Tag Archives: how-to
If you’re still gung-ho about getting into the restaurant business after that taste of everyday kitchen life in the last post then congratulations – You are one sick fuck with a special fetish for punishment. Still reading? Good. It takes a special ilk to be able to weather the storms, see through the stupid, and forge on. The good news is that when you come from a background of less-than-ideal conditions, you learn to be resourceful, you realize you can re-invent your destiny, and most of all, you can be unorthodox about it all.
Don’t get confused here. This is not one of those stories where the main character threw all caution to the wind to do it his way. If anything, I’m one cautious person. I have a lot on the line here. I have children, a stable corporate job, benefits, a yearly bonus, and most of all, the piece of mind to know that no matter what, we’ll be ok. Being 41 has a lot of perks (extra long nose hair NOT being one of them). For an individual wanting to get into a business, you are still in a good position to get into doing something you love. You have experience, you have perspective, and you also have the sensibility of a rationally functioning human being (or at least you’d hope so).
In my case, I also had a little money set aside. Not anything to write home about, but enough to make me re-think my position in life with a new and determined sense of enthusiasm.
So there I was, standing there on the crossroads scared as hell, but hungry for much much more. The success of The Aimless Cook gave me a newfound sense of confidence in knowing that I could achieve whatever I put my mind to. It was also proof that my passion for food could make some remarkable things happen. Could I take my love of food deeper down the rabbit hole and actually open up my own restaurant?
Jo is a very important player in this game. Having a partner that believes in you is the most important part of your foundation. She’s there for moral support, she helps prep in the kitchen, she sells our food fervently, and when the smoke clears, she’s the first one I crack open a beer with to celebrate. A long time ago, she was convinced that I could do whatever I wanted to. At the time, I didn’t think much of it, but now I realize how much a belief like that means to a businessperson.
Think about it this way – a business is conceived like a *baby. It is carefully fed, cuddled and treated with such care and love to bring it to the point where it’s starting to stand on its own. That baby needs nourishment, care, support, knowledge, and the resources in place where it can learn and develop as it grows into a strong adult. Where do you think that comes from? That’s right – that baby needs a family. A business owner needs to be like a proud father, always praising that baby, reinforcing the good, being careful to see the bad things and make sure that baby doesn’t pick up any bad habits. But as a father (or mother), you can’t do it all on your own. Often as parents, we have to look to others to deal with the day to day issues that may come up. That’s where our partners come in. Other times, we pick up the phone and call our parents to get some sage advice. In business – same thing. If you can’t get all the answers to the problems from your partner, you ask your mentor.
During the development of The Aimless Cook, I had the opportunity to meet a lot of people in the food industry. My vision was to make more than just a cooking show. I wanted to support small local business, highlight and focus on the incredible people behind them, and in turn have some fun and learn even more about food. It was around this time where I met my mentor. I had former partner at the time that was doing a lot of cold calling. We would drop in on businesses, restaurants, networking events, wherever food was to meet people. It was at one of the city farmers market where our fateful meeting began.
We had just gotten a deal to produce an online series for the market. It was a brand new market in the city that was looking for a new and refreshing way (aka cheap) to promote itself via social media and online video. We were stoked to be on board as it was a new frontier for us. As we were introducing ourselves to the vendors, we met this crazy, incredibly warm, and friendly woman that ran a small stall that sold frozen and and ready-to-eat food with some sandwiches and coffee. We ended up talking to her for most of the afternoon. She was so enthusiastic about the market, developing the business community and just being part of something special. Today, we are still good friends and I bug her everyday for business advice.
My mentor has a quality that I think is very necessary when it comes to getting good business advice. She’s honest, blunt, and doesn’t hold back to make things sound more pleasing to your ears. If you have an idea that sucks and will probably drive your business into the ground, forcing you to live in a tent and eat cat food because you’re an idiot, she’ll tell you precisely that. She’s a mother figure through and through. She’ll be there to support you, love you, but be just as quick to slap you in the head if you’re doing something stupid or half-assed.
