5 Handy Tips for the New Cook

Ah, cooking: the art of extremes. It’s calm or chaotic, it’s a chore or a hobby, and it’s achieving the perfect medium rare steak or the perfect bowl of instant noodles (both being beautiful entities). The truth of the matter is that not everyone is going to be the amazing, flawless, highly acclaimed chef that I am (seriously, I NEVER got yelled at in culinary school or burnt meatballs right in front of my chef* … ). But we’re not talking about me, we’re talking about you. You don’t have to be great, you just have to be good (it’s a life skill, people). Luckily for you, becoming a good cook isn’t too difficult – especially if you follow these handy tips:

  1. Handy tip #1: Get a good Chef’s knife and a good paring knife. A chef’s knife has a blade around 8 inches long  and a paring knife’s blade is around 3.5 inches. Chef’s knives will cover most chopping duties and paring knives are useful when it comes to more intricate jobs.  They don’t have to be expensive, but if you’re looking for something that will last I would go for a well-known brand such as Shun, Wustof, or Global. Cooks will argue over which brand is superior but comfort is what is most paramount. Most importantly (and please feel free to picture me as an angry French chef with a threatening pan of hot risotto in hand when I say this) KEEP YOUR KNIVES SHARP. You’re more likely to cut yourself with a dull knife than a sharp one.

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    Michael, a very talented co-worker and ex-sushi chef made this beautiful & delicious Steak Tartare for me. Think his knife was dull?
  2. Handy tip #2: Get a cookbook with food and recipes that YOU like to eat. Sure, I could suggest a cook book written by Julia Child, but are you really going take time out of your day to make a recipe you can’t pronounce the name of (let’s try together kids! BUR – GON – ION) ? Maybe not. My first suggestion would be to look up one of your favorite chain restaurants and see if they’ve published a cookbook of copycat recipes that are designed for the home cook. You know you will enjoy this food, and that alone will encourage you to experiment with cooking. If you have no luck in that department, try finding a cookbook with words like “quick” “basic” and/or “simple” in the title. Most importantly, read your recipes carefully – you’re not me, okay?
  3. Handy tip #3: Go slow. I hate to break this to you, but you’re not going to be a chopping machine on your first go and if you try to be, you won’t be doing your fingers any favors. You don’t have a chef looking over your shoulder every couple of minutes like I did in culinary school, so you can afford to take things at your own pace. Keep in mind that google is your friend when it comes to learning how to dice an onion, mince garlic, or even just hold a knife correctly. Simply take a deep breath, watch your fingers, and put Gordon Ramsay out of your mind.

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  1. Handy tip #4: Season. Your. Food. I’m sorry, but if you’re anti-salt, you’re no fun and your food is going to taste as bland as your personality. Yes, you can use substitutes such as soy sauce, coconut aminos, or pink himalyan salt – but you need SOMETHING to give your food that good salty taste. And of course you need salt’s counterpart, pepper. Black pepper > white pepper every time, but if you don’t want your Alfredo sauce to have little black bits in it, use white. In terms of seasoning your food properly, one of my favorite “celebrity chefs” has suggested seasoning your food in stages makes it taste better. So, sauté your onions and garlic and season a little. Add in your vegetables and season a little. Add in your protein, and season a little. Taste, assess, and adjust as required. A similar concept applies to herbs but only in two stages: Add fresh herbs during the cooking process, and then at the last moment, add a little bit more before serving. Seasoning in steps will give your food a fuller flavor and will help refine your pallet.mee
  2. Handy tip #5: Learn about what you’re cooking. Makes sense right? You need to understand food to make it taste good. For example, if you’re browning diced chicken, you need to do so in batches. Chicken releases water when it is fried and too much chicken in the pan = too much liquid for it to brown right away. This means you have to wait for all of the water to evaporate (which is simultaneously cooking the chicken) and THEN brown it. Result? Overcooked chicken. This is just one of the many lessons I’ve learned from experimenting with cooking, but there are countless other lessons to be learned. Which vegetables are going to release lots of liquid when you cook them? How do you thicken a sauce? How can you tell if a hard boiled egg is overcooked? There is SO much to learn and of course I know all of it but you don’t! More knowledge = less mistakes

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BONUS TIP:
Butter makes everything taste better.

