Neapolitan Meatballs // Polpette alla Napoletana

It’s only recently that I discovered a love affair with ground meats. I’d never found much reason to use them in my adult life, probably due to childhood burnout – I think it was the only meat I remember my father cooking (via meatloaf, hamburger helper, chili, goulash, hamburgers, tacos, spaghetti sauce, and so on), and my mom was no stranger to it either. It wasn’t my fave then, but now, NOW I’ve discovered meatballs.

It’s like a culinary door has been opened in my head. You mean I can alter the texture of this stuff, make it meltingly tender and spherical, and studded with little fruits and nuts and vegetables that are infused with meat-juice? Oh, there is no way that this could be bad. And the flavour possibilities are endless! Suddenly it’s like a canvas, already turned into a mix-able format for you, ready for all possible variations! I’m excited about this stuff, yes? I’ve already winged my own breakfast sausages (remove breadcrumbs, add a reasonable about of brown sugar or syrup and take the spice level way up), and am mad excited to properly explore the world that is DUMPLINGS.

But this is important – this is the first meatball recipe I tried and I loved. I must admit that I added soy sauce to the mix because one of the most talented cooks that I know is a Filipino woman who does just that to hers. Oh, and green onions, because I like a little green punch sometimes. Okay, all the time. Plus it tastes good.

And still… pretty darned Italian.

Polpette alla Napoletana (Neapolitan Meatballs)

recipe from Mario Batali’s cooking app, Mario Cooks

Yield: 6 servings

  • 3 cups day-old bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef (or a mix of beef and pork)
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup pecorino, grated
  • 1 bunch Italian parsley, finely chopped to yield 1/4 cup
  • 1/4 cup green onions, sliced thin (optional)
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted for 2 minutes in a 400 degree F oven
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce (optional – using 1 tablespoon of salt would be more traditional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, bring tomato sauce to a fast simmer.

In a shallow bowl, soak the bread cubes in the milk.

In a large bowl, combine the bread, beef, eggs, garlic, pecorino, parsley, pine nuts, salt, soy sauce and pepper and mix by hand to incorporate bread into meat – about 1 minute. With wet hands, form the mixture into 12 to 15 meatballs, each of a size somewhere between a tennis ball and a golf ball.

In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, heat the oil until almost smoking. Add the meatballs, working in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding the pan, and cook until deep golden brown on all sides, about 10 minutes per batch. Serve warm or at room temperature, note that Italians would rarely serve meatballs with pasta.  (but we did, because we’re super gauche like that, and the Ninja was making the best tomato sauce in the world.  It was rad!


Tachido, home of the gorilla and the glutenless sandwich

tchotchke – (Yiddish) an inexpensive showy trinket


1965–70, Americanism ;  < Yiddish tshatshke  < Polish czaczko bibelot, knickknack

(now obsolete; compare modern cacko  withsame sense, orig. dial.); of expressive orig.