It was about 2 years I’ve known her, after I met Jo when she asked me one day in her kitchen about a very unique opportunity. She had recently taken over food services for another farmers market out in Millarville. I’d heard of Millarville before, and even attended their famous Christmas Market that they have every November long weekend. Basically, after seeing the show, watching all my Asian recipes before her eyes on the small screen, and being intrigued by it all, she was convinced that I could bring that food to a new audience. So she asked me.
“It’s the Millarville Farmers Market. A 30 year old market that brings in hundreds of people every Saturday from 9 to 2. I’m gonna be selling the burgers, fries and Western food. I need someone that can make really cool Asian food. It’s on the weekend, so you’ll have to find a sitter for the kids.”
“Yeah, I guess that’s the only thing.” It was at this point that I almost said no. ”I can talk it over with Jo and see what she thinks. It’s a great chance to get into something of our own.”
The minute I told Jo that same evening, she said, “uh, yes!”
“What about the kids?”
“We’ll make it work.”
That was the gist of the conversation. A couple weeks later, we went to the market to spy on the current operation and get an idea of we were getting into.
I’ll continue this story in the next post. The whole idea behind this post up to this point is that you need to surround yourself with the right people. People that believe in your passion as much as you do. People that are willing to follow you on your journey, and help you along the way should any challenges or obstacles present themselves. Get out there and meet people that think like you, share your interests, work in the same industry, and most importantly meet people from all levels of the struggle.
It’s important to be part of a network of like-minded, driven individuals that support each other. Someone that has already had the experience of going through a hardship that you’re about to go through will have some great advice for you, and someone just starting out may be facing a dragon that you’ve just slain. Pay it forward. Be there for your new family and they’ll be there for you.
Here’s a great recipe that’s really delicious and easy to do. It’s a honey garlic scallion stir-fried noodle that’s sweet, with a touch of spice. If the flavour looks familiar, you’re right. It’s the same sauce from the Hawaiian chicken we did a few months ago. I added fresh chopped scallions for contrast and a splash of colour. You’re going to love this recipe!
You will need:
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/2 cup mirin
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon chili flake
- 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 454 g chow mein noodles
- 1 bunch green onions (scallions) chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely chopped
In a large mixing bowl, combine the soy sauce, mirin, sesame oil, Korean chili flakes and sesame seeds. To that, add a couple tablespoons of minced garlic and a tablespoon of honey. Whisk to combine and give it a little taste. Adjust to taste and set aside.
Next, take the chow mein noodles and blanch them in boiling water for about 30 seconds. Drain well then set aside.
Heat up a couple tablespoons of oil in a pan or wok on high heat. Add the noodles and a tablespoon of finely chopped ginger and stirfry for a couple minutes. Add half a bunch of chopped scallions and continue cooking for another 30 seconds.
When that’s done, add your sauce and continue to stirfry for another minute or so. Immediately plate up into bowls and garnish with more scallions for colour and fresh contrast. This is a quick dish to make and serve up alone or with grilled meat. Try it at home and enjoy!
When was the last time you had green onions?
Pickerel, or walleye as its sometimes known as, is a freshwater fish native to Canada and parts of the Northern US. It has a nice white meat that is flaky and tender, perfect for pan-frying. Today, I’m going to show you a simple pan-fry recipe and make a nice beurre noisette (brown butter) sauce in the same pan. To go with our pickerel, I’m making a nice cannellini bean salad. This makes for a nice and easy weekday dinner, so let’s get cooking!
For the salad, you will need:
- 1 English cucumber, diced
- 1 handful of grape tomatoes, halved
- ½ package mixed greens
- 375g Cannellini beans (white kidney, drained and rinsed)
- 1 handful parsley (flatleaf if you got it, chopped)
- ¼ cup dried cranberries
- Extra virgin olive oil
- the juice of 1 lemon
For the rest:
- 2 pickerel fillets, skin on
- 2 tablespoons, butter
- olive oil
- parsley, chopped
- the juice of 1 lemon
To make the salad, start by making a dressing with 3 tablespoons of a good quality extra virgin olive oil with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. Add a pinch of salt to season and mix well to emulsify.
