Addictions and Resolutions

Hello, my name is Kristel and I am a chip addict. Truthfully, I never intend to recover from it.

 love their salty, light, crunchiness too much to ever give it up. Salt & Vinegar, BBQ, Sour Cream & Onion, Hickory Sticks, even the trendy new flavors such as Thai, Piri-Piri and General Tao that are filling the shelves… I love them all, I don’t discriminate!

However, I only sporadically buy some for the house since I can devour an entire bag of them in one sitting. I am not talking about a snack bag either but the regular sized ones from the grocery store. My addiction is so great that even though I know (and physically feel) they are not good for me, I keep going back for more until there is not a single crumb left.

Didn’t Mae West say that too much of a good thing can be wonderful? So this past holidays season, not only did I get to spend time with family and enjoy lots of yummy food, but I also binged on lots and lots of chips and it was glorious! Four or maybe five bags of chips later, vacation time is over. It is time to get back to  reality, and back to me not buying chips. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t deprive myself of them because that would be insanity; it’s simply that they are not part of my regular grocery list and they are a special treat to me once in a while.

After all the holiday treats, laughter and quarrels, it is time to make resolutions for 2011. Many of us make
them, a lot don’t and some of us keep them. I fall in every one of those categories at some point or other. Come on admit it, I’m sure you’ve thought about your own sort of food reform for 2011. I don’t usually make any food resolutions because I believe more in a balanced diet and eating everything you like in moderation (which includes the occasional bag of chips). For 2010, of my select few resolutions I had vowed to eat more vegetarian meals, to curb my meat consumption for better health and a better carbon footprint. I think I succeeded overall.

On a similar tangent, this year I want to learn more about different food properties and perspectives for healthier living. Crudessence, a restaurant based in Montreal and its surrounding areas, offers a variety of vegan and raw foodism services such as catering and an academy that features a wide selection of workshops (including a free introduction!). So after binging on chips, here comes the detox! As such, my resolution for 2011 is to participate in their 30 day detox workshop… I will let you know how that goes.

In the meantime, there are exciting things going on in Montreal this January. First, there is the 4th edition of the Happening Gourmand in Old Montreal. Great deals on Table d’hôte worth checking out but you have to reserve early if you want to eat! Second and also happening in Old Montreal, there is the Wildside Festival at the Centaur Theater. So why not make a dinner and a show date to ring-in the New Year for a second
time!

Lastly, what are your resolutions for 2011?

Tools and Techniques – Start Minimizing Your Waste

So the tools and techniques don’t come around all too often mainly because I don’t usually think about my kitchen that way. There are many tricks that I use regularly and because they are habit I tend not to really notice them.

Recently I was hanging out with my friend Jon visiting from Toronto and – as we often do – we talked about consuming food. With consumption often comes waste. Jon went on about how much he hates wasting food and that there are some ingredients he just won’t buy in order to avoid a potential waste. I applaud his actions as I too, hate wasting food. I rather stuff myself than to leave food on my plate. I try to maximize every ingredient in my kitchen and pantry, and have come up with a couple of tricks to do just that.

Using his words “What the hell am I supposed to do with a huge bunch of cilantro when all I need is one cup?” My answer: “Why not make a batch of chimichurri? Freeze it in a jar or in ice-cube trays.”

Well, have no fear, Kristel’s Kitchen is here!

Let me share a few tips on how to maximize the use of your ingredients and minimize your waste:

Ice-cube trays! It’s convenient to have at least one ice-cube tray unused, that way you can easily portion out leftover ingredients and freeze for later use. Here are some examples:

  • Tomato paste or sauce when you do not need to use the full amount; use individual cubes add depth of flavor to sauces, soups or
  • Pesto, any kind. Pesto essentially just means to pound, crush to make a paste. Use basil, parsley, cilantro, arugula… basically anything that comes to mind or that may be lurking in your fridge.
  • Fruit: purée and freeze, great for smoothies; or, cook down with sugar for a quick dessert topping.

Make soup! Often my soup creations spur from whatever is left in the fridge and pantry. The last creation was a Mexican influenced vegetable soup. From the fridge: the remainder of a bag of carrots and celery, an onion, a leftover ¼ cabbage from a previous dinner and shredded zucchini. From the pantry: a can of diced tomatoes, an ancho pepper (whole), a handful of coarse cornmeal and a handful of red lentils. All combined in a pot, topped off with water, seasoned with salt, pepper, cumin and coriander seeds, simmered for a about 40 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

Stale bread? Make breadcrumbs or croutons! Make sure the bread is hard and stale. Cut it up into smaller pieces then grind into crumbs using a blender or food processor. Store in the freezer. For croutons, toss with spices, garlic or parmesan (whatever you like), drizzle with olive oil and bake in the oven until brown. Store in an air-tight container.

