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!)

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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. 🙂

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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.

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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!

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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. 🙂

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving! 🙂

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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 sanjeet 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? 🙂 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! 🙂

A Sanjeet Celebration

I have been calling it a “san-jeet”, but it’s really called a “san-geet”. My first reaction was panic. What’s a sanjeet?!?! I was invited to one because one of my old classmates is getting married. As a first timer, here’s what I discovered. First, I walked into a room that was decorated with low lighting, cavalier chairs and cute little umbrellas. Great for photo ops and I’m sure the umbrellas had significant meaning.

We were fed appetizers to start, including fish pakoras, a cheese pastry, and a potato one. Then came some dancing entertainment and henna sessions. I haven’t done henna since the whole Madonna craze, but it’s said that the darker it comes out, the more your partner loves you.

After, we got to splurge on our buffet style meal. It was a spread of different vegetarian Indian dishes, including salad, rice, palak paneer (spinach and cheese) malai kofta (cheese and potato), raita (yogurt-cucumber dip), and chapati (bread).

There was also dal (a lentil dish), but I’m not a huge fan of that so I skipped it.

For dessert, I missed the photo opportunity since my camera battery died. However, there was my favourite – gulab jamun! There’s was also a white sweet called rasgulla (soft and spongy and super sweet!), and an interesting triangular treat wrapped in a leaf called paan that people kept telling me was a breath freshener with fennel seeds inside. Let’s just say you’re supposed to eat it with the leaf, but I just took a small piece of the filling to try. And I can attest! It was definitely a breath freshener, though definitely not a favourite of mine. It was filled with coconut, fennel seeds and more fennel seeds in a colourful candy coating.

There was a bit of dancing after dinner, but being a weekday we had to leave early. The groom’s father passed out some goody bags to us before we left and said “it’s an Indian tradition”.

When I got home, I opened it up to find a baggie of goodies containing ladoo and some deep fried snacks. Yum!

Going to a sanjeet was a fun experience. I’m glad I went. And look how the henna came out. 🙂

Tong Sum Fun – Macaroni Pasta Soup (Recipe) & Turkey Leftovers

After having turkey this past weekend for our Easter dinner, we had plenty of leftovers. And with leftovers, comes an endless list of crafty ideas on what to do with those leftovers to ensure nothing gets wasted. Thus, comes Tong Sum Fun – also known as Macaroni Pasta Soup! With a hodgepodge of ingredients, this is simple to make and a great way to clear out the fridge. It’s similar to a chicken noodle soup, only this time it has a bunch of ingredients from our dinner (and then some). Tong sum fun is also what my mom made frequently for us growing up when we were sick. You know how it is, when one kid gets sick, the other gets sick and repeat.

Although you can honestly add almost anything into this type of dish, our standard was always a good soup broth and macaroni pasta with some sort of veggies and meat. Here’s the one we made with our leftovers from Easter dinner.

Ingredients:

Directions:

In a pot, bring water to a boil and cook pasta according to the directions of the package and strain. Set aside. In a second pot, add chicken stock and bring it to a boil. Add all the remaining ingredients in and cook until they’re thoroughly heated. Add cooked and strained macaroni into a bowl and add the hot soup mix on top. Easy!

Of course, you could just make a salad with the leftovers as well. Here, I have a salad made with turkey, nuts, cucumber, tomato, peppers, egg, spinach, mixed greens, wakame salad and a few blocks of cheddar cheese for good measure. I personally hate adding salad dressing, but you could use something like Italian or a nice balsamic vinaigrette.

And then there’s an udon noodle stir fry with some onion, shrimp, cabbage, pepper and turkey.

There’s not much turkey left for this, but it’s there! Enjoy!

Easter Weekend

The chocolate egg and bunny hunts have begun and I’m sure many families are getting together this weekend to celebrate Easter weekend.

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Happy Easter!

Even though I wasn’t raised as a Christian, I celebrate it as a time to get together with family and friends. Plus, it’s an extra long weekend which I’m surely not going to complain about!

I had my family dinner yesterday. Although many families have succulent roasts or juicy hams, my family decided to have turkey. Why? Probably because it’s more versatile when it comes to leftovers – using the bones for soup, preparing the meat for salads and sandwiches or even stir fry dishes (I’ll post a recipe later on about what we did with some of our leftovers).

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Happy Hunting!

Whether you celebrate Easter or not, I’m wishing you a Happy Easter, an awesome long weekend and/or the best of luck in hunting down that discounted chocolate! Enjoy! 🙂

Sugar Shack – The Maple Syrup Festival

Canadian stereotypes:

  • We live in igloos
  • We live amongst polar bears
  • We love maple syrup

For me, two out of the three are false but the maple syrup one is correct! I say this because every year, multiple locations throughout Canada celebrate the maple syrup festival by going to a Sugar Shack, also known as La Cabane à Sucre in French.

