Food Subscriptions – A Box From Japan

Online subscriptions have been all the rage for quite some time. Whether it be a monthly subscription for tea lovers, a subscription to have handpicked ingredients delivered to your door, or even a mishmash of unique snacks from around the world, if there’s something you’re looking for it probably exists. Although I have never been able to commit to any subscriptions myself, my friend sent me a personalized box while on her travels which made it feel like I got a food subscription package. Similar to my reaction watching the movie Se7en with Brad Pitt, when he sees a mysterious box, I pondered: “What’s in the box?!?!”.

Polka_dotted_box

A mysterious polka dotted box

Thankfully it wasn’t a head or body part, but it was full of snacks my friend bought for me while she was in Japan.

Snacks_Japan

Snacks from Japan

The first thing I tried were these golden crispy sticks. I had no idea what I was eating at first and being unable to read Japanese, your guess would have been as good as mine.

Fish_Roe_Sticks

Despite the oblong looking wieners and cartoon cow, it’s not hot dog or beef flavored

It tasted a bit fishy, but seeing what resembled hot dogs and a cow on the front, it made me think my tastebuds were broken. I had to ask my friend and my hypothesis wasn’t far off.  She said they were fish roe flavoured fries….Interesting, to say the least! Crunchy, hard, and well….fishy!

Fish_Roe_Sticks

Fish roe flavored sticks

Next, I tried the package of fried edamame beans. For some reason, when I ate them, they reminded me of bananas, but also as if I was simultaneously eating beans.

Crispy_Edamame

Crispy Edamame

They were crispy, green, and odd shaped little bites – square, round, big, small…I guess a healthy alternative to typical crisps, perhaps?

Then there was apple pie. What’s so special about this pie? Well, apparently the type of apples used! The package says they use “sweet and sour apples. Their sweet aroma and flavor of apple overwhelm your mouth”.  Surprisingly, for a pre-packaged pie, it really was full of flavor. The crust was soft and the apples were delightful. The apples had such a crunch that you would feel like you were biting straight out of a fresh apple covered in sauce. Although I’m sure popping it into the toaster over would have made it better, the rectangular snack would have been even better if it came with a crispy crust. So much that I would be willing to purchase a box full!

Then there’s the apple drink. Looking at the package, I thought it would have been similar to the apple tea I had back in Turkey which contained crystallized, apple flavored sugar. However, this actually contained tea bags…and actual apple! Taking a sniff from the canister also revealed a beautiful aroma of apples, like being at an apple orchard and smelling a freshly picked apples.

Apple tea from Japan

After steeping the tea for a bit, the dehydrated apple bits expanded and puffed up the tea bag. So it’s not imitation apple or just sugar crystals!

Apple tea

It says you can add sugar, but I had it plain. It was like drinking a hot apple cider, but less sweet and more aromatic. 

Overall, I love surprises and I think a food subscription would be fun. If only they weren’t so expensive! For now, I’ll just settle with what I can get. 馃檪

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The Polish Pyzy

Food can take the form of many different shapes and sizes, but I would like to think a circular sphere is quite common. Meatballs, mochi, oranges, and something called pyzy (pronounced “peh-zey”).

Plate_pyzy

A plate of pyzy

Pyzy is a Polish dish that can be eaten as a main meal. They are considered as just one of the many types of “kluski” or dumplings that are made in Poland (the most famous one is probably the pierogi). The outer dough is typically made of fresh potatoes, potato flour, and eggs which can be stuffed with beef or pork or be served as plain and simple dough balls. In the summer, there are dessert pyzy stuffed with fruits that are in season – such as cherries or plums.

Pyzy are normally boiled, but they can be enhanced by additional toppings. The ones I had were stuffed with ground pork and topped with crispy bacon bits. However, they can also be prepared with fried onions, lard, or even a heaping dollop of gravy or butter and bread crumbs.

Ground_pork_stuffed_pyzy_topped_bacon

Ground pork stuffed pyzy topped with bacon bits

Although they seem quite simple, pyzy are delicious little balls. They are soft and easy to eat, though they tend to have a gummy texture. They equate to a pretty heavy meal, but I’ll amount that to all the potatoes at work in this humble dish.