*It was a rough day

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Cibo Italiano

Pasta, garlic bread, pizza, and prosciutto

 Cannoli, chicken parm, and tiramisu, though

Gelato and lasagna and a glass of wine

Italian food got me feelin’ some sort of fine

Are you drooling yet? Cause I just wiped some  slobber off my shirt and I’d feel weird if I was the only one who had that response to the thought of Italian cuisine. But I mean… how can you not salivate at the thought of cheesy pizza, gooey lasagna, decadent tiramisu, crunchy chick-… anyways. Italian food is great. But often it is labeled as unhealthy/junk food. “Too many carbs!” “Too much dairy!” “Too much fat!” exclaim the unregistered “nutritionists” writing their evidence-lacking articles. Side note: if there’s one thing that’s true in the 21st century, it’s that aside from maybe broccoli and spinach, there will always be someone who has some reason that a food is unhealthy. But you can get all stressed out and eat lettuce for the rest of your life or you can be like barbie:

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Okay so it’s common sense that eating pizza for breakfast lunch and dinner probably isn’t the healthiest thing you could do for yourself. But I refuse to believe that Italian food is as unhealthy as it is made out to be. Now brace yourselves because I’m about to do what most nutrition writers don’t: cite a real source. Woah. Gasp.

This year, the Bloomberg Global Health Index rated Italy as the healthiest country in the world. Obviously there were a variety of factors that countries were graded on, but it’s safe to say that diet impacts nearly every aspect of one’s health. So, if the country that is home to all these unhealthy foods is the healthiest in the world.. then common sense would suggest that something is amiss. If eating pizza, pasta, cannoli (for God’s sake Kate, stop drooling!) really had a cause and effect relationship with excessive weight gain and poor health, then Italians would not be as healthy as they are, no? Sí?

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The first thing to consider is that traditional Italian food is very different from Dominos pizza or jarred pasta sauce. The real stuff is made with fresh ingredients that you can actually recognize and pronounce as opposed to all the sh*t they put into processed products. To prove my point, I  looked up a  popular brand of jarred alfredo sauce’s ingredients and this is what I got:

Cream, Water, Parmesan Cheese (Part Skim Cultured Milk, Salt, Enzymes), Enzyme Modified Egg Yolks, Salt, Sugar, Whey Protein Concentrate (Milk), Xanthan Gum, Black Pepper, Lactic Acid, Natural Flavors (Including Onion), Modified Foodstarch, Contains 2% Or Less Of: Butter (Cream, Natural Flavor), Modified Gum Arabic, Dry Vermouth (Vermouth, Salt, Sulfites), Asiago Cheese (Cultured Part-Skim Milk, Salt, Enzymes), Romano Cheese Made From Cow’s Milk (Cultured Milk, Salt, Enzymes), Cheddar Cheese (Cultured, Granulated Garlic)

 What are the traditional ingredients in a simple Italian Alfredo sauce? Butter and parmesan. That’s it.

So yeah, that creamy mouthgasm of a meal is definitely not lean cuisine. But the difference between the version of this dish in Italy versus one you might have in North America is only 15 ingredients, give or take (what even is an enzyme modified egg yolk?*).

Another difference between traditional Italian food and the “Italian food” we are served  outside of Italy is of course portion size. Being a food lover, “portion” and  “size” are two of my least favourite words when placed next to each other but I guesssssssssss it’s sorta important. If you go to a restaurant in Italy expecting an American sized plate of pasta that’s drowning in sauce, you’ve got some disappointment coming your way. Italians dress their noodles in a similar way to how your average salad is dressed; you should obviously taste the sauce, but it shouldn’t be piled on your plate. The same is true with pizza: the dough shouldn’t be swimming in cheese, but should be lightly covered. Some might have an issue with these changes, but I found that because the food was so well seasoned and flavourful I didn’t really need more than what I was given.

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One of these pastas was photographed in Rome, one was photographed in Australia. Can YOU figure out which is which? (Honourable mention to George, my favourite Australian, who tolerated my mantra of “phone eats first”).

And of course if we’re talking about diet, we’ve gotta talk about exercise: Italians generally move a lot. In Venice there are zero cars, so the only mode of transportation is to walk. In North America, we drive everywhere (with warm and toasty butts though!). So yes, Italians might have a heavy lasagna with some gelato and wine for dinner, but it’s less significant when they’ve got a 40 minute walk to work the next morning.

