Sunday, February 28, 2010

Ya Man! Carribean Cuisine

315 King Street East
Hamilton, Ontario

On a Friday night after a long week of work (they all seem long these days!), I stopped by A's for dinner. We were going to check out an Indian restaurant nearby. It wasn't quite what we were expecting so we ended up going to Ya Man! instead.


We started out with some ginger beer at A's insistence. The waitress placed a little bowl of what seemed like pickles and took our order. I decided to indulge and ordered a starter of doubles ($2.50), a Trinidad treat, consisting of curried chickpeas sandwiched between fried flat breads. I mean, just the definition of doubles sounds awesome, non? I'm glad I shared my doubles with A so I'd leave enough room for my main dish. (Note that doubles are only available on Fridays and Saturdays. I guess we were lucky!)


Oh, back to the hot sauce/pickles. So while we were waiting for our food, I couldn't help myself but taste it trying to figure out what it was. I was quite intrigued. It was very fragrant with onion and garlic with a good kick of heat. There were pieces of green vegetables. Artichokes, I thought? Not sure artichokes are part of Carribean cuisine. I finally asked the waitress who told me, it was called kutchella, a hot sauce made with green mangoes." Green mangoes! Awesome.

IMG_9786 IMG_9791
Kutchella hot sauce and my doubles.

A ordered Combination #4 ($11.99), which consisted of a Dahl soup, and any two vegetables with roti or rice. The waitress suggested that A add some kutchella to the Dahl. I love Dahl's and don't be surprised if you see a dahl post soon! A picked chickpeas and eggplant for his roti. I forgot to ask him to take a picture when he got his roti, so it's half-eaten below (and it was rather dark). When I was considering my choice, I thought eggpland and chickpeas would make a great combo also!

IMG_9788 IMG_9801
Vegetarian Combination: Dahl soup and eggplant/chickpea roti.

I decided to give up meat for Lent this year so was limited to the vegetables and fish dishes. After going back and forth, I looked at the specials board and noticed the Bake and Fish, a YaMan signature dish (also only available on Fridays and Saturdays for $7.99). I was so happy with my choice of fried perch, served in a fried bake, with tomatoes and lettuce, and... tamarind chutney! This is what made me fall for this dish! I just loved the sweet and sour dimensions that the chutney offered. The battered perch was also perfectly fried and hot. I will definitely have to come back on Fridays and Saturdays!

Bake and Fish.

As we were leaving, I spotted little mason jars and asked if they were the green mango pickles. I got a small jar of kutchella for $4 (or rather A got it for me. Thanks A!) and have been enjoying them at home (embarrassingly, I just eat it on its own). I say Yes to Ya Man!

Ya Man! on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Truffle Macaroni and Cheese

I am not, and never was, a Kraft Dinner macaroni and cheese kind-of-girl (my sister was). Actually growing up, I didn't even really eat that much cheese. These days though, homemade macaroni and cheese seems much more appealing. I liked the idea of making the dish fancier, so I splurged on a bottle of truffle oil!


Truffle Macaroni and Cheese - Serves 2
Adapted from Lynn Crawford.
Since I made this for Valentine's Day, I will share the portions for 2. The recipe called for truffle paste but I could not be bothered to look for it. I added panko crumbs for a crunchy crust.

* 3 tbsp unsalted butter + extra for greasing the dish
* 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
* 2 cups milk
* 1 tsp dry mustard
* ½ lb elbow macaroni
* 2 cups cheese (I used extra-sharp Cheddar, Swiss and Gruyère)
* 2 tbsp truffle oil
* handful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
* handful of panko crumbs

Butter a small baking dish.
In a small pot, warm up the milk at low heat.
In another pot, melt butter over moderately low heat.
Add flour and cook roux, whisking, 3 minutes.
Add the warm milk whisking and bring to a boil.
Add mustard, salt and pepper to taste and simmer sauce until thickened, about 2 minutes.
In a pot of salted boiling water, cook macaroni until just al dente, about 7 minutes, and drain well.
In a large bowl, mix together macaroni, sauce, grated cheese, 1 cup Parmesan and truffle oil and transfer to prepared dish.
Sprinkle with Parmesan and panko crumbs evenly over macaroni.
Bake macaroni in middle of oven 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden and bubbling.