Fresh ginger, always on hand! It is always convenient to have around for many recipes and marinades or even to spice up some tea, but like any fresh produce it doesn’t have the longest shelf life. When I bring home some ginger (and I am not talking about my better half here), the first thing I do is peel it and store it in a container in the freezer. Whenever I need some I just take it as is – frozen – and using a grater I shave off the needed amount.

Start composting! Contact your city, local borough office or Eco-quartier to find out what services are available to you. If you have the space for it, set-up compost bin in your yard. For Montrealers, get in touch with the nice folk at Compost Montréal to find out how you can get a compost pick-up service set-up for your residence, condo complex or even apartment building.

There’s a lot more where that came from. The key is to try to be a little creative, to think out of the ice-box when you’re looking at the leftovers you fear may be wasting away their shelf-life. Do you have your own tricks for minimizing waste? Please spread the word, share your comment on this post and help all of us make better use of our food consumption economy.

Lazy Sunday and Duck-Zucchini Dumplings

DSCN0457

On my way from work Friday I decided to pick up some roast duck from a store in Chinatown to accompany the squash risotto I had planned on making for dinner. We had a whole roast duck for the two of us. Needless to say, we had too much. Seeing as Sunday was supposed to be a lazy Sunday, simply doing a few things around the house and running a couple of errands with my friend Jasmine, I planned on making dumplings with some of the leftover duck.

This was my second attempt at making dumplings – ever! The first time I used shrimps, mushrooms and scallions but I must have done something wrong because when I proceeded to cook them, the dumplings filled with water and just weren’t that tasty.

I was determined for this time to be different, I had a strategy:

One: make a test dumpling to check for taste, cooking time and overall holding power

Two: keep an egg yolk near just in case the filling doesn’t bind together 

Three: keep some extra wrappers in case I tug too hard and the dough tears

At 11am, the sound system was turned on, the dumpling wrappers were thawed, my ingredients and tools laid out; I was ready to start making dumplings! I proceeded to mix my filling, bring my pot of water to a boil and carefully wrapped up my test dumpling. I plopped it into the boiling water and waited two minutes – as mentioned on the dumpling wrappers packaging. With a slotted spoon I took the dumpling out of the boiling water but noticed the edges of the dough still looked stiff, so I put it back in for another couple of minutes or so. I finally took it out of its bath and let it cool. The dough looked like it had perfectly sealed around the filling and there did not appear to be any water bubbles. The taste test came back positive: my filling was nicely bound together (no need for that extra yolk) and the dough was perfectly soft (a four minute cook time is ideal, as long as your filling doesn’t have any raw meat or seafood ingredients). I did add a bit of salt and pepper to the filling mixture but no other changes were made. I proceeded to wrap and boil more dumplings just as my phone rang. My friend Cammie wanted to drop off something for me before my trip, the book Julie and Julia which I haven’t read yet, nor have I seen the movie. So she stopped by with her husband, we chatted for a while over coffee and they left with a small care package. Just as they were leaving, my friend Laura calls and asked if she could stop by to pick up the extra cookie sheet she had lent me. While I wait for her to arrive, I continue with my dumpling making, sending a few more bundles into their boiling bath 

Laura arrives, I put out a pot of tea and moments after, right on schedule, Jasmine knocks on the door. The three of us spend some time chatting and catching up. Mid-afternoon has rolled around and I still have a few more dumplings to finish up. Laura says goodbye and heads home with her cookie sheet and care package. I finish up the dumplings I had left to do and out the door I go, along with Jasmine to run our errands at 4pm on a Sunday afternoon. 

At the end, I never managed to do all the things I had planned to do on this so-called lazy day. However, I did manage to make forty dumplings, spend a few hours catching up with friends, sending them home with their respective care packages. In any case, what’s the point of cooking if you can’t share it!

DSCN0461     DSCN0458

Duck and Zucchini Dumplings

  • About one cup and a half of cooked duck, chopped
  • About one cup of zucchini, shredded (using a cheese grater is easiest)
  • About ¼ cup of scallions, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • About 40 wonton wrappers (most grocery stores sells frozen packages, just remember to thaw them ahead of time)
  • Egg wash (one egg whisked with one tbsp of water)

Combine the first three ingredients in a large bowl. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Lay out a clean dish cloth on a cookie sheet and dampen another clean one to cover the dumpling wrappers so that they do not dry out.