Those are just some of the basic logical reasons I believe Italians are healthy despite eating all of this “bad for you” food. Of course, there are always other factors at play: Some believe that red wine, olive oil, and other elements of the “mediterranean diet” lead to a lower body weight, but the evidence backing this is shaky. Italians also get a considerably longer lunch break than most other populations, so they are able to go home and make something fresh as opposed to just grabbing fast food like so many of us are guilty of. At the end of the day, there are so many factors that play a role in one’s health that to say what causes good or bad health would be next to impossible.

The last point I want to make about Italians is that they are known for never dieting. Low carb? No Dairy? Vegan? Sugar free? Think about what Italian food IS. Carbs, cheese, meat, and sugary desserts don’t really leave much room for diets. In general from what I experienced in my travels, Italians eat until they’re full, and then they stop. They don’t exclude certain foods (unless they are intolerant to them) and they do not skimp out on amounts. It’s simply mindful eating and moderation. Just some food for thought.

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“Apolline Cioccolato” – a chocolate pastry that makes you want to get your heart broken so you can eat 50 of them with no shame

*I looked it up. I would not recommend you do the same.

But first, coffee.

Oxygen, water, food, shelter, and sleep. According to some sciencey website I just looked up, this is a list of basic human survival needs. All of these seem pretty important (especially that food part) but I think we all know what should really be number one on that list.

Coffee.

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Yes, I know coffee is not technically “food” and this is a “food blog”  buuuut it’s pretty much just as essential/delicious so I’m sure you’ll bare with me on the technicality. Side note: If you’re one of those people who has ever smugly uttered the words “coffee is actually really bad for you” then please exit through the gift shop and go live your miserable, anal retentive, coffee-free life. Thanks!

But for the rest of you good people who love coffee, this post is for you.

The inspiration for this post was drawn from my recent trip to the land down under. If I’m being honest, I really wanted to come back and write a post about the food in OZ, but I felt that the coffee culture was much more distinct (in general! OZ readers, I hope you don’t crucify me for saying this!). Maybe it’s because Canada and Australia are very similar countries, but I felt that other than vegemite, kangaroo, and meat pies, there wasn’t much else that made Australia stand out food wise (again I’m generalizing!!). Kangaroo was pretty amazing though…

But back to coffee.

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In general, most people know what kind of “plain” coffee they like. Dark roast, medium roast, blonde.. double double, half a sugar.. we all have our go to. However, I find that coffee snobs aside, a lot of people seem to get overwhelmed by the different types of specialty coffee drinks available. Cafe Lattes, Cappuccinos, Cafe Au Laits, Macchiatos… What kind of coffee we order in the morning is one of the first decisions we will make in any given day and with all these options every white girl already can’t even by quarter past seven. She’ll probably be okay though, Starbucks is just down the street and they still have pumpkin spice lattes available. But for those of you who want to be better equipped next time your hipster friend brings you to the coffee shop they swear by, keep reading.

Café Americano – One part espresso to two parts water. Even though the espresso is diluted, I wouldn’t start here if you’re not used to espresso’s intensity.

Café Au Lait – A regular cup of coffee with milk made with a little more love. Instead of adding cold milk like usual, the barista will add steamed milk to make the drink taste richer.

Café Latte (NOT of the pumpkin spice variety) – Consists of 1/3 espresso, 2/3 steamed milk, and a touch of foamed milk on top. If you need to feed a sugar craving, flavours such as vanilla, caramel, and hazelnut can be added. If you’re keen to try espresso beverages, this is probably a good place to start.

Café Mocha – Is pretty straight forward. Equal parts espresso to hot chocolate with a little bit of foam and whipped cream.

Cappuccino – Consists of equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and foamed milk. If you ask for a “wet” cappuccino you will be given more steamed, and if you ask for a “dry” one you will be given more foamed. Sometimes cappuccinos are dusted with chocolate but it depends on where you are ordering it.

Espresso Con Panna – Espresso shot(s) topped with whipped cream

Flat White – Is an Australian fav. Starbucks brought it over to North America a few years ago so you’ve probably heard of it. It’s basically the same thing as a latte but traditionally uses whole milk instead of 2% and is made with something called “micro foam” on top as opposed to regular foam. Apparently this micro foam spreads throughout the drink therefore making it unique, but I personally found flat whites and lattes to taste indistinugishable. Perhaps I need to work on my coffee snobbery. I will say, however, that as much as I love Starbucks, the espresso they make their flat whites with does not come close to the majority of the flat whites I had in Australia.

