: apples and arrowroot flour. In order to get a jammy consistency, you need the pectin in the apple, and the arrowroot flour to help thicken the mix. Although it may seem appealing to substitute with corn starch, you must resist the temptation, since cornstarch doesn't react well with citrus fruits. Besides, arrowroot is dirt-cheap at most bulk food places.
This stuff is really good on english muffins
  • 12 Kiwis 
  • 1 green apple
  • 1/4 cup of apple juice
  • 2 tsp arrowroot flour
  • 2 500 ml/16 oz mason jars
  1. Peel and cut-up the kiwis into small chunks.
  2. With a potato masher (or just your hands) crush the kiwis into a mush. 
  3. Core and cut-up the apple into small bits, and add to the kiwi. No need to peel the apples, as the peels boil to tender. 
  4. Add the apple juice, and transfer into a large pot on medium-high heat.
  5. Once the fruit mix starts to boil, sprinkle the arrowroot flour over top, and quickly mix in. Don't worry too much if there are still arrowroot clumps, as these will eventually incorporate. 
  6. Turn heat down and let simmer for 55 minutes.
  7. When done simmering, let cool to room temperature, then place in jars and store in the refrigerator.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Bits&Bites/Inside a Food Styling Kit (Feb 21 to 27)

Whew - it's been another crazy week! One highlight I do have to share, is that I got the pleasure of working with food stylist Ruth Gangbar yesterday. Not only did she do an amazing job of making my client's food look its best, but she was kind enough to show me her massive food styling kit:

Photo from Cottage Life
I don't even think those pictures do the kit justice. Her kit is actually an electronics case, and every crevice is filled with all sort of spoons, tweezers, and well ... everything! It would put a craftsman's tool box to shame.

If you want to become become a food stylist, I highly recommend you develop an amazing attention to details, and masterful hand, and strong arms for carrying your styling kit around.


- LC

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Poppin' Cherry Cake Pops

Instead of traditional heart-shaped treats, I decided to do something a bit cheekier for Valentine's Day this year. I decided to continue with the cake pop trend, and Poppin' Cherry was one of two flavours I made for my colleagues. I was happy that these were a smash hit at the office, and that everyone seemed to enjoy the popping sensation when they bit into their treat. So what give these their "pop"? The fact that they're made with cherry pop, and topped with pop rocks.

This is my second attempt at making cake pops (with my handsome cake pop baking partner), and two key things I've discovered are:
  1. Freezer time is super important. It's so much easier to coat the cake in chocolate when the balls are well frozen.
  2. Using a cake pop decorating stand (Wilton make a nice cheap one) allows the chocolate coating to dry more evenly, so that cake pops look just as good as they taste.
Ingredients (makes roughly 2 dozen):
  • 1/2 one box of French Vanilla cake mix (+ the eggs and oil specified for half)
  • 1/3 cup cherry pop, left out for about 20 minutes to flatten
  • 1/2 cup of maraschino cherries, finely diced
  • 350 grams of white chocolate
  • 2 packets of cherry or strawberry pop rocks
  • Red food colouring
  • One pack of at least 30 lollipop sticks
  1. Prepare half of the boxed cake mix according to instructions, being careful to not over-bake
  2. Once baked, let cool and use a fork to turn the cake into a bowl of crumbs
  3. Add the pop and cherries to the cake crumbs, mixing well with a spoon
  4. Once mixed, roll the crumb mix into tightly packed 1" balls (similar to how you would roll meatballs) and lay the balls out on a baking sheet
  5. Place the baking sheet of cake balls into the freezer for 40 minutes to set the ball shape
  6. When the 40 minutes are just about up, start melting the white chocolate in either the microwave or a double-boiler, and stir in a couple drops of red food colouring
  7. Remove the cake balls from the freezer, and insert the lollipop sticks into the balls, being carefully to not let the stick go all the way through
  8. Holding the cake pop by the lollipop stick, swirl the ball around in the melted chocolate, until all of the cake is coated. Carefully place into the cake pop stand to dry
  9. Sprinkle with pop rocks, and let sit at room temperature for a few hours, so that the chocolate can fully set