Taking Back Summer

I am taking a stand against the narrative that people are now sick of cooking. I do miss restaurants, but I hope this time bent over a stovetop has given everyone an appreciation for these culinary arts. That being said, I am raising to the rafters, long and exhaustive recipe making. I am happily throwing bread making out the window (for now). With light starting to pierce through the cracks of the hollow cave that is the Covid19 pandemic in Ontario, I am proposing simplicity as the theme of summer 2021.

Simple and easy recipes that allow to make up for lost time. Starting with this one.

Vegetable summer rolls with sambal peanut sauce

Ingredients

For the rolls

  • 1 small fennel bulb
  • 7 red radishes
  • 3 large carrots julienned
  • 1/2 cup of fresh mint
  • 1/2 cup of fresh dill
  • 2 green chilies
  • 1/4 cup pickled onions
  • 10-12 sheets of rice paper
  • 15 large shrimps (Optional)

For the sauce

  • 1 cup of crunchy peanut butter
  • 1 tbsp of rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp of sambal
  • Salt
  • 1 tsp ginger powder

How to do it

  1. The recipe starts with a simple mise en place. Slice all your vegetables in uniform slices and set aside for the assembly of the rolls.
  2. Fill a small sheet-pan with room temperature water, and dip your rice paper sheet in the water for roughly 30 seconds.
  3. Remove the sheet from the water, and then assemble the rolls with all the vegetables on a dry surface. Make sure to place the ingredients near one side of the sheet, rather than the middle. This makes the actual rolling easier.
  4. Roll the sheets like you would a burrito. Bring both sides in, over the vegetables, and then roll tightly. Tucking in the ingredients into a tight roll.
  5. Slice the roll in half, and then repeat the process until you have finished the veggies.
  6. For the sauce, heat up the peanut butter in a sauce pan with the other ingredients. Cook on low heat for 5 minutes, and gradually add water until it becomes smooth and dip-able.
  7. Enjoy on the patio with a chilled rosé.

Breakfast Tacos x Me, a Love Story

Lately, my brother, with whom I share living quarters, has been drastically improving his breakfast game. The most important meal of the day is finally embracing that title in our kitchen, and he is my inspiration for giving mine a well deserved facelift.

For as long as I can remember, I have been shamed by friends, peers, and loved ones about my free-spirited approach to breakfast. Noodles have been a regular, so has leftover pizza, tacos, shakshuka. This sparks an endless debate of what qualifies has breakfast food.

The notion that the spot the sun is in the sky would determine wether a food should be eaten or not is absolutely bananalands. But, I have made a compromise. Combining the elements of breakfast beloved by many, and my preference to merge away from traditional canadian breakfasts. I cannot thing of anything more delicious than a corn tostada to be a vessel for refried beans and soft scrambled eggs.

The Major Key

The key to my breakfast is using masa to make corn tortillas. I use easy to make masa. It’s simple and really quick to make, and not to mention in incredibly flavourful. Simply mix the masa with equals parts water and salt. The dough is split up into 20 palm size balls. They are then press with a tortilla press, or rolled with a rolling pin between 2 sheets of parchment papers. They are then fried up in a cast iron pan with a splash of vegetable oil, until golden brown.

Toppings

This deserves the accoutrements of any Canadian breakfast. I like to go with a soft buttery scrambled eggs topped with chives, refried beans, pico de gallo, and avocado and your favourite hot sauce.

Ingredients

For the pico de gallo

  • 2 tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp of fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 of a small onion
  • 1 chopped jalapeño
  • Juice and zest from 1 lime

For the scrambled eggs

  • 3 large chicken eggs
  • 1 tbsp of butter
  • salt
  • 2 tbsp of fresh chives

For the beans

  • 2 cups of dried white beans
  • 1 tbsp of brown sugar
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • 4 cups of vegetable stock
  • 1/4 a cup of butter
  • 4 cups of water
  • 1 tsp dried cumin
  • 1 tsp dried coriander

