Sunday, June 5, 2016

Restaurant Review: Two Headed Dog

I've been toying with reviewing the bunch of new pubs in the area in one big omnibus blog post. It seems easy to dismiss them as all being the same. It wouldn't be that far off the mark but it may be a bit unfair.

Most of THESE places are Anglo inspired, macro brewery listed and food service sourced foodstuffs. An awkward sentence for an awkward phenomenon. The difference between them being location and variation in decor. Some do a better job on their beer list than others. There are grace notes on the food service food such as different gravies and sauces or a better variety of fry. This is how I assess new pubs in the area, and in general.

I have been to the Two Headed Dog several times. It is close but not the closest. Both Eulalie's around the corner and the Corner House Pub stand between me and there. It is one of the only family pubs on the Gerrard Street India Bazaar as Eulalie's pitches more hip and less stroller. So, location is a plus.

Decor is German Anglo inspired with sports bar accouterments. Set with a garage door out back, there is plenty of light in the booth section where you can be distracted by the happenings outside and the televisions. Not great for date night but good for those nights when the kids want to eat and you are too lazy.  Aside from the back room of booths, there is a more bar like setup towards the front. A decent rail displays standards and a tap lineup.

On the first week, there was only macro brewery imports and standards. On a subsequent visit, I was told that they had a lot of requests for local beer and were working on it. There still only remains a single independent brewer from down the street on the line up, Left Field. It has been a few months. So, a middling grade there.

So far nothing stands out except their location. This leaves the last consideration of food. English pubs mean curry. There are a few of these type of curry pub dishes and strangely, these are the ones that have a "made here" note on the menu. Ah yes, differentiation. It is taken for granted that people realize that most of their food is not made in house and so the difference maker is telling them when it is. These are the better dishes available or at least the ones that stand out from other beer drinking places.

There are three items worth trying that are different than standard fare offered in pubs; Butter Chicken Poutine, Shepherd's Pie and Sri Lankan curry.

That little orange lettering says Made Here.
Season Infused Salt - sounds weirdly like a Food
Network groupie wrote it. 

A sloppy mess of butter chicken sauce with cheese and standard fries. This poutine is nothing like a poutine but it is a messy and joyful mess for the enjoyment of those who like butter chicken. For those of us who feel butter chicken is not quite Indian food, this is at least a starting point for actually enjoying it for what it is; a slightly sweet gravy that marries well with cheese and salty fries.

The Shepherd's Pie. Yup, more like mashed potatoes on fried ground meat and topped with gravy. It brings back memories of boiled chuck, potatoes and onions in a pan gravy that I used to eat as a kid. This is a good thing. Salty and flavourful and different. My dining companion mushed it all together and ate it like that. I would have added ketchup and that would have made it complete. Don't expect cuisine but expect comfort.

On this last Sunday trip, the daily special was wings. I had the Korean BBQ sauced wings. This is more typical of expectations. There is nothing wrong with the food. It is the same as every other place. It is the little bits that make the difference. Is this a place to revel in the little bits and travel for it? No. But it was worth the few extra steps to move away from a far more food service heavy place. If there was a place with better taps...

I guess the short of it is, GET BETTER TAPS.

Anyways, I often feel like writing these reviews is like dining in these places. It is easy to do an up and down, throw a pic, throw some words down on the page and say something meh and move on. Maybe this is why there are so many pubs that don't reach higher; they don't have to. With so many blogs and reviewers out there, there is no need to be better either. No need to describe food that is so much the same that there is nothing remarkable. Go up and read this review again. See what is remarked on by me. It isn't the food but the difference. Just a few bits of difference can mean the world.

Two Headed Dog Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, April 18, 2016

Near Misses #2: Cheeseburger Ramen

My kids are often the driver for food ideas. Sometimes, I am trying to think of something that they will love and other times, it is me trying to make their idea into a reality. It is when I am stretching for something that I can learn something new and make something incredible or it can fall flat.

Here is a flat recipe inspired by seeing a recipe for cheeseburger soup and wondering if ramen would make a good switch up.

