Thursday, February 27, 2014

London, England: Day 1 - Portobello Market & Wahaca Mexican Eating

Back to reality. After ten enchanting days of bopping around London, England and Edinburgh, Scotland it's back to reality for this little dreamer. That sinking, back-to-reality feeling at the end of a wonderful trip can feel so heartbreaking at times, that you can't help but wonder "was it worth it?" We all know the answer is always a resounding YES! Getting the opportunity to travel to the UK with someone I love, to experience all of the unique sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and so much more in a foreign country that ignited a fire in my soul can never be something I could ever regret. Thankfully I have so many fabulous memories that I can hold onto to keep that fire alive and, hopefully, will help to shake up my own routine-filled life. 

So enough with back-to-reality pity party, it's time to focus on a trip that I will be talking about for years to come! I arrived in London, England with my boyfriend Chris to visit his sister Melissa who is currently living in England (lucky gal!) working as a teacher. After hugs, hellos, and a big breakfast of eggs, toast, and bacon made by Melissa's roommate, the Canadian crew was off to enjoy our first London market experience. Melissa was so excited to take us to the world famous Portobello market, a street market that runs right through the heart of Notting Hill, taking up most of Portobello Road, with stand after stand selling antiques, fruits and vegetables, striking fashions and jewelry, and fresh, hot prepared food. 

It took all of two minutes for me to regret that large breakfast with so many tasty offerings being served up at each stand, the most appealing of which was the massive vats of fresh and colourful paella, filled with every shellfish imaginable. The smells as you walked past each booth was positively intoxicating, begging you to sample each and every dish. If only the servings of paella weren't quite so large I would have undoubtably given in to the mouth-watering Spanish dish...I'm still kicking myself for not. 

It was at the fresh churro stand that I had to stop to purchase an order for Chris, Melissa, and I to share, with each order containing far more churros than I could ever dream of eating. Prepared to order, the cinnamon and sugar dusted churros were just the pick-me-up I needed to do a little shoe shopping. I had heard that the shoe selection in London is wonderful, but was warned about the high cost of everything. To my delight, the rumors of London's beautiful shoe selection was true, but that high cost was pure hogwash as all three of us walked away with a pair of shoes much cheaper than we would have ever found in Toronto! High from our shoe purchases, we decided it was time for another snack. The long line up at the falafel stand was a telltale sign of high quality and flavour, so we joined the line for a quick falafel break. Although I didn't order a falafel myself (I was the mooch stealing bites from Chris and Melissa), I was once again kicking myself for my full stomach and not ordering one. These falafels were outstanding, and comparable to the falafels found throughout Israel, but with a Lebanese twist. The perfect fried-to-order, crispy on the outside, soft and moist on the inside falafel balls were drizzled in a zingy chilli-peanut sauce that gave this familiar dish an exotic twist that I couldn't get enough of...and let's not forget their impossibly creamy humous! With such a large Mediterranean community in Toronto, why can't we have falafels like this?  

It was definitely beer O'clock after all that walking around, so we wandered into the quirky, open-facade Mau Mau Bar for a couple of beers and on-the-house cocktails. This old school London bar had a laid back attitude that was just what we were looking for after winding through the crowds on Portobello Road. The friendly bartender was awesome, chatty, and generous giving Chris a Manhattan and a Negroni on the house! Hooray for British hospitality! 
After checking into the Crown Moran Hotel and a much needed nap in what was possibly the coziest bed I have ever been in, we were back out with our Oyster cards in hand, to hop on a double decker bus and the tube to meet up with our Canadian crew for our first dinner in London at Wahaca Mexican Eating in Covent Garden. Chris had raved about the popular Mexican restaurant from his last trip to London, emphasizing their fresh ingredients, reasonable prices, and great tequila selection. With a massive lineup that filled the lobby and wound up the stairs, we were nervous about getting a table any time within the hour, but lucky for us, a large reservation had not shown up, and we were able to snag a table for seven immediately! 