IMG_9756 IMG_9759
Cheese mixture. The sauce looked runny but thickened up quite a bit.

Pool of truffle oil.

My splurge: truffle oil!

I really enjoyed this recipe and it was easy to make. I only added one tablespoon of truffle oil because I was worried it would be too strong. I would definitely add two next time. I had extra cheese sauce which was perfect to add on top. You can't have too much cheese, can you?

Nothing more comforting than gooey mac and cheese!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Red Lentil Soup

I've made this soup a couple of times but had a hard time taking a good picture. I got a so-so picture this time. Although the soup is simple, it is quite hearty due to the lentils. Perfect soup for a light meal! You get your protein from the lentils and the rest of the vegetables round out the flavours. It will definitely become a part of my soup répertoire.


Red Lentil Soup
From Ricardo & Friends.
Ricardo suggests finishing the soup with oil and vinegar. I don't even bother and it's good as-is.

* 2 carrots, sliced
* 1 stalk celery, diced
* 1 onion, chopped
* 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
* 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
* 2 tablespoons olive oil
* 6 cups vegetable broth
* 1 can diced tomatoes (14oz)
* 1 cup red lentils
* 2 bay leaves
* 1 sprig fresh thyme
* salt and pepper, to taste
* dried chili flakes (optional)

In a large pot, cook the onion, garlic, carrots and celery with the cumin in the oil.
Season with salt, pepper and dried chili flakes.
Add the broth, tomatoes, lentils, bay leaves and thyme.
Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the vegetables and lentils are tender, about 20 minutes.
Remove the bay leaves and thyme sprigs.
In a blender, purée until smooth.
Add more broth (or water) if necessary.
Adjust the seasoning.

IMG_9186 IMG_9187
Cooking the vegetables and lentils before purée-ing it.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Nino's Ristorante

162 King William Street
Hamilton, Ontario
for the menu

Two successive Italian restaurant posts may lead you to believe that that's all I eat! No, I have just been slow writing my restaurant posts. I think there was a three week period between the two visits. This time, we had tickets to see a play, Tuesdays with Morrie (based on the best-selling book), with Jamie Farr (from M*A*S*H fame) starring in the title role of Morrie. The play was much more comedic than the book which had more serious undertones. I was more amused by the 75 year old, average age of the audience, making me feel quite young!


My date A made reservations to Nino's Ristorante. We were lucky enough to have the two last available seats. The restaurant is quite small (seats 28) and is bustling when there is a play next door at Theatre Aquarius. I definitely recommend reservations if you're also going to see a play.

I decided to have a small Caesar salad ($4.95) and bruschetta (also $4.95). I did not see much pancetta as described on the menu but the salad was satisfying. I really enjoyed the bruschetta. There was a generous topping of well-seasoned tomato mixture (with a lot of garlic!) on toasted bread.

IMG_9587 IMG_9594
Caesar Salad and Bruschetta.

A ordered the pasta primavera ($12.95). He quite enjoyed the pasta, finding pasta primavera can be hit or miss at restaurants. The pasta dish was colourful with red and green pepper strips, and was accompanied by garlic bread. We were tempted to order some gelato but decided against it. Maybe next time!

Pasta Primavera.

The service was very attentive. Because of the small size of the restaurant, the food was a bit slow to come. However, we were not in a rush since A had allotted plenty of time to make it to the play. The prices are quite reasonable, making it worthwhile even when you're not seeing a play!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lo Presti's at Maxwell's

165 Jackson Street East
Hamilton, Ontario

After a bad few days at work, I was lucky to be taken out to Lo Presti's at Maxwell's. Having lived in Hamilton for nearly 10 years, I had never heard of Lo Presti's. That's because I usually go for the more affordable La Cantina around the corner. Lo Presti's is a higher end Italian restaurant, very old school with a stuffy design (think carpets and velvet). However, it also provided old school service with very attentive waiters, and the owner (I'm guessing) stopping by to make sure everything was good.

IMG_9509 IMG_9511
Complimentary garlic bread and antipasto.