The recipe as made was:

Cheeseburger Ramen

1 slice of ham steak
1 lb frozen italian meatballs
2 sliced green onions
1 cup frozen corn

3 rafts (?) instant ramen noodles
4 cups ham broth
2 cups water
1 tbsp ketchup
1 tbsp mustard

Cheese to top

Fry ham and then add liquid. Bring liquid to a boil. Add condiments. Add meatballs and warm through. Add ramen and corn cook until done. The pkg I had said three minutes. Then add onions and pour into bowls. Top with cheese. 

What worked: Overall the flavours and concept were sound. It tasted just a little bit like a cheeseburger. It was good that the corn was there to provide some juicyness.

What didn't: Lack of concentrated beef flavour. Should have used beef stock and swapped the ham out for bacon. The original idea was a bacon cheeseburger but I got lazy on the bacon. 

The condiments were a nice add but needed a stronger foil of some type of spice or robust flavour. The broth was the thing that the kids actively disliked. 

Should have broken the meatballs down into smaller pieces. This was the kids favourite part but once they were gone, there was not much else to hold the soup together. 

What to do different: 

Use beef stock. Add some spices. Use bacon or eliminate ham altogether. Break down the meatballs.

Now, will I make it again? The kids were lacklustre about the whole affair. My eldest did not finish the broth and my youngest only ate half his bowl. They bowl were not sure that they would want another attempt. Unless I am hit by inspiration, I will give it a pass. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Easter Leftovers: Ideas

It is a Sunday morning that is barely holding on in the last days of a season that is barely holding on. Forget the end of hockey or the beginning of baseball because I am seeing the last of the Easter season. A few bones of ham and turkey are simmering for stock to go into the freezer for the return of fall or winter.

I guess it is apt that finding ways to squeeze as much out of leftovers is a good post for a time when winter seems to be squeezing out its last from us. I am not a lover of the big-huge-gigantic-enormous-gut-wrenching-and-busting meals of family holidays. Well, I like to eat them but it is always within a certain range of enjoyment. There are few surprises in the meal and more in the conversations. I prefer the conversational surprises more. This year, however, the ancillary meals, the ones that tide you over between big meals and the ones that happened after made me a little more happy.

I want to share some of the recipes and ideas because I am obviously self absorbed and feel that may take on food is so important...or, maybe I wish that a few of these will help bored eaters everywhere on what to do with those meals that you kinda hafta have.

We used to have a fresh ham and have it all done up with mustard, brown sugar and cloves but nowadays we have a prepared smoked spiral ham. Given the compressed schedule, this was served on store bought croissants with swiss cheese and mustard, or ketchup for the pre-teen crowd. It was a good break from the last few years but we had a whole bunch of croissants and a ham bone leftover.

So, with Easter chocolate in hand, we unwrapped the eggs onto the croissants and placed them in the microwave for a little while and had an instant dessert that we repeated a few times.

Leftover turkey and Christmas' turkey got made into a ramen. This was really good. Very little adjustments had to be made for the turkey. A little of the same herbs and spices that were used in stuffing were added to bump it up and corn for some crunch.

Ham stock was used in an attempt at cheeseburger ramen but I will leave that for another post. It was a partial failure and worth an examination on its own. 

I wrote this post about leftovers and other ways to look at the holiday meals but I realize that in some ways, this attitude stretches the holidays in terms of memories and flavours. It is rare to get together with extended family. Those times are often compressed and stressed with very little time spent talking and reconnecting. Some of these ideas get at a way to do less and get more during the holidays and some of these ideas stretch those holiday feelings. 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Lentil Corn Bean Chili

Making something for an unknown crowd can be nerve wracking. You wonder about spicing and whether the kids will eat it. You always hope that yours is not the only one leftover and a myriad of things that are not any reflection of your cooking and what you choose to make. You want it quick, cheap and flavourful.

This is a mild chili that you can bump up. It takes faintly of cumin but has no real overpowering spices. A lentil soup texture broken up with corn and beans seems like a good dish for a chilly day.

So, here is a vegan recipe made for the 2016 Bowmore "Make It!" Fair...

1 stalk celery, chopped  (reserve celery leaves , no biggie if you don't have any)
2 large carrots, chopped
1 large white onion, diced
tbsp of oil

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp curry powder
1 tbsp chili powder
4 cloves of garlic

3 cups red lentils
2x 540 ml (19 oz) cans black beans
2x 398 ml (14oz) cans cream corn
1 1/2 cup of frozen corn
1.8L of vegetable stock
2 bay leaf
reserved celery leaves (chopped)

1. Take the celery, onion and carrots and soften them over medium heat in a dutch oven or pan that will hold about 4-6 L. Add salt.
2. Add the spice mixture and garlic until it starts to smell. Between 30 seconds and 2 minutes.
3. Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to a boil and then down to a simmer. On my stove this is High and then 2 or Low but appliances will vary. Simmer until lentils are soft (25-30 minutes).