Macchiato – Okay, if you plan on going to Italy and ordering this expecting it to taste anywhere CLOSE to a caramel macchiato from Starbs then I want you to stop reading,  take 5 and go look in the mirror and promise yourself that you will never do this. Ever. Traditionally a macchiato is espresso with a teeny bit of foamed milk on top. That’s it. What starbucks and other chain coffee shops serve you when you order a caramel macchiato is essentially a vanilla latte with caramel drizzle on top. If you want to order a traditional Italian macchiato at a chain, you’ll probably have to ask for an espresso macchiato.

I’m gonna go full-girl mode and say that one of my favourite parts of ordering a latte (or any other drink with steamed milk) is the artwork some barista’s will do on the drink’s surface. I’m not going to pretend like I’m an expert on how they do this, but it sure does look purrdy..

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Well.. most of them do…

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Womp womp..

Because I mention Starbucks so much in this post I feel like I must conclude by saying that I would probably refer to Starbucks as the Mcdonald’s of the coffee world (except for the fact that Starbucks is slightly more overpriced than Mcdonald’s). They’re everywhere, they’re decent, and they’re consistent. Usually I especially love them when I’m traveling because I know they’ll have a good cup of coffee waiting for me. With that being said, on my OZ trip I felt differently. This was partially because there were next to no Starbucks’ anywhere, but was largely due to the fact that I was so enamoured with all of the little coffee shops I found. The coffee was almost always as good or better than what I usually get from Starbucks and after a few visits I even got into friendly conversations with some of the owners (yeah, that’s right.. I was a “reg”.. no big deal though). I won’t say that small coffee shops are better than large chains because a) I don’t want to be that guy and b) I am a faithful slave to Starbucks and Tim Hortons. However, I think that smaller cafés offer a different experience and are worth a try.

So go out, espresso yourself, and find a drink you like a latte. Because coffee over everything.. Coffee on the grind.

Thanks for reading folks! This post nearly marks one year of my blog and I appreciate all of the support I’ve received. More to come in 2017! 🙂

 

 

 

Recipe #1: Copycat West Indies Seafood Linguine

“Hey Kate” you might say

“You know there’s a “Recipe” section of your website right? A section YOU added when you created YOUR blog” you might smirk

“Yeah” I might respond.. after an ever so slight eye twitch

“Well.. you’ve had this blog for almost a year … are you gonna share any recipes or are you just gonna keep all your secrets to  yourself?” you might ask with some sass

“Actually!” I might say with a little too much eagerness “I’m posting one right now!”

That’s right folks, my first ever recipe. Buckle up kids because

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So as you all know, I recently took a wonderful trip to Jamaica. Since coming back, nearly every foodie I know has asked me “what was your favourite thing you ate there?”. I ate a lot of great food, but perhaps one of the most memorable dishes I had was entitled “West Indies Seafood Linguine” from a restaurant called Ciao Jamaica (side note: Ciao Jamaica is an AMAZING Italian-carribean fusion restaurant. If you find yourself in Negril, GO!). This dish was warm, earthy, succulent and satisfying in all the right ways.

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mmmmmmm

So, after going through rehab for withdrawals from this dish and being clean for 3 months, I woke up this morning and decided it was time to relapse. I was going to recreate the amazingness pictured above.

Recreating a dish requires a little bit of detective work in determining what ingredients to buy and how to use them. The first thing I thought to do when planning my recreation of the linguine was to check Ciao Jamaica’s website to see if they posted their menu. I do this whenever I’m trying to recreate a restaurant dish for myself because it  gives me clues as to what ingredients I should be using.  To my great fortune, Ciao Jamaica’s menu provides the following info:

West Indies Seafood Linguine (Signature dish): Tender whole Shrimp sautéed in an aromatic sauce of light curry, coconut, thyme, lemongrass and a tip of Jamaican rum with al dente pasta

Sweet. So now I know some of the ingredients that go into this beauty (wooooooah we’re half way thereeee). The next thing I considered was the fact that (being as basic as I am) I took a photo of my food before I ate it. From the photo, and from eating the dish, I know that they used carrots, zucchini, and broccoli for their vegetables. Perfect. So, off I went to the super market to buy the required ingredients, and this is what I came home with:

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Jamaican rum, Linguine, Carrot, Coconut Milk, Jamaican Curry Powder, Whole Raw Shrimp, Zucchini, Broccoli, Fresh Lemongrass, and Fresh Thyme*

Nothing too fancy or hard to find. You can probably buy all of these ingredients except maybe the lemongrass and rum at any super market.

