Wine Tasting 101

Winery_vineyard_Niagara_Falls_Canada

A winery vineyard in Niagara Falls

Ever wonder what you’re supposed to do when you order a bottle of wine at a nice restaurant and you’re chosen as the one that has to sample it for the table? Nerve-wracking, right? Okay, maybe not so much but I went to Niagara Falls this past weekend and was taught to do the following:

  • Tip glass to 45 degree angle to check the clarity (Any bugs? Hope not. Correct colour? Sure?)
  • Swirl the wine to aerate it and get some oxygen into it (I didn’t believe it, but it actually does make a difference in the taste).
  • Sip to taste the wine, but don’t judge it…yet. Take a second sip and roll it around in your mouth to analyze the flavour and determine if it’s to you’re liking.

That’s apparently the secret to those awkward, I’ll-pretend-I-know-what-I’m-doing situations. While that mystery was solved, I learned a few other interesting things while visiting some of the wineries. For one, the size and shape of the cup makes a difference.

Wine_size_glass

Size matters!

I know they say size shouldn’t matter, but it does in this case. I truthfully thought it was a myth, but when we tested this experiment several times with several different wines, I became a believer. The wine in the smaller glass doesn’t allow it to aerate properly, so by pouring it into a bigger glass and swirling it around, it actually changes the flavour and enhances the wine. For instance, the merlot we tried became smoother and silkier. Strange, but true.

Grapes tannins

Grape skin cause tannins

Then there’s that parched feeling you get in your mouth when you have a dry wine. It’s the result of the tannins (thanks to the grape skins or oak barrels that helped age the wine), which like to attach to proteins. In this case, your saliva. So when your tongue wants to stick to the roof of your mouth, you know it’s the tannins at work. This is why it’s good to pair dry wines with meat and cheeses.

Of course, no wine tasting is complete without some food. Here’s the sample platter that I got to go with my wine samples:

Wine_tasting_platter_Niagara_Falls

Wine tasting platter – slider with caramelized onions, roasted tomatoes, cheese, and a truffle pop.

All I can say is it was a good day. πŸ™‚

 

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Laksa Lemak – Hot! Hot! Hot!

If you love spicy food, you will probably love laksa. It’s a type of Malaysian dish that consists of a hot, aromatic broth (sometimes known as gravy) that is served with noodles, meats, and veggies. Even though it is deemed Malaysian, it showcases the different influences of Malaysia – Chinese (noodles), Indian (curry), and Indigenous (coconut). There are different types of laksa dishes, but the one I had recently was called laksa lemak.

Laksa_Lemak

Laksa Lemak

Laksa Lemak is a coconut curry based dish. The one I ordered had rice vermicelli noodles that were mixed with chicken, bean sprouts, shrimp, and fish cake. However, like the Vietnamese pho, it can come in a variety of meat and veggie combos.

I found eating the round noodles on their own would render them quite bland, but taking them in with a spoonful of this soupy sauce created blasts of fireworks in my mouth. Although the broth is pretty spicy (to the point where my lips continued to burn well after an hour of eating it), it was a tasty type of spice that was full of flavour and was worth the minor burning sensations. However, it’s definitely not a dish for those who prefer to stay on the mild-to-no spicy side.

According to some sources, this type of laksa is considered a “fake” one, but it personally doesnt bother me. It’s such a good dish, filled with delicious, contrasting flavours – spicy, sweet, nutty, and aromatic. I highly recommend it, assuming your spice tolerance is decent. If not, I’d suggest bringing out the fire extinguisher. Enjoy! πŸ™‚

 

A Little Thanksgiving with a Lot of Food

This past week was full of celebrations. Wednesday was the Mid-Autumn Festival. Yesterday was Karva Chauth. And today is our Canadian Thanksgiving or what I like to call, Turkey Day (or Gobble Gobble Day).