It’s a tree tapping tradition where you can learn about the Canadian customs of maple syrup production and let me tell you, it takes a lot of time and effort to fill those bottles with 100% real syrup! 40 gallons of maple sap only creates 1 litre of syrup, to be exact!

To make this delicious syrup, the first thing they do is tap a bunch of maple trees by creating a small hole and inserting a nozzle. Rest assured, according to our guide, this process doesn’t harm the tree. In fact, it will heal on its own, like a minor boo boo. A bucket is then hung to catch the sap from the maple trees. Sap is created with the magic of photosynthesis – when sunlight creates energy and food for plants.

From here, there are two different ways to produce maple syrup. First, the old school pioneer way! Pioneer children were lucky. Most kids these days get one week for March break, but pioneer children get one month. However, this month is spent making maple syrup because the season is only 6-8 weeks long. If the temperature is too cold, the sap will freeze so the production of syrup each year is pretty time sensitive. Children help out by carrying buckets of sap on that wooden thingamajig attached to two buckets. It is then poured into cauldrons and boiled for hours. There are three different pots because each stage requires a certain type of monitoring. The syrup is created over time through heat and evaporation of the liquid sap to make it more concentrated.

When it’s done, it needs to be filtered. The pioneer way pours the sap into a simple bucket with cloth to get rid of the sediments, which is done several times.

The modern way is with big, fancy machines. It is boiled and stirred periodically before it goes into a big white container to be filtered into that clear, viscous liquid we all love.

The type of sap depends on the tree. It can range from clear to golden-brown, but the most common one we can find in most stores is amber syrup. It’s the good stuff you use to put on your pancakes and waffles! And real maple syrup contains 66% sugar which is measured using a refractometer. It can’t be less because it will go bad quickly (sugar acts as a preservative) and it can’t be more otherwise it will crystallize.

Some stores sell organic maple syrup, but do you know why it’s considered organic? Although everything comes from the maple tree, it’s the way it is processed. Boiling down the maple sap creates a foam which slows down the evaporation process. In non-organic maple syrup, a chemical defoamer is used. This is what renders the difference between organic and non-organic maple syrup.

Although it is interesting to learn about the history and making of maple syrup, it stirs up quite the appetite. The best part about visiting a sugar bush is visiting the sugar shack!

There are various treats that you can get at a sugar bush. Although it differs from place to place, you can get things such as maple cookies, maple chocolates or even maple taffy on a stick. At this particular location, they used ice to freeze the maple syrup. However, other places throw maple syrup on snow and peel it off to eat. Either way is delicious!

However, what I look forward to at a sugar bush is the pancakes with maple syrup! The pancakes are normally huge and pouring some beautiful maple syrup on top is the icing to the cake…pancake in this case. 🙂

Interestingly enough, maple trees aren’t the only trees that make syrup. You can also use birch trees, which require a ration of 80:1, just for drinking purposes. However, apparently it’s not that good. I’ll stick to the maple tree syrup which is apparently the only tree that produces a sweet flavour. And it’s my personal preference on pancakes and waffles. Yum!

 

A Chinese New Year Lunch

Yesterday was Chinese New Year and the beginning of the Year of the Rooster. Every year, my family gets together and makes our traditional New Year lunch. Sometimes we pan fry some white radish cake, but this year we went with a taro cake (also known as “wu tau go”) and Year Cake (leen go).

Similar to white radish cake (aka lo bat go), taro cake is steamed. It’s a cake, but by no means is it sweet. Rather, it is savory and has a starchy texture because of the taro chunks found inside. It also has some small dried shrimp and bits of Chinese sausage.

In case you’re unfamiliar with Chinese sausage, it’s also known as “lap cheung”. It’s nothing like the typical sausage you can throw on abarbecue. Rather, it’s small, thin and hard sausage with plenty of fat in it to give it flavour. It’s more sweet than salty, but it does have some soy sauce in it and other seasonings. These can be found at Asian grocery stores hanging on strings ready to be cut or in packages.

Then there’s something we traditionally have called Year Cake. A typical Year Cake is steamed with a date placed on top and sprinkled with sesame seeds. I haven’t tried her recipe, but Nena from Nena Baking Recipes shared a recipe for a more traditional version of Year Cake recently. However, the version I had this year was filled with walnuts. I was taken back a little bit by this because I’m not used to having that crunchiness, but I think that the butteriness and the flavor from the walnuts worked really well with the sweetness of the cake. Year Cake usually comes in round, tin containers at the store, but when we bring it home we slice it, dip it into an egg wash and pan fry them (like in the first picture above).