collectablecollectible – things considered to be worth collecting (not necessarily valuable or antique)
Going for a sandwich on a rather flingy whim didn’t necessarily prepare me for the requisite mile end arty-collage space that I should have seen coming.  I’ve only lived here in this neighbourhood for how long?  (Galleries are actually a place to get pizza, I’m pretty sure).  True to form, Tachido is home to a mass mural from the same people who decorated l’Espace Go, to our latent osmotically gained hipster-vibe delight, and even more knick-knacked curios lit up with fairy lights all over the tiny sandwich shop – the new resto on Parc street, but already proving to be a laid back hangout for randoms of all types.  Laid back randoms, anyway.
But dear, sweetie, how was the food?  Tachido serves food, right?  Mexican kinda sandwiches, involving the usual suspects of black beans, pork, chicken, cheeses, guac and hot sauces, AND gluten free options, if that’s something you care about.  They have fresh juices (agua fresca), of which a melon kind we partook.  I liked it, but I’m a sucker for melon anything, and it kinda pink-efied the meal a bit and I don’t care if it’s winter, I’ll refreshen up anytime!
We got some cheap sandwiches, a pulled pork torta sandwich on fresh housemade bread, and a huitlacoche (mushroom, corn and cheese) quesadilla, also housemade.  A little deal for the side is a hot pot of spicy black bean sauce/soup and a couple of hot sauces in red and green for about 3$, and I pretty much insist that you add this onto the order.  Reasoning for this is that while the food is fresh, hot, healthy and inexpensive, it isn’t outlandishly… shall we say, flavourful.  A shot of the saucy sides fixes that up okay.
They serve beer and cocktails (margaritas!), and get coffee from Toi, Moi & Cafe up the street, which probably means that there is at least a decent selection of brew (I haven’t been there in years but I remember a dizzying array).  They also have homemade pastries, and if I’d known that at the time I’d be just that much closer to being entirely made of sugar than I am now.  They’re probably good, judging by the bread (which is good, really).
+ points for the decor
+ points for the vegetarian/gluten-free/kid friendliness of it all
– points for normal tasting food (replace the mozza-type cheese with some real face-punching salty queso, and THEN we’d be talking!)
+ it’s such a family-run place – we talked to the guy running the show that day and he explained to some depth his brother’s toy-and-oddity fascination
+ Tacorama Fridays after 9pm!  I can only imagine the joy of that.  Woah, hey, dudes, now we have TWO late night taco places in the mile end!  Sweet.

Tachido on Urbanspoon

So, you know how I ordered a huitlacoche quesadilla?  I knew it was a mushroom.  I didn’t know it was also called CORN SMUT!
*dies laughing*
oh, that’s awesome.

Love, Martinis & Marshmallows: “Cookies Unite” at Le Nouveau Palais

Blurry pictures swathed in darkness notwithstanding, Cloudy and I were all akimbo with the mystery menu offered last November at the monthly Cookies Unite event.  On the first monday of every month, the refurbished and newly hipsta-fied Nouveau Palais hosts one or two talented line cooks from the best restaurants in the city and offers them a professional kitchen, creative carte blanche, and a house that’s full of the rafters for one night and one night only.  “Serious” foodies (hehe) sit elbow to elbow your neighbour, her grand-mom, the kid, and a healthy dose of thickly spectactled mile-end twenty-sumthinsumthin, that night waiting for the imagination of Brian Verstraten of Bar & Boeuf and Cynthia Sitaras of Le Club Chasse et Pêche… and did we mention that the two of them are dating?  Hence the name of this event – “One Love.”  [insert “awwwwwwwww”]

A rare martini for yours truly was ordered before the eating started, perhaps in celebration of the event’s recent dropping of it’s BYOB status. Not a bad one either, and the pin-drop clarity of it set a good stage for the first bit of solid food – a trio of amuse bouches in flavours I may not be able to recount to you exactly owing to the vegetarian nature of the set menu that we received at the table (they gave us the veggie version on paper, and the carnal version in life).

So I had to go by what our server was telling us, and it was loud, and I wasn’t taking good notes, but here’s what I remember:  No. 1 was an arancini (battered fried risotto ball) made with mushrooms of some kind and cheese of some kind.  Oh, aren’t I just the most specific?  (NOTE TO SELF: NEVER WAIT 2 MONTHS TO WRITE THESE THINGSd’oh).   It was one of the better that I’ve had, actually – still hot from the kitchen, thin crisp shell and warm earthy flavour, herbs evident.  No. 2 was a pâté that suffered from a bit of dryness and that cat-food thing that pâté can sometimes do, but I’m not the world’s biggest fan of spreadable meat so… you know, to each their own.  No. 3 involved salmon and caviar of some kind and tasted … rather like salmon.  It was also good, and what I DO remember is the texture playing all dramatic with alternating creamy, flaky, buttery-crisp and the welcome oceanic pop of fish roe.  ANYway….

