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.

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.

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.

Generations of Crushing Bagels

The timeline of my life has been so similar to my dad’s and my grandpa’s that I felt the need to document them. I moved to Montreal this year at the tender age of 22. My dad, also moved to la belle Province when he turned 22 to study. My grandpa, started this strange incredibly specific generational tradition when he moved to study medicine. Now there is a reason for these moves. Opportunities for Francophones in Ontario in Medicine were slim to none during their eras. For me, I found myself looking for a new experience. There was no chance in hell I became a doctor.

I figure when kids leave home, there is a certain expectation to receive a last piece of parenting pie. One last “around the campfire” life lesson. I think I received the best advice a son could get.

My father gave me the privilege of a late night run to his favorite Montreal bagel shops. During my move to the city, he treated me with a dozen sesame bagels. Maybe the most famous of the Montreal style bagel shops, Fairmount bagel in the Mile End has served my dad during his studying years at any hours of the night. Now I understand this location is very well documented in MTL, but I need to mention the meaningful connection that 3 generations of Mongeon men made with the shop.

First off, there is something to be said about places who only accept cash. Are they hiding something? Who knows. They are certainly not hiding flavour. I can say that not being able to use a card adds to the experience. Why is that? Right when you approach the shop, you see the big Fairmount sign with the friendly bald man holding bags of bagels. You zig-zag through a labyrinth of bagged bagels ready for delivery. You get to the counter and see the mountains of dough getting treated like royalty before their entry into the wood fired oven. I’m not sure how many bagels they make per day. I asked the man and he said a number that was too big to remember apparently.

The other quality of the shop is its 24 hour access. You would be surprised how many nights I am left craving a freshly cooked sesame bagel out of a brown bag. If only I could be a fly in the wall in that place. I cannot imagine the amount of things they’ve seen during a night shift at Fairmount.

Without my dad’s knowledge, I’m not sure I would of made my way to this bread eater’s heaven. I am eternally grateful for this discovery. With tips like these, living away from home becomes that much easier.

I like to eat my bagels sesame with nothing on them. In the nude. How do you take them? Let me know in the comments.

What to Cook for the Arrival of the Cold temperatures

It is getting colder.

There’s an old cliché that was constructed in order to comfort the poor souls seeing summer slip away from their grasp into the forgotten past. The cliché is that the Fall season tops the summer season.

I have to disagree, but there is something about fall time that inspire some spirited cooking. The leaves changing, the colder weather, the abundance of autumn vegetables and the return of North American sports brings new life to the table.

This recipe is inspired by my dear pal that moved to the Canadian East coast recently. He has mastered his own recipe in preparation for fatherhood. He is not a dad, but he sure does cook chilli well. Even better than the Chunky brand. I remember him cancelling plans because he had to tend to his cauldrons of chilli. The dedication to perfection is next to none.

I am sharing my own sharing recipe in homage to his bean and meat concoction, but making a vegetarian version. I will also include ideas for utilizing the chilli. Maybe one day we will get an opportunity to face them off, bean to bean.

What you’ll need

  1. 1 can of pinto beans.
  2. 1 can black beans.
  3. 1 head of cauliflower.
  4. 4 cloves garlic.
  5. 1 white onion.
  6. 1 poblano pepper.
  7. 1 small chilli pepper.
  8. 1 can of pasata.
  9. 1 tsp salt, pepper, cumin, chilli powder, nutmeg, oregano.
  10. Fresh cilantro and oregano.
  11. 1 splash of liquid smoke.
  12. Splash of Olive oil.
  13. Juice of half a lemon.

How you will make it

  1. In a pot, sauté garlic, onion and chopped peppers with olive oil.
  2. Blend the cauliflower, until it resembles crumble. Add to the pot. Then add the spice mix.
  3. Add the pasata, the pinto beans, olive oil, lemon juice, liquid smoke.
  4. Season the chilli and let simmer for 30 minutes.
  5. Add the fresh herbs and simmer for another 15 minutes.
  6. Eat up!

What do you do with it?

  1. On top of bake potatoes with sharp cheddar or daya cheese and green onions.
  2. Between a ciabatta bun with cheese, and coleslaw.
  3. On top of seasoned grilled winter vegetables.
  4. Mix into a roasted spaghetti squash. Crumble on some queso fresco.
  5. With some fries (a classic).
  6. Inside some enchiladas.