To start, I cut the vegetables similarly to how they are pictured:

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Small florets for the broccoli, relatively thick matchsticks (batons for you culinary nerds out there) for the carrots, and thin diagonal wedges for the zucchini. This is how i chose to chop, but you could have fun with it. Julienning (thin matchsticks for you culinary noobs) the zucchini and carrot would be nice, or maybe just a 3 mm simple slice for each. It’s all about how you want your food to look.

Next, I minced the lemongrass/ginger and reserved a few sprigs of whole thyme. “WAIT KATE” you interject. “the menu doesn’t say ANYTHING about GINGER?!” you exclaim (you’re getting pretty annoying at this point if I’m being honest). You’re right. The menu doesn’t call for ginger… So why add it? Well folks, because I like ginger. And it’s a natural accompaniment to curries. You don’t have to use it, but my digestive system will like me a lot better than yours will.

So now the fun part. The cooking. It’s a pretty simple carry out in that it only really takes about 15 minutes for the sauce to come together. So without further ado, the recipe (and a photo of the finished product!):

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Say no to inhaling drugs. Say yes to inhaling linguine. Because I did.

Copycat West Indies Seafood Linguine

Serves 2-3

Ingredients:

Canola Oil 

12-14 raw shrimp

1/2 a head of broccoli, cut into small florets

1/2 a zucchini, cut on a bias and then in half

1/2 a carrot, cut into batons

2 cm of ginger, minced or grated on a zester

1/2 a stalk of lemongrass, minced

a few sprigs of thyme

1 can of coconut milk

2-3 tbsp of Caribbean curry powder (or TT)

Salt and pepper

4 oz linguine, cooked to al-dente. (Note: If you are going to precook your pasta well in advance, add oil to it after draining  and then flash it in boiling water before combining with the sauce)

  1. Heat pan/skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil, ensuring it becomes hot but not smoking.
  2. Add shrimps and allow them to become golden brown on one side. Flip the shrimp and allow them to become golden brown on the other side. Remove from pan. (pro tip: place your shrimp in a circle going clockwise so that you know which order to flip in and to avoid burning!)
  3. Add vegetables to the same pan and cook until tender.
  4. Add a splash of rum, then add the ginger and lemongrass and cook until the rum is mostly gone.
  5. Add the coconut milk and curry powder. Simmer for 2-3 minutes. Turn heat off and add cooked shrimp back to sauce.
  6. Taste your sauce and season it to your liking.
  7. Add  pasta to sauce and stir to combine.
  8. Taste and season again. Garnish with fresh thyme leaves, cilantro, chilli flakes, Sriracha etc.

*A few notes about my ingredient choices:

The Coconut Milk – Aroy D is my preferred brand of coconut milk for two reasons: It tastes the best out of all the brands I’ve tried and it has 2 ingredients: coconut milk and water. Many other brands add preservatives/chemicals/other icky stuff and thus do not taste as authentic.

The Shrimp: You can buy pre-cooked shrimp. That’s totes cool. I prefer to cook from raw because I find it gives the dish more flavour but when choosing shrimp, follow your heart and be yourself.

The Lemongrass: … is not a common ingredient in Western culture. But it is incredible. However if you’re going to use it in minced form like I did in this dish, you’re going to have to be competent with a chef’s knife. Otherwise, throw it in a food processor.

The Curry Powder: Is by a brand called Grace which is operated in Jamaica and is likely more “authentic” than some of the other brands of Caribbean curry powder.

The Ginger: Is ginger. But a good tip for peeling ginger is to use a spoon instead of a knife (less waste). Also, when possible I prefer to zest ginger straight into the pan as opposed to losing flavour on my cutting board.

A final note: perfecting a dish takes time and repetition. I am happy with how this dish turned out, but am constantly wondering how I could improve upon my recipes. This dish gives a lot of wiggle room for customization so I would love to hear how you guys make this recipe your own! Play around with the vegetables, play around with the herbs/spices (garlic would be a good addition!) and ultimately make cooking a process that you enjoy!