A Gluttonous Sandwich – The Francisinha

Every dish has a story. The francisinha is no different. Legend says that there was a Portuguese man that moved to France. He was a womanizer, so he loved to roam around living a life of debauchery. One day, his dad called him and told him he wanted to open a restaurant in Portugal, but he needed his son to come back and help. The son loved his life in France and was reluctant to change his lifestyle, but he went back to Porto be a good son.

Streets _of_Porto

Streets of Porto

The son, being mischievous, intentionally created a spicy sandwich called the francisinha to add to the menu. He didn’t make it mouth-on-fire hot, but enough to make people sweat. His reasoning? The womanizer in him believed if it was spicy enough, it would make woman sweat and consequently remove layers of clothing. Tsk tsk!

So what is this francisinha I speak of? It’s about as gluttonous as one can get with a sandwich, minus the bacon. It’s made with bread, deli meat, steak, and cheese. However, it goes further to add egg and sausage and has a layer of cheese enveloping the entire thing. It is then smothered in a spicy, tomato-based gravy. Yikes!

Famous_Porto_Francisinha

The famous Porto sandwich – The Francisinha

It normally comes with fries too, which doesn’t help the waistline or the arteries. Like I said, it’s a gluttonous sandwich! It’s a savory dish, which was really interesting to eat. You have to definitely go in with an empty stomach and expect to be bursting at the seams by the end of it. 

Francisinha_sandwich_close_up

The Francisinha is ready for its close-up

It’s something that everyone visiting Porto should try at least once. Every restaurant makes it a little differently, but it will definitely leave a lasting impression. Oddly enough, there are also vegetarian versions.  

In case anyone was wondering, no articles of clothing were removed off my body upon the eating of this sandwich. 馃槈

What the Offal?

Kawaii_Halloween_Pumpkins

Kawaii Halloween pumpkins

Today is Halloween. Although I didn’t get a chance to carve out a pumpkin this year, let alone visit a pumpkin patch, I think a festive way to get into the mood is through food. I’m not talking about all the candies, chips, and chocolate bars, but by eating things that scare the majority. Brains? Chicken feet? How about some hearts?

Plate_offal_meat

A delicious plate of offal

In other words, offal. It’s a category that sums up the types of odds and ends in meats that either make you jump for joy or cringe towards a bucket for relief. In America, apparently this may be known as “organ meats” or variety meats”. The term originally included only the entrails of an animal, but in addition to the innards are now other extremities – brains, intestines, feet, ankles, heart, kidneys, cheeks, lungs, liver, marrow, stomach, tail, tongue, testicles…they can be all lumped together now. Are you feeling queasy yet?

Chiuchow_style_offal_platter

A Chiuchow style platter of offal

Although there are numerous ways to actually prepare offal, this particular time I had it prepared Chiuchow style. It’s marinated in a soy sauce-based marinade and included a variety of animals and parts – pig intestine, beef flank, eggs, duck feet, sausage, pig ears, tongue, etc. There are many different textures on this platter; from soft to hard, slimy to rough, and smooth to crunchy. All I can say is, if you open your mind and just close your eyes, you may enjoy it. Technically, all these things can be incorporated into your common day eats like sausages, hot dogs, and p芒t茅s…not to ruin it for you or anything. Happy Halloween!!! 馃檪

Port Wine in Porto

Oporto? Porto? Is this the right city? Where am I?

Porto_Ponte_Dom_Luis_Bridge

A view in Porto with the Ponte Dom Luis Bridge

A local told me that the Portuguese speak really fast, so when they translated “Oporto”, foreigners only heard “Porto”. This explains why Porto is more commonly seen (even though some languages still call it Oporto). Regardless of the pronunciation, both mean “The Harbour”. This makes sense, given that Porto lies across a long stretch of the Duoro River. There are so many things to do it Porto, like seeing the Harry Potter library (aka Livraria Lello), towers, and cathedrals.

Harry_Potter_Library

The Harry Potter Library – A challenging picture to take with hundreds of tourists roaming about!

However, the one thing I couldn’t miss out on was visiting Vila Nova de Gaia to do a Port wine tour. It does originate from Porto, after all! I haven’t had many encounters with port wine until this excursion, but I knew it was a deliciously sweet, rich wine like our Canadian dessert ice wine. In order to create a port wine, you need to have it fortified or it will turn into a vinegar (and nobody wants that). The story behind this is because the liquids were transferred from city to city on boats, and because of osculation (changing of temperatures), they had to find a way to preserve it. Hence fortification! It is uncertain who actually created this technique, but it is said that the Portuguese had some help from the English.

