cook - recipes

2 Secrets to Perfect Fried Calamari (with Lime Chipotle Aioli)

Working in a restaurant is hard. The hours are long and life is short. Most cooks start when they’re young. I was fourteen the first time I stepped into the kitchen of a restaurant, at Bijou in Toronto. The afternoon started with hours of prep work, then a spot sweating on the line at the salad/dessert station and running up and down the stairs every time the chef ran out of an ingredient, and after the dinner service was over, and my feet ached and my pits tank, it was assumed I would go and pitch a few extra hours in the dish pit. The only respite was that back in the day, there was an ashtray in the dish pit, so you could smoke while you worked as long as you were agile enough to balance a cigarette on your lip and keep it dry in the splash and spray of the mess.

Every shift started the same, with gallons of squid in ice cold water. If I tried to wear gloves, or warm my hands, the chef would mercilessly taunt me. I remember the shocking feeling of plunging my hand in and feeling the surge of cold in my veins and the gelatinous, writing mass of the sea creatures’ bodies. First, you slip out their ‘spines’, a clear malleable, plastic-like shard, then you pop out the ink ball, which most restaurants worth their salt reserve for a squid ink pasta or to use darkening and thickening a sauce.

Slippery squid

Once you’ve cleaned the squid, the next step is to cut off and set aside the tentacles.

Tentacle aside: Easily, my favourite part to eat, the texture and multiple crunches gets me every time, and with the multiplicity of surface areas, they’re a better vessel for dip than a ring. Let your sucker friends think you’re taking one for the team, save them till the end and eat all the tentacles yourself.

Then, carefully so your knife doesn’t slip, slide a very sharp blade across the body in one smooth motion until you’re left with slices the size of a thick rubber band. Make sure not to overcook the calamari, or it will feel like you’re chewing rubber bands.

2 Secrets to Perfect Crispy Homemade Calamari:

  1. Marinate the squid slices in buttermilk overnight in the fridge, or for at least 2-3 hours before dredging and cooking. This tenderizes the meat with the subtle lactic acid, adds depth of flavour, and helps the dredge adhere to the slippery surface of the squid.
  2. Don’t skimp on your oil. Peanut, Canola, and Sunflower oil, in that order, have the highest smoke points, and thus get the hottest and cook the fastest (i.e. crunchiest exterior without overcooked meat). And be patient, wait to add the squid until the oil is hot. Use a thermometer to make sure it is above 450F/230C.
Deep fried delicious calamari

Perfect Crunchy Fried Calamari

Ingredients:

  • 8.5 C/ 2 L high-smoke point oil
  • 6 whole squid, cleaned and sliced
  • 2 C/500 ml of Buttermilk, for overnight marinating
  • 1 C/250 ml Flour
  • 1 C/250 ml corn meal
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

  1. Cover a plate or baking sheet in paper towel or newspaper.
  2. Preheat your oil in a deep pot on the stove, or a deep fryer.
  3. Remove squid from the fridge and strain all excess liquid through a colander. Be patient, this may take a few minutes.
  4. Dredge one large handful of squid at a time, tossing to coat in the combined flour and corn meal, then lightly shaking off excess dredge before you drop the squid into the fryer.
  5. Fry squid rings and tentacles for 2-3 minutes in small batches, so the oil keeps its high temperature and the rings don’t congeal and cook into a clump. Clean out any crumbs or burnt bits as you go to prevent the oil from taking on an acrid, carbon taste.
  6. Set aside batch after batch to drain on the paper towel, making sure to season calamari to your liking, before serving.

Lime Chipotle Aioli

Ingredients:

  • .5C/ 125ml of Mayonnaise (make it at home if you’re fancy and have the time)
  • 2 chipotle peppers in a adobo sauce (I prefer the La Costena cans)
  • 2 tbsp/ 30ml lime juice
  • 1 tsp/ 5ml lime zest

Directions: Put everything in a blender and whip it up real good.

Note: This recipe is total crack, and it works just as well for kids drinking soda, for a bunch of sports fans downing cans of pilsner during the game, or for your classy friends relazing on the patio in the summer, downing glasses of Moscato rose.

Also, if you’re using store bought mayonnaise, the lime chipotle aioli has a super long shelf life in the fridge and can be made and kept in big batches to eat with basically everything that can be used as a vessel for dip.