That’s all for now kids!

Jamaican Me Hungry

Like most people, I can appreciate the familiar foods. I love a good PB&J, I’ll happily devour a plate of chicken strips, and never will I ever complain if a toasted bagel with cream cheese is in my hands. I respect familiar food. Familiar food can be good. But learning about a new cuisine, whether it be by traveling to Tokyo or by trying a Palestinian restaurant for the first time, is essentially the definition of adventure and excitement in my books. Luckily for me, I recently got to experience this sense of excitement whilst traveling around the tropical island of Jamaica. Warning: I will try my best to write this post without dropping too many “ya mon”’s …but no promises.

 

I’m going to start with the most shocking part of the trip which was the fact that our all inclusive hotel food was actually…extremely good. If you’ve traveled to Mexico or the Dominican Republic or Cuba (especially Cuba) then you already know that in general, all inclusive hotel food is not great. You’re either lucky or rich if it’s good. Sure, it’s unlimited, but by day 3 it’s monotonous. Fortunately, at the hotel I stayed at  there was no compromise: the quantity of food was high as usual, but so was the quality. From what I understand, this is true in many of the Jamaican hotels as the cooks tend to share their “home cooking”.

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Hotel Food. Top Photo: Deep fried plantains, Jamaican Style Beans, Spicy Fish Cake. Bottom Photo: Fresh Fruit, Calalloo, Jamaican Corned Beef, Jamaican Dumplings and a Pancake (because why not)

Despite the fact that the hotel food was very good, I wanted to branch out and try a wider variety of the local cuisine. Having done some research before hand, I had prepared a mental list of foods to try on the trip. These included Calalloo (pictured above, it’s a steamed leafy green dish), Festival (sweet deep fried bread… I mean really how could that be bad), Conch (you know those big shells people bring back from mexico? Ya theres an animal in those. And you can eat it.), Jamaican patties, Rice and peas (which is actually rice and beans? Confusing…), and a variety of curries and jerks. One of the cool parts about venturing out of the hotel was getting to watch cooks work their magic. There is however, a very good chance that they thought I was psycho due to my constant hovering and intense starry eyes while they cooked my food.  I may have also snapped a few pictures…

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… I’m hoping he was flattered by my intense interest?

All in all, the best Jamaican food I had on the trip was a combination of jerk pork and the aforementioned festival. The two married together flawlessly. Savoury/spice came from the jerk (which I added habanero sauce to for an extra kick) and sweetness and crunch and just general deep fried goodness from the festival. Ya. Mon. On the other hand, the most disappointing food I had was probably the conch, which was chewy and tasteless. However, because it was doused in a curry, I didn’t have too much to complain about.

To conclude this post, I will share a food related story from the trip. If you read my earlier post on my trip to Thailand, then you know how crazy I am about trying fresh and local produce. I mentioned this to one of our drivers and almost immediately he stopped his van, said “one moment” and got out. After “one moment” turned into 30 minutes of sitting in the blazing heat, waiting and PRAYING for this guy to come back, he finally reappeared…with three bags of mangos and a bag of sapodillas in tow. “You need to try these” he said. My annoyance suddenly disappeared and all I could feel was gratitude. This man, who did not even know me, just bought me four bags of fresh fruit. FOUR BAGS. OF FRESH FRUIT. When I got home that night I cracked open a mango and a few sapodillas. He was right. The mango was perfectly juicy and sweet. The sapodillas melted in my mouth and tasted like brown sugar in fruit form. Pure, fresh, fruity bliss, all because of a nice Jamaican man named Andrew took his sweet time, to find me some sweet fruit.

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God bless these beautiful babies.

Zoodles: Not pasta, but not bad

Hello food-loving readers! My sincerest apologies for neglecting you for the last few months. I’m right in the middle of culinary school and have been physically and mentally exhausted (but in a good way!). However, I thought I’d take some time out to write a post about one of my favourite uses for the beloved zucchini: Zoodles! I know they’re not pasta (and may the lord strike me down if I ever insult the holiness that is spaghetti) but they are a kind of cool way to get your veggies in.

I initially came across zoodles when I was doing a low carb diet (looking back, my decision to go on a low carb diet was a mistake of unimaginable proportions). Because of this misguided decision, I couldn’t eat pasta. Yup, that’s right. No fettuccine or linguinie or vermicelli or rigatoni or…

You get the point. I really f*cking missed pasta.