I was very surprised to see that the restaurant was quite busy on a cold Monday evening. We were led to the back and given a table on a raised platform. It was rather dark (resulting in poor pictures). We were served complimentary warm garlic bread and some antipasto, consisting of olives, marinated mushrooms and feta. A restaurant always gets point for serving warm bread, ensuring you have something to nibble on while your browse the menu. I also enjoyed the antipasto dish, especially the marinated mushrooms. I am already planning on making some at home!

IMG_9514 IMG_9516
Spinach & Pear Salad and Soup of the Day.

My companion started out with the pear and spinach salad ($8 - the prices online do not seem to have been updated) while I started with the soup of the day, a cabbage and kielbasa soup ($6). I like all soups so even a cabbage soup sounds appetizing to me. However, the soup had a too common restaurant problem of being too salty, probably because it was kept warm, and water evaporated from it. The kielbasa made the soup even saltier (and I am one who loves salt!). Otherwise, I actually really liked the soup and would consider making cabbage soup!

Cheese stuffed Ravioli's.

For our main dishes, my companion ordered the ricotta stuffed ravioli's ($18), being the only vegetarian option on the menu. He seemed to really enjoy them. I ordered an appetizer that I figured would be sufficient for me: blackened scallops on a bed of lemon risotto ($18). Boy was I right! I can't believe anyone would order that as an appetizer and follow with anything else!

Blackened Scallops on a bed of lemon risotto.

I very much enjoyed my dish. The scallops were big and cooked properly. I also really enjoyed the risotto. How decadent to combine risotto and scallops! Unfortunately, this dish also had the same problem as my soup. The Cajun seasoning from the scallops was too salty and it seeped into the risotto. Let's just say I was downing glasses of water! I initially thought the hot peppers was an odd topping but I actually really enjoyed them, probably because I like pickled hot peppers! As I mentioned above, the portions were quite generous which is why we did not indulge in dessert.

Close-up of a scallop, because I love them!

Overall, Lo Presti's was a very enjoyable experience. The kitchen should just lay off the salt a bit. For a dining experience, it's great because the staff was very attentive and there is a nice, old school atmosphere.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

Final post on the brunch! I found inexpensive strawberries and thought they would make a nice sweet treat for the brunch. They were simple to make and oh so tasty!

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

* strawberries
* chocolate chips or roughly chopped chocolate

Clean strawberries and dry on paper towel. (Making sure the strawberries are very dry helps the chocolate adhere properly.)
Melt the chocolate in a bowl over simmering water .
Dip strawberries into chocolate, making sure you are also coating the back.
Allow the chocolate to harden by placing the strawberries on a parchment-lined cookie sheet.

IMG_9529 IMG_9530
IMG_9531 IMG_9533
Make sure the strawberries are very dry!

For the remaining brunch recipes:
* Baked Egg Florentines
* Apple Pancakes
Pumpkin Muffins
* Homemade Breakfast Sausages
* Homemade Baked Beans
* Breakfast Potatoes
* Pumpkin Muffins
* Berry Fruit Salad

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Berry Fruit Salad

There's nothing easier than making a fruit salad for brunch. I wasn't sure if it would be the most popular item since it was so healthy among the fattier other options. Either my friends are very healthy or the salad tasted great because the bowl was empty by the end of the brunch!


Berry Fruit Salad
You can throw in whatever fruit you like or have on hand, but I liked the idea of making it berry-based!

strawberries, cleaned and sliced small
grapes, cleaned
apples, sliced

Toss in a large bowl and allow guests to serve themselves.


For the remaining brunch recipes:
* Baked Egg Florentines
* Apple Pancakes
Pumpkin Muffins
* Homemade Breakfast Sausages
* Homemade Baked Beans
* Breakfast Potatoes
Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

Monday, February 15, 2010

Breakfast Potatoes

When it comes to food, I tend to favour savoury over sweet, and breakfast is no exception! So when I make myself a breakfast treat on the weekends, it usually involves potatoes. You'd think I'd be an expert at making potatoes but I still run into some issues. So I thought I would share some tips, rather than an actual recipe.


Breakfast Potatoes

* Cook potatoes beforehand. One issue I used to run in quite often was that the potatoes were not cooked through. When I cook for myself, I quickly microwave my potatoes in a bowl of water for 1-2 minutes to pre-cook them. For the brunch, I diced all the potatoes and cooked them in a large pot of water. They do not have to be completely cooked, just partially cooked.