In a large bowl, add the cucumber, 75g of mixed greens, a handful of halved grape tomatoes, a three finger pinch of chopped parsley and the cannellini beans. Add the dressing and toss lightly to combine. Give it a taste and season with salt and pepper. Put a nice generous serving on each plate and set aside.
For the rest, start by scoring the skin of 2 pickerel fillets and seasoning with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat up a pan on high heat and add a tablespoon of oil and a tablespoon of butter. When the pan is hot, add the pickerel, skin side down to the pan and cook for about 2 or 3 minutes, or until the fish comes free from the pan. You need to build that beautiful crust.
Turn the fish over and cook the other side for an additional 2-3 minutes. When the fish is done, take out of the pan and set a piece on each of the plates of salad.
In the same pan, melt another pat of butter on medium low heat and cook until it starts to brown. When you start to see the brown particles in the butter, remove from the heat, add the juice of 1 lemon and half a handful of chopped parsley. Season with a pinch of salt and spoon the brown butter sauce over the cooked fish and salad. Enjoy!
The cannellini beans brings a nice creaminess to the whole dish and complements the acidity of the dressing. The dried cranberries are a nice bit of sweetness that adds a touch of colour to the whole dish. If you don’t have pickerel, any white fish will do, including cod, halibut or even catfish. This dish is light, yet hearty enough with the beans to fill you up without having to make rice. Take this recipe, make it yours and have fun in the kitchen.
We’re making a popular item from the dim sum cart. You can also find this item if you’ve ever found yourself at a snack house late at night with your friends. I’m talking about shrimp toast, and this Thai version of sesame shrimp toast features the flavours of fish sauce, lemongrass and fresh limes for a bit of a cool twist. Enjoy this as a nice, crispy snack with an ice cold beer or serve as a fancy appetizer for your next party. Your friends are gonna love this one!
You will need:
- 14 oz. raw shrimp, peeled and de-veined
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon minced lemongrass
- 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 1 or 2 red Thai chilies, finely minced
- 1 teaspoon grated ginger
- 1 egg
- a pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon corn starch
- 8 thick slices of white bread, crusts cut off
- ½ cup sesame seeds
- ½ bunch fresh cilantro
- fresh limes, to garnish
- oil for frying (canola or peanut)
- sweet Thai chili sauce, for dipping
Start by putting the shrimp in a food processor. To that, add 1 egg, lemongrass, garlic cloves, Thai chilies, fish sauce, the juice from the grated ginger and a pinch of salt. Process until the mixture forms a thick paste. Check the mix. If it’s too thin, add the cornstarch to tighten up the mixture. When that’s done, set aside.
Cut the crusts off the bread. Spread about a tablespoon of the shrimp mixture on the bread slices and dip the shrimp side into a saucer of sesame seeds.
In a cast iron skillet, heat up a couple inches of oil until you can fry a small piece of bread in about 30 seconds (350F). If it cooks too fast, carefully take off the heat and wait until it’s the right temperature. If the oil is too hot, the shrimp won’t cook. If the oil is too cool, the bread will absorb the oil and you’ll get greasy toast.
When the oil is ready, carefully place the toast in the oil, shrimp side down. Cook for about 30-45 seconds or until its golden brown. Turn over and cook the other side for the same amount of time. When done, gently take it out and drain on a tray with paper towels.
To serve, cut into triangles or sticks, garnish with chopped cilantro leaves and enjoy with Spicy Thai Chili sauce and fresh lime wedges.
Shrimp toast is one of my favourite Asian snacks and I hope you enjoy it too. Take this recipe with you, make it yours and have fun in the kitchen!
What is your favourite dim sum item?