But one day while scrolling through pinterest trying my hardest not to distract myself from how much I missed bread I found a recipe for low carb “pasta” (I am very strongly against calling zoodles pasta. They are not pasta. They are a vegetable). So, out I went to buy a spiralizer so that I could make my own zoodles. It cost me about $15.00 and was worth every penny. Immediately after buying this legendary device I made zoodles. Lord, did I ever make zoodles. In fact, one might even say that I made… Oodles of Zoodles (*Dr. Evil pinkie*).

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*Crickets*

ANYWAYS. As much as I am firmly against diets or days or hours without carbs in them, I do genuinely enjoy zoodles from time to time. They’re relatively cheap, easy to make, and tasty to eat. I’ve tried them with lots of different pasta sauces and haven’t found one that they don’t pair with. That being said, I haven’t paired them with white sauces like Carbonara or Alfredo, but I’m sure that would taste juuuust fine. My personal favourite pairing is with Bolognese sauce:

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The only down side that I have found to zoodles (other than the aforementioned non-pastaness of them) is their liquid content. Zucchini is roughly 95% water which unfortunately means that when you heat them in a frying pan, a lot of that water is released. This is problematic for two reasons: 1. You’re gonna have a lot of liquid in your zoodles once they’re cooked, even if you strain them. Pro tip: Dry them off by squeezing them in some cheese cloth 2. You have to use a lot of zucchini to give yourself a reasonable yield of pasta. When you spiralize the raw zucchini you’re going to think that you have a lot. But once you start to cook the zoodles you’ll see that they shrink a loooooot. And nobody likes shrinkage … ha ha ha. ANYWAYS, You can also leave zoodles raw if your heart desires. I’ve personally never done this as I would imagine they would taste less like pasta and more like a vegetable, but you do you (raw zoodles would make for a nice salad though). I usually cook mine by heating them in a frying pan with a little bit of oil until they’ve shrunk a fair amount but still have some bite to them (taste test as you go!).

So there’s my take on zoodles. If you’re avoiding carbs then they’re a nice replacement, and if you aren’t they’re still pretty palatable. For those of you who are like me and think that healthy eating is about balance, try doing half pasta and half zoodles. You’ll still enjoy some tasty carbs but you’ll also be getting some healthy veggies. 🙂

I’m headed to Jamaica next week so you can bet your beautiful butts that I’ll be blogging about the food there. Until then, keep on eatin.

7 things that you should know about Thai food

Having done a fair amount of traveling, I can confidently say that vacation destinations that have palette pleasing food are exponentially more enjoyable to visit. Now I know not everyone is the foodie that I am, but if you are similar to me in this regard, you can probably imagine how excited I was about the prospect of going to Thailand. Before leaving for this trip I had just finished working at an awesome Thai restaurant so I was going into the trip with some knowledge of Thai cuisine and an intense eagerness to learn more. So, without further ado, here are 7 things that I think you should know about Thai food before traveling to Thailand:

  1. Thai cuisine makes up only a portion of the culinary scene in Thailand: One thing that I wasn’t expecting from Thailand was the diversity of their food options. Of course any major tourist destination has to cater (see what I did there?) to the Western tourist with pizza, burger, and steak joints, but on top of that there were also Indian, Italian, Japanese, Egyptian, Turkish, Danish, Austrian, Mexican, and Vietnamese restaurants. Unfortunately, I only got a chance to try the Italian and the Indian (I was a little distracted/obsessed with all the Thai food). The one Italian restaurant I tried was decent but not phenomenal and all of the Indian restaurants were exceptional. So, if you’re thinking of traveling to Thailand and you don’t like Thai food, fear not! There are lots of options
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    Thai Food might have been my girlfriend, but Indian food was my slutty mistress

    2. There are a zillion different interpretations of each and every Thai dish: Okay, maybe not a zillion, but there are a lot. For example, one of my favourite Thai dishes is Gai Pad Med Mamuang (English translation: Cashew Chicken Stir fry). I ordered this dish quite frequently when traveling through Thailand and each time I was presented with something different. One restaurant would serve an oyster sauce based stir fry sauce, while another would  serve a tamarind based sauce. One restaurant would stir fry the chicken, and another would unconventionally fry it. Of course there are similarities (all of them used scallions, carrots, and bell peppers) but to the in tune palette there are radical differences. This was true with pretty much every dish. Same general idea, but small differences that stood out. Take away: If you like consistency in your food, you might be not always be enthralled with your food. But, if you appreciate creativity and diversity, you will be happy to find it.