This recipe can be dressed up or dressed down with green onions or sour cream added at the last. Add more spices or whole chile peppers. Hot sauce in your bag which I would do. I do think that cooking is one of those DIY and hacks that anyone can get into.

The fair runs today from 11 am - 3 pm. Come see us with your bowl and spoon.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Beach Wanderings

Spent Sunday morning with one of my sons wandering the beach. Part of the draw was going along the sand and looking at the art that dotted the Beach. Another motivation that drives the walks is always food.

My son looks at the walks as a way to get to a restaurant. Even though we could walk straight there, the excuse of the excursion makes some time for us to talk about what is going on in his life from Magic to grade school. When taking a break and just strolling, it is easier to wonder while you wander.

On this trip, there were a few things that caught my eye. Found a community garden with raised beds. We stopped for a few minutes while sand left shoes. So many questions about this type of gardening. I know that this type of gardening can never replace agriculture but the gesture of growing something still pleases me.

And then a few minutes later, we stopped at Athen's Pastries right by the beach. I had forgotten this was there. It was a washroom break with coffee. The coffee was lacking but the custard pie served on plastic with plastic was real good. My son loved the bottom which was tough but filled with sugar and caramelized. It was a nice break in the closest bathroom with a sweet dessert. There were savoury pies and honey balls too. This would be a good respite on hot days too.

Then we finally got to the restaurant. It was the Breakwall which purports to be a smokehouse. He had a burger with pulled pork and I had a brisket sandwich washed down with a Leffe Brune. Nothing was spectacular but it was enough to make my son want to come back and try something else. On the plate when I asked for the seasonal veggies, broccolini showed up. Curious. I have just started seeing these bitter greens show up regularly. For a while, it was mesclun mix, then kale and greens. I think we are finally seeing a more varied selection of bitter vegetables show up. I wouldn't be surprised to see the full breadth of chinese bitter greens begin to reach restaurant plates.

I am showing the food highlights, small snaps taken quickly while we conversed and played coin hockey while waiting for our meal or waiting for someone to empty their shoes of sand. I am food obsessed but it shouldn't be a reason to ignore your companions or be the sole discussion. Though, sometimes, it is the destination or way stations along the path. While my son was looking at the restaurant as an excuse to wander, I was looking at the trip as an excuse to spend some time with him. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

How to Read a Recipe: Carrot Ginger Soup

This is one of those recipes that I learned in university. It was quick, cheap, easy and could be made in a pinch on a hot plate in residence as long as you had access to a blender. My understanding is that there were a few people making margeri... smoothies in some of the rooms. On an unrelated note, it was National Margarita Day on February 22.

The basic recipe is so easy, boil carrots in a liquid and add spices and blend. There. No real reason to read the rest of this post except if you are no longer an university student. Below is a variation I made a couple of weeks ago and you can see how it has changed.

Carrot Ginger Soup

1 lb carrots, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 cups beer
2 tbsp minced ginger
2 tbsp miso
2 tbsp of butter (or more)

1. Take carrots and garlic and roast them in a 400 degree oven until knife tender. Check at about the 15 minute mark and check them every now and again until they are on the softer side. Remember you are boiling them later so no need to be ultra precise. 
2. In the meantime, you can do each of these steps in a row and spend the next half an hour or so watching a Netflix episode of some cooking show or you could cook the onions in butter at low heat until they caramelize. That's when they get all sticky and sweet and um, caramel-y.
3. Add miso and ginger and cook every so slightly. For a bigger ginger pop, use powdered ginger and add it a little later in the process.
4. Now, if the timing worked out, add onion mixture and roasted carrot stuff (technical term) into a pot that can hold all those and the beer.
5. Add beer, and water, if needed, and bring to a boil and turn it down a few notches, an anti-Emeril if you will. Simmer for those who know those jargon laden culinary terms. Cook until carrots are beginning to fall apart.
6. Blend into desired texture. Add water to thin it out, if you like it thinner.