The menu, which is filled with an assortment of authentic Mexican street food, is made with care using the freshest of ingredients, which are all sourced as ethically and locally as possible. Encouraged to share, we started off our meal with mortars filled with tomato dotted guacamole and tortilla chips and, of course, margaritas! From there, Chris and I shared an order of Pork Pibil Tacos (slow cooked pork in Yucatecan marinade with fiery pickled onions), Chicken Mole Tacos (tender chicken in a rich red Coloradito mole sauce from Oaxaca), Chorizo and Potato Quesadillas (British chorizo, made with their own special recipe, with fresh thyme and steamed potato), Slow-Cooked Pork Burritos (toasted flour tortillas wrapped around slow-cooked pork, with frijoles, shredded cabbage, green rice, crema, avocado salsa, pink pickled onions, habanero chillies, and Baja cheese), and Spicy Slaw (shredded cabbage and red onion in a spicy dressing). Every dish (minus the lackluster not-spicy-at-all slaw) was fantastic, with the Pork Pibil and Chicken Mole tacos being our favourite! We ended our lovely meal with a couple of rounds of tequila shots to toast to an inevitable incredible trip! 

Despite our let jag and tired bodies, we had to do it up on our first night, so we headed down the road to the multi-floor Porterhouse Bar for live music and more pints! 

Stay tuned for Day Two and our visit to Camden Market!

Listening To:
Soko - We Might Be Dead By Tomorrow

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Baked Coconut Shrimp

When your city turns into a snow globe and you have the day off work and school, there's not a chance you're going to go out grocery shopping! It was one of those nights where you scour the fridge and pantry for any possible collection of ingredients that could somehow turn into a satisfying meal, allowing you to forget about your inevitable messy commute come the following morning. When I failed to find any leftovers or raw ingredients in the fridge that I could magically whip into something, I immediately turned to my good ol' standby frozen, raw shrimp. There is never a time when my freezer does not contain at least one bag of frozen, raw shrimp so that on nights such as this, I don't have to reluctantly open a box of macaroni and florescent orange cheese powder to sustain me for the evening. With recent dreams of beaches, sand, and coconuts floating through my red head, I couldn't help but be drawn to the bag of unsweetened shredded coconut in the freezer, just begging to be used as a crispy coating for my frozen shrimp. 

I tend to turn my kitchen into a disaster zone whenever there is any type of breading involved, so I expected this evenings dinner of coconut shrimp to be no exception, especially considering this was my first go at making the sweet and savory delight. Thankfully the coconut shrimp production line proved to be far more tidy than the spaetzle and veal scallopini tornado of 2014, and in less than 10-minutes, my little shrimps were coated in a mixture of toasted coconut and panko breadcrumbs and baking in the oven. When a new dish goes as smoothly as that, I can't help but assume it's going to be a bit of a failure come that first bite, but my baked coconut shrimp was an absolute gold medal winner in my books! A little pre-toast of the coconut and panko breadcrumbs in a dry pan proved to be beneficial, giving the shrimp coating a wonderful crunchy texture, and enhancing the nutty flavour of the coconut. It's that great crispy texture that surprised me and made me wonder why I was ever bothering to purchase pre-made frozen coconut shrimp in the past, which had always left me unsatisfied, disappointed in the flimsy, almost-soggy texture that they would always come out as. With such wonderful flavour, texture, and ease of production I will absolutely be adding this recipe to my "Danielle's Favourites" section of the blog. Now excuse me while I slip back into my dream of sun, sand, and coconuts. 

1 Ib raw shrimp (fresh or thawed from frozen), peeled, deveined, & patted dry with a paper towel
salt, to season
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
3 tbsp flour
1 egg, beaten
oil for baking pan
spicy dipping sauce, for serving (I like to use a Thai dipping sauce)

  1. Preheat oven to 425º.
  2. In a medium pan, add the coconut and panko breadcrumbs and toast at medium heat until golden. Keep a close eye on the pan as they will go from golden to burnt very quickly! Spoon into a small bowl immediately to prevent further browning. Add a pinch of salt to the mixture.
  3. Lightly sprinkle a pinch or two of salt over the shrimp to season. 
  4. Pour the flour and beaten egg into two separate small bowls. Lightly spray or rub a medium-large baking sheet with olive oil or coconut oil. Line up your station so you have first your shrimp, then the bowl of flour, then the bowl of beaten egg, then the bowl of coconut and panko, then your baking sheet, all in a line.
  5. Dip a shrimp into the flour to coat evenly, lightly shaking off any excess. Dip the flour dusted shrimp into the egg mixture to coat, then into the coconut and panko mixture, pressing to coat. Place the coated shrimp onto the baking sheet. Repeat with remaining shrimp. 
  6. Bake for 10 minutes. Flip shrimp using tongs, and bake for an additional 6-7 minutes. Serve immediately with spicy dipping sauce. 

