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Charlie’s Chopsticks Grand Opening

Charlie's Chopsticks Logo

My little brother got the chance to be a part of the creation of a new fresh take out restaurant! How very exciting. I got the chance to go in and sample everything and share my experience with you.

If you have passed 970 Upper James (right near the Linc) recently, you may have noticed this little shop open up in the sex shop plaza. Leading up to their grand opening, they have been giving out samples of all their menu items for everyone who walked in.

Charlie’s Chopsticks is a custom asian open concept kitchen that caters to those who want to eat well, healthy, and quickly.

Sushi Cut

Charlie’s Chopsticks offers three main items: Rolls (Sushi & Summer), Rice Dishes, and Drinks. When you walk into the store, you’ll immediately see the counter with the main ingredients that you can choose to customize your meal.

Sushi roll charlie's chopsticks

The first thing I had was the sushi roll. I really like how you really just get to choose whatever you want to make your own custom sushi roll just the way you like it. I think you can have a maximum of 5 items, which is a ton to fit inside one roll. I chose to put my favourite items: salmon, crab stick, cucumber, sweet egg, and mango. It was pretty cool to watch them roll my sushi.

sushi cutter

This blew my mind the most. They put the sushi roll into this machine and it cuts it all up for you. WHAT?! So cool. Where do I get one for my house? My carrots would be such even sizes.

Charlie's Chopsticks Sauces

This is the part that gets really interesting. In addition to the soy sauce that you usually get with sushi, you have a range of other sauces you can try too. Their spicy mayo is particularly interesting. It’s not just the Kewpie Mayo (or baby mayo, as we call it in my house) & Sriracha combination that you basically get everywhere else, but this has a great hint of ginger to it as well. I loved it. One of the workers encouraged me to try the wafu sauce as well, which is a Japanese sesame dressing, and I’m glad I did because that tasted great with the fresh sushi. I don’t have anything else to compare the wafu sauce to though, but it was great.

There is also a few secret sauces. The two of my favourite being Honey Peach and my absolute favourite: Maple Ginger. I just could not get enough of that Maple Ginger. Just the right amount of sweetness and savouriness.

Custom Summer Roll Charlie's Chopsticks

The next thing I tried were the Summer rolls that they offered. Patrons of Vietnamese restaurants may know them as fresh rolls. They are basically any ingredient you like, wrapped up in a rice paper wrap. It’s light and yummy. Traditionally, in my home, we add vermicelli into it as well, but this way you get more fun stuff and less filler. I had mine with lettuce, mango, sweet egg, cucumber, avocado, ginger beef, and a little slice of clementine, which the employee strongly suggest. I never would have guessed to put the clementine it, but the sweet burst of flavour was a great enhancement.

Charlie’s Chopsticks even offers traditional Vietnamese nuoc mam, or fish sauce. Please don’t let the name scare you away because it tastes NOTHING like fish. It is a fish sauce mixed with garlic, lemon, and a few other things that I don’t know because I haven’t asked my mother how to make it yet. But seriously, this sauce is a staple in Vietnamese cuisine, and the salty lemony garlicky flavour compliments these rolls like nothing else. I think it’s the greatest compliment when I say these rolls taste just like we make them at home.

I won’t lie. I stood there and tried a few other rolls, a few with strawberries for colour, and of course, fresh bacon. The owners order many of the veggies local and the bacon come straight from Mennonite farmers in Hamilton’s Farmer’s Market.

I have never had bacon this good.

I don’t know what it was about it, but dang. It was just crispy enough with a bit of chew, my perfect texture. The taste was beyond anything else. Damn, I was just about ready to hop off the bacon train, but that piece of bacon in one of my many fresh rolls was just BEYOND.

meat dish

Lastly, I tried the rice dish. You get to choose your meat: chicken, beef, or pork, and then you have the piece of meat basted with whatever flavour you like (I got chicken with maple ginger, and beef with teriyaki). It goes through the oven (though I think they might be replacing that with a grill), and gets served with a bowl of rice and your choice of veggies. Again, I highly recommend trying the fish sauce with this dish.

Charlie’s Chopsticks will be serving bubble tea (with choices of grass jellies, fruit jellies, tapioca) and fresh fruit smoothies.

All in all, while the food is not gourmet or out of the box, it is good, wholesome, fresh food, which is definitely hard to find in today’s fast food industry. Their prices are awesome for a quick lunch, or a light, healthy dinner. The best bit is that they’re open late every night (past midnight on Fridays and Saturdays) and they do delivery as well. Who HASN’T sat there thinking, oh, I could totally do sushi right now, but balked at the time, drive, price of sushi restaurants? And who really wants to put pants on to go buy some crappy day old grocery store sushi?