Seriously, that is all. Nothing to it. I could have written less steps but then it feels like less of a recipe.

Umami Bomb: There is a lot that can be done to boost flavours in the soup. Roasting the vegetables and coating them with miso or tomato paste. Also, just frying some tomato paste with the spices to reduce it a little. If you want to add "meatiness", one star anise is good. Such a slight licorice flavour without overpowering everything else going on.

Spice it Up; Harissa. Carrots love harissa. It is a pepper blend that is pretty freaking awesome. It has caraway which is another natural pairing for carrots along. Other spices that pair well are coriander, cumin and nutmeg. Just a little will change what is happening. Moroccan warm spices.

Change the Liquid: Change up the liquid. I used beer above. Wit or white beer with coriander will work. Add flavourful stock, especially beef stock works well. Remember pot roasts? Almost always cooked with carrots. There is a reason why. Oh, and if you want to boost the carroty goodness, try adding carrot juice.

Sides and Toppings: So remember up there when I talked about harissa? It makes an awesome topping. If you want, add some sour cream and harissa and you are starting to get fancy. I like to add pickled carrots to make the rest of the soup pop because I always like some acid to make veggies taste great. Pesto also works well. Check out what sauces you have in your fridge and try it. I haven't added chili sauce but why not? A few chickpeas or lentils on top add a little protein and some texture.

Refinements: Oh wow. You can get really cheffy with this. Use a food mill to get it silky smooth. Add a bit of butter at the end to make it glossy. Cream. Lemon. Thai ingredients.

I guess my point is that simple recipes can be used as a jumping off point. Since you are using such a humble, by which it is normally read as cheap, you may be able to afford to experiment unlike when you were in university. I guess some of us may have experimented but not with anything that cost money...

Monday, February 29, 2016


Another Monday morning, and another attempt at keeping this blog going. It's not as if I don't have any ideas or doing food things but rather that I am too busy doing to write. This is a short rumination about, funny enough, ritual. I have thought a lot about food rituals, so these posts are an easy one for me while I finish off a post about carrot soup and try to get an application in for BlogTO. I'm not sure that I am the writer that they are looking for due to my lack, and maybe disdain, for listicles and the anti faddishness of my food views. But sometimes when I am feeling lacklustre and bored with this writing thing, I look at some of my posts and think, damn that was a good post. So, I'm gonna apply. Anyways, enough of the chit chat and on with the post.

My one son is having some minor issues of organization so I went hunting for a cool to do list application and found Habitica - a role playing one. It didn't work for him because he is at the uncool Dad stage but my youngest uses it to track his time on the computer when doing daily tasks such as make bed.

I put do dishes and make bed as my daily work. I put it up there because my mom had always told me that I should do those things. I have often used her words of cleanliness when I plan on having a lady friend over and I am rusty in all these things due to being married for a long time. So, I am starting to force an old habit back.

I have a dishwasher. With two kids staying intermittently and the rest of the nights composed of eating cereal out of those little boxes... I'm kidding but the reality is that I do not have enough dishes to fill up the dishwasher without using Mason jars and mixing bowls for cereal and juice. Every morning for the last few weeks, I wash my dishes.

In that time, I find myself slowing down for the morning rush and forced to take a breath. Hot water and clinks lull me into a more calm spot. As I reach the last of the dishes, the thoughts of the day kick in and I can start to plan from a better place. Is the kitchen a type of heaven for me?

Even when the kids are not around in the morning, it makes me feel as if life is normal. When they are there, I am setting an example and get the occasional help. When they are not, I can pretend I hear the one son clacking away in the other room on his laptop using up his time or the other stomping occasionally upstairs.

I often, leave the pans for the evening after work or before bed. Just a little bit of hard work to close off the day. There is something about coming home and putting away the dishes that makes me feel useful without having to do too much. These rituals make my life feel like a palimpset; writing and rewriting my life. Sometimes the chores are a direct copy of the previous day but more often they are slightly different to obfuscate the bits below. When I get home from another day of learning another new thing, it is relaxing to be able to just do the same thing that I know how to do. Comforting. Okay, a bit deep and probably navel gaze-y but what the hell else am I supposed to think about with my hands elbow deep in hot water, suds and food detritus?