* Turn on the heat to high. Potatoes tend to stick, which is very frustrating. So make sure you turn on the heat to high, and drizzle some oil or butter. Wait until your pan and oil is hot, before adding the potatoes. Leave the potatoes for a few minutes until brown, and stir them around.

* Baking the potatoes. When I made potatoes for the brunch, there were so much that I baked them in the oven. I drizzled some oil in a large baking dish, added the potatoes and the spices and drizzled more oil, mixing the potatoes on a regular basis. This really helped because I didn't have to take care of them and they stayed warm in the oven until my guests arrived!

* Add the onions/garlic after the potatoes are cooked through. I like having onions with my potatoes. While I waited for my potatoes to cook through, my onion would be burned black. Now, I wait until the potatoes are nearly done and add the onions. Once the onions are cooked, I turn off the heat.

* Adding spices. I like to add salt, fresh thyme and rosemary (or dry if you're not lucky enough to have indoor plants like me!), paprika and lots of red chili peppers. I also recently started to add a teaspoon or so of pesto instead of the spices. Really good and smells great!

Tada! Enjoy your potatoes for breakfast (or any other time of day)!

IMG_9603 IMG_9605
Pre-cook the potatoes and add the onion last.

Pesto potatoes are awesome!

For the remaining brunch recipes:
* Baked Egg Florentines
* Apple Pancakes
Pumpkin Muffins
* Homemade Breakfast Sausages
* Homemade Baked Beans
* Pumpkin Muffins
* Berry Fruit Salad
Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Homemade Baked Beans

As some of my guests were vegetarian (and even vegan), I wanted to offer an alternative to the breakfast sausages. I don't usually have beans for breakfast but I didn't mind it so much. I didn't actually bake my beans but quickly cooked them in a tomato sauce. I was happy to have a recipe I could make on the previous day and heat it up on the morning of the brunch.


Baked Beans
If you're not making this vegetarian, you can add some diced bacon!

* oil
* ½ onion, chopped finely
* 1 clove of garlic, minced
* ½ can of tomatoes
* 1 can of white (cannellini) beans, rinsed and drained
* ½ can of tomatoes
* 1 tsp dry mustard
* 2 tbsp brown sugar
* ¼ cup maple syrup
* 1 bay leaf
* salt and pepper, to taste

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat.
Add onion and cook until brown.
Add garlic for 1-2 more minutes.
Add beans, tomatoes, maple syrup, brown sugar, mustard and bay leaf.
Stir until well combined and bring to a boil.
Cover and simmer on low heat.
Taste and season with salt and pepper according to taste.

For a healthy breakfast!

For other brunch recipes:
* Apple Pancakes
* Baked Egg Florentine
Pumpkin Muffins
* Homemade Breakfast Sausages
* Homemade Baked Beans
* Breakfast Potatoes
* Pumpkin Muffins
* Berry Fruit Salad
Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Homemade Breakfast Sausage

Ok, I have been slow writing these brunch posts because I have been quite busy at work. Yes, excuses, excuses. So I promise I will pound them all out this week. These breakfast sausages were my favourite recipe of the brunch. First, because I had never attempted homemade sausages before. Secondly, because they were easy to make. Thirdly, they were tasty little porky bites! This is a perfect recipe for those who worry about all the nitrites added to store-bought sausages!


I was actually inspired to make homemade sausages when I read the same Canadian House & Home issue from which I got the Baked Egg Florentine recipe. However, I did some internet research and found Alton Brown's sausage recipe. (I can't help but mention here that my pal Trapezista got Alton Brown's latest cookbook and has a crush on him! I will have to check out his book!)

Homemade Breakfast Sausage - Makes 40 small sausages
From Alton Brown.
Alton Brown's recipe calls for buying pork butt and fat, and grinding your own meat. I couldn't be bothered and just bought ground pork. I'm sure it's just as good. I get very impatient when frying meatballs and sausages. My tip is making the sausages as flat as possible so they cook more quickly. I froze these sausages, ensuring the sausages had a plastic film in between each. I allowed them thaw the night before, and they tasted as good as when I cooked them fresh! So make a big batch and have them on hand in the freezer!

* 2 lbs ground pork
* 2 tsp kosher salt
* 1-½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
* 2 tsp finely chopped fresh sage leaves
* 2 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
* ½ teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
* 1 tbsp light brown sugar
* ½ tbsp nutmeg
* ½ tsp cayenne pepper
* ½ tsp red pepper flakes, or to taste
* oil
* whole sage leaves for frying

Combine ground pork with all the other ingredients (up until the oil) and mix thoroughly.
Form into 1-inch rounds. (At this point, the sausages can be refrigerated and used within 1 week or frozen for up to 3 months.)
Heat up oil in a non-stick pan.
Fry sage leaves and set aside.
Fry patties over medium-low heat until brown and cooked through, approximately 10 to 15 minutes.
Serve with the fried sage leaves.

IMG_9523 IMG_9525
The lady at the Farmer's market gave me a tip for saving sage: wrap the stems with a wet paper towel and place back in a plastic bag, in the fridge

Cute little round sausages!

I really enjoyed the fresh herbs and the chili flakes in these sausages!

For other brunch recipes:
* Apple Pancakes
* Baked Egg Florentine
Pumpkin Muffins
* Homemade Baked Beans
* Breakfast Potatoes
* Pumpkin Muffins
* Berry Fruit Salad
Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Baked Egg Florentine

I spotted this Baked Egg Florentine recipe while flipping through Canadian House & Home's latest issue. The timing could not have been better since I was planning my brunch menu. How timely! I felt I needed an egg dish for the brunch but did not want to make eggs to order. This took some preparation but was very much enjoyed by all. I don't think I even knew exactly what was in an Egg Florentine. It is one of the many versions of Egg Benedict, substituting the ham with spinach. Now I have a new recipe for my breakfast répertoire!


Baked Egg Florentine - Serves 12
Adapted from Canadian House & Home, January 2010
I have changed the recipe by using English muffins instead of bread. I tried to follow the recipe by broiling the eggs on top of the prepared English muffins. However, the egg was too large for the muffin and would pour out. It was much easier to just fry the eggs first, and then quickly broil it so the cheese would melt.

For the spinach mixture.
2 tbsp butter
1 large leek, white and pale green part only, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 300g package frozen chopped spinach, thawed

Melt 2 tbsp butter in a large frying pan over medium heat.
Add leeks and cook until softened but not browned, about 8 min.
Add garlic and cook another 2 min.
Meanwhile, squeeze the spinach well to remove water, then chop and add to leeks.
Stir until combined.
Add ¼ tsp salt.
Sprinkle evenly with flour and stir well to combine.
Cook 1 minute, then stir in ½ cup milk.
Cook until thickened, about 1 minute.
Set aside (this can be made a day in advance).

For the English muffins.
6 English muffins, split into 2 (making 12 in total)
3 eggs
1-½ cups milk
1 tbsp chopped dill (I didn't have any so just added dried oregano)
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp salt
2 tbsp flour
½ cup milk

Whisk 3 eggs, ½ cup milk, dill and ½ tsp salt together.
Carefully dip each half of the English muffin into the egg mixture and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Bake in the oven at 400F for 8 min or until bottoms are golden.
Flip English muffins and bake another 6 min.
Remove pan from the oven and set aside.

IMG_9537 IMG_9546
Preparing the spinach mixture and English muffins.

To assemble the Egg Florentine.
Save this step until your guests have arrived so it is served warm.

12 eggs
baked English muffins (from above)
spinach mixture (from above)
½ cup grated Swiss or cheddar cheese

Heat oil in a pan.
Fry eggs in pan sunny side up (or to your guests' liking).
Meanwhile, divide spinach mixture among English muffins.
Top an egg on each muffin and sprinkle with cheese.
Broil for 2 minutes or until the cheese has melted - eggs will continue to cook once removed from oven.

IMG_9572 IMG_9574
Assembling the Egg Florentine.

I served most of the eggs runny!

For the remaining brunch recipes:
* Apple Pancakes
Pumpkin Muffins
* Homemade Breakfast Sausages
* Homemade Baked Beans
* Breakfast Potatoes
* Pumpkin Muffins
* Berry Fruit Salad
Chocolate Dipped Strawberries