For the tortillas

  • 2 cups of masa
  • 2 cups of water
  • salt

Steps

  1. In a large pot, add the dried white beans with the water and soak overnight. I recommend making a big pot of beans the day before, and there will be some for the entire week.
  2. The next morning, cook the beans in stock, sugar, salt and pepper, chipotle peppers, cumin, coriander and, butter.
  3. Cook at medium heat for 10 minutes and then bring to a simmer for 45 minutes.
  4. In a bowl, mix the masa with water and salt. Let sit for 15 minutes. Take the dough, and separate into 20 balls of dough. They should be about palm sized.
  5. Dice the tomatoes, cilantro, onion, and jalapeños into small pieces, and mix with the lime juice and zest. Set aside for topping the tostadas.
  6. Press or roll the tortillas and fry them lightly on both sides using vegetable oil. These take about 2 minutes on each side.
  7. In a sauce pan, add the butter and start the heat to medium. When the butter is slightly melted, crack your eggs in the pan and start mixing with a rubber spatula. Mix the eggs continuously, stopping the egg from sticking to the pan.
  8. When the eggs are about done, add the salt and chives.
  9. Top the tortillas with beans, eggs, pico de gallo and some hot sauce.
  10. ENJOY my friends.

How to make stock using your vegetable scraps

I am on a mission to reduce my food waste. So step one of this quest starts at using my ingredients to their full potential. Even an onion peel can be a rockstar in the kitchen.

It is extremely satisfying to make your own stock. The difference in taste between store-bought and homemade is like comparing frozen pizza to Pizza Hut stuffed crust pie. There is no compromise once you’ve made your own stock.

This recipe uses everyday nubs and peels. I usually preserve all of the scraps in an airtight container in the freezer, until the day where it’s slightly overfilled. Then, the sweet smell of vegetables releasing all their flavour into a fragrant cauldron of deliciousness overtakes the house. Adding miso is the umami “cherry on top of the sundae”.

What scraps can you use?

In my research, I very much enjoy mushroom stems, carrot stems, celery stalks, cabbage, herbs. Basically, any vegetable scraps can do the trick. A very good tip is to preserve your bones if you are cooking meat. Shellfish shells are also amazing to keep. Experiment, keep your scraps, bones and, shells.

Making your own stock

This is what I used to create my flavourful shrimp stock. Again, it is easier to use what you have kept frozen for the occasion.

  • Three, 1L containers full of scraps (In this version, I used cabbage stems, carrots, shrimp shells, onion peels, garlic cloves, mushroom stems)
  • Three stalks of celery
  • 8 L of water
  • 6 cloves of garlic, sliced in half
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp peppercorns
  • 10 twigs of thyme
  • 1 bay leaf

Steps

  1. In a large pot, probably the biggest one in your kitchen, add all the ingredients and top with the water.
  2. Reduce on medium heat, until the 8 litres of water becomes 2 litres of stock. The water evaporates from the pot and leaves behind flavour. This process will take up to 2 hours.
  3. Strain the liquid into large glass containers and let it cool before freezing or refrigerating.
  4. Taste the stock, and season accordingly. You know what she needs.
  5. Finally, throw all those scraps into the compost.

Shrimp miso broth with noodles

Concretely use your newfound skill, and make yourself a steaming bowl of noodles, to warm up your day. As I’m writing this, the rain is gently taking slapping against my window, letting me know it’s noodle time. This recipe is incredibly simple, quick and, obviously delicious. Plus, you get that extra satisfaction for using the stock you made yourself. The miso adds that umami saltiness and the noodles are irresistible. Try not slurping this shit up.

What you need

  • 2 cups of your homemade shrimp stock
  • 1 tbsp of red Thai chillies
  • 2 tbsp of green onion
  • 1 tbsp red miso
  • 1 pack of ramen noodles (Or any noodle you prefer)
  • Salt, pepper
  • Juice and zest from 1 lime

Steps

  1. Warm-up your stock in a small pot, and bring to a boil.
  2. Add the salt, pepper, lime juice and, miso to the vessel. Then, bring to a simmer. Reduce slightly for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the noodles directly into the broth, and cook until the noodles become tender and twirlable.
  4. Top with chilies, green onions and, lime zest.

Do not be afraid to add anything you like to this recipe. Except for ketchup. Just don’t. But extra shrimp, bean sprouts, peanuts, shredded carrot, could all be included in this broth. Possibilities are endless.

What to do with Birch Syrup?

Birch syrup, might be the underachieving brother of maple syrup. But the birch syrup, always had this untapped (sap harvesting pun) potential. The sweet nectar of the yellow birch trees makes for an unique taste.

Tap that thing

When does the birch syrup run wild like the 100m dash at the Olympics? Well, it comes slightly later than maple syrup. It pours out in immense quantities, very rapidly in mid-April. I had 10 yellow birches tapped, and the amount of sap collected was overwhelming for a young buck.