The most luscious savoury was yet to come.  Who cares that we had pizza in our belly already at this point? (pre-dinner snacking is what cool kids do, right?)  When someone sets an aroma-bomb of smoky-sweet pork belly in front of you, all covered with buttery brussels sprouts, sitting in liquid polenta and a madness good jus, well…. I make room in my stomach for these things.  This was late fall in a nutshell – nomzers, and walking in leaves, and swiping flaky bites from your neighbour’s plate, all at once – and my hat’s off to Brian for the gift of it.  (One of those rare times I was specifically grateful not to be vegan anymore.  ^_^;;;;;;;;;  ).

Dinner is good, but I’m a sugar girl, and the desserts landed with a vengeance.  I was floored, really, at Cynthia’s tangy adventurous playground that centered on a lightly salted and eminently spoonable milk chocolate tart slice.  Surrounding it were elements that lifted milk chocolate’s usual cloy to more bright places – very peachy gelato, fruit gelee (apricot, I think), salty crispy peanut crumb, and slices of ripe pear.  A dollop of soft lemon vanilla marshmallow fluff reminded one just enough of grade-school Fluffernutter sandwiches and made the overall reference to PB & J sandwiches just a bit less subtle.  In a good way.

We were fortunate that night to get the full (mini) monty and a spread of mignardises came shortly after to appease the rampaging sweet tooth that the previous dish had ignited.  Full as I was, I could have had more, and at least this trio I remember vividly:

1. a lemon vanilla marshmallow, solid this time.  Almost heady with both scents and melted away into a lightly acidic-sweet soft cream, just a bit of bubble.

2. Apricot and almond financier: still warm, rich and crisp at the edges and chewy all the way through.  Fruity and not too sweet, and felt almost like eating a big soft almond.

3. Chocolate covered caramel, topped with a shattered brittle-type candy, and bitterly awesome through and through.

Pastry like that fires my engine to be better, knowing that I’m not able to make things that perfectly, yet.  I’ve already scheduled a stage at Le Club Chasse et Pêche, with all likelihood resulting in at least some improved skills and dexterity at fun menial tasks like piping cookies and straining cream.  Hey, I go for what I like, and here’s to a new year of obsessive desserting.  Also – sorry about the long absence over Christmas, everyone!  I will be posting lots more now (lots of pictures backed up!) … and I really hope this new year is full of relentless optimism, high quality chocolate, playful kisses, and many more steps closer to whatever it is that you want most.  ^_^

And I guess that’s what Cookie’s Unite is really all about, you know?  Dreams, I mean.  It gives those who aren’t at the echelon of their career yet a chance to shine and be an artist for just one night, and I’m a huge fan of the concept.  It’s also affordable – 30$ a head – and the next one is scheduled for February 6th, featuring Vanessa Laberge from Olive & Gourmando and appears to be another tasteparty!  Soup au boudin noir?  Yes, please!

Cookies Unite: Website / Facebook event page


Wheat transformed to (Yuki) Ramen before your eyes

I stumbled onto Yuki Ramen on a blustery, noodle-needing day, many months ago, wandering through the culinary wonderland that is the Concordia ghetto.  What’s astonishing about the Fabourg building is how spare yet nourishing it is – probably the best “food court” in the city, if it is indeed possible to call it such, when really it might be called a “noshing plaza”.  And what to nosh?  Ramen of course!

At the time I hadn’t even tried ramen yet, not the real stuff.  Not the unboxed unbagged qualifiable japanese true Thing, but that was about to change.  I mean, when you see someone hand-pulling noodles from a sproingy stretch of dough as long as an armspan, mesmerizingly growing and shrinking and doubling over in the hands of the puller expert… there isn’t much else that looks so delicious!  I ordered forthwith.

Well, with a short spell to take out money from a nearby ATM, that is.  (they only take cash).  I ordered the BBQ Pork Ramen, a neat 7$ (about, I don’t imagine it was more than 8$), and awaited my order’s completion.  It took about 5 minutes of absorbing the atmosphere of happy soup-slurpers and then my lunch was ready.