As usual, I’m thankful to be able to take part in two Thanksgiving meals. The first meal was on Saturday and we had turkey with gravy and cranberry sauce, corn, stuffing, bacon (if you recall, I posted about cooking turkey with bacon last year), Caesar salad, potatoes with sour cream, and a shrimp ring with cocktail sauce. There was also fish, which was a first time appearance on our Thanksgiving spread (a neighbour went fishing and generously shared their catchings with us the day before. You can’t let fresh fish go to waste!)

Thanksgiving_dinner

Caesar salad, corn, and turkey with gravy and a side of stuffing

For dessert, there was a platter of fresh fruits, egg tarts, and Japanese cheesecake. My plate that day was very sparse because I had a huge lunch earlier, but don’t worry because I know that just means there will be plenty of leftovers. πŸ™‚

Egg_tarts

Egg tarts

My second Thanksgiving meal took place on Sunday. The meal was simple, with turkey, cranberries, salads, mashed potatoes, rice, pickled beets, and broccoli.

Thanksgiving_Meal

Thanksgiving #2

However, the dessert options were endless. There were two types of cheesecake (one non-bake cheese cake and another cheesecake with a biscuit crust), a foam cake (I’ll talk about this another day), and pie! Thanksgiving isn’t complete without a little pumpkin pie!

Pumpkin_Pie

Pumpkin pie

We went to the park after eating with the kiddies that day, but I’m pretty sure that didn’t burn off all the food we ate. Oh well. It was worth it. Plus it was such a nice day. Even the bees were still flying about, pollinating the flowers. πŸ™‚

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving! πŸ™‚

The Austrian Cheese Bun

I love the smell of a bakery. The sweet scents of fresh bread, cakes, and pastries just waft in the air and seduce me to float towards it like a cartoon character. This is exactly what happened when I discovered a relatively new bakery that opened up downtown Toronto, so I popped in to see what they had.

Guschlbauer_window_display

The Guschlbauer window display

This place is an Austrian bakery named Guschlbauer. They originated back in 1919 and started spreading their pastries and cakes around the world. For this particular location, they seemed to specialize in cheese buns. And by cheese buns, I mean bread that has been smothered in a sweet, creamy, cheese frosting.

Guschlbauer_package

My Guschlbauer package to go

They sell all sorts of flavours like chocolate and even sweet potato, however, I wanted to try the main attraction and ordered their original signature version as recommended by the worker. Using a fork and a knife, I dug into this cheesy cream ball of a treat. I was floored by the taste. The cream was soft, sweet, and absolutely delicious! The bread was also soft, yet simultaneously had a tough and chewy texture. It’s definitely a must-try for those who love eating all the cream cheese frosting off of a carrot cake.

Austrian_cheese_bread

Austrian cheese bread – full of melted, cheesy goodness!

Despite having a great frosting on the outside, I found that the middle of the bun was plain. They advertise that it has five layers of cheesy goodness, but either I got a bad batch or they didn’t layer enough cheese into the bun. Overall, if you love cream cheese frosting and you love bread, this one’s for you!

In other news, I decided to book my next trip. Coincidentally, I will be visiting Austria amongst some other countries in November, so let’s see if I discover more goodies. I hear there are many Viennese treats to look forward to. Maybe I’ll even find another version of this cheesy good bread. πŸ™‚

Mid-Autumn Festival

It’s that time of the year again when summer starts to wane and fall arrives. Today is special though because it’s the Mid-Autumn Festival! Although my family doesn’t really have any special meals or big parties for this occasion, it’s a time to look forward to moon cakes!

Moon_Cake

Moon cake

A majority of people celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival to commemorate the moon, but there is a famous legend that says a lady drank an elixir to save her husband, became a goddess, and ended up flying to the moon. The husband paid tribute to her “sacrifice” by giving her offerings.

Moon_cake_with_nuts_and_seeds

Moon cake with nuts and seeds

Although moon cakes can come in thousands of different designs (last year I showed some cuter versions), the ones I’m showing this year are more classic. The one above is filled with nuts and seeds. It’s not my favourite type, but I’d like to think it’s healthier than some other options. Here’s another typical design of a moon cake.

