Friday, July 30, 2004

Chinese Chicken Salad

This has been one of my favorite salads ever since I was a little kid. My birthday is at the end of April, which was the time of year when it was finally warm enough to eat outside on our porch and my mom would mostly serve grilled chicken or steak or salads for dinner. Not boring, tasteless iceberg salads either -- my two favorites were always taco salad and Chinese chicken salad, but I would always request Chinese chicken salad for my birthday dinner(unless we went out for Mexican food at the now defunct El Torito). When it's hot in the summer, I'm always tempted to serve one or the other for dinner -- especially this summer when we've got a lovely garden to dine in. This recipe is really outstanding -- I recommend you give it a try.

Chinese Chicken Salad

1 1/2 tbsp sugar (Equal or Splenda works well too)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp sesame oil

1 bunch of green onions, white & green parts sliced
2-3 chicken breasts, cooked and shreaded or chopped
3 tbsp slivered almonds (toasted if you prefer)
1 can mandarin oranges, drained
1 lb baby greens or 1 head of ice berg
2 oz. rice sticks (optional)

1) Combine dressing ingredients and shake or mix well.
2) Fry rice sticks in small batches in oil. Drain on paper towels. (They only take a moment to crisp up, but be cautious, as too many fried at once may result in spattering oil.)
3) Toss salad ingredients (reserving fried rice sticks) and add salad dressing. Place rice sticks atop salad immediately before serving.

Best enjoyed eaten outdoors with your friends. If you want to bring the salad to a picnic or other gathering, combine the chopped chicken with the dressing and assemble the salad ingredients ahead of time. Top salad with dressed chicken and rice sticks just before serving.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

NYC Must Dos #1

While I can't complain as I sit outside watching squirrels chase each other up and down trees and the birds chirp loud enough to make me forget about the nearby highway, I still pine for many of my NYC favorites, and even for things I've always thought about doing in New York City, but have never gotten around to. I've become such a fan of keeping lists that I have decided to keep a list of things I want to remember to do when I get back to New York City.

#1: Go to Five Points for Happy Hour.
If memory serves me correctly, Five Points offers an amazing happy hour -- $5 martinis (though they will only serve you two, which, come to think about it, is plenty) and $1 oysters from 5-7 p.m. The key with this happy hour is arriving early, as the bar fills up fast and it's not nearly as pleasant to sip on martinis and snack on briney oysters if you have no where to sit. Another plus about happy hour at Five Points is that they provide some delicious snacks during happy hour gratis. Last time I was there, we had roasted corn kernels, slightly salted and much larger than the type used for popcorn, and a delicious bread basket, in addition to martinis and oysters. Yum!

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Always the Cynic

I lead a cuisine-charmed life in NYC. I pride myself on dining at the best Thai restaurant in The City before it was in Zagat. I have eaten pizza at most of the top NYC pizzerias. I've had many sublime meals in New York City, costing anywhere from $6 (amazing dumplings at the Dumpling House, 118 Eldridge St) to $300 (dinner at Babbo), all over NYC. Spending the summer in the Hamilton/Ancaster area, I had braced myself for entering a culinary wasteland by bringing along all of my issues of Cooks Illustrated, figuring dining out would be fruitless and it would be frugal (and good for the ego) to prepare impressive meals in Betty's kitchen.