Oho!  It was in pieces!  The way they deliver it is with the chunkies in the main bowl and piping hot broth on the side, that cooks everything fully once you throw it on and everything melts together.  A bit of a stir and an add-in of the nice dark sauce (vinegar of some kind?  it’s been a while) and the umami treat was ready to eat.  And oh those noodles!  Exactly as awesome as fresh noodles should be – strong but yielding, tasting intensely of soft clean wheat, plentiful and warming and fun to slurp.  The pickled WhateverVeg they added on the side deserves mention, too.  Delicious!  Refreshing and sharp and not too salty at all, I wish I knew how they made that.  The pork, alas, was mere pork with a kiss of BBQ red rimmed taste, and the broth of the ramen itself was not going to set any records for perfection, but it was slightly sweet in a good way and did the trick as a steaming home for those wonderful noooooooooodles.

I left warmed from the inside and the outside grey was not so grey at all anymore, belly sloshing with hot sauce and herbs.  Perfect.

Yuki Ramen on Urbanspoon

Amigo – hole-in-the-wall Szechuan-fusion feasting!

When I get stricken with a craving for Chinese food, it’s like being possessed by a most single-minded hunger that would walk hours or days for the merest whiff of glistening wok hei-bearing dishes, special ways with all kinds of onions, soft perfumed & pillowy rice and – if you’re very lucky and in the mood for northern Chinese – brow-melting face-numbing spiciness due to that special ingredient, the Szechuan peppercorn.  (AKA the best drug invented since coffee, bien sur.  )

As always, I have to consider the kitchen’s ability to provide fire, and Amigo’s flame was a low burner at best.  We asked for spicy and got only a moderate level of heat, hardly any Szechuan peppercorns, and a little bowl of chiles in oil – not quite the firestorm experience I’ve had in the past!  BUT – and this is important – this was some of the BEST Chinese food I’ve had since being in China and we were getting face burns anyway. …. from shovelling the hot morsels into our mouths too fast.  ^^;;;;

We started with some wonderful Xiu Mai (pork dumplings, about 4$), rich, sweet and clean-tasting, on a bed of some very lucky cabbage that soaked up all that great flavour.  We got wonton soup, too, which was basically the same dumpling in a slightly different shape floating in a soul-bolstering clear broth – so that was a silly order – but delicious nonetheless and a perfect start to the meal.

Our server was also incredibly helpful and patient with our questions about the menu, and was supercool during our dithering about dinner choices.  Rad guy!  Anyway, we eventually decided on the sizzling seafood platter (about 13$), a salt and pepper pork chops all-dressed dish (about 11$), and sliced beef with rice noodles (about 10$) – and what a perfect combination that turned out to be!

The food came incredibly quickly, hardly a few minutes passed before the insane aromas of chewy beef, sprouts and bouncy noodles came from the left (perfectly cooked, fat slices of onions throughout the dish a testament to an expert chef), and crisp-fried tender peppery pork with buttery rice, fried egg and bright bok choy came from the right (like KFC of the gods).  Oh who cares about burnt mouths, we are going IN!!  *munchmunchmunch*  Ohg od.  so good.

And then, one minute after that (one or two layers of skin later), the seafood platter arrived, sizzling like a crazy giant bumblebee, a veritable mountain of sweet scallops, perfectly cooked squids, insanely moist shrimp and even real flecks of real crab, in a clear and spicy sauce.  It was at that moment that my brain simply clicked into joy mode, and we ate and ate and ate.  It was so freaking good.

I think it was also at that moment that we remembered it was thanksgiving, and suddenly it all made sense, you know?  So with no guilt for the gourmands, we stuffed ourselves silly, and left with happy souls and just enough room left for dessert.  Not the 2$ fried ice cream at Amigo, for as delicious as that sounded we had other plans, and headed to Patisserie Harmonie for a strawberry milky tea to enjoy in the deepening dusk of Chinatown… feeling the last of the warm autumn airs on our elbows and rubbing our bellies and still singing the praises of the meal.

(next time, for sure… we’ll be asking about the all-Mandarin menu ;)

Amigo on Urbanspoon