A Page from the Vegetarian History Books

Vegetarianism and Veganism have gathered quite the momentum in recent years. While some might consider them a new movement or eating trend, there is a rich history of vegetarians and vegans who have laid the tracks for today’s herbivores.

On a recent trip to San Diego, my family shared with me something I would never of expected. They visited the USS Midway carrier ship used by the U.S Navy ordered in 1943. Until 1955, it was the largest ship in the world. It is estimated that more than 200 000 Americans lived above those decks. The ship is now turned into a museum in San Diego.

So what does this have to do with food, my blog or vegetarianism? We will get to that. It was explained that since the brave soldiers risked their lives to fight in war, they would at least be provided with amazing meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The museum provided their cookbook for visitors to glance at. I was thoroughly impressed. The chefs aboard that mighty vessel cooked up amazing meals for these brave men and women.

What I found even more interesting is that the cookbook catered to vegetarians. On the ship that was mostly used from 1942 to the 70’s, they had a variety of recipes for the herbivores of the US navy.

What an awesome piece of history. I even provided one of their recipes from the cookbook.

Brotherly cook-off round 4 – 2018

I am finally closing out the series on my brother and I’s yearly cook off. As I look back on the years prior, I notice our culinary skills improving significantly, our tradition gaining momentum and our kinship getting stronger. I think it is interesting to see how our eating and cooking habits change as we learn more about the food industry, the environmental impact of our eating and our new knowledge of techniques.

Now I don’t want to get philosophical, but writing about these competitions gave me the unique chance to see my personal improvement in the large picture. It’s something we don’t get to see in our day to day lives. I can only compare it to looking at an old picture of yourself and seeing how much you’ve evolved.

This tradition started as an innocent representation of the television show “Chopped“, and evolved into a cornerstone of the summer.

A short recap: Nick 2-0-1, Jojo 0-2-1.

Theme

The theme for the 2018 contest was the ultimate 5 course meal. We were limited to not using meat, because I was just converting to becoming the herbivore that I am today. This was a special edition of the competition because we got to cook for our grandparents and my uncle. Any time I can cook for my family, I treasure it.

First Course

The dreaded first course is like the first minutes of any sports game. The extremities are vibrating with anticipation as we chop our first onion.

Nick: I made a green pea, basil and lime hummus with crudités (raw veggies). This dish means a lot to me because my grandpa, who was one of the judges, and sort of a picky eater, demolished the plate of hummus. He loved it.

Jojo: He really brought the big guns this year. Joel made little shot glasses of mango tom yum soup. A vivacious herby coconut soup, with lemongrass and ginger that originates from Thailand. That was a huge hit with my Uncle who had visited the South East Asian country before.

I am not really sure who took this round because both dishes were considered winners in my book.

Second Course

The second course did not disappoint either. After a first course like that one, we had to bring our A game once again.

Nick: Inspired by my limited knowledge of French cooking, I decided to make a Beet tartare, mimicking the classic French raw meat dish with beets instead. I shaved beautiful parmesan cheese on top and served with crostinis.

Jojo: Jojo made a showstopping brussel sprout dish with a mustard and maple glaze sauce.

Once again, there was no definite winner.

Third Course

The third course brought the judges a real Christmas in August gift.

Nick: I made possibly my favorite dish that I unfortunately cannot eat anymore. Mussels with fennel and vermouth rosso. The absolute best broth in the history of me making broth.

Jojo: Jojo came back with a light zucchini salad that really brought the best out of a simple ingredient.

This was a toss up, ONCE AGAIN, but I think I won round 3 like Mike Tyson punch-out.

Fourth Course

The Fourth course was the battle of the fresh pasta.

Nick: After spending some time in Italy previously, I decided to put my pasta knowledge to the test, that I picked up during a class. I made fresh pasta from scratch. Built this nice little dish in my head, I was going to make ravioli with a peach filling and brown butter sauce. The raviolis were pretty solid, a bit big. The sauce, I absolutely panicked at the last second and ruined it with cream.