I can’t say for certain that everybody does this for their New Year lunch, but I can definitely say it’s what we do. Plus, I only get to eat Year Cake once a year! Gong Hey Fat Choi! 🙂

 

Chinese New Year – Year of the Rooster

Gung Hey Fat Choi! Happy Chinese New Year! It’s the year of the Rooster, so that means if you are 12, 24, 36, 48, 60, etc. (it’s a cycle of 12’s) then it’s your year!

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While I completely lack the power to make predictions, what I do know about Chinese New Year is food! With any big celebration, there’s always an abundance of feasts! Unfortunately, due to a family surgery that happened this week, we celebrated earlier at a restaurant as opposed to celebrating New Years Eve like we traditionally do (feasting on a spread of eight home cooked dishes – eight means fortune because of the way it phonetically sounds). However, there’s always the snacks! Pictured below are gok jai, candied walnuts, crisps, deep fried taro nests and (my favourite) taro chips!

Then there’s the snacks in our little special “togetherness” bowl, complete with a lid and spinning action. This year we have candies and an assortment of dried candied fruits. In the mix is dried lotus root, lotus seed, coconut and winter melon. It’s not random though, everything placed in these type of bowls have symbolic meaning. However, that doesn’t mean every household has the items in their tray. Other things that are commonly found in these bowls include nuts, seeds and even chocolate like Ferrero Rocher. Really, anything that is red or gold is considered a lucky thing.

Last year, I talked about gok jai and how they traditionally have those meticulously folded edges. Although I never did get a chance to ask my aunt to teach me this year, I did find some! Here’s what I’m used to seeing these deep fried goodies look like:

Happy New Year! May the New Year bring you prosperity, fortune and happiness! 🙂

Icewine Touring – Part Deux

On a long journey through the beautiful vineyards of Niagara Region, I had the pleasure of participating in the Niagara Icewine Festival. Yesterday’s posting was about the first half of the tour, so here’s the second part of our awesome adventure!

The pretty Konzelmann Estate Winery was the fifth place we went to on our list. They paired their Vidal icewine with a lobster bisque. The soup wasn’t what I expected because it was quite spicy and it wasn’t thick and creamy, which is what you would normally find in a typical lobster bisque. However, it did have the surprise kick factor. Plus, the vineyard was a cute castle-looking estate which was beautiful to look at.

Our next pit stop was at Stoney Ridge Estate Winery. Despite my previous posting with tips on a successful wine tour, I put this one in sixth place because of the way our route worked out. Bacon tends to be one of the big ticket items on wine tours and when it’s mixed in with macaroni and cheese, watch out! So, when we got to the winery it was actually no surprise that there weren’t any left. This was unfortunate because it was supposed to be an applewood smoked cheddar and double smoked bacon mac n’ cheese. Instead, we were served cheddar cheese from PEI and smoked gouda with a breadstick. It was paired with a white wine and although it wasn’t horrible, I can’t say it was one of my favourites (especially in comparison to the other places we tried).

The last place we went to was at Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery. Being the last stop, there was no better way to end the tour than with dessert! Since the previous winery didn’t go as planned, this experience completely made up for it. They served a beautiful crème brĂ»lĂ©e that was “burnt” right on the spot as we arrived. It isn’t your typical crème brĂ»lĂ©e though because it was made with sweet potato and cardamom. Imagine that! Plus it was created by a restaurant that was featured on the Food Network’s You Gotta Eat Here, so you know credit is deserved for this dish. The staff member mentioned that they had to brĂ»lĂ©e the custard lightly, but not too much so it would create a nice, nutty flavour that would pair well with their Vidal ice wine. The ice wine they served was delicious, with fruity hints of lemon, mandarin, mango and peach. I really enjoyed this pairing and it was a great way to finish our tour.

Despite my good intentions to finish the entire eight wineries I had planned, we had an unfortunate event in the morning that caused us to lose 2 1/2 hours for our tour. It was really upsetting, but at least we were able to do 7 of 8 (though I missed out on Kacaba’s Cabernet Franc Icewine and their Cajun lime buttered jumbo prawn with sweet potato wedges and topped with guacamole drizzle…). At the same time, one of the wineries double scanned our tickets without us knowing (I have my suspicions…it was the one that was drinking on the job but shall remain nameless…), so we wouldn’t have been able to go without paying extra (something to watch out for). In the event you would like to follow the route I took, here’s a map:

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The Niagara Icewine Festival is around this weekend and the following one, so if you get a chance to participate in this fun excursion, let me know what you think. 🙂