Porto_Portugal_Port_Wine

Port Wine

Just like Champagne is not real champagne unless it comes from Champagne, France, real port wine isn’t considered real unless it is made in Porto, Portugal. For port wines, they use a Portuguese or French oak and ferment it for five days. To stop the process, they add 77% brandy to the mixture and once it  is bottled, the aging process is over. The only exception to this are the vintage port wines.

Port_Wine

The many colours of Port Wine

There are several types of port wine – ruby, white, tawny, and vintage – which can come as a red or white wine, but even the more recent and controversial ros茅 (which breaks tradition and isn’t considered a “real” port wine by experts).

Port_wine_white_rose_tawny_vintage

Port wine – white, ros茅, tawny, and vintage

Ruby is a mix of wines, in which the ages can range from 3-7 years. It tends to be red and has less contact with the wood and oxygen to maintain its colour and flavours, keeping it fruity and “youthful”. Similarly, white port wine can have a blend of wines with different ages ranging from 3-7 years, but it only uses white grapes. Tawny wines can have a blend of multiple years, ranging from 3-30 years, but they tend to have more contact with wood and oxygen. This results in a more lighter amber colour wine and keeping it in the barrels longer increases the flavours from the wood, spices, and fruits. It can also have a mix of white and ruby ports. For vintage wines, the grapes can only come from a single vintage and are bottled in two years without being filtered. Interestingly, in one of the wineries we visited, they had some lights on the table so that we could examine the clarity of our port wines. Vintage wines tend to have sediments in them as they age!

 

Vintage_port_wine_sediments

Vintage port wine tends to have sediments

Vintage wines tend to change colour and taste better as they age, so you can keep them for decades. However, once opened, they have to be consumed within 24-72 hours. The other three types of port wine can be be kept for longer periods. Good to know!

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If you’re ever in Porto, I highly recommend visiting some wineries or doing a port wine tour. The views are beautiful, you get to learn lots about port wine, and best of all you get to sample all the different types.

 

The Wine and Cheese Experiment

Cheese is good. Wine is also good. Pairing them together? Marvelous!

Wine_and_Cheese_Experiment

The wine and cheese experiment in Niagara Falls

Donning an apron, googles, and chef hat, I got to enjoy a wine and cheese pairing event in Niagara Falls, where the professionals chose the matching duos. For this particular occasion, we were given three types of cheeses to try, but they were served two ways – in it’s original form and what I would like to call, the “mad scientist” form.

Cheese_and_Wine

Three wines and three cheeses served six ways

The first cheese was a soft brie. On it’s own, it was so creamy and delicious how could it possibly get any better? Well, it got smoked. Placing our cheese into little ramekins, we crammed them under a glass dome and smoked it with some fancy tools and applewood. It’s amazing to watch the smoke fill the dome, but what is even more amazing is what a difference it made to flavours of the cheese. It was smoked for about 20 seconds and these deliciously creamy brie cubes were instantly filled with sweet, fruity notes thanks to the applewood and science. Yum!

Cheese_smoker

The cheese smoker

I cannot recall the name of the second type of cheese, but it was semi-hard cheese. Although it was delicious on it’s own, adding a little flame to it changed the flavours. Cr猫me br没l茅e is extra special because of the burnt sugar on top, so of course adding a little br没l茅e to the cheese made it so much tastier. It was warm, it was gooier, and it made the toasted cheese a little nuttier. I’m not going to lie, we were in such awe that we wanted to buy a torch after.

Cheese_br没l茅e

Cheese br没l茅e

They say to save the best for last, but it was blue cheese. I hate blue cheese and was actually dreading it. However, leave it to the wine and cheese connoisseurs to find one that was actually delicious! I was visually grossed out by the green moldy parts (despite the fact cheese is technically a mold), but it was when we had the second form of the cheese soaking in a beaker with vidal ice wine that made it taste even better. It was sweet and savory and the best part was getting to drink some ice wine!

Ice_wine_cheese

Ice wine and blue cheese

Although this tour was only one of hundreds offered in Niagara Falls, I would like to say that ending the event with a dessert wine was awesome! Have you ever tried preparing cheese in a unique, “mad scientist” way?

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. 馃檪

 

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! 馃檪

 

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. 馃檪

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. 馃檪

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving! 馃檪

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. 馃檪