Now the confession: in the past five days, I've eaten not one, not two, not three, but four good meals out in the area.
1) La Spiga Pizzeria, where we enjoyed grilled vegetables and wood oven pizzas. (No, it's not NYC pizza, but it's tasty nonetheless, and they'll even make your pizza into a calzone for $1.50.)
2) La Luna (306 King St. W, Hamilton, 905-577-0233), where we lunched on Lebanese cuisine, including fattoush, hummus, baba ghanouj, kafta sandwiches, falafel, and shish tawook.
3) On our way home from a drive into western Ontario to visit relatives, we stopped at the Elm Hurst Inn. On Sunday nights, they have a prime rib buffet for $21.95 CDN per person. While we had initially intended on stopping for a "bite", we all managed to enjoy indulging in the buffet which featured seafood salad, shrimp cocktail, many cheeses, salad bar, pasta station, and several entrees, including prime rib. Service was friendly and cheerful.
4) B & T Restaurant (115 Park Street North, Hamilton, 905-528-6888), serves authentic Vietnamese food in a charmless environment. Ordering your food by completing a form ensures you get what you want, but "service" is nearly non-existant. Despite the formica tables and florescent lights, the food is delicious. Chicken with onions, green peppers and basil is freshly prepared with a nice amount of heat; shrimp rolls are mild, yet delicious, and the portions of pho are large and richly flavored.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Quest for Chinese in Ancaster

One of the first times Dan came to New York City with me, he was excited to experience Chinese food in "the white containers, that people eat out of with chopsticks like on Friends". My favorite Chinese restaurants in Manhattan are Wo Hop(17 Mott St.; 212-267-2536) for Cantonese cuisine (open 24 hours, nonetheless), and for Szechuan we like Grand Sichuan(1049 Second Ave. at 55th Street; 212-355-5855).

I discovered that Dan's aversion to moo shu was based on having it served with flour tortillas (like you might use for a quesadilla), as opposed to flour crepes, so I've been nervous about spending two months here in Canada without a decent meal of Chinese take-out. In my usual obsessive-compulsive way, I read reviews of the many local Chinese restaurants, talked to friends for their recommendations and determined that Le Chinois(173-175 King St. East, Hamilton, ON; 905-528-2223) was the best in town.

Dinner was pleasantly surprising. I was cynical that anything would taste good to my NYC-spoiled tastebuds, but the Hot & Sour Soup left my mouth feeling warm and satisfied and avoided the often gloppy nature of soups thickened with cornstarch. Eggplant with Garlic Sauce was a disappointment -- it wasn't made with Chinese eggplant and it was overcooked, so the dish primarily consisted of sloppy globs of eggplant in a spicy sauce. (I think the sauce had potential, so next time we'll try the Broccoli with Garlic Sauce.) Cheese Rangoons, crispy wonton shells with a cream-cheese based filling, were passable, but not necessarily worth the calories. Orange Beef is one of those unusual dishes that grows on you. The meat is battered and stir-fried which yields a slightly chewy texture, but the spicy sauce with orange rind gets warmer and tastier with each bite. Lastly, our Chicken Lo Mein was a little light on the vegetables, but it was flavorful and I would definitely order it again.

I didn't expect that we'd figure out the perfect order on our first try, but after this experience, we have a few good dishes to build upon. Dan also discovered that Le Chinois makes their own flour pancakes for moo shu at the Burlington location, so we'll also have to consider that in the future.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Mustard Dill Sauce

One of the best things about staying in Canada is that I'm able to have an herb garden (my apartment in NYC has no outdoor access and doesn't get enough sunshine to keep even fake plants alive). When I first arrived in Ancaster, I planted rosemary, basil, mint, cilantro, dill and chives, and now I'm always looking for recipes to incorporate my fresh herbs into meals. I made this sauce to serve over grilled chicken breasts, and everyone loved it.

Mustard Dill Sauce

1/2 cup coarse-grained mustard
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup low-fat sour cream
1/8 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, season with pepper, and allow to stand for about an hour for flavors to meld.

This versatile sauce can be served over grilled chicken or salmon, and it also makes a great chicken salad (just mix with cooked shredded chicken and serve on hearty sandwich bread with lettuce and tomato).