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    Top right was the best! Tamarind sauce and battered & fried chicken. Yum.

    3. Thai people eat fruits and vegetables that are essentially unheard of in North America: Thailand is amazing for a lot of reasons, but one of my favourite aspects of the culinary scene was the abundance of fresh produce. In fact, legend has it that if you throw a rock in Thailand, it will always hit a fruit stand! Okay I just made that up. But there really are fruit stands everywhere. And not just any fruit, oh no. I’m talking about the juiciest mango, coconut water fresh out of a coconut, and pomelos. Let me tell you about dem pomelos. One of the days that I spent in Bangkok was dedicated to going to markets outside of the city, and on the way back we must have passed fifty fruit stands that sold one thing: pomelos. But pomelos make a lot of the other fruit look normal (look up a rambutan!). One of their popular fruits, called a Durian, smells so bad that airport officials won’t let you open it on airplanes. Crazy!

    4. Try the street food! Okay so I’m going to assume that I’ve already convinced you to try every fruit that you possibly can at all those fruit stands. But wait! There’s more. Thailand houses a LOT of street food. From grilled meats to grilled bananas to sticky rice, you’ll be able to find an abundance of food just by walking down the street. These options are usually quite inexpensive, convenient, and tasty. My only word of caution would be that you make sure that all of the food that you get that is supposed to be hot is in fact, hot. Fresh off the grill? Great. Been sitting outside and has flies around it? Not so great (remember your Food Safe people!). If you can’t handle spicy food, just ask the vendor if his/her food is spicy and he/she should be able to help you out. Also, prepare yourself for seeing a LOT of fresh ducks and chickens that are being roasted with their heads still on. Not weird enough for you? Do the river market tour in Bangkok. You’ll see all sorts of fish and other edible … critters that will make your skin crawl.

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    Thai Sausage – Served with pickled ginger and a chili pepper. God Bless.

  5. Thailand is not an ideal destination for those on a strict diet: … But I’m not saying it’s impossible! Thailand has lots of options so you could probably make it work. However, there are a few things you should consider. First, although there are a lot of fresh fruit stands, you don’t necessarily know that that fruit was washed in sanitary water (I usually bought the fruit, took it back to my  hotel room, and then washed it in bottled water to be safe!). Second, there is a considerable language barrier. Sure, the server at TGI Fridays might understand what you mean when you say vegan or “no animal products”, but a Thai server who speaks minimal English probably will not. Third, if you have an allergy, you should keep in mind that flour, nuts, and other common allergens are in most Thai kitchens and they might come into contact with your food. Again, keep the language barrier in mind.

  6. For Thai people, cooking is not a short process: As you can probably imagine, being in Thailand exercises all of the senses, including smell. Some of things you smell are great, some of the things you smell are not so great. But what you do realize while walking through the streets and smelling the different foods, is that Thai people cook all day. Whether it be marinating, stewing, chopping, or skinning, most cooks are starting the cooking process in the AM. One woman had a restaurant beside the hotel I stayed at, and in the morning I would walk passed her while she was deveining shrimp, and by the time I came back later that night those same shrimp were in an intricate curry, ready to sell. Take away? When eating in the Thai food in Thailand, appreciate what you’re eating. It might have taken a really long time to make.

  7. There is more to Thai Cuisine than Pad Thai: Okay, so to be fair I guess I went into the trip knowing this. You caught me. But I needed to emphasize this very important point. Don’t get me wrong, I love Pad Thai. Pad Thai is one of my favourite dishes of all time. I could bathe in a pool of its tamarindy goodness. But there are so many other Thai dishes that I love and I never would have discovered them if I only ordered Pad Thai. My suggestion? If you like Pad Thai, branch out and try Pad See Ew. It’s a noodle dish influenced by Chinese cuisine and is  usually made with vegetables (healthy points!) and a protein of choice.

So there ya have it. 7 Things you should know about Thai food before traveling to Thailand. However, above all else, I would say that my most important tip of all is that you GO TO THAILAND. It is an incredible place that I would recommend to anyone who is up for a (culinary) adventure.