Classic_moon_cake_design

A classic moon cake design

Unlike the other one, this one is filled with my favourite filling – classic lotus seed with salty egg. It’s sweet and savory, soft yet firm, and wrapped inside a delicate pastry. Yum! It’s quite rich, so I wouldn’t recommend inhaling a whole one on your own. It is best cut into several pieces and shared amongst friends and family, like a deliciously hot apple pie.

Best_moon_cake_filling_lotus_seed_salty_egg

The best moon cake – filled with lotus seed and salty egg.

Unfortunately, we have had a lot of bad weather recently so I can’t see the moon in it’s clear, big, bright, and round form. Hopefully tomorrow, I’ll get to see something! Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!

Lulas Grelhadas

When I was in Portugal, I remember my host was raving about the delicious lulas grelhadas he had for dinner. Being the curious foodie that I am, I went into infantile mode and was like “I waaaaaaaaaaant”. He ended up recommending a restaurant that he claimed had this delicious lulas grelhadas, which translates as simply translates as grilled squid so off I went to hunt down this dish.

Lulas_Grelhadas

Lulas grelhadas with a side of veggies

I didn’t really know what to expect when I ordered it, other than grilled squid. However, it was cooked with oil and garlic and came with a side of boiled broccoli, carrots, and potatoes. It also came with a lemon to squeeze over the squid and was garnished with fresh coriander.

Lulas_Grelhadas

It was such a simple dish, but sometimes less is more! Plus being in the Algarve, seafood is so fresh in the region it doesn’t really need much more. The thing I loved best about this the squid was the super crispy tentacles. The smokey flavours of the grill were really transparent in the squid and it had a nice, bouncy texture. The lemon helped spruce up the dar flavours and brought some freshness to the dish. I know squid isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but for the seafood lovers out there – I recommend trying this dish in Portugal!

 

Lulas Grelhadas

A close up of this delicious, Portuguese style grilled squid

There were a few interesting things that I noted as I ate this dish. It is highly possible that it was just this particular restaurant, but I noticed that they didn’t clean the insides of the squid out. However, from what I understand about Portuguese cuisine, they tend to keep things natural and simple so it might actually be common to prepare it this way. If you try this dish, just be careful because there may be bones inside – especially in the tail area, there is a pointy one for unsuspecting victims.

 

Lulas_Grelhadas_Squid_Ink

Things to expect – squid ink!

You may also get a male or female squid or both. I was lucky enough to get one of each and the textures are different because the female may have eggs inside. If you have ever had cavier or fish roe, you will be familiar with that “pop” of the eggs. There may also be black squid ink. Although I can’t say that this dish beats bacalhau Γ  bras, I will say that I enjoyed eating it and would go back again to have it. πŸ™‚

E-Fu Noodles/Yee Mein (Recipe)

I have mentioned before that one of my most favourite noodles in the world is e-fu noodles, which are also known as yee mein. These long, stringy noodles aren’t hard to prepare and the best part is they absorb flavours like a sponge. Today I’m sharing an easy recipe for this dish. The ingredients are very basic, but you can substitute/add other ingredients if you like (such as carrots, zucchini, crab meat, chicken, shiitake mushrooms, etc.).

*Ingredients:

  • 12 white mushrooms, cut into halves
  • 1/2 zucchini, cut into matchsticks
  • 1 package of e-fu noodles
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 4 tsp oyster sauce
  • Brown sugar
  • 5 tbsp chicken broth
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • Salt
  • Ground pepper
  • Oil

Boil the noodles until they soft, but still firm. Strain and set aside.

Add a bit of oil and cook the mushrooms first. Add sugar, 1 tsp of oyster sauce, and 2 tbsp of chicken broth. Toss the mushrooms and cook for about 2 minutes. Then, add the zucchini, 2 pinches of salt and a bit of ground pepper. Set aside.