Elote is a popular Mexican street snack and is one of my favourite ways to enjoy roasted corn on the cob. Hot buttered corn is dressed with mayonnaise, fresh crumbled cotija cheese, chili for spice and served up with fresh lime. If you’ve never tried corn like this, you’re in for a treat!
makes 4 servings
- 4 ears of corn, leave the husks on
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 cup, crumbled Cotija cheese (light feta will work if you can’t find it)
- 2 limes, cut into wedges
- 1 tablespoon, ancho chili paste (or a couple of finely minced chili peppers)
Soak 4 ears of corn with the husks on in water for at least 30 minutes. Meanwhile preheat your grill on high heat.
When the grill is hot, place the corn down on the grill and turn the heat down to low. Close the lid and let cook for about 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, take the husks off the corn and place back on the grill. Brush lightly with butter and continue to cook until the kernels start to take on a bit of colour. When they’re done, set aside.
If you have the ancho chili paste, combine with the mayo in a mixing bowl and set aside.
Combine ½ cup of mayo with 1 tablespoon of ancho chili paste then set aside.
Dress the corn by first spreading on some of the mayonnaise. Follow that by sprinkling on the cotija, followed by the minced chili peppers (some recipes use a chili powder or a Mexican spice blend called Tajin). Finally serve with some wedges of fresh lime and enjoy!
Take this recipe with you, make it yours and have fun in the kitchen…which brings me to my question of the day:
What is your favourite street food?
This handmade pasta has a slightly spicy Pico de Gallo cream sauce with hints of lime and fresh cilantro. The spectacular pan seared scallops are from Digby, Nova Scotia and are diver harvested. They’re tender, sweet and so easy to prepare. So I hope you’re ready for some serious eating!
For the Pico de Gallo pasta sauce, you will need (for 2):
- 3 medium vine-ripened tomatoes, seeded and diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 large shallot, finely diced
- 1 red chili pepper, diced
- the juice of 1 lime
- a handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
- 250 ml heavy cream
- salt and pepper
- your favourite pasta (fettuccini or linguini is great for this)
Start with a deep skillet with some oil on medium heat. To that, add a couple cloves of minced garlic and cook til fragrant. Next, add ¼ cup of diced shallots and continue to cook for a couple minutes. Once your shallots have had a head start, it’s time to add 2 seeded and diced vine-ripened tomatoes. Continue to cook and stir until the tomatoes start to break down.
When the tomatoes are breaking down and starting to look like sauce, add 1 diced red chili, the juice of 1 lime and a handful of chopped cilantro. Now you can season with salt and pepper and call this your sauce, or continue by adding 1 cup of heavy cream. Once the cream is in, turn up to heat to a steady simmer and reduce by 50%, stirring frequently.
When the sauce has reduced by 50%, add the remaining diced tomato for colour and texture. Now grab a large mixing bowl and put in your freshly cooked pasta. (Here’s a tip: use tongs, never strain or rinse pasta!) In this case, we’re using fettuccini noodles. You also want to save a little of the pasta water, as the starch will help the sauce adhere to the noodles.
Add the finished sauce to the noodles and lightly toss until combined. Finish by adding more fresh cilantro leaves and freshly ground black pepper.
For the scallops, it’s very easy to do, but very easy to screw up. A couple of tips here as we go, first of all, use the freshest scallops you can get your hands on that are dry packed. Sometimes, scallops are shipped in water with sodium tripolyphosphate added to make them appear whiter and plumper. When you sear them, the moisture leaches out and you get steamed, rubbery scallops. Not something you want to pay good money for. It’s important that you have one ingredient: scallops.
So with a hot skillet with a couple tablespoons of oil, add the scallops in small batches. If you add too many at once, you’ll lower the temperature of the pan and steam the scallops again. The moment you place them on the hot surface, you’ll hear the sizzle and they will stick. That’s ok. Avoid temptation to move them around and leave them be.