Jojo: Jojo made fresh pasta as well, and with a little assistance. He made a sauce consisting of cumin, eggplant and other ingredients that I cannot recall. His dish had problems, but overall, cranked mine out of the park.

Fifth Course

Here we were. Neck and Neck. Photo finish. Mano o Mano.

What do I decide to do for desert? I make a cocktail. A cocktail. Bonehead move. Idiot. Imbecile. Scallywag.

Needless to say, Jojo won with his deconstructed carrot cake, that stole the hearts of my family, giving him the title of favorite child and the winner of the 2018 Cook off.

Watch out for 2019.

Brotherly combat – Round 3 – 2017

The bell rings announcing another battle of the cutting boards. 1 year after the infamous tie of summer 2016, we are both sharpening our knives for redemption. The amateur chopping of vegetables, the nervous chatter and the blissfully loud music announces another edition of the culinary combat.

My appetizer

This was the third annual cook off between myself (Nick) and my little brother (Jojo). We had been improving our games the entire off season in preparation for this event.

It was a blazing hot summer night in Sudbury Ontario. The star-studded, 3 person crowd was buzzing with excitement like a swarm of bees. The theme for this clash was Canada. Pretty broad right?

This was a 4 round cook-off. We included an extra dish in order to push ourselves over our limitations. These rounds included specific challenges as well, carefully selected by the judging committee.

Round 1 – 4 ingredients or less.

We had to muster up a tiny appetizer or amuse-bouche with the use of only 4 mere ingredients.

Nick: I made a pretty good dish with only 4 ingredients. The trick is to use the ingredients in multiple ways. Mushroom caps with truffle Parmesan cream and fresh oregano. The plate was met with adequate remarks. There wasn’t mushroom for improvement. (I’m sorry.)

Jojo: Joel made a green curry Thai salad with pear. The taste amazing, and trans-formative but the plate was simply a little to big for the judges liking.

Though I have the memory of a plank of wood, I recall that I took this round.

Round 2 – Canadian classic appetizer

This dish had to be a representation of Canadian classic ingredients or meals. This was challenging because of the clear lack of culinary identity in Canadian cuisine. Nonetheless, we did our best and I think our meals came out pretty good.

Nick: I made my take of a poutine. I used thin sweet potatoes, made a stout and pork belly gravy. I added grilled crab and the “crispy porkbelly”.

*Note: I was not vegetarian at the time. This dish was not my finest work, although the sauce was luscious and great.

Jojo: Jojo courageously took the challenge of preparing a classic french cold soup called the vichyssoise. Usually a cream based soup made with boiled potatoes and leaks, traditionally served cold. He completely transformed it to represent “Canadianity”. He made a blackberry, mint and scallop vichyssoise, that impress the soup out of me. Fantastic display of creativity, and research.

Jojo took this round after quite a long discussion in the judges corner.

Round 3 – Canadian colors

This dish had to be visually appealing and use colors that represents the Canadian landscape or spirit. This challenge was hard, but is a challenge supposed to be easy?

Nick: I felt ambitious and tried to cook something I had never touched before. Duck. I tried to cook a magnificently tough duck leg, in under 40 minutes. What a mistake. It was partnered with a cinnamon beet purée. Overall, the idea was there, the execution was not.

Jojo: He made for a steak dish with charred broccoli and cranberry sauce. Not his best effort either.

We both failed to execute our dishes, so no one won this round.

Final Round – Specific Province or Territory

We needed to cook a dessert that used traditional ingredients from a specific territory or province.

We drew our respective region from the hat. Anticipation building. I pick my the name and I get, the Yukon. Not ideal, to say the least, but I was going to make it happen. Jojo picked Newfoundland. Each of us had some thinking to do.

Nick: I had to roll (baking pun) with my sub par baking skills. So I made a custard tart with fresh lacerated berries to represent their abundance in the Yukon. I have never celebrated so hard after taking baked goods out of the flaming hot oven.

Jojo: He made a raisin crumble with Newfoundland rum. His flavors were off the chart.

The coveted dessert round did not disappoint. Seemed like a tight race to the finish line. Until the judges decided, that I won the final decision.

Clearly our most intense battle yet, the result could of went either way. In the end, the judges get an interesting meal.