Add 1 tbsp oil. Add the strained noodles and pan fry (it helps to use chopsticks for this part). Add 3 tbsps of chicken broth, 3 tsp of oyster sauce, two pinches of salt, and 3 tbsp of soy sauce. Add 1 tsp sesame seed oil and continue tossing the noodles.

Place into a dish and it’s ready to serve.

*If you would like more flavour in the dish, you could add some srirachaΒ sauce to make it spicy or increase the amount of sauces and seasonings into the dish. This recipe is a bit reduced because we have a tendency to minimize the amount of sodium in our food. Enjoy! πŸ™‚

Pasteis de Belem

If there’s one thing I absolutely had to try before I left Portugal, it was the mother of all Portuguese tarts. These ones are so special that they’re not even known as Pasteis de Nata, but as Pasteis de Belem. When things are hyped, I tend to be skeptical but it was something I needed to try. It was the original tart before Pasteis de Natas were born.

Pasteis_de_Belem

Pasteis de Belem

The Pasteis de Belem is one of the biggest secrets of Lisbon and only one guy knows the full recipe. Although every person tells the tale a little differently, I was informed that only three people know the recipe for these delicious tarts – and by three, I mean each individual only knows their part of the recipe and they don’t even know who the other two individuals are before it is combined in the bakery. The rumour is these individuals can’t even reveal their third of the recipe to anyone because they will be prosecuted. And with good reason! Nobody else is able to duplicate these delicious tarts. The closest that any recipe has ever come to duplicating it is the Pasteis de Nata.

Pasteis_de_Belem

The making of Pasteis de Belem

Even though the Pasteis de Nata and the Pasteis de Belem look the same, there are some differences. There may be debates about which one is better, but I personally fell in love with the Belem one. It’s creamier, smoother, and it probably helps that I ate one (which ended up being two in one sitting) that came fresh out of the oven.

Well, not straight out of the oven because apparently it needs to cool down a bit to stabilize or it will disintegrate. It has a milky cream filling with a crispy, flaky pastry. I found that the Pasteis de Belem aren’t as sweet as the Pasteis de Nata either. This is not to say I didn’t try the Pasteis de Nata while in Lisbon. I ate it at a place that was highly recommended by a guide who preferred the Nata over the Belem tarts.

Pasteis_de_Nata

Pasteis de Nata

However, I still preferred the Pasteis de Belem version. They were so much better. Locals say it’s best to add cinnamon and powdered sugar on top to enhance the flavours. All I can say is taking a bite into a Pasteis de Belem is like taking a bite of heaven.

Cinnamon_and_Sugar

Optional: cinnamon and sugar

Be forewarned though, if you decide to visit this bakery it is always packed with people (even for takeout).

Line ups

Crazy line ups all times of the day, every day of the week!

There are 400 seats in the bakery, but almost every table is always full. You essentially have to stalk tables like a parking spot during Boxing Day or Black Friday at a mall. However, it’s worth it to enjoy a delicious Pasteis de Belem with a cup of tea or coffee. They also have other good eats as well! πŸ™‚

Winter Melon Soup (Recipe)

I was pretty disturbed when I first came to the realization that the price of buying groceries is almost equivalent to the amount of money you spend at a restaurant or on catering. The only difference between the former and the latter is convenience and healthiness. I guess I can understand why some people don’t even bother cooking since the hours in a day are limited, but I still think there is merit in cooking. This is why I’m sharing this recipe for an easy to make, healthy, winter melon soup. It just so happens that every year, I have family members that grow these huge melons in their backyard and share their harvest with us. This year we got two ginormous ones.

Winter_melon

Two winter melons fresh from the garden

All you need for this recipe is a handful of ingredients:

  • 1 winter melon
  • Variety of seafood (we used a frozen mix with baby squid, mussels, and octopus)
  • Chicken broth
  • Green onions, thinly sliced
  • Shiitaki mushrooms (optional)

First, cut the top of the melon off and scoop out the seeds. Place it on a flat dish that is big enough to hold the whole melon.