As always, get in touch with me if you have any questions, or want to buy a print.

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travel - places

A Visit to Puebla, Mexico – Street Photography Portraits

Puebla is one of those Mexican cities that is supposed to be beautiful. Everyone you meet while travelling tells you to stop there for a day trip. They will inevitably tell you about the architecture, the history of the French invasion, the battles, Cinco de Mayo, and the incredible local foods: Poblano peppers, Mole Poblano, and Tacos Arabes, all originated in Puebla, as did the Mexican tricolor dish, Chiles en Nogada. Anthony Bourdain claimed that every decent chef in Manhattan could trace their lineage back to Puebla. And the best climb in Mexico, Pico De Orizaba, is not far from Puebla.

Old Man with Hat, Puebla, Mexico

Frankly, I’ve never liked the place. Not for any one reason, I’ve been a bunch of times. Puebla is a perfect day trip from Mexico City. There is great food and beautiful architecture, and one of the best import beer bars in all of Mexico, Utopia.

Girl with Brother and Mother, Puebla, Mexico
Man with Mother, Puebla, Mexico

But every time I stop in Puebla, something off happens. The first time I went, I met a girl and we were having a romantic evening and stroll, then she got sick and vomited all over the gorgeous cobblestone streets. The second time, I watched a teenager get robbed and cracked over the head with a rock, and no one (except yours truly) stopped to help him get up or staunch the bleeding. The third time, it poured rain incessantly, torrentially, and sadly, as the Poblanos marched in the streets vociferously protesting the rash of violent crime against women and the lack of a police presence or government action.

The last time I went to Puebla, I decided to talk to as many locals as I could. They have an odd reputation, as second city to Mexico City, and nearest neighbour, they are the butt of many Chilango jokes. Most notably and crudely, they’re called Pi-Po-Pe’s, which you can look up yourself if you’re inclined to slang. But as I got to know the place a little better, I started to think that Bourdain had been onto something.

Puebla is a city with an underdog mentality. Always struggling to prove itself, whether it was against the French invaders or visitors from the capital, it was, and continues to be, the home to many immigrants who can’t afford life in the big city (there were large waves of German and Lebanese), and more recently, it is the landing spot for many deportees from the United States. As a result, Poblano’s juggle many perspectives and the city is paradoxically both welcoming, and always on guard.

If you’re interested in prints or commissions, get in touch with me.

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eat - reviews

Baro’s Rooftop Patio Launches in Toronto, Canada

Greetings from Baro Toronto, Canada

Even though it’s been an unbearably long winter in Toronto, an early visit to Baro Restaurant for the launch of their new rooftop patio offered a sneak peek of good things to come this summer. Perched behind King Street West, steps from start-up offices and the advertising creatives, Baro’s rooftop patio will definitely be one of the hottest destination rooftop patios in Toronto for the summer of 2019.

Baro’s rooftop bar’s freshly hulled coconut mojito

The signature feature of the gorgeously decorated, lush green 4th story rooftop is a glassed in terrace. The solarium at Baro is perfect for sunning yourself with a Coconut Mojito (Bacardi Superior, Lime, and mint with coconut water) on a Monday after work, or cozying up under a blanket with a date and downing a Drunk in Love (Vodka, watermelon, cucumber, fresh lime & mint).

A hip crowd stays warm under the solarium on Baro’s rooftop

The kitchen is putting out an inspired selection of Latin American BBQ snacks, under the jovial helm of Steve Gonzalez, all cooked over a behemoth stainless steel open-fire oven, custom built and featuring a grill and spit. Gonzalez’s Grilled Ceviche Mixto offers a plethora of tasty seafood treats (octopus, scallop, white shrimp & salmon), all infused with the wood smoke and adding a depth of flavour to the usually simple, tart and citrus flavours of the dish.

Baro rooftop menu’s Grilled Ceviche Mixto

But the crowd pleaser is definitely going to be the Big Mac empanada, a fun spin around with the Mickey-d’s take offs that have been popping up on hip eatery menus around the world for the last decade or so.

Tromba Margarita & Grande Mac Empanada

My favourite dish was the pollo a la brasa, simple grilled chicken wings, with the fat perfectly rendered and the succulent meat balanced by the smooth, sultry taste of charred hard wood. The wings were so good that the overly sweet barbecue sauce almost seemed like an afterthought.