Listening To:
Beyoncé - XO

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Herb Spaetzle: Reconnecting With My German Roots

Have you ever tried to rub off caked on spaetzle batter off of your arm?

No one ever warned me just how messy making spaetzle can be...not to mention playing a side dish to breaded veal scallopini (just imagine a dredging liquid and breadcrumb explosion all over your kitchen). I tried to make it as tidy as possible, laying out my mise en place, and trying to think ahead....but no. No one gave me any tips to avoid a veal scallopini and spaetzle explosion all over my kitchen and myself, so that's where I come in. Making spaetzle and veal scallopini can be extremely simple, you just need to follow a few tricks and guidelines to avoid having to rip off your arm hairs when attempting to rub off that glue-like, caked-on spaetzle off of your arm. Your welcome, in advance. 

First off, you might be wondering 'what is spaetzle?' Spaetzle is a traditional German dish that is a cross between pasta and very dense gnocchi. A dough/batter is whipped up with eggs, flour, milk and seasoning, and is pushed through the holes of a colander (or spaetzle maker) to drop directly into salted boiling water to create little dumplings that are often served alongside meat, at times just simply tossed in butter, and often served with a sauce or gravy overtop. Growing up with German grandparents, spaetzle was one of the German dishes that I was proud to have tried. Although spaetzle wasn't as common as cabbage rolls and sausage on our dinner table, I would always relish the moment's that I could sop up those little, dense dumplings in my Oma's thick mushroom gravy. I haven't had spaetzle in years, with my last memory of it being from a package from the grocery store, but a recent project for school on the food and nutrition in Germany inspired me to make that nostalgic dish once again.

So how does one avoid a breadcrumb, dredging mixture, and spaetzle batter explosion? First off, if you are making veal scallopini alongside your homemade spaetzle, get the veal breading over with right off the bat. Set up your dredging station with three shallow dishes. In the first dish place your beaten eggs, in the second dish place your seasoned breadcrumbs, and leave the final dish bare for the breaded veal to be contained in. Keeping one hand clean, dip the pounded raw veal into the egg mixture until well coated, then place directly into the breading mixture to coat evenly. Place the breaded veal in your third clean dish. Repeat until all the veal is breaded. Place the breaded veal in the fridge until ready to fry. Clean up your work station and then begin your spaetzle. This is the most crucial part of avoiding a mess, don't try to do everything all at once. Take it one step at a time. Once you have boiled your spaetzle you can begin frying your veal. While the veal is frying is the perfect time to reheat your spaetzle in a hot pan with butter (lots of it!).

The rest of my advice for making easy and mess-free spaetzle is listed in the instructions below. The best advice I can give you is to have everything you will possibly need for making your spaetlze on hand and ready to go. Spaetzle cooks very quickly, so you don't have time to go searching through your drawers for a slotted spoon, or rushing around your kitchen to create an ice bath. Get all that stuff out of the way before you begin. By setting up your work station properly and taking things one step at a time, you will see just how easy this traditional German dish can be, and how rewarding it is once sitting down for that first bite of buttery, chewy spaetzle. 

What would I try next time?
Now that I can make delicious plain herb spaetzle, I'd like to experiment with all different types of flavours! I'd like to think of some of my favourite pasta dishes and mimic those flavours, try out different sauces and batters (why not spinach spaetzle?), think of different toppings like crispy and garlicky breadcrumbs or parmesan cheese.

* If there are larger leaves that you don't think will fit through the colander holes, give the thyme a quick rough chop.
** In terms of batter consistency, thick of a thick cake batter that you would need to press down with a spatula to even out.
*** An ice bath is just as it sounds, a bowl of ice water. An ice bath is used to quickly stop the cooking process of your product. To help fish out your product, set a colander resting inside.
**** With an active simmer, you want to see active movement in the water, not a roaring boil that will tear your spaetzle apart.
***** At this step you may reserve your spaetzle to serve at another time. To reheat, simply follow step 8 when ready to serve.