Charlie’s Chopsticks officially opens TODAY (!) October 18, 2014, at 11 a.m. and the first 88 people in the doors will receive a voucher for 30 free items. Spread the word, #hamont, the new take out is here.

Facebook – Charlie’s Chopsticks

Instagram – @CharliesChopsticks

Taco, ma cherie

Paris Party Table
Earlier this June, we were invited to a friend’s surprise engagement party. It was beautifully decorated and Paris themed, and it was a great night full of good food, good drink, and good people. They told the couple that it was a going away party for one of our friends who was supposedly moving away to San Francisco. The look of surprise on their face when they were trying to figure out why we were shouting “Surprise!!!”, why their family was there, and why everyone was staring at the nondescript couple waltzing in late to the supposed going away party was unforgettable.

Taco Dip

 

I had wanted to do a French-inspired tarte tatine, but everyone wanted taco dip instead, and who is to blame them? I love making taco dip because it’s super easy, and super delicious. We ended up eating leftover taco dip for almost three days straight; it was awesome.

Bottom layer to top:

  • Refried beans mixed with pickled green chilies
  • Taco meat (ground beef mixed with taco seasoning)
  • Shredded cheese
  • Sour cream mixed with taco seasoning
  • (This is where I would usually add guacamole but my avocados were too hard.)
  • Salsa – this one was from a jar to save time but I usually like to make it myself
  • More cheese
  • Pico de gallo – I use the Pioneer Women’s recipe
  • Lettuce
  • Top off with more pico de gallo, shredded cheese, and pickled jalapenos to make it look nice.

What happens when you’re shopping last minute is that you don’t can’t always account for the groceries not having what you need. In this case, there were no ripened avocados and only one jalapeno! I settled for pickled jalapenos on top and bought some other hot peppers to mix into it. Unfortunately, the peppers weren’t well labeled and I bought scotch bonnets instead of habaneros. I mixed the scotch bonnets into my pico de gallo in lieu of the jalapenos and it turned out great; it gave the dip a bit more of a kick than usual.  Serve with any corn chips you like. We tried the Tostitos lime chips and they were off the HOOK!

I found it surprising that within minutes of bringing the dip in, someone had eaten the “decorative” scotch bonnet on top, and I didn’t hear anything about it. These south Asians are terrifying with their spice tolerance.

Pickle Jalapeno Backs

Last year, I took almost the same group of people to Montreal for my birthday, where I introduced that to a drink I had found on my trip to New York — The Pickleback. It is a shot of house whiskey followed by a shot of pickle juice; you can watch me do the shot here. The shot lined up above was purely spur of the moment when I realised that we had a bunch of whiskey and a whole empty jar of pickled jalapeno juice. So we poured them, and drank them, and they were delicious! I like alcohol when I can’t taste it. 🙂

There was so much food leftover and as usual when there is alcohol involved, the pictures get blurrier and blurrier as the night wears on.

A big congratulations to Hamsa and Jehan, both on your future life together and also the most beautiful proposal story I’ve ever heard (hello, he took her to Paris to propose. Excuse me while I swoon.) With an engagement party like that, I can’t wait till the wedding.

St. Jacob’s Market, St. Jacob, Ontario

DSC_0067

It was a most beautiful day for my first trip to St. Jacob’s Market. It made for a nice break from our Belly Monster rampage, in which we hit up 9 different food destinations in 12 hours.

flowers

St. Jacob’s Market is Canada’s largest year round Farmer’s Market. In reality, it’s like a farmer’s market, food market, and flea market, all rolled into one beautiful package. interior

There was an outdoor farmer’s market AND an indoor one, where all of the butchers were.fritters

We came to walk around, and many were telling us that we MUST try the apple fritters, and try we did. We purchased half a dozen fritters, as well as this fritter special — two apple fritters, vanilla ice cream, and caramel sauce. Soft, sweet, creamy, hot, and cold, all rolled into one most magnificent package.

popcornSt. Jacob’s, Ontario is probably the cutest quaint little town you’ve ever seen. Its countrysides are farmed by a population of Old Order Mennonites, and on the way out of the market, we even saw a horse running full-speed on the side of the road, pulling a carriage. It was the greatest thing I’ve ever seen, straight out of a Lurlene McDaniel novel.

 

Homemade Super Awesome Oatmeal

So, if you follow my vlog or tweets or instagram (@Judskii), you might know that I’ve been trying out this whole oatmeal thing. And if you are aware of my presence at all, you’ll know that this is in an effort to not only lose weight, but also to lead a healthier lifestyle overall. I started off buying Nature’s Path organic oatmeal as a kick off point, as I was also tentatively avoiding wheat and wheat-based products. After much agonizing over the ingredients and nutritional information, I had chosen this brand because it had less sugars, calories, and no wheat products (excluding the Multigrain flavour). It cost about $5 and after running through the 8-pack box, my friend was telling me that I should just buy oatmeal at a bulk supply store and be done with it, since it’s so cheap.

But why stop there? Instead of just buying plain oatmeal, I set out on a quest to make my own super yummy deluxe health oatmeal mixture. I stopped at bulk barn on Wednesday (senior and student discount day!) to get all the things I needed. The whole thing cost me $10.78 altogether. Well, it would have been $11.05 without the discount, but still, what a great deal! It was nearly 2kg of oatmeal mix, compared to the 400g of the $5 pre-packaged oatmeal. The only real problem was if I could include as much nutrients and healthy things that Nature’s Path did. Scroll to the bottom for a video if you don’t want to read it all.

So here it is, my list of ingredients, along with their total combined nutritional information. The chart may be a little difficult to read, so don’t worry if you don’t look at it, I’ll explain fully below.

***Nutritional information is to serving size and not quantity***

Ingredients: Quick rolled oats, textured vegetable protein, chopped walnuts, steel cut oats, flaxseed, goji berries, craisins, chia seeds, and currants.

Before I go into each ingredient, here’s a breakdown of the nutritional information of the oatmeal per serving compared to Nature’s Path nutritional information.

Each serving is a level 1/2 cup. At a quick glance, my mixture (on the left) has more fibre, protein, vitamin A & C, calcium, and iron than the MultiGrain Raisin Spice Hot Oatmeal as well as less  carbs, and a lot less sugar and sodium (which is you’re worse enemy if you’re trying to lose weight because it makes your body retain water). I’m not too sure what’s causing the elevated levels of saturated fats but at only 7.2% of the recommended daily intake, it doesn’t look too troublesome.

The price difference between the two is not as large as you think it would be because I had added craisins (dried cranberries) that I had on hand, which weren’t calculated in the $10.78 bulk barn total purchase. The bag of craisins cost about $5 and I put 2/3 cup of the cranberries in. Without the cranberries, the price per serving drops to $0.368, less than half of the prepackaged oatmeal.

The following is a breakdown of the health benefits of each ingredient.

Quick Rolled Oats/Steel Cut Oats

I decided to pick up both of these because I didn’t really know what the difference was. They seem to both have the same nutritional information, but I knew that the quick rolled oats are what the instant oatmeal is made of (softens faster) and wasn’t sure about the steel cut oats, so I added them in for experimental purposes. Now, as everyone knows, oatmeal is marketed as a cholesterol lower..er. It’s rich in fibre, which in partnership with protein, keeps you full for a longer period of time. It also allows nutrients to be better absorbed into your body and helps with bowel movements that princesses dream of.

Textured Vegetable Protein

This is often used as a meat-substitute by vegetarians and vegans who don’t get enough protein in their diet. After my unfavourable experience with certain flavours of whey protein, I decided to try this out instead. It’s a great source of protein (obviously), fibre, calcium, and iron. It’s made out of defatted soybean flour, which comes during the process of making soybean oil. It actually comes out to being cheaper than whey protein (at 0.799 cents and 3-4 cents per gram of protein, respectively). The only drawback is that TVP has less bioavailability (thanks Edmond for teaching me that fancy new word) than whey protein, which basically means that the nutrients don’t get absorbed into the body as easily.

Chopped Walnuts

I added these in for a nice nutty flavour and a crunchy texture into the oatmeal, but walnuts are known to be very cardiovascular-friendly (good for your heart and blood system!) as well as being an anti-inflammatory. They’re a good source of fibre and vitamin E.

Flaxseed also called linseed

I picked these out because through ambient knowledge, I was minutely aware of it being touted as a healthy addition to your diet. However, upon further research, it seems that chia seeds (below) have got them beat in every aspect. I might omit them next time to save the calories (they seem to have a high caloric content), or I might leave them if I decide that the oatmeal just isn’t the same without flaxseed.

Goji Berries

Goji berries seemed to crop up everywhere a few years ago when they were introduced as the world’s newest “superfood.” It’s said that they help with your eyesight and ward off vision-related health issues as you age. They are nice and tart, and really take the oatmeal out of its bland stage. They are also very popular in salads, trail mix, and smoothies.

Craisins (Dried Cranberries)

I added these cranberries on a whim just because I had them on hand and thought the added berries would be great. When I make this oatmeal next time, I don’t think I would put the cranberries in because there are already goji berries and currants in it, and I always add banana into it anyway. The craisins don’t do much in terms of nutrients and only seem to add unnecessary sugars and carbs. If you like them for the flavour, it’s okay to keep them in because the end result is already very healthy.

Chia Seeds

They are no longer just being used to grow hairy clay animals! Even Dr. Oz endorses chia seeds. They are supposed to be able to absorb 12 times its own weight, which helps you keep full for extended periods of time. They’re also a great source of protein and calcium, which means their good for your bones, hair, and nails!

Currants

I grabbed these just because my coworker and I were talking about them a few days earlier. I wanted to go with a berry themed oatmeal, so I thought these would be perfect. They’ve got good fibre, and they’re also a good source of iron, potassium, and all those lovely B vitamins.

Sorry, I don’t have the measurements in cups/spoon measurements, but below there will be a video in which you can eyeball how much ingredients I added. Though I have exactly what I used in the video here, next time I’ll probably omit cranberries and flaxseed, and add more chia seeds and goji berries/currants. The oatmeal was not too carefully planned, so don’t feel like you have to stick exactly to the recipe. Feel free to adjust it to your liking.

Recipe/ingredients list:

This makes almost 2 kg of dry oatmeal, and at 1/2 cup servings, which the above nutritional information is for, should last you about a month. For 1/2 cup, combine with about 2/3 cup of boiled water, depending on how thick or watery you like your oatmeal.

  • Quick rolled oats – 1,090 g
  • Textured vegetable protein – 170 g
  • Chopped walnuts – 185 g
  • Steel cut oats – 135 g
  • Flaxseed – 115 g
  • Goji berries – 85 g
  • Craisins – 80 g
  • Chia seeds – 60 g
  • Currants – 40 g

Some might like the overall flavour a little sweeter, so you can add brown sugar, honey, or even maple syrup. After adding hot water I like to add a tiny bit of brown sugar, and some (calorie-less <3) cinnamon. I also add half a banana (50 calories), my calories per serving jumps to 309. Although it makes me worry when I add extra calories, I don’t worry too much because this oatmeal keeps you full for a long time and gives you tons of energy.

And that, my friends, is my long-winded explanation of my daily breakfast food. Here’s the YouTube video that shows what the quantity of ingredients looks like:

Porchetta & Co

Oh sweet, succulent porchetta. This place is just beyond amazing. Porchetta is a fatty boneless pork roast that is seasoned with many different herbs  and then cooked in a way that the outside is crispy, light and the inside is melt in your mouth tender. So good that even Anthony Bourdain came in for a bite.

The ciabatta bun is stuffed with 4 oz of porchetta, crackling, and topped with (Kozliks) mustard and frank’s hot sauce. This time I chose to get some bitter rapini on top because I love rapini. When people come to Toronto, they’re always talking about that damn peameal bacon, the prized sandwich of Hogtown. But let me tell you, this porchetta sandwich is SO much better than peameal bacon, and let’s just say, I have too much experience with peameal.

Let’s get back to the porchetta sandwich. The bun is soft and fragrant. The meat is soft, but the crackling gives that satisfying crunch. Boyfriend of course got his piled high with mushrooms and added a bunch of extra mustard on top. Biting into this monster is one of the most satisfying things. I can only wish to have this sandwich every day. 🙂

Porchetta and Co Website // Twitter // Facebook

Scaramouche

Scaramouche is one of my favourite restaurants, partly because it’s so expensive that we can’t quiet afford to eat there very often, meaning it’s such a nice treat when we do get there. Whenever I get to hang out with the boyfriend, I get to throw all my diet worries away and indulge, indulge, indulge. Above is the view from the south windows of the restaurant. I had been wanting to come here for a very long time since seeing their famous Coconut Cream Pie in an issue of Toronto Eats (arguably one of my favourite magasines) and so for my birthday in June, boyfriend finally took me! And it was so good that he made me promise to take him for his birthday too. And well, here we are.

They start off every dinner service with a complimentary amuse-bouche. I actually can’t remember for the life of me what this is, I think it might be some sort of salmon, but these are just to whet the appetite. They are cute, dainty, and leave us drooling for our meals!

My appetizer this time was a decadent dungeness crab ravioli (24$). The pillows were ultra light and melted completely in your mouth. The light tomato-based sauce was creamy and very rich. So good that we ended up dipping some of the complimentary bread into it so as to not waste a single drop. The crab was light and yet so intense in flavour. There were only a few raviolis, but as this is a french restaurant, small portions are expectant. I don’t care though because every bite is one of those movie moments where you close your eyes and just savour it.

The steak tartare (18$) topped with crostini and watercress, surrounded by a caper mustard. The first time we came, I just had to try the steak tartare because I’d never had a tartare before. Once it reached the table, boyfriend got super jealous because he didn’t know what tartare was but he looooooves his meat raw, or as close to raw as possible. The tartare is so delicious, nice and peppery, with a kick of spicy mustard, and the meat is just so soft and tender.

This was the lamb (46$) that we had last time, but since I hadn’t made a post, this is where I display it. Lamb is usually my go-to dish just because I love the richness of it with the light gamey flavour. The meat was topped with a classic mint pesto and served with goat cheese whipped potatoes. Everything was just so lovely and yummy. I love the arrangement of everything on the plate so that there are endless combinations of things to eat, each ingredient enhancing the flavours of the others. And oh my, how delicious and smooth those potatoes were.

Another reason I had wanted to try this restaurant was because they served elk/venison (46$), a meat that I had never had before! This meat was like a cross between beef and lamb. Super tender, a light gamey flavour, yet has the presence and sturdiness of beef. They were also wrapped in bacon, and really, who doesn’t like bacon. Plated on a bed of baby spinach, a lot of different types of mushrooms, and beets. Oh man I love beets. There was also a mustard cream that  tasted almost like really creamy quiche. I honestly don’t know what to say about any of these dishes because they are all just on a very high level of wonderful cuisine.

This time, boyfriend chose to stick with a standard filet mignon (47$). The meat was, of course, cooked to a perfect medium rare. It’s served alongside green beans (which are sitting in the beef gravy. This is where you swoon) as well as porcini whipped potatoes. Let me tell you, this restaurant has got their potatoes DOWN. They’re light, full of flavour, and not at all overpowering. I probably stole half of his potatoes, and quite a bit of his green beans too. Sharing is caring.

Of course the first time we went, we had to have the coconut cream pie (13$). The crust is flakey to a fault, the pie sitting on top of some beautiful chocolate drizzle. White chocolate shavings on top of a mountain of coconut cream. Now let me start by saying that I don’t even like coconut shavings. There’s too much chewing involved but despite that, this pie was soooo good. The cream was intense, the chocolates, divine. It was a beautiful dessert.

This beautiful thing is the Valrhona Jivara Cylinder (14$). It’s beautifully presented and I wasn’t expecting to be wowed by it, but I ended up floored. The yellow spots are passionfruit curd. It isn’t sour like some passionfruit is and the seeds, when you bite into them are like little balls of sugar. On the left is a fresh banana sorbet sitting on top of nuggets of chocolate. The sorbet is fresh, tangy, and perfect after a meaty meal. The nuggets of chocolate actually pop in your mouth after you bite into them, not unlike pop rock candies. But let me tell you where the magic happens. It’s the milk chocolate cylinder on the right, filled with raspberry foam. But that’s not all it’s filled with.

Underneath the deliciously sweet, with a slight sour, foam, there looks to be a praline-like cream, and under that yet, there is milk chocolate mousse. This thing looks small, but it was so damn good, that I would pay 14$ just for that cylinder alone. So gosh darn delicious.

I wasn’t lying when I said boyfriend likes his raw meat. The first time this happened, I was slightly embarrassed, but I couldn’t stop laughing. This time, I didn’t think he would actually do it again. Sometime after our entrees were finished, I feigned a bathroom break and went to talk to our waiter to inform him of the birthday we were celebrating and if the kitchen could do something special for the dessert. And what does boyfriend order for dessert for a second time in a row? Steak tartare. The first time it happened, the waiter who was cleaning crumbs off our table actually stopped to look at him, like it was the weirdest request because well, it is weird. So yes, so manly that he eats a chunk of raw meat for a dessert, and I accept him for it. And they stuck a candle in it for me.

I really do love Scaramouche, and if I were hella loaded, I would probably eat here monthly, if not weekly. Both dinners cost us between $200 and $225 after tip, and that’s without drinking any wine or spirits. The food is definitely worth it though and the atmosphere is very nice, classy, and the perfect place to treat yo’self.

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