Winter_Melon

Bring a huge steamer pot to boil and gently put the melon into the pot with the dish (you may need to add a stand into the pot before you start steaming so that the melon isn’t sitting in boiling water). Steam until it is about 3/4 done (depending on the size of the melon, it can take up to an hour or so and the skin becomes lighter as it cooks).

Winter_melon

Once the melon is partially cooked, add chicken broth into the melon so that it fills the “bowl” halfway. Technically, you could also add shiitake mushrooms into the mix to make it tastier, but since the melon was so narrow we omitted it this time so that there would be more space for the other ingredients.

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Continue steaming and when the broth is heated, add the seafood. If you aren’t using baby pieces of seafood, I would recommend that you cut the seafood into smaller pieces so that there is variety in every scoop.

Continue to cook until the melon and seafood are done. Once it has cooled down a bit, remove the melon carefully by lifting the plate with a cloth or tongs or both (the last thing you want to do is burn yourself!). Scrape the sides of the melon bowl so that you can enjoy pieces of the winter melon along with the seafood and broth.

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Winter melon soup

Sorry, it didn’t evaporate this much. It was half eaten before I remembered to take a picture!

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A steaming bowl of winter melon soup

Serve into individual bowls and enjoy! πŸ™‚

 

A Three Day Wedding

Have you ever been to a three day ceremony wedding before? Let alone experienced a three day Indian wedding? My friend recently got married and it was quite the experience. Each ceremony was different from the other, but being Yes! All Roads Lead to Food, it’s all about the journey of food too! First was the sanjeetΒ which was the henna/mehndi ceremony, then came the two days of wedding ceremonies. The second day was a more intimate ceremony that took place outdoors. It was pretty cold being September, but we managed to survive to see the ceremony.

After, we went to an outdoor gazebo. I though we were going to freeze since the sun was going down, but they provided guests with some blankets and (thankfully!) there were heat lamps. I clung to those like Scrat clings to his acorns!

For food, we were offered a spread of sandwiches, wraps, a variety of cheese, fruit, chicken, pasta salad, assortment of grilled veggies, and a delicious salad filled with chunks of butternut squash and candied nuts. As you know, I’m not a huge fan of sandwiches but I loved the cheese platter and butternut squash salad. Yum!

The best part was the firepit. Not just for warmth and romantic mood lighting, but it was there so that guests could make smores! It was such a cute idea!

There was also the dessert tower with small donuts! These went fast! Of course, dancing followed for the remainder of the night.

The next ceremony was the big and formal one. We were served appetizers similar to the ones we had at the sanjeet, but this time I got pictures – fish pakora, aloo tikki (potato patties) and tandoori chicken with a side of green chutney, which tends to have mint and coriander in it.

For dinner, we were served a buffet spread of common Indian dishes like palak paneer, dal, butter chicken, naan, rice, etc. I love palak paneer and my partner loves butter chicken so we were in heaven!

Another favourite Indian food of mine is something I don’t have often, so I’m glad that they served it – burfi! It was under the cake (which was devoured within seconds) tower so that guests could just pick and choose what they wanted. For those who don’t know, burfi is an Indian confectionery treat that is made with milk. It tends to be rich and very sweet, so usually one or so suffices for most sweet addicts.

An interesting tradition I learned along the way is the stealing of the shoes. While most weddings have the garter toss and the bouquet toss, this was new to me. Basically the bridesmaids steal the groom’s shoes and the groomsmen have to pay them to get them back. It was pretty hilarious, given that the groom started with a $20 bill, then $100 bill, and then gave his car keys (though I’m sure he got them back). Also, the bride and groom tend to sit in this luxurious looking seat with a colourfully draped background while people go up to greet them.

It’s interesting because traditionally, my culture tends to go to each table to toast guests but hey! Why not have the guests come up to you as you lounge in luxury? πŸ™‚ Anyway, it was fun but I’m glad it’s over. Three day weddings are exhausting! But before I go, I can finally say I got to wear a beautiful sari. I can now cross that off my bucket list! πŸ™‚