From Sap to Syrup

The process of transforming the humble sap, into a rich syrup is quite the lengthy ordeal. For instance, the cooking needs to be done on low-medium heat, in order not to burn the sugars. This mistake results into an unpleasant bitter taste, and I speak from experience. The sap is reduced quite a lot. To obtain 1L of syrup, 40L of sap must be simmered down.

Birch syrup panna cotta with Manitoulin Island hawberry coulis

This panna cotta dish best represents the Northeastern Ontario landscape. I have harvested local birch sap, and boiled in down into a syrup with a earthy taste. Hawberries, unique berry found on Manitoulin Island, take centre-stage in the plate. The voluptuous panna cotta becoming the perfect vessel for their unique tang. If you are not from the region, don’t worry, any berry does the trick.

Ingredients

2 cups of cream

1 tbsp of white sugar

1/4 cup of white wine (riesling)

1/4 cup of birch syrup

1 tsp salt

2 sheets of gelatine

1/4 cup of sour cream

1 cup of hawberrys (blueberries)

Crushed up graham crackers

How to do it

  1. In a small pot, heat 1 cup of cream with the sugar, and the birch syrup. The mixture should come to a boil, and then be immediately removed from the flame. The process should take about 3-5 minutes, depending on the stove.
  2. Add the sheets of gelatine into the cream, and cover. Mix with a whisk until the sheet of gelatine is completely incorporated.
  3. In another small pot, simmer the hawberries with a splash of white wine and a tsp of sugar. Reduce on medium heat until the berries become a delicious, thick jam. This process will take about 15-20 minutes.
  4. Pour the panna cotta mixture into ramekins, or your favourite small dishes. Go nuts. Then, refrigerate until ready to serve. They should be refrigerated for at-least 2 hours before serving.
  5. Sprinkle on a white plate, the graham crackers, to resemble sand. On the plate, flip the ramekin upside down, and gently tap it, for the solidified mixture to slide out gracefully.
  6. Top with a generous amount of the hawberry syrup, more birch syrup, and some graham crackers.

Brotherly cook-off, 2020

In the spirit of fraternal competition and the will to keep traditions alive, my brother and I hosted our annual cook-off in November. The biggest culinary event of the house hold, it was like Rocky vs Apollo Creed for a 6th time.

I have not fared well in previous competitions, losing both the 2018 competition and the 2019 jamboree. Have I lost my touch? Have I settled in to a rocking chair of silver medals?

This year’s theme was like no other. We based our competition off the popular show Iron Chef America showdown, where contestants face-off with an Iron Chef, creating five plates inspired by a single ingredient. This year, we got the humble radish. At first glance, this peasant pink root vegetable is slightly unexcitable, but after some consideration, this was an amazing challenge. The radish has so many variations in colors, textures, tastes. Just enough to make this event RAD.

The entire cook-off had to be finished with 2 and a half hours. For the first round, we both had to present a dish 30 minutes into the competition.

Joel: Namasu

A salad of fresh Daikon (radish), shredded carrots and a light rice vinegar dressing. Traditionally served at the start of a meal.

Nick: Daikon Satay with peanut sauce

Inspired by classic Satay, I grilled big pieces of daikon on skewers until blackened. Then, the daikon was topped with lime, scallions, cilantro, a peanut sauce, and a chilli oil.

The next four plates had to be presented during the next 2 hour period. Here is what we came up with.

Joel

Plate 2: Tofu with pickled radish and soy mirin reduction

The pickled radishes were the highlight of the dish. It was presented in a French onion soup bowl, very beautiful plate, but the judges thought the plate was too salty.

Plate 3: Radish leaf Furikake with homemade bread

An extremely bold move, Joel was planning on making dumplings, similar to Dim Sum, but his dough did not turn out the way he envisioned. He quickly revised his plan and made an interesting stuffed bread. Kudos for creativity.

Plate 4: Mushroom toast with roasted miso daikon

A take on the classic mushroom toast dish, using miso, daikon and dulse, a North American sea weed that is similar to bacon.

Plate 5: Natilla custard with radish

A subtle cinnamon taste resonates within this amazing custard. It did not set on time, but the result was still delicious. We used it as an ice cream base the next day.

Nick

Plate 2: Seared radish in Ghee with horseradish mustard and wild mushroom fumé

The red radishes were roasted in Ghee (clarified butter) and wild mushrooms. Then, the fumé was made with dried shiitakes and porcinis and shallots. The mustard gave it texture and a slight punch. Topped with fried parsnips.