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Eggstacy in Toronto

399 Church Street
Toronto, Ontario
(416) 598-0004
Breakfast, including coffee & tip: $10

Just wanted to tip you off to this great breakfast place in Toronto. You'll have to wait at peak times, but fast, friendly service and perfect post-hangover (or just pig-out) omelettes, frittatas, etc. all served with pancakes (in addition to toast and homefries). The best part is that they serve real maple syrup and also have their own special cinnamon and coffee maple syrup for the pancakes. (No surcharge like IHOP in the States, either.) Did I mention that they serve breakfast all day long? So no matter how late you wake up, you can enjoy a good greasy breakfast.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Summerlicious in Toronto

After a couple of weeks back in New York City and Connecticut, it was time to head back to Canada. Dan surprised me with a couple of nights in Toronto, including dinner reservations at Bymark for Summerlicious. ($20.04 lunches/$30.04 dinners, akin to NYC's Restaurant Week.)

Lighting created a warm, intimate environment, and despite the contemporary, stylized decor (it reminded both of us of Craft), the service was friendly and never felt patronizing or rushed (or slows, for that matter). We arrived around 9:30 p.m. for our 10 p.m. reservation, happy to have a seat at the bar while we waited, but we were pleasantly surprised to be seated right away. We're used to Manhattan restaurants, where seating is often quite cramped, so we relished our corner spot at the banquette where we were able to sit close to each other, but not close enough to the couple at the next table to feel intruded upon.

Intrigued by the creative cocktail menu, I chose a Berry Collins($10.50) that was outstanding. It featured muddled fresh berries below a refreshing gin Collins -- the natural sweetness of the berries contrasted the tart, piney flavor typical of a gin Collins, but had none of that syrupy sweetness that ruins so many well intended cocktails. We were presented with both the regular and Summerlicious menus, and the Summerlicious menu offered 3 selections for appetizers and main courses, as well as a few options available for an upgraded price($8-10 extra per course).

Steak tartare was freshly prepared and well seasoned, with a quail egg perched on top. The creaminess of the yolk was a nice contrast to the firm, cool tartare, and the citrus dressing on the accompanying greens was delicious as well. Terrine of foie gras ($8 upgrade) was also excellent -- and both appetizer portions were ample enough to sustain the "half-way swap" of which Dan and I are fans.

For entrees, we chose Pickering served with pea risotto and asparagus and mustard chicken served with vingered potato salad and green beans. Everything was perfectly cooked -- the vegetables were crisp, the risotto and potatoes all yielded to a slight bite, and both the fish and chicken were moist and flavorful. We selected a reasonably priced ($32)Chardonnay/Semillon blend to accompany our meal, and it was refreshing and almost effervescing.

For dessert, we ordered one of each of the selections: an upside down pear cake, served with a mildly tart sour cream ice cream and a meringue over fresh berries topped with a lemon cream. Both featured balanced flavors, well executed and presented that had defined our meal.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Restaurant Week in NYC

Very few things cater to my obsessions with delicious food and getting great deals like New York City's Restaurant Week and Toronto's Summerlicious. For about $20 ($30 at dinner), many of the cities' popular restaurants offer three-course meals where savvy diners have an opportunity to experience new places, often at a fraction of the typical price.

For New York City's Summer Restaurant Week, I invited my parents to join me for lunch on July 2 at Eleven Madison Park. Danny Meyer's restaurants (including Gramercy Tavern, Tabla & Union Square Cafe) are reknowned for their impeccable service, and they shine during RW when many other establishments offer sub-par service to customers who might be paying less than a meal in their restaurant typically costs. There were five selections for each of the three courses, as well as discounted bottles of wine on offer. The English Pea Flan's fresh flavor was surprising given its silky texture, while earthy morels and salty prociuitto highlighted the peas' natural sweetness. A cream sauce lightly covered the White Bean Ravoli, and the pasta gave just a slight resistance to the teeth before revealing the nutty, slightly smoky flavor of the beans. A selection of cookies for dessert included one with a delicate cream filling sandwiched between two crisp cocoa cookies has forever ruined my ability to eat Oreos, but I'm not complaining.