Take one dumpling wrapper and place it in the palm of your hand. Spoon a small amount of the duck mixture into the center, squeezing the filling to make sure there aren’t any air bubbles. Dip the tip of your finger into the egg wash and moisten the dumpling wrappers around its filling. Gently wrap the dough around the filling making sure to push out any air bubbles. Seal the dough by pressing it tightly together. Proceed with the remainder of the filling and dumpling wrappers. Bring a large pot of water to boil and gently drop in the dumplings. You do not want to cook too many at a time, or else they may stick to each other. They need enough room to swim around. After about 4 minutes of cooking (only if you’re using a precooked filling as I have here), take them out with a slotted spoon and put them on the towel covered cookie sheet to absorb the extra water. Cover the dumpling with a damp cloth to ensure they do not dry out. If they’re still hot you can serve them right away with a dipping sauce of your choice. If you’re making them ahead, you can easily store them in a plastic container until ready to eat. To heat them up you can steam them or boil them again – just long enough to heat through. Or you can, as I suggested to my friends, heat up some broth of your choice, add an assortment of veggies to the broth, and right before serving drop in the dumplings to make an Asian style dumpling soup.

Kristel’s Kitchen Tribute to Schwartz’s

DSCN0429

Anyone who’s ever heard of Montreal has also heard of Schwartz’s. It is not only a Montreal landmark but it also offers up some of the city’s legendary smoked meat. So good in fact that people congregate in lines for an hour plus just to have a taste on the spot. In the last year, they opened up a side store meant exclusively for takeout, for which I am very grateful. A few weekends ago I was strolling along the Main and decided to pick up a pound of cold sliced smoked meat and rye bread. Since I have no patience for lineups, I take the meat home and prepare various sandwiches. In my love and quest for a good breakfast sandwich, I have concocted my brunch tribute to the Schwartz’s smoked meat sandwich.

  • One pound of cold smoked meat, this is usually enough for 4 people
  • Eggs, one per person
  • Arugula, or lettuce of your choice
  • Mustard – I used creamy dill mustard that I found at, you’ve guessed it, Schwartz’s!
  • Rye bread, sliced
  • Caramelized onions

Begin by caramelizing the onions: in a pan on medium heat drizzle some olive oil, sauté the onions and season with salt and pepper. When the onions are soft start to brown, add a sprinkle of brown sugar and cook for a few more minutes. At the end they should be delectably golden, soft and sweet.

To heat up the smoked meat, I usually prefer to steam it – Schwartz’s, if you’re reading this, let me know if you have a better way to heat it! While the meat is heating through, cook your eggs to your liking – I prefer to have my egg fried sunny-side up for this sandwich.

Now is the time to start building. Grab two slices of rye and spread mustard on both sides. On the bottom slice, layer the arugula, meat and egg. Top with caramelized onions and close it up with the other slice. Cut the sandwich in half and chow-down!

For a city that prides itself on its diverse culinary culture, how is it that Montreal does not have a go-to breakfast sandwich to be proud of? Let’s see if somebody picks up on this – hint hint, nudge nudge – and perhaps I’ll get to share some of the fame… [Here you must imagine me gazing into the distance and a twinkle light up the corner of my eye].

Qing Hua

Less than a week since its reopening, I’ve had teh pleasure to both eat in and take out at Qing Hua, an amazing but small dumpling restaurant here in Montreal.

In their kitchen run by mostly women, each dumpling is stuffed, wraped and cooked to order. The clever clothes-peg numbering system helps the cooks and waiters keep track of each plate and variety of dumpling, because variety is what they have! At an average of $9 to $14 for 15 to 18 dumplings, the price is hard to beat fur such a fullfilling experience.

The reoppening of Qing Hua signifies the end of bland wonton soups and sheds light onto their delightfully soft, chewy and juicy mouthfuls.

Would I pay for that? I’ve eaten there twice in fours days…what do you think?

L’Orignal

Dinner out at l’Orignal is definitely a meal that was in a league of it’s own. Fantastic service, amazing food, and a beef/bison tartare that is completely out of this world! Surrounded by a decor reminiscent of a cottage weekend and a playlist seemingly downloaded from my own ipod, this hipster place is a nice little cottage tucked away in the heart of Montreal’s Old Port.

Would I pay for that? let me just put it this way… tartare goosebumps = priceless

Nil Bleu

I’d been waiting to try Ethiopian food for a while and many people had raved about the Nil Bleu here in Montreal. My experience there definitely did not disappoint.

Spicy, tasty, hearty, comforting and well rounded flavors – or as my friend Jon put it in his blog, we would be fat if we lived in Ethiopia.

Make sure you are entirely comfortable who you decide to go with since eating with your hands can be a touchy topic…

One question remains: would I pay for that? Yes, again and again – you cannot compete with good food at a decent price!