Plate 3: Homemade turmeric fresh pasta with Browned butter and horseradish

The fresh pasta was the highlight of my lineup. I made the fresh pasta dough, infused with fresh turmeric. This was rolled and cut into fettuccine, then tossed in horseradish browned butter. Fresh horseradish was grated on top to resemble cheese.

Plate 4: Radish tempura with lemongrass broth

A classic tempura batter, and fried radishes. Dipped in a lemongrass broth.

Plate 5: White chocolate and beet mousse with candied radish

WAAAAAAY too sweet. All I’ll say.

Results

This year, my revenge came. My victory was extremely slim, the difference was a mere one point. What came out of the competition was tons of self-reflection. We had to judge each others performances. Joel gave me a 36 out of 55. I gave him a 44.

What a slap in the face! I might just be a soft grader.

The Chronicle of the Failed Hummus Company

It was Summer of 2016. Controlla by Drake was topping the charts and serenading the best season of my life. I had just completed my first year of my undergraduate degree, and the prospect of a 4 month summer made me feel like I was in one of those early 2000’s dowdy college movies. I felt invincible.

I was unsurprisingly ambitious during that period. I had this fear of not doing enough with my at a mere 18 years of age. So clearly, my next move was to kick off a local hummus company in the heart of Northern Ontario. I won’t reveal the climax of this cautionary tale, but the title is very self-explanatory. Take this article as an ode to inexperience, a valuable lesson and an advice piece. I’ll also include testimonies from some of my business partners, (my best friends), to really take a deep dive in the pool of happy ignorance.

I was extremely naive to think I could pull off a profitable business that could replace that sweet summer student employment income. But in my mind, an underpaid, boring student gig sounded just as appealing as stubbing my toe on a coffee table. I greet uncertainty like an old friend, and launch myself into a hummus business, in which I had not perfected the craft, or even knew exactly how to do anything in the bussiness realm.

In those days, I could convince almost anyone into buying into my ridiculous ideas. I think people see behind the veil now.

First Batch of Hometown Hummus

I started the recipe by soaking the chickpeas overnight, boiling and by peeling every single one of those little bastards. After a long full day of work, I would end up with maybe 20 jars of decent hummus. Yes, jars. Not the most efficient model or use of time, but that was only day 1.

I had bought a small food processor, in which I could blend up to 3 jars of per whirl. It took me approximately 15 minutes to make a batch. We had 3 flavours. They were roasted red pepper, smoked garlic, and mushroom and sage. The thing that made our product special, was the garlic.

My parents had a wood oven outside, so I would smoke the garlic, using small pieces of birch to create a plume of healthy smolder. I thought it could be an ode to the town recognized for its visible air pollution and rich history of deforestation.

My friend’s mom designed the logo, a rustic pastel representation of the Sudbury Smoke Stack and it’s surroundings. We were off and running with so much excitement.

The Boys, the Hometown Hummus sweaters, the production line.

We were so excited to grow up and become adults. We dressed up in our prom suits from the previous year and met at a restaurant to talk business between “partners”. This was essentially an excuse to wear our formal gear. We also wanted to feel like bigshots, as I pulled out my decripit velcro wallet filled with expired library cards and Cineplex gift cards to pay.

I thought we were serious about it, but I also thought they would laugh us out of the building. We quickly realized that we did not know what we were doing, but also that no one knows what the f*ck they are doing.” mentioned Trevor Volway, one of my partners in the company.

We launched an Instagram page, a website, and ordered stickers. We had a jarring system, production line (in my kitchen with my tiny food processor.) We had lined up meetings with retailers, sold to many friends and family and most importantly, we had sweaters.

This detail is important because it taught me a valuable lesson about merchandise, spending, cost, cashflow. These sweaters put us under.

We gave them away like bibles. I think the idea of a person choosing to wear our logo on their upper body clouded our reason. They were extremely expensive to make and triggered the downfall of the Hometown Hummus empire.

We closed shop not long after that. That was at the end of the summer. Our efforts did not bear fruit. But something changed when I receive a call from the President of Enactus Laurentian, Alexie Beaulieu in August of 2017. We were back in a big way.

PART 2 coming soon.

Stay Saucy Verdun; eating at BOSSA

The cavatelli paired with a dépanneur wine.