Either way, the star of Baro’s new rooftop patio is always going to be the space itself. As the sun slipped into the cracks of Toronto’s west end, and the downtown windows lit up, Baro’s rooftop came alive with that magical glow, and you felt in the moment that something special was about to happen. By the time you read this, you should be heading over there for a cocktail and barbecue.

Baro may have Toronto’s most beautiful rooftop at sunset in Toronto for 2019

Contact me directly for any inquiries, regarding this post, images or other content on my page.

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eat - reviews

Tim Ho Wan: In search of an authentic (barbecue pork bun) experience in the margins of Hong Kong.

It is 3:42 pm, when you arrive at the Tim Ho Wan in Sham Shui Po, and you haven’t eaten a morsel of food. A morning coffee and OJ slosh around your empty stomach. You moved hotels from Hong Kong Island this morning, and are staying in a shit hole of the lowest common denominator, a place reminiscent of the Chungking Mansions (not that kind of mansion), so you could walk here. You are already a little peevish before you get sat at a two top, in part because you’re hungry and have low blood sugar, and partially because you could have just gone to a Tim Ho Wan location in Manhattan, or Waikiki, or even Las Vegas.

Tim Ho Wan is famously the “world’s cheapest Michelin starred restaurant”, a rapidly expanding global chain of dim sum restaurants founded by an enterprising chef, Mr.Mak who left a three Michelin-starred restaurant, Lung King Heen, to start his business. In other words, you could have tasted Tim Ho Wan pork buns without leaving home, could’ve just UberEats’d it to your apartment door. But no, you came to Hong Kong because you are in search of the “authentic”, whatever that means in the context of what is really just a much-hyped international fast food chain.

Worse, you may have lost your appetite on the walk over. You see, you are a foreigner, a stranger in Hong Kong, clueless about the city and the context, other than passing knowledge of its colonial past as a British outpost. But on the walk through Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong’s poorest district, you became progressively more disturbed by what you saw. You passed by thousands of Malaysian, Philippine and Indonesian women lying on cardboard boxes, an endless congregation of young women in pyjamas, socks and hijabs. Your first thought was that there must have been a refugee crisis, which you didn’t hear about. Was a boat lost at sea? Were these women survivors of another tragedy buried in the liner notes of the news?

maids-day-off

You ask around and find out these women are not homeless. They are in permanent flux, marginalized like a remainder in a bookkeeper’s equation. Once a week, domestic workers in Hong Kong are given a break from their slavish labour, but they are required to leave their employer’s homes, which also happen to be their (permanent) temporary homes. Known as ‘Maids Day Off’, every Sunday these women lay out cardboard boxes, and picnic blankets, and cell phones and cards and snacks are brought, and they take off their shoes and stretch out their feet and rest in the streets and overpasses and parks. They chat and laugh and enjoy themselves in spite of the miserable working conditions.

The normalization of this local abberation is unmistakably a bellwether for the decline of a democratic civilization, a hangover from Hong Kong’s colonial past before Beijing took control. These women, who cook and clean and care for the wealthy families of bankers and lawyers, have been pushed out into a lawless frontier. And, like Hong Kong itself, the rising tide of progress threatens to brush aside their story into the forgotten annals of history.  

Back to Tim Ho Wan’s barbecue pork buns. They are brown-bottomed, buttery crispy flaky dough that shreds as you tear it in half and litters your plate with detritus, like a perfect homemade pie crust. Wispy, senescent tails of steam slip from their hot, gooey center, which spills out a sweet and savoury ‘char siu’ barbecue pork that has the unmistakable shine of maltose, and tastes so exquisite that you must lick the saucy dribble off your thumb. Make no mistake, Tim Ho Wan’s barbecue pork buns are delicious. When crumbs fall off, you’re tempted to lick the Tim Ho Wan branded paper placemat. They’re so good, you eat all three in quick succession.

dim-sum-tim-ho-wan

When more dishes arrive, you have forgotten about Hong Kong and the outside world. The flavour combinations and gentle textures of each bite work their magic and let you slip out of body into a trance of tastes and aromas. The spicy wonton is so subtle, just a breath of Sichuan pepper’s mouth-numbing ma spice, and a throat tickle of fresh chilli’s la spice. It’s a gorgeous dish to look at, bright with the painted red and green of chillies and scallions contrasted against inky sauce and translucent wrapper. The experience is finished with a wonderful black vinegar nip and fresh ginger click that brings your mouth alive with tingling pleasure.

The turnip cakes are soft, falling apart with a fish flakiness and salty, freshwater crab flavour lanced with a garlicky chili dip. Shrimp har gow, a dim sum classic, is restrained in seasoning and beautifully folded, letting the sweet shrimp flavour stand alone. The steamed chiu chow style dumplings are a garden medley of water rich radish and nutty crunch; a fertile soil sweetness, and a refreshing bit of cilantro green and earthiness among so much shrimp and pork meat. But Tim Ho Wan’s barbecue pork buns are the beginning and end, they take center stage, the only star of this show. 

It turns out that eating one of Tim Ho Wan’s baked barbecue pork buns is actually one of those transcendent food experiences, once you get all that other shit out of the way. You smile and nod at all the other tourists and bloggers craning and stooping and angling their Iphones over their small, white trays of buns, and it gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling inside, knowing you’re all about to location tag the same instant, right here, right now. IT makes you think: Oh yeah, this is why I flew fourteen hours and however many thousand kilometers over the melting Arctic ice caps and down across the Russian steppes and over the grasslands of Mongolia, to ingest (and Instagram) this bun in to this body at this exact moment. For now, deep down in that cliche drowned heart of yours, you’re still a romantic, a poet like Byron. You’re in love (with a pork bun) and where thoughts serenely sweet express, how pure, how dear their dwelling-place (like this pork bun) in your belly comes to rest.

In fact, the pork buns are so good, there is a limit of four orders per guest, which limits (sort of) lead you back to the question of haves and have nots in Hong Kong, and “free” time, and the culture of food blogging, and in a tertiary way to you, strolling by all of those working women with your camera and its CANON strap around your neck, like a great big TOURIST sign, and your countless number of privileges, and your ridiculous quest for an authentic pork bun, instead of just ordering delivery to your couch. If right about now you’re getting annoyed with me, and you’re thinking, why don’t I just drop the second-person facade and admit that you are, in fact, me . . .

cook-in-kitchen.jpg

Well, you’d be missing the point entirely. Because there’s thousands of us, and we’re all lined up for tables, every day in every city in the world, waiting to get our teeth into the perfect pork bun (ramen, burger, paleo, brunch, vegan, whatever), so we can snap a photo and upload it to our stories, before we eat. You see, the old MFK Fisher maxim: First we eat, then we do everything else, no longer applies. First we snap a pic, then we hashtag the fuck out of it, then we share it online, then we eat, and only then, maybe, we do everything else, like live.

In this world of fingertip interconnectedness, this local practice of kicking domestic workers out of the house for a day, of creating a brief but regular weekly wave of homelessness, becomes part of the context of a meal in Sham Sui Po on a Sunday afternoon in Hong Kong. You see, food, trade and labour markets, specifically unpaid or underpaid workers, derogatorily called ‘coolies’, were the backbone of colonialism. There would be no Hong Kong without this ongoing history of oppressed labour. And so, there is history in each bite, a backstory, notes in the margins and secrets between the lines, and in telling these unheard stories, they also become truths. 

So you do a little more research because you can’t resist a good Google deep dive, and something just doesn’t sit right after lunch. It’s not quite food poisoning, just a little bout of acid reflux, probably it was the acidity of your coffee and orange juice and an empty stomach, not the overly sweet filling of the pork buns, and definitely not the lingering undercurrent of racism.

What you find out, way off in the margins, is that Mr. Mak, the founder of Tim Ho Wan, actually has his own history with Malaysia. You see, he opened a Tim Ho wan there to capitalize on all the Hong Kong Malays who knew about his brand. But he failed, spectacularly. Local reports suggested “the price of Tim Ho Wan’s is too high, the food is so and so, and service is poor”. And when the ship went down, rather than accept his losses, Mr. Mak blamed Muslim practices and cultural differences, for the shortcomings of his pork buns.

Prints of all the illustrations on this website are available for purchase, please use the Contact page form to contact me directly for pricing, sizing and shipping information.

Note:  If you’re curious to learn more about domestic workers in Hong Kong, check out ‘The Helper’, (2017) a documentary by Joanna Bowers.

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