From here, the cooking time will be very fast. You want to look at the meat as it cooks. Just like prawns, they will begin to turn opaque and the bottom will start to form a brown crust. When that happens, the scallop will be easier to lift off the pan. Gently lift the scallop from the pan and turn over. Once on the other side, add a dollop of butter to the pan and use a spoon to baste them til they’re done. Should only take a minute or 2. When they’re done, take out of the pan and set aside.
To plate everything up, simply place the scallops on a bed of the finished pasta and garnish with fresh cilantro leaves. Enjoy this recipe, make it yours and have fun in the kitchen!
Nam Prik Ong is a spicy Thai ground pork dip served with pork rinds and fresh vegetables. The textures and contrasts going on here are intense for such an unassuming dish. It’s an incredibly refreshing and tasty starter or snack that you can make at home fairly easily. The flavour is complex with the classic Thai flavour combinations that I have come to love. Let’s get started!
- 1 thumb sized piece galangal, finely julienned
- 1/2 medium red onion, diced
- 4 or 5 red Thai chilies
- 5 cloves fresh garlic
- 1 dozen cherry tomatoes, halved
- juice from 1 lime
- 1 Tbsp kapi (fermented shrimp paste)*
- 1 stalk lemongrass, minced
- 1 lb ground pork
- palm sugar, or brown sugar
- 1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, finely chopped
- 1 English cucumber, sliced
- pork rinds
With a mortar and pestle, start by pounding the galangal then add the garlic, onion, chilies. You want to make yourself a nice paste. Next, put in the tomatoes (watch for flying juice!), kapi and lemongrass. That is your paste. Let’s start cooking!
Heat up a wok on high heat with a Tbsp of oil and add the paste. Stir fry until the paste is aromatic, then add the ground pork. Continue to cook until the pork is done and add lime juice and sugar to balance. You shouldn’t need salt since the kapi is salty, but give it a taste and see for yourself. Toss in the cilantro to finish and serve in a nice big bowl for dipping with sliced cucumbers and pork rinds.
You will be amazed by the refreshing taste and contrast of the spicy dip with the cool and crisp cucumber. Nam Prik Ong is great for sharing and perfect for potlucks and parties. Have fun in the kitchen and take care!
*kapi, or belacan is very punguent. Use sparingly if you never used it before. If you don’t have it, you can also use fish sauce.
Some recipes for Nam Prik Ong have you pound the pork in the mortar with the paste. This adds even more flavour into the meat.
If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can make your paste in a food processor. If you enjoy making Southeast Asian food though, I recommend you get one. The bigger the better!
Last week, I wrote a post about the famous Durban dish, Bunny Chow. Today I will share with you a recipe for the curry I prepared for the cooking video. It is similar to the ingredients that I used in the wild buffalo version of the dish I did in test kitchen, but this time around, I am using some leftover rotisserie chicken to save time. The results are a solid, hearty curry with a fragrant tomato gravy that you are going to love. Let’s see what we need!
For the curry mix:
- 1 t coriander seeds, toasted and ground
- 1 t cumin seeds, toasted and ground
- 2 t garam masala
- 1 t tumeric
- *a cinnamon stick, bay leaf
*if you want to use a premade curry powder, you can. Just use a couple Tablespoons
This is a basic curry mixture. For the best results, use whole seeds and toast them to release the fragrant aroma. If you love making fresh curry, use an electric spice grinder to save time. You can pick them up cheap at any department store.
For the rest:
- half a medium onion, pureed
- 2 garlic cloves and a thumb of ginger, minced
- 1 can of crushed tomatoes 398ml
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 leftover rotisserie chicken meat, shredded
- 2 medium potatoes, diced
- 1 cup frozen or fresh green peas
- fresh cilantro or green onion to garnish
- a loaf of your favorite bread, unsliced (or a couple nice buns)
I started by gently cooking the onion puree in a skillet for a couple minutes to get rid of the raw onion taste. You want it slightly golden. Add the ginger and garlic and continue to cook for about a minute. To that, add the curry mix and make a nice, fragrant paste. This will be the flavour base.