3 eggs, beaten
1 cup milk
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 1/2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves*
1 1/2 tbsp fresh chives, finely sliced
1 tsp salt, plus more to taste
a large pinch of white pepper, plus more to taste
2 - 3 cups flour
water for boiling
1/4 cup butter
1 sprig fresh thyme

  1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add a large pinch of salt to water. While water is coming to a boil, prepare the spaetzle batter.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the beaten eggs with the milk, nutmeg, thyme, chives, salt, and white pepper. 
  3. Add the flour, a bit at a time until you have a thick batter. NOTE: You likely will not need all 3-cups of flour. Just keep adding until dough reaches the proper consistency.** Set aside.
  4. Set up your spaetzle making station: Have a colander on hand to push your batter though, set up an ice bath*** with a second colander resting in it to shock your spaetzle, have a slotted spoon ready to fish out the cooked spaetzle, have a bowl scraper or a spatula on hand to use to push the batter through the colander. Adjust the heat on the stove so that the boiling water is at a very active simmer****
  5. With the colander to form the spaetzle held steady over the boiling water, pour in about 1/3 of your spaetzle batter. Using a bowl scraper or spatula, press the batter through the colander holes so that the batter falls directly into the boiling water. Pour in enough so that you do not crowd the pot. Cook for about 1-2 minutes. While spaetzle is cooking, rest the colander in the bowl containing the remaining batter. 
  6. After 1-2 minutes of cooking, remove the spaetzle with a slotted spoon and place directly into the colander in the ice bath. Continue repeating steps until no batter remains.
  7. Remove the colander from the ice bath and drain the spaetzle.***** 
  8. In a medium-large saucepan melt the butter at medium heat and add a sprig of thyme. When butter begins to foam, add the drained spaetzle. Cook for 4-5 minutes until spaetzle is re-heated and begins to colour. Taste and re-season with salt and white pepper. Taste again. Re-season if necessary. Serve immediately with fresh thyme as a garnish.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

VOTE! The Great Cream Challenge: French Onion Mac & Cheese

Let the voting begin!!

It's that time again, folks! It's time for the Real Cream Anyday Magic Great Cream Challenge! After participating in the challenge for three years now, and winning the Creamy Seafood Challenge last year with my Creamy Clam & Vegetable Chowder, I feel more excited than ever to be able to participate in three of the themes represented in the challenge this year. The first of my three challenges that I will embark on has gotta be one of the best comfort foods this earth has ever seen, the childhood favourite that no one can seem to really shake, Comforting Mac & Cheese. 

When I first began brainstorming what type of mac & cheese recipe I would make for the challenge, I started by writing down all of my favourite ways to enjoy cheese, and let me tell you, that list was mighty long! After writing out two full foolscap pages full of mouthwatering ways to indulge in cheese, there was one dish that kept coming back to my mind, French Onion Soup. I would say that french onion soup, with its rich and warming beef broth, and sinfully cheesy crouton topping, is right up there with mac & cheese as one of the most comforting dishes on the planet. With hybrid dishes already a predicted food trend for 2014, I could just tell that I was onto something, developing a recipe for French Onion Mac & Cheese. I took a very basic standby recipe for mac & cheese and amped it up by introducing the flavours and textures that I love in a great french onion soup. Thinly sliced onions are slowly caramelized with fresh thyme, deglazed with dry red wine and stirred into the thick and creamy béchamel sauce, infused with savoury beef broth. The caramelized onion-laden cheese and noodle mixture is served up in individual soup bowls, and topped with a crispy Canadian Gruyere cheese and crouton topping to resemble a bowl of classic french onion soup. Do I have your attention yet? I've gotta say, my French Onion Mac & Cheese tasted just as wonderful as it sounds! I knew I had a dish I would be very proud to enter into the competition and share with my fellow readers and home cooks. I can't wait for you to try out my French Onion Soup Mac & Cheese in your own home! 

Please head over to The Great Cream Challenge site to check out the other recipes in the challenge and vote on your favourite (mine of course!) for a chance to win a Paderno stainless steel cookware set! 

Listening To: