deep dish pizza, chicago style

Our travels in trying to obtain a background check for Chris in Argentina took us to Chicago recently, and as we were only there for a day, I insisted on having some Chicago deep dish pizza. After finding this MetaFilter thread and finding that everyone had their own favourite, we settled on a restaurant called Lou Manetti’s., especially as our host’s friend’s son liked it.

The restaurant was much quieter than we had thought it would be at lunch, though it was slightly south of the downtown. It was a little bigger than you might expect from a neighbourhood pizzeria and definitely felt like the chain that it was part of. One glance at the menu and we knew we wanted the house special – tomatoes, cheese, and spinach. The crust wasn’t as thick as I remembered it (I had been to Chicago a dozen years ago and had tried it then), but Chris was quite happy with it. She prefers the New York-style thin crust, so that’s saying something. It had a nice crunch to it, anyway, and the pizza was quite tasty and filling, so we still walked out satisfied. The service was fast, personal, and friendly, which ran in opposition to one of the biggest complaints on the MF thread. It’s entirely possible that it was because we were there on a Wednesday afternoon in winter as opposed to a weekend in summer, but I’m not complaining.

Conclusions? I personally think that it doesn’t really matter where you get your deep dish (unless you’re a real pizza connoisseur) in this city. Chicago takes pride in its product and wherever you get deep dish in Chicago, it’s worth a try while visiting.

mexican far from mexico

Part of our trip to Toronto included a bit of the weekend with a friend in Barrie, which is about an hour north of Toronto. I had been expecting a night of cooking with her, but as her and her husband are currently waiting for his contract to finish in Manitoba before he moves to Barrie, she is keeping possessions light and most of her kitchen is still out west. Instead, she said that there were a few actually good restaurants in Barrie, something I have to admit I was not expecting. We ended up getting Mexican at Si Señor, which, with a name like that, we weren’t sure of the food. Our host’s recommendation was true, however, from the Mexican guy who greeted us at the door to the musician who came in and started singing songs in Spanish and asking for requests while we were eating. We ended up ordering a mix of foods and sharing it all while we enjoyed the singing.

The ceviche was fantastic in a tomato-based sauce, which I wasn’t sure if I’d like, but the whole table was trying to get the last bits at the end, so I’d say it was a winner.

pollo tostadas

The pollo (chicken) tostadas were served at the same time, and while I do remember them being good, I don’t recall anything specific about them. I guess they were overwhelmed by the other fantastic dishes.

queso fundido

The queso fundido was kind of like a dip, served with delicious warm tortillas. Thick and cheesy with pork in it, there was lots of flavour to it and generally I thought it was stick-to-your-ribs good.

alhambre

The big winner of the night was the alhambre. I don’t recall the full name of the dish, but it had beef, peppers, cheese, and pineapple, along with spices. Eat bite was a bit of heaven, especially with the tortillas. The pineapple was a nice addition and really helped set off the other flavours.

We left with both our bellies and our souls sated.

Si Señor
24 Dunlop St. W
Barrie, ON

a taste of (two parts of) the world

While we were in Toronto a couple of weeks ago, we took a walk around Kensington Market, the well-known food and art section of town. I knew that there was a Latino community in Toronto and we figured that there might be empanadas to be had. We discovered some at Jumbo Empanadas, though at $4 apiece, we were expecting ENORMOUS empanadas (as they had been much cheaper in South America). The filling was Chilean all right – raisins, olives, egg, ground beef, spices – but the dough was a little disappointing and dry. The spicy tomato salsa you see on the side certainly helped perk things up, though. Overall, a mediocre empanada, but not terrible.

The tamales were quite good, though. I’m glad we each took half of the two dishes, as I wouldn’t have been satisfied with a single bite of this. Well-ground (or pureed) corn, good spices, cooked in corn husks – this tasted like we remembered it.

With the snow falling gently around us like a Christmas movie, our next stop was on Spadina at Mother’s Dumplings. The dumplings looked like the ones we had in Taiwan, and the jasmine tea was just so good that we had to order ten guo tie (fried dumplings). While not quite as awesome as our favourite place in Taiwan, these definitely held their own. The juices dripped out as we nibbled – always a good sign – and the meat was expertly spiced. The chef is from southern China, so it made sense that they tasted similar to the ones we had had in Taiwan. When our waitress found out that Chris spoke Mandarin, she immediately launched into a flowery history of the restaurant in Chinese. We got maybe half of it, but she was happy just to speak Mandarin, I think. We sat and sipped jasmine tea after that, watching business people and snow drift by on the street.

sesame sweets

A quick dessert at a Chinese bakery nearby got us a couple of these delicious rice flour-sesame seed-sticky buns, whatever they’re called. I love these with a passion. Sweet and delicate, yet a solid, filling rice flour centre, I could sit and eat them all afternoon.

Finally, we stopped into David’s Tea, which I was introduced to in Ottawa by the friends I was staying with. They have loose teas for basically everyone – Chris was elated to find a big selection of decaffeinated teas and ended up getting four. It’s trendy, sure, as tea is these days (is there a food that isn’t trendy now? Rutabagas?), but if someone you know is a tea lover, a quality cup of tea is something that relaxes and warms and makes a pretty waste-free gift.

Toronto is wonderful for this. It’s probably a good thing we don’t live there, as this could happen a lot.

Jumbo Empanadas
245 Augusta Ave.
Toronto, ON

Mother’s Dumplings
421 Spadina Ave.
Toronto, ON

David’s Tea
2389 Yonge St.
Toronto, ON

lentil walnut burgers

We were feeling a hankering for burgers and came across this recipe in the Moosewood Cookbook. It’s not bad in terms of time, but I found even with the small amount of salt, they turned out a bit salty. I’m not quite sure how that happened, as everything is from scratch, but I’m listing it with half the salt in the recipe.

And the burgers? The lentil base is OK, though I’ve had better veggie burgers. That said, I would make them again – they’re really healthy, nice and moist, and the walnuts add a great bit of texture.

Part 1

3/4 c dry lentils
1.5 c water
2 tsp cider

Bring lentils and water to a boil in a saucepan. Lower the heat and simmer, party-covered, for 30 minutes or until lentils are soft and liquid is gone. Place in large-ish bowl. Add vinegar and mash.

Part 2

1 Tbsp butter
1 c finely-mined onion
1-2 cloves garlic crushed (I minced them)
10 large mushrooms, minced*
1/2 c finely-minced walnuts
1 small stalk minced celery
1/2 tsp salt
lots of fresh black pepper
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1 tbsp dry sherry

Sauté all of the above together over medium-low heat 10-15 minutes or until all is tender. Add to the mashed lentils and mix well. Add 1/2 cup raw wheat germ as well (I used toasted and it seemed fine).

Chill for about 1 hour before forming patties. Form 4-inch burgers and fry in butter until brown or broil about 8 minutes on each side (careful on the second side).

Uncooked burgers may be individually wrapped and frozen.

*I wasn’t sure what size large mushrooms were, so I ended up just using regular white mushrooms. They seemed to work fine.

vegetable stroganoff

Welcome back! I guess you should be saying that to me, after all the time I’ve been gone. I kind of left off when we hit Bulgaria – so much food! so little time! – and never got back to it. I’ll try to, once I’m settled – we ate some great food there.

I’m hoping to use this to keep track of and share some of the great recipes we hope to make part of our repetoire, be they from cookbooks or creations of the mind. We inherited a copy of the Moosewood Cookbook circa 1977 from Chris’s mom, with hand-drawn illustrations and hand-lettered recipes. I thought it was from a restaurant, as I’ve seen a few books by them, and it is – a vegetarian restaurant in Ithica, NY that is apparently quite well known.

As we haven’t been eating the best lately (Christmas, New Year, travel, birthdays), we decided to hunker down and make some good stuff from this book. And that leads us to today’s dinner, Vegetable Stroganoff. I loved Beef Stroganoff as a kid and was really looking forward to making and eating this tonight. Note: Just cause it has vegetables, doesn’t mean it’s the best thing in the word for you – 3 cups of sour cream does not a lean waistline make. Still, this recipe was really, really good and is staying in our good books.

Vegetable Stroganoff
makes 6 servings, takes about 1 hour to prepare

1. The sauce
3 c sour cream
1.5 c yogurt
3 Tbs dry, red wine
1 c chopped onion
1/2 lb chopped mushrooms
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp dill weed
dash of tamari sauce (didn’t have any, we used regular soy sauce)
paprika
black pepper

2 Tbs butter

Sauté onions and mushrooms in butter until onions are soft. Combine all ingredients in the top of a double boiler and heat gently about 30 minutes.

2. While the sauce simmers, steam 6 cups chopped, fresh vegetables. Highly recommended: broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, celery, peppers, cabbage, zucchini, cherry tomatoes. (I did the first five and it was quite good.)

3. Cook 4 cups raw egg noodles in boiling, salted water until tender. Drain and butter.

Assemble the Stroganoff on a platter and garnish with freshly-minced scallions.

Note: Be very generous with the black pepper. While eating it, I added a little more and it made it just right for me. Next time, I’d probably add a few grinds right before the sauce finished cooking, as that might help take the edge off for anyone who finds the fresh-ground pepper just a little too zippy. But I’ll still add more to mine.

This was VERY well-received tonight. No talking at all while eating – good sign.

the best baklava

Baklava could be said to come from Turkey, even though it was probably brought here by the people who became Turks, moving westward out of Central Asia many centuries ago. The Ottomans truly developed the art, however, giving rise to baklava chefs judged on the thinness of their phyllo. Some stories say that, back in the day, the master of the house would test the thickness of sometimes-100-sheet baklava with a gold coin: if the coin fell through all the layers to the tray, the chef got to keep the it. In Gaziantep, there’s a new culinary school that includes training for baklava creators. The experts say it take 15-20 years to become an expert, studying mixtures and ingredients, rolling and spreading techniques, baking and syruping procedures. Baklava is available anywhere in the country, but pistachio baklava is a specialty of Gaziantep and is almost exclusively what is available in the many stores that line the street.

We had tried some good baklava and some mediocre baklava while staying with friends in Bursa. Well, so we were told – it all tasted pretty good to us. Fresh baklava is a different matter, however. If made properly, the piece should make a kssssht sound when bitten into. That shows the pastry is as new as it’s going to get. Luckily, we got this a couple of times, and we tried to find it as much as we could while we were in Gaziantep, stopping after every meal for a bit of baklava here and there.

We even found out there were different kind of baklava. The carrot slice was just a large slice of baklava, the sobiyet had a large spread of cream in the middle, and even the regular baklava came in 20-layer and 45-layer (see the picture to the right) varieties! There were also pieces of pure pistachio paste wrapped in a single layer of phyllo, which I enjoyed a lot.

I’m sad to report that we haven’t found the level of baklava found in Gaziantep yet in the rest of the country – we’ve been bumped up a baklava notch. Other pieces seem over-syruped or too dry or the filling is lackluster. *Sigh* That’s the problem when you try the best – it’s hard to go back to the rest. Still, we’ll valiantly keep testing…

lentil soup

The lentil soup is a staple here, usually a fairly simple concoction with a few spices, just note at the top of every menu. We’ve had so much of it here, however, that I feel the need to make a note myself of it. Chris especially loves it, and, as it’s usually served with fresh bread, I’ve ordered it more than a few times myself. This is one fun part about traveling a country: seeing how one dish can vary within borders. We’ve had it plain as day, spicy with dried chili pepper (in the southeast), cooling with mint (in Sivas), salty as a big bowl of salt (numerous places, unfortunately), and lumpy with lentils or smooth as silk. It’s a nice light lunch, as soup always is, and when we first arrived, with the chills of winter just starting to shake themselves off, it was often a great way to warm a body up after the sun had gone down. It’s a nice, simple dish I’m sure we’ll be taking with us when we leave.