I’m repping Verdun as hard as I can lately. My new home has offered me a wonderful introduction to the big city, with good food, amazing cycling and colourful interactions with its more unique citizens.

This is my effort to give Verdun some recognition for what it offers. Today, I’m giving mad love to this little Italian sandwhicherie on Wellington Avenue. The joint is called Bossa, and like the name suggests, it’s really boss.

The dude behind the counter embodied the small Italian bistro vibe. Great conversationalist, with a real passion for his tomato sauce. I decided to give it a shot, pairing it with his very attractive home made cavatelli pasta.

I rushed home, and without hesitation, took my spoon to the jar of tomato sauce. I’m not one to trip over a simple marinara, but this was ridiculous. I felt like I could drink it. I felt like a weirdo who orders tomato juice on the plane. Nonetheless, I added nothing to the dish but the BOSSA sauce, cavatelli and a little Piave cheese.

It was quite a nice Sunday evening meal, completely designed by our neighbourhood stop for sauce. Thank you BOSSA for your incredible devotion to the pantry basics, and the eating experience.

During Quarantine, my Brother and I Wrote a Cookbook for the Food Bank.

Beer bread and Dukkah from the recipe book.

My brother and I have an unusual relationship. We are polar opposites, but we land in the same on the same strip when it comes to food. He has a calculated, well-thought out cooking style, while I am a tornado of spontaneity. Together, we form the ultimate team. A real force to be reckoned with.

While stuck together, we decided to use all this pent up energy building up from quarantine and put it towards a positive endeavour. We were getting antsy as fuck. (The swear describes our mood pretty accurately.)

We decided to write a cookbook, with the proceeds going to the Sudbury Food bank! Every night, after a day of working online, we would cook 2-3 recipes for our parents, including cocktails. They were a little resistant to the constant flow of alcohol in our house, so I took charge of the tasting.

Buzzed, we were testing and photographing our food late into the night. Then the process would repeat. We would work, cook, write, photos, a little Xbox until the project was complete. I would be remorsed to not mention our amazing designer Moe Alaedinne, who always puts out the best work. Without him, the project would not of happened.

We ended up raising 560$ for the Sudbury food bank. I am proud, and hope our contributions went to feeding some lovely people of the North. I also hope everyone who purchased a copy enjoyed the recipes as much as I liked writing them.

Supporting my community with a Haircut and Mac & cheese.

Food from Seasoned Dreams, in Côte St-Paul, Montréal.

There is so much reflection to do while in a state of quarantine or self-confinement. The distractions of day to day activities that seemingly keep you fulfilled and satisfied are suddenly out of grasp. This reality has become a cruel mirror, showing me the aspects of life I did not show enough importance to. It also happens that looking in the actual mirror revealed a shaggy mop on my head.

One of the reflections (mirror pun) that stuck with me, is that I was not fully embracing where I lived. I had just moved into a new neighbourhood in Montréal. Although I felt somewhat comfortable, I felt as if I was putting my new home on a pedestal and not giving it a chance. It did not help that everything was closed, but nevertheless, I decided I would embrace my new community.

The first thing I did was making an effort to be more attentive to my surroundings. I once watched a Christmas movie with my girlfriend in which the main character was always being told to look up. It was such a dumb Hallmark movie, but that line stuck with me.

On my bike ride back from work, I see this lineup of people outside a restaurant waiting for takeout food. I don’t even know why, but the energy seemed vibey as hell. I made my way there another day. I launched myself in this trajectory without even knowing what kind of food it was, or even if it was a restaurant at all. To my delight, it’s carribean food.

The restaurant is called Seasoned Dreams in Côte St-Paul. I’m not going to lie, this was the best Mac and cheese I’ve ever tasted. And it’s not even close. This shit was insane. There was a certain heat in it the was unexplainably tasty. I also ordered plantains, and vegetable curries. Damn, what a night.

I notice beside the restaurant a barber shop called Retro. In the windows, you can see a clean, simple barber shop with retro Air Jordan’s on display. There’s arcade games in the back and a display of NBA jerseys in the back. As soon as I seen Allen Iverson on the wall, it was clear I needed my haircut at Retro. So I did it. They killed it.

The lesson I’ve learned here is to support and cherish where you live. It’s probably not the best place in the world, but these gems make them incredible. I’m making it a point to support more businesses in my neck of the woods. Once a week, I’ll be writing about a different business in Verdun and areas. Finally, give them the love they deserve.