Add the tomato, the chicken, potatoes and combine. If you need to, add a little water so you can simmer the whole mixture on medium heat with a cover for about 10 minutes. After the chicken is warmed through, take off the cover and add the peas. Continue simmering for about 2 minutes, then give it a taste. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If you like a little spice, you can add some sambal oelek or some chopped fresh chilies.
If you’re using a bread loaf, cut into quarters and scoop the bread out, making a nice hollow bowl. Keep the scooped out bread to put on top. This is called the ‘virgin’ and it is typically used to dip into the gravy. Fill your bread with the curry and top with the virgin. Garnish with green onion or cilantro and enjoy!
Buns make a great bunny. They are portable and can be eaten like a sandwich and not as messy as eating from a loaf. The challenge of eating a bunny is to eat it from a loaf using only your hands. You must tear away the bread, keeping it above the gravy line so you don’t get it all over you. Good times!
This past weekend, I made this incredibly easy and super flavourful Thai style salad based on the taste of Laab Gai. You can also say ‘larb’ if you wanna be specific. It’s a lot like a Lao style meat salad you typically see in that region of Southeast Asia but everyone has their own take on this great dish. Let’s see what we need:
- 1 lb ground chicken
- 1T ginger, chopped
- 1 stalk lemongrass, chopped
- 3 Thai chilis, chopped
- 1 lime, juiced
- 1T fish sauce
- 1 red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
- 2T Thai basil, shredded
- fresh lettuce leaves, for wrapping
Start with a tablespoon of oil in a pan and heating it on high heat. Add the ginger, lemongrass and chili and cook for about 1 minute. Add the chicken and cook until the chicken is cooked (about 5 min). Remove from heat and put the chicken into a large mixing bowl to cool slightly. Once your chicken has rested (you want it warm) dress by adding the lime juice and fish sauce. To that, add the cilantro, basil and sliced red onion. Toss until combined and season with a little salt and sugar to balance the flavours. Serve in individual bowls with a plate of lettuce leaves for wrapping. Enjoy!
I love goat. It’s just beyond words. There’s that subtle savoury essence that is reminiscent of a spring lamb in the meat that I have enjoyed in many curries and palutan. The milk has a distinct taste that many are not too fond of, but I have found that the fresher the milk, the less gamey it is. That same distinctness lends itself well to cheese and as I have found, there are some great cheeses that can be made with goat’s milk. In this recipe, I will use a goat milk Haloumi cheese. Haloumi is a Cypriot cheese that has a high melting point, making it the perfect cheese for frying and grilling. What you get is a crispy slice of cheese with a smooth and slightly salty center. It’s simply simple. Let’s cook.
You will need:
- 250 g Haloumi, cut into 8 slices
- 4 strawberries
- 1 lemon
- fresh basil leaves
- mixed greens
- 1 cup crispy bacon, chopped
- 1 carrot, julienned
- Extra virgin olive oil
This is a very easy salad to put together. Start by taking some nice basil leaves and pressing them into the Haloumi slices (1 per slice). You’re looking to make them pretty, like edible dominos. Heat up a skillet with a little olive oil and fry the haloumi slices, basil side down on medium high heat until golden brown. Flip and cook until both sides are done. Remove from the skillet and set on paper towels to drain.
Zest and juice the lemon and put into a large mixing bowl. We’re gonna make a simple dressing. Add extra virgin olive oil, whisk to combine and finally season with some S&P to taste. With salad dressing, you want to achieve an oil to acid ratio of about 3:1. Add your favourite mixed greens, a little of the julienned carrot for some colour and the bacon for texture. Toss together and set aside. Plate the salad with a couple slices of haloumi on a bed of greens. Accent with some sliced strawberry and serve. Of course, you can use whatever greens are in season. I have done this salad with ribbons of zucchini and prosciutto and it’s delicious. Be creative and fear nothing. Stay hungry everyone!
Special thanks to Harvey and Carolyn of Noble Meadows Farm for their incredibly fresh and delicious goat milk, cheeses and Heritage eggs. Be sure to visit them on Facebook!